Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Tea and Abby

The young ladies at Miss Pettijohn’s were abuzz with the news of the wide array of visitors hat turned out for Abigail Raintree three days after she had moved in. At first Miss Pettijohn had vetoed the gentleman callers in no uncertain terms. Then the mysterious one in the cape grinned at her, and Miss Pettijohn sent for tea, sandwiches, and Abigail in one breath. The visitors were cloistered in the parlor, and when Miss Pettijohn left them to return to her room, every young ladies’ ear strained for the parlor door. Dalia, in top form, had edged her way to the front of the crowd and was listening intently. She had taken great care that none of the visitors had seen her on the way in, although she had resisted great temptation to wink at Benjamin. Shalimar was right, he was good. As she listened outside the door, it sounded exactly like he was helping their side instead of Shalimar’s side.

Inside the parlor, Father Stewart threw up his hands in disgust. “Miss Raintree, you didn’t see fit to notify the authorities of your aunt’s disappearance?”

Abigail’s hands shook as she held a teacup. “No, Father. I thought sure she’d come home by now. You don’t think anything serious has happened?”

“Food for worms now,” Forte said. He put down his cup of tea, which he had been sipping in an effort to imitate and annoy Broadstead. He looked over his audience. Broadstead scowled at him, Father Stewart shook his head in disbelief at both Forte’s remark and Abigail. Benjamin seemed only to be paying slight attention to the proceedings. Abby looked worried, and Forte imagined he’d be the one to console her, poor thing. Her teacher friend, Miss Armstrong, was oblivious to him. She stared raptly at Broadstead, eyes glazed. What a waste. What that cute blond saw in him. Forte’s stomach did flip-flops thinking about it. “How long ago did you say your aunt left, Miss Raintree?”

“Three days ago.”

“Do you think they got her, Andrew?”

“I hope not,” muttered the priest.

“Well, don’t worry Miss Raintree,” said Forte, honey dripping from his tongue. “We’ll find your aunt and put her out of her misery.”

Abby recoiled while both Broadstead and Benjamin hit Forte. Forte immediately sported a what-did-I-do look.

Father Stewart tried to speak soothingly. “Miss Raintree, did your aunt tell you exactly the kind of work I do?”

“No, sir. But I assume you hear a lot of confession.”

“I am an exorcist, my dear,” the priest said patiently. “Although it’s a little out of my usual line, right now I am hunting vampires.”

Broadstead looked at the ceiling, trying to disconnect himself from such lunacy. Juliet, however, did not let him escape neatly. “Professor Broadstead, surely you don’t think—”

“Young lady, of course not! I—” Broadstead stammered a little, “this is a highly fascinating delusion, and I am researching it for my studies. But I do know that some sort of band of brigands poses a real threat to New Orleans.”

Juliet’s faith in Broadstead was restored, and she relaxed, wondering why the bearded man was sniggering.

Fire flashed in Abby’s eyes as she looked squarely at the father. “Sir, I do not believe in vampires. But if you have placed my aunt in danger, willing or otherwise, I will persecute you to the full extent of the law. Is that clear?”

Forte internally danced with glee. This one had fire and spirit! What a conquest she’d make.

“Quite clear, Miss Raintree. I could expect no less from you. You are your aunt’s niece. We need to find your aunt. We want to help her. That’s why we’re here.”

“Actually,” said Forte, “that’s not why we came. We were looking for your aunt so she could help us kill the monsters.”

Broadstead nudged Forte in the side. Forte had just about enough of Broadstead’s social prodding, but figured he’d wait until he got outside to settle the score with Tubby. You didn’t impress a young lady by getting blood on the tassels in her parlor.

“We don’t need your help,” said Abby haughtily. “Juliet has hired someone to look for my aunt. It’s only a matter of time until she’s found.”

“I haven’t hired anyone,” Juliet said. “A friend is looking for us. But New Orleans is a large city. We should all look. That would be wisest.”

The door opened and faces of curious debutantes peered eagerly in. Chip Hyland dwarfed them. He was covered in mud from the waist downward. “Miss Armstrong,” he spoke breathlessly, “I’ve found Miss Raintree. And you aren’t gonna like what I’ve found.”

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