I have been committing fanfic in the last fewmonths. 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 is kinda unbeta-ed.
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 installment 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.
Waking felt like swimming up from darkest ocean depth. He made his way slowly to the surface, reaching for light and air, expecting to brake waves but only finding cold.
His mind felt sloshy. He was in a dark place. No, not true: his eyes were opened. Rather his vision was blocked. Trying to look around, he realized his head was immobilized, a strap tight over his forehead. Concentrating on tactile sensations, he deduced he was wearing some sort of motorist goggles with the glasses blacked out.
He was sitting in a chair, wooden by the feel under his hands, bound by the wrists, chest, thighs, and ankles. Shaking from side to side revealed he was truly trussed and that the chair was likely bolted down. His trouser seat was wet. He'd urinated on himself, obviously. How long had he been unconscious? Certainly more than eight hours if his bladder had emptied against his will. His limbs were aching for movement. How long since the chloroform? More importantly, where was he?
Tapping his foot, the sound told him the floor was made of crude wood boards, or unvarnished wood at any rate. Tapping again revealed the room he was in was small, closed in. It was humid and cold. The air was stale, infused with an unfamiliar chemical smell, acrid, not quite like vinegar. What sounds he made were muffled as they reverberated, but not as if absorbed by draperies. Another material then, the source of the odour, perhaps? But what, he could not tell. There were no other sounds. He was alone.
"Gillies! Where are you?" he called out, his voice rougher than he had anticipated. "Gillies! I know you're here!"
Somewhere behind him, Murdoch heard muted foot falls, then the sound of a stiff curtain, a membrane, parting. Then he heard the soft giggle that had haunted his every moment for the past two days.
"Detective Murdoch. Finally awake." The fiend's voice oozed arrogance and pride. "I had almost given up on you." The man was delighted by Murdoch's predicament, his voice left no doubt.
This was a game Murdoch had no intention of playing. "Where is James Pendrick?"
"Direct as ever, I see," Gillies said. He slowly walking around the Detective's chair. Footfalls clear, from thick leather soles. Even blinded as he was, Murdoch could almost see the smirk on his kidnapper's face, that slight curl of lip, that convinced sense of superiority.
"Where is he?"
"Oh, Detective," his abductor drawled. "So impatient. I'd have thought you'd appreciate our reunion a little more."
Murdoch could find no patience. "Where!?!" He barely recognized the sounds that escaped his throat. All the anger, frustration, fear of the last two days exploded from his mouth.
Gillies sighed and resumed circling. At Murdoch's renewed growling, the criminal tisked. Stopping before his prisoner, a few inches from his face, he breathed, "He's not far." Walking again. "He's certainly more patient than you!"
As infuriating as the past few minutes has been, the fiend had revealed key information. The room was indeed small, but it was only part of a bigger space, divided by unknown expanses of material. The latter was insulating, more of sound than of temperature. Gillies was most likely alone, save for himself and James. Yes, his lover was in the building, maybe even behind one of the stiff partitions. Yet, the near complete silence around them did not bode well; James may be trussed like he was, unconscious, or he could even be dead. He would not entertain the letter possibility.
"What do you want from us?"
"From you, Mr. Murdoch? Quite simple, really. I only want retribution, a chance to even the score. I hate being bested."
Gillies resumed prowling his way around the Detective. Clearly an intimidating tactic, which was somewhat working. Murdoch felt confused, scared and fuming all at once. Not himself.
"Show yourself, Gillies. I am well and truly bound. There is no reason to keep me blinded."
"Oh, but what fun is that?" The man giggled again. "I so very much enjoy seeing you vulnerable. It's fitting, really," he added before running a finger on his prisoner's left cheek. Murdoch stiffened, eliciting another dreaded giggle.
After a beat, Gillies huffed, "Very well. You may look at me."
The young devil then drew very near, smelling of faded soap, damp closets and stale tea, pulling down the goggles from the Detective's face. Locking eyes, he whispered almost tenderly, "Hello there, Mr. Murdoch. Happy now?"
Gillies was so very close, blocking his view of the room. William's first instinct was to reach forward and bite done on the villain's nose, but the abrupt lurch turned his stomach, which rolled as he jerked, the world tilting. A drug was still active in his body, but which he didn't know. He breathed in, reeling in his emotions, pulling his logic to the fore. His view limited, he willfully avoided the criminal's eyes, and set his gaze around Gillies's face. Frustrated by his immobilized head, he felt his neck muscles bunch at the strain.
There was a single light bulb hanging at the very edge of his vision to the left. Indeed, they were inside an enclosure within a larger room, made of thick rubber sheets nailed into the wood- planked ceiling. It was cold, though not quite freezing, indicating less than ideal insolation. A stable, a barn? There were no animal smells though.
Gillies chuckled yet again, gazing almost fondly. "I do very much enjoy watching you think, Detective. Your mind is beautiful to behold." He walked back a few feet from his victim. "You are of course wondering where you are. I'm not telling you yet."
He was to guess, then. So be it. He would go past a sudden wave of thirst and the continued discomfort. Use you detecting skills, he reminded himself. In the absence of obvious noises and any animal smells, he confirmed his initial dismissal of a livery or stable. Considering he was taken from Scott Street Lane, in a teaming part of the city, in plain day, odds were he was near his abduction site. Meaning he was most likely either close to or in the Warehouse district. The distant gangling bells of a tramway car confirmed his hypothesis. He was still in the city, indeed, and there were windows somewhere to his left, behind the rubber membranes.
His staring leftward made Gillies positively giddy, hands deep in his trouser pockets, practically dancing in place. Murdoch ignored him.
Rubber. The whole room was covered in it. Gillies had used rubber belts to bind him on the chair and thick sheets to divide the space they were in, obscuring sights and sounds. Where would he have acquired such large quantities of the material? Then the answer became obvious. Of course, there was only one possibility.
"We are in the Canadian Rubber Company building, on Front Street. Under the rafters."
Gillies exclaimed his joy, satisfaction in his eyes, clapping his hands: "Bravo, Detective! Bravo! I knew you would figure it on your own." The fiend was walking again, practically strolling around him. "I admit, you took me by surprise when you showed up on my doorstep yesterday. I'd calculated you'd find me today, as I was going to send the final clue this morning. Which I didn't send, of course; there was no need. I must congratulate you. Well done, Detective."
Having determined where he was and part of the circumstances of his abduction, Murdoch wanted out of this game. His lover was nowhere in sight. 'Near' Gillies had said. "Where is James Pendrick?"
"Such impatience. But I guess it's to be expected, considering," he said, stopping as if to consider a point. "I have to say, you surprised me greatly, Detective. A staunch Roman Catholic like you cavorting with a man? I did not think it possible."
"Answer me!" he shouted, instantly regretting it as the world tilted again for an instant. Gillies took no notice.
"I so wanted to meet this other 'James' in your life. To see if he compared favourably to me."
Murdoch refused to reflect on what the villain had just said, but reluctantly admitted that no amount of prodding would entice Gillies in revealing anything on a schedule than that of his choosing. William had to let the man ramble on until the answer came. His patience would no doubt be tried all the more.
"Let me tell you, Detective, when Sally Pendrick sent me those letters, describing how her dear husband had perverted you... You, of all people! Taken you to his bed! Haha! I could scarcely believe it. And yet it was true. William Murdoch had become a sodomite! What a world we live in, Detective!
"Oh and the plans she had for you two! The horrible things she wanted you to suffer! Thankfully, she was not as resourceful as I am. She could not escape her fate, the poor dear."
Gillies knew Sally had been executed. It could only mean he had had access to official, legal information. Perhaps his solicitor had acted as a go-between for his client? Had he facilitated his flight as well? "Yet you did escape, Mr. Gillies."
"Of course, I did, Detective. You would expect nothing less of me. Neither of us would ever give up on this wonderful game we share, you and I? Besides, how could I get my recompense against who had bested me? I had no other recourse but to escape the noose. You should be flattered. I did it all for you."
This man was truly obsessed, more so than Sally had even been. Where she had been vindictive and vicious, Gillies simply sounded insane, convinced that they had some sort of connexion, a delusion of closeness between them.
"Then if this is all for me, abide by my wishes. Tell me where James is?"
The younger man stopped to stare at the Detective. Sighing, his face turned into a veritable pout. Was that disappointment in his eyes?
"As I said, very near," he answered. "I must commend you in your choice of lover, William. Can I call you William? Sally Pendrick did not do him justice, I must say. He possesses a much keener mind than I anticipated. And his resistance, his stamina, is impressive. He's held up quite well in captivity. Though, he is starting to smell a bit."
"What have you done to him? You hurt him, I know."
Gillies dismissed the comment with a wave. "Oh, hardly. He put up a brave fight, that's true, but he was easy enough to subdue. I roughed him up a bit, of course. I wanted him to look good for the picture I sent you. Did you like my letters, Detective?"
Murdoch would not let himself be goaded. He was still missing some key information. No doubt, the entirety of Toronto's Constabulary would be looking for him. But, how long would it take them to find their quarry could not be estimated without knowing how long exactly he had been insensate. Redirecting the conversation was needed.
"Tell me, how long was I unconscious?"
The detestable pout was back. "All right, all right! You won't play with me, then fine! You were unconscious for nearly twenty hours. It is mid-afternoon on the Sunday. Happy?"
"How did you manage that? Chloroform doesn't act that long." Nor does it leave one as dizzy and numb as he still felt.
"No, of course. I injected you with heroin. No doubt you mouth feels rather pasty. It's a common side effect, I'm told. I must say, calculating the correct dosage to keep you sedated without killing you was quite difficult. But thankfully, there is a rather handy scale here I could use to measure your weight. Had to inject you thrice. I have more than enough, obviously, though I had planned to only keep you unconscious for a few hours originally. You waylaid my plans admirably, Detective."
Murdoch could not think of a retort. He found he did not care. Having missed twenty hours, it was likely that the noose was tightening around Gillies. He trusted his men. They would know the area he was taken from and Jones would bear witness to it. Unless the constable was dead as well. He doubted it; Gillies would have relished in conveying such a fact as murder. No, the Inspector was surely leading a citywide hunt by now. He was confident constables would be breaking every door along Front street as soon as they got a judge to sign a warrant. The Canadian Rubber Company was a well-known, central building on one of the busiest street corners in Toronto. On a Saturday afternoon, there would have been hundreds of citizens around. Surely, someone witnessed his plight. Even on a Sunday, the trams' bells could be heard every few minutes, despite the stores being closed. He reminded himself James was near. That meant in this very building or one close by.
Murdoch was broken out of his thoughts by Gillies reappearing inches from his face.
"I don't like being ignored, Detective. Dreaming about your lover, are you?" The fiend then moved back, huffing. "I see there is no taunting you now. Oh, well. Would you like to see him?"
Taking a breath, Gillies pre-empted his next sentence: "Ask nicely!" he said, wagging a finger.
Murdoch centred himself. The villain's arrogance demanded compliance? So be it. "I would like to see Mr. Pendrick, please. May I?"
Gillies stood back and almost twirled in delight. The chuckle returned. "Ha! Finally!" He stepped closed to the where two membranes met, directly in front of where Murdoch's chair was affixed. "Since you asked so politely, Detective."
Murdoch steeled himself has the curtains were parted. He expected blood.
Of which there was surprisingly little.
James was slumped, unmoving but visibly breathing, in an identical wooden chair, also bolted to the floorboards. He was shoeless, in his shirt sleeves, tied by thick rubber straps, not only on his arms and legs, but also crossed over his chest. His head was not immobilized, though his eyes and ears were completely covered with what looked like heavy layers of plastered cloth, stuck to his skin and hair. The bruises and split lip were visible around the blindfold. William called out his name, but he did not respond.
"Oh, dearest Detective, he can't hear you. As you can see, I have rendered your lover blind and deaf. Not permanently, of course. I would not be that cruel."
William called out again, more loudly, even if he knew it was likely in vain. James's head then lolled around as though he was fighting sleep. His clothes torn in places, stains on his formally crisp white shirt. His trousers were visibly soiled from both urine and released bowels. The smell carried over. "Gillies, what have you done to him?"
The fiend's expression turned serious, then glacial. Murdoch knew instantly that if this had been chess, he would soon be presented with his opponent's endgame.
"Other than marring his pretty face, I have done very little harm. He is most likely suffering from thirst by now, but it could not be avoided. I have no intention of hurting him. Truly not. My goal was to get you to me. What harm does come to him will be entirely your doing, William. " Gillies brushed his knuckles on James's jaw, making the man rear away as far as his bindings let him, mewling in fear.
William howled at the monster: "Do not touch him!"
"Now, now, don't worry, he is in no pain. Heroin is truly a wonder drug."
William could not endure any more of this. Fighting his bonds, he growled. "What do you want from us?"
"This is, to put it simply, an experiment."
Gillies turned to face him directly, looking graver than William had ever seen him. The hateful smirk, the giddy eyes, were gone. What was left was the regard of a scientist facing the rat to be vivisected: cold, detached, superior. “I'm fascinated by the idea of love, Detective. What will a man sacrifice for the one he loves?” This was the endgame, then. “Doesn't every man tell his lover he would die for her? Or in your case, him?” said the young devil. “But how many truly would? Would you?” Kneeling beside James, Gillies gazed into his victim’s face. “I know you'd fight for him, to the death if necessary, but what would you give up to save his life? Your life? Your career? Yours and his freedom? What would you sacrifice? That is my experiment, Detective.”
Standing up again, he moved to pull on the rubber tarps, yanking hard on them, detaching them from the ceiling. They had hidden a large cast iron vat, hanging from the rafters directly over James, attached by hinges. A system of levers, pulleys and ropes snaked to the right, attached to a large clock. The kind one would install on a public building. It was 3:43. Gillies picked up a box with a button-lever and moved toward Murdoch.
“You choice is simple, and you have until seven o’clock to make it. Which is preferable to you? Mr Pendrick’s continued living or your career and freedom. This flip switch will trigger one of two things. You flip right, and this iron tub will drop one gallon of sulfuric acid on your lover. You know what that is?”
“Of course I do. It’s oil of vitriol.”
“Correct. Then you also know that the poor man will suffer immensely, maybe for days, until he dies of acid poisoning. On the other hand, you can flip left, and the tub does not turn over. Rather, a moving picture projector will turn on, spilling a very peculiar spectacle right on the next building’s outside wall. I’m sure you can guess what motion picture it’ll be showing, yes? I know you do.”
William stomach twisted painfully. Gillies had planned this trap in every detail. He’d fallen for it so easily. “James and me on the back terrasse, two Sundays ago.”
“Such passion between the two of you! Now, before you start thinking no one of consequence would be on the street below on a Sunday evening, you’d be mistaken. I have arranged for a host of police officers to be around tonight. Believe me, the Constabulary will be given a remarkable display of your indecent behaviour, the likes of which will land both you and James Pendrick in prison for years. You’d likely never see each other again in life.
“This is the choice I am giving you, Detective Murdoch. Would you preserve your reputation and career at the cost of your lover? Or do you love him enough to destroy everything you both hold dear in order to save his life?” The fiend stopped for a second then clicked his fingers: “Oh, and one more thing! Do not think you can simply wait this out. If you do not choose, at exactly seven o’clock, this vat will pour its contents onto your dear lover and the projector will turn on, regardless. You must choose, Detective. So, what will it be?”
The world began to spin and William’s breath failed him. The heroin was still affecting his reasoning and now he was facing an impossible choice. The cold seeping into his bones, his muscles spasming, there was no escape he could think of. What to do? He needed time. Looking at the clock, he had slightly more than three hours. Swallowing his fear, he sighed: “I'll let you know once I've decided.”
His response chased away Gillies’s somber attitude. The giddy, giggling villain was back in an instant. “Oh! We are going to have so much fun!” The man put the box down on the floor near the giant clock, gazed at his two victims with an almost fond smile, then left the same way he’d come in. “I’ll see you both later.”
A chilling thought to say the least.
Gillies disappeared behind the heavy membranes, and William could no take his eyes of his lover. True, his immobilized head prevented him from looking away, but he found he did not want to. Both he and James were alive, and in that alone there was hope, even if their immediate future looked grim.
Just over three hours left before their life as they knew it would be gone. One way or another. He wondered if James knew of Gillies's plan at all. Had he been told? The signs were he was heavily drugged. His right sleeve was unbuttoned and wrinkled, small blood stains visible on the fabric over the cubital fossa. The site of the injections, surely. Even if his lover were not artificially blinded, William thought he would probably be incoherent, from thirst as much as from the heroin. The man’s lips were chapped and his skin sallow. How William ached for those lips, had missed them for three days! All he wanted was to take him into his arms and run. They had to get out, to escape. But how?
His bonds had no give. His wrists could twist but not budge. He barely could raise his shoulders. His own left cubital fossa hurt where Gillies had injected his blasted heroin. Despite his thirst, he found he was regaining his wits, the anger burning the haze away. This led to a realization. The clock was loud; it ticked resoundingly. Yet he had not heard it prior to Gillies’s revelation earlier. He should have been able to hear it clearly from behind the rubber tarps. Just when had Gillies turned the clock on? Clearly, Murdoch could no trust it. There was no way to tell whether the device told true time or if it showed the correct hour. His own sense of time might be slightly better than the average man’s, but with the hunger, thirst and heroin, he could no longer trust himself either.
James’s breathing showed signs of becoming laboured. It would only get worse. No longer moving, head low, he seemed unconscious. Whatever time it was, it was running out.
Despair filled his lungs. Gillies truly had created the perfect trap. The letters, the pictures, clues to lure his prey here. The devil might have thought Murdoch had found him early from with his deductive reasoning, but only pure coincidence that had brought him to Scott Street Lane. Now, he could not think of a way to escape his enemy’s claws. It looked like he had no other out than to seriously contemplate the despicable choice Gillies had given him. He could lose James to the most horrible death or he could lose James to prison and censure.
Murdoch shifted his gaze back to the floor, to the box controlling the hateful device. A simple wooden box, of approximately five cubic inches, with a glossy cherry varnish. The top showed a simple brass lever-button, with two small brass plates with writing too small for him to read. He deduced they showed the two alternatives Gillies had put to him. From the controller, ran a braided cable, perhaps an inch thick, that snaked all the way behind the timing device, where he could just make out the outline of large gears. Other than the clock, the device was silent.
The silence was suddenly broken by the grave rumbling of a motor. A very recognizable motor. The one so clearly heard on the cylinder now found in his office at the station. Even through the thick rubber, the machine was loud, no doubt it was on this very floor. Then, after perhaps two minutes, the machine stopped, with a rattle and a clank. What could it be? The next sound gave him his answer: the unmistakable squeaking of an accordion metal gate being pulled back. This was an elevator. Yes, indeed, this building had an elevator! This gave him true hope. All his colleagues had to do was to find the notes on his work table and cross-reference them with the buildings near where he was taken! Yes! It would lead them, inevitably, to the Canadian Rubber Company building. He and James would be found!
“Come one, George! You can do this!”