Two detectives try to stop a steamtech killer.
Lily Elizabeth Morgan was truly a beautiful young woman. Luxurious blond hair; luminous alabaster skin with eyes as blue as the sea had dear Lily. She wore a lovely lilac dress with a bustle that made her look so grown up. She had many admirers who fought to just be in her presence. Now, surrounded by many, Lily might have found the attention flattering. Unfortunately, her coquettish charm will forever be marred by the sight of her missing breasts; intestines strewn about the alleyway and the sickening smell of charred flesh. The desecrated corpse was discovered by a courier on an early morning assignment. Within minutes, the Metropolitan Police swarmed the area. The ghastly scene even had some veteran officers retching. Crowds of gawkers framed the cordoned area, wanting to catch a glimpse of the macabre scene.
“This makes five now, eh?” commented a reporter who managed to escape notice.
“No comment!” was the gruff reply from an officer guarding the scene.
The reporter felt a hand on his shoulder. When he turned, he saw a familiar face.
“Do you have a comment for the frightened citizens of New York, Detective?”
Detective Artemus Jones looked at the reporter and sighed deeply. The sight of another butchered innocent saddened him, but the reporter’s presence angered him.
“Thomason, get going, okay? When the commissioner is ready, he will give you and the rest of New York a comment. For now, just get lost.”
“You had better solve this one, Jones,” Thomason barked, “or you’ll be eaten alive! I guarantee it!”
Waving to a uniform, Detective Jones had the reporter escorted away from the crime scene. Artemus Jones was well known amongst the reporters in Gotham. He had been a cop for seven years, a homicide detective for three. His last case made him a household name. An inventor murdered three bankers who denied his loan requests and the owner of an engineering firm who stole the patent for his portable steam-powered electrical generator. The man modified his invention and created an electrical gun. The victims were reduced to a smoldering pile of ash. Catching a break, Artemus and his partner discovered that the killer worked for the Defense Department, creating military weapons. After narrowly escaping death, the killer was apprehended.
“Reporters should be shot on sight.” commented one of the officers nearby.
“I won’t argue with you on that one.” Artemus replied.
Force of habit had the detective rubbing his shoulder. Cool October days, and grisly cases, always had him remembering the war and how he acquired his mechanical limb. He was aboard a dirigible when it was fired upon during an air battle. Artemis lost his arm trying to save a fellow soldier. A British scientist, who created the mechanical prosthetics so commonly used now, supervised the surgery that attached the new arm to Artemus’ bones and nerves. After a long and painful recovery period, he returned home after an honorable discharge and became a police officer.
“If rubbing that shoulder, we have a nasty situation brewing, correct?”
His partner, Illarion Tokmakoff finally arrived. Emigrating from Russia with his family, they escaped the Communist overthrow that occurred when the war ended. Unable to afford continuing his mechanical engineering studies, Illarion decided to join the force. His engineering knowledge always came in handy solving the weird cases they were saddled with. And this case required more than just ordinary police work—any port in a storm would be decidedly helpful.
“How bad is it, Artemus?” Illarion asked quietly.
“Just like the others, ungodly. We won’t know anything until the examiner does the autopsy.”
“I hear a ‘but’ in there.”
Artemus dropped his head a bit, a gesture Illarion knew well.
“We need a break on this one. All the evidence we’ve gathered doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. That and what’s the point of all of this. I guess once the government investigators take over, it won’t be our problem, right?”
“Not if we figure it out first.” His partner said with a smirk.
“Well, let’s finish up here and meet with the Lieutenant. I’m sure he’ll have our asses in a sling for this one!”
“So what did we do again?” Illarion asked, puzzled.
As the detectives went about their work, a figure lurked in the midst of the chaos, watching the investigation. Finally, the morgue truck arrived to take Lily away. The steam from the engine swirled about, making the scene all the more chilling. Smiling, the figure walked away unnoticed. Artemus and Illarion headed back to the station to await the medical examiner’s report.
Later, back at the station, the detectives started pouring over the evidence. There had to be something that was missed that at least tied the victims together, some random clue that escaped notice. The victims were all female, ages ranging from sixteen to twenty. All were debutantes seen at all the upper-class functions held in New York; all were mentioned in the society sections of the newspapers and were considered good, proper young ladies. With no scandals or anti-social behavior linking them, what made these women targets? Illarion decided to take a closer look at the families. The link had to be there, somewhere.
“Tell me, why weren’t the victims’ families not investigated? It would seem that there could be something there, don’t you think?”
Artemus smiled and shook his head. His partner had a lot to learn about life in the big city. In New York City, the moneymen ran everything and they rarely paid for their crimes. Stick your nose in the wrong person’s business and get your whole head chopped off.
“Wealth means anonymity. More money, no questions. That’s how it works around here.”
“Nyet! This is nonsense! Back home, When the Party asked a question, you answered. No one was immune from an investigation!”
“No bribes, my friend?” Artemus smiled, always enjoying his partner’s naïve rants.
“The Officer gets a little extra his pocket; somebody disappears. Things were simple and uncomplicated.”
Laughs followed Illarion’s statement. Artemus enjoyed listening to his partner’s stories of his home. Although his family had to flee for their lives, he realized his friend missed the St. Petersburg of his past. He decided to humor him and asked him what he found in his ruminations.
“The fathers of these poor girls belonged to the Society of Mechamaniacal Agents. These men made their fortunes off the patents, ideas and machines of many scientists and inventors. There may be a disgruntled inventor who decided that murder was the best revenge.” Illarion explained.
“It’s a plausible theory, but trust me, the commissioner isn’t going to allow us to go uptown to interrogate anybody about anything.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that, Detective.”
Turning around, Commissioner Richard Matthews stood. The commissioner was a slender, well-dressed man who was well connected due to his wealthy upbringing. He, as society dictated, never signed off on invading the wealthy enclaves for any reason. Artemis wondered what changed.
“If you and your partner think there is any connection with this Society and the murders, I want them investigated immediately. The fiend has to be caught before this whole city erupts into a full blown panic. You have my permission, detectives. Do your jobs.”
With that edict, the commissioner headed for Lieutenant Jacobs office. Once the shock wore off, Artemus and Illarion prepared to leave. The scent of roses permeated the room, announcing the arrival of one Dolly Malone. The coroner always sent Dolly to the station when it was something big. And Dolly was the best way to deliver any message. She was a petite beauty sporting a cute pixie haircut; an hourglass figure and the voice of a siren. But none of his fellow officers pursued her. Everyone knew she only had eyes for a certain Russian émigré who was utterly clueless. Being a happily married father of twin rambunctious boys, he was glad those days were behind him.
“Hello, detectives! Dr. Roswell has something for you. He wants to come over now!”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to call us?” asked Illarion.
“How long have you worked here?” Dolly jokingly replied. “Grab your coats. It’s time to head to the morgue.”
The walk to the morgue was a long one and the griminess of the city was on display. The police station was tucked away in an overlooked part of the city. The older model steam trolleys; the rickety old tenement homes; the old cafes and lower end department stores enveloped in a haze of steam—a far cry from the upscale 34th Street and the beautiful homes in Central Park West. Artemus loved the scrappiness of the area. It reminded him of the airship docks he grew up around as a child. His father would always take him and his brothers to watch the dirigibles and steamships take off on a hot Sunday afternoon. That love disappeared with his arm. He couldn’t look at an airship and not remember the ugliness of war. These murders conjured up the memories and the stress affected him.
“Memories are truly like phantoms, are they not? When the shadows fall, they creep out the dark corners and frighten you. Never forget, but don’t let the fear disrupt the important matters of today, my friend.”
Illarion hoped his words would help his partner. Ordinarily, he remained silent, but this case is bringing back troubling memories and that may impede the investigation. Artemus had that fear also, but the past is what it is and it never leaves. The silence during the walk helped Artemus get a handle on his emotions and focus on his job. Of course, going to the morgue is hardly helpful. Following Dolly downstairs to the cold storage, the detectives wondered what the coroner uncovered.
“Gentlemen, glad to see you! Come in, come in! Have I got something to show you! It’ll blow this investigation sky high!”
Doctor Cosmo Roswell was, well, for lack of a better word, eccentric. Wild salt and pepper hair sat atop a pale, cadaver-like face. Sure, he looks like he should be a corpse, but, nonetheless, Cosmo Roswell was the best medical examiner on the east coast. When he found something, it was always the proverbial needle in a haystack discovery.
“What did you find, Doc?” Artemus inquired.
Pulling back the sheet, he exposed Lily’s body. Dr. Roswell did his best to close up the wounds, unfortunately, there wasn’t much left to repair the damage. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I had to go back and look at the other victims and then I paid a visit to the university and brought back a friend of mind to look at how precise the wounds were. The blood loss wasn’t from the organ removal; that was something else entirely. Detectives, our murderer used a laser to slice and dice these women!”
“He used a what?” a confused Artemus asked.
“In short, it’s a device that emits electromagnetic radiation using optical amplification based on stimulated photon emissions. Or more simply, it’s a concentrated beam of light that can slice through just about anything, including human flesh. Are you saying that this is what killed these women?” a surprised Illarion queried.
The doctor smiled. Both men stared at him and immediately wanted to leave the building.
“I invited Professor Rhys-Williams over from the university. He’s a visiting fellow from Oxford and they are experimenting on just such a device. He was astounded that someone could’ve invented that type of device as they have yet to perfect it. It is only a theory, an experiment. But the evidence speaks for itself. These wounds were made with a laser.”
Illarion was shocked and his partner was lost after electromagnetic radiation.
“What kind of country is this? There’s a mad scientist on every corner and at least two creeping in the alleyways. This is incredible!” Illarion said, frustrated.
“Don’t get too angry, my Russian friend. This may make your detecting a lot easier. There are only a handful of men that are capable of creating a device of this sort. And Professor Rhys-Williams is just the man who can help you zero in on our psychopath. Dolly, take the detectives to my office and give them the information the professor left for them. Toodles!”
“Wait a minute. What about the blood loss? There wasn’t much blood at any of the crime scenes. You haven’t explained that.” Artemus asked.
Dr. Roswell and Dolly looked at each other, not sure what to say.
“Let’s just say the laser was the easiest explanation to give you. The blood loss? Well, it would appear the killer enjoys blood also.”
Artemus and Illarion stood, also not sure what to say. They have had several open homicides that involved the victims being completely drained of their blood. With this revelation, the detectives wondered if there was some heinous correlation. Having more questions than answers left the men bereft. Exiting the morgue, the detectives followed Dolly back to Dr. Roswell’s office. Artemus watched his partner watch Dolly. He wondered whether he finally got a clue about the lovely morgue assistant.
“It was rude of me not to mention how lovely you look today, Ms. Malone.” Illarion said softly.
Dolly stopped, turned and smiled the brightest smile a man could ever get. Artemus decided to discreetly walk ahead to give his partner room to work. Illarion was truly surprised how happy that compliment made her. Clearing his throat, the detective decided to ease out on a limb.
“Ms. Malone, Dolly, would you like to have dinner with me? Perhaps we could have a nice evening out.”
Dolly could barely contain her excitement. In the two years that Illarion had been in Homicide, she’s tried to get his attention. Her heart was beating so fast she had a hard time answering.
“I would like that very much, Illarion. I would like that very much indeed. Soon, I hope.”
Tipping his hat, he caught up with his partner, who was discreetly by the stairs. Artemus started walking up the stairs. Illarion looked like a dear trapped in the headlights. Slapping his partner on the back, he decided to help Illarion with his obvious confusion. Letting Dolly get a little ahead of them, Artemus decided to have a little fun with his partner.
“Remember, you asked her out. Don’t back out now, she’ll be very disappointed. After all, she has waited a long time for that invitation.”
“I am nervous and I don’t know why.”
“How about we have a conversation about that while we head back to the station?”
While the detectives continued walking, the shadowy figure from the crime scene materialized out of the steamy fog. Making sure Artemus and Illarion were far enough away, entered the morgue. Easing down the stairs, Dr. Roswell wasn’t aware he had a visitor.
“I applaud your quick thinking, Dr. Roswell. Giving the police that nugget just wasn’t good to do.”
Turning, the doctor’s eyes widened. Recognizing the man in his morgue, he instantly was on guard.
“It’s been awhile, my friend. Surely, you have no reason to fear the police. Besides, a man of your intellect couldn’t be in any kind of trouble with the authorities, could you?”
The man smiled wickedly. Dr. Roswell realized he might be in some difficulty. But he wasn’t entirely without resources. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use that particular option.
“Dr. Roswell, I don’t think you realize the trouble you’ve caused me. That breadcrumb you laid may lead to me. I’m not with that, doctor. I think some sort of punishment is in order. As the old saying goes, this will hurt you more than it hurts me.”
A hiss of steam and a series of clicks were heard. The man pulled out a rather interesting device; it looked like a gun, but not quite. Encased in a glass was a complicated compilation of gears and wiring. Flipping a switch, the gun began to glow a bright red; electricity seemed to leap in and around the device. Dr. Roswell tried to run. However, the man’s trigger finger was much faster. A high pitched whine flooded the room along with a terrifying red light. Dolly arrived right when a red beam was emitted from the gun.
“Nooooo!” she screamed in horror.
She witnessed the red beam open up Dr. Roswell’s torso. The smell of the searing flesh nearly caused her to faint. Narrowly missing the red beam, her survival instinct kicked in and Dolly ran up the stairs as fast as she could. Hysterical, Dolly kept running until she left the building. While
morgue personnel followed the frightened woman, the man escaped amid the chaotic scene. Artemis and Illarion barely made back into the police station before they received word of the attack. Worried about Dolly’s safety, the men rushed back to the morgue, with the Metro police bringing up the rear. On the scene, Illarion located Dolly and made certain she wasn’t hurt. Artemus and his fellow officers descended the stairs with alacrity. What they found
“Oh, my Lord!” an officer exclaimed. “He’s slit opened like a fish!”
“Just like the girl we found this morning!” replied an officer who was at the earlier crime scene.
Illarion walked joined his partner with a shaken Dolly in his arms. She wept silently as she had to view the body of Dr. Roswell. It was a horrible sight, seeing him, eyes as wide open as his chest. The murderer didn’t have time to desecrate the body in the ensuing mayhem. But this was enough to chill the blood regardless.
“What now? It’s a little too obvious that the killer knew Dr. Roswell reached out to the professor at the university. Now we at least have some possible suspects to investigate.” Illarion said.
“Nobody’s that stupid.” Artemus blurted out. “If he’s that brilliant, why lead the police right to his doorstep.”
“Because he knows that anyone who was willing to talk won’t anymore, after Dr. Roswell’s demise.” His partner suggested.
Shrugging his shoulders, Artemus went about interviewing morgue workers and assisting with evidence collection. Meanwhile, Illarion walked Dolly to a nearby café. Sitting at the first available booth, he ordered a hot chocolate for her. Seeing her tear-stained face, he hated to ask any question, but Illarion had to do his job.
“Dolly, what did you see when you arrived downstairs?” When she began crying again, Illarion put an arm around her. Calming down, she described the sequence of events. “Did you get a good look at the murderer, Dolly?”
“No. I saw him from behind, right as the doctor was being killed. When I saw that he was turning, I ran out. I’m sorry, I didn’t see his face.” She hung her head down, weeping. “He going to get away with killing Dr. Roswell, isn’t he? Oh, God! It’ll be all my fault!”
“No, don’t cry anymore! We will catch this man, don’t worry. Please don’t cry, Dolly!”
Illarion clumsily tried to ease her grief. He hugged her tightly, hoping to calm her. Unbeknownst to him, Dolly truly appreciated his attempts to comfort her. They sat together silently, the detective holding the morgue assistant, as the world went on around them. Later on, after Illarion escorted Dolly home and had officers assigned to guard her, he returned to the station. Artemus was updating the lieutenant and the commissioner on the day’s course of events. Once the men left, he let out a sigh of relief. His partner sat down, looking haggardly.
“Is Dolly alright?”
“She is very frightened. I arranged for a couple of officers to guard her apartment. I made sure they were armed with the new guns so maybe they’ll have a chance if the murderer locates Dolly.”
“Do you have yours?”
“I do, yes. Why do you ask?”
“We are off to the university to see Professor Rhys-Williams. If the killer knew about Dr. Roswell contacting the professor, it would appear the murderer may be on staff there. We have to get over to the university and see what we can find out.”
Sighing deeply, Illarion stood up once again. “Away we go?”
Catching the steam trolley, the men rode it until they arrived downtown. Running to Penn Station, the men managed to catch the six-thirty train that would get them to New York University. The university was at the forefront of creating new steamtech. Their experiments gave birth to gadgets and machinery that have ushered in a new industrial era. It would stand to reason that the killer had to be someone who possessed superior knowledge in steamtech and harnessed it to concoct a deadly device. Roughly an hour later, the detectives reached the university. Students were still milling about, laughing and talking. Asking directions to the laboratory, Artemus and Illarion hurried to Professor Rhys-Williams’ lab office.
“This is the creepiest building I have ever seen. I have always wondered why laboratories were located in such dark places.” Illarion remarked.
The science labs were in an ivy-covered building, surrounded by a grouping of huge trees. Shadows hung about the building like sentinels, swirling leaves and paper gave an unoccupied appearance. Entering the science laboratories, the detectives noticed the lights were off. Red flags waved and internal alarms went off as the officers armed themselves and slowly searched each room, trying to find someone, anyone, in the darkened structure. With only the day’s fading sunlight to guide them, the men made their way to the top floor. What they discovered upon entry was a complete shock.
“Welcome Detectives Jones and Tokmakoff. I am pleased the meet the infamous newspaper heroes. I understand you’ve come to speak with Professor Rhys-Williams about the murders. Pardon the cliché but he’s a bit tied up at the moment.”
Hiding in the shadows, wearing all black clothing with a hat pulled down obscuring his face, the nebulous voice spoke mockingly to the detectives. Spinning a chair around, the professor was indeed tied up. More troubling was the long, gun-like device pointed at his head. Even more disconcerting was the even larger device pointed towards the window. Illarion tried to catch a glimpse of what the device was pointed at, but the shadowman wasn’t having it.
“Don’t spoil the surprise Detective Topmakoff. Let me explain the scenario I have created here. Since you boys are such heroes, I have created a conundrum for you. You have no doubt noticed the gun pointed at Professor Rhys-Williams. And it indeed is the same device used to kill all of those infidels. This larger device here,” patting the gun heartily, “is pointed at the student union, which is now full of students having dinner.” The shadowman uncovered a large, intricately designed clock, with wiring connected to both guns. “Once I press this button on top of my beautiful clock, you’ll have exactly sixty seconds to choose. Save the students and the professor gets his head sliced off. Save the professor and once the gun’s beam hits the bomb I have set up, the students go boom. Or catch me. Both guns are connected to this lovely clockwork gadget here. Since you can’t do all three, you’ll have to figure out who lives or who dies.”
Artemus took off his suit jacket. Rolling up his sleeve, he revealed his mechanical arm. Squeezing his hand into a fist activates his arm. Electrical charges leapt up and down his arm, much like the murderer’s gun.
“Disarm the device or you’ll be the one who dies. Do it now!” Artemus yelled.
The shadowman cackled, hit the button and ran. Artemus fired his gun at the departing figure. Ducking, the murderer managed to get away.
“Artemus! What do we do? We can’t save them! We don’t have time!” Illarion shouted.
Twenty seconds were left on the clockwork device. Artemus and his partner were rooted to the spot. Who do they save; the professor who held the knowledge of who the murderer was or the innocent lives in the student union? The world went into slow motion as time quickly ticked away.
What would the intrepid detectives do? What could they do?
Word count: 4,034