”The Unwrapping Party” finds St. Cyprian and Gallowglass confronting a linen-shrouded horror out of black aeons at a Soho mummy-unwrapping party in 1919. It was published in 2012 in issue 13 of Pro Se Presents from Pro Se Press, which is available via the publisher.
The doorbell buzzed. The two looked at each other. “I just sat down,” Gallowglass said.
“Yes, bully for you. However, you are also my apprentice,” St. Cyprian said and he raised a finger in a chiding gesture. “And apprentices get the door.”
“I’m your assistant,” Gallowglass said.
“It could be ex-assistant,” St. Cyprian replied. He closed his eyes and interlaced his fingers over his stomach. The doorbell buzzed again. They maintained a stubborn silence until the third buzz, when Gallowglass threw up her hands with a disgusted sigh and stomped towards the door. She returned a moment later with a card, which she flicked onto St. Cyprian’s chest.
St. Cyprian looked at it through narrowed eyes. It was a business card, embossed and covered with the curved shapes of Egyptian hieroglyphics. “What’s this?”
“What does it look like?”
“Something annoying,” he said. The card would have seemed so much gibberish to anyone not versed in the formal writing system of ancient Egypt. “Who delivered it?”
“Some posh bloke with a face like a man who eats lemons,” she said and sniffed. “Dressed like a valet, smelled like a distillery.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” St. Cyprian said and picked the card up gingerly. “It’s an invitation, apparently.”
“Funny looking invitation,” Gallowglass said, leaning over the back of his chair. “Who is it from?”
“The Esoteric Order of Thoth-Ra,” St. Cyprian said. Gallowglass snorted. St. Cyprian glanced at her. “They’re not half as silly as they sound. I know every secret society and occult club in London. We’re practically drowning in seekers into ancient mysteries and in less than a year, the Esoteric Order of Thoth-Ra has plucked the pearls from the pigs’ ears, so to speak. Every half-wit toff with too much money and too much interest in the spooky set has been invited to join. They’ve poached members from the Mausoleum Club, the Bell Club, the Drones…”
“So they’re not fussy,” Gallowglass said, sitting down across from him. She glanced aside at the large fireplace, staring hard at the strange faces carved in the mantle. “Neither was Crowley’s bunch, you’ll recall.”
“Crowley needed funds. Edward Bellingham, from what I gather, does not.” St. Cyprian tilted his head back and scrubbed his palms across his face. Gallowglass smirked.
“You’ve been playing detective, then, and without me? For shame, Mr. St. Cyprian,” she said.
“Perish the thought, Ms. Gallowglass,” St. Cyprian said, still looking at the ceiling. “No, I’ve merely kept my ear to the ground. I-”
A soft snore interrupted him. He looked down, frowning. Gallowglass was curled up in the chair, her eyes closed and her mouth slightly open. St. Cyprian smiled and pushed himself to his feet. He stripped off his coat and draped it over her gently.
He forgot, sometimes, that she was a few years his junior. It was more evident at times like these, when she relaxed into something approaching softness and the hard edge of her experience drifted away. Both of them had been ill-used by life, and would likely continue to be so. Their line of work wasn’t a long one or a straight one. He looked up at the pictures. Painted eyes, sorrowful, arrogant, fearful and mad, looked down on them and for a moment, he felt the weight of ages on his soul.
Some Royal Occultists retired, but most died. By accident or by design, they died and were replaced by royal edict, like stripped out cogs plucked from a machine, lest they damage the mechanism. Carnacki had been one such cog. His eyes found the oil-on-canvas ones of his mentor and friend. He stood in front of the painting, looking up at it, his hands clasped behind his back.
St. Cyprian remembered that first night he’d spent listening to Carnacki’s stories in this very room, with Dodgson and Arkwright and the others. Just before Franz Ferdinand had taken an assassin’s bullet to the brainpan and touched off a Continental firestorm. He closed his eyes, old aches springing again to prominence, and he felt the trails of old scars beneath his clothes…