The Third Midnight
Captain Robertson paced the length of his hotel room with absent urgency, contemplating the implications of the Duke’s ornamental lamp. The soreness of his shoulder no longer insisted its presence at the forefront of his consciousness. He had bigger things to worry about.
There was no doubt the Duke’s lamp matched the description of the kind Spring-Heeled Jack warned them about. If so, then it meant everything the ghul had been saying about The Company plot was true, and the Eighth Duke of Argyll was at the very heart of it. It would also mean Captain Robertson himself had delivered Mr Daim right into the palms of their hands. He had condemned his friend, and potentially Jinnkind as a whole, to a lifetime of imprisoned servitude. And for what? A letter of commendation and a month’s vacation? Had he really sold out an entire people to an empire that wouldn’t bat an eyelid if he were to die on the field of battle? The Captain felt used.
Yet, at the same time, a tiny part of him felt relieved. With Mr Daim out of the picture and the mission accomplished, Captain Robertson could finally put all this madness about jinn and ghuls behind him. He could finally return to the comfortably simple life he had before he met the mysterious jinni as old as humankind. But that was only a tiny part of him, for he knew the truth was: no matter how much he tried to pretend that all of this wasn’t real, he could never return to that simple life as a rifleman in the British Army.
The events of the past month had flipped everything he thought he knew on its head. Everything he’d ever known about humanity, the world and his little part in it, inextricably altered beyond recognition. It was as though he had been standing on a sand dune made with grains of lies, and Mr Daim was the sandstorm that washed it all away to reveal the bedrock of truth beneath. Having seen the unseen, how could one go back to a life of willfully blissful ignorance?
Captain Robertson had made a mistake. He had let himself be used as a tool of imperialism for far too long. But no longer. With renewed vigour, Captain Robertson removed the shackles of empire, banishing all the intrusive lies of loyalty to queen and country from his conscience. No longer was he going to be a pawn on the chessboard of pillage and plunder. He was going to be free; write his own destiny. But first, Captain Robertson needed to right his wrongs and save Mr Daim from the clutches of The Company.
And with that final thought, the clock struck twelve, the distant chimes of London’s macabre Clock Tower echoing in the night as a cold chill drifted through the open window.
Captain Robertson was left in want of time once the ghul was swiftly upon him, pinning him to the far wall before the minute hand had a chance to reach twelve o’ one.
“YOU WRETCHED SCOUNDREL!” roared Spring-Heeled Jack in his hauntingly guttural rasp, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t gut you where you stand and leave your carcass as carrion for the ravens to feed upon.”
Captain Robertson’s voice escaped him as he was hauled up by the throat with a single arm.
“Well? Has the cocksure Beni Adam anything to say for himself?” scowl etched into the ghul’s fiery crimson eyes, “No? A pity. I would’ve loved to relay the traitor’s last words to Mr Daim once I’d foiled his wicked schemes.”
Spring-Heeled Jack raised his other arm into the air, his claws glistening in the moonlight, striking blood-curdling fear into his prey. With nothing more left to say, the ghul made for the traitor’s head.
“WAIT!” screamed Captain Robertson through a compressed windpipe, halting the jagged cutters an inch from his forehead, “Please! I can explain!”
Spring-Heeled Jack released the Captain, letting him collide with the floor in a pathetic heap gasping for air.
“Well, be out with it, human,” hurried the ghul, “I haven’t got all day.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea what the Duke was planning,” snivelled Captain Robertson, “I was just following orders, being a good soldier.”
“We’ve all been there, Beni Adam. It doesn’t mean our hands are clean of sin,” dismissed Spring-Heeled Jack.
“I know. I know. I have made a grievous error. But please, let me make it right. Please, give me a chance to redeem myself,” begged the Captain.
Spring-Heeled Jack paused, giving the idea some thought.
“Give me a chance to redeem myself the same way you did during the Mutiny,” Captain Robertson entreated further, “Let me help you deal a final blow to The Company once and for all.”
“And what use could you possibly be to me in this endeavour?”
“For starters, I can go places you cannot.”
Spring-Heeled Jack raised a sceptical eyebrow, “I’m listening.”
“The Duke doesn’t know I intend to move against him. We can use that to our advantage. I can get close to him without raising suspicions and find out exactly what his next moves are,” elaborated Captain Robertson, “with that information, we can discern the perfect time to strike and dispatch The Company in one fell swoop.”
Spring-Heeled Jack had to admit the Beni Adam made a good point. The only reason it’d taken him this long to destroy The Company was that they could smell him coming a mile away. With a military man on the inside, he had a real chance at putting an end to his nemesis. But there remained one cause for concern:
“Why should I trust you?”
“Given the circumstances, you shouldn’t,” answered the Captain in utmost candour, “But I’m your best shot at saving Mr Daim.”
A moment of silence passed between human and ghul.
“Besides, if I were to step out of line, you’d no doubt strike me down before I drew in a second breath,” jested Captain Robertson.
With a light chuckle, Spring-Heeled Jack was convinced. He presented his hand to his newfound ally, who hesitated at the ghastly claws for but a moment before graciously accepting.
“Very well, Beni Adam,” smiled the ghul, “It must be said you most certainly have a way with words.”
“I’m glad we could come to an agreement.”
That smile soon became a scowl as Spring-Heeled Jack tightened his grip, causing Captain Robertson to wince through gritted teeth.
“Remember this: if you so much as err out of line the length of a mongrel’s lice, I will remove you from existence in the most excruciatingly painful way that can be possibly fathomed,” the grip tightened, “Is that clear?!”
“YES! Yes, it is!” panicked Captain Robertson, fearing his hand would be crushed beneath the ghul’s might.
As soon as he was released, the Captain immediately rubbed his injured hand, thankful it wasn’t broken. Truth be told, he probably deserved that.
“Good. Now that we’re in agreement let us get down to business.”
The Eighth Duke of Argyll studied the ornamental lamp, mesmerised by the intricate emerald inscriptions, cool beneath his touch. In his hand, he held the key to untold power. And oh boy, was it intoxicating.
Everything had succeeded as planned; the jinni was bound to his will, and with Spring-Heeled Jack finally out the picture, nothing stood in his way. But this was just the beginning. The path that lay ahead would change the world, leading the British Empire to greater heights than the world had ever seen, leaving no corner untouched by her majesty’s grace. All he had to do now was wait for all the pieces to fall into place.
A knock at the door told the Duke it was time he put his new toy away, closing it behind the glass casements of his display cabinet.
The Duke didn’t have any meetings planned for the day, so he was surprised to find that the man who entered his office was none other than the good old Captain Robertson.
“Captain!” beamed the Duke, “I thought you’d be halfway up to Scotland by now. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Truly it is my pleasure, Mr Secretary. I was hoping I could have a word with you in private before I left. You know… without the insufferable Henderson,” smirked Captain Robertson.
That last remark made the Duke laugh. The Commissioner was indeed insufferable. Just because he played his part didn’t mean the Duke had to like him. The Captain, on the other hand, was a man who was both useful and likeable. He would go far in his career.
“Of course, of course. Please, take a seat,” insisted the Duke as he walked over to his desk drawer, pulling out two glasses and a bottle of scotch, “would you like a drink?”
“I really shouldn’t, Mr Secretary, I—”
“Nonsense! You’re off duty. Relax,” reasoned the Duke, pouring both glasses, “just pretend we’re two friends having a good old chat.”
Captain Robertson awkwardly smiled before grabbing one of the glasses and raising it in thanks. In response, the Duke also raised his glass, clinking it against the Captain’s before taking a generous swig.
“Ahhhh. That hits the spot. So, tell me, what is it you wished to discuss?”
“Henderson? What of him? I know he’s a nuisance, and, believe me, I despise him as much as the next man, but I can’t be slandering him when he’s not here. After all, how’s he going to hear me insult him?” jested the Duke.
“Mr Secretary, I have reason to believe Commissioner Henderson has betrayed us,” divulged Captain Robertson, seriousness etched into his voice.
“You can’t be serious! That man hasn’t the guile nor courage to do such a thing,” the Duke was shocked into disbelief, “What makes you say this?”
“He lied to us. Yesterday. When he claimed to have succeeded in dispatching Spring-Heeled Jack.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Because Spring-Heeled Jack visited me last night.”
To be continued…
This is part of a larger series called Midnights In London