Prelude: Holden

Holden…

 

At first, you thought it was too much drink and not enough sleep.

Then you thought someone was playing tricks on you.

Then you began to think you were haunted.

 

Then you really started to get scared.

 

It was nothing really, at first.  You occasionally noticed something out of place: a cup, a coin.  You didn’t think much of it until you discovered your waistcoat on a different peg in your small room in the French Quarter than the one you always – even deliriously drunk – hang it on.

 

You took it out on Davis for a while – your one genuine friend (from childhood even) who has managed to stay in your orbit all these years – but he emphatically denied any wrongdoing.  Then, one week when he was away to Chicago pursuing some legal case or another, you found a small wad of Union bank notes stuffed in an old sock in the back of your wardrobe.

 

The world had gotten plenty strange, and you with it, so you found an old Houdun witch who managed to summon up a horde of tiny, fiendish little creatures which, while annoying, didn’t turn out to be the culprits.

 

You really didn’t have anything to go on until the letter arrived.  It had no addressee, no salutation, only a notice from a local bank that your assets had been transferred to a bank in Louisville.  Not aware you had any assets at a bank, or, indeed, assets, you inquired.  And thus you stumbled upon what would become a dizzying paper trail.

 

Davis helped a lot.  Together, you mapped out a fairly extensive network of monies, legal exchanges, small parcels of land, and transfers of mysterious goods – all seemingly related to the single letter that, at one point, you were sure came to your abode by mistake.  Davis assured you it was not, as your address was mentioned numerous times in the transactions.

 

At the center of the web, if a web it could be called, was a small legal house in Kansas City – Brooks, Forbes, & Whitney.  After numerous attempts at writing, several telegraphs, and even a firmly-worded summons from Davis went unanswered, and afraid that you were being set up as a patsy to a massive criminal conspiracy, in October of 1877, you decided to take the trip there and confront them yourself.

 

You had a decent enough time on the rail, found a game or two, and a woman who was almost, but not quite, too old for you, but it didn’t take long before you noticed the man watching you.  He was so nondescript as to stand out.  You got off the train in Little Rock and back on again just to be sure, and follow you he did.

 

When you moved to confront him that evening, he fled.  You chased the man through several cars until he locked himself into a cargo car near the back of the train.  Without breaking stride in your pursuit, you drew a glowing green ace from your pocket and flicked it at the lock, blowing it through with a POP drowned out by the rattling of the train.

 

You found the man in the back of the car, standing unnaturally straight, shaking slightly, with a fairly mad grin on his face and looking far from nondescript.  Between gritted teeth he muttered “Sorry mate, you’re not ready…there’s still-”  His voice cut off with a gurgle.

 

His eyes stilled, the shaking stopped.  A single scarab, its carapace glistening blue-black and speckled with blood, pushes out from between the man’s teeth, falls to the floor, and scuttles out under the door.  A moment later, you jump back as the corpse’s mouth is shoved open by a flood of hundreds upon hundreds of scarabs, flowing from the man and out under the door into the night, leaving behind them an empty bag of skin, deflated in a pile on the floor.

 

Shaken but not deterred, you find yourself in the offices of Brooks, Forbes, & Whitney the next morning. The waiting room was decorated finer than anything in London or New York, and the receptionist took your name in a polite, but cool manner, took your name down, and hand-delivered it to the office marked “Mr. Whitney”.  After a wait of over an hour, without any indication that she had received a cue of any type, the woman looked up and said, “Mr. Whitney will see you now, Mr. Cain.”

 

You stood up, straightened your coat, and stepped to the door.  You gripped the polished brass knob, turned, and pushed the door open.  It revealed an office of peerless elegance and luxury, and as your view crossed the desk…

 

…that’s the last thing you remember.

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