Archive for December, 2022

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)

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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)

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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)

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