Number 2 Penny Dreadful:
“The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler”
Beasts. Part One.
The bird swivelled its head 360 degrees, a smooth shiiink as the mechanism in its neck turned. Black glossy wings lifted as it announced;
She barely reacted to the familiar mechanoid, only raising her face slightly from the work which occupied her, peering, goggle eyed through magnified lenses, giving the appearance of an owl with thyroid trouble. Sounds of approaching footsteps, she raised the light levels by depressing a brass button fixed to the workbench. Retreating shadows revealed the room to be a highly organised library come laboratory. Neat shelves of leather, canvas and metallic spines, glass bottles of varying shapes and sizes containing the weird, obscure and repulsive. She continued to probe at the wet thing that lay splayed out in front of her.
The visitors, for there were two of them, didn’t knock but strode purposefully in, halting a few feet from the bench. There was nothing unusual about the pair. Two females, physiognomy suggested familial ties. Both coated in a layer of dust and grime that was turning to a thin mud from the rain. The younger one was dressed, vaguely, in the fashion of the times; a full length skirt of dark green with matching bolero, a low cut blouse hardly revealing a barely developed bosom. About her neck an array of chains from which hung miniature bottles, murky brown with inky labels, a long jade travelling coat hung limp to her mid- calf. Her hair was after the style of Her Majesty with a miniature riding hat worn forward on the head. The other, somewhat more mature in years, was wearing unconventional travelling clothes. A taupe Western riding skirt revealed grubby, distressed boots of brown leather. A high necked cotton blouse of indeterminate colour and loose waistcoat. Opaque lensed goggles hung about her neck. Her hair awry, damp and straggled, hung about her shoulders. The whole ensemble cloaked in an ill -fitting duster coat.
“Do you have it?” enquired the woman working.
“And good evening to you too Doctor.”
Doppler and I arrived at the Bath Institute for Mechanical and Biological Organs around eleven p.m. on this rain sodden Sunday evening. Tired from a tedious coach ride from Lancashire to Bath, and before that from the American Mid-West; keen to eat, bathe and sleep but wanting to collect our payment first. Doctor Ada Hessen had engaged us to find and collect snark pituitary glands. I didn’t know or care why she wanted them, none of my business, we didn’t usually track and kill beasties, we left that to the Monster Hunters, but Doctor Hessen had offered good money, didn’t want her competitors to know and we could keep quiet. To me it was another job. Doppler, however, was curious and had kept some of the dark, squishy matter for herself.
I didn’t particularly like the Doctor. Oh she was intelligent, motivated, independent, blah, blah, blah. She was also a snob, arrogant, rude; a right Royal pain in the posterior.
Doppler deposited a leather cartridge carrying case on the bench in front of the Doctor with a thump, causing the Doctor to sharply inhale and close her eyes. I smiled.
“I believe the agreed amount was eighty five pounds.” Said I.
No response, instead she strode around the table removing green, rubberised gloves. She opened the case, removed a glass flask and inspected the contents, she then scrutinised the others. Apparently satisfied, she closed the case, placed it tidily on a shelf and retrieved a package from between two books. As she proffered the dirty bundle, her hand hesitated;
“There’s something else.” Her voice clipped, the vaguest hint of accent.
“I can rely on your discretion?”
“Of course.” We chorused.
“Then I wish you to retrieve something particular, rare. I shall pay you handsomely.”
“We’re listening” I prompted.
“I need…the brain of a wyvern” pause, watching for a reaction from us –she got none.
“If you could actually bring me the whole creature, then better, if alive, better still, the reward will reflect the condition of what you return with.”
“No problem”. I said smoothly.
Outside, in the drizzly dark, I turned to Doppler;
“Where in the name of the Divines do we find a wyvern?”
We rented a room in Bath for the night, a simple establishment run by a scarecrow of a woman. Mrs Fuller brought us some tepid beer, stale bread and a hunk of chewy, fatty pork. I was convinced that she had taken an instant dislike to us, nothing to do with the fact that having heard my accent she visibly cringed then looked us up and down before declaring,
“We ‘ave honely the one room havailable this night. You won’t mind sharing a bed, hI’m sure.”
We didn’t have much luggage, and after shoving our bags under the loosely sprung bed and grinding our way through the minimum amount of victuals possible, we slept, half clothed through the night. In the morning I ached more than if I’d slept on a galloping horse. We declined Mrs Fuller’s offer of breakfast and instead headed into the centre of the Spa town to find a place that had edibles. A pleasant, pretty place, but not to my liking. The Pump Rooms seemed to consist of hordes of fluttering young ladies in the charge of powdery female relatives; promenading their silks and frills for the pleasure of flocks of lads, who seemed to me to be equally prim.
Not a single weapon in sight.
Time to speak to a contact. Time to head for ‘the smoke’.
To be continued…