“Well, well, well. Look who came crawling back?” Silas said.
“What are you talking about?” Hannah asked.
“Oh, I guess that doesn’t fit this situation. What are you doing here?”
He about-faced and walked back into his apartment. Hannah stood in the doorway, waiting for an invitation. It never came. She stepped inside. His entryway was filled with cardboard boxes, stacked to the ceiling. Weaving between them, she entered something that was once a kitchen. Books were on every available surface. The only sign that food was prepared in it were the filthy dishes in the sink.
There was something the size and shape of a fridge but covered in tapestries. Silas pulled back the cloths and opened it. He came back with two bottles of orange soda. He popped open one and took a swig. The bottle fizzed as he pulled it away from his lips. He looked at the woman thoughtfully, slushing the liquid in his mouth. Finally, he swallowed and nodded.
“We can talk in the living room.”
Between stacks of newspapers and a Narnia-like wardrobe was a space leading to the next room. Silas slipped through with ease. It took longer for Hannah. The room on the other side was claustrophobic. There was a couch and armchair, a long fire bench between them. Against the wall was a hutch with glass doors. Shelves took up every free space, packed to their limits with books. Hidden behind the couch was a treasure chest worthy of Blackbeard.
Hannah heard the ticking of a grandfather clock, but couldn’t see one.
Silas sat down in the armchair and stuck his feet under the fire bench. He stuck his bottle in a dent in the chair and picked up a carton of noodles. Doing a poor job of twirling some on a fork, he stuffed the wad into his mouth. He looked at Hannah.
“Sit down, you’re making me nervous.”
Hannah sat on the edge of the couch. She compressed her body as small as it could be. Her knees were glued together, hands in her lap. She looked over the room, not quite convinced she was there. Her eyes met Silas. He took a drink to clear his mouth.
“You touched the fetish.”
Hannah opened her mouth, then closed it. She opened it again. “How do you know?”
“After we came back with the gloves you were different,” he said. “Uncomfortable. When I picked up the fetish you had a look of shock on your face, as if you were expecting something to happen. You stopped asking me questions. Didn’t ask McClelland for a statement. Finally, You got out of there as fast as you could.”
“Didn’t think you noticed all that,” she said.
“I’m a detective, Cheech,” Silas said. “Now tell me what happened.”
Hannah took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The story came slowly, as if she was forcing herself to relive it. She started with the moment she touched the fetish, working her way to her home invasion. Silas opened his ledger to an empty page and scribbled notes. Once or twice he stopped her, asking about a specific detail.
“The thing–the person,” Hannah said, “in my house got distracted. I think my neighbor was yelling. That’s when I climbed out the window.”
“Fire escape?” he asked.
“Good thing your window wasn’t painted shut. You came straight here?”
She nodded again.
“How did you find me?”
Hannah waved her phone at him. “Got your address off your website. You know you really shouldn’t do that; anyone could just drop in.”
“Apparently. Have you called the police?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Should I call them?”
“You should report the home invasion,” Silas said. “Beyond that, they don’t have much of a bead on this case.”
“Case? You think this is connected to Emily Lisbon?” she asked.
“I thought that was obvious,” he said. “Or do you normally hallucinate and get attacked by dripping weirdos?”
“So, the person in my apartment…”
“Yes, it was the kidnapper,” Silas said. “Too bad you didn’t take a picture. Just kidding, you did the right thing getting out of there.”
“What about the stuff in my head? The voices. Does that make any sense to you?”
“I’m forming a hypothesis,” the detective said. “You know, this is actually pretty exciting. I never get to study a case as it’s happening. Normally, I show up after the crime’s been done.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Let me start at the beginning,” he said.
“The fetish was a trap.”
“A trap?” she said.
“Don’t interrupt. When you touched it, you sprung the trap.”
“I don’t get it,” she said. “How does touching a doll spring a trap.”
Silas shrugged. “It was magic. I said at the crime scene fetishes possess magical power. This one, apparently, casts a spell on a potential victim who touches it.”
“Spell? What kind of spell?”
“A trap spell. It marked you, so the kidnapper could track you down,” Silas said. “Must be a psychic link. It honed in on your thoughts. The same thing must’ve happened to Emily and the other women.”
“What about the voices?” Hannah asked. “It felt like I was going crazy.”
“Black magic does that to a person,” Silas said. “The spell was meant to disorient you long enough for this–thing–to find you.”
“You expect me to believe five women were kidnapped because they touched a magic doll?”
Silas looked at her matter-of-factly. “Yes.”
“I’m too tired for this.”
“Hey, I’m not the one hearing voices,” he said.
“There has to be a logical explanation,” Hannah said.
“Maybe the doll’s coated with drugs,” she said. “It seeped into my skin. But not yours, because you were wearing gloves.”
“I’ve already examined its surface,” Silas said. “No drugs. And that doesn’t explain how the kidnapper could track you down in a city of 8 million.”
“We don’t know that was Emily’s kidnapper,” she said. “New York’s a dangerous place.”
Silas folded his arms. “That’s one hell of a coincidence.”
“I refuse to believe this was magic,” Hannah said.
“Yet here you are.”
“If magic’s real, why don’t we see it all the time?” she said. “Why isn’t everybody flying around on broomsticks?”
“Ever try to ride a broomstick?” Silas said. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Want the truth?” he said, sitting up. “Magic gets its power through secrecy. The fewer people who know about it, the stronger it is. It’s called the occult not the, ‘Hey everybody look at this.'”
It was clear from Hannah’s expression she wasn’t convinced.
“You don’t have to believe me,” Silas said. “But your problem isn’t going away on its own.”
“All right, if you’re the expert,” she said, “tell me how to fix this.”
“It’s not like you can take a pill,” he said. “That I know of. I have to investigate this. Discover who’s behind these kidnappings. Then our buddies in blue can put him away.”
“Okay,” Hannah said. “Get to it.”
Silas smiled. “But, of course, I don’t work for you.”
“You have to go about this like any other client,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“But you’re already on the case,” Hannah said. “For the cops.”
He slowly shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk about my other clients. Strict code of confidence. If I’m going to do anything to help you, it’s an entirely separate matter. Good news is my rates are reasonable.”
“I’m broke,” she said.
“Oh? I thought you were a big-shot journalist,” Silas said.
“Freelancer. Business is slow.”
“You were pretty confident when you were needling me for info,” he said. “I’m sure your story would have made me look fantastic.”
“You’re really going to leave me in the lurch because I ruffled your feathers?”
“I’m not a monster, kid,” Silas said. “Maybe we can come to an arrangement.”
Hannah narrowed her eyes at him. “What does that mean?”
Standing from his chair, Silas paced in the small, uncluttered spot in the room. He looked at Hannah, an enthusiastic gleam in his eye. She got the feeling he was appraising her. She didn’t like it.
“Your situation is very unique,” he said.
“What I mean is, you’re in the middle of a paranormal event,” Silas said. “It’s happening to you as we speak.”
“We have an opportunity–or more accurately–I have an opportunity to study the phenomena as it’s happening. Not only will we catch the kidnapper, but I will be able to learn things that might take me years otherwise.”
“I’d just be a test subject for you?” Hannah said.
“Not the words I’d use, but sure,” he said. “I just want to observe what you’re going through. Find out exactly how the kidnapper is doing this. But it means you need to work with me.”
“Work with you?” she said.
“You’ll have to accompany me, listen to what I say, and follow my instructions implicitly.”
“That sounds awful,” Hannah said.
“It won’t be so bad,” he said. “You get what you need–not getting kidnapped–and I get help on the case. It’s a win-win.”
“Sounds like you’re getting more out of this than I am.”
He slumped back into his chair. “Otherwise, I charge six hundred dollars for the first two days. Then it’s fifty an hour, plus expenses. And there are always expenses.”
Hannah let out an exhausted groan. She had a way of rolling her eyes that irritated Silas. Somewhere in a deep part of his psyche, a place he only occasionally visited, he questioned making the offer.
“Fine,” Hannah said. “I’ll be your guinea pig.”
“Let’s just call you my assistant,” he said. “Hell, if it works out, you might be looking at a new career.”
He smiled at the woman. It was a smirk. She instantly hated it.
“You’re doing this just to torture me,” Hannah said.
“Don’t be so cynical,” Silas said. “I’m a man of the people. I live to help others. Now there’s a broom somewhere. You can start in the kitchen.”
“Worth a shot,” he said.
“So, what do we do now?” Hannah asked.
“Now, we relax.” With a foot, he slid the unopened bottle of orange drink towards her. “It’s from Mexico.”
Hannah took the bottle but didn’t pop the top. “You don’t want to hook me up to electrodes or something?”
“Sorry, I sold my electrodes to Doctor Frankenstein,” he said. “It’s late, we can pick up the case tomorrow. I’m guessing you haven’t eaten in a while.”
“Uh no,” she said.
“Yeah, you look terrible.” He stood up and sidled his way into the kitchen. “I have more noodles in the fridge.”
Leaning back on the couch, Hannah tried to get comfortable. It wasn’t easy. Opening the bottle, she took a sip of the orange stuff. Setting it on the table, she turned to her phone. She scanned her list of contacts mindlessly, landing on Liz’s number. Silas reappeared, another Styrofoam container in his hands.
“They’re cold, but noodles are better that way, right? Or was that pizza? What are you doing?”
Hannah held the phone up to her ear. “I’m calling my friend. Crap, she’s probably asleep.”
“Did you tell her what happened?” Silas asked.
“No. I don’t even know where to begin,” she said.
“You might want to hold off on that,” Silas said. “A case like this requires discretion. If she’s anything like you, she won’t believe it, anyway.”
“I need to tell her something. I’ll have to crash at her place tonight.”
Silas shook his head, his mouth full of food. “You can’t stay with her.”
“The kidnapper found you at your apartment,” he said. “It’ll be no different at your friend’s.”
“Why do you think that?”
“He marked you,” Silas said. “He can track you wherever you go. That kind of black magic can only be blocked out in a place that neutralizes it.”
“Oh sure, one of those places,” she said.
“A church is a good spot,” he said. “But only a very old one. And only if it has a relic. You’d have to go to Europe. Only place I know for sure is this apartment.”
“You want me to stay here? With you?”
“It’s safe,” Silas said, waving his fork around at the room. “I’ve set it up like a paranormal black site. Arcane frequencies just bounce off it. Psychic interference.”
“Do you have a spare room or something?” she asked.
“No, the couch will do.”
Hannah sighed as she rubbed a hand over a couch cushion. “This is my life.”
“Look on the bright side,” Silas said, “it can only get better from here.”
She doubted that. Leaning a little farther back in her seat, she picked up the container of Pad Thai.
“What happened to the doll?” she asked.
“Fetish. It’s in the trunk behind the couch.”
Hannah sat up unconsciously. “Aren’t you worried about it being here?”
“It was moving around before,” he said. “But that box’s iron. It ain’t getting out.”
“Hang on, it was moving?”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t land on that,” Silas said. “Nothing to panic about. Lesson number one: a common inhibitor to magical forces is cold iron. Demons, witches, your low-level earthen spirits, they’re weakened by it. Opinions differ on why. Box is lined with it, so the fetish isn’t going anywhere.”
“Okay.” Hannah wasn’t entirely convinced. “Are there other kinds of inhibitors?”
“Loads,” Silas said. “I’m sure I have a book on it somewhere.”
“You were pretty insistent with McClelland that you needed to study it here. Have you learned anything yet?”
Silas fished up his ledger from the floor. Pushing what was left of his meal aside, he opened it to his notes on the fetish. Hannah leaned forward. She was forced to squint as she tried to read the man’s handwriting.
“I took basic measurements,” he said, running a finger over some scribbled numbers. “The only thing I haven’t determined is what’s inside of it.”
“Why not crack it open?” she said. “I’d be happy to help.”
Silas shook his head. “Stuff is tough. Probably reinforced by magic. It would do us no good, could even backfire.”
“Did you learn anything useful?” she asked.
Silas glanced up at her for a moment, noticing the intent look on her face.
“I have a working theory about its origin.”
“Lay it on me,” she said.
“The fetish puts me in mind of burial tokens,” Silas said. “They were offerings buried with a dead person, sort of like gifts for the afterlife.”
“You can take gifts into the afterlife?” Hannah asked.
“I know, talk about an untapped market,” Silas said.
She looked at the sketches he had made of the fetish. It somehow looked more gruesome in pencil. “Not much of a gift.”
“It’s a symbolic gesture. The thought behind it counts.”
“And what thought goes into giving someone a creepy wooden doll?” she asked.
“Nothing nice,” Silas said. “A fetish like this represents the soul of the dead person. As if they were offering it as a gift to the god of their choice.”
“Which ‘god’ are we talking about?” Hannah asked. “And what’s his connection to this kidnapper?”
“There have been over five thousand religions in human history,” Silas said. “All with their respective gods of the dead. I narrowed my search to those that used burial tokens. Still quite a few. I looked at fetishes from Europe, Africa, Asia, and even South America. Nothing matches Emily’s.”
“You checked online?”
Silas rolled his eyes. “I have texts that date back to the Middle Ages. Books that universities wish they had. I don’t need to go online.”
“You don’t have a computer, do you?”
“I do. It just… doesn’t work.”
“Listen, when it comes to this line of work, you have to use trusted sources,” he said. “I’m not going to risk my life–or the life of a client–over a podcast.”
“I get it,” Hannah said. “But why is the kidnapper using a burial token to mark his victims?”
“He might be acting on behalf of his god,” Silas said. “Or, he could have found it on the street. There’s no way of knowing right now.”
Silas closed the book and slide it aside. “What we do know is the kidnapper possesses magical power and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The fetish is just one clue. Tomorrow we’ll dig up more.”
“I’m guessing that involves me,” Hannah said.
“You got it. We’re going to visit a doctor friend of mine,” he said. “He’ll take a look at you.”
“I have a doctor,” she said. “My friend Liz works at Presbyterian.”
“I’m sure she’s wonderful,” Silas said. “But we need someone experienced in paranormal maladies. My guy can tell us exactly what’s going on in your head.”
“What kind of a doctor does that?” she asked.
“A very special kind.”
“When can we see him?” she asked.
“First thing in the morning.”
Hannah drummed her fingers against the fire bench. The terror she had been feeling was giving way to mild anxiety. She chewed a piece of food. The Pad Thai wasn’t bad cold. It was terrible. She washed down what would be her last bite with a swig of orange soda.
“How did you find a doctor like that?” she asked.
“Just part of the job,” Silas said. “You meet people and keep tabs on them.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
Silas seemed annoyed at the question. He crinkled his face as he gazed up at the ceiling. “I wanna say ten years.”
“And you went to school for it?”
“No school teaches you how to be an occult detective,” he said. “But I do put my degrees in History, Mythology, and Anthropology to good use. Knowledge of religion and folklore goes a long way in this gig.”
“You don’t have that many degrees,” she said.
“It’s practically required coursework at Oxford,” he said.
“Shut up. You went to Oxford?”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Silas said. “It was my father, Henry’s alma mater.”
“You must have been there for years,” Hannah said.
“No, the degrees were concurrent,” he said. “I had way more energy in my teens.”
“Why would I lie?”
“To impress me,” she said.
“Why would I want to impress you?” A noodle was stuck to the side of his face. He didn’t notice.
“I dunno,” she said. “Never hurts to try.”
Silas shrugged and finished off the last of his dinner.
“With all those degrees, why the hell become a… whatever you are?” she asked.
“You never take off the reporter’s hat, do you?”
“This is what people do, Black. They get to know each other.”
He scratched his head with the butt of his fork. “Is that what people do? Huh. Well, you know that saying, ‘You don’t choose your career, it chooses you’?”
“Detective work chose you, then?” she said.
But that was all he was willing to say. Hannah felt the urge to press for more. She was entrusting her life to this man. The least she could do was find out more about him. But before she could say anything, he was on his feet.
“Let me help you make up the bed.”
He disappeared through a door, returning with an armload of blankets. Hannah took them and laid them across the couch. Silas stood in the middle of the room for a moment looking at her.
“If you hear weird noises during the night,” he said, “don’t worry, it’s just the dog. He sleeps with me.”
He turned to go back to his room.
“Hey, I’m not sleeping with that thing in here.”
Hannah pointed to the chest that held the fetish. Silas groaned as he dragged it into his bedroom. Hannah gathered up the remains of their dinner and threw them in the kitchen sink. She returned to a dark living room.
She stood for a moment, listening to the tick of the grandfather clock. The room was cold, the kind of cold that seeps into the bones. Hannah rubbed her arms, remembering she was wearing old sweats and boots. Slipping out of her shoes, she dropped onto the couch and tried to sleep.
Springs prodded her back. Hannah rolled onto her stomach, but it didn’t help. Sitting up, she turned on a nearby lamp. She snuck over to Silas’s bedroom door and listened. Something was snoring, but she wasn’t sure if it was man or animal. A nook led to the bathroom. Hannah thankfully made use of it.
Returning to the living room, she searched Silas’s books. They weren’t remotely organized. She found cookbooks, Medieval texts, and encyclopedias. A thick book with a gold spine caught her eye. It said, Memoirs of Lucan Brown, Maneater. She passed.
Sticking out from a shelf was a thin book. Hannah slid a finger into the crevasse and freed it. Embossed on the cover were the words: “Veritas E Evidencia.” On the first page, it said, “The Personal Record of Professor Henry Black, Anthropologist. 1963-1965.” The handwriting was a tight, flowing script that filled entire pages. They were entries of the professor’s daily routine. Hannah quickly lost interest. As she put it back, a square piece of paper fell out.
It was a yellowed Polaroid. A man in a tweed suit stood beside a 1980s station wagon. His curled mustache and bowler hat were old fashion even for the time. Coming up to the man’s waist was a boy. His hair was an 80s mop top and he was dressed in a dirt-stained t-shirt and jeans. He smiled from ear to ear. Hannah wondered if she was looking at Silas and his dad. She noticed the man stood at arm’s length from the boy.
It was dawn. Silas was already awake and sitting on the steps outside his Brownstone apartment. Only a few souls were out, fading down the street toward the subway. A great brown dog sat at the bottom of the steps, sniffing the air. His breaths curled away like small clouds. Footsteps echoed down the apartment stairs behind them. Silas grabbed a bundle beside him and jumped up.
“Morning. You look like you could use some breakfast,” he said.
Hannah was squinting as she stepped outside. There were creases on her face in the shape of a couch cushion. Her hair was wild.
“Got any?” she asked.
“No. But I got you some fresh clothes.”
He held out the bundle.
“Mrs. Plonka, my landlady,” Silas said.
“I don’t think her clothes will fit.” She had only seen the landlady once, when she arrived the night before, but recalled she was shaped like a pumpkin.
“They’re not hers, she has like five daughters.”
Before she could protest, Silas threw the clothes at her. She was showered with itchy sweaters and torn leggings. The smell of cabbage and perfume filled her nostrils. Hannah gagged.
“See anything you like?” he asked.