Monday, January 21, 2019
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “A Very Weisswald Christmas” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, Ben Abbot, James Brown, and Samantha Underwood.)
Dr. Eva Weisswald, Jacali, Professor Brandon Stalloid, Lambert Otto, and Ophelia rode cross-country through the mountains of Colorado with the buckboard, nervous about possible pursuit. In the back of the wagon was the large crate that held the Crescent. It took them some two weeks to reach Jacali’s cabin on the border of Utah and Arizona, not far from the borders of Colorado and New Mexico and just north of the Navajo Indian reservation. In the time it took them to travel cross country, Professor Stalloid tried to communicate with the Crescent by staring at it and thinking thoughts at it. Every evening, he would do so it in the hopes of initiating some communication. Jacali tried to think to the Crescent, asking it if it wanted her to touch it.
All of them had strange dreams during two-week trip.
Dr. Weisswald started thinking about the differences in people’s blood and the possibility of resuscitating people who had been drowned or even the potential to use electricity to resuscitate the dead. Professor Stalloid started having ideas about chemistry and pharmacy. Jacali got insight into animals and plants, how they were evolving and changing all the time, and a better understanding of the stars and how navigation might work or be more easily understood through certain devices. Otto started having a better understanding of how tracking worked and how weapons worked. He got ideas on possible ways to improve rifles and even thoughts on how to make a scope for his rifle. He still couldn’t figure out why his carbine was jamming though.
Jacali’s cabin was built on a small hill overlooking a desert valley in a highland desert area. She had built it right on the border to spite the white men who created borders where none should be. Both her and her now-missing husband had thought it would be amusing, if they had ever been approached, to tell people it was in whatever state they pleased. Sight of the cabin brought back many memories of him.
The cabin had been empty for months and was a little dusty. The interior was spartan with just a bed and a few pieces of furniture. Dr. Weisswald had visited the secluded cabin before.
They stayed a couple of days, burying crate with the Crescent near the house. Professor Stalloid went in search of seeds and shrubs to plant upon the spot but couldn’t find any. He consulted Jacali.
“Hey, we need to cover the hole up,” he said to her. “Can we find some seeds … to plant … a flower bed?”
“You want a cleverly placed shrubbery overtop of the dangerous alien artifact that we’ve recovered?” Jacali said.
“Yeah. Also, I’m curious as to whether the plants might gain sentience,” he said.
Jacali looked at him.
“They what?” she said.
“Uh … nothing,” he said. “Let’s find some seeds.”
“All right, so … if I come back and there are talking plant people at my home, I’m going to send them to you,” Jacali said. “They’re your problem.”
“Nice!” Professor Stalloid said.
With the Indian woman’s help, they were able to find seeds and bulbs to plant over the spot. She found enough different things so that it would be pretty but still look natural enough that it wouldn’t stand out.
Professor Stalloid destroyed the buckboard, putting some of it in the wood pile and burning the rest in the fireplace. He disposed of the metal parts by burying them nearby. He kept the hoops of the wheels.
They left the cabin after a few days and headed east. During their travels, Dr. Weisswald continued to try to teach Jacali how to cast the Candle Communication spell. Jacali thought she knew how to do it in late November but was unsuccessful when she tried. Something went wrong. Professor Stalloid was trying to learn the spell Contact Yig from Ophelia but, when he thought he understood it, she told him they would need the venom of a sacred snake of Yig.
“Is it about …” Professor Stalloid said, holding out his hands. “And does it have a crescent on its forehead?”
“Yes,” Ophelia said.
“Oh, I’ve seen one of those.”
“Back in the snake cave.”
She told him he needed to prepare the highly toxic potion and then force a prepared sacrifice to drink it, whereupon the man would die horribly during the ritual. If performed successfully, a child of Yig would burst out of the sacrifice’s stomach and converse with the caster of the spell for as long as Yig wished to speak. After that, Professor Stalloid started trying to learn the magical Candle Communication spell from Dr. Weisswald.
He started to have numerous dreams about cats that seemed to be unhappy with him.
Dr. Weisswald had asked Ophelia to teach her another spell. She had noticed a change in Ophelia during their trip to Jacali’s cabin on their two week trip through the wilderness with the Crescent. The disguised serpent person seemed a little less cold, less aloof, and distant towards her. Ophelia asked the woman if she could help her and Dr. Weisswald asked what she needed. She told her she had a spell that would help the caster find others of her kind. She admitted she had been looking for others of her kind ever since she had come to this time. The only one she had found was that man who led the attack on the village 20 years before. She was willing to teach Dr. Weisswald the spell if she would help her look for her people. Dr. Weisswald agreed. She warned the woman they would not be as friendly as she was. It took her some time but on the way back to civilization, she learned the Find Serpent Folk spell.
She talked to Professor Stalloid about learning another spell from Mysteries of the Worm. There was a spell called Scrying Window but he warned her that it took life essence, if what he had read about it was correct. She decided to try to learn the spell anyway.
Dr. Weisswald had tended to both Jacali and Otto during the course of their travels. Both had been badly injured in the last few weeks but healed, over time, as they traveled.
They eventually reached civilization once again and, taking the train, arriving in Denver, Colorado by December 8, 1875.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald sent a telegraph to her sister-in-law Jane Westerfield. She received a reply after only a few hours and the two of them sent messages back and forth to finalize plans to go east. In the end, Mrs. Westerfield arranged for their tickets to Wheeling with the train leaving on December 11.
Dr. Weisswald got a ticket to head north and went to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for a day. She found her black Labrador retriever, Hoff, had had puppies. She’s been working with someone in the area to breed her. The owner of the male got the pick of the litter of six puppies and she left one with Hoff. The other four she took with her, arranging for them to be shipped on the same train she took in a large crate with plenty of air holes. She made sure to get bows for each of them.
She headed back to Denver.
* * *
Professor Stalloid spent a few days buying Christmas presents for his companions. He found everything he was looking for in Denver.
He also tracked down Amelia Smith, the niece of Gulliver Thompson. Professor Stalloid had used magic to speak to the dead man’s ghost some weeks before and learned his last wish was for Amelia to have the $200 in gold dust he had died carrying. They guessed the other prospectors had stolen it from the man’s corpse and then Pete Sutter had stolen it from the prospectors, so Professor Stalloid merely gave the girl $200 and told her it was her uncle’s dying wish that she have it. She was heartbroken and hugged the man, thanking him for what he’d done.
* * *
Otto found a lawyer and had a will written up. He found a gun store and purchased a revolver. He made a few other purchases of Christmas presents for his friends.
He also tried to get compensation for his horse to go with him to West Virginia. However, he found unless he was in pursuit of a felon or something, they wouldn’t recompense him for taking his horse. He decided to leave his horse at a livery stable in Denver. He found it was at the same stable Professor Stalloid and Jacali were stabling their horses.
He also got his clothing cleaned and tailored for the trip.
Jacali also made a few purchases in Denver, as well as working on some of the Christmas presents she planned to give to her companions.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald returned on December 10 in plenty of time for their train east.
That evening at the hotel, they ran into Jack West, who seemed to be waiting for them in the dining room.
“Where’s Clayton?” Jack West said.
“He’s dead,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Dead tired of you hunting him down! Why do you keep following us?
“Anyways … so why’d we meet in Denver?”
“We didn’t know we were ‘meeting’ in Denver.”
“You know me … I’m always around somewhere.”
“I can’t tell if that’s my favorite or least favorite quality of you, Jack West,” Jacali said.
“We’ll file it under positive,” Jack West said.
He looked them over.
“It’s been a while since I seen y’all,” Jack West said.
“Yeah … it was 20 years ago,” Jacali said.
The last time any of them had seen the man was when their minds had been catapulted back in time.
“How did … uh … how did that treat you coming out?” Jacali said. “We didn’t see you when we came to.”
“It’s a strange blur of things …” Jack West said.
“I never did check the gold to see whether it was gone again,” Professor Stalloid said.
“It’s a good thing to check,” Jack West said. “Too bad you didn’t. Yeah but … I found these strange letters, if’n y’all are interested.”
He looked them over.
“Doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to me, though,” he said. “But it seems important, since I … procured them in a strange way.”
“Letters like you mail or letters as in …?” Jacali said.
Jack West pulled out two piles of papers, each tied together with string.
“You look like you like books,” he said.
He put them on the table in front of Professor Stalloid who briefly looked through the stacks of paper.
“There’s not much I can do with them,” Jacali said.
“Oh, that’s right,” Jack West said. “Wasn’t the doctor teaching you how to read?”
“It’s going … but … if they’re strange …”
“I know it starts with a ‘j.’”
“Oh, it does. I want to hear you say it, though.”
“Is it … oh! We had a nickname for it. Uh … JJ?”
“Close. I think we decided on Jojo but it’s fine. It’s close enough, Jack West. For you, I appreciate the effort.”
“And in case you ever need the real name, it is Jacali.”
“Ah! Jacali! Yeah … no. I was thinking Jaqueequee for some reason.”
“I’m glad you didn’t say that!”
Professor Stalloid saw that one pile of letters had probably about 50 sheets of paper. They appeared to be addressed to a “B” or “Mr. B” and were in different handwritings. The other pile appeared to have fewer pages and these were addressed to “Ignatius.” They all appeared to have the same handwriting and were signed “JV.” He stood up and walked towards the trash can on one side.
“It had some weird chemical stuff and strange crab-people kidnappings,” Jack West said.
Professor Stalloid stopped and thought on that a moment before tucking them in his satchel to read later.
“Or maybe I just want you to carry around a bunch of useless paper,” Jack West said. “I dunno. One or the other.”
“Oh, with you, Jack West, I never know,” Jacali said.
“Me neither,” Jack West said.
As they finished dinner, a middle-aged lady approached their table. She had dark hair and a very large and ornately decorated hat. She wore dark clothing and carried a large purse.
“Are you Mr. Stalloid?” she asked him very properly.
“Why, of course I am!” he said. Then, under his breath: “Child savior.”
“Could I have a word with you, please?”
“If you’re finished with your meal.”
“Is she the child savior?” Jack West said.
“Just sit down,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh no, this is a private matter,” the woman said.
“These are my … very close associates.”
“No no no. This is a private matter.”
“Hello,” Jacali said to the woman and waved.
“Hello,” she said.
“These are my family,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Hi child savior!” Dr. Weisswald said.
“What?” the woman said. “I’m sorry, this is a private matter. Please. Please. Could I talk to you for just a moment?”
“All right,” Professor Stalloid said, standing up.
“It will only take a few minutes,” she said.
She led him to a little side room but he stopped before entering. He led her to a corner of the room instead and she gave him a strange look.
“I have been held against my will before,” he said.
The woman looked herself up and down and then looked him up and down. He looked himself up and down.
“Yeah, I think you could take me,” he said.
She looked at him again.
“If you wish,” she said. “This is a private conversation.”
She sat with him at a table in the corner, away from the other occupied tables.
* * *
At the table with the others, it went quiet as everyone tried to overhear what the two were talking about. Jacali, Otto, and Jack West were all able to understand what the two said. Dr. Weisswald couldn’t make out what Stalloid and the woman were saying.
* * *
“My credentials,” the woman said.
She reached into her purse and fumbled within for what felt like a long time. She eventually pulled out a little onyx statuette of a cat with gold trim. It was quite pretty and obviously either of Egyptian manufacture or at least made to mimic the Egyptian style. Professor Stalloid was startled and looked immediately away.
“Mrs. Tuttle,” the woman said matter-of-factly. “That’s my credentials and I think, like the rest of the Society, you need to understand that you have to stay in line.”
“Uh-huh,” Professor Stalloid said quietly.
“You cannot be associating with those who are enemies of the Society. This is a great privilege, joining the Society.”
“You must not risk being excluded.”
“Why, the Society!”
“Is there another name?”
“The Grand Society of Cats, my dear man. You asked to join!”
“I asked to join?”
“Yes! Yes, you were not in contact with Her? You were. You were in contact with Her. That’s the information I was given.”
“Yes. I was in contact. She said I would rue the day or something like that.”
“There was blood on my walls.”
“And you were able to understand it? You speak hieroglyphics?”
“I got a man at University - I’m a scholar - to interpret them for me.”
“Are you sure he did it right?”
“He laughed at me.”
“Did you write them down? Do you have them? Can I see them?”
He pulled the wrinkled piece of paper that held the hastily scrawled hieroglyphics he had seen on the wall of his laboratory months before. Mrs. Tuttle took them and did her best to flatten them out on the table. She looked them over carefully.
“This is sloppily done,” she said.
“I didn’t have a lot of time,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Very sloppily done. So, how did you translate this? ‘You’ll rue the day?’”
“Something … I did something very bad.”
“No no no no no.”
“She was mad.”
Mrs. Tuttle pointed out each hieroglyph as she read the message.
“‘I, Bast, know what you have done with my child. Now you serve me.’” Mrs. Tuttle read.
“Oh!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Now, since then, from my understanding, you have worshipped someone else?”
“No! I was under the impression that she wanted me dead. And I sought allies.”
Mrs. Tuttle made tsk-tsk noises.
“Men are so silly,” she said.
“I sought protection,” Professor Stalloid said.
“You’ve been invited to the Society by she who watches over us and don’t risk her ire by … giving in to certain others. Especially not the snake. They don’t like each other.”
“Snakes and cats don’t get along. I know that.”
“And her and Apep, he’s a snake … you know your Egyptian. Of course! Of course! You wouldn’t have asked to join the society otherwise.”
“I didn’t contact Apep.”
“My sources say you did.”
“Okay. Different names. Gotcha.”
She looked at him disapprovingly.
“Anyway,” she said. “I just wanted to let you know. This is a friendly warning because we don’t want anything bad to happen to you, Professor Stalloid.”
“That’s why he said I smelled of Bast!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Who said this?” Mrs. Tuttle said.
“Um … thing. I don’t know. It was in my head.”
“Hm. You must be very careful.”
“He didn’t like it either. Everybody’s mad at me.”
“Well, I don’t think she’s mad. That’s why I’m here: to warn you against making her angry. You don’t want to do that.”
“Do you know anything about a Crescent?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. I don’t know anything about a crescent.”
“Like the moon on the outhouse door? Is that what you’re referring to?”
“Well, there’s also moons on snake heads.”
“Not that I know.”
“It was the other person. And then we’re also looking for a Crescent.”
“Don’t talk to him! You can’t trust him!”
“… welcome to the Society! No! Not for anything. Don’t talk to him.”
“You’ll incur her ire!”
“What if I’m on the pit of death … and … I feel like he could help.”
“Well, can you give me a way to contact my … master?”
“Well, you already know that.”
“Just talk to a cat?”
“She’ll contact you.”
“Oh, okay. But what if I need to contact?”
She looked at him and then took the statuette and put it into her purse.
“Oh!” she said. “Dreams! Go to Ulthar!”
“Dreams!” he said.
“That’s a good place.”
“Anyway, it was very nice to meet you. I live here in Denver.”
“Do we have a special handshake?”
“Oh no, nothing so fancy. We are─”
“Do we do a special look or anything?”
“No. We’re a very small, exclusive society. Welcome. Welcome.”
“Do we have a codeword?”
She pointed to her purse.
“Where do I get a statue?” he asked.
“You should have one made,” she said. “That would be a the best way to indicate your … credentials.”
“It was very nice meeting you!”
She stood up and shook his hand.
“And good luck in your endeavors,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll see you soon.”
“Wait wait wait!” he said. “One last thing.”
“Does she not want me ever doing that thing again or just only on cats?”
“The thing. Oh! I didn’t tell you what I did.”
She looked at him.
“I resurrected something,” he whispered to her.
“A cat?” she said.
“Uh … yes. I didn’t think about it.”
“Well, that’s very sweet.”
“It died in the street.”
“Check with her first.”
“Okay. But otherwise, I don’t see a problem with that.”
“But how do I contact her? You just said …”
“When you talk to her next.”
“Very nice to meet you. And I do live here in Denver if you ever need me.”
She puttered off and Professor Stalloid returned to the table. Jack West had lost interest in the conversation halfway through it and stopped listening. Otto and Jacali both heard the whole thing.
“Oh!” Professor Stalloid said to Jack West. “You need to have your laudanum, sir!”
He got a new bottle for the man out of his pocket.
“Well, Mr. Stalloid,” Jacali said. “Welcome to the cat-lady book club.”
“Thank you,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I didn’t know you were one of those … people … Stalloid,” Otto said.
He gestured with his hands like a person who was casting a spell.
“Yeah, you could’ve told us,” Jacali said.
“Are you suggesting that I molest women!?!” Professor Stalloid said.
“No,” Otto said.
“It’s a strong accusation!” Jack West said.
“Like Ophelia,” Otto said.
“You … you think I’m a …?” Professor Stalloid said.
He waggled his eyebrows.
“I don’t know where this conversation has gone,” Jacali said.
Professor Stalloid flicked his tongue quickly in and out.
“Never mind,” Otto said.
He was a bit put off by the display.
“So, Stalloid, when did you start wearing … that?” Jack West said.
He referred to the snakeskin robes the man wore.
“When did you start wearing that?” Professor Stalloid said, pointing at the thick poncho the man wore.
“When we killed the giant thing,” Jack West said.
Later that night, Professor Stalloid asked Jacali if she could carve him a cat statue. She said she could try but there was a fee and he paid the woman $25. She was pleasantly surprised. He asked it be made of some kind of dark wood.
* * *
Otto got Professor Stalloid, Jacali, and Dr. Weisswald alone.
“Since, you know, West has entered the equation …” he said. “Are any of you getting him gifts?”
“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa!” Professor Stalloid said. “Who’s getting anyone gifts?”
“Oh no,” Jacali said
“I’m not getting gifts.”
“I have to give him a gift, don’t I? I’ll figure something out.”
“The gift is a train ticket … to Wheeling,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“So, nothing then,” Otto said.
“That’s more than I spent on him,” Professor Stalloid said under his breath. Then he raised his voice again. “I mean … what gifts!?!”
They looked at each other.
“Well, I guess, since the cat’s out of the bag, I did get y’all gifts,” Professor Stalloid said. “Do you want them now?”
“No!” Jacali said.
“It’s not Christmas!” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Christmas!” Jacali said. “Even I know that, Stalloid!”
“I don’t celebrate Christmas really,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Besides, I’m still not done making some of mine,” Jacali said.
“Well, I guess I just wanted … as apprehensive as I find the idea, I wanted ideas for a gift for West,” Otto said.
“Get him socks,” Professor Stalloid suggested.
“It’s chilly out there.”
“Well, let’s think,” Jacali said. “What does he like?”
“Guns,” Otto said.
“Money,” Jacali said.
“So, get him socks,” Professor Stalloid said.
“He liked the lizard monster a lot, it seemed,” Jacali said.
“Ooh,” Professor Stalloid said. “Leather socks.”
“Oh yes!” Jacali said. “You could get him a nice thing to wear with that. Make it an outfit.”
“I could get him a bandana,” Otto said. “You know. Commit him fully to being an outlaw.”
“I feel like that’s an aesthetic that Jack West would really appreciate,” Jacali said.
“Well … I guess I’ll think of something,” Otto said.
* * *
Professor Stalloid, noting the distaste he’d seen on Mrs. Tuttle’s face as she looked over the snakeskin robes he’d been wearing, put them into a suitcase and settled on a nice suit instead.
* * *
On December 11, they boarded the Kansas Pacific Railroad car, taking it through Kansas, passing through Junction City, Topeka, to Kansas City, Missouri. There, they switched to the Missouri Pacific Railroad and took it across the state to St. Louis. Then, they switched to the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad to cross Illinois to Vincennes. They continued on the Ohio & Mississippi across Southern Indiana, all the way to Cincinnati, Ohio. There, they took the Little Miami Railway to Morrow, changing trains again to get on the Cincinnati & Muskegum Valley up to Zanesville. There they changed trains once again, this time to the Baltimore & Ohio Railway. This took them all the way to Bellaire, crossing the Ohio River, to Benwood, W.V. and then the short trip to Wheeling.
They didn’t notice the plain young woman who had boarded the train when they did and made sure to be on every train they boarded across the country. She watched Jack West, especially.
During the trip, whenever he was around Jack West, Otto made sure his Federal Marshal Deputy badge was prominently displayed. Also during the trip, Jacali tried to cast the Candle Communication spell once again, her and Dr. Weisswald each casting the spell in their bunks. It worked!
* * *
Their train pulled into the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Depot in downtown Wheeling around 3 p.m. on Friday, December 17, 1875. It had passed through south Wheeling, by numerous buildings, factories, and such. The city was long, following the Ohio River from north to south.
A light snow lay on the ground, and the mountains around the city were white. The streets were filled with people going on their way and the depot was quite busy. Christmas decorations were evident with wreaths on the windows and boxwoods scattered about.
Dr. Weisswald soon spotted her cousin Jane Weisswald Westerfield who was watching people disembark from the train. When she spotted Eva, she waved and came to her, giving her a warm hug. The woman wore white clothing and a wide hat as well as a very fine-looking white coat. She was pretty with dark hair and warm eyes.
Dr. Weisswald introduced those traveling with her, giving everyone’s first names. Jane shook hands delicately with each of them and told Jacali she had read about her.
It took them some time to get their luggage off the train and recover the crate of puppies from the baggage car. Jane led them out of the busy depot to a surrey tied up on the street. The open-sided carriage could seat six so it was very cozy with the seven of them. There were straps on the back for trunks, suitcases, and the crate of noisy, excited puppies, and blankets on the seats to keep the passengers warm. Jane managed the horses well enough and got them headed north through the busy city.
“I hope General Grant won’t mind,” Jane said when she saw the puppies.
Dr. Weisswald remembered Paul Westerfield, her brother-in-law had a loud little terrier.
Jane made small talk with Dr. Weisswald as they traveled through town. She talked about how excited people were that the capitol was being moved back to Wheeling and of the construction underway on the new capitol building. She noted the new Bank of the Ohio Valley was established in the city that very year. She told Eva Andrew Sweeney was mayor again. She also noted they’d torn down the Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1867 and built a new one in 1868 after the attempted renovations had found the building was falling apart. She said the street names in town had been changed in 1873 with the east-west streets getting numbers instead of names.
“Do you remember Mark Tucker?” Jane said. “You knew him back in school.”
“Hm,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“He’s back in town,” Jane said. “He’s working as a dentist and a barber. And he never got married.”
“Wooo!” Jack West said from the back seat.
“Oh, Jack West, have you finally found your suitor?” Jacali said with a smile.
“You two would make such a nice couple,” Jane said to Eva.
“I’m just having too much fun with this conversation,” Jack West said.
“I think he’s been pining away for you for years,” Jane said.
* * *
The plain woman had disembarked and kept her distance from the people she was following. Though they got on a surrey, it couldn’t move very quickly through the city streets so she had no trouble following it through the crowds.
* * *
The surrey reached the Westerfield house, a large, two-story building with a small porch and lit windows. They could see Christmas wreaths in the windows and spotted a Christmas tree in the front window of the house. Smoke trickled out of the chimney and the warm glow of gas lamps was evident within. Jane quickly tied up the horse and led them to the house, bidding them to leave the luggage as she’d get Tilda to help.
They all grabbed their luggage anyway and walked up the walk to the front door. Jane opened the door and the bark of a terrier filled the house with a ruckus as General Grant greeted them. He was a predominantly white terrier with brown ears and markings on his face and very friendly, wanting to meet everyone at once and barking in excitement.
“Tilda!” Jane called.
A dark-haired young woman in a maid’s outfit came from the back of the house and asked what she could help with. Jane sent her to get the crate of puppies and asked her to take the surrey to the barn.
The house smelled of fir and they saw a lovely Christmas tree in the front parlor. It was decorated with homely affectations as well as sophisticated pretty glittering baubles, colored glass balls and a star on the top. It filled the parlor with the smell of fir and gifts were in abundance under it. The windows of the house are trimmed with boxwood and wreaths.
Several small, printed color Christmas cards unlike any they’d seen before were on the mantel with images of happy families, Santa Claus, reindeer, dancers, and an array of Christmas presents and Christmas foods. More evergreen donned the mantel as well. Mistletoe sprigs decorated chandeliers and doorways. A ball of mistletoe was hung conspicuously in some of the archways. A large illustrated copy of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke decorated a shelf near a leather-bound copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
The rest of the house was likewise decorated for Christmas. A fire burned in the fireplace in the living room and the dinner table in the room beyond that was decorated for the holidays.
They could smell dinner cooking somewhere the house: roast and potatoes and fresh baked bread.
Jane took them upstairs to show them the three rooms she’s readied for them. The one in the back had a double bed and a cot and appeared to be a guest bedroom. The smaller front bedroom had a single bed and Jane told them it was Tilda’s room but she’d been sleeping in the basement for the length of their stay. The other front room had a single bed and a cot and Jane noted it had been Ethel’s room. Ethel was Jane’s 15-year-old daughter. Jane and her husband Paul had a room to one side and Albert, her 13-year-old son, had another.
“Ever since Ethel went to stay with you, I’ve missed her so much,” Jane said to Dr. Weisswald.
“Ethel went to stay with me?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Yes, of course she did. She left a month ago.”’
“And you decided to tell me now?”
“You didn’t know?”
“Where is she?”
“She wasn’t at my place.”
“Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh my dear! Where could she be!?!”
Jane was very bewildered by that and went down to the living room liquor cabinet to have some sherry to calm her nerves.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Jane said. “She’s a big girl.”
“How’d she go?” Dr. Weisswald said. “By train?”
“Yes! I paid for the tickets and everything!”
“Okay. Well. Hopefully she’ll be there by the time I get back.”
“Oh dear. Oh dear.”
Professor Stalloid chose Tilda’s room which stood right by the staircase to the ground floor. Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia picked the back room. That left Jack West and Otto to share the front bedroom.
Otto took Professor Stalloid said.
“Hey, Stalloid,” he said. “Here’s twenty dollars. I’ll trade rooms with you.”
“Try Jacali,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I’m not going to have any luck with Weisswald and Ophelia.”
“Wait … you’re wanting to … get lucky?”
Otto slapped the man in the shoulder.
“No!” he said. “I don’t want to stay with West!”
“Give me one night in this room,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I’m not going to sleep at all,” Otto said.
Jack West, meanwhile, had gone into the front bedroom and put his poncho on the headboard of the bed. Otto was determined he would sleep with a revolver under his pillow.
“I’ll leave you all to freshen up and get settled in,” Jane told Dr. Weisswald. “Paul should be home around six. Christmas rush. You know how he loves to work. And Matthias and Victoria are coming over for supper tonight. We invited Sarah but three and a half miles is a long way to come. I don’t think she’ll come. And I invited Mark Tucker. You get settled in.”
She quickly went back downstairs.
* * *
After he settled in, Otto walked back downtown and soon found the County Jail, which held both the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office and the Wheeling Police Department. He introduced himself and asked if there was anything he needed to be aware of while he was in town. The police didn’t really have anything for him though warned him there were a larger number of pickpockets and small thefts during the Christmas shopping season. He let them know where he was staying and told them he was at their disposal if they needed his help. The officers thanked him and told them they would be in touch if anything happened.
* * *
Professor Stalloid asked who all was at the house for Christmas.
“Just you,” Jane told him. “And myself. My husband, Paul. You’ll met him tonight. And my son, Albert. You’ll meet him at dinner tonight too.”
“How old is Albert?” Professor Stalloid said.
“He’s a good boy.”
Professor Stalloid realized she thought Albert was a perfect child who had never done anything wrong in his life. He guessed she spoiled him too much.
* * *
Paul Westerfield arrived at the house around 6 p.m. He had dark hair and wore glasses. He wore a nice suit though it showed some dust from his day at work. Professor Stalloid made small talk with the man, asking what his hobbies were and the man told him he didn’t have any time for hobbies. He told him he owned a grocery and general store downtown and was in charge of two men who worked there.
He greeted Eva with a polite hug. He wasn’t sure what to make of Jacali or Jack West obviously, but was polite to them. He asked if anyone wanted to join him for a brandy before dinner in the living room. Jane, meanwhile, came to fetch Eva and Jacali to help prepare dinner.
“All right, what kind of rabbits we got here?” Jacali said. “I’ll have you know, my trail soup jerky mix is very good.”
“Trail soup jerky?” Jack West said. “Ugh.”
“Sometimes you have what you have.”
“Wait, but it’s dry soup?”
“There’s jerky in the soup.”
“No, I dry out the soup and I smoke it, of course, like you do with any good jerky.”
“Well, maybe … maybe you can stay here with the men,” Jane said before taking Eva to the kitchen.
As they started congregating towards the dining room, there was a knock at the door. It proved to be Matthias and Victoria Weisswald, Eva’s aunt and uncle, who lived next door. Matthias was an older gentleman with graying hair and a prominent mustache. Victoria was a proper woman with long, curly gray hair. They greeted Eva happily and Victoria fussed over the woman before joining them in the dining room.
“If you’d like my trail soup jerky mix, I can make it,” Jacali said.
“Oh,” Victoria said.
She was obviously quite put off.
“Is that what’s for supper?” she asked.
“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Jacali said.
“I’m very curious to taste that actually,” Jack West said.
The two were polite to Jacali and Jack West though obviously put off a little bit by both of them. Jacali was polite in return as she realized they were trying very hard despite their obvious discomfort with her. Victoria went to the kitchen to help out.
The puppies barked from their now open-topped crate in the parlor by the Christmas Tree. General Grant went over quite often to visit with them or peer through the wide slats \, the puppies leaping up excitedly every time he did. They soon fell asleep.
They all moved to the dining room and took seats. Dinner was soup, roast beef, cooked potatoes, and fresh bread. They could smell the apple pie in the kitchen.
Paul turned to Jane.
“Where’s Albert?” he said. “I sent him home an hour ago. Where is he?”
“What?” she said. “He hasn’t been home yet. Tilda? Did Albert come home?”
“I haven’t seen him, Mrs. Westerfield” Tilda said.
Paul frowned and was obviously upset.
“I sent him home an hour early to help you with supper,” he said. “Fine. He can go hungry. He can go hungry.”
It didn’t take long for his spirits to rise again. The food was excellent and filling. They were halfway through their meal when there was a knock at the front door. Tilda rushed to get it and returned with a middle-aged man with dark blonde hair and blue eyes. He had a mustache and muttonchops and smiled as he entered the room. Jane was quick to introduce Mark Tucker to the rest of them.
“Come over here and sit next to Eva!” she said.
Tucker gave Eva a look.
“Well, there’s a seat right here,” he said, taking a seat nearer to the living room.
Jane had been asking others to move over and was disappointed when the man didn’t sit next to Eva but she didn’t press the subject.
“Jacali,” the woman said, shaking his hand.
“We don’t see many Indians around here,” Tucker said.
“No, I don’t imagine you do,” she said. “I’ve heard that there were also many natives out here, once upon a time.”
“You’re right,” Tucker said. “Back in the 1780s, they attacked cabins and things in the area.”
“That’s amazing how that happens, when cabins show up and they get attacked,” she said.
“I agree,” Tucker said. “I’m sorry I’m late. My last patient took a little longer than expected.”
Jack West noticed a single drop of blood on the man’s cuff and guessed it was from said patient. A few of the others noticed it as well.
Otto tried to start conversations but most of them fell flat. He brought up certain things during the Civil War, but no one seemed to follow his stream of conversation.
They continued their meal, the conversation going from Eva’s time out west to the new capitol building being built in Wheeling. It was very pleasant. Jack West ended up speaking with Matthias and learned the man had been pretty closely involved in the politics of the Wheeling Conventions in 1861 when West Virginia broke from Virginia during the civil war. It was all quite interesting.
An older woman with glasses wearing a bonnet came in from the kitchen door with a steaming bowl of green beans. She put it down on the table and the Weisswalds and Westerfields were startled by her arrival.
“Sarah!” Matthias said. “You made it!”
They got up to greet the woman, Sarah Weisswald Meadows, Eva’s mother, who had ridden to the house for dinner.
“It ain’t that far,” she said. “It’s only three miles. I’ll ride back later tonight. I’ll be fine.”
“No no no,” Matthias said. “You’re spending the night. There’s been a lot of wolves or something up north.”
She grudgingly agreed to stay.
Sarah was seated next to Eva and made a big fuss over her.
“This must be Jacali,” she said.
“Yep,” Eva said.
The older woman shook her hand solidly and didn’t seem to be put off by her at all.
“Oh, I like you,” Jacali said.
“Of course you do,” Sarah said.
Dinner continued with the addition of Sarah.
“What the hell happened to you?” she asked Jack West at one point.
“There was … uh … an accident, per se,” Jack West said.
“I think it’s sulfuric acid,” Professor Stalloid said. “He still hasn’t told me.”
“I told you it was fire!” Jack West said.
“That’s a burn!” Sarah said. “Don’t you know nothing?”
“I think he’s just hoping it was acid,” Jack West said.
At one point, Jane took Eva aside and asked her to ask Jack West not to wear his side arms to dinner.
* * *
The plain woman who had been following the group had watched the house with only some little interest. She had seen the maid come out and take the surrey behind the house where there was a barn on the property by the National Road. She saw an older couple come from the house next door and go to the front of the house.
She crept into the barn and searched the surrey, wondering if any of them had left anything. She found nothing so searched the entire barn carefully, looking for a while. She was in the haymow when an older woman rode into the place. She removed the saddle and rubbed the horse down, putting some oats in a trough for the animal before she headed into the house, going in through the back door. From the loft, the plain woman could see the residents of the structure were still sitting in the dining room.
She crept to the house and found a large tree relatively close to the back of the house. She climbed up and over on a branch to a window in the back. She easily opened the latch on the window and crept into the darkened room. There were a few suitcases and luggage and she detected a strange smell, like a snake. She quickly and carefully went through the luggage, dresser drawers, and wardrobe. She was surprised by the bow and quiver of arrows in one corner. There was a soapstone amulet that was shaped like a turtle and a whistle made of bone in one drawer. She found a knife with the blade that must have been made of an elephant tusk and some vials of liquid she didn’t recognize but didn’t fiddle with. A doctor’s bag was in the corner and there were several knives, some of them quite odd, in one suitcase. There was a drawn-on buffalo skin, a strange map, and an odd carving in a satchel.
She peeked into the hallway through the open door. Light spilled up the staircase and she could see two doors to the left nearest the room she was in. Down a little further was a door to the right, across from the stairway. Beyond the steps was another door to the left and a final open door at the far end of the hall. She could just make out the murmur of conversation and the sounds of silverware and china below.
She crept down the hall and peeked into the door to the right but it appeared to be the master bedroom. She didn’t see any suitcases or luggage and guessed it was the room of the owners of the house. She returned to the first door on the left to the darkened room there. It appeared to be a young man’s room with a single bed and some toys and schoolbooks. A child’s air rifle leaned in the corner.
The next door to the left was a bathroom with sink and tub.
The last door on the left, past the steps that led both down and up, proved to be a small room with a single bed and items that made her think someone lived there. There were some suitcases as well, however, and several packages covered in brown paper. The dresser had fine clothing within. She found two tied bundles of what appeared to be letters and a small book that had a lock on it. She tried her luck at the lock with her picks but couldn’t get it open. The lock proved to be too tiny.
She could smell apple pie coming from downstairs. It smelled amazing. She had not eaten since she had gotten off the train some hours before.
She crept to the room at the end of the hall and found a massive poncho hanging from the headboard of the bed, a couple of bags, a few rifles, a saber, and a gun belt hanging on the side of a cot. The luggage only had extra bullets and clothing.
She crept to the steps and tried to eavesdrop on conversations from there but couldn’t make out anything. Soon, she heard the sounds of people moving around.
* * *
“Yes, I’m armed!” Sarah said to Matthias. “There’s a rifle and a pistol at the house.”
“I worry about you being up there by yourself,” Matthias said.
It was a conversation that happened often as he tried to get his sister to move into town rather than live at her cabin all alone on Bethany Pike.
“I can shoot better than you,” she said. “Always have been.”
With dinner finished, the women started to clear the table and move towards the kitchen to clean up after the meal. The men, meanwhile, congregated towards the living room for brandy and cigars. After the kitchen was cleaned up, the women joined the men in the living room to socialize.
“What do you think Albert might like for Christmas?” Professor Stalloid asked Paul.
“He needs some coal!” Paul said. “Lots of it.”
“Your wife insinuated he was a very good boy!”
Paul took out his pocket watch and looked at it. He shoved it back into his vest pocket with irritation.
“He should’ve been here by now,” he said. “It’s almost eight o’clock.”
Otto left the room quietly and grabbed his jacket from the foyer, and then thought a moment. He headed up the steps.
* * *
The plain woman heard someone coming up the stairs and quickly moved to the linen closet and flung herself within, leaving the door cracked. She saw a man go to the front bedroom and come back out with a Winchester rifle and a knife. Then he went back downstairs.
* * *
Otto took his Winchester carbine outside to the front porch and sat on the bench there, carving the stock. A few moments later, Professor Stalloid came out onto the front porch. He had seen Otto go and went to see what he was doing.
“Hold up,” Professor Stalloid said. “One moment. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay …” Otto said.
* * *
The woman crept out of the closet and through the back bedroom again, going out the window and closing it behind her before climbing back down the tree and heading around the house where she spotted the man on the porch. She watched him.
* * *
Professor Stalloid came to the front porch again and handed a package to Otto. It was long and narrow.
“What’s … what’s this?” Otto said.
“Ah, it’s your Christmas present,” Professor Stalloid said. “I figured I’d give it to you early.”
“Uh … you can wait.”
“No no no no.”
“No, you can wait.”
“I’ll open it.”
Otto shook the heavy present. It didn’t make much noise. The box made it hard to figure out what it might be.
“I’m going to insist that you open it,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I doubt that our guests … our hosts would appreciate it,” Otto said.
“Our hosts don’t know that you have it. They don’t even know I brought presents. Does it even look like a present? It looks like a package you got in the mail.”
“Well, I’ll keep it, but I’m not opening it until Christmas.”
“I’m going to open it right now, then.”
“Fine,” he said.
He cut the twine and carefully opened the paper and the cardboard box. It was a Winchester 1873 rifle. The rifle was shiny and new and looked very nice. A leather ammunition pouch was strapped to the stock. Otto smiled at the man.
“Thank you, Stalloid,” he said.
Professor Stalloid turned and went back into the house.
Otto looked over the rifle.
“Maybe this one won’t jam,” he said.
* * *
Eva talked to Mark Tucker about his occupation as a dentist. He seemed a little surprised at her interest but told her some of what he knew, mostly about pulling teeth and fitting dentures, as well as his attempts at dental health care and his concern that brushing the teeth often and even cleaning between teeth with a waxen silk thread, if one could be obtained, helped. None were, sadly, available commercially.
He seemed very impressed with Eva being a doctor. She asked if he used ether but he didn’t very much. He relied more on nitrous oxide to calm his patients. She suggested he try ether as well. He thought he could use it on some of his more vocal patients.
“Mr. Bradshaw tonight was quite vocal,” he said. “I expect to get some complaints. But I got that tooth out. I don’t know if I should talk about that in mixed company. I don’t want to offend anyone or offend your sister-in-law.”
They chatted about the west and she told him about how she’d been treating the Indians. That seemed to interest him very much and he seemed sympathetic to the native plight in the country. From his understanding, the government had received a report on the hostility of certain native tribes in the west the month before.
Jacali had gone upstairs to work on her presents.
Sarah spoke to Eva as well, noting they were getting more wolves up on Bethany Pike at certain times of the month. It was either that or wild dogs or coyotes and she even remembered some of the dates she’d noticed them howling. She asked Eva not to tell Matthias as the man would just worry unnecessarily. She told Eva that Matthias wanted her to move into the city, something she didn’t want to do, and that would just give him more incentive to press her to do so.
“I’m not doing that,” she said.
Eva asked if she would make it to the house for Christmas and Sarah said she definitely would. She planned to come on Christmas Eve and stay a night or two next door before heading back up. She hugged her daughter and told her she was glad to spend Christmas with her. She said she missed the other woman and was glad she was doing what she loved.
“I overheard you talking to that Mark Tucker fella about your work,” Sarah said. “Good job.”
* * *
It was after 9 p.m. when Professor Stalloid thought he heard somebody in the kitchen. Tilda had already retired for the evening so he didn’t think it was her. Someone walked from the kitchen to the front hallway. He went over to the archway and saw a young boy with dark hair creeping up the stairs to the second floor. He held his shoes in one hand and had what looked like some roast in a napkin in his left. He was a small boy of possibly about 12 or 13 years old.
Professor Stalloid walked over to the steps, sneaking up behind the boy and catching him when he reached the landing at the top of the steps. The youth had not yet noticed him.
“I presume you’re Albert,” Professor Stalloid whispered. “Be quiet.”
Albert was visibly startled and turned, backing away from the man.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” Professor Stalloid said quietly. “But what would you want for Christmas?”
The boy looked at him, google-eyed.
“What?” he finally said.
“I’m a friend of your … aunt?” Professor Stalloid said.
“And what would you like for Christmas?”
The boy was obviously thrown by the man’s sudden appearance on the steps.
“Uh …” he said again. “A slingshot … maybe?”
“Also, you need to get home earlier,” Professor Stalloid said. “Your dad was worried.”
“Don’t tell him!”
“I won’t tell him.”
“Don’t tell him I got home.”
“I won’t. I’m just telling you to … be better.”
The boy backed to his bedroom door, watching Professor Stalloid the whole time, and crept in, closing it behind him.
Professor Stalloid went back downstairs and then to the kitchen to get some cookies before returning to the living room.
* * *
It was nearly 10:00 before Uncle Matthias and Aunt Victoria went to the foyer while Sarah went back to the kitchen to get their coats. They all left for the Weisswald house next door. Sarah told them she would return to her house the next day and gave Eva a hug and kiss on the cheek, telling her daughter she had missed her a great deal in the last few years.
Mark also departed, bidding everyone good-night and shaking everyone’s hands. He got a strange look on his face when he shook Ophelia’s cold, clammy hand, obviously not expecting that. Then he was off.
Paul went to bed, muttering about Albert.
Jane asked Eva if she could talk to her, taking them to the parlor. The others followed. Jacali had come down when she heard people leaving to say her own good-byes. Jack West went over to admire the Christmas tree. Ophelia also examined it. Only Otto had gone up to his room.
“It concerns Albert, of course,” Jane said once they were all comfortably in the parlor. “He’s been spending time with Bucky Elger. I-I-I-I wrote you about that. And … the Elger clan from that terrible house up north. Bucky comes into Wheeling all the time. He’s got a gang of boys from South Wheeling, but they always come up here and cause trouble and Albert’s fallen in with them and I don’t know what to do. I don’t think it’s good that he’s with them.
“They met in January and Albert started spending time with them. He’s become more disrespectful and rebellious and … and I suggested to Paul that he have Albert start at the store and that seemed to work for a little while. But now, he … he misses supper and he’ll-he’ll work at the store as long as he has to but then he leaves and then he’s gone for hours and … I was hoping it would keep him too busy to run with those other boys but it hasn’t … it hasn’t seemed to work and … he works all day Saturday and a couple hours after school every other day, except for Sunday. He’s still coming to church with us, thank God for that. But … but … I just … Paul and myself, we both tried to reason with him. We’ve tried to talk to him, but he seems determined to continue … being with those little hooligans.
“Things were better when Ethel was here, of course. But-but she went out west to live with you and he’s fallen back to spending all his time with those boys. I don’t like it. I’m very afraid of the influence they’re having on him. It can’t be good. They play too rough too. Sometimes he comes home with bruises and bumps and … and he says ‘nothing’s happened’ and I’m afraid he’s doing something illegal and … I’m at my wits end. I don’t know what to do.”
“I think your diagnosis for Albert is … puberty,” Dr. Weisswald said. “You know, Jonathan was the same way when he was that age.”
“Well, yeah, but … I don’t want him getting into trouble,” Jane said. “Could you talk to him? Or do something?”
“I talked to him earlier,” Professor Stalloid said.
“You did?” Jane said.
“I mean … I didn’t do anything,” Professor Stalloid said. “He wants a slingshot.”
Jane just looked at the man. She shook her head.
“Anything you could do to help me, I would just appreciate it,” Jane said.
“Yes, I can talk to him,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Jane smiled and her eyes filled with tears.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you so much, Eva. I’m hoping that he’ll listen to you. He’s not listened to either one of us. Paul’s very upset about the whole situation.”
She smiled at her cousin and then went to the other rooms to lower the lights.
“When did you talk to Albert?” Dr. Weisswald asked Professor Stalloid.
“Uh … definitely at six-ish,” he said. “He was definitely home for dinner.”
“He was definitely not there for dinner. I was there.”
“He wasn’t … no, he didn’t come to dinner. He was … he was home before dinner thought.”
“So, you talked to him while we were at dinner and I was there watching?”
“You-you were watching me?”
“No, before dinner he snuck in the house.”
“Stalloid, I will say, you are always a sight to behold, even if we are not actively watching you,” Jacali said.
“He snuck upstairs,” Professor Stalloid said. “I didn’t say anything because he seemed like he wanted to be alone. You know. Puberty.”
“All right,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Well …”
“Astute observation!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Either way, if we are going to talk to him, I would assume he does not want to listen to us,” Jacali said.
“And he said he wanted a slingshot,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Do you think if I showed him my scars it would impress him?” Jacali said.
“I could show him the lightning gun,” Professor Stalloid said.
“How do we gain his trust?” Jacali said.
“No!” Dr. Weisswald said.
“What do … children of an affluent European nature … do for fun?” Jacali said.
“I studied,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Otto is the key to this,” Jacali said. “We need him.”
She left the room.
“I’d agree with Stalloid,” Jack West said.
“I’d have enjoyed the lightning gun when I was a child,” Professor Stalloid said. “Maybe I would be better at it, then.”
Jacali returned with Otto.
“What did you do when you were 13?” she asked.
“I helped out at the ranch,” Otto said.
“We need to get him to a ranch,” Jacali said.
“Well, it’s the same,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Store. Ranch.”
“And I learned to shoot a gun,” Otto said.
“I mean, he’s already working,” Dr. Weisswald said. “I don’t think that’s the issue.”
“I could show him how to shoot,” Otto said.
“That could get him into more trouble,” Professor Stalloid said.
“He already knows how to shoot,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Does he know how to shoot a bow?” Jacali said.
“That’s a good one, Jojo,” Jack West said.
“What about fight with a sword?” Otto said.
“No,” Dr. Weisswald said. “No swords.”
“Maybe how to juggle,” Jack West said.
“Why?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Do you know how to juggle, Jack West?” Jacali said.
“We don’t want him becoming a clown, Jack West!” Professor Stalloid said.
Jack West drew his pistols and started juggling all three of them.
“We don’t need him to run away and join the circus,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Also, no guns at dinner.”
“Wait! Jack! Are those loaded!?!” Jacali said.
“Oh, they’re all loaded,” Jack West said.
“Listen, you’re the only normal person here!” Jacali said to Otto.
“Should I teach him how to ride?” Otto said.
“I think we should figure out where he’s sneaking off to,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“That’s a good idea,” Jacali said.
“Bring me up to speed first,” Otto said.
“I know!” Professor Stalloid said. “We find him a girlfriend.”
“Uh …” Jacali said.
“It’s gotta be the right girl,” Jack West said.
“That’ll get him away from the other boys,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I don’t think my sister would like that,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Oh, okay,” Professor Stalloid said. “I’m sorry.”
“Does he know how to ride really well?” Jack West said.
“Yeah, I don’t … I think we should figure out how much of a …” Jacali said.
“You know, tragedy usually gets people in line,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh yes, we kill his best friend,” Jacali said sarcastically.
“That could work,” Jack West said.
“I mean … it kills two birds with one stone,” Dr. Weisswald quipped. “Nobody really likes the Elger boys.”
“I mean, he’s a terrible influence,” Jack West said.
“I have several qualms about this,” Otto said.
“But, on a more serious note,” Jack West said.
“You could deputize him,” Professor Stalloid said to Otto.
“Deputize a 12-year-old?” Otto said.
“You know, fake deputize him.”
“I don’t have a spare badge.”
“We can go buy one from the toy store.”
“Do they even sell those?”
“I doubt they make those,” Jack West said.
“I think if I was 12, I’d be able to distinguish between a fake badge,” Jacali said. “And I would feel … rather …”
“Miffed?” Jack West said.
“Yeah,” Jacali said.
“I mean, I could take him with me on …” Otto said.
“I mean, I would have been …” Professor Stalloid said.
“Patronized,” Jacali said.
They all looked at one another.
They talked about following Albert and discussed it for a short time. Otto suggested taking him hunting. Professor Stalloid thought they should find out what kind of a bad influence Bucky Elger was first, if at all, and suggested following Bucky Elger, perhaps. They discussed who would be best at following the children. Professor Stalloid noted he had snuck up on Albert earlier.
Otto mentioned he could check with the police to see if Bucky Elger had a record. He suggested he and Stalloid would do the research and Jacali and Dr. Weisswald would follow them and investigate his friends.
“And where would you like my expertise used in?” Jack West said.
“You can go to sleep,” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto suggested the man could come with them.
“Jack West, why don’t you enumerate for me all the things you know well that aren’t guns,” Jacali said.
“Okay, here’s what I want you to do, Jack─” Professor Stalloid said.
“I can ride well,” Jack West said. “You just saw some fancy juggling.”
“So, we’re out of horses,” Jacali said. “He’s 13, so past the juggling phase on that one, I think.”
“I dunno,” Jack West said. “Juggling’s pretty entertaining.”
“Here’s your job, Jack,” Professor Stalloid said. “I want you to get on a horse and ride around town. If you see John Valentine, Jack Parker, or any of those other lewd, crude dudes …”
“Lewd crude dudes?” Otto said.
“Lewd, crude individuals,” Professor Stalloid said. “Uh … or any Pinkertons that are asking about me … you shoot them on the spot!”
“Jesus Christ!” Jacali said.
“Now, Stalloid, while─” Otto said.
“Can I do that with Pinkertons?” Jack West said.
“No,” Otto said.
“Okay!” Professor Stalloid said. “If they ask about me: yes.”
“No!” Otto said. “I will not sanction murder while we’re on Christmas!”
“They’re trying to murder me,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Just on Christmas,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Just in general!” Otto said. “But especially on Christmas!”
“Wait, what about against Jack Parker and John Valentine?” Professor Stalloid said.
“You should report it to the police department,” Otto said.
“They’re wanted dead or alive, so …” Dr. Weisswald said.
“We’ve seen John Valentine do magic!” Professor Stalloid said. “He rose from the ground after being shot!”
“Do you think that Mr. …” Otto said.
He gestured strangely with both hands at Jack West.
“… can kill him then?” Otto said.
“Maybe?” Professor Stalloid said.
“What was that motion?” Jack West said.
“Juggling,” Otto said.
“John Valentine is mine,” Jack West said.
“Yeah, he says you can’t kill him,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I … could beg to differ,” Jack West said.
“I shot him with a .59 caliber musket ball!” Otto said.
“Nah nah nah. You’ve got to shoot him a lot. In the face. He can’t live without his face.”
“I’m going to bed.”
Otto walked out of the room.
“Why is there a tree in the parlor?” Ophelia said.
“Um …” Jacali said.
“Uh, it’s a … uh … pagan tradition for a … ah … Judeo-Christian holiday,” Jack West said.
“Wow, he actually got that one pretty good,” Jacali said.
“He is knowledgeable,” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali said they could send Jack West to do research with Otto.
“How about I go to the boy’s house?” Jack West said. “Y’all follow the other boy?”
“Oh my God, I hate that plan,” Jacali said.
“I’ll just lean on a tree outside of his house, just waiting for him to leave,” Jack West said.
“The wind whistling through the hole in your face!” Jacali said.
Ophelia gave the native woman a look.
They decided Otto, Jack West, and Professor Stalloid would go to the police station while Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia would follow Albert.
* * *
During the night, once it was quiet in the house and everyone had gone to bed, Professor Stalloid snuck downstairs with the presents he’d brought. It was very dark, only the light from one of the nearby gas streetlamps giving him just enough light to see. He had marked each of the presents “From Santa.” He crept back up to his room once they had all been tucked under the tree.
* * *
Saturday, December 18, 1875, was a cold but pretty day. Dr. Weisswald heard Jane get up early the next morning to make breakfast with Tilda. She went to help her cousin. They all had a nice breakfast of eggs, toasted bread, bacon, grits, hash browns, and milk. Paul glared at Albert when he came down and seemed to want to say something but didn’t. When Albert finished his breakfast, Paul immediately got up and took the boy by the arm.
“Let’s go, boy,” he said. “We’re going to work.”
They left the house.
* * *
Otto, Professor Stalloid, and Jack West headed out to go to the police station, Otto armed with a pistol and saber on his belt, Professor Stalloid with his “camera.” Jack West slipped away from the other two very quickly.
The two went to the County Jail and police station on Eoff Street. They were allowed to look through the police records as much as they wanted and began their search for Albert Westerfield or the Elgers. They spent the morning there and eventually found that Buckminster Elger had a record of numerous mischievous crimes including petty theft, small scale vandalism, criminal mischief, and the like. All were handled with short jail times or payment of fines and damages. They also found records with the County Sheriff of a few instances of bonfires seen on the Elger property or near Table Rock or the sounds of gunshots or even strange noises coming from the area, but nothing that ever warranted in-depth investigation.
They spent another couple of hours looking for reports of wolves or wild dogs. They found only a few reports and one of the sheriff’s deputies suggested they go to the offices of the Wheeling Intelligencer, the local newspaper. They’d run some articles over the last few years about the number of wild dogs north of Wheeling. They were also pointed to the County Courthouse if they wanted any information on the Elger property.
The two left the place and then had an argument about who should go to the county courthouse and who should go to the Wheeling Intelligencer.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Ophelia, and Jane left the house that morning. They had planned on following Albert but figured he would be with his father all day so they decided to go dress shopping instead.
While they were visiting various shops and stores, Ophelia browbeat a young woman whom she overheard talking about the Elgers. She returned to tell them she learned the Elgers were searching for a fortune long-buried and hidden away somewhere on their property.
“She’s probably a liar,” she said to the others.
In another store, Jacali struck up a conversation with several charming woman and learned that Bucky Elger ran with a small group of hooligans, always causing trouble. Another, older woman, claimed the Elgers were witches and cavorted with the devil. The third woman told her that three years before, a man visited the Elgers from out of town. He was well-dressed and not the kind of person you’d think would go visit them at all. Gossip said the man was a dentist of some kind.
She told the others.
“I’m sure Jane wouldn’t mind us taking a detour to Mark’s,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Ophelia told them a man had told her some of the Elger children were very strange and the strangest were never seen in town.
“That’s what that gentleman told me,” she said.
She pointed out a man sitting in a chair with his face in his hands, possibly crying.
Jane came over with another dress to show Dr. Weisswald, oblivious to the questions the other women were asking. At one point she helped Jacali with a corset, which the native woman did not care for though endured with good humor.
* * *
Jack West, after slipping away from the other two, had questioned several people aggressively about the location of the Elger property. He put off several people and learned nothing though he scared several of them pretty badly. Eventually, he was told to go up River Road out of town to the school house, some miles up the river, and then take a right on Cherry Hill Road. Elger House was less than a mile from the river and was a huge building with a tower on a mountaintop.
He walked up River Road, leaving town. He realized he was being followed around town and probably had been for some time. He decided to confront the woman following him when he realized she was behind him on River Road.
* * *
The plain woman had gotten up early to watch the Westerfield house and saw Jack West leave with the two other men, slipping away from them almost immediately and then walking around North Wheeling, questioning people. It was late morning before he headed up Main Street, going onto River Road, which followed the Ohio River north of the city. She followed him until he stopped and slowly turned around, hands near the pistols on his belt.
She continued to walk right up to him as if she wasn’t scared of anything.
“Can I help you with something?” Jack West said when she was about 10 yards away.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Can you?”
He looked at her.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “Let’s answer mine first.”
“I was told you have information,” she said.
He looked at her quizzically.
“For who?” he said.
She thought on that. She had been hired by a man who had kept his face mostly hidden who had told her to simply follow Jack West, keep an eye on him, and figure out what he was up to before reporting back to him often. He had given her the name of J. Smith in Denver to send telegrams to. He wanted to know everything that Jack West was up to and keep him informed on his movements and actions.
“Does this information have any specificity?” Jack West said.
“Just about you and everything you do,” she told him.
He looked at her.
“There’s only one person I can think of that would want that kind of information,” Jack West said.
He looked the woman up and down. She had a plain face and longish blonde hair. She wore plain clothing and didn’t seem to be armed.
“Well, you could be helpful, but … uh … there’s got to be a better reason than you’re just following me for information,” he said.
She thought on that.
“So you could be an acquaintance of mine,” he said. “I found I’m not the best at lying to other people. I have too many tells.”
“That you do,” she said.
“So, we’re going to this person’s house,” Jack West said.
He turned and headed up the road. She followed.
It took them a couple of hours to find the Elger House. It was a great mansion that, at a distance, looked quite elegant and fine. When they reached the spot on the road closest to the house, they noticed the roofs were sagging and filled with many missing shingles. The weather vane on the tower was bent and askew. Bricks were missing from the tower and from many of the chimney tops. Panes were missing from many of the windows, only some of which appeared to be replaced with wood. The property was overgrown and untended.
A mailbox stood at the bottom of the lane up to the road, the name “Elger” on it. A sign was nailed to a nearby tree that read “No Trezpasin.”
“Classy,” the woman, who had still not yet introduced herself, said.
“Nice,” Jack West said. “This place looks shoddy and, if we get any closer, they might start shooting. Might as well go share my wealth of information with the others.”
They headed back to Wheeling.
“So, what are you good at?” Jack West asked the woman on the way back.
“Lying, apparently,” she said.
He looked at her and frowned.
“So, you been lying this whole time?” Jack West said.
“That’s for you to find out,” she said.
“You are not very helpful.”
“That’s not my job.”
“Well, if you can lie to these others to see you for any kind of use … then you could convey information better that way. So, decide if you know me or not.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Anyways, we’re looking for specific information,” he said. “If you should find anything interesting, I’ll tell you what he’s after.”
* * *
Both Otto and Professor Stalloid went to the county courthouse. They started looking through the many books, all of them handwritten, but they didn’t find anything for hours. It was just before suppertime before they found the information they were after: land records for the Elger property.
Court records indicated Revelation Elger settled north of Ebenezer Zane’s settlement (Wheeling) in 1771 and was granted a large track of land east of the river all the way down to the water. Tenant farms were listed as being established on the outer parts of the large property after that. Everything within about a mile of the house belonged to the Elgers.
Ownership of the land was transferred to Judas Elger, son of Revelation, in 1811, on Revelation’s “untimely death.” Shortly after that, the family started to sell off the adjoining lots and tenant farms. This continued until 1830. Ownership of the land reverted to Lamentation Elger, the son of Judas, in 1842 due to Judas’ “strange death.” Ownership of the house and land transferred to Roy Elger in 1855 due to Revelation’s “senility and danger to himself.”
“Interesting names there,” Otto said.
* * *
They all met at the Westerfield house around suppertime, Jack West arriving with a woman.
“I’m sorry, Jack West, did you pick up a friend on your way?” Jacali said.
Jack West looked at Jacali.
“Mayhaps,” Jack West said.
“All right,” Jacali said. “Well, I’m Jacali, nice to meet you.”
The woman shook her hand.
“He … didn’t pay you, did he?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“No,” the woman said. “No.”
Professor Stalloid looked at the woman and made his hands into the shapes of claws, clicking his fingers together.
“Are you a Pinkerton?” he said. “You have to tell me.”
“Do you have cognitive issues?” she said.
“That’s not an answer,” he said.
“Anyway, I think it served its purpose,” Jacali said.
“Lambert Otto, deputy marshal,” Otto said.
He shook her hand.
“It is primate tradition for you to tell them your name as well,” Ophelia said to the newcomer.
She was wearing a nicer dress and hat that Jane had purchased for her. She had bought a nice dress for each of them so they might have some nicer clothing to wear in Wheeling. Jacali had chosen a blue dress at random just to be done with it.
“Well, as I seem to be sticking around for a while, I guess that is information you should know,” the woman said.
They looked at her.
“I don’t trust her,” Ophelia said.
“And …” Otto said.
“Yes, I agree,” Jacali said.
“And that name would be?” Jack West said.
“You don’t even know!?!” Dr. Weisswald said to Jack West.
“Jack West, you bring a concubine in here and you don’t even know her name?” Ophelia said.
“Hold on!” Jacali said. “Who said anything about concubines? Jack West said he didn’t pay.”
“I guess I’m just that type of guy!” Jack West said.
“She asked if he paid her,” Ophelia said to Jacali.
“And Jack West said ‘no,’” Jacali said. “Right?”
“Jack West is a liar as well,” Ophelia said.
“You don’t have to pay concubines,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Correct,” Ophelia said. “They are your slaves.”
“Jack West, is this woman your slave?” Jacali said.
“You have to tell us!” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Slavery is illegal now,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I’m going to go get a drink,” Jack West said.
“That’s not a ‘no!’” Jacali said.
“Has this man accosted you in any way?” Ophelia said.
“No,” the woman said.
“Are you accosting him?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Not in the current circumstances,” she said.
“A ‘yes’ would have made me happier, I will admit,” Jacali said.
“Do you have a name?” Ophelia said to the woman.
“You may refer to me as ‘Jane,’” the woman said.
“Primates have two names,” Ophelia said. “What is your other?”
“To be fair, I only have one name,” Jacali said. “I don’t have a family name.”
“You’re an aborigine though.”
“Okay … well …”
“I forget you’re a Nava-whatsit,” Jack West said, entering the room with a glass of whiskey.
“She’s Apache,” Ophelia said.
“I am,” Jacali said.
“I thought you were just a woman,” Jack West said.
“Why is he still alive?” Ophelia said to Jacali.
“Well, I don’t want to go up against those things he carries around,” Jacali said.
“Your name,” Ophelia said to Jane again.
“Not that you could use it or anything, since you won’t find it on any records, but …” Jane said. “Bloomberg.”
“Not on any records?” Otto said.
“I’m Ophelia Ethess,” Ophelia said.
“So … may I ask, Jane, what has brought your interest in … Jack West, of all people?” Jacali said.
“I was sent to find information,” Miss Bloomberg said.
“That sounds like a Pinkerton!” Professor Stalloid said. “Are you sure you’re not a Pinkerton?”
“Oh, we can tell you lots of stuff about Jack West,” Jacali said. “We have stories.”
“None of it is good,” Ophelia said.
“Wait!” Jack West said. “None of it?”
“I will tell you, Jack West did rob a bank once,” Jacali said. “But he got it back. He figured it out. But he did rob one bank.”
“At least,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“So, we’re just going around spouting stuff now?” Jack West said.
“Well, I mean, I shared my big Jack West story, when he robbed the bank,” Jacali said.
“Are you his mate?” Ophelia said to Miss Bloomberg.
“No,” she replied.
“Jack West shot a man on a train,” Professor Stalloid said. “And that man … he hates Jack West.”
Jacali smirked at that.
“I shoot a lot of guys on trains,” Jack West said.
“What information are you here to get?” Ophelia said.
“Any information anyone’s willing to give me,” Miss Bloomberg said. “All information is valuable.”
“Well,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, Jack West, I know you’ve always wanted it, but it looks like you’ve finally found someone to write your biography,” Jacali said.
“That’s what it sounds like,” Jack West said. “So, it all started when …”
Miss Bloomberg just shook her head.
“Well, I guess if you’re along for the Jack West ride … it is a wild one,” Jacali said.
“But not pleasant,” Ophelia said.
“So, I went to the house and it’s … uh … rather beat up,” Jack West said. “Nobody saw me. Don’t worry.”
“Yeah, I heard they were all witches who worship the devil and … uh … that they had dentist work done,” Jacali said.
“And they have weird kids,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“And they have weird kids,” Jacali said.
“Bucky’s a vandal,” Otto said.
“Oh yeah, he is,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Who are vandals,” Jacali said. “Vandals, witches …”
“Oh, and arsonists,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Witches and disfigured people?” Jack West said.
“They have bonfires every once in a while,” Professor Stalloid said. “And there’s gunfire around them. Hooting and hollering.”
“And hooligans,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“But when the deputies arrive, there’s nothing going on,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That sounds like normal weird stuff we run into, right?” Jack West said.
“Yeah,” Jacali said. “That’s the dentist work that I said. I think that─”
“Oh, we didn’t go by Mark’s place,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“We might want to talk to Mark again,” Jacali said.
“Also, the patriarchs of the family all die mysteriously,” Professor Stalloid said.
“And have weird names,” Otto said. “Like Revelation. Judas. Lamentation.”
“Those are Judeo-Christian-related names,” Professor Stalloid said.
“These sound like the bad type of white people to me,” Jacali said. “Who die mysteriously, live in run-down shacks, and start fires in the night.”
“In my experience, I agree,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, if that’s the kind of people that Albert is hanging out with, maybe we really should look into this more,” Jacali said.
“It does sound … interesting,” Jack West said.
“So, who was following Albert again?” Professor Stalloid said. “And don’t we need to get over there?”
“Well, he was at work all day,” Jacali said.
Paul arrived shortly after that with Albert close behind. Albert went to his room before dinner. His father went to the living room to get a drink.
“It might make sense, though, whomever of us can, to follow him once he’s hanging out with these people,” Jacali said.
Otto volunteered to follow the boy.
Otto, recognizing Bloomberg as a German named, said “hello” to Jane in German. When she just looked at him, confused, he was disappointed and went up to his room.
They had a very nice dinner with the family. Albert seemed surprised at an American Indian at the table.
Jane took Eva aside after supper and asked her who the other woman was. She told the woman she was with Jack West.
* * *
After dinner, Albert approached Jacali.
“Those ain’t Indian clothes,” he said to her. “You some kind of … poser?”
“No, I am trying to look more like I belong,” she replied.
“I agree. But I …”
He shook his head and then turned red and quickly walked away. She went after him and caught him on the landing halfway up the stairs.
“I missed you at dinner last night, Albert,” she said. “I was wondering if there was anything you were interested in for Christmas or anything you do around town.”
The boy looked confused.
“I’m just curious,” Jacali went on. “I’ve been around your aunt, Weisswald, Eva, for a long time. I’m just interested in meeting her family. This is the first time I’ve seen them.”
“I … I’d like a gun,” Albert said. “A rifle would be nice. So I could do some hunting. For Christmas.”
“All right,” she said.
“And … I just do what kids do,” he said.
He turned red in the face again and turned to run up the steps.
* * *
Paul went upstairs later and got Albert, taking him back to work.
They discussed what to do and, in the end, decided some of them would go talk to Mark Tucker while someone else followed Albert. Otto volunteered to follow the boy. Dr. Weisswald got Mark Tucker’s address from Jane just in case the man’s dentist office and barber shop was closed.
Professor Stalloid went to bed.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Ophelia, Jack West, and Miss Bloomberg walked to Mark Tucker’s Dentist Office.
“The place looks pretty creepy, so we could … uh … further investigate,” Jack West said to the others.
“That definitely sounds like something I would want to do,” Jacali said.
“If they’re doing weird rituals …”
“That’s the feeling I’m getting as well. Well, I’m not very good at keeping myself hidden and I’m not very good at talking my way out of situations that I wind up in. So, I don’t know if I’d be the best for that, but if you want to go investigate it again or if your friend has any skills …”
“I’m fairly sneaky. I might be able to sneak around. See what I can find.”
“One thing I will say, Jack West, is, if you’re going out alone, you want to have a backup plan and probably get out of there if there’s a sign of somebody finding out about you. You don’t want to get in trouble in the nest of things.”
“Oh yeah. Now, I’m thinking we might go as a bigger group tomorrow night? But tonight we want to check on Mr. Teeth.”
“Yes, I believe he’s made a trip up there to the house as well so he might be able to tell us about the family. I heard a rumor that the dentist man went up to their house for a house call, so I was hoping he would get us some information on them as well.”
“I feel like he’s going to lie to us, but we can find out.”
“Well, he’s not part of their family, unless he’s connected with them in some other way, I don’t know if we can not trust him yet.”
“From the stories y’all have told me, I feel like … maybe he is.”
“Because … he went to their house as a dentist … he is … in league with their family?”
“Maybe he’s the one … killing the dads.”
“So, they call him up … let me get this timeline straight, Jack West. They call him up─”
“He’s the ritual ringleader!”
“They call him up and they say ‘Hello, Mr. Dentist, we would like you to come to our house to kill our father.’ And then he comes and murders the father in cold blood, like a dentist does.”
“No no no no. In a ritual. To summon … the thing.”
“I think you’re taking lots of … leaps, one after another, on that one.”
“I’ve been bored lately.”
“I can tell. Well, hopefully, if you want to investigate the Elgers anymore, you can do that as well. I know that we want to talk to this man first. If you want us to be in on the plan, I’ll join you, but I might not be very helpful sneaking around.”
“Aw, don’t worry.”
“But I’m definitely interested in them. I want to know more. It seems like that’s the most dangerous thing that Albert’s involved in, rather than vandalism or petty theft.”
They found the dentist office but it was dark and there was a sign in the window indicating it was closed. They headed on to Westerfield Goods.
* * *
Otto had followed Paul and Albert to Westerfield Goods and watched them go in. He went to the alley around back and saw there were various loading docks, including one behind the general store with some larger doors, obviously for goods. A few men were on other docks and porches, one eating something out of a paper bag.
He went back around the front of the store, noting the large windows and how well-lit the store was. There were wreaths in the windows and it was nicely decorated for Christmas. Many people were coming and going, making purchases, and the place was very busy. He could see Albert stocking shelves and helping customers. Paul was also visible: an apron pulled over his coat. He helped customers along with two other men in the store, all of them very busy.
Otto found a place across the street to look into the store and keep an eye on Albert.
* * *
The five who went in search of Mark Tucker found their way to the alley around back. It was dimly lit and they saw loading docks and the like for various businesses around back as well as a wooden staircase up to a porch of sorts with a single door on the second floor behind his shop. Lights shined from the decorated windows.
“I could wait at the door if you’d like,” Jack West said.
“We could,” Jacali said. “I feel like, probably Weisswald, you should be the one to introduce yourself. You know him the best. I didn’t speak to him much. But I’ll be right behind you.”
They went up to the door. Miss Bloomberg waited in the alley while Jack West lurked on the porch. The other three women went to the door and Dr. Weisswald knocked. Tucker answered and seemed surprised to see her.
“Eva!” he said. “Oh! And your friends. C’mon in. Come in.”
It was a small, smartly decorated apartment of probably a couple of rooms with windows looking out onto Market Street. A glass of liquor was sitting next to a comfortable chair and a book was face down in the chair. Jacali looked at the book and saw it was a dentistry book. A small bookshelf was nearby filled with novels and dentistry books. A small Christmas tree adorned a table; it was a comfortable little place.
“Would you like a drink?” Tucker said.
“Yes,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Oh,” he said.
He looked the three ladies over.
“This could be very scandalous,” he said.
“We’re from out west,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I don’t want to cause any problem with your reputations. Ah. What the hell.”
He poured them each a small glass of whiskey and offered them places to sit in the small apartment.
“I understand your sister-in-law’s trying to put us together,” he said, grinning at Dr. Weisswald.
“Yes,” she said.
“I hope you’re not put off by that,” he said. “I think Jane is trying to do the right thing.”
“She always is,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Yeah, well,” he said. “She’s a good woman and she has a good family. They’re good people. But I’m glad that you came. I don’t have many visitors here. The dentist is someone you go to, not someone you make friends with. Especially once I’ve ripped a tooth out of your gums.”
They made some small talk for a little bit.
“Well, Jane has asked us, you might be aware, to check in how Albert is doing,” Jacali said. “With the crowd of people he’s hanging out with.”
“No, I didn’t know anything about this,” Tucker said.
“Well, one thing we were interested in is the Elger … family,” Jacali said.
Tucker made a disparaging noise.
“I’ve heard that a dentist went over to their house,” Jacali said. “I was wondering if that, perhaps, was you? If you know anything about it.”
“No, it wasn’t me,” Tucker said. “Recently?”
“Three years ago.”
“I did hear that. I did hear that.”
“Do you know who that might be?”
“No. I … hmmm.”
It took him a few minutes to recall as it had been three years.
“I did meet the man,” he finally said. “He’s a dentist. Mangum. Jefferson Mangum introduced him to me. He knows him. He’s the one who … he came from out east somewhere. It was a few years ago. He was a friend of Jefferson Mangum.”
Dr. Weisswald frowned. She had noticed Mangum had a store on Market Street. The last she had known, he had been selling his snake oil out of a cart outside of town. She was not pleased to see the man legally selling his fake medicine.
“Yeah, Mangum,” Tucker said. “He was a friend of Mangum’s I believe. I heard the rumors too, that he went and talked to the Elgers about something, but I never found out what. And Mangum, he’s a snake oil salesman. I’m sure Eva’s told you about him. Many times. They didn’t get along. I know he was associated with Jefferson Mangum somehow. Like I said, I met him for a few minutes because he was a dentist, but I don’t remember his name. I know he came from out east but I don’t know if he’s from Massachusetts or Maryland or New York. I’m sorry. I’m not sure where he’s from.”
The women looked at each other.
“Sorry,” Tucker said again.
“Well, it’s all right,” Jacali said. “I mean, it’s one direction to go to now.”
“Well, of course,” Tucker said. “But, in the meantime.”
He poured them each another drink and they made more small talk for a few minutes. Tucker joked about Jane trying to put the two of them together. He admitted that he had an interest back when they were in school but they were now different people and had different lives.
They headed out shortly after that and he wished them all Merry Christmas and hoped he would see them soon.
They found Jack West right outside on the porch.
“Boo,” he said.
“You really scare me Jack West,” Jacali said. “Every time I see you.”
“I’m sure you like waiting out in the cold for us,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Fifty pounds of leather’s pretty warm,” Jack West said.
They found Miss Bloomberg waiting down in the alley so they headed off to Westerfield Goods and found Otto hanging out in front of one of the stores across the street from the grocery. Two little boys were talking to him. They couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.
“Have ya ever killed anybody?” one of them said.
Otto just looked at the child. He nodded.
“How many have you - have you killed lotsa - you kill Indians?” the other boy asked him.
“How ‘bout badguys?” the first boy asked. “You kill …?”
“Bandits,” the other boy said.
“Bandits,” the first boy said. “You kill any bandits?”
“Yeah,” Otto said.
“Oo,” the first boy said. “Did you … outgun ‘em?”
Otto indicated his saber.
“You chopped ‘em?” the boy said.
He turned to his friend.
“He chopped ‘em in their faces!” he said. “He chopped ‘em in the faces. I told you he chopped ‘em in the faces.”
“You didn’t tell me nothing!” the other boy said. “I told you he chopped ‘em in the faces.”
“No no no!” the first boy said.
An argument ensued.
“There’s a Indian,” one of the boys said as the women approached. “Shoot her!”
Otto gave the boy a stern and irritated look.
“I’m sure I could outshoot him,” Jacali said. “I know him very well.”
The boy gasped.
“She can talk English!” he said.
“I didn’t think they could,” the other said.
The two boys eventually wandered away, wishing them a Merry Christmas.
“Santa’s gonna give us good gifts for talkin’ to that lawman,” one of them said to the other.
“I guess if you’re here, Albert’s still in the store,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Watching the store for only a few minutes proved the statement true.
* * *
Around 8 o’clock, Albert came out of the store to put the shutters up over the windows. Shortly after that, Paul and Albert left the store, Paul locking up. The man escorted Albert up the street, talking quietly to him as they walked. He held the boy by the arm.
“You should distract Paul,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Oh, to get Albert to go!” Jacali said. “How do I do that?”
“I’ll be the one following him, so …” Otto said. “Whatever we do, we shouldn’t get the authorities involved.”
“That was never the plan!”
They discussed what to do, following the two. Ophelia suggested casting a spell to drive Paul mad temporarily, whereupon the boy could go. Jack West thought that would be entertaining. Jacali thought it a bad idea as they were staying in his house. Ophelia pointed out he wouldn’t know who had done it. Jack West said Albert might get concerned and not leave his father. Ophelia conceded the man was correct.
Jacali suggested going home with them and then watching the boy to see if he snuck out that night. Otto asked if Miss Bloomberg had any idea for a distraction, suggesting possibly picking the man’s pocket. Jacali was appalled at that idea. Jack West thought they should wait and see if Albert slipped away, then follow the boy. Jacali snapped at Otto for suggested someone they just met should break the law. When Otto said he could vouch for her, Jacali thought that a bad idea as well, and something that would also make Otto look bad. She also pointed out if she was a good pickpocket, he might not even notice, meaning there would be no distraction.
They decided to just watch Albert’s room to make sure he didn’t sneak off in the night.
They were just passing Jefferson Mangum’s store and saw that it was still open. Dr. Weisswald veered off and headed to the store. Everyone but Otto followed her. The sign over the door read “Dr. Mangum’s Healing Tonics and Unguents.” The bell rang as they entered the small, shelf-filled store. Dr. Weisswald recognized the large man wearing a top hat and speaking loudly to one of the women in the store as Jefferson Mangum, the snake-oil salesman.
He reminded them of Stalloid.
The small shop was tidy and neat with different bottles of tonics, unguents, and oils. Christmas decorations were in the windows and mistletoe hung over the door. It was warm and toasty in the shop and the entire place had a nice smell of exotic spices. A couple of older women were looking over the product while Dr. Mangum talked to one of them.
“Why, Eva Weisswald!” the man said when he saw her. “Welcome home! Here to finally endorse my lovely, miraculous tonics?”
“I’m sure these women would be better suited with real medicine,” Dr. Weisswald said. “If so, they can come talk to me.”
“I have nothing but the best medicine!” the man said.
He tapped Dr. Weisswald on the shoulder.
“My good friend, Eva Weisswald,” he said. “She’s a doctor, if you believe it. Obviously here to pick up a shipment. How can I help you?”
“I have my own supplier,” Dr. Weisswald said. “I don’t need yours.”
“Well well well, I’m sure they’re as pure and wonderful as mine!” he said.
“Quack!” Jacali said.
“Thank you for coming in.”
“Ah, you have a … Indian … duck apparently.”
“Only in the presence of quacks do I make duck noises.”
“Why, I wouldn’t say that about Eva Weisswald! I understand she worked in the war as a nurse! Quite an amazing woman.”
“As somebody who spends a lot of time with her, she has heard me talk very many times.”
“The fact that you speak English is surprising to all of us, I’m sure. How can I help you or are you just here to … mince words?”
He noticed Jack West for the first time, or at least pretended to.
“You, sir, look like you could use an unguent,” he said. “It’s right there.”
“What’s an unguent?” Jack West whispered to Ophelia.
“We’re actually looking for a dentist,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“You rub it on your skin,” Mangum said to Jack West. Then he turned to Dr. Weisswald. “A dentist?”
“Uh-huh,” she said.
He gestured in the direction of Mark Tucker’s nearby office, a little further down the street.
“Mark actually said that you know another dentist that we can use,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Someone who passed by the town about three years ago?” Jacali said.
“You’ll have to be much more specific,” Mangum said. “I know many dentists! They enjoy my tonics. They use them … to help numb the jaws of those they have to rip the teeth out of. Rotten teeth, of course. Could you be more specific?”
Jack West went over to look at the unguents.
“I do believe that he’s made a house call to the Elgers, but I have not heard much else about him,” Jacali said.
“Oh!” Mangum said. “Oh! Yes. I know exactly who you’re talking about. Yes.”
He smiled slyly.
“And you need to know about him, eh?” he said. “For some reason?”
“We are interested,” Jacali said.
“Oh,” Mangum said. “One moment.”
He helped the two lady customers, selling them some tonic and taking their money. Dr. Weisswald went over to stop it.
“I thought you wanted information, Miss Weisswald,” Mangum said as she approached. “Dr. Weisswald. My mistake.”
She looked at him. He smiled and took the money for the tonics the ladies purchased.
Jack West saw that the unguents were a kind of cream that was rubbed on the skin. According to the label, it cured all kinds of things: warts, bumps, measles, chicken pox, and many other things, including scars and wounds. He put the jar back.
Mangum, meanwhile, went to the door and turned the sign to “closed” though he did not lock the door and remained standing near it.
“We can speak more freely now,” he said. “How much is it worth to you to know this information? Perhaps an endorsement?”
Dr. Weisswald sighed.
“Or,” Mangum said. “Or … I’ve always favored a shelf on the grocery store, in the general store down the street. Could you help me with either of those?”
He smiled. Dr. Weisswald glared at the man.
“Yes, the unguents, they could help you,” Mangum called to Jack West, who still stood near the shelf.
“I’m sure there are other valuable services that we would be able to provide,” Jacali said. “We are a skilled group of individuals.”
“Well, money might be a fine exchange as well,” Mangum said. “How much is said information worth to you if you’re not willing to give me an endorsement or ask your brother-in-law for a shelf that I could sell my fine wares?”
Jacali glared at the man.
“Should I intimidate him with my ruggedness?” Jack West whispered to Jacali.
“Please,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Jack West, you’re actually perfect for this situation,” Jacali said.
Mangum obviously overheard.
“I could offer your friend here some unguent if he needs it,” Mangum said. “He obviously does. But sir, keep in mind, there are policemen that walk up Market Street, and should I just call for help, I’m sure they would be happy to arrest … anyone.”
“This is true, but … uh …” Jack West said.
“There are not buts.”
Jack West muttered something unintelligible. He looked helplessly at the women.
“Why do you hate me, Eva?” Mangum said. “I’m sorry. Dr. Weisswald. I respect you and your skills.”
“I─” Dr. Weisswald said.
“All I wish is an endorsement. From a doctor.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of doctors around.”
“Oh yes, but no women doctors. You see, no offense, but most of my clientele are women. Well, and certain others. And the endorsement of a woman … who’s also a doctor … would be amazing.”
He looked them all over.
“Or cash, if you really wish to be so crass,” he said.
“Listen, this is ridiculous,” Jacali said. “Obviously, Weisswald is not going to endorse you. I can contribute $50 towards loosening your tongue.”
“I’ll have to see your money,” Mangum said. “Because I know about Indian givers.”
Jacali glared at the man and took out several bills amounting to $50. She went to the back of the store and put it on the counter there with her hand over it. She looked to the left and spit on the counter next to it.
“May I?” he said, approaching her and indicating the money.
“Is that all you need?” she said.
“I just wish to count it,” he said.
She picked it up and unfurled it so she could see all the bills.
“I would hate to have to scream ‘thief,’” he said.
She glared at him and handed over the money. He counted it and quickly pocketed it.
“There was a gentleman,” he said.
Then he stopped and thought on it a moment.
“Before I give you this information, you must swear, swear to me, that you will not tell …” he said.
He looked around the empty store nervously.
“… that you will not tell the Elgers anything about this,” he said. “Any of you. You swear?”
“We have no intention,” Jacali said.
“They’re dangerous folk,” Mangum said. “I don’t want to lose their business … and I don’t want to have my throat cut overnight.”
He looked them over and they nodded at the man. He seemed to relax a little.
“Back in my old alma mater at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Class of ’45, I was good friends with a student of the newly formed dental school, Charles Phillip Endicott,” Mangum said. “We graduated together. Phillip had always had a great interest in teeth, obviously. That’s why he became a dentist. I kept up with him with the occasional letter. He had returned to the University of Maryland. He teaches there now. Some three years ago, he mentioned he was studying the effects of inbreeding on human teeth. He had some theory about how it degenerated the jaw line. He’s especially interested in it.
“That brought to mind the Elgers. They’ve been breeding only with each other for the last hundred years or so. And, of course, Roy … I thought they’d be perfect so I mentioned it to Endicott and he asked me to introduce him to the Elgers, which I did with some difficulty. Mr. Endicott - Doctor! Doctor. DDS. That’s new. He went to visit them and spent several days there.
“He left … hastily. I’m not sure why. But he asked me not to tell them where he was from, which I have not. And he was in quite a tizzy when he left. Quite disturbed. But, I figured it was merely their strangeness in general. They’re an inbred family that lives in a falling-down mansion in the middle of nowhere.
“So, he still teaches at the college in Baltimore, Maryland. That’s all I can tell you of him.”
“All right,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Do you mind if I ask you one last question?” Jacali said.
“I do not!” Mangum said. “And …”
He took one of the elixirs from a shelf and held it out to the woman.
“For your generosity,” he said.
She grudgingly took it.
“What’s your question?” Mangum said.
“Why are the Elgers dangerous?” Jacali asked. “I noticed you said that you fear losing their business, and I understand that, but why are they dangerous?”
“There are rumors of their violence,” Mangum said. “Shooting at people on the property. Certain people who upset them are rumored to disappear or die in strange ways. They … many of them are not seen. You hear stories about Lettice or Pharady or Garnet, but you never see them in town. They’re never anywhere around. It’s … unnerving. Roy’s the only one I see. And he buys much of my elixir. Some of it … undiluted with certain medicinal herbs, preferring the … the simple elixir.”
“All right, well, I think I’ve gotten enough of what I bargained for,” Jacali said.
“Thank you for coming!” Mangum said. “So much!”
He took some unguent from the shelf and handed it to Jack West.
“Just put some on your face every night,” he said. “It might help. At least it will keep infections away.”
Jack West just looked at the man, who went to the door and opened it for them to leave. Jack West put the unguent back on the wrong shelf and walked out along with the rest of them. Mangum closed the locked the door behind them.
Jacali looked at the bottle of tonic as they walked back towards the house. It was labeled “Dr. Jefferson Mangum’s Healing Tonic” with a list of things it was supposed to be good for. The instructions said to take a tablespoon before bed.
They returned to the Westerfield house. They found Otto outside in a position where he could see Albert’s window.
“I guess Albert hasn’t left if you’re still here,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Nope,” Otto said.
“That fifty dollars really hurt,” Jacali said.
She noticed the price of the tonic was one dollar.
Jacali arranged to do a shift with Otto to keep an eye on Albert’s window. Miss Bloomberg left them once again without a word.
* * *
Sunday, December 19, 1875, was a cold, overcast day. Neither Otto nor Jacali had seen anything strange happen with Albert or his bedroom window. Otto had leant Jacali his jacket when she took her turn to watch the room.
They had a very nice breakfast before going to church that morning. Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Ophelia, Professor Stalloid, and Jack West all went. Otto went back to bed. Jane Bloomberg had returned to the house but when she saw them take the surrey to the St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, she returned to her hotel room, feeling not much was going to happen while they were there.
Dr. Weisswald saw many people she knew at the service as it was the same church she had attended when she lived in Wheeling. Ophelia questioned the woman throughout the service, curious if it was really what she believed.
Afterwards, they were greeted by the minister on their way out. There was talk about the service the following weekend. Some of Dr. Weisswald’s old friends greeted her and chatted with her. The minister was also glad to see her and greeted her warmly.
They all returned to the house and Jane and Tilda got working on lunch. They soon served cold sandwiches and such.
* * *
Jacali gave Mangum’s snake oil to Professor Stalloid for him to examine and then planned to keep an eye on Albert that day. He examined the tonic and found it mostly consisted of corn liquor with a mix of harmless herbs to cover the flavor. It was very potent liquor but otherwise fairly harmless and useless.
“This is watered down ethanol,” he told Jacali. “And something from someone’s garden. You could brew a barrel of this for 10 cents. I think the most expensive part is just the corn. Or the bottle itself.”
“Do you want to know how much I paid for it?” Jacali said.
“I hope no more than a quarter.”
“Fifty dollars. And my dignity.”
“So, half the money I paid you to make that thing?”
“Or double. Yes!”
“Yep. We needed information and … was it worth it, we’ll find out.”
* * *
Jack West gathered them in the parlor in the early afternoon.
“Y’all want to go ahead and visit the Elgers?” he said. “See what all that’s up to.”
“I’m definitely interested,” Jacali said. “I’m definitely worried that if we go there without a good motive, that we might just get in trouble for trespassing.”
They talked about sending a telegram or a letter to Endicott in Baltimore. They also consulted an atlas and found it would probably take about a day or so to get to Baltimore by train. They wondered if it was worth it to take the trip. The problem with a letter or telegram was there might not be a reply. They talked about only one of them going but were unsure if someone should go alone.
They learned a one-way ticket to Baltimore would cost $20.
Professor Stalloid mentioned he would not mind taking Jack West with him to Baltimore.
“It doesn’t sound too dangerous though,” Jack West said. “And I’m a … dangerous kind of guy.”
“Well, the Pinkertons are after me,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Why are the Pinkertons after you?”
“Why aren’t they? Wait, that doesn’t work.”
“No no, seriously. Why are the Pinkertons after you?”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
Jack West poked the man.
“Don’t worry about it,” Professor Stalloid said.
They discussed going to Maryland with questions as to how Jane would take it. When they asked Jane about it, she was fine with it, especially when told it was about Albert. It also happened to be Professor Stalloid’s alma mater. They made arrangements to get tickets for the train that would leave the next morning. Jane was happy to pay for the tickets as it was part of the investigation.
* * *
They took a train on Monday, December 20, 1975, to Baltimore.
The Pullman cars were luxurious compared to the standards they were used to out west. The seats were upholstered with fine cloth and the chandelier in the ceiling over the aisle gave a comforting, warm light. The fold-down bunk above the seats was exquisitely decorated and the well-dressed porters moved down the aisle with graceful efficiency.
The Pullman cars were ornately decorated, inside and out, and sumptuously furnished. The main chamber of the car consisted of twelve compartments of two facing seats, a row of six compartments on either side of the car. The seats could be folded together to form a lower bunk, while and upper berth folded down from the ceiling of the car. Curtains could be pulled around each bunk for privacy. A gas chandelier hung in the aisle between each pair of compartments.
At the forward end of the main compartment, a curtain led into a narrow hallway linked to the car entrance. The hall bent around the smoking room and ended before a door leading to the vestibule between cars. At the rear end of the sleeping compartment, a second curtain opened into another hallway, which led to a rear vestibule identical to the forward one. A door in that hallway led to a drawing room.
When they arrived at Baltimore, the city was huge and they were a bit stunned by the amount of time the train spent going through the city before reaching Camden Station.
They all noticed Jane Bloomberg get off the train as well. She’d followed them again.
They were able to eventually find a hotel and get rooms. Miss Bloomberg got a room near theirs.
* * *
On Tuesday, December 21, 1875, they found the University of Maryland with Professor Stalloid’s help. Everyone but Jacali noticed Miss Bloomberg following them and she realized they’d seen her but just continued to follow.
The College of Dentistry was at 2 N. Green Street on the campus. It took up a brick building two stories tall. They found the building was mostly empty and they saw no students but there were a few professors and others in the building and they soon found an office marked “Dr. Charles Phillip Endicott - DDS.”
They knocked and were bid to enter.
The man behind the desk in the office was a little heavyset and older, probably in his 50s. He had a ruddy complexion, short-cut hair, a mustache, and glasses. He wore a fine suit. His office was fairly spartan but tidy and they could see his diploma on the wall. A few small Christmas decorations were hung in the office and on the desk. He greeted them cordially.
“Good morning, how can I help you folks?” he said.
“Brandon Stalloid, child savior,” Professor Stalloid said. “‘The Founding Campus.’”
He had quoted the motto of the university.
“Oh!” Professor Endicott said. “So, you’re a fellow alma mater.”
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Welcome back. From your accent, I’d say you didn’t stay in Maryland.”
“Oh my goodness, there’s a lot of people here.”
“These are my compatriots.”
“Deputy Marshal,” Otto said.
“Oh, hello,” Professor Endicott said.
“Dr. Weisswald,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Doctor?” Professor Endicott said. “Oh. I’m DDS myself. Dentistry. How can I help … all of you? You don’t want to enroll here, do you?”
“No, we have some questions about a house visit you made three years ago,” Professor Stalloid said.
“A house visit?” Professor Endicott said. “All right?”
“Further some research?” Jack West muttered.
“Over in West Virginia,” Professor Stalloid said.
“With some … ah … inbred hillbilly types,” Jack West said.
“Oh, I see,” Professor Endicott said.
He opened the drawer to his desk and took out a scalpel. He quickly backed away from them into the corner of the room, away from the window.
“You don’t have to go back!” Professor Stalloid said.
“No no no!” Professor Endicott said. “Listen! I warn you, if I call for help, someone will be here in moments! You’ll never get away with murdering me. I haven’t told anyone about the Elgers; who would even believe me if I did! Just leave me alone. I’ve no interest in the family or their doings.”
“You know I’m a deputy marshal, right?” Otto said.
“We have interest in them,” Professor Stalloid said.
Professor Endicott stared at the man. He was sweating profusely and obviously quite terrified.
“Why?” he said.
“Well, because they’re … maybe bad people,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Maybe!?!” Professor Endicott said.
“I will say, also, we do have a deputy marshal among us,” Jacali said.
“A badge like that could be faked!” Professor Endicott said.
“Nice copper here,” Otto said.
“One moment,” Professor Stalloid said.
He moved to Jacali.
“Hey, have you got that thing I asked you to carve?” he whispered.
“No,” she whispered back. “I’ve been working on Christmas. Hey! Just convince him that we’re not going to kill him! Please.”
Professor Stalloid turned back to the panicking Professor Endicott. He opened up his coat.
“I have no weapons,” he said. “I am not a murderer. I am alma mater here. I’m a pharmacologist.”
“What’s your name?” Professor Endicott said.
“I am Brandon Stalloid.”
Professor Stalloid told him the year he had graduated and Professor Endicott pointed to a shelf filled with yearbooks. He demanded Professor Stalloid find the year he’d graduated and show him his picture, which he did. That seemed to calm the man down and proved Professor Stalloid’s credentials. With some more talk, the professor was able to finally calm him down. He was willing to talk to them after that.
He called a secretary to bring coffee for all of them and sat down behind his desk. Once the woman was gone, he apologized for his overreaction.
“I have often had an interest in the Theory of Evolution, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it,” Professor Endicott said. “An Englishman, Dr. Charles Robert Darwin, wrote about it in a book he titled On the Origins of Species some 25 years ago. It’s taken the scientific community by storm.
“In any case, I’ve had an interest in his theories of species evolving over time, most especially de-evolution of people. My own theory is that, in the same way evolution causes life forms to adapt to their environment in a way to help them survive, heavy inbreeding can cause the exact opposite effect. It’s just a hobby. I enjoy speculating in my spare time. It is my own theory that the teeth changing are the greatest change one could undergo. I wish I was wrong. Or right.
“A friend of mine from Wheeling, Clyde Skaggs, knew of my interest. It’s something I’ve been talking about since I was first in college here years ago. He told me of a certain local family of inbred degenerates who I might study, for the right price. I leapt at the opportunity and soon learned of the Elgers, though Clyde warned me they were an insular and standoffish lot. I remained undeterred, however, and, in the summer of 1872 I visited Wheeling.
“I made the mistake of taking Clyde’s advice to visit a local storyteller who lived north of Wheeling on Ohio River first however. Mr. Ebenezer Ott, he told me the most outlandish stories, sprinkled here and there with actual fact about the family. I’m sure that might have had something to do with the strange occurrences that I would later witness.
“By early July, after only a week in Wheeling, I felt ready to approach the Elgers, making sure I didn’t use Clyde’s local nom-de-plume as he feared his business would suffer if anything untoward happened to myself or the Elgers as a result of my visit, examination, and interview of the family. They were, as he said, reticent at first, but an offer of $200 led the leader of the family, a frightful fellow named Roy, to allow me access to the house and family to question them and examine them, but only with the promise of an additional $200 once the thing was done. Once Roy received the first payment of money, I was allowed into Elger House.
“The old manor house was possibly once quite elegant and lovely. However, it had fallen into complete and utter ruin. Shingles were missing from the roof which, in places, was actually collapsing. Bricks were missing from the great tower that had appeared so elegant from a distance. Windows were broken and only sometimes boarded over and the wood warped and unpainted for years. The grounds were overgrown and paths led into the woods that surrounded the house while animals occasionally grazed on what must have once, long ago, been a great front yard.
“The interior was worse, if that can be believed. The great hall of the building was being used to house barnyard animals and the family lived in squalor, sleeping wherever they could on the first and second floors as the leaks on the third floor had gotten so bad, I assume, that there was probably not a dry room in the level of the great house.
“And the smell. The stink of the animals was pleasant compared to the other smells in the house. The stench of rotten meat seemed to come from just about every room though there was no evidence of anything in the dirty, dusty chambers or halls. The stench of filth was also evident about the house and I wondered if some of the Elgers hadn’t taken to using some of the vacant rooms for either disposal of trash or even human waste.
“I was determined, however, and they gave me a relatively clean room in the back on the second floor that had once been a nursery, or so I was told. I spent all of the first and second days examining the Elgers, those of them I was allowed to see. It seemed there were others in the house I was not allowed to examine or interview, but I didn’t press these people, as they all seemed angry and there was a feeling of disease about them though they showed no signs of anything more than deformities from their generations-long inbreeding.
“I had brought impression trays and plaster of Paris to make the impressions of the family’s teeth. I also tried to get some idea over that time of the family’s lineage, something that was, in and of itself, confusing and disturbing. It was hard to differentiate what I was being told as the truth or lies and it seemed that not only were cousins, but even sisters and brothers were regularly ‘marrying,’ and I use that term in the loosest possible form as no actual weddings outside of Roy Elger or whomever had been the patriarch of the house performed himself ever took place, nor did any paperwork ever reach the local county seat, I would wager. I fear the Elgers rutted with whomever they pleased - I beg your pardon, ladies - ”
“I’ve been shot with a gun,” Jacali said. “You can spare your words however you please.”
“Very well,” Professor Endicott said. “Brothers and sisters, cousins, perhaps even parents with their own children.
“My distaste for the whole disgusting lot grew exponentially over the first two days I was there and only my perseverance to get as much information as possible kept me in that terrible house. I barely ate, unsure where the food came from or how clean the kitchen might be. It was one of the places I was not allowed in the house and guarded, it seemed, by a coven of women who groused about the men of the house and refused to allow me entry to the north wing at all.
“The Elgers are not as closely knit as most families seem to be. Instead, they are worked, it seems, into small factions that stay separate except when they have to meet with the others, usually over meals or some social event, as far as I could determine in my short time there. The men of the family, for the most part, keep to the south side of the house, having turned what must have once been elegant rooms into their bedrooms or dens for whatever practices they concoct there. The women, on the other hand, limit themselves mostly to the north wing, what I think must have once been for servants and where the kitchen lies. Someone else entirely has taken residence of the second floor of that wing, though I don’t even care to speculate what it might be. Ott told me of rumors of Elgers so badly inbred and deformed they are kept hidden from the rest of the world.
“All of them seem to be searching, constantly, for something as well, though I am not sure what it might be. Ebenezer Ott might be able to say better than I.
“The second night I spent in that terrible house, I awoke from a restless sleep to note, in the moonlight shining through the windows, a tiny figure by my bed. It was a child, one of the many children that scramble about that place. The child, for I am still unsure if it was male or female though it had a thick shock of hair on its head, wore a formless and dirty gown and couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old. It simply stared at me in the darkened room.
“I was justifiably alarmed at this intrusion and asked the child who it was and what it wanted, but it didn’t answer, merely stared at me, jaws slack, an idiot expression on its face, as far as I could make out in the dark. I rose from the opposite side of the bed but the child never moved, nor stopped staring at my face. I turned for a moment to light a match and place the flame to a candle, but when I looked back, the child was gone.
“I quickly searched the room and the dressing room and closet attached to it, going so far as to check under the bed, in the wardrobe, and in the dresser as well, so unnerved was I at the whole incident. The door to the room looked onto the gallery over the great hall, where some of the animals the family owned made quiet sounds, but I saw no signs of the waif. I was unsure if it was real or just some terrible dream, though the former felt more likely to me. It had been too real to be merely a dream, I felt.
“Well awake but having no key, I moved the dresser that stood near the door in front of it to block any further ingress by members of that degenerate family. I did not sleep soundly after that.”
He looked over all of them very nervously and started sweating again.
“That’s all I know,” he said.
“So Clyde is Mangum, right?” Professor Stalloid said.
Professor Endicott nodded.
“That doesn’t really tell me why you fled so hard and why you think we wanted to kill you and why you would pull a scalpel on us when we entered the room,” Professor Stalloid said. “I think you have more to tell us.”
Professor Endicott thought on that a moment.
“You can go into the supernatural, if that does entail,” Professor Stalloid said.
“There’s more,” Professor Endicott said. “But I to think upon this before I tell you. Can you come back tomorrow?”
The man seemed very nervous and upset. Professor Stalloid had the feeling what he wasn’t telling them could destroy his reputation if it got out.
“So, would you like to meet at your house, instead, where there are fewer prying ears?” Professor Stalloid said.
The other man wiped the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief.
“No,” he said. “No no no. I don’t want this to taint my house at all. Can you come back tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I think we can spare a day,” Jacali said. “But not much more.”
Professor Endicott nodded, very pale. They took their leave of him.
* * *
Otto went to several stores and got the rest of the items he needed to work on the scope for his rifle. Everyone had a pleasant night in the hotel.
* * *
Wednesday, December 22, 1875, was colder with slate-gray skies and a wind that promised snow. They returned to the school that afternoon and found Professor Endicott was willing to speak to them some more. He was very nervous about it, however.
“What I am about to tell you must be kept in the strictest of confidence,” he said. “I am not, even today, sure of what I saw though I would swear before a judge what I’m about to tell you was not some dream or some fantasy concocted to get me out of that horrible, horrible house. I am certain, no matter how impossible what I am about to tell you is, it is the truth.
“The howling of wolves was common around Elger House but on the third night of my stay, it seemed louder and more persistent. The moon was full that night, as it had been the night before, and the heat oppressive. I had opened my windows only a crack, not wanting bats or other nighttime prowlers to blunder into my barricaded room.
“I tossed and turned restlessly but couldn’t sleep and, sometime in the early hours of the night, heard some noise on the yard behind the house, as if several people were moving about.
“I crept to the window and peeked out to see a half dozen or so men on the overgrown back lawn, a wide section that was not taken up by crops that were farmed near the house on nearly every piece of ground but that one. They were all naked and they spoke in hushed tones. When one gestured back towards the house, I ducked out of sight.
“When I next looked out the window, the men were gone. To my horror, standing on the lawn were what appeared to be several large wolves that meandered about for a few moments before taking off to the east. I kept a terrified vigil at the window, afraid of what I would see, sleep the furthest thing from my mind.
“Several hours later, the wolves returned, dragging several large objects I could only assume were hunks of meat. These they piled up, falling upon several of them to sate their terrible hunger. Then a woman appeared at the edge of the lawn, seemingly out of nowhere. She, too, was naked, and had long gray hair, but she seemed young, though I am not certain of that. She didn’t move like an old woman, however. She had a streak of what might have been brown hair running down the center of the rest.
“I felt sure she was going to be torn apart by the beasts, but she instead spoke to them quietly in words I could not understand. She petted the things like they were her pets and they seemed to speak back to her!
“I turned away from the window for a moment to try to compose myself from the horror I was seeing. When I next looked, the woman was gone, as were the wolves. Several of the Elger men stood there, naked. They took the meat or whatever the wolves had left piled and returned to the house.
“I fell back into my bed and slept only fitfully until morning, glad I had barricaded the door as best I could.
“I left the next morning, early as I could get away, taking my samples and notes with me back to town. I told the Elgers I was going to send the notes and impressions back to Baltimore and send for more plaster of Paris, but I took the first train I could east to Maryland and have never stepped foot in West Virginia since. I sent the Elgers $300 and a letter of apology, noting I had things to attend to at home and thanking them for their help but otherwise saying nothing about what I had seen, too fearful that I had seen too much.”
He looked them over.
“In the time since, I’ve been doing my own research,” he said. “I brought this from home.”
He removed a book from one of the desk drawers. It was bound in red leather and “The Book of Werewolves” was printed in gold on the cover. There was a drawing, also in gold, of a wolf over a stylized pattern. The name Sabine Baring-Gould was on the binding near the bottom.
“I’ve been looking up whatever I could,” Professor Endicott said. “Finding folklore and myth. Weapons pass through these creatures from everything I read. They might be susceptible to silver? But that seems to be a newer myth. According to European folklore, they have an aversion to wolf’s bane. Monkshood. It’s a plant. That’s all I can tell you. That’s all I saw.”
Professor Stalloid realized monkshood was not common in the United States though there was probably some in West Virginia. He suggested that Clyde Skaggs might have some weeds or herbs like that.
Professor Endicott asked them not to tell anyone in Wheeling Clyde Skaggs’ real name. He didn’t wish to cause the man any problems in Wheeling. He noted he had been Skaggs’s roommate their freshman year.
“Are you aware of what his practice is now?” Jacali asked.
Professor Endicott noted Skaggs had only gone to college for their freshman year before leaving to seek his fortune elsewhere.
“I don’t know what he does right now,” Professor Endicott admitted. “I know he’s selling some kind of tonics or elixirs or something. Also, I would appreciate it if you did not mention me to the Elgers.”
“Of course,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I don’t know what I saw. It might have been a dream.”
“It wasn’t a dream.”
“I … I … I don’t want to know that. I would also appreciate it if you don’t mention anything about Clyde to the Elgers.”
“I don’t even know Clyde.”
“The dental impressions I took showed teeth that were more and more primitive. Large canines, sharpened incisors. Not at all normal. Before I saw what I thought I saw, I would have attributed that to their degeneration through inbreeding, but … but now I’m not so sure.”
He offered them the book and Jacali noted it could be useful. He was happy to give it to them. Dr. Weisswald took it.
“Thanks for the book,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” he muttered.
They left the man.
Professor Stalloid looked around the University for monkshood but found they didn’t have any, especially that time of year. He learned what it looked like, however, and would recognize it if he ever saw it, he was certain. He also picked up an almanac and found the next full moon was on January 11.
“Even if they turn into wolves, we got silver,” Jack West said.
“It’s true,” Jacali said.
“I’ve got enough for all of them.”
“I still have some silver arrows left over from our adventures in that one town …”
Jacali wondered if her magic arrow might have some effect on them as well.
* * *
They purchased tickets for a train back to Wheeling for the next day. Dr. Weisswald sent a telegram to Jane to expect them on the morning of the 24th. It started snowing that evening.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald cast her spell to find serpent folk, but the spell merely indicated Ophelia. She realized it would not prove useful while the serpent person was around her.
She spent that evening and the next morning reading The Book of Werewolves. It was a serious study of information regarding lycanthropic and cannibalistic myths and folklore in Europe and contained chapters on Norse Shape shifters, beliefs in lycanthropy during the Middle Ages, Jean Grenier, international folk-lore, natural causes for lycanthropy, mythological examples, the Marechal de Retz, the crimes of the beggar Swiatek, and the stories of Parisian ghouls.
* * *
Professor Stalloid was asleep in his hotel room that night when he awoke to hear a scratching at his window. He went over and looked down at the street some four stories below. Nothing was there. He opened the window and a cold breeze blew in. He peeked out. Nothing was there. He had expected a cat and when he turned back to his bed, a cat sat there.
It looked at him with intelligent eyes and he felt himself panicking. He fell to a full, on-the-ground bow. Then he heard a voice from the direction of the bed.
“The wolf is widespread and hurts my mistress’ children,” the voice said. “As does it’s kin. There is a traitor in the midst of them, hidden in sleep. Deal with him as you will. He is no longer one of hers, but belongs to the wolf. Stop the others that kill her children.”
“Could you repeat that?” he said.
He looked up and saw that the room looked completely wrong. It took him a moment to realize he was looking straight up at the ceiling from his bed as he awoke from the dream he had just had. He looked around. There was no cat. The window was closed. Nothing was disturbed.