Narrative 42 - Baisers de Vierge

(The narrative which forms "Baisers de Vierge," as it falls within the chronology of Letters so far, is a flashback. The events described take place on 7 February 1903, chronicling the adventures of Stuart on the evening of the day he and Maisie meet Mr. Collins in Portobello Market. The action of the narrative is, chronologically, sandwiched between events mentioned in Letter 29 - Mr. Collins. The reader would do well to review Letter 29 before continuing with "Baisers de Vierge," and possibly review Letters 32, 34, and 36 directly after finishing, to better orient him or herself within the chain of events influenced by the action that occurs.)

Stuart Hill had never had cause to take rooms at the Savoy Hotel, his father's winter home in Belgravia being less than two miles from the Strand, but he had dined at the restaurant on a particular occasion during his Oxford years, and had professional connexions which ensured that he was not unknown to certain members of the hotel staff. He approached the concierge and inquired as to whether the hotel was currently accommodating a Joseph Collins, Jr.. He was not surprised to receive a response in the affirmative, and presented himself at the room indicated without delay. A tall man admitted him with a smile, introduced himself as Mr. Krause, and, closing the door behind his guest, gestured toward one of the fine mahogany sofas which furnished the foyer. Stuart, who had not the slightest inclination to sit, seated himself with the appearance of ease and indifference.

"Your chum Collins was right about you. You are clever." The man settled himself on a particularly lavish embroidered silk arm chair as he spoke, and Stuart noted that--apart from removing his hat--he had not changed his clothing since their meeting in Portobello Market that afternoon.

"It would be very civil of me to say the same of you, I suppose, but, sadly, I am prevented from making such a nicety. Collins never spoke of you."

"No, I daresay he did not. Or rather, he could not. Seeing you today put me powerfully in mind of him--you resemble him a great deal. Still, I am afraid I could not find it in my schedule to allow him time to say good-bye to old chums. Terribly sorry, you know. But business is business--I'm sure you understand. Which reminds me--I should like to make you an offer."

"Well, that is unfortunate for you, since I should like to refuse any offer you might conceivably make." This Stuart had resolved on the moment he realized the man desired a meeting with him. For this stranger to style himself as the friend Stuart mourned more than any other, for him to mention the famous dish Stuart had enjoyed with his friend on the singular occasion of his dining at the Savoy Grill--it was as clear an invitation as Stuart had ever received. The purpose of the meeting remained in doubt, to be sure, but he felt immovably certain that he wanted no part of Krause's offer. Indeed, Stuart was averse to the very sight of the man. It was due to him that Stuart had been constrained to hurt and bewilder Maisie, the implications of which rendered Stuart unsure as to whether he might continue in her favor--or indeed, whether he even deserved such an honor. Further, in light of Krause's admitted association with the murder of Collins (which Stuart considered perhaps the most despicable of the offenses which Krause seemed to heap continuously on Stuart's head), there was no question of an alliance with him. The only question that remained was how to rid himself of such an unwelcome petitioner.

"Yes, well, I suspected your feelings might run along those lines. You do not want for wealth or station, nor, it would seem, for the attentions of women," and here Krause smiled so lecherously that Stuart was put to prodigious effort to stop himself from striking the man. "In fact," Krause continued, "I was so sure you would be unwilling to see reason, that I took particular pains to procure some other means to persuade you. I am rather disappointed that you have not already mentioned it. I had rather expected you to come in "guns blazing," as it were. Surely, you know me capable of doing whatever is necessary to obtain your services, however regrettable the waste that might result. I have a great appreciation for beauty. I should not like to destroy anything so fine and lovely as your fiancée."

Stuart had been waiting for this. He had known Maisie was in danger the moment he had observed the man's indecent attentions to her at the market. He had not, however, been prepared for the surge of hostility that overtook him on hearing Krause mention her destruction so casually. His loathing for the man who called himself Krause had been growing steadily ever since his admittance to the suite, and Stuart felt himself at perilous risk of losing his head to its poisonous influence. Stuart was unused to the interference of such an overpowering emotion in the course of his professional duties, and found himself unequal to ignoring it entirely. He took a deep breath, and, unable to repress a rather grim smile, said, "You will be happy, then, when I inform you that you shall not have opportunity to harm anything of beauty ever again."

Krause was, apparently, unmoved by either fear or regret. "I see that you are contemplating violence, Mr. Hill, but I advise against it. I have the advantage, you see," at this he shifted slightly to display the handsome Luger pistol which had been concealed beneath his jacket, "but I would much prefer to exploit you as a living resource. According to poor Collins, your talents are astonishing. In any case, once you are dead, what is to stop me from calling on your grieving young lady, and enjoying her a bit before I put her out of her misery?"

Again, it took more than the usual effort for Stuart to set aside his emotions, but he was sensible to the urgency that he remain in command of his outward expressions--he must not slip again--it was of utmost importance that he betray no more feeling for that which he treasured most. The desperate necessity of his object granted him the calm he required, and he managed to keep his voice cool and even as he replied, "Such a question is not relative to this interview, as I have no intention of dying here tonight."

Mr. Krause appeared delighted, and rose to shake hands with his guest, saying in a jubilant tone, "I am glad to hear it. Then we will come to an arrangement. Let us make ourselves comfortable, that we may settle the terms to your particular pleasure and advantage."

Stuart rose to meet the man, sensing the opportunity such a close contact implied. It was time to act. Taking hold of the offered hand, Stuart wrapped his thumb over that of Mr. Krause, pulled the arm downward and backward, twisted it behind Krause's back, and pushed the man's face to the plush carpet. The impact of this maneuver elicited a grunt from Mr. Krause, and Stuart heard it with a high degree of satisfaction, as he had long felt the man's decorous posturing to be growing tiresome. From there it required only a flick of his free arm to extract the Luger from its holster and turn it on its master. "Did you kill my friend Collins?" Stuart asked in a disinterested sort of voice, much to the contradiction of his feelings.

"I certainly did."

"Are you acting alone in coming to recruit me?"

"If I was, do you really think I would admit to it? It took a great deal more than this sort of thing to persuade your friend to provide the information I desired. In fact, I am quite insulted."

This was rather more honest an answer than Stuart had expected, but in the end it made no difference. Although, gazing down at the prone form of the man at his feet, he found himself most surprisingly inclined towards actions that had used to disgust him, he acknowledged simultaneously that there was not time for anything so elaborate, nor even much use for what little information he might gain from such efforts. "As to that," Stuart replied, releasing his hold on Mr. Krause, "I can assure you I meant no disrespect. I have the highest respect for you abilities. It is your methods I cannot agree with."

"Which is fortunate for me," rejoined Krause, rising from the floor with a pleasant smile and as much dignity as the action could afford him, "but I am afraid such a noble opinion will not prevent me from doing what I must to achieve my purposes, and if you do not wish me to continue to pursue you as an asset, you shall have to kill me."

"All right." It was over in moments. Stuart stood panting slightly and nursing what felt remarkably like a cracked rib or two, and the man who called himself Krause lay motionless on the Axminster, his eyes fixed unseeingly on the extravagant chandelier. The Luger remained where Stuart had tossed it, unfired, on the arm chair Krause had recently vacated. Krause had not been so dependent on his firearm as Stuart had hoped, and had managed to land a devastating blow before Stuart was close enough to apply the necessary force to the man's unprotected throat. Wincing, Stuart made a brief but thorough search of the suite and all its rooms. Several sets of fine clothing, toiletries, a second Luger, a wallet full of notes, and a writing kit--empty of any correspondence--were of no interest. The British passport included a description of Krause, was issued in the name of Benjamin Harvey of Yorkshire, and contained recent stamps from Germany, France, and South Africa. This Stuart pocketed, along with a few minor forms of identification bearing the name of Harvey, but the other items he left untouched. It was now a matter of alerting his contact among the Savoy staff to the need for a discreet removal of the body and possessions, and of arranging the discovery of the body so as to convey the correct message to Krause's superiors. Stuart quickly settled upon the ideal location, reflecting that The Prospect of Whitby ought to do--in any case, the proprietor owed him a favor.


Michelle Catherine Walker said...

It's seriously lovely, Liz.

Cheryl said...

I knew it! I knew it! Collins wasn't Collins and Stuart is...not a bad guy?

I only think he's not a bad guy because the not Collins creep was creepy. But why is Collins able to kill people so swiftly and easily?

I like Stuart. A lot.

Cheryl said...

And yes. I know the Not Collins guy is named Krause. It just sounded cool to call him Not Collins.

Or something.