From behind me the monstrumologist screamed, “What have you done?”
I did not know whether he spoke to von Helrung or to me. It may have been both. It may have been neither.
“What in God’s name have you done?”
Nothing, nothing, nothing, in God’s name, nothing.
Abram was dead, and Pellinore was inconsolable. I’d never seen him so broken and helpless, borne down by what he had called “the dark tide.” He wailed and railed, cried and cursed; even Mr. Faulk sensed that it could not continue indefinitely: Either Warthrop would best the spell or the spell would best him. I bore a special responsibility, not because I felt in any way responsible for von Helrung’s death—no, fate had decreed me his sole caretaker, the lone guardian of the Warthropian animus. It had taken me years to understand this. He didn’t need me to sustain his body. He could hire a cook to feed him, a tailor to clothe him, a washerwoman to keep those clothes clean, a valet to wait upon him hand and foot. What he could not afford, though he possessed the wealth of Midas, the one indispensable service that only I could provide, was the care and feeding of his soul, the nurture of his towering intellect, and the incessant stroking of his pitiful, mewling, insufferable ego, the I am! squeal to the silent, inexorable Am I?
I understood my duty in that hour. Understood it with greater clarity than I had in Aden, on Socotra, or even on Elizabeth Street. I understood all too well. What are you? he had asked. It was a disingenuous question. He knew very well what I was, what I had always been without either of us understanding it, much less acknowledging it. And what did it matter if we did? Would it have changed anything?
There is no place where it begins. No place where it ends.
I called down to the desk and ordered up a pot of tea. I mixed a healthy dosage of sleeping draft into his cup and pressed the cup into his hands. Drink, Doctor. Drink. After a few moments he allowed me to lead him to his room, where he threw himself upon the bed and curled into a ball, and I was reminded of his father, whom he had found in the same position years before, nak*d as the day he was born, dead. I closed the door and returned to the sitting room, where Mr. Faulk was waiting for me. He was contemplating the head, his massive brow furrowed in existential concentration. He, too, understood his duty in that hour.
“It’s a shame, Mr. Henry. I always liked the old man.”
“The last of his kind,” I said, not without some irony. “He must have changed his mind and gone to see Competello himself. I only hope he brought Walker with him and that that head is bobbing somewhere in the East River.”
I threw myself upon the sofa and closed my eyes. I pressed my fingertips hard against the lids until red roses blossomed in the darkness.
“Slate clean now,” Mr. Faulk said.
“I suppose that is so,” I acknowledged. “From Competello’s perspective. But true recompense demands that my head be in that box, Mr. Faulk.”
“All in all, better it’s still on your shoulders, Mr. Henry.”
I opened my eyes. “On Elizabeth Street, between Hester and Grand, there is a little restaurant; I cannot remember the name.”
He was nodding. “I think I know the place.”
“Good. Start there. If the padrone isn’t there, someone will be who knows where you can find him.” I fished one of Warthrop’s cards from my pocket—I always carried a supply with me—and handed it to him. “Tell him the doctor requests a meeting.”
“When?” Mr. Faulk asked.
I shook my head. “He won’t come here. It must be a public place—or at least a crowded one.” I gave him the address.
“I gave him enough drug to knock out a horse.”
“He shouldn’t be left alone,” he said. “I know a man, a very trustworthy fellow.”
“All right. But two would be better. One outside the door and one downstairs in the lobby.”
He nodded, and again his eyes were drawn to the box.
“What’s he got in his mouth?”
“The cause of it all. I don’t know what brings Warthrop more torment—the death of his best friend, the death of that thing, or the death of something not quite so corporeal.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Henry?”
“It wasn’t Yorick who gave the Dane such distress, now was it?”
“You’ve lost me there, Mr. Henry. Yorick? Dane?”
I waved my hand. “It’s a very old story. Out of date.”
He left on his errand and, after a few minutes to tidy up, I left on mine. I left the box sitting on the table; von Helrung’s bright eyes followed me all the way to the door. The day had turned very cold, though the sky was clear, and there is no burden, there is no weight upon your shoulders. I arrived at Riverside Drive feeling as if I had stepped into a dream, or perhaps out of one: My mind was as clear as the sky. The butler informed me that Lilly and her mother were away shopping, but I was free to wait for them in the parlor, which I did with the patience of Job, sipping a gin and bitters and watching the sunlight slip across the floor, listening to the mournful droom-droom of the tugboats and the occasional sputter of a motorcar chugging past. The butler sent in a plate of cucumber sandwiches, which were very good, but I desired something of more substance. I finished my third gin and then took a nap. I woke with a start, for a moment ignorant of my location, thinking I was back at Harrington Lane and the doctor was in the next room reading, dinner was through, the plates washed and stacked, and this was the best part of the evening, when Warthrop gave me some peace and I felt a little less burdened, the weight upon my shoulders a little less heavy. From the back of the house I heard the laughter of women, more joyous than water in a fountain, and Lilly came in wearing a taupe-colored dress and her feet were bare; I’d never seen her feet and forced myself not to stare.
“And here you are!” she said. “Why? And please don’t begin the conversation by saying you had nothing better to do or some other insulting remark that you mistake for wit.”
“I wanted to see you.”
“Now that is an excellent answer, Mr. Henry.” She was in a good mood. She took off her hat, shook free long curls. The entire maneuver caused my mouth to go dry, and I thought of having the butler fetch me another drink.
“But it is rather awkward, don’t you think?” she went on. “Since we have already said good-bye.”
“I didn’t,” I said. “Say good-bye.”
“You must have news. No, you must, I can see it by the look on your face. You’re easier to read than you may think, Mr. Henry.”
“For you, perhaps.”
“Honesty and flattery? It must not be news; you must want something.”
I shook my head and sucked on a piece of ice. “There is nothing I want.”
She leaned forward and rested her forearms upon her knees. Her eyes really were identical to her uncle’s. It was unnerving.
“Then what is the news?”
“T. cerrejonensis is no more.”
She gasped. “And Dr. Warthrop?”
“Nothing will ever kill Pellinore Warthrop. He is as immutable as air.”
“Then you saved him—but not the prize.”
I nodded, rubbing my hands together as if they were cold. They were not. “I saved him . . .”
“You saved him, but.”
I nodded again. “I killed two men and almost a third.”
“A third of a man?”
I laughed in spite of myself. “That’s one way to put it.”
She thought for a moment. “A child?”
I nodded a third time and rubbed my hands.
“Why would you almost kill a child, Will?”
I could not meet her gaze. I waved my hand absently in the air, as if to shoo away a fly. “There was . . . it is very hard not . . . things were happening very fast, and you have never experienced those moments, those very fast moments, when you’ve only an instant to decide, well, no time really to decide anything, because you’ve decided long beforehand or it is too late, too late to decide anything . . .”
I wasn’t looking at her, but I knew she was looking at me, studying my face carefully, for what I could not say.
“You knew you would kill the two men,” she began helpfully.
Relieved, I said, “Yes. I knew that.”
“But not the child.”
“A boy,” I clarified. “He was a boy. Around eleven—no more than twelve. He might have been small for his age, in this weathered old cap, and thin, like he hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks . . .”
She raised her voice suddenly, and I started in my chair. “Mother! Come in, Mother; I know you’re there.”
And she was: Mrs. Bates appeared in the doorway and said with a small, chagrined smile, “Oh, I thought I heard Will Henry. How are you, Will? Would you like something to eat?”
Lilly smiled at me and said, “Would you like to go to my room? Privacy is such a precious commodity in the city.” And then she turned her smile upon her mother.
Once upstairs, she closed the door and threw herself across the bed, rested her chin in her hands, and pointed toward the Queen Anne chair situated by the window.
“She spies on me all the time,” she confided.
“Is that why you went abroad to study?”
“One of the reasons.”
A small fire had been built to chase away the afternoon chill. It popped and crackled; the flames leapt and licked. My mouth was dry again; I should have brought my glass of ice.
“So there was a skinny little boy that you almost killed. Did you stop yourself or did you merely wound him?”
“Neither. Warthrop stopped me.”
“Did he? Well, there may be some hope for him after all.”
I could not be sure, but it sounded like she put a slight emphasis on the word “him.” I decided not to dwell on it. “I thought you might like to know.”
“About the boy or the fact that you killed two people or that Warthrop is alive?”
“All of those things.”
“And you are alive.”
“Yes, of course. That would go without saying.”
“And the creature was lost during the rescue?”
“But how could that be, Will?” She was swinging her legs back and forth, bare ankles crossed. “I thought the Irish had T. cerrejonensis.”
“Apparently, the Italians succeeded in wresting it from them.”
“Part of their favor to Warthrop. And then they killed it because you killed two of them.”
“They must not have understood its value.”
My face was hot. I was sure it was the fire. “I’m not sure they find much value in life period.”
“Warthrop must be crushed.”
“Yes, that would be accurate.”
“And very angry with you.”
“That is a mild description.”
“He’ll get over it. He always does, doesn’t he?”