by Diana Killian
Darn, I said, where did that button go?
..........Looking up from my hands and knees I met the bespectacled gaze of a tall and startlingly handsome man.
.....May I help you? He was about thirty, tanned and blond, built along the lines of Errol Flynn-the specs looked like part of an unsuccessful disguise. You don't expect the Errol Flynns of this world to wear frames. The Mr. Brannigans, yes, the Errol Flynns, no.
.....Sure. What did you have in mind? I snatched up an imaginary button. Ah, here it is. I rose.
.....He stared at me like I was a math problem that just didn't add up, and then he whispered conspiratorially, Miss Kelly, I'm David Beauchamp. I contacted Mr. Brannigan.
.....Well, I had hoped so, but if I could lurk in strange dressing rooms, anyone could, and one thing I've learned on this job, it's better not to make assumptions.
.....Pleased to meet you, Mr. Beauchamp. We shook hands briefly. His grip was firm.
.....Beauchamp eyed the door behind me through which we could hear the muffled voices of Evadne and Gloria. Undervoiced, he asked, What have you learned?
.....It's mostly opinion and conjecture at this point, I hedged. 'Nothing' sounded too bald.
.....You can see the state Evadne's in.
.....It's hard to miss.
.....The glasses winked blindly in the overhead light. Has she confided to you her peculiar notion?
.....The curse of the mummy? You know, it's not just your wife, Mr. Beauchamp. Most of the servants believe in this curse business as well.
.....Oh, servants! he exclaimed in a tone that pretty well rubbed out the old Emancipation Proclamation.
.....I opened my mouth, but from some sunny, distant clime a gong sounded. It was either dinner time or they were holding evening sacrifice in the drawing room.
.....David Beauchamp swore. Hell, I'm late again. Then he frowned. Aren't you changing for dinner?
.....I gulped. Dinner?
.....Of course. How in the world are you going to keep an eye on Evie if you aren't by her side every possible moment?
.....This hadn't occurred to me, and I was annoyed with myself. Then I decided I was annoyed with Brannigan. He was the pro, he should have clued me in.
.....The entire tribe had gathered for cocktails in the drawing room by the time I finished cleaning up, and it was clear the Indians had already been hitting the firewater.
.....I realized right away that it didn't matter whether I wore my uniform or not; I was invisible. That was useful. I just sat in the corner wearing my little Simplicity pattern # and watched the Beauchamps doing what came naturally. The only person there that I hadn't yet met was a lad of about nineteen. This had to be the college boy, Drew. He looked like a wicked angel, like Gabriel's kid brother: golden-haired, athletic and ridiculously beautiful. He actually said hello and offered me a drink when I entered the room.
.....Evadne, wearing the blue beaded number, was seated on the long brocade sofa next to Gloria, who wore something tailored and expensive. Gloria was being very cheerful and bracing with her. I'd have decked her, but Evadne didn't seem to mind. She just delicately sipped her high ball and looked faraway.
.....David Beauchamp was even more dashing in a dinner jacket. The elder Beauchamp appeared to be wearing a relic of the Gay Nineties. Maybe he'd dug it up in a tomb somewhere. I noticed he seemed sort of smitten with Miss Klehm, but she flirted impartially with all the gentlemen. Looks-wise she didn't hold a candle to Evadne, but she did have that certain something the tooth powder ads talk about. I wondered where the missing fiancé was.
.....After everyone was well and truly oiled, Betsy popped in to inform us that dinner was served. Dr. Beauchamp swaggered into dinner on Gloria Klehm's arm. David Beauchamp escorted his wife, but he watched Gloria Klehm. I know because I followed on his heels with the youngest son, Drew in tow.
.....Drew was as chatty as he was good-looking. Before we reached the dining room I had been invited to play tennis, had been offered the loan of Upton Sinclair's It Can't Happen Here, and had been informed that the Nazis reintroducing compulsory military service meant big trouble for all of us. I thought that was interesting, since I'd heard Mr. Brannigan say the same thing once or twice.
.....We had barely dipped into our cold cucumber soup (yep, the rich are different from you and me) when Drew brought up the topic of Margaret Mead's recently published Sex and Temperament. It sounds pretty racy, but Mead's big idea, which she got from paling around with some native girls in the South Pacific or same place off the map, was that men and women behaved like they do because of society and how they're brought up rather than anything animal, mineral or vegetable.
.....The way the elder Beauchamp sputtered, I thought maybe he was upset at the combination of sex and soup, but no, he burst out that if this was the kind of tripe they were dishing out at the university, he was wasting his money, and that young Drew and Miss Mead would both be astounded to learn that this was old news, and the women in ancient Egypt had the same legal and economic rights as men-assuming they were lucky enough to be born into the right social class-because the Egyptians, one and all, had known how to do things properly and we could all do well to take a leaf out of their papyrus, or words to that effect.
.....I happened to catch the kid's eye at the tail end of all this, and he gave me a slow, deliberate wink before asking the old gent a few more inspirational questions.
.....The rest of the party ignored the fireworks, calmly eating their way through FOOD.
.....When there was a lull in the storm, someone mentioned that James Henry Breasted had died of pneumonia on his return trip from Egypt. I had never heard of Breasted, although it didn't take a detective to figure out that he was one of their sandy brethren, but I gathered from the chill that fell over the table that he was well known to the others.
.....Evadne's fork clattered down against her plate. She looked like she was going to have another fit, and I recalled that her pop had died shortly after entering Princess Inyotef's tomb. Maybe she thought the curse was contagious. Maybe it was.
.....Everybody sort of eyed her, waiting for the explosion, but Gloria said quietly, Now, Evie, don't be a goose. I guess you can take it if I can.
.....I had no idea what that meant, but it seemed to pull Evadne up short. She offered Gloria an apologetic look and picked her fork up. The entire table seemed to relax.
.....After dinner the old terror excused himself and the rest of us adjourned to the drawing room for more drinks and to listen to the radio.
.....It Ain't Necessarily So came on, and David Beauchamp talked about going to see Porgy and Bess in New York. He smiled at Evadne, and she smiled back-the first time I'd ever seen her smile-and I realized that once upon a time they must have been very happy and in love.
.....Then Blue Moon came on and Gloria cajoled Drew (who didn't need much cajoling) to dance with her.
.....The next dance number Gloria persuaded David to steer her around the tables and little footstools. Drew offered commentary on their performance. Evadne announced she wished to retire, and I followed her up, despite her somewhat testy assurance she did not need a nanny to tuck her in.
.....After I got her settled for the night, I decided to do a reconnoiter. The light was on in the library. I eased the heavy door open and poked my head in.
.....Dr. Beauchamp sat at his desk, poring over a black leather book. Something about his expression caught my interest. Maybe it was the fact that his face was as red as the velvet draperies. As I watched, he scanned another page and then turned it with an angry scrape of sound. His mustache quivered with outrage.
.....I went upstairs, changed into slacks and the same dark blouse I'd worn the night before, and positioned myself in the window seat. After a time, the music downstairs died away.
.....I watched David Beauchamp walk Gloria Klehm across the smooth down the path and disappear into the lemon grove. I could hear her laugh drifting on the breeze.
.....About half an hour passed before he walked briskly back and went inside the house.
.....I waited. The squares of light on the lawn before me disappeared one by one The house settled into silence.
.....I crept downstairs and into the library. Along with the other weird scents, it smelled like Dr. Beauchamp had been burning something.
.....I snuck over to the desk and started looking for the book. It was nowhere to be seen. I tried the desk drawers. Locked. I looked at the shelves and shelves of books. I turned back to the desk, removed a hairpin and jiggled the lock until it opened.
.....Silently, carefully, I slid the drawer open. To my surprise the book lay right there on top of a stack of papers. First try, first drawer-I'd never put that in a story; no one would buy it. I took the book and moved over to the window, parting the heavy draperies so I could read by moonlight.
.....It was a journal. The name on the front page in a clean precise script read Benjamin D. Jones.
.....Eagerly I flipped through the pages.
.....It didn't take long to see why old Dr. Beauchamp had been bristling. That Jones boy had a wicked sense of humor-as evidenced by the number of very unflattering caricatures of his employers and colleagues scribbled in the margins of his diary. What he had to say was even less flattering. Dr. Beauchamp was bloody-minded and barmy. David Beauchamp was blind as a bat, dull as ditchwater, thick as a post, etc. Drew was devious, deceitful, decadent. The only person Jeeves hadn't had a bone to pick with was Evadne.
.....In fact, a few weeks in, there was no doubt in my mind that Jones had been in love with Evadne. What I couldn't tell was whether she returned his affection. He couldn't tell either, but the fact that he openly wondered about it said plenty.
.....I skimmed the pages, then stopped in disbelief and disappointment. The last entry was May, over a month earlier. The following pages had been ripped out, all that remained were the torn paper tongues-silenced forever. I glanced at the fireplace. I didn't need to sift through the pile of warm ashes to know what had happened to Jones's diary.
.....Putting the journal back exactly as I had found it in the desk and closed the drawer.
.....I cautiously opened the library door, eased it shut, turned-and walked right into Drew Beauchamp.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Entire contents of site copyright 2002-2008
by Diana Killian, exceopt where otherwise noted.