Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place (Part 3)
Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place - Part 3
[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! And Maggie for help with Saul.]
‘Gunpowder?’ asked Chaddy as our adrenalin spiked suddenly.
Blinking, I eased my hand down to my purse and opened it, placing my hand on the pistol. Backing slowly towards the door I scanned the shop looking for potential threats. Cautiously I felt behind me for the door, taking care to step carefully and quietly. At a muffled hum, I looked up to see a manikin head swiveling in my direction.
Feeling a bit freaked I pulled the pistol out of the purse and pointed it at the manikin and off of safe. Just as I succeeded in blindly finding the door knob, there was the sound of laughter and the manikin threw its arms up in visual parody of C3P0 it said, “We are doomed!”
“Paranoid much?” asked a woman’s voice from further back in the shop.
“It’s a healthy paranoia,” I muttered loudly as I looked cautiously away from the manikin.
“Is it?” asked the owner of the voice as she walked into view. As she stood there dressed in a skirt that was a riot of wrinkled cloth, and a purple leotard top, I was more concerned by the Scorpion machine pistol she was tapping against her leg.
“Yes. You would be Miss D’aubigne?” I asked as I let the pistol dip towards the floor.
Nodding she lifted her free hand up to her head and pulled off a pair of shooters goggles, and then set them on a display rack. “Nice gun,” she opined with a nod down to my hand. “You would be Petra?” she asked a moment later.
I nodded adding, “If I had my druthers I would have a Berretta, as this one is a bit larger than I like,” I admitted with a shrug.
Her eyes narrowed and then she smiled, “I see, a connoisseur of fire arms are you?”
“Some, truthfully it was my father and uncle’s influence,” I said with a second shrug.
“Was?” she asked as she walked to a counter where a register sat, and then she placed the gun under it.
I relaxed and placed the pistol back on safe, and then eased it towards the purse as she placed her hands on the counter. “They are no longer among us,” I said figuring a bit of truth never hurt.
“Ah I am sorry to hear that,” then indicating my pistol, “please put that away,” she said as she walked out from behind the counter and away from her gun.
I shrugged and eased it fully into the purse, but leaving the top open. I took a relaxed breath and smiled giving her my best ‘mostly harmless’ expression. “Ok,” I said with a neutral smile.
She looked at me with a mix of amusement and evident disbelief, “Anyone that runs around with a gun in their purse is not that harmless.”
Smiling I looked back at her, “Some might say that of a person who fires guns in their shop as well.”
“They might at that,” she said and then ran her hands through her slightly frizzy brown hair, “I wonder if it has something to do with the lack of customers I have?”
“I would not know, but maybe it’s the caliber of your customers that matter?” I asked with a grin.
Her eyebrows and hands rose dramatically as she exclaimed with a bright smile, “Oh my, it’s witty too!”
“I try,” I said at her antics.
“But you are an American,” she said as she walked about the store.
“What gave it away?” I asked with a ‘who me?’ wave of my hands. “The gun, the accent, or was it the desire for ketchup on my fries?”
She wrinkled her nose slightly, “Ick, mayonnaise tastes better on fries.”
“Ewww gross,” I said and Chaddy fully agreed with me.
“So, apart from culinary dislikes, what brings you to Rome?” she asked as she walked to the door and locked it and put up a sign.
“Would you believe I am part of a secret order of knights that work with the Vatican?” I asked as I did my best to look utterly serious.
“Only if they are a knightly order of schoolgirls,” she said blandly, “and are really short on funds. What did you do, sleep in that outfit?”
“Yes, on a cot, and in that orders headquarters, as my luggage was kidnapped,” I said with an annoyed sigh.
Shaking her head she placed her hands on her waist looking at me thoughtfully, “Madame Rodgers said you were interesting, among other things.”
I refrained from mentioning the bit about her telling me about my hostess being a bit air headed, though I did nod. “Yes she said you would be able to help me with clothing and under things.”
“Just that?” she asked coyly as she not quite slinked towards me.
“Yes, just that.”
“So the number one reason you won’t have sex with me is because you want me to remember it?” Michelle asked as she handed me a bra to try on.
“Well that and I just met you,” I rolled my eyes upwards as Sara would just ‘love’ this conversation, and the fact that Michelle was twenty three to my sixteen. I took a moment to ease into the bra and sighed softly as the silk caressed things.
“So you like silky things?” she asked as she helped to fasten the bra.
I tried to ignore the stirrings of things and nodded feeling a mixture of excitement and shame, “Yeah it’s naughty.”
‘Lalalalalalalal! I’m so not listening to this!’ was Chaddy’s input.
“So how long have you been a girl with added benefits?” she asked as she made a slight adjustment to a strap for me.
“September, more or less.” I sighed in annoyance as I tried to remember things half forgotten in the separation.
“So you’ve had a bit of time to adjust?” she asked as she handed me a camisole top to try on.
“Well, yes and no. I spent a lot of time stuck in hospital clothes,” which was the truth more or less.
“So you have not really been out and about full time as a girl?” she asked and then she grimaced, “Ok that color does not suit you.”
Looking in the mirror I had to agree, “Makes me look greenish.”
“Yes so no to that color, ever,” she paused and then winked, “unless you are trying to play sick.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. So you went from Whateley to a business college?” I asked as I removed the camisole.
“Yes, then from there back again to Rome,” she hung the top up and placed it on the rack, “Paris is overloaded with people trying to break into the fashion business.”
“Ah, I see,” as I waited a moment she handed me one in light blue to try on. “So no devisor loomed things for you?”
“No, just plain old scissors, pins, needles, thread, and a touch of magick.” She wiggled her fingers and the top I was wearing glimmered briefly, “Mostly of the time I don’t use magick on the clothing though, as most of my clients are a bit mundane.”
“And I am not?” I asked as she nodded in approval of the fit.
“Well you are laden with magicks and such,” she admitted with a smile, “the gaffs I make for the more clothing challenged do have a bit of concealing magick in them.”
“Such as I?” I asked with a grin.
“Well,” she paused to blush slightly, “I did notice you are endowed a bit much for a girl of your age.”
Groaning I sighed, “My sister has the same problem.”
“Well if you are the same size you can ship her some gaffs from here,” she rubbed her hands together in seeming greed. “Overseas markets are welcome.”
“Exactly the same size,” I muttered softly.
“Oh?” she asked with a purr as her mind obviously wandered into other things.
“Focus Michelle, focus,” I said as I pointed to the clock.
“Drat, fine, I’ll just have to fantasize later…” she said with a wicked smile.
“Even with your driving me back, I may be cutting it close to get the phones and back to the Vatican in time to keep folks from worrying,” I said with a hint of worry in my stomach.
“So about this secret organization, you sure are free about discussing them,” she observed as I skinned out of the top only to be handed a different one.
“Well it’s not likely you will remember it,” I countered as I pulled on the sweater she offered me.
“So you say, still I might be able to help somewhat,” she offered with a thoughtful look upwards.
“Well since you are driving me there, you can poke about a bit. I expect I will have to sit and answer phones for a time.” Groaning I added, “And listen to people bitch at me.”
“I am sure we can get you phones easily enough, I know a person or three who sells them along the way.” She gave me an appreciative look and smiled, “So is this enough to last?”
I looked at the rack of ‘keepers,’ “Yes, though getting them washed later may be a problem.”
“Bah,” she said with a smile, “you can afford to dump them in a charity bin and buy new ones.”
“I suppose this is your way of drumming up repeat business?” I asked as she started putting the clothes in my new suitcase for me.
“That and it gives me a way to tempt you further into my bed,” she said with a hopeful look at me then following that with a deliberate glance at my groin.
“I see,” I said and then made a point of asking Sara later on if her mark had secondary side-effects on other people.
The Rose Palace (Knight HQ)
“Wow,” Michelle said after a moment of shaking her head, “heavy duty protective magicks all over the place… along with something nasty.”
I paused behind her as she looked back and forth from the building to the parking lot, “Yes?”
“It’s not directed exactly at the building though,” she turned in slow circles chanting slowly, then with a curse she closed her eyes in a wince, “I hate that.”
“Hate what?” I asked quickly as she rubbed her temples.
She blinked a few times ruefully, “It’s about like staring into a cars headlights in the middle of the night, I see spots everywhere.”
“Ugh,” I said and steered her to the buildings door, “come on, I have to go play phone tag and set up the chargers for the cell phones.”
“So why did you buy several of them?” she asked with a puzzled frown.
“I tend to be rough on electronics,” I said as I swiped my key card. “Also if need be, I will not feel guilty about throwing one away in case I think it is being tracked.”
“An occupational hazard?” she asked as she looked about the corridor while her eyes blinked rapidly.
“Yeah, so it seems.” I lead the way to the elevator and asked, “So why no touristy clothes?”
“Rome has a problem with pick-pockets, purse snatchers, and folks snatching and grabbing anything that can get away with. The last thing you want to be seen as is a bloody tourist, so speak Italian at all times in public.” She rolled her eyes and waved her arms in exaggeration as she added, “It’s a fucking epidemic, which is why I made you put your cards in the belly band I sold you.”
“Cash in the purse, junk you can’t do without in the band,” I said with a grin as the elevator opened.
“The fact that it can double as a holster is just one of those bonus features,” she said with a grin.
“Yeah,” I said as I punched the buttons and ran the card though the slot.
“Also don’t forget to carry your backpack on your lap in a bus and keep one arm wrapped though it,” she shook her head in annoyance, “even with the Kevlar in it, it can be cut up if they try hard enough… You would hate to lose a laptop that way, I know I did.”
“Hence the Kevlar?” I asked with a nod of agreement.
“Well that and it’s a good line of defense when running away,” she said with a grin.
“There is that,” I said as we stepped out of the elevator to the sound of angry phones.
She smiled and took my suitcase handle from me, “I think that is your cue.”
“Gah!” I said as I bolted for the offices.
I waved Michelle to a seat as I jabbered into the phone that I was alive and well. I scanned my list of Knights and made a checkmark by the name Father Gabe Caruthers who was in Poland. Where in Poland he neglected to mention, go figure. After giving him the low down on things as I knew them he appeared to be in a better mood, well he wasn’t yelling at least.
Thumbing on the speaker phone I held my finger to my lips in a ‘keep quiet’ admonition to Michelle. “So Father, apart from my being away, and evidently on my bloody own here, and making this shit up as I go alone; do you have any advice you would care to impart?”
“Harumph! There is no need for such language young lady, I expect you to say twenty ‘Hail Mary’s’ and ten ‘Our Fathers’ for your errors,” he said condescendingly.
“Now? Or can I wait until the phone call is over?” I rolled my eyes at Michelle and waited a brief moment while the ‘Good Father’ spluttered. “Or can we skip right to the chase and you give me some sort of information that will help me fix this problem?”
“Impertinent whelp! When I was a candidate, I knew my place, I didn’t talk back to my elders,” Father Caruthers said with an evident build up of ire.
“Look,” I interrupted, “I have the ring on my finger and the damned tattoo branded on my arm. I am. NOT. A candidate!”
Silence hung in the air as Michelle gave me a quiet round of applause, then Father Caruthers said, “I can see there is no talking to you.”
“You want to talk, then talk, but don’t try to second guess me or belittle me when it’s my ass in the frying pan here,” I countered and then I added. “And it is my ass all alone here, thank you very much for asking. What part of the ‘Rome is Burning’ message did you not understand?”
“What! Rome is burning?” he asked in an affronted tone of voice. “Why wasn’t I told!”
I sighed dramatically and repeated myself in that tongue-twisting language, then I added in a voice that projected faux calm and understanding; “It was on the tape recorded message Father.”
“I didn’t get that message,” he said sounding a bit calmer yet peevish.
I was seriously beginning to wonder how old the Father was, or if he was drunk, and from Michelle’s expression I gathered she was wondering that too. “I put it in on the recording for people to hear while I was away taking care of getting supplies,” I explained.
“Why, isn’t there anyone who could do that sort of thing for you?” he asked after a moment.
“No, no one, everyone who is supposed to be here is missing or has forgotten the Order even exists,” I sighed and crossed my arms as I leaned back in the chair. “Not even the Vatican Security group remembers them.”
“I see,” he seemed to hum for a moment as if gathering his thoughts, “have you tried looking for them?”
“I would love to, seriously. The problem is the three Knights I know personally or have met; one of which has gone missing in Rome, one is in the States, and I have no idea where Arturo is.”
Father Caruthers scoffed loudly into the phone, “The bastard? He’s likely drunk in a bar some place. Bad penny that one, but he always turns up when things get ugly.”
“Yes, well we can’t all help our parentage,” I said in the hopes that his mood would settle and he would actually have some advice I could use.
“Yes, that is true.” He seemed to belch and then he spoke again, “Well, I can’t come there to sort out things, got a mess here to deal with. Some darned fool summoned up a daemon and got ate for his troubles, standard stuff as you will learn eventually. If I don’t check in after a day, you may presume I was dessert, and advise others of my death.”
“Surely it is not that bad?” I asked with a worried look at Michelle.
“Well it’s not a soldier, minor daemon lord at the least, don’t worry too much about it,” he said with an attempt at sounding bored.
“Right… I’ll pass the word that you checked in,” I said quickly.
“Please do,” he said and then added, “go with God child.”
I hastily replied, “You as well Father. Good luck.”
“Thank you,” he said and then there was a click as the connection faded.
Michelle blinked at me, then at the phone, “Did he just say he was going off to fight a daemon?”
“Or die trying,” I said with a sigh and proceeded to dial up Father Rico on his cell phone.
“He didn’t sound very sure of his success,” she added quietly.
“No, which is why I am trying to reach someone who hopefully will have an idea of how to help him… I hope.” I gave the phone an impatient look as it rang several times before it was answered by voice mail. After the usual tone I spoke quickly into the phone, “Hello Father Rico, it’s your favorite answering service. I am just calling to let you know that Father Gabe Caruthers has called in reporting daemon troubles.” I paused and dramatically added, “Of which it sounded like he was destined to likely end up as dessert. I have cell phones now and I will give you the numbers in a different message. Bye.”
“Phone tag?” she asked with a frown.
“He’s likely on a plane, the Pope may be in danger so he’s heading to Turkey.” I shrugged at her blinks of disbelief, “Yeah it boggles the mind how big a mess this is.”
“Let me get this straight, your are fourteen, alone in Rome, part of a secret organization that fights daemons and stuff; and everyone who is supposed to be here is gone?” she asked as she counted details on her fingers. “The Pope could be in danger, and people have tried to kidnap you?”
“Yeah, and I have only been in town a bit over a day,” I gave her an amused look, “can you imagine how I will feel after a week?”
“Petra I think you need to get out of town,” she said seriously.
“Can’t, well I could, but things are not that bad yet,” I grinned and rolled my eyes, “I’ve still got my credit card, a plan and a goal.”
“Which is?” she asked as I stood up to open boxes.
“Well without trying to sound too grandiose it’s pretty simple. Figure out how to get the Knights back, then kick the asses of whomever did all of this.” I wiggled my brows and then added, “Somewhere in there I hope to eat dinner.”
“Hi evil twin,” I said into the phone as I walked around headquarters with Michelle.
“Hi yourself, more evil twin,” Paige said with a distinct giggle.
“I am not more evil than you!” I protested with a chuckle.
“Are too,” she said with another giggle. “So how goes the hunt for the Knights that don’t say Nee?”
“Well,” I paused and opened a door with my card, “they have a lot to say, but nothing useful yet.”
“I’ll bet,” she sighed, “I did talk to Tammy, she is in Rome by the way, but she too has no idea what or who the Knights are.”
“Wonderful, so she will be no help?” I asked as I walked over to a map that was littered with pins.
“Hey its Tammy, I am sure she could find a way to help,” Paige said as she evidently switched her phone to a different ear. “Besides I think she is annoyed that ‘something’ is keeping her out of a contract negotiation or something.”
“Yeah but does she know she is here to help me or is she just one of the clueless?” I asked as I traced my fingers over the pins.
“Well… that could be the case, she knows Willard wants her there to help ‘someone.’” Paige made an audible annoyed groan, “So here I am stuck here, doing little to nothing while you have an adventure.”
“Adventures are over rated…” I said with a grin.
“… yeah they make you late for breakfast, speaking of food, you eating enough?” she asked quickly.
“Yeah,” I murmured as Michelle waved me over to look at a set of grisly pictures.
“You sound distracted,” Paige observed quietly, “what’s up?”
“Oh we just found a set crime scene photos, not pg rated,” I said as I swallowed sharply.
The was a odd purr from the phone, “We, we who?”
“Someone I met, she’s helping me,” I said as Michelle set the pictures down in a odd manner.
“Is she cute?” asked Paige quickly and I wondered what she was doing that made her voice jump an octave.
“Um, is this a bad time?” I asked, as I envisioned way to many things.
“Could be…” she said with a sigh.
“Right, I’ll pester you later, give Sara my love,” Michelle was giving me an odd but amused smile as I said the last.
“I’ll try to, remember that…” Said Paige as she seemingly dropped the phone.
I gave the phone in my hand an amused look, and then I hung up, “She was busy.”
“So I heard, and she is the same age as you?” she asked as she licked her lips.
“Yes,” I said as a blush heated my neck, “focus Michelle.”
“I am, but well,” she paused and undid a button in her top, “wow its warm in here isn’t it?”
Mentally sighing I picked up a picture of a semi-disemboweled pregnant woman and held it up in front of her face. “Fo-cus.”
Her face curled up in distaste as she looked away, “Jesus you certainly know how to break a mood.”
I dropped the picture back to the desk and looked away from her, “I am sorry, I just don’t know you well enough for that yet.”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “I must be ovulating or something, I don’t get this randy normally.”
Pausing I looked at her, “You don’t?”
“Well after a bottle or two of wine, but that’s a different story all together,” she admitted with a deep blush that made me smile.
“So is it chemistry or another part of the spell?” I asked aloud as I looked at the odd markings that were photographed in detail.
“Well you are my ‘type,’” she admitted with a thoughtful smile, “though a bit younger than I usually lust after.”
I was a bit relieved that her type was not evidently ‘just above’ pedophilia, “Oh?”
“Well I am bisexual,” she admitted with a leer in my direction, “and you have long black hair, and you are just a bit shorter than my height, with a nice body and you are intelligent. Your penis is of course just ‘gravy’ in my book.” She winked and then said, “You being rich is good too.”
“Are you flirting with me Mrs. Robinson?” I absently quoted as the room seemed to rise in heat.
“Now who is in need of focusing?” she asked as she gave me a sudden hug.
“Um, yeah.” I pulled her along with me to the door, “Let’s go outside.”
“Ok,” she readily agreed as she groped me, “we can go to my place.”
“Ah…” I frowned and gave the room suspicious look.
“What?” she asked I pulled her completely out of the room. “You don’t like me?” she asked and pouted deliberately.
“It’s not that,” I took a deep breath and looked at her, “I think it is the spell or whatever.”
“Spell?” she grinned mischievously, “Are you trying to make me fall in love with you using a spell?” She then teasingly eased a few fingers into the row of buttons on my shirt, “I’m not that hard to get you know.”
The shocking heat of her hand against my belly made it hard to think for a very long moment, then I grabbed her hand and eased it out of my shirt. “We need to get out of here,” I said as I pulled her to the office where the phones were.
“Oh look a cot,” she said deliberately once we entered the office, “it’d be a bit narrow…”
My brain locked up briefly as she placed a kiss on my cheek, then I felt an odd cramp from my arm and surprisingly enough a sharp pang from Sara’s mark. “Ok, we have to get out of here now.”
“But the cot is here, and I am here,” she insisted as she breathed into my ear, “no one would see us, if that is what you are worried about.”
“Um, no.” I said as I fumbled with my purse and the phones, part of me really wanted to give in to her suggestions. Yet the cold fire that seemed to arc from Sara’s mark to the Ring had had alternating violently from overly aroused to coldly clear-headed. “I don’t… have condoms,” I said trying to find a way to get us out of the building.
“Oh, yeah, I’m not on the pill…” she frowned with a look of concentration, “we could just…”
“No! No condoms no sex, you don’t want to be pregnant do you?” I asked as I pulled her out of the office before I caved in.
“Well no but…” she said enfolded me into a kiss.
“We need condoms,” I said once I could think again after coming up for air from the kiss.
“I know a place,” she said urgently, “they even have the morning after pill.”
“Fine, fine, just let’s go,” I said as we not quite fell into the elevator.
“Then sex?” she asked with a lick of her lips.
A long moment later I was able to look away from her lips, “Then we need a bed.”
“If you insist,” she said as she pressed me into the elevator wall and kissed me.
Somehow I managed to push the correct button to get us down to the first floor, but that action of itself was rather hazy.
The further we got away from the Vatican, the clearer my mind became. Michelle’s mind and actions seemed to vacillate from sex to embarrassed apologies. In some ways it was amusing as her hand would wander from the steering wheel to my body, then back suddenly to the wheel. Consciously, I was aware of the resonance of the Ring and Sara’s mark as they seemed to push ‘something’ away from me.
Admittedly Michelle was attractive, ok she was hot, but I didn’t want a relationship that was not of my choice. Yes part of me wanted to cave in and just go with the flow, but I didn’t want to use someone who was mostly a stranger like that. I wasn’t entirely how to fit my relationship to Sara into the equation either. Truthfully that relationship was as much a whirlwind as this one seemed to be… yet the circumstances and drive for it was different.
Fortunately by the time we reached the pharmacy that Michelle frequented, things had cooled back down where Michelle was not trying to crawl into my pants. While she still flirted with me, she was also irked that she had seemingly lost control add a touch of embarrassment and it made for a few tense moments of silence. We sat in the parking spot for a moment before we started to speak simultaneously, and after a few false starts I motioned for her to begin.
“You know that spell or whatever is really rude, and fairly insidious,” she drummed on the steering wheel a moment, “I wanted to get your clothing off in the worst of ways.”
“I think you wanted to do that before we went there,” I said with a grin.
“Yeah,” she paused and squeezed my knee briefly, “but really, I don’t normally come on that hard to people I just met.”
“Not without wine?” I asked with a smile.
She nodded once empathically, “Precisely, so part of its influence has to be a reduction of inhibitions, or a push to accent or accelerate emotions or traits.”
I paused to try and contrast Conner’s actions before the time in the headquarters and after the time there. “You may be right, Connor seemed more serious about his job, and it was like he could not wait to get out to do it.”
“Ok, and yourself?” she asked studying my face intently.
“Well, I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing,” I admitted, “and I seem to be driven to figure this thing out, but that could just be normal.”
“Ok, but you remember the Order and can go back into the building,” she tapped the steering wheel again, “where as the others have vanished.”
“Yeah and what is odd is that mostly everything in the building is either neatly put away or completely ramshackle, desk wise.” I hummed briefly and said, “Some of the members of the order are supposedly a bit anal retentive, details wise.”
“A bit OCD-ish?” she murmured aloud, “another exacerbated personality quirk?”
“Yeah supposedly, and some of the others seem to have a much looser take on the rules and such,” I admitted with a grin.
“Which could lead them to ‘take early lunches,’ to go off and try to take care of things without telling others?” she asked as she tapped my knee.
“Possibly,” I said as I started to follow her line of thinking. “Which might send others out determined to find them, by the rules of course.”
“Add in the fact that a secret order generally has a tendency to keep things quiet, possibly from its own members, another trait likely to be found in the members of a secret order.” She stopped and then said, “Make it a cumulative effect, the longer you are exposed the harder it is to fight it.”
“That makes sense,” I said after a moment.
“Right so we need to get a counter-spell or charm of some type, food and condoms.” Her laugh was slightly odd but she seemingly got a hold of herself before she added, “Especially since we need to go back in and look at the offices again.”
“We? I thought you would not want to go back in considering…” I trailed off and said, “considering, well.”
“I’d be an idiot to let you get away,” she said with a faint blush, “considering you have seen me at my worst… without wine even.”
“You have a tough time with scaring away potential dates?” I asked with a thoughtful feeling smile.
She looked away briefly, “I tend to go to bars and clubs and get really drunk before I get bold enough to get close to people.”
“And today?” I asked casually.
“Well I was a bit buzzed still, from last night that is,” she shook her head and sighed, “I was out until dawn with friends. It was one of those parties where you keep going until the sun comes up, and the only reason the party stops is because everyone just then realizes it is that late.”
“Fun party?” I asked jealously.
“Oh yeah, lots of good people, good music, dancing, food, drinks,” she smiled suddenly, “we are so going to have to go partying, to get you more used to being a girl.”
“Don’t you get headaches and sleep?” I asked curiously.
“Me? Well occasionally, but I have a spell that knocks off the worst of that,” she chuckled and then said, “my friends tend to drop in for help on the day after parties. I usually end up with more than a few free lunches that way.”
“I see, are we getting side tracked?” I asked as I looked out of the windows.
She seemed to think a moment, “Slightly, maybe a lot.”
“So charms, condoms and more time searching for clues?” I asked with a smile.
“Yes, because I don’t think you should be facing this alone,” smiling she also added, “and I have not chased you off yet.”
“So… the condoms are for just in case?” I asked with a grin.
“Yes, ‘just’ in case.”
A phone call, a ‘mandatory’ change of clothing and we were on our way to a ‘tea house.’ The mandatory change of clothing put both Michelle and I in very formal if not dull clothing. She was in a dark gray full length skirt with a white long sleeved top with way too many buttons. I was dressed very similar except my dress and top were white, a grayish white but white. Fortunately I was able to keep my tennis shoes with the long dress, but that was its only saving grace in my book.
“Tell me again why we needed to change clothes,” I asked as I tried not to feel like I was choking from the high collared top.
“It’s a sign of respect, she’s one of the oldest living Stregheri in Rome, perhaps Italy, not to mention the dress code is a bit strict here.” She paused to lay my collar flat and tweaked the lace a bit, “She tolerates us ‘younger’ magical types if we at least make the effort to be respectful and to respect custom.”
“Oh am I supposed to kiss her ring or something?” I asked in a tone I was sure reeked of sarcasm.
“No, but only speak Italian, even with your accent it is considered polite.” She gave me another quick looking over, “Oh don’t scowl, we need her help.”
‘Oh goody, do they have a scrabble set so we can waste time?’ asked Chaddy as he glowered in unseen annoyance.
I wasn’t sure if I was scowling but I put on a smile as best I could, “Ok, but if she is mean I am not gonna take it very well.”
“I don’t think it will come to that, though it may take a bit of time before we can actually talk with her.” She gave an large sigh and added, “Non-natives usually have a wait, so her court may drag a bit as she sees everyone local first.”
“Wonderful,” I said with a lift of my purse in resignation, “do they play scrabble?”
Getting inside to where the court was meeting seemed to be a bit of a song and dance for Michelle, evidently I was getting in via a bit of misdirection. Misdirection in that I was tagged as her apprentice, not by Michelle, but by the large man at the door who was evidently there to keep out the riffraff. I personally summed him up as, large, hard to take down in a hurry and armed with at least two guns and a knife.
Once inside the room I had the impression that we had taken a bit of a time traveling side step, as the place seemed to be a mixture of the décor from the Titanic and some British noble’s house. Everywhere I looked there was gold or brass highlights, vividly white cups and saucers, and entirely too many forks and spoons per place setting. The walls and floors were a mix of deep hued velvets and white marble with hints of gold in them. When you added in the large gilded mirrors you had the impression of old money than lingered around for a long while, years if not centuries.
Fortunately I am not intimidated by money, having an nearly inexhaustible way of generating it. So when the hostess left us with menus I went for what looked good, not the prices. Which of course made the waiter blink, until I let him check my credit card’s validity and rating. Then of course I suggested that good service was always rewarded, and if the cook had any specialties I would like to try them.
Michelle gave me a bland look and then smiled, “Being rich has a few perks?”
“Well yes, I never swore an oath of poverty,” I sighed and then said, “it’s useful, it buys things but not friends.”
“Feeling homesick?” she asked as she squeezed my hand.
I hesitated briefly and then nodded, “and maybe a bit overwhelmed by events.”
“It’s not what you expected?” she asked as the waiter settled a tea pot before us and a set of cups.
I allowed the waiter to serve us and then withdraw before I spoke, “Well I had expected to go to some sort of school for a while, not get dropped head long into this.”
“This was not in your plans?” she asked after a sip and then added some milk to her cup.
‘Who us plan!?!?’ asked Chaddy sarcastically. ‘We don’t usually plan, we “do” things.’
“Ah, no.” I sighed and added a soft groan, “The most I ever had to worry about planning wise, was how to outsmart the people who tried to police the web. All of this Knight stuff is kinda overwhelming in that I am having to not just react, but to plan out stuff; because if I don’t and I screw up it’s not just me that pays the price.”
“Fate of the world stuff?” she asked as I tasted the tea and elected to pour in a lot of sugar.
“Well yeah, I guess,” I sighed again, “the worst I used to have to worry about before all this was if the cops would show up on my door.”
“Too many movies and mp3’s?” she asked with a grin.
“A bit heavier than that,” I said with a roll of my eyes, of which reminded me to put in my eye drops to wet the contacts.
As I dug through my purse for the wetting solution and went through the process of actually getting the drops into my eyes, rather than the side of my nose, I felt a familiar tingle zing my body. Sara’s mark seemed to echo it softly, which was reassuring, but it took me a moment to figure out where it was coming from. It took Michelle even less time to point out the person it radiated from.
“Oh my, he’s hot,” she said as her hand gripped mine and she managed to direct my blinking eyes towards a man at the door.
He was tall, dark as in bronzed from the sun, and handsome in the way that Sean Connery managed to almost always pull off. He was dressed in a light gray three piece suit, though he seemed to avoid the tie by wearing a style of shirt I had always associated with my mom’s romance novels. With almost too perfect of features he had not problem drawing the eyes of most everyone in view, in short he was a marvel to behold.
He seemed to briefly bask in the attention and then he patted the Hostess on her shoulder and briefly whispered in her ear. I am sure he must have been flirting fairly heavily with her as she blushed a deep crimson and she seemed almost to stumble. He clasped her arm in what may have been a steadying manner, but her calm demeanor was evidently as shaken as her footing. Then with a bright smile he walked directly to our table, as if the past few moments had not been out of the ordinary.
I felt an odd sense of familiarly arise from Sara’s mark and then rise up trough me as he stepped up to our table. Part of me recognized him, but not as in the form he currently wore. The sexuality and heat from him was the same, but the last time I had met him he had a few more limbs, when his mind wandered that is.
“Hello, my name is Antonio Marques Dominguez, I know my god-daughter Petra has not likely spoken of me,” he paused and then whispered loudly, “she likes to surprise people that way.”
I stood up and rushed around the table to give him a very tight hug, “I’ve missed you.”
* So I see, please play along? * he asked and then he chuckled deeply and gave me a warm hug in return, “May I join you?”
“Oh Antonio you are always welcome, you know that,” I said as Michelle seemed to awaken slightly, “this is my good friend Michelle, she’s been a godsend of support and help.”
“Oh, then I am doubly pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said accepting her hand and giving her a slightly more than fatherly type of hug. Which nearly had the same effect on Michelle as it did the hostess, and I thought it very amusing to see her one upped at her game of flirty teasing.
As he eased Michelle into her seat he gave me a wink, and then seemed to ease up a ton on his sensuality, “Sorry I keep forgetting I have that effect on people.”
I grinned and then nodded as I took up my own chair as he held it for me, “Oh you love it.”
“Well yes, I suppose I do,” he selected a chair that placed him slightly between us and he patted my hands comfortingly, “Sara sends her love as does Paige and Joni.”
“Keeping tabs on us?” I asked as I took a sip of tea.
“You are all part of the family, of course I am going to keep tabs,” he beamed and patted Michelle on the hand of which seemed to bring her more alert. “Your friend is a charming young lady.”
Suspicious I looked at him, “Oh?”
“Oh nothing like that,” he said with a flirtatious smile, “I’m a good judge of people.” * That and I cheated by looking in her mind. *
“Have we met before?” she asked at she looked at him oddly.
“My dear had I met you before I would never have forgotten you,” he said with a sincerity that had her flushing again.
“Antonio is ever the flirt,” I said as she took a hurried sip of her own tea.
“So what brings you to Rome?” I asked as my thoughts refocused.
“Well you, this place, and the tea they serve here.” He paused and added in a conspiratorial tone, “The only time I can come to Rome is when the Big P is off away, too many ripples and all of that.”
“Some of those odd rules?” I asked quickly and then paused for the waiter to set a second tea pot and a cup before him.
“Yes, so Sara says you have a bit of a problem?” he asked as he added a dollop of honey to his tea.
“Is the Pope Catholic?” I asked as knot of worry eased.
“I will take that as a yes,” he said and then he took a sip of tea, “oh I miss being able to come here.”
“Oh when was the last time you visited?” Michelle asked curiously.
He seemed to think for a moment, “It would have been just after Pope John Paul the Second died, as painful as it was I had to pay my respects.”
“So do you do that with all the Popes?” I asked trying to picture what would pain a Deity.
“Only the ones I liked or respected,” he admitted with a sigh, “I’ve not made up my mind yet about this new one.”
“Ah, speaking of Popes and problems,” I said after turning my thoughts to such things, “have you any suggestions?”
“Tell me what you know,” he suggested with a bland smile, “then I will try and figure out how much I can get away with saying.”
“More of the rules?” I asked as Michelle gave him a puzzled look.
Sighing he nodded and traced a finger around the brim of his tea cup, “Exactly.”
Two pots of tea later I managed to lay out every single detail I could think of. Complete with napkins covered with the same markings I had seen briefly in the photos, having an eidetic memory was useful for that, the downer was being able to see the dead woman in perfect detail as well. And while Gothmog was not grilling Michelle as intently as he was flirting with her, he was seemingly able to draw out a lot of interesting side details and anecdotes from her.
While they were still chatting, I took the opportunity to take a trip to the ladies room. As much as I like tea, and while the flavor Gothy had suggested for the next pot was yummy, my bladder was full. So after a bit of looking I found the restroom, of which was as posh as the rest of the place and complete with sitting room, and settled my debt with nature.
After a brief stop to wash my hands, I paused at the mirrored and flower laden sitting room to make sure my dress was not out of sorts. A glance in the mirror forced me to correct the skirt slightly and I heard a slight murmur of approval that caused me to glance at the other woman in the room. I had seen her visiting most of the tables and then circulating back to where the ‘court’ seemed to be occurring. Though she had not seen her way to our table just yet.
“If I may impose,” she waved a small clipboard in my direction beckoning me to where she sat, “I have been asked to ascertain what your relationship to Mister Dominguez is?”
I wasn’t sure if her overly polite tone of voice was her being snooty or if it was benign; rather than getting grumpy I took a breath and smiled. “Antonio? He’s my Godfather, and my sisters’ Godfather as well.”
“Oh? I wasn’t aware he had any family,” she looked at her small clipboard and made a small note.
“Oh yes, his daughter and my sister are practically joined at the hip at times,” I neglected to add ‘and in other places as well,’ as there was no sense in over sharing.
“Oh? And his daughters name?” she asked quickly as if trying to test me or add to her notes
“Sara, though she uses her deceased mothers name,” I then added in a softer tone, “it was her way of honoring her mother.”
“Commendable,” she said with a polite nod, “the Signora would like time to meet with your Godfather, evidently they are old friends. Though considering it is family time…” she paused and rolled her eyes, “I am sure she would understand his desire to see you might have precedence.”
I tried to squelch the affronted feelings that someone might think they had a right to drag him away, “I am sure he’d think so.”
“Oh, that sounded badly didn’t it?” she asked as she evidently noted my tone and expression.
Taking a breath I nodded, “I’m a ways from home and he came to see how I was faring, and he travels a lot so I don’t see him that often.”
“Miss D’aubigne, she is?” she asked looking for me to evidently fill in the blanks
“She’s helping me to get adjusted to things for one. Helping with other things that seem out of control and in general is a nice person to be around.” I paused and then deliberately added, “My Godfather thinks highly of her, though he is ‘such’ a flirt.”
“Ah and her purpose for coming here today with you?” she asked as she made a small star next to her name.
“We’ve encountered a bit of a snag in trying to sort out something, and she thought the Signora would know of possible solutions and Michelle also wished to be polite and introduce me, I think,” I gave a soft shrug as I added the last bit.
“Ah she ‘is’ mentoring you then.” She made a second star by her name and smiled, “Getting started in the craft is often tricky especially when you are young and powerful.”
Since I wasn’t sure if she was thinking I was a witch in training or not, so I nodded. “Yes it is certainly a learning experience.”
“So your name is?” she asked with her pen poised over her clipboard.
“Petra Donner,” I paused and then added, “I am from America.”
She winked and said, “I won’t hold it against you, home city?”
“Um, the closest town is Dunwhich, New Hampshire, though I live with my adopted parents on the Medawihla Reservation.” As she blinked a few times I spelled the name out for her and then added, “A car accident claimed the life of my birth mother, they were friends of the family, so-o.”
“Ah wills are handy for that,” she acknowledge as I watched her draw lines under the both place’s names.
Semi-confident that my ‘cover’ story was going to be added in some sort of database I nodded. “I was having some trouble adjusting… so they wanted me to come visit a distant uncle in Rome, maybe get some education.”
“You don’t seem to lack monetarily,” she added as an odd aside, “some of the teas you sampled were quite expensive…”
“You could say my family has money, and then there is my Godfather’s influence.” I shrugged nonchalantly and adlibbed, “Admittedly I do occasionally like to be pampered but it gets cloying after a while.”
“It is not good to be too showy with wealth as a youth in this city,” she advised as she stood up, “I am sure Miss D’aubigne has warned you of such things?”
“Yes, and suitably adjusted my attire, among other things,” I said defensively on her behalf.
“As a good teacher should,” she said with a nod of approval, “if you could mention the Signora would like time with your Godfather, but not to intrude?”
“I am sure he would love to see her again, he’s ever the flirt,” I said with a slight roll of my eyes.
“Ah, good,” she looked at her list and sighed, “we have a few of the Romney in attendance who unfortunately have an issue that ranks up higher than a quirk in training.” Shaking her head she added, “If it were up to me I would bump them down, but there is a protocol to these things.”
“We are not exactly in a rush to leave, and the chef has threatened to demonstrate his talents.” I smiled as her eyes widened, “I blame my Godfather for that though.”
“Chef Andre’ is fabulous, if he makes a mousse I may have to steal a seat at your table.” Her eyes seemed to roll back in her head as she didn’t quite drool, “It is that good.”
“Oh well in that case I will be happy to request it, if you are allowed to join us?” I asked figuring to grease the way a bit for myself and Michelle.
“Well as long as the Signora get some too,” she winked and said, “she is not above some respectful bribery.”
“I will keep that in mind,” I said with a smile.
“I am Rosalva Moretti, Rose to my friends,” she said as she patted her clipboard “and frequently ‘the Anunciata,’ as I have the duty and pleasure of being the Signora’s hostess at such gatherings.”
Giving her hand a gentle clasp I said, “Then you should call me Petra, as I suspect we shall no doubt be seeing each other for mousse and such during these sort of things.”
“Oh you are a treasure,” she said with a smile and then she glanced down to my arm, “and special too it seems.”
“It’s a bit of a gift and a curse,” I said with a sigh as I let my hand drop to my side.
She paused and seemed to take a more serious look at me, “Oh my, I should say so, I suspect Miss D’aubigne was quite wise in bringing you to meet the Signora for advice.”
“Yes, I also suspect it is why my Godfather chose to meet us here,” I said as I wondered how much of his arrival was chance.
“Parents will do that,” she noted with a slight grimace before she smiled, “even Godfathers.”
“Dare I guess you ended up as the Anunciata because…” I asked with a smile.
“A bit of finagling by my Grandmother on my mother’s side,” she admitted then she smiled brightly, “I think it works for me though.”
I gave her a light hug and said, “Then we are both lucky.”
“Yes, if not occasionally stressed by it,” she admitted.
“I can relate, oh I can relate.”
I eased past the small line that waited outside of the bathroom; evidently the Anunciata was holding her own version of a court from inside of there. No few of the ladies there seemed curious or even a trifle impatient, and I was sure a few of the scowls directed my way were of jealousy as they glanced from me back to my table.
Pausing I smiled at the ladies do did so and whispered, “Relax ladies he is my Godfather, I am so not in competition with you.” At that they seemed to scowl at Michelle so I added, “He flirts with all women, but I think he is here to see the Signora after catching up on family news.”
That information had them eyeing each other with sudden suspicion, and I distinctly heard Rose call, ‘Next’ from the door as she gave them an amused look. I waved to her and made my way back to the table quickly, as my mind tried to sort out the implications of things.
‘Good smoozing dude,’ said Chaddy with an evident smile in my mind, ‘always hook up with the person in charge of directing things.’
‘So glad you approve, oh silent one,’ I thought back.
‘Eh girl stuff, ewwww, boring,” he said as my eyes rolled under his direction.
‘With more to come,’ I thought back as I sat down to expectant curious looks. “I have returned.”
“I did catch sight of the Anunciata making an effort to get to you ahead of the pack,” Michelle giggled and said, “I’ve never had so many hostile glares in this place.”
“Ah I am sorry,” Antonio said with a smile.
“Right,” I said with a matching smile of amusement, “oh, and Godfather? Rose said the Signora would like to see you, once family matters are comfortably concluded.”
“First name basis with the Anunciata already are you Petra?” asked Michelle as ‘Antonio’ nodded with a smile.
“Well I am sure my Godfather being here didn’t influence things slightly,” I said with a bland look at him.
“Rosalva is a sweet girl, one worth courting in more than one way,” he replied with a seemingly thoughtful nod to Michelle, “though yes, I’ve been a friend of the Signora for a very long time, since childhood I should believe.”
“Oh?” I asked as Michelle blinked at him.
“I so love the members of fertility religions,” he said with a wink.
I didn’t quite swallow some of my tea the wrong way, as I coughed softly and then said, “Of that I have no doubt.”
After the main courses of the meal had been concluded, ‘Antonio’ absconded with two servings of the mousse, and he not quite made a direct line for the Signora’s table, with the idle brief dalliance along the way. I was not quite taking notes on his technique as he made his way there; after all he was the expert... I did note that Rose was handed one of the mousse and gently steered in the direction of our table before he took up a spot close to the Signora, presenting her with the second mousse.
Rose was a bit flushed as she sat down at our table a moment or so later. “Your Godfather,” she said after an evidently calming breath, “bid me join you.”
“He has that effect,” I said blandly as Michelle nodded in agreement.
“I’ve not been so, um.” Michelle looked at me oddly, “How do you survive that much attention?”
“Without feeling exhausted afterwards?” I asked as Rosa seemed to snap out of it.
“Well yes,” Michelle with a deep sip from her wine glass.
“He’s so nice,” said Rose as she picked up a spoon, “he likes to give treats too.”
Part of me wondered where my Godfather was going to be sleeping tonight, and part of me already knew the answer… ‘Where ever he was welcome.’ “Oh he tends to tone it down quite a bit for family and friends, then it seems more fun than anything else.”
“Your family must be entertaining then,” observed Rose with her eyes half closed as she savored the mousse.
“I’m forgetting my manners and while I am not sure if you have been introduced or not,” I said with a smile, “Rose this is my good friend Michelle, she is a godsend in more than one way.”
“We have met, officially,” said Rose as she seemed to take a deeper look at Michelle then she took her hand, “but never socially.”
“Ah,” Michelle seemed to shiver as her hand was clasped, “we should make an effort to do lunch and correct that.”
I watched in amusement at both ladies seemed to color slightly and then look away just as quickly, ‘Like, can Gothy call it or what?’ asked Chaddy as he made gagging sounds in my head.
“The mousse is good isn’t it?” I asked with a slightly envious giggle. As they not quite jerked their hands apart to seize the tall desert, I suppressed my urges of jealousy and grinned.
“Very,” they chorused and briefly glanced at each other before looking away.
Chaddy wasn’t quite rolling one the proverbial floor in disgust, bemoaning his fate to endure such suffering. While I suspect Gothy’s presence was stirring the others in the room almost as much, it did seem like the evening could be a long one. Part of me should have suspected Gothy meant more than social courting when he mentioned it.
* I did say I loved fertility religions… * was his not so subtle rejoinder.