Three of Spades, страница 1
Three of Spades
by Hana Wren
Copyright 2014 Hana Wren
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Three of Spades
It was the music that had lured her in.
The trickle of notes cut sweetly through the multitude of street sounds. The thin patter of rain began to sound as if it were dancing instead of tapping out a sullen, impatient rhythm, and by the time she timidly turned her head to find the source of the music, Gia had stopped wishing that the rain would let up. She let the rhythm bounce in her mind playfully, a cheerful distraction from thoughts of warm, safe homes.
The Ivory Tusk had an immediate warmth. Though dark in ambience, there was a sort of controlled cacophony present that she had come to appreciate: feathers and fringes, crops and cloches, dresses and tassels that flowed with the barest movements, all contributing towards an explosion of sheer colour and locomotion. The Roaring Twenties, she’d heard some calling it, when everything is possible and everyone has a roaring great time. The bar was filled with flappers in short bobs, the teacups and mugs they were delicately holding a jarring contrast to the cigarettes in their other hands. One cast sidelong glances at a pair of gentlemen sitting at a separate table, talking excitedly amongst themselves.
As she walked to an empty seat, the artistically dimmed lights and increasingly lively crowd made her heavy boots seem more and more out of place: wet, squelching, almost obnoxious. Her mother had not been happy with them, remarking she had thought of Virginia as above following the silly fads. Jeannette Alcott could be harsh at times, but she was a respected woman and a loving mother; the comment had flooded Gia with shame until she had reasoned that the boots were a practical purchase. They were hardly in imitation of the flapper D’Artagnans; she personally couldn’t understand how on Earth unbuckled or untied galoshes were even meant to look fashionable.
Gia felt her heart sink at the passing thought of her mother. The poor darling had taken ill after Richard had—
Her hand found its way into her coat pocket, hesitating for the barest moment before gripping the pearl bracelet that lay inside. She did not want to think of how her mother might react to her own decision to leave.
It will be all right, she thought desperately. I’ll bring Rickie home, Mummy. I will. And you’ll be all right.
The bracelet was cool to the touch, making her all the more aware of its separate, detached presence.
When I’m alone with only dreams of you...
Gia’s eyes snapped up. A woman onstage sang the same music that had persuaded her into the establishment—no, not quite. But it was the same timbre, the same nuances that shadowed the lovely, near-hypnotic voice caressing every listener into its thrall. The singer herself was a sight, little butterflies of light around her dress seemingly clinging to her every sway as she fell into the music’s whim. Even the simple piano accompaniment seemed to play around the singing, launching into sweeping, soaring musical phrases, but never once overshadowing the keening melody.
She joined the loud applause as the song drew to its end in a long, grand swansong of a note. The singer and pianist bowed, too far away for her to make out their faces properly.
The sight of a sudden, familiar glint near the singer’s chest sent a chill throughout her being. Gia knew those twin ruby glimmers; was she maybe mistaken? It was still too far to accurately discern what it was. Perhaps the singer had a brooch, similarly silver, with two red inlaid gems...
She found herself rushing past several chairs and muttering apologies as other patrons squawked their indignation. Gia had to know. Two weeks in pursuit of a lead that had been barely there, and in a completely unrelated place as far as she knew, a miracle in the making—
A burly arm blocked her from entering a doorway beside the stage, and she watched in dismay as the singer and her pianist disappeared behind a swath of red curtains. “Sorry, miss,” grunted the guard, a large man in an ill-fitting suit. “Rules say entertainers only.”
“No wait, please, you don’t understand—”
A head peeked out of the curtains.
“Is something the matter, Bernard?” the singer asked, pulling back the curtains slightly. Hearing her voice not in sustained melody did make her seem a little less magical. Up close, Gia could see she was pretty, with glossy, tightly curled hair and dark eyes, but that was hardly her focus.
“Three strings of the finest Tahitian pearls,” Gia breathed. “Heavy silver pendant in the shape of a raven-headed goddess. Two ruby eyes...”
The singer’s hand flew to the said pendant. “My necklace?” she asked, staring at Gia.
Bernard’s arm pushed her away. “Nothing,” he growled. “Little miss is on her way now.”
Gia ignored him and pushed back. “How did you come by—”
“Enough,” the man cut in, and Gia shrieked as she was suddenly lifted onto his shoulder. “Sorry for the trouble, ma’am.”
Bernard easily crossed the length of the room in ten paces. The singer, looking uncertain, cast one last glance at her, then retreated behind the curtain once more. Gia’s arms fell limp as an extraordinary tiredness slowly seeped into her bones, spreading out to the tips of her toes as she was set down outside the building a little too roughly.
“Go home, kid,” said Bernard. “You’re too young to be here.”
“I am not a child,” she retorted, sending him the best glare she could muster.
He snorted, then did a double take. “Hey, aren’t you...”
No. Not now. Not before Rickie. “Finish that sentence,” she said blankly, “and I will make sure you regret it for the rest of your life.”
She did not feel as if she was in a position to make threats, and certainly the Virginia Alcott of two weeks ago would not have even dared to try. But with the prospect of getting Richard back so close, to return him before her mother fell ill any further, before her father was lost to his fury... She was tense enough, her core stretched thin and twisted narrow, and she felt as if she could burst at any moment.
Bernard seemed to take her advice in stride, however, and walked back inside. “A’right.”
* * *
The goddess’ ruby eyes stood out from her raven head, the stare of regal judgement hanging heavy amidst a long string of lustrous black.
“Three pieces, made of the finest Tahitian pearls… They are pretty, aren’t they?”
The snake quietly slunk around the imagined wrist, its multi-tiered coil a smooth glide to its proud silver head.
“‘Ta-hee-shan’? And oh, they are beautiful, Rickie. Why does Mummy keep them away? She ought to—”
“I think she ought to keep them away as they are; away from nosy things like you. I told you, we’re not allowed to touch them, Gia. We’ll have to leave if you keep reaching for them like a starved little magpie. I won’t have Mum cross at me for something you did.”
The droplets seemed almost paltry in comparison: two fat pearls, each perched precariously within their own gold frames in the shape of even fatter teardrops.
The designs were out of fashion, but the pieces were so extravagant that the family had gained a small share of fame from them. Omne trium perfectum, Thomas Alcott had declared of his wife’s work—strangely enough, the three of them did complete each other in a discordant sort of way.
Gia pulled back her hand, scowling. “What was the point of telling me all this, then?”
“Because they’re Mum’s, a
Rickie smiled at her then. He continued smiling for the next five years, when the smiles gradually grew small, thin and empty.
And then he vanished, like summer wind, and their silver goddess along with him.
* * *
Alcott boy still missing with pearls
Mrs Alcott distraught, Mr Alcott calls for more search parties
There remained half a photograph on the soaked and torn paper, all but blended into the asphalt, and mud tracks had run throughout the page, making it impossible to determine what the subject of the picture was. Gia gazed at it; it really was pathetic-looking, a downtrodden and worthless piece such that it was painful, almost shameful, to see it persist in simply existing. She suddenly felt a large flare of resentment towards it.
Gia looked up, and stared. He looked incredibly familiar.
“I’m the pianist,” he offered at her facial expression. A fedora sat rakishly on his head, black curls tumbling past his eyes.
She stood up, slowly, as if her knees would crumble underneath her. Her hand gripped the pearl bracelet in her coat pocket with a new force. Her chest burned; it was as if a droplet of water had hit her, and where it should have gone damp, it burst into flames instead, hissing and crackling and biting and utterly piercing—
Gia was beyond fury.
“Yes, you are,” she said quietly. “How dare you? Do you know how much—”
“You don’t understand,” he interrupted, equally quiet, sounding urgent. “I can’t... I can’t, on my good conscience, tell you and have you dragged into this sad, sordid affair—”
“Why does she have the pearls?”
“Damn it, Gia.” He took off that silly fedora, ran a hand through his dyed, silly black curls.
The fire seethed, devoured every excuse she had ever given him to their parents. She felt full, utterly bursting with a fountain of emotion that so completely overwhelmed her, she had hardly any comprehension of it.
“Damn you,” she spat.
“Collateral,” he blurted at the same time. “She’s... an insurance that if I... if I botch up the job...”
There was a long pause, where the air stilled and the atmosphere settled around them like a silent blanket, leaving them damp but sweltering in an oppressive, inexistent heat. A shot of lightning streaked across the sky; a clap of thunder followed its brother’s shadow, cleaving the air like the crack of an ethereal whip.
“What have you done?” Gia whispered, what seemed like millennia after. The flames stopped licking, and slowly, very gradually, retreated into a dark, endless ravine.
She could see the gaping maw beckoning in her brother’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, Gia,” he murmured. “I’ve... I’ve lost the pearls.”
Gia could feel her eyes widen in horror, and as he turned to leave, she yelled—
Three tiny thunders rang throughout The Ivory Tusk.
Three deafening shots.
Chaos was hardly the word as Gia ran inside and was nearly run over by a panicked crowd; masses of bodies fleeing for their lives, unhurt but terrified. Climbing on top of each other, a sea of people caught in a self-made storm; drained away by the gradually emptying doorway, until none was left but a figure, sprawled in front of the stage, as if an offering returned by some unsatisfied sea-god.
The tightly curled, glossy brown hair slowly lost its shine, the feathers in her hair no longer dancing, but limp, filling up with a morbid red ink, spilled around her head. Black pearls dotted the floor haphazardly, individually.
When I’m alone with only dreams of you…
As the goddess wept liquid ruby, Virginia Alcott felt the uncomfortable warmth of the silver snake curl against her wrist.
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