A snippet from the ongoing WIP. I’m only putting the bits with the prompt responses up here, as I am not entirely sure what this thing is going to be, or where it will be published when complete.
“I don’t know what you have against Dmitri.” Branch didn’t speak until we were in the elevator, alone. He’d headed for it, rather than back toward the broad stairs, and I let him guide my steps. If he – or at any rate, his protege – was paying, I’d be his dog for the time. “He’s terribly useful.”
“For some reason he expects me to drink with him. No matter the hour of the day.”
Branch shrugged. “I’m accustomed to his tea, although I still think the smoke is an acquired taste I am too old to acquire.”
The elevator doors opened, and I was amused to find that Branch’s posture changed subtly, indicating he wasn’t with me, as he gave me the cold shoulder. I didn’t recognize either of the women who got on at the fourth floor, and as he’d pressed the button for the fourteenth and top floor, I stepped back into the far corner to allow them their space, and him his subterfuge. They spoke quietly together in French for five floors, and got off. I’d been eavesdropping shamelessly, but they had said nothing of any importance. Alone with the Gothic scholar again, I tugged on my beard.
“Yes, yes, I know it’s ridiculous.” He rose to the bait without any further prompting. “Still. I – we – cannot afford to give the game away. There is more to this than is apparent, Evans, so humor me.”
“Oh,” I murmured as the elevator slowed before stopping at our floor. “I can play the game.”
There was a chime, and the doors opened.
I was beginning to feel rather as though I’d won a free gift box at a store, and only when I got home, noticed that it was labeled ‘warning: contains live penguins.’
Branch, ignoring me entirely, stepped out of the elevator, holding out his hands and smiling warmly. “Dr. Nazzeni! So very good to see you!”
I followed him out of the elevator. He might have been pretending he had no idea I was there, but this was the top floor. No point in my trying to pretend I hadn’t meant to come here, and just happened to bump into him. Rather, I strode past him, and the colleague he was clasping hands with, and toward the open door of the Russian’s suite.
I knew it was where my wife was. For one thing, I could smell the samovar with the caravan tea brewing. Branch wasn’t wrong about the smoke. For another thing, the chatter of polyglot conversation emerging from the doorway was all too familiar. I paused at the threshold, looking around the crowded room, and spotted them.
Dmitri, his portly figure swathed in a red silk dressing gown patterned in gold thread horses, and belted with an absurd black sash that hung down past his knees, was roaring in laughter. Karen, laughing along with him, caught my eye over his shoulder. Amelie seemed to be speaking to another person, out of sight from my angle. Smiling at Karen, I started to wend my way toward them, easier said than done in this crowd.
I’d never asked Dmitri why, at every conference I’d ever met him at, he chose to have a suite and fill it full of people. My preference was to have a nice quiet room as far from anyone else as physically possible. I’d have eschewed them altogether if they weren’t such good places to pick up business. I also had to admit, Karen was the one who dragged me along and into them. I paused, before sliding around two Germans barking at each other in earnest negotiations over the loan of a book, to admire my wife. She was simply radiant this morning. I’d not had enough time to speak with her since she had still been at her ablutions when coffee called me downstairs… soon. Not, unfortunately, now. I shook my head, interrupted the Germans, and arrived at her side.
“Hello my love!” She smiled up at me and leaned into my arm for a moment. “Dmitri, dear, do you think we might be able to have a word with you in private?”
She didn’t wait for him to respond, turning to catch Amelie’s attention. Amelie, who had been speaking to a rather elderly fellow attired in a splendid gray suit with yellow bow tie, nodded when my wife touched her shoulder lightly.
“Oh?” Dmitri followed the byplay with bright eyes. “I see. Of course, of course, come this way…”
Karen and I were right on his heels. I caught Branch’s eye from across the room and jerked my head slightly in the direction we were going. Amelie, wrapping up her own conversation politely, was several steps behind us. I’d have worried we were being conspicuous, but as I scanned the room, no one else seemed to be paying attention. Dmitri opened the door, and stood aside while Karen and I entered. He left the door open, but didn’t wait for the others.
“Who is joining us?”
Karen was always perceptive.
“Dr. Branch is pretending I don’t exist.”
Amelie came in just in time to hear that. “Why? What is wrong?”
Dmitri, clattering glasses and decanters, glanced over his shoulder. “Kevin, drink with me!”
I groaned internally, but held out my hand to accept the tiny glass he’d pulled out of the freezer and poured a clear liquid into. The frost bit me.
Branch sidled through the doorway, closing it hastily behind him. “Ah, I see we are all here.”
“Nostrovya!” Dmitri crowed, raising his own glittering glass to me. We both downed our drinks, and I sucked air discreetly as it hit bottom.
“Karen…” I started, but Amelie was also speaking, so I shut up.
“Dr. Branch, Karen and I had a moment to fill in Mr. Petrov on the manuscript.”
“Good, good.” Branch rubbed his hands together and beamed at Dmitri, who I noted did not offer him a shot of the vodka. “Were you, ah, is it a likely…” He trailed off.
“I couldn’t lay my hands on it immediately.” Dmitri filled in smoothly after a moment of awkward silence. “Amelie,” He turned and smiled at her. “Was remarkably clear about what she wanted and where she thinks the manuscript might be found. It’s a very interesting theory. Certainly plausible.”
I arched my eyebrows at Karen, hoping she’d fill me in, but all I got were her most impish dimples.
“I am intrigued, I will admit. Despite my, ah, usual inclinations, I shall accompany you.” He sketched a bow to the young woman. “Consider me at your service.”
She clapped her hands together, beaming. “This is more than I had hoped for!”
“An uncatalogued library in a half-ruined castle? One that can only be reached by train? Why, the prospect is thrilling beyond words, dear girl!” He swung around to face me. “I presume it’s the train you are interested in?”
Behind him, Branch was making faces at me, which I ignored. “Partly.”
“Oh, dear.” Karen laughed. “Kevin is, as usual, kindly going along with one of my mad schemes. But I will say that the train did seize his attention.”
It might have. Had I had any idea it existed prior to this moment. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at all the smoke and mirrors, and silently threatened my wife once I got her alone.
“He’s always giving me a good time.” Her accompanying gurgle wasn’t just due to the conversation. The dimples were on full display. “So nice when he enjoys himself as well.”
I was prompted this week by ‘Nother Mike, with “You got a free gift box at the store. When you got it home, you realized it was labeled…”
I prompted Fiona Grey with “Accelerating in reverse”
You can read all the prompt responses, or take part in the prompt challenge, over at More Odds Than Ends, where we have just begun the third year of this weekly creativity exercise. Hard to believe it’s still going strong!