Airs and Heiresses
New York, 1938
St. Regis Hotel
"So there I was, staring down a barrel INCHES from death...and I told the man, 'darling REALLY, if you simply must shoot me do allow me to remove my earrings. They are Cartier, you know." Molly Maltese paused to take a sip of her Red Snapper, popping the olive neatly between her cherub lips before gnashing it to a pulp. "And the man was quite flummoxed, he said- I say, is that Riza Hawkeye?"
She rose, the group of rapt men in tuxedos and women in glittering dresses and furs murmuring their protests as she wended through their knees. But the apparition she was quite sure had been Riza Hawkeye had vanished in the crowd of New York socialites populating the exclusive terrace.
"Well, this place is a bit ritzy for Riza." she murmured, fairly certain her old acquaintance didn't make a habit of populating social-climbing fetes. And she reasoned, any time Riza had appeared before it was hardly ever for a pleasant cause. Well, maybe that was unfair. It just seemed she was more the swirl-of-furs-and-stiletto-daggers type than a frothy socializer like Molly herself.
Peering around, Molly saw nothing but the shadowed faces of revelers partially cloaked in the smoky haze. She had just been about to give up and go back to her companions when the most shocking hubbub began. Over on the north part of the terrace, she could distinctly hear the shouts of men and panicked screeching of females. Moving forward, she could just make out..
"Did you see... The Ambassador... who could have... murder! Someone has pushed the Ambassador off the building!" Molly picked up speed, expertly weaving through the crowd of panicked voices. Sirens already began to sound twenty stories below. Just as she grasped the ledge and looked over, an all too familiar voice sounded in her left ear.
"Oh hello there, old friend. Lovely breeze out today."
Before her stood Riza Hawkeye herself, looking utterly unruffled as several ladies fainted behind her.
Arielle could not believe her ears. As much as she wished to go save her mother, she had no desire to face her mother's wrath if they left a task undone.
"No, we will not, Father," Arielle's voice was cold, controlled and cut through the exhausted silence in the room.
"What did you say?" Joseph's thunderstruck expression was comical enough to make Riza smile, she did not have the energy to laugh.
"Do you not know my mum at all? If we return to her now, with your tasks unfinished, and people in danger, she will never forgive you," Arielle said matter-of-factly, turning to the group gathered, tiredly listening.
"She is right, Joseph," Riza commented, running her finger along her dagger's sheath. "Anais will not be happy if she finds out that we left a task unfinished to save her, even if we consider her to be more important."
"My part is done!" Joseph exploded, "I only agreed to watch out for and help him," he pointed an accusatory finger at Ed, "and only while they were here in Shanghai! They are leaving for Delhi any day now, they have to!"
"Oh, yes, Mum will love your technicalities, Father dearest," scorn dripped from Arielle's words.
Joseph winced, but did not look deterred.
"Do you know how I looked for you both? And now you just appear out of nowhere? Poof! And you don't want me to go find Anais. Who the hell are you? You are not my Josèe," the impassioned speech ended with the accusation hanging in the air.
"Yes, you looked until you gave up. And you gave up spectacularly. You lost yourself in drugs and shot at your friends because you needed your fix. You gave up before the year was out," Arielle shook as she spoke to her father, unleashing feelings she had bottled up and stored away fro years. "Mum cried herself to sleep every night for two years. I was eight when we ran. I knew it was because of how you and mother lived your lives. I had been kidnapped. Almost killed. She had wanted you to come with us. I don't know what happened to that, just that it didn't happen. She left clues. Clues meant for you!" her voice rose as she stepped toward Joseph. "She didn't tell me about what had happened to you. I found out. I snuck in and read her diary. I figured out how to sneak around and be unnoticed when the grown ups talked. I wanted to know why you weren't with us, why you didn't love us. Love Mum. Love me!" tears steamed down her cheeks, but she continued. "And you say that I'm not your Josèe. I'm not. I'm Josèe all grown up. Look in a mirror," the girl took a deep breath, "As for not wanting you to find my mother, that is not true. More than anything, I want to save her. But we have time to do so. I wasn't expecting to find you for another month or two, at least. You hide well, but not as well as us. This case you are all working on, it needs your attention now. Your memory must be going, because Mum in a temper is a sight to behold. I am not going to disregard her wishes to follow yours. We'll go to Delhi with the rest of these people. It's not like Delhi is out of the way, either," so saying, Arielle turned on her heel, and went upstairs, leaving Joseph spluttering behind her.
“But I do love you! And I love Anais more than my life!”
Joseph wanted say that, but it came out as an incoherent jamble no one present could comprehend. From upstairs Arielle closed the door behind her with a bang. Joseph then muttered under his breath, “and I wanted so dearly to be with you both.”
Only Riza heard that and her face darkened. Joseph said nothing else and returned to his own bedroom as everyone did. His emotional debts were piled so high he could only shut himself in.
And you gave up spectacularly
And you gave up spectacularly
And you gave up spectacularly
Joseph tossed in bed with Arielle’s voice echoing in his head. The accusations were true. All his life Joseph tried not to feel. Zeo was a great detective with logic and intuition that borderline psychic, as long as no women and no emotions were involved. Anais then captured him for life. He wanted to be with her, to profess to Anais, but it always came out wrong. He tried, but kept building everything on the surface. The cavern deep inside was never filled nor addressed. One day it just crumbled, and downward the spiral went….
Spectacular were his failures, each ‘save’ worse than the one before, until Joseph knew he had no hope with Anais. Fear. What if he fails Anais again as he was doomed to do so? Perhaps he should not go to Karachi. Perhaps the case at Delhi is the best possible distraction…. but Anais needed them.... With restless thoughts Zeo finally found some restless sleep….
The sky was a pale grey as Joseph opened his eyes. Chill lingered in the morning air. Joseph’s mind yelled for Coffee. That was the only remaining drug Joseph would allow himself to take. Slowly down the stair Joseph climbed, as he heard small giggled coming from the kitchen. Someone woke up earlier than he was. Actually there were two of them, Edward and Molly.
Someone apparently spilled coffee, and it landed on Edward’s chest. Molly seemed a bit too eager to help wipe it clean, at a distance closer then required. It looked more like Molly was massaging Ed's chest, and he seemed to enjoy it. Joseph cleared his throat and Ed jumped back right away. He blushed and looked away pretending nothing happened. Joseph took the pot of coffee from beside Molly. “I’ll pour that myself thank you very much.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Molly sneered. She seemed foiled to be disturbed, not expecting others to wake so early as they did. Footstep then echoed down the steps again. This time Riza appeared, holding firm onto a cloth in her hand. Like Joseph, she too looked as if she had only slept a drop.
Wordlessly Riza opened up the cloth in her hand, and the blue stone set in the Amulet glowed a deep turquoise. The luminosity was much dimmer than before. Joseph frowned but wary about touching it again.
“It seem to have faded a bit, I think we need to hurry.” Riza answered the question in everyone’s mind.
Edward held the Amulet gingerly in his hand, and drew his thumb closer to the surface of the stone, barely touching it. Immediately he released the Amulet with a howl, crouching low on the kitchen floor. Molly immediately went down and held onto Ed.
“What happened?” Molly was concerned. She saw the Amulet on the floor and picked it up, touching the blue stone.
“DON’T TOUCH THE--“ Zeo warned immediately, but nothing happened to Molly. No scream, no pain. Just like Riza. “Edward, are you alright?” Zeo asked. Ed nodded, but hadn’t yet spoken. He took two deep breaths and steadied himself. “Did you see something?” Zeo probed.
Ed took another deep breath before speaking in a cracked voice, “I’m not sure what I saw,” he cleared his throat, “but it was something…. Streets? Perhaps pathways? It was a mess….”
Not clear enough to determine the entrance into the headquarter of Sphinx, as Zeo feared. “We have a dilemma.” The detective concluded, “Our sniper only knew this amulet could show the wearer the location of the entrance, but he didn’t know who would be able to access it properly.”
“Only the Sphinx men?” Molly tried.
Zeo shook his head. “and not Sphinx women either.”
Remembering those figures leading the assassinations from New York to London to Shanghai, with their neutral voices and that missing Adam’s apple at least from one of them, as well as their skills in castration, he was reluctant to reveal the grim reality. “Eunuchs.”
Everyone in the room frowned, and questions lingered in the air.
“In order to access this amulet properly, the wearer has to be a castrated man.” Everyone remained silent.
The commotion from Edward must have wakened more detectives, as they could hear footsteps from the stairs again.
A series of men without faces. That's all they were. They came seeking only one thing, and it was easy for Elizabeth to just let them have it, however they wanted it. She bore witness to it all. The things they whispered, shouted. Their tears, their sadness. These men thrust themselves into her as they succumbed to the beckoning of unrequited feelings, lost loves, forbidden lusts for mothers and sisters. There was no judgment in this place. It saw the darkness which lurked in men's souls and allowed them to release the words they could not say.
And at the receiving end was a young girl who'd become so used to giving herself up, existing as a substitute for their phantom women, that she had lost her own sense of self somewhere along the way. Her original purpose forgotten, she was no more than a shell.
Elizabeth would have spent her days languishing there if it hadn't been for him. He came as all the other men did, though he was different. He was young, perhaps not that much older than she was. And he did not reek of desperation. His eyes were bright and curious. A handsome face, jet-black hair, and a serious expression which could not hide traces of something kinder.
When he came into the room, Elizabeth automatically reached for his belt. He grabbed her wrist and stopped her. She looked up, confused. He stared back with an impassive expression on his face, and then let her arm fall back to her side. For the next half hour, he stood there and did not say a word. How terrified, how uncertain Elizabeth felt. What did he want from her?
"I'm Roy," he announced abruptly before leaving. That was the only thing he ever said.
Countless times he paid the madam to visit Elizabeth. And not one single time did he do more than sit beside her on the mattress. Not until the last time he came. He gently pressed a hand to the young woman's cheek. She turned to look at him. He didn't say that he wanted to snatch her away and take her out of this place. But his eyes told her that he wished to. And Elizabeth wanted him to say those words.
She sensed that he was able to see into her soul. For the first time, Elizabeth was ashamed of herself. Being here, doing what she was doing. It was the first real emotion she had felt in a long time. It also helped remind her of her purpose. She was doing this so she could exact revenge someday. But it also brought up the question: What would she do afterwards?
After that day, the young man did not return. Yet every day, Elizabeth would wait for him. He had left an indelible impression on her. The first man, the only man who didn't want sex from her. The only one who looked at her as though she were a real person. She respected this man who respected her. And there was also an inkling of another unidentifiable feeling.
To think that the next time she'd meet Roy would be so many years later. Although some part of her had known he was waiting for her back then, she could not face him. Not after she had killed that man. She was tainted in too many ways. So she changed her name and did the only thing she could: she ran.
It had taken nearly two decades, but he had tracked her down. And the moment they reunited, it was like nothing had changed. If anything, time had strengthened that first awkward bond between them. And then Roy had gone and done the thing she feared the most. He had asked her...to marry him.
But there were so many complications, the chiefest of which was little Charlotte.
Riza Hawkeye slept not one wink that night.
What seemed like an eternity for Vulkie, were only mere hours that had passed after the attack on the British Embassy.
It was deep in the night, when Vulkie slowly opened her eyes. As she looked around, she noticed that she wasn't back at the safehouse; but instead, she was lying in a hospital room.
Vulkie tried to roll on her right side, to lie a bit more comfortable. As she did so, she could feel a bolt of pain going through her whole body. It almost caused her to scream. She immediately turned towards her left side, facing the room door.
Just then, the door opened and someone switched the lights on. As she observed the figure, she could see it was Marc. It looked like he had barely slept and drank too much coffee.
"Marc," Vulkie soflty said, closing her eyes for a moment. She tried to recall what had happened to her after passing out on the balcony, but it was futile; she didn't remember anything.
"It's good to see you up again," Marc replied, pulling up a chair and sitting next to her. He started to observe Vulkie, before saying: "You're very lucky. It seems you had a guardian angel all along."
Vulkie gave a fake smile, before she started to think about what Marc said. "What do you mean, guardian angel? You know I'm not religious," Vulkie queried, raising an eyebrow.
Marc chuckled, before explaining about the cloaked figure and who he truly was. As Vulkie listened, her eyes opened wide at the revelation that her old friend, Heimlich VonVictor, was still alive and protecting the ambassadors and their staff.
"So, after Iraq... I never knew," Vulkie whispered. She remembered that Heimlich had disappeared shortly after the events in Iraq, just like Joseph had. It seemed to be a habit of her old friends, to disappear and reappear at the most awkward times.
"We're heading towards Delhi, as soon as we can. I know about your current situation, but are you sure you feel up to it?" Marc asked with a concerned look. He knew that Vulkie wasn't ready for a journey yet, not at all; but they needed everyone that was present to have a chance at eradicating Sphinx.
Vulkie tried to heave herself up, but felt that she was too weak. She immediately landed back on the bed, while frustration began to build up inside her.
"I can help you," Marc began, but Vulkie cut him off, shouting: "NO! I NEED TO DO THIS ON MY OWN!"
She tried again and she fell back on the bed again. The frustration began to make place for anger. Anger that filled her whole body, because she felt like she needed to get up and get her revenge at Sphinx. They had reduced her to a frail lady, but she was determined not to give up.
Vulkie's shouting had alerted a nurse, who busted into the room. She immediately ran over and pushed Vulkie back on the bed. She shouted something in Shanghainese, but Vulkie pushed her away. "I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF!" she shouted and instantly heaved herself up, this time succeeding. Marc grabbed her clothes and handed them over. Vulkie went behind a dressing screen. Taking off her hospital gown, she felt with her fingers at her right side. She could count all of the stitches.
Vulkie started to contemplate if she was doing the right thing. What if something drastic happened, that caused the stitches to rupture and the wound opening again? It would cause another bleeding, which might lead to her death. Deciding that getting revenge and protecting her friends was her driving force, she put on her clothes. It took a lot of effort and a lot of wincing, but she managed to dress herself up.
"I need some painkillers," Vulkie demanded and ordered Marc to find some. He returned a few minutes later with a bottle, which Vulkie took. She unscrewed the top and swallowed two painkillers.
Grabbing her purse, she walked with Marc out of the hospital and sat in the passenger seat next to Marc. Before starting the car, Marc looked at her and asked: "Are you really sure?"
Vulkie closed her eyes, flipping an imaginary coin. She didn't need to know the outcome; she had already set her mind to what she wanted a long time ago.
"Let's go," Vulkie concluded, as Marc started the car and drove towards the safehouse...
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