Part One: The Masker Chapter Seven
Tuesday night became Wednesday morning. Thirteen steps down, Matthew stood in the grim domain of ashton McCaggers.
The cold room, reached by a door behind the City Hall's central staircase, was lined with gray stone and had a floor of hard-packed brown clay. Originally an area to store foodstuffs in case of emergency, the chamber was deemed by McCaggers cool enough, even in the heat of midsummer, to delay the deterioration of a human body. However, no reckoning had yet been taken of how long a corpse might lie here on the wooden slab of a table before it broke down into the primordial ooze.
The table itself, at the center of the twenty-two-foot-wide chamber, had been prepared to host the body of Pennford Deverick by being covered with a sheet of burlap and then a layer of crushed chestnut hulls and flax and millet seeds so as to soak up the fluids. Matthew and the others commanded to be present by Gardner Lillehorne-including Effrem and Benjamin Owles, a still-woozy Phillip Covey, Felix Sudbury, and the onerous first-constable-on-the-scene Dippen Nack-had stood under a wrought-iron chandelier that held eight candles and watched as the corpse had slid down a metal chute from a square opening at the rear of the building. Then McCaggers' slave, the formidable bald-headed and silent man known only as Zed, had come down the thirteen stone steps after his task of wheeling the body-cart along Smith Street and had proceeded to lift the dead man onto another wheeled table. after this, Zed then prepared the examination table, pushed the body over, and lifted Deverick-still fully clothed so that the master of investigation might see the corpse as it was discovered-onto the bed of hulls and seeds. Zed worked diligently and without even glancing at his audience. His physical strength was awesome and his silence absolute, for he had no tongue.
To say the least, it was disturbing to all to see Pennford Deverick in such condition. His body was stiffening, and beneath the yellow candlelight he looked to be no longer truly human but rather a wax effigy whose facial features had melted and been re-formed with a mallet.
"I'm going to heave again, Matthew," Covey croaked. "I swear I am."
"No, you're not." Matthew caught his arm. "Just look at the floor."
There was nothing wrong with Zed's ears, but he paid the visitors no heed. all his attention was directed to the dead. He went about lighting four candles with tin reflectors behind them, and these he placed on the table one on either side of the corpse and one above the head and below the feet. He next opened the lid of a barrel, scooped two buckets into it, and placed the buckets-full of ordinary water, Matthew saw-on top of the wheeled table. a third bucket, empty, was placed along with them. From a cupboard he brought several pieces of folded white linen and placed these also beside the three buckets.
Next, he brought an artist's easel from its place in a corner and set this up alongside the corpse, as well as a pad of white document sheets and a clay jar that held black and red wax crayons. after this was done, he seemed to go to sleep standing up, his thick arms at his sides and his eyes half-closed. Under the candlelight, the strange upraised tribal scars that covered his face were deep purple against the ebony flesh, and somewhere in those markings were the stylized Z, E, and D shapes for which McCaggers had named him.
The death-jurists didn't have much longer to wait. Lillehorne came down the stairs, followed by a pale young man of medium height, whose light brown hair was receding from a high forehead and who wore an unremarkable suit of nearly the same hue. McCaggers, who was only three years Matthew's senior, carried a brown leather case with tortoise-shell clasps. He wore spectacles, had deep-set dark eyes, and was in need of a shave. as he descended the stairs he was the picture of cool and poised professionalism, but Matthew knew-as they all knew-what would happen when he reached the floor.
"He's a mess," Lillehorne said, referring to the corpse and not to McCaggers, though he well could be. "The blade almost took his head off."
McCaggers didn't reply, but as he came off the bottom step and his eyes found the body the sweat beads leaped from the pores of his face and in a matter of seconds he was as wet as if he'd been dowsed. His entire form had begun to shiver and quake, and when he put his toolcase up onto the table beside the buckets he had so much trouble with the clasps that Zed quickly and with practised grace opened it for him.
From the leather case gleamed and glinted calipers, forceps, little saws, knives of various shapes and sizes, tweezers, probes, and things that resembled many-pronged forks. The first item McCaggers chose, with a trembling hand, was a silver bottle. He uncapped it, drank down a good chug, and waved it under his nose.
He gave a quick glance at the corpse and then away. "We are absolutely certain the deceased"-his frail voice cracked on that word, which he repeated-"deceased individual is Mr. Pennford Devericki Does anyone wish to verifyi"
"I'll verify," said the high constable.
"Witnessesi" asked McCaggers.
"I'll verify," Matthew said.
"Then...I pronounce Mr. Deverick dead." He cleared his throat. "Dead. Verifyi"
"Yes, I verify," said Lillehorne.
"Dead as a fish in a frypan," said Felix Sudbury. "But listen, shouldn't we wait for his wife and boyi I mean...before anything else is donei"
"a messenger's been sent," Lillehorne said. "In any case, I wouldn't want Mrs. Deverick to see him as he is, would youi"
"She may wish to see him."
"Robert can make that decision, after he"-Lillehorne was momentarily interrupted by the noise of McCaggers vomiting into the empty bucket, but then he forged ahead-"views the body."
"I'm feelin' awful faint," Covey said, his knees starting to sag.
"Just hold up." Matthew was still supporting him. He watched as Zed dipped one of the linen cloths into a water bucket and moistened his master's pallid, agonized face. McCaggers took another snort and sniff of his stimulant.
It was the town's fortune-for good or otherwise-to have a man who was so skilled in anatomy, art, and memory as ashton McCaggers, for it was said McCaggers could speak to you on Monday and on Saturday recite to you the exact time of day you'd spoken and virtually every line of your speech. He had been a promising art student, that much was clear, as well as a promising medical student-up until the moment of dealing with anything having to do with blood or dead flesh, and then he was a carriage wreck.
Still, his skills outweighed his deficiencies in the position the town had given him, and though he was no physician-and never would be, until blood became rum and flesh cinnamon cake-he would do his best, no matter how many buckets he filled.
This, Matthew thought, looked like a four-bucket job.
Zed was staring solemnly at his master, waiting for a signal. McCaggers nodded, and Zed went to work cleaning the clotted blood away from the dead man's face with another cloth dipped into the second water bucket. Matthew saw the point of the bucket trio now: one for the water to clean the body, one for water to revive McCaggers, and one for...the other.
"We are all in accord, then, as to the cause of deathi" McCaggers asked Lillehorne, the sweat bright on his face once again.
"a blade to the throat. Say youi" The high constable regarded his jurists.
"Blade to the th'oat," croaked Dippen Nack, and the others gave either a nod or a vocal agreement.
"Duly noted," McCaggers said. He watched the cloth Zed used becoming dark with gore, and then he gave a lurch and turned once more to the bucket of other.
"This one picked Mr. Deverick's pockets, sir!" Nack put his billyclub up against Matthew's chin. "Caught him redhanded with the booty!"
"I told you, Reverend Wade gave this to me to hold. He and Dr. Vanderbrocken were examining the body."
"Therefore, what became of the good reverend and doctori" Lillehorne lifted his thin black eyebrows. "Did anyone else see themi" he asked the group.
"I saw someone," Sudbury offered. "Two men, over the body."
"The reverend and the doctori"
"I couldn't really tell who they were. Then of a sudden, with all that crowd around, I didn't see them anymore."
"Corbetti" Lillehorne peered into Matthew's eyes. "Why did they not stay on the scenei Don't you think it odd that both of those illustrious men should...shall we say...slip away into the crowd as they've supposedly donei"
"You'll have to ask them. Perhaps they had somewhere else to go."
"Somewhere more important than where Pennford Deverick lay dead on the groundi I should like to hear that story." Lillehorne took the wallet and gold watch from Matthew's hand.
"May I point out that this wasn't a robberyi" Matthew asked.
"You may point out that it might have been an interrupted robbery, yes. Covey!"
Phillip Covey almost shot out of his shoes. "Yes siri"
"You say you were drunk and you almost tripped over the body, is that correcti"
"Yes sir. Correct, sir."
"You were coming from which taverni"
"The...uh...the...I'm sorry, sir, I'm a bit nerved about all this. I was coming from...the...uh...the Gold Compass, sir. No, wait...it was the Laughing Cat, sir. Yessir, the Laughing Cat."
"The Laughing Cat is on Bridge Street. You live on Mill Street, don't youi How was it that you'd gone completely past Mill Street and were walking up Smith Street in the opposite direction of your housei"
"I don't know, sir. I suppose I was on my way to another tavern."
"There are many taverns between Bridge Street and where you supposedly almost tripped over the body. Why did you not go into one of thosei"
"I...I guess I was-"
"How did you find the body restingi" McCaggers suddenly asked.
"Resting, siri Well...on its back, sir. I mean, his back. I nearly stepped on him."
"and you got the blood on your hands howi"
"I tried to wake him up, sir." What came out next was in frantic haste. "I thought it was...you know...another drunk, lying there asleep. So I got down with him, trying to wake him up. Just for somebody to pal with, I guess. I took hold of his shirt...and then I saw what I'd gotten into."
McCaggers paused to dip a hand into the water bucket and cool his forehead. "Did you search this young man for a knife, Gardneri"
"I did. Nothing was found, but he could easily have tossed it."
"Did you find anything else on himi"
"Some coins, that's all." Lillehorne frowned. "Should I have found anything elsei"
McCaggers must have felt something rising, for he hurriedly leaned over the bucket. He made a retching noise, but it was clear he was coming to the end of the second tasting of his supper. "Gloves to guide a slippery knife handle," McCaggers said, when he could manage it. "a blade-sheath. anything of value belonging to the victim. a motive. The young man didn't kill Mr. Deverick. Nor did he kill Dr. Godwin."
"Dr. Godwini What are-"
"No need to play at denial. The same person who did this murdered Dr. Godwin."
There was a long silence during which Lillehorne watched Zed as the cleaning progressed, cloth to blood, to bucket, wrung out, back to blood once more. Now Deverick's face was almost scrubbed.
Lillehorne's voice was hollow when he finally spoke. "Go home, all of you."
Dippen Nack was first up the stairs, followed by Covey. as Matthew started to go up after Mr. Sudbury, Effrem, and Mr. Owles, Lillehorne said, "all except you, clerk."
Matthew stopped. He'd known he wasn't going to get out of here that easily.
"Helloi Helloi May I come downi"
The voice was unmistakable. Lillehorne winced. Marmaduke Grigsby appeared at the top of the stairs, his shirtsleeves rolled up to say he was ready for work.
"You're not needed here, Grigsby. Go home."
"Pardon, sir, but there's a frightful rabble of people out front milling about. I did my best to escort Mrs. Deverick and Robert through the crowd. Shall I bring them downi"
"Just the boy. I mean...send him down, and keep Mrs. Deverick-"
"The high constable wishes to see your son first, if you please, madam," they heard Grigsby say to the family beyond the door. Then young Robert-looking shocked and wan, his eyes puffed from sleep and his curly dark brown hair in disarray-came into view and slowly, dreadfully descended the stairs. Grigsby followed like a bulldog. "Shut that door!" Lillehorne commanded. "From the other side!"
"Oh yes sir, how disrespectful of me." Grigsby closed the door with a solid thunk but he remained on the cold room side. He came down, his face resolute.
Matthew saw that now Zed was cleaning the throat wound. McCaggers, who was still beset by fits of trembling, had regained some composure and with a black crayon was drawing on a sheet of paper a precise outline of the body as it lay on the table.
Robert Deverick, wearing a dark blue cloak studded with gold buttons over a blue-striped nightshirt, stopped at the foot of the stairs. His eyes moved from Lillehorne to the table and back again, and his lips moved but made no sound.
"Your father was murdered on Smith Street," Lillehorne said quietly but with force. "It happened"-he opened the watch, having the same idea as Matthew-"between ten o'clock and ten-thirty, it appears. Can you tell me where he'd been tonighti"
"Father..." Robert's voice faltered. His eyes glittered, but if there were tears it was hard to tell. "Father...who could've murdered my fatheri"
"Please. Where had he beeni"
The young man continued to stare at the corpse, transfixed perhaps by the violence that had been inflicted upon human flesh. Matthew thought how much difference twelve hours could make; yesterday afternoon at the meeting Penn Deverick had been vibrant, boastful, and arrogant-his usual self, or so Matthew had heard-and now he was as cold and insensate as the clay underfoot. Matthew watched Robert trying to gain control of himself. Veins in the throat twitched, a muscle in the jaw jumped, the eyes narrowed and swam. Matthew understood that remaining in London were an elder brother and two sisters. Deverick had been a goods broker there, as well, and Robert's brother now ran that business.
"Taverns," Robert managed at last. Grigsby slid past him, ignoring Lillehorne's look of absolute scorn, and sidled up next to the corpse. "He went out. Before eight o'clock. To make the rounds of the taverns."
"For what reasoni"
"He was...infuriated...about Lord Cornbury's opinion...that the taverns should be closed early. He intended to fight the governor. With a petition. Signed by all the tavern owners and..." Robert drifted off, for the deep and hideous wound that had been his father's throat was being fully revealed to the light. McCaggers, his face slick with sweat and his hands trembling, leaned over and measured the cut with his calipers. Matthew saw that in McCaggers' eyes was the mad gleam of a terror no one should have to endure, yet he carried on.
"Go on, please," Lillehorne urged.
"Yes. I'm sorry...I'm..." Robert put his hand to his forehead to steady himself. He closed his eyes. "The taverns," he said. "He wished to get support...to fight Lord Cornbury's edict, should it be made official. That's where he was tonight."
"It would be beneficial," Matthew offered before he thought better of it, "to find out the last tavern he visited, what time, and who he might have-"
"already in mind," the high constable interrupted. "Now Robert, let me ask you this: do you have an idea-any inkling-of who might have wished your father harmi"
again with grim fascination the young man watched McCaggers at work. McCaggers was using a probe to examine the exposed tissues, after which he gagged and leaned over his bucket once more yet nothing came up. When McCaggers went back to his examination his face was as gray as a whore's sheet and his eyes behind the spectacles were two small black bits of coal.
"My father," said Robert, "used to have a credo. He said...business is war. and he fervently believed it. So...yes, he had enemies, I'm sure. But in London, not here."
"and how can you be so surei"
"Here he had no competition."
"But then, perhaps he did. Perhaps someone wanted him out of his position, so-"
"That's a stretch," McCaggers said, as Zed wiped his forehead with the moist clean cloth. "Did someone also wish Dr. Godwin out of his positioni I'm telling you, the same person has committed these crimes."
"Reallyi" Grigsby might not have had a notebook at hand, but he was eager to record. "You're positive of thati"
"Don't speak to him, McCaggers!" Lillehorne warned. Then, to Grigsby, "I've told you to get out! If you linger one more minute, you'll stay in the gaol for a week!"
"You don't have that authority," Grigsby said, in an easy voice. "I'm breaking no law. am I, Matthewi"
The furious sound of McCaggers drawing something on the easel-paper caught their attention. When he stepped back, they saw he'd used the red crayon to indicate the throat wound on the black-outlined figure. "Here is my answer," he said, and then he drew a red triangle framing each eye. When he marked the cut connecting them across the bridge of the nose, it was with such force that his crayon snapped.
"The Masker," Grigsby said.
"Call him what you please." McCaggers' face was nearly dripping in the yellow light; he looked almost dead himself. "It was the same hand." He changed to the black crayon and began writing notations alongside the body-figure that Matthew was unable to decipher.
"You're saying...the same person who murdered Dr. Godwin murdered my fatheri" Robert asked, stricken anew.
"We're not certain of that." Lillehorne fired a glance at McCaggers that said hold your tongue. "There's still work to be done."
"I'll keep the body through tonight," McCaggers said, speaking to all and to no one in particular. "Then to Mr. Paradine tomorrow morning."
Jonathan Paradine was the town's funeral master, whose business stood on Wall Street near Trinity Church. When the corpse left here, wrapped in sailcloth, it would be delivered to Paradine for proper shrouding and fitting to a suitable casket of the Deverick family's choice.
Matthew had noted that, even as strong as he was, Zed was not required to carry the body up those steps. Instead, above the chute there was a system of pulleys and ropes constructed by the town's engineer for the purpose of hauling the deceased up the way he or she had arrived. By no means did all the dead of New York come to the cold room; most by far went directly from deathbed to Paradine. This was a place solely for the investigation-such as it was-of foul play, of which there'd been four instances since Matthew had been working with Magistrate Powers: the fatal beating of a woman by her peddler husband, the knifing of a sea captain by a prostitute, the murder of Dr. Godwin, and now Mr. Deverick.
"I'll have my report for you this afternoon," McCaggers said to the high constable. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. His hands were still shaking. Matthew reasoned that he would never overcome his dread of blood and death, even were he to examine forty corpses a year.
"May I see that report as welli" Grigsby asked.
"You may not, sir." Lillehorne turned his attention once more to the young Deverick. He handed over the wallet and gold pocketwatch. "These are yours now, I think. I'll go up and speak to your mother with you, if you like."
"Yes, I'd appreciate that. I wouldn't know what to say by myself."
"Gentlemeni" Lillehorne motioned Matthew and Grigsby up toward the door.
Without turning from the notes he was writing, McCaggers said, "I'll speak to Mr. Corbett."
Lillehorne's backbone went rigid, his lips so tight he could hardly squeeze a word between them. "I don't think it wise to-"
"I'll speak to Mr. Corbett," came the reply, both an order and a curt dismissal. It was obvious to Matthew that in this lower realm McCaggers was king and the high constable at best a jester.
Still, Lillehorne had his ton of pride. "I shall have a word with Chief Prosecutor Bynes over this misplacement of loyalty to the office."
"Whatever that means, you may do so. Goodnight to you. Rather...good morning."
With no further protest other than a little angry exhalation of air, Lillehorne escorted Grigsby and the young Deverick up the stairs. at the top, Grigsby reached back and firmly closed the door.
Matthew stood watching McCaggers write his notes, look at the body, write again, check with the calipers, write, and have his sweating face mopped with a wet cloth by the silent and impassive Zed.
"I attended the meeting today," said McCaggers, when Matthew thought the man's concentration had forced out all memory of his being there. McCaggers continued to work as if indeed he, Zed, and the corpse were a trio. "What do you make of Lord Cornburyi"
Matthew shrugged, though McCaggers didn't see it. "an interesting choice of hats, I'd say."
"I know some of his history. He has a reputation as a meddler and a buffoon. I doubt he'll be with us very long." McCaggers paused to take another drink from his bottle of courage, and he allowed Zed to once more blot the sweatbeads from his forehead. "Your suggestions were well-put. and well-needed, too, I might say. I hope they'll be implemented."
"as do I. Especially now."
"Yes, especially now." McCaggers leaned over to peer closer at the corpse's face, and then he gave an involuntary shudder and returned to his writing. "Tell me, Mr. Corbett. Is it true, what's said of youi"
"What's said of mei"
"The witchcraft business, in the Carolina colony. That you resisted the will of a magistrate and sought to have a woman freed from a death sentencei"
Matthew paused. "Well what, siri"
McCaggers turned to look at him, the candlelight sparking on his spectacles and his damp cheeks. "Was she a witchi"
"No, she was not."
"and you just a clerki How is it you had such convictioni"
"I've never cared for unanswered questions," Matthew replied. "I suppose I was born that way."
"a freak of birth, then. Most accept the easiest answer to the most difficult question. It's more comforting, don't you agreei"
"No sir, not for me."
McCaggers grunted. Then: "I presume Mr. Grigsby wishes to write another article in his sheeti On 'The Masker,' as he so colorfully statesi"
"Well, he missed half of what I told him last time." McCaggers put down his crayon and turned, with an agitated look, toward Matthew. "How can a man publish a sheet if he has tin ears and his eyes can't see what's in front of himi"
"I don't know, sir," said Matthew, becoming a little disturbed at McCaggers' sudden vivacity. Or perhaps more disturbing was the fact that Zed was staring at him with those black and fathomless eyes. Matthew understood that Zed had arrived tongueless at the marketplace; if one knew the slave's history, it might be a tale for a night's horror.
"I told him it wasn't an ordinary knife. It was a knife with a hooked blade. a backhanded strike, drawn from left to right." McCaggers placed a finger on the red crayon of the throat cut to demonstrate the motion. "This is a knife designed to slice through the throat of an animal. Drawn with no hesitation and with full strength. I would look for someone who has experience in a slaughterhouse."
"Oh. I see," said Matthew.
"Pardon me." McCaggers, who had gone pale with his own recitation of violence, stopped to press the wet cloth up against his mouth.
"The cuttings around the eyes," Matthew ventured. "Do you have any idea what-"
McCaggers shook his head and held up a hand palm-outward to beseech Matthew's silence.
Matthew waited uneasily as McCaggers composed himself and Zed stared at him like the living visage of some massive and ominous african carving.
"a statement, of course," McCaggers said quietly when he lowered the cloth and took a breath. "Exactly the same as delivered to Julius Godwin. In the Italian tradition, carnival masks are sometimes decorated with colored diamond or triangle shapes around the eyes. Particularly the harlequin masks of Venice." He saw that Matthew was waiting for more. "That's all I have, concerning the marks. But come closer and look here."
Matthew walked nearer the corpse and the immobile Zed. McCaggers stayed where he was beside the easel. "Look at the left temple. Here is the place." He chose another red crayon from the jar and drew a circle on the outlined-figure's head. Matthew looked at the body at that spot and saw on the swollen flesh a black bruise about three inches long.
"That blow to the head began the play," McCaggers explained. "Mr. Deverick was dazed and unable to cry out, but not dead. I believe the killer lowered him to the ground on his back, put away the cudgel-a small one, easily concealed-took hold of Mr. Deverick's hair to steady the target, and did his work. Then the marks around the eyes saved for last, is my best guess. Mr. Deverick was left laid out; your friend got the blood on his hands and then onto that wretched shirt of yours. am I correcti"
"The part about the shirt, for certain."
"The whole thing probably took only a matter of seconds. as I say, he is an experienced cutter. also, by way of Dr. Godwin, an experienced murderer."
Matthew was staring closely at the imprint of the cudgel, the dead face before him now simply an item of clinical interest and a question unanswered. "You say his throat was cut from the fronti a backhanded motioni"
"I can tell that from the depth of the wound. Deep to shallow, the severed cords and clots of tissue pushed to the killer's right. Hold a moment." McCaggers swayed and trembled and stared down at the floor until his fit of dread had passed. Zed offered the wet cloth, but McCaggers shook his head.
"How do you know his throat wasn't cut from behindi" Matthew asked.
"The killer would have had to be left-handed. I think he was-is-right-handed. If he'd come up behind Mr. Deverick, he likely would've used his cudgel to squarely strike the back of the skull. and look at Mr. Deverick's right hand."
Matthew did. The rigid hand that lay across the belly, the fingers and thumb spread. acceptance, he'd thought at the scene of the crime. It came clear to him in an instant. "He was about to shake his killer's hand."
"The shock of the blow splayed his fingers. Should we be looking for a gentlemani Someone Mr. Deverick knew and respectedi"
The impact of this brought something else clearly to Matthew's mind. It was chilling, in its implication of evil. "Whoever did this wished Mr. Deverick to see his face. To know, perhaps, that he was about to die. Yesi"
"Possibly, but you might have it the wrong way about," McCaggers said. "The killer might have wished to make sure he saw Mr. Deverick's face, probably because he wasn't carrying a lantern. I think this is not the random act of a madman, and neither was the murder of Dr. Godwin. Because Dr. Godwin was also struck on the left temple, leaving that same bruise in almost exactly the same place."
Matthew couldn't reply, for he was left thinking about the preparations the killer must have made in order to be quiet, quick, and successful. Wear dark clothes, no lantern, cudgel at the ready, perhaps a belt under a nightblack cloak to hold the instrument, then the blade in a sheath close at hand. From the ground, the blood wouldn't have spurted so far up that the killer-who was also ready for that fountain of gore-couldn't have avoided most of it. Gloves, of course, in case the knife handle did become slick. The cuttings around the eyes, and gone back into the dark.
"What was the connection between Dr. Godwin and Mr. Devericki" Matthew asked, only if to hear himself voice the question.
"You find it," said McCaggers. Then with an air of finality he turned his back on Matthew to concentrate solely on his notations.
Matthew waited for a few moments longer, but it was clear his welcome had passed. When McCaggers made a motion to Zed and the slave began cutting away the dead man's clothes with an expertly applied razor, Matthew knew it was time to pick up his lantern from the floor, its candle burned to a stub, and return to the world of the living.
His ascent toward the door, however, was briefly interrupted. "Sometimes," McCaggers said, and Matthew knew from the echo of the voice that his back was still turned, "it's not wise to reveal all to a watchful eye. I leave to your judgment what to tell Grigsby and what to keep concealed."
"Yes sir," Matthew answered, and with that he left the cold room.
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