• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - Part 24 - Ch 60 & 61


CHAPTER SIXTY


Kimbell stood at the entrance of the alley. He sent Constable Hill to escort Livingstone and Godwin back to Ms. Whitlock's address, so he knew where to find them. He glanced behind him at the men, their nervous energy feeding into his anxiousness. Kimbell had four more constables and three from the fire brigade looking to help clear the alleyway and search for Constable's Clark's body.


Making the sign of the cross he stepped into the dark alley. He held a newly lit lantern high, casting as much light as possible. Kimbell made sure every other man had a lantern before entering back into the darkness. He refused to be caught unaware again. Kimbell shook his head in disgust. Clark died because he once again underestimated the situation. The unexplained was the norm whenever a Whitlock was involved.


In his free hand, Kimbell held a pistol. As soon as he could stand, he sent a man to the closest station house to retrieve as many firearms as possible. Each man without a lantern now held either a rifle or a revolver, except Jones in the back. As a member of the fire brigade, he carried a massive ax like some sort of Viking hero from the past.


Everyone there agreed the fire must have been caused by a gas leak, and Kimbell was happy to leave it at that since he didn't know how to explain the truth. At the back of the alley, Kimbell stopped and investigated the wall. The charred brick had large streaks of filthy soot where the rain had fallen. The fire burnt a great deal of the debris and filth away from the alley but an overwhelming odor still lingered. Kimbell tried not to focus on the stench, not sure he wanted to ever know what it might be.


"Ow' 'ere, Gov'," a constable called out. He squatted by a burnt lump. As Kimbell pushed closer, he recognized the burned remains of a man.


"Right," Kimbell said with a cough. "Wrap him up and let's move him to the morgue. The rest keep looking for anything else."


Two men slipped the remains on a blanket and folded it before lifting it and leaving the alley. Kimbell nodded as they left; happy they at least recovered the body.


"Bloody hell," a voice said from behind the inspector. He spun and held his lantern high. The remaining men were staring down at a jumbled burnt mass. He stepped closer before echoing the man's words. Bloody hell was right.


"How did they get all jumbled together?" Jones asked leaning on his ax to peak a closer look. Kimbell had his suspicions but stayed quiet. He'd want the doctor's opinion but Kimbell would bet at least three more male bodies formed the mass.


"Let's move this out of here as well...have the Doc look at it," he said motioning for the men to start moving, so they could cover the burnt mass and remove it from the neighborhood before rumors started up.


***


Mr. Whitlock stood at the corner. His carriage was up the road, away from the crowds, so he couldn't be boxed in. Curious about the commotion, he stopped the driver and slipped out. Now he practically shook with rage. That foolish boy had planted the seed in the wrong place.


Whitlock flexed his hands, the handle of his cane creaking from the effort. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. He still had one more seed and all this could be set right; although it meant bypassing the original plan for the last seed. This brought a frown to his face as he hoped that would remove Ephraim Godwin from the board permanently. Oh well, there are other ways.


Whitlock watched as two men carried a blanket from the alley. A badly burned hand slipped from the makeshift carrier and the surrounding crowd gasped. He ignored the chattering voices as he continued to study the alleyway. Was his problem solved accidentally? Shifting closer to the men as they loaded their burden to the back of a wagon, he overheard their talk.


"He was a good man," the first said with his head bowed. "I always liked Constable Clark." The other man nodded, and they turned to head back to the alley.


Drat. The mishap removed a simple pawn, but Whitlock understood even pawns had a place in this game. His biggest concern was removing the Queen, but he felt positive that he had earlier. He would need to find out for sure before leaving for the continent. The crowd grew silent. Whitlock turned his attention back to the alley.


He smiled as the group of men struggled to carry out a tremendous mass of burnt flesh. Whitlock knew he now saw the remains of his first seed. The seed absorbed and fed off matter until it became large enough to move about. If planted in the right place, it would have been massive before slipping from the graveyard.


"Hey...you," a voice called out. Whitlock locked eyes with the inspector for a moment and offered a smile and a tip of his hat before slipping back into the growing crowd of spectators.


CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE


Ephraim sat at the table sipping his tea under the angry gaze of Mary. He offered her a smile, and attempted to compliment her on the tea, but all he received in return was a huff of dismissal. He still wasn't quite sure why she was angry with him, but with every visit, her displeasure seemed to be growing.


Ephraim opened his mouth to ask what he had done when Livingstone reappeared and patted Mary on the arm, "She's awake and asking for you."


Mary turned to the Doctor with a smile and started to move from the room. She paused just long enough to glance over her shoulder and offer one last dagger stare at Ephraim before disappearing down the hall.


"What did I ever do to that woman?" Ephraim asked in exasperation. Livingstone offered him a shrug as he sat down and poured a cup for himself.


"Lord only knows," he said before taking a sip. "Ms. Whitlock seems to be feeling better, but Dr. Bent is correct, she needs rest and plenty of it."


"Well, I feel we are at a crossroads as is," Ephraim said after a moment of quiet. "We were a step behind at every juncture, and failed to save one person...present company excluded of course."


"Of course," Livingstone replied with a slight smile.


"And, so I wonder if it is not in all our interests to step away...to give up before more lives are lost."


Ephraim stood and walked to the window, pulling back the drapes. He studied the road, embarrassed by his suggestion, and unwilling to sit under the doctor's watchful eyes. What he proposed was the safest course, but also the coward's way out and it irked him to his very core to suggest it.


"Honestly, I have no idea what the correct decision is," Livingstone said, "But I think we shouldn't make any decisions without Ms. Whitlock."


Ephraim turned and nodded, "Now let's find something stronger than tea."


***


Kimbell failed to hide his surprise when Ephraim opened the door.

"Ah Inspector, come in, come in," he said with the slightest of lisps. A giggle slipped out before Ephraim slammed his mouth shut and stared at Kimbell with exaggeratedly wide eyes.


"Ignore him," Livingstone called out from deeper in the house, "He's had a bit too much."

Kimbell entered and after a moment's hesitation handed his hat and coat to Ephraim. He took them with a bow and slid over to the coat rack, before leading the inspector to Livingstone.


"I could use with a nip myself," Kimbell said as he slipped into an open chair.


"Good man," Ephraim exclaimed as he poured the inspector a glass before refilling his own. "The doctor has decided to abstain...in case Ms. Whitlock needs him."


Kimbell took a long drink, letting the alcohol's burn travel down and warm him up. The day was close to an end but there was so much still to do.


"I'm glad to hear as I need the doctor...and you if you can sober up quickly enough," Kimbell said as he leaned forward and stared at the drink in his hand. If he could he would slip into the amber liquid and forget everything from today...from the last few days if he was being honest. He wanted to curse his luck for sending him to this house in the first place. As soon as I heard the name Whitlock, should have run.


"Oh if we can get some food in him, he'll be fine," Livingstone said. "How may I be of service?"


"We removed the...thing from the alleyway. I need your opinion on its composition," Kimbell said before throwing back the rest of his drink.


"That sounds horrific," Ephraim said as he sat down, placing his drink untouched in front of him.


"I've had the boys take it and Constable Clark to the morgue," Kimbell said as he stood. "I'd prefer to finish this before anything makes its way to the higher-ups. The last thing we need right now is unwanted eyes."


Livingstone nodded and rose.


Ephraim sat for a moment longer, staring at seemingly nothing before standing and exclaiming, "Bloody hell."



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