Thursday, December 13, 2007

One Foggy Night in London

Walter and I have sequestered ourselves in a delightful inn off Whitehall Place, just around the bend from the Horseguards and the banqueting house. It smells of lemons and lavender and the walls are covered with quaint oil paintings depicting such traditions as foxhunting, Sunday tea and, (I must assume this is a tradition since there are two framed visages of it) topless woman holding cornucopias filled with autumnal fruits.

What they say about London fog is oh so true. The gray dampness hangs in the air with the thickness of smoldering cigars in a backroom poker game. As I walk along the darkness of the square with Walter, my dainty hand hugging the inside crook of his elbow, I thank angels on high that I’m not searching the shadows for a target, sniffing out a killer before he or she can take me out. Just the same, the slightest movement in a doorway, the squall of an alley cat roused from his hiding spot puts my arm hairs to attention. Were it not for my steely reserve and dedication to genius over gut, I’d have likely (protectively, of course) shoved Walter into the Thames by now.

As Walter and I sat in a candlelit cafĂ©, tucked in a cozy window seat of the tiny eatery, I saw something that elicited an unsettling knot in my stomach. It wasn’t blatant; it wasn’t as if Tallulah Bankhead had entered, singing an aria La Traviata dressed in lederhosen while holding a glockenspiel. But it was eerie nonetheless. A woman, substantially older than myself and grandly larger, a ridiculous hat upon her head with the plumage of some poor, unfortunate bird of prey spewing from her head like a plaza fountain passed. I noticed the accessories most pointedly: a diamond-encrusted hat pin pinned beneath the jowls of her massive face, and forest green gloves in startling contrast with the garish plaid of her wool-blend overcoat. As she sauntered past the picture window, she turned her unattractive face toward me and gave a quick glance. It was a haughty glance, one that suggested that she’d had a previous encounter with me and it had not only been unsatisfactory, but we’d left with her yearning to have the last word. And this was her chance to do so. I paused mid-sip; in my right hand, a glass of chardonnay tilted at precisely 45 degrees and in my left, the polished bone handle of a three-inch throwing knife, tucked beneath the seam of my blouse. Silly of me. With her size and obviously overdone ensemble, I’d have been able to reassemble a German MG 42 machine gun in the time it would have taken her to produce so much as a throwing star. All was well in the end. In actuality, she was likely nothing more than a melancholic admirer, a wallflower taking in a sprite of beauty and sophistication that had eluded her for her entire lifetime. While I may not empathize, I sympathize.

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