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.
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.
The group made their way down the darkened hallway, half-blind and feeling their way along the walls. Marc pulled out his lighter, and with a single flick a tiny orange flame sprang to life. There was no light ahead, and the light behind was slowly fading. The air was thicker here, making it hard to breathe.
Suddenly, a woman’s high-pitched scream echoed through the space. Three heads rose in alarm, and they looked at each other. That scream was familiar, and it sounded close. But within this cavernous space, perhaps it wasn’t that close at all. The lighter flame flickered, illuminating a matching trio of grim faces.
“Let’s keep moving,” Riza said. The group continued down the hallway at a faster pace than before, thoughts bent toward the fates of their other friends. Worry gnawed at Riza’s insides; it was an extremely unpleasant feeling.
“OOF!” Jasper exclaimed, stopping suddenly. Marc almost ran into him.
“What’s the matter?” Riza asked.
Jasper indicated a short yet solid wooden lever jutting out of the wall. He sucked air through his teeth as he massaged his side. “Terrible damn design. Who would put this here?”
“More importantly, what does it do?” Riza queried. Upon closer inspection, she couldn’t see anything special about it. It was just a plain old lever. She gripped it and pushed downward. It wouldn’t budge. “Marc, give me a hand.”
Marc walked over, placed both hands on the lever, and wrenched it downward with a mighty heave. The sound creaking metal echoed through the space, followed by the distant sound of rushing water.
Oddly, nothing seemed to happen to the group. Riza was expecting to feel that water she heard, or simply for a door to open. Anything. But there was nothing. Thus, the group continued down the passageway. They had only taken about a dozen paces forward when Marc stuck out an arm. “Do you guys hear that?”
“Hear what?” Jasper asked. “I don’t hear any--” The next second, something heavy fell from above and Jasper crumpled to the ground.
“Jasper!” Marc and Riza exclaimed simultaneously. Riza reached out a hand, but then froze. She squinted in the darkness. Whatever had fallen seemed to be moving on top of Jasper. It groaned.
“It’s Ed!” Riza said, grabbing the man and lifting him off Jasper. “What are you doing here?” she asked, incredulous.
Ed blinked, as though he were unsure of what he was seeing. “M-Molly. I heard Molly scream, so I ran. Was going down the stairs when--ugh.” He twisted his neck to the side with a crack. “Fell,” he exhaled.
“Today is not my day,” Jasper muttered as he dragged himself upright and dusted himself off.
Riza grabbed Marc’s lighter and lifted it up, surveying the hole that Ed had clearly fallen through. It was pitch black. There was no light at the end of that tunnel. Hopefully there would be one at the end of theirs.
"Think, Vulkie, THINK!". Those were the words that repeated in her head, as Vulkie started to look carefully around the room. The only few things she could think of were either the door or the hatch they came through.
But the hatch was shut tight and far out of their reach. So she threw that option away immediately.
"Molly, give Joseph the torch. I need some light," Vulkie ordered and Molly nodded, before handing the torch over. They waded through the water towards the door. As Vulkie observed it closely, she could see there was no lock on it; it could only be opened by ways of a mechanism. Looking closer, she could spot the hinges were rusty.
"Got an idea. Stand back everyone!" Vulkie shouted, as she grabbed her Colt 1911 and aimed at the upper hinge. Gently squeezing the trigger, a shot was fired and it deflected; no damage was done to it.
"I was sure that was going to work," Vulkie sighed and started to think again. Maybe she could use something to break the hinges off... something that would fit behind it.
Molly came over and started to think out loud as well. "We could force those hinges with something small... a nail file or something?"
Vulkie immediately began to rummage through her purse and presented a nail file. Joseph's eyes beamed with happiness, as Vulkie gave a shy smile. He immediately began to work the hinges, but it was no use; they wouldn't budge at all.
The water didn't stop rising and they were running out of time. Vulkie looked over to her friends. Joseph was supporting Molly and helping her keep her head above water; she couldn't swim properly due to her broken ankle.
Looking at her Colt 1911, a macabre thought ran through Vulkie's head; they were going to drown and there was nothing they could do about it... except...
"Guys... I'm sorry for all I've done. I guess we'll need to take Marc's words literally; we'll see him, on the other side," Vulkie cried, as she placed her gun on the right side of her head.
Vulkie gently started to squeeze the trigger... and then a metal click could be heard; the water was draining away faster than it had poured into the room.
As all the water was drained away, Vulkie sat on her knees and eyed the gun, as Molly and Joseph looked at her. She started to laugh and cry hysterically, lying down on the ground and curling up.
Both the detectives looked at the lady who was their longtime friend; they exchanged looks with eachother and Joseph shook his head; it was best to not interrupt her for now. She needed to get over the traumatic experience by herself...
Joseph couldn't wade through the murky water fast enough to stop Vulkie from her foolish act, but then the water simply just receded. Was this sewage pool of death just a ruse, or was someone helping them? Joseph had no idea. As Vulkie curled up, needing the moment to regain her senses, Joseph looked around. Everything was soaked to the bones in sewage water, except for the torch. He almost gave up on the light while helping Molly but was glad he held onto it.
Nevertheless they were still stuck in this chamber and the dampness wasn't helping. Both ladies were on the brink of insanity but the scent didn't bother Joseph as much. Nothing ever did after after his episode with narcotics when his dwelling dilapidated beyond sewage conditions. Joseph returned to the metal door and tested it. Now with more time perhaps they could get it open...
Vulkie was the best with locks but she was in no condition to try anything right now. Zeo started tapping on the frame with the handle of his gun, testing for weak spots. There were none. Faintly he heard a voice from beyond the door. He pressed his ear against the wet rusty door.
"Molly, I think someone IS calling for you."
Molly turned to the door, "Ed?"
"Mollllllly!" The voice was getting closer.
"Ed!" Molly exclaimed. Zeo began to bang on the door, helping the man on the other side identify their location. Molly's joy suddenly overcame with mixed emotions. "My blouse!" She looked down at her feces infested blouse. "He can't see me like this!"
"Women!" Zeo muttered under his breath, soft enough so neither ladies heard him. Ed finally came to the right door and banged on it. "Yes we're in here!" Zeo yelled. He heard three gun shots from the other side and the sound of some sliding mechanism, then metal door flung open. Golden light flooded the room temporally blinding those inside.
"Molly!" Ed was delighted seeing Molly alive. Zeo left them to their reunion and stepped into the hallway. Similar dungeon cells lined the narrow passageway. He could hear faint distress calls coming from a few of those doors.
Zeo fired his revolver at a heavy pad lock chaining a sliding rod in place. When that was lose he unbolt the locking mechanism. Zero was surprised to find none other than Archibold Kerr inside the cell. "Ambassador, why on earth are you in here?"
Dehydrated and thoroughly filthy, Kerr could hardly talk. "I don't know why the Sphinx... didn't kill me..." He rasped. Joseph continued to open other cells with the help of fellow detectives. They found a total of 8 ambassadors locked up. Something sinister was brewing. Zeo could sense it through the filth.
It was nearly a miracle getting help from the Indian Imperial Police. They thought he was full of himself until he mentioned Sphinx. It was no secret to the imperial police that Sphinx maintained the network of brothels and opium rings. Their problem had been trying to find the hideout; now they had their chance. Edward had finally been in a good mood. And then the ground opened up beneath him and he fell onto Jasper.
Ed had heard Molly's voice calling for him moments before. Everyone could hear the noises coming through the walls, and as they ventured deeper through the labyrinth, Ed began to call out. "Molly!" He yelled. Over and over again until they finally found the cell Zeo's group was in, down off a branching path a full level below them.
When they opened the mysterious door, the smell of sewage filed everyone's nostrils causing them to wrinkle their noses. "Molly!" Edward cried. "Can you move? Are you hurt?"
"I'm...my ankle is broken."
Before Edward could respond, Marc knelt down. "Let's take a look."
There was now enough light to see the black and purple bruising on her ankle. "No blood," Marc said. "That's a good thing. I'll be right back. Don't move."
"You're gonna be okay," Edward assured Molly.
Marc returned seconds later with an unlit wood torch. He tore the rag off of the wood, and then broke it in half. He placed boths pieces on either side of her foot. Edward watched as Marc tore the sleeves off his own coat. "Molly, I'll be straight and honest with you. This is going to hurt. Ed, grab her hand."
Ed felt like Molly was going to tear his hand off when Marc tied the makeshift splint around her ankle. She let out a cry that would make anyone's blood run cold. "My God," Ed thought. He had never felt a woman's grip quite like that. And yet there was something about it, that made him like her even more.
"Alright," Ed said. "Up we go." He placed one of her arms behind his neck. Marc did the same. Both men lifted Molly back onto one foot.
Joseph appeared in the room. "We have a problem," he said. He led Marc, Riza, Vulkie, and Jasper out of the room.
Moments later a voiced yelled out. "Ed, get Molly out here!" Marc's voice echoed off the walls. He followed the sound of the voices, reaching the rest of the group. "We have eight ambassadors down here, including Archibald Kerr. They're all too weak to fight and move forward."
"Kerr? I though he was back in London by now" Edward said.
"Yeah, well we all did. Doesn't matter now," Marc said.
"What do you propose?"
Marc shook his head. "I'll leave that up to you." Edward felt the color drain from his face. Marc was going to take an order?
"Jasper," Edward said. "Stay here with them until backup arrives. Then hurry your ass up and catch up with us."
"With all due respect," Jasper objected, "I think we need to get them out, get Molly some proper treatment, and--"
"We do not have time for that. Just do it."
Jasper nodded. He gave a nervous look at the rest of the group. "Go on," he said. "I'll catch up shortly."
Something in Edward's gut told him that wasn't the best idea. He helped Molly move, following the rest of the group deeper into the vast underground.
"Listen," Edward said as he and Molly trailed the group. "I want to apologize to you all for my brash decisions, my recklessness, and everything."
"I'll accept your apology," Marc said after a moment of silence. "In fact I think--"
"Shut up," Riza said as she stopped moving. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Edward whispered. Immediately there was a loud rumbling sound and the ground beneath their feet shook.
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