Jeanie and I watch them from the round window in the attic. The place I once called my “haven” now feels like a nest of vipers as Northville’s finest and most respectable personalities pour inside my parental home. Inspector Jeremy Simmons has been holding meeting after meeting to instigate them against the Marquis.
He has policemen guarding the building to make sure anyone intent on seeing me stays out, and he rarely shows himself to avoid my wrath. Jeanie is my only authorized company, as well as my mother, but I’ve refused to see her.
“He’s invited the elite,” Jeanie says as she places her tea on the table. “Your father – sorry, Gunnar Lothar – was one of them, and they’re easily moved by his murder. They’ll use their influence to make nasty propaganda against the Marquis among the town’s people.”
“The elite,” I whisper as I watch the arrogant suited men getting out of their fat cars, and the women clutching handkerchiefs in false sobbing under large designer hats. “I wonder how many of these rats were among Catherine’s rapists, and how many of these starving wretches open their legs in exchange for yacht rides and handbags despite knowing it.”
“I understand it’s hard on you, but try not to think about that,” Jeanie says. There’s something different about her today. Something jumpy, her eyes darting around every now and then as if she expects the walls to actually grow ears.
“Believe it or not, it’s easier than thinking about Gunnar’s rotting two meters beneath the earth.”
She leans in and touches my forearm to make me look her in the face, acting like someone who’s using a brief moment of opportunity.
“I did what you asked and talked to Joyous to arrange you a meeting with the Marquis, Saphira. It’s happening tonight.”
As my mind wraps around the idea joy fills my chest. I grab Jeanie’s hand in anticipatory anxiety. “And you think it’ll work? Jeremy will sure have men on my tracks, he’s had me followed for days.”
Jeanie gives me a sly smile. “Joyous organized a pub party with masquerade theme. We won’t be leaving the house wearing or carrying masks so Jeremy won’t suspect that we’re going to that pub of the whole bunch in the Old Downtown, but the hostess will hand us our fake visages once we’re in, and his men will lose our trail.”
“You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you?”
I wrap my arms around her, and barely manage to restrain my glee for the rest of the day. I can only think of Kieran, and that I’ll actually see him again tonight.
When the moment comes for Jeanie and me to descend the stairs in the evening I’m anxious but determined. I’ve defied worse men than Jeremy by now, to put it mildly. I’m wearing leather trousers and high heels, but underneath I have fishnet stockings and in my bag there’s a scarf that I can use as skirt. We’re planning to change in the ladies room at the pub so Jeremy’s men don’t recognize us by our outfits.
We bump into Jeremy at the front doors, blocking our way out. He stands flanked by two of his policemen, hands on the holster, gun easy to see. Being muscular and dressed in black he’d make an impression on anyone who’s seen and experienced less than me lately. His sister overhauls me and walks straight to him.
Despite her red skirt, black pumps and leather jacket she looks like a milky-skinned, fluffy schoolgirl. Her shiny curls bounce down her shoulders, and I realize – maybe for the first time in my life – that Jeanie Simmons, the little girl who used to watch with her nose stuck to the window as her older brother played with us in the yard has grown into a young woman. But her face is still as innocent as back then, and her skin as beautiful.
“Jeremy, you promised,” she whines at her brother. “Saphira has had enough grief, she needs something to help lift her spirits.”
Jeremy looks me up and down. I know he wants me – he’s always had a thing for leather pants and high heels. His eyes are on me, but he speaks to his sister.
“And I’m not in your way. But the boys here will be coming with you, and they won’t leave your side. The Marquis could be lurking.”
“But Jeremy, they’re wearing uniforms and they carry guns! They’ll freak everybody out!”
Jeremy glances at them. “Okay, get civilian jackets and hide your gear,” he commands the men, who do as told and escort us to the car while a frowning, suspicious Jeremy watches from the door.
Jeanie and I can’t talk on the way to the Old Downtown, since the men’s ears are surely funnels that lead straight to Jeremy, but we’re both restless. Our plans have gone to waste. Even if the hostess gives us masks at the door, we won’t be able to lose the men.
“I wonder why Jeremy didn’t come himself,” Jeanie spews and folds her arms across her chest like a pouty child as the men escort us among the crowd and the pubs in the Old Downtown.
“He didn’t want a fight with me.” I sound as defiant as I feel. “He’ll be avoiding me for a while longer until he thinks I’ve calmed down.”
The air is wet and chilly, soaking my flesh. Like Jeanie, I hug myself to keep the cold out of my bones and hurry awkwardly in my ouchy shoes.
There’s great hustle at the entrance to the Black Horse. Once inside the foyer and among the aspiring attendees the wet cold turns to sweaty heat. Bodies crush Jeanie and me into our companions, some people rub between us, but the policemen hustle their way back in position quickly.
I’m ever more desperate that we won’t be able to lose them as we approach the hostess, who imparts coupons and gesticulates, establishing some order. She’s costumed as a witch, but she manages to get the chaotic crowd through as efficiently and fast as a jail warden. Soon I’m right in front of her. She looks me straight in the eye, and I recognize Lord Barkley’s secretary from the lunatic asylum.
I’m sweating, certain I’m lost. A scream so sharp that it stabs my ears shoots from amidst the crowd behind and a great commotion starts, crushing and swaying us like a violent sea storm.