“You do manage very well, Mrs Winkle.”
“If it were only true. I do have some casual help with the chores of living.” Mrs Winkle replaced her cup and saucer on the table.
A soft rustle and she said, “There you are, Rustam.” She scooped up her cat, which had wrapped itself around her feet. She held it nose to nose and said,
“He’s Persian you know, a gift from my late husband.”
“Yes, I know.”
Mrs Winkle snapped a look at Mr Blanchard and immediately averted her eyes. He had referred to her husband, of that, she was sure, and he had noticed her momentary lapse of composure, of that too she was convinced. She placed Rustam on her lap and stroked his velvety fur, her movements markedly slow, and measured.
The heavy patter of rain on the terracotta roof drowned the pregnant silence.
“I’m in a bit of a pickle here, but this dreadful matter regarding my killers -”
“Well, Mr Blanchard, you don’t really need my services now do you? You already know their identities. Furthermore, I dare propose, sir, you know that all of them came to unexplainable grief, except for my husband.”
A moment’s pause and Mr Blanchard, unruffled by the sudden change in tone and welcome said, “You’re as precise and thoughtful, as I remember you, Mrs Winkle.”
“And you’re a long way from home,” Mrs Winkle tensed as she spoke, “Count Vladimir Drakul.” She uttered the name one-at-a-time.
Rustam hissed and bared his teeth.
Mrs Winkle’s words had no purchase, for the Count’s attention washed over and gently explored her.
At length he spoke, his voice having turned gravelly, the sound of water poured from a pitcher, “Four decades I’ve waited. You look even more alluring, Mrs Winkle.”
His voice brought forth a concoction of memories and fears, and most of all it stirred a perplexing softness within her.
“Or would you prefer –,” he continued.
“Mrs Harker!” She looked away and swallowed hard. “Mrs Harker, thank you.”
“I prefer,” he paused as if wanting to savour her name as it escaped his lips, “Mina.”
She turned to face him and felt her resolve weaken. With great deliberation, the Count rose to his feet. He was not the grey and portly Mr Blanchard. Here stood a vital man – tall, dark and magnetic.
Rustam hopped off Mina’s lap and bolted into the shadows.
************ Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2013 ************
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