As dawn arrived in Belfast, a bedraggled figure stumbled into Belfast's fashionable College Square. Billy McDougal was close to exhaustion. His ragged breath rose in clouds into the freezing night air as he staggered up the steps to the big mahogany front door of one of the four-storey town houses that lined the streets that formed the Square.
He was taking a chance. The Boss had ordered him never to come here but he had also told him that he had to report immediately if ever anything went wrong, and things had gone badly wrong.
McDougal had been working for the man he referred to as "The Boss" for more than two years now. If he was the sort of person who felt such things, he would have recognised that he owed a great deal to his Boss. McDougal had arrived in Belfast destitute, ruined and with little hope of work. The Boss had recognised his unique talents and put them to good use. He had given him steady employment and got him back on his feet. The fact that the employment was highly illegal and the sort of work that could get you hung did not matter to McDougal.
He was not that sort of person though. McDougal was a liar, a thief and worse. Sentiments like gratitude and loyalty to him were signs of weakness to be exploited. What he did understand was how to survive. McDougal's real talent lay as a resurrectionist, a body snatcher. As a skill, body snatching had been made obsolete by a change in the Law so McDougal knew he was lucky to find an employer like The Boss in this day and age.
McDougal grasped the large brass door knocker and gave it a sharp rap, wincing at how noisy it was in the early morning stillness. After a surprisingly short time, he heard bolts and locks rattling and the door swung open. To his further surprise, there stood the Boss himself. Not only that but he was dressed.
"Up early, Boss?" he commented.
The Boss scowled at him through narrowed eyes, his face like thunder. "I haven't gone to bed yet. You better have a damn good reason for being here, Billy boy."
"You can bet on that," McDougal replied, meeting his employer's steely gaze with an equally challenging stare.
The Boss glanced up and down the street outside, then flicked his head to gesture for McDougal to come in.
The hallway was lit with gas lamps. McDougal looked around at the plush wallpaper and paintings on the walls. He felt his boots sink into the deep carpet beneath his feet and the welcoming warmth captured by the thick walls. The comfort and luxury was a million miles away from the cheap, dirty hovel McDougal lived in on the other side of the town.
"Nice place you have here," he commented.
"I don't appreciate you being in my home, Billy boy," his employer said as he closed the front door. "Upstairs. We can talk in my laboratorium."
McDougal had no idea what that was, but nonetheless followed his employer up three flights of stairs to the top floor of the building. A large, iron-bound door that would have looked more at home in a bank vault than a townhouse stood at the top of the stairs. With a rattling and clanking of heavy keys, the Boss unlocked the door and swung it open. He held it open while McDougal entered, then closed it behind the both of them.
McDougal looked around. The room was lit by a gas lamp on one wall, an open fire that had burned away to glowing embers and the lurid glare from several oil burners whose naked flames sat beneath glass flasks of bubbling, turquoise liquids. There were two long tables completely covered with glass phials, bottles, flasks and tubes, all filled with vibrantly coloured liquids and joined together by glass or rubber pipes through which various distillations of the heated liquids flowed from one vessel to the next. In the centre of the room was a wide, slightly tilted table with a smooth wooden surface stained a deep brown by what McDougal could guess was dried blood. He had been in another workshop owned by his employer and seen an almost identical table and knew its twin purposes: Dissecting and assembling.
Strapped to the middle of the table was what looked very like the back end of a dog, it's purple and green guts splayed out from the open top end of the carcass but not in a mess. Each glistening entrail had either been carefully sown up or attached to tubes into which the strange bubbling liquids flowed and exited. As McDougal watched, he saw the tail of the dog twitch back and forth, the way it would if still alive and content. The sight would have made most people run screaming from the room but McDougal was used to a lifetime of horrors and his last two years of employment had inured him to things that would have driven most folk mad with terror. Despite that, however, he could not help the shiver of disgust that ran down his spine.
There were books everywhere, all opened at different pages showing diagrams or lists and laying at easy reach on the tables, on a chair and some on the floor. McDougal glanced around, looking for a particular tome he knew would be here somewhere and soon he spotted it. The old, dog eared, leather-bound journal that the Boss carried everywhere with him sat on top of the other thing that he never seemed to go anywhere without; The large whiskey barrel. McDougal had been in other workshops of his employer and these two items where always present. The book he could understand but the barrel? What on earth could be in it? The Boss liked a drink but not so badly that he needed a whole barrel of whiskey with him at all times. Whatever it was, it must be very special. It was not the sort of thing that was easily carried about the country. McDougal made a mental note that both these items were valued by his employer and if he ever needed any sort of leverage with him, getting his hands on them would be the first step.
A decanter of port, two thirds empty, sat on a little side table beside the fire. McDougal licked his parched lips and his throat burned with sudden raging thirst at the sight of it.
"Any chance of drink?" he rasped as the Boss closed and locked the door.
His employer looked at him with naked hostility, then his face softened and he shrugged.
"Why not? I was just about to pour myself one to celebrate."
"What's the occasion?" McDougal asked as the Boss poured two glasses of the ruby liquid.
"I told you I've been up all night. I was working. I've made a breakthrough. A tremendous discovery. There was something I had overlooked, it was so fantastic I thought it was just a mistake, a fanciful ingredient that owed more to alchemy than true chemistry, but I now believe I was wrong."
"Ach that's great news Sir!" McDougal said and to a certain degree he actually meant it. From experience he knew that his employer's breakthroughs and new experiments usually meant more work for him.
"Never mind that now," the Boss said. "What the Hell happened?"
McDougal knocked back his glass of port, gulping down most of it in one. He took a deep breath and then he launched into his tale. "It all went wrong. We went up to the new Burying Ground to wait for it but its been trying to get back into it's grave and there was a bulkie waiting for us there-"
"A what?" His employer interrupted him, an annoyed look of puzzlement on his face.
"A bulkie. A policeman. And not just any old policeman, either," McDougal said. "Harpur it was. The worst god awful bastard of a peeler in this whole town. He nearly took us in, but your last little experiment turned up in the nick of time."
The look on the Boss's face changed to one of consternation.
"Saved our bacon it did," McDougal continued. "It attacked another copper up Buttle's Loaney. Harpur ran off to see what was going on. There was gunfire. I was stuck in the graveyard-the bastard locked me in-but I managed to climb out in the end by getting up on top of an old mausoleum and over the wall. I went to the Loaney to see what was happening, but the place was crawling with coppers by then. I hung about as long as I could to see what was going on but it was too risky. From what I overheard, Harpur thought he'd solved your little problem for you. Shot the bugger through the head, he did but still it got away. I ran all the way back into town. I had to come straight here to tell you."
The Boss sighed, taking a long, contemplative sip of is own glass of port.
"What a bloody mess," he said, shaking his head. "This couldn't have come at a worse time. What was it doing up there anyway?"
"The last two were the same, sure," McDougal said. "They seem to want to go back to their graves. They seem to remember some things from their lives."
The Boss shot a sharp glance sideways at the whiskey barrel in the corner. McDougal wondered once again just what was in there.
"I'm on the run now," he said.
His employer gave a tired little chuckle. "Now, Billy boy? You've been on the run ever since that nasty business in Edinburgh."
"I was not prosecuted for that," McDougal spat.
"You turned King's evidence! You saved your own skin by selling out your partner in crime," his employer laughed. "Otherwise you would have hanged with him. If the authorities knew that you were back at your old work again they'd hang you without trial. Damn it, if they knew your real name they'd probably hang you anyway."
McDougal glared at his employer. "And if they knew what you were up to, sir, they'd hang us both together," he said, very quietly through teeth barred in a sinister grin.
The two men looked each other in the eye for several seconds, both contemplating their mutual dependence and how much trust they had to place in the other. The thought of it made both of them very nervous.
"Well lets make sure it doesn't come to that, eh?" the Boss said eventually. "Like I said, I've made an important breakthrough this evening and I have vital work for you to do. I can't have anything interfere with that. That last creature must be caught and disposed of. I'm going to need you to get me some very special ingredients as well. I need some parts of an Egyptian Mummy. I will also need a female."
"A woman?" McDougal said. It would be less of a problem to get a woman than an Egyptian Mummy but it was still a surprise.
"Yes, a woman," the Boss said. "I've been so stupid. All my subjects have been male so far. And, this policeman in the graveyard-"
"Did he get a good look at you?"
McDougal nodded. "Oh aye. No doubt about it."
"Well that's unfortunate. For him."
McDougal raised an eyebrow. "You don't mean...""I do, Billy boy." The Boss said. "Nothing is going to get in the way of my work. Nothing. Call back later and I'll have something for you to help with the other matter but I want this Harpur dead by the weekend."