'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney

xxx

Father Palacky, hospital director at the 'Monastery of St. Agnes Na Frantiaku' in Prague, had opted to personally give his distinguished visitor a tour- said visitor being prominent London physician Dr. James L. Norrington, accompanied by his wife. Any chance of exchanging medical information with a colleague should be seized, and one must show special consideration to an Englishman who could speak fluent Czech.

The visitors weren't actually saying much as they respectfully followed the páter through the several wards and surgeries, viewing that era's usual varieties of fevers, poxes, and injured limbs. James and Meredith had learned to move easily in turn-of-the-century attire- the same garments they'd worn five weeks ago (their time) for the Paris Mission. James sported a black frock coat over an unruffled shirt, Meredith a plain dark-blue gown with a bustle- still the fashion in 1890 Bohemia. Far less conspicuous were the tiny cylinders implanted deep in their ear canals- high-tech instant translators, which gave them command of the local language. James, who'd mastered three tongues the hard way, might have felt qualms about 'cheating' if the shortcut wasn't so essential. This Mission required fluent command of Czech, in addition to the particular talents possessed by his little group.

Deciding they'd delayed long enough, James politely addressed their host. "This facility appears to be well run, Father- my compliments. But I had hoped to also observe how you handle less-routine aliments."

"Certainly, Dr. Norrington." Palacky led them to the isolation wards, where he unlocked a door to a room with a single plain bed. "We have here a quite uncommon case."

The bed was occupied by a teenage girl, hardly older than a child, looking tense and vulnerable against the pallid sheets. Tendrils of light brown hair were splayed over her pillow. Eyes of similar hue stared up, wide and frightened.

"This is Miss Anezka Novak, daughter of a wealthy mill-owner, who was assaulted on the street two nights ago. No violation of her chastity, thank the Holy Mother! But she received an unusual injury." He pointed to the stained dressing, wound loosely around the girl's neck. "The incident has been reported to the authorities, though it's unlikely they can make any arrests, since she's been unable to provide a description of her assailant."

"Where did this happen?"

"Near the Justicní Palác. That's between the Vltava River and the southern end of Petrin Park," Palacky specified for the visitor. "The girl had been visiting the park, and stayed out later than is advisable for a young woman walking alone. She should be thankful to have paid no higher price for her imprudence."

Anezka made no sound, just glanced desperately from one overhead face to another. Mare kept her expression kindly, though she was bristling within. There was no cause to talk about the patient as though she weren't in the room.

James probably felt the same way, but had to maintain the mannerisms of a clinically detached physician. He leaned closer, dispassionately eyeing the scared face. "She shows every sign of being seriously traumatized."

"That is most probably due to the bizarre nature of her injury, rather than the severity." The priest reached for neck bandage; Anezka cringed. "Hold still," Palacky ordered, pulling back the dressing to reveal the wound. There were two small matched punctures, just above the collarbone. "She claims this to be a bite, though I believe she is misremembering. Most probably she was struck with an ice pick. To judge from her pallor, there was considerable blood loss."

James and Mare cut eyes.

Palacky carefully replaced the bandage. "However it was inflicted the experience has seriously unsettled her constitution, as you can observe. It's been deemed appropriate for her to recover in seclusion, to forestall a case of full hysteria."

Norrington wondered whether the poor girl would have been afforded that consideration if she'd come from to a less prosperous family.

"With your permission, Father, I may be able to offer some small assistance." Meredith looked to James- in this day and age, any treatment proposal would have more credibility if stated by a male.

James explained. "In our London facility, we've found that women who have suffered violence at the hands of men often derive great solace in unburdening themselves to a member of their own sex, whom they view as more likely to understand and sympathize." Father Palacky looked skeptical, so James added, "Furthermore, I've a mind to tour the mental wards next, and as some of the cases there are likely to be unsuitable for a lady's viewing..."

"That is a valid concern, Doctor. Very well. Mrs. Norrington, I would require that you not wander from this room prior to our return."

"Of course, Father."

As the men left, Meredith pulled over a chair and sat, being careful to make allowances for the bustle- why women tolerated such cumbersome things for so long was a mystery to her. Giving the patient a motherly smile, she slipped a small cylinder from her reticule- one of several on her person.

"Don't be afraid, Anezka. I'm going to help you. This is a treatment we've just started to use in England. It will sting for a moment, and it may make you smell of garlic for a day, but it should help steady your constitution." She placed the compression shot against the child's arm, carefully pressed it home. / Van Helsing should've had it this easy. /

Anezka made a small anxious sound, though she didn't move. "There. Now you'll start to feel better," Mare assured. "Another thing that will help, will be to tell me what happened... about the man who hurt you." She started to smooth the girl's hair. "Do you remember what he looked like?"

The patient tensed. "No..."

It took only normal powers of perception, to deduce that statement was untrue. Mare coaxed gently. "Did he threaten further harm to you, if you said anything?"

"Said... he'd hurt me lots more, next time." Anezka seemed less frightened. In addition to the antidote, that shot contained a small dose of sodium thiopental, to relax the recipient's inhibitions about talking. Mare disliked using such underhanded methods, but this was an extraordinary situation. Lives, now and in the future, depended on their identifying the culprit.

"He can not harm you here, Anzee. Or inside your home. You'll be safe, so long as you don't go outside after dark for the next month. If you do that you'll never see him again." / Not if we have anything to say about it. / "So don't be afraid to tell me about him. Just one thing at a time. How tall was he?"

"More 'en a head over me," Anezka sighed.

Mare glanced down the bed, estimating the girl's height at about five three. "And of what coloration?" When the girl hesitated, she prompted, "Pale? Dusky? In-between?" Multiple-choice questioning was always tricky; there was risk of planting ideas. But Mare was already pretty sure what the answer to this one was.

"Real pale. Like cheese," the girl breathed.

Mare continued stroking the tangled tresses. "And what color was his hair?"

"Near white." Anezka was far more relaxed, her anxiety virtually gone.

"Did he have a beard? Or a mustache?"

"No... looked like, foreigner."

"What color were his eyes?"

"Eyes... like fish in the market."

"Could you tell their color?"

"Like a fish," Anezka repeated. "All red, like... dead fish... ne'er wanna see... eyes like that again..."

Her own orbs drooped shut, and her breathing slowed. Meredith resisted the temptation to shake her back to awareness. The poor child had been through enough.

She remained beside Anezka, caressing the wan face to forestall any nightmares. James and his guide finally returned, the former with that too-familiar tightlipped look.

Father Palacky regarded the peacefully sleeping girl with approval. "I see your efforts have indeed had a beneficial effect, Mrs. Norrington. You have my appreciation. And that of her family, I'm sure."

Mare's estimate of the páter rose a notch. His bedside manner needed work, but his concern for the patients was genuine. "You're quite welcome, Father. I'm glad I was able to help."

She made a circular gesture with her elbow. Reading it, James squared his shoulders. "We're most grateful for the tour, Father. I do have another hospital to visit, so, with your permission, we'll take our leave now."

The priest escorted them to the exit. They crossed the monastery grounds as Mare quietly made report. "Anezka responded well to the injection- I got a partial description. Our quarry is pale, blonde, around your height, and has red eyes resembling those of a dead fish."

"That should make him stand out. Good work, darling." But James' tone was dour.

She squeezed his arm. "It was bad in that mental ward?"

"Appalling." He stared over a peaceful cloister without really seeing it. "So many of those patients could have their lives turned around by ordinary anti-psychotics or sedatives. For some, a simple antibiotic would help."

"Poor James." Her husband frequently had this difficulty- always wanting to render assistance beyond the assigned ones. "It won't be much longer, historically speaking, before those medicines will become available. We both know why they can't be introduced now. So what about that threat we are here to counter?"

"No one in the mental wards sported a neck wound. When I asked the Father if he's seen any more injuries like Anezka's..."

"You asked outright?"

"I was careful to disguise my interest. In regards to a patient who attempted to bite us, I speculated that an individual with his disorder might have been responsible for Miss Novak's injury. Father Palacky replied that he doubted she was actually bitten, for human teeth leave quite different marks. When I inquired whether he's seen any other such wounds, he said he hasn't. It's possible we caught the first one. At least the first to be admitted to this hospital."

"I wonder what Jack's finding at the Jewish one?"

"We'll soon know."

They reached the monastery entrance, where a silent monk opened the gate for them. The nodded thanks as they left, proceeding to the public street.

James looked to his wrist, scowled, took out his pocket watch instead. "It's about time for you to start back to meet him. I'll join you as soon as I can." He raised a hand to signal a horse-drawn cab.

"No need to call one for me, James. I'm feeling a bit under the weather- a walk will do me good." She added, "It's only a few blocks, and it is broad daylight."

"All right. Just try to limit the unnecessary meanders." The shared a brief kiss before she glided off along the cobbled walkway.

James flagged down a cab and got in. "Charles Square Hospital, please."

x

Mare carefully set pen and inkwell at one end of the low table, before unrolling a street map in the middle. As this was a mid-priced hotel, the lobby was nothing grand, but was comfortably furnished and adequately lit. The only other occupants were a few stiff-looking gentlemen absorbed in their newspapers. She wasn't worried about anyone taking notice of her activity, for her group would be checking out tomorrow morning. On this Mission, it was advisable to change lodgings every day.

An aged waiter approached to inquire if she'd like a drink. Mare ordered a small white wine, and also asked the location of the Justicní Palác. The geezer pointed out the latter on the map. As he retreated, Mare dipped her pen and marked that locale with a round black dot.

"Should you be doin' that out in the open, lass?"

Meredith looked up to see Jack, still in his soiled laborer's attire- wrinkled shirt, stained apron, scuffed trousers and work boots. Somehow he managed to make even that ensemble look exotic.

"The lighting inside our room is woefully inadequate, it's too windy outdoors, and nobody's likely to take much notice of a hotel guest studying a city map," she explained.

Sparrow shrugged, sinking into the chair across from hers. The waiter approached with Mare's glass- Jack smoothly intercepted it, took a sip and pulled a face. "Never could abide white wine."

"They offer burgundy here, too."

"I suppose that'll have ta do. One serving of the red stuff, my good man."

The 'good man' eyed the rough-clad visitor as though he'd like to throw him out. But, as this plebeian was clearly the Lady's guest, he could only move off to fetch the requested drink.

Mare also regarded Jack sourly. "That jest was in bad taste."

"Better 'en no taste. Which, to judge from the scarcity of rum in this burg, is what Pragueians seem ta have."

"It seems our adversary has a different opinion of them." Mare got serious. "But enough joking- there's nothing funny about kids being hurt. Did you find any in your hospital?"

"Two," Jack reported somberly. "David Bezalel an' Hadar Markeles. Both young, comely, an' too insentient ta answer questions. Don't know if I'd've been allowed to ask, anyway. Hospital orderlies are expected ta be seen an' not heard. So I jus' slipped 'em theer injections an' went back ta emptying bedpans." Sparrow grimaced at the recollection. "Murphy's gonna owe me a bonus when this Mission's over!"

"Let's focus on getting that far, shall we?"

The waiter returned, set down Jack's drink without a word, then made himself scarce. As Sparrow drained the glass, Mare leaned closer.

"Did you establish where these assaults happened?"

"Aye. Managed ta charm some information out of one o' the wenches at reception. Miss Markeles has an evening job at café on Na PrÌkope Street- seems she was walkin' home from that when she got jumped. They found her jus' above the north end of Wenceslas Square, dazed an' bleedin' from the neck. The Bezalel lad was dropped off by a good samaritan who said he'd found him staggering about on the west end of the Charles Bridge. 'Tis unclear what he was doing out at that hour; the hospital only identified him 'cause one of the nurses knew his family."

Mare dipped her pen, added two ink dots to the map. She frowned thoughtfully at the results. "So that's three we know about. Two on the western bank, one on this side. None terribly far from City Center."

Jack pointed to the oldest ink dot. "Who's this?"

"Anezka Novak. We found her in the monastery hospital. Also young and pretty, and just coherent enough to give me a partial description."

"Did she say anythin' about a rusty beard?"

"No. Why?"

"Jus' that there's a bloke with that feature, on the next couch from ours, who appears ta be leanin' a bit this way."

Mare, making a pretense of straightening her hair, turned her head just far enough to get a glimpse. The 'bloke' was a hale-looking broad-shouldered Irish gent with a closely trimmed red beard, apparently absorbed in his London Times.

"That's not the man she described- she said he was clean-shaven, blonde and pale. Anyway, our target wouldn't be out at this hour."

"He could have non-vampire spies," Jack reminded. "The rotter can't be convertin' all his entourage inta Undead; he'll need some daylight-tolerant ones ta..."

They were forestalled from further speculation as Norrington entered the lobby. His animated step told them he was bringing news.

Giving them both a nod, he pulled up a third chair, looking down at the map. "I found two," Sparrow offered.

"And I've located a fourth. A sixteen-year-old named Milos Benes. He was attacked three nights ago, while strolling the northwest quadrant of Charles Square."

Mare promptly added an ink dot. "That's also in the general vicinity of City Center."

Jack stared hard. "I've detected a more specific pattern, luv." Scraping a nail to score the paper, Jack traced straight lines from the Charles Bridge ink dot to the Justicní Palác one, then the Charles Square and Wenceslas Square marks. "Notice what shape- associated w' things unholy- these lines are on the way ta forming?"

James saw it. "A pentagon. With one missing angle. I doubt that's a coincidence."

"I doubt it, too." Mare tore a long strip from the edge off the map, folded it to form a 108 degree corner, positioned the bent strip to connect the Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square dots. They all peered close, checking the position of the completed pentagon's fifth corner.

"The Alt-Neu Synagogue, in the Jewish Quarter," Meredith announced.

"Do ya suppose he's planning ta commit his next attack in that vicinity?" Jack inquired.

"It's as good a lead as we have. We'd better check it out tonight." Norrington had a look at his pocket watch. "We can get two hour's rest before dinner."

Mare dried her pen, looking a bit weary. "First, I need to pay a visit to the physician across the street." At James' concerned look, she assured, "It's nothing serious- just what you'd call a 'woman's complaint'. Even the doctors of this era should be able to do something for it."

"All right. We'll meet you in the hotel restaurant."

"It won't hurt us to order garlic entrees," Jack commented.

"More importantly: we must take our capsules then," Norrington reminded.

Sparrow nodded eagerly. "Always wondered what it'd be like ta see in darkness as well as a cat!"

"I shouldn't be more than half an hour, darling." Mare rose, bustle rustling, and gave James another quick kiss. As she exited through the hotel entrance, James gathered up her writing materials and map. The two men headed towards the staircase to their rooms.

The moment they were all out of sight, the 'bearded bloke' stirred. Setting aside his Times, he pulled a small notebook and pencil from his pocket, and began writing.

xxx

TBC...