“Before I start, let me get one thing out of the way. Bo, did it not occur to you that the gun that you held to my head was the gun that my father gave you?”
What a way to start. She was upset with the rough treatment and accusations. Now she had our attention and she wasn’t holding back.
And even though she’d just admitted to being a traitorous double-crosser, I couldn’t hate her. I couldn’t sustain outrage the way Ringo could. Young and naive, I guess. But the flames of my love wouldn’t go out that easily.
“Mitts, you know I would never—”
“Of course, I know that. And it would have misfired anyway. But before you ever do something like that again, just imagine my dad watching, alright?”
“Perhaps you can understand,” said Ringo, “how that is hardly of paramount concern while at this moment Lorenzo is whisking away a substance comparable to an atomic bomb into the hands of an international criminal mastermind. If he drinks it, it could give him tremendous psychic powers to do vastly more evil. We should be pursuing them right now!”
Dimity stood in the center of the living room hanging her head sideways and rubbing her hair in a towel between her hands.
“No. That’s not what Lorenzo is doing. As soon as you bring me that cup of tea, I can set your minds at ease.”
Ringo’s pale face suddenly flushed. His eyes were red, his mouth taut. He threw back the rest of his whiskey, clocked the glass down on the serving table, and disappeared into the kitchen. Dimity cast her doe eyes at me.
“Possum, would you see if there is a dry shirt upstairs? Some pants and knickers would be great too.”
As I plodded up the stairs I muttered the word “knickers” to myself, over and over, terrified that I might actually find some ladies’ foundations and be forced to carry them.
I don’t know why I was surprised to find, in a rear bedroom, an entire wardrobe and a chest of drawers filled with the complete spectrum of women’s apparel: blouses, silk shirts, flannel, turtlenecks, pullovers and button-downs. There were camisoles, chemises, corsets, bodices, and brassieres. B-cup, C-cup, D-cup, long line, plunge, push-up, bullet bras, and strapless. Pencil skirts and A-lines and box pleats. Capri pants and slacks, cargo pants, jumpsuits, harem style, palazzo style, and jodhpurs. Denim, wool, rayon, dacron and silk, crinoline, gabardine and sanforized twill.
And yes. There were knickers. Undies, bloomers, ruffle panties, long johns, briefs, slips, girdles, garter belts, tap pants, petticoats and lingerie.
Overwhelmed with choices, I grabbed a collection of items at random and carried them downstairs. I laid them on the coffee table. She looked down at them and then up at me.
Once we had all put on dry clothes (men and boys’ clothes aplenty were in another upstairs bedroom), we gathered again in the living room with cups of hot tea. Ringo poured bourbon into his tea; when I looked at him, he shook his head.
“If you think I intended to give more power or weapons into the hand of Poignard, you could not insult me more deeply. That man has done my family immeasurable harm. If you don’t mind I can give a little background.
“My father was a British broadcaster for pirate radio, playing contraband American jazz, bebop, and swing music, and reporting suppressed news stories, stories of lynchings in the American south, stories of labor conditions in the mining companies of Botswana, Stalin’s murder and starvation of his own people as he shook hands with Churchill and Truman. My Dad was a recognized voice on the underground airwaves.
“Furthermore, he used black market connections to help UK citizens from London to Bristol to Birmingham to endure the era of austerity after the war mainly by defrauding the aristocracy who had profited from the carnage, the most notorious of whom was Poignard.
“I heard talk about Poignard from my earliest years. He was a munitions tycoon during the first world war covertly selling bullets and bombs to both sides. From there he only grew in power and influence through generating chaos and mayhem. It was he who engineered the collapse of the Wall Street Stock Market in 1929. Few people know that his shadow money funded the creation of the atomic bomb.
“Poignard learned of my father’s operation in London, that it was making no small profit and growing in influence. He offered to sponsor my dad’s efforts, anonymously at first, but later they met in person. Over the next three years my dad learned of the vast web of corruption and money that Poignard controlled, and he came to plunder the plunderer, so to speak, filching millions from his coffers.
“When Poignard made a bid to buy out Dad’s whole operation, he discovered the embezzlement. But by that time, we had been secreted to Australia where we set up a new life. We vanished: got new names, new visas. My parents even got medical surgeries, some very painful, to change their appearance. Poignard never found us. But he did discover the shtetl where my mother was from in Latvia. And he asked Stalin to gas the entire village to make certain there were no survivors of my mother’s extended family.
“We lived with other refugees and artists and secret operatives in Freemantle, south of Perth. My Dad became the head of the underground there, but his power did not go unnoticed. While I was learning to surf, spearing overly-aggressive boys in the throat, and putting seasoning salt on my jellyfish stings, Dad was chartering cruising ships to move agents from shore to shore, distributing new technologies and arms to freedom fighters in unknown wars, the kind of conflicts that were overlooked by the newspapers.
“We eventually had to make a run again, this time to America, to a city as non-descript as its name: Akron, Ohio, the rubber capital of the world. A haven for Presbyterians and the hometown of Clark Gable.
“We’ve been there about a year trying to stay out of Poignard’s gaze. But here we find ourselves at an advantage over him, an opportunity to strike.
“Now comes the part that the two of you have been waiting for—thank you for listening to my little history.”
“Yes,” said Ringo. “Please drop the other shoe so we can figure out how to intercept Lorenzo.”
“That won’t be necessary. Do you remember the day that you two zoomed off on a motorcycle leaving me behind? Lorenzo drove by and hustled me into his car. While his thugs were tying me up, I offered to steal a draft of the elixir for him for a ridiculously low price of ten thousand dollars. He was intrigued. I was just a stupid girl in a small town, right? What do I know? He said my treachery was admirable, but that he didn’t need my help. We were at that moment on our way to seize the brew you had just made.”
“Fortunately, that batch was inert,” said Ringo, “due to the lack of the talisman wooden spoon.”
“Yeah, the spoon I paid for with my own flesh,” I added. “I still have welts on my backside.”
“Right, the brew was inert. A couple of days later, who do we stumble onto at Tanaquil’s house but Lorenzo, sitting on her couch. Apparently, they were old acquaintances. We learned that Ringo had been shot and was convalescing on a reservation in Michigan. We went in separate cars to find you, Ringo. Lorenzo and his thugs followed behind us more slowly.
“At first, you were determined not to give Lorenzo any of the elixir. But you met with him. You spoke with Lorenzo, didn’t you. You agreed to give him a bottle of the new decoction we planned to make when we got back to the forest estate in exchange for amnesty. And he would take it back to Poignard. The handoff would take place near your brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“I too saw Lorenzo that day, skulking around the reservation. I locked eyes with him from a distance. He looked at me and gave a cordial smile as if to say, ‘I remember your offer, little girl, but again I don’t need your assistance. Ringo will hand it over to me himself.’
“I saw a new chance to strike at Poignard. I would taint the elixir before you handed it off to Lorenzo. Poignard would receive the fatal draft from Lorenzo’s trusted hand.
“All I had to do was compromise the new draft before the handoff. Everything was going according to plan. You two made the new brew in your laboratory while I was at Tanaquil’s house. But when I told her what was afoot, making a new brew to hand over to Lorenzo in exchange for being left in peace, she was outraged. And again, my plan collapsed.
“She was insistent that the brew should not be made at all, and certainly not given over to him. There I was, sitting in her lounge (Chrischilde had only moments earlier been murdered and she was despondent) and she commissioned me to write a letter to you forbidding you to proceed and to send it by her carrier owl. Are you following all this?
“Barely. Why did you go to her place to start with?”
“Because of you, Bo. I couldn’t stand to see you savagely beaten with that silly spoon. I saw what was coming, and it broke my heart. I said I was going for a walk. But I ran down the highway back to Tanaquil’s house. She was strong, someone I could trust.”
“I see it now,” said Ringo. “While we were all out walking the forest, introducing Bo to some new…friends, you snuck in and seized the new brew.”
“And you…compromised it?”
“And how did you do that? You can’t just put strychnine in it. That will not work.”
“While Bo and I were on the run from the Beaux Voyous in the Lancia, we stopped in at a little church. You remember, Bo?”
“Yes. You pilfered some vials from the sacristy! And a crucifix. Unbelievable.”
“Right. One was holy water; the second was anointing oil. The third I was unsure of at first. But I tasted it and it was bitterly salty, and then I realized. It was saltwater from the Dead Sea, at the bottom of which lie, according to tradition, the ruins of the cursed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Divine judgment still swirls in its waters. These three I put into the elixir, took the Lancia, and drove here. Lorenzo was still expecting to meet you, Ringo, in that alley with the promised elixir, but you weren’t coming. I showed up and acted as your emissary. Our previous encounters quelled any suspicion.”
“You gave him a compromised elixir?”
“With holy water?”
“Yeah, and anointing oil, and Dead Sea water.”
Ringo looked around the room for a moment bewildered.
“And you know this will work…how?”
“It stands to reason. Poignard is pure evil. He’s like Nosferatu, a blood-sucking demon. Holy water will burn him alive from the inside. Mingled with your brew and its semi-magical powers it will either kill him, drive him to madness, or perhaps turn him to good. I can’t be sure.”
“It might do nothing at all! It’s possible that you merely rendered my elixir inert again!”
“Look, it’s the closest anyone is going to get to Poignard. It’s the best chance we’ve got to stop him.”
“You’ve placed us in unimaginable jeopardy, my dear. What if nothing happens except that he realizes he’s been double-crossed! Then he’ll really come after us. We have to intercept Lorenzo and stop the whole transaction.”
“What? You can’t be serious! We stand a chance at taking down a global criminal.”
“We also stand a chance at merely drawing the insatiable ire of a global criminal.”
“Ho! Well, my family already knows what that’s like.”
Ringo’s eyes went to something outside the front windows.
“Get on the floor!”
Machinegun fire exploded around us, shattering the windows, bursting the light bulbs, plunging us into darkness except for the muzzle flashes of multiple shooters on the street in front of the house. The Beaux Voyous lit up the night and we three scattered on the floor.
Dimity and I crawled toward the back of the house under shards of falling glass and debris. I only caught a quick glance at Ringo who was flying up the stairs, to what purpose I had no idea. We two went out the back door. The rain had stopped, the world was still wet. And a dim blush of sunrise was mounting in the east.