SAPHIRA EPISODE 3 – “NIGHT OF VENICE”

BLURB:

Saphira’s parents want to see her married well. She suspects they might even sell her to the highest bidder. The Marquis, a murderer whose secret only Saphira knows, has threatened to take advantage of this. He’s bought the most expensive venue in her home town from her father, a real estate agent, which won him the man’s favor and and control over Saphira. He organizes a glamorous banquet that everybody in town attends, but his ways are subversive. In this episode Saphira discovers that the Marquis is dangerous in more than one way.

(Episode one and two are available here)

***

It’s the Night of Venice here in Northville – a town devastated by air raids during the war, and rebuilt by some of the wealthiest families in England shortly after. They restored the houses to former Gothic glory, but there’s none like the Manor with the Fields. The place could easily pass for Dracula’s castle. It was the toughest sell in Father’s career, which got the family out of a very bad money situation, but I would’ve preferred bankruptcy to the chilling presence of its new owner.

The streets bustle with majestic outfits and Venetian masks. Laughter and giggling fill the night air as my parents and I make our way to the Manor, snow crunching with gravel under our feet. My ankles are frozen in the stilettos, and my feet already feel like bruised meat. I should’ve put on something more comfortable for the road, but Mum wouldn’t hear of it. I was required to make an impression from the moment I stepped out the door, since we wouldn’t want Pretty Lauren’s eyelashes to out-bat ours, or her outfit to gain any competitive advantage.

In conclusion now I’m wearing a short golden cocktail dress, and my hair like a mane of golden locks. Little difference left between my appearance and that of a luxury prostitute. Against the cold I’m wearing a quality wool coat, so at least for now I’m safe from stripper-ogling. I think of Father’s eyeballs spinning with dollar signs each time a bachelor shark sets his eyes on me, and my stomach turns. I yank my arm from the hook of his as soon as we reach the Manor steps.

A valet helps me out of the coat, eyes me up and down – discretely in his opinion, I’m sure – and I step into the ballroom. It has quite an effect, I must admit. The Marquis turned the place into a grand venue with mirrors and crystals. Better even than the Royale by the sea, where he and I first crossed paths.

All men wear dark suits like a uniform, but women make for a ripple of color and glitter. A knot begins to swell in my throat, my nose creasing at the flood of cologne. It’s soon hot and too loud. I follow my parents into air-kiss greeting here and there, and fail to spot the figure flying my way until it bumps into me, its arms around my neck with a film of sweat and scent of lilies.

“Saph, oh my Saphy,” she squeals.

I grab her shoulders and look into her face. She’s smaller than me and rounder, her eyes cacao-brown, sweet cheeks and a contagious smile. My mood changes in an instant, and I lift her in my arms.

“Jeanie Simmons, you little loony,” I yelp like a schoolgirl. Jeanie Simmons is the purest soul I’ve ever met. I’m genuinely happy to see her. “You here?”

“Came for the Christmas break,” she says, drawing me away from my parents and their cluster. “Just for two weeks but guess what,” she now whispers in my ear as if not a day had passed since our last pajama party. “I met someone and I don’t want to leave again.”

Like a squirrel she makes our way to a table where we find the banquet-polished versions of what we may call our oldest friends, though the term doesn’t fit in all cases. I’m the only one who still lives in Northville and not some fancy metropolis, so I must watch my manners.

First I recognize Pretty Lauren, the most label-aware, perfectly groomed of the group. Indeed, what Mum would resent as serious competition for a wealthy husband, especially in a pool such as the Marquis’ banquet. Lauren wears a short red cocktail dress, Swarovski jewelry and smoky make-up. Her hair is naturally dark red but now dyed the color of fire, and her smile forced to say the least. She raises her hand, and for a moment I wonder if she’s going to wave from so short a distance, but what she does is flutter her skinny white fingers – in order to prevent that I come any closer, I’m sure.

“Hey there, Saph. Long time no see.” Her voice is nasal and annoying.

“Nice to see you too, Lauren,” I lie and turn to the modest and grounded-looking woman sitting on the right.

Virgin Vivien is an understated and distinguished presence. Her face is smooth as porcelain without a trace of make-up, her eyes intelligent, and her frame slim. Wearing a dark bun and a little black dress, she’s not only a natural beauty, but she’s the most interesting woman I know. The eyes scanning her don’t dare do it overtly.

“Hey, Viv,” I greet as I take the chair by her side. Virgin Vivien and I have always been close in a quiet way. She comes to Northville often because the sea is close and she hates city life. A smile quirks up the corner of her mouth.

“How long do I still have to wait for that lonely-cliff landscape?”

I give an apologetic sigh. Truth is, I’m not that inspired. “Just give me another decade or so.”

“What’s it going to cost to get you moving?”

“Take your clothes off for a nude,” I crack, and she bursts into laughter. A second later something hits my back, and I realize it’s Jeanie’s arm resting on me, her breath warm in my ear.

“That’s him, up there with our host, that’s him.” It’s an enthusiastic whisper. I look up in the direction her gaze has taken, and my throat laces up.

The Marquis stands on the grand stairs, an elegant young man of a stunning beauty. The contours of his face, pale and flawless, contrast with his eerie dark eyes, and make something stir in my chest. I punch the feeling away, but it keeps returning. He is our host, so at least I’m relieved he’s not the new master of Jeanie’s heart. It must be one of the two men flanking him. Still, Jeanie is the exception rather than the rule. The female sighs around at the sight of him – including Lauren’s – leave no doubt the young Marquis fills the dreams of many.

His companions stand with crystal glasses in their hands, one of them keeping a jovial smile in place, the other’s face an impenetrable mask. The music stops and there’s the clinking of spoon on glass. It’s not the Marquis who signals a toast though, but the smiling friend on his left. He’s very tall and lean, his face bony and pronounced. He has ruffled locks and a creepy stare that has a disturbingly familiar something to it. He’s handsome in a unique and, most of all, interesting way.

It takes a few moments of en masse fidgeting until the crowd settles into a murmur low enough to allow a speech, which is restricted to gratitude for accepting them in the community.

Turns out the smiling speaker is the Marquis’ cousin, and Stone Mask on the right is his head of security. The Marquis himself only offers a short welcome to the banquet, and an invitation for everybody to enjoy themselves. That excited flutter moves to my stomach at the sound of his voice, and I realize with a cuss that I have a crush on him.

“Your mouth isn’t any cleaner than last time I heard it,” Lauren spews wickedly. I fail to bite back, but Jeanie does it for me.

“The last time you heard it you were in bed with my brother.”

And my fiancé at the time. I’m grateful he’s not here now. I wish Jeanie would add the part where I wiped the floor with Lauren for everyone to hear, and Lauren’s eyes widen at the possibility too. She picks on another subject with a momentum.

“Who’s your Mr. Special of the two?”

“Why d’you wanna know, plan to bed’em?” Jeanie blocks.

“How does she even know about Mr. Special?” I ask. Jeanie’s still looking daggers at Lauren.

“She was a bit loud when she told me,” Viv cuts in. She’s smiling a warm smile at Jeanie. “Always exuberant in her jolly moods.”

Jeanie drops in her seat next to me. “The one who talked. Joyous.”

“Are you serious? His name is actually Joyous? He looks more like the young version of Hannibal Lecter,” I say.

“Stop that. He’s the sweetest guy ever.”

“Where did you two meet?” I’m dead curious now.

“He came over like some Mr. Bingley,” she sparkles. Then spews a bit of harmless venom at Lauren. “You know, Mr. Bingley? Pride and Prejudice?”

Jeanie’s a bit ridiculous trying to make Lauren look an idiot. Lauren rolls her eyes and raises the Venetian mask on a stick to shield them. I guide Jeanie back to the subject to save her from looking the idiot herself.

“It’s all thanks to the Marquis,” Jeanie continues with reddening cheeks. “He’s interested in my dad’s old pub and the land that goes with it. It’s been rotting closed for years, so dad said why not. The Marquis sent his cousin to discuss the matter.”

My jugular pulses in alarm. “The Marquis wants to buy yet more land?”

This strikes a chord for Lauren, who flashes the mask away and bends into the discussion over the table. “The guy’s so rich, it’s almost insolent.” Her eyes glint. “My dad talked of it often these past weeks, he was intrigued. So he did a bit of digging, and it turns out all the Marquis’ business partners ended up ceding him everything they had. And he’s been doing business with some very powerful people.”

“One of them from Northville, actually,” a young man slips into the discussion. “He died a month ago. On the night of the Royale banquet actually. He was supposed to attend but never made it. You might remember him from other events, in his forties, plucked eyebrows, good body, in love with himself. Found dead in his car.”

A buzz starts in my head, and I no longer listen to the cause of death. I know it’s a fake. The man died at the hand of the Marquis, I saw it. I saw his dead eyes fixed on his murderer.

“Signed the cession on the day he died, word has it,” another man says. Soon the discussion heats up, and I stand with a dizzy head, seeking my way to cooler air. The cologne and body warmth of the crowd smothers me.

Jeanie asks if I’m okay and wants to join, but I refuse. On my way to the door the baldhead piranha who’s been terrorizing me with phone calls walks my way with a filthy grin on. I don’t stand a chance to avoid him, but then I see it. I see what’s behind him. I want to scream, but I fail.

To be continued.

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

Liked this? Please share your thoughts and feelings in a comment. Saphira’s whole story will be published in a Christmas Story Book for Adults between the 15th and 18th of December. The book might just make the best present idea for some of your friends. Know someone who loves fairy-tales even in ripe years? Then take advantage of this opportunity, and stay tuned for Gift Promotions and other goodies.

Saphira Episode 1 & Saphira Episode 2 are available here for your entertainment.

UPDATE: Saphira’s whole story has been released in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

Pic source.

13 thoughts on “SAPHIRA EPISODE 3 – “NIGHT OF VENICE”

  1. You nail the timing with the banter between the girls then the cliffhanger moment. Oh geez! What could be behind the bald headed piranha that stifles a scream! I’m going to camp out here until I find out. Great job, Ana.

  2. I always love stories with a Venetian masked ball theme.

    That’s why The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp is one of my favourite recent films being set in Venice with the required ball scene as well.

    I found your names and descriptions of the women intriguing.

    Jean Simmons was the name of an actress in the early ’50s who played pure women roles.

    Lauren as a seductive redhead- interesting description.

    She matched a red headed seductress who fought for the attentions of actor Victor Mature’s character that appeared in the 1954 movie The Egyptian that was on Turner Classic Movies channel recently.

    And her rival was pure girl actress Jean Simmons.

    Intriguing chapter. 🙂

    1. That is fascinating, dear Chris! Thank you so much for sharig. You know, your comment makes me think of Nietzsche and something he wrote – to my shame I don’t remember what it is, but Jung contacted Nietzsche’s sister and discovered this was true – that was based on something he and his sister had read when they were 11. Later, when he wrote the piece in question, he didn’t remember that, of course. But his subconscious mind did use the information. It must be what happened to me as well. Fascinating!

      1. Yes, that is interesting.

        I was going to write my Master’s Thesis in Philosophy on Jung’s Theory of the Collective Unconscious had the Faculty of Grad Studies not lost my Letters of Recommendation to enter the program.

        I always thought my life would have been different if I had been allowed into Grad Studies right after I finished my Undergraduate program.

        The fact I wasn’t led to a whole bunch of bad things happening that led me down a path in life I didn’t really want to go.

        I think I would have found my niche as a professor.

        I often envy C.S. Lewis’ life when I read biographies about him.

        That question – if you could be any person in history, who would you like to have been? – I think I would like to have been C.S. Lewis.

      2. I have a friend from Canada who studied Philosophy there. He works as a translator in Austria, and says he’d wanted something similar to your desires. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is, you are a brilliant writer, and this is what I think is what you should be doing 🙂 As a professor you wouldn’t have had time for fiction, I think. And adademic life is no longer what it used to be, it’s all administration and working inhuman hours only on accounting papers and speeches to get funding. I wonder who still does the research and the teaching.

      3. Yes, if it was all Administration and applying for grants, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

        I’d like to teach, research and write.

        C.S. Lewis wrote a lot of fiction as well as non-fiction but his time period was probably the golden age to have been a professor.

      4. Indeed! Just yesterday I was talking to my husband about you, even though I didn’t go into details. I just told him you are a brilliant writer in financial trouble you simply shouldn’t have to be in. That these times we live now belong to weasels who’ve been making way underground to power while brilliant minds and extraordinary personalities were busy being extremely good at what they did, be it literature, maths, fighting, plumbing or washing dishes. And theese weasels’ style – attending meetings and events, making arrangements and granting privileges among themselves – has become the desired course of action nowadays, which is preposterous. You are required not only to write, in your case, but also do the marketing, attending events, write letters of intent, etc, etc, etc. The published authors out there are E.L.Jameses because they are good entrepreneurs, no matter how lousy writers – not saying E.L. James is lousy; she’s smart and good. Just saying she could’ve been much much much better if she only concentrated on the writing, and she could’ve offered the world something of true worth. Instead, she worked to make connections in the TV, do marketing and raise funds. This is absurd, but it’s the way it is. Enraging, but until the world realizes it needs competence back – incompetence leads to what happened in Paris – we will have to live with it.

      5. Yes, sadly true.

        Incompetence leads to what happened in Paris.

        There was a story on CNN tonight about heightened security at Rome and at the Vatican.

        Which was the first I’d heard about it.

        Then they showed an ISIS video where the jihadi speaker shouted, “First Paris, then Rome.”

        I think if Rome and the Vatican are hit, this really will change everything.

      6. They won’t be hit. They’re now prepared all over Europe. The problem lays somewhere else. Incompetence led to the current situation, and now the nations awoke. I think the situation will change regarding the world security and economy when this is all over. Because what led to this, namely the neurosis on money in the detriment of all else, even minimal security and defense, won’t go unpunished.

  3. Stunning chapter with beautiful descriptions of the people and the ball room setting. I love masquerades!
    I enjoy how a lot of the women barely tolerate one another, and I like Virgin Vivien – she seems to be a suitable friend for Saphira. 🙂 Again, my heart starts racing when The Marquis shows up. I am scared for Saphira as she has so many people she is trying to dodge – and she seems to know deep down that she wont be able to evade The Marquis. At least, not for a while.

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