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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Summer Stories: ‘Porta Infernus’ by Jamie Ford

By Jamie Ford For The Spokesman-Review

December 1911

F. Lewis Clark had been married to his beautiful wife Winifred for 18 years, and in that time, she’d never once been faithful. You see, Winifred was an artist, who’s favored medium was infidelity – who’s canvases were the finest sateen sheets, as she dabbled in exotic oils, and silk, and sweat.

Though, to be fair, F. Lewis was no perfect man either.

By 1911 he was a Harvard-schooled multi-millionaire, amassing a vast fortune in timber, mining, and flour milling. He’d had his own moments of weakness. But to his credit, he’d never purposely gone out of his way to hurt anyone – not the way Winifred did when she looked at him knowingly and blew him a kiss before taking the arm of Horace Ketchum, F. Lewis’ longtime business partner. She smiled as she led him upstairs to one of the many bedrooms of the Spokane Club.

F. Lewis had long known of the affair. But now he knew with a clarity that pierced his heart. He watched them ascend the staircase, his world frozen – he was a prisoner with a noose around his neck, standing on the gallows, waiting for the trapdoor to open. He was the child whose kitten had gone missing near the train tracks. He was the expectant mother watching a doctor fumble with a stethoscope, searching an abdomen in vain, knowing the doctor’s next words will be, “There is no heartbeat.”

So it was with a broken heart that F. Lewis invited his wife to the basement of the Spokane Club the next evening, “I want you to see the wine cellar,” he said. “I need your help picking out a bottle, something special.”

She groaned. “You can’t do anything by yourself, can you Lewis? What’s the occasion? Horace says business is failing. Your half, anyway.”

“A special celebration,” he mumbled as he led her through the dusty cellar and beyond a small, creaking door into a dark room that had been locked for as long as F. Lewis could remember. “You won’t believe what’s in here.”

“Really,” Winifred asked, yawning.

F. Lewis waited a moment until her eyes could adjust to the darkness, until he knew she could see what his eyes were searching for, a deep pit in middle of the room.

But F. Lewis knew that the real pit, the true yawning abyss, had been found in his own chest when he had walked into the master suite of Honeysuckle Lodge, his palatial estate on Hayden Lake. His arms had been filled with red roses. But Winifred was also in full bloom, her arms filled with Horace, as he made love to her atop the grand piano F. Lewis had given her for their first wedding anniversary.

“Lewis,” Winfred needled, “What are we doing here?”

F. Lewis turned to his wife in the darkness, held her arms gently, touched his lips to hers, even as she turned away. “I’m celebrating our divorce.”

He didn’t push her as much as he let her go. He watched her corseted body tip backward, bending, falling, her dress – scarlet lace and white petticoats, swallowed by the darkness. F. Lewis winced as her screams were interrupted as she bounced against the walls of the old well he’d kept hidden in the basement of the gentlemen’s club.

F. Lewis closed his eyes and his heart raced as he listened in vain for a splash or a crash but her body trailed off seemingly to infinity. Without an impact, she wasn’t dead – she was merely gone, because no one knew how deep this ancient well was. Before construction on the club began, engineers, oilmen experienced in drilling 2,000-foot boreholes, had given up when their means of measurement played out at 6,000thousand feet. No one knew who did the old masonry, or when, but superstitious locals had boarded up the hole ages ago and marked it with a sign that read Porta Infernus. F. Lewis nodded.

As he turned to leave, he startled when he felt something brush his ankle. He heard a soft whimpering and knew it was his wife’s Pomeranian.

The dog dropped a tiny ball at his feet.

Must have followed her downstairs.

He picked up the wet ball of rubber and the warm ball of fur he’d given Winifred for Valentine’s Day many years ago. She’d named the dog Cupid.

The dog panted and wagged its plume of a tail in the dimly lit room.

“I’m afraid she’s gone boy,” F. Lewis said. “Do you want to play fetch?”

F. Lewis felt Cupid’s body tense up as he tossed the ball into the well. Then he set the writhing, wriggling dog down and watched Cupid leap after the toy.

I’m sorry boy, F. Lewis thought as he listened to the dog’s yelp fade away.

Finally, F. Lewis tugged at a gold chain on his waistcoat. He fished out an ornate Patek Philippe pocket-watch. When they made their first million, his partner, Horace, had given him the watch. He dangled the watch from its golden chain. He observed how the expensive timepiece shimmered for a moment in the darkness. Then he dropped it in the pit and walked away, snagging a bottle of Brugal 1888 on his way upstairs.


The morning hit F. Lewis like a thunderclap, but the booming noise was someone knocking – then pounding, on his door. He looked about the room and realized he was still at the Spokane Club.

“I’m sorry to wake you, Mr. Lewis. Something terrible has happened.”

F. Lewis vaguely recognized the tenor of the man’s voice – Mr. Greene, the club manager. F. Lewis looked at the tangled mess of linens. He smelled of whiskey and found the empty bottle of Brugal beneath the covers. The room was a riot of strewn furniture, broken stained glass lamps, and torn curtains and duvets.

F. Lewis opened the door.

Mr. Greene looked pale. “I’m so sorry to wake you sir, but I had to make sure you were OK. Something tragic has happened …”

“As you can see I’m fine,” F. Lewis said as his head throbbed.

“It’s your partner, Mr. Ketchum.”

F. Lewis noticed the club manager sniffing the air, sensing copious amounts of alcohol. The man glanced over his shoulder and saw the room.

F. Lewis snapped his fingers. “The news, man, out with it.”

“It’s Mr. Ketchum. He’s, I don’t know how to say this, there’s no proper decorum that could possible soften the news … he’s been murdered.”

“Murdered?” That doesn’t make sense. “Are sure? Maybe he’s just missing …”

“If only he were. I’m so sorry, Mr. Lewis. One of the chambermaids discovered him this morning. He’s still in his room, in his bed, there’s … there’s so much blood. But don’t worry; the police are on their way right now.”

F. Lewis thought about Winifred, gone missing, about his philandering partner. “I still don’t believe it.” His head pounding, the room off-kilter.

“This must be overwhelming,” Mr. Greene said. “Please come downstairs at your earliest convenience. The police will be waiting. I’ll do my best to keep the Spokane Times away – we don’t need the press involved.”

F. Lewis thanked the hotel manager for his discretion. Then he wondered, is it proper to thank someone who’s just informed you of a murder? He rubbed his forehead as he tried to discern fact from fiction, dream from reality.

As he dragged his weary, aching body to the bath, F. Lewis soaked, shaved, and then got dressed. He wondered how long it would be before people began to inquire about his missing wife. He was truly heartbroken, his grief painfully real as he reached for his cuff links and noticed a familiar looking watch – his watch – the one Horace had given him. The gold pocket-watch sat on his nightstand. F. Lewis smelled his breath, which still reeked of alcohol. He shook his head as he fetched the watch. He heard the ticking even before he clicked it open. He blinked as he regarded the jewel, which was cracked and chipped, the fob bent askew, the metal tarnished. It still told time, though the second hand swept backwards, counter-clockwise. F. Lewis put it in his pocket.

He adjusted his sleeves and then he opened the guest room door where he smelled something rotten, foul. He looked down and saw Cupid. His wife’s prized pet looked like he had rolled in a fetid swamp. The dog dropped the mangled ball at F. Lewis’s feet and the Pomeranian’s lips quivered as the tiny dog bared dainty, sharp teeth and snarled.

This can’t be Cupid, F. Lewis thought.

He kicked the ball away hoping the angry dog would follow, but the vicious thing bit his leg and held on, even as F. Lewis hopped about the corridor. He finally shook the feral dog off and kicked the mass of fur and teeth back into his room where it rolled like a tumbleweed, then found its feet and raced back. He slammed the door as its foaming snout nipped and growled at him beneath the heavy wooden sway.

I’m going mad. F. Lewis thought. I’ll greet the police, answer their questions, and all of this nonsense will sort itself out. Then I’ll deal with a missing wife. Perhaps they’ll blame her – everyone knew she had a habit of using men, then tossing them aside.

F. Lewis collected himself, then he went downstairs.

In the dining hall, he saw Mr. Green huddled with a group of men in blue sack coats with gold buttons. F. Lewis noted that even within the Spokane Club the police officers still wore their caps. Another man in a dark suit wore a military cape with a small, seven-pointed star – a detective here to investigate the murder.

As F. Lewis presented himself, their whispered voices came to a halt and when they stepped aside, he saw … Winifred. She wore the same dress from the night before, though the fabric was stained with dirt and mud.


“Oh,” she said with a smile. “There’s my dear husband now.”

She swept toward him and threw her arms around his neck. She smelled like ashes and soot and her skin felt cold, like freshly poured cement.

F. Lewis’s mind reeled. He held her close as she whispered in his ear.

“I told them you killed Horace.”

Then she kissed him, deeply, passionately, but she tasted like dirt and her tongue felt like worms darting about his mouth. He pushed her away as he gagged.

“Goodbye, darling.” Winifred said.

“Mr. Lewis,” The detective stepped between them. “Where were you last night? Your wife says you had a disagreement with your partner.”

F. Lewis looked back in shock, in horror. He wiped his mouth. “I didn’t do a thing. It’s her … it’s all her.” He turned to go back upstairs and saw another detective coming down with a waste bin. In his other hand, he held a bloodstained carving knife.

“I found this in his room.”

This is madness.

F. Lewis looked at Winifred, pleading, but her eyes were black as coal. She waved goodbye as he broke away from the detectives, stumbling, sprinting down the servants’ hallway, though the kitchen. F. Lewis heard the officers yelling. He heard pots and pans crashing to the floor as he bolted through the walk-in pantry, barricading the door behind him with an enormous apple barrel as the police shouted and heaved their shoulders against the door.

“Come quietly,” a detective ordered. “Mr. Lewis, there’s no place you can run.”

Panicked, cornered, F. Lewis ran down the dark stairs at the back of the room, knowing full-well where he was going – down into the basement, through the wine cellar to the formerly locked door. He swung it open and stepped toward the pit as beads of sweat rolled off his forehead and dripped into the darkness.

He heard the officers crashing through his makeshift barricade.

Then he closed his eyes and stepped into the darkness.