Right now, out on the Midway, just northwest of the Hagenhack Animal Show, a small crowd has gathered. It is late evening, just before nightfall. Above, the sky is a slate of dark purple spiked with bright orange spears. Down below, darkness has already settled.
Torches have already been set up, illuminating the corpse.
Pokerfaced, granite-shouldered Columbian Guards keep curious fairgoers at bay. Occasionally the enterprising slip through, only to be removed by the Columbian Guards Matthew Pawson or Jacob Devins, both of them fathers and both jittery on account of being so close to the Husker’s handiwork. It’s a sight no man should see. Each guard shudders. When they signed up to become Columbian Guards, it seemed an honor. This was supposed to be a celebratory task, after all—the razzle-dazzle of technology, perhaps a go-round on Ferris’s wheel, art from the continent, buildings so austere and majestic you can’t help but gape and swallow your every word, exotic food and strange, just-invented implements—not a lesson in the evilest vice.
Just inside the wall of Columbian Guards, a man with a scar crossing his face wearing a tattered frock coat is talking to Chief Detective Oliver Simonds. “I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a varmint, so I kicked it. I believe I nearly stepped on it, Detective,” he says uneasily, apologetically, his hands shaking. “I never expected it to be human.”
Simonds, a tall man with broad shoulders and bushy eyebrows, nods as if understandably but glances over the man’s shoulder, his eyes searching the crowd. He dispatched Inspector Moreau to find Handley almost an hour ago. So far, she hasn’t shown.
In fact, she’s here, pacing throughout the crowd, observing from afar.
“I hardly know what that is,” Theodate Tiggs says, behind her. His brow, despite the chill, is sopped with perspiration. His hands have been bleached to a pale white.
“A corpse,” Dr. Handley says, her voice flat. “Nothing more.”
Theodate Tiggs, his arms folded over his chest as armor, avoids eye contact with Dr. Handley. It is an awkward moment for both of them. His mouth drops open, then closes. What could be said? He fidgets. He paces. He can’t seem to settle on one thought. He squishes his face till it’s a prune and finally mutters, “That is what I’m afraid of.”
“It’s not something we need to get everyone worked up over, however,” Dr. Handley says.
Chief Detective Simonds finally spots Handley. “I’m sorry,” he says to the man in the frock coat. “Please wait here. I shall be right back,” then he makes a beeline for Handley and Tiggs. Approaching them, he says, “I have men to spare should we need them.”
“But that will only make matters worse,” Dr. Handley says. “That will only draw attention to our search and bump up the challenge. We might not be able to meet it.”
Looking at Simonds but talking to Handley, Tiggs says, “Surely you will meet the challenge, Doctor.”
“Things are different now,” Simonds says. “We can no longer hesitate. We must act with might, and soon.”
“We can’t be hasty,” Handley says, “if we are going to capture our killer.”
“My men are ready when you are,” Chief Detective Simonds says to Tiggs. Tiggs nods in Handley’s direction. “But that would mean taking an altogether different route. It would mean shutting down transport to the fair, if not the fair entirely,” Simonds says, “and combing the city block by block, leaving nothing un-inspected. I believe that is the proper course to take at this point in time.”
Dr. Handley, watching the Columbian Guards’ faces shift from horrified to panicked (will their child be next?), says bluntly to Tiggs, “On the contrary, what we need is stealth. I have been tracking this man”—or woman, she thinks—“from the very start. We know some of his moves and would like to continue on as we have been, without anyone getting in our way. It is absolutely imperative that we work at this on our own, without impediments.”
Chief Detective Simonds slips his hands in his pockets, saying, “There will be more if we don’t act on everything we can act on and use everything within our grasp.”
Looking at Handley now, Tiggs says, “It seems to be the only option we have now at present.”
“Dr. Handley,” Simonds announces, suddenly, “you will go about your business as you have been these past few days, and we will proceed along our course as well, and hopefully someone will capture him before he kills again. This is an order.”
But Handley isn’t listening.
Back over at the crime scene, a Columbian Guard has hunkered down over the corpse and appears to be touching the corpse.
Alarmed, Handley rushes over to them, grips the Columbian Guard at the shoulder, clutching his collarbone. Though she’s less than half his size, he falls over and back. Seeing the diminutive Handley, the Columbian Guard steps away, as much confused as he is frightened.
Calmly, Dr. Handley says, “Please do not molest the evidence.”
Just then the corpse moves again—a slight jerk of its left shoulder, where the skin has been flayed
Both Handley and the Columbian Guard advance toward the corpse.
“He lives,” the guard says, as if it weren’t already apparent, as if saying it might somehow make the miracle palpable.
Presently Handley’s kneeling over the corpse, directing the Columbian Guard to stand back. With stern, attentive eyes, she examines the living corpse. Its lips are missing and its teeth, if that’s what they are, have been removed save one, which is a stump of red goop. Handley says nothing, only listens and waits for the boy to speak again. Wind rushes in off the lake, mussing her hair. Try as she might, she can’t keep it out of her eyes. Perhaps because she can’t spare the energy, she lets it fall over the boy, blanketing him. A long time passes. When he speaks it’s as if he’s speaking underwater, his mouth being clogged with blood, saliva and air. Before he breathes his last breath, Dr. Handley makes out one lone word. “Mother.” Whether it’s a question or statement, Dr. Handley isn’t certain.
Before long Theodate Tiggs and Chief Detective Simonds arrive behind her. Though both men stand back, Tiggs inquires, “What did he say?”
Dr. Handley, though she hears him, ignores him. She leans over the body, her face right up to its face. Its breath, though faint, still warms her cheek. Its skin, though chilled, steams in the evening’s cooling air. Surrounded, and with everyone watching her every movement, she cups its head in her hands and leans closer still, so her lips graze what’s left of its lips. To those watching, Tiggs included, it appears the good Doctor is attempting to breathe life back into the boy. What transpires between the Doctor and the corpse is more an asphyxiation than a resuscitation—Dr. Handley places her mouth over the child’s head and sucks it of its last breath. Instantaneously, she panics. She does not know why she just did what she did, why she killed the boy. Perhaps she intended to put it out of its pain; perhaps she tried to resuscitate it, but ended up smothering it by accident; or perhaps she meant to smother it.
In the distance, a Hagenhack lion roars. Behind her, a voice calls out, “Dr. Handley, might I have a word?”
It is Inspector Moreau, twittering his eagle-beak nose.
Dr. Handley says nothing, only nods. She is almost shaking. She wonders if Moreau can tell. Nervously she stands, afraid that Moreau saw, that somebody saw her kill the boy. As she stands, she notices a piece of parchment paper, more yellow than white, affixed by a rusted nail to what was once a sweater, now a darkened blood-soaked film. She repositions herself as to veil the corpse. Nobody, she figures, sees when she removes. It is a letter written in a disordered hand. Doctor, it says. Meet me at Gray’s Tavern, Sixty-third Street off Wallace. Eight o’clock. Don’t be late, I’ll be in back. It is signed only “S.” Once she’s read it, Dr. Handley slips it in the same pocket from which she presently removes a previously smoked cigar. She stands and faces the Inspector.
“Yes, Inspector,” she says, shaken. “What is it?”
Moreau leads Handley off away from the scene of the crime and over to a tall oak, its leaves still implausibly vibrant, green as apples. Just to their left there’s a carriage, the sides of which say in large white lettering morgue.
“What is that?”
“What is what, Inspector?”
“You just placed something in your pocket,” he says after a moment. “Is it evidence?”
“A handkerchief,” she says. “It is not your concern.”
He might, under other circumstances, be waylaid by her almost clinical abruptness, but in truth he’s rather excited by his news. A promising lead hasn’t presented itself since they’ve been working together, but earlier this evening, while dining alone at the Palmer House, Moreau was approached by a woman with sunset-mahogany hair wearing a sunset-mahogany velvet dress that sloped down and trailed along the marble floor. She was a graceful sight, to say the least. Moreau was taken by surprise and almost choked on a broccoli spear. Before he could invite her to join him, she left, trailing the ever-inviting scent of Woodbury’s. Moreau, as if entranced, followed her. She was waiting in the corner, just outside the barber shop with the silver-dollar floor. He did not know what she wanted, but having been separated from his wife for months, his imagination raced; whatever it was she wanted, he’d make sure he could provide it. It turned out that she only wanted to inform him of the true identity of Clemantis. He wasn’t thinking straight, so he failed to press her, to figure out if she was telling the truth, if she might, in fact, possess the missing piece of the puzzle.
Handley now lights the cigar and says, “What is his identity then, Inspector?”
“She did not say,” Moreau says. “However, it is set up that she will take us to him.”
Irritated, Handley steps toward Moreau. She seems to have forgotten what transpired only moments ago; she no longer seems worried; she seems, in fact, aggravated.
“That,” she says, “is your version of police work?”
Before he says anything, Moreau strokes his chin as only those from the Northern Provinces can do without being snickered at, as if in remembrance. “I understand,” he says finally, “but she was very adamant, very persuasive. For some strange reason, I felt I trusted her.”
“I am sure you did,” she says. “I suggest you follow up and keep me informed.”
With her left hand crinkling the note she removed from under the dead boy’s body, Dr. Handley walks off, her right hand raised up in what might be intended as a wave, trailing a lace of smoke over and behind her. She’s not sure what time it is. Judging from the frighteningly luminescent orange hugging the distant horizon, it must be fast approaching eight o’clock. Gray’s Tavern, if she understands Chicago geography right, lies some distance to the west. If she does not leave at once, she will be late; if she doesn’t leave right this instance, she might never capture the killer. Approaching Sixtieth Street, she tosses her cigar into the slag and flags the first phaeton she sees.