• ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past Part 8


Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Twenty-Two


"That gentleman over there and I use the term lightly, says we will find James Hatty and his son on the top floor of that building," Ephraim said, pointing to a covered window at the end of the fifth floor.


"We only have about thirty more minutes of actual daylight," Livingstone mumbled, eying those around him with suspicion. "We need to either hurry or come back tomorrow. Once the sun goes down, I'm not sure if it's safe for us to be here." As he finished speaking his gaze lingered on Zona.


"Then we better get a move on," she snapped, stomping across the street and forcing the men to chase after her.


Ephraim shared a look with Livingstone as they dodged past carriages, and pushed through the throng of people. Once the sunset, the place would transform into something Zona had never seen or experienced before. But time was running out and with the body count rising, he expected being caught out on these streets would be the least of their problems. Still, she doesn't have to be so damned stubborn.


Zona was through the door before the men could catch up and once they entered into the gloomy hallway, Ephraim pulled up short. She was nowhere to be found.


"Where could she be?" Livingstone asked as the door shut behind them, making the smoke-filled halls darker. A woman's scream from above answered his question.


Ephraim rushed forward, finding stairs at the end of the hall and sprinted upwards. He stopped on the first floor, as Livingstone appeared the scream sounded again, and Ephraim continued up the stairs.


"Doctor, let us assume the fiend has her on the top floor and then work backward if need be," Ephraim called over his shoulder, no longer stopping at each hallway to investigate. Once he made the final floor, he crept forward focused on the door he believed to be Hatty's place of residence.


Ephraim stopped by the door and listened closely. Livingstone stopped a step behind him. Ephraim glanced back and held up three fingers. Livingstone nodded and braced himself, as Ephraim's fingers went from three to two to one. As his last finger curled into a fist, Ephraim crashed through the door.


Zona stood in the middle of the room. A young man, no older than fourteen, stood behind her. His left hand was wrapped around her waist, while his other hand held a blade to her throat. Zona stood still with wide eyes, jaw clenched, and an expression of such determination that Ephraim had to fight the urge to double-check she was the captive.


Livingstone came to stand next to Ephraim. They blocked the room in half so there was no escape. The young man glared from under his boiler man cap, his eyes, an icy blue, froze Ephraim to his core. Something there told him that this young man had no issue killing Zona before attempting to do the same to them.


"We just came to talk," Ephraim said, keeping his voice neutral. His arm stretched toward the young man, palm out. "We don't want anything but a few answers and of course Ms. Whitlock's safe release."


A sneer dominated the boy's face, and he tightened his grip around Zona's waist. "My Papa always said your type will say anything to take advantage of folks like me."


"And where is your... Papa?" Livingstone asked drawing the boy's attention.


"You bloody well know or at least this tart does," he said as he pressed the blade tighter against her skin, drawing a thin line of blood. Zona gasped at the pressure and closed her eyes.


Ephraim stepped closer, pleading with the youth, "Stop...just stop."


Only a few steps away but her throat will be slashed before I can accomplish anything.


Livingstone bumped into the desk and the knocking noise grabbed the Young man's attention giving more than enough time for Zona to stomp down on his foot while slamming her elbow back into his stomach.


"Ooof," the boy sounded as the air rushed from his lungs. Zona used the force of the blow to pull away and stumble out of his grasp. The young man glanced around the room in a panic before racing for the covered window.


Now in the room, Ephraim could tell it was just heavily oiled wax paper. After the young man took two steps, Ephraim sprang forward, pushing past Zona and reaching for the back of the man's jacket. Zona stumbled into Livingstone, who wrapped his arms around the woman and spun, so he could shield her from any attacks.


The young man, almost to the window, reached out and knocked over a candle while grasping a small pack by the handle. He seemed to shrink into himself before springing forward at an unbelievable speed. Ephraim's fingers rushed through the air catching nothing until at the last moment his pointer snagged a metal chain that popped free.


"Stop you fool," Ephraim cried out as the young man ripped through the paper covering and flew through the window into the setting sun. The light blinded Ephraim, who growled in frustration as he flung his arm up to shield his eyes. Colored spots swam in his vision and it was a few moments before his vision cleared.


Livingstone stood by the window, searching but continuously shaking his head. Zona stared at the pile of ashes on the table before slamming her hand down in frustration.


She spun and pointed her finger at Ephraim, "You weren't supposed to let him get away."


"Yes, I understand my part in all this. I apologize for not being able to see through the sun or fly."


"Yes well, I guess thanks are in order. He was on me so quickly; I had no time to react. I was lucky you were close enough to hear my cries."


"Maybe next time don't get so far ahead," Ephraim said, realizing he still clutched the chain. He lifted it and gasped.


"Whatever is the matter?" Livingstone asked as he studied Ephraim lifting the chain to his face which turned white.


Zona stepped closer to join the doctor, both looking at the object, but Ephraim no longer registered their presence. He stared at the locket at the end of the silver chain he held in his hand. The oval locket was the size of a quail egg. His fingers shook as he struggled to open the clasp. A tear ran down his face as he stared at a picture of himself ten years younger on one side and the other a small boy...his son.


TWENTY-THREE


Zona pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wrapped the locket up. She motioned for the doctor to help Ephraim move back to the door. She glanced once more at the papers on the table, but it was all ruined by the candle's fire. The boy knew what he was doing when he left...ruining the only things here that might have helped us. She balled her free hand in anger and held it until her fingernails dug into her flesh. Zona released the breath she was holding and spun toward the men.


"We must hurry. As you said we don't want to be caught here after dark."


Livingstone helped guide Ephraim who moved as if in a trance. With each floor they traveled down, more and more people appeared; shouting at each other and the strangers trying to navigate through the staircase. By the time they exited the building, the sun was gone and the lights were bathed in the oily lamplight.


"There is the carriage," Livingstone said pointing as he dragged Ephraim towards their salvation.


Zona stayed as close as possible, pushing through or skipping around groups of men as they flooded the area. Twice she was grabbed and if she hadn't been prepared might have found herself in a dark alley or on her way to God knows where. Livingstone pulled Ephraim to a stop and slapped him across the face. Zona gasped at the loud crack and those closest to them decided to give the three a wide berth.


"Pull yourself together man," Livingstone said with a stern voice. "We need to get Ms. Whitlock out of here before something bad happens."


Ephraim rubbed his jaw, glancing between Livingstone and Zona before nodding slowly. He slipped behind her and let Livingstone lead them to the carriage. As they slipped in, Ephraim paused to glance at the corner window one last time.


***

The young man hid in the shadows until the three loaded into a carriage and rode off. He rubbed the ache in his shoulder. If the rope had been in the right place then nothing to it, but he had to really stretch to grab it and maneuver to the next roof. The Colonel would be angry if he was still alive.


The young man didn't know how to feel about that thought since he no longer answered to the man. And while the Colonel was the only family he knew, the man was nothing short of a monster. A monster who wanted to pass on his particular skills to another and his choice became the young man. The Colonel spoke of their great destiny but never shared any details, saying the boy needed to know only two things...how to kill and how to steal. The rest was just noise. The supposed destiny was never spoken of between the two.


Too bad he never shared that information...or my real name. The Colonel never used a name only referring to him as boy. Said his name would have to be earned. The young man dreamed daily of a morning the Colonel might wake him up and declared his name. But it wasn't the Colonel who named him but the man who killed him. Still hard to believe the Colonel was dead. Didn't seem like anyone would ever be able to kill that demon. But the Devil showed up and did two services to the young man; he ended his torment and granted him a name...Oringo.


Oringo returned to the room to gather a few special items and to remove any trace of their staying there. His savior and new master commanded it and Oringo would serve without question. He stopped for a meat pie before entering the building and was surprised that a woman followed into the building; and not any woman, the one woman meddling in his master's affairs.


He patted his coat pocket, feeling the bulge from the papers he saved and the outline of the knife he held to her pretty throat. His new master explained his name was African and meant "he who likes to hunt". After many years of training with the Colonel, it was the one thing Oringo truly enjoyed. He needed to complete his master’s wish but then he planned to retrieve his locket.


TWENTY-FOUR


Zona bid Livingstone good night and lead Ephraim to the house. Mary met them at the door and soon had both sitting in front of the fire. Zona waited a few minutes and pulled out the wrapped locket. She leaned over and placed it on Ephraim's leg. He glanced down and stared at the item as if seeing something dangerous or preposterous. She was having trouble deciphering his expression at the moment.


"How about a drink, to calm your nerves," Zona suggested, rising and gliding to the sherry. She removed a vial secreted in a pocket in her dress she sewed herself many months ago. She stared at the brownish liquid and wondered if Livingstone had said one or two droppers' worth. Oh, bother better safe than sorry. She decided to put two into Ephraim's sherry and stirred it with her pinky.


Zona returned and held out his drink waiting for him to recognize her return. He glanced away from the fire and blinked at her, mumbling thank you. She tilted her head and sat back in her chair, sipping her sherry. Ephraim looked at the liquid as if mesmerized by the swirls and refraction from the fireplace's flames.


"To better times," he said, holding his glass up and then draining it in one gulp. Zona leaned back and waited, the heat from her few sips worked outward from her belly. A smile fluttered across her lips as Ephraim's eyelids grew heavy. Before long his gentle snores filled the room and his empty glass slipped from his fingers to bounce upon the carpet below.


Mary appeared with a frown, "Already drunk is he?" Zona wondered if Mary was upset that he was a drunk or that he had so little tolerance to liquor. Either way, it was time to move the man to a proper bed.


"I will need your assistance in moving him to the spare room."


Ephraim would sleep in her old room. Mary stayed quiet as she moved to the other side of the man and helped lift him to his feet. His eyelids fluttered a bit and a weak moan escaped, but he stayed asleep. The two women struggled to carry him to the only bedroom on the ground level.


Mary kept the room spotless since it was Zona's room when she was a child. It would be a haven for Ephraim and the dreams she hoped skipped him tonight. Both of us need to rest. But there was too much to do, to discover that rest would have to wait. She removed the hanky wrapped locket and sat on the floor, crossing her legs.


Her brother swore by the process, but she always had her doubts. If fact she was sure that if she touched it, it would open her mind and force her to experience whatever the object held most clearly. However, she needed to see a specific event, one she was sure the object had been present for.


Zona pulled back the cloth, exposing the locket. She locked into her mind the young man and the tall African. They stood side by side in her thought, both wearing a mocking smile. Everything else melted away until only the two stood there, and then she grabbed the locket.


A flash of light blinded her, removing the two men from her thoughts until there was only a bright white existence burning through her eyeballs and scouring her mind. The light grew in brightness and intensity until Zona felt she could no longer take it, opening her mouth to scream but it stopped. She stood in the corner of the room they were just in hours ago.


The young man sat on the only chair in the opposite corner. He stared at the men in the middle of the room. Zona shook her head, he's not staring he's studying. The thought chilled her to her core as her focus shifted to the two men. Cook knelt on the floor with Colonel Hatty between his legs. Hatty's arms were thrown out to each side, nails pinning his hands to the floorboards.


Cook moved with the precision of a surgeon, slicing and removing different parts of the Colonel. Somewhere between the second and third organs being removed Zona realized the man was still alive, alive but not reacting to the damage being done to his body. Cook used two buckets to collect what he removed. Once they were full, he stood and stepped to the young man.


Zona watched in wonder as the boy knelt in front of the African. With bloody hands, Cook marked the young man's forehead with a series of symbols and spoke in a deep booming voice.


"You are no longer the person you once were, all that is washed away in the blood of your enemy. From this point forward you will be known as Oringo, and you will be my right hand."


Oringo stared up at Cook with pure adoration on his face. His eyes burned with an intensity that would have cause Zona to step back if she wasn't already in a corner. He reached up and took Cook's large hand in his and pressed it against his cheek. His eyes closed and a look of ecstasy washed over the boy's face.


"You shouldn't be here Ms. Whitlock," Cook said turning his head to stare at the corner. "This is a private moment between a pupil and his mentor."


Zona opened her eyes in shock. Her heart thudded against her chest and sweat ran freely down her face. Impossible...the single word played over and over in her mind.

The vision was just that, a vision of previous events; events that the object had been present for, not a way to interact with the past. And yet, that vision not only knew she was present, but it also recognized her...spoke her name. Impossible…true, but it also just happened. If only Zachariah was still alive...he'd know what to do.


Zona stood and placed the locket on the bedside table. She studied Ephraim as he slept, and wondered when the last time he had a solid night's sleep had been. She hoped what the doctor gave her lasted through the night. If Cook was this powerful, they would need to be on the top of their game. I pray we are ready for what is about to come.



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