Chapter 1: We return from Dodge
After the unexpected impact, the little girl gave me a huge hug, and a rather sloppy kiss. I spoke over her shoulder to John who was wearing a grin from ear to ear!
"Well John! This certainly is a surprise!" I said.
I looked back and addressed the little girl who was hovering in front of my face.
"Now Mistress Samantha, would you find it easier if I held you?"
"No. thank you, Uncle Robert. I want to give a hug to my new aunt. Then I must go upstairs to finish my lesson."
"And what lesson is that?"
"It's telep ... tel ... Umm, it's mind reading."
"Oh and do you know what I'm thinking?"
"Oh, yes! You believe Uncle John when he thinks that I'm a sorcerer and you think that I can't have that much talent."
I suddenly thought of Saratoga Springs, where I had once vacationed with my parents.
Samantha screwed up her eyes. "Sarah's toga? What's that?
"Just something I thought of, and how old did John say you were?"
"I'm four. I'll be five in two months. No! I'm not an old lady of twenty-five. I've told you. I'm only four."
She had caught my thoughts exactly.
After that, she floated across to Karen and gave her a hug, much to Karen's amusement. Samantha then floated down the hall and up the stairs.
Two days later, this amazing young girl approached me and asked, "Uncle Robert?"
"Can you tell me? What is a dark mailman?"
"A dark mail man, or could it be a dark letter writer?"
"I don't know. Why do you ask?"
"Oh! There's a man from the Sheriff's office who is on his way here, to ask you to catch a bad man. That's who he is."
"Well we'll have to wait for him to turn up and then he'll explain who the bad man is. Now shouldn't you be at your lessons?"
"Yes. I'm on my way. 'Bye now." and she floated off.
We must teach her the meaning of being grounded!
Sure enough, twenty minutes later, there was a knock at the front door which heralded a Sheriff's Deputy. After introducing himself, he said that the Sheriff had sent him to request our help in a most circumspect inquiry. This gave me the clue I needed to solve Samantha's pronouncement.
I asked him, "Would it be a case of blackmail?"
You see my reasoning?
"How did you... ? Yes, Sir."
"My young apprentice told me to expect you. I'll get her to come with us. I think her presence will give us an air of not being an investigative team. Where does the Sheriff want to meet us?"
"At the house of Apothecary Prescott, Sir. It's just a couple of blocks down the road."
"Let me get my bag and my apprentice, and I'll be at your disposal." I left him and called upstairs, "Samantha! Samantha could you walk down the stairs, please."
The thought hit me as she replied. 'Yes, Uncle Robert. Why do you want me to walk when it's easier to float?'
'Because we have a guest!'
We heard her running down the staircase and then she swung round the post at the bottom.
"Yes, Uncle Robert? Here I am. What do you want?"
"I want you to come for a little walk with me."
"Shall I get my coat?"
"No! I think it's too nice a day to wear a coat. Right, Deputy. Lead on."
As we left the house I picked up my bag. Samantha held my right hand and had the Deputy on her other side. We set off down our road until we came to the main road. We turned left and walked for another three blocks, coming to the Apothecary's house. On the way I mentally spoke to Samantha asking her not to do anything that an ordinary little girl wouldn't do. I asked her to listen to what the others were thinking in case I missed something. She gave me a slight grin and a 'Yes, Uncle.'
The Deputy knocked on the door, which was opened by the Sheriff. The Deputy left, as Samantha and I entered.
"Ah! Welcome Investigator MacLeod, and who is this?" he asked as he led us into the drawing room.
"This is Demoiselle Samantha Boon. I thought a little bit of camouflage would be in order. Now, what is the problem?"
"Blackmail. Apothecary Prescott has been seeing a Mistress Goodwin on a daily basis for treatment of a condition which requires regular testing and injections until the Healer can effectively kick-start the production of the missing ingredient in Mistress Goodwin's body. This morning he received this!"
He showed me a piece of paper on which individual cut-out letters had been pasted. The letters formed the message: I KNOW YOU ARE HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH MISTRESS GOODWIN. GIVE ME FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS OR I WILL TELL HER HUSBAND!
"What do you make of this, Sheriff?"
"It seems to me that it could be a neighbor who is being opportunistic. I don't think there's much more to it than that."
"Do you know if Goodman Goodwin is aware of his wife's affliction?"
"You'll have to ask Apothecary Prescott that."
"We will. Is he in?"
"Yes. He didn't feel like going to work, today, after receiving this demand."
"Will you fetch him, please?"
With an "Excuse me?" the Sheriff left the room. He returned shortly with Apothecary Prescott.
In the meantime, I asked Samantha to listen to the mind of the Apothecary, but not to express her findings out loud.
The two men returned and introductions were made. I then asked Apothecary Prescott, "Can you explain to me why Mistress Goodwin has to visit you on such a regular basis?"
"Yes. You see, she has an affliction that was, until recently, invariably fatal. Her body does not make an ingredient that is essential to life. Or rather, it did make it as a child, but then it gradually stopped doing so. The Healers can get the body restarted in making the ingredient again, but it takes time, and it is time that the patient hasn't got.
"This is where an Apothecary comes in. You see, while the body can no longer make its own, there are certain plant extracts that mimic the missing substance. Preparation of these extracts is a difficult and lengthy process. Also the extract cannot be given orally. It has to be injected. So you see that an Apothecary has to be involved with the patient daily over a period of several months, until the Healer's treatment takes effect."
"Thank you, Goodman Prescott, for such a lucid explanation. Now, I'm afraid, I have to ask you. Is there any truth in what the blackmail note implies?"
"No! Of course not! My relationship with Mistress Goodwin is purely professional."
Samantha, who had been holding two of my fingers in her hand, gave me a squeeze.
She spoke into my mind, 'That's true, but he likes her a lot. He thinks she's very pretty!'
I gave her hand a slight squeeze, in acknowledgment.
"Does she come for her treatment at a regular time of day?"
"Yes! She comes when I close my shop."
"Why then? It seems to me that such a time could easily give rise to the speculation contained in the blackmail note."
"Well, you see. The injection has to be given in the gluteus maximus. That is the large muscle in a person's bottom which has to be bare to receive the injection. Of course, I take the lady from the shop and into the back room to actually give the injection."
"How long does the injection take?"
"Only a few moments, but that's not all. You see, I have to test her blood first, to know how much of the extracts to give her with the injection. I have to prick her thumb to get a drop of her blood. This drop is applied to a strip of test paper, which has been supplied by her Healer. The essence from her blood spreads throughout the strip of paper and it changes the color of the strip. I compare the color with a reference sheet that her Healer gave me. This indicates how much extract the injection should contain. Mistress Goodwin then lowers her nether garments and I inject her and she redresses herself. We then have a short chat like friends. I try to make the procedure a little less clinical than it might be. I think that puts her more at ease."
"Now, tell me. Have you any idea who could be blackmailing you?"
"Is Mistress Goodwin aware of this threat?"
"No. At least, I don't think so. Do you think you can help me?"
"I'm sure I can, although it may take a little while. Be of good cheer, Goodman Prescott. Now tell me where may I find Mistress Goodwin?"
"She has a stall in the market on Capital Avenue. She should be there, at this time of day."
"Then we shall take our leave. Good day to you Goodman Prescott. Good day to you Sheriff." We left to continue our walk.