The Further Adventures of Janice and Mel:

THE XENA KORE

Chapter 11 - 20

by Wishes (Judy)
jkp@bright.net


DISCLAIMERS/WARNINGS: The characters of Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures and were introduced in the XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS episode "The Xena Scrolls." This story is fan fiction, and no attempt is being made to profit from the use of these characters. There is nothing to warn you about. There's a little violence, I guess, but only fictional characters were harmed in the writing of this story.

This is a sequel to an earlier fan fiction story entitled "The Gabrielle Stele."


Chapter 11

Back at the Ritz, Janice paces restlessly around the sitting room. Expecting that a woman reunited with her long-lost mother will want to talk, I settle on one of the graceful chairs.

"Is she the way you remember her?" I open.

"Older."

"Donít you think your mother is very beautiful?"

"I guess."

"I was a little surprised that you agreed to move to her house." I hesitate, then add, "And glad."

Janice stops pacing and faces me. Quirking an eyebrow, she asks, "Why?"

"Sheís your mother, and she needs your help," I say simply.

Her question surprises me. "What do you know about arsenic?"

"Nothing."

"Me either." Sheís still dressed in the nice slacks and blouse she wore to her motherís, but she grabs and dons her hat and leather jacket. "Iíll be back in a little while."

"We have to pack. . . ," I start.

Saying "Never unpacked," sheís out the door. So much for our talk.

A little later, I stand in my bedroom. My suitcase is open on the polished dresser as I fold and carefully pack clothing so recently placed in the top drawer. The last item I remove is a photograph, a familiar face in a silver frame. The man smiles into the camera, confident and proud. And young. I realize that he and I are no longer the same age and that each year I will leave him farther behind.

"Bill," I say, "weíre on the move again. Since I met Janice, I never stay anywhere for long. Would things have been different if I had been this willing to follow you?"

Knowing there will never be an answer, I slip the picture into my suitcase, and the lid snaps shut over the smiling face.

Chapter 12

Janice and I are returned to the Regents Park townhouse by the elderly chauffeur, who introduces himself as John. Although he was polite during our earlier encounters, his manner toward Janice now shows more deference. I realize that, as a new resident of his lordshipís home or perhaps as a member of her ladyshipís family, her status has changed. Janice, dressed again as if for a dig, reluctantly relinquishes her knapsack to John as we exit the car.

We are met at the door by the same maid who greeted us earlier in the day. "I am Margaret," she says this time. "John will take your baggage to your rooms." She leads the way up the front stairs, a curving double staircase that dominates the high-ceilinged entryway. "Miss Janiceís room is at the rear of the east hallway," she explains, turning to the right. We both follow and find ourselves in a large, sunny room, wallpapered with primroses and vines. The furniture is sturdy and dark, the centerpiece a beautiful 4-poster bed.

Upon the bedís rose-colored comforter is a white dress with small green figures. Janice raises an eyebrow upon seeing this, but she doesnít comment. "Where is Miss Melindaís room?" she inquires, gently mocking the maidís inflection and overly proper accent.

"Miss Melindaís room is on the west hallway," she answers, giving no indication that she has taken offense. She walks to the door.

"Mel," Janice says softly, "I would rather we stayed together. Do you mind sharing this room?"

"No," I say, "thatís fine."

Janice hesitates. "Are you sure? If it makes you uncomfortable, Iíll understand."

Thinking of rooms, tents, tombs, and the shipís cabin weíve shared, Iím puzzled, but I reassure her. "No, really, I would rather stay with you."

"Margaret," Janice directs, "Miss Melinda and I will share this room."

"Very well," Margaret responds, and John enters and places my suitcase and Janiceís knapsack on a low stand beside a chest of drawers.

"Dinner is at eight, drinks in the library a half hour before," Margaret says. "Will that be all?" She and John leave after Janice nods."

Janice fingers the light material of the dress. Her expression is somewhere between surprise and rebellion, and I wonder which will win. Wanting to hang my clothing to reduce wrinkles, I open my suitcase and swing open the door of the wardrobe that stands in one corner. Inside hang three more dresses, all new and obviously Janiceís size. On the floor of the wardrobe are two pairs of shoes.

"Your mother has been shopping," I comment mildly. The dresses are simple, but it is simplicity that bespeaks fashion senseóand money. I wonder about the wartime shortages we have heard about in the States.

Janice sits on the bed and shakes her head in an exaggerated motion. "Who IS this woman?" she asks. "I havenít seen her in over fifteen years or heard from her in eleven, but she has already criticized my career and told me how to dress!"

"Sheís your mother, Janice," I say.

She touches the collar of the white dress, and I can tell a battle is being fought. I want to suggest that Janice wear the dress, at least this first night, but figure that will assure her appearance at dinner in desert clothes and boots. I hang my clothing and turn to open a drawer in the dresser. I shriek and jump back. Janice is instantly at my side. She grabs me, but all I can do is point, barely able to breath and totally unable to speak.

Janice steps forward and calmly surveys the cause of my distress. A large brown rat, dead, lies nestled among white towels. "Fresh," she says. "No smell. And I donít think it just wandered in and died." Then she grins, that feral look that mixes wildness with enjoyment. "Unless heís someoneís pet, Iíve just been welcomed into the family."

To my horror, she reaches into the drawer and, grabbing rat and towel, lifts both. "Open the window," she says. With shaking hands, I fumble with the window sash until it opens. I avert my eyes as Janice tosses rat and towel outside. "Bombs away," she says. "Ah, right in the rose hedge. I wonder what the gardener will think. Rats visiting and bringing their own towels."

I shudder, and Janice laughs. "Oh, Mel, itís just a big old mouse."

"I donít even like little young ones."

Chapter 13

Janice and I walk down the front stairs at quarter Ďtil eight. Janice is lovely in the white and green dress and green pumps. Iíve brushed her hair until it shines, and she wears it loose around her shoulders. Iím wearing a simple dress, cornflower blue. Because it has a scoop neck, Iíve added my pearls and matching earrings. My hair is up and twisted into a French knot at the back.

In the lead as usual, Janice pauses on the last step and looks back. "You look regal," she says, "just like a princess."

I blush, unused to compliments, and give a slight curtsy. "Thank you, maíam," I say in my best Southern belle manner.

"Janice, dear." Itís Amanda, in a short pale yellow cocktail dress, sparkling jade at ears and neck. "Good evening, Melinda. Please come and meet the family." She takes Janiceís arm, and I follow them into a large room, obviously a library. The decor is masculine, dark-paneled walls, heavy wood and leather furniture. An older and a younger man, one dark, one fair stand near a glass-front liquor cabinet. They wear dark suits, identically and impeccably cut. Two young women share a divan and look up as we enter.

Amanda first presents us to the tall, dark-haired man. "Darling," Amanda begins and, when she gets no response, repeats a little louder, "Darling."

The man turns to her, his severe expression transforming to a smile.

"Robert, I want you to meet my daughter, Dr. Janice Covington," she tells him, pride evident in her voice.

"Sir Robert," Janice acknowledges.

Sir Robert takes her right hand in both of his. At first, I think he will kiss it, but he simply holds it instead. "Janice, welcome to our home. You have made your mother so happy by coming here." Sir Robert pats her hand before releasing it and makes eye contact with me.

Amanda continues the introductions. "This is Miss Melinda Pappas, Janiceís friend and colleague. Melinda, my husband, Sir Robert Blessingham."

"Iím pleased to meet you, Sir Robert. Thank you for allowing me to visit."

"Youíre quite welcome in our home, Miss Pappas," he says, with a nod just short of a formal bow. "Do I hear a hint of the American South in your accent?"

"Iím from South Carolina, Sir Robert," I answer. "Have you visited the United States?"

"Many times on business," he says. "Sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by my American wife." He smiles fondly at Amanda. "Now, dear, would you complete the introductions?"

Gesturing toward the other man, Amanda says, "This handsome fellow is Gareth, Robertís son. Gareth, my daughter Janice and her friend Melinda."

Fair-haired, a little shorter and slighter than his father, Gareth charms me with his first smile. As he crosses the short distance between us, I see that he walks with a limp, as if his right knee is stiff. Taking my hand, he does kiss it, his lips soft and dry against my skin. "Miss Pappas," he says and adds, "Melinda?"

"Mel," I respond.

He nods and, turning to Janice, surprises her with a kiss on the cheek. "Sister," he says, and Iím sure Janice sees the teasing glint in his light blue eyes.

"You may call me Janice, brother," she counters, "and Iíll call you Gareth." He laughs at her quickness and motions toward the women. "Amanda has left the best for last. Now, the ladies."

"Our youngest family member, Flora, Sir Robertís daughter." The young woman indicated has fiery red hair, but with the clear, pale skin common among the English. She wears flounced pink, childish for her age, which I judge to be about fifteen.

"Hello, Flora," Janice says.

"Are you here because Amanda paid you to come?" Flora asks loudly.

"Father said nothing else would bring you here."

"Be quiet, dear," Amanda orders calmly, and Flora makes a show of clamping her lips tight.

"This more polite guest is Katherine Lund, Sir Robertís secretary and the daughter of an old friend," Amanda completes the introductions.

"And often Floraís keeper," Gareth adds, with a humorous, but pointed, look at his little sister.

"Dr. Covington, Miss Pappas." The young woman acknowledges the introductions without quite ignoring Garethís aside. Her hair in an auburn chignon, dressed in a tailored light blue dress, she is the picture of understated elegance. "Please call me Kate. Everyone here does."

"If you call us Janice and Mel," I say. She nods.

Gareth has been handing drinks around. He gives glasses to Janice and her mother and then places one in my hand. All are filled with amber liquid, Janiceís, Amandaís and mine also containing ice.

Sir Robert raises his glass to indicate a toast. "To God and King, to family."

Chapter 14

After dinner, Janice and I return to our room. Having exchanged the white and green dress for a white terry robe, Janice sprawls on the bed. She hasnít removed the comforter, but at least she isnít wearing shoes. Still dressed, I move Janiceís leather jacket to a hanger in the wardrobe and take its place on a straight-backed chair. Janice holds a pen and a small notebook that I recognize as her current journal.

She writes for a few minutes, then looks up. "Mel, what did you think of that family dinner?"

"It was fine," I say, "boiled this and that, the usual English meal. You ate enough of it."

"I donít mean the food," she says. "I mean the family members, Sir Robert and the others."

"I donít think itís my place to say," I answer primly.

"Come on, Mel. Donít play the little lady. You watch people. You notice things I would never see. What were your impressions?"

Iím still reluctant, but Iím flattered enough to give it some thought.

"Gareth is charming."

She rolls her eyes. "I knew you would start with Gareth."

I ignore the implication. "I wonder what happened to his leg. Was he always crippled?"

"I donít know." Janice writes something in her journal. "What else?"

"Flora kept saying things to get attention, to shock people." I think some more. "Your mother seemed able to handle her, but her father ignored her, and Gareth was mildly amused by her."

She writes something else.

"What about Sir Robert?" Janice asks.

"He adores your mother, but he mostly talked business, and that was with Gareth. Is it usual for a lord to be that involved in business?"

Instead of writing, Janice says, "I can explain that. Sir Robert does come from an old noble family, but they were poor as church mice until his father came along. The old man defied tradition and started a factory, some kind of foundry, I think. Made millions. Robert converted it to tanks or something, just before the war. Made even more millions. Now heís on some sort of government industry board, related to Lend Lease maybe. Gareth must be taking up the slack in the family business."

"How do you know all that?"

"Iíve known for several years who my mother had married. I may have read a few articles about the family."

"Uh-huh."

Janice reads what she has written in her notebook and adds a few more lines. "Okay," she says, "the way I see it, our main problem is finding out who stole the photographs. That may tell us why, or we may have to find out why before we can figure out who. Then we get the photos back. Understand?"

"I think I do, but donít we already know why? To extort money for their return?"

"Maybe," she says, "but Mother seems willing to pay. If thatís the real reason, why is there a problem?"

I point out something she seems to have forgotten. "You say finding out who stole the pictures is the main problem, but what about whoever made the attempts on Amandaís life? Isnít it more important to find out who that is?" Thereís silence. "Janice?"

"Mel, Iím not sure how seriously we should take all that."

"What?"

Reluctantly, she turns back a page in her notebook. "Remember when I left the hotel this afternoon?"

"Yes. I figured you needed to go for a walk."

"I did walk, but it was to a library."

"You had a sudden urge to read a book?"

"A medical library." She holds out her notebook, and I take it. I look at her questioningly. "Read that page aloud. Itís the notes I took."

I read Janiceís small, neat printing. "Arsenic. Found in nature in low levels as inorganic arsenic compounds. In plants and animals combines with carbon and hydrogen to form organic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic: more harmful, used in wood preservatives, insecticides, rodent poisons, and weed killers. Doesnít evaporate, dissolves in water, can build up in fish and shellfish. In humans, low levels: nausea, vomiting, fewer blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, numbness in feet and hands. High levels: can be fatal. Medical test for low levels: measured in urine soon after exposure. High levels: tests on hair or fingernails."

I look up. "Sounds pretty serious to me."

"Yeah, if it really happened."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you remember what my mother said about the tests the doctor ran?"

"Yes," I answer. "She said he ran blood tests because. . . .oh."

"So letís concentrate on the photographs, all right?" she suggests. "When weíre around here, we can keep our eyes open, talk to the family members, but Iím basically not too worried about any threat to my motherís health."

I open my mouth and shut it. Aunt Helen taught me early that family business belongs in the family. Iím not part of this family, and Iím sure Janice will remind me of that if I forget.

Janice reaches for her notebook, and I return it. She turns forward a page to her new notes. "The first thing I want to do is get a look at those notes Mother says she got, the ones demanding money for the return of the photos."

"And the photographs that came with them," I remind her.

"Thatís right!" She makes a note. "I forgot about that. Those will give us an idea of what weíre looking for. Then I want to take a look at Amandaís studio."

I nod. That sounds like a good plan. "Then what?"

"Iím not sure." She laughs. "Thatís as far as Iíve gotten. After that, I guess we make it up as we go along."

"Wonít that be a nice change?"

Chapter 15

Having reacquainted ourselves with the travesties committed in the name of an English breakfast, Janice and I hurry upstairs. "What do you think that was in the pastry shell?" Janice asks.

"Kidneys? Some kind of fish?" I guess.

"Four and twenty blackbirds?"

We are giggling at our lame humor when we knock on Amandaís door. She has told us to come to her bedroom, "where we can have more privacy." She is sitting on a chaises longue in this most feminine of rooms, still in a peignoir and slippers. Janice is in full desert regalia, as I suspect she will stay for most of our visit. Iím in dark slacks and a tailored blouse, seeking the middle ground between my friend and her mother.

"Janice, dear." Amanda holds out both hands and, when Janice doesnít immediately approach, pats the end of the chaises. Janice perches on the delicate arm of a nearby chair, and I take the chairís seat. Amanda says, "Good morning, Melinda."

"Good morning."

"Mother, there are some things we need to know," Janice begins. "That is, if you want us to find the photographs."

"Of course I do, dear." Amanda turns so her slippered feet touch the floor, and she is facing us directly. "Ask whatever you like."

"You say that someone broke into your studio and took the photographs from a safe in your studio. How did they get in? And how was the safe opened? Did someone besides you have the combination?"

"The burglars took the studio door off its hinges, and they removed the side of the safe," Amanda explains. "The policeman in charge said the safe was Ďpeeled,í whatever that means. He called it a professional job. Personally, I donít think it would have been that hard to do. I had the safe put in more for its fireproof properties than to discourage burglars."

"You said the photographs were for your new book," Janice says. "Was the manuscript for the book taken, too?"

Amanda considers for a minute. "I hadnít even thought about that. The photographs actually are the manuscript, except for a few captions and introductions. But, no, the typewritten sheets, which were in my desk drawer in the studio, werenít taken. All of the papers were scattered around, but I donít think any were missing."

Janice nods. "So those pages actually contain descriptions of the missing photographs?"

"Yes!" Amanda glances at me and comments, "See? I said my little girl was clever."

Not knowing how else to respond that will not get me punched by her "little girl," I just smile.

"Could we see the notes, Mother?" Janice says. "And the photographs that were returned with them?"

Amanda rises and walks to her dresser. Opening the top drawer, she pulls out what we would call back home a japanned box. Hers is of a rich, dark wood, probably mahogany, and is decorated with small hand painted pictures of oriental flora. From the box, Amanda takes a small packet of papers and hands this to Janice before returning to her chaises.

"Donít you have the envelopes?" Janice asks.

"No, I threw those away," Amanda admits. "They were ordinary, cheap white envelopes, the kind available at any stationerís. From the postmarks, the envelopes were mailed from inside the city. Why?"

"It doesnít matter," Janice says.

She reads through the first note and hands it to me. It was written by cutting letters and words from a newspaper and pasting them to a thin sheet of unlined white paper. Someone has been watching too many detective movies, I think. I read the message: "wE hAve SOME thing you want IT will CosT you" When I look up, Janice hands me the photograph that was tucked into the fold of that note. Itís a photograph of a group of well-dressed people at some sort of event, perhaps a dinner-dance. I donít recognize anyone in the photograph although the detail is quite sharp.

Janice has read the second note by now and hands that one to me as well. "I Think a THOUSAND is fair doNíT you" The photograph with this note shows the remains of a bombed out city block. the contrast between the dark hulks of the few standing walls and a bright sky is startling. Again Iím struck by the detail of the photograph, even in the dark portions.

Janice hands me the third and last note. "HAVE the monEY INsTRUCtions come

neXt"

"Whereís the photograph that came with this one?" Janice asks.

"There wasnít one," Amanda answers. "I suppose they figured they had given away enough."

"When did this last note come?" I say after Iíve read it again.

"Almost a month ago. they all came in the first three weeks after my studio was burglarized," Amanda explains. "I figured after that last one came that I would soon have my photographs back. All I had to do was send the money, and I would get my photographs back in the post."

"Easy as sending for a secret decoder ring," Janice comments.

"What?"

"Never mind, mother." Janice stands. "I want to see your studio, too."

"Why?"

"Oh, scene of the crime, all that. Nick and Nora, Charlie Chan, all the really good detectives do it."

Amanda nods as if that makes sense. She still holds the japanned box and, opening it, takes out a key attached to a small card. "This is the key to my studio. The police returned it about a week after the burglary. The address is still written on the little card thatís attached." Janice rises and takes the key from her motherís hand. "But, of course, John will drive you there. Itís hardly safe in the city these days with all the soldiers about."

Janice smiles. "Weíll manage. Goodbye, Mother." Janice heads for the door, and I follow until Amanda calls me back.

"Could I speak with you for a moment, Mel?"

Janice looks at me doubtfully, then says over her shoulder, "Iíll meet you downstairs. Donít be too long."

When we are alone, Amanda pats the end of her chaises, just as she beckoned Janice. Although I remain standing near the door, Amanda keeps her smile in place.

"Melinda, I wonít mince words."

"Thank you."

"I understand that you chose to stay in the same room as my daughter instead of in the room provided for your use."

Thank you, Margaret, I think. "Janice asked me to keep her company."

"I donít doubt that," Amanda responds. "What I doubt is that you know the kind of talk that could result. . . .where Janice is concerned."

I shake my head, surprised to feel this weary this early in the day. "I donít have the slightest idea what youíve heard, and I donít want to know. Janice is the best friend I have ever had. Iíll do what I can to help her.

If that means Iím not welcome in your house, then Iíll leave."

Amandaís eyes open wide, and she stand. "No, donít go. If you leave, Janice wonít stay."

"Then Iíll stay," I say, "on Janiceís terms." Turning, I leave the room. As I stride down the hall, I think I hear a very expensive mahogany box smash on the floor.

Chapter 16

Janice and I have bypassed the chauffeured limousine and come to Temple Street by bus. Itís mid-morning, but the streets are still crowded with civilian and military vehicles, with pedestrians and bicyclists. Traffic thins out as we approach our stop. This is a warehouse district, although not at all rundown. Still, the driver looks at us questioningly as we prepare to alight. Janice ignores him, but I smile reassuringly as I step into the street. Janice, carrying her knapsack over one shoulder, is already checking numbers and pointing out the correct building.

Although as high as most of the surrounding buildings, the appearance of the windows suggests it is only two stories high. Elaborate scrollwork covers the windows on the second floor. "Are you sure this is just a warehouse?" I ask.

Following my gaze, Janice says, "I donít think the Victorians were capable of building an outhouse without that kind of ornamentation." Iím always impressed with both Janiceís knowledge and her elegance of expression. She gives me a sharp look. "What are you giggling about?"

"Nothing," I say. "Just happy." She shakes her head as if sheíll never understand the workings of my mind.

The outside door is locked but gives easily to our key. On the main floor, a few boxes and crates lie dusty and apparently forgotten. Janice and I climb a flight of stairs to a broad landing and use the key again to open another sturdy door. The lock and hinges are old and slightly rusty, and Janice points this out before we enter. Inside the door is a different world from the warehouse below. There is a large open space made light within the limits of what passes for sunshine in London. This illumination is provided by large skylights and by floor to ceiling windows along one whole wall. The iron bars that line each window do little to hamper the passage of the light, but might prove discouraging to burglars. The skylights are a good forty feet above the wooden floors.

"Why put bars on the inside of windows?" I ask. "Shouldnít they be on the outside protecting the glass?"

"The decorative scrollwork on the outside. When these were added to the original Victorian structure, the owner probably didnít want to ruin the look of the building." Janice grasps a bar and attempts to shake it. "Solid. Whoever broke in here had no choice but to come in through the door."

One end of the studio is furnished as an office, with a desk and typewriter, an artistís drawing board, and a gray steel safe. the other end resembles a comfortable sitting room with slightly modernistic furniture. Thereís an oriental rug over the wooden floor in that area and artwork on the walls.

Janice immediately walks to the safe. Hunkering down, she spins the lock on the door and laughs. "This does a whole hell of a lot of good, doesnít it?" she asks. I see her point. The front of the safe is intact and looks quite impressive with its big double dial and heavy door. The left side of the safe is simply peeled back, as if by some giant can opener. Janice peers into the opening in the side and, evidently unable to see into the interior, takes a flashlight from her knapsack and shines that through the hole. "Nothing," she says. "Either the burglars took everything, or Mother cleaned out what was left."

Straightening, she suggests, "Letís check the desk." She opens the middle and top drawers and finds mostly office supplies. She pauses to study the white typing paper she finds. "What do you think?"

I glance at it and touch it. "No," I say. "This is better quality than what was used for the notes." Janice nods and returns the paper. In a lower drawer, she seems to find what she is looking for. Itís a small bundle of the typing paper tied together with a thin ribbon. Janice unties the ribbon and holds up the top sheet so I can read it.

"Tempered by the Fire." She holds up the next page, and it is a dedication. "For those who survived the Blitzóand for those who survived only in spirit."

Janice pages through the sheets until she seems to find what sheís looking for. "Hereís a list of photographs," she says. "And here are the captions. Theyíre referenced to the list. Now weíll have some idea of . . . . Wait. Look at this."

I peer over her shoulder and read the captions she is pointing out. "Orphan Relief Society and spouses at fund raising dinner, April 1938, Greyfriars Hall." The other: "Greyfriars Hall, October 1940."

I shake my head, not getting whatever Janice seems to understand.

"Read the next two," she directs.

"Friends and supporters at Grace Gallery opening, Hanover Square, February 1936." And "Grace Gallery, September 1940." Without the photographs referenced, I still donít get it.

"The photographs are before and after shots," Janice explains. "If you look down the list and the caption, youíll see theyíre all this way. Thereís a photograph of some society or artistic event at a place and then a photograph of that same place after German bombs have destroyed or damaged it." I run my eyes down the lists and see that she is right. "Those two photos that came with the extortion notes must have been a pair of these. I wonder which ones."

"Thatís what your motherís book consists of?" I ask. "Iím surprised she would even be allowed to publish a book like this."

"She might not be able to publish during the war," Janice agrees, "unless itís seen as propaganda for the British government, not against it. You know, how the Germans triedóand failedóto destroy a lot of Londonís most important institutions. The title would seem to hint at that." She pages through to the end of the manuscript, skimming as she goes. "Hereís some text from near the end: ĎThe lightning that tried to destroy the spirit of a people could, in the end, only temper it and make it stronger.í "

I nod, agreeing with those words and remembering the power of the London Blitz photograph Amanda had shown us.

Janice has turned back to the first two captions again. "I wonder if the first two photos that were sent are the first two described here. The descriptions seem to fit." Janice sticks the papers into her knapsack and looks through the other contents of the drawer. "Something is stuck," she says, and she pulls the drawer harder. Finally, she pulls the drawer out completely and reaches to the back of the resulting space.

"What is it?"

"Thereís something there, but I canít reach it well enough to pull it out," she says. "You try."

She moves, and I kneel and reach into the drawer space. I feel paper, and I pull. Thereís a single folded sheet of paper, and inside it is a photographic negative. Janice takes the negative from my hand. "Thatís funny," she says.

"What?"

"This is a small format negative." She holds it up toward the skylights.

"Why is that funny?"

"Well, Miss Photographer, if you would study up on your trade, you would know that this is from film like an amateur would use. Those pictures my mother showed us were made with professional equipment and large format film."

"So your mother didnít take this photograph?" I ask.

"Iím not saying that. Iím just saying she wouldnít use something like this in her book. The resulting photograph or enlargement wouldnít be sharp enough." Janice hands me the negative, being careful to touch only the edges. "What do you think it is?"

I study it as she has done. "It looks like a woman, maybe a woman dancing." I say, knowing that is not quite right. I return the negative to her, and she returns it to the paper that had protected it, then stows both in her knapsack.

Janice and I take a quick look around the rest of the studio, including a darkroom that has been built in one corner of the loft. There is dust on everything, and it looks like it hasnít been used in several weeks. "Mother probably hasnít worked here since the burglary," Janice observes.

We are leaving the darkroom when I smell smoke.

Chapter 17

"Janice," I begin, but she is already running to the door. Why am I not surprised that it wonít open? Even though she clearly didnít lock it when we entered, she tries the key nevertheless. I hear the bolt engage and then disengage as she turns the key the other way.

"Help me," she orders, and we start pushing on the door. Although the door opens outward and should give to our weight, it doesnít budge. After a few minutes, Janice calls a halt. Dark, acrid smoke is curling in under the door, and I can feel heat on my hands where they touch the top panel. "I donít think we want to go out that way anyway," Janice comments.

"Someone will come," I say. "Weíre in the middle of London. Someone will notice that a building is on fire."

"Did you see any people when we crossed the street? Or when we entered the building?" Janice asks. "Weíre all we can depend on." She begins looking around the studio.

"Weíll call for help," I say. Janice looks surprised, and I realize she hasnít noticed the telephone on the desk. Itís behind the tall Remington typewriter, so I canít blame her for missing it. I walk confidently to the desk, lift the receiver, and hear. . . . nothing. "Is there some special trick to calling in London?" I ask, knowing there isnít.

Janice takes the receiver from me, listens, and says, "Disconnected. Or cut." Then she gets THAT look, and I know the fire may be the least of my worries. Taking a large pocketknife from her knapsack, she cuts the thick phone cord close to the instrument and again where it enters a hole in the floor. The piece from the floor is looking a little melted, and she trims it. While I watch in trepidation, she gives one end a sharp crack, and the other end responds much like the whip I saw her use in Greece. Now THAT look has become THAT smile, and all I can do is wait for what will come next.

Janice grabs my arm and pulls me with her to the wall of windows. Iím hoping she is about to show me a fire escape when, instead, she points straight up. I start to back away, and she tightens her grip. "Look," she says, "these bars and the horizontal reinforcing pieces are just like ladders. All we have to do is climb up them, swing across to a skylight, and crawl up onto the roof."

"Thatís all?" I try to picture myself accomplishing the series of actions my friend has just described. All I can imagine is the floor getting closer as I fall toward it. "Even if we get to a skylight, how will we open it? I donít see any latches or anything on this side."

"Let me worry about that. Come on!"

"No, someone will come." Just then, as if punctuating my words, a tremendous explosion rips through the floor. A barrel, trailing smoke and fire, blasts toward the ceiling, to be followed closely by a second one. Janice shoves me against the bars and holds me there. I hear a roar, followed by the sound of glass shattering and then splintering as it showers on the floor below. I look up just in time to see the desk and safe disappear through the enormous hole opened by the barrels. Looking into that hole is like looking into the fires of Hell.

"Thatís one problem solved," Janice yells, as she starts climbing the bars. She doesnít turn, knowing I have no choice but to follow. Except for the glass that continues to rain down, climbing the bars is, as Janice has said, little more difficult than climbing a ladder. The rungs are farther apart, but this presents less difficulty for me than it does for my shorter companion. We are soon at the top of the chamber, some forty feet above what is left of the floor. At intervals, we hear additional explosions, and choking smoke is starting to roil up from the lower level of the warehouse.

As we reach the ceiling, I am able to shout, "What do you suppose is in those barrels?"

"I donít know," Janice answers, "but I hope the War Department has some."

There is a gap of about five feet from the top bar to the closest skylight. The glass, of course, is gone, but this leaves only the metal frames that had held the panes. Some fresh air is reaching us, but both Janice and I are starting to cough, and Iím feeling a little dizzy, whether from the fumes or from the height, Iím not sure. Janice touches my hand and smiles just before she snaps her makeshift whip. The far end of the cord wraps neatly around a strut of one of the metal frames. "It wonít hold," I say.

She shrugs. "It has to." Then she is kicking off the bar she has been standing on. With that momentum, she starts a wide arcing swing that carries her out and up. I think she is going to make it all the way through the opening in the skylight, but then she falls short and is dangling near the end of the length of telephone wire. I lean out, but I canít reach her. If I jump and can grab the skylight frame. . . .

"Donít jump," Janice shouts. Then she is pulling herself up, hand over hand. Her knapsack is hanging from one elbow, hampering her movements.

"Drop it!" I scream.

Janice lets go with one hand long enough to push the knapsack back up on her shoulder. My heart stops while she hangs there; then she is moving again and grabs a crossbar of the skylight. She pulls herself through the frame like a child playing on monkey bars. Leaning her head and shoulders back through the skylight, she yells, "Forget the cord. Just jump for the frame. Iíll help you."

I glance downward in time to see the rest of the floor fall into the inferno below. Flames are now reaching almost to where I perch. Black smoke roils in thick, oily plumes, making my eyes tear and my lungs strain for every breath. For a moment, I get a clear look at Janiceís face, light eyes and white teeth showing in her soot-covered face, and, in that instant, I jump. My left hand grips the frame solidly, but my right canít find it. I fumble for it, and then a smaller hand is on mine, guiding it to the bar. With both hands holding firmly, I pull myself up as Iíve seen Janice do. There are helping hands under my shoulders.

Lying side by side on the roof, we take a few gasping breaths. Then we are up and running. I barely have time to cry, "Oh, no!" before I follow Janice over the edge of this roof and onto the lower one of the next building. I lean over to look at the four feet separating the two buildings. I grab Janice by her collar and shout, "Are you crazy?"

"Yes!" is her joyful reply.

We run to the other side of this roof and find a fire escape to the alley below. We are in the alley and trying to straighten our clothes and wipe our dirty faces when we hear the first sirens. I tell my friend, "I told you someone would come."

Chapter 18

Janice suggests that we try to sneak in through the kitchen entrance, but I know there is no way to sneak into a house with servants. We go up the main walk, and Margaret meets us at the door. Not a flicker of surprise crosses her placid face. "Good afternoon, Miss Janice, Miss Melinda. Most of the family is out. Thereís a bit of excitement."

"Thank you, Margaret," Janice says, not bothering to inquire about the excitement.

Margaret follows us across the entryway. "Will you be wanting a bath drawn?"

"Weíll manage, Margaret," Janice says and, rather more dismissively this time, "Thank you."

As we approach our room, thereís a noise, and Janice pushes me behind her. Although I havenít said a word since we entered the house, she motions for quiet and creeps forward. The bedroom door is open about an inch, and Janice nudges it with the toe of her boot. The contents of the top drawer of the dresser are scattered on the polished top, and a slight figure is hunched over the second drawer.

"Lose your pet?" Janice asks loudly. "Or leaving another?"

The figure jumps and turns. A small notebook is in her hand.

"Flora!" I breathe. The young girl tries to squeeze between us, but Janice turns her around and firmly pushes her back into the room.

"Let me go!"

"Sit down on that chair," Janice orders. When Flora tries to push past again, Janice yells, "Sit!" Flora sits. I almost do, too.

"Did you come here for a little reading material?" Janice asks. She takes the notebook from Floraís hand, opens it to the first page, and gives it back to her. Flora glares into Janiceís eyes in a battle of wills before curiosity gets the better of her, and she drops her gaze to the page.

"Itís blank," Flora remarks.

"Wrong notebook. You arenít very good at this spy stuff, are you? Or is sabotage more your style?"

"Iím not the spy," the girl says. "You want to catch a spy, you go after Kate the Nazi."

"I thought Kate was your friend," I say.

"I donít have friends," Flora says proudly. "Donít need them. I keep my own secrets and take care of myself."

Janice takes the new notebook and throws it into the open drawer. "Youíll find thatís a lonely way to be," she says softly and sits on the bed facing her young stepsister.

I go over and sit wearily beside Janice before asking, "Why do you call Kate a Nazi?"

"Because she is," Flora says. "Well, her father is at least. Heís in Hitlerís army. Kateís mother was English. A Jew. She was a good friend of Amandaís."

"Was?" I ask.

"Kateís mother died after the war started." Flora seems to reflect for a moment. "That part about Kateís father. No one is supposed to talk about that, all right? Itís bad enough sheís a Jerry. Part Jerry."

"Isnít your King part German?" Janice asks. "But donít worry. We wonít say anything. A person canít help who her father is."

"May I leave now?" The voice is humbler, but the set of the chin is not.

"Sure, go on." Janice waves her hand, and the girl disappears.

"Abracadabra," I comment.

"You want the first bath?" Janice asks.

"No, I want to soak for hours."

"The water will be cold."

"Iíll make it quick." I stand and grimace. "Will you take the glass shards out of my back first?"

She turns me around as if expecting real wounds. "Thereís nothing there."

"I was afraid of that." I limp a little as I make my way to the bathroom.

Janice laughs, probably figuring it is for effect.

The water that issues from both taps is cold, and I donít linger long. As I towel my hair, Janice makes a quick foray to the tub. "You used up all the tepid water," she complains. "All thatís left is cold and ice cold."

"Sorry," I call. My hair is still damp, but it will soon dry if I leave it down. I finish dressing.

"Arenítí you going to ask me who tried to kill us?" Janiceís voice has a hollow quality as it issues from the big claw-footed tub.

"You mean the fire? Do you know?" I find Iím no longer surprised by the idea of someone trying to kill me. I donít even seem to take it personally any more. Comes of hanging around Janice. I replace the contents of the top dresser drawer.

"No. Not yet. It had to be someone who knew where we were going or who followed us from here."

"So whatís next on the agenda?" I look at Janiceís boots and get my shoe brush back out of the drawer.

Janice emerges from the bathroom looking less like a chimney sweep. "I like this robe," she says of the thick white terry cloth she is wearing again.

"Good," I say. "Keep it. The Ritz probably already added it to the bill."

Janice slips into slacks and a clean shirt. She leans down to pull on her boots. You didnít have to do that," she comments, and I respond, "Youíre welcome."

"I want to see a man about a picture," she says when she straightens. She mumbles something else.

"What? I didnít hear you."

"Never mind." She gives an impish grin. "Bring your camera along. Even the little pieces."

Chapter 19

I look around the small room crowded with desks and typewriters. And very few people.

"Iíve never been in a real newspaper office," I say.

"You still arenít," Janice answers. "This is a press office for foreign new services. The guy weíre going to see is with SEPNA." At my raised eyebrow, she adds, "Southeast Pacific News Agency. Heís a New Zealander by the name of Hank Ryan. And I donít see him."

Just then Janice is whirled off her feet. The tornado that has her is taller than the door frame behind him and almost as broad. At first, I think he is bald, but then I realize that his hair is white-blond and cropped close to his head. He wears what looks like an army uniform. What army, Iím not sure.

Janice is beating on the shoulder of that uniform, and her feet are finally allowed to touch the ground. The round face, which is, unbelievably, almost a foot above mine, turns bright blue eyes on me, and I take a step back. "Mel, my old buddy and partner in crime, Hank Ryan. Hank, my friend Mel."

A meaty hand enfolds mine in a surprisingly gentle handshake. "Good onya, Mel," I think he says.

"My pleasure," I respond.

"My office, ladies," he says and leads us to a desk in the corner of the common room. He gallantly steals two chairs from neighboring desks and, after we are seated, folds himself behind his own desk. He canít seem to take his eyes off Janiceís face. "Youíre a sight for sore eyes, Jannie. And youíre looking a lot better than the last time I saw you. You learned yet not to get into places they donít want you?"

"It isnít the getting in thatís the problem, Hank."

He turns to me. "She ainít changed any, has she?"

Considering my short acquaintance with Janice, Iím not sure how to answer that question, so I try, "I imagine not."

"I heard about a mutual friend of ours just a couple of weeks ago," Hank informs Janice.

"Who? Not Tereise?"

"Nah. I havenít seen her since you was getting over that little border dispute with the Jerries." He waits.

"Hank, just tell me, okay?"

"Zepp."

Janiceís face goes from impatient to stoney. "Not in London?"

"France. An RAF crew that was shot down was helped by the Underground. And Zepp was one of the contacts." Hank sits back to enjoy Janiceís reaction. "Can you imagine Zepp as a Freedom Fighter?"

Since Janice isnít talking, I put in, "Are you sure it was Zepp?"

"The man who interviewed the crewóoff the record by the wayówas sure. They said that Zepp was quite open with his name, seemed to be taking more than his share of chances to get them out safely. Right out from under the Nazisí noses." He shakes his head in wonder. "Wouldnít have thought it of Zepp. I know he was a good friend of yours, Jannie, but the guy always gave me the creeps."

"Did he tell the crew why he was with the Underground?" Janice finally asks. "I mean, he isnít even French."

"Yeah, and this is the really good part. Get this. He told one of the RAF guys that he had a lot to make up foróand not very many places he was allowed to do it. What do you suppose he meant by that?" He shakes his head again and then seems ready to dismiss Zepp from his mind. "Now, what can I do for you, Jannie?"

Janice hands him the negative we removed from her motherís studio. "We need to get this printed. Fast."

"When did you ever want something slow?" He takes the negative and holds it to the light. He looks at me and at the camera I carry. "Well, you didnít take this with that camera. Real amateur stuff. Kodak Brownie would be my guess, 127 film." He gets up and lumbers through a door at the back of the room. Heís back in a couple of minutes. "Joe will develop and enlarge it. Itís gonna be a little blurry, I think. You want to tell me what this is all about?"

"No."

Hank laughs. "Fair enough. I guess. What else can I do you?"

"You got any good contacts with the local press?" Janice asks.

"I got contacts. Good? Youíd have to ask their mamas."

Janice pulls from her knapsack the papers taken from her motherís desk. She shows Hank the list of photos and says, "The Orphan Relief Society and spouses. I want to know who that would have been. They attended a fund raiser at the Greyfriars in October 1940."

Hank copies the information in a small notebook. The notebook and pencil are almost lost in his huge hand. "I have a friend at the Times. He should be able to get that from the society pages for that month. Got the exact date?"

Janice shakes her head.

"Well, it still should be easy enough." He looks down the list. "That the only one you want?"

"I wonder. . . .Yes, I want this one, too." She points at the third item on the list and reads, "Grace Gallery Opening, February 1936. I guess the owners and anyone else prominent who attended."

"Iíll say anyone mentioned in the society page article about the opening.

That it?"

Janice points toward me and my camera. "One other thing. My friend has a new camera, and she could use some help with it."

"Sure thing." Hank reaches out, and I hand him the camera. And the little pieces. He quickly restores them to what seem like logical places and focuses the camera at various things around the room, mainly Janice.

"Hank was a press photographer before he became the guy who sends other people after stories," Janice explains. "He was one of the best."

"The best," Hank corrects. "Still would be if I could fit into the belly of a bomber or into a tank." He finishes his inspection of the camera and rattles off his findings. "Graflex, Revolving Back, 4 by 5, Series B camera. SLR, has the newer thread mount lens instead of the fixed mount. You got a flash attachment in that bag?"

"Yes." I start to take it out, but he stops me with a motion of his hand.

"You know anything about cameras or photography?" he asks.

I shake my head.

"You traveling on press credentials?"

"Yes."

"Janice, Janice, Janice, what are we going to do with you?" My friend looks innocent, but Hankís expression shows itís no sale. He opens his desk drawer and takes out a small silver camera. Itís about a fourth the size of the Graflex. I think itís beautiful. "Leica SLR," he names it. "You mind a German camera?"

"No."

"Okay. Look through here. Push this button down. What you see is what you get." He demonstrates and hands the camera to me. "Hereís the manual that came with it. Tells about focusing and settings. Read it. Any questions?"

"Do you want to trade or what?" I hold the little silver wonder and donít want to give it up.

"Sure. Youíre getting totally. . . ." Janice gives him a stern warning look. "It isnít a fair trade, but at least youíll have a camera you can used." He looks in his desk drawer again and pulls out a flash attachment and gives that to me, too. Although itís impolite, Iím already reading the Leica manual.

An older man enters with a small photograph, still wet from the developing solution. He lays it on a sheet of white paper on Hankís desk and leaves without conversation. "Letís see what we have," Hanks says. "Yep. Itís a little blurry. Camera shake." He studies the photo while Janice is practically climbing over his desk to take a look. He finally hands it to her and says to me, "Is this some kind of a joke? You pose for this or what?"

Janice hands me the photo. At first, I still think itís a picture of a woman. A naked woman. Then I see that the woman is standing on a table, and that a manís pocket watch is beside her, probably to reference her size. The picture is of a small statue or figurine. And the statue looks like me.

Chapter 20

Margaret having informed us that the family is "taking tea in the garden," Janice and I walk through the house to the Regents Park side. There is a small terrace that overlooks the park and, on a lower level, a small lawn and a formal garden screened from public view by a high yew hedge. Amanda and Gareth are seated at a small white table on the terrace, and Flora and Kate are standing at the near edge of the lawn.

Amanda jumps up as Janice leads the way onto the terrace. "Janice," Amanda cries, "I was so worried. To know that you had gone to the studio and then receive the call about the fire. . . . If Gareth had not been home to accompany me, I donít know what I would have done." She tries to embrace Janice, who does her patented sidestep.

Janice looks at the tea service and at the liquid in Garethís cup. "Is that really tea?"

Gareth laughs. "Your motherís is."

"Iíll have whatever youíre having. No ice. Mel?" As Gareth gets up, she sits and indicates an empty chair for me.

"Tea please?" By the time Amanda has poured my tea, Gareth has returned with a decanter of nearly clear liquid. He freshens his drink and fills Janiceís cup.

"No ice," he repeats. "Not usual for an American."

Janice sips and nods approvingly. "Iíve lived most of my life where there wasnít any refrigeration."

"Or electricity. Or sanitation," her mother adds. At Janiceís glare, she changes the subject. "Were you in the building when the fire started? Margaret said your appearance suggested you were."

"Margaretís a wealth of information," Janice comments. "She should work for MI6."

"We were leaving as the fire trucks arrived," I say, answering Amandaís question. "The firemen had their hands full, so we didnít linger." The evasion rolls off my tongue easily. I have definitely been hanging around Janice too much. "Was there much damage?"

Amanda defers to Gareth, fires evidently being a male province. "The building was completely destroyed. It looked like a bomb fell on it. Luckily, the firemen were able to keep the fire from spreading to the adjoining buildings. The nearest is only about four feet away, you know."

I know.

"The firemen said that flammable liquids were stored in the warehouse," Gareth continues. "They donít know yet what ignited the fire, but those liquids were why the building went up so fast."

"So you can see why we were worried until we learned you had returned to the house after the fire," Amanda explains. "Now, my dears, if youíll excuse me, I need to talk to Cook. You young people enjoy yourselves." She pats Janiceís hand and, with a smile at Gareth and me, goes into the house.

Iíve been watching Flora and Kate, and I finally have to ask, "Are they actually. . . . sword fighting?"

Gareth chuckles. "Fencing. Kate is giving Flora a lesson. Kate is quite an expert, but Iím afraid Flora shows no promise at all." Kate and Flora are both dressed from head to toe in white uniforms that appear to be padded. They hold, but arenít wearing, masks that look like tightly woven screens. Each wields a thin blade with a large bell-shaped guard that appears to protect her hand.

"What kind of swords are those?" I ask, wondering if Janiceís and my ancestors used something like those. They donít look as impressive as Iíve imagined swords to be.

"Epees," both Janice and Gareth answer. Gareth indicates by a gesture that heíll defer to Janice, and she continues. "You can tell that theyíre epees because of the thin, stiff blades and the large guards."

"Do you fence?" Gareth asks Janice.

"Iíve done a little," Janice answers, "but mostly with a foil."

I laugh and quote one of my favorite lines from one of the Xena scrolls, "She has many skills."

Janice chuckles, too, but Gareth just says, "Iíll remember that."

Kate and Flora climb the steps to the balcony, and Flora is red-faced and perspiring. Glowing, as we say back home. Dramatically, Flora throws herself into a chair. "Iím bleeding from a dozen wounds!"

"More like two dozen," Kate corrects. "Maybe you would concentrate more if the touches were real punctures. I wish there were a way to demonstrate to you how to anticipate the attack. You need to parry before the blade is inside your defense."

Eyes twinkling, Gareth says, "Janice fences. Maybe Flora would get the idea if she watched you two."

"Oh, no," Janice says, "I havenít fenced in a long time. No one should watch me to learn."

Flora, who has been gulping, rather than sipping, tea, finishes the cup. "Come on, Janice. Do it. It would really help me. Here, you can wear my padded vest and glove." Jumping up, she removes her vest and hands that and her glove to Janice. "Iíll carry the epees and masks," she says and, taking those, runs down the steps and onto the lawn.

Janice is already up and donning the equipment. Sheís only a little smaller than the young girl, and the fit seems fine. Because Janiceís shoulders are narrower, the jacket bunches a little at the neck.

"Is this safe?" I ask.

Kate answers. "There are buttons on the points of the epees. And, since only the points are sharp, you canít get wounded."

"Then why all the padded clothing and the glove and helmet?"

"Mask. The epee is fairly stiff, and a hard touch can bruise or even raise a welt," Kate explains. "The equipment softens the blow. But donít worry, Mel, weíre just going to do some half-speed drills. That way Flora can get the idea of anticipating the attack."

Janice is ready, and I can see from her expression that sheís excited. I realize that Janice has been cooped up lately and probably needs the physical activity. I just wish she were taking a brisk walk instead of taking part in a sword fight. Janice and Kate descend to the lawn and put on the helmets. . . .masks. Flora hands each an epee.

"Janice really will be fine," Gareth says softly. "Kate knows what sheís doing, and sheíll take it easy."

"I know, but will Janice?"

We watch as Janice and Kate step forward and backward, touching epees and then disengaging. It looks like an old dance, a minuet or something like that, and I start to relax. I can faintly hear Kateís voice as she instructs Flora while she and Janice demonstrate.

"My stepsister really can fence." He seems surprised.

Stepping forward on her right foot, Kate lunges at Janice. Janiceís sword is there before Kateís touches her chest. Janiceís sword point seems to deflect Kateís upward and away. I donít see how such a thin object can do that. "Is that what Kate called a parry?"

"Yes. Thatís a particular kind called a capture. You run your point around your opponentís blade while pushing upward. If you do it correctly, which Janice did, you gain control of her blade. If you donít, you run the risk of the opponentís blade following the line of yours right into your face and chest." We watch Kate and Janice do the same maneuver, Janice again "capturing" Kateís blade. "Of course, theyíre only fencing at half-speed, as Kate said, so itís easier than it would be in a match."

"You seem to know a lot about this. Do you sword fight, I mean, fence?" The words are barely out of my mouth when I remember and blush. "Iím sorry."

"Donít worry about it," Gareth says easily. "Yes, I used to sword fight, I mean, fence. As a boy, I was an excellent athlete."

Now Kate attempts to strike Janiceís legs. Janice brings her blade downward sharply and knocks Kateís toward the ground. "Is Kate allowed to do that? Isnít she supposed to try for just the chest?"

"In epee, you can score a touch anywhere on the opponentís body. Janiceís slacks will be protection enough." He smiles. "Kate isnít really trying to get through her defense, you know. Itís all a demonstration for my little sister."

We watch for a few more minutes, with Gareth explaining the finer points of attack and defense. Finally, he says, "You can ask about it, you know."

"How were you injured?"

"I joined the RAF the day we declared war on Germany," he answers. "Father didnít want me to, said he could get me deferred because the factory did essential production. Said as the heir, it was my duty to protect the bloodline. Father is big on protecting the line. But I knew where I belonged, in the air. I qualified in Hurricanes and was assigned to an air group in the north."

"Were you shot down?"

"Yes," he says, "I ditched over the channel and was picked up just a few hours later. My leg was shattered, and they had it off before the end of the day. Damned efficient."

"Oh, Gareth," I say. "I didnít know. Does it still hurt a lot?"

"It aches," he says, "especially the part that isnít there. But you know something about pain yourself, donít you?"

"What do you mean?" I ask. Forgetting about Janice and Kate, I look into sympathetic blue eyes.

"Youíre in pain right now, arenít you?"

I nod. "A little."

"Itís your back. And not a little."

"How did you know?"

"When you spend months in military hospitals, you learn the different kinds of pain." He gestures toward Janice, who seems to be taking a break while Kate talks to Flora. "How can she run you around the way she does? Knowing youíre in pain?" Something in my expression tells him. "She doesnít know?"

I shake my head. "And sheís not going to. Not until she gets things worked out with her mother. Then weíll go home, and Iíll get this. . . . thing taken care of."

"Youíre a good friend, Mel Pappas," he says.

My attention is drawn back to the little group on the lawn. "What are they doing?" Kate and Janice have assumed a formal stance, and I hear a voice say what sounds like "On guard."

"It looks like they got tired of half-speed," Gareth says. "This looks like a real contest."

"You mean a duel?" Before he can answer, Kate lunges, and the "contest" is on. Janice "captures" Kateís blade, and then the attacks and parries are too quick for my inexperienced eye to follow. The movements are now less like a minuet and more like swift ballet steps. A risky pas de deux. Flora, whom Gareth says is acting as the "jury," follows them back and forth and jumps up and down excitedly.

Suddenly, Janiceís blade flies out of her hand to land several feet behind her. Kate drops her own blade, glove, and mask and steps toward her, I figure to tell her "good match" or whatever fencers say after defeating an opponent. Instead, Kate pulls off Janiceís mask and seems to be touching the side of her neck. As Gareth and I stand, Kate barks an order at Flora, who has been standing as if frozen. Flora sprints for the terrace and grabs one of the white linen tea napkins. Kate and Janice have reached the steps by now, Kate still pressing her fingers against Janiceís neck. I see a bright splash of scarlet on the white padded jacket and run to help Janice up the steps. "Iím all right," she protests, but I still help, and she doesnít shake my arm off her shoulders. Flora hands Kate the tea napkin, which she presses firmly against the wound. Janice sits down, and I think she looks a little pale.

"What happened?" I demand. "I thought this was perfectly safe." I take the napkin from Kate and hold it in place.

Flora is shaking and paler than Janice, and Gareth pushes her into a chair. Kate looks ready to cry. "My blade broke," she says. "Right at the foible, the weakest part. I canít believe it. I didnít realize it was broken, and, when Janice tried her capture move again, I ran my blade right up hers. The jagged point slid in between the mask and jacket. Oh, God, Janice, Iím sorry."

Blood has soaked through the first napkin, and, when Gareth hands me another, I slip that on top of the first. "Call a doctor," I tell him.

"Donít need a doctor," Janice mumbles, but Gareth ignores her and disappears into the house. Heís back in a few minutes. Iíve added a third napkin, but the bleeding is not slowing.

Amanda is calling a doctor, a friend of the family," he informs us. "He lives close by." At my raised eyebrow, he adds, "Donít worry. Sheís good in an emergency. Sheíll wait to have hysterics later."

Flora, apparently deciding not to wait, bursts into tears and runs into the house.

Continued - Part 3


Back to Main XIP Fan Fiction Page