Dimity gasped and stiffened in my embrace. Conflicted, I held the gun aslant to her head, just so she’d know it was there but not to threaten her life. Like a cobra, she bowed up for a brief second, her hat falling to the ground. Her chamomile hair brushed against my nose.
When she saw Ringo standing ready and recognized the familiarity of my arm clutching her around the neck, she relaxed, even with a pistol at her head. I think she identified the 1955 Browning by the particular rattle of it in my hand.
After a couple of seconds in this stance, she started to giggle. The damp and cold had made her hoarse.
“Hey pumpkin! You guys made really good time on, what, the motorcycle? Crickey, and I thought it was rough in the Lancia. You shouldn’t have come after me, you know. Oh, and dearest, just so you know? That thing is wet and it will blow up in your hand if you—Cor blimey, Ringo! what are you—?”
Ringo jumped in and pushed me out of the way. He quickly tied her hands behind her back with a cord he withdrew from his pocket and he pulled a woolen hood over her head. He hustled her down the sidewalk. I wondered if she was complying, resisting less than she was capable of.
I followed furtively behind the two of them with my wet pistol, scanning the street for any watching eyes, fearful of what lay ahead. She was not going to be happy about this treatment, and I was cognizant of the fact that Ringo was only vaguely aware of who her father was. I had never seen her angry. I’d only sensed in her the kind of looming intensity that the confidently beautiful possess.
We arrived at Ringo’s brownstone house, all the while Dimity huffing out wooly curses that I could not make out from under the hood. The windows were dark as we went up the stairs to the entryway. He tossed me some keys and pointed at the door with his head.
We scuffled inside, the first time any of us had been out of the rain for hours. He maneuvered her to a couch in the living room, hands still tied behind her back. I began turning on lights and removing wet clothing. Then he lifted the hood from her head.
“Augh! Bloody hell Ringo! Why did you—
“You stole something from me!” he thundered. “Something very precious, something many people would pay dearly to have. And something that, of all the people in the world into whose hands it should not have fallen, you have placed it. And for only a paltry sum of money that could fit in a yellow envelope! What have you done, girl! My God, you may very well have ruined us all!”
There is something about a scolding that Dimity especially does not like. In response, I learned, she does not shout back. Instead, she looks forward and turns to marble.
While she sat there smoldering, water still dripping from her nose, I tried to look busy. Ringo stormed around the living room.
“The treachery! The heartless betrayal! Mere minutes after the decoction completed, the mixture still hot in the bowl! How you managed to sneak in and pilfer it during the short time we stepped away I cannot imagine. And this after your impassioned letter urging me to keep the elixir out of the hands of Lorenzo and Poignard! And then…and then…you turn around and hand it over to them yourself! Traitorous vixen! Are you so keen to curry the favor of international criminals?”
I found towels in the kitchen and a tea kettle which I set over the gas stove. In the pantry there was a box of English shortbread cookies, a bag of dried apricots and a jar of cornichons, and I brought these out to the living room where Ringo continued his torrent of outrage.
“How much did they pay you? It cannot have been much. I’ve seen money, my dear. Even in hundred-dollar denominations, you cannot have had more than one hundred thousand for it to fit into an ordinary yellow envelope! Was that your price, your thirty pieces of silver?”
“Ringo, may I interrupt for a moment?” I said feeling the need to forge a way forward. “Now, I know this looks bad. Mitts, this looks really bad. But I at least want to hear her own explanation. I want to hear her say it.”
I sat beside her on the couch. “Mitts…,” I said softly, trying to rein in the passions flailing about the room, “…did you betray us?”
She was a sphinx. But I noticed she was shivering. I grabbed a heavy quilt laying on the couch and flung it over her shoulders. I had a dish towel from the kitchen and I wiped her face with it, tucking around the sides of her mouth. She closed her eyes as I wiped her forehead and chin and cheeks.
She was still seething—was it from being falsely accused or from being discovered in perfidy and harshly reprimanded?
“Talk to me,” I said.
With a fingernail, I drew the hair out of her face and tucked it over her ears. I continued to pat down her neck. She sat erect on the couch, her hands still behind her.
“Ringo, can we untie her hands?”
Without a word and before I’d finished speaking, she presented her hands freed and twirling a tangle of white cord which she threw on a coffee table. But she allowed me to gently take her hands in the towel and dry them. I moved slowly, looking hard at her face as she firmly averted my gaze.
I had an idea: I had the letter she’d written to me, delivered via Tanaquil’s Great Horned Owl, and I withdrew it from my back pocket, wet but still legible. I scooted close to her on the couch and slowly read the second sentence.
“…Tell Bo I love him and not to worry about me.”
My throat caught as I read.
“‘I love him.’ Those are your words. You wrote that. Mitts,” I took her hand, “did you mean it?”
“Do you remember what you said when we were driving down that Michigan highway…” Still frozen, her eyes turned to me. “…in the middle of the night? The night breeze in our faces, on the run, trying to stay awake? You asked where we would live when we got married. You said you wanted to marry me.
“If you love me and you want to get married someday, then tell us the truth. Because I’m really trying my hardest to be in love with you too. But you’ve made it very difficult. Maybe impossible.”
“Yes,” she said in a simple tone. “I betrayed you.”
The tension broke. The room cracked like an ice tray. I was paralyzed.
“I did betray you. I lied to you. And I stole from you, it’s all true.”
It was not what I’d expected. I slunk back on the couch. Ringo threw up his hands and walked away. Dimity became lost in some dark reverie. Her cheeks were moistened anew by tears that fell from faraway eyes. My own eyes welled up. I cleared my throat and looked at her again.
“So the note that you wrote, that you loved me? That stuff about marriage? Your smiles and kisses all this time? Was it all a lie?”
I felt I’d fallen for a snipe hunt again. A knot twisted in my stomach. It was the end, until she seemed to wake up from her mild hypnosis.
“What? No! You idiot, of course, I love you. Of course, I want to get married. I didn’t mean that was a lie.”
Ringo had lit a cigarette and was shrouded in a column of smoke. With his back toward us, he looked darkly over his shoulder. I had already steeled my emotions in preparation for a breakup.
“No, you great galah! I mean this whole business with the elixir.”
Ringo silently turned to face us again, drawing hard on his cigarette, trying to master his anger and recover his gentlemanly manner. A crystal decanter of amber liquid stood on a teak serving table where he stood and he poured it heartily into a tumbler.
“Galah? What’s a—”
“It’s a bloody bird. A bird, you bleeding… Look, never mind.”
“For the love of God, Mitts. Love and betrayal. They don’t really go together.”
“Oh, don’t you start with me, Bo Mercet! You don’t have the slightest notion of what’s going on here.” She screamed, “Neither of you!”
In the kitchen, the tea kettle started to whistle and we all looked at each other. Dimity stood up and pulled off her wet overcoat and shoes and toweled off her hair.
“Ringo, you cocksure bloody prick, make us all some tea. Earl Grey if you have it. Cream and sugar. I’ll explain everything if you both shut up and listen.”