Michael Harlane breathed deep of the smoggy green air of London, and smiled. It had been a profitable night, all told, and his wallet would stay well-filled for another day or two. Say what you like about London, he thought, but some jobs are just too good to pass up here.
And then he fell down, smashing his nose into the cobbles… blearily, he came to, and attempted to gauge his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was the heavy weight on his back, which appeared to belong to, of all things, a brass automaton, shaped like a tiger. The next item, a silvery laugh, led him to the third…
…A young lady, crouching on one of the nearby smoke stacks. Looking down at him, and chuckling.
“Pleased to meet you, sir!” her voice, like her laugh, seemed to flow like quicksilver. “I dare say, you’re in a fair pickle!”
Mr. Harlane simply growled, and attempted to push himself up… eight sharp spikes of pain dissuaded him, and the lady continued.
“Before we talk business, let me introduce myself. Ariel Cogsmith, one of the finest creators of Babbage Automata in Her Majesty’s land… or rather, I would be if it weren’t for a certain accident of birth-“
It clicked, and Michael grunted derisively. “You’re a bloody pointear, aren’t you?”
Ariel laughed, but without humour now, almost reflective. “Aye, that I am, sir. A trickster, a Fair One, servant of both Queen Mab and Her Majesty’s Regulars, since society does not allow me to purvey my wares . And you, sir, are the Parkside Strangler.”
“I have no idea what you’re-“
“Oh, come now, sir, I did mention I am a purveyor of fine Babbage Automata, so let me spell this out for you. Three weeks ago, I was retained by one Inspector Michel (Ring a bell?), and, let me tell you, sir, you gave me a merry chase… but my clockwork tiger here, her scent receptors and processors are the finest calculating engines this side of China, and she led me to your domicile. From there, a little friend of mine,” at this, she gestured to the silver crow on her arm “Kept an eye on your movements, recording a killing on its kinematograph. Of course, the police don’t count those as evidence yet, but they did search your house, and-“
Before she could continue, Haldane cried out in rage, and pulled a pistol from his coat. The last things he heard were a brief “tink” and a grainy recording of a tiger’s growl. The last thing he felt was pain.
Ariel sighed. “And I hadn’t even gotten to the part where I mentioned he was worth more alive. Humans,” she tutted “No sense of drama.”
If there’s one night of the year I hate, Father, it’s All Hallow’s Eve. The rest of the world can pretend, but we Irish know damn well it’s the time when the Devil’s at his busiest, and this year, Father, was no exception.
Yes, Father, to be honest, I am a little irritable at the moment. You’ll understand, I’m sure, when you realise what happened to me, happened in my own damned home!
I was just sitting around, watching the pools (Yes, Father, I know gambling is sinful, but a man can dream of raising his station in life, can’t he?), when everything goes a bit dark. I’d thought, at first, that those fools at the electric company had cocked it all up again, but I look up, and the lightbulb’s there, shining away, but not getting very far, if you understand me.
Ah, you know the way of the Godless well, Father, for I did indeed spot the feller as I looked down again. Bold as brass, crouching on my windowsill! Well, yes, Father, it was a bit of trouble, because there I was, not a thing to hand, and he obviously didn’t mean well.
“Are you afraid, Finlay Houlihan? Do you not see that, as you judge others, so I’ll judge you?”… Brrr, just remembering gives me the shivers, Father, and it’s not easy to put frights on me, as you know!
What’d he look like? Well, that’s the oddness of it all, Father. He wasn’t more than 20, and dressed like your average member of the hoodied hordes, and yet… he felt like he was old, y’know?
No, no, no, Father, I woulda spotted one of those a ways away, he was… well, I don’t understand it myself, Father, he was alive, and human, but something about him felt dead, even though I checked his pulse before… Ahhh, but I get ahead of meself.
Well, I was going to point out that, if he knew me so damn well, he would know nothing of the Devil would scare me, but he was already pulling a weapon (Beretta, Father, don’t know where the lad got it!), so, rather naturally, I got behind me chair right quick! Ahhh, I’ll miss that chair!
Yes, Father, a whole clip, unloaded into my old leather seat, it’s a terrible shame, to be sure, but it would be a terrible shame if I were to stop breathing, too! Oh, don’t pull that face, I was fine! Anyway, the lad thankfully didn’t have a backup plan, so I leapt up, pulled him in, and, as God’s my witness, gave him a pummelling he wouldn’t forget…
…Yes, that’s right, Father, if he were still here. Thing is, I’m not entirely sure he isn’t.
I’m getting to that, Father! Doesn’t the Lord counsel patience in his spare time, eh?
Anyway, yes, Father, I checked his pulse, and, sure as sure, he had a pulse. Not for long, but still. And I took the body to the old mine. But, here’s the funny part, Father. This morning, I got a letter. No stamp, no address, just “To Finlay”. Here.
Aye, that’s what it says, for sure. “You’re guilty, and we shall meet again. – The Hanging Judge.”
Now what sorta name is that, Father? And, forgive me for asking, but what in God’s name have I gotten myself into now?