Authors: Mark C. King
A sigh escaped Sigmund’s lips. This could have been so easy. “I am not leaving until we have a conversation. If that includes your mates, then so be it.”
The barman, like the rest in the pub, was watching the exchange. He bellowed out, “I’ll have no fighting in here, you lot take it outside.”
Without any hesitation, the three men stood up. Sigmund walked out the door first, feeling the men behind him. A few steps away from the entrance, drizzle and cold wind whipping about, Sigmund turned around and faced his opponents. Never a great fighter, and certainly not good enough to beat three men, Sigmund still had confidence as he came prepared. The comment to Harry that he ‘had something up his sleeve’ wasn’t just a saying, it was literal in his case. Much of the previous day was spent crafting a wrist gauntlet that would use compressed air to squirt out a chloroform concoction. The look of it was basic, a copper vial for the air, another one for the liquid, a tube between them with a button to control the valve. Rudimentary? Yes. Effective? He was about to find out. Sigmund lifted his right arm and grabbed his right wrist with his left hand. This move compressed the button to activate the device hidden in his sleeve and launched a stream of liquid – first at Red and then quickly at Curly. The two men wobbled on their feet for a moment and then fell to the ground unconscious. Burke stood in shock, mouth open, looking at his two companions. After a moment, he turned to Sigmund with wide eyes and at the arm now pointing at him.
“Wh-what did you do?” stammered Burke fearfully.
“A concentration of cobra poison,” Sigmund lied. “Would you like to try?”
“No!” he shouted while putting up his hands in defense.
“Alright then. Let’s take a walk.” Sigmund didn’t want to stay near the bar in case others wanted to get involved. He had a limited amount of liquid in his gauntlet, and had probably used up more than half already.
Burke was still in a state of disbelief but walked with Sigmund as they moved away from the bar. They kept their heads down against the drizzle and walked side by side.
“Now, Reginald,” started Sigmund, “I really was sent by Doctor Ferriss and the topic is indeed urgent. I know what you do for him and, frankly, I don’t really care.” Sigmund looked for any relief that last comment might have given his companion, but he was still in a state of near panic from watching his friends drop. “Some of the bodies had an abnormality that caused their death. An abnormality that has not been seen before. I need to know where the bodies came from.”
“I didn’t kill those people. I didn’t kill no one.”
“Of course not, but something did.”
“Something?” Burke asked in alarm.
“Look, Reginald, this abnormality affected the brains of these individuals. The brain shriveled up like a grape in the sun. I need to know why that is happening and how large of an issue it is. There could be a new epidemic in London and in order to find all this out, I need to know where they came from.”
A look of disgust grew on Burke’s face. “A shriveled brain? That’s an awful way for a man to die.” Then, Burke stopped walking and with a look of anger, said, “You killed my mates! I don’t care what you want!”
Sigmund closed his eyes for a second to allow his patience to catch up to his feelings. “I did not kill your mates. I lied about the poison. They were just knocked out by a chloroform type liquid. They will be awake in a few hours and will be fine.” This news did cause some relief to cross Burke’s face. “Now, Reginald, where did the bodies come from? A local cemetery? Some gang of thugs? Where?”
“I have delivered a lot of bodies from many different places.” Burke finally answered. Sigmund’s heart started to sink, but Burke wasn’t finished. “However, a few over the years, and several recently, have come from Bedlam.”
“The asylum?” Sigmund asked. It was his turn to be shocked.
“Yeah, the asylum. Years ago an arrangement was setup – all through notes, no personal meetings – that provided bodies. I would get a note sent to me that would give a location. When I went to the location, there would be a crate that contained a body.”
Sigmund thought this over for a moment while they continued walking. The whole idea of it was ghastly. Repressing his disgust, he asked, “Wait, if you never met this person, how do you know that the bodies are from Bedlam?”
“At first I only suspected it. The locations were differing, but all near the asylum. Some bodies had clothing and it was always of a drab, consistent look – much like you would expect a patient to wear.”
Sigmund was not convinced as this seemed to be the result of a lot of guessing. However, all doubts were removed when Burke continued, “I knew for sure it was Bedlam when one of the crates contained my mum.”
“What?” Sigmund could not have heard correctly. “Your mum was one of the bodies provided in a crate?”
“Yes. We weren’t close, she was never the same after the fever. I was just a kid at the time, but I remember her acting strangely, even dangerously. My older brother took care of me and somehow got her admitted into the madhouse. We visited on occasion, but she stopped recognizing us and we stopped going. Even though it had been years since I’d seen her, when I opened the crate, I recognized her immediately. She was older, but one doesn’t forget one’s mum. I knew then that my suspicions about Bedlam were correct.”
Sigmund didn’t know how to feel. Should he feel bad for this man? Should he be disgusted? He tried to imagine opening a crate and finding a dead relative inside. It was all so far outside of ‘normal’ that he gave up on trying to understand it.
Thinking back to the favor – shriveled brains and an insane asylum made a sick kind of sense. “And you don’t know who the contact is at the asylum?”
“No. He communicated only by notes. It’s better for everyone if you don’t know who you are dealing with.”
Raising his wrist threateningly, Sigmund asked, “You are not lying to me, are you?”
“No! I swear it!”
Sigmund believed him. It was all awful and terrible and somehow completely true. He told Reginald that he was free to go and the man did not hesitate to part ways. Standing in a state of shock, Sigmund watched the man head back towards the pub through the cold and wet.
Making his own way to his carriage, Sigmund knew that he was one step closer in his investigation, but also knew that he needed more to satisfy Dr. Ferriss and to keep his family safe.
Never had a building looked more intimidating to Charlotte than Bedlam Asylum.
The blue-eyed constable – his name was Arthur, she had overheard – was driving the police carriage they were currently in. The steam-powered vehicle was designed to hold criminals in the back section, but Arthur was kind enough to allow Charlotte to sit in the passenger seat beside him. She had seen this sort of police vehicle driving down the streets on occasion, but never thought she would be inside one. The driver and passenger area was high off the ground, much like a horse drawn carriage, in order to see over the large steam engine. Thankfully, this area was enclosed and decently warm. The car chugged along the cobblestone street, piercing through the rain and fog, until they approached their final turn. It was a short drive to Bedlam from Waterloo and, once again, the ride seemed to pass much too quickly.
Turning onto Lambeth Road provided the first glance of her soon to be home. Initially, she could only make out its massive silhouette, the large dome being the most striking feature. Before long, the six massive columns that stood as sentinels over the entrance could be seen. Charlotte shivered from fright. All the quiet doubts that had been getting louder over the past day were now deafening. This was happening.
Arthur, the constable, pulled the car up to the black iron-bar entrance gates. These large doors looked more than capable of holding in the madness that they protected. The pattern of the iron bars were interrupted by large circular formations that were probably for aesthetics, but looked more like large eyes keeping a sorrowful watch – the rain that dripped off looked like tears. Charlotte shifted uncomfortably in her seat, partially to keep up the appearance of an agitated, unwell person, and partially because she was feeling particularly agitated and unwell. With her hands clasped, resting on top of her dirty and soaked dress, she snuck a glance at Arthur and saw that he did not look particularly comfortable being here either.
Charlotte was thankful that the blue-eyed constable was the one to bring her to Bedlam. His kindness was like a gentle push to keep her heading forward. Perhaps the staff at Bedlam would share his sympathy. The thrumming of the rain was quite loud but easily overwhelmed by the sharp and startling bleat of the car’s siren. Arthur started to sound it sporadically, evidently trying to get the attention of someone to come and open the gate.
Noticing her jump, the constable said, “My apologies, miss. I should have given warning. But there is no way that we are walking from here to the front door in this weather.”
After about a minute of this, a round man in white clothes, carrying an umbrella, walked out of the entrance towards them. It must have been a good hundred yards between the gates and the entrance, but the man did not show any hurry nor any evident concern about the weather. Charlotte’s heart beat faster with each passing moment. She could still get out of this. She could open her door and run, or perhaps explain to Arthur what she was trying to do…
She again thought of her husband fearlessly running into the smoke and fire. Perhaps, he was not as fearless as she always believed. Perhaps he was terrified. If that was the case, then it made him more of a hero that despite the fear he must have had, a fear that Charlotte had not appreciated until this very moment, he still faced the danger. She would do no less. He battled an inferno of smoke and fire; she would battle an inferno of madness.
, she decided,
is not doing what has to be done without fear
No, courage is not letting fear stop you from doing what should be done.
With a little more determination bolstering her will, she watched the man in white open one of the massive gates and walk up to the driver’s car door. The constable released the latch on the window which allowed it to slide down so that he could talk to the man.
Despite the umbrella, the man looked wet, and not particularly happy. With the window down, water was also splashing inside of the cabin and soaking the constable. Charlotte did her best to not look interested in what was happening, aimlessly gazing around while secretly listening to every word.
“Constable,” the man in white said loudly, “please stop the incessant noise of the siren! It is disturbing the patients. It is bad enough in there without such stimuli.”
“My apologies, sir. But I needed the attention of someone.”
“Is there an issue?” asked the man in white, who without a doubt was an orderly.
“I believe this woman, a Miss Charlotte Caine, has taken a bit of a holiday from Bedlam.” It was a nice way of saying that she escaped.
The man in white looked at Charlotte while she continued to pretend not to notice him. She could feel his gaze on her, doing what? Judging her sanity? Seeing if she looked familiar? Bedlam housed hundreds of patients, would anyone be able to recognize all of them?
“I am not aware of anyone missing, on holiday or otherwise. What makes you think that she belongs here?”
Her stomach was doing somersaults while she tried to keep her breathing calm. The constable, in a somewhat whispered tone, said, “We found her outside of Waterloo Station, dancing with strangers to music that was not playing.” He looked over at her and cringed, he didn’t like talking like this in front of her. Still whispering, he continued, “When we brought her inside and asked about where home was, she got very agitated, to say the least, and eventually told us Bedlam. I’m no doctor, but it is fairly clear that she needs some help. The kind of help that this place,” he pointed at Bedlam, “can provide.”
Once again the man in white looked at Charlotte. It felt even worse this time. Her success was being decided right now by this man standing in the cold and rain. She raised her finger to the window and started tracing the water trails. She gave a giggle on completing each trail to the bottom as if it was a remarkable feat.
The man in white straightened up and said, “All right. Let me open the gates and then you can pull up to the main entrance. Wait for me there.”
“Thank you, sir,” Arthur answered and fiddled with the window to slide it up and close it. Turning to Charlotte, he said in a very kind voice, “You are almost home. Everything will be fine now.”
She didn’t respond, just kept following water trails. When the car lurched forward, she was pushed back in her seat and let out a little yelp.
Arthur, not looking away from the road to Bedlam, gave a sheepish, “Sorry.”
The car stopped right in front of the entrance, the six pillars looking impossibly big. They waited there while the man in white caught up to them.
Charlotte was surprised again when her door suddenly opened. The man in white grabbed her arm tight and practically yanked her out of the car.
“Oi!” the constable called out, “Easy there. Is that really necessary?”
The orderly shot a very impatient glance at the officer and said, “She got out once, you say, I’m making sure she doesn’t do it again.” Then, turning away and walking towards the entrance he called out flatly, “Good day, Constable.”
Nearly being dragged, she noticed the sound of tires crunching on gravel, and getting fainter. Arthur was driving away. She did not expect the immense feeling of loneliness that accompanied his leaving.
Nervous, scared, and now lonely.
What have I done?
They passed the pillars and neared the front doors. Breathing became difficult and her legs were like rubber. Somehow she kept moving. She imagined smoke and flames pouring out of the entrance and wondered if that would have scared her any more than how she currently felt. She doubted it.
With a strong, becoming painful, grip on her arm, the man in white used his other hand to open the heavy front door. As he pulled her inside he paused, looked at her, and said, “Welcome home.”