Anala Gupta and Miss Magnus Lyme were sitting in the latter’s metalwork studio in her basement working with precious metal clay. They were working with silver clay as they were enjoying one another’s company. Anala was making a ring while Magnus was using a stylus to write on the flattened clay. Magnus wore a black turtleneck sweater and pants, while Anala wore a vibrant purple sari with yellow embroidered sari as she had just attended a wedding of a cousin in Niagara Falls and decided to spend a week visiting her good friend Miss Lyme who lives in the Path to Paradise, a farmhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“This is quite exciting,” Anala mused as she admired her handiwork, “I have not tried to work with the clay form before. I mostly work with gold, platinum, rhodium, and palladium bars, rods, or sheets.”
“They do have clay in gold,” Miss Lyme said brightly, “Though it is very expensive and using it for my usual work would cost me a small fortune.”
“What are you doing with it? You don’t seem to be making jewellery.”
“I am writing notes of my last case. After the clay dries, I will fire it in my kiln and then put it with the others, though I suppose I could use a torch instead.”
“It is an extravagant way to record your cases.”
“Yes, but there is something thrilling about doing it. When I have finished, I will record my greatest one in gold and spend an outrageous fortune on it.”
“That will be your great indulgence.”
“After two the last two years of recalibrating myself, I relish every indulgence I can.”
“Like your beautiful flowers.”
“A house is not a home without them.”
“I knew you loved roses, Maggie, but I did not realize you grew orchids as well. I always admire the ones in your living room.”
“It is something I picked up when I was in my early twenties,” Miss Lyme said as she thought of her favourite flowers lovingly. “There is something quite exquisite about them.”
“How did the orchid-passion come about? Was it a sentimental nod to a boyfriend who seemed to hold promise, but then made the error of asking to marry you, not knowing of your world-famous declaration of singlependence?”
“No, there was a murder case I had to solve, and the victim loved orchids. She had no peace in her tortured existence, yet she found serenity growing them, and all those flowers responded beautifully to her gentle care. She had no living relatives when she died; so I picked up the mantle, as it were, and always made certain there were orchids in my house, though there was those two harrowing years when I could not, and gave them all to Annie. When I moved to the Path to Paradise, she had cultivated the originals which she kept as she also grew attached to them, but gave the new ones to me so I finally got around to it again.”
“You are the sensitive type, dear Maggie. It is the reason we have bonded as friends, and the reason you are an able detective. Did you find her killer?”
“Yes, but it was a haunting death all the same, and it was then when I decided I would do my best to work toward a goal of preventing such a tragedy from ever occurring in the first place. When I began as a consultant, it was the first time I could keep that promise in earnest, and now my orchids have flourished beautifully.”
“You have spared many people from being murdered by the Circle in the Sky and La Nuit du bas.”
“Yes, but there are times I wish I could have added her name to that list, and it will always sadden me.”
“As it would sadden me as well. Unfortunately, for my cousin Najina, what saddens her is the prospect of having to find real employment as she has been unable to have a successful career as an Instagram model and influencer.”
“I thought she was making in-roads. What happened?”
“She alienated nearly all of her followers by telling them they were hideously unattractive next to her.”
“Gracious, what a tintinnabulation. I trust your uncle Ritesh is not being vexed too much by it.”
“She drives him mad with her demands and grand diva fits. He tells my father of all the ways he wishes to find a cave faraway from New Delhi to drop her off before moving to another continent without a forwarding address.”
“He is too much of a soft touch to do that to her.”
“And she knows it.”
Just then, there was loud and frenetic knocking broke their conversation as Miss Lyme ran up the stairs and opened the front entrance as two older men in suits and ties pouted and furrowed their brows in unison.
It was the Prime Ministers of Tuvalu and Andorra standing angrily side by side.
“Gracious, this is quite unexpected,” said Miss Lyme before she smiled serenely, “Welcome to the Path to Paradise…”
She stopped when both men furrowed their brows anew and raised the hands.
“Who is going to start?” asked the Prime Minister of Tuvalu.
“It might as well be me,” sniffed the Prime Minister of Andorra who cleared his throat, “You are the Red Queen.”
“Hmm, do you read something other than just the playing cards…”
“Could you read us the Kabufuda…not Hanafuda because it is not that sort of problem…” chimed in the Tuvalu Prime Minister.
“And not the Tarot or the Runes because it is not that sort of problem.”
“You are not familiar with such a deck?” asked the Andorran Prime Minister.
“I am, as I am fluent in Japanese and am very familiar with their cultural nuances, but the point of…”
“You do not make allowances for unique problems?” asked the Prime Minister of Tuvlu.
“I take it this is a political problem, gentlemen with some special considerations.”
The Andorran Prime Minister turned to his companion testily, “Kabufuda? Honestly. Why not Akahachi deck? It is more appropriate for the kind of deck we need to read – Red Eight cards that are as enigmatic as our quarrel!”
“Why don’t you two gentlemen come inside and I can put a kettle of tea as you both tell me what unique problem has it that you both wish me to read a special deck for just the both of you.”
As the men marched in, Miss Lyme noted that they came alone.
She looked at them as she closed the door. “Neither one of you feel in danger.”
The Andorran Prime waved his hand dismissively as Anala came upstairs to satisfy her curiosity. “We are no danger, but we have a bet and we wish for you to be the adjudicator.”
“Adjudicator? What kind of bet?”
“Who can fool the Circle in the Sky the longest. Though my nation of Tuvalu has less than ten thousand citizens and is only second to Vatican City as the world’s smallest nation, we are a brilliant people who have managed to keep both cabals away…”
“Bah!” sneered the Prime Minister of Andorra, “We have over seven times the population as your Tuvalu, and we are all a wise lot who can keep away those insufferable cabals at bay far longer than the whole lot of Tuvalu…”
“Gentlemen, I do not see how I could possibly serve as referee. My consulting fees are not cheap, and how long would you expect me to oversee this competition?”
“Ah, that is the beauty of our plan,” said the Andorran president, “We have a strategy to lure both cabals to our country, and the Prime Minister who can outwit the cabal the fastest wins the bet.”
“What are the stakes for the dangerous gambit?”
“We wish to create a trading block,” said the Tuvalu Prime Minister, “And whoever wins becomes the senior partner.”
The two men then studied Anala before the Prime Minister of Andorra finally spoke.
“You are a diplomat, Miss Gupta, here on official business?”
“No, a goldsmith,” she smiled, “I just came from a cousin’s wedding, and this is not the sort of thing any Indian diplomat would need to wear when consulting the She-luminati.”
“In addition to being a talented goldsmith, Miss Gupta is also one of my trusted sources who is very clever and brave. Why don’t we all go to my office to discuss this wager.”
As the two leaders headed in the direction Miss Lyme waved with her hand, her companion leaned over and whispered. “What is at stake?” asked Anala.
Miss Lyme sighed, “Who gets top billing in their trading block.”
“I did not realize Tuvalu and Andorra had one.”
“They wish to start one.”
“Isn’t the geographic logistics a little inconvenient?”
“Do you think this was their idea – or did someone in their inner circle plant the seed because they are members of La Nuit or Circle and they have a plan?”
“It is the most likely scenario, and they wish to bait me into this game for another purpose.”
“You must allow me the pleasure of joining you on this absurd escapade.”
“I’d have it no other way. I will make some inquiries to see what we are dealing with as our two bickering clients haven’t clued in yet themselves.”
The two men had spoken at length to the Red Queen, and they decided they would both stay at the Grand Empress hotel in Carnivalia as Miss Lyme promise to resolve the issue. When they left, Miss Lyme made a few more inquiries, and then went to change in a flattering and elegant white sleeveless shift dress as Anala changed into a black t-shirt and denim jeans.
“Anala, you usually wear something more fashionable.”
“Yes, but after listening to an hour and a half of crowing and bragging, I needed to remove all pretence from my wardrobe to counter their chest-thumping.”
“Yes, such impossible behaviour,” sighed Miss Lyme, “The both need a dose of sensibility.”
“So how do we begin on such a case based on both vanity, gullibility, and lunacy?”
Miss Lyme sighed, “They all are based on those three vexing qualities, in varying degrees, but this case takes them all to new levels.”
There was yet another knock at the door as Anala threw her hands in the air. “Just wear the red dress now to frighten them away. I do not know how you put up with those people! I would triple my fees if I were you!”
Miss Lyme smiled as she walked over to the front entrance and opened the door, but who she saw made her laughed in delight and jump up and down as she clapped her hands.
“Mama! It has been far too long!” she said as she hugged her mother happily.
Dr. Nikki Oxley was a well-known experimental psychologist whose own brand of peculiar research was dubbed Mind Wild. She was brave, brilliant, eccentric, and subversive, all while piloting her own plane that often served as her lecture room, and yacht she operated as her other classroom. Her students adored the wild, yet proper British ex-pat, and she was usually travelling around the world to conduct her daring, but always globally thrilling experimental escapades.
“Magsybelle!” her mother said loudly in her posh British accent, “I flew back to see how you were getting along. This latest experiment is taking all of my free time, and I have about another year to go, but after that, I assure you, I am coming to live with you for good.”
“How thrilling! It will be like old times where we had adjacent condos in Dundas. Come in, Mama, and I have just started a new case…”
“Excellent, I will love to see you in action.”
Just then, Miss Lyme’s companion came to introduced herself as Miss Lyme made the proper introductions. “Mama, this is Anala Gupta, a goldsmith from New Delhi who has helped me on some of my cases, though we are also friends who enjoy metalworking our studios together. Anala, this is my mother Dr. Veronica Oxley.”
“I have heard much about you, Anala, as well as received this exquisite gold ring my daughter commissioned from you for my birthday.”
Nikki modelled the ring as Anala looked proud. “I am happy you are wearing it, Dr. Oxley…”
“Please, call me Nikki.”
“I have also heard many wonderful things about you as well, Nikki. Your adventures in psychology sound very exciting.”
“It is all in the name of understanding the world and the atom of reality. Now, what mischief are you two young ladies are you up to today?
“The prime ministers of Tuvalu and Andorra are having a competition of sorts and wish for me to referee it.”
“They wish for you to settle a bet?”
“Oh, Magsybelle, I thought you were a global consultant for the world’s most powerful players.”
“I am, and this bet is a first for me…”
Anala piped in, “They took issue that she did not have a special code word for global wagers, and even then, they could not decide on whether it should be the Kabufuda or the Akahachi deck.”
Nikki made an indignant face. “I have a very good mind to lecture those two fools for bothering my daughter with such trivial nonsense…”
“No need, mother; I have discovered this is a mere ruse by a third party who is distracting these men and using them as a proxy to deceive me.”
At the news, Nikki became angry, “In that case, when I find out who decided using world leaders as a proxy to upset my daughter, they will rue the day they ever messed with my child…”
“I have my red dress that will strike enough fear in them, mama. Why don’t you sit down for some lunch, and I can tell you everything I have discovered this far?”
Dr. Oxley pursed her lips when her daughter explained the details while holding a Clarice Cliff teacup.
“Ugh, what dreadful predicaments your clients throw at your feet expecting you to clean up their horrid messes. I would triple my fees if I were you.”
“That’s precisely what I said to her,” concurred Anala, “Just before she opened the door.”
“She did,” Miss Lyme said sweetly, “But I do not believe most people could afford them if I did. My services do not come cheap.”
“Considering that her tools in her studio cost tens of thousands of dollars, Nikki, I believe her venture is a profitable one. That, and she is a very good employer who pays generously enough for me to buy those same kinds of tools for my studio in New Delhi.”
“So, these two world leaders are being led by their noses, Magsybelle?”
“Yes, and I do not believe it is a coincidence that whoever is behind this impossible bet chose nations of small populations.”
“They wish to draw you out.”
“Hoping I see this as silly, given the modest size of their populations. If you combine the populations of both of them together, it is well below one hundred thousand. There must be a common denominator aside from their sparseness.”
“Have you any leads, Maggie?”
“I have a promising one.”
“Which is?” asked Nikki.
“That both countries are to be a part of a social engineering experiment headed by Dr. Hedwig Grightmire.”
“Heddie? Ugh,” groused Nikki, “She is a pompous boor who gives her husband Thane Eastaughffe a run for the money in that department.”
Anala smirked. “You know the loathsome Dr. Grightmire?”
“We were both graduate students at Oxford, and she resented how much younger I was than she was, and she also was none too pleased that Addison Lyme declared his love for me, and did not notice her – and said as much with the implication he should smarten up and go out with her.”
Miss Lyme smiled warmly. “But he followed his heart and married you.”
Anala looked at her friend, “Forever changing the course of history by producing the world’s most dangerous woman. You never met him, have you, Maggie?”
“I was an infant when he perished in a freak accident.”
Nikki nodded sadly. “Well, Magsybelle, if this nonsense involves Heddie, and you believe you are being baited, then there is a possibility she wishes to strike at me through you.”
“But to hold a grudge this long, Nikki?”
“You don’t know Heddie. She always has to be proven right.”
“I find it interesting that the timing of these clients came right when you stopped in. It cannot be a coincidence. It means Dr. Grightmire has been keeping tabs on you, Mama.”
“And using world leaders as bait.”
Anala cracked a grin. “Only the best for your only child, Nikki.”
“If that were the case, then my Magsybelle would have a far better adversary than Heddie.”
“Now that I have some idea of the personal nature of this case, it is time to pay a visit to one of Dr. Grightmire’s other sworn enemy.”
Nikki and Anala looked puzzled. “Who would that be, Magsybelle?”
“Her husband’s current mistress. Dr. Emerens Kabore from Burkina Faso, who just so happens to be a visiting professor this year in Toronto.”
Nikki got up as she nodded. “What are we waiting for, ladies? Let us pay her a visit and see what she has to say for herself.”
Dr. Kabore pursed her lips and furrowed her brow as the Red Queen relayed the news. She was none too pleased as her lover Thane had just left his wife Heddie for good, and now the insane Heddie was concocting yet another diabolical plot to bother everyone around her. Emerens – Emmie to her friends – never understood how Thane could have married a La Nuit troll in the first place. Emmie knew all about La Nuit du bas as well as the Circle in the Sky, but avoided both of them completely.
But then when her career faltered, she began to suspect not joining a cabal was ruining her life.
She still didn’t take the bait.
But she was working alongside Thane, who was a miserable sot and she told it to his face on a day that was not a pleasant one to begin with. They got into a screaming match, and then for whatever reason, he began to sob uncontrollably.
Apparently, he talked himself into being a trapped animal because Heddie was a stalker who joined La Nuit in university because the man she was in love with married some British nut.
Now that the British nut and her daughter were sitting in her office, Emmie could not understand the insult. Dr. Oxley was sane, polite, and comely, though her voice was very crisp and loud.
After Thane cried on Emmie shoulder, she began to feel sympathy for him, and then before she knew it, she had a torrid and completely improbable love affair with him.
And one day he decided that Heddie was the actual British nut, and he left her.
Emmie could not complain as Thane was softening as his spine was finally strengthening.
But now that Heddie had some idea of seeking revenge with a complete and total stranger she barely knew decades ago in school, there was a very good chance she was going to get back at Emmie as well.
She decided it was best to cooperate with Miss Lyme and her mother. She used her laptop to tell Thane about it, and he was overjoyed at the thought of cooperating if it meant that Heddie would be stopped.
He apparently had one piece of furniture from their marriage he took with him when he left – and he thought it could explain Heddie’s sudden thirst for revenge.
Miss Lyme and Dr. Oxley seemed to immediately clue in and agree to drive over to the condo he was now sharing with Emmie to see what the clue may bring.
Anala admired the condo as Miss Lyme looked at a piece of peculiar Art Nouveau-style table with her mother. “That table is out of place with all of this grand African art. You can tell it was brought in from someone else.”
“It isn’t a real Art Nouveau table. This was a very rare and exclusive line that was a homage to the era, particularly to art dealer Siegfried Bing’s shop in Paris.”
“If it isn’t a genuine antique, but is as valuable…”
“Far more valuable,” replied Nikki.
“Then what is it?”
“It is a Prism table. You have not arrived unless you have one.”
“Do you have one, Maggie.”
“No, as I prefer delivering than arriving.”
Anala looked curiously at the singular desk as she examined it. “What a puzzle this table seems to be. It is like a toy.”
Miss Lyme smiled as she opened an inner box. “They are unique, but if you know which series a table belongs, you can riddle out how to open them. My mother did three research papers on the men who bought them and how their tables reflected their thinking patterns. These are hand-made with secret compartments.”
“You believe the vendetta was sparked by the removal of this table?”
“I believe Dr. Grightmire hid something in this table, not counting on her husband to flee the nest and to take this table with him, as this happens to be a rare line with a more feminine appeal.”
“Was it her table?”
“No, and it is an odd choice considering Dr. Grightmire’s taste veer away from the continental.”
“Did Dr. Eastaughffe purchase it to annoy his wife in the passive aggressive way spineless husbands do?”
“He speaks very little of his life prior to his marriage to her, and I suspect this unusual purchase has sentimental value, or did when he was hounded by her to obtain a Prism table…”
“Another passive aggressive strategy. I do wonder what Dr. Kabore saw in him. Is this table some ruse to pull you in considering your mother studied such furniture?”
Miss Lyme opened another compartment and smiled as she looked at the contents. “I doubt it as these papers are quite damning to her.”
“What are they?”
“Proof that she is working as a double agent for the Circle in the Sky. Even if this were planted, I would verify these documents before I made a move, and judging by the contents and coded language, she would be in deep trouble with both groups. If this were an attempted frame up, it would be a very dangerous gambit. If anything, if it were a ruse, it would be one for me to aid her, not try to harm me or my mother.”
“So why place them in the table?”
“That is the question I need to answer. Dr. Eastaughffe knew she kept them in there, and it is the reason he took the whole table, but…”
“Why not just take the papers and leave the table behind?”
Dr. Oxley looked deep in thought. “If the table is a bargaining chip, there must be another reason to take it. Perhaps his wife promised it to someone as collateral.”
“The documents are damning, but both husband and wife are playing a game. I do believe that not even Dr. Eastaughffe knows why this table is a valuable bargaining chip, but he knows it is critical to his wife in some capacity. There is more to the story than meets the eye, but I need to know more about this table. Very few people know about its more enigmatic Shibboleths and symbolic meanings.”
“I can tell you about the psyche of the men who desire them.”
“My former boyfriend Dwennon Garrison knew some of it as he studied my mother’s papers when he was earning his undergraduate degree in psychology, and even my mother conceded that his insights were brilliant, though at first she thought I had given him help, though I did not.”
“Isn’t he the one who gave you that hideous quilt?”
“Gracious, it is a lovely quilt given to me with pure love and kindness.”
“No wonder she questioned his judgement.”
“So is that quilt.”
“Gracious, Anala, it was a lovely gift…”
Nikki nodded, “You are talking about that Linnie O’Malley quilt.”
“Yes, but only as a tangent.”
Her mother studied the piece of furniture more carefully before getting on the floor and looking under the table. “This one is a little different than the other ones.”
“What do you mean, Mama?”
“It looks rather flimsy on the bottom.”
Miss Lyme crouched down to have a look. “Someone tampered with this, and then tried to fix it.”
“That would destroy its value.”
Anala looked knowingly. “So it is not collateral in its value. Do you think Dr. Eastaughffe knows?”
“Considering how much he was crowing about it, no. That may be why his estranged wife became upset. She may not want him to know it.”
But she could not bank on him not trying to sell it to a dealer. There is something else, and I doubt he would let us remove this to see what it is covering up. I will have to have a chat with the manufacturer about it, though they tend to be tight-lipped about the secrets.”
Anala made a quizzical face, “Could you not ask your former boyfriend Dwennon Garrison? Perhaps he would know…”
“I am not in contact with him in any capacity.”
“Is he unpleasant to deal with?”
“Oh no, Dwennon Garrison was a fine young man…”
Miss Lyme raised her eyebrow. “A fine young man? You did nothing but complain about him and his deficiencies for the two years we were dating. What did you call him? A potty-mouthed unilingual college graduate who works for a tabloid.”
Dr. Oxley waved her hand dismissively. “He truly loved you, Magsybelle, and it was a pity you have not reconciled with him.”
“Why would I? He is still in La Nuit, mother.”
“That didn’t bother you the first time.”
“It most certainly did bother me, and it bothered him, too.”
“He said it?” asked Anala.
“He more than said it. I discovered too late that he had tried to procure us false identities and two plane tickets to Peru when he was discovered. The Top Tier of La Nuit made an ultimatum to him, but I broke things off with him so that he would not face serious consequences.”
“Did they think you were involved?”
“They knew I had no clue. They were monitoring us, and he wasn’t very good at it as it tried to do it all at once. I told him he was being impetuous and love struck, and that was it. We went on numerous romantic getaways, and I suggested he wanted a longer vacation without interruption, though they did not think that was his reason. His brother Felix was always keeping a close watch on him and was the one who tipped them off.”
“I heard it on good authority that Dwennon has become estranged from Felix and misses you terribly.”
“You heard it? From whom?”
“Weasel?” Miss Lyme gasped. “You are still in contact with Weasel? Does he know I wish for him to return my Oliver Cooke painting?”
“Weasel?” Anala spluttered, “What kind of a man is named after an animal associated with betrayal?”
“Bobo Starsky was once one of my most trusted sources,” Miss Lyme explained, “He was a lawyer and held a PhD in psychology, but fleeced the rich so he could fund his secret animal sanctuary in a Brazilian rainforest…”
“It is even larger and more stunning…” Nikki said matter-of-factly.
“You have been there recently?”
“I just came back from there. Deena gives her regards to you.”
Miss Lyme looked at her mother as she raised her eyebrow anew. “I see. And you have elected Weasel to be your spy on my former boyfriend with whom I have had no contact with for twenty years.”
“Dwennon still pines for you as Bobo has informed me…”
“I wish he wouldn’t pine. He got married…”
“He is divorced now.”
“I am sorry to hear it, but he should move on as I have.”
“With that dawdler Bradley Stoney?”
Miss Lyme made an incredulous face. “Braddie is hardly a dawdler…”
“He only has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and merely graduated magna cum laude, and is an aspiring magician who only knows English and French. Dwennon has just received his Master’s degree in psychology, graduated summa cum laude when he received his Bachelor’s, and is now working toward his doctorate, all while now being fluent in several languages, and having a newspaper column in a very prestigious Chicago newspaper…”
“Which is owned by La Nuit, nullifying any pretence of prestige. Besides, have you forgotten Dr. Hunter Colby? He was a multi-lingual man with a doctorate, and our relationship did not end well.”
“Dwennon is obviously bettering himself in preparation of being a more suitable partner for you…”
“Gracious, I most certainly hope not, as I will not be getting back with Dwennon, Mama…”
“What makes you that certain?”
“For starters, he is still in La Nuit…”
“Something that can be easily remedied if you liberate him after he grovels at length to you…”
“Grovels at length? Mother, please…”
“There you go with your ‘mother, please’ nonsense. Such impossible behaviour when you know what the sensible thing to do is speak to him honestly…”
“Sensible? Dwennon and I have nothing in common anymore. He has made his choices, and I have made mine, and nothing can be done about that…”
“Your entire career as a consultant revolves around negotiating releases from both La Nuit and the Circle. Sooner or later, Dwennon will come in some way to you to seek his release, and when that happens…”
“I will negotiate that release objectively and professionally, and wish him well on his journeys as I relish my own with my declaration of singlependence. I do not wish to rekindle a relationship with him, especially as Braddie and I are happy together. Gracious, what a tintinnabulation.”
“That is right,” Anala chimed in, “I have even read that rousing declaration as you wrote it in silver clay and have it framed and hung on your studio wall. It was a very moving and inspiring declaration, particularly the part how marriage is for the birds.” Both Miss Lyme and Anala looked at each other and began to snicker mischievously.
Nikki remained unconvinced. “You are telling me you do not keep tabs on Dwennon at all, given your penchant of knowing hundreds, if not thousands of members past and present as well as their ranks?”
“I do not keep tabs on Dwennon. I have no idea if he is still on the bottom rung of La Nuit, or if he made some lateral shift or moved up the ranks. I have seen his column when I was living in Chicago for a year…”
“You mean the year where you were living in the same hotel room where you two frequented?”
“I did so to let go and heal, which I have done. I do not wish him ill, and have very happy memories of our time together, but Mama, I have a different life, and have grown as a person.”
Anala looked mischievously inquisitive. “There is a simple way to resolve this matter. Is this Dwennon more attractive than the very handsome Bradley?”
“No,” Miss Lyme and Dr. Oxley said in unison.
“Then that settles it. I, too, would settle for a godly-looking bilingual aspiring magician as most people choose a single language to converse with each other. It would drive my cousin Najina in New Delhi mad with jealousy as she has more than once decreed that her spouse shall be far better-looking than who I would be able to attract.”
“Braddie is very sweet. He gave me four rabbits. Listen, we have wasted enough time here. I need to find out about the table and the authenticity of these documents. Dr. Eastaughffe seems to be a man who only knows half a story, and I need to find the other half before I can riddle out how does this compromised table and its contents have to do with encouraging two prime ministers to make an impossible wager.” Miss Lyme took out her smartphone and began to take pictures of the Prism from every angle.
It was past midnight when Nikki Oxley noticed the light from under her daughter’s office door. She knocked, and was not surprised that her daughter was at her laptop, furiously typing away. She sat down across her desk as she noticed a peculiar framed photograph on the bookcase.
“Who are those three redheaded children sitting with you, Magsybelle?”
“They were at IKEA when I was inspired to take a picture with them on the showroom sofa.”
“It almost looks like a family portrait.”
“Many of my clients think so when they first see it, and then try to read me and covertly try to manipulate me from it.”
“And then you humble them.”
“It serves as a subtle reminder that I can read their minds, and lay red herrings for them to catch.”
“Are you up to your hacking again?”
“This isn’t hacking. I was looking through Interpol’s database of stolen art.”
“Do you think that table was stolen? Or just a red herring?”
“It wasn’t stolen, and it is not a red herring. It is a chess piece in a game that goes beyond Dr. Grightmire’s sham of a marriage. She is a pawn, and is being manipulated precisely because someone knows of her hatred of you.”
“She is a proxy.”
“So is her husband. So is his new-found love. So are the prime ministers of Tuvalu and Andorra. The question is which one us is this chess master’s proxy: you and me?”
“And you think the Prism table is the key to unlocking the mystery.”
“The table is a private joke. Whoever set up this game is very clever and thrives by the strategy of divide and conquer. Someone threw Dr. Eastaughffe with Dr. Kabore, knowing full well the former would find the courage to leave his wife despite the fact that these two professors are very different, and under any other circumstance, Dr. Kabore would not give Dr. Eastaughffe the time of day. Dr. Grightmire dislikes him, his mistress, and you. Two unrelated nations are thrown into a peculiar and unlikely wager, with the same antagonistic strategy to prevent everyone from seeing the obvious. This entire case is a sham, Mama, and settling this wager is as fruitless as trying to stop it from raining. I need to ignore this farce and go straight to the chess master. It comes down to a table, and who is the real target of this ruse. That table is meant to be a ruse of some sort, but knowing why will clarify this game immensely.”
“The table was tampered with and had incriminating files.”
“Which were all legitimate. I checked, but Dr. Grightmire would hardly be the first La Nuit member to keep self-incriminating files in her house. They are all encouraged to do it; so that their supervisors can blackmail them with it should they get out of line or become inconvenient.”
“Have the Prism people gotten back to you yet?”
“Yes, they know of the table in question, and have sent me the photographs of the original as well as the drafting plans for them.”
“No photograph shows the bottom of the table, and the plans have no mention of a metal based-bottom.”
“What if you asked Thane permission to remove it?”
“Then I face a red herring, and go off on a tangent. I am supposed to remove that sheet of metal. I do not want to fall for the bait. My instincts tell me not to look there.”
“What about confronting Heddie with the papers?”
“Again, if I do that, I trigger the dominos to fall in the precise way the chess master wants me to trigger them. If I am too predictable, I will miss the obvious. Whoever is beyond this game can use both a domestic dispute as well as an international dispute toward the same ends at once.”
“So what’s to be done?”
“Anala wasn’t factored into this game as she wasn’t supposed to come here or extend her stay just so we could have our metalworking mischief.”
“I see, throw the person off with an unexpected cast change.”
“It will unnerve the person just enough until I find out what is so significant about the table.”
“What are you planning?”
Miss Lyme pointed at the photograph of her sitting with the children. “That. I never fib, but I can be ambiguous. There is nothing dishonest about that picture, but people read into things because of habits and patterns. No one has pictures of random strangers sitting in showrooms; so we make an assumption that we can trust every mundane photograph on a bookcase is being honest with us.”
“It is being honest, but it breaks a pattern and habit.”
“Precisely. If the script has an out-of-the-blue rewrite, whoever is directing this game will be enraged that he or she lost control and could not predict the outcome, but they will refuse to admit they are an inferior intellect to anyone…”
“Meaning they will try to salvage the game, underestimating you.”
“And I never have to bother with a warring couple or warring world leaders in the bargain.”
“You pull the pawns off the board, and then throw away the board.”
“But that Prism table is a trophy and a prize this chess master could not resist, and once I make the connection, everything falls into place…”
Suddenly, Miss Lyme received an email she read with interest, and smirked.
“What is it, Magsybelle?”
“It is from one of the owners at Prism who was intrigued with my inquiry. The table was not new when Dr. Eastaughffe purchased it. It has a provenance.”
“The previous owner of it was a wealthy banker who bought it for his elderly father as a present. The banker was murdered, and his father soon died of a heart attack, but there was an estate sale, but there was some problems as Prism keeps very close tabs on their products.”
“Yes, I know that. The conditions of the sale of those tables is peculiar, but they have nondisclosure clauses.”
“Yes, and there were rumours that the makers will not sell a table unless there is a will that stipulates that they get their tables returned to them.”
“That is a myth.”
“Yes, as I had a case years ago when I infiltrated La Nuit as their in-house detective and one murderer had an old Prism table.”
“The Rowan Hall case. I remember it well. He killed his brother, and twice transported the body twice – once to Dwennon’s apartment, and once to Denison Garber’s. You got the Strobe car as a thank you from the owner from which Mr. Hall stole it from, and you promptly gave it to Dwennon – who still drives it, according to Weasel.”
“This isn’t about Dwennon. This is about who previously owned the table for a short spell – and how Dr. Eastaughffe got his hands on it in the first place.”
“Do you know?”
“Yes, I do, as I have been given the name of an old antique dealer, and this case is beginning to clear up quickly, though I am afraid this case is deeply personal, and tragic.”
“What do you mean? What is this all about?”
“You keep speaking about Dwennon, but this case has more to do with another part of my life than that one, and I may have a way of revisiting the past. Anala will enjoy tomorrow’s antic as there is no need for her to be exposed to this sadness, as I begin to end this impossible nonsense with some sensibility once and for all. This may be the first case where I will not be as happy to wear the red dress, but I will still try to reason with the man who is trying to play a game with me.”
The woman in the elegantly tailored yellow blouse and pencil skirt walked into the long-term care facility and had asked to visit a patient who had been in a coma for several years. The man was now gaunt, but had once been very handsome, as the pictures of him in his room showed.
The nurse recognized the redhead from those photographs, though she was somewhat older now. She had explained that the patient and she were an item many years ago, but they parted on bad terms, and they had no contact with one another, and she had only recently discovered the tragic fate of her former love.
The sadness in her eyes revealed that once, long ago, she was genuinely in love with the blond man who was now unresponsive. She asked if the man’s father visited his son, and the nurse said he came every other day, though recently, he had not. She nodded, and asked to see the resident.
She entered the room and looked wistfully at the old photographs as she had not seen them for years. She touched one and sighed before thanking the nurse and asking for a few minutes alone with the man.
Miss Lyme placed a vase of white roses on the stand beside the bed, opened the curtains to let the light in the room, sat down on a chair beside the patient, before caressing his face, and then holding his hand.
“Hunter, I had no idea,” she said sadly as she continued to speak, “I am heartbroken that you lost the battle with the demons who always seemed in control of you. I did love you, for what it is worth. Our year together was lovely, but we both knew it couldn’t last. But even still, you would be the last person I would think would try to end his life. You were brilliant, kind, handsome, and brave, doing what I did: infiltrating the Circle in the Sky to study them. I wished to write an exposé, and you, as the daring and debonair psychologist that you were, wanted better insights on those who fell into dark cabals. They devoured your soul, and I was helpless to stop it.”
She lovingly caressed his hand before gently placing her fingers on his wrist.
“You are in there, still, and you know what I am about to do because you’ve seen me to do this trick many times when we were in the Circle questioning witnesses who could not speak directly. I promise you no harm will come to your father. I will resolve this matter as gently as I can. I do hope you can pull out of this horrifying state and find your peace and happiness. I wish you no ill.”
She waited a few moments before she spoke again. “Now, Hunter, does your father talk to you when he visits you here?”
Miss Lyme nodded. “I thought so. Did he tell you of his plans to get to me by employing Dr. Heddie Grightmire to coax two world leaders to come to me to settle a childish bet?”
She felt his pulse and nodded again. “Was this to strike back at me?”
She was taken back that his pulse did not race.
“Did he wish to see me, and did so in a convoluted way? No?” She thought for a moment.
“Does your father blame my mother for our break-up?”
His pulsed raced fast as she looked surprised. “It’s all right, Hunter. No harm has come to anyone. I will put an end to this game sensibly.” She got up and gave him a kiss before sitting down again. “I will not tax you anymore. Thank you for your candor under these horrific circumstances. Just know if you need anything, just let me know. I do hope you manage to pull through all of it.”
She held his hand for a few more moments, as his pulse began to race every time she was beginning to let go, and despite everything that happened between them, he wanted her company to remind him of happier times, and she was in no hurry to leave. She listened to the rain that just began outside, and it had been as if the heavens were weeping for they had once some optimism that those demons that tore them apart would have been vanquished so the two could pull out of that darkness together, but it was not to be. Somehow, in all of her covert operations, she had forgotten how much she loved and cherished him, but now the reminder was taunting her as she watched his every breath and wondered how it could go so horribly wrong.
There was a furious knock on his apartment door, and the man tensed up. Everything was going wrong today. He was held up and prevented from driving to Toronto to visit his son on the account of some cheeky Indian woman trying to sell him a variety of jewelry. He had repeatedly tried to shoo her away, but she kept interrupting him with fantastical stories of her alleged exploits of derring-do, including saving a bunch of people locked in a dungeon by some despotic king as she rescued them all singlehandedly. The woman did not look like a loon, but between telling Simon how “solder is not filler” as she explained the metalworking process to him, and how she friended all of the captives she saved on her social media platforms, as she then whipped out her phone and showed him the selfies she took with those people once they were freed, Simon had become confused. He had a plan to carry out, and the appearance of the woman rattled him so badly that he went back to his Toronto apartment to settle his nerves.
Now, there was another unexpected wrinkle, and he prayed it wasn’t the eccentric Indian woman who tracked him down.
But when he opened the door, he gasped.
She wasn’t supposed to connect the dots, but that beautiful flamed-haired siren was standing before him in a red dress looking livid at him.
“Simon Colby, we have much to discuss,” the Red Queen said angrily as she pushed her way into his apartment.
“What are you doing here?” he snapped in his thick Australian accent.
The World’s Most Dangerous Woman looked directly at him as she pointed at him. “You will not lie or make excuses. I know what you have done, through your antique-dealing brother, and you are not being rational. You set up a convoluted scheme to ensnare my mother who you blame for your son’s various misfortunes and you were going to do it by distracting me with an unsolvable labyrinthine enigma of red herrings. The game stops right now, and do not deny it. I have seen Hunter…”
“Oh, and let me guess: you did your little trick with the pulse.”
“I did, but I could have found it out other ways. I wanted to see if he was beyond help, or could he pull out. The rest I found out on my own. You are struggling financially to pay your comatose son’s medical bills…”
“And of course, the great Magnus Lyme saw right through it all...”
“Yes, I know what happened. His social worker told me about it. Why, Simon? What happened to Hunter?”
“He never got over your break-up, that’s what! He always knew it was doomed to fail, but you were that comely little puzzle he couldn’t let go, and your mother had to stick her nose in it all and ruined everything...”
“It wasn’t my mother’s doing. She didn’t break us up because we were genuinely in love and happy – it the Circle did that destroyed that relationship.”
“Your mother isn’t the innocent little eccentric she pretends to be. She never liked Hunter, and she had you to protect, even at the expense of my only child…”
“Hush you, she did no such thing. She disliked my first boyfriend. He swore; he was plain; he had a mere college diploma, he worked for a tabloid, he grew up in foster care, and he knew no other language other than English. She would remind me daily how he was not the kind of man I should date, and yet, she never came between us. She never sabotaged our relationship, and every time he needed assistance, she would drop everything to be there for him, whether to help him track down his parents’ murderer to helping him with his university classes in psychology. I know my mother. Hunter was everything she always thought I should have in a husband…”
“Except his membership in the Circle!”
“My first boyfriend was a card-carrying member of La Nuit du bas and she knew it.”
Simon looked flabbergasted as Miss Lyme continued to speak. “She did not object to Hunter. She never did.” She paused as she sighed. “The Circle slowly breaks into your psyche and begins to manipulate you. Hunter had been over-confident that he was immune to those tricks, and they knew he blamed himself for his mother’s death. That’s how they got to him, and they didn’t want us to be together. They thought we were too happy, and the Circle frowns on happiness.”
Simon looked bitter. “You two were self-indulgent loons, and it kept me up at night. The both of you. You were cocky little punks who thought you could handle anything and everything. As much as you were good for him; you were a horrible influence because he thought he could be as strong as you.”
“We both paid a price, but Simon, both of us knew the risks, and we had our reasons for doing what we did. Yes, Hunter and I were eccentric. Yes, we both played dangerous gambits as a career choice. Yes, we both foolishly went into the eye of the storm, but we both had noble, personal, and legitimate reasons for doing it. He didn’t infiltrate the Circle for kicks, Simon. Neither did I. He thought they could be behind your wife’s death…”
“He never told me, either, but I could deduce it. Everything changed when it seemed they weren’t, and then his guilt went out of control…”
“And that’s when you two parted.”
“He saw himself as inferior to me, and knowing my abilities…”
“He thought you would see his defects…”
“My being with him was making everything worse; so I ended things because it was inevitable, and there was no more reaching him by that point.”
Simon looked dejected. “So what now? Payback for going after your mother?”
“I will not throw you to either the Circle or La Nuit. I am very angry at you for trying to bring harm to my mother, and if this had been anyone else, I would have made you face the consequences of your horrid actions alone, but I promised Hunter I would leave you alone. He could hear me, and I do not renege on a promise. I am confident he will come out of that coma because it is not organic, but psychological in nature, and he will need you when he finally rejoins the living. He tried to take his own life out of guilt. You need to reassure him it not his fault, and just because he couldn’t find any overt evidence of it, doesn’t mean they didn’t…”
The She-luminati threw a thick file on the table. “That’s the proof they did order her death, and the reasons why. It wasn’t Hunter’s fault, and the Circle knew of his suspicions, and his reasons for joining their cabal in the first place. When they saw that I wasn’t going to rat him out to them, that’s when they began to meddle. It is all in there to the last horrific detail. I have already dealt with them, and made them pay for his care, and any treatment he will need when awakens. You will not go after my mother on any account. Do not take out your anger on her because her daughter pulled out and your son didn’t. He will awaken. I have already negotiated his release from them. He is out of their clutches, and those papers will give him some peace. The people who ordered her execution had the same fate as her shortly after as she stumbled on something they wanted hidden, but silencing her came too little too late. I will see myself out, and give my regards to your son when he awakens. Good day, Mr. Colby.”
Simon Colby collapsed in a chair and wailed as the World’s Most Dangerous Woman briskly left his apartment and closed the door behind her.
When she entered her Morris Minor in the parking lot, both Nikki and Anala were waiting for her.
“Well?” asked Nikki, “Was it worth it forbidding me from going up there with you to give Simon Colby a piece of my mind?”
“Gracious, mother, of course it was. The needless tintinnabulation you would have caused would have terrified him, and he is a desperate man at the end of his rope. He was once a wealthy man with a son filled with promise, and now he is living in a bachelor apartment in a horrid part of Toronto as that promise is withering away in a hospital bed.”
Anala sighed. “All of these games to strike back at your mother? What was he planning to do?”
“Simon was not the murderous sort, but he sought to ruin my mother’s reputation as he attempted to drag me into some impossible game. Fortunately, he was sensible enough to see it was not worth the effort that would be better spent helping his son heal.”
“What about Heddie?”
Miss Lyme sighed. “Her estranged husband and his new girlfriend tattled on her to her La Nuit superiors.”
“That would cause her much grief,” said Anala.
“Normally, it would, but I anticipated their move and warned Dr. Grightmire, and told La Nuit she was just overly envious of my mother, and though she is treasonous, she is also oblivious, and unfortunately, was scammed by someone in the Circle who saw her as a professional rival, and set her up to humiliate her to both cabals.”
Anala whistled as she shook her head.
“Now that she is the laughingstock of the Illuminati, she has been kicked out. I asked that they do her no harm, but they refused not to taunt her and disparage her work in public for years to come.”
“I suppose you cannot win them all,” sighed Nikki.
“Considering she was not my client and wished harm on my mother, her fortunes are no concern of mine.”
“I cannot keep up with this Illuminati soap opera,” joked Anala, “I do not see why these so-called ‘reality shows’ could possibly be popular when your career has more eccentric events unfolding.”
“Dreadful, you mean,” said Nikki, “It is difficult for a mother to approve of her brilliant visionary daughter having to deal with such idiots on a daily basis, but at least it is a profitable enterprise. What about those prime ministers? Did you let them know?”
“Yes, and they were disappointed, and had asked if they could hold the bet all the same. I said on the condition they tripled my fee, and they both bowed out. Eventually, the truth of the matter sunk in, and then they were livid that they were being used as dupes, meaning neither man would have won the bet. It is like a summer shower,” the Red Queen sighed, “It took a series of small drops falling on their heads to see they were being pelted by fortune’s chamber pot.”
Nikki smirked. “Mixing the poetic with the political?”
“It is more of a great big comedy,” sighed her daughter, “So much time wasted playing games and doing everything else save the one thing that needs to be done.”
Anala nodded knowingly. “Here are two men who have reached the top of their nation’s mountains, and yet they fell for a simple ruse. It is comedy, though one of the saddest kinds there is: self-deception.”
“Our job here is done,” said Miss Lyme, “Let us get back to the Path to Paradise and have a lovely dinner ordered from Redley’s Garden Café. I do believe both of you have flights to catch in Toronto tomorrow.”
After Miss Lyme said goodbye to Anala the following day, she was now standing in front of her mother’s plane as her mother also readied to leave.
“I am overjoyed you came for visit, and could finally join me in one of my escapades, Mama.”
“What you are doing is no less dangerous than before.”
“Yes, but I can handle it.”
“Magsybelle, I know they call you the World’s Most Dangerous Woman, but I will still worry about you.”
“As I still worry about you. Your work is no less risky than mine, and no less thrilling. We have much in common.”
“Yes, I was as single as you are at your age. Have you ever thought about getting married, or having children?”
“I have my…”
“Declaration of Singlependence. Yes, I know, but you are in your early forties and I thought you would wish to have a child at the very least. Your cousin Daniel took his wife’s death extremely hard, and as you two are the last of the Carringtons and both without children…”
“Neither one of us want children for the mere sake of having them. I have my career, my home filled with flora and fauna, my friends, and my family. I want for nothing, Mama. I am very happy.”
“You were as happy when you and Dwennon were together…”
“There are other men on this planet other than Dwennon. Braddie and I enjoy one another’s company immensely, and neither one of us are in any hurry to marry and have children. If there is a shortage of single eligible men on the planet, it has not hit my neck of the woods. I am surprised that you have suddenly become a such strong and persistent advocate of Dwennon Garrison. Is there something I should know?”
“Bobo is worried about Dwennon as he seems very bitter and more so each time he sees him. Perhaps you ought to see him…”
“Mama, I am not Dwennon’s social worker. If he is studying psychology as you say, that means he now has one more degree in it than I do, and he is more than capable of understanding what ails his soul. Please do not employ Weasel to keep tabs on Dwennon.”
“Of course, I will.”
“It is more than obvious the two of you still love each other deeply.”
“Love was not enough the first time. A reconciliation will not happen now.”
“You are angry with him.”
“You have developed an aversion to baseball?”
“He has become more specific in his tastes as he now exclusively has interests in Japanese baseball. Bobo also tells me his movie tastes have become aligned with your usual art-house fare…”
“I no longer watch movies of any sort. You know that. I also do not wish to know about his tastes, either. I moved to the Path to Paradise because I was bogged down with trying to make sense of my past, and now that I have set my sights on my future, I do not wish to revisit previous heartbreak. La Nuit is all about brooding romantics, and I do not brood.”
“And you believe Dwennon would brood.”
“If he is pining for me, as Weasel claims, then La Nuit has been a negative influence on him. He is an endearing and kind-hearted man, and he is capable of loving someone new and deserving for that love to be returned. I do not want to be an obstacle to him seeking the kindness he needs and deserves.”
“You know, Magsybelle, I did not like him in the beginning.”
“You accused him of being a honeytrap.”
“Well, that was before I saw him and he swore like a drunken sailor using horrifying obscenities when his new cell phone fell and cracked in my presence.”
Miss Lyme began to laugh recalling the incident. “I never seen you turn so many shades of red in my life, Mama. You took me by the arm and dragged me to the kitchen. I still remember those words you said when you caught your breath, ‘What are you thinking going out with…with…such a foulmouthed ruffian?’”
Nikki began to laugh heartily as she blushed. “And what did you reply? ‘First of all, he isn’t a ruffian, and second of all, I wasn’t thinking about things, Mama, I was feeling.'”
Miss Lyme began to giggle as she blushed as well. “And then you said, ‘He’s so plain and common! Ugh, honeytrap, he’s not. It’s even worse than I thought!’”
“Then you said, ‘There is nothing wrong with him’ before I replied…”
Before both said in unison, “'Save for his coprolalia!’”
The two laughed loudly as Miss Lyme clapped her hands playfully.
Niki smiled warmly, but looked sad, “I was too terrified that La Nuit was going to discover your true intentions and destroy you. It was my absolute worst nightmare. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been more compassionate and supportive of him. He did his best under the worst of circumstances. He was orphaned as a child as a serial killer slaughtered his parents, grew up in foster care with a conniving and envious older brother who enslaved them both in La Nuit when he was still in college. What a horrifying way to be forced to survive. Bobo tells me he has aged horribly.”
“I have only seen his photograph in the newspaper where he writes his column. It haunted me, Mama. I don’t want to revisit it. What would we say to one another? I do not wish to hurt him or burden him, and what if my first look at him caused him further grief?”
“It is never an easy decision to make, but if you ever find yourself repairing that relationship, know you have my blessing.”
“Thank you, Mama, it means everything to me, but I have a blossoming career and home filling with flora and fauna, a lovely relationship with Braddie, and it all happened when I took a leap forward without retreating one step back.”
“I am proud of you, Magsybelle, and love you from your toes to your nose. I am off to Hiroshima for the latest leg of my experiment, but I will be in touch.”
Miss Lyme smiled as she held her mother tightly, grateful for everything she had and though she was sad to see her mother off, there was a world to explore, and both did it in their own way so that their paradise grew with their every adventure.