Number 2 Penny Dreadful:
“The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler”
Beasts. Part Six
Painless Pete, a Londoner by birth, obliged to reside in Australia for a number of years, had returned some two years previously. He knew as much about drugs, legal or otherwise, than most of the alchemists in Europe and had some seriously deranged habits.
“You saved my life.”
“Nah, it was nothing.”
He pulled a small black notebook from his waistcoat pocket and dropped it on the bed.
“Your doctor keeps some very succinct notes so she does. Helped immensely.”
I flicked through the pages of the little book I had pilfered from Ada Hessen’s lab. Tiny, neat writing filled the pages, diagrams of organs, animal and mechanical drawn in fine ink lines lined the margins.
I spat, flinging the nasty piece of work to the floor. I attempted to move out of the bed and discovered my legs wouldn’t move. I flung the bed sheets aside. Rope bound both ankles and tied them to the bedframe.
“For your own good sweet’eart. Stop you wanderin’.”
I couldn’t get any details from Painless or Doppler about my so called wanderings. But I did hurt all over my body, my nails were split and crusted with I don’t know what. I had bruised ribs. Matted hair. They wouldn’t allow me a mirror, so I cleaned up without. New clothes had been purchased. A smart, deep blue dress with white, lace trimmed neckline and cuffs. Leather gloves in soft kid to cover the scars of some nefarious activity. A matching low crown top hat with short veil completed the ensemble. We three discussed our next move. I had been ‘away’ for two nights and three days.
Painless Pete was great for what ails you. He had a naturally optimistic view on life, every day was a new and fun experience. He laughed easily, did not take offense when others might, enjoyed the music halls and doxy parlours. He imbibed practically anything that would give him joy, altered his perspective or left him immobile for hours in the arms of a ladybird. He brought a much needed dash of spice to an otherwise tight-laced town. He was also incredibly flirty and despite my usual preferences, I found myself reacting in kind to his advances. Doppler, disapproving, distanced herself from us as we giggled together, tumbling on the grass in the park, and, shame of shames, kissing in a public place! And then I saw the front page of the Bath Herald:
Beast of Bath, Rampaging monster kills sheep, dogs and man… Church calls it the Devils work…Police on full alert…
I didn’t, couldn’t read any further. My spirits dropped like a cleric from a steeple.
“Here you go,” said Painless, offering me a little open pill box. I refused. “It’s only a pick me up, nothin’ dodgy darlin’, cross me ‘eart an’ ‘ope to die.”
“No thanks Painless, I think I need to deal with this in my own way.”
“Listen. Do you think all those Chokers and Blue Bottles care about what happened to you, and would believe the word of...” here he looked me up and down, “…a female of your reputation compared to a bint professor? Do you think feeling pain will make things better, do you think anyone cares about you more than their pet poodle or Mr Puss? That Madge has had her fun, and you paid for it, you did the dirty work, you don’t need to continue suffering, come on Lucy, let it go.”
I glanced at Doppler, she made the slightest motion with her head, left, right. I looked at the pills, then took one and quickly popped it into my mouth, took a swig of water. Painless grinned, a big, wide lascivious look.
“Roight, let’s get to work.”
All that shenanigans with potions, concoctions, smeary slices on slides and so on is best left to those who know what they’re about, and besides from parting with a bit of my own claret, I took no part and left Painless and Doppler to it.
The brew was complete a fortnight later, by which time, the streets were quietened and Doctor Ada Hessen had undoubtedly put us from her mind. I had been prowling the halls of the Bath Institute and made discreet enquiries about Hessen’s customs. Doppler and I entered the Institute on Monday evening via the porters’ entrance as Painless chatted amiably to him at the gate, sharing a smoke, a snifter and a story no doubt.
We found Hessen’s quarters along a passage from her laboratory, it was no great difficulty to pick the lock, and there we secreted ourselves, myself behind the drawn curtains and Doppler under her bed.
Around midnight she returned. Undressed, brushed her hair, seated at the dressing table and mirror and hopped into bed. She read for about half an hour, blew out her lamp and settled down. We waited. I listened as her breathing altered from light, to heavy to intermittent snoring. I slipped out from behind the curtains, Doppler was already standing over her with a phial and syringe. Ada Hessen lay on her back like a stranded spider crab, her mouth fallen open and snorking like a half-submerged pig. Doppler pulled another smaller phial from her pouch and using a dropper, she trickled a few drops into the thin lipped opening. Hessen made lip smacking noises and turned onto her side. We waited some minutes, then Doppler stuck the needle into the other phial seal, drawing the punishment into it whilst I softly pulled away the cover from her lower portions. Hessen was curled like a starved snail, we were about to administer the salt.
Out on the streets of this quiet, conservative town, at three in the morning a solitary figure came wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road. It seemed to be wearing nought but bloomers and camisole and it occasionally stopped cocked its head, scratched behind its ear then did a strange kind of hop.
We watched her pass. It was all we could do to stop Painless laughing out loud. Across her décolletage were written the words; I am Ada Hessen give me a carrot. On her back, above the trim of her camisole were the words; If found please return to B.I.M.B.O.
She hopped, skipped and trotted on. We followed. By five of the clock, the new day revealed a beautiful fluff covering most of the woman’s body. Her hair had fallen neatly into two ringlet bunches from the top of her head. She seemed to have a tendency to shove her bottom lip under her front teeth and crouched low to the ground twitching her nose at stones, a shop front, the sky. By six of the clock she had consumed; some roses from a cottage garden, a pie cooling on a window ledge, a dropped cigarette butt, some goat droppings and taken bites out of most of the vegetables and fruit from a green grocers display. The green grocer had with great aplomb, attempted to shoo her with his broom. She turned her mad, pink eye on him, he fled inside, closing the door behind him and locking it for good measure. She scratched at the door briefly, then lost interest and hopped on.
By seven, the town was mostly awake to the news of the strange furry woman. Someone (naming no names) had contacted the Bath Herald and soon a flock of press men were trailing the creature, making hastily scribbled notes and attempting to photograph her. She took fright and dashed into the large garden of the local vicar. She began nibbling the grass. Onlookers peered over the walls, children climbed his apple tree, and the gate was shut to ensure she didn’t escape. Amidst the crowds, we ooed and ah’d with the rest, then the voice of Doppler rang out;
“There’s something written on her, look!”
They all looked closer. The fur was white and not too thick, with some effort, the lady could be read.
“I say, it’s that woman from the Institute!” a man exclaimed.
And as people were discussing what to do; someone go and fetch the police, no the Director of B.I.M.B.O, the rabbit lady, froze, an odd expression crossed her furry features, she hopped erratically round before frantically scratching at her clothing and successfully achieved her aim.
And there right before half of Bath, Ada Hessen; Doctor, Fellow of the Bath Institute for Mechanical and Biological Organs, rabbit, pelleted the vicar’s lawn.
Of course, in due time, Doctor Hessen recovered. Well she returned to her usual physical state, not sure if I didn’t prefer the furry version. She was pensioned off by the Institute and left Bath, its residents, her work and memories behind. Doppler and I were at the station when she boarded the train. She saw us and for a moment, across her face fleetingly, came understanding, then anger followed by defeat. She stood at the open window of the carriage door, gripping the edge of the sash window, we maintained eye contact, I sustained a hard stare from beneath the brim of my bowler, jaw clenched, cane resting on my shoulder.
Ada Hessen knew I would rip her fur off if she should ever do unto me again.