When the Devil Smiles……
By Chuck Semenuk
Angus Guthrie was becoming frustrated with his attempts to place a long distance telephone call to his old friend Alistair Smythe. Communications between the little hamlet of Cairndora, Warshire Scotland and London, England left much to be desired. Finally, the London operator told him to hang up and she would call him when she was able to reach Smythe. Angus angrily slammed down the receiver and walked to the bar, pouring himself a draught of cold ale. “If ye drink enough o’ that, ye won’t remember what ye wanted tae say tae yer friend when ye finally get ‘im,” laughed Angus’ wife Sarah as she came from the kitchen with an order of food for the guests seated in a far corner of the pleasant dining room. “A’m not in the mood, woman!” growled Angus.
Life in Cairndora had been idyllic for the past five years. He vividly remembered the night that he helped his good friend Brian MacNain exorcise the terrible MacNain curse and his nephew’s possession by Black Donald. After all that time, it now seems that the dreaded Black Donald has returned to terrorize the town’s citizens. The local constable was at a loss. The discovery of one or two new dead bodies a week was more than he was able to deal with. Major crimes had been nonexistent in Cairndora during these last years. Angus knew that the town would need expert help to get life back on an even keel again. The only person Angus could think of was another old friend, Alistair Smythe.
As Angus took a deep swallow of ale, he heard the telephone ring. “Angus, It’s yer friend Mister Smythe from London callin,” hollered Sarah. Angus quickly ran to the phone. “Smythe, ar ye thaur?”
“I’m here, old chum. It’s been a long time since we’ve enjoyed a few mugs of ale together. Good to hear your voice again,” replied Smythe.
“A’ll get richt tae it, Smythe. We need yer help. Hae ye heard the tale of Black Donald?”
“If I remember right, it’s what you Scots call the Devil. If you see him, he takes the form of an old man in a black suit; except that he moves about on cloven hooves instead of human feet. I can’t say that I believe the tale. I always thought it was a legend concocted by an old grandmother to keep the children from misbehaving.”
“Ye got ‘im awl richt, Smythe. A can tell ye from ma personal experience that auld Donald is real,” exclaimed Angus. “A canna explain aur problem fully on the telephone. It also includes a family curse on my friends the MacNains. A hae a proposition fer ye. A ken ye and yer friend Miss Fienbody enjoy a guid mystery. If ye can help us, the Missus and I can provide ye with food and lodging here at the Inn fer as long as ye want.”
“Hmm. It certainly sounds intriguing. I’ll have to speak with Fienbody first. Is the train still the best way?”
“Aye. If ye take the train from London to Dundee, A’ll hae a motor car pick ye up at the station an bring ye to Cairndora. If ye ar comin, send me a telegram whit yer train time.”
“I will do that, old friend. I’m sure that we’ll see you soon.”
“Guid bye, Smythe. A hope ye can come.”
Smythe glanced at his pocket watch. “My word. I’m late for lunch. Fienbody will tan my hide,” he quipped. He grabbed his coat, hat and umbrella and rushed out the door. Luckily, Short Man’s Café was just a quick walk from his flat. Smythe pulled his collar up to block the damp cold and opened his umbrella. “Hmm. I wonder what the weather in Cairndora is like,” he mused. Short Man’s Café on the other side of the street looked warm and inviting as Smythe eagerly stepped off of the curb. As his stomach growled and his thoughts turned to lunch, he failed to notice the speeding delivery truck. Horn blaring, the truck roared through what appeared to be the largest puddle on the street. Smythe stood looking at his wet shoes and dripping trouser legs; then looking up, he saw Fienbody in one of the café windows, grinning and shaking her head. Safely reaching the café door without further incident, he shook off his umbrella and went inside.
Fienbody had procured a table in front of the window and had been reading the London Times over a cup of tea. “Wonderful day for a swim, if you’re a duck,” she laughed. She filled Smythe’s cup with hot tea. “Here you go. This will help warm you up.”
Embarrassed, Smythe said, “Thank you, Fienbody. I’m afraid that I was a bit preoccupied.”
Their waitress had been waiting for Smythe to arrive and quickly took their order. Smythe stirred a spoonful of sugar into his tea and sipped the hot brew. He smiled at Fienbody.
“Forgive me for being late. I have received a very interesting phone call from my friend Angus Guthrie. We haven’t had a good mystery to solve for quite awhile and it appears that we may have an opportunity in front of us.”
“A-hah, I should have known. Anytime you’re so preoccupied that you step in front of a speeding truck, there’s got to be a good mystery afoot,” she chuckled. “I can’t wait to hear about it.”
“You are a student of Scot’s lore. I trust that you’re familiar with the legendary Black Donald?”
“But of course! Are we going to look for him?” she asked excitedly.
“Well, we may have an opportunity to verify his existence or expose him as a fraud,” explained Smythe.
“Really! Something tells me that there is more to the story.”
“Yes, there is more. It also involves the Clan MacNain curse and a series of ghastly murders in Cairndora, Scotland.”
“It won’t take me long to pack, Smythe. When do we leave for Scotland?”
“When we finish our lunch, I shall arrange for our train tickets to Dundee.”
Smoke and steam hung low in the air around the train platform due to the incessant cold and rainy weather. The baggage man took charge of their luggage while the conductor fussed over Miss Fienbody, helping her aboard the train. Smythe grinned. So nice to travel with a beautiful woman; the extra attention was very nice indeed. Their compartment felt very comfortable after being out in the cold. As they hung their coats, the porter knocked and opened the door. “Excuse me. We will be departing shortly. Is there something I can bring you once we get underway? A hot cup of tea? A nice brandy perhaps?”
“I think a brandy would hit the spot,” remarked Smythe.
“And you, Miss?” Fienbody smiled.
“Well, since the engineer is doing the driving, I’ll have some of that brandy also.”
As the porter scurried away to check on his other passengers, the train whistle signaled that it was time to depart. A gentle bump as the engineer pulled out the slack in the coupling, and they were on their way. After a bit of brandy, the gentle rocking of the train and the clickety-clack of wheels on steel rail joints was beginning to take Smythe off to dreamland. Fienbody was busy reading a book that she had packed inside her oversized purse.
“Smythe. Wake up! You snore like an old bear.”
“Huh? What? Damn, Fienbody. My dream was just getting exciting!”
“I’m sure that I don’t want to know about it. I’ve got something here that may prove useful during our quest. Yesterday, I remembered reading about the Clan MacNain curse during my school studies about Scottish legends. I managed to find this old reference book that I had forgotten about. The story goes that the men of the MacNain Clan were afflicted with an illness that made them want to kill. The curse actually started with the Clan Donnie who was the original owner of Castle MacNain. Through their history, wars and senseless killings were the norm. The Donnie curse finally ended when the townspeople executed Cormag Donnie and sealed his body in a cellar room of the castle. The curse passed on to the men of the MacNain Clan when they took possession of the castle. My book ends at that point.”
“Hmm. Very curious,” pondered Smythe. “It would seem that the curse was attached to the castle. What was the weapon of choice for these heinous acts?”
“During the Clan Donnie period, the broad sword seemed to be the choice; I assume that because the Donnies were warriors. The MacNains seemed to deviate to a large kitchen knife over time.”
“Well. It looks like we may have two mysteries instead of one.”
The train ride from London was restful. Smythe felt refreshed and ready to get started. Fienbody was always ready for adventure. Smythe was amazed at her consistently high level of energy. They had just collected their baggage when they were approached by a strongly built man in a constable’s uniform. “Mister Smythe and Miss Fienbody, A presume?”
“That would be us, Constable.”
“Ma name is Constable Perthy. Angus Guthrie sent me tae bring ye tae Cairndora. Did ye hae a guid trip up here tae the Lord’s country?”
Smythe extended his hand. “A very good trip, Constable.”
“This is my first time in Scotland. I love it. The countryside is so beautiful,” remarked Fienbody.
“Ay that it is. Mibbe we’ll make ye an honorary Scot b’fore ye go back,” he joked.
With their bags stowed in the boot of the constable’s motor car, the three were soon on their way to Cairndora. “A’m nae ashamed tae tell ye, A’m verra glad that ye ar here. These tales of Black Donald, curses and brutal killin’s ar somethin’ A was nae prepared for.”
“Nothing to feel ashamed of, Constable. We have solved a number of murders in our day but I must confess that the body count in Cairndora is a bit unnerving,” remarked Smythe. “If I may ask, what can you tell us about the murders?”
“Well, the bodies wer found in various places. Some in dark alleys of Cairndora; some around the grounds of MacNain castle. One was even found in the loch.”
“Interesting. And the cause of death?”
“They awl wer savagely hacked with a sharp blade. As ye hae likely heard, those killed by the MacNains who had the curse, were slaughtered with a blade. After many years, townsfolk hae started blaming the MacNains agin.”
“And what about Black Donald?”
“A hae nae seen the beast me self but A hae seen the marks of his hooves whaur the victims wer found. Some folks say that they hae seen the auld man in the black suit sneaking ‘round the town. A’am sairy but A dinna sign up for chasing demons an evil curses.”
######The rest of the drive to Cairndora was quiet and uneventful. The Constable soon pulled off into the parking lot of the Doo Brae Inn. Smythe and Fienbody had no sooner gotten out of the constable’s vehicle than Angus Guthrie and his wife Sarah rushed to meet them.
“Smythe, old friend. A’m so happy tae see ye. And Miss Fienbody; ye ar more lovely than A hae remembered.”
“Angus, old boy. It’s certainly wonderful to see you and Sarah again.”
Fienbody chuckled, “Angus, I see that you’re still the same old charmer as always.”
“Charmer!” laughed Sarah. Sometimes A think we ar runnin a farm here. A hae tae follow Angus ‘round with a shovel, if ye ken whit A mean.”
“Don’t be so hard on the old fellow, Sarah,” laughed Fienbody. “It keeps his mind active.”
“Aye, that it does,” said Sarah. “Constable, wud it be a great trouble tae bring their bags inside?”
“Nae trouble at all, Missus Guthrie.”
“Ye ar juist in time. Dinner is near ready. Ye ar welcome tae stay fer dinner as well, Constable.”
“Thenk ye verra much but A must get back tae my office. Death dinna take a holiday ‘round here as of late. Mister Smythe, please dinna hesitate tae call if ye need ma help.”
“I certainly will, Constable. Of that you can be sure.”
During dinner, Angus updated Smythe and Fienbody on the recent murders and on the MacNain curse and exorcism five years earlier.
Morning dawned with clearing skies. It had rained during the night but it appeared that the day would be blessed with some sunshine. Smythe and Fienbody were just finishing one of Sarah’s scrumptious breakfasts when one of the Inn’s staff called Angus to the telephone. In a few minutes, Angus returned with a solemn look on his face.
“A’m sairy to ruin your breakfast but thaur hae been another murder during the night. The body was found by the loch at MacNain Castle. The constable is already on his way. A can drive ye tae the castle when ye ar ready.”
“I imagine it might be muddy around the loch due to the rain last night. Give me a moment to change into my boots and I’ll be ready to go,” said Fienbody.
“A’ll bring the motor car ‘round tae the door,” said Angus.
“We’ll be ready, old chum,” remarked Smythe.
MacNain Castle was only a few kilometers down the road from the Inn. Angus turned into the winding driveway and stopped at the front door. Brian MacNain and his nephew Ethan were anxiously waiting.
“Brian, Ethan, A wud like ye tae meet ma verra good friends from London. Alistair Smythe an his associate Miss Fienbody. If anyone can make sense of this dreadful business, they ar the ones.”
“A’m happy tae meet ye Mister Smythe; Miss Fienbody. Angus told me that he asked ye tae come. Ye’ve no doubt heard about the MacNain curse. Folks ar beginnin’ tae resurrect the auld tales again. The MacNains have nothin’ tae do with these horrible goin’s on.”
“Rest assured, Brian. We shall get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible,” pledged Smythe. “Do you think that we might take a look at the latest crime scene?”
“Ay. It’s juist a short walk from here. A’m glad tae see that ye wore yer boots, Miss Fienbody. Thar is nae road back tae the loch.”
Fienbody smiled, “It’s a holdover from my old girl scouting days; always be prepared.”
“Smythe, A must get back tae the Inn. A must take care of business or Sarah will hae my hide hanging from the sign post out front,” said Angus.
“No problem, old friend. I’m sure that we’re in good hands,” grinned Smythe.
While Angus drove back to the Inn, Brian and Ethan led them to the loch and the site of the latest murder. They had no sooner gotten to the grisly scene when the Constable stepped out of the woods behind them.
“Smythe, Miss Fienbody, A thought that ye wud still be at breakfast,” said the Constable as he pushed past them into the murder scene.
Smythe scowled at him. “Please excuse me, Constable. If you don’t mind, I would prefer that you not muck around before we have an opportunity to examine the corpse and surrounding area.”
Constable Perthy looked at Smythe blankly for a moment. “A’m sairy, Mister Smythe. A dinna think about ye bein’ here tae help solve the murders. A hae been on my own since the beginnin’.”
“We won’t give the matter another thought, Constable. Let us examine this unfortunate fellow and see what we can discover. “
“D’ye think it’s awright fer those two to be here?” the Constable whispered to Smythe, discreetly motioning toward Brian and Ethan MacNain.
Brian picked up on the Constable’s motions. “We can go back to the Castle if ye wish. We dinna want tae get in the way.”
“I don’t believe that will be necessary. If you would stay where you are until we finish our look ‘round, we can finish in short order.“
While Smythe and the Constable began their examination, Fienbody took a notebook from her knapsack and began to record the details of the scene.
“Constable, do you recognize this young man? “
“Ay. He’s one of the lads from the village. ‘is name is Marcus Watson. He’s not been in any trouble that A know. The poor lad has been cut up badly. “
“These wounds; are they similar to the other victims? “
“Ay, they are similar but none seem to have any particular order.“
Smythe chewed his lip as he examined the wounds. “Most of these wounds are just random slashing but none would have caused his death. Now, notice this one on his shoulder. The blade was brought down in a chopping motion with enough force that it cut through the clavicle. I can feel the edge of the bone with my fingers. This one certainly disabled the poor man. Now this wound in his chest; the blade was long enough that it passed through his body from front to back, piercing his heart. This was the death blow. He bled profusely from his shoulder wound until his heart was pierced. Fienbody, do you have that small rule that you carry around in your bag of tricks?”
“But of course. “ She pulled the item from her knapsack and handed it to Smythe. Smythe measured the through wound over the heart.
“I believe the blade to have been at least 7.5 centimeters wide at the hilt. Bruising would seem to indicate that the weapon was driven hard to the hilt. From the damage to the clavicle, I estimate that the weapon was heavy, weighing about 2.5 kilograms. “
Fienbody noted the dimensions in her book.
“That wud be some big knife, “remarked the constable.
“It certainly is,“ observed Smythe. Fienbody was about to comment when she noticed the slight movement of Smythe s head, warning her to remain silent.
The constable suddenly stood up. “A believe that A hear the bell on the coroner s wagon. A’ ll go back to the castle and fetch im. “
“Brian, Ethan, if you like, you may go back with the constable. Fienbody and I will finish up here and find our way back. “
With the constable safely out of hearing range, Fienbody commented “Smythe, this man was not killed with a knife. With the size of the wound and the apparent weight of the weapon, I judge it to be something like an old broadsword. During their reign of terror, the Donnie Clan used a broadsword to do the deed while victims of the old MacNain curse were killed with something like a large kitchen knife. A broadsword is definitely not something your average slasher would use in this day. “
“My thoughts exactly, Fienbody. Someone has put considerable effort into this. We must discover who and why before more lives are lost. I believe that the victims were all chosen at random. There is a more sinister reason behind this.“
Fienbody turned her attention to the soft ground, moving closer to the loch. ”I say Smythe; look at these marks in the earth. They appear to have been made by some animal with cloven hooves. ”
”Someone wants us to believe that the legendary Black Donald was here, supervising the murder. Forgive me if I refuse to believe in that old tale.”
”I hate to admit that you may be right, Smythe. Look at these hoof prints closer to the water where the earth is much softer. ”
Smythe smiled broadly. ”Good show, Fienbody. Our Black Donald is a fake. Whatever was used to emulate the hoof prints was fastened to the heels of a man’s boots. Where the earth is softer, you can easily see the outline of the boot heel around the hoof print. I think we’re finished here. Let us go back to the castle. It would be in our best interest if we kept our findings and conclusions to ourselves for now.”
As Smythe and Fienbody arrived back at the castle, Constable Perthy was just entering the woods with the Coroner and his assistant. Perthy glanced briefly at Smythe and looked away. It was obvious that he wasn’t happy with Smythe’s intrusion into his investigation. Angus was just arriving in his motor car. Brian and his wife Fiona were waiting at the front door.
“Hae ye solved the murders yet?” asked Angus hopefully.
“Soon, my friend. Soon,” said Smythe confidently. “Angus, I wonder if you would mind taking me into Cairndora. There are some things that I’d like to inquire about there.”
“Ay, tis nae a problem. A will take ye whar ever ye need tae go.”
Fienbody turned to Brian. “Brian, I understand that the castle has a library with documents going well back into the history of the Clan Donnie.”
“Ay. Ye’r welcome tae see it awl if it might help.”
“I would appreciate it very much. Let me slip these muddy boots off at the door. I don’t want to track dirt all over your home.”
“A can bring ye a pair of slippers tae wear,” said Fiona as she disappeared inside for a moment. While Angus and Smythe drove back to Cairndora, Brian and Fiona escorted Fienbody to the castle library. Fienbody stood in awe, looking at the full shelves of books and documents.
“This is very impressive, I must say.”
Brian smiled, “Ay, that I’tis. Ye can read the whole history of the Mac Nain and Donnie clans.” He selected a book from one of the shelves and handed to Fienbody. “This diary written by Aileen Donnie tells a lot aboot the curse an the death of Cormag Donnie.” He lit the lamp on the desk and pulled out the chair for her. “Thar is also one that A hae kept up aboot the MacNains an aboot the exorcism that Angus and I performed on Ethan to rid him of the curse five years ago. After we burned the bodies of Cormag and the afflicted MacNains, we hae nae seen any evidence of Black Donald ‘till this dreadful business started again.”
“Wud ye like a nice cup of tea whilst ye ar readin’?” asked Fiona. “I would love some, Fiona. We started so early this morning, I missed my tea. You know that the English cannot function without their morning tea,” laughed Fienbody. “Ay, that much A hae figured out,” grinned Fiona as she hurried off to the kitchen.
After finishing Smythe’s fact finding mission, Angus and Smythe stopped at the Inn for a cold draught of ale. Smythe was surprised to see Constable Perthy sitting at the far end of the bar. He took his mug of ale and moved to a seat next to him. He was shocked at the man’s appearance. His eyes were sunken and dark, his hair disheveled. He looked totally different than he had looked at MacNain Castle that morning.
“Good afternoon, Constable. You look as if you are in need of a good night’s sleep.” Perthy looked at him with eyes that were blank and devoid of emotion. “We will hae the long sleep when he comes fer us.”
“When who comes?” asked Smythe.
“Black Donald! He comes fer awl of us in time. He’s comin’ soon. When the devil smiles on ye, yer time is nigh. A ken whit A must do.”
Suddenly, Angus called, “Smythe! Miss Fienbody is on the telephone. She says tis urgent.” Smythe walked down the bar and took the telephone from Angus.
“Yes, Fienbody. What have you discovered?”
“Smythe, I’ve been studying the curse affecting the Donnie and MacNain families. I found a Donnie Clan family tree that had been maintained until just after Cormag Donnie’s death. It seems that Cormag was married when the townspeople killed him. His wife was pregnant at the time. In an attempt to keep her baby from the curse and execution by the townsfolk, she kept her condition a secret. Before the baby was born, she remarried and the child carried the surname of the man she married. His name was Jestin Perthy. The records stopped after the baby’s birth. I think it’s likely that Constable Perthy may very well be the last of the Donnie blood line.”
Smythe looked toward the end of the bar. The Constable was gone. “Fienbody, I think the Constable is our killer and at this moment, he’s probably on his way to finish his business with the MacNains. Alert the household and bar the doors and windows. Allow no one in or out until Angus and I get there!” As Smythe and Angus ran toward Angus’ motor car, they were greeted by the gruesome sight of one of the Inn’s staff on the ground. He had been hacked to death the same way as the others.
“Smythe! Take the motor car an get tae the castle. Ye must stop the beast. A canna leave this man lying in the dirt. He’s been whit us fer a long time. He’s been like family.” Tears flowed freely down Angus’ face.
When Smythe pulled up to the front door, he saw a dark figure lurking in the shadows. “Constable! It’s time to end this madness!” called Smythe. “Show yourself.”
Fienbody turned on the lights at the door. Wearing a long black coat and brandishing a broadsword, a wild-eyed Constable Perthy stepped into the light.
“A hae no quarrel whit ye, Smythe. The MacNains took this castle after Cormag Donnie died. It shud be me livin’ here. Bring ‘em to me an A might be inclined tae let ye go on yer way.”
The Constable began to slowly advance toward him. Brian MacBain had taken a broadsword from a display of the MacNain coat of arms over the fireplace and handed it to Fienbody. She knew that she couldn’t reach Smythe before the constable did. “Smythe!” called Fienbody as she tossed the broadsword toward him. He caught it expertly and thrust it forward as Constable Perthy lunged toward him. The Constable’s eyes opened wide in disbelief as the sword pierced his heart, the battle finished before it had begun. He lay still on the cold earth as his appearance returned to normal; the evil and torment seemingly leaving his body.
Brian bent to look at the lifeless body. “Look, Smythe. These contraptions on ‘is boots. They leave a mark like the cloven hooves of Black Donald. He’s pretended to be Black Donald and committed awl these murders.”
“The poor man has been tormented by the tales of his family curse and Black Donald all these years,” said Smythe. “He can rest now.”
With Constable Perthy’s remains safe in the hands of the Cairndora coroner and the town finally beginning to sleep restfully at night, Smythe and Fienbody settled into their comfortable compartment on the train bound for London. The train engineer signaled their departure as they began to slowly pull from the station.
As Fienbody peered through the steam and fog, she noticed a lone figure staring back at her. An old man in a black suit. “Smythe! Smythe,” she called. As they slowly pulled away, the figure smiled at them and waved.
“What in bloody hell?” exclaimed Smythe. “This cannot be. This cannot be.”