Be sure to read Part 1 for the full story from the beginning.
The melange of echoes faded escaping the tunnel the way he’d come. Barrow stopped, listening for the man to give himself away, a breath, a misstep. He inched a step further, then one more, a metal clamor broke free from his last step, a tin skittering across the floor. Barrow cursed the tramp who’d dumped his rubbish about.
A hand grabbed his vest, “Got ya, Constable”. His shoulders met the curved wall followed with a crunch shuddering through his head. He lashed out with his cudgel searching and finding its mark. A solid hit that did little to loosen the the grip holding him to the wall. Barrow’d taken the trench coat man as slight but the man had an unexpected strength. He felt fingers crawl up his chest finding bare skin at his collar then a metal edge creased in under his chin. Barrow sucked in a breath and raised his head recoiling from the blade only to expose more of his throat to the instrument. It rolled along its edge until the sharp pinch of its tip broke through.
“A taste, Constable, “ the words slid out on an exhale. “A taste of what I was about to give her when you popped in on what was none of yer business.” The knife rolled back onto its edge. “You should have let me finish. You don’t know what she is.”
Barrow breathed in through his nose and ventured, “As you say but what does that mean?” The man’s breath was on him. “I saw only a washerwoman, nothing more.” The metal pressed deeper. Barrow tried to steady his tone, “Tell me who she is.”
“What!” The word spat from him.“What she is. You don’t listen, Constable”.
“Yes, yes. Right, what, she is.” The metal edge retreated only slightly giving Barrow space for a full breath. “Tell me what she is so we can settle this matter.” He felt a stream down his neck soaking into his collar from the prick the knife gave him.
“Nothing’s better than showing,” the man stepped full away letting Barrow off the wall.
He allowed himself a controlled breath of relief as he foraged for a scheme. The man was to take him somewhere, he surmised. Once out of the tunnel, he could see well enough, even under those shrouded street lamps, to manage shackling the man and summon assistance. “Very well. Lead on, to what it is you have to show me.”
“Lead on?” A laugh broke free with a cough. “I’ll not need to take you anywhere. What I have to show is right here.”
A blue-white flash blinded Barrow. His arm flew up to cover his eyes, the intensity radiated through nonetheless. His brow ached, pain from eyes straining in the darkness only to be flooded with light. It did not diminish. He could see its white glow through his closed lids.
“It won’t hurt you, Constable. Look,” he said unfettered excitement in his voice. He prodded the Inspector pushing Barrow back into the wall, “Look! Look at it. Open yer eyes!”
Barrow lowered his arm, rubbing his eyes open. He could see the trench coat man now. Unshaven jowls, a sharp nose, heavy brows set above a fervent gaze aglow within the most brilliant light Barrow’d seen. Before the man’s face, a transparent sphere hung suspended in the air above a flat, black brick resting in his palm. Barrow stumbled back into the wall, his hat spilled off his head as he stared into the light. “By God, what is…,”
“The most incredible sight you’ve ever laid eyes on. Now watch,” he said as he pressed the face of the thin brick. The sphere unfolded into a rectangle still hovering in the air above the thing in his palm. Lines formed within it, drawing themselves across the surface. Barrow in his numbed state made no sense of them, saw no pattern.
“Don’t you see, Constable?” The man pointed to a red point set into the scene floating above his open palm. “This is us,” he glanced at Barrow, a smile on his face. His finger touched the point, sending ripples across the display as if it were liquid. “This is where we are at this very moment.”
“What?” Barrow said pushing himself away from the wall.
“Oh, yes. Look,” He beckoned the Inspector closer. “This here is the High Street an’ Commercial, “ he said tracing the lines with a finger pointing out familiar street names, “…an’ Goulston. And the workhouses you followed me passed.”
Barrow leaned in, eyes narrowing, peering into the image. “It’s a map.”
The man became almost giddy, “That it is, Constable. A map o’ our little district.” He touched the brick again, as it seemed to Barrow, just to see what it did. A green point appeared some distance from the red one which showed where they stood.
Barrow moved closer, his eyes tracing the location along the map, “That green one is where the woman was. Right near the narrows, where you…”
The man looked through the transparent map at Barrow, “Now, Constable, we’re past that are we not? You know what she is, now.”
“I know you have a strange instrument that shows me maps that float in the air. You haven’t shown me why she deserved your knife in her belly.”
The trench coat man’s eyes stared into Barrow, “This is hers!” He shook the flat brick at the Inspector in frustration, the display bobbing in unison with the device as if it were physically attached to it. She was using this when I came on her. Twice before I saw her with it, pressing a finger to it, talking to it, making all this…,” he said waving his hand at the floating display, “…move and bound around in the air in front of her, controlling it. She was scheming things, I could tell, Constable. A sorceress, she was. I saved…”
A sharp vibrating tone pulsated from the brick. The man recoiled, panic cracking the surface of his excitement. He fumbled with the thing in his hand, recovering himself before it fell from his grasp. The green dot, near where the attack took place, pulsed as an illuminated box unfolded alongside its location. The two men leaned closer both squinting at writing that formed inside the box, “Temporal return window located. 482.8 meters from present location. Accessible in 8 minutes 41 seconds…8 minutes 40 seconds…” The two eyed each other through the transparency as the time counted down.
“Inspector!” A voice barreled through the tunnel.
The trench coat man’s eyes twitched from Barrow’s to the voice. The Inspector swung, cudgel still in hand, and caught the man full on the side of his head. The suspended display retreated into the flat brick as it fell, disappearing before the man hit the floor. Darkness recovered itself enclosing around them again. “Here,” Barrow let loose down the tunnel, “We’re down here. Bring light.” He heard other voices join the first as lantern light moved towards him.
He could make out three uniformed officers edging into the darkness of the tunnel. “Islands of light”, he thought as they approached. Lighted targets. He was right to dash out his lantern when it was just him chasing the man down. He caught sight of the black brick lying abreast the unconscious attacker as the constables’ light reached him. Barrow swept it up and into his breast pocket.
The trench coat man stirred as the officers hoisted him up under his arms. “Take him and lock him down. I’ll question him when I return to the station.”
“Aye, Inspector,” one said with a nod and a hand to his bobby’s brim.
The man regained his consciousness as he was hauled off. “No! You can’t, it’s not finished,” He wrenched against the constables’ hold, “Damned you! Off me!” He reared round to Barrow, “Constable, you know. You’ve seen it. She’s cursed.”
“Enough outta you,” one officer said twisting him back around.
“Finish it, Constable. Finish it,” he cried out with growing desperation as an expressionless Barrow stared after him.
“That be an inspector, you damn’d bludger,” his other handler said.
Barrow stepped clear of the tunnel into the welcomed, albeit dim glow of gaslights. “She alive?” he asked of the sergeant standing beside him.
He shook his head, “I held her hand ’til she faded. Wadn’t long after the other two wen’ off after you,” he said with a nod to the others struggling with the trench coat man. “There wadn’t ‘nough life left in ‘er. He got the poor miss good, that one. I set off after, leavin’ a shopkeep from ‘cross the way to stand over her. Good man. Woldn’t let no molestin’ come to ‘er.” He turned to Barrow, “Least she din’t pass alone with his face the last she saw. She ‘ad comfortin’ hands ‘nd faces beside ‘er. Good people givin’ her comfort, right up ’til the end.”
Barrow nodded. “Better help the others. Make sure he doesn’t get the best of them. He’s stronger than he looks.”
“Aye, sir.” He headed off, billy swinging from its tether lashed round his wrist.
Barrow watched until the officers were out of the alleyway and around the corner before he pulled the brick from his inside pocket. He grasped its edges between thumb and middle-finger guarding against touching the flat side. Cursory attention was not something he wished to draw to himself. Keeping hold of it by his fingertips, handling it as if it were a snare ready to spring, he inspected its surface. Smooth it was, dull black in color but he could make out a distorted reflection of himself in it.
The trench coat man just touched its surface releasing whatever was folded up inside. “How did he know how to work the thing? He said he saw her with it twice before. Was he following the woman? For how long?” His mind wandered amidst a building torrent intent on a rationale, finally free to ponder the sense of the situation. “He called her a witch, no a sorceress. Only a crazy man believes in magic in these times. But I, with mine own eyes, saw what emerged from this…machine.” He didn’t know what else to call it. “A machine. It wasn’t magic. It was something fashioned, manufactured and made to work by a person, that woman. But how?” He had no inkling of how it was made or who built it and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. “There’d be so much to explain.” And who knew how those above him would look on him. What could a thing such as this do to his status on the force?
It shuddered, startling his tenuous grasp making him cup the thing with both palms. Etched into the corner of the dull surface, with none of the intensity as before, appeared, “Proceed promptly to temporal return location. Accessible in 4:59…4:58…4:57,” he watched it count down.
Murmured voices caught his attention. He turned seeing a flickering glow reflected from round the bend, down a side alley. He dropped his arm, palming the machine and walked toward the voices as casually as he could manage.
Around the bend a group of four tramps steadied themselves around a fire lit into a rubbish bin. “You there,” Barrow said on his approach. The men turned, noting the metal badge on his jacket. They stepped back towards the alley wall. “You men doing well this evening?” They nodded, worried glances passing between them. Barrow nodded circling the bin putting it between him and the men lined along the wall, “None of you up to trouble, are you?” He met the eye of each one, as he raised his arm behind his back and let the brick drop into the flames.
“No, no. No trouble. Wees, jus’ tryin’s to chase the chill, Inspect’r. That be all,” one volunteered for the others.
Barrow nodded, “ Good. Good. As you were then,” he said as he strode away. “She’s gone and there’d be so much to explain.” He focused on his pace, each stride an effort. “Finish it, Constable,” the trench coat man demanded of him again. “It’s finished,” he answered, “For one’s betters or another’s, it’s finished.” Behind him, he thought he heard the machine shudder once more, one last reminder ignored, left to rattle against the metal bin.
“Proceed immediately to temporal return location. Accessible in 00:06… 00:05… 00:04…00:03…”