• ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past - Part 14 Chapters 37 & 38



THIRTY-SEVEN


The carriage came to a sudden halt. Ephraim tumbled forward, landing on Zona. She snorted and absently rubbed at her face, but stayed asleep. Livingstone clutched his head, having struck the side rather fiercely. Ephraim pushed off, trying desperately to keep his hands on anything other than Zona.


"Bloody hell," he growled as his hand landed squarely on her chest before he could come upright.


The door opened and Inspector Kimbell stepped in. He glanced at Zona and after a moment, Livingstone moved to her side and helped her sit up. Her head rested on his shoulder as she began to snore lightly. Kimbell sat as Ephraim slid over to make space.


"What have you gotten me into?" he asked as his glare moved from Ephraim to Livingstone and back.


"Frankly, we were wondering the same thing," Ephraim said with a shrug. Livingstone offered a nod to share his agreement.


"Is Ms. Whitlock alright?"


"Just tired, long trip," Livingstone replied.


"Well can she wake up?" Kimbell asked. "I reckon she's going to want to hear this."


Livingstone gently shook her, paused and tried again. The only response was an increase in the volume of her snores. The three men stared at her a moment longer before Ephraim leaned forward and slapped her.


Zona's eyes fluttered open and her hand went to her cheek. Ephraim looked out the window, trying his hardest to seem uninterested. Livingstone attempted to scowl at the man but his heart wasn't in it.


"What...what is going on?" Zona asked, sitting up straight and moving away from the doctor's arm. Her hand was still pressed to her cheek and a stab of guilt pierced Ephraim. His cheeks flared red as Zona studied his face a moment. She nodded slightly. Enough that Ephraim was sure she knew exactly what happened, and would share her suspicions soon.


"We've stopped," Ephraim offered as he motioned for the Inspector to speak.


"I'm worried you've involved me in something neither I nor the police force is capable of helping with," he said.


"And why is that?" she asked.


"Devitt is dead and so is the man I sent to guard him."


"Good lord," Livingstone said sighing into his fist.


"As is Stanbury and his family," Ephraim said, filling in the silence.


"That leaves only Mr. Roberts and Dr. Livingstone," Zona whispered. Although Ephraim was sure they both were also now on the list of people this Cook gentleman was trying to remove from the board.


"Roberts?"


"The man who was with Mr. Chattoway after his wife's murder," Zona said.


"We must hurry back and find the man as soon as we can," Livingstone said.


"Yes, unless..." Ephraim trailed off, wondering if now was the time for them to stop pursuing this.


"Unless what?" Kimbell asked.


Zona glared at Ephraim before speaking, "He is wondering if we might need to stop looking into this matter completely...to protect the doctor and me."


"Well, he did say..." Ephraim replied as Livingstone spoke.


"Poppycock, we've seen what he's capable of, and he will not stop until he has his revenge. He is simply trying to buy time for whatever fiendish plot he is trying to complete."


"That's probably true," Ephraim said. "But what if it's not? What if there's a way to save you two. I think it a gamble worth exploring. Let the Inspector and I continue ahead, you two can be safe."


Ephraim sighed as he studied their faces. He let out a long breath and turned his attention back to the window. He refused to feel guilty for thinking of their safety. His stomach knotted at the thought of what happened back at Stanbury's estate visiting either of them.

"I'm not sure I understand what all this is, but we need to hurry. Businesses will be closing soon and that will make it harder to track down Roberts," Kimbell said as he waved at the other three.


"Then I suggest we head straight to Chattoway's. We should find our man there," Zona said as Kimbell slipped out and rushed to the carriage he took to find them.

THIRTY-EIGHT


Chattoway stared at the grotesquely tall and pale man sitting in front of him. He knew better than to show his distaste since the man was a gold mine to him and his company's future. On his desk were the papers to four properties in and about London, and ten in Africa scattered up and down the coast all signed over to a Mr. Whitlock. More importantly, after Roberts' verification of the paperwork, the man was only asking for a fraction of their worth. Chattoway wondered if the man suffered from sunstroke with skin so fine.


"I hope your man was able to verify what you needed for us to proceed?" Whitlock asked with a raised eyebrow.


"Oh yes, just let me have Roberts get us a map, so we can hammer out the details," Chattoway said as he stood.


He steadied himself on the desk's edge before waddling to the door. Ever since finding Mrs. Chattoway, he was finding it harder to make it through the day without a few drinks. It was the main reason he kept Roberts around as much; to keep him from making a dreadful mistake.


"Ah, Roberts," Chattoway called out after opening the door, "can you bring the map we spoke of earlier?"


He closed the door and started toward the desk. Pausing only long enough to offer Whitlock a drink and pouring his self one. Chattoway sat with a heaviness he was beginning to feel throughout his bones. It was as if stones were being piled upon him one by one.


"Are you well?" Whitlock asked, concern sounding in his dry raspy voice.


"Yes...yes," Chattoway said before frowning and staring at the amber liquid in his glass. "Well no actually. I lost my wife recently, in a most ghastly manner and it turns out I rather miss her."


Chattoway glanced up and Whitlock offered a slight smile and nod, "My condolences."


Mumbling thanks, Chattoway took a long drink before placing the glass on the desk. Roberts walked in, rolled paper in hand and stopped at the side of the desk. He nodded to both gentlemen and rolled out the map.


"Here is the area you asked for," Roberts said hardly keeping the contempt from his voice. Chattoway glanced at him sharply, willing the man to keep quiet.


"I am a man of vision," Whitlock said with a full smile. "Where you see trash, I envision a treasure trove of riches."


Chattoway studied the pale giant in front of him once again. The man appeared uncomfortable in his skin, almost like someone wearing too large clothes for the first time. And while he was obviously an Englishman, his pale skin was quite unsettling to look at for long. Chattoway considered his empty glass and wondered if maybe he'd finally had too much.


"Yes, well... I am happy to help you achieve your vision," Chattoway said forcing a sloppy smile to his lips. Roberts nodded after a moment, sudden awareness on his face that his words might be offensive to a potential customer.


"I apologize, sir," Roberts offered, his apology more to the room than to either man. "I meant no insult. I just find the area distasteful at the moment."


"None needed," Whitlock said his smile still wide. He leaned forward and pointed to five spots on the map. As his finger left a spot, Chattoway circled it with his quill dipped in fresh black ink.


"Give me a moment and the papers will be complete," Roberts said taking the roll and stack of documents Whitlock brought with him.


"How long has he been in your employ?" Whitlock asked after Roberts closed the door.


"Ah...let me think," Chattoway said eyeing his glass and wondering how difficult it would be to get more. His legs seemed closer to jelly than meat at the moment. "Three years, I believe. He would be able to tell you for sure, but I expect I remember this correctly. He's a hard worker, and like his father very good uncovering rich opportunities. That man must have been part bloodhound in Africa."


Whitlock's grip tightened on the chair's arms and Chattoway thought he could hear wood creaking, as if ready to crack. Impossible, the word floated through his alcohol fogged brain. He offered a smile and tried to focus on Whitlock's face but his vision blurred, and he slumped forward, his head banging on the desk.


The door opened and Chattoway heard a gasp.


"What happened?" Roberts asked as he moved toward the desk.


"Too much drink I would wager. Do you have the papers?" Whitlock asked as he stood.


Roberts placed them on the table and helped Chattoway sit back.


Chattoway's vision came and went, showing him everything in front of him, before disappearing into the darkness. His heart pounded loudly, and he wondered if it was audible to the others. They reminded him of the stories he head of African drums, and the noise filled his ears.


"Should I call a doctor?" Roberts wondered aloud.


"There is no need," Whitlock said as he motioned to the door. A young man slipped into the room and Chattoway stared as he removed a dagger from his coat. The blade was a dark red color that pulsed with each drumbeat in his ears. "I think we shall help you both now that our business is resolved."


***


The carriage came to a stop and Ephraim jumped down hoping to get away from the others' judgmental stares. As if I am the bad guy for worrying about their safety. Kimbell slid next to him as they marched up the stairs and knocked on the door. Waiting a moment, Kimbell knocked again before trying the doorknob.


"Well?" Zona asked as she and Livingstone joined them on the top steps.


"No one is answering but this door is open," Kimbell said, surprise in his voice.


With a quick motion for one of the officers that traveled with him to join them, they entered Chattoway's home. The house was quiet and Ephraim strained trying to catch any sound. Zona slipped in front of the men and stalked down the darkening hall.


"Didn't Chattoway have some servants to light the place up?" Livingstone asked as they quickly followed the young woman.


"Maybe he let them go after Mrs. Chattoway's death," Kimbell answered.


Ephraim kept his thoughts to himself, but his nose told him what happened. He could smell the gore and carnage out here, and he shuddered to think how bad it must be just beyond the doors Zona stood in front of.


"Careful," he called out, knowing full well she would be anything but.


The doors swung open and Zona screamed.


Ephraim rushed ahead and pulled her to his chest, hiding her eyes from the butchery inside. Seeing the room, he was right to be afraid, but it was too late. There would be no turning back now.

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