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I am in my 40s and recently quit my job of 20 years to take care of my ill son and to pursue my love of writing.  Within this blog, I hope to cover all the ups and downs I will face as I go from unpublished to published writer, while facing the challenges of being a stay at home dad to a teenager battling Crohns and colitis. Along the way I'll spout off on pop culture and revisit the entertainment that made me the person I am today.  My writing primarily falls under horror but I hope to branch out to other genres as I travel down this path. 

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  • ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past Part 7

Chapters 19-21

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Chapter Nineteen


"He was within our grasp," Ephraim said smashing his fist into the hard seat of the carriage. "I bloody well spoke with the man!"


Livingstone stared ahead with a blank look on his face, listening to the man rant and rave but giving it little thought. Instead, he found his thoughts going back to that trip to Africa and the awfulness with the lions. His shoulder still ached when it rained. Livingstone faced death many times during his travels but nothing brought him closer to God than when that lion charged. He was grateful the others had stood their ground with him, even though his shot hit the beast it was not enough to stop it. Three more shots and five men with spears took care of the large feline.


But as the words of Ephraim washed over him, Livingstone wondered if this was turning out to be another experience like the lion. Were they interfering in something larger than their small group? Might it be possible God sought vengeance for the village by sending a righteous punishment in the form of the African? He couldn't be sure. If it is God's will, he will find a way to stop us. Livingstone nodded at the thought. In the end, the lion had been nothing but a lion. He prayed this was the same case.


***


"Are you even listening, Doctor?" Ephraim said with heat in his voice. He hadn't been ranting for the last ten minutes to be ignored. Livingstone glanced at Ephraim and offered a smile.


"Of course...within our grasp, spoke with the man, etc," Livingstone said. Zona raised her hand to cover her mouth, and Ephraim spared her a glare before focusing on the doctor.


"Well...yes I guess you are listening but do you have an answer?"


"I think you might have the doctor there, Ephraim," Zona said patting Livingstone on the arm. "He wants to know our next plan of action."


Ephraim nodded and crossed his arms, leaning back as well as the rocking carriage would allow. Although after shifting numerous times, he placed his arms out to regain a semblance of balance.


"Well, I don't know. It is rather late...do we dare visit either place at night?"


Ephraim frowned. Livingstone's point was well-founded. Both locations would be dangerous once the sun set and there was no chance he would allow Zona to accompany them to that part of town at night. Zona's eyes flashed with anger as she stared at Ephraim. His cheeks grew hot as he wondered for the hundredth time how the woman managed to read his thoughts.


"I say we eat, and then we can make a decision," Zona offered, continuing her glare at Ephraim; he shifted again, no longer just uncomfortable with the ride.


The carriage came to a stop and the door swung open. Inspector Kimbell climbed up and wedged himself between Ephraim and the wall. He frowned, a sour look on his face, and he tapped the ceiling with his fist. The carriage took off and Zona shared a look with Ephraim before speaking.


"Ah, Inspector is there somewhere special we can take you?"


He shook his head, "I've told your man where to go. We've had another murder, and this time you know the victim...the woman from the other night, Mrs. Chattoway."


Chapter Twenty


Zona stood off to the side. She found the amount of blood quite overwhelming and Zona wondered if more than one person might have been killed in the room. Livingstone studied what remained of Mrs. Chattoway and motioned for Ephraim to come closer. Neither man appeared to realize she was even in the room, and she was both annoyed and grateful for that. Enough of Mrs. Chattoway was visible to determine she wanted to be no closer.


Ephraim stared at the mess in front of him and nodded as the doctor pointed. He glanced over his shoulder and frowned at Zona but said nothing. Well, at least now he knows I'm here. He shared a word with Livingstone and hurried to her side. Ephraim grasped her by the elbow and quickly steered her from the room and into the hall. Livingstone soon joined them.


"For God's sake, that is no place for a woman," he said, and although the words were meant to be sharp the tone was not. She spotted the concern in his face, and his voice had little to none of the regular exasperation it normally did when he disagreed with her.


"We are all part of this investigation...are we not?" Zona asked with a raised eyebrow. She pulled her elbow free and crossed her arms. She hoped he saw it as defiance, but she knew it was something else; her arms around her made her feel safe for some reason.


"Yes, of course, but no one should look at that," Livingstone muttered moving away from the pair, calling out for the Inspector.


"He's with the husband," Zona replied and motioned towards the opposite direction.

"Please, lead the way," Ephraim said, sneaking a final glance at the carnage and shaking his head.


***

Livingstone was used to blood. His travels abroad forced him to accept the violent nature of man and beast, but what he witnessed in that room was monstrous. The killer left only her face untouched, everything else he covered in slash marks, gouges, and blood. From the smear on her neck, Livingstone decided the killer wiped any excess off her face before leaving.


Mrs. Chattoway wore a grotesque grin and the killer left her eyes open, so she could stare at anyone in the room. Not just stare but mock your reaction to the carnage. Livingstone found the effect quite unsettling. Livingstone noted Ephraim shortening his strides to stay in step with him. While not necessary, Livingstone appreciated it. If not for the calming influence of Ephraim, and his worry over Ms. Whitlock's reaction to such a sight, that room's butchery might have been too much.


He stole a glance at Ephraim, but the man appeared unfazed by the gore. Although not completely unaffected either. The man was made of sterner stuff than any of them, Livingstone would wager. Whatever had happened in Crimea and then returning to find your family gone, hardened the man. Livingstone wondered if Ephraim's wife would even recognize him now.


Livingstone turned his attention back to Ms. Whitlock, and they followed her to the sitting room. Inspector Kimbell made introductions to two men sitting by the fire. Ms. Whitlock stepped forwards when Kimbell introduced her.


"So sorry for your loss," she said to an older gentleman who wore his grief like a mask. Livingstone's heart broke for the man, as he remembered the shock of losing his wife not so long ago. And while he always adhered to the British stiff upper lip, he found a kindred spirit here with Mr. Chattoway as Livingstone believed one must grieve to move forward.


"I am quite sure the younger man we witnessed arguing with Mrs. Chattoway yesterday," Ephraim whispered. Livingstone nodded before suddenly freezing. The man who she argued with was the father of her child. It took all Livingstone had to not blurt out, the plot thickens.


"Thank you, but honestly I'm confused why you are in my house," Mr. Chattoway said.


"We knew your wife," Zona said in a calm, soft voice. Mr. Chattoway stared at her for a moment before nodding. Livingstone viewed on in amazement as Zona took a seat and motioned for the men to step closer.


"This is John Roberts. He handles the domestic side of my company," Mr. Chattoway offered.


Roberts nodded to everyone, pausing for a second on Ephraim's face, "Have we met?"


Ephraim shook his head, "No sir, I wouldn't say met...we passed each other on the street earlier."


Roberts took a moment before his eyes widened, and he nodded slightly. Mr. Chattoway sat unaware of the unspoken communication, his eyes unblinking and focused on nothing. Zona slid to the end of her seat and reached out, taking his hand into hers. He glanced at his hand then to her face.


"I met your wife because I am a spiritualist," she said holding his gaze with her stare. "What was found in the other room is disturbing, but do not let it distress you. Your wife has found peace...she wants you to remember how much she loved you. And she is sorry for the trouble the last few months caused you."


Mr. Chattoway offered a smile, holding it for a heartbeat before he rose and left the room in a hurry. Livingstone's eyes followed the man from the room. Once the door closed, he shifted his attention to Roberts.


"I don't know what you are playing at," Roberts hissed as he stood from the chair to tower over Zona. "But you will get nothing from me or that man. Do you understand?"


Ephraim calmly stepped to the side of Zona and motioned to Roberts' empty chair. "Calm yourself and sit down." Livingstone could see the conflict raging on the man's face as he complimented just how far to push the situation. The Inspector spoke up, ending the debate.


"John Roberts, sit down before I drag you out of here under suspicion of murder."


Roberts pulled up to his full height; his mouth moved but no sound came out. Livingstone himself found the accusation quite surprising but Ephraim wore a smirk that might force a more focused man to attempt to settle all this with a duel challenge. Livingstone gained Ephraim's attention and raised an eyebrow. The smirk melted away and Ephraim wore an almost sheepish look before they both swung their gaze back to Roberts, who had taken his seat.


"I am well aware you didn't kill her," Zona said softly as if speaking to herself. "But you also aren't blameless in this crime."


"I don't understand what you mean," Roberts said. While his voice stayed steady, sadness crept in and Livingstone realized the couple's earlier interaction was more about saving face than anything else.


"Honestly, I don't know either," Zona replied, studying the man as if he sat in a cage. With a sigh, she finally reached out and took the man's hand. He struggled at first, but a stern look from the Inspector put an end to it.


Zona fingers wrapped around his hand. She held still but a moment before crying out and dropping Roberts' hand as if burned. Ephraim stepped closer. Livingstone wondered if he thought to protect Zona or attack Roberts but a hand on his wrist stopped him.


"We can go," Zona said as she stood. "I have what we need."


"And what is that?" the Inspector asked as he motioned for her to stand still.


"Another piece of the puzzle we couldn't figure out earlier...oh not you Inspector...sorry, the thing the three of us are focused on."


"Well is someone going to fill me in?" he asked but Ephraim only offered a shrug, which Livingstone mimicked after a moment. I'd help the poor chap but I have no idea what she is talking about. The thought brought a smile to his face, as he realized the only person not confused was Zona at the moment.


"The connection Mrs. Chattoway shared with everyone at the séance of course," Zona said as she moved away from Roberts and the fire. She leaned forward as if inviting the men to join her if interested. Livingstone and Ephraim stood on either side of her, forcing the Inspector to move around the three to get close enough to hear.


"Everyone at the séance has a tie to that village in Africa, even if we aren't exactly sure what it is," Zona said.


"I'm not entirely sure about that," Ephraim said at the same time the Inspector asked what his murders had to do with a village in Africa.


"He is John Roberts," she said with her eyebrows raised and hands out in front, "as in Edwin Roberts."


Livingstone glanced back at the man in the chair and gasped. He hadn't noticed it before because he wasn't looking for it, but after hearing Zona say his name, it was plain as day. John Roberts was the spitting image of his father.


Twenty-One


Ephraim felt numb. So much blood...so much anger. Although not the first time he'd witnessed such a scene, he still found it quite unsettling. He fought the urge to close his eyes; terrified the memories would come if he did. Although, just seeing the room triggered enough of those thoughts; the blood everywhere, the way the killer had used his blade to hack and slash through Mrs. Chattoway, the way the dead woman's eyes followed you.


The question Ephraim now faced needed to be answered, but he couldn't be sure he wanted an actual answer. Better to let Zona lead us where ever and see what truth that brings us. Although many today ignored the fact that returning soldiers were capable of such violence, Ephraim knew better. He witnessed the depths the war could drag a man's soul, but he resisted revisiting those thoughts and instead turned his attention to Zona.


She sat quietly on her bench, a blank look on her face. Ever since touching Roberts, she had been unconsciously rubbing the side of her hand. Ephraim wondered if it hurt, or a reaction to some unseen force. The other night, Zona made it quite clear that her purpose in the room was to assist her brother, not guide the group in any way. Ephraim began to doubt that explanation after he died. Too many weird and unexplained happenings occurred around Ms. Zona Whitlock.


She glanced up and tried to smile, but after holding it a few seconds the smile slid off her lips, and she managed only a grimace before returning her eyes to her hand.


As the carriage hurried through the streets, bringing them closer to the area where Hatty was supposed to be staying, Ephraim wondered if this was a sound idea. If Zona was incapacitated in any way, this could explode in their face. Ephraim drew breath to question their plan but Zona interrupted him.


"I'm fine, Ephraim. Truly I am. My hand is simply sore because I wasn't ready for the transfer of energy to be so intense. Mr. Roberts held in his emotions so fiercely... I should have known better than to touch him."


"Transfer?" Livingstone asked, not sure what to believe anymore. He was a man of science, a man of medicine, but first and foremost a man of God. However, his time in Africa showed him that God acts in many a mysterious way and sometimes it is best to rely on one's faith.


"Like a burst of static electricity, just amplified to a lightning strike. I allowed the room to distract me and failed to do a better job of protecting myself. That...situation unsettled and disturbed my process. However, Ephraim was concerned that our current course might be ill-timed."


Ephraim sighed. At first, her ability to do that unnerved him, but in all honesty, he found it more and more comforting. He had not experienced a bond quite like this since leaving for the war. When he returned his world was turned upside down and there had been no time for any connections as he scoured London looking for his family.


"Hopefully, soon we will know more," Zona said with a voice so quiet that Ephraim wondered if he heard her correctly or at all.


The carriage pulled to a stop and the three exited. Livingstone glanced around overwhelmed by the noise and the smells of multiple breweries competing for the area. Ephraim patted him on the shoulder before glancing over to Zona. This time her smile stayed as she nodded. A sudden urge to wrap his arms around her overtook him, and he gasped, stumbling backward. Livingstone studied him with a questioning expression. Ephraim offered a smile and a shrug, not sure how to explain it.


"They said we should find his lodgings over there," Zona said pointing before marching forward. The men exchanged a look and hurried to follow.


***


Jonah Cook stood off to the side, hidden in the late afternoon shadows. He spied Livingstone and his two compatriots exit the woman's carriage. They were moving quicker than he expected. Although they were still a step behind, so he wasn't worried. He had the last component needed to finish the transfer, after tonight he would no longer be tethered to this failing body.


Soon he would be all-powerful once again, and with that power, he would achieve his revenge. Not only on the men that destroyed his home and his loved ones. Oh no, not just them but on the whole empire that sent them. Soon he would begin his master plan to destroy the English and their cursed crown.


Jonah Cook studied the three as they moved away. They might end up being a problem, and sooner than later. A deep hacking cough tore through his chest, and he bent over once the fit ended so he could spit out a mouthful of blood. He would deal with the other two when he killed Livingstone. His part to play in the destruction of his people may have been small but still a part nevertheless. He would think of a way to kill the man and his friends in one sweep. But first, he needed to get back. Back to the body waiting for him, back to the last rite needed to move his plan forward.



© 2020 Naked Cat Press. All Rights Reserved

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