“Hey, Jimmy? Can I talk to you for a minute?” George Villiers asked.
Jim Watt, Chief Engineer of the Motilene Mines, looked up from his clipboard and flashed an agreeable smile. “Sure, George. What can I do you for?”
George worried the inside of his lip. “Could we go somewhere private? The control room, maybe?”
Jim nodded, but his affable smile shifted into a look of concern. “Is something wrong?” he asked, leading the way up the stairs.
“No,” George said. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I just need to tell you something.”
Jim swiped his keycard to unlock the door and gestured for George to walk in first. George took the invitation and waited for the door to close behind Jim, shutting them off from the rest of the mine.
“What is it, George?” Jim asked.
“Well, Constable,” Inspector Royston Luckinbill said, “what do you make of this?” They had the details from the latest murder attributed to Foggy Jack laid out on the table, ready to be integrated into their investigation boards.
“It don’t fit the M.O. at all,” Constable Burne-Jones told him, shaking his head at the photos and objects arrayed before him. “Foggy Jack’s murders are messy hack-and-slash affairs. This is much too clean to be him. There’s not even any blood. Not to mention the lack of toxic fog. Foggy Jack always leaves his victims in a patch of pea soup, don’t he?”
“Could perhaps the mustard gas be an improvised toxic cloud?” Luckinbill asked, purposely attempting to mislead him.
Burne-Jones shook his head again. “It’s a remote possibility, but not likely. Foggy Jack doesn’t actually use the fog to kill his victims. It’s more of a calling card than anything. The murders themselves are done with the cleaver. And that’s another thing. He never kills in the Garden District. There ain’t no attention in it.”
“Spot on,” Luckinbill praised. “We’ll make a detective of you yet. What else is wrong with this picture?”
“How are we feeling today, Dr. Haworth?” Dr. Hughes asked. He tented his fingers and loomed over Harry Haworth, who sat up straight and resolute at his tea table.
“Fine,” Haworth lied, willing himself to control his shuddering. He was not fine and he knew Dr. Hughes knew that, but they did this dance of plausible deniability every four days.
“Are you sure that’s the most… accurate description for how you’re feeling?” Dr. Hughes asked. “People who are fine do not usually throw hot tea on their nurses.”
“People who are fine don’t usually need nurses, and yet here we are,” Haworth retorted flatly. She’d chosen the wrong day to comment on his extra tea biscuit. He had no patience to spare today.
“Eventually there won’t be any nurses left to care for you. Your behavior is in dire need of correction,” Dr. Hughes said in thinly veiled threat.
Today, Rodney was shadowing Valerie, the Reform Club’s hostess, at the front door.
“Working the door is about maintaining safety and security, greeting our members, making sure everyone is paid up on their dues, and – most importantly – making a quick assessment of each client’s needs each night so that you can give their handler a heads up on anything different they might need to account for.” Rodney’s face fell a bit, surprised by how much more work the door seemed to be. “You thought I just stood here making goggle-y eyes at Constable Rowlandson all night, didn’t you?” Valerie teased. She and the constable shared a chuckle at Rodney’s expense and her pun. “Don’t worry. It’s easier than it sounds.”
“In general, there’s two kinds of people who come to the club,” she explained. “First are the socialites. These are your Sally Boyles, your Dr. Verlocs – don’t ever call him Anton when he’s here – and your Nick Lightbearers.” She ticked each dropped name off on her rubber-gloved fingers. “Before he trashed the Rumpus Room anyway,” she added with annoyance, revoking the finger she’d marked Nick off on. “They’re not really here for most of our services. This is just a nightclub with a kinky theme to them.”
“So they’re poseurs?” Rodney asked, leaning against the counter to mimic Valerie’s stance.
September 2nd, 1964
“Right this way, Miss Olsen,” Dr. Hughes said. He led Gemma down a long, dimly lit hall and carried her suitcase for her. There were doors on the left side, each with a thick sliding bolt lock. Gemma noted these with some trepidation. When they reached the end of the hall and the last door, Dr. Hughes slid the bolt on it and pulled it open. The other side of the door didn’t look like a door at all, but a paneled wall.
Dr. Hughes gestured for her to enter the small room on the other side of the disguised door. Gemma was having second thoughts about this ruse of hers. She had lied about developing Joy intolerance in order to get into Haworth Labs’ personalized care program. It was the only way to find out exactly what happened to the other people who went into the program and seemingly never came out. Now that she was in this tiny, very bright, all white room, she realized she may have made a mistake.
“He’s not even a scientist,” Anton Verloc said. He glanced dismissively around at the party to celebrate the opening of The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. “He makes kitchen gadgets for bored housewives.” He sneered at Richard Arkwright, who was chatting animatedly with Lionel Castershire. Verloc felt Castershire had even less business being here.
“Richard Arkwright,” Harry Haworth leaned in and said to Verloc in a lowered tone, “is the smartest person in this room.” That was saying something, considering the entirety of Wellington Wells’ scientific community was in attendance. Haworth had brought Verloc to this party to introduce him to those who would become his colleagues. Scientific endeavors in Wellington Wells were often a collaborative effort, so it would behoove the boy to do some networking.
“He doesn’t even have a doctorate,” Verloc said, rolling his eyes. Haworth watched in annoyance as they landed on the starry-eyed shop girl Stewart Adams had crassly brought instead of his wife, Fiona. He did note with reluctant approval that the girl had the presence of mind to forgo flirting with Dr. Faraday and engage his wife in conversation instead.
“No, he does not,” Haworth said patiently. “What he does have is the good sense to leave the future in the future instead of promising it tomorrow like the rest of us do.”
“That is an outrageous silhouette,” Sally heard a familiar voice behind her cut through the music and rabble of the party. “Hackney’s getting a bit avant garde in his old age, isn’t he?”
“Roger!” Sally stared, stunned. “My god, Roger, I haven’t seen you in ages!” She dropped her voice lower. “I thought you’d all gone on holiday.”
“Oh. We did,” Roger said, his voice lilting the way it did whenever the conversation turned to a ticklish subject. “But we’re back now! Just in time for the spring collection debut. Could I get you a drink?” he offered, clearly trying to change the subject.
“No, I already had one,” Sally lied. “Where did you go?” she asked, dropping her tone as low as she could make it and still be heard over the music. “Are you all right? Where’s James?”
“I really can’t talk about it,” Roger demurred. “But we’re fine! Truly. It wasn’t anything like… that.” “That” being any number of possibilities in this town. “And I expect James is off pouting somewhere.” Roger glanced around to see if James was anywhere in earshot. “I took too long catching up with Cilla.”
“Should you be talking to me then?” Sally teased.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Roger chuckled with a resigned shrug. “I heard you opened your own chemist shop while we were gone. Not doing housecalls anymore then? Has Sally Boyle gone legitimate?”
Virgil Dainty played a dangerous game with his lyrics, but he understood the magic of music. You could say just about anything in a song. The words were immaterial; what mattered was how they made you feel.
The recommended dose of Joy did not last through the night. That was why Uncle Jack came on first thing in the morning with his show, Wakey Wakey. His cheerful bombast cut through all thought and made it impossible to focus on the vague feelings of memory lurking under the dissipating fog of one’s last dose. Uncle Jack also reminded everyone to take their morning dose, so Wakey Wakey was a tidy solution to the problem of morning Joy lag for most people.
Virgil didn’t watch Wakey Wakey. When Virgil woke up in the morning, he rode that thinning haze out to the very edge his memory and used what he found there. As long as one didn’t linger too long, one could look at it all with some detachment, as if the memories belonged to someone else.
As she stirred the foxglove seeds into the soup, Mrs. Boyle thought to herself that maybe they had always been hurtling towards this fate. That this was God’s plan for them, and Sally’s obstinance in the face of reality might have been a blessing in disguise. Maybe Sally’s fourteen years of fighting her guidance every step of the way was a clue, a sign to recognize when the time came, to show her what she should do.
She had a choice with Sally.
“Before we begin, please listen to a personal message for Our Prudent Friend: The Fox is in the Hen House. The Fox is in the Hen House!”
“Really? Uh, I mean, Zanthus!” Ms. Henderson said the codeword to confirm receipt of the message. She could hear the man on the other end of the line snickering as she hung up the phone. She dashed back the safehouse in Edenham as fast as she could with bare feet. She’d need to catch Prudence before she left. “Before we begin” was code for “do not proceed”.
When she got back, Prudence was packing her spartan collection of toiletries back into her handbag, preparing to move on to the next stop in the underground.
“You may as well get comfortable here for now,” Ms. Henderson said. “We’ve just been told to pause all plans for the time being.”
“What? Why?” Prudence said, alarmed.