~ the raven chronicles ~ 17

16 Oct

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Fr. Michael Leavell, OP.
Sacred Heart Church
Raven, Ohio

November 19, 1932

As the crow flies, it is a short distance from the Wallace farm to Echo Lake; being earthbound, we had to traverse the widely spaced grid of country roads to get there. As we journeyed along, Wallace stared wordlessly out the side window, as if perhaps he regretted his quick assenting to my scheme; which, in turn, caused me to wonder if returning to the yellow house was a good idea, after all.

If you’d rather not do this, William, I said, I’ll understand.

He looked my direction for a few silent moments, then said, You should know me better than that, Michael. As if our conversation was then complete, he returned his gaze to the cold, desolate fields, and went silent, once again.

The following miles passed by like the ticking of a clock, and the air of apprehension in the automobile became nearly palpable.

We finally reached Echo Lake Road, and as I steered onto it, Wallace looked from the side window and stared out the windshield along with me, searching for the first glimpse of our destination. The uppermost cupola on the expansive roof of the Grand Hotel, finally peeked through the trees. There it is, I said, and immediately felt foolish for stating the obvious.

I turned left onto the access road that leads to the entrance of the park; all at once, a tall, dense hedgerow that lines the perimeter of the grounds, obscured our vision. The main gate soon presented itself, and once we passed through it, a nearly unobstructed view of the park lay before us. The roller coaster loomed large above the bare trees; the wind swirled dead leaves up the ice-encrusted midway, where all the fair-weather attractions sat locked and shuttered like a provisional ghost town.

In the hotel lot, a smattering of cars dotted the parking area. I wonder if those automobiles belong to some ice fishing devotees, I said, trying for a bit of levity. Probably belong to the vermin that worked for Tavish, Wallace replied; I doubt that they have any other place in this world to go. With that comment, William showed me that he was of one particular mind; I hoped he wouldn’t take it upon himself to engage in untoward behavior with any of the inmates.

I drove our automobile up to a slot at the right of the front steps of the massive white building; I shut the engine. We sat there for a few moments, both of us staring at the majestic, Echo Lake Grand Hotel; Gareth Tavish’s crowning achievement. After he finagled control of the park from the National Spiritualist Association, Tavish undertook a complete renovation and expansion of the once modest inn. People thought it crazy, but Tavish soon proved he was crazy like a fox; the Grand Hotel attracted a clientele who still had money to spend, despite the dire economic times we find ourselves in. Among that select group were those who dealt in the illicit trades; liquor, racketeering, and prostitution. Tavish tapped into the spiritual needs of a segment of that disparate population by staging elaborate seances and claiming an ability to communicate with long-lost loved ones.

In an effort to uncover his past, I had contacted the authorities in England; though I wasn’t able to find out everything I wanted to know, I did ascertain that Gareth Tavish was considered to be nothing more than an enterprising con man. How he had parlayed his meager resources into a profitable little empire in this country, was unknown.

grand hotel FlapperNo sooner had we stepped out of the car, then one of the double front doors of the hotel flew open. A man dressed in a sable coat came storming out; followed in quick order by a woman who appeared young enough to be the man’s daughter; she carried a small overnight case with her; the man had no luggage. Why do you treat me this way, she complained, as she hurried down the steps after the man; I’m not your wife you know. The man turned sharply and I believe he would have struck the young woman, but for our presence; he gave us an angry look and then said to her, Shut up and get in the car. She gazed at us with an expression that was equal parts shame and defiance, before she hustled into the nearby sedan. Wallace and I watched the man swerve the big Oldsmobile in reverse, then change gears and speed away. The devil took hold of my tongue and I said to Wallace, Her heart belongs to Daddy; Wallace just stared at the car; Strumpet, he muttered. As the automobile roared out of sight, we walked up the stairs and entered the hotel.

We closed the door behind us and stood in the foyer. The silence of a library enveloped the rococo pleasure palace, and the only soul visible was a woman behind the hotel desk, leaning on her elbows and reading a magazine spread open on the counter. She stood as we approached; her kimono fell open; I could plainly see she wore scant clothing beneath. She casually pulled the robe closed, and languidly fastened the sash while she sized us up with the trained eye of her profession; then with a coy smile, she asked if we were interested in a room. We are interested in speaking with Mr. Bloodworth, I replied. The glint left her eye like a bloom gone to perdition, and she adopted a defensive attitude. He’s not in the habit of receiving visitors. We’ll not be interested in his habits, Wallace said, with a look that caused the slattern to take a step back from the desk. Where is he, I asked. At that point, I suspect she feared us to be officers of the law and her pretense of authority dissipated; Up the stairs, she said; 208; third room on the right.

We mounted the stairs in short order, as if we were Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson having just cornered Dr. Moriarity; like Bloodworth would make a run for it if he had an inkling we were there; a fanciful action on our part, now that I look back on it. We turned right at the landing and headed down the hall; at the far end, a shadowy figure scurried across from one room to another. I laid my fist to the door of 208; Mr. Bloodworth, I called out, might I speak with you? Silence answered me. I rapped again, and said, Mr. Bloodworth, we know you’re in there. Go away, came a muffled response. Mr. Bloodworth, I repeated, I must speak with you; It’s of the utmost importance.

I’ve told you police all I know, he called back. I’m not a police officer, Mr. Bloodworth, I said, but we have met before. A long pause ensued, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching from inside the room. The door opened about 3 inches and framed the man’s haggard face. You, he said. May we come in, I asked. He swung the door open and walked back into the room. I followed Bloodworth; Wallace followed me, and then closed the door.

The room lay in total disarray and a sour aroma hung in the air. Bloodworth went over to the bureau, grabbed a bottle of whisky and filled a drinking glass halfway. Care for a snort, he asked. You’re a disgrace to manhood, Wallace said. Bloodworth looked hard at Wallace and answered his judgment; I’ve no illusions about such anymore; then he drank half the whisky, straightaway. We’ve not come to debate the definitions of manly virtue, I said; I would like to ask you a few questions about what took place inside Tavish’s cottage on Halloween. He immediately spat out his reply; You were there to see for yourself, both of you, I haven’t forgotten that, I haven’t forgotten either one of you. I shan’t think so, Wallace said; We all but carried you out of that infernal place. And I’m grateful for that, Bloodworth replied, but if you’re here to collect a debt on it, you’ll leave empty-handed.

Bloodworth stumbled to a large club chair draped with dirty clothes, and plopped down into it. You owe us nothing, I said, we are here on behalf of others affected by what happened, specifically, Mrs. Sinclair. Bloodworth pointed his glass at me and said, Steer clear of that one, with her diamond rings and barbed wire fanny. Hold your tongue, fool, Wallace said. Bloodworth put the glass to his lips and sipped while he glared at Wallace.

You’d known Mrs. Sinclair for some time? I asked.

She’d been mooning around here for months, Bloodworth said; Never could figure her angle, she didn’t need money, but she was hungry for something and thought she could get it from Gareth. Any idea just what that something might have been? I asked. Bloodworth thought for a moment. Women were drawn to Gareth, they wanted to be with him; It was like he had this aura; people believed the manure he shoveled at them; they believed he could actually talk to the dead.

But you didn’t believe that? I said. I was well paid, Bloodworth said; I believed in the money his Spiritualist rubbish produced.

Regrettin’ it now, aren’t you, Wallace said.

I’m past regrets, Bloodworth said.

Can you tell us what happened that night, I asked, peeved at Wallace for his antagonistic attitude. Don’t know, I didn’t see a thing, Bloodworth said; Sykes and I were hidden in the walls, running Gareth’s puppet show; It was black as night in that damned room after the candles got snuffed; I heard a lot of screaming and then gunshots, but that’s all. What about Sykes, I asked. That fool, Bloodworth said, with a sneer. When all the lights went out, he made his way out of the walls and into the room to try and fix things; Sykes was always about kissin’ Gareth’s arse.

And what did he see, I asked.

I don’t know, and I never cared to know, but every time he got a few drinks in him he’d start blathering about the devil and how his soul was damned to hell and he wouldn’t stop until I’d finally tell him to shut his bloody trap.

Bloodworth took another sip of whisky; Wallace and I exchanged a look. You think he would talk to us? I asked. I don’t think so, Bloodworth said; Three days ago, he walked out into the woods, put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. A pall came over the room as each of us three considered what profane visions Sykes may have seen to cause him to end his own life.

We intend to enter the yellow house and search for clues as to what happened, I said.

Bloodworth guffawed; Search for clues, he said, clues to what? You think you’ll find a crime gone unnoticed, or a riddle to be solved? Or are you two perverted and didn’t get a bellyful the last time?

I should throttle you, Wallace said.

Go ahead, Bloodworth replied, you’d be doin’ me a favor; I don’t have the nerve that Sykes had to do it myself.

We all went silent once again. Bloodworth finished the whisky, held the empty glass on a knee, stared at it, and spoke; No one knows what really went on out here; No one ever knew what Tavish was really about; That spiritualist mumbo-jumbo was just a way to suss out the ones that would suit his real purposes.

And what were his real purposes, I asked. Bloodworth looked at me, and in that forlorn look, I saw the soul of a man who is dreading eternal damnation.

Gareth had gone to Egypt with Aleister Crowley, Bloodworth replied; He was nothing more than a valet, but Crowley confided in him, shared all that he’d learned about them ancient Egyptians. Gareth went his own way when they returned to England, started a group based on his own beliefs. Bloodworth stopped speaking abruptly, rose from the chair as if by some unheard command, went to the bureau and refilled his glass.

Spiritualism was hardly the invention of Gareth Tavish, I said.

Not that dung. Gareth believed that enlightenment can only come through suffering, Bloodworth said; then, as he stared into his glass; And Tavish loved to inflict that suffering on others, especially women.

Quit talking riddles and say it plainly, I replied.

He turned and faced me; Before you go into the yellow house, go around back of the burnt down church; you’ll find a door there leading underground; and on that door you’ll find carved a picture of a snake eating it’s own tail; go inside and have a look around; you’ll figure the rest out soon enough.

Bloodworth walked over to the window, took a drink of whisky, then stared outside with his back to us and spoke one last time; That’s all I’ve got to say, so why don’t the two of you get the hell out of my room.

I motioned to William that we should leave; we did so, and I closed the door behind us.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved

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