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Chapter 11

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Chapter Eleven
-- by Deb Moran --

Away from Allies at Night

While the Cardinal Sins finished up their love song, John traveled the last few riders of the staircase, oblivious to the identical fates of his comrades in crime.  He was headed towards the center fountain where black swans were performing plies in the third act of “Swan Lake.”  With the night’s festivities in full plume, he figured no one would pay particular attention to him, especially without Willow’s twin peaks in tow.  “Quite a comely drink of water,” he had to admit.  “And, boy, would those coppers love to get a sip or two from her jugs, “ John quipped to himself in uncharacteristic vulgarity.  “Best we went our separate ways,” he concluded.  “I’ve got quite a good enough companion,” he patted his own chest again for security.

John moved with supple grace and stealth past the Artic mammal exhibit, and as he walked just beyond a banner heralding a “hot” new exhibit on fire ants, a red-turbaned man startled him from behind a rotund, marble pillar.  John whirled around.

The clairvoyant gazed trancelike into John’s eyes, and repeated the mantra he’d recited to David only moments earlier:

              “Once two peas in a pod
                 fate a separation did weave
                 split pea soup up until now
                 soon to be thick as thieves.”

John regarded the obvious lunatic with impatience:  “Huh?  Heavens, take heed.  I haven’t a hint what you are harkening.”  John broke from the Professor’s grasp, muttering over his shoulder. “I have to hurry.  Heading home...”  his voice trailed off.  Brain smiled to himself and went in search of an éclair.

Leaving the Professor and his riddle behind, John continued determinedly.   “Weirdos.  What is it with this wackiness every which way I wander?” he wondered to himself.  “Nuts!  All of them nuts. Never knew this number of nuthatches nested near here,”  John mumbled as he shook his head in bewilderment.

Approaching the center hall, the beams of pink and blue light sparkling off the droplets of the center fountain, the Cat was just a few yards from the Lombard Street entrance and freedom.  He gazed around and stopped still in his tracks.

Utter bedlam reigned.  Sapsuckers screeched. Butlers bellowed.  Patrons panicked.  Dancers desisted.  Harmonies hushed.  Waiters wailed.  Through the cacophony of hysteria, John heard clear shouts of “leopard” and “police.”  The last word commanded his attention, and he now leapt towards the entrance doors.  In his haste, he failed to see the tiny obstacle directly in his path, and, thwack, head over shiny black Maryjanes toppled one small girl.  Her face already red and swollen from tears.

“So sorry, Sweetie,”  John righted her to her feet, the small child clinging to his leg.  “Simply didn’t see you standing so still.  Shall I survey you for scratches and scars?  Summon a surgeon for sutures?”

 Allie, softly crying, squinched her perfectly arched eyebrows together in confusion, unsure how to respond.

“Ah, am I alliterating again?  I’ll endeavor to enunciate in easier English.”  He took a deep breath.  “Are you hurt, little girl?”

“WAAAHHH!”   Allie ratcheted up her sobbing to hysterics over the double indignity of being toppled over and then being called a little  girl.

John knelt down to face her:  “There, there, tiny tot.  Try not to tantrum,”  he consoled, but to no avail.  At warp speed, tiny vocal chords reached decibels that could bring dogs and cats to their knees, which was unfortunate for the Cat.  He brought her towards his chest, frankly less out of tenderness than to muffle her shrieks.

Allie finally looked her tormentor in the eye, and broke into a smile at the familiar face. “Mon ami!”  She hugged him mightily.  “I have, sniffle, missed you so. Sniffle.  But where is Maman and Auntie E and Baby?”    And with the mention of the beloved misplaced leopard, the waterworks began anew.  “I-I-I- c-a-a-n’t  f-f-f-i-i-i-n-d them-m-m.  We c-a-a-a-m-e to s-e-e- you and Maman, sniffle, and then B-a-a-a-by ate a bird, and kno-o-o-cked a ta-a-ble over and I got pushed u-u-n-n-der it .”  Catching her breath, her voice rose excitedly:  “Then I found, sniffle, a piece of gum, and I finally got it unstu-u-uck, and when I looked again, Auntie E. and Baby were gone.  Mrs. Gogarty, too, but,” Allie whispered, “she smells of cod liver oil and lilac water and I don’t like either.”  With that, a pink bubble burst forth and quickly exploded over her delicate lips and dimpled chin.

“Sad, sad story,” John soothed her.  “You must have sustained a scratch on the skull when we smacked.”  Poor little lost kitten, she was talking as nonsensical as that insane man in the turban he’d just run across, John thought to himself.

“Will you help me find Maman and Auntie E and Baby?”  she asked pleading with said, brown saucer-like eyes.

John didn’t have time to pussyfoot around with this lost lamb, but, then again, what better cover could there be?  Besides, fatherhood loomed on the horizon, and a sudden swell of tenderness for this child enveloped him.

Scooping her up, John patted her head, readjusting the pink satin bow adorning her ponytail.  “Patience, Princess, and we shall prevail.  Proceed, please, to point me to your parent,”  he instructed.

The Cat and the kitten moved back towards the fountain where the swans, whose performance had been cut short by Baby’s appearance, were now stretching their wings (as every well-disciplined performer should do post performance.)  Allie, momentarily mollified because she was with her adored Uncle David (or so she thought), was transfixed by the spectacle of wings and things that had once been the Ball.  Noise, color and chaos dotted the canvas before her.

“Do you detect the dear dame?”  John queried as they walked among the tables.  Before Allie could answer, a voice rose from behind a gilded, life-size birdcage, stopping John short (which was quite a feat as John, at almost 6’2”, was rather tall).

“Psst.  Hey, Bossh,” D.K. lisped through toothless gums.  “Where youse been?  I was gettin’ noyvis, and dis place is crawlin’ wit da copsh.”

“D.K.,” John hushed the taxi driver as he nodded down at Allie.  Then in a lowered tone:  “Relax.  I recovered the rock rightaway, and its right here,”  John patted his chest.  “But this ravishing romper requires a reunion with her relations.”

D.K. looked askance at John.  “Huh?  Waddya rattlin’ about, Bossh?”

“She’s lost her family,”  John informed D.K. with a measure of annoyance that was unwarranted given John’s looney languaging of late.

“But, Bossh, da cops--”

“Who’s he, Uncle David?” Allie interrupted.

Ignoring the child, John began to fill D.K. in on the evening’s turn of events.  So absorbed in conversation were they, neither noticed Allie reach into John’s sweater and pluck out a shiny gemstone.

“Uncle David?”  Allie blew a pink bubble.

“Quiet, my quizzical queen,” John paid her scant attention.  Turning back to D.K., they continued their discourse.  D.K. asked John to repeat, for his amusement, the part about John finding the diamond in its “creepy corpusle creole,” as John had put it.

“But, Uncle David, what is--”

“Shush.  Cease the senseless squawking, Sweetheart.”  John put a finger to Allie’s little lips.  Whispering to D.K., “Kid’s got a concussion. Thinks I’m her uncle or something.”

“BUT, UNCLE DAVID!”  Allie screamed so loudly it attracted the attention of a nearby security guard.

Spotting the guard heading towards them,  John turned to D.K., and in a voice loud enough for the guard to hear, said to the cabbie:  “Now, Uncle David, take your little niece here and bring her to your sister, her mother.  OK, Uncle David?  I have to see a man about some ‘ice’,” John winked at D.K. as he handed Allie over to his silently protesting co-conspirator.

The guard was upon them, looked at the three to assure himself that all was well.  “The bar is that way,” the rent-a-cop pointed to his right, obviously misunderstanding John’s reference to “ice.”  “But, I think it’s closed.  The Ball is over -- some guy brought a ferocious jaguar.  Can you believe a live cat in here?  Like a cat would really care about the Hope Diamond!  Not in a million years...”

The sweat rushed down John’s back as he laughed nervously in agreement.  D.K. flashed John a gummed grin.  Mercifully, the officer walked away.

“Aw, Bossh, wad am I gonna do wit dis kid?”

“Bossh?  BOSSH?!”

John was deaf to D.K.’s pleas.  He was already heading towards the exit and his Aston Martin, and from there to Eddie Chang’s for the exchange -- carats for a whole lotta “potatoes.”  “Vegetables are soooo good for you,” he mused to himself.  John smiled as he patted his chest for the umpteenth time that night.

Suddenly his smile vanished.  He checked one more time, frisking himself furiously.  Nothing.  Once again, Hope was gone.  Had he paid attention, John would have known that he had just handed over the world’s most precious diamond to a little girl he knew nothing about, except that she likes to troll the underside of tables for discarded chewing gum.  The Cat was about to have a hissy fit.

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