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Chapter 19...... The Letter

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Faye,

In exchange for my life, they want the copy of the Dascyleum Text, $200, and a locket heirloom which you’ll find with Mrs. Ansford… the married, not the widow. It’s on a chain and shaped like an orb.

You should meet us alone on Sunday at ten o’clock, south of Natick where Natick Rd. is lined by ash trees and split by a square boulder. Tell no one. They will know.

For the money, I was recently paid for an antiquity… though having a Midas would be more useful. I’m so sorry for everything darling. I’d do anything to be away with you and the others at your aunt’s by the sea.

All my love,

Silas

Faye dropped the letter and collapsed to the floor. George picked it up and read it out loud. They stood there in silence for a long time. Faye felt like she ought to burst into tears, but was too shocked.

“What does he mean by all of that?” George asked. “Your aunt by the sea?”

“I don’t have an aunt by the sea,” Faye said. “She lives in Ohio. Why would he mention that unless… unless he’s asking me to leave Boston. With the others. Which means he thinks that…”

“That we’re in danger, too,” Skander finished.

“But the stuff about Midas?” George asked.

“Mr. Lawrence. Sometimes he calls him that. I suppose he wants me to let Mr. Lawrence know, then run away from town.”

“Huh.”

Skander groaned and walked away to lean on the mantle. Ira pressed a hand on Faye’s shoulder.

“What did Silas get himself into?” George muttered, re-reading the letter. “He must have stumbled on something really terrible.”

“He stumbled on this,” Faye said, holding up the book limply.

“But what’s everyone want with it? I don’t understand,” George shook his head. “To me, it seems useless.”

“It warned us about the men coming the other day,” Skander said, quietly. “Maybe if you know how to decipher it, it will tell you the future?”

“Says the scientist who doesn’t believe in fairy tales,” George scoffed.

“There are things in the world that we don’t understand yet. I didn’t say it was magic.”

Faye stood up. “I need to go see Mrs. Ansford,” she nodded resolutely.

“Not tonight, darling,” said Ira. “It’s already late, and this isn’t something we should rush into.”

Faye bit her lip and glanced at the door.

“The meeting isn’t until the day after tomorrow, so we have time,” Ira went on. “And tonight, we should talk about what we’re going to do.”

Faye sniffed and nodded.

“Now sit down over there and I’ll ask Mrs. Killian to send up dinner for us tonight.”

Faye sat on the couch as Ira left again down the stairs. George handed her Silas’ note and she gripped it in her fist. George sat down next to her and put an arm over her shoulder, but she barely noticed. Ira came back eventually and sat across from them, as did Skander, but from the other corner of the coffee table.

“I don’t understand what anyone would want with this book,” George said again, flipping through it.

Faye didn’t reply.

“But what is the heirloom?” Skander added. “Is it worth a lot of money? Does it have something to do with the book?”

“Does it matter?” Faye whispered.

“I suppose not,” said Ira. “Your plan is to bring the items to the location like the letter says?”

Faye nodded.

“Even though Silas warned you to leave Boston?” Skander asked softly.

“He should have known better than to ask me to do that.”

“What if we really are in danger?”

“Then Silas is in danger, too, and I can’t…”

“Shouldn’t we go to the police?” Skander asked. “Or what about the detectives Mr. Lawrence hired?”

“Mm,” George frowned, eyes closed. “Not so sure about the police.”

“Those men weren’t real police.”

“Weren’t they?”

“They…” Skander paused and a very worried look crossed his face.

“I’m just saying, we don’t know.”

“Then we go to Mr. Lawrence–” Skander started.

“They’ll know,” Faye whispered.

“But–”

“I thought I was having nervous hallucinations, but I’m sure now I’ve been followed the past few days. Everywhere I look, there’s someone across the street watching me.”

Skander frowned. “What did he look like?”

“He was always too far away,” Faye said, burying her head in her hands. “Stocky, dressed in dark clothes, with a black hat. Half the time pretending to read a newspaper.”

Skander stiffened and met George’s glance. “It could be nothing.”

“If they found out I went to Mr. Lawrence…” Faye started, but didn’t finish.

They went silent.

“Well, one thing we’re not going to do,” George said, yawning and closing his eyes again, “is let you go alone.”

“But the letter…”

“Damn the letter.”

“George is right,” said Ira.

“You can’t go alone,” said Skander. “But we probably shouldn’t be seen. We’ll have to scout out the location early.”

“We can go tomorrow after you’ve talked with Mrs. Ansford,” said Ira. “A friend of mine owns a hotel in Framingham. We can stay the night there.”

“We’re gonna need guns,” George mumbled. He was falling asleep.

They all paused.

“I suppose it would be a good idea,” Skander said finally. “We don’t know what we’re up against.”

“Maybe you should all go away for a while,” Faye said. “This isn’t your problem, and I couldn’t ask–”

“Faye, shut up,” George mumbled.

“I’ll bring weapons tomorrow,” said Ira.

George opened one eye and raised an eyebrow.

“Not mine, George,” she smiled. “You know Jack collects them. I can borrow some from his house here.”

“Jack?” Skander asked.

Ira flushed deeply. “Jack Oscar. My… a friend of mine.”

There was a brief pause.

“Thank you, Ira,” Faye said. “It’s kind of you to do so much.”

“He’s my brother, too, you know,” Ira said, still looking down.

George snored softly. They turned and watched him sleep for a minute. Ira got up.

“George?” she nudged him. He didn’t respond. She smiled and rolled her eyes. “Skander, would you help me get him to bed?”

Skander blushed, but stood up. “He’s a menace.”

“Yes. Menacing people all day can wear a person out, I imagine.”

Skander helped pull him off the couch, and he woke up part way – at least enough to shuffle his feet as they led him into the spare room.

~

The next morning, George was up early, having gone to bed at seven o’clock and slept for twelve hours straight. He’d made breakfast, and the smell of it woke Faye as the sun was just starting to light the horizon. She got up quickly and dressed, tangling her hair back into some semblance of a bun.

“Morning,” George grinned when she walked into the kitchenette. He flipped a pancake, tossing it almost as high as the ceiling. He barely caught it, and half of it fell off and splatted on the floor. “Dammit,” he said. “Could you be a dear and clean that up for me?”

Without thinking, Faye grabbed a rag and wiped it up.

“No quick comeback?” George frowned. “You’re supposed to say something like, ‘If you’re going to flip pancakes like that, you –‘”

“When do you think the Ansfords will be up?” Faye interrupted, sitting by the window and looking out. “Is it alright to call before nine o’clock?”

“Given the circumstances,” George shrugged, “I imagine they’ll understand. But you can’t leave until you’ve had something to eat.”

“I hope Mrs. Ansford understands enough to let me have her heirloom,” Faye leaned on the table and wrung her hands together. She looked back up at George. “I need to go back home. To get the money that Silas…”

“Breakfast first.”

George almost force-fed her two pancakes and some scrambled eggs, and as soon as he was satisfied, she hurried to get her shoes on. Ira had just woken up and Skander was still asleep, so George said he’d go with her to talk to Mrs. Ansford.

“Let me ask Mrs. Killian to have the coach readied,” Ira said. “I don’t think you should be seen if it can be helped.”

“True,” George agreed.

Ira went downstairs and came back a minute later. “The driver will have it in front in about twenty minutes. Faye, come see if this overcoat will fit you. It has a deep hood and might help cover your face. George, you have a hat?”

“Always have a hat,” George muttered.

Ira took a light coat from a wardrobe and helped Faye into it. It was long and deep blue and the hood draped to Faye’s forehead and hid her whole face in shadows. Ira nodded, satisfied. George put on his hat, pulled his collar up, and wrapped a scarf around it.

“While you’re out, I’ll go over to Mr. Oscar’s and pick up a few things,” said Ira. “But I’m not sure what you might want.”

“Take Skander with you,” said George. “He’ll know.”

“Alright. When will you be back?”

“Soon, I hope,” said Faye.

“I should leave soon, then,” said Ira. “George, would you mind waking Skander before you go?”

“It would be a pleasure.”

“Kindly, darling!” Ira called after him.

~

The streets were still dark as George and Faye sat silently in the cab. It was only a quarter to eight when they arrived in front of Silas and Faye’s boarding house. Faye stared at it, wringing the fabric of her coat.

“I don’t see anyone watching the place,” George said, looking around. “We should hurry, though.”

“Stay here and keep an eye out,” said Faye, still wringing her coat. “I’ll only be a minute.”

“Maybe I should come with you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Faye said, not moving.

“I know,” said George, “but it’s freezing out here. I promise not to get in the way, alright?”

He jumped down from the cab and helped her out. They walked into the boarding house. Mrs. Finch was setting the table for breakfast and she gave Faye a disapproving look.

“Where have you… been?” she wheezed.

“Silas is missing,” Faye replied flatly, turning and walking away toward the stairs.

At the second floor, Faye unlocked their boarding room’s door with her key, pushing it open. A cold draft blew out at them and it made her shiver. She stepped inside slowly, an unshakable feeling of being watched filling her. She scanned the room, stepping forward one foot at a time. The room was dark and cold and emptier than it had ever felt before. Nothing had been touched, and yet it felt like a tomb, like everything in the room had died and rotted away to a shell of what it had been before.

It was all in her mind, she told herself with a shudder. George wandered across the room and looked out the window.

“Dark in here,” he commented.

Faye turned and walked toward the study, cracking the door open slowly and peering inside. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a curtain rustle, and barely suppressed a scream. It was only a draft. Only a draft. She took a breath and stepped into the room. The curtain kept rustling and she had to force herself to look away.

She hurried to the bookshelf, looking for the hollow book Silas kept extra cash in. Where was it? Why wasn’t it here? She was beginning to panic when she found it on the bottom shelf under a South American statue of a mythical beast. She opened the cover and took out everything inside, stuffing it quickly into her handbag, then put the book back in its place.

“Faye?” George called. “I think we should probably go now.”

“I have it,” she said, rushing out and closing the door to the eerie draft.

“Good, because there’s a fella with a hat out there, standing and reading a newspaper.”

Faye felt her skin crawl and rushed to the window to look out.

“Maybe I should go punch him in the nose,” George suggested.

Faye shook her head. “Let’s go.”

“He’s right out front. He’s gonna see us,” George said, jogging to keep up with her.

They rushed down the stairs and out the door, hurrying for the cab. When Faye turned, the man with the newspaper had disappeared. She should have been relieved, but if anything, it made her feel even more on edge. They jumped inside the cab and Faye quickly gave the driver the address.

When they arrived at the Ansfords, the sun was just beginning to rise and Faye was worried they wouldn’t have even woken yet. They knocked on the door and a footman answered, a little put off from their early call, but he said the Ansfords were having breakfast and he would let them know they were there.

“Yes, thank you,” said Faye as the door closed to the cold air outside. “Please express my apologies to Mrs. Ansford at the early and unplanned visit, but it is an urgent matter.”

The footman nodded and disappeared. George had his hands behind his back, looking at a painting in the hallway. He gave a low whistle and pointed.

“Did you see this?” he mouthed.

“George, I don’t really care right now.”

“It’s a Sargent, though.” He bit his finger. “I want to touch it.”

“Faye! What a surprise!” Mrs. Ansford strode into the foyer. “I’m so very glad to see you! How have you been? But enough pleasantries. William said it was an urgent matter?”

“Thank you for understanding,” Faye said. “I… it’s –”

“Let’s go to the parlor to talk. Would you like coffee? Oh, dear me, I’m so sorry,” she turned to George. “We haven’t been introduced. My name is Lauren Ansford.”

“George Lagarde,” he shook her hand with a slanted smile. “But do call me George.”

“Do call me Lauren,” Lauren raised an eyebrow.

“This is a dear friend of the family,” said Faye. “He grew up with us and is practically my adopted brother.”

“Well, do come in. I’ll have William bring coffee.”

“I’ll wait here,” said George.

As they walked past the hall, she saw George reach out and touch the painting with a sheepish grin.

In the parlor, Lauren made small talk, which she sustained mostly of her own industry. The parlor was painted deep purple. Delicate lace coated every surface and the room was filled with porcelain and blown glass knick-knacks. It almost resembled a dollhouse, except that not even a doll house was this ornately decorated. It also carried the distinct smell of sugar, whose origin Faye couldn’t discover. William the footman brought the coffee in shortly and as soon as he left, Lauren leaned in conspiratorially with a sideways half-smile.

“Now, what is it I can do for you?” She dropped three cubes of sugar into her cup, stirring it insistently.

Faye took a breath. “I’m afraid I need to ask a rather large favor.” She told Lauren a short version of what had happened, leaving out most of the details, then showed her the note. “I regret even asking, but do you know what this means – the heirloom locket?”

“Of course, I do,” Lauren nodded. “But you poor dear. How horrible. I can barely believe this.” She shook her head and her perfect curls bounced as she furrowed her perfect brows and put a hand on Faye’s arm. “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now. If there’s anything you need – anything at all – you must tell me at once.”

Faye nodded and pressed her hand.

“The locket is a family heirloom,” Lauren went on, leaning back and rubbing a pale finger on her lower lip. “Or so I’ve been told. It’s something passed from generation to generation, safely kept locked away in a box doing no good to anyone. I never understood it, but my mother told me it was imperative to keep it… something about family honor.” Lauren laughed. “When she died, she was quite confused and unfortunately, I never found out exactly what was so important about the thing, other than it being the last thing my mother gave to me in her life.”

“I’m sorry,” said Faye. “It’s so much to ask.”

“Pish posh,” Lauren shooed her hand at her. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just a little thing, and I can’t think of a more honorable end for it than being exchanged for a life. But Faye, don’t you think you should go to the police?”

“We have,” Faye lied. “And Mr. Lawrence has several detectives as well. I’m only doing my part to help.”

“It’s quite odd, though,” Lauren went on as if she hadn’t heard Faye. “The locket’s not valuable itself. From what I can tell, it’s made of iron.” She gave a laugh. “Well, I’m just glad I can help is all. You wait here and I’ll bring it.”

She skipped out of the room and Faye was left alone with her cup of coffee. She watched the second hand tick around the face of the clock on the mantle and rubbed the lip of the cup in her hands. A minute passed and she drained the coffee cup, setting it on the table in front of her and getting up to pace across the room.

Lauren came back shortly with a little purple box. “Here it is,” she said, opening it. “Like I told you, I don’t think it’s valuable.”

Faye looked at it. It certainly didn’t look valuable – the metal was tarnished and the orb was unornamented.

“I can’t thank you enough, Lauren. If there is any way to repay you –”

“Pish posh,” Lauren crossed her arms. “Don’t think anything of it. Just get your husband back and come play bridge with us again soon. Alright? You have no idea how horrible a partner the other Mrs. Ansford is.” She smiled, her perfect, white teeth sparkling. “My mother-in-law doesn’t even like bridge, and heaven knows why she plays with us week in and week out.”

Faye gave a small smile, bemused. Mrs. Ansford was an enigma – one minute as caring as a mother, and the next more petty than you’d think possible.

George was still staring at the painting when Lauren escorted Faye to the foyer.

“Ah, George,” Lauren said. “You like that one?”

George smiled and blushed. “It’s a Sargent.”

“Is it?” Lauren crossed her arms and cocked her head at the painting. “My father gave it to us as a wedding present, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It’s so dreary, wouldn’t you say?”

George coughed out a laugh, and for once was at a loss for words.

“Well, I’m sure you need to be going,” she went on. “I’m glad you came to me, Faye, and you’ll come to me if you need anything else, like you promised, alright? And good luck. My heart goes with you.”

“Thank you, Lauren.”

George gave her a short bow and offered his arm to Faye. The footman opened the door for them and they left Mrs. Ansford as she gave them a cheerful wave. George mounted the coach and looked back at the house. He cleared his throat and shook his head, a bemused smile playing across his mustache. He glanced at Faye.

“Did you get it?”

“Yes,” she said, holding up the box. “Let’s go.”


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