by Okamoto Shin
illustrated by beili
It started with my sister, Clementina Demetria Winslow, the poor thing, although we all called her Dot. As the youngest, Dot had always felt it incumbent on herself to be the biggest flirt out of the five of us. Although our older brother Randolph set quite the example—especially after his delicious scandal with Charlotte Cushing of the New York Cushings—Dot showed herself equal to the task.
That year, as we always did, the family sojourned at Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks. The Winslows had been coming here since time immemorial after one of my great-grandpapas had built “Blue Waters” in order to escape the heat and drudgery of the city during its summer months.
I, myself, quite liked the trees and water business and looked forward to our Blue Waters visits, but Dot protested heavily at the loss of society, dancing and exciting new men. She spent the first two days after our arrival throwing a horrible fit, refusing to come to the main house for meals and sulking in her room. As I was the sibling closest to Dot, my mother began throwing desperate looks in my direction on the breakfast of our third morning.
After breakfast, I bowed to the inevitable.
“Darling Dot,” I said, entering her room. Dot wore just her slip and night robe, clearly disinclined to do such a mundane thing as attire herself for possible visitors. My sister looked up when I entered and she closed her eyes in a pained and dramatic look.
“Oh Hank,” she said. “Please just leave me. I am not fit for proper company.”
“I completely understand,” I said. “It’s such a shame—I was certain that we would have so much fun tonight at Wild Air, but I can see now that you are out of sorts.”
Dot sat up quickly, all traces of faux-malaise shed. “The Reids are hosting a party tonight? Oh, we must go! Billy is always great for a good laugh. And the Elswoods will be there, of course. I do love Reggie, he’s an absolute darling.”
To my dear sister, who courted love and trouble in equal measures, a party was exactly the thing to cheer her up. There would be dancing, drinking and dark corners. If not perhaps equal to the Café Rouge Ballroom at the Hotel Pennsylvania, it would still be a good time.
* * *
We arrived just after dinner with a gaggle of siblings and cousins who quickly dispersed onto the dance floor. Dot and I made a beeline over to the bar first, priorities in order, where we started the evening with a sidecar and martini for Dot and myself, respectively. Dot threw hers back and then scanned the dance floor.
“Oh look,” she said happily. “There’s Freddie Van Allen. Promise you’ll save me a dance!” And then, in typical Dot fashion, she was off.
For a time, I found myself popular on the dance floor as well. I may not have been Fred Astaire, but my foxtrot and Balboa far from embarrassed me and I found a steady stream of willing dance partners. After I danced with Caro (Vanderbilt, technically a cousin, although she was part of the Vanderbilt clan rather than the Winslows), I realized that I was in danger of sobering up and headed back to the bar.
Standing next to the bar, I saw a man about ten years my senior. He instantly stood out, his homburg hat more befitting for a man of my father’s age, and it gave him a serious look. His suit spoke more of convenience and necessity than fashion, although the lines matched his frame. I was tall myself, but this man stood a few inches higher, probably giving him an excellent vantage of the dance floor. He had dark hair, slicked back, and blue-grey eyes which caught mine for a moment as they swept around the room.
He had clearly been standing there for some time, which was a mystery in and of itself as the man was handsome. One would have guessed that someone would have snatched him up for a turn about the floor by now.
Gwendolyn Pratt solved the mystery when she narrowly avoided a collision with the man. As they both apologized, Gwen smiled and left time for the man to introduce himself or follow up his apology with a dance request. When neither appeared to be forthcoming, Gwen smiled again, this time more forced, and then continued on her way.
“Now, now,” I said, unable to stop myself as I stepped up to the bar. “You’ll never get a dance partner that way. You’ve got to take off your hat and making a smashing bow, perhaps kiss their hand. That’s the way to get them all to fall in love with you.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” the man said, trying to repress a smile. “However, I’m not here to dance. I’m afraid I’m here for a case,” he finished apologetically. So he was a detective—the suit and hat fell into place now.
“All the cases should be behind the bar,” I said. “Gin, scotch, vodka, what’s your pleasure? I feel certain that if we ask Jimmy there, he could even rustle up some old moonshine.”
“That does sound very obliging of Jimmy,” the man said.
I wondered what kind of case could bring the detective all the way up to the Adirondacks as I would have bet good money that he, like us, was from the city. “Tell me, detective, what kind of case is it?” I asked.
“Oh, a fairly solid one, probably able to hold about a dozen bottles,” the detective said.
“Oh ho,” I said. “He’s got a sense of humor.” I was more than a little impressed myself. Most detectives that I’d met were dull as dishwater.
The detective gave me a wry look. “I’m actually here as a favor to the Reids,” he said eventually, when I showed no signs of departing.
“A favor? So I take it to mean that you are technically off-duty then.” Pronouncing it to be so, I flagged down Jimmy at the bar.
“Jimmy, two martinis.” I looked over at the detective. “And what would you like?” Now the detective was most definitely smiling.
“I’ll have the same.”
“Excellent sense,” I said. “Detective?”
“Kasper. Jack Kasper,” Detective Kasper said, extending out his hand.
“Winslow,” I said, for my part and shook his hand. His grip was firm but friendly. “But please call me Hank.”
Jimmy brought our drinks over and we both threw our drinks down the hatch.
“Detective Kasper, what kind of case brings you to Wild Air as a personal favor? I can’t imagine that it’s merely a brisk walk from the New York City detective bureau.”
Detective Kasper gave me a bit of side look. “I’m afraid that’s between myself and Mr. Reid,” Detective Kasper said, although he didn’t sound sorry at all.
“Well,” I said. “If you need to do any questioning, let me be the first to volunteer.”
Dot chose that moment to make an appearance. “Hank!” she said as she came up to the bar. “How far behind am I?”
“Three,” I said. “As I’m diving in for another one.”
“Three it is,” she said and asked for three scotch and sodas to catch up.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Detective Kasper said, looking more than a little amused at Dot. It wasn’t an abnormal reaction.
“Not if I can avoid it,” I said.
“Oh, ignore Hank,” Dot said. “I’m Dot, Hank’s sister. I don’t think I’ve seen you before and I’m very good with remembering men.”
Detective Kasper gave a polite cough into his fist. “I’m Detective Jack Kasper,” he said.
Dot looked up at him from beneath her lashes. It was a calculated look—one that the math generally played out on and gave good results. “Would you care to take a turn with me on the dance floor?”
Detective Kasper shook his head apologetically. “I’m afraid that I’m here on business tonight, but if it were any other evening, I would only be too happy to do so.”
Dot gave a good-natured shrug. It wasn’t in her to be affronted by one man’s denial. “Oh alright, although I’ll hold you to it. Hank! It’s your turn,” she said and grabbed my hand.
I quickly downed my martini and then saluted Detective Kasper. “Until we meet again, Detective,” I said.
Dot stayed with me for almost three full dances before Freddie came by and cut in. I liked Freddie, he was a good sort of fellow, although likely to get his heart broken by Dot.
I looked for Detective Kasper near the bar, but he was gone. When I did a brief scan around the room, he appeared to have left it. Whatever case had brought the good detective out to the hidden reaches of the Adirondacks, it had apparently called him away from the ballroom.
* * *
Around midnight, I was dancing with Caro (Morgan, not Vanderbilt) when I heard a loud screeching noise. I stilled, stopping Caro. “Did you hear that?” I said.
“Hear what?” Caro said. Perhaps my senses were heightened that night, after the implicit alert of Detective Kasper’s appearance. Either way, I felt certain that I hadn’t imagined it.
“I heard something,” I said.
Caro gave me an odd look—we were the only couple stopped on the dance floor. But then, I heard it again, louder and knew that I hadn’t imagined it.
“Is that a—” Caro said.
“Scream. Yes—sir,” I called out to the bandleader, running over towards the band to get his attention. “Cut the music. Cut the music!” The instruments quickly fell silent and then everyone on the dance floor heard it, the shrill sound of someone screaming outside.
I was outside in an instant, James Pratt and Fred Reid following as well. When I said that my grandpapa had picked Upper St. Regis to get away from the city, I meant away from any sign of civilized life. The lake was surrounded by densely packed woods and only the occasional dirt road went between the secluded family outposts that sparsely adorned the lake. Even on one family’s property, the houses were likely to be out of sight of one another and only by knowing the lay of the property could one avoid getting lost.
I didn’t spare a thought for any of this. I only focused on where the scream was coming from, a dreadful pit already in my stomach. The moon partially lit the way, but we didn’t have far to travel and a large group of us tumbled into a clearing.
The first thing that I registered was Dot—she sat pressed up against a tree, still screaming, her cream evening gown liberally stained. Perhaps with blood? I was at her side in an instant, trying to calm her and figure out where her injuries were coming from, but Dot pushed my hands away.
“It’s not me,” she said, her words haltering. “Freddie.” Her breath came quickly, almost on the verge of hyperventilating.
Suddenly a flashlight swept around the clearing, Detective Kasper appearing from nowhere with it. He moved the light over the ground and out into the trees. If he could see someone or something out there, it was beyond me.
“We’ve got to go and look for Freddie,” Henry Whitney said, coming into the clearing. He started to head for the far edge of the trees but Detective Kasper stopped him.
“If he walked away,” Detective Kasper said. “Then he didn’t walk in that direction.” Detective Kasper shone the flashlight just beyond the immediate circle that we stood in. There were shoe marks all throughout the circle and coming back from the direction of Wild Air’s ballroom. I could even see the faint impression of Dot’s heels in the ground. But there was nothing beyond the clearing.
Detective Kasper suggested that the men walk back in the direction of the ballroom, sweeping out to see if they could find Freddie. While they did that, I stayed by Dot.
“What happened?” I asked. “Are you alright?”
Dot shook her head minutely, then nodded it. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’m not hurt. But it was awful. Freddie started screaming and then it was like someone had stabbed him, there was blood everywhere.”
“Did you see who did it?” Detective Kasper knelt down next to me to get eye-level with Dot.
“That was the thing,” Dot said, her voice quiet. “There was no one else. Just the two of us. And then there wasn’t.” She shivered and I took off my jacket and placed it over her shoulders.
Detective Kasper swung his flashlight over the clearing again. “Let’s get you inside,” he said. “And we can press more people into the search for Freddie.”
Dot swallowed and then allowed me to help her up. The three of us began walking back to the ballroom. We hadn’t moved far though when I heard a rustling noise behind us. I spared a moment to fervently hope that Detective Kasper had brought some hardware with him on this personal favor. Quick as a flash, Detective Kasper turned around with his flashlight, revealing…Freddie?
“Freddie?” Dot said, uncertainly.
Freddie gave Dot a sheepish grin. “Sorry to scare you like that. I saw that I was bleeding and didn’t take it so well.”
Everyone stood silently for a second. Freddie gave Dot a plaintive smile as she tried to process it, the shock still written on her face. Detective Kasper, on the other hand, looked contemplative. Now that everyone was fine, I felt free to be completely intrigued by the situation.
“Freddie, you scared me!” Dot said finally and ran over to Freddie’s side, giving him a big hug. Freddie said something into Dot’s shoulder that I didn’t manage to overhear.
“I’ll call off the search,” Detective Kasper said, and then started to head in the direction of the men beginning to comb the forest.
Dot and Freddie began to walk back in the direction of the ballroom, my sister resting her head on Freddie’s shoulder. I watched the two of them for a few minutes, thinking.
Shortly, Detective Kasper returned to the clearing and walked over to me. He stood close enough that we were almost touching and looked at me. Whatever he saw made him give me a wry smile.
“Did you see any blood on Freddie?” I asked finally.
Detective Kasper shook his head. “I didn’t see any.”
“I’m going to take a wild shot in the dark that this has something to do with your personal favor,” I said.
“You’ve guessed right,” Detective Kasper said. I tried to think through what could have happened and kept coming up with absolutely nothing.
“I want to help,” I said abruptly. This would be far more interesting than swimming in the lake or playing games with the family. And I definitely wouldn’t feel it was any great hardship to spend additional time around Detective Kasper.
“Help?” Detective Kasper said. He wasn’t trying to be mean, but I could tell that he doubted that I could provide any value. After all, he was the trained detective and I was likely just some bored, young member of the idle rich.
“Yes, help,” I said. “After all, while you may be a detective, everyone here is far more likely to tell me something than you.”
Detective Kasper raised his eyebrows. I wasn’t sure if he was conceding the point or surprised that I had thought of one that was halfway reasonable.
“This could turn out to be very dangerous,” Detective Kasper said, trying to warn me off. Unfortunately, it only made the prospect more interesting.
“I look forward to it,” I said, giving him my brightest smile. “It’s quite exciting. I’ve always thought of myself an adventurer.”
“Are you expecting me to be the Frank Hardy to your Joe?” Detective Kasper said.
“I was thinking Nancy Drew,” I said seriously. “Although I’m not sure if you are more of a Bess or a George. I’ll have to see how you look in a dress.”
Detective Kasper closed his eyes and bit back a grin. “All right,” he said. “How can I say no to a man who implies that I’d look good in a dress?”
“I’m glad that you’ve seen reason, Detective,” I said.
He gave me a rueful smile. “I suppose this means that I’ll have to explain what I’m investigating.”
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
Detective Kasper started walking back towards the ballroom, where we could hear the faint strains of the band playing, as if everyone had already forgotten the alarm from earlier. Knowing the group, they probably had.
“At the end of last summer, Mr. Reid noticed that there had been some odd occurrences on his property during the family’s summer stay here,” Detective Kasper. “Animals killed deliberately, using very specific methods, which stopped as soon as the vacationing families left for the season. Then, just before the family returned to Manhattan, a man and woman from one of the nearby towns disappeared.”
I watched Detective Kasper’s face. The moon illuminated his nose and lips, throwing his eyes into shadow. I had the urge to reach up and trace a line down from the center of his forehead to his lips.
“Town wisdom held that the man and woman eloped together, likely going down to Maryland and then out to the Midwest,” Detective Kasper said, continuing. I kept my hands firmly by my side.
“But you and Mr. Reid didn’t think so,” I said.
“No, we didn’t,” Detective Kasper. “For one, the man and woman hadn’t been romantically linked prior to their disappearance. The woman, a Miss Elizabeth Miller, had also been in the company of some of the men of the summer families. Aside from that, there was nothing to link Miss Miller and Mr. Jeffrey Graham, the man who disappeared, to any of the vacationers, but Mr. Reid asked me to spend some time up here this summer and look into it.”
We walked for some time in silence and I found myself drifting closer. Detective Kasper put away his flashlight as the light from the full moon illuminated our path. “Perhaps you can talk to your sister and Mr. Van Allen about this evening, separately,” Detective Kasper said. “Since you have so graciously offered to help me, I imagine that a conversation with you will produce far more fruits than one with a stranger.”
He looked at me to gauge my reaction so I made a dramatic face and sighed. “I suppose if I must. Do I get a treat if I’m good as well?”
Detective Kasper laughed, a deep sound that echoed through the trees around us. I couldn’t help but feel pleased and smile back at him. “What have I got myself into?” he said.
* * *
When we got back to the ballroom, everything was like it had always been. The band played to the filled room, a trumpet loudly sounding our arrival. Detective Kasper made a move towards the edge of the room but I reached out a hand to grab him by the wrist.
“Wait,” I said. Detective Kasper glanced down at where I held his wrist for a blink of a second. I felt my cheeks growing red as I registered the feeling of skin against skin, but I didn’t relinquish my grip. “When should we meet next? How will I let you know about my conversations?”
Detective Kasper gave me an assessing look. “I’ll drop in on your family tomorrow afternoon.” I nodded and let go of his wrist. Detective Kasper tipped his hat at me once and then was gone.
For my part, I felt strangely odd after we separated, but I tried to push it aside. It was easy enough to focus on the on my growing sense of unease. One of these people, one of my friends or cousins, had killed someone last year. And would maybe do it again. But I reminded myself of the old adage: innocent until proven guilty. There was nothing concrete to damn them yet.
I danced until the early morning, flirting with the usual crowd and throwing back drinks. I kept an eye on Dot and Freddie, but they didn’t do much. Dot even stayed with Freddie until the end, a rarity amongst her evening escapades. I noticed that a few other people were also watching Dot—Henry Whitney in particular. He didn’t look angry, but rather thoughtful, like he was trying to figure out where a piece of a jigsaw puzzle went. Maybe I hadn’t been the only one to notice the bizarre nature of Freddie’s disappearance.
I tried to play Sherlock Holmes as I asked innocuous questions to my dance partners about what people had been doing before our evening’s misadventure. However, the most exciting pieces of information that I received was that Caro (Vanderbilt) and Billy Morgan had been necking in one of the coat rooms and that Ruth Astor and Thomas Rockefeller would be announcing an engagement in the imminent future. The younger Elswood brothers were briefly unaccounted for, but it turned out that they were just playing pool in the billiards room with my cousin, Nolan Winslow.
Rather than fret over my lack of success, I decided to keep drinking and work on improving my skills in the morning. After all, I reminded myself, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly hadn’t been built without a few drinks.
Eventually, everyone stumbled out of the ballroom in the wee hours of the morning and we made it home just before the sun poked her lovely head up over the horizon. The cousins who had been lingering with us departed for their families’ houses while Dot and I tried to sneak quietly into ours.
“My dear Hank,” Dot said, giggling, when I stumbled into the wall in the hallway to our rooms. “You are quite ossified!”
” ‘S only right,” I said. “Fellow needs to be properly ossified before he sleeps.”
Dot laughed again and someone shushed us from behind a door. I put an arm around her and the two of us propped each other up and continued down the hallway. Just when we got to Dot’s room, she turned and looked at me, her face unexpectedly serious.
“Was really scared,” Dot said, her words slurring together. “Freddie wasn’t hisself.”
“What?” I said, not sure what Dot was saying, but Dot was already yawning and turning into her room.
“Night, Hank,” Dot said and then closed the door.
I stumbled down the hall to my room, trying to think past the sludge in my head without success before letting the abyss draw me under. If my dreams happened to feature a certain detective, well, that was between me and my pillow.
* * *
The next morning, Dot and I both suffered through breakfast, the worse for wear. Randolph seemed to take extra delight in speaking loudly and bumping things around the table. His wife, Ruth Forbes Winslow, incurred my gratitude by glaring at him until he stopped.
I waited until after breakfast, when the bags under Dot’s eyes had started to fade before suggesting to Dot that she and I take refreshments outside near the tennis courts. After we had settled in, I casually brought up the previous evening. “Freddie gave us all a scare last night,” I said.
“Freddie and his practical jokes,” she said. “I admit it was in poor taste but you know how boys are.”
“You didn’t think that there was anything odd about it?” I asked.
“It was just a practical joke,” Dot said, giving me a confused look. “Freddie explained everything.”
I couldn’t help but be taken aback. “But, the blood,” I said. “How could there have been so much blood if it were just a joke.”
Dot gave me a look as if I were a particularly obtuse dog that she had tried to train. “How could there have been any blood?” she asked. “It was just a joke.”
“If that was a joke, then I’m Marlene Dietrich,” I said. But Dot began to frown and, deciding not to press my luck, I let the matter drop.
After lunch, I took one of the boats and headed over to the Van Allens’ summer place, across the lake. Their butler led me into the billiards room, where Freddie and Jasper Van Allen, Freddie’s older brother, were playing a game of pool.
“Hank!” Freddie said, looking happy to see me. “Come in. Cigarette?” He offered me one from his case, which I took.
“What brings you our way?” Freddie said once he’d finished off his turn.
“I wanted to make sure you were all right,” I said. A look passed between Freddie and Jasper and Jasper’s mouth tightened.
“Yes, I’m completely fine,” Freddie said after a pause. “It was just a prank that I butchered—I’m kicking myself for scaring Dot like that.” Butchered seemed oddly appropriate in context, although I doubted that Freddie was that clever.
“Glad to hear it,” I said. “Dot’s made of stiffer stuff than I am. I get all squeamish at the thought of blood and can’t think straight, no matter what’s actually going on.”
Jasper relaxed minutely and I settled into a chair to watch them play. Freddie took a seat after their game and I played a game against Jasper who was a few years my senior, although I’d always gotten along with him in the general sense.
It was a close game, but I let Jasper beat me at the end before I thanked them. Jasper and Freddie offered to see me out but I assured them that I could find my way out. I was almost at the door when a thought occurred to me.
As quietly as I could, I walked back to the billiards room, stopping just outside the door. “This is getting too close for comfort,” Jasper said.
Freddie made a nondescript noise and said something that I couldn’t hear.
“We have a problem,” Jasper said. Fred said something, but it was too quiet. Before I could try to get closer, I heard movement towards the door and moved away post-haste.
* * *
I tried to puzzle out the Van Allens’ odd behavior on the ride home, but I couldn’t see what was going on. Freddie clearly hadn’t meant to harm Dot as she hadn’t been hurt, even a scratch. Plus, even I could see that he was crazy for her. And yet, Jasper and Freddie appeared to be up to something. Jasper had acknowledged a problem, but I couldn’t imagine Jasper killing two people. In cold blood, for what reason? It didn’t make sense.
When I arrived back at Blue Waters, Detective Kasper was waiting in the main foyer, his coat still on. Dot and my older sister, Thelmina Calliope Winslow Cabot, or Thelma, were chatting animatedly with him. Detective Kasper appeared to be holding his own but when he saw me, he flashed me a smile of relief. It set off a heated strike of lightning through my body and I felt my face warm.
“Well, you do know how to make an entrance!” Dot said, ostensibly to me, but she was smiling at Detective Kasper. I would guess that her sympathetic loyalty to Freddie had already petered off. “Any later and we’d have to call the National Guard in for reinforcements to search the woods.”
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Detective,” I said.
Detective Kasper brushed off my apology. “Not at all. But we should probably head off,” he said.
Dot looked more than a little disappointed at this turn of events and looped her arm through the detective’s. “Are you sure you can’t stay for some refreshments?” she asked.
Detective Kasper gave me a bit of a beseeching look as Thelma looped her arm as well, effectively anchoring him. It was tempting to let my sisters have a bit of fun, but I felt a bit of sympathy for the poor man. Besides, the thought of sharing Detective Kasper seemed distasteful, even in jest, although I tried to carefully not think about why I felt any sense of possessiveness.
“I’m afraid that we really do have to go,” I said. “Detective Kasper and I have a date with some drinks.” And with that, Detective Kasper extricated himself and tipped his hat at my sisters.
When we got outside, Detective Kasper walked over to the Ford parked in the carriage way. I followed him and got into the passenger side.
“So, Detective, where is our date?” I said, giving him a wide smile.
“You are an incorrigible flirt,” he said. “I see that Dot comes by her charm naturally.”
“Of course,” I said.
“Did you have a chance to talk with your sister?” Detective Kasper said. “Or rather your youngest sister. Thelma said there was another sister.”
“And a brother,” I said. “My parents have always been quantity-over-quality oriented.”
Detective Kasper chuckled. “Is this where I throw in a ‘you’re not half bad, kid’?” he said.
“Only if you want me to respond with a ‘you’re not so bad yourself, old man,'” I said, which earned me a smile.
“Dot didn’t give me much to go on,” I said. I explained how my conversation with Dot had gone.
“And Mr. Van Allen?” Detective Kasper said.
I couldn’t help scrunching up my face in frustration. “It was an…odd visit,” I said finally. When I explained, Detective Kasper looked very interested.
“Do you have any indication what they could have meant by problem?” Detective Kasper said.
“Just my interest,” I said. “Jasper seemed very…concerned.”
“We’ll need to keep an eye on them,” Detective Kasper said. I felt a bloom of warmth at the thought of being automatically included in Detective Kasper’s plans. It sounded a bit silly to say, but I felt like a regular Arthur Hastings or John Watson.
We drove in silence for a bit and I found myself looking around. I’d spent many hours exploring the forest as a boy but it had been years since I’d had the inclination to just wander. It was only after fifteen or twenty minutes that I realized we’d gone off onto a little used path that I didn’t recognize. The roads around Upper St. Regis Lake were little more than old horse paths anyways, but this path made even those look like the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Is this where you reveal that you’ve been planning this all along and that I’ve played directly into your hand?” I asked Detective Kasper.
He laughed. “I refuse to comment on the nature of my plans for you. I will say, however, that if it had been my intention to kidnap and kill you, letting your sisters see the two of us leave together would not have been my wisest move.”
I acknowledged the point as Detective Kasper came to a stop and turned off the engine. He got out of the car and I followed suit.
“Where are we?”
“We’re headed to one of the areas in which I found some disturbing things last summer. It’s not far from the Reids. I came out here this morning and noted that there had been fresh activity. I think that you should see it, perhaps you might recognize something.”
I followed Detective Kasper through the woods. He walked at a fast pace, although, like last night, he seemed at ease here. He seemed the type of man who fit in most places. When I thought he was unlikely to notice it, I slowed my pace for a few seconds and allowed myself to appreciate the backside of Detective Kasper. It was very nice indeed.
Eventually, he stopped and turned to face me. “I have to warn you,” he said. “That this isn’t for the faint of heart. There is something very wrong here. If you would prefer not to see it, just say the word.”
I shrugged off his concern. I doubted that he’d show me anything that I couldn’t conjecture on my own, so with a sigh, Detective Kasper started walking again.
But I was wrong. My enjoyment of the day dissipated when we arrived at the site. I say “site” because I’m not sure what else to call it. As we walked closer to the small clearing ahead of us, the hairs on my arms began to rise and I suppressed a shiver. What was I scared of? I was with an armed detective and few people would want to attack in the light of day. But rationalities didn’t make inroads against my sense of alarm.
Once we reached the clearing, I stopped. I had known that something was off last night. But with Dot alright, the exercise had seemed academic. Now, as I looked across the clearing, I saw that someone had slaughtered a variety of small animals. I counted six chicken, four rabbits and at least two cats.
For a second, I just reminded myself to keep breathing in and out. After I regained my breath, I flushed with anger at the thought that someone—someone that I likely knew—had done this on purpose.
“I’m sorry,” Detective Kasper said.
“Don’t be,” I said. “Just tell me what I need to know.”
Detective Kasper led me through the clearing. In one of the trees, there was a hollow where someone had left a large red velvet bag. Detective Kasper carefully untangled the knot cinching the bag closed. He then pulled out a stack of small silver bowls, a curved silver knife with engraving on its blade and several candles. Both the silver knife and bowls had smeared blood stains, as if someone had tried to wipe them off very quickly.
“Your lunch date continues to astound me,” I said.
“Wait until you see what we have planned for dessert,” he said, giving me a wry smile before he turned serious again. “Those animals were killed last night and I believe that it was done using, at least partially, these instruments as there’s relatively fresh blood on the knife and bowls, and the animals have had their throats slit. The bag is a new addition to this area—it wasn’t here last year when I found this area nor was it here when I checked it a few days ago.”
He stopped to let me take it all in. “Have you ever seen instruments like this before?”
I shook my head. Then I stopped. “Well yes actually, I suppose I have. Seen them all together, that is. This could be leftovers from an assorted Hallowe’en or occult-themed party. Very mysterious props to persuade one’s guests. I’m sorry that’s not more helpful.”
Detective Kasper shrugged and asked me to keep a look out going forward. He also showed me the shoe marks in the clearing—generally from Oxford shoes, but as that included most men that I knew, did little to narrow down any culprits.
After we finished, Detective Kasper and I walked back towards his car. I tried not to fixate on the fact that our arms brushed a few times, but found myself largely unsuccessful.
“Do you think that you can keep an eye on the Van Allens?” Detective Kasper said.
“Yes, but I can’t be too obvious about it or they’ll suspect something,” I said, wishing that I could be more helpful. “I’m friends with Freddie, but Jasper and I were never all that close.”
“Perhaps your sister would like to see Freddie again?” Detective Kasper said.
I couldn’t help laughing. “Detective, you really don’t know my sister,” I said. “I’m surprised her interest in Freddie lasted all the way through the evening.”
He let the matter drop, but I mulled it over on the ride home. When we got back to Blue Waters, I invited him in, but Detective Kasper declined, citing further investigations. I felt oddly disappointed as I headed in.
* * *
Detective Kasper took to dropping in during the afternoons over the next few days. I didn’t have much to show for my efforts. I suppose Detective Kasper could tell that I was disappointed, but he didn’t attempt to make me feel better or brush it off, which I appreciated. For Detective Kasper’s part, he’d been surveilling the Van Allens and some of the other men from the party, but so far hadn’t found much beyond a preference for leisure activities and drinking, which I could have easily told him.
I found myself increasingly distracted during our meetings as I wondered what Detective Kasper’s reaction would be if I ran my foot up his leg or perhaps let my hand linger on his arm longer than the socially deemed measure. Would he lose his composure if my fingers strayed across the back of his neck? But Detective Kasper stayed dedicated to the mission in front of us, so I tried to keep my thoughts on the task at hand.
It was only at a small cocktail party hosted by the Pratts that something finally fell into my lap. Gwen came over to where I was having a drink with the younger Elswoods, who were telling me about the complete mess that they’d gotten into fishing earlier that day. She gave me a big smile and raised her eyes suggestively.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I said, finishing my drink and putting it down. “Duty calls.”
The band was playing something reasonably paced that allowed us to have a nice conversation.
“So,” Gwen started. “You’ve been spending time with that attractive detective.”
“He’s not half as handsome as you are beautiful,” I said, which made Gwen laugh.
“You are too much,” she said fondly. “Well, I hear he’s been asking questions about odd going-ons. He might find the second study at the Elswoods, the ones that the boys use, and their book collection of interest.” I refrained from looking back at the Elswood brothers.
“Oh might he,” I said. “And how did you come to find this information?” Gwen gave me a look. “Right. Well, I’ll be sure to pass the message along.”
“You could also tell him that I wouldn’t mind a dance,” Gwen said.
“And risk having him whisk you away?” I said. “I think not!”
* * *
The next afternoon, I was thinking outside, with a bottle of wine in order to think at my best, when Detective Kasper came up to join me. “Penny for your thoughts?” he said.
I felt my face heat up. My thoughts had been running towards the detective, although perhaps not in a manner in which he would have been flattered by. I cleared my throat and tried to change my mental direction. “I’ve been told to tell you that we need to check out one of the rooms at the Elswoods. Apparently their book collection is of note.”
Detective Kasper looked pleasantly surprised. “That sounds encouraging, so why the long face?”
“Well,” I said, giving him a rueful smile. “We can’t just waltz up and expect Arthur or Reggie to let us into that room without suspicion, even if you do have me on your side. And I don’t think you’re going to like my plan all that much.”
* * *
“So your plan was to break into their house?” Detective Kasper asked as we crept through the Elswood staff quarters.
“It’s not really breaking in,” I said. “I’m sure if someone had been here then they would have invited us in.”
Detective Kasper gave me a very dark look. “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t like your plan.”
In all fairness to him, I had deliberately taken advantage of the unlocked staff entrance. The timing had been crucial: we’d taken a bit of a risk in going through the staff entrance, but luckily everyone had been busy with dinner and pre-dinner preparations.
It had been our only choice, really, as I didn’t think that Detective Kasper would have gotten very far if he’d come in through the front door. Further, the plan had relied on me being able to charm ourselves out of any situation that might have arisen if we’d run into someone.
Thankfully, no charm was needed when we’d made it through the staff quarters scot free. When we took refuge in a clearly forgotten portrait room, Detective Kasper glared at me.
“This was not one of your better ideas,” he said.
“But, I do feel oh-so-much like the Hardy Boys,” I said, trying to look as innocent as possible. Finally Detective Kasper let out a huff of air and looked up at the ceiling.
“Fine,” Detective Kasper said reluctantly. “But you follow my lead.”
“Of course,” I said.
We took to cautiously prowling about the lower level where I imagined the study would be located. Detective Kasper and I took different sides of the hallway and cautiously tried a few rooms, stumbling across a sitting room styled by someone who clearly yearned for the days of Louis XIV, a smoking lounge that was in need of an airing out and another small family portrait room, this time with ancestors who were clearly more well-liked. Finally, I came across what we were looking for. I opened up the door to an opulent room, patterned with red and gold wallpaper. There were mahogany bookshelves lining the room and sumptuous looking armchairs placed at strategic intervals. Bingo.
I stepped into the room, careful, but there appeared to be no one else in it. Detective Kasper was behind me in an instant.
“What did I say about following my lead?” he asked.
“Nothing that I can remember,” I said. Detective Kasper muttered some choice words not appropriate for mixed company under his breath, but appeared to be resigned to investigating the room, so I began to do so.
At a first glance, I really couldn’t see anything abnormal about the room. It appeared to be in the same condition that I would expect to find for many rooms of leisure. Detective Kasper began looking over near the bookshelves, so I headed to the desk in the corner of the room.
That’s where I saw the book. It was a leather bound copy of something or other, clearly worn and used. It wasn’t something I would have expected to find just lying about. Ferallity, Prophecy of the Burning Sun, the book’s cover displayed in bold Victorian print.
I gently opened up the cover and carefully paged through the title plates until I came to the table of contents. It read like a list of intangible desires—love, power, chaos—and so on and so forth. I turned to the section entitled “Love.”
“‘To ensnare the object of your affection,'” I read aloud. “‘Cast this spell on a full moon over a bowl containing the fresh blood from a creature of the night, aged yew branches, earth from a hidden cave and a lock of your object’s hair.’ That last bit is almost sweet.”
I scanned down the rest of the page. There was a long inscription in Latin, presumably to be chanted. I tried to recall the Latin I’d learned in my hazy schoolboy days. The inscription didn’t appear to be particularly suited towards love-making, but I wouldn’t have sworn to it.
Detective Kasper looked up at me from across the room. He frowned in consternation. “What is that you’re saying?”
“I’ve found a spell book of some kind,” I said, lifting up the book carefully and showing it to him. “It appears we’ve found someone or someones who have an Aleister Crowley affection.”
Detective Kasper was there, right next to me, a moment later. I felt a sudden shock of warmth where we touched and it distracted me from the book. Detective Kasper, on the other hand, appeared to have missed my start of surprise completely as he leaned over me to flip through the book, stopping every few pages and reading it. It was pure torture but one that I had no desire to move away from.
“Do you think that they’re actually doing this?” I asked eventually when I pulled myself together. “This isn’t much more than mumbo-jumbo.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Detective Kasper said. I turned around to look directly at him, only realizing too late that we were now almost pressed together completely. I tried to will my body to attention as it also realized the same thing.
There was a moment in which neither of us moved. Detective Kasper reached up from the book before he stopped suddenly and turned his head towards the door.
Out of nowhere, we both heard the unmistakable sounds of footsteps on carpet getting closer. I looked over at Detective Kasper, complete panic coursing through me. Without missing a beat, Detective Kasper took the book out of my hands, putting it back where I had found it, and pushed me into one of the closets in far corner of the room. The closet had small slits facing downward, giving us a small amount of light and a clear view of the room. Detective Kasper had chosen our hiding spot well. The only issue was the size of the closet—it was large enough to fit the two of us, but just barely, and I felt the long lines of Detective Kasper’s body pressing against my back. For the first time in my life, I tried to focus on my sense of panic rather than the situation around me.
Not less than a minute later, a small horde of men trooped into the room. I recognized the elder Van Allen along with Fred Rockefeller. The rest had their back to me and were almost indistinguishable, although I assumed that by necessity, the younger Elswood brothers were in attendance.
“This is not what I signed on for,” someone said, very angrily. “I was promised that this wouldn’t have any lasting impact, but here we are, a year later, and still cleaning up this mess.”
“I understand that,” Jasper said loudly, getting everyone’s attention. Once everyone was looking at him, he began speaking again, his voice at a lower tone. “But the reality is that we are all tied to this. Freddie is rapidly losing control. Any suggestions?”
Everyone began talking at once. I couldn’t catch what anyone was saying and Jasper didn’t seemed inclined to call the group to order again. With the group talking amongst themselves, my focus drifted back to Detective Kasper. It was fast becoming clear that Detective Kasper found our situation more than a little exciting. And arousing. I had assumed that the attraction had been one-sided, but the evidence in front of me (or rather, right next to me) suggested that I had been mistaken. And who was I to deny evidence?
Seized by a horrible and impulsive idea, I turned around and slowly knelt on the ground.
“What are you—” Detective Kasper said, hissing.
“Shh,” I warned him, as quiet as I could. He shut his mouth and watched, shock and desire warring on his face. I carefully undid his belt buckle and then pushed down his pants and briefs. Detective Kasper was breathing heavily and I found that I, to my surprise, was barely a step above panting.
I licked my hand and then firmly gripped the base of his cock. When I looked up at Detective Kasper, I saw that his hands were tightly gripped into fists and his careful composure was gone. He looked ready to devour me and that gave me the boost I needed.
I leaned in and placed the head of his length in my mouth before carefully and slowly moving down. Detective Kasper’s cock was warm, heavy against my tongue, and it made me feel heady and reckless. I forced myself not to moan as I began moving my mouth up and down his length. I could hear him struggling to control his breathing above, which made me even harder.
As my mouth and throat began to remember that familiar stretch, I focused on taking more and more of his length in my mouth. Within a few minutes, Detective Kasper’s hands found their way to my head. At first Detective Kasper was gentle, barely pressing against my head, although he seemed unable to help the small thrusts that his hips made, but I welcomed it, wanted more, wanted to feel utterly surrounded by Detective Kasper.
With my free hand, I reached into my own pants, my own length straining against my briefs. As Detective Kasper began to lose control, thrusting harder, I stroked myself, the dryness of my palm chafing and barely providing enough friction. I moved faster, thrusting against my briefs, desperate.
Detective Kasper must have noticed my change in focus because he grabbed my hair and I came, spilling into my briefs, with a muffled groan. Detective Kasper wasn’t far behind and he kept a firm grip on my head, thrusting into my mouth one last time as he came, an abrupt mouthful that I tried to swallow down.
After allowing myself a few seconds to catch my breath, I stood up, wiping the corner of my mouth. As soon as I was on my feet, Detective Kasper gripped my shoulders. For a moment, I wasn’t sure what would happen and then he pushed me against the wall and began kissing me for all that I was worth.
Suddenly Jasper’s voice came through, loudly getting everyone to settle down. Detective Kasper and I froze. He fixed me with a look that said that we had unfinished business before he began pulling up his pants, apparently capable of doing it in complete silence.
There was a knock at the door and everyone stopped, the two of us included. Jasper went to the door and opened it. A low voice spoke to him and Jasper nodded before closing the door.
“It appears that we have some guests,” Jasper said. “We will have to adjourn until later.”
The men decamped loudly but Detective Kasper and I stayed in the closet until the sound of my own heartbeat was thunderous in my ears.
“All clear,” Detective Kasper. He opened up the closet door and led me out. “And don’t think that we won’t be talking about what just happened. Just at a time in which we are likely to not be arrested for trespassing.”
I made a non-committal sound. On the way out of the room, I grabbed the book from the desk. “What are you—oh, why am I even asking?” Detective Kasper said. Thankfully, our luck, if you could call it that, held, and we managed to sneak out of Elwoods’ and back through the staff quarters without getting caught.
* * *
As we drove back to Blue Waters, Detective Kasper—or rather Jack, as I felt slightly odd thinking of someone who I’d been intimate with by their professional title—opened his mouth several times as if he planned to speak but had forgotten how to use words. I’d never seen him at a loss before, so I let him struggle for a while before stepping in.
“Mr. Winslow,” he finally said.
“After what we’ve just done, I think I would prefer if you called me Hank,” I said. “As I will be calling you Jack.”
“Can I just use Henry?” Jack said, but he was smiling.
“Only if you want to talk to someone else. My Christian name is Jedediah Hankins Winslow,” I said.
Jack was silent for a few seconds and gave me a look that let me know exactly what he thought of that. “Hank it is,” he said eventually, but when I pressed my hand over his, he briefly squeezed it before I let my hand drop again.
When we made it back to the house, Jack and I retreated to one of the lesser-used sitting rooms to peruse the book at our leisure. Love wasn’t the only subject of the book. One spell could cause indefinite loyalty, subservience, hatred, or even permanent and fatal bad luck. They all involved variant spells and ingredients although the trend appeared to be the larger the effect, the larger sacrifice needed. For some of the really powerful ones, it called for human offerings. Delightful.
“Real stand-up,” I said to Jack.
Jack had taken to making notes in his notebook. “What are you writing?” I asked.
He pointed to the page. “I’m writing the incantation for the expulsion of something.”
I read through the description and then tried to get through enough of the Latin to have an idea of it. When I finished, I blinked at Jack a few times. “You think Freddie’s possessed?”
Jack put his notebook down for a second and gave me an assessing look. “I’d like to be prepared for all possibilities.” It was a sobering thought.
* * *
I tried to be discreet while we studied our books, but it turned out that I had no more of a head for Latin than I did in school so I turned to observing Jack. Since we were sitting next to each other, I let our arms brush occasionally as I reached out to grab some paper or flip through the book. At each of these moments, Jack met my eyes and the sheer heat behind his eyes practically begged me to take him back to my room, but then Jack would look back down at his work, leaving me hard and frustrated.
When Jack left later that evening, citing the need to do some additional research, I was in an extremely irritated mood, having been perpetually aroused for what felt like the majority of the day. While it may have been my own fault, that did little to ease my displeasure.
My poor mood lasted the rest of the night and through to the following afternoon. I sulked in my room until Thelma came to the door.
“Darling,” she said. “Apparently there’s a phone call for you.”
I hurriedly walked downstairs, wondering what news Jack needed to tell me so urgently. Perhaps he’d found another clue.
“This is Hank,” I said, picking up the phone.
“Hank, thank god,” Jasper said on the other end, to my complete shock. “Freddie’s missing. I don’t know where he’s gone.”
“What do you mean that Freddie’s missing?” I said.
“I know that you and that detective have been hanging around together,” Jasper said. “You’ve been looking into Freddie, right? There’s something wrong with Freddie, I know. Something…unnatural about him. I figured it out last year. A group of us—we’ve been trying to stop it but it’s been getting worse. That was what happened at the Reids the other night. We were barely able to contain him at the time. And now he’s gone and I don’t know what will happen. No one has seen him all day and I don’t know who else can help.”
Jasper continued on, haphazard, but I was already trying to figure out how to get ahold of Jack. Perhaps Freddie had gone back to the area we’d visited the other day. I shuddered to think of what he was going to sacrifice this time. I only hoped that Jack could stop him before the unthinkable happened again.
* * *
I tried to reach Jack in any way that I could think. When I placed a call to the Reids, the only number that they had for him was a contact in the nearest town who hadn’t seen Jack since yesterday. I called the local police department with no luck and the poor operator agreed to keep trying local numbers to see if she could find him.
I had taken to pacing outside, when Jack finally pulled up.
“Hank,” Jack said, jumping out of the car. “What is it? Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” I said quickly. “But it’s Freddie. He’s gone—Jasper said that they’ve been trying to stop whatever it is. We can call him and he’ll tell you what’s been happening.”
“No time,” Jack said and motioned me into the car. We took off without another word, Jack’s face pale and serious next to me.
Jack drove like a man possessed and for the first time, I felt afraid, truly afraid, and tried not to look outside into the total wilderness. When he came to an abrupt stop, Jack jumped out of the car and I followed.
“You can still turn back,” Jack said.
“And miss all this fun?” I said.
Jack looked at me for a long moment and then closed his eyes. He must have come to some decision because when he opened his eyes, he looked grim and resigned. “If anything happens, please let me handle it,” Jack said, pulling out his gun.
“It’s touching that you think I would try to be brave in any circumstances,” I said with more confidence than I felt as I grabbed the book, holding it tight against my side. Jack gave me a look that said he doubted my ability to follow any directions, based on prior experience. He wasn’t exactly wrong, but I didn’t have much intention of jumping into a crazed and possessed lunatic’s path. I managed a smile and followed Jack as he began walking quietly away from the car.
We moved quickly through the woods—thankfully a loud breeze rustled the trees around us and hid our sounds from any but the keenest observers. When we reached the clearing, much to my surprise, there was only two figures. In the center of the clearing sat Freddie, hands and feet bound together and tied to the chair that he was sitting on. Freddie looked angry or rather, angrily aggressive, almost as if he were a rabid dog and the next person to approach him would be bitten or mauled to death. The look on his face was almost unnatural and I found myself taking an involuntary step back.
“Celsio,” the other person said. His back was to us and he wore a hooded robe. The voice sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure I could identify it. “Adiuro vos in me, et te. Et dabo tibi dari peteret. Ego servus meus es tu. I bind you to me and call you forth. I give to you and ask to be given to. I am your servant as you are my master.”
Freddie began snarling now, a chilling growl that echoed louder than it should have in the early evening. After a moment, the growling stopped and Freddie laughed. I say Freddie, but whatever or whomever laughed, it was not the young man that I had played football with last summer in the front lawn of Blue Waters.
“You foolish mortal,” Freddie said. “You think that you can control me?”
“I know that you are bound to me,” someone said, and this time I felt certain that I knew the speaker. Who could it be? “I know that you must follow my will.”
Freddie laughed. “You know nothing,” he said. “The feeble enchantments that you put in place have barely managed to contain me so far and you think that I will bend to your will. Your will which is so weak that you can barely keep order over this pathetic human body?”
With a flash, Freddie’s restraints were torn apart and he was free of the chair. Freddie reached out with his hands, and it was almost like he warped the air around him, because everything around him bent towards him. Then he flicked his fingers out and the man in front of us was thrown back, briefly exposing the face of Henry Whitney. He flew through the air, hitting one of the trees surrounding the clearing with a sickening thud.
I stood there completely immobilized with shock. Whatever I had thought, I hadn’t expected that. Jack whipped out a piece of paper and began reading, his Latin unpolished but not incorrect. With a start, Freddie turned towards Jack.
Freddie hissed, something about his face looking wrong, inhuman. He seemed to struggle, some force immobilizing him as Jack kept reading. But eventually, he broke through the fog holding him back and lazily gestured at Jack, who also flew back.
I knew with certainty that I was the last line of defense. It was me or nothing. So, I gathered what little of my wits I was able to find and opened up Ferallity, Prophecy of the Burning Sun to Jack’s bookmarked page. I began to read the incantation for expulsion, praying that Henry’s now-disassembled spell had utilized sufficient livestock sacrifices, sand, charred remains and red wine.
I got no further than a line in before Freddie had me by the throat and pressed up against a tree. “You thought you could stop me?” he said.
“It seemed like it was worth a try,” I got out. Freddie pressed harder, beginning to cut-off my air supply.
“Hank,” I heard from the ground somewhere, presumably from Jack. I felt a huge drop of relief knowing that Jack was still alive. “Hold on.”
“Jedidiah Hankins Winslow,” Freddie said. “This body nears the end of its service to me. I shall use yours.” He opened his mouth and began to lean towards me. His face was horrifying and hellish so I closed my eyes—if I was going to die, I didn’t want that to be the last thing that I saw.
“No!” Jack said and began reading again in Latin, his words halting and gasping. When I opened my eyes, a black mist began surrounding Freddie’s body. As it expanded, Freddie blinked revealing entirely black eyes. He released me and I slid to the ground.
Jack’s voice began speeding up, but I groped around until I found the book and, heart in hand, started reading with him until Jack gasped and cut out. With just the final line to go, I slammed back into the tree behind me. I could feel all the places where the bark cut me, but I could see the last line written in the air in front of me, as if I still had the book. Apparently those Latin classes had paid off in the end.
“Hic perficere, et sic fiat,” I said weakly. A loud roar, then a burst of light went through the clearing, temporarily blinding me, followed by the pungent smell of sulfur before everything went completely silent.
I lay there, breathing, for a small eternity until I felt a hand carefully checking my neck for a pulse. When I opened my eyes, I was surprised that the setting sun had somehow given way to black night. I tried to manage a smile and heard Jack sigh with relief.
“You know, you’re not half bad, kid,” Jack said. His voice sounded steady, but I could feel the tremor in his hands where he gripped my shoulder in one hand and rested his palm against my cheek with the other.
“You’re not so bad yourself, old man,” I said, not succeeding at keeping my voice regular. For a long moment, Jack just stared at me and then he leaned down and kissed me, hard, his lips strong enough to impart feeling against my almost-numb ones. He kissed as if I were the oxygen he needed to breathe, the food in front of a starving man, water in a desert drought. There was nothing but him and me and the feeling of our skin touching and retouching in the darkness. I was alive and dead and everything in between.
When he finally pulled back, I could barely form a coherent thought. “Wow,” I said eventually. “Wow.”
Jack buried his face in my shoulder. “If this is heaven,” I said, my voice coming out a bit uneven, “there’s no way in hell that they’re making me go back.” Jack gave a half laugh at that.
* * *
Eventually we both managed to get up. I had several large cuts on my back and would have significant bruising everywhere the following day. Jack looked better but was clearly favoring his left leg. Together, we tied Henry Whitney, a man who’d I once thought of as my friend, to a tree to immobilize him until we could get the local police out here. As for Freddie, we stood there for a moment after we confirmed he was still alive. Alive, but not in good shape.
“What do you think happened?” I asked Jack. “To Freddie, I mean.”
Jack was quiet for a long moment. “I imagine that Mr. Whitney tried to trap a demon—” Jack gave a little laugh at the sheer impossibility that we had witnessed. “A demon, to do his bidding. For what, I don’t know. If you believe in that sort of thing, it seems an unwise choice, but he did it anyways. When I looked through that book, in order to summon a demon and make it your familiar, it required human sacrifice as well as a human receptacle. Perhaps Mr. Van Allen, Miss Miller and Mr. Graham were caught up as innocent bystanders. I can only imagine that something went very wrong, more wrong than Mr. Whitney had hoped for.”
“So Miss Miller and Mr. Graham ended up dead and Freddie’s been playing host to a demon since last summer.” Even now, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
“To varying degrees of success, I would imagine,” Jack. “It seems like there was a struggle between the two of them for control. Along with Mr. Whitney trying to regain his demonic familiar.”
“Hence the need for those constant rituals,” I said, trying to think it through. “Henry was trying to bring it back under his control. Or keep it under his control. Along with Freddie.” I was very confused again. I was also very tired, so I decided to leave the thinking to the good detective and to just focus my efforts on getting into the car.
* * *
What then followed was an exhausting several hours. Jack first drove us over to the local sheriff. Jack was clearly on good terms with the officers and they didn’t require much of an explanation, which was good, because I wasn’t sure that I had one. The sheriff arranged for Freddie to get much needed medical attention and took Henry into custody to be questioned. We then took some of the sheriff’s deputies out to Henry’s site to gather evidence.
By the time that the officers pronounced themselves done with us, I felt so exhausted that I could barely stand. I let Jack guide me back into the car without asking where were going, intrinsically trusting him completely.
We must have driven for some time, but I fell asleep with my head against the cool window, only waking up when we pulled up to a small house. “I arranged to rent it for the duration of the investigation,” Jack said as explanation as I sleepily hauled myself out of the car.
I didn’t remember much of the walk into the house, just Jack helping me untie my shoes. I must have taken off my shirt and pants, although I have no memory of it, before I crawled underneath the covers of Jack’s bed and slept the deep sleep of one who has pushed past all energy reserves.
* * *
When I woke up the next morning, it was to light streaming across my face. I blinked a few times, my body still in that hazy state between sleeping and consciousness. I felt someone half pressed against me and so I turned to see Jack spread out on his back next to me.
When I moved, Jack opened his eyes and met mine. For a moment, neither of us moved and then Jack pushed himself up. When I started to sit up as well, Jack fixed me with a look. “Don’t move,” he said and his voice was deep enough to send a shiver down my back.
I obeyed and watched as Jack took off his undershirt. I wanted to reach over and touch him, run my fingers over his chest, scratch my nails against the expanse of skin before me, but I kept still. After he threw his shirt onto the floor, Jack moved over me. I could only look up and stare at him as my body finished rushing to attention. He placed his legs on either side of me, fully bracketing me with his body and letting me feel that he was just as hard as I was.
He leaned down and slowly kissed me, being careful to just barely let our bodies touch otherwise. I let him take control, radio static filling my brain. We kissed until my lips were heavy and sensitive, until I needed to feel Jack pressed everywhere against my body, until I thought I was going to die if I didn’t have him inside me.
“Jack,” I managed to get out and it apparently opened the floodgates because all of a sudden, everything became a frantic rush as my hands moved of their own volition, skimming up Jack’s sides as Jack began making his way down my body, teasing and biting at my skin where I was most sensitive. He carefully pulled off my boxers and then kicked off his own.
I was so hard that I was leaking, my cock pressed between the two of us, and Jack carefully took me in hand and began to stroke.
“Please tell me that you have lotion,” I said, panting in between words, “as I don’t plan on coming until you’re inside of me.”
“Bossy,” Jack said, giving me a look that promised all of that and more as he reached over to his nightstand where he had a bottle. He settled himself in between my legs and, using a generous amount of lotion, pressed one finger inside me. It was tight and I tensed up, but Jack leaned up to kiss me as he kept moving until I slowly relaxed.
Jack took his time opening me up, using two fingers to slowly stretch me out until the intrusion shifted into something more enjoyable and by the time he got to three fingers, I was gasping and clutching at Jack.
“Come on, come on.” I got out and Jack stilled for a moment.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” I said impatiently. Jack slicked himself up, only a slight unsteadiness to his hand betraying anything but sheer confidence. Jack pushed himself in slowly, allowing me to adjust. When he bottomed out, he paused for a second, letting me grab my breath. When I was ready, Jack began to move slowly, moving faster as I urged him on.
I felt electrified, every movement creating sparks behind my eyes, and I couldn’t stop myself from moaning loudly every time that Jack pushed forward just right. Jack wasn’t making much sense either, but each time he said my name, I felt an additional frisson of excitement run down my spine.
I felt like I could drown in this moment, live in it forever, the slick slide of our bodies against each other, the smell of Jack surrounding me, but all too quickly, I felt myself approaching the edge. As I stroked myself, Jack began to thrust harder and erratically, finally coming with one last push inside of me.
I kept stroking myself, speeding up as well, and when Jack regained his breath, he placed his hand over mine. It pushed me over and everything went white hot for a long moment as I spilled between the two of us.
We lay there for a while before Jack finally got up to grab a cloth. I lay there, drowsy, while Jack did his best to clean the two of us up.
“Come here,” I said and motioned him back into bed when he finished. Once he was under the covers, I curled up around him and did what I had been dreaming of for a while, perhaps since I had first seen him. I let myself luxuriate in the feel of his skin against mine, letting my body learn Jack’s.
“You have no idea how much restraint I had to show last night,” Jack said as I lazily moved my fingers over his chest. I made an enquiring noise. “I finally had you with your clothes off, but you were fast asleep.”
“I suppose I’ll have to make it up to you another time,” I said. Although as soon as I thought of it, I realized that I didn’t know when the next time would be. Wouldn’t Jack be heading home soon? Would Jack want to see me again?
“Or are you off to the city, never to be seen again?” I said, trying to make my voice deliberately light-hearted.
Jack’s hands stilled where they were tracing patterns against my back. He brought one hand over to tilt my chin up. “Well, at some point, I will likely have to return to the city. As I hope will you—or do you plan on becoming a hermit up in the Adirondacks? It would be inconvenient making the drive up here to see you, but I suppose I’ve done worse.”
I couldn’t help the huge smile that spread on my face and I leaned up to kiss him. When I finally pulled away, I pretended to think for a moment. “I suppose I could resign myself to returning to the city. Although how on earth will I entertain myself without more occult mysteries to investigate?” I said.
Jack laughed. “I’m sure we’ll think of something,” he said, settling me against him and idly running his fingers against me until we fell back asleep.
When I woke next, it was mid-afternoon. I was nice and warm, Jack pressed against my side, still sleeping. I looked at Jack for a few seconds, happier than I could remember being, before I turned onto my stomach and carefully placed my head on his chest. Jack opened his eyes blearily and looked down at me. He gave me a lazy smile and then brought his arm up around me.
“Sleep,” he said, his voice rough. And I did.