Sheiks and Shebas, welcome back. It’s time to conclude this rewind of our first “interactive” serial! It was fun romping through the Roaring Twenties with you in 2014. I’ve met many new friends that I treasured right away. Just as importantly, old friends stuck around too. I hope our serial’s family grows even more in 2015. The more the merrier.
You’ve all been the cat’s pajamas. I wish each of you a New Year that brings your fondest dreams to reality.
It’s time to pop the cork on this conclusion.
Happy New Year!
Three Concluding Things Episode 30, Part 2
Clasped Hands, Harpsichord, Pyx
The sky looked as gloomy as I felt. What were Frankie and his cousins up to? And why had he become so quiet and distant? Maybe if I caught up with them I could find out. However, before we had gone two feet down the path Andy the Astronaute turned up. He was babbling something about the trapeze setup and the amazing performers. He was excited and talking so fast that I could hardly understand him. Then I heard Countess Bepa’s voice calling to us, asking if we would please come inside for a moment. Mona clasped my hand and Andy’s hand to pull us inside the gilded mansion, Ca’d’Zan.
I looked back over my shoulder. The Fabro boys had disappeared, and the wall of rosy vines concealed the entrance to wherever they had gone. I thought I saw another man moving awkwardly among the bushes, headed that way. However, I barely got a glimpse of the guy. The next thing I knew, my friends had pulled me past the pink patina of the stucco and terra cotta exterior, inside beneath a crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, across white marble floors, and finally into one of the many opulent rooms in the “House of John.”
Mrs. Ringling, or Mable as she insisted we call her, asked us to please sit down for a while and have tea. A servant brought in a silver tea service as if on cue. “There’s a chill in the air, and young people looked like you were cold out there,” our hostess told us.
Meanwhile Countess Babikov went on enthusiastically about the ornately decorated French harpsichord that dated back to 1652. It had somehow escaped destruction during the French Revolution. I wouldn’t have known what the overelaborate thing was, despite its familiar shape. So I was surprised to learn it had produced the charming music we had heard moments before. The instrument was covered in carvings and gold leaf, and painted landscapes. Everyone has different taste, but I had to admire the craftsmanship and artistry.
As I leaned in to see into the harpsichord, I also took a close look at the intricate landscape painted inside the lid. Beside the pastoral scene was a rectangular frame with several medallion carvings. Was that a dragon — like the one on the key? I bent closer, wishing the sun would come out from behind the clouds and light the room better.
The bent key was still in my purse. It was too bad I didn’t have it with me so I could compare the designs. I felt a twinge of guilt. I had taken the key from the pottery vase where Mr. Ringling casually dropped it. Although I was the one who found it when it fell from the getaway car, it didn’t really belong to me. But on the trip from Santa Rosa Sound I had been working at the thing, doing my best to straighten it out. It was just that I needed something to do with my hands; Mona was occupied with her three suitors; Frankie seemed to have forgotten I was alive. Plus the poor key looked like it would be so pretty if it hadn’t been damaged..
Yes, I was pretty sure the dragon carving inside the harpsichord was the exact same dragon. In the carving the dragon rested above a shield design. The shield had a helmet rising above a banner with a cross, which was flanked by three matching banners on either side. I squinted, and leaned even closer trying to make out the word beneath the shield design. Grand… something. Well, it wasn’t a grand piano, it was a harpsichord. I tilted my head. Ah… Grand Priory. Above the shield design I saw words written in a foreign alphabet. Was it Russian? “Humph,” I muttered. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought, but my brain felt like rusty clockworks beginning to turn.
Just then somebody goosed me. I jerked up, banging my head into the harpsichord lid. “Ouch!” I said, turning to find Frankie behind me. He was grinning and pleased with himself for startling me. I rubbed my head, then brushed at my bobbed hair with my fingers, not sure what to make of his change in attitude. Suddenly he was like the Frankie I knew. His smile was infectious and I found myself returning it even though I still felt miffed at him for ignoring me for so long.
Flavio was behind him, frowning at Mona. The brunette was talking quietly with the countess. Those two had their heads together a lot lately. She became fast friends with Boris the Ballerina’s grandmother. That didn’t bode well for Andy’s prospects with Mona. Flavio didn’t seem to think it was going to help his chances either.
Frankie gave me that sad puppy dog look. I rolled my eyes and took it for an apology. “So what have you guys been doing?”
All of a sudden, Frankie stopped smiling. Flavio stepped closer and gave me that smooth smile he usually saved for Mona the Movie Star. I had never had anything against Frankie’s older cousin. He was easily the most dashing of the Fabro brood. But I didn’t take to him the way Mona did.
“We’ve been up the tower. Wow! You can see for miles and miles up there,” Flavio said.
His enthusiasm rang flat to my ear. Especially since I knew that was a lie. I looked at Frankie. “Yeah, doll face,” Frankie the Fireman said. “It would be a great place to watch the sunset. Maybe I can show it to you some evening,” Frankie suggested, wriggling his eyebrows in a humorous way.
I smiled at him. I think I smiled. I sure as shootin’ tried to smile at him. How could he lie to me like that? Okay, I told myself, maybe that was true and they had gone to explore the tower first — before they did whatever it was they were up to in the rose garden. Even as I told myself that, myself knew it wasn’t so. Oh, applesauce!
I promise – I will get to the “Pyx” next time. Really. 🙂
Introduction for Part-3 of this conclusion
Here it is, everyone — the conclusion to this storyline. Forgive me for making this episode a good deal longer than usual, but I wanted to do it justice. After all it’s the conclusion to our Three Things Serial.
I don’t kid myself that this serial is literature. From a technical standpoint it hasn’t had the structure for that. However, I was determined to let the things all of you sent drive every aspect of this story — the characters, the setting, and the plot. So naturally there are jumps and jitters in the plot — it’s the nature of writing the story in this “interactive” way.
It has been a great pleasure to have everyone contribute. I sincerely hope you will do the same with the next incarnation of “three things,” whatever form that takes. Your participation is the most important thing.
Now hang on to your hats because here we go!
Three Concluding Things Episode 30, Part 3
Clasped Hands, Harpsichord, Pyx
I tossed and turned in restless dreams before I finally awoke in the “wee hours of the morning,” as my granny would say. The one that woke me was disturbing. Throughout the dream I heard the music of the harpsichord. Boris stood in front of a huge version of the carved medallion I had seen inside the ornately decorated instrument, the emblem of a dragon resting above a shield showing banners with crosses. In the dream it was all solid gold. I clasped Frankie’s hand in a grip so tight that my fingernails dug into his skin, but something pulled him from my grasp.
A knight in armor wearing a priest’s collar (bizarre yes, but you know how dreams are) entered the room to give someone last rites. The dragon climbed down from the shield. I was afraid it would breathe fire and kill us all, but it opened its maw and consumed everything, including Boris and Frankie, in its giant jaws, even the room was gone. Only the knight, the gold shield, the harpsichord, and I remained. We were at the far end of the rose garden.
I cowered beneath the harpsichord and watched as the knight-priest gave the dragon last rites. Then the knight dropped a large gold pyx on the ground. The pyx opened and the dragon shrank down and got inside the receptacle. The knight parted the vines of the climbing roses and disappeared, taking the pyx with him.
Then I woke and sat up in bed. I paced my room, trying to shake off the dream. From my window I could see the rose garden in the moonlight. A light flashed in the distance. It flashed several more times, in what seemed to be a pattern. This unexpected sight only added to my unease. A number of people lived on the property. I told myself that it was likely just someone who’d been out late at a speakeasy. However, I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep. So I slipped into my robe, lit a candle, and headed downstairs, meaning to go to the kitchen and make some warm milk.
I walked into the dark music room as a shortcut to the kitchen. Maybe I was still unnerved from the dream, but when I heard a door open I blew out my candle and ducked under the first thing I saw that was big enough — the harpsichord. “Just as I did in the dream,” I thought with a shudder.
My head bumped against the underside of the harpsichord. “Ouch!” I thought. “That didn’t feel like wood.” I put my hand to the spot and my fingers met cold metal, a round shape. However, I didn’t stop to think about it, because I heard footsteps.
From my hiding place I saw a large pair of feet and I recognized Frankie’s shoes. I felt like a silly goose for hiding — it was only Frankie! I thought mischievously about popping out to scare the stew out of him. But something held me back.
More footfalls brought a familiar voice. Flavio. “We’ve looked everywhere else,” he said to Frankie. “It has to be down there.”
“We’ve already checked that hidey-hole from top to bottom,” Frankie said in an exasperated tone. “The Priory must have moved it. Or laid out all this as a red herring,” he added as I watched his feet shift. “Do you really think it could heal the dead, like the story says?”
Flavio snorted. “Of course not. But it’s made of solid gold. All the legends say so. Our Order in Europe would pay a king’s ransom to get their hands on the gold Pyx of the Knights Hospitaller. Their grudge against the Russians goes back to the 1600’s.”
“The old woman wouldn’t give up any information,” Frankie said. “I told you it was wrong for us to grab her. I don’t think she knows anything, despite the Order saying the old count’s grandfather inherited it. That was a long time ago; anything could have happened to it,” Frankie added and stepped closer to my hiding place.
He came right over to the harpsichord. Frankie sat down on the bench, causing it to creek. I scrunched up into as small of a ball as I could manage and held my breath.
I heard the sound of Flavio moving toward the doors that opened out onto Mable’s rose garden. “Boris knows; I’m sure of it. But he’d die before he told the Order anything about the Knights Hospitaller and especially about the solid gold pyx,” Flavio practically spat. “It’s ‘protected by a dragon’ and that’s the only dragon we’ve found. Come on. We’ll check one more time. Fred and Fedel are already down there.”
First I thought of the dragon in my dream. Then I remembered the one on the carving in the harpsichord. The shield also had a knight’s helmet. “It’s protected by a dragon,” Flavio’s words echoed in my mind as the French doors opened quietly and the two men went outside.
Their footsteps sounded on the path. I knew they must be going to the hidden spot where I’d watched them disappear behind the climbing roses the day before. I thought about all that mysterious talk about the Order and the Knights Hospitaller, and I remembered the odd tattoos I saw on all the Fabros when they were fishing.
Applesauce! What the devil was going on here? My heart rejected what my head had figured out. With an icy knot in my stomach I knew that Frankie and his cousins were responsible for the break-in at Boris’ place, and worse — the abduction of Countess Babikov. No wonder they found the bad guys so fast. The two men they brought for Ringling to hand over to the G-men were either expendable associates, or another group that was after the valuable gold pyx.
I gulped, feeling sick. I crawled out from under the harpsichord and ran out into the rose garden. My slippers weren’t made for the outdoors, but at least they didn’t make any sound as I hurried toward the climbing roses. In the light of the full moon I could see a gate beneath the vines. I pulled the latch and cringed when it squeaked. I took a deep breath and stepped beyond the gate. Then I felt an arm around my waist and a hand over my mouth.
My muffled scream hardly made a sound. I heard “Ssshhhh!” and it had an oddly familiar sound. “Shush, Pip,” Andy whispered. “It’s me and Boris. Now you’ve got to be quiet, okay?”
I nodded and he moved his hand and let go of me. I turned accusing eyes on the two men. Boris shook his head “No.” In a voice so soft I could barely hear he said, “This is dangerous Pip. You don’t understand what’s happening.”
With a sigh I told him that I actually did know what was going on. “At least some of it,” I whispered. “But where is the dragon?”
Boris looked shocked, but Andy gave a little smile. “I told you she was a smart cookie,” our little Astronaute man told him.
In answer Boris switched on a flashlight and shone it upward. The beam of light revealed a small windowless stone building. Above the door was an emblem of a dragon. He turned off the beam but motioned toward the door. “Your friends are part of a group that followed me across Europe. They think I have a valuable artifact. It does not belong to their…” Boris hesitated, probably looking for the right word in English. “It doesn’t belong to their group, but they desire it none the less. It is a feud, you see?”
When I nodded he continued in hushed tones. “My ancestors were part of an organization, a priory. Your friends, their ancestors were in an opposing group. But their group still survives. They are not nice people. They think I can lead them to this artifact. I would have given it to them, or anything else they asked to save my Babushka when they abducted her. But I did not have it. I don’t know if it still exists.”
“The pyx,” I said.
Boris tensed and looked at me suspiciously. Andy drew a sharp breath. “I heard them talking just now,” I said feeling annoyed by their distrustful reaction. “I wouldn’t be out in the night wearing my robe and slippers if I were meeting up with a bunch of crooks now would I?” I said dryly.
The Russian breathed and relaxed. Andy smiled and put his arm around my shoulders in a little hug. “Did you see any more of them coming?” he asked Boris.
“No. It doesn’t seem that anyone else will be joining them,” Boris answered. “The back door is secured?”
Andy gave a smile so wicked that it surprised me. “You bet-cha,” he said.
Then Andy and Boris lifted a heavy iron bar out of the vines and dropped it across the door with a loud clang. Shouting ensued from inside the little stone building. Boris calmly stepped back into the rose garden and used his flashlight to signal toward the mansion. Then a big commotion came from Ca’d’Zan as a dozen of Ringling’s men hustled toward us. In the distance I heard a whine that soon became the wail of sirens. So, the police were on the way too, I realized and the sick feeling returned.
I thought about the young twins, and Flavio, and especially about Frankie. This was not something I could bear to stick around and watch. I told the guys that I was cold and turned to go back inside. But I looked up at the dragon above the door and something fell into place in my mind.
“What is it?” Andy asked, noticing the strange expression on my face.
I tilted my head as the epiphany dripped through the crannies in my mind. “They said ‘It’s protected by a dragon’ and this,” I pointed to the dragon above the door, “is the only dragon they could find. But there is another one.”
By then the men from the house reached us. They parted to let a man with a hat and a badge through. So, one of the Feds was already there. Apparently Mr. Ringling or Countess Bepa, or both had their own suspicions. “You folks should go back up to the house,” he told us. Then he seemed to recognize Boris. “Your grandmother is very upset.”
Boris looked like he would protest. I looked at him and Andy. “Well, personally, I don’t think I can bear to see this,” I said. I didn’t know I was crying until I felt a tear fall from my cheek to my neck. I brushed at the tears, irritated that I would cry about something that never was. “Frankie in with these kidnappers? I must be a stupid bimbo.”
Andy took my elbow and Boris limped at my other side as we walked back to the mansion. I didn’t look back. I just couldn’t. Inside the music room we found the Ringlings, Countess Bepa, and Mona. The women were in their dressing gowns, but Ringling was dressed. I had a hunch he was ready for what happened. He was pretty darned shrewd.
A gunshot rang out. Then several more cracked the predawn silence. “Frankie!”
Boris caught my arm to keep me from going outside. Ringling had a gun in his hand and he moved to a place where he could see farther into the rose garden. He squinted into the moonlit shadows. The sound of feet pounding the path was followed by the voice of the Fed. “The big one got away. I’m not sure if I hit ‘em.”
I was too stunned by everything that happened that night to know what to say or do. I stood mutely looking into the darkness. Frankie on the lam from the law! I wondered if he had been shot, if he was hurt, maybe dying. I also wondered how he could betray all of us. It was clear that he and Flavio had gotten close to Mona and me just to have access to Boris.
“Pip, this is serious business,” Boris said in his accent. He looked at me intently, making me bring my chaotic thoughts to the moment. “What were you saying about there being another dragon?”
“That’s very observant of you dear Pip,” the countess said. “But there is nothing behind that. I have already checked.”
“Not behind it,” I said. I took the flashlight from Boris and I crawled under the ornate instrument.
The light revealed a metal circle where I had bumped my head earlier. It had the look of a sort of maker’s mark, like something the craftsman might have put there. But it also looked like… If I were to twist it just so… that it would come out. So I gave it a little twist. A moment later I crawled out from under the harpsichord with a round box, decorated just like the carving inside the lid, with a shield and banners.
I held out the solid gold pyx.
It was heavy and obviously worth a fortune. It was hard to believe that men would plot and hurt one another for hundreds of years over something like the object in my hand, no matter how beautiful or valuable. However, Boris and Countess Babikov were pursued halfway across the world by men trying to find the gold pyx.
I shook my head thinking about everything that had happened. There were just three things that I knew for sure. One – I was dog tired. Two – I didn’t want to have any more weird, and maybe even prophetic dreams. And there…
There would always be at least three things to keep my life interesting.
Can you believe this serial began with Oscillating Fan? That was our very first “thing.”
In case you felt like there was a bit too much unresolved, I’ve written an epilogue for our little 1920’s story. I expected that the characters readers would be most curious about are Frankie the Fireman and Mona the Movie Star, even though Pip is nearest to my heart as the narrator.
So for those who like things nice and tidy, here’s a bit more.
“Are you sure you won’t stay here in Sarasota for a while?” Mona pleaded. “You don’t have to breeze off. Bepa told me that Mr. Ringling asked you to stay as long as you want. There aren’t many places where you could get free room and board. And there aren’t any at all that are as beautiful as Ca’d’Zan!”
I looked down at my hands and shook my head mutely. I promised to stay until after the party Mable Ringling was throwing for her friend, Countess Babikov. However, everything I saw in and around the gilded mansion brought me unhappy thoughts. I was so disappointed in Frankie and all his cousins. How could they kidnap anybody, let alone a sweet old woman like Bepa?
What I overheard didn’t sound like Frankie wanted to commit those crimes, but nonetheless that’s what he did. Maybe when he saw that Flavio and the twins were going to prison, I hoped maybe he would straighten up. Maybe. But how could he reform himself when he was going to spend years running from the law? Ringling’s G-man friend told me that it might not be as big a deal, since they didn’t take Bepa across the state line.
He hinted around that if Frankie turned himself in that Countess Babikov would be willing to let the charges against him “go away.” Wealth and power had arms as long as those of the law. But the coppers would demand that Frankie testify in court against his cousins, and I knew the fireman wouldn’t do that. Besides, whether the police detective believed me or not, I didn’t know where Frankie was, and I didn’t expect to hear from him.
“Come on Sweet Pea,” Mona cajoled. “Cheer up. Bepa and Mable want to take us shopping for glad rags to wear for their swanky soirée. It’ll be the bee’s knees!”
I smiled and told myself to join in the fun and not bring everyone else down with me.
When we stepped into the hallway I could hear Andy pounding away at his typewriter. The events that broke my heart had inspired Andy to write an original screenplay. He wasn’t unfeeling, quite the contrary. He was just too creative not to put it all on paper.
“There are going to be studio big wigs here all the way from Hollywood,” Mona said. “Andy is determined to finish his story before the party so he can pitch it. He hasn’t slept a wink since it happened. I expect he’ll be moving to California. I really think his ship is on its way in.”
“And you Mona? Has Boris warmed up any? It’s obvious that his babushka adores you,” I said.
Mona blushed prettily. “Oh, I don’t know Pip. Maybe. I think Boris is a man who needs to take things slowly. I liked the countess the minute I met her, and after getting acquainted with Bepa, I think she’s the cat’s pajamas. So I’m willing to give this situation more time. Maybe I need to slow down just a little bit too. I’m going to stay here for the winter and maybe take trapeze lessons from some of the performers. They were encouraging me to when Andy and Ringling told them about the short film,” Mona confided.
The butler walked up to us. Yes, they had an honest-to-God butler. Can you believe it? I was surprised and apprehensive when he said there was a phone call for me. He led us to a sitting room with a phone. It was my father. I had sent a telegram to him so he’d know that I was alright, figuring he’d get wind of the shootout in the newspaper.
“Pops, how are you?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Yes, Mona is fine too.”
“Granny? Is something wrong with Granny? … Oh thank goodness.”
“What? Cooking? Pops, you know I can’t even boil water. What do you mean that’s the point?”
“Yes, I know how Granny is when she sets her mind on something. But I’m a modern woman.”
“No, I don’t want to learn to cook! Flappers don’t pin all their hopes on being a good cook and housekeeper.”
“But… Oh come on Pops! I love Granny, but I don’t want to live there…”
“Pops… But… Pops please!”