A stumper of a case, no doubt, and it caused his temples to throb with pain in that special way that denoted a task in front of him that must be done but he really didn’t want to do. He tucked his derby hat tightly on his head and tried to blot out the fetid smell coming in off the Thames. A carriage would have been nice as he wouldn’t have to make his way through the stench of Waterloo and the shadowed buildings of the Borough. He Angled down Kinsington Street to avoid passing by the Bethlem Hospital where the crazies all rattled their chains and shouted toothless obscenities into the night air; a stench to rival the Thames. Alas, no carriage for him. He would have to arrive in hopeful anonymity to the place he was heading.
The Kerberos Club.
“Malus Necessarium, indeed!” Inspector Marsh thought to himself. Ahead a beggar sat on a street corner beneath a lamp. The man appeared to be vomiting in his own hat. “How I weep for my London,” Marsh said under his breath. Passing by the unfortunate man the flickering light above flickered and illuminated the man’s face momentarily. The face, almost aglow with the phosphorescence of insanity, grinned at Marsh as if he was the mark of a great cosmic joke.
“Evenin’ govna!” the man said with a slight nod, spittle dribbling from his lower cheek. Marsh hurried along without speaking. The man made him nervous. As he passed by he thought he saw something move in the greasy black stomach contents within the hat twisting like a snake in filth. He turned away and dismissed it as a trick of the light preying on his overwrought nerves. The man watched Marsh until he was out of sight. The man looked down into his hat, still smiling, and lifted a segmented worm almost twenty centimeters long with a small mouth lined with sharp teeth. “What a beauty!” he cooed, setting the worm down into the gutter and watching it slither across the sidewalk and into a dark alley.
Crossing the Thames, the lifeline of his beloved city, Marsh was taken aback at the fog that had drifted in to obscure the lights on the far side of the bridge which he could see when he had begun his crossing. A carriage rattled loudly on the stones ahead of him appearing like a ghostly shadow out of the soupy fog. A piece of paper flickered out of the side of the carriage as it passed settling into a pot hold filled with murky brown water. Marsh saw several more pages thrown out the carriage window before it disappeared into the fog in the direction he had come. Picking up the page he saw it was a flyer that shouted an advertisement for “DR. SENECA’S WORLD FAIR OF WEIRDNESS!!!”. He threw it away in disgust keeping an eye on the sky knowing that anytime now it would start to rain.
He walked quickly through Trafalgar Square. Every instinct he possessed told him he really should stop off at a pub and have a pint to prepare for his evening’s arduous and somewhat distasteful chore. He knew the feeling for what it was, nothing more than the procrastination of a petulant child. “Better to have a pint after,” he thought approvingly. He was already going to be late and his wife, Eleanor, would give him a hiding anyway so why not tuck a pint away first? Steeled slightly by the prospect of a pint he quickened his pace slightly. The Club was just ahead. He approached, tapped out the contents of his favorite pipe into the gutter, tucked his hat under his arm and without a moment’s pause rapped loudly upon the heavy iron set door underneath that damnable crest of three evil looking dogs that appeared ready to jump down upon him and rend the flesh from his old bones. He repeated what his Captain always said when someone complained when something malodorous (and usually post-mortem) was dredged from the Thames. “It’s a job,” his Captain would say.
The door swung open and standing there was a butler with slicked back hair and a silver monocle over his right eye. The left eye was busy staring off at a most strange angle and would suddenly dart around as if looking for an escape. It was, Marsh concluded, a most unfortunate disorder of the nerves that gave the man such a disturbing mien. After a moment of silence the butler stood resolute in the doorway staring blankly at Marsh through his monocle, his other eye looking anywhere but. The rain, released from the heavens, poured down upon the inspector and instantly soaked him through. Maintaining his cool, Marsh said simply, “Inspector Marsh here to see Dr. Irwin Haimes.” The butler remained still, unmoved by Marsh’s words. Marsh took out the card sent to him by Dr. Haimes, holding it up to where the butler could see it. He saw, written on the back of it were the words “Manu pugno”. Marsh realized he had said them aloud only after he had said them. As soon as the words came out of his mouth the butler stiffened, his roving eye (if one could call it roving, it would have been more apt to call it manic) slightly less baffled and said,
“Right this way, sir.” His voice was shrill, almost to the point of breaking like a teenage boy singing in the church choir. Marsh wondered who on earth thought this man could perform the duties of butler. The odd man motioned the Inspector (now dripping wet from a soaking that could have been prevented) inside and closed the door behind him. Without offering to take his coat or hat he led him down the hallway into the Kerberos Club.
The Strange Butler moved him awkwardly through a sitting room filled to the brim like a circus side show. The butler would navigate a distance and then pause, as if confused, with small jerky movements deciding which way to go then finally lurching off in a direction he deemed suitable. Marsh took advantage of one such pause to look at the underside of a snowglobe that seemed to show a ruined building and raining ash instead of snow. A sticker in bright colors declared, “Hopwood’s World of Wonders”. He knew it to be a junk store off of Fleet Street somewhere. It would explain the tackiness of the room somewhat and the poor presentation of the stuffed trophies around the room. The thing whose head hung between the Ape and the Caribou looked utterly fake because, in all probability it was. He was just about to put the ash globe down when he noticed a mark jutting out slightly from the edge of the Hopwood sticker. Peeling it back he saw a strange symbol, perhaps the mark of the artist who made the dark thing. Marsh thought not. It looked of occult descent and it made Marsh surprisingly uneasy. “Why would anyone cover up an occult symbol with a label from a known dealer in trinkets and junk?” he asked himself. Before he could stop it the answer sprung unbidden into his mind. “When someone wants to hide something genuine as a fraud.” As if a trick of the light the room seemed to grow darker and more ominous. The eyes of the trophy heads, even the ones that seemed fake, suddenly seemed to follow him as he moved behind the robotic butler. The globe he held in his hand began to swirl in a most unnatural way clearing momentarily to show Marsh an inhuman eye. He gasped, setting the thing down and suddenly realizing that the butler was staring at him most intently (with one of his eyes, anyway). Marsh didn’t know how long the man had been staring at him but something told him it was longer than he realized. “Lead on, my good man,” Marsh commanded the butler.
“On good my, lead man,” the butler replied nonsensically but with purpose and emphasis on syllables that made Marsh believe the man thought he was saying something of great importance.
The butler, after a meandering walk up a long hallway, showed Inspector Marsh into a study lit warmly by a fire burning in the fireplace. Motioning for Marsh to sit, the butler stirred the embers and turned to Marsh and presented a small envelope to him.
“Brandy, glass would like you a?”
After puzzling for a moment Marsh shook his head and the butler exited the room after pausing at the doorway as if he had forgotten something. “Look sharp, Inspector Marsh. It will be perilous for you until the dawn. They have your scent now,” the odd voice came out of the butler as if he was repeating it verbatim from memory without knowing its meaning. Without a further word the Butler was gone.
Marsh took out his pocket knife and opened the small envelope swiftly and retrieved the small note inside. “Dear Inspector Marsh, I am very sorry to miss our meeting but I was called away on urgent business that could not wait. I expect to be home swiftly, likely before 10pm. I have instructed the kitchen staff to prepare a small meal for you to tide you over until our meeting. Please accept my most sincere apologies at my delay. I assure you it could not be helped. Sincerely, Dr. Irwin Haimes.”
Marsh looked up at the clock that read half past 10. “An odd business, this,” Marsh thought. Toying with the idea of just heading home Marsh was struck by a profound instinct that there was something amiss here. He re-read the letter again, smelling the paper softly. He rose up and gazed across the desk locating a pencil and the stack of paper that this note was taken from. He drew the pencil softly over the note and smiled slightly when other letters appeared faintly, superimposed over the note’s contents.
“The Bronze Gelding, 109 Rochester Dr. Bring my bag.”
Moments later Marsh was out on the street and, even in the flickering of the gaslights was sure he was being watched. The feeling did not diminish as he headed East and he thought it likely that he was being followed. Walking nonchalantly, belying the haste he felt in his breast, he ducked almost lazily down an alley and quickly sequestered himself away. With a good vantage point he could see a diminutive shape pause at the entrance of the alley then turn and walk away. He caught just a faint trace of perfume and saw a length of ribbon in her hair that fluttered over her shoulder. Bolting from his hiding place and onto the street he cursed his luck as a large group of people letting out from the theater greeted him. His eyes moving carefully across the group he tried to pick out anyone not moving with the rest of the people. He climbed up on a lamp post and surveyed the crowd as best he could. Spotting the flash of a red ribbon bouncing through the group he hopped down and began making his way through the throng. His aim was true and in short order had managed to come up just behind the woman. It was almost as if she knew him to be there for she cast a fearful glance back at him and then bolted off. He gave chase calling out for her to halt and that he was a policeman. A sudden shift in the throngs that surrounded him caused him to get hung up on a young couple who gave him the rudest of looks which did bot diminish after he informed them that he was a police officer. The perfumed woman with a bow was lost to him for the time being but he felt somewhat sure that she would reemerged from the London fog again.
The Bronze Gelding was located on the fringe of the East End, mercifully saving him from having to delve farther into the heinous ghetto. He didn’t remember arriving which was normal for those times when he was lost in his thoughts, he just seemingly appeared here, the fog in his brain (getting so much worse the older he got) parting to see the sign of the Bronze Gelding. The soft, raspy coos of the prostitutes warbler out at him like the omnipresent calling of the pigeons. “It is quite possible,” he thought to himself, “there are more prostitutes in the East End than pigeons.” Indeed it did look like a few johns were getting their money’s worth in the alley by the Bronze Gelding, fornicating like animals in the shadows. “Weep for my London,” Marsh thought sadly.
Inside the raucous sounds of drinking were mingled with the smell of cheap cigar smoke and bitter spirits. He looked around the pub for the good doctor and was not overly surprised to see the he was not yet about. Technically off duty he sidled up to the bar and ordered a beer he could have sworn had been pissed in. As he sat there drinking and swatting away the toothless hookers like he swatted away the flies he watched the people around him. One man he knew had been stabbed by a knife recently as there was a bit of bandage material that dangled below the bottom of his trousers and he walked with a limp. The blonde hooker over by the bar trying desperately to land herself some work (and some booze) was pregnant. She tried diligently to hide her bump but Marsh could see it anyway. The man she was trying so unsuccessfully to seduce had hit someone recently as he had three scrapes parallel to each other that trailed back from his fourth knuckle on the right hand, no doubt from an unfortunate’s third upper incisor, the canine behind that and the first premolar behind that. It was a blow that drew blood from both men. He wondered if the man who had been hit by this man’s fist had relished 5he taste of his enemy’s blood swirling around in his mouth and mixing with his own…
A sudden cry drew Marsh out of his reverie, drawing his eyes over to the front door where yet another prostitute. “They breed AND fuck like rabbits,” thought Marsh to himself with a chuckle, wondering suddenly if he hadn’t wandered by accident into a Molly house that was also frequented by the ladies too. He dismissed the thought quickly, returning his attention to the woman at the front door dressed in a pin stripe dress shrieking like a harpy.
He drained the last of his pint before rising and heading over to the group of people gathering around the woman. He casually, almost tiredly, informed everyone that he was a police officer and to kindly let him through. He rested a hand on the woman’s shoulder and calmed her down as he had calmed down so many before her. He was an expert at it even though he really didn’t care about this woman, just what she had to say.
“Please sir,” she said sobbing, “someone killed Wendy. Someone killed her and left her in the alley like…like a sack of potatoes!” Despite her thick Irish accent Marsh was able to discern what she was saying.
“Could you take me to where she is?” Marsh asked her, “Please?” The woman seemed surprised at his politeness and nodded her head as she led him out the front door and turned right. A lightsman was just now getting around to lighting the lamp post outside the Bronze dousing the entire scene in golden light. Marsh approached the man and informed him that his lantern may be necessary. The man gladly conceded when he learned that a mystery was afoot.
“Yes sah! Glad to be of service to His Majesty’s eyes!” the lightsman said, snapping to attention. “The name is Tobias, Tobias Crenshaw.”
“Thank you for your help, Mr. Crenshaw,” said Inspector Marsh noting casually the man had a Freemason pin on his lapel, “Unfortunately, it is a dark business, rumor has it.”
“I have found one should never believe rumor, sah!” Mr. Crenshaw continued falling in line behind Inspector Marsh and the distraught woman he had in his arms. “My father used to say that a man who dealt in rumor dealt in bloodshed. I always thought it was a bit much myself. My wife, Nina, gossips so much I keep thinking she will get a wart on her nose but, God help her, sah, she does enjoy it so! I remember once that she was talking with a friend of hers, Clara, who was going on and on about another woman they both knew named…ergh…”
Mr. Crenshaw trailed off the end of his sentence as a gasp went up through the crowd of gathered people. The woman lay on her back, her arms arranged out from her body slightly as if she were floating daintily on a pool of water. Marsh instantly noted the small blue ribbon tied in her hair, the same ribbon he had trailed through a crowd of people on Haverly street just a little while before. “Clear back, everyone!” Marsh said in a commanding voice, “You are trampling evidence!” There was no doubt this was another one of his murdered women. The Angel Murders the papers called them. The women were all killed, their hair arranged outward like seaweed, their arms in a frozen motion of assent. Marsh could never shake the impression that they were being made to look like they were underwater. In blatant contrast to this whimsical repose the woman’s chest had been split open and her heart removed. As per usual not a drop of blood had been spilled. Marsh was taken aback all over again at the strength necessary to do something like this, ribs split open roughly as if broken open with a crude implement or maybe even by fists. The idea had some merit but it seemed impossible for a man to do something like this unaided by some sort of implement, crude though it may have been. The eyes had also been removed and replaced with a soft, gray ash again without spilling a drop of blood. Two small iron plugs had cauterized the ear canals, obviously having been inserted while red hot. The tongue had been bisected and tied carefully into a knot. Her clothes had been removed, inverted, and put back on. Her undergarments, should she be wearing any, would be undisturbed.
Marsh noted all this within a moment of viewing the body. He had been working the Angel Murders case for over a year now. He practically dreamed about it when he slept. It colored every waking moment of his life. He had hoped that when Dr. Irwin Haimes had contacted him about helping him with this case that he would finally be able to put it behind him. Somehow he doubted it after the evening’s events. Something deep down that these murders were here to stay. He saw a few scraps of flesh and blood under her second, third and fourth digits on her left hand. He knew that she had fought back while her right (and stronger hand) had been held by her attacker. The one thing that he could never figure out about these murders is how the murderer had enough time to do it all. There were never any drag marks and, despite there not being a single drop of blood spilled (the blood always came out a thick, black coagulated snake at the autopsy) the body always seemed to lay where it had been slain. Marsh was sure of it. How then did the killer do all of these intricate things so close to a public place with prostitutes and Johns racing off to all the dark corners to engage in darker behaviors.
“Inspector Marsh,” a deep, resonating (and cold!) voice came from behind him, “I am so pleased you could make our meeting.” Marsh stood and turned to find himself looking into the jaundiced eyes of Dr. Irwin Haimes. Dr. Haimes had a reputation for being an odd bird and Marsh could see why. The man made him distinctly uncomfortable. He had the same look on his face that he saw on surgeons when they were cutting up bodies. It was a look of utter calm and dismissal. It was the look on the face of a man with complete control over his subject. His lean face was turned upward in a smile. Despite being of a more advanced age Marsh noted that the skin did not wrinkle at all. With a pointed nose and a top hat on Dr. Haimes was a most unnerving presence, indeed. From under his overcoat he produced a small silver object and a glass vial. “May I inspect the corpse, Inspector?” Before Marsh could answer Dr. Haimes had swooped down and was investigating the corpse in great detail focusing mostly on the hands. A flash of excitement flashed over the doctor’s face as he found what Marsh had already located, the small amount of blood and flesh under the poor woman’s nails. With the small silver instrument (it looked very much like a tiny spatula that Marsh had seen a chemist use in his laboratory once) he scraped the material out into the glass vial. He was muttering under his breath excitedly the whole time but Marsh could not quite make out what he was saying.
Whirling triumphantly Dr. Haimes held up the vial for Marsh to see. “Voila!” the doctor said in his deep voice standing Marsh’s hair on end.
“I had found that before,” Marsh said patiently, “it indicates a defensive wound. The woman fought back even though the man was far more powerful than she. A valiant and, ultimately, doomed gesture.”
“Too true, my good Inspector Marsh. But there are secrets here too. I suggest you finish your investigation and turn the body over to your associates. I then humbly invite you back to my parlor where we may speak away from all these probing ears. “My stranding you there was most uncivil and I apologize wholeheartedly. Will you hear what I have to say, Inspector?”
Marsh thought about the offer and decided to accept. The evening had been a wash and he was frustrated with this case. Help, even from as dubious a source as the doctor, could not be dismissed out of hand. “I will return with you to your parlor, Doctor Haimes. I must warn you that my patience is wearing thin and that if you abandon me again I will retire home and will not agree to meet with you again. Are we understood?”
The doctor appeared intensely serious when he replied in the affirmative. “Back we shall go then, Inspector Marsh, to the Kerberos Club.”