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The Predator, the Prey, and the Predator (27th Installment)

May 27, 2019 06:58PM
I know it's been an unforgivably long time since the last chapter was posted, and I sincerely apologize.

A lot of personal stuff got in the way, including other writing assignments (one of which was a short story version of this novel for an anthology of time-traveling mysteries I was invited to submit to. It'll be called Crime Travel. Unfortunately, Triple-P didn't make the final cut).

Aside from that, heading into the home stretch, I just found myself a little flummoxed about how I should bring it all to an end. In the short story, not having nearly as much room to maneuver (I cut it down to a skosh over 6000 words), I just wound things up at Earl Fitzwilliam's house party, and that version sort of kept on getting in the way, 'cause I couldn't use that ending, most of it, anyway, here. I tried and discarded a lot of different approaches, none of which seemed right. Then, I looked at the calendar, and saw that it was edging close to six months since the last update, and I knew I was just going to have to push myself to get a chapter done.

In this installment, the Predator finally reveals himself.



PART TWENTY-EIGHT

Before Jane and Michael went upstairs to change into their traveling clothes, Michael beckoned Mr. Grant over and for a private tête-à-tête. Jane being the closest was the only one who heard any of what was being said, and they kept their voices low enough that even she was only able to make out a few words.

“Wine glass” was one phrase she was able to catch. “The lyricist” another. “Canada” yet another. Michael also made some reference to “cereal” which, as she understood it from her new husband, was a term that wouldn’t be coined for another decade or so, to describe an edible grain derived from specific kinds of grass, often used in America, at least in Michael’s time, for the morning meal. A word she didn’t understand, which sounded like “deenay,” was also used. He also mentioned Sir Gilbert several times. Mr. Grant nodded, said he would take care of it, and shook hands with him, then walked over to her and did the same.

“All the best, Mrs. O’Brian,” he said. “I ‘ope you’ll both be very ‘appy.”

“Thank you, Mr. Grant,” she replied. “I’m sure we shall.”

*

It was late afternoon when their carriage drew up to a pleasant cottage, part of an estate a short distance outside of the city, that Michael had arranged to rent for the night. A tenant farm temporarily without a tenant, making it possible for the newlyweds to use it as a honeymoon retreat.

The trip out had been pleasant, Michael and Jane able to show their affection for each other without regard to proprieties. And, since both had been married before, there was no apprehension about what they would share that night.

Michael introduced Jane to Mrs. MacGregor, whom he had arranged to have stay in the cottage as a combination housekeeper, lady’s maid, and cook. In the morning, after their one precious night of privacy, they would return to Edinburgh, collect Kitty, say goodbye to the children (who would be staying with the Darcys), and take a leisurely trip back to Kimberton by way of the Lakes District, with a stopover at Pemberley to drop off Kitty and pick up Tommy and Beth.

*

While it was still daylight, Michael and Jane walked around the pleasant trails in the parks attached to the larger estate of which the cottage was a part. As the sun dipped closer to the horizon, they made their way back, and enjoyed a light evening meal from a cold collation that Mrs. MacGregor had laid out for them.

Their meal finished, they looked at each other, and, without saying a word, both rose from the table, clasped hands, and went upstairs to their chambers.

“You going to need some time to change?” asked Michael.

“Not long.”

“I didn’t make arrangements for a lady’s maid. You want me to help? Or do you want me to get Mrs. McGregor?”

“I think I can manage for one evening, Michael. I rather liked ‘doing for myself,’ as Ada puts it, in your time.”

“OK. I’ve got to get in contact with Jack about a case, so I’ll probably be a few minutes. Then we’ll have the night to ourselves.”

“Are you going to write him an express?”

“Nah. Just use the time machine to talk to him.”

“Oh. Of course,” she replied, wondering why that hadn’t occurred to her.

*

Setting the machine for the current date and time, and the place for the room Grant was staying at in Edinburgh, O’Brian opened a small portal and found his British colleague waiting for him.

“Jack, you able to get ‘er done?”

“Sure did, mate. Got hold o’ Clifford’s wine glass and turned it over to your HQ in Washington. They delivered it to the RCMP lab in Ottawa. Set the machine for a few days later, and checked in. They’d put a ‘’urry-up’ on it, and were able to make a match. ‘The Lyricist,’ Canada’s most prolific serial killer, and Sir Gilbert Clifford are the same man. Course, they still don’t know ‘oo ‘e really is, since ‘e can’t be Sir Gilbert, but the way the warrant’s issued is ‘the person purporting to be Sir Gilbert Clifford, Bart., and ‘aving the unique DNA profile listed below.’ So it’s still serviceable.”

“Great. The Mounties have anyone on this time-traveling fugitive detail?”

“They’ve got one, but ‘e’s not assigned to Regency-era England. Travels all over the time-stream, ‘cause ‘e’s the only one they got. Right now ‘e’s unavailable, so you and I’ve been appointed ‘special constables’ by the RCMP for the purpose of serving this warrant.”

“Well. I’m on my honeymoon until further notice, so I’ll leave the apprehension of the Lyricist to you.”

“Never fear, mate. I’ll ‘ave it all in ‘and by the time you’re back in the saddle.”

“Thanks, Jack.”

“’Ave a great time tonight, Mike.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I will. We both will.”

*

And they did.

A newly married couple deserves a bit of privacy on their wedding night as they intimately explore the delights of the connubial bed together for the first time, and there are few who believe in this principle more than your obedient servant. Suffice it say that what Michael and Jane shared that night was not only supremely pleasurable, but, to a degree, somewhat unexpected for them both.

Jane, for all her gentle, reserved demeanor, was a surprisingly enthusiastic lover, and Michael, for all his roughhewn, rugged forcefulness, a surprisingly gentle one. Each was, therefore, pleasantly surprised and the pleasure each took from the other was, consequently, enhanced.

When both were finally sated, they fell asleep, Jane’s back to Michael’s chest, his arms enfolded around her, enjoying a warm closeness that each had thought lost with the deaths of their first spouses.

And that was the position they should have been able to stay in until they awakened sometime after daybreak.

Instead, they were roused by a sharp knock on their door while it was still the dead of night.

“Mr. O’Brian!” came Mrs. MacGregor’s voice. “There’s a fire! Wake up! There’s a fire!”

*

O’Brian shook himself awake. Who the hell was that knocking?

The other part of her message finally penetrated. A fire!

He got out of the bed. Naked, he pulled on a dressing gown and went to the door.

“Is that you, Mrs. MacGregor.”

“Yessir,” she said. “There’s a muckle o’ smoke comin’ from the nearest outbuilding.”

“Is there a rain barrel near it?”

“Aye. Right alongside.”

“There a bucket with it?”

“I dunna ken. I can get ye a bucket from the kitchen.”

“See any flames?”

She hesitated a moment before answering, “Just smoke, so far.”

“OK. Go get that bucket. I’ll get dressed and meet you downstairs.”

Jane was awake by this time, and sitting up holding the sheets and blankets in front of her to conceal her bosom.

“A fire?” she asked.

“Yeah. Not too well-advanced, yet. At least from what she said. I’ll check it out, see I if I can douse it with water from the rain barrel.”

*

Jane watched as he pulled the small pants-like garment he used as his smallclothes (Michael called them “briefs”), a pair of trouser, a shirt that he didn’t bother to tuck in, then pulled on a jacket. He went into his adjacent dressing room (where all those discarded clothes he was putting on should have been left; he’d really been living without a woman’s influence far too long). She heard him rummaging around, and assumed he was looking for shoes that it would be easy to put on. As he exited the dressing room, she saw him put something into his pants at the small of his back, but couldn’t see what it was.

“Probably nothing, Sweetie,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back shortly.

*

He went downstairs, collected the bucket from Mrs. MacGregor, and went outside. Smoke was pouring from the nearest outbuilding, too small to be a barn, perhaps a storage shed or something similar.

Oddly, as he drew closer, he felt no increased in heat. He entered the structure and saw the reason. The smoke was billowing from a large canister placed in the center of the floor. An improvised smoke grenade. This wasn’t a fire. It was a practical joke!

Were he and Jane about to be forced to endure a shivaree? Unlikely, since he hadn’t told anyone, not even Jane, where they would spend their wedding night.

He heard movement behind him.

*

Jane heard a shot from the outbuilding. Who would be firing a gun? Had Michael shot it? Was the object she saw him shoving into his waistband at the small of his back one of his pistols? She lit a lamp, pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around herself to hide her nakedness, then went to the window, opened it, and looked out.

“Michael!” she called out. “Are you well? Is there anything amiss? Michael!”

Suddenly, the door to the bedchamber was flung open. She whirled and saw Sir Basil Clifford, along with two men wearing his livery, and Mrs. MacGregor.

“He can’t answer, Mrs. O’Brian,” said the baronet. “Or should I say ‘Widow’ O’Brian? For that shot means that your marital status has changed, yet again. Your new husband is dead, and you are, once more, available. And this time, I’m not going to wait a full year for you to mourn, as I did after having your first husband killed. Since we’re conveniently right here in Scotland, we’ll marry immediately. My coachman was recently ordained, by mail-order, in the British Fellowship Ministries. My outrider will stand up with me. Mrs. MacGregor will perform the same function for you. And we’ll consummate it immediately on the same bed on which you and O’Brian sealed your union.”

Jane started to scream, but Clifford was at her side in a trice, silencing her by clamping his hand over her mouth. This was soon replaced by a silken handkerchief stuffed between her teeth, then tied in place by another silken handkerchief. The blanket was pulled away, and her arms were tied behind her, at the elbows and the wrists, then pinioned to her body by ropes tied around her torso and waist. The fear that was overpowering her was only surpassed by the mortification she felt at being naked in front of three men, all of whom, particularly the baronet, were smiling in wickedly lascivious admiration, while she was unable to even cover herself with her hands.

“The most beautiful wedding gown I’ve ever seen,” said Clifford, running his had over her skin. “I don’t believe I can wait any longer. Ten years is quite enough time. Reverend Mr. Coachman, let us get started.”

With that he pulled her toward him and held her there despite her efforts to wriggle free, while the taller of the two liveried men, reached into a pocket, and pulled out a well-worn Book of Common Prayer, and began reading.

“Dearly beloved,” he said, “we are gathered together ‘ere in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this ‘ere Man an’ this ‘ere Woman in ‘Oly Matrimony.”

He continued in that vein, in an expressionless monotone, stumbling over a few words like “innocency” and “unadvisedly,” and went through the reasons God had ordained marriage as quickly as he could.

Soon he got to the third reason, “mutual society,” and quickly came to the part at the end of the paragraph about “if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let ‘im now speak, or else ‘ereafter for ever ‘old his peace.”

When the coachman completed that sentence, the door burst open again, and, for the second time in her life, Jane saw Michael, looking like nothing so much as the embodiment of an answered prayer. He stood there, livid with fury, his pistol gripped in his right hand.

“She’s still married!” he snarled. “Despite your best efforts. How’s that for a ‘just cause?’”

***



TO BE CONTINUED
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Predator (27th Installment)

Jim D.May 27, 2019 06:58PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Predator (27th Installment)

Shannon KMay 28, 2019 04:44AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Predator (27th Installment)

EmelynMay 28, 2019 03:43AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Predator (27th Installment)

KarenteaMay 28, 2019 01:33AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Predator (27th Installment)

Jim D.May 28, 2019 01:42AM



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