Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

The Further Adventures of Janice and Mel:

THE XENA KORE

Chapter 31 - 41 (End)

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 31

Ben Black has a shop, but itís devoted to cheap knickknacks and souvenirs of London, not the treasures of the ancient world. "American servicemen," he explains, "like to send something home."

Weíre sitting in a small parlor at the back, densely furnished and smelling of aromatic pipe tobacco. Ben is a large man, beyond portly, red jowls working as he lights yet another bowl of tobacco.

"Ben," Janice reminds him, "this is about your other business."

"Got no other business now, Jannie," he says calmly. "Retired."

"Sure, Ben." She hands him two photos and sits back.

"Kenneth Grace," he says of one. "Used to do some business."

"With the Grace Gallery?" I ask in surprise. "I thought it was an art gallery, you know, paintings, things like that."

He shakes his head. "You were misinformed, miss. Kenny Grace dealt in antiquities, just like I did. The only difference was that his came in through customs." He winks. "Except the ones he bought from me."

"You know anyone else in that picture?" Janice probes.

"Looks like the aristocracy." He draws the last word out mockingly. "Not my kind of people."

"How about this one?" Janice points to one face.

"Oh, him? Yeah, I figured you knew who that was. Gruner." He drops his voice as if someone might hear. "Archaeologist, like your father. He and I did some business, if you know what I mean."

She jumps on the information. "When was this?"

"Oh, late twenties, early thirties, I guess." Ben laughs. "Sometimes I wondered that he had anything left to send to the museums. Then he stopped coming around."

"Before the war?"

"Oh, long before that, Jannie. Thirty-five, thirty-six. Sometime in there."

"Why do you think he stopped?"

"I figured he went into business for himself." He puffs his pipe thoughtfully. "He was a mean one, that Gruner. Wasnít sorry to lose his business. Heard somebody shot him dead. Wasnít sorry to hear that either."

I have a thought. "After Gruner stopped coming to sell you antiquities, did Kenneth Grace continue to buy from you?"

"Now that you mention it, miss, I would have to say he didnít." I doubt this is the first times heís realized this.

"Look at the other picture," Janice directs.

"Kore," Ben comments, "statue of a young woman." He adjust his glasses, clearly more interested in this subject than in discussing Gruner. "Greek style, but thereís something vaguely Egyptian. I donít know. Too stylized for classic Greek, too naturalistic for Egyptian. You got a better photograph? Or the real thing?"

Janice shakes her head. "Can you tell us anything more from that picture?"

He smiles. "Only one thing."

"Whatís that?"

"She looks like your friend."

 

Chapter 32

Before we leave Benís, we call a cab. As we stand on the corner waiting for it to come, Janice suddenly turns to me. She puts her hand on my arm. "I want you to take this cab and go home. . . . to my motherís. Iíll go back to Benís and call another."

"Why? Where are you going?"

"To the Grace Gallery."

"There isnít any Grace Gallery," I remind her. "It was destroyed in the Blitz. September 1940."

"The lotís still there," she says stubbornly. "I want to see it."

"Why?"

"I think all this mess started there." She looks up at me, and there is fire in her green eyes. "All of it. The theft of the tomb treasures from Cashi Zun, my fatherís death, what we went through. . . . I think all of that started at the Grace Gallery."

Iím not sure I follow her logic, but I know that Iíll follow her anywhere.

"Lead on."

"What?"

I realize that Iíve spoken my thought. "I said, come on. Thereís our cab." Weíre seated inside when Janice realizes she doesnít know the address. I lean toward the driver. "Hanover Square," I tell him.

Janice chuckles. "Thatís why I keep you around. Your memory."

"Iíve been wondering."

 

When we arrive at Hanover Square, we find a nearly vacant lot. Some rubble covers one section, what looks like the remains of an exterior wall and the bottom section of an outside stairway. There are a few other buildings on the block, all badly damaged and boarded up. The driver looks at us questioningly as I pay him and Janice tells him to leave. He glances around the devastated neighborhood, clearly wondering if all Americans are crazy. Then he drives away.

Janice has headed straight for the ruins. She kneels by the wall and moves a few bricks. Archaeologists, I think. Always picking over the remains.

"I wonder if this is the wall that fell on Kenneth Grace," Janice says. "From what Mother said, I expected that the whole thing had been razed after that. Why would they leave this bit of wall and the outside stairs?" She walks around the steps that now lead to nothing. "Probably led to an office or apartment on the second floor." As I watch, she paces around the lot. "I can still make out the foundation. This place wasnít very large." She looks at the nearest buildings. "Not a building on the block over two stories."

"What are you thinking?"

"Iím thinking that someone has gone to a lot of trouble to hide a dead manís past crimes." Janice concentrates her attention on the stairs. Kneeling again, she brushes away some dirt and trash from behind them.

"What have we here?"

She has unearthed a slab or wide plank of wood. It reminds me of the cover of a root cellar I once saw back home. She brushes the rest of the covering dirt away and reveals an indentation seemingly carved into the wood. Itís just deep and wide enough to give purchase for one hand. Janice reaches her fingers into this hole and pulls. Her face shows the strain, but sheís finally able to lift the wide board. As it comes up, I reach under and help her push it out of the way. It isnít hinged like a door and must be pushed along the ground. When itís out of the way, we see crude stairs leading down into darkness. "DAMN!"

"Whatís wrong?"

"I left my knapsack at Motherís. No flashlight."

I hold up my camera. Attached to the side is the flash attachment Hank threw in on our "deal."

"Yeah. That will give us a quick look at whatís below. Good thinking." Janice takes my free hand. "Wait until we get to the bottom." We work our way carefully down creaking steps, Janice testing their soundness as we go. When there are no more steps, she says, "Now."

I point the camera straight ahead and, hoping I remember Hankís instructions, discharge the flash. The brief glimpse afforded makes me think I am dreaming. Janiceís gasp confirms that Iím not. "Stand still," she says. "I saw an oil lamp on a table." She lets go of my hand and, a few moments later, its flickering light fills the small cellar.

All around us are wonders. Statues, scrolls, amphorae, even what look like carvings from temple walls. Boxes on the floor hold artwork and primitive weapons. I half-expect to see a mummy. "Janice," I ask, "what is this place?"

"I think this is Grunerís storeroom."

We find another lamp and light that as we take rough inventory of our find. I take more photographs, stopping only when I run out of flashbulbs. Then I home to the scrolls and begin reading a story of Troy. After what seems too short a time, Janice says, "Weíve got to get out of here." I look up, startled back to the present, then nod. "Can I take this?"

"Leave it," she says. "Weíll get help and come back."

"What about the lamps?"

"Weíll leave them near the stairway. Come on." Her voice is growing more urgent, and, trusting her instincts, I drop the scroll and follow her to the stairs. We blow out the lamps and start toward the dim sunlight above. As Janice gets near the top of the rickety stairs, she stops. "Mel, stay there," she says, just before she comes hurtling back toward me. I struggle to break her fall, but she throws me off balance. I fall through space until my head makes contact with the concrete floor below. Then there is only pain and darkness.

 

Chapter 33

I awake to lamplight and voices. One voice, I think, is inside my head.

"Mel, can you hear me? Are you all right? Mel, oh God, donít be dead."

"Alive," I mumble.

"What? Thank God, youíre alive. What did you say?"

No use repeating it. Just go back to sleep. Head hurts. Am I lying down?

"Mel, donít go away again. Stay awake."

"Will you shut the hell up, lady?" An angry voice intrudes, harsh and deep, a manís voice. I try to open my eyes again and finally succeed. The cellar room swims into view. Iím upright, standing, I guess. My arms are stretched tightly above my head, and I canít move them. I look up. There are rope around my wrists, and these lead to a stout pipe overhead. Janice? When I turn my head to look, I hear a groan.

"Mel, donít move. I think youíre hurt." Janice has been talking softly, but now she yells. "Let her lie down. What are you, some kind of sadist?"

"You hear that, Bertie? I guess she knows you." A third voice, male, but high and squeaky."

"Shut up. All of you. I got to think."

"Let her lie down!"

A slap resounds through the confines of the small underground space. "I said shut up." His voice is a growl.

"Janice," I whisper. I turn my head enough to see that her predicament is the same as mine. Her hands are bound and pulled high above her head, also tied to the pipe that runs along the cellarís ceiling. A man stands in front of her, his hand raised, threatening another blow. There is defiance in every line of her small body. "Please," I manage. "Please be quiet."

Green eyes seek mine. She nods and forms her lips in a tight line.

Satisfied, the man turns to me. "You need some of that, too?"

I shake my head and gasp as the room almost dissolves again. The man walks away, and I hear his harsh whisper as he talks to his companion. "I say we kill them now, dump the bodies before anybody knows theyíre missing."

His buddy doesnít bother to be quiet. "We got to talk to the boss first. See what we need to do."

"I know what we need to do."

"We donít know everything, Bertie." His voice is wheedling. "The boss knows. We check, then weíre supposed to get rid of them, we do it. All right?"

The one called Bertie walks back to where Janice is tied. Heís not a big man, not small, but he looks fit and strong. Heís dressed in workingmanís clothes, rough brown pants and shirt, billed hat. I think how ordinary he looks. "Who knows youíre here?" he asks, not whispering now. When Janice doesnít answer, he smiles and punches her in the stomach. Her head drops, but then she raises it, and her face wears that look. I want to stop this, but I donít know what to do. The truth wonít work, saying that the only person who knows we came here is a cab driver, probably home now telling his family about crazy Americans. I shake my head, trying to clear it, trying to come up with a helpful lie, one that wonít get someone else killed. "Youíre a tough little thing, arenít you?" Bertie says. "Hey, Max, I bet I can get her to talk. What do you say? Five quid?"

The one called Max reiterates his position. "Donít do this until you ask the boss."

"The boss?" Janice asks. "Whoís that, some Nazi bastard? How you like taking orders from Nazis, Bertie?"

The blow to her ribs is swift and hard. "I donít work for no Nazis."

Then, after a momentís hesitation, "Not no more I donít."

"Not since Gruner died, huh?" Her tone is calm and conversational, marred only by a slight irregularity in her breathing. "I bet you and him really got along."

"Bertie, donít say no more." I look for the other man, whose insistent voice now squeaks higher. Heís standing on the other side of the cellar, and heís practically a giant. Now I know who lifted me and who could reach high enough to tie those knots. He wears a dirty coverall, which was once dark gray or green. His bald head seems in danger of scraping the ceiling, which is nearly two feet above my head.

Bertie ignores him. "Never worked for Gruner. Just Grace and the Jerry." He laughs. "Then the Jerry had to go be a soldier, and Grace. . . .well, Grace lost his nerve. Some people, takes a wall falling on them to make them shut up."

"So you got a new boss," she acknowledges, "and your new boss isnít a Nazi.

ĎCause, with the war and all, you wouldnít work for a Nazi."

"Thatís right."

"Then why did you kill the Jew?"

"Bertie, would you shut up now!" If the big manís voice gets any higher, only dogs will hear it.

"Iím just answering a couple of questions, Max. Before she answers mine." His next words send chills up my spine. "Itís not like sheís going to tell anyone." He turns his attention back to Janice. "Once Grace wasnít around, the Jew looked at the books and figured things out. We had to kill her. Squash, like a bug." He laughs. "Almost got your friend the same way. Youíre a quick little bugger, Iíll give you that."

"Why try to kill Mel? Why not me?"

"There was reasons. Donít figure there are anymore." He lowers his shoulders into a boxerís stance. "Now, you answer my questions. Who knows youíre here?"

"Everybody Iíve talked to today, including a Times reporter."

"Wrong answer." His left hand darts out straight and hard. Janice folds as much as her ropes will allow. "Try again." Iím ready to tell him anything that comes to mind, even the truth, when Max steps between Bertie and his target. As Max looms over him, the smaller man steps back and drops his hands.

Max points to me. "Youíre hitting the wrong one."

It takes several moments for his meaning to reach Bertieís brain. Then Bertie nods and moves to stand in front of me. I try to look him in the eye with the same determination Janice showed. I know I fail. He draws back his right hand, and I brace for the blow.

"No one knows weíre here except for the cab driver who brought us."

Disappointment flickers across his face, and I think he is going to hit me anyway. Then he steps back and questions Janice further. "How did you find this place?"

"It was a lucky guess. . . . No, donít hit her! Thatís the truth. I had a hunch about this place, and I stumbled across the entrance to the cellar. I figured if stolen goods were being filtered through the gallery, there had to be more storage space than there would have been above. And it would have to be private."

"So nobody else knows youíre here, and nobody else knows about this place," Bertie concludes. He turns to Max. "Now we go talk to the boss."

 

Chapter 34

When they leave, they extinguish the lamps, leaving us alone in the dark.

"Mel, Iím sorry," Janice says. "I got you in another mess."

I laugh. "Another fine mess youíve gotten us into, Ollie."

"Donít get hysterical," she says. "I couldnít stand it."

"Janice, I think you could stand anything. Youíre the bravest person I know." Silence seems to compete with darkness to fill the room. "Janice?"

"Maybe you donít know me very well."

"What do you mean?"

She sighs, a sound deep inside her soul. "You see me stand up to someone like Bertie, like Gruner, and that makes you think Iíve brave? Men like that, theyíre just an excuse to let it out, to show what I feel."

"Let what out? What do you feel?"

"Anger." I hear something in her voice Iíve never heard before. "And now my anger may get you killed."

There doesnít seem much to say to that, but I try. "I donít think youíll let that happen."

"God, woman, Iíve been working on these ropes since they left, and I havenít gotten anywhere. What do you expect me to do? Snap my fingers and fly us out of here?"

"It would be really nice if you would." This time sheís the one to laugh. "Your mother should miss us by now," I say, grasping at straws. "You told Margaret to tell her to expect us for tea. Sheíll get people out looking for us."

Janiceís voice is flat. "I wouldnít count on her."

"Janice," I start, "forgive her."

"Well, Miss Melinda, if I ever see her again, Iíll consider it."

"Now."

"I donít know if youíve noticed, but sheís not here right now."

"In your heart."

The silence goes on so long, I think sheíll never speak to me again. Finally, she says, "I donít think I can do that." She takes a ragged breath. "Everybody who knows me talks about how close I was to Dad, his shadow, always trying to do everything he did. They donít know. When I was little, I loved my mother, loved her more than any other person on earth, including my father. We moved around every few months; lived in countries where, at least at first, I didnít even know the language. But every tent we ever lived in, every hut, Mom made into a home."

This is the first time Iíve heard her use a name other than that cold "Mother."

"And a school. She was my first teacher, the one who taught me how to read. You know those books you like so well? Those Bright Penny books? She wrote them for me. To teach me to read. The first one when I was four years old. Every year Bright Penny was a year older because I was. That one you borrowed? She started that one before she left, and it was about our time in Turkey."

She pauses, and I say, "The Bright Penny books were the first books I read by myself. And I never outgrew them because the character grew up with me."

Janice continues, "Someone talked her into sending the first one to a publisher, and the first editor who read it fell in love with it. Must have had a little girl. Mom wrote and sold one or two every year after that. Those books were often why we ate and how Dad paid his native workers. But I knew that she really wrote them for me. Yeah, Mel, I really loved my mother."

"Then she left."

"Yeah, she left and everything changed." In the darkness, I hear her crying and wonder if she would have talked this way if Bertie had left us any light. "Dad. . . . Dad was drunk for a year after she left. A year. And my dad was not a nice drunk. Then he pulled himself together, but he was never the same again. I hated her for that, for leaving and for not taking me with her."

"I know."

"What?"

"I told you I didnít remember when my mother. But I do remember how angry I was that she left."

"Left? Your mother died."

"Explain that to a four-year-old. All I knew was that she was gone. I hated her for a long time." I try to say the next so it isnít an accusation. "Then I grew up and forgave her. And myself."

"Yourself? For what?"

"For not being good enough, for not being worth her staying."

"Not being good enough," Janice repeats. "Yeah. I knew it was my fault she left. Left me and took her imaginary daughter with her."

"Thatís something Iíve wondered about," I say. "Your mother left when you were eleven. But the Bright Penny books went on for years after that. I think I read the last one when I was fifteen or sixteen."

"Like I said, she left Janice but kept Penny," Janice responds. "She kept writing books right up until the time I started returning her letters unopened. Then she stopped and never wrote another. Know what? When I was ready to go to college, I didnít see how we could afford it. But Dad said not to worry; the money was there. He didnít tell me until I got my first degree that the money was from the sale of the books. After she left, she put all her royalties into a college fund for me."

"What did you do after he told you?"

"I worked my way through to my doctorate, never took another cent from that fund."

Even in our current predicament, I have to chuckle at my friendís stubbornness. "Youíre nothing if not consistent."

"Refuge of small minds." She laughs, too. "I thought I never wanted to see my mother again. But thereís one thing I would give anything to have seen."

"Whatís that?"

"Mother and Tereise." I hear her snort. "Making small talk over my hospital bed."

"It sounds like they got along. Maybe after the war, you can reintroduce them."

"After the war, if she somehow survives, Tereise will marry and raise little Zionist babies."

"You think?"

"Yeah. And, if we somehow survive, youíll marry Bill and raise little rebels and southern belles. But Iíll. . . ."

I interrupt. "I wonít marry Bill."

"Why? Thereís a reason you hold onto that picture."

I donít know how to tell it except to start at the beginning. "Bill and I met when we were in college. I went to the University of South Carolina, and he was at the Citadel. There was a cotillion, and he was my escort. He was a wonderful boy, manly, but very sweet. Gentle. After that, he was the only boy I dated. We got engaged just before he was commissioned in the Navy. We were going to be married as soon as he finished his first tour of duty."

"What happened?"

"He came back, and my father was ill. I asked him to wait."

"And he wouldnít."

"No, he said he would. He agreed that my place was with my father. Bill was sent to the Philippines, and we wrote every day. Then my father died."

"So did you go to the Philippines then?"

"No. Oh, I would have gone." I remember. I would have gone to the moon to be with Bill. To be his wife. "He wouldnít let me. Conditions were too rough in Manila, he said, Ďnot suitable for a gently raised girlí like me." I wonder if Janice realizes Iím quoting his words from a letter. "He said he was about to be promoted and assigned to another ship, a destroyer. Its home port was a clean, safe place. When he was reassigned, I could join him, and we would be married. This time it was I who agreed to wait."

"Did he get reassigned?"

"Yes, within the next month. I was ready to join him, but Aunt Helen asked me to stay home just a little longer, to spend one last Christmas with her family. I put off leaving until after the New Year." I remember how patient Bill had been even though his letters spoke of how much he wanted to hold me.

I can feel Janice waiting.

"Billís new ship was the USN Destroyer Shaw. Its home port was Pearl Harbor."

"Oh, Mel. . . ."

"Its munitions hold exploded in the first wave of the Japanese attack.

Bill died on December 7, 1941."

Janiceís voice is low and very quiet. "Iím sorry I teased you about the photograph."

I shake my head although she canít see it. "Itís silly that I still carry it around with me. Iíll tell you a secret. Sometimes I even talk to it."

"What do you say?"

"I say when your heart tells you to do something, itís stupid to wait."

 

Chapter 35

The sound of the heavy plank sliding off the stairway is followed quickly by voices and the bright beam of a flashlight. "Bertie, watch where you shine that torch. Wardens see it, weíre pinched."

"Why donít we just come back in broad daylight? Wouldnít have to worry about no blackout. Let everybody see us."

"Iím just saying. . . ." I hear the plank slide back into place and then heavy footsteps down the creaking stairs. I smell sulphur, and then the oil lamps flair and settle. The one called Bertie is breathing into my face. I smell alcohol mixed with the fumes of the oil.

"Whatís wrong? Wrinkle up your pretty nose at old Bert?" He leans closer, stretching to his full height so his mouth comes closer to my own. I draw back my head, but he touches my cheek, lightly stroking it.

"Leave her alone, you filthy pig!" Janice spits out the words and struggles against her bonds.

The big man squeaks out a warning. "The boss said none of that."

"Donít worry." Bertie laughs and draws back. "I ainít no raper. Never had no need. Right, Max?"

"Sure, Bertie." Max looks around. "Boss said to carry away the valuable stuff. How do we know what to take?"

"I got a list." The smaller man steps away from me and pulls a sheet of paper from his pants pocket. "Iíll pile it up. You load it in the lorry."

Max holds up one of the oil lamps and looks over Bertís shoulder. "You can tell whatís what from this list?"

"Sort of. Donít matter that much. Everything hereís worth something."

"I could help," Janice says quietly.

"You? How?" Bertieís voice drips contempt.

"Promise to let us go, and Iíll tell you what to take. Some of this stuffís worth thousands of pounds. Someís junk." She looks back and forth between Max and Bertie. "Come on. I know about old stuff. Untie me, and Iíll help."

Max and Bertie exchange glances, and Bertie laughs. Bertie sets about placing items in a pile in the center of the cellar. Max picks up a first enormous load and starts up the loudly protesting stairs. I wonder what heíll do when he gets to the top. I hear the sound of the plank sliding and realize heís moved it with his head and shoulders, not even needing the use of his arms. Thereís no sound of it sliding back over the opening.

Janice tries another tack. "How much are you being paid, Bertie? You know, Mel here is an heiress. She can come up with a lot more money than anyone else is paying you. Just leave us untied when you leave. And tell us where you want the money delivered."

The man consults the list, then shrugs and returns it to his pocket. He grabs a couple of small statues and starts a new pile. He speaks without stopping his work. "Your mother is married to a lord, but that ainít going to help you either."

"Come on," Janice cajoles, "whatís wrong with making a little extra money? If the boss doesnít know? Youíve tried it before. Only that time you got caught."

Now she has his attention. "What are you talking about?"

"The pictures from the safe," she says. "You stole them when you were sent to get the pictures of the artifacts, the treasures from that Egyptian tomb. Nice work on that safe, by the way. Couldnít have been easy."

"Used to make my living that way," he acknowledges the compliment. "After they wouldnít let me box." He puts a Grecian vase and a box full of amulets on the pile.

"Yeah, so you had pictures from a desk and pictures from a safe," Janice continues. "Your boss wanted the pictures from the desk, but you figured the others had to be worth something to someone, too. So you decided to collect on those. Hey, it was only fair. You stole them. They were yours."

The man doesnít seem to catch any sarcasm. "Right. I took Ďem. Why shouldnít I collect? I figured if her ladyship kept Ďem in a safe, they had to be worth something. Why shouldnít she pay to get Ďem back?"

"No reason," Janice agrees. "So you sent her ladyship some notes. And you tucked in a picture with each one just to prove you had them. And you were right, Bertie, She would have paid to get them back."

He pauses in his work and turns toward Janice. "I knew it."

Max returns, clumping back down the fragile stairs. "Take that bunch."

Bertie points, and the burden disappears up the steps on huge shoulders.

"But you were caught before you could send the last note, the one that would have set it up for you to collect." Janice nods toward the stairs. "Max turn you in?"

"Nah!" Bertie sits on a box and wipes his brow with a red handkerchief. "Heís my mate, grew up together. Somebody saw the third note, told the boss. The boss lit into me like the fires of hell. Made me turn over those pictures, too. My pictures."

"Bet that made you mad," Janice sympathizes.

"Yeah. Wasnít fair." His tone, although still low, turns faintly whining.

"No harm in turning a few extra quid. Me and Max do most of the work. Ought to get more of the profit."

"Thatís just what Iím saying," Janice says. "You let us go. We donít say anything to anyone. And you get a big payday. What do you say?"

The creaking of stair boards heralds Maxís return. "Last load," his friend tells him. "Move the lorry a block away. You know where?"

"Yeah, I know." Max looks at Janice and me. I think he is going to speak, but he just shakes his head sadly and stoops to pick up an amphora and other items from the floor. As he starts his ascent, he says over his shoulder, "Do like the boss said. Quick. No pain."

"Just wait in the lorry," Bertie answers. "Donít come back."

The mumbled reply comes faintly to my ears. "Donít worry. Donít wanna see."

 

Chapter 36

His companion gone, the smaller man starts yet another pile in the middle of the floor, this one made of parchment scrolls and papyri. "This stuff will burn good," he comments. He blows out the wick on one of the lamps and carefully pours oil over the flammable materials. I wince, both at the waste of historyóand at the implications for Janice and me. It occurs to me that Bertieís arson skills almost killed us in Amandaís loft.

Janice hasnít given up. "Good idea. You let us go. Then torch the place. Nobody, not even Max, will ever know. Then you find yourself swimming in American money. More than you can imagine."

He stands up and studies my friendís face. He jerks a thumb at me. "That one really worth that much money?"

"Millions," Janice exaggerates. "Her father owns half of South Carolina."

"Whatís that?"

"Place she comes from."

I can see heís tempted. "Yeah, she looks like money." I hold my breath, afraid to interfere with the spell Janice is weaving. Then he shakes his head. "Nah. Wonít work. You get out, youíll forget everything you said. And if the boss finds out. . . . I got off easy the other time, but there are rough people involved. They canít get me now, but they will after the war. War canít last forever, you know." He says this with regret.

Bertie sets his lamp on the floor and walks over to a box I noticed when Janice and I first entered. I remember that itís filled with ancient and medieval weapons. He pulls out a heavy, roughly wrought sword and touches the blade. "Sharp," he notes. "Just like a razor." He turns and, sword in front of him, approaches Janice. Lifting it slowly, he places the point under her chin. It is only three or four inches from the square bandage that hides another wound.

"You donít want to do this," Janice says quietly.

"Youíre wrong." Bertieís voice is now low and dangerous, and it holds a strange excitement as he goes on. "I always wanted to kill someone with a sword. See what it would feel like. Push a long piece of steel through someoneís gut."

"Thatís iron."

"Youíre funny," he responds. "So Iím going to let you watch. See what you can expect." With that, he removes the sword point from Janiceís throat and moves toward me.

I lick my lips and try to think of something persuasive to say, but all that comes out is "Please donít." Then I feel the sharp point pressing against my stomach, just where my jacket separates from my slacks. The thin fabric of my blouse is no protection, and I pull back until Iíve used up the small amount of slack in the ropes. My arms are pulled taut, and he still presses.

"Whatís the fun in that?" Janiceís voice seems overly loud in the small space, and he pulls back. I take a breath.

"What do you mean?"

"You were a boxer, right?" she asks. "So you must like a fight, some contest. Wouldnít it be more fun to cross swords with an opponent? Be a real warrior for a change? Even if it is just against a woman."

I think this canít possibly work, but Bertie looks interested. "You mean fight one of you? With swords?"

"Why not?" Janice is selling now, for all sheís worth. "Look at me. How small I am. You know I couldnít beat you. But you would have the fun of a fight. And I would die knowing I had tried. Think of it. A real sword fight. A kill in the heat of battle, just like your own private war. Itís something you would remember the rest of your life."

"Iíll do it." His decision is sudden. He sets his lamp on the floor and walks quickly to the weapons box to retrieve another sword, also iron, smaller than the one he carries. He returns to stand in front of Janice.

"Come on," she urges. "Cut the ropes, and weíll have at it."

Bertie turns sharply and brings his heavy blade through the ropes only an inch or so above my fingers. He laughs as my arms drop to my sides, and I rub them to restore the circulation. He watches me but speaks to Janice. "I ainít that dumb. I know how you got that scratch on your neck. I know you can use a sword. Iíll fight, but Iíll fight HER."

"No!" Janice yells, and she pulls frantically at her bonds.

I can feel my fingers now, and I say, "Give me the sword."

"Mel, donít."

"I donít see that I have a choice."

"Get him close. . . ."

"Shut up," Bertie orders. To me, he says, "She stays tied up. You try to quit, I kill her first. Understand?"

"Yes," I say. "Are there any rules?"

"Yeah, kill or be killed." With that, he lunges at me sharply. I back away and see that heís only feinting, not really trying to touch me with his sword. I circle, trying to get more room between him and me, trying to get away from the wall. He leaps toward me again, this time cutting the sleeve of my jacket. I pull back, almost falling over the heap of scrolls in the middle of the floor.

"Get your sword up," Janice instructs. "Parry."

"Shut up!" the man yells as he takes a swipe at my leg. I sidestep and meet his blade with mine. His slides off harmlessly, and I leap away. Iím trying desperately to keep my feet under me and remember some of the things Gareth told me while Janice and Kate fenced. And breathe. I canít seem to remember how to breathe.

Bertie lifts his sword in both hands and tries to bring it down on my head. I hold my blade up and stop his, but then I find I canít move. Slowly, he presses down, and my knees bend inexorably toward the floor.

"Roll," Janice cries, and I push up as hard as I can with my sword and then throw myself sideways. The floor is hard on my back and shoulders, but I land several feet away as my attackerís sword scrapes on the concrete. I reach for a large amphora with my free hand and, struggling, pull myself up. The fire of battle in his eyes, Bertie is already on me. He holds his sword in front of him and runs directly at me. This is no fencing match, and he needs no skill for what he is about to do. The point of his blade is just a swordís length away when I thrust mine out and flick my wrist in the movement Gareth called a capture. I miss his blade point and prepare myself for the pain that will follow. But my point catches in the guard of his sword. His blade flies high in the air, hitting the ceiling, and, as he scrambles to catch it, he stumbles on the lamp that is still lit. His pants leg is already ablaze as he falls into the pile of scrolls and oil he earlier prepared. His horrible screams fill the cellar.

I start forward, whether to help Bertie or to release Janice, Iím not sure. My intentions donít matter, as my right leg buckles beneath me and excruciating pain in my back pins me to the floor.

"Mel! Mel! Did he hurt you?" I look up to see Janice struggling with her bonds. Then I see something else. The oil from the second lamp has spread out and, as I notice it, it ignites, sending a stream of fire toward a crate filled with shredded paper. That crate bursts into flames and next to it is another crate and then another. . . . and then Janice, helpless in the path of the fire.

Using the sword like a cane, I push myself from the floor and lurch toward my friend. I lift the sword and slash through her ropes, but, deprived of support, I fall hard. I feel Janiceís hands under my arms. "Hurry," she yells. "Weíve got to get out of here."

"I canít." I try to shove her away and toward the stairs.

"Get up, damn you!" Realizing she wonít leave me, I push to hands and knees, and she helps me to my feet. "Lean on me." As always, I marvel at the strength concealed in that small frame. She grabs something off the floor as she helps me toward the stairs.

"Bertie. . . ." I begin.

"Too late." As she pushes me up the stairway, I feel heat on my back. And I realize the screaming has stopped.

 

Chapter 37

"Remembering that Max was waiting a block away, Janice and I managed to go two blocks before finding a phone and calling police. No one knows how long Max waited in the lorry for his friend," I say.

Dr. Satterley shakes his head in wonder. "And when the police came, they found Max, too?"

"Yes, when he realized something was wrong, he probably tried to run down the stairs. He had gone down only a couple of steps when the whole stairway collapsed under his weight."

"And he died of a broken neck?"

"Thatís what the policeman told Sir Robert. Max and Bertie grew up together and died together," I comment.

Iím lying on the bed in Janiceís and my room. After driving Mr. Satterley to distraction during his examination, Janice has been relegated to the hall. Mr. Satterley speaks quietly, knowing an ear wonít be far from the door. "Mel, this is more than the sprained back you told your friend. I suspect itís related to that small scar on your side."

Knowing Janice better than he does, I whisper, "That scar was caused by a bullet. Which is still lodged in my back." I hesitate, then confide, "Iíve been told it has to come out."

"Tell her."

"She still has things to do." Itís hard to explain it. He gives me a sympathetic look, and I try. "Janice has to settle some things."

"This business of the stolen treasures?"

"That, but also something about her own life. I think she can do it this evening. But if she doesnít do it now, if sheís distracted, I donít think she ever will."

"Your friend wouldnít consider caring for you a distraction, Mel." He pats my hand. "Your well-being is very important to her. How will she feel if you permanently damage yourself? You know that could happenóif it hasnít already."

"Tonight," I say. "I need to give her tonight. Tomorrow Iíll tell her."

"Or I will," he says. "Meanwhile Iíll arrange for a room for you in my hospital. If you donít mind, Iíll do the surgery myself. Iím the best, you know." He stands. "Youíre a good woman. If I had a daughter. . . ." He doesnít finish, but says loudly, "Take one of those pills tonight to help you sleep. Use the cane, and no more sword fights. For at least two weeks." Thereís a twinkle in his eye as Janice peeks in the door. He waves goodbye and is gone.

"You all right?" Janice asks hesitantly.

"Fine. I just need to finish dressing, and Iíll be ready to go downstairs." I stifle a groan as I get up. "Stiff," I say. "That floor was hard. How did Xena do it?"

"What?"

"That fight with Ares. You say you saw it." I button my blouse and look around for my shoes.

"Sit." I perch on the edge of the bed, and, kneeling, Janice places my shoes on my feet. "Donít worry, kid. Xena had nothing on you. Iíll try to remember that from now on."

I say what has troubled me since the fight. "I didnít mean to kill him."

My friend is still kneeling in front of me, and she takes my right hand in both of hers. "You didnít kill him. It was an accident. Or he killed himself." I canít meet her gaze, and she moves her right hand to my chin to make me face her. "Youíre innocent of his blood. Believe me."

I nod, still unsure and knowing this will be something else to deal with later. "Whereís that cane?"

She retrieves it from under the bed and hands it to me. "Are you sure youíre up to this?" Concern shines through her green eyes.

"I wouldnít miss it." She helps me stand, and I try to pretend I donít need the support as we leave our room and approach the staircase. "Go get Ďem, Mad Dog."

 

The group in the library is much as it was the night we arrived, with only the addition of Margaret. Janice had laughed when her mother asked her about this. "She might as well be included. More comfortable than leaning her ear against the door." So Margaret is there, sitting with her hands folded, straight in her chair. Kate and Flora share the smaller settee and Gareth and Amanda the larger. Sir Robert stands by the liquor cabinet and tries to look aloof, not at all a part of this gathering. Clearly his presence is due to habit and indulgence of his wifeís daughter.

When we enter, Gareth rises and offers me his place. I take it gratefully, and he pats me on the shoulder. "Youíre a good soldier," he says and limps across the room to stand by his father. I notice that he doesnít seem to be dispensing drinks tonight.

Sir Robert clears his throat. He speaks, not to Janice, but to his wife. "My dear, could we conclude this business quickly so we can get on to dinner?"

"I think thatís what my daughter intends to do," Amanda answers.

"Janice?"

"Yeah," Janice says, "I just want to get a few things answered, some questions that still bother me. Then we can all move on. Okay?" She looks around and seems satisfied that everyone is in agreement. As Janice continues, she paces slowly around the room. "When my friend Mel and I came here, we learned that there were two problems. One was to figure out who took my motherís negatives and photographs, the ones for her book about the Blitz, and to then get them back. The other was to find out if someone was really threatening her safety and to protect her, if they were."

"Amanda!" Sir Robertís voice registers surprise.

"Donít worry, Sir Robert," Janice assures him. "I think I have both problems worked out. There are just a few details, a few questions I want to ask. But first, if no one minds, I would like to tell a story."

No one objects, and Sir Robert says brusquely, "Please get on with it."

Continuing her pacing, Janice begins:

"This story probably starts back farther, clear back to when a little girl in Turkey was eleven years old, but Iím going to start in February 1936. That month two people realized a dream. They started a business and celebrated by giving a party. The business was the Grace Gallery. And the two people were Kenneth Grace, an importer of antiquities, and Sarah Steenburgen Lund, an artist, and the mother of Kate here."

I know that Janice has gotten some of the details sheíll use from Hankís friend at the Times and some from her own investigations.

"Sir Robert had known Kenneth Grace for a number of years and, even before the Grace Gallery was formed, had bought a number of ancient artworks from him." She looks at Sir Robert, who grudgingly nods. "Of course, the provenance of these pieces and the licenses to import were always carefully researched because Sir Robert bought them to donate to the British Museum. When Grace decided to leave his previous employer and start his own business, he approached Sir Robert about financial backing. It didnít hurt that Grace chose to invite Sarah Lund, who just happened to be the best friend of Sir Robertís wife, to become his partner. Grace would look after the antiquities and the business side, and Sarah would provide the artistic flair that would make the gallery special."

"The display rooms were beautiful," Kate interjects. "Like a dream of ancient lands." Amanda nods sadly, and I know sheís missing her lost friend.

Janice continues. "This is when the story gets a bit. . . . convoluted, but Iíll try to simplify it. Sir Robert agreed to invest in the gallery, and in February 1936, it was opened. As I said, there was a party. Sir Robert and Lady Amanda had a house guest at the time, in fact, the very friend who had introduced them in the first place. His name was Dr. Franz Gruner, and he was a well-known archaeologist. What could be more natural than inviting him to attend the event at the gallery with them? Now, I donít know whether Grace and Gruner knew each other before that evening, but they made an association after that which would last until Graceís death in 1940."

She looks around to make sure she has everyoneís attention. "Grace and Gruner became partners in crime. Gruner had been stealing artifacts from digs for a long time and selling them on the black market. Grace had been buying stolen treasures and dummying up the records so they looked legitimately acquired. Once they met, they were able to cut out the middle man." Janice smiles warmly at me. "Mel and I asked the middle man." Remembering our visit to Ben Black, I smile back.

Amanda asks quietly, "Are you saying Franz and Kenneth were. . . ." She canít say it.

"Crooks, Mother," Janice finishes. "A grave robber and smuggler, in Grunerís case. I guess swindler would be the best title for Grace. Together, they stole the historical treasures of a dozen countries and peoples, fixed them up with phony papers, and sold them to the highest bidders." Here she glances at Sir Robert, who looks steadily back. Janice shrugs and goes on. "Itís possible that Horst Lund, Kateís father, knew what was going on. He may have been the contact between Gruner and the Germans, who were soon looting treasures from every country they came to control. In any event, by the time the war began in Europe, Gruner, the "Swiss citizen," and the Nazis were being very helpful to each other. I suspect the only Swiss connections Gruner actually had were numbered bank accounts for himself and his Nazi partners."

"Mother?" Kate asks quietly. "Did she know?"

Janice looks at her kindly but doesnít answer right away. "On both the legitimate and the illegal sides, the Grace Gallery was a very profitable business. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Horst Lund was repatriated to serve in the army. Sarah and Kate, of course, stayed in England. In 1940, the Grace Gallery and other buildings in the block were hit by a German bomb. Shortly after that, both Kenneth Grace and Sarah Lund were dead."

"Accidents," Amanda says.

For the first time, I speak up. "No, Lady Amanda. The man who held us prisoner, he as much as admitted to killing both Kenneth and Sarah."

"But why?" Kate asks. She turns to me since Janice hasnít answered her other question. "If all this is true, was my mother involved in the crimes at the gallery?"

I meet Janiceís eyes, but she gives me no sign. I feel I must answer. "We donít know for sure why Kenneth was killed. Knowing Gruner, it was probably greed. He saw a chance to get rid of a partner. Or, with the gallery gone, maybe Kenneth just wasnít of any use any more. Your mother was not involved, Kate. In fact, she was murdered because she discovered that something was wrong about the business. Bertie said it was because she looked at the books."

Emotions war in Kateís eyes as she deals with her motherís innocence and that her death was deliberate.

"There isnít much more to this story," Janice says. "The gallery was gone, but Gruner continued to operate his illegal business from the cellar beneath it. He was out of the country a lot, gathering more merchandise, but he had helpers to take care of business when he was gone. Just as he had help in other countries to get artifacts out of those countries and into England." Janice stops, and I know her mind has returned to Egypt. "Gruner hurt a lot of people, and one night that came back on him in the form of a bullet."

Gareth asks, "With Gruner dead, wasnít that the end of his business? I mean, there wouldnít be any more treasures sent into the country. And no one to run things on this end."

Janice shakes her head. "The business went on much as before. As Mel and I found out, it had quite an inventory to fall back on. And a person who could run it just as well as Gruner, the person who ran it all the times Gruner was out of the country, the person Bertie and Max called the boss."

 

Chapter 38

"This is all very interesting, Iím sure," Sir Robert comments. "But now itís time for dinner, and I think we know all we want to about this sordid business."

Janice regards him with interest. "Doesnít it bother you at all that two people you considered friends were killed at the orders of another of your pals? Or that their murders revolved around a business you invested in and artifacts you and others bought? And that maybe some of those artifacts are now sitting in your British Museum with phony histories attached?"

He harumphs, looks at his watch, then puts it away. "It bothers me. Iíll see that all this is investigated, including the artifacts I donated. I donít know what else I can do."

"You can be a little more patient, dear," Amanda says quietly. She holds Sir Robertís gaze until he nods. Amanda asks, "Janice, is there more to the story?"

"More like questions, Mother," Janice answers. "Several of them are for you." When her mother doesnít object, she continues, "You said that you put the prints from Dadís film into an envelope and stuck them in your desk at the studio. Who saw them besides you?"

"No one."

Janice persists. "I suspect that Gruner knew the film existed, but Dad got it sent to you, not Dr. Pappas, before Gruner could get his hands on it. But someone here had to know you had the pictures. Who was it?"

Her mother remembers. "John. He knocked on the darkroom door as I had taught him, but I was already hanging the prints, so I told him to come in. When he gave me the message from the hospital that you were worse, I dropped two of the prints, and, before I told him to hurry, he hung them up."

Janice nods. "John. And, Mother, besides Mel and me, who did you tell about the notes and the photographs that came with them?"

Her motherís first impulse is still "No one." Then she thinks. "I didnít tell anyone, but someone saw them. When the third note came, I laid out all the notes and photographs on that small table in my bedroom. I was called to the telephone and, when I returned, I realized I had left them out."

"Who saw them?" Janice asks.

"When I returned, Beatrice was cleaning my room. I quickly put them away, but Iím sure she saw them."

"Did you tell her not to tell anyone about them?"

Amanda shakes her head, and I know what she is going to say. "Dear, one doesnít discuss such things with servants."

"Kate," Janice says, "I have something to ask you, too. When Mel and I entered the breakfast room yesterday, you and Margaret were having an argument. You mentioned a man who could cost you your job. Who were you talking about?"

Kate shoots a glance at Sir Robert, but looks back at Janice to answer. "My father. Sir Robert has been under pressure to discharge me. Because my father is in the German army."

"Why were you talking about your father with Margaret?"

"She said she had news about him, that she could tell me how he was doing."

Kate hangs her head. "I told her I didnít want to know."

"Did Margaret want to give you this information because she used to work for your mother?" Janice asks. "For old timesí sake?"

"No."

"Then why?"

"She wanted a favor." Kate seems reluctant to tell more, but silence follows, and she finally fills it. "She said that she had a package she wanted to send to a relative in the States. She wanted me to help her get it included in mail being sent from the ministry. She said it was so she wouldnít have to pay the duty."

"Did you do this favor?"

"No." She looks at Sir Robert. "I know I should have reported what Margaret asked me to do. But that would have brought up my father again. So I just told her no. Iím sorry."

"Youíll have to be discharged," Sir Robert states. "Margaret, too."

"Iíll hire her," Gareth says. "Kate, that is."

His father glares at him. "You canít."

"Fine. Iíll marry her instead." He and Kate lock eyes.

Sir Robert opens and closes his mouth. Now Iím sure who the young woman was meeting in Blackfriars, as well as in the park. And I wonder, in the aristocratís eyes, which part of Kateís parentage makes her an unsuitable match for his son.

Janice grins but quickly sobers and goes on. "Two more questions for Kate. You said that Margaret worked for your mother before she went into service with Sir Robert and Lady Amanda. Did she actually work for your mother or for the Grace Gallery?"

"I meant that she worked for the gallery."

The doorbell rings, and Margaret rises. "Beatrice will get it, Margaret," Janice says. "Mother asked her to stay late. Please donít go." Margaret stays but doesnít sit back down.

Although she has said she had two questions for Kate, Janice turns back to Amanda. "Mother, the second time you were ill, when you thought you had been poisoned, was that the evening before your studio was burglarized?"

"Yes," Amanda answers. "I had planned to go to the studio to work that day, but I was still too ill to leave the house. That was the only positive thing about my illness. If I had gone to the studio as I had planned, I might have been there when those awful men broke in."

"If they broke in," Janice answers. She has already explained to me her doubts about the unbroken lock and hinges. Taking a locked door off its hinges would have been difficult for anyone. Much harder than simply breaking the lock. But lifting an open door off its hinges would have been easy work for Max. Janice doesnít bother to enlighten the others. "There are a number of other things I could ask," she says instead, "such as who would Beatrice and John share information with? Who knew that Mel and I were going to the studio the day of the fire? And that we would be walking from the park the other morning, when Mel was almost hit by a truck? Who had access to our room to both take a certain book and leave a note? Who handled the ice that was the only difference between what my mother and the others ate and drank on the two occasions she was ill?"

Janice pauses, obviously in need of a breath. "But instead, Iíll just ask my final question of Kate. What was Margaretís job at the Grace Gallery?"

Margaret is glaring at Kate, who glares back and promptly answers. "She worked in the office. She was the bookkeeper."

Janiceís pacing has taken her between Margaret and the closed library door. Margaret tenses, and I think for a moment she will test Janice, but then thereís a light knock on the door. "Police," a male voice intones.

Janice steps aside. "Come on in," she calls. Three large men enter, two in uniform, one in a dark suit. Janice points to Margaret, whose shoulders have slumped. "I want you to meet the boss."

 

Chapter 39

Watching Margaret being escorted out, Sir Robert follows. "Iíll make sure this is handled discretely," he says.

Gareth grins. "Youíve accomplished a miracle, sister," he says to Janice.

"Catching a criminal?" she asks.

"No, making father forget about dinner." He puts out his hand to Kate. "We have some things to talk about." She puts her hand in his, and they walk from the room.

Flora rises. "Sit back down," Janice directs. A pout forms as the young girl takes her seat again. "Why donít you sit beside Flora, Mother?" Amanda raises an eyebrow but does as her daughter requests.

"Flora wants to tell you some things." Janice finally relinquishes the floor and comes to sit by me. She momentarily puts a hand on my shoulder, a question in her eyes. Iíve very tired, but I know this last task is best performed tonight. I nod to show that Iím all right. "Well, Flora?"

The girl is clearly on the edge of rebellion, but then she suddenly seems to deflate. Dropping her eyes, she says, "I did some things."

Amanda asks quietly, "What do you mean?"

"On the first night Janice and Mel were here, I left something in a drawer in their room."

"I donít understand. What did you leave?"

"Amanda," I say, "I donít think thatís important."

Janice interrupts. "Yes, it is. Tell her what it was and where you got it."

Flora sighs. "It was a dead rat. I got it at the stable that day and brought it home. You had gone shopping for all those new clothes for her and had put them in the room beside yours. So I knew where to put it."

"Why would you do something like that?" Amanda asks. "You didnít even know Janice yet."

I laugh. "Yes, most people donít give her rats until theyíve known her a while." Janice shoots me a look, and I subside.

"Tell her the rest."

"I cut the girth on your saddle." She hastens to add, "It was the day you told us that you had written to Janice and asked her to come. Then you offered to go riding with Gareth. You never rode with me anymore, but you were riding with him."

"Dear, I did it to get him to try," Amanda says. "Since he had gotten out of the hospital, he was just sitting around."

"I didnít really try to hurt you," Flora says. "When I saddled your horse, I slit the girth with a hoof knife. But I cut it all the way through so it would come off when you mounted. That way you would take a spill, but you wouldnít be injured, just embarrassed."

"You were that angry with me?"

"Keep going," Janice prods.

"The worst thing I did was the evening Kate fenced with Janice." Flora finally looks up and finds Janiceís eyes on her. She speaks directly to her. "Iím sorry. What happened taught me my lesson. Iíll never do anything like that again."

Amanda takes Flora by the shoulders and turns her to face her. She seems about to shake her stepdaughter. "What did you do?"

"While Janice was getting ready, I took the epees out onto the lawn." She takes a deep breath, struggling not to cry. "I stepped on one of them, right at the foible, the weakest part. Kate had warned me many times to always check the epee at that point, so I knew where it could be broken. Then, when Janice and Kate came to get the epees, I gave that one to Kate. If they had just done slow drills like Kate talked about, no one would have really gotten hurt. But, instead, they decided to have a real contest, and thatís when the capped point broke off entirely. . . ." Her voice trails off as Amanda drops her hands.

"How could you do something like that? Donít you know that Janice could have been seriously injured?"

Now tears do slide down Floraís face. "I was having a good time watching them fence. By the time Kate disarmed Janice, I had almost forgotten about the foible. Then I saw the blood. There was so much blood." I remember how Flora had seemed about to faint or get sick. "Suddenly it wasnít just a mean joke. I thought Janice might die. Then I would be a murderer. And you would hate me forever. For killing your real daughter."

"Your real daughter," Janice repeats. "Thatís why Flora is so angry. Youíre the only mother Flora has ever known. And sheís the daughter you raised. But you suddenly started talking about me, making plans that involved me, someone you hadnít even seen for almost as long as sheís been alive."

Amanda touches Floraís cheek, then turns to speak to Janice. "Gareth was a teenager when I married Robert and is more like a friend than a son. But Flora was only two years old. She had a nanny, and her father had made it clear I was not expected to take over as her mother. But she was a sweet baby, and I found myself loving her more every day. It was me she called Mama, and, when it became clear how spirited she was going to be, I was the one who could handle her."

"Why did things change?" I ask.

"I think it started when Janice was in the hospital here in London." Amandaís eyes meet her daughterís. "For a long time, I pushed you to the back of my mind. Iím not proud of that, but itís what I did. Then I saw you, and I remembered the years I had you and all the years I missed. I became obsessed with getting to know you, with being your mother. I made plans, all the things we would do when you got out of the hospital and came to live here. Then you were gone again. But I didnít give up. When the problem concerning my photographs came up, I saw it as an opportunity to get you to come back. I got someone to track you and found out how to get a letter to you in New York. And I wrote a letter I thought would bring you here."

"And, because I have a soft-hearted friend named Mel," Janice says, "I did come."

"She would have come anyway," I correct, but Janice shakes her head.

"I wouldnít have come, Mother, because I spent too many years hating you to just give it up."

Amanda jerks back, as if from a blow. "You hate me?"

Janice gets up and walks over to kneel in front of her mother. "I hated you for years for deserting Dad and me. Now I realize that your leaving Dad was your own business. Your leaving me is what I have to deal with. Mother, doing that was wrong. Iíll never be able to understand how you could do that to me." Tears course down Amandaís face, and she does nothing to brush them away. I canít see Janiceís face, but her voice, which has been flat, is now choked with emotion. "Donít make the same mistake with Flora that you made with me. Sheís your daughter. Donít desert her. Donít leave her behind because your attention is elsewhere."

Amanda puts an arm around the young girl and pulls her close. Flora tenses, then relaxes and lets her head rest on her motherís shoulder. "Iím sorry I havenít been there for you lately," Amanda tells her. "I love you, and you are my Ďrealí daughter."

"Finish it, Janice," I say.

Janice is silent, unmoving.

I refuse to give up. "Itís time."

She nods and looks up at Amanda. "A wise woman told me not to wait when my heart tells me to do something. Mother, Iím ready to give up the hate. I forgive you."

 

Chapter 40

I wake up looking into bright green eyes. Janice is standing beside the bed and grinning down at me. "What was in those pills Mr. Satterley gave you?" she asks.

"Give me one the next time I have trouble sleeping, all right?"

"When do you ever have trouble sleeping?" I ask. "Except in the early morning."

I pull the covers up to my chin and close my eyes.

"Early?" She laughs and pulls the covers back down. "Itís almost noon, sleeping beauty. I let you sleep in honor of our big day yesterdayóand emotional evening."

I open my eyes again so I can study her face. "Are you okay?"

She nods. "Mother and I spent the morning talking. I think we got some more things worked out."

"Still Mother, not Mom?"

"Donít push it," she says, but her smile stays in place. I wonder if itís really so important that I give her my bad news today. "Now get up. Weíll go down to the kitchen and get you something to eat. Might as well shock the Ďhelpí a little more."

I push back the sheet and start to rise. I stop and lie back. Oh, no, not now. I want to tell her first. Janice has turned away and is at the wardrobe. She turns back, my robe in her hand, and her smile fades. "Mel, whatís wrong?" She strides to the bed and sits beside me. As she jars the mattress, I try not to react. "Is it your back? Your head? You took quite a beating yesterday. No wonder youíre sore."

"Yes, and your day was a piece of cake." I remember Bertieís punches, directed at Janice to extract information, and I shudder.

"Mel, come on," Janice says. "Youíre scaring me. Roll over, and Iíll massage your back. You probably just have a muscle cramp." She canít resist adding, "From lying here so long."

"Itís not that."

"Well, what?" Janice takes my hand, a rare show of affection.

I swallow and begin to confess. "Do you remember in New York, when I told you I had something I had to do?"

"Yeah. I used that to put pressure on you to come to London with me." She gives me her best shame-faced smile. "I knew the Bedouin tent part would get you. You never did tell me what you were going to do. Mel?"

"I didnít go shopping that day," I begin. "I went to see someone. A man."

"A man?"

"Yes." Even in light of what Iíve told her about Bill, her eyebrows go up. "A doctor." Now that Iíve gotten this far, I rush on. "He told me that I needed an operation. To remove the bullet from my back. I was going home to South Carolina to have it done."

Janice lets go of my hand but stays seated on the bed. At first, her expression is unreadable. In her flat voice, she says, "How could you keep that from me?"

"I thought it was more important that you work things out with your mother," I explain, knowing as I say it how inadequate the reason sounds. "I thought she was ill and that this might be your only chance to do that."

"What kind of risk were you taking?"

I hesitate.

"That big a risk, huh?" I nod, and her anger instantly explodes. "Damn you, Mel, what the hell were you thinking?" Her energy suddenly too great to be contained, she jumps up and starts pacing around the room. She stops and faces me to continue. "Did you even give a thought to me in all this?"

"I was thinking about you," I answer quietly, trying not to let the tears flow.

"Then you should have seen how this would make me feel. Iím so angry with you I . . . . I donít know what to do. I want to hit something," she decides. My eyes must widen, because she adds, "Not you."

"I didnít do it to hurt you."

"Why do you think Iím so angry?" She takes a deep breath as if fighting for control. "I canít stand it sometimes that you donít value my best friend any more than you do."

"I donít understand."

She comes back and perches again on the edge of the bed. "Youíre my best friend, but sometimes you make me so mad. Whoever gave you the idea that you arenít as important as other people? That your happiness comes after everyone elseís? After your fatherís. After Aunt Helenís. After mine."

"I just thought. . . ."

"No," she cuts me off. "You didnít think. You felt." She takes a breath and seems to notice for the first time that Iím crying. "You felt."

Janice rises again and turns her back to me. "Iím sorry. Please donít go away."

She returns with one of the hankies from the top drawer of the dresser. "Here. Blow your nose." She flips a straight-backed chair around so she can straddle it and leans her head against the back. "Iím not going anywhere. Iím angry with you, but Iím angrier at myself. For days, everyone else has noticed that you werenít feeling well, but I ignored it or accepted your excuses."

"You had a lot on your mind," I pardon her.

"Yeah, me and my problems." She shakes her head. "I didnít want to see that you were in pain. That you were in trouble. That might have been inconvenient. Might have required that I worry about someone other than myself. Iíve always been a selfish bitch, but I thought I was changing. This just proves I havenít."

"Donít," I order.

"Donít what?"

"Donít beat up on my best friend."

She studies me. "I guess itís unhealthy to do that, huh?"

"Around me it is." I put on my toughest expression, and she chuckles. "Janice," I say, "youíre a good person, the best. Someday I hope youíll realize that. And know why I did this." I wait, knowing that, if she asks, Iíll tell her.

Instead, she asks, "So what do we do next? Do you want us to go home right away? So you can get that operation?"

"No," I say, knowing this is the hardest part. "I want you to call Mr.

Satterley. I canít move my right leg.

 

Chapter 41

Although John has driven us as close to the building as he can, I still pause before attempting the long flight of steps in front. Janice watches me with concern. "Are you sure youíre ready to do this? It can wait."

"I can do it," I answer. Right after my surgery, I had used crutches but now, over a month later, Iíve returned to using the cane. I look up the steps and try not to show how high they now appear to me. Janice takes my free arm, and we start to climb. At the first landing, she signals a rest.

"Are you sure everything is set for our return to the United States?" I ask. Iíve been thinking about this all morning, but this is only the third time Iíve asked.

Janice feigns patience. "Yes. Laura Solari and her crew ferried another Fortress over here this week, and theyíre flying a decommissioned bomber home for use in training missions. Two world famous members of the press will be their passengers."

"So I get to be world famous this time, too?" I ask.

"Yeah," she says, "now that youíve actually taken pictures with your camera."

"Iím just glad you grabbed my camera before we left that cellaróand that the pictures turned out." I canít help feeling a little pride at my accomplishment.

Janice laughs. "Your first photos at a dig, and it happened in a London cellar. With everything in the storeroom damaged by the fire, your photographs are the only way to show what was there." She sobers. "I know that some of those things came from Cashi Zun, but without Dadís other photos, thereís no way to prove it now."

"Has Margaret admitted that she destroyed your fatherís photographs?" I ask, having missed out on most of the aftermath of her arrest.

"No. Sheís admitting nothing. Motherís photographs were recovered from Margaretís room, but Dadís werenít found. When there was talk of charging her with espionage because of her association with the Nazis, I thought she might crack, but sheís toughing it out."

"Didnít Sir Robert get that investigation dropped?"

"Yeah. It wouldnít look good for his maid to be a spy." Janice looks thoughtful. "Iím sure she isnít, anyway. Gruner and she were about money, not politics. And there are plenty of charges that can be proved, including smuggling and fraud."

"Murder? Attempted murder?"

"She probably had knowledge of what happened to Kenneth Grace and Sarah Lund, but it would be hard to prove it with Bertie and Max gone. As for ordering them to kill us. . . ." Janice shrugs. "Weíre here, arenít we? I donít think we need to worry about that."

"Ready to go on?" I tease.

"Me? Yeah, I think I can make it," she answers, and we walk up the rest of the steps.

I turn to her as she opens one of the big doors at the front of the British Museum. "It means a lot to me how you stuck by me during the last few weeks. You know, through the surgery, and afterward, when I needed help. . . ." I blush when I remember how helpless I was at first. "Anyway, thank you."

Janice shakes her head. "Mel, I canít believe you. It was on my account that you got shot when we were in Egypt. Then you came to England with me instead of going home for the surgery you needed. And youíre thanking me?" We walk into the front gallery and, as I did the first time, I gaze in wonder at the friezes that decorate the walls. "Just one thing. If you ever do anything like that again. . . ." She doesnít seem able to come up with a threat dire enough, so she lets it drop.

"Can we take another look at the Elgin marbles?" I ask, ready to duck through the archway.

"Letís do that on the way out, okay?" she asks, and I can see sheís getting impatient. We walk toward a small display room near the rear of the building. "I brought Flora here when you were in the hospital. Do you know sheís lived in London her whole life and had never seen the marbles?" She shakes her head at such an impossible thought.

I smile, knowing that Janice has gained during the last month, not just a mother, but also an adoring younger sister. "What does Sir Robert think about his daughter running around the city in boots and khaki?"

"Heís not too happy about it," Janice admits, "but he hasnít interfered.

Thank God he wasnít the one who caught her trying to smoke that cigar."

"No," I say, "it was Mrs. Gareth Blessingham who did that." Kate.

Weíre standing outside the room now, and, both of us taking a deep breath, we enter. The object weíre seeking is small, not more than eight inches high. It stands on a pedestal in the middle of the room. We approach it and stand unspeaking for some minutes.

It is a statue of a young woman, what archaeologists call a kore, and it is an object of uncommon beauty. Although statues of females, unlike those of males, were usually draped, this woman is shown completely naked. The light-colored stone is highly polished and shows remarkable definition of the muscles of her body. Her posture is straight, like that of a soldier. Her head is held proudly, and the sculptor has indicated long full hair that flows across her shoulders and back. The high cheekbones and sharp planes of her face seem to show that this is a portrait, not a generalized picture of a Greek girl.

Janice unbuttons her breast pocket and pulls out the kore photograph taken by her father. She looks at it and hands it to me. I nod. There is no doubt it is the same one.

"In the photo the eyes just look dark," I say. "But now, seeing the statue, you can tell the eyes are azure stones."

"I canít believe it took me so long to put it together," Janice comments. "Not until Sir Robert got me a list of artifacts recently donated to British museums did I realize that my fatherís Egyptian kore was here. With a fake pedigree that said it was found by Gruner in Greece."

"It does look Greek," I say.

"A combination," she corrects, "just like Ben Black said. Somewhat natural in the Greek tradition, a little stylized as the Egyptian artist would normally do. I think it was done that way to honor the subject, the Greek warrior woman who had saved a pharaohís son." She sighs. "Think of the trouble it might have saved if I had listened to that little girl the first day. The one who said there was a statue in another room that looked just like you."

Then in silence we stand, my friend and I, and gaze at the Xena kore.

 

End

Wishes



Back To Main Fan Fiction Page