Number 2 Penny Dreadful:
“The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler”
Beasts. Part Five
We headed directly to the Bath Institute of Mechanical and Biological Organs. It was a clement afternoon so we took an open top phaeton. Just as well, as the canvas was beginning to leak a little and had an odd smell coming from it. Doctor Hessen was ensconced in her depressing laboratory.
“Ah, the hunters return.”
Hessen was seated at a highly polished desk, piled high at one end with research papers, newspapers and note books. She had been writing in one of these little books when we entered, unannounced, and deposited the drippy bundle in the middle of her floor. The doctor methodically completed her writing, rocked an ink blotter over it, closed the book and lay the pen alongside. She unwrapped the bundle with care and control, let the canvas fall open and inspected the contents.
The wyvern head retained its green-brown scale colour, the eyes were misting over, milky white. Where the neck had been severed a congealing mass had formed with sporadic leaks here and there. Doctor Hessen began examining it with a cold metallic implement, poking into eye sockets, lifting fleshy flaps, placing scrapings onto a slide and peering at it through her microscope. She had, it seemed, forgotten we were there. I began to saunter around her lab, squinting at flasks and phials of liquids and stuff. Poking at an unidentifiable creature pinned out on a board, lifting books off shelves; The American Phrenological Journal, Eugenic Certification and Empirical Law, Internal Devices, Homunculi: Fact or Fiction? Her taste in literature left something to be desired. I pocketed a small slim volume from her writing desk. She only acknowledged us again when Doppler, peering over the doctors’ shoulder, accidentally nudged her.
“Ach! Mind out would you!”
She ejaculated, then, as if seeing us for the first time,
“My apologies. I was eager to see how the cells had travelled.”
She saw the look on our faces,
“I, erm, I’m not much of a hostess”,
You don’t say.
“Ladies, let me offer you a drink.”
She swished over to a tall cupboard, returning with three glasses of, what I believed after a quick sniff, to be brandy, cheap brandy at that. Doppler stared at it with distaste. Doctor Hessen looked a tad disappointed. I knocked back my drink in one, thumped the glass down on her bench and cocked my head,
“You said something about payment?”
Ada Hessen was standing very still, staring at me in a way that made me uncomfortable (a rare thing indeed), she clutched her glass close, in both hands. Doppler raised hers and narrowed her eyes at it, placed the glass carefully on a nearby shelf and approached the doctor,
“What was in it?” she demanded softly.
Turning to me,
“How do you feel Lockhart? Are you alright?”
Says I, all warm and fuzzy like. The doctor asserted that she had done nothing to the brandy, drinking hers down as proof. She was still watching me, I felt like one of her specimens, I wanted to get out of there, away from her stinking slabs and clinking crow. I crossed the floor with my hand extended,
“Our payment if you please, doctor, we worked hard for your wyvern head.” (Well, successfully snatching from a professional hunting party is kind of hard work.)
She turned to the shelf she had previously withdrawn cash from, turned quickly,
“Are you feeling alright Ms Lockhart? You seem kind of, pale.”
She placed the money roll in my hand. Quick as a snake, I grasped her wrist, yanked her close in so we could smell the brandy on each other’s breath and warned,
“If anything, ‘odd’, should happen to me Doctor Hessen, believe me, you will rue the day we ever met.”
I roughly threw her arm loose and turned to walk away. She rubbed her wrist.
“How dare you! How dare you come into my Institute and threaten me…”
Her slight accent had become more pronounced.
“Your institute doctor?!”
I spun around to face her,
“Be careful what you say, you may be revealing more than you think. B.I.M.B.O is not yours. Neither are we your lackeys, though your attitude to us would suggest otherwise.”
And finally, as a parting shot,
“You’re not even British! Good day to you madam!”
Outside the massive iron gates of the Bath Institute, I sucked air violently. Doppler peered at me, concern writ large on her pale features.
“Lockhart, are you sure you’re fine? I’m sure she slipped something in your drink.”
I wrinkled my nose, what was that smell? The sunlight seemed very bright, I shaded my eyes, I needed to walk. I strode off, Doppler hurrying to keep up.
“Lockhart! Lockhart! Slow down, where are we going?”
I didn’t know where I was going. What I did know was my palms itched, my stomach was hot, and my brain felt like it had a centipede racing around inside it. I was furious beyond reason with Ada Hessen, who did she think she was! That smell again, for some reason it made me think of The Shambles in York. Something grabbed my arm from behind, I whirled about with my cane raised to strike, and halted inches from Dopplers bewildered face. I fell to my knees in shame and horror. What was wrong with me? What had I almost done?
“We need help Lucy, we need someone good. And when you’re made better,”
She paused and looked meaningfully back towards the Institute,
“We shall have a word with the doctor.”
I spoke huskily.
“She doesn’t deserve it to be painless.”
Doppler crouched with me holding my hands in hers.
“No, not her, Painless Pete. That’s who we need. We need to get word to him, Rosie Lee will help. Doppler…I think I’m dying.”
I have no idea how long it took for Doppler to arrange a visit from Painless. I was in a deep slumber. Horrid dreams of endless blackness and then faces rushing at me. I had formless impressions of what seemed to be animals, shrieking, writhing. I was falling backwards into a fathomless ocean of viscous slime. I called out. Now I was running, running through fields of bones, white and fragile as they splintered beneath my boots. I struck out at numerous indefinable attackers, I gouged the eye from a shapeless, green, glutinous monster. It screamed a shrill, high pitched scream. A granite block reared up before me, piercing the blackness of the sky, from atop it a figure laughed and laughed at my state. Vile whisperings close to my ear speaking of my own hideousness, my baseness, loss, profanity, cruelty. I pressed my hands to my ears crying out for aid. A voice in the dark, a face I recognised, a hand reached towards me, I grasped for it in desperation and was pulled up close to gaze into the face of Rene de Cavellier. He wrapped his arms around me and I wept…
I jolted upright. In a room I did not know. I ached all over. My clothes were ruined. Lying on a couch opposite was Doppler, sleeping. Dark circles clear beneath her closed eyes. I began to rise from my bed when a figure, previously unnoticed, rose from a corner seat. He had very short, sandy coloured hair and ginger mutton chops. Wide nosed with pale, piercing eyes peering over purple circles of glass. He twirled a tiny phial beneath his lips, snapped the top with his thumb and, shuddering, snorted the intoxicating contents.
“Painless, you came.”
“G’day Lockhart, my, you have been a busy Sheila.”
To be continued…