Excerpt The Daemon Device


London, 1891

Above the rooftops, a slow-moving dirigible chugged through the sooty skies. It belched puffs of black smoke behind it as it trundled along, its dim lanterns hanging fore and aft glowing fitfully in the gloomy air. Another one, moving perpendicular to it, soared slowly overhead like some wheezing leviathan, its pistons squeaking with each turn of its huge gears. Leopold heard the faint clang of two bells ring from its nether gondola, and he watched the airmen through its lighted windows move steadily about.

Despite the fact that Parliament had declared that they weren’t supposed to sail the dashed things at night after a certain hour, the dirigible companies flouted the laws. They had Parliament in their pockets, so it was said. Or at least the hearty seal of approval from the Prince Consort. After all, many of the dirigible concerns were owned by men whose surnames were Saxe-Coburg.

Leopold shivered as the dark shadow of the flying machine passed over him. He turned away from it and followed Thacker down the dimmer streets of the East End where he knew his former assistants Ruby and Rose shared a flat. They made careful their comings and goings, as they didn’t want anyone to know that there was more than one of them. Twin assistants were crucial to any magician’s routine. How else was an enchanter to dissemble, that he could make a woman disappear in one place only to have her reappear in the next? Two flexible girls to fit into tight spaces was the secret.

Leopold asked no questions as they made their way down an alley. An undertaker’s carriage waited at the mouth of the narrow passage, nearly blocking their path to the street beyond to the boarding house Thacker was leading him to. Uniformed police, smart in their long blue coats and custodian helmets, milled about below the steps.

Leopold studied the brick building, much like any other sooty brick structure along any London street. A sign hung above the door: “Morningstar Boarding House for Ladies.” Women in dressing gowns were leaning out the windows in the upper floors and looking down with tired faces and wary eyes.

“What has happened here, Thacker?” asked Leopold.

“It’s best you see. Come along.”

The policeman didn’t stop Thacker from climbing the steps, but he did eye Leopold with a narrowed expression.

They emerged onto a checkered-tile entry and followed the noise of weeping to the open doorway down the corridor, where another uniformed copper stood guard.

Leopold smelled it before seeing it, but it still gave him pause. The metallic tang of it hit the back of his throat first. He was well accustomed to blood, its smell, its sticky wetness, for he had bled himself so many times over the years, summoning Eurynomos, that it had become as familiar as his shaving potion. But to see so much of it all at once…

He noticed the patterned wallpaper first. The dingy flowers were smeared with one long swipe of bloody fingers. The window sill was likewise smeared as if someone had taken a mop drenched with it, and carelessly sopped the sill and window glass.

A table sat in the center of the floor and on it was a shrouded body. The sheet was blotched with blood. It could only be Rose. For a moment, Leopold thought that there was a red rug beneath it, until more of the blood from the table dripped into the pool.

He swallowed. What was this horror? Did they expect him to look at the…at her?

A man in a white surgeon’s coat approached. He was bald but had white mutton chops curving up his face into a broad mustache. He gestured toward the body. “Chief Inspector?” he queried.

“Yes.” Thacker was not unmoved. He wiped his dingy handkerchief down his sweaty face. “This is my associate, Mr. Kazsmer.”

“Sir,” said the man with a bow. He did not question Leopold’s credentials. “I am Doctor Woodbine. What you are about to see may shock you.”

“Go on,” said Thacker, unsteadily. Leopold nearly grabbed his arm in protest. He glanced desperately at Thacker but the man’s attention lay with the body on the table. Woodbine approached the corpse, grasped the edge of the sheet, and tossed it back.

Leopold gasped. Several things accosted him at once. For one, it was indeed the missing Rose. The other was that she was nude, and at this, he inhaled sharply. The Romani who raised him were a strict lot, and for all the outward wanton sexuality the women sometimes exhibited when they danced, any state of undress was strictly forbidden. And Leopold’s own inexperience caused him constant frustration backstage. Actresses, it seemed, had very loose morals.

He tightened his jaw and girded himself. His collar felt hot and he gulped down the bile that threatened to rise. The third thing he noticed was that a perfectly rectangular hole was cut into her abdomen where one surely should not be, leaving it open and exposed, the skin peeled back like a book cover. The fourth thing was that there was nothing inside her empty exposed ribcage but a few yards of folded and coiled intestines.

He yanked a handkerchief from his pocket, shoved it into his face, and raced from the room. He barely made it outside before he vomited over the side of the stoop, nearly splashing the copper.

“You all right, sir?” asked the uniformed man as Leopold heaved once more.

Leopold wiped his lips, held tight to the railing, and breathed through his mouth. He’d seen a great deal in his young life, but he had never seen anything quite so vile.

He steadied himself and took a breath. “Yes, constable. I’m quite…recovered.” He tucked the kerchief away and trudged back up the steps, down the corridor, and into the room once more. He had hoped the doctor would have covered the body, but she still lay exposed and torn apart. He braced himself and pushed forward.

“You look green, Kazsmer,” said Woodbine. “You all right now?”

“I think so,” he said, voice unsteady.

Thacker gestured toward the corpse. “Is that your assistant, Leopold?”

Leopold nodded. “Yes. She…she never arrived for rehearsal or for the show.”

“See the precise cuts,” said the physician, moving his finger a few inches above the incised flesh. Leopold winced, but could easily see the many layers of the epidermis at its edge. “Very precise.”

“Was she alive at the time?” Leopold surprised himself by asking it aloud. Both Thacker and the doctor stared at him. He raised a brow. “I merely wondered.”

“Yes, she was,” answered the doctor dourly.

“But why then did she not thrash about? Struggle and foil such precision? I noticed she is not now nor was she bound.” He gestured to her wrists. “No markings.”

Woodbine shook his head. “Drugged, no doubt. God willing. I will know more when I get her to the laboratory. She may have felt nothing. But her face…”

They all looked. She wore an astonished face, eyes still wide open, mouth slack as if caught in a soundless scream.

“She was aware,” said the doctor. “It’s horrific.”

“Was she violated?” asked Thacker, handkerchief over his mouth. He was pale as Leopold felt.

“I made a cursory inspection,” said the physician, his white thick brows lowered, nearly obscuring his shadowed eyes. “But I found no evidence of that. The skin of the abdomen was incised, the organs were removed with skill, and she was left to die. Indeed, without these vital organs there was no question of a swift death, not to mention the shock and loss of blood. But…under the circumstances, the latter was the least of it.”

“Quite,” said Leopold, feeling suddenly exhausted. “What are the missing organs?”

“Heart, lungs, spleen. The stomach was also removed but was left over there.” He pointed toward a splotch of red in a corner by the hearth where the aforesaid organ appeared to have been tossed, discarded. “I have already collected it,” said the doctor.

“The next question, of course,” said Leopold, wiping the back of his neck with a clean handkerchief, “is why would someone do this?”

Woodbine tossed the sheet back to cover her. It was a relief not to look at the expression on her face. “The work of an evil criminal mind,” said Woodbine. “I am not versed in such devilry. That I leave to Scotland Yard. Or to God’s vengeance.”

“Her sister told me she had a new gentleman friend.”

“Oh?” said Thacker. “And his name?”

“She never said. Said he was an older gentleman.”

“I suppose I can talk to the sister when she arrives.” Thacker pulled Leopold aside. “We’ve seen this before, you know. The Yard has records, photographs.” Even as he said this, a man in a black coat and carrying a large camera on a tripod, bustled through. He looked around, caught sight of Thacker, and tipped his hat. Pale, he stepped carefully over the blood, set his tripod down at the foot of the table, swallowed a few times, and set to work.

“What are you saying, Thacker? That Scotland Yard has dealt with this murderer before?”

“It has all the earmarks of someone we had hunted not too long ago.”

Leopold frowned. “The Ripper,” he whispered.

Thacker nodded solemnly.

“But he hasn’t killed in years.”

“But it’s the same modus operandi. Young girl, eviscerated with precision. When this hits the papers…”

“As I recall, the Ripper’s victims had been prostitutes, women of loose morals. Rose was no such thing.” But even as he said it, something else was gnawing at the back of Leopold’s senses, making him uncomfortable as if something was crawling over his skin. He reached into his coat and drew out a pair of brass spectacles. To most, they looked like ordinary glasses, with smaller, thicker glass except for the extraordinary addition of other colored lenses. These were on their own stalks with hinges, splaying from the outer frame like antennae.

Leopold put on the spectacles and looked about the room through the plain glass. He flipped another clear pair of lenses over those which served to magnify.

There were bloodied smudges on the floor and Leopold bent over to peer at them.

“They might be footprints.” Thacker’s voice startled him, so concentrated was he on his inspection. “But they go nowhere,” Thacker went on. “They merely go into the next room and then stop. But they don’t even look like normal prints.” They were scattered and looked very much like the pattern of footprints yet left no shape of shoes.

Leopold followed them into the next room as Thacker mentioned. It wasn’t until the magician flipped two more red lenses before his eyes that they took form. Not shoes, no. But one large bare foot with long toes and one…hoof. A cloven hoof.

He flipped the lens back and forth, just to be certain. Yes, the whole floor was pocked with the set of foot and hoof prints, even going up the wall. But none of the marks were human.

His uneasy stomach completely forgotten, Leopold searched around the room and suddenly looked up. A small winged daemon sat high in the corner on a wardrobe, giggling.

Leopold sucked in his breath and tore off the glasses. The daemon was invisible again. Turning to Thacker he gestured back out the door. “Have you checked the stairwell? Looked for blood?”

“I’ll see if my men have done so.” He stomped heavily out of the room and when he was gone, Leopold closed the door carefully and replaced the glasses onto his nose.

The raspy voice sniggered from its place on top of the wardrobe. “I see you, Leopold of Kazsmer. I see you.”

Leopold whipped around and glared. “And I see you, you rotter. What happened here?”

“Cannot tell, cannot say. But it is delicious, is it not?” It licked its flat lips with a barbed tongue.

Leopold inspected the tiny webbed feet of the daemon, swinging over the edge of the wardrobe and concluded the prints were not made by the imp.

“I can make you tell me.”

The imp sniggered again. He put his hand between his legs and rubbed salaciously, licking his lips all the while.

Leopold sneered. He always found the insolent gestures of the Otherworld’s denizens to be particularly vulgar, which, of course, was the point.

“Perhaps I shall call upon Eurynomos to make you tell me.”

The imp stopped in mid-gesture. He winced and covered his head with his spindly arms. “No call him, no call him.”

“Then talk, you disgusting carbuncle.”

Shaking his head, the imp shut his eyes, as if not looking at Leopold would help the situation. “Foolish, stubborn Flesh Man. I cannot say…I may not.”

“May not? I know your associate is a Cloven-hoofed One.”

The imp snapped open his eyes. They were suddenly filled with terror. Leopold knew Eurynomos frightened most imps, caps, demons—the evil kind—as well as daemons, the helpful kind. He was not called Prince of Death for nothing. But what else would scare an arse-kisser like this fellow?

“Perhaps you’d best tell me his name,” said Leopold slyly. “I would never say it came from you.”

The imp’s eyes grew redder, the black pupils shrunken to pin pricks. “LIAR! Do you think you frighten me? Bigger, scarier than you awaits. I know. I know.”

“Then tell me, dammit!”

“Ha! Flesh Man does not frighten.”

“Then why do you remain here? Why did you not leave with…with your master?”

“Told to stay. Watch.”

“Well you’ve seen. Now get out.”

“Will wait, I think.”

Leopold pushed back the sleeve of his shirt and thrust the marked arm toward the imp. The imp cowered back upon seeing it. “I command you…BEGONE!”

The creature panted and shook a finger. “You wait, Flesh Man. You wait. The eye will not save you like you were told. The eye…marks you. Makes you prey.” The barbed tongue whipped over its lips again, and without another utterance, the imp shrank until he was a mere dot before winking out of existence with a small pop.

Leopold raised his arm. He stared at the mark on his wrist, at the eye looking back. Makes you prey. He certainly didn’t like the sound of that.

Thacker opened the door and poked his head in. “Eh? What’s that you say?”

He slid his sleeve back over his wrist, securing the cufflink. “Nothing. I was merely expressing my frustration at the situation.”

“Aye, it’s horrible, that’s what it is. If it’s the Ripper again, they’ll be terror all over London.”

“Is this the only one? The only murder?” His mind was suddenly beset by his uncle’s visit.

“That’s all we know of.”

“There…may be another. I heard of a Gypsy girl gone missing.”

“A Gypsy? But you can never tell with that lot, coming and going as they do. Are you certain?”

“Yes. I have it on good authority.”

“Well then, I’ll see to it.

Leopold put on his spectacles again and looked through them at the remaining room, flipping different colored lenses into place. There was a faint glow on the far wall but nothing else. And the feeling of skin prickling was dispersing. Perhaps it had been the imp. Blast it. He should have at least demanded his name.

He removed the spectacles, and Thacker stared at them as he always did. Thacker never asked, but enquiry was etched plainly on his brow. Leopold slipped them back into his inside coat pocket without a word.

He followed the inspector out and down the steps. They both stood before the building and looked back at it. “I should tell you something, Inspector. Rose…was a twin. Her sister also worked for me. She was with me tonight and will likely soon return.”

“Blimey. Is that another one of them magician’s secrets I shouldn’t spill?”

“Yes, it is. And it will be awkward should it make the papers.”

“I’ll manage it. Will you remain, awaiting the sister? She shouldn’t see that in there.”

“I quite agree.” He pulled out his watch and flipped it open. He’d send her to another boarding house. “Yes. I will remain.”

“That’s gratifying, Leo. Nothing worse than an hysterical woman. And I don’t mind saying, we can use your help. You seem to have a knack for these kinds of cases. A pity you weren’t around the first time when the Ripper was doing his worst.”

“Yes.” For if the murders were much the same, Leopold realized that there was no human murderer involved in those earlier cases either. He hoped Eurynomos was still at the theatre. He didn’t fancy cutting his arm again so soon.