Dr. Kisset stared moodily into the tankard in his hand. The past month had been perfectly horrendous: ten failed operations in a month. The bodies had been few and far between and all he had received were a couple of old tramps with nothing wrong with them. The Runners had arrested another doctor, whom Robert admired, for body snatching. The man had been humiliated, stripped of all his possessions, and jailed, all for trying to make medical advances. Robert hoped that the men from Bow Street would understand what they were interfering with, especially when they got shot on duty and no one could save them, because all the pioneering doctors had been unable to practise removing bullets without killing the victim. No, all the pioneering doctors would be in jail.
He took a drink. And then there was that girl, the one who cleaned the operating theatre, silent as the furniture, week after week. She had seen more than even Dr. Castleton. What truly unnerved Robert, however, was that she always seemed to be whispering to herself, but never responded with a “Yes, sir” or “If it pleases you, sir” if he told her to do something. Tricky demons always talk when your back is turned, but they never open their mouths even to breathe when you’re standing right in front of them. Her dark eyes always shone with satisfaction after each encounter, which the young doctor always took to be the satisfaction of having evidence against him, although it could easily have been the satisfaction of finally getting that rust spot off a knife or some such nonsense. Robert lamented inwardly that servants could never be trusted.
A large hand clapped Dr. Kisset on the back, causing him to choke on his drink.
“Rough toimes, doctor?” inquired the chubby constable in a friendly manner.
“Comparatively so,” he muttered, not looking up.
“Cheer up, eh wot? Toimes could be worse. Yeh could be in jail like that other bloke what got done in for illegal practises.” He put significant emphasis on the last two words in a rather important tone.
Robert jerked up suddenly, surveying the portly man next to him. He was talking to the bartender and ordering his usual. There was neither shrewdness nor any particular intelligence in his face, but he grinned perhaps a bit too widely at Robert when he turned back around.
“Yes,” said the doctor carefully. “Yes, I suppose it could be worse, couldn’t it?”
“I’ll say. Jest stay away from illegal practises and yeh’ll be oll roight.” He winked.
Dr. Kisset’s heart began to race, pounding, pounding, pounding in his head, directly behind his eyes. A warning? Was he being warned to quit while he was ahead? He took a drink to calm his nerves, but to no avail. A threat? It was a threat. A threat because someone had sold him out. Only three people knew about it: himself, Dr. Castleton, and the little cleaning girl. The little cleaning girl. She had informed the Runners, and now they were hot on his trail. They would take away his license; take away everything he had ever worked for. They would take away his tools, his livelihood, the pleasure of seeing the joy in the face of a cured patient, everything!
Stumbling from the counter after paying for his drink, Robert staggered out the door, leaving behind a very bewildered bobby.
“Poor chap,” he said, shaking his bald head, half to himself and half to anyone within earshot. “He’s so good that even the mere mention of illegal practises upsets him. Nah, he’s a good ‘un. No one’d ever accuse him of such atrocities.”
Dr. Castleton’s house was still as the cool night, a few lights shining through the windows. Dr. Kisset didn’t bother with the front door. He went straight to the unlocked operating theatre in the back. She was there, cleaning the table, a wince on her face. Upon hearing the door shut, she turned around. In the middle of a shy smile and wave, her brows lifted when she saw who it was.
“You’re surprised to see me,” he said dangerously. “You thought I’d be in jail by now, didn’t you, you minx?”
The little girl shook her head, obviously confused. This made Robert even angrier and agitated. The impudence!
“How dare you!” he yelled. “How dare you act innocently when you have caused the downfall of a noble doctor? Think! Think how many people will die when I’m locked up, thanks to you! HUNDREDS!”
Robert was quite close by this time, and she began creeping away slowly. He was so infuriated by her attempt to escape that his hand shot out to stop her and grabbed her slender neck.
“STAY!” he screamed. “Stay and explain yourself! Tell me WHY! Why did you do it? What could have POSSIBLY motivated you to do such a thing? Was it money?! Was it hate?! WHY DID YOU TELL THE RUNNERS?!”
The little cleaning girl’s throat emitted strange gurgling, gasping noises, and, although she made no effort to pry his hands away, her eyes widened, pleading him to let go. Her tiny lips formed the word “please.” Dr. Kisset paid no mind, for he was too far gone. With his hands — doctor’s hands, healing hands, life-preserving hands, merciful hands — he strangled the child until she was limp and her small heart stopped fluttering.
“Good heavens, man, what on earth is g…”
Dr. Castleton froze after he entered the theatre. His eyes went from Robert’s frame to his crazed expression to the lifeless girl at his feet.
“What have you done?” He gasped, positively aghast.
“She informed the police of my activities,” stated Robert calmly enough. “I had to silence her.”
The elderly doctor looked as though he’d like nothing better than to thunder angrily at Dr. Kisset, but the sight of his murdered servant took all the gusto out of him.
“She’s a mute!” he managed to moan indignantly. “She hasn’t said a blessed word in her life.”
“I saw her! I saw her talking to herself. She said ‘please’ before she died.”
Dr. Castleton was disgusted and frightened by Robert’s open admission of denying the child any mercy, but nevertheless replied.
“But you never heard her. She liked to pretend that she could talk.” He glanced sadly at the girl. “It’s what kept her happy.”
Never one for sentimentality outside of the realm of care given to his patients, Robert scowled, his eyes wild. “Then who did it?”
“Pardon?” asked the doctor, scared by Dr. Kisset’s expression and showing it openly.
Robert misinterpreted Dr. Castleton’s fear as guilt and pounced. Of course! He was the only other person who knew. Dr. Castleton had always been jealous of his success. It was he who had never fully agreed his work. It was he who was scared of new frontiers. It was he who wanted to hinder all medical progress.
“You,” seethed Dr. Kisset. “It was you, you jealous, pompous scum!”
He lunged forward and clasped his stained hand around the gentleman’s neck. Dr. Castleton was too stunned by the sudden action to move. He snapped out of it, though, and began to fight back. The two men struggled for a time, but just when it seemed like the elderly doctor would come out on top, he gasped suddenly, clutching his chest,
battling for breath. He slumped onto the operating table then slid to the floor, his eyes shutting for a final time.
Robert panted, leaning on the operation table. What now? He had eliminated his two threats, but at what cost? Suddenly a wave of nausea washed over him. What had he done? He was a doctor! He had willfully taken lives when he had sworn to save them. Body snatching was controversial, yes, but he would never get away with cold-blooded murder. There was nothing he could do now. He was condemned forever.
Moaning, he ran his hands through his brown hair and tugged his earlobe. The scalpel, shining on the tray next to him, caught his eye. He picked it up tenderly, remembering brighter days. An idea came upon him as he fiddled with the knife and looked at the bodies. The Bodies.“Number Thirty-Four and Number Thirty-Five,” he muttered, kneeling down and rolling up his sleeves.