The station, a two-story brick building that’d been constructed some fifteen odd years ago in the summer of 1866, was in dire need of repairs as it also housed those being tried by the courts. The dungeons were overflowing with thieves and gypsies, men and women alike that all needed a magistrate to pass judgement on them, ruling out a fair punishment for their crimes. Mathias had been the one to collect the killers of Seattle, like Samuel Pink-Eye and the Hammer, locking them behind bars where they couldn’t hurt anyone anymore.
They’d likely be hung for their crimes, but such a fate had to wait until their trial was held, some five or six months from now.
“Sick bastards,” Mathias muttered, holding the citar with his hand while strumming the strings in an absent fashion. The melodic notes pulled from the instrument were almost hypnotizing, but he stopped when he felt a migraine forming behind his eyes. Reaching into his overcoat, he pulled a white bottle with his Morphine tablets, and popped one into his mouth before pulling his flask of whiskey to chase the pain away.
Coughing into his fist from the fiery trail, he thumped his chest as he felt a pressure building over his sternum, light yet ever-present.
“Hope I’m not coming down with something,” Mathias muttered as the carriage came to a stop. “I really can’t afford to take time for bedrest now that we have so many dead bodies to deal with.”
Stepping out of the carriage, Mathias was surprised to see Captain Shock, an older man who’d fought in the Indian battles for nearly decade before retiring to become leader of the police force. He had creases in his face that made him seem timeless despite the folds, and a trimmed moustache that was always as immaculate as his clothing, a black suit with a velvet blue vest beneath the coat.
“Mathias,” Captain Shock said genially, stepping into lockstep with the young inspector.
“Captain,” Mathias greeted him. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“It’s about the deaths that you found in the shipyard today,” Captain Shock said, dropping into the subject with little aplomb. “I’ve had the town mortician look them over and he’s refused to work on them, telling us they need to be burned.”
“What?” Mathias said, stopping when he heard the news, trying to process it. “Why? We need to try to identify the women and children and see why they were being illegally transported into the country!”
“That’s just it,” Captain Shock said, smoothing his vest down before picking off a piece of lint. “You said you heard one of them asking for help, yes?”
“Of course! How else would I have found them?” Mathias declared.
“That’s just it,” Captain Shock said with a morose tone. “The people in that shipping crate have been dead for days, the rot setting in. The mortician says he recognizes the cause of death.”
“What is it?” Mathias asked.
“Skull Fever,” Captain Shock said. “And he says the bodies are contagious. He warned that anyone who was near them needs to be looked at right away.”
“What? How could he tell?” Mathias demanded, spinning to glare to the older man. “Maybe he’s mistaken, is all?”
Captain Shock shook his head, his moustache highlighting the heavy worry lines draping across his face. “I would love to think so, but I doubt it. He’s been in the business since he was a child, and he worked with his father who was city mortician before then.”
“So, is this common then?” Mathias asked, calming a little. “I mean, I’ve never heard of it but perhaps that’s just because I’m not a man of science…?”
“I fear not,” Captain Shock replied, turning to lead Mathias into the police station, folding his arms behind him as he walked at a leisurely pace. “The mortician said that it’s incredibly rare, and he’s only seen it two other times outside of this case. Both times involved a large discovery of dead bodies with no real way to explain how the sickness came to be.”
“Do you think someone has been spreading the illness in a controlled fashion? To kill people?” Mathias asked, wheezing into a series of coughs as he finished.
Captain Shock allowed Mathias to clear his throat and lungs before he spoke. “I think that we have an isolated incident here, with a spread of contagion that needs to be curtailed.”
“I agree,” Mathias nodded, wiping at the corner of his mouth.
“I’m glad you do,” Captain Shock said as they stopped by the doors leading into the station. Two burly men, both a head taller than Mathias and a hundred pounds heavier, lurched forward from the buildings shadows, the darkness seemingly belching the dark-haired giants out in a flurry of movement. Captain Shock stepped away from Mathias and gave a sad smile, nodding to Mathias. “Please, just go along with it. You’ll be in my prayers.”
“Now wait a moment—just wait, I nee-urk!” Mathias cried out before being struck in the back of his head with a hardened piece of heavy leather. His vision went black, his ears ringing as he listened to the sound of his pumping heart throb beh8ind his aching eyes. He felt himself scooped up into the thick arms of one of the men, and went limp as he found he couldn’t fight off the cloying dark attempting to pull him beneath its waves.