From my bedroom window I watched by the light of the full moon as Emily stole out of the house, and crept across the property to where the carriage waited for us. I, myself, was ready to leave, when Paul Renard appeared at my door. He looked gruff. Angry. Hairier than usual. He seemed shorter than normal, too. Somehow, this made him more menacing rather than less. More animal.
“Takin’ a trip?” he asked.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
“I got a ‘body wan’s a talk at you,” he said.
Paul stepped into my room, and I suddenly saw he was not alone. Rather, his doppelgänger stood behind him. The ghost of his brother Jean, I thought. But he grabbed my arm tightly, and I knew him to be flesh, and not spirit. His fingernails seemed to grow to talons before my eyes. His teeth seemed to sharpen in front of me.
“Yeh lef’ me,” he whispered. “Tied t’a corpse. Marked fer life.”
He released my hand and tore open his shirt and even through the briars and brambles of hair on his chest I could see an angry red scar imprinted with the head of King Philip. The mark from where the silver piece fell.
“‘Ere’s what I ain’t spent yet. I coun’ed it. Thirty pieces in all.”
He shoved the coin purse, much damaged by exposure to salt water and sun, into my hands. I tried to protest that I had already paid his brother his share, and didn’t this make amends? To no avail. The Beast inside him was out for vengeance. The same vengeance his brother had feigned to thank me for so many times.
To this day I swear, though I am not mad, I saw them change into Creatures, as large as timber wolves but with a fox’s red hair. I fled. I threw a burning oil lamp at them as I jumped out my own window, cutting myself, taking a terrible fall. I looked up at my window and saw flames bellowing out of it. I ran. Hurt and bloody I ran. Straight into Alice Tucker, the black gypsy enchantress for whom neither gold nor silver could buy back her husband. She locked me in the gaze of her one good eye (the other being pale, foggy, and prone to rolling about of its own accord). She pointed a finger at me.
“The pretty little thing that waits for you will bear you a single heir,” she said. “Know that that boy has been marked by your actions. The deaths of those you have sent to their Maker shall come back upon you, and him, and his heirs. As we stand your house burns from the top down!”
She thrust her long, bony finger outward to gesture over my shoulder. I looked back and saw that what she said was literally true. The fire had spread from my room on the top floor and was already blazing from my father’s quarters, which adjoined mine. Smoke poured out from behind the house as well.
“From tomorrow forth, your house shall burn slowly from the bottom up. Build it as you might, it will fall around you, and your heir, and his heir, for six generations. Take your stolen treasure, and your stolen bride, and go! None of it will buy you rest. Not with those Hellhounds the Renards on your trail!” She spat at me, and I slapped her down with the back of my right hand. Her face stung against my knuckles, but she collapsed before me. I ran as she cursed at me from the mud. I did not look back a second time to watch my family home burn. I said nothing to sweet Emily. I feigned surprise when, months later, we received news that the plantation had burned down and that my father and brother had failed to escape.
The rest I think you know, save that I must admit now I have never been certain whether I was truly your father, or if Alistair was. You see, even as Alice Tucker predicted, Emily discovered she was with child one day after we left. Having spent so much time in my bed and Alistair’s, she could not be sure of paternity. I have tried not to let it matter. I have raised you as my own and perhaps that has been a mistake, as I have seen in your eyes lately the darkened soul that has tormented me all these years. I have tried to keep your soul pure, distant from my own, that I may not infect you with my wickedness. I pray I have succeeded.
Dear Emily has recently passed on. It was sudden, but then her death did seem to be from natural causes. I believe her death will likewise be the death of me. The only comfort I can take in this is that you, my son, are wholly innocent of my demise, and therefore Alice Tucker’s curse that my house would ‘burn from the bottom up’ seems to have had no power. Nor have I heard tell of those ‘Hellhounds’ of which she spoke, Paul and Jean Renard. I presume that they perished in the fire that killed my own father and brother, leaving no heirs to carry out their revenge. The only lasting effect of the Gypsy’s curse seems to be that since the night the plantation burned, the hand I struck her with has been useless, as you know.
With my breast thus cleared of wrongdoing, I ask you please, to forgive me, and not to think ill of the land and home I have given you. It may have cost me my soul and my hand, but you have a home, and you have been untouched by sin in this life, so perhaps my soul is a proper cost for the saving of yours.
Lt. Col. Albert Baron
Col. Alan Arnold White
After finishing the narrative, I turned to the next page, which contained a much shorter confession:
Dear God, dear Father, [it read] what have I done? I thought you cruel, and your oppressive morality was a cage to me. In rebellion, after all these years, I sought to remove you from this Earth. I purchased an exotic poison from a traveling snake-oil salesman named Renard. I administered it to your morning coffee, never thinking Mother would take the cup that was meant for you! I never meant to harm her, but in a roundabout way, I got what I sought, as your death quickly followed upon hers.
Your house is burning from the bottom up! I thought only to make a life for my wife, and my child free from your puritanical grasp. What have I done? I have fulfilled the curse. Dear God!
Alan White, Jr.
This was followed by several pages of the same sorts of confessions, showing a clear progression through generations of a whole family of killers. The land bought with Albert Baron’s share of the treasure never changed hands through innocent circumstances, and nearly always a man or woman named Renard was mentioned in the confession.
All of that I read later. After the first two confessions, Reggie skipped until he found the most recent entry, dated about two weeks ago:
The Renards are here. They have not left, and have been here so long that the family’s attorney has advised me that their existence unchallenged on the land could mean they have a claim on property. Learning this, I flew into a rage. I had discovered this book as a child, and had grown up believing it to be a ridiculous family legend. Now, however, I confronted my father with the news that he was letting the curse take hold, letting them destroy us. He waved me off and claimed they meant us no harm. No harm! After his own confession that immediately precedes this. No harm! When they use our water supply and threaten to derail our case against that bastard Salazar. No harm! To calm down I went to talk it over with Patty. She agreed that it seemed a shame that the doddering, senile old man, over three quarters of a century old, should have such an iron grip on this land that any part of it should waste away.
I never used my father’s bathroom if I could help it, but one night Patty had been ‘doing her hair’ for so long, and I was in such distress, that I barged in and borrowed his lavatory. Opening the cabinet I saw how well ordered the nurse had made his prescriptions. And how all the bottles looked the same. The top shelf was his morning medication, the middle shelf consisted of pills to be given with every meal. The bottom shelf his evening medication, including a sedative to help him sleep through the night. ‘One tablet a day,’ it read. Now what would happen if I switched that bottle of sedatives with the vitamin supplements he was meant to take three of at every meal?
Once my father had passed peacefully away in his sleep, I set about finding ways to get the Renards off the land. I suggested to Salazar that buying them off would benefit us both. It was, perhaps, the one thing that we have been able to agree on since meeting. We have argued for years over land and water rights, and our competition has grown more heated as of late. We both agree, however, the Renards should not be permitted to diminish either of our property.
The Renards, of course, have feigned friendship. They had been kind to me and helped as often as they could. They seemed so friendly, until I learned of their claim to my land. But one night, after dinner, Patty made a comment I am sure my son Melvin wished I had not heard. I had been hoping he would find a girl soon, but at the mention of the name Sophia Renard I fear my paleness began to show. They would take the land that way, would they? Through my blood? No son of mine would couple with a demon dog! I had better get them off the land sooner than later. I’d given them enough warnings. It was time for more direct action against the Renards.
Patty arranged for me to meet with Mike Salazar to discuss our mutual problem. He was more than happy to assist me in practicing my aim, and showing me a likely place to hide the body. I had no reason to divulge to him the supernatural nature of our foe.
Melvin is on a trip with his class. I have finally convinced the Renard boy to guard my chickens from a fox. If the family legends are true, then I have hired an actual fox to watch the henhouse. The humor in this is not entirely lost on me, even as I plot the boy’s murder. It is to be tonight. I have loaded Salazar’s rifle with silver bullets, just in case. I have consumed half of the contents of a bottle of scotch to prepare myself.
God help me,
“Signed in his own hand and everything,” Reggie declared. “I think this is the last piece I need to make my case around Patrick White.”
“But all the talk of werefoxes and curses!” I protested. “They’ll—” I looked around. “Hey, where’d Melvin go?”
He was nowhere to be found. Reggie tried tracking him by scent, but his trail lead to the river and we couldn’t find which side it came out on.
Reggie’s cell phone sang “Moon over Parma.” It was Detective Street. She and Banks had been over at the Salazar operation, and had just discovered the head of the mutilated corpse. Reggie recounted the story of the family confessions quickly and succinctly for her over the phone, and explained that we’d seen Melvin White alive.
“We’ve got him, we’ve got Pat White,” Reggie cheered. “It’s a full confession! The two of you should get over here. This case is in the can.” He listened for a moment, and I saw his triumphant smile fall.
“Just Banks?” he said, allowing a note of disappointment to creep into his voice. “Aren’t you coming?” There was a pause. “Fine, fine,” he said at last. And then, “I understand. Right.” He replaced the phone in his pocket.
“What is it, son?” I asked.
“She doesn’t seem to believe me!” Reggie said.
“You do have a credibility issue, Reggie.”