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The Black ountain Goddess
Cover artwork © 2014 by Deirdre Wait
HighPinesCreative.com / ENC Graphic Services.

 

 

In rural Oregon, two ritualistic murders a century apart appear linked to an ancient cult. Jacob Coltís ancestor hanged for the first crime; now a beautiful professor may be involved in the second. As Jacob finds the answers to more and more questions, one continues to haunt him: who, or what, is the Black Fountain Goddess?

 

 

 

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The Black Fountain Goddess

mystery

Jean Moynahan

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

Jacob Colt watched the heat shimmer from the pony tail palms planted near the steps of the multi-storied library. He was seated on a stone bench protected by the frilly shade of a floss silk tree twenty feet from the libraryís smoky glass façade.

Despite the shade, he still felt the white-hot 112-degree heat as he finished his super-sized cola. He had drunk it fast to keep the melting ice from diluting the soda, but now it nauseated him, and his throat burned from the cold. Better to sit here a moment longer and contemplate his move across the terra cotta brick to the meat-locker chill of Arizona State Universityís library. Sometimes he felt like a nocturnal lizard that was forced to be up and about in the ungodly heat of the late summer sun. He almost envied the desert creatures that at least were comfortable in their environment, night or day. Overwhelmed by a moment of homesickness and wishing he were back home amid the cool forests of his native Oregon, Jacob felt a familiar surge of old anger as he realized the major reason he wasnít: Arizona had been an escape from his one surviving family member, his father. Old anger, old resentments, old questions, old ghosts--yes, even the broiling heat of the Valley of the Sun was preferable.

Jacob stretched himself up from the bench, glancing behind to make sure that no papers had slipped out of his folder. Professor Grundy was a wonderful scholar but an unforgiving master. Being his research assistant was turning out to be more than Jacob bargained for. Also, he had discovered he wasnít as interested in anthropology as he had imagined. Trudging up the shallow, wide steps of ASUís library, he wondered what he could do with only a bachelorís degree in the field.

About an hour later, smiling his thanks at the special collections librarian and signing out of the rare books room, Jacob remembered something he wanted to check in the newspaper archives that involved his own project rather than Grundyís. Jacob was studying a noted but controversial anthropologist of decades earlier, Anthony MacDonald. MacDonald had caused a stir with his research into ancient pagan rituals but was discredited early on and disappeared, first professionally then literally. He became a reclusive mountain man, eventually dying a lonely death in the 1920s. MacDonald had contributed articles regularly to academic journals over the years, but his only book had been published posthumously. Very little had been written about him, but in his reading for Grundy, Jacob had come across an oblique reference to MacDonald in another scholarís work. This book implied that MacDonald had tried to publicize his theories by speaking to whoever would listen before media ridicule replaced initial curiosity. Jacobís main interest was not with MacDonaldís research itself as much as with the history of how new ideas are either accepted or rejected by the scholarly community and to what extent academic politics influenced acceptance.

Jacob had tracked down an article from The New York Times that he thought would be helpful, but he would have to go to the newspaper archives room to dig it up. Glancing at his watch, he decided he had just enough time before his meeting with Professor Grundy at three oíclock.

Moments later, he was loading the microfilm into the reader and scanning pages as one date after another flashed by. Finally, he found the date he was searching for: 15 October 1919. The article, "Controversy Brews around Pagan Scholar," had a surprisingly tabloid quality, implying that Dr. MacDonaldís knowledge of ancient rituals came from first-hand experience. Was that why he had been discredited? Were his scholarly compeers uneasy with his research methods? The accompanying photo didnít help. Instead of "well-known anthropologist," it might have been captioned "wanted for questioning" or perhaps "the early Rasputin." Anthony MacDonald had the same staring look as the famous monk, though the Russianís eyes had been a mesmerizing blue while MacDonaldís appeared dark, like congealing blood glistening with moisture.

MacDonald was seated in a chair at a desk facing sideways, looking directly at the photographer. A pile of disordered papers was visible on his desk, and overburdened bookshelves blurred in the background. On a couple of piles of papers, small figurines perched like household gods, perhaps field souvenirs from his numerous digs in the Middle East. Obviously, MacDonald had been interviewed in his own office and seemed less than thrilled.

MacDonald rarely allowed himself to be photographed, so Jacob studied the picture carefully. The anthropologistís body suggested a barely contained energy that must have been formidable in person. He was lean with dark hair that would have brushed his shoulders if unbound. Loosely subdued in a ponytail, the thick, curly hair rebelled around his ears and at his collar.

Jacob then settled back to glance through the article before printing it when something else caught his attention. His eyes drifted to the left near what would have been the center fold in the hard copy version of the paper. It was a tiny article, although in some small town newspaper far from the offices of the New York Times it would have been the headline story. The title had piqued his interest, but it was the article itself that shocked him. For a brief moment, Jacob Colt felt that the room had fallen away, leaving him adrift in a wide ocean. He literally had to grip the edges of his chair and forcefully propel air out of his lungs to allow fresh, reviving oxygen to enter.

Moments later he ran down the libraryís steps and over to Professor Grundyís office, where he apologetically resigned as his research assistant. He didnít wait for questions, just left the white-haired professor looking more-than-usually owlish as Jacob handed him the research he had done thus far and ran down the hall. Still in a state of semi-shock, he was vaguely aware of greetings from fellow students and professors as he opted for the stairs instead of the elevator.

He only felt he could truly breathe when, with his van loaded with most of his personal items, he was driving on the freeway westward to California. The sunset--copper, mustard, scarlet--streaked the hazy horizon like old dahlia petals.

And dahlias reminded him of his father: old anger, old resentments, new questions.

 

Chapter Two

Professor Raleigh Colt watered his garden, admiring the purple coneflowers and yellow rudbeckia, the embodiment of summer, though in Oregon late August had the mellowness of autumn in afternoon light and shaded breezes. Most of the showy bloomers of spring and summer were long gone. The petunias had grown rangy, the alyssum crusty, and the geraniums spiky with seed pods. On the east side of the yard, where they had greeted the midsummer dawn, the violet irises were nothing more than green sabers that sliced through the picket fence. Colt looked forward to the blue asters, the fall mums colored like pumpkin pie spices, and his special pride, the vermillion dahlias, which needed only a few more hours of sun to burst into color.

He eased into one of the two Adirondack chairs under the horse chestnut, a dirty tree but wonderful for shade and one that he had played in for hours as a boy. He pushed off his wide-brimmed canvas hat and let his head fall gently against the slatted back. A faint breeze lifted the heat from his body as if he were molting an astral shell. He started to nod off, enjoying the luxury of no papers to grade, no syllabi to make, no meetings to attend for another few weeks.

"Dad."

Colt jerked awake and leveled his head but didnít otherwise move as he stared straight ahead to the deck where his only surviving offspring stood with the sun shining on his matted dark curls. Raleigh Colt thought that when the nouns associated with parenthood are spoken in that tone of voice, they amounted to an accusation. Jacob Coltís voice had the controlled anger of dry firewood with the potential for explosive white hot heat. He nodded. "Hello, son." The professorís smile verged on a sneer. He watched his sonís mouth open slightly then close, as if realizing with regret that the ball had been tossed back to his court.

Jacob slowly took the single step down from the deck ignoring the wave of the hand that was an invitation to take the other chair. "No, thanks," he said. "Iíve been driving for nearly three days."

"Oh? All the way from Tucson? How are things at the U?" the professor asked, faking interest. Raleigh saw Jacobís jaw clinch as his sonís fist tightened around a small piece of folded paper. It would wad up and look like a large albino peanut if he didnít get to the point soon.

"Iím not at the U. Dad. I live in Tempe, not Tucson. Iíve been going to Arizona State for the past four and a half years. Since you have been paying the tuition, Iím sorry you hadnít realized that, but Iím grateful that youíve gotten the address right on those monthly checks."

The professorís forehead creased in a frown as if struggling to remember. Then the face relaxed again into a soul-masking smile as he nodded slightly as if to say, Youíre quite welcome. Iím glad you enjoyed the course. Good luck with your studies. "Of course. Tempe, a name so richly evocative of classical Greece," he said with a mocking smile.

With no further comment, Jacob opened his fist and let the bit of paper drop into his fatherís lap.

The professor looked up at his son, then at the paper. "Your grades? Is this the new eco-friendly report card, eminently recyclable?" Chuckling, he unfolded the paper and glanced at it. It wouldnít have taken ten seconds to read the whole piece, but all he needed to see were five words: "Doctor Charged in Violent Murder." He slowly folded the paper and sat staring at his lap. Then he opened it again and read it several times before handing it up to Jacob. It dangled between his fingertips a moment before Jacob ripped it way.

"I thought he was dead," Jacob muttered angrily. "I mean, I knew he was dead, but I thought it was the flu epidemic," his voice emphasized the words with bitter sarcasm. "But this!" The sarcasm turned to real anger as his voice rose on the last word. He waved the paper in Raleighís face before clenching his fist around it.

Raleigh watched the tiny article disappear as if it were a magic trick, then shook his head and leaned back with eyes closed. His refusal to speak seemed to defuse his sonís anger for the moment. Jacob slumped into the other chair, propped his right arm on the wide armrest, and rubbed absently at his forehead. "Jesus, why didnít you tell me?" he muttered.

Noting the anti-climactic nature of his sonís question, the professor thought that even scandalous death had its banality. "I didnít think you needed to know," the elder Colt explained wearily.

"Didnít need to know? He was my great-grandfather! You didnít just fail to tell me the truth. You flat-out lied with all the arrogance and deception that I have come to expect from you." Jacob shook his head slowly as if still processing the enormity of what he had discovered. Finally, with renewed rage, he reiterated his charge. "You knew the truth all along and lied about it. Youíre a liar!"

The sputtering anger of his son returned Raleigh to sardonic humor. "What is truth?" he drawled as he spread his hands in an effete gesture that bordered on deliberate self-parody.

With a smile spreading slowly across his face, Jacob stood up, forcing the old man to tilt his neck upward. "The old articles from the Howerton paper are not archived on the ĎNet," he said calmly as if they were discussing a research topic in a private tutorial. "It was only by chance that I came across the story but little information is available. Hence," he continued with a mockingly academic tone, "I decided to come back to do my own personal research. Who knows? Perhaps thereís a book in it. Of course, that kind of research could take weeks or months."

"Research? Here?" Raleigh stammered, feeling even older than his sixty years and surprised by the age hollowness of his own voice.

"Thatís right, I plan to stay awhile. Iím sure you wonít mind if I move back into my old room." Jacob turned and glanced up at a shuttered window on the second floor of the large house, then met and held his fatherís gaze again.

"Well, Iím not sure that would work," Raleigh protested weakly.

"Oh? Do you really want the good townspeople of Howerton, not to mention your scholarly comrades, to think that your son isnít welcomed in your home? But, Dad, what would people say?"

Raleigh had always valued his sterling reputation, which was only enhanced twenty years earlier when his wife, Elizabeth, died tragically in a hiking accident, leaving him solus to raise their sad-eyed four-year-old son and adorable ten-year-old daughter, Bernice. His stoic determination to soldier on as both full-time father and professor was much admired. He had been back at school a few days after the funeral. Then there had been the second funeral. More sympathy for the burden that life on had placed on Raleigh Coltís scholarly shoulders. Now it was only father and son. Most people would be happy to hear that the professor had his nearest relation back home, especially as his elderly mother, Genevieve Mathewson Colt, had recently passed away.

Jacob didnít wait for his fatherís answer; he strode to the side yard with its half-opened picket gate and playfully kicked through a couple of green apples like miniature soccer balls. "Donít worry about dinner," he called back over his shoulder. "Iíll pick up something for us at the market."

Moments later, Raleigh Mathewson Colt continued watering the flowers with a stony look. As he stood with the water flowing like quicksilver from one hand, from the other floated a red shower of torn petals that began to heap at his feet like fingers snapped off at the knuckles.

The dahlias had begun to bloom.

* * *

1919, Howerton, Oregon

The overhead fan moved so slowly that horse flies circled on the breezy periphery like scorched popcorn. Cornell Shire craned his neck and watched them. Whether from the roast beef sandwich at the Howerton Diner, the sugary fountain lemonade with which the stringy beef was washed down, or the unusually warm October afternoon, the faintly humming dipterous circle was beginning to hypnotize him.

He furrowed his brow and thumbed through his small notebook of red-lined paper. He had used the word correctly. Dipterous, as in the order Diptera. In the manner of flies. He closed the notebook and tucked his hands in his armpits, a gesture that might seem defensive in some, but in Shire exuded confidence. Perhaps it was partly the smile that lingered on his lips, suggestive of a metaphoric ace that he might whip out in the blink of an eye. He presented himself as a man who was "good as any, better than most." Still, he was aware of rough edges that needed smoothing. Marrying Edna had been a step in the right direction, for her experience with the social elite, though limited, exceeded his.

Another step in the right direction was his word lists, one of his many attempts to improve himself intellectually and compensate for his lack of much formal education. As a part-time reporter with the Howertonian Argus, he was expected to improve his word smithing skills, but Shire had loftier plans. He hoped someday to be a real writer--a novelist or short storyist. To achieve this, a vocabulary well-marbled with Latinate and sciential words was a must.

The smile widened as he nodded. Sciential. Heíd been waiting a while to work that one into conversation, and conversation with oneself was as good a place as any. He paused. Conversation. Monologue. How about monversation? Fascinated with words and their etymologies, he harbored a secret ambition to make words. To conjure with words....

Tense whispering in the room bumped Shire out of his postprandial musings. He drew himself up, straightened his back, and patted the pocket of his sweat-limp white shirt to make sure he had an extra pencil. The murmuring grew louder as a tall man of about thirty with curly black hair was brought to the threshold of the courtroom. Two police officers on either side of him paused. Having turned almost full around on the hardwood ladder-back chair to face the back of the courtroom, Shire studied the manís face, not just as a reporter and an aspiring novelist, but as a human being. What on earth could make a man do what he had been accused of?

The man himself was a striking figure with intense blue eyes, fine straight nose, well-molded chin, and regal posture that attested to his breeding. Edward Chabot Mathewson was the rarest of local gentry. The Mathewsons had made money generations before their move west, unlike most wealthy families in the area whose fortunes from timber, fishing, or mining were only decades old. Shireís own family was humble; his father owned a dry goods store and repaired small household items like stew pots. A tinker. Cornell clenched his jaw remembering the wordís lack of a distinguished parentage, it being so ordinary that it just appeared one day centuries ago, like a weed in a field. However the Mathewsons made their fortunes, he was damn sure there was a well-pedigreed word for it.

One fact was certain: Edward Mathewson had gone back east to go to school and returned a doctor. For most families it would have been a source of pride to have a son with a professional degree. The social and financial opportunities afforded to such a person would have done most families proud, too. To the Mathewsons, however, it was probably a disappointment that their son would spend his days with his hands fidgeting among the extremities and cavities of hoi polloi. The Mathewsons didnít need to burnish their social credentials. It was they who added luster to othersí, even to the Howertons, the one local family nearly as illustrious as the Mathewsons. The Howertons had been thrilled when the young doctor chose a bride from among them, the beautiful Isabel Hope Howerton. Isabel was doubly blessed by ancestry as the Hopes were also a prosperous family. The delicate violet-eyed, auburn-haired Isabel had given him three children in as many years, although sadly only one daughter had survived more than a week.

Thinking of Isabel had again brought to mind his wife, Edna, and her tenuous connection to the Howertons. Isabel had sent a wedding gift two years earlier, a crystal bud vase etched with morning glories. Now Cornell and Ednaís long-awaited first child was due in a few months. Cornell thought of poor Isabel Mathewson and wondered how she and her young daughter, Genevieve, would fare after this scandal. Financially, they would be more than secure. But it was a small town, and who knew what details might yet unfold about this gruesome murder. Despite her name and connections, whether she could continue to live in this town would depend on those details. Whatever happened, he knew that Edna would always be loyal to Isabel.

The bailiff standing in front of the judgeís bench nodded toward the back, and the two police officers slowly made their way to the front, steering the elbows of the man between them as they moved with the awkward solemnity of first time wedding ushers. The prisoner himself stared straight ahead. He registered absolutely no emotion until the charges were read against him. Then he allowed himself a small smile and nodded.

Cornell Shire was seated in such a way that he saw only a three-quarter-profile of Mathewson as the bailiffís voice solemnly filled the hushed courtroom and announced the charge of first-degree murder. Grisly details of what had been found at the murder scene had leaked out, and most present were aware of them. Although unspoken, they seemed to mock the straightforward facts of the bailiff. When he finished reading the charges and stepped back, his turn on the legal stage concluded, the smile spread on the handsome face of the accused.

Then for some mysterious reason, Mathewson turned and looked dead-on at the reporter. At once, Shire felt cold creep across his skin as if a thousand blood-sucking insects had sipped him dry. His body seemed to shrink from its borders in visceral self-preservation. This extraordinary sensation of being caught between death and life lasted for only a few seconds, but it had all the power of a glimpse of hell.

Finally, as the judge began to speak, listing the terms of bail--none--Mathewson turned away from Shire. Only then did he feel a release, as if a cold, steel-hard hand had been gripping his heart and had just freed it, allowing it to plump itself with warm blood and resume a normal pace.

Shire recalled that sensation of a heart-squeezing grip later when during the cool twilight, he walked out to where the body had been found. He looked up at the sky, clear all day but now smudged with swaths of grayish heather blue as if a giant moth had scraped felty wings against the horizon. He remembered that frisson from the courtroom and wondered if it had been Mathewsonís smile after all that had evoked it or simply the awful knowledge of what the man had done.

 

Chapter Three

Jacob drove the short distance from his home to the college and easily found a parking spot on a tree-lined street, a feat that would not be repeated in a few weeks when the fall term started. After parking, he sat in his car, suddenly very tired, struck by how much his life had changed in three days. Seeing his father had been a sobering occasion and made him reevaluate why he had come home. Simply knowing that his great-grandfather had been a notorious murderer wasnít ultimately the real reason, but the realization that it had been hidden from him embodied everything about his father that he abhorred, especially the insufferable (and hypocritical) pride in family connections. In a way, discovering the full truth of the family scandal would be revenge on his father. Jacob shrugged as he opened the car door. Who knew, there might be a book in it after all.

He walked through the large wrought-iron gates that were always open, symbolically welcoming any and all. Jacob had forgotten what a pleasant place Howerton College was, with its red brick, white-eaved buildings dotted throughout the campus. The presidentís house, a large, cerulean blue colonial, stood at one end. Relatively small at two thousand students, the nearly century-old institution had a national reputation as a solid liberal arts college with a football team that had won a number of division championships, a well-endowed guest lecture series, and a planetarium that presented popular astronomical shows throughout the year. The one-hundred-acre campus was threaded with walkways that were sun-protected by huge Oregon oaks in summer and rain-protected by towering firs in winter. With groomed lawns and perennial flower beds that bloomed tastefully in season, Howerton College could be the poster child for quality if pricey post-secondary education.

Jacob would have liked to have been a student here himself if Professor Raleigh Colt hadnít been one of Howertonís homegrown academic all-stars, a fixture on the faculty since before Jacob was born. The college had been started in the1920s by the areaís wealthier families (including his own ancestors) who didnít want to send their sons, and in a few cases, daughters back east for an ivied-wall education, but nonetheless tried to duplicate the ambience of private eastern colleges as much as possible. Ironically, both English ivyís ability to insinuate into brick mortar as well as the current belief that non-native species should be stripped from the environment as ruthlessly as spores from outer space had led to the removal of the plant from most buildings and trees. In some spots, putty-colored tangles of dead vines still clung to trunks like witchesí fingers.

He stood for a moment looking at the college library. Compared to the mammoth, state-of-the-art structure at ASU, it looked quaint and unpromising. However, Jacob knew that the school probably had archived the townís paper through the years, which had changed hands several times, on each occasion with an attendant downshift in name: the Howertonian Argus, the Howerton Sentinel, The Hometown Guard, the Tri-City Register, and most recently, Valley News. This latest version of the paper was housed downtown between a used clothing store and a student pub, the Anna Spiffy, familiarly known as the Spiff. Whatever the college library offered, he knew that only on-location research was going to answer the many questions he had--questions he hadnít even bothered asking his father, whom he now considered a totally unreliable source.

After being directed to five-foot grey filing cabinets that held the rolls of microfilm for a number of periodicals, including the assorted incarnations of the local newspaper, Jacob easily found the original few days of crime coverage because of the date of the Times article, October 15, 1919. Unfortunately, an advisory taped to one filing cabinet noted that in the first several decades of the twentieth century, local newspaper archives were incomplete; virtually nothing was indexed. Thus, he knew that it would prove challenging should he wish to follow the story past the first few days of reporting, but at least he could satisfy his curiosity as to how the hometown paper had initially described the crime. Not surprisingly, the story was headlined in shocked bold letters that took up most of the space above the fold.

"Socialite Doctor Charged in Mysterious MURDER!" Why mysterious? The Timesí wire story had called it "violent."

As he began to read that first dayís coverage, Jacob struggled to grasp the full implications of what his great-grandfather had been accused of.

Socialite Dr. Edward Chabot Mathewson walked with impudent swagger as he was led to the front of the hushed courtroom to hear the charge against him, a charge on whose details this reporter must remain mute for they are of horrific scope and not suitable for a family newspaper.

Jacob, annoyed with the coy reticence of the reporter, glanced at the byline. Cornell Shire. That name sounded familiar. No doubt some of his descendants still lived in Howerton; he may have even known some in school. Jacob would clearly have to do more research to discover the forensic details of the crime, but what was reported was disturbing enough.

The grisly murder first came to light when the body of an itinerant, appearing to be of late middle-age, was discovered in the chilly light of early dawn last Sunday by a farmer in a field near Dr. Mathewsonís home. Shortly thereafter, a concerned citizen came forward and stated that he had witnessed a violent altercation Friday afternoon between Dr. Mathewson and a much older man "roughly dressed" like a hobo. A separate witness later added that he had seen Dr. Mathewson hastening from the field Saturday evening near what has since been proved to be the location of the crime. At mid-morning on Sunday, when they arrived at the Mathewson home, the police determined that enough incriminating evidence was present for Dr. Mathewson to be taken into custody, despite the frantic pleadings of his wife to let him remain with his family, which includes a very young child who reportedly sobbed in a heart-wrenching manner. Justice would not be swayed, however. Dr. Mathewson was taken to the town jail, where he was lodged until his brief appearance in court, and where he remains as of this writing.

"Last Sunday." Jacob checked the banner again. It was a weekly paper ($1.25 per annum) that was published on Fridays. The accused had spent five days in jail before being formally charged. Shire added in passing that a few "shabby personal effects" on the victim identified him as Joseph William Godette, though nothing else was known about him.

This taking of an innocent life with no known kin to mourn its pitiful passing would have been scandalous enough, but the dark suspicions of ritual practices, combined with other recent events, have shocked even the most world-wise citizens to their core. Regular readers of the Argus may call to mind the outrage sparked by other mysterious occurrences in past months, details of which need not be recounted here.

Damn. He half-expected to read that the murder took place on a "dark and stormy night." Despite feeling that the reporter was being too cute by half (or was that truly the style of a "family newspaper" of the time?), Jacob was riveted by the reference to ritual practices. He read it over so many times that he was startled to realize he had begun repeating it as though it were a foreign phrase he would be tested on shortly. Embarrassed, he glanced around the room as if he himself had been indulging in ritual practices. He saw only one girl at the other end. She had her back to him as she fed coins to the copy machine.

Sighing, he leaned back in the chair, squirming to find a comfortable space against its wooden rungs. He stared at the screen, which at this distance looked like any quaint page of small town Americana. He smiled as he saw a small square ad that was placed prominently next to the newspaperís banner. It was for Lydia E. Pinkhamís vegetable compound, and pictured an ink drawing of an attractive young woman with sleek dark hair, a cupid bowís mouth, and a serene smile: "She was sickly until..." the implied turn toward good health no doubt owing to Miss Pinkhamís mixture. He thought sadly of Dr. Mathewsonís wife, Jacobís own great-grandmother, and "her frantic pleadings." Had this shattered her life forever? How had the sobbing child dealt with it? This had to have been his grandmother, the recently deceased Genevieve Colt, née Mathewson, his fatherís mother.

Briefly, Jacob felt something he had never truly felt for his father--compassion for having been born into a scandal-tainted family. As a child Jacob had been too consumed by his own grief to have much sympathy left over for his fatherís bereavement. Now he caught a glimpse of what it must have been like for him to have grown up only a generation removed from a horrible murder for which his grandfather was executed. It was a wonder that the family had stayed in Howerton, but stay they did. Jacob knew that his Grandmother Genevieve had lived all of her ninety-plus years in Howerton. Nor had his father ever lived elsewhere, with the exception of two years of graduate study back east where he had met his mother, Elizabeth, an art student.

Thinking of his grandmother, Jacob thought that because this murder had occurred within living memory, there could still be people in their nineties who would have been children at the time. It wasnít something that anyone would ever forget, not in a small town. Not for the first time in the last few days, he wondered how he himself had grown up without ever hearing of the scandal though he had always been aware of some shadow that hung over him and his family. People had always been kind but distant, and there was a vague feeling of unease, like a half-remembered dream, as he thought of his childhood. Well, now that he knew the truth--or at least a significant portion of it--he would look at his hometown with new eyes. Perhaps a new perspective would help him to see clues about his family that he had missed earlier. Of course, Jacob would not have to worry about clues if his father had been honest with him in the first place. Old anger, old resentments, and old as well as new questions again bubbled to the surface.

Although still resentful of his fatherís lies, Jacob pondered how the Mathewsons had dealt with the notoriety and how lucky he was to be born after time had blunted the shameful features of this chapter in his familyís history. Why did he need to reinvigorate an ugly story that had long since faded from the headlines? He was beginning to regret his decision to quit school, give up his position with Grundy, vacate his apartment (forfeiting a sizeable security deposit ) to come back to Howerton. For what? To discover the sordid details of a nearly century-old murder?

As he vacillated between regretting he had come back and knowing that heíd had no choice, the familiar rage resurfaced, directed against the one person who certainly had known, the one person who had kept the truth hidden: his father. He reminded himself that he had returned to punish Raleigh Colt with the knowledge that he knew--Jacob knew. The compassion of a moment earlier evaporated. Jacob resented the way his father had shaped a family history that didnít exist. He straightened his shoulders and leaned forward to the black and white screen again, newly resolved to discover who his great-grandfather really was and the "horrific scope" of what he had done.

"God, what an awful thing to happen."

Jacob was so shocked by hearing an actual human voice after the silent but intense internal debate that he knocked a plastic bottle of water onto the floor. He half-turned to stare up into a set of widely spaced blue eyes. Their owner, a young woman of about twenty, smiled apologetically as she bent to retrieve the water.

"Oops." She glanced at the cap, still securely tightened on the bottle, gave it a quick shake to show there was no leakage, then set it down next to him. "Sorry," she shrugged with a dazzling smile as she tucked a long lock of straight blonde hair behind her ear, revealing dangly earrings made from tiny multi-colored beads.

"Oh, thatís okay, I was just, uhÖ" he fumbled as he quickly glanced at the microfilm screen. How much did she see? Had she been reading over his shoulders? He quickly switched the machine off.

"I didnít mean to disturb you, but you were the only one here," she glanced around, "and I just couldnít help making the comment. I mean, who would have thought a murder would happen at Howerton?" The smile deflated a bit as she shook her head and looked down at the now-black screen.

At Howerton as opposed to in Howerton? In fact, the murder had taken place just outside the town limits, but it was a small town. The 1919 crime scene was probably within walking distance of where they were now sitting. Jacob shook his head as if to sort out a misunderstanding. "Iím sorry, but Iím not sure what youíre talking about." The young womanís face instantly reflected wariness, a suspicion that her small-and-friendly-campus gambit wasnít welcome. "I just got into town an hour ago." He smiled apologetically.

The explanation rejuvenated the bright smile, along with a knowing nod of the head. "I see. It just happened, of course. Not even in the newspaper yet." She pointed her eyes at the blank screen. Again, Jacob wondered how much she had seen before realizing that the bright orange microfilm box read "Howertonian Argus" in large block letters.

"What happened?" he finally asked, reassured that she hadnít been spying on him.

"A girl was found in the planetarium--murdered! It happened last night." Here the girl paused, her brow furrowed. "I knew her, in fact."

"Oh, Iím sorry," he said. Maybe thatís why she felt compelled to talk, even to a stranger.

"Thanks," she said automatically, then continued. "One of the custodians found her this morning at about seven. The place has been crawling with cops ever since. They still have crime scene tape up around that building." She nodded her head in the direction of the planetarium.

Jacob leaned back in the chair and shook his head slowly. "I canít believe it."

"I know, itís awful," the young woman agreed, seeming more confident now that her news had elicited the expected reaction, though it occurred to Jacob that she herself didnít seem all that shocked. "Howerton, of all places."

Howerton indeed. Jacob had entered the campus from the opposite side so had missed the scene-of-the-crime activity. At seven a.m. he was still somewhere in southern Oregon, probably near Roseburg. Realizing that at least part of his reaction was tinged by the eerie coincidence that he was returning home to investigate a murder just as one was being committed, Jacob asked the obvious. "How was she killed?"

"Donít know yet. The police arenít releasing many details. They are keeping a tight lid on it, but you know how it is. You canít keep everything under wraps." She shrugged, whether with disapproval from the lamentable leak of sensitive information or regret that more hadnít been forthcoming wasnít clear. He was actually glad to think about a violent act other than one in which his great-grandfatherís name had appeared as the accused. Nonetheless, he felt the chilling undertow of that earlier murder. In addition, he again thought she had an oddly unemotional reaction to the murder of an acquaintance.

"Well," Jacob said as he glanced back at the vacant screen. He didnít want to appear rude, but he hoped that the gesture would serve to remind her that she had interrupted him.

Her smile grew. "Are you going to be a student in the fall term?" she asked with the perkiness that only girls under twenty-two can manage without affectation.

Apparently, she was disinclined to pick up on the signal that he had work to do. "Iím not a student. I grew up here, so Iím just back for a visit." He tapped the microfilm box with his right index finger. "Doing a little research." Who wouldnít take that for the brush-off it was?

"Oh, that sounds interesting! May I ask what youíre researching?" She flashed that smile again and angled her slender body a bit closer as she peered at the screen, as if unaware until now that it was a device for research. She emanated a floral fragrance that was both subtle and heady, like walking under a bird of paradise tree.

He made a split-second decision that it was easier to change the subject than attempt to obfuscate the truth, for he certainly had no intention of explaining why he was reading a newspaper article from 1919, much less one about a gory murder that had taken place only a few miles from where the recent crime had occurred.

"Oh, nothing important. I was just about finished anyway." He turned the machine back on, pushed the rewind button, popped the spool out of the machine and replaced it in the box. He started to place it on the reshelving cart, but a young woman with shoulder-length brown hair seemed to come out of nowhere. She wore a yellow name badge that read Stephanie with the college logoóthe letter H in a small gold circle set in a larger white one.

"Iíll take that for you," she said quietly. Despite her unassuming manner, she looked straight at him with self-confidence. A little taken aback, he nodded his thanks and watched the library assistant as she took the box and pushed the cart away, giving him one more look over her shoulder. Her rather plain face wasnít helped by her oversized tortoise shell glasses, which hid her one good feature, hazel eyes swirled with green. However, her voice was pleasant and her simple manner appealing.

Jacob smiled absently at the helpful aide, but when he saw the sour expression on the blonde womanís face, he looked more closely at the retreating figure pushing the book cart. Did the young women know each other? The assistant, Stephanie, hadnít acknowledged the blonde. She also seemed unaware that she was the object of a snarly look by the other girl, who was clearly her superior in looks and dress. The library assistant was wearing a shapeless blue T-shirt, baggy jeans, and well-worn Birkenstocks, no comparison to the Nordstrom chic of the blonde. However, Howerton College was a small campus, so who knew what slights were sustained and festered in the geology lab, in line at the bookstore, or at the cafeteriaís salad bar?

Getting up from his chair, he mumbled a casual "Take care" and started walking toward the security arches near the exit. Ignoring the implied "brush off" the blonde followed him, chatting about the ever-increasing cost of textbooks, parking decals, and blackberry smoothies. As he held the door for her to pass through, he realized that she was quite tall. He was six feet even, and she was at most only two inches shorter. Her long, straight hair, lightly freckled skin, blue eyes, and high cheekbones suggested a Nordic beauty. At the same time, her super-abbreviated khaki shorts, red sleeveless top with sprayed-on fit, sandals and huge beach canvas bag slung over her shoulder made her looked like an all-American girl enjoying a late summer day.

Once outside, they continued talking casually. Within a few moments, they had come to a raised cedar deck with a fountain in the middle and well-trimmed evergreens planted around the perimeter. There was also a waist-high planter the size of a small wading pool filled with blue salvia and pink geraniums to the left. Several students were at the cafe tables squinting at sun-reflecting laptops while an older woman dressed in a flowered skirt and white blouse, presumably a professor, sat in a shady corner reading a book. It looked like a small garden in an Italian villa or a convent retreat where weary souls could seek a brief respite from the world. The garden seemed to be metaphorically as well as literally above campus life. Tired and a little disappointed in his first dayís research, Jacob wished that he could join them. "Iím parked over there," he said, pointing to the street.

The young woman nodded thoughtfully as if this were an existential declaration. Then she brightened. "By the way, Iím Brooke Peterson." Leaning toward him, she shifted her canvas tote to her back and thrust her hand forward.

"Jacob Colt," he responded, shaking her hand briefly. "Well, I guess Iíd better get goingÖ"

"I was just going to get an iced latte." She turned in the direction of the woman with the book. Jacob then saw a glass door overshadowed by a large green awning with white print, Pierian Café.

He couldnít help but grin. "Do the muses serve as baristas?"

Her smile dimmed slightly. "Pardon?"

"Never mind. I could do with something cool myself."

A half-hour later, Jacob sat in his car with the windows rolled down and the air conditioning on, trying to blow out some of the heat from the afternoon. He had forgotten how intense Oregonís sun could be because of its northern latitude. It was almost September yet he could still feel the heat stinging his skin. He and Brooke had parted after she gave him her number. Jacob suggested that maybe they could meet up at the Spiff, the student pub, some Friday evening.

Brooke turned out to be a senior lit major who had come from central Oregon on scholarship. She also worked part-time in the library, which explained why she was on campus two weeks before the start of term. It might also explain the glare she had given Stephanie, the library assistant. Perhaps there had been a disagreement about shifts or shelving protocol. Still, it was odd that neither had openly acknowledged the other.

As the inside of the car gradually cooled, Jacob smiled at the memory of their pleasant conversation in the cafe, even if he hadnít accomplished exactly what he had set out to do at the library. As he was currently unemployed and unenrolled, he had plenty of time to continue his research, maybe even time for a night out.

He rolled up the windows, turned down the air conditioner, put the car in reverse then stopped. Something struck him as odd. Brooke was a literature major, but she didnít catch the reference to the Pierian Spring? Perhaps her interests lay in modern literature whereas he knew more than his fair share of classical mythology not only because of his interest in anthropology, which had been first excited by Frazerís Golden Bough, but also by his minor in psychology. Jungian theories of mythical archetypes and universal memory had so piqued his interest that at one point he had flirted with switching his major. Furthermore, how could a literature major at Howerton not recognize or comment on his last name, the same as Howertonís Humanitiesí chair?

And what were the odds that on his first day home to investigate an old murder, a body would turn up in the planetarium?

* * *

Across campus, the crime scene collection of evidence was wrapping up in the building known in general as the planetarium even though it included faculty offices as well as the theater where the body was found. Two men, one in plain clothes, the other in the uniform of the local police, did one final walk-around, starting with the stained outline where the deceased was discovered in the front, then moving in a gradually widening circle, finally stopping when they reached the row of royal blue theatre-style seats folded up like plush pelican bills.

"Make sure every row is gone over, every seat pulled down, every nook and cranny examined. Collect everything," the man in plain clothes said. His voice was quiet but authoritative.

The officer nodded. "Weíve already done a once-over."

The other man, about fifty, turned and looked at the officer, his junior by a good twenty years. "Make sure every row is gone over, every seat pulled down, every nook and cranny examined," he repeated with slow emphasis, though still not raising his voice.

The officer, cheeks reddening, mumbled, "Yes, sir."

As they stood silently, their eyes swept back and forth across the large room that could hold a hundred or more. Then without speaking, the older man walked back to where the body had been discovered. Keeping his eyes on the spot, he slowly shook his head. "The way she was found--do you have any idea what that could mean?"

The young officer was surprised by the question. Detective Ron Cargill didnít suffer fools gladly and rarely admitted to his own bafflement. Jack Strooker stood up a bit straighter, feeling that he had been spoken to as an equal. Almost.

"No, sir." Feeling that the answer was anti-climactic and wanting to make the most of the moment, he thought of something as he glanced overhead at the domed ceiling where the constellations were projected to show the changing face of the heavens. "Do you think it could have anything to do with the stars?" he asked, craning his neck upward. Immediately, he felt silly. What an asinine thought. He hoped that Cargill hadnít heard.

But he had heard. Looking puzzled, the detective glanced first at the officer, and then followed his eyes "skyward." As a small smile appeared on the older manís face, he replied, "That is an excellent question, Strooker."

The officer resisted the impulse to say, "It is?"

* * *

Cargill looked "earthward" again, and the smile disappeared. After initial evidence collectingótemperature recorded, hands bagged--the body had long since been removed. Even so, Cargill knew he would never forget that image as long as he lived. It was neither his first murder nor the bloodiest, but it was without doubt the most troubling.

He had read of ghastly crimes where pregnant women had been killed and the fetuses removed. Although not impossible that this woman was in some early stage of pregnancy, the coroner from initial examination didnít think so. The precedence of murdering a pregnant woman in order to steal her unborn baby notwithstanding, it would hardly be relevant with a woman who if, pregnant at all, may have been only days or weeks along. In any event, what was truly disturbing was not that something had been removed from her mutilated abdomen, but that something had been added.

He glanced up again at the ceiling. Perhaps not literally tied to the stars, but Officer Strooker had suggested a possible avenue of investigation.

Eventually, the DNA analysis, post-mortem examination, and consultation with the young womanís physician would verify the victim had been eight weeksí pregnant. This simply validated Detective Cargillís initial hunch that the fact of pregnancy was probably incidental to the violated body, although considering the twisted web of motives for murder that he had heard of over the years, nothing was impossible. The DNA samples, though sparse and contaminated, had also indicated that they were looking for more than one suspect. Unfortunately, there were problems with that, too.

In the days that followed, Cargill often recalled Jack Strookerís observation that the constellations were tied to the murder and was struck by how the normally unimaginative sergeant had put his finger on a crucial piece of the puzzle in the first hours after the murder.

* * *

800 B.C. E., the Middle East

Night had fallen hours earlier, allowing the brightest stars to slowly gather on the rim of the sky like nocturnal animals at a watering hole. Barely clearing the horizon, the full moon rose as a gleaming silver disk surrounded by unfathomable blackness.

The eyes of those gathered at the base of the hill, however, werenít on Her, but on Her priestess. The slim form whose long tangles of dark curly hair swung in the folds of her gown lifted her arms into the night as the others watched, waiting. With their mouths opening and closing, they resembled upright fish trying to breathe the night air.

An older woman whose fuzzy hair surrounded her head like a swarm of grey bees slipped a hand into a pocket of her rough cloak-like garment. She retrieved a small figurine cut from greenstone, though it actually represented only a face, not an entire body like those of neighboring tribes that had swollen fertile bellies bulging over two nodular legs. This object, the size of a citron, lay in the womanís palm as she curled forward her fingers and lightly touched its smooth face. Others held similar objects--some greenstone, some baked clay. All knew that what the priestess held in her hands was older than the first spark of time and featureless.

The moon now resembled a white yolk crisscrossed with the black wings of an unborn bird. Light and darkness, the eternal struggle, commemorated monthly. Tonight was a rare occasion: a full moon that was larger and brighter than usual, bulging like an over-filled wine skin.

Later, after the chanting and the dancing, the scent of galbanum from the incense still hung in the air, the resinís bitterness tempered with balsam and cassia. While the mixture burned, fragrant smoke snaked towards the night sky, trailing green sweetness like a pear sliced with a hot ember.

With the swollen moon nearly overhead, the young priestess on the hillock gently lowered the oil-soaked object in her hands to the ground and looked up expectedly into the night, then back to the earth. There was a brief fluttering of her hands like doves mating, then a flash of fire. All those assembled below murmured in awe as the fire waned then died out completely.

Only then did She begin to speak.

 

 

 

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Author Bio

Jean Moynahan was born in Oregon but raised in Arizona. Before finishing her university studies, she served two years in Germany with the Army Signal Corps, an experience that years later would provide the basis for her first published book, a romance entitled Captain of Hearts.

Jean completed a masterís degree in English literature at Arizona State University and has been a teacher ever since, specifically an adjunct college instructor in writing and literature at a community college in Oregon for over twenty years. She has published a second romance, Painted Heart, and a mystery, The Illuminated Vineyard. She lives with her husband in Oregonís beautiful Willamette Valley.

Author web site.

TTB title: The Black Fountain Goddess

 

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The Black Fountain Goddess Copyright © 2014. Jean Moynahan. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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List Price: $17.95 USD

 

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  Reviews

"While studying anthropology in Arizona, graduate student Jacob Colt is shocked to discover that his great-grandfather was hanged for a ritualistic murder in rural Oregon nearly a hundred years earlier. Angered that the truth has been kept from him, Jacob returns to his hometown in Oregon and begins searching for the truth behind the crime, but almost immediately a grisly murder occurs at the small college where his father is a professor. As Jacob learns more disturbing details about his family's leadership in an ancient goddess cult, he finds that the two murders, separated by decades, may both be rooted in the cult's worship of a sacred object. Complicating his investigation is his involvement with three young women involved in the current murder investigation, all of whom he finds attractive and all of whom have their own secrets. Ultimately, he knows he must unravel the most complex and dangerous mystery of all: who is the Black Fountain Goddess?

"Critique: A tautly written, deftly crafted, original mystery from beginning to end, The Black Fountain Goddess documents author Jean Moynahan as an impressively skilled storyteller and a master of the mystery/suspense genre. Solidly entertaining, The Black Fountain Goddess is a compelling and highly recommended read that will prove an enduringly popular addition to community library collections."
~ Midwest Book Review
 




 


 

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