Cans of Laughter, Jars of Tears

~ J. P. Oakes

Detective Ansible presses two fingers to the bridge of her nose and tries to will her headache away. “And we’re absolutely sure that this guy was dead when he showed up for work this morning?”

The ME pokes in the chest cavity with a ballpoint pen. “Time of death is probably two days ago.”

Ansible releases a sigh that is almost a moan. “Goddamn East Theoran bullshit.”

Two bodies lie on a hotel-room floor. CSU techs bustle around them. Out in the hall, West Theoran security forces swarm like wasps.

“You know what I would give,” Ansible asks the ME, “for this to just be another dumb zombie case?”

The corpse by the ME’s feet—until recently a bellhop—is a body become a cavity. The chest has been opened, ribs splayed, reaching imploringly for the heavens. Inside: no lungs, no heart, no liver, arteries, or veins. A space as dry and empty as a butcher’s carcass.

The ME straightens, points her ballpoint at the second corpse. It’s painted with a filthy palette of bruises, but it has all its organs at least.

“You know who that is, right?”

Ansible wishes she didn’t. Wishes it wasn’t Konstantin Böhm, part of the delegation come to this hotel to negotiate with the East Theorans; wasn’t the main voice of dissension to the trade deal being organized. Wishes that if he was going to get murdered, he could have at least waited until her shift was over to do it.

“A moment detective?” one of the CSU techs calls to her. He’s by the door with a brush and jar of black powder. His look doesn’t telegraph good news.

“No useable prints?” she asks.

He sucks his teeth and steps aside to reveal the door.

It is like a monochromatic finger painting by a class of deranged toddlers. Fingerprints overlay each other on the door, the wall, the mirror. A veritable trail of them.

Ansible’s headache intensifies.

 

After the Hierophantic Wars, the surviving factions fought over Theora like it was the last pie on the dinner table. As Ansible understands it, the only solution they could agree on was the worst one: slicing the city down the middle; splitting it into East and West. East Theora would belong to the Selazzi Regime, while West Theora would remain under Empirical control.

Border disputes had been constant since then. East Theoran agents—and other more outré things—are forever slipping into the West, and conversely, the West sends its own spies East, although from what Ansible has heard, even with modern technology the number returning sane enough to have useful information is still below ten percent.

And yet, despite all the bad blood, and the history, and the vigorous, violent differences of opinion, the diplomatic process has picked up momentum. And now a trade delegation is visiting from East Theora.

Except now, despite the eyes of the world on this microcosm, and despite all the security, the man who led those railing against the deal is dead, and Ansible is left holding the bag.

Ansible follows a trail of radial loops, tented arches, and plain whorls plastered on walls, stair railings, and doors. She drags two security guards after her, and chides at the CSU tech as he paints his dust on the prints, trying to follow them across patches of carpet and rug for empty, tantalizing yards, before they reappear on an oak door, an elevator panel.

Two floors down from the murder scene, they enter a service corridor, and find a hallway become an abattoir. Organs are spread across the floor—greasy intestines; a glistening liver; two lungs spread like sagging wings. A maid stands at the corridor’s far end, facing the corner, shrieking.

The two guards turn ashen-faced. One bends over breathing deeply. Ansible pushes through the gore, past the heaving guards. As she reaches the corridor’s far door, she flashes a glance at the screaming nurse. She’s halfway through the door before she registers what she saw: fingers protruding from the maid’s screaming mouth, tucking away behind her teeth.

Ansible scrambles to bring her gun to bear, screams, “Freeze!”

The maid backhands her, sends her sliding through gore. Ansible tries to pick herself up, limbs responding distantly, and then the world above her detonates. Behind her, a guard’s rifle blares a wild, fully-automatic burst of fire. The maid reels through the far doorway as the rounds strike her.

The gun runs dry. Ansible leaps up, scrambling gorily after the fallen body.

She’s not fast enough.

When she punches through the door, the maid is bucking on the floor. Then she erupts like a piñata, ribs flying like candy.

Something bursts out of her. A ball of hands—some white, some black, some spattered with freckles, others knotted with arthritis. Some nails are blunt, others chewed, others manicured to sharp points. The creation—roughly the size of the beach ball she once tossed back and forth with her father on a childhood vacation—is too densely packed with digits for her to see how the palms join together.

It scrambles wildly down the hall, fingers dragging it along at madcap speed. Ansible fires, can’t tell if she hits it or not, gives chase.

There’s a stairwell ahead. It plunges down, sliding from railing to railing, barely controlled. She crashes after it, hearing the guards clattering after her. But by the time she reaches the bottom of the stairs, it’s long gone.

She doubles over, panting, horrified.

Goddamn East Theoran bullshit.

 

The East Theorans aren’t keen on her questioning their ambassador. She doesn’t give them a choice.

They meet in a conference room attempting grandeur and failing. He’s smaller than she expects, narrow and red-headed, wearing a sharply tailored pin-stripe suit. His face is a blizzard of scars, lines of white puckered flesh intersecting like webbing. Both his ears have been removed. He sits in a chair opposite her. Behind him hulks his bodyguard, looking somehow pieced together, as if not all of his body is organic to him. Next to him sits his translator, a young man dressed as if for a funeral, a slight plastic sheen to his skin.

“We’ve had an incident,” Ansible says as she sits, then lays it out for him—the bodies, the chase, the creature. He doesn’t blink. “Anything you want to say?”

For a long moment, she thinks he’s just going to sit there staring through her. Then he lets out a long, shuddering hiss, slowly building in pitch until she thinks he’s about to scream. Then it cuts off. “It reaches,” he says in a voice painfully dry. “It grasps.” The he reaches out toward her with a closed fist and pulls a heart out of nowhere. He tucks the bloody organ into a pocket inside his suit.

The translator leans forward. “The creature you encountered,” he says, “is known as a Manus Dei. It is a summoning, brought here by a practitioner. It is used to take possession of a host and enslave it to the practitioner’s will.”

Ansible waits for more. It doesn’t come. “The practitioner’s name ?”

The heart in the ambassador’s pocket is staining his shirt red. He spits something thick and black onto the floor, scratches at it with his shoe.

“The ambassador is committed to the peace process,” the translator says. “He believes trade agreements are the first step to a more open and trusting relationship. He is as horrified by this murder as you are and swears he has no idea who would act against him.”

“Against him?” Ansible loses the struggle to suppress her incredulity. “The main opponent to his deal was just killed.”

The ambassador leans forward, smiles. All his teeth, she sees, have been filed to points. “Through night I wander while around me birds flaps with wings like dark silk borne of worms grubbing through leaves infested with a mushroom that claws like a tower toward the heavens.”

The translator runs a hand through his hair. “This deal is delicate,” he says. “How does someone painting the East Theorans as murderers help us?”

 

Later, Ansible sits in a makeshift incident room with a member of Empiricist foreign office, an emaciated-looking woman called Jennings.

“You think the East Theorans put some of it on?” she asks. “I mean, how would we know if they’re just hamming it up for us?”

Jennings shakes her head. “I was part of a delegation sent there once. It gets-” She shudders. “-so much worse.”

Unsettled, Ansible changes tack. “Is the murder of the ambassador’s main opponent really bad for him?”

Jennings huffs mirthless laughter. “You hear that?” she says.

Ansible does. Böhm’s supporters flood the streets outside, their screams and protests breaking against the hotel’s thick walls like surf.

“Does that,” Jennings says, “sound like good news for this deal?”

“But the talks are still going on, right?”

Jennings chews her lip. “For now.”

“So, what’s riding on this deal?”

Jennings’s attempt at a smile is horrific. “The specifics of the legislation aren’t as important as the two sides just working together, coming up with some consistent rules, working on common problems, moving away from being opponents and toward being partners.”

“But the specifics?” Murders, Ansible knows, rarely happen because people look at the big picture.

Jennings shrugs. “Updating tariffs means there are some winners, sure. Losers too.”

“I’ll want a list of those losers.”

Jennings calls people. Ansible writes names on a chalk board. Goes back to one that Jennings paused over.

“Pierre Mercier? As in the industrialist?”

Jennings’s rictus smile reappears. “As in Konstatin Böhm’s former business partner, and biggest financial donor.”

 

Ansible noses her car out through the crowd around the hotel. Protesters smack her windshield with placards, utterly disinterested in who she actually is. The surrounding reporters are no better behaved. But finally, she’s out into the densely woven streets of downtown, traveling past the financial spires and into the poor, run-down suburbs. Then she’s through those, moving out to where the money accumulates again in great sprawling estates.

Pierre Mercier lives in a large limestone building ensconced in carefully manicured grounds. At the door, a young man introduces himself—without a hint of irony—as, “Mr Mercier’s most personal and personable assistant.”

Mercier himself—as sprawling as his estate—waits on his patio, trademark cigar firmly clamped between his teeth. It all feels very staged, very indicative of a fragile ego.

“I imagine,” Ansible says, “that you’ve heard the news.”

He stares at his box hedges and rose bushes for a moment. When he finally responds his voice is bearish. “The markets have responded . . . sympathetically.”

Ansible isn’t sure what she’s supposed to say to that.

He turns red-rimmed eyes on her. “My stock is up, yet I am poorer.”

She hesitates, then decides that, yes, she’s willing to be the asshole. “You stood to lose a lot if the talks are successful.”

“This is more than I calculated.”

“But unsuccessful talks would be to your advantage.”

He shifts his weight at that one, leans forward. “You think my objections to the talks are financial? Do you know what it is I export to East Theora, detective?”

“Enlighten me.”

“Cans of laughter, and jars of tears. Specifically of widowed men aged fifty-five to sixty-seven. They take shifts laughing into empty tin cans, which we seal up with wax. Then they go and weep continuously into glass mason jars.”

“And is that profitable, Mr. Mercier?”

He waves a hand, indicates the estate. “I take advantage of their insanity, yes, but the thought of normalizing relations with people so abnormal . . .That neither Konstatin nor I could abide.”

He leans back but his eyes are still lively. “It seems to me,” he says, “that if I were in charge of a case where an opponent of the trade talks was killed by an East Theoran Manus Dei, I might look at an East Theoran who stood to gain a lot from the talks.”

“You’re very well informed, Mr. Mercier.”

The hand waves at the grounds again—all the explanation she’s going to get.

“Did you know,” he says, “that the East Theoran ambassador leads the largest exportation program East Theora has? Do you know what is going to happen to his profits, detective?”

She chews on that. “Thank you,” she says finally. “You’ve been very helpful.”

 

She doesn’t like Mercier, but doesn’t like him for the murder either. Killing a friend to just to make a little more dough is hardly a solid motive for someone as rich as Mercier. Although, she thinks, you never can tell with the rich. They’re as bad as junkies sometimes, it’s just they’re addicted to the cash.

Back at the hotel she finds Jennings again. “Tell me about the ambassador.”

“He’s as deranged as anyone in the Selazzi Regime.” Jennings’s vehemence surprises Ansible.

“But he stands to profit from this deal?”

Jennings hesitates. “In a way.” In the light from the window her hair looks thin, patchy.

“What way?”

“To the East Theorans, money is just a way of dealing with us. Otherwise, it’s basically meaningless to them. They care about currying favors with their gods, with the Selazzi themselves.”

The Selazzi—vast abominations rotting, and pulsing, and eternally failing to die far beneath the earth, their psychic extrusions leaking into the nightmares of the Empiricist Empire.

“The ambassador has high standing with one of the Selazzi,” Jennings continues. “A successful deal will increase his standing with it, make the standing of other’s less meaningful.”

“So . . . he’ll profit.”

“He won’t want to talk to you again.”

“Well, then it’s bad days all round then, isn’t it?”

 

The ambassador expresses his displeasure by making her wait. She expected something more creative from him. He leaves his bodyguard behind too, just bringing the translator. A bold move given the events of the day, or perhaps just a way to show how little she means to him.

She starts talking before the ambassador has a chance to sit down. “You weren’t wholly forthcoming with me about your stake in these talks.”

He doesn’t sit down. He grabs his chair and swings it at her.

She yells, dives away. The translator shrieks, apparently as caught off guard as her.

The ambassador advances, chair held aloft. She flings herself sideways as he smashes it down with stunning force. It comes apart, spattering splinters in a detonation of wooden shrapnel. The seat cushion flaps wildly.

How could someone so scrawny have so much strength inside him, Ansible wonders?

Inside him. Oh shit.

Outside she can hear people yelling.

The ambassador holds two chair legs reduced to stakes. The translator is screaming, high and shrill. She’s pulling her gun. If she’s wrong about this, this is about to be one hell of an international incident.

The ambassador looms over her. She fires.

He lurches sideways but she wings him, spinning him around and sending him to the floor. They both scramble up, her into a crouch, him onto all fours.

People are bursting into the room, screaming at her.

The ambassador darts forward. She fires again, puts three rounds into his looming head.

They are the eye of the storm—an utterly still pair, while around them security forces from both sides of Theora whirl. The translator is on his knees, shaking and muttering to himself.

Someone puts a gun to the back of her head. She doesn’t know if it’s someone from her side or theirs. It only matters if she was wrong though.

She wasn’t.

The Manus Dei bursts from the ambassador’s back in a spray of blood and bone. People scream, shoot. The gun leaves the back of Ansible’s head, and she starts firing, but the thing makes a powerful, hundred-handed leap into the air, sailing over everyone’s heads, crashing into the still-swinging doors.

She’s after it in a flat sprint, but by the time she’s shoved through the crowd of bodies and out of the doors, the corridor outside is empty.

She seethes, turns around. Chaos still churns the conference room, but the ambassador’s eviscerated body and the quaking translator still sit in the quiet eye of it all.

She grabs the translator. “Why didn’t the bodyguard come?”

He stares at her, wild-eyed. Up close, the sheen on his skin looks like plastic. There’s an edge near his hairline looking red and raw.

“The shimmer in the eyes is the glow that bakes-”

She rattles him hard. “Translate!”

He swallows, his burnished Adam’s apple bobbing. “I don’t know. In the ambassador’s room? I waited for them both but only the ambassador came out. He told me he didn’t need his bodyguard.”

Because, Ansible knows, he was already dead.

 

The bodyguard is gone by the time they toss the ambassador’s room. Jennings is there, looking like she’s shedding another pound of hair into the room, her skin almost as shiny as the quivering translator who Ansible has dragged there in case he can find anything out of place. She knows she certainly won’t. The logic of the room is opaque to her: furniture set on angles perpendicular to her expectations, books spread out in a grid, all open to the thirty-seventh page.

“Tell me more about a Manus Dei,” she tells the translator.

He coughs. “In among the gloaming waves I wander…” He shakes his head. “Sorry. I mean, it’s a religious vessel, a vehicle for an operator’s intent.”

“An operator,” Ansible repeats. The bodyguard?”

He shrugs.

“These people are fucking monsters!” Jennings kicks at the books in disgust. She seems on the verge of screaming.

Ansible ignores her. “Is it . . . made? Summoned?”

It looks like the sweat is stuck under the plastic sheen on the translator’s skin. “It’s a ritual. The investment of a piece of the Selazzi into a clay model.”

“So, the ritual requires clay?”

“Yes.”

“What else?”

“Erm . . .” A set of rapid blinking. “Cans of laughter. Jars of tears.”

“Like this?” Jennings stands in the closet holding up a can and a jar. Emblazoned on each is Pierre Mercier’s logo.

 

It would be neater, Ansible thinks, if she didn’t get a call on the radio on the way over to Mercier’s saying that he’d just reported a break in. It’d make more sense if when they pulled into the estate the most personable of personal assistants had been standing over the bodyguard’s dead body, tying up his boss’s loose ends.

Instead, Mercier and his assistant are locked in a panic room. Security guards have the bodyguard trapped in a windowless study.

Ansible has West Theoran security pull the bodyguard out. He tries to fight, but the rifles on him settle him down.

“You’re under arrest for murder,” she tells him.

He sneers at her. “Diplomatic immunity.” It sounds like a phrase he’s memorized.

 

“He’s right, I’m afraid.”

Ansible has arranged another meeting with Jennings. The foreign office woman is looking calmer, as if the ghosts haunting her have taken a step back.

“So, the bodyguard just gets to walk?” Ansible’s headache is back.

“East Theoran justice is far worse than anything we can offer.” She curls her lip. “Those people are animals.”

“You’re not the most diplomatic diplomat I’ve ever met.”

Jennings shrugs. “They’re not in the room. I don’t have to pretend.”

“How long were you over there for?”

Jennings shudders. “Six months.”

“Undercover?”

Another shudder. “No, it was official. That was the worst of it. They would parade their insanity in front of me. They showed me things they were actually proud of.” Her voice is rising. She takes a breath, steadies herself. “Did you,” she asks, “arrest Mercier?”

“At what point,” Ansible asks her, “when you were over there, did you learn about the Manus Dei?”

Jennings blinks slowly.

“Or maybe a better question,” Ansible continues, “is when did you meet the ambassador’s bodyguard? Maybe the Manus Dei was his idea. You’ll have to explain it to me.”

Jennings takes a breath. “What are you talking about?”

“It was easy to like the Ambassador for this,” Ansible says. “Böhm cast himself as the villain, and so the natural role for the Ambassador is the avenging hero. Plus he had a vested interest in the deal going through.

She strokes her chin a bit. It’s showboating, but she’s feeling smug. “Except if the government really thought Böhm could affect the outcome,” she says, “would they really have let him attend? Because his failure to derail everything would be a great way to de-fang the mob out there.” Ansible points to the window and where the protesters still chant.

“But if I didn’t bite on the ambassador,” she continues, “well you were there to point me at Mercier. And he’s an asshole. It’s easy to want to pin this on him as well. And when I didn’t quite take the hint, you even had the can and jar as props. That was a nice touch. Except your assassin had failed in his job when he got to Mercier’s, hadn’t quite sealed the deal.”

Jennings looks wild now, her thin face working. “Maybe there was evidence pointing his way,” she shouts, “because he’s guilty! Maybe the solution is just obvious!”

Ansible sighs. “You know they keep records of who they sell that stuff to, right? I had Mercier look it up. There’s not many people in West Theora who buy it. And I checked your bank accounts.”

It’s so fast, it catches Ansible flat-footed. Jennings breaks for the door at a sprint. But the security guard she posted there catches Jennings by both wrists.

“They’re monsters!” Jennings screams as they cuff her. “They’re rabid! We have to keep them out!”

“The only thing that mattered to you,” Ansible says, more for her own satisfaction than anyone else’s, “was that the talks were destabilized.”

“We have to keep them out!”

Ansible smooths her hair. “The East Theorans have requested that you be sent over there for the trial,” she tells Jennings. “From what I hear, your colleagues are thinking of letting them have you.”

Inside the hotel where she orchestrated the murder of three men, Jennings starts to scream.

Knight of Swords

 

J. P. Oakes is a writer and creative director living on Long Island. His debut novel, City of Iron and Dust is available from Titan Books, and according to Publishers Weekly “offers lovers of the bloody and fantastical plenty to enjoy.”

He can be found online at jpoakeswrites.wordpress.com.

[ issue 9 : spring 2023 ]

New Caldwell Metropolitan Guard Cold Case Files on the Disappearance of Oliver Wolsey

~ John Klima

Item List

• Hand-copied pages from Constable Marcus Gurney’s journal

• Transcriptions of interviews conducted by Metropolitan Guard with various individuals:

– Graham Douglas

– Edgar Shipman

– Roger Blokeman

– [REDACTED]

– Ignatius Howlett

• Meeting minutes from New Caldwell Tarot and Magic Guilds wherein discussion of Oliver Wolsey occurred:

– Redhands (Health and Medicine Tarot Guild)

– Speakers for the Decayed (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

• Partial tarot deck of mixed provenance

• Longshoreman’s hook, bloody (stored in paper as per instruction from the Blood Mage branch of the Metropolitan Guard)

*

Health and Medicine Tarot Guild Meeting
Monday, August 3rd, 1874

Members in Attendance
[REDACTED] Chair
[REDACTED] Vice-Chair
[REDACTED] Secretary
[REDACTED] Treasurer
[REDACTED] Chair-Elect
[REDACTED] Past Chair
[REDACTED] Director
[REDACTED] Director
[REDACTED] Director

Members Not in Attendance

[REDACTED] Director
[REDACTED] Director
[REDACTED] Director
[REDACTED] Director

Guests in Attendance

Oliver Wolsey

Staff in Attendance

Nym Vernon
Reynaldo Stafford
Edgar Cromwell

1. Call to Order

Chair called meeting to order at six o’clock in the evening of the third of August, 1874.

2. Approval of Agenda

ON A MOTION MADE by [REDACTED], SECONDED by [REDACTED] and CARRIED, the agenda was approved as circulated.

3. Conflict of Interest

Director [REDACTED] recuses himself from discussion of NEW BUSINESS due to a CONFLICT OF INTEREST.

4. Approval of Previous Minutes

ON A MOTION DULY MADE by [REDACTED]SECONDED by [REDACTED] and CARRIED the draft minutes of the Guild’s meeting of the second of July were approved as presented.

5. Old Business

a. Redhands Name

[REDACTED] opened discussion on the colloquial name of the Guild—‘Redhands’—which he disdains. [REDACTED] asked the attending board for ideas of how to stop the pernicious name from the public’s tongues.

[REDACTED] stated that there was no way to control the public and since ‘Redhands’ was spoken often under auspices of fear, that the Guild should embrace it.

Followed a moment of shouting by several Guild members including [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [REDACTED] among others. Chair banged the gavel until the shouting wore down. He declared this business closed.

Chair noted this was the sixteenth consecutive meeting that [REDACTED] had brought this item to the agenda with no solution and no movement towards change. It was declared to be un-agendable in the future.

b. Membership

[REDACTED] reported that after reviewing membership files after last meeting there was no need to seek out new members. [REDACTED] apologized for wasting Oliver Wolsey’s time as his petition for membership would not be brought to the Guild at this time.

6. New Business

a. Printing Press

[REDACTED] MADE A MOTION to stop using The Elementary Pot printing house and purchase a printing press for the Guild to create tarot cards in private. The MOTION was SECONDED by [REDACTED] and CARRIED via ROLL CALL VOTE.

b. Card Manufacture

[REDACTED] made a subsequent MOTION that [REDACTED], while recused from discussion, be put in charge of purchasing the printing press and then card manufacture given his experience in the field. SECONDED by [REDACTED] and CARRIED via ROLL CALL VOTE.

7. Committee Reports

None

8. Staff Reports

Nym Vernon reported that the staff had found a solution for the rat problem in the Guild’s kitchens, namely obtaining several cats. Vernon also reported that construction had finished on the upstairs residences and after a coat of paint the Guild officers could move in.

Edgar Cromwell reported that their current launderer had switched soaps and was causing their robes to become pink rather than retaining their deep scarlet. The Chair gave permission to seek a new launderer.

9. Adjournment

ON A MOTION MADE by [REDACTED], SECONDED by [REDACTED] and CARRIED, the meeting was adjourned at nine o’clock.

*

Hand-copied transcript of Constable Marcus Gurney’s journal, entry dated August 6th

Thinking back on last night I will endeavor to put my thoughts into a reasonable facsimile of sense and order.

Not long into my beat around the Nine Points a pair of youths caught my attention and brought me down to the nearby docks. The young men directed me to where a crowd gathered near Pier Four. My constable’s badge and dragon’s ash truncheon opened a path for me to the center of the assembled mass of humanity.

I could immediately see what had transformed their curiosity into general unruliness. A dark-skinned man lay on the pier in a growing pool of blood, a bloody longshoreman’s hook on the wooden pier beside him.

The crowd seemed both fearful and disdainful of this man. I recognized him as a soldier under my commend from my days in the Royal Navy and moved in close to see what I could do.

I called him by name, James, and cradled his head in my lap, shocking many in the crowd. My memory was of a good sailor, strong swimmer, and fearless soldier.

James recognized me and grabbed my coat forcibly. He told me I had to find the boy, had to avenge this terrible act of bodily harm. I assured James that I would do everything in my power to bring about justice. There was little that could be done to save his life. The most I could do was make him comfortable.

James said that the scurrilous scamp stole from him. That they had agreed upon a price for the scrimshaw and the young man did not have enough money. The scrimshaw had not been easy to obtain and James wanted true value for his efforts.

James was attacked from behind by the honorless youth and gutted like some bottom feeder. Then the youth took the scrimshaw from him and ran.

James repeated this story several times as the Metropolitan Guard Crime Investigation Squad arrived with their arcane leather portmanteaus to gather evidence and do what they could to solve the crime.

James went still in my arms. He had expired.

Upon seeing James dead, the MGCIS stopped and conferred with each other. Then, they picked up the hook from the pier, stored it in one of their evidence bags, and left the scene.

I found it disgraceful that the MGCIS did nothing more than collect a single piece of evidence and leave without interviewing any of the crowd. All the same, with James expired, the crowd dispersed and went back to their everyday business.

I spent the remainder of my shift finding someone who would take James’ body and ensure that it was interred properly. There was little to no hope of finding family but the least I could do was make sure his body wasn’t left on the piers for the rats.

Upon returning to the station, my sergeant berated me for a full half hour for wasting time on dark scum when I could have been helping good citizens. I disagreed with the assessment of wasted time, but I kept my mouth shut.

*

Partial tarot deck of mixed provenance

Major Arcana 0 – The Fool – missing

Major Arcana I – The Magician – missing

Major Arcana II – Fire (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana III – Water (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana IV – Air (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana V – Earth (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana VI – The Lovers – missing

Major Arcana VII – The Chariot – missing

Major Arcana VIII – Equity (Health and Medicine Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana IX – Philosopher (Health and Medicine Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana X – Wheel of Fortune – cast in bronze and image etched deeply into its surface

Major Arcana XI – Strength – missing

Major Arcana XII – The Hanged Man – missing

Major Arcana XIII – Death – missing

Major Arcana XIV – Temperance – missing

Major Arcana XV – Illness (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana XVI – The Tower – missing

Major Arcana XVII – Blood (Health and Medicine Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana XVIII – The Moon – carved from scrimshaw. When held one can hear crashing waves from the ocean.

Major Arcana XIX – Misery (Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild)

Major Arcana XX – Judgment – image tattooed on skin of unknown mammal, perhaps human, attached to card-sized piece of dragon’s ash.

Major Arcana XXI – The World – missing

Minor Arcana from Communication with the Dead Tarot (Pentacles and Cups; with exceptions noted below, only the Two, Five, Six, and Nine of Pentacles, and the Three, Six, and Eight of Cups were found with this deck)

• Minor Arcana from Battle Guild Tarot (Swords; with exceptions noted below, only the Two of Swords was found with the deck)

• Minor Arcana from Health and Medicine Guild (Wands; with exceptions noted below, only the Three, Five, and Six of Wands were found with this deck)

Noted Exceptions:

• Ace of Pentacles, Ace of Cups, Ace of Swords, and Ace of Wands – cards made of thin marble sheets with mother-of-pearl inlay. The card backs are blank.

•Three of Cups, Six of Wands, Nine of Pentacles, and Nine of Swords – cards made of dried sheets of seaweed with simple ink designs drawn on the front.

• Knave of Pentacles – card made of glass with exquisitely painted card front. The card back has repeating designs of pentacles etched into the glass surface.

• Knave of Cups – card is made of a delicate, thin piece of black shale; one of its corners is slightly crumbled. The card front looks blank. The card is identifiable due to its back having der Schurke der Tassen written on it in chalk.

• Knave of Swords – card scorched as if set aflame; front and back damaged to the point where it is unable to determine the image on the front nor the design on the back.

• Knave of Wands – card is made of dragon’s ash with design burned into the card front. The card back is blank.

*

Interview of Graham Douglas, Captain of The Walpole
(conducted by Inspector Chauncey Gibb)
Friday August 7th, 1874

Chauncey Gibb: Can you tell me how you knew James Gough?

Graham Douglas: Guff? Is that how you pronounce it?

CG: [pause] I believe so.

GD: Well, I learn something new every day. That’s how I stay so young! Always learning!

CG: And how did you know him?

GD: James was a sailor on The Walpole. Good sailor. Had Naval experience.

CG: Was it a problem that the man was dark skinned?

GD: Not for me, sir. Now, I don’t like what you’re implying, that he was mistreated just because of the color of his—

CG: Did his shipmates have issue with his skin color?

GD: No sir. If any did, I’d have them overboard before you can say spit. He was a Navy man! Lots of folks don’t have that type of muster but James did. And I’ll let you know, if he was good enough for His Majesty’s Navy, he’s more than good enough for me!

CG: Was it possible that someone on the crew resented his Naval past, maybe a crew member that couldn’t pass the Naval exams?

[The record states that Graham Douglas paused before shaking his head.]

GD: Look, I’m not as much a fool as I appear. I’m sure there were men on the ship that had never worked with someone like James, but I tell you, he worked for me for two, three years. If there was problems with the crew, there’s no way he would last that long.

CG: What kind of cargo does The Walpole carry?

GD: Nothing unusual. We start up the coast to the north, picking up lumber, whales, furs . . . the type of things you can’t get down here. We head south, drop some cargo off, pick some up—textiles, wheat, corn, and the like—and then head further south. At the end we drop off the last of cargo from the north, some from around here, and pick up cotton, sugar, and such. Then we head back up coast making stops along the way. By the time we’re back north again The Walpole is empty and sitting high in the water.

CG: No slaves or firearms?

GD: No sir. No illegal cargo. There’s too much money to make with legitimate work.

CG: What do you know about Oliver Wolsey?

GD: That bastard. Killed one of my best sailors. I’d put a hook to him were he in front of me! Is he a big bloke?

CG: What? No, Wolsey is a youth. Barely over five feet tall.

GD: Huh. James was a big man. Tall for sure, I’m surprised Wolsey got the best of him.

CG: From what we can tell, Wolsey surprised him from behind. So you say you never met Wolsey?

GD: No. I wouldn’t know the man if he was you.

CG: Any idea what Gough and he would have in common?

GD: James was a friend to the whalers up north. Did a tidy side business selling carved whale bone . . . scrimshaw? I suspect that bastard wanted some of that and James stood his ground on his price.

CG: You didn’t care that one of your employees worked on the side?

GD: I don’t allow sailors to do trade on The Walpole and they can’t be looking to make an extra coin if there’s still work to do. If their work is done, their time is their business. They know my work is good so they’ll be back in the morning.

CG: If you think of anything else, please contact us.

GD: I will but don’t sit up waiting for me.

*

Interview of Edgar Shipman, longshoreman in New Caldwell Seaport, member of The Hive union
(conducted by Inspector Chauncey Gibb)
Friday August 7th, 1874

Chauncey Gibb: Can you tell me how you knew James Gough?

Edgar Shipman: He’s that darkskin that got killed the other night?

CG: He was. Yes.

ES: I knew of him. We didn’t trade words.

CG: What about scrimshaw?

ES: I wouldn’t touch anything from him if it came with a year’s supply of golden pussy.

CG: Are you saying you did not like the man?

ES: I’m saying I don’t know him. And I have no time for his type. The only way we’d talk is if he was in my way to the pub.

CG: So you wouldn’t quarrel with the man?

ES: I don’t start stuff. If he came at me, he should be prepared for a fight.

CG: From what I hear, the Hive is barely more than a gang of thugs ready to fight at the merest provocation. You’re telling me someone like you who has a severe dislike of darkskinned people and is a proud member of the Hive wouldn’t go out of your way to create problems for James Gough?

ES: [silent for a long time] We’ve been told to leave The Walpole and its crew alone. I won’t say no more about it and that’s more than you should hear.

CG: Did you know Oliver Wolsey?

ES: Agh. That little blighter was under everyone’s feet. Always with the questions about the seaport and cargo and how we unload cargo. If you want to know about someone I would go out of my way to fuck with? That Wolsey is one.

CG: Where were you on the night of August 5th?

ES: Don’t know. Drinking or fucking. That’s all I do at night. Eventually I blackout and someone wakes me to come empty some cargo.

CG: So you weren’t in the seaport when Wolsey attacked Gough?

ES: I wasn’t on that pier, but I never really leave the seaport. To be honest inspector? I would’ve been just like the rest of the crowd if I was there. Standing and watching. Not helping. There’s no money to be made in being kind to people.

CG: If you think of anything else, please contact us.

ES: Oh, no thank you, inspector.

[The record notes that shipman tore Inspector Gibb’s card in half before departing.]

*

Interview – David Blokeman, proprietor of The Beautiful Lamp
(conducted by Inspector Chauncey Gibb)
Tuesday August 11th, 1874

David Blokeman: Are you here to help me with my claim of insurance?

Chauncey Gibb: Um, no. I’m with the Metropolitan Guard. Can you tell me how you knew Oliver Wolsey?

DB: Is that the name of the asshole that started a fucking fire and swung a fucking giant sword around? I’ve got notches in my joist work deep enough that I’m afraid to sleep upstairs!

CG: So you never met Wolsey before he entered your bar the other morning?

DB: No. Never saw the kid before. I thought about not letting him in but he had coin for a drink and coin wins over better judgment I guess.

CG: He hardly seems old enough to drink.

DB: As far as I know inspector there’s no limit to how young you can be to taste a pint of ale. I’ve made the choice to not have kids of my own and then have to worry about bad choices they make, I’m certainly not going to worry about someone else’s kids’ bad choices.

CG: Did you notice anything unusual about Wolsey?

DB: Like I said, he was young and that always makes me suspicious. Then he kept fiddling with his damn tarot. They always make me nervous. I don’t like Guild folk in my tavern and flashing cards around is one way to get the Guilds sniffing about.

CG: Why not ask him to leave?

DB: He had coin and was taking his sweet damn time finishing his beer. Probably the first time he ever tasted it and couldn’t understand why everyone loves it so much.

CG: When did Constable Gurney arrive?

DB: Probably a few hours after Wolsey. I don’t keep track of everyone but I suspect Gurney comes into The Lamp around eleven every day. He has lunch.

CG: Does he drink on the job?

DB: He has lunch.

CG: Did Gurney mention anything about Wolsey?

DB: Oh aye. We made a deep conversation about the lad. Wondering where his mother was and if we should take him in like a stray cat.

CG: There’s no need for cheek my good man.

DB: Probably not, but that’s what I have to give. Gurney saw him and asked a question or two about him. Unlike me, Gurney always needs to know why.

CG: When did you notice the Redhands?

DB: To be fair, I didn’t. But in a bit, when Gurney heads over to Wolsey’s table, he motions for a round of drinks. I see him looking toward the corner of the room, and that’s when I saw ‘em, but only because I felt like they wanted to be seen. Does that make sense?

CG: Some. What happened next?

DB: You see, my memory is a little fuzzy about that. I’m in back a lot because I’m preparing for the dock workers to come in after the ships are emptied and restocked. I was coming out front when it felt like the whole place is spinning like after the war when we all had too much drink.

CG: The floor was spinning?

DB: Not for real. It just felt like it was. As quickly as I feel it, it stops. I get out front to see what’s happening and before I can round the corner of the bar, I hear shouting.

One of the Redhands is partway out the door but he’s laying on the ground on fire. Wolsey has a great big sword in his hands. Gurney has his truncheon out, but he isn’t getting too close to that blade. The other Redhands is peeling cards off a deck and speaking quietly.

I think about heading right back into the kitchen when there’s a bright flash of light. So bright it near blinded me. I can’t really speak to what happened.

I heard Gurney shouting that Wolsey should put down his sword and back up against the wall. Wolsey was shouting something about not letting the Redhands take him alive. There was a lot of other noise but nothing I could make out.

By the time my eyes cleared up, there was just Gurney in the bar talking to some inspectors. The Redhands were gone. Wolsey was gone.

CG: Thank you. You’ve been very helpful. If you think of anything else, please contact us.

DB: I will. If you see an insurer out and about, send them here.

*

Hand-copied transcript of Constable Marcus Gurney’s journal, entry dated August 11th

I met Oliver Wolsey yesterday, murderer of former Lance Corporal James Gough, and more importantly, someone I considered a friend. At first, I did not know who he was or I would have worked to apprehend him on the spot.

The Sergeant had shared his name out before the constables were released to their beats. I had a name and the vaguest description. He could have been any number of youths I pass on a daily basis.

As it was, I entered The Beautiful Lamp yesterday midday for my standard meal and pint. I noted a youth sitting a table with a mostly full pint glass playing with an unusual deck of cards. Initially I was not aware that they were tarot.

David, the proprietor, already had my pint on the bar and I knew the food would be coming shortly. I liked to get in before the dock workers finished up unloading and loading ships at the seaport. The Lamp got loud and disorderly and I liked a bit of quiet. It also didn’t make sense to spend a lot of time breaking up fights and arguments when it was just men blowing off steam. If I was there as a member of the Metropolitan Guard, it would behoove me to uphold the law which would not endear me to anyone.

I asked James about the young man and he mentioned that the youth was at the front door when he opened up for the day. The youth had coin and the bar was empty. James would chase him out when the dock workers arrived.

I ate my meal—some delicious fried fish and potatoes—but kept an eye on the young man. At that moment it was clear to me that he was working with a tarot deck and not one of the gambling decks James kept behind the bar for the workers.

The young man played a few cards from a Diviners tarot, which was odd as he was not dressed in the Diviners Guild vestments. It varied from guild to guild, but in general the guilds did not like outsiders using their cards.

I went to put more fish in my mouth and almost missed when the next card he placed was from the Battle Tarot Guild. I had never heard of someone blending decks. I decided to have a word with the young man.

I was finishing my pint when he laid out a card carved from scrimshaw. When the card hit the table, it glowed softly. There was no chance that was a coincidence. He fit the description from the Sergeant and the scrimshaw settled it for me: this was my suspect.

I set down my empty glass and readied myself to walk over when he pulled a cream-colored card with a single red handprint on its back and set it into his tableau. What I had taken for a nervous tick of looking towards the door was now clearly the young man keeping an eye on the pair sitting in a dark corner of the tavern.

Their red vestments were so dark I hadn’t noticed them at first, but there were two members of the Health and Medicine Tarot Guild watching the young man.

Known as Redhands, the Health and Medicine Tarot Guild definitely did not allow their cards to be handled by anyone outside their guild. How Oliver came to possess such cards was beyond my imagination.

I knew it was imperative to apprehend Oliver, not just to hold him accountable for the murder of James Gough, but to protect him from the Health and Medicine Tarot Guild. If they got their hands on him, James’ killer would never see justice.

I moved to Oliver’s table and he tried to get me to leave him alone. I appealed to his wellbeing and good judgment to get him out of the tavern safely. Oliver scoffed and said that he could take care of himself.

I took a different tack and said that I didn’t want my favorite tavern getting busted up in whatever was going to happen between him and the guild members in the corner.

Oliver didn’t answer; he just pulled an over-sized card from his deck whose back was covered in elephants and crocodiles. I wasn’t sure which guild those cards were from. Then he smiled at me—the cheek of this youth!—and drew a card that looked like polished bronze and set it in the center of his tableau. A Wheel of Fortune was etched delicately into the card’s front.

When he placed it, it appeared that the cards were floating above, beneath, and in the table. As I watched, the table appeared to revolve slowly and I had to grip its sides to keep from falling out of my chair.

I tried to speak, but my mind was busy trying to keep from sliding away. The entire floor felt like it was tipping slowly and that I was certain to crash down into it before too long.

Oliver swept the cards up and shuffled his deck with a giggle and the room stopped moving.

I had to get this situation under control.

I called him kid and Oliver corrected me with his full name. One of the two Redhands stood and left the tavern quickly. I shouted for him to stop but he kept going.

Oliver shuffled the deck rapidly but I could tell his attention was on the remaining Redhands. I looked over and saw the guild member was shuffling his own deck.

He moved rapidly.

He stood and swung his right hand forward in one motion. A huge flash of light nearly blinded me. I could see indistinct shapes, but nothing more.

As my eyes cleared up, I saw Oliver push himself back from the table, put his hands together, and pulled a long glowing sword from somewhere. A smoldering card fell to the table.

The guild member threw another card at Oliver and he blocked it with his sword and rushed the guild member who stood stock still, clearly not expecting Oliver to be able to fight back.

Neither had been trained to fight as I had. I was between them before either knew I was moving. I met Oliver’s sword with my truncheon which stopped the sword, but it bit into the wood which should not have been possible.

The Redhands threw another card but this one exploded into a thick cloud of smoke when it struck the floor. I was trying to wrest the sword from Oliver’s hands and therefore wasn’t able to stop this guild member either. I could smell burning as the smoke did not clear.

Oliver’s sword hit my truncheon a second time but turned into mist. Because I was pressing so hard against the sword, when it disappeared I toppled to the floor. Before I could regain my feet, Oliver was over me and out the door.

I worked with Blokeman to get the fire out.

My superior insisted that Oliver must have had the sword on him and that I merely missed it. I agreed that he was correct. But we both knew that magic was a thing that happened in New Caldwell even if the official Metropolitan Guard line was to deny its existence. That was absurd as members of all the Mage Unions worked within the Metropolitan Guard departments.

*

Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild Board Meeting
August 13th, 1874

Board Members in Attendance

Ford Xavier (President)
Gregory Fullmore (Vice-President)
Sid Fawns (Secretary)
Roscoe Matson (Treasurer)
Gerald Collins
Ignatius Howlett
Emmet Norman
Richard Purcell
Bryan Potter
Percival Xavier

Board Members Not in Attendance

Elder Cook
Virgil Gleeson
Benedict Smith
Orrin Skidd.

1. Call to Order

Chair called meeting to order at eight o’clock in the evening of the thirteenth of August, 1874.

2. Approval of Agenda

ON A MOTION MADE by Howlett, SECONDED by Potter and CARRIED, the agenda was approved as circulated.

3. Conflict of Interest

None.

4. Approval of Previous Minutes

ON A MOTION DULY MADE by Collins SECONDED by Howlett and CARRIED the draft minutes of the Guild’s meeting of the seventeenth of July were approved as presented.

5. Old Business

a. Membership Dues

Treasurer Matson read off a list of members who still needed to pay their dues. He reminded all those present that the Guild could not run itself as a business and be considered a serious Guild if they did not have the funds owed from members. All members of the Guild were vetted prior to being allowed and as such, the Guild knew that everyone could afford the dues.

President Xavier MADE A MOTION that dues needed to be paid before the next meeting or membership would be revoked. MOTION SECONDED by Howlett and CARRIED in a unanimous vote.

b. Vestments

Treasurer Matson reported that new vestments had arrived from the tailor and were available for all fully paid members.

6. New Business

a. Oliver Wolsey

Ignatius Howlett wanted to bring to the Guild’s attention that there was a young man going about New Caldwell brazenly using cards from multiple Guilds. Howlett had it on good authority that this Wolsey character held multiple Communication with the Dead Tarot cards and thought the board should launch an investigation into how Wolsey obtained the cards.

Purcell MOVED that the board form an investigatory committee which was SECONDED by Howlett and CARRIED in a unanimous vote.

b. Membership Dues Increase

Treasurer Matson indicated that the board should consider raising dues if it was going to continue its push for new members. The Guildhall was a historical building in a prime area, and those costs were not going to go down in the future.

Additionally, the tarot cards were quite expensive to manufacture and since the board was unwilling to change the materials used in card manufacture, those costs had to be covered somewhere.

President Xavier clarified that board was not going to move the Guildhall to a new location as it was a major reason that attracted new members and members of the public looking for its services. President Xavier further explained that it wasn’t just merely being unwilling to change the cards structure, but that they were unable to because changing the materials used to manufacture the cards would render them unusable for the Guild’s activities in communicating with the dead.

President Xavier TABLED discussion on this matter for the next meeting.

7. Committee Reports

MEMBERSHIP COMMITTEE reported that they had ten new members ready for vetting. Treasurer Matson questioned if it was sensible to be increasing membership numbers so rapidly.

President Xavier explained that if the Guild wanted to compete with the Prophets of the Unknown, then increasing its numbers was the only way.

Howlett MADE A MOTION to have the potential candidates vetted and invited to the next meeting. MOTION SECONDED by President Xavier and CARRIED unanimously.

No other committees met since the last meeting.

8. Staff Reports

None.

9. Adjournment

ON A MOTION MADE by Howlett, SECONDED by Purcell and CARRIED, the meeting was adjourned at nine o’clock.

*

Interview of [NAME REDACTED], member of Health and Medicine Tarot Guild
(Conducted by Inspector Chauncey Gibb)
Friday August 14th, 1874

Chauncey Gibb, Inspector: How did the Health and Medicine Tarot Guild become aware of Oliver Wolsey?

[NAME REDACTED]: He was invited to a board meeting by [REDACTED]. I understand he was to petition to become a member.

CG: Does your Guild take on a lot of new members?

[NR]: [REDACTED]

CG: So it was unusual for Wolsey to actually attend a meeting to request becoming a member?

[NR]: Yes, very much so.

CG: Was there ever any serious thought given to listening to his plea?

[NR]: No.

CG: How did Wolsey appear at the meeting? Was he nervous? Excited?

[NR]: [REDACTED]

CG: One could surmise that Wolsey would be disappointed to give up his time to attend a purposeless meeting. He could even reasonably be angry at his treatment.

[NR]: The Health and Medicine Tarot Guild is not a social club. If Wolsey did the research he purported to have done, he would know before attending the meeting that the chance of him successfully becoming a member was essentially zero.

CG: So why bother?

[NR]: You would have to ask him that.

CG: We will.

[NR]: So the Metropolitan Guard has him in custody?

CG: I cannot comment on the status of our investigation. What was the Guild’s reaction when you learned that Wolsey was using tarot from your Guild without permission?

[NR]: [REDACTED]

CG: I’m surprised you would admit that to a member of the Metropolitan Guard.

[NR]: [REDACTED]

CG: Sir, I’m confident in our investigation. The Guild should step aside and let the proper authorities handle this matter.

[NR]: [REDACTED]

CG: Thank you sir. You have my card should you need to reach me.

*

Interview of Ignatius Howlett, member of Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild
(Conducted by Inspector Chauncey Gibb)
Friday August 14th, 1874

Chauncey Gibb: How did the Communication with the Dead Tarot Guild become aware of Oliver Wolsey?

Ignatius Howlett: Some of our agents, Guild staff you know, reported to us that there was a young man, recently arrived to New Caldwell, that was flashing an unusual tarot deck to anyone who wanted to see. It was Wolsey, and he had cards from our tarot, which isn’t allowed.

CG: Does the Guild do anything to enforce who has access to your tarot?

IH: We have very strict ordinances in place to regulate who can enter and exit the facilities where our tarot are made. At least I thought we had strict ordinances in place. We are an exclusive Guild, not for just any member of society. No, we are made up of the best, the highest members of society. It irks me to no end that this wastrel was able to steal Tarot from us.

CG: So how would Wolsey have gone about obtaining your Tarot?

IH: I honestly have no idea. I suspect some member of our staff feels underpaid or some such nonsense and took money from this ragamuffin for a handful of tarot. You see, to most people I suspect their understanding is so lacking that the tarot appear as nothing more than glorified playing cards, but they are much more than that.

CG: Your staff understands the tarot? Understands the power of the cards?

IH: Under my oversight, staff was fully vetted prior to hiring. Background checks, references, sponsorship by members . . .

But now that my talents are needed elsewhere in the Guild I suspect that all is lacking now and Potter and Xavier—Percival Xavier, not President Xavier—are doing a right shoddy job of hiring staff.

CG: Is it possible that Wolsey stole the cards?

IH: I’d actually prefer to learn that he stole them rather than obtaining them through some malfeasance by staff. We’ve created an investigatory committee to look into the matter.

CG: Excellent. I’ll give you my card so you can provide us with any new information you feel is relevant.

IH: Of course. And here is my card in case you need to ask any more questions. I’m always more than happy to talk about the Guild.

*

Hand-copied transcript of Constable Marcus Gurney’s journal, entry dated Sunday August 16th

The Nine Points is a difficult place to investigate crime. Gang activity makes residents reluctant to talk in the best of times. Now I needed to find someone in the Nine Points who was playing with fire as far as the Tarot Guilds were concerned and I doubted whether I could find anyone willing to talk.

I left word for my typical informants that I was trying to locate Wolsey. Normally they needed a day or two to gather information and that was time I did not have. It was a long shot to ask them for help, but I had to try everything I could.

I wandered in and out of the typical places criminals went to when trying to lay low, but there was no sign of Wolsey and everyone refused to talk to me.

I was too well known and it was too well known what I wanted.

I stood at an empty street corner thinking about my next move. Any other night I would have to watch out for fast-moving carriages, street toughs, magicians, street walkers, and even the occasionally higher-class person looking for something out of the ordinary.

The fact that the streets were empty was a bad sign. I figured my best hope would be to find Wolsey’s body.

Something prodded me in the back and a rough voice told me not to turn around. The voice gave me a recent location of Wolsey and encouraged me to hurry.

Wolsey’s room at the New Caldwell Youth Association was essentially bare. There were few affects and little in the way of belongings.

Wolsey was gone. I held little hope of getting another tip to his whereabouts. But sometimes luck is on your side.

On a side table was a stack of tarot cards. I picked them up and put them in my pocket. There was a scrap of paper on the table and when I picked it up it was an attempt at forgery for a ticket on a ship heading south.

I headed to the seaport as fast as I could. I doubted I would find Wolsey on the ship scrawled on the fake ticket now in my pocket, but again, I had to follow what leads I had.

When I arrived at the dock in question, the ship was already away from the pier and heading out to sea.

It was too far to be certain, but I would swear an oath that standing at the stern of the boat was Wolsey. He was waving to me. If I squinted, I could imagine a smile on his face.

He had gotten away but he could never return. New Caldwell was now closed to him. If he ever came back, I would likely only learn about it because he was in the morgue.

Knight of Swords

 

John Klima previously worked in New York’s publishing jungle before returning to school to earn his Master’s in Library Science. He now works full time as the Technology Manager of a large public library. John edited and published the Hugo Award-winning genre zine Electric Velocipede from 2001 to 2013.

When he is not conquering the world of indexing, John writes short stories and novels. He and his family live in the Midwest.

 [ issue 5 : winter 2022 ]