Moon Island (Chapter Twenty-eight)

"It all began ninety years ago,"

Patricia revealed.

"Conner Thurman was an ambitious businessman. Perhaps too ambitious. He'd always looked for an edge over his competition. He'd come upon a secretive club of elite world leaders, corporate leaders, politicians and celebrities. Not exactly the Masons or the Illuminati, per se, but certainly a group of rich and powerful people who enjoyed their elite status. They called themselves 'The Society'."

Admittedly, I was riveted to Patricia's unfolding tale.

"Conner Thurman wasn't quite in their elite status yet. Yes, he'd had some success in the hotel industry, but certainly nothing that would have given him a golden ticket into The Society. After all, few ever got the golden ticket.

"Conner was enamored by them. He wanted to rub elbows with them. And he did, sometimes. Just enough to whet his appetite further. The occasional golfing trip. The occasional dinner with some of the others. Always occasionally. Never was he fully immersed. Never was he truly one of them."

This was getting good. I nodded at her to go on.

"And, yes, he very much wanted to be one of them. Joining The Society meant that nothing would stop him or his business. He would crush his competition.

He would gain the only competitive edge he would ever need: he would have The Society on his side.

"That's all he would need.

And so, he hung around. He accepted their meager offerings and not-so-secretly wished for more. He wished very hard for more."

"As we all do," I said.

"Be careful what you wish for," said Patricia, raising her empty cup, indicating that she wanted more coffee. I looked at Allison. Allison looked at me.

"Fine," said my friend grumpily. She snatched Mrs. Thurman's mug from her hand.

"Your assistant has a bit of an attitude," said Mrs. Thurman, and not too quietly.

A coffee cup banged. The coffee pot banged. The refrigerator slammed.

"Here, madam," said Allison a moment later – and a little bit too sweetly.

"Thank you, dear," said Mrs.

Thurman, rolling her eyes.

"You were saying," I said, prodding her mentally. "Something about wishes…"

"Yes, Conner Thurman would get exactly what he wanted…and his family, even to this day – and perhaps forevermore – will continue to suffer because of it."

She went on. "Conner had been invited to a secret ritual. He had been told that it was an initiation ceremony. Conner was beside himself. Was he really, finally, truly going to be one of them? He hoped to God – and so he went with great expectations."

Initiation ceremony? Now it was starting to really sound like a creepy cult.

"And then?" I said expectantly.

"The ceremony was held outdoors at a private retreat. A gated, private retreat, complete with armed guards. It was the first time Conner had ever been to the Retreat. He would never divulge its location. But it was somewhere in upstate New York.

"Excuse me," said Allison, breaking in. "How do you know all this?"

"Because I'm one of them, dear. I may not be blood, no, but I am very much one of them."

She smiled sweetly and drank her coffee. Actually, not so sweetly. There was a darkness in her eyes. This woman, I suspected, had a cold-hearted streak in her.

She went on as I shuddered slightly.

"The ritual quickly got out of hand.

There were dozens of men in various stages of dress. Naked prostitutes. An altar covered in blood. Fresh blood.

Conner felt sick and turned to leave but was not permitted to. No, he had already seen too much. His choices were simple: become one of them, or join the fate of the others."

"He still wanted to be one of them?" I asked.

"Badly. After all, what were a few prostitutes?"

Sick, I thought.

Patricia Thurman continued, "One such prostitute was splayed out on the altar. Naked. Screaming. Begging for mercy. Conner was given a stone blade that he was told was imbued with supernatural power. He was told to use it to kill the screaming woman, to silence her, to sacrifice her."

I had a good idea what had happened from that point on. Patricia kept talking.

"He had looked at her only briefly, and then turned his face away as he drove the dagger deep into her chest while she shrieked and fought and finally died. His hands were soaked with her blood and he wanted to break down and weep. He wanted to plunge the dagger into his own heart, too. How could he do this to an innocent human being?"

Patricia was on a roll now. I don't think she could have shut up if she'd wanted to.

"Next, he was quickly pulled into a cabin, and over to another kind of altar.

He had passed their test, apparently. They were well-pleased with him. They had him shower and dress in fine robes.

"He didn't feel like showering. He didn't care that they were pleased with him. He wanted to turn himself in to the police. He wanted to run away forever.

He wanted to drop to his knees and weep.

"But everything was happening so fast.

So very fast. The shower, the robe, and now kneeling before the new altar.

"Others were there, too. Others who seemed pleased with him. Others who were hooded and robed just like him."

Allison looked at me with chagrin.

Patricia kept going.

"He was told it was time to become one of them. He shook his head and said no, that he no longer wanted to become one of them. He was told it was too late.

The process had begun.

"They spoke of untold wealth and power. They reminded him what a privilege it was to be one of them, The Society. Still, he continued to shake his head, weeping into his hood. Listening again to the woman who had begged for her life."

Why had he killed her? I wondered.

"But the longer he was with them, and the longer he knelt before the strange altar, the further away the woman's cries became. He was told that she was nothing.

A whore. A test. To forget about her. To think of himself and his family. His legacy. His empire that was to come.

"Yes, he wanted an empire. They would create it for him. They would help build it for him. They would pave the way for him. No one would stop his empire.

No one. Not even God."

Patricia had pulled the God card.

She went on, "He was nodding now.

Yes, he desperately wanted it. After all, he had proven himself, right? He had done all they asked, right? Surely he deserved the keys to the kingdom.

"Yes, it was time. It was time for him to claim his destiny. For himself, his family and future generations.

"Not yet, they told him. There was still a final step. A final act of loyalty. A final price."

I was pretty sure I knew what it was.

*  *  *

Patricia paused in her retelling, looking haggard and drained, and far from the beauty queen she'd once been.

Years of a family curse will do that to you, came Allison's thoughts.

Patricia looked like she wouldn't go on – couldn't go on. I respected that. I knew this was hard on her, even with my gentle prodding.

So, I finished the tale for her, as I suspected I knew the ending. "He sold his soul," I said.

Patricia Thurman snapped her head around. Her mouth dropped open a little.

The look of shock segued into grim defeat.

She nodded. "Yes. And not just his soul.

Everyone in the family's soul. Everyone.

Every future generation." She paused, and seemed tempted to ask Allison for another cup of coffee, but set the mug on the table in front of her instead. She uncrossed her legs, and looked directly at me. "But your real concern, Ms. Moon, should be more obvious."

"And what would that be?"

"Why did they really invite you up here?"

I opened my mouth to answer. The answer, after all, should have been obvious. I had been hired to do a job. To find a killer. Instead, I thought about her question and closed my mouth.

She gave me a weak smile, got up, braced herself for rain to come, and then dashed out.