Looking for something extra spooky to ready on inauguration weekend? How about another installment of my current work in progress ‘Is it Not Midnight?’ I think it’s about time I kicked it out the door to share with folks who will give me (shudder) feedback.
If you haven’t been reading along so far. You can catch up here:
“Charlotte,” she murmured. “I think we’ll have those biscuits you made.” Charlotte disappeared from the room with a nod and a rustle of cheap fabric. Glinden shifted in her seat, a mighty wing-back chair, and leaned forward, placing her exquisite chin on her shapely knuckles.
“Tell me more about your Hungarian friend,” her voice cut through their chatter, strong and clear without being loud. “I spent some time in that corner of the world long ago.”
“Not much to tell really.” Winslow leaned back in his seat. “He was brought in as a consultant on this case without much warning or explanation. He doesn’t talk about himself too much.”
“He likes garlic. That much we know,” added Frankel.
“Does your Hungarian friend have any theories regarding Richard’s demise?” As Glinden pursued this line of questioning, Winslow was peripherally aware of Charlotte’s return to the gallery.
“None that he cared to share with us,” Winslow replied. “Except to say, he thought the victim’s murder and disposal was not likely carried out by a single perpetrator but two or more working together.”
“Two or more working together.” Glinden repeated the words. “If your friend is working with you two, then why isn’t he here? I should have liked to meet him.”
“We haven’t kept him completely in the loop.” Winslow sighed.
“The way I figure it, why let him get credit for solving our case if we can run it down without him?” said Frankel.
“I quite understand,” Glinden replied. “Having one’s toes stepped on is acutely annoying.”
Frankel’s nose twitched as a heavenly aroma assaulted his senses. A hypnotic combination of sugar, cinnamon, and butter wafted from a stately silver tray in Charlotte’s pale hands.
“Snickerdoodles!” Alisha’s smile broadened and she took a cookie from the tray. “My mother used to make those all the time.”
“Yes,” replied Glinden. “Charlotte is a highly accomplished baker. I unfortunately cannot partake. I have a gluten sensitivity you understand.” Frankel grunted in disapproval and quickly scooped up two cookies.
Winslow politely received the disc from Charlotte as she worked her way around the little circle. The cookie was still warm from the oven. Frankel and Alisha had already tasted theirs and were making their approval known. He raised it to his lips and bit into the cookie. His tastebuds were greeted with an explosion flavor.
“So delicious, Charlotte!” Alisha exclaimed.
“Excellent. Maybe the best I’ve had,” said Frankel.
“Charlotte has many talents,” said Glinden.
As the party nibbled their treats, Winslow gazed out the windows opposite the fireplace at the setting sun. Its red majesty spread across the sky and the oak trees looked black against it. He felt warm and happy for a moment. Then his mind drifted back to the conversation around him. Frankel was attempting to bring the conversation back to the night of the murder, but was stumbling over his words in a most uncharacteristic way.
“Now Ms. Glinden, uh, you said the victim was uh, there last night? I mean not last night but on the night he was um, killed.”
“Would it be helpful if I began at at the beginning?” Glinden’s smile widened. “I’ll have to be going soon and I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer than strictly necessary.”
Winslow again found himself wondering about the origins of her accent. English? Maybe a little Spanish? Something else, though. Somewhere east of those places as well. His foggy thoughts were interrupted as Glinden rose from her seat to address her audience.
“I am terribly sorry for the way this has turned out,” she began. “I could have done so much here, but that can’t be helped now. It was all too easy at first. The city’s homeless were unwanted and largely ignored. Nobody noticed when a few went missing. And then, thanks to the idiocy and cowardice of my flock, Richard’s empty husk turned up in an alley and attracted the attention of the police.”
Winslow opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He tried to stand, but his legs were unwilling lumps of flesh. The sun hastened down into the west. It cast a red glow upon the statues and relics in the gallery. Winslow managed a sputtering, unintelligible noise.
“Oh don’t be concerned detective,” she said. “No apology is necessary. I know the police were merely doing their job. We must all play our appointed roles, you know.”
“P-p-p-poisoned c-c-cookies!!!” Frankel’s outrage forced the ill formed words from his mouth.
“Yes I’m afraid so,” Glinden replied. There was real sympathy in her voice. “Charlotte has dosed each of you with a powerful anesthetic not known to modern medicine. You’ll go to sleep soon so I’ll make this quick. I don’t bear you three any ill will, but I can’t have you running back to Mr. Zoltan. That silly little man has caused a great deal of trouble for me before, and I’d prefer not to relive the experience if I can.”
You see, my flock and I serve a very important mistress. She treats us well, but in return she asks us to provide him with certain -” she paused as if searching for the right word “- materials. And while we at the New Church of the Golden Age have always striven to be good little citizens, the materials required by our mistress are challenging to acquire without attracting undue notice in this modern age.”
“M-m-materials?” Alisha stammered the words. Her eyes were wide with growing horror.
“Fresh human blood, my dear.” Glinden’s voice was level. “Our mistress requires a living body human body be drained of blood for her pleasure every so often. It must be fresh out of the vein. Otherwise we could have started a blood bank and saved everyone a lot of trouble.”
“L-l-let her g-go,” Winslow said. “K-keep uss.”
“I’m afraid not, Detective.” Glinden’s head tilted. She spoke as to a child who does not yet realize the game is over. “Alisha can’t leave because I need her most of all. Our mistress has a certain fondness for innocent blood. Innocence is in short supply these days. But she has it growing inside her womb. I was going to wait until the birth to perform the ceremony, but Mr. Zoltan has forced my hand. A pity. She and, more importantly, her child would have been the first of many to serve the Mistress in this way. The pregnancy crisis center was Charlotte’s idea. She’s quite clever, you know. With her innovations, we could have given the Mistress a feast to rival the old days.” A small smile curled across Charlotte’s face.
The sun was setting fast now. The grounds and the woods beyond them were turning lifeless and grey as the dusk deepened. Alisha had one hand on her belly, shielding her unborn child from the forces arrayed against them. With the other, she forced herself out of her seat to stand unsteadily before the two women. It was a titanic achievement as neither Winslow nor Frankel had come close to rising that far out of their chairs.
“Y-y-you can’t have my b-baby,” the light of battle was in Alisha’s eyes. “B-b-bitch!”
“It’s not your baby anymore,” Charlotte stepped closer. “It belongs to the Mistress, now.” The little woman placed two fingers on Alisha’s breastbone and forced her back into the oversized armchair. The dusk deepened and Winslow’s vision blurred. As he slid out of consciousness, he thought he could hear the scrabble of a large dog’s claws against the flagstones.
Hope you enjoyed it, jerks.