Chapter 16 – Would You Rather Be Shot or Hanged?

I am so glad that the rest of the afternoon goes by without any more drama.  We close up and go back upstairs to spend the evening together.  I fully intend to hold my darling to his promise to “service me”…and I might even service him right back.

Zeke is already staring at the contents of the refrigerator in the classic stance of what we call “The Penguin Parade”.  It’s when you open the door and look inside like there’s a line of little black birds waddling across the shelves, and it generally occurs when you don’t know what you want out of the ice box.

I interrupt the parade.  “There are some restaurant steaks in the freezer.  I thought we’d have potatoes with them.  There should be salad stuff in the drawer and then I would like something with a cream filling for dessert.”

“That sounds good.  All of it.  I think we can even arrange Madame’s choice of dessert.”  He grins at me, opening the freezer to pull out the aforementioned steaks.

I open the pantry and pull out the bag of potatoes.  I scrub and then cut them up while he chops vegetables for our salad.  I like working in the kitchen with him; no “this is woman’s work so you do it” or even “this is woman’s work and aren’t I a really great man to stoop this low to actually do it”.  Just one more thing I love about him.  I have a true partner in my life and I know that I do not tell him often enough how much it means to me.  I settle for grabbing his ass when he walks past me.

I am even in a mellow enough mood that I watch news with him while we eat.  John Robert’s death is not front page any more, but there is a small mention of Dorie being in the hospital and somehow they manage to imply that perhaps she was suicidal.  I am seriously reconsidering the whole “Freedom of the Press” concept in favor of shooting biased newscasters—but then there would be no one to tell us what’s going on in the world.  And I say this like it’s a bad thing…

Dinner over and the meat scraps quite happily consumed by The Devil’s Spawn, I am washing the dishes when Zeke comes up behind me.  He turns the water off and then takes away the plate I was cleaning.  As I twist around to face him, he stops me, holding me pinned against his…naked?…oh yes, definitely naked and definitely aroused…body.  He gently but firmly pushes me forward, so that I walk into the bedroom.  He has been busy in here, preparing for what is apparently going to be my servicing.

The phone rings.  We ignore it.

It goes to voicemail and we can hear Paul Dobson speaking.  “Zeke?  If you’re there, can you pick up?  I need to talk to you.”

“Dammit.”  Zeke stalks over to the phone and snatches it up off the cradle.  “I’m here.  What?”

I can’t hear any more, but the look on Zeke’s face indicates that my servicing will have to wait for a better time.

He finishes the conversation and hangs up.  He comes over to me, touches my face with his finger and kisses me lightly.

“I am so sorry, but we need to go see Paul now.  They got the blood work back on Dorie Schmidt and he wants to talk to us about it.”

I hand him his jeans and look around for my shoes.

We drive to the police station, holding hands but not talking.  I am in a whirl, trying to imagine just what was in her system.

We are directed to Paul’s office and he greets us, then shuts the door behind us.  We sit and look at him.  He looks weary and frazzled.

“Mistletoe.  She somehow managed to ingest mistletoe.  If the daughter hadn’t brought her into the hospital, she would have died.  The investigators found a paper plate in the trash that had some chocolate icing on it and we suspect that someone had added a little more holiday greenery than is appropriate in cake.

There were traces of tyramine in the icing, but there was no actual cake to test.  Mrs. Schmidt apparently throws up discreetly in the toilet and then flushes it away.”  He puts his head in his hands and sighs.

“Paul?”  He looks up at me.  “That means a single piece of cake, right?  The paper plate with the icing, and the rest of the cake is not there.”

He flashes a quick smile at Zeke and nods.  “She is good.  Yeah, we figure it was a gift from someone in this season of giving.  Apparently most of the coven is in the habit of keeping John Robert’s insatiable appetite for sweets well sated, since I have personally talked to most of the members and been told that they had dropped off some tidbit or another in the past week.”

“Shelly Johnson sends him half of a pie whenever she makes one.  Laurie was taking it to him…the night he died.”  I try not to shudder.

“Are you sure?  We didn’t find any pie at the scene…”  He frowns and opens that little notebook to flip through it.  “Where did you hear this?”

Zeke answers.  “Laurie told me that she was supposed to take it earlier, but her father had forbade her going out.  Once he left the house, her stepmother ordered her to go.  At least, that’s what she told me.”

“And Paul, has anyone seen Mike Johnson since then?”  I want to know.  If he’s missing…why would he be gone, and where can he be?

“I didn’t realize he hasn’t been home…hang on.”  He picks up the phone, dialing it as he refers to his notes.

We sit and listen to him ask for Mike and is obviously told he’s not at home.  He hangs up and looks back at us.  “His wife says that he’s not at home.  Do we believe her or do we send a car to check it out?”

I do not know why he’s looking at me…like I’m the Oracle of Delphi.  But before I can think about it, I blurt out, “Don’t waste your time.  He’s not there.”

Zeke nods.  “I have to agree with her.  It just doesn’t … feel … like he’s there.”

“Great, I’ll tell my captain that my pet psychics have decreed…”  He breaks off to laugh at us as we have both made faces at him.  “But seriously, I actually called you here to talk to you about poisoning.  Not just Dorie, but John Robert.  Tell me about atropine, please.  You’re the only people I know who will know all the Pagan lore about it as well as the pharmacology.  I need to have all the information I can get.”

Zeke takes a breath and gets what I call “The Professor” look on his face.  Plants are his passion and he loves to talk about them.  “Atropine comes from Atropa belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade.  It is one of the most toxic plants in the Western Hemisphere.  It is called “belladonna” because women used to take small amounts of it as a beauty aid.  It dilates the pupil, which is a sign of sexual arousal and makes the eye contact so much more intense.  I can just imagine how many women died to be beautiful… like the ones who used to eat arsenic to have pale, translucent skin.

“Anyway.  Atropine is named for the Greek goddess Atropos.  She was the oldest of the three sisters known as The Fates—as well as being the ugliest.  The youngest sister, Klotho, placed the gold and silver thread of life onto the spindle of the loom. The middle sister Lachesis then spun the thread. And Atropos cut that thread to bring the life of a person on Earth to a close.”  He pauses, looking thoughtful.

I continue the lesson.  “Atropine is actually used in modern medicine.  Eye doctors use it to dilate the pupils for examination while surgeons use it as a pre-medication for anesthesia.  It reduces lung and salivary mucus production and can help prevent irregular heartbeat during procedures.  Oddly enough, it has also been used as a recreational drug since it causes hallucinations.  They are supposed to be very beautiful and sometimes the drug is referred to as ‘The Living Dream’.”

Paul is writing furiously and I pause so that he can catch up.  I get the feeling that we are overloading him with a lot of useless information, but he did ask…

“You eat things all the time that come from the nightshade family.”  Zeke has startled Paul since he stops writing long enough to stare up at the smirk on Zeke’s face.  “Ever have French fries?  Slice of tomato on your sandwich?  How about eggplant Parmesan?  All of them are nightshade.  That’s why you don’t eat any part of the potato plant except the spud!  Same thing for tomatoes or eggplant.

The plant itself is actually very pretty.  The berries are a real hazard since unlike most poisons, they do not taste bad.  They are supposedly very sweet and juicy, which is why so many children find them attractive.  It can take as few as three berries to kill a child—and the adult dose is not much more than that.  About the only way to treat it is to make the victim throw up as soon as possible after eating or having the stomach pumped.  It may not work anyways.”

“So it is an ingested poison?”  Paul asks.  “John Robert had to eat something that had nightshade in it to get the atropine in his body?”

“Right.  It might have taken oh, maybe as much as a couple of hours to get into the bloodstream.  It would take some time for it to get into the small intestine, which is where most of digestion takes place.  I’ll bet it was interesting to watch, since there are specific and fairly impressive symptoms as the poison spreads.”

“Like what?”

I speak up.  “There is staggering or falling.  The voice may go husky and the person can complain of being thirsty or having a dry mouth.  They may have difficulty swallowing, do a lot of yawning, and of course the pupils get widely dilated.”  I try not to imagine John Robert doing these things.

“They may go pale, but there is a particular rash that comes up and they look flushed.  They may get confused or have those hallucinations.  Their pulse may increase from being way too rapid to becoming feeble and they die.  One particularly nasty symptom is that the skin can dry completely and just fall off.”

“So what you’re telling me is that this was not a nice way to die?”  Paul sighs.

“There is not really any nice way to die, except maybe in the throes of passion and then your partner is not going to be pleased.”  Zeke makes an astute observation but I have to admit, the thought of dying at the height of orgasm is not…unattractive.  I could happily die in his arms…if it wouldn’t hurt him.  Oh well, no plan is perfect.

Paul’s next comment brings me back into the conversation.  “So how does atropine poisoning differ from mistletoe?  Or does it?”

Zeke thinks about that one for a moment.  “Well, I was just reading about mistletoe for us.”  Paul quirks an eyebrow.  “We did a protection ritual, against John Robert and his pet coven.  Looks like it was a good idea, it’s worked so far.”

I think about the broken arm and the broken yard but have to admit that it could have been much, much worse.  So I guess it is working.  He goes on with his explanation.

“Okay.  The symptoms of mistletoe poisoning would include Dorie’s gastroenteritis.  Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea…there is a general weakness of the entire body, since it affects the entire nervous system.  It can also cause blurred vision and it affects the heart by slowing it down or causing an irregular or slow beat.  It can cause confusion and hallucinations, and in a more intense case, it can cause convulsions.  So I would say that it’s very similar to atropine.”

I startle as a thought occurs to me and both men turn with a questioning look.  “Except for one big difference.  With atropine, there is a classic symptom of the victim leaning forward, with their hands fluttering.  Mistletoe doesn’t cause that.”

“Right.”  Zeke nods.  “So why was belladonna used to kill John Robert, but wasn’t given to Dorie?”

“Who would want Dorie dead?  Are you sure that she was supposed to be the one who ate that piece of cake?  Isn’t it much more likely that it was meant for John Robert?”  I am trying to work out the logic.

“Are you trying to say that we have more than one person trying to kill the High Priest but only one of them succeeded?”  Paul stares at me.  “And the other one almost killed Dorie?  By mistake, of course.”

“I don’t know.  That’s what it looks like, but…”  I falter.  Zeke touches my arm.  “I need to know why the athame was used…and what does his position mean?  Who else was at the office that night?”

Paul goggles at me.  “What do you mean, who else?”

“Mattie and I both agree that the whole thing looked like there was more than one person with John Robert the night he died.  There are several things going on there that just don’t add up.”

“Tell me.”  His tone is imperative and Zeke responds.

“Well, the athame.  He was already dead, you told us that the cause of death was not being stabbed.  So whoever did that was either going for, excuse me, overkill, or it was an emotional thing.  He was naked, but why?  I would assume that you would know if he had… ummm let me put this delicately…had relations within a certain timeframe before death.  There would be (he clears his throat) bodily fluids.”

“There was no sign of sexual activity on the deceased’s body, according to the coroner.”

Zeke bows his head at Paul.  “So then I ask it again: why was he naked?  What symbolic message is being sent?  And why is he arranged like the Vitruvian Man?  Another message and I want to know what it means as much as Mattie does.”

Paul nods his head and somehow he seems older than when we had walked in, twenty minutes ago.  “I have to agree with you.  This is why I have this case.  I am supposed to understand these Pagan messages.  They are definitely clues.  I would agree that there were at least two people there that night—someone gave him that deadly dessert and then someone took advantage of his death to make their own personal statement about him.”

“Let us work on it.  Tell us what you can and we’ll tell you what we come up with, no matter how miniscule it may be.  I can’t pretend that I am not glad this…snake is dead, but I would like to know who managed to kill him with such style.”  Zeke stands and he shakes hands with Paul.

“It’s going to be very hard to keep this official.  We have too much history…and too much friendship for me to be objective about things should it end up that you are the killer with all the style.”  I start to object, but he cuts me off.  “On the other hand, you aren’t this subtle, my friend.”

This time it is Zeke who tries to object and I cut him off.  “Ahhh, then you really do know him well!”  We both get glared at by my beloved.  Good thing looks really can’t kill, we’d be toast at a minimum.

“Fine.  I will remember this when I figure it all out and solve the whole damned case for your sorry ass.”  He pouts for a moment and then grins.  “Shall we make a bet about it?”

“Oh no, since I have an insurmountable handicap.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re sleeping with the psychic.”

“Trust me, we don’t sleep.  She keeps me up all night.”  This is said with such a wicked grin that I gasp and smack him.  Both men laugh and it’s my turn to pout.

Paul stands up and shakes our hands.  “Let me know anything that you come up with, no matter how insignificant it seems.  I will tell you what I can from the official side.”

We agree and head home.

We discuss all that Paul has told us and try to match it up to my dreams and the Tarot readings.  We are both worried that Mike Johnson has apparently gone among the missing and no one in his family is too concerned.  It just raises more questions about who has killed John Robert and possibly poisoned Dorie.

We walk into the bedroom and Zeke wiggles his eyebrows at me, with a leer on his face.  “Does my darling mistress want to be serviced?”

“I don’t know about that bitch, but I wouldn’t mind some action…”  I laugh as he grabs me up and hugs me, mock growling in my ear.  It rapidly dissolves into kissing, our mouths fusing as we undress each other.

We lie on the bed beside each other, stroking and touching.  He likes an extended foreplay—says he likes to watch me lose all higher conscious brain functioning—but he is particularly stretching this session out.  I am actually able to realize that he is using some of the tantra methods we have studied and usually don’t bother with.

This is more than sex, more than the physical joining of a man and a woman; it is the expression of the deepest love two people can share.  I am very much in tune with him; we breathe at the same rate, our hands slide over the other’s body at the same speed.  We are two halves of one whole being, moving in physical, mental and spiritual harmony.  It becomes a form of prayer and praise to the Universal Being, a celebration of enduring love.

We sit facing each other and he lifts me, then slides my body down onto his.  When he enters me, I can feel his pleasure as well as my own.  He rocks his hips slowly and I move with him in this most ancient act, like humans for thousands of years have done.  Every inch of my skin is alive.  I can feel the smallest breeze, hear the slightest sound, see all the colors with incredible intensity.

We are face to face, our eyes locked in a deep gaze.  His hand is between my breasts and his love is like a fire, pouring into my heart from his palm.  I put my hand on his heart and give him my love, letting it flow like a river.

The first waves of orgasm begin to break over me.  I shudder and he smiles, still rocking, still moving at this same gentle pace.  I come again and again and he somehow manages to maintain the slow and steady rhythm.  I am panting and calling his name, clutching his shoulders as I ride him.  He begins thrusting harder, rising up into me as his hands hold my hips and push down.  The sensation begins in my toes, like the warning tremors of an earthquake.

He wraps his arms around me and rolls us so that I am underneath him.  He leans over me, plunging himself into me repeatedly, forcefully and completely entering me.  He nudges my legs up around his waist and I lock the ankles on his back, so that I am wide open to him.  He puts his hands on my shoulders and pulls my body even more onto his.

I can feel the climax that is about to smash into me as it travels up my legs and into my pelvis.  I clench and throb and it pummels me.  I scream and I come, my body shaking and trembling as it pours over me.  I am holding him to me with hands and legs; he drives himself once more into me and I feel him shake, as I am shaking.  I can feel his come, filling me as his body reaches the same heights of pleasure that I have found. He is also shouting and our voices ring out together.

Vader is standing in the door, howling.

Once we settle down enough to breathe, Zeke speaks to him.  “Shut up, you damned dog!”  He looks down at me and we both start laughing.  So much for great passion and romance…shot to hell by The Devil’s Spawn.

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