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Scoundrels, end (4/4)

April 27, 2017 08:36PM
Thanks for sticking with me thus far. And now: the finale!

Scoundrels


A Year Later



Henry stood next to Professor John Thorpe from Trinity College as John quietly pointed out the major players in the room, his soft Irish accent making all the people a little more interesting. There were a representative from the Soviet Union, a few Middle Eastern princes, someone who came all the way from California, three random people from old-money, titled European families, and a couple of older gentlemen dressed in clerical garments of various religious denominations.

The Book of Tilney, as Henry now thought of it, was irrevocably gone except for the twenty pages that had still been in Ireland when Cathy Morland broke into his safe. He had called the police to his home after confirming the manuscript was missing, but it had been too late by then. The pages were gone, the thief was gone, even the photographs were gone. Like all successful crimes, they were never found.

Henry had been beside himself with an entire gamut of negative emotions. He was too angry to sleep, too shocked to do much else. He was ashamed that he had failed to recognize Cathy for what she was, and deeply disappointed that he had played so neatly into her trap. He had fallen into a depression after a week as the certainty of his loss overwhelmed him, which had hardened into an increasing distrust of people in general. Contrary to Cathy's advice, he did not get out more after the theft.

At some point, he had called Trinity College and reported the crime. They had been soothingly sympathetic and had asked what he had wanted to do with the twenty pages still in their possession. Henry had sat up straighter upon hearing that. He had forgotten all about it! The Book of Tilney was not completely lost after all! There was still something to prove his discovery, and there was still something to sell. Sure, it would bring in a pittance compared to the complete work, but it would be more than enough to make the pages worth selling.

The auction, however, took nearly a year to arrange. In the meantime, professors and other researchers in Dublin continued to examine the surviving pages as well as the photographs that Henry had sent. They gave talks and, from Henry’s point of view, drummed up interest.

At last, the academics were ready to part with it and arranged to sell it through one of the older and more respected auction houses on the European continent. Henry had come to watch his little fortune be made, but he clung to the shadows at first, refusing to meet potential buyers until John had finally teased him into it.

So now he stood, wine glass in hand, in a special bar room in the auction house, while John pointed out the interested parties, knowing that they were all looking at him too, trying to learn more about him. Suddenly he heard his partner’s sharp intake of breath and looked at him in alarm.

“What’s wrong?” he asked quietly.

Thorpe just inclined his head ever so slightly, his eyes fixed on an older man dressed in black and purple clothes who had halted his progress shortly after entering the room.

“Who’s that?” Henry wanted to know, immediately suspicious that he was in the presence of an international thief.

“Cardinal Antonio Magellan,” breathed Thorpe. “He runs the Vatican’s Secret Archives.”

Atheist though he was, Henry had heard of the Vatican. “If they’re secret--”

“They’re private property of the pope,” Thorpe explained. “If the Vatican wants your book, you’re in luck. Take whatever figure you think you’re going to get out of this and double it.”

“Are you sure he’s legitimate?” Henry couldn’t help asking. Something about the man raised his hackles.

“He’s more legitimate than you or I,” said the academic, hoping to settle the matter. “And if he’s here, you can be certain his right hand is close by.” Thorpe began to smooth his tie and check the line of his jacket.

“Who’s that?” Henry couldn’t help his interest.

Thorpe scanned the crowd then shook his head. “Not here yet. Not that it matters,” he sighed. “I’ve struck out with her more times that I can count. I think she must be gay.”

Before Henry could probe further, the Irishman stiffened and began preening again. “He's coming over,” Thorpe announced in a stage whisper.

Henry saw that Cardinal Magellan was indeed walking their way and had just enough time to ask his companion how to address such a man before he needed to put such knowledge to use.

Thorpe ran through the introductions but it was clear that the cardinal already knew who Henry was.

“Mr. Tilney, I am so pleased to make your acquaintance,” Magellan said smoothly. “Your illuminated pages are quite beautiful.”

“Thank you, your Eminence,” replied Henry, “but I can hardly take credit for that.”

“Still, I know his Holiness would like to have them for his private collection,” the cardinal said, “and I, as his humble librarian, have been authorized to purchase them from you on his behalf.”

“And I would love to sell it to you,” Henry countered, “or anyone else with the winning bid, but the auction is tomorrow.”

Thorpe looked appalled at Henry’s American manners. Cardinal Magellan, after all, was not some televangelist. “Tilney, I really think you should listen to Rome's offer. Now. Let me see if I can find a private room for this conversation.”

“That will not be necessary, Professor Thorpe,” preempted Magellan. “I have already secured an office just down the hall. If you would please follow me?”

Henry decided to follow the academic, who followed the cleric to a small room containing a table and chairs. A legal representative from the auction house was already there.

In the end, it was not as shady as Henry had first feared. The Roman Catholic Church was a big player with deep pockets. If they were willing to pay a sufficiently large sum and not try to cheat anyone out of their commission, there was nothing unseemly about it. The figure the cardinal offered for the few surviving pages was excessively generous, closer in line to what the complete work would have been worth rather than the slim folio for sale.

The cardinal explained that the Vatican wanted to purchase not just the portion which had been safeguarded at Trinity during the theft but also the rest of the book should it ever resurface. “For I believe that there is nothing lost that may not be found,” said Magellan. “I have faith that the entire book will be eventually reunited in my library although not perhaps during my tenure.”

Once Henry had recovered from the dazzle of such a generous number, he was quite willing to sign and initial wherever he was instructed.

After the paperwork was complete, the agent left to file it and inform the other interested parties that the auction was cancelled.

“This calls for a celebration!” Thorpe clapped his hands together. “Let me get the champagne.” With that he too left the small room.

Henry decided to make an effort at small talk with the impressive man seated across from him. “So when did you first hear about my little book?”

“Oh, over a year ago,” answered the older gentleman. “My librarians are often in communication with places like Trinity College. I even sent a researcher to look at the pages when they arrived in Dublin.”

“And do you have much luck in hunting stolen goods like the manuscript? I can't imagine you have a lot of practice; people probably would rather not steal from a church if they can help it,” Henry observed. “Or will you just wait for it to be unearthed again? In the hands of an overzealous collector, you won't see it for more than a generation, if at all.”

“I have a few researchers who might enjoy the challenge, but we have more practical work. No,” said the older man, “I am a patient man, and the Church is even more patient than I. The book will be whole again one day, and on that day it will belong to the Church.”

“I confess, I had hoped you would hunt down the persons responsible,” Henry admitted. “I've spent the last year imagining the thief would be caught and give up the name of whoever hired her.”

The cardinal did not look especially pleased with this idea. “May I counsel forgiveness instead, Mr. Tilney? Judgment belongs to God alone, and all this bitterness is detrimental to your soul.”

“I'm an atheist,” Henry pointed out. “I don't believe in gods or souls.”

The cardinal was surprised to hear this but he recovered quickly. “Regardless,” he said after a series of rapid blinks, “that resentment will eat at you, to believe that your happiness is dependent upon others being unhappy, and their unhappiness so thoroughly outside your control. When or if the guilty party is finally brought to justice, what will that moment give you that you cannot give yourself right now?”

Henry had not thought of it that way before. He did so now.

“Consider instead,” continued Magellan after seeing evidence that Henry was still mulling his words, “that the Church, in buying your book, has also bought your concern. We will find the rest of the pages; the Book of Tilney will be made whole again. But you need not think about that anymore. You're now a wealthy man, and can devote yourself to serious or frivolous pastimes as you see fit. As a man of God, I shall hope you use your wealth wisely and for the good of all, but as a man I will understand if that is not always possible.”

The door opened again and Thorpe stumbled in, laden down with a bottle and glasses. The cardinal took this as his cue to leave. “Now, if you will excuse me,” he said, rising, “I am no longer in my prime. I find travel and disruptions to my routine to be fatiguing. I must contact Rome and inform them of today's events and then I need to rest. I will leave the celebrations to the younger generation.” So saying, he walked out.

There was nothing left to do but drink the champagne and ruminate. And when the bottle ran out, the two men left the auction house and found themselves a bar where they had to pay for their drinks but, Henry realized, he could now well afford it. They talked and drank until Henry had drunk enough to unburden himself of the true story of Cathy Morland.

“Holy Mother!” exclaimed Thorpe near the end of the tale. “Had any woman ever sat in my lap and told me to kiss her, I know what I would have done.”

“I tried,” complained Henry. “I did, up until the point where I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was in the hospital and the girl was gone along with my manuscript.” It was cathartic to tell the story now where it had previously only been embarrassing.

Thorpe’s eyes widened. He had never heard the details of the theft before but in his present state of mind, they seemed remarkably funny. He started giggling, which Henry found both immature and unsympathetic.

“You are no help at all,” Henry scolded.

“Sorry, it’s just… funny,” Thorpe said. “Well, you won’t have to wonder why they’ll be throwing themselves at you now, will you? Rent a penthouse somewhere and they’ll be crawling out of the woodwork to cheat you rotten.”

Henry found no humor in that thought. He was already untrusting to the point of being misanthropic. What would a fortune do to him? “No, after her, I’m in no mood for women of any sort,” he decided.

“That girl has got you ‘once bitten and twice shy’, is that it? You need to be more ‘play hard, pray hard’ in my opinion. Now’s your chance to do what I’ve always wanted -- I mean, what you’ve always wanted. Run around for a year and sow your oats, see if you can find someone that doesn’t put you in the hospital. And if it doesn't work out,” offered Thorpe philosophically, “come to Dublin, meet my sister Isabella.”

Henry frowned at his empty glass in disappointment. Continuing to drink while listening to Thorpe’s reckless optimism was less than wise. He needed sleep and sobriety before he listened to much more of this. “I'm going to bed,” he announced, easing off his chair and ambling to the door.

“My hero!” Thorpe called out in farewell.

Henry slowly and a little haphazardly walked through the foreign streets to his hotel, his thoughts turning inward rather than on how to navigate. What Thorpe suggested was not heroism but idiocy. The Irishman’s understanding of women had to be a bad combination of juvenile and academic.

The trouble was that Henry’s understanding was also woefully insufficient, and his ability to trust women in general had been badly bruised. Cathy Morland had struck him as something of an innocent, and he had tried to protect her from his brother’s scheming, only to learn that she had played him for a fool. That had been a bitter realization: worse than thinking the first woman he had been attracted to in a good long while was actually in love with his brother was finding out that she hadn’t been in love with either of them, and that she had only conned him into feeling that way.

And now the manuscript had been sold, not just the portion that had been studied at Trinity, but also the lion's share that had disappeared with Cathy and her mysterious employer. Cardinal Magellan probably had the right of it, the book was no longer his and neither was the burden. Much as he had spent the last year thinking about Cathy Morland and how he had been a fool, he needed to stop. It was time to put the crime in his past and get on with his future.

When he finally found his hotel -- accidentally -- he had a visitor waiting for him in the lobby.

Leaning against a wall stood Cathy Morland, only she was not the Cathy Morland he remembered. That girl was softness and curves, clumsiness and friendliness, with dark blond curls and a plumpness to her form. The angular woman before him was nothing like that soft creature. Her hair was bleached almost white and hung down in thin straight sheets, her bangs stopping barely above her heavily made-up eyes. Her expression was bored and unimpressed with the tired lobby. Her face was thinner, her whole body was thinner, at least thirty pounds lighter than Cathy had been; or maybe only twenty pounds lighter, if another ten pounds were transformed from fat to lithe muscles. Her clothes were not designed for a clumsy person, with a plunging v-neck blouse and a slit on her skirt going mid-way up her thigh. She was taller than Cathy too, thanks to her three-inch stilettos. But she was, without a doubt, Cathy Morland.

“What are you doing here?” he asked numbly.

“Waiting to congratulate you,” she smiled slightly. “And to offer my apologies.”

“I got your card already,” he said. In it she had already apologized, not that it meant anything at the time, not that it mattered now. “There’s no need to come all this way.”

“For you, I like the personal touch,” she said, straightening away from the wall with a feline fluidity. It was a grace that made him suddenly nervous.

“What do I still possess that you could possibly want?” he asked baldly. “The rest of the manuscript is out off my hands. It's been bought by the Vatican and I doubt whether you or your employer can wrest it from them.”

“Shall I tell you a secret?” Without waiting for his answer she stepped forward and leaned over his shoulder, her hair falling like a curtain against his cheek. “The Vatican is my employer,” she whispered.

Oh, what a fool he had been! The truth was more effective than any drug she could have used and Henry felt himself sagging under the weight of his stupidity. Cathy -- it couldn't be her real name but he didn't know what else to call her -- called out to the hotel clerk for assistance and the two of them helped Henry up the stairs and into his room. He couldn't follow their conversation at all as they both spoke in a rapid German but he had a distinct impression of doom as Cathy sent the clerk back down the stairs and shut the door to his room with herself on the inside.

“Who are you?” he wondered. “Who are you really?”

“My name is Katerina Moritz,” she told him. “I am a researcher for the Vatican Archives. I specialize in religious writings from before the turn of the millennium, the 400s through the 900s. I am very rarely required to perform field work. In my spare time, my taste in literature runs to unapologetic, irredeemable pulp. I think tennis is the only sport worth watching. I think American wines are swill. I love the beach, nothing but lying in the sun for days on end. As a rule, I love Italian food and shoes, and despise Italian men. They know how to dress a woman but they don't know how to treat her, his Eminence notwithstanding. I come from a large Catholic family that still predominantly lives in the same hamlet for the last forty years, more than that if you ignore wartime displacements. My parents call me Katya but pretty much everyone else calls me Moritz.”

She secured the lock on the door and walked over to join him on the bed. “Do you mind?” she asked before sitting down too close to him. “His Eminence could confirm all of this for you but unfortunately he is out of patience with me right now and will probably deny everything.”

She waited only briefly for him to interrupt. “Go ahead,” she prompted him. “Ask more questions.”

“What do you want from me?” He couldn't keep the distrust from his tone.

“I haven't come to steal from you, if that has you worried,” she told him. He was not reassured. “I've come to… Well, I've come to get to know you better. I like you. We have a lot in common.”

“Why pay for what you had already stolen?” he moved into his next question.

“‘Thou shalt not steal,’’ she quoted some religious directive. “By paying for it, I wanted to undo the crime. His Eminence didn't like it; he worried you would be suspicious and I had already confessed the sin and completed my penance. But, as I said, I like you, Henry Tilney. I insisted and he reluctantly agreed, so long as I didn't do anything foolish.”

“If you were planning on paying for it anyway, why go to the trouble of stealing it?”

“We needed to see it for ourselves. We had tried to speak with you anonymously but you rebuffed all attempts,” she pointed out.

“I was waiting to hear back from Dublin first,” he explained. “It was foolish to sell and foolish to buy until we knew the facts.”

Here she sighed and looked around the room. “And do you remember when we were having dinner and you told me about all the frauds and tricksters down your paternal line?” The question alone made him warm with mortification. “Why did you not mention your mother to me?”

“What about her?” The room had swung suddenly from hot to cold.

“She was a forger,” Katerina said nonchalantly.

“She was an artist,” Henry corrected, “who was unwittingly duped into making reproductions for one of my father's scams. She left him when she found out how he had used her. And besides, she worked in oils and acrylics. The manuscript is completely different.”

“I didn't say that I suspected your mother of faking the illuminated text, just that you had a colorful family history that inspires a healthy skepticism,” she said, not accusing him of forgery either. “And you are a recluse, Henry Tilney. While the pages you sent to Dublin are authentic, all those hours not spent meeting people and having friendships could have been spent embellishing and adding to the Book of Tilney.”

“It is no counterfeit,” Henry grit out indignantly.

“No, it is beautifully genuine,” she agreed, “but we had to be sure, you understand. And you refused to speak with any potential buyers so that we could arrange an independent examination. So we didn't really steal it, you see. We just bought it on credit without warning you in advance.”

“And now everything is resolved all neat and tidy?” he said unconvincingly.

Moritz shrugged and Henry felt his own shoulder rise and fall. “It looks that way from where I'm sitting.” She added, “with one small exception.”

He felt a frisson of unease. “What's that?”

“I feel terrible for drugging you so thoroughly,” she admitted. Henry noticed that she felt no qualms about drugging him just enough. “For all my research, I had never actually seen you before; you were a bit of a recluse and I can respect that. I had assumed since you and your brother were twins that you would be a bit heavier, you understand, that your tolerance would be higher. I am very sorry about how abruptly our evening ended.”

“Especially,” Henry added tightly, “given how pointless the charade was, since you bought the text anyway.”

“Are you going to ask what I had planned for dessert?” she asked.

“No.” He did not equivocate. She was going to tell him anyway.

“You are almost cripplingly distrustful,” she smiled at him. “I sympathize. I am always worried that someone may be smarter than me. Even if they are more honest, they may still try to cheat me accidentally.”

“And even an innocent Cathy Morland may be hiding a conniving Katerina Moritz,” he pointed out.

“You wouldn't honestly want a creature who would fall for you brother's ridiculous scams. I am better than Cathy Morland. Shall I prove it to you?” she offered.

Henry didn't laugh. “Can you prove it by leaving me alone? Because after spending time with Cathy, I woke up in the hospital,” he pointed out. “Who's to say, after spending time with you, I don't wake up dead tomorrow? Or maybe I'll just wake up in a bathtub filled with ice and my kidneys cut out.”

“My employer has no interest in your internal organs,” she assured him. “They are worth more to me where they are.”

“That is hardly reassuring,” he confided.

“I could promise -- ”

“I'd never believe you,” he told her flatly.

“Never?” She sounded genuinely disappointed. “Not even after I have explained why I did it? Not even after you've been paid for the entire book? I didn't mean to hurt you. I have tried to make it up to you. I have thought about you, Henry Tilney, over the last year. Often. I have been looking forward to being able to see you again.”

“I cannot say the same.”

“No? You never thought about me?” she inquired.

“Not in a good way.” He was determined not to give an inch.

She eyed him, a smile slowly curling one corner of her mouth. “Not too badly, either,” she guessed. “All this time in your room and you haven't tried to throw me out or to call for help. You haven't even threatened to call the authorities. You must not entirely despise me, or maybe you've been too distracted looking at my legs all this time.” She was not gloating, but only just.

Too late Henry raised his eyes to the ceiling. “And what if I tell you to go now?”

“Shut up and kiss me,” she commanded.

THE END
SubjectAuthorPosted

Scoundrels, end (4/4)

NN SApril 27, 2017 08:36PM

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!

AlanMay 07, 2017 05:05AM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

Lucy J.May 04, 2017 03:24AM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

Shannon KApril 28, 2017 01:56PM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

Agnes BeatrixApril 28, 2017 07:33AM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

Maria VApril 28, 2017 06:31AM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

JoannaApril 29, 2017 02:19AM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

ErinEMay 01, 2017 01:30AM

Re: Scoundrels, end (4/4)

Megan EMay 03, 2017 03:34AM



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