Read Butterflies (The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal) Online

Authors: KJ Charles

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Butterflies (The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal)

BOOK: Butterflies (The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal)
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Butterflies

A story from The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

 

KJ Charles

 

 

Published by KJ Charles at Smashwords

Copyright 2013 KJ Charles

Cover design by Susan Lee

 

With huge thanks to Alexis Hall and Susan Lee

 

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Smashwords.com. Thank you for your support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to the Editor

 

Dear Henry

I had not intended to write more of what I find myself calling
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal
(such is the jobbing author’s habit, to create a book out of nothing!). I told you how we met, and I tied up the tale neatly, and it was done. Yet there are so many more stories, so much of my history with Simon that I should not like to disappear.

I met him in 1893. For two decades we have been lovers, the best of friends, the bitterest of enemies. We were partners in work and in crime – and that is no mere figure of speech. We have shared secrets so dark that the stories I have published in
The Casebook of Simon Feximal
, which you begged me to amend for the sake of readers’ weak hearts, came to seem to me almost light entertainment. For two decades, we have been everything to one another, yet to the world I am no more than the famed ghost-hunter’s friend and chronicler, witness to his deeds. In writing Simon’s stories, I have written myself out of my own life. I wonder, Henry, if you can imagine what that is like.

I have decided. I shall write the
Secret Casebook
, record the truth of our lives – not Simon Feximal’s life alone, but Robert and Simon, together. It is for you to decide what to do with the tale when it is told.

Your friend

Robert Caldwell

October 1914

 

***

 

It was a fortnight after my first and, so far, only meeting with Simon Feximal. He had rid my inherited house of a lustful ghost, opened my eyes to a concealed world of strange forces and arcane knowledge, and buggered me twice. The next day he had departed, with a nod of thanks, a final-sounding farewell, and no hint of regret in his stern dark eyes. I had wondered whether to propose another meeting, but looking at that remote face, I lost my nerve.

It was hardly unusual behaviour. Those of us who prefer the company of men know that many of those men want to leave one’s company as quickly as possible after the fact. The only dignified response is a smile and a shrug, even if one should wish for more. And Simon Feximal, with his strange air of a pagan priest, and the occult writing scrawling itself over his skin, was not a man to bother with importunities.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. My own features – medium stature, green eyes and unimpressively brown hair – were pleasant but undistinguished. My profession as a journalist would doubtless be repulsive to a man with secrets to keep.

I could understand his indifference to my person and forgive his dislike of my profession. What I found a great deal harder to swallow was the bill for his services.

He did not send it. A fee for the visit had been agreed, but he was to give me a final amount depending on the work required. In the natural excitement of the moment, and the next day’s awkwardness, I had certainly not thought to request it. And it was not sent.

I wrote to him, a businesslike note, asking for the amount due. He ignored the letter. I wrote again, and received a note by return.

I will admit, I had butterflies in my stomach as I opened it. I wondered if there might be a personal response. Perhaps even a suggestion that we might meet again.

There was no such suggestion. Merely a few lines in a clear, vigorous hand, stating that there would be no charge.

I read the note with incredulity, then dawning fury, as it came upon me with stunning force that Feximal apparently considered my services as bed-partner would suffice in lieu of payment. Whether he believed that I had been paying him by offering my body, or far worse, that he was paying me for my services by waiving his fee for his, I did not know. I did not care. I damned his eyes, the patronising swine, and sent a twenty-guinea payment that I could ill afford along with a note nicely judged to convey my sense of offence, and I resolved to be relieved that I would never see him again.

In fact, it took ten days.

 

***

 

‘Get down to Winchester,’ Mr Lownie told me. He was the editor of the Chronicle then, a tense, compact young man with a habit of chewing his pipe stem to splinters. ‘Extraordinary reports. Two deaths, against all nature. There’s a train at quarter past.’

He pushed a paper into my hand and thrust me out of the office. I was used to this unceremonious method of briefing, and I did not so much as glance at my orders, concentrating only on the seemingly impossible feat of catching the allotted train. I ran to the Underground, fretted until I reached the station, secured my ticket, and leapt aboard the second-class carriage almost as the train drew away with the angry cries of a guard ringing in my ears.

The carriage was empty, and I sat back in my seat, took a much-needed breath, and looked for the first time at my brief, which included two reports from the local Winchester newspaper and a transcribed statement from the local doctor. I read them with curiosity mingled with growing horror.

It seemed that some five days ago, a young lady and her governess, taking a walk in the woods, had stumbled upon a strange discovery. From a distance it seemed to them to be a great pile of brightly coloured paper, a vast heap of trimmings and cuttings piled into a mound some six feet long and perhaps two feet high. As they approached the peculiar sight, they realised with astonishment that it was constituted, not of paper, but of butterflies. Butterflies in their thousands, of the most extraordinary variety of hues, of species not native to England or ever seen here. The insects were all dead or dying, with barely a flutter to their wings, and the two ladies approached to look closer, and then a drift of the lovely dead things slipped to the ground, and what had seemed merely extraordinary became terrible.

It was not simply a heap of butterflies, as if there was anything simple about such a thing in a chilly English October. The bright wings hid a corpse.

He was Thomas Janney, Old Tom, a vagrant of the Winchester woods. Known to the police as an itinerant and a drinker, prone to foul language in his cups, but with little real harm said of him at any time these past two decades. And he was dead, face suffused with blood, skin shrivelled and dry, and inside his mouth, down his throat, in his lungs, were butterflies.

An appalling discovery, but the passing of a tramp makes little impact on the world, however mysterious the circumstances. It was the second death that had set the news wires alight.

This time it was a local schoolmaster, Hubert Lord. No weakling he, as unlike the broken-down wanderer as could be imagined. A young, healthy man in his twenties, he had set off into the woods for a cross-country run, as was his peculiar habit, and he had not returned. Alarmed for his safety, his young wife contacted the police, and it was not long after that his body was found, his face distorted with fear and horror, his throat crammed with butterflies.

Where were the creatures coming from? How could two such swarms arise? Why should they kill?

The local journalist, though his account was verbose and greatly too conscious of its own styling for the taste of a brisk London professional like myself, had included a few valuable pointers in his story. Chief amongst these was the interview with Dr Merridew, an amateur lepidopterist apparently held in high regard by those who shared his interest. He had been asked to give his views by the police, as Winchester’s only ‘butterfly man’, and had volunteered the information that some of the species had never been seen outside South America, that none of them were equipped for the rigours of an English climate, and that it was as impossible for butterflies to be directed to kill as it was for such a peculiar mix of species to be bred in captivity, or for them to swarm together.

And yet they were bred, and they did swarm, and two men had died.

 

***

 

I took a room in the Wykeham Arms, a pleasant inn set in winding red-brick streets. Compared to London, everywhere was convenient in this little cathedral city, but I was pleased to note that it was just a short walk from Dr Merridew’s address on Culver Street. My first step was to send him a note requesting an appointment at his earliest convenience. My second was to go down to the crowded little dining room, ready to plead with the staff to find me a seat for luncheon.

I walked in and saw Simon Feximal.

He sat alone at a table for two, directly in front of me, intent on a newspaper as he ate, and I stopped dead, gaping with the shock of recognition, and with that unwelcome, unstoppable quiver of sensation in my gut as I took him in. I had told myself that my memory and the dramatic circumstances of our first meeting had exaggerated his attractions, but he was every bit as commanding a presence as I remembered. That hair like spun steel, that beaky nose, those powerful shoulders that I had clutched as he drove into my body...

The landlady made a politely impatient noise, urging me forward, and as she did so, Feximal looked up.

‘Robert?’ he said blankly. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Oh, you gentlemen know each other!’ cried the landlady, and swept me forward to the spare seat at his table with relief. ‘Then I dare say you won’t mind sharing. We’ve steak and ale pie, sir, sit you down and you shall have a plate.’

I would have turned away. My injured pride and his less than warm welcome both stung, and in truth, more than my pride had been hurt. To have shown the tenderness that Feximal had demonstrated that night, the second time, the murmurs of endearment, the gentle touches, and then to walk away from me – that had felt like a lie. Like a promise made and not kept. Like a cruelty.

Two things stopped me from rejecting the offered seat and taking my meal elsewhere. The first was that he was surely here for the same reason I was, the inexplicable butterflies, and I was determined to have that story. If Simon Feximal, ghost-hunter, discovered anything to do with this mystery, I intended to make it worth three columns of the Chronicle’s paper, with a byline.

The second was that, though his greeting had hardly been a welcome, he had called me Robert.

I sat. Feximal looked at me, deep-set eyes unreadable, waiting. I arranged my napkin. He put the side of his fork through a hard piece of pie crust, shattering the pastry into shards and crumbs.

Someone would have to speak first, unless we were to sit here in silence for the next hour. It was inevitable that the someone should be me.

‘You’re here about the butterflies?’

‘And so are you, I take it.’ I had forgotten how deep his voice was. It seemed to vibrate in my chest as he spoke.

‘For the Chronicle,’ I said. ‘Have you been called by a private individual, or the police, may I ask? Or are you here on your own account?’

He gave me a grim look in place of a reply. Whether his discomfort sprang from his habit of secrecy or our previous connection, I could not tell. The landlady arrived at that moment with a laden plate for me, and Feximal took the opportunity for a forkful of pie, avoiding an answer.

As if that would work on a man whose trade was questions. ‘Have you learned much of interest?’ I enquired.

Feximal swallowed, with some annoyance. ‘Mr Caldwell, are you intending to pump me much longer?’

The double meaning – very clearly not intended – rang in the air. I saw a slight flush stain his cheeks as he realised it, and my own riposte was so obvious, it barely needed to be said. I said it anyway. ‘Turn and turn about, Mr Feximal.’

BOOK: Butterflies (The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal)
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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