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.
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.
6. Games, and the People Who Play Them
[late afternoon, day 2]
This whole business was truly terrible. I considered Detective Murdoch a good friend, Mr. Pendrick too, and now the first was hurting because the second was in danger. It felt like we were running in circles trying to find him. I'd come to really like Mr. Pendrick over the years. He was funny, quick-witted and learned, a perfect match for the Detective, and most of all, they were happy together. So very happy. I had never heard the Detective laugh before he'd started living with James Pendrick. I couldn't begin to understand how two men could love each other like that, I mean like husband and wife, but it was clear to me how they felt about each other. It broke my heart to see the Detective so scared and desperate like that, trying to find the one he loved before it was too late.
I didn't know how many people at the station had figured it out. Not many for sure. It wasn't as if I was going to talk about it with the lads. I mean, I knew, but of course I'd been to their house. And I'd caught them kissing more then once, to my shame. They'd been so discreet. I knew Dr. Ogden knew; she was one of the first brought into their confidence. Dr. Roberts too. I think maybe the Inspector knew; maybe the Detective had even told him, I wasn't certain. Other than them, I thought Higgins might have guessed on account of his cousin being that way too. Otherwise, their secret had been safe. Or so I thought.
I was quite worried that this Gillies fellow would force the Detective's hand. Who knew what kind of photograph Gillies had taken? What kind of evidence he'd gathered? And if he murdered Mr. Pendrick, I was certain Detective Murdoch would never recover. I remembered how he'd been after Dr. Ogden had moved to Buffalo; he'd been despondent on the good days. And so many years ago, the death of his fiancée Liza had gutted him. I still remembered seeing him staring at her picture, the one he still kept in his desk, for hours, fighting back tears. I know for a fact he had loved both women romantically, deeply, yet I had no doubt those feelings didn't even compare to what the Detective felt for Mr. Pendrick. If he died, I was certain we'd lose the Detective too.
Pretty much the entire station was working on the case, but there was little to go on. It was a bit disheartening. We weren't exactly going in blind, at least: there was the horse, and the recording, and there was Gillies as a suspect. We were all doing our best. I'd done a lot of things to protect their secret over the years, and now one of them was missing. The other was in pain, and all I could do was my job.
I'd spent most of the afternoon on the telephone, back and forth with Kingston Pen' and the Kingston Constabulary. What I was learning was disconcerting, to say the least. When I saw Detective Murdoch leave his office toward the station's front door, I tried to get his attention, but Kingston's inspector was talking a mile a minute at the other end of the line, and the Detective was not looking my way. Around five o'clock, I finally walked into Inspector Brackenreid's office. He was sitting, looking as dour as I felt and I would have bet it was far from his first glass of scotch in his hand. I didn't envy his position right now either.
"What do you have, Crabtree?" he grumbled.
I just went and told him without flourish or anything.
Kingston Pen's warden, Dr. Platt, took a look at his files and told me he thought he'd figured out how James Gillies had escaped the noose. In the weeks prior to his scheduled execution, he had grown a beard and let his hair go. That'd had made him look nearly identical to a prison guard named Robert Shoucair. That guard, it turned out, had resigned for health reasons on October 4th, the very same day James Gillies was supposed to hang. Somehow, Gillies must have convinced Shoucair to change places with him in the gallows. I then told the Inspector about Shoucair's window living on Dundas Street.
But there was more. While talking to Dr. Platt, I had mentioned in passing that we thought Gillies was responsible for kidnapping Mr. Pendrick. That's when Dr. Platt remembered that among the dozens of letters Gillies had ever received in prison, there had been one written from a fellow inmate, the one and only Sally Pendrick, writing from Fullum Prison. Platt had remembered the name of the correspondant because it was the only letter Gillies had ever responded to during his entire incarceration. In fact, Gillies had thrown out most of the other letters unopened. Now, Platt had admitted to me that at the time, he'd considered not transmitting Mrs. Pendrick's letter in the first place. The tone of her letter had made him uneasy, and the fact it came from another incarcerated criminal was suspicious. But since it only contained her laments over her husband's inadequacies, Platt had let it pass. He'd been surprised Gillies had responded at all. His return letter had been polite and complimentary. Mrs. Pendrick's following missive, he had not given to Gillies, because she'd spoken ill of Toronto's constabulary. Platt had said he'd mail what he had as soon as possible.
As I was talking, the Inspector's colour was changing faster than I could track. When I was done, he took a deep breath, the kind that normally announced one of his riotous rants.
Luckily for my ears, at that very instant, Armstrong knocked on the Inspector's door frame with a warrant to dig up James Gillies's body. The Inspector was quite satisfied with that fact, and we were spared his screed. He grabbed his hat and walking stick, then shouted "Murdoch!" across the bullpen. His spirits soured again when I informed him the Detective had already left the station, but he stopped growling when I added Jackson had accompanied him. The Inspector decided that he, Armstrong and Higgins would go to Mount Pleasant to unearth Gillies, or whoever it was in that tomb. He then tasked me to talk to Shoucair's widow.
We were about to leave the station when Worseley beckoned us by gesticulating while on the telephone. He was visibly panicked. "Sir, it's Jackson calling from the call box at King and Yonge! Sir! It's Detective Murdoch! He's disappeared!"
Inspector Brackenreid's reaction was not very polite. To be fair, I agreed with him. My heart had sunk into my feet. I kind of felt faint.
He wrenched the telephone from poor Worseley and shouted to Jackson to recount the whole story. I couldn't make out all the details from this side of the conversation, but by the increasing volume of the Inspector's voice, things were looking badly. All the lads had stopped what they were doing, waiting and fearing the worst. Worseley had said it: the Detective, one of ours, was now missing too.
The Inspector ordered Jackson to stay put and he hung up. This time, Inspector Brackenreid's breath intake preceded not a rant, but an all call.
"All right lads! Listen up! You all know James Pendrick was kidnapped yesterday. Well, the same culprit has now taken Detective Murdoch. All we know right now is that the kidnapper is probably one James Gillies, who is a convicted murderer and an escaped prisoner. He is to be considered armed and dangerous. Further, he is scary smart. Now, Detective Murdoch was taken less than an hour ago, from Scott Street Lane. If we hurry, we might get some headway. Lads! We have to find both of them before it's too late! Are we clear?"
At the boys' affirmative response, the Inspector shouted at Armstrong and Taylor to go dig up Gillies and bring the body back to the morgue. He then ordered all the other constables currently present to follow him, including me, only leaving Hodge and Tiny Malone to man the station. Then we made our way on the double.
We had been having a rather warm Autumn so far, but about the time we left the station, the had temperature plummeted to just above freezing, reminding everyone that we were indeed at the end of November. The skies had turned grey and angry, and were now pelting the city with a mixture of rain and snow. Unpaved streets were fast turning to muck. I had a feeling that by the time we'd reach Scott Street Lane, what traces left by the Detective's abductor would be gone. I voiced my fear to the Inspector, who told me to remain positive. Since I know for a fact the man is no fool, my guess was that he too was trying to keep his own hopes up.
Unfortunately, I was right. Sure, the asphalt on Yonge Street was simply wet, but side streets were already a mess, made worse by the fact that it was just past five thirty in the afternoon, and office workers were starting to flow by droves out of every building. When we reached Scott Street Lane, not only were our boots muddy, but Jackson was near panic. He'd been asking the civilians to leave their places of employment through other exits, but to no avail. These office workers had been locked indoors since seven-thirty or eight, and were all hungry and eager to go home. Even if all the lads had gone to stand before the dozen or so doors facing the lane, we would have had to step all over the ground ourselves, over whatever trace the Detective's abductor might have left. My hand went straight to my mouth, and I felt my mood drop into the muck at my feet. The Inspector's cursing was expected, to say the least.
This said, the lads immediately proved how well the Detective had trained us. Without being ordered to do so, they began to systematically ask every civilian entering the lane if they had seen the Detective or heard anything untoward happen in the last hour. It was something to behold and it would have made him proud. While they were doing that, the Inspector directed me to follow him, to look at the ground for areas that had not been trampled. Just in case some trace remained. It was still raining, and soon the light would be going.
My hands were cold and my feet were wet inside my boots. It was quite miserable out, but I kept from complaining as I reminded myself two lives were at stake. Soon enough, we found the Detective's hat beside a pile of broken crates near the corner of Colbourne Street. Beside the crates were some wheel tracks, but they were only visible for a few feet.
"Alright. What can we deduce from all this?" the Inspector said, exuding purpose. I know I telegraphed my doubts, because he stated what had recently become his motto: "Come on Crabtree! Murdoch isn't the only one at the station who can think like Murdoch!" Which got me thinking, of course.
"Well, the tracks were so very near the Detective's hat, the two may very well be related... Could be from what was used to ferry the... likely unconscious Detective away from here," I said. Pointing, I added, "If so, well, the... contraption... turned east on Colbourne."
"Contraption?" The Inspector looked more than dubious. I needed to explain myself.
"Yes, sir. It's just we can't tell how many wheels the... contraption... has. It could be a wheelbarrow or a push cart or a small trolley..."
"Right, right, " the Inspector nodded. "I guess it's what we need to ask the local citizenry about, then."
And ask we did, the shopkeepers and merchants that were locking up, the office workers stepping out. We soon discovered that what the said-contraption had been was a simple four-wheeled flat cart, owned by a tall fat fellow named Roderick McCain. The man was known by all in the area as a journeyman working for pennies, loading and moving merchandise for the many neighbouring businesses. Most often, it was Copp, Clark and Company, two streets down, on Front. Except that this time, Roderick McCain had been pushing an empty cart.
A false lead, then.
"What do we do now, Inspector?"
The Inspector had formed a plan, I could see it on his face. "We leave a few men to continue canvasing the area. You and I and the rest go back to the station. Let's pool all the information we have. Suss out the small details."
"So you think we should be more Murdoch-y, sir."
The Inspector's face contorted in disapproval of my turn of phrase, but stayed silent. Besides, I agreed with him. We needed to pool together, both our information and our brains. With all the details the lads had gathered since yesterday, maybe, just maybe, a pattern would emerge. That's how Detective Murdoch solved crimes, wasn't it?
So, when we entered Station House no 4, I went to the Detective's office and rolled his blackboard into the bullpen. The Inspector asked everyone to pull out their notebooks, and handed a sheath of legal-sized paper to Higgins, with instructions to write everything that would be said. He'd also brought out his files from his office. When he took a chalk stick in his hand, we were all ready. "All right, I believe we now have a full timeline of the events since yesterday morning." He started writing.
It took most of the evening, well past shift change. Once a constable had finished sharing his findings, he'd stepped out to get food for others. Strong tea flowed readily, and not a drop of alcohol was in sight. I explained how I thought the Detective must have been taken right after talking with Jake. I didn't mention the boy by name, but I did admit to having facilitated their meeting for Detective Murdoch, and that was sure Jake was to be trusted. Evidently, the Detective had presumed himself safe at the time. This meant the Detective had either been betrayed or followed into the alley.
The night shift gave their information as each came in, same for the lads left working around Scott Street Lane. Perkins and Irving had finished their canvassing as well. I have to say, their news was the most welcomed of the evening, even as it was disheartening now that the Detective was gone. They had indeed found information on the circumstances surrounding James Pendrick's disappearance, as well as reconstructed the route taken by the mysterious dun-coloured horse, from St. David's Street onward. The cart had truly meandered: south on Sackville, west on Sydenham, then through laneways toward Power, going south, east on King, again through laneways, emerging on Cherry northbound, then west on Front, north on Church, to the corner of Colbourne. The lads had lost their trace at that location, due to witnesses having gone home for the night. No one thought it a coincidence that Perkins and Irving had met up with the other lads investigating the Detective's kidnapping in the neighbourhood. They'd actually come back to the station house together. Tomorrow, we were going to have to look in that part of the city. I would bet a month's wages that Gillies's base of operations was near Colbourne Street.
Now, everyone at the station took the Detective's disappearance personally. Not that Mr. Pendrick was less important -- he was a friend of the constabulary too in a way -- but Detective Murdoch was one of us. Taking him had hurt us all. Not only had no one pulled out a flask, but I could see through the Inspector's office windows that his scotch was probably locked in his cupboard. We were resolute.
It was ten pm by now, so Mr. Pendrick had been missing for thirty-six hours, the Detective for about five. The worrying part was that he's abducted from Scott Street Lane at a time it would have been occupied, but witnesses had yet come forward. I was still uncomfortable with all the unknowns in the timeline, but we had made arrests leading to convictions with just as many guesses in the past. At ten-thirty pm, the Inspector asked if anyone had anything to add the meeting.
"I do," said a frankly dishevelled Dr. Ogden, who'd just entered the station carrying several files. She was putting on a braver face than I could, that much was true, but I'd never seen her this frazzled.
The Inspector frowned at her appearance, but it was not time to comment: "Doctor, er, good, you are here. If you please," stepping away from the blackboard.
Dr. Ogden's face tightened in a way that made her look much older than she was, though I said nothing, of course. I'm a gentleman. Nevertheless, I pulled a chair for her, which she took readily, thanking me.
"Here goes. I can confirm that the man we disinterred was not James Gillies. He had a large brain tumour in the left temporal lobe. It was likely not yet debilitating, but it would have been painful and he would have known he was dying."
"This fits with what we know about Robert Shoucair," the Inspector remarked.
"Indeed, it does. I am certain it is Shoucair I autopsied tonight."
"I'll interview the widow tomorrow to confirm it."
Several of us nodded and Dr. Ogden continued, "Earlier today, I was given access to James Gillies's and Robert Perry's police files, their prison files from Don Jail, as well as the psychological evaluations the Crown had ordered at Detective Murdoch's suggestion before the trial. I examined the files with Dr. Roberts's assistance. What we found was illuminating. And quite frightening, frankly." She visibly shuddered. Under normal circumstances, I would have offered her a sip of my flask. The Inspector beckoned her to continue.
"First, I must say that Mr. Perry was always a mere pawn for Mr. Gillies, ever since their murder of Professor Bennett. Had he not actively participated in the crime, I would have declared him a victim. He was manipulated by Gillies in such a way that I doubt he could have successfully resisted Gillies's influence." She let the pronouncement sink in a second. "I would suggest that he is not currently an actor in William's and James's abductions, for the simple reason that Gillies expressed a wish to murder him in court when he realized Perry had made a deal with the Crown for a shorter sentence. I would not be surprised if we find his dead body sometime soon." She then silently shook her head a couple times, before she spoke again.
"Gentlemen, there is no doubt in my mind that Gillies kidnapped James Pendrick in order to enact revenge on William. Gillies is a vindictive man. His calculating mind, as evidenced by the letters he's sent, combined with his displeasure at losing what he considers a personal challenge, leads me to deduce he will hurt Mr. Pendrick physically. He wants to William to feel despair and loss."
Higgins used the Doctor's slight pause to interrupt. "I don't get it. Why kidnap Mr. Pendrick if it's the Detective he hates? I know the Detective rooms there, but..."
Because they're in love, you dummy!, but I didn't voice it. Rather the Doctor spoke. Or rather lied. Just a little.
"Because, Henry, he is one of William's closest friends. They share interests. William assists Mr. Pendrick in his inventions. But it very well could have been me or George that were taken. I'm guessing Gillies took James simply because William lives at his house. It was easier to spy on both of them at the same time than it would have been to spy on me separately than on William, for example."
Higgins nodded silently. I'd always been impressed by Doctor Ogden's intelligence and bravery. In times like these, I couldn't help but think how the Constabulary's unwillingness to hire women was our loss.
The Inspector broke the short silence: "Is there anything else, Doctor?"
"Yes, one more thing. I see on the board that you are focussing your investigations on Colbourne Street. I would venture that Gillies has established his base of operations somewhere close. A few turn of phrases in his statements indicate to me that he prefers familiar surroundings for his criminal activity. This allows him a measure of control, which contributes to his feelings of superiority."
"So we need to focus our attention to that part of the city."
"Yes, Inspector, but do so discreetly. I have no doubt Gillies has the area under surveillance, as evidence by William's abduction. We must not underestimate him."
"All right, that means civilian clothes."
"It is most likely Gillies is keeping William close, since he is the primary victim. It's also possible James Pendrick is also nearby, but he could just as well be kept in a secondary location."
"But if we catch Gillies and rescue Murdoch, our chance of finding Pendrick is that much better."
Dr. Ogden got up, nodded to me, bid the Inspector goodnight, adding she would be found at the morgue. As she left wordlessly, I noticed she had been wearing the same dress yesterday. Two of her friends were missing too.
At that point, the Inspector looked us over and sent the day shift home with orders to be back at six the next morning with our day clothes. The station emptied itself very slowly. We were all exhausted, but a lot of us seemed to be lingering in the station anyway. Higgins had not moved from his desk, seemingly proofreading his notes, while Taylor had taken another sheet of paper, propping it on the chair liberated by Dr. Ogden, and was copying the charts from the blackboard. I decided to stay at the station as well. I wanted to ponder on the leads a bit more too, hoping to be useful. I figured I could get a few hours back in the cells later, as several others would be doing, no doubt. If the Inspector called me on it, I would remind him he hadn't left the station since yesterday either and he's slept on his office's Chesterfield last night.
What an ugly business.