The knuckles of Fedora’s right hand turned white as his grip on the door handle tightened. Richard was in no mood to listen to Fedora’s exhortations and was standing now at his side waiting for him to open the door. He watched as the fragile veneer of confidence on Fedora’s face crumbled into a satisfying mix of anger, frustration and mounting panic. For fully thirty seconds, Fedora stood there holding the door handle, his eyes darting this way and that as he considered an ever-shortening list of options. As each possible avenue of escape was discarded mentally, Fedora’s features fell still further until, finally, he turned and faced Richard.
The mask of emotional turmoil had gone, to be replaced with a look of calm resignation. Not the look you might associate with a criminal, having been caught, ready to accept his fate, but the look of a man whose choices had been narrowed to one and who knew now, all other pathways being blocked, the only route he had open to him.
“Well, those assertiveness classes appear to be paying off at last,” smirked Fedora, regaining his composure. “However, you can’t go without hearing how our little story ends.”
Fedora opened the door and stepped through into the collection of ghouls, witches and Schlock Horror characters laughing and chatting in his main reception room as Monster Mash wailed from the sound system. The irony of discussing such macabre events at a Halloween party was not lost on Fedora, unlike his grip on reality, which had long since deserted him.
“I’m not stopping to listen to any more of your attempts to justify that lad’s murder,” spat Richard, as he made to follow Fedora.
“Oh, but I’m afraid I must insist, dear boy.” Fedora gave a quick flick of his right wrist and nodded to a small group of people standing at the far wall.
Instinctively, and at the same instant, he thrust his left hand at Richard’s chest to prevent him leaving the room, forgetting for a moment that he was holding the champagne glasses. A loud, chiming clink was rapidly followed by a dull crack. “Oh dear! My collection of glassware is taking a bit of a hammering lately, is it not? Not to worry, here’s an old friend to keep you company and she appears to have a drink all ready for you. I’ll just go and get myself a refill. Try to be nice while I’m gone, Richard, old man.” Fedora grinned. “It might be in your best interests.”
Richard had taken a step or two back into the study and couldn’t see the person to whom Fedora had motioned. However, a moment or two later, the louring figure of Yvette Pestis, made all the more menacing by wearing the Morticia Addams outfit, filled the doorway. She held a glass of champagne in each hand and strode purposefully into the room leaving Fedora to close and lock the door behind her. Placing her left arm around Richard’s right shoulder and neck, which brought them briefly face to face, she turned and ushered him in the same movement towards the sputtering fire and burgundy leather chairs that Richard and Fedora had only just vacated.
“Well, isn’t this cosy, Richard? Here, sit yourself by the fire and get this down you.” Yvette placed a glass half-full of champagne on a small table by the chair facing the door and seated herself in the chair opposite. “Ben tells me you’ve had enough of freedom and relative prosperity and you’d like us all to spend some time in jail. Is this true?”
Richard was more than a match for Ben Fedora, intellectually and physically, if not socially. This fact, coupled with his utter contempt for the man, gave Richard the upper hand in their confrontations and strengthened his resolve.
Yvette Pestis, on the other hand, was a very different adversary. Working as literary agents, they had known of each other professionally for years, occasionally meeting at conferences or launch parties, but never saying more than “Hello” to each other. She had a reputation as the typical hard-nosed businesswoman and a seemingly total lack of scruples that frightened off as many potential clients as it attracted.
Richard had always maintained a healthy distance between himself and Ms Pestis and was happy to continue doing so, until that fateful morning when a debut manuscript from a young, hopeful author landed on his desk.
The appalling succession of events that arose from such an innocuous beginning were now parading through Richard’s mind as he sat facing this abhorrent woman.
(to be continued)