The Masterful Timepiece
by Bryon L. Havranek
Table of Contents|
chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Chapter IV: As You Have Sown...
As I jounced around in the dark confines of the cab, I let my mind dwell upon the sordid business that had led to Josiah’s predicament. Isaac Rosenberg had been a prominent financier and investor up until about a year ago, when he had run afoul of our little business cabal.
The man had become embroiled in a fierce competition with our members over certain lucrative commodities and had just scored the winning bid that would have cost us severely when we decided to remove him from the playing field. It had been Coswald who had fabricated the documents that had been leaked to the press, documents that had caused Rosenberg to be arrested for criminal fraud and embezzlement. Even though he was acquitted of all charges, the man’s reputation was in ruins, his fortune evaporating overnight.
Having lost everything, Rosenberg had apparently vanished into a state of squalid destitution, never to be heard from again. Subsequently, our society made quite a bit of money from his downfall, and until now I had given no thought to the possible consequences of our actions. I looked across at the wasted figure of Coswald huddled on his seat like a bag of rags and wondered about what was going on in his head.
“So,” the old man whispered, turning his head to look out the window at the passing streets, “he has come back to haunt us, has he? I should have known that the blighter would endeavour to have his revenge at some future point.” His hand delved into his pocket to toy with his new watch. “This is just like the man. He never did have any backbone. Instead of confronting me like a real man would, what does he do? Resorts to some superstitious nonsense!”
“Not so much nonsense, old chap,” I muttered, catching myself just in time as the cab nearly jolted me out of my seat. “Bloody hell.” I thumped on the ceiling with my stick. “Careful up there, blast you! If you kill us, we won’t be paying your fare!”
“Aye, not such nonsense,” Coswald agreed. He sat up straight then and patted his lap with the palms of his hands. “Right. So our course now is clear. We must needs find Rosenberg and make the little weasel cancel his curse.”
“That does sound like our logical next step,” I concurred. “But we shall have to do so tomorrow morning. It is the middle of the night now, and I won’t be able to locate his whereabouts until daytime. For now, we should try and get some rest, for God alone knows what we might face in our upcoming confrontation!”
The old man shook, wilting before my very eyes. “Might I ask a favor of you, Browning?” When I nodded agreement, he continued. “May I stay over at your place tonight? Strange as it may seem, the thought of being alone right now frightens me beyond words.”
I just stared at him in shock, unable to believe that I had just heard him make such an admission. But what could I do but honour his request? After instructing the cabbie to head towards my own residence, I sank into silence.
Soon we arrived at my apartments and, after a hurried meal of cold meats and bread that I had in the pantry, we retired to bed. As I turned the gas down in my bedroom, I wondered if I would even be able to sleep this night, but no sooner had my head touched the pillow when I found myself fast asleep.
The next morning I rose and dressed in a hurry, not bothering to shave or wash, and headed to the adjacent bedroom to find the gaslights all turned up until the room glowed like the sun. Coswald was seated in a chair before the fireplace, his feet propped up on the grate. His head was resting on his chest and his right hand, on his lap, clutching the cursed timepiece.
I got a look at the infernal device and saw that its hands were now spinning rapidly, as though some unseen hand were adjusting the time. On the interior of the cover was engraved a strange geometric symbol that glowed a sickly red light which pulsed in sublime parody of a heartbeat.
I found myself drawn towards that damnable thing and, despite my best efforts, I began to reach out a finger in order to touch it. But just as I was about to make contact, Coswald awoke with a start and, seeing what I was up to, snapped the watch shut and put it away. The uncontrollable desire promptly vanished, leaving me shaken down to the soles of my patent leather shoes.
“Do not touch that which does not belong to you,” grumbled the old man, and he stretched the sleep from his aged limbs. As he rose from his chair, I shuddered and let out a cry of dismay, for, in the few hours since I had last laid eyes upon him, he had visibly aged several years.
His hair had fallen out, carpeting the back of his coat with wispy spidersilk, and his eyes had sunk so deeply into his wrinkly face that I could barely see them. He was now stooped way over, bent beneath some unimaginable burden, and he took up his cane in a hurry to keep himself from falling over. “Now, let us go about our business, Browning, before I crumble to dust here upon your fine carpet.”
“By all means,” I stammered, looking away from him in a hurry. “I shall send my man down to the office to find out Rosenberg’s last known address and, while we wait, we might as well have a bite of breakfast to give us strength for our coming confrontation.”
Coswald sneered toothlessly at the thought of further delay but realized that we needed to know where we were headed before we departed on the next stage of our mission. He slowly shuffled out the bedroom door, and I had to help him down the flight of stairs to the ground floor.
Having dispatched my servant upon his errand, Coswald and I settled down to a hearty breakfast. We ate in silence, lost in our private thoughts and, just as we were finishing up with our coffee, the housekeeper strolled in and handed me a slip of paper. Examining it closely, I took note of Rosenberg’s address and, pausing to wipe my chin with a napkin, I rose from my seat, ready for action.
“Do you have a pistol, by chance?” enquired the old man, still seated at the table. “We might need to use force to get Rosenberg to cancel this damnable curse, and nothing speaks louder than a loaded gun held up against one’s forehead.”
I liked less and less the way things were going, not having considered that we might have to resort to violence to achieve our goals. I set my shoulders and made my way to my study, where I pulled a small-caliber revolver from a desk drawer. I checked to make sure that it was loaded and then moved to the rack for a coat. Thrusting the pistol into the deep confines of a pocket, I was as ready as I was ever going to be for our task.
Presently, Coswald and I found ourselves in yet another cab, this time heading north to Stamford Hill. For once, we enjoyed a comfortable ride, which allowed us to make our plans without distraction. Since Coswald was the target of the curse, he would remain waiting in the hansom while I initially made contact with Rosenberg. Once I had the man’s attention, Josiah would join me at the door and confront his nemesis.
Should the fellow prove uncooperative, it would then fall upon me to produce my revolver and force the issue. For a plan, it left much to be desired, having enough holes in it to make a Swiss cheese look solid. But what else could we do, a now-centenarian businessman and a portly speculator, neither having any martial training or inclination? So we settled in to wait.
A half an hour later, our cab pulled up outside a modest row of buildings and I clambered out, ready as I ever was going to be for what came next.
Adopting a stride that exhibited much more confidence than what I felt, I moved up to the door that matched the house address written on my piece of paper and knocked firmly upon the amber-colored door. I counted perhaps a half a hundred heartbeats, tapping my foot in accompaniment as I waited, and was about to knock again when I heard a latch being turned from within.
The door swung open about a foot, and an old woman peered out to see who had come to call. Spying me she frowned, though not in alarm, as it is rare for expensively-dressed gentlemen to accost people in their own homes. “Who are you and what do you want?” muttered the old woman in a nasal voice.
I produced my card and handed it to her, but she merely stared myopically at it for a moment before handing it back. “Sorry. I’m afraid that I can’t see too well these days.”
“My name is Browning, madam,” I said, taking off my hat and bowing slightly. “I have come to call on a Mr. Isaac Rosenberg. I was told that he lives at this address, and I have urgent business with him.” At my mention of the name, the old woman gasped and slammed the door in my face.
I jerked back in complete surprise, and stood there for a moment, at a loss for what to do next. I turned away and was moving back towards the cab to consult with Coswald when a second-story window flew up and a bearded old man thrust his head out to stare belligerently down at me. “Who are you, who comes looking for Isaac Rosenberg?” the man all but yelled down at me.
“The name’s Browning, sir,” I said once more. “I need to speak with Mr. Rosenberg at once; I was told that he lives here at this address.”
The old man tugged on his bushy white beard thoughtfully. “Browning, now, is it? I figured you or one of the others would come here sooner or later. But before you say another word, I must tell you that you are wasting your time. Isaac is dead. Been dead now for almost a month.”
“What?!” I stammered in shock. “Dead? How can that be?!”
“You shouldn’t be surprised. After he found himself a ruined man, all he could talk about was you and your associates and how he was going to get even with the lot of you if it were the last thing he’d ever do. He began to study some of my old books, seeking a way to invoke divine justice. But in the end he must have failed, for he hung himself one night in a flurry of mania.”
The man glared and pointed a boney finger at me in accusation. “It’s all your fault, you and that Coswald and the others. You set out to destroy my boy, an innocent man who had never done anything wrong except to cross you in business. And here you come, seeking to make some sort of amends? Too late, far too late. Now I have nothing further to say to such a detestable avar’yan like you, except to say, ‘As you have sown, so shall you all reap’!”
He then slammed the window down so hard that the panes of glass cracked in a dozen places. I had no option but to return to the cab and report what I had learned, for I doubted that the ancient Coswald could have heard a thing that had been said there on the street. I found him fast asleep and shook him gently until he awoke.
“Browning?” he murmured after a moment, the confused look on his face slow to depart. “What are you doing here? And why am I in a cab?” I went on to summarize recent events, including why we were now seated in a cab up in Stamford Hill. After some moments, the aged man finally seemed to grasp the devastating news that I had to impart to him.
With Isaac Rosenberg dead, there was nobody left to remove the curse that was even now draining away the last spark of Coswald’s life. But instead of flying into another of his legendary rages, Josiah merely nodded in acceptance of his fate. He asked that I return him to his home, and I gave the new destination to the driver. As the cabbie snapped his whip to set his horse in motion, I knew that we were now embarking on one final trip that Coswald would not live to see completed.
Sure enough, before we had even pulled up to the curb outside his home, the old man gave out a long, rattling sigh and breathed his last. Josiah Coswald, the richest man in London, was dead.
Copyright © 2017 by Bryon L. Havranek