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.
â€œGood evening, sir,â€ James said. â€œWe have a problem.â€
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.
â€œWhat?â€ Flannelly wailed. â€œWho are you people? What are you doing?â€
â€œIâ€™m not here to hurt you any,â€ Johnson said. â€œI just want to make that clear.â€
â€œThen go away!â€
â€œWell, I canâ€™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 menâ”€â€
â€œWha? I donâ€™t know anything about any wine!â€
â€œWe have reason to believe you know more than youâ€™re telling us,â€ James said.
â€œThen why did armed men show up both at his place to get it back and at your place to deliver some?â€ Johnson asked.
Flannelly was making terrified noises in his throat.
â€œThey were just â€¦ it was â€¦ uh â€¦ uh â€¦ it was â€¦ uh â€¦ uh â€¦ I â€¦â€ he stuttered. â€œIt was â€¦ uh â€¦ itâ€™s not â€¦ itâ€™s just â€¦ itâ€™s just in fun. Itâ€™s all just in fun. Everythingâ€™s just in fun.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s with the octopus?â€ 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.
â€œI â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ why â€¦ itâ€™s just in good fun,â€ Flannelly went on. â€œItâ€™s just a ceremony in the occult. It doesnâ€™t mean anything. We just get together and we have â€¦ we drink some wine and then we chant. We â€¦ we jump around â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ itâ€™s all â€¦ itâ€™s all a â€¦ itâ€™s all a â€¦ itâ€™s all Edelson. Edelson. Edelson started this. Itâ€™s a club. Itâ€™s a club.â€
â€œIs it a club or a cult?â€ 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.
â€œNice kid,â€ she said. â€œIn with the occult.â€
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.
â€œWhatâ€™s the thing in the bottle?â€ Johnson asked.
â€œThat?â€ Flannelly said with a little laugh. â€œThat â€¦ I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s just a thing we do. Itâ€™s part of the â€¦ the silly little â€¦ you know. The thing that we do. We â€¦ we â€¦â€
Miss Edington found that the package had a wine bottle with one of the octopi within.
â€œWe wanted something strange,â€ Flannelly was still talking. â€œAnd-and Edelson said we get these strange things and we have a little ritual. And we do it every â€¦ okay, itâ€™s not really when â€˜the stars are rightâ€™ like he was talking about but itâ€™s when we can make our schedules match. Then we have some bottles of wine and thenâ”€â€
â€œSo what do you have to say about this?â€ 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.
â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ we wear those,â€ he replied. â€œOh â€¦ yeah, we wear those. We just wear â€˜em. Itâ€™s just a thing.â€
â€œUh-huh,â€ James said.
â€œItâ€™s just a thing. We dance around â€¦â€
â€œIn your cult worship?â€
â€œYeah. Itâ€™s â€¦ Edelson says it â€¦ itâ€™s the thing to do. Itâ€™s just â€¦ you just â€¦ itâ€™s just a reason for us to get together and drink.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Johnson said. â€œI believe itâ€™s a fun thing you do. But that doesnâ€™t explain why armed men showed up to my friendâ€™s place of business to get one of these bottles back from him.â€
â€œWell, we donâ€™t buy the wine from â€¦ legal sources,â€ Flannelly said. â€œI mean â€¦ Fourteenth Amendment and all that idiocy. Itâ€™s Prohibition â€¦ Edelson has some connections and he has us each delivered a bottle of special wine which then we sing and we dance and weâ€™re supposed to â€¦ I donâ€™t know. I wrote it down. Weâ€™re supposed to break the bottles and then â€¦ the old ones appear.â€
He rolled his eyes.
â€œAnd then we finish a couple more bottles of wine and we talk about how great a time we had, okay?â€ he went on. â€œThatâ€™s-thatâ€™s all there is to it.â€
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 â€¦
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.
â€œItâ€™s just a lark!â€ Flannelly was saying. â€œSomething to do. And my hor dâ€™oeuvres are going to burn if you donâ€™t let me take them out of the oven in a couple minutes.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Johnson said. â€œCan you give up this source that your friend has?â€
â€œWhere he gets the wine from.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Edelson knows. Heâ€™s the one that gets the wine. He said â€˜Some men will bring you the wine. Bring it.â€™ Weâ€™ve been doing the same thing every week. This is the first time itâ€™s had â€¦ this is a weird one. Thereâ€™s these things in the wine this week, which is kind of strange. But, usually itâ€™s just cheap wine, I guess.â€
James and Miss Edington looked at each other.
â€œWe bust it, dance around, say our bit, bust it, and then have more wine,â€ Flannelly went on. â€œGood wine. Because Edelson doesnâ€™t buy bad wine from those people. He gets good wine from â€¦ I donâ€™t know who, but itâ€™s really good wine. I wish I could get some of that kind of wine. That would be reallyâ”€â€
â€œWhere is Edelson right now?â€ James asked.
â€œOh, heâ€™s probably at his house,â€ Flannelly said. â€œWe meet at his house. I have a â€¦ what are you doing!?!â€
He had noticed the other two finally, with his open satchel.
â€œDonâ€™t get in my satchel!â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ oh. Thatâ€™s right. Iâ€™m being robbed.â€
He put his hands up.
â€œOh yeah,â€ he said. â€œTwice robbed. Okay.â€
â€œTwice?â€ Miss Edington asked.
â€œThatâ€™s Edelsonâ€™s key,â€ Flannelly said. â€œWell, heâ€™s got a gun to rob me and heâ€™s got a gun to rob me.â€
â€œTo Edelsonâ€™s house?â€ James asked.
â€œYes, Edelsonâ€™s â€¦ thatâ€™s the key to the veranda door.â€
â€œSo, you wonâ€™t mind if we take this?â€
â€œSo, we let ourselves in and we go to the basement. If what?â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t mind if we take this?â€
Flannelly looked at the two pistols pointed at him.
â€œNo, thatâ€™s fine,â€ he said.
â€œOr shall I say borrow this?â€ James said.
â€œNo. Yeah. Take it. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m supposed to say. The Latin.â€
He nodded at the note in Miss Edingtonâ€™s hand.
â€œDo you know what it says?â€ she asked.
â€œUh â€¦ the basics,â€ he said. â€œI mean, I took Latin in high school. So I know a little bit about what it says but I donâ€™t know all the details. Iâ€™m just supposed to recite it in Latin and then â€˜the great old ones appear.â€™ And then weâ€™ll drink some wine and get drunk.â€
â€œSo you donâ€™t believe in this, do you?â€ James said.
The man laughed.
â€œNo!â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s â€¦ this is an excuse for us to get together. Edelson says itâ€™s very â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ I donâ€™t even know how to describe it.â€
â€œI think youâ€™re in over your head, buddy,â€ James said.
â€œWhat are you talking about? This is just â€¦ this is just a reason for us to get together.â€
â€œDid I hear you correctly when you said that this was the first week that there was ever anything in the wine?â€ Johnson said.
â€œYeah,â€ Flannelly said. â€œUsually itâ€™s just some cheap wine. And this week thereâ€™s an octopus. I guess Edelson decided to spend some more money or something. Get something special. I donâ€™t know. These people he gets it from, theyâ€™re real â€¦ theyâ€™re scary. Theyâ€™re scarier, no offense, than you people. I mean â€¦ I just took â€¦ there was five people delivered this today! Thatâ€™s crazy!â€
â€œYeah, that was a bit suspicious,â€ James said.
â€œUsually itâ€™s one creepy, scary giant of a man. Usually Italian.â€
He looked at all of their features.
â€œUsually Italian,â€ he then said again. â€œAnd â€¦ driving a black motorcar. I just thank him. They caught me in the bath today. They usually get it here the day before. I donâ€™t know why it got here so late.â€
He had slowly lowered his hands while talking.
â€œOh,â€ he said, raising them again. â€œSorry.â€
â€œAre we done here?â€ James asked.
The timer dinged.
â€œUh â€¦â€ Flannelly said.
â€œGo tend to them,â€ 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.
â€œYou can have â€¦ those are probably cool enough to eat,â€ he said, gesturing to the tray that had been on the counter before.
â€œOkay, weâ€™re not here to hurt you,â€ James said. â€œWeâ€™re just here to figure out whatâ€™s going on.â€
â€œIn fact, I think our problem might not be with you,â€ Johnson said. â€œBut I think itâ€™s with the source of this wine. Especially the source with these octopi in them.â€
â€œThen you need to go find these guys with the big â€¦ haircuts and the suits and the bulges,â€ Flannelly said.
â€œCan Edelson help us with that?â€
â€œI donâ€™t â€¦ I donâ€™t know. I honestly donâ€™t know.â€
â€œWell, 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 themâ”€â€
â€œBut Edelson pays them. He pays them what they want and then they bring us the wine. And then they go away. Iâ€™m not â€¦ no offense, but Iâ€™ve dealt with some shady characters because I like to keep my liquor cabinet full.â€
He gestured towards the rest of the house.
â€œOh weâ€™ve dealt with shady characters,â€ Johnson said.
â€œAnd so, as long as theyâ€™re paid what they ask, theyâ€™re fine,â€ Flannelly went on. â€œI donâ€™t borrow any money from them. I donâ€™t like gambling, itâ€™s boring, so I donâ€™t have any gambling debts or anything to worry about there. So â€¦â€
â€œI still suggest you trust me on this, but if Edelson can help us with these people, how can we find him?â€
â€œUh â€¦ heâ€™s in the directory. Heâ€™s in the telephone directory.â€
James pocketed the key and his pistol.
â€œDo you all have anything else you need to ask?â€ Johnson said.
â€œNo,â€ James said.
â€œI think weâ€™re good here,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œIf you want, weâ€™re supposed to meet at six,â€ Flannelly said.
â€œOh,â€ Miss Edington said.
He glanced at the clock on the wall.
â€œYou can get in the side door with that key,â€ Flannelly went on. â€œItâ€™s a side door. Thereâ€™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.â€
Johnson realized the breaking of glasses of wine sounded legitimate. It seemed like something from a real ceremony heâ€™d heard or read about. It felt there was more to it than Flannelly obviously did.
â€œWell, Mr. Flannelly,â€ Johnson said. â€œI would advise you that someone, either Edelson or this group that heâ€™s getting his wine from, is not looking out for your best interests and I would take this a bit more seriously.â€
Flannelly nodded, apparently confused.
â€œI think me and my friends are about ready to go,â€ Johnson went on.
â€œOkay, you can see yourselves out,â€ Flannelly said. â€œI donâ€™t mind.â€
â€œHeâ€™s going to call ahead though. The minute we leave.â€
â€œNo! No! I wouldnâ€™t.â€
â€œNo! I wouldnâ€™t! Iâ”€Iâ”€!
â€œWe all look out for our friends. Itâ€™s okay.â€
â€œWell â€¦ no! I donâ€™t â€¦ I donâ€™t â€¦â€
James headed for the door.
â€œWe leave the key on the dining room table!â€ Flannelly said. â€œWe take a right in the dining room into the pantry and the kitchen. Thereâ€™s a door to the right in the kitchen. We go downstairs to the basement. Thereâ€™s a robe hanging there. You put on the robe.â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t solve it,â€ Johnson said. â€œThe man could have advanced knowledge and if heâ€™s the villain, and he has mythos knowledge and spells â€¦â€
â€œYou just go downstairs and you put the robe on and the mask on and get in the dance,â€ Flannelly kept talking. â€œThatâ€™s all there is to it. Yeah. But you can see yourselves out. Itâ€™s fine. I donâ€™t mind.â€
He looked very nervous.
They found Edelsonâ€™s address in the telephone directory and also in Flannellyâ€™s address book. It was several blocks away on Ray Street on the north side of the Blackstone neighborhood.
â€œYou want to leave someone here with him?â€ Johnson asked. â€œYou want to just go? We want to walk over there with him early?â€
â€œJust go,â€ Flannelly said. â€œYou can just go. I think thatâ€™s a great idea. I usually drive over to Edelsonâ€™s, actually.â€
â€œDo you have anything else to do before you leave?â€
â€œWell, I was going to put these in and take them with me for afterwards, for snacks.â€
James went over to the counter and packed up the hors dâ€™oeuvres. He slid the lid closed.
â€œIs there something wrong?â€ Johnson said. â€œI 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.â€
â€œOkay,â€ James said.
â€œIf thatâ€™s okay with you,â€ Miss Edington said sweetly to Flannelly.
â€œSure,â€ he replied. â€œOkay. Iâ€™ll go.â€
James ate one of the hors dâ€™oeuvres and found it was a croissant wrapped around some cheese and pork. It was pretty good.
â€œAll right, so, how about â€¦ Milo and I drive with him,â€ Johnson said. â€œYou get Virgil and get him to follow along with us.â€
â€œYouâ€™re saying names right now?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œSounds like a plan,â€ James said.
Johnson cursed to himself.
â€œAll right, I got our boy,â€ Johnson said, putting the gun in his pocket but leaving his hand there as well. â€œLetâ€™s go to the car.â€
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.
â€œIâ€™dâ€™ve just tied him up and left him behind,â€ 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.
â€œIt depends on how much theyâ€™ve had to drink,â€ 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.
â€œWhyâ€™d you bring him?â€ Virgil Thomas asked Miss Edington as they all exited the motorcars.
He pulled his hat down over his face.
â€œWell, Virgil, if it would make you feel more comfortable, you can stay,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œIâ€™d be more comfortable if he was tied up in the trunk of his car,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œI mean â€¦ we donâ€™t really need him now, do we?â€
â€œNo, we donâ€™t.â€
Virgil Thomas walked over to the Cadillac and opened the trunk on the back of the vehicle. Then he turned to Flannelly.
â€œBoy, come over here,â€ he said. â€œGive me that satchel. Get in the trunk.â€
â€œBut thatâ€™sâ”€â€ Flannelly said.
â€œJust do it.â€
Flannelly climbed into the trunk and Virgil Thomas closed and latched it.
â€œNow, donâ€™t make no noise and you might not die,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
He walked to the others.
â€œNow, what are we doing?â€ he asked.
â€œSo, they have a ritual,â€ Johnson said.
â€œThat these rich people are doing in their spare time. You know? Just kind of fun. Pretending that theyâ€™re summoning demons or the occult or whatever.â€
â€œAinâ€™t no fun summoning them God-damned things.â€
â€œWell, apparently nothingâ€™s ever happened,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œBut todayâ€™s a little different. They have these creatures like we saw in that wine bottle now. They didnâ€™t used to before.â€
â€œAnd the deliveries are different this time too,â€ Johnson said.
â€œSo that means that something might happen. We might want to interrupt it.â€
â€œDeliveryâ€™s probably different because they got the wrong delivery,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œAt the drug store. All right so â€¦ whoâ€™s going in? Whatâ€™re we doing?â€
â€œItâ€™s either this guy doing something, trying to summon something, or itâ€™s the source trying to trick him into doing it,â€ Johnson said.
â€œThatâ€™s my theory.â€
â€œWell, Mr. James hereâ€™s about the same size as that fella.â€
â€œWell, we have a key. I guess we â€¦â€
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 â€¦ he was very nervous there was more to it.
â€œYeah,â€ Johnson said.
â€œUh-huh,â€ Virgil Thomas said knowingly.
â€œI think the key thing is to judge this Edelson fellow,â€ Johnson said. â€œTo see if heâ€™s in it â€¦ for more.â€
â€œOkay, fine,â€ James said. â€œ Fine. Fine.â€
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 Edingtonâ€™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 menâ€™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 elephantâ€™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 â€œDe Vermis Mysteriisâ€ 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 â€œMysteries of the Worm.â€ The printerâ€™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.
â€œWould you be adverse to me holding onto this?â€ she asked.
â€œNo,â€ Johnson said. â€œIs this incriminating or is this just a dirty old Latin book?â€
â€œOh â€¦ this is strange. This â€¦ this is strange.â€
â€œSo maybe Edelson is â€¦?â€
â€œI have a very strong feeling: yes.â€
â€œâ€¦ the one with malintent.â€
The chanting from the next room stopped and there was the sound of breaking glass. Johnson drew his revolver.
* * *
â€œPick up the pace, Flannelly!â€ one of the other masked figures said to James. â€œGod, are you already drunk?â€
â€œWell, I am!â€ another said.
â€œShut up, Donalds!â€ the first figure said. â€œIf you screw the chant up â€¦ it would be bad. You had one glass of wine.â€
â€œI had more before I got here.â€
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.
â€œFlannelly, throw it in!â€ one of them said.
James just stood there.
â€œWhat are you waiting for?â€ another said.
â€œWhat is Flannelly doing?â€ a third said.
â€œI donâ€™t â€¦ I donâ€™t know,â€ another drunkenly replied.
â€œFlannelly, what are you doing?â€ the first said. â€œJust fling it in and then weâ€™ll have the hors dâ€™oeuvres.â€
James just stood there.
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with Flannelly?â€ another asked.
â€œFlannelly, are you retarded?â€ one said. â€œThrow the bottle in.â€
â€œNow!â€ 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.
â€œFlannelly!â€ one yelled. â€œThereâ€™s a man with a gun! Hit him with the bottle!â€
â€œWho are you, you ruffian?â€ another said.
â€œNo, thereâ€™s no money here!â€ a third cried out.
â€œJust pay the man, Edelson,â€ the drunken man called out. â€œPay the man and heâ€™ll go away! Give him your wallet, Edelson!â€
â€œEdelson?â€ James said.
â€œWell, I donâ€™t have my wallet on me,â€ the man in the elephant mask replied. â€œItâ€™s in my room. I locked it up â€¦ in the safe.â€
â€œEdelson, where are you getting this wine?â€ Johnson said.
â€œWhat?â€ Edelson said. â€œWhat!?! Oh. You donâ€™t look Irish.â€
â€œWhy does that matter?â€
â€œYouâ€™re with the Irish mob, right? Youâ€™re mad because weâ€™re buying from the Italians, right?â€
â€œI donâ€™t care if youâ€™re Irish or Italian. Iâ€™m just buying from the gentlemen who offered me the wine. So, thatâ€™s where I get it.â€
â€œWhat are the things in it?â€
â€œThe â€¦ what?â€
â€œWhat are the things in the wine?â€
â€œOh! I donâ€™t know. They had a special shipment this month they said. So, I bought it. I said â€˜Give us the special magic shipment.â€™ He was â€˜Oh.â€™ And he gave me some wine with things in it. Itâ€™s Chinese or something. Right?â€
A few of the men had their hands up. Edelsonâ€™s were part way up. The drunkard in the lizard mask just stood there, staring and swaying.
â€œEdelson, give him your wallet,â€ he said, his voice slurred. Then to Johnson: â€œYou need a wallet?â€
James put the bottle down and took out his pistol.
â€œFlannelly!â€ Edelson said. â€œGet him! Get him Flannelly!â€
â€œEveryone take off your masks!â€ James said loudly.
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s Flannelly,â€ the drunken man said.
â€œNo joke!â€ 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.
â€œI donâ€™t want to hurt anyone,â€ James said, still pointing his pistol at them.
â€œThatâ€™s not Flannelly,â€ the drunken man said.
â€œYou think!?!â€ Edelson yelled at him. â€œWeâ€™re being robbed! Donâ€™t aggravate them!â€
James lowered his pistol. All of the men had raised their hands and looked his still-masked face.
â€œWho?â€ Edelson said. â€œWho are you people? What do you want?â€
â€œAre you aware that you could be endangering all these people?â€ Johnson said.
â€œItâ€™s either you or the person youâ€™re buying from, but there is something not right with these bottles.â€
â€œEdelson, they want the book!â€ the drunken man said.
â€œWhat?â€ Edelson said. â€œUncle was a quack. Theyâ€™re not here for the book. Theyâ€™re the mob. Mafia. Shut up. Just shut up.â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter who weâ€™re with!â€ James said. â€œTell us what you know!â€
â€œWhat â€¦ okay, we do this every month or so when we all have time,â€ Edelson said. â€œWhen we can align our schedules. Theyâ€™re quite busy between social events and â€¦ work and the like. So, my uncle gifted me, when he died, he gave me this book. Itâ€™s called De Vermis Mysteriis, which is Latin for Mysteries of the Worm, so itâ€™s not Italian. And so, I decided we would use some of the crazy chants in it for â€¦ our evenings together. Weâ€™re an esoteric order of m â€¦ we could be magicians.â€
â€œWe drink and we have hors dâ€™oeuvres. Flannelly was supposed to bring the hot hors dâ€™oeuvres this time. I donâ€™t suppose you brought them. But Flannelly, obviously, sent men with guns? Or â€¦â€
â€œAs you can tell, Iâ€™m not Flannelly.â€
â€œYes, I understand that. Yes.â€
â€œMy people donâ€™t want to hurt you.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s crazy lying,â€ Johnson said.
â€œIâ€™m not crazy,â€ Edelson said.
â€œI think heâ€™s got a book; he doesnâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on,â€ Miss Edington said through the curtain.
â€œWhoâ€™s that!?!â€ Edelson said.
â€œWait!â€ the man who had been wearing the lizard mask said. â€œIs it a girl? Have they got girls?â€
â€œOh my God!â€ Edelson said to him. â€œDonalds, shut up! Or weâ€™re going to all get killed, okay?â€
â€œGirls?â€ Donalds said.
â€œNo oneâ€™s killing anybody unless we have to,â€ James said.
â€œSee!â€ Edelson said. â€œSee, Donalds? Just â€¦ zip it. Zip it!â€
â€œGirl,â€ Donalds said, his voice slurred.
â€œDonalds,â€ Edelson said, putting his head in his hands. â€œJesus Christ, Donalds. Please just shut up.â€
He looked at the men with guns.
â€œItâ€™s just a lark,â€ he said. â€œWe just have fun. And we get together to cast â€˜spells.â€™ To cast â€˜spells.â€™ Ooo. And â€¦â€
â€œBut you got this special wine from the Italian Mob, you said,â€ Johnson said.
â€œYes, from the same dealer that gets me all my wine, â€œ Edelson said. â€œYes.â€
â€œAnd who is that?â€ James said.
â€œItâ€™s â€¦ uh â€¦ I donâ€™t know his name. I met him at one point and then â€¦ itâ€™s the regular guy I get my wine from, okay? Itâ€™s prohibition. You canâ€™t just go to the corner shop and buy some wine. So, the Italians will sell wine to me.â€
â€œWeâ€™re not exactly law-abiding citizens either!â€ James said.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s fine. Itâ€™s as â€¦ itâ€™s a â€¦ Fuscuti. Heâ€™s just â€¦ he can get me wine. Okay? Luigi. Luigi Fuscuti. He can get me wine. I donâ€™t know if â€¦ he said he had special â€˜magicâ€™ wine. I said â€˜This will be perfect for the ceremony.â€™ Supposed to throw wine. We throw the special wine.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t believe in this.â€
â€œNo. Itâ€™s just an old book with weird Latin written in it so I thought it would be fun. Weâ€™ve been doing this for a few months now. You think itâ€™s real?â€
â€œYes,â€ Miss Edington said from the next room.
â€œI donâ€™t think anything,â€ James said.
â€œWho is this lady behind the curtain!?!â€ Edelson said. â€œThatâ€™s really strange! Okay? And what â€¦ okay â€¦â€
â€œYou have no need to know.â€
â€œâ€¦ you might shoot me but what have you done with Flannelly? Is he dead?â€
â€œI can assure you. Heâ€™s fine.â€
â€œItâ€™s just a lark. Weâ€™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 weâ€™re going to go upstairs for hors dâ€™oeuvres and for more wine. Thereâ€™s â€¦ and â€¦ yeah. Thatâ€™s all there is to this.â€
â€œCan you give me any more contact information that you know about this guy?â€
â€œI probably shouldnâ€™t because theyâ€™ll probably be very upset.â€
James pointed the revolver at him.
â€œOkay, then I can tell you that he is in the West End but I donâ€™t meet the guy there anymore.â€
He told them heâ€™d met the man, initially at a 71 Waldo Street at a warehouse or factory.
â€œIf youâ€™re police, I would prefer you donâ€™t tell them I said anything about this address,â€ he said. â€œIf youâ€™re not, if youâ€™re another mob, then I would still prefer you donâ€™t them that I said anything about this address. Itâ€™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 â€¦ I donâ€™t know. Theyâ€™re just mobsters. Theyâ€™re just selling wine because we have money.â€
â€œWell, you can keep buying your wine â€¦â€ Miss Edington said from behind the curtain.
â€œOh my God,â€ Edelson said, startled. â€œWould you please come out of there?â€
â€œNo, I will not. You can keep buying your wine, but youâ€™ve got to stop these rituals.â€
â€œFine. We wonâ€™t do the rituals anymore.â€
â€œMaybe crossword puzzles or something.â€
â€œThat would be better.â€
â€œIs that okay with you guys?â€
â€œThat would be better,â€ James said.
â€œIf thereâ€™s girls, I donâ€™t care what we do,â€ Donalds said, his voice slurring.
â€œGod damn it Donalds,â€ Edelson said.
â€œBecause you donâ€™t know what youâ€™re getting into,â€ Miss Edington said from behind the curtain.
Edelson looked at Jamesâ€™ gun and then at Johnsonâ€™s gun.
â€œOkay, we wonâ€™t do rituals anymore,â€ he said.
â€œThe whole reason weâ€™re here is for your safety,â€ Johnson said.
â€œOkay,â€ Edelson said. â€œThank you?â€
â€œI think we should leave now,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œOkay,â€ Johnson said.
James tucked his pistol into his belt under the robes.
â€œAnd â€¦â€ Miss Edington called. â€œAnd â€¦ you never saw us.â€
â€œYou never saw us, we never saw you,â€ James said.
â€œOkay,â€ Edelson said. â€œOkay. Sure.â€
â€œAre they gonna tie us up now?â€ Donalds said, still swaying, but staring at the curtain.
â€œDonalds!â€ Edelson said. â€œGod damn it!â€
They heard Miss Edingtonâ€™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 didnâ€™t move or make eye contact except for Donalds, who drunkenly watched him leave.
â€œOkay, theyâ€™re gone,â€ Johnson heard him say after the blanket fell back into place.
â€œDonalds!â€ Edelsonâ€™s voice came. â€œShut up!â€
They fled the basement and the house, James leaving the mask and robe behind. He headed for the trunk of Flannellyâ€™s automobile to let the man out but Virgil Thomas got out of the Packard as he approached it.
â€œJust unlock it,â€ the negro said. â€œDonâ€™t let him out.â€
Then he quickly hoofed it back to the Packard and started the engine. Johnson went to the Packard for Flannellyâ€™s hors dâ€™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 Edingtonâ€™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.