To get you ready for my upcoming delve into Maudit, Louisiana, I present to you the first Detective MacKenzie story. There are two such stories in existence but here is where it started. (Personally, I think I like the 2nd better, though it could be faulty memory)
Does the character change in the stories? Probably. It's been an age since I wrote them. Still, I'm hoping you may come to like him, especially as you'll be seeing more of him this year.
Note: This story is bloody and Lovecraftian. You have been warned.
Except for the bare facts of the case, none of what I’m about to write will end up in the official case file. No one would believe the truth and why should they? In our age of light and technology, the monster in the dark isn’t real; only the monster next door concerns us. We’ve forgotten there is more to fear than our fellow many. Sometimes you have to look beyond the person to the being pulling the strings.
The case started when the body of the honorable Judge Wesley Marsh was found in a very dishonorable way. His broken bloody body lay splattered on the ground next to a rundown apartment complex in an even more rundown part of town. I caught the case, despite the fact I had to drop the burglary investigation I was working on. Maudit, Louisiana isn't a big place and there were only a few investigators. Having more than one active case isn't unusual. What was unusual was I wasn't next on the list to pull a case.
I didn't get to argue though. The order to investigate came straight from my Lieutenant. I had been brought into his office, given the judge’s name and told not to mention the details to anyone, not even the other detectives.
“Why the secrecy?” I asked. “And why me? Danton is next up to pull a case.”
“The chief asked for you personally.” Lieutenant Garrison told me. He spread his hands, palm up to show he had no more information. “I only know we're supposed to keep this out of the media until we have more to go on. I was told to send you straight out after informing you about keeping this case to yourself.”
I wanted to ask more, like why Maudit's Chief of Police asked for me. Though I love bragging, I was not the best detective Maudit had. I wasn't the worst, but if I had to handpick a detective to investigate the mysterious death of a local legend, I would not have picked me in a million years.
I arrived at the scene, surprised at how small a crew was there. I saw only three officials on the street. One was a uniformed officer talking to two twenty something year old kids. The others were crime scene investigators I didn't recognize. One was talking pictures while the other was working on the body.
My walk towards the officer was slow. I was trying to take the whole scene in, from the deserted street to the crumbling buildings around it. Since it was so late, I thought it better to talk to the possible witnesses so they could go home. I doubted they knew much.
“Detective MacKenzie.” Officer Daigle nodded in greeting. We had been on other scenes together. I knew he was one of the best. Probably a better detective than I was, but he hadn't been on the force long enough to get that badge. “I’ve just finished taking their statement, but if you want to talk to these two, go ahead.”
As I approached the two kids I made mental notes about them. I estimated the guy was about 25 with the girl being within one to two years of him. While he was very buttoned up with neatly combed hair, she was his opposite. Her purple and black streaked hair fell in layered clumps over her too tight t-shirt and jeans combo. He had comfortable looking sneakers on, she had heeled boots. She clutched a thick worn book while he had a small laptop case under his arm. The differences were stark.
“We’ll try to make this quick so you can head home.” I told them. “Just repeat to me what you told the officer.”
“Well, we were walking home from the writing group and we saw this guy laying there.” The girl spoke quickly and ran out of breath. She looked to the guy for reassurance.
“My name is Andre LeBlanc and this is my girlfriend Sheila Bergeron.” He started over, knowing I'd have to have the information. “Every other weekend we get together with a group of friends. Supposedly we write, but mostly we do it as an excuse to talk and visit. Complain about writing more than doing it.”
Andre paused and stared towards the two crime scene techs.
“We live about two blocks from here on Trent Street.” He continued. “We were nearly home when Sheila saw something in the road. She stopped to check it out and I noticed the guy in the road. We went over, saw he was dead and then called the cops. We didn’t see him jump or fall or hear anything.”
“What time did you call it in?” I asked.
“Not sure exactly.” Andre said. “I think we’ve been here about half an hour. This officer got here about five or so minutes after we called.”
“We left the coffee shop at ten.” Sheila volunteered as she clutched her book tighter to her chest. “It’s half a mile from here.”
I nodded and made quick notes. For some reason an old scar on my side began to tighten. I felt uncomfortable being near the two witnesses.
“Thank you both.” I said to them, wanting for some sudden reason to get away from them. “The officer has the names of those you were with tonight?”
The kids nodded in unison.
“Okay, talk to the officer and he’ll be sure you get home safely.”
“We’d rather just finish walking.” Andre said. “We don’t live far and I think we’ve seen enough cops for tonight. They have all our information if you need to contact us, but we really don’t know anything else.”
I left them in the officer’s keep and walked towards the body. From the angle I approached, it looked as though they had covered the judge's body with a black sheet. I assumed they covered him from keeping any passersby from noticing just who was lying in the streets. Photos and evidence were still being collected in the vicinity. There weren’t many streetlights working, so the crime scene technicians had set up lights. Even those were kept to a minimum, probably so the apartment gawkers couldn’t see exactly what was splattered on the road.
You don’t often see inclusive apartment buildings in southwest Louisiana, at least not in the smaller cities like Maudit. The one in front of me was more or less a seven story brick hovel. It was shoddily built not too many years ago, though the thing looked ancient. A place to keep the poor who couldn’t afford to rent one of the shoddier houses nearby.
I did a quick estimation as to which of the many windows would be the jump site. From the faces trying to surreptitiously peer through darkened windows and the movement behind the only lit and shattered window on the highest floor, I easily figured out the police had found the right room. The tent was the only thing keeping the peepers from looking down on the crime scene.
I turned my attention to the guest of the evening. One tech was already kneeling as close as he could to the corpse without getting in the blood and spatter from the late Judge Marsh. I also saw my first impression had been wrong. The judge hadn't been covered. His judge robe had lifted up, covering his head. His lower half no longer had the protection of covering and gave me quite an eyeful. Except for the robe, the judge had no other clothing on. I noticed he was also missing large chunks of skin.
I'd been to many crime scenes in my life and seen just how horrible one human could be to another. Whatever happened to the judge was something I had hoped never to see in real life.
When I flashed my badge to the kneeling blonde tech, he moved the judge's robe so I could get a better look at what was left of the head.
It was clear he had fallen with his back to the ground, which was how he landed. The back of his head was now flattened, or rather, exploded, much like a melon would be if dropped from a great height. That bothered me.
“The window up there.” I asked as I pointed. “That apartment was the jump spot?”
The techs looked at me as if I were speaking Chinese.
“We don't know.” The dark haired tech with the camera said after a few seconds of silence. “We're just here to take pictures and samples. Once you're done here, we're supposed to take the body away for an autopsy.”
“Are you two from this parish?” I asked. Maudit was too small to have its own crime lab and shared resources with the nearest bigger city that could handle the caseload. I'd worked with a few and never met either of these guys.
“No, we were called into this case.” The blonde tech said.
“What are your names?” I had an uneasy feeling about the case. The presence of these two guys, coupled with the utter secrecy of the case made an old injury on my right side flare with pain I knew only existed in my memory. I rubbed it, trying not to let the techs see my uneasiness.
“Our names aren't important to you.” The blonde said. “We'll give our findings straight to the chief and he'll give them to you.”
“I'm lead investigator on this case.” I stood straighter as I said this, but I didn't feel the bravado. “If I have questions or want to attend the autopsy, I need to know who I'm working with.”
“You won't be at the autopsy.” Dark hair jumped in. “And any questions you have for us will be directed towards the chief. If he thinks it's a question worth asking, he'll get in touch with us.”
“Not the name on our checks when payday comes around.” Said the finished the dark haired.
“So, if you're done with the body, we need to get it out of here before someone recognizes it.” Blonde said. “It's bad enough we'll have to pry parts of him up with a spatula. We don't need you gawking when there's real work you could be doing somewhere else.
I wanted to say something cutting, but couldn't think of anything. I didn't know what was going on and with every second that passed, I was liking it less and less. Something about the scene didn't add up.
The judge hadn't jumped from whichever floor he came from, that much was obvious. The force of impact was more like he was thrown. The judge's overweight frame would take someone inhumanly strong to throw him. No person I could name had that kind of strength.
What also bothered me was the strips of skin that had been torn away from his body. It made that scar ache even more.
“Was he still alive when the skin came off?” I asked, hoping the techs would deign to at least answer any of my preliminary questions.
“Very much so.” Blonde said. “All of his injuries happened before the fall. We'll have to wait until we get his back to discover cause of death.”
“The fall didn't kill him?” I asked, wondering too late if they would answer another question after I had just asked in so sarcastic a tone.
“We don't know.” Blonde retorted with the same sarcasm. “He had skin stripped away and there's evidence of a stab wound. We won't know until we get him in the lab what actually killed him.”
The dark haired tech stood up, taking a sample swab and placing it in a tube before sealing it.
“We also want to take the girl at the same time we take him.” He said. “So hurry up and go look at her so we can get out of here.”
I could only stare at the tech. There were questions I wanted to ask, but the words wouldn't form into complete sentences.
“Dead girl, 7th floor, chief is waiting.” The dark haired tech waved towards the apartment building. “Hurry.”
I took a step back and looked at the building. The Lieutenant had said nothing about a second victim. Why wasn't she mentioned before now?
The techs kept glaring angrily at me, so I decided to try to get answers elsewhere. There really wasn't anything else I could get from the judge's body . The more I looked at it, the more questions I had and the more my side hurt. I hoped seeing the next victim would offer me relief from the techs and from the growing pain.
When I entered the building, the smell of decay hit almost immediately. The smells of dirt and mold were thick inside the closed up entrance way. By the look of the tile floor, I could tell no one had attempted to sweep or mop in a long time.
I headed up the stairs towards the seventh floor. Eyes peered from behind half closed doors, but no one ventured forth to talk to me. Knowing what I’d been told about secrecy, I wasn’t sure if I’d even get to question the neighbors.
Chief Williams was waiting for me outside the entrance to the seventh floor. The air was colder up here, as if a constant draft was coming through.
“Nice to see you again, Mackenzie.” Williams offered his hand for me to shake.
I nodded towards the drop sheet area ahead of us but didn’t take his hand. I showed him the gloves I had donned on the walk up.
“Is the girl in there?” I asked. My uneasiness was growing worse. I didn’t know what was causing it, but the whole scene was stirring up childhood memories I’d rather forget.
The chief blocked my way.
“She is.” He studied me for a moment. “She’s a local. Twenty-one year old college student. Her name is Theresa Jermyn.”
I showed surprise at the name.
“You know her?” Williams asked.
“I know the family name.” I admitted, rubbing the ache on my side.
“And Judge Marsh’s as well?” He asked.
“Who doesn’t know the judge around here?” I tried to smile, but felt sick.
“The scene is there is unusual for many.” Williams ignored my comment to continue. “But I’ve read up on you. I think you might know more about it than others. It might seem familiar to you, seem a bit like something you may have seen up north.”
I didn’t speak, but simply waited for the chief to continue. I wasn’t surprised he knew I was born and raised in Massachusetts, but I was surprised he knew that should mean something. It made me distrust him on instinct alone.
“Your name is not unfamiliar to me.” The chief smiled kindly. “I know your family history makes you the only detective qualified to take this case.”
The chief turned away and started walking down the hallway. He held the plastic sheeting aside and waited for me to pass. I could see a door open, light spilling into the hall. A mixture of blood and decay greeted my nose. I prayed the smell was from the same source.
The room itself was in much better condition than I could assume any of the others were. It was richly decorated in ancient artifacts, macabre paintings, well stuffed book shelves and thick tapestries. Many of the decorations were familiar to me. I had seen such arcane trappings on many visits to Miskatonic University I made with my parents. Some even looked similar to those my parents kept in their own house.
I gave one painting a closer look. The image seemed to move under my gaze, but I assured myself it was only the lighting. In the painting, a beast unlike any imagine before, stood over the prostrate form of a woman. The creature had too many eyes in the wrong places and tentacles encircling what may have been his head.
“It’s an original Ardois-Bonnot.” The chief said conversationally. His tone suggested we were in an art gallery instead of at a crime scene.
“Where’s the girl?” I pulled my eyes away from the scene. I was already queasy and that didn’t help.
“She’s attached to the crucifix.” The chief pointed to middle of the room.
To say I had missed her was an understatement. On an elaborate built up altar, a Y-shaped crucifix had been erected. There were so many odd things in the room, I had taken for granted that the pale form was real.
The girl was naked, her dark head drooped down. As I walked closer I could see her ankles and wrists were nailed to the wood then bound around to keep her weight from tearing the flesh.
Below her was a very large black bowl. It took me no time at all to realize the bowl was only black from constant blood applications. It was nearly full now of the clotted stuff. I carefully pushed back the girl’s head to see the large cut across her throat. Her dark brown eyes were open wide in horror. I wasn’t entirely sure the horror had come from her death.
“There are some parts of Louisiana that hold as many secrets as the shadows of Meadow Hill or the halls of Miskatonic.” The chief said softly.
“Or the shores of Innsmouth.” I replied.
“Ah, you were on that case two years ago, weren’t you?” The chief asked. “You’re referring to the body washed ashore by the hurricane. Ever seen that kind of thing before?”
I didn’t answer the question. I was fighting too hard not letting the term ‘fishmen’ come to mind. I tried not to think of the derelict fishing villages my father took me to once.
I turned away from the dead girl to where she would have been looking. Directly across from the altar was a tall standing mirror. The surface was completely black and seemed to suck in light instead of reflecting it back. It was from here the stench of rot was strongest. I scanned the rest of the room until a white glint caught my eye.
Near the shattered window the judge had gone through, a very crude weapon lay on the thick green carpet. I knelt next to it, examining it. I didn’t want to pick it up but I had no choice. It looked to be a thick rib bone, though I couldn’t tell you what creature it had come from. It was nearly the full length of my arm and nearly as thick. I was surprised by its lightness though. It felt hollow, but one look at the broken tip showed it to be very solid bone.
Blood, much of it too old to be from our victim, stained the bone and its strange handle wrapping which was unlike any animal leather you could buy on the market. Sigils and signs ran the length of it and seemed to squirm before my eyes. Like the painting, I told myself it was simply a trick of the light. I felt dirty holding it and quickly put it back on the floor.
“That’ll have to be bagged.” I said just to have something to say. “But I can tell you that’s the weapon used to murder the girl and probably cause the stab wound on the judge.”
I stared around the room, breathing hard. My side hurt so much I could barely stand. I wanted out and knew the only way to get there was to find out what I was doing there in the first place.
“You’ve told me why you picked me for this.” I said, staring not at the chief, but out shattered window frame, carefully avoiding glancing down. “What I want to know is what you expect me to do about it.”
“I want to know what went on here.” The chief said. “I want to understand what went wrong and why so many are dead.”
“You agree that the judge murdered the Jermyn girl?” I asked, still looking out. “And that he did it while trying to perform some cultist ritual?”
“I do.” The chief said. “And I don’t expect you to cover that up. We’re not here to protect Marsh from what he did. I don’t care if you ruin his name by reporting he killed the girl or for what sick purpose. What I want to know, is like I said before, what went wrong. Why is Marsh dead too?”
“Once I find that answer, will it go in the official report too?” I now turned to judge his reaction.
“That depends on what the answer is.” The chief studied me back. “And on if anyone would believe it.”
I looked back to the girl and the black mirror. Something had seemed wrong to me and it only just struck me what it was.
“The book’s missing.” I said, more to myself than the chief.
Williams glanced around too, looking puzzled and very worried.
“Marsh was performing a ritual.” I continued. “A very old one and he’d need a very old grimoire to perform it.”
Without another word I did a thorough search of the room and its many books. Some were new, some were old, most were in languages I wasn’t fluent in, but all had the same themes. Marsh had been heavily into occult studies and it showed. The one book I knew he’d need wasn’t around.
“Could the book have been stolen?” Williams asked from his spot still near the window.
I shook my head and walked towards him. A thought had occurred to me, one I didn’t like.
“If I’m right, Marsh had that damned thing in his hand when he fell.” I said. “I just hope it’s still there.”
Williams followed close as I ran down the stairs towards the street. On the way, I nearly knocked the blonde tech down, something that gave me deep pleasure.
The street looked deserted. Not even a stain remained where the judge had met his demise.
“Look for a thick leather bound book.” I told him, trying to judge the trajectories of the fall. “It should be a dark…”
I let my voice trail off as my mind seized upon an idea. This was my night for thinking of unpleasant things a little too late.
We were nearly home when Sheila saw something in the road. She stopped to check it out.
One of the two witnesses had been carrying a thick book when I interviewed her. It would be perfectly natural for someone who liked writing to stop and pick up a stray book. She probably had forgotten she had it when they saw the dead body on the pavement.
I raced towards Trent Street. Two blocks later, I stopped dead. Police and emergency vehicles were clustered towards the very end of the road around what looked like project houses. My hunch had been right.
I walked, my hurry now gone, towards the flashing lights. Once I got there, I flashed my badge to the nearest officer and asked what happened.
“Domestic dispute gone wrong, I guess.” The small woman shrugged. “Seems the girlfriend went crazy, killed her boyfriend, then tried to kill herself. It’s awful. All gutted like that on the bed.”
I moved away before she could ask me any questions. I had no reason to be at the scene and as long as no one questioned my presence, I could get the book before it fell into the wrong hands.
It took two more flashes of my badge to get me into the house. The amount of blood that greeted me was worse than the original crime scene. There was no rotten odor and for that I was thankful.
EMTs were working on what was left of Sheila. There were cuts all over her body, some so deep I could see bone. Part of her intestine was being set back into her stomach as I watched. From the look of the room, it seemed she had been spinning as she bled. Blood was spattered across the entire living room. Their small television, two pieces of unmatched furniture and cheap end tables had a fine spray.
I walked deeper into the house, looking for the bedroom. It wasn’t too hard to find. There was already a crime scene photographer snapping away. He looked up briefly before continuing to take pictures.
“Didn’t know you were called out on this.” He said as he snapped another photo. Chris Haster was a familiar to me.
I looked at the figure on the bed. Gone was the comfortable buttoned up student I had seen earlier. Andre had been gutted from throat to lower stomach in one long line before Sheila had radiated the cuts out to encompass his arms and legs. Only his face remained unmarked except for the coating of blood.
“MacKenzie, not even going to talk to me today?” Chris asked. His tone proved he wasn’t in the least bit worried by the body in the room. “Is it about that twenty I owe you from our Superbowl bet?”
I continued to search the room, more with my gut than my eyes. I knew the book was in there, I just couldn’t see it.
“Something wrong there Sunshine?” Chris never paused taking pictures.
I finally spotted the book but wasn’t sure how to get it with Haster in the room.
“Did you already get photos of the girl?” I asked him, trying to sound like I was supposed to be there.
“She’s not dead.” He said, finally lowering his camera to give me an odd look. “We don’t usually take photos of the criminal unless we find them dead.”
“Well, what about the living room?” I asked. “I’m sure the EMTs have taken her out by now.”
“What the hell, Phillip?” Haster took a step toward me but I hurried to close the distance. “Since when do you tell me how to do my job. I’ve been doing this for longer than you’ve been on the force.”
I gestured to the bed.
“This guy isn’t going anywhere, but if that girl lives, we’ll need to show just how insane she was. You saw what she did to herself.” My argument felt weak.
Haster slung his camera over his shoulder.
“You mean,” He lowered his voice as if the dead Andre might overhear us. “You want me to take pictures that might help the defense?”
I simply nodded. I had no other thought of how to get rid of him. I only needed a moment to get that book and get out.
“You might be as crazy as she was.” Haster shook his head and headed towards the door. “I’m done in here if you want to look around. The techs haven’t been through yet, so don’t screw up the evidence too bad.”
He went off mumbling something under his breath. I raced to the far left of the bed and grabbed a thick green leather book that had fallen between the mattress and the bedside table. I threw it down almost immediately.
The book had felt hot and sweaty. Worse than that, simply touching it made my side flare with pain I hadn’t felt since I first got the wound.
I gritted my teeth and reached for the book. The pain grew but I knew I had to get the book out of the house.
Sweat popped out on my forehead and I grasped the book again. A weird pulsating feeling grew as I clutched it close. Tears were starting to come to my eyes. I knew I couldn’t go back through the room with the other cops and techs.
I opened the bedroom window and began to crawl through. The pain in my side was making me gasp for breath with every movement. I wanted to throw the book as far away as possible, but I had no choice.
I stumbled through the backyard, thankful there was no one to see me. I made it three houses down before I collapsed and threw up . My entire body ached and I was sweating all over. Even my head was pounding, making my vision blurry.
Pushing the book as far away as I dared, I grabbed my cell phone. It took three tries before I dialed the correct numbers. When the line connected, no one greeted me.
“Trent Street.” I gasped, feeling the world spin around me. “Come get me.”
The line disconnected, leaving me nothing to do but lie in the cool grass and hope no one spotted me until my ride arrived. I had no idea what I would tell the chief. He seemed to know more about the situation than I would have liked, but I still had no intention of letting him touch the book.
Fifteen minutes later I heard a low, wet shuffling to my right. I had nearly recovered from my episode, but the presence of the book kept me from getting to 100%. A pair of pale hands helped me to my feet. I waved off more help and pointed to where the dark green leather book lay. I was still weak, but I didn’t want him touching me anymore. The coldness of his hands rivaled the heat from the book in making me feel sick.
Except for the hands, very little was seen of my benefactor. He and I both preferred this. I needed his help, but that didn’t mean I had to like him. He was dressed from head to toe in black. The black hood of his sweatshirt covered his face. Another point for which I was grateful.
The man, whose name I knew but would never speak out loud, picked up the book with reverence. He placed it carefully in a black bag made of soft velvet. Silver symbols glinted on the outside of the bag, reminiscent of those I had seen on the bone knife. Thus placed, the man offered the book back to me, bowing as he did so.
I took it, feeling on a very faint humming in my head. In the bag, the book no longer had the power to hurt me. Unfortunately, my recent contact with it had done enough. I was too weak to continue investigating that night. Besides, it wasn’t like I had to solve anything except why the Judge’s ceremony had gone wrong.
I was driven back to the original crime scene, which no longer looked like one. Even the busted window on the top floor was tightly covered with plastic. I wasn’t sure where the chief was and I was too tired to care.
Ten minutes later I pulled into my driveway. A small house on an even smaller dirt road. I didn’t live within the city limits of Maudit for good reason. One was I didn’t trust the residents there. The other was that I didn’t trust myself.
The house was dark when I walked in. I lived alone for the same reason I lived outside city limits. I didn’t bother turning on lights. I knew the way to my room.
Before climbing into bed, I unlocked the dark oak and steel chest that lay at the foot of it. The chest was a sort of antique, an heirloom really, passed down from generation to generation of eldest sons in my family. I ran my hands absently over the carved sigils carved into the wood. Anything that went in the chest was something you wanted to hide from the world. It was perfect to stash the book in.
I didn’t bother showering. I threw off my clothes and fell into bed, deeply aware that the book was in the room with me. Even behind the protections, I could feel it calling to me.
When I woke up, I was in a completely different room. It seemed larger and darker than my original bedroom. I could hear voices coming from somewhere deep in the house.
I climbed out of bed, not surprised to find myself clothed in cowboy print pajamas. I was eight years old and back in the house of my youth. It made perfect sense.
The voices could still be heard and I wanted to know what was going on. I opened my heavy bedroom door and walked in the shadows of the hallway. The house was huge to me. It was an ancestral home where many generations of my people had lived. It was old and gloomy but felt comforting and familiar to me. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. My parents had taught me there was nothing there to fear.
I continued to follow the voices, coming at last to a door that seemed to pulse at its edges with sickly green light. I could hear my father’s voice raised and a woman screaming in what I thought might be pain. I could only assume the woman was my mother.
The knob turned easily in my small hand and opened without a sound. The green light washed over me and I had to shield my eyes at first. Slowly shapes began to sharpen in the light. Something was coming towards me.
I came out of the dream screaming. Not in fear, but in pain. My side was throbbing and I could see the old white scar was now a burning hot red. Small beads of blood squeezed out around the edges. Not enough to drip, but enough to smear the sheet I had been covered with.
A cold shower helped me shake the dream and the pain, but only slightly. I considered calling in sick, but I wanted to get the case over with as fast as possible. I could rest once I had my answer.
I had walked no more than two steps into the precinct when my Lieutenant’s head popped out of his office. He motioned for me without word.
“Until the case is solved, you’re working out of the chief’s office.” Garrison said, never moving from his doorway. “He already called to say he has the case files and needs you there immediately.”
Maudit, being as small as it was, had little use for large offices. The walk from the small room designated for the few detectives to the larger office of Maudit’s chief of police took a simple walk down the hall and up to the second floor, where our more ‘important’ people kept quiet offices away from the actual work below.
Williams was already behind his desk waiting for me once I crossed the secretary’s threshold.
“Did that murder on Trent have anything to do with the Judge’s lost book?” He asked after I had closed the door.
I nodded but said nothing.
“Did you find the book?” He asked.
Another nod was all I gave.
Williams shifted uncomfortably in his thick leather office chair.
“Where is it?” He asked. He dropped his voice lower.
“Safe.” I stood in the same spot by the door, not wanting to completely enter the room.
“Do you plan to send it to the University?” He asked a bit too quickly for my liking. His emphasis on university left me no doubt he meant Miskatonic.
“It’s safe.” I repeated.
“I’d personally feel safer if the book was here where we could keep an eye on it.” Williams
I shook my head and stood firm.
“I’m on your side, Mackenzie.” Williams pushed his chair back from the desk but didn’t rise. “Actually, I’m over you. I could order you to bring the book in.”
“You couldn’t.” I challenged, not sure where my sudden bravery was coming from.
Williams looked as if he would say more, but sighed instead as he pulled out a file folder.
“Autopsies are back on the Jermyn girl and the judge.” He said. “Which do you want first?”
“Unless you can tell me something new about the judge, I only care about the girl.” I said.
“Nothing much you didn’t know about her either.” Williams handed over the folder.
I read over Theresa’s report first. It was pretty much what I thought. The girl had died from massive blood loss due to the cut on her throat. The only interesting part was there was a large amount of rohipnol in her system. At least I knew she hadn’t gone of her own accord. I was also surprised to see there was no sexual trauma. Despite how we found her, she was that rare item, a virgin.
I pulled Marsh’s file. Nothing new there except the fall may not have killed him. A piece of bone was found lodged in his heart. From the preliminary reports, the bone was over a thousand years old and definitely human. He died long before he hit the ground, but not before the skin lacerations were caused. I felt vindicated that he at least felt a little of the pain he caused the girl.
“What’s your next course of action?” Williams asked.
“Talk to the parents.” I said. “Let them know what happened and try to find a connection between their daughter and the judge.”
“What will you tell them?” Williams asked.
“I’m not sure yet.” I admitted. “But probably the truth. Wesley Marsh murdered their daughter."
“Will you tell them…about the circumstances?” Williams seemed uncomfortable.
I looked down, thinking about all I knew, things most people should never know. I didn’t have an answer for him. Instead of wasting time thinking up one, I walked out of the room.
It was a ten minute drive from the station to the Jermyns’ house. They lived in a quiet middle class neighborhood. There were no truly ‘rich’ parts of Maudit, but it was clear these people had to worry about bills like the rest of us.
I already knew a bit about the Jermyns. Mary Jermyn was an elementary school teacher with her husband, Patrick, being a CPA. Most credit card debt, like the rest of the country and they lived a house they still had mortgage payments on.
The yard was well kept with flowers lining the path. It was clear they put time into their house. I hated to tell them what had happened. They didn’t seem like people this should be happening to.
I hesitated at the door. I didn’t want to knock. They knew their daughter was missing, but they still held out hopes for her safety. I was there to ruin that hope. I was also there to find out why the ritual went wrong.
The door opened before I could knock. A small graying blonde, chubby in a pleasing way, looked at me with a face I was sure had been aged ten years with worry in the last.
“Can I help you?” She asked. Her light blue eyes held hope and exhaustion.
When I gave her my name, the small amount of hope left and her body shuddered slightly. She stepped back and allowed me to walk into the house.
“Ma’am, is your husband home?” I asked after I stepped into the house.
“He’s outside in the backyard.” Her voice was soft. “I’ll get him.”
She led the way to the living room, leaving me there. I looked around at the pictures that lined the walls. They showed a very happy family. You could see Theresa’s progress from childhood to adulthood in the photos. There was even a wall of awards and certificates, all with Theresa’s name on it.
A light cough turned my attention towards the door. A tall, gray haired man stood looking at me. His dark green eyes had already lost the spark of hope.
Patrick walked into the room followed by Mary. They sat together on the couch in unison. I felt like the intruder that I was.
“W…would you like a drink?” Mrs. Jermyn asked. I could tell she was being perfunctorily courteous. She didn’t want me there and she sure as hell didn’t want to be polite to me.
“No thank you, Mrs. Jermyn. I won’t be long.” I walked towards them, not wanting to be across the room when I delivered my news.
Mr. Jermyn didn’t wait for me to get there.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” He asked. He looked straight at me. I held his gaze in answer.
Mrs. Jermyn broke into sobs. Even Mr. Jermyn lowered his head into his hands. I could see this shoulders sag and shake a bit.
Mr. Jermyn regained control first and tried to comfort his wife.
I could only nod.
“How…what happened?” He asked.
I had to think fast. I still wasn’t sure how much to tell them.
“She was murdered.” I sighed as I said it. I was going to go with honesty.
Mrs. Jermyn sobbed harder. Tears fell freely down Mr. Jermyn’s face. He didn’t try to hide them.
“Do you know Judge Marsh?” I asked. I didn’t want to stay longer than I had to, but I needed some answers while they could still talk to me.
Both looked up at me surprised. The sobs stopped for a moment.
“We do.” Mr. Jermyn said. “Why?”
“He was found murdered as well.” I said. “We’re trying to find out what their connection would have been.”
Mrs. Jermyn wiped her eyes and continued to study me.
“They were together?” She asked.
I nodded. I decided not to give them the entire truth.
“Theresa knew him.” Mr. Jermyn said. “When she was seventeen she got a speeding ticket. There was a mandatory court appearance for it.”
“She won.” Mrs. Jermyn smiled at the memory. “She argued the ticket and won. It impressed the judge.”
Mr. Jermyn took his wife’s hand and they shared a smile through their tears.
“He called us later that day.” Mr. Jermyn continued. “Told us he thought Theresa showed real promise in law and wondered if she wanted to work at the courthouse, sort of an internship. That they might even be able to find scholarships for her if she wanted to go to college.”
“Theresa was so brilliant.” He said. “And we knew we couldn’t afford a really good college for her. This seemed like a godsend.”
“Was Theresa clerking this summer?” I asked.
Mrs. Jermyn shook her head.
“She hadn’t clerked for two years.” She said. “After she went to college in Texas, she didn’t have much time. She was only home for a few weeks…”
Her voice trailed off as she came back to the fact her daughter was dead. Tears were filling up her eyes again.
“Did the judge know your daughter was adopted?” I asked. I figured asking my questions in random ordered helped to keep their minds with me for the time being.
“No, it was a closed adoption.” Mr. Jermyn said. “We always meant to tell Theresa, but never could figure out how.”
I looked around at the pictures again. Both of the Jermyns’ had light colored eyes and hair. Theresa had black hair and brown eyes. There was no way she was there biological child. I figured if Judge Marsh remembered genetic rules he wouldn’t be dead now. Neither would Theresa.
“Can you tell me what happened the day Theresa disappeared?” I asked. I had nearly all of my answers.
“We had a nice day.” Mrs. Jermyn said. “We all three went to Baton Rouge to shop and meet up with relatives for lunch. It was on the drive home that Theresa got the call.”
I waited patiently for them to tell me more. Both looked a little confused.
“Who called?” I asked.
“We don’t know.” Mr. Jermyn said. “All I know is she definitely had a fight with whomever it was. She kept saying she wasn’t going to help. It was her final decision.”
“What happened when you got home?” I asked.
“She just left.” Mrs. Jermyn. “She said she had to take care of something and would be back later that night. When she didn’t come back or answer her phone, we called the police.”
Mrs. Jermyn began crying again.
“They said we couldn’t file just then.” She choked out. “She was an adult and you had to wait 24 hours unless there we had definite reason for worrying about her safety. We tried to tell them…Theresa wouldn’t just….I mean...” She broke down completely.
“It was only yesterday.” Mr. Jermyn said in a flat voice. “Last night she left, angry at someone and today you tell us she’s dead.”
“I’m very sorry to tell you this.” I said.
“Do you know who did it?” He asked. “Did you catch the bastard?”
“We’re still trying to figure out what happened.” I told a half lie. “What you’ve told me today helps.”
Mr. Jermyn nodded absently. He held his wife tight and gave me a glazed over look. I stood and showed myself out. I had my answers and left them with nothing more than grief.
I sat in my car, unsure of what to do next. My cell phone was on the passenger seat. I could see I had a missed call from the chief. I called back immediately.
“What did the Jermyn’s say?” He asked as soon as I gave my name.
It took me only a few minutes to fill him in on what I had learned.
“That mistake will never happen again.” Williams said before hanging up.
I listened to the silence on the end of the phone. A bad feeling crept in. A suspicion I had was now more of a reality. I knew I had to get home fast and hope I wasn’t too late.
The drive from the Jermyn’s house to my own was one full of near wrecks. I drove several people off the streets and probably caused more than one to hit something or someone else. I didn’t care. My only concern was the book carefully placed inside my heirloom trunk and if I had locked it or not. I had to get to it before the chief did.
No other vehicle was in my driveway when I skidded on the dirt road in front of my house. I left the car running as I raced towards the front door. It was open.
I drew my gun as I pushed the door open the rest of the way.
“Williams, if you’re in there, I will shoot you.” I called out. No sound greeted me.
I took a step in and checked the corners. If he was in the house, he wasn’t in plain sight. I never got that lucky.
“I know you were with Marsh during the ceremony.” I said, hoping no one was there. “You were there, you were with him, probably helped him slit her throat.”
There wasn’t even a rustle anywhere. I left my gun aimed up as I went into the bedroom. Nothing looked touched. I checked the closet and under my bed before I dropped my guard.
I knelt in front of the chest. The symbols seemed to glow under my touch. I had locked it and there was no way anyone could have gotten inside but I was still concerned. What if I hadn’t locked it but Williams had after he took the book?
Despite my better judgement, I unlocked the chest. This lock didn’t require a key. In the place of a keyhole was a hollowed out steel circle with a sharp steel pin in the center. Only blood related members of my family could unlock it. I stuck my finger on the pin, letting a single drop of blood drip down the steel and onto a waiting carved sigil.
The chest popped open and I breathed easy as I saw the still wrapped book sitting on top of the pile. I reached out to close the chest but a blow to the back of the head sent me reeling into the heavy chest.
When I woke up, I could only feel numbed pain in my head and side. A cool breeze wafted over me and I knew immediately I was naked.
I shook my head as best I could until I could see a black carved mirror in front of me. I was back in the original crime scene, tied to the y-shaped crucifix Theresa Jermyn had been nailed to only twenty four hours before. I was thankful that I was bound up instead of nailed. I could only assume Williams didn’t have the strength or guts to nail me up. Knowing Marsh and his lineage, I fully believed he had been the master of the two.
As if on cue, Williams came into my line of sight, blocking the black mirror. He was dressed in a black robe, similar to the one the judge had been found in. Williams smiled at me as he brandished a thick green leather bound book in one hand and what was left of the carved bone dagger.
“We were so close.” Williams said. “We truly thought we had the perfect sacrifice in Theresa. A virgin of one of the tainted bloodlines! Too bad she wasn’t a true Jermyn.”
“What happened when he didn’t accept your offering?” I asked, trying to show I wasn’t scared. “Did he reach out to rip the flesh from Marsh? Bury the dagger deep into his heart before throwing his lifeless body out of the window?”
Williams wouldn’t meet my gaze.
“What did you do?” I continued. “Run? Cry? Piss yourself?”
“Shut up!” Williams advanced with the dagger.
He regained control and took a step back.
“An unfortunate mistake.” Williams said. “The dark one did not accept our last offering because it was flawed. You, however, will make an excellent replacement and I will be honored with many gifts from my lord.”
Williams turned towards the black mirror and began chanting. The center of the blackness began turning a familiar sick green color. The swirl of green widened with every word that Williams chanted in a profane language that should have been long dead.
I managed to keep my composure until the tentacles began coming through. My laughter scared Williams more than the creature beginning to emerge from the portal before us.
“You don’t know me at all, do you?” I said between laughs. “This is the second time you’ve offered a bad sacrifice. I can promise you won’t escape this time.”
Williams looked at me uncertainly. He kept glancing back at the emerging creature.
“You…you’re not a true MacKenzie?” His voice wavered.
“Oh, I am that.” I said. “But apparently you don’t know what that means. You really shouldn’t mess with things you don’t understand.
I spoke words I had been taught as a child, words my mother and father sang to me on dark nights on Meadow Hill. The words were older than language, older than even those written in the ancient grimoire Williams held.
The pain in my side was exquisite. I could feel the delicious pain ripple through my entire being.
“Brother, save me.” I spoke to the fully emerged creature, one that was bigger than the imagination and twice as unbearable to look at.
The creature lifted a tentacle and broke my bonds. I fell to the ground as it touched my bleeding side. I cried out in pleasure and pain as it ripped open the old wound.
I closed my eyes to better accept the pain and remember the first scarring. The door of my youth flung open to a vision of my father chanting over my mother. She lay naked on an altar, with a similar black mirror allowing in a creature that raped her as it ripped her flesh. She had made the same screams of ecstasy and pain as it had its way with her fragile human form.
I wasn’t afraid, not even when the creature noticed me standing in the doorway. One bloody tentacle came towards me, but I never flinched. I was enthralled by the scene in front of me, of the creature my parents had read about to me in the picture books.
The creature’s tentacle had touched my young flesh, ripping open the side, marking me as its own for all eternity.
Several months later, when my brother was born, looking more like his father than our shared mother, I knew the mark on my side would ensure we would also be linked.
I opened my eyes to take in the current scene. My brother had grown and prospered in the realm I would never be able to share with him. Sacrifices were plentiful and I planned to offer him one more.
I spoke words only he and I knew. The tentacles reached out and grabbed the cowering chief. He screamed, but I knew it was in vain. Williams was pulled through the glowing green portal. He clawed, but my brother was infinitely stronger. Instead of accepting the wonder of what was happening to him, Williams cried and pissed himself in fear. He was privileged. He would get to view the other realm before his death. I almost envied him.
Before the portal closed behind them, I reached out for the ancient copy of the Necronomicon. The power of it raced through my body. I knew it by heart, had it read to me as a bedtime story before I could read myself. I tossed the book into the ever shrinking light of green. If there was one thing the world did not need, it was access to things it didn’t understand and couldn’t understand.
I no longer cared about the stupid human struggle for power. I had made a decision. As soon as I had rested, I would start driving home. Not to my little house outside of Maudit, but to my ancestral home. I knew the time was quickly approaching when my brother and his creature kin would rule this world and its worthless inhabitants. I would go home and take up the family business, hoping to bring about that happy day a little quicker.
My lofty dreams of being a famous & brilliant writer were literally smacked out of my head. Now I plan to fill the void with copious amounts of subpar writing!