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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 9: Brown 3
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Previous chapter: Chapter 8: Kondor 44
Derek reached the knife rack, and was trying to decide whether a butcher knife or a meat cleaver was a better choice for defense. He heard Carlo's voice from the hall.
"Sir? Is that you, sir?"
There was a pause, as if someone answered, but Derek couldn't hear a voice. Then Carlo continued.
"You did give strict instructions that no one was to go out, sir. I imagine the others are in their quarters, getting some rest in your absence. But I didn't expect you back, sir."
Again, nothing for a moment. It might have been staged; it might have been madness. It was very convincing. If there wasn't someone on the other end of this conversation, Carlo was very good at pretending there was.
"Can I get anything for you and your guest, sir?" It seemed a butler sort of thing to say, Derek thought. "Oh, my mistake, sir. I thought I heard the jingle of bells, like one of those carnival caps. If that will be all, I should return to the kitchen. I left someone there unattended."
Again the pause came, briefer this time.
"No, sir, not a tradesman. A lost child, actually, sir. Apparently he has been touring the Alps by cycle, and got separated from his group. I was giving him some food, and then had thought to take him into town to see if the police could help him find his group."
This time it was a longer pause; the unheard person seemed to have a lot more to say.
"If you say so, sir. I'll see to it myself."
Footsteps on a wooden floor, Carlo was returning to the kitchen. Think fast, Derek thought. Do I grab a knife or not; do I stay here or return to the table? The footsteps were closing in on him, and he couldn't think fast enough. Think horror film, he thought. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. He grabbed the butcher knife, rushed back, laid it flat on his seat, and sat on it.
Carlo entered the room.
"What was that all about?" Derek asked.
"Oh, the master forgot some important papers, and came back for them. He also said he was going to go down into the wine cellar to select a gift for his hosts. I'm fortunate you appeared."
Carlo looked at Derek and smiled. "It's carnival time. The rest of the household staff all rushed to the party as soon as the master was out the drive. I had a few things to tidy, and wanted to get a bit of lunch before I left, but had you not knocked on the door seeking food and directions I probably would have been gone as well, and the master would have come home to find everyone had disobeyed his instructions to stay here until he returned tomorrow. As it is, I believe that I convinced him the others were mostly napping."
"So, like, I saved your job?"
"You could say so. Would you like more soup?"
"Please," Derek said.
"Master Montresor has instructed that I am to put you up for the night here and arrange to take you to the constabulary tomorrow. Hopefully they will be able to locate your tour and return you to it. Meanwhile, I can offer you a bath and a room for the night."
Derek wasn't interested in taking a bath, but a real bed sounded good. Perhaps, he thought, if he could go through the motions of going to sleep properly he might wake up back home.
He was silent for the rest of the meal; but he learned a lot by listening. Having learned that Derek was from America, Carlo talked about his cousin who traveled to the New World around 1840, and the bits of news that filtered back about his home in New York. That gave him a time frame, and explained a lot of the things he saw around him.
By the time he finished his seconds, he was very weary. Was there something in the food? Probably not, he thought. After all, he should be tired by now, with all he had done. Carlo appeared to be eating the same food. No, he wasn't drugged or poisoned; he was just tired.
"I'm exhausted," he said. "Would it be possible for you to show me to my room?"
"Certainly; I'm sorry–you've been through quite a lot." Carlo rose. "Let me get your things." He walked back toward the entry.
It would be wrong to say that Derek now remembered the knife on which he was seated. It had been in his thoughts all along, painfully reminding him of its presence beneath him. But at this moment he suddenly realized that he was either going to have to explain why it was there or find a way to hide it from Carlo. He opted for the latter.
Sliding the knife out from under his leg, he glanced at the underside of the table. He had only seconds to do this, but it should be easy enough. The leg came up to the bottom of the tabletop, and as he hoped there was a crack where it attached. Wedging the tip of the knife into that crack and moving the handle well out of sight, he sat back up. Carlo was just coming back with his backpack and jacket, and he stood up to follow him.
"Right this way, sir," Carlo said, and headed out the kitchen door.
Rather predictably, the kitchen connected to a large and beautiful dining room. Over the table was a chandelier of candles; elegant sideboards and china cabinets lined the walls. From there they walked through several other large rooms the names or functions of which Derek couldn't guess, until they reached a large stairway. Up they went, and then along a balcony to a closed door. Here Carlo opened the door, and indicated for Derek to pass through. Hesitating only a moment, wondering if this was where the trap was sprung, he nervously walked through.
There was no trap, only a spacious and well-appointed bedroom. He thought he would just collapse on the bed and sleep.
Then he remembered his things.
"Would it be all right," he asked, "for me to go out back and bring in the stuff from my bike baskets?"
"I can get them for you, sir."
"No, that's all right–I mean, if it's all right with you, I'd just as soon get them myself."
"As you like, sir. Can I get you anything else?"
Derek looked around. There was a pitcher by a washbasin, a bed with blankets and pillows. A bottle of soda would be nice about now, but he suspected that was not something they would have. He couldn't think of anything else. "I think I've got everything. Thanks."
He emptied his backpack and worked his way back to the kitchen and out the back door. He shoved as much of his stuff from the baskets into the backpack as he could, leaned the bicycle against the steps, and tried to wrap up the rest of his things in one of his shirts. Then he came back inside.
There was no one in the kitchen. He set his bundle down on the table, slipped the pack off his back, and opened it. Then he reached under the table and slid the knife from its jam. It fit in the pack adequately, and he hurriedly closed it up and got everything back together to rush out of the room and upstairs.
He tossed his things on one corner of the large bed, and lay down beside them; in moments he was asleep. Still, he didn't rest well. His sleep was marked by strange dreams in which he wandered through tunnels by flickering light. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard a cry, "For the love of God, Montresor!" and then darkness and silence swept over him.
He awoke in a dark room; moonlight filtered through thin curtains. He thought he heard a cry from outside somewhere, and walked to the window. He realized that he was now looking out from the front of the house toward the road. Below on the driveway was sprawled the body of a man, as if he had fallen from the house. It wasn't easy to tell in this light or at this distance, but from the clothes and the build, he thought maybe he knew the body.
It looked like Carlo.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #74: Another Novel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: