Circle of Friends Part 1 - The Thing in the Bottle
CoC 1-6e Jazz Age
Monday, March 27, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “Circle of Friends” by Paul McConnell from Minions Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Ben Abbott, Katelyn Hogan, and Ambralyn Tucker.)
Joell Johnson returned to Swan Point Cemetery a few days after the ruckus at the North Star Amusement Arcade and Pleasure Pier had quieted down. After some extensive searching not far from where men with heavy machinery and a dump truck were filling in a sinkhole, he found his jacket up in a tree. He climbed up and retrieved the jacket, which didn’t look much the worse for wear. He was delighted at finding it.
* * *
A week or so after the raid on the carnival, Virgil Thomas came up from the basement of Suzanna Edington’s house. He looked worried.
“Uh … Miss Suzanna?” he said.
“Oh God,” she said.
“Uh … there’s a little hole in the wall … just big enough for somebody to crawl into.”
“I figured that much.”
“Did anybody come through?”
“Let me know when they want to see me.”
“I’ll do that.”
It was that very night around midnight when Virgil Thomas woke Miss Edington up and told her somebody was in the basement who wanted to talk to both of them. She went down with him but didn’t see anyone there. He pointed to the hole, which was too dark to see into.
At least they’re courteous, she thought.
“Gabriel sent me,” a thick, raspy voice with a British accent gurgled from within the hole.
“Oh yeah?” she said.
“He wanted to know if you wanted to know … a spell! It would bring us to you if you were in need. Well, not really. Would you like to learn a spell?”
“At what cost?”
“Oh, none! Although you’re welcome to join us down here if you wish, he says. You can live forever. And the food! Oh! Oh, it’s … the food is so good.”
He made gurgling pleasurable noises that were not pleasant to actually hear.
“Oh, I’m sure,” she said. “But I think I’ll stay here.”
“That’s … he simply sent me to see if you want to learn this,” the voice said.
“Why not?” she replied.
For the next week, she met with the ghoul at midnight every night as he tried to teach her the spell. She learned his name was Clancy Bottom but never saw him, probably something as much to her benefit as anything. Virgil Thomas came down to the basement for an hour or two every night with the woman but had no interest in learning any of the “heathen hoojoo” as he put it.
By the end of the week, she understood how to cast a spell that would contact a ghoul and call it to her. The spell would take 30 seconds to a minute to cast and would cost her essence, according to Clancy Bottom. He warned her it would summon one or more of his kind and suggested she have something to feed them when they came. Something dead and rotten would be the best. He noted it didn’t have to be a person, though that would be better.
“Dead babies are the best,” he told her.
He said even a rotten animal would be sufficient, telling her they wouldn’t owe her anything but might be willing to aid her though she would have to negotiate for their help. He told her it was best to cast the spell alone or with a small, unthreatening group. He also noted ghouls could be found wherever there were large concentrations of humans but near a graveyard or crypt was best, especially one more than a century old. Moonlit nights were the best time to cast the spell.
* * *
A week or so following the raid on the carnival, Milo James was doing laundry in the basement of his small apartment building. There were three small electric clothes washers there for the use of the tenants. Each would agitate and wash the clothing. When it was done, the user could use the ringer on the side to wring out their clothes before hanging on them on clothes lines strung across the basement or possibly return to their own rooms to hang them up to dry.
He noticed a hole in the wall, a small hole about two and a half feet across, that he’d never seen before.
“Pst,” someone said from within it.
James looked at the hole. He walked over to it.
“Do you recognize my voice?” a raspy, whispery, terrible voice said.
“Yes!” James said. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I’m here to fulfill our contract.”
“Yeah, you never really said too much in detail about that.”
“Oh, it was … that’s fine. It’s fine. Do you want to learn a spell that will allow you to contact us whenever you wish?”
“To contact you?”
“Yes. You can call us─”
“And I would want to do that …?”
“─call my people. In case you’re in need. Perhaps information. We know many things. Many secrets. You seemed really comfortable underground too. Maybe … maybe you just want to come back with me.”
“That’s your choice though. That’s your choice.”
James thought about it for some time. Gabriel remained mercifully cloaked in the shadows of the tiny hole.
“So, you could teach me how to get in touch with you─” James said.
“Yes!” Gabriel hissed.
“─if I needed help.”
“With my kind, yes.”
“Yes, your kind.”
James remembered how messed up he’d gotten dealing with the dark carnival and decided he might need their help again someday. He agreed to learn the spell. Gabriel told him to come back the next night just after dark.
James returned that next evening just after suppertime and another voice came from the hole, that of Clancy Bottom. The ghoul never left the darkness of the horrible little hole, James was thankful for. But he was able to talk to the man and teach him the strange, guttural spell. It took James two weeks to learn it. Clancy gave him the same warnings as he had given Miss Edington, as well as invited the man to join the ghouls under Providence.
* * *
It was not long after she had learned the spell when a knock came at Miss Edington’s door. Virgil Thomas answered it and, where she sat reading a book in the library, she heard some talking from the foyer. He came into the room a minute or so later.
“Miss Suzanna, there’s a gentleman here,” he said. “Says, uh, he needs to talk to you.”
“Um,” she said.
“He’s a Mr. Bee, says his name is.”
She gave him a funny look and put down her book. They returned to the foyer together and she saw the man was a good-looking young man with dark hair.
“May I help you, sir?” she asked.
“Ah, Miss Edington!” he said with a smile.
He had a very distinct Providence accent.
“Nice to meet you finally!” he said. “Yes, I need a word.”
“May I ask who you are?” she asked.
“My name is Alan Bee,” he said with a smile. “Mr. Bee. You can call me Mr. Bee.”
He laughed as if he’d just told a joke.
“Who do you work for?” she asked.
“Oh oh oh!” he said. “Yes, of course. That’s very important. My employers are … they wish to remain anonymous. But you do know them! If I could just have a few moments of your time, I would love to talk to you about something that’s quite important.”
Miss Edington looked at Virgil Thomas, raising her eyebrows before looking back at Mr. Bee to indicate he should keep an eye on the man. He nodded back to her almost imperceptibly.
She led Mr. Bee into the parlor and he looked around the room, impressed.
“I have a warning for you,” he said.
“Isn’t that funny!” he said. “That’s so funny! Oh my goodness. It’s good to be back in Providence.”
She looked at him for a moment.
“Sir, what is this warning?” she finally said.
“Well, you’ve been smart enough to keep your mouth shut about my … about my employers,” he said. “But I warn you, if you reveal anything … you’ll be dealt with. And that is a threat. Not from me but from them.”
She glared at him.
Do you want to die in this house? she thought.
“Also, if you’d like to come work for them, you have a chance to make money,” he went on. “But you have a chance to learn some amazing things as well.”
He grinned again.
“Also … you’re Miss Edington,” he said. “Let’s see. That’s right! They also would like back their electric gun.”
Her eyes went wide.
“I don’t know how to use it anyway,” she said as casually as she could.
She didn’t really care. She had never figured out how to make the thing work, though she had not really tried. To her, it was just an iconic thing, a novelty.
How does he look human? she thought before remembering that men worked with the creatures of Brown Mountain, collaborating with them against their own kind. I should murder him right on the spot. I should.
She asked Virgil Thomas to wait there while she went to get the electric gun and soon returned with it. She held it out and he held out his hand. She dropped it into his hand and he pocketed it with a smile.
“Very wise!” he said. “Very wise! Are you sure you wouldn’t like to work for them? They can make you a great offer. You can learn some amazing things from them.”
“I’m sure I can,” she said dryly.
“That’s why I joined up.”
“All right. Get out of my house, please.”
“Then I got this going and this.”
He patted his arms and grunted.
“Yeah!” he said.
“Virgil, will you show this man out?” she said.
“Yes miss,” Virgil Thomas said, hand in his jacket pocket.
“Oh! That’s okay!” Mr. Bee said.
He got up.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “As long as you keep your mouth shut about them …”
“Yes yes,” Miss Edington said.
“… you’re not worth their time,” the man finished. “Neither are your parents … or your plantation near Atlanta.”
He strode out of the room followed closely by Virgil Thomas. Miss Edington sat in the parlor and brooded about what had just happened, very angry.
* * *
Joell Johnson was still having severe insomnia and suffering from claustrophobia as well, since the terrible things that happened at the carnival and under it. He was also still having trouble every time he dealt with Crazy Jeff. Jeff Straczynski hounded the man every time he saw him and, since he lived in the same flophouse, it was pretty often.
* * *
On Saturday, June 23, 1928, a couple of weeks after Mr. Bee had come to her door, there was another knock at Miss Edington’s house. Virgil Thomas answered and soon came to the library where Miss Edington was enjoying a cold drink and a book.
“There’s a gentleman here,” the man said. “Says he’s a pharmacist and read about you in the paper.”
Confused, she went to the foyer where she found a stern but fragile-looking old man, probably in his 60s, wearing an inexpensive suit. He carried a small package wrapped up in brown paper. She approached him somewhat suspiciously.
“Are you Miss, uh, Miss Edington?” the old man asked.
“Yes sir,” she said.
“You helped Mr. Rockefeller find them missing children down in North Carolina?”
“Oh! That was a while ago. Yes, I was.”
“I remember it because they ran it in the paper here. I found something strange that you might be interested in.”
“Well, c’mon in.”
“Virgil, will you make us some tea?”
“Yes Miss,” Virgil Thomas said.
Miss Edington led the man into the parlor. He put his parcel down on the floor as he sat down.
“I’m a pharmacist,” he said. “I have a hell of a thing for you. As you’re aware, I assume, a lady of your station, red wine is still available over the counter at some drug stores as medicine to prevent heart failure. I own such a store at the other side of town. The long and short of the matter is that I ‘prescribed’ myself a bottle last night, only to come across the damndest thing. I left the uncorked bottle breathing in the lounge whilst I took a short bath. Only later, by the light of the fire, I met with a shock to find this inside.”
He picked up the parcel and pulled the string, unwrapping it. He stood up and held it by the light of the front window. Through it, she could see what looked like some kind of species of octopus floating inside: lifeless, it’s tentacles swaying peacefully in the rusty claret.
“Oh,” she said. “Was that in there when you had it the first time?”
“Uh … I would assume so,” he replied. “I didn’t notice but it’s not like you look.”
They looked at the bottle a moment.
“Taken aback, I allowed the bottle to fall between my soapy fingers to the floor where it would most certainly have smashed had it not landed on the hearth rug,” he went on with his story. “One reads of our oriental cousins being open to most any practice that might impress the flavor of their food and beverages, but I’ve heard of nothing,” he tapped gently on the wine bottle, “quite like this.”
She looked at the bottle confusedly.
“What does that have to do with Brown Mountain?” she said.
“Well, that Brown Mountain story sounded very strange,” the man said. “Peculiar. There was some talk about flying things shot down or something. I’m not sure of the particulars. It was almost a year ago. But I recognized your name and thought you might have an interest in this obviously very expensive bottle of wine. Very expensive obviously.”
She thought he was trying to sell the bottle to her as he put it down on the side table.
“So, what is it that you need from me, sir?” she asked. “Mr. …?”
“Flannery!” he said. “Flannery! George Flannery.”
“Well, uh …”
Having heard of putting things in wine, Miss Edington proceeded to enlighten Flannery with her knowledge of how many unsavory things were pickled with wine by the Chinese. They were rumored to bottle with their spirits anything from snakes and small animals to human intestine. It was rarely done to enhance the flavor, however, but rather to distill an essence of life that was believed to benefit the consumer. Dr. Flannery scoffed at and was dismissive of such esotericism in the matter, however.
“An overactive imagination, miss, is like an open wound,” he said. “Open to suggestion and open to bacteria. And as you should well know, a bloodless wound will never heal.”
He told her he thought his supplier of wine accidently delivered it to him. He seemed only interested in the value of the wine and was hoping she might be interested in buying some of it. He said he had five more bottles like it in the shop, each of them with something within.
“Sorry I cannot be of more help to you Mr. Flannery,” she said.
“It just struck me as very strange,” he said. “I haven’t tasted it, of course.”
“It is very strange. But as I told you, these things happen, and maybe it was just passed through.”
“Possibly. I suppose.”
“You could take it to one of those little shops downtown. See if the orients like it.”
“Well, you seem like a person who helps other people out and who is interested in the unusual, which is why I thought of your name. But if you’re not interested, I understand.”
He took his bottle of wine and saw himself out as Virgil arrived with a tray for tea.
* * *
Milo James had kept in touch with Miss Edington over the weeks since the events at the North Star Amusement Arcade and Pleasure Pier. In fact, he had an appointment to have lunch with the woman that very day and was approaching the house as the little pharmacist left the place, wrapping up what appeared to be a bottle of wine. The older man looked perplexed. James passed him by without a word, wanting to ask the man about the bottle but feeling it would be rude. The other man didn’t really look at him as he tried to get the wine bottle back in the paper.
He knocked at the door and Virgil Thomas answered it.
“Hello Virgil,” James said.
“Hello Mr. James,” Virgil Thomas replied.
“Hey … me and Miss Suzanna have plans.”
“Yes sir. Yes. I know. Miss Suzanna’s in the parlor. Lunch will be ready in a half hour.”
He gestured towards one of the archways that led off the foyer and James entered, finding Miss Edington there sitting in one of the stuffed chairs, a tray with a teapot, two cups, creamer, and sugar bowl all ready. Miss Edington sipped from one of the cups. The other stood empty.
“Oh, Mr. James!” she said.
“Thank you,” James said.
James sat down.
“Well, I did have Virgil fix this tea for the man that left my house, but you can have it now,” Miss Edington said.
“Oh, thank you,” James said. “I appreciate that.”
She poured his tea and he sipped at it.
“If you don’t mind me asking, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the man that left before,” James said. “Do you know him?”
“Not personally,” Miss Edington said. “But he did come by with a strange bottle of wine that had a little creature in it. Had a little octopus, it looked like.”
Miss Edington explained about the traditions and habits of the Orient and why they put things, sometimes, in their wine.
“He came by, thought I would be interested in buying it, but I wasn’t,” she went on. “Poor man.”
“Okay,” James said.
“He didn’t know what to do with it because he bought a bottle of wine, didn’t expect that in it.”
“Did he … most likely it didn’t come in it already, did it?”
“I also wanted to ask you if you’ve been touch with the ghouls.”
“Oh yes. Recently.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Well, I’ve been in touch as well.”
“They’ve made a little hole in my basement I’m not really happy about, but I decided not to clog it up because I don’t know what that would do.”
“They’ve made a hole in our laundry room! I hope no rats come in. Well, I guess I could feed ‘em that.”
They chatted over tea, talking about the spells they had learned from the terrible creatures. Then they had gumbo for lunch in the dining room. They talked more about the ghouls and the holes in their respective residences. Miss Edington also told him about Mr. Bee and his strange threat. She told him about the electric gun and that she didn’t know how it worked, but that it shot lightning. But she no longer had what she called the Heart of Zeus.
“Weird people like to come to my house,” she said.
She also mentioned the strange blue stone she’d gotten in Brown Mountain and offered to show the man. When he professed an interest, she brought out the strangely shaped bottle with the blue mineral of some kind unlike anything he’d ever seen before. She said she named it Poseidon’s Current and then proceeded to tell James about the strange occurrences that happened at Brown Mountain the summer before.
She told him about the lost idiot-savant child, finding the strange circle and then the cave where they found strange, hexagonal tunnels. Following the tunnels with the glowing fungus, they stumbled upon winged fungus-like alien things that seemed to have an affinity for lightning. She tried to draw a picture of the aliens, which she called Angels of Yuggoth, and it horrified James. She noted Rockefeller had trusted the things and they had removed his brain from his head and placed it into a cylinder. She related the strange device that allowed him to communicate with them, how they forced the aliens to return the brain, and how they had moved Rockefeller’s servant Felix’s brain from his dead body into a live one.
“Needless to say, I’m not going back to Brown Mountain,” Miss Edington said.
“I can see why,” James replied.
“It was a nice vacation until that all started. And then, uh, and then, uh, we left. We found the idiot-savant.”
She told the man about the portals they found, describing them as circles with symbols within. She noted the symbols didn’t make sense and weren’t in English or Latin. Once touched, the hand went right through. She told of how a woman with them put her head in one and there was vacuum on the other side. She was badly injured by that, her eyes bleeding. She noted she didn’t look for herself. She guessed it led to a place where there was complete vacuum.
Virgil Thomas exited the dining room, going into the kitchen, taking the dinner dishes.
She noted they found a whole room filled with portals and how she put her hand into the portals before putting her head through, learning they led to different sides of the mountain. She seemed to get a little nervous and panicked as she told the story.
“I have your cake,” Virgil Thomas said, returning, putting a piece of chocolate layer cake in front of each of them.
He also had a pitcher of milk for them and glasses.
“Thank you!” James said.
“Thank you, Virgil,” Miss Edington said.
He went back through the door to the kitchen.
They ate the cake and Virgil Thomas brought coffee after that. Miss Edington lit a cigarette and took a long drag as they drank the warm beverage.
She continued her story, telling of finding a chalked circle and a child’s shoe. She told her she tested it but it didn’t go outside and she went through to find herself in a strange building with windows showing frost on the ground and terribly bright and untwinkling stars. She made her way through the strange place, her simple steps flinging her across the room. She described it as a little fun but quite strange.
She told about finding the child and his wanting to know her name. Refusing to tell him, she said she’d grabbed him and the boy did not like that at all. She said he’d fought her tooth and nail, even getting sick all over her. She told him of running and their retreat back to Brown Mountain Beach. Then the things had followed them but been fired upon by all the searchers at the Beach, one of them getting shot down and the rest retreating.
She repeated one of their collaborators, Mr. Bee, had come to retrieve the doorknob-looking weapon she’d recovered from the whole ordeal.
It was all a bit much for Milo James.
“I only tell you because you won’t think I’m crazy, I’m sure,” she said. “Well, then again, I think I’m a little crazy for saying these things.”
“Well, some things … I haven’t seen, but … I wouldn’t be surprised if things like that did, in fact, exist,” he said.
“Just don’t make Brown Mountain one of your spots to visit.”
“I will make a note of that.”
“Don’t go there. It’d down in North Carolina.”
“You think this fellow brought this bottle have anything to do like that?” Virgil Thomas asked, clearing away the dessert dishes.
“Well, it certainly was strange,” Miss Edington said.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have just sent him away.”
“I suppose. What’d he say his name was again? Flannery. Mr. Flannery. I don’t remember his first name.”
“George Flannery. Said he had a pharmacy across town.”
“Maybe we ought to go visit.”
“Probably in the telephone directory. I could look him up.”
“Would you for me?”
He found Flannery’s Pharmacy fairly quickly. It was on Peck Street, Downtown across the Providence River.
“I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with a bottle of wine that has an octopus in it,” Miss Edington said. “But the octopus certainly did strike me as strange.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Virgil Thomas said.
They all got into Miss Edington’s Packard and headed across town.
* * *
Joell Johnson was walking across town from the West End to Flannery’s Pharmacy on Peck Street. He knew Flannery and had actually been frequenting his shop since it had opened six months before. He had been saving his money and decided to have a treat that day as his week had been very productive with the unions and the men who did the actual work that kept the American economy moving. He’d found his favorite coat as well. So, he was going to go to Flannery’s Pharmacy for a Coke float, which he sometimes did when he’d had a particularly good week or month.
Things are looking up, he thought as he walked. Maybe all the bad things in the world are just going to leave me be. I’ll escape it all and this Coke float is the start of my new life.
He was walking down Westminster Street, having just reached Orange Street to turn south when he spotted Dr. Flannery ahead, coming his direction, a package in his hand. He smiled as he’d gotten to know the man during his visits to the pharmacy. Dr. Flannery had told the man if he needed “medicinal wine,” he could get it for him. They’d even chatted and had some interesting conversations, the pharmacist understanding the plight of the working man. He was a fair man and paid the high school students whom he hired as soda jerks a decent wage, though he often quipped with Johnson not to unionize them.
It looked like Dr. Flannery had been walking quite a bit and was out of breath. Dr. Flannery was a bit of a skinflint, never spending money if he didn’t have to and that included getting a taxicab or even paying for the trolley.
Johnson called to him as he approached.
“Flannery,” he said. “I was just heading over.”
“Joell!” the older man replied. “Well the shop’s closed right now. Bobby’s got the day off and I had some business.”
He hefted the small package.
“But … it didn’t turn out like I’d hoped,” he said.
“Oh really?” Johnson said.
“That’s right. Well, then you can help me drink this! I’m going to just drink it then.”
“Well, I was in the mood for a Coke─”
“You know anything about wine?”
“─but … not much. I don’t really have the mercantile resources to buy myself wine.”
“I know what you’re talking about.”
“Tell you what. Tell you what. C’mon. C’mon.”
“I’ll buy you a sandwich. C’mon.”
Dr. Flannery took him to a diner on Hay Street a block or so away from his pharmacy. Johnson knew the cheap little place never had much business and the proprietor didn’t care if people brought their own drinks in. Johnson also had his suspicions the place might have been a speakeasy.
“Bill!” Dr. Flannery called as he entered. “Get us two wine glasses!”
He grinned and they found a booth in the back. Bill brought them two tumblers and got their orders for sandwiches and fried potatoes.
The only other person in the place was a single man sitting at the counter with a teapot and creamer. Occasionally, the man would pour a white, clear liquid from the creamer into his glass and just drink it down.
Dr. Flannery proceeded to tell Johnson his whole story about prescribing wine to himself and then letting it breathe before noticing the octopus within. He showed him the bottle with the strange thing. Johnson picked up the bottle and looked at it. He knew of the Oriental penchant for putting things in their wine. He noticed that though the cork had been jammed back into the neck of the bottle, the thing inside had reacted badly to the oxidation.
“Flannery, who are you buying this from?” he asked.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” Dr. Flannery said, pulling the cork from the bottle and pouring them both some of the wine. “Look, you know I’ve only been around for six months with that store. We’re going okay.”
“Good on you!”
Johnson knew the place was very busy and he was probably doing very well.
“I’d only been in business for about three months when … one lazy Monday afternoon, two smartly dressed men entered and presented me with a seemingly lucrative deal where I could come by full cases of good red wine at truly knockdown prices,” Dr. Flannery said, pontificating. “I swear by all that is holy, I had no idea accepting this attractive offer would mean standing outside the law! Unbeknownst to me, my newfound associates were black marketeers. Yesterday, their courier dropped a clanger and delivered me what I would assume is a valuable wine. Now, I went to find a buyer just before lunch. This morning, I should say, to be correct. And she turned me down. Why? I would assume that Miss Edington knew the value of a good wine and that she knew the strangeness when she saw it, having been to Brown Mountain. I read about in the local tabloid, that she had been there and strange things had happened. But no! She professed to be uninterested in this probably very valuable beverage. Now, not having been able to contact Mr. Rockefeller; I checked with him first. Nobody’s home. Rich people.”
Johnson raised his glass.
“Rich people,” he muttered.
“Rich people,” Dr. Flannery replied. “I decided I would try to sell it. There are five more in a case in my shop. But as she professed no interest, I assume that none would.”
“Flannery,” Johnson said.
“As it just so happens, I know Miss Edington.”
“Well, as strange as it is …”
Dr. Flannery looked him up and down from his ragged coat and clothing to the cheap hat atop his head.
“… if you brought this to Miss Edington and she was perturbed by it enough not to get interested - she’s bought into and gotten into some weird stuff - and if she’s nervous about this, I don’t think you should even be drinking it,” Johnson said.
“Huh,” Dr. Flannery replied.
“Are you going to drink it?”
“Well, I don’t normally drink octopus juice or wine, but …”
“Well, the smell is good.”
Johnson noticed that, in the clear tumbler, the wine had a paler intensity out of the bottle, with striking clarity. He knew very little about wine, however.
“But it’s got to be valuable,” Dr. Flannery said.
“Possibly,” Johnson said. “If you knew your source better, I’d say it’s okay. But you got this from someone you didn’t really know. You said yourself it might be a black market connection.”
“And it’s clearly not something that you typically see in a wine shelf. I’m not going to choose your actions for you, but I would suggest you look into this and the other crates you have before we start guzzling this down.”
“Could you do that?”
“I will get you a free Coke float for it.”
“I’d do a lot of things for a free Coke float. That’s one of them I can do. I’ll finish my sandwich and we’ll head over there.”
Dr. Flannery put the cork back into the bottle, pushing the glass aside. The two of them had their lunch, Johnson having a toasted ham and Swiss cheese sandwich, the meal coming with fried potatoes and a pickle. Then they headed over for the pharmacy once the bottle was wrapped back up.
* * *
Virgil Thomas drove Miss Edington’s white Packard downtown while she and Milo James sat in the back seat. Miss Edington smoked a cigarette in a long filter. The windows of the automobile were open, letting in the warm June breeze. James was pleasantly surprised at how clean the interior of the car was after how dirty it had been when they had gone beneath the carnival a month before. He felt a little guilty at the mess he’d made.
They saw Joell Johnson walking down the street with Dr. Flannery.
“Joell!” James called out the window.
Miss Edington told Virgil Thomas to park the Packard. He pulled the automobile into a parking space on Weybosset Street right next to the men. They approached the automobile.
“It’s curious to see you here,” James said.
“I almost expected to see Miss Edington’s car,” Johnson said. “But it is a surprise to see you.”
“It is my car,” Miss Edington said.
“As it is you,” James said. “Who is this gentleman? If you don’t mind.”
“Suzanna knows,” Johnson said. “He’s the pharmacist who had the wine bottle.”
“Yeah,” Miss Edington said.
“I still do!” Dr. Flannery said.
“I wanted to ask you some questions about that when I’d thought about it a little more.”
“Oh. Oh. Well, most of the wine is still here.”
“You said you had a whole case of this?”
“Yes. There’s five more.”
“Could you show me these?”
“Are … are you interested in purchasing them?”
“Maybe. I want to know about it more.”
“You know her right?” Dr. Flannery said to Johnson.
“Hello Joell,” she said to the man. “It’s nice to see you. I see you found your jacket! I’m really sorry about that. I was about to buy you a new one.”
“Well, everything was getting heated at the end,” Johnson said. “Everyone ran at their own time.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“You could still buy him a new one if you wanted,” Virgil Thomas said.
“You’re looking better,” James said to Johnson.
“It’s been a good recovery time,” Johnson said. “Flannery and I were just on our way to examine the other bottles as well.”
“Well, that’s perfect,” Miss Edington said. “As long as I’m invited. May I come see?”
“Of course!” Dr. Flannery said. “Of course. It’s just around the corner here.”
They exited the motorcar and walked to the pharmacy on Peck Street. It had a wide window in the front and the door stood close to another shop on the right. The entire street was connected buildings. Dr. Flannery took out his ring of keys, jingling them somewhat, and forced one after another into the lock, unsure of which was the correct one. As he finally found the one that rattled open the door, Miss Edington thought she saw someone flinch in the shadows inside the pharmacy. She moved to the wide front window and saw, in the darkness of the closed store, someone duck behind one of the aisles.
“Mr. Flannery, do you have anybody staying in here?” she said.
“No,” the man replied. “Bobby’s got the afternoon off. Oh, there we go.”
He got the door unlocked as Miss Edington made a strange noise in the back of her throat. He pushed the door open, bells jingling above.
“I saw somebody in there,” she quickly said. “Are you sure you don’t have anybody staying here, watching?”
“There shouldn’t be anyone in here, no,” Dr. Flannery said.
“I’d be aware …” she said.
She noticed Virgil Thomas had his hand in his jacket pocket.
“I know I saw somebody so … hopefully there’s no burglar,” she said. “I’d be prepared for that.”
Mr. Flannery looked into the darkened shop nervously. She pushed by him and rushed in, followed by Johnson.
“Miss Suzanna?” James said.
He followed. Virgil Thomas had been taken off guard by the woman rushing into the place and followed behind them all as quickly as possible. Dr. Flannery loitered in the doorway, looking in warily.