After a hard day investigating the gang kick pack for a drink at the pub. Or try to.
Hastings – 1844
‘My husband and I were looking at a house,’ I said, leaning against the bar. ‘Across the fields a way, looks a bit… overgrown.’
The publican put a crooked finger to his lips. ‘Hmmm, that would be Field House. Yes, hmmm.’
‘Something wrong?’ I asked, all innocent.
‘Nobody lives there long.’ He leaned in and whispered, ‘They say it’s haunted.’
Josef came up behind me and put an arm around my waist. ‘Standing around chattering? Where’s the drinks?’
‘This gentleman says that house we saw is haunted,’ I said.
‘Poppycock,’ Josef replied. ‘Ghosts, vampires, it’s all superstitious nonsense.’
I slapped his chest lightly.
The publican’s gaze lingered on Josef, he realised he was staring, cleared his throat and looked away. ‘They say a beast stalks the country at night,’ he said. ‘Oh yes, terrifying visage they say.’
‘Oh my.’ I put my hand to my chest. I wasn’t sure I’d call Marly’s visage terrifying but the smell of him certainly was. I shuddered and the vibrant memory of it, which luckily fitted my part.
Josef kissed my temple. ‘Don’t let silly stories trouble you, dearest.’
‘Well, I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything,’ the publican said, ‘but you know how country folk can be.’
It took all my self-control not to roll my eyes. Josef nodded like the city rake he was supposed to be, and I’d once thought he was.
‘I’ll… um… I’ll get you those drinks.’ The publican gestured vaguely at the room. ‘Please take a seat.’
Josef led me over to a table near the fire where Millie was sitting looking grumpy, and Bran was smoking his pipe with his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle. He and Josef both had a remarkable ability to sit still for hours on end without appearing to do anything. What were hours compared to centuries?
I caressed my hand across the back of his shoulders, he smiled at me, caught my fingers and squeezed them gently before I sat down.
‘This is boring,’ Millie muttered, arms crossed over her chest.
‘This is detecting,’ I replied.
Josef got his pipe out and filled it. ‘Do you think I should’ve sent ahead to the house to say we were coming?’
‘It’s generally wise.’ I was sure if I ever brought a party of people home without warning Mrs Stapleton would be very happy, unless it was three sweet children, she hadn’t minded that.
Josef tilted his head towards one of the card games and grinned at me. I flicked his chest lightly. If we wanted the favour of anyone living nearby beating them all at cards didn’t seem the way, and we would beat them because when you put us together we got very competitive. The sex was interesting.
‘Behave.’ I stroked his beard, he’d grown it was a little longer over the past few months but it was as precisely groomed as ever, except when Mary tried to brush it.
He kissed my fingertips.
‘Aren’t you two just the most adorable?’ a woman said and sat down opposite us as if Millie and Bran weren’t there. Money attracted all the flies.
Millie made an annoyed noise and went to sit on the floor to stroke the dog who was stretched out in front of the fire. It seemed to have a high tolerance for vampires, or it really like the fire. Bran’s chair scraped the floor as he pushed it closer to me and further from the woman. I rested my hand against his thigh under the table.
‘A lovely couple like you don’t want to be buying Field House,’ the woman continued. ‘Oh no. There are much better choices. There’s a lovely house just up the way, perfect garden for children, once you get rid of the poisonous plants a’course.’
I nodded. ‘Our youngest three, poisonous plants would be problematic.’
‘Oooo, maybe not that one. Perhaps you could persuade the Drapers to move, lovely house but a bit draughty.’ She pointed at us with her drink. ‘There’s the old manor on the cliff, lots of bedrooms, bit pretentious but nowhere’s perfect.’ She sipped her drink.
Josef shifted so I took a guess that the pretentious manor was his. ‘Field House looked like it has potential. Very peaceful.’
‘Oh no, it’s not for you.’
Josef rested his arm on the table, his magic warmed the air. ‘Why?’
She tilted towards him. ‘A witch lived there. They done for her in the witch hunts, burned at the stake.’
‘They hanged witches in Britain,’ Josef muttered and sat back.
I smothered a smile. ‘There were you?’
The publican put a tray of drinks on the table. ‘Gossiping again, Beth?’
She gaped at him. ‘I don’t gossip, it’s essential information.’
‘Hmmm-hm,’ he said then made his way back through the crowd.
‘They say she did all kinds of black magic,’ she continued as if there hadn’t been an interruption.
I bit the tip of my tongue. I didn’t know much about magic but I knew it wasn’t the magic, it was how you used it. Basic logic.
‘Spirits and monsters all over the place.’ She nodded knowingly. ‘Her familiars. I had it from Tilly who had it from her cousin, Jenny, who had it from her second cousin twice removed, they saw a big black beast roaming around the place. Glowing eyes and everything.’ She sat back. ‘What d’you make of that then?’
‘Not very child friendly,’ I replied, wondering how they’d seen anything through the trees.
‘You mark my words there’s no good around that place, cursed it is.’
I wasn’t sure a curse, or whatever similar magic there might be, could last very long without a person to power it. ‘Have you ever seen anything?’ I asked.
She stared for a moment. ‘Not as such, avoid the place, don’t I? I don’t want to be devoured by some hell beast.’
‘Can’t say it sounds appealing,’ I said.
Josef slid me a sideways look and I shrugged. She meant well but my blood was ninety percent sarcasm and my patience came in negative figures for anyone who wasn’t family.
‘I heard Frank Carpenter had a run in one night in the fields near that house, he’s a good one to talk to. Knows all about spirits, he does. It’s his special area of study. Quite the authority on the matter.’
‘Has he written on it?’ Josef asked.
‘Oh yes, many the penny dreadful has our Frank penned, prolific writer, Mr Dickens has nothing on our Frank.’ She sniffed. ‘Not that I read them, naturally. Not to my taste at all, I prefer something a bit more… intellectual, you know.’
She wouldn’t have liked the extensive collection of penny dreadfuls I had at home, kept well out of reach of the children.
She looked at the contents of her glass. ‘Oh dear, I seem to have run dry. I’d better be off home.’
‘Let me get you another.’ Josef picked up her glass and gave her his most charming smile. ‘What would you like?’
‘Perhaps a small measure of spirit, nothing fancy, purely medicinal.’ She patted her chest. ‘Terrible trouble with me nerves.’
That explained the size of Bran’s alcohol collection, though he always seemed to find kisses more soothing than copious amounts of spirits. Somehow I doubted it had anything to do with the effect being lost when you were dead.
I smiled politely when Josef left us.
She fanned her face with her hand. ‘Ooo, what a gentleman. Not at all what you’d expect.’
‘What would you expect?’ I asked, gaze fixed on her and ice forming on the glass near my hand.
‘Well… well… I… I didn’t… I…’
Bran put his hand on my leg.
I blinked and the ice retreated. ‘There’s no man more gentlemanly than my Josef.’
Bran’s hand stayed on my leg, a calming weight and silent warning. The pub was too crowded for my temperamental magic.
Beth flushed and looked at her lap. Her blush deepen when Josef set the glass in front of her. I sucked my teeth and wondered if it was bad manners to drain the informant.
Josef clinked his glass against hers without sitting. ‘To new friends.’
She stammered her apologies about lateness and prior engagements and hurried away.
‘More rum for me.’ Josef downed it in one then sat.
‘Nicely done,’ I murmured.
He leaned in and grinned but there was no mischief in his eyes. ‘Worth a shag?’
‘I can hear you,’ Millie said without looking at us.
Bran shook his head, looking at the spot Beth had been as if it was contaminated. I settled into Josef’s side and put my hand over his.
He picked up his rum glass and frowned at the cold glass then shrugged, took a sip, and put his arm around me. ‘So… how shall we scandalise the neighbourhood next?’