Nighthawks – Chapter Eleven: The Prearrangement of Perfectly Timed Events

Jake had to share his recently acquired information with Emma, against his better judgement.  It was the only way to get her to leave the Elysium.  The address on the envelope was too far to walk, but hailing a cab on the waterfront was an impossibility.  The two trudged, in the rain toward a cabstand near the train depot.  Jake kept a wary out for the mysterious man with glasses, but he was nowhere to be seen.  This relieved Jake, for the moment.  He realized, in his frazzled state, he had been ignoring Emma’s prolonged tirade.  She was clearly upset her source hadn’t shown, but was now moving on to the envelope.

“What could this possibly mean?  Who lives at that address?”  She asked Jake, not waiting for him to answer before continuing, “It’s too late to go back to the paper to find a listing for the address.  We’ll just have to find out when we get there.”

Jake was not happy about the situation.  What have I got myself into?  It was that moment, when he realized his limp was gone.  He wriggled his toes as they walked along the street – no pain; no stiffness.  How can this be?  It had been mere days.  He shouldn’t be able to keep this pace and it should be excruciating.  He clearly remembered getting shot by that goon of Drakestail’s, but wasn’t sure why.  He owed the shylock a good bit of scratch, but he had the dough.  It was in his hiding place back at his pad.  The money was due tomorrow.  There was no reason to shoot him.  Was there?

There was too much going on for Jake to focus.  He let go of his thoughts about Drakestail and the gunshot and returned to the present moment.  They had almost made it to the cabstand and still no sign of their mysterious shadow.  Emma was clearly nervous; Jake had never seen her nervous or scared before.  There was something in the air and Jake didn’t like it.

Once they tracked a cab down, which took some doing – they all seemed to be ‘off-duty’ at the stand.  They finally found one willing to drive them in the fog to the mysterious address.  Once en route, Jake wanted to lay some ground rules for their upcoming encounter.  He laid it out matter-of-factly, “Listen, when we get to this place, whatever it is, let me go first.  If something goes crooked, I want you behind me.  If I tell you to get out…you get going like the devil, himself is following.  You get me?”

Emma was stunned, then laughed out loud, “Why, aren’t you just my knight in shining armor?”

Jake smirked, “I’m serious, Emma.  I need to know you’ll run if I tell you to, or we ain’t going.”

“Jake, you really are sweet.  Yes, if you say run…I’ll run.  I’ll leave you to the devil.”

“Cute.”

The rest of the cab ride was silent.  They each stared out the window in contemplation as the city rushed by.  The nervous anticipation could almost be felt, in the cab.  Jake’s thoughts gradually returned to the queer occurrence of his wounded foot.  The more he thought about it, the more he dreaded the possible explanations.  Something wasn’t right in the city.

 

*

 

Detective Travis waited.  He wasn’t new to stakeouts.  He sipped his now cold coffee and kept an eye on Jack Burris’ apartment from his automobile, parked across the street.  He was nowhere on the dope angle and wasn’t sure what he hoped to find by watching the victim’s empty apartment.  It was worth a try.

He watched as a city cab pulled up to the front of the building.  He immediately recognized one of the two people, stepping out of the cab, onto the sidewalk.  Why is Jackson Cooper’s secretary here?  He didn’t recognize the thin, well-dressed man with her.  Jackson was an old friend and he had met Ms. McCarty several times over the past few years.  If Cooper was poking his nose into this case, why didn’t he come to him first?

Travis didn’t want to wait for answers.  He was going to get them now.  He reached for the handle to the auto door and then everything became blurry.  There was a sharp pain in his head – the exact spot where the mystery dame had sapped him and a queasiness in the pit of his stomach.  The blurriness quickly turned to blackness and detective Travis was out cold…

 

The real Bryant Devlin had warned the other Bryant Devlin to blow town.  The kid didn’t seem too disappointed to leave this life behind.  The real Bryant Devlin didn’t want to know where the kid was heading or who the kid really was.  He never did know his real name.  He was going to be right behind the kid, but then something stopped him.  A pang of guilt; a sense of moral obligation.  He needed to warn Xiang Wen.  The unknown benefactor would undoubtedly find someone else to do the job, Bryant Devlin refused to do.

He loaded his meager possessions into his Ford Roadster and made for Chinatown.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to explain this all to an elderly Chinaman with no grasp of English, but he had to try.

It wasn’t a long drive and Devlin had become quite familiar with Chinatown over the past few weeks.  He parked the Ford a block away from the herbalist’s shop, which he knew housed the old man and his granddaughter in the rooms above.  His ever-present teenage granddaughter had been learning the trade, since Wen had no sons.  The shop was closed-up; dark and silent.  Devlin noticed a light from the rooms above.  It was a warm and inviting light on the otherwise dreary night.  He knew there was a door leading to a staircase next to the shop.  He silently crept up the stairs to the old man’s rooms.  Years of practice had honed his observational skills.  He had not made a sound on the walk up the stairs, but now he was going to break with tradition.  Ordinarily, he would have picked the lock and entered the room undetected.  Not this time.  He simply knocked and waited for a response.

The door opened, revealing Wen in long robes.  The man was taller than Devlin had thought.  He was a few inches taller than Devlin, but then again, most people were taller.  The two stared at each other in the doorway.  Then, to Devlin’s surprise, the old man spoke, in perfect English.  “Come in.”

Wen turned and walked back into his home.  The stupefied Devlin followed him.  The place was cramped and filled with strange tools Devlin didn’t recognize.  Strands of drying herbs hung from the ceiling.  Charts and manuscripts were strewn about the place.  The man obviously took his work very seriously.  Wen seated himself and motioned for Devlin to join him.

“I have seen you about lately.  As a white man, it is hard to hide here.  Especially one of your size.”  Wen said referring to Devlin’s massive barrel chest and his broad shoulders.

The herbalist continued, “I do not trade in opium.  If that is what you seek, you must look elsewhere.  I am a healer.”

Devlin shook his head, “I am here to warn you.”

Wen laughed, “Warn me?  Of what do I have to fear?”  He lit a long, thin stemmed pipe.

“Someone hired me to kill you.  I won’t do it, but he’ll send someone else.”  Devlin explained.

“Who is he and why should he want me dead?”  The man asked, still with a smile on his face.

Devlin knew his story would sound crazy, but he had to tell Wen the whole story, “I’m not sure.  All I know is, he leaves me a name and pays very well – in sixty-year old rebel gold.  I’ve never seen him, but I know he is real.  I get the impression he is not someone who takes no for an answer.”

Something in Devlin’s story made Wen shift his attitude.  He lost his smile and moved forward, listening intently.  Devlin got the impression, Wen knew who was coming for him.

Wen then recovered his former jovial stance, “I will be fine.  I thank you for your warning and will take care to watch out for myself.  If what you say is true, your refusal to follow through with your instructions, will surely put your life in jeopardy.”

“I’m blowing town right now.  I gotta get out of this burg and start fresh somewhere else…a whole new line.  I’m done with the triggerman’s life.”

Wen rose and walked Devlin to the door, “I wish you luck with your future life and thank you, again.”

The door closed and Devlin heard the deadbolt lock the door.  He sauntered down the stairs, back to his waiting roadster.  He climbed in and instantly knew something was off.  Wen’s daughter had been nowhere to be seen.  He now knew where she had been during his conversation with her grandfather.  He caught the reflection of her in the backseat in his mirror.  Too late to do anything but accept his fate.  The girl moved with a fluidity and quickness he had never seen.  He barely felt the dagger draw across the flesh of his neck.  He drifted into blackness…

The girl exited the car and looked up to see her grandfather gazing down from the window of the apartment above.  He turned and disappeared from sight; Biyu then continued with her task.  She shoved the hulking corpse of the real Bryant Devlin into the passenger side of the roadster and occupied the driver’s seat.  She drove the roadster out of Chinatown and left it in the industrial zone.  She then walked back to her home, taking care to avoid detection.

*

Once again, Winslop was first on the scene.  Travis met the fat detective at the scene of their new case.  A throat slashing in the industrial zone.  As was the usual, Winslop had already formed a theory and was eagerly awaiting Travis so he could lay it on him.

“A lady of the night done this feller. Classic set-up.  Right part of town for that stuff, too.”

Travis smiled, “Morning to you, too Winslop.”  He examined the body and quickly found the man’s wallet.  After examining its contents, he tossed it to Winslop.

Travis then shot down Winslop’s theory, “Wallet’s chock full of bills.”

Travis then took the keys and opened the trunk, “Quite a bit of value back here, too.  Looks like this guy was blowing town, in a hurry.”

Winslop cursed and joined his partner, “Something spooked this guy and he was trying to outrun whoever it was.”

“He wasn’t fast enough, but it sure looks that way.”

Winslop asked the question they were both contemplating, “Is this another victim of your hitman?”

Travis shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know.”

 

Travis found himself, slowly returning to consciousness.  It took some time to clear his head.  He wasn’t sure how long he had been out, but his head felt like he had been on a serious bender.  He was at a loss as to what the old cases had to do with this new one.  He knew Bryant Devlin had been the hitman he had been looking for; his path of corpses from Denver to the city had all but sewn it up.  What he never discovered was who had killed Devlin, but he had to have made scores of enemies, given his profession.  Why was his subconscious dragging him back fourteen years?

 

*

 

The address from the envelope brought Jake and Emma to a nice building in a wealthy part of town.  It wasn’t the neighborhood of millionaires, but the people who resided in this neighborhood were well-off.  Jake was still on the lookout for the mysterious man in the thick glasses, but he had been nowhere to be found.

Emma hustled through the front door, by the doorman, as if she belonged.  Jake followed and was amazed they weren’t stopped.  They took the elevator to the correct floor and had no difficulty in finding the apartment they sought.  The key fit the lock, to Jake’s chagrin.

“Stay in the hall while I make sure everything is on the ups.”  Jake instructed.

Emma appeared as if she were going to put up an argument, but at the last second, decided against it, “Alright.  Just, be careful…”

Jake silently slipped into the apartment.  Emma waited impatiently in the hall.  She waited for what seemed like minutes, but she waited and waited…

 

Jake paused, once inside the door to take everything in and he listened for any noises.  The apartment was well furnished and brightly lighted.  Nothing seemed out of place.  He heard the rapid shuffling of footsteps, as if someone were pacing in another room.  He drew his thirty-eight and slowly moved toward the sounds.

He peered around a corner and was surprised by the identity of the unknown pacer.    He revealed himself to her as he spoke, “Gwen?”

The woman spun toward him in surprise, and it was then Jake noticed the twenty-two in her hand.  It was now levelled at him.

“Who are you?”  She asked.

Jake was stunned, “It’s me, Jake.  Remember, we were together in Oldtown tracking that monster, Kosminski.”

Her face creased in puzzlement, “Who are you? I’ve never been to Oldtown and I have never seen you before.  Kosminski is on the run…why would I be looking for him?”

Jake knew he had little time to straighten this situation out, before Emma came bursting in to find out what had happened to him.

He came clean as quick as he could, “The Augury sent me to help you confront that psychopath just a few nights ago.  How can you not remember that nightmare?”

On hearing the Augury’s name, Gwen lowered her gun, sat on the sofa and buried her face in her hands.

Her muffled voice came through her hands, “The Augury’s involvement explains the whole thing.”

Jake glanced over his shoulder to ensure Emma had not snuck in behind him, “What does that mean?  A lot of weird shit has been happening lately, but this may take the cake.”

“Our meeting hasn’t happened for me yet.  It’s in your past, but it’s in my future.”  Emma explained, just as Emma crept into the apartment.

Jake was skeptical for a moment, then the memories of his foot came back.  It seemed to explain his injury…some events were happening with his foot hurt, some events were happening with his foot healthy.   He became lightheaded, and stumbled, but Emma was there to catch him.

“What’s going on?”  Emma asked, while supporting Jake’s frame and staring across the room at Gwen.

Jake regained his composure, and quickly spoke before Gwen could give away more than he wanted Emma to know right now.  “This is Gwen.  We haven’t really gotten to the part about why she is here, or why we were sent here.”

“You two know each other?”  Emma asked.

Again, Jake interceded, before Gwen could.  “Yes, I helped Gwen track down someone from her past a few nights ago.”

Emma was confused, as was Gwen, “Who?”

Jake sighed, trying to keep things simple, “His name was Kosminski and Gwen can tell you more about that.”

Jake looked to Gwen and hoped she would avoid the whole past and future part of the situation.

Gwen seemed to understand Jake’s dilemma and began a story of Kosminski, “I was a trapeze artist at a traveling circus.  My whole family was, actually.  The whole circus was like a big family of outcasts.  We supported each other and stood up for one another when necessary.  A lot of the performers could get no other work because of their abnormalities.  What was seen as a curse in the real world was accepted in the circus.  It was a great place to grow up.  Anyway, there was one sideshow performer, by the name of Kosminski the Deathless that would change everything for all of us.  It wasn’t his fault really.

Kosminski could feel no pain, and he was able to heal from injuries extraordinarily quickly.  His act was to allow paying customers to hurt him.  Pierce his flesh with needles, hammer nails into his flesh, smash glass against him. It was a sad act to watch these customers take glee in causing physical harm to another human being.  Anyway, at one of our stops, a small child was somehow killed and Kosminski was blamed.  No one saw the event; no one knew what actually happened, but that did not matter to the townspeople.

Later that night, they returned as a large angry mob bearing torches.  The canvas tents and frames went up before anyone knew what was happening.  We were all woken to the chaos and screaming.  Everyone was running; trying to escape.  The mob was beating anyone and everyone they found.  The elephants and giraffes were all burned alive in their cages.  Performers were trapped and beaten to death, burned alive in their rooms and some were strung up to hang.  The fire caused the night sky to light up in a macabre display.  Some of us managed to escape.  My older brother carried me to safety, while my parents were beaten to death covering our escape.  I had heard a few others had escaped, including Kosminski.  I had heard the events had driven him mad with guilt.  I last heard he was living in the forest, becoming more and more detached from his humanity.”

Tears streamed down Gwen’s cheeks as she recounted the tragic story.  Emma had taken a seat on the sofa next to Gwen and was now comforting her.  Jake was dazed with this account of the tragic events.  It was much more emotional than the version he had heard a few nights before.

“That is the saddest story I have ever heard.  I hope those people were punished for their cruel treatment of you and your friends.”

Gwen spoke flatly as she wiped the tears from her eyes, “They weren’t.  Nothing ever happened.”

Emma hung her head, and then changed the subject, “Is this your pad?”

Gwen shook her head in the negative, “No.  I was supposed to meet a friend here.  Something must have happened to him.  We were to do something extremely important tonight.  There is no way he would miss this unless something terrible happened to him.”

Jake and Emma looked to each other, before Emma spoke, “Was his name Jack Burris?”

“Yes, this is his place.  Why are you two here?”

Jake spoke up this time, “We were to meet an informant for a story Emma is working on.  The guy never showed, but we were given a key to this place with a name: Jack Burris.  We have no idea if this Burris fellow is our informant, or what.”

Gwen looked puzzled as she was trying to fit the odd pieces of the situation together.  Then she asked, “What is this story about?”

Emma decided to trust Gwen and opened up, “It has something to do with Goldridge Sanitarium and the treatment of patients.  That’s really all I know.”

Gwen brightened at the reference to the sanitarium, “I am going to trust you with something only one other person knows about.  Tonight, Jack and I were heading to Goldridge Sanitarium to break a patient out of that evil place.”

“This can’t be a coincidence.”  Emma spurted, excitedly.

“Something has happened to Jack, and I can’t do this alone.  Maybe if the two of you can help, it will work out for all of us.  We can still complete my plan and you can get the dope on Goldridge.”

Jake was not happy with this turn of events, but he also knew there was no way to get Emma to back down once she got her teeth into something.  Emma was busy thinking it over, and Jake took advantage of this pause, “We’ll help, but there is one condition.”

Emma was surprised Jake had volunteered their help.  She thought she would have to drag him kicking and screaming into this.  She was now curious as to what the condition was.

Gwen asked, “What is this condition?”

Jake smiled, “We have to make a stop on the way.”

Emma was still confused.

Gwen asked, “Where are we stopping?”

Jake shifted his gaze to Emma as he spoke to Gwen, “We have to make a quick stop at the Elysium.”

Emma looked surprised.  She had no idea why Jake would want to go back to that nasty dive.  Jake knew they needed help with this plan and he was hoping to talk Isaac or Ostap in coming along.

Gwen agreed and the trio prepared to depart, before Gwen paused, “Wait.  We need to take this with us.”  She picked up a leather-bound journal tied closed with red silk.  “Jack said we needed this.  I have no idea why.”

Jake took the book from her and opened it, carefully — blank.

Jake leafed through the pages.  All blank.  He re-tied the red ribbon and pocketed the book.  He shook his head, “Not sure why we need an empty book, but might as well take it along.”

 

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