October 28, 1937:
My stomach churns. I can taste the soured bile rising in my throat. I stare down at the mangled sinew and blood and flesh and bone that used to be T. Warren Ashworth, and my eyes water. The stench is unbearable. I sometimes wonder if including a gas mask as part of my attire might be a good idea.
A quick glance at Rose tells me that she is taking the scene even harder than I am. I ask her if she wants to step outside.
She says, “Yes.”
Rose and I have been working together on cases like this — no, actually, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before — for years. We’ve witnessed innumerable horrors, both on Earth and in realms beyond, but nothing has come close to the sheer savagery that we have seen in this case.
This is the third such body in as many weeks. Due to their locations, they probably would have gone unnoticed until next spring, but this October has been unnaturally hot. Had the weather been closer to normal, the cooler temperatures would have minimized the scent of death.
Reaching into the pocket of my overcoat, I remove the red and black disk given to me by the Seven. Its primary function is to repel supernatural energy, but I discovered that, to repel it, the talisman has to detect it, and it is telling me that this case has supernatural written all over it in blood. I suspect that this is the reason Nathaniel Dusk, a fellow detective, decided to give me a call. I’m thinking of crossing him off my Christmas card list this year.
Rose returns and asks how much longer I plan on looking around. I tell her a few more minutes. She looks at the victim again, and I know that even one more minute is too long in her opinion. I suggest to her that she go talk to the doorman and see what he knows; I also tell her to call the police. She smiles her gratitude and leaves the room a second time.
I pull my handkerchief from my pants pocket and cover my mouth and nose before kneeling down to examine the victim. What I see confirms my suspicions.
Dusk told me the door was closed, but not locked, when he got here. This didn’t seem to raise any alarms with Nathaniel, since Mr. Ashworth was expecting him. Apparently, some of Ashworth’s relatives from out of town had tried to reach him, but to no avail. Must have been some bad blood between them — no pun intended. The family then contacted Nathaniel with the hopes that Ashworth would speak with him. Perhaps Nathaniel can tell me more about the Ashworth family.
Anyone who entered or left that way would have had to pass the doorman downstairs. That wouldn’t have raised any suspicions when they arrived, but whoever did this would have been covered in blood when they left. That means they didn’t leave by the door. The balcony doors are locked from the inside, so the only other possible exit would have to be… I look up at the skylight — the open skylight.
A quick levitation spell permits me the opportunity to investigate. It does not lighten my mood when I find a small tuft of fur stuck to the corner of the glass.
It’s time for us to leave.
We arrive at Nathaniel Dusk’s office twenty minutes later. He is nursing a glass of warm scotch when we open the door.
Without taking his eyes off the glass, he says, “I thought I’d put this behind me. My old man liked to drink every now and then, and every now and then he took it out on me. After what I saw in that penthouse, I wanted nothing more than to forget. But every time I look at that glass, I remember my old man.”
I walk over to the desk and take the glass. After pouring the scotch back into the bottle, I put the bottle in my pocket.
Nathaniel says, “Thanks, Doc.”
Rose and I sit down. Nathaniel finally looks up.
“You were right to call us,” I say, “although Rose might disagree with me.”
Nathaniel pulls a file out of his desk drawer. “I did some checking before agreeing to the Ashworths’ request. It appears the old man didn’t see too many visitors. He didn’t mind hitting the charity circuit, but he seemed to keep his own company otherwise. I wonder if his family will carry on his charitable ways?”
I follow a shrug with a question. “Did you check on the other two?”
Nathaniel hands me another file. “Both Linus Vanderpelt and Jay Simpson Bartholomew were in pretty much the same situation. They lived alone, supported their charities, and died like animals.”
Rose clears her throat at his last comment; he apologizes.
“Sadly enough,” Rose says, “we now have a pattern.”
Nathaniel and I nod.
Rose continues. “We should have a week to find a connection between these three men before another body appears. If we’re lucky, we will find that connection before that happens.”
I stand up. “We’ll meet in two days and compare notes.”
Nathaniel and Rose also stand.
“I’ll see you then,” Nathaniel says. “Oh, and Doc,” he says, glancing at my overcoat pocket, “thanks.”
I smile. “You’re welcome.”
October 29, 1937:
There is a certain peace I feel when I enter the church of St. Michael. Some people might think it a bit odd that a man who calls himself Doctor Occult finds a measure of peace in such a place, but I have seen too much in the realms of the supernatural not to believe in the tenets of the faithful. Besides, my purpose for coming here is twofold.
Aside from the peace I find, Father Stephen provides me with various tools I need in my line of work; there aren’t too many places a person can obtain holy water.
I met Father Stephen a year or so ago when one of my cases forced me to seek sanctuary at St. Michael’s. I had run afoul of an otherworldly entity — a demon, if you will — that had caught me completely by surprise. It tore me up pretty badly. I collapsed on the church steps, and the good priest pulled me inside. The demon howled like a tornado because the sanctity of St. Michael’s prevented it from reaching me. Most people thought it was nothing more than a freakish windstorm, but Father Stephen and I knew the truth. Ever since then, he has provided me with certain things I need in my fight against evil.
The growing tapping of shoe leather on wood alerts me to Father Stephen’s approach. I look up and smile as he sits down beside me on the pew.
“I have the items you requested,” he says as he opens a small bundle. “A dozen small bottles of holy water, two silver crucifix, and four wooden stakes. Everything has been blessed, along with the cloth that they are wrapped up in.”
I thank him.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, then I get up to leave. Father Stephen places his hand on my shoulder and bids me, “Go with God.”
I nod and leave.
On the way back to the office, I stop by the library to pick up Rose. She was following a hunch through old copies of the society page. I find her at a table scribbling notes on a pad, a stack of newspapers in front of her.
“Find anything?” I ask as I take a seat on the corner of the table.
She nods her head yes without looking up.
“Are you going to tell me what you were looking for?”
Rose responds by holding up her index finger. When she finishes writing, she focuses her attention on me. Her expression tells me she found what she was looking for.
“I thought the victims’ names sounded familiar,” Rose said. “I mean beyond the fact that they were all well-known philanthropists.”
I say, “So you decided to check the society page.”
Rose continues. “Several years ago, Linus Vanderpelt married Margaret Bartholomew.”
I nod. “That links Vanderpelt and Bartholomew by marriage. How does Ashworth tie into this?”
“Several years ago, a very young T. Warren Ashworth married Lucille Vanderpelt, Linus Vanderpelt’s twin sister. Unfortunately, she died of scarlet fever on the exact day of their second anniversary. Ashworth was so heartbroken that he never remarried.”
I ponder what I’ve just learned. “What about Margaret? What happened to her?”
Rose flips back a couple pages in her notepad. “Margaret Vanderpelt died of pneumonia three years ago. And before you ask, Mr. Bartholomew’s wife, Sally, sailed for Europe six months ago.”
“So she would be the sole heir to all three fortunes,” I say.
“She would be, if the Ashworth family hadn’t contacted Nathaniel,” Rose says. “The society pages make no mention of any other family for any of the three men beyond their wives. No children were had among the lot of them.”
“I wonder if Mrs. Bartholomew has been contacted?” I ask.
“Perhaps the district attorney could answer that,” Rose replies.
We return the newspapers to the librarian before leaving. Our next stop is the D.A.’s office.
October 30, 1937:
“Well, I called the Ashworths back and told them about the old man’s death,” Nathaniel says as he takes a drink of coffee.
“How did they take the news?” Rose asks.
Nathaniel replies, “They didn’t say much. It was probably due to the shock of hearing the terrible news.”
I redirect the conversation. “We talked to the D.A. yesterday. He told us that he still hadn’t located Mrs. Bartholomew in Europe to break the news of her husband’s death to her. Even Scotland Yard was helping to track her down.”
“I thought these uppercrusts kept some sort of schedule when they traveled,” Nathaniel comments.
“Apparently,” Rose adds, “Mrs. Bartholomew has deviated from her itinerary somewhat.”
Nathaniel asks, “How far?”
“There is no record of her even arriving in Great Britain,” I say.
“Perhaps something happened on the voyage over,” Nathaniel suggests.
“I checked with the Balkan Star Lines this morning,” I say, “and they said their manifests say nothing about Mrs. Bartholomew even being on board one of their ships.”
Nathaniel rubs his chin for a moment, then offers a suggestion. “Perhaps the itinerary was just a ruse, Doc. Perhaps Mrs. Bartholomew never left the country.”
“That is what it is starting to look like,” I reply.
“But why go through the trouble of working up an itinerary for a trip you aren’t going to take?” Rose asks.
“If someone didn’t want their whereabouts known, they might go through the trouble,” Nathaniel says.
I ask Rose if she remembers seeing anything in the newspapers about the woman that might explain her disappearance.
Rose opens her notepad and begins flipping through the pages. A few seconds pass before she speaks.
“There is a small article about Mrs. Bartholomew going abroad for a rest.”
I look at Nathaniel with a raised eyebrow.
“You don’t think she went abroad, do you?” he asks me.
“Going abroad for a rest would be a lot less embarrassing to someone of the Bartholomews’ standings than some of the alternatives,” I remark. “Especially if she requires a specific kind of rest.”
“A sanitarium?” Rose asks.
“There aren’t very many that would cater to someone like her, so that should cut down on our search,” Nathaniel says.
“Good,” I say. “If what I suspect is true, Mrs. Bartholomew might just be the next victim.”