I.

Enter the Watchmaker

I have never been much of a criminal. In fact, the only reason that I began fencing stolen jewels was to supplement the meager income of a watchmaker and to support my occasional forays into London's east end, notably the opium dens in the Limehouse district.
Little did I realize at the time, that, as my otherwise mundane and unremarkable life began to capsize in the morbid realm of the bizarre in the coming months, I would soon be forced to continue my life of disreputable choices just to keep up the appearance of a regular Soho merchant. As my splurges became my habits, I spent more time away from my shop, attending to other business.
So, I was content to leave my reasonably skilled apprentice, a young lad by the name of Byron, in charge of the work that he could handle and, when I was present, I undertook the more difficult tasks in a flurry of precision craftsmanship that would have baffled even the most seasoned of journeyman watchmakers. Consequently, it was on one of those restless nights, well after the clopping of the handsome cab drawing horses had ceased to pass by my storefront, that I met Santiago.
September forth, eighteen hundred and eighty-three was the date, I believe. The time was well into the quiet hours before dawn, and I was working with unparalleled ire on an antique water clock belonging to a wealthy racehorse owner named Cuthbert. I was nearing a very critical step in the repair of the instrumentation when a rapping at the rear door of the shop occurred.
Not only was I not expecting any visitors at that ungodly hour, but I was so shocked by the intrusion that I dropped a delicate apparatus that I was in the process of installing. The shattering of the piece into a hundred tiny fragments upon the wooden planks of the shop floor turned my surprise into anger. I decided that I would give the rapscallion a severe lashing as recompense for his untimely calling.
It was then that I began to think, as the knock sounded upon the shops rear entrance again, that it seem that the rapping was very heavy and deliberate. A mischievous lad or a hungry beggar would not knock so. My mind quickly began to take a tally of all the clients that I had perhaps dissatisfied in some way, and of all the opium dealers that I owed money to for their gratifying services. Perhaps this visit was not a prank, but an attempt to deprive me of my livelihood, or worse.
I set down my tools, reached into the drawer of my workbench, and pulled forth my Lemat pistol, a devastating "grapeshot revolver" that I had acquired from a Confederate officer who had sought solace overseas after fleeing the War of the North and South in the Colonies.
Quietly, I made for the rear door as the pounding continued. Gripping the handle of the revolver, I cocked the weapon and slipped it into my coat pocket, pointing it forward and trying to keep it steady in my trembling hand. With my free hand I unlatched the bar on the door and pulled it free from the threshold. As the door opened, a chill wind from the alleyway cut through me like a blade of cold iron. Standing before me was a figure whose mysterious air would haunt my dreams from then on.
The man stood over eighteen hands tall, with a gaunt quality; almost too thin to be a man. A shock of raven-black hair gripped his scalp tightly and fell down past his shoulders. He wore ragged clothes of a strange cut, with various patches randomly sewn about their facade, and a long, black cape, clasped with a silver broach. The cloak seemed to wrench itself away from him in the early morning wind, as if it were trying to escape from the horrors that this man's journey would undertake. His eyes were an unusual green color that gave off a faint luminescence in the gaslight. The figure looked down his pointed nose at me, and with a ghastly grin he spoke in a thick European accent.
"Would you be the watchmaker, Clive Morton?" The words slid off of his tongue like water down a spout, seeming to the ear to run together and flow in his strange speech.
I nodded, unable to reply, and took a tentative step backwards.
"A mutual acquaintance has led me to your place of business," he continued. "I have something you might be interested in looking at."
With this, the mysterious intruder pulled forth, from within the folds of his foreign attire, something that tests the limits of my ability to explain. As I stared, dumbfounded at the oddity of the piece, the stranger stood motionless in the portal, his billowing cape, spread wide by the wind, obscured our meeting from any prying eyes that might have been in the alley. He seemed not even to take in breath as I continued to survey the alien object in his grasp, afraid even to touch it.
Finally, he drew it back within the tumultuous folds of his cloak and released my eyes from the trance. I looked up, peering absently into his dusky features, and stammered through an invitation into my shop.

As the wind began to die down and the thick fog of the early morning began to infiltrate the labyrinthine streets outside, the Hungarian and I were seated in the warm confines of my shop, exchanging formal introductions over a hot kettle of Earl Gray.
It seemed that Santiago, as he made himself known to me, had, for reasons he cared not to disclose, a rather influential friend in the Yard. This contact of his had passed on to him a list of slightly disreputable jewelers and watchmakers in the area, on which I was rather impressed and a bit taken aback to find my appearance.
As I replenished our cups with more tea, Santiago set the odd item on top of my workbench. For a long while, I could do naught but simply gaze upon the curious trinket, but my inquisitive instincts soon prevailed. As Santiago silently observed, his fingers interlaced before his intriguing visage, I took the artifact and measured its balance, tested the composition of its elements, and carefully investigated the strange ridges on the underside of its head.
The thing was about twenty-six inched long and weighed close to twelve pounds. It was shaped somewhat like a crook or a pry bar, but with an unusual square head. It was composed of solid bronze with gold and silver inlaid trappings, and there was an outlandish scrawling of ridge- like symbols carved into the gold. The thing was obviously an antique whose proper age and value I could not begin to fathom, and it showed signs of wear on the head and along the shaft.
After about forty minutes of diligent investigation, I set the object down upon my workbench, removed my eyepiece and looked toward the peculiar gypsy who had been patiently waiting.
"I think I've gleaned the purpose of it," I stated as my bottom lip trembled in a mixture of fear and anticipation under the intense gaze of Santiago. He stood up, leaned forward and awaited my findings. I swallowed and continued cautiously.
"It's.it's some kind of key," I blurted out. "A key, very old, yes, but I'm certain that it is a key."
Santiago's brow furrowed deeply in contemplation. Then, without a seconds pause, he picked up the newly named key, placed it within the confines of his cloak and made his way toward the back door of the shop.
I stood and stumbled after him, my hand meekly raised as if to catch the fleeing gypsy. He turned to me as he reached the oaken door, shook my hand - pressing a ten-pound note in it - and wished me a good day. Before I could object, or even reply, he was out through the door and disappearing into the early morning fog like a phantom.
I pulled my pocket watch from my vest and look down - a quarter till seven. The day's customers would be arriving soon, but I had little patience for their needs, my head still swimming from the events that had just occurred. It seemed that my apprentice would, once again, bear the brunt of this day's business.