The Straight Story



Foreword:

The story is set immediately after the events shown in Tim Burton’s film: Ichabod and Katrina go to New York together. “And they live happily ever after ...” Maybe. But as a couple? - This is a Slash story, dear reader ...

No Horseman this time, headless or otherwise. More of him another time.

But maybe the characters I invented for this story will make a nice change...

*****

Ichabod Crane awoke from a short, fitful sleep when the coach rumbled through an especially deep pothole. He rubbed the back of his head and gently wrapped Katrina more tightly into her cloak, which had fallen down when the coach made that sudden jolt. She was so exhausted, she did not even wake up. Her sweet face bore a worried frown even in her sleep.

She seemed so small, so fragile, and yet she had proved determined and strong. Katrina had not cried much when first her fiancé and then her father had been killed by the Headless Horseman. - Some people might have called her heartless, but Ichabod knew from his own experience that crying didn’t help, especially when the world you knew collapsed around you, taking everything you cherished down with it: Love, safety, your peace of mind - leaving you alone, mourning, helpless and frightened...

Sleepy Hollow had brought them no luck. Katrina had lost all the people she loved, lost through the ruthless schemes of a woman whom she had liked and trusted...

She would have to come to terms with her first glimpse into the abysses of human nature, as he had to come to terms with the unwanted memories Sleepy Hollow had brought back to him: His mother accused of being a witch, delivered to the authorities by her own husband, his father, and tortured to death at his command. Ichabod had relived the horror of finding his mother’s maimed body in the iron maiden in his dreams.

- And he had not been able to spare Katrina the sight of her father impaled on a fence-post, being dragged out of the church window to the fence, where the Horseman could behead him -

//Damn Sleepy Hollow, damn it! Damn!//

He caught himself just in time before he punched the side of the coach with his fist. It would wake up Katrina for sure. And frighten her. -

//Get a hold on yourself, Crane. You have responsibilities to face. One of them is this young woman, who is alone in the world. She is a rich heiress, and from a good family. With her charms and her resolve, she’ll surely make her way in New York. But she needs someone to protect her, at least for the first few months. And maybe she needs a friend as well. -//

There was something else that worried him. Katrina was beautiful and charming, and yet, the only affection he felt for her was that of a brother for his younger sister.

//You should stop worrying about this, Crane. You’d better think of where to accommodate her when we’ll arrive in New York.//

His apartment was out of the question. A hotel? Also out of the question for an unmarried young woman without a chaperone. - It would be a few months until she would be able to claim her heritage officially. Notary Van Helsing needed time to sort out the debts and incomes and to estimate the exact amount of the Van Tassel fortune. -

The only decent possibility of a temporary accommodation for Katrina seemed to be a rented room, preferably let by a respectable widow or a married couple of good reputation. The problem was, that he did not know many people in New York apart from his colleagues and superiors at the watch house. He would have to ask among them -

Mr Williams came to his mind. Why not ask Mr Williams? Robert Williams, the secretary at the watch house, coping with the ever-growing paperwork. A small, fine-boned, fastidiously dressed man in his forties, discreet and matter-of-fact.

Ichabod, himself shy and withdrawn, had formed a loose friendship with Williams, who behind his mask of aloofness, sometimes even arrogance, had shown a gentle, generous nature. Mr Williams was also a very well-read, learned man with a sharp mind and an equally sharp tongue. - Mary, his wife, was a pretty woman in her thirties, withdrawn and reticent if you did not know her well, but generous and full of life when you knew her better. In fact, Ichabod had never found the couple other than friendly, warm and open towards him, and he did not doubt that they would welcome Katrina. She would be safe with them.

//There. One problem solved.//

Hopefully. - Ichabod was not sure whether Katrina would approve of his suggestions for her accommodation. She was a determined young woman who had her own ideas. And this was something he liked, although it might cause more difficulties.

He was secretly glad that Young Masbath had decided at the last minute to remain in Sleepy Hollow. Notary Van Helsing, a distant relative of the Van Tassels, had come to fill the gap the demise of Notary Hardenbrook had left. He had agreed to take the boy in as an apprentice. Van Helsing had a large family, and surely Young Masbath would be well cared for.

Remained one problem: What to tell his superiors?

Ichabod opened his ledger and read the notes he had made about the incredible events in Sleepy Hollow. It would be a real challenge to write a rational report about these events, a report he could submit to the High Constable and the Burgomaster. But it would help him to come to terms with the events of only a week ago - Well - he would make the Headless Horseman a marauding soldier masking as a ghost, coaxed into service by Lady Van Tassel, who in this way had taken her revenge on the people who had sent her family into poverty. Carefully, so as not to wake Katrina, he stretched his legs. He longed to walk up and down. It would clear his mind, enable him to think better. Maybe some day he would be able to believe the yarn himself which he now invented for the Burgomaster and the High Constable. - He wiped his face with his hand, smoothing the mass of black hair away from his forehead.

//Whom are you fooling, Crane? You know quite well what the truth is. And it will remain the truth - your dreams showed it to you - but there is more -//

Ichabod tried to push the thoughts away, to concentrate on his report - to no avail.

Unwanted memories rose up again: Missing his mother, so terribly missing her, although the memory of her death became a merciful haze after a heavy attack of fever. - His father shouting at him and beating him. - Mean, toady Miss Avery, the housekeeper, a woman who drank. He had to help her with the household chores and she beat him mercilessly if something was not done to her satisfaction. She used to buy enough food to prepare good meals for the Reverend Crane and herself. Scraps and leftovers were all Young Ichabod got. The money she thus stole from his father was spent on cheap liquor. -

He must have looked neglected, although he didn’t care much then. He remembered that his clothes were never mended, shoes she did not want to wear any more, much too big for a seven-year-old boy, torn shirts and stockings, unkempt hair - a little scarecrow. Always hungry ... But this had not been the worst. The worst had been the other children, even the ones who had no shoes for themselves, who wore rags and did not go to school, because their parents were too poor to send them. They all had laughed at his too big shoes and his ragged clothes, had thrown mud and stones at him, calling him “gypsy bastard” -

Ichabod realised that from this day on he had waited for sneers, for legs tripping him, for mud and stones, for the cry “gypsy bastard!”, wherever he went. This was why he had become very clean in his habits, fastidious with his clothes and outward appearance, but never foppish. This was why he wore an arrogant, matter-of-fact mask to protect himself. Unfortunately, it did not fit too well, and his temper sometimes showed ...

His father had died three years after he had killed Ichabod’s mother, and Ichabod had been taken in by a Dr Sullivan and his wife, both generous and loving people.

To this day, Ichabod felt he had let his foster father down, leaving the university without taking a medical degree, to go to New York and become a policeman. But he felt in his heart that this had been the right decision for him, regardless of the fact that he rarely felt at home in New York. Anywhere, to be exact ... always like an outsider and different ...

//Stop brooding, Crane! Concentrate, goddammit! - //

Ichabod began to compose the report in his head. But an afterthought lingered in his mind: Somewhere, after his mother had died, during his father’s and Miss Avery’s reign with cane and belt, something was still hazy, still missing ...

*****

Katrina in her corner did not stir, pretending to be asleep, so as not to disturb Ichabod. - How gallant he was, how caring and gentle! And yet a mystery, full of contradictions. She had never met a man like him before. Fainting more than she had seen fainting any woman, and yet so courageous, choosing the most impossible moments to be brave. A bit like the man in that old Spanish novel from her father’s library, who thought he was a medieval knight - only younger and much more attractive. But fighting windmills nevertheless ...

//I guess he’ll want to marry me.// Katrina thought. //Like Brom. //

She felt a deep gratitude towards Ichabod. Observant and brave at last, he had saved her life. But she felt no inclination to marry him. To be honest, she felt no inclination to marry at all. This was one reason why she had hesitated to marry Brom, although he had been young, strong and good-looking. The other reason was that strangely enough he had not seemed that sure himself whether marrying her would be the right thing to do. - Poor Brom. They had known each other since childhood, and he had been like a protective elder brother to her. - Losing his life in such a senseless, stupid way!

Tears welled up behind her closed lids, and she forced them back. She was well aware that she mourned Brom as she would have mourned a close relative, a part of her childhood, irretrievably lost. Not as she would mourn a lover. Something in her had always remained cold and distant towards her admirers - oh, Brom had not been the only one! She had berated herself sometimes for behaving like a spoilt princess.

And she could not account for her feelings towards Ichabod...

//A good-looking, brilliant young man - somehow he is wasted as a constable.// she thought. The right match for her, one would say. She knew she was not only pretty, but sharp as well, and he had a mind even better than her own. Conceited thoughts for a woman, but she never had met a man in Sleepy Hollow she would have admired for his intelligence, as she admired Ichabod. But she could not imagine Ichabod Crane as her husband. A dear friend, yes ...

//Nevertheless - I think I will have to say yes if he asks me to marry him.// she thought. //Why do we have to marry at all?//

She seriously contemplated to remain single. She was rich enough never to need the financial support of a husband, that much she knew. What she feared was to be alone. She had been alone too much ...

//Why can’t Ichabod and I just be friends? He himself does not seem to be so happy with the idea of marrying me. Or is my coldness fending him off? If he proposes, will it be out of gallantry? Or worse - out of - pity? Pity for the young woman who is alone in the world? - He is not after my money, I just need to look into his face to know that. - God, if I only knew what to do! If I were a man, things would be much easier. - And maybe I would not miss Father so much! He may have been a ruthless, greedy, scheming man - or was it rather that he had listened too much to Old Van Garrett?//

To her Baltus Van Tassel would always be the strong man, full of life, his ugly face reddened from the sharp wind, still in his riding clothes, storming into the nursery, scooping her up from the floor into his arms, laughing and kissing his little princess. This was how she wanted to remember him. If she only would be able to forget how he died ...

More tears, this time running down her cheeks, she could not prevent it. Hastily she wiped them off, but Ichabod’s sharp eyes had caught the movement. He gave her one of his rare shy smiles and a comforting hug. Gratefully, Katrina rested her head on his shoulder, at the same time scolding herself for her weakness.

The coach rolled on.

****

At approximately the same time, Robert Williams began his work day at the main watch house in the heart of New York City. The young constable from the night shift put some papers on the small table which served as Mr Williams’s desk.

“Night report for the High Constable, Mr Williams.”

“Thank you, Constable Johnson.”

High Constable Van Beek came in and took the papers away.

“Morning, Williams.”

“Good morning, Sir.”

Before leaving the room to go over the paperwork, the High Constable turned and asked if there were any news from Crane.

//So you remember having sent him away after all?// Mr Williams thought. - A month, and not a word from the young constable. Deep inside, Mr Williams was very worried.

“No, Sir.” he answered the High Constable’s question. “But the night mail has not yet arrived.” he added hopefully.

The High Constable merely shrugged and went on his way.

//Bastard.// his secretary thought. //To you, it is all the same. One of your constables is fighting Hell knows what out in the wilderness, but the only thought you have is that he can easily be replaced, should it come to that.//

Mr Williams sighed and allowed his thoughts to wander a bit. Every day he hoped there would be a note, a letter from Constable Crane. And every day he was disappointed. And every day that passed without a note from Crane made him worry more.

No one else seemed to mind Crane’s silence, so Mr Williams kept his worries to himself. What he felt for the young constable could never be uttered anyway.

How could he ever explain to anyone what he had felt when he had seen the young man for the first time, six years ago? How the finely chiselled expressive face, the dark eyes, the mass of unruly black hair, the slender body and the fine hands had thrown him out of balance? He had barely been able to suppress a foolish grin, while he had felt all his blood rush to the lower regions of his body, building an erection he had hastily concealed with his coat. Never had he felt so much like a foolish schoolboy, in love for the first time...

//They will eat you alive here, boy.// he had thought, but Constable Crane had proved stronger than he had seemed at first. - Blessedly unaware of Mr Williams’s secret desires for him, Constable Crane had become his friend. And God knew, he needed Mr Williams as a friend.

Shy, bookish and withdrawn as Ichabod Crane usually was, he tended to speak up in critical moments, voicing his opinions which often varied from those of his superiors. Naturally, this did not endear him to either the High Constable or the Burgomaster. Secretly, Mr Williams was convinced that Young Crane was right more often than not, and he had defended him whenever the opportunity arose. On the other hand he had warned the young man a few times about saying too much, but Ichabod would not listen. He was convinced that some of the crime-fighting methods in use with the police force were outdated, inhuman and inefficient at that. And he said so.

The nerves of Burgomaster Van Rijn and High Constable Van Beek had been fairly raw on that fatal day, when Van Rijn after another of Constable Crane’s interventions had sent him away to that godforsaken place upstate “to put his methods to the test”. God alone knew what had happened to Crane up there ...

It had never been easy for Mr Willliams to hide his true feelings for the young man and to seek only his friendship. He wanted Ichabod Crane, he wanted him so much, and yet he dared not approach him -

“Night mail, Mr Williams.” Burly Constable O’Leary put a small satchel on the secretary’s desk.

Startled rudely from his thoughts, Mr Williams flinched, but caught himself quickly.

He opened the satchel and began to sort through the mail. Petitions, complaints, complaints, petitions. Nothing new. He continued to view the mail, patiently sorting through the letters.

//Don’t be disappointed again, Robert.//

There. The satchel was nearly empty. One letter left - the handwriting looked familiar - ?

“Yesss!” Mr Williams said aloud without noticing, his heart taking a joyful leap in his chest.

Looking up, he became aware that three constables and two thugs were looking at him with astonished faces.

“What is it?” Constable Smith, one of the oldest constables at the watch house, asked. He and two of his colleagues were interrogating the two thugs, and Robert had never noticed them coming in.

Mr Williams caught himself. “Done.” he said, looking at the constables and the thugs disapprovingly, as if he hadn’t provoked their stare with his exclamation. Seemingly unperturbed, he smoothed out the letters and went to the High Constable’s room with them.

Afterwards he returned to his work without a word to his colleagues. - They would hear the news soon enough.

The short note in familiar handwriting on top of the other mail had read:

“Sleepy Hollow Murder Case solved. Departing from the Hollow in one week. Details will follow. Ichabod Crane Sleepy Hollow, November 16, 1799”

****

A week later there was a knock at the door of the Williams’s small house. Mr Williams’s heart did another leap in his chest.

//Calm down, Robert. It might only be one of the constables with notes from a confession, of which the High Constable wants to see the transcript first thing tomorrow morning.// he told himself.

The knock was repeated.

“I’ m coming!” Mr Williams called. “It’s late in the evening, you know! So it better be -“

He opened the door.

“ - important.” He finished his sentence, before his spirits soared, then fell down abruptly, only to soar again - into a complete turmoil of emotions.

Here was the young man alright he had so hoped to see again - and unharmed, as it seemed. Looking a bit tired and even more pale than usual, but as beautiful as ever. He had however not come back alone, and his note had not said anything about that.

Next to Ichabod stood a young woman, almost a girl. She had flaxen hair, and a sweet face. - The pair must have arrived with the evening coach and have come straight to his house, for they both carried bags. Mr Williams’s sharp eyes noted that they stood rather awkwardly apart from each other - but this could also be because he was present ...?

“Sorry for intruding upon you so late in the evening.” Ichabod finally said. “Katrina, this is Mr Robert Williams. - Mr Williams - this is Miss Katrina Van Tassel - .”

For a moment, there was an awkward pause. Robert was not sure whether Ichabod’s sentence had been finished, so he waited for him to finish it properly, to explain who this Miss Katrina Van Tassel was. Ichabod however did not say a further word. - Strange ...

Robert remembered his duties as a host.

“Oh, won’t you come in? I’m so glad you’re back, Constable Crane. - Miss Van Tassel - “ He bowed and stepped away from the door to let them enter, before he took the bags from Katrina. He also snatched one of Ichabod’s bags, before the young man could put it down himself. Robert’s fingers brushed Ichabod’s cold fingers, the touch leaving him in sweet agony -

He turned abruptly, calling his wife.

“Mary? - Mary! Look who’s back!”

Mary Williams came from the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron. She hurried to Ichabod, taking one of his hands with both her hands, an affectionate gesture from the reticent woman.

“Constable Crane.” she said, smiling. It was obvious she was glad and relieved to see him again.

He shyly smiled back. “None other. - Mrs Williams, this is Miss Katrina Van Tassel. - Katrina, this is Mrs Mary Williams.”

Mary Williams extended her hand to the young woman, who took it firmly, looking into Mary’s face. For a moment, their eyes met. Then they both looked away.

Something in the small woman’s look had irritated Katrina. She was accustomed to envious looks from other women, assessing her face, her hair, her dress, her jewellery. But this look had been different. Mary Williams had looked at her admiringly. And unmistakably - wanting. So far, only men had looked at her in this way...

//Dear me - how long haven’t I felt like that?// Mary thought. //I cannot let her notice I find her attractive - God, what will the child think of me?//

She cleared her throat nervously.

“You must be exhausted from the journey. Please sit down. Are you hungry? I’ve got one of my pies ready. A glass of beer?”

The exhausted travellers gratefully accepted her hospitality. The meal began in silence. Ichabod and Katrina were tired, and the Williams’s did not want to intrude upon their guests with questions. But everyone felt the mounting tension.

Mary was bewildered. The young woman simply took her breath away. It was not because of the expensive black-and-white striped dress, cut after the latest fashion, not because of the fur-lined coat and the jewellery, all speaking of wealth and luxury. It was because of the child-like charm and innocence the young woman radiated - despite a deep sadness, which touched Mary’s heart.

Robert’s thoughts were less favourable. //The young Circe has set her nets on him.// he thought. - In six years, Ichabod had never shown any interest in the fairer sex. Robert would have known. He had waited for it to happen. - And now, all of a sudden, he brought along this young beauty from upstate - in Robert’s opinion, there was something wrong with this picture. He knew that he was not logical. He was jealous.

Ichabod and Katrina exchanged a glance, and Katrina hesitatingly began to speak.

“I do not want to take advantage of your hospitality, Mr and Mrs Williams, without explaining who I am and why I have come to New York with Constable Crane. - The man who asked New York Police for help was my father. During his stay in Sleepy Hollow, Constable Crane was a guest in my father’s house.”

She paused and searched for words.

“My father, his second wife and my fiancé are now dead.” she continued. “So I decided to leave Sleepy Hollow for a while, and Constable Crane was so kind as to accompany me during the journey.”

Robert’s face became much more friendly, and both he and his wife seemed considerably more at ease.

“My wife and I are sorry to hear about your loss.” Robert Williams said to her, and there was a warmth in his voice, which also reached his eyes, and which made Katrina believe him. “If you should need help in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you very much for your kindness, Mr Williams.” Katrina answered.

//Ichabod was right.// she thought gratefully. //These people are as helpful and generous as he described them.//

“My father had friends and business partners in New York.” she continued. “I’ll try to contact them and maybe ask for their support to settle down here for a while. - Constable Crane told me about your kindness and generosity towards him when he first came to New York -“

She stopped suddenly and bowed her head. Exhaustion and shock about the events of the last few weeks took their toll.

“Would it be possible for you to rent a room to Miss Van Tassel, until she will have found another place to live?” Ichabod gallantly stood by Katrina.

“Of course.” Robert answered immediately, and Mary agreed as well.

Katrina looked up again, her face set firmly.

“Thank you.” she answered. “maybe you want to learn more about - Sleepy Hollow. - I think Constable Crane will be able to tell you the story -“

Mary took pity on the young woman. Setting aside her own curiosity, she suggested to Katrina they both have a look at the room to be let. Katrina gratefully accepted the offer and followed her host.

The room was large and friendly, with a cosy bed, the bedcovers, the carpet and the curtains in light colours, a wardrobe, a small table, a stuffed armchair in front of a fireplace.

“Do you like it?” Mary asked when Katrina had looked around.

//You may be accustomed to bigger and better furnished rooms.// she thought. //But you will find something better soon, if you don’t like it here. - And I wish you would go soon, in fact now, before - //

Before what? Despite acknowledging Katrina’s mourning, she was not sure what to think of the young woman. She was attractive with her big blue-green eyes, the almost child-like face and flaxen hair, and she did not look stupid. Her pretty face and her big eyes showed a strong will. Of course she would be vain and spoilt - what girl that young and that rich and pretty would not be?

“Yes.” Katrina answered into Mary’s not very favourable thoughts. “How much would you want for it, Mrs Williams?”

“Fifty cents a week or two dollars a month, including your meals.” Mary Williams answered, turning, looking at her. “Would that suit you, Miss Van Tassel?”

The woman was so near, Katrina could smell her hair, and that closeness somehow was - pleasant. The smell was good, no perfume, only the smell of a clean, healthy body. Honey-coloured hair and eyes ...

// She is so small!// Katrina thought, //Even smaller than I am!// This was confusing, for she was accustomed to looking up into other people’s faces.

She became aware that the woman had asked her a question. v “Oh - yes, Mrs Williams, this will suit me fine, thank you. I’ll give you the money right away.”

She took two dollars out of her silken purse and handed them to Mary, who thanked her. Mary seemed to sense Katrina’s irritation at her height, but only smiled the indulgent smile of someone who has grown accustomed to people becoming insecure and irritated because of her height.

//She has no reason to smile at me like that, to look at me like that!// Katrina thought. Her face became haughty.

Mary Williams turned away from her. //She thinks I’m making fun of her, fun of her youth, and innocence. How can she think so badly of me? - Oh well - should I fall on my knees before the Princess?!//

Aloud she said: “So that’s settled then, Miss Van Tassel. - Shall we join the gentlemen again?”

Katrina had no objection and nodded gracefully.

*****

In the meantime, Ichabod had briefly told Robert their adventures in Sleepy Hollow - official version. He would tell the true story another time. - Maybe.

Robert listened intently. His face was serious.

“That evil woman would have let her henchman murder on and on and on, everyone who stood in her way.” he said, when Ichabod had finished. “I am glad you could put an end to it. - The poor girl!” - His thoughts towards Katrina had become even more friendly, hearing what she had gone through during the last few weeks.

//She must be very strong.// he thought. //This is admirable - somehow.//

“I hope New York will be good for her.” Ichabod answered. “And I hope she will be able to forget what happened.”

“I think she will.” Robert assured him. //With your help ...// he thought. - “But I cannot tell you how happy I am to have you back safe and sound!” he continued.

Ichabod smiled. He was embarrassed by his friend’s obvious joy to have him back, and he was angry with himself about his embarrassment. He liked Mr Williams very much and felt drawn to him, but there also was something about the man which frightened him. - He knew very well that it was not Robert’s intention to frighten him, it was something in himself - something he could not account for ... Maybe it also was that look in these green eyes, happy and sad at the same time ...

*****

Soon after, Ichabod left Katrina in the care of his friends and went to his apartment. It had become very late, and Katrina was glad to retire to her room. She looked forward to sleeping in a good bed, after two nights in shabby inns along the road.

Robert told his wife what he had learned from Ichabod about the events in Sleepy Hollow. Mary listened, thoughtfully and attentively.

“Poor rich thing.” She said after a while.

Although she did not really know what to make of the young woman, she would do everything to make her tenant’s stay a pleasant one. She knew that her husband was taken aback by the fact that the young man he silently adored had brought a young woman with him, and that he did not know whether he should be glad for Ichabod or not. Oh, she had eyes in her head, and she had come to know her husband a bit during the last ten years ...

“Do you think they’ll marry?” Robert suddenly asked. He sounded sad.

“Looks like it.” Mary answered.

****

Soon after the talk with her husband she went to bed, but sleep was far away. Her thoughts and feelings towards the young Van Tassel woman became more clear to her now, but no less complicated. She had thought she knew what Robert had been going through for six years now, with his seemingly hopeless passion for Ichabod Crane. Now she realised she didn’t know half of it. Their new lodger had awakened feelings in her she had pushed away for a long time.

The flaxen hair, the big eyes, oh these eyes! They were sharp and surely saw a lot, but they were also gentle! And they had golden sparks in them. And her breasts, young and full - her smell - honeysuckle ...

Mary thought of Madame, the owner of the brothel where Mary had worked. Madame had been tall, with broad shoulders and small, firm breasts that fitted into Mary’s hands. The touch of her hard nipples on Mary’s body when they had made love, the feeling of them in the palms of her hand, between her lips - Her flanks, the hollow just above the swelling of her buttocks - seen from behind, she had looked almost like a man. Wide shoulders, narrow hips. Almost. There had been just a hint of a more delicious roundness ...

Mary thought of Madame’s hands on her body, her clever fingers finding exactly the spots where their touch felt most delicious, of her mouth and tongue, of her eyes, the colour of which she had never been able to make out for sure ... They had changed to match the colour she was wearing - more into green when she wore green, more into blue when she wore blue, the same with grey. Only the dark grey rings round her irises had been of a constant colour -

Mary became aware that she was moving about restlessly in her bed. Her nipples were hard, and she was wet. She smiled sadly, began to stroke her own breasts, her belly, eyes closed, imagining the hands of Madame - or Miss Van Tassel’s hands? - on her body. She opened her legs, touching her hot, wet vagina, softly stroking at first, then faster and harder, her lower body arching up from the sheets, sweet agony - finally the release - A moan escaped her, before she bit the back of her free hand. Robert might hear her!

More relaxed now, Mary pulled her night-shirt down and curled up into a comfortable sleeping position.

//Robert is better off, // she thought. //At least he knows a few men who are like him, and he has his discreet meetings.// But for her it would be almost impossible to find a woman who shared her passion. Hardly a chance for a decent, married woman. It had been easier as a whore -

Mary slept.

****

Robert wished he could sleep. Alone in his room, he had done the same thing as his wife, fastidiously cleaning away the sperm with his handkerchief afterwards. Normally he preferred to be with a partner, but seeing Ichabod again today had brought on an instant need to be satisfied.

He felt a bit despaired. In the beginning he had hoped that his passion for the young constable would fade away one way or the other, that Ichabod Crane would find a girl and marry her. Attractive as he was, there was enough talk about him - also in Robert’s circles. Robert had got the impression that more than half of the women he knew and not few of the men of his persuasion had been swooning about Ichabod Crane.

Swooning about him was one thing, to see him in the watch house almost every day was another. If he could just be content with being Ichabod’s friend! - He had tried everything in his power not to think about the mass of raven hair, the slender body (almost too thin, he didn’t eat enough, that boy), the high forehead, the prominent cheekbones, the finely cut nostrils, full lips, and the pair of obsidian eyes burning with a passion that took away Robert’s breath. -

Oh, he had seen this passion in other men’s faces, in portraits and in real life. He had seen it in the portraits of warlords, politicians, artists, and scientists. Also in the faces of inquisitors and witch hunters. Sometimes with street preachers and criminals. Very often it was destructive, evil. But in Constable Crane’s eyes it burned as a longing for truth, for reason and justice in a world full of lies, madness and injustice. A young knight on a hopeless quest against Evil.

Robert Williams sometimes wondered what Ichabod Crane would be like in twenty years’ time. An ageing cynic, like himself, exhausted from countless frustrating battles against stupidity, inhumanity, meanness and injustice? Or the father of a family, with a good, loving wife and a few promising half-grown children, like rotund, jovial Constable Moran? However hard he tried, Robert could not imagine the latter fate for Constable Crane. -

Yes, he had tried passionately to forget Ichabod in the arms of his secret lovers. One of them had even asked him if he wanted a steady relationship, unaware of awakening Robert’s deepest fears, buried, silenced for so long ...

*****

Another time, another city, more than twenty years ago. Almost twenty-five.

Seventeen-year-old orphaned Robert Williams had worked as a junior clerk with a shipping company. One of his duties had been to assist the chief accountant and the foreman to pay the dockhands weekly wages.

One of the men, a tall young fellow with an open face, wide shoulders and a broad chest had always taken the money from Robert’s hands with a nod and a friendly smile. Robert had felt the man’s blue eyes resting on him, and he had not known why. But he should learn more soon...

One night, after working late, on his way home through one of the dark alleys, a burly figure had come out of the deeper shadows and blocked his way.

Recovering from the first moment of shock and recognising the young dockhand, Robert had mustered all his courage to appear haughtily unconcerned.

“Oh, it’s you, Mr Mason. - Let me pass.”

“No.” The broad-shouldered young man had answered, fixing Robert with his blue eyes. He had not been aggressive, not in the least, but very determined.

Robert had tried another tentative step on his way, only to find his path blocked again.

“You don’t know what I want of you?” the young dockhand wanted to know.

Robert had tried to sound firm. “I’ve no idea indeed, Mr Mason. You know, if you need an advance on your weekly payment, you’ll have to speak to the foreman.”

Mason smiled, his eyes never leaving Robert’s face.

“No idea indeed.” he had repeated Robert’s words.

The next moment, Robert had found himself in the young man’s arms, one hand firmly holding his head, the other one effortlessly pinning his two wrists in one grip, while his lips were crushed in a hard kiss. He had opened his mouth to scream, to protest, only to find the other’s tongue in his mouth, caressing his own, sending hitherto unknown rushes of excitement through his body.

His wrists had been released, immediately he had tried to push the other man away, but he might as well have tried pushing a rock.

The other purred soothingly, still holding Robert’s head, his other hand now opening the young clerk’s trousers, gently, expertly stroking his cock. Robert had tried again to shove his attacker aside, to push his hand away, only to feel the grip become more firm, sending more feelings of lust through his body, rendering him helpless. His control had given way. He had felt he wanted what happened to him and had given himself up into this shameless wanting, pushing his erection into the big hand which caressed him so expertly. His head fell back, his fingers clutched erratically at the other’s clothes.

His blood rushing in his ears, dizzy from his orgasm, he had felt himself pushed around, facing the wall. His trousers were slid down, he had felt a slick finger - //slick from my own come//, he thought - caressing his opening. The finger slipped into him, Robert had heard a moan - his own? -

Another finger had followed the first. Robert pushed back into them, to enhance the strange, delicious feeling - With numb lips he whispered “please -“. The fingers inside him had stroked him a while longer, slipping in and out, until they were withdrawn.

//Don’t leave me like that,// Robert thought desperately, //don’t leave -// And then fingers again, spreading his opening, and the other man’s cock, slick with come and spit, gliding into him.

Robert’s knees had given way, but a strong arm caught him around his slender waist, pressing him more firmly against the other’s body, and the other’s cock even deeper into him.

“Easy, Boy, steady.” A soothing voice in his ear. “Get a firm stand.”

Robert had managed to do as the other said, and the rest had been hot, burning, dizzying, delicious agony, still mounting when the other’s hand had found his cock again...

Afterwards he had been in the young man’s arms, his head resting against the muscular chest, the strong hands caressing his hair.

“You alright?” the young dockhand had asked gruffly, but the gruff tone had only masked his caring.

“Yes.” Robert whispered, cuddling even tighter into the strong arms.

“You wanted it.” No question, the statement of a fact.

“Yes.” Another whisper.

He had felt that the other could have killed him easily with his bare hands. Being in these arms! Such strength! Admirable - and exciting -

“Sorry if I frightened you.” The young man put two fingers under Robert’s chin, lifting his head.

“I’m not frightened now.” Robert said, looking up into the other’s eyes.

“What’s your name?” the young man asked.

“Robert. Robert Williams.”

“You know mine. - George Mason.” Then: “Come, I’ll take you home. This part of the town is not safe for a man alone at this time of night.”

Robert had smiled then, not knowing how true George Mason’s words should become...

His only steady relationship had lasted four delicious weeks when it ended abruptly and cruelly.

It had been the weekly pay-day for the dockhands. George and Robert had met after work for a pint in one of the inns along the harbour. Alright, George had had a few pints more than one, and it had been late when they had left to spend the night at Robert’s small apartment. It had been safe for them there, Robert being the only lodger, a charwoman coming in during the day, and his landlord, old Mr Frobisher, being stone deaf. But this evening they should never reach safety...

Not far from their destination, they had been attacked by five men. - There were robbers, and if you gave them what little money you had, maybe your coat and your shoes as well, they would leave you alone. - But these five men had not been after money. They had been after fear, humiliation, pain, death. Robert sensed it in the way they had encircled them. Clubs in their hands, one had shown a knife and one a few links of a chain, dangling from his hand.

There had been only a few words between George and the man with the chain, who seemed to be their leader. And then there had been the fight. Robert was punched in the stomach and in his mouth, kicked in the ribs and the kidneys for good measure, but then they had concentrated on George, for he showed more resistance.

Shaking, Robert staggered to his feet - he must help George - must - he had seen George still standing, his face smeared with blood, his clothes torn, his bloodied fists still delivering mighty punches. For a second he had looked at Robert.

“Run!” he had shouted, “run!” And Robert had taken to his heels, one of the thugs running after him, but panic had made Robert run faster than ever in his life, through the maze of streets, into the better quarters, where there still had been more people around - crying for help, finding a policeman who had alarmed two of his colleagues. He had led them back to the alley where they had been attacked, hoping George would be still alive, hoping the thugs would be gone -

The thugs, warned by the policemen’s whistles, had been gone alright. George lying on the ground, his face a bloody mess, hardly recognisable...

One of the policemen had knelt down next to him, Robert on the other side.

“I ought to fetch a doctor.” He said anxiously.

The constable looked at him.

“What for? - The man’s dead.”

“No!” Robert had cried. “No!” again, before biting the back of his hand until it bled -

*****

Slowly, Robert came back from the past, his face wet. -

This was why he had tormented himself for six years now with his unfulfilled longing for Ichabod Crane. He did not fear so much confessing his preference of men to Ichabod, neither did he fear to face rejection or even exposure. What he really feared was to feel that deep aching loss again, the horrible emptiness which still lingered in his heart since he had lost George. He feared to open himself to love again, for he would be too vulnerable.

Angrily, he wiped his face. He would have another sleepless night before him...

****

Robert did not look well the next day, but Ichabod didn’t look any better. He had had nightmares again - about his mother - dead in the iron maiden - about his father towering over him, his belt in one hand, waiting for a mistake, while he had recited a passage from the Old Testament, just as it had been when he was a boy -

-- and there had been someone else - faceless still, but Ichabod had known in his dream and after waking that he had not seen this shadow from the past for the last time ...

He shook off the thought of the nightmare. He wanted to concentrate, because he had to report to the High Constable about the Sleepy Hollow Case this morning.

Constable Moran strode in.

“Ah, our traveller is back! - How’s it going, Crane? - You look as if you’d seen a ghost, as usual! - And you too, Williams!”

Robert and Ichabod exchanged a look. Robert took a deep breath.

“Constable Moran,” he said in his most pleasant voice, “High Constable Van Beek is awaiting your report on the Callahan Forgery Case since yesterday afternoon. He is already angry. If he does not find it on his desk by noon, he will become intense. And you know what that means, Constable Moran?”

Constable Moran took the hint. He grunted, but sat down in a corner and started to compose the report due till noon, leaving Ichabod alone.

*****

During the first few days after his return from Sleepy Hollow, Constable Crane was the main talk, the great hero, not only at the watch house. The tongues were wagging.

Constable Crane had not only solved that strange murder case upstate, he also had brought with him a young woman. Beautiful! And rich! From a good family. Her father and her fiancé victims of the murderer. The poor thing! But she was in good hands, surely, with that good-looking constable. Why not marry him? She had the money, didn’t she?

Others said she would be foolish to marry below her state. A young constable with no money! And after all, nobody knew much about him - where he came from and who his people were. She surely could marry someone better ...

Katrina received a lot of invitations from rich New York families. Some of them had done business with her father and some had even visited the Van Tassels in Sleepy Hollow. So they invited her, and she even got a few offers to live with this or that family, instead of being with total strangers. But she politely refused them. As a reason she gave her need to get a distance, to clear her head, to bring order into her affairs.

For a while, Katrina and Ichabod asked themselves who might have brought their story into New York society. It turned out it had been Burgomaster Van Rijn himself who told his wife the amazing story he had heard from the young constable. Mrs Van Rijn in turn had told her friends, Mrs Van Beek, and Mrs Sturdivant, and the Widow Reichenberg, and they all had spread the story among their friends. -

Some of the rich ladies who favoured the romantic idea of Katrina marrying Ichabod, even invited him. Ichabod could not escape all invitations, although they were a torture to him. They wanted to hear “the story”, and he could not refuse, because rumours and gossip were even worse than telling the story - official version - over and over again. He was also asked about his family, and Ichabod got the impression that some of the ladies even contemplated him as their son-in-law, should Miss Van Tassel have second thoughts...

Meanwhile, he sincerely hoped Katrina would find another young man, more attractive to her than he was, a young man from a good family, with money and a promising career in some respectable trade ahead of him. - And possibly someone who would respect her good mind and support her various interests.

The more all the gossip and the nosy questions about his past jarred his temper, the more he felt that he should talk the situation through with Katrina. So he invited her to visit the Museum of Fine Arts. She accepted his invitation readily, regardless of how much her behaviour might irritate some of her well-meaning, newly acquired lady friends from New York society. An unmarried young woman accepting an invitation from an unmarried young man without a chaperone! - Highly irregular! - So what!

Ichabod and Katrina silently walked through the museum, looking at the paintings and sculptures, making a remark here and there. They both knew what they had to talk about, and they both dreaded the moment.

“I - if you - I mean with regard to marriage - “Ichabod finally began. He sighed inwardly. Katrina must think him a complete oaf regarding normal, everyday matters. At least he had spoken the dreaded word.

“Yes?” Katrina prompted.

//There we are.// she thought. //And what do I want? I want to and I don’t want to at the same time.//

Ichabod took a deep breath. //I like her.// he thought. //She is not sure about the whole thing. Neither am I. It would be easier if she found someone else, would be happy, and maybe we could just be friends.//

“With regard to marriage -“ he repeated, “I mean - if you fancy someone else, I won’t stand in your way.”

There. This sounded so blunt. Like the words of a complete oaf. Or a hypocrite.

Katrina’s sharp eyes searched Ichabod’s earnest face.

“The same applies to me, Ichabod.”

At least it was out in the open now. And she sounded no better than he did. The problem was, they would not reach a solution that way.

They resumed their walk.

“But - there is no one else - at the moment?” Ichabod asked after a while.

“No.” Katrina answered, adding some time later: “And you? Do you fancy someone else?”

“No.” Ichabod answered.

Again they silently walked next to each other for a few minutes.

Then Ichabod spoke again.

“I wish we could just be friends.”

“Why do people have to marry at all?” Katrina agreed.

“I’d rather not.” Ichabod said. “My father and my mother should never have married. They were too - different. - He destroyed her.”

“You told me the night you dreamed about it.” Katrina said. “He must have been a terrible man.”

“But your parents were happy?” Ichabod asked instead of relating to Katrina’s remark.

“My father married my mother because he loved her.” Katrina said. “He loved us both a lot. - When she died, he was broken. He could not be alone. So he married again.” she continued bitterly. “And this brought about his death.”

Tears came into her eyes, and Ichabod took her hand into both of his hands.

“I know I cannot change it. He is gone!” she said. “You are the only friend I have left!”

“You are young, Katrina. Turn over a new leaf. You will have many friends and suitors.”

Katrina took his hands with her other hand.

“I somehow want you near me and in my life.” she said. “I don’t know about you, but if marriage will be the only way to be near you, I’ll marry you.”

“And - what if - there would be someone else for you - or for me - one day?” Ichabod asked.

“I would not be in your way.” Katrina answered, hoping he would understand this right.

Ichabod looked at her, not surprised, but thoughtful.

“Nor would I.” he said after a while.

“We would still be friends.” Katrina said.

“We’ll always be friends.” Ichabod confirmed.

“So -“ Katrina concluded. “Either we’ll marry and maybe have someone on the side - or we’ll marry someone else some time and remain friends.”

“We turn in circles.” Ichabod remarked.

“True.” Katrina said. She sighed. “For my part, I’m not wiser than at the beginning of our conversation. What shall I do?”

“Accept invitations. Go to balls and festivities.” Ichabod advised her. “Maybe you’ll find someone you like sooner than you think.”

Katrina sighed again.

“I tried, Ichabod. I tried. And frankly - I could choose among a few suitors already, although I rejected most of the invitations. But if I must choose - it would always be you.”

“Katrina, you are more than I ever expected in regard to women in my life. I’m not a ladies’ man. But I also want you near me.” He sighed as well. Then he looked straight into her eyes.

“Do you want to marry me, Katrina?”

“Yes.” Katrina said. She smiled a little, hesitant smile, and Ichabod smiled back shyly.

They took each other’s hands and walked back to the Williams’s house. No one of them had said something like “So you don’t love me.”, for this was not true. They loved and respected each other. They were just not the turtledoves everyone seemed to expect. And they both still had sincere doubts whether their decision was right.

****

Two days later, Ichabod’s shift ended together with Robert’s workday, and they both walked home together.

“I have asked Katrina if she wants to marry me, and she said yes.” Ichabod said after a while.

Robert felt as if a big fist had hit his stomach. //Well, this had to be expected one of these days.// he thought.

“Congratulations!” he managed to say aloud.

So there. At least it was out. No hope for him. But what did he expect? He had wasted six years without giving a sign.

“Will you be my Best Man?” Ichabod asked.

“I’d be glad to.” Robert answered, and he managed not to sound bitter.

“Thank you.”

Six years in purgatory without the courage of asking. To repeat: Not out of fear of rejection or even exposure, no, out of fear the beautiful young man might say yes, out of fear to open himself to love again.

*****

Oh, he had survived the horrible days after George had been murdered. The questions of the constables: Yes, he had known the murdered man. George Mason had worked as a dockhand for the firm he was employed with as a junior clerk. Yes, they had come to know each other quite well, because they had lived not far away from each other and had frequented the same inns from time to time. No, he had not known Mason well enough to know if he had any enemies. No, he did not think the attack had been planned. Yes, there had been five men. No, it had been too dark to recognise their faces properly. -

Only answering their questions, work, fear of the thugs. Maybe they would come back to finish their business, because they thought he might recognise them. - Fear people might find out about George and him. - George’s funeral. He attended and later wished he had not. A few of George’s colleagues attended, and the foreman. No relatives.

And then the boundless emptiness. As if most of himself was missing. He accused himself of having run away, of having left George, because he was a weakling and a coward - but nothing would bring George back. It had happened so fast -

*****

Robert definitely felt he needed distraction. Another kind of distraction than his usual circle of acquaintances provided. He wanted a boy from the streets.

So he went down to the harbour. It was not advisable for a single person to be there alone after dark, but Robert knew where to go. Ignoring the inns crowded with sailors, dockhands and people of more dubious professions as well as their female companions, he went to a high, narrow brick house at the corner of a lane near the docks. He knocked three times. A small barred window in the big oak door was opened almost immediately, and Robert was mustered by dark eyes.

The door swung open, revealing a giant African in a black suit, with big golden rings in his ears.

“Good evening, Mister Robert.” the African said.

“Good evening, Ares.” Robert greeted him. “Is Dog Man in?”

“Go up, Mister Robert.” Ares answered. “Dog Man will see you.” He stepped aside to let Robert pass.

Robert again knew where to go. He went up the narrow stairs and knocked at the door right at the top.

“Enter.” a light, young voice said.

Robert entered a tastefully decorated room which would have passed easily as the study of the master of the house in every good household. The furniture was excellent, there were a lot of books, and a few good miniatures on the walls.

Dog Man sat at his desk, which was covered with ledgers and papers. He was a tall, slender young man with a dark complexion, closely cropped dark hair, dark eyes and fine features. Robert assumed his ancestors had come from Southern Europe, Spain, maybe, Greece, or Italy. - Next to the desk lay a giant short-haired black mongrel dog. It worked on a large bone.

When Robert entered, the dog and its master stood up to greet their guest. The dog put its nose into Robert’s crotch - which made him uneasy, although he knew the dog -. It took a deep sniff, seemed satisfied and lay down next to the desk again, resuming its work on the bone.

Robert and Dog Man had formed a kind of friendship. One of Robert’s good acquaintances, who had been Dog Man’s regular customer for a long time, had introduced them. Dog Man provided young men for the pleasure of well-paying customers. His young men were not cheap, but they were clean and healthy and had good manners.

Robert’s favourite was Mad Johnny. He was small and fine-boned and had the same dark eyes, dark hair and fine features as Dog Man, so Robert assumed they were closely related, maybe brothers. He was called Mad Johnny, because it was said he saw people no one else could see. Dead people. To Johnny, they seemed as real as the neighbour from next door to someone else.

Thus Johnny was a bit different from the other young men. He was harmless, shy and gentle, except when someone or something frightened him. He freely roamed the streets around the harbour day and night, but always returned to Dog Man. A lot of people knew him - and they knew he belonged to Dog Man. So he was never harmed.

What Robert attracted to the young man - apart from his fine features and delicate built - was the strange mixture between an innocent child and a hardened male prostitute. One moment he admired something which caught his interest, a ring for example someone was wearing, and the next moment he would offer his services to that person in very drastic detail. Robert found this highly stimulating.

Some of Robert’s acquaintances admitted to Mad Johnny making them uneasy, because he allegedly had seen dead people his customers had known, but he never had said anything to Robert in this line so far. So Robert thought that Mad Johnny’s abilities of seeing ghosts belonged more to the realm of fairy tales than anywhere else.

“Mad Johnny is not here.” Dog Man said after he had greeted his guest. “And because you only want him, you have come in vain today.”

“Well, it is as it is.” Robert hid his disappointment and his nervous irritation well. “It might be dangerous to let him walk around this freely. And in a red dress! What if a constable sees him and finds out he is a boy? You will be in trouble, Dog Man.”

Dog Man looked at him with his impenetrable dark eyes.

“I know you say this because you mean well.” He said after a while. The warning, unuttered, filled the room: //Mind your own business!//

//He becomes upset so easily.// Robert thought. //Who else I know is so protective of his private affairs? - Well, Ichabod ...//

After another while, Dog Man spoke again.

“Do you want to talk?”

Robert sighed. No use to hide his worries from Dog Man. Sometimes this strange young man seemed to see right through him ...

“He will marry.” Nothing more. Dog Man knew about whom Robert was talking.

“The pretty girl he brought with him from upstate?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it was to be expected one day. Someone so good-looking, even if he is shy and bookish like your friend, will not remain alone forever.”

“You’re right, Dog Man. - It was to be expected. But what drives me mad is that I missed my chance to ask him!”

“You had six years.” Dog Man answered. He came around his desk and put a hand on Robert’s arm. “Something deep must have kept you from asking him whether he would fancy you. “ He paused, when Robert’s face became distant.

“I know, now I am the intruder. - “ he continued after a while. “Forgive me. - You need to relax, Robert, to get a bit of a distance. - Could I perhaps interest you in one of the other boys? China, for example?”

But Robert refused the offer of another young man as well as the offer of a drink, and after a few hastily murmured excuses, he left Dog Man, who shook his head and returned to his invoices and papers.

Robert felt he could not talk to Dog Man about his relationship with George Mason, its terrible end, and the fear holding him back ... Not now ...

****

Ichabod had hoped he would feel better after having proposed to Katrina. But instead things had become even more complicated. Meanwhile, something about the idea of them both being married to each other felt wrong to him. But he could not go back now. He had proposed.

He knew he was running away, but he immersed himself in his everyday work at the watch house to forget his uneasiness, to forget the Sleepy Hollow Case as well, which had provided these haunting memories -

He was on the night shift, slowly walking through the narrow alleys and passageways around the docks. Although his sharp eyes and ears automatically registered every sound, every movement, he was brooding, deeply immersed in his thoughts.

The scene on Sleepy Hollow Bridge during the thunderstorm, when Katrina’s fiancé Brom Van Brunt and he himself had fought the Horseman, was vividly in his inner eye. And the end of the scene. He had never before seen a man cut in half, and he never wanted to see such a sight again. Poor, stupid, stubborn Brom! - He had been a jealous, brutish ape, but Ichabod had forgiven the prank Brom and his friends had played him. - If there had been the opportunity for them to talk from man to man - Ichabod would have explained that he had no intentions on Katrina and Katrina no intentions on him. He should have tried to win the young man over instead of alienating him with his arrogance. But Brom Van Brunt had been one of these bullies with overblown egos, who first used their fists and then started thinking. - Nevertheless, with his handsome features and muscular built he had been - quite attractive -

//What is this, Crane? What are you thinking about?//

A movement in the shadows to his left caught Ichabod’s eye. Immediately, all his senses were alert.

“Who’s there?” he asked in a firm voice.

No answer, but his sharp ears caught a slight hiss, as if someone had taken in his breath sharply. Then the slight rustling of a garment.

“Come out there!”

A giggle from the darkness.

Ichabod moved quickly into the shadows - //this is foolish!// he thought, but somehow he knew there was no immediate danger - grabbing a thin, cold, bare arm, then grabbing the other, a thin body wrestling against his own. Quickly he put his arms through the other’s armpits, locking his hands behind the other’s neck in a policeman’s grip, and pulling his opponent out of the shadows. All this had happened very fast and almost noiselessly.

A dimly lit window from above revealed a girl, no, not a girl, even an emaciated girl’s body would not show these hard angles. It was a young man, almost a boy yet, wearing a torn, dirty, ragged dress. Not a menacing figure.

Ichabod scanned the shadows for more hidden persons, but heard and sensed no one else. The boy was alone and unarmed.

Ichabod released him, convinced he would take to his heels as fast as possible. The young man however remained standing in front of him, his eyes, dark and huge in the small dirty face, searching those of the constable.

A mass of matted, unkempt dark hair stood wildly around the boy’s head, partly hanging in his face. Some strands had been braided, a few ribbons bound in at random. The ragged dress seemed to be his only garment, despite the cold.

He was shivering, but his eyes never left Ichabod’s face.

Ichabod sensed that the young man lived in a world of his own. A street urchin, and half mad at that. Ichabod knew these boys from his work with New York Police. They would do everything for a few cents. Everything -

He pulled himself together.

“Why have you been following me?” he asked sternly. “What do you want?”

The other raised a hand, half as if to ward off a blow, half as if he wanted to touch Ichabod.

“Jus’ wanta look at ya.” he said. “You’re beautiful.”

He smiled shyly. Then, very quickly, he moved towards Ichabod, brushing past him so closely that their bodies touched for a moment. And instead of running now, he stopped again, putting out his tongue in an unbelievably sensuous, obscene gesture.

“Ya know,” he added thoughtfully. “If ya want, ya can have me for free.”

Before Ichabod could recover from his amazement, the young man had run away, disappearing into the shadows again...

Usually, Mad Johnny kept away from men in uniforms, especially police constables. Therefore he was not familiar to Ichabod. What had driven him to come out of his hiding he did not know himself. But this constable was so beautiful! Maybe he wasn’t a constable at all, but an angel or something like that. - But no, he was of flesh and blood. Definitely...

Mad Johnny smiled.

****

Ichabod continued on his round, his body tingling from the sensation of wrestling with the young man and even more so from the boy brushing past him. He had new food for thoughts.

He had never understood the store other men set by sleeping with a woman. One time, when he had been a student, he had accompanied a few of his comrades to a whorehouse. It had not been unpleasant, but nothing to shout about.

It upset him more that he sometimes found himself involuntarily thinking about another man’s body, the way he had been thinking about Brom Van Brunt earlier. A few men had caught his eye over the years, but he had pushed these thoughts far, far away. To think such a thing was bad. Very bad ...

And something horrible and sad lurked just beneath the reach of his thoughts - if he only would be able to find the last piece of the puzzle -

****

Mary Willliams had closed the interest she felt for her attractive lodger deeply away into herself.

//Don’t make any trouble. Don’t rock the boat, Mary.//

Her first husband, a certain Trevor Field, had put her into a whorehouse. After their first year of marriage, it seemed she had become a nuisance to him, and besides, he had been indebted to the owner of the whorehouse. It had not helped her much to know that he had not been allowed to do so under the law ... Robert Williams had bought her free from there.

Although young and inexperienced herself, Mary had noticed very quickly that Robert, then a young man with blonde hair and a pretty, worried face, was not interested in women. A well-meaning friend had taken him to the whorehouse. But he used to come back, always choosing Mary. He wanted to talk to her, he said ... He had found out that she loved books and plays, and he brought some, which they read together. The other women had teased her about her chaste customer. - And one day he had asked her if she wanted to come with him to New York, to marry him -

After a while, Mary had understood. He would never touch her. He wanted men. He hoped she would understand, because she was a prostitute. Her colleagues at the whorehouse had been right. It was a bargain. He got the cover-up he needed, she got respectability and financial security in turn. That he would not touch her was just as well, although she had never told him she preferred women when she had a choice.

She had become a good housewife, kept everything clean, cooked well for him. A good housewife never had sexual desires of her own. Mary tried. She had been brought up that way. - But she could not forget completely. A part of her remained lonely and hungry ...

Nevertheless, she had made a good bargain. Other than her first husband, who had been a gambler and a violent drunkard, Robert was intelligent, well-read and cultivated. He appreciated what she did for him. They had found common interests: books, art, visits to the opera, to the theatre and the museums. And they had become real friends over the years.

Mary was deeply grateful to Robert for taking her away from the whorehouse. They never had spoken about her time there again. Robert only knew what he had seen himself. Nothing else. Nothing about Madame. - Saying farewell to Madame then had seemed easy for Mary. Madame had taken another young whore as her lover and dropped her. That she must have still felt something for Mary had shown when she secretly gave her one hundred Dollars of the three hundred Robert had paid for her. - Up to this day Mary did not know how he had managed to afford the money. And she never asked. -

Mary still had the hundred Dollars - and a bag, still packed and carefully repacked once a moth - even after ten years as Robert’s wife.

At first she had been ready to leave for good if against all expectations he should turn out a beating, raping bastard like her first husband. Then in case she should meet someone and would have to leave very silently and quickly not to compromise the other woman. And Robert.

She often had missed Madame, her touch, she had longed for a body next to her, but she had never dared to ask one of the women she knew to keep her company. Mrs Smith, Mrs Moran, Mrs Van Beek and even Mrs Johnson were all happily married women with a bunch of children. - She almost had asked sweet, doll-faced Sarah Johnson once, but then she did not want trouble for anyone. The women pitied her because she had no children. Sometimes Mary had also thought of seducing Robert to get herself pregnant (she had been pregnant once during her first marriage, but had lost her child due to a beating of her husband). But what for? Not to feel that alone? Binding herself with a child?

And being with another woman? She had her two healthy hands, and they would have to do. - These thoughts had been good enough to sustain her for ten years. But now ...

It was late. Robert had been in shortly, but had left again soon. He had told her he would be with a friend and there would be no need for her to stay up and wait for him. So Mary had gone to bed, but she could not sleep.

Robert worried her lately, worried her very much. Since he had heard the news of Constable Crane’s impending marriage to Miss Van Tassel he had become more and more restless and unhappy, and Mary could not understand why. If Robert had never wanted to compromise Constable Crane anyway (because he had never made an attempt to explain his feelings), it could be all the same to him whether the attractive young man was married or not...

Sleep would not come. Mary lit a candle, took a volume of Shakespeare and read a few pages of “Titus Andronicus”. Mary thought it depicted reality very well. No one was entirely innocent, and everybody had to suffer. - Besides, she also made good pies ...

After a while she felt thirsty. She got up, went to the kitchen and drank a glass of water.

On her way back to bed she passed the door to Katrina’s room. There was a sound. She took another step. Definitely a sound. A muffled sob.

//No, Mary. Don’t get involved. - The best thing you can do is to stay away from that young lady.//

Another sob.

Mary’s heart opened to the young woman. The girl had gone through a lot lately. And Mary knew well how it was to miss someone and to feel helpless and alone in the world. It would do no harm if she looked in on the young woman.

She knocked at the door.

“Miss Van Tassel?”

No answer. Just another sob.

“Miss Van Tassel? It’s me, Mary Williams. - May I come in?”

“Yes.” in a very low voice from inside.

“Thank you.” Mary turned the doorknob. The door was not locked. She went in.

*****

Katrina was a strong, resolved young woman. But for a few years, she had not felt really happy. This was one reason why she had felt drawn to the serious young constable from New York.

Oh, she had been happy, all her childhood and part of her youth, and that was more than many people could say of themselves. But with her mother’s death, everything had begun to change. Elizabeth Van Tassel, an intelligent, well-read, far-seeing woman herself, had not believed in the general idea that it was not suitable for a woman to strain her pretty head with natural history, mathematics, literature, and geography. She had taught her daughter what she knew herself about these subjects. Later on, there had been teachers, young students, relatives of Sleepy Hollow citizens - although Baltus himself had frowned upon this education for a girl. Apart from the sciences, Katrina’s mother educated her in the more essential tasks for a woman: cooking and keeping a household. - And white magic - something her father had objected to even more strongly.

Katrina sometimes had wondered why such a learned and attractive woman as her mother had chosen to live in a place like Sleepy Hollow. Had it been the love for charming, ruthless Baltus Van Tassel? - If her mother had lived, she would have seen to Katrina being sent to New York or Boston, to get a proper education. Her father had not felt this necessary. A girl should marry a good young man, make him happy, and have a few healthy children. In his eyes, this was the proper task for a woman. So with her mother’s death, all the science lessons had ended.

After losing his wife it had been natural that Baltus would keep his only daughter, the apple of his eye, with him. - He had seen to another side of her education: Making her familiar with nature, with cattle, horses, wildlife, herbs and plants. He had taught her how to ride, how to shoot, -- even how to land a punch or two - when she had been a little girl, all playful. It had been their secret, of course this was not how a young lady should behave.

When she had grown older, she had however realised that he had never taken her completely seriously. She had been his plaything, his little girl, but he had failed to see the grown, serious young woman she had become.

It had been the course of nature that a man so full of life like Baltus Van Tassel would not mourn his wife forever. And no one in Sleepy Hollow had wondered for long when he had married again after a proper period of mourning. Young Jane Archer, so pretty with her heart-shaped face, blonde hair and deep blue eyes, set strangely wide apart. And had she not nursed the first Lady Van Tassel so lovingly, without ever thinking of herself, showing no sign of fatigue, a tower of strength to Baltus Van Tassel and a considerate friend to his half-grown daughter? - How could someone so pretty, appearing so good-natured and friendly, prove to be so evil, so full of bitter, black hatred?

Katrina had known nothing of Mrs Archer and her two small daughters evicted from their home by Old Van Garrett, who then had rented the small house to his young friend and business partner Baltus Van Tassel and his pregnant wife. She remembered Jane Archer, a tall girl in black, then a servant in the Van Garrett household. She had also been trained as a nurse. And for all these years, for almost twenty years, she must have planned her revenge, having everyone killed who stood between her and a considerable fortune: Old Van Garrett, his son, the Widow Winship, Baltus Van Tassel. - And people who knew too much or simply had been in her way: Jonathan Masbath, Van Garrett’s gamekeeper, the Killian family, Brom Van Brunt. And almost Baltus Van Tassel’s daughter ... Almost.

Katrina had trusted Jane, she had not seen her so much as a stepmother, but as a friend. And how bitterly her trust had been betrayed!

And there had been more. Katrina remembered how beautiful Jane had appeared to her, how soft her skin had been, how blue her eyes, how they had laughed together - and Jane had such a catching laughter! - Everything had been false, a lie - and yet - Katrina had been attracted to her. In an unusual way, which had been interesting and forbidden. Had Lady Van Tassel known more about her as she knew about herself? Had she used this strange bond of attraction to her advantage as well? Had she made it even stronger to lull Katrina more and more into a false security, until everything would have been to late? It had been too late - almost. If Ichabod never had looked into that book she had given him ...

//And now I am in New York, a city I have always longed to see, well-received by some of the richest families here. About to marry a good-looking, considerate young man, who maybe has a promising career with New York Police ahead of him - and I am far from being happy.// Katrina thought.

In fact, she was crying her head off. And Mrs Williams had heard her crying. - Mary Williams - Katrina felt the same warm, lustful feeling when looking at her - the same emotion she had felt for Jane Archer. It was dangerous and bewildering - and yet exciting ...

“Miss Van Tassel, can I help you in any way?” Mary asked. She looked genuinely worried. And caring, But had not been the same look in Jane Archer’s eyes sometimes? Genuinely worried? And caring?

On the other hand: How much had it hurt to see the mistrust in Ichabod’s eyes when he had suspected her to be behind the murders. She had hoped so much he would look up the drawing under his bed in the small book she had given him. This would have shown that he valued her friendship. He would have recognised her wish to protect him from evil. Instead he had believed the words of that dumb, frightened boy, bleating about the “Evil Eye”. Because this had been what he wanted to believe.

Katrina had forsaken all her magic since then. Seeing what evil the magic of her stepmother had conjured up even strengthened her resolve. Life worked in other ways, and all magic came back to haunt you in the end. Even if you got what you desired, it did not warrant happiness for you ... Happiness was found in other ways. Using magic was stealing other people’s freedom, that much she had learned from almost falling victim to her stepmother’s black magic...

To see Ichabod’s disappointed eyes, full of pain, but his face coldly resolved ... It had been pure coincidence that he finally looked into the book she had given him, thus finding out that the she had meant well. Then he had come back - just in time -

//You don’t have any reason to trust Mary Williams. But you also don’t have any reason not to trust her, Katrina.//

Mrs Williams’s eyes still rested upon her, her small face looked worried.

//You want to survive, Katrina? Then you have to trust. If you don’t trust anyone, you’ll perish.//

Alright, she would give it a try. But how to begin? How to find words for all the thoughts in her head, fighting each other? And how much of it could she tell the small woman? She liked Mary, and she was concerned she would appear as a silly, spoilt young thing in her eyes, found crying for no apparent reason.

//But maybe she will understand that I am bewildered and frightened of my future. That I am not sure whether I do the right thing in marrying Ichabod ...//

Katrina felt a strange rush of sympathy for the older woman.

//Start with the first thing that affects you and look how she will react. You always can proceed further, if it feels right to you.//

She dried her eyes with the sleeve of her night-gown. “It surely sounds silly, Mrs Williams, but I’m - I’m afraid of my wedding - you know, of being with a man. I’ve never been, of course - with a man, I mean. I’m afraid I won’t be very good. I mean - what will be expected from me? And - does it hurt? - I mean, you’re a married woman, Mrs Williams - “

//Oh, is it that, child?// Mary thought. //A talk from one woman to another about the facts of married life? - At your service, Miss Van Tassel. - I wish someone had talked to me before my wedding night.// She smiled a bit. The shadow of a bitter smile, it came and went.

“I don’t know what you may have heard.” Mary answered. “Hard facts first: It can be hurtful and humiliating if your husband is a selfish, unfeeling brute.” She saw the astonished look in Katrina’s eyes and noticed that her voice had become harsh.

“I’m not talking about Mr Williams here, but about my first husband, God rest his soul.” she said. “But I’ve seen your future husband never other than noble, caring and gentle.” she added, realising she might have implied something bad about Ichabod in Katrina’s eyes.

The young woman nodded, thoughtfully.

“Ichabod is a good man. Otherwise I would not have agreed to marrying him.”

Mary ventured further.

“And being with a man has not to be just lying down on your back and suffering. It can be beautiful. If you know how to become aroused yourself, how to arouse him and how to show him what he can do for you.”

She dared much. And she felt how her heart started to beat faster, her blood rushing quicker through her veins. She realised she was not talking about Katrina’s future husband ... Definitely not.

The young woman looked at her a bit astonished and a bit embarrassed, but listened attentively.

“And how might I achieve this? - What do I do?” she asked.

//Oh God// Mary thought. //Ten years without a woman, and now this young, beautiful child in front of me, asking me such things? - She does not have a clue that I want her - want her so much ... //

She was dizzy, her voice rough with longing when she spoke again.

“Show him your beauty. Let him touch your beautiful face, let him kiss your sweet lips, let him feel your perfect breasts - “

She stopped, becoming aware that she, unthinkingly, in her longing had touched Katrina’s face and then her breasts herself. She drew back, deeply embarrassed.

But Katrina was only looking at her, not in horror and disgust, but actually echoing her longing.

//She wants me! - And I want to know how it feels to be with a woman.// Katrina thought. //I always wanted to know ... I should not do this, it is bad, but - //

She undid the buttons of her night-shirt and let it fall from her shoulders.

“Go on.” she said.

//Is she mocking me?// Mary thought. //No, she is serious. Oh God, what will become of this? - I don’t care!//

“Have you ever touched yourself, dear?” she managed between kisses.

//God, these lips are so sweet ...//

“Do you know how you like to be touched, and where? - Show me!”

Katrina smiled. It was the brave smile of a shy young woman, crossing borders to go where she had never gone before and at the same time the smile of a seductress.

“Why don’t you find out for yourself?”

Mary threw overboard all caution and scruples, burned all boats. She kissed Katrina’s eyes, her small nose, her full lips, her throat, her shoulders. She breathed in the young, healthy smell of the other woman, her tongue wandering first round one nipple of Katrina’s full breasts, then round the other, slightly sucking, until the young woman gave a soft moan, her breath going rapidly.

Mary’s hands and tongue wandered downwards, exploring the small round belly over the soft mass of light brown curly pubic hair. She gently parted Katrina’s thighs, pausing, looking up into the young woman’s face, finding only consent.

She carefully opened the petals of Katrina’s orchid. The inner petals were wet and glistening. Mary’s tongue tasted the delicious honey, gently exploring, before she tasted the little bud of pleasure, first circling it with a pointed tongue, then faster, blunting her tongue, eliciting little moans of pleasure from the other. Her hands cupped Katrina’s full buttocks. - What a feeling, what soft, delicious skin!

She took a breath. Her fingers, gently rubbing, stimulating, putting one finger into Katrina’s vagina, withdrawing it, in and out, harder and faster. The young woman gasped, her lower body thrusting upward when Mary shoved two fingers into her.

Katrina gripped the sheets, her eyes were closed, her face twisted in serious concentration, before the tension resolved in a loud cry of lust and moans and whimpers while her lower body moved to the rhythm of Mary’s fingers thrusting into her.

//Oh my God, I’m almost coming with her,// Mary thought, //just from her lust.//

She felt dizzy, falling on the bed next to Katrina, as exhausted as the young woman.

Katrina lay still for a moment, breathing hard. Her head was spinning. She had not known that a woman could give another woman that much pleasure, that much lust. And she had thought of herself as cold and unfeeling! Perhaps this was what she had been seeking all along, why she always had felt slightly uneasy with the attentions of men. And had she not always found women’s faces - and bodies - more interesting? (Ichabod had been an exception. He was as pretty as a girl, although his prominent cheekbones and strong jawline prevented his face from being too soft, too effeminate for a man).

But the woman next to her was far more interesting. And beautiful. Grey-green eyes. Dark blonde hair. A lot of it. A fine face. A small nose. The full body of a grown woman, only a size smaller than you would expect. Ample breasts, wide hips, and the curve of her buttocks irresistibly beautiful. Such small hands and feet -

As if she never had done anything else, Katrina began to explore the other woman’s body, her tongue gliding over Mary’s lips, into her mouth, where it was met by Mary’s tongue. The feeling made Katrina hot and wet again, she felt herself aching. She broke the kiss to circle Mary’s nipples, enjoying the feeling of the tender skin becoming hard under the caresses of her tongue and lips.

Her tongue went down, around the navel (the whole area flinching deliciously, Mary giggling). Katrina kissed Mary’s fingertips, then took them into her mouth, one after the other, slightly sucking. The woman purred and turned around lazily, withdrawing her fingers, presenting her beautiful backside. Katrina caressed her back. The touch of her fingers was slow, light, an almost ticklish sensation. Her hands slid around the swell of Mary’s buttocks, the touch more firm now, between them, touching her rose, then the swollen petals of her orchid. Mary moaned softly, spread her legs, lifted herself, first a bit, then into a kneeling position, so Katrina had better access to the bud just above the petals of her orchid. Mary gasped when Katrina enhanced the pressure of her fingers, then taking the back of her hand, rubbing faster and faster with Mary’s movements, until the small woman gave a few soft cries and moans, moving erratically into the arched back of Katrina’s hand, pressing herself firmly into it.

“Thank you.” she whispered after a while, when they were lying next to each other on the bed, Mary still on her belly, Katrina on her back, after pulling the blankets over them.

//How did she know what I want? This was wonderful. And she never did it before?// Mary thought.

Katrina looked at her, her smooth brow knit into a thoughtful frown, a serious look in her big eyes. They were blue with a hint of green, but there were golden sparks in them as well.

“I thought something was wrong with me, you know.” she said. “I thought I was heartless and wicked, unable to feel deeply - when Brom, my first fiancé, died, and - and I could not feel much for Ichabod - not - not the way people expect me to. I love him - somehow, he is one of the gentlest and most caring persons I’ve ever met - he’s also funny, you know - fainting at the sight of a big spider crawling on the floor, and the next moment running to places where the bravest men dare not go and facing monsters - and doing the right things - “

She realised that her words must sound to the other woman like incoherent babble and fell silent. - //He threw him the skull and saved me.// she thought. //He actually threw him the skull, giving it back to where it belonged ...//

Mary rolled on her side and looked at her, tenderly, gently.

“Go on.” She encouraged the younger woman.

“And I cannot marry him.” Katrina continued, taking a heart. “It would be lying to him, because I cannot love him. And he deserves better than me lying to him!”

Mary sat up, facing the young woman.

“And what will you do?” she asked. Katrina’s frown deepened. - //She’s so cute,// Mary thought, pain in her heart. //That was just a fling, never to be repeated - //

“Ichabod doesn’t love me either.” the young woman said. “I think I’ll go away, before I’ll mess everything up even further.”

Mary briefly thought of the packed suitcase in her room, when Katrina started to sob again.

“But I - I - he’s a friend, maybe my only friend in the world! - And now - now I’ve fallen in love with you!”

Mary pressed the joy welling up in her heart down deeply, into the swamp of loneliness and unfulfilled longing.

//That beautiful young woman hasn’t fallen in love with me, things don’t work that way. I’ll show her what she thinks she’s fallen in love with. That’ll show her the error of her ways. Perhaps it will make things a bit easier for her.//

“Fallen in love with me?” she asked harshly.

“Katrina looked up. “Yes. - I should go, because I made you betray your husband, but I -“

She flinched when Mary laughed.

//Very well. I’ll tell her. Tell her the truth about Robert and me. - She deserves to know, so she’ll be in a better position to decide what she’ll do.//

“My husband and I are like brother and sister.” Mary began. “He loves men. - He bought me from a brothel and married me as a cover-up. We were lucky and became friends during our marriage. But - I’m a whore, Miss Van Tassel!”

Katrina did not flinch again when Mary spat that last sentence at her.

“Whores sometimes do it with other whores when they’ve got enough of men. The woman who owned the whorehouse together with her husband had a fling with me. - But it was safer for me in the long run to be married to a respectable man who needed a cover-up. It paid off more. Being a whore drains the life out of you, and I wanted to live. I wanted to survive.”

Katrina sat up. Her earnest eyes never left Mary’s face.

““Why are you depreciating yourself and your husband in my eyes?” she asked. “This is not necessary. You are both good and honest people! And trying to survive -”

//She still tries to understand ...//

With an exasperated cry, Mary jumped from the bed. Katrina quickly followed her, caught her, took her wrists.

“How did you get into that whorehouse?” she asked softly. “Don’t tell me because you wanted ten different men every night.”

Mary looked past her, but she could not suppress the shadow of a smile.

“My first husband put me there. He was a gambler and a drunkard. He sold me to get rid of gambling debts. - Oh, I needed a bit of persuasion alright. He and four of his friends raped me again and again one night. I tell you, the morning after that you’ll consent to everything if they let you live. And you’re no longer in a shape to run away.”

“No ...” Katrina whispered. Her eyes were full of tears.

//Call yourself cold again, // Mary thought. //This decent young lady actually isn’t disgusted with me. She - she actually tries to understand ...//

“And no one helped you?” Katrina asked. “There must have been neighbours. - The police - ?”

Mary laughed again.

“If they want to do it, they’ll do it! - And neighbours don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. - And the police? You’ve got to fulfil your marital duties, your husband can’t rape you! And if you said he gave you to four of his friends and he’d say my wife has a vivid imagination, whom would they believe? And as I already said, I was not in a shape to run off and inform the police!”

Katrina hugged her, shuddering. Mary tried to push her away. She had never told another woman, no other whore, not even Madame. That had not been necessary. Madame had known. One of the men who raped Mary had been Madame’s husband, the owner of the whorehouse. He had brought Mary with him, and when Madame saw her, she had punched him in the face, and he had fallen to his knees from the force of that punch...

“You filthy swine!” she had said. - And despite the state Mary then had been in she had never forgotten this. - No, she had never told anyone up to now. And she could not cope with the affection she felt from Katrina. It hurt. And she felt low.

She tore away from Katrina.

“Don’t pity me! Don’t you dare pity me!”

Katrina shook her head, just standing there, not trying to touch her again.

“Why do you hate yourself so much?” she asked.

//Oh damn you, girl! - Why do you see so much?!//

“I don’t hate myself!” Mary flamed. “I don’t hate - “

But it was no use. She covered her face with her hands and cried, cried, screamed, cried, sobs racking her small body. Katrina took her round her shoulders, led her back to the bed, covering them both with blankets, taking Mary into her arms, rocking her gently.

Slowly, Mary calmed down.

“And I came here to comfort you!” she murmured into Katrina’s breasts after a while.

Katrina put two fingers under her chin and made her look up, kissing tears from her cheeks.

“Look, Mary Williams, I may be young and not bad looking and I may have not seen much of the world and may be a rich heiress and a spoilt little thing, but I’ll never look down upon you, that much I know! Trust me on that! And if you don’t want to leave Mr Williams, we’ll stay here and I’ll stay single. I’ll tell Ichabod I cannot marry him.”

//Oh God, this child is serious! - And she is not a child! But this will never, never work out!//

“But -“

“I’ll stay single! I’m rich enough to do this, and if no one in the world will understand, so what? We’ll know the reason why and that’s enough! - Can you get this into your stubborn head or do I’ll have to shake you?!”

“Katrina, think this over! And think it over twice! You might want a husband and children after all! Marry Ichabod!”

Katrina shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. - I’ll release Ichabod from his promise. He may think me a spoilt, whimsy thing, but I’ll have to live with this. - As I cannot tell him the truth ...”

“You actually want to do this? I urge you to think this over again! Please don’t do anything you’ll regret later, because - because of me!”

“I know it will hurt him.” Katrina was thinking aloud. “And he does not deserve being hurt.” She looked at Mary. “I see your objections, and I respect them. But in my heart I know that I want you. - Alright - give me two months. I’ll think it over, if this will put you at ease - and you and Ichabod will hear my final decision in two months.”

Mary smiled at her.

“That’s better.” She felt a bit relieved and tried to suppress the feeling of “What have I done?”

“So that’s settled now.” Katrina nodded. “In the meantime - could we do it again? Now?”

//We shouldn’t ...// Mary thought, but then she smiled again.

“At your service.”

****

Robert had stayed long at the house of one of his friends, Notary Danvers, who had been to Boston. As they had not seen each other in a while, the old friends had talked a bit longer than usual.

So it was the early hours of the next morning, when Robert came back to his house. He entered quietly, so as not to disturb his wife and their lodger, walking on tiptoe past Mary’s room, lighting the small candle on the table in the corridor. The door to his wife’s room stood a bit ajar. He walked past the room, a few steps further, until he registered that the bed had been empty.

What - ? He noticed that the door to Miss Van Tassel’s room also stood a bit ajar. Mary had closed it when she entered, but it sometimes did not close firmly.

For a moment, Robert got the wild idea that both women had been abducted, but then he heard a rustle from Miss Van Tassel’s room. Someone turned around in the bed.

“Told you.” a voice said. The voice of his wife. She sometimes talked in her sleep. - But why on earth was she sleeping in Miss Van Tassel’s room, and where was Miss Van Tassel?

The next second it dawned on him, and a careful look into the room, revealing two shapes cuddled together in the bed, brought the last confirmation.

Carefully, Robert pulled the door closed, standing thoughtfully in the corridor. He had not known about Mary. But he was no fool. If there were men preferring their own sex, why should it be different with women? And who was he to blame Mary? He envied her. She had been more courageous than he was - but there had to be two of a kind. Two of a kind - to make it work. Miss Van Tassel - who would have thought Miss Van Tassel ...? But Ichabod would never - never!

Robert blew out the candle, and silently as he had come left the house again. Time to visit Dog Man once more.

****

He took a cab to Harbour Street. Yes, he was squandering money, but so what? Someone else would have got drunk, maybe. But this was not the kind of distraction he preferred.

The rest of the way he walked. He was ogled by a few creatures of the night, male and female, but they were mostly occupied with themselves, and he reached his destination unharmed.

Dog Man was not alone this time. Mad Johnny was sitting on the floor, next to the giant dog, sketching. He looked up and smiled at Robert.

“Back so soon?” Dog Man asked as a greeting. “Is something wrong?”

“No - nothing out of the ordinary.” Robert assured him hastily.

//No, nothing is wrong - except that I just found out my wife prefers women. - The fact doesn’t upset me as such. - What upsets me is that I did not know. - And that she seduced Miss Van Tassel. Or was it the other way around? - I did not expect such a thing. And now I see a lot of difficult situations coming our way ...//

Dog Man gave a doubtful sound, but he did not ask further. “I suppose you want Johnny,” he said instead. “He has just come in from the streets and should have a bath first. If you want a drink in the meantime -“

“No, thank you, this will not be necessary.” Robert said. “No drink, thank you. And he doesn’t need to have a bath just because of me. I’ll take him as he is.”

He put a few coins on Dog Man’s desk. Dog man shrugged and took them. Sometimes it was difficult to understand the needs of his customers ...

“All right. - Johnny, you’ll go to the upper room with Mister Robert here. Regular services.”

Mad Johnny stood. “Aright.” he said briefly and took Robert’s hand with a friendly look, pulling him out of the room.

He had been smiling at a corner where Robert had seen only empty air, following the boy’s gaze. But he had been smiling, definitely smiling at somebody. The young man obviously was not in his right mind, Robert gave people who talked about Johnny that much. But there was nothing idiotic in his face. Without his grotesque hairdo and with his face cleaned he would have been beautiful. His finely chiselled features and dark eyes reminded Robert more than ever of Ichabod Crane - and suddenly he doubted whether it had been a good idea to have Mad Johnny this night.

But it was too late now to tell Dog Man he had changed his mind. Dog Man drove a hard bargain. He would not give him his money back, Robert was sure of that, so he could as well do what he had paid for. -

He followed the young man up another flight of stairs, into a small but cosy room directly under the roof. The only furniture were a small dresser, a chair covered with red velvet, and a big bed with a red cover.

Mad Johnny pulled the dress over his head and stood naked in front of the bed, his back to Robert, waiting. When Robert came nearer, he looked over his shoulder and smiled. He actually liked Robert, because Robert treated him like a human being, not just like an instrument to satisfy his desire. Mad Johnny would have been unable to explain this in so many words, but he could feel it.

//He is so thin!// Robert thought. //I wonder whether he gets enough to eat or whether he simply forgets it, when he is occupied with other things. I cannot imagine Dog Man letting him starve.//

He closed the door, put his arms around the boy, then let his hands wander over the bony shoulders, the ladder of the ribs, the bony hips. Only the buttocks were round, round and firm. He smelled unwashed, but healthy. And there was the smell of sex around him. The smell of countless other men. This aroused Robert. He kissed Johnny’s fine neck. The young man leant himself back into Robert’s caresses.

Then Robert turned him around. Johnny was aroused as well. Robert stroked his belly, the slender cock. He saw the bruises on the thin body, some welts, the stomach and the upper thighs were smeared with dried semen and a few traces of excrement.

//Dog Man allows people to beat him ...?//

He felt Johnny’s hand on his trousers, softly stroking, at the same time he was thrusting his cock into Robert’s hand, his breath going rapidly. He had opened Robert’s trousers, when he gave a soft moan and came into the older man’s hand.

Quickly he turned around, bent over, supporting himself on the bed. Robert was past his bewildering thoughts now, his wife and Miss Van Tassel forgotten for the moment. - He spread the young man’s buttocks, applying the come to his opening. He did not want to think anything any longer, just slipped in, the other’s muscles moving, massaging his cock, his hands reaching around the boy’s body, stroking Mad Johnny’s cock again. - He did not want to think, to think that he was fucking a young man who sold his body for a few cents, a young man who was not in his right mind, who might have diseases - who was unbelievably sweet and who resembled the man Robert wanted most of all.

He came with a muffled cry. Mad Johnny again a few moments later.

Robert withdrew, took out a handkerchief and cleaned his cock. Mad Johnny had already put on his dress again. Regular services were regular services. Just one go. For more you had to pay more.

Robert caught the young man before he could leave the room and kissed him.

“Thank you.” he said.

Johnny looked puzzled for a moment. Then he shrugged, leaning again against Robert.

“Ya finished with me? Or ya want more?”

Robert would have wanted more, he would have preferred to have the young man all night, to feel his young body under his own, to kiss him, smell him, to forget everything - but his sense of economy made him think of the price ...

“I’m finished.” he said and sighed.

Mad Johnny nodded and went to the door, but instead of opening it , he half turned around, smiling and outstretching his hand to the empty air - again as if there actually was someone or something. He nodded again.

Then he turned around fully, facing Robert once more.

“The Dead Man says ya want the Sweet Constable.”

“What?!” Robert said, taken aback, before his thoughts began to churn frantically.

What did the boy know about a constable? - Dog Man. He knew about Robert’s secret interest in Ichabod Crane. He must have set the young man up to it. - But why, in God’s name? Why? It was not Dog Man’s idea to shock his customers. He wanted them to come again, not to drive them away. - And what was that boy talking about a dead man? - Could it be - could it actually be that there was some truth in Mad Johnny being able to see the Dead? -

“The Dead Man says he don’t mind.” Mad Johnny continued.

Robert slowly advanced on the young man.

“What are you talking about?”

“He says why don’t ya arsk him?” Mad Johnny added. His voice was absolutely serious. Either he was a very good actor or he spoke the truth. Would this young man be able to pull it through if it was a charade?

“What. Are. You. Talking. About?” Robert repeated, taking the boy’s shoulders. “What dead man?”

Mad Johnny pointed with his head towards the corner to Robert’s right.

“Over there.”

Robert’s eyes followed the boy’s movement. The corner was empty.

“There’s no one.”

Of course there was no one. It was a set-up, and the young man was lying.

//But how could he know? Who could know and have instructed him? What dead man? No one knows about George ... Not Dog Man, nor Mary, no one!//

Robert shook his head to clear his thoughts. Although he had his hands firmly on Mad Johnny’s shoulders, the boy did not show any signs of fright. He did not struggle to become free of Robert’s hands and run away, and he did not try to protect himself if the other would want to slap his face.

//I have to know ...//

“Alright. - What does he look like?” Robert asked.



Mad Johnny looked into the empty corner.

“Blonde hair.” he began. “Bit golden. Bit curly. Blue eyes. Pretty face. Smiles a lot.”

//Either he can read my thoughts or he actually sees someone ... Damn, I have to know more!//

“How old?” Robert prompted.

“Young. - But a young man, no boy any more. - Tall. Taller’n Dog Man. Wide shoulders, lots’ a muscles, but slim.”

//That’s impossible.// Robert thought. //This cannot be. He’s actually describing George!//

“What clothes?” he whispered.

“Brown coat. White shirt. Red handkerchief round his neck. Brown trousers. Workers’ boots.”

Robert released Mad Johnny’s shoulders, shaking his head again. - The clothes George had worn that fateful night!

The young man smiled.

“Ya can’t see ‘m, can ya? - Smiles ‘n says he loves ya ‘n wants ya t’be happy.”

//Goodness!// Robert thought. //I wanted a quick fuck, not a bloody seance!//

“His name’s George. “Mad Johnny said.

Robert had heard enough. He pushed the young man aside, opened the door, flew down the stairs, hurried to the entrance door, which the bald black giant opened for him.

****

Outside, he leaned to the wall of the building, wiping his face with his hands. “The Dead Man won’t mind ... He says why don’t ya arsk him ...” - My God! How could this be possible?

He started walking, not seeing where he was going. Distracted and puzzled, he walked down to the river.

//There are no ghosts. It’s impossible!//

“Ey! Watch where ya goin’, man!” a rough-looking ruffian complained, as Robert ran into him. He caught Robert’s arm when the man gave no sign that he had heard him.

“I said, watch where ya goin’!”

“Aw, leave’m alone, Tom!” the man’s female companion said with a contemptuous look.



“There are no ghosts!” Robert said aloud.

His empty eyes made the ruffian shudder. - Hell knew what stuff this bloke was on. Could be dangerous. - He released Robert’s arm.

“Sure. Whatever ya say, man.”

Robert continued on his way to the river. He had not even noticed the incident. Neither did he notice the two thugs who started following him. - They saw a fairly well-clothed small man, alone and obviously drunk. Easy prey.

The street Robert now walked ended at the riverbank. Without consciously seeing anything, he turned left.

He just had done two steps in the new direction when the thugs reached him. One of them clubbed Robert down. He fell on the wet cobblestones, unconsciously. Without a word, the other thug searched Robert’s clothes, found the wallet and a few loose coins, pulled the wedding ring from one finger, a small signet ring from another finger. The clothes? Too slow to remove, too dangerous, not expensive enough. The boots? Too worn.

They looked at each other, and in quick, silent consent they rolled the unconscious man to the edge of the pier and then over. This way he would not be found so quickly ...

“Police! - Stay where you are!”

The two men ran away in two different directions.

The one with the wallet was pursued by Constable O’Leary. Burly Constable O’Leary was a good runner. He blew his whistle while running. When Constable Moran arrived to help his colleague, the thug had a broken arm and a broken nose as a reward for trying to attack Constable O’Leary with a knife, when he had seen he could not outrun him.

The other thug who had taken Robert’s rings thought the dark maze of streets and alleys safer than the open riverbank. A good thought, but unfortunately for him he choose the wrong alley, running right into Constables Smith and Johnson.

These events, however, left a fifth policeman, Constable Crane, alone with the task of getting the victim of the robbery out of the river.

The unconscious man was still floating. Ichabod did not hesitate. He tore off his uniform jacket and his boots and jumped into the river. It was no foolish act. He knew well how to swim since his childhood. - He hoped he would be able to get hold of the unconscious man and to reach the stairs at the quay again with his load.

The water was ice cold. Ichabod gasped, fighting against the current, trying to get to the still floating figure.

*****

Robert had been gliding through darkness for a short time. Now he was walking again through that alley where he first had met George Mason. But this time it was afternoon, and Robert felt the sun warm on his back. He knew he would meet George, and this time they would stay together for good.

And George was there, happy to see him, hugging him in a bearish hug, alive and real, kissing him, his lips warm on Robert’s lips.

But what did he say?

“’T was good to see you, Robert, but now you’ve got to go back.”

“Back? Where to?” Robert asked. He took a surprised step away from his lover.

“Back to your body.” George said, smiling sadly.

“But I’m dead! - How could I be here if I’m not dead?”

“You’re not dead.” George said. His face became serious.

Suddenly the warm sun was fading. A cold wind began to blow.

Robert shivered. Anger and sadness rose up in him. He had come here somehow, happy to meet his lover, and now George rejected him!

“You’re sending me back? You’re actually sending me back?!”

George shook his head. “Not me, Robert. - Your time hasn’t come yet.”

“But I want to stay with you! - We had such a short time together!”

“Maybe there will be other times for us to be together, Robert. - But not now.” George’s voice became very urgent. “You have to go back before it’s too late! - Someone else is waiting for you!”

“Someone else? - You mean Mary? No, she is not waiting for me! - Let it be too late, if I can stay with you!”

George looked angry and desperate.

“Robert, you want to hurt your wife? You want to hurt the young man who is waiting for you? See some sense! - Don’t force me to frighten you away!”

The sun had gone entirely, and the wind had become stronger. It was icy, cutting like knives into Robert’s body. He tried to cuddle near his lover, to be protected from the cold. A fleeting thought came into his brain: How could he be freezing when he was dead?

Something was wrong, definitely wrong...

A sudden sob racked George’s body. Robert opened his eyes. He had never witnessed George crying, and he dared not looking up into his lover’s face. He did not want to embarrass George -

Then he saw George’s hand on his sleeve. - What was happening to this hand? It shrivelled, the flesh partly rotting away, showing the bones -

Robert became aware that he was in the arms of a rotting corpse. Screaming, he tried to free himself from its grasp - there was darkness, ice-cold, foul-smelling water in his lungs, when he tried to breathe, the corpse still holding him -

-- no, not the corpse, it was someone definitely alive, gasping, coughing and struggling. - Robert’s panic of the rotting corpse holding him gave way to another panic, the panic of being in deep, ice-cold water and drowning. He flailed around madly.

“Keep still!” a voice gasped. “We can make it!”

Somehow the voice sounded familiar -

Suddenly there were other voices, shadows above him. He felt something solid under his feet - steps. Then he half stumbled, half was pushed from beneath, half dragged upward - into the arms of Dog Man. He fell to his knees, gasping, coughing, spluttering, but alive.

After a while he stood shakily. Mad Johnny - why was Johnny here? Supporting him, holding his arm?

Robert stumbled, turning, saw Dog Man tend to a prone figure on the cobbles. - Who was this? He tore away from Mad Johnny to see who was lying there. In the moonlight he saw black hair plastered to a finely chiselled pale face -

“Ichabod!” Robert gasped. Another coughing fit doubled him over, forcing him to his knees again. He became aware that he was not only cold to his bones, but also dizzy and that the back of his head hurt like hell.

“Ichabod.” he repeated. “Is he - ?”

“He’s unconscious.” Dog Man looked up. “But he’ll live. - We’ll all live if we have a chance to get out of this cold. - I’ll take his shoulders. Johnny, you take his legs. And don’t you dare to let him drop! - And you, Mister Robert - I’m afraid you’ll have to walk on your own. - Do you think you can manage?”

“I’ll be alright.” Robert said through chattering teeth. “A - a bit dizzy, but - “

“Very well.” Dog Man nodded. “You know it’s only a short distance anyway.”

****

If any constables had still been around, they would have noticed an elegantly dressed young man and a skinny girl in a ragged red dress carrying an unconscious young man, while an all wet, dripping, shivering man followed in their wake, dressed in a constable’s uniform jacket and carrying boots in his hands. -

When Constable Smith asked Constable O’Leary where he had left Constable Crane, thus tearing O’Leary out of his triumph over having caught one of the thugs all alone, it was too late. O’Leary realised that he had left Crane alone to pull an already dead or drowning man out of the river. And no one doubted that Crane would try to get that man out - even by jumping in.

When they returned for a search, however, they did not find anyone. And no one they asked had seen anything - which was to be expected in that area.

“We can only hope that Crane managed to get him out of the water, and they haven’t drowned both.” Constable Smith finally said. “No use to look for them any further now, as long as it is still dark. - When Crane doesn’t report back till morning, the High Constable will have your head for breakfast, O’Leary, that’s for sure. - My God, man, how could you leave him alone?!”

Constables Smith, Jones, and O’Leary spent the night worrying and defeated. They would have felt much better had they known that the victim of the robbery and their missed comrade were both safe.

*****

The first thing Dog Man did when they arrived at his house was to put Ichabod into a tub with hot water which Big Bessie, Dog Man’s girlfriend, had prepared. It should have been Mad Johnny’s bath, but Robert and Ichabod were more important now. Mad Johnny didn’t mind. He stood and watched, while Dog Man and Big Bessie pulled off Ichabod’s wet clothes, put him into the hot water, then took big towels, rubbed him, massaging the feet, the calves, the legs, the hands, the arms, the torso.

//He’s really beautiful,// Dog Man thought. //I can understand you, Mister Robert.//

“What happened?” Big Bessie asked.

Dog Man indicated the shivering Robert with his chin.

“Fool ran off from Johnny’s room, went outside, got one over the head and was thrown into the water, most likely.” Dog Man answered. “Was it like that?” he asked Robert. - “Now off with your wet clothes and into the tub, as long as it’s still hot!”

“I don’t know for sure.” Robert answered, hesitatingly. “I must have been beaten over the head -“ He stopped and tried to prevent Big Bessie from helping him to get out of his wet clothes.

“The constable here pulled him out.” Dog Man continued. “Johnny made a horrible fuss, so I better had a look. S’no good when customers are almost murdered on our doorstep.”

He turned to Mad Johnny.

“What did you do to Mister Robert? Did you frighten him?”

“T’ was that dockhand.” Mad Johnny answered. “Told Mister Robert ‘bout him - ‘n he became frightened ‘n ran off.”

“Dockhand? - One of the people you see? And he knew him?”

“Yep.” Mad Johnny nodded. He caressed one of Ichabod’s pale cheeks with two fingers.

“Leave him alone, Johnny.” Big Bessie said softly.

“You alright?” she asked Robert.

“I’m absolutely fine!” Robert assured her. He had stopped shivering as soon as he had sat down into the tub. All he wanted was to prevent Big Bessie from coming nearer. Her massive proportions filled him with awe.

Big Bessie returned to the still unconscious young constable, carefully dabbing the black strands of his hair to dry them. “T’was no good to bring him here!” she said to Dog Man. “We’ll be in trouble because of that constable!”

“I don’t think so.” Dog Man shook his head. “And besides - should I have left him out there in the cold, unconscious? Or should I have left Mister Robert?”

“No. - But it’s none of our business.” Big Bessie answered, still tending to the young constable.

“Maybe it is. Mister Robert thinks a lot of our constable here. And I like Mister Robert.” He lifted his eyebrows instead of a smile, looking up to his tall girlfriend.

Big Bessie sighed, answering his look by gently touching Dog Man’s cheek. “It’s good to know you can be different.” she said.

Ichabod stirred, opened his eyes, tried to sit up.

“Good evening, Constable.” Dog Man said.

“Who - ?”

“I’m known as Dog Man. I’m a friend of your friend. The small man with the green eyes. Mister Robert. You pulled him out of the river, remember?”

“Is he - ?”

“He’s in a hot tub right here. I’ll see to him in a minute. - Don’t worry, he’s well.”

“Where - ?”

“You are in my house.”

Dog Man restrained the naked Ichabod, who tried to jump from the bed where they had taken him, by putting a hand on his chest.

“You stay in bed, young man! - You need warmth and a good rest!”

Ichabod looked indeed pale and exhausted, offering no further bodily resistance.

“But -“ he argued feebly.

“But nothing!” Dog Man said firmly. He pulled a warm night-shirt over Ichabod’s head.

Big Bessie brought a hot-water bottle, put it at Ichabod’s feet.

“Constable Crane - my Lady.” Dog Man introduced them.

When Big Bessie had objected against having a constable in the house, she did not show her misgivings now. The tall woman smiled at Ichabod and took his hand. She had blue eyes and a round face framed by brown wavy hair. Her face was beautiful and clear, showing a strong personality.

“Madam.” Ichabod said. He tried to bow, which made her smile.

Mad Johnny handed Bessie a mug with a hot brew in it, which she passed on to the constable.

“Drink this.” she said. “It will make you sleep. You need to rest.”

“What’s in it?” Ichabod became the curious investigator at once. It had not been long, since a well-meaning Baltus Van Tassel and Doctor Lancaster had tried to make him drink some foul stuff. - But he had willingly accepted Katrina’s medicine ...

“Some soothing herbs. Mostly valerian and a root called Kava-Kava. It calms you down without numbing your senses.” the woman explained.

Ichabod sniffed the contents of the cup. Strange potions again. He definitely knew the smell of valerian from the days of his childhood, when his mother had been still alive ...

“I ought to be on duty.” he mumbled. “I’m on the night shift.”

He saw Mad Johnny, who giggled and tried to hide behind Big Bessie, and recognised in him the young man he had encountered a few weeks earlier. He had to smile, although he was worried about not finishing his duty, about being in the house of strange people in a dubious vicinity. The man said he was Robert’s friend, but -

“You drink this.” Dog Man repeated Bessie’s words. “I’ll send someone over with a note to the watch house.”

“You will? May I write it?”

Ichabod had his silent doubts whether the note would be delivered, but he decided to believe this dark, strange young man.

Dog Man himself went and fetched a pen and a sheet of paper.

He did not see ghosts like Mad Johnny, or have notions of people he knew being in danger, but somehow he felt it was important to care well for the two men a very interesting coincidence had brought to his house ...

Ichabod wrote a few lines, folded the paper and handed it to Dog Man.

Dog Man called for Ares.

“Please take this to the Main Watch House.” he said when the tall African appeared.

Ares nodded and went on his way. If he had any misgivings about entering police headquarters, the lion’s den, he did not show them either.

“Thank you.” Offering no further arguments, Ichabod sniffed the hot liquor again and finally drank it. He pulled a face and saw it echoed in Mad Johnny’s face.

“That’s Johnny.” the big woman said. “Don’t mind him.”

“I don’t.” Ichabod assured her and emptied the cup, handing it back to Johnny. They smiled at each other.

“Tastes horrible.” the big woman continued. “But helps a lot.”

Ichabod quickly became sleepy now. His head was so heavy, he had to put it on the pillow. For a moment he felt the shock of the cold water again, the feeling of being dragged down by the half unconscious man ...

“Sleep now.” the young man the woman had called Johnny said.

“Yes, he needs to sleep now, Johnny. He needs rest. And you as well, dear.”

The big woman put an arm round the young man’s shoulders and lead him out of the room. The gesture was so gentle and loving ...

“Ya’ve got a nice long cock!” Mad Johnny called back, and Ichabod half sat up again with a start. Had he heard this right? - He saw Mr Williams, wrapping himself into a big towel and climbing out of a tub. He heard the woman tell the young man that it wasn’t done to say such things to people when he put his head back on the pillow again. He was fast asleep, when Robert and Dog Man came to his bedside, looked at him and quietly left the room.

*****

Robert sat down on the bed in the room next to Ichabod’s. He was still naked, just wrapped into the towel.

Dog Man came in with another night-shirt.

“Feeling better?” he asked.

“Yes.” Robert said. “He is well, that’s the most important thing. - But I’m a bit at a loss. What did really happen?”

Dog Man took a fresh towel.

“I don’t know myself. - Apparently Mad Johnny said something which frightened you, and you ran off.”

Robert nodded. Yes, it slowly came back to him.

“He saw someone in the room with us.” he whispered.

“Yes, he does sometimes. - And this frightened you so that you ran off? - Johnny came to my room and pulled me out onto the street. He ran with me down to the river, where we found two people in the water, and helped them out. - One was you, the other your Constable Crane.“

“ He is not my -” Robert protested and jumped up. His head hurt, and a spell of dizziness overtook him. He swayed.

“Whoa! Whoa!” Dog Man steadied him. “Don’t shout so loud, you’ll wake him up! - By the way, he’s really beautiful.”

Robert sighed.

Dog Man put the fresh towel round the naked man, rubbing him. Robert tried to step back at first. He was a bit embarrassed.

“Oh come on! I won’t hurt you. I’m not into men.” Dog Man said, and Robert gave up his resistance.

“I think someone clubbed you over the head and mugged you.” Dog Man continued. “I heard constables’ whistles and there was a commotion, but Mad Johnny ran another way, and I didn’t see anything.”

Robert looked at his fingers.

“My rings are missing.”

“See? - And the mugger pushed you into the river.”

Robert shuddered. Dog Man clicked his tongue in mocking reproach.

“Very foolish of you, to go down to the river! Bad place. There are people about to whom a human life doesn’t mean a thing! No place to take a walk, especially at night!”

“I know that!” Robert answered defensively. “I was a bit out of my mind. - Boy, I’ve got a headache!”

Dog Man examined Robert’s head.

“You were very lucky. The skin on your head’s not even broken. A big swelling will be all.”

Robert put on the night-shirt and stockings which had been provided for him and sat down on the bed again.

“Dog Man, Johnny described my first lover and gave his name! How can he do this?”

Dog Man took a small flask out of his coat and handed it to Robert.

“You didn’t believe he actually sees the Dead?” he asked.

“Dog Man, that man has been dead for almost twenty-five years now! I told no one ever about him! No one! Ever! - Have you got an explanation for this? Johnny hadn’t even been born, when George was killed! It was another town! - And he described him, Dog Man, he described him to the point!”

He took a swig from the flask and shook himself. The brandy was strong.

Dog Man took the flask back.

“You said your lover was killed?” he asked, not without feeling.

Robert nodded.

Yes. - We were attacked by a few thugs - he - I wanted to help him - they were five! Five men - he cried to me to run. I ran and found a constable. But it - it was too late! - They had beaten him to death - and your boy described him! How can this be - how - ?”

Robert stopped.

“He said he could see him.” he whispered. “And he said George spoke to him. He asks me - “

Robert stopped again. He did not want to tell Dog Man what George allegedly had said.

But Dog Man seemed to know. He nodded. His face was serious, there was no mocking look, no unbelieving smile.

“Johnny knew you were in danger and alarmed me.” he added.

“Was Johnny - always that way?” Robert asked.

The other shook his head. He looked past Robert, out of the window into the still busy street. But he did not see the passing coaches, the passers-by, did not hear the shouts of the drunkards who left the pubs. - He saw a garden, heard the giggles of a small boy, scampering along the garden path.

“Catch me, Jo!” the boy cried, “catch me!” - And the tall, half-grown girl lifted her dress up, pretending to run a bit, panting as if she was out of breath from trying to catch her kid brother, letting herself drop on the lawn, as if she had tripped.

In a flash, the boy was at her side, jumping on her, giggling, kissing her face.

“You couldn’t catch me! You couldn’t catch me!” - She hugged and kissed him back. -

Joan and Johnny Van Eyssen had not known then that their father had crossed mighty people who did all sorts of shady business, who would not like to be crossed and who would take cruel revenge: They had kidnapped the whole family, tortured Van Eyssen, tormented and raped his wife, then shot them both. They had gang-raped his half-grown daughter, but not before she had seen how one of the bastards tore her kid brother apart with his fat cock. - Even then, it had taken three men to hold her down. -

She had found a way to escape with her brother, had found allies later, teaching her how to survive, how to fight, how to take revenge. She had made sure no one would touch her again. She had become a boy, then a man. Dog Man. - Dog Man had made sure the bastard who had touched Johnny would never touch anyone again - boy or girl, man or woman. He had cut off his fingers, his cock, his tongue, blinded him and mutilated his face, but let him live. It had not been easy to find him, but revenge was a dish best eaten cold - Dog Man had heard a few screams in his life. They did not prevent him from sleeping well. All but that piercing scream of his kid brother, fading into a whimper -

Slowly, Dog Man turned his head, facing Robert again. Big Bessie was right. He could be different ...

“He was raped when he was a small boy.” he answered harshly. “I could not prevent it. - He needed years to recover. And when he recovered - he was as he is now.”

//”I could not prevent it” ...// Robert thought. //The same as I could not prevent George being beaten to death ...//

“I’m sorry.” he said.

“For what?!” Dog Man snapped back. “For him? - He is all right as he is! - But you -“ he continued, “you are afraid to ask that constable to become your lover, because of what happened to your first lover!”

Robert jumped up again. Dog Man had hit the nail right on the head.

He looked as if he wanted to say something, but got second thoughts about it. As if all strength had suddenly left him, he sat down again, his head bowed.

“Yes, you are right, Dog Man. But - how could I - he never gave me any reason to assume he - “ Robert looked up again.

“Dog Man, you are right!” he repeated. “It is not as if I’d assume he’d be shocked or even would report me to the High Constable. - Of course I fear he’d refuse me. - But what I fear most - what if he said yes?! What if I’d trust and love again - you know how it is to love as if there were no tomorrow, no end - no death?! What if I loved that way again - and - and he’d get himself killed - like George - ?”

Robert began to cry helplessly, almost noiselessly.

Dog Man let him cry. He just pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to his friend.

//He actually loves.// Dog Man thought. //I can understand he’s afraid. But he’s standing in his own way, dammit!//

After a while, Robert calmed down a bit. Dog Man hesitated for a moment, then he hugged him, leaving an arm round his shoulders. And Robert did not pull back this time.

“Look at me, Mister Robert.” Dog Man said softly.

Robert obediently lifted his head.

“No one ever knows when he begins a relationship how long it might last.” Dog Man said. ”But is this that important? The important thing is that it’s wonderful as long as it lasts. - Don’t think of how George died. Think of the good time you had together -“

“Four weeks.” Robert whispered. “Then I deserted him when he needed me - I ran away - “

“He wanted you to live, Robert. You wouldn’t have stood a chance, except of getting yourself killed as well. Trying to get help was the better idea. He was right in sending you away. - Those four weeks you had with him - weren’t they the best you ever had in your life? - If you could have these four weeks back - ? Would you want to miss these four weeks with George?”

“Yes.” Robert answered. “That is - I would want the four weeks back, but not the pain afterwards - not the pain -“

His last words were a low whisper.

“We all don’t want the pain!” Dog Man said. “And what if you couldn’t have one without the other? Living in an endless limbo of loneliness and unfulfilled longing? Of chances missed? You call that living? - You think George would want this for you?”

Robert pulled himself free. “Leave me alone.” he said. “I’ve already said too much.”

Dog Man looked serious.

“You have condemned yourself to such a life - Hell knows how you manage. - Very well, it’s your choice. - Come on now. Drink this. It’s cold already.”

He handed Robert a mug with a brew similar to the one he had given to Ichabod.

Robert drank. He sighed.

“Mad Johnny said, George wanted me to be happy. -And what do you suggest, Dog Man? What would you do?”

“I’d have a talk with Constable Crane. A long talk. I’d ask his opinion. And then I’d see. - After all - you call him your friend, don’t you?”

Robert suddenly felt very exhausted. He only wanted to sleep and rest, although a few minutes ago he had been convinced of being unable to sleep for the next few nights. Dog Man’s suggestion even made sense now.

“Come.” his friend said. “I’ll take you to bed.”

Dog Man put him into bed, a hot water bottle at his feet.

“I saw him.” Robert murmured sleepily. “George. In the water. He sent me back - “

“And he was right.” Dog Man answered firmly.

Silence for a moment. Then Robert again, almost asleep.

“Mad Johnny said, George told him he wouldn’t mind if I asked Ichabod.”

“Then listen to George and Mad Johnny. - Good night now, Mister Robert.”

Through the door between the two rooms Dog Man entered Ichabod’s room, leaving the door open.

The young man slept soundly.

Dog Man glided from the room.

****

Ichabod dreamed. In his dream, he was caught in a cocoon of sticky white threads, just as a real cocoon spun by a caterpillar. The threads were everywhere, binding his limbs, creeping into his nose and mouth, blinding, numbing, suffocating him. He madly fought against them, finally tearing them away. Now he could see ...

He saw himself, a boy of nine, in the old schoolhouse in the small Massachusetts village where he was born. He was standing in a corner, facing the wall. He felt the looks of the other children on his back, they whispered and giggled because of his shabby clothes, his torn stockings, his too big shoes, until the schoolmaster hit the desk with his cane and demanded silence ...

And Ichabod remembered in his dream ...

It was after school now. The schoolmaster had dismissed the other pupils, and he had come out of his corner.

“May I go as well, Mr Stewart?”

The schoolmaster looked up from his papers, absentmindedly at first, as if he had forgotten the boy in the corner. Then he stood, advanced on him, tall and thin, towering over the child.

“Not so fast.” he said. “What is this, Ichabod Crane? Sleeping during school hours?”

Yes, Ichabod’s head had fallen on his book, he had been unable to keep it up any longer. How could he explain to the schoolmaster that he had nightmares, because his father sometimes had torn him out of bed in the middle of the night to beat him? That he never slept long and woke often?

He hung his head. “Sorry, Mr Stewart.”

The schoolmaster seemed to be very angry. His usually pale face was flushed, his lips were tightly pressed together, he breathed rapidly, while his pale eyes darted over the small figure in front of him.

“It’s not done with sorry. You know I’ll have to punish you?”

Ichabod had stood in the corner almost all day. He was tired and hungry. Did this punishing never have an end? He hung his head even deeper and pulled up his shoulders.

“Yes, Mr Stewart.” he whispered.

The schoolmaster seemed to calm down a bit.

“Very well.” he said. “Come to my house with me. I’ll find a book from which you’ll learn passages for tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mr Stewart.”

The grown-up Ichabod, the dreaming Ichabod knew that something terrible was about to happen. He tried to cry out to his nine-year-old self not to follow the schoolmaster to his house, to run away, but he could not make himself heard. So he tried to run away himself, to fight against the dream, to wake up - not to re-live that horror again -

He woke up with a muffled scream, not knowing during the first moments where he was. Then he remembered. Yes, he was in the house of Robert Williams’s friend - Dog Man. Robert had been in the river, and Ichabod had pulled him out. - That was alright. - But his dream -

Oh yes, he remembered everything now -

-- lying naked on his back on the schoolmaster’s bed, his legs spread wide. The schoolmaster had given him a glass of wine with the order to drink it quickly. He was dizzy now, everything felt far away and did not matter somehow - although beneath the numbness caused by the alcohol he felt that everything was wrong: The tall man over him, fully dressed, his naked thing, big and stiff - the pain and the horror, the utter helplessness beneath that numb, dizzy feeling -

Ichabod felt cold and nauseated. Shuddering, he hugged himself.

He had been lucky when his father died a year later and he had been adopted by the doctor who had made out the death certificate. A stranger, because the village doctor had been ill himself. He had pleaded with a stranger to take him away ...

Ichabod had never told anyone what his teacher had done with him. done more than once. Not even Dr Sullivan, his foster father, knew about it. The doctor would have sent him away. No one would want to keep such a bad boy, Young Ichabod had thought. - But over the years he had forgotten. What he remembered was fear - a fear of adoring the fine planes of his neighbour’s face in his last year at school, the muscular chests of some of his fellow students at the university, a fear to acknowledge the admiring looks of Simon, a fellow student, a fear to notice the longing his sharp look sometimes detected in the face of his friend, Mr Williams - a fear of which he had forgotten the source, pushed it away ...

He sighed. Maybe his foster father had known anyway ...

//Now you know as well, Ichabod.//

“And you have the choice whether you’ll be the slave of these demons from the past or whether you want to face them!” he said to himself.

****

“You are right.” A voice behind him.

Ichabod, who had not been aware that he had spoken aloud, hastily turned around.

Mr Williams stood in the doorframe. He looked younger in a night-shirt that was too big for him. His blonde hair was tousled. And that sad, longing look again ...

Ichabod caught himself.

“Good morning, Mr Williams. How are you?”

“Better. And you?”

“I’m alright.”

There was an awkward pause. Finally Robert said: “I - I did not want to intrude upon you -“

“You didn’t.” Ichabod said. “I wasn’t aware that I had spoken aloud. I - I had just been thinking ... “

“Sorry for interrupting -“ Robert continued.

“Not at all.” Ichabod said. “Won’t you sit down?”

//He doesn’t send me away!// Robert’s heart did a joyful leap. He carefully sat down on a chair next to the bed. The smell of the young man aroused him. And he just wore a night-shirt ...

“An interesting night.” he heard the young constable say.

“Oh yes, an interesting night, you might say that, Constable Crane.” Robert Williams spoke hastily. He was glad Ichabod had chosen an uncompromising subject. “Perhaps you can tell me a bit more about what actually happened?”

“Constable O’Leary and I were on night duty together. We patrolled the lanes in the harbour area. When we reached the quay, we saw two men push another man into the water. When they saw us, they ran away in different directions. Constable O’Leary ran after one of them, and the other ran in a direction where I hope he met Constables Smith and Johnson. They had not been far away. - I jumped into the water to pull the man out.” Ichabod spoke as if he was reporting to his superior, but he felt he would not be able to keep up this artificial distance to Mr Williams - Robert - much longer.

“You saved my life.” Robert said. His eyes took the young man in, and Ichabod clearly felt what was in his mind.

//He wants me.// he thought. //Another man wants me. - And I - I think he’s interesting. I’d like to be with a man as well, yes, I think so. It will be different from what Mr Stewart did to me - yes. It will be different -//

“I know how to swim.” he said matter-of-factly, in a last attempt to keep up the policeman’s facade. But he did not fool Mr Williams.

“You are -“ Robert stopped in mid-sentence and shook his head. He seemed to have decided on something important, when he spoke again. “Constable Crane, I have to talk to you.”

The abrupt change in Williams’s voice made Ichabod look at him closely. More closely than ever before. Mr Williams looked small and helpless in his big night-shirt, but very determined. And - somehow - beautiful -

He went on.

“You may not know, Constable Crane, or you may know that - my taste goes towards men.”

Ichabod just nodded, matter-of-factly again, a serious look in his beautiful dark eyes. Robert hoped he did not read that look wrong. It didn’t look - quizzical. So he found the courage to go on.

“And - and you may not know or you may know that - that I’m - I’m interested in you.”

//There. It is out now. Open, Earth, and swallow me. Let me die. How can I ever look into his face again?// Robert thought, but he could not stop himself.

“I’ve wanted you since I saw you for the first time!” he added defiantly.

//Right, out with everything, Robert! At least it’s out!//

He forced himself to look into Crane’s eyes. They were gentle, and Robert inanely marvelled how deep and beautiful they were. Ichabod’s fine eyebrows lifted slightly.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier then?”

“You - you never gave me any reason for hope, I - !” Robert protested.

“I didn’t know myself.” Ichabod said thoughtfully. “There was always something holding me back ... And only this morning I found out what it was ... what held me back from accepting that - that I want you as well.”

Robert suddenly felt dizzy, and a big waterfall seemed to roar in his ears.

“You - ?”

“Yes, I want you.” Ichabod whispered. “But I’m also - I - please do it slowly.”

He found that he was trembling.

//What is it with him?// Robert asked himself. //Alright, he may be a virgin with men, but he says he wants me - and yet he seems to be almost in panic at the same time - ? Oh, I know a cure for that ...//

“I’ll be careful.” His voice was calm and soothing. “And we can always stop. Just say a word.”

He went over to the young man. His hands caressed Ichabod’s hair and face. He kissed the fluttering eyelids, the tip of his tongue then flicking over the young man’s sensuous lips, kissing his way down the soft skin of the throat. His nimble fingers unbuttoned the night-shirt, caressing Ichabod’s chest, the young man’s nipples hardening under his touch. Ichabod’s breathing became more rapid now, he shrugged out of the night-shirt. Trembling fingers opened the buttons of Robert’s night-shirt, pushing it away, gliding carefully over his chest, his shoulders, his back.

For a moment, they both stood in an embrace, naked, then Robert pulled the younger man onto the bed. They lay still for a moment, just savouring the feeling of the other’s body being so near. Then Robert began to caress and kiss Ichabod’s face again, stroking his chest, the flat stomach, the thighs and buttocks, still carefully avoiding to touch the slender cock.

Ichabod felt his body answer to Robert’s kisses and caresses, to his touches. This had nothing to do with what the schoolmaster had done to him - this was wonderful. For a fleeting moment he thought that it might not be right to use Robert’s affection for him to exorcise his inner demons, but then he gave himself over fully to the delicious sensations racing through his body.

It was also wonderful to feel Robert’s body, the muscles rippling under the skin, the fine bones, the good, healthy smell. - Robert put a finger into his mouth and made it wet ... new delicious sensations when the older man gently started to massage Ichabod’s cock and testicles with one hand, while at the same time caressing the opening with one finger. Ichabod closed his eyes, feeling, enjoying. His mounting lust made him dizzy, and he did not know what feeling was more delicious: The hand stroking his cock with just the right pressure and intensity, or the teasing finger slightly caressing his opening, then stronger - to be pushed deeply into him at just the right moment.

Ichabod moaned, pushing upward, pushing his cock into the stroking hand, contracting his inner muscles, pulling Robert’s finger even deeper into himself, while his hands almost tore the sheet beneath him. Then the tension in his body loosened, his head fell back to one side, presenting his beautiful profile. Robert gently withdrew his finger and let go of Ichabod’s cock.

For a moment, Ichabod lay on his back, eyes closed, breathing rapidly. Robert kissed his temple, his cheek, the corner of his mouth. Ichabod opened his eyes and looked at him, taking in Robert’s loving look, which changed from slightly worried into relieved when he saw everything was alright. He smiled shyly, shifting his gaze to Robert’s erection.

// I want him as he wants me. It feels so right, I’d never have thought it could feel so good and so - right ...//

“Come.” he said.

Robert also smiled. He applied the sperm which had filled his hand to his cock and took the rest, which had spattered on Ichabod’s stomach, to apply it to the young man’s opening, gently caressing the velvet skin covering the muscle in the process.

Ichabod bit his lips, as if the touch was uncomfortable for him, but at the same time he spread his legs wider to give Robert an easier access. And he started to become aroused again.

//He is so strange. He wants me inside himself, and yet he is still terribly afraid of it.// Robert thought.

And then he saw - and felt - the scar.

He understood. And hesitated.

//Someone has taken him forcefully. And not only once ...//

Ichabod looked at him, his eyes frightened, but also expectant.

“Please.” he whispered.

Robert shook off all his hesitation. He bent over the young man, kissing him hard to distract him, while his cock slipped into Ichabod’s tight opening. Ichabod gave a low moan, and for a moment his dark eyes widened with fear. But then his hands found Robert’s slender body, gripping him tight. A moment later he relaxed his inner muscles, inviting his lover in even deeper.

Robert began to move, careful at first, but when he found Ichabod’s body moving with him, he became more bold, his thrusts becoming quicker, deeper, and harder.

Ichabod pushed himself upward, meeting Robert, joining their bodies even closer, laughing and crying at the same time -

****

When it was over, they lay next to each other, still trembling with the aftershock of their wild passion. Ichabod stroked Robert’s hair, tousling it. Pale gold, with a few strands of silver. His fingers caressed the long, noble face, traced the fine curve of the jawbone.

He had felt drawn to Robert Williams the first time he saw him - a small, noble, refined, reticent figure in the course, hard, sometimes brutal atmosphere of the watch house ...

Robert opened his eyes. Dark green and deep. Ichabod felt himself become aroused again, and he reached for Robert’s cock.

“I want you again.” he said.

//Drive away the demons, Crane - //

Robert smiled.

“What my young man wants, my young man gets.” he answered.

They never saw the slim, naked figure, who noiselessly opened the door a bit, stood for a moment, watching them making love, before he slipped away again, past the door where Dog Man slept in Big Bessie’s arms. Dog on the floor pricked up his ears, but gave no sound, because the slight steps were familiar. Mad Johnny went back to his own room, cuddling next to Ares, who put one muscular black arm protectively round him in his sleep.

**** Robert and Ichabod slept once more, and the sun was already high in the sky when they woke. No one had disturbed them.

Robert buried his face in the dark mass of Ichabod’s hair. Ichabod put an arm around the smaller man’s shoulders. He enjoyed to feel Robert’s warmth, the firm muscles and bones of his body, to smell the other man. It had been wonderful to feel him inside ...

Robert put an arm around Ichabod’s slender waist. He had thought of what had happened this morning, dreamed about it for the last six years - and he had not been disappointed. Ichabod had wanted him as well, and he had answered Robert’s efforts with passion. He had never felt such joy in being with a man since George had died. - And if anyone had a right to know about George, it was Ichabod.

“You know”, he murmured into Ichabod’s hair. “I - I want to tell you something.”

“I’m listening.” Ichabod said. And although he did not move or break their embrace to look at him, Robert knew that he spoke the truth.

“I loved a man.” he began. “Very much. When I was young. And he was killed. We were attacked - just because we seemed to be an easy target. George was strong, he defended himself. And me. He told me to run away and get help, which I did. - And he was killed. Just like that. I feel bad because I left him.”

Ichabod did not say a word, he just took Robert closer into his arms.

“And - I - I thought I’d better not dare to feel for someone again - “ Robert went on.

“You must have been very lonely.” Ichabod said.

“I was.” Robert agreed.

“But now you’ve found your courage again.” Ichabod continued.

“With a little help.” Robert said. “You know why I was down here yesterday night? - Dog Man - he is - I needed someone, and I slept with that young man in the red dress, Mad Johnny. You saw him.”

“Yes. -” Ichabod’s voice sounded curious.

“ - And that boy - Mad Johnny - he - he said he could see the dead man who had been my lover! George - he described him! And he told me I wanted you, and my former lover would not mind if I asked you!”

“How could he know?” Ichabod asked, sitting up now, looking at Robert.

“That’s what I ask myself. No one knew about my dead lover. Maybe one or two of my friends guessed that I was more than interested in you - are you angry?”

“No.” Ichabod said and shook his head. “But how could Johnny know all this?”

“He is - he is not in his right mind.” Robert said. “But I can’t give you a logical explanation how he can know these things. - And Dog Man also told me Johnny knew I was in danger and urged him to go to the quay.”

Ichabod looked into his lover’s eyes. His gaze was serious.

“I have learned in Sleepy Hollow that there is not always a logical explanation for everything. - And ghosts do exist. - The people in Sleepy Hollow told me the legend of the Headless Horseman - a soldier who was killed in the Western Woods near their village. He had been a mercenary, a man who killed for pleasure. His ghost is said to haunt the Western Woods. They said he had come to kill again. - And it was true, Robert! I saw him with my own eyes! - Lady Van Tassel, Katrina’s stepmother, had conjured up the ghost to take revenge on the people who had wronged her family! - And what would the High Constable and the Burgomaster think about such a story? What would you think yourself about it, before your experience of last night?”

“Until yesterday, I’d have said you’re - a bit overworked.” Robert ventured carefully, which made Ichabod smile. “But now - “

“I have to tell you something more.” Ichabod continued, serious again now. “Since I’ve been to Sleepy Hollow - I remember things.”

He paused.

“What things?” Robert asked, stroking his face.

“I thought I could not love.” Ichabod said. “ I never listened to what I felt - up to now. - And I didn’t know why. There was just fear and sadness. - My father accused my mother of being a witch, delivered her to the authorities and had her killed.”

“His own wife.” Robert spoke it not as a question, but as a statement.

“He was very - pious.” Ichabod almost spat the word. “Even in some hardened criminals I have found more feeling - at least for the people they consider their own - than in god-fearing, well-respected Reverend Crane - my father.”

“He did not love you.” A statement again.

“He would have been happier without me. Once he shouted at me that I looked like her.” Ichabod continued. “That was one thing I remembered. And the other - “

He paused again, his cheeks flushed with shame.

“The other thing?” Robert asked gently, taking him into his arms.

//The scar - // he thought. //And there are more scars on his back. Pale, old scars. But still visible - //

“The schoolmaster.” Ichabod continued, leaning his head on Robert’s shoulder. “He held me back after school, because I had fallen asleep during one of his lessons. -My father sometimes pulled me out of bed at night and beat me, and I did not dare to sleep in my bed any longer. - And the schoolmaster - he took me to his house, made me undress, lie down on my back and spread my legs -“

He lowered his head. Robert held him, stroking the tangled mass of Ichabod’s raven hair.

“How old have you been?”

“Nine. - He gave me something to eat afterwards. - I did not get much at home. Our housekeeper spent most of the money for her brandy, I think. - I - I was glad to get something to eat! - I was lonely! - I know it was bad -“

“That schoolmaster was bad!” Robert said. His voice was trembling with barely restrained anger and indignation. “Taking advantage of a lonely, neglected, and frightened child! That was bad!”

Ichabod shrugged. “In the village where I was born, no one would question what the schoolmaster or the reverend did. They were authorities and thus beyond any reproach.”

“That’s no excuse! - Did you tell anyone? - Was he found out?”

Ichabod shook his head.

“No. - My father died a year later, and I was adopted by a doctor and his wife from another village, so I never saw the schoolmaster again. - My foster parents were very decent people. They gave me a lot of love - and I forgot the bad things. - And yet I didn’t, as I see now .”

Robert gently pushed away a strand of hair from Ichabod’s forehead.

“Thank you for telling me - I mean - thank you for your trust.”

Ichabod’s features, which had become distant and hard while he told about the schoolmaster, softened again.

“You trusted me, too. - I understand it well - the fear to love, to trust ...”

There was a short silence. Robert regretted to break it, but he had to.

“Well, and now - I mean - do you - will you - shall we - go on as it is now or go on as before?”

He almost held his breath when he had brought out this question, while expecting Ichabod’s answer. And he knew: for him, it would be impossible to go on as before ...

Ichabod looked at him, his dark eyes gentle and loving.

“Wouldn’t it be a pity to go back now?” And he pulled Robert into another embrace, an embrace as a friend. And a lover.

****

Katrina had been awake since the early hours of the morning. She thought about what Mary had told her.

//Why did she marry that man at all? A man who would “sell” her to the owner of a brothel later on? - Maybe she had no choice. Maybe her family wanted her to marry him. Maybe he behaved decently at first, before he dropped his mask... Like Jane Archer ...//

She shuddered at the thought of Mary’s fate. Mary had been lucky to meet Robert, and she knew it. Katrina understood that her lover was very grateful to her husband and would avoid to hurt him. But if Mr Williams himself preferred men and had never been interested in consuming his marriage, it could not hurt him very much if Mary found herself a lover, could it?

Mary was lying next to her, still asleep. She looked young, vulnerable - and extremely desirable, Katrina found. Her thoughts went on to more pleasant subjects. What they had done together had been wonderful. And it was not only the bodily attraction. Mary had trusted her enough to tell her a bitter part of her life. Katrina wanted to give back that trust.

But how would everything go on? How could she avoid to hurt Ichabod? To alienate him? - Why had everything to be so complicated?

Mary next to her stirred.

“Awake already?” She asked, smiling. “How do you feel?”

Katrina bent down and kissed her.

“I feel fine. Last night was wonderful. Thank you.”

“I have to thank you.” Mary answered. “I’m glad you liked it and - you are not angry.”

Katrina caressed Mary’s hair, then put a playful finger on her small nose.

“Why should I be angry about a beautiful woman who showed me such beautiful things?”

She became more serious. “Mary - you trusted me with some very - unpleasant details from your past.”

Mary’s eyes narrowed a bit. //Now she’s getting second thoughts ...//

“Yes?”

Katrina read her look right.

“No, not what you think! I feel I have to tell you more as well. About what really happened in Sleepy Hollow.”

“What really happened in Sleepy Hollow?” Mary looked bewildered. “So you and Ichabod did not tell the truth?”

Katrina shook her head. “Yes. - No. - We agreed to leave out - some details.”

“Leave out some details? What details?”

Katrina swallowed. “The magic.”

“Magic?” Mary looked even more bewildered.

“Yes. Magic. - Here, in New York, it sounds unbelievable. I - sometimes I even begin to think myself it was a dream. But it was not.” She interrupted herself. “You don’t laugh at me?”

Mary folded her arms in front of her breasts.

“I do not know much about magic. - And I think only silly people laugh at things they don’t know about. Besides, it does not sound like a laughing matter to you, or as if you were having me on.” She frowned. “So what is it with this magic?”

“Sleepy Hollow is a bit different.” Katrina began. “It is a small village, and the Western Woods are very near. They are big, dense forests. The Indians had their stories about them, and our ancestors who founded the colony brought their own stories with them. The Western Woods are said to be haunted. - But these are not only stories -“ she hastily went on before Mary could interrupt her.

“They have to do with the tragic events involving your family?” Mary asked.

Katrina nodded.

“Yes. - My stepmother - she did not hire a living man to impersonate the ghost of the Headless Horseman, who had been killed near Sleepy Hollow over twenty years ago. She hired the Headless Horseman himself.”

“What?”

“You know about the idea that you can conjure up a ghost when you have some of that person’s bones? She had the dead mercenary’s skull. She knew the right spells, and he had to do her bidding and to kill all the people she ordered him to kill.”

“I’d rather not try it.” Mary remarked. “All the people - killed by a ghost? Alright, I think he was furious when they killed him to begin with. But she must have given him a lot more energy by her hatred. - What I don’t understand - why did she do it? She had married your father, who, as I understand, was one of the richest men in Sleepy Hollow. She could have been content. Why did she hate your family and that other rich man - what was his name? - so much?”

Katrina bowed her head.

“She told me that Old Van Garrett had rented a cottage to a family named Archer. I heard old people say that Charity Archer had been a witch. Her husband died, and Old Van Garrett threw Charity and her two small daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, out of the cottage. My stepmother told me that no one in Sleepy Hollow had helped them. And Old Van Garrett rented the cottage to his friend Baltus Van Tassel and his pregnant wife.”

“And she - your stepmother - was one of the girls?” Mary asked.

“Yes. - Mrs Archer died, and no one knew what became of the girls. Until later. When she was older, Jane went away and left her sister to live in the woods. That woman survived due to her magical powers she possessed as well, but she did no evil. Ichabod visited her and she told him about the Horseman’s lair, the Tree of the Dead. - Jane told me she killed her for that.”

“Very ‘christian’!” Mary snorted. “Leaving a woman and her small children to fight for themselves! You know - somehow I understand your stepmother - to a certain point. She had every reason to hate Old Van Garrett. Did your parents know that he had thrown out a widow with two children to make room for them?”

“I don’t know.” Katrina answered. “Maybe - my father knew.”

Mary put an arm around Katrina’s shoulders.

“I know I am harsh, and some things look differently for you. I am just looking from the outside. Do not get me wrong when I say I understand your stepmother. She went too far!”

“She boasted to have poisoned my mother to be able to marry my father.” Katrina whispered. “She killed our servant girl. She sent the Horseman to slaughter the whole Killian family! She sent him to kill a pregnant woman!”

Horrified, Mary hugged her tightly.

“I am sorry, dear, I shouldn’t have said anything!”

Katrina shook her head. “No, Mary, you are right! I have to come to terms with the fact that my father was part of some dark connections and that he could be ruthless and cruel when it fitted him. I felt it. Ichabod found out something about this, and I - I was torn between him and my father. Ichabod suspected him of having killed all the people. I was outraged by that - and at the same time I tried to protect Ichabod from the dark forces. There are spells -“ She stopped again.

//You too ...// Mary thought. “And what did actually happen to your stepmother? And to the Headless Horseman?” she asked aloud.

Katrina swallowed.

“She sent the Hessian Horseman after me, because I was the last one standing between her and an immense fortune. - I thought Ichabod had left, because after my father’s death he thought I had been the one who had raised the Horseman - and he did not want to give me over to the authorities as a witch. But he came back, and together with Young Masbath, a boy whose father also had been killed by the Hessian, we could overwhelm my stepmother. Ichabod got hold of the Horseman’s skull - and he gave it back to him. The Horseman left me alone and took my stepmother with him, before he vanished.”

“Good idea to give that skull back.” Mary commented. “Would not have done to keep it.”

She hugged Katrina again, who anxiously looked into her lover’s eyes.

“And now? What do you think? Does it sound to you like a bag of lies, invented by a madwoman?”

Mary shook her head, frowning.

“I admit, it sounds a bit wild. But why would you tell me such a story if it wasn’t true?”



“And something else.” Katrina whispered. “My stepmother - she knew more about me than I knew myself then. I - I didn’t know it then, but I felt - attracted to her. And I am sure she knew it!”

Mary kissed her lover.

“Fits in with how you describe her. - But try to leave her behind you - with everything else. I know, I’m the one to talk. But let’s both try!”

Yes, let’s try!” Katrina said with all of her heart.

*****

They got up, and when Mary looked for her husband, she found he was not in and his bed was untouched.

“Maybe he already left for work.” Katrina suggested.

Mary shook her head. “Too early. It’s only six-thirty. It looks as if he had not been home. And that’s not like him.”

“So what do you think?” Katrina asked.



Mary sighed.

“He was not quite himself during the last weeks - in fact, since Ichabod Crane brought you with him from Sleepy Hollow.”

Katrina thought for a moment.

“You said he prefers men. - Do you think he - he might be interested in Ichabod?”

Mary nodded. “I think so. He never said so, and for some reason he is terribly afraid to talk to Ichabod about it. But I think you’re right.”

“And now? Where might he be?” Katrina asked.

“The door to your room wasn’t closed this morning.” Mary said. “When you don’t lock it, it doesn’t close properly. - Maybe he even came back during the night and we never noticed him. But he saw us!”

“Oh, I see.” Katrina said, looking a bit embarrassed. But then a defiant look came into her green-blue eyes, a look Mary noticed admiringly.

“If he himself prefers men - wouldn’t he understand?”

Mary shrugged.

“I don’t know. I never told him I preferred women. - But it is not even said that he came in and left again. He visited a friend who had been away for a while, Notary Danvers. Maybe he stayed there! - I’ll go over to the Danvers’ house and ask -“

Katrina had gone over to the window and looked out.

“Don’t.” she said. “I see Robert and Ichabod coming down the street.”

A few moments later, the two men stopped in front of the house and the two women saw them talk to each other. Ichabod made as if to go away, while Robert was about to enter the house.

As if a sudden idea had struck her, Mary hurried to her room. When she came back, she had put on her cape, and threw Katrina another one.

“What -?”

“Come on.” Mary said. “We should take these men for a walk.”

She hurried down the stairs, and Katrina had no other choice than to follow her. Maybe Mary was right, and there was a good opportunity to talk.

*****

“Good morning.” Mary greeted the two men outside. Her sharp eyes detected Ichabod’s chafed lips and a bruise on his throat, as well as the glowing, radiant happiness in the eyes and faces of both men.

“I want to go for a walk.” She turned to her husband. “Robert, will you accompany me? - Miss Van Tassel, Constable Crane - will you excuse us? I need a bit of fresh air!”

She took Robert’s arm and pulled him with her, ignoring Katrina’s and Ichabod’s astonished faces.

*****

“Mary, what -?” Robert hastened along the street behind his wife, trying to keep pace with her.

“Where have you been last night?” Mary asked, slowing down a bit.

“I came home late at night.” Robert said. “And I saw you and Miss Van Tassel lying in one bed together. The door was ajar. - I -I did not want to compromise you.” he added.

“That was very considerate of you.” Mary said dryly. “There has to happen something about that door. And pretty darn quick!”

“I - I didn’t know - you are - you like women.” Robert murmured.

“I never told you.” Mary said, matter-of-factly. “For a long time, I tried to forget.”

“You only laughed when I told you one time I’d not object if you took a lover, and you said that wouldn’t be easy. You laughed even more when I protested it would be no difficulty for a good-looking woman like you to find someone.” Robert continued. “I thought it was perhaps because of all the men at the whorehouse -“

“Don’t change the subject, Robert.” Mary would be damned if she’d enter into a discussion of the reason why she preferred women now. This was not the right time -

“You came in, and you left again. What did you have in mind? Did you want to find Crane to inform him about the infidelity of his fiancée?” she asked harshly.

Robert blushed slightly.

“I admit, the thought crossed my mind for a second, but then I thought that this was Ichabod’s and Miss Van Tassel’s business. - I just was taken aback. - No - I - I - went down to the harbour to find a young man.”

“Hm. - And did you find one?”

“Yes. - And - he upset me - so I went for a walk afterwards.”

“Upset you? How?”

Robert sighed. - What would Mary think about all this?

“His name is Johnny. - I have known him for some time now. - He - he sees dead people. Ghosts.”

Mary sighed. //Oh dear, not another one ...//

Before she could make any comments, Robert went on: “Mary, he said he saw my first lover! No one knows about him! - George was beaten to death by a few thugs who attacked us. That was twenty-five years ago!”

Mary stopped and looked at her husband. Her face was concerned, when she pushed a strand of hair away from his face.

“You never told me.” she said. “I’m sorry to hear this. - You must have loved him very much.”

“Yes.” Robert answered.

Mary nodded thoughtfully.

//This is why he does not dare to ask Crane ...//

“I understand.” she said. “But why on earth did you have to take a walk down the harbour at that time of night? Since when have you become that adventurous?”

“Mary, don’t laugh at me - Johnny told me that George, my dead lover, knew that I wanted Ichabod and urged me to ask him! Can you believe this?”

His wife looked at him again, not unkind.

“This is all so unlike you that I have no choice but to believe you. - And this upset you so that you ran along the river?”

“Yes. - I know it was foolish, but I did it, dammit! And so I got clubbed down and mugged and thrown into the river, and it was Constable Crane who pulled me out. Johnny had alarmed Dog Man, who brought Ichabod and me to his house for the night. -“

“Who is Dog Man?” Mary asked. She sounded frightened, hearing what had happened to her husband. And a bit angry.

“Johnny’s - pimp.” Robert answered and added hastily: “I know it was damn foolish of me to run around like that, and you have every right to be angry with me! - And Hell knows, what I’ll tell them at the watch house, why I’ve been there!”

He tried to look rueful, but could not suppress his happiness, thinking of Ichabod and how everything had turned out. - No one, nothing would be able to take his new-found happiness away from him.

Mary tried to be angry with Robert, but it would not work. So she smiled at her husband instead and hugged him. How could she remain angry, looking at his happy face? She was glad to have him back in one piece. So she suppressed her anger and her shock. He had brought himself and Ichabod into a dangerous situation, but after all, everything had turned out well.

Besides, Robert looked as if he had been able to solve a huge problem.

“You look happy, my friend.” Mary remarked instead of a reproach.

“I am.”

Mary smiled again. She was sure, but she wanted to tease her husband a bit ...

“You look - as if you actually found the heart to ask Crane. You didn’t, did you?”

“I did, Mary. I did. - And he said yes!”

//He looks so proud - and so relieved ...//

“Well -“ Mary said. “It may not have looked that way, but I’ve been worried about you for the last few weeks, Robert. You haven’t been yourself, since Ichabod Crane brought Miss Van Tassel with him.”

Robert opened his mouth to protest.



“But under these happy circumstances I’ll forgive you.” Mary continued.

Now it was Robert who smiled.

“I have explained myself.” he said. “Now it is your turn. With regard to Miss Van Tassel -“

“I didn’t intend it. It simply happened.” Mary said. “I haven’t been better than you. - At the whorehouse - Madame was my lover. I tried to suppress for so long that I wanted a woman - and Katrina - this was just too much. I thought she might -“

Unlike Mary, Robert was not in a teasing mood.

“She’s a strange young woman.” he said. “But strong and intelligent. - Mary, I’m happy for you!

“And I for you, Robert.”

****

Katrina and Ichabod walked silently side by side.

“Another walk.” Katrina began hesitatingly.

“The weather is better this time.” Ichabod remarked casually.

“True, thank God. - Where are we going, by the way?”

“I’m on my way to the watch house.”

They both stopped walking and began to talk at the same time: “I cannot marry you -“

They stopped.

“Ladies first.” Ichabod said.

Katrina pouted jokingly. “I thought you were a gentleman!”

“That’s why. - Very well, my confession first. - I cannot marry you, because I have found someone else.”

Katrina felt as if a whole mountain was lifted from her chest. - But she could not suppress a little pang of jealousy. And she had to know if Mary was right ...

“So soon? - She must be very charming and beautiful!”

Ichabod blushed slightly.

“Indeed - and - different.”

“Oh - ?” Katrina said with an impish smile that made Ichabod frown a bit.

“Now it’s my turn.” she went on, serious again, also blushing. “I have found somebody else as well.”

“So soon?” Ichabod quipped, repeating her own words. He could not hide his relief.

“You’re joking with me, Ichabod Crane, what’s the matter with you?”

Ichabod blushed deeply now.

“I don’t know.” he lied, and blushed even more. “But I have the suspicion, Katrina Van Tassel, that you are joking with me as well!”

//I ought to tell her.// he thought. //We’re friends, I owe her that much. - But can I? How could she understand?//

//I’m a coward.// Katrina thought. //I should tell him, he saved my life. We are friends. But will he understand?//

Again they both began to talk in unison. “I’m in love with a - “ and again they both stopped at the same time.

They looked around if somebody could see them. Then Katrina mustered all her courage and pulled Ichabod down to her.

“Woman.” she whispered in his ear.

Ichabod took a step back from her, and Katrina’s heart sank. Then she saw the smile in his dark eyes. He motioned to her with one finger to come closer and bent down to her again.

“Man.” he mouthed into her ear.

Katrina looked at him, unbelieving for a moment.

//Mary was right ...!// She bent over, giggling. Then she jumped up and hugged Ichabod.

“Congratulations!”

“To you as well.” He took her hands.

Katrina looked up into his face, the golden sparks in her eyes gleaming mischievously.

“Maybe we should marry after all. We wouldn’t get into each other’s way, would we?”

*****

Constables Moran and Smith watched them from a window.

“Nothing like young lovers, eh?” Moran remarked.

“Ja, ja.” Constable Smith grumbled. “Take thirty years off my back, and Miss Van Tassel would be in serious danger!”

Constable Moran grunted. “Another one is in serious danger at the moment.” he said. “The High Constable is taking O’Leary’s head off for leaving Crane alone to pull the drowning man out of the river.”

“Mph.” from Constable Smith.

“He was the only one except Crane who knew about the drowning man. He could’ve told me.” Moran insisted.

“Right. But we know from the man with the message that Crane managed and is alive and well. Look at him outside!”

“Alright, but the High Constable is livid with rage since he heard my and O’Leary’s report. You should’ve seen O’Leary’s face when I asked him where Constable Crane was. He had totally forgotten him in his pride about the thug! - And Williams hasn’t come in so far!”

“He was the man Crane pulled out of the river.” Constable Smith said. “The man who brought the message about Crane said so.”

Moran’s round face lit up in a malicious grin.

“Williams? - At this time of night? - In a place full of pimps, whores and thugs? - What on Earth - ?”

“That’s Williams’s business!” Constable Smith said sharply. “And if you open your silly mouth and make one of your idiot remarks, I’ll box your ears, Moran! - He’ll have had his earful by now. - You know his wife?”

“That small, meek lady?”

Constable Smith grinned. “Have you ever seen her angry? - Compared to her, the High Constable is a lamb! - Ah, Constable Crane!”

“Good morning.” Ichabod said innocently.

Constable O’Leary entered.

“He’s never content, never!” he said bitterly. “I got that bastard, and guess what? He gives me an earful about not staying and helping you with the drowning man!”

“I could have used a hand.” Ichabod said dryly.

“Alright!” O’Leary grumbled. “A man’s life comes first. I should have helped you, but I wanted that thug! I’ve done wrong and I haven’t been thinking. Sorry, Crane.”

“That’s alright.” Ichabod answered.

“By the way, he wants to see you as well. Better go in now. He’s had me for breakfast, so his mood will be better now!”

“No one can spoil the mood of our young lover here!” Constable Moran quipped.

The three older constables laughed heartily when Ichabod’s pale face became very red again.

*****

In the evening of that day, Katrina, Mary, Ichabod and Robert met at the Williams’s house. Ichabod confirmed the story Katrina had told Mary and filled in the gaps for Robert. They agreed, however, that it would be better to stick to the official version of the story, leaving out ghosts and magic, when it should be necessary to talk about it to other people. ***** Six months later Katrina and Ichabod were married. A lot of people had been invited: The Williams’s, Constables Smith, Moran, Johnson, and O’Leary and their wives, High Constable Van Beek and his wife, Burgomaster Van Rijn with Mrs Van Rijn, Notary Danvers and his wife.

Ichabod also had invited Dog Man, Big Bessie, and Mad Johnny. Dog Man had refused politely. But now he stood near the church with Mad Johnny, the big dog next to them.

“Johnny here wanted to see the bride.” he said, when Ichabod and Robert went over to greet them.

Dog Man was dressed elegantly in a light grey suit with a matching vest. Mad Johnny looked very elegant as well. He wore a black suit which enhanced his fragile beauty, and his hair had been cut. No one would have recognised in the slender, attractive young man the street urchin in the red dress. - In fact, some of the guests who slowly filed into the church asked themselves whether the two good-looking young men were relatives of Constable Crane.

Mad Johnny was excited, taking in all the clean, well-dressed people.

Dog sniffed Ichabod and Robert. For a moment, he looked up into Ichabod’s eyes and held the young man’s gaze. His amber eyes were clear and had an almost human expression. He allowed the two lovers to touch him.

“Give my love to Bessie.” Ichabod then said to Dog Man.

“I will.” Dog Man answered. “We won’t come into the church - because of Dog -“ he added, “and we won’t come to the festivities afterwards. I have to get back to business, you understand -?”

“It was kind of you to come all the same.” Ichabod said. “Good to see you, Johnny! You look beautiful.” Johnny smiled. “I washed, n’ I dressed, n’ Bessie cut me hair, n’ I wear shoes n’ all!” He hugged Ichabod. “Ya know, ya can have me anytime!” he whispered in his ear. “But ya don’t want. - Ya’ve got him!” He indicated Robert with a move of his head.

“Yes, I have him.” Ichabod agreed.

“Ya think I’ll get someone sometime ‘s well?” Mad Johnny asked.

“I think so.” Ichabod said, and he was convinced, someone would fall in love with Mad Johnny shortly. If this had not happened already ...

“I have to go now.” he added, smiling. “I don’t want to miss my wedding.”

“See you both.” Dog Man said.

“You have to come for a visit and to bring Bessie and Johnny along. We told Katrina and Mary about you, and they want to meet you!”

“We’ll see.” Dog Man said in his reticent way.

Mad Johnny blew a kiss at them, and the young groom and Robert walked past him to the church.

Johnny could see the bride from afar. She was beautiful in her white embroidered dress. - There were a lot of elegantly and expensively dressed people, and Johnny took in all the colours, the sunshine and the atmosphere of happy excitement.

He also saw a lot of people the other guests could not see: A man and a woman in fine clothes, both obviously happy. The woman looked a bit like Miss Katrina, only older. The man had an ugly, but friendly face and was beaming with pride at the young couple. - Nothing could keep Baltus Van Tassel away from witnessing the wedding of his only daughter. - And he and his first wife were not the only ones who thought that being dead was no excuse for missing this event:

Another woman was there suddenly. Dark hair and dark eyes, sharp features. She smiled at Mad Johnny, putting one long, slender finger to her lips. Then she walked past Ichabod at the church entrance and softly touched his cheek. The beautiful Constable flinched, as if he had felt the touch. Johnny smiled, but then his face darkened.

There was another man, dressed all in black. He wore a white wig, and his features, although handsome, were cold and hard. His dark eyes were like stone, and Mad Johnny shuddered. He knew that man had been mean to Ichabod.

“Ya can’t hurt’m anymore!” he said. “N’ ya ‘s well!”

He turned to a second man, tall, thin and also dressed in black. To Johnny, he looked mean somehow, as if he would find pleasure in frightening people weaker than himself, and using their fear to his advantage. Johnny knew the type and made an obscene gesture in the ghost’s direction.

“Hush!” Dog Man said and took Mad Johnny around the shoulders. “Don’t!”

He wanted to lead the young man away, but Johnny shook his head. He wanted to see more.

The two men - or ghosts - in black did not go into the church like the others. They stood outside for a while and suddenly they were gone.

Maybe this was because two other men now passed Johnny to enter the church. One was Mister Robert’s dockhand and the other one a young man in hunters’ clothes. He had never seen this man before. A stranger from far away. Tall, strong and good-looking. Johnny felt that he had had to do something with Ichabod’s bride. But now the Stranger smiled at George. George smiled back, and the look they exchanged was a look Johnny knew. The Constable and Mister Robert had looked at each other that way...

“Come on.” Dog Man said. “Let’s go now!”

And this time Mad Johnny smiled and followed Dog Man and Dog down the street.

THE END