A Countesses Conundrum: Chapter 2, Scene 2
The next noise was worse, a feral groaning and slobbering reached Ignatius’s ears. Angela pressed against his arm, he could see in his peripheral vision that her derringer was out. The unmistakable sound of something dragged in jerking stop and go movements came to the pair. They looked at each other and nodded together. They dashed around the fountain and burst through the hedges, emerging on the other side.
Angela screamed briefly, but was cut off by a solid ‘Thud!’
Ignatius came face to face with the pallid, diseased looking Fredrich with blood smeared all around his mouth. In one twisted hand, the Count held a gob of mangled flesh. He reared back and bared his teeth at Ignatius.
Instinctively, Ignatius thrust his cane forward and triggered the hidden switch to discharge an electric jolt in the Count’s chest. Blue light crackled from the end of the walking stick and enveloped Fredrich. With a snap, the charge drained itself from the cane. Fredrich lunged forward, freed from the coursing energy and apparently unaffected.
Ignatius stepped back, unsheathing the blade concealed in the cane. He cut the air in front of Fredrich. For a second the Count paused, eyes as black as night without whites followed the silver blade, calculating its movements. Ignatius lunged forward and ran the blade through Fredrich’s right shoulder. The Count stepped back quickly, silently freeing himself from the impaling blade.
Fredrich failed to react, slow down or otherwise show any effect from Ignatius’s attempts to disable him. The beam of light from Ignatius’s flashlight on the ground caught Fredrich as they circled. The former count flinched squeezing his eyelids tightly together. Shaking his round, melon like head causing bits of twigs and leaves fell in a shower from Fredrich’s matted hair.
“Angela?” called Ignatius, while he circled around Fredrich.
There was no answer. Ignatius risked a quick glance over his shoulder and saw the open earth of Fredrich’s grave. Shuffling around Ignatius’s foot struck the metal case of the torch. Glancing down, he saw it was the torch, which he dropped in order to unsheathe the sword. Stooping hastily, he scooped it up and shone the light directly into Fredrich’s eyes. With a feral snarl, the Count shrank back and then turned and fled from the light.
Turning around, Ignatius played the light over the grave and approached the edge. Down at the bottom of the hole Angela lay. She was wedged awkwardly between the side of the grave and a fine walnut casket. Angela groaned and stirred a bit. Ignatius hunted around the site for a rope or anything else he could use to assist Angela.
“Angela! Can you hear me?” called Ignatius.
“Si, si. I can hear you,” she replied groggily.
Angela pushed herself upright and gave a small involuntary shudder. She gathered up her light and pistol and took a moment to examine her surroundings.
“I’m in a grave.”
“Yes dear, you are. I cannot find anything to pull you out with in the immediate area. If you could just wait a few moments?”
“I’d prefer not to, Ignatius…Ignatius?”
Nonplussed by the absence of Ignatius, she set about recovering her wits and examined the walls surrounding her. Bare earth scraped smooth by shovel offered her no purchase and standing on the coffin did not lift her high enough to catch the edge of the hole. Ignatius reappeared at the mouth of the grave.
“Could I trouble you for a moment?” he asked.
“Oh please do, anything to delay my extraction from this situation,” Angela replied.
“Would you mind looking in the coffin?” said Ignatius.
Angela glared up at him, “I’d rather have something to help me out of here.”
“I understand, but we need to confirm the presence or absence of Count Fredrich,” said Ignatius hastily.
“mmhmm,” Angela replied. Still, she bent over the coffin and examined the seams. “There is nothing holding it shut, the nail holes are here, but empty.”
“How about the contents?”
Angela gripped the lid with both hands and braced herself for what may be inside. It’s no worse than the burial tombs in South America, she told herself. Delicately, she lifted the lid, allowing it to fall back against the side of the grave. Inside on the satin cushions were a hat, a bowl of thick red liquid, a pile of feathers and some smooth bones. Angela sat back on her heels looking at the objects.
“There is no one inside. There are some miscellaneous items. I’m not sure of the purpose of them”
“Collect what you can and climb up this ladder,” said Ignatius, lowering the ladder to the floor of the tomb.
Angela carefully removed everything except the bowl, pocketed the items and climbed up out of the hole. Somewhere in the misty distance, a shriek tore the night as Angela emerged from the grave.
“What was that creature that attacked us?” she asked.
“Something completely dark, raging against the light. I suspect based on its physical appearance that it is our missing, reportedly deceased Count. Show me what you found, please, Angela,” said Ignatius.
He eagerly held out both hands to receive the effects Angela brought up with her. She placed the items in his palms and then shone her light on them.
“A common hat, some feathers (chicken I think) and bits of bone. What did you leave behind?”
“There was a bowl filled with blood,” said Angela.
“Was the bowl large or small?” he asked.
“The bowl looked as though it might be large enough to hold a regular portion of oatmeal. I noticed some markings on the side. I’ve seen something like them before.”
“On one of my trips to South America I passed across an island called Haiti. On it are people who practice a sort of pagan blend of witchcraft and religion. The natives call it Vodou. I have heard many strange tales surrounding Vodou, including stories of the dead who refuse to lie in the grave. Misshapen figures driven to roam the terrestrial in search of something that was missing during the time of their passing. Other stories say that a powerful practitioner can call the dead up to their service, compelling them to a life as an undead creature, a Zombu.”
“I am not familiar with this, Vodou. I have not made a point to study the mystical aspects of this world and its denizens. I prefer a solid scientific explanation for things.”
Angela smiled politely. “I know you do, however: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth…”
“Yes, thank you,” said Ignatius tartly. “The stories that you heard, is there any mention of a way to stop a Zombu? Maybe even restore it to its proper, deceased form?”
“Burning is about all that I know of. I am not entirely certain.”
“All right. Let us finish our investigation and repair to your parlor. Maybe the unfortunate gardener can tell us something, even in death.”
Ignatius cast his light on the corpse. The sight was grisly. Pressed flat and marred by blood, the damp grass where the former Fredrich and the gardener struggled was an unpleasant sight. Ignatius noted that the man’s throat had teeth marks and a sizeable portion torn out. Casting his light around the body, Ignatius saw no other visible wounds. On the ground, next to the man lay a pair of shears. Ignatius picked them up and held them close to the light. The blades had greenish stains, a few scraps of graying flesh and some marks made by a whetstone.
“Well, if he used these for defense Fredrich did not bleed when struck. Do you see any flowers scattered that he may have clipped before being attacked?” asked Ignatius
Angela swept the surrounding area with her own light. “I don’t see anything that looks freshly cut.”
“Then, this green substance on the shears came from Fredrich and not a plant stem. Let us get a sample of that before the rain washes it away.”
For the first time since coming out into the garden, Angela noticed that it was in fact raining rather steadily. Ignatius handed the shears to her and she turned and hurried back to the house where they left Ignatius’s carpetbag. The marble porch on the back was slick with the rainwater. Angela’s breath came in steaming clouds as the temperature was dropping toward freezing. It would not be long now before snow would be flying. Angela opened the case and took out a glass test tube and a thin metal scraper.
Under the porch’s roof, she ran the tool over the shear blades, taking a good sample of the unknown green substance. At first glance, it was thicker than the water and chlorophyll leakage that might accompany the clipping of a stem. The material on the blade was more viscous. Delicately, Angela placed the sample inside the tube and sealed it with a cork stopper. She secured the evidence inside the bag when Ignatius’s excited voice cut through the night and the rain.
“Angela, come here. I have made a most remarkable discovery!” he called.
Angela took up her light and made her way back across the lawn.
“What did you find?” she asked as she reached Ignatius.
“Another set of foot prints. These are neither the gardener’s nor Fredrich’s. They are a different size altogether, smaller and narrower. In addition, the right foot is deformed or mangled. See how rounded at the front it is and not as long as the left foot. I also found the fowl that provided the blood and feathers. They threw the carcass over the hedge, I presume in haste. To me it signifies that the ingredients, for whatever this was, had to be as fresh as possible.”
“That makes a certain amount of sense. How old are the footprints?”
“They were not made tonight, I can tell that much. They are filled with water and blurry around the edges where the dirt has turned to mud.”
“Do you think they were made when Fredrich was dug up?” asked Angela.
“I believe so. Let us adjourn to your quarters. There is much to consider and plans to be made. For instance, how would a single and obviously deficient person exhume a body and perform a ritual on it, alone and unnoticed?”
“I think there are some books on Vodou and its practices in the library,” said Angela referring to her growing collection of books, essays and other works, which she maintained in her townhouse. “What of the gardner?”
“We shall inform the Countess and her staff so that the police may be summoned. There is nothing we can do for the poor man, other than finding his killer and resolving this matter.”
Ignatius led the way back to the house and rapped sharply on the back door. Within a minute, the butler opened the door and peered out at Ignatius and Angela.
“Yes?” the butler said.
“I fear I have troubling news, the gardener is dead.” Ignatius said it quickly and without preamble.
“Oh, heavens! What should I do?” said the butler, his voice quavering.
“I think it would be a good idea to alert the police to the crime and have them come out here. Perhaps they will find something that I have overlooked. I do rather doubt it though.”
“Not now, Ignatius,” murmured Angela. To the butler she said, “Tell the Countess and then send word to the local stationhouse. Let them know that Mr. St. Eligius is handling the investigation, but we respectfully request a guard be set to watch over the household for the time being until we can find a resolution to this matter.”
The butler nodded mutely. He opened the door a bit wider, “Do you wish to come in and dry off?” he asked.
“No, that will not be necessary. We have other arrangements,” said Ignatius. He took up his bag and tipped his hat at the butler, “Good evening to you, sir.”
Together Ignatius and Angela walked around the side of the house along a gravel path. “Something is amiss,” said Ignatius. “If there was a land deal that soured on Fredrich and he took his own life, why would someone raise him from the dead? This is something more than a man despondent about a business deal.”
“I agree, Ignatius,” said Angela. “I think if we do some research on the practice of Vodou we might get a better idea as to why someone might be casting spells on Fredrich.”
Ignatius scoffed at the notion. “Spells, please do not tell me that you buy into that sort of nonsense.”
“I’ve seen a great deal in my travels, enough to know that an open mind is usually better than a closed off one.”
Ignatius fell silent as they crossed the street towards Angela’s townhome. She had an uncanny knack for being right, one that was far more successful than not. Ignatius worried that perhaps there were things beyond his ability to rationalize or categorize scientifically. Doubts about the case immediately started to gnaw at the periphery of his confidence.