Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chapter Thirteen: Spider Bite

The restaurant and lounge of the Forbury Hotel was elegant – sleek, hardwood floor, comfortable chairs in a color that Ethan couldn’t name but reckoned Mina could, unobtrusive pools of light and beautiful people speaking in quiet voices about impressive things. Mina had already artfully draped herself over one of the chairs when Ethan arrived, nervous and sweaty. The barman, better dressed than Ethan was for his wedding, gave him a bemused look when he sat down beside the most gorgeous woman in the room.

“You’re late.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Would you like something to eat? They have lovely egg and cress sandwiches here.”

“Thank you, no. I’d rather we just have our conversation.”

“Don’t look so dire, Ethan. Conversation with me is generally regarded as great fun. You look like you’re preparing for a funeral.”

My own? Ethan thought, then shook the thought away. The barman approached and stood waiting for Ethan’s order in a manner both deferential and arrogant. How do they manage it? Ethan wondered. “Half of dry Blackthorn's please.”

“Very good, sir.” He oiled away, with an air of I’ll do that right this very instant mixed with you peasant. They sat in silence until he returned with a cider for Ethan.

“Anything for you, Miss?” to Mina, who'd just finished her tea.

“Tequila with a lime twist, please, Edward.”

With considerably more genuine deference, the barman fetched Mina's drink, fussing unnecessarily with the napkin and lighting the candle before finally leaving them to it.

“Why are you here, Mina?”

“So direct. Very well. My daughter’s found out that Jeremy Jones is not her biological father.”

“I see. How did that happen?”

“A friend of hers was mucking about with the family genealogy and came across the mismatched blood types.”

“Well, it was bound to happen. I’m only surprised you managed to hold on to the secret for this long.”

“For a would-be creative writer, my daughter has an appalling lack of curiousity.”

“Why don’t you just tell her the truth? She’s an adult, she can handle it.”

“Absolutely not. I’d far rather tell her that you were her father.”

“You’re too kind.” Ethan gave a little bow intended to be sarcastic, but not too.

“What’s your blood type?”

“None of your business. You’re not sticking me with a 39-year-old bastard child. What would my wife say?”

“Your wife would be astonished that you’d managed to convince another woman to sleep with you. How is the Queen Bee? All the little larvae?”

“My wife and children are fine, thank you. And bees don’t have larvae.”

“Don’t they?”

“Oh, hell, I don’t know. For god’s sake, Mina, would you get on with it?”

“Fine.” Mina sat up, leaned forward, and Ethan would swear the room got a little darker. “I need to know where he is.”

“What makes you think I’d know?”

“Oh, come on, Ethan. You’re his best friend, his sidekick, his lackey and yes-man. You could no more be separated from him than a lamprey could from the shark it’s sucked on to. Tell me where he is.”

“With such sweet flattery, how could I say no?”

“Don’t act bitter, Ethan. You’re too plump and well-cared-for for bitterness.”

Ethan decided that while he had the upper hand and before she bit it off, he’d take advantage of his position to clarify some issues. He pulled the spider out of his pocket and set it on the table between them.

“What is this supposed to mean? Is this a threat?”

Mina sat back in her chair and Ethan could breathe a bit more easily again.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” But she looked away.

“It’s deadly, this is, according to my entomologist office mate. You’d know that.”

“And I do. It came from his collection. I thought perhaps you’d like to return it to the museum.”

“Sneak it in under cover of night? Miracle spider, recently returned after a 40-year hiatus, hitchhiking the world in bunches of bananas? Don’t be foolish. I’m not taking this.”

“I’m sure the museum has been scouring the world to find this example of a completely ordinary, plentiful spider. No one noticed it was gone; no one will notice its return.” Mina waved a careless hand.

“This must not be one of his ‘special’ bugs if you’re giving it back.”

“You can only find that out if you take it.”

“And the Hine's emerald?”

“Is none of your business,” Mina said, and stared Ethan down.

Deftly, Mina had regained the upper hand. Ethan picked up the spider and examined it closely, but of course, there was no way to determine if this was one of the special bugs without chipping it open. He put it back in his pocket, feeling that he’d just participated in his own destruction but wasn’t sure how.

“Where is he, Ethan.”

“Honestly, Mina, I haven’t heard from him in months. Last time we met, he claimed he was going straight. He’d found god, or some such, I suppose. Developed a conscience or been told he had six months to live. Anyway, he was in London then, though he’s likely moved on by now.”

“He left you with no contact information, nothing?”

“He never does, you know that. When he needs you, he calls. It’s always been his way.”

“What does he mean, he’s ‘going straight’?”

“Generally it means staying on the kosher side of the dairy aisle, Mina. Specific to his case, I couldn’t say.”

“God, you’ve turned into such an idiot. You’ve been spending far too much time with your lunatics.”

“Leave my children out of this. It could mean that he’s wanting to make reparations, you know. Put the record straight, undo misdeeds, return certain misbegotten goods. Possibly even make contact with his only known progeny. I’d be more worried about him making contact with you and yours than with me and mine.”

“He wouldn’t dare.”

“What’s stopping him, Mina? You? You could no more lift a finger against him than against a freight train, and you know it.”

“Well, then I’ll have to switch tracks on him. What name is he using these days?”

“Dan something-odd. Hang on, I wrote it down last time.” He rummaged through his pockets, finally coming out with a beaten-down address book. “Fylgor. Dan Fylgor. Claims he’s Danish or Swedish or something with high cheekbones.”

Mina groaned.

“What is it?”

“It’s an anagram, nitwit. He never could resist grandstanding, could he.”

“Anagram? Of course. Silly me, I didn’t even see it.”

When Ethan left, a few minutes later, Mina had the most recent address and phone number for “Dan,” and Ethan still had his head, which both surprised and gratified him.

He walked home briskly, weight lifted, relief so acute it almost blurred his vision. Safely back in his own semi-detached with his semi- (and sometimes fully) detached wife, Ethan spent several long minutes hugging his children. They begged him for a bed-time story, and he indulged them with the tale of the late Marion Barbara Carstairs who owned her own island and had, for a best friend, a voodoo doll named Lord Tod Wadley. When he started in on her affairs with Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead, his wife cut him off, briskly turning off the light and shooing her husband downstairs.

After she had gone to bed, Ethan searched the house for his tools, finally locating the one, lone hammer on the floor in the sitting room where he’d left it after utterly failing to hang a family portrait.

He hammered the plastic-shrouded spider with that special fury that Mina often provoked in weak men, but a thorough investigation of the bug box yielded nothing. This wasn’t one of the special bugs after all. Ethan put his head in his hands and succumbed to a moment of intense self-pity. He never won where Mina or “Dan” were concerned, he should know that by now. He cleaned up the debris by shoving the whole mess into the trash, never noticing that the spider had gone missing.


Ash said...

OMG - I have to go to a meeting in 5 minutes so I won’t have time to read this until later. I am going to be thinking about reading this new chapter the WHOLE time!

NuclearToast said...

Spider?!?! Like THIS ONE?!?!

Ash said...

OMG - missing spider - yikes! Can't wait for the next one!

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