The Dark Farewell
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by Josh Lanyon
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Don't talk to strangers, young man--especially the dead ones. It's the Roaring Twenties. Skirts are short, crime is rampant and booze is in short supply. Prohibition has hit Little Egypt, where newspaperman David Flynn has come to do a follow-up story on the Herren Massacre. The massacre isn't the only news in town though. Spiritualist medium Julian Devereux claims to speak to the dead--and he charges a pretty penny for it. Flynn knows a phoney when he sees one, and he's convinced Devereux is as fake as a cigar store Indian. But the reluctant attraction he feels for the deceptively soft, not-his-type Julian is as real as it gets. Suddenly Julian begins to have authentic, bloodstained visions of a serial killer, and the cynical Mr. Flynn finds himself willing to defend Julian with not only his life, but his body. Warning: This novella contains phony spiritualists, cynical newspapermen, labor disputes, illicit love affairs, high-calorie southern cooking, and more than fifty-percent humidity!
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
47 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [205 KB]
Reading time: 121-170 min.
The body of the third girl was found Tuesday morning in the woods a few miles outside Murphysboro. Flynn read about it the following day in the Herrin News as the train chugged slowly through the green cornfields and deep woods of Southern Illinois. The dead girl's name was Millie Hesse and like the other two girls she had been asphyxiated and then mutilated. There were other "peculiarities", according to the newspaper, but the office of the Jackson County Sheriff declined to comment further.
The peculiarities would be things about the murder only known to the police and the murderer himself. At least in theory. Flynn had covered a few homicides since his return from France three years earlier, and it wasn't hard to read between the lines. But there were already rumors flying through the wires about a homicidal maniac on the loose in Little Egypt.
Flynn gazed out the window as a giant cement smokestack came into sight. The perpetually smoldering black slag heap, half-buried in the tall weeds, reminded him in some abstruse way of the ravaged French countryside. His lip curled and he stared down again at the newspaper.
He didn't care much for homicide cases; he'd seen enough killing in the war. And reading about poor, harmless, inoffensive Millie Hesse and her gruesome end in the dark silent oaks and elms of these lonely woods dampened his enthusiasm for the story he was there to cover, a follow-up on the Herrin Massacre the previous summer. Not to write about the massacre itself. More than enough had been written about that.
It had been a big year for news, 1922, between the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote and the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the States who hadn't heard about what had happened in these parts between local miners and the Southern Illinois Coal Company. Flynn wanted to write about Herrin one year later; the aftermath and the repercussions. Plus, it was a good reason to visit Amy Gulling, the widow of his old mentor Gus. Gus had died in the winter, and Flynn hadn't made it down for the funeral. He didn't care much for funerals, either.
The train had been warm, but when Flynn stepped down onto the platform of the old brick station in Herrin, humidity slapped him in the face like a hot towel in a barber shop. It reminded him of summer in the trenches, minus the rats and snipers, of course.
He nodded an absent farewell to his fellow passengers--he couldn't have described them if his life had depended on it--and caught one of the town's only cabs, directing the driver to Amy Gulling's boarding house. Heat shimmered off the brick streets as the cab drove him through the peaceful town past the sheriff's office, closed during the violence of that long June day last year, and the hardware stores where the mob had broken in to steal guns and ammunition which they had then used to murder the mine guards and strikebreakers.
The cab let him out in front of the wooden two-story Civil War-style house on the corner. Flynn paid the driver, picked up his luggage and headed up the shady walk. He rang the bell and seconds later Amy herself was pushing open the screen door and welcoming him inside.
"David Flynn! I just lost a bet with myself."
"What bet?" He dropped his bags and hugged her hard.
"I bet you wouldn't come. I bet you'd find another excuse."
Amy was big and comfortable like a plushy chair. She wore a faded but well-starched flowered dress. Though her hair was now a graying flaxen, her blue green eyes were as bright as ever. They studied him with canny affection.
Flynn reddened. "I'm sorry, Amy. Sorry I didn't make it down when Gus..."
She waved that away. "The funeral didn't matter. And you're here now. You must be tuckered out from that train ride."
She led him through to the parlor. A fat woman in a blue dress sat fanning herself in front of the big window, and in another chair a small, slim girl of perhaps twenty was reading a book titled The Girls' Book of Famous Queens. She had dark hair and wore spectacles.
"This is Mrs. Hoyt and her daughter Joan. They're regular boarders. They've been with me for two months now, since Mr. Hoyt passed."
"How do," said Mrs. Hoyt. The fine, sharp features of her face were blurred by weight and age. When she'd been young she probably looked like Joan. Her hair was still more dark than silver.
The girl, Joan, gave him a shy smile and a clammy hand.
"David's an old friend of my husband. One of his former journalism students. He's going to be spending the next week or so with us."
"Are you a newspaperman, Mr. Flynn?" asked Mrs. Hoyt.
"I am, but I'm on vacation now." Flynn knew this old beldame's breed. She'd be gossiping with the neighbors--those she considered her social equal--in nothing flat. And he wanted the freedom of anonymity, the ability to talk to these people without them second-guessing and censoring their words.
There was plenty for people to keep their mouths shut about considering Herrin had a national reputation for being the worst of the bad towns in "Bloody Williamson County". The trials of the men who had murdered the Lester Mine Company strikebreakers and guards had ended in unanimous acquittals, shocking the rest of the nation.
"David was in France," Amy said with significance.
"My son was in France, Mr. Flynn. Where did you see action?"
"I went over with Pershing's American Expeditionary Forces, ma'am."
"As a soldier or a journalist?"
"As a soldier." He had been proud of that. Proud to fight and maybe die for his ideals. Now he wondered if he wouldn't have done more good as a reporter.
"My son fell in the Battle of the Argonne."
The girl bowed her head, stared unseeingly at the book on her lap.
Flynn said, "A lot of boys did."
"My son was the recipient of the Medal of Honor."
"I'm afraid I didn't win any medals."
"Well, let's get you situated," Amy said briskly, breaking the sudden melancholy mood that had settled on the sunny parlor. "I've got David in the room over the breezeway."
"That's a mighty pleasant room in the summer," agreed Mrs. Hoyt. The daughter murmured acknowledgement.
Flynn smiled at Amy. "I remember."
He nodded to the ladies and followed Amy. She was saying, "I've turned Gus's study into a library and smoking room for the gentlemen."
Flynn asked unwillingly, "Has it been tough since Gus died?"
"Oh, you know. I manage all right. I keep the boarding house for company as much as anything. I never was happy on my own." Amy paused in the doorway of another room. "Here are our gentlemen. Doctor Pearson, Mr. Flynn is an old family friend. He'll be staying with us for a few days. Mr. Devereux, Mr. Flynn."
The gentlemen appeared to have been interrupted in the midst of writing letters. Doctor Pearson was small and spry with snapping dark eyes and the bushy sideburns and whiskers that were popular before the war. Mr. Devereux was older than the doctor, but he dyed his hair and mustache a persevering jet black. He had the distinctive features--aquiline nose and heavy-lidded eyes--Flynn had grown familiar with in France.
"Pleasure to meet you," Dr. Pearson said, putting aside his pen and paper and offering his hand.
Devereux was equally polite. "A pleasure, sir." He had a hint of an accent, but it was not exactly French. French Canadian perhaps? Or, no, French Creole?
"Mr. Devereux is a regular contributor to a number of Spiritualist periodicals," Amy commented.
Mr. Devereux livened up instantly. "That's correct. I'm penning an article at this moment for The Messenger in Boston."
Flynn nodded courteously. Spiritualism? Good God.
Perhaps Amy sensed his weary distaste because she was soon ushering him out of the room and down the hall.
They started toward the long blue-carpeted staircase. A quick, light tread caught Flynn's attention. He glanced up and saw a young man coming down the stairs. He was tall and willowy, his black hair of a bohemian length. His skin was a creamy bisque, his eyes dark and wide. Flynn judged him about nineteen although he wore no tie or jacket. He was dressed in gray flannel trousers, and his white shirt was open at the throat, the sleeves rolled to his elbows like a schoolboy.
"This is Mr. Flynn, Julian," Amy said.
Julian raised his delicate eyebrows. "Oh yes?"
"He's an old friend of my husband and me. He's going to be staying with us for a time."
Julian observed Flynn for long, alert seconds before he came leisurely down the rest of the staircase. He offered a slender, tanned hand and Flynn grasped it with manly firmness.
"Charmed," Julian murmured. He gently squeezed Flynn's hand back and studied him from beneath lashes as long and silky as a girl's. It was a look both shy and oddly knowing. Flynn recovered his hand as quickly as he could. He nodded curtly.
Julian smiled as though he read Flynn's reluctance and was entertained by it. It was a sly sort of smile, and his mouth was soft and pink. A sissy if Flynn had ever seen one.
"Julian is Mr. Devereux's grandson." There was something in Amy's voice Flynn couldn't quite pin down. Either she didn't like the old man or she didn't care for the kid--or maybe both.
Julian said slowly, "You're a...writer, David?"
"How the hell--?" Flynn stopped. Julian was smiling a smug smile.
"I know things."
"That's a dangerous habit."
"The philosophers say that knowledge is power."
"Sometimes. Sometimes it's the fastest way to get punched in the nose."
Both Amy and Julian laughed at that, and Flynn realized that he probably seemed a little hot under the collar.
Julian nodded pleasantly and sauntered away to the smoking room cum library.
"What in the blue blazes was that?" Flynn inquired of Amy as she led him up the staircase.
She laughed but it sounded forced. "That is The Magnificent Belloc. He's a spirit medium."
Amy shook her head. "He's giving a show over at the Opera House every night this week except Friday and Sunday. Friday the high school is putting on A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"Spiritualism," Flynn said in disgust. He came from a long line of staunch Irish Protestants.
"Oh sure, there are a lot of fakes and phonies around. But the war changed a lot of people's feelings about spiritualism and mediums," Amy said. "When you lose someone dear to you, well, I guess you'd do anything to be able to talk to them one more time."
Flynn glanced at her and then glanced away. "I guess so."
"I don't put stock in spirits and that sort of thing, but from what I hear young Julian has a knack for knowing things."
Amy said mildly, "He called it right with you. I didn't tell him your first name was David or that you were a newspaperman."
"No, you didn't. But you did mention it to Mrs. Hoyt and her daughter." Flynn added dryly, "I'm guessing that The Magnificent Belloc's bedroom is the one over the parlor. Is that right?"
Amy looked chagrined. "That's right."
"I thought so. That kid's as phony as a three dollar bill."
"Oh, he's not so bad. A bit of a pansy, I guess. It's the old man I don't like. Whatever that boy is or isn't, it's that old frog's fault."
Flynn didn't argue with her, but he didn't agree either. Devereux younger wasn't anyone's victim. He recognized that jaded look. Whatever the racket was, The Magnificent Belloc was in it up to his shell-like ears.
Amy continued up the narrow staircase to the second level. Flynn's room was in the former servant's quarters on the far side of the house's breezeway. The roofed, open-sided passageway between the house and the garage was on the east side of the corner property, the "cool" side shaded by a big walnut tree, but there was nothing cool about that sunny box of a room that afternoon.
After Amy left, Flynn unpacked and then washed up next door in the closet-sized bathroom that had once served as a storage room.
Back in his room, he changed his shirt and examined himself closely in the square mirror over the highboy. What had that punk seen? Dark, wavy hair, blue eyes, strong chin and straight nose. Regular features. He was a regular guy. He looked all right. He looked like everybody else. Girls liked him fine. That girl, Joan, she didn't see anything wrong with him.
He shook his head impatiently at the troubled-looking Flynn in the mirror.
It didn't matter what that pansy thought or didn't think. Flynn didn't have to have anything to do with him. He was going to get his story and then he'd be heading back to New York City where people had a little discretion, a little subtlety.
He could smell fresh coffee and frying ham, and he followed the aroma downstairs where his fellow boarders were having a big noontime dinner of fried eggs, ham, sausage and golden brown potatoes. "Luncheon" they called it in New York, although you wouldn't get anything like this for lunch.
Flynn took a seat at the table across from Joan. He noticed--to his relief--that the disturbing Julian was absent. There was a lively discussion going on about the recent murders in the neighboring county.
"Perhaps someone could ask the Comte about them," Joan said, with a self-conscious look in Flynn's direction.
Doctor Pearson snorted. The older Devereux was shaking his head.
"Who's the Comte?" Flynn asked.
"The Comte de Mirabeau. Julian's spirit guide," Joan replied primly. "He was a French statesman, orator and writer. He died during the French Revolution."
"You're not a believer, young man," Devereux said severely, watching Flynn.
"I believe in plenty of things," Flynn said. "What did you have in mind?"
"Julian is a medium," Joan said.
"A medium what?"
Mrs. Hoyt gave a breathy laugh and scooped up a mouthful of eggs.
The conversation briefly languished, and Flynn decided to ask about the trials of the miners accused of murder last year and the winter. That revived the discussion, but mostly what he heard about was how the KKK and the local ministers were trying to persuade the government and the law to do something about the bootleggers and their roadhouses springing up like toadstools. The massacre was old news. It appeared nobody wanted to think about it.
Astonishingly, these civilized, decent folk seemed to think the best bet for the lawlessness plaguing their county was the Ku Klux Klan. Flynn found it hard to credit. He kept his mouth shut for the most part and listened.
"Thank goodness for Prohibition!" exclaimed Mrs. Hoyt, shoveling in fried potatoes.
Dr. Pearson shot back, "The only thing Prohibition helps is the gangsters and the damned Ku Klux Klan."
"It's kept a lot of boys off the liquor," insisted Mrs. Hoyt thickly.
"Ah baloney," growled the old doctor. "More of those kids are trying booze out now than they were before Prohibition. Forbidding it makes drink seem exciting."
"That's because the sheriffs don't enforce the law!"
Amy said to Flynn, "Mrs. Hoyt is right about that. We've got a poor excuse for a sheriff. He's great pals with half the bootleggers in the county."
"I'm surprised that you, a doctor, would take that view," Mrs. Hoyt said to Pearson. She seemed indignant, but Flynn had the idea this was not a new argument in this household.
Pearson was unmoved. "When drink was legal these kids weren't allowed in a saloon, but these damned bootleggers don't care who they sell their hooch to or who they sucker into gambling away their paychecks. Why, I was tending a poor kid over in Murphysboro just last week who died of that damned bathtub gin."
Joan's gaze met Flynn's and slid away.
"But that's exactly what the Klan and the ministers are saying," Mrs. Hoyt insisted. "If the law won't clean this mess up, then the people have to."
Devereux chimed in, "People? Which people? A bunch of anti-union kleagles and clowns dressed up in spooky robes doing their mumbo-jumbo and burning crosses out in somebody's pasture."
The old guy sounded pretty heated. Flynn was willing to bet that with their complexion and coloring, he and the kid had been mistaken for Italians or worse on more than one occasion.
"You're a fine one to talk about mumbo-jumbo," Mrs. Hoyt said tartly.
Devereux bridled. "I assure you, Madame, Spiritualism is as valid and respectable a religion as any other. We simply believe that the door between this world and the next is accessible to those who hold the key, and that through the talents of one gifted with the power to communicate with spirits, we may learn and be advised by our loved ones who have gone before us."
"Speaking of those gone before us," Flynn remarked, "I see your grandson isn't at lunch."
"Julian rests in the afternoon," the old man said stiffly. "He is not strong, and his efforts to act as conduit to the other side tax him greatly."
Flynn managed to control his expression. Just.
There was not a lot of chat after that. When the meal was finished, Flynn excused himself and went back to his room. He wanted to start looking around the town as soon as possible.
He found he had a visitor. Julian Devereux was seated on the bed, idly flipping through his copy of Bertram Cope's Year. Flynn had left the book in his Gladstone.
He paused in the doorway, the hair on the back of his neck rising on end. "What are you doing in here?" he asked sharply.
Julian jumped--so much for psychic powers--though his smile was confident. He tossed the book on the green and white Irish chain quilt, leaned back on his hands.
"I thought we should get to know each other, David."
Flynn studied Julian's finely chiseled features coldly, taking in the angular, wide mouth and heavy-lidded, half-amused dark eyes.
Julian arched one eyebrow. "You know."
"No, I don't. And I'm pretty sure I don't want to."
Julian tilted his head, as though listening to an echo he couldn't quite place. "I didn't figure you for the shy type," he said eventually.
"I'm not. I'm not your type either." Flynn was careful not to look at the book on the bed. "Now if you don't mind--?" He held the door open pointedly.
A look of disbelief crossed Julian's face. He rose from the bed and slowly moved to the door. For an instant he stood before Flynn. He was so slight, so lithesome that Flynn kept picturing him shorter than he was. In fact, he was as tall as Flynn, his doe-like dark eyes gazing directly into the other man's.
"Have it your way," he said.
"I intend to."
"But if you should change your mind--"
Flynn inquired dryly, "Wouldn't The Magnificent Belloc be the first to know?"