Murder Magic & The Macabre

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Murder on the Waterfront A Countess of Chesterleigh Mystery Murder In 1930s San Francisco, one night a man dies in the arms of Lady Marga- ret Thompson, Countess of Chester- leigh. Inspector Monahan is a hard- Magic & boiled cop whose dearest wish is for Her Ladyship to stay out of police work. The odds are against it. “Twists and turns, red herrings, clues that aren’t clues—all await the hap- The Macabre pily unwary reader in a tightly plot- ted tale by a very talented author.”— Murder & Mayhem Book Club Tales To Keep You Up All Night Available on Amazon.com Jubilee, A Novel In 1792, Paris is in flames and the hungry guillotine waits . . . . “With taut writing and absorbing plot Cogan weaves the reader into the fabric of the French Revolution, one of the most chaotic and violent social upheavals of all time. Strong and resourceful heroines, an intrepid hero and a complex and terrifying nemesis are ingredients in a tale of passionate love, bright courage and dark revenge that carries the reader from the royal palace to the shadow of the guillotine.” Available on Amazon.com Susan Brassfield CoganSusan Brassfield Cogan • t he Wostr d ongar h retun If you are going to be lousy at something it’s best to be able to do it with style. ewel Turner’s husband was the most incompetent drag- Jon hunter that ever lived. When Gerald went after Dragon Falco she knew he would screw it up somehow. Falco was famous in dragon- hunting circles. A half dozen hunters had gone after him and none had come back. Gerald had not come back. Jew- el knew Gerry was still alive. If he were dead, the world would have become a dark empty cavern of loneliness and pain. Sunlight still fell warm on her face and stars still bril- liantly adorned the night sky. Therefore Gerald Turner was still breathing somewhere and it was her job to get him back. It wasn’t easy to get a message to Dragon Falco, but she managed it. She asked him to meet her at the Ambas- sador Hotel at 2 o’clock on Saturday. She picked out her largest and most tasteless cocktail ring and dropped it into the envelope. Alone, it wouldn’t buy Gerry’s freedom, but it would get Falco’s attention. She arrived a few minutes early with a shopping bag over her arm about half full of her best necklaces, bracelets and earrings—not the emerald earrings, Gerry had given www.coganbooks.net • 1Murder, Magic and the Macabre her those, but the diamond and ruby ones she’d had for years. A cheap price to pay to get the center of her life back. Falco was already waiting for her. He didn’t look like a dragon, of course. It would be tough to get leather pinions through the front door even if the attendant opened it all the way. Falco had obviously thrown together his human seeming without much thought. He had chosen black skin, Chinese eyes, Native American hair, Hispanic lips and a Norwegian nose. Fortunately in New York that’s hardly unusual. His eyes fell on her immediately. She didn’t think he recognized her, but his nostrils flared. He probably smelled the diamonds. “Hello” she said. “Falco?” “Yesss,” he hissed. “Isss that for me?” His eyes darted to the bag. “If we can come to mutual agreement. Let’s go into the bar. We need privacy.” Jewel headed for the bar, knowing he would follow the bag. The bar was more crowded than she expected at this time of afternoon but she found an enclosed booth in a far corner and slid onto the old leather seat. Falco took the seat opposite. He ordered a Quantro, she ordered a diet Coke. “I don’t want to haggle,” Jewel said. “Return my hus- band and this entire bag is yours.” “Ssshow me what you have,” he whispered aquiver with anticipation. “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine,” she said. Falco wore a black suit, red tie and crisp white shirt. He opened the shirt collar and pulled out a tacky gold chain with several charms hanging from it, each one a tiny gold human—a Chinese girl with a bow and arrow, an African 2 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan man with a shield and spear, a Turkish man with a kalash- nikov, and dear Gerald with his Abercrombie and Fitch ammo jacket and his AK47. She reached out to touch him. Falco caught her wrist. “The bag . . . let me ssseee.” Falco’s skin shimmered. She caught a glimpse of scales. “Of course,” she said and dumped the glittering horde onto the table among the glasses and the cocktail napkins. Falco’s ordinary brown Chinese eyes suddenly glowed red. “Were . . . iss the emeraldsss,” he said. Irritation flickered in Jewel’s breast. “Those emeralds are mine. Gerald gave them to me.” “He talked and talked until I fell asssleep. He ssstole them.” That was Gerry, always a great talker. He certainly charmed her right out of her tree once upon a time. Now, though, her anger was rising. “Look,” she said. “This is a nice sized horde. Take it” “The emeraldssss or forget it,” Dragon Falco sneered. “You can’t have them, you stupid worm” she roared. “Give back my husband” Heads all over the bar turned. She didn’t care. She lunged for the gold necklace and grabbed Gerry. Then Falco roared. It wasn’t like Jewel’s house- wife growl. It was full-throated dragon thunder. Human screams followed, mixed with the little bleeps of dozens of cell phones dialing 911 and the stampede of barflies heading for the door. When Falco roared he also jerked his head back, breaking the fine chain that held Gerry and the others. Which also broke the spell. Suddenly the table was filled with the thrashing bodies of Chinese, African, and Turkish dragon hunters—and Gerry. www.coganbooks.net • 3Murder, Magic and the Macabre Jewel pushed the Chinese woman off her husband and grabbed Gerry’s hand. “Come on” she yelled. Falco overturned the table sending dragon hunters, Quantro, diet coke and diamonds onto the floor in a sticky mess. Falco’s wasn’t bothering with a human head any more and flames flickered from his nostrils. The dragon hunters, always fast on the uptake, jumped to their feet. The African set his spear and the Turk put the kalashnikof against his cheek. The Chinese woman’s bow had broken in the crash, but she whipped out a sword decorated with fluttering silk scarves. The dragon hunters circled, except for Gerald. Jewel tugged on his arm, drag- ging him toward the door. His Ak47 was somewhere under the table. “You can not esssscape meee” said Falco. His arms were unfurling into wings and his feet were already tal- ons. “I’m going to kill you, Falco,” Gerry yelled. “You can count on it” Jewel elbowed his ribs. Falco’s laughter boomed. “You can nottt kill meee,” he sneered. “How many dragonssss have you killed?” The Turk fired a blast, spraying Falco with bullets, which bounced off the scales across his chest. He was now fully a dragon, his wingtips stretching from the kitchen door to the juke box. Jewel saw that Falco was correct. Gerry couldn’t do it unless Falco could be talked to death and these dragon hunters with their primitive weapons could not do it ei- ther. Jewel let go Gerry’s hand and stretched out her arms. “Gerald has never killed a dragon,” she said. “He’s only hunted two dragons in his life.” 4 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan Falco grinned. Steam escaped past his fangs. Jewel knew his killing fire was coming any second now. “Who wasss the firssst?” he said. “Me,” she said and her own wings unfurled. www.coganbooks.net • 5Murder, Magic and the Macabre a n a Mnazo s orht In 1920 jazz musicians, writers and artists, flocked to Paris and came to be known as the Lost Generation. Lady Margaret, Count- ess of Chesterleigh went to Paris to paint and to heal from the Great War and to grieve the loss of Henry, the love of her life. One morning Hercule, a friend who lives downstairs from her studio, is found dead, slumped over his typewriter. At first it looks like another writer has committed suicide but the police say it’s murder and Lady Margaret has the best motive. I wrote this story as a view into Lady Margaret’s past. What was she like before she was the famous artist of Murder on the Waterfront? Available on Amazon.com for an unbelievable 49 cents. Click here: http://www.amazon.com/Their-Bones-Still-Bleach/dp/B000FTK5JM/ref=dp_shrt_new_1/103-4900671-5143812 6 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan • Ldya c thsree Leihg and hte Kngi fo s Wsdro A sword, a deck of tarot cards and a man who thinks he has Lady Margaret right where he wants her. He’s wrong. San Francisco, 1935 he mournful moan of the foghorn out on Alcatraz Tsaturated the air with aching loneliness. The midnight streets were cold and damp fog filled the shadows with menace. I meant to get indoors as quickly as possible. I didn’t mean to be dragged through a doorway by men with guns. I struggled for my handbag which concealed my own weapon but that was easily plucked from my hands. Be- fore they could pin my wrists, I threw my notebook out to the gutter. It was filled with the sketches I had worked on that evening. It also contained my name and address. Quite a few in San Francisco would recognize my name. I am Lady Margaret, the Countess of Chesterleigh. The men who had dragged me through the doorway were in very great danger. I hoped I would survive until they discovered their peril. I struggled vigorously until I saw it was pointless. Con- sidering by my captors’ heavy wheezing I judged them to be finished with the struggle as well. www.coganbooks.net • 7Murder, Magic and the Macabre “What is it that you want,” I asked when I caught my breath. “Call Dr. Henry Trask. He will pay anything. His number—” “Shut up,” rasped a voice out of the dark. Something cold and small pressed hard against my neck. I fell silent and stood very still. “The King wants to see ya,” another voice growled close to my ear. He could only mean the King of Swords. Suddenly the gun barrel pressed against my neck was the least of my worries. “Lead on,” I said with as much pluck as I could mus- ter. One of them grunted. They pulled me deeper into the darkness. With great surety and without light they led me through a narrow passage and down a steep flight of stairs. I had never met the King of Swords. Few had. Like ev- eryone else I had read about him in the newspapers. He was famous for beheading his enemies—and he had quite a large number of enemies. I had not been aware that I was one of them. Finally a door opened to reveal a room illuminated by mellow lamplight. Soft shadows lurked in the corners of a genteelly opulent room. A man, somewhat older than I, lay on a French fainting couch. He wore a dressing gown of deep wine silk and lay back smoking a thin black cigarette. The smoke curled lazily up to the ceiling and he studied it with a frown. The famous sword lay on a low table beside his couch. My captors shoved me into the room. The King—I was sure it was he—turned to contemplate me without change of expression. His jet-black hair, graying at the temples, contrasted with his pale complexion. “You know who I am, of course,” I said to him without greeting. 8 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan “Yes, Countess, I know who you are.” He put the black cigarette to his lips and regarded me languidly through the smoke. “Then you know you have committed a grave mistake,” I said. I was pleased that my voice did not shake. It should have. “Perhaps. Please have a seat,” he said. He gestured to a delicate Louis XIV parigine chair beside a small table decorated with a fussy vase of wildflowers. I could now see my two captors clearly. One man was tall with deeply shadowed eyes and the other had an open Irish face that would be charming in other circumstances. Somehow I knew he possessed the raspy voice. His gun was still pointed at me. The taller man pushed me down into the chair. Then the two henchmen receded into the shadows and became as still and watchful as stalking cats. “What could you possibly want with me?” I said. King reached over and slowly lifted the sword from the low table. He regarded the blade with heavy-lidded eyes. “I need a favor from you,” he said quietly, almost dreamily. Clearly he meant to intimidate me. He certainly succeeded. “Why should I do you a favor?” I asked. “You’ll do it for me,” he glanced briefly my way. “Or you’ll go home in a sack.” “I see,” I said, crossing my legs as casually as I could manage. “What is the nature of this favor?” I asked. King studied the sword, twisting it a little so that it glit- tered in the soft light. “My son was taken last night,” he said. “By whom?” The glittering blade fascinated me as well, though perhaps for a different reason. “The coppers. They raided the Red Toy and found him unconscious in the back. Looks like somebody drugged www.coganbooks.net • 9Murder, Magic and the Macabre him and after they stuffed his pockets full of opium they dropped a nickel in the rat line.” “You believe he is innocent?” I asked. “I do.” He answered truthfully if I am any judge. “Why would someone do that?” “I have an enemy or two,” he said. Then, to my relief, he put the sword down and lit another black cigarette from the stub of the old one. He offered a gold cigarette case to me and I declined with a shake of the head. “Why do you think I can return your son to you?” He knocked ash off his cigarette into a crystal ashtray. “You’re tight with the laws,” he said. “Especially Mona- han.” Inspector Thomas Monahan was indeed a good friend of mine. We had solved many crimes together, though I’m sure he would say I merely meddled in the affairs of the police. I waited for the King to continue. He didn’t look at me, but merely contemplated the smoke drifting up from his cigarette. “So you’re going to ask the good inspector to make the dope disappear and get my son released,” he said. I leaned forward. “Why do you think Mr. Monahan would do as I ask?” The King darted a flickering glance at me. “Because he likes your beautiful head attached to your pretty neck.” I leaned back. “I see. If I refuse, you will kill me. How would you gain from that?” He shrugged. “If you refuse, you’re dead and I still send a note from you asking him to let my son go.” He looked at me steadily and directly for the first time, his eyes dark pools of veiled malice. I shivered. “So how do you want to do this?” he murmured. If I had had an hour, I feel confident I could have worked out a resolution that would have left me with my 10 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan head attached and this King ruling a prison cell. However, I didn’t have an hour. “Very well. Bring me a telephone and I will talk to Mr. Monahan.” “Nothing doing.” He ground out his cigarette. “Dragos, bring the Countess pen and paper.” The tall man with the deeply shadowed eyes, stirred and went to a dim corner of the room. He returned with a fragile silver and ebony letter writing set. It looked as if it had never been used, though the fountain pen had been freshly filled. I wrote a brief note to the inspector making the King’s request, signed it and handed it back to Mr. Dragos who had remained, hov- ering silently at my elbow. Mr. Dragos took the note to the King who read it and then gave it back to his henchman with a nod. The tall man put my note in his breast pocket and left. “Daniel, has Madame Uzana arrived upstairs?” “Yes, sir,” Daniel rasped softly. “Send her down.” The King turned back to me as Dan- iel disappeared through the door. “You are only going to help solve part of the problem,” he said. “I need to know who and why.” “I should think why is obvious,” I said. “Perhaps, but who is paramount.” His gaze flickered down to the sword. A few moments later, Daniel reappeared with an el- derly woman dressed in faded black, edged with worn lace that had once been white. She walked quite bent over sup- ported by a low cane. Her iron gray hair was pulled back in tight bun on the nape of her neck. Daniel brought her a low chair and she sat across from the King with the table be- tween them. She squinted at me and nodded. I murmured a polite greeting. www.coganbooks.net • 11Murder, Magic and the Macabre From deep in her bosom she pulled out a much-used deck of cards. She gave them to the King who shuffled them several times before handing them back. Madame Uzana shuffled them again in her gnarled bird-like hands and then laid them out on the table, ignoring the sword. Tarot cards. I had not seen them in use since my Paris days nearly fifteen years ago. The old woman handled them expertly. This was a very old deck, perhaps older than the woman herself. “What is it that you seek?” she said. She spoke in English, but with such a thick accent I did not understand her for a moment. She had addressed her question to the King. “I want to know who framed my son,” he said. He lit another black cigarette with a small gold lighter. “Where should I begin looking for the man who did this?” The old woman nodded and studied the cards. “I see a young man who handles money,” she said. She dealt an- other card from the deck. “No, I see three young men. One of them has a great deal of money.” She dealt out two more cards. “I see rage, jealousy and hatred,” she added. She went on in this manner, dealing out the cards slowly and weaving a tale of angry young men fighting over money. When I lived in Paris in 1920, I had been temporar- ily separated from my darling Henry. In my desperation I often sought the services of a lovely young Romany fortu- neteller, who had been displaced in the Great War. She and I became fast friends and she taught me a good bit about tarot cards and what each of the cards meant. She and I re- mained friends, even after dear Henry and I were reunited, and in spite of the fact that her prognostications had come true about as often as someone who was merely guessing. In any case, I knew that the beautiful old cards laid out on the table and the tale spun by the old woman had 12 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan no relationship to each other. I found this fact to be very interesting. “Are there any women involved in this?” I asked after both the Empress and the High Priestess had joined the cards on the table. Madame Uzana regarded me with an opaque stare. “No,” she said. “These are mere . . .“ She searched for the proper word.”. . . archetypes.” She gestured to the two fe- male cards. “They represent gold and silver wealth.” “I see,” I said. “Which card represents the three angry young men?” The old woman studied the cards in front of her and tapped the Page of Cups, the King of Swords and the Hi- erophant. The Queen of Swords and Death separated the latter two from the former. The Page of Cups usually rep- resents an artistic child, not an angry man. “How interesting” I exclaimed. “Have you been read- ing the cards a very long time?” “Since my youth,” said the old woman. Her voice was as level as her stare. She knew I wasn’t fooled. I glanced up at the King who studied the cards soberly. “Who are the young men she is speaking of? Do they sound familiar?” I asked him. The King nodded. “My son’s got two good buddies who collect the fan-tan money.” A fact surely known to the old woman, I thought. “Would they have framed your son for some reason?” The King shrugged. “I’ll check them out,” he said, his voice glacier ice. “If they did, they will deeply regret it.” “Had your son harmed anyone recently? Did he quarrel with his friends?” I asked. “Nah,” said the King. “They were thick as thieves.” He chuckled at his own jest. The old woman’s eyes wid- ened and she stared at him with open loathing and hatred. www.coganbooks.net • 13Murder, Magic and the Macabre Then she dropped a card and quickly turned away to pick it up. When she straightened back up, her expression was veiled. “Do you have any children, Madame?” I asked. She seemed surprised by my question and didn’t answer for a moment. “My son is a doctor back in my homeland, Doamna,” she said. Her mode of address told me her homeland was Romania. I had already guessed her origin as somewhere in eastern Europe. “Her grandson died recently,” said the King. I happened to be studying the old woman’s face when he spoke. The poisonous hatred flared again and then quickly vanished. “I am sorry for your loss, Madame,” I said. “Had he been ill?” “He was beaten to death and left in an alley like gar- bage,” she said slowly, carefully. I confess even her careful statement gave me gooseflesh. I chose my next question with great care. “How, very terrible,” I said. “Have the police captured the killer?” The old woman looked down in silence. I believed I knew the answer. I had begun to believe the police had found her grandson’s killer with opium stuffed into his pockets. “Answer the question, Madame Uzana,” said the King flatly. I could see that understanding might be dawning in his eyes as well. “Yes,” she spat the word. “One of my grandson’s mur- derers is in prison.” Vile bitterness spilled out of her with every word. “He and his friends will be dead soon.” “What are you saying?” said the King. Danger thick- ened the air. I was seized with an urge to bolt out of the 14 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan room, but didn’t dare move. Daniel, who had been silent all this time, seemed to lean forward a bit. The old woman slowly and deliberately gathered up the worn pasteboards. Then she stood. At that moment I wished I had the pen and paper back. I longed to draw the expression on her face. Words fail the description. “Your son will not leave prison alive,” she said, every word a heavy drop of molten stone. “Already he is dying.” “You filthy old bitch,” the King snarled. He snatched the sword and stood up. “You are a dead woman.” Madame Uzana didn’t flinch. She merely stood there with a granite gaze and an acceptance of her own imma- nent death. I thought I heard a crash in the distance, but I wasn’t sure. The King held the sword in both hands like a base- ball bat. I looked around for some weapon, some means of stopping him. The vase of flowers still stood on the ta- ble beside my chair. As he swung, I threw the vase at him flowers and all. It spoiled his aim and he merely gashed her arm. Daniel bolted for the door. I paid him no attention, be- cause the King had turned is attention to me. “You both are gonna die,” he growled. His dressing gown was soaked with water and a lavender penstomen had incongruously stuck in his collar. He took a step toward me, but the old woman cracked his arm with her walking stick. He swung backhand. The sword bit deep in her neck and she was probably dead before she hit the floor. Blood sprayed across the fine Chinese rug. At that moment the door crashed open, knocking Dan- iel flat. The King was only momentarily distracted and stepped toward me with a bloody sword. Inspector Mona- han stood framed in the doorway with his gun in his hand, his face grim adamant. He fired. The King jerked and spun. www.coganbooks.net • 15Murder, Magic and the Macabre Several uniformed policemen crowded behind the inspec- tor and I could see Henry struggling to push past them. The King dropped the sword, blood coursing down his arm. The King of Swords laughed bitterly and sat on the French fainting couch. He opened the gold box with one bloody hand and extracted a thin black cigarette. He darkly contemplated the body of Madame Uzana at his feet as he touched flame to the tobacco and drew the smoke slowly into his lungs. “Good evening, Inspector,” he said. 16 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan • t eh Knig ’s b ste s o Ledri Doing bad things for a good reason always sounds better be- forehand than it does afterward. wo days after midwinter, Beric saw Danzia, the most Tfamous of all the Dakhanni, standing in the snow, thin as a blade. Hard as steel. He saw her because she allowed him a glimpse of her. Fear seized him when he saw her standing there, merely looking at him. If she was close enough to see, she could have executed him any time for the deed he had done. The deed that now haunted him like the demon woman herself. Beric’s village lay only a little further. He had been pushing himself through the bitter cold, under the heavy sky, for two days. He longed to see his home one more time. Each beat of his heart yearned for that safety and warmth. In the few snatches of sleep he had managed, he dreamed of those he loved—his wife, his mother, his chil- dren. But the village might as well be in a valley on the moon. Death now stalked him in the snow and he felt he would never know warmth of any kind, ever again. Beric hid himself from the cold gaze of the Dakhan- ni. He quickly unloaded his pack of everything but a few bits of food. The heaviest thing was the gold cup that had belonged to King Godfrey. Seven days ago the king had www.coganbooks.net • 17Murder, Magic and the Macabre called to him in the midst of holiday revelry. “You are my best soldier,” the king had said in front of the assembled court. The king had drained the deep red wine from the bejeweled cup and, in front of all the nobles, had given the cup to him. It was the proudest moment of Beric’s life. Now the bejeweled thing glittered at him mockingly. Beric flung the cup away and stood, wishing he could fling away his burden of guilt as easily. He hastened on through the snow-clad trees. No need to conserve his strength now. Soon the cold trek would be over one way or another. His heavy sword dangled from his waist. His dagger, red with innocent blood, would never again leave its scabbard. He should have thrown it away, too. The deed he had done with it cast gloom over his heart. The unrelenting wind pulled at his cloak. Dark clouds crouched low on the horizon. A killing storm would roll in by nightfall but Beric would be dead by then or home. He did not actually hope for the latter, though his urge to see it one more time had become a need greater than the need for sleep or warmth or life itself. King Godfrey had explained everything so clearly. If King Roderick were to die, then war would end and the people could finally live in peace. What a blessing Beric was King Godfrey’s best man, the only one with the cour- age and resolve to do such a grim deed. The king filled the heavy gold cup with wine and urged Beric to drink. Beric drank. He pledged to do the awful deed and bring peace to his people. When Beric topped a rise he glanced back. The Dakhanni was closer. Another breath of fear shivered his vitals. She was playing with him. Without hope, he increased his pace. Some time later, atop another rise, he saw she was gone. That frightened 18 • www.coganbooks.netSusan Brassfield Cogan him more than the sight of her soulless eyes peering up at him. He rounded a familiar bend, almost home. In the snowy path sat his gold cup. He halted and drew his sword. “Show yourself” he called to the silent woods. Only silence answered him. Frantically, he looked all around and up into the snow-laden tree branches. He kicked the cup into the underbrush and ran down the path. The sun far above the dark clouds was sinking. The world was becoming gray and indistinct. Then his gold cup landed in a little splash of snow before him. He stared at it, shivering. Daniza, the most famous Dakhanni, emerged out of shadow like a wraith. Beric gripped his sword hilt, trembling. Danzia had not drawn her blade. “Aren’t you here to kill me?” he asked, his voice hus- ky. “Yes,” she said. “But you do not deserve the mercy of a quick death.” “I only did what I had to do,” he said. “You would do no less.” “Dakhanni choose their killings. I would have done less.” Her words were bleak and cold as the stones under the snow. “So you choose to kill me?” She shrugged. “Queen Allena sent you,” said Beric bitterly. “You are her creature.” “I am her friend.” Danzia drew her sword. “You mur- dered that which she loved more than life itself. You will not live to rejoice in that bloodshed.” Beric remembered Queen Allena’s cry, vibrant with the agony of a damned soul. “There is no rejoicing in what I did.” In fact, deepest regret rolled over him like the dark www.coganbooks.net • 19

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