In a Pickle
You can spend all your time making money
You can spend all your love making time
If it all fell to pieces tomorrow
Would you still be mine?
So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time
The group read on through Rumach Goldark’s letter to Belle.
“Won’t you have a glass of wine with me?” Cora was at her most seductive. She sounded so reasonable, so conciliatory. “You don’t think you owe me a simple gesture to celebrate what we had together, even though it was brief? You must have had some good times with me? Here, I’ll have a drink with you.”
Rumach watched while she poured herself a drink. She took a sip.
He reached for the glass and raised it to his lips.
But then he shook his head.
“No, I don’t think I should have a final drink with you,” he finally told her and he set the glass back down.
“But you won’t mind if I partake?” she asked him and raised the glass again to her lips.
He watched suspiciously as she drained the glass. She stood for a moment.
Then she wavered, almost falling. Without thinking he reached for her, helping her to be steady on her feet.
She looked up at him and gave him a weak smile. “You were right not to drink the wine you know,” she told him.
He looked at her, not sure how to respond.
“It was poisoned. You know I’d been using foxglove in your shaving water and in Belle’s little perfumed water,” she confessed. A bit puzzled, she shared, “I’m still not sure why it didn’t affect her, but you were certainly showing signs of foxglove poisoning, the fatigue, the upset digestion, the yellow halo. If I had only had a little longer, if Milah had not shown up, I would have been well rid of both of you and set up well enough as your widow.”
“Cora! You were trying to poison me? And you said the wine you just drank was poisoned?!” he was holding her up, not sure what else to do.
“I think I shall lie down a moment,” she said. “Help me, dearest. Help me to the bed.”
He did as she’d requested, helping her lay down on the ornate bed. He sat down next to her.
“Cora,” he shook her. “You were trying to poison me? Why?”
“Because I love you.” She shook her head. “You won’t understand.”
“But you drank poison?”
“Oh yes. It was the price I had to pay. You see, I had put a grain of soil from each corner of your estate and one grain from each corner of your house into the wine. Not very much, but it doesn’t take much. Did you know your house is built so the corners sit on the cardinal points perfectly? That’s very powerful, you know.”
“Cora,” he was supporting her head. “What? Why?”
“Oh yes, and I put some blood from you in it,” she smiled and touched him on the chest with her manicured finger. “The blood from that morning when you cut yourself shaving.” Cora smiled, “ And some blood from Miss French – she managed to prick her finger on one of my brooches.” Cora took a deep breath. “And of course some of my own blood, just a little. It only takes a little, you see.”
“Cora, you aren’t making sense. Should I send for the doctor?”
Cora shook her head, “Oh no. It’s too late for a doctor, dearest. There was a pretty lethal dose of poison in the wine.” She closed her eyes. “You know, whoever drank that wine will be given power over the other two, but they have to know how to use the power and . . .the cost for that power is their life.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him. She spoke slowly and clearly, “You will never again leave this house. You will stay in this place forever, I think the upstairs bedroom, where we would have our servants sleep. You will get to stay in Belle’s room. I think that would be justice. You would be too happy to stay in your library. And there will be no peace for you when you die. You will stay in that same room, never able to leave. And when Miss French comes back to this house and, I promise you that she will, she too will be trapped here, but her fate is to remain downstairs. I may let you see each other from time to time, but you can never speak to each other. So close but never, never together.”
“Cora, why? If you ever loved me. . .?”
“Ah, it is because I loved you. If only you had loved me back.” Cora sighed, “I should have known better. Love is such a weakness. If I cannot have you, then no other woman will.”
“And what happens to you?”
“Oh, I will stay in my room. Between you and Miss French. I have made a deal with the Baron that I will give him souls before their time if he will not take you and Miss French when your time comes. And I will become his faithful servant.” Then she laughed, “But I have found a way to cheat the Baron. I will keep a barrier between myself and him and he will not be able to get me.”
“Cora!” Goldark shouted at her, but the woman had closed her eyes and gone limp in his arms. “Cora!”
Neal put the letter down.
“So Cora made a deal with this Baron character not to allow Rumach and Belle to cross over when they died. They would be confined to this house in their deaths,” Emma was trying to sort of the details of the curse.
“Yeah, and apparently she had it so that Master Goldark could not leave the house, even leave the attic room while he was alive. He was trapped in the house,” Neal added. “And he didn’t want Belle to come back because she would be trapped downstairs.”
“Yeah,” Colin was looking at a different letter. “In this letter he’s telling Belle it’s as if there is a brick wall over the door and he cannot go through it. It reads like Billy Glass became his go-between to the outside world.”
“He left a strip of the coast to Billy and a lot of money to him. This would explain why,” said Mary Margaret.
“Who is this Baron?” asked Clarissa. “I don’t understand.” Everyone looked at Emma.
Emma explained, “Cora practiced a subversion of Vodun, or Voodoo to you. This is a religion that believes in a single God, but He is distant and uninvolved. Worshippers go to intermediaries, called loa to intercede on their behalf. There is a pantheon of these intermediaries but several are quite powerful, such as Papa Legba. Worship services always begin with a prayer to him to open up the door to the spirit world. A distinguished older guy, walks with a cane. The Baron is Baron Samedi, the one who guards the crossroads into the afterlife. He is also the overseer of having a good time, Saturday night, if you will, enjoy life while you got it. He’s probably the most recognizable of the loa. He usually is wearing a tuxedo, smokes a cigar and drinks a lot of rum.”
“So her deal with the Baron could have included him not allowing Goldark and Belle to leave this house in life or death,” Colin concluded.
“What would the Baron get out of this deal?” Neal asked. “Souls before their time? What did Cora mean by that?”
“I think it meant that if anyone came under her sphere of influence, like they spent the night in her room, then she would kill them and send them onto the Baron.”
“Why would he care?” Colin asked. “I mean he’s going to get everybody eventually, right?”
“Cora also promised him that she would become his faithful servant. She promised him herself, but then did something so he didn’t get her.” Emma said.
“I bet that pissed him off,” observed Colin. “Who would be crazy enough to piss of something that powerful?”
Somberly, the rest of the afternoon, the group spent reading the letters and sharing what they had discovered with the others of the group.
Goldark had finally persuaded Belle to move on to Philadelphia. He was afraid that she would venture too close to the house and be trapped on the property; the further away from his house, the better. He had sent on Mrs. Potts to be her housekeeper and cook. Belle wrote that she had hired two other manservants, a funny Frenchman and a stuffy Englishman. And then . . . then there was the news of the baby.
Emma had happened on that letter and nearly started crying as Belle shared her happy news with the new father-to-be.
“She’s gonna have to have this baby by herself, poor thing, and raise her without her father,” she sniffed.
Neal put an arm around her. “Emma, what could she do? What choice did she have?”
“But it’s hard, so hard to raise a baby by yourself,” Emma tried to explain.
“I can’t imagine,” Neal admitted. “But she did have a place to stay, money, servants and, at least, communication with the baby’s daddy.”
Emma looked up at Neal, her eyes wide and filled with tears. “Yeah, I guess so.” She looked like she might have something else to say, but instead she sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
Colin found Rumach’s response to Belle’s letter. It was a particularly difficult time for the man. Not being able to be there with Belle, for Belle, for his daughter. But Belle wrote him funny letters and assured him repeatedly that all was well.
The years went on. Billy clearly had become an indispensable help, going out to collect Gold’s rents, running the estate, bringing Goldark whatever he needed, keeping the mail coming and going. In time, Billy married. His lovely wife, Perla, joined him in caring for Master Goldark. Rumach paid Billy and his wife very well. Billy had learned at the feet of the master and he began to quietly buy up coastal land. He began to build houses on his land and rent them to rich patrons who wanted to summer on the beautiful Maine coast. He started to become wealthy himself but never did he abandon Master Goldark,
Belle, never one to be idle, began a finishing school with the object of producing young ladies with the finest education along with many critical clerical skills. She taught them accounting, among other things, and her connections with the Franklin family enabled her to get them employment. She always emphasized high moral standards and, in due time, her ‘girls’ became in high demand. Many powerful men enjoyed having a pretty young woman in their office taking care of their mundane business affairs, keeping their books, taking care of their correspondence, managing their appointments, greeting their business associates, welcoming their business competitors. It was all a great success.
And Belle, who was modestly artistically talented, would often send pictures she had drawn of their daughter to her husband. . . and in time, there were pictures of their granddaughter.
It was Billy who wrote her the letter of Master Goldark’s passing. Rumach was ninety-two. There had been forty-seven years that he had spent imprisoned in the attic room. He did not live to hear about his great grandson.
Billy shared with Belle that Master Goldark had left quite a sum of money and additional coastal land to him. He also let her know that a grandson from the Master’s first marriage had arrived to take the estate in tow.
“So then Belle came back to the estate to die, knowing that she would be trapped but choosing limbo rather than death, so that she could be close, if not together, to her one true love. And they would hope that sometime, someone would come along and break the curse and free them,” Clarissa summed up the last of her ancestors’ romance.
Emma stood quietly for a moment. “I know what I have to do,” she stood. “Neal, where is that rum and those cigars?”
“Still in my car,” he told her.
“Get them, please,” she asked him.
“Emma, what are you going to do?” Neal asked as he stood.
“I’m going to spend the night in Cora’s room.”
“Are you sure?” everyone asked.
“I’m real sure. Just get that stuff for me.”
Emma had fortified herself with a spaghetti supper and then found herself standing outside the door with a satchel, the rum and the cigars. She also carried her ever present flashlight and a voice recorder. She had told everyone she was sure, but of course when faced with the reality of what she was doing, she had her doubts. Cora had kicked her ass last time she had been in this room, and right now she was one of the walking wounded, but Emma was going in loaded for bear this time.
She opened the door and stepped inside. Clarissa, Colin and Neal would keep vigil outside of the room and Leroy would be watching through the closed circuit. Everybody had a walkie.
Emma opened the door, carrying the cigars and rum, and stepped inside, closing the door behind her.
He was waiting for her.
She inclined he head. “Brought you something, sir.” She held up the rum and cigars.
He smiled in greeting, “Emma, good to see you ‘gain. Come inside, girl. Take a seat.” He spoke in the dulcet tones of those who speak French as their first language but accented with a languorous dose of the Caribbean Islands.
Emma went and sat beside him. He already had glasses out and upon his gesture, she poured them both some rum.
“So you intend to stay de night?” he said sipping some of the rum.
“I do,” she answered.
“And you wan’ my help?” He was smiling at her.
“Please sir, whatever you can offer me,” Emma asked humbly.
“I like you, girl. I don’t like Cora. She try to cheat me. But I be very, very patient.” He considered, “I think maybe, maybe, I protect you. Stay on de bed,” he told her.
“Would you also answer me one question, please sir,” Emma said to him.
The Baron continued to smile and then, he nodded. He had a thin, almost human face rather than the skeletal visage he often wore. Deep inside his dark eyes there burned a red fire. He had removed his usual top hat and his hair hung around his face in short dread-locks. His long fingers with their blackened nails were clasped together.
“Cora died when she drank the wine that she had herself poisoned. In order for her to cast the curse, she had to die. So how did she escape your net?”
The Baron chucked. “As yes. Emma. You be very clever. How indeed? Figure dat out, my girl. Figure dat out.” He leaned forward, the red fire in his eyes glinting in the darkened room. “You know, girl, you already know.”
And The Baron, along with the rest of the rum, his own glass and the cigars then disappeared.
Emma sighed and carrying her drink and her small satchel, which she had packed with all the necessities – Red Bulls, Monster Drinks, Pepsis, square cheese crackers, round peanut butter crackers, and her Nook -- that she would need to get through the night. She plopped herself in the middle of Cora’s large ornate bed. She turned to the mirror that stood in the room. “Wanna give it a whirl, girl?” she addressed the room. “You got the jump on me last time.” When nothing happened, Emma called out again. “Hey, you gonna make this bed jump up and down? Move the furniture around in this room? Bring it on, bitch.”
Nothing happened. Emma lay on the bed motionless for a moment. Then, “Well shit.” And she drank the rest of the rum she had poured for herself and then reached into her satchel. She pulled out her tablet and called out through the walkie, “Jotting down some ideas for your new series, Neal.”
The room stayed quiet. Emma sipped her first Red Bull. No way she was going to try to go sleep in this place; she figured she’d wake up with a pillow being held over her head.
She was on her third Red Bull and nothing yet had happened. She guessed it was about three thirty in the morning when she caught sight of something moving in front of the mirror.
“Cora? You wanna talk?”
Emma heard the reply, an angry whisper, “I want you to die.”
“Yeah, I figured that. But if you come out now, the Baron will get you; I think you promised him your services in perpetuity and I suspect you want to avoid paying that debt. But . . .” Emma continued, “if I manage to stay in this room all night, alive, then you have violated your agreement with the Baron and your bargain is null and void and Rum and Belle can clear on out, cross over, whatever it is they need to do.” Emma took another swig of her Red Bull. “Damn. You are in pickle.”
“You are a bitch,” Emma heard the voice again.
“Well, hell, you’re rude. What I don’t get is killing yourself ‘cause you couldn’t have the man and didn’t want anyone else to have him? I mean, how good was he in the sack that it was worth all this?”
“He betrayed me,” said the voice.
Emma took a swig of her Red Bull. “He’s a man, Cora, they do that. Worse case scenario, you pop a cap in his ass and move on. You don’t put a curse on the dude and your competition, then sell your own soul to the devil to get even. That’s abit overkill, docha think?”
“You’ve never been in love,” said the voice.
“Like hell. Not only was I in love, it was my first love. And then the guy disappeared, left me, not only with a crapload of bills and a lease that I could barely make, and . . . uh. . . there was also a baby.”
“Do you want me to curse him?” the voice was almost sultry.
“Tempting,” Emma had to admit, “but no. There’s no future in vengeance.”
“Speak for yourself, dear.”
“No, I think I speak for you, honey. There’s no future here for you. It’s breaking, with every moment I spend in this room. Why don’t I bring them in here? They deserve to be a part of this,” without waiting for Cora to speak, Emma opened her walkie. “Neal, go downstairs and bring Belle up. She’ll be able to come with you. She’s waiting for you. And Clarissa, go up to the attic and bring Rumach down.”