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Dr. John Kearns cuts quite the mysterious figure. Even Dr. Warthrop isn't entirely sure that this is his real name since Kearns freely gives out pseudonyms like he's tossing candy at a parade. Upon their first meeting poor Constable Morgan has no idea how to address him:
"Kearns?" asked Morgan. "I thought his name was Cory."
"Kearns is my middle name," offered the retired surgeon smoothly. "From the maternal side of the family."
"John? But your given name is Richard," objected Morgan.
"A nickname, after John Brown, the agitator. My mother was an American, you see, and quite the abolitionist."
"This John Richard Kearns Cory does have a point, Pellinore," Morgan said.
"Or Dick," interjected Kearns. "Some people call me Dick for Richard. Or Jack for John."
"What do you mean, Cory or Kearns or whatever your blasted name is?" barked Morgan.
"It's Cory; I thought I made that quite clear."
"I don't care if it's John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!"
"Oh, Jacob is my baptismal name."
Although Morgan is hardly a worthy foe for Kearns' witty repartee, his confusion is understandable. Kearns isn't merely having fun with him (although we think he's definitely enjoying himself); misdirection seems to be one of his main weapons of self-defense.
In his line of duty—which is hunting dangerous beasts—Dr. John Kearns performs some morally questionable practices that he deems necessary to the trade. While some (or most) would disagree about how necessary, it does behoove him to maintain a level of anonymity wherever he goes. After all, he can't continue travelling the world hunting said dangerous beasts if he's constantly getting arrested for the various misdemeanors he commits along the way. You know, like murder, for example.
Speaking of misdemeanors, Dr. Kearns isn't exactly Patch Adams. He hasn't acquired the level of expertise that he enjoys by playing it safe. Nope, Dr. Kearns has a sadistic streak, and by the end of the book we are left wondering how morally bankrupt he really is.
The first glimpse into the extent of his cruel tendencies happens when he reveals that he's using human "bait" to lure in the Anthropophagi—a woman whom he's abducted and sedated so she can effectively play her role. When forced to defend his actions, his justifications are a bit… problematic:
"It's a woman of the streets, Morgan," snapped Kearns. He seemed put out by the constable's outrage. "A common tramp with which the gutters of Baltimore are choked to overflowing. A piece of rum-besotted, disease-ridden filth whose death serves a purpose far nobler than any she achieved in her miserable, squandered life. If using her offends your sense of moral rectitude, perhaps you would like to volunteer to be the bait."
If you think that shows a lack of human compassion, he continues to complain to Will Henry that:
"I fail to understand what he's so upset about," he said. "The Maori use virgin slaves—teenage girls, Will Henry, the savage brutes." (11.183)
Oh, right, that makes them savage brutes. Got it.
It seems that Kearns has a very definite sense of morality, and it just isn't in line with the rest of society's. He's all about sacrificing the few for the greater cause, like when he shoves poor, injured Will Henry into the matriarch's den in order to lure her out for a clean shot. What kind of psychopath does that?
"In my own defense," Kearns said, "I did give you a weapon and I didn't just throw you to the wolves. That was me up there, you know, shooting at them. I don't question the demands of circumstance; I simply obey them…" (12.270)
Okay, so maybe Kearns's moral compass is more of a spur-of-the-moment judgment call that tends to be a bit flawed. When he goes on to kill Dr. Starr (and most likely his henchman who helped feed the captive Anthropophagi), we may root for his depravity just a bit since they were some pretty contemptible villains. Perhaps Dr. Kearns is just like Dexter, a serial killer with a sense of justice?
He placed his hands on either side of Starr's weathered pate, cupping his face while he bent low to purr into his oversize ear, "The only truth is the truth of the now. 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' There is no morality, is there, Jeremiah, but the morality of the moment." And with that, John Kearns, student of human anatomy and hunter of monsters, with his bare hands gave his victim's head a violent twist, snapping his neck, severing his spine cord, killing him instantly. (13.132)
A few months after the Anthropophagus incident, Dr. Warthrop is upset over headlines regarding Jack the Ripper, a serial killer targeting the same "women of the streets" in the same town Dr. Jack Kearns—expert in anatomy—had announced he was from. Let's just say that's a heck of a coincidence.