Chapter 7: Preparation for Murder
A rickety cart laden with barrels rattled into the alley, reminding me that while the macks and whores slept late following their nighttime trade, the new day would soon rouse tired scullery maids and serving girls to their hard labor under the cold eye of unmerciful masters. I needed to get out of sight until dusk, after which I would become just another patron of the district despite my young age. Our breakfast over, I opened the lock on the storeroom door with hardly a thought, the mechanicals easily manipulated, and I ducked into the dark as the hound alertly followed.
This had once been the tack room for communal stables on this block, the smell of horse and leather forever impregnated into the old wood, but none of the establishments here kept horses anymore, and the mildew and dust of discarded junk added their odor to the forgotten decay of an earlier era. I didn’t dare a light just yet, even though the boarded sealed windows let no light escape, and I moved to the back where I knew an old stair led to the attic. With careful steps, we climbed the creaking wood.
I lit a candle stub, revealing a dirty room strewn with broken furniture, and I moved to a corner even though the feeble light of my candle did nothing to illuminate the lower level. The intelligent hound sensed that this was where we would spend the day, and he stretched out to sleep, content on his half-full stomach.
I opened my bags, retrieving the bundles, and one-by-one I unrolled the oily cloth to inspect the results of nearly two year’s labor at Feigl’s shop. Twelve clockwork spiders dully reflected the flickering candlelight as I pulled my stolen tools from my backpack. The clumsy Spotter on the ferry hadn’t damaged anything beyond repair, and after a few adjustments, I tested each one. The whir of small gears and the light eight-legged tapping lifted the ears on the hound as he watched the small constructs skitter across the floor. I inspected the bulbs that comprised the abdomens of each one to ensure that none of the kerosene had leaked before I carefully rewrapped the spiders and returned them to my bags. The candle sputtered in its puddle of wax, giving me a few more seconds of light, and I quickly buckled the bags and returned my tools to my pack. Satisfied, all I had left to do was to wait until dark, when my quarry would return to McGowen’s looking for me. I curled up beside the hound to wait out the day.
When I opened my eyes, the darkness in the room was unchanged, but I knew evening had come by the din and hum from the streets outside. My heart raced for just a second on the prospect of achieving my end after two long years, both in anticipation and mild anxiety. Rubbing my tongue against my bruised cheek reminded me of the danger while also steeling my resolve. I shouldered my bags and left the attic, commanding the hound to wait. I left the door unlocked and slightly ajar, knowing that if needed, he would follow.
The sky had turned an overcast gray during the day, hastening the evening twilight, although it did not look to threaten rain just yet. I moved into the main thoroughfare, the animated sounds of drinking spilling into the street as patrons entered or left the rows of establishments. I took up a position opposite McGowen’s, claiming a vacant lamppost, drawing no attention, this perhaps being the only redeeming quality of this district.
The quick transition from day to night altered the scene before me, the orange-yellow glow of gas lamps replacing the last gray of twilight, changing the hue of the district from a drab mottle of doggeries and brothels into a row of lively inviting establishments. I had always hated this false painting, which did nothing to lessen the hardship of the indentured serving girls and whores here. With that thought, I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the cooling air, the premonition brought on by the sudden appearance of a lanky figure outside the doorway to McGowen’s. I could not keep the feeling of trepidation from knotting my stomach, almost as if I were inside McGowen’s waiting for his arrival rather than standing safely disguised on the street.
Two long years of waiting and planning were over, and I watched the man haughtily push his way into the establishment. I wouldn’t have to wait long for him to reemerge empty handed and angry, McGowen not even likely to remember the girl he sought, the girl who had run away so long ago that McGowen must surely think she had long ago succumbed to a cold orphan’s death in this dirty uncaring city. I adjusted the bag on my shoulder, knowing that no one could fathom that I had patiently made other plans regarding who would die first in this city.
Posted in: Archives, The Pocket Watch, The Pocket WatchPublished: April 4, 2011