“i am sorry to interrupt, my lord, but i an informed that mr mahmoud would like a word with you.”
“now?” lord chandler glanced over at his nephew, who like himself, was seated comfortably in a club chair in front of one of the world’s last functioning marble fireplaces.
“apparently so, my lord.”
“how strange. well, i can’t very well refuse him. show him in.”
peters left and reentered with an unsmiling mr mahmoud, who was unaccompanied by aides, servants, or bodyguards.
his lordship and his nephew both rose to greet mr mahmoud. at a nod from his lordship, peters departed.
“well, mr mahmoud,” his lordship announced in his most jovial manner, “something has come up that could not wait until the official get together, eh?”
“there is something that i would like to discuss with you privately, my lord,” mr mahmoud replied evenly.
“permit mr to introduce my nephew - the duke of dent. quite a healthy looking specimen of frankish young manhood, isn’t he?”
“indeed,” mr mahmoud replied politely. “i am delighted to make your acquaintance, your grace. i am sure we can have a very pleasant conversation - after my private conversation with lord chandler is completed.”
“david has just returned from the caucasus,” continued lord chandler, “and has many interesting observations from his trip.”
“i am sure.” mr mahmoud nodded to the young duke.
“it is a great honor to meet you, sir,” the duke addressed mr mahmoud smoothly. “i am sure i would like to plague you with a great many questions, more than courtesy might perhaps permit - “ he smiled. “when the opportunity arises.”
“i do not doubt, your grace, that you could tell me more than i could ever tell you.”
and on that note the young duke left the room, leaving the two elder statesmen to their parley.
lord chandler motioned to mr mahmoud to be seated. “well, sir, may i offer you something? or shall we get down to this unforeseen business.”
mr mahmoud took the offered seat, seemingly more at ease now that he had achieved his desired object of getting lord chandler alone.
“i remember you had some excellent cherry brandy when i last visited. that and some of your excellent frankish coffee would be very welcome.”
concealing his impatience, lord chandler rang for peters.
jeffrey leaned back contentedly after finishing the plate of cream tarts ernestine had whipped up for him.
“those were delightful, my dear, “ he assured ernestine.
“tell me, does charles never suspect you are making these wonderful confections? surely, they must leave some trace, in the air, or on the kitchen counter, or somewhere?”
“oh, i am sure he does. but either he does not care - that is the most likely explanation - or he just assumes i eat them all myself.”
“ah. and that you do not save any for him, does that not bother him?”
“no, he is more of a cheeseburger and onion ring person.”
“how disgusting. a strange fellow, charles. i wonder how he lives with himself, or how he continues to jog along.”
”the same way he always has. but enough about charles, what about you? how are you getting along in the great world since i last saw you?”
“oh, splendidly, splendidly. rising like a glob of burning lava in a volcano. no one has a bad word to say to me.”
ernestine laughed. “a bad word to you? how about anything bad about you?”
“well, one never knows about that. i have not heard anything, that is the best one can hope for, eh?”
“and have you been able to turn all this splendid rising and good words to any solid account?”
“why,” jeffrey replied carefully, “one has to observe certain proprieties, and not strike too quickly in these matters. let one’s good fortune be so taken for granted that trading on it is not even noticed. i am sure you understand.”
“of course, of course. and how is your charming wife?”
“moving from triumph to triumph.”
“good. we wouldn’t want her to miss out on the fun.”
“yes,” jeffrey sighed. “everything would be perfect, if only the diplomatic situation were not quite so volatile.”
“not so volatile? but don’t you want it to be volatile? have you not made your whole career by being always a member of the war party?”
“of course, but always within limits.”
“well, whatever. that is enough of that. i didn’t think you came here to talk shop.” ernestine leaned back and looked around the room. “come now, relax. is there anything else i can get you?”
“a plate of jelly tarts would be nice. and some more of this delightful tea to wash it down.”
“coming right up.”
ernestine got up from the sofa. as she did, the doorbell rang.
charles entered the dunkin donuts. magnus recognized him immediately and waved him over.
“boomer, old buddy, where have you been?” magnus pumped charles’s hand. “i was just thinking about you.”
“really? that’s very flattering.” charles disengaged his hand and sat down across from magnus and johnny. why had he come in here? he already regretted it. he did not really have anything to say to magnus, and would have preferred to be by himself thinking about his possibly changed circumstances.
magnus did not bother to introduce johnny, and charles did not much like johnny’s looks. he thought he looked like a cheap two-bit grifter.
charles felt johnny’s eyes on him. he turned to him and gave him his most charming smile. “hello, there.”
“hello, yourself,” johnny answered evenly.
“oh, have you two gentlemen met?” magnus asked innocently.
“i don’t think so, “ said johnny.
“boomer, this is j j, he used to be a regular at the alligator club, over on the west side. j j, this the boomer, that you might have heard people talking about him back at zack’s. we were at zack’s last night, ” magnus told charles, “and were thinking of heading over there now.”
“how was the action there last night?” charles asked.
“i see.” suddenly charles did not want to go to zack’s, or any place else. he wanted to get away somewhere and ponder his fate, speculate on the implications of his recent encounter with ms folger…
and then it hit him.
a plan formed in his mind, almost complete. magnus, with his flow of talk even if he had nothing else… and this punk, who looked mean enough even if he turned out to be not very bright… they were all he needed.
“say,” charles said to magnus and johnny, with the air of a man who had just had a sudden inspiration, which in fact he had, “how would you two fellows like to make a few dollars?”
neither of them looked either surprised or particularly enthusiastic.
”i’ll listen to anything.” magnus told charles. “what’s on your mind?”
“i’m not going anywhere,” johnny added. “what have you got?”
charles looked around the dunkin donuts. “can we talk in here?”
“that’s up to you,” magnus told him.
“i know a place we can go - a little more private.”
charles had a good thing going, one that kept him in pocket money and one that he wanted to keep going.
and one that he did not want ernestine to know about, although he did not know that it would really change anything if she did. but you never knew with ernestine.
when he had first taken the assignments from mr wade and begun his “boys nights out” he had thought ernestine might have him followed, but as time went on it became apparent that she did not.
no doubt being content with her own nights out with jeffrey and gerard and peggy and her other friends.
but now this! charles could only wait and see if and how mr wade’s departure - was it permanent? - would affect him.
it had all begun about a year ago when good old larry andrews had sent him around to mr wade.
mr wade had apparently liked what he saw in charles as being just the man he wanted because he had made his proposal and they had come to an agreement before charles had finished three drinks.
basically, charles went to the bank’s offices at regular intervals and received large packs of cash. he was never told, and never asked, if the bills were “counterfeit” or not, and charles’s understanding was that such a definition did not really mean much in the new world.
in any case, the “berkeley bank” whoever or whatever it was and whoever was behind it, wanted the bills circulated for their own purposes and gave charles a small remuneration - in separate bills - to spend them quickly and freely in places like race tracks, casinos, betting parlors, and card rooms. i e, in places where he did not have to go to much trouble of establishing any identity beyond a nickname. massage parlors, houses of ill repute, and even bars were all right too, but not as much money could be disposed of as quickly, and besides, charles preferred the various gambling establishments.
in some of them he was “c b”, in others “mr white” or “chuckie” or “the boomer”.
now, still slightly disoriented by the change at the bank from mr wade to ms folger, he decided to head for his favorite spot - zack’s card room on the lower north side.
as he passed the little dunkin donuts a couple of blocks from zack’s he saw a familiar face from zack’s - an old fashioned con man type who called himself professor - or was it doctor? - magnus.
a fellow charles found rather tiresome, but whose acquaintance he rather attempted to cultivate, out of an obscure feeling that he might someday be of use to him.
in case he, charles, might someday have to find a new identity and a new life, as was sadly so often the case in this chaotic modern world.
charles started to raise his hand to wave at magnus but just as he did magnus turned and spoke to someone out of charles’s view.
angeiline watched through the rain streaked windows as mr mahmoud and his private secretary arrived. she had begged off easily enough from being in the greeting party, and her mother had assured her that neither mr mahmoud nor the secretary would give a moment’s thought to her, whether she was there or not.
angeline watched as mr mahmoud and the secretary and two other men - bodyguards? - got out of mr mahmoud’s heavy looking - bulletproof? - car. she thought it quite vulgar though just a bit thrilling that the two men might be carrying guns under their long black coats.
“what do you think the best place to be sure of avoiding these fellows?” she asked mademoiselle feval, the governess..
“either the blue room or the library,” replied mademoiselle. “the blue room is the more out of the way, but it seems unlikely that any would seek the library - even assuming that their duties would allow them to seek anything.”
“the library it is, then, “ said angeline, turning from the window.
just then rogers, the under-butler, appeared. “i just installed a couple of guests in the library, miss. a couple of emergency guests that mr wallace hastily recruited, because two others had begged off from dinner.”
angeline shrugged. “thank you, rogers. but in that case i shall be curious to meet them. i do not suppose they are carrying guns on their persons?”
“i assume they are not, miss,” rogers replied with a smile.
joe and mary looked up when angeline and mademoiselle feval entered the library. they were both seated in deep armchairs, reading books they had found on the shelves.
joe was reading “the adventures of philip”, by wlliam makepeace thackeray, and mary was reading volume 14 of professor harrison’s history of world religions.
angeline smiled at them as pleasantly as she was able. “i hope you are quite comfortable.”
“yes we are, thank you,” mary replied evenly, lowering her book. “mr wallace told us we could stay here until dinner.”
“oh, i do not doubt that,” angeline assured mary. “i do not question your being here.” she took a seat in a chair close to mary’s. ”it is a dreary day, isn’t it? otherwise we might go outside and play a little croquet, or badminton.”
“i have never played either of those games,” said mary, “no doubt they have their estimable qualities.”
“oh, they are just something to do, when one had to do something, as one is expected to do most of the time. look here, that is quite a tome you have selected there. are you really as interested as all that in the history of religion?”
“yes, i am, “ mary replied.
“and why is that, if i may ask?” angeline persisted. “are you a devotee of any established religion yourself”.
“no, i was thinking of starting my own religion.”
“oh. you know, that seems to be all the rage these days. we have had quite a few guests lately who have expressed the same inclination. in fact, we might have some right now who do.”
“that is very interesting,” mary replied with a polite smile.
“perhaps you could get together with them and compare notes,” observed mademoiselle feval.
“perhaps they could,” angeline agreed. “if most of them were not so terribly busy rearranging the map of the world.” she glanced at mary. “we have some frightfully important guests, you know, whom you shall see at dinner. such as mr mahmoud. you know who mr mahmoud is. of course.”
“of course,” mary answered. “i have seen him many times - on television.”
“and what opinion, if any, have you formed of him?” asked mademoiselle feval.
“the maid we assigned to the staffords has informed me that mr stafford is indisposed, and will not be coming down to dinner.”
“on top of m santcerre having the same complaint. what do you think, wallace? that it is something in the air? the shooting has been good, and the air is usually good when the shooting is good.”
“i really can’t say, madame. shall i have cook proceed with dinner for ten?”
“no, no, that is too few. not with such a guest as mr mahmoud, you know how sensitive they can be about trifles.”
wallace nodded, indicating that he awaited mrs foster’s command.
“i know it is tiresome, but you shall have to go out into the highways and byways and round up a couple of guests. it is short notice, but do what you can.”
“yes, madame. and i will tell cook to proceed with dinner for twelve.”
stone, mrs foster’s chauffeur, pulled the old bentley - the family’s oldest car, used for the most functional and least ceremonial purposes - off the driveway and on to the “highway and byway” in which he and wallace, the butler, were to find a pair of guests to complete the evening dinner party.
“what are we looking for, mr wallace?”
“the first people who come along, stone. the first people who come along.”
“ha, ha. surely you have some more stringent requirements than that, mr wallace?”
“no, not at all.” wallace looked out the window. “especially as it looks like rain. i really do not care to be driving around muddy roads in the bleak countryside all day to little purpose.”
“so you have done this sort of thing before, have you?” stone asked. he was new to mrs foster’s establishment.
“oh, yes, many times.”
“and you have never found that the people you just pick up by the side of the road cause any - any embarrassment when they are introduced to the society of the likes of mrs foster and her distinguished guests - heads of state, the cream of society, and all that?”
“not at all.”
stone laughed. “really? they never misbehave, or express any disgruntled proletarian or anti-establishment sentiments?”
“never. i have found that people, even the lowest of the low, are always quite properly in awe of their betters, and mind their manners quire nicely.”
wallace and stone lapsed into silence, and continued to drive along. perhaps because of the threatening skies, the roads were deserted.
the rain began to fall.
stone was just about to head for the main highway and the roads into the city when they saw a young man and a young woman trudging along ahead of them.
mary heard the bentley behind them before joe did, and moved a bit off the road, so as not to get splashed by the rainwater.
but the bentley stopped. wallace rolled the window down and explained his and stone’s mission.
mary listened attentively. when wallace was finished, she asked, “so we get some free food?”
“yes, miss, and quite a bit of it, if that is your fancy. one thing about mrs foster, she is no cheeseparer. and expects no great show of gratitude, either. you will not be required to sing for your supper.”
“sounds good.” mary nodded to joe.
“the rear door is unlocked,” wallace told them, and they both got in the car.
wallace noticed that joe had not said a word, but had let mary do all the talking.