March 26th, 1820 | Newcliff, England
The town grew somber around them; though the rising morning sun was upon them. The blood lead them through pavements enclosed by tall, battered constructions that could barely be called buildings. Puddles of blood lead the way through the town. The red liquid was glowing lightly in the soft sunlight, which made it very easy to follow. Whiterun followed the blood with his eyes. The spots were larger, while the space between them was less.
“I have no idea where we are,” said Whiterun.
“I have never been here, but this is the industrial district - judging from the smoke.” replied Hatch, nodding his head and a mass of messy hair towards the largest and darkest concrete giants, that blocked the sunlight from reaching the street. The gunman looked heavenward, and felt himself grow cold. They had followed the blood into the grey part of town, but now it seemed like it had lead them wild in the maze of buildings. The sun was high on the sky, but only faint hints of sunlight could break through the buildings’ cover and the smog that raised from the dark giants of factories that the town was supposedly so proud of. All around them, people, working men and women, had started their wandering to their workplace to earn another day’s pay. They were walking in a slow pace, wearing their dirty clothing made of a rough kind of fabric, like misery was all they would ever feel.
“Maybe it is a dead end.”
Shawn’s eyes searched the ground for more traces of the red liquid, but could only spot small drops, which seemed to go nowhere. Hatch, on the other hand, moved quickly and quietly round the nearest corner, like a small mouse hunting human leftovers. It was almost incredible how the clumsy genius could move so confidently in such a dirty district, Whiterun thought to himself, before realizing that the dirt might be the reason why the genius moved so differently. A person made of dirt could, of course, disappear in dirt. Shawn moved around the corner himself, afraid to lose his target - and employment - in the crowd of factory workers. Hatch kneeled down next to one of the blood pools drawing some of it into a container.
“What in the world are you doing?” Shawn said with a raised eyebrow.
“Taking samples, they might be useful later.”
“Like I said, they might be useful later,” pouted Hatch, strongly resembling a child who wanted yet another toy, which he was never going to play with.
“You mean never?”
Hatch did not reply, but moved further along the cobblestoned street. On the sidewalks, a few of the townsfolk looked at the man as he criss-crossed down between the sides of the road, apparently looking for something. Slightly embarrassed and about to give up the search, Shawn stayed behind for a while, simply observing the eccentric, one eyebrow raised in curiosity.
Suddenly, Hatch stopped mid-step and looked down, bringing to mind a dog who caught the right scent. In a single, sudden movement, he threw himself to the ground, landing as if doing a push-up that did not include any actual pushing up. He slowly lowered his face to almost touch the cobbles, squinting along the horizon of the city street.
People around the genius currently lying on the street, stopped what they were doing and looked at him with fascination for a short moment, before being overpowered with annoyance with this unnecessary disturbance of peace and routine. Still on his hands, he looked upward and towards the left side of the road, not noticing the steam-powered vehicle approaching him from behind.
The vehicle looked mostly like the one horse carriages used in most of the other cities in the country, except for the, obvious, lack of a horse. In the back of the carriage was a small steam engine - one of Hatch’s designs, Shawn would later learn - which powered the leather bands and gears that would eventually make the wheels whirl. In many ways, these vehicles were superior to the traditional horse-drawn carriages: They did not leave droppings in the street, there were no chance of the engine panicking and it was cheaper long-term. On the other hand, it was a lot more noisy and it was still almost impossible to break quickly, without risking the engine overheating and possibly exploding. For this exact reason, Shawn preferred walking, and for the same reason, he was growing increasingly nervous with the fact that Hatch was not moving.
Shawn ran towards him, yelling, but he was obviously not going to make it in time. The driver was yelling as well, as there was no way of swerving around the madman on the road. As the vehicle was just a few feet from hitting him, he jumped to his feet and calmly walked to the sidewalk, as if he had not noticed a thing. Deeply engaged in his train of thought, he did not seem to perceive the yelling driver throwing cuss-words and threats at him, nor the hysterical shouting and waving of Shawn, who had now stopped and looked at him in disbelief.
“Blimey, what the hell was that?” he asked, eyes wide open, his chest moving up and down rhythmically - and at this exact point he realised why Hatch needed a bodyguard.
“What was what?” Hatch asked, eyebrow raised and continued without waiting for a reply, “You look like you’ve been having a sciamachy - what were you doing anyway?”
Shawn was about to ask about the word ‘sciamachy’, but was interrupted once again.
“Anyway, I found some drops and was able to determine the direction he was running in, and I reckon he, or she, was running towards the alleyway back there,” he said, as he gestured a bit further up the street behind him.
There was no light, no life and no sound; as if the sun itself could not reach inside the alley. Intervening rough brick walls were the darkness. As an all-encompassing deep. Shawn moved closer, with eyes wide open and every muscle tense. An awful stench coming out of the gaping hole, so violent that it instantly made him sick. He gathered all the saliva in his mouth and sank. The sickening feeling ran from his mouth through his neck before setting his body on fire. Even in his time as a soldier, he had not felt such fear.
“What is that smell?” asked Hatch, clearly out of curiosity.
“Death. It is the smell of the rotten demise that we chose to ignore.”
“Stop being dramatic! You are almost as bad as Henry,” said the genius, before resolutely walking into the alley, leaving Shawn alone. The gunman stood for a few seconds, before the words finally hit him.
“I am not!”
Understanding that Edward Hatch could not hear him, he followed into the darkness of the alleyway. It was an absolute consuming feeling. As he walked past the houses and further into the gaping hole, he felt like he had truly left the world behind. The streets behind him vanished in the fog-like blackness.
He thought he could see the outline of Hatch, standing only a little further away, but reaching the point there was only more emptiness.
Clinging to his gun, Shawn moved into the deep, while whispering the name of the genius over and over, but without any answer.
He loaded his carbine to sooth himself, and as it made the click-click sound he knew so well, he felt his body relaxing and took a deep breath, but then, as sudden as a gunshot in the night, Hatch’s voice appeared from behind, resulting in an embarrassing flinch and the raising of his pulse once again:
“You’re not going to have much use for that thing, you know,” Hatch stated knowingly. Turning around on his heels, Shawn faced the other man - still clinging to his gun for his dear life.
“Oh, so we are on first name basis now?” Hatch send him a sarcastic smile.
“Where were you?” Whiterun hissed.
“With the body,” said Hatch, who seemed to take the situation lightly - even with a gun pointed at him. “You remember the body, right? The corpse you created with that thing.”
“There’s a body?” Shawn asked, suddenly regaining focus, “Where?”
“Over here,” he said, leading Shawn through the darkness, “You really didn’t see it?”
Shawn did not reply, but figured Hatch probably had much better night vision than him. He followed him through the alleyway, and as they approached and he felt his body relaxing a bit more, his vision gradually improved and he was now able to sense the shape of the body on the ground. Hatch pulled out a small container and flicked open the lid, causing a small flame, like the light of a candle, to appear and light up the body slightly.
“Is that some kind of tinderbox?” Whiterun asked, looking at the small, metallic object.
Hatch smiled widely at his curiosity and answered whilst still inspecting the body in front of them:
“Using a tinderbox, you usually burn a small piece of cloth after striking the flint and the metal - a tedious process, to be honest. I got this idea while visiting Germany last fall. A man, Döbereiner, was working on a device that mixed chemicals to produce a flammable gas - resulting in a consistent flame,” Hatch quickly explained. After a short artistic break, he continued, “He, of course, is still several years from an actual breakthrough, I reckon - but I worked out a system to use liquid gas in this container - and as I flick it open, a flint sparks and ignites the flammable gas. Simple as that!”
He looked up at Shawn with great pride and almost a kind of childlike wonder in his own ingenuity. He then looked down at the body again.
“So, Shawn, what do you see?”
The cadaver was curled up against the wall, with the limbs tangled and face turned down in the gutter. Carefully tipping the corpse over with a shoe showed that it was indeed a female. The body was more like bones held together by skin, bits of flesh, and it was covered in dirty rags. There were multiple open wounds on the arms and legs. The bullet from Whiterun’s carbine had hit a little lower than the shoulder, and was stuck in the flesh. A thick black fluid was leaking from the wound and had a slight resemblance with blood.
“It is a female, badly wounded and probably suffering from malnutrition. It could have been defence wounds, if they weren’t so large. More like she was attacked by animals, but none that I can recognize right here.”
Shawn moved the body again, taking a closer look at the wounds. The head moved and the blind eyes turned towards Hatch. The shadows created by the lighter formed a grimacing smile, though when he looked closer; the lips were parted in a small gasp. The tongue was visible behind the dry lips.
“Disgusting,” Hatch flinched his nose.
“I said that we chose to overlook these poor bastards, not that it wasn’t with a good reason.” Whiterun said, taking one hand of the corpse up to study the marks on the skin. “Leathery skin structure. Rough cut nail with dirt under them. She isn’t an upper class citizen. Maybe not even a citizen, just another homeless. The body is already decomposing, but that is no wonder in this air.”
“So what, the thief is dead. Get the bullet and let’s leave already!”
“She wasn’t a thief, nothing was stolen,” Shawn remarked. “She was probably looking for shelter or maybe a warm place to sleep.”
“She might not have been a thief, but she did try to rip off Ms Riverwood’s face,” Hatch answered in an impatient tone, “I don’t really see how that is excusable.”
“But this is just wonderful! How are we supposed to get a body through the town, without being stopped? Stupid! This was indeed a stupid idea!”
Shawn took a step backwards from the corpse and looked towards the sky for a moment. He was about to talk, but hesitated for a moment. He shifted his weight slowly from one foot to the other, and Hatch looked at him furiously.
“Well, if you’ve got something, Mr. Whiterun, please share it with the rest of the class,” he said, politely sarcastic.
Shawn shrugged and explained:
“I might have an idea. I used to know a doctor who lived around here. He might be able to help us,” he hesitated again, as if not sure how to continue.
“...but?” Hatch asked, impatiently.
“But he’s a bit unorthodox, to be frank,” he started, then added: “But he’s loyal, though - if we pay him well enough, that is. And he’s probably asleep.”
“Well, I guess you're gonna have to go wake him up now, won't you?” he commanded, “In the meantime, I shall attempt to hide the body a bit, should anyone find themselves wandering around here.”
With a quick nod, Shawn turned on his heel and left Hatch in the alleyway. As he returned into the street, the sun had risen quite a lot and the streets were fully bathed in the slightly warm light of a low spring sun.
He swung the carbine to his back and sloppily hid it beneath his coat, as he looked around for a street sign. Mayford Road. He took two lefts and went southbound via North Newcliff Road, half running, doing his best not to look like a hired gun running down a street to get a doctor in order to hide the body of someone he shot, but more like an ordinary, inconspicuous hired gun running to catch the next tram.
Not surprisingly, he did manage to catch the attention of almost everyone on the streets - but as quickly as they noticed him, as quickly did they forget him and went back to their daily routines with a shrug and a roll of their eyes.
The sound of footsteps was the only sound that proved that these people could move on their own. As if they were only dragging themselves to work, they moved with life as their heavy burden - a fate Shawn had always feared more than death itself.
His mind dwelt on the sad fates for a moment, but he shook it off and continued down the road. He had taken the same road on his way to Chardmore Place this very night, and thought about how much had happened in the last six or seven hours - for a moment, he wondered why he was doing this. He used to be sure he had not missed this life at all, but if he had to be honest, his actions since he was woken earlier told a different story.
He remembered all the times he had needed a doctor to sew up cuts and gunshot wounds, how Dr Martin St. Ives had been the only one corrupt enough to trust completely, and how they had eventually grown quite close - perhaps even too close, as Shawn saw in retrospect. Now, he needed his help again and had no doubt he would receive it.
He was looking for the doctor’s regular pub, The Naked Miller, hoping it would still be in business. He eventually got to the pub, which was still located on Bell Tower Avenue, facing the river, halfway between the Rose Bridge and the Bell Tower itself. The pub was on the ground level of a terraced house, wooden door painted in a dark green and the windows covered in coloured glass of green, blue, red and yellow. He shot a quick look at the first window, but was not able to see through it, so he decided to try the door.
Surprisingly, the door was unlocked regardless of the current time of day, and he entered the pub. He looked around the somewhat tight space; saw the haphazard glasses on the round tables, some half full, some emptied of their contents completely. The chairs were placed randomly around the tables, some even knocked over during the good night that is often followed by one of the much worse mornings Shawn knew all too well.
“Doctor?” he shouted through the room, not having the patience or time needed to look for him. Too late, he heard a creak from behind him and turned around, only to see the fist hit his face. He fell backwards from the punch, tripped over a chair, and fell to the ground with a:
“What the hell?”