The Grey City VIII

Thursday June 24, 2004 @ 03:28 PM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI
The Grey City VII

Carys was still moving slowly and shudderingly down the street, trying to find another explanation for what she’d seen, but Eirian was either refreshed by her brief sleep or in that state of paradoxical energy children sometimes inhabit — animated by her own will and a perverse resistance to sleepiness. She was hopping from paving stone to paving stone, humming, when she stopped, poised on one leg, and said curiously, “Carys, do you hear someone running?”

Carys spun to look behind her, but Eirian pointed forward. “It’s over there, silly!” Without a word, Carys grabbed the smaller girl’s hand and started pulling her back the way they had come. Eirian looked over her shoulder and dragged her feet.

“Hurry!” said her sister.

“Why are you so afraid of everything?”

“Because everything here is strange, and awful, and…” Carys stopped with a sob, and Eirian pointed.

“There’s someone coming this way, too!” she said brightly. Carys opened her mouth to scold, but the measured sound of someone walking did indeed filter along the street. With a look of such strain and fear that Eirian shushed and followed, she ducked into a tangle of heavy shrubs pushing against an old wooden fence.

The footsteps grew closer, until the slow, steady thock of the walking feet became the counterpoint to the urgent tapping of the running feet. At last, two figures emerged, black from blackness, like a pattern piece falling from its parent cloth. Carys breathed again — neither was the upright old woman she’d feared.

“Are they soldiers?” whispered Eirian noisily, and Carys covered her mouth. The two men did indeed wear uniforms, black or darkest blue, brightened by silver buttons and braid and the gleam of the streetlamps off their polished shoes. The walking man had sharp blue eyes under his dark hair and uniform hat, and the running one was younger, freckled and fair, but they had the same taut bearing, and when they stopped in their progress, their curt, measured nods of greeting were matched.



The young man did not even seem out of breath, and plunged ahead mechanically, “A child of seven years has been reported missing from the Gables district, Inspector. Emmaline Lacey, daughter of Sir Albert Lacey, widower. Child was playing in the square gardens at one o’ clock, gone when sought for tea with her father. A search of the common and private gardens has just concluded and has produced nothing of interest. No reports of the Boy in the area, and no letter received as yet.” The young man drew up in his report and awaited a response.

“But quite certainly a Butcher case. Intercept the letter when it comes, we can’t have a gentleman distressed unduly.”


“The last we’re sure of was a beggar child, the one before that a blacksmith’s boy. There is no pattern,” he said with deep disapprobation.

“If he’d stick to the beggar boys and street leavings, I’d say let him,” the younger one said boldly, and was frozen by the Inspector’s blue eyes.

“The Butcher, Mr. Brinker, is a Bedlam influence. He acts on whim, from want, like a wild creature. While we can be thankful when he confines his depredations to flotsam like himself, he is still an enemy, a sickness, and must be rooted out without complacence or clemency. Are you now clear on this point, Mr. Brinker?”

“Yes indeed, Inspector Blackburn. You explain it most excellently,” the chastened junior said.

“Return to nearest post, Brinker, and inform the desk sergeant that every man is to be schooled in the likeness of the Butcher’s Boy and that said Boy is to be arrested on sight. Whatever his significance, he is the only real clue.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And, Brinker, have a letter sent to Sir Albert Lacey regretting to inform him of the discovery of his daughter’s body, and that it would be advisable to keep the casket closed. Issue a weighted coffin.”

Brinker’s expressionless face looked even more blank. “But what if we find the body, Inspector?”

“We won’t.”

The young man nodded, spun on his heel, and ran off steadily the way he had come.

The Inspector took one step after him, then turned and examined the bushes. “Come out, children, in the name of the law,” he said, almost casually.

The Grey City IX


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