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The Further Adventures of Janice and Mel:

THE XENA KORE

Chapter 21 - 30

by Wishes (Judy)
jkp@bright.net


DISCLAIMERS/WARNINGS: The characters of Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures and were introduced in the XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS episode "The Xena Scrolls." This story is fan fiction, and no attempt is being made to profit from the use of these characters. There is nothing to warn you about. There's a little violence, I guess, but only fictional characters were harmed in the writing of this story.

This is a sequel to an earlier fan fiction story entitled "The Gabrielle Stele."

 

Chapter 21

Amanda appears with a grandfatherly looking man dressed as if for business. "This is Mr. Satterley," she says. "My daughter Janice." Then she stands aside and quietly cries.

Mr. Satterley, who carries a large black bag, pulls up a chair so he can face Janice. "Let me see that, young lady," he orders gently. I hesitate.

"This is the doctor," Gareth explains. I cautiously remove the napkins.

The doctor looks, then presses my hand back down.

"Itís not too bad," he says. As he takes supplies from his bag, he says over his shoulder, "Lady Amanda, youíve done your part. Now go back inside while I do my job."

"Everyone go," Janice adds. "Except Mel."

"Good idea," Mr. Satterley agrees. His word seems to be law, as the others quickly go inside. "You must be Mel." I nod. "Youíve done fine. Can you help me without fainting?"

"I think so."

"Sure you can." He takes a syringe from his bag and fills it. Janiceís eyes are wide. "Donít like needles, huh? Swords, but not needles?" He chuckles.

"What are you going to do?" Janice asks.

"Iím going to inject this around the wound," he explains. "It will anesthetize the site, so I can suture it. It will also help with bleeding so I can get a better look. All right?"

"Yes."

"Good. Mel, release the pressure for a moment." I remove the napkins, and he quickly places small shots around the cut. Itís still bleeding, and he places several pieces of gauze over it. I drop the bloody napkins on the terrace and apply pressure with the gauze. "Good girl," he says.

Janice asks, "Now what?"

"Now we wait a few minutes. Donít worry, my dear, you arenít going to bleed to death. Katherine managed to miss anything vital." He chuckles again. "Care to tell me what the duel was over? A man? Not young Gareth, I hope? Bad form to duel over a stepbrother."

"No, just a friendly contest," Janice assures him. Her color is coming back, and she seems more comfortable. "I guess this isnít the first time youíve been called here on an emergency."

"Emergency? Here?" He thinks. "No. The whole family is pretty healthy."

"My mother didnít have an emergency a few weeks ago?" I roll my eyes heavenward, unable to believe the nerve of this woman. She would question the preacher at her own funeral.

"Oh, that. Yes, a badly upset tummy." He lifts my hand and the gauze to check the wound, than presses both in place again. "I was called from an excellent supper for that. Sherry trifle for dessert. But I didnít get dessert because I was over here."

"An upset stomach?" Janice asks. "Is that all it was?"

"No, it turned out to be a little more than that." He shakes his head. "Never figured out how it happened. Especially since everybody ate and drank the same things, and nobody knew anything about it. Servants never do. Complete mystery how something like that got into Lady Amandaís stomach without her knowledge." Mr. Satterley motions for me to remove the gauze, and I do. The wound is now barely seeping, and, taking the gauze from me, he drops it on top of the napkins.

"If she ate or drank arsenic, someone had to give it to her deliberately," Janice states.

The doctor pours a disinfectant on Janiceís neck and his hands before unwrapping and putting on surgical gloves. "Arsenic? Thatís what your mother kept saying, even said something about knowing where it came from. . . . but it wasnít arsenic, of course. I lavaged her stomach, and it was quite clear what it was." He pauses to prepare a sterile needle and suturing thread. "There will be a pressure and a slight stinging."

"What was it?" Janiceís tone is insistent.

"Hush, dear. Donít talk while I suture. We donít want a nasty scar on your pretty neck." The doctor leans forward and puts in four sutures. They are so small as to be almost invisible. "Two or three would probably do," he tells me, "but these will minimize scarring. Iím also using the smallest gauge needle and finest thread." He takes out a bottle of small yellow pills. "With the war, these are precious," he says, "but Lady Amanda will never forgive me if that cut gets infected." He pours several pills from the bottle into a tiny envelope and hands the envelope to me. Iíve obviously been cast in the role of nurse. "Three of these a day with plenty of water. Bring her around to my surgery in four or five days to have the stitches removed."

"Mr. Satterley," Janice says, tired of being talked around. "What was it?"

"What was what, dear?"

"What did you pump out of my motherís stomach?"

"Oh, that." He take his time replacing supplies in his bag and snapping it shut. He stands before answering, and I think Janice is going to leap out of her chair to stop him if he takes a step toward the door. "Syrup of ipecac."

 

Chapter 22

Without turning on a light, I cautiously push aside the heavy blackout curtains. The faint lightening of the sky suggests it is just after dawn on a cloudy London morning. Janice still sleeps, curled at the edge of the big four-poster. As usual she has kicked off the covers and looks small and vulnerable in the big flannel shirt she wears to bed. The patch of gauze on her neck is a reminder of yesterdayís accident, so soon after our trial by fire. Knowing I canít sleep and feeling restless, I dress and decide to go downstairs. Before leaving the room, I pull the sheet and comforter over Janice and wonder at the innocence of sleep.

A little uncomfortable wandering at dawn in my hostís house, I nevertheless head for the library. Amanda has said to feel free to borrow a book, and I wonder if she would have one on photography. The library door is open and I enter, realizing too late that the room is occupied. "Pardon me," I say, backing out.

"Come in, Miss Pappas." Sir Robert motions me forward, and I comply. "Excuse me for using you surname. Iím unused to the American affinity for using given names on short acquaintance."

"That isnít the custom in the American South, Sir Robert." He has risen and offered me a chair. Only when Iím seated does he return to his desk.

"I can tell you have had a good upbringing," he says. "And blood will tell."

I think of the blood spilled yesterday. "Blood?"

"Breeding, Miss Pappas, lineage," he explains. He indicates a painting on the wall behind his desk. It is one of those horse paintings favored by the British: a tiny-headed thoroughbred with an impossibly long neck, the horse towering over his groom. "Itís important in horsesóor people. If only the younger generation could understand that. The importance of preserving the line."

I donít know what to respond or if an answer is expected, so I say nothing.

"When we were introduced," he continues, "I didnít recognize the name. However, the American liaison with the ministry is from your state. Ethan Brochere. Do you know him?"

"His family," I say, surprised Sir Robert has discussed me with anyone.

"It was Lieutenant Brochere who reminded me that your father was a Nobel Laureate. For anthropology, wasnít it?"

"Yes."

"Young Brochere also knew your motherís family. He said that she was a Peltier." He looks at me as if asking a question. If he is, Iím missing it. "And that the Peltiers represent aristocracy in the Carolinas."

"My motherís and a few other families arrived first." I pause, my "upbringing" warring with an impulse to argue with my host. I finally say mildly, "Others who came later may have contributed more."

"Possibly." I hear doubt in his voice, but he will not argue with a guest. He changes the subject. "Were you looking for someone? Amandaís daughter?"

"No, Janice is still sleeping," I answer. "At dinner Lady Amanda mentioned that I might borrow a book. I donít want to disturb you, however." I rise, and Sir Robert follows suit.

"Please. These books are seldom touched except to be dusted." He walks to a shelf behind me and takes from it a book more brightly jacketed that the other solemn-looking volumes. "Perhaps you would like to read one of my wifeís books. Iím told they are quite amusing."

He places the book in my hand, and I canít hide my surprise. "Bright Pennyís Desert Adventure by A. B. Hylton," I read aloud. "You mean Amanda. . . . Lady Amanda is A. B. Hylton? I had no idea. I read these books when I was a little girl. Does that mean that Janice was the model for. . . ."

"Donít say it." Janice is standing in the library door. "Good morning, Sir Robert."

"Dr. Covington." He hesitates, and then even he decides this is too formal for a stepdaughter. "Janice. Amanda was quite upset by your misadventures yesterday. I trust you have a quieter day planned today?"

"Yes, sir," Janice says. "A little sightseeing. Mel, if youíre ready, letís go to breakfast. Will you be joining us, Sir Robert?"

"Iíve breakfasted," he answers. "Miss Pappas, I enjoyed our conversation.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay."

 

Janice and I are almost in the breakfast room before I realize I still have the book in my hand. Near the open door, I pause to look at the publication date. 1928. A first edition. Of course. Janice looks at me, eyebrow raised. Then our attention is drawn by voices in the breakfast room. I am about to make our presence known, but Janice grabs my arm and gives me a warning look. I recognize the voices. Margaretís. Then Kateís.

"I thought you would want to know."

"About him? Hardly."

"You were close. . . ."

"Now heís just the man who could cost me my position."

"If you change your mind, let me know. Donít wait too long."

Janice pulls me back, and, as Margaret stalks out of the breakfast room, it appears that we have just crossed the entryway. With barely a nod for "Miss Janice," the downstairs maid heads for the back of the house.

"Oh, Dr. Covington," Kate cries as we enter. "Iím so glad to see you before leaving this morning. Sir Robert is always up at the crack of dawn and ready to be off. I was afraid we would be gone before you were up. Iím so sorry for what happened yesterday."

"Donít worry about it," Janice says. "And we were on a first name basis before you impaled me. I think that should continue, donít you?"

"Impaled you? I donít. . . . Oh, youíre joking."

"It wasnít much more than a scratch, Kate. Really." Janice is already heaping her plate with everything from the sideboard. "By the way, Mel and I just ran into Margaret. She came out of here like her apron was on fire. You and she have a disagreement?"

"Margaret and I?" Kate studies the plate of muffins and bread. "No, not really. Sheís always been temperamental."

"Always?" I ask.

Kate seems, too late, to realize her mistake. Janice smiles at me approvingly. "Margaret was. . . .she was. . . .she worked for my mother before coming into service with Sir Robert and Lady Amanda." Kate checks her watch. "I have to be going. When Sir Robert is ready to leave for the ministry, Iím expected to be at the door. Iím glad youíre feeling better, Janice. Let me know if thereís anything you need." This last is said over her shoulder as she hurries out the door.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Janice quotes, and then, "The gameís afoot."

 

Chapter 23

We are just sitting down when Amanda enters. At even this early hour, she is impeccably dressed; I look at the contrast between her and Janiceís attire, and I have to smile. She meets my eye, and I stand, ready to excuse myself. Janice grasps my wrist and pulls me down. "Eat your breakfast, Mel. Itís going to be a busy day."

I resist slightly. "Iím not hungry." More quietly: "Talk to your motheróalone."

"Sit." She isnít letting go, and I give up.

Amanda has gotten tea and food from the sideboard. She sits down across from us, and I see that Janice didnít get her appetite from her mother. "Good morning, dear. Melinda. What do you have planned for today?"

"We have an appointment," Janice says vaguely.

"Oh, I was hoping we could spend some time together, Janice." Violet eyes seek confirmation that this hope is shared. "I thought we would talk before dinner last night, but then there was that unfortunate accident. . . ." Her voice trails off as she looks at the small square of white on Janiceís throat. "Iíve spoken to Kate about it. When I think what could have happened. . . ." She shudders delicately. "She was so careless."

"It wasnít Kateís fault," Janice states flatly. "I wish you hadnít said anything to her."

"Kateís mother was one of my best friends. Sometimes Kate forgets her place."

Janiceís expression is dangerous as she echoes, "Her place?"

Before things can deteriorate further, I interrupt. "I think Iíll have some more tea, Lady Amanda. Would you like me to bring you another cup?"

She looks at her cup, which she hasnít touched. She takes a sip. "Itís not fresh." She rings a bell, and Margaret enters instantly. "Whereís Beatrice?"

"Sheís busy, your ladyship."

"Margaret, please bring fresh tea and then clear the sideboard."

"Yes, mum." Margaret leaves.

Janiceís temper has cooled. "Iím here now, Mother. What do you want to talk about?"

"Not talk about. Just talk." I would leave at this point, but, out of Amandaís sight, Janice has a tight grip on my skirt. "You know. Like a mother and a daughter."

"That would be a new experience." Janice reaches into her shirt pocket and pulls out a small envelope I recognize. "Hereís a topic for conversation." She takes out the picture of the small statue and hands it to Amanda.

Amanda looks at it and then back at Janice.

"No? Nothing to say now?"

"You got this out of my desk drawer? At the studio?"

"Yes," Janice answers, not bothering to say that what we actually found was the negative.

"Where are the others? Did they burn up?" She hands the photo back to Janice. "That would be a shame. You would probably like to have them."

"That was the only one we found," I say. "It had fallen behind one of the drawers."

"There were twelve, no, ten. Two didnít turn out." Amanda takes the photo back from Janice and studies it. "Most were like this, although a couple were clear. Your father never was much of a photographer."

Margaret has re-entered with the tea. Using fresh cups, she pours for Amanda and me. "Miss Janice?"

"No, thanks."

Margaret goes to the sideboard and begins to straighten it.

Amanda finally notices her daughterís expression. "You didnít know? You worked with him in Egypt. I figured you recognized this statue. I assume it came from that tomb, the one where your father. . . ." She returns the photo. I think Janice holds it differently than she did before. She slips it back into its envelope and, after putting it into her pocket, buttons the flap.

"I donít understand how you got this pictureóand the others you say you had."

Amanda raises her voice slightly. "Margaret, leave that for now."

Margaret picks up a serving dish and leaves the room.

"It was several months ago when a small package arrived," Amanda says. "It had foreign stamps and looked like it had a rough trip before it arrived here. It was addressed to me, and the writing was your fatherís."

"Did he often send you things?" Janice asks.

"No," Amanda answers. "I hadnít been in contact with your father for years, not since you were grown." I wonder about that statement, but Janice doesnít comment.

"And the pictures were in the package?"

"No, film, a 12-exposure roll of 127 film. No letter, no instruction or explanation. Just the film."

"So you developed the film?" Janice asks.

"Not then. I put it aside, figuring a letter would follow. Then I forgot about it."

"You just forgot about it? Werenít you at all curious about why your ex-husband sent you a roll of film? After you say you hadnít been in contact for, what, seven or eight years?" Janiceís disbelief is too obvious. I want to interrupt again, but I canít think what to say.

"This was a couple of weeks after you had returned to London. With Tereise." Amandaís voice is so quiet now even I have trouble hearing her. "A friend had told me where you were."

"What?" Janiceís question seems too loud.

"I said that I learned you were in the hospital." Amanda meets Janiceís eye. "You were so terribly hurt. I though you might. . . . I wasnít sure you would recover. For a few days, I imagined you didnít want to. Thatís when I got to know Tereise. She and I took turns sitting beside your bed. And sometimes we sat together in the waiting room and talked."

My heart softens at the picture of Janiceís mother and best friend comforting each other.

"Iíll bet those were some conversations." Janiceís words cut through the mood like a knife. "So the film arrived while you were sitting devotedly at my bedside. When did you get around to developing it?"

"A couple of days after the film came, I received a letter. I had come home from the hospital to rest. The letter was waiting for me."

"From Dad?"

"Yes, from Harry. He said that he didnít have time to explain, but would I develop the film and send the photographs to a colleague in the United States."

"Which colleague?" Janice asks, but we both know.

"Melindaís father, Dr. Mel Pappas."

So he didnít send the film directly to my father. Thatís why I had known nothing about it. Janiceís eyes meet mine, and I know she is thinking the same thing. I also see a hint of apology that she had never quite believed me.

Amanda continues, "I had been at the hospital all night, but I went to my studio right then to develop the film. As usual, the telephone in the studio wasnít working, so I told John to come back here. If Tereise or the doctor called, he was to come get me. It didnít take long to develop the film and print the negatives. As I said, only ten came out."

"What was on them?" Janice asks.

"There was another one of that statue, I think, or one like it. Some pictures, like wall paintings. . . ."

I remember the paintings in Harpsoptahís tomb. "What were the paintings like?" I ask her.

"I donít remember." She thinks. "Egyptian, I think, probably from that tomb Harry was working on. And the last two photographs, the clearest ones, were of a stone tablet. It had hieroglyphics on it." She notes Janiceís expression. "Donít look so surprised, dear. I was married to an archaeologist for twelve years."

"Why didnít you send the photographs to Melís father as Dad asked?"

"I had just hung the prints to dry. John returned and knocked on the darkroom door. He said Tereise had called and said you were worse. I was to come at once." I think I see remembered pain in her eyes. "I left things as they were and hurried to the car."

"Well, we know I didnít die."

"No, that was your worst night. By the next morning, you had started to show signs of consciousness."

"Thatís when you decided to disappear."

"I thought it was best. Tereise had told me how bitter you were." Janiceís right hand is resting on the linen that covers the table. Amanda rests her own hand on Janiceís. "I planned to come back when you were better. Tereise was to call me."

"What about the photographs?"

"A couple of days later, I put them in an envelope and was going to send them on. But Harry hadnít put Dr. Pappasís address in his letter. I laid the envelope aside until I could find out the address. Then I heard about Harryís death. I got in touch with Tereise, who said that you were. . . . distraught. She said to come, but I decided to wait a little longer before seeing you." Janice carefully withdraws her hand and places it in her lap. "Janice, you were supposed to be in the hospital for at least two more weeks and convalescing for weeks after that. I thought we would have plenty of time. I made plans. After you got out of the hospital, I was going to bring you here. . . ."

"As soon as I could stand on my own, I went to Egypt to find out what had happened to Dad. Then I went to Greece, to try to do what he couldnít."

"I know."

I clear my throat. "Couldnít you find my fatherís address? To send the photographs."

She shakes her head, as if drawn back to the present. "I didnít try. Harry was dead, and Janice was gone. I put the envelope containing the prints and negatives in a desk drawer and forgot about it."

"You seem to be pretty good at that," Janice comments. "Forgetting about things. And people."

"You didnít notice that these photographs were gone?" I hastily ask.

"Didnít you look for them when you realized the others were taken?"

"No, I didnít look. The photographs I was concerned about were the ones in the fire safe, the ones for my book." Amandaís gaze never leaves Janiceís face. "No matter what you think, I never forgot you."

 

Chapter 24

When Janice and I return to the entryway, Margaret is halfway up the front stairs, furiously wielding a feather duster. "Mel," Janice says, "You know about these things. Does the downstairs maid dust only part of the stairway, with the upstairs maid meeting her halfway?"

Before I can answer her, Amanda hurries out of the breakfast room, "Dear, if youíre going out, why donít you wait for John to return? He can drive you wherever you want to go."

"Doesnít he drive Sir Robert?" Janice asks.

"Just to the ministry in the morning and back home in the evening. The ministry provides a car and driver if needed during the day."

"We donít need the car this morning," Janice says. "I thought we would go to the park stables and take a look at your saddleóunless youíve had it fixed since the girth was cut. Do we need a key?"

Amanda shakes her head. "Ask for Jimmy. Heís the groom who takes care of our horses. Recently we sent all the horses except Floraís to the country, to Sir Robertís family estate. It isnít considered patriotic to waste grain on horses when they can eat grass instead. I suppose the saddles are still here."

"Well, we can walk to the park," Janice says, then adds, with a hint of mischief, "Mel gets restless when she doesnít get enough exercise. We might take you up on using the car later today."

Amanda leans forward to kiss Janice on the cheek and then settles for patting her on the shoulder. She looks uncertain about something, then walks down the hallway that leads to her sitting room.

Realizing that I still hold the Bright Penny book in my hand, I say to Janice, "Iíll run this upstairs."

"Why donít you just return it to the library?" she asks.

"I thought it might be fun to read it again. Now that I know the author."

I want to add, now that I know the heroine, too, but I know better.

"Why donít you get your new camera while youíre up there?" she asks.

"Maybe weíll find something interesting for you to practice on."

I walk up the stairs and wonder if Janiceís question about downstairs and upstairs maids was as foolish as it sounded. Margaret is still no higher than halfway when I pass her on the way up, and she is gone when I return.

The morning fog has begun to clear, and itís a pleasant walk to the park and across the park to the horse stables. There are two long buildings, and I ask Janice, "Do you know which building?"

She shakes her head. "Weíll try the closest." We enter the first stable and see an elderly man directing two young boys who are cleaning stalls. "Excuse me," Janice says, "Weíre looking for a groom who takes care of the Blessingham horses." She gives her motherís last name the American pronunciation, with three syllables, and he looks at her without comprehension. She adds, "His name is Jimmy."

"Oh, the Blesm horses," he says, using the English pronunciation. "Theyíre all gone but one. Only twenty-five horses in the whole place. Closed the other barn."

"Weíre looking for Jimmy," she reminds him.

"Heís down the other end."

"Thanks." We walk between muck buckets and head down the stable aisle. We soon see a slight figure leading a very large horse into a stall. Heís sliding the stall door shut as we approach. "Jimmy?" Janice asks.

He nods. I think he looks like a jockey, short, about the same height as Janice, narrow-shouldered, but wiry. His eyes are watchful, but not hostile.

"Iím Janice Covington, Lady Amandaís daughter. This is my friend, Miss Pappas."

His manner changes immediately, a big smile splitting his thin face. "Glad to meet you. Miss Flora said you was coming to visit. From America."

"I guess she was overjoyed," Janice comments.

If anything, his smile gets wider. "Well, no. Iím surprised you donít have horns on your head and a long, forked tail. Sheís been angry as a bear the last few days." He indicates a nearby stall, its door wide open. "She was quieter this morning. Just come in, saddled Archie, and took off for a ride."

One of the stableboys is approaching, pitchfork and empty muck bucket in hand.

"Clean Archieís stall first, since Miss Flora is riding. Sheíll expect to see it clean when she gets back." The young man nods and goes into the stall. Heís back in a few seconds.

"Jimmy, thereís a rat in there." His eyes are wide, and itís clear he isnít going to share the stall with a rodent.

"Aw, Cal," Jimmy says, but he goes into the stall. He comes out swinging a large rat by the tail. He holds it teasingly in front of Calís face. Iím glad he doesnít bring it that near to me. "The thingís dead. It canít hurt you."

"Plague," Cal says. "Rats is filthy. They give you plague and all kinds of nasty diseases."

Jimmy throws the rat into Calís muck bucket. "Clean the stall," he says, "or youíll find out Miss Floraís temper is nastier than any dead rat." Cal nods and takes the muck bucket, rat and all, back into the stall.

"Baby," Jimmy mutters. "Now what can I do for you ladies? the Blesm horses is gone, but I can find you other mounts, if you want to ride."

"Thanks," Janice says, "maybe another time. What we really want is to look at my motherís saddle."

"The one with the busted girth?" he asks.

"Yeah, that one."

I have a thought. "Jimmy, were you here the day Lady Amanda fell? The time her girth broke?"

He nods. "Iím always here. Sleep in a room in the other barn, me and old Bert, and the two boys. Weíre all there is since the war took the others. Only ones the war didnít want." I think his tone is wistful.

"Did you see what happened?" I ask.

His eyes suddenly look suspicious. "Look, I didnít put the saddle on Pariah, Lady Amandaís horse. I had, I would have seen the girth was bad. Nobody can put that on me."

"Iím sure youíre very careful, Jimmy," I soothe. "Who did saddle Pariah?"

"I donít know." He thinks a moment. "Lady Amanda was going to ride with Mister Gareth. I was busy loading some other horses, horse box had come to take them to the country. Thatís when most of the horses was leaving, the ones that hadnít been moved during the Blitz. When I come back into the barn, Pariah and Mister Garethís horse Stalwart were already saddled. I never saw Lady Amanda saddle a horse, so I supposed he done it."

"Wasnít Flora going to ride with them?" Janice asks.

"Miss Flora was ready to ride when they got here. She always takes care of Archie herself, grooms and saddles him, brushes him after the ride." I hear admiration in his voice. "When I come back in from loading the horses, she and Archie was gone, and Lady Amanda was mounting. Next thing I knew, she was on the ground."

"My mother fell when she was getting on the horse?"

"Yeah. She wasnít hurt bad, but she was upset and holding her head."

"Did she say anything?" Janice asks.

He grins. "Words I didnít figure her ladyship knew!" Jimmy points out the tackroom door. "Thatís the Blesm tackroom. Their horses was all in these stalls along here. Lady Amandaís saddle is right next to the door. Anything else you need?"

Cal is coming from Archieís stall, his muck bucket full. Janice says, "One thing. The rat. Those things just curl up and die around here?"

"No," Jimmy answers. "We get a lot of rats and mice, the grain and all.

So we poison Ďem. Thereís a can of rat poison in every tackroom."

"Thanks," Janice says, and she walks into the tackroom. I follow and see her already inspecting the girth of the saddle closest to the door. I raise my camera and snap off a quick picture. She blinks at the bright flash and doesnít look happy.

"You said I could practice," I say.

"Uh-huh." She motions me to join her. "Look at this. Motherís account of her fall may have been a little dramatic compared to the facts, but the girth WAS cut."

"Just like she said. Itís lucky the girth broke the rest of the way when she mounted. If it hadnít or if someone had given her a leg up, she might have been seriously injured when it finally broke." I think how recent Garethís injury would have been at that time and wonder that he would saddle the horses and try to ride. He certainly couldnít have given Amanda help in mounting.

"Clear through." Janice interrupts my thoughts.

"What?"

"The girth. There wasnít any breaking for it to do. Itís cut clear through."

 

Chapter 25

"You up for a little walk?" Janice and I are standing at the edge of Regents Park.

"I thought we were going to borrow your motherís car and driver," I answer hopefully.

"I would rather not," she answers. As usual, I wait for an explanation that is not forthcoming. "We can get a bus or cab on Goode Street."

"To?"

"Blackfriars. To meet Hank." Reluctantly, she gives up more information.

"I called him before breaking up your little rendezvous with my stepfather.

He has the information I asked for."

Weíre moving along at Janiceís usual rapid pace, and Iím thankful once again that she has to take almost two steps to my one. We come to Goode Street, and, as I step off the curb, Janice hits me with all her weight. I land in a heap on the sidewalk and look up into bright blue eyes above a dark blue uniform. "Bill?"

White teeth gleam. "If you want me to be."

I hear another male voice. "His name is David. Iím Bill." Red hair and green eyes, also above a uniform, enter my field of vision.

"Donít listen to him. His nameís. . . . Harold, I think he said." Again the brilliant smile.

"Mel, are you all right?" Janice extricates my hand from . . . . Davidís.

"That maniac almost ran over you."

"You knocked me down," I accuse.

"Better me than a speeding truck."

"Thereís a difference?" I move my legs and am happy to find they still work. I put my hand out to David, who helps me up. As he starts to help me dust myself off, Janice steps between us.

"Down, boy. Why donít you make yourself really useful, and get us a cab."

She looks at his uniform. "They do stop for American servicemen, right?"

"For the Navy, they do." He nods to his red-headed friend, who steps into the street and starts waving and whistling. "Your name is Mel? Youíre an American, I know. Alabama?"

"South Carolina."

Harold has stopped a cab by stepping in front of it and is arguing with the Cockney driver. Janice stays at my side.

"Maybe I could call you. . . ."

"Sheíll call you," Janice says and pushes me toward the waiting cab, the driver having lost his argument with the Navy.

"Let me give you my number," David begins.

Janice and I are in the car, and she reaches across me to shut the door.

"Sheíll find you. Youíre on a boat, right?"

As the cab pulls away from the curb, I glare at my friend. She smiles. "Oh, did you want his number? Iím just keeping you trueóto Bill." She leans forward and gives the cabbie the name of a restaurant in Blackfriars.

"A little early for fish and chips, isnít it?" I ask.

"Never too early." She leans back, and we donít talk until the cab pulls up to the curb. I pay the driver, and he speeds off, going wherever he was bound before the Navy commandeered him.

Weíre entering the restaurant when I see a familiar figure on the other side of the street. "Look," I say. "Isnít that Kate?"

Janice follows my gaze. "Yeah, it is. I wonder what sheís doing here. This neighborhood is a long way from the ministry. Or anywhere I would expect to see someone from Sir Robertís household." I know what sheís thinking. Thatís why she chose it.

I start to wave, and Janice jerks my arm down. "What?"

"Donít worry; she saw us." Kate has abruptly turned on her heel and is entering an alleyway. "That is a woman with secrets."

"Do you think Flora was telling the truth? About Kate being a Nazi?"

"I wouldnít believe much that Flora had to say."

We enter the restaurant, and Hank, who is sitting at a back table, stands and gestures for us to join him. Looking at Hank, his enormous size and bluff manner, I find it hard to consider any meeting with him clandestine. Proving me correct, he bellows in his New Zealand accent, "Mel, Jannie, over here. Címon and try these chips."

When we join him, he seats Janice and then looks at me with concern. "Sit down before you fall down. You donít look so good."

"Bloke tried to run her down," Janice explains. Bloke? Janice looks at me as if just noticing my appearance. "You are kind of white. You feel okay?"

"Iím fine."

Janice is already munching on Hankís chips as he orders more. I ask for tea, and it arrives in a few minutes. Bless the English. Hank comments about the camera Iím carrying, and he answers a couple of questions I have. Thank goodness the camera seems to have survived my fall. Or should I say push?

Between bites, Janice finally says, "Well, what did you find out?"

"About what?" Janice glares, and Hank laughs. "I got the names that go with the faces in your photographs. It seems your motherís photos were used on the society pages for both events. Made it easy."

"Well?"

Hank slowly takes out his little notebook and makes a show of finding the right page. I think Janice may try to snatch it from his hand if he teases any more. Considering his size and Janiceís, thereís still no contest as to who would win. Janice. Before her patience snaps completely, Hank reads the list for the Orphanís Society photo. Janice shakes her head. None of the names rings a bell. Then he reads the list for the Grace Gallery opening. Janice and I exchange glances. She pushes the chips away, one name taking away even her appetite.

"Read that again," I request, hoping I didnít hear correctly. "Just the last four names."

He obliges. "Kenneth Grace and Sarah Lund. Those were the gallery owners.

Sir Robert Blessingham. Janice, I think your stepfather was an investor.

And Dr. Franz Gruner. Donít know who he was."

"We do," I say.

"I donít suppose you got a copy of this picture?" Janice asks.

Hank shakes his head. "You didnít ask for one. You could probably see one at the newspaperís morgue."

"Never mind," Janice says. "Iím sure my mother has the original."

Chapter 26

Outside the restaurant, I try to get Janice to slow down, to talk to me. Finally, she stops and faces me. "You know, I really owe my father an apology."

This isnít what I expect, and I ask cautiously, "Why?"

"You may have noticed I have a tendency to play fast and loose with the truth."

Although she appears serious, I have to smile. "You do have talent in that direction."

"Well, I always blamed my father for that particular Ďtalent.í Old Harry could make you think snow was green and grass was white." Her eyes seem to see into the past; then she pulls herself back to the London street where we stand. "But he had nothing on my mother when it comes to lying. First about the poisoning. Then the severity of her fall. Now this!"

"Mel, what do you think she lied about?" I think over our conversation with Hank. "Gruner? I donít remember his name ever coming up. You certainly didnít give your mother any details about our adventures in Egypt. And I donít think you asked her is she ever in her life took photographs where Franz Gruner was one of the subjects."

Janice shakes her head and gives a look, that look. Then she starts to walk away.

"Janice Covington, you stop right where you are!" Several head turn, as passersby hear for the first time a southern belle in full cry. "Do you hear me?"

My friend stops her forward motion and, when I donít join her, turns and comes back. "Do I hear you? All of London can hear you. Jesus Christ, Mel. . . ."

"Donít take the Lordís name in vain," I say. "If you want to swear, use some of those other words. You have enough of them."

"Mel. . . ."

"Iím tired of you acting like Iím your foolish cousin Beauregard." At her look of incomprehension, I explain. "Where I come from, everyone has a cousin whoís not quite right, and it seems like most of the time his name is Beauregard."

"Probably comes from marrying your. . . ."

"You hush, Janice," I say. "We donít have any more foolish cousins than you Yankees. We just treat them better. Keep them in the parlor instead of the attic. And we would NEVER give them a look like the one you just gave me."

Janice opens her mouth. And shuts it.

"Now, as I politely asked you before, what do you think your mother lied about?" Iím well aware of looking down on Janice from my greater height, and for once I donít try to minimize the difference.

When Janice finally speaks, her voice is quiet. "Could we have this conversation somewhere else? Off the street?"

"No." I wait. Suddenly Janice is worried about propriety?

She sighs. "I thought it was strange that pictures were sent with the first two extortion notes and not with the third. I suppose thatís why I asked Hank to find out about the Grace Gallery opening, too, since it was third on the list. After hearing who was in the photo, Sir Robert, a woman I assume was Kateís mother, and Franz Gruner, Iím sure that my mother lied."

"So you think the photograph of the Grace Gallery opening was sent with the third extortion note? And that your mother lied when she said it wasnít?" When Janice nods, I ask what I think is the obvious question. "Why?"

"Isnít it clear? If we see Gruner, weíre going to know. . . ." She stops.

"Know what?" I prompt.

"Well, since Gruner was the one responsible for Dadís death and almost for our own, she lied because. . . ." Her voice trails off again.

"Janice, do you think your mother knows anything about what happened to us in Egypt?" I ask. "And if she did, that she would be on anyoneís side but yours?"

"I donít know."

"Grunerís dead," I say. "He had your father killed. He hurt you." Tears burn in my eyes at the memory of that. "But he canít hurt you ever again." I remember Janice and Antone Zepp carrying Grunerís lifeless body from that tent in the desert.

Janice calls me back with a soft touch on my arm. "I donít know why my mother lied," she admits. "Letís go ask her." She starts back down the street and, when I donít immediately catch up, calls over her shoulder, "Come on. . . . Beauregard."

 

Chapter 27

Janice and I enter Amandaís sitting room just as Margaret is leaving. Amanda is pouring, and I see there is a service for three, just as on our first visit. "Janice, Melinda, I"m so glad you decided to join me. When you called John to bring you home, I hoped you would."

She pats the seat beside her and looks at her daughter. Janice takes this seat, and I take the one opposite. I donít want to be here, but the short redhead has won this round. The truth is Iím not sure I trust her to talk with her mother alone.

Amanda pours and hands me a cup of tea. Janice declines, and I know she is longing for the "tea" provided by Gareth yesterday. "Thank you," I say.

"Youíre looking tired, Melinda," she notes. "Did my daughter run you all around London again today?"

"No," I say, embarrassed b her observation. "We only went a couple of places."

"You were going to the stables in the park, werenít you?" she asks. "Janice, did you see Flora there? She left early this morning, and I havenít seen her since. Sheís always over there with that horse."

"She was already riding when we got there," Janice responds. "We talked to Jimmy and looked at your saddle though."

"And?"

"It was pretty much as you said."

"More tea, Melinda?"

"No, thank you."

"Where did you go besides the park?" Amanda asks. "I hope you saw some of the nice parts of London."

"We visited with an old friend of mine," Janice answers.

"Thatís nice. Is it someone I would know?" She holds out a plate of biscuits. I take one, but Janice surprisingly declines.

"I doubt it. Heís with the foreign press."

"I know quite a few people," Amanda says.

"Yes, I realized that today." Janice leans forward and asks abruptly, "Mother, where did you put the photo that came with the third note?"

"Dear, I told you that no photograph came with that note."

"I know what you told us," Janice says. "What Iím asking is where it is."

Mother and daughter lock gazes. The older woman looks away first.

"Excuse me." Amanda rises and leaves the room.

"Janice," I hiss, "you just called your mother a liar. To her face."

My friend doesnít respond, and a few minutes later Amanda returns. In her hand is a photograph. Without speaking, she sits and then hands it to Janice, who studies it before handing it to me. I nod and give it back.

"Mother, who are these three people? The ones around Sir Robert?" Janice asks.

"The first is Kenneth Grace, the co-owner of the gallery that was being opened. The woman beside him is Sarah Lund, his partner." She stops speaking as she looks at this womanís face.

"Is that Kateís mother?"

She nods and adds, "And my best friend. She was an artist who welcomed me into her circle when I first came to London. She died at the beginning of the war, just four years after I took this picture. Poor Sarah."

"Was her death before or after the gallery was destroyed?"

"Soon after. She was crossing a street when she was struck by a lorry. The driver kept going and was never caught." She shakes her head sadly at the memory, and I shudder. "Kate was out of school and already working for Gareth, but she took it so hard. Her father had already returned to Germany because the declaration of war had made him an enemy alien. Then to lose her mother. . . ."

I set down my cup. "You say Kate worked for Gareth?"

"Yes, she worked for him until he was accepted for training as a pilot. There were some problems when Robert took her with him to the ministry, her being half-German, but his influence was great enough for her to finally be accepted." There is pride in her voice at this last. "As if Sarah Lundís daughter would be a Nazi spy!"

"You say the gallery had already been destroyed in the Blitz? So Kate didnít inherit even her motherís half?" I ask, thinking of the young woman suddenly left on her own.

"I suppose she did inherit the lot it was on," Amanda says. "That will be valuable property after the war."

"What about Kenneth Grace?" Janice asks. "Wouldnít he own part of it?"

Amanda shakes her head sadly. "Kenneth died before Sarah. He was searching for something in the wrecked building after it was bombed. A wall fell and pinned him. He died a few days later. Kenneth didnít have any family. He was a lifelong bachelor, and he left his share to Sarah. The building was razed for safety reasons after his death, but, as I said, I suppose the lot belongs to Kate."

Changing the subject, Janice asks, "Whoís this man on the other side of Sir Robert?"

"Donít you recognize him?" Amanda responds. "Iím sure you would have met. Thatís Dr. Franz Gruner, a Swiss archaeologist. I know your father knew him."

Without answering her motherís question, Janice counters with another of her own. "How was he connected with the gallery opening?"

"I donít know that he was."

"I mean, why is he in the photograph? Was he a friend of the owners? An investor? What?"

"Well, of course, he knew Sarah and Kenneth, and he was a friend, I think, of Sarahís husband, Horst." She rearranges cakes on a small silver tray.

"Mother. Why was he at the opening, and why was he included in this photograph?" Janiceís voice and eyes are compelling.

"He was there as Richardís and my guest," Amanda says quietly.

"Is he why you didnít want me to see this photograph?" Janice asks.

"Yes."

"Why?"

Amanda looks up, unveiling those startling violet eyes. "I thought you might know him and might remember."

"Remember what?" I ask. Can it be she does know what Gruner didóand tried to doóto her daughter?

Although the question is mine, she speaks to Janice. "I know you were only eleven when I left, but you were already interested in your fatherís work. I thought you might remember that Franz had a dig nearby. He and your father were working on some of the same questions, and they often seemed to be working in the same part of the world." Now that sheís talking about it, the words roll forth easily, almost as if this is a confession. "There were differences, however. Harry wanted to spend all his time in the field, always on the look-out for clues to those so-called Xena scrolls. He never took time to publish and teach, to build a reputation, at least not a respectable one. So he always had to scratch for money, run his digs on a shoestring."

"And Gruner?" Janice asks, her voice tight.

"Franz knew how to play the academic game," Amanda says. "He wrote and lectured, didnít get distracted by any imaginary quest. He knew how to build a reputation and use that reputation to get funding for his digs. Why, in Turkey, he even had a generator that supplied refrigeration and ran fans in his tent. He had ice in 100 degree heat. . . ." She stops. Too late.

"It was Gruner in the big black car, wasnít it?" Janice asks, describing what an eleven-year-old saw the day her mother went away. Forever.

"Yes." Then, after a pause, "He was my friend. He flew me to London and helped me get started here. He introduced me to the right people."

"Including Sir Robert?" I guess.

"Yes. Robert has always had an interest in antiquities, with the roots of our culture, as he says. Franz introduced us at a lecture he was giving at the British Museum." She looks at Janice and says again, "He was my friend."

"Is that why you felt you had to hide the picture? And lie?" I donít know if Janice regrets her tone, but I do. Tears glitter in Amandaís beautiful eyes. "Did you know that Gruner had a dig close to Dadís at Cashi Zun?"

"No." The tears begin to slowly spill down her cheeks, but her voice is steady. "The last time I saw Franz was at Sarahís funeral. He told me that he was going to Egypt, that he had a permit to dig at a famous oasis. He was very excited about what he hoped to find there."

"I bet," Janice comments, then, "Wasnít he worried about going into an area that might soon be controlled by the Nazis?"

"No. As a Swiss national, he was sure they would respect his neutrality." She hesitates. "I learned only recently that he died there. Killed by Egyptian nationalists at his own dig, I heard. I miss him. He was a good friend when I needed one."

I wonder what Janice will tell her mother about this "friend," this Swiss citizen whose henchmen were Nazis. Will she tell how he killed Harry Covington so he could steal his discoveries? How he took credit for some and sold others? Will she tell Amanda that her good friend Gruner tortured her own daughter to get her to reveal where she had hidden one of his stolen treasures? That he would have maimed her if I had not given up her secret?

We sit in silence, Amanda and I waiting. Janiceís eyes seek mine, and I try to keep my expression neutral. This is between mother and daughter, a relationship about which I know nothing. Janice stands. "Mother, please excuse Mel and me. We need to clean up and get some rest before dinner."

I nod to Amanda and follow my friend out the door.

 

Chapter 28

Janice has talked about rest but, when I fall asleep on the rose-colored comforter, she is writing furiously in her small notebook. For the first time, Iím sure she records emotions, not just events. When I wake it is to hear her saying softly, "Mel, I want to join Ďthe familyí for drinks before dinner tonight. Mel?" I wave her away and roll over. "Hey, Iím even wearing a dress." Again? For that, I have to open one eye. The dress is one of the new ones purchased by Amanda, aqua, and it makes Janiceís eyes look blue. "Open the other eye, and Iíll wear shoes instead of boots." She laughs, but, taking no chances, I open both eyes and sit up.

"Good thing you already took your bath," she says. "Get dressed. Itís after 7:30, and Sir Robert got in a little while ago."

"With Kate?"

"I suppose. You know, I wonder where her bedroom is." She ticks off the family members. "Motherís bedroom is next to this one, and Sir Robertís is on the other side of hers, a dressing room in between. Garethís and Floraís are on the west hallway, on the other side of the front stairs. We know thereís at least one guest room over there."

"Where I was supposed to be." Iím almost dressed, but Janice looks impatiently at her big watch. "Come to think of it," I say, "Iíve never seen Kate on this floor. Margaret and Cook live in, but Beatrice and John donít."

"How do you know that?" Janice asks.

"Just picked it up in dinner conversation. Their rooms are downstairs on the west side." I put on fresh lipstick and start to put up my hair.

"Leave it down," Janice suggests.

"You think?"

"Yes." I shrug and leave it. Janice continues, "So youíre saying that Kateís bedroom is downstairs with the servants?"

Reluctantly I point out, "Your mother did say something about Kate needing to know her place. And she is an employee."

"But sheís also the daughter of her ladyshipís best friend."

We drop the discussion as we start toward the first floor. And there, at the bottom of the stairs are the object of our discussion and Gareth. Gareth breaks off their conversation and bows as we reach the entryway. "Ah, I have the good fortune to escort three beautiful women to the library."

"Hello, Gareth," I say. "Kate."

"Hi, Gareth," Janice says and adds, "Kate, nice to see you again. I tried to get your attention this morning, but I donít think you saw us."

"This morning?" Kate asks. "Were you at the ministry?"

Janice chuckles. "No, our business was in Blackfriars. Near the Thames?

What was the name of that street, Mel?"

Before I can reply, Kate shakes her head. "I wasnít in Blackfriars. Donít know when Iíve last been."

"Letís hurry along, ladies," Gareth urges. "Father will insist we go to dinner at eight on the dot. Weíll be lucky to have time for even one drink now."

In the library, Sir Robert looks at a pocket watch as we enter. Gareth, who seems to be permanently in charge of drinks, cheerfully sets about his duties. When he turns to Janice and me, she says, "What we had last night would be fine for me. Remember, no ice." Gareth smiles and quickly fills her request. "Nothing for Mel," Janice adds, and at Garethís raised eyebrow, "She doesnít really drink, but sheís too polite to refuse." Everyone served, Sir Robert gives what I assume to be his customary toast.

Gareth hastens to provide a second drink for himself and Janice.

"Whereís Flora?" I ask.

Kate answers, "She went up the back stairs as I was coming out of my room. She hadnít changed yet." Janice salutes me with her glass. I was right about the location of Kateís room.

"Amanda," intones Sir Robert, "if sheís late for dinner again, Iíll expect you to have a word with her."

"What word would that be?" Flora asks as she enters. She is wearing a bright green dress, as inappropriate as the one she wore two nights before. I decide these clothes canít be Amandaís taste, so Flora must be choosing them on her own. Floraís hair is still slightly damp from the bath.

"Horse, I should imagine," Gareth teases. "Or is it Jimmy?"

Flora blushes furiously, and Amanda says, "Gareth, enough." He subsides, but Floraís hands continue to clench and unclench.

Sir Robertís voice adds to the tension. "I do think youíre spending entirely too much time at that stable. I wonder if Archibald shouldnít join the other horses in the country."

"NO!" Floraís reply comes out as a shout, and her father blinks. "Archie is all I have, the only one in the whole world who cares whether I live or die. You canít take him away."

"Flora, dear, no need to be so dramatic," Amanda soothes. "Iím sure your father didnít mean immediately. When the new term starts, and youíre back in school . . ."

The girl turns on her stepmother. "What do you care? Just bundle me off to school." She indicates Janice with a broad gesture. "You have her now, your real daughter." With that, Flora bursts into sobs and runs from the room.

Gareth stands open-mouthed. "Really now, I didnít mean to start anything up."

Kate shoots him a look and starts for the door. "Iíll talk to her." Amanda starts to follow, then returns to stand beside Sir Robert, who is again checking the time.

"Maybe I should apologize. Excuse me." Gareth leaves the room, too.

Dinner is served at 8:30, and the world continues to turn.

 

Chapter 29

Feeling restless after a tense meal, I look around our room for the book I borrowed earlier in the day. "Janice, have you seen the Bright Penny book I left on the night stand?"

Janice is getting ready for bed. "Why do you want to read that nonsense?

Itís a kidís book and not a particularly good one, at that."

I donít argue but say, "I left it here when I came up to get my camera."

"If youíre going to read, let me make sure the blackout curtains are closed." She crosses to the window. "We donít need to get blamed for the Jerries bombing London again."

"I wonít need a light if I canít find the book." Thinking I might have put the book away, I open the top dresser drawer. Or maybe Beatrice, the maid I still havenít seen. . . .

"Well, what have we here?" Janice calls quietly. "Mel, turn out the light and come here."

"Okay." I turn it off and join her at the window. "What is it?"

"Look."

Crossing the garden, dimly lit by the moon, a light hidden by no blackout curtain, is a slim figure. Itís a woman hurrying in the direction of Regents Park.

"Kate," I guess. "Kind of late for a stroll in the park."

"But maybe not for a meeting."

"If sheís meeting someone, sheís probably hurrying because sheís late."

Janice shoots me a glance. "Or eager."

Used to how Janiceís mind works, I ask, "Do you want to follow her?"

She surprises me by shaking her head. "Iím pretty sure who sheís meeting." She draws the draperies and blackout curtains, plunging the room into darkness. I grope my way to the table and switch on the lamp. "Are you still going to read?"

"Got to find that book." I return to the open dresser drawer.

"Say hi to Bill," Janice drawls.

Beside the silver-framed photograph, I see something, but not what Iím seeking. "Janice," I gasp.

"Not another rat!" But sheís quickly by my side.

I silently hand her the note that was inside the drawer. She reads, "stay out of it or you will be dEAD" The words are pasted on plain white paper. "Just like the notes mother received."

"There are differences," I note. "Words of one syllable, and all the words were cut out whole except for the last. The ones to Amanda were made by cutting out separate letters."

"You on to something?"

"The letters for the other notes came from a newspaper. I think these words came from what you called a childrenís book. A book that is now gone." I feel sick at heart, and not only because of this threat.

Janice studies the note again and nods her head. "Yeah. These words are definitely from a book. ĎDeadí was the only word that wasnít available so it had to be pieced together. Guess nothing died during Pennyís adventures in the desert."

"Who would do this? Do you think itís serious?" I ask.

Janice shrugs, probably at the serious part. "When did you last look in this drawer?"

"I got something out of it just before we went downstairs. Iím sure the note wasnít there."

"So it was left between the time we went to the library for drinks and when we returned after dinner," she says. "Who was out of our sight during that time?"

"Flora," I say. "She came home late and was upstairs alone."

"Kate left the library when Flora pitched her fit."

"And Gareth followed."

"The servants. At least Margaret and the cook were in the house. Maybe John and Beatrice, I donít know."

"Your mother and Sir Robert?"

"No, they were in the library and then at dinner the whole time." She thinks. "It would take a while to find the words you wanted for the note, cut them out, and paste them on the paper. Was the book here when we got back from meeting Hankóand talking with my mother?"

"I donít know," I admit. I remember placing my camera on the night stand and try to picture what else was there. "I donít think so."

"Then someone could have gotten the book any time during the day and prepared the note. Who had the opportunity to do that?"

I laugh. "Thatís a long list, too. The servants, although John and the cook would be out of place on this floor. Flora was supposedly at the stables all day, but she could have come back sometime, probably to eat, at least. Your mother was home. Sir Robert, Gareth, and Kate were gone all day."

Janice has her journal out, and sheís taking notes. "We know that Kate wasnít where she was supposed to be for at least part of the day. And she and Gareth were both home yesterday in time for tea. Who knows what time they came in today? I saw Sir Robert come upstairs, and that wasnít until almost 7:30."

"So whoever is on both lists had the opportunity to both take the book and leave the note?"

"Yeah." She studies the notebook page. "Thatís Margaret, Beatrice, and Flora. I agree with you that Johnís and Cookís presence upstairs, especially twice, would be likely to be noticed. If they were up to no good, they wouldnít chance it. If Gareth or Kate was home when we were at tea with Mother, one of them also had the opportunity to both take the book and leave the note."

"Long list," I say, and she nods. I think about the noteís cold message.

"What are we going to do?"

"Get some sleep." She turns out the light on her way to the bed.

"Tomorrow will be a busy day."

 

Chapter 30

"Do you mind if we skip breakfast?" Janice asks.

"Are you sick?"

"I donít want to talk to any of the Ďfolksí this morning," she answers.

"And I need to find a phone where I can make a few calls."

"Whatís wrong with the phone downstairs?"

"Private calls."

"No chauffeur today, I guess."

"I donít think so."

We make it as far as the front door. "Going out, Miss Janice? Should I ring for John?"

"No, thank you, Margaret. Weíre going for a little walk." Before stepping through the door, she adds like an afterthought, "Please tell her ladyship that weíll try to join her for tea."

The door closes on the maidís "Yes, mum."

"Did Kate say what Margaret did for her mother?"

I recall our conversation. "No. I assumed she was her maid. Why?"

"Just wondering. Kate said something about Margaret Ďgoing into serviceí with Sir Robert and Lady Amanda. Maybe I donít understand the language the English use regarding servants, but that sounded odd to meóif Margaret had already worked as a maid."

 

We find a public telephoneóin a restaurant, of courseóand, while I wait for our breakfast order to arrive, Janice makes several calls. She returns to the table as our tea arrives. She takes a sip and says, "How I long for good strong coffee." She takes another sip and makes a face. "Or even bad strong coffee." A waitress brings our food, muffins for me, everything else on the menu for Janice.

"A regiment could live on what you eat," I marvel.

"Yeah, Iím single-handedly setting back the war effort." She talks between bites. "Iíve always been this way. Thank God I use it up as fast as I eat it."

"Did you find out what you needed to know?"

"Huh?"

"The phone calls."

"Oh, yeah." She chews and swallows, but when she takes another bite, I know itís a stall.

"Janice."

"I was looking for a guy Dad used to do business with. The kind of business that doesnít stay in one place for long." She wipes her mouth, already through. "Heís kind of an antique dealer."

"A crook?"

"Well, on the shady side." She eyes my second muffin, and I push it over. "Thanks. If anyone will know whatís going on with hot antiquities in London, he will."

"Hot antiquities?"

"Stolen," she explains.

"I know that," I say. "I go to movies. At least I did before my life became one. What I meant was, why do you want to know about stolen antiquities?"

She leans forward and speaks quietly. "Thank about it. Gruner. Thieves stealing pictures of the Cashi Zun necropolis. What else could it be?"

"I donít see that Gruner was ever involved, just because heís in a photograph with Sir Robert and the owners of that gallery. And how do you know those were the photos the thieves were after? They took your motherís photographs, too. And they went to a lot more trouble to get those."

"Look, youíre a thief and you go into a place that has a safe and an unlocked desk. Youíre looking for something you consider valuable. Where do you look?" She finishes my muffin while she waits.

I think for a few seconds before answering. "I look in the unlocked desk.

Itís easier than Ďpeelingí the safe."

She laughs, either at my answer or the new word in my vocabulary. "No. The safe. Since you consider this thing valuable, you figure the person who has it does, too. You open the safe, and what youíre looking for isnít there. So THEN you look in the desk."

"But why take the photographs that were in the safe? If those arenít the ones you want?"

"Simple. Because youíre a thief."

"But someone sent some of those photographs back. With notes trying to extort money," I remind her. "Those had to have been the pictures they were after."

"I think that was someone seeing an opportunity and trying to take it. If extortion was the plan all along, why did the notes stop? Mother would have paid to get those photos back, but no arrangements were ever made to get the money." Janice stands, and I hastily drop a pound on the table. "Donít you have anything smaller?" she asks. I shake my head, and she heads for the door.

"What is this manís name?" I ask as I catch up to her. "The one weíre going to see?"

"Everybody calls him Ben Black," Janice answers. "Why?"

"Iím remembering the last crook who tried to help us, an Egyptian named Tekmet."

Continued - Part 4 (End)


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