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FAN FICTION
"PRELUDE TO A HISS"
Chapter 4


Chapters
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23  

Chapter Four
-- by Jenny Allan --

The phone rings, startling David. He jumps, causing the packing material he is laboriously removing from the catís crate, to fly up in the air around him. The strips of shredded newspaper land on his head like a toupee dropped from the 12th floor.

"Hello, Huxley here," he snaps into the phone. He always alliterates when irritated.

"Darling, why have you run off and left Ali and me to fend for ourselves?" Domi purrs into the phone.

"Well, Darling, I mean, Domi, you see, it couldnít be helped. Iíll be back with you before you know it."

"Youíll be back with me, this evening."

"Oh, no, no, no, Domi. Iím afraid thatís impossible. You see I have to unpack the Californicus. Then it has to painstainkingly preserved. Inch by inch, bit by bit with a twelve step process involving special UV-resistant resin andó"

"You have to eat donít you? A big, stout lad like yourself, has to eat eventually."

"Well, yes, but I donít see what that has to do with it. Youíre in Connecticut and Iím in Californicus, I mean Californiaó"

"Thatís where youíre wrong, Darling. I took the first flight this morning. Iím at the Drake hotel in beautiful, ROMANTIC, downtown San Francisco."

"Oh, dear. The Drake. Iím at the Drake. This is going to be a dreadful distraction, Domi."

"David!"

"What?"

"Youíre alliterating again."

"Sorry. Itís just that I wonít have time for social engagements, especially not this evening. I was planning to get some Chinese take-away and just eat here, with the Californicus."

"I thought the cat was dead."

"Oh, it is. Most definitely, long dead. I just meant that I was going to eat while I continued to work on the Californicus. Painstaking Ö 
bit by bit Ö12-step process and all."

"The Californi-whatsis will be just as dead tomorrow. I donít see what difference one little, itty bitty dinner with Domi would make?"

"You donít? Well, I do. I wish to avoid any type of social entanglements. And children especially," he found himself quoting another woman from his past, Alice Swallow.

"You neednít worry about Ali. Sheís safely back in Connecticut with your Aunt Elizabeth and the Gogarties."

"You left her with Gogarty? Sheíll be drinking whiskey and joining the IRA before Saturday. Youíd better go back to her right away, Domi."

"Nonsense, David. I left her with your Aunt Elizabeth and Mrs. Gogarty-- a fine up-standing pair of women. Sheíll probably teach me a thing or two about manners by the time we return."

"No, no, no, now listen Domi. There is no WE. YOU will return to Connecticut tomorrow morning and I will get on with my Californicus."

"David, Darling, I love it when youíre resolute."

(Perturbed sigh of annoyance on Davidís part.)

"Do you dear, I mean Domi. Well, Iím very resolute on this point. I promise Iíll partake of dinner with you if you promise to put yourself on the plane."

"Youíve got a deal, David. Iíll meet you at Eddy Chengís in Chinatown at seven oíclock."

"Eddy Chengís? I donít know where that is."

"Oh itís easy, just walk up to the gates of Chinatown. Eddy Chengís is the third place on the left, with a big, jade-colored door. Itís quite a posh little get away. I hear Cary Grant eats there when heís in town."

"Iím sure I donít know who youíre talking about. But Iíll try to find itÖ third door on the right."

"Left."

"Right, on the left. Yes, Iíll remember. See you then. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, David Darling."

David hangs up the phone with an extended cry of frustration. "Third door on the right. Eddy Grant. What a lot of hooey!"

*********************************

Meanwhile in the elegant penthouse apartment of John and Francie Robbie, Jessie Stevens stares out the floor to ceiling picture window, with itís VERTIGO-inducing view of the San Francisco bay. She turns and flops down in a mod club chair and begins flipping through a National Geographic magazine. On the cover is a picture of the rolling plains and lush green trees of Minnesota. She sighs deeply. Francie enters.

"Whatís the matter, Mother?"

"I miss Minnesota already. Itís such a pretty place this time of year. It reminds me of our old ranch, when Jeremiah was alive."

"That broken down old scrap heap was a big patch of dust and cow skulls and you know it. What sentimental rose-colored, or in this case, emerald-colored glasses you wear to look back on it, Iíll never understand. Getting out of there was the best thing that ever happened to you."

"I know dear. I guess Iím just a bit blue is all. How about you? You donít seem your usual blissful self these days."

"I was happy enough when you walked in last night."

"Yes, but it doesnít last long does it, the blush of romance. If I didnít know better Iíd say youíre getting worry wrinkles on your forehead."

"Hush mother! How could you say such a thing!"

"Ha! Youíd think I said you worship Cuthulu or something. All I meant was you look a bit worried."

"Well, itís no wonder, Iím anxious. Johnís been acting very strange lately. Mother, you have to promise not to breathe a word, but I think heís returned to his old profession."

"Is that all, Francie? You had me worried there for a minute. If he were running around with someone else, or drinking bourbon for breakfast then youíd haveÖ.well, youíd have Jeremiah. But a little cat burglary?! Well, thatís nothing to get yourself in a stew over. Thatís how you two met after all."

"Yes, Iím well-aware of that mother. This is different. Heís in trouble somehow; I can sense it. And he wonít confide in me. If itís money, he needs, I have more than enough for all of us. I just donít understand why heís doing it."

"Is this the resourceful girl, I raised? Whereís the young woman who went along with a police conspiracy and nearly drove off the side of a mountain just to prove her manís innocence. Show a little pluck, girl. Weíll figure this out, the two of usó"

"Figure what out?" John Robie, says, entering from his study suddenly, where heíd spent the morning going over the article about the Hope Diamond.

"Oh, nothing. Just what to do for dinner this evening. Iím so tired of dining at the same old places," Francie quickly adds.

"Well, what about Eddyís? We havenít been there in ages," John suggests.

"Not Eddy Chengís. Itís in the dreariest part of town: all those headless ducks in the windows and no street lights. Do you want my mother to eat hot lead for dinner?"

"Youíd better not answer that, John." Jessie quips.

"And besides didnít you say that you only went to Eddy Chengís for the contacts in the underworld, and not for the Peking Duck?" Francie says, raising an eyebrow in SUSPICION.

"Did I say that? Oh dear."

"John, donít play coy. Youíre up to something and I know it!"

"Youíre up to something," John imitates mockingly, then a tender smile flashes across his face. He sits down on the sofa arm next to Francie, taking her hand in his and nibbling her ear.

"Hoooo boy. Do you know how to run interference, John Robbie. You should try out for the Forty-Niners." Jessie interjects, standing and walking over to rub a smudge off of the window. "But we canít be blown off course, quite so easily. The Stevens girls are a force to be reckoned with, right Francie?" She turns back. Francie and John are making out quite heavily now. They pause briefly and turn to look at her.

"Did you say, something, Mother?" Francie says with a wink.

********Later that Evening at Eddie Chengís in Chinatown********

The Robbies and Jessie Stevens await a table at the bar. Domi is seated at a quiet table in the corner. She checks her watch repeatedly as she waits for David to arrive.

"I canít believe you didnít make reservations." Francie huffs at John.

"It is my old pal Eddy, after all, I thought we wouldnít need them," John says a bit miserably.

"Ah, well, thereís always room for cocktails," Jessie chirps.

"Havenít you had enough? Thatís your third already. Youíve had more Manhattan than Gene Kelly on shore leave."

"Ha haaaaaaa," John squeezes out a laugh. "Donít scold your mother, Francie. Sheís a big girl."

"Iím on to you, John Robie," Jessie says "You just want to get me drunk so I canít find out what little scheme youíve got going."

"Mother Stevens, I would never think of such a thing. How can you even suggest it?"

"HA!" says Jessie, "Ah, well, youíre cute and you can talk your way out of anything. I guess youíll do."

"John, weíve got to get some food into her before she starts dancing on the bar top."

"Youíre right. Iíll go check with the matreíd see where that table went to."

"Here, give Ďem this. That should do the trick!" Jessie says stuffing a 20 into Johnís breast pocket. He blushes, but he doesnít refuse the money.

John heads to the front of the restaurant to look for the maitreíd, but heís is nowhere to be seen. He turns around a quiet corner, thinking maybe the errant host slipped into the coat check for a smoke, when he passes by Domiís quiet little out of the way table.

"There you are! Do you realize your thirty six, no thirty seven minutes late."

"Iím sorry, you must be mistaken, Iím onlyó"

"Iím not mistaken, I just had this watch cleaned and checked before I left. You are precisely thirty seven minutes late. But I forgive you darling," she purrs, grabbing the sleeve of his suit and yanking him down into the seat next to her, This movement is accompanied by a distinct tearing noise as she separates the top of his sleeve from his coat.

"Oh, youíve torn your coat."

"Thatís quite a grip you have there. Ever thought of becoming the girl on the flying trapeze."

"Oh, darling. Youíre so witty this evening. I thought for sure you were sore at me."

"Sore, no, itís just a jacket after all. Be a little bit tricky explaining it to my wife, but thatís alright."

"Darling, Iím worried about you. Youíre working too hard. You know very well that your wife is dead."

"Say, young lady, thatís not funny," John stands, turns and begins to leave. Domi grabs his other sleeve, and RIIIIIPP.

"Oops."

"Thatís alright. Vests are in this season. Look, if youíve no more tailoring to do for me, Iíll just be getting back to my wife," he says yanking his arm away from Domi, with a final tear, leaving her holding his shredded sleeve. He returns to the bar to find Francie and Jessie. The Stevens girls are no longer there. He goes back to the dining room to find them seated in another quiet corner, the opposite side of the restaurant from Domi.

"Thatís a new look for you John, but then again you never can tell with the kids these days," Jessie says.

"What? Oh this. Never mind , I had a run in with the lunatic. Never did find the maitreíd."

"Thatís fine. We got this table anyway with our feminine wiles," Francie says, leaning into John. "Say is that Chanel #6 I smell?"

"I donít know. Maybe itís the eggrolls, they always smell good when youíre hungry and Iím starved arenít you?"

"Stop changing the subject. You know I only wear Chanel #5. Where did you pick up that strange scent?"

"I told you I had a run-in with a lunatic. A babbling idiot who mistook me for someone else. Someone who was 37 minutes late, apparently. And I got the short end of the sleeve for my troubles."

"This lunatic didnít happen to be your fence did he? Rough you up a little over a disagreement?" Francie says toying with his remaining, tattered sleeve.

"My fence? Rough me up? What kind of talk is that for a lady. Next thing youíll be going on about moving the hot goods and knocking over liquor stores. I tell you Mother Stevens, your daughter watches too many crime dramas."

"Besides, who ever heard of a fence wearing Chanel #6." Jessie adds.

As John talks his way out of his predicament, David Huxley finally arrives at Eddy Chengs. The maitreíd seats him immediately at Domiís table.

"There you are! Am I ever livid. I see you at least changed your suit. I feel a bit bad about that, but leaving me here alone again and babbling on about your wife. I was just about to give up on this whole evening!"

"Sorry, Iím late Domi. No, I didnít need to change my suit and you know perfectly well that Susan, God rest her soul, is no longer alive. I came straight from the museum. But I got all confused. The directions. Third door on the right. Eddy Grantís and all that. It took me forty minutes in a cab with a toothless smelly driver, to find this place."

"Well, never mind youíre here now. And Iím sure your tailor can reattach this," she says dangling the sleeve in front of him. His eyes bug out in confusion.

"What is that?"

"A sleeve."

"I can see itís a sleeve, but where did you get it."

"Off of your coat."

"Well, honestly, Domi, I knew you were obsessed, but next time, Iíll give you a lock of my hair. No sense ruining a perfectly good suit just because you canít bear to be away from me for an afternoon."

"No silly, I pulled it off the coat you were wearing not ten minutes ago. Whatís the matter with you? Have you been knocked on the head or something?"

"No, but Iím beginning to want to knock you on the head! Ten minutes ago, I was riding around with toothless Joe from Oakland, looking for Eddy Grantís place only it turns out, you told me wrong, itís Eddy Chengís and ó"

"Excuse me sir, youíre wanted on the phone," a waiter says, suddenly appearing from the kitchen.

"It must be the museum. I told them to call me here, if they had any trouble unpacking the Californicus. Iíll be with you in a minute, Domi," he says and follows the waiter around the corner.

"Grrrrrr. Alone again!" Domi says, slamming her napkin down.

"Ok, whereís the phone?" David asks the waiter.

"What phone?"

"You said I was wanted on the phone? Is everyone here completely nuts?"

"Not nuts sir, just a little screwball. I apologize for the ruse, but Mister Cheng told me to come and get you away from your lovely wife so that he can give you the low down on the job."

"My wife is dead."

"She sure looks lively enough to me," he says elbowing David in the ribs.

"Thatís not my wife, thatís my dinner companion. Oh whatís the use, Iím going back to the museum to get some work done."

"Thatís what Mister Cheng wants to talk to you aboutóthe museum job."

"Well, now weíre getting somewhere. Take me to this Mister Cheng!" David demands and the waiter ushers him through a darkened corridor behind the cloak room and into a tastefully decorated paneled office. Eddy Cheng, a well-dressed Asian man of forty, sits behind a large walnut desk, with a Ming dynasty vase, encased in the wall behind him. He rises and embraces David, who is somewhat confused by Chengís informality.

"Good to see you, my friend. How is the Cat this evening?"

"Oh fine, fine. Still all packed up at the museum. Say, how did you know about the job?"

"Thereís not much that goes on in the way of museum jobs in this town, that Eddy Cheng doesnít know about."

"Oh I get it. Philanthropist, eh. Museum groupie. We get those all the time. Back in Connecticut we had a Mrs. Carlton Random who left all her dough to me for my work."

"Left it for your work? Ah, what a charming way you have of putting things. I shall have to remember that one."

"Ok, suit yourself, Mister Cheng."

"Call me Eddy."

"Suit yourself EDDY, but I really must know what it is about the museum that you are trying to tell me."

"Only this: the story about the rock is all a ruse. Theyíve got it hiding in a prehistoric cat. Californicus, something or other."

"What??"

"I know the irony is delicious, is it not. The Cat, stalking the rock, all the while itís in a cat."

"Good, heavens man, speak English!"

"Iíll have you know my English is impeccable. I was born in this country and went to Stanford."

"Thatís not what I meant at all. I beg your pardon. I didnít mean to offend you. I only meant that I havenít the faintest idea what your talking about."

"This is not the Cat that I remember from the old days. The Cat never missed a trick. I will tell you one more, time and I wish youíd pay attention. Theyíve got the rock hiding in some old fossil at the natural history museum. The one on display is fake."

"Now, youíre mistaken, Eddy. I see where the confusion is. Itís quite a common mistake actually. When a skeleton becomes a fossil, it literally becomes a rock. You donít hide rock in it. It actually is rock. The minerals in the bone get slowly replaced with earth minerals and turn to stone, bit by bit, inch by inch, over thousands of years. Iíd love to stay and give you a lesson in basic paleontology, but my eggrolls and my dinner companion are getting cold," he turns to leave and bumps smack into the waiter who has crept up behind him.

"Pardon me," David says to the waiter whoís sprawled out on the floor. Eddy Cheng rushes to help him and David slips out the door. Flustered from his meeting with Cheng, he returns to Domiís table. She has left. He sits down, thinking maybe she went to the powder room. He takes a bite of now cold egg roll. He sighs. The waiter appears again.

"Ahh, excellent. Iím starved. Weíll have the Peking Duck dinner for two and a bottle ofÖ a bottle ofÖwhat goes with duck?"

"Your wife, sir."

"My wife goes with duck. That makes no sense, as I told you my wife is dead, and surely sheís in a place quite free of water fowl."

"Excuse me, I meant your dinner companion. She left. She was a bit upset. She said you could keep your stupid, Californi-whatsis and shove it up youró"

"Oh dear, I see what you mean. That must have been what you came to tell me back in Eddyís office. Sorry about crashing into you like that. Nose stop bleeding, yet?"

"Yes, sir, thanks for asking. Can I still get you something to eat?"

"Iíll have the duck for one to go, please."

"Anything else?"

"No. Huh. Thatís funny."

"Whatís funny, sir?"

"Well the duck for one to go, is sort of what I had in mind earlier today, only itís not the same somehow."

"Perhaps, the duck for twoó"

"What goodís a duck for two for one and a dead cat?"

"Iím quite sure I have no idea, sir. Wait is this a riddle? Mister Cheng is good at those. Iíll go ask him."

"No, no, no, leave Mister Cheng back in his gilded cage to ponder the mysteries of nature. You stay right here until Iíve ordered."

"Whatever you say, sir."

David stares absently at the menu, wrinkling his brow. In his right hand he toys with the sleeve that Domi left on the table. He smiles a bit. It reminds him of Susan, who wasnít above a little sleeve ripping now and again. The waiter clears his throat, bringing David back to the matter at hand.

"You know, I will take that duck for two to go and a bottle of your finest bubbly to go with it."

"Champagne with duck?"

"Why not?"

"Well, itís just that duck is quiteÖwell, duck just doesnít go with Champagne."

"Well, what goes with duck?"

"Here we go again."

"No, no. Why donít you just give me the champagne and some food to go with it. Something ROMANTIC, something that says, Iím sorry Iíve taken you for granted. Something Ö well, something other than duck."

"Ok, thatíll be one bottle of Dom Perignon to GO and two orders of something romantic that says Iím sorry Iíve taken you for granted. Coming right up!" he says tearing off several sheets in his waiterís notepad. He rolls his eyes and returns to the kitchen.

Meanwhile back at the Robbieís table, the Peking Duck dinner for three is well into itís third course, that being, the duck. Jessie Stevens has headed off to the powder room to freshen up.

"Delicious duck, isnít it dear. I donít know why we donít dine here deliberately."

"John, is there something wrong. You seem a bit irritable."

"What makes you say that?"

"Eight Ďdís in a row."

"Oh, sorry. I guess I must be the only man in the world to alliterate in times of stress."

"Are you under stress, dear?"

"I am just a bit distracted. Itís just that I remembered a phone call I should have made this afternoon. Need to order more oak barrels from France. One can never have enough barrels in the wine business."

"Mmm hmm."

"Maybe I should go make that phone call. Get it out of the way, you know, so that I can concentrate fully on the duck," he says rising to his feet, scanning the restaurant for a sign of Eddy Chang.

"You wouldnít want the duck to feel neglected," Francie says but heís already out of earshot.

John moves around the bar, stealthily, in a manner that some might describe as cat-like. The waiter approaches, carrying a large sack of take-out food and a bottle of Champagne.

"Here you are sir. I think youíll like the meal. I had the chef, whip up a little something. Itís goose liver. Kind of like Foie Gras, only itís Chinese. It goes remarkably well with the bubbly."

"Chinese foie gras? I think your mistaken, my good man. I ordered the duck for three."

"The duck for three? You were going back and forth about one and two for a while, donít tell me youíre going to play duck, duck, goose liver! I beg your pardon sir, but I distinctly remember that you did NOT order ANY duck, let alone three."

"Donít argue. Just get that Chinese foie gras and that Dom Perignon out of here. If my wife sees that sheíll know Iím up to something. Champagne and trouble always go hand in hand with me. Iím NOTORIOUS for it."

"Right away, sir, what ever you say. By the way, is there something wrong with your coat sir?"

"Itís sensitive to questions! Look, can you just tell me where Eddy is?"

"Heís back in his office, cleaning my blood off of the carpet."

"Alright, now weíre getting somewhere. And remember what I said. Get rid of the CHAMPAGNE!"

John sneaks up alongside the coat check and the rest rooms, on the look out for Jessie returning from the ladies. Seeing the coast clear, he tiptoes behind David Huxley, his identical twin, whose back is turned to him and down the corridor to Eddyís office.

As John enters Eddyís office, Jessie returns from the rest room and spots David at his table. Mistaking him for John, she sits down.

"What are you doing over here? And whereís Francie?"

"Francie who?"

"Oh I see, you must have gotten in a fight. I canít take that girl anywhere."

"Madame, I have no idea what your talking about."

"Donít you play dumb with me. It takes two to tango. Francie may be uppity, but sheís genuinely concerned about you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Leaving her alone in Chinatown to eat hot lead with me in my weakened condition on account of my love for Manhattan."

"That settles it. Everyone in this screwy town is completely, certifiably, commitably WACKO!"

Just then the waiter returns, with an even larger package containing duck for three to go.

"Your duck, sir."

"I didnít order duck. Remember, I ordered champagneó"

"Aha! Champagne! You ARE up to something. Francie was right!"

"Madame, would you kindly shut up!" David says and then turns his attention to fighting with the waiter. The waiter wanders off shaking his head while David follows still repeating his complicated order.

Meanwhile Jessie stomps off in a huff toward the bar. "Well, I never! Wait until Francie hears about this!" She is just about to order her fourth Manhattan, when she spots Francie out of the corner of her eye.

"Iíll have a Manhattan please, bring it to my table. Iím over there with the pretty blonde that looks like the Princess of Monacco," she says and returns to find Francie quite miserable and alone.

"Youíre not going to believe what your husband just did. He told me to shut up. Right to my face. And you know what else?"

"No, what else?"

"Heís been ordering champagne!"

"Champagne! Oh dear. Itís worse than I thought. First the alliteration and now this," Francie says bursting into tears.

"Hush, dear. Donít make a fuss. Itís not like you to cry in public. You must be really upset," she says handing Francie a handkerchief. She blows her nose loudly.

"Oh I donít know what it is Mother. Iím so moody lately. One minute, Iím deliriously happy, the next minute Iím anxious and now Iím blubbering like a baby."

"A baby, huh?"

"Oh, Mother, you donít think. No, it canít be. Not after all these years of trying. Not now, itís all too crazy."

"Well, stranger things have happened, my dear. You tell me. Is it possible?"

"Why yes, it could be, but it just didnít occur to me."

"Well, itís starting to look like it DID occur to you, honey."

Just then the bar man arrives with Jessieís Manhattan. She places it in the middle of her otherwise empty plate.

"Thank you. I have a feeling this is going to be just delicious."

"Oh, Mother!"

"Donít oh mother, me. Iím drinking for two now that youíre out of the loop."

Meanwhile, John fresh from his enlightening meeting with Eddy Chang in which John managed to extract the low-down on the museum job from his bewildered host, heads back across the restaurant. Just then David Huxley comes out of the kitchen bearing a tower of bags containing Chinese foi gras, champagne and duck for three to go. The pile of bags is so high that neither John nor David see each other and narrowly avoid a disastrous collision and the end of the confusion which drives a screwball comedy. David walks out of the restaurant and hails a cab, back to the Drake and Domi, while John returns to his wife and his mother in lawÖ


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