11. A Man of a Thousand Pieces

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The following days of that early December were purgatory

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The following days of that early December were purgatory. I perched on the edge of Mr Rawlings' settee, still as a gargoyle, without saying much of any sense to anyone, save Constable Hare who visited so that I might offer him my statement.

There was not a lot more I could say that I had not done so already, and this I told him repeatedly. I had seen no other in Minster Park, and the endless peppering of human body parts had shocked me too much to have noticed any footprints leading through the snow besides my own, or, as a matter of fact, any manner of clue as to who else had seen what I had. It was during this visit that Hare informed me that Viola Howard had gone missing, and I looked him in the eye for the first time, knowing full well the implications of it.

I had not listened to the poor nurse's plea for help ... no, I had as good as dismissed it and for that I'd been a spectator to her harrowing demise. It was some cruel twist in fate that I had been the first to find her there; an execrable reminder of the woman whom I had failed. That evening at the hospital had greatly unsettled me – that much I told the constable – but I had scarce given a second thought to Viola's safety over my own following her solemn warning. In a way, I had known the truth of it when happening upon the body in the alley, but my recent quest to win back my sweetheart had so far blinded me to the true terror of what I faced.

And then, moments before he left, there came one of the most poignant moments of my life. It materialised in the form of a harmless, routine question, most likely one Hare asked only out of habit rather than out of suspect, but it none the less pushed me further on edge.

"Mr Redding," he said as he affixed his hat, "is there anything else that I should know before I leave?"

On the surface his closing question seemed practically inconsequential, but what I did with my answer was a provoking test of my character. The guilt summoned forth the youthful visage of Jonathan Corgaine, with his unseemly grin splitting his face in two.

His smile was cunning, almost daring me to say his name aloud, but then I thought of Frederic, of how something poisonous had snatched the boy in its grip, and whose only crime was his wide-eyed enthusiasm for contemporary science. Frederic did not deserve the black mark against his name. Corgaine, on the other hand ... Well, the man was secretive in his wayward thinking, his motives morbid and his ventures ambitious, but without him I would not be the man I am to-day.

And so, against my every good intention to further the investigation of Viola's killer, I shook my head, withholding Corgaine's involvement despite being full aware of the man's character. I hoped then that I did not regret it, and, as Hare passed me in the doorway, I detected a fleeting glimmer of mistrust in his eyes – a glimmer he perhaps hoped I would not notice.

Even so, before Constable Hare left the premises he patted me on the shoulder. "Get yourself some rest, lad," he said. The timbre of his voice betrayed cigarette case in his pocket. "You look as though you need years of it."

"I will do my best to, Constable," I replied, knowing it was easier said than done. The man had no idea of even half the horrors I had faced, and he never would.

Once Tom and Ida Rawlings saw the pathetic state of numbness I had succumbed to, they kindly delayed payment of my rent for one more week. Without any current term of employment I did not dare think of how I was to produce the money in such a short time, and thanked them diligently for their consideration. Mr Rawlings once even slid a tumbler of gin across the table as we sat together in silence. I appreciated his gesture, but did not drink it, as the mere essence of alcohol beneath my nose repulsed me.

As ever, the housemaid busied herself about the Rawlings' home. In my self-pity I seldom took notice of her, but on the odd occasion she made a sound I would look up to catch her glancing at me beneath her eyelashes. My heart would jump into my throat, but I swallowed it and smiled cordially in return, making certain that the next time she dropped something, I would pay her no mind.

But by the third day of my haunted state I could hardly distract my attention away from her. I knew not if she meant only for her smile to appear pleasant, knowing full well of my recent woes, but hidden in those little looks and the way her hand brushed mine as she found any excuse to hand me cups of tea and chocolate, were akin to the manner in which Nina had done so when first we'd courted.

On the eve of that same day, she skimmed the nape of my neck with her fingers as she passed behind the settee, sweeping the lengths of my hair with it. A chill crawled up my back at the sensation, and I swallowed, now conscious that I was not merely imagining her suggestiveness. I rounded in her direction in a heartbeat, surprised and horrified that this girl, whose name I still did not know, had been so bold as to casually touch me in the way of lovers without thought for my reaction.

It was with an admirable amount of control, if I do say so myself, that I did not follow her into the other room, as was my newfound desire. I knew better than to fall prey to this temptation a third time. I was not myself. Joseph Redding never was and never would be a womaniser, and was certainly perceptive enough than to jeopardise his already strained relationship. Instead I snatched up my longcoat and hat from the stand and headed into the night.

I hunched my shoulders in as I strode through Glasten, keeping my head low into my chest

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I hunched my shoulders in as I strode through Glasten, keeping my head low into my chest. My hat obscured most of my face from passersby, of whom I did not wish to see or been seen. The chill of winter had brought with it a fog that shrouded the snowy town in impenetrable grey, with only the intermittent, muted halos of streetlamps to guide me down Clement Street.

I found the nearest open chemist and barged inside with purpose and without greeting. Cillian O'Carroll – if indeed that was his true name – did not seem at all keen that I should arrive practically on the toll of 5 o'clock as he was about to lock up, though without need of any explanation, I slipped him a single penny.

The Irishman cocked an eyebrow. "Times are that rough, Redding?"

 "Times are that rough, Redding?"

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