|The Shell Game
Author: MastersofNight PM
Continuation of The Sorcerer of Rouen. Erik and Emily’s courtship becomes complicated with an American Pinkerton agent, a gang of American criminals, a secret French crime syndicate, Monsieur Colt’s big brother. Post ALWRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 42 - Words: 94,274 - Reviews: 373 - Favs: 14 - Follows: 18 - Updated: 10-08-07 - Published: 10-01-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2601088
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Category: Book, Phantom of the Opera
Summary: Continuation of the story Sorcerer of Rouen. As Erik and Emily's courtship begins, complications arise in the form of an American Pinkerton agent, a gang of American criminals, a secret French crime syndicate, Monsieur Colt's big brother and a stolen Egyptian mask. Four years post ALW.
Disclaimer: I don't own it either…I'll get in the back of the line with everyone else who has ever gone this way. I do own everyone in Rouen however, they just don't know it.
It took hours for the full realization to settle upon me.
I have learned to ponder the possibilities and the consequences of every act. I want to have on hand my armaments to deal with the situation: persuasion, logic, the knowledge of my adversary. All of these fled me like shadows before the dawn when I sat Emily down on the piano bench and announced my intent to court her.
My God, I realized later that I had actually told her, not asked her. I am amazed now that she didn't balk at my pronouncement. Why had I done that? As I dressed that morning I had rehearsed what I would say to her, but when the time came it had slipped my mind as would water out of a leaky pail, leaving me feeling like a callow youth.
But I am a determined man. She is a woman of intelligence and a kind heart. She displays a rather eccentric sense of humor, but it is that in her that I value as well. All of these factors led me to push away my doubts and form a plan to seduce her, convince her, to offer everything I have to her in hopes that she would come to love me.
I am not even sure when it started. Perhaps it was that first night she arrived in my study and insinuated herself into my life. I could not help but be intrigued. I was accustomed to dealing with women who feared me. They would scurry away like mice, refuse to meet my eye, flinch when I speak to them, snatch things from my hand as if I was monstrous enough to grab their hand and carry them off.
I have been a monster……But you, my dear readers, know that don't you…
Emily has not seen that monster. The closest she has come to that creature is when I go about as the scarred man, Charles Martin. I leave behind the gentleman in the study, the white mask, and trade them for an oversized black patch which obscures my eye and some of my deformity. My clothing is from the days I worked the boats and is a reflection of that man: threadbare, coarse, stained.
It is as that man she actually reached out and touched me for the first time. She had smiled and called me "Dar-lenn" again. I had heard that word for the first time when she disobeyed me in the study. She had thought it was amusing that I had people watch over her. I do not remember ever making a woman laugh at something I said, or how it made me feel.
It was that night when she touched me that I realized I could not let her drift in and out of my life anymore; I wanted her there with me. I would pursue her, be damned with her idea of not being available. She based her decision to not re-marry on her barren state. I do not care. I had resigned myself to being alone and never believed I would be a father.
I face one last situation of such enormity that it leaves me apprehensive; how to tell her of my past. I sense that she trusts me, but she does not know the Devil's Child, or the Opera Ghost. Will she be appalled by what I have been, by the lives I have ruined? Will she turn away? Will I see in her eyes what I have seen in so many others?
I stand on the rim of a chasm. Looking back I see all that I have ever wanted in my life, and turning I see the yawning depths that await this flawed vessel that harbors what is left of a soul. I will be standing on this edge until I offer a hand to her, the hand of the Phantom.
She will either take that hand in her own, or step forward to push me off into the last, deepest darkness.
June: Rouen, France
An elbow propped on the small table, the steam from a second cup of tea rising from her cup, and the repetitive slapping sound of her slipper against her jiggling foot, Emily Griggs flipped another page in her book. She could feel the end coming; the mystery about to be resolved, the hero would be free to declare his undying devotion to his lady, and they would all live happily ever after. Or maybe not.
The last book by this mysterious new English author had ended after a series of plot twists that had left the readers and the literary critics reeling. The author had killed off a major character, retired the hero of the story to pass on his work to a son of a dear friend, and left his readers eagerly awaiting the sequel. The second book had taken nearly two weeks to reach her, bought in London by Peter Oldershaw, her fellow Remington representative, and packed off in the post to her.
Glancing furtively over the top of the next page, the clock told her it really was time to get ready for her first appointment. She pursed her lips and slid her bookmark between the pages; she'd have to finish later. Her slipper dropped off of her foot, and as she bent to retrieve it she noticed the sound.
A repetitive thud-bumping noise on the stair outside was getting closer. She listened as it stopped on the landing before her door, passed by with a scraping sound, and started up the next flight of stairs. The third floor apartment had been empty, so this must be the new neighbor.
"Can you believe this?" Chief Inspector d'Entremont laughed as he handed his visitor the telegram.
Taking it from the man's hand, Joseph Sterns saw that the sender was an Inspector Quinn of the New York City police. He made a show of taking out his spectacles and putting them on, even though he could read it without them. "Inspector…..recently come to light that a gang of forgers has fled…..believed to be heading to Europe." He took the spectacles off and affected a surprised face, "A gang of criminals!"
The inspector made a pained face and waved away his companions' outburst. "Not to worry, these people are forgers, and Americans. They will not be able to get their inferior attempts past our experts. The Sûreté has a special department that deals strictly with forgers. They will be on them," he snapped his fingers, "as quick as a fox on a rabbit."
Sterns looked relieved, "I am so glad to hear that Monsieur Inspector." He looked at the man with wide-eyed admiration, "May I include this information in my new novel, Monsieur?"
The Inspector smiled beneficently, "Of course, as long as you do not mention names."
"Oh no, Monsieur," he replied. "Professional courtesy demands I change the names for protection of all the parties that might be implicated."
"Then I don't see any problem with you writing this into your next novel Monsieur Sterns."
As he prepared to take his leave of the Inspector, Sterns took a tin from his coat pocket, "Care for a Peppermint, Inspector?"
"Why thank you, I will take one." He popped the small candy in his mouth and winked at Sterns, "My mama loves peppermints."
Joseph Sterns, known to the New York City police force as 'Peppermint Joe' snapped the tin of candy closed and dropped it into his pocket. Outside the building he waited on the curb for a cab. That infernal telegram could have made his life difficult.
"Madame Griggs, please come in. He says for you to go right up." Etienne Bardou stepped aside to allow Emily to step into the front hallway of Erik De La Shaumette's home.
"Thank you Etienne," she waved at Agnes who was watching from the kitchen door. The older woman smiled back at her, stepping into the hall way.
"Your dinner is prepared," she said pinning on her hat. Leaning closer to her husband, she whispered to Emily, "You're going to be alone together."
Emily adopted her best innocent face, "I'll make sure he behaves."
She started up the stairs as Agnes and Etienne Bardou stepped outside, locking the front door. Looking at one another they both smiled. Neither one of them hoped their employer would 'behave'.
In the study Erik listened to the steady tread of footsteps coming up the stairs, he brushed his coat pocket once more, assuring himself that the small box was still there. He'd waited three days to see Emily again. They'd parted when a knock at the study door had interrupted their kiss.
He'd taken a deep breath and reluctantly let her go. She'd smiled shyly, and backed up, right into the piano bench. Letting out a surprised yelp, she had laughed and covered her mouth like a child. He couldn't help but smile. It was nice to know that Emily was as disconcerted as he was.
There was a knock on the door, and he opened it. She stood on the landing with his note held up in two fingers, "You invited me for dinner?" she asked.
He stepped back holding the door open for her. "Yes Madame, we have arrangements to make."
"Arrangements?" She passed in a rustle of silk, dark blue to match her eyes, jet beading reflecting the glint of light as she moved. She wore the earrings he had sent her and a small necklace. What made the whole outfit perfect was the small smile she wore as she turned to him.
He left the door open and turned to take her arm, steering her towards the sofa. They both stopped before it and she looked at him. Always her eyes moved over his face like a caress. He leaned forward and she did as well. He took possession of her lips tenderly, lingering a moment. They were still as soft as he remembered.
"Yes, arrangements," he said quietly, "after all, no one knows yet that you have accepted my intentions. But they will begin to suspect."
She sat down on the edge of the sofa. He sat next to her, he had taken her hand and it rested in his on his thigh. It was a nice thigh she couldn't help but notice. "I agree, they'll begin to wonder." The way he looked at her and the sound of his voice combined to make it very clear to anyone with any experience that this man was going to do his utmost to woo her passionately.
She remembered their first night in the study, his voice almost a rough purr. Now he was such a different man from the dark form wreathed in shadows she had met with that night. He took care of her when she was with him. From the simple act of pouring wine or peeling fruit, or taking precautions with her safety when they were apart, he moved into her life and insisted upon treating her as if she were fine crystal. "What shall we do," she asked.
"For the sake of your work with Remington we shall have to let our business contacts know. You don't want them to feel that their work with you will be influenced by me, of course. But as far as people we know here, I think it would be better if we got it over with and told them."
She replied, "Javier will be happy."
He smiled in response, "Yes, that Spanish 'Romeo' will be pleased."
"Ah, but I think our 'Romeo' has met his match."
Erik had never known Javier to be serious about any woman, "Who?" he asked.
"Sophie Robillard," she replied. "Ever since the trip to Jumieges, he has been finding ways for Phillipe and Sophie to come to his parent's house."
Javier falling under the spell of Phillipe's sister was such a rich irony that he had to laugh. Emily watched his face transform. Other than the brief smiles he had given her of late, she had never heard him laugh before.
"Come, we should eat our dinner before it gets cold," he said. He held her hand to help her up from the sofa, and led her down the stairs.
In the dining room were two places set at the table covered by a snowy white linen tablecloth. A trio of candles flickered in a golden candelabra, and a small vase of red roses sat amid the covered dishes. Erik seated her where a single rose was laid upon the dinner plate.
"For me?" she asked.
He bent over her, his warm breath made her shiver. He inched his hand up her arm to join with hers as she held the rose. He lowered his face to her shoulder and turned slightly to place a kiss on her neck. Emily closed her eyes, helpless to even breathe as she felt his warm lips below her ear. "Yes," his voice slid over her skin like silk, "for you."
He reached out for the bottle and poured Calvados in her glass; the rich Norman Apple Brandy traditionally served with dinners. Uncovering dishes, they began their meal. Agnes had prepared Lamb in a sauce, with a side dish of shredded vegetables, potatoes and warm slices of bread. Norman cuisine relied heavily on sauces made with butter, cream and eggs. They loved their rich food, and considered dinning an all evening affair.
Erik watched her surreptitiously, enjoying the quiet conversation through dinner. Was this what it would be like when they married? Could he look forward to his days turning to evenings sitting quietly with Emily? "You shall be getting busy again soon. The next shipment of typewriters is due to arrive in two weeks." He raised his glass in a toast.
She raised hers in return, "To finding homes for the Remingtons. Hopefully this batch won't arrive wet like the last ones."
He smiled archly. "I don't think we will have that problem this time." Not from what he knew of the gossip that Javier had picked up in his travels. Many of the local boat crews were impressed at his tenacity in finding out who damaged the boat, and his idea of making the men work off what they owed him. It was the sort of thing that hard working, hard living men would see as practical. It also served as a graphic example of how no one, regardless of position, could escape De La Shaumette.
"How soon will Alain Trahan be back in?"
"The middle of the week, they are coming in from Paris. Why do you ask?"
"While I was on the boat with him, he talked about photography. I exchanged a few favors with Madame Pinson to get an older camera that the newspaper is replacing."
"That is generous of you, Emily. Cameras are still a rarity. I hope you didn't have to promise too much to her."
"Not really. She wants to have me as a guest at a local club to give a talk about living in America. It seems they are mostly history buffs. And the camera, well, it's the least I can do for stabbing him with a hat pin and trying to escape," she replied.
He smiled slowly, "You wouldn't get away from me that easily."
She felt a blush start to warm her cheeks, Thunderation, but he made everything sound so intimate!
"Are you blushing, Madame?" He rose slowly, tossing his napkin down like a gauntlet.
Oh my. This is how the kiss on the canal boat had begun, when he had seen her blush, a body's reaction that could not be controlled or easily covered. She hastily grabbed her napkin from her lap and pressed it to her mouth. She didn't realize that the stark ivory color of the linen only served to highlight the rosy color of her flesh.
She watched almost helplessly as one of his hands grasped her wrist bringing her to her feet while the other snatched the chair back away from her. His face was suffused with an arrogant look; his eyes glittering emeralds. She felt his hands on her waist, slowly circling to her back and pulled her closer to his body. His lips came down close to hers; she shut her eyes, expecting to feel them any moment.
Erik paused, barely above her. He watched her lids flutter closed, and smiled. Oh yes, Emily, he thought, fall under my spell once again. Tenderly he brushed a kiss on her lips; pulling back he began again, starting at the corner of her mouth with soft kisses. When he had worked his way to the opposite corner he paused again, looking at her face. "Say my name," he whispered huskily, his hands ran up and down her back until he went lower to her hips. He bent her physically backwards with his body, "Say my name, Emily," he commanded.
She took in a breath, her hands around his shoulders to steady herself. She felt as if she were floating. "Erik." One hand went to the back of her head and his lips came down onto hers, hungry and plundering. He made a noise in his throat and his arms around her constricted until she felt it was hard to breathe. He slowed and released her gently only to start again.
Abruptly he stopped; she took in a breath, and made a grab for the table with one of her hands that was suddenly free. He turned away from her muttering something under his breath. His hand moved to his mask.
"Are you alright," she asked.
"Wait here," he said in a stern voice. He shoved the kitchen door open so forcefully the candles on table guttered in the rush of air, disappearing without another word.
Emily placed a hand on her chest, her breathing was still unsteady. For the life of her she couldn't understand what had just happened. She brought the chair back to the table and sat down. Suddenly another sip of Calvados seemed appropriate. She reached across the table and retrieved the bottle.
On his way up the stairs, Erik tore the mask off his face and went to his water closet. Putting his back against the door, he leaned back his head and ran a hand over the mismatched planes of his face. During the kissing, the mask had shifted. It hadn't dropped off, but he felt the rush of panic when it had slid on his skin. He glanced down at it as it lay near the edge of the sink, its eye watching him. "Damn you," he took in a harsh breath, the knuckles of his hands standing out white as he moved to grip the edge of the cabinet, "you won't cheat me of this."
The ridge that served as an eyebrow seemed to climb in speculation as it gazed back at him. Won't I, whispered the darkness.
Straightening, he saw determined eyes regarded him from the small shaving mirror, he shook his head. "Not this time."
Emily sat quietly waiting, picking up the rose and turned it in her hand. She heard him coming back down the stairs and waited until he entered to look up. He stood in the door, his posture rigid, and his expression closed and hard.
"Are you all right," she asked again quietly, offering a hand toward him. He came forward and grasped it almost painfully; he planted his other hand flat on the table leaning over her, his eyes boring into hers.
"Swear to me," he began in a jagged voice, "that you will never look at me without my mask."
She heard the anguish, and shut her eyes. Opening them again she said, "Oh, Darlin'."
"No," he grated out, "no, no! You must swear to me, Emily. On your life, on whatever you hold sacred." He stopped and dropped to one knee. He started again in a brittle voice, "I want it in our wedding vows. Before God, you will never try to take the mask off."
Why would she want to do that? In a flash of intuition, she knew why. He wouldn't extract that promise from her unless someone else had done it before. She took a deep breath and squeezed his hand hard. "Erik, I won't ever take the mask off," she said quietly. "I won't look unless you want me to."