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 kinda unbeta-ed. Read at your own risk.
Title: Games, and the People Who Play Them
Series: The Dancing Suite (fic one)
Fandom: Murdoch Mysteries
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.
Games, and the People Who Play Them
[Day 3, early morning]
I did manage a couple hours of sleep, past midnight, but I didn't go home. I had a change of civilian clothes in the break room upstairs anyway. I wasn't worried about Violet; I knew my neighbours at my boarding house would walk and feed her. They loved my dog as much as I did. So I remained at the station.
In the quiet hours, when the beat sergeants were walking in and out of the station to write their reports on their assigned coppers, I got to thinking I might make it easier to begin our search in the morning if I tightened things up a bit at the station. I started with Henry's desk. It was still covered with fingermark cards and Bertillon measurement sheets. I made quick of storing them alphabetically in their respective boxes and binders. I then made a proper file box with the notes he'd taken last night; I added my own notes, and I also copied the timeline of the letters Mr. Pendrick had received, the one the Detective had drawn on the first day. It seemed so long ago now. The letters themselves were still in the Inspector's office, I remembered, so I'd add them later. I needed to get the handkerchief from Dr. Ogden at some point. And the cylinder of course from the Detective's player. I made a list of missing elements and placed it on top of the box. Thinking about the letters, it dawned on me the Detective had not looked at his own mail since yesterday morning, so far as I knew. What if there was another one?
I all but ran to the mail slots behind the station's front desk. The detective's was quite full. I decided to take care of it in his office. The Inspector caught my gaze as he was coming down the stairs with a cuppa and he nodded when I raised the pile of envelopes slightly. It was a relief to have permission to do this, at least. I decided to stand behind the Detective's desk; I couldn't imagine sitting in his seat.
I was always amazed by the amount of mail he got, more than the Inspector on some days. Anyway, most were messages from other stations, the mayor's office, Crown attorneys, summons to appear in court and the like. There were two personal letters with return addresses. One from a lady in Etobicoke and another from Sgt. Linney in Vancouver. A third letter brought me dread.
It was the same white envelope, addressed with a typewriter, but there was no deckled card inside; just a photograph. And what a frightful sight it was. Plain as day, the picture showed a man's left shoulder and chest from the front, with a gaping wound just above the breast. In the shape of a heart. Gillies had carved a heart into that man's chest and pealed the skin away. I could see muscle. I turned my head away, I couldn’t look at it. It's not that the wound itself was that terrible. I'd seen week-old corpses often enough to be used to the gore. No, it was the meaning of the wound that too was awful to bare. I couldn't tell if it was the Detective or Mr. Pendrick, since the face was off frame. To think of it, though, it couldn't have been the former, since the letter had been delivered before he'd beed taken last night. No, this must have been Mr. Pendrick. I swear I thought I was going to faint like a girl, right there on the spot. But I straightened myself out, thinking that if the Detective had managed keeping a clear head, more or less, while the love of his live was missing, the least I could do was the same for the two of them.
I couldn't let anyone see it except for the Inspector. It was too... horrible... and the lads would ask questions. In a way, I was grateful the Detective hadn't seen it at all. I couldn't imagine his reaction. So, keeping the photograph against my uniform, I walked into Inspector Brackenreid's office.
"How bad, Crabtree?"
"Bad, sir," I said, as I gave him the ghastly image.
I had expected the Inspector to burst into a litany of curses, but none came out. He just sat hard on his chair and ran a hand over his face. "Do you think it's..." He looked at me like he was lost.
"No sir. Considering when it was posted... I think it's Mr. Pendrick."
Again, I was met with silence and then a long sigh. I really hoped for a rant, right about now, but what I got was a low, almost solemn declaration: "We find them today, Crabtree. It ends today. I don't care how many bloody doors we have to break, how many skulls we have to crack. We find them today."
"I couldn't agree more, sir. I'll go put the kettle on."
After that, I continued my tidying and my filing for a while, trying not to think about what the photograph meant.
Not long before six am, Constable Hodge arrived. He was bleary-eyed but in an apparent good mood, the lucky man. His arms were laden with food tins and paper bags. I rushed to help him. Climbing the station stairs, he explained, "After I told Caroline last night that we'd be called in early on a Sunday, she decided to make sure the lads would have breakfast." Thanking him (and the heavens) for his wife, I helped him set up the food in the break room, starting another kettle while at it. There was bread and jam and butter and eggs, fried pork strips and mackerel, muffins... for at least a dozen men if not more. It must have cost a fortune! So I made sure there was a kitty for contributions on the table, making it clear we were all going to reimburse the man. As the boys were filing into the station, I spread the word; I didn't want to catch anyone failing to put in a penny or two. Myself, I couldn't shake the blasted image from my mind, so I only ate some toast Briscoe made on the stove for everyone. I couldn't stomach more. When the Inspector came up to see what the ruction was about, however, he ate some too. Then he put in a whole nickel in the kitty, made a show of it, stating it was all good for morale. That much was true.
So much so that when we gathered again in the bullpen later, the atmosphere was sizzling. Last night, we'd been resolute but also kind of in shock. As the evening had worn on, fear for our colleague, even of bit of discouragement, had set in. This morning, however, none of those negative feelings were to be felt. Station House no. 4 was ready for action. We knew where Gillies was, roughly. We knew he thought himself better than us. And we knew that he was wrong about that. It was only a matter of time before we found him. We were going to solve this today.
That was the gist of the Inspector's speech to the men. He sent five constables in dingy civilian clothes back to the warehouse district with orders to mingle and observe as discreetly as possible. Now, on account of it being Sunday, being discreet was going to be tricky, since all businesses were supposed to be closed on the Sabbath. They were to look for a man or woman fitting Gillies's description, any unusual merchandise movement, anything that looked strange, and report it. He also sent Perkins and Irving back there to walk the beat as uniformed coppers, asking about the case more overtly. Maybe these two would actually get some useful information, but the Inspector was hoping they would act as a distraction for the boys undercover.
It was a risky plan. The lads could reveal their hand without knowing, especially considering Gillies's blasted intellect. I knocked on the wood of my desk for chance, and Higgins knocked on my head for the same reason. I let him. The Inspector found no humour in it, though, and he ordered us to fetch the fire insurance maps and the city directories. Higgins and I were to get the lay of the land. Maybe by cross-referencing this information, we could pinpoint Gillies's location on our end. We had a couple hours before it would be polite to call on a lady, so I still had time before accompanying the Inspector to visit Mrs. Shoucair.
Higgins and I worked well together. As much of a pain in the backside he was at times, we made a good team. We cleared a large space on our desks and I spread the map across, using whatever was on hand to immobilize the corners. We then set out to identify all the unoccupied spaces within a five block radius of Scott Street Lane. Some of us were going to visit each of these places today, to check if Gillies was there. We also looked at the names of owners, renters, lodgers and occupants in the same area, to see if anyone rang a bell. Unfortunately, none did. That was why Higgins made a note to speak to Urquhart, Gillies's solicitor, to check if he had access to a location in the warehouse district. Had it not been Sunday, I would have called on my source at the Municipal Records Office too. Because if there was a place one could easily hide a body in Toronto, it had to be in one of those large buildings, dark and dirty and cluttered as they were. I was quite confident we were on the right track.
By the time eight-thirty rolled around, it was time to get going. And Higgins got permission to fetch Mr. Urquhart at his home. "Wake him up, if you have too. I want him here when I come back," the Inspector had said, a definite glint in his eye. On a Sunday like this, he wanted to speak with Mrs. Shoucair before she left for church. Inspector Brackenreid wanted us to be at our query before nine, so I pushed the station's horse to a swift trot, and the streets were mercifully empty.
As it turned out, Mrs. Shoucair was still at home when we arrived. She made for a sorry sight though, in full mourning dress while so heavily pregnant. I remained silent, while the Inspector was respectful, solicitous even, and we finally confirmed our original deductions.
"We didn't know what to do," she told us, devastated. "l am with child, and the doctor told Bobby he had less than a year to live. He was hurting, and it was only getting worse. Then Mr. Gillies made a proposal."
"And your husband accepted," the Inspector said, in the kindest of voices.
"I didn't like it, but we knew he was going to die."
"How much money did Mr. Gillies give you?"
"Three thousand dollars in cash," she answered, her face showing sudden panic. "You're not gonna take it, are you? My husband died for that money."
Both the Inspector and I shook our heads vehemently. "No, ma'am. We're not going to confiscate your money." Her face flushed in relief. After a beat, he added, "I just need to know how you received it. Tell us, did you meet Mr.Gillies?"
"No. His wife brought it to me in a suitcase. I still have it. The suitcase, I mean. We put the money in the bank."
Inspector Brackenreid and I shared a look. His wife, hey? Mrs. Shoucair was taken aback at our reaction. "Is that strange?" she asked.
The Inspector sat back in the chair she'd offered him, but I spoke in his stead. "What did this woman look like, Mrs. Shoucair?"
"Tall, not very attractive. Done up like a doxy, if you ask me."
"Yes, sir. Curly."
That was it, then. Gillies had delivered the money himself, dressed as a woman. The man truly had no scruples. Since we were done, we offered to drive Mrs. Shoucair to church, then returned to the station, with the suitcase she no longer wanted in her house.
To my surprise, Constable Rafferty was at the station. Though technically still on leave, he'd heard of Detective Murdoch's abduction from his wife, who'd learned about it from Jones's wife, and he'd decided to show up to work a day early to help out. The Inspector sent him to lift fingermarks on the luggage. Dotting the i's, I suppose.
Higgins had also just escorted a rather livid Mr. Urquhart into the interrogation room, so he Inspector proceeded to cross the t's. I perched myself behind the grilled observation window. I didn't want to miss the show. And what an enjoyable show it was. The Inspector didn't even say hello when he barged in.
"So, Mr. Urquhart, would you mind explaining how your client James Gillies is still alive and not six feet under like he's supposed to?" The Inspector was circling the lawyer like a vulture, and the old toff started bumbling. It was beautiful to behold.
"I beg your pardon, sir? I witnessed young Mr. Gillies's execution! It is not something one forgets!"
"Really? Are you sure? Because we dug up the man in Gillies's grave. A man called Robert Shoucair. Not Gillies."
"That is not possible, sir. I protest! I will not stand for such nonsense!" The lawyer meant to stand.
"Sit down, Urquhart!" The Inspector bent low, close to the lawyer's ear. "I don't know how you did it yet, but I know you helped your client escape the noose. And you are going to tell me."
"I did nothing of the of the sort! I swear!"
It was fascinating to see. Urquhart's face was as white as a sheet, but his neck was bright red, and his ascot was bobbing at his throat like it had a life of its own. Then the Inspector got even closer to the man's face and I thought the chap would faint.
"How. Did. You. Help. Gillies. Escape?"
After a beat, the barrister slumped in the chair. We had won.
The Inspector stepped back a few paces, but continued to stare: "I'm listening."
"Firstly, you must believe me, I had no direct part in his escape..." The Inspector growled, but the lawyer continued, "...Truly! I had my suspicions. Especially, when he asked me to find Robert Perry's address a few months ago. I knew he still held ill will toward the boy. Who was not easy to find, actually. His family had cut all ties after the trial."
"I see. So you provided him with the address of his next victim. That's not a point in your favour, sir."
"Let... let me finish! He also asked me to empty his personal account, in cash."
The Inspector started circling again. "Go on."
"I had specific instructions. Get the money. Place it in a deposit box at Union Station. Leave the key at the reception desk at the Empire Hotel."
"Well, well. That sounds like aiding and abetting to me. Don't you think? I'd easily make it stick in a court of law."
If anything, Urquhart sunk even lower in his chair. I repressed a laugh that I couldn't quite feel bad about. But then the lawyer's demeanour suddenly changed. The man couldn't have been so pathetic as he had seemed to have kept Gillies alive for a year and a half in appellate court. In the end, like any solicitor I've ever met, he was more interested in his own hide than his client. He straightened himself. "I will tell you all I know if you keep me out of it."
The Inspector was not impressed, still circling: "What do you have for me that could possibly convince me to look the other way?"
"I know the name of his accomplice." The Inspector simply raised his eyebrows. "Er... Her name is Sally Pendrick. I helped them exchange letters for a time. He would dictate the messages to me and I would send them to her barrister in Montreal. Who would read them to her, take note of her responses and mail them to me. Then, suddenly there were no more letters from her. That's when I knew she was probably out of prison, lying in wait. Look into Sally Pendrick. She is the key."
Inspector Brackenreid and I exchanged a nod through the window of the interrogation room. Terence Meyers had told us Sally Pendrick was dead. As slimy as the man was, I could not imagine why he would lie to us about that. She had double-crossed him, caused the death a host of people, and risked national security. If he said she hanged, than she was surely dead.
As I entered the interrogation room to bring Urquhart to the cells, the Inspector clapped a hard hand on the man's shoulder. "I'm sorry, old chap, but I'm afraid you've been had. I'm sure you'll enjoy prison. It's full of people like you."
The lawyer protested all the way to the cells. I'd escorted hundred's of people there in my time at Station House no. 4, but this was surely the most pleasure I'd ever gotten from it. We had all we needed now, except the exact location. It was just past ten-thirty am. Mr. Pendrick had been gone forty-eight hours, the Detective nineteen. We were this close to getting them back. They were as good as found.
Provided they were alive.