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Scoundrels, Wednesday

April 25, 2017 02:38AM
Sorry. I meant to post 12 hours ago, but my husband is away and being a single parent is time-consuming.

I've been working through this idea in my mind that Henry had as much possibility as his brother (and father) to be less than honorable, but consciously chose to be good. But it shouldn’t be hard for him to slip up. He shows his fangs a bit in the original in how he teases Catherine, or even makes a little fun of her without her noticing. And then there's his great big shrug at watching his brother romance Isabella Thorpe.

I’ve reached the point where I am significantly unconcerned about how long these posts are relative to each other. Monday was a meager 4 pages; Tuesday was a lengthy 10; and Wednesday is again a short post at only 6 pages. Please don’t mind too much. The last post is on the longer side, so that should make up for any hard feelings.

Scoundrels


Wednesday



He awoke groggy and disoriented in a white room smelling of disinfectant. He tried to speak coherently, to sit up, but he couldn't exactly. His throat ached painfully and his stomach felt like it had taken a beating. As he stared in confusion at the tube pumping saline into his wrist he heard a small noise in the room.

“Henry!” greeted the grandmotherly woman who worked in his shop. “Let me call the nurse now that you're awake. Oh, you gave me such a scare.”

“Eleanor?” he croaked, trying to make sense of it. He remembered Cathy Morland visiting him, making him dinner, kissing him. “Why am I in a hospital?” And where was Cathy?

“Oh, Henry! You were unconscious this morning. It nearly gave me a heart attack,” the old woman said, dropping her knitting to clasp her chest.

It took too much energy for him to ask for an explanation so after a moment Eleanor continued: “I came to the shop this morning like always but you weren't there. I thought you must be running late, maybe you slept in for once, so I went to your house and knocked. You didn't answer -- obviously you didn't answer! -- but I could hear you had the radio on and the door was slightly ajar. You know I would never walk in uninvited, but I thought with the radio maybe you couldn't hear me knock. So I walked in and there you were, lying on the floor! Oh, I swear I nearly fell down and joined you, I was so shocked. And you didn't wake up when I shouted at you. You were breathing but I couldn't wake you up, so I called the ambulance. And here we are.”

Henry took a minute to absorb the story. If Eleanor had found him, it must be Wednesday. But Cathy had been to see him on Tuesday, she had been in his home. He had begun to feel unwell at dinner and he couldn't remember anything after that. Surely if he had collapsed like Eleanor has described, Cathy would have gotten him to the hospital. But if she had also gotten sick, she might have ended up similarly incapacitated on his carpet. What had happened to her? Eleanor would surely have mentioned if she had found a second person, wouldn't she? What if Cathy was waking up in a nearby hospital room, alone and confused worse than Henry?

“Where's Cathy?” he rasped.

“Who is Cathy?” asked Eleanor.

“She's my --” He stopped. How could he explain her succinctly? She had been introduced to him as his brother's girlfriend, potentially his fiancée. She had shown up on his doorstep yesterday as a girl in desperate need of a friendly ear. She had been genuinely interested in Henry, not in a way that threatened her relationship with Ricky, but as a friend. And, he confessed, he had found her interesting too but, until she officially broke things off with his brother, he had better not get ahead of himself. Except they had kissed, Henry and Cathy, hadn't they?

“Is she your cleaning lady?” Eleanor suggested when no answer was forthcoming. “Your place was looking spic and span, I noticed.”

Henry tried to think of why he felt uneasy at the observation as a nurse bustled in. She asked him how he felt, if he knew his name, where he was, and what day it was as she read his clipboard and checked the bag of saline suspended over his cot. At last the woman asked him if he knew why he was hospitalized.

“I suppose I fell ill during dinner yesterday,” he said.

The nurse did not look very sympathetic. “I'll let the police officer know you're awake. He'll want to speak with you after Dr. Keyes completes his examination.” With that she left the room.

Dr. Keyes was in next, and Eleanor was sent to wait in the hall while Henry was poked and prodded and interrogated. Why bother with police officers if the doctor was going to ask everything anyway?

By now, more of his memory had come back and he could remember some of his interactions with Cathy more clearly. He might not have been a con artist like the men in his family, but he could certainly be a scoundrel for kissing his brother's girlfriend.

Officer White came next, bringing another interrogation. After going over Henry's last memories before he woke up in a hospital -- “I had dinner at home with a friend” was all the detail he would admit to, rather than how he ended up with that friend in his lap -- Officer White asked what drugs he was taking.

“I'm not on any drugs,” said Henry with some affront. He was not the sort of person to use drugs, not in the way the officer was implying.

“How much did you have to drink yesterday?”

Here Henry felt a little responsible. “Uh, I'm not sure,” he admitted. “We had a cocktail before dinner, and there was a bottle of wine but we couldn't have drunk it all.”

“How much do you normally drink?”

“None at all.”

White took notes. “And what was in the cocktail you drank?”

“I don't know. Cathy made it. It had to be something I already have in the house.”

“And what was in the wine?”

That was an absurd question. “Wine was in the wine. It was a red wine. I'm an antiques dealer, not a vintner. What is the point of all these questions?”

Officer White eyed him suspiciously then scribbled another note before replying. “Mr. Tilney, you were found unresponsive on the floor of your living room more than 12 hours after you report feeling ill. Your dining companion is nowhere to be found, nor was it obvious to the paramedics that you had a dinner party last night. The hospital had to pump your stomach when you arrived. And while toxicology hasn't delivered their report, I'm going to guess they'll find something in it that upstanding, law-abiding citizens don't have. Now, would you like to add anything?”

Henry gaped stupidly. Then he felt himself grow cold. He had been raised by a scoundrel, he had grown up alongside another, surely he knew enough to recognize a con when it happened to him.

Ricky had to be behind this. Sweet little Cathy Morland was not his girlfriend, or an heiress. She was either working with him or for him. Ricky has dangled the girl in front of him two days ago to establish the relationship, then sent her over to Henry's house yesterday. Once she was in his home it didn't matter what Henry did -- whether he warned her against Ricky or nudged her closer to matrimony or even kissed her -- she would have found a way to drug him. And he had stupidly, stupidly, stupidly shown her the priceless manuscript.

What Ricky thought it was worth, whatever buyer he had lined up, he would do it wrong. And all the money that should have been Henry's would dissolve between his brother and faceless middlemen. And whatever fame should fall to Henry as the man who discovered this work of art would be lost forever.

“Mr. Tilney?” prompted the cop.

“I need to call my brother,” he said hoarsely. “I need to speak with him privately.”

Officer White sighed wearily, asked a few more questions, then left the room. Henry shakily picked up the phone and followed the procedure for getting an outside line. He listened to the ringer repeat until he heard Ricky's dispassionate voice answer, directing him to leave his name, telephone number, and a brief message.

Henry tore into the answering machine, leaving a scathing rant. Halfway through, a squeal came back across the line as his brother picked up the phone.

“Henry, what is going on?” The verbal attack was too uncharacteristic to offend.

“You stole from me!” Henry thundered. “You and your little… Trojan horse! I just hope you haven't gotten rid of it yet because I'm giving you give five seconds to return it before I report you to the police.”

“Hold on, Henry. Let's not be hasty. What are you talking about?” Ricky has shifted into survival mode at the mention of police. “When would I ever steal from you? What do you think I took? What is the horse?”

“Your fake fiancée,” shouted Henry, “is the horse! My manuscript is what you stole! You have no idea what it is really worth! You are going to ruin everything!”

“My fiancée?” repeated Ricky who was only able to deal with one of his brother’s accusations at a time. “Henry, Cathy turned me down two nights ago. She's not my fiancée.”

“She's not an heiress either,” stated Henry. “She's your accomplice and the two of you have succeeded in putting me in the hospital. And I will not stop till I've put you both in prison. You can say hello to Dad for me.”

By now Ricky was beginning to feel more like a dupe than a con. Either his brother was trying to hustle him or Cathy already had. “Where are you right now? You're in a hospital? I'm coming to see you.”

“You have one hour to get here,” warned Henry, “then I'm telling the cops.”

Ricky got there with seven minutes to spare. Henry had calmed down considerably in that time so that he was no longer shouting but he was still coldly furious. Eleanor had stayed to meet Henry's brother but, after shaking hands with him and chattering sweetly while her boss glared silently, she took her leave.

Ricky got the full story from Henry but he could not return the manuscript because he didn't have it. Cathy, acting alone, had stolen it. She had clearly posed as an heiress to attract Ricky, then used him to get introduced to his brother. Who she was working for was anybody's guess, because Henry had received numerous requests to sell the artifact to many unnamed buyers since sending the sample to Trinity.

The asking price from these shadow collectors had continued to climb with each refusal but Henry had not been ready to sell. He had wanted Trinity to prove him right first, to verify its authenticity and significance. He had wanted to go down in history for having found the Book of Tilney. With the letter he had just received, he could have gone to any auction house in the world and made a fortune. But not anymore, not without the manuscript.

It took some doing, but Ricky convinced his brother that he was not involved in Cathy's scam. The final piece of evidence, however, was in Henry's home.

Eleanor was right, the place was indeed neat as a pin and very clean. The dining room had been cleared of all signs that they had eaten there yesterday. The kitchen was spotless, dishes were put away, the trash can was emptied. The floors were swept. There was no sign that Cathy had been over; no sign, practically, that Henry even lived there.

While Ricky stood about, appreciating a rival’s technique, Henry went to his office. This room, like the others, had been professionally cleaned. Even the safe looked untouched.

The only sign of life was a fountain pen lying askew on the blotter. He picked it up and dumped it into a cup already brimming with pencils and highlighters. Then he sat down heavily in the chair and faced the safe.

He had known for hours that the manuscript had been stolen from him, but facing the closed safe he felt a frisson of doubt. Had she failed to crack his combination? Had she changed her mind at the last minute? Had she succumbed to worry and regret over drugging him? Is that why she left his door ajar and the radio blaring -- to attract attention and get him the medical treatment he needed? More of her words were coming back to him and he felt like the most ignorant dupe of all to remember them, but maybe she had cared for him after all.

With a shaking hand he spun the combination and swung open the door.

The safe was empty.

“You've got a card,” his brother called from the other room before bounding in, envelope first. “I recognize the handwriting.”

The address looked exactly like what Henry had imagined Cathy's handwriting to be, before he found out she was a con artist. It was fat and looping, the “i"s dotted with little circles, and it appeared to be written in the same pen he had found on his desk. There was no return address but the postmark implied she had dropped it off at the post office on the way out Tuesday night. With a sigh he opened it.

It was a Get Well card. An unsettlingly smiling yellow face on the cover said he would be feeling better in no time. Inside a personal message was scrawled in the same pen as on the envelope but in a completely different hand. Where the address had been soft and curving, the note was angular and sharp.

Henry,

Sorry it came to this but you wouldn't sell and my employer is most insistent. You really should get out more; I would never had gone through your brother if I could have met you directly.

XOXO,
-K

P.S. I judged the dose based on your brother. You were supposed to last until after dessert.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Scoundrels, Wednesday

NN SApril 25, 2017 02:38AM

Re: Scoundrels, Wednesday

AdeleApril 26, 2017 02:28PM

Re: Scoundrels, Wednesday

Shannon KApril 26, 2017 03:14AM

Re: Scoundrels, Wednesday

MichaApril 25, 2017 02:25PM

Re: Scoundrels, Wednesday

Rose H.April 25, 2017 02:47AM



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