Read The Eterna Files Online

Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna Files (3 page)

Spire and his squad descended upon the decadent Tourney estate; a hideous, sprawling mansion faced in ostentatious pink marble, hoarding a generous swath of land in North London.

His best men at his side, Stuart Grange and Gregory Phyfe, Spire stormed Tourney's front door, blowing past a startled footman.

The despicable creature was having breakfast in a fine parlor. The son of a Marquis, descended of a withering line, seemed quite shocked to see the police; his surprised expression validated Spire's existence.

Spire was tempted to strike the man across the jaw on principle but became distracted by the thin maid, in a tattered black dress and a besmeared white linen apron, who cowered in the corner of the parlor. Entirely ignored by the rest of the force, she was shaking, unable to look anyone in the eye. Her condition was a stark contrast to her fine surroundings, which valued possessions higher than humanity.…

Shaking his head, Spire instructed his colleagues to secure Tourney in the wagon.

“I've all kinds of connections,” the bloated, balding man cried as he was dragged away. “Would you like me to list the names of the powerful who will help me?”

“I think you're in too deep for anyone but the devil to come to your aid, Mr. Tourney,” Spire called as the door was shut between them. Silence fell and he turned to the woman in the corner.

At his approach, the gaunt, frail maid began murmuring through cracked lips, “Please, please, please.” She lifted a bony arm and the cuff of her uniform slid back, revealing a grisly series of scars on her arm. Burns. Signs of binding and torture.

“Please what, Miss?” Spire asked gently, not touching her.

“S—secret door … Get them … out.…” She pointed at the opposite wall.

A chill went down Spire's spine. He studied the wall for a long time before noticing the line in the carved wooden paneling. Crossing the room, he ran his hand along the molding, pressing until something gave. The hidden door swung open and a horrific stench met his nostrils.

The maid loosed a wretched noise and sunk to her knees, rocking back and forth. Spire raised his voice, calling to his partner and friend, a stalwart man who played all things carefully and whom Spire trusted implicitly, “Grange, I think there may be a … situation down here.”

Without waiting for a reply, Spire was through the door and descending a brick stairwell, fumbling in his pocket for a box of matches. A lantern hung at the base of the stair; he lit the wick and set it back upon the crook. The flame, magnified by mirrors, cast a wan light over the small, windowless brick room.

It was everything Spire could do to keep from screaming in horror.

Six small tables, three on each side of the room. Each bore the body of a child clothed in a bloodstained tunic. Spire could not determine their genders due to their unkempt hair, pallor, and emaciated bodies. Strange wires seemed to be attached to the children.

Nothing in his investigation, even that dread register, had prepared him for this: these poor, innocent souls, helpless victims of a powerful man who was viciously mad.

He raised his gaze from the children to an even greater horror, if a worse nightmare could be imagined. An auburn-haired woman in a thin chemise and petticoat was lashed to a crosslike apparatus, arms stretched out and sleeves torn away. Streams of dried blood from numerous puncture wounds stained her clothes, the cross, and the walls and floor. Below each of her lashed arms sat large bronze chalices, there was a basin at her feet. Spire knew in a glance that these were to collect the woman's blood. What horrific sacrifice was this?

Spire turned his head to the side and retched. His mind scrambled to block out the image of who that woman reminded him of, the reason he'd become a police officer. The trauma of his childhood sprang back to haunt him at the sight of that ghastly visage in a blow to the mind, heart, and stomach. How could the world be endured if such a thing as this had come to pass? He'd asked the same question when the victim had been his mother. Nothing answered him, then or now, but sorrow.

“I never believed much in the devil,” came a soft, familiar voice near his ear, “or hell, but if I did, it would be this.” Spire spun to see a cloaked figure at his side, the solitary lantern casting a shallow beam of light upon the face of Rose Everhart.

“Miss Everhart, you should not be here. I don't know how you got past my men,” Spire murmured, thinking it an additional horror that she should see this. “This is hardly the place—”

“For a lady? Even for the lady who handed you the critical evidence needed to arrest Tourney? Do I not wish to see him marched to the gallows as much as you do?” she replied vehemently. “Don't I have a right to see my work completed? Don't try my patience with references to ‘women's delicate sensibilities.' I've seen more death and tragedy than I care to relate. But, admittedly … never like this. Never like this.” She raised a handkerchief to her nose.

Spire suddenly wondered whether she had heard or seen him retch. It would be embarrassing if so.

“What are those wires?” she asked. “What are they for? Is this some sort of terrible experiment or workshop? Ritualistic, yes, but…”

Spire stepped forward, preparing however reluctantly to examine the bodies, when something lurched out of the darkness behind him with a clatter of chains and an inhuman growl. It grabbed him around the neck, grunted as it tightened its grip, and dragged him backward.

“Grange!” Rose shouted as Spire gasped for air and struggled to reach his knife. “If you're a victim, we don't want to hurt you,” she called in a softer tone, lifting her lantern and directing its light toward the scuffle. “Let the officer go, he's with the police, here to help—”

Officer Grange tore down the stairs, arriving in the hellhole just as Spire managed to grasp his weapon and cut at the arm holding him. There was a wretched sound of pain from his captor and Spire felt a warm liquid trickle over his hand. Released, he staggered away and fell to his knees. Grange fired, the report of the gunshot exploding loudly in the low stone space. Spire's assailant recoiled with a shriek. Stumbling back against the wall, it shuddered before collapsing.

Grange stood at the base of the stair with his gun raised. Rose stepped forward so the light from her lantern reached the back wall. Still gasping for air, Spire turned to view his attacker: a gaunt, muscular man with chunks of dark hair sprouting in uneven patches upon a scratched pate. The man's skin was carved with strange markings, his eyes black and oddly reflective. Blood pumped thick and dark from the bullet wound in his shoulder, looking old and half-congealed though the injury was fresh. One arm was shackled to the wall. A guard, then, but not one to be trusted freely.

With a strange gurgling noise, a convulsion, and a wave of foul stench, the creature's mouth sagged open and the thing expired. It then seemed as though an obscuring shadow rose from the body, then spread across the room as if it were a dark, heavy storm cloud, precipitous with dread terror.

Turning to look after the miasma as it passed, Grange, Spire, and Rose took in a startled breath at the same time. Grange cursed.

The mouths of the dead children, previously shut, were suddenly open.

As if screaming.

Silent, terrible moments passed before Spire, trying not to breathe the fetid air, stepped toward the tables, peering closer at the small, lifeless bodies. “From what I know of the telegraph and those new electric wires,” he stated, clearing his raw throat, “it seems similar. Something to convey a … transmission or charge.”

“But where do the wires lead?” Grange asked, looking at the ceiling, where the wires formed a latticework grid on the low timber-beamed ceiling. Many hung loose in gossamer metallic strands. “It seems they don't continue on to the upper floors.”

“Go and see,” Spire commanded. Grange nodded and trotted back up the stairs.

Rose was writing upon a small pad of paper. This commonsense act—usually the first thing Spire himself did upon entering a crime scene—recalled him to himself. For an instant he was flushed with shame that this unprecedented discovery had caused him to falter in his work. He forced himself back under control; he would not allow the dead woman across the room—and what she represented—to derail him.

Though the room was cool, perspiration coated Spire and he could smell his own tension. He took out his notepad, replaced the lantern on the hook at the base of the stairs where he'd found it, and set to work. Each child's wrists had puncture marks. Each arm bore odd carvings. He'd have to get one of the department sketch artists to accurately reproduce the markings. He wished a daguerreotype was possible, not that he wanted to subject more people to these horrors but only for the purpose of detail.

They held the man responsible, but Spire knew Tourney was not operating alone. The sheer gruesome spectacle of this would be enough, the policeman hoped, to indict any of the influential people Tourney worked with in this ghastly enterprise.

Spire turned his attention toward the woman at the back. His head swam. His mind was filled with the sounds and sights of his childhood trauma; the images superimposed over the present moment like a screen lowered before his eyes. He had to steady himself on one of the tables, hand fumbling over a small, cold foot.

A sloppily painted symbol on the woman's tunic appeared to be a crest: red and gold with dragons. He couldn't look at her face. He was already haunted enough by the vision of a beautiful, auburn-haired woman being bled before his eyes.

He felt more than saw the movement as Rose folded her cloak back over her head and disappeared upstairs.

Hearing voices calling his name, Spire mounted the stairs and stumbled into the light; his fellows took one look at his face and blanched.

“What's down there?” a young patrolman asked.

“Hell,” Spire replied. “Don't anyone move a thing until all details have been recorded. I want more than my notes to refer to. Get Phyfe down there, I want records of everything. Every single terrible detail.”

Spire sat in the fine chair Tourney had been using and continued making notes. The poor maid had been laid out on a nearby sofa; a nervous elder officer stared down at her as if afraid that if he turned his head, she'd stop breathing.

“Is there any other staff?” Spire asked.

“None that we've seen,” the officer replied.

He did not know how long he sat there, recording his impressions of the horrors below, before a voice startled him out of his morbid reverie.

“Harold Spire, come with me.” He snapped his head up to behold the same well-heeled footman who had been at his doorstep that morning.

“Ah, yes…” Spire rose and numbly walked to the door. “The queen's man. Are you here to arrest me?”

“No, sir. While I had a mind to do so, Her Majesty is gracious and commends your commitment to English citizens. But you
will
come with me now.”

“Ah. Well. Yes. Lead on, sir.”

During the ride, Spire could think of nothing but what he had seen in that hidden cellar and what it reminded him of. He was not surprised to realize that his hands were shaking; his stomach cramped and growled, though the mere thought of food was enough to make him want to retch again.

Buckingham Palace soon loomed ahead, gradually taking up the entire view out his carriage window. The hansom drew up to a rear door and Harold Spire found himself led by the stern footman through a concealed entrance, along a gilded hall, and into a tiny white room that contained only a single item: one fine chair.

The space had no windows, only a door with a panel at eye level. The footman closed the door firmly, leaving Spire alone in the cupboard of a room. “Would someone mind giving me even a partial clue as to what's going on?” Spire called, glad he had restrained from cursing when answer came, as the voice was a familiar one.

“Hello, Mr. Spire,” was the reply from the other side of the wall.

Lord Black.

Spire wanted to spill all the information about the case, as Black had been critical to its culmination, but would hardly do so across a wall.

“Give me a moment, Mr. Spire, if you please.” Spire then heard two voices beyond the threshold, talking about him. Neither man bothered to lower his voice; obviously they did not care if they were overheard.

*   *   *

“Humble thanks, my dear Lord Denbury,” Lord Black said, bowing his blond head to the handsome young man with eerie blue eyes seated next to him in the lavish palace receiving room. The immaculately dressed gentlemen each held a snifter of the finest brandy. “Firstly, for the use of your Greenwich estate. Her Majesty is most grateful to have a place where her scientists and doctors may be safe and undisturbed as they study the mysteries of life and death.”

“Provided your aim is always the health of humankind rather than personal gain, you shall have my support, milord,” the young man said, bowing his black-haired head in return. “That house has … too many memories,” he added. “I love my New York mansion far more.”

“Ah, yes!” Lord Black leaned forward with great interest. “New York…”

“My wife is a consummate New Yorker, born and raised,” Denbury said with a smile. “I see the city as I see her: bold, opinionated, and beautiful. I love it. You should visit.”

Black nodded. “I plan to. Secondly, I must thank you for coming here on vague bidding.”

“I hate secrets,” the young man said in a cautious tone. “After all I've been through.”

“Of course.” Lord Black spoke with quiet gravity. “So let me be direct with you now. I need a chief of security services for those scientists and doctors and I'd like your … expertise in determining character. I understand you …
see
it like none other.”

Lord Denbury sighed wearily but nodded. Both men rose; Lord Black opened the eye-level panel in the door and bade the other look through.

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