Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Long Night

The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 2: The Formidable Dona Esperanza
Chapter 3: The Long Night

Dona Esperanza de Montebello was endowed with the type of beauty Sandro Botticelli; the Florentine Renaissance painter would have sold his soul to immortalize on canvas. Pale, nacre skin, so translucent one could almost trace the veins on her hands, feet, face, bosom and abdomen. She had long, wavy, golden hair, which she wore rather defiantly when she wasn’t attending a royal ball or a zarzuela (Spanish musical) with her devastatingly attractive husband Count Daniele de Montebello.

“For you, vida mia,” Count Daniele de Montebello declaimed, “Boticelli would have continued painting his delectable, erotic masterpieces – pagan masterpieces – instead of those insipid saintlier-than-thou themes he painted when he found religion. He wouldn’t have been content with ‘The Birth of Venus', ‘The Birth of Spring’, and ‘Mars and Venus’. Boticelli would have been inspired by you to create other themes like Salome dancing the Seven Veils for her lecherous stepfather King Herod. Ahh … let’s see … a quite undressed Hamadryad astride a branch of a majestic olive tree … or … Esperanza mia … I see you as Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her villa unaware she was tantalizing King David who watched from a latticed window, like the voyeur he was, hidden from view.”

“That story in the Old Testament has always puzzled me,” expressed Esperanza. “Bathsheba surely knew, sooner or later, King David would have seen her. I think she hoped he would. The King’s palace was close by after all.”

Dona Esperanza and Don Daniele were lying deliciously naked in the Roman tub made of porphyry, smoking cigarillos wrapped in rich tobacco leaves. Her husband was drinking out of a silver goblet; his lips had turned slightly green. Dona Esperanza cupped a hand with the water opulently sprinkled with pure ylang-ylang oil and threw the water into her husband’s face. “I like you better with your red lips.”

“Don’t be jealous of my Green Goddess, vida mia,” her husband replied with amusement.

Dona Esperanza was giddy from the champagne at the Presentation Ball. The scent of ylang-ylang and the tuberose on the vase near their porphyry tub had gone to her head. Smoking her short cigarillos had been naughty. Her husband’s comment had gone unnoticed. She was reveling in her own sensations.

“I love the character of Bathsheba, so free, uninhibited and original. Bathing in blinding light must be as exciting as lying in our Roman tub surrounded by beeswax candles longer than your sword and scented with myrrh.”

“Which sword do you mean? The one made of metal or is it the one of flesh?

Dona Esperanza stood up sinuously; the circles of oil clung to her translucent skin. She let her husband desire her with his dark eyes; she tiptoed up the steps of the tub, taking her time (no one was pursuing them), certain Daniele would find her ankles, legs, buttocks, her long wet golden hair covering her back, irresistible.

Daniele had never seen his wife of 40 days snake around so naked. The sight of her inflamed him. He ran after her up the steps onto the purplish marble tiles. Dona Esperanza giggled, cupping her small breasts, and broke up at the sight of her Daniele with his engorged organ. She slid to her knees on the carpet from Shiraz and then stretched out. “I can’t decide if you look muy macho or a little odd with your … protuberance or both.”

“And,” Daniele replied, sliding down on top of her, “I can’t decide whether we should go back to our heavily scented tub, lie inside our warm covers in bed, or have a cuerpo a cuerpo (body to body) experiment with you on the Shiraz.

“The bed has been christened many times, the Roman tub idem. The Shiraz carpet is still a virgin. I like it here,” declared Esperanza. “But querido …” Dona Esperanza hesitated.

“What?” queried Don Daniele, lifting her back to smooth out all her long hair above her head.

“I’m cold. Would you put some more wood into the fireplace?”

“How thoughtless of me,” uttered Don Daniele, striking the tips of his fingers to his forehead. He vaulted up towards the fireplace.

How beautiful he is, Dona Esperanza thought as she beheld her naked husband. He had high cheekbones which were highlighted by the fire from the logs, almond eyes the color of her sable cloak, light brown hair which she loved to run through her fingers, a small boned, lithe frame gracefully tall (he was a mixture of Spanish, Italian, and Austrian) but not as regally tall as her Uncle Cesar. Don Daniele was the quintessence of a gentleman.

“You Filipinas have crystal water running through your veins. This type of temperature in Madrid takes acclimatizing. Forgive me, my darling?” Don Daniele asked, kissing her lips, cheeks, the tip of her nose and her ear lobes in between each word.

“I’ll think about it,” replied Dona Esperanza, running her nails lightly down the length of his back.

“While you’re making up your mind, let’s make some sorcery in love,” Don Daniele suggested in hushed tones. “Sposa, te deseo (My spouse, I desire you).”

“Si, sposo, ven aqui (Yes, my spouse, come to me).”

Madrid Spain, highest capital in Europe, March, 1919

In the most sumptuous suite of the lavish Ritz Hotel, 15-year old Dona Esperanza de Montebello, known as “La Bella Filipina,” trembled at the sound of the wind whistling through the Plaza and its connecting streets.

A portent? she asked herself.

She could not sleep. She had slowly edged her body, clothed in a costly light, sheer golden pina fabric (hand loomed and hand woven in the Philippines) away from her husband of 40 days, Count Daniele de Montebello, to have more room to stretch her muscles, which had become rigid from the strain of lying still.

I wanted to be seductive and alluring. Esperanza rebuked herself. The entreaties of her mother Dona Eufemia and her father Don Augusto to include warmer clothing in her bridal lingerie were ignored. Her husband Count Daniele had whispered ardently tonight before falling asleep clenching her gossamer pina-clad body against his naked body.

“My love will keep you warm. Good night, vida mia.”

So much for that poetic declaration. Dona Esperanza realized. It wasn’t true. She stopped herself in the middle of a sigh; fearful she might disturb her husband who was sleeping soundlessly, although she perceived his rhythmic breathing. She wondered if a Tiger sounded like that.

The draughty bedroom suite with its 35-foot vaulted ceilings were chilling to Dona Esperanza, who had grown up in the Philippines and considered herself a hot house waling-waling orchid.

I have very thin blood, she told herself silently. She was lying with her back towards her husband on their gilt Venetian bed with the heavy moss green velvet draperies, which ran the entire length of the four-poster bed. Dona Esperanza loathed them. Tonight she would have to choose between the unbearable sensation of suffocation which the closed curtains gave her or dying a young death from the influenza which seemed to be killing thousands of people in Europe and in America.

Dona Esperanza could see the velvet curtain was open by the foot of her side of the bed. She and Daniele must have accidentally brushed against it in their frequent couplings tonight. She gingerly stretched an arm out of the goose down quilt to feel how cold the temperature in the room really was. She quickly brought it under the covers.

There was another irritating decision to make. Hanging in the hallway which led to their bedroom were her fur cloak, ermine lined coat, a floor length sable ensemble, Spanish Merino wool capes, and a black shearling cloak which belonged to her husband. Anyone of these, placed softly and gently on her side of the bed, would relieve the cold, which seemed to be gripping her body bit by bit.

A sensible woolen tunic to wear to bed would not be a bad idea either, she scolded herself.

The baby Matthias the foundling was now their first - born son. He lay in a beautifully carved crib they had found in Genoa in an antique shop in Galleria Mazzini. Chita and Jing looked after him at night so that their dear Dona Esperanza could sleep. But something was terribly wrong tonight because she could not sleep.

We are going to resort to bribing officials in Barcelona in order to have a proper birth certificate for Matti as well as proof of his baptism. Every document must prove that he is our newborn son. I don’t care how costly it is. I shall sell a jewel or a gem. I’ll see to it that Matti will always be a Montebello and an Ortigas Nieto. I hope to have a brood of children but he will be the special light of my heart.

Her Filipina maids, Chita and Jing, were sleeping in the next bedroom with the infant Matti. Very comfortably no doubt, she considered. They had heavy woolen gowns to sleep in, two goose down covers on each bed. Count Daniele had been firm in his instructions to the Ritz’s hotel staff to be unsparing in dispensing blankets, towels, and linens.

“In the Philippines,” Count Daniele informed them, “everyone, rich and poor, showered and bathed every day, sometimes several times a day in the hot and dry season.” This statement shocked the hotel staff!

Dona Esperanza could see the lapis lazuli fireplace with its embers slowly dying on the left hand corner of the room. Next to it was the ormolu dresser with its matching mirror reaching up to the ceiling. Her crushed chartreuse pina ball gown lay by the side of the dresser. More than 10 meters of pina fabric had been used for her presentation at court to King Alfonso and Queen Victoria Eugenia at the Zarzuela Palace last night. Dona Esperanza walked imperiously in the Filipino national dress with the famous butterfly sleeves. Over the chartreuse pina fabric she had layers of matching chartreuse silk satin which her mother Dona Eufemia had purchased in Paris at the haute couture House of Molyneaux in 1914 just before the Archduke Ferdinand had got himself killed by a 17 year old Serbian fanatic in Bosnia Herzegovina. She was becoming annoyed with herself.

Was it a Bosnian or Serbian fanatic? I can never get it right. All the same, it had been harebrained bravery on the part of the Archduke to ride in an open Benz car in a country full of kill-you-quick desperadoes. Out of that incident, the boiling cauldron of oil that was Europe exploded into World War I.”

At the presentation ball, Dona Esperanza whirled and waltzed around the ballroom. She had overheard snippets of conversation from old dotty dukes, haughty generals and conceited Condesas.

Millions of soldiers dead, millions more wounded. Famine and pestilence are everywhere. Robberies are so commonplace the newspapers never even report it. Murders are considered ho hum too.

Just as the apostle John wrote in Revelations, thought Dona Esperanza. The Apocalypse is upon us.

She was shivering more with these dark thoughts.

Stop it! she urged. You are on your honeymoon. Here you are…young! (but not so carefree).

She forced herself to think about last night’s ball. She had been a sensation in the embroidered chartreuse ball gown. Seven women in Manila had painstakingly labored over the gown, hand stitching and embroidering over the entire 10 meters tiny designs of Kentia palms 6 hours a day for 100 days. Her emerald necklace was a stylized version of the Kentia palm; it covered her neck entirely and went all the way down to her cleavage, if she had wanted to show it. Esperanza had small pointed breasts. She hoped they would grow by the time she was 20.

“Aren’t you cold in that flimsy looking number?” asked Carlotta, her husband Daniele’s oldest sister who was nothing if not candid. She looked stunning in a black lace gown against a scarlet background. Carlotta was in her middle twenties, a widow and about to remarry a wealthy businessman who intended to buy himself a title of Duke from the Spanish Bourbons for a tidy sum of gold.

“No, not at all,” Dona Esperanza had lied, hoping Carlotta would not look too closely at her arms and notice her goose pimples.

“Liar,” countered Henrietta playfully. Sister-in-law number two as Dona Esperanza had called her, though not to her face.

“Catty meow, meow,” Dona Esperanza had replied laughing merrily at her sister-in-law. Henrietta had married a rich Filipino Chinese financier who was closely linked to the ON (Ortigas Nieto) family’s Banco Hispano Filipino.

Lauretta, sister-in-law number three, husband Bartolome, and their three children were convalescing from the influenza epidemic. It had been a stressful time for the Montebello clan. By the time Dona Esperanza and her husband Daniele had arrived in Barcelona on board the family-owned De La Rama Steamship Liner flagship “Nemesis” after 3 weeks at sea; the telegram had been waiting for them from Daniele’s mother, Dona Cosima or as Dona Esperanza referred to her within the Ortigas clan “the Virago.” Lauretta and family were out of danger, God be praised!” Count Daniele had lifted his wife with joy and danced around the room. Dona Lauretta was (secretly) his favorite sister.

Enough of this indecision! Should I get up quickly, or get out of bed gracefully and then make a mad dash for the wardrobe closet in the hallway, remove one of my fur coats (my favorite is the Russian sable), dash back and put in on top of the bed so I can get some sleep at last? I must have dark circles down to my navel! I had better make up what passes for my mind soon.

She lifted the goose down cover, just so, draping them delicately and diagonally so as not to disturb her husband’s sleep of the just.

Dona Esperanza sniffed the air. She had sprinkled costly oil of Neroli, distilled from perfect to the day ripe Valencia oranges into her transparent pina nightgown. No. This was a different scent. The wind had ceased so she could hear without difficulty. It was more of a perception of danger.

Something feral was out there. She paused, her heart was thumping crazily. Daniele was still asleep; she had felt her husband turning over on his left side. There was another thing, which had kept her awake. It was the horrendously lumpy bed. Its metallic springs were creaky, which is why Dona Esperanza kept stiffly still. In Manila their beds were made of Philippine mahogany slats three inches wide, and God forbid their mattresses should be soft and mushy. Why! They were not only frequently aired out in the noonday sun for three hours; the mattresses were replaced after a few months.

Dona Esperanza heard a soft thud in the Salon. It was past the hallway and foyer where the wardrobe closet and a large round oak table were situated. The embers in the fireplace had died completely. She was in darkness. Beyond the closet in the salon, the valet had forgotten to close the shuttered windows that blocked out the light. She could see slivers of light. What caused that thud? It sounded as if someone had unexpectedly stumbled into what? Por Dios (For God's sake)! Dona Esperanza remembered now. In her haste to undress and to make a grand exit while her husband smoked his cigarettes out of a long malachite holder in the salon, she had casually let her chartreuse cloak lined in ermine drop on the floor close by the door, which opened into the corridor of the Hotel Ritz.

The feral scent she had detected was cheap tobacco, rancid oil and garlic: an unwashed body on filthy clothes worn repeatedly. A man or men were out there! What were they doing here? To steal! To kill!

In the shaft of light, Dona Esperanza, "La Bella Filipina" as Madrid society (the Madrilenos in the press corps) called her, saw a black shape cross the salon towards the wardrobe closet in the hallway. It was a man! She prayed her husband would not wake up. She turned into a stone. Only the nervous blinking of her eyes, if the dark shape had been a cat, betrayed the fact that she was not only awake, she was watching his every move. Another rat crossed the salon. He did not move with stealth and practiced ease. The monster opened the double doors of the wardrobe and was handing the cloaks to the second rat. The rat would disappear into the salon, stay there for a bit, and then re-appear empty handed. There were three thieves in their suite! The monster knew exactly what he was going to find.

All my sable and fur-lined cloaks, capes, and Daniele’s costly military coats. He was going to steal everything he wished to steal. I cannot do anything to prevent it.

Each time the monster gave the rat one of Dona Esperanza's cloaks; he would swiftly glance towards their bed to see if he could detect any noise or movement. Dona Esperanza was watching his every action, her heart beating so loudly she could hear it blasting through her ears.

Count Daniele continued his blissful sleep.

Benedicite omnia opera, she prayed silently.

Please don't wake up. In this particular moment I am wishing that the thieves do not inadvertently make any sound, which might startle Daniele.

As an officer at the Military Academy of Toledo where the crème de la crème of Spain learned the Art of War (I am not sure what that means and don’t really want to know), Daniele would react as my brave and fearless Protector.

If he wakes up I can picture the scenario and it won’t be pretty. My cavalier will leap out of bed, naked and vulnerable, sans sword because at my insistence he left his sword in the walnut armoire in the elegant salon of our suite. While my husband struggles with the monster, one of the other villains will hold me as a hostage in my transparent nightgown. They will not threaten to violate me because they will just do it.

Daniele was the sort of man who would tear off the thief’s mask and yell, “fight like a man”.

By his actions they will have to kill us by slitting our throats from ear to ear. We have seen them and can identify them. Please don’t wake up.

The monster moved with a fearful purpose. This was a man who not only knew the dregs of society and moved with ease among them, he was one of them himself.

He took every coat, cape and cloak, leaving only Dona Esperanza's woolen housecoat. And then abruptly, he tore it out of the wooden hanger. It made a slight noise like the wings of a predator. He handed it as well to thief number two.

Ah My God! I can hear and feel my heart at the base of my neck. The monster is turning his head and body and he is looking straight towards our four-poster bed. I cannot see his face and now I understand why. He was all in black, with black gloves, and a black mask over his face except for his eyes.

He intends to steal the jewelry next which means that he is going to enter our bedroom!

Dona Esperanza had never been more certain of anything or of anyone in her life.

What can I do to stop him? Nothing! Nada! I am alone and helpless but we might survive the night if I keep quiet and do not lose my control.

Her chartreuse pina ball gown was still lying crumpled where she had stepped out of it on the floor, close to the ormolu dresser.

Don't stumble! Any of you. Above all you must not do anything that will wake up my husband. The monster had spotted the gown lying on the floor. As calculating as he was cold and cruel, he paused by the doorway, studying the topography of the bedroom.

Dona Esperanza could not see what was going on from where she was lying with just a 5-inch crack in her velvet curtain at the foot of her side of the bed.

I am more than a stone now. I am a corpse in shock.

The monster had a thick rope draped around his neck. It looked like some sort of noose; the better to strangle his victims. That means us. That I am still capable of reasoning at a moment like this, which might be our last night on earth keeps me going. I am filled with resolve that Daniele and I will survive.

And then Daniele sighed. The monster froze. He moved swiftly without making a sound towards his right hand side where Count Daniele was sleeping. Dona Esperanza closed her eyes and waited. An eternity went by. She opened her eyes a crack. The monster wasn't there. She swiftly closed her eyes again. Then she heard the rustle of her pina ball gown as the thief picked it up and moved it, closer to their bed.

The emeralds! They were lying right on top of the gold marble topped ormolu dresser. The complete parure was there. The kentia designed necklace, pendant earrings, two cabochon rings, and two baguette bracelets. No! Not my emeralds!

Dona Esperanza locked her jaws ‘til they ached.

I can’t even bring myself to imagine what would have already occurred if the baby Matthias lay in his crib in our bedroom. That is God’s providence at work.

I had placed my wondrous pearls from Bahrain to rival the slain Czarina Alexandra's pearls in the safety deposit box of the Hotel Ritz. Uncle Cesar had gifted me with the pearls on my wedding day. They had belonged to his beloved sister, Aunt Urraca. I am told she wore the pearls everywhere, even to bed because she was frequently ill. She died a few weeks before I was born in Kyoto, Japan. Aunt Urraca was the one who chose the name Esperanza (Hope) for me a month before her death in Manila of malaria and dengue fever.

Daniele and I are not ready yet to join her tonight, but our lives are in the hands of God, she prayed.

He wanted it all. Her husband had several sets of gold cuff links and chains. He took them. Dona Esperanza heard the soft clink as he dropped them into a pliant pouch.

She was in terror, her trembling heart told her the thief would be looking for her 25-carat flawless diamond which had been worn by La Virago (mother-in-law) Cosima until Daniele, her only son, had married her.

Everyone in Spain had seen that diamond. The King and Queen of Spain, the grandees, the gypsies begging in the streets of Madrid, the urchins at the Retiro Park, and all the staff at the Ritz Hotel.

How flighty of me. What a ninny innocent abroad. I have more gems than I have brains she rebuked herself harshly. I'm lying here in terror and in a state of undress, watching a black-hearted thief and killer violate our bedroom and our property.

Slowly at first, then swiftly, Dona Esperanza instinctively flicked her left thumb over her ring finger and let the ring fall in between her legs as she lay like a mummy.

Thank the Lord that I had the intuition to pull the goose down away from me before the monster penetrated our foyer or he would have surely heard the swoosh sound of a heavy silk cover being removed. Hours have gone by it seems. Would this horror never cease? I have lost all feeling in my body. I have rendered myself numb and paralyzed.

The thief was certainly going to take a look inside the four-poster bed to see if she was wearing the diamond.

"Chances are the snooty bitch has the diamond and she's wearing it."

I would wager my emeralds, which the monster already has in his possession, that the thought going through his mind is exactly that.

There is no way out. I can smell the fiend crawling on the floor to my side of the bed. Can he smell my fear? Thanks to the rare drops of Oil of Neroli which I have sprinkled extravagantly on my pina nightgown, I hope that this action on my part to increase my alluring persona to Daniele; will render the beast unable to scent and detect my terror so easily.

What am I going to do? Any minute now his black-clad face is going to appear out of nowhere, perhaps he’ll yank me with the thick rope and then snap my neck. His predator’s scent was so close. Dios! Dios! Dios!

Now I know how the monster is going to execute his maneuver.

He will lift the heavy green moss velvet curtain and with all the time in the world, he was going to wind himself up like a serpent, from the floor.

Dona Esperanza had a desperate inspiration. She was going to repose her ringless hand on her lower left thigh. The thief was not interested in her as an individual. He did not care for humanity except as rich pickings. He was greedy. He wanted to steal everything valuable he could take from his victims.

How could Daniele sleep so peacefully? Could he not hear her heart careening wildly? Please don't wake up my darling!

Dona Esperanza was ready to face the monster.

Remember. You are a mummy, a mummy, a rigid mummy.” She kept repeating silently.

He is a thief and a killer. Whatever happens, do not betray yourself. He won’t see that you’re naked underneath the pina gown. It's dark. He's looking for a scintillating, phosphorescent diamond; only rare diamonds emit that greenish blue light. Thank the Child Jesus of Prague that I had read Aunt Urraca's books on flowers and the poems and odes she had written on gems. It might save our lives tonight.

Dona Esperanza smelled the predator’s breath; the cheap acrid nicotine, the shabby Manzanilla beverage,  and the unbrushed and rotting teeth on her neck and face. He moved imperceptibly as a water serpent glided in water. Her hand was the object of his hunger. The predator’s antenna was on high alert. His breath was coming in spurts.

The unexpected has occurred. The 25-carat diamond ring is not on her finger! The hateful rich bitch is not wearing it. Ay Demonios! I could kill her for that, he thought.

She sensed that the fiend who was an evil but intelligent creature was trying to figure out whether the rose cut diamond ring had been deposited in the bank vaults of the Hotel Ritz.

For the sake of everyone you hold dear, don’t move a muscle not even your eyelids, and don’t forget to breathe slowly and silently!

She heard another footfall. This one smelled of horse manure. The monster snaked down slowly and crawled towards his companion. He stood up and walked back towards the hallway and conferred with his partner. He presented him with the black leather pouch, which had belonged to Dona Esperanza, filled with the emerald parure, the gold cuff links and chains, ah! Daniele’s Breguet watch. All elegant officers and gentlemen, since Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington had worn them in the Battle of Waterloo: they would not have considered dying in battle without a Breguet.

The Monster was shaking the fetid thief violently and spat in his face. He too wore a black mask over his face. Not a cry came out of his throat, not even a whimper, even when he was hit in the stomach and he went down on his knees in pain. The Predator and Monster dragged him out of the hallway into the salon. All this was done without a sound.

The monster walked back to their bedroom with a dangerous determination. He began examining the bottles of liquor on the gold marble top of the ormolu dresser. He put one into a sack very carefully.

“That must be the Chartreuse from the Benedictine Monastery of La Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble France, a green and yellow liquid.”

He scrutinized a small bottle of cut crystal. He opened the stopper. Took in the aroma, hungrily took a long swig straight from the bottle, stopped the bottle and placed it in the pocket of his jacket.

I am certain what this crystal bottle of green liquid contains. From the way the thief and murderer has drunk ravenously out of the bottle, it must be something magical.

Her favorite drink was a Rosa Solis cherry cordial, flavored with the juices of sun dew, then sometimes drank with various spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves of nutmeg or even fresh vanilla sticks. It was costly and only women and homosexuals preferred them.

Dona Esperanza had forgotten about  the Sevre decanter in the bathroom.

Go into the Roman bathroom! She urged silently and repeatedly and desperately.

I could try to lock the Demon in the bathroom; there was a padlock on the other side of the bathroom door, which faced us. I think it is dangerous for me to even think of such a thing. He is too cunning and vigilant to walk into a trap. He knew every inch of the Ritz Hotel very well indeed.

The feral creature stood before the crack in the curtains of the bed, studying her. She was still outside the covers, on top of the linen sheets and she remained a perfect mummy.

Be still. Be still. Be still.  

A soft pat, almost a caress was tapped on her instep.

The monster has touched me! I am going to die! I think my heart has stopped! I am frozen; I feel as if I have been covered in ice for thousands of years.

Out of a deeply ingrained sense of self-preservation and deadly fear for her life as well as for her new husband’s life, Dona Esperanza did not react and continued feigning sleep.

Don’t move! Don’t twitch! Don’t be afraid. The monster will surely abuse you, rape you in front of your husband and then kill you both in gelid blood.

She heard his now familiar footsteps walk back to the salon.

Why had this monstrous thief broken into our suite knowing we were sleeping? He knew where everything was placed and kept. He could have easily entered while we danced the night away at the Palacio de la Zarzuela.

A sibilant orgy of whispers took place in the salon. One by one she heard the door leading to the corridor of the hotel open as the thieves hauled out all their loot. And then there was only a deadly silence. She allowed herself the luxury of relaxing a little.

Dona Esperanza did her utmost, holding in her breath, so she could hear and be noiseless.

There is nothing and no one in our suite. The foul smelling stink is still hovering in the air and on the furniture and furnishings like an evil caress. I shall light myrrh crystals doused with sandalwood oil to decontaminate the entire place. I have a better idea. Why not check out of the Ritz today? What if he returns to complete the job? Indeed why should he not do it? I am afraid that I could not pull it off a second time. I can’t even cope with the thought.

More light was shining through the window of the salon. The heating in the rooms were turned off at 9:00 p.m. and restarted around 5:00 in the morning. The cold was leaving her bones degree by degree. Dona Esperanza swiftly crawled back under the goose down covers. The top of the goose down quilt had created a wonderfully warm spot for her side of the bed. A stronger light was shining through the window of the salon.

What a harrowing night! The horrible Predator would not have allowed anything, least of all a young couple to get in his way. There was a murderous and a merciless streak to this thief.

I believe that this monster would steal the last piece of moldy green bread from his mother if there were nothing else to eat.

With impunity, the murderous assassin and thief, penetrated our salon and our bedroom suite – the most expensive suite in the hotel called “the Sun King” after Louis XIV.

It was disconcerting to have a stranger in your bedroom. Someone devoid of any conscience or scruples who would not think at all about robbing you blind and then slitting your throat or garroting you to death.

I never saw their faces nor could I identify them by their voices. Yet the bandits knew almost everything there was to know about me. They must have accomplices inside the hotels that cater exclusively to the rich and famous.

Since the “Nemesis”, flagship of their family owned shipping line, had docked in the damp, slimy port of Barcelona, 10 days ago it had been a series of shocks to Dona Esperanza coming from the rarefied, stable and political environment of the Philippines under the able administration of the United States with commerce run by the Chinese to visit a devastated and plague-ridden Europe.

In Spain, which had kept its neutrality, anarchy, new governments and new concepts of Communism under Karl Marx and Lenin were being experimented and elaborated.

What if the monster comes back? Dona Esperanza repeatedly argued with herself.

This time I don’t care if Daniele wakes up.

She bounded out of the creaky bed, ran towards the hall, came to a dead stop and listened attentively, as still as a statue. No sounds were coming from the salon. She dashed towards the door, which led to the hallway of the Hotel Ritz.

Oh! What utter fools we are. There was nothing left to steal! Not quite right. Except for my emerald parure, the most valuable objects are in the hotel’s vault and safety deposit box. The monster could return and hold Matthias and I as hostages. Daniele would be constrained to give that smelly and murderous ruffian everything that’s in the vault. Worse, if he can penetrate a hotel and any room he wishes, what’s to stop him from entering a vault in a hotel like the Ritz which is almost empty of guests because of the constant upheavals taking place through out Spain? I’ll wager my head that these vaults are in no way comparable to ours at the Banco Hispano Filipino. We also have Sikh guards and Gurkhas guarding the outer and inner perimeters of the bank day and night.

Without thinking, Dona Esperanza leaned on the oak table in their salon by the side of the door. Fortunately the marble mosaic floor would render it easy for her to slide the table against the door. Oof! It was heavier than she thought. There! She was going to make it even more difficult. She tried to heave the high-chaired Cervantes on top of the oak table but she couldn’t manage that. She looked around the salon. She spotted the two heavy Capodimonte porcelain vases, high about 30 inches. She carried them one by one over to the table and placed them just so.

If that Demonio tries to move the door with the oak table behind it, the Capodimonte vases will topple onto the marble floor. I’ll skewer him with Daniele’s ceremonial sword and kill him dead again with Daniele’s service pistol.”Dona Esperanza was working herself up into a cold fury.

And still her husband slept! Did the young die in their sleep? She knew old people and infants did. What a gruesome thought. She would be a widow without any proper clothes to wear to her husband’s funeral. She shook her shoulders and her arms.

Stop thinking these thoughts, she commanded herself.

How had the monster penetrated into their intimate space? Dona Esperanza was curious. She peered at the lock; it looked perfect to her. What did she know about picking locks? That evil smelling creature had more than three or four men working for him. One of the staff of the Hotel Ritz surely was collaborating with him? How could she be sure? The society pages of all the newspapers had written about the wedding and union of two great moneyed houses, one a blueblood, the other a merchant and banking family. Her maids Chita and Jing had been thrilled at starting a scrapbook with all the clippings about Dona Esperanza and Don Daniele. The most talked about topics were Dona Esperanza’s toilette and her bijou.

A truly wicked man needed only to read the comings and goings of the wealthy Americans and Filipinos traveling to Spain. Why rely on hotel staff? They could be coerced or intimidated to talk. The Guardia Civil were often brutal during interrogations, pondered Esperanza.

"I’ve been a flibbertigibbet. A silly, flighty and flibberty-gibbety idiot!"

“Sposa! What are you doing all by yourself talking out loud to a door and a table? Why does the salon look so odd and queer?”

“Amore! Cutthroats robbed us as we slept. They took everything they could carry.”

Dona Esperanza sobbed into her husband’s chest. He lifted her in his arms, walked to the burgundy colored silk divan and set her down on his lap.

1 comment:

  1. Complimenti, Isabella!

    Amazing detail and non-stop suspense. What another writer might have disposed of in a few short paragraphs, you manage to create tremendous interest that keeps the reader involved for pages. Your chapters are all gems, this one in particular.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

Create Your Badge