She has always admired the fashion models in her mother's magazines.
The models' classic good looks and impeccable outfits give them a quiet aura of power
, a feeling that they are silently observing the world around them and deciding how they can manipulate it to their will. Now that she is old enough to know that there are places you can go to and learn how to look like that, the admiration for the actual models has quickly diminished but not the respect for the concept of style.
To her, style is the cornerstone to having a successful life. The first thing anyone notices about anyone they meet is their appearance. It's a simple fact of life, despite all the namby-pamby nonsense of "don't judge a book by its cover" that teachers attempt to ingrain in small children.
She couldn’t imagine anything that would be just as interesting as fashion
. She was proven wrong one night when she was about twelve years old.
“Young lady, poring over fashion magazines when there are other things to accomplish is not an acceptable way to spend one’s time.”
Mother’s sharp reprimand rang out through the sitting room shortly followed by the equally sharp staccato of her footsteps on the polished hardwood floor. She looked up from her magazine to see Mother’s icy blue eyes glaring disapprovingly at her, holding a new swatch of fabric for embroidery
was dressed either to receive guests or go out to a dinner party at someone else’s home in a long flowing dress that complimented her willowy figure, almost as if she were one of the models in the magazine.
“You are well aware that you were told to be sitting in that chair,” she points at a straight backed wooden chair near the window, “working on your stitching.”
She was aware of the schedule Mother had set up but had no real interest in it. Mother was always telling her how valuable these skills would be one day but she just couldn’t see how knowing how to remember all the people at a dinner party or sitting up straight would help her be an adult some day. It was boring and there other things to do around the house that were more interesting.
“Though I suppose I should just be grateful that you aren’t lurking on the stairs again. What must people think of it when they see you?”
One of these more interesting things to do, much to Mother’s dismay, was sitting partway up the stairs and watching the comings and goings of the house. There were always guests being shown to and from Father’s study and she enjoyed observing them. Lately though this pastime has been raising some interesting questions.
All of the times that she’s asked Mother what Father does in the study, she has been told he is a “very important businessman.” That made sense when she was just little because little kids will believe everything but now that she’s twelve and grown up she’s noticed something odd. Most of the men who are shown to the study are not dressed very nicely. Everyone knows that businessmen dress in nice suits like the men that accompany the models in the magazines. These men usually are slightly dirty working clothes or worn out suits that obviously needed to be ironed and they also seemed awfully muscled for businessmen. These men didn’t look or dress like Father’s important guests who come to Mother’s fancy dinner parties. She’s starting to think Mother has been lying to her this whole time.
Mother snatches the magazine from in front of her and places it in the basket next to her own chair with the others. She wasn’t even halfway through that one yet.
“Your father and I will be going to a party tonight and I’ve instructed Nanny that you are to complete one embroidery square before you can even think about touching that magazine again. I’ve told you time and time again, if you can not care enough to act like a young lady, you will not be allowed to have the small enjoyments that come with being a young lady.”
Embroidery punishment was one of Mother’s favorites since one square could take up to half a week to finish. She was just getting ready to bargain
half a square for fifteen minutes of magazine time when she heard the distinct sound of Father’s study doors opening.
“...we’ll need to make sure this is taken care of before next week but otherwise I’m confident we can make this issue disappear for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I got ready for an engagement I have this evening, Bernard will show you out.”
Father’s voice carried down the hall to the sitting room and then disappeared as he went up the stairs. She wasn’t sure what Father meant by “get ready”, he never seemed to appear in public in what she would call a satisfactory manner. As if confirming this thought, Father
walked into the room and sauntered over to the pair of them.
“How is my little princess this evening? I’m surprised you weren’t in your lookout post on the stairs when I left the study.”
He patted her on the head while smiling fondly. His waistcoat was misbuttoned and his tie was askew but she knew pointing this out wouldn’t matter. Whenever she did Father told her that clothes were meant for keeping people warm and it didn’t matter if they were a bit out of sorts. At least he was wearing his suit jacket for once
. Mother reminded him that they needed to leave soon in order to avoid being late so after a quick kiss on the head and a reminder to mind Nanny, they were gone.
Three hours later, Nanny had fallen asleep over her knitting on the sofa in the sitting room and, having nothing better to do, she decides to go into the study.
Being alone in the study was definitely not allowed but she liked to do it anyway. Mother would take the fashion magazines away forever if she was caught. No one was allowed in the study when the doors were shut and little princesses weren’t allowed in unsupervised. She liked to sneak in sometimes anyway.
Father would probably be more lenient since he encouraged her by allowing her to sit in his big impressive leather desk chair
. She felt like a powerful businesswoman she sat in it.
She was sitting in Father's chair that night, looking at imaginary papers and is just about to give a lecture to a make-believe employee when she hears footsteps approaching the door at a brisk pace. Panic fills her and, knowing that there was no possible way to get out of the study unseen, she quickly puts the leather chair back in place and hides behind the small sofa by the bookshelves just as the oak doors open.
"I know this seems like a minor setback..."
That isn't Father, it is one of the nicely dressed men from the dinner parties. She wonders what he is doing at the house at this time of night, it is much too late for business meetings. Moving slowly not to draw attention to herself, she peers around the side of the sofa. A tall thin man in a suit is standing by Father's desk looking anxiously at him as Father hangs his suit jacket over the arm of the big chair.
"A minor setback? A minor setback was when Allen was caught shaking down that store owner for the monthly payment
and was hauled off downtown by the cops
. It took a lot of money to get that mess to disappear, money that he wasn't really worth, but that was a walk in the park compared to this."
Her father is extremely angry. Striding quickly over to where he keeps his scotch, pours out a half a glass and quickly gulps down half of it.
"Jeffries was just supposed to send a message. Rough up the little punk up a bit, maybe break a few fingers or an arm, not put a bullet in his brain
. How am I supposed to collect from a corpse, a corpse that owed me over ten thousand dollars?"
Father sets his glass down with a thud and turns to face the other man. She can see his face in the moonlight streaming in from the window behind the desk, it allows for no misunderstanding about how furious he is about what happened. The tall man raises his hands in a placating gesture.
"He has a brother, we can always transfer the debt to him. We can send Thompson to explain the situation, I'm sure with enough time we'll get the money."
This seems to calm Father down. He reaches for his half empty glass and takes a slow, thoughtful sip.
"Alright, get Thompson on it tomorrow. I want the punk taken care of tonight, no mistakes this time. If I hear about another body
washing up on the shore a week from now, you'll be in the same unpleasant boat that Jefferies is going to be in when I call him in tomorrow. Understand?"
He levels a look at the tall man that leaves no question as to his sincerity. She can see the tall man swallow visibly and nod.
"Yes, sir. I will make sure everything is taken care of."
Father reaches for his suit jacket, pulls it on and, after buttoning it closed, walks over to put his glass back on the table with the others. The maids will most likely pick it up in the morning.
"Alright, now that this mess has been sorted out, I've got to get back to that dinner party. My wife will notice I'm gone eventually and I don't want to deal with the nagging
about making the appropriate appearances again. I think she forgets how much hard work goes into building an organization
like this so she can buy all her fancy expensive clothes."
Both her father and the tall man walk briskly towards that door and shut the door sharply behind them. She waits until she can't hear anything but silence before she emerges from behind the couch. Listening again for possible returning footsteps, she slowly walks towards the desk and carefully lowers herself in to the leather chair. It feels different now, there is a tinge of menace to it.
So Mother had been lying to her.
Not that she is really surprised, Mother likes to talk about her acting like a grown up but she never actually treats her like one. She is twelve years old after all, she’s old enough to handle adult things. After what she just saw, maybe it’s time to do some digging because what Father and the tall thin man were talking about sounds almost as interesting as Mother’s magazines.