IN THIS EPISODE: …Vincent celebrates the waxworks’ new success with a fiendish ceremony…
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CHAPTER 23 – Vincent’s Grand Schemes
Vincent Duprix – 1951 Fisher St. – Several Days Later
A Night of the Waxing Crescent Moon
“Victoria, my dear, have you ever seen the days following an exhibit opening that are nearly as grand—and profitable—as the opening itself?” Vincent asked. He strode around their parlor like a lion patrolling his domain, his chest almost bursting with pride. The waxworks had just closed for the night after another day of impressive admissions. This was what it felt like to be successful once more! It had been ages since Vincent had felt this good.
“It was… adequate,” his wife, perched on the settee and perusing a book, replied.
Leave it to Victoria to try to kill his mood.
Well, she’ll get hers, soon enough.
“But have you ever seen displays so spectacular—outside of the British Museum, I mean? Your man Shaw really outdid himself—and with so little preparation time! He worked day and night, like a man obsessed. I’m starting to think that hiring him may not have been a mistake after all. Though I did note that he seemed to be trying to avoid the Cushing girls as he worked.”
Victoria looked up from her book. “Oh?”
“Do you think that little crush Opal had on him was more serious than we thought? Even Topaz seems to be avoiding Mr. Shaw, though all three of them were very chummy before that fateful night Dr. Cushing returned.”
“I hadn’t really noticed,” his wife said, returning to her reading.
Not surprising, Vincent thought. Victoria seldom paid attention to anything that didn’t concern her directly—though she’d passed on the news about the girl’s breakup with the handyman quickly enough…
“It’s too bad Dr. Cushing couldn’t stay longer,” Vincent continued. “Seems like he’s always running off to one exotic locale or another.”
“Yes,” Victoria agreed, not looking up. “It’s a wonder that he can afford it.”
“Oh, you’re not going to delve into that old rent problem again, are you, Victoria? I thought you’d be pleased with the new revenues the joint exhibit is generating. We haven’t had business like this in ages—and I doubt the Cushings have, either.”
“I’ll be more pleased when their share of this windfall finds its way into our bank accounts.”
Vincent waved off her concerns. “Money…! Who cares about it? It’s the art that’s the thing.”
“Our creditors care.”
But Vincent wasn’t going to let her drag the conversation in that direction. “And this is some of the best art that I’ve ever done—and, for once, the public seems to know and appreciate it. What do you think they like best? The accurate representation of Queen Bastiti’s tomb? That was quite a job, wasn’t it, all that plaster and papier mache… Or maybe they like the life-size recreations of scenes from the queen’s life? Your friend Miss Carlson seemed to really enjoy those.”
“Lily is easily impressed.”
“The twins’ friends seemed to appreciate them as well—Frank, and the other three. What are their names?”
“I’m sure I don’t know.”
“No. You wouldn’t. You’ve never been much interested in young men.”
If Victoria noticed the acid in his remark, she didn’t show it. “I’m sure they’re more interested in your half-naked sculptures—”
“Those are historically accurate!”
“—than they are in your actual artistry,” she finished. “I’m certain the same goes for the rest of the public. Give them a pretty nude, and they’re happy.”
Despite himself, Vincent found his temper rising. His wife knew exactly the wrong things to say.
“There was a time when you weren’t so opposed to nudes, Victoria,” he reminded her. “A time when you were happy to shuck your clothing and display your body for the public. A time when… Say…. You are dyeing your hair, aren’t you.”
“Not a bit of it.”
“Liar,” he accused. “You expect me to believe that your hair has just happened to return to its former ebony glory? I know you haven’t been plucking the grey hairs out; you’d be bald by now if you were. Unless you expect me to believe that you’ve found the Fountain of Youth, somehow…”
She looked up from her book and smiled ever so slightly. “Something like that.” Then she returned to reading.
Vincent finally noticed the title of the volume in his wife’s hands: The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“Bah!” he scoffed.
Why did he let her get to him like this? Vincent knew this was what she wanted, to wheedle under his skin and annoy him. But he would thwart her!
He would recapture his good mood, if only to foil her wicked plans. And the best way to do that was to kill her with kindness.
“Well, dye or no,” he said, “I must say you are looking lovely in recent days, quite radiant.”
“Why, thank you, Vincent,” she said sincerely.
“It’s almost as though you were thirty-three again—a lovely age, I think you’ll agree, in the full blossom of womanhood.”
“I prefer younger, I think,” she mused. “And I thought you did, too, judging from your current sculpting.”
“I must be true to life,” Vincent replied.
“Indeed,” his wife said with a puzzling inflection that he couldn’t quite read.
“And Queen Bastiti died well before the age of thirty,” he continued, the image of the queen—his queen—shining within his mind. She beckoned to him. “Come to me!” And he wanted to with all his soul. But he couldn’t simply walk out in mid conversation, not even on his wife.
So he said: “You wouldn’t want me to betray history, would you?”
“Only if it would bring more customers through the gates,” Victoria replied, chuckling.
He chuckled as well, and found that he liked the feeling. For a moment, all thoughts of the bronze-skinned queen slipped from his mind. Was this what it had been like when he and Victoria were younger? Those feelings were so hard to remember now… But he clung to this brief jewel of youthful happiness.
How lovely to be with his wife and not feel bitter and jealous—at least for a moment.
“In any case,” he said, “if we could bottle whatever you’re doing, we’d make even more money than we’re making with the joint waxworks-chamber exhibit.”
“Perhaps,” she agreed. “Though I doubt my particular regimen would suit most people.” She’d stopped reading now, and lounged on the settee, smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
What does she know that she’s not telling me? Vincent wondered. Could it be her new lover who was putting the spring back into her step?
The thought shattered Vincent’s transient happiness and made black envy boil up inside him once more.
Victoria, pleased at his flattery, didn’t seem to notice her husband’s sudden about-face in mood. “But you’re right, Vincent. We have been doing well, since the new exhibit opened,” she said. “That was a good idea that you and Dr. Cushing came up with.”
“It was mostly mine, but yes.”
“And I was thinking…”
“Perhaps we should go out and celebrate our newfound fortune…” she said, “…leave this dreary old building and have a nice dinner somewhere, and then maybe take in a late show.” She rose from the couch and straightened her burgundy dress. She did look lovely, despite her wickedness.
Again, the whisper in his mind. “Come to me!”
“Oh,” Vincent said, torn between erotic desire for his wife and his queen.
Victoria frowned. “Is something wrong?”
“No, my dear, I’m suddenly tired, is all. The monumental work we’ve done must be catching up with me.”
“But don’t let me stop you celebrating,” he said. “Go out and have a nice dinner, take Lily Carlson or one of your other friends with you. Take in that show you were talking about.”
She arched one dark eyebrow at him. “And what will you do?”
“I’ll just stay here and rest up. Perhaps read a little. Is that book you’re reading any good?”
“It’s a bit farfetched.”
“Well, another book then. Or perhaps I’ll take a nice, relaxing bath.”
“You do that, Vincent,” she said. The last remnants of youthful kindness had vanished, and her frosty demeanor returned. “I’ll ring up Lily and see if she wants to go out.”
She rang; Lily did.
So, less than a half hour later, Victoria bustled out the door of 1951 Fisher and hailed a cab—the usual London taxi kind; not the hansom with the strapping young man.
Good, Vincent thought, watching through the parlor window on the second floor as she left.
He’d seen the Cushing girls, dressed to the nines, go out with their stable of young men—again—after the exhibits closed. (The twins seemed to enjoy celebrating their newfound success.) The girls wouldn’t be back anytime soon, either.
That fit in nicely with Vincent’s plans, and it only left Mr. Shaw to contend with, although the handyman had looked exhausted after closing time. Victoria and the twins had worked him very hard during the remodeling, and since then as well; so, he might be sleeping by now in any case.
Vincent considered sneaking down the back stairs to check, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
He won’t be able to get into the new exhibits anyway… Not without a key!
Vincent strolled to his desk and fetched the key to the waxworks. Then he went to his studio and threw a few more things vital to tonight’s mission into a burlap sack. Properly equipped, he trundled down the front steps—so as not to chance rousing Paul—and slipped into the exhibit, re-locking the door behind him.
Vincent didn’t switch on the lights, but even in the semi-darkness, illumined only by light leaking in from the streetlamps, the new displays took his breath away. The glory of ancient Egypt—Bastiti’s Egypt—stretched out before him.
And there his dream lover lay, Vincent’s waxen image of her, anyway, reclining on her couch in diaphanous silks (an outfit the twins’ suitors seemed to find very… stimulating)… And there she was again, nearby, designing her tomb with Sethotep… And over there, betraying and killing her husband, Sethmosis…
It all seemed so tangible to Vincent, more real than the mundane world of Jazz Age London, lately.
“Duprix…!” a voice whispered—not the sweet, seductive voice of his queen, but that of the architect, her lover and co-conspirator.
“Yes, yes… I’m coming,” Vincent answered aloud.
He walked through the open portal now permanently joining the waxworks with the Chamber of Horrors, and down the short flight of steps into the Cushings’ part of the mummy exhibit.
There, the three mummy cases stood upright, closed for the night: Sethotep on the right, the guard Nekure on the left, and in the middle Vincent’s queen, Bastiti.
“Duprix…!” The voice came from the right-hand sarcophagus.
Vincent opened it and stared at the bandage-wrapped face of the architect’s mummy. The thing’s hollow eyes seemed to glow with greenish fire when it spoke, though its mouth never moved.
“Did you bring the necessary items?” the corpse asked.
“Yes,” Vincent said, rummaging through his bag. “But I thought you said I would have to sacrifice a life in order to bring back my… I mean. our queen.”
“Have you ever done anything of this nature previously?”
“Then who would know better how to raise the dead: you or me?”
“You, I suppose.”
“Correct. Tonight, we will not need a sacrifice, because tonight we will not be reviving the queen.”
Vincent’s heart sank. “We won’t?”
“No. Do you think I would risk you reviving my queen when you’ve never even performed a simple spell before? It amazes me that people of your so-called modern age have forgotten so much. How do you survive without spells to ward off hostile gods and bind the universe to your will?”
“We have this thing called ‘science…’”
“The old ways are better, as you will soon see. Tonight will be what you would call ‘a trial run.’”
“Oh,” said Vincent, deeply disappointed.
“I realize that you are impatient, my pupil. Yet, if you are successful, tonight’s spell will bring results that I feel sure will please you.”
“In what way?”
“In a way that will allow you to bring your enemies to heel—or destroy them.”
Vincent’s spirits buoyed once more. “That sounds delicious.”
“Revenge is always sweet.”
Vincent rubbed his hands together eagerly. “So… where do we start? What will we be doing tonight?”
“Tonight we will re-animate the mummy of the guard Nekure.”
“And then you will test the efficacy of our spell by having him slay one of your enemies—more than one, if you like.”
A wicked glee filled Vincent, and he couldn’t help but grin.
“I know exactly where to start!”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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