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.
Marc stood up as Riza handed him back his gun. Jasper helped Ed up and handed him his gun. Everyone e turned facing large building. "Must be the government building?" Someone asked. Jasper walked over to the door and tried to open it. Locked. He turned to the group. "I don't suppose lock picking is part of anyone's repertoire?"
"I got this," Vulkie said walking forward. She knelt down at the door handle and began to work. Seconds later there was a distinct "click" and the door swung open. Everyone stepped inside, pulling out their lighters and flicking them to give some light to see.
Edward wandered around, keeping mainly to himself. No doubt he was still angry from the fight. He sat down next to the fireplace and lifted his leg to adjust his shoe. Something shifted under his weight. A set of symbols appeared on two wall lighting up the room; one near the fireplace and the other across from it. The letters appeared on a single brick on both walls and both bricks protruded out of the wall. "These letters," Marc said. "They're Greek."
"Any idea what it says?" Zeo asked.
"Sphinx?" Marc questioned. He raised his hand and pushed on the brick in the wall nearest to the fireplace. A loud rumbling sound filled the room as the wall opened up revealing a stair case. He turned to Zeo who pushed on the other brick, which opened that wall revealing another set of stairs.
"Arielle," Joseph said. "I want you and Philippe to stay at the truck with Heimlich. No buts."
Arielle started to object, but after a brief argument she complied. "Edward," Jasper said. "Go get some help. Contact the Indian Imperial Police and bring them here. We could use the back up."
"No," Edward said. "I'm in charge here. I say-"
"Ed," Jasper said with a worried look. "Please, trust me. Let me do this part. "
"Fine," Edward said. He disappeared into the night.
Jasper quickly took charge. "Let's split up. Two groups of three. Joseph," he said, "you, Vulkie, and Molly take the stairs in that wall you opened. Marc, you, Riza and I take the one here."
Marc nodded. Jasper seemed to be in his right mind. Unlike that drunken moron, Edward. Marc was glad he wasn't around, but he couldn't speak for the others. He looked at Riza and then Molly. He took one more look at Jasper and Zeo. "I'll see you guys on the other side," he said. Marc turned and walked down the stairs followed by Jasper and Riza.
Arielle was not happy about being left behind, but she knew that there was not much she could do to help. Philippe looked relieved that she was actually staying put. She wouldn't run off harebrained now. She had questioning to do.
Heimlich had been drifting in and out of semi consciousness, mumbling nonsensical words at times.
Arielle took Heimlich's wrist as she had her aunt's, and used the pressure points for something other than relief. Heimlich's eyes shot wide open.
"Good," Arielle said, a hint of venom in her voice. "What happened to Valerie?"
Two sets of letters on two single bricks on opposite walls, opening two sets of secret passageways.
Marc then called out to Joseph, Vulkie and Molly, "I'll see you guys on the other side." Zeo doubt that would happen, but he kept his silence as the other group disappeared down the tunnel. One must be a decoy, but what better choice did they have given their current situation?
At least Arielle was willing to listen for once and stayed out of it. Ed would bring back up and his little girl would be safe. There was the possibility that the Indian Imperial Police was mixed in with Sphinx, but he highly doubted it, at least not in its entirety. He silently wished Ed the best of luck.
He looked at the symbols etched onto the brick in front of him: Σψίγγα. He looked across at the fireplace, and sensed a slight difference. He walked closer and examined the other one. It read Σφίγγα instead.
“Are you noticing something that we should know of?” Molly inquired. Zeo shook his head. Whatever it meant, it was too late now. Joseph took from the fireplace a long piece of lit firewood as a torch despite the tunnels being brightly lit, returned to their side and carefully stepped down, followed by Vulkie and Molly. This is it, he thought to himself.
They must have gone at least four levels downs by then. The stone spiral staircase seemed never ending. Finally, another minute or two later, they reached a landing. Zeo could hear quiet release of breaths behind him.
The walls remained the same dusty beige in tone, but the air seemed stifling still. Something seemed wrong.
“Do any of you ladies have something spare for me to throw?” Zeo was on high alert and trap detection was in his blood.
“Ah no Mister, not my swivel-tube of Coco Chanel and definitely not my bottle of Jean Patou!” Molly snorted, but she was seriously searching her handbag at the same time, despite the frown between her brows.
Vulkie quickly handed Zeo her compact mirror. “It’s no grenade so it’s safe to throw,” Vulkie smirked.
“But you don’t worry about bad luck?” Zeo asked?
“Do I look the superstitious type to you?” Vulkie retorted, “Anyhow, you’ll be the one doing the throwing…”
Zeo looked down at the compact mirror. “Here goes seven years…” He murmured as he spun the round disc like a pebble, slicing across the hall in front of them. As it swirled by, tiny spears spit out from the walls through holes so narrow it escaped the naked eyes. The group froze.
“Should we backtrack?” Molly wisely questioned.
“But whatever traps there are, we have set it off already. “ Vulkie argued.
“Marc’s group could be experiencing similar situations.” Zeo added. Which tunnel was the decoy? He thought to himself. Molly exhaled and threw her arms up.
Zeo carefully trotted forward swinging the wooden torch at arm’s length as a detector. So far there was nothing. The group inched their way pass the long hallway without further events. They reached another set of stairs, this time it was a steep straight set, also leading down. Again, it seemed bottomless.
“How much deeper down is the headquarter of Sphinx? Are we entering the pit of hell?”
Zeo shrugged and slowly made his way down. The two ladies followed. About seven to eight steps down, they heard a muted click.
The stairs immediately turned into a steep smooth slide, and the detectives tumbled down. The momentum snuffed out the torch and the slide became steeper still, almost taking them straight down. The lights were gone, only shrieking remained.
An eternity later Zeo hit solid ground and bodies piled on top of him. He heard bones cracking but he was not sure whom. Pain engulfed his entire body either way. The air smelled of rot but he had no idea where they were. The darkness swallowed the group whole.
Molly barely had time to utter a yelp before she, Zeo and Vulkie were swooshing down into darkness. Her stomach raced with butterflies- a feeling she simply HATED. However, she didn't have much time to dwell on this as suddenly they were free-falling--
WHUMP! Molly landed on her side flat across a warm body (Zeo's, she presumed) and promptly lost all the air in her lungs with a whoosh. With a solid thud, Vulkie landed on top of her in a tangle of limbs. She heard a sickening snap but didn't have time to register this as she desperately punted Vulkie off of her, rolled to her hands and knees and vomited piteously. Pain ripped through her stomach where someones elbow had firmly jabbed her, and she became presently aware of a throbbing pain in her left ankle. Groans in the pitch black told her the other two were suffering similar discomforts.
"Does anyone have a match?" she mewled, clutching her stomach and feeling her purse strap dig into her shoulder with the movement.
There was a shuffling sound, and a long slender hand presently felt along her arm, pressing a matchbook into her hand. Zeo.
"Thank you." she said in no direction in particular, and with shaking fingers she flipped open the matchbook. Lord it smelled awful in here. She counted only three match heads brushing against her fingers.
"This will hardly last us." She chewed her lip, thinking. "Yes.. one or two for light... in time to make... yes that should work." Cautiously, she felt around blindly until her hand connected with Zeo's side. She felt along blindly until his hand met hers- a question in the dark.
"I need you to strike a match- I need light to see by." She whispered, unsure why she felt the need. She fervently hoped no one else was in this space, wherever it was, to overhear them. "There are only three, so I must work quickly."
With a quiet groan, she heard Joseph straighten up and his other hand felt cautiously for her shoulder, trying to paint a picture that they could not see.
Presently they had situated themselves in front of one another, and Molly handed back the matches, bidding Zeo to wait until she was ready. Resting her purse directly in front of her, Molly groped through the contents until she had in her left hand a cotton handkerchief, a tub of exclusive animal-fat lip balm sold only in the chintziest of Paris salons and with some trepidation, the long slender tube of Chanel.
"Strike the first match, Joseph." She asked, and Joseph obligingly emitted rustling in the dark. A small bright flame emerged between them and though Molly's eyes reflexively watered she quickly knotted the handkerchief in a bundle around the top of the tube. The match sputtered out.
Using a finger, she began scooping along the edges of the balm, loosening the contents. "Another match." She whispered, and a few seconds later the second spark of light appeared. She blinked and plopped the lip balm unceremoniously on the cotton handkerchief, thoroughly rubbing it in as the second flame sputtered out.
"Well, don't say I never tried anything." Molly said, taking a deep breath. "The last match please, and try to light the handkerchief on fire."
She raised it as Zeo lit the final match and they stared breathlessly, willing the tiny flame to light the fattened handkerchief. It sputtered, danced away, and then unexpectedly whooshed into a merry light. Molly uttered a sigh of relief.
"That was brilliant thinking." Joseph eyed her appreciatively, his dark eyes glowing in the flame.
"It should be, after all that lip balm cost me more than Vulkie's life is worth." Molly said, but couldn't muster more than a half-hearted jab. She knew as well as Zeo that they were in dire straits indeed.
Cautiously, she swiveled the small torch to look at her left ankle and emitted a low moan of devastation. Her beautiful heels- ruined! The heel was splintered off her white polka dot pumps, and encrusted with grime to boot. Her ankle was already swelling and turning purple.
"It's ruined." She said sadly, eyes huge in the flamelight.
"Your ankle?" Joseph asked, craning for a closer look. With a sigh, Molly swiped at her face as an exhausted child might. "No, silly. My beautiful Jean Val Buscot heels. Will this day never end?" she lamented.
Joseph snorted, and then motioned for the torch. As he swung it around, they couldn't help but wrinkle their noses in distaste. They were in a dark, dungeonlike area with cold stone floors. Dark patches of unmentionable slime covered the floor, filling the space with a heady odor not unlike waste.
"Where do you think we are?" Molly asked. "And more importantly, do you hear that?"
The detectives craned to hear, and slowly became aware of a rushing sound.
"It sounds like running water." Joseph admitted. "Do you think we're near a stream or river?"
"I don't think we're near it..." Vulkie suddenly spoke. "I think we're about to be in it."
'Vulkie really you do say the oddest things." Molly said crossly. "That doesn't even make any kind of sens--- you have got to be kidding me."
She was looking at Vulkie's outstretched finger- no, beyond it- where a murky pool of sewage water was spreading across the floor. As the detectives watched, the stream began to move faster and faster, until water was pouring across the floor, soaking the detectives even as they tried to stand. Before they knew it, it was over their ankles, nearly to their knees and the flow didn't seem to be slowing.
"You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" Molly started to scream. "GET US OUT OF HERE! I WILL NOT BE DROWNED IN MUCK, CAN YOU IMAGINE THE PRESS- GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE! ED! EEEEEDDD!"
Abruptly Vulkie slapped her across the cheek, dazing Molly into silence. "Pull yourself together, screaming wont help anything." The murky water rose to mid-thigh. She was right. Screaming certainly wouldn't help- but then again, would anything?
The torches on the walls were already lit, giving light to see. The stairs spiraled down into what seemed like an endless pit. For what seemed like miles, the three detectives followed the stairs until they finally came to an end. At the end of the stair case, there was a wooden door. Marc slowly pushed it open.
Jasper entered first, then Riza, and finally, Marc. As soon as the door shut behind him, torches on all the walls lit the room automatically, revealing just how massive the room was. Several rows of marble stepping stones filled the ground from one end of the wall to the other. On the other side of the room was yet, another door.
They took a step forward. The only way to the door was across the stones. "Wait," Marc said as he looked around. "It's too easy."
He took a step on the first stone. It sank down an inch and locked in place with a loud "click". Symbols appearsed on every stone almost immediately, followed by the torches on the walls now blowing out. "You've gotta be kidding me." Jasper said, as he looked around.
The symbol were Greek letters, just like the bricks that opened the trap doors. "It's a puzzle," Riza said.
"Any ideas what they mean?" Jasper asked.
"Some of the letters here match the ones on the bricks up stairs." Riza replied. "Marc step on that one to your left."
Marc stepped to his left. The letter disappeared. He waited for something to happen, but nothing came. He took another step on another stone with a familiar letter. Just like the first one, the letter disappeared. Riza continued to recall the correct letters directing Marc where to go. He finally made it to the other side.
Jasper followed Marc's steps, making it across fairly quickly. Almost as quickly as Jasper made it to the other side, the stones as lit back up and the letters changed.
Riza was now stuck on the other side. Marc looked around, searching for similar letters. He and Riza found one simultaneously, and Riza stepped down on the stone. Then again to one on her left then forward two more. Another to her right.
She made it to the last stone and took a step. The stone immediately crumbled and disappeared beneath her weight. Three stones around it also crumbled and fell into the massive abyss beneath them. Marc reached and grabbed Riza as she started to fall with the crumbling rocks. He pulled her to the other side as she started to lose her balance.
"You okay?" He asked as he held on to her.
Riza nodded. "Yes, thank you."
Marc and Jasper waited as she took a moment to regain her composure before walking to the now open door. One by one, they made their way into the darkened hallway.
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