Unbeta-ed fanfic. Reader beware, part 2

I have been committing fanfic in the last few weeks. Not that it explains my silence from this blog, but it's one of the thousands of reasons I've not written here. I've been writing elsewhere.

I'm putting here the mostly unbeta-ed fic. Read at your own risk. When it's beta-ed and finished, I'll put it up at A03.

TitleGames, and the People Who Play Them

Series: The Dancing Suite (fic one)

Fandom: Murdoch Mysteries

Ship: Murdoch/Pendrick

Rating: Teen (off-screen violence)

Summary: It's the fall of 1899. James Pendrick has been kidnapped. Can Detective William Murdoch find who took him before they both loose everything?

Note: The Dancing Suite is planned as a three part series meant as a continuation of the very engaging Dancing in the Light series by CameoSF at A03. It's probably better to have read it before reading the following, though things should be self-explanatory regardless. I found Dancing in the Light completely delightful and inspiring. I was saddened to read at the end of the fifth instalment that CameoSF was "going to take a break from this series for a while. I need to catch up on canon and decide whether it's feasible to re-integrate this universe with the one in which James Gillies has become such an intriguing adversary." That was in 2014. I do not know if they are ever going to continue the series, but the way to go seemed completely obvious to me. So I wrote it. Here goes.

Click here for Part One


Games, and the People Who Play Them

Day two

He woke up to Jackson pounding the door. The sun was just rising. The constable was calling him from the hall. The door revealed Mitchell and Baker holding a terrified cook and a seething housemaid respectively. The sight pulled the last sleepy dredges from his mind. He remembered how intractable Fiona the maid became when irked and her Italian stubbornness was now back in full form. "Mister Murdoch! What is happening here? Why are we being manhandled?" She was speaking over poor Baker, who was trying to explain he'd stopped the women from entering the house through the servants' entrance. Fiona was louder. "What is going on, Mr. Murdoch?"

He asked the constables to let them go. "These ladies work for Mr. Pendrick. They are trusted. Mary is our cook and Fiona is the maid." With a weary look toward the fiery petite, they released their charges. Murdoch apologized to the women and ushered them in the library, bidding them to sit. "I'm afraid I have some bad news. Mr. Pendrick is missing. We believe he's been kidnapped." Mary started hyperventilating. "The current assumption is that the culprit is a woman, which is why my men apprehended you."

Fiona's eyes hardened even more. "You mean to say we are under suspicion?" 

Mary blanched. "Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!"

"Never! I assure you. The constables were simply thinking of my safety." The women fell silent, but Fiona's expression told him to continue at once. "We are doing everything to find him. You know I want him back safely as much as you do. I'll be searching the grounds for evidence and we are following every lead." Murdoch recounted the event of the last few days, including the mysterious letters, though he chose not to mention Sally. He asked them whether they had seen something out of the ordinary, but neither of them had noticed anything untoward. Murdoch tried to reassure them. He knew he'd failed when tears started flowing like silent rivers from his cook's eyes. He had no handkerchief to give her, so he took her hands. "Mary, please. I will find him." Maybe giving her something to do would help her cope. "Mary, would you be so kind as to make breakfast for me and the constables? I'm feeling a bit peckish." She shot out of her seat instantly, apologizing for her oversight as she speed-walked to the kitchen. She'd just gone out of sight when Fiona stood as well.

The maid smiled warmly at the detective and grasped his hand. "I know you'll find him, sir." Then, straightening her back, she added, "If you don't mind, sir, if your men will let me, I'd like to dust the upper rooms today." She looked pointedly at Jackson who now stood alone. No doubt, Baker had escaped back to the front door. 

With a silent chuckle at the constable's stunned expression, Murdoch found himself grateful for James's faithful and stalwart staff. "Please attend to your regular duties, Fiona. We would not want Mr. Pendrick to return to a less than spotless house, do we?"

"No, sir, we wouldn't." She gave him a pointed look and disappeared toward the scullery. 

As soon as the maid turned the corner, Jackson let out the breath he's clearly been holding for some time. "If you don't mind me saying so, sir, the kidnapper was lucky she didn't try to take Mr. Pendrick from this house. These women would have stopped her right quick. Miss Fiona could make a formidable constable!" Murdoch completely agreed.

After his morning ablutions and dressed anew, he entered the dining room to a table already laden with enough to feed an entire squad of constables. He'd lied to Mary about being hungry, but he still filled his plate; he had to keep his energy to find James, even if the food tasted like wet ash in his mouth. He invited Jackson to tuck right in, which the constable happily did, humming his appreciation with nearly every bite. When the detective got up and walked to the music room, the big man looked truly disappointed. Through the glass doors, they found Constable Mitchell on the back terrasse looking tired but ready to help. Murdoch told him to first get some breakfast before joining the search, and to invite Baker to do the same. 

The sun was now fully risen. Walking toward the workshop, the detective noticed his thoughts were crystal clear. He felt none of the cognitive paralysis that had gripped his mind the day before. Rather, he felt anger, transforming into rage as he reached the structure. The kidnapper had violated their haven and had taken his lover. She threatened their secret. His investigation would reveal her identity. Whoever she was, he would find her. He'd make her pay.

At this early hour, the workshop was still silent. Mr. Simmons and his assistants had not yet arrived for the workday. Murdoch could look the site over without interrupting them, or having to answer their questions. His so-called 'murder bag' at the ready, he began his examination with the ground around the workshop, asking Jackson to take notes as he went. There were no unexpected tracks on the gravel path to the front of the building. The grass to the sides had been mowed twice since the photograph was taken, so there were no clear tracks to be seen.

They walked around to the back door. Using a handkerchief on the knob, Murdoch found it unlocked. Or rather, the lock was engaged, but it had been altered so the deadbolt would still move when one turned the knob. Whoever had spied on them must have removed the lock to modify it; flecks of paint had fallen around the mechanism. He'd have to remove it to study it further. Jackson added this to his list. Above the door, the security device was composed a two magnetic heads that completed an electrical circuit when the door was closed. Were the door to be opened, the current would be interrupted and an alarm would sound in the house. It didn't look like it had been interfered with, so Murdoch had to assume the devices had been altered at another point in the system. Jackson noted this too.

The lights came on as expected. Partially assembled mechanisms were strewn over workbenches. Larger devices stood half-built in the bays at the west end of the structure. Electric tools were turned off. Sturdy shelves were filled with materials and chemicals. Pendrick's drafting table was covered in papers and plans as usual. Murdoch asked Jackson to take a look around and report anything that stuck out.  He doubted the constable would find any kind of untainted trace evidence, not with all the activity the workshop had known since the accursed photograph was taken two weeks prior. So Murdoch's main task was then to identify where the intruder had set up her equipment. He'd already concluded the angle of view on the photograph indicated the intruder probably had stood at one of the east windows, so he headed in that direction. 

This part of the workshop served mostly to store large crates and electrical cable spools, but some space was left between the piles and the windows to ensure maximum illumination. From the easternmost window, one had a perfect view of the back terrasse. And right under them, he saw shoe prints in the dust, apparently from men's shoes, and two sets of three equidistant one-inch circles. The telltale signs of tripod legs. The two sets were side by side. Had the intruder spied on them over several days? The workshop was only vacant on Sundays and the picture was taken on a Sunday. There were men working here six days a week, so an intruder would have been noticed on any other day. Further, there could not have been enough natural light in the evenings, and any flash of limelight would have been noticed. Since the layer of dust that covered the tracks was identical throughout, the equipment had to have been place roughly at the same time, and quite a few days ago. Given, the photographer could not have been here on consecutive days, she, no probably he must have used two cameras side by side on a single Sunday. Murdoch's heart sank. It was unlikely they had used two still cameras. Odds were, then, they had used a still camera and a movie camera. Considering the content of the photograph, he had to conclude the content of said film was damning. A film of them kissing and hurrying inside with obvious intentions. A film that would send them to prison for indecency if it became public. It was the only explanation that fit the facts.

He swore. 

"Everything alright, Detective?" Jackson must have heard him. 

"Yes, Constable. All is well. What have you?"

Jackson seemed taken aback by his superior's clipped response: "Er, Baker is taking another look at the grounds, and Mitchell is staying in the house near the telephone."

"Ah, well, very good." The anger he'd felt earlier was turning into rage once more and his patience was fraying. "Have you noticed anything on your end?" 

If the detective's terse response offended the constable further, he did not show it. "Nothing, sir. No signs of a struggle, no blood, or anything I could identify like that. Nothing that seems out of place either, but I don't recognize most of the machines here, or the chemicals, or anything else really." The constable broke into a wide smile. "This place is amazing! I can see why you'd want to live here, sir. This is right up your alley."

Murdoch could have screamed. That the love of his life was missing and probably in danger. That everything he cherished was on the line. That at that very moment, he could not care less about inventions and patents and would gladly give it all up for James's safe return. 

Instead, he chose to be pithy. "It is indeed." After clearing his throat, he added. "At any rate, I found where the intruder set up her equipment. We need to take photographs of the scene and check the windows for fingermarks. Maybe the crates also. You should check for fingermarks on the backdoor knob and lock. Inside and out."

Jackson must have heard the anger in his superior's voice at that point, because he simply nodded and stayed quiet from then on, chancing weary glances from time to time. Murdoch knew he'd have to apologize for his tone at some point, but he didn't think he could keep his emotions in check yet. He chose silence as well. 

There were no useable fingermarks on the crates. The wood surface was too rough. The window sill looked to be as useless. One could see where the intruder had placed her fingers on the sill, probably to gain purchase in order to stand up from a kneeling position. The outlines of three fingers, index, middle and ring, were evident in the accumulated dust. But said dust had prevented the transfer of oils from the fingers onto the cracked painted surface. Then Murdoch saw it. The intruder had not used gloves and the tip of one finger had brushed the window pane and left a partial fingermark on the glass. It would not be much to go by for identification, but it was the first real clue they had. A clue. He was making headway. There was hope.

He was stowing the evidence envelopes in his inner jacket pocket when he heard Baker running toward the workshop. "Sir! I found something!" The constable skidded in the gravel as he stopped. "Sir! I think I found where the intruder left the property. There's a gap in the hedge, that way."

A second clue, perhaps? All was not lost! He ordered Jackson to stay and finish with the door and followed Baker to the far back of the estate. Here James had let the grass grow wild again and he could see where the Constable had made a path crushing the vegetation when fetching him. At the hedgerow, Baker pointed to where the branches between two trees were much sparser. The thuyas in this section of the hedge had yellow rot along their trunks and the lower branches had turned copper and brittle.

The space was narrow, but a woman could easily squeeze her way out. And someone had indeed done so, as well as push equipment through. His rage reasserted itself, this time at himself. After the disaster that had been Sally's return, James had suggested erecting a fence behind the hedge that bordered three sides if the property. In the end, they had decided against it. William had argued that with security devices in place, the buildings were secure enough and there was no need to spend money on a part of the property they never used. He now understood why people sometimes expressed the wish to kick themselves. The phrase had made no sense to him previously. How could one kick oneself? Now he knew. If it were physically possible, he would be kicking himself now. Repeatedly. He deserved it. His oversight had allowed the intruder, likely James's abductor, to move undetected. 

Baker was speaking to him, pointing at something. Murdoch was distracted by his emotions again. He had to stop doing that before it got James killed or himself in prison. "I am sorry, constable. Would you repeat, please?" 

"I was just asking if those strands there were fur or hair, sir."

He could hardly see them from this angle, but as he leaned in closer, the filaments caught the light. "Good eye, Mr. Baker. Pass me an envelope please." They were indeed human hair. A darker shade of blonde. Using his tweezers he pulled the few strands from a dry branch. The hair was quite short, no more than two inches. A man's hair? Men's shoe prints. So, a man had been here spying on them. A possible accomplice, which made sense. Sally Pendrick had never been known to work alone. She'd had accomplices for the art theft, the micro-wave weapon, and James' rape. It made sense she'd have minions this time too. Placing the hair in another envelope, he asked Baker to take photographs of the site.  "I have to return to the station with this information." 

Not even waiting for an answer, he ran back to the workshop, just in time to see Mitchell do the same from the house. The latter informed him the station house had telephoned. There had been a development. He checked his watch; almost ten o'clock. James had been missing for about 24h. He needed to find answers faster. He asked Jackson if he was done with the door, which he was.

"Thank you. All right, gentlemen, I need the two of you to check the security systems for both the house and the workshop." He explained how they were to examine all the window and door magnetic sensors, following every wire through each connection to the power source and from there to the alarm bells in and out of the buildings. They were to make note of any cut, nicked or frayed wire, any loose or seemingly new screw, or any sign that the circuits might have been altered, as well as check that the system was still connected to the house's electric panel. It did not matter neither man knew anything about electricity, they just had to follow the cables throughout. Yes, even if it took them all day. Once done, they could return to the station to be relieved of duty and go home.

Murdoch left the baffled constables and ran to the garage where he'd parked the motor car. He made sure the battery had recharged overnight and left for Station House no 4. After a few minutes, he noticed he was going much faster than the ten-mile-an-hour speed limit. He had to consciously lift his foot from the pedal. It might not be too dangerous to go this fast in sparsely populated Rosedale, but as he entered the city, he had to be more careful. He still beat his record driving time by a large margin.

As soon as Murdoch entered the station, Brackenreid took him by the arm. Crabtree followed to the detective's office, where Julia was already sitting.  Murdoch's three colleagues looked exhausted. His office's blinds were closed throughout, for which he was grateful. He didn't wish to make a spectacle of himself any further. As he sat at his desk, he asked what was the development that brought him back to the station.

Brackenreid seemed to brace himself before talking. "There isn't one. Not in the Pendrick case, anyway." He stopped his detective's objections with a curse. "I wanted you back here where it's safest."

Murdoch's fist stuck his desk before he could form a thought. "Sir! That's unacceptable! I need to look for James!"

"Oh, for Heaven's sakes, Murdoch! You're not working on this case alone! Besides, there was a development in your headless John Doe. We may be able to solve that case soon."

William bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying very unprofessional things to his superior. He forced himself to turn his gaze away from the stout Inspector to look upon Julia. Her eyes conveyed both compassion and surprise, no doubt at his own uncharacteristic outburst. He cleared his throat to ask, "What development?" 

"Mine," answered Julia. "William, yesterday, you mentioned you felt as if you were being played since the discovery of the headless murder victim."

"I did, but obviously this is not an objective assessment. It means nothing."

"Possibly true, but I didn't want to discount it. Often, we subconsciously make connections that our conscious mind is unwilling to see. Somehow, your subconscious mind has associated the two cases. I didn't want to chance ignoring a possible lead."

"It makes sense, sir," Crabtree added. Murdoch had to concede the point.

"Given that," Julia continued, "I decided to reexamine the body, bearing in mind that the cases might be somehow related. I took another look at the hands in particular. They were largely destroyed, as you know, but there were small sections of skin that had not been touched by the vitriol. Of course, decomposition is advancing, but by treating the tip of the right thumb I was able to raise the epidermis enough to impress a fragmentary fingermark; only a few epidermal ridges from the anterior side of the digit. In the hopes it could lead to an identification, I gave them to Constable Crabtree."

"And I asked Higgins to help, sir," Crabtree continued. "I was surprised, because the ridges are very clear. Now, we haven't found a match yet, but I have hope. I mean, fingermarks almost never allow us to discover something you don't already know, detective, and the section of finger is the size of one of those corn flakes that are all the rage in the United States, if you know what I mean... Er... yes, well, I'm pretty sure that if the victim is on file, we'll find out who it is."

It was a start. "I'm revealed to know we're making headway with the victim finally, but..." Murdoch turned to his superior again, anger rising once more. "Sir, I could have stayed at the house to continue the investigation! I found evidence of surveillance!"

Brackenreid raise both hands in a gesture of pacification. "I'd rather you were here at the station than out there, Me Ol' Mucker! And the lads can gather evidence as well as you do. You trained them well."

"The Inspector is right, William," said Julia, ever the moderator. "Now, please, tell us what you found." Crabtree was nodding vigorously in agreement.

William wanted to object, that he should be doing something, anything, but he was reminded of the Inspector's warning yesterday. His emotions in this case would be his undoing. "Very well." He recounted the morning's discoveries, what he'd asked the constables to complete on site. "We found two helpful elements. I now think that the photographer is a man. There were men's shoe prints on site and the hair we found is too short to be from a woman. Since no man with that shade of blonde had any business at the house that I can recall, I can only deduce they are the intruder's. There is still no way to tell if he is working alone or if a woman is also involved."

"You mean we can't discount Sally Pendrick's the mastermind." As was often the case, the Inspector had voiced what Murdoch had rather not admitted.

"I'm afraid so. But at least, we might identify the intruder from the fingermark left on the window." He handed the second envelope to George.

"I'll do my best, sir." The somber constable left for his desk in the bullpen.

Before the discussion could resume, Constable Tisdale knocked. There was a package addressed to Murdoch, postmarked in Toronto, with no return address. The detective wished he could believe it was not related to the kidnapping, but he knew better. Who else would send him anonymous mail?

The package's string was loosely tied and unraveled easily. The brown wrapping paper was crisp and new. The small box revealed a phonograph cylinder wrapped in one of James' monogrammed handkerchief. The latter was covered in blood. William forced himself to breathe. The Inspector was cursing, so was Julia, but he could hardly hear them. Willing his hands to still, he walked to the Edison player he kept on the sideboard and placed the cylinder. Before engaging the mechanism, he sat down on his workbench stool.

The recording began with five seconds of the hum of an engine. Then the sound of laboured breathing, very near the microphone, lasting less than half a minute. The breathing suddenly accelerated, to be replaced by a gut-wrenching scream. James' scream of pain. Horrible pain, lasting at least thirty seconds. As the scream died, as if James had lost consciousness, one could hear the soft giggle of a man, nearly drowned out by the sound of the engine. Then the recording ended.

William was glad to be sitting. He doubted he'd be able to stand without emptying his stomach. Brackenreid was cursing a stream, Julia had tears in her eyes. Outside his office, the station had gone silent. No doubt, everyone had heard the recording. He reset the cylinder and started the player again. Knowing the scream was coming did not make the experience any easier, but he forced himself to concentrate on every other sound but his lover's voice. He couldn't identify what kind of engine was heard, but the recording did confirm his previous conclusion: the culprit was a man. If there was a woman involved, even Sally, she was not the active participant in James' torture. A man had photographed them. A man was hurting his lover and enjoying it.

He started the recording again, this time only listening to the last few seconds when the giggle could be heard. Then he listened to it again. Julia asked what he was doing, but he ignored her. That soft laugh was niggling at his memory. Playing the end of the cylinder a third time confirmed his feeling; there was something familiar with it. Had he heard it before? The fourth play gave him certainty. He knew this laugh, but just did not know from when. There must be another clue, another sound that would reveal a clue. He started the Edison player once more, this time from the beginning. And repeated this several more times. Frustratingly, he could not garner anything more. There was the engine, the scream, the laugh that identified the culprit, but he could not place it.

When he finally looked up to share his deductions with Brackenreid and Julia, he was alone in his office. The bloody handkerchief was gone as well. Julia must have taken it for analysis. It was nearly noon. With a sigh, he decided that maybe he should eat something, at least have some tea. He needed to think and James would scold him if his missed a meal. He had to keep his wits about him, though he was doing a horrible job of it. Crabtree's conclusion yesterday that the kidnapper would wrench stronger emotions out if him with each mail delivery was correct.

In the break room upstairs, he found Briscoe and Hodge. The younger constable just had finished his lunch. He offered sympathies about the situation and left. The older man bid William to sit and handed him a cup of tea. There was an opened biscuit tin, but Hodge placed a hot meat pie in front of him and winked. "We figured you'd forget to eat, sir, so I went by Puddy's Butchery." 

Gratitude filled him. He thanked the older man with what he hoped was his warmest smile. The lads were good, decent people, Hodge, especially. He might have been acting like a desperate fool since yesterday, but he had received nothing but help and support from his colleagues. He needed to count on his men. The constables of Station house no. 4 would find James, even if his homosexuality was revealed in the end, whether through his own behaviour or the kidnapper's messages. The prospect of going to prison was daunting, but imprisonment was preferable to mourning and death. Finding his lover alive was all that counted.

No doubt his face was telegraphing his emotions, because the older constable's kind eyes caught his and said, "You're doing everything you can."

"I can't help thinking I'm not doing enough."

Hodge sat close and placed a hand on the detective's shoulder. "Will, I've seen a lot in my day, you know." The older constable sighed. "I'm not smart like you. But I can tell when things are important. Finding Mr. Pendrick is important." There was a veiled message here. Had Hodge figured it out, already? The others? Julia had told him many times his emotions were transparent to anyone who took notice of his eyes. Brackenreid had hinted the same yesterday. "Will, this station is like one of your well-oiled machines. We're all in gear to find him."

A machine. Yes, that was it! The machinery that produced the sound on the recording would indicate a possible location. He didn't have to identify the kidnapper if he knew where the recording was made! James was being held there! There was no time to lose.

Thanking Hodge, Murdoch ran down the stairs to his office, nearly choking on his last bite of meat pie. He was about to start the Edison player once again, focussing on the beginning of the recording, when he was interrupted by Brackenreid's calling him from across the bullpen. "My office, now!"

As he entered the Inspector's office, he saw constables Jackson, Mitchell and Baker leaving through the other doorway. Crabtree was standing behind a seated Julia. Brackenreid, holding a glass of scotch, ordered, "Sit down, Murdoch. Did you get anything more from the cylinder?"

"Nothing as of yet, sir. Though, I am convinced I know the laughing man on the recording. That voice is very familiar. I just can't quite place the last time I heard it."

"You'll remember soon enough. This head of yours doesn't forget anything." Apparently, Brackenreid had more faith in him than himself right now. "I contacted Terence Meyers last night and he just called be back. He confirmed that Sally Pendrick was tried and sentenced to death last year. She was hanged eight months ago at the Fullum Prison in Montreal. He witnessed it. She can't be behind all this."

Murdoch sighed in relief. "It seems unlikely, indeed. She would have had to set up her plan too well in advance." If not her, who, then? "It's ever more likely this is the work of a man trying to pass for a woman." 

"A good way to make sure we'd be looking for the wrong person, eh? Anyway, the lads finished their canvassing of St. David's Street and thereabouts. Several shopkeepers stated seeing Pendrick leave his car and run down St. David's around ten yesterday morning. No one saw where he went. However, one elderly man later saw a delivery cart turning the corner of Blair Avenue with what he thought was a sack of live chickens in the back. The sack was wriggling. We figure it was Pendrick, hogtied in there. The old chap says the driver was male, but he didn't see his face. The driver was wearing a hat and the old man was looking out his second floor window. But, he says the horse was dun-coloured."

"That's a rare enough," Julia observed. "How many horses with a dun coat could there be in Toronto?"

"My thoughts exactly," Brackenreid responded. "I told Constable Jones to call every livery in the city."

"That's good news, sir."

"It is, but there's more. I just sent Mitchell, Baker and Jackson home. They went through the house like you ordered and they found several spots where the circuits were cut in the security system. You were right about that. Whoever's behind all this is damned clever."

Murdoch was rubbing his forehead again. He wished they were in his office, so he could summarize on his blackboard. "So, we now know James was taken alive by a man in the laneway shortly before ten am yesterday. The kidnapper, using a horse-drawn cart, brought James to a place with working machinery and then proceeded to torture him, at least long enough to make a recording of it. This man has ample technical knowledge, is good at surveillance, and has an ability to go unnoticed."

Julia continued, "We also can deduce this man considers you his enemy. He's gathered private information about you with the clear intent to use it against you. He's patient and calculating, dolling out clues in a carefully crafted manner to cause you increasing psychological distress. This is personal for him."

It certainly felt personal. Murdoch was beginning to realize that no matter the outcome, his relationship with James was most likely going to become public by the end of this ordeal. "Julia, what of the handkerchief the cylinder was wrapped in? I presume you took it."

"I did. I wanted to test whether the blood was human or animal."

"How is that possible, Doctor?" Crabtree face seemed as incredulous as the Inspector's.

"I remembered that last month, William mentioned reading an article on using rabbit blood enzymes to identify human blood proteins. I tracked down the article and applied the method. I can confirm the blood on James's handkerchief is indeed human, though I can't tell if it's his."

They were running in circles, while James was in mortal danger. He'd been taken thirty four hours ago. "Is there any good news?" Murdoch asked sardonically.

Crabtree gave an apologetic smile as he spoke: "Yes, sir, of a kind. We solved the John Doe case. The victim is one Kenneth Gillies. He was the father of James Gillies. I don't know if your remember: Gillies and his friend, another university student, had killed a university professor a couple years back? We had the father's fingermarks on file only because he'd caused quite a bit of a scene at the Court House when his son was sentenced to hang."

James Gillies? He remembered the case well. Gillies had masterminded the near perfect murder simply to see if he could get away with it. Why would his name reappear now?

Crabtree was still speaking: "Anyway, the Gillies family are quite well-to-do, as you know, so I tried to see why no one reported Mr. Gillies senior missing. First of all, his wife couldn't have, because Mrs. Gillies left for Europe with her sister after her son lost his last appeal last year. She is not expected to return to Canada. Kenneth Gillies himself was to have left for San Fransisco on business four weeks ago. His household staff here in Toronto had been told not to expect any communications from him during his absence, so they did not know he was missing at all. I telegrammed the hotel he was supposed to stay at in California and he never checked in. My guess is that he never left Toronto at all. And... his son James Gillies couldn't have said anything either. Prison records show he was executed at Kingston Pen' two months ago. His body was given over to the family's barrister."

James Gillies. Why was that name stirring such a strong reaction in him? James Gillies? Yes! The laugh! "The cylinder!" Murdoch rushed to the bullpen to talk to Higgins at his desk. "Are you still looking for the partial fingermark I found?"

The poor constable was flustered. "Yes, sir. It's not much to go on. I haven't identified it yet."

"Please compare it to James Gillies's fingermarks. We have them on file."

"Gillies is dead, Murdoch!" Brackenreid sounded annoyed and confused. 

"Is he, sir? Are we sure?" Murdoch didn't want to be right. Being right would mean James was in the hands of a veritable Moriarty.

Higgins started riffling through the identification cards strewn all over his desk, "G. Gi. Ah, Gillies!" As he pored over the marks with his magnifying glass, the constable's face turned to sheer befuddlement. "You're right, sir. It's from James Gillies's top right middle finger. Look."

Murdoch took the cards and the proffered magnifying glass. The epidermal ridges were identical. "I concur."

"Bloody Hell! How is Gillies still alive? He was hanged!" Brackenreid had turned a bright shade of red. "More over, Murdoch, how did you figure that one out?"

"It was the laugh on the recording, sir. I knew I'd heard it before, but I couldn't place it, until I heard the name. I last spoke with Gillies over two years ago."

Julia made a very unfeminine groan: "This means, William, that you unconsciously were right all along. The two cases were indeed related after all." 

"Through James Gillies," Murdoch whispered.

"But how did Gillies avoid the noose?" Everyone looked at Crabtree as he spoke. "Right, I'll call Kingston Penitentiary right away. And the family's attorney."

Murdoch made his way to his office, gesturing Julia and Brackenreid to follow. "I hate to say it, but... let's assume Gillies is alive. The recording appears genuine." He played the latter segment of the cylinder. The laugh, no more than a chortle, sounded real. "I can find no indication that this recording was edited. We hear... Mr. Pendrick... scream, then we hear James Gillies laugh. What is left is for me to identify is the type of machinery heard at the beginning and end of the cylinder. If we know what kind of engine it is, we could possibly identify where James is being held."

"Fine, get to it," Brackenreid said. "I'll let the lads know all the station's resources are now required to find James Gillies. I'll also telephone the other Station Houses to appraise them of the situation and ask them to put more men on that as well." He nodded to Dr. Ogden and left.

She placed a tender hand on the Detective's shoulder, "William, how are you faring?"

The few seconds William took to think about his mental state brought tears to his eyes, "I can't lose him, Julia." He ached as he said it.

"You won't."

"I'm not so sure. The odds are not in our favour. Even if we find James alive and well, and we arrest Gillies, chances are he will have arranged for ample proof of our relationship to be made public."

"You are certain Gillies is behind this."

"I am. I know it's him. Indications that a woman was behind it all were carefully planted, by Gillies. We came to the conclusion Sally was the culprit all on our own."

"This is devilish."

"You said it yourself, Julia. Gillies is intelligent, calculating, cautious. You remember the report on Professor Bennett's murder. For Gillies, killing is a game, an intellectual puzzle he engages in for enjoyment. He is laughing on the cylinder, because he is entertained!" Fear and anger mingled within his chest. It hurt to breath. "James is in even greater danger than we originally thought. Sally was vengeful. But Gillies is vicious. He will stop at nothing to get maximum gratification from me and James."

They sat in silence. Yet Julia didn't look as defeated as he felt, "Maybe if we look into Gillies's original accomplice, we could garner some more clues. What was his name, again?"

"Robert Perry," Murdoch stated automatically.

"Let me mention him to the Inspector, mmm?" Murdoch simply nodded his agreement. Julia was once again proving to be the most faithful friend. "Now, William, what are you going to do?"

He was torn. "I don't know. The best possible outcome we can hope for is that we find James relatively unhurt, and that we manage to leave Toronto without being charged for incident behaviour. However, even if James is in good condition, it is much more likely we will be both arrested and jailed at the end of this ordeal. Gillies will stop at nothing to ruin my life." Voicing his next conclusion was the hardest. "Besides, I'm afraid his taunting has already succeeded in forcing me to reveal my feelings to everyone here." He recounted Brackenreid's comments from yesterday and Hodge's kind words.

Julia gave him a comforting smile. "I know you are frightened, William. But you can trust the men here. They are loyal to you. So is the Inspector. As long as he has choice in the matter, I'm confident he will prefer to quietly let you resign than to lay charges. Rumours are better than a trial for the Station's reputation."

"I need to speak with him, I guess. I hope you are right, Julia. " 

"I always am, William. You know that!" Her playful tone brought a reluctant smile to Murdoch's face. "So, what are you going to do next?"

Julia was putting him to task, as well she should. Wallowing would not bring James back. He let out a slow, shaky breath, looking for his centre but only finding anger. It would have to do. "There is still some missing information," he noted. "Tracking down the horse Gillies used, for instance. Until we know more, I'll try to identify the machinery in the recording. Try to find its location. This should be my foremost priority for now."

"Good. With this in mind, I will ask for access to Gillies' and Perry's psychological evaluation files and I'll confer with Paul. With his help, we should find further insights."

Of course, she would speak with Dr. Roberts. They had been seeing quite a lot of each other in the last few months. William and James had rejoiced that she had finally found a good man who would care for her as strongly as he would respect her intellect. "How is the good Doctor?"

"Quite well, and worried about the situation. I spoke with him last night: he is eager to help."

William was reminded of why he'd once been in love with this wonderful woman. Her brilliance was equaled by few and her kindness was unparalleled. He thanked her and embraced her tightly. They parted in silence.

Murdoch had been the Detective at Station House no 4 for the better part of a decade, now. He considered many of the men here his friends. Crabtree, Higgins, Hodge and the Inspector were people he liked and whose opinion he sought out. Now, too soon, that life would be over. He could not quite believe what was happening. In a less than day, he was losing everything.

In the aftermath of the Judge Donaldson case over a year ago, James had decided they had better prepare for the possibility their relationship could attract the eyes of the law. They had some money: William had been saving his wages since moving in with with Pendrick. The latter payed for nearly everything since they'd become courting, including opening an account for what he referred to as "petty cash," though William had an entirely more humble definition for the phrase than his former millionnaire lover seemed to have. Those amounts, though, would not help much if they were arrested. Flight was the best option. Since a successful escape would require not entirely legal means, Pendrick had taken over the planning operation, giving the detective plausible deniability. He’d prepared their escape from Toronto in great detail, probably more thoroughly than necessary. James had argued that paranoia was the more prudent option in their case, seeing as the constabulary would consider Murdoch a flight risk.

Their plan went as such: if the need arose, they would make their way to Montreal, separately if necessary, continuing through to Longueuil Station, then taking a cab back into the city. There, Pendrick had deposited a respectable amount at the National Bank. They would lay low for a month at most, using false papers James had acquired, then take a train to New York. From there, they would book passage to Cherbourg and on to Paris. William did not know how his lover had arranged for any of this. He only knew what telephone numbers to call and what instructions to give if they were to flee. On the same day they would leave Toronto for Montreal under false identities, two men matching their description and using their names would also board a train heading for Buffalo, while another two would travel to Vancouver. William was certain his partner had planned many other false trails he did not know about, and knew there were other contingencies, if Montreal was out of reach or if one of them were arrested.  He had prayed the day would never come, and yet it now seemed nigh inevitable.

The recording was beckoning, but he needed to speak with the Inspector, lest his fears stopped him from concentrating on the analysis. He crossed the bullpen and knocked on his superior's door frame. "Sir, do you have a moment?" He saw Julia had already left the station.

If Brackenreid was surprised to see him mere minutes after they'd last spoken, he did not let on. Murdoch had noted his superior was acting a bit colder towards him, and he did not doubt the reason behind his change in attitude. "Come in. Close the door."

There was no point in denying anything anymore. He might have to come clean later, make a full confession if need be, but he wished to at least acknowledge how profoundly his situation as part of Station House Four had changed since yesterday. "Sir, I'd like to apologize for my behaviour in the last twenty-four hours. I know have been behaving quite unusually." 

"Yes, well, you're under a lot of strain, I reckon." There was sympathy in the Inspector's eyes. "If Margaret..." 

There it was. If Brackenreid had once suspected what James was to William, he now knew.

"I am... It's difficult, sir..." He was losing his resolve and Brackenreid was loosing his patience.

"Murdoch, don't say things you'd regret."

He cleared his throat. There was such a finality to this conversation. "Sir, after we find Mr. Pendrick," he said, locking with his superior's gaze, "if the circumstances allow it, I intend to tender my resignation from the Constabulary. We will leave Toronto. I believe you'll agree it is the best course of action." It was as close to an admission he could make without forcing Brackenreid's hand. 

The latter's nod told him his message had been heard. Brackenreid paced.

"I'm sorry to have disappointed you, sir. Truly," which was resolutely true. 

Brackenreid nodded again. "I'm sorry too." 

In the past, the Inspector's feelings toward homosexuality had seemed ambivalent at best. Though the Inspector tolerated the existence of "deviants," as he referred to them, he'd expressed little care for them as a group in the past. Harassment and roughhousing were common occurrences at the hands of all of Toronto's Constabulary and Station House Four was no different. Yet, over the years, Murdoch had also witnessed his Inspector display respect and solicitude toward a few homosexuals. More so recently. But those individuals had always been either friends or fellow Masons, and never in a position of authority. Brackenreid was on record as stating sodomites had no business in government or policing given their innate moral inferiority. "Bloody Hell! I hate to loose you. You're the best Detective this city has ever known! But I agree, you shouldn't continue in your position after this is over."

"I understand, sir. I expected as much." Murdoch extended his hand, which the Inspector took readily. He found himself revealed; "Thank you. For everything."

"I hope circumstances remain in your favour, as you say. You deserve better than what the law requires me to do."  Brackenreid stopped and sighed. There was nothing left to say. "Now go find Pendrick."

As Murdoch reached his office, he heard his superior slam his desk, shouting "Bullocks!" He shared the sentiment.

 

After eight careful listenings, Murdoch had eliminated quite a few types of machines, either because of pitch, frequency or rhythm. Whatever the engine was, it did not create an alternative movement, either by piston or lever. This eliminated most industrial machinery. The sound did contain a repeating sequence of three seconds, which indicated the use of a wheel or pulley, perhaps a simple gear system. The engine could be heard through the entire recording, which indicated continuous use, at least for the two-minute length of the cylinder. Was the machine a ventilator, a conveyor belt? There was no way to tell yet.

Unfortunately, the cylinder was of low quality, the cheapest on the market, and repeated plays were already affecting sound quality. It would not be long before the recording would be inaudible. He decided against further wear. Having memorized the sound, Murdoch went to his bookcase to consult his well-worn copy of Giuseppe Antonio Borgnis' Handbook of Machine Designs, starting with volume one. Somewhere in the myriad descriptions of possible motors was the answer.

He had just eliminated conveyer belts when Crabtree asked for entrance, with a rather confused look on his face. "Sir, I just spoke to Dr. Platt, Kingston Pen's warden. He says he witnessed James Gillies' hanging." The constable's brow knotted a little more. "But, he also said that on that day, Gillies looked especially gaunt and sullen, and that he refused to speak when asked for last words. He thought that was especially strange since Gillies was usually very fond of taunting him."

"What does that mean?"

"He didn't know either, sir. Anyway, I also spoke with Mr. Urquhart, Gillies' barrister. He took possession of the body right after the hanging and arranged for a burial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, but not in the family plot, however. The father was adamant about that apparently. Urquhart also witnessed the hanging, and he too claims that Gillies didn't seem like himself that day. He'd expected to be showered with elaborate insults -- his words, sir -- but Gillies said nothing."

How curious? The James Gillies Murdoch remembered was nothing if not talkative, and quite scathing. "So both men, quite familiar with Gillies, found his behaviour uncharacteristic at the time of the hanging." Maybe he had escaped the noose after all. Murdoch's stomach twisted even more at the thought. "I'd say we need to confirm that it was indeed Gillies that was hanged."

"Already on it, sir. With the Inspector's permission, I asked for the coroner's report to be brought to the station and sent Armstrong to the courthouse for a warrant to dig up the body."

"Well done, George. Thank you." Crabtree was about to leave when Murdoch stopped him. There was something he needed to do before the end of business hours. "One more thing, George. Do you remember Jake? He's the street boy who's provided me with useful information in the past."

"I believe so, sir. Blond, rather, er, big nose? He hangs around in the Ward usually, no?"

"Yes, George, that's him. Would you track him down and tell him to meet me in the laneway behind Dominion Bank's head office in..." Murdoch looked at his watch. Dear Lord, was it already past three o'clock? "... I'll meet him there at four thirty."

As Crabtree left, Murdoch decided he would give the matter of the engine another half-hour before leaving for the bank. At the rate his colleagues were realizing the true nature of his relationship with James, most would have figured it out by next morning. He needed to prepare for their eventual flight from the city, which meant money. Finding James alive was paramount, but it would be for naught if they stayed in Toronto. When the hour reached three thirty, his list of possible machines had been whittled down to elevators, lifts, and warehouse cranes.

He took the old leather satchel he stored under his photography table, emptied it of loose paper, and looked about the office. What would he regret leaving behind here? None of the books were truly irreplaceable and besides they would need to pack light. The same stood for his equipment. 

He needed to focus on sentimental value. His father's old miniature skooner certainly; it had followed him from home in Nova Scotia, to the orphanage and then to Jesuit College, all the way through his logging years to Toronto. However fragile it was, he was taking it with him. His young brother Albert's death portrait --  it had stood atop the banker's bookcase since he'd become detective at Station House no 4 --  this was coming too. He took it out of its ornate frame and stored it as well. There might be souvenirs tucked between the pages of all his reference books, but there was no time to check.

He did stow his hand missal and his rosary in the satchel; he'd brought them to the station last Sunday, having been called in directly from church. The prayer book was filled with holy cards, printed colourful portraits of saints and prayers, some that had belonged to his mother. He was not leaving it behind. This reminded him he kept a medal of Saint Michael the Archangel in his desk. He went to take it, as well as Liza's picture, from the righthand drawer. Looking at the medal, he briefly mused that what he truly needed was a medal of Saint Jude, because he'd certainly become a lost cause. Or maybe Saint Expedit, to carry he and James to safety. He sent a quick prayer to both Saints just in case and continued rummaging through his desk. There were a few letters, some odds and ends, but he decided to leave his birth certificate. With a heavy heart, he also did not take any of the pictures taken with his friends at the station. Identifying documents were to be left behind.

He was fastening the satchel's leather straps when Constable Jones entered with news. He had found the dun-coloured horse, which belonged to a George C. Tumlin, who owned a livery at 13, Duke Street.

Duke Street was in the middle of the station's district. "Constable, this is right in our back yard! How is it it took you the better part of the day to identify the owner?"

The poor lad stammered at his superior's sudden anger. "Er... There are over a hundred liveries in Toronto, sir. I telephoned them in alphabetical order."

"Oh. I see." The letter T was near the end of the alphabet, after all. Murdoch regretted his outburst immediately, "My apologies, constable. What have you found?"

"Yesterday, the horse and cart were hired out to a Miss Gillian James for the morning. She said she was moving a piano. They were returned just past noon. Mr. Tumlin described her as tall, blond and homely."

Gillian James? Of course, James Gillies! Wearing a disguise. The man was lithe enough to pass for a woman if he wore a dress and wig, but his face would not be attractive with makeup on. This gave them an actual lead to Gillies' whereabouts. Asking Jones to follow, satchel in hand, Murdoch beckoned Constables Perkins and Irving. He tasked them to canvas the district, starting from Duke Street, asking if anyone had seen the unusually-coloured horse and cart, whether driven by a mysterious "woman" or man with a broad hat. They were to ask every store owner and passerby, all residents until they found the cart's ultimate destination. He reminded them that the cart had been seen the previous day around ten am on the corner of St. David's Street and Blair Avenue, and that it was most likely what had transported Mr. Pendrick to an unknown location. They were to bring in as much help as necessary in order to find where the cart went.

Murdoch then turned to Jones: "Constable, I need to go to Mr. Pendrick's bank, to speak to the manager about a possible lead." It was a blatant lie, but he couldn't think of a better justification for going there. "Since I too am under threat from Mr. Pendrick's kidnapper, I cannot leave the station without an escort. You are coming with me." Not waiting for a response, he led the constable to the station's bicycle stand and they headed to the corner of King and Yonge.

They were there in no time. Murdoch ordered Jones to stay in the massive building's vestibule. He went inside and he asked for the bank's general manager, showing his badge,. He was going to get what he needed, no matter what. He intended to be persistently genial with the man.

The guest clerk brought him directly to Mr. Brough's office and disappeared, looking like the proverbial cat who ate the canary. After presentations, the detective went straight to business, stating the lie he'd practiced in his head as he cycled. "Mr. Brough, I have to leave Toronto on short notice for Argentina. I am to follow the leader of a criminal organization behind a string of murders linked to a war between smuggling operations all over Ontario."

The manager appeared suitably worried. "It sounds quite serious, sir. How is the Dominion Bank involved? Surely, you are not implying my institution is implicated?"

Murdoch gave the man a reassuring smile. "Not at all, sir. But going to South America is an expensive undertaking. The Constabulary will reimburse me for the costs, but only upon my return. I will need funds, as quickly as possible, to undertake the journey." To the detective's eye, Brough seemed eager to help. Hoping his plan would not backfire, he added, "I am to leave Toronto tomorrow."

The banker had not expected such a quick deadline, but remained amiable. "Tomorrow? This is indeed an emergency. You will need a loan, then?"

"No, sir. Rather, I would like to empty my own account." Murdoch cringed inwardly as the banker lost his smile, but plowed on. "It seems the simplest solution. I am to leave tomorrow after all. I'd like your advice, of course, but I was hoping to take a part of the amount in cash and the rest in bearer bonds. Would that that possible, sir?"

Brough responded slowly: "Of course, I do think it's possible... though it would take some time to draft the bonds. As you know, there is some paper work involved, but... as it is an emergency, we should be able to accommodate you before closing." He said the last words looking at his watch mournfully.

"That is greatly appreciated, sir. Thank you." They both rose and Murdoch shook Brough's hand enthusiastically.

"I will require you bank account number, of course."

"Oh, I have two accounts, actually," Murdoch explained as he handed two bank booklets to the now baffled banker. "My personal account, which should contain just under two thousand dollars in savings, and an account I share with Mr. James Pendrick for special projects. It is a joint, single-signature account. I believe it has about nine thousand dollars in it. I would like to empty both, please."

At this the banker looked simply flummoxed. "Mr. Murdoch," he stammered, "that is not an insignificant amount of money. Are you sure you have Mr. Pendrick's permission to take it?"

Murdoch nodded in a way he hoped looked sympathetic. "I understand, sir. As a manager, you must be cautious when dealing with these sorts of amounts. But I am a police officer. Besides, Mr. Pendrick and I made sure this particular account only required a single signature for operations in order to precisely allow either of us full use the founds at a short notice."

"I see." Brough still seemed doubtful.

"I believe we made certain there was a note to that effect in the bank registry. Feel free to check, sir. I am certain all is in order."

After some more reassurances, Mr. Brough finally relented. Murdoch even conspicuously flashed his badge for good measure. 

In the end, the entire procedure took no time at all. Mr. Brough suggested that he take his personal savings in cash and the joint account's funds in bearer bonds. Before leaving the director's office, he stashed twenty dollars in small bills in his wallet and stowed the rest in the satchel. Murdoch finally left the bank at just past four thirty. Constable Jones stood in the vestibule, looking a little bored.

"All set, sir? Did you find out what you were looking for?"

"Yes, constable, thank you." As they passed the ornate doors onto the street corner, Murdoch added, "I have a meeting with a... source... in the laneway behind the bank. You will accompany me to the entrance of the laneway, but no further. This person would not appreciate the sight of a uniformed copper. Do you understand, Jones?"

"Are you sure, sir? What if it is a trap?"

"It cannot be a trap, constable. I arranged for the meeting." Murdoch would not begrudge Jones for doing his job. In fact, he wished he could take him to the back alley, but Jake was to remain anonymous for everything to work.

They reached the laneway and Murdoch showed where Jones should stand. He then rounded the building. Jake gave him a welcoming (and partially toothless) smile. The lad had grown since they had last spoken.

"Jake. Good to see you. I have a mission for you. There is some good money for you at the end of it."

"You know you can always count on me, sir." Jake was a good lad at heart, but money was how Murdoch ensured his loyalty. The boy had to feed his ailing mother and brothers, after all.

"Good, good." He handed the boy his leather satchel. "I need you to deliver this to the James Pendrick Estate in Rosedale." He handed him the address. "Once at the estate, don't ring the door. Go inside the car garage, and leave the satchel in the cubby to right side of the door. Here is a quarter dollar for you now. Once you've delivered the satchel, look for a tea tin above the garage door. Inside, you will find a silver dollar. It is for you, for completing the task."

The boy's eyes were as wide as the coin he'd been promised. "That's... yes, sir, right away, sir!" He went to leave, but Murdoch stopped him with a hand.

"One more thing, Jake. I'll need you to do one more thing for me in the coming days. I'll require your discretion. I will contact you with more information soon. You'll to follow his instructions to the letter, won't you?"

"Yes, sir. You can count on me, sir." The boy was still thanking him when he entered the back door of a shop fronting on Colbourne Street.

Well, this was it, then. What James had jokingly referred to as "Operation Exodus" was afoot. There was no turning back now. All William needed to do now was find his lover, safe, if not sound. He turned to leave the laneway.

He had not taken two steps that an arm closed around his torso from behind, while a hand pressed a cloth over his mouth and nose. The smell was unmistakable: chloroforme! As he fell into unconsciousness, all he could think was that maybe his assaillant would take him to James. Then, there was only black.



Unbeta-ed fanfic: Reader beware, part 3

Unbeta-ed fanfic. Reader beware. Part 1

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