The Witches’ Bane
by Edward Ahern
Gordon Lormor is a defrocked priest and con man. And something more. He walks a precarious path between light and dark magic. When a former lover calls him, pleading that he help free her from a coven, Gordon leaves his business behind and travels to upstate Vermont.
Death arrives before he does, and Gordon is thrown into a worsening spiral of assaults and murders and the threat of an infant sacrifice. He is joined by his assistant, AJ, and helped by a Catholic cardinal in chipping away at the wall around the witches’ conspiracy. He soon realizes he is teetering ever closer to his own spiritual and physical death.
Chapter 19: The Note from Judy
Gordon had to sign a series of releases absolving the hospital of every indemnity from sepsis to hangnail, but he hobbled out of the hospital with AJ around 9:00 p.m. Once in the car and underway, he tossed his hospital cane into the back seat and turned toward AJ. The pain pushed through his muscles in waves, but Gordon encouraged it. Unless he passed out from the pain, his thoughts would be sharper.
“Tell me,” he ordered.
“Brenda didn’t like my phone call at the bookstore. Odds are good she reported it to the cops.”
“No harm done. Gun?”
“Your third and last licensed handgun is in the bag in the back seat, along with that damnable cane of yours. Were you able to keep your knife?”
“Amazingly, yes. I guess Tassie couldn’t figure out how to tie it into any of the deaths. Car?”
“Saw it in the impound lot. The crime scene nerds probably figured to work on the shooter’s car first, so we have a chance at getting into your car tonight. You know these women are coming after you full speed.”
“I think I know what some of them look like. This isn’t your fight, AJ. Get out of here while you can.”
She threw him a sideways glance. “Once this is over we’ll call it even.”
Gordon braced himself for the pain necessary to twist his body and pull his cane off the back seat. It was turned from a hickory branch, then boned into smooth hardness. A rubber cap covered a rounded point stained a darker shade. It was one of the most powerful things Gordon possessed, and the most dangerous. He went silent, his eyes pointed out through the front windshield, but focused somewhere else entirely. AJ knew to leave him alone in his trance.
When Gordon stirred after fifteen minutes, his expression was sad. She had to ask; “Do I survive?”
“I’m hoping maybe we both do, AJ. But changed, and not all for the good.”
“What happens next?”
Gordon puckered his mouth. “The hags can’t chance waiting. They have to remove me before the ceremony. But Tassie will probably assign a man to keep tabs on me in the Comfort Inn, so my guess is they won’t try anything there. They’ve lost the three guys they used for muscle. The coven leader won’t take a chance on my recognizing her were she to approach me.”
“What about the women you already know about? Is one of them the coven mistress?”
“I don’t think so. Their presences aren’t strong enough. No, they’ll try to get at me when my guard is down, sleeping maybe, or through you. Are you wearing it?”
AJ pulled a silver neck chain from under her shirt. There were two scapulars on the chain, but not pictures of saints. They were covered on both sides by Aramaic characters. “Yup.”
“It’s worth your soul to keep it on.”
“How come you’re not wearing one?”
“Because, smart ass, I’m the bait.”
AJ pulled into a rundown motel north of St. Johnsbury. She paid cash for a room with two beds and they lay down, still dressed. Gordon set his wrist watch for 2:00 a.m., and they rose almost wordlessly when it went off. AJ drove them to within three blocks of the impound lot, and handed Gordon a burner phone.
“You’re the lookout.”
“I can make it in.”
AJ snorted. “You can maybe sneak in okay, but no way you can run out. You’re the lookout.”
She was frustratingly right, and Gordon accepted the phone and his reduced role. They were both dressed in black, and once they’d walked to within fifty yards of the impound lot, AJ pulled on a black balaclava, dropped to the ground, and crabbed her way up to the fence.
Gordon watched, using compact binoculars, but saw no movement... No guard, no dog. He watched AJ crawl up to the fence, bolt cutters in hand. She clicked the phone once — the fence wasn’t electrified or alarmed.
Gordon briefly watched her begin to snip through the fence, then resumed his scan of the lot. AJ disappeared behind parked cars. Twenty minutes later, she was back with two laptops. Apparently the police relied on the weight of their authority to protect the impounded machinery.
They were silent until they got back into the car. “That old truck of yours is perforated to death. You may as well write it off and get a new one.”
“No way. I’ve had it longer than any of my girlfriends.”
“I left the safe unlocked so the cops wouldn’t have to cut it open.”
“Thanks. Let me have Judy’s machine, and I’ll start exploring her girlish secrets.”
Gordon typed in “Mr Slick” and then discovered there was a second level protecting the files on the dark arts. He tried two phrases, failing each time, then forced himself to stop and think. Something she knew he’d know but no one else would. Something about her, and something she’d said to him more than once in confidence. He focused his mind’s eye inward into the Judy folder. Something remarkable, probably embarrassing or incriminating. And then he had it, and typed it in. DON’T EVER KILL YOUR PET.
The first file was labeled “For Gordie.” He clicked it open and read while AJ drove in silence.
You wouldn’t be reading this if I were still around, so I guess I’m posthumously sorry we never had a chance to see each other again. You were it for me, but I didn’t know that until after I’d told you to get lost.
Before I write further, I want you to swear to me by the oath you hold most sacred that you won’t just charge off bent on revenge. And I want you to swear by the same oath that you’ll try and recover the baby I helped arrange to steal. I couldn’t walk the same tightrope you can, Gordie, and I fell into something too deep to climb out of. But hopefully you can find him.
Beware of my coven sisters — Maureen Curtis, Sylvie LaGrande, and Helen Connelley. They exist at the pleasure of the coven mistress, who I wasn’t yet trusted to meet. I do know that as much as my sisters despised and mistrusted me, they feared her.
The baby will be sacrificed the night of the winter solstice. The location is apparently in deep, swampy woods close to Big Eddy, at a spot sacred or accursed to the coven mistress. Sorry I’m so vague.
The laptop files will give you as much information as I have on spells and activities. My sisters are especially good at hallucinatory destruction, so watch your cute little ass.
Too late, Gordon thought.
Remember me fondly if you can. I loved you, badly but deeply.
Gordon’s gullet felt like he’d swallowed large chunks of dry, pointed gravel. He coughed. AJ noticed but said nothing, a silence that carried on until they’d arrived back at the Comfort Inn.
Copyright © 2018 by Edward Ahern