All graphics are from ~Magickal Graphics~ except as noted.
Charles Avery is the head of one of New England’s riches families. A native of Manchester, Maine he can trace his lineage back to a Philadelphia banker that worked with William Bingham. Another relative was thought to have marched in the “Aroostock War”.
His family made their fortune in shipbuilding, the cotton textile mills, and the pulp and paper industry. They survived the “Ohio Fever” exodus quite well indeed, although part of the family did settle in Minnesota.
Charles maintains a home near Cobbosseecontee Lake and holds a professorship at the University of Maine at Augusta. Marietta, his wife owns a travel agency in Augusta, where his son Kenneth, also works. Other sons and daughters are scattered throughout the New England area.
Daniel Wemberly is Mr. Avery’s ‘Gentleman’s Gentleman’. Gertrude Rosencranz, his chef, is also head of the maid staff. Mr. Wemberly and Mrs. Rosencranz coordinate the annual Civil War re-enactment with the help of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was rumored that Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain had frequently visited the manor. Some thought of this in the light of the many “George Washington slept here” signs that pop up around New England.
Mr. Avery had a passion for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (and secretly for Jane Morris, one of Rosetti’s models). He hung a full-sized print of “The Salutation of Beatrice” prominently in his parlor. The print was flanked by “Astarte Syriaca” on the left and “La Bella Mano” on the right. Other Rosetti prints were hung throughout the manor. “The Lady of Shalott” by John Waterhouse hung on the opposite wall. Several sketches entitled “Mrs. William Morris” also hung in Mr. Avery’s study.
La Donna Della Finestra
Needless to say, Mrs. Avery was not pleased with her husband’s artistic taste! She tended to favor Wassily Kandinsky, but she was only allowed to hang ‘her’ pictures in her private rooms because “they clash with the other works!”
Family pictures adorned the mantle of the generous fireplace, the walls of the staircases, and other public places of the manor. The family crest hung over the fireplace, and a few sets of swords hung between some of the prints.
Kenneth kept a sailboat at the lake, and several family pictures were taken at Ladies Delight light. With the proper angle and perspective, the twenty five foot tall lighthouse appeared to be much bigger.
Mark Hampton didn’t have a clue who Charles Avery might be, or why Mr. Avery’s butler would call him. He was asked to pick up a round trip e-ticket at the airline counter and fly out for the weekend. Mr. Wemberly did not know that Mark was a freelance photographer. He did not know if Mr. Avery had seen Mark’s website, and he did not know to ask Mark to bring any of his equipment. When Mark asked what the butler did know, Mr. Wemberly only repeated that the matter was important. Mark figured that someone there obtained his name and number from his website. Money was tight and he figured that he could use work if there was any.
The flight from Toledo was short and uneventful. As he entered the terminal, he saw a man holding a printed sign with his name on it. Kenneth Avery escorted him to Mrs. Avery’s office. It became obvious to Mark that she did not recognize him, and that she did not know he was a photographer. Although she was not rude, it was clear that Mrs. Avery had no idea why her husband invited Mark out for the weekend. Mr. Avery was away on a business trip, so she could not ask him. She politely asked Kenneth to take him to the manor. She suggested that he take the rest of the day off to keep an eye on Mark.
As they headed west on US 202, Kenneth asked him if he had any knowledge of life-sized dolls. Mark confessed that he had seen them at a bed and breakfast, and that he was fascinated at the realism of these dolls. He mentioned that he had taken several pictures of dolls in the parlor, and that he was introduced to a cloth doll with vampire teeth. He was thinking about buying a doll for the studio, but he was always short of cash.
Turning south on Pond Road, Kenneth asked if Mark had any experience in the supernatural. Mark confessed an interest in the subject, and that he tried to keep an open mind, but also that he had never seen any hard evidence to support any of the claims.
The property was on a short lane leading to the southerly portion of the lake. Mark was surprised that there were two houses on the driveway, and assumed that one was a guest house.
Mr. Wemberly met them at the door. Mark thought that he was the very image of a butler. A towering, very distinguished gentleman, he even had a little gray in his temples.
“Mrs. Rosencranz will see you straight away, sir!” he announced, then led them through the spacious house to the kitchen. Along the way, Mark noted the many pictures and fine appointments of the manor, and wondered what kind of photos he might shoot.
“Mr. Wemberly, have you any idea why Mr. Hampton is here?” Kenneth asked.
“Yes, sir. It is the matter concerning your sister!”
“What could he possibly know of Desdemona?”
“Hold the phone,” Mark interjected. “Not to be rude, but I know nothing of your family! I thought I was being hired for a shooting gig!”
The butler answered as they continued walking,
“I am sorry if you were mistaken, sir, but I made it quite clear over the telephone that I was not aware of your profession. Your name and telephone number were given to me by Mr. Avery, with explicit instructions that you were to be brought to the manor.”
“Then you don’t know what Mr. Avery wants with me?” Mr. Wemberly remained silent. “This is beginning to feel like a mistake!”
They had arrived in the kitchen. The scents of fresh coffee and baking bread filled the air. Gertrude was found stirring her pots.
“Gertrude, this is the gentleman that Rachael asked you to contact.” Kenneth stiffened, visibly confused.
“What? Daniel!” Kenneth started. “I assumed that my father called Mr. Hampton!” Then to the chef, he asked, “What does Rachael have to do with all of this?”
Gertrude held up a hand in a sign to stop and be patient, wiped her hands on a towel and motioned for Mark to sit at the table.
“Thank you Mr. Hampton, for coming on such short notice. Thank you, Kenneth, for fetching him from the airport. If you would stay, Daniel, all will be revealed.” The kitchen table was small compared to the one in the formal dining room, but had an air of congeniality that the other lacked. Mark placed his shoulder bag gently by the door. The men comfortably seated themselves, and Gertrude set four cups, napkins, and spoons at the chairs. “Would you like some coffee, or would you prefer something else?” she asked Mark. He accepted the coffee, and she sat with them and recounted her story.
“Desdemona is the younger of three sisters, but older than Kenneth. She has always been bright and happy, full of energy! She often helped me in the kitchen, even when I did not want her to! ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth!’ I would tell her. She would laugh, give me a hug, then trip away with a smile on her face.”
“One day, while Mr. Avery and I were chatting, I tried to light the gas stove, but something was amiss, and there was a terrible explosion that knocked me off of my feet. Mr. Avery and I were stunned by the blast…” Her voice trailed off as though she had more to say, but she just closed her eyes.
Mark gestured toward the stove and asked,
“I assume you had the oven checked?”
“Most assuredly, sir,” Mr. Wemberly answered. “Three different appliance repairman verified that the oven and stovetop are in perfect working order. There should have been no reason why the safety stops should have let gas escape without the electronic ignition lighting the pilots first. They also verified that no gas is leaking from the wall, or from the flexible hose leading to the stove. No one can satisfactorily explain why that explosion occurred. There was never any sign of residue from a fire, and we assumed that the explosion was powerful enough to put it out!”
“Are there any theories?” Mark inquired. Kenneth only stared into his coffee. Mark stirred his cup absentmindedly. “How long ago was this?”
“Two weeks ago from yesterday,” Gertrude answered. “And I can still see her face that day. Mr. Avery and I were stunned by the blast, but more astonished by what Desdemona said after that!” She paused for a moment. “We agreed afterward not to speak of this to anyone.”
“Wait a minute,” Kenneth interrupted, “You said that you both heard her speak? She’s been out of the country for months!”
“Mr. Avery and I were stunned by the blast, but then we did hear her speak! I was leaning against the wall, and the sound came from the direction of the oven.”
The three men glanced toward the oven behind Gertrude, as though they expected to see Desdemona standing there. Mark felt icy fingers run up the middle of his back. He sat bolt upright and shivered.
“Jeepers creepers!” Mark shook his hands over the table, then grabbed the hot cup for comfort. “What was it that she said?”
“She was standing by the oven with her hands on her hips,” Gertrude continued. “She looked at me across the room, looked at her father, then folded her arms. She started tapping her foot and said, ‘Now this can’t be good!’ And as we watched, she slowly faded from our view!” As she said that, she swept her hand slowly away from herself.
“Cry Minetly!” Kenneth remarked. “Why didn’t you say something about this before?”
“And who would have believed our report?” Gertrude held her hand to her heart. “We scarcely believed it ourselves!” She took a deep draught of coffee. “If Rachael Dunbar had not seen her, we would have never mentioned it to anyone!”
“So who is Rachael Dunbar?” Mark asked, “and how does she fit into all of this?”
“Rachael thinks herself a medium,” Kenneth interjected. “She is always trying to contact ‘the other side’! I think she watched too many episodes of The X-Files!”
“Mrs. Avery,” Daniel began, “has helped Miss Dunbar with travel plans on many occasions. In their many conversations, they quite often discussed the supposed ghosts and spirits that are said to remain in the area. We always believed that it was just harmless chatter.”
“Leonard was the only one who took her seriously,” Kenneth said to Daniel. The change of subject calmed him a bit, and he relaxed a little. To Mark he offered, “Leonard Barrymore thought himself quite the ladies man, but father thought him quite the cad! He never could keep his hands to himself, and my older brothers drove him off. Good riddance to bad rubbish, if you ask me!” He took a large gulp of coffee, as if to wash the name out of his mouth.
Gertrude once again held up her stop sign, nodded in agreement, then said,
“Shortly after the explosion, Mr. Avery received a frantic call from Rachael. She claimed to have seen and heard Desdemona at her occult bookstore. She was too shaken up to drive, and we met her there. Mr. Avery wanted me to see the physician on the way, but I told him that this old war horse can take a few lumps!” She flashed a proud smile.
“Rachael claimed that Desdemona appeared to her, and gave her a message that Kenneth and his father were in grave danger. She said that Desdemona could not get to a phone to warn them. There was also a written message from Desdemona.” She took a paper from her pocket and gave it to Mark. It was a handbill for a book sale. One of the titles was The Circle is Cast. The book had a triquetra inside a circle on the cover.
“Where is she that they don’t even have phone service?” Mark queried, not looking at the paper.
“My sister is on an archeological dig in Brazil. They had to pack in with burros, for there are no roads near the dig site.”
“Soooo … how would she know that you were in any danger, and how could she …” Mark’s brow deeply furrowed. He turned the handbill over. His name, address and phone number were handwritten on the paper. “What has any of this to do with me?”
“Rachael said that Desdemona tried to contact us herself,” Gertrude explained, “but something went wrong, and that she lost her connection.”
Kenneth saw the paper and shivered again.
“That is her handwriting! I would know it anywhere!”
“She must have written it before she left,” Mark said. “I doubt if she would know me anyway!”
“These are Rachael’s new flyers,” Gertrude remarked, pointing to the date of the new book sale. “She just got them in that morning! Most of them were still in the printer’s shipping box!”
“Show me where I can stash my gear,” Mark said, “then I should go see this Rachael and find out what she really knows.”
“You can stay with us at the guest house,” Kenneth offered. “There is plenty of space, and I can introduce you to the girls!”
“Would that be your other sisters?”
“Constance is married and lives in Augusta. I have three sisters.”
“Then … what other girls are there?” Daniel smiled, but Gertrude had the look of a sudden bad smell.
“Mrs. Avery will not let Kenneth keep his ‘toys’ in the main house!” Daniel beamed a mischievous smile. “Personally, I find them quite intriguing!”
“Well, you would!” Gertrude spat out. “Men!” That brought chuckles from Daniel and Kenneth.
Kenneth signaled Mark to grab his shoulder bag, and the two made their way outside and to the guest house. They exchanged some small talk along the way, and Kenneth opened both the screen door to the porch, and then the front door to the house.
A beautiful young lady was seated in the lounge chair with her feet up. Her shoes were on the floor next to her, and she was reading a magazine. Her dress lay casually over her knees, and there was a sleeping cat on her lap.
“Mark, this is Mnemosyne! Mnemosyne, I would like you to meet Mark!” Mark held out his hand for a greeting, but the lady never moved. Kenneth relished the moment, then let Mark off the hook.
“Mnemosyne is a silicone rubber doll. Her skeleton allows her to be positioned in most human poses. If you touch her skin, it feels real, although a little cool. My cat likes to sleep on her lap, so it is warm there!”
Mark examined her closely, but was reluctant to touch her. Her eyes looked as though they might actually be wet, like real eyes. Her lips were slightly parted, as though she might be about to speak.
“The dolls that I have seen are like this, but - Wow! What kind is she?”
“Private Island Beauty. This is the Eden face, and the skin color is Coffee Gelato.”
“How did you choose her name?”
“I wanted something classical, but not from any of my father’s pictures!” He picked up the hem of her dress. With a sly grin he jested, “Care for a peek?”
“I’d better not! I don’t want to get too excited! What’s in here?” Mark stood in the doorway to the dining room. There were several light stands with umbrellas, some white reflector screens, and a heavy tripod in the room. Several sections of fence, some potted artificial flowers, and a few new garden tools were stacked at one end of the room. A wheelchair rested in the corner.
A large picture of a beautiful lady and her horse adorned one wall. Mark recognized it as a reproduction of Enya’s And Winter Came … album cover. Mark moved closer to examine the painting and saw that “Constance Moody” signed the lower left corner.
“That was Connie’s studio. We had to put the table and chairs in storage. I took over when she married. I take the girls in there for photo shoots.” He beckoned Mark back into the living room and opened a finely detailed wardrobe near the fireplace. “Here is Anastasia. She is a Lovable Doll. She has the Yvette face with mild tan skin color. This was one of the first dolls that they made.”
Mark brushed the back of his hand lightly over her face, then gently touched her cheek with his fingertips. Her earrings caught his eye, and he gently held his fingers behind one. The emerald jewels stood out well amid her blonde hair.
“This is just too real! I half expect her to start talking!” Mark always had a thing for blue-eyed blondes. “Do they stand up, like a mannequin?”
“They can lean on things, but I wouldn’t leave them that way for long. The skeletons are not capable of supporting the full weight. I asked about getting one made with a tubular steel or titanium skeleton, but the cost and weight go up in a hurry. And besides, the joints do not lock. Maybe someday when technology catches up… ”
“Do you have any more surprises?”
“Valentina is sleeping upstairs, but she is not a show doll. Mother thinks I should get a real woman, but – well! As long as she does not see them, they don’t bother her!”
“And what does your father think?”
“He came over to see all the dolls once. He tried not to look interested, but there was a gleam in his eye! Mother would have a fit if he every got one!”
“We should stop in and see Rachael Dunbar,” Mark suggested. “Maybe she can tell me why I am here.”
The New England countryside gave Mark some ideas for photo shoots. Kenneth pointed out some of the landmarks on the way.
Rachael’s bookstore, “Charms N Spells”, was located near the edge of a shopping district. A hanging sign on the door read “The Witch Is In”. Mark assumed that the other side of the sign said “Closed”, or something like it.
The interior of the shop smelled of sandalwood. Books lined all of the outside walls, and wind chimes hung from a hall tree in the middle of the floor. Other knickknacks adorned standing racks and display cases. Various items of jewelry were located safely inside the glass display case and counter. Tee shirts and belts hung between the bookshelves on one wall.
Kenneth entered after Mark, and a white cat rubbed her face against his ankles. Kenneth picked the cat up and petted her as they roamed toward the counter. He noted the sign on the back of the antique cash register that proclaimed, “Where There Is A Witch, There Is Way”. Another on the back wall read, “If you can’t open your mind, then shut your mouth!” All of the signs had price tags on them.
“How may I serve you?” Rachael asked Mark. She was sipping a cup of herbal tea, and set the cup on the counter. The lady had an almost Jamaican look about her. She was a lot prettier than Mark had imagined. He retrieved the flyer from his shirt pocket and gave it to the lady.
“Maybe you can shed some light on this.” He gestured toward Kenneth. “These folks seem to think I am needed here.” As she was reading, he added, “I arrived earlier today.”
“Oh, my!” Rachael started. Mark was more handsome that she imagined, but the note startled her. She reached for her tea and almost spilled it. “What did they tell you about Miss Avery? About Desdemona?”
Mark began to recount the story as told to him by Mrs. Rosencranz. When he mentioned the gas explosion, Rachael stopped him.
“That was no gas explosion! That was an intense energy field!” She called Kenneth over. He was still holding the cat, and had been fingering through the packaged herbs near the counter.
“I was trying to teach Desdemona about raising energy and astral projection. She had a hard time getting her mind around it. She must have had help there to raise that much energy. It sounds like she raised too much!” Her smile showed pearly white teeth against her deeply tanned face. “She appeared here just long enough to warn me about some danger to the Averys. She wrote that note and stuck it in my hand, then her energy bubble popped, and she vanished! The Jeffries twins were here trying to sneak incense into their backpacks, and she scared the daylights out of them!”
“But what does all of this have to do with Mark?” Kenneth asked. “On the way from the airport, he said that he does not believe in the supernatural!”
“Actually,” Mark said, “I said that I had never seen evidence to support a belief in the supernatural. I don’t discount it altogether!” Turning back to Rachael, he asked, “But why me? I don’t have any psychic gifts or abilities! If I did, I would try to come up with some lottery numbers!” Rachael gave him a stern look at that.
“Mostly I would like to know what the danger is to Kenneth and his father, and how I could possibly help. I mean, really, who am I? And how could a girl in the rainforest know about me? She can’t get internet there, if she doesn’t even have phone service!”
“There must be some reason that you were summoned here.” Rachael held one elbow, and tapped the index finger of her other hand on the corner of her mouth. “Have you ever had any premonitions? Any dreams that later came true?”
“When I was younger, I used to have dreams about flying over parts of the city that I did not know. Later, if I had any reason to go to these places, I would know where landmarks and streets were. I always thought it was a coincidence; that I had been to these places as a child, and just forgot about them.”
“Everyone has the potential for psychic abilities, but few people develop them.” Kenneth grinned at that, but said nothing. He just kept petting the cat. “Even my familiar may have psychic ability. She just has trouble expressing herself!”
“I thought witches always had black cats,” Kenneth noted. “Why is yours white?”
“That is just a stereotype,” she replied. She walked around Mark and started to pet her cat, too. “I am trying to dispel rumors about what witches are ‘supposed’ to do! I don’t even have any black clothing or hats! Much too drab!”
“So …” Mark mused, “other than this Barrymore fellow, who else might have a grudge against you or your father?”
“I doubt if he is involved,” Kenneth replied. “He has fast hands, but a slow mind. The most he would ever be is a nuisance! There are business associates who might like to see us disappear,” he grinned about that, “but none that pose any real threat.”
“Well that helps a lot!” Rachael quipped. “You are as likely to be in danger of your driving as from any outside source!” Kenneth blushed a bit.
“I bumped into the front of the store once, and she never lets me forget it!”
“Well then, what about the neighborhood? I imagine times are as tight here as they are back in Ohio.”
“We have never had any problems with the people around us." Kenneth remarked. "We shovel snow out of some of their driveways with the four by four, and they tend to watch the property when we are gone.”
“Any psychic vibrations?” Mark asked Rachael. “Maybe you should try a séance!” She glared at him, then calmed herself.
“A séance is used to contact the dead!” Rachael took the cat from Kenneth. “You really don’t know anything about this, do you?” Petting the cat calmed her quickly. “You boys should get back home. May be that something there will give you a clue to this mystery!”
“Perhaps you are right,” Kenneth allowed. “We aren’t getting anywhere here.”
As they turned to leave, something caught Mark’s eye. He picked up a stone from one of the display cases, and examined it closely. He also picked up another.
“Some believe that the amethyst increases psychic powers,” Rachael said behind him. “If it feels right for you, then you should carry it in your pocket.” Indicating the red stone, she added, “The garnet is for Kenneth. It may afford him some protection.” Mark gave her some cash, and both men pocketed the stones. Rachael followed them to the door. She and the cat watched them as they got in the car and drove away.
“May the winds be with you both!” she whispered.
On the way back, the men sounded out different theories as to what the future may hold. Kenneth was surprisingly calm, as though he did not expect anything to happen.
“Besides Desdemona, does anyone else in your family profess any … abilities?”
“Connie always seemed to know things that she should not. Her husband, Lyle, claims that she kept him from some bad investments. Other than that, some of us had instances of déjà vu, but no more than anyone else.”
“Maybe something will turn up back at the house,” Mark suggested.
Mnemosyne was still reading her magazine, but the cat had moved to a sunny window. A ‘fall out’ card had slipped out from between the pages, and Mark picked it up to have a look. The advertisement was for a business in Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn,” Mark said aloud. Kenneth looked at the card in his hand. “Brooklyn,” Mark repeated. “Brook-lyn. Brook Line!” Mark turned to Kenneth. “We passed a place called Brook Line on the way to the book store. Do you know it?”
“Yes. It is a sporting goods shop. My father and I go there to get fishing tackle and other things for my boat. We are going there when father returns from his business trip. Do you think it may be significant?”
“I don’t know. It may be nothing, but … Its just odd that I should remember seeing it on the way to Rachael’s, and again on the way back.” He thought for a moment. Then nodding toward the doll, he said, “Mnemosyne is associated with memory. I may be looking too hard for an answer.” Mark gingerly placed the card between the pages of the magazine. As he tapped the card down, another one fell out. This one was a business card for the Cambridge Insurance Company. He placed that card on the end table next to Mnemosyne’s chair.
Kenneth saw the card and picked it up. Mark saw the wheels turning in his head.
“What is it?”
“Lyle Moody is an agent at the Cambridge Insurance Company. That is how he met Connie. These home decorating magazines are hers.”
“So when will your father return from his trip?”
“He is flying in tonight. Mother is going to pick him up as soon as she closes up for the day.”
“I should go with you and your father to the Brook Line. It may be important.”
“Right now we should go get some lunch! I’m starving!”
Gertrude had lunch on the kitchen table, and was already planning supper. Daniel waited for Mark and Kenneth to arrive, then took a chair opposite Gertrude after she and the others were seated.
“We tend to be very informal,” Kenneth stated, “unless one of father’s business partners are here. I hope you don’t mind!”
“Why should I mind?” Mark asked. “Besides, this is more comfortable than the dining room. We can talk without shouting over that big table!”
Gertrude grinned widely. “I come from a big family, and we always had to shout just to be heard!”
“I only have one brother,” Daniel added. “Dinner at my parent’s house was always quite intimate. My brother has his grandchildren over a lot, and his table is quite noisy!” His smile indicated that he enjoyed dinners there. “So, did you see any red flags while you were out?”
“Rachael didn’t know much more than she already told you,” Kenneth said. “We haven’t make much progress since we left this morning.”
“Mnemosyne may have given us a clue,” Mark said between bites. “It may have something to do with the Brook Line sporting goods store. We are going to look into it after Mr. Avery gets back.”
“Kenneth’s doll told you?” Gertrude asked. “What did Rachael do to you two?”
“It’s a long story,” Kenneth said. “Let’s just hope it has a happy ending!”
After lunch, the two younger men went back to the guest house to wait for Mr. Avery’s return. Mark took the opportunity to walk around the property and take in the scenery. Kenneth found Mark down by the lake shooting landscapes. They looked over Kenneth’s sailboat, but did not take her out. Later they went back and browsed through Kenneth’s photo albums. They exchanged tips and techniques, and Mark took a few shots of the girls.
Kenneth saw Constance and Lyle drive by on the way to the garage. They had come out to see her parents. He and Mark walked the short distance to the manor to greet them. By the time they reached the manor, Constance and Lyle were already enjoying Gertrude’s coffee in the living room. Hugs and handshakes were freely given, and Mark was introduced as a photographer on assignment for Mr. Avery.
During their conversation, Lyle mentioned safety and security several times. It was then that Mark realized that Constance was becoming uncomfortable. Constance thought Mark was eyeing her, and decided to call him out about it.
“Do you see something you like, Mr. Hampton?”
“I just noticed that you and Anastasia have the same kind of earrings. Were they a gift?” Mark thought that Kenneth had purchased them.
“Yes, they were!” she replied, relieved. “I liked them so much that I bought two sets, and gave her one!”
“I still can’t believe you did that!” Lyle laughed. “I thought you girls were jealous if someone else had the same clothes or jewelry!”
“Well, they have been lucky for both of us!” Constance quipped. “I sold a painting of Anastasia wearing these earrings! I was even wearing mine when the lady bought it!”
“They do go well with your eyes,” Mark commented. “The emerald jewels have just the right sparkle.” Lyle was the one who surprised him next.
“Do you want to take a picture?” Mark was unsure of his intent. “If you do, I would like a copy. You shoot digital – yes, no?” That helped clarify things. Mark was relieved.
“I shoot film in the studio, but not on location, unless the client specifically asks for film. I only brought the digital set on this trip. That and a couple changes of clothes.”
The grandfather clock chimed, and everyone hoped that Mr. And Mrs. Avery would arrive soon. Another car came down the driveway, but not Mrs. Avery’s. Not long after that, Daniel brought Rachael to the living room. More hugs and handshakes later, the conversation returned to art and books.
Daniel informed Gertrude that there would be another for supper, and proceeded to set the dining room table. Both Mark and Lyle commented that seven was a lucky number. Not long after that, Mrs. Avery’s auto was seen approaching the manor. After another round of hugs and handshakes, Mr. Avery warmly greeted Mark.
“I am so glad you could come on such short notice!” he told Mark. “I see you’ve met our spiritual advisor!” Rachael and Constance both chuckled about that. Lyle just rolled his eyes. Daniel tried to stoically announce dinner, but a wide grin took all the stuffiness out of his announcement. He did not escape before Rachael gave him a hug, either.
When everyone was seated, the conversation drifted in and out of business and family affairs. Mark and Kenneth swapped stories about adventuresome photo shoots.
“I assume that everyone knows why I’ve asked Mr. Hampton here.” Mr. Avery sat back in his chair. Daniel had cleared the dishes, and was serving desert. “Daniel, please ask Gertrude to join us.” They had eaten in the kitchen, and Gertrude brought in fresh coffee for everyone.
Mr. Avery and Gertrude recounted the story for Constance and Lyle. Mark still had the handbill in his pocket, and showed it to Constance. She confirmed that the handbill was recent, and that the handwriting was Desdemona’s.
“The problem at hand is that we do not know where this threat will manifest. If anyone has any thoughts at all, please bring them to the table.” Mr. Avery did not appear the least concerned about this, and handled the discussion as though it were a regular business meeting.
“Mark,” Rachael began, “do you have any insight?”
“Mnemosyne gave me an idea, and I think we should investigate further.”
“Kenneth’s doll?” Lyle asked. “You’re joking, yes?”
“No joke.” Mark stated flatly. “If you can buy Desdemona contacting Mr. Avery and Rachael, why is it so hard to grasp this?” He paused for a sip of coffee. “Mnemosyne is associated with memory. An ad fell out of her magazine while we were at Rachael’s. The ad was for a place in Brooklyn. I remembered seeing the Brook Line on the way to the book store, and on the way back. When I put the ad back in her magazine, your business card fell out.”
“My goodness!” Mrs. Avery exclaimed. “Lyle is at Cambridge Insurance!” She put her hand on her chest. “Bill Cambridge owns the Brook Line!”
“Oh - My – God!” Kenneth stammered. He put both hands on the sides of his face. “Why didn’t I see that before? Now that’s just too weird!”
“Daniel, would you please ring up Bill for me?” Mr. Avery asked. Daniel retrieved the cordless phone form the kitchen, dialed the number, and presented the phone to his employer. Mr. Avery chatted briefly with the store owner, then asked Daniel to replace the phone.
“Bill says that it’s just another day at the store. Times are tight and things are slow, but he is confident that an improvement is on the horizon.” He gestured for Daniel to sit at the table with them. “If the store is involved in all of this, we shall have to go there.”
“Dad, like you need an excuse to go shopping!” Constance quipped. “You never pass that place without stopping in, even if it is just to say ‘hello’. Most of the time, Bill is glad to get you out and on your way!”
“Oh, come on!” Mr. Avery laughed. “I can’t be that bad, can I?”
“I’m afraid you are, dear,” his wife chided. “You’re worse than me when you go shopping! And you always want to haggle over the price of anything you buy!”
“I’m just a good businessman,” he claimed in his own defense. “Kenneth! Help me out here!”
Kenneth held up his hands in defense. He had a wide smile on his face. “Hey! Don’t look at me! You know how you are!” Chuckles ran around the whole table. Gertrude had to wipe tears of laughter out of her eyes.
Mr. Avery turned to look at Mark. “Exactly at what point did I lose control of this conversation?” Mark just smiled and shook his head. He could not keep from laughing. Soon this infectious behavior had them all in stitches.
“Well now that everyone has had a good laugh at my expense,” he said, wiping his own eyes with a napkin, “does anyone else have anything to add?”
“Two things come to mind,” Mark mused. “Mr. Wemberly mentioned red flags. That stuck in my mind. Constance is wearing emerald earrings. For some reason, that seems important.”
“Bill said that there is some utility work going on near the store. They had a young lady with a red flag directing traffic, but they are done for the day.”
“We should go over there now,” Mark suggested. “If the red flags have been put away, then this might be the safest time to be there.”
“I shall accompany you,” Daniel said firmly. Mr. Avery knew better than to argue the point. As the five men prepared to leave, Rachael asked Kenneth if he still had his protection stone. Mark felt for the stone in his own pocket.
Daniel took the driver’s seat of Mr. Avery’s car. Mr. Avery took the front passenger seat. Lyle, Mark, and Kenneth piled in the back and they were on their way. The early evening sunset did not bother Daniel, and he raised the visor on his side.
On the short drive to the sporting good store, Mr. Avery noted that the “Utility Work Ahead” signs were parked safely off the road, and turned so as not to face traffic. Mark saw them, too, and the red flags mounted on top of them.
With the other men in suits and ties, Mark was the only one in the sporting goods store who did not look out of place. He stayed near Kenneth in the store, and Daniel was constantly at Mr. Avery’s elbow. Mark pretended to be shopping, but kept a wary eye out for any sign of trouble.
Mark and Kenneth had been wandering through the aisles. A flash of green on the counter near the cash register caught Mark’s eye. He picked up the open magazine and studied the picture. It was an advertisement for a golf course. The Robert Trent Jones ad read, “It’s just a stone’s throw from where you are!” There was a church pictured on the opposite page. A flag on the church bore a triquetra. Mark remembered the triquetra on the handbill from the Charms N Spells, pulled it out and read it again. It said, “Drop, what you are doing and follow your instincts.” The book The Circle is Cast struck a nerve. Looking at the magazine again he saw a red stop sign in an ad near the corner of the page.
“Stop here,” he told Kenneth. He pointed to the add and said aloud, “It’s just a stone’s throw from where you are!” Kenneth instinctively retrieved the garnet from his pocket. Mark saw the stone and took the amethyst out of his pocket.
Daniel and Mr. Avery joined them at the counter. Bill Cambridge was stocking a shelf on the back wall and turned to talk to them. Just as his watch beeped the hour, the front door opened and two masked gunmen entered. They saw the men in suits, stopped about eight feet away, and took aim.
“Open the register NOW!” one yelled. He was so nervous that the weapon was shaking in his hand. “You! Wallets on the counter!” To Bill he yelled, “Stuff everything in a bag, NOW!”
Mark dropped the magazine and threw the amethyst at one of the gunmen, hitting him hard in the side of the head. The other gunman turned to see if his partner was injured. When he turned back, Kenneth threw the garnet and caught him squarely in the eye.
Daniel lunged at the first gunman, easily tackling him, and knocking the weapon out of his hand. Mark and Kenneth jumped the second gunman while he was still bent over rubbing his eye. They disarmed him and threw him to the floor. Bill Cambridge came around the counter with a shotgun and aimed it at the two men.
Mr. Avery found a length of rope behind the counter and was tying the hands of the gunmen when the police came running in. Bill looked at his watch. It was only three minutes after the hour.
The police cuffed the two gunmen and placed them in their car, then took statements from everyone at the store. When Bill told them that the robbers were there on the hour, they were stymied. They said that Mrs. Avery called the station to report a robbery at the store. They were called to the scene at three minutes before the hour.
When the men returned home, there was a police car parked near the manor. They entered the living room and met a very confused police sergeant who was trying to make sense of the story.
“Just exactly how did you know there was a robbery happening before it happened? The phone call from Mrs. Avery was logged in at four minutes before the hour.”
“Officer,” Mr. Avery said, “we just came from the Brook Line. Is there anything we can do to help you?”
“Yeah,” the sergeant said. “What are you people? Psychic?”
“Actually, yes!” Rachael replied, smiling. “But I am not the one who told Mrs. Avery about the robbery!” She was way too pleased with herself. “Her daughter, Desdemona, gave us the message.” Mark moved closer to Rachael. He was really beginning to like her.
“And just exactly where is your daughter?” the sergeant asked Mrs. Avery.
“She is near Buíque, Pernambuco, in Brazil, on an archeological dig in the Vale do Catimbau National Park.”
“Ya know,” the confused sergeant admitted, “the more I talk to you people, the less I know!”
“Don’t try to figure it out,” Daniel offered. “It will only give you a headache!”
A shimmering glow appeared near Mr. Avery. Desdemona greeted her father warmly.
“Hello father! I’m glad you are safe!” Then to Kenneth, she said, “Hello little brother!” She turned toward Mark. “Thank you for helping my father and brother!” She noticed how close he stood next to Rachael. She raised her eyebrows, smiled, pointed at them with her index fingers, and moved them side by side.
The stunned police sergeant stood with his mouth agape. Constance pushed it closed for him. Lyle stood with his arms crossed, just looking at her sideways.
“You didn’t mention all of this before we got married,” he joked.
“Yeah, I know,” she replied. “It wouldn’t look good to give your insurance agent a heart attack!”
Desdemona faded back to her dig site. Mr. Avery and company eventually convinced the sergeant, and sent him on his way. Mark and Rachael spent a lot of time together for the remainder of the weekend. They would have another adventure together, but that is a different story.
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