Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Fifty
The sun rose and the sun set. The moon moved across the nights, changing shape as it progressed. Tides swelled high, then fell low. The summer ended, and September had arrived.
Matthew checked his watch. It was just after nine o'clock. He would have to be getting home soon, as tomorrow morning he had a case to scribe in the record book and then in the afternoon he had two hours of sword practice with Hudson Greathouse. Not something he looked forward to, but he had learned the valuable lesson of heeding the voice of experience.
"Yes, I'm aware of that." Matthew reached out and took a drink from his cup of cider, making Effrem Owles wait that much longer. The chessboard on the table between them was an example of the decimation that could be wrought when two equal opponents decided to cast aggression to the wind. Matthew, playing white, had two knights, two rooks, and six pawns left on this pinewood battleground to defend his king and win the war, while Effrem's black arsenal held a bishop, a knight, two rooks, and six pawns. Effrem's king sat at d7 and Matthew's hugged the corner at h1. Matthew drank slowly, for he didn't like the way this game was turning out.
"The move is apparent," Effrem said.
"all right, then." Matthew wasn't so sure. Effrem's rook at h8 was going to take his pawn at h3, no matter what he did. The exposure was just too much. Well, something had to be done. He slid a rook from a1 to e1 and was rewarded by Effrem's rook crashing down upon his hapless pawn. Now he had five.
They sat in the lamplight of the Trot Then Gallop. Matthew had joined his friend for dinner at Effrem's invitation, had enjoyed a meal of baked fish, fried potatoes, and green beans, plus a couple of cups of the very tart and delicious cider. Nowadays he drank sparingly of the tavern liquors, particularly wine from newly tapped casks, but he had come to the conclusion that one could not truly live with the idea in mind that the next sip of anything might bring death by belladonna. Still, it was a hard idea to shake.
He moved another rook and Effrem without hesitation took a white knight with one of his own rooks at h2.
Gak! Matthew thought. Perhaps he'd overstayed his visit here tonight. He and Effrem had played two previous games. Matthew had won the first with a feint up the middle and an attack on the right, the second game had been a stalemate, and now this one was looking grim. Effrem was definitely getting better. Then again, Matthew was getting better at handling the rapier. It would be a kick in the breeches, he thought, if as he became more accomplished at swordplay he became a dunce at chessplay.
But not tonight, friend Effrem! Matthew captured the offending rook with his king and sought a way out of the trap that was being developed involving the black knight and the remaining rook. Not tonight!
There did happen to be some things on his mind that chewed at his concentration.
His health was good, that was on the plus side. all the plasters had come off except the one beside his left eye and the one under his shirt at his left shoulder. He still smelled of comfrey-and-garlic liniment, but by now everyone understood.
What gnawed at him, among other things, were the murders of Simon Chapel and Joplin Pollard.
It had happened in the King Street hospital two weeks ago. Chapel had been put in a bed there to recover from the condition of having his face very nastily rearranged. Infection had set in, and fever, and beneath his bandages Chapel had remained silent to any and all questions posed to him by High Constable Lillehorne. Likewise silent was Joplin Pollard, whose shattered knees had caused him to bite on a stick whenever Dr. Vanderbrocken or Dr. Edmonds merely touched them. If he'd lived he would have likely been wheeled in a pushcart to the hangman's rope.
as Pollard and Chapel were the only other patients on that particular ward-the so-called "prisoners' ward," which was locked up tight behind two doors-and both of them depended on rather stupefying drugs to even allow them a twilight sleep, their departure must have been a relatively quiet affair. But no less sinister for its degree of quiet. They were found dead by the first of the hospital's attendants to arrive, a young man born in New York and known for his scrupulous care of the patients. It appeared in the reports made by ashton McCaggers that death had been administered sometime between two and three in the morning, and had come about due to a long thin blade driven through the right eye of each man, and hence into the brain. Whoever had picked the locks had left only faint scratches as a signature.
Matthew was particularly bothered about this. Not simply because Chapel and Pollard had escaped the noose and taken their knowledge of Professor Fell with them to the demonic world, but that Mr. Ripley had not been among the boys captured on the day of reckoning.
a black knight moved, getting into position for attack.
"That's far too easy," Matthew said, as he moved his king.
"Yes," Effrem answered. He tapped his chin, his brown eyes magnified large behind his round-lensed spectacles. "I suppose it is."
Other things also whispered to Matthew from the dark. The power of Professor Fell to demand loyalty might as well have caused Lawrence Evans to swallow his tongue, for all the questions he would answer. Evans sat in a cell at the gaol, ever silent. a look of sublime peace had settled upon his face. Did he think he would also be leaving the scene far before a judge read his sentencei If so, he was prepared for the voyage.
Bromfield and Carver were mules. They took orders and knew nothing. Likewise the terrified Dutch-speaking women who cooked the meals and turned out to believe they had been part of a great experiment in the process of education. Charity LeClaire, who occupied a bed in the women's ward on King Street and waxed and waned like the moon, might have wanted to talk to avenge a sticking, but when she began feverishly babbling it was all about being plucked from a London bordello by Lawrence Evans in 1696, cleaned up and dressed up, and under the duress of drugs having to satisfy the wanton and cruel-yes, cruel, I say!-desires of what sounded to be enough young criminals-in-training to fill New York twice over. Details were copious. Matthew had noted that Lillehorne and Bynes had paid close attention to her testimony and the clerk had broken two quills. Unfortunately, though Miss LeClaire obviously had a strong constitution for someone so thoroughly skewered, she was also useless beyond her ability to titillate.
Effrem's hand moved the second rook. He gave a shrug and sigh as he set it down, as if it didn't matter to the game a whit. Matthew saw where it would be going in two moves, and again shifted his king.
He realized he was caught strictly on the defensive. a bad place to be, according to Greathouse.
Other things. The raid on Chapel's estate had netted two men, one in his forties and the other nearly sixty, who had evidently been employed as instructors. The younger man had confessed an aptitude in both the art of blackmail-"priming the pigeon," he called it-and the usage of various methods of extortion. The older man was a financial expert, whose only crime seemed to be that he could discourse on international monies, exchange rates, and patterns of market behavior in such things as hog bellies and rare jewels until his questioners wished to seal his mouth with a hot poker. Both men confessed to witnessing many killings at the estate and would show Lillehorne the cemetery where the bodies lay, but the story of their employment was a tangled web that could not be followed without travelling to London's underworld...and even then, no sure thing.
The problem, Matthew thought as he stared at the chessboard, was that he'd seen four people whom he'd taken to be instructors. Of the third man and the woman with the blue parasol, there was no trace.
Effrem made a mistake. a simple one, but telling. Matthew leaped a knight upon the black bishop and saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Effrem shook his head. "Oh, I should've moved that rook!"
Misdirection, Matthew thought. He's trying to get me to go after the rook. Well, I won't unless I have to.
and then there was Count anton Mannerheim Dahlgren.
This was another set of teeth that bit him. When Matthew had left Trevor Kirby in the shade of the tree that afternoon, he'd gone back into the house, through the wrecked dining-room and out onto the terrace where, armed with a rapier, he'd intended to go down the steps, and pull Dahlgren from the garden's goldfish pond.
The curtains had still been in the pond, but Dahlgren was gone.
Four men and Matthew searching the manse, the buildings, and the stable came up with nothing. The evil grenadier might have spread his own leathery wings and flown back to Prussia, so cleanly had he vanished. It was amazing to Matthew-almost incredible-how someone so badly battered could have gotten away so quickly. again, the word demonic came to mind.
Effrem started to move his rook and hesitated. "You know, I asked you to meet me here for a particular reason, Matthew."
"Right. Dinner and chess."
"Well...not exactly." He moved the rook, which threatened Matthew's knight. "I wanted to know if..." He shifted in his chair. "If..."
"Go ahead and spit it out."
Effrem cleared his throat. "If I were to ask Berry Grigsby to go with me to the Young Lions Ball a week from Friday, do you think she'd goi"
"Berry Grigsby," Effrem repeated. "The Young Lions Ball. a week from Friday. Do you thinki"
Matthew sat back. "The Young Lionsi Since when are you a memberi"
"I joined last month. The day after I turned twenty-one. Well, don't look at me like that, Matthew! The Young Lions are a really fine group of fellows! all of them the sons of various craftsmen..."
"I know who they are."
"and they have these really fine dances. They're holding this one at the Dock House Inn."
"Wonderful." Matthew moved his king.
"I can't believe you did that! What's wrong with youi" The black rook captured Matthew's last knight.
"I'm trying to get it through my mind that you've joined a social club. I thought you were so dead-set against those! I thought you said they were a foolish waste of time!"
"No, Matthew," Effrem replied. "That's what you said. Your move."
"Now wait a minute, just wait. You want to ask Berryi Whyi"
Effrem laughed. "are you insane, Matthewi"
"I wasn't before I sat down at this table."
"Listen." Effrem slid a pawn forward. "Haven't you looked at Berryi Haven't you talked to heri She's a beautiful girl, and she's got a lot of...a lot of...well, I don't know exactly what it is that she's got, but whatever it is I like it. She's different, Matthew. She's...exciting, I suppose is what I'm trying to say."
"Exciting," Matthew said. He countered the pawn with one of his own.
"Yes, absolutely. I saw her sitting there on the wharf one morning, doing her drawing. That was the morning I stepped on that damned black cat and fell in the drink, thank you very much for laughing, but it was what brought us together. She helped me climb out. I sat...we sat...for a long time, just talking. I like the way she laughs, I like the way she smells, I like-"
"Well when the hell did you smell heri"
"You know what I mean. You just get a whiff sometimes of a girl's hair, or her skin. It's a nice smell."
"The last time I smelled her, it wasn't so nice."
"Nothing." Matthew tried to force his concentration back to the game and failed miserably. Suddenly he seemed not to be able to tell any difference at all between pawn, rook, or king.
"My original question," Effrem plowed on, "is whether or not you think she'd go with me if I asked her."
"I don't know. How should I knowi"
"You live in the house right behind her! You take almost every meal in the kitchen with her sitting across the table! What's wrong with youi" He smacked the rook down. "Checkmate."
"That is not!" Matthew objected, but then his vision cleared and he saw the deadly triangle trap of black pawn, rook, and knight that had converged upon his king. "Damn!"
"I'm thinking of giving her flowers when I ask her," said Effrem. "Do you think she might like thati"
"I don't know! Give her weeds, for all I care!" and then Matthew took a good long look at Effrem. He realized why his friend was suddenly so well-dressed in his nice dark blue suit, white shirt, and waistcoat and his brown hair with the gray streaks at the sides was no longer such a bird's-nest but so well-combed and he had the scrubbed appearance of a young lion with places to go and a bright future as a New York tailor.
If Effrem was not yet in love with Berry Grigsby, he was on the way.
"Pah!" Matthew said. He grabbed his cider and swigged it.
"Whati Really, Matthew, you're not making any sense. The flowers, now. What kind of flowers should they bei"
"Flowers are flowers."
"Granted, but I thought she might have...possibly...told you what kind she liked. Roses, or carnations, or lilies, or-" He shrugged, lost. "I have no idea." a quick adjustment of his glasses, and he leaned forward. "What kind would you get her, Matthewi"
"I don't know anything about flowers."
"Just think. Surely there's something she might like."
Matthew thought. It was ridiculous, asking this of him. absurd. He rubbed a hand across his forehead and winced because some of the scratches there were still tender. "I suppose...I might get her..." Whati he asked himself. "Wildflowers."
"Yes. Just pick them from a field somewhere. I think she'd prefer wildflowers to roses, or carnations, or...any of those."
"That's a grand idea!" Effrem slapped his palm down on the table for emphasis. "Wildflowers it is, and they won't cost any money, either. Now: what color would you suggesti"
"Color," Effrem said. "Blue, yellow, red...what color might she likei"
Matthew considered that in his years of knowing Effrem this was the strangest conversation they had ever shared. Still, one could tell from Effrem's expression-his shining excitement, as it were-that for some reason Berry Grigsby had impressed him and come to have a meaning for him. as outlandish as that was. Those two together! a couple! Dancing at a Young Lions Ball! and maybe more than dancing, given time and the curve of Cupid's bow.
"any ideasi" Effrem urged.
"Yes," Matthew said after a moment's reflection. He stared at the chessboard, at the pieces that had trapped his king, but he was seeing fifty feet of rotten pier and the sun shining down upon a green pasture across the river in Breuckelen. "Have you ever looked into a blacksmith's forgei"
"I have. Once I had a sty on my right eye, and you know the heat is good for bursting them. If you stare into the forge long around, you feel the sty..." He stopped. "What's a blacksmith's forge have to do with wildflowersi"
"Those are the colors," Matthew said. "The heart of the earth."
"The whati" Effrem's brows came together. "I think you may have had one cider too many."
a slim brown box about ten inches long and wrapped with white ribbon was suddenly placed on the table in front of Matthew.
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