The Eleventh Hour, Pt. 3

In the London Hospital, Captain Holden Ames lay in a bed of clean, white linen. Both of his eyes were bandaged, and his breathing was labored. Mrs. Ames stood loyally beside the bed, watching anxiously over her husband until the sound of the opening infirmary doors stole her attention. Huxley led the way in and down the row of beds towards the captain. Helman and Moss hurried quickly behind. Upon reaching them, Huxley bowed politely.

   “Captain Ames, I presume. Mrs. Ames.”

    “Aye,” the captain said with a graveled voice. “Who might you be?”

    “Theodore Huxley, sir, and with me are Sergeants Helman and Moss from Scotland Yard.”

    “They called you in, eh?” The captain chuckled before expelling a cough. “I suppose you’re here for my statement.”

    “Yes, sir,” said Helman.

    “He’s just woken up,” Mrs. Ames protested. “Can’t he rest just a bit longer?”

    “With all due respect, madam,” said Huxley, “the very preservation of the British Empire may rely on what your husband can tell us.”

    “It’s all right, dear,” Captain Ames consoled his wife. “Go and stretch your wings. Get yourself some fresh air.”

    “It won’t take but a few minutes,” assured Moss.

    After a long pause, Mrs. Ames picked up her handbag and walked out of the infirmary. Huxley made himself comfortable in the chair beside the bed.

    “Sergeant Moss, would you be so kind as to request a pot of tea for the four of us?” he asked.

    “Tea?” Captain Ames repeated. “Is this really the time for that?”

    “My dear captain, all things in due order,” said Huxley. Moss rolled his eyes and walked away to find a nurse. “Now, then. To the best of your recollection, what happened last night at Finsbury Square?”

    Captain Ames drew in as deep a breath as he could and began speaking slowly. “The gold had just arrived; eleven minutes late, but it arrived. I had Sergeant Fitz open the gate. He led them to the vault, and—”

   “Them?” asked Huxley. Helman looked up from scribbling notes in a small pad.

   “The two constables guarding the transport. It was a badger-drawn cart. Sergeant Fitz led them in, and I took up the rear. There wasn’t a soul out on the street. The whole procedure was as secure as can be. It seemed like the transports went without a hitch.”

    “What happened once the gold was in the compound?” asked Huxley.

    “We shut the gates, and the guard detail began unloading the bricks inside the vault.”

    “Inside the vault… you mean the cart was taken inside?” Captain Ames nodded and Huxley turned to Helman. “Why was there no cart in the vault when I arrived?”

    “It had to be moved,” Helman answered nervously. “The company it was being leased from needed it back.”

    “Sergeant, that cart was evidence in a mass murder and gold heist. It was no longer their property.”

    “Gold heist?” The captain asked. “You mean, it was stolen?”

    “Yes, captain. I’m afraid so.”

    “How much of it?”

    “All of it.”

    “My god…How is that even possible?”

    “That’s what we’re here to figure out,” said Huxley.

    “Ah. So, you’re not here to investigate the murders of nineteen of my men,” he said angrily. “You’re here about the King’s bloody gold.”

    “As heartless as that sounds, yes, Captain. We’re here to find the gold. However, I would take consolation in the fact that whoever is responsible for the missing gold is also responsible for these deaths.” Huxley leaned forward. “We will find the criminals, and they will be brought to justice.”

    Sergeant Moss returned to them with a tea set which he placed on an adjacent table. Helman assisted in pouring each of them a small cup, Huxley requesting nothing added to his, the other three taking sugar. Within a minute, they were each sipping politely.          

    “You didn’t see what I saw,” Captain Ames continued finally. “A great red cloud growing over us. It smelled a lot like the chlorine gas the Germans used, but worse. I could hear them, trapped inside, fighting to get out. I tried opening the door, but the fumes got to me before I was able. That blasted timer…”

    “Was it at all a sickly-sweet smell?” asked Huxley.

    “Yes. As a matter of fact, it was. How did you know?” The two sergeants looked to Huxley curiously.

    “It’s blue.” Huxley held up the handkerchief he’d used to wipe the surface of the vault platform, a wet blue stain on its fold.

   “Blue?” Moss repeated, befuddled.

   “Captain Ames, I am holding up the handkerchief I used to wipe a mystery substance from within the vault. I had my suspicions as to what it might be with the lingering smell and its amber hue. There is a chemical compound called diphenylamine found in onions, coriander, and tea leaves. Upon contact with a nitrate—in this case, most likely nitrogen dioxide—the compound will create a dark blue color.”

   “That’s amazing,” said Helman almost as wide-eyed as Moss. “What made you think to do that?”

   “It’s simple chemistry,” Huxley replied. “I spent a good deal of time tinkering with chemicals during the war. Captain, I must ask, were you present at all for the construction of this vault?”

   “I was.”

   “Did you happen to see any peculiar machinery or equipment in the square? Even for a short period of time.”

   Captain Ames thought for a long moment. “No. I can’t say I did. But truthfully, I don’t know much about buildings. I wouldn’t be the one to know if anything was unusual.”

   “What are you thinking, Mr. Huxley?” asked Helman. “Something faulty with the vault?”

   The four jumped, Moss spilling his tea on his jacket, as the doors of the infirmary burst open. A nurse quickly helped in a constable, burned and gasping for air.  There was an uproar of shouting as another constable was led in, followed by three more.

   “What’s happening?” Helman demanded, stopping a nurse for answers.

   “Just look outside!” she cried and ran off.

   Huxley, Moss, and Helman rushed to the window and opened the shutter. With London stretched out before them, they spied three dark red clouds pluming up from within the city.

   “What is it? What’s happening?” Captain Ames asked.

   “Whoever it was that stole the gold at Finsbury Square,” said Huxley, “they weren’t finished.”

Continue to Part 4

Copyright © 2019 by Stephen Daniel Ruiz