The Bacchanal Pentagram by P. R. Chase
“It’s all so bloody embarrassing,” the portly man in the brown waistcoat sputtered, sitting well forward. A damp handkerchief padded at a wide, sweaty forehead and was finally bundled away into a pocket.
I reclined a little, wondering whether this interview was going to be just another one that resulted in nothing—and, accordingly, whether my efforts were going to yield profit.
“Take your time, Mr. Rothstoke. Just focus on the facts from your perspective.”
I made a little note or two into my journal as the man struggled to regain his composure. I had noted, privately, that he did not seem to have much composure in the first place when I arrived two hours ago at his comfortable townhouse in the shadow of the Tower.
“Are you quite sure of my confidentiality, Miss—”
“Thorpe. Yes, Mr. Rothstoke, your confidentiality is assured with my retainer.”
The man narrowed his eyes, peering at me with an air of unwelcome appraisal. I returned his glare with my usual indifference. The difficulty of investigations like these, I remarked to myself, are usually made more costly by the activities and attitudes of the living beings, not the dead ones.
“Simply hideous. And quite unlike what behavior my wife and I accommodate in this house.”
“You said your wife started the orgy,” I reminded him.
At this the man became more flustered, and in response, I calmly turned a page in my journal.
“It was hardly an orgy!”
I flipped back, reading a short note, maintaining a detached monotone. “Five men and five women. Naked carousing. Various states of undress. Took place in the upper chambers of this house.”
Rothstoke dabbed at his glistening forehead again, fidgeting.
I continued: “After a formal dinner. You and your wife with another female; your friend, a Mr. Fuller, stroking himself watching—”
“W—Well, yes, but that’s just it,” he stammered, interrupting, able to take no more of my reminders. “It’s just that—well, take Celeste for example. I’ve never seen her in that—that sort of state, you see.”
“You and your wife hadn’t enjoyed each other amorously?”
“It’s not that. It’s—it’s that she has never intimated a desire for another woman. Or a man, for that matter. Or—to see me with another woman. All of it is so—queer.”
I shifted in my chair, adopting a more probing tone. “Mr. Rothstoke, you know my reputation.”
“Have you hired me to tell you what your wife’s secret desires are? How to please her as a husband?”
He glowered, read my expression, and seemed to back down. “Heavens—no, I am perfectly capable—”
“I’m sure you are,” I continued. “But—well, let me put this delicately, shall I? Stories of orgies and other types of libertine revelries in the houses of London’s moneyed classes are not exactly unique. I am the last person to judge what you and your friends in the privacy of your own home—but your story thus far bears nothing special of note.”
Rothstoke sat up, exhaled deeply, and squared his shoulders, apparently taking my meaning. “It was how we felt before we started—that was what was so strange.”
Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought to myself.
“It was our usual Saturday hosting. Our turn. Fuller comes over, usually, with his wife, Gabrielle. This time, Celeste had invited two ladies from the conservatory, along with their husbands.”
I looked back at a note on the opposite page, reading briefly. “Then you didn’t know the—Teasdales and the Westinghams—very well then?”
“Correct. I had only met them that same night. Celeste had never met the husbands.”
“You said something about the way you all felt,” I offered, leading him to a point.
“Well, yes. We had finished supper and we were taking tea in the drawing room upstairs. We were talking about the newest play at the Orpheus. We had all seen it last week, and we agreed it was rather salacious. Ah, well, Celeste says she wishes she were an actress, you see, and then—”
“Then she goes on this little speech about how the love scenes weren’t truly exciting, and how she would act them out.”
I suppressed a little smile. “I see. And then she took her clothes off—”
“It wasn’t as simple as that!” Rothstoke exclaimed, sharply.
“Do go on.”
“It was—well, she started talking about nakedness a bit, and how she likes to kiss. I had it in mind to protest a little. But I felt—well, I felt not inside my body, so to speak. I had a thought to get up from the divan but it was like my feet were rather cemented. I looked over at Fuller and I see that he is having a jolly time, laughing. So I start laughing too—but nothing was funny.”
“Had you been drinking?”
“I know what drunkenness feels like, Miss,” he corrected.
“This wasn’t the liquor?”
“Not in the least. We had only had a glass of wine with supper, and I asked Harrows to serve tea, not aperitifs. The men had it in mind to play cards later, and I never gamble and drink at the same time.”
I scribbled busily in my journal. “I understand. Continue, if you would.”
“Anyway—where was I? Ah yes, the queer feeling. It was like a part of me was lighter. Like I was being raised up out of my body and I couldn’t stop.”
“An astral projection,” I mumbled to myself, writing the same words.
“Never mind. What were the others doing at this point?”
“Celeste had come over to me and asked the others to watch how she and I might—er—approach a love scene. Passionately.”
“It felt passionate?” I asked, frowning.
“No,” he emphasized, “that’s the word she used. ‘Passionately, Fred,’ she says to me, and my eyes look up into hers. Honestly, Miss Thorpe, that was about the only part of me that I had control over. Everything else was like—well, it was like one of the penny-dreadfuls.”
I smiled and looked up from my notes. “Except you weren’t reading one.”
“I never read the bloody things. Won’t have them in the house!”
I took a deep sigh and, this time, smiled only to myself. “Of course, sir. Where were we?”
“Well, Celeste never speaks to me like that. But, we’re there, and—Fuller and the others are watching. She comes over to me and—and has rather a go.”
I gave him an expression somewhere between bewilderment at his chosen term for sex with his wife and an indication that I needed more information. Rothstoke merely licked his lips and stared at his empty teacup.
“Please, Mr. Rothstoke, if I am to help you, I must have all the details.”
“I told you already—”
“You mentioned a feeling that you were not in control of your body. At the time, did this seem to be true of the others?”
Rothstoke gulped noticeably and took a deep breath. “Yes. And then, well, Fuller’s wife—”
“Yes, that’s her—well, she comes over to us, and takes off her dress. I daresay you’ll trust me when I tell you that she’s never bared herself like that to anyone else than Fuller before!”
“I can imagine, sir,” I replied. “And what of the other two couples?”
“The others are watching, but I can tell they seem quite comfortable with it all. Then I hear Fuller say something about ‘have at it, old girl, you’ve wanted this,’ and he—well, he pulls down his trousers and begins stroking himself.”
“And you and your wife?”
“Well—at this point Celeste is, sort of, on top of me—”
I jotted another note. “Your trousers are off, as well?”
“Of course my trousers are bloody off!”
I closed my eyes and managed another understanding nod. “Very good, so your wife is bearing down on you and Fuller is masturbating. What is Gabrielle doing?”
Rothstoke stifled a little cough. My leading questions and prodding now seemed to be leading to information I could actually use.
“Gabrielle—ah—assisted my wife.”
“In what way?”
Rothstoke shifted nervously again. “To achieve, er—a climax.”
I nodded, tempted to ask for more details, but recognizing that this would only lead to further agitation. “And the others, were they still watching at this point?”
“I couldn’t really tell. They must have joined in the activities. I say this because when we all came to, they had most of their clothes off.”
“And your friend?”
“We found Fuller with his hand—er, grasping himself still. Celeste and Gabrielle were still, ah, in an embrace.”
Something sparked my inspiration, and I set down my pencil. “Came to? Had you been unconscious?”
“No—no, again, it was like watching someone else do these things, but fully recognizing our own selves. And being aware of things, I suppose: I felt everything, I was awake. However, after Celeste’s climax—and my own—something seemed to shift, as if coming out of a fever. I could move myself again, and my body sort of obeyed again.”
I took up my pencil once more. “So, you sensed that your body was being returned to you. This was after your climaxes.”
“Indeed. Of course none of us have spoken about it since. But Celeste insisted to me that we contact someone about this out of concern that it might happen again. Of course I couldn’t contact the constabulary. It had to be someone—well, someone like you, Miss Thorpe.”
I nodded again, calmly, finally glancing up at the man. He wore an expectant look, as if hoping for an immediate solution from me now that he had told his story. This, I remarked to myself, was another reason why I would bill extra fees from the man without a sense of guilt.
“Mr. Rothstoke, this situation will require no small expenditure of resources and time on my part to fully investigate,” I intoned, with the best clinical air I could summon. “As a result, if you require some guarantee from me that it will not occur again, it may double my time. Obtaining proof of supernatural transition is always the lion’s share of the effort.”
“Yes—meaning that whatever otherwordly power that has influenced you and your family has permanently passed on to a place beyond our physical realm.”
Rothstoke sat up, his frame straining the carved swivel-chair. He cleared his throat, as if to say something, but then halted, pursing his thin lips.
“I don’t imagine Celeste will be satisfied with anything short of proof, Miss Thorpe. It’s just that—well, there’s an additional detail that I ought to add.”
At this I found myself quite unable to resist a smirk. Rothstoke was completely oblivious to this, as his unfocused fidgeting resumed.
“It seems—well, Celeste and I, of course, cannot allow whatever happened last Saturday evening to repeat—especially with guests present! But as it happens—it seems there’s been something of a benefit.”
Another nervous cough. “Ever since last Saturday, Celeste and I have enjoyed our evenings with more—ardor, shall we say—than we have in the past. And, ah, Celeste has spoken more than once now about how fondly she thinks of Fuller’s wife. That is certainly new. I suppose what I am trying to say is that—”
Interrupting gently, I picked up the train of his thoughts: “You want my help in reassuring yourself and your wife that you won’t lose control again, but that this new-found sexual energy won’t be lost when I recover that proof?”
“Yes,” he said simply, with an air somewhere between relief, gratitude, and humor.
“Then my work becomes more complex by another factor. I’m afraid, Mr. Rothstoke, it will have to be triple the fee.”
The man nodded solemly, without hesitation. “I understand fully. Triple it is; I will see that my man Harrows takes care of your invoices.” With this, he stood up and extended his hand. “I do hope, Miss Thorpe, that you can get some answers about this.”
“I am sure I will, Mr. Rothstoke,” I replied, taking up my journal. “Before I leave, may I see the chamber where this occurred?”
“Certainly. Harrows will show you to it. Take as much time as you need.”
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