Monday, May 11, 2009

The Cellar

Henri walked into the Cellar. Ostensibly a ballroom and restaurant, it was well-known that the Cellar's basement floor carried a stock of liquor appropriate to the tastes of upper class drinkers. What a dense crowd for a Tuesday night! If the police knew about the place – and they must have known – then they turned a blind eye to it. Possibly there were bribes involved, or perhaps the owner was somehow managing to function without the aid of the mob, or both. Henri would run into someone he knew here.

In a dark corner, Cati crouched over her "tea". It had been almost an hour and a half since she had met Emma upstairs and had dragged her into the basement, and Cati had remained mildly disconsolate about her strange encounter. Even if his anxious manner had undercut his ability to intimidate, there had been a real menace in the driver's eyes and words.

"I still don't get it, lady," Emma said as she released a puff of smoke. She languidly rocked her long-stemmed cigarette holder in her fingers. "The driver wanted to take you to a minstrel show, and then he cursed at you in Hungarian and missed the turn." With a bored expression on her face (which Cati knew to read as the first step in the fossilization process), Emma tapped her cigarette, expertly pitching her ash into the tray.

"Finally, he stared at you. You attract the weird ones. In fact," she tapped her ash again, compulsively, "a lot of weird things have been happening lately, and it's got me thinking what if there's a conspiracy? First that swami goes into a fit on stage, then Mags Whitcombe dies last week, and there was another girl, Milicent Beckinshire (I saw in the paper) who also died that night. Did you hear about that? Who knows who could be in on it? The Communists, the mob, the Turks! Hey!" Her tangent crumbled instantaneously. Emma lifted her head and sat up. "Speaking of which, isn't that your friend from the Audubon over there?" Her cigarette indicated a singularly spiffily dressed man sitting at a table on the other side of the floor. It was Henri.

"So you are being followed!" She was mostly joking. "Should we tell him the game's up?" she asked, smiling.

Cati was about to agree, but then she saw him, the taxi driver. For an instant, he had been coming down the stairs into the basement level, but another man, standing too high in the stairwell for Cati to see his face, put his hand on the driver's shoulder. They exchanged words, the driver nodded and turned back up the stairs.

The other man came down the stairs. His build was the opposite of the driver's, who was short and a little stocky. Instead, this fellow cut a figure as straight and as sharp as a skyscraper. His freshly pressed trousers and jacket, both the same granite-like grey, further suggested modernist architecture. He was generally attractive in that way that seemed to cut across the peculiar features of the many nations and countries that were now represented in New York City. At the bottom of the stairs, he removed his hat. He was fair, but not quite blonde.

"Cati, dear! You look a little frightened! You don't think that French guy's actually stalking you, do you?"


da solomon said...

(Cati made a spot hidden roll.

Shh! card by Morph Creative.)

Teresa said...

Cati shifted and angled her body so that her back was to the taxi driver. "No, not him," she hissed at Emma. "The bird from the cab. He's here."

"No shit?" Emma exclaimed, looking around.

Cati glared at her. "Dry up! He went back upstairs. But a friend of his just came in."

Her hand instinctively rested on her purse, even though she knew she wasn't going to fire a pistol at anyone in the middle of a juice joint. But did she have any reason to worry about this fella in the middle of a packed, public area?

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri ordered champagne and looked around the room. There was a blond he knew, but he could not place her name. That would be embarrassing when it happened inevitably, but he would hold off and find someone else to ask for a dance first.

He took a long sip of his champagne. It was a non vintage brut, but passable, yeasty with sharp fruit. Chilled perfectly, which helped immensely. He was grateful for it.

His eyes continued over the room. He saw another woman whose name he could not recall. For a moment he could not recall from where he knew her either, but then it came to him. She'd been Mlle. Predoviciu's companion at the Audubon. With her was another woman, back to the door... Could that be Mlle. Predoviciu? He stood. If it were not, he could always ask the other young lady to dance and nothing was lost.

He stood and strode over to the table.

"Mademoiselle," he said with a nod and glanced down at the other lady, "and Mademoiselle Predoviciu. How lovely to see you both. Perhaps Mlle. Predoviciu would care to dance?"

Teresa said...

Cati looked up at Henri. She smiled broadly, though it didn't reach her eyes. "Yes," she said decisively, draining the rest if her drink and getting to her feet.

She took Henri's arm, guiding him across the floor and away from the taxi driver's friend. "I just had a ride in a cab with some crazy bird who tried to use some mumbo-jumbo words, like the ones the swami had you say," she said, loud enough for only Henri to hear. "And now he and a partner of his seems to have followed me here.

"I feel a little nuts thinking this, but I'm worried about my safety. Do you know what's going on?"

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"No," Henri murmured back, "but I am beginning to fear we are in something that is more real that first I thought. I think you are right to be afraid. Do not make it obvious, but show me these men. First I will see if I know them. Then, perhaps, I try to talk to one of them. They cannot do much in such a crowd and it may be that I will learn something. You must stay close to me or your friend at all times. Do not be alone."

Teresa said...

"One of them went back upstairs. He was a nervous-looking bird, kind of round and sweaty."

Cati, still holding Henri's arm, gently turned so that they could see the other man. "The other fella is over there, in the slick gray glad rags. The blonde.

"Do you recognize him at all?"

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"No, sadly," Henri said. "Do you want me to talk to him? Shall I ask him why he is following you?"

da solomon said...

(Action continues in "Going on Instinct".)