Disclaimer: I own none of the characters based on Leroux or A. L. Webber. This is only my humble homage to their hard work.

Who knows what true loneliness is - not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the

lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some

illusion.

Joseph Conrad

Chapter One: No Monsieur, Madame

He waited in silence. The ticking of the mantel clock seeming to grow louder to him the longer he waited. Erik walked the length of his study again, passing the front windows. Noon had come and gone, yet the delivery he was expecting had not materialized. On the edge of exasperation, he paced before his desk, casting a glance at the documents he was working on. He clasped his hand behind his back, locking his grip.

"Cretans," he said to himself. "No doubt that once I am immersed in my work they will be banging on the door!" After another glance out the window, he sat down upon the bench of the grand piano that took up a larger portion of the room opposite his desk. Resting one elbow on the instrument and trilling the keys with his other hand, he began playing notes in time with the ticking of the clock until he lost himself in the music.

It had taken four years to come to this point in his life. Leaving the Opera Populaire after the fire, he had taken a canal boat back to Rouen, the city of his birth. The river people had known him as the 'scarred man' named Charles Martin while he worked the canal boats. He had built a reputation as a dependable conveyer of goods, both legal and questionable. While living under this guise, and using a third party, he had invested in the businesses and cargo speculators who kept the boats steadily employed.

While increasing his fortune, he hired Georges Dugast to run the company he created. He had purchased a total of three boats and hired crews to man them. The scarred man was seen less frequently and his newest persona that of a well to do gentleman and recluse named Monsieur De La Shaumette appeared in Rouen.

He now resided in a refurbished Norman home on the south bank of the river. He chose this house because of its location and its accessibility. An old habit, he preferred to keep a number of exits from which he could leave the house. He also appreciated that the two north facing windows in his second floor study gave him a clear view of the street below. From these he could monitor the movement of people and carriages past his home. He had converted the top floor to a large bedroom with access to and older servant's stair from which he could leave the house by the back alley. He also enclosed a large closeted area with a hidden access under the roof. Here he kept a number of clothing items and masks that he used to resurrect the scarred man when he needed to move about Rouen.

As he settled into his life and home, he hired a man and wife to be his servants. Etienne and Agnes Bardou were intelligent, quiet, and efficient. Following his implicit instruction and schedule, they cared for his home and his needs. Entering the house in mid-morning to begin the day, and leaving shortly after his dinner was served, they acted as his public face to the outside world, carrying out the mundane tasks required to run his home.

From below in the house came the smells of cooking, and the steady steps of Etienne. There was a soft knock on the door of the study. "Yes, enter." Erik answered.

Etienne carefully swung open the door and entered carrying a bucket of coal for the fireplace. "Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes, Monsieur. Would you care for a fire tonight?"

Although the early April days were warm, the evenings were still chill. Erik preferred the gas lights for illumination, but the fire for warmth. Since leaving the underground to rejoin the world above, the warmth of the fire in the hearth was a small luxury he reveled in.

"Yes, Etienne. I did not realize it was growing so late." He sat back on the bench and flexed his spine, then arose and walked to the window. "I am disappointed. Monsieur Dugast told me to expect the delivery of my new machine to be by noon." He glanced toward the clock on the fireplace mantel. It was nearly six o'clock.

"We have not received any messages this afternoon saying there were any changes in the delivery. Would you like me send a message to M. Dugast?"

Erik could not help but reminisce that this would not have happened if he had had control over this domain as he had exercised over the Opera Populaire. So many changes had taken place in his life, the necessity of re-entering the world of men. "No, Etienne. We shall leave it until tomorrow."

"Of course, here is the paper, Monsieur, and your letters." Etienne placed the items on a small side table next to an overstuffed chair that sat by the fireplace, and quietly left the room.

Erik adjusted the gas light next to the table and opened the previous day's issue of the Paris paper. He had been receiving it by post since he left Paris. Turning to page five, he went directly to the latest installment of the serialized novel that was entitled "The Mystery of the Opera Ghost". The story was in its fifteenth week, and was garnering a wide reader interest. The heroine was a dancer named Camille, who spurns the attentions of a manager who has now taken a murderous turn towards her real lover, Armand. The manager is hideously disfigured in a fire of his own making. Loosing his mind, he stalks Camille and Armand.

The author seemed to be creating a work of pure fantasy; what disturbed Erik was that the character with the masked face might indeed draw attention to him.

He had hoped time and distance would erase the trail back to that night in Paris. His life forever changed by the events that lead to the first performance of 'Don Juan Triumphant'. The bitter moment Christine had torn off his mask and wig in front of the audience. He heard the gasps and shrieks from all around him as he stood starring into her eyes, his mind trying to understand why this ultimate betrayal. He felt the stirring of the anger that followed. The passion he offered, now spurned, turned to a hard determination to force her to accept him. In his mind he remembered reaching out and cutting the rope that would release the chandelier. He cared little for whom it would destroy in its path.

He could see it all again, hear it, feel the desperation that filled him to the point of being crushed by emotions over which he was losing control. He dragged her cruelly down to his private hell, hot tears on his face as he confronted her. His perverse delight as he slipped the lasso around her lover's neck, drawing it tight and telling her to make her choice.

He could also feel once again upon his lips, the gentle first tentative kiss with Christine. He had dared to give her a deeper, more passionate kiss. As the kiss came to a close, so did the dream that she would be his. He had understood so much as he pulled away from her, that he had to hang his head in shame. His great 'love' was no more than a grasping attempt by a desperate man to force her to return the emotion. It was then he realized that the power of love was its ability to transform and to create. It was never meant to imprison the loved one.

She had turned back to him after he had told them to leave, and enfolded the ring in his hand. Was this what love really was? Not a submission, but a gentle giving of yourself to another? Could you pass your heart and soul to another through such a small intimacy? He felt her love, such as it was for her trusted teacher, her companion in darkness. But he also felt her slipping away, drawn by the safety and the warmth of the light.

He closed his eyes. He prayed time would not erase the memory, not the bitter or the beautiful. He held it close to his heart, for that was as close to love as he had come. He touched a finger to his lips, conjuring the feeling of her soft lips brushing his. He dropped his hand abruptly, for downstairs he heard a resounding knock at his front door.

At last, his new machine was here, the American made Remington Typewriter. There were only a few in all of Europe, and Georges Dugast had arranged for six of them to be brought to Rouen. Escorting the machines was to be an American trained, French speaking typist and editor, a Monsieur Emile Griggs. Erik had already contracted for this man's assistance with familiarizing him with the machine, for Erik and Georges Dugast were interested in becoming the French liaisons to the Remington Company.

Hearing Etienne opening the door, he put aside the paper and went to the window. A medium sized horse drawn van sat before his front door. A young man had walked to the back and dropped the gate, reaching in to pull out a large black box. As Erik began to turn away from the window, he saw a woman materialize from the far side of the van. She spoke to the young man and then stepped back as another man entered the view. This man Erik recognized as the regular driver for M. Dugast's deliveries. He stopped to talk to the woman, pointing towards the front door as they spoke.

Hearing Etienne moving toward the stair, Erik went to the gas light and turned it off so that the end of the room in which he stood was in deeper darkness. His back to the fireplace, he knew that anyone entering the study would see his shape, not his features, and therefore miss the mask he wore over his face.

He called for them to enter after he heard Etienne at the door. His servant preceded the young man who carried the box into the room. "Monsieur, your machine has arrived." He made a gesture toward the desk. "Shall we put it here?"

"Yes. That will be fine for now," Erik replied. He watched the young man maneuver the box onto the desk, Etienne hovering near him to speak to him so that the boy turned in his direction to respond rather than to look at Erik. Etienne gestured toward the door and they both moved toward the hall. Stopping short, he and the young man moved aside and into the room stepped the woman.

She walked over to the desk and placed an envelope on its surface next to the machine. She then turned towards Etienne and waited, as he ushered out the delivery man, then turned to face Erik. She stood very still, almost expectantly, and waited, eyes calmly looking at him across the room. In the early evening light Erik took in her small hat, sensible bag, and the plain but business-like dress she wore. Her hair was upswept, but in several places it appeared to be trying to escape from its pins.

As the man before the fireplace made no attempt at introductions, Emily waited quietly for the servant to return. No doubt this was M. De La Shaumette. From his rigid posture and the late hour of the day, Emily had no doubt that her introduction was not going to be received with warm welcome.

Etienne reentered the study and stopped short turning to Erik. "This is Madame Griggs." He turned to Emily and announced, "Madame, this is Monsieur De La Shaumette."

He waited a moment glancing from her to his employer and back to her again. Deciding that discretion was his best choice, he backed out of the room and quietly closed the door.

"Madame," Erik said, taking command, "I take it you have an explanation from M. Dugast as to why my machine had not arrived at its appointed time."

The polite tone was laced with something darker. Emily pictured silk sliding across a sharp blade of steel. A person less experienced in dealing with business men might have overlooked it. Emily had learned from experience that she needed to appear calm, but turn the conversation to her advantage.

"First, I must apologize for any inconvenience our late arrival must have caused you," she began. "I am also sorry for this intrusion into your privacy. But M. Dugast and I thought it best to get your machine delivered tonight."

Surrounded as he was by the glow from the fireplace, she noticed a slight turn of his head. Was this curiosity? The voice once again, laced with displeasure. "And why, Madame, are you here?"

"I am Emily Griggs," she replied. "I am the Remington representative."

He sighed, closing his eyes, holding on to his temper. He pictured some overworked young office assistant hastily scribbling the name down incorrectly. The obvious simplicity of a spelling mistake had led them to believe that the person arriving would be a man. As his luck would have it, instead fate had sent him a female. With the exception of his servant Agnes, Erik did not interact with women. It was easier for him to insulate himself from them. Why should a man that starves, care to stand before a banquet?

Emily gave him a moment, as this was not the first time her appearance had been a surprise. M. Dugast had tried to dissuade her from coming. He said that Monsieur's temper was infamous, and that he was a recluse of sorts. He also warned her that the man she faced was reputed to wear a mask. Undoubtedly this man was not comfortable with dealing with people.

"Monsieur," she began, "the Scottish have an old saying; 'May you lead an interesting life.' I have had about as much of an interesting day as could possibly be imagined." She walked past the desk towards the piano and stopped. "We had a problem with the canal boat, and to summarize the events, we did get the typewriters to safety, but you and your partner are now short one boat." She gestured back to the desk indicating the papers she had put down. "This is what information M. Dugast could give me about the total inventory on the boat that was either lost or has some water damage."

Erik saw that her hand was shaking. Had she gotten close enough to see the mask? She seemed to notice as well and clasped her hands together. "Sorry, Monsieur, but I have had an exhausting day with little food and far too much excitement. I will bid you good evening, as I need to find a hotel. I will send to you where I can be reached, and make arrangements to get you started with the typewriter at your convenience."

"Madame," he began slowly, "when I engaged this contract, I did not expect an assistant. I do not require your services. I am confident that I can handle the machine on my own."

"Of course, Monsieur," she replied. Erik caught the condescending tone of her reply, and felt his teeth grind. How dare she?

Emily indicated the typewriter. "You will need to remove it from its case. Just underneath the front row of keys you will find two locking screws at either end. These will come out and release a bar that locks the machine for shipping. Please note any damage to it or its case and relay that information to me." Emily started for the door; obviously she was not welcomed here. She knew she shouldn't be surprised by the dismissal in his tone. Some of the male clients always thought a woman was an empty headed bit of fluff. It still made her angry, but she had learned to hide it well. One could be so polite in response as long as Remington was paying a fabulous salary.

Rather than be relieved she was leaving, Erik felt a last stab or annoyance. Females were renowned for trying to get the last word. She obviously felt he would have to resort to her knowledge to be able to handle the new machine. He couldn't resist one last opportunity to emphasize that she was not welcome in his home. "Did not M. Dugast explain my situation?"

Emily paused at the door. Like a lion in his den, his voice was like a low threatening purr, it raised the hair on the back of her neck.

She opened the door letting in the light from the hallway. "He did try to dissuade me from meeting you in person." She felt a wicked grin start to light her face. "As you know, I am an American. I told him if you gave me any trouble," she paused and waved a hand, "I'd just have to shoot you." With that she walked out and shut the door.