Doctor VanGoeder had a new haunt, it seemed. He’d ushered Moira and I into the sports zep, and had rushed off without waiting for The Captain and Jilly to return. And without giving me the chance to scan the battlefield that had been formed for Quick or Jones. The place was dank and miserable, and a stomach-wrenching smell hung like a pall in the air. It was in Makerfield, perhaps the most dismal borough in all of the Great Metropolis. The coal mines had once been housed here, but that venture had long fallen to ether gas production. The land, buildings and factories that had once been quite prosperous were slowly subsiding into the earth slowly. Only the truly desperate made their homes here.
A pair of such, rough-looking epsilons, stood in the dark doorway to the sunken factory we were approaching. They merely nodded at VanGoeder, and stiffened at the sight of myself and Moira. It was then that I remembered through the shock that had been induced by the uneasy truce we had struck on the ride here that Moira still had her pistols tucked into her belt. VanGoeder had said nothing about them.
What he had said, in the ten minutes that we had shared in the ride to Makerfield, had chilled me to the bone however. I had been informed by The Vivisectionist that the murders had been necessary, and that the man performing them had been righteous in his own way. The symbol had not, in fact, been formed by the murderer’s choice of victims. Rather, it had been formed by the victims themselves.
There was a true occult menace to the Great Metropolis and the rest of the world as well. VanGoeder himself had been away to Paris recently, since the literal explosion of his last job, and uncovered something of a mystery. The doings of a Monsieur Michel Croix had come into question, dealing with the purchase and sale of rare artifacts of an unusual nature. This had seemed to pique Moira’s interest.
VanGoeder’s investigation had again brought him to the Great Metropolis whilst following Monsieur Croix and his niece, Mademoiselle Genevieve Croix, in his investigation. And then the murders had begun. The murderer was a street templar from Paris by the name of Thierry Spencer, who VanGoeder had discovered had made it his holy mission to kill the occultists.
As we stepped into the ruin of the factory, I had to ask VanGoeder a question. Many, rather, but one came to mind most immediately.
“Why, then, did you have Spencer killed, Doctor? He would have been an invaluable ally.”
“Nonsense…remember, we are speaking as men of science and reason, Doctor. True men of faith are creatures of blind devotion, unbending morality and unquestioning loyalty to their cause, true, but do you really think he would have served under a man such as me, who has done morally questionable things? Even if they are for the betterment of his people?”
I raised an eyebrow at that; I couldn’t see how mass murder would be of a benefit to the people of the New Reich, or any other country. But I supposed that this was just one among many points that VanGoeder and I would never agree upon.
“But you, my good Doctor…you are a man of reason, like myself, and a man of science. Surely you can see as well that these things these people are playing with have a need to be studied by men such as ourselves, rather than locked away and left to rot or for someone such as Spencer, with a perhaps a more malevolent faith, to find and bring to use? And this, I suspect is exactly the case with the six murdered individuals and our dear friend Watanabe-san, who is undoubtedly on his way to this place now.”
I rolled my eyes, trying to play dumb country doctor. I knew from experience that it pleased VanGoeder to show me up with his knowledge.
“Surely you don’t expect me to fall for the same trick twice, VanGoeder! You are the same villain you always were, undoubtedly,” I retorted sharply; I truly meant the last part of it.
“Well, perhaps a villain I am, but I assure you, Doctor Halloran, that I hold no designs for the destruction of the world. That I leave to true madmen! Perhaps I direct their hands subtly to influence events,” with this he grinned, referencing the “Blood-Cult”.
“But in the end, Ned, I am just trying to secure the Fatherland and its future. You surely understand, being an agent for your own Queen and country, don’t you?”
“I am no spy, just an ordinary country doctor caught up in the middle of things well over my head yet again.”
VanGoeder gripped the grate door of the elevator we found before us and yanked it up savagely.
“I would be a fool to underestimate you, Ned,” VanGoeder smiled wickedly, “I fear there’s more to you than any simple Irishman.”
If it was fear he wanted, it would be fear soon enough that I gave him.
“Moira, dear, there’s a sitting room in here that’s quite comfortably furnished. Please, make yourself at home. There’s some tea on, and biscuits. This,” The Vivisectionist motioned to the elevator, “leads to where no proper Lady such as yourself should go.”
“I…I think I will go,” Moria said, looking a bit green.
The Doctor looked quite nastily pleased at the look on her face as she looked to the elevator. His grin spread from ear to ear.
“Yes, I think that you…understand, don’t you, dear?”
She nodded, choked a bit, and turned, almost running from the elevator. I dashed to her side and gripped her arm, to find it shaking and she sobbing.
“Darling, what’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“He’s hurt them, and cut them, and taken out their innards while they are still alive, and fed them pieces of themselves. And he even eats them sometimes!”
I clutched her tightly, holding her as she shook against me.
“Don’t worry, my heart, I will end this man tonight. Such an evil creature has no business living. Mark my words,” I whispered as I took one of the autopistols from her waistband and slipped it into my overcoat surreptitiously.
“It’s all right, love,” I said a bit louder, “We will complete this adventure, and we and this villain shall part ways. It is only for the civilized world that I dare join forces with The Vivisectionist. Now go, and have some tea to calm your nerves.”
She nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks. Ah, the pain of seeing such a sight! She then turned and fled to the sitting room.
I made my way back to VanGoeder and the elevator. He was smiling, and watching Moira rush away.
“So pretty, Doctor Halloran, so pretty. Best have a care of what might befall her in such a cruel world. She needs someone to protect her, I can see that.”
I looked at him angrily.
“Do not threaten my love. You may do as you wish with me, after all of this is done and should you be victorious in the battle between us that will surely follow the conclusion. But never think of harming a hair upon her perfect head. That would be your utter ruin, and living or dead, I would see to it myself. Do I make myself understood?”
“My, my, dear Ned, such a dramatic display of emotion!” VanGoeder laughed and clapped his hands slowly together.
I reached into my coat, intending to do him in right at that moment. But his left hand came from behind his back, clutching a Reik luger. He pushed the long barrel into by neck, and I staid my hand.
“Let’s not do something ill-considered, shall we, Ned? I don’t want to kill you, not right now. I saw you take that pistol from the hussy. Drop it to the floor, will you?”
A look of doggedness must have crossed my face then, and a slow and cruel smile spread across VanGoeder’s face. He stepped back away from me, and I began to withdraw my gun. Before it cleared my coat, he spoke the words that chilled me to my bones.
“She is pretty isn’t she? And such a good wife she will make you, too. But that sitting room I have sent her to is an abbatoir, Ned, and she is the next victim should I not exit my vivisectionary. So shall we play nicely, cooperate, and be logical? Drop the gun, and I will consider not sending my command now to begin with her. She won’t be so pretty when my assistant is done with her, will she?”
My hand cleared my coat, and his finger tensed upon the trigger. I let the autopistol clatter to the floor.
“Alright, VanGoeder, you win…for now…”
“My boy,” VanGoeder said, chuckling as he pushed up the grate of the elevator door with one hand and kept his luger pointed unwaveringly at my head, “You will learn soon enough that I always do.”
The room the elevator emptied into held the cloying scent of fresh blood, feces and urine. Low moans escaped the numerous forms that were strapped to the tables and chained to the walls. None of them looked entirely human anymore, yet all were still alive. My gorge rose, and I fought with myself. I had to persevere; I could not let Moira end up like this. I had to find a way to beat this villain.
“Come,” VanGoeder said, “I have something I want to show you, in here.”
He walked backwards, around the forms writhing in agony and to a large iron door.
“This is where I keep my…special playthings.” He said with that smile that I was wearying of looking upon.
“Watanabe-san will join us in here.”
He swung the door open, revealing a room of white tiles on both walls and floor. In the middle of the room was a great drain grate, which was either stained or rusted to match the color of old blood. A pair of meathooks hung from an iron bar running the length of the room. In the far corner, there was a tray, covered with a pristine white cloth.
“Ah, good, I see my assistant has made ready my instruments,” he said cheerily.
He was in his element, and I found myself thoroughly disgusted. The sound of the elevator door slamming shut, and the cable pulling it back up, was loud in the small rooms.
“Ah, right on cue!” he said as he moved to the small tray and uncovered the instruments beneath.
Although many resembled medical instruments in function, I knew them for what the truly were.
“I find that pain is one of the few means we have to reveal ourselves for the true faces behind the masks we wear for the rest of the world. How long, dear Ned, do you think it will be before Watanabe-san reveals his true face?”
The elevator began to drop. VanGoeder was sharpening a long serrated boning knife. I could hear the Japanese man’s stammered protests as The Captain and Jilly lead him into the room. He took one look at the meathooks hanging on the iron bar and released his bladder.
“Oh, Watanabe-san, how thoroughly embarrassing! I can ensure that you never have such a problem again, if you like. His pants, Jilly.”
The man was shackled at hands and feet. Jilly pulled a knife from one of her many sheaths, and slit his trousers from the waist to the ankle. Fujiwara cried out in pain as the razor-sharp blade slit through both cloth and flesh. Blood began to run the length of his leg. He tried to move, but the hideously-scarred Captain held him completely still. Jilly smiled as she moved to Fjiwara’s other side and repeated her motion. His cry was sharper this time, as the knife cut more deeply into the meat of his thigh. Her smile grew warmer. She looked to me and licked her lips, then the blood from the knife’s blade with her eyes a panorama of madness.
“We don’t have to do things this way,” I protested to VanGoeder.
It was then I realized this was precisely one of the reasons that he’d brought me to be a captive audience of this horror show. He meant for me to play the “good cop/bad cop” routine with him, since no one on his own crew could be very convincing. But even as a player, I know that nothing I could do would save the Japanese man’s life this day.
Unless I acted quickly and decisively, I thought. But in the meantime, until I could get my bearings, I would have to allow The Vivisectionist to believe that I was playing his game. A plan was forming as Jilly and The Captain moved Fujiwara beneath the hooks.
“Wait! I am sure that Watanabe-san would be most eager to tell you of what he knows! There’s no need for this!”
I surprised everyone next, by speaking to Fujiwara in his native tongue.
“Surely you have seen his work, Watanabe-san. I have; it is most gruesome. He toys with his victims for hours on end, a truly masterful villain. Why, some of those you have seen in the room before this one he has been working on for days. Please, I beg of you, speak to us before your life is forfeit,” I said in perfect Japanese.
Just as Fujiwara was nodding his assent to speak fearfully, The Captain took him up and lifted him onto the hook. The squelch of the iron piercing his flesh was a terrible sound, but his screams of agony were more terrible by far. I cringed as VanGoeder watched my reaction.
“I am afraid you will have to try harder to convince the poor man,” he said in his own perfect Japanese, “but I am both surprised and pleased that you have mastered his language. You may continue, Doctor Halloran.”
No matter what I said now, VanGoeder planned to torture and kill this man. Both he and I knew it, and shared a look of understanding in that moment of knowledge. Watanabe Fujiwara began to scream.
“Dtharsa! Dtharsa! Togorthi Dtharsa!” he screamed, over and over again.
“He won’t talk,” The Captain said disdainfully, stepping back away from The Vivisectionist’s path to his work.
VanGoeder shook his head, clucking his tongue, and stepped up to Watanabe-san with a pair of bone saws.
“Now, which finger is it that you fellows remove first?” He asked as he approached.
Jilly and The Captain seemed transfixed by the scene. Now was my chance. Not needing to feign my disgust as VanGoeder began to deftly remove the Japanese man’s right little finger with one of the bone saws, I staggered back and bumped into the tray of instruments. I saw Jilly’s eyes meet mine, and the most curious smile crossed her face. Her hand ran across her hip, her eyes fell and saw the scalpel that I was palming. She knew. What was her game?
She made no move to stop me at all, but glanced at The Captain. She was telling me to attack him first, I could see, although that had been my decision all along. With The Captain transfixed by the removal of Watanabe-san’s left little finger, I made my move.
I placed the scalpel in my left hand, and when The Captain seemed very fixated, I reached across and jammed the scalpel blade into his throat. His hand flew up to his neck and I jerked the blade savagely downward, laying open his neck widely. He began to reach for his saber, choking, and the noise caused VanGoeder to turn towards us.
To my surprise, Jilly had two knives in each hand, and before the Doctor could reach very far for his luger the four blades struck into his flesh. One struck his shoulder, the second pinned the hand reaching for the luger to his chest, the third struck him full in the throat, and the fourth hit him just below the hand pinned to his chest. Within the blink of an eye, he was down on the tile floor.
The Captain was gouting blood and attempting to draw the cavalry saber and turn to me. I pulled my hand free of his, and rammed the scalpel blade into his one remaining flesh eye. My hand sought to drive more than just the blade, pushing much of the handle in as well. I followed him to the ground, gripping his sword hand, and twisted the scalpel about. His cybernaughtic eye was looking straight at me, his mouth gasping and wide open.
“That’s for the scar, you right bloody bastard!” I hissed at him vengefully.
“That’s right, kill him, kill him!” I could hear Jilly saying softly into my ear.
I wrenched myself from the dying Captain and sobbed. Her arms caught my shoulders and she assisted me in standing.
“He scarred you, he deserved that. Scarred my perfect little Neddie Ned,” she purred angrily.
I wheeled upon her.
“What manner of a madwoman are you? You work for the men who want to kill me, then you idly stand by whilst I dispatch them?”
“Oh, Ned, I wouldn’t call that idly,” she purred sensually, gesturing to The Vivisectionist, who lay still upon the tile floor, “You wanted him dead, and I made him dead for you, Ned darling.”
Her scarlet-gloved hand came up to caress my shoulder. I shrugged it away.
Her eyes flashed angrily.
“The least you could do is show a little gratitude to the woman who saved your life; he was going to kill you next, you know.”
Her British accent was gone, replaced by the distinctive speech of an American. I glared at her.
“Just who the hell are are you, Jilly?”
“Someone who cares. Ned darling. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that your sweet Moira will be put to the knife, and I don’t think you want that at all, now do you?”
She turned from me and began to walk to the elevator. I followed after, the question unanswered still in my mind. Who was this utterly lovely and completely insane woman?
“Wait, I will want a gun,” I said as she pushed up the elevator grate.
I turned back to the tile room. VanGoeder’s body was gone. I tore the cavalry saber from The Captain’s sheath angrily, wheeling about the room to search for his method of escape. Watanabe-san could give me no indication; his throat had been slit.
Now I was even more angry. My one link to the reason for the murders was broken and my arch enemy had made his escape even though seemingly mortally wounded. For the second time in a row.
“We mustn’t keep dear Moira waiting for us, my love,” I heard Jillian the Razor Queen, or whoever she really was, call to me.