Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Forty-Five
The boy floated like an angel of death. There was a grace about him, an ethereal blue glow. Or perhaps that was just light glinting off the needle.
He came steadfastly forward, neither in haste nor with time to waste. Berry tried to kick at him but he neatly and effortlessly sidestepped. He might have been a shadow, though he was fearfully real. When Berry attempted to overthrow the chair, the beautiful lady behind her simply applied more pressure to the red locks.
Ripley reached his victim. Without hesitation, he pushed forth the needle toward the center of Berry's trapped eyeball.
"I'll tell," Matthew said.
"Stop, Mr. Ripley," Chapel commanded. The boy immediately obeyed. His living eye on the side sinister, which was a black marble, twitched toward his headmaster. "Step back, but remain ready." Chapel got to his feet, said to Dahlgren, "Get up," and when the grenadier sluggishly obeyed Chapel took his chair and dragged it over to face Matthew. "Hold her just as she is," Chapel told the lady and Evans. He sat down with his knees nearly touching Matthew's, and he leaned in so close Matthew might have watched the oil leaking from his pores and could positively smell the baked chicken on his heated breath.
"Now then." Chapel smiled, all sunny and light. "You were going to give me a name."
"Can I have a drink of wateri My throat's-"
"I won't stop him next time, Matthew. What do I care if she loses an eyei The name."
"all right." Matthew licked his lips. a bead of sweat ran down to the tip of his nose and hung there, quivering. It wasn't easy to talk while Berry alternately murmured in pain and tried to blow a shout through the glove jammed in her mouth. "I have to tell you about him first." He saw Chapel turn his head, about to order the young torturer to continue. "Sir! Please! Let me explain to you that he is the Swanscotts' son!"
Chapel paused. His huge blue-veined brow furrowed. "I think I recall..." He tapped his head with a forefinger, as if to jog a memory. "The Swanscotts had two sons who died early in life, according to our findings."
"Oh, the two sons-Toby and Michael-died, it's true enough, but this boy was found working in a slaughterhouse. He was unofficially adopted by the Swanscotts. They raised him as their own, sent him to school. Everything that parents could do."
"Reallyi" Chapel drew closer, almost nose-to-nose. His eyes bored relentlessly into Matthew's.
"Yes sir. He's made quite a bit of money. He's disguised himself. I think he put it as...a high ball playing low."
Chapel scratched his chin. "Go on."
"He made some inquiries in London. Put money on the street for information. He knows all about it. The poisoned wine, and all the rest."
"Is that soi"
"Yes sir. He did give me the notebook. Wanted me to figure out the meaning of that page. What the grades meant. I mean, the numbers."
"Very good." a slight smile surfaced. "They were grades. at least, from ausley's limited point-of-view. He used them to dicker over prices. I gave my own marks later."
"He did hope that I might lead him to you. I told him he ought to give himself up, that he has a compelling story to tell."
"and did he give himself upi" Chapel correctly read Matthew's expression. "Of course he didn't. He's come all this way, he's probably near insane by now. Why should he give himself upi and you've told this story to who elsei Hudson Greathouse and Mrs. Herrald, I presumei"
"Neither of them. This is my investigation."
"But you and Greathouse dug up the body of Billy Hodges, didn't youi Whyi"
"McCaggers told me about it. High Constable Lillehorne didn't want anyone else to know. I thought...it might have some bearing on the Masker."
"In a roundabout way," Chapel said. "Poor Billy. an excellent forger, but unfortunately a weak mind. You know, he was the screever who forged the inspection label in Swanscott's warehouse. It's intriguing that very often a person who has to learn to write with an unnatural hand can more easily master the art of forgery. He was a wonder, that Billy. Did some work for us in Boston, as well, but just minor items on the order of deeds and such. He was an instructor for the younger lads for several years...then, sadly, he wished to leave us. ah, that Billy."
"I'd rather you not tell me, sir," Matthew said.
"Oh, it's all right! I'm not angry with you!" Chapel slapped Matthew's left knee. "Lord, no! I understand this is just business! You wished to make a name for yourself with the Herrald agency, am I righti But tell me...how did you feel about helping a murderer plan a murderi"
"I suppose..." Matthew swallowed. "It was just business."
"There's the spirit!" Chapel smacked his hands together and looked at the others in the room, as Berry thrashed and writhed to no avail. He was beaming. "True industry at work, friends! The ultimate commingling of what some would call the angelic and the demonic! He wants to get ahead in life, so he plots with an insane murderer! Can you beat iti"
"Very humorous," said Lawrence Evans, with no trace of humor.
Chapel turned his face back toward Matthew, again almost nose-to-nose. His smile was gone. Matthew could see his own face, scared witless, in the lenses. "The name."
"His name is..." Matthew hesitated, his heart pounding. No one was going to save either Berry or him. He had to do what he could, to buy them some time and figure a way out of this.
"Mr. Ripley is waiting," Chapel whispered.
Matthew said, "His name is Dippen Nack. He's a constable."
The room seemed frozen.
Chapel looked at Evans. "Dippen Nacki What kind of name is thati Do you know himi"
"No sir," said the hunter.
Chapel returned his attention to his prisoner and began to fidget with the silver buttons of Matthew's waistcoat. "Mr. Evans, get the census book and find out if indeed there's a Mr. Dippen Nack included on the list. Beautiful buttons, by the way."
Evans removed the eye clamp from Berry's orb, which must have been nearly dried out. She blinked rapidly, as if trying to push it back into its socket without benefit of her fingers. Evans went to the desk and opened a drawer. He came out with a thin brown leather book. Matthew recognized it. a copy of the New York census, undertaken last year by order of the late lamented Mayor Hood. Matthew felt the sweat dripping under his arms. If Nack had a wife and a houseful of kids or lived with his mother, it was all up.
"Dippen Nack is an alias," he said, to relieve his steam. "I don't know his real name."
Evans' index finger was searching. "Here he is, sir. Dippen Nack. Lives on Nassau Street." He brought the book over to display the name and address.
"Very good. Well, there is such a man. No wife or children, I see. Tell me, Lawrence, do you recall the names of the Swanscott boysi Were they Toby and Michaeli"
"I think they were, but it'll just take a moment to look up the file. I'm sure we have that jotted down somewhere."
"Go ahead, then."
Evans went to the file cabinet, opened a drawer, and began going through papers.
Matthew squirmed in his chair, as much as he was able. He heard Berry make a muffled sound between a cry of pain and an oath. Her hair was still being gripped by Miss LeClaire's pitiless hands. "Please, sir," he said to Chapel, "won't you let her goi"
"No," came the reply. "But I suppose we needn't be so harsh. Charityi One hand only."
"Found it, sir!" Evans announced. He leaned forward, reading something. "Yes, that was their names. But hold on!" He paused. "Now that's interesting," he said, in a voice that sent a coursing of fresh terror through Matthew. "It seems the Swanscotts had-"
Matthew decided to take a chance, and if he was wrong it might be the last thing he ever spoke. "a third son, yes I know. an infant who died right after birth."
Evans was silent, still reading.
"Welli" Chapel asked.
"He's correct, sir. There's a small notation here. an infant who died soon after birth, according to the medical copy from London." He held up the yellowed parchment. "Care to see iti"
"No." Chapel grinned. "Dippen Nack, ehi The only way Matthew could have known about that dead infant was from a family member. a fourth son! Unofficial, of course. It makes sense, doesn't iti The Masker being a constablei He could creep around all night, stalk his victims, and then..." a finger across the throat completed his point.
Someone was climbing the stairs. It sounded like a pegleg. Matthew looked to the side as Carver, the sandy-haired, thick-set, and heavy-lidded second hunter and sometime stomperboy, limped into the room.
"Mr. Chapel!" he said. "Pardon, but the fellas want to know if we're havin' a game today."
"Yes, we certainly are." Chapel stood up. "Tell them, and tell Edgar and Hastings to get everything ready. Oh...wait. after you've done that, I want you and Mr. Bromfield to take your horses and ride back to town. Go to the stable there and secure a third horse. Then proceed to..." He checked the census book. "Number Thirty-Nine Nassau Street. Wait until dark if you have to, but bring back a man named Dippen Nack. Be careful, as he may be very dangerous and quite mad, but do not-I repeat-do not injure him in such a way that any further injury would be redundant and ineffective. all righti" He glanced at Evans. "Who's on the gate todayi"
"Enoch Speck, sir."
"On the way out, tell Mr. Speck he may join in the game after he locks up tight. Go, the both of you!"
When the two hunters had gone, one in obvious distress from a bruised shin, Chapel made a motion to Jeremy, who cut the cords binding Berry to the chair. Miss LeClaire released Berry's hair, but Matthew noted she had many red strands stuck between her fingers.
"Up, the both of you." Chapel extended his hands and motioned them to their feet with a waggling of his fingers. "Get that out of her mouth, please."
Berry turned toward the elegant bitch to have the glove extracted. Matthew saw it before Miss LeClaire did: a crimson glare in Berry's eyes, like the distant watchfire on a rocky coast proclaiming Danger, many ships have perished here.
Before the glove was halfway out, Berry suddenly leaned her head back and then swiftly crashed her forehead into the slim bridge of Miss LeClaire's nose. There was a noise Matthew equated to what a melon might sound like if it fell from a one-hundred-storey building, if indeed such an edifice was possible. Even as Chapel reached to restrain Berry and the pale torturer-in-training Mr. Ripley gave not a cry but an emotionless hiss of alarm, Miss LeClaire fell back with eyes already turned inward toward a world of long sleep and painful recovery. The bridge of her nose was flattened, as if smacked by a skillet. Her head crunched into the wall behind her, her hair seemed to explode into a mass of writhing blond Medusa snakes, and as she sank down to the floor the blood shot in two fine arcs from the small holes of her nostrils onto her lacy dress and a black bruise spread across her twitching face as quickly and hideously as the plague.
Berry spat out the rest of the glove. It landed square atop Miss LeClaire's head, like a new style of Parisian hat.
It occurred to Matthew that Grandda Grigsby was not the only one in his family who could crack walnuts on an iron forehead.
Chapel spun her around, but kept an arm up in case Berry tried for a double score. a red blotch of anger had surfaced on each cheek, but because he was a man of firm self-control and perhaps also fatalism they cleared just as rapidly. He even managed a guarded smile of approval as he regarded the collapsed dolly. "Nicely done," he said.
"You bastards!" Berry seethed to the room at large. "What do you think you're doingi"
"Language, please," Chapel cautioned. "We can always find another glove." His arm was still up, protecting his brainpan.
Matthew didn't like this talk about a game. In fact, it made his knees weak and his bladder throb even more than having his hands nearly dead from the pressure of the cords. "They're going to send us to a nice little village in Wales," he said, by several shades too brightly. "aren't you, Mr. Chapeli The village the professor keepsi"
The emotion drained from Chapel's face. It was now a wax replica. "Hold this vixen, Lawrence." When Evans had cautiously taken the position, Chapel entertained himself with two more sniffs of snuff. at length he said, "For all his worth in keeping the affairs in order, Mr. Pollard has demonstrated a very large and disorderly mouth. Our benefactor's business is not any of yours, sir. In fact, it is up to my discretion whether you should be passed on further into the system or if you should not. Be," he added, for clarification. "I have decided on the latter course." a bell began ringing in the distance. Ringing and ringing. He gazed at Matthew and behind the square-rimmed spectacles his hard eyes softened. He seemed to wear a little gray cast of regret. "You have the mind, Matthew. You have the resources. You might have been very useful to our benefactor, in time. But I fear-and the professor would agree-that you're too far gone."
Chapel shook his head. His decision had been painfully made. "You should at least have let us take one eye before you ratted out Mr. Nack," he said. In Matthew's stunned and apprehensive silence, Chapel returned to his desk, picked up the notebook, and put it into the top drawer. The bell was still ringing. a merry sound for a funeral, Matthew thought. Berry was looking at him for some kind of reassurance, but he had none to give her.
"Let her sleep," Chapel instructed when Jeremy bent down to tend to his source of that which starts with p and ends in y. "God knows we all could use the rest. You first down the stairs, Jeremy. Don't step in blood and get it on my carpet, for the sake of Christ! all right, move along. You next, Mr. Ripley." Matthew noted that even Chapel drew back from the young creeper. "after you, miss," he told Berry, who started to plant her feet obstinately but was pushed forward by Lawrence Evans with a hand gripped to her neck. "Mr. Corbett and Count Dahlgren, please proceed."
In the dining-room, the group waited for Chapel to descend the stairs. He came down as a whistling, convivial spirit. all was right with Simon Chapel's little world. Matthew watched as he closed the office door behind him, took a key from a coat pocket, locked the door, and returned the key to its home. Miss LeClaire probably wouldn't wake up until September.
Matthew threw a glance at Berry, who caught it and returned one of her own that said, in quite explicit language: What the hell are we going to doi
He didn't know. What he did know, he didn't intend sharing with Berry. The cords around their wrists, at once lighter and more strongly woven than regular barn or household rope, were the same as had bound the wrists of Billy Hodges.
"We're off," beamed Chapel, as the bell kept ringing.
"Sir," Matthew said before Count Dahlgren could shove him along again, "don't you think we ought to waiti I mean, just to be sure I've told you the truth about Dippen Nacki"
"Whyi" Chapel's face loomed, moonlike, into Matthew's. "Was it not the truthi" To Matthew's contemplation of how to respond to this knitting-needle of a question, Chapel laughed explosively and clapped his prisoner's shoulder. "Your problem," he said with damnable good humor, "is that you're much too honest. Come along, now."
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