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Elliott tiptoed out of the room without looking back. The judge’s daughter, for all her European adventures, was as boring asleep as —- he smiled at the maid in the hall, gave her a quick kiss that brought forth an attractive blush and sauntered down the wide, curving staircase to the marble floored foyer. He grabbed a rose from the marquetry table’s centerpiece as he passed it. He frowned a little, trying to remember if the table had been there last night when they’d snuck into the place, after all he’d had a fair amount of fortification when they’d walked in. He shrugged it off and left.
It was a fine day outside. Not even a glance across the street where Mrs. Danforth had been attacked could dampen his mood. He’d just deflowered – if you can deflower someone again – the judge’s precious damned daughter in the judge’s own bloody house. It was better than a fine day, it was perfect.
And the beckoning, open door of Beatrix’s carriage waiting at the curb promised the day was about to get better.
But Beatrix wasn’t in the cab when he climbed in. He started to get out but the driver cracked his whip and the horses jerked the vehicle into motion. He fell back into the seat.
It was then he noticed the small box – with a very boyish blue ribbon around it – on the seat opposite him. His first impulse was to jump out of the cab and get away. But this was Beatrix’s carriage. He trusted her, he thought. Besides, he had information for her.
He reached across, scooped up the box and put it in his pocket. He’d open it later, in private.
“Did you enjoy yourself with the whiney brat?” Lydia pushed a plate towards him. She’d fixed, as she put it, a proper English breakfast for him, eggs, crispy bacon, fried mushrooms and tomatoes and his favorite, a delicious thick slice of black pudding. Hot rye toast with a glass of milk followed behind it. The kitchen was warm and looking more and more normal now that she was there all the time.
“Don’t ask for coffee, you need your sleep,” she said, “You’re seeing Mrs. Hamilton tonight at the opera.”
He sighed and started to eat.
“Well?” She crossed her arms and looked at him, eyebrows raised. “How was the brat.”
“Just as whiney as ever. Has Beatrix been here?”
“She’s in your workshop… something about a dead man thanking you?”
The knock on the door dragged Elliott out of the first pleasant dream he’d had in a long time. He pushed himself to sitting and stopped as a protesting squeak from Beatrice reminded him he wasn’t alone. He’d trapped her hair under his elbow. “Sorry,” he murmured.
The knock again and this time louder. He reluctantly left the warm bed and gathered his dressing gown around him. “Who is it?” he called softly as he walked toward the door.
”Lydia.” came the answer.
He opened the door wide. Lydia didn’t try to see beyond him, he was pretty sure she knew he had company. “What is it?”
”You’d better come downstairs.”
He frowned. “Can Figbee take care of it?”
She grinned. “Oh, I think he’d like to but, this needs your delicate touch.”
”Where is he?” he asked.
That room had taken the worst of the looters. There was nothing in there. Why would Figbee be there?
He joined her in the hall, softly closing the door behind him. Beatrice hadn’t stirred but he was fairly sure she was awake.
In the dark elevator to the first floor he couldn’t quite make out Lydia’s expression but the sense he had was that of a large and sardonic grin. When the elevator stopped she exited ahead of him and walked toward her quarters, then stopped. “Elliott, good luck,” she said and with that she was gone.
Once in the parlor Elliott understood. Pacing in front of a cold, barren fireplace was a very angry Countess Von Schtrobeck. Figbee, ever the model of not caring, lounged against a large, ruined divan. He barely gave Elliott a glance when he came into the room, but Elliott knew the attitude, it said “watch yourself, Dennyboy.”
”Countess, what a pleasant surprise.” Elliott gave her a little bow, a very little bow.
”Your man refused to light a fire!” was her reply.
”And with good reason. That fireplace doesn’t work well, you would have been covered in soot. Do you need lodgings tonight? I’m afraid I cannot offer any. The room you were in last time you were here is occupied now.”
She was all attention. “Really? By Beatrice Prime?”
Elliott’s face was serene. “No. Our maid Daisy is a new mother, she and baby are occupying the room while she recovers from the birth.”
”Your maid! In such a room as that?”
”What do you want, Countess?”
She marched to him and from the corner of his eye Elliott saw Figbee separate himself from the divan, ready to pounce. Elliott walked away from her before she could get close. “If you want your purse, I already had it sent to your hotel. It should be there by the time you get back.”
”Vithout ze money, no doubt.”
”The gold coins in the third compartment were plentiful, but I only took what covered my services for the evening.”
”And if I’d vanted other services?”
He smiled at her. “That would entail a new contract, Countess. You are familiar with the terms of our first contract, are you not?”
”I break contracts.”
”Not when I’m the one who’s written them. If you’re not here for lodging, what do you want?”
”I have business I vish to discuss.”
”The last business you wanted to discuss with me was the murder of your uncle. I think we have no business.”
”I see you know Mr. Bellows?”
Elliott stopped a moment. She could be just fishing for information. She could have something to say that he might need.
”I’ve met the man. He was trying to take the Park from me.”
”But he is not doing zat now, ja?”
”We came to an understanding.”
”Hmph. He is not to be trusted. He vill skewer you like a pig on a spit. You and I, ve can stop him.”
She grinned. “How do you think? I assume you found ze little gun? Vhy do you think I have it in my purse? Tomorrow night ve shall go out again, I know vhere he vill be. Vhen he approaches me again, you vill shoot him.”
”You want too many people shot. Figbee, see the Countess to her carriage. I assume it’s still outside. Oh, and by the way, the gun is still intact.”
”Hmph. I shall have it inspected.”
”Vhat if I do not wish to leave?”
”Then we’ll have you thrown out.” Beatrice’s voice was firm and pitched so there was no mistaking the intent of its tone as she strode, nude, into the room.
The Countess’ eyes widened.
”Figbee, see this… lady, to her carriage.”
With a hand under the shocked Countess’ elbow Figbee rushed her past Beatrice and out of the room.
Elliott waited until he heard the entrance door open and close before he turned to Beatrice. He didn’t know whether to smile, laugh, be angry or just stare at her. He chose to stare.
She hugged her arms close to her. “You know, it’s a bit chilly down here.”
”I’ll light a fire.”
”I thought you couldn’t?”
He walked to her and wrapped his gown around her. “I can’t, but there ‘s one in my room.”
They walked into the hall toward the elevator. “Tell me,” he asked, “by way of a thank you, what would you like me to do for you?”
She snugged closed to his warmth and chuckled. “Why don’t you tell me what you’d like me to do?”
Elliott’s step faltered, no woman had ever asked him that before. He decided the marble floor was too cold for her to walk on and swept her into his arms. She laughed all the way to his suite.
(c) 2012 Sable Jak
Saturday Afternoon: late
and Saturday Evening: early
Figbee tilted his head left, then right, then stepped back and repeated the movements. “Damned if I understand it.” He said.
Elliott pointed to the drawings he’d made of the black carriage’s engine. “Why not? You’re a better mechanic then I. True, it’s only an approximation of what I think the engine looks like from the top. We’d have to lift the body off the chassis to be sure but I think, from the underside we were inspecting, this is how it would look.”
”Oh, I agree with all of that, but I don’t understand why they’d lay it out this way. To elongate the engine in this manner, it disperses out the energy. And how is fuel fed to it? I didn’t see any fuel tanks.”
”I was wondering that too, until I saw this.”
”What the hell is that?”
Elliott turned the long cylinder over in his hands. Three feet long it took both his hands to circle it. It gleamed a sickly silver in the light of the fireplace.
”I think it’s a battery.”
Elliott put it on the workbench table. “Why not? I’ve been trying to perfect a dry battery for months and I know I’m just one of a host of others. Face it, we all can’t have Western Union’s New York sized facility. Wet batteries need to be a thing of the past.”
”My God.” It was a hiss, long, low and with a hint of fear. “But how is it charged?”
”I only have a theory.”
Figbee leaned across the work bench, the battery rested between them, its presence that of a sedated lethal animal. “Don’t stop now.
”I found it encased in the drive shaft. There are two others, this one in the middle was easiest to reach, the other two are over the axles. I believe the wheels turning charge them.”
Figbee sat down and whistled in admiration. “Damnably simple.”
”I’ve never seen any thing like this,” Figbee ran his hand over the battery. “Not even theoretical attempts. Anyone I know involved in vehicles is looking for new fuels.”
Elliott chuckled. “What about the people trying to run their cars with little windmills?”
Figbee laughed outright at that. “Yes, and they’re so screwed when the breeze dies. Then they have to switch to their fuel engines.”
”Yes.” Elliott nodded. “This could solve that problem.” He sighed. “Well, I’d better put it back. I have a feeling Beatrice Prime will have her own people going over it soon and we don’t want them to think I’ve been tampering beyond where they want me to tamper.”
Figbee lifted the battery. “Light!”
”Yes, I was surprised too. Makes it easy for the horses.”
”Who the hell developed this?”
Eilliott took it from him as they headed to the door. “Believe me, that kept me up the better part of the night.”
”Are you going to tell Prime.”
Elliott smiled at him as Figbee opened the door. “Let’s call it our little secret for now. It’s almost time for my dinner with her. Let’s get this back into the driveshaft and then I need to bathe.”
Beatrice looked across the table at Elliott. When they had walked into the restaurant people openly stared at them. They made a very handsome couple. She was nearly as tall as he was, lean and fluid in her movement, like him, and had that same air of belonging and command. The brilliantly colored bruise on the side of Elliott’s temple and the gossip of how he got it wasn’t lost on their observers either.
And, of course, the fact that Elliott St. John Nicholas Wainwright Danbois was a well known gigolo from a ruined family was cause enough for the looks; glares from husbands, envy and curiosity from women.
Beatrice smiled. “We’re being stared at.”
Elliott held up his champagne glass. The crystal glistened as bubbles flowed up the fluted sides. “You’re impossible not to stare at.”
Beatrice’s left eyebrow lifted slightly. “There is no need for that. We’re simply two business partners enjoying dinner.”
”Women are my business.” He shot back.
The corners of her lips barely flickered. “Tonight is different.”
This time he smiled that brilliant smile so filled with promise the women at tables around them had to look away. “We’ll see,” he said as he reached across the table and stroked the palm of her hand.
photo of Dick Powell (woman unknown) from: http://photos.lucywho.com
Friday Morning around 10:00
Elliott hated - and was grateful for - Figbees supporting hand on his arm as they left Judge McAllister’s mansion. He still felt that if he leaned forward too much he’d pitch himself down the stairs.
The carriage was curbside, the horses calm, their reins held by one of the Judge’s servants. Elliott stopped to look it over. Sleek, black, expensive and he was sure there was a motor in the back, similar to the carriage he had. He looked at the horses’ traces and saw the mechanism that would release them, allowing the carriage to move on its own.
”How did you get the police to give it to you?” He asked.
Figbee chuckled, “You’ll find out.”
Too tired to argue Elliott climbed into the carriage’s dark interior. He tensed. Someone was already in it. Beatrice Prime leaned from the shadows and held out her hand to guide him next to her.
”What are you doing here?” He made no attempt to hide the sullenness in his voice. For her to show up now? How?
As she smiled the door slammed shut behind him. “Ah, you can be less charming,” she said.
He leaned back into the seat. The vehicle shifted as outside Figbee climbed up on into the driver’s seat and then jolted as the horses pushed into their traces.
”I’m tired,” he said, “in some pain and, forgive me, but I feel I must cancel our plans for this evening.”
”Of course,” she answered.
”What are you doing here?” he repeated.
”Protecting my assets.”
”Maybe I’m still a little rattled, but, I don’t understand.”
She ran her hand on the window sill. “Such a lovely carriage, don’t you think so? No doubt filled with surprises and certainly worthy of a closer look. Surely you agree with that?”
”You!” He twisted in his seat to face her. “You arranged for its release to me?
”Let’s just say, I helped.”
”When do we have to return it?”
”A replacement carriage is ready to go back to the station once this one is safely under lock and key. Why don’t you rest now? Enjoy the ride.”
They worked side-by-side, leather aprons covering the protective smocks they wore over their clothing. Beatrice knew how to twist a wrench just so, and no more, to get a bolt to yield to her.
As they stepped back from the stripped carriage she gave a low whistle at the revealed engine. Unlike Elliott’s it was not at the back of the carriage, it was under it. What it lacked in height it made up in length and at first glance ran axle to axle.
Figbee got down on his knees for a closer look. “Very clever. This could fit onto any carriage this way. But…”
”Yes?” Beatrice raised an eyebrow.
”Being low like this gives it built-in problems. Anything a horse can jump over will rip the bottom off.”
”And thus the engine.” She nodded. “Hmm, something to remember, no?”
She walked away from the men. They watched her a moment as she inspected the stables and paid no more attention to them. When she was far enough away Elliott leaned a little closer to Figbee and lowered his voice.
”When did she show up?”
”Right after the Judge’s people took us into the house.”
”Did you see where she came from?”
Figbee shook his head. “One minute the street was empty, the next, there she was.”
”Did she talk to the police?”
Figbee watched her walk into an empty horse stall. When she didn’t come out immediately he answered. “Not right away. When they talked to us she hung around in the background. Then they left and well, that was that.”
She walked out of the stall back to them. “If you two are done with your conference, I believe I’ll go now. Could you please put the carriage in that back area. I’ll have someone come for the horses.”
Elliott stood up a little straighter. “Figbee, would you mind leaving us alone for a bit?”
Figbee gave him a sidelong glance, looked at Beatrice then back at Elliott and shrugged. “Sure. Scream if she attacks you.”
The wiry fellow left quickly, closing the door with a thump behind him. Elliott stared at Beatrice and she, in turn, never wavered under it. Finally she picked up her hat and coat. “Dinner tomorrow night then.” As she walked past him his hand shot out and he grabbed her arm.
”Let go.” Her voice was even, strong, and threatening.
”What the hell is going on?”
”All in good time.”
”Now is a good time.” When she didn’t answer he pulled her close, grabbing a handful of her hair and leaning down to talk softly into her ear. “Were you following me last night?”
”Let me go.”
”I’ve no doubt you have some weapon hidden on you and could hurt me if I don’t. But I think I’m too valuable to you. So I ask again: Were you following me last night?”
”Yes.” she hissed.
He let her go. For the first time there was something more than amusement in her eyes when she glared at him. “I’m a gigolo,” he said. “I live in a ruined mansion and have parents who may, or may not be dead. My family is hated in this town, but I’m tolerated because I keep dull husband’s wives happy. I have no politics other than restoring my family estate.”
”You will help us.” She said.
She walked to the door of the stables, paused, turned and raised her hands to put on her hat. The movement revealed her excellent womanly figure, one he was already familiar with. The hard expression on his face didn’t change. She lowered her arms.
”Dinner at eight, tomorrow. A carriage will call for you. Don’t be late.” With that she left.
He turned back to the engine before him. There was something very strange in the gears directly over the axles. As he bent over the gears he did what he always did when he was finished with a woman, he put her out of his mind.
photo is Jean Marais and M Morgan from luxetpixel.fr
Friday Morning around 4 a.m.
Voices. Angry, harsh whispering voices nearby. Elliott fought his way back to consciousness trying to sit up, trying desperately to wake.
”E. E.” a woman soothed into his ear. “Stay still. You’re safe. Be still, be still sweets.”
He opened his eyes to stare into the deep blue eyes of Miranda Danforth. She pulled away from him, that classic, handsome beauty, and smiled as she lifted a cool cloth from his forehead and replaced it with another.
”Welcome back.” She said.
His hand sought his temple and he winced at the touch. A plaster covered what he was sure was a cut; as to the bruise that was certainly there, he wasn’t sure of its size. His eyes started to droop closed but at a quick pinch to his ear lobe they shot open again.
Miranda withdrew her hand, softly caressing his cheek as she did so. “Try to stay awake, dear. Doctor’s orders.”
He glanced around the unfamiliar room beyond the posters and curtains enveloping the bed. It was an elegant some-what dated room. He saw no one else and he reached up to brush the back of his hand across her cheek affectionately.
At the sound of the door opening she quickly grabbed his hand and started patting it vigorously.
”Stay awake, Mr. DanBois! Stay awake!”
”How is he doing, my love?” Mr. Danforth stepped into Elliott’s field of vision as he placed a gentle, and possessive, hand on his wife’s shoulder.
Figbee stood behind Danforth, the sardonic smile on his face untouched by sincere words, “How are you, sir? Shall we try to get you home, sir?”
It was then that Elliott remembered the horses, the carriage and the screams of Mr. and Mrs. Danforth. He struggled to sit up.
”Help me up, Figbee.”
His valet stepped forward between the Danforth’s and Elliott and made a great fuss of helping his employer sit up. He leaned close to Elliott’s ear “Your little metal orb is safe in my pocket.” He whispered.
Elliott nodded, remembering the bomb he’d had with him. As he got upright he noticed his coat and jacket were off, his tie undone and blood covering the front of his shirt. He tried to cover the blood, “The lady,” he murmured.
Danforth grabbed his jacket from the back of a chair and handed it to Figbee who, in turn, helped Elliott cover the blood.
”Decent of you, old man,” Danforth said.
Elliott tried to stand but sat down again. “Forgive me, I… I seem to be a bit weak in the knees.”
Danforth snorted. “If I”d taken a blow to the head like that I’d be down for days! Very brave of you, young man. We’re in your debt. You and your man’s here.”
Elliott squinted at Danforth’s bruised check. “You took a few blows yourself, sir.”
Danforth grinned and puffed up. “Something to talk about at the club, eh? The main thing is, you saved Miranda from…” He cleared his throat. “You saved her. Another debt.”
He put his arm around her and held her close as he smiled gratefully at Elliott.
”Beg pardon, sirs, and Madam.” A pretty maid who’d obviously dressed in a hurry, gave a curtsy in the doorway. “Will the gentleman being stayin’ the night?”
Figbee caught Elliott’s confused look. “You’re in Judge McAllister’s guest room, sir.”
Elliott’s eyes opened wide. “Where’s the judge?”
”In New York,” Danforth answered. “But when the servants called the police they brought us all inside, and,” he smiled back at the maid, “have been taking capitol care of us!”
”The police?” Elliott asked. He glanced at Figbee and his pocket. Figbee grinned an assurance.
”Don’t you worry,” Danforth was enthusiastic. “They’ve taken the men, and the body, away.”
Mrs. Danforth nodded. “And we’ve given our statements already.”
”To the police? You’ve all talked to the police?”
”Yes, sir,” Figbee helped him stand. “They said you could come into the station tomorrow. If you were up to it.”
The maid coughed gently from the doorway.
Elliott glanced around the room. It was elegant, sumptuous, and not a repaired piece of furniture in it. “I’d prefer to go home, please.” He said.
There was no hiding the relief on the maid’s face. She knew who he was and her employer’s history with the DanBois family. The sooner the son was out of the house the better.
Elliott leaned heavily on Figbee as they walked from the room. “Call a cab.”
Figbee shook his head. “No, sir. I’ve told the police we’d take that carriage the thugs left behind and bring it to them in the morning.” He lowered his voice, “thought it’d give us a chance to go over it. A very nice piece of equipment it is.”
“And they agreed?”
”After some persuading.” Figbee grinned as they left.
Friday Morning: Just after Midnight
Elliott stepped back into the shadows as a carriage rumbled by, steam snorting from its horses’ mouths as they breathed the cold night air. The street was still now, no one out and about in this residential part of town. He found that he had a perfect view of the mansion across the street from where he stood so he stayed in the shadows.
The stonework mansion of Judge McAllister was really, in Elliott’s opinion, an extremely large house. Not a real mansion like DanBois Park. Its front door was set back only forty feet from the street curb with a tiny spit of lawn and shrubbery between the front door and the public sidewalk. Encircled by an imposing, highly worked wrought iron fence complete with spikes on top the building looked formidable enough to most people. Inwardly Elliott scoffed at it. One small charge could render the fence useless. His hand closed around the small metal ball with the little release button nestled in his pocket; and then let it go. Not tonight, and not by his hand.
He peered up at every window, willing himself to remember each room behind each pane.
”Friend of the family?” Figbee asked.
Elliott had felt him come up behind him a good fifteen minutes before. “Very funny,” he replied.
”You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”
Elliott stepped from the shadows and turned left. Figbee followed close behind. “I stopped doing stupid things.” He glanced at the house, “I’ll get my chance.”
They walked in silence for a distance.
”I thought you went to the tavern?” Elliott asked.
”I thought you wanted to read and go to bed,” Figbee answered.
”I got bored.”
Ahead of them a woman and a man walked down the street. Elliiott recognized the woman’s laugh: Mrs. Danforth. Three days ago he’d spent a delightful evening in the woman’s company, and later in her arms. He thought about the diamond cuff links she’d given him and wondered if the man she was with, her husband, would ever see that bill from the jewelers.
As they walked past the couple Elliott politely tipped his hat to them as did Mr. Danforth to him; although it was very evident he did it grudgingly. Every husband in the city new Elliott and what he looked like, and what he did. Mrs. Danforth nodded a greeting in such a way that said, “my husband has accepted your greeting and therefore so do I, whoever you are.” There was, of course, an extra twinkle in her winked eye.
”Someone you know?” Figbee asked dryly.
Before he could answer the rumble of a carriage coming up fast behind them made them step away from the edge of the curb.
”Denny boy, it’s trouble.” Figbee’s warning was too late.
The carriage, part horse drawn, part motorized slammed to a halt, the horses jumped the curb behind the men. They moved close together, leaving enough room for Elliott to snap his baby revolver out if he needed to and Figbee to reach his knife. But the men rushing from the carriage weren’t after them. Mrs. Danforth screamed behind them and Mr. Danforth yelled in agony.
Elliott turned and rushed back, Figbee on his heels. He grabbled the traces on one horse, hauled himself up to leap from it to the next horse and down to land beside the Danforths. Figbee had followed him but on his way across the flanks of the horses he took out the carriage driver who was now unconscious hanging out of his seat.
Mr. Danworth fought two men, flailing at them with his cane. Figbee went straight for that fight. Elliott rushed the man attacking Mrs. Danworth. He pulled him off her. The man whirled on him leveling a glancing blow with a cudgel to the side of his head. He staggered under the hit. The man was as tall as he, but had fifty pounds on him. He shook the blow off as the man went for the woman again.
A snap and lift of his arm and the baby revolver was in his hand. He dared not try and get off a shot as the man and Mrs. Danforth struggled for fear of hitting her. Instead he weighed into them swinging the gun with all his force on the back of the man’s head. This time the man staggered. Elliott hit him again, and again. Finally the man crumbled and fell pushing Mrs. Danforth over and landing on her.
A glance behind him showed him that Mr. Danforth and Figbee had disabled one man and were close to dispatching the second. Movement from the corner of his eye alerted him to the driver. The man had recovered somewhat from Figbee’s initial hit and was groggily trying to level a revolver at Figbee and Danforth. Without a thought Elliott’s arm snapped up He took aim and shot.
The driver dropped his gun and turned to look at Elliott. A slow smiled crossed his face. “Bless you, sir. Thank you.” He toppled from his perch landing in a lifeless heap at the back hooves of the horses.
The commotion had alerted the household of Judge McAllister. Lights glowed on in every window as servants ran out shouting that the police had been called. A soft voice behind him whispered “E, help me.” He turned to see Mrs. Danforth struggling to get out from under her inert attacker. He rolled the man to the side and carefully lifted her. Before he could say anything her husband rushed to her side.
It was at that moment that Mr. Danforth realized who his savior was. “DanBois!”
Elliott started to bow but the earlier blow to his temple and the rush of adrenaline caused the sidewalk to come up much to fast. He felt Figbee and Danforth grab him and slowly lower him to the ground.
Lydia slid a plate with cheese, sausage and bread across the table to Elliott. She then poured tea for the two of them. Elliott was being extremely patient as she put the kettle back on the stove, brushed crumbs off the sideboard and pulled out tattered napkins with the family crest on them.
She finally sat down and sipped her tea, savoring it a moment. She then carefully placed the cup on the saucer, held her fingers over it for warmth and smiled without any expression at Elliott.
”So the Countess said I knew who was trying to kill her?”
Elliott took a bite of the sausage. He hadn’t realized how long he’d been in the sub-basement working. He was famished and finished everything on his plate, this time making her wait. Finally, after draining his tea cup and watching her refill it he said, “No. She said she was being watched. Then she said, ‘the voman, she says she knows.’ But with an even more pronounced accent.”
Lydia grinned at his imitation. “Hmph. Haven’t the faintest idea what she’s talking about. Is this about Beatrice Prime?”
”No,” Elliott lied.
”You were never a good liar.” Lydia teased.
Elliott took his plate to the sink and rinsed it off, placing it carefully in a rack on the counter. “I’m a very good liar now.” He turned to stare at her and for a moment, a very slight moment, he saw the woman he would run to as a child whenever he’d hurt his finger or his father had yelled at him. It was so fleeting a moment that he didn’t have time to long for it to stay. “What about the Countess, Lydia?”
She was very good. As she took her plate to the sink there wasn’t a flicker of emotion, nothing to give her thoughts away. It hadn’t always been that way. But, they were all changed now.
As she washed and dried her plate he waited, again. Finally she faced him. “Everyone wants to see the Countess dead.”
She sighed, “All right, all right. There are those who want to see her dead. She’s a nasty person who doesn’t care who she uses or who she hurts, and she’s hurt a great many people.”
”Oh, there has to be more to it than that? Any names, any ideas? Why did she kill her uncle?”
Lydia shook her finger at him. “We don’t know she arranged that!”
”Who are ‘we’?”
”You and I,” she shot back.
”But why did she say you knew something?”
”Oh for heaven’s sake.” She marched past him out of the room and he followed her down the hall. As they walked he noticed that the hall was cleaner, less dust, less debris. Her voice drifted back to him. “When she came to me she said she was tired of going out and having men bother her, she needed protection. I told her ‘I know exactly how you feel deary, it’s best a woman alone has an escort.’ I say the same thing to every woman who uses that excuse to hire a gigolo.”
She’d stopped in front of the receiving room door and took a ring of keys out of her pocket.
”You don’t have to clean Lydia. I’d rather you didn’t.”
”I’m not cleaning,” she said, “I’m having other people do it for me. Would you like to come in?”
She held out the key to the door. Her hand was on the latch, the other hand aiming the key towards its little slot. He didn’t want to see the receiving room, he preferred his memory of it in happier times. He shook his head and before she could open the door he grabbed her arm.
”Why did you ask about Beatrice Prime? What do you know of her?”
Lydia shrugged. “She’s Lady Charlotte’s sister. And she’s actually the one that hired you for Lady Charlotte the first time. What is that now? Two years?”
With that she opened the door and Elliott turned quickly on his heel and left.
Figbee fussed about the room as Elliott tried to read. There really wasn’t anything for the man to do. If Elliott wanted a warmer room he simply had to say “fire” and the blaze in the fireplace would intensify. There was electricity now in the Manor and if he wanted the room brighter he simply said “lights”. His clothes were cleaned and pressed. The room was in good order; there was simply no reason for Figbee to be there.
”I’m sure I told you I’m not going out tonight.” Elliott didn’t look up from the book.
”That you did.” Figbee answered.
”Then why are you here? Take the night off. Go find some amusement someplace.”
Figbee stood in front of the fireplace, a black figure outlined by the orange glow. There was something familiar about that.
”Aren’t you even curious?” Figbee asked. His voice brought Elliott back from trying to place where he’d seen that outlined figure before. “I said…”
Elliott waved him off. “I heard you the first time. Curious about what?”
”That woman today. What did she want?’
”We’re dining Saturday night.”
Figbee stepped out of the firelight and poured Elliott a snifter of brandy. When Elliott didn’t offer him a glass he stoppered the bottle and put it down on its silver tray with a very unprofessional thunk.
”I know you’re ‘dining’. I’ll be driving the carriage. But what did she want today?”
”She wanted to let me know that Lady Charlotte was safe and sound and on her way to England.”
Figbee shifted his weight. “She left another calling card. That’s two now.”
Elliott picked up the new card. This one did not have any thin spidery lines on the back of it. “Yes, I’m thinking of starting a collection. Good night, Figbee.”
Figbee strode toward the door. “I’ll be at the local tavern if that’s all right.”
Elliott had opened his book and waved the new calling card at him. “Hoist one for me.” he said, and Figbee was gone. He waited a moment to see if the evil looking little man would come back, but he didn’t.
Elliott held the calling card up again. This one was a little different than the one he’d found in his jacket. That one had been made from a thick, expensive, creamy paper. This one was as expensive looking, but thinner, more translucent and when it was held up to the light the message carefully scratched into the paper, unviewable unless held to a light, said, “Bring a weapon Saturday. Trust only me. B”
photo of young Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. from planetbarbarella.com
Thursday Afternoon: Late
Elliott tightened the screw on the mechanism and carefully pulled away. Nothing snapped and nothing moved. That was good, so far. Just as carefully he closed the lid on the control box, making sure that it fit tightly.
It was a pretty little box. Any lady would love to have such an attractive trinket container. The Three Graces in white danced in the middle of the pale blue Wedgewood porcelain lid. Their arms were linked together. A smile twitched the corner of his lips. Three ladies dancing, their arms linked together; two ladies dancing, their arms linked — he shook off the thought.
The box had to be small, innocuous, yet not so innocuous it would stand out on a shelf laden with gilded ornaments. It was something that people would look at and note but not note: Such as a pretty, but utilitarian, calling card box. He stared at it for a moment. He did not want it to be the size of a calling card. He did not want to think about calling cards. They were the very last thing he wanted to think about. Ever.
He could understand Lady Charlotte knowing Countess Schtrobeck through social contacts and mutual acquaintances. Charlotte, gentle, innocent Charlotte, would hardly be the kind of person the Countess would cultivate as a friend. ‘E. I know Countess Schtrobeck. B.” On the other hand, he could see Beatrice being a friend of the Countess, especially as she was wealthy.
He sighed and pushed his chair away from his worktable. He picked his way past metal and wood and gears and boxes of pieces of chunks of debris until he reached the sink. It was big. Big enough to bathe a grown man in. He washed his hands and tried to scrub the tired from his eyes. The half repaired grandfather clock at the end of the room was no doubt wrong again, his stomach told him it was much later than the clock face said.
The bell on the string at the door jingled merrily. Then three knocks, followed by a pause and then another knock. He stepped on a release button and the door opened silently. Figbee entered.
”What do you want?”
”Begging your pardon, sir.” the man started.
”Cut the bull when we’re alone, Figbee. What do you want?”
Figbee looked around him. The room went on forever with closed and locked doors on every wall. He’d never been down to this portion of the mansion. He’d heard about the sub-basement but never seen it. Lydia had. Lydia and her husband, Old Thomas knew every inch of it. They’d brought Elliott here to nurse him back to health when the rest of his home was unfit for the rats that ran through it. Time touched nothing down here, and allowed him to do his “tinkering” as Old Thomas used to call it.
”There’s a lady to see you.”
”Tell her to talk to Lydia. She’ll arrange everything.”
Figbee wandered through the room as they talked. He casually reset the clock, peered into the deep sink and stared down a particularly dark and menacing corridor. “She’s pretty upset.”
”Hmm. It’s usually the husbands that are.”
Figbee cracked a small smile. “The Lady says if she came here the least you can do is see her.”
”She’s no lady if she’s come here.”
”I’m not. That’s my sister.”
They both whirled to face the voice, Figbee reaching under his jacket and Elliott outstretching his arm only to realize his gun was not in place. Beatrice looked at the two men in mock surprise, her eyebrows lifted slightly, her head titled as if examining an interesting specimen at the local museum. She wandered into the room with an air of complete ownership.
”How did you get down here?” Elliott demanded. But he was looking at Figbee when he asked.
”Oh, don’t blame your man.’ she said. “You don’t have a proper staff and few people occupy the mansion. Footprints are easy to follow. So this is where you make all the little toys Charlotte has told me about?”
He didn’t answer. Her eyes lit on the little porcelain box. As she started to reach for it his impulse was to dive for cover.
Figbee got to it first and without lifting the lid removed its temptation from her. “I wouldn’t play with things in this room, ma’am,” he said in his best unflappable man-servant voice.
”Yes,” she said as she looked at Elliott, “I suppose some things could be considered dangerous.”
With that dismissal Figbee deposited the box on a shelf and headed toward the door. Once there he stopped. “Shall I bring tea, sir?”
”We won’t be needing any,” Beatrice answered.
Elliott nodded at him and Figbee left the room, closing the door firmly behind him. He pretended to busy himself as she found a suitable place to sit. She pulled off her gloves and placed them carefully on a table next to a variety of gears and glass tubes. Next she placed her small bag on top of the gloves and didn’t, to his surprise, take off her hat and deposit that on top of the gloves and the purse. Instead she leveled her gray eyes on him and waited.
Finally he gave up his pretend busyness and faced her. “I thought we were dining Saturday evening?”
”The schedule is unchanged but events have necessitated a prior meeting.”
There was something in the way she said it, he wasn’t quite sure, but it sounded ominous. He was almost afraid to ask. ‘Is, is Lady Charlotte all right?”
Beatrice waved the remark off with a quick movement and a short shrug. “We’ve had her husband get her out of harm’s way. You needn’t worry about her.”
He hadn’t meant to, but he physically and very visibly sighed in relief. “Thank God,” he whispered. Then he frowned. “Who are you? Really.”
“I’m Charlotte’s spinster sister,” she replied. “Pitied by all who view me and treated with utmost kindness at my manless station in life.” The smirk she sent him said she’d have it no other way. “Of course they also envy me my wealth.”
”What events?” he changed the subject.
”The Countess has managed to have her uncle killed,” she answered. “You don’t seem surprised.”
”Not particularly.” he said. “She was hell bent to have that happen.”
”Yes, she was. And she’s none too pleased that it wasn’t you who did the deed.”
”It appears that her Mr. Bellows and your father are connected in some way.”
He tried to hide his hesitation in answering the remark. “My father is dead. I was told he walked into the jungle…”
”I know, followed by your mother.” Her interjection was rewarded with a glare.
”… and neither have been seen since.” he finished.
”It’s possible they’re dead,” she said. “But until we’ve proof, we don’t know, do we?”
”Who are “we”?” he looked at her suspiciously. She knew much, much more than she was telling and yet he felt that she was trying to find out something from him. But what?
She smiled and stood, slowly gathering up her purse and gloves. As she walked toward the door she stopped in front of him to gently touch his cheek. “Let me just say that “we” will pay handsomely for your help. Maybe even enough to refurbish, oh, the first floor of beautiful DanBois park?”
And with that she opened the door. “I’ll see myself out. I look forward to Saturday night, and your answer.”
photo of Robert Taylor taken from: katjaanderson.tumblr.com
Thursday Morning: Just after midnight
Elliott slid Lady Charlotte’s wrap off her smooth shoulders and lingered there long enough to softly kiss first the shoulder, then the collar bone, then the nape of her neck. She walked away. She’d been in a mood all night. He’d have to pay special attention to her.
He casually tossed the ermine wrap toward a chair, deliberately missing it, as if it meant nothing. She had crossed the opulent candlelit room to a portable bar laden with crystal stemware, silver ice buckets with opened champagne bottles and trays of mounded caviar with little mother of pearl serving knives and spoons. He joined her at the bar to stand close and breath softly into her hair. She carefully spooned the caviar onto a wafer and fed it to him. A black morsel marred the white skin of her finger. With the tip of his tongue he removed it.
She chuckled in delight. “You’ve been very quiet tonight.”
He leaned his head down so his cheek rested on her temple, just a breath away from the large emerald earrings she wore. “You leave me speechless sometimes. I’ve missed you. And I’ll miss you again, when you leave tomorrow.”
”Today.” She gestured toward the gold clock on the marble fireplace mantle.
”If you ignore time, does it go away?” he asked. He liked Charlotte. He meant what he said. There was something comforting in her — he dropped the thought of losing her and concentrated on the loss of income.
This was the first time they’d stayed at the Fitzroy. Usually they stayed at the Mayfaire Arms. Both hotels were discrete; a place to go where you wouldn’t be seen. But the Fitzroy was exceptionally expensive, opulent, and almost rabidly discrete. An exceptionally safe harbor for her last night in the country? Why?
Her hand brushed his cheek as her scent rose around him. He thought about letting it swallow him. “E.” she breathed.
”I don’t think I’m coming back.”
He pushed her gently away to look down at her sad face. “You have to.”
She shook her head, “It’s Thomas. He says I’m to stay in England from now on. He…” she stepped away from him.
”He what?” He didn’t follow her, again trying to concentrate more on her expensive gifts than the loss of her. “What!” He demanded.
She didn’t look at him, just lowered her head and whispered, “I’m to do my duty as a wife and present him with an heir!” She ran from the room.
In the bedroom she’d flung herself across the bed sobbing her disappointment into the satin bedspread. He joined her, caressing, soothing, murmuring comforting words. She curled into him, her makeup staining his shirt front. “I love this city. I love visiting. England is a world away. I, I might never see you again.”
Little kisses. At her hairline, across her forehead, on her eyelids, down the bridge of her nose.
He stretched and rolled over, reaching for Lady Charlotte. Alarmed at her absence he sat up and squinted around the dimly lit room. “Charlotte?” A giggle in the living room. He threw back the covers and moved quietly toward the sound. Soft candle light glowed under the closed door. He listened and heard the giggle again. Very carefully he pressed the latch down to avoid the loud click of the mechanism. Equally as carefully he opened the door.
The giggling stopped as he stepped into the room. The brief thought that he should cover his nakedness slipped away at the sight of Lady Charlotte and another woman. They were both on the divan, heads together, Charlotte talking seriously while the other woman nodded and nodded again. He cleared his throat and they turned toward him.
”There you are sleepy head!” Charlotte laughed as she ran to him. Hugging him close she wrapped her arms, and thus her robe, around him. “E, this is Beatrice.”
The other woman stood. Tall, lithe, forceful, with a wry twinkle in her eye, Beatrice was as strong-edged as Charlotte was soft. For some reason he didn’t move. Instead he put his arm around Charlotte to make sure her robe stayed where it was. He inclined his head toward the woman. “Lady Beatrice.” he acknowledged.
Her slow smile only made the twinkle deepen and flare. “I’m no lady, sir.” she said. “Merely a wealthy woman who needs an occasional escort.” She walked toward him, hand held out in greeting.
Charlotte giggled. “She’s also my sister. And she lives here.”
He shook hands with Beatrice. “Delighted to meet you. If you’ll excuse me.” Beatrice’s hand tightened around his and didn’t let go.
Charlotte giggled again. “E.” Charlotte snuggled against his chest. “She’s my sister.”
”We share things. All the time.”
He looked at Charlotte. He looked at Beatrice. He looked back at Charlotte, and she smiled up at him ever so sweetly.
In the carriage on the way home he relaxed, exhausted, into the upholstery. He would miss Lady Charlotte. And would think of her often, fondly. He imagined he would even think of her this coming Saturday while dining with the tall, and athletic Beatrice. He pulled her calling card from his pocket and sniffed the perfume. As bold and provocative as Charlotte’s was soft and gentle. He turned the creamy, thick paper over in his hand and stopped. Cold ran from the top of his head down his neck and across his back. Small letters in skinny lines spelled out a chilling message: “E. I know Countess Schtrobeck. B.”
The picture included on this episode is of Robert Taylor
Wednesday Evening: Early
”Shouldn’t you be getting ready?” Lydia let Elliott lift a fallen bureau and set it right. Two dark holes begged for drawers that no longer existed. He tested the ones that remained to make sure they didn’t need waxing, then stepped back to let her fill them with her belongings.
”Shouldn’t you be getting ready?” she repeated.
He didn’t answer. Instead he looked at every broken piece of furniture, every hole in the wall and every torn piece of fabric in the room. The pain at the destruction showed momentarily on his face and was quickly replaced with a non-committal blankness. He turned to her and managed an apologetic smile. “They didn’t leave much anywhere, did they?”
”That’s why they’re called looters. When are you getting ready?” She pushed at a panel in the wall and it slid back to reveal a dark, hidden passageway. Into that she deposited a letter case and closed the panel.
”The ledgers?” he asked.
She nodded. “They’ll be safe in there. We’re the only ones who know that passage.” She pretended to continue to put the room together for her occupancy and finally sat on the edge of the bed. ”Or are you going to be telling him about it?”
”Find a new place for them. And don’t glare at me. He needs to know how to move through all of the mansion if we have intruders. Try the library. Your husband must have told you about all the hiding spots.”
”Of course he did. And it’s a good thing he took his knowledge to the grave, now, isn’t it?” There was challenge in her voice and annoyance in her attitude.
He didn’t know what to say. Her husband had been killed by the mod. ”Figbee’s preparing my tuxedo,” was all he could think of.
She sighed and shifted her bulk. The bed groaned under her. “I’ll have the ledgers moved by the time you leave. Why don’t you ask your questions now or you’ll be no good to Lady Charlotte tonight?”
He sat down on a plain metal chair. “I’ve got some nicer furniture up in the attic. I’ll have Figbee bring it down. You should have it in here.”
”Because you’re not going back to your flat. That fire was too damned convenient.”
Lydia waved a dismissive hand and heaved herself up off the bed to go back to her unpacking.
”Mrs. Mulligan let a candle burn down. She’s old and forgetful,” she said.
Elliott watched her. He’d known her all his life and her focused attention to the minor details of her surroundings told him she didn’t believe what she was saying.
”What about the sudden disappearance of Daisy’s husband? The last time I saw him — at their wedding I believe — he was still young and hardly forgetful. What excuse do you have for him leaving a pregnant wife behind?”
Dust motes moved sluggishly in the sunlight shining through a broken window. He made a mental note to have the decorative wrought iron work checked for strength. The broken window would be easy enough to fix. Still, it would entail a dip into the cuff link box and a trip to the goldsmith.
”Lydia,” there was a lifetime of gentle in his voice, “you’re better off here anyway. I don’t expect you to do your old job. I don’t want you to. Keep doing what you do for me now.”
She smiled. “I am good at it, aren’t I?”
He laughed, “Well, you do know all the ladies’ maids and cooks.”
She nodded. “Oh, and they do talk about what their ladies are up to, and needing.” Her wink implied much.
”I know!” he said. “We’ll get you a little office in the city. Something discrete. And office a lady would want her representative to be seen frequenting. Something more to feed the gossip mill.”
Lydia laughed loudly at that and for a brief moment it was like the old days when he’d visit her in the kitchen to sneak a piece of cake or a sip of freshly delivered milk. But the laughter died quickly to a sigh. “What happened with Mr. Bellows?” she asked.
Elliott got thoughtful. “He’s a very, very frightened little man. He gave me excuses about business being bad. He even said the Countess hadn’t paid her bill with his import business and that’s why he’d wanted to talk to her. My getting in his way last night supposedly interrupted his flow of cash.”
”You believed him?”
”As much as you believe the fire was caused by Mrs. Mulligan.”
Daisy knocked on the door and peeked around the jamb. “Mr. Elliott, sir? Figbee says your tuxedo is ready?”
”Thank you, Daisy.” He looked at Lydia. “We’ll pretty up her room, too.” He stood and rolled his shoulders and stretched. “Ah, Lady Charlotte. Time to earn our keep. You know — as Bellows is in the import business that’s a very busy business. One that, I would imagine, keeps men away from their lonely wives.”
Lydia smiled broadly. “And I know just the right maids and cooks to talk to tomorrow. Have a good time tonight.”
another picture of a young Gary cooper. I’m hunting for the website to attribute it to.
With many apologies to those of you emailing me asking when I’m posting more Gigolo. I’ve been down with the usual Christmas Season Cold. But am feeling better so …. here you go!
Elliott’s steepled hands provided the barrier he needed to watch Mr. Toad squirm and twist and finally puff up enough to try and look authoritative.
The office was large and comfortable with a wall of bookshelves laden with a variety of leather bound volumes and curiosities. It was unexceptional, following the fashion of the day with heavy, fringed draperies, furniture that was large and masculine; and wallpaper an abysmal green. The ornate desk overpowered the little man sitting behind it.
”How did you find me?”
Elliott could feel the slow smile on Figbee’s face. He didn’t look behind him, but he knew it was there, with that lurid scar adding to its evil edge. Mr. Toad looked at Figbee, and then pulled his eyes back to Elliott’s.
That languid shrug, the imperious wave of a hand. The little man slammed his hands on the desk between them.
”You have no right to be here.”
”I have every right.” Elliott said. “Tell me what I want to know. Although, I can find out anyway.”
Bellows managed a disdainful snort. “I know about all your fancy machines and I don’t care what they do. Or whom you know or what woman will protect you! Leave!”
Elliott decided to stop thinking of him as ‘Mr. Toad’.
Bellows stood up and pointed to the door. “Take your… man, and leave. I have no use for you.”
Elliott slid his chair back and stood. He was taller than most men and especialy men like Bellows. Making him sit, and then standing himself made him seem even bigger. His coat, styled just for him, had an impressive batlike swing when he turned quickly. As he paced in front of Bellows he took full advantage of the swing, making sure not to get between the toad and Figbee.
”You seek to obtain my parent’s estate.”
”Shut up!” He turned, the coat flared. “Last night the Countess Schtrobeck demanded that I kill her uncle.”
”You and women…”
”Women pay me to make love to them. You know that, I know that, everyone in the city knows that.”
”But you do anything women ask of you.”
”That’s where you’re wrong.” A few steps and he turned again, this time the coat’s flair knocked over a small ornament on a side table. It crashed onto the floor. Bellows flinched. Elliott stood in front of him. The coat was also made to give his slender figure more bulk in the shoulders. He leaned toward Bellows and the little toad shrunk in his seat.
”I don’t kill.” He looked down at Bellows. “But I might make an exception for someone trying to take my parent’s estate.”
”Your parents are dead.” Bellow tried one last time to gain some semblance of strength.
Elliott didn’t stop himself. One swift, hard backhand and the little man tumbled backward in his chair. Figbee’s quick action caught him before he hit his head on the corner of the desk. Bellows remained on the floor and held his handkerchief to his bloody nose as he looked fearfully up at Elliott. Figbee resumed his post at the door.
A knock on the other side of the carved panel door, “Mr. Belows, sir, is everything all right?”
This time Elliott squatted in front of Bellows, cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow. “Everything’s fine, Jonathan.” Bellows called out. “Just knocked over a couple books.”
They listened a moment as sharp footsteps receded away from the door. ‘He’s my clerk. My nephew. He’s a good lad, don’t hurt him.”?
Elliott stood. “I have no intentions to.” He held out his hand to help Bellows to his feet. “But shall we discuss your intentions in regard to stealing my parent’s estate? And the Countess wanting her uncle dead?”
”I, I don’t know anything about that.”
Elliott smiled a smile he usually reserved for women at that certain moment in a romantic evening. “Maybe not, but I feel that both issues are related. Now, tell me why you wanted to talk to the Countess last night? Leave no detail out.”
Elliott strode through the foyer, shedding his gloves, hat and coat as he walked. His heels, had they been harder, would have struck sparks on the marble. Closed doors to ruined rooms dripped dust with every step. Light filtered from a dirty skylight far above them, adding to the deathly quiet scene around them.
”You recorded everything.”
”Yes.” Figbee pulled a small black box from inside his jacket.
”Good. I’ll listen to it when I get back. In the meantime put out last year’s cutaway for tonight. The lady doesn’t warrant the new one. If I recall you’re good with horses. We’ll take the carriage. the one with the auxiliary motor hidden in the back.
”Figbee took each piece of clothing as it was shed. “What time?”
”Nine o’clock!” Lydia’s voice stopped them. She walked out from the butler’s passageway door to the kitchen. “Pick up the Lady Charlotte at nine.”
Elliott took in the apron and ladle in Lydia’s hand. ‘Okay. Nine. What are you doing here?”
”Cooking. There was a fire at my digs. In the rooms upstairs. I managed to get Crumbes and Mrs. Peabody out and the ledgers. But until things are cleaned up, I’m staying here.”
Elliott sighed, “There’s no room.”
Lydia motioned at Figbee. “He’s here.”
”He’s in Father’s room. Mother’s room stays the way it is.”
Lydia dismissed the objection with a wave of the lade. “There’s no reason I can’t use my old room. It just needs a bit of cleaning — well, a few days of cleaning. Oh, and by the way.”
”Oh no,” Elliott said.
”Daisy’s here too. Showed up while you were gone. Her man’s deserted her. She needs a place and we could use her. Well, for as long as she’s able to help. Daisy! Come out here!”
Elliott looked behind Lydia as Figbee gave a low whistle through his teeth Peering out from the passageway was a very pretty, very pregnant young maid holding a large gray cat while an even larger Mastiff snuffled at her feet.
picture of the incomparable George Raft. bibliopolis.com
Wednesday Morning: Late
Lydia paced the kitchen. Like Elliott she avoided looking at the holes in the walls, the broken fixtures and the pile of smashed furniture in the corner. The room had been cleaned up since she’d last been in it. She could envision Elliott slowly working on the place, trying desperately to restore the family dignity she was fairly sure was gone forever.
“Do you remember him at all?” She stopped in front of him and stared into his face. There was still that limpid softness to those eyes that she remembered from his childhood. She shook off the memory, knowing how quickly the softness could turn cold. Which it did now.
He shrugged and lit another cigarette. “Why should I? The only notice I take of the men around the women who’ve hired me is that they’re meant to be dismissed. And that’s what I did.”
Figbee slid a rasher of bacon and toast in front of Elliott with a cup of coffee. “Eat.” He turned to Lydia. “So a gentleman got angry?”
“Livid,” she snapped at him. She remembered him too, always hanging around the mistress.
Elliott bit into the bacon, “He’s a toad. A short, squat toad of a man not worth the —”
“He’s threatening to kill you.”
Elliott barked out a laugh. “He’s a husband!!!!”
“He’s not kidding, Elliott!”
“He’s also not the first with that threat.”
She sighed. “I know, I know.” She glared at Figbee. “What are you doing back?”
“Ask the young master, Ma’am.” Was the snide reply.
She looked at Elliott and he gave one of his non-committal, insolent shrugs. “I needed a valet.”
She looked back at Figbee, and he imitated Elliott’s shrug, “I needed a place to stay.”
“You both need new brains,” she muttered.
Figbee slid bacon, toast and coffee to her, then went back to the stove and fixed himself a plate. The three ate in silence.
“I’m not going to apologize to him,” Elliott said.
“He’s not asking for an apology. He wants your head.”
“Oh come on,” Figbee refilled his coffee. “Everyone knows what a gigolo is supposed to do. If Mr. Toad wanted to talk to the Countess he should have gone to her home and been formally introduced. Dennyboy was hired to make love to her and the hell with any of the other dogs sniffing around the park. It’s the rules of the game.”
“So how does the Cretan want to handle it? A duel? Bare Knuckles? I’d prefer a drinking match.”
“He’s threatening to take DanBois Park.”
Elliott went white and sat down. “He can’t. The taxes are paid. The bills are taken care of. He can’t touch it, no one can.”
Figbee turned to Lydia. “How idle is his threat?”
“It doesn’t fucking matter!” Elliott yelled. “This place is mine! It’s my family’s! You think I like living like this? It’s just one step away from squalor but it’s mine. And when Mother and Father come back it’ll be theirs. I’ll kill the son-of-a-bitch if he tries to take it.”
He threw his napkin down, then threw the coffee cup at the sink. It shattered and the others ducked. Stalking out of the room he could feel Lydia and Figbee behind him exchange glances. He knew what they were saying: They’re alive? Don’t know, they walked into the jungle. Does he know? He ran.
He rarely ran away from anything but he did this time. He ran through the ruined mansion, the room after room with broken walls and windows and fixtures. He slammed doors that hung by a hinge and ripped already torn wallpaper. One floor, then up the stairs – the stairs with holes and dangerous creaks – to the next floor and the next and finally the floor with his apartment, and his mother’s and father’s rooms.
In his mother’s room he sank onto the bed. It still reeked of the Countess’ perfume. His mind was calmer now and slowly toted up what he would need to do to get rid of the awful woman’s intrusion into this sanctuary. He was glad he kept the cupboards locked, she hadn’t had a chance to get into anything.
The Countess Von Schtrobeck. A beautiful creature, to be sure. And quite possibly lethal. At least, she left a wake of lethal wherever she traveled. What was it about her? Why would he think of her as deadly, aside from her wanting to kill her uncle. Which brought him to another question, why did she want her uncle dead?
Thoughts were gathering now. The man who’d wanted to talk to the Countess!
Elliott nodded. He’s had a certain pitiful quality to him. Yes, he remembered him now. He had been sweating, and seemed… Elliott tried to think of the word – “frantic” wasn’t right, “Desperate” wasn’t right either. He’d seemed on the verge of ruination.
Elliott was stunned. That’s what had bothered him. That air of ruination. He recognized it and had wanted to flee its presence. Was the Countess the reason for this? She must be. But how? Had Elliott’s stopping the man from talking to her cemented the ruination of him and this is why he was threatening to take everything that Elliott valued?
There was only one way to find out. He stood and left the room, locking the door behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Figbee step out of the elevator.
“Figbee! Put out my day clothes. We’re going calling on a businessman.”
photo at ganymede.jtan.com
Wednesday Morning: After Midnight
The brandy swirled in the snifter, catching the light from the fireplace, each little flash dying as quickly as it was born. Figbee held up the expensive crystal and smiled.
“I see you’ve retained a few things.”
“Odds and ends, here and there, ones that got overlooked by looters, creditors, lawyers and the like.” Elliott’s voice was a monotone. “Are they dead then?” he asked.
Figbee shrugged; not in resignment but more in sorrow of the inevitable. “Your father went into the jungle, your mother followed him.”
“She left you?”
Figbee drained his glass. “You knew she would.” He refilled the snifter. “When you come right down to it, I didn’t mean anything to her.”
“She liked you.”
“And I like plum pudding.”
They sat in silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally Elliott shifted in his club chair. The well-worn leather sighed.
“They went into the jungle, Denny.”
Elliott nodded. he’d heard Figbee’s explanation the first time. “But you don’t know for sure they’re dead.”
“Oh, you are a DanBois, aren’t you? Ever the optimist.”
Suddenly chilled to the soul Elliott rose from the chair and went to the fireplace. He knew Figbee was studying him carefully, he could feel the gaze. The last time they’d seen each other he’d been tall and straight-backed; fresh out of school with the world in order before him and an hopeful outlook. He was still tall and straight-backed, the slight limp was new and the scars, well, he didn’t plan on showing them off.
“What do you do now?”
Figbee tipped the glass to and fro, side to side, the brandy fell and rolled over itself, frenzied. He took a big gulp. fire and ice rolling down his throat to an empty stomach. He mumbled something and Elliott turned to him with a frown.
“I said I’m a Windrider now. That’s what the natives called someone whose canoe gets caught in the trade winds and can’t control where he’s going, or where he ends up.”
“You can’t stay here.”
“Oh, I dunno, sounds like you need me.”
“What gave you that impression?”
“I overheard the German — Austrian? — woman saying you were going to kill her uncle? You are, and have been, many loathsome things, Denny, but you’re no killer.”
Elliott snorted and turned away from him. “You haven’t been here lately.”
“Some things don’t change. Remember, I’m your best friend, I know these things.”
He knew things. Lydia knew things. Everyone knew things. Elliott stared into the fire. Visions danced among the burning logs: Visions of his mother and father as they danced, fought, kissed, looked directly at him — he shook the visions from his mind and turned around.
He took in the view of his private apartment and what he’d managed to save from his old life. The area was large and uncluttered, with furniture that bespoke of better days. Still, there was a comfortable elegance to it. He’d been satisfied, up until now. He tilted his head at Figbee.
“You can stay in Father’s room.”
Figbee’s sardonic grin was heightened by the ear-to-mouth scar he’d acquired since the last time he’d been home. Elliott decided not to ask where he got it, although he strongly suspected his father had something to do with it.
Figbee scratched at his unshaved chin. “Your Father’s room. Hmph. A fitting punishment, I suppose. And what do I owe you for your largesse?”
“I need a valet.”
Figbee thought on it a moment, then slowly nodded. “Are the son’s appetites the same as the father’s?”
It was Elliott’s turn to grin sardonically. “I should think you’d know, after all, we’re best friends, right?”
He walked back to the little table between the club chairs they’d occupied that evening and refilled the empty crystal brandy snifters. Figbee stood as they held out the glasses for a toast to seal their pact.
“And your first task for your valet, sir?”
“We need to decide what to do with the German woman.”
In the fireplace the flames danced, swirled and spit embers into the room.
photo Lew Ayres from ????
Think you look good in a tux? Think you could be the 1900-1920’s “The Gigolo of DanBois Park”? I want to feature a different picture with every segment of the story that I put up. So, here’s what I need: black and white photo. Style of the 1910’s 1920’s 1930’s. Preferably with an adoring female in the picture, dressed to match. The picture will run on my blog and FB page and website with full credits. And, when I finish the story you’ll get, if you want, a hard copy of the story. Or if you just want to show your friends how spiffy you are, maybe the credits are enough.
If you don’t have a tux, but look like a lady killer in a good suit, and the picture is stylish enough, and your gaze mesmerizing enough… what the heck.
Email them to: email@example.com
Elliott made his way through the theater-goers. Men stiffened as he walked by, women watched him. He didn’t care, his only thought was for the woman he was accompanying. That was a big part of his charm; something lost on other men. When Elliott was with a woman, young or older, short, tall, fat, skinny, pretty, beautiful or homely, he only had eyes and attention for her. Not that he didn’t, out of the corner of those soft brown eyes, calculate who he might be with next, and how expensive her jewelry was.
He arrived at the cluster of admiring men gathered around his companion. She smiled at him, holding out a delicate hand weighed down by a large baguette diamond ring. He didn’t calculate it’s worth, that happened naturally.
”Dahling,” she pouted.
In one gallant and graceful movement he swept down beside her, holding her hand tenderly whilst putting a protective arm around her. From the shift of her shoulders he knew she could feel the weapon hidden in the tux sleeve, other than that she didn’t acknowledge it.
“Did you forget my champagne?” Her pout deepened.
He pitched his voice so low to answer her she had to lean into him to hear it, a movement not lost on the other men. He lifted his hand high sure that they could see the large pearl cuff links in their twenty karat gold settings, and snapped his fingers.
Waiters appeared from the ether with champagne, canapés, caviar and dozens of roses.
One of the admirers stepped forward. “Countess Van Schtrobeck…” he started.
Elliott waved his hand again and a waiter got in the man’s way.
The Countess leaned closer to Elliott’s ear. “Should ve frustrate them?” She asked with a smile. They exited for her private box overlooking stage left, the champagne cart and the waiters followed, but not the men.
“You are vewy good at your job, no?” the Countess smiled across her champagne glass.
Elliott shrugged as it was neither a compliment nor a criticism. “You have the most charming accent, Countess. I’m not familiar with the Schtrobeck house. German, Austrian?”
Her eyes half closed, then fixed on him. “I vas told you don’t ask qvestions.” When he didn’t answer she went on. “You carry a veapon. I felt it.”
“I was told to.”
“It is mechanical, ja?”
He smiled. “Let me guess, you could feel it.”
She pouted. “Do not mock me. You are a dueling man, E? That is what the vomen call you, ja, “E”?”
He watched the soprano on stage sing about her undying love for a man who would never return to her. What a crock of — he turned to the Countess. “Vomen call me E and I do not duel.” He imitated her accent and she laughed.
The aria on stage ended, the soprano sank to her knees in feigned emotion as the curtain fell.
The Countess stool. “Ve go.” Elliott scrambled, elegantly, to place her fur cloak over her shoulders and lead her, unquestioningly, out of the theater to her carriage.
In the velvet lined darkness of the carriage they rode in silence. “They vere vatching me.” The Countess finally murmured.
“You’re impossible not to watch,” he answered.
He would have looked out the window but the shades were down and tightly fastened. Maybe Lydia told him to take the baby revolver not for protection of the lady, but from the lady. He wondered if he’d soon feel a garrote close around his throat.
“Let us not fool ourselves.” She turned on him. “I have need of you.”
He would have smiled but something in her eyes, a wild, caged look, stopped him.
“Yes. She said she knows.” she paused. “Ve vill go to your home. Tomorrow morning my uncle vill challenge you to a duel for my honor. You vill kill him.”
What in the hell had Lydia gotten him into? And what did she know. He shook his head. “Countess, I make women happy. For a price. That’s what I do.”
“Killing my uncle vill make me happy. You vill do it. There is no more discussion.”
An interesting evening had taken an unpleasant turn.