This is a snippet from a work in progress.
We both looked at her. She blushed, a faint bloom of rose that ebbed after a moment. “I’m sorry to be so mysterious, but I really don’t know. I just know that the manuscript describes… a machine. In detail. However, we do not have the full copy. Yet.”
“Dr. Branch specializes in ancient Gothic architecture.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “This conference is a gathering of transportation specialists, past and present, even a few claiming to be futuristic although if you ask me…”
“Would we be able to see what you do have?” Karen cut me off. She knew all too well how I felt about those charlatans, who built on the past and never acknowledged their roots. “That might be helpful.”
“I don’t have it here.” Amelie shook her head. “I don’t have permission to take it from the library where it is kept. I came here hoping to find a lead on the remaining part of the manuscript.”
“Is there only one copy?” I asked.
“That was recorded, yes.”
:How very interesting.” My wife was looking up at me, her eyes slitted in thought.
“My dear…” I tried to head her off at the pass.
“We will accept your commission.” She completely ignored me. “We have a trifling little matter on our plates,” and now I tried again to stop the stampede.
“Count Derosier is hardly a man to trifle with…”
She had the bit between her teeth, which she flashed at me in a broad pearly grin. “And there is no deadline, so I think we can squeeze you in… I assume you need this done quickly?” She had turned from me, to contemplate Amelie. The young lady, to do her credit, was a bit wide-eyed at this sudden burst of enthusiasm. She didn’t know, as I did, that the hint of a library containing such rare volumes was irresistible to my beloved. I would admit that this was a shared passion of ours, which had drawn us together initially and into another kindling of passion, but that was not a story for now.
“Y-yes.” Amelie gasped. “The sooner, the better. But I don’t have a clue where to find the missing manuscript.”
“Ah! I see I must introduce you to the Russian.” Karen stood and pulled Amelie up with her, tucking the younger woman’s hand into the crook of her arm. Thus secured, she took our new client in tow, and as they strolled off, I could hear my wife’s voice trailing over her shoulder like a gauzy scarf in the breeze. “He deals in books, and has simply the best collection of psuedo-porn…”
They left me standing there in the garden, contemplating the near future. Derosier was not going to be pleased. We had not even touched on the slight matter of fees with Amelie. And yet…
Not being in the mood to deal with the fussing Russian at this hour of the morning – and still less inclined to start in on the vodka before lunch – I decided I would have my own conversation with Dr. Branch. Turnabout was fair play, after all. The Russian would have the samovar full of tea for the ladies. Me, for some reason, he wanted to match his consumption of the vodka when I turned up. Even at this hour.
Branch wasn’t hard to find. He was bent over one of the tables in the main hall. The conference organizers had set it up as a display for some of the dioramas and displays of the presenters. This particular one was an intricate Salisbury Cathedral. I walked up behind him.
“Still not dead yet, I see.” I greeted him when he didn’t seem to see me.
He jumped a little, and craned his head around without straightening. “This year was guaranteed to go better, thanks to the sacrificial penguin.”
“You have your students conducting occult rituals?” I wouldn’t put it past an academic, although it did seem awfully bloodthirsty.
He snorted, and gave up on whatever held his interest in the diorama, unfolding to his normal height, which put him eye-to-eye with my nostrils. “There’s nothing occult about sacrifices, I’ll remind you.”
“Depends on how the penguin felt about it.” I peered down at the tiny cathedral. “So, did they include the spring behind the third stone on the twelfth door?”
“What?” He looked up at me, then down at the model. “Spring?”
“When you press it, the stone pops out just enough to get your fingernails… You didn’t know about it?” I grinned at his pop-eyed expression.
“I think you are making a joke.” He narrowed his eyes. “You are joking, yes?”
“Tell me about Amelie.” I turned slightly away from him, looking down at the spires on the table next to us.
“Who… oh. Dammit, man, the stone!”
“Ah, ah! Student’s details, then I reveal all.” I crouched to better see. “Unless you’d rather go somewhere private?”
“Oh. Oh, yes, that would be wise.” He looked around sharply, as though I’d reminded him there were ears everywhere. Which I had.
My prompt this week came from Fiona Grey with “This year was guaranteed to go better, thanks to the sacrificial penguin.”
I prompted Leigh Kimmel with “A great infolding of wings”
You can read all the prompt responses, or take part in the challenge yourself, over at More Odds Than Ends. In search of an ending? Never finish anything? Well, that’s what we’re here for! Odd endings are hard to find, but practice helps.