New Winslow S6E23
The next morning, Iris was back at the Countess. She hadn’t looked through their collection for the missing pages yet, focusing all of her attention on the likely locations in town. But she couldn’t get back into Town Hall to sneak into the basement yet, Andrew had the store for the next two hours, and that gave her time to get some searching done in the next most likely location. Maybe she’d get lucky, and they’d have a copy of the secret third book with all its pages intact.
There wasn’t a chance in hell, but she could hope. Like she’d told Andrew last night, it wasn’t that she didn’t believe in luck. Maybe they would get some.
Roman wasn’t here right now. Even though they’d talked online, she felt nervous about seeing him in person. Iris had been anticipating feeling his presence when she got to the Countess and was wondering what would be the most appropriate way to approach the situation. Talking with Celine had been one thing. But even after their conversation and knowing he was alright, Iris couldn’t help feeling guilty.
How the hell hadn’t Iris seen this coming? She’d felt the waves of stress and separation coming off of Roman for months. She knew he wasn’t physically or mentally healthy and even if she’d tried to coax him home when she found him at her store at midnight, maybe she could have done more than she did. Maybe she could have prevented him from having a heart attack.
Yes, he was out, which was something else she’d need to dig deeper into when she had the time and headspace because she had no fucking clue what had happened there, and apparently neither did anyone else. But if she had seen some glimpse of what was about to happen, maybe she could have helped him prevent the heart attack and he could get out without nearly dying.
She wondered briefly if Celine had had any indication that something big was going to happen, then decided she’d rather invite Roland back into her life and put his name on her mortgage than ask her that question.
But for now, she had to focus. Iris didn’t know how many papers she was expecting to find. Nor what shape they were in or what she could expect to find on them. But she’d seen those carefully cut marks on Evelyn Harbinger’s third volume and even the people who hated her (i.e. everybody in the room except for Andrew) had agreed that they were cut out intentionally. And given that the text that was still in there showed that the curse had started at the same time that Barlow and his assistant had increased their pressure on Rosalind and her son to sell their house, it made sense that these pages would have even more incriminating information on them. And if they weren’t at Town Hall, then maybe they’d ended up stashed among the other historical volumes in the Countess’s library.
They’d died in the flames, was what Harbinger said. Or, at least implied. She’d said that their deaths lined up with The Strangeness, which Iris had to agree was a cooler name than the New Winslow Curse or whatever everybody said in hushed whispers as they avoided discussing it at all. There was a fire, the men died around the same time, (though she didn’t technically say it was in the fire) and then the curse started up.
A pact with Satan was outlandish, and Iris was confident that Satan didn’t actually exist. But, like she and Celine had discussed the other day, there were other forces out there. What if Barlow had made a pact with something that had much more power than him? And maybe put himself or the town up as collateral? It was a possibility, but not one that Iris was particularly sold on. She wasn’t an expert on deals like that. Maybe she had some contacts who might have better ideas, but she’d have to track them down. And that would open a whole new can of worms.
Iris carefully set the book she’d been flipping through back on the shelf. She was in the actual library at the Countess, one of the bigger rooms on the first floor, beside the small dining room and a little ways away from the parlor alcoves she’d spent so much time researching in. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for in here, and the shelves of old books were so intimidating that she wasn’t sure where to begin. Still, her instincts told her she’d find something if she kept digging.
Plus, she was terrified to even ask permission to go into the archives in New Winslow, let alone go through the non-documented storage area. Judith Perez was searching through there already as much as time and discretion allowed. Iris felt bad bringing more people into this kind of danger, but the second she’d started to apologize to Alicia for it, Alicia had looked so mad that Iris immediately shut up.
“You’re apologizing for that?” Alicia demanded before Iris could try to take back anything she’d said. “Of all the shit you’ve pulled in the past few years, this is the one that you actually… I got myself involved here, Iris. We’re not some innocent lambs that you’re sacrificing here.”
Alicia was never going to like her again, and Iris had to accept that. Plus, Andrew had given her a warning look when she’d just mentioned it to him, so clearly he was still mad about being left out of the loop last summer. And about what happened with Olivia.
And the less Iris thought about Olivia, the better. She seemed to be doing alright, even if she refused to talk to Iris. So at least there was that.
This book was a history of The Countess, with some lovely little sketches done by a previous guest of the inn. Iris flipped to the front, which showed the house as it originally looked when it was in New Winslow. She’d been to the plot of land where it was originally built and the property was overgrown and muddy. But here, the building was alive with pink-tinged roses and sketchy little green runs of ivy on the stone walls. It was a simple drawing, but evocative enough that something flickered in the back of Iris’s consciousness as she looked at it.
She turned the page and saw another sketch, this time a small family. A stern-looking man, a woman in a fashionable gown, and a young boy. The boy had to be about five years old, barely out of his toddler years. Billy McBride, the doomed young sailor and the ghost who blatantly ignored all of Iris’s attempts to speak to him. His footsteps still echoed on the top floor of the Countess, but he wasn’t answering. Missy and Anna weren’t so confident that it was an intelligent haunting. They warned Iris that there were many ghostly presences in the house, what with all the antiques and history they had. Plus, the odd clientele often brought in energies of their own.
Despite their hesitation, Iris was certain he was there. Though, if she found these pages and they laid out exactly what Iris needed to know, then she’d be all set. If they contained the fates of Rosalind Alderidge and her son, Billy’s friend Samuel, then she wouldn’t need to talk to Billy at all. And he could continue to be a pissy teenager for eternity if that was what he chose to be.
She flipped through the pages carefully, the brittle paper flimsy on her fingertips. It was a simple book, with typewritten pages and a few more sketches of the family and house. The McBrides had sold the house after Billy’s death. Then the land had been sold again during speculation before the flooding of the nearby Quabbin Reservoir, and the house moved here to Petersham where it eventually became an inn of sorts for oddballs of the region and beyond.
All this, yet no sign of the missing papers.
“Something so brittle won’t be in that book.”
A familiar voice behind her sent Iris’s heart dropping into her stomach. She turned with dread, and saw Vivien Dyer standing in the doorway of the small library. Vivien smiled at Iris, her white teeth gleaming against blue-purple lipsticked lips.
“You’re looking for paperwork of some kind,” Vivien said, walking into the room. “It’s not in here. You’ll need to go to…”
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Iris, who didn’t bother trying to put up shields. “Oh, New Winslow. You still haven’t been able to cleanse the energy there?”
Why did Vivien always have to show up? Iris tried to hide her frustration, but she knew some of it was still visible on her face and in whatever aura she was putting off. “No, I haven’t,” she said.
“Oh, I wish I could help you, I really do,” Vivien said as she took the book from Iris’s outraged grip and looked down at the family portrait. “What a beautiful boy. And such big blue eyes!”
She paused for a moment with a surprised little hum. “What?” Iris asked, her hopes lifting despite herself.
“Oh, nothing,” Vivien said, waving an elegant hand. “Just a future appointment on my mind. Anyway, I’m just so busy with my own work right now. There’s a client waiting list a mile long and growing every day. But I could give you some pointers. Something to make the cleansing a little simpler.”
It wasn’t a cleansing, Iris was sure of it. And she dreaded to know what services Vivien was offering. But Vivien didn’t wait for a response before she continued her lecture. “Remember, it’s all about cleansing the negative energy away. It builds up in certain places, like plaque in an artery.” Iris cringed, but Vivien didn’t notice. “It may not show itself for years, but eventually it will have an impact. What you’re doing is essentially clearing away the plaque, letting the energy streams run smoothly. Do you understand?”
Not particularly, mostly because it was bullshit. But Iris nodded anyway. “Just clean it away,” Vivien said, running one smooth palm over the other. “Gently remove the problem and you’ll have it all under control again.”
Did she think the curse had started sometime in the past twenty years? Because that was the only way Iris would know a time before the curse. But maybe she was being petty. Vivien was irritating, but she was a talented magician. Even if her idea of a cleansing had the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
“Anyway, the papers you’re looking for are locked away somewhere in the dark,” Vivien said, closing her eyes dramatically.
“Do you know where?” Iris asked, cringing at the eager note in her voice when Vivien confirmed her own feeling.
“Hmm…” Vivien thought for a drawn out moment. “I see… oh. I don’t see where they are. But give me a moment!”
She hummed to herself, gazing off into the distance now. Communing with the spirits or whatever. If their attempt to summon Billy McBride hadn’t gone so disastrously last time, Iris might have believed in the theatrics. But she’d go along with it for now if it meant finding answers. Vivien’s lips moved slightly and Iris was getting more impatient by the second as she waited for whatever was about to come. Finally, Vivien took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“They’re underground,” she said. “Don’t bother with the cellar you were fighting to get into. They aren’t there and I can see you on the ground with a broken leg. Does that help?”
“Yes,” Iris agreed reluctantly. “Thank you, Vivien.”
“My pleasure,” Vivien said with a wide smile. “I have to get going, but please keep me updated on your little adventures!”
She set the book down on the table, then swept out of the room, her long coat billowing dramatically behind her as she did so. Iris stayed where she was for a moment. Despite the drama and the bullshit, there was something there. At the very least, if Vivian was correct, it would save her the effort of going through every book in this library.