IN THIS EPISODE: … Vincent plots to resurrect his mummified queen and has a disturbing realization…
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CHAPTER 28 – Dalliances & Deadly Decisions
Vincent Duprix – 1951 Fisher St.
The Next Evening, Sunday
Vincent peered out his studio window at the gathering darkness, his every nerve tingling.
Why couldn’t the sun set, already? Why couldn’t the night just get on with it?!
The length of the days, the endless waiting and anticipation, was becoming excruciating for him.
He paced from the window back to the piece he was working on, but even the clay breasts and buttocks of this latest sculpture held little allure for him now. The model was Bastiti again, of course, but…
What did cold clay or even sensually warm wax matter when his real queen would soon awaken?
How could touching such materials or even molding them to near perfection match the feeling of real skin against skin?
It couldn’t. Not even the actual touch of his current lover could compare. He glanced at the nearby couch where they’d snuck in a brief dalliance earlier, when his wife had gone to make a night deposit at the bank.
Vincent smiled, thinking about the envious shade of green Victoria would turn if she knew the identity of his current mistress—green first… and then red with rage, undoubtedly. If he were lucky, his wife might even go from red to purple and die of heart failure right on the spot. Wouldn’t that be something?
He chuckled with glee, and then frowned, realizing that he hadn’t tidied up quite enough after his liaison. They’d had to hurry, after all, and apparently that had made them both careless. Vincent plucked a rag from the sink, cleaned a few spots and stray hairs from the burgundy velvet upholstery, and then a few more from the floor, and then rearranged the throw-pillows that had been tossed about during their passion.
Could it really be called “passion,” though, when one participant was imagining holding someone else in his arms the whole time?
Of course, for all Vincent knew, his lover might be doing the same thing—imagining him as King Edward or Barrymore or Caruso or someone. The sculptor doubted it, though. No, Vincent himself was part of the allure of this ongoing tryst, the forbidden fruit, as it were, and that was part of the fun for him as well.
And making love while Victoria walked to the bank and back…? Well, that had been very thrilling, even if Vincent had been thinking of Bastiti the entire time.
His lover hadn’t seemed to notice, and they’d snuck her out through the servant’s exit with no one the wiser—though they’d had a tense moment sneaking past the handyman, who was bustling about noisily in his tiny second floor room. (If Vincent hadn’t known the twins were working in the chamber, he might have thought Mr. Shaw had a girl in there.)
Tiptoeing past the servants’ quarters to the manse’s back exit had added to the thrill, too, and made the parting kiss that much sweeter.
But need they have hurried so? Had Victoria even returned from her bank errand yet?
If so, Vincent hadn’t heard her come in. And probably that was good, as it gave him more time to clean up the “evidence.”
He cast his artist’s eye over the environs of the couch.
Everything looked normal—not spotlessly clean, no; that would have aroused suspicion—but carelessly casual with just a hint of clay, paint, and other art materials.
The same way the sculptor’s studio always looked.
That was good.
Because despite his fantasies about causing his wife a heart attack, Vincent didn’t really want Victoria to find out about this affair—not until he was ready.
And he hoped to be ready very soon.
Three more days… he reminded himself. Three more days until the first night of the full moon, and then… Then Sethotep and I will resurrect our queen!
After that, all need for pretense would vanish, and there would be no reason to keep Victoria around any longer.
Until that moment, though…
Well, the annoying nag might still prove useful.
After all, Vincent hadn’t yet chosen the victim whose life force would reawaken Bastiti.
Part of him wanted to use Victoria (for obvious reasons).
But would her shrewish soul contaminate the process? Would something of Victoria seep over into his new love?
The thought of even a shred of his harpy wife living on in his queen made Vincent shudder.
Probably best not to chance using her for that reason, not unless no other viable alternative remained. (Which, indeed, was why he was keeping Victoria alive in the first place; just in case.)
Vincent’s mistress might make a good choice. She certainly lacked the guile and bitterness that tainted his wife’s personality…
But he did hate to do in the old girl after all the clandestine fun they’d had together.
So, Vincent supposed that his mistress would have to be his second to last choice.
The twins fell higher on his list. True, he was somewhat fond of the pair, and the thought of luring either (or both) into his bed still shot tingling sparks up his spine…
But wasn’t excitement a good reason to use one of them, as well?
After all, he’d be giving the girl immorality, of a kind, and the idea of having both his queen and one of the sisters at the same time… Well, Vincent had to admit finding a little extra thrill in such a notion.
Which one should he use, though?
Opal would be the more obvious choice. Her young, curvy body practically reeked of animal sexuality.
More than once, Vincent had lay abed fantasizing about tumbling across the sheets with her, kissing and biting and clutching and…
Then there was Topaz: fair of hair and seemingly so virginal…
Was she a virgin, though? Vincent longed to plumb deeply enough to discover the molten heat buried beneath the blonde’s somewhat-icy demeanor.
She’d probably be easier to bend to his will, too, whereas Opal might be more prone to fighting back.
That fire of resistance could be exciting, though.
It would be a waste to kill them both, however. And he certainly couldn’t use one to revive Bastiti and then keep the other as his mistress. Three days hence, on Wednesday night, he would have only one queen—now and forever.
I must see her, Vincent thought.
Decisions on Wednesday’s victim would have to wait; he couldn’t bear to be without his queen any longer.
Checking his clothing in the studio mirror to make sure no trace of his dalliance remained, the adulterous sculptor gave himself one final brush up and then ambled to the studio door that led directly to the second-floor landing.
But as he turned the latch, he paused.
Was he imagining it, or did he hear someone outside? Someone talking not in a normal tone of voice, but a whisper?
Silently, he cracked the door and put his ear to the opening.
Yes. Definitely his wife, though he couldn’t make out what she was saying. Her tones didn’t seem harsh or urgent, which was unusual; rather, they seemed… affectionate.
Vincent peeked through the crack, but, oddly, didn’t see either his wife or anyone else on the landing. Was this some auditory trick—the kind of thing that made people think that Victorian manses such as this were haunted?
Perhaps. Because now he heard another voice as well—though, again, he couldn’t make out what it was saying. This voice was deeper, more… masculine.
Peeking a bit further, Vincent saw that on the landing outside, the door to the servant’s hallway suddenly cracked open, and the voices became clearer, though still not clear enough to actually understand.
The door opened wider and Victoria stepped out onto the landing, her right hand trailing off into the shadows of the hall, as if holding something.
Her arm lingered there a moment, and then, as if her hand had been released, that pale limb fell gently to her side.
She’s been holding hands with someone… Her lover!
“…drop by again when I need you,” she said.
Her lover, still hidden in shadow, said something Vincent still couldn’t quite catch. His wife and her paramour were using the servant’s entrance, just as Vincent and his mistress had done!
Victoria chuckled, a low, amused sound. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “My husband is a fool. He doesn’t suspect a thing.”
A fool…? She was certainly wrong about that. Vincent suspected all right; he just hadn’t been able to figure out who his wife was dallying with—who, exactly, he needed to kill… yet.
Part of him wanted to rush into the hall, catch them both, and cut them to pieces.
But, no… The nearest weapon was the knife by his sculpting table, and by the time he fetched that, one or both of the traitors might be gone…
“Go back to your room,” Victoria commanded, turning away from her hidden beau. “You’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.” The door to the servants’ hallway closed, and Vincent’s wife swept almost silently through the main door to the apartments she shared with Vincent. Her back remained to the partly open door to Vincent’s studio.
The realization struck Vincent like a thunderbolt. He staggered back into the studio, pulling the door shut as he did.
How could have been so blind?!
All this time he’d thought she was sleeping with that dead coachman, or some other charming fool, when the reality had lain much closer at hand.
Right under my nose!
In my own house!
Perhaps even in my own bed!
Vincent trembled with rage and frustration. Why hadn’t he seen it before?!
It was so obvious!
Why would a man of Shaw’s evident talent and good looks work for practically nothing in a place like this?
Vincent had thought that (perhaps) the hireling was a drunkard or on the run for some petty crime… But now it was obvious that the man was handy with more than one kind of tool.
Paul Shaw was a gigolo!
Had Victoria even gone to the bank tonight at all?
Vincent doubted it.
Well… Vincent thought, forcing his jangling nerves to calm down and suppressing his urge to rush out and murder them both.
…It looks like my list of potential victims has been narrowed down to just two…
Victoria… or her lover, Mr. Shaw…?
Would a man do just as well as a woman for the sacrifice? Vincent must ask Sethotep.
He’d do it tonight, if he could, because time was running short.
And now, more than ever, Vincent couldn’t wait!
…Three more days…!
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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