Blackwood farm, p.14

Blackwood Farm, page 14

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE a word I said. When I bubbled over crazily with the horrible dream of the piercing of Rebecca, Sheriff Jeanfreau just laughed at me, laughed at my references to myself as both man and woman in the dream, and only a sudden expostulation of

  " 'Please!' from Aunt Queen shut him up.

  "When it came to my depiction of the mysterious stranger dumping the two bodies, Sheriff Jeanfreau started laughing again and there even came some audible snickering from his worthless deputy Ugly Henderson.

  "Patsy, who had come into the kitchen sometime during the proceedings, picked up on Ugly's snickering and started some snickering of her own.

  "And when I described how Goblin had led me back out of the swamp, the sheriff, figuratively speaking, rolled on the floor.

  "I ignored all this with first-rate patience, devoured two plates of pancakes made by Big Ramona from the Cracker Barrel pancake mix and looked to Aunt Queen.

  " 'You know Rebecca was murdered out there, Aunt Queen. All I'm asking is that somebody go out there and collect the remains and test them for DNA!¡¯

  " 'Oh, Quinn, my precious darling,' " Aunt Queen sighed.

  "As for Pops, it was well past his bedtime, and he looked like he'd been rode hard and put away wet. I knew what a worry I was to him.

  "THEN the snapshots came back from the drugstore! THE SNAPSHOTS!

  "And round the kitchen table I passed them like so many playing cards. They were good shots too. You couldn't tell much about Rebecca's remains from the shots, but you could easily see the five rusted chains; and of course the outdoor shots of the Hermitage itself, and the mausoleum, were very good.

  " 'Now you know damned good and well,' I said, 'that there's a house out there, you can't deny it; and if that metal there' -- I jabbed my finger at the photograph -- 'isn't pure gold, then my name's not Blackwood. ¡¯

  "The sheriff was in the midst of another belly-jiggling fit of laughter when Aunt Queen gestured for quiet.

  " 'All right,' she declared. 'We've heard all Quinn has to say. Now, this island is real and he knows the way to it, and according to him these mysterious bodies were dumped at a spot some matter of yards beyond the banks of the island. In other words, he can take you to the very place from which he spied the dumping and a search of that small area would be entirely manageable. ¡¯

  "The sheriff couldn't stop himself from laughing. 'Now, Miss Queen,' he said, 'you know how much I admire you, as does everybody in these parts. . . ¡¯

  " 'Thank you, Sheriff,' she at once responded. 'On New Year's Eve I shall expect a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens, handpicked of course. ¡¯

  "Now it was my turn to die with laughter, because I knew this referred to the minotaur myth, but he hadn't a clue of that and only stared at me and then at her, and I was just stupid enough at eighteen to feel superior to him.

  "Aunt Queen went on without missing a beat, ignoring my exultation.

  " 'Now, I will personally pay,' said Aunt Queen, 'for the bagging and collecting of these chains and the black residue which Quinn has described. I will pay to have it thoroughly and completely analyzed as to its substance, and will go so far as to run DNA tests on it to determine, among other things, whether or not only one person perished in this spot, or more than one, and whether or not Rebecca Stanford -- whose hair we have conveniently in a hairbrush in the attic -- did indeed die in this place. ' She paused for effect, her eyes narrowing.

  " 'All I ask of you, Sheriff,' she continued in a high matriarchal fashion, 'is that you go back out there and you look for these mysterious bodies. I assume you and Pops can go by motorized pirogue in the morning. ¡¯

  " 'The motors will never make it,' I piped up. 'We'll have to take the small pirogue, same as I did. The cypresses are just too dense. ¡¯

  " 'Very well then, Pops knows how to handle the pole and I assume you do too, Sheriff Bobby Jeanfreau! So you take care of that, and consider yourself solemnly charged to find those bodies, while the labwork I will handle through my own personal physician, assuming that Ruby River City doesn't have a medical examiner on its payroll who is qualified in the field. ¡¯

  "At this point, the sheriff, having been laughed at by me, very smoothly smiled and asked:

  " 'And may I deputize Goblin, ma'am, so he can show Pops and me the way to the island?¡¯

  "Now it was Pops who became riled, though his tone was low and pretty much apathetic, given the state of things.

  " 'We don't need for you to deputize Goblin,' he said. 'But I do think that you need a real team of people out there, not just to find those bodies but to examine this death scene with the chains, this residue as we're calling it; you need somebody to look to that in an official way. ¡¯

  " 'Now, Pops, you know there's nothing to all this --' the sheriff countered. He was as stubborn as I'd ever seen him, and as ignorant, too.

  "But Pops pressed on, his tone never changing except in terms of the contents of what he said. 'Now you listen to me, Sheriff,' he stated calmly. 'A body out there even on the second floor of a house could decompose within a few years. And it is possible that Quinn has stumbled upon the scene of a crime, and he might have stumbled on the criminal himself. I'm insisting you take a team of men out there, and if you don't I'll call in the FBI. ¡¯

  "Why this struck utter terror into the sheriff I'm not sure, but given some of the rumors of what went on in Ruby River Parish, including the cock fighting (which isn't illegal in Louisiana, by the way), I guessed he didn't want the FBI snooping around, so he agreed to the terms.

  "In spite of Pops trying to restrain me I followed the sheriff all the way to his car, hammering on him about those two bodies: 'You've got to check and see who's missing! I'm telling you, I saw it. Two bodies, just dumped out there. You've got to search. ¡¯

  " 'One thing at a time,' Pops said finally. 'Let them check out the house. And then if you think you can pinpoint the place where this stranger dumped the bodies, then we'll insist on a search. ¡¯

  "Finally the sheriff and his snickering deputy were gone from the property, and Aunt Queen and Pops had ahold of me and told everybody else to leave the kitchen so we could be alone.

  "Patsy was pretty ticked off that she couldn't stay, but Pops gave her one of the worst glowering looks I've ever seen on his face, and she finally retreated, in a sulk, to her apartment over the shed.

  "A bitter lecture came from Pops as to my having disobeyed Aunt Queen by going out there by myself, about my having 'stolen' his pistol, and some strong statements about how I was in real danger from myself now, and it was time for me to leave Blackwood Farm and go out into the world.

  " 'What do you mean "out into the world" ?' I asked. 'Can't you see these pictures! There's this gold tomb out there, Pops, I've got to find out what's in it, and then there's the house itself. I'm not going anywhere. Pops, you know what I want to do,' I went on, full throttle. 'I want to run electricity out there to that house, you know, run the cables right through the swamp. I want to clean it up and make it livable again, a real Hermitage, but I can't do that until they collect and analyze Rebecca's remains. I can't do that until I've done right by Rebecca, even though if truth be told Rebecca doesn't always do right by me. ¡¯

  "He looked sad and tired, moving slowly to exasperation.

  "But I kept at him.

  " 'And they have to catch this stranger,' I said, 'this murderer, this miscreant who is dumping bodies in our swamp. ¡¯

  "There came a final change in Pops, a change I'd seen many times in the past. He became angry, angry with me, the way I'd seen him with Patsy.

  " 'You're getting titched in the head, son,' he said. 'You need to get clear of here. You can enroll at LSU in Baton Rouge if you want to stay close to home, but I'm for you going up East to Harvard. Aunt Queen's looked over all the material given her by Lynelle on your schooling and your examinations, and you could easily get into an Ivy League scho
ol right now. You're going out of here. ¡¯

  " 'My darling,' Aunt Queen said, 'Pops is absolutely right. You have to think now of your future in the world and not the mysteries and histories of those who once lived in this house. This house will be here for you all your life. But you are at an age now when impressions mean everything, and it's time for you to get away. ¡¯

  "I went silent. I had met with total resistance. I wondered if the gators could eat those bodies so quickly that there would be nothing left. I wondered if I could pinpoint the place on the island where I'd been standing when I saw the dastardly deed.

  " 'You go to bed, Quinn,' said Aunt Queen gently. 'I know you saw something out there. I don't doubt you. And clearly the Hermitage exists. You've brought back proof of it. But it's late, and nothing can be done until morning. ¡¯

  "Upstairs, I found Big Ramona in my wing chair by the cold fireplace with her rosary beads in her hand. Her full white hair was already braided. She was in her best rose-flowered flannel nightgown. She gave me a big hug and I went in to shower and change.

  "After we said our night prayers and I let it be known I was too damned tired for a whole Rosary, we were soon snuggling spoon fashion and I was remembering that mysterious stranger in the weak light of the broken moon.

  "Then I heard the computer switched on. A low green light emanated from the monitor.

  "What a nuisance, I thought. 'Goblin, why do you do these things?' I murmured, but then I heard a strange sound. It was the clicking of the computer keys.

  "I shot up out of bed and came into this parlor and stared at the computer. He had most certainly typed out a message:


  "I was stultified. Never had he done this before. Turn it on and off, yes, but to write on it without my hand? I sat down at the computer and I wrote out the words as I recited them aloud:

  " 'Goblin, I love you. I couldn't have come home without you. Explain what you mean about danger. ¡¯

  "I moved my hands away from the keyboard and watched the rapid, seemingly magical depression of the keys as he wrote out:


  "I began to whisper my response to him, that is, to talk aloud to him as I had always done -- that he needn't worry -- when the keys started firing again, and I saw the writing on the screen:


  "This all but dumbfounded me, but it fitted with my growing understanding of him, and so I hammered out:

  " 'Goblin, who was the stranger? Who were the bodies?¡¯

  " 'I don't know,' came his answers. 'The bodies were dead. ¡¯

  "That was a typical example of Goblin's reasoning. For a long breathless moment I sat there, and then I typed out: 'Goblin, I love you. Don't ever think that I don't love you. Put up with me and my off-and-on ways. ¡¯

  "There came no answer, and then, before I could hit the save button to preserve this little dialogue, the computer switched itself off. Or rather Goblin switched it off.

  " 'What does that mean?' I said aloud, looking about me. But no answer came from the darkness. There was nothing to be done but to go back to bed. . .

  "And to lie there, awake, pondering all that had happened, including the fact that Goblin could now write on the computer without using my left hand to do so -- a frightening discovery, though one which was all bound up in my head with the awareness that he had led me out of the swamp.

  "In summary, what I mean is I felt guilty for how shabbily I'd treated Goblin.

  "Goblin had my admiration again, the way he had gotten it when I was a little boy and he taught me to spell big words. Goblin and I were close again. Goblin knew I was telling the truth. Goblin understood everything.

  "I felt it excitedly while at the same time rejecting totally his message. We were close, that's what mattered.

  "But we were to come even closer.

  "Sometime during the night, as Big Ramona snored and I dozed in a half sleep, dreaming of Rebecca, there came into the room a stranger.

  "Goblin, with a hand on my shoulder, awakened and alerted me. Sleeping on the left side of the bed I was turned to my left, and I opened my eyes to see Goblin staring past me in the direction of the fireplace. There came the tight squeeze from Goblin which on the island had meant caution.

  "I rolled over as if it were merely natural in my sleep.

  "I could see the figure at the mantel, and measuring it by that marker I calculated it was a tall man -- and I knew by its outline that it was no man I knew, but its shape conformed with the shape of the man I'd seen in the swamp in the moonlight.

  "I could see the outline of a bold head, well squared-off shoulders, and the glint of a hand on the mantelpiece. I was certain it was the same man! There came a tapping sound from the mantelpiece. There was something white on the mantelpiece.

  "And then there came a low utterance of laughter.

  "I climbed out of bed lickety-split, though Goblin tried with all his effort to stop me. And as I rushed across the room in my bare feet I heard the sound of paper crumpled and I picked out of the shadows the sight of a white paper ball tossed into the fireplace.

  "Before I took another step the man had vanished.

  "My eyes searched the room. I rushed through the open doorway only to find the hallway empty. Attic and ground floor revealed nobody.

  "All the guests of Blackwood Manor slept and so did its residents. And from the kitchen window I could see Clem, the night man, in the brightly lighted shed, sitting back with his feet up, watching the television.

  "My heart was racing.

  "What was the point of sounding an alarm? Who would believe me this time? I went back up to my room and I retrieved the crumpled paper from the fireplace. I knew what it was before I read it. It was my letter to the trespasser of Sugar Devil Island, warning him to get off the property.

  "I straightened it out and turned it over. There was no response written on it. Then I remembered the tapping on the mantelpiece, and sure enough there was a letter there, or at least a piece of folded white paper.

  "I was incalculably excited! Here was the smoking gun. I snatched up this paper with literally trembling hands and took it to my desk where I turned on my small halogen lamp in hopes of not awakening Big Ramona.

  "The white paper was thick and fancy, and the writing was in script of a florid and large design. I could smell the India ink in which it had been written. This is an approximation of what it said:

  Tarquin, my beloved boy,

  I am not as amused by your notice as one might expect. On the contrary, I rather resent your intrusion into a portion of Sugar Devil Swamp to which I hold unwritten title, thanks to the generosity and foresight of your great-great-great-grandfather Manfred. If I had not set eyes on you tonight and not recognized you for the sensitive and serious young man which you are, I might take even greater umbrage than I do.

  As it stands, allow me to explain that I want the island undisturbed by you, and it is my express wish that none of you or your family come there. I treasure my privacy, Tarquin, perhaps more than you treasure your life. Think on it, my boy.

  The Resident of the Hermitage.

  "I folded the letter, and, without bothering with a robe or slippers any more than I had during my earlier perambulation, I went downstairs to Aunt Queen's bedroom. I pushed open the door with a child's license.

  "The light was on of course, and Aunt Queen was on her chaise lounge, swaddled in diamonds and satin covers, eating a pint of pink ice cream.

  "Jasmine, who was bunking in with her, lay sound asleep in the bed.

  "From the television there came the muted voices of Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland.

  " 'Tarquin,' Aunt Queen said at once, 'what is it?' She muted the murmuring television. 'You look like you've seen Banquo's ghost. Come her
e and kiss me. ¡¯

  "I kissed her more than willingly.

  " 'He's come into my room, Aunt Queen,' I said breathlessly, waving the letter in her face. 'And he's left me this note. I saw him, Aunt Queen. He stood at my fireplace. Goblin told me he was there. And this is the note which he's left me. Aunt Queen, I tell you something involving murder is afoot out there. And mad as it may sound it's some sort of secret Byronic society. ¡¯

  " 'Let me see this letter,' she said. She set her ice cream aside. Meanwhile Jasmine had raised her head and was sliding out from under the blankets.

  "I told them both what had transpired upstairs. Jasmine then read the note, and Aunt Queen read it a second time. I was too excited to do anything but pace.

  " 'We've got to start locking the front and back doors,' Jasmine said, 'if people are going to come just walking right in without knocking. ¡¯

  " 'We don't lock the front and back doors?!' I asked, appalled.

  " 'No, you know we don't,' said Jasmine. 'The guests come back at all hours from New Orleans. You ever had a key to the front or back door, Tarquin Blackwood?¡¯

  " 'This guy laughed at me,' I said as calmly as I could, which wasn't calm at all. 'He laughed, I tell you. I heard him laugh and. . . ' I stopped. It was the laughter I heard in those dizzy spells. It was the laughter that had accompanied Rebecca's piteous pleas. Oh, but who would ever believe that!

  " 'Tarquin, what is it!' Aunt Queen pressed. 'Don't stand there staring. Jasmine, go run and tell Clem to check the entire property. Tell Clem we've had an intruder. Hurry. ¡¯

  "Jasmine headed out.

  " 'Tarquin, stop staring like that,' said Aunt Queen. 'There has to be a reason for this, I mean something that makes sense here. Maybe you've hit it. It is a secret society that meets out there, you know, a sort of romantic clandestine thing, and one of them has come into this house, which you know is open at all times, you know, and he has dared to go upstairs. . . "

  " 'There's nothing romantic about dumping dead bodies,' I said.

  " 'Darling, maybe he was dumping something else, and it just looked that way. ¡¯

  "I turned around in a small circle. I saw the faint outline of Goblin by one post of the fancy bed. Goblin nodded to me vigorously.

  "I looked at her. She was looking past me to the place where Goblin stood.

  " 'They were dead bodies, Aunt Queen,' I said. 'I know because Goblin knows and Goblin is afraid. ¡¯

  "A deep silence fell over her, and then she looked up at me. 'My sweet boy,' she said. 'I shall have this investigated in every conceivable way, make no mistake on it. But I am going to get you out of here. ' "
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