To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
"Death…" Joan had to pause and gather herself to conclude, "magic?"
"Not here, Joan," Ms. Hudson said, her face pinched with worry.
To Joan, a bee failing to alight on a corpse did not register as strange, especially given what she and Sherlock had worked on the last two years. Not so for the Quintarians. Ms. Hudson's urgent, middle-of-the-night text had roused the Temple and been met with a flurry of texts and a whispered call Ms. Hudson had taken in the hallway. By the time they returned Curtis Atherton's corpse to his temporary rest in the chilly drawer, thanked the night attendant at the City morgue for not seeing anything during their visit, and exited the building, a white Prius with darkly tinted windows was waiting in the street.
The driver nodded to them and hurried to open the passenger side front door for Ms. Hudson before Sherlock could.
"Thank you for coming so quickly," Ms. Hudson murmured, clutching her bag with the jar and five sacred bees.
"Thank you, Ms. Hudson, for alerting us so promptly."
Joan glanced at Sherlock and he nodded slightly. He had heard the inflections as she had. The driver was higher up in the Temple hierarchy than Ms. Hudson, even though, given his wrinkled khakis and white t-shirt, he had either been sleeping in his clothes or was still wearing them from the day before. He was 40ish, middle-aged, no taller than she was and heavy for his height. It was hard to tell in the poor light but from his accented English, features, and skin tone, Joan thought he was Mestizo, possibly from Nicaragua or Honduras, yet Quintarian rather than Catholic. There was surely an interesting story there.
"Joan, Sherlock this is Archdivine Baez."
The Head of the Bastard's Order looked like a rumpled professor. As Sherlock was stiff with disapproval, Joan put out her hand. "Joan Watson."
"Doctor, thank you for your assistance."
"I won't be driven off this time," Sherlock said, pulling away before Baez could offer his hand.
"Of course not," Baez replied mildly.
At his broad gesture and proffered open door, Ms. Hudson slid into the passenger side front seat.
She and Sherlock climbed into the back and Baez smoothly moved the car into the northbound traffic.
"Death magic?" Joan repeated. "Is that a metaphor?"
"No," Ms. Hudson replied, just as Sherlock said, "A tenet of the Quintarian faith." Pointedly, he added, "A very secretive one that the Temple prohibits exploration of."
"Yes, about that," Joan began. "Sherlock, before we have a conversation about something called magic, I need to know, how did, how could, the Temple force you off a case?"
Sherlock leaned forward and nervously tapped his fingers on his knees. "There are Quintarians throughout English law enforcement. From chief inspectors within Scotland Yard, to local constables, Crown prosecutors, private barristers, judges, magistrates, many are lay dedicats to the Father's Order."
It was not something she had ever considered but Joan found herself nodding, making the logical connections. "I know that people in the National Health Service often worship the Mother." No, that was too strong. "Respect the Mother," she settled upon.
"Dedicats to the Mother have been ministering to patients since the Romans left Britain," Ms. Hudson said.
"I believe surgical scrubs are often green because the Mother's physicians first wore that color," Sherlock replied. "In much the same way, there is a strong veneration of the Father in law enforcement. Justice," he added forcefully with a glare at Baez.
"So you were part of the Father's order?" Joan asked.
Ms. Hudson and Baez both snorted.
"A reasonable conclusion, Watson, as the Father and I are both concerned with administration of justice and genital functions. The Father's Order was indeed the path my own father had expected me to follow…"
"Your father is a…"
Sherlock nodded vigorously. "A lay dedicat in the Father's Order."
On that basis alone, Sherlock's hostility to Quintarian power structures could be explained.
"Mycroft dedicated himself to the Son, logical given his career in opening poshly over-rated and over-priced restaurants, and also a clue, in retrospect, to his involvement with MI-6. But, as for me, what is the one thing that makes me utterly unique and indeed elevates me above virtually all others?"
"Your superior intellect," she answered blandly.
Sherlock's raging ego, as always, didn't acknowledge her sarcasm.
"The Lady of Spring loves her sharp-edged tools," Ms. Hudson said.
"My schooling, begun in one of the Son's academies – rigid, militaristic, unpleasant places – swiftly moved to the very stimulating environment of the Daughter's schools, where, I admit, I flourished."
"I've never thought you were religious," Joan admitted. Ministering to patients and families of the sick and dying, she was, of course, very familiar with the varieties of deistic experience in New York. She'd had a basic Western religions class in college – admittedly thin on Quintarians – and another course on faith and alternative healing with guest lecturers in med school. She and Sherlock meditated but that was the extent of both of their observances. "I've never seen you practice any devotion."
"As you would surmise, I do not currently follow any deistic belief system, though much of my early education occurred in one. In the Daughter's institutes of learning there is ample room for rigorous inquiry wholly unimpeded by superstition and myth. I found teachers and colleagues of formidable intellect who were worthy of respect and who, in turn, respected me and encouraged my eclectic interests and passions."
Joan suspected the Daughters ran lax schools and allowed students to get out of assignments if they could think of clever ways to circumvent them.
"And death magic?"
"Strongly discouraged," Ms. Hudson said sternly.
"Death magic is a Quintarian belief that one may invoke the Bastard's death demon and pray a person to death. And you perceive the advantages, Watson. You wish someone dead from a respectful distance while enjoying an irrefutable alibi and…"
"Oh for Bastard's sake, Mr. Holmes, it doesn't work that way!" Baez erupted.
"Of course it doesn't," Joan retorted. "A murderer uses a real instrumentality, like a gun or tire iron, not divine intervention."
"To the credit of the Temple, that was indeed the operating assumption, Watson. Whilst a student at the Daughter's Academy in London and in my early years consulting for the Yard, I was called in to assist in the Temple investigations of what purported to be, but most assuredly never were, instances of supposed death magic. Sometimes, I discerned a natural and wholly unremarkable cause; in other cases, I concluded that it was exceedingly unlikely the Bastard's demon required ricin or, as you would say, a blunt instrument to the skull, to kill a man or woman."
"So, no death magic."
"Never an instance that left no conclusion save supernatural causes. This went on for some years until there was a case that defied my normal methods, to the extent I was permitted to pursue them."
Sherlock's voice turned pointedly and harshly brittle and Joan repeated his words of earlier in the morgue, "And the Temple made you walk away from it."
"Indeed. A most tragic case – a corrupt judge who deprived innumerable individuals of the freedom and property justice entitled them to. He choked to death in open court in front of twenty witnesses."
"A rare poison not tested for in the ordinary autopsy screens," Joan responded. "Previously undiagnosed allergy or heart condition."
"All systematically eliminated. A judge you know," Sherlock said bitterly. "The death of even the most venal is thoroughly investigated and there was a host of possible suspects. I identified a promising young woman – the judge had been compensated by her brutal assailant's wealthy family for a highly favorable sentence – and…"
Joan noticed that both Ms. Hudson and Baez had become tensely quiet.
"Someone found her first and extracted their revenge. She was murdered, horribly and ritualistically, and her body was left to be eaten by rats in an abandoned dockyard."
Sherlock smacked the front seat. "And as soon as I found her body, the Temple pulled me off the case, sent me home with a patronizing pat on the head, a large cheque which I threw back at them, of course, and the guarantee that if I pursued the case, I would be hearing from their rapacious solicitors."
"Mr. Holmes, anger is understandable," Baez said. "I will do everything I can to see that we achieve a different outcome this time."
"But your loyalties are first to Temple oaths," Sherlock said.
Baez needlessly signaled to change from one empty lane to another. "I serve my god, Mr. Holmes. The Temple serves Him."
"This is not an assurance, Archdivine."
"We are united in the goal of seeing a murderer dispatched."
Joan thought Baez's phrasing odd – "dispatched" sounded suspiciously not like apprehending a murderer and seeing him or her tried in court and jailed.
Joan tried another tack. "Ms. Hudson, I had thought that the purpose of the sacred animals was to sign which god had taken the deceased's soul."
"It is, Joan."
"You all have had much more experience with this ritual than I have, but have you ever before seen what happened tonight, where that sign didn't appear?"
"No," Sherlock replied, and thoughtfully tapped his fingers. "Never."
With silence from the front seat of the car, Joan now pursued the question to its logical conclusion.
"Theologically, what does it mean to a Quintarian if the sacred animals make no sign?"
Ms. Hudson glanced at Baez.
"An excellent question, Doctor Watson. Mr. Holmes, did you attend enough theology to recall?"
"I was usually in the chemistry laboratories. I read old, apocryphal accounts that even where death magic was attributed to be the cause of death, still the sacred animals signed the final repose of the deceased."
Baez signaled right, slowed the car, and they pulled into an alley. They were on the Upper West side, but not at the Quintarian Temple in Morningside Heights. The Archdivine keyed a number into a controller and a garage door slowly opened. Light from the garage spilled out into the alley.
Baez pulled the car into one of the empty spaces – the Prius ridiculously out of place amongst the Jaguar, BMW, and Range Rover.
As the garage door glided shut, the Archdivine sighed heavily and turned off the car. "By the testimony of the sacred bees, no god took Curtis Atherton's soul. As such, a Quintarian would conclude that when Mr. Atherton shrugged off this mortal coil, his body died but his soul did not depart this world."
Ms. Hudson sucked in a worried breath. "I was afraid of that…"
"What does it mean?" Joan pressed, adding for necessary clarification, "To a Quintarian?"
"It means that Curtis' soul is still here," Baez said.
"And that someone is likely making use of it," Ms. Hudson concluded.
In anticipation of Sherlock's quiz later, Joan noted the cars in the garage. The alarm on the Jag was more expensive than useful and the Range Rover was locked down tight and not worth the effort.
"Archdivine, why are we in the garage of Grace Cho's apartment?"
"Curtis' girlfriend!" Joan exclaimed, now looking about carefully for clues other than the security systems on luxury cars. "Her phone said she was out of town and not picking up messages." They had planned to interview her.
"She won't be returning," Sherlock said. "She never left."
Joan now saw the telltale tracks of an ambulance gurney in the grease of the garage floor. Sherlock had undoubtedly seen other clues. Yet, there was no crime scene tape, no chalk marks, nor anything else to indicate the area had been investigated. Even the garbage cans were undisturbed. "You didn't notify the police before removing her body?" What had they gotten themselves into?
"Grace was and her family is Quintarian," Baez said, sounding tired. "Her mother found her yesterday morning and, given the circumstances, notified the Temple. Her body was taken to the Columbia Medical Center where a Mother's physician will examine it and rule it a suicide by asphyxiation with a plastic bag."
"How convenient," Sherlock snapped. "You have also likely broken a dozen New York laws in tampering with a…"
"Mr. Holmes, would you please stop talking, put your justified anger aside, and listen. We very much need you and Doctor Watson, urgently. It is an enormously fortuitous coincidence that you sought Ms. Hudson's assistance just as we learned of Grace's death. Being able to link the two deaths so quickly has saved us critical time."
"There's nothing coincidental about this at all." Ms. Hudson sounded as if she was gently schooling the Archdivine.
Baez exhaled a little harrumph of agreement. "True. Thank the Bastard."
"He says you are welcome."
"You edited that, Ms. Hudson. He is never that polite to me."
Ms. Hudson reached into the car for her bag but Baez stopped her. "I recommend leaving the sacred bees here. This will likely be unsettling for them, and I believe that Grace needs your help more than theirs."
Joan put aside for the moment how a dead person needed the help of an Archdivine and Acolyte of the Bastard, and that they were speaking of the god as if he was in the garage with them. She and Sherlock followed Baez into the building and up to the third floor of a fashionably renovated brownstone. The building reminded Joan anew how the brownstone she and Sherlock shared needed updated wiring and plumbing.
Baez unlocked the door with his own set of keys. "You are not even concerned with contaminating a crime scene," Sherlock snapped.
"No, I'm not. By all means, take your usual precautions if you wish."
Baez pushed open the door.
Ms. Hudson started and exclaimed, "Oh Bastard!" though it sounded like an invocation and not an oath. She pushed past them, hurried into the apartment, and stopped, holding out her hand, suspending it in mid-air. "You poor thing. I'm so sorry."
"Even my meager Sight was correct then," Baez said and followed Ms. Hudson into the apartment's living room. "I am so glad you are here."
Joan pulled on a pair of latex gloves; Sherlock was doing the same. Apart from the peculiar drama featuring Ms. Hudson and Baez talking to thin air about nothing, a large bay window and seat drew her attention first – they had the trappings and solemnity of a homebuilt shrine.
With Baez's suporting arm, Ms. Hudson knelt in front of the makeshift altar and the Archdivine joined her.
"What are they doing?" Joan whispered to Sherlock.
"I do not know, Watson. I have never seen this before. Whatever it actually is, they both obviously believe it."
"If we are here, You are, too," Ms. Hudson said.
"Go in peace, Grace," Baez said. "They await you."
Joan caught a faint scent of flowers; Sherlock rubbed his nose. "The scent is of lilac and grape hyacinth, both spring flowers that bloom in shades of blue and purple."
Baez and Ms. Hudson both signed themselves in the Quintarian fashion. Sherlock stepped forward to help Ms. Hudson rise.
"What did you just do?" Joan asked.
"We believe we just provided a bridge to help Grace Cho's sundered soul find her way to the Lady of Spring."
Joan appreciated the Archdivine's precise wording. He wasn't assuming that she believed what they did, or demanding that she do so.
Sherlock was intently studying the altar set up on the window seat – there were stubs of burnt candles and splattered wax, a kitchen knife smeared with dried blood, a shattered white porcelain dish still sticky with blood, feathers scattered and sticking out everywhere, and a spray of blood across a blue cushion. Joan noticed a recently and hurriedly cleared space in the corner by the window – dust, wood shavings, more feathers, and scuffs on the wood floor. Grease tracks from the gurney went from the door to the window seat and back again. There were many marks from at least four different pairs of shoes all over the floor – it would be a hopeless mess for any crime scene analyst.
"There was a bird cage with Zebra finches. And another cage with rodents. Rats, by any chance?"
Sherlock's voice had become strained and tense.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Mr. Holmes is recalling that there was an altar very like this one in the warehouse where he found Emma Jones' body and on that altar there was also a black and white bird with a broken neck and a rat with her throat cut. Though you have already surmised the answer, yesterday we removed the bodies of a bird and a rat sacrificed on this altar, as well as cages with live finches and rats. The blood you see is the rat's."
Sherlock looked again at the altar, eyes narrowing. "Archdivine, are you suggesting Grace Cho used death magic to kill her boyfriend?"
"No," Ms. Hudson said decisively. "The souls don't add up."
"I agree, Ms. Hudson, though Grace surely died while in the middle of the ritual."
"Yes, but Grace didn't kill herself," Ms. Hudson said, studying the bookshelves sagging under the weight of theology texts. "She was murdered."
Sherlock was moving from one angle to another around the window seat, flailing his arms and nearly hitting Baez in the head. The Archdivine wisely stepped out of Sherlock's way. Joan could see Sherlock was examining the patterns of the broken dish, blood, feathers, and wax for signs of a struggle. Baez had said the cause of Grace's death was asphyxiation. Despite what Ms. Hudson said (and how did she know?), Joan didn't think this looked like the scene of a violent murder by strangulation. Apart from the mess around the window, nothing else in the apartment had been broken or disturbed. The Temple or Grace's family might have cleaned, but they had left the altar untouched except for removing the sacrificed animals and hadn't swept up the debris around the cages or scrubbed away the grease marks from the gurney wheels.
Though, the broken bowl meant something had gone wrong. If Grace had been in the middle of a religious ritual, maybe her assailant had surprised her and she had dropped it. From the examination, Curtis probably would have had the strength to strangle someone, especially if Grace had been kneeling and Curtis had come up from behind. They needed to find out if he'd had a key to the apartment and if his car had been in the garage. There was no sign of forced entry on the door, but they should examine it more carefully. There was also the building's security footage – she and Sherlock had both seen cameras in the garage and foyer. They would be able to determine when Grace last came to the apartment and when other suspects came and left after that. They needed to examine Grace's body.
"Ms. Hudson's supposition of murder could be consistent with the evidence thus far presented, though that analysis is confounded by all of you tromping through here like elephants." Sherlock picked himself up off the floor from where he had been squinting at the baseboards and under the furniture. "I do not understand why the Temple is putting forth convoluted theories of magic and mystery when the most logical explanation is a lover's quarrel ending with Curtis Atherton murdering Grace Cho and then committing suicide. Most of this can be easily confirmed with review of the apartment's security footage and proper examination of Grace Cho's body by someone without a religious agenda."
The Archdivine nodded at a book Ms. Hudson withdrew from the shelves and held out for his inspection, Little Brothers Of The Bastard.
"The reason is that we believe that the agent who caused both deaths is still at large," Baez said.
"And will certainly kill again," Ms. Hudson added, returning the book to a different shelf.
"On what basis do you make these suppositions?" Sherlock directed his challenge to Baez. "Even if we uncover evidence that a third actor murdered Grace Cho -- a question I do not believe the Temple is motivated to answer given how you have handled this thus far -- how could that person have also persuaded Curtis Atherton to drive his car into a concrete barrier at 80 miles an hour?"
"If one assumes, as Quintarians do, that the miracle of justice is real…"
Sherlock jumped upon the term before Joan could. "Miracle of justice?"
"That's the proper theological term for death magic, Sherlock," Ms. Hudson said.
"Recall the case of Judge Tomcalito and poor Emma Jones," Baez said. "You saw it as an unsolved case where Emma's murderer went free. The Temple viewed the matter as Emma's successful invocation of death magic which resulted in a divine judgment upon the corrupt Judge Tomcalito."
"Hardly a miracle of justice when the victim dies," Joan retorted. "Emma was a victim twice."
"Unfortunate and tragic. Also, regrettably, the result of successful death magic, and possibly also the origin of the phrase in popular speculative fiction that 'magic always carries a price.' Save the case of Judge Tomcalito and Emma Jones, every case you consulted upon, Mr. Holmes, for which the Temple remains grateful, was an attempt to use a poorly understood conception of death magic to conceal what you properly identified as murder."
"But how can you be sure Emma wasn't murdered when you did not allow me to continue my investigation?"
"Mr. Holmes, at what point is enough, enough? In a world of ever-expanding technology and Google, would you have ever been able to eliminate all possibilities, leaving only the thing which must be taken on faith? Standing here, today, are you prepared to say you would have eventually been satisfied with the explanation that the Bastard's death demon killed Judge Tomcalito and took Emma Jones' life in payment? The Temple was satisfied and we keep public information about death magic and other mysteries as limited as possible for very good reasons evident right here in this room."
"It's what I was referring to before, Sherlock, that there is information about death magic that is never revealed to anyone outside the Bastard's clergy, and why I could not speak of it at the morgue." Ms. Hudson said, moving more books around. Joan thought she was surreptitiously reorganizing the collection. "The Temple keeps the miracle of justice secret especially to protect those who are unjustly wronged and try to take matters into their own hands."
"Because they might succeed and the cost is too high," Baez said.
"You expect us to believe that death magic…" Joan began.
"A miracle of justice," Baez interrupted.
"Doctor Watson, I surely do not need to expound to you upon the ability of some individuals to be extraordinarily successful in manipulating others and the power of a strongly held belief to alter one's actions and perception of reality?"
Joan didn't think death by suggestion was an improvement over death by magic spell. "Are you suggesting that Curtis killed Grace and then himself because he believed someone was making him do it?"
"I believe that known science and documented case studies allow you and Mr. Holmes to potentially reach such a conclusion."
Why did Baez feel he needed to give them an "out?"
"Mr. Holmes, Doctor Watson, we do not ask you to accept these things as real. We ask you to accept that Quintarians believe in them and so we watch very carefully those who access online sources and libraries to research death magic and other things potentially far more injurious. Grace came to the Temple's attention last week and unfortunately we did not move quickly enough."
And just when Joan didn't think it could get any stranger, Baez continued, "The Temple has concluded that Grace and Curtis believed a demon was residing within Curtis and they were trying to use death magic to kill it and send it back to the Bastard's Hell. The demon killed Grace to stop the ritual and then made Curtis kill himself."
Joan thought her own look of shock had to be identical to Sherlock's stunned expression.
Sherlock recovered first, barely. "A demon." It wasn't quite a question.
Ms. Hudson moved two more books to a different shelf. "Yes. And now it's escaped and we need you and Joan to find it."
"Demons," Joan repeated for the hundredth time. "We are having conversations about demons and magic. We are investigating a case for a client who believes that a demon committed two murders!"
"I did say this would be a case to remember," Sherlock said. He had been watching, pausing, rewinding, and watching, again, and again, and again, the security film from Grace's apartment. Even under the best of circumstances, it was a grating process.
"Sherlock, is there anything on your thirty-fourth viewing of Curtis and Grace entering the apartment and Curtis leaving alone three hours and 52 minutes later that wasn't gleaned from viewings one through thirty-three?"
"Thirty-seven viewings, Watson. I am very intrigued at the many differences in Curtis' physical carriage between the first video and the second. Facial recognition software confirms it is the same person to a 95% probability yet he presents himself completely differently. There are differences in the rise of his chin, the set of his shoulders, the length of his stride, the quality of his hand gestures, and the cadence in his movement. It is remarkable. Have you found any theatrical pretensions in that vast wasteland known as Facebook?"
"No," Joan said shortly. "And nothing dead, either." While Sherlock had been rewatching surveillance video and reading lurid books on demons and death magic they had taken from Grace's apartment (in a box Ms. Hudson had especially organized), she had been reviewing Grace and Curtis' social media accounts. The Temple was eager to find out if Curtis had been in contact with something or someone that died because that was when the demon would have jumped to Curtis. Naturally. The case was jumping on her last nerve.
"A Quintarian would say it is because Curtis was in control when they came in, and the demon was ascendant when he left," Ms. Hudson called from the kitchen. She was staying with them at the brownstone to help with the case and had been reading the witness accounts of Curtis' car accident looking for the person the demon might have jumped to – signs of recent demonic occupation evidently included fainting, confusion, disorientation, and running away, also, Joan had pointed out, symptoms consistent with witnessing a fatal car accident. Ms. Hudson had also been monitoring Sherlock's demonology reading and at every opportunity was reinforcing and amplifying his grisly discoveries. "The demon realized they were trying to kill it, so it broke through Curtis' control, killed Grace, and then killed Curtis so it could jump to a new mount."
Demons. Joan gritted her teeth as Sherlock began another review of the security tape. He was being unusually sanguine about demons and magic, but then he'd grown up in this system.
"The Archdivine was very perceptive, Watson. I am not sure if I ever could have eliminated every probable cause of death of Emma Jones and Judge Tomcalito to my satisfaction. It remains one of my most vexing unsolved cases but perhaps it is better that it remain so than for me to have confront the possibility of blindly leaping back into the Five Gods' hands as the solution of truly last resort."
"The only miracle I see here is that Grace and Curtis lived in New York and never saw a dead rat or chewed up pigeon." Joan closed out Grace's Instagram and went back to Curtis' Facebook feed. Curtis usually liked and shared Grace's posts, which were mostly pictures of Curtis, their bike rides, their hikes with friends in the Hudson Valley, camping in the Adirondacks, members of her large family, the community gardens they worked in around the City, and their volunteering at food pantries, soup kitchens, and the teen halfway homes the Bastard's Order operated in New York. They had been good, kind people and a happy couple with many gifts they had freely shared with others. "Grace was a Quintarian. If they thought Curtis had contracted a demon, why wouldn't they go to the Temple?"
"An excellent question, Watson." Sherlock paused the video on two monitors, both close-ups of Curtis, one before, one after, and was comparing differences in spinal curvature with string and a protractor. "Quintarian theology is filled with horror stories of what happens when one acquires a demon. Madness, bleeding eyeballs, erupting boils, violent and painful death, and much slashing of throats and bleeding out on to altars and into bowls."
Ms. Hudson came into the living room with a pot of tea on a tray. "There's also a ritual that begins with chanting and prayer, and ends with incineration."
"Well I can see why Curtis and Grace wouldn't go to the Temple if they thought Baez would burn Curtis at the stake," Joan said sourly.
"That's a very fair criticism, Joan, and one I will raise with the Temple because I think ignorance and fear contributed to this tragedy. If there had been more accurate information about the miracle of justice, Grace and Curtis might not have ever attempted what was sure to fail in this situation. And the Temple deliberately disseminates macabre information about demons to discourage people from trying to acquire one."
"Why would anyone want to do that in the first place?"
Sherlock backed away from the monitors and advanced both fractions of a second forward. "It is believed a person who acquires a demon can become a sorcerer, with significant attendant powers, such as rapid healing, extraordinary persuasive skills, the ability to manipulate objects telekinetically, and shooting purple lighting from the fingertips…"
"Sounds like Star Wars," Joan grumbled.
"An excellent analogy, Watson!"
"Everyone always thinks it would be such a good thing until it actually happens," Ms. Hudson said disapprovingly. She sat again on the couch and picked up another eyewitness interview case file. "They don't understand that the demon will use them up, destroy the host, physically and mentally, and then jump to a new victim. There's no escaping it. You get a demon, you die."
"That always happens?" Sherlock asked, ghoulish in his curiosity.
Ms. Hudson hesitated and sipped her tea. "For our purposes, yes. There is a certain unique theological state that might be achieved with study but, even there, the demon that the sorcerer hosts has to be managed."
"How does one manage a demon?" Sherlock asked. For her benefit, he added, "theoretically."
"Carefully and constantly with enormous discipline. Demons by their very nature are chaotic. They make a mess of everything; everything goes wrong around them. They are attracted to strife and engender it as they go." She pulled a face as if smelling something unpleasant. Joan had observed that disordered, unharmonious surroundings made Ms. Hudson almost physically ill. "Demons are like…"
"A bull in the china shop?" Sherlock offered.
"More like a highly caffeinated, unrestrained toddler bent upon destruction at a combination anarchist gun show, Giants-Eagles game at the Meadowlands, and birthday party for 8 year old triplets with scary clowns." Ms. Hudson said. She smiled benignly. "Like any other small child, the Bastard's little brothers enjoy their freedom for a little while but are usually desperate to go home."
Sherlock stalked over to the tea tray and helped himself. He was squinting and Joan felt no sympathy for his eyestrain as she began on Curtis' 2014 Facebook posts.
"I understood that in those rare cases you are constrained to speak of, Ms. Hudson, the demon can be quite old and very clever, and that it is a construct of the prior lives it has plundered."
"Yes, though those are rare, fortunately. This is why the bees couldn't sign which god had taken Curtis' soul. The demon took it with him when he jumped."
Joan refused to believe that it was divine providence when she scrolled down the Facebook page and found the entry. "In November of last year, Curtis posted that his grandfather died."
Joan skimmed the post, talking as she read. "Curtis mentions that he went with his mother to the hospital and they were with him when he passed away."
She read the comments to the cryptic entry and found them oddly guarded. There was an abundance of, "I know this has been difficult," "I hope you can move on now," and "May God [or the Five Gods] give you peace." There was very little, "I am sorry for your loss" and not a single, "Your grandfather was an amazing/wonderful/generous person" or even "I'm sure you and your mother will miss him."
Joan clicked through a link wondering why Curtis would have linked to a New York Post article about a notorious investment banker infamous for his slumlord holdings and horrific appearances as a guest host on Fox News.
"I think you both need to see this."
A moment later, Sherlock was peering over her shoulder at the obituary, Ding Dong He's Finally Dead. "Darrell Trumple was Curtis' grandfather?"
"His mother's father," Joan said.
"I do wonder, Watson, if 'demon-ridden' is a better explanation for Darrell Trumple than 'utterly reprehensible waste of a human being'?"
Ms. Hudson was already texting the Temple. "It also explains why Curtis and Grace would try something so drastic rather than going to the Temple for help." She shuddered delicately. "Can you imagine the horror of having Darrell Trumple inside you?"
"Now that we know the possible source for our theoretical demon, I wonder how the late and unlamented Darrell Trumple would walk and carry himself whilst crushing the less fortunate under his designer shoe." Holmes hurried back to his monitors and started searching YouTube for videos of Darrell Trumple screaming at people who came too close and dared to breathe the same air he did.
Joan got up to stretch, deciding some celebratory tea was in order. She grudgingly admired the conceit Baez had given them – the power of suggestion and firmly held belief. Grace and Curtis had been gentle, charitable people and if they had really thought Darrell Trumple was still alive inside Curtis, they would be desperate to get rid of him and terrified of letting him remain loose in the world. Joan thought all their work together was a reaction to and an attempt to ameliorate the terrible things Trumple had done to New Yorkers for decades. Curtis had only been at the hospital to support his mother.
"Well, Joan, you can stop looking for other deaths. The Temple is very satisfied with your find and believes it goes a long way to explaining why this happened!" Ms. Hudson said cheerily. "Well done and thank you. I'm just going to go in the kitchen and give a full report to the Archdivine."
If Ms. Hudson said anything about Him thanking her, Joan was going to upend the teapot.
Clyde was lumbering his way around the stack of witness interviews Ms. Hudson had been reviewing. The tortoise clambered up the pile. The paper scattered under his thick feet and he began nosing the corner of one file folder.
"Don't eat the paper, Clyde. And don't make a mess."
The tortoise didn't listen and opened his mouth.
Joan set down her tea and bent over to pick up Clyde. The tortoise had already managed to push the papers out of order and the file now had a bite mark on it. She started to push the reports back into a neater stack when she spied the carefully printed words, "Mr. Russo appeared disoriented and confused. Officer summoned EMT but Mr. Russo had already left the scene."
Joan held Clyde up and gave the reptile her most evil eye. "You are a traitorous bastard."
Mr. Anthony Russo, age 42, was a broker specializing in trading grain, oilseed, and cattle futures on the New York exchange. The prospect of a demon in the worldwide trade of agricultural commodities was deeply concerning to the Temple.
Joan was losing the battle to brush off another coincidence – the Islanders were playing the Washington Capitals at the Nassau Coliseum in game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs – the very same Stanley Cup Sherlock had returned to the NHL earlier in the year. So, he now had season tickets to every game, any game, anywhere. For that night's playoff game, the NHL gave Sherlock four tickets in section 217, center ice. He gave the tickets to Ms. Hudson and three beefy members of the Bastard's Order.
Mr. Russo was also a lifelong New York Islanders fan and had achieved premium seats, in the same section 217 where Ms. Hudson and three Divines, all in Islanders jerseys, were now sitting, but a few seats away.
Ms. Hudson had been more excited about the playoff game than the prospect of apprehending a demon. "I played club hockey, left wing." She smiled and tapped a front tooth with a manicured nail. "I took a stick to the face and lost an incisor. But there's the old saying, 'You should have seen the other guy.'"
Joan was watching it all with Sherlock, Archdivine Baez, and several other members of the Temple hierarchy in a VIP box. They had an unobstructed view of Section 217. Mr. Russo appeared perfectly normal in an Islander sweater and orange baseball cap. The Islanders were down two games in the series and Mr. Russo, Ms. Hudson, and nearly everyone else was enthusiastically clapping and yelling as the team came onto the ice.
Sherlock's eyes darted about the stands. "Archdivine, just how many agents do you have in the Coliseum besides the three with Ms. Hudson? I've counted forty-two."
"Not agents, Mr. Holmes. Dedicats, Acolytes, Divines, of all the Orders."
Joan agreed with Sherlock. Agents, she decided.
"I would not have suspected so many affiliated with the Temple would also be fans of the New York Islanders."
"It wasn't easy to get tickets but we asked, expressing the urgency of the matter. As members of the owners' families and others in the back office and coaching staff are affiliated with the Son's Order, they were happy to assist."
"Hunting, killing, military exercises, sport, and consumption of alcoholic beverages are all activities enjoyed by devotees of the Son."
Joan felt the whole operation was peculiarly informal and not being taken seriously enough. The Quintarians believed something in section 217 had murdered at least two people. Given that they also believed it had come from Darrell Trumple, many more were also dead, at least indirectly, through his malice. "Is Ms. Hudson safe?" Joan pressed, as the puck dropped and play began. "Are the other people down there safe?"
"Yes, with Ms. Hudson there, we are all quite safe, though there might be more than the usual number of fights and pucks leaving the ice. We believe she bears the god, though cloaked at the moment to avoid alarming the demon. And a demon cannot overpower a god, Doctor Watson. It's really as simple as that."
"Shouldn't Russo at least be detained and questioned since the demon in him is so dangerous?" She had given up on trying to use the mental and verbal constructs of what Quintarians might believe.
"Mr. Russo has broken no laws, yet, and we prefer to keep it that way. He's given no indication that the demon is aware of Ms. Hudson's presence -- or more precisely, the Bastard's presence in Ms. Hudson. If it did know, the demon would likely flee, but reluctantly. This is a perfect venue, both for us, and for the demon. With all the chaos, the demon will be distracted and happy making all sorts of malicious mischief. I wouldn't dare guess the outcome of the game, though I wouldn't be surprised if the demon decides to prolong it into overtime. I also recommend not eating or drinking anything in the stadium."
"Not that it is a hardship to forgo giant pretzels, cheesy nachos, and radioactive wieners, but why is that Arcdivine?"
"The food will probably be worse than usual, Mr. Holmes. It's just something demons like to do. They make the milk go bad, beer turns sour in the keg, and bread turns moldy. They can't help themselves."
"But what…" Joan stopped and began again. "What do Quintarians believe Ms. Hudson can do? All the rituals in the books described ritual murder to exorcise a demon."
"In Quintarian belief, Doctor Watson, there is, occasionally, a person with the ability to remove a demon without harming its vessel. We believe Ms. Hudson is such a person. At the right moment, she will approach Mr. Russo and remove the demon."
"Recall that the sacred sign of the Bastard is the mouth. Ms. Hudson will eat the demon and it will return to its god."
It was so unsatisfying an explanation, Joan stopped asking questions.
As the saying goes, they sat through a fight and watched a hockey game break out. There was a lot of shouting, she saw Capitals fans being verbally and physically abused, and their grievances were ignored by Coliseum staff. She heard a lot of complaints about the food. The nervous tedium reminded her very much of a stake-out.
At 12 minutes into the second period, Sherlock, who had remained attentive throughout, stiffened. The pace of the game had picked up and the Islanders were controlling the ice. Ms. Hudson moved at the same moment Visnovsky wound up for a slap shot. The puck bounced off Okposo's pad and slid past the Capital's goalie and into the net for the Islander's first score. As Mr. Russo leaped into the air, screaming, fist pumping, Ms. Hudson was next to him, hand upraised. Joan gasped.
Russo whirled around, nearly right into Ms. Hudson, and froze.
"He's terrified," Sherlock muttered.
And then Russo sagged between two of the Divines. His head snapped up a moment later and he looked about. He asked something and one of the Divines laughed and pointed. The Islanders, and the fans, were all still celebrating the goal.
The Quintarians in the VIP box all signed themselves and Joan heard muttered prayers of thanks. The third Divine was already leading Ms. Hudson away.
"That's it?" she whispered.
Sherlock shrugged and whispered back. "I believe so. Is it churlish of me to be disappointed?"
Joan looked at the clock. The whole thing, whatever it was, had taken less than a minute.
A few minutes later, two agents in Mother's greens escorted Ms. Hudson into their box. Her hair was mussed and she seemed a little pale. Everyone applauded.
Ms. Hudson was earnestly chewing on a ginger Altoid. Her "Bastard be praised," was interrupted by a substantial burp. "Excuse me. That really did not go down well, at all. Does anyone have a TUMS? Or Pepto-Bismol?"
Joan was starting to wonder if maybe the comments about "eating a demon" weren't a metaphor after all.
The days after concluding a case were always anti-climactic. They both slept a lot. They took down the board with the photos and notes. The Temple collected the books, the security tapes, and Curtis and Grace's computers. Sherlock had tried to hide some of the books but somehow the Temple agents were able to find them all.
A few days later, Joan went for a long, cleansing jog. She found a rhythm, her step was sure, every song on her phone was perfectly in sync with her pace, every light changed just when she needed, and no one harassed her. She easily loped through 6 miles and walked the final quarter to cool down.
On her route home, she saw a new store had just opened between the newsstand and the bodega, All Saints Botanica.
She felt very carefully, all around her, outside and within, and could not sense any external force trying to push her into the store. She went back and forth, trying to decide, and finally felt like an idiot for making such a big deal about it. She crossed the street and went in.
The door chime tinkled and the music playing was not the vaguely "Oriental" knock-off that always set her teeth on edge. Taylor Swift wasn't what she was expecting, but it was better than many other alternatives.
"Good morning!" A young man, tall, thin, African-American, came out from a backroom not blocked off by an early 1970s beaded curtain. "Welcome to All Saints Botanica. Would you like some water? Our bathroom still has moving boxes in it, but you're welcome to use it if you need to."
"Thanks, I'm good," Joan said, appreciating the kindness and now, also, immediately suspicious of the nonsectarian greeting.
"Are you looking for something in particular? Or are you just looking?"
"Just looking," Joan said. "I think."
He nodded sagely. "That happens. We have rosaries and statues of Mother Gaia, beeswax candles, Japa Mala beads and yoga mats and fourteen different kinds of incense. And crystals." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "I don't think the crystals do much, but they're pretty. Don't expect them to cure any illnesses, though, unless it's something that would go away if you did nothing anyway. If you're really sick, go see a qualified doctor, with a medical license."
Joan laughed. "I understand."
"I'm Lucas, by the way. If you have any questions, just ask.
As Lucas was wearing a Yankees t-shirt and jeans, she didn't think he was, but Joan was still suspicious and asked, "Are you a Quintarian by any chance?"
"Not at the moment. I'm at an in-between place. The Quintarian stuff is over there," and he pointed to a back wall.
She pretended she wasn't interested but finally gave in and studied the shelves with the Quintarian items. There were prayer rugs, robes for festival days, a few books (nothing about demons or death magic at all), candles, traditional bags for the quarterly gifts to the Temple, and various icons in the shapes and colors associated with the gods.
"If you aren't sure, don't make a big commitment," Lucas said. "I like those flower vases myself. They're only Quintarian if you make them that way. Otherwise, they're just nice vases."
Joan left the store with two, one in Daughter's blue and one in Mother's green, and felt a little foolish
She felt even more foolish when she couldn't sneak into the brownstone unnoticed. Ms. Hudson and Sherlock were both there, chatting as she dusted the furniture.
"Oh, I've been meaning to stop by that store!" Ms. Hudson exclaimed, relieving Joan of her bag. "These are very pretty!"
"And fortuitous, Watson. I was just intending to venture out to acquire vases for the flowers Ms. Hudson has brought for us, not surprisingly in shades of blue, violet, green, and white."
She left them to it and retreated upstairs to finish stretching out and shower. Then she decided to check her mail and read the Times online. She didn't come back downstairs until she heard Ms. Hudson leave.
It was all clean and tidy, and smelled wonderfully, as only Ms. Hudson seemed to manage. Any cleaning service could wash floors and change the linens. But with Ms. Hudson, harmony was vital to her balance and happiness and she managed to somehow impart it to the brownstone when she left.
"In here, Watson. You may join me if you like."
Sherlock was rolling out a yoga mat, one he actually used for exercise and meditation and not for other activities. "You will be pleased to learn, I think, that Ms. Hudson reported Curtis' soul was taken by the Mother. Unusual for a young man but Ms. Hudson speculated that it was because he was so supportive of others."
"I can see that," Joan replied. Curtis and Grace had both ministered to the less fortunate and had died because they believed they had to stop a terrible person from continuing his plundering.
"I thought some meditative exercise might be conducive to clearer thought." Sherlock swiveled the mat so that it was facing the blue and green flowers set side by side on the book shelf in their respective vases. "I admit to being unsettled by this case."
"I am, too," Joan said. "I've not spent so much time in religion, ever, I think, maybe since my friends had First Communions and Bat Mitzvahs. I was more impressed with the Quintarians than I thought I'd be."
"I was as well, though undoubtedly it helped that I was not running afoul of Divines of the Father and Brother's Orders. That was surely deliberate by the Temple and while I resent the implication of mollycoddling, I am appreciative that they provided no occasion for…" Sherlock waved the air vaguely, "distraction."
"They were very respectful, of everyone. Not one said anything the least bit judgmental; no one tried to convert me. I was very impressed with the obvious regard they have for Ms. Hudson."
"Granted she is in the Bastard's Order, where those who do not conform to traditional gender and sexual norms have always been welcome. But, not surprisingly, Watson, you have perceived the singular element of Quintarianism that was able to hold me for as long as it did and, at times, still calls me."
Joan thought on it. "They take you as you are."
"Nearly the exact words of one of their greatest saints," Sherlock replied. "In the Quintarian faith, you will not find the typical emphasis upon works or faith to receive salvation, redemption through suffering, or overcoming of sin or want to achieve some elusive notion of salvation or inner peace. The Five Gods are lonely in their shining perfection and so see us as gloriously brilliant in our imperfections. The Five Gods love us, not in spite of our faults, but because of them. It is an important distinction and provided me some comfort during dark times."
She recalled his words from the beginning, when they had stood over Curtis' soulless body with a jar of confused, color-coded bees. "Do you regret taking the case?"
"No. But it is unsatisfying to know that there may be questions that will remain unanswered unless I am willing to take that blind leap of faith."
Joan shook her head. "I can't do that."
"Nor I, Watson. At least not yet. But I could sit here and meditate, reflect on one of the mantras I learned in Temple school, and enjoy these gifts of brilliant glass and fragrant flowers."
"I could do that, too."
Sherlock scooted over. Joan stretched her neck and arms and joined him on the mat. The noise of the street seemed very far away. Sherlock set his phone to mute and pushed it aside, out of reach. Joan did the same. Whatever might happen in the next hour could wait.
"I don't know any of the…prayers?" she admitted.
"I remember one for the Mother," Sherlock said. "Tend my garden, feed my children, heal the world, mend thyself."
Joan stared at the green vase. "That's it?"
Sherlock nodded, settled back, looked to the blue vase and let out a deep breath.
Joan inhaled deeply, taking in scents of grass and fresh flowers. She exhaled, set her hands lightly on her knees and stared at the cool, green glass.
Tend my garden, feed my children, heal the world, mend thyself.
And she repeated it.