Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Forty-Four
Somewhere the ferry was crossing the river under the bright blue sky. Somewhere birds sang in the green Jersey hills. Somewhere children played, in all innocence and happiness, a game of Jack Straws.
But in the gloomy cellar of the attorneys' office on Broad Street, the Masker wore a smile full of pain. "You know I can't do that, Matthew."
"I know you have to. What good is the notebook without your testimonyi"
Kirby stared at the floor. "You said...this tragic story had hope in it. May I ask where it might bei"
"The hope," Matthew said, "is that if you give yourself up today-right now-I can promise you that I and influential people will make certain you see your mother before you go to prison."
"Oh. You and influential people."
"That's right. It's my promise."
"Well." Kirby grinned tightly. "I should feel so much better now, shouldn't Ii"
"What did you think you were going to do, Trevori Did you think that I was going to uncover the headmaster of this scheme and you would get a chance to murder him, too, before he went to the docketi" Matthew scowled. "You must be truly mad, to think it would end there. Don't you want to kill all the orphans who were involvedi What about Ivesi Don't you thirst to slash his throat, tooi" He let that hang because Kirby had given him a hollow-eyed, dangerous glare that made him think he'd gone a slash too far. Still, he pressed on. "I think if you took up shaving again and viewed yourself in the mirror, you'd see what effect murder has had on you. You're not a killer at heart! Far from it! Even andrew Kippering, for all his vices, isn't a killer. It's time to let this go, and for the law to finish what you've begun."
"Oh, now you're going to tell me about the power of the law! The majesty of the courts! How justice, that blindfolded whore, always wins the day!"
"No, I'm not," said Matthew. "as a lawyer, you know better than that. Mistakes can be made and wrong decisions delivered by even the most auspicious court. That's life. But what I'm telling you is that your testimony could bring more villains to justice than your knife. You can't kill them all. I don't think, in your heart, you would want to. But your testimony could put them all behind bars. Yours is a compelling story, Trevor. Don't sell the truth so short."
"The truth. I can prove nothing."
"This is a beginning," Matthew told him, and held up the notebook.
Kirby wavered on his feet. He blinked heavily, stared up at the lantern, and then focused on empty air. "I...have to think." a hand drifted to his forehead. "I'm tired. I'm so tired."
"I know you are," Matthew said, and then gave the man his last cannon shot. "Your mother sleeps, even with her eyes open. I think she dreams of hearing that the King's Reply has arrived, and of seeing you walk through the door. That's what she's waiting for, Trevor. Her son, to come wake her up. If you walk to Lillehorne's office with me, right now, you'll get that chance."
a tremor passed over Kirby's face. Just that quickly, tears leaped to his eyes. It was like watching a shored-up house be torn apart under a bitter storm, so fast did Kirby's face contort and the wretched sob burst from his mouth. Matthew thought it was not a sound any human should ever have to utter; it was the cry of the damned, cast out from Heaven. as the tears streamed down Kirby's cheeks and his face truly became a mask-though this one of agony far beyond any punishment known to Man-his knees buckled, he crumpled to the dirt, and amid the boxes and papers of the profession's underbelly he crawled like a dying animal to crush himself against the unyielding bricks.
Matthew had to steel himself, lest he too be overcome. Kirby had given up everything. His position, his bride-to-be, his life. He had fought to avenge a terrible injustice, and had lost his soul in that unwinnable fight. For it seemed now to Matthew that vengeance, in the end, always consumed the innocent as well as the guilty, and burned them both into only so much cold ash.
But, Matthew thought, there was one thing no one could ever doubt about Trevor Kirby.
He was a good son.
"I'm going to go now," Matthew heard himself say, and the man's sobbing quietened. "Will you follow me, when you're ablei"
There was no answer. Kirby remained pressed against the wall, his face hidden.
"Please," Matthew added. "For the both of us." Then he retrieved his tricorn and put it on, held the notebook close and firm at his side, and turned away to climb the stairs. He flinched as he heard Kirby move, but no attack ensued. Matthew went through the door at the top of the steps, then out the front door into the same bright light where the ferry sailed, the birds sang, and children played their joyful games.
He started walking north along Broad Street toward City Hall, his pace neither brisk nor particularly slow. He was simply giving a good but misguided son the chance to make up his mind. The air smelled of salt sea and the occasional puff of tobacco as pipe-smoking gentlemen walked past him. He kept his focus on the building ahead, putting together in his mind what his first words would be to Gardner Lillehorne. How was he to explain this, if Kirby failed to appeari It would be so much chaff to the wind. Constable Lillehorne, will you listen while I tell you about an insidious plot to mold orphans into professional criminals in service to-
The hard grip of a hand against his right shoulder jarred him out of his thoughts. Startled, he looked to that side and into the sunken-eyed, vulpine face of Bromfield, who wore the same wide-brimmed leather hat and similar rustic clothes as he'd been wearing that day on Chapel's estate.
"Look here!" a second hand snatched the notebook from Matthew's grip. "an added reward, I'd say!"
Bromfield put his arm around Matthew's neck like an old friend bending in to tell a secret and pushed him off the sidewalk into the shaded alcove of a doorway.
"Careful, careful," said the second man, who held the notebook. "all geniality and lightness, please. Mr. Corbetti"
Matthew blinked, stunned, and looked into the smiling face of Joplin Pollard.
The boyish lawyer leaned close; his mouth retained the smile, but his large brown eyes were sparkling not with grand good humor but with the razor-sharp glints of cruelty. "I want you to be very quiet now, all righti No trouble. Show it to him, Mr. Bromfield."
The hunter brought up his other hand and displayed a terribly familiar straw hat. He couldn't help himself; he took Matthew's tricorn off and pushed Berry's straw topper down around the younger man's ears.
"Your lovely friend has been taken on ahead." Pollard kept a hand pressed against the center of Matthew's chest. "Sadly, she gave Mr. Carver a kick to the shin that rattled even my teeth. So when you see her again she may be a bit bruised, but you should know that her life depends on what you do and say-or rather, not say-in the next few minutes."
"What's this...what's..." But Matthew knew, in spite of his mental fumbling. It hit him in the face like freezing water. Charles Land, the attorney whose practice Pollard had taken over, had supposedly inherited a large sum of money and returned to England to become an art patron and a dabbler in politics. That had been Professor Fell's method of clearing the way for a new investment.
Pollard is the one with ambition, the widow Sherwyn had said.
"You." The word came bitterly from Matthew's mouth. "You're in charge of everything, aren't youi"
"Everythingi a large blanket, I think. No, not everything. Just making sure people do what they're paid to do, and all goes smoothly. That's my job, really." He showed his teeth. "To smooth the rough roads and make sure they all connect. Thank you for the notebook, Mr. Corbett. I didn't expect to get hold of this today."
"Can I tweak his nose, siri" Bromfield asked hopefully.
"Certainly not. Let's keep our decorum on the public street. Mr. Corbett, you're going to come with us and do it without protest or drawing attention. If you're not delivered to Mr. Chapel's estate within a reasonable number of hours, the very lovely Miss Grigsby will die a death I can't begin to explain to you without losing my breakfast. Therefore, I'd suggest you follow my instructions: keep your head down, move quickly, do not speak to anyone else even if you're spoken to. Readyi Let's go, then."
Whether he was ready or not was beside the point. Matthew, with Berry's hat obscuring most of his face, was pushed along between the two men, who steered him left onto Barrack Street and past the place where he'd found ausley's body.
"We've been searching all over for you this morning," said Pollard as they kept a steady clip. "I met Bryan on the street a little while ago. He told me you were in to see andrew. Would you mind telling me what that was abouti"
Matthew did, so he didn't.
"No matter," the lawyer answered to Matthew's silence. "I'll have a little talk with andrew and we'll get to the bottom of it. am I right to feel a little uneasy around andrew these daysi What say youi"
"I say, you can put your head up your-" That gallant but foolish statement was censored by a pair of rustic knuckles that drove into his ribs through coat, waistcoat, and sweat-damp shirt.
"Easy, Mr. Bromfield. No need for that yet. ah, here we are."
ahead at the corner of Barrack and the Broad Way sat a coach with four horses. It was very different from the vehicle that had carried Charity LeClaire and him to the estate. This one was dusty and ugly, meant to look more like the regular, road-weary landboats that travelled the hard track between New York and Boston, and so would not gather as much notice amid the movement of pedestrians, cargo wagons, farmers' carts, and higglers' wheelbarrows.
a driver and whipman, both boys about fifteen or sixteen years old, sat up top. "Get in," said Pollard, guiding him forward. Quickly Bromfield tossed the tricorn through the window into the coach and unlatched the door. as Matthew was about to enter, he glanced to the right and saw his friend and chessmate Effrem Owles approaching along the sidewalk not twenty feet away. Effrem's head was lowered, his eyes lost in thought behind the spectacles. It came to Matthew to cry out for help, but just that fast the thought perished for not only might these men take Effrem as well, but Berry's life hung by a slender thread. Effrem passed by, so close Matthew could have touched him.
Then Matthew felt Bromfield's hand balled up in the small of his back, and he let himself be pushed into the coach. already within sat the wiry, long-haired youth whose job had been to pour the wine at Chapel's feast. Jeremy, Chapel had called him. Pomade glistened in his hair. He had drawn a knife as soon as the door had opened, and greeted Matthew with its blade.
Matthew sat on the bench seat facing him. Bromfield sat beside Matthew, reached over, and pulled the canvas sunshade down over the opposite window.
Pollard leaned in through the door and gave the notebook to Bromfield, who instantly tucked it down in his leather waistcoat. "Good man," Pollard said to Matthew. "No need for unpleasantries. Mr. Chapel just wants to speak to you."
"To speak to mei You mean, to kill me, don't youi"
"Relax, Mr. Corbett. We don't waste talent, even if it is misguided. Our benefactor keeps a nice village in Wales where people can be educated as to the proper meaning of life. I would like to know, though: how did you come upon the notebooki"
Matthew had to think fast. "McCaggers was wrong about it not being with ausley's belongings. His slave, Zed, had moved some of the stuff to another drawer. I went back to McCaggers and he'd found it."
"Is that soi"
"Hm." Pollard's eyes, much more alert than Matthew had ever seen them, examined Matthew's face. "I'll have to ask Mr. McCaggers about that. You trouble me, sir, just as you trouble Mr. Chapel. It's time something is done."
"The girl's not part of this."
"Part of what, siri" Pollard kept the thin smile. "Oh, you mean your intrigues with Mr. Greathouse, is that correcti We know all about your going to dig up a certain grave on a certain farm. Mr. Ormond was glad to talk to a young representative from the coroner's office who wished to tie up some loose ends."
"I have no idea what-"
"Spare me. Good, dependable, and stupid Bryan has a little game he plays with his laundress. He tells her a secret, she tells him a secret. I think that's his only vice, God pity him. On Tuesday Bryan tells me his laundress has heard that there have been four murders instead of only three. a corpse was found washed up out of the river onto a farm about ten miles out of town. a young man, still unidentified. The body pierced by multiple stab wounds. and this mysterious informant has actually seen it. Well, Mr. Ormond saw our young representative yesterday and provided the names of the two men who came to dig up the grave. Hudson Greathouse and-lo and behold-his associate Matthew Corbett. How about those applesi"
Sour, Matthew thought.
"Be sure we'll deal with Mr. Greathouse in due time. First you. Goodbye, sir." Pollard withdrew from the coach and shut the door. "Drive on!" he called up, as Bromfield reached across Matthew to draw the second canvas sunshade down with a definitive snap.
a whip was applied and the coach began to roll. In the yellow-tinged cabin, Matthew was sweating. He heard the workaday sounds of New York passing as the coach trundled north on the Broad Way. His eyes kept going to the knife in Jeremy's hand. It looked very eager.
He had to figure a way out of this. Unfortunately, there was no way out. He reached up to take off Berry's hat and at the same time the knife flicked toward him like a rattlesnake's tongue and Bromfield clasped an iron hand to his shoulder. Then the two rapscallions realized what he was doing and allowed him to de-hat. He put it on his lap, thinking that if he were a real hero pressed from the mold of Hudson Greathouse he would wait for a particularly vicious pothole, flick the straw topper into the boy's eyes, seize the knife, and plunge it into the largest target, which would be Bromfield's chest. Of course, getting through that leather waistcoat and the notebook tucked behind it might prove an ill adventure. He decided there was only one Hudson Greathouse, and no place for a hero in this coach.
They were moving faster now, turning onto the Post Road and leaving the town behind. The whip was striking left and right and the four horses were hauling ass.
a nice village in Wales, Pollard had said. Just the place for Berry and I to spend our old age, Matthew thought. If we live long enough to have one.
We, he realized. He had not thought of anyone that way, in conjunction with him, since the incident with Rachel Howarth at Fount Royal. He imagined he'd loved Rachel, when instead he'd wished to be her champion. Love was something he wasn't sure he yet understood. He knew desire, and the need for companionship...but lovei No. He was far too busy for even the idea of it.
Now, however, he looked to be facing a long period of-at the best-retirement. He wished suddenly that he'd been a little less serious and a lot more...how did Marmaduke put it...merry-making. Less chess, perhaps, and more dancing. Or, at the very least, more appreciation of the pretty girls in New York, and yes there were quite a few. It was interesting how a knife pointed at you could direct one's mind to things that a few weeks ago seemed frivolous and now seemed only sadly lost.
But wait, he told himself firmly. Just wait. He was still alive, and Berry was still alive. Hopefully. There might come a time, and unfortunately very soon, for wailing and lamentations. Now was not that time. He had to remain calm, focused, and ready to act if the situation presented itself.
The coach hit a pothole the depth of his misery and bounced. Matthew's moment to swat Jeremy's face with his topper passed. No heroes in this coach. But wasn't it heroic enough just to hold the nerves together, as they strained and screamed under his skini
What are you going to do, moonbeami
The boy had lowered his blade to the seat beside him. Bromfield's head leaned back, his eyes half-closed as the coach rocked.
"Hey," Matthew said to Jeremy. Instantly Bromfield's eyes opened fully and he sat up.
The boy stared blankly at Matthew.
"How old are youi" Matthew asked.
Jeremy glanced at Bromfield, who shrugged, and then back to his questioner. "Fifteen."
"I left the orphanage when I was fifteen. I was an orphan too, you know."
"Is that soi"
"What's your specialtyi"
"Your talent," Matthew said. "What got you out of the orphanage and into Chapel's schooli"
"ain't a school. It's..." Jeremy frowned, calling up a word. Obviously, quick wit was not his ticket. "It's a university."
"I'm sure you'll go far upon graduation. What's your talenti"
The boy picked up his knife and looked almost lovingly at the blade. "I can throw this," he said with a full measure of pride, "and hit a fella square in the back from twenty paces. Killed me an Injun kid one time, stealin' from my papa's chickencoop. Got him in the back and then I cut his red damn throat and took me his scalp, too."
"Laudable. You were how old when this happenedi"
"Eleven, I reckon. Then them Injuns came and dragged my papa off. They tied me to a fuckin' tree and torched the house down. That's how I got left on my own."
Matthew nodded. a fledgling assassin, perhapsi a killer able to strike at long distance from the shadowsi It occurred to him that ausley had possessed the talent of recognizing the inherent ability-call it the seed of evil, either inborn or created from any of life's more brutal circumstances-in some of his charges, and Chapel refined that raw substance into a valuable commodity. "What does Mr. Chapel offer you, in return for your loyalty to this...universityi"
"Good food," the boy replied. "a bed. Nobody fuckin' with me. and I get all the pussy I can handle."
ah, Matthew thought. So Charity LeClaire was also a valuable commodity. "Have you killed anyone else since you were eleveni"
"That's enough," Bromfield warned. "Shut up and keep shut."
The voice was harsh enough to tell Matthew he should pursue this no further if he cared to keep his teeth. Matthew settled against the backrest. He watched as Jeremy continued to admire the knife as if it were his declaration of power in a world that ground young men into pulp beneath ten-league boots.
at last-and much too soon-Matthew felt the coach slowing. He heard the whipman ring his signal bell and there was a pause as the gate was opened. Then the coach rolled forward, gained speed once more, and a hundred yards later came the cry, "Whoa! Whoa!"
The coach creaked to a halt, the door on Matthew's right was opened and Lawrence Evans, well-dressed and immaculately groomed, stood there in the bright spill of afternoon light. But he was certainly not alone, for around him and peering into the coach was a crowd of young faces of every description and, as Chapel had said, a variety of ages between twelve and eighteen, with possibly two or three a few years elder. Nineteen of them, according to Evans. Maybe so, but to Matthew it seemed there were enough to fight an English brigade.
Bromfield got out first and then Matthew, followed by Jeremy and his knife. The boys instantly began to hoot, cat-call, and snicker, until Evans said crisply, "That is enough. Show respect, even to the enemy. Make way, now."
as the whip cracked and the coach was driven away toward the vineyard, Matthew was escorted into the manse. Quickly, though, he noted that the university's "students" were all dressed more or less the same, in white shirts and black or brown breeches with cream-colored stockings. Notable also were paper badges that they worn pinned to their shirts in crayoned colors of crimson and royal blue and in different shapes of square, triangle, circle and-glimpsed only briefly and belonging to the oldest boys-a combination of blue circle within a red triangle within a blue square. Medals of some kindi he wondered. a way to distinguish between "years" for the students, as a real university would classify first year, second year, and so oni He was through the door and the door was closed behind him as one of the boys shouted, "You'll get what's comin'!"
He dreaded to think.
He was escorted-rather roughly by Bromfield with a hand to the nape of his neck-past the staircase and into the tapestry-draped corridor. Further back, the huge dining room with its fan-shaped arrays of swords had been recently the site of a late and obviously recently interrupted luncheon feast, for platters full of chicken bones sat amid the gleaming silver trays, salt and pepper bowls, and the other implements that Chapel felt created a gentleman's table. Matthew felt a bit of satisfaction, thinking that his arrival might have propelled Chapel up from his repast.
The door to the left of the room was open. Within it a staircase curved upward. Light glowed through a long, narrow window. "Up, please," Evans said as he ascended first. a shove almost knocked Matthew up the stairs before he could take the initial riser. The stairs rose to an office with circular windows overlooking the garden like the portholes of a ship. Everything was dark oak and black leather. It was the same as might be the office of any man of means: a wide desk, chairs, a file cabinet, and on shelves bookcases with many leatherbound volumes that in happier times Matthew might have wished to prowl through.
The two things in this particular office that stood unpleasantly out were Simon Chapel seated behind the desk, the light slanting across his face, the bulk of shoulders and battering-ram head, and Berry Grigsby in a peach-colored dress with yellow lace trim. She was sitting in a chair off to the side. Her hands were bound behind her with white cords, and likewise was she bound around her waist to the back of the chair. Her hair was wild and tangled, her eyes were wild and very frightened, and a vivid blue bruise lay across her left cheekbone.
"Hello, Matthew," Chapel said, his elbows on the desk's green blotter and his fingers steepled. The light lay fiery in his spectacles. "Pardon me if I don't stand up."
Matthew had no witty remark to throw at him. His mouth was a dry well. He saw Charity LeClaire, as elegant and beautiful as she was wretched and soul-ugly, standing directly behind Berry. In a chair on the opposite side of the room, the lizardy Count Dahlgren in his elegant beige suit sprawled as if basking on a warm rock.
"Matthew," Berry said hoarsely, her lower lip cut and swollen. He saw fingermarks on her neck where Carver had throttled the beginnings of a scream. Her eyes begged for rescue, as if this were the most terrible mistake and surely it would be all right, now that he'd come in like Sir Lancelot.
The knight of the moment noted something very disturbing indeed. On the floor beneath Berry's chair was a spread of sailcloth. To protect the expensive brick-red rug, he thought. From whati again, he dreaded to think.
"He was carryin' this, sir," said Bromfield, as he fished the notebook free and put it down on the desktop blotter. Chapel immediately picked it up and opened it to the page that had been dog-eared by the Masker's thumb.
"ah, yes. Very good." Chapel's smile was a wet gash. "The last book! Now I can rest easy, can't I." It was a statement, not a question.
Matthew saw there was one other person in the room. Over on the right, in the shadows that clung to the bookshelves like black cobwebs, was a boy of indeterminate age. Small-boned, pale of skin, and weirdly fragile. His silky hair was the color of dust. He wore the same uniform as his fellow students. His shirt-badge was the circle. He had a long thin scar running up through his right eyebrow into his hairline, and his eye on that side was a cold orb of milky-white.
"Restrain him," said Chapel, as he paged through the notebook.
Bromfield had moved behind Matthew, and now he locked an arm around Matthew's throat while Lawrence Evans displayed that an ex-clerk could have a suspiciously good relationship with a rope. Matthew's arms were pulled back, the cord was tied around his wrists, knotted so hard he thought he would pee in his breeches, and then he was shoved down into a chair so graciously slid beneath his buttocks.
Chapel took snuff from a silver case. One pinch up each nostril, snort and snort, but only in the most gentlemanly way. He used a white lace handkerchief to brush the refuse from the coat of his suit, which was the color of rich brown tobacco anyway.
"I want to know," he said as he folded his handkerchief and put it away, "from where you got this notebook. Will you tell me that, pleasei"
Matthew got his dry well watered enough to rasp, "Certainly. Very simply, the coroner had misplaced it. In a different drawer. I returned to his office and-"
"Why would he give it to you, siri" The topaz eyes flared, just a fraction.
Careful, Matthew thought. "He trusts me. I told him I knew Miss LeClaire, and that I would give it to her. Of course I was going to bring it here." He took advantage of the pause. "I told Mr. Pollard the same thing. He's going to go speak to Mr. McCaggers."
"He knows everything," Bromfield said, which made Matthew want to kick him in the nuts.
"I know he knows everything," Chapel replied irritably. "Perhaps not everything, but enough. all right, Matthew, let's put aside the notebook for a moment. I want to talk to you about the Masker. Do you know who he isi"
"No, I don't."
"are you positively sure about thati"
"I'm...I'm sure," Matthew said, and damned his nervous stutter.
"Well, the reason I ask is that the Masker has killed three men who featured large in our project. You know what project I'm talking about, don't youi"
"No sir, I don't." and he quickly added, "You don't really have to tell me, either."
"Siri" It was back-stabbing Jeremy. "He asked me in the coach what my talent is. He called our university a fuckin' school."
"Watch your language, please. That's demerits off." Chapel returned his languid, scorching attention to Matthew's sweat-sparkling face. "Who dog-eared that particular pagei" Matthew went deaf and dumb. "The page with the orphans' names," Chapel prodded. "Who dog-eared thati Mr. McCaggersi"
"I suppose so, sir. Possibly I did it, I don't exactly-"
"You are slobbering bullshit," said Chapel, very quietly. It was odd, how sometimes a quiet voice could make your backbone shiver. "I think you do know who the Masker is. I think the Masker killed those three men particularly because of one of our endeavors. I think he has some grandiose scheme of vengeance, which means he has a connection to the Swanscott family."
"The who, siri" Matthew asked, though strangled.
"Mr. Bromfield, if he speaks without being spoken to again, I want you to make a violent response. Do mind the carpet, though. It's new and I don't want blood on it."
"I was saying," Chapel continued, "that the Masker has a connection to the Swanscott family. Obviously. I think, you being an associate now of Mr. Hudson Greathouse and that highly lauded woman's agency, that for whatever reason and whatever bizarre circumstances the Masker approached you because of that notice in the broadsheet. So it must be someone you know, and who knows your current association. He presented you with the notebook he'd taken off the body of Eben ausley, that dead asshole. Now the Masker had a problem: he wished to know who might have engineered the adventure in Philadelphia, in...what was the date, Lawrencei"
"Yes, quite correct. He wishes you to find out who put the plan together, so he might strike that man down. If you haven't figured it out yet, we're talking about myself. I don't take very kindly to having to watch my throat, sir, even if this Masker would be stepping into a slaughterhouse were he to set one foot over that wall. So...I should like to know his name, that I might bring him here and empty his head of its brains. You're going to tell me his name, sir. You're going to tell me his name within one minute. Mr. Ripleyi"
The boy moved sinuously from the shadows. Instantly Charity LeClaire grasped two handfuls of Berry's hair and jerked her head back. Lawrence Evans, a jack of all evils, stepped forward and fixed some kind of metal clamp to Berry's right eye which held the lids apart as much as she cried out and tried to struggle. For good measure, the elegant lady shoved a dirty leather glove into Berry's mouth.
Ripley slid from his pocket a long and terribly sharp blue knitting needle.
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