He stared directly into her emerald green eyes as he set her plate in front of her. By God, she was beautiful. Her smile was almost everything to him, just seeing her smile would turn a bad day completely around. Her pale skin was as soft as her voice which he compared to summer rains.
A pity, he thought to himself, that she has to die, for in her salad, disguised as lettuce leaves were the leaves of a plant, unknown to her, called the deadly nightshade. It was as nightmarish as it sounds.
Almost cherry-like, but similar instructors to the tomato, he disguised the fruit as blueberries. The dressing on the salad was made from the root of the plant, which he harvested at the end of the vegetation period, when the toxins would be the highest.
He watched with a false, realistic smile as she bit into her salad, closing her eyes to savor the sweet flavor of the toxic fruit. Symptoms wouldn't start immediately, but they wouldn't take long.
Once her symptoms started, she knew she'd been poisoned. First came the sweats and hallucinations, then the shortness of breath and trouble breathing, followed by paralysis and moments later, death.
After she had died, he got up and went outside through the back door into the cool night air. He inhaled deeply, the fresh air filling his lungs, then exhaled. He grabbed his shovel from the tool shed, and stabbed the ground.
"Mr. Mauve, I'm not here for tea, I'm here about three missing women, one them you knew personally. I'm not going to sit here and beat around the bush with you."
Marc pulled out his pen and wrote his phone number down on a piece of paper.
"When you're ready to give me some names, you can call me."
It was hard not to threaten to expose him. Mauve was obviously hiding something. Hypnosis was an option, but Marc pushed the idea in his mind away. Later.
Marc quickly opened the door, nearly running into Molly. "Excuse me, Molly," Marc said, not realizing who it really was. A split second later he did a double-take. "Molly! What are you doing here? Did you hear everything? Doesn't matter, c'mon." Marc said, talking fast. He led her outside, to the back of the building.
"Zeo should be here any minute. Three girls are missing, one of them is...was...a violinist here. Mauve is hiding something."
Each time Molly tried to talk Marc cut her off, updating her on the what he had learned, as they walked out of the alley.
Marc found a pay phone on the corner and put in a dime.
"Operator, give me records and information."
A moment later a female voice came through.
"I need an address on a Guy Mauve.".
He held the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he scribbled the address down. Just as he hung up, he saw Joseph's car pull up.
[Earlier in the day]
There was no Jane Doe that matched Isabella Valente’s description in the recent week. Joseph was not sure if he should be relieved or concerned about this lack of new discovery. The last time Mrs. Valente saw her daughter was about a week ago. So Isabella had been missing between 3 to 8 days. That was a huge gap, anything could have happened between then and now.
“If we find anyone that matches your description I’ll sure call you, Joseph.” Melanie assured him. As the head of hospital administration at Cornell, the only thing that was sharper than her mind was her acute sense of detecting public menace. That was why Melanie was so good at what she did. She also owed Joseph big time for the numerous occasions where Joseph helped “return” delusional patients, who may deem dangerous to the general public. These incidents, of course, were off the public record.
“We know at least 3 persons who went missing this month,” Joseph informed Melanie, “If any of them ends up in a hospital…”
“I will let you know.” Melanie cut in, knowing well how Joseph think, “they can possibly be related.”
Joseph smiled and nodded. He knew nothing escapes Melanie’s radar. As he headed to the elevator, Melanie added, “Actually there are four, at least.”
“Four?” Joseph turned around and looked at Melanie.
“People often overlook news about boys. Always the attractive dames that get the attention.” Melanie mused, “A young man, only 17 years old who still live with his parents, was missing since 3 weeks ago. The parents reported it to the police but they simply wrote it off as a runaway case. Typical.”
“Is that so?” Joseph jotted down the name of the young man and thanked Melanie for her information.
The sun was crawling down the horizon so Joseph knew the Opera had just started. He had no intention of sitting through a long singing show, not when Joseph was practically tone death. He still had two hours before meeting up with Marc. He looked at the address of Isabella Valente and the keys her mother passed to him. A visit to the missing person’s own home may reap some clues.
The young lady did well for herself. The small home was on a secluded plot of land, but not too far from the actions of the city. It was already getting dark. Joseph unlocked the front door and flicked on the light switch. Fortunately, the electricity was still running. Can’t say the same in another few weeks if Valante is not found, Joseph thought.
Isabella had elegant taste with her furnishings, and everything were neat and in its proper place. Photos of her performing on stage was next to her family photo. Everything were picture perfect. A meticulous search in the living room and kitchen turned up nothing. Joseph proceed to the bedroom. A sturdy music stand stood in a corner with a violin in the case next to it. The music sheets were circled and marked with neat hand writings. Joseph went through every piece of paper. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Big wardrobe,” Joseph muttered under his breath as he opened the giant closet next to the bed. Isabella has many dresses, which Joseph really cared less about. He still do not understand why any one person need more than a few sets of clothing. Everyone’s only granted one body.
Nothing, Joseph signed. He took a last look at the room and turned off the ceiling lamp. Joseph paused. He turned the light back on. He went back to the closet again, opened it, closed it and looked around. Something didn’t add up. The cabinet should be much roomier than what the interior showed.
Joseph opened the closet again and reached in. After fiddling with the boards a bit, Joseph managed to slide open a hidden compartment. There was another violin case. “Must be a precious instrument to be so well hidden”, Joseph remarked as he opened the case to take a look.
Handcuffs? Isabella didn’t look like the law enforcement type. The cuffs were lined with fine leather. Two pairs of them. Then there was a few riding crops, and a cat o’nine tails. It suddenly dawned on Joseph what he was looking at.
After returning everything to its original place, Joseph quickly left Isabella’s turf to head back to the theatre. This “hobby” of Isabella’s may or may not be related to her disappearance, but Joseph doubted that they were mutually exclusive. “Wait until Marc hear this,” Joseph muttered as he stepped on the gas pedal.
A beautiful buxom woman was getting helped out of her 16th century Tudor era costume by two stage assistants when Guy Mauve walked into the dressing room.
“Heavens! It’s a man.” One of the young girls assisting the woman shrieked.
The buxom woman turned around to look and then retorted. “Relax you silly girl is just Guy.” Then she added curtly. “That’s Mr. Mauve to you!”
“Natalia?” Guy interrupted. “You have a minute?”
“We should be on vocal rest you know.” Natalia spoke sharply. “Especially after that D6 at the end of Act I. Sometimes I feel Opera composers hate women. They give us the most difficult parts to play!”
Guy chuckled at that. Natalia Milanov was a powerhouse of a soprano in the world of Opera who does her native Croatia proud. The role of Anna Bolena is possibly the most demanding in the whole of Opera for a Soprano, especially with that high D at the end of Act I being so far away from the normal human vocal register that it’s a monumental effort to hit and hold.
Natalia wore her robe, shooed the two girls out the room and sat with a drink in her hand. “Tell me.”
“An alcoholic beverage? On the day of a performance?” Guy tutted.
“Be brief Mauve.” Natalia was not about to entertain him.
“Remember what I told you about Isabella? And the guy we both were seeing? Tony?”
“Yes, the business man. What of it?”
“I think something might have happened to her. I always had uneasy feelings around Tony the few times we went out.”
“But you chose to overlook?”
“Well yes, we both did. Something didn’t feel right about him but-”
“He’s rich? Yes, people tend to think less when everything is paid for.” Natalia cut him off.
“Well.” Guy was startled by her sharp perception. “Yes and-”
“The sex was good? Well people would risk it all for that.”
“But the thing is I believe there was real risk involved. The police questioned you too?”
Natalia stood and started dressing for the evening as she spoke. “They have. What I tell you Guy is this. I am many years your senior, a Soprano approaching forty and I have seen it all. Powerful men want toys that shine, that are in the limelight... toys that other powerful men would envy them for. But if like Isabella all you are after is money and good sex, nothing good can come out of it.”
“You’re right.” Guy frowned. “That poor girl.”
Natalia finished dressing and turned to Guy. “Now we don’t know what happen to Isabella, it is a matter for the police now. We could only take care ourselves to learn from her mistakes. I have seen many a Soprano have her life ruined by the wrong type of man. We must look out for ourselves and our talents.” She paused a while then added. “Are you coming with us for dinner tonight? We’re going to L’Aiglon.”
“Not tonight.” Guy shook his head. “I’m going back home. I need some peace and quiet after tonight. A hot bath and lots of water to recharge.”
“Well, I’m hungry, so good bye.”
“What if Tony calls?” Guy asked as Natalia was leaving.
“Oh honey, love them or leave them, just don’t get stuck with the tab.”
Molly suddenly found herself being shuttled along by the elbow, Marc talking a mile a minute.
"I-" she began, but Marc cut her off with "three girls are missing."
"Who-" she tried again, but he continued "one of them is... was a violinist here. Mauve is hiding something."
"How-" Molly tried once more, but Marc was off on a tangent about an Isabella, a Margaret, a love triangle, coverups, a secret relationship between two men, something about the opera underworld, and Molly's head was positively spinning.
By the time Marc took a breath and Molly, rather redfaced and irritated at this. point managed a "now you look here", he was gone.
Blinking, she saw him steps away at a payphone, curtly giving instructions into the mouthpiece.
"Well I never!" she hissed, putting her hands on her hips. Of all the nerve! No surprise and delight, no embraces, no visible excitement at being reunited with a friend of years past. Indeed, Marc seemed to have picked up exactly where they left off - the trouble was, Molly had no clue what on earth was afoot.
Marc hung up the phone and Molly strode toward him, her fists balled. "Now look here you insufferable -"
Just then, a familiar car pulled up. Zeo!
"Well at least someone reasonable is here." Molly murmured to herself, as Marc motioned for her to get into the backseat as he took the front. Carefully, she rearranged her evening gown, hoping not to wrinkle the deep green chiffon on the cool leather.
Marc began to debrief Zeo, but Molly cut him off firmly this time. "Joseph, DARLING, it is simply LOVELY to see you again."
Joseph twisted in his seat, a slight smile twisting the corner of his mouth as he regarded his old compatriot.
"Well, it's a surprise to see you Molly. I take it you were enjoying a night at the opera?" He asked, glancing over her evening wear and jewels.
"There's no time for this!" Marc barked, and rattled off the address of Guy Mauve's home to Zeo. "We need to find out what Mauve knows, away from... possible interruptions." He filled Zeo in on what he had learned.
Molly attempted to pout, but her curiosity won out as she leaned forward in her seat, listening intently to Marc's recount, and Joseph's report of what he had learned at Cornell, and later at Isabella's home.
Molly blushed a little as he described the various objects he'd discovered. "Oh my..." she said to herself, Isabella sounded like a very... adventurous sort of gal indeed.
By the time Zeo had finished his recounting, they were nearing the address Marc had provided. Zeo pulled to the side of the street and cut the lights.
"What happens now?" Molly breathed, looking out at the dark street. She had a feeling she knew. After all, Marc wasn't the most delicate person every when it came to prying information out of suspects. She looked down at her wardrobe ruefully. She might be quite overdressed for this occasion.
Jane was Finished. And yet, was still not what anyone would typically think of as a Lady, especially not here in the rebellious colony. Coming from Europe, having grown up in a house older than the country she found herself in, older even than the city she was currently exploring, made one feel rather...peculiar.
Nevertheless, she was in New York, New York for the first time, unleashed on the world. Her pale face paired with her modest frock and utterly forgettable hat ensured that most glances would slide right off her, and that, in the rare chance she was noticed, that she was utterly undescribable later.
When Jane had first realized that she was too late to make contact with Miss Isabella Valente, she had cursed the headwinds that had delayed the ship. Now, as she stood off to the side of the Met building, which, in Jane's opinion was nothing compared to Teatro di San Carlo or La Scala, both in terms of architecture and competency of the performers, she felt resigned. Her fist assignment, foiled by WIND of all things.
She had, however been warned of the distinct possibility that she would be too late to help Miss Isabella, and been given instruction to find and dispatch whoever was responsible, not only for Miss Isabelle, but for those who had been sent before Jane.
Jane had watched with interest as a car whipped up and stopped just past the Met, and the mis-matched couple she had observed earlier investigating Miss Isabelle's death slid in. She had memorized the sleek, stunning woman and the rather surly, excitable man already, so Jane focused on the driver. It was dark, and Jane could not get a good look at the man, but she thought she would be able to recognize his profile.
It was time to meet her contact. Then she would track down these non-stealthy investigators.
**Meanwhile in Guy Mauve's New York apartment**
After soaking in a hot scented luxurious bath and enjoying a long cold shower, Guy Mauve wore his favourite silk robe and relaxed in his living room to tuck into small spread of mini sandwiches prepared by the part-time maid earlier in the afternoon before she left.
He then relaxed, together with a hot steaming cup of his favourite tea, with the current novel he was reading, ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ by an up-and-coming author by the name of Agatha Christie.
After a while he put the book down and day dreamed then thought about the events of the day: The disappearance of Isabella Valente, the interview with policemen, his conversation with that private detective... marc something... and finally his heart to heart with Natalia. His thoughts were then suddenly interrupted -to his surprise- by a knock on the door.
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