Villainy Wears Many Masks

I hurried toward the sound of the alarm bell as soon as I heard it, but Constables Green and Witherspoon still arrived before me. Several gawkers were gathering about in front of the house, a respectable address, a somewhat expensive residence. I elbowed through the crowd. "Stand aside!" I ordered in the most authoritative voice I could summon, and several of the onlookers responded to the sight of my uniform by grudgingly giving a few inches of space.

Inside, I had no difficulty finding the room in question. All I had to do was follow the footprints of blood. One set going in each direction up and down the hall, made by the same shoes. I steeled myself and followed them.

When I found the room the prints led to, I stopped in the doorway. Blood was everywhere. There was a large pool of blood covering almost the entire floor, drops of blood on all the furniture, and a man lying on his back at its center.

I stood a moment, trying to breathe. Once during an investigation I fainted before I had been on the scene a full minute. After that, no one listened to anything I said. Not that they do anyway. Green and Witherspoon smirked at me. I turned my gaze to them for a moment, averting my eyes from the body. They were shackling a struggling man in his forties, a well-dressed gentleman who I think would have been considered handsome.

"I had nothing to do with it!" the gentleman was protesting. "I received a message from him to call on him, and I found him like this! It was I who summoned you! Would I have done that had I been the murderer?"

I examined him. His words and manner were convincing enough, though I know too well that is not proof. Witherspoon grinned at me.

"You'll be proud of us, Constable Crane. We did some deducing!"

"Really." I doubt Witherspoon could deduce that he should come in out of the rain. "Do tell."

Now that the gentleman was shackled, Witherspoon released him, allowing Green to hold him, and picked up a pistol from a table, handing it to me. "What do you think we found right here at the crime scene, conveniently engraved with the murderer's name?"

"Convenient indeed." Already I was convinced that my fellows had the wrong man. I took the gun and examined it. It was a fine piece, expensive, and indeed engraved with its owner’s name and a date in elaborate calligraphy. August St. James III, July 22, 1795.

"We’ll send the coffin cart for the corpse. Have fun looking at the blood and guts and entrails till then," Green jeered as they started dragging August St. James toward the door.

"Wait!"

Both of them stopped irritably. I turned my gaze back to the victim, trying to forget Green's last words. My stomach demanded that I leave at once. Instead, I walked over to the corpse. At least no one had moved it. There were no footprints close to it. After scrutinizing the ground around the victim, I stepped gingerly to the side of the body, getting blood on my boots, and bent carefully to examine the wound.

The wound was a huge gash in the stomach. I gingerly lifted the tatters of the man's shirt and moved them aside, hoping the shaking of my hands would not destroy the evidence. My hands always insist upon shaking when I most need them steady. I often wish I could amputate them and replace them with a steadier pair.

When I saw the interior of the wound, my stomach rebelled against me and I had to turn away. My constitution seems determined to thwart me from my purpose. The High Constable and the Burgomaster would be most pleased to learn what devoted allies they have in my traitorous hands and stomach. Katrina is always after me to eat more. If she knew how much difficulty my digestion already gives me when I work….

When I was able to speak, I explained, "The wound was clearly made by some sort of stabbing weapon, a large one, probably with several sharp edges. This was no ordinary knife, but some sort of spiked club, driven through the man’s stomach with considerable force." I paused, letting them take this in. "Release Mr. St. James."

"Constable Crane, he's the murderer!" Green said with a scowl.

"Is he? Then where is the blood that must have covered the murderer’s clothes?"

They all glanced around. Blood was everywhere, as if it had sprayed all over the room, but St. James' fine clothes were immaculate.

"Obviously he was standing far enough away when he shot him not to get blood on him," Witherspoon retorted.

"Shot him? Witherspoon, you have been a constable long enough to know a gunshot wound when you see one. Is that like any you have ever seen? Examine the wound, as I did, unless you lack the stomach for it."

Green looked at Witherspoon expectantly. Reluctantly he went over and peered at the wound. It humiliates me that I have not been able to conceal my weak stomach from my fellow constables, but it has one benefit: none of them are willing to be outdone by me, so I never have difficulty inducing them to examine evidence, however grisly. Not that they heed it once they have seen it.

"The bullet must have exploded. That happens sometimes."

"Exploded? Of all the-" I stopped myself. Why trouble to explain to them? Instead I came to stand before St. James, who was shaking all over. I felt for the man. "Mr. St. James, would you please tell me what happened here?"

Stammering slightly, he said, "This afternoon I received a message from Gabriel - his name is Gabriel Erickson- to call this evening. I arrived to find the door slightly ajar. I called out, but no one answered, so I walked inside, and found him like this. I at once ran out, looking for a constable." With that, he glared at Witherspoon.

"And your gun?"

"My wife had it engraved for me on my birthday five years ago."

"I mean, how did it get here?"

"I have no idea. Generally I keep it locked in my study. I did not even know it was missing."

Green snorted at that. I ignored him. "What was your relationship to the deceased?"

"We are not very close friends, but certainly friendly. We have had him to dinner a few times. We have known each other since youth, when we served together in the Revolution. I had no reason to wish him dead!"

I nodded curtly. "I can see plainly that you are innocent, and I shall prove it," I said. I kept my tone firm, to reassure him. I had no doubt I could prove my case, but it was not certain that anyone would heed it once I did.

Green laughed. "Don't put too much stock in Crane and his toys, St. James. Come on, Witherspoon." They dragged Mr. St. James out, adding three new sets of red prints to the hall carpet.

As the front door opened, I could hear the coffin cart. Quickly I turned back to the body to learn what I could before it was removed. The victim was lying on his back, his arms spread at his side. His hands were empty; no weapon with which he might have tried to defend himself, no stray hairs or any other signs that he had struggled against the murderer. Evidently he was attacked from the front, and had been in a standing position. No furniture had been knocked over, no sign of a struggle. Erickson was taken completely by surprise. It seemed unlikely anyone could have gotten in and attacked him from the front without his knowledge, so I deduced that the murderer must be someone known to him, someone he would have trusted sufficiently to allow into his home. There was nothing in sight that could have made the horrible wound that had killed him.

I stood in front of him, more or less where the murderer must have stood, and then turned and looked behind me. There was no interruption of the bloodstains on the furniture or wall, no sign that a man had been standing in their way. I frowned, wondering how this could be.

The undertakers’ men lumbered in, heedless of what was under their feet. They placed a coffin on the bloody floor and lifted the body briskly. The wound made a sound as it shifted, and more blood poured out. I left the room as quickly as I could, leaving more bloody footprints in the hall.

 

 

I had seen the girl before, but something seemed to weigh upon her so heavily that day that I could not help but stare. She examined the thread at the weaver's booth with absent fingers, her elfin profile bent at a sorrowful angle. Her hair was even paler than mine, the shade of winter sunlight at dawn. She was no taller than I and slighter in stature.

I watched the girl move through the stalls collecting meager purchases, realizing that she could not be more than nineteen. Although it is hard to miss an individual so fair, it was not her shining braids that had first caught my attention, but the bauble around her neck. I had never before seen a talisman carved in the shape of a hand hollowed out where the palm should be. Though I had never looked her straight in the eye, I could tell that she carried herself with an aloof, startled bearing. I was always careful to look away before she turned in my direction, but I could not shake the feeling that each time I did, her eyes fastened as steadily upon me as mine upon her.

"She's a sad one, isn't she?"

I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of Young Masbath's voice. He, too, had been studying the girl.

"Yes, David, she is," I agreed, still shaken. "She is here almost every time that I come."

"You can't help but notice her," David observed. "Her hair is even lighter than yours, Katrina!"

"Indeed. But more so than noticing her, I feel sorry for her," I confided. "Did you mark that, while her purchases are few, she is still buying enough for two people? Do you suppose she is a single mother? Or an orphan struggling to care for a younger sibling? Perhaps she lives with an ailing mother or father," I sighed. "Even though it is not my concern, I wish that I knew the cause of her grief. Does that sound strange to you?"

"Not in the least, actually," David said with a shy smile. "You have the kindest heart I've ever known."

"And you the most persevering," I said with quiet gratitude, placing a hand on David's shoulder. "You never lose faith. I thank you for standing up for me that day in Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod might have left without both of us if your words had not lingered in his mind and prompted him to take a closer look at my spell book!"

"I take no such credit, but you're welcome," David murmured, a faint blush tinting his white cheeks. "Ah, look there!" he exclaimed suddenly. "The girl... she's leaving. She looks frightened, Katrina."

I followed the discreet pointing of David's finger. The girl had exited the row of stalls opposite us, moving at a brisk, alarmed pace. Her eyes darted nervously from side to side, and every so often, she glanced over her shoulder. I felt a chill: she toyed with the bauble at her throat with agitated slim fingers.

"Do you think she's in danger?" David asked in a whisper. "She's acting like someone's following her."

David was right. I scanned the area she had been shopping and searched the crowd around her. I waited until the girl rounded a corner onto the next block to pull David after me in the direction that she had gone.

"I do not like the look of it," I said warily. "Let's follow her for a little while to make sure she is all right."

"Katrina.... What if she thinks we're the ones following her?" David asked hesitantly.

"She does not," I said grimly. "Are we threatening enough to inspire that kind of fear in a young woman's eyes? I have seen... and felt that kind of terror. So have you. She fears for her life, David."

"You're right."

Following the girl unseen was a difficult task. Nervous and bird-like, she not only glanced over her shoulder frequently, but pivoted her head in all directions- even up. The intensity of the panic that her eyes radiated was astounding, even from a distance over which their color was indeterminate.

David exhaled in amazement, "My, but she can run! She's absolutely frantic."

"That makes the whole thing twice as disturbing," I said under my breath, narrowly evading a puddle in my haste. "Wait! She is slowing. David, stop for a moment."

I drew him under the awning of a nearby milliner's. We held our breaths as the girl approached the shadowy doorway of a tenement complex. She rapped hard against the dusty window.

"Chris.... Chris! Let me in," she cried in a silvery echo of a voice. A hazy shape taller than the girl appeared on the other side of the door, its masculine reply unintelligible. The door opened and a reassuring arm shepherded the girl inside. I heard the pair's voices rise in an edgy duet as the door closed behind them. David was frowning, too puzzled to comment.

"Maybe that was her husband," he commented at length. "At least she has someone to take care of her."

"Apparently," I answered slowly, prompted to frown myself even though I should have been relieved. I said guardedly, "There must be pickpockets around here. I should ask Ichabod if anyone patrols this area. Let's be off. I am not keen on falling prey to a thief."

The walk home was a silent, contemplative one, each of us lost in our own thoughts. My sack of groceries felt like it was full of bricks. Although I was grateful for the girl's safety, I could not shake the feeling that whatever she had feared was following her was invisible to all eyes but her own.

In a modern city full of thousands of people, I wondered, do such horrors truly exist?

 

 

The next day, even though the High Constable ignored the evidence I had discovered, I continued with my investigation. I began with routine inquiries as to the character of August St. James. He had no criminal record, no history of violence, and there was not known to be any bad feeling between him and the victim, nor did he stand to benefit in any way from Erickson's death. If ever I feel the need to frame anyone for a crime, I hope I shall not do such a sloppy job. Not that its sloppiness seemed to be making any difference; St. James was imprisoned just as securely as if his framer had done a masterful job.

After these inquiries, I called on the family of the deceased at the home of his brother Edward. This was apparently a somewhat well-off family; the house was not lavish, but quite comfortable, and in a respectable neighborhood. Edward's wife, sister, brother-in-law and mother were all there, all in black. They all looked grave as I was shown in, but somehow serene in spite of their grief.

"Pardon my intrusion at this difficult time," I said to the gathered family in their parlour, "but if we are to obtain justice for Gabriel Erickson, it is essential that I ask you some questions."

"By all means, Constable," Edward said, inviting me to sit down. "Anything we can do to help."

"First, let me ask: Did your brother have any enemies? Any rivals in business, perhaps?"

"Colonel Dorn," his sister replied with a slight laugh. I looked at her, startled that she could muster even such a small chuckle the day after her brother's death.

"I don't know that he would be considered an enemy," Edward said, "but a rival, certainly."

"A rival in what way?"

"Oh, they served together in the Revolution. My brother was decorated a few times, and won a command Dorn had wanted. Dorn was not a Colonel then, of course, but not many stayed in the army after the war was over, so I suppose there has been little competition since."

"In the Revolution? So this Colonel Dorn and your brother both served with August St. James then?"

"Of course," Edward said tranquilly.

"Do any of you know of anyone else who might have wished your brother ill?"

"Well, obviously Mr. St. James did," Edward said with resigned sadness.

I drew myself up. "Mr. St. James has been arrested, but he is not convicted yet. There is considerable evidence that he is innocent. I must know if there are any other likely suspects."

The senior Mrs. Erickson spoke up. "Do not trouble yourself, Constable Crane. You have arrested the right man."

It was not her words, but the calm certainty with which she said them that surprised me. "You believe Mr. St. James to be guilty?"

"We know he is."

"Madame, at the crime scene I discovered considerable physical evidence which would eliminate him as a suspect. What makes you think he is guilty?"

It was Edward who answered, explaining why the entire family was so oddly at peace at this tragic time.

"Because we spoke to Gabriel's spirit last night with the help of a pair of mediums we visit quite often. During the séance, he assured us that Mr. St. James was the murderer."

 

 

I was gravely distracted as I sliced onions to garnish the roast that would serve as our dinner that night. David had retired to his room to study the texts that I was determined to put him through, just as my own father had so thoroughly seen to my own education despite the protests of society against learned women.

The only sound in the kitchen of our new home on Karrigan Square was the soft licking of the flames that I had coaxed to life in the stove. That and the slicing of the knife guided by my unsteady hand- chop, chop, chop. I could not erase the pale, frightened girl's features from my memory. Nor the unusual shape of her necklace. I shivered, dropping the knife carelessly in mid-slice. I had pictured my own hand missing its center.

I completed the gaffe by knocking the knife and a few onion rings onto the floor. I had jumped a foot at the sound of the front door. I heard the soft clangor of Ichabod's alarm bell as he tossed it onto the sofa. I hurriedly stooped to pick up the knife and the onions. Ichabod tossing objects around meant that he was as disconcerted as I was. And I hated to seem incompetent in his eyes. For aught I knew, he thought I had been served on silver platters my entire life and had never set foot in a kitchen. I did not clean the mess up in time: he stepped into the kitchen just as I snatched up the knife with trembling fingers.

"Ichabod!" I greeted him nervously, scattering the onions every which way on the cutting board as I forced my hands to release them. "You- You startled me," I added, forcing a laugh. Never in my life had I felt lost for words, nor had I been failed by recovery. Ichabod raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"Indeed I have," he replied with a half-smile that conveyed more puzzlement than amusement. I wiped my hands hastily on a nearby towel as he approached. He embraced me with concern, confusion flashing in his dark eyes at the unusual timidity of my kiss.

"You are trembling, Katrina," Ichabod said tensely.

"Yes.... Yes, I am," I replied with embarrassment. "I am sorry. I'll cut a new onion–"

"That will... not be necessary, my love," he said slowly, tilting my chin upward. I found that I could not look at him. My cheeks burned with shame. What kind of a wife am I, startled so by the entry of my own husband?

"But it is," I insisted. "If it had been a servant, I would have been quick to-"

"You are not a servant," Ichabod said, his voice strangely weary and affectionate at the same time. "Will you tell me what is amiss? Or shall I force it from you by way of onion torture?" He was awkwardly trying to lace humor into an awkward situation. I molded my incompliant lips into a smile.

"Onion torture?" I asked mischievously.

"I shall make you cut another, and another, and another.... until you cannot stand the stinging in your eyes one moment longer and will be forced to tell me what ails you."

"Perhaps I should do the same to you," I said guardedly.

"I do not catch your meaning," he said stiffly.

"I know my husband well enough to recognize when he is even more deeply bothered than I am myself!"

Ichabod gave an exasperated sigh, his mask of forced apathy fading away. "I have been assigned to a most difficult case, Katrina," he said.

"How so?"

"A murder, naturally," Ichabod continued, fighting a rush of emotion that shocked as much as relieved me. "A man by the name of Gabriel Erickson has been.... Good God, Katrina, I would endure another Widow Winship before laying eyes on another scene such as the one I saw today!"

"That gruesome?" I asked gently.

"Gutted," Ichabod replied succinctly. "And to make matters worse, I believe that Green and Witherspoon have arrested the wrong man- simply because he was present at the crime scene, because he was the one to report it! That was no gunshot wound. And I have reason to believe that this man... August St. James... is no murderer, except-" Ichabod paused, indignant fury contorting his brow.

"Except what?"

"Except that the victim's family claim that they have spoken with his spirit by way of some mediums, the alleged spirit informing them that St. James is indeed the killer!"

I lowered my eyes, for it was my turn to feel indignant. "Suppose they have," I challenged quietly. "Need I remind you that ghosts and demons are as real as you and I? You cannot deny what happened to us in Sleepy Hollow. Suppose that they have contacted Gabriel?"

"But a séance, Katrina! Mediums! I have only ever known them to be ruthless charlatans bent upon swindling anyone hapless enough to believe in their trickery. Mere drama is the psychic's art, my dear, and nothing more. What the Ericksons claim is ludicrous!"

"Not ludicrous enough," I said shortly, turning back to the onions. Ichabod pressed at my shoulder fretfully, clearly regretting the things he had said.

"I did not mean to upset you. However, I cannot condone such a blatant hoax."

"If you are so certain it is a hoax," I replied, feeling the delicious chill of a dare creeping up my spine, "then promise me that you will investigate these mediums in person."

"Absolutely not!"

"How can you be sure, then? Where is the Constable Crane who leaves no stone unturned, no tree trunk unexplored?" I retaliated. "Did they give you the mediums' address?"

"Yes," Ichabod admitted grudgingly. "304 McRaker's Alley," he said with an audible shudder of disgust. "A terrible place, Katrina. A nest of thieves and ne'er-do-wells."

"Oh," I said in a small voice, my stomach falling as I cut another onion ring. "You mean where there's an open-air market every third day."

"How did you know?" Ichabod asked sharply.

"Well, I've heard it mentioned in passing-"

"In passing by in person, I see," Ichabod scolded, for he had noticed how guiltily I had regarded the onions. "Katrina, I beseech you, stay away from there. The crime rate there has been one of the city's highest, and still it rises yearly."

"So the mediums live in this neighborhood," I said, crestfallen, "and therefore you will not even take the chance of paying them a visit."

Ichabod groaned in captive protest. I was looking him straight in the eye as pitifully as I could.

"Who am I to refuse the Pickety Witch?" Ichabod whispered in defeat. "Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I must discover the fraud before I can proceed."

"That's my husband," I cooed in satisfaction, kissing his cheek. "And you're taking me with you," I added.

"To that, I must say absolutely not!"

"No, you must not," I said slyly. "Because I know exactly how to handle this. You're going to schedule a séance for tomorrow night. You've been desperate to contact your dearly departed Aunt Hildreth ever since the will turned up missing and your brother Wilbur insists that everything should go to him."

"Katrina!" Ichabod protested, appalled. "I have neither an aunt nor a brother!"

"Exactly."

"Ah.…" Ichabod conceded hesitantly, eyes narrowing as he identified my reasoning. "Use one fraud to uproot another. Why didn't anyone warn me that my bride is as brilliant as she is beautiful?" I leaned gratefully into his much relaxed embrace.

Or to uproot the truth, I added silently, forgetting the onions in favor of Ichabod's kiss on account.

 

 

Perhaps I should not have relented and allowed Katrina to accompany me to the séance, but when she turned melting wide brown eyes on me with her lips slightly parted, I knew I was beaten. Perhaps when we have been married for fifty years, I shall have developed some resistance to that look.

So the next evening we set out for the mediums' lair, with David trailing behind us. When David heard what we were planning, he petitioned most urgently to be allowed to accompany us. He explained that he wanted to watch how I went about making investigations in the city; the boy has often expressed his ambition to be a constable and detective. It is flattering, but I am inclined to think that one day he will choose another life. This current fancy is likely simply gratitude towards me for avenging his father's murder.

In spite of the reasons David gave for wanting to attend the séance, a wistfulness in his eyes made me suspect that there was something else as well. I suspect that in the back of his mind, he nursed a hope, probably scarcely admitted to himself, that these mediums might be able to put him in touch with his own lost loved ones. Such hopes are best nipped in the bud. The nipping may hurt, but not so much as the crushing disappointment the boy would no doubt experience if he began to put stock in such confidence artists. A hard lesson for a hard world. So I allowed him to come and see their trickery for himself. There are times when disillusionment is a friend.

Katrina glanced about in astonishment as we neared the address we had been given. "We were on this road just the day before yesterday."

I looked at her sharply. "I thought you only went to the market." Her eyes flickered guiltily. "Well?" I pressed.

She sighed and confessed. "In the marketplace, I saw a girl perhaps eighteen years old, and she looked terribly frightened."

"Is that what troubled you so last night? You certainly did a clever job of distracting me from finding out. I had forgotten till this moment."

She nodded sheepishly. "I was worried for her, so I followed her till I saw that she was safely home."

"Katrina." I shook my head. "Your tender heart is something I treasure about you, but I wish you would not let it lead you to endanger yourself. This is one of the worst neighborhoods in New York. It is not a place any man would want his wife venturing into."

A sorrowful look crossed her lovely face. "And that poor girl has to make this walk every day. She is younger than I, Ichabod, and no taller, and much slighter. A man's voice answered her when she reached her home — I wonder why he doesn't–"

"Katrina! Were you listening to me at all? I do not want you wandering around areas like this alone!"

"David was with me," she offered.

I looked at him. Seeing my gaze — I suppose I must have looked rather irate, and with good reason — the boy lowered his eyes.

"That is a little better," I allowed, resolving to instruct David to discourage Katrina from following impulses to head into dubious areas of town. "But really, my love, you have spent your life in a tiny hamlet where you knew everybody. You have not yet learned how dangerous a city this size can be."

She turned pleading brown eyes on me. "But if you could have seen her, Ichabod! She was terrified!"

David spoke up nervously. "She truly was, sir. Had you seen her, you would have followed as well."

I wanted to tear my hair. "Katrina, spare some of that compassion for me! It would kill me if anything were to happen to you."

She sighed. "Very well, Ichabod." And with that I had to be satisfied. A moment later someone half a block away caught her eye. "Ah. When I was here, I meant to ask you if this area was patrolled."

Following her glance, I saw Constable Witherspoon coming towards us. He caught sight of us. His gaze took quick note of me before moving to the angel at my side.

Witherspoon's eyes bulged when he saw Katrina. I tucked her little hand more securely in the crook of my elbow. He looked at me as if he had never seen me before, and then his eyes were drawn irresistibly back to Katrina. We all stopped as we drew near each other.

He stammered, "C-Constable Crane. And this is?"

Ever since I returned from Sleepy Hollow last winter with a golden band on my fourth finger, my fellow constables have been pestering me with impertinent questions, most of which I am very glad Katrina cannot hear. But my colleagues and I have never socialized together, having little sympathy with each other, and so few of them have ever seen her. This was the first time that Witherspoon was to enjoy that privilege.

"Lady Crane. May I present Constable Witherspoon? Good day." I could feel his eyes on us as we walked on. It was petty of me, perhaps, but it was a satisfying moment.

We found the address, and Katrina studied the shabby building, shocked. Her fingers tightened on my arm. "This is where the girl who we followed went!"

I was not happy to hear this. Evidently this girl charlatan already had a wedge into my wife's tender heart. That would make the evening’s work a bit more difficult. But I pressed on. "Perhaps we can find out what she was afraid of, then," I replied, leading her to the door and knocking.

A young man opened the door. He was about eighteen, with light hair and rather arresting violet eyes and a slight build, about as slight as my own. He glanced behind us cautiously for a moment before his eyes rested on us. Doubtless watching for creditors or constables, I thought sourly.

"Are you Mr. Crane?"

"None other," I answered brusquely.

"I am Christopher Magellan." The lad stood aside for us to enter. I glanced around at the foyer and then the sitting room he pointed out. The furniture and rugs were shabby and ancient, but I had to admit the room was neat and clean. They did the best they could with what they had.

Standing beside the table was a girl of the same age, even fairer than her brother or Katrina, with the same shifting violet eyes. She must have been the girl Katrina saw. Katrina examined her anxiously, and Isobel met her glance silently and evenly. David was also studying her. I had to admit that it was difficult to think of these two, hardly more than children, as ruthless swindlers. But then, such people must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. It is how they do their foul work.

"This is my sister Isobel Magellan," the lad introduced us.

"Is this the room where you hold the seances?" I demanded. He nodded. "Then I suppose you will not mind if I look it over?"

"A skeptic," he said with a weary smile. I had to admit, his act was good. Most charlatans would have acted offended. I shrugged. "Why did you come if you do not believe?"

Glancing at Katrina, I decided to tell a lie that was close to the truth. "My wife insisted that we try this. We have already tried everything else. My aunt died a few months ago, and her will is nowhere to be found. My brother is insisting that everything is his by right. Mrs. Crane thought that, if we could contact my aunt..."

He nodded. "Of course. Please sit down."

"First I would rather have a look around, if you do not mind."

I expected him to argue, to take umbrage, but again he nodded, looking both weary and amused. "Look all you like."

That is what I would expect to hear from a genuine medium, I thought reluctantly. That is, if such a thing existed. I surveyed the room. There was a round table at the center with a cloth of dark velvet. The cloth had been expensive at one time, but was worn and threadbare now. I looked under the table. There was nothing there, not even dust or cobwebs. I lifted the cloth. Nothing. Nothing under the chairs around the table, which were simple straight-backed ones. I looked to the other furniture.

What caught my attention first was the small bookshelf. It held a few cheap trinkets, all rather amateurish attempts at exoticism. There was a paperweight in the shape of a pyramid, painted gold, a stuffed bat, a dull knife shaped like a dagger with a ram's head on the hilt, and similar brick-a-brack. Doubtless such knick-knacks impress those dullardly enough to be taken in by conjuror’s tricks such as mediums play.

I examined the bookshelf very carefully, but found no hidden strings or other such trumpery. In fact, there was a thin layer of dust on everything on the shelf. Nothing on it had been moved in some time, except for the books on the bottom shelf, all about the spirit world. One of them, I noticed, was A Compendium of Spells, Charms and Devices of the Spirit World. Involuntarily, my hand went to my vest pocket, where a copy of that same book always rests, a copy with a bullet hole at its center. The coincidence made me uneasy.

There were a couple of pictures as well. No strings, no openings hidden behind them. Moving them to ascertain this revealed clean spaces on the wall in the exact sizes of the frames. These pictures had been there for some time. Both of them were third-rate landscapes that had probably been hung by a previous tenant.

I went over the entire room and found nothing. No hidden openings, no secret doors, no strings. Nothing suspicious at all. The least sign of fakery would have been a welcome relief. I looked warily about the room. Absurd speculation that perhaps these mountebanks were true mediums made me shiver.

Katrina was standing by the table, watching me with raised eyebrows.

The challenge in her look made my blood rise and my jitters fade — for the moment, at least. I had been looking forward to unveiling their trickery before her.

"I have not found anything amiss," I admitted grudgingly. "Not yet."

"Then shall we begin?" Christopher asked patiently. His patronizing air irritated me further, but I remained intent on my purpose.

"Yes, let's." I took Katrina's hand. She was looking entirely too satisfied for my liking. David's intent concentration on my methods was more pleasing. Seeing my irritation, she let the challenging smile drop from her lips and returned to examining the girl medium. I hated to fail in her presence, but then, the evening was not yet over. I faced Christopher as calmly as I could while my stomach began to knot.

 

 

 

I could not tear my eyes away from Isobel for the life of me!

While Ichabod had done his skeptic's examination of their humble residence, I had struggled with masking my shock. I had not expected to see the girl from the marketplace again so soon- let alone under such circumstances! Her own startled look as we walked through their door had told me the same.

I knew without a doubt that she and her brother Christopher were twins. They had eyes such as I had never seen, eyes that I would not have expected in visages so fair. Those deep, smoky orbs of indigo and violet stared warily at me in double. How alike they were, and yet how different. Christopher was clearly the braver of the two, undoubtedly the young man who had met her at the door. But one look at Isobel told me that beneath her quiet, unnerving edginess lay abilities that I dared not imagine. The pendant swayed restlessly at her throat. I swallowed. I had no choice but to do something that I had not done in a long time. She and I remained unmoving as Christopher showed Ichabod and David to their seats at the velvet covered table.

I struck with deadly aim. My eyes narrowed and locked; Isobel's widened in surprise.

I was worried about you. I had wondered when I would finally meet you.

And... I you, she replied timidly, her lips set in a line as tight and unassuming as my own.

I didn't mean to frighten you the other day.

You didn't.

I frowned as Christopher beckoned me to a seat beside Ichabod. Then who did?

I do not know! Please, please, do not ask me that.....

Why?

You will see why soon enough, Isobel asserted, eyes shifting as she took a seat opposite me and beside her brother. She spoke aloud for the first time since our arrival.

"According to the message you sent confirming your appointment, Mr. Crane," she said in the same timid, silvery tones I had heard before, "you are here to settle the matter of a missing will." Her gentle eyes grew serious.

"Yes," Ichabod gulped, "that is correct." He was nervous already. I pressed his arm comfortingly. I knew that he was not prepared for what could happen. I could not exactly say that I was, either. My assurance lay in the accessibility of Isobel's thoughts.

"Your brother claims that all possessions are his by right?"

"Yes. That it what I told you," Ichabod responded, his voice showing the first traces of annoyance.

Isobel sighed gently. "It is my duty to make sure that I have the information correct, Mr. Crane. Errors have proved quite fatal."

Ichabod blanched at her matter-of-fact statement. "F-Fatal?" he stammered.

"Fatal to the success of the summons," Isobel replied firmly, "yes. Clear details are imperative. What is the deceased's name?"

"Deceased?" Ichabod said faintly. I elbowed him in warning. He was forgetting his lines.

"Your aunt," Christopher said flatly.

"Hildreth," Ichabod choked as though he could not stand the taste of the word.

I anticipated Isobel's next question with ease. "His brother's name is Wilbur," I said smoothly. Her eyes shone with quiet, amazed thanks.

"And the will is missing?" Isobel added meekly. "No trace of it whatsoever? No chance that your brother has merely taken it?"

Ichabod glared almost without meaning to. "That is why I have come to you, is it not?"

Isobel shrank, and Christopher cut in defensively, "She's making sure you've done everything in your power to find it by rational means. Understand that our services are generally a last resort or are used only in the most dire circumstances."

Like an unsolved murder, I thought.

Isobel looked at me, startled. What?

Good God! I cloaked my inner musings quickly.

"I... understand," Ichabod replied to Christopher hesitantly.

"Very well," Christopher said.

Isobel was still glancing at me fearfully when she said, "Then I would ask that you please remain as silent and unmoving as you can."

Ichabod glanced at me sidelong. He was terrified inside. Nothing had prepared him for this. This was not recorded in anything that he had ever read. It was not like any hoax that he had ever dealt with. David, too, was sitting stock-still with his hands clenched in his lap, eyes wide with fear... and anticipation, I noted. I took Ichabod's hand and looked at Isobel kindly.

"We are ready," I assured them on his behalf.

"Give me your hands, Mr. Crane," Christopher said.

Ichabod looked up helplessly. "I beg your pardon?"

"Give me your hands," repeated Isobel's brother, drawing a small packet of something from his vest pocket.

"I would rather not," Ichabod said, struggling to keep his voice down an octave.

"Give him your hands," I whispered through clenched teeth. "This is nothing like what we expected. We cannot back out now. I refuse to let us." And it was then that I, the believer, knew that what I was seeing for certain was real. I had expected it to be, but the kind of real was beyond the reaches of my imagination. I had no explanation, only instinct. And that was lost on my husband.

Ichabod placed his trembling hands, scarred palms up, on the velvet cloth in front of Christopher. The young man nodded gravely and opened the packet carefully, even reverently. His eyes took on the fevered cast of his sister's.

David's eyes shone with plaintive hope as Christopher drew a generous pinch of a fine, coarse gray powder from the packet. Judging by its deep purplish cast not unlike the twins' eyes, I realized it was merely ashes blended either with ground lapis or crushed violet petals. I wagered it was violets, considering the twins' frugal existence. I held my breath in awe as Christopher began to murmur words that I could place as neither Latin nor Greek- nor any other classical or romance language, for that matter. I was certain then that their magic was one so ancient that its precepts were unknown even to me. Christopher spread some of the ash mixture on each of Ichabod's palms, chanting as he rubbed it in. I shivered when Christopher finally took his hands away. Ichabod's palms were completely darkened out. The illusion was chilling: it was as though the velvet cloth was showing through where Ichabod's flesh had once been. My eyes flew to Isobel's pendant. She nodded at me imperceptibly as she met my husband's gaze and slowly raised he own slim hands before him.

"Press your palms to mine," she instructed in a strangely distant voice, "and do not resist when I lace my fingers with yours. Understood?"

"Why would I want to res-"

"I pray you, listen to me."

Ichabod did as he was told. His terrified eyes never left mine as he raised his hands to meet Isobel's. She interlocked hers firmly with his, palm to palm.

"Be still now. You must not say a word," Isobel breathed in a whisper. Her eyes were closing slowly and her breath was growing shallow. As she tightened her grip on his hands, Ichabod made a pained sound n his throat. And I knew I had no choice. I focused my attention on Ichabod completely. His thoughts were as open and vulnerable as a book dropped in the street.

His mind reeled backward in a succession of images, not words: a hand beckoning from the trunk of a tree, a dizzying chase through a haunted wood, blood flying and reaching like a shapeless hand for his pale cheek- and then a cave and a veiled crone shackled to a table. He equated Isobel's grip with that long-ago encounter with my stepmother's sister. Isobel was not causing him pain at all. She had understood that Ichabod uniquely would resist.

Satisfied with the source of his consternation, I slowly became aware of the changes around us. The curtains no longer swayed; the breeze had died. The room had grown undeniably dark even though it was the middle of the afternoon. No sounds drifted up from the street outside.

And Isobel was barely breathing, her head sagging forward against her half of the arm-bridge created by she and Ichabod. Her head jerked up suddenly with a cry of pain, her hands convulsing but refusing to go. Ichabod cried out, too. David looked like he had stopped breathing a long time ago, frozen in horrified fascination.

"Why have you come here?" Isobel cried in a voice not entirely her own, a strong, clear lament. "Your blood runs in the veins of no other living soul, and your parents had no siblings!"

Christopher's eyes flared in fury. "Let go of my sister!" he commanded Ichabod.

"I cannot!" Ichabod shouted, wildly trying to free himself from Isobel's grasp. "You must tell her to let go of me!"

Christopher was disquieted at this revelation. Isobel was breathing in quiet sobs, struggling to separate her hands from my husband's. She could not extricate herself either.

"You have no brother and you have no aunt! Leave us in peace, foolish son of Levi!"

"NO!" Ichabod cried, and at that very moment, Isobel released his hands. They flew apart, hurtled backward by the force of what had flowed between them. Christopher miserably helped Isobel to stand. Unlike Ichabod's, her chair had tipped. She rose shakily, her eyes clear and troubled. The spell was broken; whatever it was that had possessed her had departed.

"Why did you lie to us?" she demanded in a soft but harsh voice. She held up her palms. Thin, haphazard rows of inch-long needle-like slashes had torn her flesh, mingling blood with ashes. Ichabod held up his own hands and moaned at the sight of Isobel's blood on his sooty palms.

"The spirits do not like to be trifled with," Christopher said furiously. "They punish not the client, but the channel when such a trick is pulled!"

"I did not know," Ichabod stammered. "Oh, God. Oh, God, forgive me."

"Why have you come?" Isobel asked again. "Why did you lie about your family? The will?"

"I have a confession to make. I have come here to investigate you as I would any other supposed hoax. That is my ruse, and I am now twice the fool. I am a constable. I have been assigned to a murder case, and the victim's family told me that they consulted you. I have reason to believe that the wrong suspect was arrested, but they insisted that you- that Gabriel- that–"

"Confirmed the man's identity," Christopher finished for him. "Gabriel did, in fact. You mean to say that you believe we are false practitioners?"

Ichabod stared dazedly at the slashes on Isobel's palms. "I do not know what I believe," he said bleakly.

Instinctively, I stood and took Isobel's hands. "I will tend to these, if you like," I offered shakily. "I know a poultice-"

"That is all right, but no," Isobel insisted. "Thank you."

David rose to his feet, eyes wide and saddened. I believe that most of us had forgotten his presence.

"Is this the fatal result that you spoke of?" Ichabod asked Isobel apologetically.

"No," she said quietly. "That result did not transpire, which is why I am amazed. Under any normal circumstances, such a wild claim as yours would have angered the spirits into silence. In other words, there would have been no séance! But the forces came. That means one of you came here with honest intent."

"It was not me," I admitted with shame. "This entire farce was my idea. I wanted to show my husband that such things are best not doubted. In other words, to use falsehood to prove your authenticity. I never dreamed such a thing would happen. The blame is mine."

Isobel did not answer. Her fathomless eyes were fixed kindly on David. She moved away from Christopher and leaned so that she was eye to eye with the boy. Isobel placed her fingertips on his tear stained cheeks.

"They love you very much," she whispered. "They are with you every waking moment. I saw the pride in their eyes. You are a good son."

David sobbed. Isobel put her arms around him as best she could, frustrated that her hands could not soothe or calm. Christopher was not sure whether to focus his glare on Ichabod or on me.

"We had better go," I said, defeated. "Thank you all the same."

"You are welcome," Isobel said almost inaudibly as she released David to me. Her eyes, unlike her brother's, did not reflect pools of hate. They were calm. She had helped someone no matter what else had happened during the séance. And that was all that mattered to her, I realized. I, too, had tears running down my cheeks.

As we turned to go, Isobel hovered behind us, following uncertainly. I was the last to step across the threshold. She stopped me, glancing nervously over her shoulder to make sure Christopher was tidying the mess.

"Please come back, Lady Crane. I believe there is more to be said," she whispered furtively. "My brother is as hot-headed as your husband is skeptical. Good day to you." I accepted her kiss on the cheek and kissed hers in return.

Once alone in the tenement hall, Ichabod leaned against the wall in exhaustion. He looked at me with apologetic misery.

"I should have listened to you," he said. "They are not a hoax."

"How do you know?" I asked cautiously. I was ever wary of what Ichabod claimed to believe.

He took a ragged breath. "Levi was my father's name, Katrina."

 

The three of us said little on the way home, all of us in mild shock from the evening's events. A few blocks away from the Magellans' tenement, a trivial thought struck me. "Did you pay them, Katrina?" She nodded mutely, intent on her own thoughts. "Good. It is the least we could do."

When we reached Karrigan Square, I retreated to my laboratory, not to experiment, but to ponder.

We moved into the house on Karrigan Square within a month of coming to New York. My bachelor flat was unfit for her habitation, even had there been room for the three of us in it. I left the choice of the house and its furnishings entirely to her. She sacrificed enough by marrying a penniless constable when she could have had any man she chose. I could only thank Fate that she had the wherewithal to live as she deserved to. The entire house was furnished and decorated to her refined taste, with one exception: the laboratory. As soon as I saw the large, high-ceilinged attic, I had claimed it. She had offered to have it painted and otherwise made presentable, but the truth is that after the humble rooms I have lived in all my life, there are times when I feel more at home among bare walls and exposed rafters than in the tasteful comfort of the rest of our house.

After the séance, I needed the reassurance of my artifacts of sense and reason. I sat unmoving for some time, gazing at my scientific instruments and jars of chemicals and shelves of books. Now and then my eyes would stray to my scarred palms, still faintly gray in spite of the scrubbing I gave them as soon as we reached home.

The truth is that all my life, however hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, in my heart I have known that magic exists. Was my own mother not a white witch? I tried to persuade myself that the things I saw her do were childish fancies, but I always knew the truth. And, may God forgive me, I always ran from that truth. Katrina guessed rightly during our first conversation, when she asked why I was afraid of magic. I was afraid of it, and so I told myself it did not exist, until I came face to face with it in Sleepy Hollow.

For months after leaving Sleepy Hollow, I imagined ghosts and goblins in every shadow, but every murderer I have encountered since the Headless Horseman has been blessedly corporeal. I had hoped that magic was going to leave me alone now. But it seems that it is my fate.

The girl's stricken face and bleeding palms kept appearing in my mind. I do my utmost to use my brain to deal with every situation rationally, and still I make blunders like this. My foolishness nearly left Katrina at the Horseman's mercy. A fine man of reason I am. How many others will have to suffer for my gaffes?

And added to the fright and bafflement of the séance was humiliation. If ghosts must insist upon existing, it seems the least they could do is refrain from making a fool of me before Katrina.

It was late when I heard the soft knock on the door. Since we moved into this house and I made my wishes about this room known, she has not made any attempt to enter my sanctuary. "Come!" I said, lifting my head from my hand.

She entered cautiously, watching me with enormous eyes. She sat on one of the sturdy, battered wooden chairs left by the previous owners, along with an ancient divan over which I always drape a clean blanket. We simply looked at each other for a time.

After a long moment, she glanced around at the room, at the books and equipment. "It must be easy not to believe in magic in a room like this," she said thoughtfully.

"It was at one time." I shook my head. "Why is it that the only truth I have ever wished to hide from is so insistent on tracking me down?"

"Perhaps because Fate knows about your devotion to truth and will accept no half measures." She added, "You know, you would never say anything like that in front of anyone else."

"No, I would not."

"You are so different when we are alone. Ever since our first private conversation. Different in many ways," she added, a very faint smile twitching the corners of her lovely mouth. My face warmed slightly. I took her hand, lacing my fingers with hers.

"It is only with you that I can truly be myself. With you, I never feel any need to hide. Anything."

I did not expect her to truly understand this, but her sorrowful eyes showed clearly that she did. "What a blessing that must be!" She seemed about to say more, but then, with the air of one who had changed her course, she murmured, "I thank God that I can give you that, my love."

My hand tightened on hers before I drew her into an embrace. She grew up with doting parents and has been surrounded with admirers ever since blooming into womanhood. Where she came by this loneliness so like mine I shall never understand, but it breaks my heart. Every so often I catch a glimpse of it, elusive as a unicorn.

"It was my fault," she said at length. "It was my idea, and I should know better than to trifle with such things even if you do not."

I considered before replying. "Katrina, I have put three or four dozen so-called mediums out of business. Never before have I encountered any with enough magic to fill a thimble." I was trying to tell her that her husband was not such a fool as he seemed that night.

She nodded. Another silence followed, until she broke it with a question. "How long has your father been dead?"

I shivered, remembering how cold I had felt when the medium had said that vicious tyrant's name. Son of Levi. When she had said it, the scars on my palms had seemed to ache as they did when they were new. "I did not know that he was," I answered. Her eyes widened. "Katrina, I ran away when I was fourteen. I have heard nothing from or of my father since. Nor did I wish to. For all I knew, he was still alive somewhere."

Her eyes were full of horrified pity. Of course she, who was the apple of her father's eye, cannot imagine not even knowing whether your father is alive or dead. Which reminded me.

"How is David?" I asked.

She smiled sadly. "Very contented. He went to bed and fell straight asleep."

"At least one good thing has come of this evening's folly."

"Only one? Did you not get the answer you were looking for? The solution to the murder?"

I was surprised, but of course, Katrina was not at the murder scene, she did not see the evidence. "No. Christopher said that Gabriel Erickson confirmed St. James' guilt," I began, my voice turning steady and rapid. "But Katrina, St. James could not have committed the murder! There was no blood on his clothes — Katrina, there was blood all over that room, even a few drops on the ceiling. And where was the weapon? Even that dolt Witherspoon had to admit that it did not look like a gunshot wound, though he cares little enough. And finally, Katrina, St. James has no motive whatever. None!"

"You admit the séance was real, but you do not believe the accusation?"

"Precisely." I stood restlessly and began pacing. "The séance was real, but the ghost lied. What does this point to?" I strode back and forth a few times before noticing her smile. "What is it?"

There was relief and affection in her lovely face. "You are yourself again. All you needed was something to puzzle over, Sir Rational." She rose and came to my side, clasping my hands in hers. "I was worried. I kept remembering how you were after you saw the Horseman for the first time." I stiffened; I do not care to be reminded of the near-madness that followed that moment of utter terror. She squeezed my hands. "Let me make you a sleeping draught. You need rest after what I put you through tonight."

"Do not blame yourself, my love. My own conceit is always quite sufficient to get me into trouble." She gave me a fond smile, and I managed one in return. I let her lead me from the laboratory, pausing only to lock the door; I have to be absolutely certain that no one is tampering with my experimentations, even accidentally.

In the kitchen, she put some herbs over the fire and boiled them. There was no raven's foot in this particular potion, but she did recite a chant as it boiled. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as she did so. She continued with her usual serenity, and an expression I had heard somewhere ran through my head, as it had many times since we had met: Still waters run deep.

In the middle of her chant, she suddenly glanced at me, her face full of compassion. Her unerring instinct startled me. I knew she was a white witch before I married her, but the truth is, I have no idea how much power she has. Many times I have thought of asking, but to tell the truth, I have not had the courage to face this particular knowledge.

She put the warm drink in my hand and brushed back the hair that had fallen into my face. "How will you proceed now, since you still believe August St. James to be innocent?"

I took a swallow of the drink and said briskly, with relief, "I shall proceed as I should have done had this séance business never entered the matter. I have no idea how to solve the puzzle of why a genuine séance yielded false information, but I do know how to seek out motives and clues and murder weapons. Tomorrow I shall speak to St. James' family, and to that Colonel Dorn the Ericksons mentioned."

 

 

"Do you believe that you will find anything more than what the Magellans were able to tell us? Ichabod, I have faith in your reasoning... but the spirit did confirm St. James' guilt," I sighed. "Ichabod, I am torn. I do not know what to believe. If in your heart you believe he is still innocent, then I urge you to do whatever is necessary to find out otherwise." Without causing further pain to the Magellans, I thought bleakly. How could I advise him when, for once, I was the one in doubt?

"Thank you," he said gratefully. "This means more to me than you will ever know. But how tiresome cases such as this become!"

"Then come to bed, love," I urged Ichabod gently. "There is nothing more that you can do tonight. I still feel terrible for having originated such a sham. I certainly should have known better." I should have. In my quest to prove that I, too, was clever and ingenious, I had made fools of us both.

"It was the only way," he consoled me. I could not help but sense that he felt as reckless as I.

"Perhaps so," I replied with reluctance, "but I wish I had-" heeded Isobel's warning and probed her mind further so that I would have known that our lie would result in physical harm to her person! I cut myself off abruptly. Sometimes I could tell by the look in Ichabod's eye that he was content knowing what he knew, and nothing more.

Embracing me comfortingly, he sighed, "I know. I wish we had approached the matter more tactfully, too."

We. I was at once both stung and relieved that he had, in some small measure, acknowledged my guilt. We had drawn so close that my head rested on his shoulder. In his eyes, was I everything that I could be? I turned my face against the cool whiteness of his collar, ran my fingers over the twill of his vest. I ached for him.

"I wish," I said quietly, "that there was not so much pain in this world."

"And I wish that I could rid the world of it," Ichabod murmured, his lips finding my tightly closed eyelids. "How long until this potion of yours renders me an invalid?" he asked, his voice filled with the very longing for solace that tore through me.

I glanced down at the half empty teacup on the table. I dared not tell him that I had included an herb that would make his nocturnal thoughts so clear that I would have no trouble tapping into his dreams even as we both slept. Even if he did not finish it now - which I hoped he would not - the herb's efficacy would not be altered in the least. "An hour or so, considering you have not finished it," I said softly.

I willed the tender insistence of his mouth upon mine to push all guilt to the farthest reaches of my consciousness as we half-walked, half-stumbled up the stairs. On nights like this I was grateful that our room was set at the farthest end of the hall. For an hour, the harrowing events of earlier were forgotten. I surrendered my breath and my willfulness to Ichabod's imploring fervor. If ever I wished to be helpless, I decided, it would be at the hands of a passion so acute that it paralyzed the senses. I ran trembling, helpless fingers through my husband's tousled hair, gasping more formless words than I would swallow.

"Katrina..." Ichabod whispered breathlessly, "never change! I love you so much."

I lay staring at the canopy overhead long after Ichabod had succumbed to sleep. The breeze from the window was cool on my bare arms, and I imagined as I held him that we were a pair of fairytale lovers like the knights and ladies that paraded on the beautiful tapestry above us. Where furniture was concerned, I had been as modest as I could without sidestepping the lines of my own mildly extravagant taste whether he knew it or not. The bed, however, had been a completely different matter. I could not have resisted the elegant four-poster canopy draped with Medieval hangings any more than I could have resisted Ichabod's unwitting charm.

Guilt ebbed back slowly but surely, tempting me harshly to sleep. It was too soon for Ichabod to be dreaming deeply, I knew. But I could elude my own spell no more than Ichabod could. I drifted off at length, grateful that Ichabod's magic had held mine at bay even for a little while.

 

Dusk. Cold wind and restless trees. I looked around and saw that I stood in a clearing not unlike where David's father had been found on that awful morning in Sleepy Hollow. I held up one of my hands and saw nothing. I was invisible.

I was aware of a human form approaching slowly through the rising mist. I cried out soundlessly. I recognized Ichabod at once.

Except that he was younger. Much younger. A handsome youth of fourteen or fifteen with terror in his eyes and grave reluctance in his step. I realized with shock that the dark shadow across one of his cheeks was not a shadow at all. It was a bruise.

He walked with his eyes everywhere at once, his arms clutched tightly about himself. He was so much thinner, I realized. So much more vulnerable. He seemed to be searching for something that lurked ever around the next bend in the path, never fully meeting his searching gaze. And then the wind howled.

"Foolish son of Levi!" it roared, swirling leaves and dust and tiny raindrops that had just begun to fall.

"No!" Ichabod cried, an eerie echo from the ill-fated séance. The wind picked up so powerfully that it forced him to his knees. He covered his eyes with his hands, sobbing.

I watched in horror, unable to stop the forces of nature that beat upon him relentlessly. He cried out again, this time in anguish. I rushed toward him, but the whirlwind flung me back. I had seen the cause of his horrified grief: his palms were nothingness and he could see straight through them. He had no shield against the debris that the wind drove into his ever-seeking eyes.

When Ichabod woke crying out in pain and confusion, I woke with him, comforting and drowning out his tears with my own.

 

As always, her white magic swept my rational mind aside. I was drawn helplessly on by her kisses, rendered at her mercy by her delicate touch. With her usual unerring instinct, she dissolved my control, leaving me defenseless in her arms. I clung to her, desperate for reassurance that she was still mine, and she yielded it without question — and her very surrender put me even more securely in her power.

But even the combination of Katrina’s potion and the spell of her arms was not enough to grant me peace that night. I dreamt about the night I ran away, fearing what was all around me only slightly less than I feared what I left behind. A voice taunted me, reminding me whose son I am, and then my hands became hollow, allowing the dirt and leaves to blow into my eyes — it seemed that warmth and safety were nearby, but I could not see to reach them….

When I came to my senses, I was sobbing into Katrina’s golden hair. Her arms were tight about me, holding me with more strength than such a small woman ought to have. I gulped for breath, trying to calm myself. I hate for her to see me like this, hate for her to glimpse the painful memories and contemptible fears that lurk under all my logic and purpose. And yet, the first time she embraced me, when I jolted awake from my nightmare the night the Horseman wounded me — it was at that moment that I began to believe in life again.

"I feel as if my father has risen from the grave to plague me some more," I murmured inanely before I could stop myself.

She moved away just enough so that I could see her face, beautiful and compassionate. My mother had eyes like hers. "If he did, I would never let him near you," she whispered. It was absurd, perhaps — or perhaps not — but I felt reassured. I saw a spark of protective anger in her eyes as she kissed my cheek. I do not know why I flinched at the touch, but she did not look offended, only very sad. With infinite gentleness, she took a corner of the sheet and wiped my eyes.

Gaining a bit more control, I said, "Forgive me, my love. With all you do for me, the least I could do is allow you a night’s sleep."

"Don’t talk like that!" she said indignantly, cuddling closer. "I could never do enough for you."

"But you do," I whispered. I drifted off to sleep in her arms for the second time that night.

 

I woke before she did in the morning and got carefully out of bed, not wishing to wake her. Looking at her porcelain features in peaceful sleep as she lay in the fanciful bed she had chosen for us, I found myself believing for a moment that she was a princess from a fairy tale. But I did not disturb her enchanted sleep. Not after waking her by blubbering like a child in the middle of the night. The woman has the patience of a saint. I dressed and went to the kitchen to cook breakfast. It would be a far simpler meal than she generally produces — my capabilities are certainly exceeded by hers — but I felt she deserved a rest. I had just begun when David appeared.

"Can I help, sir?"

I glanced around. "Slice a few apples," I suggested. I studied him as he found a knife and began. There was a new calmness in the boy’s eyes. "David," I said suddenly. He looked up. "I… I am happy for you. About what Miss Magellan told you last night, I mean. I am certain your parents are proud. I would be," I added awkwardly.

"Thank you, sir." The look in his eyes was grateful and admiring. How is it that these two who share my home see me so differently from the rest of the world?

"Which brings us to something I’ve been meaning to talk over with you. What does Katrina have you studying?"

"Latin, Greek, literature, and history."

How like Katrina, to give an orphaned servant boy a gentleman’s education. If she had been in the room I would have kissed her. Nodding approval, I said, "Excellent. But a man needs more practical knowledge as well, especially if you are to be a detective. Would you like to begin to study natural philosophy and chemistry?"

The boy’s face lit up. It was pleasing to see him so excited at the prospect of acquiring knowledge. He was barely literate before Katrina took him under her wing, but he has since proven himself bright enough. "Yes, sir!"

"Good. Before I leave today, I will give you a couple of basic texts to study." I frowned over the stove. "But there is something you must do for me in return."

"Of course!" David was actually eager to do something for me. Even after half a year, I can hardly credit his loyalty.

"It is about Katrina." I paused, trying to frame my request in the right form. "Ladies do not really understand how dangerous the world can be, David. It is our duty to protect them, even from themselves." His eyes were wide and serious as he nodded. "When I am on duty, you are the man of the house. I need you to keep an eye on Katrina. Accompany her when she goes out, and if she takes it into her head to visit McRaker’s Alley again, or any other dubious area, do your best to talk her out of it. Say whatever you have to, only stop her from going there. And if you cannot stop her, at least go with her, stay by her side like a burr. Can you do that for me?"

He nodded earnestly. I had been hoping that invoking a sort of man-to-man tone would inspire the boy, and it seemed to be working, even though I felt like a pompous fool talking like that.

Katrina appeared a few minutes later and tried to take over the cooking. I adamantly refused, making her sit down and let me serve her for a change. When I had eaten as much as I could manage, I went to the laboratory and found a couple of books that might be simple enough for David to swot his way through. I came back downstairs in full uniform and gave David the books, which he took eagerly and promptly sat down to read.

Katrina raised inquiring eyebrows. "I am stealing your pupil from you," I explained. "For part of the time, at least. We are beginning his detective’s education."

She smiled at me with warm approval. "He must have been happy to hear that." She put her hands on my shoulders and kissed my cheek, then stood back and let her eyes run over my constable’s jacket. She claims to find me very handsome in my uniform, but I think she is just trying to console me for having to wear the blasted thing. "I hope you find what you are looking for."

"So do I." I kissed her and left the house. As I walked, I turned all I knew over in my head. The revelations of the séance had shaken my certainty, but no matter how many times I reviewed the facts of the murder, they still pointed to St. James’ innocence. I could only press on and hope that everything became clear in time.

Séance or no, police procedure varies little. I still had to learn who had a motive for murdering Erickson and framing St. James.

After speaking to several of St. James’ acquaintances, I went to visit his wife. She was distraught, but even in that state it was clear she was an admirable woman, strong-minded and compassionate, and the beauty of her youth still shone through her years.

She looked at me with desperate eyes, even as she held herself with dignity. "Constable, my husband is innocent. He could never have done anything like this."

"I believe you." She stared at me. Before she could become too hopeful, I added, "But my fellow constables do not. I am trying to prove that your husband is innocent and bring the true killer to justice. It will help if you will answer my every question honestly and completely."

She nodded shakily and gestured for me to sit down.

"Who might have had a grudge against your husband? Anyone at all."

"I cannot–" Something crossed her face. After a moment, she shook her head. "I cannot think of anyone."

"Who were you thinking of?"

She sighed. "I do not think he could commit such a murder, if only because I do not think he has the nerve to take such a risk."

"Who?"

"Colonel Nathaniel Dorn."

I scrutinized her face. This was the second time I had heard Dorn mentioned. "Why might he have held a grudge against your husband?"

She smiled wryly. "Because he was my husband. Nathaniel courted me, long ago. It has been twenty years, but I think he never forgave August for winning me from him. Not that Dorn would have had a chance in any case," she added disdainfully.

"Why do you think he never forgave?"

She lowered her eyes and her face darkened. "Nathaniel… made it clear that he still admired me." Resolutely, she looked me in the eye. "He asked me to… to be his mistress on more than one occasion. The last only a few months ago."

I stood up straighter. "I see." I paused, searching for a tactful way to ask what I had no choice but to ask.

Seeing my discomfiture, she said firmly, "I refused him. I have refused his every offer, Constable Crane."

"I see," I repeated formally, relieved. Some roundabout questioning determined that St. James did not own any weapon that could have inflicted the wound I saw, and Mrs. St. James quite convinced me that she had no idea how her husband’s gun had found its way to the crime scene. She also confirmed that Colonel Dorn had known of the engraved gun’s existence.

When I called on Colonel Dorn, I was greeted by an enlisted man and an enormous black dog. The dog glared at me balefully. I stood still as a statue, keeping an eye on it.

The enlisted man, who looked like a stable hand, smirked at me before saying contemptuously, "Go sit, Cerberus." Naturally, anyone who would own such a beast would give it an ostentatious name like that. The beast turned and lumbered to the corner, where it sat, still watching me in a way I did not care for. "He’s part wolf," the soldier boasted. "Just a puppy, too. Wait’ll he grows up." The soldier leered at me. "He eats small animals and lost children... and the occasional constable when he can get it."

I managed to find my voice and explained my business. The enlisted man raised his eyebrows, but showed me into a sitting room and left in search of Colonel Dorn.

When Dorn entered, I was immediately put in mind of some of my more thuggish fellow constables. His hair was combed, but somehow gave the impression of being unkempt; he had a rather flat face; and his nose looked as if it had been broken.

When he saw me, I saw a quickly masked flash of worry in his face. My years in the constabulary have taught me what that look means. I drew myself up to my full height–he was a trifle taller than I — and put on my most forbidding expression.

"Colonel Dorn." I spoke flatly, hoping he would hear accusation in my words. "I am Constable Crane. I must speak to you about the murder of Gabriel Erickson."

"Why are you questioning me?" he asked nervously.

I looked straight at him. "Because I am told you are acquainted with both the deceased and the accused."

He relaxed promptly and gestured for me to sit down. "Ah. A routine inquiry, then."

"Perhaps," I hedged, disappointed. I had lost the edge over him I had started with. "May I ask about your association with the deceased?"

"We served together in the Revolution." He tended to thrust his flat face at me as he spoke, and his tone seemed to invite a fight, as if he expected me to disagree with his least comment. Small wonder a woman should prefer the urbane St. James to this belligerent oaf.

"And since then?"

"I have only seen him by chance since then."

"Did you serve in the same regiment?"

His brows drew together. "For a time. Then he was given his own command."

I took a chance. "Did you perhaps serve under him in his own command?"

He looked furious. "No, of course not." He stopped, as if biting his words off. So he did hold a grudge, even after twenty years.

"And what of your association with August St. James?"

"I served with him as well." He smirked. "His wife is a dear friend of mine."

With distaste, I grasped at once what he meant to imply. But I did not believe it for a moment. Mrs. St. James, I felt certain, was a faithful wife.

"And may I ask where you were on the night of the murder?"

A confident smile spread over his face. "I was giving a dinner party. Would you like a guest list?"

"Much appreciated," I said, surprised. Seldom are alibis presented with such alacrity. He produced the list promptly. All in all, an excellent alibi. But the man’s gloating manner had me convinced that he was behind the murder. Not with his own hands, but at his bidding, yes. I would have to investigate his associates. I would start with the guest list. I left, skirting Cerberus warily, and went to the home of the first man on the guest list.

Senator Dalton Trevayne lived in a costly apartment crammed with antiques. I would have wagered that not an item in the place had not come from Europe. I found it rather gloomy, and was glad Katrina’s taste ran to simpler elegance.

The Senator was not effeminate in manner, yet he was wearing the most foppish outfit I have ever seen: lace at his throat and wrists, purple silk, a curled periwig, and four signet rings. He spoke to me as if I were a servant — but then, I think most servants would leave the employ of any who spoke to them that way. On the wall over the fireplace was a crest which he made a point of mentioning was his family’s. I did not ask about the oil portraits; they bore little resemblance to him, and I suspected he wanted people to assume that they were illustrious ancestors, though they were not. Had they been so, I feel certain he would have mentioned it. He did mention that his ancestors in England had been barons. I left with the impression that Trevayne would far rather be a duke than a Senator.

Simon Purnell lived in a lavish house on New York’s most fashionable street. Purnell, it seemed, had tremendous inherited wealth. The two rooms I saw were generously laden with exotic artifacts from other lands, with Oriental paintings and Egyptian urns and Hindu statuary. And it was clear enough what he did with his wealth, aside from furnishing his luxurious house. Even for the ten minutes he spent talking with me, confirming that he had attended Dorn’s dinner party, he could not be apart from his female companions. They were dressed in the finest silks, but even the latest Paris fashions could not disguise their character. He corrected their manners constantly and irritably, at which they would only snicker, and he would sulk. Both of the women gave me looks that made me wish to run from the room. How any man could consort with such creatures is beyond me.

Though it was clear enough why he had to seek the company of such wretched women. The man looked like a frog. He had a weak chin and an overbite, and more, there was something in his manner that made the skin crawl. The man was simply unwholesome, through and through.

Right as I was about to leave, I noticed something that made my flesh crawl far more than the knowing looks of Purnell’s companions. In an urn decorated with pseudo-Grecian designs were several dried samples of a plant that is not indigenous to this continent. Even without the odd knowledge acquired from marriage to a white witch, I would have known its uses, for the folklore is commonly known. Mandrake root.

I averted my eyes from the eerily shaped plants quickly and left the house. Perhaps they were mere novelties, but their presence was unsettling.

As I walked to the home of the next guest, I wondered what these men had found to talk about over dinner. I could not see that they had a thing in the world in common, except perhaps my dislike of them. I was curious to see what other anomaly Major Joseph Hawke would present.

As it turned out, he was the only one of the guests who I liked. He was seated behind a desk when his servant showed me into his study, and he did not rise when he shook my hand, yet his manner was so respectful — of both of us — that this small omission did not give offense. His face was rather plain, but so expressive that it soon became quite engaging. And I liked the way he looked directly at one.

"Major Joseph Hawke?" I greeted him.

"Colonel," he corrected affably. "Well, I will be as of tomorrow."

"Congratulations," I said, not certain that this was the proper reply. "I am Constable Ichabod Crane."

"Please, be seated. What can I do for you, Constable?"

"I am confirming that you were present at the dinner party given by Colonel Nathaniel Dorn a few days ago?"

He raised his eyebrows and smiled. "I was. Are dinner parties always police matters?"

"Only when they coincide with murders of acquaintances of those who give them." In response to his inquiring look, I explained, "On the night of the party, a man named Gabriel Erickson was murdered. And Colonel Dorn was acquainted both with the victim and with the accused. I am investigating the case."

He regarded me for a second. "So the murderer has not been apprehended?

"A man named August St. James has been arrested," I corrected, "but it is by no means certain that he is guilty."

He gave me a penetrating look that suited his surname. "You seem to think that he is not." His manner inspired confidence. I met his eyes steadily, not denying it. "Do you have other suspects?"

"Other suspects are what I am looking for."

"Why do you think the man you have already arrested is innocent?"

"There was blood all over the room where the murder was committed, yet not a drop on the suspect’s clothing." He stared at me, and then his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Encouraged at this sign, I added, "And the murder weapon was not on the scene, or in the suspect’s possession. A gun he owned was on the scene, but the wound was clearly not a gunshot."

I have to admit, the look Hawke gave me was very satisfying. Comprehension, respect, and interest at the new field being opened to him. "Amazing! I had no idea the constabulary did this sort of thing."

"It doesn’t. My attempts to persuade them to do so are a constant irritation to all," I admitted flatly.

He seemed to consider for a few seconds before answering, as if this intelligence had special significance for him. But then he looked at me with even more respect. "An innovator! You must tell me about this deduction business. How did you start on this?"

I was both abashed and pleased; I have had little enough credit for what I am trying to do. Generally I am called at best a lunatic and at worst a heretic. "I have always been a voracious reader. In scientific texts and criminal case studies, I began to come across hints of how the guilty might be detected by scientific techniques. With such techniques, it would be possible to abolish torture."

His eyes seemed to see far more than was before him. "So your motives are humanitarian." I shrugged. "I want to hear about your methods. How do you go about detecting these hints of yours?"

It was gratifying indeed to be given such attention. "A great deal of it is simply looking at the crime scene and asking how things got the way they are. Bloodstains, for instance, or anything that is knocked over. I have also found that there are chemical reactions to many common poisons. I have studied medicine a great deal as well; symptoms can help to determine causes of death."

"Fascinating! But you say your colleagues do not heed you?"

I sighed. "Indeed they do not."

"Then you are the only man who is doing what you have just described?"

"I believe so, unfortunately."

He sat back in his chair, smiling widely. "Take heart, Crane. It is the story of all adventurers. Your day will come. Perhaps sooner than you think."

"God willing," I answered, surprised.

"Perhaps what you need is a patron. A mentor with powerful friends," he mused.

"Not very likely. I have never been found… ingratiating."

He gave me another penetrating look. "You hold yourself too high to curry favor?"

"I simply do not know how. I have never had the knack of making myself liked. It would be useful to my work, I suppose."

"Perhaps you only need for one man to like you, Crane. A man of vision."

"Like yourself?" I joked lightly.

"Perhaps," he said seriously. Suddenly changing manner to become jovial once more, he added, "But I can see that you are a man who goes your own way, without waiting for approval. As does every great man. Do you think Bonaparte waited for anyone to invite him to be an emperor?"

It took me a moment to find a reply to this apparent non sequitur. "Bonaparte? What does he have to do with it?"

"Simply that he carved out his own path."

"A path which Horatio Nelson is bent on blocking."

Hawke snorted. "Yes, that upstart sailor continues to challenge the Emperor!"

"Who is also an upstart," I pointed out.

"Every royal dynasty in history was founded by an upstart who anointed himself. And however the war between Napoleon and Nelson ends, Nelson will be remembered only because he inconvenienced a great man."

I raised an eyebrow, slightly amused at Hawke’s unusual viewpoint. "I thought that we former colonials were not fond of Napoleon."

"It is not the issue of monarchy that is at stake. It is the character of a man capable of plucking a crown from the gutter and placing it on his own head! It required only the daring to do it!"

As Hawke spoke, the topic energized him and he rose for the first time, pacing back and forth. I was taken aback for a second, and then with some amusement I understood his admiration for the Italian general who had anointed himself. Because Joseph Hawke, for all his commanding presence, was scarcely above five feet tall! Katrina and David would have been about of a height with him. In spite of my amusement at the sudden discovery, I also experienced a flash of fellow-feeling. I, a constable with a slight build and a weak stomach, know well enough what it is to have a frame unsuited to one’s ambitions. I could well understand why one small man would be so fired by the huge deeds of another.

I rose. "I suppose my business here is done," I said reluctantly, "but I have greatly enjoyed speaking to you, Major Hawke. Colonel Hawke," I added with a smile.

He shook my hand; he had a powerful grip. "As I have. We must meet again sometime soon. I wish to hear more about this deduction business."

I could not resist this. "By all means."

I left Hawke in good spirits. But then, I was no nearer to an answer to the murder than I had been that morning. As I walked, the séance kept nagging at my thoughts, until it inspired a mad idea. I turned to McRaker’s Alley with resolute steps.

I did not want to think of what I should have said a year ago to anyone who told me that I would ever set out to cross-examine a ghost. Nor could I believe that Constable Ichabod Crane was actually going to solicit a medium’s help in a murder investigation.

Christopher Magellan’s glaring face came into my mind and my steps slowed. But Katrina’s words also came to me: "Where is the Constable Crane who leaves no stone unturned?" I could not fail to live up to her vision of me. I had to do what I could to redeem myself in her eyes after the disaster of the previous night. Of course, after said disaster, the Magellans might well refuse my request. But try I must.

 

 

I was left with the same sensation as always as Ichabod walked out the door: the faint warmth of his lips on my cheek and the impression that he was never quite satisfied with something. I closed the door behind him with a sigh. David looked up from his book in concern.

"Forgive me for saying so, Katrina, but you ought not worry him so much."

Such a direct reprimand coming from one so young startled me. "Excuse me?" I asked, baffled.

"You shouldn’t worry Ichabod," David repeated, lowering his eyes.

I was affronted. "What makes you think that I worry him?" I challenged, finding that the warning tone rising in my voice was identical to my mother’s.

"Because… Because…" David stammered, regretting his rashness of speech.

"Ichabod had a talk with you this morning," I ventured, "didn’t he?"

David’s head flew up, eyes wide with fear. "Yes," he whispered.

"He instructed you to keep me away from McRaker’s Alley, didn’t he?" I guessed sourly.

"Katrina, please!" David begged. "Ichabod only-"

"Wants to protect me? God love him; I know! I am touched, David, but I can take care of myself where matters like this are concerned. Isobel asked me to return. She’s frightened and needs someone to talk to. How can I refuse a plea like that, David? Besides, I am still convinced that she will need treatment for her hands. I doubt that Christopher is half as skilled with herbs as I am."

David stood his ground, however timidly. "I still think that you should listen to Ichabod. McRaker’s Alley is a terrible place, Katrina! You could be robbed or killed. Ichabod has enough to worry about as it is-"

"Then it is for the sake of helping him that I will return there," I said firmly. "Who knows…. By speaking with the Magellans again, I may discover something of importance. David, I cannot leave Isobel face her fear alone. It is… a bond that is difficult for people like you and Ichabod to understand, and I pray you will not take offense at that," I added gently, sorry that I had been brusque with David. I embraced him briefly.

"If you insist on going, then I’m coming with you," he said, undaunted.

"Did Ichabod ask you to do that, too?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"I can’t hide anything from you," David sighed edgily, resting his chin on my shoulder.

"Promise me that you will stay here and watch the house," I said. "Ichabod will never know that I went out. Neither of us will breathe a word of it. I cannot endanger you. If he deems McRaker’s Alley an unfit place for me, then it is certainly unfit for you."

David nodded numbly, eyes full of foreboding. "Yes, Katrina," he replied, defeated. "I will stay."

"Wait a minute," I said, turning and racing up the stairs. I pulled a small, delicately carved, hinged maplewood box from under the bed. It materialized out of invisibility the instant my fingers touched it. The spell was a difficult one to perform, but it had served me well in hiding valuable things. I opened the box and pulled out two items. As I slid the box back under the bed, it slowly faded to nothingness.

I returned to David and held out one of the objects to him. He took it from me with a look of awe.

"Is this yours?" he asked in wonder, running his fingers over the tiny pistol inlaid with jade and mother-of-pearl.

"It was my mother’s. She never used it. Neither have I, but I keep it loaded at all times. It is now your protection against danger."

David looked at me with gratitude, as though the gift made good his promise not to tell Ichabod of my disobedience. "Thank you, Katrina!"

I nodded in satisfaction, tucking the second object- a soapstone ointment jar- into the pocket of my cloak, which I had donned hastily on my way out of the bedroom.

I touched David’s cheek. "Our home is in your keeping. I will be only a few hours, if not less time than that. You are a brave boy."

I watched his small form waving from the doorway until I could no longer walk with my head turned over my shoulder. I studied the other stately homes of Karrigan Square contemplatively, still amazed at the glaring difference between our neighborhood and the Magellans’. I could not help but wonder if poverty was yet another ill that Ichabod wished he could eradicate, if that was why the mere sight of such surroundings never failed to turn him. Without even thinking about it, my consciousness stretched itself, venturing abroad.

"Who might have had a grudge against your husband? Anyone at all…"

Ichabod’s words filled me. At that very moment, somewhere, he was questioning the suspect’s wife. I sifted the lady’s thoughts more gently, more reticently. What I found there was devastation but a fierce will to fight. And to refuse a man by the name of Colonel Dorn. I had no doubt that Ichabod would question him next.

I left Ichabod to his inquiry, focusing my attention on the familiar marketplace just ahead. There were even more vendors than there had been previously. I noticed with interest that a few curiosity dealers and booksellers had established an aisle of their own. I approached it, unable to resist.

One table in particular caught my attention. I had never seen such varying relics on display. Pagan and Christian lore were interspersed haphazardly on a green silk table cloth, crucifixes and Madonnas and other entities side by side with charm books and amulets of semiprecious stone. I fingered a small one in the shape of an eye. It was quite ordinary, except for two criteria: it was made of marble, and its center- both iris and pupil- was missing. It was strung on a sterling chain like the one Isobel wore. The vendor sat on a stool, half turned away and reading a heavy text that balanced on his knees. I picked up the amulet possessively.

"Sir," I began politely, "how much is this one?"

He looked up, quite startled. I realized then that not only was he dressed in black, but he was also wearing a cleric’s collar. He was thin and angular, with a full head of white hair and a neatly clipped beard. His sharp green eyes fastened on me with a look of ominous appraisal that I had seen altogether too many times in Ichabod’s more jealous compatriots. I shrank away, unable to look at him.

"Yes, my lady?" he asked in an unctuous voice. I could tell that this man had no qualms where currying favor with those in high places was concerned.

"How much is this?" I repeated, forcing myself to reestablish eye contact.

He leered greedily, rubbing his chin as though determining the price were a matter of extraordinary delicacy. "It is rare," he remarked with a showman’s mysterious flair, naming the price dramatically.

"That is too much," I answered flatly. I, too, could play this game. I let my hand slowly begin to lower the artifact back onto the table.

"I can see that you are not easily bought," the sinister clergyman said, that horrible grin never once leaving his face. I stared back in defiance. He would never know what hit him.

Cold fear seized me at the thought-pictures that unfolded from within him. A shadowy alley behind a small church…. The clergyman himself emerging from the basement, sounds of drinking and revelry floating up behind him…. An unidentified figure emerged from the shadows, haggled with the green-eyed priest for a few moments, and threw a sack of money into the dirt. The clergyman cackled, scooped it up, and disappeared into the basement. He returned with two giggling, painted ladies on his arm and handed them over to the stranger.

Hot-cheeked, I quickly shut off my undetected surveillance, looking away from the clergyman. Nor am I easily sold! I thought furiously. I had seen clearly enough what this man saw in me: profit. What manner of a priest runs a brothel in the House of the Lord?

"My lady, are you interested in this piece? I have no others like it."

"I am," I replied defiantly, "but I will not pay what you ask." I made a counter proposition that he could not refuse. He could not refuse it because I worked a charm in the lilt of my voice that would forbid it.

"Very… well," the vendor replied slowly, as though dazed. He accepted my payment and I placed the charm directly around my neck. He was still studying me with traces of an appetite in his wicked eyes.

"If you ever have need of… well, shall we say, employment, my lady, remember that Reverend Burris has been known to procure a favor or two for a girl in need of spare change."

"I am not so easily sold either," I answered icily, discreetly flashing my wedding ring. He put up his hands as if in empty apology and turned back to his book. I stalked off neither too quickly nor too slowly. My heart skipped a beat. Ichabod’s condemnation of this place seemed all the more forgivable.

I reached the Magellans’ tenement and climbed the steps to their flat. I rapped softly on the door. There was no answer. I knocked again, puzzled. Still no response. I pressed my ear to the door. I heard a soft rustling.

"Isobel?" I called. "Isobel, are you there?"

The door flew open instantly. Isobel stood there with her bandaged hands crossed over her heaving chest.

"I am so glad to see you," she exclaimed with relief, wildly gesturing me to come in. She shoved the door closed behind us, struggling with the bolt. I eased her away and locked it for her.

"I’m sorry that I did not answer straightaway," Isobel apologized nervously. "It’s just that, when Christopher’s out, I don’t answer the door unless it’s his knock."

"I understand," I replied. "I am beginning to realize that you can never be too careful in this neighborhood."

I looked around the small apartment. The table and chairs sat pushed into a far corner, the velvet cloth neatly folded on top of it. Isobel stood staring fretfully at her hands. When her eyes met mine, they shone with tears. I hugged her reassuringly.

"Where is Christopher?" I asked her soothingly.

"Out. I asked him to go to the market for me today. To one across town," she continued reticently, biting her lip.

"Why across town?" I asked.

She took a deep breath. "That is what I wanted to discuss with you."

She dragged two chairs away from the table with great difficulty. I took them from her quickly and situated them in front of the bookcase. I took a moment to track Ichabod.

Simon Purnell…

Joseph Hawke…

He was reading a list of names to himself, glancing uncertainly between his brief perusal and a nearby consciousness that I took to be Colonel Dorn. But I did not bother to probe him. Isobel’s hand was resting on my shoulder.

"Lady Crane… Lady Crane, are you all right?"

Yes, I replied, smiling faintly.

I see! You are checking on the boy, I take it. I had wondered why he was not with you.

"Exactly," I replied with an unsteady smile. "I left him at home to study. And by all means, call me Katrina!"

I was grateful that I had cloaked my mind’s roving from Isobel. I knew that she, too, could invade the fortress of another human mind. But I sensed a weakness in her. I doubted that she could read someone unless they were in the same room with her. Such was the price to pay for weakness in one talent when her strength in another was unbelievable.

"Please sit," Isobel offered. "I had wondered if your husband would let you come back. I was under the impression that he would forbid you to do so."

I stared down at my hands. "No," I lied. "He would not do that. Do not be concerned about it."

"Good," Isobel breathed. "I think I am being followed," she said, stunningly direct in approaching her worry.

"Is that why you asked Christopher to shop another market? So that he would not be in danger, either?"

"Yes. But…"

"But what?" I asked gently, shocked by the depth of her terror, the suddenness of her tears.

"It is not human," she cried helplessly. "It could be anywhere!"

"What is?" I felt a chill run from the ends of my hair to the tips of my toenails.

"Whatever’s following me. Normally, I…. Katrina, I can see spirits as plainly as I can see you."

"I do not doubt that," I said firmly.

"I see them during the séances, ones that do not take me as a channel," she explained.

"You mean you saw them during the one that you performed for my husband and I?"

"I did," she said hesitantly. "I saw… I do not know if you want to know."

"I think you had better tell me," I said quietly, taking her hand carefully.

"There was someone standing behind your husband. Not the one speaking through me, but the one to whom the spirit speaking through me referred."

My heart stopped. Ichabod’s father had been directly behind us.

"And… and the one speaking through you?" I choked.

"A Messenger, nothing special. There are hundreds of them that serve no purpose other than that- to serve as intermediary for those other souls too frightened, backward, or unable to speak through a human channel. Your husband’s father is one of those…. Damned in the sense that he is denied the privilege," Isobel explained. "But those spirits are not denied a Messenger."

I could not speak. I had let go of her hand. My thoughts stumbled over themselves, chilled and sluggish. I tried to find Ichabod again. His thoughts were routine and calculating: he was questioning yet another person whose name he had seen on the list. Someone who greatly loved wealth but had nothing to offer. Isobel sat in respectful silence for nearly half an hour as I continued my paranoid tracking. Ichabod entered another place of lavishness, a place of… faint magic. That of a pretender. I scoffed inwardly at the presence of mandrake. It was old, unquestionably useless for anything except show. And then Ichabod’s embarrassment as he questioned this man with two women on his arm. I sighed and slid out of the reverie. Ichabod was finding nothing of importance. And Isobel was patiently waiting.

"I am sorry," I gasped, looking up at her remorsefully.

"I cannot see it," she whispered brokenly.

"See what?"

"The thing that is following me. It is a presence, a malicious one. The fact that I cannot see it as I see the souls who wander the streets… proves that it is something far worse than even what your husband’s father has become."

"You cannot see evil spirits, then?"

"No. Not even your dead father-in-law is not sorry for what he has done in life. His folly yet is that, even in death, he still cannot admit his remorse."

I was amazed, could not reply.

"Demons, malignant familiars, dark elementals. Those, I cannot see. I can only sense their presence," Isobel explained.

"You fear that an evil spirit is following you?"

"Yes, and that is what terrifies me. They usually do not dare come near someone of my kind. We are untouchable to them. At least as far as I know…" she said uncertainly, her voice fading.

I was drawn in by the full, horrifying complexity of her plight, completely forgetting Ichabod’s doomed inquisition. "Are there any exceptions that you know of?"

"One," Isobel admitted.

"Reliable?" I asked.

"Not entirely. It’s an old story. So old, Katrina. I heard it from a passing merchant several years ago. The one from whom I obtained this amulet, in fact," she said, fingering the palmless marble hand at her throat. My hand flew to the eye hidden beneath the bodice of my gown.

"Was he a cleric?" I asked.

"No," Isobel answered, puzzled. "It was a woman. She had a cart and a team of horses. She must have seen every corner of this continent. I had never seen wares so varied or genuine. She did not even have the amulet on display. She took one look at me, reached into a satchel by her side, and said I was to take it with no questions asked. And I did not ask, for I knew that empty palms to leave space for a channel was exactly what my brother and I did, even then when we were younger."

I started in surprise. "So the one who requests the séance does play a small part in channeling?"

"Yes. I need access to their emotions, their fears, their very lifeline. But this woman… I spoke with her for a very long while. Among the other pieces of folklore that she related, there was the tale of a gypsy medicine woman who exchanged mortality to have a demon in her service. Demons desperately need a human connection, you see. Unless they can sway a mortal mind to their liking, they are damned, powerless. The tale goes that this gypsy woman could loose the demon on whomever she chose. She loosed it on her own sister, the tribe’s link to their ancestors. A great many terrible things fell upon their heads. I will not relate them. But it frightens me to know that even in superstition an evil spirit once descended upon a channel."

I shivered. There was so much that I did not know despite my own otherworldly inheritance. This magic indeed was ancient. And the story of the gypsy sisters hit a little too close to home.

"Isobel, I mean no offense, but I am curious. What language did your brother speak as he rubbed the ash into my husband’s palms?"

"It was a Sanskrit inscription."

"Isobel, I mean no offense, but I am curious. What language did your brother speak as he rubbed the ash into my husband’s palms?"

"It was a Sanskrit incantation."

"Sanskrit? Where on earth did he learn it?"

"From our father. He spoke it fluently, was fascinated by the subcurrents of their culture. When he realized that Christopher and I had inherited something... unusual from his mother, he taught us some of what he knew. He also had come into possession of an inscribed tablet that caught his fancy at a curiosity dealer's, which he brought here just as he carried back the lovely daughter of an older British officer to be his bride."

"Your father was British?" I asked, brightly interested.

"Yes. Samuel Keller."

"Keller?"

"Magellan is our professional name," Isobel explained, quick to dispel my confusion. "Who would come to mediums with a name as common as Keller, after all? Advertising is half the trick, unfortunately. We used it in the most unobtrusive manner possible… changing our name, not our pure method."

"What role did your father play in maintaining Britain’s control of India?" I asked.

"He was only a soldier. Less than one, actually. A swordsmith for the army, a servant. He was a half-breed," she added, her eyes conveying a silent challenge to anyone who dared think less of her for her lineage.

"You would never know!" I exclaimed. "You and your brother are so pale!"

"My mother was pale. Even my father had skin only faintly tinged with darkness. But his hair was black. His father, a commander, had an Indian concubine." Isobel stopped there. It was all that she needed to say. As I studied her face, I could not stop myself from smiling. So that was the strange beauty in the features of she and her brother- faintly almond shaped eyes, sharp and polished oval features.

"May I ask what happened to your parents?" I inquired cautiously.

"When Chris and I were thirteen…" she said softly, "they never came back."

The comment was cryptic, but she offered no elaboration. From that moment, I realized that my fate was to love those whose childhoods had been too terrible to bear. I took her hands carefully and searched her tearstained face.

"Thank you for trusting me, Isobel," I said gratefully. "From the first day I saw you, I wanted to help you. I cannot explain why any more than I can explain why these strange events have drawn us together. I will do all that I can to help you," I promised, biting my lip. I pictured myself sketching pentagrams under the meager cots that served as the twins’ beds.

"Thank you. I had hoped you would say yes. I knew from the moment I saw you, too, that you were the one who could."

"Why is that?"

"Just as you knew something ailed me. Magic comes in many colors, but the base for each is the same."

I sighed and passed my fingers over her palms tentatively. She winced.

"How well did you clean and treat these?" I asked, trying to push the suspicion from my voice.

"Christopher took care of them…" she admitted, biting her lip.

I carefully unbandaged one hand. Ash still clung to a few cuts, and they were red with irritation.

"You must let me wash them again," I said firmly. "They will become infected if you I do not."

"There’s water drawn in the kitchen," Isobel said.

Shortly after, I had some boiling on the stove. Isobel flinched but kept a brave, gray face as I swabbed her wounds with hot water. I spread some of the salve from the soapstone jar on each before bandaging them again.

"Keep this," I said, handing her the jar. "You need it more than I-"

We froze at the sound of tentative knocking.

"Is it Christopher?" I whispered.

"No!" Isobel exclaimed, agitated.

"Then keep quiet…."

It took one cautious mental prod to send me reeling against the counter, ashen faced. I lost control of my search pattern, sending the energy in all directions. The bolt slid open of its own accord. In my distress, I had willed it.

Ichabod strode into the room, looking about in mild confusion. I still leaned weakly against the counter, peering helplessly into the main room of the flat.

"Is anyone home?" Ichabod called, lifting the curtains.

"Yes," replied Isobel amiably, much relieved. "Here, in the kitchen!"

Ichabod turned at the sound of her voice. His expression went from one of pleasant greeting to cold disbelief. He stared at me as though I had committed the very crime that he was investigating.

"Lady Crane," he said stiffly, barely able to contain his fury, "you are under arrest. Miss Magellan, pardon my intrusion."

Isobel stared at the floor. I matched Ichabod glare for glare. I had learned long ago that it took one pair of dark eyes to stare down another.

Isobel nodded dumbly. Ichabod offered me his hand mockingly.

"Either you come of your own accord, or I will drag you," he said coldly.

My stare shot daggers at him as I embraced Isobel. Do not let this ruin what we have established today. I would not trade your confidence or your friendship for the world. I will help you, my sister! I bid you farewell for now and bid you forget my husband’s rashness.

Good day, then, Katrina, Isobel replied numbly, her clumsy hands suddenly tense on my shoulders. But-

Ichabod grabbed my arm. "You have chosen unwisely!"

I stared helplessly at Isobel as Ichabod led me toward the front door. I was able to catch Isobel’s last words, and they burned a hole in my heart as deep as the ones in Ichabod’s dream-palms.

But I did not have the chance or the courage to tell you… Something very dear to us has been taken!

I did not find out what that something was. Ichabod held onto me the whole way home, too angry to speak. My arm ached from his vise grip when he finally released me inside our own home. I thanked God that David was nowhere in sight. Ichabod threw off his coat, ready to cut me down where we stood with his piercing glare. He was waiting for me to speak. To explain myself. I moved my lips but no sound came out.

"Have I married a deaf as well as a mute?" Ichabod demanded. "Did David not tell you that I forbade you to set foot in McRaker’s Alley? Did I not tell you that I forbid you to set foot in that wretched place? For the love of God, Katrina! I even told him to accompany you if you were persistent! And you did not heed my instructions in that respect!" Ichabod spat. "I think you have none. Your husband’s concerns are petty trifles to you."

I whipped off my cloak, flinging it in his direction. "Oh, enough! How was I supposed to know you’d catch the fancy to pass by the Magellans’? It was a harmless venture until you came waltzing in. You would never have known, and it wouldn’t have hurt you one bit! Isobel needs me, Ichabod, whether you like it or not. She’s alone and cannot voice her fears to her brother. She fears for both their lives, Ichabod! Oh, yes, I see that look in your eyes. Don’t look so surprised. You can’t accept it that perhaps your wife did some sleuthing and came up with more information than you did yourself!"

I stopped myself, horrified. Ichabod looked as if he were capable of killing someone. I backed away from him slowly. I regretted every word that had passed my lips. He was mortified that somehow I had discovered his secret. That his day’s work had been fruitless. And he did not know how I possibly could have done it. I gulped.

"So, you are presumptuous enough to believe you have bested me. That what I do is for naught, and so you took it into your own pretty hands and went out in search of glory at the expense of your own safety. You dolt, Katrina! I have done this for the better half of my life! It is my job! And what’s more, my job now entails looking after a wife who is as reckless as all Hell broken loose and a child whose loyalties are so torn between the two of us that he cannot see straight! Confound you! Did you have to complicate things? Or do you just revel in the befuddlement that you’ve discovered that you can inspire in me so easily? Tell me," he raged tauntingly, "would you have dared behave this way if your capricious fancy had led you to be Lady Van Brunt?"

Something inside me snapped. The flat of my palm hit his cheek with such force that he stumbled into a tea table, knocking it and the porcelain flower arrangement that I had ordered from Italy to the floor. I stared at the shattered leaves and petals. My palm stung red with electric effervescence.

"Don’t ever say anything like that again," I whispered numbly, blinded by tears. "Don’t you ever."

His only reply was a stifled sob. I could not bring myself to touch him, not even to offer comfort. Turning away, I sank into the nearest armchair and wept bitterly. I did not have to look up to know that David was cowering at the top of the stairs. The terrible force of nature that I had harnessed left my hollowed-out system damnably clear. Not just thought images. Real, concrete, life images. I could not only sense with my eyes closed then, but see.

It seemed like hours when I finally lifted my head. My eyes ached, the lashes plastered to my cheeks, and when I lifted my eyelids, I felt as though I had reopened two seeping scabs. The room swam, but I could see well enough. Ichabod was gone, and the mess of shattered petals had been swept into a neat pile. The table was righted.

I glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Six o’clock in the evening. I rose unsteadily, cursing the fickle quality of time. It was amazing what havoc a few hours could wreak.

I picked up the broom where the unknown sweeper (David, I assumed) had left it. I fetched the brass dustpan and mechanically swept up the ruined porcelain. After disposing of it, I cautiously surveyed the empty first floor. No sign of anyone. I mounted the stairs hesitantly.

David’s bedroom door was locked, and so was the door to the laboratory. I was thereby not surprised to find the master bedroom empty. I sat down on the bed, unsure of what to do next. I dared not disturb Ichabod in the laboratory. For all I knew, he was formulating a poison deadly enough to kill us both in one drop. Perhaps he had drunk it himself already. I cried aloud, chasing the horrors from my mind. The morbid thoughts came unbidden, however, and I could not help but wryly wish I had not given my pistol to David. I fell back onto the coverlet, stretching my arms wide. My hand hit something hard and cold on the pillow.

I picked up the pistol with trembling fingers. A note lay beneath it.

Ichabod, it read, you need this rather worse than I do. Signed, David.

I burst into sardonic laughter. So the boy had done us each a turn in hopes of raising our spirits: sweeping for me, firearms for Ichabod. I wondered from whom the child’s sense of humor came. Certainly not his father.

I shoved the pistol into a drawer and dressed myself for bed. I tore the note into three dozen pieces and tossed them out the window. I planned on giving the gun back to David, but not without a talk on how to manage it responsibly. Something told me he was not out of danger. Isobel’s words had settled and sorted themselves in my mind. I felt an increased need for wariness. It was then I remembered the eye amulet. It rested cool against my chest. I drew it out from beneath my nightdress and studied it in the candle’s spare glow.

Sister, I had called Isobel.

Second sight and open hands. Regardless the evil of the man from whom I had purchased the token, I felt no danger in its cool reassurance. I realized then that even adversity could turn up a tiny blessing.

Even that did not stop me from crying myself to sleep. I did not even feel it when Ichabod finally slid beneath the covers at my side, his back to mine.

 

 

I saw David watching anxiously as I strode past, but I did not look directly at him. I did not dare speak to him, not now. I went to the only part of Katrina’s house where I belong: the laboratory. I locked the door.

I spent several hours stewing, resisting the urge to shatter every vial and instrument in the room. As usual, testing my conjugal authority had been a humbling experience. Oh, she generally acceded to my wishes, but I had always known that this was her indulgence and not my authority. I racked my brains for some way to curb my wayward bride, but short of locking her up I found none. And even had I been willing to do that, I doubt it should have sufficed.

How could she do this to me?

Did my torment of fear for her sake mean nothing to her? Was it all a game to her? To see how far out of my wits she could tease me? Had all her affection and care been the mere imagination of a man alone for too long?

Her disdain of my ability and my methods was not the smallest sting. There are few enough people who have respected what I am trying to do. To learn that she was not among them made me shrivel inside.

She simply did not care. My fear for her, my rights as her husband, my work — it all meant nothing to her.

What did you expect, Crane? That a princess would fall in love with the alchemist in his hermit’s lair? Outcasts such as I might yearn for fortune’s child, but we are never meant to win her. I merely had the extraordinary stroke of luck of rescuing her from a monster, and though I hardly fit the bill for a knight errant, still I had received the traditional reward.

And under my justifiable anger, and my worry for her if she continued in this manner, was something I hated to face far more than murder victims or galloping ghosts.

She did not know what kind of demon she had raised. When I felt her hand strike my face, God forgive me, but for one shameful moment I wished I could strike back, could simply bully her into being sensible. That impulse welling up in me was appalling, fleeting as it was. I suppose I am my father’s son after all. And that was what had me hiding in my laboratory.

After a long while my mind cooled enough to realize that my words had hurt her. Flinging her childhood sweetheart in her face had been an idiotic move, one that I hope I should never have made had she not unhinged me so. I am so accustomed to being grateful that an exquisite heiress has chosen me from among the scores of far more eligible men she could have had, that I had forgotten that she might feel in some small measure the same, that some of her contentment might rest on me as well.

But all of mine rests upon her. If harm befell her…

How could I protect a city from itself if I could not even protect my own wife?

It was very late before I finally went to bed. She was asleep, her back turned to my side of the bed. With a heavy heart, I laid down with my back to her. It was the first night since our wedding that we did not sleep in an embrace. I did not expect to sleep. But of course, in time I did. How could I have nightmares if I did not sleep?

 

I investigated the case over two years ago, but the details are still fresh. Some of them you never forget.

The woman was in her early thirties, and pretty. Not a raving beauty, but a pleasing face. When animated by laughter, she must have been quite taking. But I never saw her thus.

Witherspoon and I approached the alley cautiously. A heap of dark green silk was piled on the ground. As we neared it, it gradually took on shape. A woman’s shape. Her fine green dress had a few smears on it. Some were of dirt. Others were wet and red.

Her dark brown hair was falling out of its coiffure, and her eyes were as blue as the sky they stared at so vacantly.

She had a husband and two children waiting for her at home. I remember that. She was stabbed to death for the modest purse she had carried to do her shopping in the market at McRaker’s Alley.

And as I looked at her prone body, as so often happens in dreams, she was no longer herself, but someone else. Her eyes became rich and dark, and her hair the color of flax….

 

I awoke with a cry, bathed in sweat. I gasped for breath as I became aware of the cool night air and the quiet darkness of our room.

Katrina sat up, her hair tousled, rubbing her eyes. I am ashamed to remember how many times I have awakened her in this fashion since our wedding, but this was the first time that she looked weary as she reached out to soothe me.

She put a hand on my shoulder. No embrace, not on this night. "What was it?"

I turned away from her to sit on the edge of the bed. "A dream about you in McRaker’s Alley," I said shortly. "But what’s one more cause of nightmares?"

She reached for my hand. "Ichabod–"

I did something I never thought I would do: I pulled my hand away from hers. "Let me alone," I ordered curtly. "If you’re going to continue to go there, I shall probably have to learn to get along without you."

I admit, I felt a glimmer of satisfaction at the hurt in her eyes. Let her have a sample of what she was putting me through. I left her and went back to the laboratory, where I stayed for the rest of the night.

I slept fitfully on the divan for a time, but mostly I sat and continued to brood. In the morning, there was a soft knock. "Come!" I called. David entered silently, carrying a breakfast tray. If I stay in my aerie for too long, I can rely on Katrina to send him up with some nourishment. I indicated a clear space on one of the tables and the boy put the tray there. He looked at me nervously.

"Sir… I’m sorry. I tried to, but…."

Would Katrina and I tear the boy apart between us? I lifted a hand to silence him. "I know you did. Perhaps it was too much to ask of you."

As soon as I said it, I realized that it was the absolutely worst thing I could have said. The boy’s eyes were stricken. Was Katrina’s folly going to alienate everyone in our household?

"I didn’t mean to let you down," he whispered.

"But you were willing to conspire with Katrina to deceive me," I retorted before I could stop myself. "Oh, David… I cannot talk about this right now. I am too distressed." Awkwardly, I put my hand on his shoulder, then patted it. "It will be all right."

He looked up at me pitifully. I wished I could reassure him more, but I could not imagine how. And frankly, I was too miserable to try very hard. He walked slowly to the door.

"David."

"Yes, sir?"

"Kindly ask Katrina to come up here. I wish to speak to her." I paused. "And then you’d best go to your room and study. We may be talking for quite a while."

The boy looked relieved. "Yes, sir."

I paced as I waited, pausing now and then to force down a bite or two of bread. It was several minutes before Katrina appeared and stood in the doorway, her chin high, her eyes waiting. She was ready to argue, or to accept reconciliation, but not to yield.

"You summoned me," she said. The slight emphasis she put on the second word told me why she had taken so long. She was telling me that she was not at my beck and call.

I had no intention of making matters worse with another foolish attempt to assert myself. "I… requested an audience." To my relief, her eyes softened a bit. She stepped inside the room, closing the door behind her. I approached and took her hands gently. At my touch, her eyes met mine hopefully. This was the Katrina I knew, not the defiant woman with the sharp tongue I had spoken to the day before.

"Katrina, perhaps the way I spoke to you yesterday was not the best way to discuss this." I saw her shoulders sag slightly as she realized the course my words were taking, but I would not stop now. "But finding you there after I told you to stay away put me out of my mind with fear. I shall never be able to know if you are safe or not."

She looked away from me. "Ichabod–"

"Please, listen to me." But then I paused, trying to order my thoughts. "First… I am sorry about the things I said yesterday."

Her hands tightened on mine. "So am I. I regret every word I said."

"Then… let us forgive each other at least so far as that is concerned."

Looking down at my hands clasping hers, she nodded mutely.

"Katrina…." I tried to speak gently. "Did you do this because you resented my telling you what you might do?" She raised her eyes to mine, looking incredulous. "If we are wagering your safety on a battle of wills, Katrina, I surrender mine. You have my permission to go to McRaker’s Alley whenever you like. And I beg you, please do not do so. I am asking you, out of kindness to me, please, stay away from there."

She drew a breath. "Ichabod… you did not truly think that was all it was? That I would defy you simply for the sake of doing so? Isobel asked me to return, Ichabod. I couldn't bear to break a promise. She needs me."

"I need you!"

She looked at me, stricken, taken aback. "I... I know. But as much as you desire to help those in need, so do I! Was it so wicked of me?"

I stared at her, exasperated. If there is anything more disquieting than being married to a beautiful woman, it is being married to a brave one. Katrina was as near perfection as a mortal could be. If only she were not quite so willful. But if she were not, would I love her so? Would a less willful woman have followed me into the western woods?

"You are putting me through hell. Does that matter to you at all?"

She looked helpless, distressed. "It matters."

"But not enough to make you protect yourself." Her eyes dropped again. I pressed on. "Katrina, try to understand. I love you. I do not care to go on living without you. Terrible things could happen to you if you keep going to places like that."

Her eyes searched my face with that oddly inquiring look she has sometimes. But whatever she was looking for, she did not find it. She hesitated before choosing her words. "Ichabod… can’t you have a little more faith in me, that I am not so helpless as all that?"

"A beautiful young lady who is scarcely above five feet tall walking alone through a bad neighborhood in expensive clothes? I could tell you stories about such things. Such adventures generally lead to the intervention of the constabulary." I leaned closer, my hands tightening on hers. "Katrina, how can I keep you away from there? Would it help if I pleaded on my knees? I’ll do it! I do not want you to go there!"

Her chin lifted and my heart sank. It is not impossible to change her mind when she gets that look, but it is very close. "Ichabod, I’m sorry. But I have my duties just as you have yours."

My blood grew cold, and so did my voice. "Yes. Your duty to me, for instance."

"Ichabod, Isobel needs help."

"Help with what?" She said nothing. "Magic spells, I suppose?"

"Magic can do more than you might think. Have you not learned that yet?"

I was exasperated, and found myself taking revenge for her slight on my abilities yesterday. "Sleepy Hollow was filled with people who practiced magic, yet you could not rid yourselves of the Headless Horseman until a man of science, with these methods you take so lightly, came to your aid." My tone was biting.

Hesitantly, she raised one of my hands to her mouth and kissed my scarred palm. Her eyes sought mine. "Yes… and if you had not, I would have died that day." There was another searching look before she sighed. "My love, I cannot explain, but please believe…." But at the look on my face, her voice trailed off. I dropped her hands and turned away, defeated.

After a silence that seemed painfully long, I went to the door and opened it. Without looking at her, I gestured for her to precede me. She did so. I locked the door and went down the stairs to our bedroom to put on my uniform. I neither looked at nor spoke to her until I was in the foyer and she put a tentative hand on my arm.

"Ichabod… can’t we put this behind us?"

"Not as long as you are set on this recklessness."

Her fingertips froze on my arm. "Are you going to lock yourself in the laboratory and refuse to speak to me?"

I could hear the tears in her voice. I did not turn my head. "Would that change your mind?"

Her voice was very gentle. "Nothing will change my mind, Ichabod."

I could not bear this coldness between us, even though I wanted to shake her. "Then I shan’t bother to hide," I replied wearily. "I have to report for duty. Go talk to David; he’s torn between us and utterly miserable, because I cannot help but be angry at him for allowing you to persuade him to help you deceive me."

At any other time, her expression would have melted me. But now my fear for her, my hurt at her stubbornness, and yes, my wounded pride all combined to keep me aloof.

She escorted me to the front door as usual. Once I opened it, I hesitated. At last I dared a glance at her. When I saw her eyes, I could not bear to remain obdurate, not in the face of this sign that my opinion still meant something to her. Even if that something was rather less than I might wish. I leaned over and kissed her cheek, but it was not the same as usual, I knew even without her disappointed look.

I walked to work with dread for my wife’s safety forming a cold knot in my stomach.

 

 

Part II
Tales of Romance
Sleepy Hollow