“And then he did precisely what I would have done,” the monstrumologist said. “What I did do that same afternoon. Of course, you already have guessed what that is.”
I had not. I decided to try. “You went to the naval department to research recent—”
“Oh, for the love of God, Will Henry! Really. You have been listening, haven’t you? Neither Kearns nor the director knew at that point he was a yeoman with the navy.”
“But Kearns told Mr. Kendall—”
“Yes, after he had found out who he was. That is my question. How did he—and I—find out who this man was?”
I took a deep breath and tried again. “He did not give his name. He had no papers when he was brought—Someone brought him in?”
He smiled. “Much better. Yes, he was brought there by one Mary Elizabeth Marks, who claimed she’d discovered him lying in the gutter a block from her flat, at number 212 Musbury Street, less than a mile from the hospital. She claimed she didn’t know him, had never seen him before, was playing the Good Samaritan, et cetera, et cetera. Kearns found her—as I did months later—and it did not take him long—or me—to bully the truth out of her. The patient had been a customer of hers. Miss Marks, you see, makes her living by… entertaining young, and not so young, sailors… or any other members of the armed forces, or civilians, who enjoy… being entertained by ladies who… entertain.”
He cleared his throat.
“I would rather not know. Yes, she was a lady of the evening. She stuck to her story at first, until I told her I knew Kearns, and then her whole demeanor changed, from surly thoolgirl giddy.
“‘Oh, you mean Dr. Kearns. Now, he’s the regular charmer, that one,’ she said, giggling. ‘An’ quite the looker, too!’
“‘He is an old friend of mine,’ I told her, to which she replied, laying her hand upon my arm, ‘Well, any friend of Dr. Kearns’, guv’na…’
“She confessed that the man had been a regular customer; that he had, in fact, been staying with her in the flat on Musbury Street since his discharge from the navy a week before he became ill; and that she had hidden the truth based on her fear that her landlord would evict her for living with a man outside the sanctity of holy matrimony. She began to cry at the mention of marriage. She had loved Tim; there had been talk of a wedding. I did not understand, she told me, how cruel life had been to her, how her father had beaten and then abandoned her mother, how her mother had subsequently died from consumption, leaving Mary on the streets to beg for food, and later to sell her own body for it. Timothy was to be her savior, and then her savior died.”
He shook his head; his dark eyes flashed. “She had kept his trunk with all his things, including oddities and other paraphernalia he had gathered in his travels abroad. Kearns had asked to see them. It might help, he explained to her, in his investigation into the cause of poor Timothy’s mysterious demise. You know what he found in that trunk, of course.
“‘Now, what is this?’ he said. ‘It looks like… Do you know what he kept saying, Mary, over and over again? “The nest! The bloody human nest!’” Mary Marks was horrified. She claimed to never have laid eyes upon the nidus. She said Timothy had never once spoken of it. And so Kearns asked the same question of her that I asked.”
He paused. I knew what he was waiting for.
“What had been his last port of call before his discharge?” I ventured.
“Ah, the faintest glimmer. The slightest ray breaking through the clouds! Yes, and you know the answer, though not the particulars, which are few and as follows: Timothy Stowe served as yeoman second-class aboard the HMS Acheron, a frigate in the Royal Navy that had just returned from its tour in the Arabian Sea, after resupplying the garrison at the British protectorate of Socotra.”
Warthrop hurried back to the hotel to tell Arkwright the news. He was surprised to discover that his companion had not returned.
“I’d been gone for several hours, and his errand should not have taken half as long as mine. I waited more than an hour; by then the sun had begun to set, and still no sign of Arkwright. I began to worry I’d been wrong about Kearns. Perhaps he had not left England after all, and Arkwright had unwittingly walked right into the bear’s den. How close I was with that metaphor! Night fell and with it my hope of his speedy return. I decided I had no choice but to go look for him, and that meant beginning with Dorset Street, not a very inviting place in broad daylight, much less on a foggy night.”
He sighed, tugging on his bottom lip. “They may have followed me there—as one of them must have followed Arkwright—or they may have anticipated my coming there in search of him. I could not have been twenty yards from the spot where the hansom dropped me off, when a hulking shadow loomed out of the mist. I caught a flash of coppery red hair in the lamplight, saw the arm go up, glimpsed the glint of a pistol’s barrel, and then darkness—absolute darkness.”
The monstrumologist awoke to the smell of raw sewage and the far-off echoes of water dripping, to fitful shadows jittering in lamplight and cold wet stone pressing against his back. He was bound hand and foot, his hands tied behind his back and connected by a short length of rope to the noose around his neck. “Like a dog’s leash tied to its collar, so the slightest movement jerked the loop tight, to bring me to heel, as it were.”
On the sewer platform beside him slumped Arkwright, identically trussed up, awake, and, to Warthrop’s eye, remarkably calm given the circumstances. “As if it were an everyday occurrence, finding oneself with a noose around one’s neck in the city’s sewers, with the pockmarked face of a redheaded Russian brute a foot away.”
“Good evening, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop,” the brute greeted him in a heavy Slavic accent. “Kak y Bac rera?”
To which Warthrop replied, “Tak cebe.”
“Ha, ha. Did you hear that, Plešec? He speaks Russian!”
“I heard that, Rurick. The inflection is good, but the accent is horrible.”
The doctor tried to turn his head to locate their other captor, and was rewarded by a hard yank of the rope against his neck, hard enough, he said, to bruise his Adam’s apple. Beside him Arkwright whispered, “Careful, Doctor.”
Rurick’s reaction was immediate. He pressed the long black barrel of his Smith & Wesson revolver against Arkwright’s forehead and pulled back the hammer. Its click was loud and resonant in the hollow space.
“You forget rules. Speak only when spoken to. Tell truth. Break rule one, I shoot you. Break rule two, and Plešec guts you with his knife, make rat fodder out of you.”
The short bald Russian called Plešec stepped into Warthrop’s view. He was turning a bowie knife in his diminutive hands, the same knife that would be used, months later, to nearly decapitate Jacob Torrance.
“You come looking for Mr. Jack Kearns,” Rurick said to the doctor. The monstrumologist did not perceive it as a question, so he did not reply. “You go to hospital”—he turned to Arkwright—“and you go to his flat. Why do you do this?”
“He is an old friend of mine,” Warthrop said. “I heard that he had gone missing, and we were—”
“Now I must think that you are deaf and do not hear rule two. Or you are idiot and do not understand rule two. You tell me, Dr. Warthrop. Are you deaf or are you idiot?”
“I am neither, sir, and I demand to know—”
Arkwright cut him off. “We are looking for Kearns because he sent Dr. Warthrop something very valuable.”
“And we wanted to ask him about it.”
“If you seek John Kearns, why do you go see two officers of the British intelligence service, Mr. Arkwright? Do you think they know where he has gone or where he may have gotten this ‘valuable thing’?”
Warthrop could not help himself; he turned his head to look over at Arkwright, the attendant pain a fair trade, he thought, for the sight of Arkwright’s stoic reaction.
“Those men you saw me with this morning left a note for me at the hotel. They understood Dr. Warthrop and I were in London, and wanted to ask me a few questions. I must say, they were far more civilized in their—”
The one called Rurick gathered a fistful of Arkwright’s hair in his massive hand and yanked, pulling the rope tight around his captive’s neck as he rammed the forehead against the upraised knees. Arkwright’s head snapped back, and his eyes glittered beneath the angry red spot above them.
“You are spy,” Rurick snarled down at him. “You seek magnificum.”
Arkwright did not answer. He did not move. He met the Russian’s glare and did not blink.
“We do—,” he began.
“Arkwright, no,” whispered Warthrop.
“But I am not a spy, for the English or anyone else. As I told you, my name is Thomas Arkwright; I am an American from Long Island; and I have accompanied Dr. Warthrop to assist him in his investigation into the disappearance of his friend Jack Kearns.”
“Let me cut him,” Plešec pleaded with Rurick. “He makes fools of us.”
The monstrumologist spoke up. “We do seek the magnificum. Kearns sent the nidus to me but did not tell me anything else. So I came here to ask him, but he is gone, as you know. And you seem to know everything else, a fact that is puzzling in light of this interrogation or prelude to an execution or whatever it is.”
Plešec opened his mouth, closed it again, looked over at Rurick. “Was that rule one or rule two?”
“One. Definitely one,” Rurick answered. He stepped forward and pushed the muzzle of the revolver against the doctor’s forehead, the same spot he’d picked on Arkwright. The thick, hairy index finger twitched on the trigger, and began to slowly squeeze.
“Don’t be stupid, Rurick. Pull that trigger, and you’ll be serving the remainder of your enlistment in Siberia rounding up gamblers and two-bit petty thieves. You know it and I know it, so let us dispense with these childish games and speak together as gentlemen.”
The voice was Arkwright’s; the accent was distinctly and unmistakably British. The monstrumologist closed his eyes. He was not waiting for the bullet; he was kicking himself for not seeing the truth sooner, for ignoring his misgivings and shoving aside his doubts in his lust for glory.
“It was the only way out,” Warthrop confided to me. “He knew if he didn’t confess his true identity, we were done for. To cling to his cover created a stalemate that only one thing could break—a bullet into our brains. Well, two things, counting Plešec’s knife. So he told Rurick what he already knew to be true: He was not Thomas Arkwright of the Long Island Arkwrights; he was an officer of the British intelligence service, a fact of which I had no knowledge, he assured our captors. He’d been assigned by his superiors to infiltrate the Society for the purpose of discovering the origin of the nidus ex magnificum recently delivered to me, courtesy of Dr. Jack Kearns.”