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Chapter 5

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Chapter Five
-- by Deborah Moran --

The plot, as with aging milk and Domi's French accent, thickens... 

--The Owl and the Pussy Catz--

"The cat in the rock.  Rock-a-bye kitty.  Eddie Grant.  Cary Chang.  Oh, I'll never get it right, or was it left...." David muttered to himself as the elevator opened on the 10th floor of the Drake Hotel.

Like an acrobat in a knockabout troupe, David precariously balanced the Leaning Tower of Piz[z]a, or rather Chinese, on one arm, while with his free hand, he tore open at an envelope tacked to the door of Room 1003.  Inside was a telegram:

The Cat is coming.  Stop.  Baby depressed without you.  Stop.  Arriving with Gogarty tonight by train at 9 pm. Stop.  M. Applegate sends his best.
                                                 Aunt E.

"His best what?" David pondered to himself while rummaging through the remnants of the envelope looking for whatever was Major Applegate's "best."  "Aunt Elizabeth, the dear, can be so vague at times," he thought.  He found the contents empty -- whatever was the "best" obviously had not made it into the wire.

Engrossed in the mystery of the envelope, David failed to register that he had less than an hour to eat and get to the train station.  If he had thought about it, he would have realized that one whiff of that Peking duck would have put Baby in a fowl mood, and he in an even fouler one for having to share it with her, being as famished as he was. 

David fumbled with the room key for a moment.

"Cherie, is that vous?" Domi, the little French tart called out.

Startled  (David was not expecting an interloper, no matter how attractive her "lopes"), David lost his grip on dinner and the bags of Asian delights plummeted to the marble tile, rice ricocheting, sauces splattering, and duck discombobulating every which way.  The contents of 12 cartons now nothing more than a gastronomical Jackson Pollack floor painting.

Domi surveyed the steaming heap.  "What is this you have brought me, my succulent soufflé?  French tulips and chocolat say 'I love you' so much more than a gift from zee garbage disposal,"  she teased.

With agitation in his voice, David peered down his perfect nose at her:  "For your information, Madame, your presence frightened me as I was not expecting company.  And I certainly was not trying to say anything about love."  The last word garbled and barely audible.

The room's radiator was obviously broken because David's temperature had spiked considerably in the last two minutes.  He couldn't be falling for this beguiler. Or could he?  His inner voice spoke volumes:  Gee whiz, he was over 40 after all, and it had seemed like ages since he'd shared a pillow with a creature who didn't have raw sirloin breath and whiskers (except Grandmother Huxley when he visited her last month at the retirement home and took a nap with her, but that was altogether different.)

"Oh, my playful poodle, I should be cross with you," Domi purred as she reached up to scratch behind his ears."  The way you left me alone at zee restaurant for half zee night, I had no choice but to leave and come back here," she said as she pointed to the king-size bed.  

"It wasn't half the night.  Technically, the nocturnal period officially commenced, according to Greenwich mean time, at 7:03 pm, and will conclude tomorrow at sunrise which is scheduled to occur at 5:52 am.  Thus, by my calculations nighttime will actually last for 10 hours, 49 minutes, and half of that is only 5--"

Cutting him off mid sentence: "Mon ami, I am not wise like you.  I am French.  Zee only science I am interested in is zee one that deals with our bodies."

"I didn't know you were interested in anatomy.  I have just finished reading Pascal Caffet's theory of the evolution of the talus bone in Mesozoic Tagus River Region Homo Sapien.  Fascinating.  He believes--"

"David!" Domi again interrupts, frustration and pheromone in her voice to accompany the look of come hither on her face.

Recognition of her meaning dawned on David.  "Oh, that kind of anatomy," he sputtered out.  His internal thermostat sharply spiked several additional degrees.  "Golly, er, ahem, will you look, um, at that mess on the floor," David purposely leaped to another subject quicker than a gazelle fleeing a starving lion.   "Better, um, clean that up.  Don't want bugs...." He turned away.

And as he quickly retreated from her carnally charged campaign, David stepped right in the middle of the Chinese disaster, his left foot gliding in a puddle of duck sauce, and WHAM, he landed smack on his moo goo gai can.

"Now look at me," David hrrumphed to Domi's squeals of laughter.  "Very funny, ha ha.  Don't just stand there. Help me up."

As Domi reached down to assist, their eyes locked.  They were face to face, lip to lip, or more accurately collagen to scar. She traced the tiny scar with her fingernail, a seemingly instinctual urge to lick the old wound as if to heal.  David never did tell her how he got it, but the blush on his cheeks when she queried made a second attempt at future inquiry definitely worthwhile.

David lowered his eyes, tilted his head slightly, took a deep breath, parted his lips, his heart pounding furiously, his impulses beseeching.  Suddenly, visions of cat fights, warm milk baths, his chest a human scratching post, matzo balls and yarn surfaced through to the rational part of his brain.

STOP!  the telegram operator in his head signaled the message.

David quickly returned to his senses and stood, the amber goo dripping down his pant leg.  "Ahem, I better go, uh, change, and you , well, you should return to your own room.  It's getting late.  And your reputation...."

"Nonsense.  It's only 8:30; zee night is still ours to paint.  Besides, I have a special surprise for vous, mon puff pastry."

"Domi, dear, you know I detest surprises," David said over his shoulder as he closed himself in the lavatory to dress.

He rejoined her a moment later, disappointed to see that she had not returned to her room, but more disappointed in himself  that he was disappointed that Domi was still in his room.  He was more conflicted than a lactose intolerant pregnant woman at an all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae bar.

Dressed in dark trousers and a black turtleneck that was Susan's last gift to him, Domi couldn't resist:  "Who died, my tasty truffle?"

"Huh?" David could be so eloquent when he wanted, but he wasn't paying attention to her.

Only now had he really looked about the room, and for the first time noticed the scene of foreboding foreplay before him.  The desk in the corner had been set for two, with crystal and silver glimmering in the low light.  The orchid centerpiece from Eddie Chang's completed the table dressing, with two tapers standing guard on either side. Champagne was chilling in the ice bucket, caviar on a silver platter and some yellowish liquid languishing in a soup bowl.  The piece d'resistance -- Domi had covered the lamps with her silk underlinen (certain garments of which David didn't even know existed--he thought 'foundation garment' was the coveralls worn by bricklayers when they lay a stone base) to dim the harsh incandescence.

"You like?"  she asked like a small child seeking approval.

"Ahem, um, yes, sure,"  he responded as he reflexively reached up to touch the hook he was confident was imbedded in his lip, certain that he was this sex kitten's catch of the day.

"Come here, darling," Domi petted the love seat, indicating exactly where she wanted David to sit, which was coincidently the same space currently occupied by her left thigh.  "I had room service bring a treat for us.  Atlantic catfish caviar, matzo ball soup and Dom Perignon Oenotheque Brut Champagne.  Your favorites, oui?"

"Ahem, " David clears his throat yet again.  "It was very generous of you to order this (which wasn't true, since Domi had used his room charge but he didn't yet know this), and, um, ahem, I ..." He tried to form words, but the waves of dyspepsia from the combination of odd food, drink and this inDOMItable seductrix made cogent verbal communication difficult.  "I do like, um, caviar, and soup, but, ugh, I'm not, I'm, uh, not, er, hungry.  Yes, that's it.  Simply couldn't eat another bite."

"There will be plenty of time for 'bites' later," she playfully hissed as her eyes narrowed to emerald slits. "You will need your strength, I promise.  Besides you must be starved.  You brought enough carry out to feed the French Foreign Legion."

His mouth said "no thanks," but in his head he heard:  "Don't forget your manners, David," for the second time hearing Susan's rebuke as if she were standing next to him.

He did an about face.  "All right.  I guess 'soup's on!'"

David sat down at the loveseat which Domi had pulled up to the table.  He started on the now cold soup.  Domi uncorked the champagne and poured enough drink, David surmised, to inebriate a Mastodon.  All the while, Domi was lovingly mesmerized by his every breath, his every blink, his every belch.  (The Huxley digestion never did do particularly well with chicken fat and garlic.)

"Strike while the croissant is hot," Domi heard her mother's advice in her head.  Domi leaned in towards him.  Closer.  Closer still.

David was in turmoil.  How was he going to stop this libido on legs?

"A housefly only lives three days,"  David heard Susan's advice in his head.  His resolve was wilting.  He began, tentatively yet slightly, to meet her advances.
"SMOKE!" David interrupted this music-less minuet.

"Cigarettes are for afterwards, my love," she whispered.

"I mean it.  I smell smoke!"  He was right.  Domi's teddy was on fire; the garment covering the lampshade a brilliant inferno.

David quickly reached over and pulled the fiery frock from the flame and furiously stomped on it until the sparks subsided.  In the process, as only Rube Goldberg could appreciate, a series of happenstances happened: David's knee collided with the table, which jolt knocked over the champagne bottle, which in turn bumped the caviar jar, which caused it to upend, and with a sploosch, the contents spilled onto the table in a red, salty muck.

And there among the roe was a true "diamond in the rough."  Domi stuck her fingers into the slimy delicacy, and like little Tommy Horner, she plucked out an exquisite plum--a diamond necklace.  Antique.  Multi-carated.  Priceless.

"Oui! Oui, mon amour!  Je t'aime beaucoup!" she shouted loudly, throwing David a curve, and not the 38C-24-36 kind. 

"'We, we,' what?  What are you babbling about?  And most curiously, what is that necklace doing in the caviar?  I must complain at once to the hotel management.  I could have sliced my epiglottis or cracked a  bicuspid if I'd taken a mouthful,"  David, the ever cautious man of science, noted.

Not following that David did not understand most French, Domi, her derriere practically swishing side to side she was so happy, continued:  "When shall we set the date for our wedding?"

"Wedding? WEDDING!?  WHAT WEDDING FOR WHICH 'WE' WHEN?" her "amour" alliterated in an alarmed alto.

"Our wedding.  You and moi."

Domi noticed but ignored the look of utter shock and terror on David's face.

"You don't have to pretend anymore, my luscious lump."  Domi wagged her finger at David.  "You may be clever, but Domi, she is smart in zee ways of love.  I know you are behind this," she raised the sparkling trinket up. "We both know vous pretended to get lost on zee way to Eddie Chang's so I would be annoyed with you, and then you purposely arrived late and spoke of your wife so that I would rip your sleeves and then vous arranged for a phony telephone call so that you would again leave moi alone at zee table so I would get angry and leave in a haste and feel badly for my behavior so I would have to convince zee concierge to give me zee key to your room so I could order room service and plan a
romantic interlude and meanwhile you knew I would be hungry so you ordered take away food and then pretended to be startled when you opened zee hotel room door so zee food would spill so vous would fall on it requiring you to change in zee toilet giving moi time to arrange my lovelies around zee lampshades which being so smart you knew would catch on fire and in putting out the fire you planned it so that you would kick the table and knock zee champagne bottle bumping zee expensive caviar so that I would discover the diamond necklace you had earlier hidden in the jar so that I would be surprised and you could propose to moi, non?"  And all this said without taking a breath. 

"Engagement necklace?!  I've never heard of such a thing or such a preposterous story.  I didn't plan anything.  I didn't hide anything.  I'm not behind anything, except maybe what they call the, uh, 'eight ball.'"

Domi crumpled to the loveseat in a fury, her fur clearly ruffled.

"Listen to me, please," David awkwardly gripped her shoulders, and looked right into her eyes.  "There will be no wedding.  We're not getting married.  Surely you know I'm already married.  To my work.   And speaking of work, I must call Bruce Leeson at once about this necklace.  He'll know what to do."

And with that David reached for the diamonds still clutched in Domi's hand.  "Let go, dear.  It's not ours to keep."  With difficulty David pried her reluctant, incredibly strong fingers from around the bauble.  Once in his possession, he gingerly wrapped it in his handkerchief and placed it in his back pocket for safekeeping.

Domi collapsed into convulsions of tears and hiss-trionics.
The telephone rang.  "Hello.  Yes, this is Dr. Huxley.  What?  Are you sure?  Inch by inch, bit by bit, I know, I know.  Yes, I'll be right there."  He placed the phone back in the cradle.

"Domi, dear.  I must go to the museum immediately.  You understand.  Something strange has happened.  It seems my Smilodon Californicus was to be a bride, ha ha ha."

Her confusion (as I'm sure yours) was unmistakable; his sense of comedy and timing, as always, forgettable.

"When my assistant was in the process of preserving the cavity, stomach not tooth of the specimen, very carefully, inch by inch, bit
by bit, a 12 step process involving a special UV-resistant resin and--"

David!  Get to the point, you stupide weasel!"   She was obviously no longer feeling as kindly towards him.

"I'm sorry.  As I was saying, when she was swabbing around the inside of the abdominal region, she found, can you believe it, a diamond necklace!"

 "Really?"  Domi's spirits picked up.  "Since you have two necklaces now, my yummy éclair, I don't see why I can't keep that one,"  she said pointing to the treasure in David's back pocket.  She needn't have bothered talking.

David by this time had stopped listening, worried as he was with how this latest development was going to compromise the integrity of the preservation process and his research.  He had to get to the museum now.  Seconds mattered.

"This is Room 1003.  Call me a cab," David said into the house phone.

"Whatever you say.  You're a cab," the operator responded.

"No, no.  Get me a lift."

"Why, are you short?"

"I beg your pardon.  Oh, I mean, I'm in need of a driver."

"Screw or Crowflight."


"My- good- man," David spoke slowly, enunciating every syllable.  "Please- direct- a- tax--i- to- the- front- en--trance- for- me- i-m-med-i-ate-ly."

"To the California Academy of Sciences' Natural  History Museum," he  instructed the driver once inside the cab.  "And step on it!"

"Step on what?"  the driver inquired.


"Hey, Mack, not in my cab.  Stay away from dem beans and 'kraut next time, will ya.  And roll down da window if ya gotta crack one."

"Oh no! Not you too?" David shook his head in exasperation.

As the taxi sped away, David wrinkled his nose and silently wondered if all cabbies in San Francisco were in need of a bath and extensive dental treatment.

He could have asked Domi.  She was a few blocks behind.  "Follow that taxi," she ordered the driver.  And if she didn't know the answer, perhaps Gogarty or Aunt Elizabeth or Baby or Allie knew.  They were a few blocks behind her in another cab.  David had forgotten to pick them up at the station.


 -- Cat on a Hot Tin Rock--

As Baby passed time watching out the back window of the taxi, in another part of the Bay Area another Cat watched time pass.  His Patek Phillipe watch told him it was just after 9:00 p.m.  One hour, 58 minutes, 37.3 seconds, and the Cat would be on the prowl.  For the last time...

John took a deep, calming breath.  He had retired to his own dressing room after returning from dinner at Eddie's.  He still was unnerved from his run-in with Jack the Ripper, the sleeve ripper.  His Saville Row suit ruined, he could ill afford a replacement.

Francie was luxuriating in a tub full of Lux.  John welcomed the solitude.  Although he worshipped her, he was grateful tonight for this time to himself.

One hour, 52 minutes, 14.6 seconds.  Eddie Chang had assured him everyone was on board.  A mangy clowder, but Eddie'd promised they would perform.

Not that John had a choice.  He was delinquent on the mortgage for the vineyard and the the insurance for the Rolls.  Payroll for the household staff hadn't been met in four months. The Tunisian dealers were looking to increase their cut.  And Mr. H.H. Hughson of the Gold Rush Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Company was insufferably tenacious and demanding of the exorbitant premium overdue on their household furnishings, antiquities and jewelry.  And, to top it off, he'd lost Francie's wedding necklace after hiding it in a now misplaced jar of Atlantic catfish caviar, meaning he didn't have it to fence to his Tunisian contact.  And this after Francie caught him that night on the balcony trying to hide it in his breast pocket.

No question about it.  He was getting sloppy.  John hoped it was true that cats really did have nine lives.  Time seemed to be running out on this one.

Just one more job, or as John preferred to call his side work, "heist."  He didn't like the word "job."  It sounded too plebian for a man who spent his life cultivating an image of "to the manor born."  One more pinch.  Get in.  Snatch.  Get out.  Ecstasy.  This lady was definitely worth it.  Her name: "Hope," as in the Hope Diamond.  Nab her and he'd be set for life, this one and the 8 others he hoped he'd enjoy.  Pay off Eddie.  Pay off the crew.  Pay off the vineyard.  Pay of Mr. H.H.  Pay off Jessie's bar bills, and still have enough left for a box of Havana cigars and a pony or baseball mitt.

His corps of conspirators: three of them.  Stray Katz, a recent Parisian émigré, was the first to join John's band of merry men.  He came to the States six months ago after his wife, a feisty puss,  booted him out for breach of contract, their marriage contract in particular. He arrived at Pier 52 long on debt and short on cash.  So the long and the short of it was he took the first job he could find, desperate to make a fast buck.  Luckily for him, the California Academy of Sciences was always in need of maintenance workers.  He was assigned to the Natural History museum.  The job wasn't too demanding, gave him lots of time to think, and provided him with a layout of the building's infrastructure, every pass code, and instant access to all areas of the museum, public and restricted.  Pushing a broom left him thirsty though, and scoring some "ice" would surely quench that thirst.

Stray had been introduced to John through one of Eddie's nephews, Mi Ow Chow.  Chow and Stray worked the night shift together at the museum and had become fast pals.  When Stray broached the subject of his mounting debts, Chow put him in touch with Eddie.  One call to John and the museum deal was clinched.

Stray could get John into the museum and around the museum, but John still needed help in getting away from the museum.  That's when Joe "D.K." Adams joined the gang.  D.K. (i.e., tooth decay) as he was known, had made his living as a San Fran cabbie for over 35 years.  He knew the name and locale of every street, every alley, every sidewalk in the City, except obviously that of his dentist.  And with hundreds of big, ol' yellow Chevys lumbering through the streets, John was confident no one would suspect Yellow No. 118 as the getaway car of choice for Europe's most infamous thief.

Puh Si Willow, Eddie's hat check girl, was brought in to the group to insure their well-laid plan wouldn't be foiled by the coppers.  Willow was exotic, tantalizing and pectorally gifted, and men had a hard time keeping their eyes off of her.  John banked on the fact that museum security would be far too interested in her to notice a simple fella like himself.

And then there was himself.  Smart.  Experienced.  Agile.  Deft.  Desperate.

One hour, 43 minutes, 25.9 seconds.  John's heart rate quickened slightly.

Tonight marked the Academy's annual charity event.  Each year a different branch of the institution hosted a themed gala, and this year it was Natural History's turn to strut its stuff.   The museum was celebrating at a special preview showing of the crown jewel of the year's collection--the Hope Diamond.

When John checked his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes, he knew the museum was already brimming with dignitaries and "A-listers" from around the City.  This was the precise kind of event the Robies would have attended, with money, prestige and power on exhibit along with the traditional dinosaur bones, ancient shark teeth and gems one found in a natural history museum.  John and Francie should have been there.  Their bank account, however, said otherwise.  The voluntary, mandatory "contribution" for attendance was simply too steep.

John experienced quite a quandary trying to fashion a plausible excuse for Francie as to why they weren't able to attend, finally settling on telling her that he had months ago promised his head gardener the night off, and he just could not leave his "precious" (her word) grapes untended for even a few hours.  She bought the fabrication, or so he was led to believe.  He didn't relish lying to his beloved; she didn't enjoy his discomfort.  So since their love for each other was uncompromising, they compromised by perfecting this dance of deceit.  Soulmates do that sort of thing, each privately reassured him/her self.

The preparations for the evening fete were extraordinary and interfered with the otherwise important work of the museum, but the Academy, like the Robies, was in desperate need of capital and this year's "Hope Wings Eternal" extravaganza was just the ticket.  Literally.  A single ticket sold for $15,000.  All 750 tickets sold out within a day.

And what a production it was.  There were birds of all colors and species flying about over a netted ceiling, boobys and macaws, hummingbirds and bullfinches.  Carrier pigeons were dispatched, for an extra fee, to send a special message to a guest from the sender.  There were even real swans in the tunnel of love and live ducks swimming about in the fountain by the main entrance. Trapeze artists, high wire acts, trampolinists and acrobats "flew" through the air in gravity-defying feats.  There were World War pilots milling about bragging of their heroics, and ostrich rides for the truly brave.  The world renowned choral group, "Birds of Pray," led by Father Finnegan Gogarty, serenaded guests in the rotunda, while the "Cardinal Sins " offered up a more modern musical selection in the assembly hall.  Professor Byrd Brain, the clairvoyant, foretold the future in the reptile room, and Cockoo the Clown was on hand to tell looney jokes and give away balloons sculpted into dodos and nuthatches. The Toucan-can Dance troupe and The Spanish "Flamingo" Dancers took turns staging shows in the atrium.  "Mina Forty-niners," California's hottest swing band, performed the latest dance tunes on the main floor.  Waiters, dressed as penguins, served hot wings and other poultry creations on silver trays while peacock-costumed waitresses offered "cockatoo tails" to the crowd. Huge bird of paradise flower arrangements festooned the entryways.  And to make sure every guest was happy, museum guides called "Culture Vultures" were on hand to answer questions and accept donations from those who found the $15,000 entry fee to be embarrassingly meager.

Despite the plethora of grand activities, by far, the most popular activity of the night was the diamond exhibition itself.  It seemed everyone wanted to see and touch the Hope Diamond, which for the evening was free of its usual glass enclosure. What the guests didn't know was that they were beholding a marvelous reproduction; the real jewel was safely ensconced in the fossilized remains of the museum's recent prehistoric specimen, the Smilodon Californicus.  With the exception of Bruce Leeson, the museum's head curator, and Captain Leo Parde, Chief of San Francisco's finest, no one knew about the glittering stand-in.  No one, that is, except John Robie.

Thanks to Stray, John had learned of the switch.  His plan was brilliant, simple, precise.  At exactly 11:00pm, when the music and merriment were in full swing, John would steal into the black night, ascend the south edifice onto the museum's rooftop, and enter the building's interior through an unscrewed ventilation screen.  (Entry through the front entrance was impossible as security for the event was heavy and only those with tickets or on an employee list were given entry into the building.)

Once inside, John would shimmy, crawl and slither his way through the duct work down eight levels to Level B-4, the Archival Research wing.  There, while Willow was upstairs distracting museum security with her considerable charms and cleavage, Stray would meet John and deactivate the pass code securing room 53, the small exam room where the Smilodon Californicus was temporarily lodged.  The prehistoric cat itself was placed in a safe-locked, hermetically sealed chamber, much like a casket, each evening after working hours so the amount of artificial light sources and airborne agents wreaking havoc on the already advanced deterioration process was minimized.  Although Stray did not have the combination to the chamber lock, he was as proficient at deciphering tumblers as he was at swabbing linoleum.

Once the chamber was opened and the cat exposed, John would seize the diamond necklace, tape it to his body, seal the cat back up, reset the codes and exit the museum without delay.  So as not to alert security by leaving through a side entrance, he would simply walk out the front entrance as though he were a tired guest heading home.  No one would suspect John when he sauntered out, as casual as a summer's day, and hailed Yellow No. 118, a toothless old driver behind the wheel.  Brilliant.  Simple.  Precise.


John had no reason to anticipate that David Huxley's assistant, Sy Meeze (Sy "Sleaze" as he was known by those less trusting than David) would choose tonight to violate scientific protocol and Academy policy.  Meeze, looking to capture away from his boss the coveted Pawlitzer Prize for Science, was toiling off hours to complete the work on the Smilodon and win the acclaim and limelight for himself, for the Smilodon was believed to be the missing link in the feline world, the genetic puzzle piece between wild, man-eating saber tooth's and affectionate, tuna loving puddy tats.  It was Sy who found the diamond necklace and in a panic telephoned David, and it was Sy who might, unbeknownst to Sy, David or John, foil John's plan.

One hour, 12 minutes, 58.6 seconds.

"Who died?" Francie's voice startled him.


"You're dressed all in black."

"Huh?  Oh, uh, no memorial, my mate."

Francie could almost see the wheels turn in John's head as he concocted an explanation on the spot.

Pointing to his clothes (ebony wool Givenchy slacks with a 1/2 inch cuff and inverse pleats paired with a cashmere black oversize turtleneck sweater (oversized enough to hide a large diamond necklace underneath)), John continued to compound the fiction:

"These tattered togs?  I threw this together without thought."

"Now I know you're lying, John Robie.  We both know clothes are more important to you than even to that movie star, Cary Grant, the one who's always on those best dressed fashion lists."

"I'm not lying, love.  I was just tinkering with the thought that I'd take a trek through the tall timber beyond the tamarisk thicket by the terrace."

"Then let me go with you.  It's getting late and the police are always warning us these days to travel in pairs after dark.  My wrap is in the hall--"

"No!" John blurted, looking and sounding like a cat that swallowed a canary.

Recovering quickly: "It is dark and in your delicate deportment, I demand that you do as I declare and desist without delay, my darling dove."  John spoke these words as he reverently placed his hand over Francie's tight-as-a-drum midsection.

"You're alliterating again, John."

"Please just do as I say," John softly pleaded.  Ever since Jessie had hinted at dinner that the Cat might be having a kitten, John had been most solicitous of Francie.  Carrying her up the stairs.  Drawing her bath.  Turning down the bed clothes.

Francie relented.  She was a little tired.  And besides, his familiar staccato voice was hypnotic to her, like a drug injected directly into her soul.  This man who could charm a nun out of her vows was her benevolent Svengali.  She would do anything for him.  All  he had to do was ask.

"That's a good girl.  Into bed you go.  That's right."  John bundled Francie under enough linens to suffocate an iron lung.

He bid her a hasty goodnight with an uncharacteristic single kiss and was gone before she even had a chance to extract herself from her 350 count, Egyptian cotton Dior sheets and Anne De Solene Matelaisse coverlet seconding as a mummy wrap.

One hour, 1 minute, 1 second.

John quietly crept on tip toe past Jessie's room, down the curved grand staircase to the safety and solitude of the library.  Only the moonlight beyond the French-paned windows illuminated the darkened room.

Hands trembling, the Cat walked over to the Georgian serpentine mahogany credenza with fanned satinwood inlay, circa 1790.  Selecting the sole remaining bottle of Piper Heidseick champagne 1942, the cat-illac of his dwindling private reserve, John uncorked the bottle and damning etiquette, he poured the golden liquid directly down his throat.

Joie de vivre.  How could he ever live without this necessity?  Surveying the room, he knew that if tonight did not go well, he could say au revoir to all this -- the 17th Century Flemish Game Park Verdure wall tapestry; the Louis XV rosewood game table topped by a signature edition John Jacque and Son (London) 1849 chess set carved from mammoth ivory;  the winged griffin porcelain 1880 French oil lamps sitting atop the Louis Phillipe walnut commode with gray St. Anne marble top; the pair of Napoleon III ormolu mounted camphor shaped crystal urns adorning his mahogany regency writing desk; the verdis gris patinated bronze statuette "Dancing Fawn" resting on the Italian marble pedestal; the antique French aubusson floor covering in celadon and rose that once graced the private bedroom of Catherine the Great; and his first edition, first issue volumes including Nicollo Machiavelli, The Works, (1675), Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, (1855), the King James Bible (1611) and the complete works of Guy de Maupussant, all alphabetized and set in cherrywood bookcases adorned with Corinthian columns.

He titled his head back and took another swig.  Yes, tonight must not fail.

"I've been waiting for you," Jessie broke the silence from her perch on the chintz settee by the corner, underneath the original Gustave Caillebotte 1879 masterpiece, "Les Orangers."  "Want to tell me what's going on, John, or shall we just call Mr. H. H. Hughson?"

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