The Executioner – Ep. XVI – Mad Conan

“See, what did I tell you? They found Mad Conan to blame it on. As for the old man, he’s a scapegoat,” Rux said as images of a sorry old doctor with Einstein hair, cuffed hands and fragile body in a tweed suit appeared on the screen, led to a police car by two men in black uniforms. According to the reporter, the car exploded only shortly later, the doctor and the policemen all dead. The connection to Dad fired in my head – first extraction, then death.

“Jesus, Rux, this is bad! This is real bad!”

She looked at me, startled by my reaction. In a few breaths and with no second thoughts I broke my oath and told her about the extraction, glancing at the door to make sure Mom didn’t catch me on it.

“Help me, Rux,” I pleaded. “I need to see him, make sure he’s not being held hostage and questioned like a heretic, then maybe even killed in some staged accident!”

“And who’s gonna tell you where Dr. Preda is? Apparently no one wants you to know.”

“We’ll go see Varlam at the station. I’ll find a way to get him talking.”

“You don’t have his number?”

I snorted. “How do you suppose I could talk to him about these things on the phone? Plus, if we call first it’ll give him time to think of ways to ditch us or fool us. The only solution is going to the station, and talk to him face to face.”

Rux studied me for a while. A deep-in-thought V formed between her eyebrows as she assessed my face, and the moment Mom walked back into the living room, she began talking without warning or turning her eyes from me.

“There’s no way I can spend days here without something proper to wear.”

She sounded so convincing, I fell for it myself. “You can have anything from my wardrobe,” I babbled.

“You’re petite, Alice, you don’t own anything I can actually take out on the street or to campus tomorrow.”

Her eyes danced on mine, maybe in expectation for me to kick the ball back at her. But, since I was too puzzled to produce a sound, she went on herself. “I need to buy a few things.”

I finally understood her game, but Mom intervened as if burnt with a red iron before I could say anything.

“You’re sure not going out, not with darkness knocking on the door.”

Rux’s face froze for a moment but, as she turned to Mom, it had already regained its elasticity and added a rakish smile.

“What if we ask one of the boys outside to accompany us to Marvimex?”

“They’re here as watchmen and not escorts,” Mom admonished.

“Then please, have a word with them,” Rux said.

Mom gave me a suspicion-filled look, which I blocked with an innocent smile and a shrug.

“I’d love to get out of the house for a bit,” I said. “It feels like prison, and I need a breath of freedom, Mom.”

It was the begging tone that unbalanced Mom’s resolve, no doubt. After little more insistence from our part she allowed us to get ready while she went out, looking for Officer Sorescu and his colleagues. I had no idea why Rux invited the escort, but I decided to trust her judgment in the end. She always knew what she was doing.

I parted the curtains with two fingers and spied – much like old Mrs. Teodorescu from across the street did each time a car pulled up in front of one of the neighboring houses. Mom crossed the street, keeping the long winter coat wrapped closely around her body.

To my gaping surprise, she entered the corner bar where loud drunkards burned away their time gambling cigarettes and bottles, sometimes their wives’ jewelry, sometimes their wives. With its barred windows and narrow entrance the place was perfectly designed to keep interest at bay. Yes, suited for undercover tailing operations, why not.

“What if the place hadn’t existed, I wonder,” Rux said. “Would they have extracted your neighbor Mrs. Teodorescu and had an agent disguise himself as her, with apron an’ all?”

She forced a laugh that made her look and sound mentally deranged rather than amused. The picture of Officer Sorescu’s round face framed by a colored kerchief did reach my mind’s eye, though.

Rux and I went to the antechamber, where challenge number two was up – getting around George. He lay on the sofa with eyes fixed on the small TV, watching no less than Bugs Bunny. Mom must’ve turned to the old tape to keep his mind off anything heavy.

Rux stared at him, holding a finger up in front of her pursed lips – keeping me quiet, I imagined. He seemed not to be aware of our presence, his mouth open, drooling, and brows high in the expression of a retard. Maybe the colored motion on screen simply put his mind off duty. Or maybe he was high on prescription medication.

Slowly, Rux opened the doors to the wardrobe. The slower she moved the more they creaked, and George stirred.

“For God’s sake, Rux, he’s not Alien or something,” I mumbled, refusing to accept that George wasn’t to be treated like a normal person anytime soon.

“Shhhhh! D’you want him screaming and wriggling?” she retorted through her teeth.

I knew she was right but it felt wrong anyway, treating George like an inconvenience.

Rux skimmed over the shelves with an all business frown, scanned the available items – not by far satisfactory, judging by the silent scoffs – and snatched a white wool sweater and a pair of tight jeans that reminded me too much of what Svetlana had been wearing in the mountains. But as soon as Rux closed the double doors to my room behind us, I shrugged off the memory as I did the nightgown and pulled them on without protest. Time was too precious.

The jeans were a couple of years old and had gone through repeated washing along with the other pairs, but I’d only worn them once on the day of acquisition. Tony had labeled this particular pair “slutty” ‘cause it molded on my thighs “like latex leggings on hookers’ legs.” What saved them from becoming a giveaway was my “modest” wardrobe, as Rux often put it, so I’d kept them to make me feel I owned at least a little more than I needed.

A change of clothes was already folded for Rux on the rocking chair by the window. I watched her sinewy shape dance into it and recognized Mom’s elegant red turtleneck sweater and a pair of white pants.

“How do I look?” she inquired.

“When did Mom give you the threads?” If Mom had offered Rux access to her wardrobe, what was the point of shopping, especially at five in the evening?

“She didn’t. I helped myself after the shower today.” She winked. “Your clothes are all too small, and I figured Jenna wouldn’t mind. She never did before.”

“But she’ll see you’re wearing her stuff when we go out. Marvimex won’t stand, she’ll know we’re going somewhere else. Plus, even if we manage to persuade her we’re going shopping, we might not even make it to Varlam with one of those watchmen on our heels,” I threw at her, sounding increasingly desperate as I realized the holes in our plot.

“Oh, we’re going to Marvimex, all right. I can’t wear Jenna’s clothes forever, she knows that. Once we’re there, I’ll talk the guy into accompanying us to see Hector. I’ll tell him you and I have confidential information, and that our seeing him needs cover.”

“He won’t buy it.” I shook my head. “It’s weak, it won’t work.”

“Wanna bet?” Rux retorted, a mischievous grin quirking up a corner of her mouth.

In the end Rux turned out to be right. Mom didn’t even ask how come my best friend wore her outfit. The explanation must’ve been obvious.

Embarrassing as it was, we had to accept Mom’s pushing cash in our hands with bent heads. All the money I’d managed to save from tutoring activities was at our apartment in the outskirts, as were Rux’s savings from all her baby-sitting.

In less than half an hour we stood under the large sign creaking askew above the entrance to Marvimex, the rain rapping on our umbrellas. The crooked plate read “Shopping Center,” yet the place wasn’t far from a bazaar. Engulfed by grey blocks of flats with walls damped by rain that testified half century of communism, it looked like a stable with dozens of barracks in the middle of a concrete fortress. Small, round men and women wearing thick golden chains around their necks populated them, offering contraband like circus performers did their tricks. Still, many shoppers preferred the place to the Tomis Mall for its cheap and often unique wares.

Valuable objects such as antique adornment artifacts and clay pots weren’t unusual here. There were actually even stories of vintage jewelry that had made it to the manors of lords and ladies in England or even tycoons in the States for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But to me, these were no more than myths until proven otherwise.

Officer Sorescu sheltered Rux under the umbrella he held for both of them. She’d been quicker to charm him than I’d thought possible.

I caught glimpses of her profile now and then as we slithered through strings of people towards the roofed hall that housed an anthill of booths. These glimpses read seduction off her smile, and I divined the batting of her thick lashes. They produced the effect of melting poor Sorescu on his feet, and I knew she’d soon be able to touch on the sensitive subject, namely ask him to accompany us to the station for a confidential meeting with Agent Hector Varlam. Then the even more sensitive core of the subject would follow – no one was to hear of this.

I lost them from sight as a young family in shopping rush squeezed me among them, and disappeared again suddenly in the roofed hall. I’d lost my umbrella in the process too. Persian rugs hung among lamps and chandeliers of different shapes, their glass icicles clinking whenever they trickled too low and touched my hair. They gave dim and pleasant light of warm and silent colors.

It was as if I’d been teleported by some tornado in another dimension, this part of the bazaar as good as empty of life except for a few passer-by shadows here and there. I spun among the hanging rugs, curtains and lamps that surrounded me the way circus gadgets would a child. Intertwined patterns engraved into the carpet fabric had a hypnotic effect. An effect that was all-surrounding. It gave me an unsettling feeling and a nagging presentiment of danger until a powerful voice called my name.

“Miss Preda.”

I turned on my heels and gasped.

The largest man that must’ve ever existed stood before me, his head much above mine. Big to the extreme, something most people don’t get to lay their eyes on in a lifetime. A black cloak that reminded me of the garment of a priest molded on his wavy, way-too-big shoulder muscles. Cold sweat trickled down my temples.

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII, Episode XIV, Episode XV. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – for example, check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

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The Marquis – Epilogue – THE END

It’s true what they say about London – it’s rainy, gloomy, but full of charm. After only a few days here I feel like a maiden who’s eloped with the prince of her dreams to his magic land. My heart slowly cleanses itself of all the hurt and trauma from Northville, and I actually feel this love can put my soul back together.

Kieran and I spent the first couple of weeks alone in a beautiful townhouse. In the morning we’d watch the fabled London rain together, me wearing his shirt and holding a steaming cup of tea by the window, surrounded by his strong marble arms. On each one of these mornings my heart swelled with heavenly pleasure and joy. We visited old cathedrals, places and museums, we went out to concerts and restaurants on fairy-tale dates, and I can swear all I feel is bliss. Until I think of my mother.

It’s a good thing she stayed back in Northville. A good thing for me. It’s not like she didn’t want to come and be part of our lives, but the idea made me cringe with every one of her pleas. Kieran offered to pay for her to enjoy a most comfortable life wherever she would like to lead it, but since staying with us wasn’t an option because I refused, she decided to stay in Northville, where she could contemplate her past and her wounds.

Northville. The place can never go back to normal life. The town people saw too much, experienced too much, know too much. They agreed to help keep the serpents’ secret, and now the town has become a fortress, a heavily guarded keep for the serpents’ world-changing mysteries.

Lauren remained in the dungeons deep under the manor in the end, while Zed, Joyous and Jeanie stayed behind to oversee Northville’s fortification, and only joined us again today – on my first exhibition.

We’re at one of the most renowned art galleries in London, now filled with my paintings. They’re enjoying great success, but I have a feeling that has more to do with the power and money of the Marquis de Vandenesse than with my work. This event seems more of an introduction to the Londoner high society than anything else. People are more curious about me – the Marquis’ future wife – than about the paintings, though a few persons do show themselves impressed by a few pieces which they also decide to buy. Whether for the sake of the art or for the Marquis’ favour, I’ll never know for sure. But what I enjoy most about tonight is watching the young and handsome Kieran Slate as the Marquis de Vandenesse surrounded by elegant people seeking his attention, and realizing that all his hypnotic black eyes ever seek is me.

“It must be a true blessing, being worshipped like that,” a calm voice says, and soon the woman it belongs to steps in front of me.

“Vivien!” I make a move to hug her, but the golden lace dress I’m wearing screams at the brusque move. It threatens to tear, though it cost a small fortune – a paradox of fashion I always failed to understand, and a purchase I decide not to replicate. Vivien giggles a bit when I fail to wrap my arms around her, giving her an apologetic smile.

“You’re the most envied woman in the room, Saphira Lothar, soon-to-be Saphira de Vandenesse.” She looks me up and down, her intelligent brown eyes as kind as her words and voice. “Beautiful, talented, special and loved beyond measure by your man. None of these people miss any of these things, trust me.”

“I have a hard time fighting my vanity right now, I must admit.” I squeeze her hand, hoping the gesture expresses as much as a hug would. I keep my voice down, though I want to call out how happy I am to have her here. “So wonderful that you came.”

“I won’t stay long.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you going? I mean, I doubt you wish to return to Northville . . .”

“Indeed, I have no desire to do that.” She drops her gaze, but I keep mine steady on her. I can’t help but marvel. Despite all the torture she’s been through, she’s lost nothing of her inherent refinement and style.

Vivien Grant is a highly educated young woman, she speaks four languages fluently, she’s been to the finest schools, and majored in Philosophy. She’s a true intellectual. Her cleverness is obvious in her eyes, which intimidated men all her life – the very reason she was always single, I think. But after everything she’s been through she’s lost a bit too much weight, and the black pencil dress doesn’t do much to hide the willowy lines of her body – something that makes her look like a model, and attracts the eyes of fat-bellied rich men. She’s not too tall, not too short, and she moves with the gracefulness of a ballerina. The natural porcelain smoothness of her face adds a touch of innocence to the nobility of her features, and so does her un-dyed brown hair that’s now restrained in a sleek elegant chignon.

“But where will you go?” I whisper. “And . . . why?”

She lifts her eyes and directs her gaze to someone in the room. I follow it and see Zed in the Marquis’ entourage. Though the pain that last distorted his edgy, stony features is now well hidden behind the “Stone-mask” and the ice-blue of his eyes, there’s a bitterness and sullenness about him that scream it out. I remember Joyous’ explanation about what killed Yvette, and I grab Vivien’s wrist.

“No! It can’t be! You really . . . The Black Monks’ curse . . . Vivien, are you?”

She yanks her hand away and looks around as if to remind me we are being watched, and to get a grip on my temper. “I don’t understand what happened, Saphira. I just know I can’t be around him anymore. I just . . . shouldn’t feel how I feel about him. Yvette died because of it. And somehow he holds me responsible for that, as if it’s my fault we are now bound to each other, I . . .” She looks up, blinking and seeking to dry her tears and gag her sobs.

I take her hand in both of mine. “Please, Vivien. You just arrived, I just got you back. You can’t leave me again, please.”

“You don’t need me, Saph. You’ll enjoy a wonderful life with Kieran, and you’ll share your happiness with Jeanie and Joyous. I don’t fit in this picture, I’m broken and nothing can fix me.”

“With more reason. You need us.”

“No, Saph, I don’t need you, no matter how much I love you. And neither did you need me for healing, let’s be honest. What healed you was Kieran’s love that is special and perfect. Joyous loves Jeanie the same way, with a love that is natural only for superhumans.” Her voice breaks with sadness. “With the same love Zed felt for Yvette, and will never feel for me.”

Distress must be obvious in my face, because Kieran joins us and wraps a protective arm around me. “Is everything all right here?”

Vivien looks at us with her eyes full of tears but also kindness. “I wish you to be so very happy together, Saphira and Kieran, with nothing to ever shadow your love again. From the bottom of my heart, I truly wish that for the two of you.”

Unable to control her tears anymore she turns and hurries away, losing herself in the crowd. I want to follow, but Kieran stops me.

“Don’t.” He looks at Zed. I follow his gaze, and I see it – the terrible truth. Connections fire in my head as I grasp the truth.

“Oh. My. God.”

“The stake is high, Saphira,” Kieran whispers gravely. “And whether it will ever burn or not depends only on Vivien Grant.”

 

***

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having followed the story of Saphira and Kieran the Marquis! It’s been an exhilirating ride for me, and I hope you enjoyed it as well. Stay tuned for many more goodies to come on this site, from personality tests and psych secrets to new thrilling stories of suspense and love. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the tests, articles and stories, I’ll be happy to answer them. A big, warm hug,

Yours,

Ana

 

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