Circle of Friends Part 3 - Confronting the "Cultists"
CoC 1-6e Jazz Age
James, Johnson, and Miss Edington left the motorcar, leaving Virgil Thomas in the car for a quick escape if need be. They decided to enter with weapons drawn and make the man tell them whatever they could. The three headed up the driveway and to the back door, where Johnson knocked. Miss Edington pulled the veil on her hat over her face. The door opened and Flannelly was there, looking very confused. His eyes opened wide when he saw the guns.
Johnson pushed the man into the house as he let out a wail.
“Good evening, sir,” James said. “We have a problem.”
Miss Edington was the last one through the door. She closed and locked it behind her. The kitchen smelled delicious. Someone was baking some kind of bread. On a counter was a tray with croissants that had been wrapped around something and baked. A deeper tray with a sliding top sat next to the tray by a half-filled bottle of sherry and a half-filled glass.
“What?” Flannelly wailed. “Who are you people? What are you doing?”
“I’m not here to hurt you any,” Johnson said. “I just want to make that clear.”
“Then go away!”
“Well, I can’t do that yet. You see, my friend, Mr. Flannery at the drugstore, got a package recently of wine and all of the sudden some armed men─”
“Wha? I don’t know anything about any wine!”
“We have reason to believe you know more than you’re telling us,” James said.
“Then why did armed men show up both at his place to get it back and at your place to deliver some?” Johnson asked.
Flannelly was making terrified noises in his throat.
“They were just … it was … uh … uh … it was … uh … uh … I …” he stuttered. “It was … uh … it’s not … it’s just … it’s just in fun. It’s all just in fun. Everything’s just in fun.”
“What’s with the octopus?” Johnson asked.
The man looked desperately over his shoulder to a satchel on the floor leaning against one of the kitchen counters. James went over to the satchel.
“I … it’s … why … it’s just in good fun,” Flannelly went on. “It’s just a ceremony in the occult. It doesn’t mean anything. We just get together and we have … we drink some wine and then we chant. We … we jump around … it’s … it’s all … it’s all a … it’s all a … it’s all Edelson. Edelson. Edelson started this. It’s a club. It’s a club.”
“Is it a club or a cult?” James said.
Miss Edington knew an Edelson who was heir to the Edelson fortune, another rich young man who sometimes came to various upper-class parties. He lived somewhere in Blackstone as well and she thought he lived with his aunt. She had actually met him and he had asked her out to a play but she had turned him down. He had been very polite about the whole thing.
“Nice kid,” she said. “In with the occult.”
James opened the satchel. There was another package like the one Flannery had. There was a large, golden mask with wide wing-like ears and tentacles that hung down from the front of the face. Miss Edington walked over and, when she saw the mask, she tapped on it. It seemed to be solid gold. She reached down and pulled out the covered bottle.
“What’s the thing in the bottle?” Johnson asked.
“That?” Flannelly said with a little laugh. “That … I don’t know. It’s just a thing we do. It’s part of the … the silly little … you know. The thing that we do. We … we …”
Miss Edington found that the package had a wine bottle with one of the octopi within.
“We wanted something strange,” Flannelly was still talking. “And-and Edelson said we get these strange things and we have a little ritual. And we do it every … okay, it’s not really when ‘the stars are right’ like he was talking about but it’s when we can make our schedules match. Then we have some bottles of wine and then─”
“So what do you have to say about this?” James said, holding up the heavy gold mask.
When he had pulled it out, a large iron key and an envelope fell out as well.
“That’s … we wear those,” he replied. “Oh … yeah, we wear those. We just wear ‘em. It’s just a thing.”
“Uh-huh,” James said.
“It’s just a thing. We dance around …”
“In your cult worship?”
“Yeah. It’s … Edelson says it … it’s the thing to do. It’s just … you just … it’s just a reason for us to get together and drink.”
“All right,” Johnson said. “I believe it’s a fun thing you do. But that doesn’t explain why armed men showed up to my friend’s place of business to get one of these bottles back from him.”
“Well, we don’t buy the wine from … legal sources,” Flannelly said. “I mean … Fourteenth Amendment and all that idiocy. It’s Prohibition … Edelson has some connections and he has us each delivered a bottle of special wine which then we sing and we dance and we’re supposed to … I don’t know. I wrote it down. We’re supposed to break the bottles and then … the old ones appear.”
He rolled his eyes.
“And then we finish a couple more bottles of wine and we talk about how great a time we had, okay?” he went on. “That’s-that’s all there is to it.”
Miss Edington picked up the envelope and opened it. The note within read:
All of the coven agreed that Wednesday too quickly. The sky is loaded, the mind made
up, and tonight HE takes life. You will make yourself godlike in restless tangents of flesh,
and suckle to your Lord and Master thus …
The latter passage was in Latin. Miss Edington could read it, however. The translation of it read:
It will be dark soon. So wake and sputter back in life and rise to tellurian hordes on
all shores. Nevermore formless, soundless, intangible; bare thy deep, wordless knowledge
and see thy face in years.
She handed it to James. He read over what he could understand of it, but did not speak or read Latin. She told him the translation.
“It’s just a lark!” Flannelly was saying. “Something to do. And my hor d’oeuvres are going to burn if you don’t let me take them out of the oven in a couple minutes.”
“All right,” Johnson said. “Can you give up this source that your friend has?”
“Where he gets the wine from.”
“I don’t know. Edelson knows. He’s the one that gets the wine. He said ‘Some men will bring you the wine. Bring it.’ We’ve been doing the same thing every week. This is the first time it’s had … this is a weird one. There’s these things in the wine this week, which is kind of strange. But, usually it’s just cheap wine, I guess.”
James and Miss Edington looked at each other.
“We bust it, dance around, say our bit, bust it, and then have more wine,” Flannelly went on. “Good wine. Because Edelson doesn’t buy bad wine from those people. He gets good wine from … I don’t know who, but it’s really good wine. I wish I could get some of that kind of wine. That would be really─”
“Where is Edelson right now?” James asked.
“Oh, he’s probably at his house,” Flannelly said. “We meet at his house. I have a … what are you doing!?!”
He had noticed the other two finally, with his open satchel.
“Don’t get in my satchel!” he said. “That’s … oh. That’s right. I’m being robbed.”
He put his hands up.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Twice robbed. Okay.”
“Twice?” Miss Edington asked.
“That’s Edelson’s key,” Flannelly said. “Well, he’s got a gun to rob me and he’s got a gun to rob me.”
“To Edelson’s house?” James asked.
“Yes, Edelson’s … that’s the key to the veranda door.”
“So, you won’t mind if we take this?”
“So, we let ourselves in and we go to the basement. If what?”
“You won’t mind if we take this?”
Flannelly looked at the two pistols pointed at him.
“No, that’s fine,” he said.
“Or shall I say borrow this?” James said.
“No. Yeah. Take it. That’s what I’m supposed to say. The Latin.”
He nodded at the note in Miss Edington’s hand.
“Do you know what it says?” she asked.
“Uh … the basics,” he said. “I mean, I took Latin in high school. So I know a little bit about what it says but I don’t know all the details. I’m just supposed to recite it in Latin and then ‘the great old ones appear.’ And then we’ll drink some wine and get drunk.”
“So you don’t believe in this, do you?” James said.
The man laughed.
“No!” he said. “It’s … this is an excuse for us to get together. Edelson says it’s very … it’s … I don’t even know how to describe it.”
“I think you’re in over your head, buddy,” James said.
“What are you talking about? This is just … this is just a reason for us to get together.”
“Did I hear you correctly when you said that this was the first week that there was ever anything in the wine?” Johnson said.
“Yeah,” Flannelly said. “Usually it’s just some cheap wine. And this week there’s an octopus. I guess Edelson decided to spend some more money or something. Get something special. I don’t know. These people he gets it from, they’re real … they’re scary. They’re scarier, no offense, than you people. I mean … I just took … there was five people delivered this today! That’s crazy!”
“Yeah, that was a bit suspicious,” James said.
“Usually it’s one creepy, scary giant of a man. Usually Italian.”
He looked at all of their features.
“Usually Italian,” he then said again. “And … driving a black motorcar. I just thank him. They caught me in the bath today. They usually get it here the day before. I don’t know why it got here so late.”
He had slowly lowered his hands while talking.
“Oh,” he said, raising them again. “Sorry.”
“Are we done here?” James asked.
The timer dinged.
“Uh …” Flannelly said.
“Go tend to them,” Johnson said, stepping back.
Flannelly picked up his oven mitts. They had giant yellow flowers on the back of them. He got the tray of croissants out of the oven and turned it off, setting them to cool on the counter before removing the mitts and putting his hands up once again.
“You can have … those are probably cool enough to eat,” he said, gesturing to the tray that had been on the counter before.
“Okay, we’re not here to hurt you,” James said. “We’re just here to figure out what’s going on.”
“In fact, I think our problem might not be with you,” Johnson said. “But I think it’s with the source of this wine. Especially the source with these octopi in them.”
“Then you need to go find these guys with the big … haircuts and the suits and the bulges,” Flannelly said.
“Can Edelson help us with that?”
“I don’t … I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
“Well, it is possible that you, Edelson, and the rest of your group are in danger if these people that are dealing these wines with strange things in them─”
“But Edelson pays them. He pays them what they want and then they bring us the wine. And then they go away. I’m not … no offense, but I’ve dealt with some shady characters because I like to keep my liquor cabinet full.”
He gestured towards the rest of the house.
“Oh we’ve dealt with shady characters,” Johnson said.
“And so, as long as they’re paid what they ask, they’re fine,” Flannelly went on. “I don’t borrow any money from them. I don’t like gambling, it’s boring, so I don’t have any gambling debts or anything to worry about there. So …”
“I still suggest you trust me on this, but if Edelson can help us with these people, how can we find him?”
“Uh … he’s in the directory. He’s in the telephone directory.”
James pocketed the key and his pistol.
“Do you all have anything else you need to ask?” Johnson said.
“No,” James said.
“I think we’re good here,” Miss Edington said.
“If you want, we’re supposed to meet at six,” Flannelly said.
“Oh,” Miss Edington said.
He glanced at the clock on the wall.
“You can get in the side door with that key,” Flannelly went on. “It’s a side door. There’s a little porch on the side of the house, on the right side of the house. You can just let yourself in. There you go.”
Johnson realized the breaking of glasses of wine sounded legitimate. It seemed like something from a real ceremony he’d heard or read about. It felt there was more to it than Flannelly obviously did.
“Well, Mr. Flannelly,” Johnson said. “I would advise you that someone, either Edelson or this group that he’s getting his wine from, is not looking out for your best interests and I would take this a bit more seriously.”
Flannelly nodded, apparently confused.
“I think me and my friends are about ready to go,” Johnson went on.
“Okay, you can see yourselves out,” Flannelly said. “I don’t mind.”
“He’s going to call ahead though. The minute we leave.”
“No! No! I wouldn’t.”
“No! I wouldn’t! I─I─!
“We all look out for our friends. It’s okay.”
“Well … no! I don’t … I don’t …”
James headed for the door.
“We leave the key on the dining room table!” Flannelly said. “We take a right in the dining room into the pantry and the kitchen. There’s a door to the right in the kitchen. We go downstairs to the basement. There’s a robe hanging there. You put on the robe.”
“That doesn’t solve it,” Johnson said. “The man could have advanced knowledge and if he’s the villain, and he has mythos knowledge and spells …”
“You just go downstairs and you put the robe on and the mask on and get in the dance,” Flannelly kept talking. “That’s all there is to it. Yeah. But you can see yourselves out. It’s fine. I don’t mind.”
He looked very nervous.
They found Edelson’s address in the telephone directory and also in Flannelly’s address book. It was several blocks away on Ray Street on the north side of the Blackstone neighborhood.
“You want to leave someone here with him?” Johnson asked. “You want to just go? We want to walk over there with him early?”
“Just go,” Flannelly said. “You can just go. I think that’s a great idea. I usually drive over to Edelson’s, actually.”
“Do you have anything else to do before you leave?”
“Well, I was going to put these in and take them with me for afterwards, for snacks.”
James went over to the counter and packed up the hors d’oeuvres. He slid the lid closed.
“Is there something wrong?” Johnson said. “I think we need to show this guy in order for him to trust us. I think we should have him go over there early and get all of us to get over there ahead of time and interview his friend together.”
“Okay,” James said.
“If that’s okay with you,” Miss Edington said sweetly to Flannelly.
“Sure,” he replied. “Okay. I’ll go.”
James ate one of the hors d’oeuvres and found it was a croissant wrapped around some cheese and pork. It was pretty good.
“All right, so, how about … Milo and I drive with him,” Johnson said. “You get Virgil and get him to follow along with us.”
“You’re saying names right now?” Miss Edington said.
“Sounds like a plan,” James said.
Johnson cursed to himself.
“All right, I got our boy,” Johnson said, putting the gun in his pocket but leaving his hand there as well. “Let’s go to the car.”
They left the house by the back door, James and Johnson going to the garage with Flannelly and getting his Cadillac sedan. Meanwhile, Miss Edington returned to Virgil Thomas and the Packard and told him everything that was happening.
“I’d’ve just tied him up and left him behind,” Virgil Thomas said.
When the Cadillac pulled out of the driveway, Virgil Thomas started the Packard and followed him.
On the way over, Flannelly once again told them how it all worked. The key was used to enter the house from the veranda and the door on the right led through the pantry to the kitchen. The door to the right there led down to the basement. A room was set aside for leaving evening clothes and donning the robes they used. He told them the ritual might have already started. Sometimes they started at six and sometimes they started early.
“It depends on how much they’ve had to drink,” he said.
The car wound its way through the fine Blackstone Neighborhood to the north side of town and onto Ray Street. Flannelly parked in front of the older but large two-story clapboard house with attic windows. There was an ivy-covered veranda on the right side of the house, just as Flannelly had described. Several other fine motorcars were parked in the driveway or on the street in front of the house.
“Why’d you bring him?” Virgil Thomas asked Miss Edington as they all exited the motorcars.
He pulled his hat down over his face.
“Well, Virgil, if it would make you feel more comfortable, you can stay,” Miss Edington said.
“I’d be more comfortable if he was tied up in the trunk of his car,” Virgil Thomas said.
“I mean … we don’t really need him now, do we?”
“No, we don’t.”
Virgil Thomas walked over to the Cadillac and opened the trunk on the back of the vehicle. Then he turned to Flannelly.
“Boy, come over here,” he said. “Give me that satchel. Get in the trunk.”
“But that’s─” Flannelly said.
“Just do it.”
Flannelly climbed into the trunk and Virgil Thomas closed and latched it.
“Now, don’t make no noise and you might not die,” Virgil Thomas said.
He walked to the others.
“Now, what are we doing?” he asked.
“So, they have a ritual,” Johnson said.
“That these rich people are doing in their spare time. You know? Just kind of fun. Pretending that they’re summoning demons or the occult or whatever.”
“Ain’t no fun summoning them God-damned things.”
“Well, apparently nothing’s ever happened,” Miss Edington said. “But today’s a little different. They have these creatures like we saw in that wine bottle now. They didn’t used to before.”
“And the deliveries are different this time too,” Johnson said.
“So that means that something might happen. We might want to interrupt it.”
“Delivery’s probably different because they got the wrong delivery,” Virgil Thomas said. “At the drug store. All right so … who’s going in? What’re we doing?”
“It’s either this guy doing something, trying to summon something, or it’s the source trying to trick him into doing it,” Johnson said.
“That’s my theory.”
“Well, Mr. James here’s about the same size as that fella.”
“Well, we have a key. I guess we …”
They discussed what to do for several minutes. Johnson said they should have a plan before going in to talk to Edelson. Miss Edington thought one of them should go in with the mask and robe and see what happened. Virgil Thomas again pointed out it would be James who would have to go in, he being the closest in size to Flannelly. James was nervous about going in without knowing what he was getting into. If it was just a lark, as Flannelly said, he was fine, but if there was more to it … he was very nervous there was more to it.
“Yeah,” Johnson said.
“Uh-huh,” Virgil Thomas said knowingly.
“I think the key thing is to judge this Edelson fellow,” Johnson said. “To see if he’s in it … for more.”
“Okay, fine,” James said. “ Fine. Fine.”
They discussed him going in alone or not. Virgil Thomas noted the others were probably already here, pointing out the number of fine automobiles parked nearby. Miss Edington said if they were already there, they were already downstairs so no one should notice them go in. Johnson pointed out some of them could stay upstairs if something went wrong.
James decided to go alone first.
* * *
As he approached the ivy-covered veranda on the right side of the house, James felt very nervous. He looked back to the others clustered around Miss Edington’s white Packard, trying not to look out of place as he stepped onto the porch. The key fit in the door and unlocked it, opening into a deep dining room with a single window to the left and a large table, china cabinets and sideboard, and a wide fireplace. Several doors led off the room, one to the right. Just to the right of the door was a small table with three more iron keys that appeared to be identical to his own sitting upon it.
Worried there might be a set number of people in the strange cult, he looked back at his friends and signaled them to wait. Then he entered the room, going to the door on the right which led to a pantry. A door straight across from it led to the kitchen, which had several doors, including one that obviously led out of the back of the house. He went to the door to the right and pushed it open. Steps led down into the basement and he crept down into a small room.
The floor was finished with a cement floor. A blanket curtain covered an archway to the right. The room appeared to have been used as a cloakroom. Evening-wear was strewn over cane-backed chairs surrounding a circular pillars and plinth dining table a full five feet in diameter. Atop of it stood a normal-looking Bordeaux, four drained glasses, a fifth empty glass, and a single carefully draped ceremonial robe.
Through the curtain, he could hear men’s voices. It sounded like they were chanting in Latin. The sounds of people moving around also came from the curtain.
He quickly put the robe on. He had the mask as well as the piece of paper. He poured some of the Bordeaux into the glass and then poured it out on the floor, replacing the glass on the table.
He crept back to the veranda door and motioned for the rest of them to come. They entered the house, all of them with their weapons. James led them down into the basement where they hid in the cloakroom. They could hear the men chanting behind the curtain. It sounded familiar to Miss Edington.
She took a seat at the table. Johnson had his pistol out. James peeked through the curtain.
Four men were dancing clumsily with free-form movements around a brazier filled with coals in a room slightly larger than the cloakroom. Each of them wore robes and a golden mask with a different design than the one Flannelly had. One appeared to be an elephant’s face with massive, webbed ears, tusks, and a trunk that ended in a strange disk. Another was a lizard-like face with webbed spines over the top and some kind of smaller tentacles below. The third was a bat-like face with wings on the sides and an almost fiery-looking spine over the head. The last was harder to describe and almost faceless being but a great circular eye with curved spines coming off it almost like tentacles. They all carried bottles of wine. Their chant was rough and not always in sync with each other.
He stepped back from the curtain and asked the others what they should do. Miss Edington suggested he play along and see what happened, advising him to flee if anything did happen. The rest of them would take care of it. Johnson suggested not breaking the bottle. Miss Edington gave him the bottle and Johnson asked if they should search the rest of the house. Miss Edington said she was going to stay there. James suggested Johnson explore as Miss Edington had the shotgun.
James put the mask over his face and pulled the hood of the robe over his head. He walked into the room.
Johnson headed up the basement stairs to search the rest of the house. Miss Edington whispered for him to bring back weird books.
* * *
James entered the dimly-lit room. He joined the dance as best he could, trying to fake the chant along with the rest of them. He had some troubles keeping up and getting the words right. Every once in a while, one of the others golden masks turned his way as if questioning the man, perhaps suspiciously.
* * *
Johnson began his search of the house by trying the other doors in the kitchen. A plate with cheese and crackers and a small bowl of fruit sat on the counter there. He tried the door next to the pantry door and found a storeroom with chairs, tables, and the like. Another door was at the other end of the storeroom. He tried the next door off the kitchen, but it led to an empty room with a window. Johnson thought that weird. The next door on that wall led to a closet next to the back door. The last door led to steps going up. It was probably a back stairway.
Johnson went upstairs and found himself in a long hall, guessing it was an addition to the back of the house. A pair of doors were on his left and a door stood in the far end of the hall itself. He guessed the last led into the main part of the house. He crossed the hall into the house proper once again.
He found himself in a lived-in bedroom. The clothing on the bed and the floor indicated a young man made his home there. The bed was unmade and a dresser, vanity, bookshelf, wardrobe, and desk were all in the room in addition to the bed. A few books were on the nightstand and the vanity. Another door to the room probably led to the hallway at the front of the house.
He went to the desk and found a thick, open, printed worm-eaten, rat-nibbled wreck of a book upon it. He carefully pushed the book closed. The title on the front read “De Vermis Mysteriis” in a language he did not recognize. He was unsure of what it meant. He flipped through the ancient pages looking for pictures but there were no illustrations.
A quick search of the drawers of the desk found nothing out of the ordinary.
He picked up the book and headed back for the cellar.
* * *
The men were still chanting and dancing in the next room when Johnson returned with a very thick, black-leather bound book that had seen better days. He handed it to Miss Edington, who opened it on the table. The title translated as “Mysteries of the Worm.” The printer’s mark made it as having been published and printed in Cologne in 1543 with the name Ludwig Prinn on the frontispiece. It was entirely in Latin. It seemed to be very esoteric and the kind of thing that was more than it seemed.
“Would you be adverse to me holding onto this?” she asked.
“No,” Johnson said. “Is this incriminating or is this just a dirty old Latin book?”
“Oh … this is strange. This … this is strange.”
“So maybe Edelson is …?”
“I have a very strong feeling: yes.”
“… the one with malintent.”
The chanting from the next room stopped and there was the sound of breaking glass. Johnson drew his revolver.
* * *
“Pick up the pace, Flannelly!” one of the other masked figures said to James. “God, are you already drunk?”
“Well, I am!” another said.
“Shut up, Donalds!” the first figure said. “If you screw the chant up … it would be bad. You had one glass of wine.”
“I had more before I got here.”
The chant went on for only a few minutes more until one of them signaled for them to stop. Then, one by one, each of them flung their bottle into the brazier, the glass shattering and the wine spilling and sputtering in the hot coals. Once each of them had flung their bottles, they all looked at James, who stood there looking back at them. A long moment went by.
“Flannelly, throw it in!” one of them said.
James just stood there.
“What are you waiting for?” another said.
“What is Flannelly doing?” a third said.
“I don’t … I don’t know,” another drunkenly replied.
“Flannelly, what are you doing?” the first said. “Just fling it in and then we’ll have the hors d’oeuvres.”
James just stood there.
“What’s wrong with Flannelly?” another asked.
“Flannelly, are you retarded?” one said. “Throw the bottle in.”
“Now!” James yelled.
Johnson burst through the curtains, gun drawn, right next to James, who stood closest to the curtain. The men in robes and masks, obviously taken aback, backed away from him.
“Flannelly!” one yelled. “There’s a man with a gun! Hit him with the bottle!”
“Who are you, you ruffian?” another said.
“No, there’s no money here!” a third cried out.
“Just pay the man, Edelson,” the drunken man called out. “Pay the man and he’ll go away! Give him your wallet, Edelson!”
“Edelson?” James said.
“Well, I don’t have my wallet on me,” the man in the elephant mask replied. “It’s in my room. I locked it up … in the safe.”
“Edelson, where are you getting this wine?” Johnson said.
“What?” Edelson said. “What!?! Oh. You don’t look Irish.”
“Why does that matter?”
“You’re with the Irish mob, right? You’re mad because we’re buying from the Italians, right?”
“I don’t care if you’re Irish or Italian. I’m just buying from the gentlemen who offered me the wine. So, that’s where I get it.”
“What are the things in it?”
“The … what?”
“What are the things in the wine?”
“Oh! I don’t know. They had a special shipment this month they said. So, I bought it. I said ‘Give us the special magic shipment.’ He was ‘Oh.’ And he gave me some wine with things in it. It’s Chinese or something. Right?”
A few of the men had their hands up. Edelson’s were part way up. The drunkard in the lizard mask just stood there, staring and swaying.
“Edelson, give him your wallet,” he said, his voice slurred. Then to Johnson: “You need a wallet?”
James put the bottle down and took out his pistol.
“Flannelly!” Edelson said. “Get him! Get him Flannelly!”
“Everyone take off your masks!” James said loudly.
“I don’t think that’s Flannelly,” the drunken man said.
“No joke!” James said.
The four men took off their masks, revealing four normal upper-class fellows. Their hair was a little tussled but they were otherwise just normal-looking men.
“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” James said, still pointing his pistol at them.
“That’s not Flannelly,” the drunken man said.
“You think!?!” Edelson yelled at him. “We’re being robbed! Don’t aggravate them!”
James lowered his pistol. All of the men had raised their hands and looked his still-masked face.
“Who?” Edelson said. “Who are you people? What do you want?”
“Are you aware that you could be endangering all these people?” Johnson said.
“It’s either you or the person you’re buying from, but there is something not right with these bottles.”
“Edelson, they want the book!” the drunken man said.
“What?” Edelson said. “Uncle was a quack. They’re not here for the book. They’re the mob. Mafia. Shut up. Just shut up.”
“It doesn’t matter who we’re with!” James said. “Tell us what you know!”
“What … okay, we do this every month or so when we all have time,” Edelson said. “When we can align our schedules. They’re quite busy between social events and … work and the like. So, my uncle gifted me, when he died, he gave me this book. It’s called De Vermis Mysteriis, which is Latin for Mysteries of the Worm, so it’s not Italian. And so, I decided we would use some of the crazy chants in it for … our evenings together. We’re an esoteric order of m … we could be magicians.”
“We drink and we have hors d’oeuvres. Flannelly was supposed to bring the hot hors d’oeuvres this time. I don’t suppose you brought them. But Flannelly, obviously, sent men with guns? Or …”
“As you can tell, I’m not Flannelly.”
“Yes, I understand that. Yes.”
“My people don’t want to hurt you.”
“I don’t think he’s crazy lying,” Johnson said.
“I’m not crazy,” Edelson said.
“I think he’s got a book; he doesn’t know what’s going on,” Miss Edington said through the curtain.
“Who’s that!?!” Edelson said.
“Wait!” the man who had been wearing the lizard mask said. “Is it a girl? Have they got girls?”
“Oh my God!” Edelson said to him. “Donalds, shut up! Or we’re going to all get killed, okay?”
“Girls?” Donalds said.
“No one’s killing anybody unless we have to,” James said.
“See!” Edelson said. “See, Donalds? Just … zip it. Zip it!”
“Girl,” Donalds said, his voice slurred.
“Donalds,” Edelson said, putting his head in his hands. “Jesus Christ, Donalds. Please just shut up.”
He looked at the men with guns.
“It’s just a lark,” he said. “We just have fun. And we get together to cast ‘spells.’ To cast ‘spells.’ Ooo. And …”
“But you got this special wine from the Italian Mob, you said,” Johnson said.
“Yes, from the same dealer that gets me all my wine, “ Edelson said. “Yes.”
“And who is that?” James said.
“It’s … uh … I don’t know his name. I met him at one point and then … it’s the regular guy I get my wine from, okay? It’s prohibition. You can’t just go to the corner shop and buy some wine. So, the Italians will sell wine to me.”
“We’re not exactly law-abiding citizens either!” James said.
“Well, that’s fine. It’s as … it’s a … Fuscuti. He’s just … he can get me wine. Okay? Luigi. Luigi Fuscuti. He can get me wine. I don’t know if … he said he had special ‘magic’ wine. I said ‘This will be perfect for the ceremony.’ Supposed to throw wine. We throw the special wine.”
“You don’t believe in this.”
“No. It’s just an old book with weird Latin written in it so I thought it would be fun. We’ve been doing this for a few months now. You think it’s real?”
“Yes,” Miss Edington said from the next room.
“I don’t think anything,” James said.
“Who is this lady behind the curtain!?!” Edelson said. “That’s really strange! Okay? And what … okay …”
“You have no need to know.”
“… you might shoot me but what have you done with Flannelly? Is he dead?”
“I can assure you. He’s fine.”
“It’s just a lark. We’re having a lark. I wrote down some of the Latin from the book, we all learn it, then we all just chant it, we bust these bottles, and then we’re going to go upstairs for hors d’oeuvres and for more wine. There’s … and … yeah. That’s all there is to this.”
“Can you give me any more contact information that you know about this guy?”
“I probably shouldn’t because they’ll probably be very upset.”
James pointed the revolver at him.
“Okay, then I can tell you that he is in the West End but I don’t meet the guy there anymore.”
He told them he’d met the man, initially at a 71 Waldo Street at a warehouse or factory.
“If you’re police, I would prefer you don’t tell them I said anything about this address,” he said. “If you’re not, if you’re another mob, then I would still prefer you don’t them that I said anything about this address. It’s where I initially went to start getting wine and now they deliver it to me. They deliver me wine and we made a special deal that they would bring certain bottles to my friends for the ceremonies and this time he had special magic wine and … I don’t know. They’re just mobsters. They’re just selling wine because we have money.”
“Well, you can keep buying your wine …” Miss Edington said from behind the curtain.
“Oh my God,” Edelson said, startled. “Would you please come out of there?”
“No, I will not. You can keep buying your wine, but you’ve got to stop these rituals.”
“Fine. We won’t do the rituals anymore.”
“Maybe crossword puzzles or something.”
“That would be better.”
“Is that okay with you guys?”
“That would be better,” James said.
“If there’s girls, I don’t care what we do,” Donalds said, his voice slurring.
“God damn it Donalds,” Edelson said.
“Because you don’t know what you’re getting into,” Miss Edington said from behind the curtain.
Edelson looked at James’ gun and then at Johnson’s gun.
“Okay, we won’t do rituals anymore,” he said.
“The whole reason we’re here is for your safety,” Johnson said.
“Okay,” Edelson said. “Thank you?”
“I think we should leave now,” Miss Edington said.
“Okay,” Johnson said.
James tucked his pistol into his belt under the robes.
“And …” Miss Edington called. “And … you never saw us.”
“You never saw us, we never saw you,” James said.
“Okay,” Edelson said. “Okay. Sure.”
“Are they gonna tie us up now?” Donalds said, still swaying, but staring at the curtain.
“Donalds!” Edelson said. “God damn it!”
They heard Miss Edington’s heels click on the pavement as she headed for the basement stairs. Johnson looked at James, who picked up the bottle and slipped out between the curtains. Then he slowly backed out, watching all of them, his pistol still pointing at them. The men didn’t move or make eye contact except for Donalds, who drunkenly watched him leave.
“Okay, they’re gone,” Johnson heard him say after the blanket fell back into place.
“Donalds!” Edelson’s voice came. “Shut up!”
They fled the basement and the house, James leaving the mask and robe behind. He headed for the trunk of Flannelly’s automobile to let the man out but Virgil Thomas got out of the Packard as he approached it.
“Just unlock it,” the negro said. “Don’t let him out.”
Then he quickly hoofed it back to the Packard and started the engine. Johnson went to the Packard for Flannelly’s hors d’oeuvres, ran back to the house, and left them in the dining room. He got back in time to see James unlocking the trunk before the two of them got into the white Packard and they drove away.
James gave the bottle of strange wine and the letter to Miss Edington.
They returned to Miss Edington’s house for dinner. They all sat in dining room as Miss Edington looked through the book. It seemed to discuss the Arab world and things supernatural there. She thought there were some spells in the book as well. She asked if she could hold onto it and not one minded. She put the strange bottle of wine on a shelf as a novelty.
Joell Johnson had two servings of gumbo, which was very good. There were dinner rolls and the three had a pleasant evening together. There was chocolate cake for dessert once again.