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Authors: Jordan L. Hawk

Eidolon

BOOK: Eidolon
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Eidolon

 

(A Whyborne
& Griffin short story)

 

Jordan L. Hawk

 

Eidolon
© 2014 Jordan L. Hawk

ISBN: 978-1-941230-01-5

 

All rights reserved.

 

Cover art © 2014 Jordan L. Hawk

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Edited by Annetta Ribken

Author’s note: The events of “Eidolon” take place between
Widdershins
and
Threshold
.

 

I

 

On the morning of February 14, 1898, a carriage stopped at
our gate.

Unexpected visitors weren’t unusual, given my profession as
private detective. But the coach itself, which I spied upon between the parlor
window curtains, gave me pause. No device of any kind showed on the carriage’s
gleaming ebony doors. The coachman dressed in black to match his conveyance, from
the top hat on his head to the gleaming leather of his shoes. Even the horses
were the color of soot, as was their harness.

The door opened, and a woman climbed out, pausing for a
moment to study the house, with its screen of thick hedges and iron gate, all
of which offered a certain amount of privacy to my clients. She wore a thick
coat of white fur—fox?—with matching muff. White egret plumes
decorated a hat equally pale. The blackness of her eyes and hair were made even
more striking by her unnatural pallor.

Her mouth pursed slightly, but she started up the walk with
a determined gait, as if overcoming whatever doubts she harbored. I waited for
her knock before opening the door.

“Mr. Flaherty?” she asked in the accent of upper class New
England.

“I am,” I said, stepping back and motioning her inside. “May
I be of some assistance? If you sent a card ahead, I fear I didn’t receive it.”

“This is a matter of some urgency,” she said. “I had no time
for niceties.”

“I understand. Allow me to take your coat.” The ivory dress
beneath was almost the same shade as her skin. “May I offer you coffee?”

“As I said, we have no time for niceties,” she replied.

I’d dealt with imperious clients many times. Some—the
men, generally—required a sharp word to reassure them I would not be
bullied. I suspected this woman wasn’t interested in such a test of manliness,
merely in quick obedience.

I could play at that as well, so long as she didn’t push it
too far. I could play at almost any role; it was what had found me success
among the Pinkertons. And, to be honest, in the bathhouses of Chicago and
points west.

“Of course.” I ushered her into the parlor and gestured for
her to take a seat across the desk from me. Picking up a pencil, I opened a
notebook. “May I have your name, at least?”

She hesitated, but I had expected as much. “Clearly your
family is in the funeral business,” I said, even though I didn’t know it for
sure. Anywhere else, it would be a given. But this was Widdershins, and going
about in a black coach with matching horses, harness, and coachman’s attire
might simply be a bizarre affectation.

In this case, my guess proved correct. She inclined her head
slightly. “Lester Funerary Services. We have interred the dead of this town for
over a hundred years. However, the difficulty I’ve come to you about is of a
personal, not professional, nature. The man who gave me your name assures me
you handle matters with utmost discretion.”

“Indeed.” I folded my hands in front of me, careful to look
her in the eye when I spoke. “Allow me to mention I don’t take cases involving
divorce or scandal.”

She waved a hand; a silver ring caught the light. Something
appeared to be inscribed on it, but I couldn’t make it out without a closer
inspection. “A case of simple theft. My grandfather is quite elderly and not in
the best of health. He possessed a small talisman, something of no great value
to anyone but him. A thief entered the house early this morning while the rest
of the family was out, overpowered the manservant who tends Grandfather, and
stole the talisman.”

“Did he take anything else?” Surely, they wouldn’t have
broken in for such a trinket, unless Miss Lester meant to deceive me as to its
true value.

“No.” Her mouth thinned into an unpleasant line.
“Unfortunately, the thief is a relative. A distant cousin from a branch of the
family which moved to Boston a generation or so ago. I received a letter from
him not two hours past, demanding an outrageous sum for the return of the talisman.”

I frowned. “A ransom? For a trinket holding only sentimental
value?”

My words did nothing to ruffle her cold, dark gaze. “I never
said the talisman had only sentimental value, Mr. Flaherty. Only that it had no
value to anyone save Grandfather.”

Blast it. She was right; I had missed the distinction. I
wanted to ask her what its value might be to him, but in a town where one
regularly saw cloaked figures scurrying through the streets at night and
neighbors considered it the height of polite behavior not to inquire into one
another’s business, a reputation for discretion was even more necessary than
elsewhere.

“Do you know where to find this cousin?”

“If I did, I would hardly need to hire a private detective
to locate him.” Her long fingers plucked anxiously at her furs, a nervous habit
which betrayed the distress hidden behind her impassive face. “It is of utmost
importance the talisman be recovered by sundown.”

My pencil froze against the paper, and I glanced
automatically at the calendar. Any other day, I would at least try to
accommodate her. But not today. Not Valentine’s Day.

I’d never remarked the date before, except perhaps to laugh
at the fools forced to trudge into shops to pacify their wives and sweethearts.
But this year was different.

I was in love.

Moreover, I was in love with a man who, with his
intelligence and breeding, could have his pick of a dozen others. Whyborne and
I had only been together two months, so I was absolutely determined to make the
occasion perfect, to prove he’d made the right choice when he agreed to move
into my home.

I’d planned the entire evening as a surprise. Dinner at Le
Calmar. Two tickets to the theater.

On the way home from purchasing the tickets, I’d passed by
Kryer and Panova, Stationers, on River Street. The colorful cards displayed in
the window caught my eye, and my steps slowed. Surely, one of them would be the
perfect finishing touch for our evening together.

“A gift for your sweetheart?” the clerk asked when I came
inside. “The ladies love the cards.”

“Yes,” I said, and let him assume I shopped for a woman.
I
examined the cards carefully, until one in particular stood out to me. Cheerfully
colored in shades of green and rose, it featured a golden-haired Cupid riding
in a swan-shaped boat. The Cupid penned an inscription imploring the receiver
to “Be Mine.”

God, I wanted Whyborne to be
mine. More, I wanted to be his. And I was, for the time being, at least. So
I
wasn’t about to sacrifice this opportunity to demonstrate my worth. Not over
the loss of some damned trinket, no matter what its supposed value to the
family.

I shot a more deliberate glance at the clock on the
mantelpiece, making certain Miss Lester noted it. “Retrieving your talisman
before sundown may not be possible,” I said. Tables at Le Calmar would be in
high demand tonight; I couldn’t count on the restaurant holding our
reservation. “Would tomorrow be acceptable?”

Her lips pressed together, as if she struggled to hold back
the words. “It depends,” she said at last. “I care nothing for my
cousin—he is a fool. But what of those living innocently next to whatever
lodging he has taken? What of the family he left behind in Boston, should he
return to them bearing the talisman still?”

A chill, which had nothing to do with the weather outside,
ran up my spine.
Someone walked over my grave,
as the saying went. Or
perhaps it was the other way around, and my thoughts stumbled over someone
else’s grave.

I even knew whom it belonged to.

“What are you saying?” I asked, my voice more hoarse than I
wished.

Miss Lester gave me a tiny, chilly smile. “You’ve seen
things, haven’t you, Mr. Flaherty? I can always tell.”

The scar on my thigh ached, a sudden throb of pain, as if to
remind me of what I couldn’t forget, even if I wanted. How many nights did I
still jolt awake, my former partner Glenn’s screams echoing in my ears?

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said past the thickness in
my throat.

“Why did you come here? To Widdershins, I mean?”

The devil? “A whim. I wished to find a place to start my own
business, and here seemed as good a place as any.”

She laughed softly, like an adult amused by the ramblings of
a child. “You’re wrong. This town has a way of collecting things. Whatever whim
you believe drew you here, I assure you, it was not of your doing.”

I sat frozen, wanting to argue. Or to say of course there
was a purpose for my being here. A higher purpose than she suggested, a greater
providence, which had brought me to Widdershins in time to help put an end to
an evil necromancer last December. But the words stuck in my throat.

She made a dismissive gesture. “None of which is of any
consequence to this discussion. The talisman can wait, yes, but at a great
cost. One I do not believe your conscience is of the type to bear.”

It was possible Miss Lester was simply delusional. I looked
again to the calendar, then to the clock, whose hands already approached noon.
“Do you have any idea where your cousin might be hiding while he awaits your
answer?”

“From what little I know of him, he would not lower himself
to the tenements, but could not afford to rent one of the better houses.”

It narrowed things a bit. I might ask among my various
contacts. Surely, it wouldn’t take too long to find him. How many strangers from
Boston could be renting houses in Widdershins at one time, after all?

With luck, the case would prove simple, and I’d have the talisman
back in Miss Lester’s possession well before sundown. I wouldn’t have to risk
the very real possibility she wasn’t mad, and the talisman did indeed carry
with it some awful curse. Not to mention, I could charge her twice my ordinary
fee for the rush.

And I would still have plenty of time to dress for dinner
and surprise Whyborne with his perfect evening.

“Very well,” I said. “Let us speak of my fee.”

 

II

 

Of course, nothing is ever so easy.

I made a return trip to Kryer and Panova, whose clerk
identified the ransom note’s stationery as having come from their rivals across
town. But it had taken some time and a few bribes to various contacts to discover
what houses in the area were for rent and which housed a man matching the
description of Miss Lester’s cousin.

I considered going straight to the house and either
confronting him, or waiting until he left for dinner, as he’d apparently hired
no servants, and breaking in. But I couldn’t be certain if the talisman truly
had an occult nature, as Miss Lester believed, or was simply an odd family
heirloom, as the thief presumably thought.

Several hours later, I hurried up the grand marble stairs
leading to the front entrance of the Nathaniel R. Ladysmith Museum. The
damnably short winter day had already begun to wane, the shadows gradually
lengthening around me. If foul magic were involved, I wanted only one man at my
back to confront it: Dr. Percival Endicott Whyborne, comparative philologist at
the museum. And my lover, so having him with me would mean we’d be more likely
to make our dinner reservation.

There was still time. Plenty of time. We wouldn’t be able to
exchange our clothes for something more formal, but we’d still dine at Le
Calmar. I’d brought the theater tickets with me, as well as the card, so there
would be no need to stop at the house.

Everything would be as perfect as he deserved.

I passed through the museum entrance, receiving a wave from
the ticket-taker, who recognized me by now. Mr. Rockwell, the rather
incompetent head of security, stared past, pretending not to recognize me. He’d
treated Whyborne cruelly at least once, and I longed to find the bastard alone
in a dark alley late at night.

I let myself through a staff door at the back of the main
hall. Miss Parkhurst, the general secretary for the Antiquities Department,
greeted me from her desk. “Good afternoon, Mr. Flaherty.”

“Good afternoon. Is Dr. Whyborne in his office?”

Her cheeks pinked slightly at the mention of Whyborne’s
name. Poor girl. She was rather smitten with him—along with half the
secretarial staff, from my observation.

I certainly couldn’t fault her for it. I was awfully taken
with him myself.

“I don’t think so, sir. He said something about piecing
together a damaged scroll and mumbled something else about a storeroom…” She
trailed off helplessly.

“I understand,” I assured her. Whyborne did have a tendency
to focus on his work at times, often to the exclusion of all else. The first
time I’d been properly introduced to him, he’d forgotten to comb his hair.
After moving in together, I’d learned that was a relatively minor infraction. I'd
had to prevent him from leaving for work in his stocking feet on one occasion.
“Do you have any clue where he might be?”

“Try the first sub-basement. Most of the antiquities
storerooms are there.”

Of course they were.

The windowless walls and narrow corridors felt like a trap.
They conjured memories of running through dank halls, every step sending a bolt
of fiery agony through my leg, Glenn’s screams still echoing in my ears even
though I knew he was dead.

I tamped down on the memories as I made my way through the
maze of the Ladysmith’s underground storerooms. I noted all the ways in which
they differed from the tunnels that haunted me: the dry walls, the dusty
smells, the warmth of gaslight. The distant sound of other people, going about
their lives, unaware of the madness lurking just beneath the thin veneer of reality.

Spotting an open door, I hastened to it, in hopes it
indicated someone working within. I stepped inside a room claustrophobically
small and poorly lit. Storage cabinets lined every wall, and piles of crates
bearing shipping stamps marking their transit from Port Said to Widdershins
took up much of the floor. Scraps of papyrus littered the lone worktable in the
midst of the room.

BOOK: Eidolon
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