He pounded his pudgy fist against the door for several seconds, shouting, “Muriel! Bartholomew! Open up! It is I, von Helrung!”
He turned to the doctor. “Quickly, Pellinore! We must break it down.”
The doctor responded reasonably, “Perhaps they are upstairs and simply don’t—”
“Ack!” the old monstrumologist groaned. He shoved Warthrop roughly to one side, stepped back to give himself a running start, and threw himself against the door. It bowed, but did not give way. “Dear God in heaven!” he shouted, gathering himself for the next blow. “Give.” Slam! “Me.” Slam! “Strength!”
The door gave way with a final desperate wallop of his shoulder, the splintered remains crashing into the wall inside with the force of a thunderclap. Von Helrung’s momentum carried him into the entryway, but he maintained his balance, lunging several steps into the cavernous space, where the crystal chandelier splintered the light of the setting sun into a thousand glittering pieces.
I smelled it the moment I stepped inside—the sickly sweet odor of death, the unmistakable perfume of decay. The doctor reacted to it immediately. He pushed past his winded companion and strode to the grand staircase. Von Helrung, now holding the derringer, grabbed Warthrop’s cloak with his free hand and pulled him back.
“We stay together,” he whispered harshly. “Where is the knife?”
Warthrop clucked impatiently, but took out the knife and handed it to me. “I have my revolver,” he said.
“Good, but you will need these.” Von Helrung held out several shining silver bullets. They clinked softly in the eerie silence. Warthrop pushed the offering away.
“I think my ordinary ones will do, thank you.”
We followed Warthrop up the grand staircase, past portraits of the Chanler clan’s progenitors, the occasional marble statue of a Greek god, and the bust of some anonymous personage glaring down from its perch upon the pedestal.
Upon the first turning of the stair, we found the body of a young girl in a chambermaid’s uniform, lying faceup—but she was upon her stomach. Someone had twisted her head completely around. Her eyes and face were gone. Her skirt was pushed up around her waist, exposing her nak*d backside. There was nothing but a gaping wound where her buttocks should have been, and the air was saturated with the smell of excrement.
Von Helrung recoiled in shock, but Warthrop hardly took note of the gruesome find. He hopped over the pitiful creature and continued up the stairs, shouting Muriel’s name at the top of his lungs, his eyes wide with panic. Von Helrung and I took more care in our ascent, carefully squeezing around her before continuing after him. I told myself not to look down, but I did, and I nearly swooned with disgust, for what I saw exceeded everything I’d ever witnessed in my tenure as a foot soldier in the service of Warthrop’s exacting mistress.
Someone—or something—had carefully arranged her facial mask, including her bright brown eyes, inside her evacuated bowels, so she appeared to stare up at me from the violated depths.
“Stay back, Will!” whispered von Helrung.
I nearly ran into the doctor upon the second turning of the stairs. Another body lay in our path, lying on its back with legs together and arms spread wide, the same position in which we’d discovered Sergeant Hawk. He had been eviscerated. His organs, still shimmering with bodily fluid, lay in disarray, as if they had been rummaged through to find a special prize—which might have been the heart (I could see its half-eaten remains), or perhaps the intestines, which had been cleaved from his abdomen and wound about his faceless head like a crown.
It was Bartholomew Gray.
The monstrumologist barely paused. He barreled onto the second floor, bellowing her name, kicking open doors with such force that their hinges splintered. Von Helrung caught up with him, touched his shoulder, and cried out when Warthrop swung around and jammed the end of his revolver against his forehead. The older scientist pointed to a door at the end of the hall, over which someone had scrawled this, perhaps with blood, perhaps with the contents of the poor girl’s bowels:
Von Helrung called softly, “No, Pellinore!” but the doctor was already at the door, which stood slightly ajar, his revolver held at the level of his ear.
He pushed open the door, and something fell from its hiding place above—a chamber pot brimming over with a sludgy mass. The pot had been balanced between the top of the door and the wall, a trap my master had fallen for years before, only this time the joke wasn’t a pail filled with a Tanzanian Ngoloko’s blood. It was a chamber pot filled with human feces.
Warthrop stumbled backward, gagging and spitting (his mouth had been slightly open), his cloak and hair saturated in stinking excrement. He recovered himself quickly, however, and rushed into the room. Von Helrung and I followed close behind.
Reposed upon the bed was a third body, wearing the same green dress she had worn when I’d danced with her, legs obscenely spread, arms folded over her head. On the headboard had been scrawled the words “Good Job!”
Warthrop rushed toward the bed with a strangled cry of despair, and abruptly stopped, a look of nearly comical bewilderment upon his haggard features.
“Oh, no,” he murmured.
I peered over his shoulder—and into the face of Bartholomew Gray.
The beast had stripped it off and laid it over her face.
Beside me von Helrung gave a small, horrified sob. The doctor took a deep breath, set his jaw, and pulled the makeshift mask away.
The beast had left the face beneath intact.
“Regina,” whispered von Helrung. “It is Regina, the cook.”
Warthrop turned, and his eyes were flint-hard. He pushed past us and strode to the opposite side of the room to the remains of a window; the frame still held a few wickedly gleaming broken shards. He gazed past them, down to the small courtyard below.
“We’ll search the rest of the house,” he said, “but I do not think we will find him.”
He turned around to face us. I looked away. The expression in his eyes was unendurable.
“His business here, I think, is done.”
“The Story of a Lifetime”
The doctor’s prediction proved to be correct. We did not find John Chanler—or the thing that once had been John Chanler. Neither did we find Muriel. Either she had escaped or he had taken her. We searched every room from the damp cellar to the dusty attic. While von Helrung remained inside to call the police, Warthrop and I explored the grounds, focusing our attention on the small courtyard beneath the broken window. We found nothing out of the ordinary. It was as if John Chanler had taken to the high wind.
The arrival of the black-and-white police wagons drew the attention of the neighborhood almost immediately. The small crowd outside quickly swelled until two detectives had to be pulled from their grisly work to keep the human tide from flooding the front lawn.
The chief inspector appeared shortly thereafter. He commandeered the library to question the two monstrumologists. Von Helrung was deferential, even apologetic; knowing to what lengths Byrnes would go to make an arrest for the crime—his brutal methods were legendary—the older monstrumologist understood his interrogator better than Warthrop, who was surly and combative, asking more questions than he answered.
“Have you found John Chanler?” Warthrop demanded.
“You and I wouldn’t be having this conversation if we had,” answered Byrnes.
“Did you use dogs?”
“Of course, Doctor.”
“Witnesses? His appearance is certainly something that would draw attention—even in New York.”
Byrnes shook his head. “None we’ve turned up.”
“Flyers!” barked the doctor. “Plaster every corner. And the newspapers. Who is that muckraker with the huge following? Riis. Jacob Riis. Within the hour he can have something in the evening edition.”
Byrnes was slowly shaking his massive head, smiling a small enigmatic smile.
“And put John Chanler at the top of that list of yours,” Warthrop feverishly continued. “What do you call it—the rogues’ gallery? Within twenty-four hours we can make him the most famous man in Manhattan. Even the little old ladies’ dogs will know what he looks like.”
“Those are all wonderful ideas, Dr. Warthrop, but I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Before the doctor could ask why, the door behind him flew open and the answer to that question barged into the room.
“Where is Warthrop? Where is that—”
Archibald Chanler’s hand flew to cover his nose.
“Good God, man, what is that smell?” He eyed with disgust the doctor’s filthy cloak.
“Life,” answered the doctor.
Scowling, John Chanler’s father turned to Byrnes. “Inspector, isn’t it the usual procedure to handcuff persons under arrest?”
“Dr. Warthrop is not under arrest.”
“I think the mayor may have something to say about that.”
“He may indeed, Mr. Chanler, but until he does . . .” Byrnes shrugged.
“Oh, he will. I assure you he will!” He whirled on Warthrop. “This is entirely your fault. I shall do everything in my power to see you prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
“What is my crime?” asked the monstrumologist.
“That question is better put to my daughter-in-law.”
“Then I shall put it to her—the moment she is found.”
Chanler stared at him, and then looked quizzically at Byrnes.
“Mrs. Chanler is missing,” the chief inspector informed him.
“John has taken her,” Warthrop opined, “but I have hope that he will not harm her. If that was his intention, he would have done it here.” He addressed Byrnes urgently. “Time is of the essence, Inspector. We must get the word out immediately.”
“The word, as you say, will most certainly not ‘get out,’” snapped Chanler. “And if I see a single mention of the Chanler name in the obscurest fish wrapper, I shall sue you for everything you have, do you understand? I will not have the name of Chanler besmirched or sullied in any way!”
“It isn’t a name,” answered my master. “It is a human being. Would you have her suffer the same fate as those we found in this house?”
Chanler brought his face close to Warthrop’s and snarled, “I don’t care what she suffers.”
The monstrumologist exploded. He seized the larger man by the lapels and slammed him into a bookcase. A vase toppled off and shattered on the floor.
The object of my master’s wrath did not fight back. His cheeks glowed, his eyes danced wickedly. “What are you going to do? Kill me? That’s what you so-called monster hunters do, isn’t it? Kill what frightens you?”
“You mistake disgust for fear,” said Warthrop to Chanler.
“Pellinore,” von Helrung pleaded. “Please. It solves nothing.”
“She deserves it, Warthrop,” growled Chanler. “Whatever she receives she has earned. If not for her, my son never would have gone on that hunt.”