“Torrance,” he said in a nasally British accent. “I did not expect to see you.”
“Or you would have brought me a small token of your affection?”
“Hemmm,” Walker whined through his alphorn nose. His gaze darted bird-quick to me. “And who is this?”
“This is Will Henry, the son of Warthrop’s former assistant, James,” answered von Helrung, laying a hand upon my shoulder.
“I am Dr. Warthrop’s apprentice,” I said.
“Ah, yes. Quite. I seem to remember seeing you about at the last congress. Come to fetch your master, have you?” He turned to von Helrung without waiting for a reply. “The matter has proved more complicated than I first reported, Dr. von Helrung. They are refusing to release him.”
A bushy white eyebrow rose slowly toward the old man’s hairline. “What do you mean?”
Walker’s restless eyes roamed the crowded lobby.
“Perhaps we should find a spot with a bit more privacy. Since receiving your telegram, I’ve had the unshakable impression that I am being followed.”
We went up to our rooms on the third floor, overlooking Praed Street, where von Helrung ordered a pot of tea. Torrance requested something stronger for himself, but his old teacher preferred that his former pupil keep his wits about him.
“Whiskey is what keeps them,” Torrance protested. He winked at Walker. “The stable to the wild stallion my erudition.”
Hiram Walker answered with a disdainful sniff. “I am surprised every time I see you, Torrance.”
“Really? And why is that, Sir Hiram?”
“Because it is reasonable to assume you have been killed in a bar fight. And stop calling me that.” He sipped his tea and said to von Helrung, “It is outside their protocol to release a patient to anyone outside the immediate family without an order from a magistrate or upon the recommendation of the attending physician.”
“But surely you explained to them the circumstances of the case?” asked von Helrung. “He is confined under false pretenses.”
Walker shook his head. “I explained nothing. I made only the most general of inquiries, since I do not know the precise circumstances of the case. Hewas brought there, I was told, by his nephew, a Mr. Noah Boatman—”
Torrance guffawed. “Noah Boatman! Boatman—Arkwright. Ingenious.”
“May I continue? Thank you. A Mr. Noah Boatman, who claimed his ‘uncle’ had suffered a complete mental collapse, brought about by the recent death of his wife, who was mauled to death by a tiger—”
“By a what?” interrupted von Helrung.
“A tiger. A Bengal tiger, while visiting her sister in India. He believed himself to be, according to the nephew, an American monster hunter by the name of Pellinore Warthrop. His real name was William James Henry, and—Please, Torrance, would you be quiet? Von Helrung, perhaps we should order him up some whiskey—a gallon, so he can drink until he passes out. Now, what was I saying?”
“You’ve told us enough,” von Helrung said with a heavy sigh. “The rest is not difficult to guess. Mein Freund obliged the devious schemer by insisting he was an American monster hunter named Pellinore Warthrop. Thus, by telling the truth he validates the lie!”
“But there is more, Dr. von Helrung. And here it gets rather… well, bizarre. Warthrop also claimed, according to my sources, that his ‘nephew’ is a British double agent in the employ of the Russian secret police.”
“That’s it!” cried Torrance, leaping from his chair. Walker flinched, as if expecting a full frontal assault. A bit of tea sloshed from his cup. “‘They’ll hunt me down like a dog,’ he said,” Torrance continued. “It’s the first set, von Helrung!”
“Who?” asked von Helrung. “Who is the first set?”
“Okhranka! Oh, he’s a devil, this John Kearns! Of course. I am a fool for not seeing it. No wonder Arkwright was frightened to the point of soiling himself. That explains the fear, and the fact that he was a double agent explains the bravado. I’m guessing now that the Brits don’t even know about the nidus. It’s a Russian job through and through.”
“The nidus?” Walker echoed, his small eyes widening by half.
“I spoke out of turn,” said Torrance, with an abashed look toward von Helrung, whose cheeks had gone ruddy.
“The Russians have recovered a nidus ex magnificum?” Walker asked.
“We do not know,” von Helrung answered carefully. “There are many unanswered questions.”
“So it appears, Dr. von Helrung, most of which belong to me. Who is this Boatman or Arkwright or whatever his name is? Why would he go to such outlandish lengths to falsely imprison Dr. Warthrop? Why was Warthrop in London in the first place? Who is Jack Kearns, and what does he have to do with the Russian secret police?”
Von Helrung was giving Torrance a withering look.
“What?” demanded Torrance. “You never said it was a secret.”
“It was Pellinore’s wish to pursue the matter…” He searched for the word. “Independently.”
“Well, sure!” returned Torrance. “That’s Warthrop, wanting all the glory for himself.”
“The glory for…,” Walker asked von Helrung.
Von Helrung sighed. He gazed up at the ceiling and stroked beneath his chin.
“The Russians do not have the nidus,” he said finally. “We have the nidus. We have the nidus, the British have Warthrop, and the Russians have Jack Kearns.”
“You’re two thirds right, von Helrung,” Torrance said. “I don’t know if the Russians have Kearns, but I’m willing to bet Sir Hiram a haircut that they have the magnificum.”
There was nothing von Helrung could do at that point but tell his English colleague everything, from the delivery of the nidus on that freezing February morning and the horrific demise of its unwitting courier, to the disappearance of Warthrop and the fate of the traitor responsible for it. He emphasized, with an eyebrow cocked at Torrance, that all else was mere conjecture. We did not know, for example, if the Russians had found the home of Typhoeus magnificum.
“Well, it’s been what?” asked Torrance. “Over four months now? Plenty of time if Warthrop got it right, which he did.”
“And how do you know that, Jacob?” von Helrung demanded. He was beginning to regret, I think, including Torrance in our rescue mission.
Torrance shrugged. “He’s Warthrop.”
“Let’s pray he did,” said Walker. “A living magnificum would be the crowning achievement of our discipline.”
“I don’t think the czar gives a tinker’s damn about any crowns except his own,” Torrance said, and laughed. “If the Russians have it, we won’t be seeing it in the Monstrumarium anytime soon!”
Von Helrung was nodding. His expression was very grave. “I’m afraid Dr. Torrance is correct, at least in this particular aspect. If the magnificum should fall into the wrong hands…” He shuddered. The thought was unbearable.
Not so much to Torrance, though. He seemed intrigued by the possibilities. “It would change everything, gentlemen. It would shift the entire balance of power in Europe—maybe the world. Alexander conquered half of it. Think what he would have done with arrows dipped in monster snot!”
“Must you, Torrance?” whined Walker. “Why did you become a monstrumologist, anyway?”
“Well, I do like to kill things…” “Enough!” cried von Helrung. He slammed his pudgy hand upon the tabletop. “We are forgetting why we are here. We worry first about freeing Pellinore. Then we worry about monster snot.” He bore down on Walker. “We cannot go before a magistrate, and we will not convince his doctor. What does that leave us?”
“As I’ve said, if it’s determined he isn’t a danger to himself or the public, he may be released to a family member.”
“Hmmm,” Torrance hummed. “Too bad his nephew is dead.”
“We must be careful not to arouse their suspicion, or we shall find ourselves in rooms adjoining Pellinore’s,” mused von Helrung. “They are convinced of his condition or they would have released him. A ruse might succeed, but there is no way for us to forewarn him. How can he play a part if he cannot read the script?”
“He can’t,” Torrance said. “But he doesn’t have to.” He turned to Walker. “We’ll need someone to vouch for us. Someone the superintendent there knows and trusts and who’d be willing to play a supporting role. Got anybody like that in mind?”
Walker thought for a moment, sucking on the extinct tobacco in his bowl. Then he smiled around the tooth-dented stem, his rat eyes glinting wickedly.
“By George, I believe I have.”
Walker’s bit player was a compact, athletic-looking man in his early thirties, with very dark, short-cropped hair and even darker deep-set eyes. We met up with him the next morning a few miles west of London, outside the gatehouse of the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum.
After introducing von Helrung and me (Torrance, at the urging of von Helrung, had remained behind; I think Meister Abram was concerned his presence might turn a delicate situation into a dangerous one), Walker quickly reviewed our hastily drawn-up plan to win Warthrop’s immediate release. His friend suggested a few tweaks in our script but overall seemed pleased with the outline of our little scheme.
“I met Warthrop once, you know,” he told us. “Must have been ’77 or ’78, while I was studying at the university in Edinburgh. He’d come to consult with Dr. Bell on some matter or other—I don’t know precisely. Bell was very mysterious about it. He cut a striking figure, I remember that—very tall and lean, with the most piercing black eyes that seemed to slice right through you. He shook my hand and said, quite casually, as if he were remarking upon the weather, ‘A pleasure to meet you. You have recently returned from London, I perceive.’ I was astounded. How had he known that? Bell swore to me afterward he hadn’t told him, and I must confess I never quite believed my old professor’s denial. I have always meant to ask Warthrop how he knew—”
Von Helrung gently cut off the loquacious Scotsman, saying, “And we are delighted to present you with the opportunity! I am sure Pellinore will remember the encounter. His memory is as prodigious as his powers of observation and deduction. It is a gross injustice that he is here. I assure you, sir, he is no more mad than you or me, and we will be forever in your debt for helping us affect his speedy release from his lonely sojourn behind these walls! Lead, sir, and we shall follow!”
And so he did, through the gatehouse, where the watchman directed us to check in at the clerk’s office, located in the main building, a simple—if somewhat imposing—three-story building at the far side of the spacious front grounds. As we walked along the gravel path toward it, my heart began to race as my eyes sought out the doctor. I was excited, apprehensive, and a little frightened. If our impetuous plan should fail, he might never walk out the gates of this place.