Serial Saturday: The Figurine, Part 3

“We found a Blue Candle with Sullivan, Mrs. Glass,” Gantry said. “Thought it best we bring him along.”

Mrs. Glass turned her gaze on Jefferson. “And what is your name?”

“Jefferson Quinn, ma’am.” The house was almost as hot as the car had been, and he longed to pull out his handkerchief and mop his forehead.

“He’s one of Tacy’s” Farthing put in.

“Well, now, I already told your boys here, I ain’t really Tacy’s,” Jefferson said. “I don’t even like her that much, truth be told.”

“Well, she is a horrible girl,” Mrs. Glass said. “No respect for her poor grandfather, from what I hear. But surely one does not need to like someone to take orders from her.”

Jefferson glanced back and forth between Gantry and Farthing. “I’m sure these boys like you just fine, ma’am, a nice woman like you.”

“He’s been making clever comments like that the whole time,” Gantry said.

“Maybe it’s the way he deals with stress.”

“No, ma’am. Reckon I’m always like this, more’s the pity.”

Mrs. Glass peered at him for several seconds, like someone examining a new species of bug, or a difficult line of text. She slid her chair back and stood. Farthing had been twitching the whole time, but this made Gantry shift where he stood as well. She walked closer, and Jefferson revised his estimate of her age downward, though it was hard to be sure as she left the yellow circle of flickering lamplight, particularly given what he knew about people who had dealings with the Sciribath.

Her gray hair was pulled back tight away from lean features that looked more weather-beaten than aged, and she walked with an easy stride. She came close, bringing a cloud of the unpleasant smell with her, and continued to look Jefferson over for several seconds. Finally, she held out a hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Jefferson Quinn.”

Jefferson gave Farthing a sidelong glance. He half-expected to be pistol-whipped or worse if he touched the woman, but there didn’t seem to be much choice, so he extended his own hand. “Likewise, ma’am.”

It was a bit of a struggle keeping his expression neutral–the woman’s grip was firm but her hand was coated in some sort of slimy film that felt like it wasn’t anything as pleasant as sweat–too cold for one thing. He kept his face composed, he thought, but couldn’t completely suppress a shiver.

Mrs. Glass smiled faintly as she released her grip, then held up her hand. “Pardon,” she said. “I’ve been working on a…preservative.” She gestured toward the thing flayed and staked on her table. “Something to keep them from decaying too quickly.”

Jefferson swallowed. “That so?”

“Yes. So hard to study them them when they turn into a puddle in a few hours. But even with my best efforts, they do…liquify fairly quickly.” She rubbed her fingers together, and Jefferson fought the urge to rub his own hand on his trousers.

“I take it that hasn’t been dead all that long, then?” he said, nodding toward the thing on the table.

“No, not long at all,” Mrs. Glass said carelessly. Now Jefferson had an urge to look around for more Sciribath in the dark, shadowy room–between one thing and another he was feeling as twitchy as Farthing. Nearby, Sullivan made the mistake of looking over at the Sciribath and released an involuntary groan.

Gantry nudged him. “Don’t you dare get sick, now.”

Mrs. Glass looked Jefferson in the eye for one long moment, then abruptly snapped her gaze toward Sullivan. “Mr. Sullivan,” she said, striding toward him. “What about you? Is this not what you expected?”

“No,” Sullivan said, his voice breathy. “No, it’s not.”

“But you have read such interesting texts,” Mrs. Glass said, “by the likes of Reichmann, Barnabus, and…well, whomever it was that penned On Our masters in the Limnal Regions. Granted, Barnabus was a trifle naive, but I would have thought the others had given you an idea of what is out here.”

Sullivan looked down at the floor and mumbled something.

“What was that?” Mrs. Glass asked. She reached out and grasped Sullivan’s chin to tip his head back, and he released a little scream at her touch and staggered backward a few steps before pawing at his chin. Gantry stepped back himself, keeping a steady distance to his prisoner. Mrs. Glass made a disgusted noise and looked back over her shoulder at Jefferson with an expression one might wear over the antics of an unruly child.

“He had this on him,” Gantry said, pulling the figurine from his pocket. “It wasn’t just books.” He stepped to one side, keeping his gun trained on Sullivan, and handed the statuette to Mrs. Glass.

“Well, well, well,” Mrs. Glass said, peering at the figurine. “This is intriguing. I’m not even sure what it represents, but it feels interesting, doesn’t it?” She looked up at Sullivan. “I say it feels interesting, doesn’t it, Mr. Sullivan?”

Sullivan nodded, eyes wide.

“What sorts of things was this whispering to you in the night, Mr. Sullivan?” Mrs. Glass asked. She held the figurine up to her own ear with a lazy smile.

Sullivan groaned, either from sheer terror or because he thought the thing was actually going to tell Mrs. Glass something.

“Mr. Quinn,” Mrs. Glass said, her eyes still on Sullivan, “was this what led you to him?”

“No ma’am. Just the books he was poking around in, like you.”

Mrs. Glass performed some bit of legerdemain that made the figurine disappear, then walked back toward her table. “Come here, Mr. Sullivan.”

Sullivan just shook his head and tried to back up, but Gantry grabbed the back of his collar in one meaty hand and propelled him forward.

“Books are one thing,” Mrs. Glass said. “And they can be strangely seductive. Dangerous, because they bring people into this business that don’t have the temperament for it.” Sullivan was struggling as he was pushed the last few steps and into the circle of light cast by the lantern, but weakly, like a man who already knew he’d lost. Gantry had no trouble controlling him one-handed. “Look at it, Mr. Sullivan. Take a good, close look. This is what you’ve been reading about, what you want to worship or control.”

“Ain’t no need to torture the man,” Jefferson said.

Mrs. Glass’ head snapped up, and for a moment all the control she’d been showing was gone, leaving her face contorted and eyes bulging. “This isn’t torture, it’s a test,” she hissed. “Look at it, Mr. Sullivan, pick it up!”

This last gave Sullivan the strength to suddenly lurch free of Gantry’s grip, although he didn’t do anything with his freedom other than to back up a few steps toward the wall, shaking his head.

Mrs. Glass sighed, her burst of anger gone as quickly as it had come on. “Kill him.”

Gantry raised his pistol. Jefferson dropped into a crouch and spun, digging his foot into the floor even as the shot sounded. Farthing had been looking toward the drama at the other side of the room, and Jefferson’s wide arms caught him before he could react.

He bore the smaller man into the wall, slamming him into it with a crack of plaster. He released Farthing without even checking to see if he’d dropped his gun, and ran past past and out the door.

He was through the small hallway and into the front room in a moment, slamming through the front door before he even heard the sound of pursuit. He’d managed to knock down the faster of his captors, which was his saving grace–things wouldn’t have gone as well if Gantry had been covering him.

He ran into the Packard and rolled clumsily over the hood, clawing at the door even as his feet hit the ground. He saw the dim form of Gantry in the house’s doorway as he clambered in and thumbed the starter. For a moment, he thought Sullivan hadn’t left the key in the Packard and the whole thing was over, then the car roared to life.

He heard a few shots strike the car as he pulled out, and ducked uselessly. Then he was on the road and grinding the gas pedal to the floor. There was probably another car at the house somewhere, maybe in the carriage house, but it would take them a few minutes to get it moving.

He glanced back into the back seat where own pistols still lay, and almost smiled.


Copyright © 2012 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on April 21, 2012.