Authors: Mark C. King
“Yes. But not overtly, like Doctor Exton, the patients that I’m talking about just disappear. When they are inquired about, we are told that they were cured and released. But I met one of these patients prior to their so-called cure and release, and he was more animal than man. There is no way, absolutely no way, that he was cured.”
“Do you have proof of this?” Holmes asked.
“Not yet. Another few nights and maybe, hopefully, I’ll find what I’m looking for.”
“Sigmund, do you think what happened this morning is related to your investigation?”
“I’m not sure how it could be, but I don’t have all the facts either. Is it true that a second body was found? A patient?”
Holmes nodded and said, “Yes. A patient by the name of Cecil. It looks as if he was the one that killed Doctor Exton, beat him to death, but I was not able determine how he himself died. Did you know him?”
Sigmund shook his head and the two men fell into a contemplative silence. Sigmund’s eyes suddenly lit up and he said, “Check his brain.”
“The sign of the disease, or whatever it is that I’m investigating, is found in the brain. It will be deformed and quite hard to miss.”
“I’ll have the coroner examine that first. You think that this brain ailment caused Cecil to go mad and kill Exton?”
Holmes watched Sigmund in silence as he could see his friend mulling over the question. Sigmund answered after a second or two, “I really cannot say for sure. But if it is related, then this is a significant change in procedure. Previously, the patients would just disappear. If we were to assume that someone is purposefully doing this, why would they deviate from their routine?”
“What if,” Holmes said, “it is, or was, Exton that was infecting these patients and this particular one got out of hand?”
Sigmund closed his eyes to think it through and looked as if he was struggling to contemplate these thoughts. Holmes again felt sorry for his worn down and ragged friend.
Sigmund answered, “I guess it is possible. If so, then there will not be any more missing patients.”
Leaning back in his chair, Holmes rubbed his face and asked the question he wanted to ask the moment he saw his friend, “Do you want to be released? We could leave right now.”
Sigmund’s eyes went to the ground and Holmes thought that he might take him up on the offer. His friend took in a deep breath, let it out, and answered, “No.” His eyes met Holmes and Sigmund continued, “Not yet.”
It was not the answer Holmes wanted to hear, but it was the one he ultimately expected. “Look, Sigmund, with the two murders, my men and I will be around here for several days. Just say the word and I will get you out. In fact, I am stationing two constables in the lobby for overnight watch duties. With a possible murderer on the loose, I need to try and keep things civil. They will be aware of your investigation, so if they can provide any help, just ask.”
“You are truly a proper friend, Gabriel. Just having someone that I know and trust in the building is help enough. At least for now.”
Holmes stood and gave his friend a hearty handshake. “Alright. Well, back to whatever it is you do in here. I’ll see what I can accomplish from my end.”
Later that night, Holmes found himself outside of Westminster Hospital, near Westminster Abbey. During the carriage ride, he had thought about what the results of the autopsy would show. If the brain was affected, then what did that tell him? If the brain was not affected, what did
tell him? He hated the speculation and was happy when the carriage stopped at the hospital. It was time for facts.
After paying the driver, Holmes walked up to the multi-storied hospital. It had the same cathedral-like architecture of the Abbey, beautiful and solemn. Through the entrance, he turned to the first stairwell and headed down to the lowest level. At the bottom of the steps, he exited into a half lit hallway and wrinkled his nose. Over the smell of the wall mounted gas lamps, the first aromas of death could be made out. The farther he walked down the corridor, the smell of rotting flesh, mixed with chemicals, grew stronger. He was not a squeamish man, but he hated this place.
The morgue itself was a fair sized room with three tables evenly spaced in the middle of it. Along the wall was a wash basin and a small worktable containing all manner of medical instruments to cut, weigh, and examine the human body.
On two of the three tables were bodies – Dr. Exton and the patient, Cecil. There was a blanket covering each one of them up to their necks. The abnormal lumps under the blankets told Holmes that the Dr. Foti, the performer of autopsies, had been hard at work.
“Ah! Chief Inspector, welcome,” said Foti, a light-brown haired man with bright eyes and large sideburns.
“Hello, Doctor Foti. Have you found any pertinent information from these two victims?” Holmes went straight to the point as he did not want to spend any more time there than he had to.
The doctor nodded eagerly. “Oh yes! Very interesting. Maybe even a scientific first!”
Holmes knew what was coming, but stayed quiet.
“The brain,” Foti continued, “of the patient was quite damaged. It was starting to take the appearance of a giant prune. I have a hard time believing that it was not the cause of death. It was no wonder that this patient was in an insane asylum. His mind must have been barely functional.”
“Have you any idea what could cause that to happen?” Holmes asked, again knowing what the answer would be.
“I do not. It is truly a first. I spent much of my time today looking through all my medical books and none of them contain anything like this.”
“What about Doctor Exton?”
“His brain was normal. The blow to the head – which, as you expected, was inflicted by the mortar – caused the death. About as straightforward as they come.”
Holmes nodded silently. This proved that in some way, although not yet understood, the dead patients that Sigmund was investigating tied in with these two murders. Something attacked Cecil’s brain and made him crazy enough to kill Exton. But what, or who, was causing it?
“Doctor, is there any other information that you have found that could be useful to the investigation?”
“I do not believe so, Chief Inspector. We have, in my opinion, cause of death for both bodies.”
“Very well. I appreciate your work, Doctor Foti. As always, thank you for your assistance.”
“My pleasure, sir,” Foti answered and then turned to his work table and started to whistle.
After a slight shake of his head, Holmes turned and left the morgue. Each step took him farther away from the smell, but no closer to any solution.
* * *
The inclusion of Dr. Exton was a huge blunder, the man realized. What choice did he have but to kill him? If Exton had even a crumb of foresight, he would not only be alive, but be able to assist in truly helping these patients he spent his life serving.
Now Scotland Yard is here and although they seem to understand that the patient killed Exton, as they were supposed to, they are continuing the investigation into the death of Cecil.
Why wouldn’t they?
The previous night, as he injected Cecil and built up his anger towards Exton, it seemed clear that a patient would not warrant this kind of police attention. After all, if an animal was found dead, is there an investigation? Hardly!
But in the light of day, and without the serum in his own veins, things looked different. The police were talking to many people and searching through many parts of the asylum. It could be possible that they stumble onto his research. What if they search the basement?
With all that was happening, and with a possible cure created, the man concluded,
I need to accelerate my experiments. I need to select another subject and soon.
It was a dreadful day. All the women were locked in their wing, not even allowed out for meals. Charlotte wasn’t particularly hungry, but hearing about two murders will do that.
The previous night’s discussion with Sigmund was still fresh in her mind, but as news spread about Dr. Exton’s death and then about a patient name Cecil, it was hard to focus on herself and her resentment – or was it confusion? The fact that there was no explanation as to how the patient died made things all the more worrisome. Was there a murderer on the loose in the asylum? If Sigmund Shaw was to be believed, then certainly there was. But did these two deaths have anything to do with his investigation?
Once again, Charlotte thought of the poor individuals housed in Bedlam Asylum. Some were here because of true mental issues, to be sure, but many were here simply because they were old, or because their families didn’t want to deal with them. That was bad enough, but the cruel treatment they received daily, the awful food, wicked conditions, and perhaps the outright murder of patients was too much to allow her own concerns to be very meaningful. The balance between thinking of one’s self and thinking of others had swayed wildly for Charlotte over the past few days, but again fell on the side of others.
At some point during the long hours of waiting for the doors to open, Charlotte finally decided to bring Jena and Anne into her confidence. Going into this assignment, she had no plan of telling anyone who she was, but the unexpected friendship she made with these two remarkable women changed her mind. They had asked her about the conversation she had with Sigmund, which they had witnessed from afar, but she had passed it off as a misunderstanding, that she mistakenly thought she had recognized him. Her story didn’t add up to her reaction from that ‘misunderstanding’, but Jena and Anne were kind enough to not pursue the issue.
Charlotte knew that she would be out of the asylum in a few days. She also knew that her article would create waves among the London public. Both Jena and Anne were not deserving to be locked up in this place any more than she should be. If nothing else could be accomplished, Charlotte would see that Jena and Anne were released. So, explaining her true situation should not be too dangerous for them. Besides, Charlotte needed to confide in someone. Dealing with the renewed emotions about her husband, the terrible treatment she has received, and the news of Sigmund Shaw was getting to be too much to handle by herself. She was strong, but no one was invincible.
Jena and Anne were sitting below one of the few completely intact windows along the second floor women’s wing hallway when Charlotte found them. Joining them she asked, “I hope you will not be cross with me, but I need to confess something to you both.”
They gave her a look of confusion and Anne said, “Don’t be silly. What is it?”
Charlotte asked, “Have either of you ever heard of Nelly Bly?”
They both shook their heads and Anne asked, “No, is she a patient here?”
“No,” Charlotte answered, “Nelly Bly is a reporter for the New York World newspaper and she became well known after a report she made a couple decades ago. She feigned insanity in order to be admitted to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. After ten days, she was released and she wrote a series of articles about how bad it was inside. Eventually it was published as a book and her account caused reform in that asylum and others.”
“She should give this place a try,” Jena commented, then, with a look seriousness, asked, “Wait a moment. Are you Nelly Bly?”
“I was about to ask the same thing.” said Anne.
Charlotte shook her head and said, “No. I am not Nelly Bly. But I
a reporter. I work for
The Strand Magazine
I am duplicating her experience.”
Anne and Jena looked at each other in clear surprise. Charlotte worried that they would be angry for hiding this from them, that perhaps they might even expose her. But, after a couple seconds, the two ladies smiled and then laughed.
“Don’t you believe me?” asked Charlotte, confused by their reaction. “I’m sorry I kept this from you, but I had to be careful so as not to be discovered.”
Anne put her hand on Charlotte’s and said, “Dear Charlotte, we believe you. It is just too good to be true!”
“The ramifications,” said Jena, “of such an article could bring about
changes. Fixing these windows or how about a nice thick blanket to wrap up in?”
“Better food would be nice!” exclaimed Anne.
Food was always a topic they liked to discuss, so it was not hard for Charlotte to understand that it would be one of the first topics mentioned. It was interesting that neither of them had jumped to a greater conclusion. “There is more,” Charlotte continued, “whether it is through the article or through other means, I am getting you two discharged from here. You are no more insane than I am.”
The faces of both Anne and Jena became quite serious. They had evidently been thinking about the many improvements that the asylum could use and how they could benefit from them, but clearly were not considering that they could be released. Hope seemed to be quite beyond them.
Anne asked, “You could do that? You
“Yes. That is, if you want me to.” It occurred to Charlotte that perhaps they were comfortable here. They had made a life for themselves, or at least a routine, and maybe they didn’t want that to change.
“Are you kidding?” asked Jena with a big smile. “Getting out of here is a dream that I seldom allow myself to think about anymore. Hope unfulfilled crushes the spirit. Yes, please, whatever you could do to help us would be welcomed!”
Anne nodded vigorously in agreement. “Oh, Charlotte, I haven’t felt this happy, this hopeful in such a long time. Thank you!”
When Anne’s tears started to crawl down her cheek, Charlotte couldn’t help her own. Jena, too, was unable to stop the emotions and the three of them held hands in friendship and cried hopeful tears.
After a few minutes of shared silent emotion, Charlotte told them, “There is one more thing.” Both Jena and Anne looked at her and waited. “The man I talked to last night was not a misunderstanding. I
“We figured that something was afoot. Who is he?” asked Anne.
“He is Sigmund Shaw.” Charlotte paused to let the name sink in. She hoped that these two, even in this place sealed off from the world, knew who that was.
Jena made the connection first and said, “Sigmund Shaw, as in the Grimkraken Affair?”
“Why is he here?” exclaimed Anne.
“He is investigating the death of several patients. He said something about a disease, but he believes that someone is actually murdering the patients. Sigmund is here to find out what is actually happening.”
“Killing the patients? But why?” Jena asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think he knows yet. But he talked about a wild patient that was recently proclaimed to be cured and released. However, he doesn’t believe that this patient could be cured. He says that he heard of others like this too.”
“Prudence…” Jena said, her voice trailing off.
Anne covered her mouth as if stifling a scream, her eyes wide in terror. “You don’t think… You don’t think that she was murdered do you?”
Jena looked at her and said, “Wouldn’t that be more likely than her being cured?”
“Who is Prudence?” Charlotte asked.
Jena answered, “Prudence was a patient that we were told was cured and released not that long before you came here. However, she was farther from being cured than most in this place. She never talked, hardly even moved, and only mumbled the first phrase of
Mary Had a Little Lamb
. Her cure was thought to be somewhat miraculous but now it seems that miracles are back where they belong, in fairy tales. We had to be lied to, it is the only explanation that makes sense.”
Charlotte was not convinced about what Sigmund had told her, but hearing a similar account from her friends removed much doubt. She stated, “I’m going to help him.”
“How?” Jena and Anne asked simultaneously.
“I am not sure, exactly. But I can at least tell him about Prudence and add to his theory. And, after all, I am a reporter. It is my job is to uncover things. I think this is something that definitely deserves uncovering.”
The three of them sat in silence for a few moments as they contemplated what they had just learned. Charlotte’s desire to help the patients of Bedlam – and now Sigmund – burned hotly inside of her. Looking at her two friends she said flatly, “I must meet with Sigmund again.”
* * *
The evening meal was served at the normal hour, and although the previous meals were skipped, no extra portions were provided. Charlotte was happy that they were allowed to eat at all. Mostly she was relieved that she should be able to talk with Sigmund that night – assuming that the community room would be open and they would not all be locked up again.
Sitting next to her two friends, they scanned the dining room entrance.
“There he is,” whispered Jena when Sigmund entered the dining room.
Charlotte hoped to catch his eye, but he didn’t look their way. He simply sat down and ate his meal. With him was the man that he had been sitting with the night of the beating, Basil, along with the man he plays chess with, Xavier.
At one point, he looked in her direction, but quickly averted his eyes. The glance was not long enough for her to get his attention. Despite her continued earnest wishes, he never again turned his eyes toward her or gave any sign that he knew she existed. Her meal all but forgotten, Charlotte continued to stare at him.
When Sigmund stood up to leave, Charlotte got up quickly, nearly knocking her plate to the floor, and hurried to the door so that she could meet him there. When he caught sight of her, he visibly hesitated. Giving him a nod of encouragement, she waited for him to walk nearer to her. As he got close, Charlotte said, “We need to talk again. I can help you.”
The look he gave in return was one of surprise and concern. She could not hold it against him. Their first discussion ended with her basically blaming him for the death of her husband.
Charlotte was relieved when he replied, albeit with a suspicious voice, “Alright.” However, his amiable nature showed through when he continued, “I can cancel my theatre plans for the evening, so why don’t we talk now.”
She followed him into the community room and to the same table that they had their first conversation. After sitting down, Charlotte started by saying, “First, let me apologize for how I treated you last night. I know that if anyone is to blame for my husband’s death, it is Grimkraken. What you did to stop him was brave and necessary.”
“Look,” replied Sigmund, “I don’t blame you for however you feel about me. I have many of those same feelings. I know what I did was right, but the consequences still weigh heavy on my conscience.”
“I understand and am sorry if I made the burden more difficult. Let us try to move past that. I was serious when I told you that I can help, not with anything about Grimkraken, but with your current assignment.”
He cocked his head and said, “I am not sure how.”
“I’m also here under false pretenses. I work for
and am going to write an article on my experience here. Your findings can be included! Not a person in England will be unaware of the atrocities of this place.”
She watched as Sigmund narrowed his eyes. He was clearly trying to determine if he could believe her. In an attempt to help his decision, she said, “I understand that the words of a patient in an insane asylum are not the most trustworthy. Let me start by saying that Charlotte Caine is my maiden name. The name I go by since my marriage, and still, is Charlotte Merrihail.”
A look of recognition came across Sigmund’s face. “Charlotte Merrihail? My niece is an avid reader and is very much an admirer of your work.” He paused as he considered something and finally asked, “Tell me, what was the last article you wrote?”