Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 55: Soap and Opera

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Reporter Cassandra True has been trying to learn more about the enigmatic wheelchair-bound recluse Strephon MacKenzie whom she's been seeing.  But  tonight that will have to wait.

Technically speaking, this was Cecily’s week to do laundry, but Cecily had come home early from work complaining of a wham-bugger of a headache and begged Cassandra to do it.  Of course, as soon as the sun went down, Cecily arose as bright and chipper as ever.  She breezed out of the flat with a cheery, “Thanks, much!  I owe you, Sandy!”

“I’ll say, you owe me!” Cassandra grumbled as she sorted the dirty laundry.  “Why do I always have to be the responsible one?”

She had intended to spend a quiet evening at home.  Then Billy reminded her of the puff piece he had assigned her on the Redemption Culture Claque and their Gilbert & Sullivan festival and dumped a load of promotional material from the group in her lap.  He did it at the last moment too, the bastard.  Now she had to sort out Cecily’s knickers on top of things.  Oh well, she could multi-task.

Cassandra lugged the basket of laundry downstairs and fed coins into the building’s ancient washing machine., a formidable beast that had been in the basement since at least the Thatcher administration.  Then she went back upstairs to tackle the Culture Claque.

The press kit included a brief history of the organization and of their Gilbert & Sullivan festival, (“Extravaganza!” In her mind she could hear Mrs. Trotter correct her.) There were several photographs of past productions and of celebrities who had appeared at the festival over the years.  The kit also included a DVD of last year’s production of something called “Iolanthe”.  Great, Cassandra thought; “My spell-checker’s going to love that one.”

She fed the DVD into her player and let the overture of the operetta flitter in the background as she skimmed over the rest of the kit.  Apparently Henry Lytton had debuted his controversial interpretation of Jack Point in Redemption during a touring production of “Yeoman of the Guard” in 1888.  Except that the write-up didn’t explain who Lytton was, who Jack Point was or what was so controversial about it.  More research to do.

She looked up at the TV again when the overture ended and the singing began.  A swarm of tiny lights were dancing about a darkened stage.  As the lights came up, she saw that they were wands – battery operated, probably – held by the female chorus.  Cassandra remembered that this one was supposed to be about fairies or something.  And it was supposed to be political satire.  Hundred-year-old political jokes and fairies; now that was bound to be knee-slapping. 

“We are dainty little fairies,
Ever singing, ever dancing;
We indulge in our vagaries
In a fashion most entrancing…”

She remembered Wisp, one of Morrigan’s captives, and his disdain for Victorian depiction of fairies.  This was probably exactly what he meant.

Suddenly, as if summoned by the memory, Morrigan herself strode onto the stage, in the role of the Queen of the Fairies.  Cassandra was startled by her appearance, until she remembered that Mrs. Morrigan played many of the “Katisha roles” in the group’s productions; the intimidating, middle-aged women who wind up marrying the patter-singer.  There were some tasteless jokes about the Queen’s girth and Morrigan played the part with oblivious gravity.  You’d hardly know the woman was completely deranged.

The second shock came with the entrance of Iolanthe, evidently some sort of fairy princess.  Something about the piercingly beautiful voice seemed familiar to Cassandra.   It had an unearthly quality, evident even on this poorly-recorded amateur DVD. Then she recognized the singer:  Banshee, the other fae Morrigan had enslaved.  Or was it?  Cassandra dimly recalled that Morrigan had first introduced the two captives as her niece and nephew.  She dug through the press kit again and found a program for the performance.  Sure enough, under the Dramatis Personae, she found IOLANTHE – Sheila Morrigan.

But something else caught Cassandra’s eye:  At the very top of the cast list was the name “STREPHON, An Arcadian Shepherd”  What?  And further down the list was “PHYLLIS, a Ward in Chancery”.

It’s a coincidence, Cassandra told herself.  Or perhaps his parents were Gilbert and Sullivan fans and named him after the character in the operetta.  She recalled that Strephon expressed a decided dislike for Gilbert and Sullivan; this was probably the reason.  But wait, his grandfather had been named Strephon too – (or was that his great-grandfather?  She still wasn’t clear on how many generations of MacKenzies were in Strephon’s family).  Where had Old Man MacKenzie gotten the name?

She was so distracted by this train of thought that she nearly missed the next part.  Onstage, the character of Strephon the Shepherd, a prancing prat in knee-breeches playing some sort of flute, was lamenting about the difficulties in being half a fairy.

“What’s the use of being half a fairy”  My body can creep through a keyhole, but what’s the good of that when my legs are kicking behind?  I can make myself invisible down to the waist, but that’s of no use when my legs remain exposed to view.  My brain is a fairy brain, but from the waist downward I’m a gibbering idiot.  My upper half is immortal, but my lower half grows older every day, and some day or other must die of old age.  What’s to become of my upper half when I’ve buried my lower half, I really don’t know…”

“I know just what you’ll do.  You’ll go about in a wheelchair and tell people you had polio.”

Cassandra didn’t mean to say it aloud.  She didn’t know why the thought came to her at all.  It was preposterous.  And yet…

She knew that fairies were real.  Wisp and Banshee were fairies, or at least some kind of supernatural creatures.  Why not Strephon?  It explained so much:  his quaint, old-fashioned manners, his evasive past, his cryptic allusions to his many eccentric aunts, his weird, otherworldly cousin Devon.  Then there were those strange dreams she’d been having lately…

The timer she had set went off.  That meant the laundry was done.  The chore of running down to the basement, unloading the dryer and lugging the laundry basket back upstairs temporarily distracted her from the matter of Strephon ; but as she folded the warm shirts and linens, it came back to haunt her.  It all seemed so ridiculous; so fanciful; but what if it were true?  And if it were, what should she do?

She absently picked up one of Cecily’s scarves from the basket to fold, then noticed a stain that had set in the wash.  It looked like a spot of blood – no, two small blood spots just maybe an inch or two apart.

Thoughts of Strephon and his mystery left her mind.  Cassandra suddenly felt very cold.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 54: Wolf in the Fold

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae has been tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.  He has come to visit Lydia Palmer, the wife of the local vicar, who is active in the witching community.

“Pastor Shepherd?”  Strephon tried to place the name. “I don’t believe I know him.”

“He used to be pastor of St. Matthias, the Methodist church over on Eighth Street,” the vicar’s wife replied.  “He was involved in a wolf attack several years ago.”

“Ah yes.”  Now Strephon remembered reading about it..  The man had the misfortune to lead his church’s youth group on a camping trip on a weekend when the moon was full, and was attacked by wolves.  At great personal risk, he held off the pack with an aluminum tent pole so that his charges could get to the safety of the church’s van. The youths escaped unharmed, but Pastor Shepherd was badly mauled.  “What happened to him, anyway?”

“He was laid up in hospital for a couple weeks.  Arthur visited him once.  He said he had changed; that he was graver, more introspective than before.  Of course, considering how close he came to death, that is hardly surprising.”

“And he had become a werewolf?”

Lydia did not answer directly.  “The trouble did not begin until after he was released and went back to his congregation.  He spent a couple weeks in seclusion, and then suddenly came out all bursting with enthusiasm, as energetic as ever.  But Arthur said there was something not quite natural about his new lease on life; something not canny.  His theology began to show hints of disturbing heresies – even for a Methodist.  That is what Arthur said, mind you.”

“Of course.”

“I think it was when he tried to replace the bread of the Holy Eucharist with actual meat – cooked meat, of course, but still – that his parishioners complained to their bishop.  The church had him quietly removed from the congregation.”

“And where did they place this renegade Methodist?”

“Oh, he’s still in town.  He started his own mission on Foxglove Avenue; sort of a combination soup kitchen and flophouse with worship services twice a week.  I’ve heard it said that he particularly ministers to the lone wolves, itinerants without a pack of their own.  I did NOT hear that from Arthur.”

“I imagine not.”  Strephon thoughtfully munched on a biscuit.  “I have been out of touch far too long.  I should be more aware of what is going on in my own city.  You’re right.  I might do well to look up this Reverend Shepherd.”

“I’ll get the address of his mission for you,” Lydia said gathering up the tea dishes.  As she did so, her husband came out of his study.

“Ah, leaving so soon, Strephon?  Pity we couldn’t chat a bit more.  Say, would you like me to offer a prayer this Sunday for your Mother?”

“My Mother?”  The question came as a shock.

“For her birthday.”

He had forgotten that taradiddle.  “Oh no.  That won’t be necessary,” he said a bit too quickly.  Holy symbols, he knew, were anathema to the Fair Folk; he wasn’t sure if a clergyman’s blessing was something his Mother would appreciate.  The troubled and puzzled look the Vicar gave him made Strephon feel guilty, so he added, “But my cousin Devon has been going through a particularly stressful time lately.  I’m sure he would appreciate your concern.”

NEXT:  Soap and Opera

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 53: Everything is Connected

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae has been tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.  He has come to visit Lydia Palmer, the wife of the local vicar, who is active in the witching community.

Strephon gave the vicar’s wife a précis of his investigation into Melchior Aeserman.  It irked him to realize how much of that investigation had been spent pursuing matters irrelevant to the matter.  No wonder Devon was always so cross with him.

Lydia listened intently, and sipped her tea without interrupting.  When he finished, she said, “This girl, Strephon.  How do you feel about her?”

Strephon flushed.  He hadn’t meant to mention Cassandra at all.  And yet somehow she kept coming into his narrative.  What was happening to him?  He used to be better at dissembling than this.  “Miss True is not my main concern.”

“I see,” the vicar’s wife said with a sage nod which somehow suggested a total lack of belief.

“My problem is Melchior and what to do about him,” Strephon insisted, perhaps a bit too forcefully to be persuasive.  “Miss True is in no way connected with the matter.”

“Oh, everything is connected. It’s an essential principle of the Craft.  But setting aside the girl for the moment…” Lydia put down her teacup with a business-like air and folded her hands; “…I’m not sure how I can help you.   Cynthia Belltree is our representative on the Council, but she’s a career politician.  Her motto is: Don’t Make Waves.  I doubt she’ll make a stand about this Melchior fellow.  And as for computer games, that’s really more of Albert’s line.  Not that he’s ever played Virtual Hot Tub to my knowledge, but I’m sure he’s heard of it.”

“I thought you might help me with this.”  Strephon leaned forward and with his finger drew a small quadrilateral on the coffee table.  A small focusing ritual.  As he leaned back an illusion appeared above the space of a silver collar.  “The wolves who attacked Miss True and I last week wore these.  They are marks of the Reaver clan, I’m told.  The collars are inlaid with faerie runes.”

Lydia cautiously reached out to touch the collar.  Strephon gave the illusion enough substance for her to handle it and observe it more closely. “Is it silver?”  Strephon nodded.  “It can’t be very comfortable, not for a werewolf, certainly.”

“It’s a machismo thing, I imagine.  Although I fancy it’s also their leader’s way of reminding his pack who is in charge.  From what I’ve seen of Mr. Lukas Bianca, he does not seem to strike me as a terribly subtle person.”

“And you think this Melchior had a hand in this?”

“I don’t know.  His administrative assistant denies it; and although the collars possess faerie magic, I do not believe they are fae workmanship.  But the coincidence is suggestive; and as you observed, everything is connected.”

The vicar’s wife pursed her lips for a moment.  “I hate to say it… but this might be Belladona’s work.  She made jewelry, and of the witches I know, she was the one most knowledgeable about faerie lore.”

Strephon scowled.  “I was afraid of that.”  If he had thought to speak with Morrigan a week ago, he might have gotten some answers.  Or perhaps the results would have been the same.  In any case, it was too late now; Morrigan was out of his reach, spirited away to who knows where.

“You might try asking around at the artisan’s market in Wildmere forest.  It’s held every other Saturday.  Belle used to sell her things there.  Maybe someone there knows something about it.”

Strephon nodded.  “It’s certainly worth looking into.”

“Another possibility.  If you want to know more about werewolves, you might try Pastor Shepherd…”

NEXT:  The Wolf in the Fold

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 52: Tea at the Vicarage

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae has been tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.

When Strephon attended church, which he admitted, was more out of a sense of nostalgia and a fondness for the Anglican hymnody that any piety, he went to St. Onesimus, a small neighborhood parish not far from his home.  The grand Cathedral of the Holdy Redemption, built on the medieval shrine from which the city took its name, was a bit too “High Church” for his tastes.  He preferred St. Onesimus, where he and Phyllis had been married and to which they had walked on pleasant Sunday mornings in his more ambulatory days.

Devon would not have approved of him visiting the church, which is why Strephon didn’t tell him.  The fae have a long-standing antipathy towards churches, largely stemming from the ancient war waged between the Children of Oberon and the Inheritors of St. Augustine.  To Strephon this was ancient history, but the immortal fae have long memories about these things.  Perhaps this was the reason why holy things dispelled faerie glamours, and were an anathema to the Fair Folk in general.  Strephon didn’t know; no one had ever told him why, just that it was the way things were.  He did not share this vulnerability to Sanctity, partially because of his half-human heritage, and partially, he surmised, because his mortal father had him christened, and the rite had conveyed a sort of immunization against it.

But the real reason Strephon didn’t want to tell his cousin was that if he did, he would have to admit that he wasn’t going to visit the Vicar, but rather the Vicar’s wife, Lydia; and he’d had quite his fill of Devon’s remarks about his social life.

In addition to being the vicar’s wife, Lydia Palmer was a member of  the International Sisterhood of Independent Sorceresses; a group founded by the Wobblies back in the 1930s in an attempt to organize the witches of England.  How she managed to reconcile this affiliation with her position as a clergyman’s wife, Strephon often wondered; but never felt impudent enough to ask.  He suspected that she found it expedient not to tell her husband about these things.

The International Sisterhood was never quite the political force its founders envisioned; witches tend to be independent-minded and treated the organization more as a social group.  Phyllis had been a member back when the two of them had been more active in the magical community; sort of an “honorary witch” deemed magical by marriage.  But that was long, long ago.  When Second-Wave Feminism hit the organization in the early ‘70s, it briefly took on a more activist role and successfully lobbied to have witches added to the Council.  About that time Strephon re-established his connection with the group in order to oppose a development plan to build a shopping center in Stillwell Forest, one of the large areas of parkland in the city.  He had met Lydia then and the two had remained cordial acquaintances.

“Mister Strephon, so good to see you!” the vicar greeted him.  “Lydia told me you would be dropping by.  May I help you in?”

“Yes, thank you.”  Strephon preferred to manage his wheelchair by himself when at all possible, but Albert was a good soul and allowing him to do this small charity was a charity in itself.  And the vicarage, like many old houses, were beastly difficult for wheelchairs.

“I wished to speak with your wife about donating some flowers to the Altar Guild.  It’s my mother’s birthday, you see.”  Actually, he wasn’t sure faeries even had birthdays; being immortal, they certainly didn’t celebrate them; but it seemed a harmless enough taradiddle.

“I don’t think we’ve seen you at service in a while.”  The vicar tried to make the remark sound casual, but as he was also trying to manhandle Strephon’s chair over the front steps of the vicarage, he couldn’t avoid a grunt in the middle of it.

Strephon expected the comment; it was, after all, part of the man’s job.  And he was certain that the vicar expected his reply:  “I’m afraid not, vicar.  I do find it difficult to get out and about these days.”

“Do you have a computer?  I’ve been putting my sermons and our Bible study outlines on our website.  I’m trying to convince the Parish Board to let me do live streaming of our services.”

Strephon tried not to shudder.  Did everything have to involve computers these days?  Still, he should have expected this too.  Albert always was a tech enthusiast.  When they had first met, it was cassette tapes, and then videos.

Fortunately, at this point Lydia rescued him.  “Albert, are you going on about your computers again?  I thought you were working on your hymn schedule.”

The vicar gave a guilty acknowledgement and excused himself.

“Albert hates selecting hymns and tends to put if off ‘til the last moment.  It drives our organist mad!” the vicar’s wife explained

“I imagine.”

“So he’s taken to doing it all at once, once a year, to get it all over and done with.”

Strephon agreed that this was quite sensible.

When her husband had left the room, Lydia quietly shut the door and turned to Strephon.  “Now then, why are you really here?”

NEXT:  Everything is Connected.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 51: Accepting Rides From Strangers

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon MacKenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae, has become involved with a mortal reporter, Cassandra True; a relationship which has suffered some strain because of his attempts to hide his non-human heritige from her and to shield her from supernatural menaces. When he drops by to visit her, he finds her in the company of a strange man, Saul Taylor, who is a co-worker of hers and also a sorcerer. Taylor offers to drive Strephon home.

Cassandra's friend Taylor was courteous; infuriatingly so. He made a great show of pushing Strephon's chair out to his car, despite Strephon's protest that he was perfectly capable of pushing himself. When they arrived at the car, Taylor actually picked Strephon up to help him into the back seat, to Strephon's supreme annoyance. Strephon kept his temper, however, and held his tongue until Taylor got behind the wheel.

"So, have you told her what you are?" Strephon asked.

Taylor glanced up at Strephon through the rear view mirror. "Have you told her what you are?"

Under other circumstances, Strephon might have acknowledged the touché. Instead, he pressed on. "What precisely is your game, Taylor?"

Taylor chuckled. "Are you asking my intentions towards Miss True?"

"If you like."

Taylor seemed amused. "What business it is of yours?"

"Miss True happens to be a friend of mine," Strephon answered, doing his best to keep his tone cool and level.

"Yes, and a fine job you've been doing of protecting her so far."

"What do you mean?"

"By my count, in the fortnight you've known her, you've put her life in danger no fewer than three times." Taylor ticked them off on his fingers. "There was the werewolf attack outside the restaurant the night you met. Then there was the murder attempt at that party of Aesermann's you took her to. And, of course, we mustn't forget Morrigan kidnapping her specifically to get at you."

"Those were not my fault. And I saved her in those instances."

"As I understand it, in the last case she actually saved herself. The fact remains that she wouldn't have been in danger to begin with if not for you."

Strephon was silent. The blackguard had a point. That very fact had been bothering him. After a while he said, "What is your interest in Cassandra?"

Taylor shrugged. "She's an attractive girl. Perhaps I just enjoy her company."

"You're a sorcerer, and your employer Simon Knox is also a sorcerer. Am I to believe that your interest in... in my friend is just a coincidence?"

"You can believe what you like. Maybe Knox asked me to keep an eye on her as a favor to his pal, Melchior Aesermann. Maybe my editor asked me to show a rookie reporter the ropes." Taylor paused a moment and glanced in the mirror at Strephon again. "Maybe I thought she'd be fun snogging."

He's trying to provoke me, Strephon thought to himself. He clenched his kneecaps tightly. "If you lay one finger on Miss True..."

"You'll what? Horsewhip me? Thrash me within an inch of my life? Write a scathing letter to the Times?"

Strephon fumed in silence.

"You may not have noticed, Strephon old fellow, but your Miss True is not exactly happy with you. She's quite fed up with the lies and evasions and the patronising attitude. You had your chance with her, and frankly, you blew it."

The car turned the corner onto Fitch Street. "I believe that's your house up ahead. Would you like help with your wheelchair?"

"No, thank you. I'll manage."

Strephon watched as Taylor drove away, cursing his own impotence. Now the villain would go back to Cassandra's flat and who knew what he would do.
* * * * *

He needn’t have worried.  Cassandra was so annoyed with both men when Taylor returned she told him she had a headache and that she’d talk to him later.

NEXT:   Tea at the Vicarage

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 50: I'm Sorry To Interrupt, He Lied

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon MacKenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae, has become involved with a mortal reporter, Cassandra True; a relationship which has suffered some strain because of his attempts to hide his non-human heritage from her and to shield her from supernatural menaces. His secretiveness has led her to enlist the aid of Saul Taylor, a handsome co-worker, to investigate Strephon's background. Which is why, when Strephon comes to Cassandra's flat, he finds the two of them together

The knot of embarrassment in Strephon's belly, which he had manfully trying to ignore on the trip up to Cassandra's flat, abruptly jerked up and tightened around his throat.

Strephon had found his lunch with Melchior quite distasteful and wanted to cleanse his palate, so to speak, with more pleasant company over dinner. On an impulse, he had called her flat and left the message with her roommate, but Cassandra obviously didn't get it. And now he found this.

Perhaps he's her brother, he thought desperately. No, Cassandra would not be acting this guiltily over a brother.
The handsome stranger came up to the door behind Cassandra. "You must be Strephon." The stranger placed his hands on her shoulders.

Strephon's embarrassment turned to ire. The unmitigated cad! How dare he take that liberty! Strephon immediately cursed his Victorian sensibilities. Then he realized his Victorian sensibilities had it right: the stranger was clearly making a proprietary claim on Cassandra; saying, in effect, she is mine now, not yours.

Cassandra seemed to sense this, too. She squirmed out from under the stranger's hand and turned to face them both. "Yes. Strephon, this is Saul Taylor. He works with me at the Morning Star. We were just... uh..." she gave a guilty glance back at the remains of an intimate, if greasy, dinner.

"Working on a story over dinner," the Taylor offered, extending his hand to Strephon. "Pleased to meet you, Strephon."

"I will thank you to call me Mister MacKenzie, if you please," was what Strephon wanted say. Instead he gravely took Taylor's hand. "At your service, Mister Taylor."

As soon as Taylor's hand grasped his, Strephon felt a jolt, almost like an electric shock.


The man was a sorcerer. What in the name of Heaven was a sorcerer doing in Cassandra's flat eating third rate East Indian fast food?

"Nice grip you have," Taylor said with a forced smile.

"Ah. One of the small advantages of being wheelchair-bound. One tends to develop one's upper body strength." Strephon released Taylor's hand. A petty display, but it gave him some minor satisfaction.

The three stared uncomfortably at each other for a moment. Then Strephon said, "I'm terribly sorry for intruding. I should be going."

"Do you have a cab waiting?" Cassandra asked.

"No." Curse her. Now he would have to wait while she called a cab. He did not want to linger. Unfortunately, he had sent Tobias away. He assumed that Cassandra might need time to dress or decide where to go or what-not and didn't want to put her under the pressure of a waiting cab. Now he was stranded in a highly delicate situation.

"I'll give Streph a ride home," Taylor volunteered.

Strephon scowled at that but quickly comported himself. "You mustn't put yourself out."

"No problem," Taylor assured him. "I'd be happy to."

Yes, Strephon thought, you'd be more than happy to get me out of the way.

NEXT:  Accepting Rides From Strangers

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 49: Comparing Notes

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Reporter Cassandra True has survived encounters with werewolves, vampires, ghosts and an insane witch, but the mystery that puzzles her most is Strephon MacKenzie, the reclusive invalid who unbeknownst to her is actually a semi-immortal half-fae. Cassandra has decided to do a little snooping and has enlisted her new co-worker Saul Taylor to help

Cassandra juggled her grocery bags as she attempted to fish her keys out of her purse. It took her longer than she had planned to stop at the store and get home after work. At least she made it before Saul showed up; he had promised to come over that evening.

Just as she put her key to the lock, the door of her flat swung open. "Hullo, Sandy!" Cecilie said in a bright, chipper voice.

"What are you doing up?" Cassandra grumbled. "I thought you called in sick this morning."
Cecilie shrugged. "Must have been a 12-hour bug. I feel fine now!" She was dressed for partying, with tight, embroidered jeans, her favorite black top and a bright red bandanna around her neck. She wore deep purple eye shadow and had apparently spent her sick day doing her nails with sparkley polish. "I'm just on my way out. Want to join me?"

Cassandra glared at her. "I have work to do."

"All work and no play..." Cecilie sang.

"...Means Cassandra pays your share of the rent again."

"Oh, that reminds me. I borrowed a couple quid from your dresser. Hope you don't mind. I'm famished." She breezed past Cassandra and flounced down the hall. "Oh," she added, "there was a phone call for you. I wrote it down. Ta!"

Cassandra lugged her bags into the flat and dumped them on the table. Sure enough, she saw the message: Cecilie had scrawled it on the refrigerator door.

"stFn cuMMing @ 7"

"That's really helpful!" Cassandra sulked. She dug a roll of paper towels out from under the sink and began scrubbing the refrigerator. She managed to remove about half of the cryptic scrawl when the security buzzer sounded.

"Hi. I hope you don't mind Indian food," Saul said as Cassandra let him into her flat.

Cassandra took the bags of takeout from his arms. "No, that's fine. I love curry." She cleared off the table and helped unparcel the cardboard cartons of Bangalore Burgers and Curry Chips.

"So," Cassandra said after a hastily scarfed meal, "What have you got for me?"

Saul solemnly opened his briefcase and pulled out a folder of papers. "I hope you appreciate this. I spent most the afternoon digging through the morgue for this. Okay, here's what we have. I traced the MacKenzie family back to 1852. The first Strephon MacKenzie was an orphan who was raised at St. Gwydion's Orphanage here in Redemption. He studied for the clergy for a few years, but switched to the law about the same time he married a local farmer's daughter named Phyllis Woodrow."


"Is that important?"

"Hm... maybe. Go on," Cassandra said.

"He became quite a successful barrister, quickly becoming a partner in his firm. Here's a picture of him." He handed Cassandra a photocopy of a newspaper clipping. The young man with side-whiskers in the photograph looked remarkably like the Strephon she knew.

"It says here that he sued Gilbert and Sullivan? Whatever for?"

"It doesn't say. The matter was settled out of court. Anyway, in time he became a QC, then a judge. That was when he built his mansion, MacKenzie house. It's still standing, it's one of the oldest buildings in the Little Kingston district."

"I know, I've been there. So what happened to him?"

"He retired from the bench at about the start of the First World War, but served in the government during the War in the Home Office. His wife did a lot of work locally for the Red Cross too. Then after the War he and his wife did a lot of travelling abroad, but after Phyllis died in 1931, Strephon became a virtual recluse."

"How did Phylis die?"

"Um... Heart attack. Why do you ask?"

Cassandra took a sip of diet cola. "Curious, that's all."

"All right, be mysterious then," Saul said with a half-serious scowl. "Strephon died four years later in 1935. His grandson, also named Strephon, arrived from Canada to take over the house."

"Wait a minute, his grandson? Old Man MacKenzie had a son then?"

Saul checked over his papers again. "Apparently. I couldn't find references to a child being born, but apparently he was raised abroad by relatives."

Cassandra frowned. "That doesn't make sense. I thought Strephon was an orphan."
Saul shrugged. "The only references I could find in the Star were vague about his background. He was partially crippled in his legs and pretty much stayed at home."

"Crippled? By polio?"

"How did you know?"

"Lucky guess."

"Anyway, apart from some charity work during the Blitz, the grandson stayed out of the public eye. In fact, the next reference I find is 1972 when a developer attempted to buy his house and much of the surrounding neighborhood to build a shopping mall. The deal fell through for unspecified reasons."

"Was that the current Strephon, or the grandson?"

Saul checked his clippings again. "I'm not sure. There were several MacKenzie's in the obituaries, but the only one that seemed related to this family was the old judge, the first Strephon."

Cassandra bit her lip in thought. "How can a family live for several generations in the same house without any record of births, deaths or marriages? I've checked the city records. I could find none. I even got a friend at Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy to check his hospital records. He has none! You're telling me that a man stricken with polio who's lived most of his life in a wheelchair has never seen a doctor?"

Saul gathered his papers together again and shut them in his briefcase. "I have a better question," he said. "Why are you so interested in this Strephon MacKenzie anyway?"

Cassandara's cheeks turned pink. "Um... interested? Well, it's just that... well, he's mysterious. He's always talking about himself and his family; he loves talking about all his aunts; but he never seems to actually say anything. And there are these little inconsistencies, like his late wife and his mystery illness. He's hiding something from me, I know it!"

Saul put his hand on hers and repeated. "Are you interested in him?"

For a moment, Cassandra almost said yes! Then sanity took over. "Of course not."

"Good!" Saul gave her hand a squeeze.

Just then a knock came at the door. "Who could that be? If Cecilie forgot her keys again..." Cassandra excused herself and went to open the door. She looked down and her jaw sagged.

Now Cecilie's message made sense: "stFn cuMMing @ 7" meant "Strephon coming at seven".

"Good evening," Strephon said uncertainly, noticing Saul in the room behind her. "Erm, am I interrupting something?"

NEXT:  I'm Sorry To Interrupt, He Lied