When she returned home from her dinner with Suzan and Davis, Ellen went upstairs to check on Charles. He had grown so weak that lifting his head off the bed became a monumental struggle, a head that possessed only thin wisps of white hair now. His face, neck and hands had wrinkled considerably, his fingers gnarled and bent. Yesterday his eyes had still been a clear, warm blue, now they appeared gray and cold.
As soon as he spied her, Charles tried to speak but his thin pale lips emitted only a small croak. Ellen held back her tears as she sat beside his frail body still dressed in his formal Georgian attire. “I’m here, darling. You need never worry. You will always be with me.”
With a slight gesture of his hand, he motioned for her to come nearer. She bent her head close to his mouth. “I hate you,” he murmured. “You made me this way. You are a monster.” He gathered enough strength to spit in her face.
“Yes, I am,” she agreed and straightened. His saliva felt hot on her cheek and smelled musty, of death. With the edge of the bed sheet, Ellen wiped it away.
She patted his thin arm beneath his fancy coat and shirt. “Now you must sleep, my darling. And when you do, Anubis and Osiris will be waiting to take you across the river to the next realm.”
She had his cask ready now, shiny and new, and bearing the engraved title that read Sir Charles Henry Edward Lambert, Fifth Earl of Bellmore. He would rest comfortably on a bed of purple satin, the color purple chosen for its regal connotation.
But before she fed Charles’ body to the furnace, Ellen would snip a lock of his hair as she had done with all her lovers, keeping the lock on top of his ashes as a reminder of his once grand and captivating form. Perhaps she would include a snippet of Charles’ satin coat, another reminder of days—and nights—spent together in glorious bliss.
Below at the entryway, Suzan Dwyer knocked on the front door and then tried the knob. The door wasn’t locked and so she let herself in. She had come here to return Ellen’s floral wrap that she had left at the restaurant. As they sat at the table, Ellen had taken off her shawl and draped it over the back of the chair, but sometime during the course of the evening, the silky fabric slipped down and between the seat pads. When she prepared to leave the table, Ellen had remembered to retrieve her clutch purse but not her wrap. She had left first, citing a need to go home to take a phone call from her husband. Suzan and Davis had remained at the table while their waiter processed the orthopedist’s credit card; and when they got up to leave, Suzan had noticed the pink floral shawl shoved down between the chair cushions.
On her way over here, she placed the shawl around her bare shoulders as she drove the Subaru. She enjoyed the feel of the soft fabric on her flesh and how it smelled of Ellen’s delicate floral-spice perfume. Back at the apartment, Davis told her to wait until tomorrow to return the wrap, but Suzan felt she needed to take it to Ellen right away. Suzan couldn’t explain the need, only that she felt compelled to see the woman again. Silly, the doctor thought. I could call her and invite her over to the condo, now for a nightcap or tomorrow morning for brunch. She didn’t need to use subterfuge; Ellen indicated that Suzan was welcome at any time.
Now as she began to close the front door, a dark hand reached out and grasped the door handle from the inside. Suzan jumped back with fear as the hand pushed the door open with an eerie squeak, but let out a sigh of relief when she spotted Detective Aiden Mears attached to the hand.
“Oh, hello there, doctor,” he greeted as he poked his head around the door. “Mind of I come inside?”
“Help yourself.” Suzan stepped into the anterior of the foyer so he could enter.
As the detective ambled inside, he closed the door behind him, his barrel form dressed in a charcoal gray sweat suit, Adidas running shoes on his big feet. “I just had a question for Mrs. Lambert. Is she in?”
Suzan nodded as she quickly folded the wrap into a small neat square. “I believe she’s upstairs taking a call from her husband.”
“Oh, yeah. He’s in Europe, I believe she told me. And what brings you here tonight?”
Suzan’s first inclination was to tell him it wasn’t any of his damned business, but she offered the truth as politely as possible. “My partner and I, that is my live-in lover, had dinner with Mrs. Lambert earlier, and she left her shawl behind. I’m here to return it.” Suzan hated the term “boyfriend,” since she and Davis had long dropped the high-school terminology for two people in a romantic relationship.
“That’s very nice of you.” Mears stated with a lopsided smile. “Me, I just came from the gym over at the police academy, hence my clothes. In fact, as I headed for the locker room, I got this question about those missing teens in my head, and since I wasn’t far away, I thought I’d stop by. It’s not too late, is it?”
Since she and Davis had left the restaurant at nine-thirty, Suzan figured it had to be well after ten. “I’m not sure. I don’t know when Mrs. Lambert goes to bed.”
“Well the lights are on, so she must be up.”
As Suzan continued on to the living room, Mears followed her. At the bust of the Egyptian princess, Tadu, he propped his arm on the pedestal and casually leaned against the cool marble. “Say, I’ve been talking to some of Autumn Chen’s friends as well as those of Taylor Holloway. None are aware that Autumn and Taylor were friends, let alone boyfriend-girlfriend, so it seems a bit odd that they’d run away together. What do you think?”
“As I told you before, Detective Mears, I’m not acquainted with any of the young people involved.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right.”
Suzan took a seat on the sofa, but sat on the edge, ready to grab the bust if the detective accidentally knocked it over. When he straightened, she breathed a sigh of relief and tried to relax.
“Oh, hello there, Suzan, Detective Mears. I didn’t hear you come in.” Ellen Lambert joined her impromptu guests, walking into the living room with a graceful air. She had traded her dinner dress and heels for a pair of soft mauve lounging pajamas and pink ballet slippers.
“I’m sorry,” Suzan began as she rose, “When I tried the door and found it open, I simply walked in. I should have rang the bell or even called first. I’m here to return your wrap that you left at the restaurant.” She held out the neatly-folded shawl.
“Oh, thank you, Suzan! That’s so kind of you. Just leave it there on the divan, and I’ll fetch it later.” Ellen went to the piano and sat down on the bench. “And don’t worry about letting yourself in. My friends are always welcome to do just that whenever they wish.”
“I happened to follow the doctor inside,” Mears added by way of explanation. “Something’s been troubling me, and I hope you can offer some information that might help clear up my problem.” He took a seat on a nearby chair while Suzan sat down on the sofa again.
“Of course, detective,” Ellen acquiesced with a pleasant smile. “Ask your question and I’ll try and help you.” She began to play a riveting and melodic tune. A concerto, Suzan thought, although she possessed little knowledge of music other than she enjoyed listening to the classics.
The detective repeated the information he had broached to Suzan. As Ellen listened, she continued to play and did so for a minute or two until Mears asked her the name of the piece she was playing.
“It’s Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the second movement, Romanze.”
“Ah, very nice,” Mears commented as he absently scratched his craggy jawline. Like Suzan he appreciated music but had no knowledge of specific musical scores. “You play very well, like a professional.”
“Thank you.” Finishing the concerto, Ellen glanced up at her guests and donned a slight frown. “I just wish I could be more of a help to you, detective. You see, I am a teacher, an adult, who wields some power and therefore is placed at a respectful distance in the student-teacher dynamic. And although Autumn and Taylor spoke to me about their likes and dislikes, particularly in music, they never opened up to me in terms of their personal lives.”
Mears stood as if ready to leave, but he pressed on with his questioning. “Perhaps you noticed Autumn and Taylor talking to each other before or after their lessons. Autumn did have a scheduled lesson after the boy’s, right?”
Ellen nodded. “Yes, on Thursdays, Taylor came at four and Autumn at five. But you see, Detective Mears, I’m always busy preparing for the lessons so I pay little attention to what my students are doing before they sit down at the piano or assume the pose to play at the music stand. I have three piano students and three on the strings, two violin and one viola.”
“Ah, hah, I see.” The detective pulled up one sleeve and then the other of his sweat shirt, exposing his thick, muscular arms and the dark mat of hair on both. “Well, I won’t take up any more of your time, Mrs. Lambert. Thanks so much for your cooperation.”
Rising, Ellen left the piano bench and went to stand near the bust of Tadu. “I just hope and pray that you find Autumn and Taylor.”
Mears scratched his hip. “It’s a possibility. Well, good night, ladies. It’s been a pleasure.”
“Let me walk you out, detective. I want to bolt the door.”
“Good idea, Mrs. Lambert. It’s best to get in the habit of locking up as soon as you come home.”
The detective allowed Ellen to walk ahead before he followed her out to the foyer. Suzan heard the parting mumble of voices and then the closing of the front door.
When Ellen returned, she let out a wistful sigh and walked over to her remaining guest. “Well, my information wasn’t very illuminating or a help to the detective, I’m afraid. I wish I could do more. It’s so frustrating, and I hate to think that Autumn and Taylor met with some harm.”
“I think you’ve been a great help to him,” Suzan remarked as she got to her feet. “And I’m sure the detective is utilizing all the resources to find them.”
Cocking her head a little, Ellen donned a warm smile. Her hair slid down her shoulder like a shock of fine corn silk. “I’m glad you stopped by, Suzan. It’s so sweet of you to return my shawl. I can’t believe I forgot it when I left the restaurant, but you shouldn’t have gone out of your way like this.”
Suzan beamed with pleasure. “I had your wrap in the car and it just seemed natural to bring it to you. But I should be going now. It’s getting late.”
Coming to Suzan’s side, Ellen linked her arm with the doctor’s. “Please come by tomorrow,” she urged as they walked side by side to the foyer. “That’s if you have some time. I’d like to show you the acquisitions I have stored upstairs.”
Suzan nodded enthusiastically. “I’d love to see them.”
“Perhaps you can help me decide where and how I should display a few.”
“Well, I don’t have much of an eye for artistic placement, but I’ll try my best. I have a couple of meetings tomorrow, but I think I can get away at four. Will that interfere with your lessons?”
“Not at all. Mondays are my free days.”
At the door, Ellen disengaged her hold on the doctor and undid the two locks. But before she opened the door, she gave Suzan a penetrating look, her eyes gleaming like polished agates. “I look forward to seeing you again.”
“Same here. So, I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon. Until then, good night, Ellen.”
Suzan couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. She felt the familiar tingle of pleasure and anticipation whenever in Ellen’s company, particularly when this intriguing woman touched her in such a tender and sensual way. Now she dared hope that Ellen might kiss her hand again.
Instead, her newfound friend hugged the door. “Good night, Suzan, and pleasant dreams.”
Hopefully I’ll dream of you, Suzan thought as she left the house and headed for her car with a light, joyous gait.