The Monstrumologist
Page 31

 Rick Yancey

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He pounded his crimson fist upon his thigh. “So put aside your juvenile judgments, William James Henry. I am no more accountable for this tragedy than the boy who witnessed it. Less so-yes!-if one applies the same cruel criteria to my actions!”
I did not reply to this passionate outburst, for it was not so much directed at me as the peculiar demons that plagued his conscience; I was but a witness to the exorcism. I was keenly aware, as he must surely have been, of the sickening odor rising from our clothing, the toxic tincture of death clinging to our skin and hair, the tart taste of it tingling on our tongues.
Upon our return to Harrington Lane, the doctor descended to the basement, where he stood, motionless, before the suspended corpse of the male Anthropophagus. Was this immobility a mere illusion? Below the surface of this calm facade did a cyclone rage? I suspect, like the whole and wholesome sunlight splintered by the shards of colored glass inside the little church, Warthrop’s psyche had been split, and though now far away, a part of him was still present at the morning’s holocaust, kneeling, as it were, before the hollowed-out skull of the good reverend Stinnet. I could hear him muttering variations of the argument couched in the coach, like a composer struggling with a difficult bridge, seeking to impose melodic balance to the discordant chords of his recalcitrant remorse.
His muttering petered out. For several minutes he did not speak; he did not move. Statue-still he stood, the maelstrom within as well-veiled as the winds of a hurricane seen from space.
“It is she,” he said finally, in a tone tinged with wonder. “The matriarch blinded by Varner. By some malevolent twist of fate, she has come here, Will Henry. It is almost as if…” He hesitated to give voice to the proposition. It ran counter to everything he believed. “As if she has come looking for him.”
I did not ask to whom he referred. I did not need to ask; I knew.
“I wonder,” he said pensively, addressing the monster hung before him upon the hook, “if she would be satisfied with his son.”
NINE.“There Is Something I Should Show You”
The constable returned to Harrington Lane later that afternoon, his reappearance predicted by the monstrumologist.
“We must to work tidying up, Will Henry,” he said. “The good constable will be arriving shortly to petition- or re-petition, I should say-for our assistance. When his frustrated hounds give out or his incredulous shooting party gives up, he will call again.”
There was a great deal of “tidying up” to do after the doctor’s frantic foraging from the previous day. He went to the study while I tackled the library, shelving books, stacking papers, and throwing away the blackened fragments of the old grave-robber’s hat and the heat-warped spine of his father’s journal, which had escaped the fire. I felt rather like a malefactor cleaning up the scene of a crime, which, in a sense, it was. No sound emerged from the study as I worked. I suspected the reason for this silence, and when I ducked into the room to inform him I was finished, my suspicion was confirmed: The doctor had not been cleaning. He sat in his chair, an island in a sea of rubble, lost in reverie. Without a word I set to work while he watched, his gaze not unlike the inward stare of Malachi Stinnet, seeing me, but regarding something altogether different.
The knock came at a quarter past three. The doctor rose and said, “You can finish later, Will Henry. Just close the door for now, and show the constable to the library.”
Morgan had not come alone. Standing behind him was his driver, silver badge gleaming on his lapel, and revolver conspicuously strapped to his side, and Malachi Stinnet, whose dejected countenance noticeably brightened upon my opening of the door.
“Is the doctor in, Will Henry?” asked the constable in a rigid, formal manner.
“Yes, sir. He’s waiting for you in the library.”
“Waiting for me? No doubt he is!”
They followed me to the room. Warthrop was standing by the long table upon which I had left the marked-up map with its bright intersecting lines and sloppily drawn circles and stars, rectangles and squares. I had neglected in my haste to roll it up, but the doctor seemed unaware of it lying in plain sight, or he did not care.
He stiffened when we entered, and said to Morgan, “Robert, I am surprised.”
“Are you?” rejoined Morgan coldly. His attitude was one of barely contained contempt. “Will Henry said you were expecting me.”
The doctor nodded toward the deputy and the lone survivor of that morning’s massacre. “You. Not them.”
“Malachi asked to come. And I asked O’Brien.”
The constable tossed something onto the table. It slid a few inches on the slick surface of the map and came to rest beside Warthrop’s fingertips.
It was my beloved little hat, the one lost at the cemetery, now found.
“I believe this belongs to your assistant.”
Warthrop said nothing. He was not looking at the hat; he was looking at Malachi.
“Will, is that not your initials on the inside band there, W.H.?” asked the constable, though he had not turned his impeaching eye from Warthrop.
“Will Henry, would you take Malachi into the kitchen, please?” said the doctor quietly.
“No one leaves this room,” barked Morgan. “O’Brien!”
With a knowing smirk the burly deputy stationed himself in the doorway.
“I think it would be best if Malachi-,” began the doctor.
Morgan interrupted him. “I shall decide what’s best here. How long have you known, Warthrop?”
The doctor hesitated. Then he said, “Since the morning of the fifteenth.”
“Since the…” Morgan was aghast. “You have known four days, and yet you told no one?”
“I did not believe the situation-”
“You did not believe!”
“ It was my judgment that-”
“Your judgment!”
“ Based on all the data available to me, it was my judgment and my belief that the… the infestation could be addressed with dispassionate deliberation without inciting unnecessary panic and… and unreasonable, disproportionate force.”
“I asked you this morning,” Morgan said, apparently unmoved by the doctor’s rationalization.
“And I told the truth, Robert.”
“You said you were shocked by their presence here.”
“I was… and I am. The attack last night certainly did come as a shock, and in that sense I did not lie. Are you placing me under arrest?”
The constable’s eyes flashed behind his spectacles, and his mustache quivered. “ You brought them here,” he said.
“I did not.”
“But you know who did.”
The doctor did not respond. He did not have the chance. At that moment Malachi, who had been listening with growing consternation, who had insisted upon coming in ignorance of the constable’s deduction, who now was in the presence of the man whose silence had damned his family, turned not upon the man in the dock, but upon O’Brien. He yanked the gun from the unsuspecting man’s holster and threw himself upon Warthrop, forcing him to the floor and pressing the muzzle of the revolver against his forehead. The click of the hammer locking into place was very loud in the stunned silence that followed.
Malachi straddled the doctor’s fallen form, brought his face to within inches of Warthrop’s, and spat out a single word: “You!”
O’Brien lunged forward, but the constable slammed a hand into his chest to stay him and called out to the grief-stricken boy, “Malachi! Malachi, it will solve nothing!”
“I want nothing solved!” cried the maddened Malachi. “I want justice.”
The constable stepped toward him. “It is not justice, boy. It’s murder.”
“He’s the murderer! An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth!”
“ No, it is God’s business to judge him, not yours.”
Morgan moved slowly toward him as he spoke, and Malachi responded by shoving the end of the pistol hard into Warthrop’s skull. The boy’s body vibrated with the force of his passion.
“Not another step! I’ll do it. I swear I will do it!”
The violence of his tremors caused the gun’s muzzle to scrape across Warthrop’s forehead, and bright blood welled around the steel that tore through the tender skin.
Without stopping to think-for if I had, I might not have risked both our lives-I brushed past Morgan and went to my knees before them, the tormented Malachi and the prostrate Warthrop, and the boy turned his tear-stained face, contorted with anger and bewilderment, toward mine beseechingly, as if in my eyes he might find the answer to that unspeakable, unanswerable question: Why?
“He took everything from me, Will!” he whispered.
“And you would take everything from me,” I answered.
I reached for the hand that held the gun. He flinched. His finger tightened on the trigger. I froze.
“He is all I have,” I said, for it was true.
With one hand I grasped his shaking wrist; with the other I eased the firearm from his quivering fingers. In two strides Morgan was beside me, and he snatched the gun from me and handed it to the abashed O’Brien.
“Exercise a bit of care with this next time,” he snapped.
I placed my hand, now afflicted with the same palsy affecting Malachi, upon his shoulder. He fell away from the doctor and into my arms, burying his face into my chest, his thin frame wracked with sobs. The doctor struggled to his feet, leaned on the worktable, and pressed his handkerchief against the wound on his forehead. His face was pale, spotted with blood. He murmured, “If I had known-”
“You knew enough,” shot back Morgan. “And now you will confess all of it, Pellinore, everything, or I will arrest you, tonight, without delay.”
The doctor nodded. His eyes were upon the miserable Malachi Stinnet, cradled in my arms. “There is something I should show you,” he said to Morgan. “But only you, Robert. I believe…” He caught himself. “In my judgment…” Caught himself again. He cleared his throat. “It would not be in Malachi’s best interest to see it.”
I knew where they were going, of course, and could not have agreed more with the doctor: It most definitely would not have been in Malachi’s best interest to see what hung in the monstrumologist’s basement. The beefy O’Brien started to follow them out, but Morgan ordered him to remain with us, and so he lingered in the doorway, looking none too happy about it, glowering across the room at me as if I were somehow responsible for the bloody turn of events. Perhaps I was, in part, and at that moment I certainly felt that way. The shadow of the doctor’s guilt stretched long, and though I had questioned him the night of our mad flight from the cemetery, I had not pressed the matter to its utmost. The doctor, after all, hadn’t locked me in my room or chained me to a newel. I could have run straight to the constable’s that night and sounded the alarm, and I did not. The mitigating factors-my age, my subservient status, my bows to the doctor’s superior intellect and the maturity of his judgment-seemed insubstantial in the presence of Malachi’s pain, his unutterable loss.