Semple frequented the Red Lion more often. He told himself that it was merely to enjoy a pint, although the visits offered opportunities to chat with Tacy Bronwell. When he plucked up his courage to ask the waitress for her work schedule Tacy thought for a moment then jotted down her hours on a napkin.
Consulting their diaries one evening—Semple’s was a traditional pocket-sized volume bound in brown leather; Tacy used an app—they settled on a date when she would dine at his house. Semple didn’t suggest a menu for the occasion to Miss H-V: she was bound to react negatively to his “meddling.” Without specifying what she might prepare for the occasion the housekeeper asserted that she would have everything under control.
The young woman’s assertiveness, which always seemed to be couched in ungraciousness, made Semple’s jaw clench. Every time he was on the verge of sacking her something came over him. Whatever it was kept Semple from acting out of his frustration. Mysteriously, the strange smell he had first noticed in the kitchen always accompanied these incidents. The coincidence of these things left him feeling uneasy.
* * *
It was a late summer Wednesday afternoon. The aerie’s windows were thrown open to catch any breeze that chanced to come along. Semple sat before the laptop, ignoring the sweat gathering on his forehead and the occasional insect that bumbled in as he typed.
Semple continued to be pleased with how work on the novel was going. Paradoxically, the richness of the narrative had grown inversely to the number of pages he churned out daily. In light of this he discarded the carefully crafted schedule he had worked up at the beginning of writing Allith, Mountain Flower Dragoness. He had to admit that, for someone as regimented as he was, doing this was freeing.
A vigorous rat-a-tat interrupted Semple. He opened the door to see Miss H-V standing in the hall, arms locked across her skinny chest.
“Didn’t you hear the bell? There are visitors.”
Miss H-V went into the aerie as Semple made his way downstairs. It annoyed him to see that the door had been shut and locked. Were the people outside Visigoths? He yanked it open, prepared to apologize for Miss H-V’s rudeness.
Semple’s elder daughter was on the stoop. She and the woman at her side were identically dressed in jumpsuits made of a shimmery purple material, their hair and eyebrows dyed a vivid hue of sunflower yellow. The sight triggered a distant memory of characters in a book that was among the girls’ favourites when they were small. Labeled “Thing One” and “Thing Two,” Semple recalled the creatures’ propensity for wreaking havoc.
“Hullo, Father. I hope our popping over without notice hasn’t caught you out?”
“Of course not, my dear.” Semple and Wrenna exchanged smiles but all he got from Algeberta was a stony look. “Please come in.”
The women shed their gigantic rucksacks in the entrance hallway, all but blocking it. Semple asked Wrenna to take her friend into the parlour then he called up the stairs, asking Miss H-V to make tea. The housekeeper exited the aerie, shut the door and hurried to the kitchen.
Semple’s attempt at polite conversation with Algeberta quickly stalled; she said nothing and, apart from a tight smile, didn’t acknowledge his presence. It was a relief when Miss H-V entered bearing the tray and poured out. Before the housekeeper left Semple introduced her to the other women.
Looking up from stirring his cup, he saw that Algeberta’s blank face was animated. Was she about to speak? Her gaze was fixed on something behind him. When Semple turned he saw Miss H-V leaving the parlour. In the moment it took for him to come back round Algeberta had assumed her former expression. Wrenna didn’t seem to have noticed what happened. She sipped her tea and looked at Semple.
“So that is your Miss H-V? She looked ordinary to me, worlds away from what I’d call a woman of mystery.”
“First of all Wrenna, she is, in no way, shape or form, ‘mine.’ Tell me, are you and your friend here on a whim or because I need saving from Miss H-V’s . . . machinations?”
“Don’t be defensive, Father. The fact that I couldn’t uncover a scrap of information regarding Miss H-V piqued my curiosity so I came to see her in person. Regarding Algeberta, the Klemperer Group has employed her for several years now. She’s a hard worker and rarely takes time off. When I told Herr Klemperer about my trip, he insisted that Algeberta accompany me. Her English is rudimentary but at least we share the same fashion sense.”
Semple looked again at the German woman. She seemed unaware that his daughter was talking about her as though she wasn’t in the room.
“How long do you plan on being here, Wrenna?”
“Just four days. That way I can check out Miss H-V and show Algeberta around town a bit. Since Brexit the familiarity of people on the Continent with our country has dropped off sharply. I thought Algeberta and I could share my bedroom.”
“Actually you cannot: that is where Miss H-V stays.”
“Can’t you politely boot her out for the few days we will be here?”
Again there was that unidentifiable, irresistible tug. “Why don’t you and Algeberta take my room? I will make my bed on the parlour settee.”
[© 2019 Robert Edwin Stone, II]