The Love Story of Ichabod Crane and Brom Van Brunt

The Love Story of Ichabod Crane and Brom Van Brunt

by Kadorienne

"The Pickety Witch, the Pickety Witch; who's got a kiss for the Pickety Witch?" Katrina Van Tassel twirled as she recited the old chant. Brom Van Brunt smiled indulgently and kept moving, jockeying for a position which would enable him to evade the girl's searching hands.

The party was being held to take everyone's mind off the recent gruesome murders and the fear of a violent ghost which had every household barricading itself in at sundown. Brom, like all the other people of Sleepy Hollow, was more than ready for enjoyment, though this foolish old game was not exactly what he had in mind.

"The Pickety Witch, the Pickety Witch; who's got a kiss for the Pickety Witch?" Suddenly Katrina turned and grabbed, almost catching Brom. He quickly stepped out of her reach, and instead her hands found a man Brom did not know, the handsomest man Brom had ever seen. His skin was very pale, but his hair as black as night, and he was dressed all in black. His hollowed cheekbones, rounded lips and dark eyes put Brom in mind of how he had always believed the Prince of Darkness had to look: an exquisite dark angel.

"Is it Theodore?" Katrina asked, her fingers on the perfect planes of the stranger's face. Brom almost snorted aloud. As if the half-formed features of Theodore could compare to these sculpted lines!

"Your pardon, miss, I am only a stranger," the man said, obviously much embarrassed.

"Then have a kiss on account," the minx responded, and pressed her mouth to his cheek. Then she removed her blindfold to observe the effect she had had upon her victim.

The stranger stared at her, discomfited. "I… um, I am looking for Baltus Van Tassel."

"I am his daughter, Katrina Van Tassel."

"And you, friend?" Brom said, trying to draw the handsome man's eyes away from Katrina. Katrina's flaxen hair and delicate features had befuddled the senses of half the men in Sleepy Hollow. "We have not heard your name yet."

The stranger did look at Brom, but his expression was disappointingly cold. "I have not said it," he retorted. "Excuse me," he said to Katrina, and turned his back on Brom.

It was that gesture which kindled Brom's well-known temper. Clapping his hands on the stranger's shoulders, he declared, "You need some manners!"

Brom's outburst worked, in a way; the stranger looked at Brom, looked him coolly up and down. For just an instant, the stranger's dark eyes met his own.

Meanwhile, the music and all conversation instantly ceased as everyone looked to see if Brom was about to start yet another fight. Few gatherings passed without some sort of altercation involving Brom.

Van Tassel appeared promptly. "Come, come — we want no raised voices. It is only to raise the spirits during this dark time that I and my good wife are giving this little party." But it was a raised spirit which was the cause of the "dark time", Brom thought morosely. Van Tassel smiled engagingly at the handsome stranger. "Young sir, you are most welcome, even if you are selling something!"

Looking relieved to have located his host, the stranger replied, "Thank you, sir. I am Constable Ichabod Crane, sent to you from New York with authority to investigate murder in Sleepy Hollow." He reached into his coat pocket and extended his credentials to Van Tassel.

"Then Sleepy Hollow is grateful to you," Lady Van Tassel spoke up. "And we hope you will honor us by staying in this house until— "

"Until you've made the arrest!" Brom finished.

Before Ichabod could reply, Van Tassel was ushering him upstairs. Brom watched him go, and then was left to amuse himself with Glen and Theodore. But the constable's pale face and dark hair stayed in his mind for the next hour, which Ichabod spent closeted with the town elders, discussing the recent deaths.

When Ichabod did finally emerge and rejoin the general party, it was to lecture everyone about superstition. "Murder needs no ghosts come from the grave," he admonished everyone. Setting his perfect mouth in a determined line, he declared, "The assassin is a man of flesh and blood and I will discover him. This mystery will not resist investigation by a Rational Man."

Ichabod looked so coldly certain of himself that Brom could not help but be somewhat impressed, but the constable was insisting loudly that there was no Horseman, that the murders had been committed by an ordinary human. A few of the townspeople became angry, but most simply turned away from him, for he was irrelevant, his presence would make no difference; he was here only to obstruct them with his foolish citified notions.

As for Brom, he did not care a fig for the constable's skepticism. It was the constable's reserved dark eyes that captured him.

At length Ichabod, perceiving that no one was listening to him, pleaded the fatigue of his journey and went up to his room. Brom was about to leave when the servant girl, Sarah, came down and spoke to Lady Van Tassel. "That constable, he wants the Bible, Mum."

"I'll bring it to him," Katrina said at once. Brom could not help glowering at her. She could trip up to Ichabod's room at any time she liked. For some reason he did not know himself, he lingered awhile longer, until Sarah appeared at his elbow, giggling.

"What amuses you so?" he asked.

"That constable. He asked after you."

"He did! What did he say?"

"Well, he didn't even look up when Miss Katrina went in. I watched from the door. He must have assumed it was me. And as she was leaving, he said, 'Tell me, about that big brute who appears to be Miss Katrina's— !'"

"Miss Katrina's what?" Brom demanded.

"He saw to whom he was speaking before he could say. My, but he was embarrassed! He changed the subject then."

Brom left, turning Ichabod's words over in his mind. But he tried to put the handsome constable out of his thoughts when he got home. No doubt Ichabod was merely evaluating his chances at the heart of Katrina Van Tassel.

***

Brom was roused out of bed shortly before dawn by the tolling of the town bell. Correctly guessing the cause, he seized his rifle and rode his horse hard. The town elders and several other men, all armed, were gathered on the road a short distance outside of town around the new victim. Brom dismounted and stood alertly, his rifle at the ready.

"Mr. Miller, ride back for the coffin cart," Baltus Van Tassel ordered nervously. "The rest of you, keep a sharp lookout."

Brom's friend Glen, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, peered intently at Van Tassel.

"No, not at me, Glen!" Van Tassel snapped. "I'm not going to cut my own head off — look to the woods!"

Just then Killian appeared with Ichabod in tow.

"It's all right, I'm here now," the constable declared as he stumbled off his horse.

Brom was amused by his arrogance — as if anyone cared that this amateur deductor had arrived with his toys! — but even more by the obstinate nag Killian had foisted onto him.

"A fine looking animal, Crane," he laughed. He was trying to establish camaraderie, but the constable apparently thought he was being taunted and ignored him. Brom swallowed his annoyance and watched Ichabod with the others.

Ichabod glanced at the body and quickly averted his eyes.

Dr. Lancaster spoke. "The fourth victim, Jonathan Masbath."

Ichabod swallowed. "I… see. And… the head?"

"Taken," whispered Magistrate Philipse.

"Taken." Ichabod's dark eyes narrowed. "Interesting. Very interesting."

"What is?" Van Tassel asked, agape.

The young constable's manner became more confident as he spoke of his own province. "In headless corpse cases of this sort, the head is removed to prevent identification of the body."

Van Tassel's worried face creased further. "But we know this is Jonathan Masbath!"

"Precisely! So why was the head removed?" Ichabod asked rhetorically.

"Why?" Van Tassel echoed.

"Right!"

Having thus mystified Van Tassel, Ichabod glanced again at the body. Stepping close to Dr. Lancaster, he asked, "You have moved the body?"

"I did," the doctor replied soberly.

"You must never move the body!" he declared.

"Why not?" the doctor asked, nonplused.

"Because," Ichabod began, but stopped. Everyone stared at him, baffled. But he was setting his case down and looking over the area. He took a bag of powder and a bottle of water out of his bag and began mixing them in a bowl. Everyone stood back and watched and allowed him to play, not because anyone had any faith in his methods, but from pure curiosity.

"What is that potion?" Brom asked at last.

Ichabod poured it into one of the hoofprints, and as it settled, Brom realized that it was plaster. "You are the blacksmith, Brom," he replied without looking up. "Ever shoe a horse with a hoof this large?"

"It's big," Brom agreed, wondering what the point was. Did the constable mean to take the plaster cast he was making and hold a Cinderella contest of local horses?

But as the constable continued fiddling about with his potions and his measurements, Brom found himself beginning to credit the scientific toys a bit after all. The Reverend Steenwyck was clasping his Bible, Philipse was clutching his talisman, but Brom put his faith in his rifle. Yet Ichabod's whole manner had changed. He was now all self-assurance. He did not spare a glance for Brom or for any of the others, intent on his toys. Averting his eyes from the gruesome wound, he sprinkled some strange powder onto the ground and observed as it sizzled. "A chemical reaction," he murmured. "It shows there was a powerful singular thrust to the neck."

The elders glanced at each other, their expressions revealing the value they put on this obvious intelligence. Brom simply replayed a phrase in his mind, in Ichabod's voice, over and over: "A powerful singular thrust…."

Ichabod put an odd device on his head and peered at the neck wound through some strange distorting lenses. An insect crawled out of the flesh and he jumped up. "Interesting," he gasped, trying to command himself.

Brom peered at him as he prattled on about cauterized flesh. Ichabod was barely keeping his self-control. Incredulously, Brom realized that this man, a constable, no less, was squeamish and faint of heart! Ichabod was trembling all over, but he was trying valiantly to master his fear and revulsion. Brom snorted. Was this the sort of man of action a city produced?

But despite his contempt, Brom could not block the perfect lines of Ichabod's face from his mind.

***

It was Ichabod's repeated, vehement assertions that the murderer was no ghost that gave exasperated Brom his idea. Pranks were second nature to Brom, and this constable needed to be taught that he did not know everything. And if the constable was afraid to look at a harmless dead body, he needed to be taught what real fear was. Thus Glen and Theodore helped to put Brom's plan into action.

It was Glen who hid near the bridge as the three of them lay in wait for the constable. In time, as they had expected, Gunpowder clopped along with his temporary master.

As Ichabod rode through the covered bridge, Glen began croaking, "Ichabod! Ichabod!"

Ichabod stopped and peered round. After a long moment, having decided that echoes and moonlight were playing tricks on him, he resumed. That was when Brom urged his horse out of their hiding place.

Hearing the hoofbeats, Ichabod halted once more. After a moment, his voice rang out in the unnatural quiet of the night. "Who's there?" he demanded, obviously fighting to keep his voice steady.

With that, Brom rode his horse into Ichabod's view. Brom was wearing a cape bolstered to make it appear that he had no head, and he held a jack-o-lantern in one hand.

Brom could scarcely see, but he heard Ichabod's moan and the hoofbeats of Gunpowder being spurred on. Brom gave chase.

After a moment of panicked flight, Ichabod reined Gunpowder in, to Brom's amazement. His eyes were wide with fear, but his jaw was set. No doubt the Rational Man was telling himself that there were no galloping ghosts, that at worst his pursuer was a disguised murderer. Brom found himself feeling a grudging respect for the constable, but he proceeded with his plan. He hurled the jack-o-lantern at him. It struck his head and the constable fell to the ground in a litter of flaming pumpkin shards.

Brom rode back to his friends and they all began to laugh. Hearing the laughter, realizing he had been the butt of a joke, Ichabod drew a breath of relief before losing consciousness.

***

Two days later, the Horseman claimed another victim. Magistrate Philipse, this time. And Ichabod Crane had been with him at the time, and had witnessed the murder, but had been left unharmed, found unconscious a few yards away from the magistrate's body. Hearing this, Brom felt an unexpected panic at the thought of Ichabod brushing so close to death. His contempt of Ichabod's cowardice was forgotten in favor of the image of Ichabod's determined and exquisite face bending over his chemicals. Never mind the constable's obvious queasiness at the sight of death; that intent mental focus, that was Ichabod Crane, that was what must not be endangered. He leapt upon his horse and rode hard to the Van Tassel house.

"He's been hiding in his room ever since the murder," Katrina informed Brom, guiding him up the stairs.

"Has he come out at all?"

Katrina and Young Masbath, who had attached himself to the constable, shook their heads. Brom knocked, and when there was no answer, tried the door. To his surprise, it was unbolted. City folk. Hide in their rooms, but leave the door unlocked.

Ichabod was huddled in his bed, hiding behind the sheets like a child, his eyes wild, his face paler than ever, his hair tousled. Brom approached slowly, Katrina and Young Masbath behind him. When they neared the bed, Ichabod lowered the sheets from his face to speak, his knuckles white around the fabric.

"It was a headless horseman," he said, shaking, his eyes boring into Brom.

"You must not excite yourself," Brom admonished in a gentle tone.

"But it was a headless horseman!" he repeated insistently.

"Of course it was," Brom agreed. So now the constable had recognized the truth. "That's why you're here."

"No, you must believe me, it was a horseman, a dead one — headless!" Ichabod's words were rapid and tense. He was almost hysterical.

"I know, I know."

"No, you don't know, because you were not there!" Ichabod declared with agitation. He searched for words for a moment before adding, in a strangled gasp, "It's all true!"

Brom wanted to soothe the constable, to smooth his disarranged hair and rock him till he was quiet. He took a slow step forward. "Of course it is. I told you. Everyone told you," he said soothingly.

Ichabod leaned forward as if about to relate a vital secret. Brom took another step toward him, leaning forward to hear. In a strangled whisper, Ichabod related, "I… saw him." His beautiful face contorted as he prepared another sentence, but then his eyes fluttered closed and he collapsed, unconscious, in the corner of the bed.

Brom stared at the senseless constable, unaccustomed depression filling him. In spite of Ichabod's new-fangled, half-baked notions, his mind had been acute and searching. Aside from his beauty, it had been the most attractive thing about him. Now, unable to withstand contact with something it could not acknowledge, that mind was broken. Brom turned on his heel and strode out, delayed for a second by Van Tassel's question. "Is he better?"

"He's shot his bolt," Brom declared flatly, and headed for the pub, where he proceeded to get drunker than he had ever been before.

***

Brom did not begin to emerge from his drunken stupor until the next evening, when his head cleared to the alarming news that the constable had regained his senses and then behaved as if he had lost them, going off into the haunted western woods with only the servant boy and the Van Tassel girl to accompany him. Why in God's name hadn't Ichabod asked him to come? But he had been sleeping off an enormous quantity of ale when Ichabod had made his unsuccessful request for volunteers. Now Ichabod was wandering the haunt of a murdering ghost with no one to defend him, and Brom doubted that he could defend himself.

Brom emptied a bucket of cold water over himself and mounted his horse. He was heading towards the western woods at a gallop when he heard a scream from within the village. He turned his horse toward it and reined in when he saw a ghoulish figure emerging from the Killian home.

It was, as Ichabod had so emphatically asserted, all true. A headless armored figure was mounting a huge black horse, carrying a bag whose contents Brom could guess at. But Brom did not spare time to gape or tremble. He raised his rifle, took aim, and shot.

The shot hit the horseman squarely in the chest. He fell to the ground, and the horse ran away. With grim satisfaction, Brom dismounted and strode towards the horseman. He wanted to open the bag and see if, along with the copper-haired heads which he knew had to be inside, there was also one with hair black as a raven….

While he was still several yards away, incredibly, the horseman sat up. Brom stopped in his tracks. When the horseman stood and started towards him, Brom quickly, futilely began to reload his rifle. Spurs jangling, the horseman strode right at him as Brom fumbled with the gunpowder, and then… passed him! Ignored him, when he could have killed him easily.

Before the horseman could move more than a pace away, Brom heaved his rifle, intending to bludgeon him with the butt of it. But the horseman swiftly blocked the blow with his sword. They grappled for a moment before the horseman punched him. His head rang from the blow and he stumbled as the horseman, inexplicably, turned to walk away once more from the easy kill before him.

His head clearing slightly, Brom seized his dagger and hurled it into the horseman's back. It found its mark, but it, too, failed to kill the dead horseman. The horseman pulled the dagger out, turned, and hurled it back, where it came to rest in Brom's thigh.

Brom grunted with the pain, but forced himself to pull the blade out. Glancing around, he saw two sickles jutting from a bale of hay. He limped over to them and seized them. He had taken only one step after the retreating horseman when a pair of hands was clapped onto his shoulders.

Ichabod's voice was low and rapid. "Wait! He's not after you."

"You're alive," Brom said, the words falling from his mouth unbeckoned.

"He was not set to kill you, you needn't— "

All that had penetrated Brom's mind, fevered with pain and amazement, was that the horseman was nearby and had not yet killed Ichabod. He had to stop the Hessian before Ichabod was harmed.

"I'll get him," he said through clenched teeth, and ran as fast as he could on his injured leg to the headless figure.

The horseman turned when Brom reached him, and parried his sickles with axe and sword. The air sang with the clashing of steel against steel. In a moment, to his amazement, Ichabod was beside him, attacking the headless horseman with a scythe. Apparently it had slipped his mind that he was a coward.

It was not Brom, but Ichabod who finally landed a blow, planting the blade of the scythe in the Hessian's back. This distracted the Hessian enough that Ichabod was able to drag Brom away. The horseman did not die or fall.

"We cannot win this!" Ichabod insisted. Seeing the horseman standing tall with the scythe in his back, Brom began to realize that the constable was right. Leaning heavily on Ichabod, Brom limped with him through the covered bridge. They had just emerged from the cover when they heard the sinister thumping of heavy footsteps, a jangle of spurs accompanying each.

Slowly, they turned. There was no one there. The horseman was a ghost, and a ghost could vanish, perhaps. They stared, waiting for an apparition to materialize. Ichabod stepped behind Brom, who forced himself to stand erect to defend the constable. Nothing appeared. Then there was a sound behind them, and in a flash Brom realized that the horseman had been on top of the bridge. Both men whirled. Before either could make another move, the Hessian's sword was in Ichabod's chest. Ichabod cried out, and the horseman hurled him aside in a crumpled heap.

In his fury, Brom forgot that his weapons were useless against the ghost. His only thought was to destroy the thing that had murdered Ichabod Crane. He hurled himself at the headless figure, swinging his sickles desperately. The horseman parried his every blow, and at last succeeded in slicing a deep cut across Brom's chest. The blow knocked him into the icy river, where the current swept him away at once. Thrashing to the surface for air, he glimpsed the horseman striding towards the western woods, having apparently lost interest in his victims.

Brom struggled against the freezing water and his burning wounds. After what seemed hours, the current slammed him against a fallen log, and Brom seized it. Half conscious, he clung to it, his entire being concentrated on gripping the log. After another period that felt like hours, strong hands pulled him out of the water and a dry, heavy coat that smelled of tobacco was wrapped around him. After that, he knew nothing else.

***

He awoke in his own bed, weighted down under blankets, a fire roaring in the grate, his sister's anxious face peering down at him. "Brom? Are you awake?"

Brom groaned. The cut across his chest ached with every breath.

"Don't move. The fever's on you."

"Couldn't get him…."

"Be quiet."

"Weapons no good…."

"Shhh."

He remembered then, and wished he had died in the river. "Ichabod…."

"He's all right. Now rest."

But Brom's eyes had flown open, his mind clearing quickly. "He's all right? I thought he was dead!"

His sister's hand pressed him onto the bed. "Hush! The doctor says it was a miracle he lived, but he did. If you rest now, I'll bring him to see you tomorrow."

Brom laid back, smiling slightly, and drifted into sleep.

***

When next he awoke, Ichabod was there, looking very solemn.

"I thought he'd killed you," Brom said quietly, gazing at him.

"So did I, for a few moments," Ichabod replied briskly. "But I awoke, not in the next world, but in the Van Tassel home." He looked down for a moment, his thick lashes casting a shadow over his cheeks. "I was very… relieved to hear that you were well."

"Had you not intervened, I would no doubt have lost my head," Brom murmured. "Why didn't you call me to accompany you? I would never have allowed you to brave those woods alone."

Ichabod's eyebrows lifted slightly. "You were nowhere about when I asked for volunteers."

Brom closed his eyes and drew a breath, groaning slightly. "Yes… I was drunk. Ichabod! Promise me!" he added roughly.

"What?"

"That you won't go spook hunting without me again. You need a defender!"

The constable's dark eyes widened. "I… very well, if you will indeed go. For I am not finished here. In fact, I came here meaning to ask for your help."

"Ask anything of me, Crane. Sleepy Hollow has dismissed you, but I now believe that if anything can stop the Hessian, it is you."

One of Ichabod's inky brows lifted and his lips pursed. Brom was so busy admiring the effect that he forgot that he had said anything until Ichabod spoke. "I do need your help. Are you well enough to listen?"

Brom eased himself to a sitting position, groaning as the movement pulled at his wounds. "I am all attention."

Abigail, his sister, came in with some broth. She tried to spoon-feed her brother, but he would not be treated like a child before Ichabod; he seized the bowl and drank directly from it. Ichabod's foppish flaring of his nostrils at the uncouth behavior only amused him.

Swallowing his disdain of Brom's table manners, Ichabod explained. "I have discovered something. The horseman does not kill at random. Had you not attacked him, he would have let you be. His victims are chosen by someone who controls him. Someone who took his skull. Someone who knew where to dig. Someone of flesh and blood, as I always said."

"Who?"

"That is what I need you for. You know the people of Sleepy Hollow, and you are above suspicion, since the horseman attacked and nearly killed you. I need you to help me determine who stood to benefit from the deaths of the victims. There must be some connection between them."

"I can't think of any. That is, not any that does not apply to every other man and woman of Sleepy Hollow."

Ichabod regarded him thoughtfully. "We'll discuss it more after you've eaten and washed; I'm sure you'll feel better then."

Brom drank down another bowl of soup and threw aside the bedclothes to wash. For a few seconds the ground tilted when he stood, but he quickly regained equilibrium and walked to the stand with the water pitcher. He was wearing only his breeches, his bloodstained shirt having been cut away when his wounds were tended, and he was glad that Ichabod should have the chance to see the muscles built by smithing. Ichabod certainly looked, and then looked away, his eyebrow lifting again. Brom grinned at the impression he knew he was making.

Once Brom was dressed, Ichabod began. Brom sat on the bed, answering Ichabod's questions about the townspeople. When an answer interested him, Ichabod's eyes would narrow and he would pace to and fro, making statements whose relevance Brom could rarely see. But then, Brom was busy watching the movement of his slender legs in their tight breeches and boots as he strode up and down the room.

"There is something else," Ichabod remarked before long. "Do you know of the witch who inhabits the western woods?"

"I had heard tell that there was one," Brom affirmed.

"Yes. I happened upon her when I rode out there, and she directed me to the horseman's grave. After he awakened and rode into town, I followed him, and on the way, I passed the witch's lair. She was outside it, dead. Decapitated."

"De what?"

"Beheaded."

"The horseman killed the witch?"

"That's just it. I don't believe he did." Ichabod slipped effortlessly into his lecturing posture. "Do you remember my remarking that Jonathan Masbath's neck wound was cauterized?" Brom nodded. "When I exhumed the other victims, their wounds were cauterized as well, as were those of the magistrate and the Killians. The witch's neck was not cauterized, and there was…." Ichabod swallowed at the memory. "There was considerable blood flow. I doubt that the witch was beheaded with the same instrument as the others, or by the same murderer."

Brom frowned. "I don't understand."

Ichabod raised an eyebrow and resumed his pacing, his thoughts turned inward once more. "Perhaps it is not relevant. After all, whoever controls the horseman would have no need to commit a murder with his own hands. But the murder of the witch, apparently by a man of flesh and blood, makes it all the more pressing that I find the possessor of the horseman's skull."

"Why?"

"Don't you see?" The constable was lecturing again. "Clearly someone had a grudge against the witch, and it occurred to that someone that here was a perfect crime. Men and women are being beheaded right and left by this murdering ghost, with no apparent rhyme or reason. One more headless corpse would draw no special attention. "

"What does it matter if some pious citizen executed the witch of the western woods?"

Ichabod treated him to an exasperated look. "Leaving aside the entirely academic question of the right of a witch not to be murdered," he said in a venomously supercilious tone, "this sets a dangerous precedent. Suppose someone in Sleepy Hollow has a grudge against you. All he would need do is chop off your ruggedly handsome head and toss it into the river, and he would go unpunished, for everyone would lay your murder at the horseman's door without a second thought."

Brom's jaw set as he grasped the constable's point. Perhaps there was something to this deduction business after all. "If you don't stop the horseman, Sleepy Hollow could overflow with corpses!"

"Precisely." Ichabod pressed his lips together, clasped his hands behind his back, and paced in silence for a few minutes, deep in thought.

At length, after many obscure questions and an inquiry into the Van Tassel family tree, Ichabod suddenly stopped pacing. "Get your coat on, Brom!"

"Where are we going?" Brom asked, shrugging into it.

"To Notary Hardenbrook's." Ichabod's face was drawn and purposeful now.

"Have you thought of something?"

"Yes. I have." With that, Ichabod strode out, and Brom moved to catch up. Young Masbath, who had been waiting in the kitchen, hurried after them.

In the streets, many people were loading wagons, preparing to run away from the Hollow and the Horseman. Ichabod, the outsider, received many hostile glances, but with Brom at his shoulder, none troubled him.

The two men strode into the notary's office, Young Masbath trailing after. Hardenbrook was not in the room. Ichabod wandered about, looking at things, as Brom stood grimly by the door, ready for trouble from whatever quarter. Young Masbath suddenly exclaimed, "My father's satchel! What's it doing here?" He took it and had begun to rummage in it when Ichabod exclaimed, startled. Brom moved to his side swiftly, but it was only senile Hardenbrook, who had been hiding in a cabinet.

"Leave me alone!" Hardenbrook quavered.

Ichabod pursed his lips and skewered the notary with his glance. "Not until you show me the Last Will and Testament of old Van Garrett!"

"Leave me alone!" the old man bleated again.

Brom seized the man's shirt front. "Show him the Will, dog!" he thundered.

Ichabod laid a hand on his arm. "Brom, please! This is not the way to solve crimes."

"It isn't?"

Baffled, Brom allowed Ichabod to maneuver him away from the notary. He felt the slight pressure of Ichabod's fingers on his arm for several minutes after it had been removed.

"Excuse my companion, Notary Hardenbrook. He nearly lost his head to the horseman the other night, and is anxious to learn who has raised the Hessian from his grave. A question which I believe will be answered by Van Garrett's Will."

"The Will leaves everything to his son."

"Who died. Meaning that the estate would go to his next of kin."

"Of course. All legal and aboveboard."

"Sir." It was Young Masbath, who had discovered some interesting things in his father's satchel. The revelations of the new Will and the marriage certificate made Ichabod's eyes narrow thrillingly. Brom's admiration of the constable reawakened as he observed his mind piercing the mystery. With the forcefulness he commanded at his own craft, Ichabod thundered one question after another at the notary until he reached his conclusion: "None other than Baltus Van Tassel!"

But as they walked up the stairs to Ichabod's room in the Van Tassel home, Brom remarked quietly, "I think there is some error in your reasoning…."

"Really?" Ichabod did not seem especially impressed. Truth to tell, Brom did not blame him; he knew his own mental powers were not so finely honed as the constable's. And yet, one thing made no sense to him. "Do give me the benefit of your— "

"All these murders… just so that Baltus Van Tassel should inherit yet more land and property?"

"Precisely. Men murder for profit. Possibly you don't know New York?"

Brom was going to protest further, but just then they reached the door, which swung open to reveal the Van Tassel girl.

The girl was shooed out and the door closed behind her. Young Masbath was downstairs tending to Gunpowder. Ichabod had scarcely closed his desk drawer on the documents he had claimed from the notary when he suddenly yelped and pointed.

Brom followed the direction of Ichabod's finger and saw a large black spider on the floor. "It's just a spider."

Ichabod was standing on a stool. "Kill it!" he cried, almost hysterical. "No — no, stun it!"

Brom laughed. "Stun a spider?" He didn't care for spiders himself — ugly creatures — but he wouldn't run from one. The spider crawled under the bed. "Help me move the bed."

"No, no!" Ichabod spoke quickly, vehemently. Brom looked up at him curiously. Ichabod was trembling, huddling against the wall. The determined avenging angel who had cut through Notary Hardenbrook's resistance as if it were made of cobwebs had disappeared, leaving a hysteric in his place. "You move it," Ichabod said, eyeing the spot where the spider had last been seen warily.

Brom studied the constable for a moment. He seemed completely helpless to move from the spot. Suddenly Brom grinned and stepped closer to him.

"Kill it!" Ichabod demanded in agitation.

"Not just yet. I think I like having you trapped up there."

Ichabod tore his eyes away from the spider's hiding place to search Brom's face. Standing beside the stool upon which Ichabod stood, Brom put his arms around the handsome constable and let his hands begin to explore, holding Ichabod's gaze. Ichabod spared one further apprehensive glance in the spider's direction, before giving Brom his complete attention.

Several minutes later, he fainted again.

***

Brom sat in the corner of the bed against the wall. Ichabod leaned against him. Brom let his fingers play in Ichabod's tousled ebony hair.

"I thought you were Miss Katrina's beau," Ichabod said at length.

"And I thought you had a mind to be. She is like a sister to me," he added.

"I thought you were jealous when she kissed me during the Pickety Witch game."

"I was, but not the way you assumed."

Brom was rewarded with one of Ichabod's rare smiles. "I am glad to hear that. I thought it was hopeless." He paused. "Katrina no longer stands between us."

Brom, held by Ichabod's piercing dark eyes, responding by kissing him full on the mouth. For a long while they were lost in each other's lips, and then they embraced once more. This time, Ichabod did not faint.

After lying in satisfied silence for some time, Ichabod began to speak once more of the mystery.

"The problem now ahead of us is how we may prove that Van Tassel is behind the murders, and retrieve the skull. Where could it be hidden?"

"It still seems odd," Brom replied, his hands on the constable's city-softened skin. "Van Tassel is rich enough without— "

"When greed has possessed a person," Ichabod retorted, his body becoming tense in Brom's arms, "he will go to any lengths— "

Brom tightened his hold on Ichabod. "You wanted my help because I know the residents of Sleepy Hollow and you do not. I know Baltus Van Tassel, and I cannot believe that he would do such a thing."

"He has the motive. Why else would his four friends conspire to conceal— "

"Surely someone else stood to gain by these deaths. Think of it."

Ichabod's lips pursed, his eyes narrowed, and Brom knew he had forgotten him again. But he would remember.

***

As evening fell, Brom was roused from his work at the smithy — which was going indifferently, due to his wounds — by a loud thunderclap. Lightning always accompanied the horseman, but this looked to be a natural thunderstorm. But Ichabod was out in the town, Brom knew, and Brom must find him. He hurried for his horse.

His mount thundered along the road, Brom's cloak flowing behind him. There was Ichabod, ahead, trying to inspire Gunpowder to gallop. Brom's horse neighed, and the constable's dark head whipped around, his eyes wide, before he toppled from the nag's back.

Brom rode towards Ichabod where he lay on the ground. A flash of lightning illuminated Ichabod's pale features, the wind blowing his hair back from his lovely face as he stared wildly at Brom.

Brom reined in near him and grinned. "You were expecting someone else?"

Ichabod's eyes looked up, and the next moment he was unconscious. Brom jumped down, knelt on the damp grass beside him, and shook him gently, calling his name.

After a moment Ichabod started, gasping, his eyes wide. "It's me," Brom said quickly, grasping Ichabod's shoulders.

Ichabod collapsed against his muscled chest, shuddering.

"I didn't mean to frighten you," Brom said in a low voice.

"I thought it was…."

"But it wasn't." Brom stroked the constable's raven hair. After a moment, Ichabod relaxed against him. Brom tilted the other man's head back, studying the perfect planes of his face, before kissing him. He felt Ichabod's slender fingers in his hair, and knew the other man had forgotten his fright.

***

Late that night, Ichabod, poring over one of his exceedingly dull books, glanced out the window and noticed a cloaked figure leaving the house. He, Brom and Young Masbath followed the figure. Ichabod stopped on a hillside.

"Wait here," he whispered.

Brom looked at him, surprised. The man was unable to step on a spider himself, yet was going to investigate a mysterious figure in a haunted forest alone. He couldn't seem to decide whether he was a coward or not. Brom stayed on the hillside with the servant boy, but was ready to dash to Ichabod's side in an instant.

Only a minute later, Ichabod returned, looking queasy.

"What was there?" Young Masbath whispered.

Ichabod pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his face. "Something I wish I had not seen. A beast with two backs."

Young Masbath's eyes bulged. "A beast with…? What next in these bewitched woods?"

Brom found it necessary to cough.

When they reached the Van Tassel home, Ichabod stopped. "You two go inside. I want to walk about a bit."

Young Masbath went obediently inside, but Brom held his ground. "You're not going on a walk alone. It's too dangerous."

Ichabod shrugged. "Very well." They walked in silence through the dark streets, Brom alert for any sound, or for a flash of lightning. None came.

"The beast with two backs was composed of Reverend Steenwyck and the Lady Van Tassel," Ichabod announced at length in a quiet voice.

"Lady Van Tassel?"

"Yes. Is she perhaps… a wanton? Is there gossip about her?"

"None. I would never have thought…."

"I wonder if her infidelity might have some connection to the murders. If she had been deceiving her husband with the dead men, it could have inspired him to set the horseman on them. The inheritance could have been a secondary motive, a sort of consolation prize. Van Garrett had Van Tassel's wife, Van Tassel should then have Van Garrett's fortune."

"I've never heard any gossip about Lady Van Tassel. Besides, I should think Van Garrett was busy enough with the widow Winship."

"Ah, well. A dead end, perhaps. But if Van Tassel suspects his wife's fornications, he might send the horseman after her and her lover — or lovers."

Brom shook his head. "I still don't believe Van Tassel controls the horseman," he insisted. "This deduction of yours seems to be leading you astray."

"It is hardly surprising you have little respect for deduction, since your own powers of deduction are almost nonexistent," Ichabod retorted disdainfully.

Brom knew his mind could not compare with the constable's, but he was not willing to be insulted. He seized Ichabod's collar and shoved him against a wall. "What are you saying?" he growled.

As he was seized, Ichabod's lashes fluttered nervously, but once his back was against the wall he looked sure of himself again. Sure of himself while pinioned by a man far stronger and more ruthless than himself. The man was a puzzle, no question. But it seemed, from the level way he regarded his captor, that he was not afraid of Brom.

Ichabod's expression became supercilious. "For example. The night you met the Horseman. You shot him square in the chest. He stood up with your bullet still lodged in his heart and walked towards you. What did you do?"

"I reloaded," Brom answered uncomprehendingly. Ichabod knew that.

Ichabod's perfect lips curled scornfully. "You reloaded. You reloaded! To what purpose? To shoot him through the heart a second time? Or did you perhaps mean to put the next bullet in his brain?"

Now it seemed obvious. Brom stood silent, feeling like a fool. His actions had been the automatic ones of a man used to dealing with bears and wolves.

Ichabod, still pinned to the wall, regarded him with amusement. He put one of his slender hands on Brom's muscled arm and squeezed just slightly. "You're a strong and brave man, Brom. But perhaps you had best leave the thinking to me."

Brom held the constable in place with one hand and balled the other into a fist. "And perhaps you'd better blunt your tongue, Crane, unless you want to deduce that your face has been smashed." He was bluffing, of course. Nothing could make him damage that lovely face.

For one second, Ichabod looked intimidated. Then a secret smile twitched the corners of his mouth. "Blunt my tongue, is it?" The faintest flush came to Ichabod's pallid face. He inclined his head toward Brom, and in a low voice made a few suggestions about how he might blunt his tongue. After a few sentences, Brom thought that he might faint this time. He loosened his hold on Ichabod's shirt and the two of them walked together to the smithy, where they could be undisturbed.

***

That afternoon, Van Tassel burst into the kitchen with news. "The town is in a ferment! Horror piled on tragedy — Hardenbrook is dead!"

Lady Van Tassel put a hand to her breast. "That harmless old man?"

"Hanged himself in the night!" Van Tassel informed her.

"Hanged himself!" Ichabod echoed. Clearly that was not what he had expected to hear.

"Reverend Steenwyck has called a meeting at the church tonight. Every man, woman and child." Van Tassel turned to Ichabod, waving his hands. "He's going to speak out against you! If you are wise you will leave this place!"

Brom set his jaw. Perhaps Ichabod was right after all.

"I will go when I have done what I came to do," Ichabod stated. Brom gazed at him admiringly. When Ichabod was intent upon doing something, he seemed to forget that he was a coward.

***

From the shadows of the covered bridge, Ichabod, Brom and young Masbath watched the townspeople filter into the church. All looked panicked, and the men were all armed to the teeth.

"This meeting is likely to turn into a lynch mob," Ichabod said soberly.

"Perhaps you had best not be easy to find," Brom suggested.

Ichabod straightened. "I will go when I have done what I came to do," he repeated.

"Did you come here to feed the worms?" Brom asked sourly, but his admiration waxed just the same.

"The horseman!" A man was riding down the street toward the church, frantically calling. "The horseman — save me!"

Brom felt Ichabod tense beside him. "Who is it?" Brom whispered. Then the man came into view. Baltus Van Tassel.

Ichabod stared for a second, then ran toward the church, leaving his companions to hurry after.

At the church gate, Van Tassel was clutching his daughter's hands. "The horseman killed your stepmother!" The two of them ran inside.

Brom's mind raced as he and Ichabod and Young Masbath followed suit. Had Ichabod's guess been right, had Van Tassel set the Horseman to revenge himself for his wife's infidelity? Or was he genuinely in fear of his life?

He heard thunderous hoofbeats behind him and glanced back. The Horseman. He shoved his companions through the doors.

Inside, everyone was panicking. People were yelling at each other, the town elders huddled together before the altar. All the armed men were breaking windows to shoot at the Horseman, who was riding around the church, circling it. Brom and Young Masbath added their rifles to the efforts. Bullets could not kill the Horseman, but they could keep him at bay. Maybe as they did so, Ichabod would think of something.

Ichabod was watching the Horseman's movements over his shoulder. Daredevil, the aptly named ghostly horse, was pawing ineffectually at the church gate. He reared and galloped around again. The Horseman threw his axe over the parapet. It struck the hallowed ground and disintegrated.

"He cannot enter," Ichabod breathed. Then he turned and ran to the squabbling elders. "The Horseman cannot enter! He cannot cross the gate!"

"We have to save ourselves!" the Reverend Steenwyck growled piously.

Van Tassel seized Ichabod's pistol and shoved him onto a pew. Brandishing the weapon, he declared, "The next man to touch me will get a bullet!"

Brom, hearing this, glanced over his shoulder and saw what was happening. He ran to Ichabod's side. There were plenty of men shooting out the windows without him, and if Ichabod was right, they were safe enough in the church anyway. He planted himself in front of Ichabod, ready to block any attack on him. Katrina, he noticed in the corner of his eye, was kneeling on the floor in the aisle.

"Enough have died already. It is time to confess our sins," Dr. Lancaster moaned.

Van Tassel's eyes widened. "What is it that you know?" he demanded.

"Your four friends have played you false," the doctor replied. "We were devilishly possessed by one who— "

The doctor was stopped by a blow to his head, administered by the Reverend Steenwyck. Van Tassel, panicking, shot Steenwyck. Brom glanced at Ichabod, who was sitting stunned by the violence. It appeared that Van Tassel was perhaps not the culprit after all.

Van Tassel ran up to the pulpit. Standing by the windows, he declared, "There is a conspiracy here, and I mean to seek it out!"

He got no further. A makeshift harpoon hurtled through the window and pierced his chest. Katrina screamed and ran up to the pulpit. Ichabod followed her, and together they watched helplessly as Van Tassel was dragged like a hooked fish across the churchyard. When his body reached the fence, the Horseman drew his sword and beheaded him.

Ichabod was going to faint again, but Katrina beat him to it. He was going to follow suit, but when he glanced down at her, he noticed something that interested him so much that he forgot to faint. Kneeling beside her, he took something out of her hand and pocketed it quietly before picking the girl up.

"Let us go," he said in a low voice to Brom, looking ill. On their way down the aisle, Ichabod stopped for a moment and glanced down significantly. Brom followed his look and saw a bizarre pentagram with various symbols written in pink chalk. The Evil Eye! On the floor of a church!

Brom led the cautious way out of the church. The Horseman was gone. Brom wanted to carry Katrina, but he had to be ready to defend himself and his companions, so he allowed Ichabod to bear her home in his arms. They took her to her room and found a woman to look after her.

"We must leave this house," Ichabod ordered in a low voice. Young Masbath was sent to pack his master's things. In only a few minutes, they all were headed toward the smithy, the boy walking a short distance behind them.

"Why must you leave?" Brom asked. He was still feeling somewhat bewildered by the whirl of violence and revelation this evening.

"Because of what I found in Katrina's hand when she fainted."

"What?"

Ichabod glanced around before pulling something out of his pocket, his fist closed around it. He opened his hand so that Brom could see, but out of the boy's view.

On Ichabod's scarred palm was a piece of pink chalk.

Brom frowned. "I don't…."

"The Evil Eye," Ichabod clarified.

Brom was thunderstruck. "I don't believe it! I've known Katrina all my life."

Ichabod's lips thinned. "You have known everyone here all your life, Brom. One of them is behind half a dozen gruesome murders. Which of them could you believe guilty?"

"I don't know," Brom admitted.

"Well, then. Don't deny the evidence until you have some alternative."

Ichabod began striding down the street, passing the undertaker's. Van Ripper and two other men were carrying the bodies of the Van Tassels inside. "Aren't you going to cut the new bodies up?" Brom asked, remembering the scandal which had resulted from Ichabod doing so before.

Ichabod stopped. "Oh, I suppose so. Though it's hardly necessary now."

Just the same, the constable turned and strode into the undertaker's. Brom shoved everyone who protested out of the room and bolted the door. Ichabod took his satchel from Young Masbath and opened it. "Put the bodies on the operating table, please."

Brom took Van Tassel's shoulders, both because they were heavier and to spare the boy the sight. Young Masbath hesitated as he reached for the corpse's feet.

"Nothing to be afraid of," Ichabod said encouragingly, though the beads of sweat already forming on his forehead made his words less than convincing.

Ichabod averted his eyes as he moved to the table, then made himself look at Van Tassel's neck wound. "Once again, the powerful singular thrust to the neck, the wound cauterized." He swallowed and turned his gaze to the body of Lady Van Tassel, which Brom and Young Masbath had were laying beside that of her husband. But when he looked at her wound, he suddenly leaned close, peering intently. Forgetting to be nauseated, he pulled one of his sets of goggles out of his bag along with one of his peculiar instruments. Brom watched, fascinated. Now that something, God alone knew what, had intrigued Ichabod, he was a changed man, all purpose, his fears and squeamishness forgotten.

"Mmm hmm." Having made this enlightening statement, he lifted the woman's arm and stared at the cut on her palm. Then he turned the palm so that Brom could see it. "No bloodflow, no clotting, no healing." Replacing the arm, he looked at Brom. "When this cut was made, this woman was already dead."

"But the Lady Van Tassel cut her hand the night before the town meeting!"

"Precisely. Which tells us that this is not the Lady Van Tassel."

Brom stared at the constable. His earlier words went through his head: "In headless corpse cases of this sort, the head is removed to prevent identification of the body."

"Then who is it? And where is Lady Van Tassel?"

"Up to no good, I should think." Ichabod pointed to the neck wound. "This woman, whoever she is, was not killed by the Horseman. Her murderer, most likely, was the Lady Van Tassel. Come." Ichabod strode out the door, Brom and Young Masbath on his heels.

It was as they had feared. The Lady Van Tassel had taken Katrina, still dazed from the sight of her father's murder, to the dead witch's lair. The three of them rode wildly, lashing their horses. Even Gunpowder remembered his younger days and galloped swiftly.

Katrina was just running out as they arrived. Seeing them, she threw her arms about Ichabod, who was the closest.

The Lady Van Tassel appeared in the doorway, laughing wildly, her hair disarranged, holding a skull cradled to her chest. Its teeth were filed down to points. Seeing them, she laughed harder. "You're just in time to have your head cut off!" she declared.

She was right. Lightning struck, and thundering hooves could be heard approaching swiftly.

Brom turned in their direction, his rifle ready. "I'll hold him, Crane. You get the skull."

The Horseman galloped into view. Brom took careful aim and fired. As before, he made a direct hit, unhorsing the Hessian. Then he held his rifle by the barrel, ready to use it as a club when the Horseman stood. This time, at least, he knew better than to waste time reloading.

A shot sounded behind him. He jumped and looked behind him. Lady Van Tassel was holding a pistol, and Ichabod Crane was lying on the ground. Katrina and Young Masbath were staring in horror.

"NOOO!"

As the scream left his throat Brom was about to fall on the witch, but an all-too-familiar jangle of spurs sounded a yard away, and Brom had to turn and do battle with the unstoppable Hessian once more. Knowing he could not kill the ghost, Brom played for time, praying for a miracle. He could hear sounds of a struggle behind him. Perhaps the boy and the Van Tassel girl were trying to retrieve the skull. He could only hope.

As he dodged another blow from the Horseman, Brom heard a cry in a familiar voice, and the sound almost made him drop his rifle. It was Ichabod. Ichabod was alive, at least enough to groan. Brom redoubled his efforts toward the Horseman.

After several more minutes of dueling, the Horseman struck Brom in the head with the hilt of his sword. Brom went down. He lay on the ground, his eyes open, but too dazed to stand. The Horseman strode to Katrina and seized her.

But Ichabod was crawling toward the skull. The Lady Van Tassel was clinging to him, holding him back. Like most women, in a fight she compensated for her lack of brawn with viciousness, clawing and biting and pulling Ichabod's hair fiercely. Young Masbath, shaking but with implacable anger in his youthful eyes, glanced around frantically. He noticed a small log half buried in the autumn leaves and grabbed it. Without an instant's hesitation, he brought the log down on the head of the woman responsible for his father's murder.

Ichabod gasped as the Lady Van Tassel lost consciousness and released him. He glanced at the Horseman, who had his fingers wrapped in Katrina's golden hair and his sword unsheathed. Ichabod scrambled the rest of the way to the skull and hoisted it aloft. "Horseman!" he cried.

The Horseman "looked" at Ichabod — he really did, eerily, seem to look — and shoved Katrina to the ground. Ichabod threw the skull to him.

The Horseman caught his skull, fitted it onto his head, and all at once was whole. Brom finally regained enough control to sit up and look at the enemy. He was indeed fearsome, with his pale blue eyes like the heart of a flame and his pointed teeth.

Daredevil, the demon horse, galloped back to his side. All stood back as the Horseman remounted. When the Hessian reached down for the Lady Van Tassel and pulled her across his saddle, none objected. As Daredevil took his riders back into the Tree of the Dead, back to Hell, the evil woman's scream was the last sound they heard.

Brom, Katrina and Young Masbath all rushed to Ichabod's side. Swaying on his feet a little, the constable held his jacket open to display a book with a bullet lodged in it. The book had caught the bullet which would otherwise have reached his heart.

Brom laughed. "So books are good for something, after all."

Ichabod did not reply. Instead he collapsed, unconscious again, to the ground.

***

"Stay with me in Sleepy Hollow," Brom said the next day.

Ichabod looked at him with deep emotion burning in his dark eyes. "I cannot stay here," he said. "I must tell the world about my scientific techniques of crime detection, now that I have had the chance to test them."

"And detected that the murderer was a ghost controlled by a witch," Brom added.

Ichabod shrugged and sighed. "I do not know what I will tell my superiors when I return, but return I must. But must I return alone?"

Brom held his gaze. "New York?… Your investigations would no doubt fare better with my muscle to back them up."
"Constable Van Brunt," Ichabod mused, then shook his head. "You're far too brave; you'd get yourself killed."

Brom laughed joyfully. "What I shall do in New York we can decide another day," he said. "But go I will, to New York or wherever else you venture."

Their kiss sealed the pledge. A few days later, they left Sleepy Hollow and went home together.

 

Sequel: Nor Check My Courage
Slash Hollow
Tales of Romance
Sleepy Hollow