“The man was proud of his name.”

“Or the least creative progenitor in history.”

“Anyway, the original Hell Fires had a healthy skepticism for religion and loved lampooning the church. They referred to themselves as the Knights of Saint Francis, to their parties as ‘devotions,’ to their steward as ‘prior.’”

“Who were these assholes?”

“The rich and powerful of Merry Old England. Ever hear of the Bohemian Club?”

McMahon shook his head.

“It's a highly select, all-male club whose members have included every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge. They gather for two weeks every year at a secluded campground in Sonoma County, California, called the Bohemian Grove.”

McMahon paused, a folder in each hand.

“That does ring a bell. The few journalists that have gotten in over the years have been thrown out and their stories killed.”


“You're not suggesting our political and industrial bigwigs plot murder at these rendezvous?”

“Of course not. But the concept is similar: powerful men camping in seclusion. Bohemian Club members are even reported to use mock-druidic rituals.”

McMahon taped a carton, slid it across the floor, and placed another on his desk.

“We've netted all but one of the H&F members, and we're accumulating the story bit by bit, but it's slow. Needless to say, no one's enthused about talking to us, and everyone is lawyered to the gills. Each of the six officers will be charged with multiple counts of homicide, but it's unclear what the culpability is for the rest of the pack. Midkiff claims only the leaders participated in murder and cannibalism.”

“Has Midkiff been given immunity?” I asked.

He nodded. “Most of our info is coming from him.”

“He sent the code name fax?”

“Yes. He'd reconstructed what he remembered. Midkiff left the group in the early seventies, claims he was never involved in any killing. Didn't know about Stover. He says he reached a point last week where he couldn't live with himself anymore.”

McMahon began transferring papers from a file cabinet to the box.

“And he was afraid for you.”


“You, darlin'.”

I took a moment to absorb that.

“Where is he now?”

“The judge didn't think he was a flight risk or in personal danger, so he's out. He's still living in a rental cabin in Cherokee.”

“Why did Parker Davenport call Midkiff before shooting himself?”

“To warn him that the lid was about to blow. Apparently the two remained friends after Midkiff withdrew from H&F. It was largely because of the lieutenant governor that Midkiff remained unmolested all these years. Davenport kept the club convinced that Midkiff posed no threat; in return, Midkiff kept his mouth shut.”

“Until now.”

“Until now.”

“What has he told you?”

“H&F had eighteen members at any given time. Of those, six lucky boys made up the inner circle. Very exclusive. Only when a member of that inner circle died was a replacement chosen from the group at large. The initiation banquet was black tie; red, hooded robe; dessert provided by the inductee.”

“Human flesh.”

“Yes. Remember the Hamatsa you told me about?”

I nodded, too revolted to reply.

“Same deal. Only our gentlemen cannibals restricted themselves to sharing the flesh of one thigh from each victim. It was like a blood brotherhood pact. Though the whole club met regularly at the Arthur house, Midkiff swears that only members of the inner circle knew what really went on at these initiations.”

I thought of Ralph Stover's words to me. “I found my offering.”

“Tucker Adams was killed in 1943 when inner-circle member Henry Arlen Preston died, and Anthony Allen Birkby joined the elite. When Sheldon Brodie drowned in 1949, Martin Patrick Veckhoff was the new inner-circle choice and Edna Farrell was his victim. Anthony Allen Birkby perished in a car wreck a decade later, his son was given the inner-circle nod, and Charlie Wayne Tramper ended up on the Communion table.”

“Wasn't Tramper killed by a bear?”

“Young Birkby may have cheated a bit. The Tramper funeral was where Parker Davenport met Simon Midkiff, by the way. Midkiff knew Tramper through his research on the Cherokee.”

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