Story by Jamie Mason / Illustration by Luke Spooner
David Hearst was kidnapped on Monday. A ransom note was delivered to his father Tuesday afternoon and we received a call from the father’s attorney Wednesday. The ransom note had warned Gordon Hearst not to contact the police, but Gordon Hearst wasn’t about to let some hoodlums tell him what to do. Not only was he the richest man in Chicago, he was also invulnerable. Nobody could kill Gordon Hearst. Because he was already dead.
The ghostly millionaire inhabited (I won’t say “lived in”) an imposing mansion in the Gold Coast neighborhood. I drove over with Vogel of Missing Persons and a G-man from the FBI. Kidnapping was not yet a federal crime but Hearst was wealthy and had been a big contributor to Roosevelt so the Feds sent an agent. As we approached the stately home with its mansard roof and brace of Model Ts crowding the driveway, Vogel said:
“I ain’t never dealt with no ghosts before. Are we gonna be safe in there, N? Cause I sure ain’t inna mood to tangle with no ghost.”
“Just relax. You’ll be fine.”
“I mean, how are we supposed to handcuff him if he gets outta control?”
“I use a Binding spell,” I explained. “And anyway, we’re not here to arrest him, Vogel.”
The maid conducted us to the top floor where the spectral Hearst (no relation to the newspaper magnate) held court from behind the same massive rosewood desk in death as he had in life. The G-man took the lead and flashed his tin.
“Mr. Hearst, I’m Special Agent Watson. This is Detective Vogel of Missing Persons and N of Thaumaturgy Squad.”
The ghost blinked. “They sent only one Federal agent?”
Watson punted. “We have the entire field office at our disposal, of course. Plus, the resources of Chicago PD, particularly the T-Squad. Chicago PD often finds it helpful to consult members like N on missing persons cases …”
Hearst turned to me, puffs of vapor drifting from his spectral body. “You’re the one who summoned the Devil for Al Capone, right?”
“One doesn’t summon the Devil so much as invite him to come. Cordially,” I added. “It was part of a routine investigation.”
“Even so, your reputation precedes you, Mr. N.” Hearst took up a cigar from an ashtray and fiddled with it. I was puzzling out how a ghost – which passed through solids – could handle a physical object until I realized the cigar was spectral as well. “I hope your powers are equal to the task of finding my son.”
“Do you have any personal objects of his?” I asked. “Something he might have handled recently?”
“Funny you should ask.” Hearst’s smile was sour. “We have an entire room full. David’s room. Rhesus will help you.” I followed Hearst’s gaze to the midget in the butler’s get-up that had appeared in the doorway. It wasn’t until I peered a little more closely that I noted the midget’s crimson eyes and fragments of chains dangling from his wrists. Like the cigar, Rhesus was spectral.
“Serving a ghost is a profession requiring specialized skills,” Rhesus explained in his reedy little voice as we mounted the stairs past murals depicting scenes from Homer’s Odyssey – cyclopes and sirens. (The human heroes were helmeted and shielded but naked from the waist down, revealing testicles like little clusters of grapes. Weird.) “The ability to differentiate between spectral and ethereal matter for example …”
“Have you specialized training?”
“Before coming into Mr. Hearst’s service, I worked for Napoleon.”
“So people have servants in the afterlife.”
“The wealthy ones do.” Rhesus paused outside a door and produced a ring of keys. I don’t know why I should be surprised at the notion of wealth in the afterlife. Why else would Hearst continue to accumulate wealth, even after he ceased to live in the conventional sense?
But how do they spend it? I wondered as Rhesus unlocked David Hearst’s room. Stepping inside, it occurred to me that perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps, in the case of men like Hearst, just accumulating it was enough.
David Hearst’s room was pretty much what you’d expect of a space belonging to a wealthy young man eager to differentiate himself from a controlling father. Louche and disorganized, it contained an unmade bed, a phonograph with a stack of 78s (jazz, of course), expensive furniture that was scarred and across which was scattered a succession of overflowing ashtrays and piles of rumpled clothing.
“Mr. David preferred to do his own housekeeping,” Rhesus muttered diplomatically.
Something caught my attention – the sort of thing that might go unnoticed by a servant (and definitely one that was spectral). The faint whiff of …
“Rhesus, may I have a moment alone?”
“Of course, sir.” The ghost moved out of the room. It was only after he shut the door that I found myself wondering: how does a ghost unlock and move a door? But the answer to that would have to wait. For now I was following my nose.
A tall wooden wardrobe – an obvious location for concealment – stood against one wall of the unevenly hexagonal room. I pulled open the door to discover all the hangers containing jackets and pants pushed to one side. The odor was now overpowering, despite David’s attempts to mask it with a dish of mothballs on a shelf. I reached past a tweed jacket and tapped the rear wall. The false back yawned wide, revealing a tiny stone room.
I stepped through into the shadowy interior. The chamber glowed dimly in the light from the gap between the top of the wall and the roof and wall-mounted brackets for torches were just visible in the gloom. A brass lion incense burner with a gaping mouth proved to be the source for the stench. Patchouli incense – someone had burned quite a lot of it recently. The lion sat atop a marble a pedestal, one of several scattered around the room. Some held magickal implements of various types (wands, daggers, chalices) while others supported books open to pages depicting the sort of exotic hexagrams used to summon spirits. I glanced at titles on a few spines. All the predictable esoterica, along with some newer nonsense from the Golden Dawn. I lingered until the stench from the lion’s open mouth forced a retreat. I had always hated patchouli; graveyard dust, it’s called. With a final glance at the runes adorning the chamber walls, I grimaced and shut the door behind me.
— ♦♦♦ —
The Temple of Typhon was the premiere magickal lodge in Chicago. Headquartered on the south side, it catered to the predictable crowd of teachers and bureaucrats and other lower middle-class malcontents engaged in ritual denial of their insignificance. But given the nazz factor – and the younger Hearst’s fascination with things mystical – it seemed like the ideal place to start. When Watson heard I was headed that way to interview the “Outer Head” of the Order, he wanted to tag along.
“Feds have been keeping an eye on that clown for a while,” he said, cigarette arm dangling through the window of the unmarked I signed out from the motor pool. “Some problems with his visa. He’s British.”
The Temple was headquartered in a down-at-the-heels manor at the edge of the ghetto. Lemuel Haddoc received us in the “Baphomet Room” – a parlor-cum-occult reception room complete with mythological murals. Wrapped in a colorful robe and sporting an outlandish turban, he looked every inch the eccentric Englishman attending a costume party.
“The spirits, of course, informed me of your approach.” He waved at the tarot spread laid out on a card table. “I am in constant conversation with them, as is appropriate to one of my grade and attainment.”
“That’s Watson of FBI. I’m N.” I flashed my amulet. “T-Squad.”
“Ah! They’ve sent me a Cabbalist.” He rubbed his chubby hands. “Is there to be a magickal duel, then?”
“Just some questions. The name David Hearst mean anything to you?”
“Frater Sequestus. Yes … y-y-e-eess.” Haddoc produced a huge ivory pipe from the folds of his robe. “An Adeptus juvenus – a rank beginner. He joined our fellowship six months ago and, after showing some initial promise, slouched into mediocrity.” Haddoc sucked at the cracked stem. “Why? Has he gotten up to some mischief? Sacrificed one of the neighborhood cats? Produced a pungent odor that spoiled cook’s soup?”
“Most occult lodges require their members to keep records or magickal journals. Did David keep one? May we see it?”
Haddoc’s eyes bulged. “He did. And no you may not! Now what’s this all about?”
“He’s gone missing.” Watson moved in to play bad cop. “Mr. Haddoc, you had recently had some problems regarding your visa …”
“Pure twaddle! Malicious infamy provoked by my enemies in an effort to discredit me and my work!”
“You calling the United States government your enemy?”
Haddoc grew immediately flustered. “Er – no!”
“But you mentioned work.” Watson frowned. “Your visa grants permission to visit – but not work in – the United States.”
“He probably means his magickal work,” I offered. “But he might be taking donations here at his Temple …”
“That’s a matter for the IRS,” Watson snapped.
“Alright, alright!” Haddoc held up his hands. “What is it you want?”
“Permission to view David Hearst’s magickal record.” I was firm on this. If the agency of David Hearst’s kidnapping was supernatural, then his magickal record could offer leads.
“Of course. Of course!” Haddoc bustled from the room. Gone less than a minute, he returned holding a composition booklet dandied-up with bright red Enochian lettering on the cover. He put it down by the tarot spread and Watson reached for it.
“Ah – ah!” Haddoc brandished a raised forefinger. “Your colleague asked to view the journal … not its contents.”
Watson’s hand froze a foot above the table. “My friend,” he rasped at Haddoc through narrowed eyes, “you wave that finger in my face again and I’ll snap it off, so help me …”
“I believe your own laws permit a certain right to privacy.” Haddoc thrust one of his double chins at Watson. The Englishman was in full sermonizing mode, now, the wise mage lecturing wayward acolytes. “I am showing good faith by producing the journal as proof of its existence. But I am ensuring protection of my rights by insisting that you, in turn, produce a search warrant to view its contents. The journal is, after all, property of the Temple. And ownership is nine points of the law.” Haddoc’s smile was a piranha flash.
“There’s also obstruction of justice,” Watson countered. “You wanna play games with us, Mr. Haddoc, then we can play, too.”
“Never mind. I don’t need to read it.” I stepped over and laid my hand flat on the notebook’s cover before Haddoc could protest. The seal between my awareness and the residue of David Hearst’s energy on the journal was immediate. I closed my eyes. The flash of successive images was shallow and swift: faces twisted in mocking laughter, a wand carving geometric patterns through clouds of incense smoke, a hand dipping a fountain pen into an ink-bottle of blood … and then …
“Tell me about the blonde.” I fixed Haddoc with my wizard’s stare – same one I use in the interrogation room. “The one with the jade pendant and the scab by her lower lip.”
I had his attention now. The Englishman stood trembling. “Extraordinary,” he murmured. “How did you -?”
“I’m a trained psychic investigator, that’s how. They don’t go in for table tapping and fancy card tricks at the Academy. Now give me her name! It’s …” I squinted, digging in the supra-conscious realm of intuition. “Laurie? Liz? L ..?”
“Lisl,” Haddoc confessed. “Lisl Kurtz. David’s magickal partner.”
We got Haddoc to write down her address. Watson made it halfway to the car before blowing his cool. “We don’t have any spooks at the Bureau, but I’d heard about T-squad!” he exclaimed. “How did you know ..?”
“Yeah, but how ..?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson.” I couldn’t resist.
His smile soured as he opened the passenger door. “Like I’ve never heard that before.”
— ♦♦♦ —
“This ransom note don’t make no sense.” Vogel spoke from the back seat as we hurtled through the dusk rain toward Lisl Kurtz’s address. “Ain’t no way for Hearst to let the kidnappers know he agrees to their demands. No hang-a-red-towel-from-your-balcony or put-a-potted-plant-on-your-window-sill or like that.”
Watson raised his eyes and addressed Vogel in the rear-view mirror. “But if the culprit is supernatural, then they’d have other ways of finding out.”
“But why would a ghost or demon or somethin’ want money? That’s what I don’t unnerstan …”
“The part of us that lives forever gets trained during its brief time on Earth.” I was recalling my Spirits 101 class from the Academy. “It carries habitual tendencies forward into its life beyond flesh. So if a typical reaction for you is to get angry, that habit becomes ingrained and you become an angry or violent spirit – a characteristic of demons. People who have attachment issues and can’t let go of things become ghosts. Take a look at Hearst.”
Vogel chewed on this. “So what’s Hearst attached to?” he asked finally.
“Money.” A parking space opened ahead and I steered for it. “Does that answer your question? Our deaths reflect our lives.”
“What happens to assholes?” Watson asked.
I smirked. “Prostate cancer.”
Chicago was hunkered down beneath an orange-black blanket of storm clouds. We crossed the street toward the tenement building where Lisl Kurtz rented an apartment. The concrete stairwell was graffiti-daubed and strewn with garbage and we had to step over an unconscious woman clutching an empty bottle blocking the entry to the fourth floor hallway. Lisl Kurtz’s apartment was number 4-G.
“Kinda run-down for the likes of David Hearst,” Watson muttered as Vogel knocked on the door. “Does ‘magickal partner’ also mean they’re, ah -?”
“It quite often does, yes.”
The door opened on a faint whiff of narcotics. The woman who answered was the same one I had seen in my vision. Blonde, slender, waif-like: her searching brown eyes were almond-shaped and enormous in her thin face. Her smile was vague, distracted, revealing a slash of coffee-stained teeth above the scab on her lower lip. She glanced over her shoulder toward the apartment’s shadowed depths, pulling her bathrobe more tightly around herself as she asked: “May I help you?”
“We’re here to ask some questions about David Hearst,” I said.
I was expecting resistance, hesitation. Instead she retreated, bare feet slipping backward across worn carpet as she moved to admit us. “Come in.” She shot another glance into the shadows. Watson and I followed her gaze to the table. We weren’t close enough to determine whether the pipe and smoking materials scattered there were for marijuana or opium, but we both knew we had a better-than-even chance of a dope bust. His shrug in response to my slight nod suggested we were thinking the same thing: hold off until we need to lean on her. So we followed Miss Kurtz into the sitting room.
“Lemuel Haddoc sent us,” Watson began.
“Lemuel!” She chuckled as she sat. “How is the old fraud?” She fished in a box of cigarettes on the coffee table.
“You’re no longer a disciple?”
“Not for a long time.” Lisl Kurtz drew out a cig and lit up, puffed and paused to pick a grain of tobacco from her tongue before continuing. “You could say we had a parting of the ways.” Her Ws sounded vaguely like Vs behind her faint German accent.
“Why?” Watson pulled out his own cigarettes.
“Lemuel disliked David.” As Lisl pulled the bathrobe snug across her knees, I noticed the pentagram tattoo’d on the inside of her left wrist. “David began showing real promise as a mage soon after his initiation. Lemuel doted on him at first. Treated him like his son and heir. But David has charm. Real charisma. He began attracting gobs of attention at meetings. Everyone wanted his thoughts and his opinions about matters regarding the Order. Lemuel resented that.”
“Enough to hurt him?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Lisl crossed her legs and looked me frankly in the eye as she answered. “Lemuel never struck me as violent. Vindictive, yes. But more in petty ways. And almost certainly a physical coward. Although there was one time …”
“The Leviathan Working – this was three or four months ago. I had stopped attending Temple by then but David had stayed in touch with me. Sometimes asked for my help with ritual work. You see, it’s best for a male and female to cooperate when … But I’m sure you already know that. Do they have any female detectives in T-Squad?”
I smiled. “A few.”
“Is it the kind of work you think I might be good at?” She radiated the kind of absurd hope petty crooks and other marginal types exude at the whim of joining our ranks.
“Depends.” I remembered the drugs in the kitchen. “Think you could make it through police academy?”
“Mm.” Her eyes flicked away, disappointed. “Anyway,” she resumed, “David had planned an invocation of Leviathan. He asked me to assist him. Lemuel arranged for a group of his disciples to be present – this was at the Temple – in order, he said, ‘to observe’ … although I think he might have had ulterior motives.”
“Why?” Watson was reaching for his pen.
“Because of his own failure to manifest the sylphs.” Lisl inhaled and blew out a big cloud of cigarette smoke. “You see –” she waved her hand in the smoke “- Lemuel had staged this ritual in which he filled the temple with incense smoke as a medium to conjure the sylphs to visible appearance. There’d been an audience present then, too. Lemuel failed spectacularly. David was one of the few that hadn’t laughed. But Lemuel blamed him for the jeering because he felt threatened.”
“By David’s, ah, charisma? Is that right?” Watson was short-handing details into his morocco-bound notebook.
“Yes.” Lisl Kurtz crushed out her cigarette. “Anyway, the Leviathan working. When it became clear that David was succeeding – when the Temple darkened and the temperature plunged and the sound of waves began thundering in the distance, drawing closer – Lemuel snapped. Leapt up from his seat and grabbed a brass candle holder and attacked David with it.”
“Were the police called?” I saw Lisl’s fingers trail to the top of the cigarette box and linger there.
“No.” She glanced back toward the kitchen, wanting to use again but knowing she couldn’t. So she continued: “It was our policy never to involve outsiders in Temple affairs. David received a cut on the head from one of the big square corners on the holder’s base. He was helped from the Temple and never returned.” She took out a fresh cigarette. “Neither did I.”
Occult politics: the reason so many ceremonial magicians work alone.
“David took to practicing magick by himself.” Lisl lit a fresh cigarette and smiled dreamily. “I continued to help him. That’s when things got interesting.”
I wondered what kind of arrangement they’d had, if David had ever given her money, if they had been lovers. I couldn’t see Lisl being involved with someone for merely romantic reasons, no matter how ‘interesting’ things got.
“Interesting how?” Watson was writing again.
“David started breaking new ground. Going places Lemuel had only dreamed of visiting. He began corresponding with some really important people – occultists in France and England, including one of Lemuel’s old rivals. Picked up some new grimoires and started re-working the basics in a new way. He had a plan. He wanted to do a really big invocation – something major. Something the occult world couldn’t ignore.”
“Any idea what?”
She shook her head. “All I know is he was working his way up to it gradually and I was helping him. Which was tricky because he didn’t want his father to know, so …” She trailed off. My investigator’s instinct told me Lisl had reservations about sharing the next part, wasn’t sure if telling us would get her in trouble. Finally, she took the plunge. “He used to sneak me into his house late at night so we could work. He got a servant to help me.”
I didn’t need to ask who. Watson continued the questioning, but my mind was already a million miles away and churning fast.
— ♦♦♦ —
“You again!” Haddoc stood holding the door in his bathrobe, hair disheveled and eyes crimson from late-night drug use. “What are you -?”
“Out of my way.” I barged past him and into the Temple’s entry hall. The Baphomet Room was to the left as one entered. I found David Hearst’s magickal journal exactly where I had left it – on the card table by the Tarot spread – only now it was open. A notepad and pen lay beside it. Haddoc had been cribbing.
“That is Temple property!” Haddoc bustled up behind me. But I succeeded in grabbing up the book and leafing to the final entry before he could interfere. There, as expected, lay the seeds of the idea that would germinate into the working Lisl Kurtz had mentioned.
” … behold the [Hebrew Satan] enchained to
rock beside the Lake of Sulpher …”
“Can I take this? Thanks.” I tore the page free and tossed the notebook back onto the table. Then I checked my watch: nine PM. Still enough time to call Vogel and Hearst and get them to meet me at the Hearst place.
I was halfway to the door when Haddoc screamed: “Hold!”
Haddoc trembled, glazed eyes glaring at me as he extended a magic wand in my direction, its tip quivering in his shaking fist.
“I curse you,” he intoned dramatically. “In the name of the seven princes of –”
I groaned. Would the man’s nonsense never cease?
Like I said: they don’t go in for table tapping and fancy card tricks at the Academy. The solution was a simple transmutation of matter – a spell as old as Moses. By the time I stepped out the front door, Haddoc’s curses were directed at the giant black earthworm his wand had become. As I stepped into the night, he was still struggling to untangle it from around his wrist.
— ♦♦♦ —
Rain was slanting on the wind and tree limbs shook in a storm-tossed frenzy as Rhesus opened the door.
“Have you found David?” he asked anxiously.
I ignored the question and walked right through him, scattering the mist that was his body into thin streamers that wafted around briefly before re-coalescing into the diminutive butler’s form. “Is Mr. Hearst in?” I asked.
“He’s waiting for you gentlemen in the drawing room, sir.”
We turned to go. As Vogel and Watson preceded us through the doorway, I turned back. “Tell me something, Rhesus. How is it that you’re able to move matter?”
“Most ghosts are completely spectral. I just walked right through you. And yet you’re able to handle keys and open doors. How is that?”
“It’s – ah …” Rhesus looked vaguely embarrassed. “It’s magick, sir.”
“Perhaps, ah … Won’t you come this way, sir? Mr. Hearst is expec –”
“Answer the question, Rhesus.”
The servant stopped cold (- I would say “dead,” but he already was). “Perhaps that is a discussion better left for another time, sir.”
“The time to discuss things relating to my investigation, Rhesus, is when I decide. Mr. Hearst,” I said, stepping into the drawing room, “do you have a magician on staff here?”
The spectral millionaire turned from the fireplace. In a nod to mortal time, he had deigned to appear in a bathrobe and slippers. But of course ghosts don’t sleep. “That’s none of your business, Mr. N,” he answered flatly.
“That’s Detective N to you, Mr. Hearst. And there has been a crime committed here. So this is very much my business. Answer the question.”
“And if you don’t, what are you going to do? Arrest me?”
“There are worse things,” I said, flashing the amulet carried as a badge by all members of T-Squad.
Hearst stared levelly for a moment or two before relenting. “To answer your question, Detective, no. We don’t have a household magician on staff here at Hearst Manor. But certain magickal accommodations were necessary in order to support servants capable of attending to both mortal and spectral guests. A gentleman was brought in from outside. Rhesus made all the arrangements.”
“Oh, I’m sure he did.” I turned to Rhesus. “At what point did you involve Lemuel Haddoc?”
I had everyone’s attention now. Watson was watching, expressionless, but Vogel’s brow knit in dawning recognition. His investigator’s instincts, once awakened, were swift on the uptake.
“Leonard ..? And did you say ‘haddock,’ like the fish ..?”
“Don’t play dumb, Rhesus.” I flashed the smile I give to people I am about to hit. “You contacted him to help you complete the work here at the Hearst place.”
“And what work would that be, sir?”
My hitting smile widened. “The kidnapping of David Hearst. And the delivery of a ransom note to his father.”
“And why would I do that, sir?”
“In hope of reaping an earthly reward, of course.”
“And why would I do that, sir?”
“That, of course, is the question. Isn’t it, Rhesus?”
Move, counter move, stalemate. Rhesus was a cagey little bugger but he was also a thinker. His scheme to entrap David Hearst – to guarantee David ended up in a vulnerable position not by force but by his own choice – was pure genius.
“How did you convince him, Rhesus? How did you get David Hearst to believe you were the Devil?”
To this, the servant had no answer. But by now the elder Hearst had turned and was examining Rhesus with sharpened interest. “What’s this all about?” he demanded.
“Sir, I have no –”
“Oh, come off it, Rhesus.” I flapped my hand and he fell silent. I didn’t even have to use a Hush Charm – he was just all out of excuses by now. “When Mr. Hearst brought Lemuel Haddoc in here to cast the Entanglement spell necessary for you to carry out your duties – opening and closing doors, tending to living as well as deceased guests and hauling around luggage and garbage – you saw an opportunity to ingratiate yourself with a man of power. Someone capable of providing you with both the means of – and information necessary to – manipulate David.”
I closed my eyes, returning my consciousness to the Baphomet Room of Haddoc’s down-at-heel magickal lodge. I saw the table with its scatter of Tarot cards, dusted in opium ash and tea stains and there, floating amidst it all, in amongst a tangle of wreckage and runes, David’s magickal journal. I advanced toward it. Reached out and placed my hand on its spectral cover and then projected the words as they came to me in scarlet runes against the obsidian wall behind my eyelids. Then came a stench of burning and I opened my eyes. And there, smoking in the wooden floorboards of Hearst’s study in letters of crimson flame:
” … behold the [Hebrew Satan] enchained to
rock beside the Lake of Sulpher …”
I stared at Rhesus. “Those chains. On your wrists. They’re not spectral at all, are they? They’re made of platinum. That’s how you sore your wealth. Convert it to platinum and have it melted into the chains. The same chains you used to impersonate the demon chained to his rock by the Lake of Sulpher. And by the look of things, Rhesus, you’ve saved up a pretty penny.”
“That’s preposterous!” Hearst uttered a gust of laughter, flicking spectral ash from his cigar. “Why would a servant – and a spectral one, at that – want money?”
“I don’t know, sir. Why do you want it?” It was Hearst’s turn to face my hitting smile. “After all –” I gestured at the dwarf ghost “- you’re just as dead as him. So why the business deals? Why all the mergers and acquisitions and investment schemes? What do you need money for?”
“Well. I –” Hearst stopped, eyes narrowing in annoyance, as if I was deliberately ignoring the obvious. “I need it to pay my servants, of course!”
“You were tired of it, weren’t you?” I had whirled on Rhesus and was advancing on him even as I dug my amulet out from the folds of my shirt. “Ever since the days you worked for Napoleon. Watching other spirits be waited on hand and foot drove you mad with envy. Servants and masters? Where was the fairness in that? Wasn’t death supposed to make everyone equal? But it didn’t. Some had servants – even in the afterlife. Those with money. That’s all it took. Money. And you? You were tired of waiting on others and wanted slaves of your own. But how to afford them?”
Now Rhesus was retreating, hands up and chains jangling as he scooted butt-first for the door.
“You knew David Hearst was building up to some great magickal working. This conviction deepened in you each time Lisl Kurtz came visiting after hours and you conducted her to his hidden ritual chamber behind that wardrobe in his bedroom. You were instructed to close the door behind you but eavesdropping was no problem for you, was it Rhesus? Oh, no! Because you’ve been listening in at keyholes for centuries, for millennia! Didn’t take long for you to learn what – or more importantly, who – David was preparing to summon.”
My amulet now fully visible in my hands I advanced on Rhesus who now cowered against the wall.
“When he conducted the invocation, you appeared. In mufti. How did it feel pretending to be the very King of Hell Itself? Oh, I’m sure David cowered, the way you’re doing right now! He was only too happy to step through the spirit portal Haddoc had conjured for you. Only instead of leading to the treasure room of some ancient Pharaoh, it became an oubliette – a pocket in space-time in which to stick someone and forget about them. Which is exactly … what’s going to happen to you.”
I waved my amulet. A burst of light detonated in the room. And when the flash cleared Rhesus was gone. But in his place: someone else. Watson and Vogel rushed forward to aid David Hearst, clad in his now soiled and rumpled magickal robes, who peered up at us from a kneeling position on the office carpet, disoriented and trembling.
— ♦♦♦ —
Watson picked up Lemuel Haddoc and charged him as an accessory. Lisl Kurtz we pulled in for questioning but ultimately cut loose after she gave us a statement and agreed to testify for the District Attorney. Rhesus would be prosecuted under Section Twenty-Two the Infernals’ Criminal Act prohibiting spectral entities from assuming false phantasmal shapes with scheme or artifice to defraud living persons. A guilty verdict on such a charge entailed confinement to Dis for a period of no less than three centuries. Rhesus was looking into getting a lawyer; word was he’d already unloaded one of his platinum chains as collateral.
I spent five days completing the necessary paperwork for both the City and the Infernal Courts. I was in and out of attorneys’ and investigators’ offices at all hours of the day and night. The District Attorney hosted a tense meeting between counsel in which our prosecutor Rudnick faced off against a square-jawed Infernal named Sclepius who snarled and fumed and glared out at us through narrow red eyes. The flesh of the wild boar figure he assumed in our realm of existence swelled the seams of his tweed three-piece suit to busting. He objected to nearly every charge, refused to answer any questions, was cited twice for contempt by the DA and vanished in a puff of brimstone after vowing to take personal revenge on each and every one of us if his client was convicted.
What can I say? The butler did it. And our extra-judicial process involving non-corporeal citizens needed work.
— ♦♦♦ —
Once it was all wrapped up, I took a few days off. There was rain the first afternoon, and again on the second, which I spent dozing on the couch with a book by my living room window. After a shower and a change of clothes I walked up the street to the tavern. I was sitting alone in a shadowed booth in back, nursing a beer when she approached.
“Buy a girl a drink, Mr. N?”
Lisl Kurtz, standing demurely in a diagonal shaft of light from a high window, dust motes dancing around her in a crazy golden halo, did look magick, and a part of me ached for her. But in my line of work, I have as little use for attachment as a ghost has for money. Almost as little, anyway.
“The Barrier” by Joseph Cusumano
Illustration by Joseph Valequez