I paused on the landing to remove the spellbook from my vest pocket and place the bookmark on the crucial page, the one that had told me the true purpose of the pentagram I had taken for an "Evil Eye". I gazed at the diagram for a moment, then at the ivory disk. This page had saved her life and my heart. It had protected us both, albeit at the eleventh hour. And now the bookmark with the same symbol had alerted me to danger. Seeing her fail to levitate things was even more unsettling than seeing her succeed. Frowning, I tucked the book back into its accustomed place and proceeded downstairs to the herb closet.
David was waiting in the living room. At my gesture, he followed me into the kitchen. I found one of the fever packets and handed it to him. "Katrina says you will know what to do with this."
"Yes, sir. She showed me." He took it with alacrity and set some water on to boil.
"Im afraid were out of ravens feet, however," I remarked ironically.
David gave me a puzzled look, but when I did not explain, he asked, "Have you changed your mind about Katrina going to McRakers Alley?"
I became thoughtful. "Yes ."
An unwanted image came into my head, of some scoundrel coming upon Katrina in her present state, as helpless as any ill woman, her powers as weak as her fevered arms. And another haunting image unrolled itself, that of a sudden blow to the back of her unwary head, just as effective on my sorceress as on any ordinary woman.
"Is something wrong?" he asked nervously.
I brought my mind forcefully back to the present. "Im concerned over her fever," was all I said.
"Was it because of her powers that you changed your mind?" he asked. I must have looked startled, because he explained, "She showed me this morning. I wish I could do that!"
His cheerful acceptance of phenomena that had nearly cost me my sanity irked me until I remembered how blithely I had accepted such things in my own childhood.
I set out in the opposite direction from Fairfields to find a restaurant. High-strung, was I? I have been called worse. I ordered a meal I thought a fevered appetite could manage and hurried home with it. I found her sitting up in bed, propped against the pillows, trying to smile. Her cheeks were too rosy, her eyes too bright.
I sat on the edge of the bed and touched her forehead. She was a bit cooler, but still far too warm. A tiny part of me, I admit, was relieved to see her being vulnerable like an ordinary mortal. Two days ago I had been terrified of her. Since then, I had been utterly awed by her, knowing myself to be more in her power than ever. I had almost gotten used to seeing her as an invincible demi-goddess, and now things had changed once more, and I was worried about her all over again.
"Who told you that you could sit up?" I scolded lovingly.
"I drank the tea, and I feel better already," she insisted, starting to push the covers aside. "Ill dress for dinner."
I took hold of her wrists. "Youll do nothing of the kind. You are not well enough to get up."
"But I wanted to eat dinner with you two! And talk about what weve discovered." A bit of petulance crept into her voice, and I found myself smiling as I always do when the child in her comes out. But at other times I catch a glimpse of the imposing matriarch she will be in forty years and I shall still be her devoted servant, and perhaps occasionally a bit of the playful girl who first captured my heart will reappear.
"Hmm. If you lie down now, I might be able to arrange something."
With ill-concealed relief she lay back down. I frowned at her flushed face and closed eyes for a moment. Blast it, why hadnt I found a way to end our quarrel sooner? Why hadnt I realized the toll it would take on my beloved?
But that was not what was truly worrying me. The fever did not seem serious; she would be well in a day or two. The vulnerability it had revealed was what knit my brows together.
David was in the kitchen, setting the table. "We wont be eating in here tonight, David," I said. "Clear the table and help me move it." We lifted the table together and carried it into the living room, setting it by the sofa. I started to move a chair toward the table, but when I shifted it I disturbed a huge spider that had been making its home beneath it. It was at least the size of my hand. Releasing the chair with a thump and an exclamation, I quickly moved to a safe distance. I was about to get the poker from the fireplace to dispatch the vile creature when David strode over to it quite calmly and stepped on it as if it were a matter of no moment.
When I saw that the boy was safe and the spider was indeed dead, I was able to catch my breath enough to rebuke him. "David, how many times do I have to tell you to be careful around those things? You could have been killed!"
He shrugged. "It was just a spider."
I shook my head. David is really quite bright, but he is appallingly ignorant; before Katrina took him under her wing, his only education was a couple of years of instruction from that gawky scarecrow of a schoolmaster in Sleepy Hollow, and he has no idea how dangerous spiders can be. He behaved as if it were nothing at all when one attacked us in Sleepy Hollow.
"David, you are a very brave boy, but also very foolhardy. How many times do I have to tell you that spiders are dangerous? Most of them are poisonous, you know."
"Of course," he said politely, dragging the chair the spider had been living beneath over to the table casually, not even checking to see if there were any others first. I investigated another chair cautiously before moving it, but this one had no such unpleasant surprises.
David set the table while I arranged pillows and cushions on the sofa so that she could recline on them without having to sit straight up. When all was ready, I went back upstairs to fetch her. In spite of her half-hearted protests, I carried her downstairs and set her on the sofa, tucking a blanket around her before sitting down myself. She sipped a glass of milk slowly while I served her plate.
"You tell first," she said, betraying more fatigue than I think she wished to. "What did Constable Green have to say?"
An involuntary smile spread over my face. "I suspect that Green is going to find a new way to amuse himself, something other than borrowing my belongings. He was almost as amazed as I to see my ledger back in my possession." Both of my companions chuckled.
I continued, "Professor Birch and Colonel Dorn have an unsavory mutual acquaintance. A man named Simon Purnell, who seems to have some interest in magic. I suspect he showed Dorn how to get control over the demon, and I think he probably wanted that Sanskrit tablet he seems to covet such artifacts."
I frowned again. I had intended to ask if she could detect whether Purnell had any power and how much, but that was out of the question now, what with her weakened state.
Katrina distracted me by beginning to rise. I stopped her. "What are you doing?"
She looked at me, surprised. "I was going to get some more milk."
"Then let me get it for you." I stood, but David claimed her glass before I could and went briskly to the kitchen. I gave her a look of mock truculence. "If you try to get up again, youre going back to bed."
"Youre taking advantage of my weakened state!"
"I certainly am." I smiled, but then became grave. If I could do so, so too could another, perhaps with less benign intentions.
She surrendered to being waited on with an indulgent sigh. "Very well," she replied meekly. At least, someone who did not know her might have mistaken it for meekness.
David reappeared with a full glass for her. I went on, "I spent most of today looking through public records and account books. Dorn is guilty of embezzlement, though I cannot quite prove it just yet. I have not been able to figure out where the money he is misallocating is going. Though some of it seems to have moved in the general direction of a newspaper editor, that of the Banner."
She lifted her eyebrows. "Embezzlement? He is guilty of murder, and of attempting to frame another for his crime. What matter if he is guilty of embezzlement?"
"I cannot very well arrest him for making a pact with a demon, now can I?" I retorted.
She thoughtfully toyed with a forkful of roast chicken. It worried me to see her normal healthy appetite so diminished. "All that trouble enslaving a demon, just to settle a couple of old grudges and steal an artifact for his friend? He is in over his head. Are you certain there is nothing else hes after? Some grander scheme?"
"I believe he still hopes to somehow gain Mrs. St. James," I said darkly. "Today I spoke to the St. James. I told them I suspected Dorn of attempting to frame him and advised them to leave the city until I could prove it and arrest him."
Do you think they will?" She finally made herself take the bite. As for me, I found my own appetite diminishing as well.
"I believe so. They both seem disenchanted with New York since his arrest. Did you visit Miss Magellan today?"
"Yes. I bought your bookmark at the market there," she said, laying down her fork.
I considered, my brows drawing together. "When did you start to feel ill?"
"This afternoon. After I got home," she said, correctly anticipating my next question.
I brooded while she closed her eyes to snatch a moments rest. "Katrina," I said decisively, prompting her to open her eyes, "we are not going to quarrel again. There is no reason for you to argue with what I am about to say. You have my permission to visit Miss Magellan, but only when you are feeling well. And even then, you are not going alone again. You are going to be accompanied by me or David. Your sorcery will do you no good if you are caught unawares, and I want you to have a second set of eyes and ears watching out for you." I held her gaze, bracing myself for the arguments that were sure to follow.
"All right, love. If that will put your mind at ease."
I found myself staring at her, stunned. Where had her willfulness gone?
She smiled at my expression and reached for my hand. "You have no idea how glad I am that this time I can do as you wish."
I returned her handclasp tightly. "Not half as glad as I am. You promise?"
"I promise." She grimaced suddenly.
"Are you all right?" I asked quickly.
"Yes. I was only thinking of the market."
"Why? Did something happen there?" I demanded frantically.
"No! I was just thinking that perhaps you are right."
"Really. And what led you to such an unprecedented conclusion?"
"The fact that you generally are, for one thing." She smiled wanly,leaning back against the cushions. "And oh, its just that it is clear that some of the people there are up to no good. Their expressions, the way they look about." She managed to eat a few spoonfuls of mashed potato before continuing. "Isobel and I think we know, in principle, how to defeat the demon."
"We think it can be defeated the way you defeated the Horseman: by giving it what it wants. Not what its controller wants, but what it wants for itself."
I nodded, impressed. "Excellent. So what does a demon want?" She spread her hands helplessly. A moment later I realized that I had cut my slice of chicken to tiny bits, intent on my thoughts. David and Katrina both looked amused, as they often do when I become preoccupied. Ignoring their smiles, I said, "The Horseman desired his freedom. Perhaps that is all the demon wants. But how to give it to him?"
"I wish I knew."
"Do you know how to gain control of a demon in the first place?" She shook her head, visibly annoyed that she could not answer. "If it was done by a pact, then if we could learn the terms of the pact . But what can a mortal offer a demon?" Both of them watched me as I cogitated; they are generally quite considerate about being silent when I am trying to concentrate. "The Horseman was controlled by the one who stole his skull. Is there anything one can steal from a demon?"
"I dont know," she said dolefully.
"But you have shown us where we must look for our answers, my love. I said you were as brilliant as you were beautiful."
David smiled at that, looking from one of us to the other, evidently much relieved that our quarrels were over.
Katrina managed to eat some mashed potatoes and the blanc-mange I had brought for dessert; I had thought it would go down easily even though she was ill. When dinner was over, I carried her back to bed. She circled my neck with her arms and smiled mischievously. "I should make you do this for me every night."
"I will if you wish, my angel," I answered, kissing her forehead before setting her down on the bed. "Do you want another of those medicinal teas?"
"One is enough for one night."
I sat beside her, tucking the sheets over her and checking her temperature. I bathed her forehead with a damp cloth. "How do you feel?"
"Tired." Her tone was petulant again. She was very annoyed with her illness, with being forced to lie still.
"Then Ill let you rest."
I began to leave, but she seized my wrist. "No! I dont want you to go."
It was too early for me to retire, so I said, "All right then, let me get my ledger and Ill sit with you. But youre going to lie quietly. I expect you to get well quickly."
She nodded once as she settled on the pillows. A few minutes later I was sitting on my side of the bed, my back against the headboard, my wife snuggling close to me as she dozed. I pored over my notes about Dorns and Trevaynes finances for a time. Trevayne seemed to be living beyond his means, but not sufficiently to account for the sums which he seemed to be misappropriating. Katrina was right; they did have a grander scheme, but I had no idea what it was.
After jotting some notes about how to continue my investigations, I yielded to a sudden impulse and opened the spellbook that had saved my life in Sleepy Hollow. I leafed through the entire book, but found nothing that might help us in our present investigation.
When I changed into a nightshirt and went to bed, she awoke enough to nestle close to me and put her arms around my neck. She was still burning up. "Katrina, dont you think youd better move away enough to cool off?"
"No." Her tone was that of an obstinate child once more. I wondered if she was always this way when she was ill.
"Youre going to make your fever worse."
"No, Im not." She tightened her hold on me. I relented and kissed her warm forehead.
"Oh, very well. But if I were the one with the fever, I feel certain you would be firmer."
"Mm hm," she replied readily. I chuckled as I settled down to sleep.
I was awakened shortly after midnight by her tossing and turning beside me. I blinked as my eyes focused in the moonlight. She was frowning in her sleep, moaning very softly as she fretfully turned this way and that.
I grasped her shoulders. "Katrina," I said softly. She frowned harder and squirmed more insistently. I shook her gently. "Katrina!" Still asleep, her little hands beat clumsily against my arms and chest. I began to feel nervous, wondering if my attempts to wake her were only making her nightmare worse. On a sudden idea, I drew her close and kissed her forehead. "Wake up, love!" I said in a low voice.
Her form seemed to go rigid, and then she opened her eyes and gasped. "Its all right, I am here now, my love," I murmured, trying to soothe her with my caresses. For one second she stared at me as if she did not know who I was, but then wrapped her arms around me tightly, shuddering.
I whispered senseless endearments for a few minutes till her shudders subsided. At last I touched her forehead. Her temperature was normal again, I found with relief. "I hope you are not learning my bad habits," I teased gently, but I was worried. This was the first time that it was she who woke us with a nightmare. I was at a loss for what else to say, but after a moment remembered what she always says to me. "Tell me what you dreamt."
"My stepmother in the windmill ." She hid her face against my chest. I held her closely, wishing I could do more.
"Its all right, my angel. You are safe now."
She frowned moodily. "Ichabod, I lived in the same house with her for over a year, and I never suspected that she was what she was. I thought she loved my father and me." Her face crumpled, and she sobbed on my shoulder for a few minutes.
I shivered, suddenly remembering waking the morning after the Horseman wounded me with the Lady Van Tassel watching over me. Her words had made me shudder even then, when I did not know who she was and what she was doing: "You slept like the dead."
Katrina lifted her head and wiped her eyes as her crying subsided. "I did not even know that she was a witch."
"Did you never read her thoughts?"
She sighed. "I dont often read the thoughts of those close to me, Ichabod. It seems unfair. But when she first entered our lives, yes, I read her thoughts, and I found nothing that alarmed me. She was more powerful than I, or at least more clever."
I drew her head back onto my chest so that she could not see my worried frown. "Your fever has broken," I said, trying to distract her. "It was probably what caused your nightmare, my love. Youll be able to sleep peacefully now. And youll be fine tomorrow."
"Im sorry I woke you," she whispered after a moment.
Many times I have said exactly the same words, and always she rebuked me for them. Now to hear her echo me made me laugh in spite of myself. Realizing what she had said, she smiled sheepishly.
"Wake me before you leave in the morning," she said as she nestled closer.
"I thought I should allow you to sleep in."
"No! I dont like to wake up and find you gone."
I smiled. No matter how often she expresses it, her affection for me is still a miracle I can scarcely credit. "Very well. But Im getting breakfast for you. You will need to rest tomorrow, I am sure."
"Im going to forget how to walk if you keep this up," she pouted. "You dont want me coddling you."
"I do not get many chances to look after my all-powerful sorceress. I mean to make the most of this opportunity."
She giggled. "Then so shall I. Would you get me some water, love?"
"Gladly." I fetched a glass for her. She drank a bit before nestling in my arms again to return to sleep, but it was a while before I could follow her example. As much as her power had frightened me, her vulnerability was now worrying me far more.
But then, I reminded myself, when she was ill I could protect her as I would have had she been an ordinary mortal. And while she had encountered one witch more powerful than she, they were doubtless rarities. I had very little to worry about, really.
At dawn, I touched her forehead lightly so as not to wake her. It was still cool. With relief, I got up and dressed quietly before going down to the kitchen. I would waken her with breakfast. David came in while I was building a fire and helped me to cook eggs and oatmeal.
"Is Katrina better?" he wanted to know.
"Much. Her temperature has gone down."
"Then I suppose she wont need another of the special teas."
"I dont think so. Pour a glass of milk, would you?"
I arranged this simple breakfast on a tray and carried it up to her. She looked very peaceful. I hated to wake her, but I had promised, so I kissed her forehead. At once she wound her arms around my neck. I almost lost my balance and had to lean on the bed to keep from falling on her.
"I am not going anywhere yet, my angel. Eat your breakfast before it gets cold."
"Kiss me first," she commanded. When I had done her bidding a few times she released me and ate with an appetite that cheered me. She was still pale, however.
"Lets see you levitate something," I said suddenly.
She hesitated for a second. Then her spoon lifted into the air. It clumsily scooped up some oatmeal and lifted it in the direction of her mouth, but she could not aim it properly. After a few rather comical attempts, she took the spoon in her hand with irritation. She drew a long breath before taking the bite; evidently the effort had tired her. She was still fatigued from the illness of the day before.
I raised her free hand to my mouth and kissed it. "You are staying home today. You need more rest."
She smiled at me adoringly. "Very well, my love," she said in a dulcet voice. I had not heard that tone from her since catching her in McRakers Alley. Somehow, I had thought it was gone forever. Before that incident, she had almost always done as I asked, and yet it had always surprised me when she did so. Suddenly, I realized that she was as willful in obedience as she was in defiance.
"Thank you, Katrina," I murmured solemnly. Her eyes brimmed over with warmth. I had no choice but to lean over and kiss her again.
"What is your next step in the investigation?" she asked as she salted her eggs.
"To speak to the editor Dorn seems to be associated with, to see if I can find out what Dorn might be getting from him. And I am going to speak with some of Dorns and Trevaynes associates. I think you are right, my lovely witch: they have some grand design. I have to get some idea of what it is."
"Senator Trevayne? What does he have to do with it?"
"He has been embezzling as well."
"And you think they are doing something together?"
"I ." My voice trailed off. "Come to think of it, I have no reason to think that they are conspiring, none except ."
"Except that Trevayne was one of Dorns dinner guests, and Colonel Hawke is suspicious about them both."
"Wasnt Colonel Hawke another of the dinner guests?"
"Yes ." I put a finger to my mouth as I considered. "Ill tell you what I learn tonight, my love." I leaned over and kissed her cheek before rising to leave for duty.
I reported at the watchhouse. Though I had not mentioned it to Katrina, there was one thing I meant to do before visiting the editor. Remembering Purnells overdressed companions when I had spoken to him, I had hit on the idea of questioning the fallen women currently in custody.
This was an unpleasant duty, as I expected it would be; rather than answer my questions, these women preferred to make arch remarks that I need not record here. I only hope that Katrina never read those memories from my thoughts. My courtesy to them in spite of their character and my easily inspired blushes amused them greatly. But finally one of them tired of the game of turning my face red and answered my questions. Her hair was a shade of yellow not found in nature, and her face was heavily painted.
"Yeah, I know Simon. Know of him. I wouldnt take him on, never mind how much he offered!"
"Why not?" I asked reluctantly.
"After what he did to Sally?" She snorted.
I braced myself. "What did he do to Sally?"
"Put it this way: shes living in Bedlam now."
"In the insane asylum? What on earth could have done that?"
"Hes the one belongs in the asylum, handsome. Old Reverend Burris set them up, and I wont say Simon wasnt generous. But he thinks hes a wizard, and he had her lying naked on some heathen altar while he made sacrifices to the Devil."
I swallowed. "Animal sacrifices?"
"Oh, yes. Let the blood squirt all over her. Want to hear how he killed them?" She grinned.
"No, thank you. Did he do anything else unusual?" I already knew that I was not going to be able to eat lunch.
"Only the usual unusual. He was one of those who requires special services, if you get my drift." The other women present started listing some of those special services. They all laughed loudly as I quickly left the room.
I found it necessary to find a comparatively quiet corner and sit down for a few minutes. My face was covered with a clammy sweat. It sickened me, hearing this degradation of matters that are sacred to me.
Witherspoon appeared at my elbow. "Dont take it so hard, Crane. Thats what women like that are for."
I looked at him with such blistering contempt that he became offended and walked away, muttering a snide remark about excessive chivalry as he went.
Once I had recovered myself a bit, I went straight to the offices of the Banner. As I reached for the door, it opened, and I was surprised by a man I knew emerging briskly. It was Colonel Dorn. He stopped short when he saw me. His apprehensive expression was enough to convince me anew of his guilt.
I was the first to recover from the surprise. "Colonel Dorn. How nice to see you again. I suppose you know that we have arrested Gabriel Ericksons true murderer. Good thing he confessed, isnt it?"
As I spoke, I looked directly into Dorns eyes. As I had hoped, my direct gaze unnerved him. He knew I suspected him.
"Only a constable would take the word of a lunatic," he blustered. "I always knew that St. James was no good."
"Give my regards to his wife," I said with a smile before elbowing past him to go inside.
The editor was closeted in his office. I knocked and entered, watching him carefully, and was rewarded with a look I know well. Guilty men have a very distinct expression when they see a constables uniform. That telltale expression is the only good thing about these uniforms. But that look was all I got from him during our conversation. None of my questions startled him into revealing what he was up to. I left thoughtful. What could a man like Colonel Dorn want from a newspaper editor? I doubted Dorn had ever so much as read a newspaper. Yet his presence at the office confirmed my suspicions; he had no business being there, unless he was up to something .
I was going to proceed to my next planned interrogation, but a movement caught the corner of my eye as I passed a pub less than a block away from the newspaper office, a quick shift in the window as if someone had swiftly stepped back from it. I glanced at it before I could stop myself, but then walked on as if I had dismissed it. I continued down the street and turned a corner. I quickly walked around the block. When I peered back onto the main street again, I found Dorn emerging from the pub, glancing around suspiciously. But he looked to the corner where he had seen me turn, not to the one where I was waiting and watching.
Apparently satisfied, he hurried back to the newspaper office without another backward glance. I followed cautiously, trying to keep as large a crowd as possible between me and him, though my care was not truly necessary; he had apparently decided that he was safe. It annoys me that criminals find me so easy to underestimate, but I suppose in the end it is useful. Dorn barged into the office. I wished that it were possible to eavesdrop on his conversation, but there was no access to the editors office. But then, the mere fact that Dorn had felt the need to go back told me a great deal. I resolved to continue following him.
Sure enough, a few minutes later Dorn came barreling out. He immediately tried to hail a cab, but it was occupied. He tried again while I watched nervously for one myself, but after failing twice more he began in disgust to walk, his hands balled into fists, his pace quick. I think I could have followed one step behind him undetected, so intent was he on his rage. Satisfaction grew in me. I felt certain I was close to my answers.
I followed Dorn to a shabby-genteel neighborhood, the sort of place where people with more refinement than money live. In between the residences were numerous hock-shops where fine things could be bought at bargain prices, their former owners having fallen on hard times. Dorn went without hesitation to a brick house where he pounded on the door. A butler in a faded uniform answered the door with less formality than one might expect; evidently the houses owner could not afford properly trained servants.
Dorn said something to the servant, who must have been instructed to turn away callers, because Dorn promptly became angry and raised his voice. "He told me he would be here today! I must see him, it is a matter of the utmost urgency. Now let me in!"
Another voice from inside the house said something I could not catch, and the servant relented and allowed Dorn to enter. I quickly surveyed the windows of the house, but saw no sign of movement. Dorn must be in a back room, not visible from the street.
I had to learn something, anything, about the occupants of that house. Straight across from it was one of the pawning-shops. Quickly I unfastened the infernal silver buttons of my uniform jacket and removed it, draping it over my left arm. I felt naked in my white shirt and vest without a jacket, but there are times when people are reluctant to speak to a constable and yet will gossip endlessly to a civilian.
I entered the shop and let the keeper begin telling me about its wares. Everything in the store, according to him, had belonged to some European aristocrat or famous personage. Most of the merchandise was battered junk, but there were a few items of value.
I luckily chanced to let my glance rest on an Oriental vase which I think was authentic. Seeing my look, the keeper promptly picked it up and announced, "You have a good eye, sir. This is a genyooine China vase, that I bought from the duchess."
"Nice lady. Lives right across the street. Manys the things Ive bought from her."
"Shes a duchess?"
"French. She and her family fled here during the Terror. I guess she could go back now, but shes engaged."
"Engaged? How old is she?"
"Oh, late thirties, I suppose. Still pretty, I must say. Though Im not sure a Colonel is an equal match for a duchess, even an exiled one."
"A Colonel?" I frowned. I had thought Dorn obsessed with Mrs. St. James, but apparently he was able to spare some attention for at least one other lady.
"Are you going to buy anything or not?"
I was about to demur when my eye fell on something else. "How much is that?" I asked, pointing to the item next to it, falling into the tedious game of bargaining. He named a price, and I replied, "Too much. What about the smaller one next to it?"
A moment later we had agreed on a price. He wrapped my purchase in brown paper and I tucked it into my pocket before leaving.
I ducked into an alley to watch the duchess house, still holding my jacket over my arm. I watched until I saw movement in one of the windows. Furtively, I moved to stand just beside the window, straining my ears to hear. There was an indistinct mumble, and then abruptly the words became clear; perhaps Dorn had turned to face the window. The first words I heard made my eye widen and my throat constrict.
"Im telling you, he knows too much!"
Another male voice replied. "Yes, he has quite exceeded my expectations."
"Your what? What the devil are you about?"
"He is going to be very useful to us."
There was a brief silence. "And if he proves recalcitrant?"
"Dont ask stupid questions."
"Then Ill ask a most pointed one: what about what you promised me? You did not fulfil our agreement!"
"It was not possible."
"I met my end of the bargain! Youve had your promotion! Now I want what you agreed on! All of it, not just half!"
"I told you why I had to change course."
"I wont forget this, you runt," Dorn fumed.
"I trust you wont forget certain other things, either," his companion replied tranquilly. The tone then became both more serious and more friendly. "Dont forget, Dorn. We have much larger things ahead of us than the little favor I had to omit." The voice became lower, more confidential. I could not make out the words of the rest of the conversation, but Dorns tone was becoming more mollified with every sentence.
At length it became evident that Dorn was taking his leave. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor; I did not want Dorn to see me lurking about. I quickly made myself scarce.
I turned a few corners and then hailed a cab. I leaned back into its jolting sway and closed my eyes. I found myself wishing that I had never joined the constabulary, had never exposed myself to the vileness humans are capable of. I was so disheartened by what I had just heard that it was several minutes before I could bring myself to consider a course of action. My mind was reeling from what I had just learned. I thought I knew what I had to do, but I was too shaken to be certain. I needed time to deliberate.
It seemed that Dorn was involved in more than one conspiracy. I did not know what he had bartered to Simon Purnell in exchange for the demonic assassination, but that was not the only mischief he was up to.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on the comparatively relaxing task of investigating the personal finances of the editor of the Banner. Certainly I was able to piece together indications of spending beyond his official means. His wife, for instance, had been acquiring a great many silk dresses of late. But what was Dorn getting out of it? I had no idea. I even read a few recent issues of the Banner in the faint hope of finding a clue, but aside from reports of local crimes written with more excitement than accuracy and fulsome discussions of the generous donations made to this or that cause by wealthy society ladies, the only articles of interest were some deploring the excesses of the French Revolution, though what such dated events were doing in a newspaper I could not fathom.
It was even more of a relief than usual to return home to Katrina. I found her in the kitchen, stirring a pot of vegetables. She stood on tiptoe to kiss my cheek. Without a word I took the spoon from her, laid it on the counter and pulled her close, burying my face in her honeysuckle hair.
She wrapped her arms around me and held me in silent understanding. This was not the first time I had returned from duty eager to forget everything I had seen that day, wishing for her presence to wipe it all from my mind. Before we had been married a month I managed to convince her not to ask me what was wrong when I felt this way after a day on duty. These are things I wish I didnt know myself; I certainly do not want her to know about them.
With the subtle scent of her hair I breathed in a world where innocence still exists, where goodness is respected and not laughed at, where kindness can be taken for granted. How is it that she lives in the same world as the vile people I spend my days tracking down? And as my medievally minded colleagues?
"Never change, Katrina," I whispered.
After a few moments I recovered myself enough to release her. "You seem to be feeling better."
She smiled, searching my face, relieved at my own relief. "Infinitely. But I stayed home, as you asked."
"Who asked?" I retorted playfully, seizing her waist. I pulled her near enough that I could kiss her cheek before letting her get back to the stove.
"I always knew you would get bossy when you got used to me," she declared in mock tragedy as she quickly checked the simmering pots on the stove.
"I was almost used to you," I lied, "but then things started appearing out of thin air."
She giggled, and a moment later several little jars of spices were in orbit around me. My heart gave a little jump at the sight, but I found myself laughing with her. Her playful sorcery was exactly the right antidote to the sordid things I had heard that day.
"Katrina, will you tell these things to release me? I want to go up and get out of this blasted uniform."
The spice jars made one more circuit, this time directly around my head, before returning to their places. "I see the Pickety Witch is herself again," I remarked with an indulgent smile.
"As are you, Sir Rational."
I turned to head up the stairs, but stopped and turned back to her. I slipped my hand in my pocket and found that I was suddenly tongue-tied. Odd, how in her presence I can either speak my heart and mind almost as easily as I can in the privacy of my own thoughts, or else I can scarcely find my voice at all.
"Katrina ." I hesitated. Why, I wondered with exasperation, was I so awkward? At last I managed, "There is a tradition after a quarrel ." Unable to find more words, I pulled the small parcel I had bought that day from my pocket and tentatively extended it to her.
She smiled at me, shaking her head. And then, instead of taking the parcel, she came over and embraced me again, her cheek against the buttons of my jacket.
"You didnt have to do that."
"I saw it and knew it was yours."
At last she moved back enough to take the parcel and slowly unwrap it. It was a necklace with a small pendant, an ivory disk about the size of my thumbnail. Rather than carved, however, this disk was painted delicately with a cardinal about to alight on a branch, its wings just about to fold as it settled.
She smiled at it for a moment before looking shyly up at me. "I dont even know what to say."
That words could also fail my sorceress charmed me. "Try not saying anything, then," I suggested softly, and our lips met.
When we broke apart, I took the necklace from her and swept back her sunlit hair so that I could fasten it. As I did, my fingers found another chain.
"What is this?" I asked. I had not seen a necklace on her tonight. I grasped the sterling chain and pulled its pendant from her bodice to see it. My brows drew together at the sight. It was an eerie bauble, a marble eye with its pupil missing. "Good Lord," I said involuntarily.
"You dislike it?" she asked, looking more worried over it that the event truly warranted.
My eyes flickered from the pendant to her face and back again. "Why on earth would you want to wear something like this? Its bizarre."
She hesitated. "I saw it, and was drawn to it."
"I see." I released it, and she promptly tucked it back inside her dress. "Yes, it might be as well to hide something like that."
"You disapprove of it?" she asked again.
"For heavens sake, Katrina. Wear whatever jewelry you like. I just dont understand that design. It seems gruesome for an ornament."
She shrugged helplessly, as if trying to explain. "I had to have it."
"And now you do," I replied, trying to dismiss the matter.
She followed suit. "Did you learn anything more today?"
I sighed, beginning to unbutton my jacket. "Yes. I learned who one of Dorns accomplices is. But every answer I find on this case only raises more questions. Nothing makes sense yet." My thoughts turned to Simon Purnell. What I had learned about him today only confirmed that my initial impression of him had been an accurate one. And he did indeed practice magic; the mandrake root had not been a mere novelty. But after what I had heard today, asking Katrina to read his thoughts was out of the question. She should not have to occupy the same planet as such vermin.
Katrina moved to my side, caressing my cheek. "Ichabod, cant you tell me ." She stopped herself. "Is there anything I can do?"
"You are right, I dont wish to talk about it," I said, thanking her indirectly. I hoped that she would not succumb to the temptation to read my thoughts at such moments. I thought of asking her if she were doing so, but did not; I had resolved to trust her, and trust her I should. "I suppose I could use one of your potions for this headache."
She quickly felt my forehead. "I hope you didnt catch my fever! You dont seem to have a temperature."
"No, Im sure I didnt."
"Then what caused your headache? Did you sleep well enough? I mean, besides me waking you?"
I considered. "Is there any way I can admit that I hardly ate a thing all day without getting a scolding?"
Her eyebrows lifted delicately. "No."
"Then I have no idea why my head hurts."
She gave me a reproachful look, but could not keep one corner of her mouth from twitching. "I should make you stand in the corner!"
She was going to say something more, but I swept her into my arms, moved to the corner with her, and kissed her until she gave up on rebuking me. "Oh, go on and change!" she said at last, giving me a gentle push. "Ill make you some willow bark tea to go with dinner. And youre going to clean your plate!"
I grinned as I went up the stairs. It is wonderful to have her fuss over me.
With a light heart and heavy mind, I returned to stirring the vegetable soup. Ichabod's delightfully clever evasion of what scolding I might have given him left me determined to coax more out of him later. But even as I dreamed on the thought, my smile faded a little. It had been all I could do to restrain myself from reading his thoughts. Whatever he had learned during the course of the day troubled him considerably. I sighed, brushing a few tendrils of steam-dampened hair out of my eyes. His trust meant more to me than any revelation of sordid dealings concealed in his labyrinthine channels of deduction. I would not pry. Of what interest to me were the embezzlement charges, save that they provided the means to make an arrest, after all? I stared with resignation into the depths of the soup, finding the cauliflower untalkative and the barley altogether mute until the water began to boil.
David wandered into the kitchen purposefully, interrupting my thoughts. He mumbled variations on an unrecognizable word under his breath until at last, obviously discouraged, he turned to me.
"What's the French word for spider?" he asked.
"Araignée," I replied, laughing in spite of his uncertainty. "Why?"
"I'm trying to remember the names of those animals and insects that you taught me. I knew that," he muttered, shaking his head.
"Better to ask than to forget," I encouraged him. "Now, use it in a sentence, and you'll have it once and for all."
David knit his eyebrows, breaking suddenly into a mischievous grin. "Hier soir," he announced proudly, "j'ai écrasé une araignée."
"You crushed a spider yesterday evening?" I asked with amusement, adding some pepper to the soup. "God forbid that Ichabod was anywhere nearby!"
"Actually, he was. The spider was in the living room, under a chair. He crossed its path while we were moving the furniture around for you. I know that he would have jumped on the chair had he not been dragging it! I tried hard not to laugh, really, I did... but it was pretty small, and only a wolf spider, at that. Harmless!"
"Let me guess," I began, mock-lecture style. "Ichabod assumes that all spiders malicious enough to frighten him are poisonous and he told you something to the effect that your life was put in peril simply by your looking at it."
"I swear that you can read my mind sometimes," David mused, continuing on his way into the living room.
I flashed the contents of the steaming pot an ironic smile. As an afterthought, David's voice called back over his shoulder, "Where's Ichabod?"
"Never mind. I'll see him at dinner."
I heard David's footfalls continue on the stairs. I sighed, turning from the soup to rummage in the herb closet. I had promised Ichabod willow bark tea, and that he would have- so I thought. The jar that I usually stored the bark in was empty. Why had I not recalled that I had used the last of it to make Ichabod a sleeping draught on the night that he had invented onion torture? I was annoyed and disgusted with my own forgetfulness. I had nothing else mild enough to substitute, and I highly doubted that my husband wanted to end up drowning in his soup. After a few moments of silent fuming over the empty jar, the solution presented itself. I stood, broadening and sharpening my focus as I returned to the stove.
Isobel, can I ask a favor?
I frowned. Not only was there no answer, but I also could not sense her presence in the distant flat. Wondering if the fever's residue still clung to me, I resorted to what Isobel had so appropriately referred to as "shouting."
Isobel, can you hear me? I called voicelessly.
God, you scared the life out of me. Again, came a faintly irritated reply.
Christopher? I twisted my lips in mild annoyance. I need Isobel. Is she there?
Christopher's hesitation shook me. No...
You let her go out alone? I shot back before considering what Ichabod would have done if he had heard me say it. I searched frantically for a sign of Isobel in the outlying area and came up with nothing. I shivered.
It's not as if I could have stopped her! Christopher exclaimed wildly, making it plain that he was worried out of his mind.
I don't understand, I scolded him. You at least could have followed her.
Indeed you don't understand, Lady Crane. There's no following her anywhere when she gets like that!
Like what? I asked, petrified.
Moody. Sullen and unpredictable. She goes into these gloomy trancelike fits every now and then. She'll snap at me, telling me to leave her alone. There's not much I can do but listen to her. You don't know how awful it is....
There's something that you're not telling me, I informed him, narrowing my eyes.
It's not my fault that she never told you about the ones that come to her of their own accord!
The tables are turned sometimes, you know.
I don't like this talking in riddles, Christopher. Kindly stop.
Look! I'm sorry! She scared me a little... a lot, fine, a lot! She said she was tired and wanted to rest for a while. She wasn't feeling well yesterday or this morning-
Please tell me you aren't joking! I cut in, chilled.
Sadly, no. I'm sorry I fail to appease the trickster in you this time. Anyway... she went to bed a few hours ago. The next thing I know- about ten minutes ago, now- I hear the front door slam. I called after her like crazy, even raced down the stairs after her. She turned and gave me the most incredible look.... I... I have never seen... oh, God. She turned around and kept walking. I was... I was scared witless, all right? I let her go. She's gone wandering before, so I figured-
There's a demon on the loose, you fool!
And who was I ever to stop her from facing what she chooses to face? I mean that. After a certain point, I have no influence on her decisions, Christopher lamented.
I think that I do understand, I replied, somewhat humbled. Promise me that you'll keep an eye out for her return, at least. But in the meantime, can you tell me where you keep your herbs?
I need some willow bark. That's why I started this conversation in the first place, believe it or not.
In the far right kitchen cupboard, Christopher responded dully, but I don't see what good it'll do you.
Plenty, I reassured him, locating a few strips of the bark in a far corner of the cupboard. I transferred them quickly to my empty jar, reassured by the smooth transaction that I was no longer indisposed. Be sure to tell Isobel that I will return to her thrice what I borrowed.
B-Borrowed? stammered Christopher.
It's not my fault that Isobel didn't tell you that I can conjure objects, I responded crisply, satisfied that I had returned his peevishness whit for whit.
I left him to his consternation, fetching the bark from the cupboard to prepare it for steeping. As I did so, my worry for Isobel only increased. No sign of her abroad. No trace of a reply. I prayed silently that she knew what she was doing by closing off all access to her consciousness. Christopher's remarks had been disturbingly cryptic.
"Katrina, is the soup supposed to smoke in such a fashion?"
My husband's voice broke my reverie. With a cry, I dropped the remaining shreds of willow bark into the steaming teacup and rushed to the stove. I took the soup off the heat quickly, grateful that Ichabod had returned before it had begun to burn in earnest. I didn't realize how badly I was shaking until I nearly dropped the pot in transferring it to the counter. Ichabod grabbed a couple of dishtowels and carefully took it away from me. After he had placed it on the table, he steadied me with a concerned look. I grasped his arms, breathing shallowly.
"Still a bit lightheaded?" he asked gently. I heaved an inward sigh of relief. He did not sense any other influence behind my disorientation.
"Yes," I permitted myself to say. Which was true, to say the least!
"Then sit down. I shall set the table for you."
"Oh, but that's-"
"Final," Ichabod assured me authoritatively, kissing the top of my head.
David was somewhat disappointed that I refrained from feeding myself telekinetically that evening, but Ichabod pointed out that soup is somewhat harder to keep under control than a forkful of eggs. In fact, I was having a hard enough time keeping it under control manually. My fingers shook inordinately. Ichabod's subtle glance over the rim of his teacup was enough to tell me that he was still watching my every move with sharp-eyed concern.
"I think you should go to bed early tonight," he informed me after David had been sent upstairs and the dishes had been cleared. I sat curled up in the crook of his arm as he flipped through his ledger. I felt as cold and immobile as the gray late-evening sky outside. I drew up my feet from where they dangled over the edge of the couch, huddling into the skirts of my gown. Ichabod closed his ledger, fixing me with an intense, unblinking stare.
"I think you're right," I replied. "I must have chills."
He held me closer. "I shall do my best to allay that, then, before I tuck you in. Your eyes are pleading me for the permission to stay up a few moments more, little girl," he observed affectionately.
"I never could help it," I sighed. "My eyes say whatever they want to say without my permission."
"Is that such a terrible thing?"
"When it dooms one to an early bedtime, yes," I laughed, feeling my lingering concern for Isobel subside. Had we not established that if the demon had wanted her life, it would probably have claimed it already? For the most part, I reassured myself, but the memory of her sacrifice theory was still fresh in my mind....
The door shook abruptly, battened by a series of unusually violent knocks. The knob twisted fitfully. Ichabod rose stiffly, clearly annoyed at having to release me.
"Are you expecting anyone?" he asked me quizzically.
"No. Are you?"
He approached the door with his usual cautious bearing. Propelled by instinct, I followed him. The instant his hand came in contact with the doorknob, he gave a convulsive cry.
"Oh-hhh!" he choked, his tone matching the squeamish one that I had heard so often before upon his coming in contact with blood.
"What is it?" I demanded, feeling my stomach lurch as he backed away from the door. He only gasped and gestured feebly. I took hold of the doorknob, letting go just as quickly as he had.
"It's hot!" I cried. We both jumped a foot when the knocking ensued. Ichabod swayed, clutching the arm of a chair for support. I steeled myself and turned the doorknob swiftly. Isobel stood on the doorstep. She looked-
I backed up, trying vainly to hide my shock. Isobel's hair was free of its usual neat plaits, tumbling just past her shoulders in a horrific tangled array. Feet askance, she stood in a pose that was absolutely menacing.
"Isobel," I said, struggling to keep my voice from rising in panic, "won't you come in?"
Isobel strode aggressively across the threshold, driving me backward another few feet. I heard Ichabod stifle some exclamation into his palms. Isobel made a strange sound low in her throat. A sound that resolved itself into bizarre, halting speech. She smiled crazily.
"You hide well," she grated, eyes moving between the two of us with wicked delight. "I think, it take me all night to find you, arrgh! But no, here! You smart, coming to the city," Isobel added roughly, pointing a finger at Ichabod. "Smart you live here, not so smart coming to woods for working, yes? But good thing you come, I say, after ending!"
Ichabod knew before I did. He took one close gasping look at Isobel- at her outstretched, crooked beckoning finger- and was out cold. She huffed in the same growling tone, impatient, as if she had been through one too many of Ichabod's swooning routines.
"He do this always?" she rasped incredulously.
And it was then I heard the accent, realized how unpracticed the English was....
Her face... dead-white... a shade that I had only ever seen...
The blue undertones of Isobel's violet eyes blazed to the forefront of her glare.
Those eyes were not Isobel's eyes!
I choked on a scream. Christopher's words came to life before my very eyes. "What in God's name do you want from us?" I demanded in hysterical fury. "What in God's name?"
"Katrina?" echoed David's alarmed voice from the top of the stairs.
"Keep him there," the Hessian informed me in a terrible whisper.
"Go back to bed, David... I... I fell asleep on the couch. I had a nightmare. That... that's all... please, go back to bed!"
"Now!" I cried. I heard his footsteps dash in the direction of his room.
Isobel- possessed!- advanced upon me carefully. Even her body, small and fragile in a gown of faded lavender cotton, seemed transformed. And with each footstep- clink! I reeled backwards onto the couch, sobbing. The Hessian stared down on me through Isobel's captive eyes.
"You are this afraid?" he grunted, making a pitiful gesture.
"You almost killed me," I moaned thoughtlessly.
"Whose fault, eh? Her fault, ich denke!"
"Yes," I muttered, that familiar freezing hate galvanizing my fear.
"Ach so, höre gut zu! You listen, good stepdaughter. She say that word once, I learn. Only she not say good. I say good. You help me, I help you now."
"Ja. This demon try to get her, your friend here?" the Hessian asked, using Isobel's hand to point at her heaving chest. "Sorry I must come this way. But must. Try to get her, nicht?" he repeated.
"We... think so," I whispered numbly. I shivered with so high a frequency that the tremors resolved my body finally into one taut, steel-solid nerve.
"Ach, but I think no. I think it need something from her?"
"How can that be? The tablet's already been taken. And after the demon was already in someone's control, like you- oh, have mercy, forgive me!- so I don't see how-"
"This contro-control?-" the Hessian faltered- "take something else before take tablet. Not from her. From someone else, maybe other place. Missing piece, ein bißchen." He stared at me desperately, as if my comprehension were a matter of life and death. But certainly not his!
"How... can there be something else? This, this ein bißchen-"
"Little piece. Missing little piece, I think you say?"
"Of the tablet?" I asked incredulously.
"Ja. Words not all there."
"Control take piece... need for... for... to slave!" the Hessian snarled, no doubt racked by the hateful memory of my stepmother.
"This piece, is it-"
"I know nothing about, just know this!" he barked. "Cannot say!"
"I thought you were damned. Why are you here now? How is it that you were allowed to come back?" I demanded. I could not take it for much longer. Isobel being worked like an overgrown marionette...
The Hessian gave me a strangely human look, tapping one delicate hand to Isobel's chest. "One last good thing here, I want- just one, eins. And I am here. Not so crazy in death any more, you know. I remember not why I do... do many things..."
"Crazy?" I asked softly, finding that I had leaned forward ever so slightly.
"But you all remember that way. So no use," he growled with a brief shrug, closing Isobel's eyes in a pained fashion. I cried out as Isobel's form crumpled to the floor, abandoned.
I started to tremble again as my nerves unwound themselves. Slowly, I sank down beside my unconscious friend. Her own breath returned slowly. I took her wrist, finding a pulse gathered there. And then, I remembered Ichabod.
I left Isobel, rushing to my husband's side. He had not fallen very far, since he had been leaning in a half-crouch on the arm of the chair. I shook him, pleading.
"Ichabod, please hear me! He's gone now! Please, love, wake-"
Ichabod was jolted awake by my touch, his hands clamping down on my arm so hard that I could have sworn he meant to amputate it. I caught him in a fierce embrace, rocking him as my mother had once rocked me. He sobbed on my shoulder, and soon I was sobbing with him. He clenched his hands into tight fists against the small of my back.
"It's all right.... It's..." I cried, too incoherent to offer verbal reassurance. There were too many implications. Too many answers that opened shadowed doors on new questions.
"It was... her... wasn't it?" Ichabod gasped wretchedly.
"No," I whispered. I had been wrong about my husband's first impression of Isobel's appearance after all. "It was him."
"Mmmnh!" Ichabod groaned, as if he were physically ill. I stroked his hair with unsteady fingers, pressing his face into the crook of my neck.
"I shouldn't have opened the door," I said stupidly, knowing that there had been no other choice regardless. If necessary, the Hessian would probably have seized an axe from the neighbors' wood shed and cut the door down. With Isobel's fragile arms! I thought, shuddering. I glanced over Ichabod's shoulder at her still form.
"You said... You said that... he's gone?"
"See for yourself," I said quietly, indicating Isobel.
Ichabod turned, his terrified eyes downcast. He glanced back at me quickly.
"She's not... gone too, is she?"
"No. She is breathing."
He slipped away even as he tried to pull me back against himself. I cried his name over and over, finding that I had strength beyond my own as I gathered him up carefully and heaved him into the chair. Drained, bewildered, hysterical- I did the same with Isobel, laying her out reverently on the couch. Her cheeks had regained their color. As I folded her arms across her stomach, one of her hands clasped mine with calm certainty. I yelled in surprise as she opened her eyes.
"Katrina... I... Oh, Lord," she murmured, sitting up and running her hands over her body, through her wrecked hair. She did a double take as she studied me, moaned softly when she spotted Ichabod unconscious on the chair. "Jürgen's gone, isn't he?"
"Jürgen," I repeated. I tottered between depraved perplexity and overt fury. "How can you be so calm?! He possessed you and came pounding on our door! He scared my husband into the next life, for all I know!"
Isobel's eyes- her own violet ones- filled with desolate tears. "He frightened me to death too, Katrina, when he came to me this afternoon! I remembered the visions that you gave me, Katrina, unbidden... I was ill with them all evening, all night... and before I knew it... I was being called on by what I knew according to your account to be a ruthless murderer! Hear me out!"
"I shall," I muttered wearily. I could not fight a power outside the circle of my own.
"He... I... I almost couldn't listen. I almost didn't calm down. Do you know what it's like to have a presence like that fill your mind? One that you assumed shackled in an unspeakable place?"
"Yes and no," I said bitterly, shutting my eyes against the pain.
"If he hadn't managed to calm me down, Katrina... But I remembered my place well enough, for Heaven knows I'm one of so few who they can turn to.... I- I chose to listen to him, Katrina. Because I remembered that he couldn't have slipped away from his penance without a good reason. The only reason permissible, in fact."
"He explained it... as best he could. Some bizarre form of self-redemption, I gather."
"Yes," Isobel said guardedly. "That is the best way to describe it. It is very complicated."
"Then I won't trouble you for the details. They don't matter to me. What I want is answers."
Isobel took a slow, wondering breath. "He told me his story, Katrina. He told it as clearly as you told yours without saying a word. I was... mesmerized. To the point of the deepest pity that I have ever felt, Katrina."
"Then, by all means," I said almost challengingly as I moved quickly to Ichabod's side. "Tell it."
"First, tell me why you're mocking me!" Isobel cried miserably.
"Do I have to speak to answer that as well?" I asked, broken, stroking Ichabod's near-lifeless cheek. Her pleading desperation disarmed me completely, however. "Forgive me," I cried, "but this terror is one we had not thought to relive!"
"And forgive me for assuming that you would be willing to do so in order to find the solution to a potentially greater threat."
"Potentially greater?" I whispered, clasping Ichabod's slack hands in mine. I would will him back into consciousness. What Isobel was about to say, he needed to hear. And by God, sensate or not, he would hear it!
"My sister, it was not the demon that spoke on the night of the Erickson séance, though the demon did have something to do with it."
I was speechless. Ichabod's hands tightened upon mine.
"Then what...?" I breathed, horrified, watching as Ichabod's terror-filled eyes slid open. His lips moved soundlessly, finally finding his voice. He glanced sidelong at Isobel and shivered.
"As... As I have always said-" he began, but whether he halted purposely or out of sheer fright, I was not certain.
Isobel nodded gravely, reading his thoughts and finding that they matched her own. "It was a mortal. Someone as tangible as you and I."
I slid my arms around Ichabod protectively, shaking my head wildly. "How is that possible? You said the demon had something to do with it... How can you know this? And be so calm?"
Isobel floundered a few moments, lost in a sea of thoughts too great to mouth all at once. She was brought to tears yet again. "I have to begin at a place that seems so irrelevant... but it is a story you asked to hear, Katrina, not a few moments hence."
Ichabod heaved a tortured sigh, still caught in the nightmare web of his blackest subconscious imaginings. He cried something unintelligible, bending turning sideways into the corner of the chair. I sat on the arm, rubbing his back.
"Tell it," I said resolutely.
"Yes... do..." came Ichabod's muffled reply of accord.
"Jürgen was a baron in Hesse-Kassel, in southern Germany," Isobel began, her eyes fastened on the wall above us, her voice traversing a mutable timeline backward across an ocean and half a continent. "He willed me to see nothing before that- nothing of his youth, nor his childhood, nor his parents' beginnings. I was confused at this, even questioned it as best I could without voice. But soon I was drawn in by the whirlwind of what he was willing to tell. And this is what I saw.
"As a baron, he was lord of considerable land and peasantry, a hard worker and fair dealer. A widower, too, for I saw the grave of his childless wife just within the gates of his manor. Her death of a plague-remnant was the first blow to his sanity, apparently.... Oh, Katrina, how can I begin to tell you how these things are communicated by the dead? It's not exactly like what you have shown me. Similar and yet not... of infinitely more depth, sheer feeling. Because that is all that they have left, all that they are made of unless altered in some way by the meddling of mankind's magic!"
"Or womankind's," I heard Ichabod murmur into the chair's stuffing. His hatred of my mother's killer ran nearly as deep as mine.
"He loved his wife with a rare intensity, did Jürgen," Isobel continued without missing a beat, trance-like. "It was not only her death, though, but the sickness as well. He was taken with it for weeks after her passing... a half-nightmare and half-fever sleep of malignancy that tortured his thoughts as much as his body. What things he dreamed while in his throes, the servants dared not guess. But his cries... his successes in battle gone haywire, his myriad night rides home to his sweetheart laid in waste. Perhaps these were the nightmares that the fever-plague gave him. Perhaps blood demons waited around every corner for him, followed him from illness into the land of the living. And so when he woke, when he recovered, which no one had seemed to expect save for an unusually hopeful new member of the household, come from court to care for his wife as she had ailed, a longtime friend- he armed himself well. Much too well. Weapon after weapon was chosen and bought by this haunted baron whose eyes gleamed more and words said less. He carried them with him everywhere. Hung them from the walls of his spacious home. And by summer, the hopeful lady come from court, the flame-haired Hannelore, was his lover.
"She was a beauty, to be sure, given to singing and long walks alone in the countryside. But whenever Jürgen was not at court or abroad, she was by his side. She was oblivious to what the illness had done to him, as were most. His newly silent, intense manner scared those who knew him and those who did not. Who would not be frightened of a man who had enough cutlery to equip a small army? And who was given to fits of temper now and then, when vexed... by mundanities rarely, but more often by fits that resembled those of his illness. And, too, came strange bouts with a distant calm in which he would speak so clearly and calmly- most usually while at court and on business, accordingly, and luckily, most said. All the while, his fierce devotion had been fastened upon Hannelore tenfold, lest he lose her, too. He denied her nothing and gave her all. He did not know that his servants would chance to spot her slipping something into his drink or whisper something in his ear as he drifted unaccountably to sleep after a meal. He had not realized that this had happened during his sickness, and surely no one could speak, for the household-"
"Was charmed!" I breathed darkly.
"I saw through the hindsight of his bitter ghost these things that brought him to his end. The sickness itself had been a conjuring of Hannelore's, an evil sorcery so ancient that its art is rarely revived. This sickness, these murmurings- were designed to give him a skill that she did not have. The conjuring of a power, Katrina. Can you imagine it? Yet, all the while, he was kept ignorant by a facet so well crafted in that I can't begin to unravel it. He was reading his associates' minds and did not even know it. His transactions grew all the cleverer, all the more profitable. Little wonder he spoke less, though he did not know why. And his lovely girl at home, fire-haired, sitting by the fire.... harnessed his ill-created power through a capture, a binding. God knows what agents Hannelore had from the world below, and God knows what ambitions. She used what she learned from his forays at court and in business... she joined forces with a strong, able, and equally ambitious soldier, captured his heart with her body and soul as she had Jürgen's... and was found out by the very prince that she and her soldier planned to overthrow. Beheaded for treason, not witchery. Naturally, Jürgen thought her innocent, wrongly accused. He could not take another death... could not take the shame of being stripped of his title, which I have held from you until now: Chancellor Royal. Confidant to the prince, disgraced for having loved such a woman, for possibly conspiring with her. How much more than that would it take to unhinge a man already haunted by fever dreams rife with blood and hunger? How much more would it take to drive that man to use his weapons to revenge the injustice, the unspeakable loss, the shame that he would never understand the root of until his passing on a foreign shore? He requested to fight in the Revolution, having nothing left to live for in Hesse, nothing left to appease but horror, nothing left to avenge but Hannelore's death... the memory of his wife's... his own, in truth."
Isobel stopped. Her head hung between her hands now, and her tears darkened an already dampened spot on the floor. Ichabod and I could say nothing. The horror of knowing too much and waking each day to hear more had become an absolute to us.
"What you're saying, then," I ventured at length, struggling to grasp the full scope of Isobel's soliloquy, "is that Hannelore used her own strength- dark, ancient arts- to give Jürgen a skill that she lacked- but that she needed to use to meet her own ends, and do so through him because of his position? Once the power was his, she used it? Why could she not have given it to herself?"
"Even you know the answer to that," Isobel chided. "When did any magic, whether it be black or white, make provision for the alteration of one's own powers?"
"Never," I whispered. "You are right. I know this to be true."
"What can be learned of the Erickson séance by way of this account?" Ichabod asked weakly, having at last lifted his head.
"Just as Hannelore spoke through Jürgen, planted words and lies with his compatriots to advance her own cause... so has someone spoken through me, to further their own. To divert the blame. Katrina, in my irrationality that day... I neglected to recall that demons cannot speak. Cannot even begin to. They speak in imagery, as did Jürgen, though he could have spoken had he wished. That is why I know now that... whoever it was... used the demon to learn of when the seance would take place... the manner of the power that I would use... and used..."
"A harnessing spell such as Hannelore's," Ichabod finished flatly. "A mortal seized control of your power. Used it!"
A sob caught in my throat. Ichabod was looking directly at me as he spoke, a terror that could not be voiced seeping into his eyes. I pressed the back of my hand against my mouth, wondering how such clear tears could run from sight so darkened by death and tragedy.
"Yes, Constable Crane," Isobel said quietly. "Your fears are not groundless. Nor are mine, Katrina, for they are the same."
"What can be done?" Ichabod demanded, rising from the chair wild-eyed, rounding on Isobel. "Between the two of you... the three of you, for heaven's sake!... there must be something."
"Jürgen said... said that," I faltered, still sitting on the arm of the chair, my lips plastered by tears to the knuckles of my trembling hand.
"That's what I must ask you!" Isobel cried urgently, stumbling off the couch and kneeling before me. He... he did not me what he needed to say to you, nor how he came by it. And so seldom is there an answer to how these creatures come by such revelations, either! But... I was... only a host," she said somewhat unsteadily, as if she could not quite grasp what had come upon her. "The recipient of the message is now free to tell whom she pleases... if she would...."
"I need to know what the tablet looks like. In painful detail," I told her. "Specifically if there are any cracks, or... missing pieces."
"No," Ichabod answered for her, sounding for all the world as if his bolt was shot in earnest, "there are no missing pieces. Christopher described it for me. It is approximately two feet long and one foot wide, the entire slab three inches thick. The edges are worn but even. The bottom is squared and the top comes to an unusual peak. In a word, it is pentagonal. Is this not true, Miss Magellan?"
"Yes," she responded. "Katrina, what are you getting at?"
"Jürgen said that there had to have been something taken before hand in order to enslave the demon. What he called a 'missing little piece.' A piece obtained from another source or person, most likely by chance."
"I have only ever known it to consist of what we had in our possession," Isobel murmured, crestfallen. Ichabod wrung his hands in despair, drawing close in surrender... and as his head came to rest on my shoulder...
"How do you know that the bottom is the bottom?" I asked suddenly.
"What?" Ichabod blurted.
I glanced at Isobel. "I said, how do you know that the bottom is the bottom? It's never been translated, and you certainly cannot read it. If the tablet is pentagonal, then perhaps-"
"There exists an oddly shaped piece that fits over the point of the pentagon, making the tablet a perfect rectangle!" Ichabod cried lifting his head. "My love, of course!"
Isobel looked both terrified and hopeful. "Does that mean that whoever's controlling the demon now has both pieces? Why would they want both pieces, if only one is needed to enslave the demon?"
"Because," Ichabod continued, breaking away from me and pacing madly, "I have a feeling that your half is the key to breaking the spell. To freeing the demon. What controller of such an evil minion would not want to possess both halves of the puzzle to prevent meddling of any kind?"
"That means... 'words not all there!' Jürgen said that, too! So the inscription itself is incomplete, and in order to break the binding between demon and its master, it must be..."
"Read," said Ichabod, halting in front of Isobel. "Miss Magellan, this demon does not follow you because it desires your life. It desires the one thing that you can give it: the sound of your voice pronouncing the most perfect syllables of ancient Sanskrit that it could ever hope to hear."
"And I cannot even read the script!" she moaned.
"Ichabod, are you sure of this?" I asked.
"Not completely, but fairly. It was the fever of the wound inflicted upon me by the Hessian that brought me to a surety that the person who had his skull was behind the killings... and it is the fever of the terror inflicted by his visitation that brings me to this guess. Miss Magellan," Ichabod pleaded fervently, "do you know of a way-"
"Yes," Isobel said with despairing resolution. "There is. Katrina and I have spoken of it, and now, I believe that I have no choice."
Ichabod looked at me questioningly. "I suggested that... that she hold a séance for the demon. But now that she mentions that they cannot speak..."
"I apologize that my fear gave way to my forgetting of it!" Isobel cried. "Please do not think that it's impossible, although... because it's not. It will speak in images. And it will be agony, my sister. But I will do it. I must."
"We will talk of this in the morning," I said emptily, taking Isobel in my arms. She felt so light... so wasted as I held her. And as I gazed at Ichabod over her shoulder, the light played with his sunken, reddened eyes and cast a deep shadow across his cheek.
"I love you," I mouthed. "You have braved more than you shall ever have to brave again. No lady has ever had such a hero. Thank God you are mine!"
And flashing me a broken smile, he leaned on the hearthstones and wept.
Strangely enough, I emerged from the ashes with the least amount of burns although I had been the one most consciously exposed to the flames. I eased Isobel onto the couch and told her to wait, if she did not mind. She nodded, dazed but understanding.
I led Ichabod upstairs, knowing that in his present state he would not have minded being carried in the least if it had been in my power to do so. He was like a doll in my hands as I urged him out of his clothes and into a nightshirt. We let our eyes do the speaking, a silence of complete understanding, unparalleled comprehension. I pulled down the covers, folding him into the softness of the sheets. He came alive then, wrapping his arms around me. I kissed the redness from his eyes and healed the hollow of his cheek with the brightness of my own tears.
"I realize that my nightmares do not begin to compare with what lurks in my waking hours," he sighed, resigned. I kissed his mouth and shook my head.
"Only on certain days," I reassured him, finding the strength to smile for his sake.
"Isobel's waiting, my love. I believe sleep will find me sooner or later."
"She can wait a bit longer."
I held Ichabod until he slept, which was a mercifully short time. I knew that he had not even had the presence of mind to consider how I planned on dealing with Isobel. The fact that he entrusted the matter entirely to me without giving it a thought reassured me of something at last: we had struck a balance, found ourselves equals in this game of unrecognized control. When a husband falls his wife must rise to the occasion; when the wife falls, the husband. I would no longer fret over scattered onion rings or being startled now and then by his entrance. Because he did not see these things as inadequate at all. He saw them merely as me. And with his last breath before sleep, he proclaimed that his love... was me.
I came down the stairs slowly, fixing a careful eye on Isobel. She had curled up on the couch, resting her head on her hands. I went to her, put a hand on her shoulder.
"It's nine o'clock," I said gently. "Christopher must surely be looking for you by now."
"I... I had forgotten," she whispered, sitting up. She closed her eyes, fair brows knitting in deep concentration. Isobel opened her eyes with a sigh. "He has fallen asleep. I am not surprised. Last time, I was gone until ten."
I sat down beside her. "Isobel, I tried to reach you earlier, before dinner... because I was out of willow bark. How trivial it sounds! But I received no answer from you, nor could I sense your presence in McRaker's Alley. I resorted to yelling my psychic lungs raw, only to startle Christopher."
"You spoke with him?" Isobel asked, but it was more a statement than a question. She was nodding as if something made a lot of sense to her suddenly.
"Yes, and he was reluctant to tell me that he did not know where you were. I chided him."
"You could not reach me because I was not myself," she laughed ruefully. "I was out of my mind. Jürgen saw to that."
"He made some remarks that... make me curious. Does this happen often... these spirits coming to you of their own accord, as he implied?"
"I don't doubt that possibly he exaggerated to cover for his own lack of a handle on the matter. No, not often. This is only the third time that the metamorphosis has happened in full. And as for his references to my moody fits- as doubtless he did mention them- do come more often. And they are caused by the deceased giving me their grief."
"The... other two times... if you don't mind my asking-"
"Quite harmless relatives," she said softly. "Wanting to talk to Christopher, if you can believe it. They scared him to death. Which is why he probably did not elaborate. Which is why he fears me in a sense."
"What do they say to him?"
"They tell him not to wish for what he was not born with, however noble that desire. I was meant to carry this. He didn't like being told by a great-great grandmother and a third cousin whom we had never known."
"You know these things because he told you after... after you..."
"Came back to myself? Yes. I made him," she said with a somewhat helpless grin.
"What a pair you two are," I murmured, hugging her.
Accompanied by the tap of the painted-ivory cardinal, the click of marble at our throats was completely accidental. And changed what we knew about the amulets forever. Over her shoulder, as the empty palm and eye aligned, I caught a glimpse of a form on the stairs that I had never seen before....
Someone whom I knew, however, with all my heart. But the amulets swayed apart, and she was gone. I stiffened in Isobel's embrace. She looked at me strangely.
"I saw someone on the stairs."
"Just now," I gulped. "Isobel... turn... and tell me what you see."
She glanced over her shoulder. I saw her eyes widen slightly as her finger crept curiously to her lips. I looked again, too. And I saw nothing.
"She is so lovely!" Isobel breathed. She rounded on me so suddenly that I almost fell off the couch. "You saw her?"
"Yes. And I do not see her now."
I fixed my eyes on Isobel's amulet. Hers fixed on mine.
"Take it off," I told her. She obeyed. I put it around my own neck so that the amulets touched. What I had seen on the steps was gone. But my ears, with a sharpness not their own, picked up the clanging of pots and pans from somewhere on Raleigh Avenue. Something only someone in the Fairfield should be able to hear. And before other voices could close in, I thrust off Isobel's pendant.
"How do you shut them all out?" I cried, gasping for breath.
"Comes with the territory. Give me yours."
I hesitated for a moment. My skill required a consciousness, not just an uncanny ability to pick up dead whispers and presences. I gave her the eye reluctantly. "I don't know if you'll know how it's done," I said helplessly.
Isobel put my amulet on cautiously, as if she expected a phantasmagoric rush of another sort. But her bland look told me that expectation died instantly. She glanced at a brass clock on the mantelpiece. She squinted as if her head had begun to hurt. The clock slid a few feeble centimeters and stopped. Isobel bowed her head, breathing in short, mirthful gasps.
"And how do you get past the sheer effort of budging things even a breadth?"
"Comes with the territory," I said with a smile, shrugging. I realized how serious the matter was, however. "We cannot make a practice of this, you know. These amulets- however alluring these symbols of our power- are not meant to be used in league. They are a warning. Meant to establish a respect for the difficulty of what each of their makers... whoever they were... could do. Separate, strange, but still a pair. Why is it that I feel no evil in them, and yet this revelation shocks me so?"
"You said it yourself. We could not understand each other completely until we knew for sure. Which is why we were allowed to find them, I believe, each of us in our own time and way. Sisters we may be," Isobel said, grinning, "but even sisters must be cautious."
"Of misunderstandings such as my contempt when you came out of that... that trance," I suggested darkly.
"And you stealing my willow bark," she teased. "Ah, but I know. I shall get thrice in return."
I sighed, satisfied but haunted. "I don't like the thought of you traveling home alone past dark," I told her. "You could stay here for the night."
"I wouldn't dream of suffering you the inconvenience!"
"It is none," I said firmly. "We have a spare room, after all. Wake Christopher. Tell him to lock himself in your flat and assure him you're in good hands for the night."
Isobel was quiet for a good while. I saw her eyebrows rise indignantly, but her mouth promptly set in a stern line of command. I laughed aloud without the need to worry about Christopher hearing me. Though, what I would have given to hear that unspoken conversation!
"He was petulant and scared to death, but relieved, too. He protested about my staying here, but I reminded him that he is after all my younger brother even if by a few minutes and that he'd full well listen if he knew what was good for him," Isobel informed me with a sigh. "So I shall stay."
I showed Isobel to the guestroom, directed her to the washroom, and after a brief but meaningful good night, left her to her own devices. I was amazed at how composed someone who had struck me from the first as infinitely delicate could be.
The smoke from the candles that I had just blown out guided me with warm curling surety to Ichabod's side in the darkness. And though he slept still, knowing that I had joined him at last, he turned to receive me, claiming my embrace.
The mornings on which I am the first to rise are rare, but nonetheless, that was the case the next day. I woke from a thick, dreamless sleep to find that I was still wound in Ichabod's embrace (and he in mine) as we lay pressed cheek to cheek. I slipped away from him with reluctant care. Though I stumbled as my feet touched the carpet, I was able to stand on my own, strong and wary of the possibility of a new danger. For the sake of my loved ones, I would stand immovable.
The clock on my dresser read six thirty. I donned my green dressing gown and grabbed a blue one from the closet, which I left hanging on Isobel's doorknob as I passed. I felt ridiculously important as I entered the kitchen. I was no longer cooking for three, but four.
I sliced apples before I did anything else. Ichabod's fondness of them was just as endearing as his irresistible fragility. The water for tea had just begun to boil when David ambled into the kitchen. He studied the pancake batter that I had left sizzling in a frying pan.
"I had the strangest dream last night," he muttered, rubbing his eyes. "I'd been reading... it was just after dinner. I fell asleep on the book. And then I thought I heard you yelling at someone, asking them what in God's name they wanted."
"Really?" I asked, cleverly feigning amusement.
"Yes... I could have sworn I even got up and called to you, but you told me that you'd had a nightmare and that I should go back to bed. So I went back to my reading... and woke up this morning on top of my book," he concluded, shrugging. "I just hope I'm not given to sleepwalking when I don't know about it!"
"If I ever catch you wandering while you doze, I'll be sure to wake you," I reassured him with a hug, breathing an inward sigh of relief. Sometimes, a white lie is the most effective form of white magic. The last thing that I needed was for David to know that his father's half-killer had entered our home in the skin of Isobel Magellan.
Isobel appeared as I flipped the last pancake onto a plate, wrapped in my blue dressing gown. She took a seat beside David, who was vastly startled.
"What're you doing here?" he blurted sleepily.
"I needed to talk to Katrina last night, so I came. And before I knew it, it was dark. Katrina persuaded me to stay the night for safety's sake," Isobel explained guardedly but smoothly.
"Won't your brother worry?" David persisted.
"No, he'll be relieved. He knows I'd stay put if it grew too late."
"Oh," David yawned. Thankfully, he was too tired to make sense of anything other than what we had told him.
I began to worry about Ichabod as I sat plates of pancakes before David and Isobel. I said as I hastily poured their tea, "I think I ought to wake the sleepyhead." But what I really meant was that I was desperate to reach his side before he actually did wake so that he would not find himself alone.
He slept, much to my relief. I sat on the bed beside him, smoothing his hair. As I had expected, a kiss on the cheek prevented a traumatic awakening. He looked up at me with a timid little smile.
"Your willow bark is highly effective," he said. "It warded off what nightmares I expected to have. Or perhaps it was just you."
"That calls for an exceptional good morning kiss," I informed him with relish. He got it.
"Am I the odd one out this morning?" Ichabod mumbled.
"Yes," I said, easing away from him. "Do you think you can eat? No waiting this morning. Your place is set."
"At least let me dress," he sighed.
"You'll... be all right, Ichabod?" I asked, pressing his shoulder lightly. I felt smoothness of the Horseman's scar through his nightshirt. I shivered, lacking the taste for a reminder of what I was trying to protect him from.
"I can honestly say that I have faced one fear once and for all, my love," he said confidently, taking my hand. "Because I know it won't be returning," he added with a wry smile.
"I'll tell Isobel you'll be down in shortly, then, so she'll have time to make herself scarce."
Ichabod looked at me questioningly.
"It was too late for me to send her home alone. She sent Christopher a mental note and accepted my invitation to stay the night. I put her in the guest bedroom and gave her some clothes. And thus, I have learned that I'm not the only one who likes to run around in a dressing gown," I laughed, kissing him again before I left.
"The Lady even knows best how to save me from embarrassment," Ichabod called after me. "Sir Rational is most fortunate in whose bookmark he carries!"
"The Lady would not have it any other way!" I called back, almost skipping down the stairs.
By the time Ichabod reached the table- in full blasted uniform- Isobel was safely behind the guest room door. Ichabod was somewhat speechless as he picked at a large pancake. He did not seem to know what to say to David, as if he feared that the boy had overheard something of the night before. Over time, David had proved unusually good at overhearing things. I managed to get harmless conversation rolling, however, and by the time Isobel returned in one of my old gowns (which I had insisted the night before that she use, as I stored my castoffs in the guest bedroom closet), David and Ichabod were about their usual staid banter of comradeship.
"Miss Magellan, did you sleep well?" Ichabod inquired politely.
"As well as can be expected," she replied mildly. I realized suddenly that her night had not been as tranquil as mine. I noticed the dark circles under her eyes for the first time.
"My apologies that I must be off so soon," Ichabod said, nodding formally to Isobel as he rose and pushed away his half-eaten plate. I gave him a subtly scolding look. Out of playful spite, he made an exaggerated show of spearing two more bites on his fork and swallowing them. He glanced at Isobel with a faintly embarrassed smile.
"Do you torture Christopher so?" he inquired good-naturedly.
"On the contrary, he tortures me!" Isobel said, pointing at her own plate on the edge of the sink. I had not realized that she, too, had left some of her pancake uneaten.
"Oh, off with you!" I cried, although it was Ichabod who pulled me into the living room rather than I who pushed him.
"I shall be jumping at every shadow today whether I like it or not," Ichabod mused as he released me from his parting embrace. "So much for a fear that is behind me when the customary residue is not."
"Then I send this to guard you," I whispered fondly, kissing him back.
"Shadows, beware!" Ichabod murmured into my hair, and he was gone.
I turned to glimpse Isobel vanishing quickly from the threshold between the kitchen and parlor that joined the living room. She had been watching. And I had seen enough to realize her eyes shone with tears. David passed me as I reentered the kitchen. Isobel and I were left alone. She stood on the far side of the table, turned away. I put a hand on her shoulder.
"You're so lucky," she whispered into the palm of her shaking hand. She was crying.
"Hush!" I soothed, taking her in my arms. "You'll find someone. You're barely nineteen, Isobel! You have time."
"Who wants," she asked miserably, "a wife who sees and hears ghosts. Who has made a profession of it?"
"Who wants a wife who can read thoughts and conjure objects at will?" I pointed out.
"He didn't know that you could do those things when he married you," Isobel countered.
"True," I agreed, "but he did know that I was a witch."
"That's true, too," she admitted.
"Come," I said, offering my hand. "Let's get your things. Christopher would probably appreciate it if I returned his sister before noon."
I rode with Isobel as far as the same point of no return at which the cab driver usually deposited me. She paused as she dismounted the carriage when I asked, "You have let Christopher know you're coming?"
"He knows where I am even now," she reassured me.
"The... What we've decided must be done... you'll...?"
"Give me a few days to prepare."
"Two at the most, Isobel," I said with difficulty. "Trust me when I say that time can run out before you even realize that it was running short in the first place!"
"I do," Isobel said with resolution, setting her jaw bravely.
"You know," I began, taken with a desperate thought, fingering my amulet, "if we could switch... I would-!"
"No. Do not even think of it. Are you forgetting the things that you so wisely spoke last night?"
"Yes," I said, ashamed. "I'm... only afraid for you."
Isobel smiled, squeezing my hand. "You don't know how much that means to me, especially when I am usually the one afraid for everyone else, my sister."
"Go safely," I said softly.
"Always, Katrina. For once I can walk abroad knowing that my life is most likely not in danger. Feeling... the presence will not be half as threatening as it once was."
"Then let that be our hope," I whispered, watching her move in the direction of the market and vanish into the crowd. I tapped on the wall of the cab.
"Home, please," I commanded.
"Yes, my lady."
In spite of the trying evening I had spent, I felt surprisingly ready for the unpleasant task that awaited me. Little as I relished the confrontation ahead of me, I was resolved to make it as quickly as possible, to clear this task from my table so that I could set myself to resolving the supernatural murders.
I felt strangely relaxed. The sensation was so unfamiliar that it took me a few minutes to realize that it was trust. Not the determined trust I had mustered for her that day in my laboratory when she confessed her abilities to me, but a more genuine and heartfelt trust which needed no resolve, it was simply there. For the first time since my mothers death, I knew that there was someone who could catch me as I fell. It seemed that each of us had at last submitted to being cared for by the other, after months of muted struggle.
Since our reconciliation, a new serenity had been steadily building between us. Always before I had constantly felt the need to dazzle her. Many things had stiffened my spine to send me back into the western woods after my first brush with the Horseman, but chief among them was the wish to redeem myself in her eyes. After she had seen me hysterical, had seen me faint, I had no choice but to march back into peril. Many times my pride is all that has kept me from surrendering to my blasted cowardice.
But now I felt that we were so solidly joined that no flaw, no weakness could come between us any longer. She had seen me at my worst, and she loved me still. I had seen her at her most terrifying, and I adored her more than ever. There was no more need to struggle to impress one another, and the wildly swinging pendulum of domestic authority seemed to have steadied between us at last perhaps just a touch closer to her side, I mused with a smile.
As it was Friday, I was obliged to spend the morning on my patrol. I forced myself to eat an apple for lunch; Katrina would not have considered it sufficient, but I was too apprehensive of the meeting ahead to manage any more. And then I set out to see the man I had overheard talking to Colonel Dorn the night before.
"Colonel Hawke will see you now," the aide informed me, holding open the door to the study.
As I entered, Hawke fixed with a penetrating glance. I think he must have read my new knowledge in the gravity of my face. He said nothing, but a look of satisfaction crossed his face. He remained seated behind his desk, waiting.
I came to stand before Hawke and regarded him for a moment before speaking. "I have discovered to whom your friends are misallocating funds."
I said this flatly, coldly. I had begun to consider Hawke a friend, and he had disappointed me. Worse than that, he seemed to imagine, judging from what I had overheard, that I could be drawn into whatever villainy he was planning.
He smiled. That was the last thing I expected.
"Excellent, Crane. You have passed the test."
He rose and gestured to the comfortable chairs by the hearth. "Please, sit down, Crane. I shall explain everything."
I hesitated. I was so angry, so disappointed, that I would have preferred not to sit with him as if I still considered him a friend. But curiosity drew me on. I took a seat as I had before.
He offered me a cigar, which I declined; I never indulge. But this time I did accept his offer of a well-diluted drink; I had a feeling I would need it.
"And did you also discern for what purpose my friends and I are embezzling?"
"I have a theory or two."
"I am anxious to hear them."
"You are trying, for some unfathomable reason, to drag our nation into Bonapartes wars." I examined his face, which showed nothing. "Or else this is some sort of attempt to seize control of the Congress, to slant some elections to your wishes. President Dorn is not an idea I relish."
Hawke grinned. "President Dorn is not my aim. His reward will be great, but not quite so great as that. Dont tell me you imagined that he was the mind behind this scheme. I expected better from you."
Absurdly enough, I felt sorry to have disappointed him. My pride was stung. "I know a few things about Dorn you do not," I retorted, only half-bluffing. I doubted Hawke knew his accomplice was consorting with demons. "But no matter. I have enough evidence to arrest you both, and Trevayne as well."
Hawke did not look in the slightest intimidated. "Without even knowing the nature of the great scheme we are enacting?" he asked with a smile.
I took a swallow of my drink. "Well?"
His face grew at once dreamy and purposeful. He paused, intent on some vision of his own, before he spoke.
"A crown has been cast in the gutter. It needs only the right man to pluck it out and place it on his own head."
I stared at him. "You cannot be serious."
"But I am."
"A King of America?"
"Emperor," he corrected.
I had not been so dumfounded since being informed that the murders I was investigating had been committed by a headless ghost. "This is a democracy, Hawke."
He answered with the assured air of one who has been through his arguments many times. "As was France, for a few minutes. As was Greece at one time, and Rome. But in time they all crowned a king. Monarchy is the natural form of human government. Democracy has no staying power."
"The era of hereditary rule is over," I replied scornfully. "This is the Age of Reason, of the rule of Law."
His eyebrows raised. "For one who calls himself a Federalist, your mouth reeks of Republican liberalism."
"Not Liberalism. Equanimity."
"I have a great vision, Crane. And you can be a part of that vision. In return for your cooperation, you can have every constabulary in the States following your methods, by imperial decree."
"My cooperation. Now we come to it. You wont have it, but I am academically curious as to what you imagine it might entail."
He still looked utterly calm, completely in command of the situation. My words seemed to have made no impact whatsoever. It was like arguing with Katrina.
"A man in my position needs to know everything that is going on. You must realize that your deductive skills have made you the ideal spy."
I was offended. "That was certainly never my aim."
"Often we find ourselves taking steps we did not plan on the way to our objectives," he replied comfortably.
The entire conversation seemed unreal. His notions were simply too farfetched to be taken seriously. But what was serious was my disappointment in him.
"I used to like you," I said bitterly.
He leaned back in his chair, relaxed. "You shall again. You will find that association with me has many benefits."
My face must have been drawn in lines of contempt. "No," was all I said, and I rose and turned to go. I would present the evidence I had unearthed to the High Constable that very afternoon, and Hawke and his friends would be in custody by nightfall.
Hawke stood as well and spoke to my back. "I suggest you not go till youve heard all I have to say."
Curiosity again. Had I been Adam, I should have eaten the apple before my spouse. I stopped, without turning back to him.
"Surely you did not think I would not have an additional inducement or two to offer? Constable, you must know that when rewards do not suffice, penalties must be introduced."
I turned and regarded him coldly. I stepped closer to him, looking down at him from my greater height, knowing this would annoy him. But his face betrayed only calm confidence.
"Are you threatening me, Hawke?" I asked softly.
"Yes. And I hope you have not underestimated me sufficiently to imagine that my threats will not be effective ones."
I raised my eyebrows inquiringly.
He sat down, taking his time. When he was comfortable, he gestured to my chair, smiling. I remained standing.
"As you can imagine, an enterprise such as mine requires many favors, both given and received. It so happens that I am in a position to offer a man almost anything he wishes. And recently a very interesting wish was expressed to me." He looked at me appraisingly. "I am told that Mrs. Crane is a very beautiful woman."
Instantly I was cold all over. I said nothing, but frantically reminded myself that Mrs. Crane was quite capable of looking after herself, whatever this diminutive tyrant had in mind.
"I know you are acquainted with my friend Simon Purnell. You know of his interests. Magic is one. And the other, I believe you can deduce."
I remembered the wretched females who had kept Purnell company the day I spoke with him and my coldness was burned up in towering rage. I took a step toward Hawke, ready to throttle him, but he calmly raised a pistol. He must have had it ready just out of sight in anticipation of this possibility.
"Calm yourself, Constable. We have much to discuss yet. I would prefer it if you sat down."
I stepped back, my eyes flitting between the barrel of the gun and Hawkes face. His surface calm was underlaid by a watchfulness. This was the look of a man playing a difficult game which he knows that he can win. His confidence shook me. I continued to stand, glaring at him.
"Purnell has an associate you may know, at least by reputation. The Reverend Burris. I know he has had a few brushes with your colleagues in the course of his various activities." I did know of Burris, and his "various activities". I am not generally a violent man, but my hands itched to smash Joseph Hawke to pieces, even as oblique as his implication was.
"The Reverend Burris and you have a mutual acquaintance, Constable. The Lady Crane. It seems she made a purchase from him not long ago, and caught his eye."
He reached into his vest pocket and withdrew something I recognized: a long silver hairpin engraved with my wifes name, a wedding gift from her aunt in Sleepy Hollow.
"Lady Crane dropped this in the market at McRakers Alley the other day. I had a great deal of difficulty inducing Simon to part with it. Perhaps you could return it to her." With numb fingers I took it, balling my fist around it until my knuckles whitened. He raised a scornful eyebrow at me. "I would not allow my wife to do her shopping in McRakers Alley."
There was nothing to say to this. Or rather, there was a great deal, but I did not bother.
"Burris was kind enough to alert his patron Mr. Purnell to the existence of a very elegant beauty with an interest in magic. Purnell was naturally very intrigued at this, and contrived to catch a glimpse of the lady. Not only is she lovely, but Purnell thinks that she has some talent for sorcery. She apparently used a voice charm to induce Burris to agree to a low price for an amulet she wanted. To sum up, both of his obsessions in one.
"Mr. Purnell has offered me many things which are quite valuable to me in exchange for my help in procuring the companionship of Lady Crane for him. Help which I assure you I am in a position to give, and I also assure you that there will be no evidence with which I can be connected to the event. Purnell has grown more and more eager for this favor, and his offers have escalated. But I have refused, because I considered that you might be of more use to me than his further help. Of course, if I was wrong ."
I knew perfectly well that Katrina could defend herself. At the same time, this vilely malicious intent towards her frightened me. But between the two of us, we could protect her.
"You were wrong," I said coldly. "For your own sake, I suggest you not try any moves against Mrs. Crane. I assure you that you will regret it."
Again I turned to go. I was stopped by Hawkes steady voice. "For your own sake, Constable, I suggest that you stay until I have said all I have to say. Or you could learn it the hard way."
I turned back to him. "I am losing patience, Hawke. What is it?"
He made himself more comfortable in the chair and drew on his cigar before answering. "You examined the body of Gabriel Erickson?" I nodded, surprised. "You saw the wound?" I suppose my nauseated expression must have been answer enough. "Do you wish to die in that fashion, Constable?"
"What are you saying?"
I ignored the implied insult. "What are you driving at, Hawke?"
"I ordered the murder of Gabriel Erickson."
I frowned, studying him.
"It was a favor to one of my associates. I think you can deduce which one, but I shall not speak the words aloud. Framing St. James was part of the favor, but your clever deductions required me to dispense with that part of it."
My mind raced, connections I should have made earlier falling into place. If he spoke the truth, he was the one who controlled the demon, and therefore perhaps a match for my sorceress. That was why the Horseman had come through Isobel to tell his story. The warning, that it was possible to harness the magical powers of another, was a timely one. And the Hessian was trying to atone, not only for his crimes against the residents of Sleepy Hollow, but for those against my country.
But I could not be certain, not quite yet. I would have to draw him out.
I chose my words carefully. "And how did you induce that lunatic to commit the murder?"
Gloating appeared briefly in his eyes. "Madmen can be persuaded to anything, if one knows the correct approach."
My knees were feeling unsteady. I sat down at last, studying Hawke in silence. I had to think. Somehow, I had to find out what I was wondering.
Contempt glinted in his eyes. "So you will not compromise your patriotism for the sake of a woman who is too good for you by half, but you will for fear of a gruesome death."
My spine stiffened at these words, but then, Hawke was not a man whose respect I wanted anymore. "Would you do as much for your duchess?" I demanded, trying to sound petulant. I think I succeeded.
He laughed easily. "Not for a moment," he acknowledged. "So, Constable, I take it I may rely upon your cooperation."
I looked at the hideously overornate Oriental rug on the floor while I tried to think of what to say, what to ask. I thought of asking him what I wanted to know directly, but deemed it best not to tip my hand, not to let him know what I knew. "How are you able to obtain so many favors for your accomplices?"
Misapprehending the motive behind my question, he smiled with satisfaction, and contempt took up permanent residence in his gaze. He believed that he had me now. I hated him. "Fear not. Even though I have had to be firm in my persuasion, you shall still be amply rewarded for your services. And in time you shall find that you are fond of me once more."
"Ah, the ever-searching mind. Would you care for a demonstration? Name something you want. Someone you want removed from your path, perhaps?"
He shook his head with amusement. "Your conscience is far too strong, Crane. You need to learn practicality."
"My wife claims that I am too practical already," I mumbled without thinking.
"Women are like that. Now, as to what I shall expect from you. My greatest opponent, the one man who can sway public sympathy sufficiently to block my path, is Senator Alan Remington. He is a Jeffersonian with all the democratic ideals you have been parroting. Quite charismatic."
"I know who Senator Remington is," I snapped. "I voted for him."
Hawke chuckled. "I guessed as much. Now, while Remington does not know the extent of my plans, he is astute enough to have gathered that he and I do not sing the same tune. I need to know what he is up to, and especially if he is up to anything that might change the citizenrys perception of him."
I glared at him. As if I could degrade my methods in such a fashion. But until I was certain Katrina was safe, I would have to play his game.
"If there is anything to learn, I shall learn it," I said through stiff lips.
"I know you shall. You have too many reasons to do so to allow you to fail." He stood. "Report back to me in a few days with what you have learned." He extended his hand to shake, but I rose and walked past him, ignoring it. He chuckled, but I am certain that was merely a cover for his annoyance. He is as proud as I am; the snub had to offend him.
"And, Constable." His voice stopped me just as I reached the door. Once more I paused without turning.
"Bear in mind," he said, "that I shall be keeping up with your activities. Dont think you can double-cross me."
I glanced at him over my shoulder before walking out the door, knowing that my unease would show in my countenance. And that unease would probably reassure him, because like so many others, Joseph Hawke had underestimated me.
And he did not know it yet, but he had chosen to make the one threat that he would live to regret.
There are many reasons that Katrina has been the only woman in my life. One, of course, is that feminine hearts are seldom charmed by the ability to detect traces of common poisons by their chemical reactions and the other such accomplishments I boast. But another is that during my years on the constabulary I have seen crimes that made passion seem sordid and dangerous, crimes that sickened my soul.
I had never thought I would be able to shake the ugliness of the crimes I have witnessed. Only a total innocence such as hers could have cleansed me. During the first days of our marriage, her ardor had stunned me. I would never have believed that such passion and such purity could coexist though even in my shock I had thanked God that it did. And I knew exactly how delicate that was, and how precious.
More than once I had whispered those words to her in the dark. She was too rare a blossom to be bruised. Hawke and his vile friend had sealed their own fates.
The watchhouse chanced to be between Hawkes home and mine, otherwise I should not have bothered to report that I was going home early. Before this past week I had never missed duty, no matter how ill I was, and so this caused many raised eyebrows, and a few speculations about why I was so eager to return home, speculations involving my exquisite bride. I was too agitated even to blush at my fellow constables words.
I arrived home in the middle of the afternoon. I do not know what Katrina was doing, but she dropped whatever it was to come into the foyer when she heard me. She was beautiful, as always; almost every time I look at her, her beauty and the fact that she is mine astonishes me anew. And her utter prettiness and sweetness was a dizzying contrast from what I had just left. Her eyes widened in alarm at the sight of me. I suppose I must have looked rather appalling; I know that I was shaking and ashen-faced, and my disquiet was far deeper than the kind I derive from the ordinary horrors of my normal duties.
She took charge without a word, grasping my cold hands to draw me to the sofa and making me sit down, loosening the tight belt over my uniform jacket, feeling my forehead and checking my pulse. These loving little attentions of hers, something which was missing from my life from the time my mother died until the time Katrina entered it, were too much in the face of the peril to her. I burst into tears.
At once she enveloped me in her embrace. I wrapped my arms around her and gathered her close, as if a tight enough grasp could ensure that she would stay out of the clutches of our vile enemies. She settled in my lap and kissed the top of my head, murmuring comforting nonsense, rubbing my back gently. It was she who was in danger, and she was trying to look after me. The irony only made my sobs deeper, more wracking.
"Ichabod, you must tell me whatever it is," she said softly. I nodded, but could not catch my breath; the tears still shook my whole frame.
A few minutes later, when I was still beside myself, she said slowly, "Ichabod I wont do this unless you wish me to but would it be easier for you if I were to simply read this from your thoughts? So that you would not have to speak it?"
My first impulse was to refuse, but as I thought of it, trying to relate the afternoons conversation was too daunting a task. And she had been kind enough to ask first, which deepened the trust in her that was building in me. After a long hesitation, I nodded, burying my face in her silken throat.
We sat wordlessly, I continuing to weep steadily, she stroking my back as she delved into my mind.
After a moment, her hands paused. "This Colonel Hawke he actually thought he could induce you to ." Her voice trailed off indignantly. I was gratified by her faith in me.
"He had some excellent motivations to offer, Katrina," I told her in a choked voice. "Keep reading."
I knew exactly when she saw to what I was referring; she stiffened in my arms. I tightened my embrace and whispered fiercely.
"I will not let him get to you. If they kill me, I will rise from the grave to protect you!"
"Dont talk like that!" she gasped.
"But its true. Id rather die than ." I could not give the awful prospect words.
She stroked my hair and rocked me in her arms until I was finally able to stop crying.
"So that dreadful man was Simon Purnell," she said in a low voice.
"You saw him?" I asked, appalled.
"The other day, when I was buying your bookmark. When I dropped my pin. He was staring at me." She shuddered.
"Why didnt you tell me?" I demanded furiously.
She sighed. "Ichabod, if I told you every time a man looked at me, youd be too busy committing murders to ever investigate any."
She was right, of course. In the last six months I had been learning that there are disadvantages to having a beautiful wife, and the fits of red-hot rage that overtook me when I saw disrespectful glances cast her way had surprised both of us.
I loosened my hold on her and reached into my pocket for the silver hairpin. She took it from me slowly, her eyes downcast a bit sheepishly.
"Perhaps I was a bit too confident," she admitted.
"I should say so. For all your powers, you are not invulnerable, my dearest one. And we are not going to behave as if you were again." I did not say this with the authority that husbands like to imagine that they have, but as I might have to a comrade in arms. Her nod of agreement seemed in the same spirit. And that was how we would face the peril before us. We held each other quietly. She drew my handkerchief from my vest pocket and dried the tears from my cheeks.
"I know my husband too well not to realize that he has already devised a course of action," she said at last.
"I think so," I agreed, "but I am so distressed right now I need to consider it more calmly before I can be certain what to do. And I need to find out a few things ."
"Tell me what you are planning, then."
David interrupted us by entering through the front door at that moment, clutching his arm, his face drawn in pain. Katrina promptly left my lap, kissing my forehead as she rose, and hurried to him. I followed quickly. Why hadnt it occurred to me that they might send me a warning in the form of a strike against the other member of my household? But this proved not to be the case.
"What happened? Are you all right?" I demanded. I reached for his arm, but my hands were shaking. Katrina eased me aside and gently rolled up his sleeve with her steady hands.
"My arm hurts," he groaned, thankfully too intent on his own pain to notice our distress. "In fact, it aches to the bone! Its horrible!"
Katrina was examining his arm. There were no cuts or bruises of any kind. "I dont see anything, David. What happened?"
"I dont know. I was playing with Colin and it just started hurting. A lot." He pressed his lips together to muffle another groan.
Carefully, I took his hand and examined his fingertips. I found what I expected to find. A problem I could deal with calmed my nerves considerably.
"I do. You were at your reckless habits again, werent you?" At his frown, I elucidated, "You two are determined that I shall never have a moment free from worry. If it isnt Katrina wandering around dens of thieves, its you handling spiders."
His voice rose, pain having shortened his temper. "It was just a wolf spider, for heavens sake! And a baby one at that!"
"No, it was not." My voice was authoritative, and the boy quieted to listen to me. "It was a wood spider, whose bite contains a venom designed to paralyze its prey. A victim as large as a human will simply suffer from an ache for several hours, as you are right now. Painful, but not damaging. A wood spider can be mistaken for a baby wolf spider if one is not careful, because the small wolf spiders have yet to develop the characteristic pair of lighter marking lines down their backs." I pursed my lips. "I told you spiders were dangerous. No one ever listens to me until it is too late."
They both stared at me. When I finished, David asked, as if he were very surprised, "You know about spider species?"
I lifted an eyebrow. "I know everything there is to know about spiders. Know your enemy." Though of course, every time that I read a book about spiders I am unable to sleep for days afterwards.
"So cant you tell the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous ones?"
"Of course," I said crisply. "But by the time one gets close enough to one to be certain, it is generally too late, now isnt it?"
He began rolling his sleeve down and winced. "You say its going to feel like this for hours?" he asked plaintively.
Katrina touched his cheek comfortingly. "Ill brew you a willow bark tea for the pain, David."
"Katrina, kindly leave this to me. I am certain I know more about treating spider bites than you do." Her lovely eyes widened and the corners of her mouth twitched. There are times when I cannot fathom her sense of humor. "Come with me." I led them both up the stairs to my laboratory.
At Katrinas urging, David sat on one of the wooden chairs. She stood beside him, ready to do whatever was needed, but I had everything necessary at hand. I unlocked one of the many large cabinets that house my chemicals and took out a large jar of salve, which I applied to his bitten fingertip. "This will prevent infection," I assured him.
"Infection? What about pain?"
"Fear not. I have a remedy for that as well." I put a little water in a beaker and then turned back to the cabinet. It contains numerous small jars, each with its own small compartment, carefully labeled and arranged alphabetically.
"I never saw you open that one before," he remarked. "What are all those?"
"Antidotes to the venoms of every species of spider found on the North American continent," I replied briskly. I quickly found the proper remedy; I have them alphabetized by species. When I turned with the vial in my hand, both of them looked as if they were about to burst with suppressed laughter and amazement.
"What?" I asked, nonplused. At that, both of them unleashed guffaws and kept on laughing for several minutes, holding their sides, unable to stop. I stared at them, and my bewilderment only seemed to make them laugh harder. Katrina came to my side and embraced me consolingly, still helpless with mirth. I never did find out what they found so amusing. A few days later I asked Katrina about it again; when she caught her breath, she said only, "Oh, Ichabod, its just so you!"
I sighed irritably as I mixed a few drops of the antivenom in the water and filled a syringe with the solution. I injected it into the hysterical boys arm and set about cleaning the syringe while they continued to laugh.
"The antivenom should ease the pain within half an hour," I said rather testily when he calmed down a bit. "Are you certain that you only have one bite?"
"I dont hurt anywhere else," he said, still grinning.
"Good. When I was eight, I got about a dozen wood spider bites at once. I was sick in bed for a month. The doctor was afraid it would cause permanent damage, but I was spared that."
"A dozen!" Katrina looked up from smoothing Davids hair. "How on earth did that happen?"
"Well, it was dark. I could not see to avoid them."
My veins felt leaden at the memory. I busied myself for a moment putting away the salve and vial before answering, speaking flatly and coldly to keep my voice steady.
"My father had locked me in the cellar."
Their smiles evaporated and both of them looked utterly horrified. David even looked a bit queasy, in spite of his enviably strong stomach. I could not endure to talk about it, so I forestalled anything they might have said by going to the door and holding it open. "The antivenom sometimes makes people lightheaded. You should probably go lie down, David. Would you sit with him for a while, Katrina?"
As David rose, he and Katrina exchanged a look that I could have sworn was guilty, though I did not understand that anymore than I understood their mirth of a few moments earlier. He mumbled an agreement and headed for the stairs. Katrina looked between him and me with brimming eyes.
"Dont you need me to ." Her voice trailed off.
"I need a few minutes to clear my head," I answered crisply. "And to take some notes."
Her warm dark eyes searched my face. I think she was reassured to see that my rational mind was in command again, for at length she nodded, only slightly reluctant, and followed David. But on her way to the door, she stopped and stood on tiptoe to kiss my cheek tearfully. The gesture almost made me break down again. I am the luckiest man in the world.
I sat down as she left and opened my ledger. Drawing a deep breath, I slowly started taking notes. As always, the process steadied my nerves and cleared my mind. I was going to have to put a stop to Hawkes scheme, that was clear, but first I would have to ensure my wifes safety. And there were questions I needed to learn the answers to before I could take any steps.
When Katrina entered, I was intent. I kept scribbling for a minute before looking up at her. There was a faint smile on her exquisitely formed mouth, but her eyes were slightly red. When I looked at her, she clasped my free hand comfortingly.
"I see Sir Rational is in command of himself once more," she teased gently.
I let her sally pass by. "There are a few more things I need to know before I can decide how to act. I thought that Dorn controlled the demon, or perhaps this Simon Purnell." I said the name as if it tasted bad. "But now it could be Hawke. I would not put it past him. But how can I find out?"
She considered. "Ichabod, I could find out. I could read their thoughts and"
"Id rather you didnt," I said, more brusquely than I meant to. She dropped her eyes. I took her hands. "Katrina." She looked up at me, and I continued. "Katrina, I am not only trying to solve particular crimes. I am creating a method for future generations of detectives to follow. My procedures need to be ones that any rational man could follow. If I allow myself to become dependent on your help, how will my manual for deductive methods read? Step one: marry a powerful white witch. Step two: find a reliable medium to consult."
She laughed, but then her face grew serious. "Surely this is an exception, Ichabod. This is a supernatural murder." She paused before adding, very gently, "My love, you need my help with this. This is my province, after all."
And as always, I had to admit that she was right.
I made a show of reluctance to speak. "My angel, it is my duty to tell you that you are developing a habit which is most unbecoming. You must try to break it."
"What is it?" She looked so distressed that I felt like a cad for my little joke. I promptly set her mind at ease.
"That of displaying better judgment than your husband," I said with all the sternness I could muster. "It is most unladylike. You must endeavour to be wrong more often." By the time I was finished, I could not suppress my smile. She accepted this indirect apology. "But one thing. I do not want you reading the thoughts of Simon Purnell."
"Why not? He is the one who"
"Because I have some inkling of what those thoughts are. I suppose I cannot stop you, but I would not allow my wife to read a book with that kind of thing in it."
She looked faintly ill and nodded. Then her face became intent.
"So. His name is Joseph Hawke?"