Palace Matinee -- Companions of Fear -- Part 8
Companions of Fear
Chinslow led Nestis March through the enormous kitchen, and down a dimly lit back hallway carpeted in a design of golden paisley, to a stairway that led up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs there was a door. He opened it and waved his arm as a sign for her to enter.
"I've had this room prepared for you and had them bring your things," he said.
Nestis looked at the heavy furniture, the book cases, the vaulted ceiling and tall windows. "Gloomy," she said.
"It's in some neo-gothic style my wife was fond of."
"I can see she went in for the drab," said Nestis, throwing a glance his way.
Chinslow forced a smile. "She said she wanted it to seem as if Frankenstein could have been written in this room."
"Good lord, what pretensions."
"Cost a fortune," he said.
"You've got white curtains around the bed, sheer curtains in the middle of the room -- for what reason, I have no idea. It makes the place seem like a whore house -- and waterfalls of gauze drapes enshrouding the windows. The quill in the jar of ink on the writing desk is tacky. I mean, we get it already. The Persian carpet is nice. A room designed for the comfort of shadows."
"Yes." Chinslow nodded in agreement. "Now, time for bed, I'm afraid." He reached into the left side pocket of his sagging trousers and brought out a pair of hand cuffs. He pointed the gun at her.
"Where can I change?" she asked.
"In the bathroom." He pointed the muzzle of the gun at a door off to the right. "Get comfortable, Ms. March, cause once you're in bed, you gotta stay there till morning. I'm locking you up."
"You're not going to touch me."
"Perish the thought. Do you think I'm a masochist?" he said. "Move it. I'm exhausted. I have to sleep."
She lifted her travelling bag and shuffled into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. The sliding lock on the inside slammed shut. When he heard that, Chinslow remembered that there was a window in there that opened onto the roof, which, if you were young and athletic enough you might be able to maneuver down to its edge and then leap the ten or eleven feet to the ground. He stood and stepped up close to the door.
"Ms. March?" he called.
"Yes," she answered.
He could hear some movement in there, and tried to listen for the sound of the window opening. "Don't go near that window, or I'll have to shoot my way in and shoot you in the process. Trying to get away is a one-way ticket to the Beautician. Understand?"
"You're afraid I'm going to climb out the window?" she called. "Do I look like an acrobat, Mr. Chinslow?"
"Just an old bat," he whispered and walked across the room where there was a wooden bar against the wall. Atop it was a cut glass decanter of whiskey and two crystal glasses. "Can I pour you a drink?" he shouted.
"Please," he heard her say.
He put the pistol in his jacket pocket and poured. Lifting the two glasses he pushed through a scrim of sheer curtains to the bedside where he set down one of the glasses and then returned to sit in the desk chair positioned so he faced the bathroom door. He retrieved the gun from his jacket. Sipping his drink, he crossed his left leg over his right and sighed with weariness. Some time passed and he was getting concerned that the old lady might have flown the coop. He meant to call out, but he was so tired that instead his head nodded down and his eyes closed.
The bathroom door suddenly burst open and he reared upright, almost pulling the trigger of the pistol in his surprise. There stood Nestis March dressed in a floor length flannel nightgown with a design of orange and black cats.
Chinslow regained his composure and said, "Stunning."
"The cats remind me of Igbid."
"How touching. Now climb in the sack and let me chain you up for the night."
Nestis was carrying her folded clothes and her bag. She placed them carefully on the writing desk, away from the open jar or ink.
"This way," said Chinslow, took a drink, and waved the gun to indicate that she should push through the veil of sheer curtains hanging in the middle of the room. As she made her way through them, she laughed. "This is ridiculous," she said. "What do all the curtains have to do with whether Frankenstein could have been written here?"
"I don't know," he said. "When my wife pictured Frankenstein, she pictured curtains."
"Thank heavens, she wasn't interested in Hamlet," said Nestis. "There might be shag carpet on the ceiling." She reached the bed, which stood quite high off the floor, and literally climbed into it. In a moment, she was beneath the covers.
Chinslow sat at the end of the mattress, a few inches from the outline of her feet beneath the blanket. "There's your drink," he said, nodding toward it, and lifted his to toast at a distance.
Nestis took her drink from the small table beside the bed and had a healthy swig. Wiping her lips with the arm of her nightgown, she said, "I really don't want to be here. I want to be in my own home."
"If it's any solace to you, I wish you weren't here either. But we've got a deal now. A Powerball number for a cat."
"Those men you've got looking for poor Igbid..." She shook her head. "They don't seem capable of finding their dicks in their trousers, if you'll forgive my saying so."
"Well put, Ms. March," said Chinslow. "But they're all I've got, and more importantly for you, they're all Igbid's got right now. So we should really be rooting for them."
"Agreed," she said and gave a subtle smile.
"OK, gimme your wrist," he said, sliding off the bed to stand.
She pushed back the right sleeve of her nightgown and held her wrist out to him. He put his drink down on the bedside table and pulled the handcuffs out of his pocket. They were already in the open position, so he didn't have to fiddle with the key. Placing the metal "C" around her boney wrist, he clicked it closed into a bracelet. He then fastened the other cuff to the middle of the headboard post.
"It's tight and hurts my wrist."
"A shame," he said. "Do you want the bed curtains untied and closed over or do you want them open?" he asked.
"Leave them open." she said. "Before you go, Mr. Chinslow. I want you to tell me one thing."
He finished his drink and put the glass down on the table. "What?" he said.
"How did your wife, Harris, really die if it wasn't hunting the stag?"
"I thought you knew," he said. "You didn't see it?"
"I knew you were lying, but I'm not clear on what actually happened."
He yawned and stretched, pointing the pistol at the ceiling. Then putting the gun in his pocket, he sat down again on the end of the bed. With his thumb and forefinger he cleared his tired eyes.
"Harris," he said, "was an unusual woman. I don't believe she was ever as partial to me as she was to my money. I had many millions at one point before I started building that contraption to preserve her, to eventually bring her back. The two I owe St. Martin are the last I needed to complete the cryonic bunker we were in tonight. To Johnny, a million is the end of the world. He's a two-bit thug, a savage, and he'll kill me if I don't deliver."
"I believe we were talking about your wife," said Nestis and crossed her uncuffed arm in front of her to place her glass on the bedside table.
"Yes, my wife. Well..., this house, as you'll notice in the light of the day has a widow's walk at the peak of the place, way up above the front entrance. She used to go there to be by herself when we were arguing. We didn't argue often, only when I wouldn't cough up the cash fast enough for her projects, like this droll room or the stag, which was completely her idea. I'm obviously no hunter."
"Ms. March, you're a trying woman."
"But you loved her. Am I right?"
He nodded, staring at the snow white bed spread, and tears formed in the corners of his eyes.
"So, Chinslow, you're actually a human being," said Nestis.
"Sort of," he said and laid on his side as if gravity had finally gotten the better of him. "Harris became involved in the purchase of some rare book or manuscript. I'm not sure what it was. I didn't trust the young man selling the thing. I had some people look into it and it's so easy to fake old writing and paper, so I refused to fund it."
"And you were jealous of the young man," said Nestis.
"I suppose," he said. "Anyway, she was up on the widow's walk, and I was inside talking business with Gage and Mink and the next thing we know, there's a scream, and she must have hit the lower roof once, because we heard that thud while we were running to see what had happened. She lay there in the drive, blood oozing from the corner of her mouth."
"Yes. She was so frightened. She said 'Chin, save me. You can't let me die.' And I did what had to be done. I have my own doctors and emergency people, and we took care of her body. Someday I'll have her back." When these last words left his mouth, Chinslow slowly struggled up off the bed, and stood, his figure weaving back and forth as if he might go over. Eventually he paced like a somnambulist toward the door, intoned, "Good night, Ms. March," and left the room.
"Wait, you left the light on," she called to him, but he didn't return. She lay in the bed, quite exhausted herself, listening to the wind blowing and thinking of the woman out at the edge of the woods, in a concrete bunker, encased in glass. Chinslow, she was sure, still had plans to do away with her after she delivered the winning number, but she wanted her cat back. "Once, Igbid is in my arms, it'll be easy to escape these buffoons," she thought.
As her eyes began to close, she caught the sight of something moving on the other side of the sheer curtains that divided the room. She propped herself up as best she could with only one arm and squinted through the dim light. There was definitely something moving.
"Who's there?" she called out.
The temperature in the room dropped suddenly. She could barely discern the form, more like an outline of a shadow on the other side of the curtain. "What do you want?" she asked.
A whispered voice filtered through the thin material, rippling it. The words were so quiet, they barely reached her ears. "He lies," it said. "He lies."