I was inspired to write this from the random desire to prove a point about "other woman" Phantom stories (which I am usually so firmly against). I know that doesn't make any sense now, but it will later ;) This is a legitimate, serious phic, not a parody or anything like that. It's inspired by the section of Kay's novel's timeline, but deviates from it, of course, for my own designs and, as always, to stick true to Leroux!.
Either way, I thought, back when I started it, that this might be a nice break from my horror phics for anyone who's been a little too terrified by my style in the past... I hope you enjoy this one! Please leave a review and let me know what you think!
P.S. Just remember with this...It's your Scorpion :) Trust me.
"Then, tired of his adventurous, formidable, and monstrous life, he longed to be someone 'like everybody else.' And he became a contractor, like an ordinary contractor, building ordinary houses with ordinary bricks."
-Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, Epilogue
"The service I offered was unique in many ways. It was customary for an architect to arrange contracts, not to build himself. It was also customary for an architect to meet his clients, but I steadfastly refused to do so. . . . It became fashionable to have a house designed and built by the mysterious, elusive architect who merely signed his plans Erik."
-Susan Kay, Phantom, Erik 1856-1881
Red lace. Blood spilled in oil spirals patterns that entwine more exquisitely than dye in vinegar. A pity blood only spills in one color. It disturbed Erik that the beautiful sample of polished marble he studied brought bloody thoughts to his mind. How quaint that the stone favored to construct those most sanctified of monuments remarkably resembles lacerated flesh. Ribbons of color veining in an out of neutral stone that might as well be petrified tissue. How ghastly that buildings and statues of marble do not breathe and sweat under the sun but instead remain like tombs. Each house of marble was a tomb. Bricks on the other hand...Bricks of sand or clay or lesser stone...Somehow they were not as depressing. Gorgeous, grandiose marble is dug from the quarries beneath the darkness of the earth, whereas bricks—ordinary, inexpensive bricks...They are baked in the sun...
"Who is she?" The uncertain voice cut through Erik's thoughts.
Erik tucked the red tile from his sight beneath some unrolled designs and looked up to Leger, his official intermediary, who stood on the opposite side of the desk where Erik sat. "Yes."
The man hesitated momentarily. "You surprise me."
"Really." Erik found Leger's inability to explicate remotely amusing. He took a new pencil from the lacquered box on his desk and inspected its point.
"It's not like you, you know."
Erik almost sighed. "Yes, I know."
He waited for something more from Erik, but when the architect did not speak, Leger repeated, "Then...Who is she?"
Erik put the pencil down and folded his hands. "If you don't mind."
"Well," Leger cleared his throat and began, with a winning air. "Come up from the north part of France...A widow. She has traveled here without entourage for no other reason than to seek you out, personally."
Erik stood restlessly. "What sort of bourgeois widow with means to acquire a domestic architect has need for one?"
"One with unfinished business." Leger watched his employer wander to the large arcing office windows that were now black with night and wet with rain.
"Some flush eccentric who wants a dazzling new house to celebrate the liberty granted to her by her husband's demise."
"Not at all." Leger tried not to be put off by Erik's inattention and attempted to resume his description. "Her father was an architect and her grandfather as well, so, naturally, she married one."
"How like a widow to give her life's story in a preliminary meeting."
Leger made no comment and continued, "Her husband, apparently quite renown..."
"Late husband." Erik interrupted a third time.
"Yes." He then said nothing further.
Erik did not seem to notice. "She must have a catalogue of houses behind her. She is easily bored, I take it?"
"No, it's not..." Leger fingered the leather of his satchel as he carefully chose his phrasing. "It is a bit more convoluted than that, monsieur."
Erik laughed sharply at that exertion of respect. "Forgive me for my presumption. How rude of me."
Leger answered flatly, "You outdo yourself, monsieur."
"Not at all." It was regrettably a fact.
Erik smirked beneath his mask. And then it was he who reverted to the topic of attention, jumping to the heart of the matter with an instantaneous change of tone. "And so she wants to meet with me?"
"Desirously so. She said that, and I quote, despite her considerable efforts to select you as her choice contractor, she will refuse to allow you the commission unless you agree to meet with her."
"She will refuse me! What impertinence. Now I couldn't accept her commission even if she relinquished the idea of a meeting." The tiger of Erik's stubborn loathing for audacity automatically turned its tail against all idea of honoring such impudence with consideration. "Why didn't you give her the usual answer?"
"I did, of course." Leger instinctively took a step toward the door.
Erik watched his assistant closely and drummed his fingers against the column at the window. "Then why are you telling me all this? Do you think I am amused? Or does it amuse you to pique my interest and then disappoint me? You do know how I feel about disappointment."
"I am only half done telling you."
"Her unfinished business? I do not care to hear the second half." Erik returned toward his desk.
"She said she knew very well that you do never meet with your clients. But she insists that for her particular needs, a meeting is necessary."
"They all think it is necessary! I have already decided to not give this widow's needs a second thought. Why are you still talking about her? Who is next?"
But Leger had worked for Erik long enough to be able to tell that the architect was not yet as through with this client as he claimed. "She said that she knew you would refuse."
"Oh, she knows me, does she?"
"The reputation of your inflexibility and bad temper with clients radiates farther than you might think."
Erik paced back to the windows. "And yet they continue to beat down my office doors."
"That is neither here nor there."
"Is there a point?"
"So you want the second half after all?" The older man smiled candidly with his modest victory over Erik's curiosity.
Erik pointedly ignored his own reflection in the dark windowpane and instead focused on Leger's. "My patience with you has never been thinner." But he did not say no.
"Simply put," Leger successfully concluded, "she said you would change your mind after you looked at this." He produced a large document envelope from his satchel, but made no move to approach Erik.
Erik shifted his gaze from the reflection to the night beyond the glass to suppress the immediate inquisitive consciousness. "I would, would I?" A useless effort. He turned back around to face Leger. "What is it?"
"I did not break the seal."
"Of course you didn't." Erik left the window. "Give it back to her."
Leger boldly set the envelope atop the sheaves of papers on Erik's desk. "She insisted I leave it with you."
Erik shot him a glaring look. "Insisted? How much did she give you?"
"It was not a matter of quantity," Leger answered with a grin.
"And why are you so interested in aiding her cause?" But Erik could well assume the answer, "There was a promise of more."
"One never knows." The ambiguity of the comment certainly was intended.
Suddenly, Erik guessed how his assistant could so audaciously defy him. "Is she beautiful?"
Leger only grinned again in response before saying, "She seemed like she might know a thing or two."
Erik looked away and shook his head with a mixture of amused disenchantment. "Might I remind you that you are a married man?"
"Perhaps," Leger conceded. Then, surreptitiously, he added, "But you're not."
Erik spun sharply to face him. "Watch your implication."
With a chuckle, Leger lifted a hand in his defense. "Watch your own. Women really aren't as difficult as all that, you know." He falsified an apathetic shrug. "You're still young, wealthy, and successful in the business, and practically a regional celebrity for your brilliance. Just because you have a face only a mother could love—"
"My mother hated me and my face," Erik snapped.
"I just mean to say—"
"You," Erik cut him off, "who have never even seen my face, you would do well to remember that your financial well-being is at my mercy."
Leger was not yet put off, and he eased back in with his best endeavor of persuasiveness, "What I meant to say was that with this widow's particular...appreciation for architects...she did not seem like the sort of woman to mind if a man were to keep his mask on."
"Get out." Erik had absolutely no tolerance for lewdness.
"I'll just leave this here with you, then." He gave the envelope on the desk a pat.
With a parting nod of assent, Leger quickly left the office to return to his own station in the front lobby.
Alone, Erik resumed his seat at his magnificent, imported drawing desk. He picked up a pencil and directly dove into the unimportant design that happened to be on the top of these papers. It took him a few moments of blind frustration before he realized that the pencil had not made a single mark on the page. He sat back in his chair and stared at it. The pencil was dull. The wood snapped and broke to splinters in his hand before he realized what he had done.
Where was the new one he had just earlier taken from the box? And why was the organization of his desk in such a deplorable state? In a short fit of aggravation, he swept the rolls of papers from the sloped surface to a no less ordered array on the carpet.
Well...At least now the desk was clean. He leaned forward in his chair and ran his hands through his thick dark hair above the mask. It was because he was between projects. Yes, that was why he felt this intense...What was it? Exasperation—a maddening mixture of exhaustion and restlessness that left his insides feeling twisted.
Damn that Leger! Why did he even have to mention that last client? He knew damn well where the boundaries stood with Erik, and he toyed at the edge of the line as if it truly amused him to unsettle Erik's composure. What sort of crack was this ridiculous proposal meant to be? Did the man want his compensation penalized? Perhaps he needed to be reminded of where he would have been now if not under Erik's employ.
Erik sighed and bent to retrieve the rolled scrolls from the floor. He took them to their place on the shelves against the opposite wall and then returned to take care of those unfolded documents. That done, all that remained on the carpet were the missing pencil, a key ring, the marble tile, and that cursed envelope.
Erik did not pick up the envelope. What did he care of this envelope? Or of this widow whose name he had not even learned?...With her presumptuous conviction that he would agree to meet with her, of all clients, when he never dealt in person with any man, much less a woman! Erik and women did not even exist in the same world. It was difficult enough for Erik to find a place in the human race; in no way did he even dare conceive of encroaching on mankind's other half.
He did not care what was in the envelope. But it was at the moment when he told himself this that he wanted to know what was inside. He did not care whatsoever what it was that was inside, just that he knew what it was. It disappointed him that curiosity was conquering his indifference. Perhaps it was the weariness...His mind ordinarily did not rebel against him this way. Better to ignore the envelope completely and forget it was there.
But he could not leave it there on the floor to tempt him until the room was cleaned. He picked it up finally, and as soon as it was in his hands, they itched to break the seal.
No. Burn it. Light the furnace and burn it. Yes. Erik opened the grate.
No. He did not want to burn it. He would have it returned to her. Unopened. The snub would be satisfying. Yes. Erik moved to the door.
No. Return it opened. The rebuff would be more filling when this presuming widow saw that even after fully knowing what was inside this mysterious envelope, Erik would never compromise his principles. Yes...
Erik opened the envelope.
The crash of the office doors bursting open into the foyer made Leger jump as he was putting on his hat to leave for the night, but what truly shocked him was Erik's simple, clipped command:
"Arrange the meeting."
The doors slammed shut as loudly as they had opened. Leger stood silently by the stairs for several long minutes, uncertain that he had heard correctly, but too apprehensive to go back to the office and venture a query. But no other sounds emerged from inside the room, and finally, bewildered, Leger went home.