Sister Ascenza Kathleen Rose-of-Lima Jones was still a novice in Steelhead’s famous SWAT nuns and as such always drew the short straw when it came to visiting the slums to call on the services of Dr Beck. It wasn’t that she felt in danger in the slums, after all she was a SWAT nun and perfectly capable of protecting herself as well as meting out some divine justice to any miscreants that crossed her path. No, it was more the doctor himself who made her uneasy. Something in the way he looked at her seemed awfully un-doctorly and the way it made her feel was very, very un-nun-like. Ever since the murders in Port Harbour and Boomtown months before she had kept away and said extra rosaries whenever his blue eyes and chiseled cheek-bones popped into her thoughts, not to mention his… no! She shook her head in annoyance and silently began a round of three Ave Marias until she was sure all un-worthy thoughts of him were driven from her mind. She strode on through the docks and towards the surgery.
The taste of salt from the waves crashing against the harbour was sharp in the air as she reached the half-decaying pile where the doctor held his free surgeries for the poor immigrants & sailors who called this squalid and libidinous place their home. The smell of fish mixed with the smoke from the blacksmiths and the odour of death from the butchers, yet behind it all lurked the scent of human filth and waste. When, she wondered, were the Town council going to get some running water and sanitation out here to these poor people? She put such un-godly thoughts of local politics aside and concentrated on her reason for visiting the oddly handsome (she paused for two Lord’s prayers) Dr Beck. A short rap on the door brought no reply. Another, longer and louder, was no more successful. Nervously she pulled at the door and it opened easily, obviously unlocked. She peered into the gloom and quietly called out “Dr Beck? Dr Beck? Are you in?” She received no reply save a slow drip from a water faucet somewhere in the room.
Except… except there was no running water in the slums.
Sister Ascenza gasped out loud as she saw the source of the slow, rhythmic dripping sound. A large patch of what looked very much like blood had soaked through the ceiling and was dripping to a glistening pool on the surgery floor. There was, to the best of her knowledge, only one room above and it belonged to Dr Beck…
She ran up the rickety wooden steps to the rotting balcony outside his door and peered through the grimy window into his small room. At first she couldn’t see him, just small knots of his belongings; a small folding table with books and plates gathered around a microscope, a wash basin covered in red-stained cloths, a small un-made bed (she ran through a quick Memorare), before she found him. At the foot of a battered armchair facing away from her and towards a glowing fire, the floor glistened wetly and she felt her heart skip a beat as she saw, draped over the side of the chair, the unmistakable shape of a man’s arm.
Fearing the worst and not knowing what else to do she began to rap hard on the window. With a jolt the figure in the chair shot up and spun round. Sister Ascenza let out a small scream of surprise and jumped backwards, tripping over a bucket of fish that had been left standing by the door. She crashed to the balcony in a pool of icy water and flailing limbs just as the door opened and the horrified face of Dr Beck leant out to stare down at her. “Sister…?” he said, his croaky voice questioning.
She looked up at him, her cheeks glowing red, “Dr. I’m sorry… I thought…” she began to struggle to her feet and he reached down to help her. Mortified by her predicament she took his hand quickly and let him pull her up, as he did do she couldn’t help notice the edges of his white shirt cuffs stained a deep red.
“Good lord, you are soaking!” he exclaimed , “Come in! I’ll stoke the fire.”
“No, no I’m fine, she said, trying to regain some modicum of composure.
“Nonsense, you’ll catch your death out there like that, come in!” he moved into the room and went to stoke the fire, but as he reached the armchair he looked at the pool of liquid at its feet and paused. “I, er… I fell asleep in the chair I’m afraid. Knocked over a bottle of wine. Not the best I’ve tasted, but still… damn shame. Sorry, not damn. I didn’t mean damn,” he was flustered, looking around for a towel which he dropped on to the liquid before pulling the chair to cover it. “Come and dry yourself.”
With a slight hesitation, Sister Ascenza walked over to the fire as Dr Beck threw some kindling on, “Please, don’t go to any trouble for me, it’s just the edge of my habit, really it’s not as bad as it seems”
“Nonsense,” he said, “I can’t have one of Steelhead’s nuns falling ill can I? Now, what brings you out here to see me?” He smiled at her but to her he just looked tired. Tired and something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“It’s a body. There’s a body in the docks.”
A few minutes later, as Sister Ascenza Kathleen Rose-of-Lima Jones hurried off towards the docks on her own, Amarantis Belfire swung down from her vantage point on Beck’s roof to the balcony where she pushed open the door and walked in. Beck was scrabbling about about trying to tidy himself and find clean clothes, but he paused to look around at her, “I have to go,” he said, “I can’t stay, there’s a body and they need me there.”
“I know. I heard,” Amarantis, “but it’s a mistake. What we did…”
“WHAT YOU DID!” Beck shouted back. He looked shocked at his own outburst and fought to control his voice, “What you did, not me,” he said sharply, “Don’t tar me with that brush.”
Her alien eyes bored into him, “Yes, well what I did,” she said slowly, “means we have no way of knowing what… side-effects there might be.”
Beck, wearing a clean shirt and with his face washed clean, pulled on his great coat, “Well it’s too bloody late for that now, isn’t it?” he hissed as he pushed past her and strode out into the slums.
To be continued…