Dr Malegatto Alter

Goodunnit: Chapter 11 – The Dead End

It was the day after the day after and I still felt like I’d done three rounds with moose, I just hoped the creature felt as bad as I did. After I’d left Ho Ping’s I spent the rest of the day recovering from my trip to see the Dragonlady, which was the only polite way I knew of saying I had been out of my mind on opium. Downstairs, the body of Ho Ping had been delivered to my surgery so I could perform my post mortem. I’d set to it in the morning and it had been a predictably gruesome task. It had been a relief to get out on my rounds, until I found half a dozen cases of what looked like something I needed to worry about spreading in amongst the denizens of the slum.

I was checking some samples under the battered old microscope on my table upstairs. It was night outside, the darkness laying across Shamian like an malevolent oil spill. The alleys and streets were cemetery quiet as families huddled together to watch not only over their children but their sick as well. Nothing for these poor sods was easy. Sometimes when I found myself wondering if giving up on God had been the right thing to do, I remembered times like this and realised he’d given up first.

I was busy contemplating the deep philosophical ramifications of punching the Almighty right in the kisser when a sudden knock on the door damn near handed me a chance to meet my maker face to face. I jumped and whirled round with my heart beating like an angry boxer. As I did my sleeve caught the microscope and flipped it on to the floor. I watched in mute horror as the most valuable thing I owned smashed and spilled its guts into a pile of shattered glass and dented metal.

Fuzz opened the door and peered in, “You ok, Doc?” I looked up, fury clear on my face. “Ah,” he said.

“Damn it! Not your fault. I… Oh damn it!”

“Expensive?” Fuzz asked as I stared at the shards of smashed optics and slides.

“No. Yes. No. It’s just… It’s all I had Fuzz. It was my father’s. It’s all I had left.”

“From England? Your England I mean?” Fuzz’s tone was soft, concerned. I’d almost forgotten I’d ever told anyone about my journey but Fuzz knew, as the sheriff he made it his business to know. I nodded . “Maybe it’s not too bad,” he said moving to the table and crouching down “Let me help you pick it up…”

“No!” I shouted and grabbed his hand, “don’t touch it!”

Fuzz pulled back, shocked “Easy doc, I’m only trying to help.”

“No,” my tone softer, “It’s not… I was looking at samples and they may be contagious.”

“Contagious?” he asked, all concerned sheriff again.

“Not sure yet, some of the Chinese workers are ill. I’m investigating. Well,” I looked at the broken microscope on the floor, “I was.”

“Anything I need to worry about?”

“Not sure yet, I needed my microscope to find out.”

“Hmm, ok,” said Fuzz thoughtfully, “I’ll let the Council know, maybe they will be able to help.”

“Really? I’d appreciate it, Fuzz.”

“Well I’m not making any promises, but…”

I smiled at him. “So, scaring me half to death aside, what did you call round for? The post-mortem?”

“Got it in one. What’s the word on old Ho Ping then?”

I reached for two mugs and some tea, “Sit down and I’ll make us a brew. This might take some time.”

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“So you are saying he was murdered, but he did it himself? You’re saying someone persuaded him to cut his own tongue out and slice his ears off, lay them on the floor by the stool he then used to stand on so he could put a noose around his neck?”

“Yes,” I said simply.

“Furthermore you say that when on the stool he gouged his own eyes out before kicking the stool away and hanging himself?”

“That’s what I’m telling you, yes.”

“Doc… That’s… That’s just not possible. No one can be told to do those things to themselves.”

“Well I’ve heard of drugs that can open a man’s mind to suggestion, hypnosis too, but this is extreme I’ll grant you. But…” I left it hanging like Ho Ping himself.

“But?” Fuzz asked, prodding the corpse.

“Well there is The Voice.”

“The voice? I’ve got a feeling I’m going to regret asking this but what is the voice?”

“Ah, not a what, but a who,” I said cryptically. Fuzz gave me a look. “Ok Ok,” I smiled, “truth is no one knows, but the word is he is the Tong’s main enforcer and he can kill by simply telling you to kill yourself.”

“Rubbish!” Fuzz blurted out.

“I’m just telling you what I’ve heard Fuzz,” I said with an exaggerated shrug, “I mean of course it could be so much guff, lies spread by the Tong to add an air of supernatural menace to their reputation, but what if it’s not?”

“Aw c’mon doc, you don’t seriously expect me to put an APB out for ‘some chump who can make you do anything with his voice’? Lunar will think I’ve gone mad and half the women in Steelhead will think it’s a lonely hearts advert!”

I couldn’t help smiling, “Look, I’m only telling you what I’ve heard. Ho Ping killed himself not only in a way no sane person ever would but also in a way that would indicate a punishment and a warning. My guess would be the Tong. The question is, what are you going to do about it, sheriff?”

Fuzz looked at me, his eyes searching mine, “I don’t know yet, doc, I really don’t,” he said eventually, “I can’t get anything to stick. People won’t talk and without evidence, well what do you want me to do? I can’t arrest every Chinese worker in Shanghai to make sure I get the Tong and unless someone comes forward I can’t identify the members. Even if I do get to the thugs on the street, they’re just foot soldiers – the top brass are never implicated. I’m sorry doc, but my hands are tied.”

I knew he was right, he was always right but I didn’t have to like it. I sat back in my worn armchair and drank my tea in silence until Fuzz piped up again, “Look, I’ll set the Sisters on it, OK doc? Maybe they can dig something up.”

I smiled at him, we both knew they wouldn’t but it was better than nothing. Time to move on, talk about something else. I searched for a new topic and failed entirely, “So what’s happening to Ho’s place? I guess the Tong will move someone new in.”

“No,” Fuzz said standing up. He drained the last of the tea and placed the cup on the table, “seems the shop is owned by an out of towner and the word is he’s moving in himself rather than rent out again. Seems Steelhead is to get a new resident doc.”

“Hell of a welcome he’ll be getting, don’t you think?”

“Mmmm, but at least with Ho Ping gone I think we’ve seen the last of these murders.”

“I hope so Fuzz, I would far rather my surgery be a surgery than a morgue,” I said heavily.

“Me too doc.,” He moved to the door, pulling his coat around him,” Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to go see Dr Alter tonight, give her the good news she’s off the hook.”

“Good luck with that,” I smiled.

“Thanks, but she’ll be easy compared to the heat I’ll be getting from the Pinkertons. Anyway, that’s my problem doc.” He opened the door and stared into the night, “Thanks for your help in all this, doc. I’ll speak to the council. I’ll see what I can do, ok?”

“Yeah, good luck with that too,” I said bitterly. Fuzz just looked back sadly for a second before walking out and closing the door behind him. In the silence of my room I stared at the door and wondered why every conversation we had seemed to end this way.

I turned to look at the broken microscope on the floor. How the hell was I going to discover what was wrong in the slums now?

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The End.
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders were originally discussed at one of the weekly town hall meetings and recorded here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 9 – His Master’s Voice

Ho Pings Pawnbrokers in Steelhead Shanghai_001

Ho Ping wanted to run, he really did, but he was far too scared to even try. It wasn’t just the four tong thugs lounging about his shop blocking the exits like jackals waiting for their turn at the corpse, but He was here too. The goons he could cope with, but Him? Ho Ping’s stomach was doing its level best to get out of his body by any means possible and many of his other organs were considering joining it when a slight cough from Him caused his bladder to open.

For a while no one said a word, the silence of the room broken only by the gentle hiss, until the goons broke into peels of cruel laughter and cat-calls.

“Enough!” The word cracked through the air like thunder. The Voice had spoken and all four thugs instantly fell silent and lowered their gaze.

The Voice was a small figure people often mistook for a child. That was until they saw His face. Some said it was a cruel trick of nature, others a curse laid upon Him as a child. Others still said that when he had begun to age past his fifteenth year, he had cut the head of a younger boy and had his own stitched on and that this practice had continued ever since for a very long time indeed. Whatever the truth, the sight of a sixty year old face atop the body of a young boy made people feel somewhat uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as finding their lungs falling out of hole where their intestines used to be, which was something The Voice could quite easily arrange .

“Please understand,” The Voice said, “that your actions in this affair have left us with no other course of action” It was a voice of reason. Reason wrapped around a fist made of granite and decorated with brass knuckles and razor blades. “Did you think a Pinkerton wouldn’t be missed? Did you think accelerating our plans for Dr Alter’s pet would go unnoticed?”

“But…” Ho Ping blurted out.

“SILENCE!” roared the dimunative figure and the shopkeeper’s voice died in his throat, his lips sealing tight against his will. He was on the road to death, he knew that now, but if he angered The Voice it might take a while to get there and be a very unpleasant journey. “You have disappointed, Ho Ping,” The Voice growled, “but more than that you have endangered us. For that I bring you what the Tong bring all who disappoint them. I bring you a message.” Ho Ping’s eyes grew wide, terror twisting his face as his small captor walked slowly and deliberately towards him like some hideous giant spider moving in on its prey. He wanted to run, get away from what he knew was coming, away from the horror The Voice would bring. He turned and bolted for the door but one of the young tong foot-soilders blocked his way. For a fraction of a second he contemplated the window, but hands grabbed and held him fast. He was spun back around and forced to his knees. The Voice crept close, his lined face inches away, his dry lips pushing up against Ho Ping’s ear.

He paused.

The room held its breath.

The night stopped.

And then, slowly, deliberately, The Voice whispered His message to Ho Ping.

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To be continued…

All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Goodunnit: Chapter 8 – Death Calls Twice!

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar “But not stabbed again?” Fuzz paced the room as I sat in front of his desk watching him. He reminded me of a little wooden figure going in and out of a clock, a really angry little wooden figure with claws and fangs.

“Nope. The hanging killed him for sure and he was beaten up pretty badly before that, but no stab wounds,” I replied. “Sit down Fuzz, you’re making me nervous.”

He waved my request aside and continued his pacing, “And apart from the leaflet about Dr Alter’s businesses, there was nothing to link the two deaths?” The swinging stiff had nothing on him apart from a dog-eared three-fold leaflet extolling the virtues of Dr A’s wares, all of them with innocent sounding descriptions dreamt up by some marketing type to distract from the fact that the “super powerful lighthouse beam alternative to normal bulbs” was actually a death ray capable of sinking several of O’Toole’s Ironclads in one go. The little cartoon logo of Dr Alter herself was mighty cute though…

“Er, I guess not…” I was halfway through a reply before I realised it wasn’t a question.

“But then two deaths in two days is a mighty big coincidence.”

“Well the first guy had only been dead for twelve hours or so, this new one had been hanging at least a week. Different MO, different location, different times.”

“Which could be worse!” Fuzz said running his fingers through his hair. Or fur. I was never quite sure.

“How so?” I asked.

“Two killers instead of one. And if John Doe was killed whilst investigating smugglers then I doubt the general populace is in danger, whereas if we have a different killer on the loose then who knows? It ain’t good doc, that’s for sure.”

I pushed my chair away and got to my feet, “Well if I can do anything Fuzz, you know where I am, but I have to get back to the slums.”

“Hmmm,” he was distracted, “Oh yes, your patients. You get back to them, doc, they’ll be missing you.”

“It’s more than that Fuzz,” I replied.

He looked at me, concern evident on his face, “All ok over there? I know it’s a bit wild…”

“Ha! It’s more than wild Fuzz, as you and the Council know. But it ain’t the tong this time, some Chinese kids came to my place after your nun left this morning, seems there’s a fever spreading.”

“A fever? Is it dangerous? Should I let the Council know?” Fuzz knew as well as I that the slums were a breeding ground for all manner of nasties and it bordered on some of the finest real estate in the city.

“Worried about property prices, Fuzz? We can’t have the great and the good cancelling their balls due to projectile vomiting now, can we?” I shouldn’t have said it but I said it all the same. Sometimes my mouth opens wide enough to take both of my feet in at once and right now I was knee deep in gums.

“Hey! That’s not fair doc and you know it!” Fuzz looked hurt and I felt lower than a worm’s beard.

“Yeah, sorry Fuzz, but well you know what I think about the slums and the council…” I trailed off.

“I know doc, I know. Look, get back there and find out what’s going on. Let me know and if it needs to go to the council I’ll do my best for you, fair enough?” he said with a small smile.

I smiled back “Fair enough,” and began to head for the door leaving the city’s sheriff to solve two grizzly murders in my wake.

“Doc,” Fuzz’s voice stopped me as I grasped the handle, “stay out of the dens, eh?” My shoulders went rigid and I stood stock still for long seconds before I slowly opened the door and left without saying one more goddam lousy word.

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To be continued after a short break…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders are discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.
2) Dr Alter discovers she’s not only in the frame again, but seems to have a publicity department she was previously unaware of here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 7 – In the arms of a Dragon…

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar “Ahh Doctor, come in come in.” The small Chinese guy at the door was paid not to know me and I shot him a glance to remind him of that fact, “So sorry, Mister Smith.” His wide, thin smile was as genuine as could be expected for a low paid goon in the drugs trade who thought he was worth more than being nice to the smoke-fiends. I’d let the Dragon Lady know, let’s see how he smiled after she’d booted him down to gutting fish in the cannery for a month. His smile twitched cruelly as he opened the door for me and I crossed the threshold between worlds.

I followed the curved path down to where a darkly translucent curtain divided me from my goal ahead. I could feel the tendrils of desire creeping around it, wafting towards me, and all the nuns in Steelhead couldn’t stop me now. I breathed the thick air in deep and pushed through the curtain to a room of cots and smoke and beautiful women.

They pamper you there. They guide you, help you, lose you and leave you.

I was in the smoke. With the Dragon lady. In the curls of her hair. Wrapped in the folds of her dress. I was far gone. I was with them again. Back with my family. Back with my wife.

Goodunnit

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Through the darkness of impossible dreams hands found me. Strong hands. Cold hands, cold like metal. I was lifted up, borne aloft to fly safe from harm. Somewhere, in the night, someone was sawing a double bass in half. What a strange thing to do.

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The knock on the door was almost as unwelcome as the bright morning light assaulting my eyes. I stood, naked to the waist and with the face of a dead dog, and wobbled my way to the door. “Sister Sweetcheeks,” I growled at the shocked nun. Someone had replaced my throat with a bag of gravel and every word hurt like a punch in the tonsils, “to what do I owe this very great pleasure?”

The young nun tried to stop her eyes skiing down my chest and failed, she gulped hard and spun around to look out across the harbour, her face even prettier with some colour in it, “Another murder, doctor!”

Another? Once more she provided the slap I needed to wake up. When I had time, I’d like to think about that some more, but right now I had questions looking for answers, “Who? Where? Was it Dr Alter’s squid again?”

“No,” she replied not turning around but sneaking a sideways glance at me, “In the old tunnels, some poor wretch has been found hung! Sheriff Ortega has arranged for the body to be taken to your temporary morgue in the naval offices. He asks if you can get a report to him right away.”

“Does he now? Well tell him I’ll get on it right away, but I’ll be calling in these favours from the city soon enough.”

“Favours?” Sister Sweetcheeks looked round at me, her eyes alive with curiosity. God but they were beautiful eyes.

“You tell him Sis, the city owes Beck some overtime,” I smiled into her eyes, “and I intend to collect that cheque.”

Goodunnit

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders are discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.
2) Dr Alter discovers she’s not only in the frame again, but seems to have a publicity department she was previously unaware of here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 6 – A Nasty Case of Death!

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar I tossed the report on the sheriff’s desk, “There’s your post mortem.”

The sheriff looked down at my scrawl and then back up at me, “And?”

“What? You can’t read now?” I snapped.

“Don’t get cute with me, doc.” His tone was calm but I heard the snarl behind the words.

“Okay, sorry Fuzz but it’s been a rough day and frankly I’d like to tie it in a sack and kick it into the ocean!” A nun shuffling past with coffee for us looked at me and raised an eyebrow, a perfectly curved eyebow above a eye of emerald green. I smiled a smile and hoped to hell no one could read my mind right. As she left, she bent over to pop a chunk of cheese in the cells for Willard and my gaze fell on her curves like honey over a spoon, “Still, it’s had its moments, I’ll admit,” I added, suddenly a little distracted.

“Thank you Sister Mattic,” Fuzz said with a wry smile, “I’m sure Willard can do without his treat for now.” She nodded and bustled off. “Doc, doc, doc, what is it with you and nuns?”

“A habit, Fuzz, a bad habit.”

He smiled a frown, which is a nice trick, “The report? What does it say? How did this guy die?”

“Bottom line he was stabbed, several times, looks like a sword.” I replied.

“A sword? What type of sword? Rapier? Broad?”

“From the wounds I’d say a cutlass. Large flat blade. He was stabbed three times in the abdomen and two in the chest and had defensive wounds to his arms, hands and thighs. I say he fought back but was probably unarmed at the time.”

“Nasty,” Fuzz muttered with a shake of his head.

“Well it was no prom dance, that’s for sure,” I replied.

“What about the green goo around him?” Fuzz asked.

“Hard to say, but my best guess is some form of mucus membrane produced by the squiddy thing to protect itself. Dr A thinks that her wee pet was deliberately mutated to a point where a human could be fed to it, although how she didn’t know.”

“So whoever mutated the goo-beast did so with the intention of getting rid of a body. Only the goo didn’t like what was on the menu, wrapped it up and waited for Mother Nature to work her magic,” Fuzz filled in.

“Sounds about right to me. So you know how he died, but not who he is, why he ended up like a pin cushion and who had a beef with him.”

“Actually I do know who he is,” Fuzz said in a matter of fact way.

I sat up, “You do? Who? How?” I asked like a turkey just being told about Christmas.

“Pinkertons. Came in, saw the body, IDed him as John Doe.” Fuzz stated with an odd expression.

“John Doe? You have to be joking? Who the hell is called John Doe?” something about this case smelt worse than the Skylar child and I didn’t like it.

“Apparently he was. It’s a good ID, solid.” Fuzz said.

“But what the hell are the Pinkertons doing here? And how do they know him?” I asked.

“Turns out he was here investigating smuggling in those precious slums of yours. I’m guessing he found his way to something, or someone, he shouldn’t and was perforated for his troubles.”

The slums? My slums? “You’re thinking the Bing Kong aren’t you? So what next?” the Bing Kong were not just a thorn in my side, but as whole rose bush in my tush.

“Next? Next you go home doc. It’s police business now. Thanks for your help an’ all, but we can take it from here.”

Damn him, I knew he was right, but damn him.

“Look, I’ll let you know what happens, but you’ve done your part. You have patients that need you, and I’ve taken you away from them for a whole day. Get some sleep and get back to them doc.” Fuzz smiled warmly but he looked weary.

“Don’t worry about me, Sheriff,” I stood and picked up my bag, “you look tired enough for the both of us.” I said my goodbyes and cycled off. Sure I was tired, tired like Santi Claus on Boxing Day, but I was damned if I was going home. I cycled off along a shortcut through the hills behind Shanghai and headed for the hotel that rose high above the harbour, although what I was looking for lay deep below it…

Goodunnit

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Sheriif Ortega’s intial desk report is here and here
2) The murder is discussed for the second time at the weekly town hall meeting here.
3) Read more about the urchin Skylar in his tale about being lost in Steelhead’s wilderness here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 5 – Looking a little flushed…

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar Cuter than Christmas yet deadlier than Death itself, Dr Malegatto Alter was a tiny kitty with brains, brawn and seriously big ballistics. Not that I’d ever tell her she was cute, hell there’s only one man brave enough to do that and rumour has it she’d burnt his house down as a thank you. No, when you find yourself knee-deep in a piranha pool it’s not a good idea to cut yourself shaving as my old mum always said, “The sheriff knows I’m here,” I blurted hoping the edge of fear wouldn’t show through my voice.
Goodunnit

The green eyes bore through me, her metal claw (a drunk once told me that she’d lost her arm pulling Satan’s heart out through his stomach and I was tempted to believe him) twitched a little as she regarded me with the level of loathing normally reserved for cockroaches, slugs and unexpected houseguests. “Well bully for you,” she said after a pause so long it could only be measured in lifetimes or games of Monopoly, “but that hardly answers the twin questions of who the devil is in my Squiddy Thing and why, now does it?”

“I guess not, I need to get him out before I can try. Any ideas?” I tried to sound a whole heap braver than I felt and I was under no illusions about my failure in the matter.

“Ideas? Ideas? Of course I have some ideas you blithering fool! Right at this moment the idea I’m giving quite a lot of time to involves you, some rope and the quay if you ask any more stupid questions!”

Her whiskers quivered in rage and I found myself thinking how adorable it was. I even contemplated reaching out to scratch behind here ears, but the thought of my hand being torn off and rammed down my throat brought me to my senses. “I mean about how to get the stiff out of your little pet here, assuming you don’t want me to slice it open…” it wasn’t a great comeback as comebacks go, but hand-tear-throat-ram you know.

“I most certainly do NOT want my sqiddy thing cutting up! I have prepared a solution that will cause a metabolic reaction within the creature that should expel the foreign body in a safe, natural manner.”

“You mean…”

“That’s right, I’ve created a squid laxative!” she let out a peel of evil laughter that would have given Satan the willies, were he not dead due to having a heart-shaped hole in his abdomen. “Ahem,” she stopped laughing with a slight cough, “sorry, force of habit and all that.”

“Some habit,” I said, “must make playing Trivial Pursuit a real pain in the keister.”

“You have no idea,” she muttered darkly.

I tactfully changed the subject “So, this squiddy exlax, how do we administer it? Some form of injection?” I walked towards the green column, wondering at the best place for a needle. There was no answer and when I turned I saw Dr Alter struggling into what looked like a deep sea diving suit. She twisted the helmet on and looked up at me. I could see her mouth moving but couldn’t make out a word. I make the universal pointing at my ears sign and mouthed “What?”

She flipped out the glass “I said, I already have.”

Behind me was a loud, low rumble followed by a slow ripping sound.

“Oh sh…” was all I managed to say before a torrent of liquefied squid innards and dead John Doe crashed into my back and I washed past Dr Alter in a stinking waves of green slime. I’d swear she was smiling inside her helmet as I passed her.
Goodunnit

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Sheriif Ortega’s intial desk report is here and here
2) Dr Alter notices the body here and here.
3) Elle reports that the issue was raised at the town hall meeting here.
4) The murder is discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 4 – Trapped Where The Sun Don’t Shine!

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar The rope was tight, but then it had been tied by a metal gargoyle who, I guessed, didn’t have internal organs to worry about.

“You ok there, doc?” Shal asked.

“As long as I don’t try anything foolish like breathing,” I replied with my stomach quite literally in my mouth in the way that ‘literally’ meant I was making it up for dramatic effect.

“Ah,” he smiled, “you’ll be fine doc. Better to be safe than digested, eh?” He had a point. “First sign of trouble, I’ll yank you back, ok?”

I looked at the size of his chest and arms, “Just don’t yank too hard, I’m rather attached to my legs.”

He grinned a knife drawer grin and I began my cautious approach of the squiddy thing and its gruesome contents. If it detected my presence, it showed no sign whatsoever. I passed a large blood stain on the cobbles and by the time I was next to the tower of green goo and dead guy, I could see another two, one of which was on a ramp leading down to a small dock below.
Goodunnit

I walked around the site softly, but it was soon clear that wee squiddy posed little danger anymore – it seemed to have gone into a state of shock. I called Shal over and breathed a sigh of relief as he removed the rope noose threatening to cut me in half.
Goodunnit

“Hard tell which one came off worse,” he said gazing into the slime at the body suspended inside, “Do you think it ate him as he passed?”
Goodunnit

I looked round at the blood in the yard, “I think there was some sort of struggle here, or the body was moved here at least. I won’t be sure until I can get him out and I have no idea how to do that, I was never top in my squiddy things classes, y’see.”

“Heh, well the sheriff said he was going to speak to Dr Alter about its removal, I guess she’s best placed to administer a giant enema to her pet. You got plans until then?”

Plans? Did I have plans? Do I ever have plans? “Yeah, rounds to do for a start. Patients seem incapable of not getting ill no matter how many times I tell them not to, but what you gonna do, huh?”

He slipped me a grin like a new moon, “A doctor’s gotta do what a doctor’s gotta do, I guess. And you seem to have things in hand so I’ll take my leave and head off in to the wild blue yonder.”

I nodded, “Well thanks for the help. I’ll se you around no doubt.”

He smiled me a smile that could floor a rhino walked off around the corner whistling a crazy tune. There was a sound like someone sawing a double bass in half and wandered off after him to see what it was. He was gone. Just like that. Gone. I scratched my whiskers and muttered “Well I’ll be damned…”

“Indeed, as will we all,” a voice hissed behind me. I spun round but the yard was emptier than a pawn broker’s Christmas stocking. “Ahem” came an annoyed cough near my ankles. I looked down into the into the green eyes and mouse-munching mouth of a tiny evil-looking kitty.
Goodunnit

“Dr Alter, I pres…” there as a sharp snick as she flicked a quivering claw at my face. “If you are thinking of saying what I think you are thinking of saying, I would advise you to think again. Now if you don’t mind, I believe I’m needed here to once again prove my own innocence.”

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Sheriif Ortega’s intial desk report is here and here
2) Dr Alter notices the body here and here.
3) Elle reports that the issue was raised at the town hall meeting here.
4) The murder is discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 2 – Your Early Morning Call, Dr Beck

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar The knock at the door woke me from a dream full of the stench of the sewers and death. I staggered over, opened it and found myself staring into the face of a stern young nun.

“Dr Beck?” her voice was as clean and crisp as the wimple framing her face. A face with eyes as deep as forever and the kind of mouth men go to war over. And this dame was a nun? It was a sin.

“Whazz wrung, sister?” I asked with a mouth drier than the Gobi.

“The sheriff has asked if you could come to Dr Alter’s warehouse. There’s been, well… an incident.”

Dr Alter? I knew the name, who didn’t. Cute-as-a-button kitten with a penchant for inventing death rays and diabolical plans in equal measures. Maybe one of them had gone wrong at last. Or right, I suppose. I rubbed my eyes hard with my palms and re-focused on the broad in the penguin suit, I needed more information, “What kind of incident?”

“Well,” her big, brown eyes darted left and right and she lowered her voice “a murder, doctor!”

I woke up for the second time that morning, “A murder? In Steelhead?” I sounded as dumb as brick and half as useful, but it was early and damn it if the board hadn’t stopped me thinking straight. She was one of the Steelhead Holy SWAT team working with the Sheriff, of course she meant in Steelhead!

“Yes,” she breathed breathlessly, which was a nice trick, I bet she was a peach on the bugle, “there’s a body inside Dr Alter’s squid thing!”

The squid thing, the green tentacle of goo that waved about like a drunk at midnight in the kitty cat’s yard. Maybe someone tried to feed it. Big mistake. Or maybe someone tried to bump the good doctor off. Even bigger mistake. The bumper would become the bumpee before they even knew they’d been bump-jumped. Although I found it hard to believe she’d be sloppy enough to get caught.

“Doctor?” Sister Sweetcheeks’ voice drifted through my thoughts and slapped me across the head. I looked up and into the face of a slightly shocked nun, “You… you were staring, doctor!”

“That’s my thinking face, sister. I don’t use it often but I find it helps when I’ve got a beautiful view.”

“Doctor!” she gasped, putting her hand up to her bee-sting mouth.

“Behind you Sister, the harbour in the morning sun.” The glowing red cheeks did nothing to dampen her appeal as I smiled as innocently. As innocently as any fox sat outside a henhouse.

“Well, er… shall I… shall I tell the sheriff you’ll come?” she was flustered and cute with it.

“Sure doll,” I said with a wink, “tell him I’ll be right over.”

****{}****

To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Sheriif Ortega’s intial desk report is here and here
2) Dr Alter notices the body here and here.
3) Elle reports that the issue was raised at the town hall meeting here.
4) The murder is discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.

Lost & Found: Chapter 12 – Epilogue

The sun rose over a city much changed to the one it has set on only a few hours earlier. Its light danced off waters now clam again after the night’s tempest. It sparkled off golden pagodas and from windows in buildings that had seemingly risen from the sea’s stygian depths in the wild ferocity of the storm, its arrival marked with a swath of destruction across the city. Yet the felled trees and damaged houses were not the reason a very tired looking Lunar, once more a tall elf now that his wife had made whole the moon she had fractured, found himself stood in the morning chill and cursing softly in his native tongue.

“You are sure she is unharmed, Elle?” he asked, turning to his equally tired looking friend.

Eladrienne sighed as she looked up at the elf, soot and grime smeared her face and clothes and she was soul-tired, “Yes, Tensai has checked her over. Annechen has checked her over. I’ve seen her and she is fine, I promise.”

Lunar nodded and glanced over at Shanghai, the dream made real that should have heralded a joyous day, but even though Ama was unhurt how could he celebrate the birth of new life when this had happened? He looked down at the scorched ground, smoke curling up in patches here and there and sharp blades of twisted metal jutting up like broken teeth, and shook his head.
Destroying Mason Lab

Destroying Mason Lab

Destroying Mason Lab

JB Hancroft’s house had borne the brunt of it when a giant bolt the size of a horse had torn through the wall and now offered itself to the sky in a mocking gesture of defiance. Past that his eye could clearly see the damage done to Polymath by the cog Darien had installed as a door and his ears could quite clearly hear what Hotspur had to say on the matter in a series of curses that would make the sailors of Shanghai blush for shame.

Destroying Mason Lab

Behind him, on the other side of the road, two more mammoth cogs (a window? Another door? He didn’t know) was buried deep into the earth of Tanarian’s kennels.
Destroying Mason Lab

Thankfully no pooch had been hurt, although most had been scared half out of their minds judging by the howling and yelping, but Tanarian was livid and would take some serious placating. He looked up at Elle who, as if reading his mind, said “Leave her to me, hm?” and moved to intercept the angry woman.

How had so many casualties been avoided? How could so much damage been wrought and only… his train of thought was interrupted by a sharp prod to his right calf. And another. And a third.

“Ow!” he said hopped round.

“Elf!”

Lunar, rubbing his tender calf, looked down into the iron-clad death stare of a very seriously annoyed knee-high cat. “Dr Alter…”

Her green eyes flashed as she looked up at him, waving her paw dismissively. “Never mind all of the greetings and such,” she said with a hiss. “Look at my warehouse! Just look at it!”

Lunar looked up and across the water to where she pointed. Another of Darien’s massive bolts had smashed into her buildings and jammed itself into the side of her smoking chimney. “Ah… Yes… Well…”
Destroying Mason Labs

She breathed in deep and slow, determined to stay calm, “That is all, is it? Hmph, I see. Well, thank you Elf, thank you very much! This will not be forgotten…oh no, don’t think it will!” She poked him in the calf with her claw again before striding away, shouting orders at her minion Cato Quan.

“Such anger for such a sweet little puss cat,” Lunar sighed. Dr Alter stopped dead, the tips of her whiskers vibrating with fury, and without turning to face him hissed “Elf. I will, for the sake of your good lady wife, pretend I did not hear that and bid you good day, Sir. Good day!” She marched off with war in her heart as Lunar allowed the corner of his mouth to curl upwards in a sly smile.

“Lunar, you shouldn’t tease her so,” Elle was at back his shoulder watching the cat stride back to her damaged warehouse.

“I suppose…” was all Lunar said before turning back to the ruins of the once feared Mason Laboratory. Smoke rose from piles of melted and twisted metal which, even now hours after the explosion had ripped the building apart, were still hot to the touch. “How is he?”

Elle looked at her friend’s face, so much worry for others made him look sad, “Not good. Tensai did what she could and I’ve sent someone out to find Dr Beck, but he’s going to have to go to Caledon. There isn’t an inch of him that isn’t burnt. Even his horns are gone. I don’t know how he’s survived this long.”

“And any idea who the poor devil actually is?” Lunar asked.

“No one knows. Ama has confirmed he is not Jeremiah though, and if anyone should know it’s her.”

“I hate to think of him dying without his name, alone here with no one to mourn him.”

Elle reached out and touched the tall Elf’s arm, “Hey, he’s not dead yet. If anyone can help him it’s Tensai and the Caledon doctors. Don’t give up on him yet,” she said quietly.

Lunar looked down at her and smiled, “You’re right as usual, Elle. Ignore me, I’m just… well, look at this…” he looked at the wreckage strewn about them. “He’s alive and that’s all that matters. Tell me again what happened, will you?”

“Well,” she replied “According to Mother Superior and a host of other witnesses across town, Jeremiah, or rather the man claiming to be Jeremiah, spent the day travelling all over town on Genie’s horse. He’d been to see Annechen over at the Consulate in the afternoon and was seen after that meeting riding about in a seemingly upset state…”

“Upset? Why? What happened?”

“Annechen says he came to ask about his past and she told him he wasn’t Jeremiah. That was about the length of the meeting as she was late getting ready to leave with Fuzz.”

“Mmmm, I wish Fuzz were here now, that’s for sure. So how did our Jeremiah man take it?”

“Not well. He rode through the town talking to himself. Gia saw him on the bridge near Dragon’s Leap that night and he was out in the storm. She says he was heading back into town and he came back here. All of this is confirmed by Mother Superior and Ama.”

“Ama?” asked Lunar, surprised.

“She had spent the day following him.”

“Gods! How many people were watching and following this poor man? No wonder he was acting so oddly!”

“To be fair Lunar,” Elle said, “he was claiming to be Jeremiah Mason and came here to find his son. Both you and I know what happened last time they met, not that long ago and on this very spot. Fuzz had to keep an eye on him and no power in the world could have stopped Ama from helping her grandpa if it had have been him.”

“Yes… yes, you’re right of course. Carry on, Elle”, Lunar said softly, rubbing his eyes with his finger and thumb.

“Well,” continued Elle “Once here, well something must have snapped inside him because Ama says he went crazy.”

“Crazy? Crazy how?”

“Smashed the place up, she said. Smashed everything and was ranting about being Jeremiah. Ama tried to calm him down, but she says he was terrified and grabbed a bottle of stored lightning, presumably to defend himself, and then…” she looked at the smouldering crater and sighed.

“And how did he get out? Surely he didn’t manage to walk out in that state?” Lunar asked.

“No, Warren was passing by and ran in to save him…”

“Warren,” he interrupted, “you mean Velvel from Shanghai? What was he doing all the way over here?”

“Just taking a stroll, he says. Maxim was nearby too, JB was in his house and Maev was over at the kennels. They all got here just in time to see Warr… Velvel pull the body from the flames.”

“And Ama?”

“The blast blew her out of the door and into JB’s new shop. She was unhurt but out cold for a while and when she came too went to fetch Tensai, which is where you come in,” Elle finished.

“Hmmm,” was all Lunar said in reply. He wandered over to where the huge cog door of the lab, until a few hours ago, had been. Now it was buried deep in the walls of Hotspur’s tower.

“What’s wrong, Lunar?” Elle said, “I know that ‘Hmmm’ too well. You think there is more to it than a simple accident?”

“The explosion, no. Darien had enough dangerous things in there and Ama saw our poor would-be-Jeremiah smash the lab and grab the lightning bottle. But Velvel… no one saw him go in? And you said they saw him pulling the man out?”

“Yes,” replied Elle, “and Gia said something about him watching Jeremiah-man in the rain.”

“Who was in the rain? Jeremiah?” Lunar asked.

“No, well yes he was, but Gia said that Velvel was stood on the balcony in the rain and she is sure he was watching Jeremiah-man ride off. Lunar, you don’t think…”

“I don’t know what to think right now, Elle. Maybe our Jeremiah can tell us if he pulls through.”

“When he pulls through, you mean,” Elle reminded him.

As the sun rose higher into the sky, Lunar looked around at the rubble and ruins about him and sighed heavily, “I rather fear it’s much more of an ‘if’ Elle. Now, let’s see about this wreckage shall we?”

****

In a nearby house, Ama and Tensai bent over the horribly burnt figure laid out on a spare bed. They had both done what they could, applying aloe extracts, wrapping him in gauze and keeping his blackened flesh damp, but his burns were the most severe either of them had ever seen. Tensai whispered reassurances to him like a mother to a child, telling him it would all be alright and he would be well again, but in her heart she knew it wouldn’t be alright and he would more than likely die very soon. “Try to rest,” she said as she listened to his ruined lungs wetly gurgling for air. “We’ll get you to Caledon soon, Jeremiah,” she added with a glance to Amarantis who gave a small nod of understanding.

The man on the bed, the man who had claimed to be Jeremiah Mason, jerked and went rigid for a second. Here it comes Tensai thought, and began to prepare a prayer. His lips, or where his lips used to be, opened a little and a wheeze of air escaped. She bowed her head at his dying breath and mourned as his soul moved to pass.

Except it didn’t. The wheeze continued. She looked back up and saw he was trying to lift his head from the pillow, his mouth trying to form words. Shocked she quickly moved closer until her ear was directly over his exposed teeth and she listened with all her being.

“nohhht jhere mhh iiia”

Her eyes grew wide! Not Jeremiah he had said!

“iiihhhhmmm hhhhedd hhrrrroo hhaannnt hhhaarrrmmmm” he sighed and fell back to the bed, his wheezing lungs refusing to give up…

The End?
All the “Lost & Found” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Tanarian alerted the Steelhead Ning here.
2) Dr Malegato alter reports on the damage to her warehouse here.
3) The cruelly exiled Dr Darien Mason detected the loss of his old lab here.
4) The hero of the hour, Velvel Danielovich explains how he pulled the burnt man out of the fire here.
5) Rhianon Jameson reports on the damage here.