For a while it all worked out miraculously. Nearly every week Dr. Castleton sent word to Dr. Kisset that a delivery had come. They were good bodies, too. Numbers Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, and Twenty-Eight all had similar problems that had benefited Robert’s work greatly. He had been able to stop a broken rib from puncturing Mr. Hall’s lung after studying the same sort of wound in Number Twenty-Seven, which had caused the subject’s death. He had received a higher status and therefore more patients and more referrals.
After mending a broken leg one evening, Dr. Kisset left his office to find a footman of Dr. Castleton’s holding a hastily scrawled note.
“Dear sir,” it read. “One of your blasted deliveries has arrived, and the men who brought it are refusing to leave my home until they talk to you. Yours &c, Dr. J. Castleton.”
Cursing under his breath, Robert stuffed the paper into his breast pocket and asked the footman if he could use the good doctor’s carriage. The footman answered that it had been sent expressly for that purpose, so the two of them all but dashed to the street and climbed in.
The streets and buildings flipped by quickly in the darkness, the occasional gas lamp causing a flash of light, but Robert’s mind was far from his ride. What on earth could they want? And yet, even as he asked himself the question, his mind formulated the answer. Money. They were, after all, risking their lives to help him. Why not get some compensation for it? He sighed, the truth paining him. He couldn’t afford not to pay them more. He needed those bodies, and an extra shilling or two ought to close their mouths just a stitch more.
The carriage jerked to a stop, and the young doctor flew out the door and into the house, where he set his path to the operating theatre. The elderly doctor was standing next to the door, looking at the men as though they had been found in his rubbish heap. They were leaning casually on the operating table, their hands mere inches from the corpse laying on it. Number Twenty-Nine. It was fresh, too. The stench of death did not permeate the room. Robert’s hands itched.
“’Lo, chum.” The bigger one showed his rotting teeth in what he must’ve imagined was a smile. “Nice of yeh to stop by.”
“What do you want?” demanded Dr. Kisset, skipping the laborious formalities.
“Jest a little chat, that’s all,” drawled the other. “We wos thinkin’ it’s about time yeh upped the paycheck, eh?”
“Upped it to what?”
Robert choked. “Each?”
“Gentlemen,” said Robert, still surprised by their huge price, “gentlemen, let’s be reasonable. Twenty pounds for the both of you? That’s as much as I make in a week, and I work every day. Three pounds to each of you.”
“The way we sees it,” said the bigger man, “if we’s willin’ to risk gettin’ carted off by the Runners, yeh ought to shuck out a couple more pounds.”
“Five, and yeh shall have the comfort of knowin’ we won’t turn yeh in.”
“Four.” Dr. Kisset felt that he had gained the upper hand and was cool and collected. “The way I see it, there’s no way that you can turn me in without getting taken down yourselves.”
“Five,” growled the second man, “and we’ll forget yeh said that.”
No longer calm, Robert handed each man five pounds and sent them on their way. The first man doffed the rag on his head and said,
“Our lips is sealed, guvnah.”
“A fine specimen you’ve taken to dealing with, doctor,” remarked Dr. Castleton somewhat sarcastically, when they had gone.
Robert wasn’t paying attention. He had immediately started poking and prodding Number Twenty-Nine, inspecting bruises and peering under the eyelids. He took a scalpel from the tray next to the table and tapped it gently on his leg, murmuring to himself and deciding where to cut. Dr. Castleton repeated his statement.
“Mmm? They get the job done. It isn’t as though I’d go out and have a drink with them.” Something caught his eye. “Hello! It’s a gimp! Look, doctor, the leg is completely distorted.”
Dr. Castleton shook his head in disbelief and motioned for the little cleaning girl to stop sterilizing instruments. She did so, unfortunately dropping one on the ground and causing Dr. Kisset to jump. He gave her a steely glare because now the incision was longer than it needed to be. The little girl’s eyes widened as if to say she was terribly sorry. She curtseyed, and then followed her master away.