Good lord, this chapter has taken forever to write. Anyway. Thanks for your paitence. Anyone watching the Sherlock finale tonight? Nervewracking!
Night was beginning to fall as Café Paolo came into view. The place was nothing special, but it was good food and good value, for those with any money left. Checking for traffic, Cora hurried across the road and glanced through the window, but Carl and Preston were nowhere to be seen.
"Typical." She sighed to herself, nudging the door open with her free arm. She ordered a cup of hot chocolate and sat down at an empty table. "Typical, typical Carl." She muttered crossly to herself before realising with a jolt of horror that she sounded exactly like her mother.
In an attempt shake the unease from her mind, she reached into her bag and pulled out a book; Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. It had arrived only a week ago, along with a letter from her older sister, Sadie. Read it Cory, she'd urged her I know you'll love it. So far, Cora had found the novel entertaining enough; the fussy Mrs Bennet reminding her a great deal of her mother's futile attempts to get her married off. For all she complained about her oh-so-perfect sister, Cora still carried a certain fondness for the studious girl. Incredibly intelligent, she was rather more socially confident than her grumpy little sister. Cora still resented her mother's refusal for Sadie to pursue any sort of further education.
Taking a sip of chocolate, Cora opened the book.
"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
Cora smirked into the pages. Darcy sounded like an ass, but she liked his style. Rebellious, going against what everyone else wanted of him. She read on, occasionally checking the time and as half past five, six o'clock and six thirty slipped past, Cora began to worry. When Carl FINALLY burst through the door with the air of an Arctic adventurer returning to an admiring team, Cora leapt to her feet and called across the café; "Where the hell were you?"
Refusing to let his niece's anger sway him, Carl practically danced across the room towards her. "Corinne!"
"Cora!" still nothing could quell his exuberance. "I'm so sorry, circumstances changed, fate intervened! May I…" he gestured to a tall blonde woman behind him. "Introduce you to Miss Ann Darrow?"
Baffled, Cora obliged and held out a hand. "Cora Denham…nice to meet you…"
Ann gave a small nervous smile and shook Cora's hand "Likewise." She was, Cora realised, with a slight pang of envy, overwhelmingly beautiful. In fact, Ann was the very image of what Eleanor probably wanted Cora to be; polite, charming and feminine.
When they were settled, Carl went to the counter to order food and drink and Ann leant towards Cora. "I'm sorry, I must ask – are you Mr Denham's daughter?"
Cora laughed in surprise. "Oh! No! No. I…" She smiled. "I am Carl's niece. He is…was…still is, I guess, my father's brother." She frowned. "Miss Darrow, if I may…Do I know you from somewhere?"
Ann looked down at the table. "You might. I, um. I used to be part of the Vaudeville show…"
"Vaudeville, huh?" Carl exclaimed, returning with a tray of coffee. "I worked Vaudeville once, now, that is a tough crowd!" He sat down and nudged Cora out of the way. "If you don't kill them fast, they kill you."
Their food arrived and Cora watched Ann's eyes widen at the full plate of food set in front of her. She recalled her own words to her mother that morning; 'not everyone's as lucky as us…'the shutdown theater. The closed show. Ann obviously hadn't eaten properly for weeks, Cora realised as the woman dug into the food, visibly attempting to pace herself.
"Mr Denham," Ann began haltingly and Cora glanced back up from her book. "I want you to know that I'm not in the habit of accepting charity from strangers, or for that matter…" She lowered her voice slightly, clearly embarrassed. "Taking things that don't belong to me."
Cora decided that now would be an excellent time to return to Pride and Prejudice and subtly raised the book a little higher, acting immersed in the story. Soon, however, the pages remained static in her hands as she eavesdropped on Carl's conversation.
"It was obviously a terrible misunderstanding…"
"It's just that, I haven't been paid in a while..."
"That's awful. Anyway, Ann - may I call you Ann?"
Cora felt the table shift slightly as Carl leant forward.
"You wouldn't happen to be a size four by any chance?"
Ann froze, a forkful of food halfway to her mouth. Cora's eyes flickered away from the page, wondering if she had missed something. Then, as Ann suddenly scraped her chair back and got to her feet, the penny dropped.
"You. Shmuck." Cora hissed vehemently at her uncle as he stammered his defence to a retreating Ann.
"I'm someone you can trust, Ann." He implored. "I'm a movie producer. Believe me, I am on the level."
The Denham brothers had been as different as chalk and cheese in almost everything bar this – their unfailing ability to appeal to people, to get them on their side.
"I want you to imagine a handsome explorer, bound for the Far East." Carl had begun to spin the tale of the film. They would film in the East, Singapore. On the way, the hero would run into a mysterious beauty, beautiful, yes, but also haunted, fragile...
Cora tried not to roll her eyes. The plot seemed rather predictable, the weak mysterious woman a stock figure, one dimensional, but pretty. But Ann seemed entranced, fascinated even.
"And sure enough, against her better judgement-"
"She falls in love." Ann cut in suddenly. Cora turned to see the other woman's eyes widened, almost dreamlike.
"But she doesn't trust it. She's not even sure if she believes in love."
Cora found herself closing her book slowly, her attention completely divided. Ann seemed to be a better story-teller than even her uncle, even if Ann herself was not quite aware of it. Even Carl seemed slightly thrown.
"If she loves someone," Ann was saying "it's doomed."
"Why is that?" Carl asked, and Ann delivered her coup de grace.
"Good things never last, Mr. Denham."
Something about that last sentiment hit Cora hard. It was true - the good things in life never seemed to last at all, being quickly swallowed up by pain and grief.
Ann suddenly seemed aware of the awkward silence that had settled on the trio's table and looked away. Carl, still a little lost by Ann's confession, glanced sideway at Cora.
She raised her eyebrows as if to reply 'Say something, you dolt."
"So you're interested? Good." Carl stood up suddenly, grabbing his hat and coat, Cora followed his lead. "That's settled then. I don't want to rush you - but we are under some time pressure here..."
Ann shifted nervously. "Well I really..."
"Ann!" Carl protested. "I'm telling you, You're perfect - look at you! You're the saddest girl I ever met ... you're gonna make `em weep, Ann - you're gonna break their hearts!"
Ann looked up with a quiet defiance. "See, that's where you're wrong, Mr. Denham, I make people laugh, that's what I do." She stood suddenly. "Good luck with your picture." She nodded to Cora. "Miss Denham..."
Carl flung his chair back and anxiously chased after Ann, pleading with her to reconsider. " You wanna read a script?" He gabbled desperately. "Jack Driscoll's turning in a draft as we speak!"
Ann stopped dead in her tracks and looked at Carl, stunned. "Jack Driscoll?" She echoed.
"Sure. Why - wait! You know him?"
"Well, no - not personally." She wavered. "I've seen his plays..." She was caught, Cora could see that, ensnared by the mere mention of the playwrights name.
Carl's eyes lit up, as if he sensed her interest. "What a writer, huh?" He began, excitedly. "And let me tell you Ann, Jack Driscoll doesn't want just anyone starring in this picture."
Unbelievable...Cora mused, tucking her coat over one arm.
" He said to me, 'Carl, somewhere out there is a woman born to play this role...' And as soon as I saw you, I knew..."
Ann surveyed him, uneasily. "Knew what?"
Carl played his trump card. "It was always going to be you."
"Forces beyond her control..." Cora whispered to herself. It seemed frighteningly apt, both Ann's situation and almost her own. She looked at Ann, who was staring at Carl, her face unreadable...
"I'll do it."
"I thought Maureen McKenzie was doing this picture?"
"Ehh, Maureen's old news." Carl remarked. "Ann Darrow – now there's a name that's gonna look swell in lights! Oh God." He suddenly added as they turned the corner. Grabbing his niece by the arm, he steered her away from where three cops were stood talking.
"Don't look, don't look, don't draw any attention.."
"Why?" Cora asked, as her uncle nervously pulled his collar up.
"Nothing, nothing..." He herded her along the sidewalk, her suitcase knocking on her legs.
"Carl..." Cora said, slowly realising. "What have you done?"
"I haven't done anything!" He protested, casting a look over one shoulder.
"Okay!" They stopped in a doorway. "You know I went for a meeting with my backers..."
"Well it didn't exactly..." Carl gestured vaguely. "It didn't exactly go to plan."
"What." She deadpanned.
Carl whined in annoyance. "Okay in short, we're kind of doing this movie...not entirely legally."
"Carl!" Cora cried. "Are you crazy?"
"It'll be fine-"
"In what UNIVERSE," Cora hissed, "Would it be 'fine'? And now you've dragged poor Ann into this too?"
"Look, you don't understand." Carl continued quickly. "This is going to be my masterpiece, this is going to make me rich beyond all imagination, this movie is going to change everything."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Trust me!" He snapped. "Trust me, Corinne-"
"Cora, whatever!" He threw up his hands. "Cora. Trust me and I'll make it worth your trouble. Trust me and I'll make you rich."
Cora stared at him for a moment and marvelled at how someone who was so closely related to her reliable dependable father could be so incredibly stupid.
"You're unbelievable." She told him. "But it seems I have no choice in the matter."
He hailed a cab and they climbed in. "I sure hope you don't get sea sick." He remarked as they sped off into the night.