Posts Tagged ‘Teel James Glenn’

Along The Hudson

 

By

Teel James Glenn

 

Chapter One:

Calling Down the Devil

 

My pulse quickened as the wakening island of Manhattan came into sight further down the Hudson. Our pre-dawn dirigible flight from Montreal to the airship port on Governors Island, New York had been uneventful, but upon arrival I knew things would become interesting when I saw my old friend, Mad Mike.

“I suppose you ain’t comin’ with me to that there Metropolitan Opera place when we land, eh, Athelstan?” My Aunt Minerva said, knowing in advance that Der Nibelungren bored me.

“I had hoped to look up Mike Ellenbogen,” I said.

“You mean Mad Mike from Cairo?” Aunt Mini asked. She lived down to her nick-name at barely five feet tall.  She’d raised me when my parents and her husband, Lord Camden had been killed. I was raised mostly in England by her, but the former Miss Minerva Strump was as American as the city we were approaching.

“Same Mad Mike,” I said with a laugh. I touched the Eye of Horus amulet I wore that Mike had given me, remembering some of our escapades in Egypt three years before.

My aunt and I were among a dozen or so passengers of the great airship observation window, watching the bustling city and busy harbor ahead. With a population over a million and a half it ranked as the nation’s largest port, with piers, factories and even working farms on it.

We passed over the gun emplacements of Fort Tryon at the northern tip of the island, fortified still from when the city was made the capital of the new republic during their civil war when the southern states had burned Washington- and idea they stole from we Albions in 1814.

But beyond all its commerce and prestige, beyond all its Astor high society and its striving immigrants, it was an open secret that New York City was also the vice capital of the United States.  And Mad Mike was little part of that, running ‘Mike and Spike’s Sphinx Saloon’ on the west side at 23rd Street.

Our airship, The Ottawa, cruised slowly down the Hudson, over the river traffic and with a clear view of the bustling metropolis that truly rivaled London. The density of the population increased as we went down island from Washington Heights near rural development. The last time I had been in the great city I’d arrived and left by ocean liner so I was as much in awe of the panoramic view as my fellow passengers at the rail of the observation deck.

“Impressive, is it not, Lady Camden,” one of my fellow travelers said with a thick French accent. “I never imagined these Americans were so-“

“Civilized?” Aunt Mini finished.

“”Well, yes,” the Frenchman said. “Why there are even buildings that look to be eleven stories tall!”

I sensed Aunt Mini was about to create an international incident with her next words so I intervened.

“These former colonist of ours,” I said, “Are really quite clever, Monsieur.  I am sure they will love your observations on their comparative status to primitives.”

His face blanched and my aunt gave an un-lady-like snort.

“My good Baronet Grey,” the Frenchman said, “One would think you would not take the side of those who revolted against your country.”

“All past, Monsieur,” I said. “The children have left the house long ago and are standing on their own.”

“Darn tootin’,” My aunt said. “Standing, dancing and kicking a-“

“Mini!” I said and she checked herself, just barely.

The Frenchman turned away and chose retreat as the better course of valor, slipping away into the others on the observation deck.

“You are going to get us into trouble one of these days, Auntie,” I said. Mini giggled like a schoolgirl.

“I ain’t never got into no trouble that wasn’t some sort of fun, Athelstan,” she said with glee. “And none I couldn’t get out of.”

“So far,” I pointed out.

“You are turning into a terrible dull fellow, nephew,” she said with a snort. “You’d think all that time with that little Aztec girl we had to say goodbye to in Montreal would give you a sense of adventure.”

It was my turn to laugh out loud. “That is a whole different kind of adventure, Auntie, you saucy old baggage!” She elbowed me and we both giggled.  She had always been a constant source of shock and amusement to the social circles of my uncle and my parents- and had raised me after their deaths with a healthy skepticism to convention, but still sometimes surprised even me.

We enjoyed the view in relaxed silence as the airship glided down the island and off its tip to the fortressed Governors Island. The smoke from the coal-powered factories was already casting a haze over the bustling city but did nothing to mare the sense of energetic industry, of seeing the future before us.

It made me reflect on the Albion Empire and my home in London.  While I was proud of my heritage, an inherited baronet from my father and an Oxford education, I could not help but feel, especially after my time working for the East India Company in Bombay, that it was built on the backs of others. How unlike it this young, vigorous country was.

These people, these Americans, had carved homes out of the wilderness, true, there had been contention with natives, but they had made their peace now. And they had, successfully both fought off Albion’s control and had their growing pains in their own civil war.

An alliance with the Mexhican Empire to their south (and their Aztec magicks) had allowed the Americans to establish themselves as a minor world power, balanced with Albion, the Ottoman Empire, and The Mali Confederacy.

The Ottawa glided into docking port on Governor’s Island in early morning but it was almost afternoon before we had all debarked and passed through customs. We took a ferry across to Manhattan, with the Frenchman pointedly avoiding interaction with either myself or Auntie. Our bags were sent ahead to our hotel and we hailed a taxi.

Last chance for that Wagner hoop-de-do At Hammerstein’s, Opera House up at 34th Street, nephew,” Mini said as she climbed into the hansom cab.

“No thanks, Auntie, but I’ll ride up as far as 23rd Street with you.”

I hopped in and we were off up the Battery past the Customs house into the business district of the metropolis. The odor of the city was a mix of horse leavings, coal-oil smoke and that indefinable collection of very human smells. It reminded me more of Bombay than London in that respect. It was controlled chaos, a cacophony of sound and movement, a babble of languages even more varied than Paris.

I found it exhilarating!

Our carriage moved haltingly up Broadway through the crush of traffic until we reached 23nd street. I took my leave of my aunt then and jumped off.

“I’ll see you at the hotel, Mini,” I said as I waved.

“You say hello to Mad Mike for me,” she called back, “And watch yourself, nephew- the two of you together are worse than me and my sister used to be. ”

“I will, auntie, I will.”

I watched the carriage pull away and turned to head west toward the river where Mike’s pub was located. It was a eight block walk and I set off at a jaunty pace, swinging my newly acquired walking stick- a present from the Ambassador from the Mexhico Empire.

It was almost a like a walk in Whitechapel for all the attention I got from ‘working ladies’ in my walk. I had been told there were upwards of 40,000 prostitutes working the streets of New York and it seemed that most of them were in that four-block stroll.

I dare say it was not my dashing blond good looks that drew the feminine attention to me (though I have not had difficulty in that department elsewhere), rather it was the expensive cut of my cloak and clearly European style of my low-crowned top hat. And the purse they both implied. The boldest of the ‘ladies’ approached me as I passed under the elevated train at Sixth Avenue.

“Hey, Toff, “ a pox marked ‘beauty’ called to me, “Need a date?”

“I saw him first, Dora,” a second said as she stepped up close to me. She was a red-haired Irish accented vixen with a bit more flesh than was good for her but a ready smile. I smiled back.

“Sorry, ladies, “I said, “but I am on my way to Mike and Spike’s for a drink. Perhaps, later.” I had no inclinations in their direction, but auntie taught me not to disappoint.

“Ladies,” Dora said with a laugh. ‘You are a gent!” But they let me pass.

“”Ain’t heard about Mike or the others have you?” the red head’s tone was suddenly dark and it made me stop.

“Hush up, Agnes,” Dora said, crossing herself. “Don’t’ be calling down the devil.”

“What about Mike?” I turned to face the lasses but they were now backing way from me. “What do you mean?”

“Ain’t no never mind what I mean,” Dora said darkly then tried to drum up a bit more of my business. “The Bull’s head is open and I know they serve-“

I never heard the rest of her recommendation for a grog shop, as I was at a dead run for the pub, with a chill premonition of disaster settling on me.

 

Chapter Two:

Death in the Family

 

When I reached the corner of 10th Avenue and 23rd Street I stopped short with my worst fears confirmed.  Mike & Spike’s Pub- my friend’s bar– was draped in black and purple bunting. I felt a chill that went to my soul. There was a sign, crudely painted that said, “Closed till further notice.”

“No!” I hissed. I forced myself to calm and walked across the street to the heavy door of the drinking emporium. After I composed myself I knocked on the frosted glass.

After an eternity of waiting I heard heavy footsteps within and a thick Scot’s accented voice called out, “We’re still closed, bugger off!”

“I’m a friend of Mike’s; I need to find out what is going on.”

The sound of a bolt being pulled back followed and a red-bearded face, a head above mine was thrust out a crack in the door. “And ye be?”

“Sir Athelstan Grey, Baronet, “ I said. “I am acquainted with Master Ellenbogen from our time in Cairo.”

The bushy red eyebrows of the rugged face rose and fell as the Cerberus scrutinized me.  “Master Mike was murdered last week; we are still in mourning; come back next week, maybe we will reopen then.” He made to close the door but I held the edge.

“I must speak to this, sirah,” I said. “Is Miss Ellenbogen here? I wish to express my condolences to her.” I handed him my card which he regarded much as if I had handed him the snake from the garden.

The highlander, who was easily close to eighteen stone, was dressed in full Mackintosh kilt with the spotted mountain cat sporran of a chief, tried to close the door once more then relented, opening it to stare at me with flinty blue eyes. “I’ll see if the lassie is in.” He indicated I should enter.  I cleaned my boots of horse dropping on the wrought iron scraper and stepped inside.

The Scotsman threw the bolt on the door behind us and gave me a stern look. “Wait here, “ he said firmly before moving off into the interior of the darkened pub.

I felt as if I was at the levee’s at St. James waiting to be presented to Her Majesty.

The large room was much as I imagined it would be from Mike’s descriptions- a long, wood lined room with the broad windows facing out to the street, but with the shades pulled so little or no light entered from them. All around were souvenirs from his time in the lands of the sands-the décor made the pub an exotic oasis-sphynx statues, scarab wall fixtures; it was an Arabian nights fantasy come to life.

There were tables set around what looked to be a sunken dance floor and a long bar along the far wall. It looked to be as much nightspot as one would find in any great city, as it was a pub. It was appointed with crystal chandeliers, gaslights along the walls and brass fittings everywhere.

I thought about Mike’s letters, many of them since our meeting in Egypt where he had described building the pub.

And he had written about his little sister, Bathsheba who always went by the very unlady-like ‘Spike.’ She was his partner in the pub, and now, I supposed, sole owner.

There was a gallery along the back wall with stairs that went up to it and this is where the Scotsman went, only reaching halfway up the stairs before another figure appeared at the top of the steps. It was a petite girl, dressed, oddly enough, in a black and purple riding habit; Spike.

“What is it, Angus,” she said in a high, thin voice.

“Says he knew Mike, lassie.” He handed my card up to her and she peered at it in the dim light. Even across the room I could see her square features- so reminiscent in a soft mirror- of her brother’s light in a smile.

“Athelstan!” she said and swept down the stairs past the giant Scot and across the floor to me. She came up to give me a very improper hug before I could react. She came barely to my chest, but her arms made me gasp with their strength.

“Madam!” I managed to exclaim.

She pulled away from me and colored, as if suddenly realizing what she had done. “Excuse me, baronet,” she said, “I am out of sorts because of my brother’s passing, but- but it is almost that I know you, my brother spoke so much of you.”

“And of you, Miss Ellenbogen, and that is why I had to stop in to find out what happened.”

Her pretty features twisted into a pained scowl. “Come up stairs, we can talk there.”

I followed the girl up past the grim looking highlander to a sitting room on the second floor where we sat opposite each other in two comfortable chairs. The red haired giant wheeled a tea service in between us and I felt, oddly enough, as if I was back in Mayfair.

“It is real tea, baronet,” she said with great pride, “not recycled; directly from China.”

For a time we sipped the imported tea and spoke of inconsequential things- my trip from Montreal, the weather in New Orleans (where I had been prior to my trip north) and the like. It was as if she was afraid to even mention her brother again or his death. Like most Americans she was somewhat in awe of my title and I had to explain to her that I was not a peer, as such, with my inherited title. The complexities of the English system of titles amazed the former colonies and, I admit, sometimes even escaped my own understanding.

I took the opportunity of our relaxed conversation to observe her closely; it was true she had features that echoed her brother’s- jet black hair, crystal blue eyes and a strong jaw, though on her is was gentled where it had been sharp on him.

Her hands were delicate and long fingered, darting nervously like small birds, never lighting long on either teacup nor lap. Her silent Scotsman stood nearby, a gorgon eye cast on me all the while we talked.

After a time, when I deduced she would not get around to mentioning her brother I did. “When I spoke to Mike ten days ago from Montreal on the tele-crystal he seemed happy and healthy,” I said. “How did he—well, what happened?”

The pretty girl shivered as if from a cold. I thought I had upset her beyond propriety but she showed grit and quickly got a hold of herself and looked me in the eye.

“If you do not mind, I will let Angus show you,” she said. She looked to the roi giant who nodded and waved me back out of the room and down the stairs.

We went through the pub’s main room to a short corridor that led to the offices.

“This was Mister Mike’s office,” the Scotsman said, his burr so thick I had to listen carefully to understand. “It is just as we found it.” He pushed the door to a room inward and allowed me to step in.

What I saw was a horrific image that will stay in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life; the office was a shambles with the walls splattered with what could only have been blood!

The room was wood paneled and had been nicely appointed before whatever had ravaged it.  There were nick-knacks from his travels- souvenirs from Arabia and Turkey, rugs, statues and icons, many of them smashed and scattered around the room. I recognized some of the curios he had purchased in my presence in Cairo- a clay tablet, a medallion of Horus that matched the one I wore, and a jewel encrusted dagger with a bloody blade. The plush carpet, upholstered chairs a fine oak desk were all torn to shreds and stained dark with the life essence that had been my friend’s.

“Miss Ellenbogen and I returned from shopping ten days ago on a Sunday afternoon to discover it like this,” the Scotsman said. “Except that what was left of Mister Mike was scattered across the desk and floor; torn to pieces like a pack of wolves had been at him.” The giant’s stoic face shadowed with the memory before returning to neutral, though his voice revealed his emotions.

I stepped into the room and felt an eerie sense of foreboding.

I could clearly see what appeared to be claw marks scratched deeply into the dark wood of the desk and the carpet had been torn up as if by scythe blades. All showed that a terrific struggle had taken place.

“And you have no idea what happened?”

“No,” Angus said. “No one else was in the building when it happened, sir, except the bar back. And we never found Little Tony. No one has seen hide nor hair of him.”

I walked slowly to the desk and looked down on the sanguine spot where my friend must have died. The stain was not much of a monument to a man like Mike; self made, a bold, laughing fellow who, though not to be crossed, never willfully hurt anyone.

There was a photo frame on the desk that was overturned, the glass shattered. I lifted it up. It was a photo of me, Mike standing shoulder to shoulder with Aunt Mini between us, dwarfed by us and smiling. It had been taken in Cairo. His lantern jaw was set in an easy smile and his eyes shined with mischief. I found my vision blurring with tears at I stared at the blood-spattered space on the desk.

“We have to find this Tony, then,” I said when I could speak. “We will find out what happened to Mike and someone will pay!”

 

 

 

Chapter Three:

The Forrest Primeval

“Ye think we’ve not tried, sir?” the Scotsman sneered at me at the edge of impertinence. “Every wharf rat and street walker has been questioned.”

“The police?”

“Useless,” he said. “They just took a quick look and then dismissed it as just another saloon keeper, a low life they couldn’t care less about.”

That made me angry but as I turned to face the Scotsman I felt a tingling through my right hand where I held my sword cane.  The sensation was much like my hand was asleep and traveled up my arm. The gem on the knob of the stick glowed a soft blue.

“What is that, sir?” Angus asked.

“Do the police here have a Merlin?” I countered.

“A what?”

“A government sanctioned sorcerer like we have in England,” I said.

“No, sir; the metropolitan police have a shaman on the force, on loan from the Choctaw Nation for major cases that might involve magick, but they don’t come around for barkeeps. Why?” He looked to my walking stick. “Because of that?”

“Yes,” I said. “The Ambassador from Mexhico gave this to me; it has an obsidian blade but the jewel on the handle is sensitive to occult energies. There has been dark magick used in this room.”

“Mister Mike never had truck with such things,” the servant insisted. “He was raised a good Christian man.”

“Even the Anglican church accepts magick- albeit in form of official Merlins,” I said. “But be that as it may, it could be our lead to Mike’s killer; if Mike did not use it than his killer did.”

We went back up stairs to the parlor where Miss Ellenbogen waited for us. She was sipping her tea with deliberate calm when we reentered the room. It was as if she had not moved since we left.

“You saw.” Was all she said.

I sat opposite her again and told her about my discovery of dark sorcery.

“Then, “ she said, “my brother was not just killed, but foully killed.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Perhaps like the others,” Angus spoke up.

“Others?”

“Since Mike was—“ she said, “ Since Mike died, two other saloon owners in the neighborhood have died.”

“Much the same way,” the Scotsman added. “Oh, not so spectacularly-sorry, ma’am- as Mister Mike, but violently.”

“And this roused no interest from the authorities?” I asked.

“We are not ‘respectable, baronet,” The girl said with obvious pain. “So death in our class, violent or otherwise is not much of a concern to the police forces.”

“I thought you Americans were all about lack of class distinctions,” I said. The girl snorted in derision. “Well,” I continued, “We will not let this rest, dear lady, I promise you I will find out who did this.”

She looked at me with eyes a blink away from tears, “Why?” she asked, “Why would you do this for us?”

I noted she said ‘us’ and that was telling.

“He was my friend,” I said. “And you are his sister; is that not enough?”

She sat upright. “I am sorry, baronet,” she said quietly. “Of course- from what Mike said about you I should have realized it would be.”

“How shall we proceed, your lordship,” Angus asked.

“First off, call me Athelstan,” I replied, “I am not a lord.”

“Then you should call me Spike, ‘ the girl said, sniffing away her tears. I nodded.

“Alright, Spike,” I continued, “ Secondly, I think we need to look at who would benefit from Mike’s death.”

“Benefit?” The girl asked.

“Competitors or creditors who would want him out of the way.”

“Mister Mike had no creditors, sir,” Angus said. “At least since he returned from Egypt he has always been able to pay cash for all his bills of lading.”

“Cash?” I said. I knew that Mike was a canny businessman, but he had only on his journey to the sands of Egypt because of a steamship ticket he won in a poker game. He had not been a wealthy man—not then.

“Yes,” Miss Ellenbogen said. “We inherited a small bar on 14th Street from our dad and ran it at the edge of foreclosure for two years before he went away but when he returned he had the money to buy Mike and Spike’s. He would never tell me where the money came from.”

I studied the remains of my tea in its cup for a long moment while I digested that while I hesitated to voice my thoughts about my friend, but realized I had to.

“Could Mike have been involved in some sort of criminal enterprise, Spike-something that would make any secret partners-“

“Mister Mike was the salt of the earth, sir,” Angus injected before the girl could object. “He would no more be involved with that sort than—than a vicar with a rum runner!”

Both Spike and I looked to the giant who shrugged. “Seemed like a good analogy to me,” He said.

“I personally know a vicar on the Romney Marshes that ran rum,” I said. “But yes, I get the point; I don’t believe Mike could be anything but a little mischievous and just enough crooked to keep on the right side of things.”  That got a giggle from Spike.

“But,” I continued, “ that does not mean that someone else did not think he was not trustworthy- people tend to see themselves in people.”

“Yes,” she said. “Mike could cut a good deal, a sharp deal, so some people might have—well…”

“So tell me who he might owe or more importantly, who might owe him?”

“There were five I can think of he either had lent money to or had problems with us opening here,” Spike said. “Hanover Jones, who I hear went back to Brooklyn, Juice Martin over on Fourteenth Street and the Marble brothers over on Third are left. Race Mangani and Dave Burton were—they were -this last week-.”

“The other murders?” I asked.

“Yes,” Angus said. “Race was found floating in the Hudson – they said sharks or fish got to him but he was all torn up, and Burton well, they only found his head and a lot of blood in his brothel on the east side.”

I thought for a moment then held out my empty cup. “I think this is a two tea cup problem, Spike,” I said. “We have plans to make.”

****

The New York-Brooklyn Bridge was an amazing edifice and proof positive that this raw new country called the United States of America was ready for its place in the greater world.

Its granite towers and steel cables rose over two hundred and seventy feet from the water of the East River and connected the island of Manhattan to the larger Long Island at the city of Brooklyn. It was over fifteen hundred feet long and wide enough for four lanes of carriage traffic and pedestrians walks ways on the outside, while trolleys ran along the center of the bridge.

Beneath it steam ships chugged and beside it small, ‘commuter’ dirigibles, looking like floating pickles, buzzed across the river in a steady stream from both directions.

Angus was driving a closed hansom with Miss Ellenbogen and myself in the back. I had sent a message to my aunt that I would be late and the three of us had decided that the first course of action would be to venture to the adjacent city of Brooklyn and visit one Mister Hanover Jones.

After sitting in the closed pub the young lady was charged with excitement at being able to actively do something about finding her brother’s killer. Even the taciturn highlander was grinning with the prospect of some action. Little did we all realize just how much action we would be finding.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four:

Knuckles for Lunch

The bridge disgorged us onto the broad Atlantic Avenue and the semi-rural nature of this near city to Manhattan was immediately clear. The air was crisper and with none of the soot from the island though the wide streets were still thronging with people. It was a large city in its own right but of a very different character than its near neighbor.

The streets were wider and the nature of the shops were more exotic, with Syrian and Lebanese signs on food and clothing storefronts. We moved with the flow of horse carriage traffic along side horse drawn trolleys.

“After we pass Borough Hall we can move along the water front more quickly than this main avenue,” Angus called from the driver’s seat.

“You know the way?” I called up.

“Aye, sir,” The highlander tossed back, raising his voice above the sound of the street, “I accompanied Mister Mike out here when he came back from Egypt to meet with Mister Jones.

“Hanover is hiding out at his ‘country’ place in Brighton Beach,” Spike said with disgust. “ He was raised out there; then he had the bar down the block from us on Fourteenth Street. He owed markers to our dad and when Mike and I inherited they came to us. He resented that and for a time he contested them, but when Mike came back from Egypt they had that meeting and my brother said afterward that the debt was forgiven.”

I touched the eye of Horus amulet my friend had given me on our stay in Cairo and felt a deep sadness again that rose to anger quickly. “Why would Mike do that?” I asked.

“I asked him,” she said, “ but he just said that since we were moving to Twenty Third there was no point in keeping any sort of anger going- that there was enough room for all of us.”

“It would seem to me that would make this Hanover Jones grateful, not angry.”

“I know,” she said, “ but it was just the opposite, he said it shamed him, made him seem a welcher- though he never made any effort to pay off. He started to badmouth Mike to anyone who would listen.”

“This would all be a little easier if we could locate this Little Tony you say is missing,” I remarked as he pulled off the main avenue.

“We tried,” Spike said. “But it is like he just vanished.”

Angus wheeled our carriage past the municipality’s governmental offices and to a roadway that led along the East River waterfront.

We rode for a while in uncomfortable silence, driving by sugar refining plants, dockyards, gas refineries, ironworks, several slaughterhouses, and factories, I was told, that produced everything from clocks, pencils, and glue, to cakes, beer, and some fine cigars.

I pondered the scarcity of facts about Mike’s death when the carriage rounded a turn onto a short causeway that would bring us to the Coney Island. The resort was a complex of entertainment parks, racetracks and beaches for recreation.

As we pulled onto Surf Avenue the marvel I had heard about presented itself to our eyes. Looming over the landscape was The Elephant Hotel! At 150 feet tall, The Coney Island Elephant was an astounding sight to behold as it loomed over the amusement centers of the Brighton Beach portion of Coney Island. Its legs were 18 feet in diameter, with the front legs serving as a cigar store while the back legs held the entrance to the actual hotel via a circular stairway. Angus proudly told me “Its construction cost a quarter million American dollars!”

I knew Aunt Mini would want to see it for her self, possibly even stay in one of the rooms before we left New York; it had not been built when she was last here.

In short order we pulled up in front of a vulgarly painted house on a side street off of Surf Avenue. It was all greens and yellows in bright, Caribbean colors and while it might have looked at home in Kingston Jamaica stood out even against the brightly colored brick or wooden buildings in the area of this resort community.

The Jones refuge was two stories and sprawling with a wide porch that surrounded the whole of the building, which was set back from the road with a broad lawn, effectively a green moat. When we stepped out of the coach the sharp tang of salt air was brisk and refreshing.

“Mister Jones may not be very receptive,” Angus said from the driver’s perch. “Perhaps I should go first?”

“I’ve never been afraid of that big windbag,” Spike said with a vigor that reminded me again of Aunt Mini. “And beside, I have his lordship with me, if Hanover starts anything it will be an international incident.”

“I’m not a lord,” I reminded her, “but I do hope to be of use should this fellow get stroppy.” I brandished my sword cane and grinned. “I do need to try this out.”

We walked up the steps to the building but as we mounted the stairs the door to the building opened and two large gentlemen exited.

“What do you want?” The bald headed fellow to the left of the door said. He had a large mustache and considerable evidence of a pugilistic past marked in scar tissue around his eyes and in a deformed left ear.

“We are here to see Mister Jones,” I said, offering my card. “We have no appointment, but I am sure he will see us.” I gave my most engaging smile.

The thug did not look at the card but made a point of dropping it and stepping on it. “Mister Jones ain’t here. Go.”

I looked to Spike. “I think the gentleman has forgotten the rules of grammar,” I said.

“Leave, Limey,” the thug said. “We don’t want what you are selling.”

“Not selling anything,” I said, “I’m giving this away-“ I laughed then and drove the knob of my walking stick into the fellow’s stomach. It was a muscled one, but he still gasped and doubled, his beady eyes bugging out.

His companion guardian reacted with snake-quick speed, producing a folding knife and lunging at me.

Spike yelled a warning, but I had anticipated some action so whirled my cane to slash it across the fellow’s temple, felling him.

“I suggest you tell Mister Jones we simply must see him,” I suggested to the coughing man. I turned him around and gave him a gentle shove toward the door. “And do hurry, I don’t relish being in this town after dark.”

The wounded fellow stumbled in through the door and closed it behind him.

“He’ll come back with a gun,” Spike said. She signaled to Angus who produced a carriage gun from beneath his seat on the hansom, but I waved him off.

“I think not, “ I said. “I suspect Mister Jones will be too intrigued to send us off without looking us over personally.”

She looked at me with her head tilted to the side like a curious cat and gave an elfish smile. “Mike said you were as mad as he was,” she said. “Now I see he was wasn’t exaggerating.”

Mad perhaps, but I had calculated correctly, for when the door opened again it was a liveried butler.

“If you would follow me this way please,” The black servant said. “Master Jones will see you in his study.”

I held out my arm for the girl and she took it. “You certainly know how to make an entrance, Athelstan.”

“I learned from Aunt Mini.”

****

The ‘study’ of our host proved to be a gymnasium where Mister Hanover Jones was dutifully and handily working a heavy canvas boxing bag. It was a large room at the back of the house that had probably first been constructed as a conservatory, with large glass floor-to-ceiling windows that showed a lush back yard and the amusements of Brighton Beach beyond. The impressive edifice of the Elephant Hotel loomed large with a racetrack visible behind it.

Above the Elephant a commercial airship painted with the green and red colors of the Mali Empire floated like some whale of the air heading to dock in Manhattan.

Our host was stripped to the waist and wearing tights while he attacked the heavy bag with vigor.  When we entered he slowed his assault but did not look up or stop.

“Connal here says you want to see me,” he said. When he did glance up he saw my companion and stopped. “Well, Spike- all the way out here in the hinterlands.” He held out a hand and an overly made up blonde woman, dressed gaudily for daytime in a pink and blue gown, handed him a towel. “Sorry to hear about your brother.” My two playmates from the front stoop were standing at the window scowling past their employer and, I imagine, daydreaming of a rematch.

The blonde woman kept her left hand hidden in the folds of her dress. The two stout fellows lounging near the windows made a point of ‘casually’ being obvious about guns under their ill-fitting jackets.

Hanover Jones was a dark skinned man of obvious mixed blood with a shaven head and a slight trace of a Jamaican accent beneath his New York one. He wiped down his face and the put the towel around his shoulders, turning his attention to me with a long, condescending glance. “Who’s the dandy?”

I handed my hat to the butler and shrugged off my cloak while smiling at the well-muscled Jones. “Sir Athelstan Grey,” I said.  I extended my hand but made no move to step toward him and grasp it.

Jones made no move to take my hand. “So,” he said. “ What do you want?”

“Jonesy!” Spike exclaimed. “That’s no way to talk to a baronet! He came all the way from England to see the sights and you talk rude to him like that! I oughta box your ears!”

“We fought a war not to have to cowtow to lords and such, Spike.”

“I’m not a peer,” I pointed out again cheerfully as I took his measure, “so cowtowing is not required at all; just common courtesy would be fine. You should try it.”

Hanover snorted and took a step toward me that promised violence.

Miss Ellenbogen intervened and threw an exploratory salvo at the pugilist. “We came to ask if you’d seen Little Tony, Hanover.”

“Why would I see that slob?” Jones asked.

“Well,” she said, “ you made yourself scarce about the same time as Tony disappeared- when Mike was—well, anyway we thought you might know what happened to him.”

“I couldn’t care less.” He said a little too quickly and turned his back on us.

I did not like that and I decided not to let it go.

“You are a cad, sir,” I said. Jones froze. “And a coward, from the looks of things.”

The pugilist spun at that and glared at me.

“Baronet!” Spike said with sudden fear in her voice. “We better go.”

“Yes, your lordship,” Jones said. “You had better go.”

“”What is it with you colonials,” I said as I loosened my cravat and handed my stick and Horus medallion to a confused Spike. “You seemed obsessed with elevating me to a peerage.” I produced my leather riding gloves and donned them, stepping forward to the center of the room, my eyes locked with Jones’. He clearly understood the meaning of the gesture and smiled with cold glee.

“I’d like to elevate you to the pearly gates,” our host said. He put up his fists and took a boxing stance. “No one called Hanover Jones a coward and walks away.”

 

 

Chapter Five:

Bruise and Consequences

 

“You and I in single contention, unmolested by your aids?’ I stated my terms. “And no harm to Miss Ellenbogen either way this works out?” This brought a savage grin from the muscular Jones.

“Stay back all of you,” he called out to his servants, his eyes still locked with mine. “And I’d never bring harm to Spike-“ he grinned like an urchin and was suddenly less menacing. “She’s like a little cousin to me.”

Spike snorted a laugh at that. “I’d ain’t got no family as homely as you, Jonesy.”

“Call the rounds, Candy,” Jones called to his blonde doxie. The girl nodded and picked up a spoon to use as an improvised striker to hit a metal mug as a makeshift bell.

Jones came at me like a hurricane, his leather-mittened fists flying like a flock of crows driven by a gale. It was clear he fully expected to overwhelm ‘ the dandy’ who stood before him in the first rush and assert his control over the room.

I, however, had other plans.

Aunt Mini laced my first boxing gloves on me when I was six years old. I’d came home from school with a bloody nose, courtesy of some older form boys who did not like my being raised by a ‘savage American’ woman and so had beat me up on the football pitch.

She coached me for a week after which I’d faced each of them individually, trouncing them publicly and completely. They left me alone afterward.

Since then I had studied the manly arts under many instructors and had more than enough chances to put it to practical tests in many alleys and bars from Liverpool to Bombay.

As Jones advanced I danced away slipping each punch with light slaps to his fists. I angled to his left as I back-pedaled, forcing him to circle and extend himself to keep up his attack.

I saw the annoyance on his face as his calculated plan to humiliate me faltered and he reassessed how to defeat me.

It was as I wanted it.

I’d seen his kind before, they had no respect for anyone who did not stand up to them. If we had left at Jones’ order we wouldn’t have learned anything. If I could hold my own against him then, if he did have anything of import to tell us about Mike’s death or his man Tony, he might tell us.

I kept back pedaling, slowly, letting the pugilist appear to make progress with a flurry of combinations I barely blocked, then faded away from him to draw him on.

Jones realized I was moving backward to tire him out and decided to hold his ground and force me to bring the fight to him. So I did.

I glided in and fired two quick, but weak, left jabs at him that he blocked with solid technique. He then tried to counter, thinking I had no starch because of my ‘weak’ jabs.

I let him send a powerful right my way, hunching my shoulder to absorb the blow (though is was still quite powerful and hurt a darn sight) then twisted in low to drive the hardest right uppercut I could launch into Jones’ diaphragm.

The blow landed perfectly. The pugilist was lifted up off the ground and sent back two steps. He did not, however, fall.

Suddenly the improvised bell sounded and round one was done.

Jones gasped for breath, but I will say he was rum, as he never dropped his guard. He kept his eyes focused on me like two flaming beacons as he stumbled back to his blonde.

I smiled.

“You see, Mister Jones,” I said, “You really shouldn’t judge people by appearances alone.”

He growled and smiled a feral smile.

“Athelstan,” Spike whispered tensely, “this is crazy.” Her eyes were wide with worry. “You’ve been lucky so far, but Jonesy is a killer with his fists he-“

“Shhh,” I said with a cocked eyebrow. “You do not inspire confidence.”

“But he-“

“No buts,” I said. “He is not trying to kill me, he wants to- needs to humiliate me in front of his people.”

“So -“

“Be at ease, Miss,” I said. “I have things well in hand.”

The blonde clanged the spoon against the mug and round two began.

The pugilist came back at me with a quick series of punches that I also dodged, replying to him with several quick jabs to his upper arms, targeting the biceps to weaken him. He grinned at that attack with understanding, clearly reassessing my skill.

“You got this, boss,” one of the bodyguards at the window chimed in. “You can take out the limey trash.”

I didn’t honor the comment with much notice but threw another combination at Jones to back him up in response.

“Not what you expected from me, is it, Mister Jones,” I said. “But then I did not expect you to be so frightened by someone or something that would drive you to Brooklyn with armed guards in the room with you-including charming miss Candy there- after Mike was murdered.”

“I’m not frightened of anyone,” Jones said and launched a renewed attack at me. This time he was cautious and powerful and I was hard pressed to block, dodge or reply to his complex combinations.

I gave ground but grudgingly and was able to land a few light blows as I backpedaled.

“If not any ’one’ then just what are you afraid of?” I asked, “What do you know about Mike’s death?”

My question seemed to infuriate him and he pressed harder, his speed and power all but doubled. I let him drive me for a few moments then as I dodged a hard right that would have ‘taken my head off’, as they say, I stepped in and swung an elbow hard into his temple.

The blow caught him solidly and his knees turned to rubber and he almost buckled. The moment he faltered his two men at the window reached under their coats but Jones danced backward and held up a hand.

“No,” he commanded. “He’s mine.”

“Nice thought, Mister Jones,” I said, impressed by his code of honor, but I added. “But I really am my own man.”

We paused then, fists up and eyed each other. I knew he had reassessed me as someone ‘possibly’ worth dealing with. If not as an ‘equal’ then as not quite so dismissible. I knew I had earned enough of his respect that he might tell us what we needed to know.

“Stop this!” Spike yelled, “Hanover Jones, if you know something about Mike’s death you have to tell us.”

Hanover gave her a sidelong glance. “You need to keep yourself quiet, girl; we have men’s work to do.”

The tiny girl seemed to grow a foot and stepped toward us. “You don’t tell me to shut up, Jonesy!  You’d never have talked to me like that when Mike was around-“

Just as I thought she was physically going accost my opponent she froze, a puzzled expression eclipsing her angry one.

“Athelstan,” she said with an alarmed tone. “Your walking stick—it—it- the jewel on the handle is vibrating.”

“What?” I exclaimed, “That means there is occult energies in-“

At that moment the windows exploded inward and a nightmare entered the room!

 

Chapter Six:

Highland Fling

 

The exploding glass shards sliced into the two bodyguards by the window slashing them virtually to ribbons.

The thing that landed in the center of the room was a living horror.

It was the twisted image of an animal, all fangs and fur. It landed, four-footedly and snarled at us.

Candy, frozen with the sudden appearance of the creature, came unstuck at the snarl and drew a pistol from the folds of her dress to fire at the monster.

Five quick shots struck the shaggy apparition that roared in defiance but the conventional bullet didn’t seem to do much but annoy the monster. It sprang at the blonde, knocking her off her feet. The beast slashed at her with razored claws, spraying gore everywhere.

Jones yelled and dove for the body of one of his guards to try and get a gun from the man’s holster, but his leather mittens hindered him.

I grabbed my sword-cane from a horrified Spike and drew the obsidian blade. I was hoping that it was not only good for detecting occult energies, but might be practical in eliminating them as well. My present from the Mexhican ambassador was not just a deadly edged weapon, but was imbued with centuries of Aztec magicks.

I sprang at the beast just as Jones managed to snatch off his mittens and brought a forty-five caliber pistol up to fire.

The beast turned as Jones fired, pausing and shuddering slightly with each impact but undaunted by the impacts.  The bullet hits seemed only served to enrage the creature. It leapt on the pugilist with a roar that sounded like a tormented soul.

Jones screamed in answering terror as the weight of the monster pinned him to the ground. He barely managed to get his hands up just in time to keep the slathering jaws from his throat.

I was on the beast in the next instant, slashing wildly at its eyes with the black blade of my sword cane to try to drive it off the man. The monster yelped when my blade cut a long gash along its snout. A bluish liquid I assumed was blood splashed from the wounds, yet it continued to try to tear at Jones’ throat. I changed tactics and, remembering the cry from Agincourt of ‘Estoc’, I thrust at it instead of slashing. I drove the point into were the head joined its upper body.

I felt a tingling surge of occult power flow from the black blade that almost numbed my fingers.

The roar of pain from the monster was like a hurricane of sound driving against my diaphragm and staggering me back.

The animal was hurt.

It roared once more as it turned and jumped at me, but I ducked and slashed upward along its side as it passed over me. It twisted in the air and landed off balance, just in front of Spike.

“Run!” I screamed, but the girl was frozen with fear.

I spun, intent on attacking the creature before it could attack her, but it did something strange. It did absolutely nothing.

The huge brute simply stood, only a foot or two away from the terrified girl and sniffed. She shivered but did not back away from the creature.

I yelled and lunged at the monster’s back. Just then the inner door of the room was kicked open and seven feet of highlander charged in.

“Drop, Lassie!” Angus ordered. A shocked Spike complied as he discharged the coach gun directly in the apparition’s face.

The beast was literally blown backward by the concussion of the gun, tumbling into me and taking me down to the ground but it was not hurt.

The beast rolled to its feet, growled once more and spun to leap out through the shattered windows.

Suddenly everything was still in the silence of the aftermath, with only the sound that of the wounded Hanover Jones gasping for breath.

“God’s garters,” Angus said as he reloaded the two barrels of the shotgun. “What in the name of Merlin was that?”

Spike, her courage used up in holding her ground before the monster, was in a near faint, falling to one knee with release.

I scrambled to the two bodyguards, but they were both beyond help. Candy was also clearly dead so I did not even try to help her. Jones, however, was another story.

I ripped off my cravat and attempted to staunch some of the blood on the fallen man, but it was clearly a wasted effort.

“Oh my God,” Spike whispered. She saw what I was doing and, spunky young woman that she was, she pulled herself together and crawled to Hanover’s side.

“Jonesy!” The girl cradled the fallen man’s head and looked to me but I shook my head.

“I’m goin’, kid,” Jones said.  His voice was flat and his eyes were already glassing over. “Really am sorry about Mike, kid,” he coughed blood and it was clear he was dying.

“What do you know?” I asked, “Where is this Little Tony and –“

The dying fighter had a violent spasm and then fixed me with his eyes. “Juice Martin- Lordship,” he gasped, “Ask Juice.” Then he coughed once more and was absolutely still.  Dead.

“Everyone wants to elevate me,” I whispered.

Spike worked at not crying.

“We had better be going, lassie, baronet,” Angus said from the window. “The wee beastie is gone, but the police will be called after all this.”

“Right you are, Angus,” I said. I gently put my hand on Spike’s shoulder. “Come girl, we can’t be detained by the authorities now.”

She reached down and touched the dead boxer on his cheek as if to say goodbye, then crossed herself and stood up with a determined expression on her pretty face. “Let’s go talk to Juice,” she said. “We have to stop this.”

****

Angus got us swiftly away from the sight of the carnage and we took Surf Avenue, mixing with the late afternoon traffic before the other servants in Jones’ mansion could fully grasp what had happened in the building.

The shock of what she had seen was beginning to manifest in Spike, her slight form shaking for a chill that was not all motivated by the salty sea air, the girl was shaken near hysteria.

We were also all covered with blood to some degree that was sticking our clothes to us.  I wrapped my clean cloak over the girl to warm her and Angus had a Mackinaw that he had under his seat. It was large on me but I was grateful for the warmth.

“Jonesy was a jerk,” Spike whispered, “ but—but he didn’t deserve-“ She was at the edge of tears. “That—that was how Mike died.”

“Why do they call you Spike,” I startled her with my non-sequitor  question. I knew I needed to distract her and occupy her mind to keep her from dwelling on the horror she had witnessed.

“What?”

“How does a young lady named Bathsheba end up with an nom-de-guerre like Spike?”

The girl focused on me and I saw the panic in her eyes fade a bit as she cast her mind back to a better past and spoke. “We grew up in a pretty tough neighborhood and I wanted to be like Mike- my wonderful big brother, you know, and I dressed like him in pants and all-“ She indicated her split-skirt riding habit that had seemed so unusual on a city girl.  “They were his hand me downs, really- and I decided that Bathsheba was too girly a name as well. “

Tears came now, but gently as she spoke, her eyes focused not on me anymore, but a memory.  She looked away, out toward the city.  “He always looked out for me, tried to teach me how to be a good person and to take care of those with less. He told me that cause someone was strong meant they had to use that strength for others, not against them. And he was strong, but he never was a bully to the others in the neighborhood. I was.”  She giggled like a school girl-“ He was constantly having to rescue people from me. I was small but kind of bossy, I guess.”

I laughed. “I’m familiar with that kind of gal,” I said, thinking of my dear Aunt Mini.

“Mike got daddy to send me to finishing school to try and make a lady of me, to give me better prospects, he said. It was all the way up in Tuxedo, up state, but it didn’t take. I hated it. Then when daddy died while Mike was on his trip, I ran away.  When Mike came back he hunted me down over in New Jersey and he promised me that he wouldn’t send me back to the school. He bought the bar on Twenty Third Street I think so he could keep an eye on me, but we were happy. We were a good team.”

I could see the tears were going to start again so I interrupted her train of thought.

“Loathe as I am to bring it up, Spike,” I said, “ but we have to consider that since Master Jones was fourth in a line of pub owners who this beast has killed- with Mike number three- we have to think about the possibility that it followed you here or the beast is taking out all the bar owners.” He eyes widened when I added, “And now you are one. You could certainly be on any list. This is not just about finding Mike’s killer anymore—it is about protecting you as well.”

Chapter Seven:

On the Town

 

“Dat is real prime, eh, Athelstan,” Mad Mike Ellenbogen said in his quaint American idiom as he pressed his nose up against the glass window of the curio shop. We were on a back street in the Motkattam Highlands section of Cairo and it was a hot afternoon. “Wouldn’t that make a guy look the potentate wearing it?”

It was exactly the type of outrageous statement Mike had made regularly during our month wandering the bazaars and alleys of the ancient city the natives called Masr in Arabic.

The brusk American was a refreshing breath of fresh air with the stuffy crowd of English ex-patriots that, though only five percent of the population, occupied most of the government positions since the Ablion Empire took over. He reminded me of my Aunt and her very direct ways, though she had some forty years of exposure to the peers of the realm to learn to be circumspect now and then. Mike didn’t.

He now stood like a child at a confectioner’s window, looking at all the oil lamps, icons, prayer rugs and such in the display, as he had in many shops as we wandered. He talked of furnishing a ‘perfect gin joint’- a pub, when he got home at almost every shop we passed It would be a future for his sister and himself.

He never spoke about revenge, or getting more than the other guy, only his own goals, making his own way. And I liked that about him- he was his own man and didn’t blame the world or any other man for his misfortunes or expect succor from them. He believed in hard work and ‘running his own race’.

“We’d better be going, “ I said to Mike, “We have to meet my Aunt Mini over in Medieval Cairo at the Madrasa of the Amir Sarghatmish before their evening prayers. And I do want to see it before sunset.”

“Alright, buddy,” Mike said. “But I really like those medallions- the ones behind that lamp there.  Gonna come back for ‘em tomorrow.”

And Mike did, and gave me one which I clutched as I rode with his sister along Broadway of Manhattan, heading up town.

The girl had been silent after my proclamation of fear for her safety, lost in her own thoughts, but to her credit and my delight, she was not cowed or overcome with fear. She had set her jaw in a determined attitude that told me she would see this through to the end to find out who controlled her brother’s killer and find a way to destroy the monster.

I grasped the Horus medallion and thought again about not only Mike, but the story of Horus and Set. The ancient Egyptian name for the Cairo was Khere-Ohe, “The Place of Combat”, supposedly in reference to mythical battles that took place between the ancient gods, Seth and Horus.

 

 

 

They fought be the successor to the throne of Osiris to see who would be king. Was that what was happening to the saloon owners? If so, who was the Seth is all this? I held the Horus medallion and smiled, remembering that in the various battles Horus beat Seth each time.

“We’re here, M’lordship,” Angus called back from the driver’s seat. While I was woolgathering we had made it all the way to the gin parlor run on 14th Street by Juice Martin, one of those contending for kingship.

The gaslamps were lit along the darkened streets by now and the evening crowds were out and about. It seemed that there was little or no diminishment of the number from the daytime throngs that populated the thoroughfares. This city was indeed a marvel.

The establishment of Juice Martin was two blocks from the rival emporiums of Macy and James A Hearn & Son, across from Union Square Park. The other end of the block was a number of piano stores, as the area seemed to be a hub for such places; all now closed with the fall of night.

There were strollers in the park and not a few of them came across toward the street, dodging the clanging streetcar, to head into Juice Martin’s saloon, the Iron Apple.

It was a brassy sort of place, loud and garishly furnished with bright colors and mirrors. Two large Iroquois in full battle regalia and war paint stood at the door.

“You sure you don’t want me to come in with you, lassie?” Angus called down to Spike as she hopped down from the hansom.

“No, Angus,” she said. “If we need to make a quick get away we’ll need you out here.” He didn’t look like he liked the idea.

“She is right, old man,” I said. Angus’ mack’ hung a bit loosely on me but, while not fashionable, it covered the bloodstains on my trousers. Spike threw off my cloak and seemed mindless of the bloodstains on her dark split skirt. “I have a feeling we may need to exit expeditiously; keep your coach gun ready.”

My diminutive companion marched right up to one of the totem door guards, past a line of attendees waiting to enter the saloon. The native- a Mohawk from his dress- put a hand out to stop her.

“I need to see Juice,” she said with an edge to her voice.

The stone-faced Cerberus flicked a look to his partner, who was Seneca and the two of them stepped in to block Spike.

“Go,” the Mohawk said. Spike tried to shake his hand but he clamped a grip on her shoulder. She squirmed but made no sound, though I could tell it was a painful hold.

“You have till three to remove your hand, my good fellow,” I said. “Or I will become angry.” The Mohawk stared venomously at me.

I smiled. “Enhskat, Tekeni-“ I counted in his native tongue. His stoicism cracked and his hand eased up. Spike used the distraction to slip from him and headed into the noisy interior.

In answer to his unasked question I said, “I served with the Her Majesty’s First Iroquois Skirmishers in the Crimea; your people fought well.” His confusion transformed.

Akweks?” He said with a moment of recognition, calling me by the name the warriors on the line had given me after a particularly rough engagement with the Russian troops. It meant eagle.

“I have to see Juice,” I said in his language. “It is important for me and the girl. We are not here to bring any harm to your employer; this I swear.”

Spike had stopped just inside the door and was looking back at me, not sure what was going on with my conversation with the guard.

The Mohawk warrior nodded to his companion and waved me on.

“What was that?” Spike asked in awe.

“I’ll tell you later if we survive this.” I took her arm and we entered the Iron Apple. “But it does seem as if we can not enter anywhere without some sort of furor!”

Furor was not strong enough a term for the cacophony within the iron Apple; it was a madhouse of debauchery to rival anything on the west bank in Paris or the East End in London. Through the cloud of acrid tobacco smoke the packed main room of the saloon was a garish tableau, with a dozen scantily clad women on a stage at the opposite end of the room doing a vulgar version of the Parisian dance (that I had first seen in Marseilles) the Can-Can.

To say that it was not the sort of thing one should allow a young girl like Spike to see is an understatement, but it did not seem to disturb the young Miss Ellenbogen.

“There’s Juice,” she said, pointing through the haze toward a theatre style box overlooking the stage, wherein sat the owner of the establishment.

“That is Juice?” I asked, incredulously.

My shock came from the fact that the individual she indicated was a busty, red haired Amazon, dressed in silks and feathers and flanked by two equally impressive females.

“Sure,” Spike said with an expression that seemed to doubt my intellect. “What did you expect?”

I was at a loss for words and just shrugged. ‘Well,” I said, Shall we beard this beardless lion in her den?”

The girl nodded and we proceeded into the smoke and chaos to our appointment with destiny.

 

Chapter Eight:

Pow Wow

If I had worried about our appearance before entering the maelstrom I lost all such fears when I saw the clientele of the smoky, noisy Apple. They were as disparate and disreputable a gathering as I could hope to see anywhere in the world. The state of our clothing, blood-soaked or not- was not an issue.

More the issue was the young lady we met at the staircase that led up to the private box of Juice.

“No, go!” the Mohawk woman said. She was not dressed in Six Nation garb, but rather in a conventional-European evening gown that showed off her copper-colored shoulders, but I could see she had a Tomahawk comfortably hidden in her shawl. No doubt her long black hair, done up in a chignon, concealed a knife as well.

“We have to see Juice Martin,” I said in her native tongue, which had the same effect of stunning her to silence as it had at the front door with her compatriot. When she seemed confused as to what to do next I added, “I am Akweks.”

Again my fame preceded me and she held up a hand. “You wait.” Before she turned and headed up the stairs.

“You certainly know some odd people,” Spike said.

“Present company included?”  That got a stuck out tongue from Miss Ellenbogen. Before I could add a comment the Mohawk girl was back and waved us up the stairs.

“So, you’re the English Toff that the Indians think so much of?” Juice Martin said as she stepped into the doorway of her private box to face us. The red haired woman was half a head taller than I, easily my weight or more and, shall I say, ‘substantial’ all around. She wore a green gown that showed off her décolletage in a way that was, to say the least distracting.

“Sir Athelstan Grey, Madam,” I said.

“He’s a baronet,” Spike chimed in.

“I’m no madam,” Juice said. She had a high, nasal voice that would have been more expected from a smaller woman. “But I ain’t met no baronet before, what can I do you for?”

Besides the two women who flanked her there was a fourth figure in the box, a thin, bearded, brown skinned man who I guessed was Middle Eastern, he was dressed casually in a rather non-descript brown suit that hung loosely on his thin limbs. He seemed especially small and drab next to the women who were dressed in silk and lace, and like their employer, were Amazonian in proportions. Both women clearly had pistols at the ready in their clutches. Women in this country were all apparently armed to the teeth.

“It may be more about what we can do for you, Miss Martin,” I said. “Your life may be in danger.”

“Oh stop it, Juice,” Spike spoke up. “We just came from Hanover Jones.”

“Sorry to hear about him,” Juice said, “But what does his death have to do with me?”

“We think his killer might be after you next,” I said quickly. I could feel the walking stick’s tingle of warning again but did not let on. “So you should take precautions.”

The woman laughed. “Girls,” She said. At her word the two females from the box produced their revolvers. The redhead waved them to re-holster and said, “So you see, I don’t need no protection from a half-pint like you, Spike.”

The girl beside me made a strangled sound of fury and started to step forward but I blocked her. “That is good to hear, Miss Martin,” I said. “We were sorry to have troubled you.”

‘Oh you can stay around, Lordship,” Martin said, “ but we have standards here, she has to go.”

Spike exploded past me and I had to act fast to grab and restrain her. She yelled some very un-lady-like phrases at the saloon owner as I wrestled her back toward the stairs.

Juice laughed long and loud in her squeaky voice.

I looked back and was struck by the posture of the little brown man, he seemed about to cry, his large dark eyes watery and his shoulders slumped as he watched me half carry the girl to the stairs and down.

I walked Spike through the saloon’s main floor like she was a drunken sailor while she continued to spew invectives. When we got out the door Angus jumped down from the carriage and looked ready to come to blows with me when he saw me manhandling the girl, but she broke away and went past him to jump up into the hansom.

“What’s all this?” the highlander challenged me.

“Take us around the park, Angus,” I said, “I’ll explain to both of you as we go.”

“I’m not talking to you,” Spike snapped at me when I sat beside her.

“Then just listen-“

“I don’t have to listen to a damn thing you have to say, you high buttoned, over-bred invader!” She hissed at me, her arms crossed and looking straight ahead. “Some friend of Mike’s taking the part of that giant sized floozy!”

I had to work manfully to keep from laughing at the girl.

Angus took us up Union Square West at a slow walk and I filled him in on what had happened in the saloon.

“But why did ye not confront the woman with accusation, sir,” he said to me.

“Yes, “ Spike said, “Why did you just give her a how-ya-do and then turn tail and leave.”

“What did Juice say when you told her we had just come from Hanover Jones’?”

“She said he was sorry to hear about him, so?” Spike had finally looked at me but there was still fire in her eyes.

“How did she know to be sorry, for what? I didn’t tell her anything, and neither did you.”

“But-“

“She already knew that Hanover was dead. How? We all but raced back here.”

“Telephone?”

“Possibly, but why would someone call her unless to report a job well done?”

She nodded, having completely forgotten she was angry at me by now and looked me square in the face.

We had made a circle of the park and were back on Fourteen Street. “Then you think Juice hired the killer?” She asked. “Do you think Little Tony is somewhere in her place?”

“Both seem possible, “ I said, “ but we had best go see the last set of suspects straight away- they are either the guilty ones or set to be murdered if our prodding’s have any effect on Miss Martin.”

“Head to the Marble Brother’s place, Angus,” she called up. Then she turned to look at me. “I guess Mike wasn’t all full of prune juice about you after all.”

“Thank you, I think.”

Angus steered us along the street till we came to Third Avenue where he turned south under the rumbling elevated tramway. The establishment of the Marble siblings was on Tenth Street and Third Avenue in the shadow of the elevated train.

The street was choked with traffic, pedestrian and horse, as the many saloons and restaurants along the street began their nocturnal cycle of business. It was a very different clientele than even the few blocks over where the Iron Apple was located.

This was the sort of strata of society that only came out after dark, pimps and prostitutes, gadabouts looking for thrills, simply risqué or actually illicit.

“The Marbles are the lowest of the low,” Spike said to me as if reading my thoughts. “But they own six joints along here and are beginning to angle to move uptown to the thirties and get a little class.” She snorted, “Like that could ever happen!”

“I don’t care what you say, lassie,” Angus said from the driver’s seat, “I’m going into that place with you two.” He slipped his coach gun under his coat and smiled.

I could understand his concern, the ‘flagship’ gin joint of the Marbles miniature empire was subtly called “the Bucket of Blood,’ and would have been at home in the seediest Glasgow or Bombay waterfront pub. Two huge negroes, easily Angus size stood at the door but did not even give us a second look as we entered. I even felt the worldly Spike tense, but fortunately, there was no tingling of occult energy from my walking stick.

I am always thankful for small favors in the uncertain world.

 

 

Chapter Nine:

Twiddle Dee and Sibling

 

The Bucket of Blood made me reassess the vulgarity level of Juice Martin’s establishment. The tobacco smoke was as thick, the noise level as high, but the atmosphere was not one of ribald licentiousness, but rather of a deliberate, desperate sort of revelry. It was as if everyone in the crowded room sought oblivion with a fierce determination.

I have been in opium dens in China that had a more hopeful air about them.

The three of us pushed through the boisterous crowd until we collided with an open space at the long bar.

“This place is nae a place for you, lassie,” Angus said, quite unnecessarily. “Let his lordship and I talk to the Marbles.”

I had given up correcting people on peerage, though the Scotsman should have known better.

“No,” Spike said, “I can see this through.”

She had spunk, there was no denying it.

“We need to see the owners,” I said to the bartender, a scarred fellow with only one good eye which he regarded me with as if I was a week old fish.

There was a piano playing and some woman, pretending to be singer, warbled a popular tune as she floated out above the heads of the crowd (and just out of grabbing height) on a flying carpet. She was dressed as some damsel from Arabian Nights to show off her ample figure and when she waved at the audience the general level of noise commensurate with football pitch or a bullfight.

Whatever form of magick- Aztec, smuggled Merlinian or other, used to fly the carpet made my walking stick useless for detecting any occult threats, but one can not have everything.

I stared back at the barkeep and said with a slight raise in my voice’s volume, “Well?”

“Nobody sees the brothers,” he said.

“Ah,” I said. “But I am not ‘Nobody.” I reached across the bar and grabbed the large fellow by his left ear and yanked him face forward into the bar so that he was mercifully unconscious when the ‘singer’ began-

‘Oh, promise me that someday you and I

Will take our love together to some sky

Where we may be alone and faith renew,’

A bouncer appeared out of the maelstrom of the room, stout cudgel in his hand just as the crowd joined the singer in the next chorus.

And find the hollows where those flowers grew,

Those first sweet violets of early spring,

Which come in whispers, thrill us both, and sing

Of love unspeakable that is to be;

Oh, promise me! Oh, promise me!’

 

The bouncer quickly found Angus’ coach gun shoved up against his girthsome stomach and froze in midstep.

“As I said,” I repeated for his benefit, “I am here to see the Marble brothers. And really don’t like to be disappointed.”

A second security thug appeared but the first waved him off.

“Oh knock it off,” Spike called out, “Shamus and Donal know me- tell them Spike Ellenbogen has information for them.”

The second bouncer disappeared into the crowd while the woman on the stage got the crowd to join her enthusiastically in the rest of the off-key drinking song.

Oh, promise me that you will take my hand,

The most unworthy in this lonely land,

And let me sit beside you in your eyes,

Seeing the vision of our paradise,

Hearing God’s message while the organ rolls

Its mighty music to our very souls,

No love less perfect than a life with thee;

Oh, promise me! Oh, promise me!

 

I began to regret not going to the Wagner opera.

“You are insane,” Spike yelled to me above the din with a smile. “Mike really was right about you.”

A few tense minutes and a horrid repeat of the refrain later the guard returned and rescued us from having to listen to the third chorus. We were led (Angus still held his gun to the bouncer’s belly) directly beneath the hovering carpet to a short corridor at the back of the cavernous room.

My walking stick was continuously tingling now so I ignored it.

At the entrance to the short corridor a figure stepped from the shadows. It was the same small man in a rumpled brown suit I had seen at Juice Martin’s. Seeing him closer I suspected him to be middle-eastern, possibly Arabic.

Sadeeqy Spike,” the man said to the girl and ignoring the rest of us.  “You must leave this place.”

The girl evidenced no immediate recognition of the little man. “I ain’t leaving here till I see the Marbles,” she said.

“You do not understand,” he said. “I must obey the words as they are spoken.”

“What are you talking about?” Spiked asked. She looked back at me with an arched eyebrow.

He saw the gesture and looked directly at me and his eyes seemed to linger on my Eye of Horus medallion. “Azizi” he said which I knew meant friend in Arabic so my guess at his ancestry seemed accurate. “She must not linger in this place. I must follow the words exactly.”

Before I could ask him what he meant the door at the end of the short corridor opened and flooded the hall with illumination. The little man shied from it as if scalded by the light and jumped back into the shadows of the alcove he had come from.

“Bring them in here!” A booming voice called out from inside. The bouncer waved us forward and our little parade proceeded. When I looked back I could not see the little man at all.

“Well, Little Sister,” one of the Marble brothers said to Spike when we entered the back office. I surmised who he was from the fact that the two men seated behind a massive desk were as alike as two peas in a pod. They were as round as their namesakes, as well, with multiple chins and bushy side-whiskers in bright red. They wore matching green plaid suits and incongruously small bowler hats.

“Spike, my girl,” the brother on the right said. “What brings you here?”

“Slumming, girl?” the left brother asked.

“Don’t you talk to me like that, Shamus Marble,” she shot back. “We came here to warn you about Juice-.”

At that moment another figure stepped from an alcove beyond the desks, a fellow almost as stout as the two brothers, but on a slightly smaller scale. He had a shaven head and a boxer’s ear on the left side.

“Little Tony!” Spike blurted out.

“That is ‘little’ Tony?” I asked.

“I’m sorry Miss Spike,” the new arrival said, “I didn’t mean for Mister Mike-“

“Shut up, Tony,” The right brother, whom I took to be Donal, said. “You don’t have to say anything to this little vixen.”

“Watch it, mon,” Angus said. He removed his coach gun from the bouncer’s gut and swung it around to menace the brothers. “Yea’ll not talk to the lassie that way.”

“Easy, all of you,” I said. “Come on, Spike- these ‘gentlemen’ do not need help from us; we are done here.”

She started to object but I flashed her a look that quieted her- she was beginning to respect my ‘hunches.’

We three, with the two ‘bouncers’ walked back out through the short corridor in reverse order to our entering. The door to the office closed with a decidedly hostile slam and I suspected we would not have been leaving under our own power if Angus did not have his coach gun.

I saw no sign of the little Arab fellow but I was soon distracted from looking by the fresh aural assault on us by the floating carpet singer.

Star of the East, Oh Bethlehem’s star,

Guiding us on to Heaven afar!

Sorrow and grief and lull’d by thy light,

Thou hope of each mortal, in death’s lonely night!

 

Mercifully the crowd was not singing along, but the lady warbler was more than proficient at musical murder on her own.

“Will you tell me what-“ Spike began but I cut her off.

“When we are outside,” I said, “I will tell you my suspicions, but there are to many ears in here.”

Fearless and tranquil, we look up to Thee!

Knowing thou beam’st thro’ eternity!

Help us to follow where Thou still dost guide,

Pilgrims of earth so wide.

 

Abruptly there was a shrill scream that was loud enough to eclipse the ‘sultry’ singer-It was a sound of such agony and unbridled horror that even the denizens of the Bucket froze where they stood. The jewel on my walking stick near burned my hand with the intensity of the power it projected.

“God’s garters!” Angus exclaimed.

The two security men ran for the door and I turned to the Scotsman.

“Take her to the hansom, Angus,” I yelled at him. “And if she gives you problems subdue her if you must, but get her out!” I did not wait to see if he complied and raced after the bouncers.

 

 

 

Chapter Ten:

Juice and Justice

 

The door to the Marble Brother’s office was bolted from within but the two burly security men preceded me slammed themselves against it repeatedly till the bolt gave. I was right behind them.

The scene we burst in on was as hideous as the one at Hanover Jones’ place. The two Marble siblings were ripped open like slaughtered beef, hanging over their desks with most of their entrails spilled all over the floor.

Little Tony was just in process of expiring, his rotund body sprawled before the desk. Standing over him was the same creature that had killed Jones, its jaws slathered with gore. It looked up at us, snarled and began to move toward us.

I drew my sword cane and brandished it, the jewel in its pommel glowing with the etheric energies it was detecting.

The beast paused and then as if in a nightmare began to waver and dissolve into a smoky mass that blew toward the flue of the fireplace.

As we watched in stunned inaction the dissolved fiend disappeared up the chimney like a demented version of Santa Claus.

“What the hell was dat?” One of the bouncers asked when he could speak.

“I think I finally know,” I managed to whisper. I knelt by the dying Tony. His eyes were unfocused and blood poured from his mouth but he could still make sound.

“I didn’t mean it.” He hissed through the bubbling blood. “Juice offered me so much money-“

“It was an artifact?” I asked. “Mike brought it back from Egypt?”

“Yes.”  His voice was weaker and I am not sure he even knew he was speaking to me anymore and not just confessing his sins. “Thought it was just money. Juice-she knew, somehow she knew.”

“Where does she keep it?”

“Safe,” the dying man whispered. “Office.” Then his body convulsed and then Little Tony was no more.

“Jeez,” one of the bouncers said sotto voce, “I ain’t paid enough for this.”

“Eloquent, sir,” I said as I rose. “Tell that to the police when they arrive.” Then I headed out through the saloon crowd to the carriage. To add to the horror of the situation the warbler had started up again.

Oh star that leads to God above!

Whose rays are peace and joy and love!

Watch o’er us still till life hath ceased,

Beam on, bright star, sweet Bethlehem star!

 

 

I imagined the words might be comfort for the departed brothers, but they did nothing to improve my mood.

“What happened?”  A very angry Spike shot at me when I jumped into the hansom.

I ignored her and yelled up to the Scotsman, “Back to Juice’s place, Angus, as fast as you can, things are about to come to a head.” Then to quiet the girl I told her what I had seen and heard.

“So he as much as confessed he killed Mike?” she was so shocked by the betrayal of her former employee that her anger at me for excluding her was blunted.

“Not quite,” I said. The highlander was threading the carriage through the busy streets with a recklessness abandon that would put any London Cabbie to shame.

“But you said-“ She began.

“No,” I injected, “ I think he honestly thought it was just going to be a robbery- perhaps he even intended to pass it off as the work of someone else. But then things went wrong. If I am right it was much more than he bargained for. Yet, somehow, Juice knew.”

“Knew what?” She all but grabbed me to try and force the words from me but Angus was already pulling to the curb in front of Juice’s emporium so I jumped from the hansom.

“I’ll show you inside,” I said. “Come on, Angus, we’ll need that coach gun of yours.” I raced ahead of Miss Ellenbogen and up to the Iroquois door guard.

“Your mistress is in danger,” I said with real urgency in my tone. “We must see her.”

He looked at me with curiosity. “Is this so, Akweks?”

“Yes.” My tone and the anxious faced of my companions convinced him it was so. I did not tell him that we were the probable reason that his boss was in danger.

The Mohawk led the three of us into the Iron Apple and across the main floor to a corridor accessed by a door guarded by yet another of his tribe.

I could sense that Spike wanted to ask me exactly what we were doing, but was wise enough to realize she could not do it in front of the Mohawk. She did fix me with a cold stare and I smiled back as nonchalantly as possible.

We were escorted down the corridor to a second door, outside of which stood the female Mohawk guard from before.

Our guide spoke to her briefly and the siren stepped aside for we three to enter, though her grim expression showed she was not convinced. We ushered into the sanctum of Juice Martin, a large, lavishly appointed office-cum-lounge.

The saloon owner was seated on a couch with one of the painted women from before rubbing her feet. The other woman from the box was pouring a drink from a small bar on the side of the room when we entered and all three turned to gawk at us.

“What is all this, Orenda?” Juice asked of the Mohawk.

I felt quite the cad, but before our guide could answer- and the second the door was closed- I spun quickly and slammed my walking stick against his head, rendering him very unconscious.

“Angus- cover them!” I yelled and the coachman produced his gun from beneath his coat.

The two women froze but Juice made to spring up from her couch and speak. I would not allow that.

I leapt forward and drew my sword blade and pressed it directly to her throat.

“Do not utter a sound, madam, I said, “ not a single sound or I will slit your throat. I know.”

Here eyes widened with that. She almost spoke but she saw the determination in my eyes and remained silent.

“What is going on, Athelstan,” Spike asked, unable to contain herself any longer.

“In a moment, Spike, first I need to get some information from this lady, silently.”

I stared daggers at Juice. “With just your fingers indicate the numbers of your safe,” I said. “But no sounds or I will find out if my cracksman skills are still up to the challenge.” She saw I was serious and quickly formed numbers with her hands.

“20, 43, 50,” I repeated. “Spike, go to that painting there- the horrid landscape- and try the safe behind it.”

“Right or left?” She asked when she slid the picture aside.

“Try a couple of combinations and see-“ I said. “We don’t dare ask this ‘lady’-when that is open I think all will be explained.”

Spike’s second attempt at the combination worked and the safe door swung open to reveal the cavity within which was divided into several shelves. I could see paper money, some jewels and other papers and the thing I had thought would be there on the top shelf.

“That,” I nodded to the object. “Take it out and say these words. “I command you now.”

“What?’ Spike said.

“No!” Juice screamed. Despite my sword point at her throat she started to turn and head for Spike. I jumped forward and clotted her on the side of the head with my left fist hard enough to stun her and drop her to her knees.

“Do it, Spike, now. Those words!”

She looked at me like I had sprouted wings, but she obeyed.

“I command you now,” Spike said.

There was a rushing sound in the room, a brilliant flash of blue light and then that strange little man from the Bucket of Blood stood before Spike, though now his clothing was bright silks styled after the Egyptian fashion.

“Thank Allah,” The little man said. He looked at me and bowed. “You understood all, Azizi,” he said. “Now I serve only Miss Ellenbogen.”

Spike looked stunned, almost dropping the old style Arabic oil lamp she held in her hand.

“Oh my God,” she said, “ He’s a Genie!”

 

 Epilogue:

Answers like the Wind.

“A Jinn,” the little man said. “A race made by Allah of fire and smoke to serve his later creations.”

“But- but-“

“Damn you, Limey bastard,” Juice hissed from her knees.

“Doesn’t matter what you say now,” I said, resheathing my sword cane. “You can’t order this fellow-“

“I am called Abdul-Ghafur.”

“Abdul then, anymore,” I continued. “Only Spike can. Like Mike did.”

“Mike?” Spike said.

“Yes,” I said. “He bought that lamp in Cairo- I remember him looking in a window that had it. Of course, I don’t think he knew what it was then-“

“No, Azizi,” Abdul said. “He discovered me and my powers on the airship on the way home.” He looked sad. “He was a good man. No master I have ever had in the two thousand years since Solomon confined me to that lamp has been so gentle and unselfish. He wished only for the money he needed to begin your café, Mistress Spike.”

“That’s why he forgave all those debts,” Spike said. She looked at the lamp in her hands and then at the little brown man with a shocked expression.

“Kill them,” Juice screamed from her knees. “Stop them you stupid little freak!”

Abdul regarded her as I have seen dogs look at fleas. “I had to obey her words, mistress- as she spoke them.”

“When she sent you to kill the other saloon owners?” I asked.

“Yes, “Abdul said. “I had orders to kill anyone who tried to stop me from killing Mister Hanover Jones and then to kill anyone in the room with the Marble Brothers.”

“It was why you tried to warn us to stay out.” I said.

“Yes,” he nodded. “I had no orders not to speak to you-“ he turned to bow slightly to Spike-“and hoped to save you, mistress.”

“Kill them!” Juice hissed again, her lips fairly foaming, her complexion florid and eyes wide. “I command you, tear them to pieces.”

“Shut up!” Spike said to her then turned to Abdul. “You—you killed Mike, didn’t you?”

Before the little man could speak I interjected, “Don’t blame him, Spike. He had to obey any orders she gave him with an exactitude he can not control.”

“It is so, mistress,” the Jinn said, “ but I did not kill Master Mike. Mistress Juice came to meet the one called Little Tony who knew where my lamp was hidden, though did not know of its power. But she did!” He pointed at the kneeling, near apoplectic Juice.

“Yes I stuck the pig,” she snapped, “ He came after Tony had opened the cabinet for me. He tried to stop me so I gutted him then had my little pet genie go to and make it worse; strike real fear in all of them that thought me less for being a woman.” She laughed and there was an echo of the insane in her tone.

“And you set about eliminating everyone of the others,” I said. “When all you had to do was wish up money like Mike did you chose vengeance and death.”

“Those pricks deserved it,” Juice said. “You know what a girl had to put up with to deal with the likes of them.”

“Mike was never like that!” Spike protested. She set the lamp down now and moved across the room to face the kneeling Juice directly. So tall was the murderess that on her knees she was almost eye level with the petite Spike. “He was kind man; he never took advantage of any woman.”

Juice laughed. “You think you know your holier-than-though brother? He wanted me, alright-“

The companion that had been massaging Juice’s feet snickered then. Juice shot her a look. “Rachel don’t you-“

“You can’t lie about it, Juice,” Rachel persisted, “You was all over him and he wanted no part of you.”

Juice spun on her knees and backhanded the girl to stagger her.

The Mohawk outside the door started to beat against it.

“Spike,” I said, “Tell Abdul to keep her from raising the alarm.”

“What?” She said.

“Tell him in those words,” I insisted. “Repeat it.”

“Keep her from raising the alarm, Abdul,” Spike said.

The little brown man seemed to flicker like a torch flame then smiled. “It is done, Mistress.”

The pounding on the door had stopped.

“What—what did you do?” Spike asked.

“I simply used the essence of the poppy to cause the lady to become very sleepy, Mistress,” the Jinn said. “I did not think anything more permanent was needed.”

“Yes, right,” she said. “That is fine.” She seemed a bit overcome by the suddenness of it all and sat down in an overstuffed leather chair. Abdul stepped to her side and produced a cup and saucer.

“Tea, Mistress, to calm you nerves?” He said.

The girl took the tea and sipped before she realized she had. “He’s a-a-genie!”

“Yes, Spike,” I said. “ he is a Jinn-“

“Thank you , sir,” Abdul said at my correction.

“And you have some new responsibilities now.”

“Responsibilities?”

“Yes, Persian, Indian and Aztec magicks are just as strong as Merlinian,” I said. “Perhaps a fair sight more, in fact. In any case, Like Mike you have great power now to literally make a wish and have it granted.”

“A wish?” She sounded stunned.

“Many, Mistress,” Abdul said. “I am bound by Wise Solomon to obey the words as you speak them.”

“The exact words, I suspect,” I added, “If legends are to be believed.”

“Just so, azizi,” Abdul concurred. “And while I have some latitude to interpret it is best to not be a ambiguous.”

“You mean Mike could-“

“Yes,” I said. “Your brother could have been greedy or cruel or vindictive like Juice- but he chose not to.”

“He wished for the money to cover all the debts owed him,” the Jinn said. “And to endow the charity hospital and orphanage. He was very clear that no one was to be harmed.” His expression became sad. “Truly the best master I have had.”

At that Juice screamed an incoherent cry of anger and thrust her hand into her skirts and pulled a small derringer that she pointed at Spike.

“Die, bitch!” Juice said. “The lamp is mine!”

“No!” Angus yelled and blasted away with his coach gun. The kneeling saloon owner was blown backward in a spray of gore.

Rachel screamed while her companion floozy simply fainted.

“Oh my God!” Spike said. I sprinted to her and put a hand on her shoulder.

‘Easy, girl,” I said. She took several deep breaths and composed herself admirably.

“I’m okay,” she said then indicated the hyperventilating Rachel. “But she isn’t.” She turned to Abdul. “Can you quiet her down like the guard?”

The Jinn nodded and there was another blue flash. The panicked girl closed her eyes and she gently collapsed to the floor. In a moment she was snoring peacefully.

“What now?” Spike asked.

“Well,’ I answered. “If Abdul can make these ladies forget we were here we can decamp and you begin your life as a wish-maker.”

“They say power corrupts,” Spike said as she rose to look down at the gory corpse of Miss Martin. “How did Mike resist? How can I?”

The little brown man smiled and gave a slight nod. “You are blood of his blood, flesh of his flesh, Mistress,” he said. “I have faith you will do what is right.” With that he wavered and dissolved into a column of smoke that flowed across the room to enter the lamp and, with a curled tendril pulled the stopper into place to seal the vessel behind him.

“I second that, lassie” Angus said. “Bully!”

“Indeed,” I said. “Let’s get out of here and get out of these cloths into some fresh ones; I think we can make it up to the opera before Wotan walks off into the fire; Aunt Mini is going to want to hear about this all first hand.”

 

THE END

The Occurrence of the Phantom Stallion

by Teel James Glenn

The rumble of their footsteps shook the earth like ‘quakes
Their voices called for horrid death and made the heavens shake

The legions of the wolf twin state are set upon our shores
Now we the blue clad warriors will meet them all in wars

From Highland keeps we’ll thunder down
No mercy in our cry
To drive the ‘truders from our home
Or know the reason why

And if they offer terms to us
Or bargain for our thrall
We’ll strike at them thrice fiercely back-
And make’m build a wall!

Prologue:

Of Ancient Words and Modern Deeds

romanwallIt is a common misconception that Hadrian’s Wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. This is not the case; Hadrian’s wall lies entirely within England, and south of the border with Scotland by less than one kilometer in the west at Bowness-on-Solway. It had been begun in AD 122, during the rule of Emperor Hadrian to protect the ‘Lords of the Earth’ from Rome from my people, the savage Scots. We were the only peoples the Romans encountered that were so fierce that it was far less trouble (and a good deal safer) to simply wall off and try to forget about.

It was the first of two fortifications built across Great Britain, the second being the Antoniene Wall, lesser known of the two because its physical remains are less evident today. A significant portion of the wall still exists, particularly the mid-section, and for much of its length the wall can be followed on foot.

Even eighteen hundred years later it was still impressive, however, when it could be recognized as a man-made structure. The weathered stones crawled across the bleakly brown of the English countryside.

West of Greenhead in Hexham, Northumberland the stones stood stark against the countryside. Thrilwall Castle, visible from the ancient Roman Wall had been built with stones looted from the older structure and so the two grey stone sentinels lorded over the low, rolling hills.

A ground mist crawled along the low hills almost every afternoon as the shadows lengthened. And almost every afternoon Lord Reginald Granville went walking along the base of the ruined wall with his favorite dog, Pollex.

Lord Reginald was in his sixties, though his posture was as ramrod straight as it had been when he fought the Boers twelve years before where he received his leg wound that invalided him out of the service. Though his hair was silver his beard was still bright red. His eyes were still shining and alert as he took his constitutional.

“Feels good to get out for a bit, eh fellow?” The lord said to the golden haired setter. The dog alternately darted forward and ran back to circle Granville. “Damn this bad hip and the damp air, a fellow needs to walk a bit, eh boy?” The dog gave a bark that seemed to agree with his two legged lord and master.

“Though I think we had better be getting back soon,” he continued. He glanced back across the bog toward the hills beyond which were the ancestral home of the Granvilles. “It’s getting dark pretty quickly.”

Lord Granville often wandered over the broken countryside looking for old artifacts, poking the peat brown soil with his ebony-wood cane. There were still Roman jars and potshards to be found easily and on the rare occasion a Roman or early Norman coin could be found without much prodding. In doing so, the old lord went against local custom, for the area of the wall he wandered along was considered something of a taboo in the region.

Granville pooh-poohed such talk and often said, “the past is dead and will stay that way until we dig it up and put it on show.”

On that particular September day the Lord had ranged a bit further a field than usual. He was hiking along a section of the wall that he had not visited since before the torrential rain of the last week. Perhaps that was why he saw the statue so clearly.

It was carved of some dark stone that was not jade but shone like it. The image was barely a foot tall but remarkably well preserved. It was of a bearded man seated on a fancifully carved horse with a fish tail.

“Oh my, Pollex,” the old man exclaimed as he knelt to peer more closely at the statue. “Do you now what we have here?” He picked up the statue and brought it close to his face to study it in the dimming light. “This here fellow is Neptunus equestris the ancient Roman deity of agrarian plenty and of fertility!”

Lord Granville used his cane to push himself to his feet and then did a small jig. “We have really made a find this time, Pollex. This will make the boys at the club green with envy!”

He held the statue up and squinted to take in what detail that was visible in the failing light. It was finely detailed with the equine figure clearly covered with tiny fishlike scales and the tail a fully formed fish tail. The muscular figure that rode it was much like other images of the Roman god of the sea that he had seen in museums but with a delicacy and detail that was almost miraculous. The tiny figure seemed ready to draw its next breath.

“Just wonderful,” he said aloud. He noticed that his own voice was muffled and looked up to see that the mist was thickening to fog. “We’d better shake
a leg, Pollex.”

He called to the dog that had wandered off again nosing for small game but when the animal started to come back toward him it suddenly froze.

“Come on, fellow,” the lord called. “We have to get back before this becomes a pea-souper.

The dog was stiff now, as if pointing, its tail straight behind him and his ears back.

“What’s wrong?” Granville asked, for he could clearly see that something was wrong. More so, he could feel a change in air pressure that made him conscious of a sudden chill in the air. It was also markedly darker than it had been mere minutes before.

The dog was growling now its eyes focused off to his master’s left. Lord Granville felt alarmed now and turned to see what the dog was fixing on. He could see nothing.

“What is it, boy,” Granville asked. “What do you see?”

The nobleman strained his eyes to see what the dog was looking at but the world was becoming a grey-smudged thing with the fog now even muffling his calls to the dog.

“Ignore it, Pollex. Let’s go!” He started to back away toward where the dog was, casting his eyes back to where it seemed the dog was looking.

That was the moment when Lord Granville heard the sound; a low rumbling that was like a bass drum. Granville felt the sound as well as heard it; it vibrated against his diaphragm.

The rumble continued and then there was another sound within that rumble; a heavy breath-like sound.

“What- who’s there?” Lord Granville asked. He had raised his cane now, holding in front of him as if it were a talisman. “Show yourself! Speak up!”
The dog, now behind the nobleman, had started to whimper.

Granville was becoming worried now, for that dog had hunted badger and fox and other animals and never showed that type of fear.

“What in the duce could be out there?” He thought. “A wildcat?” The Scottish Wildcat was a fierce solitary hunter that sometimes roamed the border area. Some were as large as Pollex himself, four feet from head to tail.

“Shoo!” Granville called out in a loud clear voice, though the sound of it was swallowed by the dense fog. “Get away!”

The rumbling sound and the breathing sounds increased. The dog yelped and broke, running off into the gathering gloom.

“Blast you, Pollex, it’s just a bloody cat!” He spoke more to reassure himself than the dog. Being a man of action the nobleman, despite (or perhaps because) the fact that he felt a shiver of fear, stepped forward.
He swung the cane in front of him like a scythe, the dark wood leaving a trail in the thickening fog.

“Bloody hell!” he cursed, “I’ll find you, bugger!”

Suddenly his cane hit something, a large something. It was a thud, loud even in the enveloping fog. The rumble went from the edge of hearing to deafening.

“What?” Granville exclaimed.

The cane was jerked from the nobleman’s hand and the rumble became a roar.

Then a shape exploded out of the fog to overwhelm Lord Granville.

His dying scream was short and loud and despite the fog penetrated all the way back to Granville Manor.

Chapter One:

The Phantom Rider

 At just about the time that Lord Granville was dying at the foot of the ancient wall I was busy defending myself from his sinister son.

And by sinister I mean that Andrew Granville was a left-handed swordsman of some considerable skill. He was pressing me with a furious series of cuts that I was barely able to deflect.

My name is Jack Stone, late of Her Majesty’s Horseguard and I was on the fencing floor in my club off of Liecester Square in London to settle a bet.

I was on special detached service from the Horseguard to serve a most unusual gentleman, Doctor Augustus Argent as aid-de-camp and general all around assistant. He was Minister Without Portfolio for the Crown and thus I retained my rank of Captain. His particular area of expertise was matters of the unexplained and unusual. Some would call them the occult.

As Doctor Augustus’ assistant I am often called upon to engage the forces of darkness in a more direct and physical way than my ‘Guv’ and so I made a point of keeping up with my military skills. Which brings me to why I was being driven at sword point backwards on the piste of the fencing salon.

Andy Granville was in my old unit and whenever he was in town we had a standing challenge to cross blades. The winner of the bout was treated to a night on the town by the loser; I had treated him twice before out of his three visits.

At that moment it looked like I was going be treating him again. His high guard was like a steel web that I just could not get through but then he was having some trouble actually scoring on me as well. I faded backwards as he pressed me.

“Going to concede, old fellow?” He said. I could see his smirk beneath his mask and for some reason, though I had seen it before it lashed my Gaelic spirit like a buggy whip.

“I hope you’ve had a good run at the weekly dice tables, me’lad Andy,” I said with bravado, “because I’m feeling particularly puckish tonight; I may set a record for tucker!”

As I finished my boast I accepted an especially vicious cut to my left flank, but instead of a conventional response of parry/riposte I took a radical step. I accepted the cut but took a fleche forward, springing at Andy. He tried to dodge aside but rather than make a conventional cut I raced past him with my blade striking and slashing across the chest of his jacket.

“Touche!” I yelled as I twisted my hand to cut back at him and made a second strike on his still extended left arm.

“Bloody hell, Jack!” he tore off his mask and stared at me with a confused expression. “Where did you learn that one?”

I laughed. “A mad Turk who could out drink any Scot I’ve ever met when I was in Istanbul last year.”

“Well I’ll admit I’ve never seen it.” He handed his sword and mask off to one of the watchers (who were busy exchanging money on their own wagers on our match) and came to throw his arm over my shoulder. “But you know, you won’t be able to use that one on me ever again!”

“I spent two weeks in the company of that mad Mohammedan,” I said. “So I have a few more tricks up my sleeve!”

We headed off toward the locker rooms to change and then to a memorable night on the town but were intercepted by Roland, the head butler of the club.

“Most sorry for the interruption, sirs,” he said with a deferential bow, “But this note arrived for you, Master Granville and it was deemed most urgent.”

My red haired friend took the envelope with a puzzled expression and opened it. His handsome features darkened and he looked up at me with a sober expression. “I’m afraid I’ll have to take a chit on your night out, old fellow. I’ve got to race home.” He handed me the note and I read it.

“The Stallion is abroad. I regret to inform you that Lord Reginald has met with a terrible accident and has passed on. You are the Lord of Granville now; return home immediately.” And it was signed simply, “Althelston.”

I was almost as stunned as my friend. I had met his father on two occasions and was impressed by the elder Granville’s vitality. And then there was his almost legendary exploits in the Transvaal.

Andy and I made eye contact and I could see he was fighting several emotions, not only his grief but I knew him well enough that I could see a sharp edge of anger underneath.

“If I can render any assistance,” I began.

He put a hand on my shoulder. “If you could free some time, old fellow,” he said. “I don’t think I want to make this trip alone.”

“Let’s change,’ I said, “We can still make the late train out of Victoria Station.” I saw his relief at my statement and he even tried a smile.

“Good show,” he said.

We changed in record time and caught a hansom to the station.

I was fortunate to have an overnight bag with me, having just returned from a short trip to Paris for the Guv—i.e. Doctor Argent and so we had no need to stop at my flat.

Andy did not speak for quite some time, in fact until we were seated in our compartment and well on our way north. I respected his need to be with his thoughts but after a time my curiosity overcame my decorum.

“I have to ask, Andy,” I said. “Just what is this statement on the note about “the Stallion is abroad?”

He turned back from staring out the window and seemed grateful to talk. “It is an old family legend,” he said with a somber tone. “It goes back to the time when the Romans occupied this area. A centurion who was particularly disliked by his men got into some kind of argument and either accidentally or otherwise ended up destroying a household shrine of the god Neptunus equestris, an ancient Roman deity. He was a horse god and closely associated with the Scythian cavalry regiment. The householder cursed the centurion and his line before the soldier killed him.”

“So?” I asked.

“Well, he—this officer—went out walking alone and when he didn’t return his men went looking for him; they found him by the base of Hadrian’s Wall, more than just trampled. He was savaged as if by some great beast. Thereafter when someone was about to die in the area there were reports of a strange, riderless horse, a phantom, seen riding along the wall.”

“That doesn’t sound so different from other local legends from all around the Isle.” I said. I realized it might have sounded dismissive and added, “So how does it apply directly to your family?”

Andy smiled wryly at my question. “My family has been near the wall for many centuries; some say we descend from that centurion on the wrong side of the blanket. In all that time the Phantom Stallion has been seen before the death of the head of the family. Usually a violent death.” He gazed back out the window and I suspect it was so I could not see moisture form in the corners of his eyes.

“I have lived with the probability that it could happen; it did for my grandfather, who was found savaged out on the heath many years ago—they never discovered what beast did it. Yet somehow, my father seemed so–so very vital that I never imagined it could ever happen to the Old Major.”

We traveled in silence again for some time. I offered my friend a sip from my small flask of single malt and he gratefully took a swig. I followed suit then slipped it back into my tunic pocket as I enjoyed the heat of it course through my system.

My thoughts went to the validity of the strange legend but I was not one to disregard it. I had seen so many strange things in my service to the Crown under Doctor Argent. And even before that, I had almost lost my life to a creature of the night in my native Edinburgh. It was there I had become acquainted with the Doctor and with the shadow world I had not suspected existed in what I thought a bucolic homeland.

The long day and the gentle clacking of the rails lulled us both to sleep so we pulled out coats over ourselves and settled in. I admit my dreams were troubled with images of the phantom that he had described.

Dawn came abruptly with Andy shaking my shoulder. “Wake up, old fellow,” he said almost cheerfully. “Time for some breakfast; we are approaching Newcastle which means we will be arriving home between meals, this may be all we get for a time.”

I shook off my furtive dreams, though echoes of the somber heath and the Phantom Stallion lingered at the edges of my consciousness. Both of us had elected to wear our uniforms (I was still entitled as I was only on ‘detached’ duty) as it tended to hurry various service personnel along. It was the case that morning as well when the purser found us a table quickly in the crowded dining car.

“You seem more yourself today,” I noted to my friend as our food was served.

Andy smiled as he tackled some kippers. “I told you, Jack, I’ve had time—a whole life, actually—to be prepared for this. My father had to deal with it happening to his father and I guess it has always been there in the back of my mind. Like when we went into battle; we knew there would be death but somehow we thought we’d be the exception. I thought my father would be the exception to the family curse. Now I guess I hope I will be.”

The casual hopelessness in his voice was like a dagger in my heart, right then and there I determined that if there was truth to the curse of the Granvilles I would find a way to end it before it ended my friend’s life.

Chapter Two:

From the Shadows Some Light

We changed trains at Newcastle to a local that would take us to Hexham, closer to the Granville home. Andy took the opportunity to wire ahead to have horses waiting for us.

I was able to get a cable off to Doctor Argent to inform him, briefly of my purpose for the abrupt trip. I also asked the Guv to do some research on the Granville curse. I was sure he would know, or be able to find out a considerable amount about the ancient geise.

My silver haired superior had not been in London when I left, but I knew he was due back at any time, my only hope was that he had the time to do the research and would not be angry that I had taken off without waiting to consult him.

The local train to Hexham was an older one. The coaches were cramped and open but the passengers were mostly hardy country folk who were used to enduring such conditions. Several recognized Andrew and greeted him warmly, not having heard the news yet about his pater.

My friend was gracious and solicitous to the people and chose not to mention the dark news he was holding close. Instead he simply said he was back on leave and allowed the others to carry the conversation.

I could see in his manner that he had already assumed the mantel of Lord of the Granville family and the burden was heavy on his shoulders.

The trip to the small town seemed to last forever. I spent most of it looking out at the bleak countryside of the North Country, so much like my home in Edinburgh. The low rolling, brown hills seemed to march in endless echelons broken only by spurs of grey-brown rock and occasionally an explosion of gorse or wild flowers.

“Perfect place for a ghostly stallion,” I thought. “Almost too perfect.”

At Hexham we found two sturdy mounts waiting for us. They were tied to a railing outside the station and a boy stood there with a note from the stationmaster.

“Mister Granville?” the toe headed lad asked as we walked up.

“Yes,” Andrew said. He had finally begun to exhibit some nervousness as we approached his home and I could feel his tension. He handed the boy ten shillings for the rental of the horses and a good tip.

“Thank you, your lordship.” The lad said with a little awe.

“Vulture!” a harsh voice drew our attention as we prepared to mount.
“Coming back to pick the bones of Granville hall clean?” The speaker was a rough looking sort of working class type. He was accompanied by a second fellow just a coarse as himself.

“I beg your pardon?” Andrew said in an even tone. I could see the fire boiling beneath the surface as he struggled to stay calm.

“You heard Alfie,” the second man said. “The Stallion took your father and now you’ve come to lord over all of us again.”

Word travels fast, I thought. I stepped up to put a hand on my friend’s shoulder and leaned in to whisper. “We don’t need the distraction, Andy.”

He nodded and mounted. I did the same and looked back down at the two men.

“You men need to show some respect.” I could not help but make comment.

“Respect,” Alfie spit. “That’s a joke! He’s come back and brought the curse with him; What’s it do when its finishes with the nobles, eh? Goes about hunting us common folk it does!”

Andy rode ahead of me so I could not see his face but I thought I could see his neck color at the men’s words. I know I felt a premonition of darkness at his words.

It was a relief to be in the saddle, though I wish I could have brought Vindicator, my own trusty mount. We rode in that heavy silence that seemed to have settled about us for much of this trip all the way through town. Hexham was a typical North Country hamlet, prosperous but with a grayness and felling of—well—tiredness about it. Like an old duffer wanted to retire but couldn’t afford to.

“I’ve ridden this path a thousand times,” Andy finally spoke as we left the town proper behind us and headed out on a track across the heath. “It is much shorter than the road and you’ll get to see the wall part of the way there.”

We went west and a bit south of the town through tilled fields and out onto the heath. The track looped off into the low hills and soon we might have been in the middle of the Russian Steppes for the bleakness and isolation.

“The manor house is over that way,” Andy pointed after a while. “And over there is the section of the wall most connected to the curse.”

It was an unremarkable dun colored line across the horizon that was just barely recognizable as an ancient wall. Still, there was a palpable sense of age from it and I found my eyes returning to its smudged line again and again as we rode parallel to it for some quarter hour. I even looked over my shoulder one last time as we turned off toward his manor house.

Perhaps it was a trick of the late afternoon light or the afternoon mist that was rising, but I could have sworn I saw a shadowy figure standing astride the distant wall watching us.

◊ ◊ ◊

The whole of the countryside around Hexham, I knew, had been the scene of bitter conflict between England and Scotland and as a consequence, for reasons of personal security, the inhabitants had erected castles and fortified manor houses such as Ayton Castle and Granville Manor.

The Granville family residence was as ominous as the countryside around it. It was an imposing edifice of grey-black stone in the Gothic style set on a small shelf of rock that thrust up from the heath. It had high arched windows on the side I could see but rather than making it look open and inviting the windows reminded me of the empty eye sockets of a skull.

On one side of the plateau dropped off in a shear rock face to a bog with the road we approached on winding around that bog toward the far side.

“Not the most cheery place,” Andrew admitted as we rode around the building. On the far side the bleak sight was broken with a formal garden that did its best to splash color on the scene but it somehow seemed more desperate than cheerful. “The manor house, like Thrilwall Castle had been built with stone that was taken from Hadrian’s Wall. Some say that is what brought the curse along with it.”

“It has a dark face, to be sure,” I said. “But it can’t be so bad—you’re a cheery fellow after all.” This made him laugh, so I added. “Some would say Edinburgh is not the cheeriest of climbs for a lad to grow up in either.”

We rode up to the main entrance and encountered a rough fellow with a hunchback who was working on the bushes out front.

“Master Andrew!” the old fellow exclaimed as he recognized my friend. His wrinkled face split in a wide smile to reveal a mouth without  full compliment of teeth. “It is good to see you—” then he caught himself and bowed his head to add, “I’m sorry it has to be under this cloud, sir.”

Andrew bound from the saddle and clapped the gardener on the shoulder. “Its good to see you, Archibald, regardless of how things are. Is Auntie and the rest inside?”

“Yes, sir,” Archibald said. “But we didn’t expect you till tomorrow.”

“I was able to catch the late train. Archibald, this is my mate, Jack Stone.”

“Sir.” He took the reins from Andy and then offered to do the same for mine. “Again, sir,” he said to Andy, “My condolences.”

Andy nodded and led me to the door. He paused for a second to gather himself. I put a hand on his shoulder and he straightened.

“Damn the torpedoes, eh?” He said then pushed the door in and we entered the foyer.

The main hall of the Granville manor was cathedral-like and just barely lit with gaslight. There was a main staircase that split both right and left and went to shadowed openings above. Two closed oak doors to the left and an open arch to an empty parlor completed the panorama of the manor’s entrance.

I had been in many grand homes but this entrance had the feel more of a mausoleum or museum than a home. Andrew took it all in with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man making his walk to the gallows.

A butler appeared from below stairs with a tray that he almost dropped when he saw my friend.

“Master Andrew?” The butler said. He showed his professionalism by recovering from his shock in a few eye blinks and added, “The others are in the study.”

“Thank you, Roland.” Andrew said. He set his jaw and slid the oak doors to the study open and I met his surviving family.

“Aunt Gloria,” Andrew said as he entered and kissed the cheek of a silver haired woman a decade older than he. I could see the Granville features on the woman who I knew was the younger sister of the deceased Lord. The angular features of the family were softened with age and a gentle smile as she welcomed her nephew. Her eyes however were keen and suspicious when she looked over at me.

“Andrew,” she said in a quiet voice. “I am so sorry about Reginald.”

“Good to see you again, boy,” a tall thin fellow who did not have Granville features said. The predominant feature of the man was a mustachios that was full and well groomed. Indeed all his clothing showed an obsessive attention to it, one might well call him a dandy save that his jet-black hair was a rat’s nest and his glowering face that seemed set in a perpetual scowl.

“Athelstan,” Andrew said. “Thank you for your cable.”

“And your friend?” the raven-haired fellow asked.

“This is Jack Stone of my Regiment,” Andy said. “He was with me when I got your note.” He looked at me and I could see he was not thrilled with the mustached fellow. “Athelstan Gaunt is married to Aunt Gloria and is the family solicitor.”

I bowed to the couple and shook hands with the fellow and was not surprised that his grip was limp and his palm damp.

The butler brought in the tray with tea and cups and set it on a table. “I am sure you gentlemen desire a little sustenance, eh?”

“If Cookie could whip something up, that would be wonderful.” Andy said. He crossed the room to a cabinet and opened it to reveal a bar. “Something to stiffen the resolve, Jack?”

“Oh yes,” I said. He poured me some single malt and one for his aunt and the four of us sat.

“So, Auntie,” my friend said. “Tell me exactly how my father died.”

Chapter Three:

Legacy of Death

Once the words were said Andy seemed to deflate, sinking into himself on the settee. He stayed focused ahead while alternately his Aunt and uncle related the facts as were known about the death of Lord Granville.

“It was Archibald who found Reginald,” the woman said. “Pollex came running home, and after your father didn’t return the staff went looking for him. He was a the foot of the wall.” She rose from the chair and walked to a glass cabinet and removed a small dark statue from the back of a shelf.

“This was clutched in your father’s hands.”

It was the image of a bearded man on a half horse-half fish.

“Is that Roman?” I asked.

“Yes,” Athelstan spoke up. “I looked it up in one Reggie’s books, it is Neptunus equestris some sort of Roman god. Apparently the cavalry had him as some sort of mascot.”

“He would have been their patron,” I said. “Each regiment would have had a sort of patron god, like we might have a patron saint.”

“Father found that at the wall?” Andrew asked.

“Yes,” Andy’s aunt said. “He must have—none of us had ever seen it before yesterday. He- he was clutching it to his chest.”

“Was it his heart?” My friend asked. The way he asked it made me think that he was almost hoping that it was.

“No,” the solicitor said. “He had been trampled; the doctor said it was as if a herd of horses had run over him but there were no horse tracks anywhere else on the heath at all.”

Andy shot back his drink in one motion. “I thought it would be just like great Granddad.”

“So it was the curse?” I said. The three of them looked at me as if I were a simpleton but Mistress Gaunt was gracious.

“I know you might think we country bumpkins are primitive folk, Captain Stone,” she said. “Simple in our beliefs and out of touch with the modern world, but I assure you we are not. Yet there are some things that are not so modern about this land; it is an old land with old, dark legends. The Phantom Stallion of the Granvilles is one of those legends. And I assure you, it is true.”

I could see that Andy, torn as he was with pain at his father’s death bridled at having his guest confronted so directly. I rushed to thwart his rising anger.

“I can assure you, madam,” I said quickly. “I do not at all take such tales lightly. You forget I am a Scot and I come from a land where such things are still part of the daily life.” I could not tell her that before my association with Doctor Argent I might have been skeptical but now I had met the forces of darkness face to snarling face and was more inclined to believe such horrors as not.

Just then the butler, Roland, brought some cold meats and bread for us and we indulged ourselves in the silence of our own thoughts while we dined. The atmosphere of gloom hung over the four of us and indeed in the very air of that old manor. I tried to assess the others as we ate but it was hard to ‘read’ them.

The solicitor, though his general demeanor seemed earnest watched all of us, his wife included with hooded eyes. Perhaps it was the natural suspicion a solicitor has of all society that makes him question everything but my impression was that it was personal with him.

Andrew’s aunt on the other hand kept her eyes on my friend, warm open eyes brimming with emotion. She, in fact, seemed on the edge of hysteria and sipped a cognac while we ate.

Andy worked to stay detached but I could see the wheels of his mind working. After a time he said, “I would like to see my father.”

“He is still in his room,” Athelstan said. “Doctor Conners pronounced him there.”

“We thought you would want to make the arrangements.” His aunt said.

“No,” Andy said, “thank you, Aunt Gloria, but I’d rather you did all that. I just want to see him to say goodbye.”

“I’ll take care of all the arrangements,” Athelestan offered. “I will ride into town before lunch.”

Andy thanked him and then rose to head upstairs. I let him go alone. Athelstan left straight away for Hexham. That left me alone with his aunt.

“You are a good friend of Andrew,” she said. She had renewed her drink and stood by the shelf where the dark statue was on display. “He needs friends now.”

“He is a true brother-in-arms and a good man,” I said with no prevarication. “I just wish there was more I could do.”

“Being with him may be enough,” she said then added ominously. “But if it is not—you must be prepared to come to his aid.”

“Are you implying that this Phantom Stallion could return?” I said. “I thought it was a generational aberration.”

The stately woman gave a short, harsh laugh. “The end of a generational aberration,” she said. She took a deep drink. “When our father died at the hands of the Phantom, Reginald and I were both shocked—for our grandfather had died at sea and no one in the line had died at the Stallion’s hooves except for Great Granddad for five generations before. But then there were other murders on the heath.”

“Others?”

“Yes, a girl from the village, several shepherds and a child died in similar circumstance. And possibly there were others over the last decades. Bodies found with the trample marks on them—or what could be conjectured were trample marks. Nothing could ever be proven—it could have been many accidents but it…” Her eyes teared up. “The villagers began to blame our family for somehow reawakening the curse.”

“Did it?” I asked. Her sharp look at my inquiry was almost painful. “Understand, I am not making light of your pain or of this curse. I have had some contact with such things and there is usually some sort of trigger. Even the seemingly irrational has a rational structure to it.”

She considered what I had said for a long breath then said, “My great grandfather had begun to make surveys at the edge of our land with an eye toward irrigation the land near the Wall. That was what made the townsfolk angry, there had been exploratory trenches dug and certain objects from the past were uncovered.”

“Like that Neptune statue?” I rose and poured myself a second drink, sure that I would need to be fortified for my next move.

“Yes.” She surprised me with a genuine laugh that harkened back to a happier time and I could see that she must have been quite a beauty before the worry lines aged her. “My brother got his fascination for ancient artifacts then, pulling coins and such from the trenches. It was—it was why he often went walking along the wall.”

“I promise you madam,” I said. “I will do my utmost to stop this curse here and now. And I will protect Andy.” She looked at me with an odd expression, apparently trying to decide if I was just humoring her or was serious. She made her decision and gave me a smile.

“I believe you will, young man,” she said.

“Or die trying,” I added.

“God bless you for that!”

Just then I noticed that the hunchbacked gardener was standing in the doorway.

“’Scuse me, folks,” he said. He held his shapeless hat in his hands and wrung it. “Will you be wanting me to stable the master and his friend’s horses in the main stable?”

“We leased them,” I said. “But I think you should leave them saddled right now; I suspect Master Granville and I will have one more ride before you bed the animals down for the night.”

“Another ride?” Mrs. Gaunt asked.

“To the Wall,” I said. “If I know Andrew he will want to visit the spot where his father was found.”

Mrs. Gaunt gave a short gasp. “No. Andrew can’t want to—“

“Yes, I do,” my friend said. He came into the room from the hall. His eyes were red rimmed but his posture was dress parade erect. “I think I’d like to do it before dinner.”

“I’ll take you, sir,” Archibald offered. “I’ll just go saddle old Bessy.” The aged gardener left after accepting a pat on his shoulder from Andy.

“Do you think it wise, Andrew?” His aunt asked. “It can only bring more pain.”

“There can be no more pain, Auntie,” he said. “Only answers. That is what I have to find.” He looked at me and I gave him the most confident smile I could manage.

“And with those, my friend,” I said. “I can help.”

Chapter Four:

The Dark of the Past

The ride out from Granville Manor was a somber and silent one. My friend seemed infused with purpose by his vigil with his father’s body and his jaw was set in a fashion I had only seen before we rode into battle.

Good for you, lad, I thought. If you view this as a battle we can beat it, that’s something I’ve learned from Doctor Argent.

The hunchback led us across the heath down a narrow but well defined track over the low hills. He respected his master’s quiet focus and kept his directions to a minimum until we were almost on the wall.

“I found his Lordship over that way,” Archibald said pointing. “Almost at the foot of the damned thing.”

I was reminded of the violent history of the countryside as we passed the ruins of one of the smaller “bastle houses” or fortified farmhouses which are unique to Northumberland. It seemed to me an ominous omen of things dark and dangerous.

There was a ground fog crawling along the hollows of the broken land that did not improve the mood of any of us as we approached the ruined military emplacements.

It was my first time to actually study the wall, a fact that shames my Scottish heritage.

The magnificent wall ran for 73 miles and caused me to marvel at the Romans. Their engineers made use of every natural point of strength and at its highest it rose to 1230ft above sea level. It stood at nearly 5 meters in height at some points and large forts about 5 miles apart as well as numerous mile castles.

It was, at least in the sections we were approaching, still recognizable as the cut stone battlements with the ruins of the commander’s house, the praetorium, clearly visible.

Stones had been taken from parts of the wall but it was so vast a structure that it was still at least shoulder high to me or more in most places. It stretched to the horizon on both sides, a long snaking line of orange-yellow rock that stood out against the brown and green of the coarse grass.

“Over there, sir,” Archibald said. He pointed to a spot inside a square of stones that butted to one of the higher sections of the wall. It seems to have been a major building, probably from its location I would guess a cavalry barracks.

We dismounted and the hunchback led us to the center of the ghost space. “Here, Master Andrew,” the old man said pointing down at the ground. “Right here.” The location was almost dead center within the low stones of the square enclosure.

Andy stood there with a strange expression on his face and for a moment I thought he might faint, the color draining from his already pale cheeks. He rallied, however and nodded. “Here, Archibald?”

“Exactly, Master,” the hunchback said. He knelt and patted the disturbed earth of the enclosure. “Right here. Lord Reginald was facing the wall, clutching that statue. His eyes were open and, well, his expression was such as I’ve never seen nor never hope to see again. Scared he was, truly scared.”

Once more Andy seemed to waver and I stepped up to put a steadying hand on his shoulder. He stiffened then nodded. He dropped to one knee and ran a hand along the rough grass as if he could feel where his father’s last breath might still be lying for him to recapture.

I stepped away to give him privacy and noticed something shiny in the dirt near the wall. I went to it and stopped to discover that it was a small medallion in the shape of a female wolf. It was something such as a soldier might have worn long ago for good luck, invoking the wolf-mother that had suckled Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome.

I raised it to my eye-line to study it and suddenly I felt a strange tingle in all my limbs. I felt dizzy and red spots swam before my eyes. I shook my head to clear it and blinked hard; suddenly I was not looking at the ruins of a stone home but was inside a fully realized one.

There was more, however, I was standing inside a stone home that was abuzz with activity. There was fire roaring in a hearth and a pot simmering over it. To my right I saw the statue of Neptunus equestris that I had seen in the Granville manor house. On my left there were local gods on their own shelf, I guess the two were not meant to mix.

A spotted tabby cat ran across the room chasing an imaginary mouse and a woman swept with a crude homemade broom.

The woman was dressed in a shapeless dun colored dress and had her straw colored hair tied back with a red cloth. She looked over at me and I saw her eyes go wide.

“What do you want here, Centurion?” She said at me. Her words were harsh and I realized with a bit of shock that they were not in English. She spoke a guttural Latin, yet I understood them!

She stared at me and her plain but pretty features darkened. “I asked you a question, Roman,” She said. “You were told to stay away from here by your commander.”

I was stunned by her pronouncement and more so by the voice—which was mine and not mine—that answered her in Latin. “I told you I’d be back, Elgiue. You made it difficult for me with the commander when you reported me.”

The woman spit. “You Romans are all alike but at least Maximus Flavius keeps his word. He promised to punish all those who hurt Algiwa.”

“That wench was asking for it,” I heard my voice snarl. ”She had no business in the barracks if she didn’t want a little fun.”

“Algiwa was a good girl, Gaius,” the blonde woman said. She threw down her broom and for a moment I thought she would spring across the room at me. “You soldiers got her drunk, you used her like a bar whore and then threw her away. The shame was too much for her and she took her own life.”

“Your lying like that got me a reprimand before the whole cohort,” I heard myself say. “I swear by my wolf pendant that I will see you pay for that.”

My words seemed to ignite a fire in the Saxon woman, she charged across the dirt floor of the hovel and jumped at my face. The hands that came up to protect me were mine and not mine. They were a brute’s hands wearing the vambraces of a Roman soldier.

That strange self of me grabbed the woman and savaged her, slamming her against the stone wall of the enclosure. I heard my other-self screaming obscenities as I repeatedly smashed her against the wall. I slammed her against the shelf where the family gods were set.

Somehow I knew that was how I lived my life—that other life—somehow I knew this was ‘normal’ for the Centurion I was experiencing.

I now knew I was experiencing what Doctor Argent called “psychometry’- the art of gathering vibrations from objects to ‘read’ them and experience what the owners had. The wolf medallion I had found had belonged to that soldier so long ago and somehow—though I had never experienced such a phenomena before—I was seeing through his eyes.

It was a strange duel reality for I was aware I was Jack Stone and yet knew I was Gaius Cipprio of the 9th Legion of Imperial Rome. I knew I was living in the time when the wall was still manned and I knew without a doubt that I was alive when the curse of the Granville’s had been made.

The Saxon woman was barely conscious when I finally forced myself to release her. She fell hard against the shelf where Neptunus equestris rested and grabbed it up to thrust at me as if it where a talisman and a shield. She glared up at my ancient self with undisguised hate and hissed, “I curse you, Roman, and all your seed. May your own gods curse you and may death follow in your wake.”

Then my ancient self—my Roman self killed her with single knife thrust to her heart.

I felt sick, staggeringly sick, suddenly, and backed out of the stone hut. The sunlight was blinding and I blinked hard.

To my right the fully intact wall rose almost shining in the sunlight. Guards in full segmenta armor stood upon the battlements facing outward, northward, watching for the wild, painted Scots beyond.

All around me was the bustle and noise of a military camp, so familiar yet so different from those I had been in, in my ‘modern’ life. There were townsfolk too, tent-like structures butted to the wall and various domestic and herd animals.

I felt dizzy again and the sickness in my gut seemed to travel to all my limbs. I shuddered and made a noise such as I have never heard before, a whining cry that came from within my very soul.

My yell attracted the attention of some of the Saxons working nearby and two of the legionaries who were attending to horses. All eyes turned toward me as I dropped to my knees and writhed.

Chapter Five:

The Horror on the Heath

I felt my other-self, long ago, body change.

The shadow of my body on the ground began to alter as I stared at it. I saw my chest deepen, my neck elongate and my arms lengthen. On the side of my head I could see my ears growing upward even as my nose elongated. My skull widened and grew larger as my neck widened to support it.

My mind went to the statue of Neptunus equestris and I saw in my mind’s eye the ancient god laughing at me.

The looks of horror on all the faces around me, the cries of ‘Demon!” and screams from the children told me what that deity had done to me.

My ancient self, my transformed self, felt only rage at the cries from the onlookers. That rage grew within the beast I had become and I reared up, spinning to face the tormentors and attacked.

I shudder to recall the savagery of my ancient self as I struck out at the watchers with my hands and feet that were now hooves. I spun and reared, kicked back with my hind legs and whinnied in fury. Skulls cracked, blood ran yet, despite my horror at my own actions I pressed on till all around me was red.

I heard Latin and Gaelic screams of ‘stop him!’ were all around me. I barely heard them. The blood that splattered on my hooves pounded in my ears as well and I became dizzy again.

I fell forward to my fore-hooves and my elongated, now massive head dropped in despair. I close my eyes to blot out the horror I had wrought and wished I had hands to put over my ears to blot out the roar and the screams to terror.

“Jack!” Andy yelled at me. “Jack, are you alright?” I felt his shaking my shoulder and I looked up at my friend who, it seemed was pale with fear.

I blinked. Behind him there was no stonewall, just the ruins of one. I was kneeling in traces of the old buildings again and was back on the heath outside Granville Manor.

I held up a hand—an actual hand before my eyes and realized I was holding the wolf medallion in it. I was back to myself again.

“Andy?” I mumbled.

“You had us worried there, old fellow,” Andy said. “You started to totter over then came swaggering out here making the oddest noises.” Beyond my friend I could see the hunchbacked gardener looking at me oddly.

“I—uh—I had the strangest experience,” I managed to say. I looked down at the medallion and had a flash of insight. I had a real idea now what I was dealing with.

“Here,” Andy said offering me some of my own flask of whiskey, “You need this.” I took it gratefully. “We had better get back,” he added with an attempt at a smile, ‘ it is getting near supper time and Cookie’s meals are not to be missed.”

I was unsteady on my feet so Andy helped me to my mount. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not sure what came over me.” It was a lie, of course, I knew fully well what had occurred, though, to be sure, not the full meaning of it.

I had no doubt I had witnessed not only the beginning of the curse itself but the full extent of it and why it had come in full force in the recent history of the Granville family. I knew I had to get to town to wire Doctor Argent or possibly ring him on a telephone if there was one to be found in the hamlet.

“Town,” I mumbled to Andy. “I think it’s a stomach ailment I picked up in Pretoria; I’ll head into the apothecary and get a powder for it.”

“Are you sure you’re up for it, chum?” My friend asked. “You looked even paler than your usual Highland pallor back there.”

I laughed. “You can shepherd me if you’d like, but I’m okay now.”

“I had better head home to take a look at my father’s papers,” Andy said.

I hated to lie to my friend, but I also did not want to alarm him with the knowledge that I had so little power against the impending evil that plagued his family.

I remember little of the ride back to town save that I had to keep myself from falling off my mount several times. I guess my time traveling excursion had taken more out of me than I had thought. “Wonder how the Guv does it so often; no wonder he trains so hard.” I had seen Doctor Argent do much longer sessions of psychometry and shown no ill effects; but he also spent hours each day in meditation and exotic exercises that I had not, until then, appreciated.

I reached Hexham and located a telegraph office that also had a telephone I could use. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Doctor was at his office.

“Yes, I got your message, Jack,” he said. “I returned this morning and set about researching your problem; I’m afraid that is not much I could determine save that there seems to be at least a dozen deaths attributed to this Phantom Stallion killer in the last decade.”

“That is concerning,” I said, “but how could it be connected to the family?”

“I am not sure, but there may be a pattern appearing,” He said. “The local papers also speak of disappearances of young men and women with considerable passion.”

I went on to tell him of my experience with the wolf pendant at the wall. This seemed to worry him.

“I will make my way up to you as soon as I can,” the Doctor said. “But I suggest you stay as close as possible with your friend until then and keep him off the heath certainly at night; I suspect there is something at work here. It is very real, and serious, not just a mere family legend.”

It was a sobering pronouncement, but I promised him I would do my best to protect Andy.

When I exited the telegraph office I was sobered by my conversation the Guv, my mind was on what I had experienced on the heath and so was distracted enough to bump into a passerby on the darkening street.

“Excuse me,” I half-mumbled.

“Well look’er, Alfie,” a familiar voice answered me. “It is Mister High-and-Mighty’s mate.” I looked up to see the two roughnecks from out arrival the day before.

I studied them now, laborers, obviously, with well-worn clothes and weathered, rough features. Alfie was ginger haired like myself with broad shoulders. He was a head shorter than his vocal friend.

“I think he ought to get himself some spectacles, eh Byron?” Alfie said in a low growl that was more animal than human. “Or maybe learn to look where he’s going.”

“I think he’s too proud to get glasses, Alfie,” Bryon said. He was blond and had the pale beginnings of a mustache above his sneering mouth. “Or maybe he just doesn’t care about us regular folk.”

“No offense was meant,” I said to diffuse the situation. It was hard for my Scot’s blood to back down from the fight the two men were angling for but Andy at home by himself was on my mind. It seemed urgent that I return.

“Hear that, Alfie,” the blond said. “No offense meant.”

“Well I was offended,” the beetle-browed redhead said. “I think he wasn’t very sincere in that apology. At all.”

There are limits to patience. In, or perhaps because of, my unnerved state from my time travel encounter, I wanted for some physical release. Still, I tried once more for the Christian path.

“I reiterate, sirs,” I said in a calm voice. “No offense was meant. Please allow me to go about my business.” I made to step past the two men but Alfie put a hand on my arm to stop me.

“I said apologize!” He snarled.

The limit was passed.

Before either man could proceed further I slapped the red head’s hand off me and snapped out a jab to his nose. Not hard, just enough to make his eyes water and get him away from me.

Byron moved quickly at me but his staggering friend got in the way and I was able to launch an over hand right directly over the whimpering thug’s head at Byron.

My blow landed solidly on the blond’s jaw and he dropped with no more fight in him.

Alfie had recovered enough sight to realize what had happened and tried to use his great bulk to grab for me but I was having none of it.

I hopped back on one foot and kicked out with my other boot to strike him on the leading knee that caused him to collapse over with a cry of agony.

I stepped in and struck him soundly on the temple and rendered him unconscious so that he dropped directly over the prostrate form of his friend.

They looked for all-the-world like two drunks sleeping off a bad night, which indeed it had been for them.

I made my way to my horse just as the exhilaration of the altercation began to drain and my legs went rubbery beneath me. I managed to mount and gave the horse his head and he knew the way back to the manor. It was a slow trip and it was late afternoon by the time I made it back.

I was a little steadier by the time I returned to the manor, but still tired. I was able to get to my room and have a toes-up until mealtime by which time I felt my old self again.

“You’re looking better, sir,” the hunchback gardener said when I came down in full dress for supper. He was passing the open window to the side garden with an armload of pottery when I happened to pause to look out on the now gloomy evening across the heath. The moon was just up, looming like a Cyclops through the dense fog, winking in and out of the cloud cover.

“Told you I would be chipper,” I said smiling at the memory of my knuckles on Alfie’s head. “Highland constitution, don’t you know?”

“Indeed, sir.” Archibald said.

“Where’s master Andrew?” I asked.

“He went walking out toward the wall just a little bit ago, sir. As he used to, to clear his head a bit, he said.”

“By himself?” I said. “The Wall?” But I wasn’t really asking him, I was moving as quickly as I could to the west and the wall.

The path was a clear one and I knew that Andrew’s father had used it many times to head out on his rambles. I had a horrible premonition of danger for my friend and his aunt that was only exacerbated by the gathering darkness.

A thick ground fog was crawling up across the heath again and in moments even the manor house behind me was a mere smudge in the grey evening. Above it the blurred image of the full moon was attempting to push through the mist.

“Andy!” I called but my words were swallowed by the fog. “Answer me!”

There was no reply but a sound, a strange sound drew my attention off to my right. It was a guttural cry of pain.

I started to run.

“Andy!” I called. There was no reply but the grunt sound happened again followed by what I can only liken to a mallet hitting a sack of millet. I knew that sound; a beating was in progress.

I topped a small rise just as there was a break in the fog and the moon illuminated a scene from hell: Andy was on the ground doubled over in a fetal position trying to protect his head. Above him was a sight I had never imagined nor ever hoped to see.

It was indistinct in detail, seeming to rise out of the ground mist like the Phantom is was so named. At first glance it looked like a Lusitano horse. It was a good eighteen hands high.

What was visible in the gathering darkness and the fog was such a horse as I had never seen before.

Its head was somehow deformed, the proportions of the great triangular head not right. The teeth of the monster were not the square ones of a normal horse but looked more like the fangs of a great cat.

What I could see of the haunches of the great beast seemed to have scales that were more that of a fish or snake than of an equine animal. It had a white coat but flame red mane and tail and eyes that reflected crimson in the sliver of moonlight. The equine horror reared back and flailed its fore-hooves at my fallen friend.

“Stop,” I screamed impotently. I started to run faster, flailing my arms wildly as I knew would frighten off any normal wild horse. This, however, was no normal wild horse.

Instead of chasing the equine horror my waving my arms I drew its attention and it focused its fiery eyes on me. It was an eerie feeling for there seemed to be an intelligence behind those red eyes that was well beyond any I had ever seen in any animal. More frightening was that the intelligence seemed to be totally focused on hate. Hate so pure and virulent that it startled me.

Then the horse with the bloody hooves charged straight at me!

Chapter Six:

Out of the Mist

I was so startled by the sudden change of events that for a moment I came to a complete halt. For an infinite moment it felt as if my muscles would not respond to my command to dodge out of the monster’s path. It bore down on me with frightening speed. I felt transfixed by the mythic horror’s lambent eyes and my muscles palsied.

Suddenly life came back to me and I managed to dart to my left to avoid the attack at the last moment. I dove to the turf and rolled behind a hillock as the creature raced past me with the mass and speed of a runaway steam engine.

There was no mistaking that the beast was intelligent in the next moment for it veered when it went past, racing around me to cut off my retreat so I could not go back toward the house. It stood pawing the earth of the path and snorting like one of the riders of the apocalypse, the fog swirling around it as if bubbling up from the pits of hell. It seemed to dare me to try and get past it.

I was on my feet now and managed to angle myself to head toward Andy. He was sprawled on the ground and moaning. I could not run to him directly for the hellish equine whirled again to come after me.

I dodged into a small depression behind another hillock that blocked me from the animal’s view and tried to come up with some plan. I had to either get to Andy to aid him, get to the manor for help or find some way to stop the monstrous misshapen equine myself.

There seemed no reasonable way to get to the manor and no point in getting to Andy if I could not stop the horse so I was forced to accept that a good defense would have to be a good offense.

I picked up two fist-sized rocks and looked around for a high point from which I might be able to leap down upon the demon beast. I heard it moving around the knoll to come for me.

That was when Andy’s moan drew its attention to him again. The beast turned to head for him and I used the distraction to race up the slight rise in the ground till I was above it.

The frightful monster was ten feet from my friend, now in a slow advance, head lowered, fearsome teeth in a snarl. It moved in more like a great cat stalking prey then a horse.

“Here, Neptune!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. The long ears of the monster twitched but it kept its head down, eyes focused on the helpless Andy.

“Do you want to know how Algiwa squealed when I stuck her?” I hurled at the beast with the most vicious tone I could muster. The foul comment got the reaction I wanted and the equine horror snapped its head around to stare at me.

I threw the rock with all my might with my best Cricket toss.

The rock flew true, smashing into the horrid head right between its eyes. The sound was like a solid batsman’s hit, a sharp crack followed by a strange whinny from the beast.

I raised the second rock to throw even as the monstrosity staggered, almost dropping to its right fore knee.

Before I could throw the second stone, and with a cry I could only interpret as a moan, it lopped off into the gathering fog.

I ran to Andy’s side.

“My god, man!” He gasped at me. “What was that?”

“Your past catching up with you, Andrew, old fellow,” I said. I looked to his wounds, which fortunately looked superficial while keeping an eye to the trail where the monster had fled.

“Is it—“

“Gone for the moment,” I said. “But it could lick its wounds and come back any time. Can you walk?”

“I bloody well can run if that thing comes back,” He said with considerable pain in his voice but with the pluck I knew he had. “Let’s go.”

I helped him to his feet and half-carried, half-dragged him back down the path to the manor house. I kept the second rock in my hand the entire walk but the beast did not make a reappearance.

By the time we reached the manor house Andy was all but unconscious and I was actually carrying him. I kicked the door and yelled until it was opened.

“Master Andrew!” The butler was beside himself when he saw the state of my friend and lost all of his professional demeanor. I had to order him sharply to get him moving to help carrying Andy to the parlor where we set him on the divan. I began to open Andy’s jacket to assess the extent of his injuries.

Like a good cavalryman my friend had protected his head fairly well from the attack, but his ribs and back were already showing bruises and I feared internal injury.

“Bring some wash clothes and some hot water for me to clean these wounds.” A maid ran off to comply. I grabbed a brandy bottle and poured a small glass that I induced Andy to drink. I ordered the butler. “Call for the physician.”

“Someone will have to ride for the doctor,” the now calmer Roland said. “We have none of the new phones.”

“Send them then,” I said. Despite no obviously or bloody wounds on his head I was sure Andy had sustained some head blows as he was slipping in and out of consciousness now. “I can deal with the superficial cuts, but this will require more care than I can give.”

“What is the commotion?” Athelstan Gaunt called as he and his wife came running, from two different wings of the house.

“Andrew! “The woman exclaimed when she saw her nephew. “What in heaven’s name happened?” His aunt asked. She was in a dressing gown, her hair all-askew. She knelt by the head of the divan and cradled Andy’s head in her hands.

I was washing some of the open wounds on Andy’s chest and looked up to answer her but stopped when I saw her husband. The solicitor was in a smoking jacket and fez, but what caught my attention was a large red knot on his forehead.

“What happened to you?” I blurted out.

He looked at me oddly then touched the bump on his forehead. “Uh—a book fell from a shelf. Nuisance, but nothing of concern.”

I was about to say something when the front doorbell chimed.

I went back to Andy’s wounds without any more comment and was so occupied when a commotion at the front door, followed by a booming, familiar voice.

I looked up to see the Guv—Doctor Augustus Argent step into the foyer of the manor. He was wearing an Inverness coat, holding a Gladstone bag in one hand and had, what appeared to be a rolled up Persian carpet slung over one shoulder. He was sans cap and his long white hair was a tangle as if wind blown.

“Well, Jack,” he said when he saw what I was doing. “I seem to have come at exactly the opportune moment!”

Chapter Seven:

House Call

I must have looked more than a little stunned to see my mentor standing there.

“Doctor Argent?” I blurted out with idiot certainty. “How—I mean—You were in London—”

“Doctor?” Athelstan said. “Are you a medical doctor, sir?”

“Among other things,” the Silver Fox said as he strode into the room. He handed the rolled carpet to the butler. “Do keep my trusty steed for me.” He said then moved to kneel beside Andy’s head, a look of concern on his face.

“You’ve made a good start, Jack, but there is a bit to do here. You can tell me exactly what happened as I work.” He looked up to the still startled Roland. “Fetch me hot water, some honey and several large bowls.” After he issued the orders the Doctor removed his Inverness coat and jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

The butler did as asked after handing off the rolled carpet to the gardener, glad, I suspect, to be away from the piercing gaze of the Silver Fox.

I gave a concise summery of what had happened to Andy while my mentor examined his wounds in great detail.

“Who is this man, Captain Stone?” Mrs. Gaunt asked me in a shaky voice. She stood by with her husband in an apparent state of shock.

“The man who will save this young man if I am not interrupted, Madam,” Doctor Argent said briskly. He opened his Gladstone and proceeded to remove several vials and set them on the table beside the divan.

Athelstan was about to object to the brusk tone of the silver haired mage but I held up a hand.

“Doctor Argent is attached to the Home Office,” I said. “And is very well versed in matters such as this.” I stood and escorted the couple out of the parlor. “I promise he will only help, Mistress Gaunt, but we must let him do his work.”

I met the maid returning with the supplies Doctor Argent had requested and brought them in to him.

“How is he?” I asked.

“Fine, Jack,” the silver haired mage said with a slight smile. “He is strong and you did a good job cleaning the wounds. Now we will let the honey and these powders do the rest.”

He proceeded to smear honey into the open wounds and drop some powder onto the edges before bandaging them. When he saw my questioning look he said. “The Egyptians used honey to prevent wounds like these from putrefying and it helps them heal faster—as do these powders.”

He mixed some more powders in the bowl I’d brought and made a sort of broth to give to Andy to sip. “And this will help heal him on the inside.” While he worked the silver haired Doctor chanted under his breath in a language I could not identify but had the weight of age in its syllables.

I watched as Andy settled back on the divan with a calm expression on his face and listened as his breathing evened and deepened. He seemed at peace.

“He needs rest now,” the Doctor said as he rose. He rolled his sleeves down and took up his jacket. “Though I would prefer someone watch him; if there is any change I should be summoned.” For the first time I could see that behind his mask of vitality my mentor was tired. “I need some rest myself,” he admitted.

“I will see a servant watches over him,” I promised. “Come. We will get you a room.” As we turned to leave he picked up his Gladstone bag then indicated the rolled rug. “Do take my steed with you.”

“You said that before,” I said. “Do you mean—?”

“How else do you think I made it up here from London so quickly?’ He smiled. “A little something I picked up in Arabia some decades ago; but seldom have occasion to use.” He shrugged, “ I don’t really like heights.”

Amazed at his confession I led him out into the hall and sent a serving girl to keep watch over her master.

“How is he?” Lady Gaunt asked.

“As well as could be expected,” Doctor Argent said. “He is strong and young and will recover fully.”

“Thank God!” Athelstan exclaimed.

“But what does it all mean?” The lady asked.

“That is the dark question here,’ Argent said. “I feel there are no answers yet, however. Certainly not tonight. Better to discuss the shadows in the daylight.” With that he turned to the butler, all but dismissing our hosts and said, “Please show me to a room and draw me a bath. I feel I need it.”

He led the confused butler up the stair while the Gaunts fumed and I did my best to sooth them with, “The Guv is a little unorthodox, ma’am, but he is the right man to clear this all up, the curse and all. Just bear with him.”

They were about to question me but I shouldered Doctor Argent’s flying carpet and headed up the stairs to my own room.

I could almost hear the silence behind me as I ascended, and I must say, that though I felt their confusion-bred annoyance I had such confidence in the Guv and his abilities I knew that any rudeness would be forgiven when the whole of the story came out.

When I reached the Guv’s room I knocked and then brought in the carpet at his call of, “Enter, Jack!”

The Doctor was stripped to his waist and just donning a robe as I entered. His musculature was symmetrical and wiry with no fat at all. “Just set the carpet over there,” he indicated a chair.

“Just what is it all about, Doctor?” I asked. “You were a bit short with them downstairs, sir, if I might say. More so than usual.”

He gave a short laugh. “Well, yes. Downright rude I’d say.”

“Indeed, sir,” I said, actually relieved he was aware of his abruptness.

“There was a reason,” He said.

“I am relieved to knew that sir, though I suspected as much. But why?”

“This curse is a deeply imbedded terror, Jack,” he said. “And I think it better, for this night at least, for the Gaunts to be annoyed at me than fearing the lurking curse.”

“What is to be done?”

The silver haired mage shrugged. “I do not know yet; I will investigate in the daylight, meditate and we will see.”

He walked out with me to head to the bathroom stopping to add, “You did right to call me; your friend Andrew was lucky you came with him. More will be discovered in the morning. Now get some rest.”

Chapter Eight:

Horror on the Heath

In the morning the heath outside of the manor house was no more cheerful than it had been the night before. A low, dense fog crawled along the hollows, lit by the rising sun it glowed a blue-white.

I was looking at it form the window of the breakfast room, casting my eyes in the direction of the Wall when Mrs. Gaunt and her husband entered. Both were more composed by a night of sleep, but still a bit on edge.

“I just checked on Andrew,” I said before either spoke. “He is resting comfortably and in a natural sleep.” Both visibly relaxed. “Doctor Argent looked in on him before I did and pronounced him well on the mend, but it is best we let him rest.”

“Where is this Doctor of yours?” Athelstan asked.

All three took their seats at the table as the servants began to bring in the food.

“The Guv is out for a morning constitutional,” I said as I buttered a scone. “He likes to start the day off with it to clear his head.”

“Well I wish you would clear the air,” the solicitor. “Just what steps are you and this—Doctor fellow—doing to find out what happened to Andrew?”

Before I could answer the Silver Fox strode into the room like a stalking lion, his long white hair streaming behind him. He eschewed a starched collar on his white shirt and was wearing an old style long blue jacket, gold waistcoat and green trousers. His whole image was of a swashbuckling figure that might have stepped out of an American Penny Dreadful.

“’Morning, all!” Doctor Argent said as he took a place at the table. He was so vital and energetic that the room seemed to brighten. All conversation halted while we ate, inspired, in part, by his great delight in the consumption.

“Doctor,” Mrs. Gaunt said after a bit, “I—uh—about my nephew—“

“Young Lord Granville is resting naturally, madam,” Argent said in a calm, confident voice. “I would suggest he do so most of the day to be sure he is well past any crisis.”

“What are you doing about the Stallion?” Andy’s aunt asked.

“Investigating, madam,” the Guv said. “Directly after breakfast Jack and I shall venture to look over where the attack occurred.”

“But—Andrew is vulnerable.” She insisted.

“He is safe in this house, certainly during daylight,” Doctor Argent said. “By dark we will formulate a plan.”

True to his word after breakfast the Guv and I walked out to the heath—he insisted on walking that we might survey the ground of both attacks.

He moved along slowly, his eyes glued to the terrain like a red Indian, which only increased his resemblance to one of the American Dime novel heroes. Occasionally he would stoop the touch or even sniff the ground.

When he had seen where the old Lord had died we went to the sight of the attack on Andy. After he prowled about for a while he stood, brushed dirt off his trousers and looked at me with intense eyes.

“I know why the attacks occurred when they did now, Jack.” He said, “And it is all the more important that we keep young Granville off the heath this night.”

“What have you found, sir?”

He looked across the dun colored landscape toward the remnants of the wall and kept me in suspense for a while then said simply, “Would it not be most interesting if Neptunus equestris, as he is connected to the sea, were not connected to the tides?”

I was about to ask him what he meant but he turned on his heels and headed back to the manor without filling me in on his plans. It wasn’t so unusual, he had done it before, but it was no less frustrating for its familiarity.

◊ ◊ ◊

Andy improved markedly during the day though the Doctor and his Aunt both agreed that he should stay in his room to continue to recover. He bridled at that, but I kept him occupied with chess and conversation when he had strength enough and was able to let him rest when he did not.

By Dinnertime the sun was setting and the fall mist was crawling along the hollows of the countryside, given eerie sentience by a low moon.

The Gaunt’s were already seated at the table when I burst into the room.

“Andy’s gone!” I yelled.

“What?” Athelstan blurted out. “What do you mean, gone?” He leapt to his feet.

“When I went to his room just now he was not there. I asked the servants and they—there!” I pointed out the window. “On the path to the heath!”

They looked and we could all just see Andrew’s dress jacket disappearing over a hill into the fog.

“Oh my goodness!”  Mrs. Gaunt exclaimed. “What is he thinking!”

“We have to stop him!” I yelled as I raced from the room and out of the manor house. The two of them followed.

The fog was so thick now that the moment we were in it the path all but disappeared ahead of us and we were forced to retard out steps to less than a full run.

“I can’t see the bloody pathway,” Athelstan said after a few minutes.

“We have to find him,” I said with urgency when we reached a point in the trail where it could have gone a number of ways. “We should split up.”

The other two reluctantly agreed and headed off into the deep dark.

“Andrew!” Mrs. Gaunt yelled.

“Andrew!” Athelstan called in echo.

The sound of both their voices were muffled in the enveloping mist and soon I was as alone in the fog as if I were on the dark side of the moon.

I was forced to proceed slowly, at little more than a walk, by the enveloping miasma which allowed little of the gibbous moon’s light for vision.

A few minutes of this and I came to a deep hollow where the fog seemed more solid than liquid and across which I could see the bright red of Andrew’s jacket.

“Andrew!” I called out.

“Here!” a harsh, whispered voice came back.

Just then a nightmare figure exploded out of the fog and galloped toward the jacket; the Phantom Stallion!

The hideous beast, barely visible in the gloom, rocketed toward the slash of red and proceeded to rear and strike, slamming down with the front hooves in a viscous and calculated attack.

I pulled my Webley, took deliberate aim and squeezed off three shots.

There was a hellacious caterwauling, a scream from the dark realms themselves that emanated from the throat of the beast and the creature wheeled. It raced off into the fog as I ran down toward the sight of the attack.

The jacket, torn to shreds was stomped into the ground and it was clear it had been hanging on a bush, an effective decoy for the Phantom. Of its wearer, there was no sign.

Just then I heard something else that changed everything.

“Captain Stone?” It was the voice of Andy’s Aunt Gloria! Her voice sounded strained and full of fear. “Help me!”

Epilogue:

By the Wall

“Where are you?” I called as I ran toward where I thought she was calling from. I rounded a clump of gorse to see her kneeling in the middle of a small clearing looking desperately around her.

“Help me!” she said again. I looked around for any sign of the deadly phantom animal.

“Did you see the beast?’ I asked scanned the area around her.

“I was looking for Andrew and—and—“ she whimpered, “ and then out of nowhere the beast charged me.” She started to sob, “Andrew is he—me -“ She broke down completely, here shoulders jumping violently.

I saw no sign of the demon horse and so raced over to her. “We have to get you to high ground,” I said, still looking around. “I’ll hide you and then see if he is alright.”

I got about a yard from the noble woman when suddenly she stopped crying and looked up at me with a hideous grin on her face. There was something horribly familiar in her expression.

“You fool!” she said. “You are all just as gullible as the Romans were.”

I knew then where I had seen that expression; it was exactly the same I had seen in my time travel transportation into the past on the woman who began the Granville curse.

I started to back away from the mad light in her eyes but Mrs. Gaunt sprang to her feet and knocked the pistol from my hand, sending it skittering off into the gloom of the fog.

“Mrs. Gaunt,” I yelled, “You have to stop, now. I know your secret!”

The woman ignored my statement and stepped back, stood up tall and began to change. As I stared unbelievingly at her, the woman’s body began to warp and twist, her neck growing longer, her head widening. Her clothes became absorbed into her body that grew in width and height so that in less than a dozen eye blinks her whole body changed and grew, swelling to massive proportions until she had become the demon horse I had seen earlier.

The Phantom Stallion was, in fact, a Phantom Mare!

Before I could react the devil beast launched at me with a whinnying snarl. I back-pedaled and threw up my left arm in shock. The beast’s large teeth sinking into my upraised arm before I could strike out with my right fist to smash her on the nose. She released me with a snort and I ran back around the clump of gorse.

The bite was not really such a ‘little thing’—it was deep and was bleeding quite a bit. I did my best to ignore it as the transformed woman called to me.

“Give up, Captain,” Gloria Gaunt called, “You can not escape me or the curse. Not now.”

“Why?” I called out, “Why betray your brother and all the other deaths?”

The demonic laugh that came out of the fog was part human—part animal—almost a whinny. “I have been born and reborn through the generations of the Granville family; I have always been the child of Elgiue.” Her voice came from the darkness all around me and I could not get a read on where the monster was.

“I have not always been born in each generation, it is true,” she added, “and sometimes the men died from war or other things, but mostly, I waited until the were in the fullness of their lives than I took it from them.”

She sounded closer, almost on top of me. I stooped and seized a rock, holding it tightly preparing to launch it at any target that presented itself.

“I will stop you,” I called out. “If it is my last breath I will stop you.”

“I have heard that before,” she said. “But the truth is, when I finish with you I will return to my fallen nephew and will end the line of the Granvilles once and for all.”

My pulse raced, my heart pumped rapidly and my breath came in ragged, shallow gulps. The fog muffled all sounds so I could not tell where she was.

“You are wrong there,” I called. “Andrew is still resting quietly in his bed.”

I heard an intake of breath from the Phantom. “What? But I saw—“

“You saw me leaving the manor house,” Doctor Argent, in shirt sleeves, said as he stepped out of the fog. “Jack moved his friend to his own room and I wore your nephew’s jacket to lead you and your husband out here to the heath.”

“How did you know?” She said.

“I suspected,” the Silver Fox said. He stepped up to beside me and placed a hand on my shoulder to reassure me. “I discovered that the hoof prints on the heath appeared to end abruptly to be replaced by human ones and I took note of the influence of the moon on the tides. Such lunar transformations are not unknown to me. I just was not sure if it was you or your husband.”

“It makes no difference,” the transformed woman called. “I will slay you then return to the house and wait for the next moon cycle. Or the next. I have waited long, hiding in the souls of the unsuspecting females of this line. But Andrew is the last. Then my soul can sleep when this body dies and my revenge will be complete.

Abruptly the massive head of the equine horror appeared out of the mist and came straight for the two of us.

The Guv and I dove to either side as the shadow beast raced between us, carried past by its own momentum.

Close up the fishy-scaled hide of the creature was even more unearthly than at a distance, as it shone iridescent in the pale moonlight. It gave off the faint scent of the sea, salty and ancient as it flew by.

I rolled to my feet and turned before the beast had managed to whirl about preparing to charge again.

Across from me I observed that Doctor Argent had removed a small object from his shirt pocket. It was a small piece of lead the size of a dinner cracker. He also produced an iron nail and, after scratching something on the lead, placed the small metal I had found on the heath near the wall on top of it.

The Phantom Mare saw the Guv’s action and gave a cry that was a banshee wail that might have been of hate or fear. Then she charged.

This time I was ready for her attack. As she charged straight for Doctor Argent I raced up a small rise of land and launched myself into the air.

I flew at her and sprang up to slam the rock between the monster’s eyes with the full force of my whole body before landing beyond her and rolling to my feet. It was hard enough to stagger the beast.

I spun about and pressed the attack, smashing at the same spot on the stumbling beast’s head a second time.

The beast dropped to its knees, dazed.

“We will destroy you, monster,” I said with pride. ”We will!”

The creature that had been Madam Gaunt changed again, her transformation back to her human form as quick as before but this time with a great sound much like the tearing of clothe.

There was a vibration in the air as well that I felt deep down in my gut and a humming like a hundred wasps.

I looked from her kneeling form to see the Guv driving the nail through the metal and the square of lead and dropping both into a hole in the ground. He kicked dirt on them and stamped hard with his foot.

The transformed woman screamed an inhuman yell, shaking so violently it was if she was having a seizure.

I was torn between the desire to race to her and help and turn away in horror.

The seizure suddenly stopped and the Phantom Mare seemed to rise out of the woman, a ghostly figure like a magic lantern slide, and, with a great rush of wind, flew up into the heavens to disappear.

Mrs. Gaunt slumped onto one arm and fell forward as if life was draining from her.

“Jack!” Doctor Argent called to startle me out of my shock.

I ran to the woman and caught her up in my arms. Her skin was cold to the touch, her eyes fluttering at the edge of consciousness.

“Is she dying, Doctor?” I asked him.

He knelt beside her and produced a handkerchief to wipe her clammy brow. “No, my friend, she is, indeed just beginning to live free of that demonic presence that has hidden within her her whole life.”

“How did you get rid of it, sir?”

“The Roman way,” he said. “I needed to now which name to inscribe on the lead square, which is why we conducted this little ruse. But once I did know it, I drove the nail through it and the medallion you found, calling on the ancient gods to let what had been done already to be justice enough for the dead girl Algiwa. Cold iron, you know. Once I did, as you saw, they accepted my supplication and the curse was lifted.”

Just then Athelstan came lumbering out of the fog, saw his wife and raced to her.

She opened her eyes as he reached us. “What happened?” She said. “I-I remember some things, but—it is like a nightmare.”

“Soon it will be dream, Madam,” Doctor Argent said. “But even that in time will fade. Just take heart in the fact that the Curse of the Stallion is done.”

“So Andy is safe now?” I asked him.

“Yes,” the Guv said. “And so will be future generations of the Granvilles.”

“Then, would you make one of those little medallion things up for my protection, sir?”

“Why, Jack?”

“Because I will need some protection when I tell Andy we ruined his dress jacket—it was his favorite.”
The End