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The Hellhound of the Rockefellers

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Pocantino Hills Estate, outside Sleepy Hollow, NY. October 5, 2013.

The old man was lying facedown on the graveled path. He was dressed for the chill of an autumn night, but he was shod in slippers alone: he had not intended to walk far. Dew beaded his hands where they splayed out like stranded starfish on either side of him. His face was veiled by the thin spill of his long white hair.

Ichabod Crane looked up past the crumpled body to where the ground fell away towards forest. Beyond that, miles and miles away, he could envision the incomprehensible spires of a fairy-city—the city on the isle of the Manhattoes that had grown ever larger during the centuries that Ichabod had slept below ground. What would it be like to live in such a metropolis, among eight million other souls, swarming like ants on their hill?

“Move over,” Lieutenant Abbie Mills told him, breaking his reverie. “Actually, just get back, will you? You’re getting footprints everywhere.”

He complied as she snapped away with her camera, shooting from every angle, taking close-ups of the disposition of the body and squatting down to photograph the clear paw-print in the mud beside the deceased’s head.

It was beautiful to see Abbie at work, in her element. Immediately after Ichabod had woken (that was how he thought of it now—'waking'—an easier concept than 'resurrection') he had been astonished by things that everyone in this modern world took for granted: hot and cold running water, chamber pots that whisked night soil away at the press of a lever, glass orbs that glowed with light yet remained cool to the touch. He had been pleased to see that the fledgling Colonial nation had grown and hardened into a true country, that the system of racial slavery had been abolished, that every child was taught to read the common tongue. Yet it was only after the first shock had faded that Ichabod could see the true strangeness in this time and place.

Ichabod understood hardly half of the tasks the Lieutenant busied herself with around the body. He knew that even if she explained each of them, he would still lack an understanding of the science that underlay her technē. A hundred lifetimes would not be enough to fully master the advances.

It was fortunate that, for once, they seemed to be under no immediate threat from horsemen (headless or otherwise), witches, demons, or other malevolent beings. It could be no more than a brief reprieve, but any reprieve at all seemed heaven-sent. Perhaps, with a few days of calm, Ichabod might find a lending-library, or request the use of an updated Encyclopédie from the local school-master, and set his eidetic memory to work.

Now Abbie was walking over to the witness to take her statement. She and the witness were friends, Ichabod knew: when they had arrived the Lieutenant had dropped her strict, businesslike mask to express her condolences. “I know you took care of Mr. Rockefeller for so long he was like your daddy,” Abbie had said. "Even though you two hadn't been up in Sleepy Hollow long, it was so easy to see you cared about him."

The witness, a Miss Kimberly Mortimer, was a doctor. She had been the dead Mr. Rockefeller’s personal physician, in fact, despite being no relation to him whatsoever. No womanish displays of shock from Dr. Mortimer: she had only pressed Abbie’s hands between hers with a speaking look and led them to where the body lay. Would Katrina have been a doctor, had she been born in a later age, or re-awoken as Ichabod had been? Would she have been a physician or a chiurgeon? Would she have pressed the Lieutenant’s hands just so?

To distract himself from such mournful thoughts, he ducked back beneath the curious yellow plastic tape and knelt beside the body. The deceased had been a handsome man, in life, though extremely old. He had been born a hundred and fifty years after Ichabod Crane had died, yet Ichabod was alive and he had gone on to Heaven or to Hell.

“Crane! We’re done!”

Ichabod brushed the gravel off the knees of his pants (why had he been buried in his second-best clothes? Only Katrina knew, he supposed, and he would not waste their precious time together asking her) and answered her summons. The good doctor was deep in conversation with a person whom Ichabod assumed was the coroner. “I take it that there was nothing untoward about Mr. Rockefeller’s earthly remains?”

The Lieutenant shook her head. “Old man, ninety-three years of age, dies of a heart attack? No Moloch, no Mr. Sandman, no mystery here.”

#42 Stamford Ave., Brooklyn, NY. October 17, 2013.

“PS1. Tonight,” Holmes said.

“PS1 tonight what?” Watson asked, stirring her tea and idly wiping crumbs off their always-disgusting kitchen countertop.

“PS1, tonight, the opening of a particularly interesting show of portraiture. Title, ‘There’s Nothing There.’”

Surprised, Joan took the time to examine Holmes more closely. He didn’t seem high (not that she really thought he would get high, at this point; she no longer worried when they walked into a crime scene and found drugs, or when he went out at night and didn’t come back for hours). He also didn’t seem manic, which suggested that there was no case at PS1. She’d thought he was avoiding art, since the incident with Moriarty. Perhaps it was a gesture of reconciliation.

“Portraiture as in paintings, or portraiture as in someone standing on a table smearing themselves with mustard and ketchup while singing Britney Spears songs backwards through a vocoder?”

“Paintings. The minimalist impulse carried through. What might an artist say by choosing a particular color of paint, or brand of canvas?”

Now she saw the appeal. “So you can test your knowledge. Then we’ll ask the curator to see if you’re right.”

Sherlock half smiled. “So that you can test your knowledge. The curator is a personal friend. He allowed me early access yesterday.”

“All right, but I get to pick the restaurant for dinner.”

“I wouldn’t dream of anything else.”

“And I have a friend coming over in a few minutes. You remember?”

Sherlock ceased fiddling with the tea things. “Yes.”

“Good, because I think she’s going to bring us a case.”

He turned to her, hands on his hips. “A real case?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think you’ve slept with her, so it can’t be a repeat of that.” The words came out cattier than Joan had intended.

“When she comes to the door, I suppose we’ll see,” Holmes said. “I remember every woman I have copulated with, but I have never made a point of learning all of their names.”

She felt irritated (that she had risen to his bait), then guilty (if she was angry at him for Jen, then how much angrier would he be when he found out about That Night?), then irritated again (at least she had never stalked him!) by turns. Tea could only do so much to soothe her nerves. “Well, let’s hope,” she said, inadequately.

“That I have copulated with this friend of yours? Or that I haven’t?”

Fortunately, the doorbell rang, sending Watson up the stairs and rendering response unnecessary.

Dr. Kim Mortimer looked just as she had in medical school: hair dyed a shade darker than could possibly be natural, wide froggy good-natured face, a short neck almost disappearing into her narrow shoulders. When they hugged hello, she was tall enough to press her nose into the crown of Joan’s head. “It’s been so long—!”

They made awkward small talk for awhile, then made introductions—Holmes had followed Joan and stood, hovering, in a way that seemed calculated to prevent any real conversation. Kim seemed relieved when Holmes indelicately turned the conversation to detection, and thence to her problem.

“I realize that this sounds kind of out there. And I know that you’re probably busy, solving murders, and serious things like that—”

“But,” Holmes interjected.

But Mr. Rockefeller was a very wealthy and influential man. And he would have appreciated your help. I know he would have.”

Joan clasped her hands together, an exaggerated gesture of understanding. “It’s okay, Kim. You know I’d help you in any way I can, Rockefeller or no Rockefeller.”

Kim smiled wanly. “It’s a big ask. And I can’t pay you. Maybe once everything is completely settled with the will...”

“We can worry about that later,” Joan said. She thought of Kim in medical school: coffee runs at two in the morning, flashcards they traded for anatomy class, seats saved in the back of lectures. “For now, just tell us what happened.”

“I’ve got it right here—” Kim fished in her Longchamp purse for a moment, then came up with a plastic bag. Inside were two pieces of paper, one white, one yellowed. “I received those a few days ago. They were on my doorstep just like that.”

Joan reached for the bag, but Holmes intercepted it, holding close to his face and then far away and then close again. “Seventeen eighties the one and two thousand tens the other,” he announced. “When each of the notes was written, Watson. Observe.”

The yellowed piece of paper was the bigger one. It was printed, not handwritten, and seemed to have been torn from a book.

A Story from the Tappan Zee.

A pedlar paſſing through the land known as the Philipſe Manor, Johann Rockenfeller by name, was found to be treſpaſſing upon the Demeſne of Mr. William French, in Service as Master of Hounds to Frederick Philipſe. This Mr. French chas’d Mr. Rockenfeller from his home by means of an admirable pack of Dogs.

Some years later, when Frederick Philipſe had shown himſelf a Traitor to the just Cauſe of the Coloniſts, the land of Philipſe Manor was divided and sold at Auction, and Mr. Rockenfeller purchas’d the Home of Mr. French and turn’d him out to seek a new Employment. The Wife of Mr. French was unamus’d, and being a Witch-Woman set a Curſe upon Mr. Rockenfeller, by means of killing the famous Dogs, and boyling them, and burying their Remains beneath the Hearth-Stone of her House.

The Curſe was this: that the Sons of Mr. Rockenfeller, unto the laſt generation, shall be chas’d by Hounds from the very Depths of Hell, from Sunſet til the Witching time, each E’en that they spend on the Philipſe Manor. And that they be kill’d by them, if they ever are caught. The efficacy of this Curſe has not been prov’d, for Mr. Rockenfeller has left the Land he bought untenanted. At Last Report he has gone to dwell in Virginia.

The other note was printed too—on a laser printer.

The story is true.

“Someone is toying with your affections for Mr. Rockefeller, Dr. Mortimer,” Holmes announced, taking the baggie back, opening it, sniffing the contents exaggeratedly. “Ah. Musty. How soon after his death did you receive this missive?”

“The next day,” she said.

“I take it that there weren’t any dogs involved in his demise?” Watson asked.

“No,” Kim said—but she toyed with the length of her hair as she did, and her voice was unsure. “At least, there was no medical reason to say so. He wasn’t mauled. Jacob Rockefeller died of a heart attack. He was out on a walk. Nothing strange about that; I’d been treating him for hypertension. Except he usually didn’t walk at night; he liked to walk after lunch. And when we found him there were paw prints.”

“How large?” Holmes asked.

“Very. Like a Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound.”

“And did he keep a dog?”

“No, and there couldn’t have been one anywhere nearby. This is what’s bothering me. See, when Mr. Rockefeller died, we had just left Virginia and moved to Pocantino Hills. Are you familiar...? Pocantino Hills is the old Rockefeller estate. The next closest town is Sleepy Hollow. Pocantino is about five miles square, and it has a stone wall all around it. There’s one gate, and it’s guarded. You couldn’t sneak a dog in if you wanted to. The only people who can get in are people who have business on the estate.”

“Can you think of any reason why someone might want to scare you? Or prank you?” Joan asked. It was hard to imagine Kim Mortimer making enemies, but stranger things had happened.

Kim shook her head. “I’ve been thinking about that. Who would want to send me something like this? So I thought about different motives. Money could be one. What if someone wanted people to come to Pocantino Hills? Sleepy Hollow does a lot of tourism business around Halloween, with the Headless Horseman and everything. If there was a ghost story at Pocantino, maybe people would want to come there, too.”

“But Pocantino isn’t open to the public...?” Joan confirmed.

“Right. And anyway, if they were trying to stir up interest, why would they just send me the note? Wouldn’t they want to publish it in a newspaper or something?”

“If they thought you would go to the police, maybe,” Joan offered, but the idea sounded thin even to her ears. She was beginning to wonder whether this wasn’t another nothing case like Jen’s. Surely Kim wouldn’t have made something like this up, or blown it out of proportion, just for an excuse to catch up with an old friend? She never would have done something so silly when they were living together. She would have just forthrightly said ‘I’ll be in town, I’d like to see you.’ Of course people change, Joan reflected, but surely not that much.

Holmes turned around with a “hmm” and began fiddling with a clever new lock that lay out on the desk: a sure sign that he was done with this person and wished them to leave. “Thank you for your information, Dr. Mortimer. We’ll get back to you soon.”

“Are you in New York for long?” Joan asked Kim, gently moving her towards the door. She wasn’t going to let Holmes bait her again. “Sherlock’s always like that. Maybe we could get coffee, or drinks, somewhere a little more private?”

“I’m just in town for the next couple days.” A rebuff. “I was Mr. Rockefeller’s executor, so I had to arrange for the funeral down in Virginia. Win came back up with me—that’s Winthrop Rockefeller, he’s inheriting Pocantino Hills. I’m going to introduce him around the place. And then of course I’ll have to move.” She made a little rueful noise in the back of her throat.

“Do you know what you’re going to do now that Mr. Rockefeller’s passed?”

“Well, the move won’t be hard. I hadn’t even really unpacked from moving up here. So I guess I’ll travel a little, then find another patient. Maybe in New York. He made sure I had good recommendations.”

“That’s something, at least.”

“Even though he was old, and he’d lived a good life...” Kim glanced back into the other room. Holmes had disappeared up the stairs. “You know how it is to lose a patient, Joan. You always think there’s something you could have done, even when you know it isn’t true.”

Right. Kim had no idea. Joan took her cool hand, pressed it, remembering the feel of that simple gesture a hundred times in the past. “What was he like?”

“Mr. Rockefeller? Like a grandpa without any grandkids,” she said. “He was too old for email and too deaf for the phone, and towards the end he more or less lived for his butterfly collection. He was lonely, I think. Win liked him, but Win is only twenty-two, and you know what twenty-two year olds are like.”

“Not very interested in great-uncle Jacob?”

“Exactly. And not very interested in butterflies, either.” Kim shook herself a little. “Would it be all right if I brought him by here tomorrow? I mean, if someone really is going on about this curse, he’s probably the next person who’ll get a mash note.”

When Joan had shown her out and come back into the living room, Holmes had come back into view, dangling the baggie between two fingers. “What was that?” she asked. “I’m not your secretary. I don’t just bring people in and show them out when you want.”

“Dr. Mortimer is your friend, not mine, and you are therefore responsible for her ejection from the premises when we are finished with her,” Holmes enunciated crisply. “In any case, I hope you are not very close friends. Do you know whether she is partial to Yves St. Laurent?”

“She’s more of an L.L. Bean kind of person,” Watson said. In point of fact, Kim had been wearing a pair of black pants she recognized from the window of Ann Taylor. Surely Holmes could tell the difference between designer and off-the-rack fashion...?

“I meant,” Holmes said, “her scent. A doctor would not be in the habit of wearing perfume on a daily basis—some patients are highly sensitive to smells—but she might have a favorite bottle for use at special occasions. Never mind. I fear that Dr. Mortimer must remain the central figure in our investigation, at least until we have the opportunity to meet the other inhabitants of Pocantino Hills.”

The old Corbin cabin, Sleepy Hollow, NY. October 18, 2013.


The noise of the passage screamed in Ichabod’s ears, almost drowning Katrina’s voice. The forest, grey as always, whipped with wind.

“We are safe for now, my love,” she said, coming towards him. She was dressed as she never was in life: a gown dyed so deeply black that it seemed to suck the light from her surroundings, her hair long and loose, her lips and cheeks garishly rouged. He missed her plain dress, her plain speech.

“I have missed you,” he told her. “Katrina—I have missed you.” It was true, though not as true as he might have wished.

“I watch you,” she said simply. “You have found a true partner in Abigail Mills.”

“I found my true partner in you,” Ichabod insisted.

She shook her head. “You do not know what I am. How many times have you wondered, Ichabod, why it was such a simple matter for me to leave the Society of Friends, to be thrown out of Meeting and cleave to you? How many times have you wondered whether I hid more than merely my witchcraft from you?”

Ichabod shook his head. “Never.”

“You are lying, Ichabod. I always could see a lie in your pretty eyes.” She reached one hand to his face, but her fingers stopped a half an inch away from his bearded cheek. “The inward light dims when you lie.”

Ichabod shook his head again, trying to dispel the maddening buzzing in his ears. “Are you alive or dead? I breathe, I walk—but you do neither.”

“Moloch holds me here against my will,” she said. “My body is dust. I could find another, if Moloch freed me—I might unchain my spirit from this form and tie it to another person’s flesh. But it would drive them out, Ichabod. It would sever their soul from their body.”

He recoiled. The distance between them seemed suddenly insurmountable, her rouged face demonic and leering. “Another person’s soul—! Katrina, you cannot do this thing.”

From far away, she reached out her arms helplessly. “Indeed I can not. Not while Moloch holds me here.” A light shone behind her, and her black-swathed body cast a long shadow across Ichabod’s face.

“Not even if we find a way to free you!”

She looked old, then, and very, very sad. “No, not even then, my love,” she said. “The only reason I would take such a course is for you, and you are already slipping away from me.”

Ichabod tried to say ‘no,’ tried to reach for her again—but she was right. He was slipping away from her, slipping on the leaves and detritus that littered the forest floor, falling, falling, falling and then waking.

The light was the sun, slanting through his open window. Someone was knocking at the door. He knew without looking that it was Lieutenant Mills. Who else would it be? The people of this time and place did not often come a-calling.

“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!” she caroled, as soon as she saw him stirring. Her face peeked between the blinds.

Do you have eggs and bacon concealed somewhere upon your person?” Ichabod asked, letting her in.

“Nope, but you could make us some.”

He glanced disdainfully at the wholly inadequate hearth. “I realize that someone, somewhere, understands the use of that infernal box you refer to as the ‘stove.’ However, I am not that person.”

“Perfect time to start.” Without asking permission, Abbie hauled open the door of the refrigerator and began rummaging around. “Have you been eating anything but yogurts and coffee?”

Strictly speaking, Ichabod had attempted to prepare a ‘Hungry-Man Pub Favorites Beer-Battered Chicken,’ which had been stored frozen and which package had informed him he need ‘simply cook and serve,’ but the experiment had not been a success. “I find yogurts to be both convenient and delicious,” he hedged. “They are the apotheosis of clabber.”


The stove’s functions were simple enough, once explained, though even Abbie had to admit that how the numbers one through ten on the dials were meant to correspond to ‘hot enough to warm,’ ‘hot enough to fry,’ and ‘hot enough to boil,’ et cetera was not obvious. The oven too required no arcane knowledge, though Ichabod could not help but test the timer (“digital,” Abbie said, though she had no explanation for what relationship it bore to one’s fingers) against his pocket-watch to ensure that it was correct.

The scent of bacon and eggs was heavenly in the confines of the cabin. “Shall I pour the beer then?” Ichabod asked.

Abbie looked at him as though he had sprouted another head. “It’s nine o’clock in the morning!”

“And we are having our breakfast, and traditionally food is accompanied by drink, therefore...”

“I bought you O.J.!”

“I am blissfully ignorant of what ‘O.J.’ might be.”

“Orange juice.”

He recalled the paper carton with garishly bright oranges painted across its sides. Orange juice. They had discussed it in the market, the supermarket, how today oranges were inexpensive enough to be eaten by anyone, how their juice was seen as a staple. He had assumed that she had meant that it was a common dessert, or a common additive to other foods. Apparently he had assumed incorrectly. “I still do not understand your aversion to beer.”

“I make a rule of not getting drunk before five unless the day is going really badly,” Abbie said. How would she behave, when she was intoxicated? Would it make her angry? Or bubbly, cheerful, happy? Would she touch him more or less?

“Drunkenness is for whisky, Lieutenant. I was speaking of a beverage for the purposes of our refreshment only.”

“Well, in this place and time, beer gets you drunk. We have water filters now. We don’t have to put booze in everything to make it safe to drink.”

“Is ‘O.J.,’ eggs, and bacon a common breakfast then?” he asked as he poured juice for them both, watching her face for a hint as to how much to serve. She gave no hints. He filled each glass to the brim.

Poking at the bacon, she snatched a piece from the hot pan with fingers alone. “Well, usually I just get coffee and donuts—you remember donut holes? But when you have a day off, for Sunday or something? Sure.” She looked pleased as punch to be eating bacon straight from the pan, but Ichabod did not doubt that if he tried to follow suit she would rap his knuckles smartly with her spatula.

“And is it a ‘day off,’ Lieutenant?”

She grinned at him. Her smile was contagious. He found himself smiling back like a loon, like someone who had not woken up hundreds of years away from his loved ones, from his family. He found himself smiling back as if he had not a care in the world. “Sure is. And I’ve got plans for you. We’re going to start teaching you to drive.”

#42 Stamford Ave., Brooklyn, NY. October 18, 2013.

Watson’s first impression of Winthrop Rockefeller Jr. was of overwhelming youth. He was a big, brawny kid, on the short side—but when he took off his safety-orange parka, she saw that there was a lot of muscle beneath the fat. His demeanor matched: a good ol’ boy, Watson thought.

“I don’t mind telling you that I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said, almost first thing. “Sorry, Mr. Holmes, Miss Watson.”

“Doctor Watson. And not believing in things is a very bad way to begin,” Holmes said. “I believe in everything until I can rule it out. Nevertheless. Tell us, please, why you are here, if you don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Well I’m not too proud to tell you that I made fun of Dr. Kim when she told me about the hellhounds,” Win said, “but this morning someone played a trick on me and I’d rather not have it happen again.” Digging in his jeans pocket, he brought out a slip of paper and slapped it down on the living room table. It was typed in a large font, easily readable from afar.

As you value your life, STAY AWAY FROM KYKUIT.

“Kykuit is the name of the big house at Pocantino Hills,” Kim explained fretfully.

Holmes ignored the note, rocking back and forth on his heels. “Tell me, Winthrop,” he said, popping the ‘p’ between his lips, “what exactly have you inherited from your great-uncle Rockefeller?”

“Some land and a whole lot of money,” Win said. “Like, five miles of land. Square.”

“And what were the other provisions of the will?”

“Some money went to Dr. Mortimer, some to the groundskeeper—Nick something—and some to one of Uncle Jacob’s bug friends. You know, she’s an entomologist, she was the only one who’d talk to him about that stuff. And some to a few charities. Not a lot, though, he gave away a lot of money when he was alive.”

“Have you made a will yourself?”

Win looked at him like he was crazy. “I’m not exactly going to die tomorrow.”

“But you are now a very wealthy young man. One of the wealthiest young men in the country.”

“I was rich before,” Win said. “Anyway, who would I leave it to? I’d be dead. Who cares?”

“Money is an excellent motive for murder.” Holmes was enjoying himself, Watson could see. Did Win remind him of the boys who had teased him in school, rich and athletic and carefree?

“Who’s talking about murder?” Win seemed genuinely surprised. “I thought we were talking about some not very funny practical jokes.”

“‘Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.’ But never mind. Dr. Mortimer, please tell me everyone who might possibly benefit from Mr. Rockefeller’s will, if young Winthrop were killed right now.”1

With a few interjections from Win, Dr. Mortimer described a family with few friends and fewer children, sketching a family tree on the back of a catalog.

A family tree.

It was surprising that Jacob Rockefeller had inherited the Rockefeller estate at all, because he was actually the third sibling in his family. His older sister, Abigail, was estranged from the family as a young woman: she’d married someone unsuitable (“His name was João Rabalo or Cabalo or something. João is Portuguese for John,” Win said, helpfully). In any case, none of her children were living. Jacob’s older brother, John Rockefeller III, died at the age of twelve, drowned on the Pocantino Hills property. Therefore, since Jacob never married, his heir was his younger brother Winthrop—and Winthrop’s son John Rockefeller IV, and then (when John died in a car crash a few years earlier) Win.

Under normal circumstances, there would be no one left to inherit from Win, should he die. But Jacob's will had been very specific with regard to Pocantino Hills. It could only be passed down to other descendants of Johann Rockenfeller. The next nearest descendant was a woman named Lisa McClintock. “And if you think she might be involved in the whole thing, I assure you she is not,” Dr. Mortimer said. “She lives in Maryland, and she’s an Episcopalian priest. She would do whatever Jacob—and then Win—wanted done with the estate. I’ve never met a more unassuming woman.”

Watson expected Holmes to jump on that, but he let it pass. Instead he turned to Win. “And what do you want to do with the estate?”

Win shrugged. “Depends what it’s like. I’ve never been there. I guess the house needs some work. I’ll probably fix it up over time. I’m going to law school in the fall, but I might live there when I’m done, if I get a job in New York.”

“Corporate law?”

“Civil liberties. Don’t need more money.”

“Hm.” Holmes cocked his head. “And what about the other people on the estate?”

“The other people?”

“Surely your uncle had some wishes as to who would remain living there.”

Win looked uncomfortable. “Well, Dr. Kim and I talked about it, and she’ll be moving on...”

“My work here is done,” Dr. Mortimer said, with a smile that didn’t quite convince.

“...and I’ll still need the groundskeeper. Probably always. He can stay where he is or move into Dr. Kim’s rooms, I don’t care. The entomologist, Erica, she’s in the will. She’s supposed to get to rent her house for a dollar a month until she finishes her research. That’s fine too. I don’t need three houses.”

“Admirable restraint,” said Holmes.

“But look, whoever is doing this, maybe they don’t know that I’m willing to let everything stay the same. Maybe the groundskeeper thinks I’m going to fire him. I just don’t want to wake up with a horse head in my bed or something.”

Watson rolled her eyes. “Okay. Sherlock may be dramatic, but I’m pretty sure we’re not dealing with the Mafia. You don’t need to worry about that.”

“I rule out no possibilities,” Holmes said gravely.

“Yeah, well, I do.”

“Anyway,” Win said, “I didn’t tell you the other thing that happened today. I went out to breakfast, and when I came back the hotel had that letter for me. It was in a plain white envelope. But someone had also been in my room and they’d taken one of my Sperries.”

“You brought Sperries to New York City in October?” Watson asked, amused.

Win shrugged. “I wore them on the plane, so I know I had both of them then. But the hotel can’t find it and neither can I. Who would steal one shoe?”

“Someone with a shoe fetish,” Holmes suggested.

That seemed to break the ice. Win stared at Holmes for a second, then burst out laughing. “A shoe fetish! The stinkier the better!”

“We can only hope,” Holmes said. “The alternatives are far more disturbing. Now. I am given to understand that you intend to travel to Pocantino Hills on the morrow? Very good. Watson and I shall join you.”

This time Holmes took the lead in ushering their clients out the door, holding it open in the most courtly—and pushy—possible manner. Once they were safely out, however, he ran back upstairs, pulling back the curtains to look through the top-floor window. Watson followed, curious.

As they watched, Win’s sleek blond head and Kim’s tousled brown one bobbed down the steps and out to the street. Win stopped—he’d caught his parka on the fence around the brownstone, and from his frustrated gestures they could see he’d ripped it. They walked past an idling cab, flagged down a free one, and disappeared from sight within its cushioned interior.

“Quite interesting, Watson. What did you see?” Holmes asked, after their cab had disappeared uptown.

“They were being followed,” she answered. “There was a young man in that stopped cab. African-American or Indian, I’d say, from his skin color. Really stubbly cheeks. I couldn’t see a lot of his face, but his shirt had a very wide, notched collar.”

“Excellent! But remember: anyone can change their skin tone with makeup. Do you recall that cab’s number?”

“No,” Watson had to admit.

“Never mind. I do. What do you make of the relationship between Win and Kim?” Holmes savored the slant-rhyme of the names.

Watson considered. “He’s attracted to her,” she said. “But she’s not interested, and he thinks she’s too old for him anyway.”

“Why do you say that?”

Watson shrugged. “Body language. And having encountered a few young twerps in my life. And I know Kim.”

“An imprecise art and personal experience are not enough on which to base your conclusions. Still, I agree with your summation. Too bad they will never get over their preconceived notions about socially acceptable lust. There are enough young women panting after elderly men in the world; it would create some balance in the universe...”

That was not exactly what Joan had meant about Kim not being interested, but she let it go. It was healthy for Sherlock to misunderstand things, every once in awhile. It gave her hope that he could not always see through her.

Sleepy Hollow Police Department, Sleepy Hollow, NY. October 19, 2013.

“The escapee is Rebecca Lufton, aged forty-one.” The woman in the photo on the briefing room screen was broad-shouldered and tall, wispy blonde hair scraped back into a tight and greasy ponytail. “It is unknown what time she escaped, though it is estimated at between ten and eleven this morning. The method of escape appears to be guard error.”

“Ah, excuse me, sir? What do you mean by guard error?” Officer Morales’ voice was full of humor.

“The prisoner obtained contraband civilian clothes,” Captain Irving said. “She walked out of the facility. Every joke that can be made has been made, Officer Morales. Feel free to remain silent.”2

Ichabod shifted in his seat. It seemed highly improper to speak out at such a gathering; he was hardly a member of the Sleepy Hollow Police Force, and no local militia enjoyed interlopers, he knew. Yet he had many questions. Lieutenant Mills had a notebook in her hands, with the tissue-thin lined paper which she preferred; commandeering it, he wrote:

How great is Mrs. Lufton's Debt?

Glancing at the page, Abbie wrinkled her brow and cast a curious glance at Ichabod. He paid rapt attention as Irving spoke of the ‘inner and outer perimeters’ and as she scribbled.

I don’t think she owes anyone money...??? If u mean her debt to society, she was in for life

Ichabod frowned.

If Mrs. Lufton owes no Money, why was she imprisoned? She has had her Trial; what was her Punishment?
OH!! The prison is her punishment. She killed someone, so she goes to prison for the rest of her life. We don’t have debt prison any more.

Ichabod blinked.

Then the Quakers and their kindhearted Ilk have truly won the day? The ultimate Penalty has been abolished and Retribution has given way to Reformation, the law of Moses to the law of Christ?

Lieutenant Mills had already transferred her attentions back to the briefing. “Sir, do we have any particular reason to believe Lufton might have made it as far as Sleepy Hollow?”

“We do not. Our role is to provide a show of force at key intersections and public transportation hubs within our jurisdiction, while the main focus of the investigation remains closer to the prison itself...”

We can have Criminal Justice 101 later, k?

Her admonition was fair. She had to carry out her duties, although he was not responsible for anything outside a narrowly supernatural purview. He resolved himself to spend his time in some fruitful manner: considering the many linguistic shifts that had occurred since he had fallen asleep, or perhaps observing Captain Irving’s use of the piece of plastic Mills referred to as a ‘laser pointer’ in order to someday learn to operate one himself.

Lieutenant Mills found these things second nature. There were days when General Washington, when Katrina, when Ichabod’s troops seemed more real than any of the strange materials and smells and sounds of the day-to-day twenty-first century did. The shadows of the past lay heavy on his vision, then, and seemed to obscure the Starbuckses and bicyclists and asphalt of today’s Sleepy Hollow. On those days Mills was his lodestone. The fundamental difference between times past and future was erased when they were together. She could guide him through, and he knew she would do it—today, tomorrow, even after he had thoroughly found his feet.

I know you’re bored. 5 more minutes.

Ichabod turned his head as though that would make the paper make more sense.3 Part of him wanted to brush the confusion off. Another part knew that those reactions only prolonged his agony. Finally he wrote,

I am not a Bore!

Abbie smiled.

Bored, not a bore. Unpleasantly idle. Suffering from ennui.
Are you accusing me of being French?

She giggled this time, and Ichabod sat back, pleased, waiting for Captain Irving to stop speaking, waiting for his Lieutenant to give him another modernity lesson.

On board a Metro-North train, NY. October 19, 2013.

The train from Grand Central Station to Tarrytown and on to Poughkeepsie runs every thirty minutes, sometimes more frequently. Boarding, one smells the ozone of a train station, the funk of hundreds of thousands of commuters going to and fro every day. The first few stops are urban as ever. Then it passes through industrial districts, then the suburbs. Running express, it races past stop after stop, the vast expanse of the Hudson out one window, the vaster expanse of the sky above.

Joan looked out over the hills, blazing with color on this sunny October morning. She felt the exhilaration and the agoraphobia of the lifelong city dweller: all this space! All these plants! For a moment, gravity seemed to let go of its hold, and the metal of the train car was the only thing keeping her grounded.

“Is your partner always like he was today?” Kim asked, out of the blue.

“Like what?”


Joan winced. ‘Changeable’ was a nicer term for ‘unreliable,’ and she would have been offended if the characterization wasn’t so completely accurate. Holmes had actually gone all the way to the Standard Hotel with her to meet Win and Kim, had accompanied them all the way uptown to Grand Central Station—then declined to buy a ticket. “I have been informed of a highly time-sensitive case of blackmail,” he had announced to their clients. “I shall join you in a few days. In the meantime, I leave you in Watson’s highly capable hands.”

“You haven’t seen the half of it,” she said.

“He is a genius, though, right?”

Something in Kim’s voice made Joan look at her, for a moment, not as a client but as a very old friend. Kim was by no means a beautiful woman, but she had such a compelling mobility to her features that it had never even occurred to Joan that anyone could think her ugly. When she spoke to patients she had a perfect balance of authority and deference; she could draw out personal information in five minutes that Joan would never be able to get in five years. Today, though, that deeply expressive, trustworthy face was betraying her. Her uncertainty was written all over it.

“Yes, Sherlock is a genius,” Joan told her. “He’s infuriating. I would not recommend him to anybody. But he’s a genius.”

“You wouldn’t shack up with anyone who wasn’t smart.”

“We’re not ‘shacking up.’ Honestly. Sherlock is just a friend.”

“We were ‘just friends,’ too.”

Joan closed her eyes. Kim’s voice was light, but she could feel the undercurrent of meaning. “That’s different. I was young. I was still trying to please my mother.”

“She must love your new career.”

“Actually, she does. She thinks I seem ‘fulfilled.’ And Sherlock can turn on the charm when he wants to. He just doesn’t do it very often.”

Kim bit her lip. Suddenly Joan remembered the other late nights in medical school—the ones with wine, not coffee. Kim’s lips always turned purple when she drank red wine. Kim bit them when she was stifling her feelings, when she was holding it in. Kim had bit her lip all through their time living together, had bit her lip when Joan’s mother had come over to see the apartment, had bit her lip when Joan had told her that the affair was over.

They had parted friends, and exchanged emails, and added each other on social networks. Joan had convinced herself that there was no more feelings between them that transgressed the bounds of any normal friendship. But Kim had bit her lip through all their partings.

Joan searched for another topic. Not Sherlock. Definitely not Mycroft. Not her family. Not Kim’s family. “You know we already have a lead.”


It had been a stupid thing to say, because there was nothing else she could say on the subject except “Yes, but I can’t tell you about it. I can’t tell anyone about it. You might accidentally let something slip, you know?”

“Sure,” Kim said. “Sure.” She turned carefully away and became conspicuously engrossed in the view: the creepy old Domino sugar factory, windows boarded up. Yonkers. Win, quietly snoring in the window seat. He seemed to have the ability to sleep anywhere.

Actually, their lead was probably why Holmes had so quickly decided not to go to Pocantino Hills. He had chivvied Joan out of the house early so that they could go review the Standard’s security camera footage. (“How are you going to get access to that stuff? That’s a nice hotel. They probably feel strongly about their guests’ privacy.” “I have my ways, Watson.” His ‘ways’ turned out to be bribery: one of the Standard’s security team was a pigeon fancier, and a Blue Bar Pigmy Pouter was involved. Joan firmly refused to hold the cage.) An hour’s work of fast forwarding and rewinding had confirmed their suspicions: the same stubble-cheeked young man who had followed Win and Kim had left the ‘stay away from Kykuit’ note at their hotel. His face was obscured, but that unfashionably wide collar was unmistakable.

That alone would hardly have inspired Holmes to flights of fancy, but the phone call they received shortly thereafter was carefully calibrated to drive him up a tree. It was the cab driver that had idled outside, calling them back after their attempts to get in contact through the cab company. His Jersey accent sounded doubly broad over the speakerphone as he told them that he’d picked the spy up outside the Standard, had driven him to Brooklyn, then waited outside #42 Stamford Avenue for an hour. They’d followed another cab back to a restaurant in the East Village, and when the spy had gotten out, he’d tipped well.

“Young guy,” the cabbie said, “maybe he was eighteen, I don’t know. Real young. Real heavy beard, though. He told me his name when he got out. It was real funny. ‘Sherlock Holmes.’”

In light of that conversation, it was almost understandable that Holmes might have wanted to stay in New York and try to pursue the spy further. It would have been more understandable if Joan had had any idea where he planned to begin, but as far as she could see, the trail was cold. With no name and no clear picture, how could he find a particular person in all of Manhattan?

By the time the train finally trundled under the Tappan Zee bridge and into Tarrytown, Watson had made up her mind to ignore Holmes’ inconstancies and just focus on the case. Win woke up moments before they came to Tarrytown station, which seemed perfectly natural in him: he had been given every possible advantage in the world, so why not good timing too?

The station was like any other on the Hudson line, not particularly quaint but very old; however, as they dragged their bags down the platform, several very visibly armed policemen gave them searching glances. Another clutch of police were sipping coffee and shooting the shit under the train station’s awning. “Is that normal?” Joan asked Kim.

“No,” Kim said. “Hold on. I’ll find out what’s going on. —Abbie!”

The shortest policewoman under the awning turned at the name. “Hey, Kim,” she said. “Who’s this?”

“Winthrop Rockefeller, our new neighbor. And my old friend Joan Watson, here for a visit. Win, Joan—Lieutenant Abbie Mills of the Sleepy Hollow police department, literally the only person I know in town who doesn’t live at Pocantino Hills.”

Abbie raised her eyebrows. “This about the old man dying?”

Kim looked sheepish. “How’d you know?”

“Watson? As in Watson and Holmes? We hear things from the NYPD sometimes. All good, about you, but your partner’s a real piece of work, yeah?”

There was no possible answer to that but a helpless shrug. Joan shrugged helplessly.

“So what’s with the SWAT team?” Kim asked.

Abbie laughed. “SWAT team? These fools? Right. The reason we’ve moved our donut feast to the train station is there’s a prisoner escaped from Bedford Hills. We’re out here in the off chance she got this far. You guys still got all that security at Pocantino?”

“We’ve got the wall, and there’s a guard during the day. What were they in prison for?”

“Murder,” Abbie said. “Her name is Rebecca Lufton. Had a cocaine problem, killed her dealer, in for life. Blonde hair, five foot eight, big woman. Do me a favor and keep an eye out.”

Kim nodded. “So you’re on high alert? No time for anything else?”

“Well, if you had something else for me to do...

“Can you come show Joan where Mr. Rockefeller died, tomorrow?”

“Is there anything to show? —Never mind. Sure. I could use the break from all-day Lufton-watch.”

“Isn’t Bedford Hills kind of far from here?” Joan asked, once they’d settled on meeting the next afternoon and let Abbie get back to her strenuous coffee-drinking and passenger-examining.

“About fifteen miles north,” Kim explained. “They probably think she stole a car. Speaking of which, here’s ours.” She had arranged for the groundskeeper to leave her sensible little economy car in the parking lot for them (”There’s a couple cars that go with the estate, too, and I thought Joan could use one of them while she was here—as long as you can drive stick?”) and she drove them up Route 9 and onto a narrow highway called Bedford Road.

Outside the quaint streets of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, the road wound through forests and forests and forests, trees arching over the road to enclose it almost entirely. The sun was setting, early now that it was October, and as they moved away from the houses of the town the darkness seemed to close in on them like a thick black blanket. The road’s white and yellow lines streamed ahead of them. Win pressed his forehead to the window and watched the darkened scenery go by with fascinated intensity.

The entrance to the Rockefeller family estate was nestled a quarter-mile back from the road, and they had to park the car and unchain the gate themselves at this hour. Then there was another three miles to drive along unpaved carriage roads, the woods still pressing in on them on either side. The wind whistled eerily. Joan was glad when Kim turned on the radio and Miley Cyrus started warbling about how “you came in like a wreck-ing ball!” That, and the hum of the engine propelling them forward, helped remind her that they hadn’t gone back in time, that they were not driving further and further away from civilization but in fact towards Dr. Mortimer’s house and towards the house in which Win might very well live for the rest of his life.

Then, suddenly, the house was there.

When Joan had heard of it, had understood that it was an old family seat built in the 1890s, she had imagined something built in the proper style of the Gilded Age. Kykuit was not like that at all. It huge, yes, but it seemed the model from which millions of subdivisions all over America with names like 'Colonial Pines' and 'Washington’s Hills' had been built. It looked formal, stiff, and closed.

Hocus Pocus,” Win said. He was right. You could almost see Bette Midler flying in on a vacuum cleaner and landing on the roof. Halloween was coming soon.

“You must be Winthrop!” A tall man had stepped from the shadow of the portico into the light still cast by Kim’s car’s headlamps. He took Win’s and Joan’s bags from them. “Welcome to Kykuit,” he said. He was broadly built, olive-skinned, no older than Joan. His dark hair and five o’clock shadow made him look roguish, an impression reinforced by a single earring in the shape of a silver star. “We’ve emailed. I’m the groundskeeper, Nick. Barrymore.”

“Right! Yeah, I’m Winthrop.”

“And this is Joan,” Kim added.

“Pleased to meet you.”

Nick carried the bags inside and plunked them down just inside the door. “I didn’t know what you’d want to eat or when, but I stocked the fridge,” he said. “I’m in the last bedroom on the left, upstairs. Kim’s in the one two doors down. There’s only the one bathroom upstairs, in the middle. Internet info’s on the fridge.”

“You can really imagine someone living here in the seventeen-hundreds, can’t you?” Win said, looking around. “It’s so...”

Creepy, Joan wanted to say, but she didn’t think that was appropriate. The front door led them into an entrance hall that was little more than a corridor; stairs dominated her first impression. The ceiling was low and the darkly aged hardwood floors didn’t make the room feel any less stifling. Portraits hung on either wall, the oldest nearest to the front door, marching down through the years in an unbroken line. “It feels so historical,” Joan said. “Very rich. Very family.”

“Your great-grandmother hung these paintings,” Kim told Win. “Here’s your great-grandfather.” His portrait was almost at the end of the hall, painted in a soft-focus style that didn’t match his surroundings at all. Still, he was a striking man: strong jaw, square forehead, deep-set eyes that seemed older than the rest of her face, a halo of blond hair softening the effect of such harsh features.

“You look like him,” Joan said, which was true, particularly in terms of coloring.

“Yep. Anyone hungry?” Win asked, jovially. “Doc?”

“Not me,” Kim said. “I’m for bed.”

“Not even some tea?” Joan asked.

“No,” Kim said firmly. “Remember, tomorrow we’re going to go over the scene of Jacob’s death at one o’clock. Good night.”

Joan watched her climb up the stairs, her hips swinging. She knew she had an audience. Kim had always been like that.

“Well, looks like it’s just you and me,” Win said. “Let’s get to it!”

The kitchen was only a little more modern than the rest of the house. It had been built to accommodate parties—three ovens, a six-burner stove—but it had been most recently remodeled in the 1950s, and though Barrymore obviously took good care of it, nothing could change its pastel enamel. In the cupboards there was the kind of food Joan associated with bachelorhood: canned food, saltines, trail mix. The fridge held beers, eggs, single-slice American cheese and a forlorn-looking package of Fresh-n’-Easy salad. She let Win make them grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soups, watched as he knocked over the saltshaker and threw a pinch over his shoulder.


Win laughed. “Not really. Better safe than sorry. This house is fuckin’—pardon—freakin’ creeptacular.”

“I’m not your Mom.”

“You’re still a lady,” Win said, sheepishly. “Anyway, it’s a good thing Kim went upstairs, yeah? This is her home. It’s just a really old, weird, in the middle of nowhere home.”

Joan shrugged, taking a delicate bite of her sandwich. “She hasn’t lived here very long. She probably thinks it’s weird too.”

“Uncle Jacob didn’t. He loved this place.”

Joan raised an eyebrow. “I thought he didn’t spend a lot of time here?”

Win shrugged. “Didn’t have to. He made up for it by talking about it. Old family seat and everything. Well, I’m stuck with it now.”

When they finished eating, he disappeared upstairs, claiming a room and claiming that he was tired. She thought she could hear the sounds of Call of Duty coming from under his door. Well, whatever.

Kim’s door was also resolutely shut. Joan stood outside it for a long time, wondering whether she should knock. Kim had practically waved the red flag in front of the bull, walking upstairs with that swing in her hips. But then, who was it directed at? And was it even intentional? And if she did knock, then what did she expect to happen—a friendly chat? A night of passionate fucking?

No. If Kim wanted to talk, Kim would have to make the first move herself. Joan picked out her own bedroom, closest to the center of the house, and withdrew for the night.

Cell phone reception was patchy in Pocantino Hills, so she resorted to Skype to try and get in touch with Holmes. She’d watched three illegally-downloaded episodes of NCIS before he answered.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked.

“No,” she said.


“Turn the video on, Holmes. I want to see your face when I’m talking to you.”

“I am afraid that will be quite impossible. I am currently using my smartphone, not a computer, which universally results in nausea-inducing shakycam. Additionally, I am nude.”


“You would not accept any less of an excuse.”

“Okay, why don’t you call me back when you aren’t naked?”

“Very well, Watson, but tell me this: Have you learned anything?”

“I’ve learned that I don’t like Skyping with you.”

“An excellent start.”

Later that night, lying in an uncomfortable bed, it occurred to Joan that she did not have to stay at Pocantino Hills. She could go back to New York. She could move out of the brownstone and never see Holmes again. Or she could just go to a hotel, like a normal person.

She heard a soft noise from somewhere outside the house, like somebody crying. It stopped, started again, stopped for good. The wind.

It occurred to her that Nick Barrymore had dark olive skin and a very stubbly face.

Then she fell asleep.

Pocantino Hills Estate, outside Sleepy Hollow, NY. October 20, 2013.

Joan woke up to discover that the sun was out. Their distance from civilization suddenly seemed like a blessing: she could hear birds singing, could smell the freshness of the air. Even the low ceilings didn’t seem so gloomy. The house, she decided, was like the subject of a Vermeer. The light was what made it beautiful.

Win was awake before her. He suggested that they go out for a walk: Nick had left before sunrise to meet the grounds crews that were preparing the estate for winter, and Kim was still holed up in her room. Good. No room for awkwardness if they didn’t have to see each other.

The beautiful day made Joan more enthusiastic about nature than normal, and they rambled down the long sloping hill and across a field to the woods. Win suggested that they go cross-country, but Joan insisted on sticking to the roads. Pocantino Hills was far wilder than she had believed possible, and even though she had packed her most sensible clothes, she wasn’t prepared to bushwhack.

Even staying on beaten paths, they quickly found themselves turned around. The woods weren’t dense, but there were many confusing little trails, none of them well-maintained. The leaves were just coming down, making the ground treacherous but not yet affording good sight-lines through the bare branches. Win seemed to know what he was doing, but Joan couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious as they got farther and farther from the house. It was beautiful, the orange leaves and the darker patches of green bushes, the soft breeze, the faraway sound of a brook, but it was foreign to her. She could imagine being a settler, coming from England or Holland, and finding these ancient woods—vast, initially welcoming, but deceptively dangerous.

How long would it take an ambulance to get out here? She wondered. Of course, that was assuming that your cell phone worked well enough to call 911.

The illusion that they were the only people in the world was so strong that Joan almost jumped when she saw a figure crouching in the bushes a few feet off the path. Win saw her too, and called out. “Erica?”

The figure straightened up, and Joan could see her properly: a tall brown-skinned woman with a shaved head, a strong jaw, deep dark eyes. She was dressed for a hike, and in one hand she held a specimen bottle with a huge beetle squirming inside. “Who’s that?”

“Sorry—you don’t know me. But Uncle Jacob talked a lot about you. I’m Winthrop Rockefeller.”

Uneasiness flashed across the woman’s face for a split second before her features resolved into a smile. “Erica Carvalho.”

“Joan Watson.”

“Erica was Uncle Jacob’s protégée,” Win said. “She’s the naturalist.”

“Beetles-R-Us,” Erica said. “Your one stop shop for creepy crawlies. Kim told me you were coming, but I didn’t think I’d see you out here.”

“Exercise,” Win said, patting his belly.

“Getting the feel of the place,” Joan said.

“Sleuthing? Finding clues? Who could the mysterious creepy-mailer be?” Erica laughed. “If I were you, I’d worry more about the actual curse on the Rockefellers than about that.”


“Yeah. Jacob knew all about it, he just didn’t believe in it, and look what happened to him, right?”

Watson cocked her head. “I thought it was a forgotten legend.”

“Not here. You can ask Nick about it if you want, or the historical society over in Sleepy Hollow. Everyone knows that that’s why the Rockefeller men never stay in Kykuit for long.” Erica turned back to her beetle, examining it carefully through the glass of the specimen jar. “So who’s your suspect?”

“I can’t talk about an ongoing investigation,” Watson said. “What’s the bug?”

Nicrophorus americanus,” Erica said, “the American Burying Beetle. This one’s out pretty late in the season. He ought to be hibernating by now. They’re carrion eaters. But you can’t be fooled. There’s only a few kinds of beetle that care for their young, and Nicrophorus americanus is one of them. Real family guys. Plus they’re endangered, so stay on the path, will you? You don’t want to step on any.” Erica opened the specimen bottle and let the beetle climb out onto her hand, then picked her way across the forest floor over to where Joan and Win stood, showing them her prize. It was almost two inches long, with a shiny black body and distinctive orange markings.

“Beautiful.” Joan was being honest. It was beautiful—beautiful and alien, like Sherlock’s bees.

“Now it’s time for him to go back where he came from,” Erica announced, and knelt to let the beetle trundle off her hand and down to a waiting log covered in twining vines. “Go hibernate! Don’t freeze to death, silly!”

“You always talk to them?” Win asked.

Erica flushed. “Well, not to every species. Mostly just to Nicrophorus americanus. They’re so big and smart...”

“Regular Einsteins?”

“For a beetle!” She stood and brushed the mulch off her knees. “Now, where are you headed?”

“Nowhere, really,” Win said. “Anywhere.”

“We ought to be getting back, actually,” Joan countered.

“Well, you can come with me,” Erica said. “I’ll show you a loop that will take you back to Kykuit. It’s on my way back home.”

She kept up a running patter with Win as Joan let them walk ahead, advocating for the expansion of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, warning him against falling into hidden wetlands if he ever went off-trail. Win was rapt. Preserve us from young men who fall in love with every woman they meet!

“If you take this path, it’s a smooth little loop for a morning run,” Erica said. “You get up to the top of the hill and the sun rises over the forest...”

“Tomorrow morning I’ll go for sure,” Win quickly agreed.

The leaves crunched satisfyingly under Joan’s feet as they climbed a rise and jumped over a fast-running stream. There were fewer orange-leaved oaks and more yellow-leaved birches, and the forest was less thick. Erica was telling a sob story about why she had left Columbia for Pocantino Hills. Win nodded sympathetically. Joan let herself tune them out.

It seemed like barely any time at all before the path opened up and they were back on the main carriage road that they’d driven up the previous night. A car was parked in a little turnout. “This is me,” Erica told them. “My house is about a quarter mile up that way. Not a fun hike when you’re carrying groceries, let me tell you. Drop in anytime—just not after dark. I don’t want the hellhounds to get you!”

Her tone was jocular, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Joan watched her carefully as her dull green anorak disappeared up the trail among the trees.