Gray Lace, Part 54

Egad! Chapter 10

Trevor and Jacob celebrate their successful re-swindle of Pettigrew’s very important papers. They have managed to steal back Catherine’s proof of her inherited trust fund. Now, they anticipate an appreciative reunion with her and her friends.

Page 109

Only a few blocks separated The First Bank of Charleston and Jacob’s house of worship, but there was enough distance to hold two conversations at once. Trevor’s and Jacob’s walking speed had them flying past new high-end women’s dress shops, the newest department store, government offices, and several businesses dealing with the cotton textiles and of course, the tobacco industry. None of these caught their interest.

Trevor carried proof of Catherine’s trust fund in his breast pocket, the one pocket closest to his heart. He imagined her smile and hugs of appreciation. He brought out the memories of the few shared kisses that had been enjoyed far too long ago in their swamp. Holding her had felt good and right. Her mouth …

“The look on your face when I disappeared down that ally was enough incentive to pay those lads out of my own pocket,” Jacob hit his friend’s arm. “You owe me, by the way, but no worries. I’ll start a tab.” He quickly placed his arm around Trevor’s shoulders and just as quickly removed it. “Ah, that worked, my plan, it worked, and that, my friend, feels good.”

Trevor acknowledged his friend with a nod and sent his smile into the afternoon sunshine. “It will feel good, yes, it will,” he lightly skipped over a recent animal deposit as they crossed the congested street. “Do you think she’ll get her money?” He yelled over his shoulder to the trailing Jacob.

“Money? Yeah, I paid those fellows,” Jacob caught up with Trevor on the sidewalk and they headed north at a brisked pace. “Those fellows sure appreciated the surprise, yet brief employment. Didn’t they do a good job? They sounded angry but still remembered Pettigrew’s name and,” he nearly hopped in his pleasurable recounting of the events, “and they remembered when to exit. They picked up their cue when I appeared. I loved it.”

“Appearance, yes, we need to appear as if we weren’t successful. You know, just at first,” Trevor slammed his fist into his other hand in his excitement. “We’ll trick Catherine into thinking we failed, and then I’ll pull out these papers and hand them to her.” They cut through a cemetery crowded with ancient tombs and he hastily slid his hand along the top of one stone that read, ‘Live Riotously, and Rest in Peace’. “Yeah, she’ll be in a riot, all right.” He grinned at the memory of her lips on his neck.

Trevor heard the unexpected smack and nearly felt Jacob’s pain. The air had been forced from his friend’s lungs, dirt and mud covered his face and clothes, and his screamed, “Oh, God!” Trevor quickly got down on all fours and stared down into a newly dug six-foot deep grave. He gave thanks to his Lord above them both, as he watched his friend open his eyes and gasp for air and to finally focus. “Are you all right, my good man?” Trevor lay prone and stretched down his arm into the hole, trying to help Jacob out, as they tried to make the grave empty once again. Several tugs and grunts later had both men grabbing their sides in laughter and they sat on the dark mound of dirt.

“Can we be arrested for drunkedness without having had a drink?”

“I doubt it, but we might be arrested for actions against nature,” Trevor pulled several strands Spanish moss off of Jacob’s head and shoulders. “This stuff, what did Catherine call it? Oh, gray lace. Draped over you makes you look like a somewhat beautiful woman.”

Their laughter echoed off the tombstones. Helping one another to stand took enough effort to force a realization. They needed Ross. “We should go get him. We need to move out of the hotel anyway,” Trevor led the way to the ornately designed cemetery gate, but abruptly stopped and asked, “Wait, can’t we check on Catherine first?”

Jacob slumped his shoulders and forced his hands into his pockets. “Best not to. Today’s Thursday,” he mumbled.

“Excuse me?” Trevor titled his head to one side. “Where are they anyway.”

Enough! (until later)

Gray Lace, part 53

Egad!

Trevor and Jacob, acting the part of Lord Coffman’s attorney, are having a business luncheon with John Pettigrew and Mr. Stafford, pretending to research investments, while hopefully stealing Catherine’s trust fund documents. She is hiding in the synagogue basement with Ross, Joann, and Ruth, the unexpected and ill-received friend of Jacob’s.

Chapter 9, page 104

Trevor set his glass down a little too hard for polite conversation. “Excuse me, gentlemen, but I’m a bit confused as to your meaning. You’ve invited me here to discuss an investment, but you’re not mentioning any solid details.” He smoothed the linen luncheon napkin resting on his left leg. “You’ve already forgiven my rudeness of bringing my attorney, without your prior consent,” he gestured toward Jacob and repeated his stage name, “Mr. Jonathan Warren. Is his presence hindering your conversational details?”

“Not at all, your lordship, not at all,” Pettigrew sat a little straighter. The truth is Mr. Strafford and I have had little time to discuss business details concerning this venture.”

Jacob’s acting abilities impressed Trevor when he leaned closer to the table and challenged Pettigrew and Stafford. “Perhaps, gentlemen, you do not have the capital you so easily claim. His lordship should be nervous exchanging his British pounds sterling for American dollars before he reads any details or witnesses any proof of capital down payment. Why would he even desire to invest in your cotton mills or tobacco warehouses without equal foreclosures?”

Jacob’s back and head returned to the comfortable leather chair back. Trevor waited through the lengthy silence. He wanted to lightly tap Jacob’s foot under the table as a sign of “well done”, but he didn’t dare to chance it.

Stafford signaled the waiter, thus concluding their luncheon. “He’s right, John. It’s time. Let’s take a short walk over to The First Bank of Charleston. I’d hate to lose an opportunity like this. It was a lucky bit of fate we became recent neighbors, and you’ve told me you have the ready capital in your safety deposit boxes. Let’s give these fine gentlemen some confidence in our abilities.” he stood and turned as if he expected to be followed.

When the waiter returned and Stafford pointed to Pettigrew to sign for the expensive lunch, Trevor wanted to laugh, badly, but he contained his glee and shifted his positive attitude into hope. He wished to find an opportunity to privately search for and find Catherine’s proof of her trust fund’s existence. He longed to overcome the many obstacles that could very well stop this slight opportunity. His optimism faded and pessimism nudged its way into his head. What if Pettigrew had already destroyed the needed evidence?

Trevor and Jacob left the restaurant and crossed the crowded street. They passed between a rare but handsome new Ford automobile and a nearby carthorse neighing out his hunger or pained impatience. The old stallion nearly pounded Trevor’s foot into the pavement. “Good God!” He jumped out of the way and into a shallow mud puddle.

“Steady on. Where’s that famous British upper lip?” Jacob teased.

With Pettigrew and Stafford several feet ahead, Trevor changed the topic, “We’ll need a diversion. What will do? How do I get a chance to search through his papers?”

“We’ll think of something,” and abruptly Jacob left him, disappearing down a narrow side ally.

A baffled Trevor jogged to catch up with the other two. Stafford held the bank door for him and looked puzzled, “Where’s Mr. Warren?”

Trevor thought fast as he passed through the door, “The necessary.”

“Ah,” Stafford nodded in understanding.

The three gentlemen entered into the bank’s low echoes off the dark wood and shiny floors. Hunched-back bank tellers suspiciously stared at him over their desks and counters. They nodded in recognition to the other two. One of them must have discreetly notified the management of the entrance of important clients. Their wait was brief.

“Mr. Pettigrew, how may The First Bank of Charleston be of service to you today?” A ramrod straight back and totally black ensemble greeted them with a grin that showed white teeth but eyes that showed nothing. This one had not been hunched over a desk in quite some time.
“I need to check my safety deposit boxes, all of them, and oh, yes, we’ll require a private and secure conference room.”

“Of course, Mr. Pettigrew. I’ll just get my ledger. Would you or your guests require any refreshments during your meeting?”

“No, not at this time,” Pettigrew waved him off like a fly in his face. He turned to Trevor and witnessed Jacob hurry through the door to join them. He was stopped by an overweight and over diligent guard. Pettigrew yelled, “What’s the problem there?” as if he owned the place, which he probably did. Trevor kept that thought to himself.

Trevor suggested, “You might want to introduce Mr. Warren. Your guard is a bit overprotective.” Hoping for Stafford to handle that situation, he hovered by the already suspicious Pettigrew. Stafford did hustle to the front door, introduced Jacob to the guard and walked him back to the waiting men. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Warren. I really don’t understand how this bank could hire guards who have such limited discrimination skills.”

“What happened, Warren?” snapped Pettigrew.

“Oh, nothing of concern,” he brushed himself off and sent a private smirk to Trevor and whispered, “I guess all lawyers do look Jewish.” He shrugged a grin and Trevor hoped they could really laugh over this entire episode with the others soon.

The black suit returned and escorted the four into an office. It was a good size for a small meeting such as theirs, but the length of the table, ornately carved chairs, and the surrounding marbled-topped sideboards held more lemon oil and bees’ wax than the entire British Museum.

Pointing to the buffets, the manager informed them of the obvious, “The refreshments are available, if you should change your mind, Mr. Pettigrew. There’s coffee, various teas, creams, sugars, and delicious pastries, Sir, your safety deposit boxes will be brought up from our secure basement vault momentarily. If you require any additional services, please do not hesitate to ask.”

Much to Trevor’s surprise, the man bowed to him, “Lord Coffman, it’s an honor for the First Bank of Charleston to welcome you.” He handed over a business card. “I hope you’ll enjoy your stay with us. If you find yourself in any type of need, my family lives just a few blocks away, my wife and two beautiful daughters.”

Trevor coughed back a laugh at society’s marriage market. He thanked the manager and watched him answer a discreet knock on the side door. A clerk rolled in a short trolly carrying several metal boxes. After he placed them on the sideboard, the manager unlocked each one. “Gentlemen, let me know when your business is completed.” He left leaving his junior clerk to follow and quietly close the door.

Pettigrew fished out of his vest pocket a tiny key ring and unlocked the second lock on each box. From the top of the first box, he removed a package of papers tied with a dark blue ribbon and set it aside. He carelessly turned the boxes using the covers as levers, thereby knocking the package to the floor. The ribbon slipped apart sending the individual papers into a fan of information. With a sigh of frustration, he announced, “There’s not enough room because of the ridiculous refreshments.”

“Put them up there,” Jacob suggested, “out of the way. We’re only interested in your available liquidity.”

“I know it,” Pettigrew snapped, but followed through. Gesturing to the boxes, he said, “Gentlemen, you can remove and count.” He waved his hands over the filled containers, “These bills are in the highest denominations possible. Feel free to investigate, but please be quick about your decision.” He leaned back against the side table and gleamed a greedy smile.

The commotion and name-calling heard from the lobby had him standing straighter and going to the door. He opened it and witnessed Jacob’s unfriendly guard attempting to hold back five men wearing dirty street clothes trying to enter the bank’s lobby. “Pettigrew! John Pettigrew! We know you’re in here! You owe us money! Get out here, coward, and pay us what’s due!” They had easily pushed the guard to the floor and as he blew his pitiful whistle, a general chaos slithered across the floor.

Stafford clutched Pettigrew’s back and watched the riot over his shoulder. “What is this? What on earth is going on?”

The wide-eyes Pettigrew snapped, “I’ve no idea. I don’t know these men!”

Behind them Jacob silently caught Trevor’s attention and nodded to the sideboard. He jumped at the offered opportunity, grasping the documents and hid Catherine’s future in his jacket pocket. Acting as surprised as anyone, Jacob pushed Pettigrew to one side and watched the men. The angry crowd threw their hands into ugly gestures in his direction, turned and left as quickly as they came.

“Pettigrew, explain yourself,” he used his strongest British lord-of-the manor tone. They had returned to the table and a baffled Pettigrew sat down in a huff. Pointing to the open boxes, Trevor continued, “While I see plenty of capital, this afternoon’s episode has caused a hesitancy on my behalf. I’ll need some time to reconsider your proposal. Good afternoon, gentlemen.”

He marched out with a frown on his face, a silent thankfulness for Jacob’s street friends, and a smile danced on his heart.

Enough! (until later)

Gray Lace, Part 52

Dearest of Readers,

Egad! Word Press informed me that I now have 101 followers. Beside surprise, I am thankful. My muse-in-residence, The Hubs, encouraged me to enter a new episode – Catherine leaves her posh hotel.

Enjoy any holidays in your immediate future and please, stay safe. Eleanor

page 101 (coincidence? I think not.)

The locks creaked when Jacob turned the borrowed key. The hinges on the heavy cellar door were less co-operative, but they too worked. He led his two friends down the worn steps and into the empty large room filled with long scared tables and benches. They marched in a single file down the center isle toward the kitchen.

“Jacob, are you sure about this?” Catherine pulled Joann’s hand in a supportive grip. “Do we really have permission to stay here? They seemed pleased to serve us breakfast last week, but relieved to see out backs when we left.”

He stopped their short parade in front of two dark wood slated swinging half-doors. “They were relieved because the volunteers were worn out. They’s been cooking all morning. These folks are different, my dear ladies, and I’m not talking about their long noses.” He laughed and pushed through the doors and unlocked the second door on the left. “They’ll feed anyone. Hunger is a negative universal attribute.”

“Won’t they be back in here soon to prepare the next meal?”

“No, they only cure hunger one meal a week.”

“Not enough volunteers?” Catherine watched him giggle the key in the lock.

Jacob shrugged and answered, “That’s not the problem at all. The problem, Miss Catherine, is the city council. They won’t allow them to serve more than one day a week, so they choose the day before our Sabbath sundown.”

He walked into the narrow room first and opened the high window for ventilation while Catherine and Joann turned in tiny circles of observation. “Not bad, Mr. Jacob,” Joann fluffed a dusty pillow she had found on one of the two single beds and asked, “Are there any towels, blankets, bed linens? Maybe we should have borrowed some from The Patterson.”

“Now, now, Miss Joann, no smirking, and stealing, and such. Yes, I was told there’s some in the pantry on the other side of the kitchen. He stood in the doorway and leaned against the frame. “I assured my contacts that this place would be left in better condition that what we found it and I know you lovely ladies won’t make a liar out of me.”

Catherine placed her hand on his arm, gave his cheek a kiss of appreciation, then dripped her speech into southern honey. “You do realize, don’t you, that it’ll be as easy as sweet potato pie to sweeten this room.”

His warm grin made him laugh until they heard the crash of dishes resounding through the wall. Instantly Jacob gave the universal quiet sign. He left them both wondering and anxious. They placed their bags on the beds, stared at each other and waited. The sound of an opening door, Jacob’s earthy four-letter word and a female’s short scream of surprise soothed their fears enough for them to investigate.

“What the hell?” Jacob asked into the next room. Catherine and Joann rushed to him.

“Jacob? Oh, my dear God! What are you doing here?” The young female voice tersely questioned him. “Wait. Here, let me get this mess up. Be careful or you’ll step on a sharp piece. I dropped the pitcher and bowl.”

“Obviously,” Jacob’s growl and stiff back stopped Joann and Catherine from seeing into the room.

Catherine reassuringly patted his back. “Jacob, may we help?” She tried to poke her head over his tall shoulder then she tried between his bent elbows.

“Oh, sheesh,” he sent his fingers through his hair in a male sign of frustration, but he did step aside, and he allowed Joann and Catherine to study a beautiful woman trying to pick up pieces of broken blue and white China from the floor. She stood to look at her audience using her deep shades of dark soft brown eyes.

After an awkward moment Joann bent to help her and she commanded, “Jacob, where are your manners? Introductions are needed.” She stood and waited, holding a few pieces of the broken China. “Also, please tell me, is there a broom and dustpan with those sheets and towels you spoke about?”

He hesitated, “This is Miss Ruth Bookman.” He turned his glare on her as she stared back as if pleading him not to ask his next question. “It is still Miss is it not?”

“No,” she whispered and lowered her head.

The three ladies startled when Jacob slammed his fist against the door, marched out and yelled over his shoulder, “Lock the door behind me, Miss Catherine. I’m late for an appointment with Trevor.”

Enough! (until later)

Gray Lace, Part 51

Egad!

I had no idea. The number of parts surprises me. Either my novel is too long, or I am a lazy blogger. Maybe both. Maybe this is all right. I’ve decided not to make an issue out of it, but to persevere.

Catherine Randolph has justly earned her attributes of a survivor. As a young lady she was kidnapped from her early 20th century upscaled Charleston, South Carolina home, escaped, made herself useful in a rustic kitchen serving a gentlemen’s hunting club, ran into the surrounding swamps, learned to jump a freight train, disguise herself as a housemaid, and withdraw from that mess to plan her revenge with the help from a few of her friends: Trevor Coffman, an English gentleman, Joann and Ross Garret, a bi-racial couple of brave cooks, and Jacob Newsome, a fleeing Jewish journalist.

Yes, I do run on.

Part 51, page 98, The Patterson Hotel suite of Lord Trevor Coffman

“What’s all the racket?” Trevor forced a retreat from a restless and worried sleep to investigate. “At this hour the news can’t be good.” Then a vision of Catherine in his tight hug flashed across his anxious mind. “Yes, it could be good,” he mumbled as his trousers slipped over his hips. Hastily pulling a white linen shirt over his head, he rushed into their parlor and smiled at the entire company doing the same. The Garretts and Jacob waited for their next move.

“Catherine?” Joann wishfully asked the same fearful question they all thought.

Trevor’s pace toward the door quickened, but Ross was faster. “Let me.” To Joann he signaled for her to disappear and added a smile to soften the command. She glared but understood. “Better safe than sorry, my love,” he whispered.

The knocking stopped. “Lord Coffman? I need a word please, sir. It’s Homer McBride. Remember, I’m the Patterson’s manager?”

Ross opened the door. “Sir, what can we help you with at this unusual hour?

From across the room, Jacob smiled in appreciation for Ross’s rapidly strengthening talents as a gentlemen’s gentleman, instead of a backwoods chef.

“Is the earl available?” The manager’s nose went a half an inch higher. Ross suspected that would have been a full inch if Joann had answered the door.

“He is, although with all this noise, I cannot understand why he would want to be.”

Trevor waited for Ross to allow the manager to come in the room before he acted as if he had just done the same. He threw his arms into the sleeves of his dressing robe to cover his open shirt. He lifted his chin higher than his guest and found it wasn’t easy. “What is it?”

“Lord Coffman,” the visitor nervously jerked an overdone bow from his waist. “There’s a commotion downstairs caused by a young woman of the street.”

Trevor couldn’t help himself, “Of the street?” He did manage to hide his relief. He knew it was his Catherine but wondered about ‘of the street’.

“Yes sir, she’s dressed as a maid, caught sneaking through the downstairs window, but at this hour, what else could she possibly be? I ask you.”

“Why would this episode in your basement concern me?”

“Sir, she’s demanding to speak to your servant, Mr. Garrett. Quite frankly, I would have called the authorities but …”

“Yes?”

Mr. McBride sighed in frustration, “She’s locked herself into the necessary and the police would most likely bring reporters.” His nose rose another inch. “Lord Coffman, The Patterson will not be embarrassed on my watch.”

“No, of course not,” Trevor hid another smile. “Why don’t I send Mr. Garrett with you downstairs to see if he can be of assistance.”

Trevor didn’t have long to wait. Joann didn’t have to ball up more than one of her embroidered handkerchiefs and Jacob didn’t complete the notes he was writing before Ross returned with Catherine. Her enthusiastic hugs and kisses pleased everyone, especially Trevor since he was first.

Jacob had stood beside the writing desk and hugged her back when his turn arrived. “Well, my dear girl, two questions: where are your shoes and is everything tidy and well downstairs?” The laughter healed and helped the group relax into a circle of friendship and conversation.

Catherine stepped back and pulled a few papers from her blouse. “Please read these. I’ve serious concerns about both of the Pettigrew men. They’re violent.” Her hesitation brought Trevor’s attention and his hand to her neck and shoulders for a hug of encouragement. She continued, “They might be more organized than I had given them credit.” Her whisper sounded like an afterthought.

Jacob leaned forward to take his turn to read the papers. “Organized to what end?”

Catherine pointed to the insurance policies, “Why buy expensive life insurance on Mrs. Pettigrew when she has plenty of her own money, but even more curious is why buy a policy on Al Farrell?”

“Who is he?” Jacob asked.

“He’s the leader of the Charleston Four,” she could barely be heard, “The wonderful gentlemen who accidentally introduced me to the Garretts.” Her sarcasm soured her smile. “There’s only three now. One died in our swamp.”

“Oh, yes, I remember you had mentioned this on the train,” his eyebrows wrinkled. “How did you manage to rid the world of that one?”

“I’m not sure,” Trevor answered for her, “An unidentified bullet hit him before he could harm our dear girl. Anyway, that’s a good question, Catherine, and I have a strong assumption about the answer. There appears to be a lot more going on around us than we had first thought.”

Jacob laughed, “What else besides murder and kidnapping?”

Trevor started his pacing, “Catherine’s question about the policy on Mr. Farrell centers around the organization assumption. The Pettigrews need further investigation.” He stopped to stare out the window as he listened to the group behind him.

“Well, one thing is for sure. Catherine should not return to the Stafford’s or the Pettigrews”. Ross sat back in his spot next to Joann and held her hand. “Both Joann and Catherine need to be hidden if we still plan to retrieve the proof of her trust fund.”

Jacob put his hands behind head, leaned back and stared at the ornate ceiling. “I’ve been working on that. Do you fine folk remember the kitchen in the basement of the synagogue?”

Enough! (until later)

Gray Lace, part 50

Egad!

In my Gray Lace, pages 97-98, my two antagonists, John and Jared Pettigrew, show their wicked sides. If this scene offends, I apologize. Sometimes life does that.

Catherine is hidden in plain sight under a side table as this scene progresses and she must decide when to escape with her proof of her stolen trust funds.

Her childhood memories flashed. This is the spot where she had studied math questions and played paper dolls while her father had worked on his “homework”. Now she waited and prayed and clutched the papers to her chest. She scuttled as far back as she could to the wall, thinking there used to be more room under that table.

John and Jared Pettigrew marched in followed by a wailing Cynthia. “Light the lamps, Jared. And Cynthia, shut up! We’ll handle this. Haven’t we before? Now, sit down and listen. If you can’t stop that ridiculous sniffling, then go to bed.” He threw himself into Peter Randolph’s comfortable leather chair.

Catherine knew he could possibly see her. Her father often had. He would talk her through those enjoyable math questions or ask her about whatever afternoon adventures her dolls were experiencing. However, now, she focused on the tiny objects blocking Pettigrew’s full view of her. A chessboard table had been placed a few feet away. She bent down an inch more and begged the knight and castle to shield and protect.

“That damned overly chatty Englishman kept at us. What’s he after?” Jared jammed his hands into his pockets, stood with his feet apart, and pointed his chin higher.

“Not sure,” his father offered in a mumbled response. In a stronger voice he raised his head and announced, “I have an appointment with him tomorrow. He wants his attorney with him to conduct some business.”

Cynthia timidly asked, “What kind of business?”

“Shut up, bitch! I warned you!” He stood up so fast the chair rolled back and hit the bookcase. The loud slap startled Catherine and her empathy chilled her when Cynthia’s head slammed against the back of her chair. He sneered, “Now, I’ll get you upstairs.” He shoved his face into hers, “I’m feeling up to the occasion.”

“No, John, not tonight, please!”

“Jared, turn down those lamps when you finish swilling my expensive liquor.” He forced Cynthia to her feet and pushed her out the door. Catherine heard her pleading for mercy all the way up the stairs before their bedroom door slammed.

Jared’s sigh was loud, and he restlessly paced around the room after pouring more than a glass of whiskey was meant to hold. He stopped before the chessboard, his feet facing Catherine. He threw back the contents of the crystal tumbler and moved around a few pieces as if he actually knew how to play. Catherine didn’t breathe. She focused on his hands and her skin crawled when his evil laugh accompanied the king and queen battling out a sex scene, similar to what was happening upstairs.

He threw them down on their kingdoms and left the room forcing the doors to slam. His glass tumbler stared back at Catherine. She spent a moment staring back, breathing and listening, then another one to thank her Good Lord for her current safety. Gradually, she dared to move a few limbs at a time as she climbed out of her childhood cave. She stood at the chessboard, listening carefully for Jared’s possible return. She debated about taking the king and queen with her and she allowed one brief moment of sadness. She left the pieces to defend their own kingdom and she quietly opened the hall door. Peering around the corner, she thanked any lucky stars available that no one was around. The muffled cries from above would be ignored, unfortunately.

Her luck, her stars, and planet alignments herded her out the front door and down the steps. The Patteson Hotel waited to warmly greet her, but she would try the back door first since her maid uniform might serve her once more, even without shoes.

Enough! (until later)

Gray Lace, part 49

Egad!

I want to write a political essay, but I won’t. This isn’t the correct platform. However, I will write, I thought the fear would not get this close. Threats have been made locally to a friend.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

At this moment it feels to be quite “enough”.

Returning to 1908, Charleston, our Catherine survived the disastrous Stafford formal dinner and is now carefully invading her old childhood home, searching for the proof of her stolen inheritance.

Chapter Nine

“Ouch!” Catherine’s toe sent the expected pain to her anxious mind. In the darkened study, she had quickly covered her mouth from spitting forth further noises. Surely, the few servants hadn’t heard her cry out. Her father’s study with plush heavy furniture muffled most of her racquet. Her nose wrinkled in disgust at the accumulation of dust. When she had visited as a child this room had always been invitingly clean.

The muted light from the hall showed her a path around the ornate wooden ottoman. That monstrosity explained her unhappy toe. Maybe leaving her shoes on the roof wasn’t her best idea.

Lovingly she ran her fingers over the smooth edge of his desk. She couldn’t ignore her stepfather’s overly neat supplies. There were no important documents visible or any papers for that matter. There was a large ink blotter, a leather penholder, and a glass ink bottle. That’s it. Catherine recalled teasing her playful and loving father by rearranging his stacks of books and files. She thought of them as building blocks. Never once had he been cross, upset, or heaven forbid, violent. The faint scar on her hairline begin to throb as she remembered that years later John Pettigrew slammed her into the lamp table for being “caught in his study”.

Urging herself to get on with the task at hand, she knew her minutes were few before the Pettigrews would return from the dinner next door. She smiled at Trevor’s attempt to aide her escape. He’s gone to the entrance hall and spoke to the Pettigrews. “Both of you, come back and rejoin us.” He then escorted them back to the Stafford’s elaborate table. “There cannot be anything as delicious as this feast in your own home right now. Well, not better than our company and our lovely hostess.” He had walked to the swinging pantry door and opened it to speak to the servants. He winked at the cowering Catherine and turning to the two footmen, he asked, “Excuse me, but could we continue with this fine dinner? Take your time. I see that you’re short-handed. Thank you.” Trevor returned to his seat and spoke to the guests, “Shall we enjoy a few hours of fellowship? I’m terribly interested in the investment opportunities you spoke about, Pettigrew.”

Catherine shook away her memories of her close call and get away over the two roof tops. She headed to the far study wall and reached to slide one of her favorite paintings off of its hooks as she’s often done under her father’s keen observation and direction. She fondly remembered Winslow Homer’s “A Visit from the Old Mistress”, but this one felt lighter. The frame was different. She whispered out loud, “They sold it!” In its place was a cheaply made flower print. Sadness tried to stop her progress as she recalled the day her father bought the meaningfully important oil painting from an auction held to raise funds for the orphans and war veterans. It was a scene of understanding and compassion and she had loved it.

She managed to delay her anger and she lifted the poor replacement off its hooks. The small safe welcomed her touch as she tumbled in her birthdate. “Please let it be the same combination”, she prayed. The door swung to the right and Catherine excitedly pulled out papers and several packages of cash. She disgustedly threw the money back and started sifting through the deeds, bills of sale, and insurance policies.

Soft muffled voices from below startled her enough to be reminded of her lack of time. Grabbing the forms, she then locked and concealed the safe. While replacing the cheap painting, she felt a niggling feeling that she had left something, but time tugged at her anxiousness.

Zigzagging among the shadowed furniture, she made it to the door before her mind registered the moving door handle. She stuffed the papers into her blouse, scrambled under the nearby long narrow display table and wished for a plan C. As she struggled for stability of thought, she asked herself, “Where’s the blue ribbon? Daddy had her trust fund tied up in a royal blue ribbon.”

Enough! (until later)

Gray Lace, part 48

Egad!

Chaos reigns in the butler’s pantry and Catherine has been sent to assist during the formal dinner with the Pettigrews and Trevor as guests. She gathered the scene together long enough to create its failure.

“Ah, here you are, Miss Catherine.” Raycroft rubbed the sweat from his eyes. “Please pour out the white and two more requested champagnes. Mrs. Stafford’s glaring at our slow deliveries.” A small bell rang softly from the ceiling corner. “Oh drat, I’ve no one … would you … no, she’ll not approve.”

Catherine held her breath, praying he wouldn’t ask, while she poured the golden liquid and uncorked new bottles.

“But I need …” he had balanced a large tray full of platters for the next course with one hand, but he started leaning into the pantry countertop. The tray titled several serving dishes of lobster tails toward their escape onto the floor. Catherine rescued the red shells and gathered his elbow into her side.

“Sir?”

The bell sounded again.

“Good God, my side hurts!” He handed off the rest of the tray’s weight, pushed her aside and vomited into the small sink.

As gracefully as possible, Catherine twirled her tray through the swinging door and into the den of heroes and predators. She had depended on the edit of the rich: ignore the invisible servants.

“Oh really, Aunt Edith, a woman is serving the fish course.” Young Myra turned to Trevor and reminded him that her family did know better. “She should be downstairs!” Placing her hand on her cleavage, she added, “I do apologize for our manners.”

Trevor swung his gaze back to the center flower display.

At that moment, through the heat of embarrassment and fear of disclosure, Catherine would later acknowledge an understanding and empathy for Joann, Jacob, and anyone else trying to survive discrimination. She now knew what the bottom of society’s ladder felt like and she hated it.

She clutched the tray. She didn’t dare to look at Trevor. She stole a quick glance at one of the nervous footmen and turned to face away from the table. He opened the pantry door for her and her lobsters. He followed her and whispered, “I’ll serve these. When I get back hand me the salad plates, two at a time, as I come back with the empty appetizer dishes.”

“Thank you!” Maybe, just maybe she hadn’t been recognized.

When the door swung open a few moments later she heard Jared Pettigrew question his father, “Wasn’t that Catherine?”

The next two salad plates shook in her hands. From behind, Willa timidly informed her that she would remove the dirty plates and that Mr. Raycroft was resting downstairs in his quarters.

“Thank you, Willa.”

The third dish removal came through the swinging doors and Catherine heard Trevor saving her day once again. “Mr. Pettigrew, are Americans using first names of their servants? Do you refer to all of your servants informally or just the forgetful ones?” He took a sip of his wine and smiled, “I’m sure all of us can appreciate how very busy and hardworking Mrs. Stafford’s household servants are tonight. By using their first names are we slipping in our own social ethics, are we not?”

The senior Pettigrew responded, “Of course not, Lord Coffman, and I am sure my son misidentified her, and I’m quite sure she’ll learn not to enter the room again. Possibly you’re right about the amount of excitement downstairs.” He leaned in and rested on his elbows. His own manners slipping. “Maybe it’s you. They’re excited about your lordship’s visit.”

His wife, Cybthia Pettigrew, quietly turned the color of the lobster. “Oh dear, please excuse me.” She pushed back her chair and rushed from the room. Mrs. Stafford stood and started to follow her.

“There’s no need, Mrs. Stafford. I’ll look after my wife. She does have occasional shellfish allergies.” John Pettigrew slowly stood and placed his diner napkin on his chair. “I’ll be just a moment. Please continue with your conversation.”

The others started to enjoy using the silver crackers on the hard shells, but above the crackling sounds they couldn’t ignore the raised voices wafting into the dining room from the main entrance hall.

“Good God, John, it was her!”

“Shut up! Lower your voice, woman!”

Trevor looked around the table and took a moment to observe their shock before he dove into his own panic. He searched for a strategy, a plan, … an anything.

Enough! Until later ; )

Gray Lace, Part 47

Egad!

Catherine quickly and sincerely apologized. The apology’s acceptance swiftly arrived, and Mrs. Stafford returned to her entertainment worries. “I know nothing of this second young man other than he lives with his parents next door and he’s of the right age.”

Catherine stepped back. “I’m finished, Mrs. Stafford. Will there be anything else?”

“Yes, please inform Cook that you’ll be available to help her and her staff. Raycroft might need you, although, I doubt you’ll be used in the dining room.” Lowering her voice, she said, “Those girls are more trouble than a double hurricane.”

Sooner than she expected, Catherine heard Raycroft bellowing his butler commands, “Serve the white wine now, not the red.” The screeching traveled down the back stairs from his pantry next to the dining room through the staff hallways to the stuffy dish washing room.

“Oh dear,” Cook bounced her roundness around the warm kitchen, “He’ll be ready for the fish course now. Are the lobster tails out of the warmer? Salads ready? What about the roasted almonds for the French green beans?”

Catherine lowered her head over the deep porcelain sink. She hid in the shadows and stayed out of the way as best she could while the chatty kitchen maid entertained her.

“It’s very kind of you to help me wash all these dishes tonight, Miss Catherine. I’d have never finished scrubbing those pots even into next week. There’s too many. There’re too many frigging courses tonight for all that blooming royalty.”

“Language, Willa,” Cook disciplined as she hurried by them.

Willa lowered her voice and continued her vent, “Cook could hear a fish fork drop on a plush carpet upstairs, all the way from the third floor.” Louder, she conveyed her apology to the entire kitchen staff, especially to her immediate boss, “Sorry! I’ll not do it again,” returning to her silent but temporary assistant she gushed, “I’d give anything to see the fancy folk upstairs.”

“Maybe you will,” Catherine dried her hands as a hassled footman appeared from around the corner, “Mr. Raycroft, he needs you, Miss Catherine.” Responding to her astonishment, he went on, “He sent me to tell you he needs you to pour the wine.”

He backed up a few steps as Willa prepared to attack, “She’s helping me! What happened to your own two left hands? Why can’t you do it?”

The young man turned red, threw up his hands in surrender, and marched out of the increasingly warm and moist room.

Catherine gently smiled at the younger girl, “It’s all right. We’re finished here until the next course. I’ll come back down and check on you when I’ve seen to this newest crisis.”

She started out when she heard Willa’s plea, “Don’t you ever get hassled, lose your temper?” She took in a breath and her eyes widened, “Wait, I know what it is? I know why you don’t mind helping upstairs. It’s that royalty! Well, at least come back and let us know if he’s a good looker.”

Catherine surprised them both when she wheeled around and deposited a quick hug on Willa. “I’ll do just that!”

Enough! Until next time.

Gray Lace, Part 46

Egad!

A block east of Trevor’s hotel, Catherine carefully shut the ornately carved wardrobe door, so Mrs. Stafford wouldn’t be startled out of the middle of her informative monologue. Her value increased. “So, you see, my dear, tonight’s dinner is important to Mr. Stafford, because he hopes to entice Mr. Pettigrew, our neighbor, into investing in his textile mill.”

“Yes, ma’am. Have you invited the entire Pettigrew family for dinner? Your Kitchen staff, especially Cook, seem exceptionally busy and excited today.” She gathered the discarded undergarments and carefully hung the gowns and picked up the ivory handled brush and began to arrange the lady’s hair for the formal dinner.

“It’s strange you should ask. As you probably already know our nieces from Savannah arrived yesterday. It was truly a surprise. Please don’t misunderstand, we do love them.” She reached for her long white gloves and stretched them in frustration. “Mr. Stafford and I are not used to playing cupid. Are all children like this?”

“Ma’am?”

“Nowadays, do all young ladies expect their relatives to, oh how did Miss Sally word it? Oh yes, ‘arrange things?’ We are childless and we were not expecting this storm of youthful energy and silliness interrupting our plans.”

“I really wouldn’t know. If you do not mind, would you please turn to your left? I need to arrange the style you requested.”

“Of course,” Mrs. Stafford primly turned on the hand embroidered stool, taking the gloves with her. “Suddenly, we need two more men to even the table.” She slapped her gloves against her lap. “Quite frankly, I think Miss Sally and Miss Myra worked their scheme through their father and their uncle.”

Catherine slid a hairpin into the growing mountainous creation. “What do you mean. Mrs. Stafford?” She mumbled through the remaining pin she held between her lips. She removed the pin and began applying some hair cream she intended to never allow near her own head.

Her employer glare down at her gloves and Catherine was unprepared for her answer. “The newest Charleston sensation, The Earl of Warrenwood, Lord Trevor Coffman! Our nieces demanded that we invite him to dinner.” The snap of the gloves brought Catherine back to focus on the slime in her hands, which she had nearly slapped onto her mistress’s neck instead of her hair. “Naturally, we had to invite an additional male and we thought of Mr. Pettigrew’s son, Jared.””

Then her hands did indeed slip.

Enough! Until later

Gray Lace, Part 45

Egad!

Our Catherine Randolph is working undercover as a lady’s maid in a home neighboring her enemy, John Pettigrew, in hopes of searching his house for proof of her trust fund. Meanwhile, our Trevor Coffman is with their loyal friends, Joann, Ross, and Jacob, also working undercover in a Patterson Hotel suite as a wealthy royal and his staff.

pages 83

His lunch tasted dry and worrisome. He stared at his plate and realized he had incorrectly assumed Catherine wouldn’t withstand the workload of a lady’s maid. He lamented his frustrations to Ross in front of Joann. She abruptly stood across the table from him and locked her elbows between the teapot and the serving platter full of cucumber sandwiches. He should have seen the storm coming when she stood tall. Jamming her fists into her hips, she started, “Listen to me, your lordly-ship, today, while you’re struggling to lift your little pinky finger above the rim of your dainty fine-boned China teacup, you’d best remember that heavy hot iron our Catherine is sliding across Mrs. Stafford’s gowns. And I’ll bet you my bucket of expensive wishes, that while she’s doing that, she’s thinking how she hates ironing, but that it’s a lot easier than lifting His Meanness when he’s full of pulled pork or boiling fat back.”

He hid his smile. He loved this woman. He loved that she would defend their Catherine. His Catherine, he hoped. He lifted his head and dared to ask, “His Meanness?” He heard Ross snicker.

“His Meanness, Trevor, you met him back in the swamp, in our kitchen. He’s huge and quite heavy, even for me.”

Trevor stood and faced both Garretts, “The big cooking pot? Are you two trying to tell me Catherine lifted that thing?”

From the sofa Jacob folded the newspaper he had been reading and stood, “Wrong question, my friend. Perhaps try, ‘Why did she have to?’ “

“When she had to!” Joann snapped and went to answer the knock on the hall door and on her way, she continued, “We helped her when she needed it, but that girl can handle far more than you seem to give her credit.”

Jacob and Ross tried to be first but in Joann’s angry huff she beat them to it. The opened door displayed the face of an astonished hotel manager, then his surprise dissolved into a red face full of hate. He pushed Joann to one side using the palm of his hand against her arm.

Trevor admired Ross’s restraint.

When the man reached his side, he turned and rudely pointed at her. “Lord Coffman, while it’s a very great honor having you as our guest here at the Patterson, we request that your staff be respectful.” This speech told Trevor more than he needed to know about the manager’s stupidity.

Trevor swallowed his own anger and managed a smile with a tiny bit of sincerity. In the few months he’s had been visiting, he had been disappointed in the high number of people who deeply resented others who happened to show compassion for another race or gender. He didn’t understand it. Were they afraid of Joann’s race? Could they be afraid of humanity? Did it really run that deep? Was it bred into them from childhood?

Breathing loudly and deeply, he placed his hands behind his back, his favorite debating stance, and he reached for his patience. “Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention,” remembering his father’s lessons in waiting for a moment before speaking. He turned his back to the repugnant individual and walked to the comforting view from the bay windows. Staring in the general direction of the Stafford house, his blood pressure slowed.

“Now, just what is the problem? What exactly has my staff done? My apologies, ” Trevor did not turn around to acknowledge him, “I’ve mentally misplaced your name.”

Continuing to stare out the windows, he asked Joann to close the hall door. Speaking to the room, he added, “We wouldn’t want the other guests to be subjected to any of these problems. Just what again were they, Mr. …?”

“McBride, Homer McBride, Lord Coffman,” the man melted into a nearby chair. Ross raised his eyebrows, which brought McBride back to his feet.

Trevor kept his back to the room, “Continue, Mr. McBride.”

“Your Lordship, there have been numerous stated concerns which we need to discuss in private.”

Trevor turned to face him. “Give me a hint, a general category. I would hate to waste your time or mine discussing a situation over which I have no knowledge.” Keeping his hands behind his back, he began a slow march around the spacious sitting room. “Is it my finances, my behavior, my Charleston associates? I really cannot imagine what scenario you and I have in common. What would concern an innkeeper of such a sophisticated establishment? Just what is your category?” He stopped at the hall door and turned around.

“Sir, it’s … ,” His blush pinked his hollow cheeks, “it’s your staff.”

Trevor bent slightly forward, keeping his eyes boring into McBride’s, “My staff has been misbehaving? Really? It is difficult to believe. We have just arrived. Maybe it’s their exuberance in just being here. I’ll speak to them straight away.” He stood tall and silently signaled to Ross and Jacob to escort McBride to the door. “Now, do not concern yourself. These matters will be handled.”

McBride tugged away from the gentle hold Jacob had on his elbow and faced Trevor. “No, you’ve misunderstood, Lord Coffman. You really need to dismiss members of your staff who are of certain persuasions.”

“Persuasions, sir?”

Sweat glistened on the manager’s brow, just below his receding hairline. He whispered, “Mr. Patterson and His Board of Directors would prefer that all staff be of the same persuasion.”

Trevor’s eyes squinted into a feral tremor while his mouth straightened into a straight line. Ross stepped closer and Jacob sided up to McBride, forming a cage. The manager’s eyes widened, and his neck muscles tightened.

Joann stood frozen across the room.

Trevor decided not to make this easy for the man, besides he had been bored lately. It was time for some fun. “Persuasion, Mr. McBride, whatever do you mean?”

After a fortifying breath he whispered, “The Patterson will not hire nor allow Jews or Africans in our establishment.”

Trevor allowed a bit of a smile as he reached for the doorknob. Leaning on the frame, he said, “Mr. McBride, do you have trouble sleeping?” He opened the door and escorted the man into the hall by applying pressure on his elbow. Not trusting Ross or Jacob to keep their tempers, he shut the door to his hotel suite. “You see, sir, if you sleep well now, enjoy it. You will soon have problems.”

“Why, what are you saying?”

“Well, I for one, would not be able to sleep if I had no income.” They continued down the carpeted hall toward the grand staircase. “I would not be able to sleep if I had a broken nose, or limb, or a life-threatening swamp fever.”

He led him by his elbow until they were looking down into the well of the wide double staircase ending in the lobby below where Charleston’s finest could be seen. He crowded McBride’s toes up to the very edge and kept his elbow in an increasingly tight hold. Trevor presented his plan, “I’ll manage all of my excellent staff, every one of them, and I want to ensure you of my abilities.”

He felt the man’s tremors and waited for his nod of understanding. Trevor dropped his hand, “Enjoy your afternoon, Mr. McBride, and please be careful. Your staff put extra wax on those stairs today. An employee could only display broken limbs for so long before the Patterson Board of Directors would dismiss him for being … of the wrong persusasion.”

He watched McBride carefully descend for a few sweet seconds before he turned back. They now needed to find a different place, perhaps a new identity. He prayed for Catherine as he opened the door to his rooms.

Enough! Until Later