“You think I was obtuse? I am not deaf, Meister Abram—or should I call you Father Abraham? Neither am I blind. I saw that ‘little’ wink of yours. Of course I understood I was to play along, but I realized at once the potential downfall of the improvisation. The superintendent—as if he were not enough already—would be immediately, almost certainly, suspicious, for what sort of madness is it that cures itself in the wink of an eye? If I had shouted ‘Papa!’ to you or ‘Son!’ to Will Henry, I do not think I would be sitting on this train right now. I think you, me, all of us, would be having a conversation with officials from Scotland Yard. And so it is the greatest irony that the same truth that imprisoned me has now set me free!”
“Truth with a little assistance from us.” Walker, it seemed, could not help himself.
“May I remind you, Sir Hiram, that they returned my revolver upon my release? I have it right here—”
“Now, Pellinore,” chided Warthrop’s old teacher. “These last few months have been trying for you, I know, but—”
The doctor laughed harshly. “Do you? ‘Trying’ is not the word I would use. Don’t mistake me; it is very nice there, for a lunatic asylum. The food is surprisingly good; the staff is, on the whole, more humane than inhumane; the rooms are kept clean of bedbugs and lice; and twice a week we are allowed to bathe. It was rather like a long holiday in the English countryside, with one minor difference—you could never leave. I tried to escape—six times. Each time I was returned to my cozy room with the hard sheets and the soft walls. Each time I was gently reminded that I was abusing my privileges as a ‘guest.’ That’s what they call us madmen, you know. The ‘guests.’ Rather like the devil calling the damned his ‘lodgers.’ Ha!”
Conan Doyle laughed out loud. “Oh, this is marvelous! Positively delightful!”
Warthrop rolled his eyes and said to me, “And you—the last person I expected to see when that door opened. Why are you here, Will Henry?”
“He insisted,” von Helrung put in on my behalf. “If I had bound him hand and foot and chained him to a dungeon wall, he would have found a way to come, Pellinore.”
The monstrumologist closed his eyes. “You should not have come, Will Henry.”
And I answered, “You should not have left me, Dr. Warthrop.”
Chapter Twenty-Four: “The Blindest of Faiths”
Conan Doyle bade us farewell on the platform at Paddington Station, and then moved not an inch from his proximity to Warthrop; he seemed reluctant to part with his company. I’d seen it happen innumerable times over the years. (In my mind I called it the Warthrop Effect or, less frequently, Warthropian Gravity.) Like any object of eormous mass, the doctor’s ego was endowed with an attractive force nearly impossible for weaker souls to resist.
“I really should be off,” Conan Doyle said after detaining my exhausted and anxious master for several minutes, peppering him with questions (“How did you know I played golf?”), trailing a step or two behind him as we bumped and jostled our way through the crowded station. “Touie is expecting me.”
“What is a Touie?” asked Warthrop.
“Touie is my wife, Louisa. She is at home with our new daughter, Mary Louise, born this January. Would you like to see her picture? She is a beautiful child, if I may say so.”
Warthrop stopped abruptly at the bottom of the stairs going into our hotel. “At the moment, Doyle, all I desire is a cup of decent tea and a long nap. Perhaps some other—” He spied something over the shorter man’s shoulder. He flashed a quick perfunctory smile and abruptly locked his arm around Doyle’s, urging him up the stairs. “Come to think of it, fate may have arranged our meeting. Did you know I was a writer in my youth? Poetry, not prose, but your case inspires me, Doyle. A man can wear two hats. Perhaps I should pick up the pen again and try my hand at some verse…”
Puzzled by the monstrumologist’s sudden about-face, I looked down the platform. Loitering near a column midway down were two men, one tall and broad-shouldered, with a shock of flaming red hair. The other was bald and much shorter, as thin and wiry as his companion was burly. Even from forty yards away and through the hazy gray smoke of the station, the redheaded man’s eyes seemed to burn with a backlit fire. I knew only one other man whose eyes burned like that. They were the eyes of a man consumed by the singularity of his life’s purpose. For Pellinore Warthrop that singularity was the pursuit of monsters. For the man whose gaze pinned me to the steps like a hammer drives home a nail, it was the pursuit of something altogether different.
“What is it, mein Freund Will?” murmured von Helrung. He swung his arm around my shoulders and fairly pushed me up the steps. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not a ghost,” Walker answered, his high-pitched voice warbling with distress. He, too, had seen the redheaded man looking back at us. “That big chap with the bright red hair and his bald companion by the pillar. For heaven’s sake, don’t look now, von Helrung! The same two I saw yesterday. I believe they’re following us.”
“To be honest, things have not been going all that well with the practice,” Conan Doyle was gasping to the monstrumologist when we caught up with them in the third-floor hallway. He was struggling for breath because he was also fighting to match the long strides of my master. “But I don’t complain. It gives me plenty of time to write. And I’ll need to write plenty, what with a new mouth to feed.”
Warthrop stopped suddenly just outside the door to our room. Conan Doyle was not expecting it; he walked directly into the doctor’s back.
The doctor’s hand came up and stayed there, the tips of his fingers lightly drumming the air. I’d seen this geure before and reacted instinctively, stepping quickly to his side.
“Von Helrung,” Warthrop whispered. “Are you armed?”
“No. Why do you—”
“Doyle, do you carry a firearm?”
“I do not, Dr. Warthrop.”
The monstrumologist pulled his revolver from his coat pocket. “Stay here with the others, Will Henry,” he said to me before opening the door and stepping inside.
He wasn’t gone long, no more than two or three minutes, I guessed, when he called for us to come in.
“Shut the door, Will Henry, and throw the bolt,” he instructed me from across the room. His back was to me. He was crouching beside something on the floor, the gun held loosely at his side, his shoulders slightly stooped. I remember vividly how tired he looked—old before his time.
And before him was the recumbent body of Jacob Torrance.
“Mein Gott!” whispered von Helrung. “Pellinore, is he—”
“Dead,” pronounced the doctor.
Von Helrung cursed under his breath. Walker pressed his hand to his mouth.
“Let’s have some light,” Warthrop said. “Will Henry, open the curtains, will you? Doyle, you’re a physician. You might want to have a look at this.”
Conan Doyle joined the doctor beside the corpse while I stepped around it to the windows, and Jacob Torrance’s blood bubbled and oozed around the soles of my shoes. I was not going to look. I did not wish to look. I had no intention of looking. But of course I looked. I threw back the curtains, turned around, and, with the golden afternoon sunlight warming my back, beheld what had befallen Jacob Torrance.
“Extremely deep,” Conan Doyle was saying. “Nicked the spinal column. This poor man was nearly decapitated.”
He had been sliced from ear to ear, the knife—if it had been a knife; perhaps the killer had used a small axe or hatchet—severing the carotid arteries and jugular veins—creating the font that had soaked the carpet… and his clothing… and the linen tablecloth a foot away… and the seat back of the divan. The damask curtains were spotted with the spray from his expiring heart. The room stank with it, the hot coppery smell of fresh blood.
“The body is still warm,” Conan Doyle announced with not a little concern. “He has not been dead long; no more than an hour, I would say.”
“Considerably less,” the monstrumologist replied. He rose, grimacing. I heard his knees pop when he stood. Von Helrung still lingered near the door; Walker was leaning against the wall beside him, a handkerchief pressed against his mouth, his face the color of parchment paper. The sound of his gagging was very loud in the small room.
“We must summon the police,” he said ehind his makeshift mask. No one paid any attention.
Warthrop paced the room, moving in a widening circle around Torrance’s body, eyes roaming the blood-enriched floor, the blood-specked walls, the furniture, the windows and sills. At one point, about five feet from the corpse, he fell to his hands and knees and crawled along the floor, snuffing and sniffing like a hound hot on a scent.
“There were two of them,” he said at the completion of his inspection. “One very tall—well over six feet, right-handed, a cigar smoker, and redheaded. His companion is much shorter—five-six or -seven, in that range, and walks with a pronounced limp—one leg, his right, shorter than the other…”
Conan Doyle’s face was a study in scarlet. He was blushing like a young swain in the first heady throes of unrequited passion.
“Astounding. Completely astounding,” he said hoarsely.
“It’s elementary, Doyle,” returned the doctor. “A killer is like any artist. He cannot help but leave something of himself in his work. One only needs to know how to separate the work from the one who authored it.”
“What I mean to say is I am having the most extraordinary sensation…”
“So am I!” called Dr. Walker from across the room. “I am going to be sick!”
Conan Doyle continued, his eyes growing misty. “A man has been brutally murdered; it is terrible! And yet I find myself overwhelmed by an equally terrible sense of wonder.… Why, it’s as if I have stepped over some mystical threshold and into one of my own stories! And here, before me, the man himself, the same one I created, come to life. Behold the man!”
“Yes, it is similar to one of your stories, with the exception that it is not one of your stories, and there is a very real possibility that you are in mortal danger,” replied the monstrumologist.
“Do you really think so?” Conan Doyle seemed practically giddy at the prospect.
“And not just you.” Warthrop turned to von Helrung. “We must leave this hotel immediately.”
Von Helrung nodded. “What about Jacob?”
The doctor smiled grimly. “He’ll be staying here.”
We grabbed our luggage and hurried downstairs. (The monstrumologist was pleased that I’d remembered to bring his instrument case. “I thought I would never see it again. Bless you, Will Henry, and damn that turncoat Arkwright!”) A line of hansoms sat waiting for customers along the curb outside. Before we enlisted any for our escape, however, I was dispatched to spy out the terrain while the men waited inside the lobby. The doctor did not need to tell me what to look for. I had already seen it inside Paddington Station—a shock of red hair and the disconcerting glow of dark, backlit eyes.