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Scoundrels, Tuesday

April 20, 2017 11:58AM
Before I get further, let me thank Nikita for peer reviewing this story. Gracias. Merci. Danke.

Something else I wondered about Henry: with his father and brother for role models (or at least de facto behavior), can he really be good all the time or does he occasionally lapse?

Shannon, hopefully the title makes more sense with this post

Scoundrels



Tuesday



Tuesday began like usual. He typed letters into the word processor in response to the inquiries he had received throughout the last week. He cleaned haphazardly, he compiled his grocery list for the week. He made a mental note to take a shower and to pick up his dry cleaning, in no particular order.

Then a delivery van pulled into his driveway and a driver got out. His driveway abutted the parking lot of the former church he had bought and converted into his shop. He had bought both the church and the parsonage for a song when the pastor had disbanded it five years ago. He still got a few random customers looking for a church service on Sundays and so he kept a stock of religious books and toys all priced under $15 by the cash register.

The delivery man bounded up to his front door with a clipboard and package. There was no need to knock, as Henry had seen him coming and was already at the door.

The man pushed the clipboard and a pen at Henry and instructed him to, "Sign here." Henry scrawled something over the line and the man took back his clipboard, filling the void in Henry's hands with the package. The two men nodded in farewell, and the man returned to his van and the rest of his deliveries.

As Henry held the package he realized he was trembling. The from address was Dublin, Ireland, and he could only think of his illuminated manuscript and the sample he had sent to Trinity College.

Henry backed into his house, letting the storm door slam behind him, and went into his office. There he opened the envelope and read the letter. He remained there, silent and shaking, reading the letter over and over again, looking at the additional papers -- scientific printouts and photographs, and an offer to purchase his manuscript -- until long past lunch.

The manuscript was real. Of course it was real! He wasn't his brother, he wasn't a forger. But not only was it real, it was old. It was so old, in fact, that the sample he had sent to Trinity was 150 years older than some sections of the famous Book of Kells. While that indeed made it priceless, Trinity was certainly willing to try to put a price on it, conditionally based on the projected quality of the rest of the manuscript.

Henry was about to become a rich and famous man. Well, not famous to most people, but in certain circles he would be. The rich part was a bit more certain.

This called for a celebration, but with whom? He wasn't about to call his brother, his mother had been dead for years, and his father was currently serving time. He only had one employee, Eleanor, and she was eighty years old at least and spent her Tuesdays shopping. He didn't have much in the way of neighbors but those he did have he avoided studiously, and they returned the favor. The scientists and scholars at Trinity College were a whole ocean away. He had not yet revealed anything to his colleagues because they were spread out across the world and, to be honest, he hadn't wanted to jinx it. He had received a few unsolicited offers to buy the manuscript, but he had decided to ignore them until he had known how much it was worth. So here he was, sitting in his unlit office on one of the biggest discoveries in a generation, and he had no one with whom to share it.

It was a lonely feeling but the direct consequence of his lifestyle and, as he had never complained before, he decided it would be disingenuous to start now.

With no one to call, no place to go, he would have remained in his office all day had it not been for the doorbell.

It started out as a halfhearted buzz but turned into a full throated harassment by the time he reached the front room.

He could see his new visitor clearly through the storm door. It was the Morland heiress from yesterday, and she was visibly distraught.

"Cathy, is something wrong?" he asked. Better to get the obvious out of the way now.

In response, she let out of wail and let herself in. "Oh Henry!" she cried and threw her arms around his neck.

He stood there for a bit, feeling stupid and useless before remembering to pat her back and say reassuring things like, "There, there," and, "It'll be alright."

She sniffled out that she couldn't stop thinking about lunch from the day before. Something in Henry's stories about growing up with Ricky had started to gnaw at her happiness. It has worried her to the point where she now didn't know if she wanted to marry Ricky after all.

What was Henry to do? At last he managed to say that it was best to have these thoughts now, before everything got messy. And if, when cooler heads prevailed, she still wanted to go through with it, there was always the prenup.

He eventually calmed Cathy down and she stopped clinging to him. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "I must look dreadful."

"I wouldn't know about that," Henry said.

Cathy laughed ruefully. "That's a very polite way of saying you agree with me. Can I borrow your powder room to freshen up?"

When she had repaired the damage caused by her outburst she returned, again contrite. "I'm so sorry, Henry. I don't know what came over me! I'm just worried that we're moving too fast I guess."

"Jitters are perfectly normal, but how did you even find me?"

"That's the worst part," said Cathy, making herself comfortable on the sofa. "I woke up this morning with all these questions to ask you, but I didn't know how to get a hold of you. And the more I thought about it, the more desperate I got. So I started hunting through the phone book for you but obviously you weren't in it. Then I tried looking in Yellow Pages for antiques stores trying to find you, but then I realized you didn't live near Boston but somewhere an hour away. Honestly, if you were easier to get hold of, I probably would have stopped once I found you. But after having spent the better part of a day looking for you, I simply had to speak with you."

"My home phone number is unlisted but Ricky has it," Henry pointed out. "You could have just asked him for it." He decided to take a seat next to her; she obviously wasn't planning on leaving soon.

She looked uneasy and squirmed a little. "Yes, but I sort of owe him an answer right now and I just don't think I can give him what he wants."

Henry tried not to look relieved on her account.

"So," she said brightly, "do you mind if I stay here for a bit? I'm not ready to get back behind the wheel just yet."

He started to fumble for an answer but she stopped him.

"Oh no! What am I doing? Of course you have plans," Cathy told him. "You'll want me to clear out before it's time to take your girlfriend to dinner."

Henry laughed nervously. "No girlfriend," he said. "Although it would be nice to have dinner with one today."

"How can a guy like you have no girlfriend?" Cathy wondered. "You're just as bad as your brother, hiding all that potential and from whom?" Then her smiled turned sad and her expression puckered as if she might cry again. "Sorry," she sniffed. "New rule: no more talking about Ricky today."

Henry nodded in agreement then remembered to ask her if she wanted a drink or something.

She decided on a water. Cathy was certain she wanted something stronger, but she would wait until she got home.

He led her into the kitchen and as he poured from the tap she noticed, "You don't live with antiques in the house, do you? I always thought antiques dealers lived in museums practically."

His work seemed a safe enough topic to discuss with her. "Many religious antiques don't really belong in homes, if you think about it. They were much more commonly found in places of communal worship -- churches and temples and the like. I suppose it would be different if I viewed the pieces with any sentimental value or deeper meaning but honestly, I sell that stuff; to put it in my house and possibly damage it and diminish its quality costs me money."

This puzzled Cathy and she thought a bit about what she wanted to say next. "But don't you believe?" she asked him. "I can't imagine being surrounded by all those elements of faith and not believing in God."

"If I believed, how incredibly vulgar it would be to sell all these things for a profit!" he exclaimed. It was the one part of his Tilney heritage that he held to -- never believe the con -- not that he could say that in front of Cathy. Still, he could see the concept of an atheist selling religious artifacts did not sit well with her. "I still believe in miracles, after a fashion. It's just the miracle of a master craftsman creating the illusion of life out of wood or stone or glass."

She just shook her head. "So no antiques in the house, then?"

"Would you have me eat off of enameled communion plates? Read the morning paper in a hand-carved confessional?" he teased her, coaxing another winning smile from her. "No. No work antiques in the house... With one exception," he added, thinking back to his office.

Now she was intrigued. "What is that?" asked Cathy.

Henry mulled briefly what he should say to her but the overriding truth of the matter was that he wanted to tell someone -- anyone! -- of his discovery.

"Well, it's not in the shop because I didn't know how valuable it is," he explained. "You remember I mentioned yesterday that I had found an illuminated manuscript?"

"The Book of Kells?" Cathy said.

"Like the Book of Kells," he corrected her. "Kells is famous and has been found for centuries. My book has just been uncovered and it's slightly older."

Cathy's eyebrows shot up. "What do you mean, it's older?" she asked, her tone showing that she was at least partially aware of the consequences.

That was all the encouragement Henry needed. He told her all about the letter he had just received from Ireland, the findings, the offer. He told her about how he had originally discovered it in a chest with other Roman Catholic artifacts from the 16th century. He told her how he had begun to suspect the text's significance. Finally he told her that he was keeping it in his personal safe inside his office.

The entire time she was rapt with attention, hanging on his every word. At the end of it she blinked. "Are you saying it's in the house?" she asked in amazement.

He grinned like a schoolboy. "Would you like to see it?"

"Would I!" It was exactly the reaction he was hoping for.

Henry led her into the spare bedroom that served as his office and opened the safe. He pulled out the locked box and the envelope above it containing his own photographs.

"I don't want to take it out of the box," he said. "It's too old to be handled, but I have some pictures I took of the pages that I can show you."

Cathy didn't exactly pout but she did look pleading. "Oh please, Henry, can I just see the first page? Oh please, oh please, oh please! I promise not to touch it. I promise to be good." She unconsciously put her hand on his arm when she did this and Henry could feel all the temptation to give into her. Still he held firm. If anything happened to this manuscript before he could hand it over to Trinity, he would never forgive himself.

Her fingers tightened on his sleeve when he didn't relent. "Please, Henry," she said again. "You can't show me this much and no further! When am I going to have a chance like this again? Besides, don't you want to share this with someone?"

He did want to share it. "Alright," he conceded. "Hands behind your back at all times."

"You can tie them behind me if it'll make you feel better," she offered. "Anything at all."

He told her that was unnecessary before he considered too deeply how it would make him feel. Then he went through the routine of putting on his gloves and opening the box.

Cathy's eyes grew as big as saucers and she whispered her appreciation reverently. He kept the box open far longer than he had planned, pointing out details that the uneducated layman wouldn't catch.

When at last he returned the locked box to the safe, Cathy shook herself like a dreamer waking. "This calls for a celebration," she told him. "Get dressed. We're going out."

"Cathy, I haven't even had a shower today," he confessed.

She gaped at him, then wrinkled her nose. Then she struck what he could only call a pose and said in an accent he didn't recognize, "Shut up and take a shower."

And then she practically herded him into his bedroom and stood in the hall nagging him until she heard the water running.




He took too long in the shower. That's what he told himself when he was done and it was obvious. Then he stood paralyzed with indecision for another five minutes while he pondered whether to use aftershave or not. He wasted another fifteen minutes picking out what to wear; it had to be something similar enough to what Cathy was wearing so that neither of them felt out of place, and perfectly suitable for a dinner out in Bristol. And it wasn't exactly a date, was it?

That thought cost him a few more minutes.

When he opened his bedroom door, however, it felt as if a lifetime had passed and he was walking into someone else's home. There was still his paint on the walls, his furniture in the rooms, even his dust on the baseboard, but there was another presence now as well. Music was coming from the stereo in the living room and delicious smells were coming from the kitchen, and the overall experience was so far outside his day-to-day life it stopped him in his tracks. Just what was going on?

He tracked down the source of the changes who was busy in the kitchen.

"There you are!" Cathy greeted him with smiles as she set down her wooden spoon and picked up two glasses. "Cheers," she said. She put one of the glasses in his hand and clinked the rims together then downed her own drink.

"What is going on?" he asked rather than swallowing the proffered cocktail. He wasn't a big drinker simply because he didn't as a rule drink alone and he was so often alone.

Cathy gave him the same look as before and assumed the same odd accent - Marlene Dietrich maybe? "Shut up and drink," she told him, helping him tip the potent liquor down his throat. For all of her professed affinity with softness and curves, she could be rather firm.

It burned going down but before he could protest against her highhandedness, she popped a mushroom into his mouth and ordered him to chew.

He really had no choice other than to spit it out. Once the flavors started to mingle on his tongue, however, getting rid of it was hardly an option. He couldn't remember what meager dribble he had eaten for breakfast and he knew that he had skipped lunch. His body had completely forgotten what it was to be hungry in all the excitement about the text, but now that someone was putting tasty morsels into his mouth, it suddenly occurred to him that he was starving.

Cathy gave him a knowing smirk and turned back to the stove.

"Sorry about the change in plans," she told him, "but as soon as you got in the shower I thought you might like a nice evening in. I know it's a horrible stereotype, but I've never met a bachelor who can cook for himself. You're probably sick and tired of going out to eat, and I don't know the area well enough to suggest a really good restaurant, and I insist we have a good meal and that it is my treat. And my mother's very old fashioned. She would make me read an old newspaper article about the proper behavior of unmarried girls if she found out that I was treating you. Mother was always insisting I sit up straight and not cross my legs. She made sure I knew how to cook and that sort of thing -- you know, the domestic arts. The better to please my man with."

She laughed a little ruefully as she stirred her sauce. "Not that I'm going to have need those skills any time soon. You don't mind, do you?" She peered over her shoulder at him. Something in her eyes looked a little vulnerable, as if she was trying hard not to think about Ricky.

Henry shook his head. "Of course not." He could be accommodating.

She smiled back, victorious, and offered him another mushroom.

The second was just as delicious as the first but after he swallowed he forced himself to look around at the blossoming mess in his kitchen. "But where did all this food come from?" He knew he had never bought mushrooms that tasted like that.

She looked over her shoulder just so he could watch her roll her eyes. "Typical male!" Cathy chided him. "There's a supermarket down the street. I saw it on my way here. Once I decided to cook for you and realized you had nothing in the house worth eating, I popped down to the store and bought a few things. As I said, my treat."

Henry stole another mushroom. "Is there anything I can do?" It felt strange to be a guest on his own home.

"You can open the wine," she suggested.

"There's wine?" he wondered. Cocktails and wine, he reminded himself, and an empty stomach. He would need to pace himself

Cathy nodded. "Red sauce, red meat, red wine. I like simple repetition. It drives the point home."

It would be rude to disagree even if he knew what the point was, so Henry did as he was asked. He poured two glasses, one of which Cathy immediately dumped into the sauce. As he refilled her glass, he asked if there was anything else to do.

"You can set the table," she said.

He agreed quickly only to realize it was a minefield. The table in the dining room comfortably seated six but there were only two of them. Putting them at the head and foot of the table was obviously wrong. Putting them closer together made sense -- no one wanted to shout across the table at dinner -- but how close was too close? Should he put their plates on either side of the head so they could talk face-to-face over that shorter distance, or should he put the plates side by side even closer together? In the end, side by side felt wrong too, like sitting in a cafeteria. Yet sitting almost face-to-face at the corner struck him as a little too familiar for a couple who had only been introduced to each other yesterday and whose only connection -- Ricky Tilney -- was sketchy at best.

After far too much deliberation he settled on placing the plates to the right and left of the head chair so that they could watch each other eat.

He returned to the kitchen for additional errands but Cathy had little else she needed done other than to keep her company while she kept her eye on the sauce. They feel into an easy conversation about Bristol and why Henry had settled there, and where in the world each of them would like to live or visit. Cathy had a long list full of the usual famous places but Henry had a lot of obscure towns of unexpected significance that Cathy was quite willing to concede she would be happy to visit them all with Henry as her guide.

They carried the serving platter and bowl to the table together. Henry went back to the kitchen to fetch their wine glasses and when he came back to the dining room, Cathy was rearranging the settings to suit herself. All his concern over whether to sit beside her or not was wasted because she had decided as the guest of honor ("I don't think I can be guest of honor in my own home." "Nonsense, Henry, don't spoil it for me.") he should sit at the head of the table. She was not done there, but insisted on serving him first and offering a toast to him, "and the Book of Tilney."

He nearly choked on his wine at that but things proceeded smoothly from there and they discovered they had as much to discuss about the food they would like to eat as they had about the places they would like to go.

It was a good meal, better than good. Every part of it was fantastic. As the food and the wine and the conversation took their effect he began to feel quite content.

At one point, however, he saw her expression shift. Their plates were nearly empty and, if she hadn't hidden a dessert in his fridge, she should probably start thinking about the long drive home.

"Do you ever think about how amazing life is, the sheer random chance of it?" she mused. "I know I said I didn't want to talk about Ricky but I can't help it. When I first met your brother I thought he was so handsome and kind and funny. There was just something about him I just couldn't resist."

She sighed heavily and Henry felt his euphoria leaving him. He had for the moment forgotten all about his brother as the only reason Cathy had come here today.

"Still," she continued, "even from the beginning, deep down I think I knew something wasn't quite right."

That did help Henry's growing disappointment, knowing that Cathy would have seen through Ricky's lies and manipulations before long. But would she have been quick enough to get out with her fortune intact?

"It seemed like such wonderful, random chance that we met, such beautiful serendipity." She frowned in thought. "But maybe I wasn't supposed to meet Ricky after all. Maybe I was supposed to meet someone else instead, did you ever think of that?"

She looked at him and for a second Henry thought the question wasn't rhetorical. Then her gaze turned insightful. "Why didn't you go out tonight, Henry? Why didn't you have plans to celebrate your good fortune and hard work with all your friends?" She looked sad on his behalf.

"I thought we were celebrating," he replied quietly. He had certainly felt pleased with himself a few moments ago.

Cathy rested her hand on his and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "Why does a girl like me have to get practically engaged to someone else to meet a guy like you?"

She was frustrated at all the time she had wasted with Ricky, he found. This was a date after all, a part of him crowed. There was another part of him, however, that felt leaden.

Cathy leaned over and kissed him. It was short and sweet, a brief declaration of her intentions, a test of the waters so to speak. When it was over, Henry realized how much he wanted it to continue but he also needed to get something off his chest first.

"Cathy, there's something I need to tell you." He spoke quickly, nervously. If she interrupted him, his mouth might go numb and he might not be able to find the words again. "I come from a long line of scam artists, Ricky and I both. My brother's always been running some confidence scheme or other and right now he's after your money. My father... I don't know what you've been told about my father, but he's in jail these days serving time for fraud. My uncle disappeared in South America during some scam gone awry. My grandfather swindled a lot of money from people in his day although he managed to spend it all and more, and died destitute. My great grandfather... I'm not sure about him but my point is, if you traced my genealogy as far back as you can go, you'd find a Tilney trying to cheat a neighbor. Even me," he observed glumly. "I sell artifacts of a religion I don't believe in to people who do. How is that not a con?"

Cathy's face was pale and blank. Her mouth hung slightly open.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I should have warned you earlier about Ricky, but I only met you yesterday, and when you showed up today you had already decided not to go through with it. But I like you, Cathy, and I'm glad I didn't have plans for tonight, and I'm glad --" He was glad for any number of things, the beautiful serendipity as Cathy called it, but he didn't get a chance to enumerate the entire list.

"Shut up and kiss me," she told him. And he did to the best of his ability. The corner of the dining table proved an initial impediment but Cathy solved that in no time by moving directly to his lap. From then on, they didn't pause until they were both breathless.

Cathy began to unfasten the buttons on his shirt. Henry knew he was supposed to do something -- he wanted to -- to help move things along, but he couldn't. It was more than just kissing that left him panting; he felt unwell.

"Wait," he said, almost slurring his speech. "I don't feel so good."

She froze for a moment then took his face in her hands and peered at him intently. "How much do you drink normally?" she asked at last.

"Normally, I don't." He was definitely slurring now.

"And how much do you weigh?"

"About 150," he rounded up. He was still in the chair, still with Cathy on his lap, but it felt as if he had started a journey down a tunnel.

"You really are nothing like your brother," she observed from the growing distance, her voice distorting by the lengthening gap. "Listen, I'm very sorry about this, and I really do like you too, Henry..."

There was more she said, but the sound was weak and echoing and he couldn't understand, or maybe it was Marlene Dietrich who spoke to him. Or maybe he just couldn't remember. She got farther away too for all that she was sitting on top of him, until he slipped entirely from her grasp and continued his journey down that tunnel alone.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Scoundrels, Tuesday

NN SApril 20, 2017 11:58AM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

BiancaApril 24, 2017 05:30PM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

Rose H.April 24, 2017 11:12PM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

BiancaApril 24, 2017 05:30PM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

RoxeyApril 21, 2017 10:19PM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

Shannon KApril 21, 2017 01:04AM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

Rose H.April 20, 2017 05:12PM

Re: Scoundrels, Tuesday

BethWApril 20, 2017 08:38PM



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