Part Two: The Madness Chapter Eighteen
as he approached city hall, it was clear to Matthew that-even taking into account last night's murder-this was to be far from an ordinary day.
In front of the building milled a group of forty or so men who by dint of facial expressions and loudness of mouth did not resemble happy citizens. He noted some of the men held broadsheets that could have only been Grigsby's latest edition. The newborn Earwig would have been on sale for the breakfasters at Sally almond's tavern, at the Dock House Inn, and at several other locations around town. What the discord was about Matthew couldn't tell and didn't linger to learn, as he made his precarious way through the crowd and into the front door.
On the second floor he found that Magistrate Powers' office was locked. The magistrate was likely already at court. Matthew was fishing for his key when another clerk of his acquaintance, aaron Lupton by name, stopped with a sheaf of papers on his path down the hallway between offices and told Matthew the morning's tale. The day's scheduled court proceedings had been cancelled and all magistrates and aldermen, as well as the high constable and other ranking officials, had been summoned by Lord Cornbury to a meeting in the main hall. The word, Lupton confided, was that they were thrashing out the language of a Clear Streets Decree...and by the way had he heard about the third murder last nighti Matthew assured Lupton he had, and Lupton went on to say that Cornbury was likely going to order the taverns closed early, and already the owners and their best customers had gotten wind of the meeting and were gathering in the street.
also, Lupton said, Lord Cornbury today wore a blue gown that did nothing for his figure. Matthew thought there could be such a thing as too much information, but he thanked Lupton and unlocked the door intending to at least straighten up the office and check any correspondence that the magistrate might have put into his "to-reply" box. The first thing he saw was the fresh Earwig that either Grigsby or a hired boy had slipped under the door. The second thing that leaped to his attention, as he retrieved the sheet from the floor, was the dark line of type that read Masker Has Struck again and below that, more horribly, Interview of Coroner By Young Witness.
"Shit," he heard himself say. He closed the door and almost broke the latch when he jammed it home. Then he sat down at his desk, the better to have a firm foundation beneath him.
Marmaduke and Effrem had had a hard time of it, judging from all the monks and friars on the page-the monks being letters too faint for want of ink and the friars being too dark for too plenty of ink-but the imperfections weren't enough to obscure Matthew's name in the central article.
Murder most foul was dealt upon town business leader Pennford Deverick near ten-thirty o'clock on Tuesday night, as the Masker has committed his second crime against reason and humanity. ashton McCaggers, official coroner of New York town, was interviewed by Matthew Corbett, a friend of this sheet and a clerk in the employ of Magistrate Nathaniel Powers, in regard to this heinous act and the fiend who ended the honorable Mr. Deverick's life.
according to Mr. McCaggers and our Mr. Corbett, the Masker has not vacated town as was first advanced by some of our town nobles, for Mr. Deverick lies dead with the exact same masklike cuttings about his eyes as was delivered to Dr. Julius Godwin two weeks past. It is Mr. McCaggers' opinion, says our interviewer, that the Masker struck Mr. Deverick down with a blunt instrument before the dirty work was done.
Matthew didn't recall telling Grigsby that, but he might have let it slip. Must have, as a matter of fact, for Marmaduke was quick to sew details together.
Our Mr. Corbett was a witness at the terrible scene. He tells us that Mr. Deverick was brutally attacked and yet made no attempt to escape, indicating that he may have known his killer. One blanches at the fact that, also according to Mr. McCaggers, a face familiar to many of us hides a murderer's rage.
again, Matthew had only the slight memory of saying anything even remotely close to this. He thought it had been a statement along the line of, "Deverick didn't seem to put up a struggle. I think McCaggers believes it was someone he may have known."
Mr. Deverick was discovered on Smith Street by Mr. Phillip Covey and was pronounced dead near midnight by Mr. McCaggers. Questions asked of High Constable Gardner Lillehorne were referred to Chief Prosecutor James Bynes, who demurred to the opinions of Governor Lord Cornbury, who was unavailable for comment.
It is this publication's hope that the Masker is quickly brought to account for these deeds. Our condolences are offered to Mr. Deverick's widow, Esther, his son Robert and the extended family.
There followed a brief biography of Deverick, which Matthew assumed Grigsby had gotten from the widow, and then the news continued with the description of Cornbury's first meeting with his citizens. The story diplomatically called the new governor "a stylish addition to the town he so pleasantly intends to manage." Matthew turned the sheet over and saw there at the bottom-below articles such as a lumber wagon accident on the Broad Way and items concerning ships in harbor and cargoes received-the announcement for the Herrald agency. Well, at least that had turned out as planned.
He looked over the article about the Masker once again. There really wasn't anything in it that he thought McCaggers might object to and he believed he'd done a good job at keeping Grigsby at bay. Then again, there was that part about the "familiar face" and the "murderer's rage" that Matthew was sure would not go over lightly with Chief Prosecutor Bynes. add to that the fact that it sounded as if Matthew was now reporting back to Grigsby on the doings-or misdoings-at City Hall. Not pretty.
He decided he would take this broadsheet with him, get out of here by the quickest, and enjoy a day off.
In the hallway he paused to lock the office door. as he was walking to the staircase he heard the noise of voices below him and boots tramping on the steps. Men were coming up. It seemed the meeting had ended. and not too amicably, it sounded, for there were shouts and language that turned the air blue. He thought he heard Bynes' thunder in that approaching storm, and here he stood like a lightning-bolt.
There was no time to get back into the magistrate's office. Matthew took the only avenue available to him, which was the more narrow staircase up to the third floor. Even here, though, he heard boots stomping up the steps after him. The chief prosecutor's office was to the right, at the end of the hall. To the left, past some records rooms, was a doorway. Matthew opened that door and stood on a short flight of stairs leading to another closed door. Perhaps ten feet above him was ashton McCaggers' domain. as the voices grew louder and several men came up from the second level, Matthew shut the door to a crack and stood waiting for everything to quiet down. He couldn't help but find it ironic that he'd rather face the Masker at midnight than Bynes before lunch.
"The man's impossible!" he heard someone say in the corridor. "He's mad if he thinks there won't be a riot in the streets tonight!" It was Lillehorne's whine.
"The gaol will be full by eleven o'clock!" That voice Matthew couldn't place for certain; it might have been one of the other magistrates. "What to do with the night-fishermeni What to do with the harbor watchi If a ship sends up a signal after midnight, shall it be denied a pilot boati"
"He wants those taverns closed, that's the crux of it!" Now that was for sure the voice of James Bynes, and it was far from being happy. "and putting twenty more constables on the streeti Where are we to find the volunteersi Shall we force them before a musketi Well, I have my own headaches right here! I tell you, Grigsby should be arrested for this!"
Matthew heard the noise of paper being crumpled in a fist.
"He can't be arrested," the magistrate said. "Who'll print the decree noticesi"
"Damn him!" Bynes raged. "Let him print the notices! Then we'll see if we can't stick him with intent to disrupt the public welfare!"
a door slammed and the voices were muffled. Following this, Matthew heard what was most decidedly the crack of a pistol shot, him being so recently acquainted with the noise, and his first thought was that Bynes was shooting a gun off to ease his anger.
When the next shot came just seconds after the first, Matthew realized the gunplay was not going on down the hall but instead up the stairs and beyond the attic door.
What McCaggers was doing up there was anyone's guess, but Matthew had a few questions for him and now seemed the appropriate time to pursue them, flintlock or no. He ascended to the ominous door and knocked firmly upon it, then waited not with a little trepidation of the unknown.
at length a small square aperture in the door was flipped up and an eyeglassed dark brown eye peered out. The eye looked angry at first, then softened at the recognition of its owner's visitor. "Mr. Corbett," said the coroner. "What may I do for youi"
"I'd like to come in, if I might."
"Well...I am busy at present. Perhaps later this afternooni"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I probably won't be coming back to City Hall today. Make that definitely not coming back. Won't you spare me a few minutesi"
"all right then, a few minutes." a bolt was unlocked, the doorgrip turned, and Matthew found himself granted entrance to what had been a cryptic area of the building.
He crossed the threshold and McCaggers, who wore a pair of brown breeches and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, closed the door at Matthew's back. The bolt was thrown again, which Matthew thought demonstrated McCaggers' desire for privacy. He realized in another moment, by the smoky golden light streaming through the attic windows, that McCaggers had created a world for himself up here, in the uppermost of the tallest building in town, and not all of this creation was easy to look upon.
The first items that caught Matthew's attention were the four human skeletons, three adult-sized and one a child, that hung suspended from the rafters. also adorning the walls were perhaps thirty or more skulls of various sizes, some whole and some missing lower jawbones or other portions. Here and there, as macabre decorations, were the wired-together bones of legs, arms, hands, and ribcages. atop a row of honey-colored wooden file cabinets were more complete skulls and skull fragments. On the wall behind the cabinets was a display of what appeared to be frog and bat skeletons. It was a veritable boneyard, yet everything was spotless and sterile. The pride of the collector, Matthew thought. McCaggers collected human and animal bones as he himself gathered books.
That wasn't all of the surprises in McCaggers' realm. Next to a long table topped with beakers of fluid in which things of uncertain origin floated, there stood a rack of swords, axes, knives of many sizes, two muskets, and three pistols as well as fierce-looking weapons such as wooden clubs studded with nails, brass knuckle-dusters, and crude spears. amid the items were two spaces where pistols were missing, and Matthew smelled the sharp tang of burned gunpowder.
"I expect you heard my shots," McCaggers said. He picked up two pistols that were lying amid a stack of books on a desk at his side. "I was shooting at Elsie."
"Yes, that's her." He motioned toward a dress-maker's form standing about twenty feet away. The thing was shot full of holes. "Elsie today. Sometimes Rosalind." He indicated a second form that was in even more pitiful shape. "She's not feeling well lately." He looked up, as did Matthew, at a hatch in the roof through which showed the blue sky. a rope ladder was hanging from it. Gunsmoke was still drifting out, and Zed's ebony face with its purplish upraised tattoos was peering down into the attic. "We have a visitor," McCaggers announced, revealing that Zed knew at least some English. "Mr. Corbett."
Zed withdrew, his expression impassive. Matthew wondered if he lived up there on the roof, and what the socialites of Golden Hill would say if they knew a slave commanded the highest point of New York.
"I have some new pistols I'm testing," McCaggers explained. He put the guns back in their proper places. "From the Netherlands. More power than the ones I've seen before. I'll dig the balls out of Elsie and measure the wounds. I mean, of course, the impressions. I do enjoy keeping notes, and one never knows when the information might be useful." He came back to the desk, where Matthew saw a notebook lying open and a quill pen next to an ink bottle. "Today the weapon of choice is the blade," McCaggers said as he made a few notations in his book. "Tomorrow it will be the pistol, once it's made small enough to conceal and able to fire multiple balls without reloading." He glanced up and caught Matthew's skeptical expression. "Both those conceits are being studied in Europe as we speak."
"I sincerely hope you don't literally mean tomorrow." Matthew couldn't imagine a pistol that would fire more than one ball. It would be the most dangerous weapon ever created.
"There are already pistols with multiple barrels in Prussia. as far as the reduction in size and weight to afford concealment, I'd venture fifty years, more or less. Barring the appearance of a new technology, of course, but the gunsmiths are nothing if not inventive." McCaggers saw the broadsheet in Matthew's hand. "ah! The latest newsi"
Matthew gave it over. "Just out this morning. I regret that Mr. Grigsby painted me as an interviewer. I tried my best to be selective in what I told him."
"I see you were." It only took a few seconds for McCaggers to get the gist of the story. "Oh, that part about the 'town nobles' will vex some people. Lillehorne, most particularly. It won't go over well with Bynes, either. a face familiar to many of us hides a murderer's rage. Grigsby doesn't shy from frightening the citizens, does hei" He turned the sheet to its second side and began to read as Matthew cast a wandering eye over the rest of the attic chamber.
a bookcase held a dozen thick ancient-looking tomes bound in scabby leather. Medical booksi he wondered. anatomyi He couldn't make out the titles. Near it stood a massive old black chest-of-drawers, next to which was a cubbyhole arrangement that held rolled-up scrolls of white paper. Over on the far side of the attic, past shelves on which were folded various items of clothing, was a simple cot and a writing table. Obviously there was no fireplace here, so McCaggers would have to take all his meals in the taverns unless-as was more likely, due to his penchant for privacy-he had an arrangement with a local household.
"The Herrald agency," McCaggers said, and Matthew saw he was reading the notice. "Letters of inquiry to go to the Dock House Inn. Well, that's interesting."
"Yes, I've heard of them before. Didn't know they were over here yet. Their motto used to be 'The Hands and Eyes of the Law.'" McCaggers looked up from the sheet. "Private investigators. More muddy water ahead for the high constable, if these people open an office."
"Really," Matthew said, trying to sound unconcerned one way or the other.
"Grigsby missed the night's news, didn't hei" McCaggers handed the Earwig back to Matthew. "I presume you've heardi"
"another nasty throat-cutting. The same blow to the head, the same shapes carved around the eyes. Oh." McCaggers' face had begun to blanch at the memory of what he'd seen in the cold room. He pressed one hand against his mouth as if to stem a rising tide. "Pardon," he said after a moment. "I do let my weakness get away from me."
This seemed the right time for Matthew to clear his throat and ask, "What weakness, siri"
"Now you're being obtuse!" McCaggers lowered his hand. "You know exactly what I mean. Everyone knows, don't theyi" He nodded. "They know, and they snigger about it behind my back. But what am I to doi I'm cursed, you see. Because I was born for this profession, yet I despise the..." He abruptly stopped. a faint glimmer of sweat had surfaced on his cheeks. He paused, waiting for his gullet to sink again. Then he forced a twisted smile upon his mouth and motioned up toward the skeletons. "You see my angelsi"
"My unknown angels," McCaggers corrected. He gazed up at them as if they were the most splendorous objects of art. "Two-the young man and woman-came with me from Bristol. The other two-the older man and little girl-were found here. My angels, Matthew. Do you know whyi"
"No," Matthew said. and he wasn't sure he wished to know, either.
"Because they represent everything that to me is fascinating about life and death," the coroner went on, still staring up at his possessions. "They are perfect. Oh, not to say they don't have bad teeth, or a cracked knuckle or an old knee injury, but just those minor things. The two from Bristol hung in my father's office. He was a coroner, too, as was my grandfather. I remember my father showing them to me in an afternoon's twilight, and saying, 'ashton, look here and look deep, for all of life's joy, tragedy, and mystery are here on display.' Joy, he said, because they were children of purpose, as are we all. Tragedy, he said, because we all must come to this. and mystery...because where does the light go, from those houses, to leave only the foundations behindi"
Matthew saw a shine in McCaggers' eyes that some might have mistaken for madness, yet he had seen it in his own eyes in a mirror in Fount Royal when presented with a problem that seemingly had no solution.
"None of them," McCaggers said, "should have died. I mean, yes of course, eventually they would have passed, but I recall my father saying about those first two that they were simply found dead and no one could identify them. No one ever claimed them. The same with my two. The older man was found dead in the back of a tinker's wagon, but the tinker didn't know when or where he'd climbed aboard. The little girl died aboard a ship. and the astonishing thing, Matthew, is that there was no record of her ever being a passenger on the ship. No one knew her name. She slept on the deck and took food with the others, but no one ever asked about her or her parents. For all those many weeks, no one cared to know. Did she make herself invisiblei Did she simply have a way about her that caused others to assume she was taken care ofi Fourteen years old, she was. Where did she come from, Matthewi What was her storyi"
"Of what did she diei" Matthew asked, gazing up at the smallest skeleton.
"ah, now that's the question." McCaggers rubbed the point of his chin. "I studied her. The older man, too. I used my books and my notes. I used all the material my father had left to me, and that my grandfather had left to him, and I came up with...nothing. No injuries, no illnesses that I could identify. Nothing. and nothing left of them now but those foundations, for their lights have gone. But I'll tell you what I believe, Matthew. What I've put together as must be the only answer.
"I believe," he said quietly, as he regarded his angels, "that human beings need friends, and love, and the touch of humanity. I believe that if those things are denied long enough, an older man or a young girl might crawl into the back of a tinker's wagon or steal onto the gangplank of a ship and find their destination is still the same lonely path. I think these people died of something not found in my books, or my father's and grandfather's. I think somewhere their hearts were broken, and when all hope was extinguished they died, for they simply could not bear to live anymore."
"But look at the bones," McCaggers whispered. "How they fit together, how they protect what they hold within. The foundations of our houses are magnificent, Matthew, even if our hearts become darkened or our minds clouded. It was always the bones that drew me to this profession. The clean, precise geometry of them, the noble and unerring purpose. The bones are miracles of creation." He blinked, and seemed at that instant to return to the hard floor of reality. "It's the jelly I can't bear. The cracked clay, and what comes out." again his hand pressed to his mouth, the lips drawn tight.
"I assume," Matthew said to change the subject, "that your father is still in Bristoli"
"Yes." It was spoken in a strange, faraway voice. "Still in Bristol. He will always be in Bristol."
This subject, too, seemed fraught with danger, for suddenly McCaggers gave a shudder and said, "Please. I'm not feeling well."
"You wished to ask me somethingi"
"Yes. Uh..." Matthew hesitated, for he didn't wish to further sicken the coroner, yet he had to know. "It has to do with ausley," he said. "Do you mindi"
"It's my job," came the answer, with a bitter edge.
"I've heard that a blood mark was found last night. On a root cellar door near Barrack Street."
"Yes, so Lillehorne's told me. Found on the root cellar door of the office belonging to the three lawyers Pollard, Fitzgerald, and Kippering. What of iti"
"I was just wondering if it was true." What Matthew had really wanted was to make sure the information had gotten to the high constable. "Do you know if there were any other blood marks found nearbyi"
McCaggers turned toward Matthew and stared at him without blinking. "a curious line of questioning, I think. Why not ask Lillehorne yourselfi"
"He...uh...was in a meeting this morning. With Lord Cornbury."
"I've only heard of the one mark," McCaggers said. "Evidently the Masker tried to get into their root cellar. If you're really intrigued, Lillehorne's already searched the cellar and found nothing."
"Why their root cellari" Matthew had to ask. "I mean, Beaver Street is right there at the end of the alley, isn't iti Why would the Masker try to get into a root cellar when he could have easily turned either left or right onto Beaver Streeti"
"It may have been that he was undone by the shouting, which I understand was profuse, and he feared the constables were converging on him." McCaggers picked up one of the swords from the rack and used a white cloth to wipe the blade. "You know, there is a question Lillehorne posed to me last night. I couldn't answer it. Why is it, do you think, that the person who started the alarm hasn't come forwardi"
Before Matthew could think of a reply, McCaggers replaced the sword and picked up a second one to wipe down. "Lillehorne's very interested in finding this person. He's found any number of people who heard the shouting, but not the person who began it. What do you make of thati"
Matthew took a deep breath and said, "With three murders to investigate, I'd think the high constable would save his interest for the Masker, not an innocent witness who may have happened onto the scene."
McCaggers nodded and returned the sword to the rack. "Four murders," he said.
Matthew wasn't sure he'd heard correctly. "Siri"
"Four," McCaggers repeated. "Murders. In the past three weeks. ausley was the fourth, not the third."
"I don't think I'm following you."
McCaggers went to the series of cubbyholes and pulled out one of the paper scrolls. He opened it and studied the drawing of a body and the notes written there in black and red crayon. "as you're so adept at both questions and answers, I'll tell you that four days before Dr. Godwin was killed, a body washed up from the Hudson River on the property of a farmer named John Ormond. His farm is about ten miles out of town. The body was that of a young man, aged eighteen or nineteen, twenty at the oldest. Here, see for yourself." He gave Matthew the paper and then stepped back as if distancing himself from the scene.
Matthew wasn't quite sure what he was looking at, for some of the coroner's notations seemed to be in a scrivener's code unknown to him. He did note first and foremost the red crayon drawn in the eye sockets. "The man's eyes were injuredi" Matthew asked.
"His eyes were gone. You see the stab wounds to the bodyi"
Matthew counted the red lines. "Eighti"
"Three to the chest. One to the base of the neck. Three to the back and one to the left shoulder. From what I could tell, the blades were all different shapes and widths. You'll also see in my notations that his wrists were bound behind him with cords."
"He was murdered by a mobi" Matthew asked.
"actually, the frontal and nasal bones of his skull were shattered and three of the vertebrae in his neck broken. I think he fell from a considerable height along the river. Bear in mind, he was in the water at least five days before Ormond found him."
That would have been a pleasant picture, Matthew thought. The river, a warm summer day, and a decayed, eyeless corpse with eight stab wounds must have been McCaggers' idea of a picnic in Hell. "This was certainly a vile work," Matthew said. an understatement, he decided. Even the Masker didn't tie a man's hands behind the back before he struck. The victim would have had to know what was about to happen to him, once the cords were knotted.
"Four murders within three weeks," said McCaggers. "That is a new and very disturbing fact for the colony's book of records."
Matthew handed the document back. "I can understand why Lillehorne wanted to keep this one quiet. Who was hei"
"No idea." McCaggers rolled up the paper and returned it to its cubbyhole. "The body was...not suitable for travel. Neither was anything-pardon me a moment-was anything left of the...uh...left of the-"
"The facei" Matthew finished for him.
"That, exactly. Fish and turtles. They...probably took the eyes first." McCaggers looked a little fish-eyed himself, but he carried on. "The clothes were inspected but the pockets were empty. after I finished my notes, Lillehorne ordered Zed to dig the grave. The case remains open, but so far no one has reported anyone missing."
"and he had no walleti Nothing at alli"
"Nothing. Of course he might have been robbed, by either his murderers or the river." McCaggers lifted a finger, as if something had come to mind. "I have something to ask you. I'm to understand you grew up in the orphanagei"
"I did." Matthew surmised the coroner had gotten that information either from Magistrate Powers or Lillehorne.
"Did you know ausley very welli"
"No, not well."
McCaggers crossed to the large black chest and pulled open a drawer. In it, Matthew saw, was a bundle wrapped in brown paper. also in the drawer was a cheap brown cloth wallet, a pencil wrapped with string, a set of keys, a small pewter liquor flask, and what appeared to be a vial half-full of oily amber-colored liquid.
"I was wondering," McCaggers said, "if you'd ever heard ausley speak of his next-of-kin."
ah, Matthew thought. Here they were, then. The last possessions of Eben ausley as he was carved out of the earth to reap his reward. His clothes wrapped in the paper. The vial had to be the sickening cloves cologne. The keys to the locks of the orphanage. The pencil to record ausley's gambling losses, meals, comings-and-goings, and whatever else lay in his mind's brackish swamp.
"I haven't, no," Matthew answered. He felt a little itch at the back of his brain.
"I presume someone will come along, eventually. The second-in-charge at the almshouse, perhaps. Or I'll just put all this in a box and store it away." McCaggers closed the drawer. "Did he never talk about a familyi"
Matthew shook his head. and then he realized what was making his brain itch. "Pardon me, but would you open that againi"
McCaggers did, and stepped aside as Matthew approached.
It only took a few seconds, actually. Hardly an inspection to see what was missing. "ausley's notebook," Matthew said. "Where is iti"
"I'm sorryi Where is whati"
"ausley always carried a small black notebook with gold ornamentation on the cover. I don't see it here." He looked into the coroner's face. "Might it be wrapped up with the clothesi"
"Positively not. Zed is meticulous in his removal of items from the clothing."
Far be it from Matthew to question Zed's meticulosity. In fact, he had the keen sensation of being watched and when he glanced up at the roof hatch he saw the slave standing there staring down at him with an expression one might afford a tadpole in a teacup.
Matthew looked at the objects in the drawer again, but he didn't really see them for his eyes were clouded. "The notebook isn't here," he said quietly, mostly to himself.
"If it isn't here," McCaggers offered, "it wasn't on the body." He pushed the drawer shut once more, and then walked to the weapons rack and chose another two pistols. He took them to a small round table where Matthew saw a box of lead balls, a powderhorn, and a number of flints arranged in readiness for the next assault on Elsie. "Would you care to take a shoti" he asked.
"No, thank you. I do appreciate your time, though." Matthew was already moving toward the door. He'd noted several holes in the wall beyond Elsie and two broken windowpanes. It amazed him that some gentleman or lady hadn't gotten a sting in the wig by now.
"Good day, then. Please feel free to come up from time to time, as I enjoy your company."
Coming from the eccentric-some would say half-mad-coroner, that was high praise indeed, Matthew thought. But now it was time to bite the lead ball and see if he could get out of this building without unpleasantries in the form of a diminutive high constable or a blowhard chief prosecutor. He left the attic, closed the door behind him, and descended toward the cruel and common earth.
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