Spectre of the Future
own a bookshop in
was along ways from the shores that magnificent city.
I loved it there, the energy, life flowin' at such great speeds.
Able to retreat at any time to the depths of the written word …
words of other places and mysteries, I would often surface only when the
bell alerted me to a potential customer, or seller.
one such encounter that began my current journey.
was falling thickly, clingin’ to windows and signs, not warm enough
t’be meltin’, not cold enough t’be holdin it solidly in place.
I’d been in the back room, comparin’ current photos of a
temple that was fast bein’ restored in the
pure tones of the bell rang over the etched glass door.
Dustin’ my hands on my wool trousers, I emerged into the main
room. A complete opposite
from my work area, this room was well tidy and well displayed.
Two stories, with a wide, welcoming set of stairs beckonin’ one
up to the second level, a u-shaped balcony allowin’ visitors to see
upwards, and browsin’ customers t’be glancin’ downwards at new
the store was empty, except for me.
And the man that took up too much space in the doorway.
“Can I be helpin’ ye?”
I went forward to greet him, and stopped when confusion rushed
through me. “Do I know
ye?” I spoke, but I
wasn’t rememberin’ that I’d even been thinkin’ the question.
snow from his hair that hung long, somewhere past his shoulders,
Thick, brooding brows drew together to stare at me.
Being on the petite side, with straw-gold hair that swung easily
at my shoulders and having wide, soft coloured grey eyes, I was used to
men routinely eyin’ me, but none had such an impact.
I could feel my face flushin’ from the scrutiny.
He wasn’t handsome by any degree, but in the compellin’
department, he’d be ranked a ten plus.
My chin lifted to stare defiantly back at him.
lips tightened. “Ye’ve
the look of her, down to the cursed stubbornness.”
me?” I raised my brow
superciliously. Flustered or
not, this was my store. His
accent caught my attention. Much
like my Da’s, who’d heralded from the main northern
thrust a dark wrapped package towards me.
Instinctively I accepted it, swallowing a faint hiss of breath
when his fingers burned against mine.
My pulse leapt and I took a step back.
His smile wasn’t particularly a nice one.
might this be?” I hefted the package.
a bit of writing that rightly belongs in yer hands, though I’d wager
I’ll be regrettin’ the impulse to pass it on.”
was wagerin’ I’d be regretting meeting him.
“Who are ye?”
none of yer concern, Merry Dresden of Ireland.
Mind ye read it careful, and be more careful of who ye might
share it with.”
brows drew together in irritation and I opened the package as he stood
there watching me so intently. “My
da’s journal!” I exclaimed, clutching the precious book.
did ye get this?” I demanded, while my fingers tripped though the
pages, warmed by the familiar writin’.
My da had gone missin’ the last three years, followin’ a
trail that he wouldn’t share with his own daughter.
I missed him somethin’ fierce. I
knew he was gone from this earth. I’d
known the precise moment it happened.
stranger had answers, and I wanted them.
when I looked up, he’d gone.
center of town, though it might be a stretch on callin’ it such, sat
the hub of activity: LeFey
Tavern. In the graveled
parkin’ lot, I squeezed my rented car between two rugged trucks that
rested high on their tyres. T’would have taken a small stepladder for
me to get in. ‘Men and
their toys,’ twas all I thought. I
patted the bonnet of my car. It
was tiny, which suited me just fine.
It meant I could reach the pedals easily, and didn’t have to
worry about judgin’ space on the narrow and windy roads.
temperature was cool, but not unpleasant.
Thin clouds pierced with slivers of lukewarm sunlight. The air
carried the moist, earthy smell of farmlands.
I’d always felt a draw to the land, even though too much of my
life was spent in the shadows of sprawlin' and omnivorous city.
Even the polluted stench of the Bay water sometimes tickled that
need in me, the under-smell hintin' at primal life.
took the two shallow steps, my boot heels clipping sharply on the aged
wood. The wrap-around porch was hung heavy with baskets of lush flowers
that at first I thought might be artificial.
The gentle scents told me otherwise.
I sighed with no small amount of envy for the green thumb of that
gardener. A heraldatic sign
swayed on the rod-ironed pole, the tip sharpened to resemble a medieval
spike. Bright, stained-glass
windows gleamed in the watery sunlight.
Clever. It would
allow diffused light within, while keepin' prying eyes out.
paused on the porch, my eyes drawn towards the lane that curved, the
road disappearin' in a small cluster of trees.
Beyond, and up the rise, loomed the fabled Estate.
Even at this distance, the size was damned impressive.
Stone grey with a hint of warmth in the color.
I frowned in concentration. How
could that be?
said that there’s genuine veins of gold runnin through the rocks.
Tis from an old quarry, ye know.”
lost in contemplation, I was startled and stumbled over my own feet.
A firm hand grasped my above my elbow.
Blinking stupidly, I stared up at the skinniest man I have ever
seen in the entirety of my life. I
should have been frightened by viewin a living skeleton, but his smile
was so warm and lovely, and his eyes a rich warm blue, that I forgot
everythin else. “Oh!
I didna see ye there.”
I’m a’seein’. You must
be the new lass. Saw yer
picture in the paper.”
hadn't occurred to me that my arrival would be heralded by a newspaper. Small
towns were funny, though. I
hoped twas a descent picture.
gave me that beamin smile again. “Me
name’s Leonard. Ye can
call me Lenny, though. Most
do. Were ye goin’
yes actually.” I let him
guide me to the door, though I was perfectly capable of assistin’
myself. My small size often
caused men to feel protective and I was used to instinctive behavior.
There’d been a time when it infuriated me, but I’d grown up a
mite since then, and I learned to use it to my advantage.
the door open, he announced to the room in general, “The new lass has
arrived. Earl, she’ll be
wantin’ a warm drink, I’m thinkin'.
A bit nippy out.”
It wasn’t cold by my current standards, but then I’d spent the
last month in
It wasn’t cold by my current standards, but then I’d spent the last month in
glanced around the room. I’d
been right about the diffused lightin’.
It gave the air a warm ambience with colors tintin' the various
surfaces. The place was
about three quarters full, people dressed casually and talkin' in
comfortable tones. A sullen
lookin' girl sat at the upright piano, her shoulders hunched.
A lazy finger hit the ivory, a choppy D.
It should have jarred, but oddly it didn’t.
A moment later, another single note, slightly higher.
turned my attention to the bar, which was clearly a craftsman’s work
of art. The wood was deep
chocolate in color, and highly polished.
Brass corner posts gleamed at the ends.
Behind the bar, framed by two long mirrors, a portrait hung.
It drew my eyes and held them there.
I didn’t remember crossin' the room, but there I was, leanin’
against the bar, strainin’ forward to get a better view.
her.” I didn’t realize
I’d said it aloud.
ma’am,” the one Lenny had called Earl answered.
His eyes were watchful on me.
wasn’t necessary to clarify further.
depth and richness of the oil betold a master artist.
My eyes searched the corners and edges.
If there was a signature, the frame covered it.
ye like to see it closer?” Earl
gave a vague wave for me to come around.
He didn’t have to ask twice.
I scooted behind the bar and stood before the enormous portrait.
It had to be five and half feet tall, and close to four feet
wide. From a distance, it
appeared more a photograph. Up
close, ye could clearly see the finer details of the tiny brush strokes.
It was simply exquisite.
white hair fell in soft waves, framing a delicate face.
Good bone structures, the kind that would make her a beauty at
the age of ninety, and gently curved jaw spoke of grace and strength.
Cool grey eyes that darkened towards the edge of the iris should
have made her look cold, as only blondes can look.
But the artist had rendered her eyes slightly widened, and
The girl portrayed here held deep secrets and dark pain.
It was captured subtly and beautifully.
What had she been thinkin' when the artist had so skillfully
captured those emotions?
LeFey. I was finally seein’
her image in full size, and all I could feel was empathy and sadness.
This wasn’t a picture of a murderer.
It was a portrait of a lovely young girl, tormented and gentle.
ma’am, those would be them.”
realized then the silence behind me.
Slowly, I turned. All
conversation had ceased. The
stares were neither friendly nor hostile.
Just … watchful. I
smiled weakly. “Tis a
lovely piece of work.”
aye, that’s right. Yer an
artist yerself, aintcha?” A
grinnin man raised his mug in a salute. He was partially right.
I’d come here in the capacity of an artist seeking new material
to transfer onto blank canvas. “Welcome
to Darby, then, Miss Dresden. Hope
ye’ll be finding yerself at home here.”
At his words, others nodded benignly, drinks held up to her and
piano note plunked and conversations resumed.
I looked at Earl. His
smile was polite. “I’ll
be getting’ ye that drink, Miss.”
A clear invitation to return to my side of the bar.
One I took with alacrity. I
hitched my rump onto the padded barstool, elbows leanin’ against the
gaze strayed back to the portrait. I
sighed unconsciously. Lenny
patted my shoulder in a kindly way.
“Don’t be frettin, lass.
It affects all manner of people in all manner of ways.”
say! I really hadn't known
what to expect. But I
definitely hadn't thought I’d see her as anything but a rich, spoiled,
power-hungry woman who’d murdered her own mother at the age of
sixteen, subsequently inheriting the massive Estate and all the lands.
I also assumed her wealth had kept her free from arrest and
do ye know about her?” I asked Lenny as casually as I could.
I watched Earl as he drew down a dark green bottle of wine from
the rack. He set it near me,
deftly inserting the cork remover, twisting it sharply.
I was able to see the label.
Metallic with lots of scroll work.
LeFey Wineries. The
edge of my lip curled up in a rueful grimace.
I had a feeling the LeFey name was going to be poppin’ up all
over the place.
mug was filled and spices added. I
watched idly as I listened to Lenny.
“Aye, enough is known about her just from talk alone.
What might ye be wantin’ to know?”
I get away with saying ‘everythin’?
Instead I shrugged, cupping my chin in my hand I stared at the
portrait. “Was she really
aye. That and more.
There’s not a body that didn’t adore her.”
exaggeration I was more than sure. I
knew the local constable hadn’t been overly fond of her.
But men in those days … hell, in these
days … didn’t like powerful women.
Especially men whose profession was one of authority.
It must have galled him to work for her.
It had been her town then, and it was still her town now, even
after a century since her disappearance.
anyone live at the Estate?” I
heard the capital ‘E’ in my speech and wondered at it.
I smiled my thanks to
Earl when he set the warm mug of spiced wine before me.
My hands curled around the smooth cup.
me, no!” Lenny looked a tad shocked at the notion.
not?” I took a sip of the
wine and my eyes widened. This
was good! I looked up to
meet Earl’s knowin’ smile.
wine to be had anywhere in the country,” he said with pride.
wasn’t about to argue.
Lenny agreed. “The grapes
in the vineyard are first rate, all the way.” His head bobbed slightly
to his own words.
note hovered in the air, catching my attention.
I glanced over to the girl. Her
dark eyes met mine. She
smirked and hit another note. It
lingered. Suddenly it dawned
on me. She wasn’t randomly
toying with the piano at all. The
notes were adeptly selected to complement the cadence of the
conversations around her.
tis just not done.”
took me a moment to realize Lenny had answered my question.
“Oh. Well, who owns
the place now?”
curious one, arentcha?” He
scratched his chin. “Can’t
say there are any owners.”
I took another sip, my gaze once more on Lacy LeFey.
It seemed her eyes were on me, as well.
There was a hint of a smile, or one just about to form.
It contradicted the haunted expression within those grey depths.
she really kill her mother?” The
question blurted itself out before I could censor it.
Appalled at myself, I shot a swift look of apology to Lenny.
aye, that she did,” he said easily.
“Set her on fire. Twas
what caused the entire East Wing to burn.
Tis said near eighty folks lost their lives that night.
A mighty blood bath. Both
pools had t’ be fully drained and replastered, as the blood had soaked
clean in. From those that
threw themselves in to douse the flames, ye know.
Under a certain moonshine, the water sometimes takes on the blood
just stared at him.
patted my shoulder absently. “Sure,
lass. Tis said the flames
could be seen over several counties.”
my voice, I asked in disbelief, “How was she not arrested for murder?
Brought to trial? If
she killed that many people?”
Dresden, ye’ve heard our Lenny wrong.
The girl didn’t kill none but her mother, and twas in self
defense, too.” Earl inserted a bit sharply.
Lenny nodded so hard I feared his too-thin neck would snap.
“The men and women that died were fightin’ to save the girl.
Tho’ twas mostly men. The
wives were to be stayin’ home to guard the children.
Too many of them never saw their husbands again,” he shook his
her?” I asked, utterly confused.
sure, lass. Twas well known
Luanne was coming back to take the girl.
Lacy refused to run. She
feared leavin’ the Estate, believin’, and rightly so, that the pack
would leave it in ruins. As
it was, several thousand acres were torched from sheer malice.”
… take her?”
looked at me as though he was beginnin’ to suspect I wasn’t terribly
bright. “Why, I’m meanin’,
t’ take her life, steal her blessed soul.”
let that go for the moment. “Why
would she be puttin' her life above the Estate?
Why risk all those lives?”
ye have to understand, the entire town was dependent on the work from
the Estate. Ye’ve got the
farmland, the vineyards, the gardens, the grounds, the maze, the
stables, the housing units, and the main house itself.
After Luanne up’d and took off, evil she-whore that she was,
Lacy took over control of everything.
The lass was barely sixteen, but sharp as ye could hope for.
She improved things dramatically for the entire town.
Everyone prospered mighty fine.
None was willin’ to leave the land, Lacy included.
The mere fact she was takin’ a stand earned the loyalty of all.
Twasnt till it was over that some turned on her, blamin’ her
for their losses. Fickle
almost choked on a laugh Twas
as much a nervous reaction as one of startlement. “So these men were
at the Estate, ready to be invaded?”
Twas a long shot, and they all were a’knowin’ it.
Most expected to die. Most
hoped for it, I’d be thinkin’. Better
that than the other.”
and Lenny shared a glance. It
was solid now. They were
convinced I was a dimwit.
patiently, Lenny said, “The pack.”
I still looked blank, another look passed between the two men.