Giles resisted the urge to fitfully pick at the tasseled edge of the cushion in his hands. In the next chair over, Sir Reginald Crothall contrastingly sat with an attitude betraying calm, cool, confidence, and just a tiny bit of distraction. The two men sat in Ms. Temble’s sitting room, had been here for the better part of half-an-hour while the lady endeavoured to explain her part in the “Harvey Whitlock problem.”
The afternoon had commenced thusly: A startled exclamation over the lost umbrella, proper introductions, an invitation to come in, a serving of a light tea, followed by an in-depth discussion of All Things Sinister . . . starting with Harvey Whitlock.
“Poor man,” speaking into her cup of tea, Ms. Temble, Jane, let her breathy words aid in the cooling of the scalding beverage.
Even Crothall had come ‘round to believing there was something off about the man but “Poor Whitlock”? Hardly. At the resulting exchanged looks and raised eyebrows, the lady continued, “Yes. Poor Harvey. You see, his . . . affliction—the raving, the silence, the manic outbursts—they’re all a recent thing . . . ”
“And what was he like before?” Giles prodded.
“Intelligent, thoughtful. A real strong, silent sort, no doubt, but . . . balanced,” she pronounced with finality.
“And this change, it came about with his, er, breakthrough?”
“No, that’s just it,” she shook her head emphatically, “It happened right when he came back—which was about three months before all the power fluxes coming, as I now know, from his apartments. He—he’s shone me the ‘bot before,” she concluded softly, “It’s what started me to worrying in earnest.”
Giles set aside his teacup, all ears and rapt attention. “Explain.”
“Well . . . ” Jane seemed to struggled with herself a moment, looking at each of her audience searchingly before continuing, “Harvey Whitlock disappeared from his home for about eight months late last year. One day he was gone—the following spring he was back. Only he was like you see him now. Odd. Inconsistent. Seemingly forgetful but clearly aware of his surroundings at times. I, of course, assumed he’d had some personal tragedy, enough to aid him in getting though whatever it was…”
“Of course you did,” Giles frowned slightly, his innate reaction giving a touch more reprimand to his words than intended.
Looking sharply to the Inspector, Ms. Temble’s eyes flashed angrily, “I, sir Chief Inspector, am qualified to make such overtures. Harvey, if you must know, is one of my patients.”
“Patients?” Now this was interesting. Giles leaned forward, chin on elbows.
“Yes,” Jane drew herself up in her chair, “I’ve a small, discreet psychoanalytic practice. I take only such cases as interest me and so don’t toss around my credentials carelessly.”
“A lady doctor,” Reginald finally added his two pence, nodding admiringly at the now flushed young lady. Lovely, he wisely kept his additional observation to himself, no doubt she’d overanalyse it, as women tend to do.
“Yes.” Ms. Temble paused, flustered as she tried to return to her story, “So. Harvey shook me off. Next day he was fine, his old self. All manners and civility. Next day he’d act as though we’d never conversed at all! When I was at first concerned, I was now alarmed. That is when I noticed the scar . . .” She paused for effect, when neither gentleman asked, she offered, gesturing to her own pretty head as a model, “Running from here, to here. And, while this answered some questions, it opened up others—clearly this man had suffered some sort of damage. But to what extent? And in what accident?” She sat back in her chair, leaning into the cushion heavily as if exhausted, “Harvey Whitlock became my new project. Which is likely why he showed me his.” Eyes closed, she shuddered and continued, “That piston-driven pet of his? His clockwork creation? It . . . it has a brain.” She opened her eyes to see the effect of her words, tears brimming, threatening to spill, “An honest to goodness God’s-own-creation brain, Inspector.”
She had their attention now. Even Reginald had lost his languid pose and was poised on the edge of his chair, very inch the rapt pupil.
“I know it sounds crazy,” she waved a hand, “But I know what I saw. And . . . It would take genius, real genius, to make such a thing possible, a level of intellect Harvey doesn’t have in his current state—if he ever had it. He was a bright fellow once but . . . not now.” She shook her head.
“A brain, you say,” Giles mused aloud, “What sort?”
“I only caught a glimpse,” Jane protested, backing away from what was clearly a gruesome memory. “But it caught my attention, and it certainly looked human—though incomplete.”
“Why did you not contact the police?” Reginald cut in, sympathy radiating from his handsome features.
“You can guess what the average Yard officer’d say to a tale like this, no offense—”
“None taken,” Giles smiled.
“—and so I hired a discreet individual to get to the bottom of it.” She took a deep breath, “But he disappeared three days ago.”
“How do you know he—” Giles’ next question was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass and a muffled shout in the hallway.
All three were on their feet in an instant, Jane pale but composed, Reginald looking as though Christmas had come early, and Giles stern-faced and gently inserting himself between lady and door, pistol drawn. The clamor outside increased and then receded. With only a hairsbreadth of waiting, Inspector Newberry sprang to action, flinging wide the door to reveal the fluttering of a cloak disappearing ‘round the bend of the back stairs. Swearing indelicately, he followed but it was too late. The kidnappers—for that is what they were—had been one step ahead of him and Harvey Whitlock was gone.