The Further Adventures of Janice and Mel
THE XENA KORE
by Judy (Wishes)
His companion gone, the smaller man starts yet another pile in the middle of
the floor, this one made of parchment scrolls and papyri. "This stuff will
burn good," he comments. He blows out the wick on one of the lamps and
carefully pours oil over the flammable materials. I wince, both at the
waste of history--and at the implications for Janice and me. It occurs to me that Bertie's arson skills almost killed us in Amanda's loft.
Janice hasn't given up. "Good idea. You let us go. Then torch the place. Nobody, not even Max, will ever know. Then you find yourself swimming in American money. More than you can imagine."
He stands up and studies my friend's face. He jerks a thumb at me. "That one really worth that much money?"
"Millions," Janice exaggerates. "Her father owns half of South Carolina."
"Place she comes from."
I can see he's tempted. "Yeah, she looks like money." I hold my breath,
afraid to interfere with the spell Janice is weaving. Then he shakes his head.
"Nah. Won't work. You get out, you'll forget everything you said. And if
the boss finds out. . . . I got off easy the other time, but there
are rough people involved. They can't get me now, but they will after the war. War can't last forever, you know." He says this with regret.
Bertie sets his lamp on the floor and walks over to a box I noticed when Janice
and I first entered. I remember that it's filled with ancient and medieval weapons.
He pulls out a heavy, roughly wrought sword and touches the blade. "Sharp,"
he notes. "Just like a razor." He turns and, sword
in front of him, approaches Janice. Lifting it slowly, he places the point under her chin. It is only three or four inches from the square bandage that hides another wound.
"You don't want to do this," Janice says quietly.
"You're wrong." Bertie's voice is now low and dangerous, and it holds a strange excitement as he goes on. "I always wanted to kill someone with a sword. See what it would feel like. Push a long piece of steel through someone's gut."
"You're funny," he responds. "So I'm going to let you watch. See what you can expect." With that, he removes the sword point from Janice's throat and moves toward me.
I lick my lips and try to think of something persuasive to say, but all that
comes out is "Please don't." Then I feel the sharp point pressing
against my stomach, just where my jacket separates from my slacks. The thin
fabric of my blouse is no protection, and I pull back until I've used
up the small amount of slack in the ropes. My arms are pulled taut, and he still presses.
"What's the fun in that?" Janice's voice seems overly loud in the small space, and he pulls back. I take a breath.
"What do you mean?"
"You were a boxer, right?" she asks. "So you must like a fight, some contest. Wouldn't it be more fun to cross swords with an opponent? Be a real warrior for a change? Even if it is just against a woman."
I think this can't possibly work, but Bertie looks interested. "You mean fight one of you? With swords?"
"Why not?" Janice is selling now, for all she's worth. "Look
at me. How small I am. You know I couldn't beat you. But you would have the
fun of a fight. And I would die knowing I had tried. Think of it. A real sword
fight. A kill in the heat of battle, just like your own private war. It's
something you would remember the rest of your life."
"I'll do it." His decision is sudden. He sets his lamp on the floor and walks quickly to the weapons box to retrieve another sword, also iron, smaller than the one he carries. He returns to stand in front of Janice.
"Come on," she urges. "Cut the ropes, and we'll have at it."
Bertie turns sharply and brings his heavy blade through the ropes only an inch or so above my fingers. He laughs as my arms drop to my sides, and I rub them to restore the circulation. He watches me but speaks to Janice. "I ain't that dumb. I know how you got that scratch on your neck. I know you can use a sword. I'll fight, but I'll fight HER."
"No!" Janice yells, and she pulls frantically at her bonds.
I can feel my fingers now, and I say, "Give me the sword."
"I don't see that I have a choice."
"Get him close. . . ."
"Shut up," Bertie orders. To me, he says, "She stays tied up. You try to quit, I kill her first. Understand?"
"Yes," I say. "Are there any rules?"
"Yeah, kill or be killed." With that, he lunges at me sharply. I
back away and see that he's only feinting, not really trying to touch me with
his sword. I circle, trying to get more room between him and me, trying to get
away from the wall. He leaps toward me again, this time cutting the
sleeve of my jacket. I pull back, almost falling over the heap of scrolls in the middle of the floor.
"Get your sword up," Janice instructs. "Parry."
"Shut up!" the man yells as he takes a swipe at my leg. I sidestep and meet his blade with mine. His slides off harmlessly, and I leap away. I'm trying desperately to keep my feet under me and remember some of the things Gareth told me while Janice and Kate fenced. And breathe. I can't seem to remember how to breathe.
Bertie lifts his sword in both hands and tries to bring it down on my head. I hold my blade up and stop his, but then I find I can't move. Slowly, he presses down, and my knees bend inexorably toward the floor.
"Roll," Janice cries, and I push up as hard as I can with my sword
and then throw myself sideways. The floor is hard on my back and shoulders,
but I land several feet away as my attacker's sword scrapes on the concrete.
I reach for a large amphora with my free hand and, struggling, pull myself
up. The fire of battle in his eyes, Bertie is already on me. He holds his sword in front of him and runs directly at me. This is no fencing match, and he needs no skill for what he is about to do. The point of his blade is just a sword's length away when I thrust mine out and flick my wrist in the movement Gareth called a capture. I miss his blade point and prepare myself for the pain that will follow. But my point catches in the guard of his sword. His blade flies high in the air, hitting the ceiling, and, as
he scrambles to catch it, he stumbles on the lamp that is still lit. His pants leg is already ablaze as he falls into the pile of scrolls and oil he earlier prepared. His horrible screams fill the cellar.
I start forward, whether to help Bertie or to release Janice, I'm not sure. My intentions don't matter, as my right leg buckles beneath me and excruciating pain in my back pins me to the floor.
"Mel! Mel! Did he hurt you?" I look up to see Janice struggling with
her bonds. Then I see something else. The oil from the second lamp has spread
out and, as I notice it, it ignites, sending a stream of fire toward a crate
filled with shredded paper. That crate bursts into flames and next
to it is another crate and then another. . . . and then Janice, helpless in the path of the fire.
Using the sword like a cane, I push myself from the floor and lurch toward my friend. I lift the sword and slash through her ropes, but, deprived of support, I fall hard. I feel Janice's hands under my arms. "Hurry," she yells. "We've got to get out of here."
"I can't." I try to shove her away and toward the stairs.
"Get up, damn you!" Realizing she won't leave me, I push to hands
and knees, and she helps me to my feet. "Lean on me." As always, I
marvel at the strength concealed in that small frame. She grabs something off
the floor as she helps me toward the stairs.
"Bertie. . . ." I begin.
"Too late." As she pushes me up the stairway, I feel heat on my back. And I realize the screaming has stopped.
"Remembering that Max was waiting a block away, Janice and I managed to go two blocks before finding a phone and calling police. No one knows how long Max waited in the lorry for his friend," I say.
Dr. Satterley shakes his head in wonder. "And when the police came, they found Max, too?"
"Yes, when he realized something was wrong, he probably tried to run down the stairs. He had gone down only a couple of steps when the whole stairway collapsed under his weight."
"And he died of a broken neck?"
"That's what the policeman told Sir Robert. Max and Bertie grew up together and died together," I comment.
I'm lying on the bed in Janice's and my room. After driving Mr. Satterley to
distraction during his examination, Janice has been relegated to the hall. Mr.
Satterley speaks quietly, knowing an ear won't be far from the door. "Mel,
this is more than the sprained back you told your friend. I
suspect it's related to that small scar on your side."
Knowing Janice better than he does, I whisper, "That scar was caused by a bullet. Which is still lodged in my back." I hesitate, then confide, "I've been told it has to come out."
"She still has things to do." It's hard to explain it. He gives me a sympathetic look, and I try. "Janice has to settle some things."
"This business of the stolen treasures?"
"That, but also something about her own life. I think she can do it this evening. But if she doesn't do it now, if she's distracted, I don't think she ever will."
"Your friend wouldn't consider caring for you a distraction, Mel." He pats my hand. "Your well-being is very important to her. How will she feel if you permanently damage yourself? You know that could happen--if it hasn't already."
"Tonight," I say. "I need to give her tonight. Tomorrow I'll tell her."
"Or I will," he says. "Meanwhile I'll arrange for a room for you in my hospital. If you don't mind, I'll do the surgery myself. I'm the best, you know." He stands. "You're a good woman. If I had a daughter. . . ." He doesn't finish, but says loudly, "Take one of those pills tonight to help you sleep. Use the cane, and no more sword fights. For at least two weeks." There's a twinkle in his eye as Janice peeks in the door. He waves goodbye and is gone.
"You all right?" Janice asks hesitantly.
"Fine. I just need to finish dressing, and I'll be ready to go downstairs." I stifle a groan as I get up. "Stiff," I say. "That floor was hard. How did Xena do it?"
"That fight with Ares. You say you saw it." I button my blouse and look around for my shoes.
"Sit." I perch on the edge of the bed, and, kneeling, Janice places my shoes on my feet. "Don't worry, kid. Xena had nothing on you. I'll try to remember that from now on."
I say what has troubled me since the fight. "I didn't mean to kill him."
My friend is still kneeling in front of me, and she takes my right hand in both of hers. "You didn't kill him. It was an accident. Or he killed himself." I can't meet her gaze, and she moves her right hand to my chin to make me face her. "You're innocent of his blood. Believe me."
I nod, still unsure and knowing this will be something else to deal with later. "Where's that cane?"
She retrieves it from under the bed and hands it to me. "Are you sure you're up to this?" Concern shines through her green eyes.
"I wouldn't miss it." She helps me stand, and I try to pretend I don't need the support as we leave our room and approach the staircase. "Go get 'em, Mad Dog."
The group in the library is much as it was the night we arrived, with only
the addition of Margaret. Janice had laughed when her mother asked her about
this. "She might as well be included. More comfortable than leaning her
ear against the door." So Margaret is there, sitting with her hands
folded, straight in her chair. Kate and Flora share the smaller settee and Gareth and Amanda the larger. Sir Robert stands by the liquor cabinet and tries to look aloof, not at all a part of this gathering. Clearly his presence is due to habit and indulgence of his wife's daughter.
When we enter, Gareth rises and offers me his place. I take it gratefully, and he pats me on the shoulder. "You're a good soldier," he says and limps across the room to stand by his father. I notice that he doesn't seem to be dispensing drinks tonight.
Sir Robert clears his throat. He speaks, not to Janice, but to his wife. "My dear, could we conclude this business quickly so we can get on to dinner?"
"I think that's what my daughter intends to do," Amanda answers. "Janice?"
"Yeah," Janice says, "I just want to get a few things answered,
some questions that still bother me. Then we can all move on. Okay?" She
looks around and seems satisfied that everyone is in agreement. As Janice continues,
she paces slowly around the room. "When my friend Mel and I
came here, we learned that there were two problems. One was to figure out who took my mother's negatives and photographs, the ones for her book about the Blitz, and to then get them back. The other was to find out if someone was really threatening her safety and to protect her, if they were."
"Amanda!" Sir Robert's voice registers surprise.
"Don't worry, Sir Robert," Janice assures him. "I think I have both problems worked out. There are just a few details, a few questions I want to ask. But first, if no one minds, I would like to tell a story."
No one objects, and Sir Robert says brusquely, "Please get on with it."
Continuing her pacing, Janice begins:
"This story probably starts back farther, clear back to when a little
girl in Turkey was eleven years old, but I'm going to start in February 1936.
That month two people realized a dream. They started a business and celebrated
by giving a party. The business was the Grace Gallery. And the
two people were Kenneth Grace, an importer of antiquities, and Sarah Steenburgen Lund, an artist, and the mother of Kate here."
I know that Janice has gotten some of the details she'll use from Hank's friend at the Times and some from her own investigations.
"Sir Robert had known Kenneth Grace for a number of years and, even before the Grace Gallery was formed, had bought a number of ancient artworks from him." She looks at Sir Robert, who grudgingly nods. "Of course, the provenance of these pieces and the licenses to import were always carefully researched because Sir Robert bought them to donate to the British Museum. When Grace decided to leave his previous employer and start his own business, he approached Sir Robert about financial backing. It didn't hurt that Grace chose to invite Sarah Lund, who just happened to be the best friend of Sir Robert's wife, to become his partner. Grace would look after the antiquities and the business side, and Sarah would provide the artistic flair that would make the gallery special."
"The display rooms were beautiful," Kate interjects. "Like a dream of ancient lands." Amanda nods sadly, and I know she's missing her lost friend.
Janice continues. "This is when the story gets a bit. . . . convoluted,
but I'll try to simplify it. Sir Robert agreed to invest in the gallery, and
in February 1936, it was opened. As I said, there was a party. Sir Robert and
Lady Amanda had a house guest at the time, in fact, the very
friend who had introduced them in the first place. His name was Dr. Franz Gruner, and he was a well-known archaeologist. What could be more natural than inviting him to attend the event at the gallery with them? Now, I don't know whether Grace and Gruner knew each other before that evening, but they made an association after that which would last until Grace's death in 1940."
She looks around to make sure she has everyone's attention. "Grace and
Gruner became partners in crime. Gruner had been stealing artifacts from digs
for a long time and selling them on the black market. Grace had been buying
stolen treasures and dummying up the records so they looked
legitimately acquired. Once they met, they were able to cut out the middle man." Janice smiles warmly at me. "Mel and I asked the middle man." Remembering our visit to Ben Black, I smile back.
Amanda asks quietly, "Are you saying Franz and Kenneth were. . . ." She can't say it.
"Crooks, Mother," Janice finishes. "A grave robber and smuggler, in Gruner's case. I guess swindler would be the best title for Grace. Together, they stole the historical treasures of a dozen countries and peoples, fixed them up with phony papers, and sold them to the highest bidders." Here she glances at Sir Robert, who looks steadily back. Janice shrugs and goes on. "It's possible that Horst Lund, Kate's father, knew what was going on. He may have been the contact between Gruner and the Germans, who were soon looting treasures from every country they came to control. In any event, by the time the war began in Europe, Gruner, the "Swiss citizen," and the Nazis were being very helpful to each other. I suspect the only Swiss connections Gruner actually had were numbered bank accounts for himself and his Nazi partners."
"Mother?" Kate asks quietly. "Did she know?"
Janice looks at her kindly but doesn't answer right away. "On both the
legitimate and the illegal sides, the Grace Gallery was a very profitable business.
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Horst Lund was repatriated to serve in
the army. Sarah and Kate, of course, stayed in England. In
1940, the Grace Gallery and other buildings in the block were hit by a German bomb. Shortly after that, both Kenneth Grace and Sarah Lund were dead."
"Accidents," Amanda says.
For the first time, I speak up. "No, Lady Amanda. The man who held us prisoner, he as much as admitted to killing both Kenneth and Sarah."
"But why?" Kate asks. She turns to me since Janice hasn't answered her other question. "If all this is true, was my mother involved in the crimes at the gallery?"
I meet Janice's eyes, but she gives me no sign. I feel I must answer. "We
don't know for sure why Kenneth was killed. Knowing Gruner, it was probably
greed. He saw a chance to get rid of a partner. Or, with the gallery gone, maybe
Kenneth just wasn't of any use any more. Your mother
was not involved, Kate. In fact, she was murdered because she discovered that something was wrong about the business. Bertie said it was because she looked at the books."
Emotions war in Kate's eyes as she deals with her mother's innocence and that her death was deliberate.
"There isn't much more to this story," Janice says. "The gallery
was gone, but Gruner continued to operate his illegal business from the cellar
beneath it. He was out of the country a lot, gathering more merchandise, but
he had helpers to take care of business when he was gone. Just as he
had help in other countries to get artifacts out of those countries and into England." Janice stops, and I know her mind has returned to Egypt. "Gruner hurt a lot of people, and one night that came back on him in the form of a bullet."
Gareth asks, "With Gruner dead, wasn't that the end of his business? I mean, there wouldn't be any more treasures sent into the country. And no one to run things on this end."
Janice shakes her head. "The business went on much as before. As Mel and I found out, it had quite an inventory to fall back on. And a person who could run it just as well as Gruner, the person who ran it all the times Gruner was out of the country, the person Bertie and Max called the boss."
"This is all very interesting, I'm sure," Sir Robert comments. "But now it's time for dinner, and I think we know all we want to about this sordid business."
Janice regards him with interest. "Doesn't it bother you at all that two
people you considered friends were killed at the orders of another of your pals?
Or that their murders revolved around a business you invested in and artifacts
you and others bought? And that maybe some of those artifacts
are now sitting in your British Museum with phony histories attached?"
He harumphs, looks at his watch, then puts it away. "It bothers me. I'll see that all this is investigated, including the artifacts I donated. I don't know what else I can do."
"You can be a little more patient, dear," Amanda says quietly. She holds Sir Robert's gaze until he nods. Amanda asks, "Janice, is there more to the story?"
"More like questions, Mother," Janice answers. "Several of them are for you." When her mother doesn't object, she continues, "You said that you put the prints from Dad's film into an envelope and stuck them in your desk at the studio. Who saw them besides you?"
Janice persists. "I suspect that Gruner knew the film existed, but Dad got it sent to you, not Dr. Pappas, before Gruner could get his hands on it. But someone here had to know you had the pictures. Who was it?"
Her mother remembers. "John. He knocked on the darkroom door as I had
taught him, but I was already hanging the prints, so I told him to come in.
When he gave me the message from the hospital that you were worse, I dropped
two of the prints, and, before I told him to hurry, he hung them
Janice nods. "John. And, Mother, besides Mel and me, who did you tell about the notes and the photographs that came with them?"
Her mother's first impulse is still "No one." Then she thinks. "I didn't tell anyone, but someone saw them. When the third note came, I laid out all the notes and photographs on that small table in my bedroom. I was called to the telephone and, when I returned, I realized I had left them out."
"Who saw them?" Janice asks.
"When I returned, Beatrice was cleaning my room. I quickly put them away, but I'm sure she saw them."
"Did you tell her not to tell anyone about them?"
Amanda shakes her head, and I know what she is going to say. "Dear, one doesn't discuss such things with servants."
"Kate," Janice says, "I have something to ask you, too. When Mel and I entered the breakfast room yesterday, you and Margaret were having an argument. You mentioned a man who could cost you your job. Who were you talking about?"
Kate shoots a glance at Sir Robert, but looks back at Janice to answer. "My father. Sir Robert has been under pressure to discharge me. Because my father is in the German army."
"Why were you talking about your father with Margaret?"
"She said she had news about him, that she could tell me how he was doing." Kate hangs her head. "I told her I didn't want to know."
"Did Margaret want to give you this information because she used to work for your mother?" Janice asks. "For old times' sake?"
"She wanted a favor." Kate seems reluctant to tell more, but silence follows, and she finally fills it. "She said that she had a package she wanted to send to a relative in the States. She wanted me to help her get it included in mail being sent from the ministry. She said it was so she wouldn't have to pay the duty."
"Did you do this favor?"
"No." She looks at Sir Robert. "I know I should have reported what Margaret asked me to do. But that would have brought up my father again. So I just told her no. I'm sorry."
"You'll have to be discharged," Sir Robert states. "Margaret, too."
"I'll hire her," Gareth says. "Kate, that is."
His father glares at him. "You can't."
"Fine. I'll marry her instead." He and Kate lock eyes.
Sir Robert opens and closes his mouth. Now I'm sure who the young woman was meeting in Blackfriars, as well as in the park. And I wonder, in the aristocrat's eyes, which part of Kate's parentage makes her an unsuitable match for his son.
Janice grins but quickly sobers and goes on. "Two more questions for Kate. You said that Margaret worked for your mother before she went into service with Sir Robert and Lady Amanda. Did she actually work for your mother or for the Grace Gallery?"
"I meant that she worked for the gallery."
The doorbell rings, and Margaret rises. "Beatrice will get it, Margaret," Janice says. "Mother asked her to stay late. Please don't go." Margaret stays but doesn't sit back down.
Although she has said she had two questions for Kate, Janice turns back to Amanda. "Mother, the second time you were ill, when you thought you had been poisoned, was that the evening before your studio was burglarized?"
"Yes," Amanda answers. "I had planned to go to the studio to
work that day, but I was still too ill to leave the house. That was the only
positive thing about my illness. If I had gone to the studio as I had
planned, I might have been there when those awful men broke in."
"If they broke in," Janice answers. She has already explained to
me her doubts about the unbroken lock and hinges. Taking a locked door off its
hinges would have been difficult for anyone. Much harder than simply breaking
the lock. But lifting an open door off its hinges would have been
easy work for Max. Janice doesn't bother to enlighten the others. "There are a number of other things I could ask," she says instead, "such as who would Beatrice and John share information with? Who knew that Mel and I were going to the studio the day of the fire? And that we would be walking from the park the other morning, when Mel was almost hit by a truck? Who had access to our room to both take a certain book and leave a note? Who handled the ice that was the only difference between what my mother and the others ate and drank on the two occasions she was ill?"
Janice pauses, obviously in need of a breath. "But instead, I'll just ask my final question of Kate. What was Margaret's job at the Grace Gallery?"
Margaret is glaring at Kate, who glares back and promptly answers. "She worked in the office. She was the bookkeeper."
Janice's pacing has taken her between Margaret and the closed library door. Margaret tenses, and I think for a moment she will test Janice, but then there's a light knock on the door. "Police," a male voice intones.
Janice steps aside. "Come on in," she calls. Three large men enter, two in uniform, one in a dark suit. Janice points to Margaret, whose shoulders have slumped. "I want you to meet the boss."
Watching Margaret being escorted out, Sir Robert follows. "I'll make sure this is handled discretely," he says.
Gareth grins. "You've accomplished a miracle, sister," he says to Janice.
"Catching a criminal?" she asks.
"No, making father forget about dinner." He puts out his hand to Kate. "We have some things to talk about." She puts her hand in his, and they walk from the room.
Flora rises. "Sit back down," Janice directs. A pout forms as the young girl takes her seat again. "Why don't you sit beside Flora, Mother?" Amanda raises an eyebrow but does as her daughter requests.
"Flora wants to tell you some things." Janice finally relinquishes the floor and comes to sit by me. She momentarily puts a hand on my shoulder, a question in her eyes. I've very tired, but I know this last task is best performed tonight. I nod to show that I'm all right. "Well, Flora?"
The girl is clearly on the edge of rebellion, but then she suddenly seems to deflate. Dropping her eyes, she says, "I did some things."
Amanda asks quietly, "What do you mean?"
"On the first night Janice and Mel were here, I left something in a drawer in their room."
"I don't understand. What did you leave?"
"Amanda," I say, "I don't think that's important."
Janice interrupts. "Yes, it is. Tell her what it was and where you got it."
Flora sighs. "It was a dead rat. I got it at the stable that day and brought it home. You had gone shopping for all those new clothes for her and had put them in the room beside yours. So I knew where to put it."
"Why would you do something like that?" Amanda asks. "You didn't even know Janice yet."
I laugh. "Yes, most people don't give her rats until they've known her a while." Janice shoots me a look, and I subside.
"Tell her the rest."
"I cut the girth on your saddle." She hastens to add, "It was the day you told us that you had written to Janice and asked her to come. Then you offered to go riding with Gareth. You never rode with me anymore, but you were riding with him."
"Dear, I did it to get him to try," Amanda says. "Since he had gotten out of the hospital, he was just sitting around."
"I didn't really try to hurt you," Flora says. "When I saddled your horse, I slit the girth with a hoof knife. But I cut it all the way through so it would come off when you mounted. That way you would take a spill, but you wouldn't be injured, just embarrassed."
"You were that angry with me?"
"Keep going," Janice prods.
"The worst thing I did was the evening Kate fenced with Janice." Flora finally looks up and finds Janice's eyes on her. She speaks directly to her. "I'm sorry. What happened taught me my lesson. I'll never do anything like that again."
Amanda takes Flora by the shoulders and turns her to face her. She seems about to shake her stepdaughter. "What did you do?"
"While Janice was getting ready, I took the epees out onto the lawn."
She takes a deep breath, struggling not to cry. "I stepped on one of them,
right at the foible, the weakest part. Kate had warned me many times to always
check the epee at that point, so I knew where it could be broken.
Then, when Janice and Kate came to get the epees, I gave that one to Kate. If they had just done slow drills like Kate talked about, no one would have really gotten hurt. But, instead, they decided to have a real contest, and that's when the capped point broke off entirely. . . ." Her voice trails
off as Amanda drops her hands.
"How could you do something like that? Don't you know that Janice could have been seriously injured?"
Now tears do slide down Flora's face. "I was having a good time watching
them fence. By the time Kate disarmed Janice, I had almost forgotten about the
foible. Then I saw the blood. There was so much blood." I remember how
Flora had seemed about to faint or get sick. "Suddenly it wasn't just
a mean joke. I thought Janice might die. Then I would be a murderer. And you would hate me forever. For killing your real daughter."
"Your real daughter," Janice repeats. "That's why Flora is so angry. You're the only mother Flora has ever known. And she's the daughter you raised. But you suddenly started talking about me, making plans that involved me, someone you hadn't even seen for almost as long as she's been alive."
Amanda touches Flora's cheek, then turns to speak to Janice. "Gareth was a teenager when I married Robert and is more like a friend than a son. But Flora was only two years old. She had a nanny, and her father had made it clear I was not expected to take over as her mother. But she was a sweet baby, and I found myself loving her more every day. It was me she called Mama, and, when it became clear how spirited she was going to be, I was the one who could handle her."
"Why did things change?" I ask.
"I think it started when Janice was in the hospital here in London."
Amanda's eyes meet her daughter's. "For a long time, I pushed you to the
back of my mind. I'm not proud of that, but it's what I did. Then I saw you,
and I remembered the years I had you and all the years I missed. I
became obsessed with getting to know you, with being your mother. I made plans, all the things we would do when you got out of the hospital and came to live here. Then you were gone again. But I didn't give up. When the problem concerning my photographs came up, I saw it as an opportunity to
get you to come back. I got someone to track you and found out how to get a letter to you in New York. And I wrote a letter I thought would bring you here."
"And, because I have a soft-hearted friend named Mel," Janice says, "I did come."
"She would have come anyway," I correct, but Janice shakes her head.
"I wouldn't have come, Mother, because I spent too many years hating you to just give it up."
Amanda jerks back, as if from a blow. "You hate me?"
Janice gets up and walks over to kneel in front of her mother. "I hated
you for years for deserting Dad and me. Now I realize that your leaving Dad
was your own business. Your leaving me is what I have to deal with. Mother,
doing that was wrong. I'll never be able to understand how you
could do that to me." Tears course down Amanda's face, and she does nothing to brush them away. I can't see Janice's face, but her voice, which has been flat, is now choked with emotion. "Don't make the same mistake with Flora that you made with me. She's your daughter. Don't
desert her. Don't leave her behind because your attention is elsewhere."
Amanda puts an arm around the young girl and pulls her close. Flora tenses, then relaxes and lets her head rest on her mother's shoulder. "I'm sorry I haven't been there for you lately," Amanda tells her. "I love you, and you are my 'real' daughter."
"Finish it, Janice," I say.
Janice is silent, unmoving.
I refuse to give up. "It's time."
She nods and looks up at Amanda. "A wise woman told me not to wait when my heart tells me to do something. Mother, I'm ready to give up the hate. I forgive you."
I wake up looking into bright green eyes. Janice is standing beside the bed and grinning down at me. "What was in those pills Mr. Satterley gave you?" she asks. "Give me one the next time I have trouble sleeping, all right?"
"When do you ever have trouble sleeping?" I ask. "Except in
the early morning."
I pull the covers up to my chin and close my eyes.
"Early?" She laughs and pulls the covers back down. "It's almost noon, sleeping beauty. I let you sleep in honor of our big day yesterday--and emotional evening."
I open my eyes again so I can study her face. "Are you okay?"
She nods. "Mother and I spent the morning talking. I think we got some more things worked out."
"Still Mother, not Mom?"
"Don't push it," she says, but her smile stays in place. I wonder if it's really so important that I give her my bad news today. "Now get up. We'll go down to the kitchen and get you something to eat. Might as well shock the 'help' a little more."
I push back the sheet and start to rise. I stop and lie back. Oh, no, not now. I want to tell her first. Janice has turned away and is at the wardrobe. She turns back, my robe in her hand, and her smile fades. "Mel, what's wrong?" She strides to the bed and sits beside me. As she jars the mattress, I try not to react. "Is it your back? Your head? You took quite a beating yesterday. No wonder you're sore."
"Yes, and your day was a piece of cake." I remember Bertie's punches, directed at Janice to extract information, and I shudder.
"Mel, come on," Janice says. "You're scaring me. Roll over, and I'll massage your back. You probably just have a muscle cramp." She can't resist adding, "From lying here so long."
"It's not that."
"Well, what?" Janice takes my hand, a rare show of affection.
I swallow and begin to confess. "Do you remember in New York, when I told you I had something I had to do?"
"Yeah. I used that to put pressure on you to come to London with me." She gives me her best shame-faced smile. "I knew the Bedouin tent part would get you. You never did tell me what you were going to do. Mel?"
"I didn't go shopping that day," I begin. "I went to see someone. A man."
"Yes." Even in light of what I've told her about Bill, her eyebrows go up. "A doctor." Now that I've gotten this far, I rush on. "He told me that I needed an operation. To remove the bullet from my back. I was going home to South Carolina to have it done."
Janice lets go of my hand but stays seated on the bed. At first, her expression is unreadable. In her flat voice, she says, "How could you keep that from me?"
"I thought it was more important that you work things out with your mother," I explain, knowing as I say it how inadequate the reason sounds. "I thought she was ill and that this might be your only chance to do that."
"What kind of risk were you taking?"
"That big a risk, huh?" I nod, and her anger instantly explodes. "Damn you, Mel, what the hell were you thinking?" Her energy suddenly too great to be contained, she jumps up and starts pacing around the room. She stops and faces me to continue. "Did you even give a thought to me in all this?"
"I was thinking about you," I answer quietly, trying not to let the tears flow.
"Then you should have seen how this would make me feel. I'm so angry with you I . . . . I don't know what to do. I want to hit something," she decides. My eyes must widen, because she adds, "Not you."
"I didn't do it to hurt you."
"Why do you think I'm so angry?" She takes a deep breath as if fighting for control. "I can't stand it sometimes that you don't value my best friend any more than you do."
"I don't understand."
She comes back and perches again on the edge of the bed. "You're my best friend, but sometimes you make me so mad. Whoever gave you the idea that you aren't as important as other people? That your happiness comes after everyone else's? After your father's. After Aunt Helen's. After mine."
"I just thought. . . ."
"No," she cuts me off. "You didn't think. You felt." She takes a breath and seems to notice for the first time that I'm crying. "You felt."
Janice rises again and turns her back to me. "I'm sorry. Please don't go away."
She returns with one of the hankies from the top drawer of the dresser. "Here. Blow your nose." She flips a straight-backed chair around so she can straddle it and leans her head against the back. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm angry with you, but I'm angrier at myself. For days, everyone else has noticed that you weren't feeling well, but I ignored it or accepted your excuses."
"You had a lot on your mind," I pardon her.
"Yeah, me and my problems." She shakes her head. "I didn't want
to see that you were in pain. That you were in trouble. That might have been
inconvenient. Might have required that I worry about someone other than myself.
I've always been a selfish bitch, but I thought I was changing.
This just proves I haven't."
"Don't," I order.
"Don't beat up on my best friend."
She studies me. "I guess it's unhealthy to do that, huh?"
"Around me it is." I put on my toughest expression, and she chuckles. "Janice," I say, "you're a good person, the best. Someday I hope you'll realize that. And know why I did this." I wait, knowing that, if she asks, I'll tell her.
Instead, she asks, "So what do we do next? Do you want us to go home right away? So you can get that operation?"
"No," I say, knowing this is the hardest part. "I want you to
call Mr. Satterley. I can't move my right leg.
Although John has driven us as close to the building as he can, I still pause before attempting the long flight of steps in front. Janice watches me with concern. "Are you sure you're ready to do this? It can wait."
"I can do it," I answer. Right after my surgery, I had used crutches but now, over a month later, I've returned to using the cane. I look up the steps and try not to show how high they now appear to me. Janice takes my free arm, and we start to climb. At the first landing, she signals a rest.
"Are you sure everything is set for our return to the United States?" I ask. I've been thinking about this all morning, but this is only the third time I've asked.
Janice feigns patience. "Yes. Laura Solari and her crew ferried another Fortress over here this week, and they're flying a decommissioned bomber home for use in training missions. Two world famous members of the press will be their passengers."
"So I get to be world famous this time, too?" I ask.
"Yeah," she says, "now that you've actually taken pictures with your camera."
"I'm just glad you grabbed my camera before we left that cellar--and that the pictures turned out." I can't help feeling a little pride at my accomplishment.
Janice laughs. "Your first photos at a dig, and it happened in a London
cellar. With everything in the storeroom damaged by the fire, your photographs
are the only way to show what was there." She sobers. "I know that
some of those things came from Cashi Zun, but without Dad's other
photos, there's no way to prove it now."
"Has Margaret admitted that she destroyed your father's photographs?" I ask, having missed out on most of the aftermath of her arrest.
"No. She's admitting nothing. Mother's photographs were recovered from Margaret's room, but Dad's weren't found. When there was talk of charging her with espionage because of her association with the Nazis, I thought she might crack, but she's toughing it out."
"Didn't Sir Robert get that investigation dropped?"
"Yeah. It wouldn't look good for his maid to be a spy." Janice looks thoughtful. "I'm sure she isn't, anyway. Gruner and she were about money, not politics. And there are plenty of charges that can be proved, including smuggling and fraud."
"Murder? Attempted murder?"
"She probably had knowledge of what happened to Kenneth Grace and Sarah Lund, but it would be hard to prove it with Bertie and Max gone. As for ordering them to kill us. . . ." Janice shrugs. "We're here, aren't we? I don't think we need to worry about that."
"Ready to go on?" I tease.
"Me? Yeah, I think I can make it," she answers, and we walk up the rest of the steps.
I turn to her as she opens one of the big doors at the front of the British
Museum. "It means a lot to me how you stuck by me during the last few weeks.
You know, through the surgery, and afterward, when I needed help. . . ."
I blush when I remember how helpless I was at first. "Anyway, thank
Janice shakes her head. "Mel, I can't believe you. It was on my account
that you got shot when we were in Egypt. Then you came to England with me instead
of going home for the surgery you needed. And you're thanking me?" We walk
into the front gallery and, as I did the first time, I gaze in
wonder at the friezes that decorate the walls. "Just one thing. If you ever do anything like that again. . . ." She doesn't seem able to come up with a threat dire enough, so she lets it drop.
"Can we take another look at the Elgin marbles?" I ask, ready to duck through the archway.
"Let's do that on the way out, okay?" she asks, and I can see she's
getting impatient. We walk toward a small display room near the rear of the
building. "I brought Flora here when you were in the hospital. Do you know
she's lived in London her whole life and had never seen the marbles?"
She shakes her head at such an impossible thought.
I smile, knowing that Janice has gained during the last month, not just a mother, but also an adoring younger sister. "What does Sir Robert think about his daughter running around the city in boots and khaki?"
"He's not too happy about it," Janice admits, "but he hasn't interfered. Thank God he wasn't the one who caught her trying to smoke that cigar."
"No," I say, "it was Mrs. Gareth Blessingham who did that." Kate.
We're standing outside the room now, and, both of us taking a deep breath, we enter. The object we're seeking is small, not more than eight inches high. It stands on a pedestal in the middle of the room. We approach it and stand unspeaking for some minutes.
It is a statue of a young woman, what archaeologists call a kore, and it is
an object of uncommon beauty. Although statues of females, unlike those of males,
were usually draped, this woman is shown completely naked. The light-colored
stone is highly polished and shows remarkable definition of the muscles of her
body. Her posture is straight, like that of a soldier. Her head is held proudly,
and the sculptor has indicated long full hair that flows across her shoulders
and back. The high cheekbones and sharp planes of her face seem to show that
this is a portrait, not a generalized
picture of a Greek girl.
Janice unbuttons her breast pocket and pulls out the kore photograph taken by her father. She looks at it and hands it to me. I nod. There is no doubt it is the same one.
"In the photo the eyes just look dark," I say. "But now, seeing the statue, you can tell the eyes are azure stones."
"I can't believe it took me so long to put it together," Janice comments. "Not until Sir Robert got me a list of artifacts recently donated to British museums did I realize that my father's Egyptian kore was here. With a fake pedigree that said it was found by Gruner in Greece."
"It does look Greek," I say.
"A combination," she corrects, "just like Ben Black said. Somewhat
natural in the Greek tradition, a little stylized as the Egyptian artist would
normally do. I think it was done that way to honor the subject, the Greek warrior
woman who had saved a pharaoh's son." She sighs. "Think of the
trouble it might have saved if I had listened to that little girl the first day. The one who said there was a statue in another room that looked just like you."
Then in silence we stand, my friend and I, and gaze at the Xena kore.
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