The Isle of Blood
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“I don’t normally subscribe to superstition, but it may bring me good luck,” Warthrop confessed as he sat down. He loosened his collar and lifted his chin. He eyed the razor gleaming in my hand. “Steady now. If you nick me, I shall be very angry and send you to bed without any supper.”
He examined my handiwork in the mirror and pronounced it fairly executed.
“Should I find a barber in Venice?” he wondered aloud, running his fingers through his shoulder-length locks. Then he shrugged. “I shouldn’t press it, should I?”
It was well past nine in the evening when we arrived in Venice. The dark waters of the canals glittered like diamond necklaces, and the air was moist with coming rain. I recognized the same people in the club that I had seen weeks before, as if they had never left, as if time stood still in Venice.
Perhaps it did. The doctor ordered a drink from the same basset-hound-faced little waiter; Bartolomeo came out and sat at the piano, wearing the same black vest and white shirt soaked in sweat; the door beside the stage came open and Veronica Soranzo emerged in a faded red gown identical to the one she had given my master. Bartolomeo played energetically, Veronica sang badly, and Pellinore watched, enrapt. At the end of the song, she came to our table, slapped his freshly shaven cheek in greeting, calling him bastardo and idiota, and from the stage Bartolomeo laughed.
“You never answered my cable,” the doctor said to her.
“How many of my letters did you not answer?” she retorted.
“I thought you might be dead.”
“I feared you might be alive.”
She laughed in spite of herself.
“What do you want, Pellinore?” she asked. “What monster are you chasing now?”
He whispered something into her ear. I saw her blush beneath the heavy makeup.
“But why, Pellinore?” she asked.
“Why not?” he returned with a laugh. “While I am here—and while you are here—but most important, while we both still can!”
The monstrumologist swept her into his arms. Bartolomeo took the cue and began to play a waltz. The patrons sitting at the tables lifted their glasses and paid no attention. Bartolomeo was not watching either; he was absorbed in the music. I was the only one who watched them dance in the smoky yellow light, as outside the rain kissed the cobblestones of the Calle De Canonica. There was the woman in red and the lonely man who danced with her and the boy who watched, alone.
The world is large, and it is easy to forget how very small we are. Like the rot of stars, time consumes us. He had thought the quest would bring him immortality, a triumph that would outlast his brief appearance upon the stage. He was wrong. Pellinore Warthrop would pass into oblivion, his noble work unrecognized, his sacrifice overshadowed by the deeds of lesser men. He could have wallowed in despair; he might have chewed upon the dry bones of bitterness and regret.
Instead he came to Venice, and he danced.
We are hunters all. We are, all of us, monstrumologists. And Pellinore Warthrop was the best of us, for he had found the courage to turn and face the most terrifying monster of all.
The morning after I finished reading the tenth folio, I called my friend, the director of the facility where Will Henry had ended his 131 years on earth.
“Was he missing a finger on his left hand?” I asked, and held my breath.
“Why, yes he was, the index finger,” the director replied. “Did you find out why?”
I started to say yes. Then it occurred to me that that answer was a bit misleading. Like so many things in the journals, there were the facts and then there were Will Henry’s explanations for them—not unlike the story of the magnificum, attributing circumstantial evidence of a monster to a monster that did not exist, a phenomenon that might fairly be called Warthrop’s Folly.
“He wrote about it,” I said. I told him I had just finished with the tenth notebook.
“Any more name-dropping?” he asked. He found that aspect of the journals the most intriguing.
“President McKinley; Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes; and Arthur Rimbaud.”
“Rimbaud? Never heard of him.”
“He was a French poet from the period. Still considered pretty important. I read somewhere that Bob Dylan was influenced by his work.”
“Did Will Henry know Bob Dylan, too?”
I laughed. “Well, I haven’t finished with the journals yet. Maybe.”
“Anything more about Lilly?”
There was. I had found the article in the Auburn newspaper reporting the fire in 1952 that had destroyed Will and Lilly’s house. I’d also obtained a copy of Lilly’s obituary that had run two years before the fire. Lillian Bates Henry had been born in New York City, the daughter of Nathaniel Bates, a prominent investment banker, and Emily Bates, an influential figure in the women’s suffrage movement at the turn of the century. Lillian had served on the boards of several charitable organizations, devoting her life, the article stated, to the service of others. She was survived by nieces and nephews on her brother Reginald’s side of the family, and by her beloved spouse of thirty-eight years, William J. Henry.
“Thirty-eight years,” the director said. “Means they must have gotten married in…”
“1912,” I finished for him. “In 1912 Warthrop would have been fifty-nine years old.”
“If there ever was a Warthrop. If there was, then by 1912 he was dead.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Will writes that he was Warthrop’s constant companion till he died. I can’t imagine them getting married and moving Pellinore Warthrop in with them.”
“But do you relly think there ever was a Pellinore Warthrop?” I could detect a smile in his voice. Will Henry’s words popped into my head at the question. I was pursuing the one I had lost.
“I’m beginning to think there’s some underlying allegory here,” I said carefully. “At the very beginning of the diary, Will Henry says Warthrop has been dead for forty years. If Warthrop ‘died’ around 1912, that means Will began the journals around the same time the house in Auburn burned down, right after he lost everything—not just his sole companion in life but everything he had. Maybe the journals are some weird way of dealing with all that.”
“So he invents a past populated by monsters to understand the monsters of his past?”
“Well, it’s just a theory. I’m no psychiatrist.”
“Maybe we need to get one involved.”
For whom? I wondered silently. Will Henry or me?
I lay awake in bed that night, thinking of fire—the first fire that had yanked his parents away from him and the second fire that had claimed everything else. Fire destroys, he had written, but it also purifies. Here was a man who had lost everything—not once but twice, if that element of the journal was to be believed. He must have questioned, like John Kearns, if our colossal human error was in praying to the wrong god. Perhaps the folios were his attempt at making sense of the senseless, the unseen monster that is always there, the Faceless One that lurks one ten-thousandth of an inch outside our range of vision.
While I pondered that possibility, my heart began to race, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to simply turn away… to not finish the three remaining journals… to return all of them to the director and drop my investigation, or whatever you wanted to call it. A little voice warned me I was heading down a path where I did not want to go, where I should not go. I had the sensation of something coming unwound inside me, something that was an intimate part of me and yet somehow totally foreign and unrecognizable, and those two parts pulled against each other with enough force to break the world in half. Will Henry had called it das Ungeheuer, the monster, and he had promised me I would come to understand what he meant.
He had kept his promise.