Chapter no 17

Hell Bent

The following night Turner met Alex and Dawes outside of the Peabody, by the statue of a triceratops that Wolf’s Head had accidentally animated back in 1982. Once the cameras were down, slipping into the museum was a matter of timing the rounds of the security guards. She mentioned the potential psychiatry connection to Turner and the professors who had bad-mouthed Dean Beekman, but he didn’t seem impressed.

“You get names?”

“Ruth Canejo, but not the others.”

“You find out anything about aging poisons?”

“Yes and no,” Alex said, trying to keep the edge from her voice. It had only been two days since Turner had demanded her presence at the second crime scene. “There’s something called a Wizening Stick that makes you look older if you chew on it long enough, but the effects don’t last more than a few hours. And there’s a poison called Tempusladro, the thief of time. It ages you internally.”

“That sounds promising.”

“No, it only ages your organs, speeds up the clock. But the whole point is that the victim looks like he died of natural causes. Young and dewy on the outside, shriveled on the inside.”

“Then keep searching,” Turner said. “Find something I can use. I need you and your demon boyfriend for the work I can’t do.”

“Then help us bring him out of hell.” Turner’s face shuttered. “We’ll see.”

Alex had badgered him into meeting them by promising him that, once they had two more murderers to walk the Gauntlet, she’d leave him alone. She was surprised he’d agreed to come.

They shuffled past the main entry and down the stairs. Turner looked up at the dead eyes of the security cameras uneasily. They were still recording, but the magical tea in Dawes’s thermos would keep the cameras from capturing anything but static. “You have a real gift for turning everyone around you into criminals, Stern.”

“It’s some light trespassing. You can say you heard a noise.”

“I’m going to say I caught you two breaking in and decided to pursue.” “Would you both be quiet?” Dawes whispered furiously. She gestured to

the thermos. “The tempest won’t last all night.”

Alex shut her mouth, trying to bite back the anger she felt toward Turner. She wasn’t being fair, but it was hard to care about what was rational or right when she and Dawes were stuck fighting what felt like a losing battle to free Darlington. They needed allies, but Lethe and Michelle Alameddine weren’t interested, and she hated feeling like she was begging for Turner’s help.

And the Peabody was one more place where Darlington’s presence was too close—the real Darlington, who belonged to New Haven as much as he belonged to Lethe or Yale. Alex had been to the Peabody with him, a place that had rendered him surprisingly quiet. He’d shown her the mineral room, the stuffed dodo bird, the photos and letters from Hiram Bingham III’s expedition to “discover” Machu Picchu, where he’d found the great golden crucible currently tucked away in Il Bastone’s armory.

“This was my hiding place,” he’d said as they walked past the Age of Reptiles mural, “when things got bad at home.” At the time, Alex had wondered how bad it could have been, growing up in a mansion. But now that she’d been in Darlington’s grandfather’s head, seen his memories of a little boy lost in the dark, she understood why that boy would come here, to a place full of people and noise, where there was always something to read or to look at, where no one would think twice about a studious kid with a backpack who didn’t want to leave.

The basement was dark and warm, full of plumbing that rattled and belched, noisier than the quiet upper floors, where the exhibits had been packed up and stored in preparation for the upcoming renovation. Their

flashlight beams floated over exposed pipes and boxes stacked to the ceiling, odd bits and pieces of scaffolding leaning crookedly against them.

At last Dawes led them into a room with a strange, musty smell.

“What is all this?” Alex asked as Dawes ran her flashlight over shelves of jars full of cloudy liquid.

“Pond water, hundreds of jars of it, from all over Connecticut, all from different years.”

“What is the point of this exactly?” asked Turner.

“I suppose … if you want to know exactly what was in the pond water in 1876, this is the place for you. The basements are full of stuff like this.”

Dawes consulted a plan and then walked to a shelf on the left-hand side of the room. She counted up the rows from the bottom, then counted across the dusty jars themselves. She reached between them and rooted around in back.

“If you try to make me drink that, I’m leaving,” Turner muttered.

There was a loud clink. The shelf swung out and there, behind the dirty rows of jars, was a huge room with nothing in it but a massive rectangular table covered in multiple dust cloths.

“It worked,” Dawes said with pleased surprise. She flicked a switch on the wall, but nothing happened. “I don’t think anyone’s been down here in a while.”

“How did you even know this place existed?” Turner asked. “I’m responsible for maintaining the armory archive.”

“And a room in the Peabody basement is part of the Lethe armory?”

“Not exactly,” said Dawes, and even in the shadows, Alex could tell she was uncomfortable. “No one wants to claim this. We’re not even sure which society made it or if it’s the work of someone else entirely. There’s just an entry in the book for when it arrived and … its purpose.”

Alex felt a chill settle into her. What were they about to see? She sent her mind searching for Grays in case something awful was about to happen, and braced herself as Dawes grabbed hold of one of the cloths. She gave a sharp pull, releasing a cloud of dust.

“A model?” Turner asked, sounding almost disappointed.

A model of New Haven. Alex recognized the shape of the green with its bisecting lines of protection and three pretty churches immediately. The rest was less familiar. She could identify some of the buildings, the general plan of the streets, but so much was missing.

“It’s made out of stone,” Alex realized, running a finger over one of the street names, Chapel, engraved directly into the pavement.

“Amethyst,” said Dawes, though it looked more white than purple to Alex’s eye.

“That can’t be,” said Turner. “It’s one big slab, no lines, no cracks. You’re telling me this was carved from one piece of stone?” Dawes nodded, and Turner’s frown deepened. “That’s not possible. Let’s say someone could find a piece of amethyst this big, then get it out of a mine, then somehow manage the carving, it would have to weigh over a ton. How did they even get it down here?”

“I don’t know,” said Dawes. “It’s possible it was carved right here, and the building went up around it. I don’t even know if it was carved by human hands. There’s really … there’s nothing natural about it.” She uncorked a bottle from her bag and poured it into what looked like a Windex bottle. “I’m going to read from the incantation. You just need to repeat.”

“What’s going to happen?” asked Alex. “It’s just going to activate the model.” “Sure,” said Turner.

Dawes took out a notebook where she’d transcribed the spell and began to read in Latin. Alex didn’t understand a word of it.

Evigilato Urbs, aperito scelestos.

Dawes gestured for them to repeat and they did their best to follow. “Crimen proquirito parricidii.

Again they tried to echo her.

Dawes picked up the spray bottle and squirted it aggressively over the model.

Alex and Turner took a step back, and Alex resisted the urge to cover her nose and mouth. The mist smelled faintly of roses, and Alex remembered what the high priest had said about preserving bodies at Book

and Snake. Was that what this map was? A corpse that needed to be brought back to life?

The cloud of mist drifted down onto the model, and the table seemed to explode into activity. Lights flickered on; a miniature amethyst buggy sped down the streets drawn by gemstone horses; a breeze moved through the tiny stone trees. Red spots began to appear in the stone, as if they were seeping up through it, spreading bloodstains.

“There,” said Dawes, expelling a relieved breath. “It will reveal the locations of anyone who has committed homicide.”

Turner’s brow furrowed in disbelief. “You’re telling me you found a magical map that does exactly what you need it to?”

“Well, no, the spell is tailored to our needs.”

“So I could have it look for hot fudge sundaes? Women who love microbrews and Patriots football?”

Dawes laughed nervously. “No, it has to be a specific crime. You’re not calling on the map to reveal criminals in general, just people who broke a specific law.”

“Wow,” said Alex, “if only the NHPD knew. Oh, wait.” “Can I find my murder suspect this way?” Turner asked.

“Possibly?” Dawes said. “It shows locations, not names.”

“Locations,” Turner repeated, frowning. “Not names. When was this created?”

“There’s no exact date—”

“Roughly.” His voice was harsh.

Dawes tucked her chin into her sweatshirt. “Eighteen fifties.” “I know what this is,” Turner said. “What the actual fuck.”

Dawes winced, and now Alex understood why she had worried about having Turner here.

“This thing wasn’t built to find criminals,” said Turner. “It was made to find runaway slaves.”

“We needed a way to find killers,” she said. “I didn’t know what else—” “Do you understand how fucked up this is?” Turner jabbed his finger at

a grand-looking building on the New Haven Green. “That’s where the Trowbridge house used to be. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

People thought they would be safe here. They should have been safe here, but some asshole from the societies used magic…” He stumbled over the word. “This is what your magic is for, isn’t it? This is what it does. Props up the people in power, lets the people with everything take a little more?”

Alex and Dawes stood silent in the quiet of the basement. There was nothing to say. Alex had looked into the face of what magic could do. She’d seen it in Blake Keely, in Dean Sandow, in Marguerite Belbalm. Magic was no different from any other kind of power, even if it still thrilled some secret part of her. She remembered standing in the kitchen of Il Bastone, screaming at Darlington. “Where were you?” she’d demanded. “Where were you?” Where had Lethe and all of its mysteries been when she was a child in desperate need of saving? Darlington had heard her that night. He hadn’t argued. He’d known she wanted to break things and he’d let her.

“We can go,” Alex said. “We can smash this thing to dust.” It was all she could offer.

“How many times has this abomination been used?” Turner demanded. “I’m not sure,” Dawes said. “I know they used to use it to find

bootleggers and speakeasies during Prohibition, and the FBI may have tried to use it during the Black Panther trials.”

Turner shook his head. “Finish,” he bit out. “I don’t want to be in this room a minute longer than I have to.”

Hesitantly, they bent their heads, turning their flashlight beams back to the pale violet surface of the map.

A clump of red stains had spread in one corner of the Peabody, a blooming poppy, lush with blood. Alex, Turner, Dawes. A posy of violence.

There were a few blots near the Hill and even two dots in the dorms, or where Alex thought the dorms were now. She couldn’t quite orient herself. The map didn’t look like it had been updated since the late 1800s, and most of the structures she knew well simply hadn’t been built yet.

But High Street’s name hadn’t changed and there was a place Alex had no trouble identifying. The spot where a young maid named Gladys had fled, where her life had been stolen and her soul consumed by Daisy Whitlock. That act had created a nexus of power, and years later, the first tomb of the first secret society had been built over it.

“Someone’s at Skull and Bones,” she said. The building on the map was small, the first version of the tomb, before it had been expanded.

They stood together, looking at that red stain.

“It’s Monday,” said Dawes. “No ritual tonight.”

That was good. If they could get there in time, they wouldn’t have as many possible suspects to sift through, just a few people studying or hanging out.

“Let’s go,” said Turner, the bite still in his voice.

“Are we just leaving it that way?” Alex asked as they scooted back through the secret passage, leaving the bloody table behind.

“Don’t worry,” said Turner. “I’ll be back with a sledgehammer.”

Alex heard Dawes suck in a breath, distressed at the thought of any artifact being destroyed, no matter how vile. But she didn’t say a word.

They slipped back through the room full of jars and out the side exit, trying to move quietly. As soon as Turner pushed on the bar to let them out to the street, an alarm began to wail.

“Shit,” he said, ducking his head as Alex yanked up her hood. They burst through the door and ran to his car. The tempest’s power had diminished as the tea had gone cold, and she could only hope the museum’s security cameras hadn’t captured any clear images of their faces.

They wriggled into the car and Turner gunned the engine, squealing out into the empty street.

“Faster,” Alex urged as he navigated the Dodge toward High Street. They needed to get to Skull and Bones before their murderer left, or they’d have to start this whole process all over again.

“I am not looking to draw attention,” he growled. “And have you even thought about how you’re going to figure out who the murderer is and get a killer to join your little hell crew?”

She hadn’t. The cannonball had found her momentum.

Turner swung the Dodge right up to the curb in front of the ruddy stone tomb.

Alex had never liked this particular crypt. The others seemed almost silly, a kind of Disneyland version of a particular style—Greek, Moorish, Tudor, mid-century. But this one felt too real, a temple to something dark

and wrong that they’d built right out in the open, as if the people who had raised those red stones knew no one could touch them. It didn’t help that she’d seen the Bonesmen cut human beings open and root around in their insides, searching for a glimpse at the future.

“Well,” said Turner as they climbed out of the car. “You have a plan, Stern?”

“We have to tread lightly,” Dawes urged, coming up behind them, still clutching her notebook. “Skull and Bones is very powerful, and if word gets back to—”

Alex pounded on the heavy black door. She didn’t know much about the tomb, except that there was a debate over the original architect and that it had supposedly been built with opium money.

No one answered. Turner stood back, arms crossed.

“Did we miss them?” asked Dawes, sounding almost eager.

Alex slammed her fist against the door again and shouted. “I know you’re in there. Stop fucking around.”

“Alex!” Dawes cried.

“If they’re not home, who’s going to care?” “And if they are?”

Alex wasn’t entirely sure. She raised her hand to knock again when the door cracked open.

“Alex?” The voice was soft, nervous.

She peered into the gloom. “Tripp? Jesus, is that ice cream?”

Tripp Helmuth, third-generation legacy and son to one of the wealthiest families in New England, wiped his hand over his mouth, looking sheepish. He was wearing long athletic tear-aways and a dirty T-shirt, his blond hair tucked under a backward Yale baseball cap. He was a member of Bones— or he had been. He’d graduated the previous year.

“You alone?” Alex asked.

He nodded, and Alex recognized the look on his face instantly. Guilt.

He wasn’t supposed to be here.

“I—” He hesitated. He knew he couldn’t ask them in, but he also knew they couldn’t stand there.

“You’re going to have to come with us,” Alex said with all the weary authority she could summon. It was the voice of every teacher, principal, and social worker she’d ever disappointed.

“Shit,” said Tripp. “Shit.” He looked like he was going to cry. This was their murderer? “Let me just clean up.”

Alex went with him. She didn’t think Tripp had the balls to make a run for it, but she wasn’t taking any chances. The tomb was like all of the society crypts, fairly ordinary except for the Roman temple room used for rituals. The rest looked like most of the nicer places at Yale: dark wood, a few fancy frescoes, one red velvet chamber that had seen better days, and an abundance of skeletons, some famous, some less so. The canopic jars full of important livers, spleens, hearts, and lungs were all kept behind the walls of the temple room.

The tomb was dark except for the kitchen, where Tripp had been having some kind of midnight snack. There were cold cuts and bread on the table, and a half-eaten ice cream sandwich. It was a big, drafty room with two stoves and a huge walk-in freezer, all better suited to preparing banquets than serving a dozen college students. But when the alumni came to town, the Bonesmen had to make sure they put on a proper spread.

“How did you know I was here?” Tripp asked as he hastily returned everything to the fridge.

“Hurry up.”

“Okay, okay.” Alex noted his very full-looking backpack and wondered if he’d squirreled away more food in there. Hard times for Tripp Helmuth.

“How’d you get in?” Alex asked as he locked the doors and they headed to Turner’s Dodge.

“I never turned my key in.”

“And they didn’t ask about that?” “I told them I lost it.”

That had been enough. Tripp was so hapless it was easy to believe he’d lose his key and anything else that wasn’t stapled to his pockets.

“Oh God,” Tripp said as Alex joined him in the back seat of the Dodge. “Are you a cop?”

Turner glanced in the mirror and said sharply, “Police detective.”

“Of course, yeah, I’m sorry. I—”

“You’d best stop talking and use this time to think.” Tripp hung his head.

Alex caught Turner’s eye in the mirror, and he gave a small shrug. If they were going to get Tripp in on this, they needed him scared, and Turner was very good at being intimidating.

“Where are we going?” Tripp asked as they headed down Chapel. “Lethe House,” Alex replied.

Most of the members of the societies viewed Lethe as a tiresome necessity, a salve to the Yale administration, and most had never bothered to set foot inside Il Bastone.

“What are you doing on campus?” Alex asked.

Tripp hesitated, and Turner snapped, “Don’t try to put some kind of spin on this.”

Bless Turner for playing along.

Tripp took off his cap, ran a hand through his greasy hair. “I … I was allowed to walk with my class, but I didn’t graduate. I didn’t have enough credits. And my dad said he wouldn’t bankroll another semester, so I’m just … I’m doing marketing stuff for those Markham real estate guys? I’m actually getting pretty good at Photoshop. I’ve been trying to save up so I can finish, get my degree and all that.”

That explained the backpack full of food, but Alex wondered why Tripp hadn’t just lied on his application to whatever investment bank or trading firm he wanted to work for in Manhattan. The Helmuth name would open every door, and no one was going to raise questions when a third-generation legacy wrote B.A. in Economics, Yale University on his CV. But she wasn’t going to say that. Tripp was just dopey and sincere enough that he wouldn’t consider an outright lie.

He wasn’t a bad guy. Alex suspected he’d go through his life described that way: not a bad guy. Not too bright, not too handsome, not too anything. He went on nice vacations and burned through second chances. He liked to get high and listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and if people didn’t necessarily like him, they were happy to tolerate him. He was the living,

breathing embodiment of “no worries.” But apparently Tripp’s father was done not worrying.

“What’s going to happen to me?” he asked.

“Well,” Alex said slowly. “We can let the Bonesmen and their board know you were trespassing.”

“And committing larceny,” Turner added. “I didn’t take anything!”

“You pay for that food?” “Not … not exactly.”

“Or,” said Alex, “we can keep this quiet and you can do a job for us.” “What kind of a job?”

One that might result in death or dismemberment.

“It won’t be easy,” said Alex. “But I know you’re up to it. There might even be some cash in it.”

“Really?” Tripp’s whole demeanor changed. There was no distrust in him, no wariness. His whole life, opportunities had been dropping in his lap so easily he didn’t question another. “Man, Stern. I knew you were all right.”

“You too, buddy.”

Alex offered up her knuckles for a fist bump and Tripp beamed.

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