I hadn't seen him do anything. He looked just like he had at the hearing, conservatively dressed, his manner calm. He moved across my field of vision, that was all.
Stockton was insane, suffering from some kind of delusion. And I'd fallen for it.
Before I had a chance to call him on it, he pulled something over his head: a locket on a chain that he'd kept hidden under his shirt.
Handing it to me, he said, “Put that on. The next time he walks by, tell me what you see.”
It seemed like a simple piece of jewelry, not particularly impressive. The metal wasn't silver. Pewter, maybe. It felt heavy. The locket was a square, an inch or so on both sides, and cast with patterns of Celtic knotwork, worn with age.
I fingered the latch. “What is it?”
“Don't open it,” he said. “It's got a little bit of this and that in it. Four-leaf clover, a bit of rowan. Cold iron.”
Some kind of folk magic, then. Now, was it the kind of folk magic that worked, or the kind that was little more than a placebo against the nameless fears of the dark?
I put the chain over my head.
I had to give Stockton credit for being more patient than I was. He was used to waiting for his stories, and he was good at it. We had no guarantee that Smith would pass within our view again. But he did.
And he glowed. His skin wasn't skin anymore. It looked almost white, shimmering like mother-of-pearl. At first I thought he'd gone bald as well, but his hair had turned pale, almost translucent. He looked completely different, but I knew it was him, because he wore the same clothes, and had that same meticulous bearing. For just a moment I saw his eyes, and they were far too large, and dark as night, dark enough to fall into and never climb out again.
I almost shrieked, but Stockton grabbed my arm and pinched me to keep me quiet. Then, Smith was out of sight again. My eyes remained frozen wide open.
“Holy shit, he's an alien!” I hissed.
“Um, no.” Stockton donned a not very convincing Irish brogue. “In the Old Country they called them the Fair Folk, the Gentry, the Good People, the Hill Folk—”
“He's a fairy?” I couldn't decide which was more completely outrageous.
“Don't say that word, he'll hear you. Give that back.” He held his hand out for the pendant. Reluctantly, I returned it. “Nobody was ever able to get close enough to confirm any suspicions until he came to testify. I'm lucky I was in the right place at the right time to see him.”
I had to work to keep my voice a whisper. “You can't be serious. That's—it's all stories, folklore—”
“Pot calling the kettle black, anyone?”
Just when I thought I'd heard everything, just when I thought the last mystery had been revealed and that I couldn't be shocked anymore, something like this came along. I'd never be able to blow off another story as long as I lived. Flying monkeys? Oh, yeah, I could believe. Stockton was right. I should have known better.
Maybe I should chase a few more rainbows looking for pots of gold.
“How did you know?” I said to Stockton.
“I didn't,” he said. “My grandmother gave me the locket. For protection, she said. And, well, I couldn't say no to Grandma. She sets out milk for the brownies, even in the Boston suburbs. What can I say, I believed her. But I didn't know Smith was one of them until he walked into the room this afternoon. I have to tell you, I didn't expect the charm to work like that.”
Jeffrey said, “I didn't know what I was looking at. I can't see through the disguise, but I can see the disguise. Interesting.” He sounded far too academic about it.
Theoretically, having an answer to one question—what was he?—should have brought us closer to answering other questions. Like, what was he doing with his church? Why was he drawing vampires and lycanthropes to him, and what was he doing with them? Why would an old-style Celtic folklore elf do these things?
Activity within the camp increased. Smith was out of sight again, but people were gathering and filing into the tent. Based on what details I could make out from here, the people looked ordinary, commonplace. Like any fringe church community going to a service. People walked with their heads bowed, their hands clasped. I normally wouldn't see this kind of patience, this kind of humility, from these groups of people.
They almost looked tired.
I expected the guards to circle back around any minute. They didn't right away, because they remained at the other side of the caravan, by the entrance, helping to escort in the new recruits.
They might be clever enough to count the number of people come to join them, versus the number of cars parked on the road, and realize there were too many cars. We couldn't stay here all night, twiddling our thumbs.
I wanted to break up the caravan. This was a cult and Smith was using people. He had some kind of ancient power, and he was dangerous.
“You know about this stuff,” I said to Stockton. “How do we break his power?”
He looked panicked for a moment. “I don't know that much. I know what my grandmother told me. I know a few little charms, the four-leaf clover, the iron. Maybe if we threw iron filings at him.”
“Would your grandmother know what to do?” I said. “She knew the locket would work, right?”
“I don't know that she ever thought I'd actually run into one of these guys.”
“Could you ask her?”
“You have your phone with you, right?” Hell, I had my phone with me. I'd call her.
“Well yeah, but—”
“So call her.” And maybe after that I could talk to her and learn where her belief came from. Did she leave milk for the brownies because her family had always done so, or did she have a more immediate reason?
Stockton pulled one of those fancy little flip phones out of his front pants pocket. I was glad to see he'd had it turned off for our escapade.
The thing lit blue when he turned it on. He searched the menu, then pressed the dial button.
He sat there, listening to the ringing, while Jeffrey and I watched. It had been such a great idea, I'd thought. But she probably wasn't even home. I was getting ready to suggest that we call it a night, leave, do some research, and have a couple of beers while we came up with a plan to confront him tomorrow.
Then Stockton said, “Yes? Hello? Gramma, it's Roger… Yeah, I'm fine. Everything's fine… What do you mean I only call you when something's wrong? No, Gramma… Mom and Dad are fine, as far as I know… I don't really remember the last time I talked to them…”