Edgar Candle sat quietly in his modest home reading by the fireplace that warmed the room perfectly. His glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose as he flipped the page. His best friend, Ned, sat contentedly in his lap purring with half closed eyes as Edgar went back to absently stroking his soft black fur. He smirked softly. “That Poe…” he said to no one in particular. “He sure does have a way of making you see those gory things he writes about, doesn’t he Ned?”
The cat looked at him, his furry little head cocked to one side.
Edgar smiled and put the book down. “Let’s go get something to eat? What do ya say?”
Ned stood on his lap and stretched. He gave a “mew” in response, and Edgar stood as well. Little Ned jumped to the carpeted floor with a soft thump. The pair walked from the comfort of the library room and down the hall. The chill of mid winter already cutting through the temporary warmth of his favorite room. He paused by the gigantic ornate grandfather clock that dominated the hallway and gave the key a few turns. Ned, sat patiently beside him as he did so. Edgar checked the date, day and time against the pocket watch he always carried. “Yep…just like clockwork” He chuckled at the lame joke and continued down the hall. The odd duo arrived in the kitchen. The hearth was warm but not hot. The servants had gone to bed hours ago. “Looks like sandwiches it is.” He said and stooped to give Ned’s head a little rub. “But that’s ok isn’t it? We like sandwiches. Let’s see what Nellie left in the pantry.” He smiled, victoriously as he opened the ice box. “AHA! Ham and some cheese. we are in luck!” Edgar set to making a sandwich, humming a little tune.
It was then the front door opened. The cold from outside bouldered through the hallway and into the kitchen. “Edgar?!” came his wife’s voice echoing through the hall. “Edgar? Are you up?”
He sighed and his shoulders slumped a little. “In the kitchen, Dear…” he said in answer. Ned, ever-present at his feet, growled a little bit. Edgar looked down and made a “shh” motion with his finger to his lips.
“Ah, there you are.” His wife, Millicent, said as she entered the room removing her gloves. “How was your evening?” She asked. He could hear the argument in her voice. She was vexed about something, again.
“Oh fine, fine. Almost finished Poe’s collected works. Shame about his death…he really was a creative genius” He said while finishing the construction of his sandwich. The trimmed scraps of fat from his ham he fed to Ned, who stood on his hind legs to get the salty meat. “How was bridge night with the ladies?” He asked knowing it was a lie. It was no secret in the town that Millicent was a regular at the Salty Dog tavern. Her “bridge night with the ladies” meant one hand of bridge then off to the Salty Dog, across the bridge and along the banks of the C&O Canal, to drink her fill of gin and sing her bawdy songs. Whatever else she did there, Edgar had no desire to know.
“Oh, you know….the talk of ladies.” She said with a wry grin sliding like a snake across her face.
Edgar shook his head. “No, I don’t know.” he took a bite of his sandwich while feeding Ned another scrap of fat.
“You’re gonna kill that dam cat feeding him Nellie’s ham. You know she puts way to much salt on it.” She said angrily. The gin was taking the reigns now. Edgar had seen this almost nightly for years now. “And another thing…”
Edgar sighed internally. He knew the routine now. She would rail on him for an hour or so, venting all her worldy frustrations onto him and make him the whipping boy for her own shortcomings. She would cry for a divorce and when he agreed she would accuse him of seeing someone else behind her back. Her drunken circular logic always gave him a headache, and no matter what he said…it would be wrong. Tonight, though, Edgar had an ace up his sleeve.
Halfway through the irate tirade of insults she slung at him, Edgar held up his hand. “Millicent…” He said calmly. “I’m divorcing you.” He reached into his vest and pulled a neatly folded packet of papers from within. “Here’s the documents I had Mr. Emmory draw up this afternoon.”
She stood there wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “What?”
Edgar slid the papers across the counter to her. “We are through. I have had enough of your drinking, your lies and your mouth.” never in his life had Edgar felt more calm and at peace. “You have thirty days to leave my house, else I will throw you out…legally” he smiled and felt Ned walk figure 8’s around his feet. Edgar dropped another large piece of ham fat for the cat. “Now…” he smiled at her “You were saying?”
She grabbed the papers and leafed through them. They were real, documents for divorce. Millicent looked from the papers to Edgar and back. “What am I to do, Edgar? I have no place to go, no one to turn to.”
He picked up Ned, his sandwich forgotten in the haze of his victory, and let his voice lose all warmth as he walked by her on his way back to the library. “Perhaps,” He said and pushed the collar of her dress down to reveal her neck and the purplish black bruise that was left by some soldier or armory worker in drunken lust. “You should have thought of that these last few years. I’ll not mince words with you any longer, Millicent, You’re a drunk and a whore…I expect when I return from Baltimore for you to be gone.” Ned hissed at her from Edgar’s arms as they walked by.
“Baltimore?” she asked as he walked by.
“Oh yes,” he paused in the hallway, “I’m going to Baltimore. There are rumors of a rebellion in the south and I have been selected as a supplier of lamp oil for the army should the need arise. I am going to Baltimore to finalize the necessary contracts. Didn’t I tell you?” He laughed. “Of course not. Why should I tell my EX wife about my business?” He continued into his library and shut the door with a finality that broached no argument.
Millicent stood there. She knew full well that this meant Edgar, her mild-mannered bookish husband, would soon be a very rich man. And he was DIVORCING her. Millicent felt the fury rise in her. She grabbed the stack of papers and her coat. With a curse she went back into the cold night, her anger and the gin keeping her warm.
Millicent stormed into the doors of the Salty Dog muttering under her breath. With a grunt she plopped herself down at the first empty bar stool she found.
“Hey! Millie!” Fritz, the gruff German bartender said with a smile. “Thought you were done for the night.” He sauntered over grabbing a bottle of gin and a glass from under the counter. “What happen? Lil Eddie kick ya out?” He laughed loud.
“Yes.” she said angrily.
Fritz stopped mid laugh. “he what?!”
She nodded and took the glass, now filled, from him. “Edgar, that bookish little worm, called me a drunk and a whore and handed me these.” She waved the papers, still clenched in her hand in the air as if to show everyone her prize. “F**king divorce papers.”
Fritz smiled. “Well….Eddie grew a spine.” he chuckled.
“What?” she growled at him. her eyes blazed in their sockets.
“Millie, mienen frau,” he began, “You’ve been in here most nights I can recall for years. In those nights I’ve watched you drink, flirt, and yes my dear, even be…” he paused looking for the right words. “Indiscreet more than a few times.” He filed her glass again. “I know your husband.” he waved at the oil lamps that lit the tavern. “Everyone does. And to be perfectly frank, he’s a decent fellow.”
Millicent listened to all of this through the anger and gin fueled haze that blurred her vision and made things go red.
“What did you expect?’ Fritz shrugged “Du kannst einen Hund nur so lange treten, bevor er dich beißt” he said as he went back to his work.
“Where is Mark?” She asked sullenly and picked up her glass.
Fritz motioned to the stairs. “Upstairs…where you left him.”
Millicent walked upstairs, the papers still fiercely clenched in her hand. She pounded on the door at the end of the hallway on the second floor. “Mark? Open the door, it Millie.” She waited a few moments and heard the groan of the inebriated followed by a few footsteps and the turning of the lock.
“Millie?” The bleary eyed and obviously drunk man said as he opened the door. “I thought you went home to the Mister.” he said rubbing his eyes in hopes of better focus.
“Edgar, threw me out. He knows about…” she waved the papers in her hand “He knows everything.” she said finally and walked past Mark and into his room. she flopped onto the bed and sighed, tossing back the glass of gin as though it were water.
Mark sighed and closed the door. “Well, what are you gonna do?” he asked quietly lying back down.
“I’m gonna fix him but good.” she said, her voice sounding almost feral. “I’ll give him his damned divorce…but its gonna cost him. And you’re going to help me.”
Mark sat up straight. “Me?! Why are you dragging me into this?”
She turned on her side and coyly undid the ties of her dress, letting it slip off of her shoulder. her jasmine perfume drifted from her bare skin. “Because, Mark, you’re all I have left.”
Mark sighed with the resignation of a man who was trapped. utterly and completely trapped.
Edgar snapped the valise shut and pulled his long coat on. “Now Ned,” he said stroking the cat’s fur and feeling the rumble of its purr vibrate its little body. “you be a good cat for Nellie. She’ll take care of you while I’m gone.” He adjusted the pretty collar of red ribbon with an intricate silver charm that Nellie had given Ned for Christmas. With a small smile he slipped a ring on his little finger with an intricate design that matched the charm on Ned’s collar.
He turned to Nellie. “And I have something for you before I go as well Nellie.” He handed her some very official looking documents.
“Now Mr. Edgar…” she chided “You know i cant read.”
Edgar smiled. “I forget sometimes Nellie. Well this says you are a free woman.”
She looked at Edgar Candle wide-eyed and shocked. “Mister Edgar?”
He smiled and held both her hands tightly in his. “Nellie, i abhor slavery, you know that. Mr. Lincoln has some things in the works that will forbid it forever. So that being said, you my dear… ” he leaned in and kissed her on her cheek wet with tears of joy. “are not a slave, you are a free woman.” He smiled warmly.
With a shaking hand, she wiped the tears away from her face. “With all due respect Mr. Candle…” this was the first time he could recall her ever calling him ‘Mr. Candle’ “youre house would fall apart without me. I’d like to stay.”
Edgar’s grin widened exponentially “Oh thank GOD! i was hoping you’d say that.” he handed her another envelope. “Since you are no longer my servant, I’m glad to say you are an employee. This is your week’s pay.” he handed it to her…”with several years back pay. I can’t thank you enough Nellie.” She could feel the warmth of his smile and genuineness of his heart.
Nellie smiled and nodded. “Thank you Mr Edgar, now me and the little master gon’ get along just fine. My nephew Reese is bringing us some trout for supper. I figure little Ned would like some fish.” She cooed in her thick southern accent and stroked the cat’s fur as well. Ned smiled, as much as a cat can smile, and accepted her adorations graciously with a flick of his furry tail.
Edgar stood up and smiled. “I know I said I’d be back in a few weeks Nellie, but it shouldn’t take more than a day or two to sign these contracts. Thank you for taking care of things.”
Nellie grinned wide and hugged Edgar warmly. “You go on now, sir, and don’t you worry none. Mr. Ned and I have your house under control.” She patted the cat’s butt lightly and he stood up to follow her, occasionally batting at the long apron ties that trailed behind her.
Edgar nodded finally. And picked up his suitcase. Ned liked Nellie from the first time she stepped foot in his home. If ned liked her, that was good enough for him. “Right then Nellie…” he said and walked out the door. it was a short walk from his home on the industrial center of Harper’s Ferry Virginius Island to the train station. And he made it there with a smile on his face nodding to everyone he passed with a pleasant Hello.
The pair slinked through the shadowed streets of Harper’s Ferry. Clinging to the alleyways and the narrow corridors of night that kept them in the cover of darkness. The greasy light of the oil lamps did little to reveal them.
“Remember…we make it look like a robbery” she whispered conspiratorily. “You do in Nellie…I grab the valuables and cash, and….”
Mark cut her off. “Yes, I know…we are on the 1130 train and out-of-town before anyone knows what happened.” He could feel sweat forming on his body despite the winter chill. “And what do we do if he’s home?”
Millicent hissed. “He’s in Baltimore…I told you that. He’s gone for weeks.”
Mark shrugged. He didn’t know of she had seen the gesture. In his trepidation he had to admit her plan was pretty good. As far as anyone knew the pair were asleep in their room at the Salty Dog. They had crept from the upper window to escape unseen. They would break into the lower level of her former house. That’s where Nellie was, Mark would do her in. After all, she was just a slave, and no one would really think twice about that. Millicent knew where Edgar kept the valuable items. She would ransack the house making it look like a robbery. The whole escapade shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes. They would abscond back to the salty dog after the deed had been done. And in full view of everyone, leave their room to catch the 1130 train to New York, where they would disappear into the population. It certainly was a better idea than slaving away in the armory for the rest of his life.
The house appeared as if on command on the corner in their view. They watched for a few moments as the light winked out in the lower level window. “Nellie has gone to bed.” Millicent whispered and nudged Mark. “Let’s wait a few minutes, it never takes her long before she’s dead to the world.”
Mark took the silver flask from his coat pocket and took a long pull on the gin it contained. “Millie…” he said “I don’t know…” He began to protest. She grabbed his head and kissed him long, hard and deep. She felt the last of his angst leave him. “Alright…” He drew another long pull on the flask and offered her the same. “Let’s do this…”
They crossed the street only after they were certain there was no one to witness the shadows as they darted across a lone pool of light. Millicent looked up quickly as they crossed and saw, illuminated by that lone pool of light, Ned watching them as they crossed. The black cat perched in the lower window and watched them with rueful yellow eyes that seemed to glow as they caught the light. She smiled in her spite. The only witness to her vengeance would be his beloved cat. In her mind she made a special note to make sure she left the cat with a parting gift.
Mark drew a long socket bayonet from the folds oh his thick riding coat. The socket bayonet being an obvious choice for a weapon. In Harper’s Ferry, they were common place with the armory providing easy access. They were the weapon of choice for the hoodlums and cut throats of the area. they crept through the dense shadows that hid the lower level door and Mark opened it with a silent ease.
The pair slipped into the midnight of the lower floor. Millicent could hear the steady, sleeping breath of Nellie. She motioned for Mark to go to the sound and made a stabbing motion in the air. He grimaced and nodded.
With silk feet he slipped into her room. Standing in the window, it’s back arched was Ned. It growled at him, but other than that made no move. Mark had no reason to harm the cat. And it made no move to him. He left it alone. The cat watched his every move in the darkness. Ned watched, unerringly as Mark raised the bayonet in the air and clamped his hand on Nellie’s mouth just before letting the flashing blade come down and strike her once, twice, three times… Mark lost count of how many times his arm lashed up and down. He knew that when he was done Nellie moved no more. And the whole time Ned stared at him, never taking an eye off the bloody scene that was happening.
He drew his flask and dropped the red slickened bayonet to the floor. “Did ya like that kitty cat?” he asked after draining the last of the gin. “Did ya like that?’ He lurched for the cat and it lept from his grasp. Ned growled and hissed and darted for the door. Mark, in his gin soaked state laughed and reached for the darting animal. His feet intertwined and he went down with a thud, slamming his head against the hard stone floor knocking him unconscious. Ned hissed and ran upstairs.
Millicent was thorough in her ransacking. She overturned his desk, flung papers everywhere and grabbed everything of value she could. She felt her heat rising, her vision blurred red. Silver and gold were tossed into the carpet-bag she had. She opened the safe that, to her bemusement, he never locked and took the cash that would support his business and dropped it in the bag. With a final act she threw several books that she knew he had a particular fondness for into the coals of the fire and watched them blaze into ash. She heard the clock in the hallway chime eleven. It was time to leave. She turned and left the shambles she left his library in and went to the hallway.
Ned sat there watching her. His jet black fur making him a baleful shadow in the darkened hallway.
“Oh there you are…” she growled back. “Edgar’s favorite thing in the world.” Millicent drew a knife from her bag. “here kitty kitty kitty..” The venom of her words dripped off the end of her tongue like honey.
Ned stepped back. Every step he took taunted Millicent and made her angrier. “Your nine lives are up…” she threatened. She jumped at Ned who backed away again mockingly, meowing at her. This time she put every ounce of hatred she now felt for Edgar and the damned cat in her leap. “COME HERE!” she shouted and swiped at the cat with her knife. her jump placed her off-balance and she slammed into the ornate grandfather clock. It teetered for a second before it toppled on top of Millicent. the glass of the face and body shattered and the pieces flew into the air like bomb shrapnel. A small shard flew outward and pierced Ned’s eye. The little animal howled in agony and swiped at its face. Millicent was trapped under the weight of the clock, and yet she howled in laughter. She saw Ned’s eye come out with the shard still in it. The little black demon darted off into the darkness. “Yes!!!” Millicent hissed and squirmed under the weight of the clock. “Got you, you bastard…” It was then she heard it…the whistle of the late train as it pulled into the station. Was it 1130 already?! She let the madness that had gripped her wash away and fought against the heavy mahogany of the clock.
“Get the Doctor!” Someone shouted as the train slowed to a halt.
There was a general commotion on the train platform as the crowd, politely, parted to let the man through. He was holding his hand to his eye, blood streamed down his face and between the gloved fingers of his hand. His pocket watch hung limp from the chain at his waist, the glass of its face shattered.
“Edgar?!” A round-faced fellow shouted in alarm as he pushed his way through the crowd. “Let me through, I know this man!” he shoved and pushed to get to his side. “Good God, Edgar, what has happened? Get this man a doctor!”
“Emmory. Oh thank goodness. Listen to me. I don’t know how to explain it, but I know something terrible has happened. get the sheriff, get him right now, and get to my house. Don’t ask questions, please, just do it.” Edgar Candle leaned on his friend and solicitor’s shoulder. The doctor was being led to the commotion by a deputy who happened to be on the platform.
Emmory let the doctor tend to Edgar. “Bill…go get Hank, get him out of bed.” He looked over to Edgar. “Do it now and meet us over at Mr. Candle’s place. Got it?”
Without any question Bill turned and ran up the hill to where the sherrif was sleeping through the events unfolding in the town below.
“What happened Edgar?” Emmory asked kneeling beside him as the doctor wrapped his wound.
“You lost your eye Mr. Candle…but you’re otherwise ok.” The doctor said quietly.
Edgar nodded and let the doctor finish his ministration. “I was on the train, Emmory, almost asleep and I had this flash…I saw someone kill Nellie. it was with a bayonet, like at the armory.” he stood and leaned on his friend. “then it was like….like I was running upstairs…”
Emmory pushed those in his way aside, following the wobbly but purposeful steps of his friend. “Nellie? Who would kill Nellie?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s not the point….she’s dead, I saw it happen!”
“Right, Edgar…Let’s get to the house then.” They looked and could see the Sherrif and a few other deputies coming down the hill, their torch lights showing their progress.
“Then I was looking at my watch, to see what the time was and right at 11 it shattered. I saw Millicent jumping at me. She swung a knife Emmory, but she missed. The glass shattered and went in my eye.” Edgar went on as his strength returned to him. His steps grew stronger and stronger. he leaned on Emmory less and less. “Jesus, she’s still there…” He met the sheriff’s party at the corner of the street where his house was.
“Ed?” Hank said as he tightened the holster on his colt navy revolver. “What’s going on?”
“Listen…” Edgar said.
They could hear the sounds of Millicent cursing and struggling. Things toppled over and thudded against the door. The police moved into action without any further question. Two of the deputies went in through the ground floor door, while another and the Sheriff ran up the stairs to the modest porch to the front door. Edgar Candle stood with Emmory as they heard the shouts and struggle from the level where Nellie was found. It was a mere minute before they dragged Mark out in cuffs, stumbling and semi conscious, blood still soaking his coat and hands. Hank kicked the front door in and saw Millicent, trapped like a feral beast under the massive broken clock. the trappings of her crime strewn about her.
It didn’t take long for it to be resolved. Mark, as soon as he came to and realized what was going on, gave up everything.
The posse took Millicent and Mark away in chains to await trial, and summary execution. Hank asked Edgar a few questions, but since the crime was caught in the act, he didn’t really pay any attention.
Ned came from the shadows during Hank’s questions in the disheveled library, curling his figure 8’s around Edgar’s feet. The injury, though obvious, forgotten by the arrival of his human. Edgar smiled and picked up Ned felling his warmth as the black cat snuggled into him.
Hank chuckled. “Looks like you two match.” He noted seeing that both Edgar and the cat had lost the same eye in oddly the same way.
Edgar smiled softly. “Yes…how about that.” Edgar removed Ned’s red ribbon collar with the intricate charm and the ring that matched on his little finger.
“What’s that?” Hank asked as he watched him place it in a black bag with oddly unsettling symbols stitched onto its surface.
“Hmmm?” Edgar turned an eyebrow raised. “Oh nothing, Hank, just something Nellie gave us.”