Nellie watched; from between the slats of the bin where she was hiding, as her aunt left with the killer.
She waited a full minute before she left the bin. This was mainly due to the concern she had about the man seeing her emerge from her hiding place.
She had been going about her business; helping her aunt close up the shoppe; then the knock on the door, followed by her aunt using her childhood signal for danger, had chilled her to the bone.
Nellie knew her aunt to be one of the most stable and reasonable people in her life. If the shoppe keeper felt that there was danger; then Nellie had no doubt, that they were in jeopardy.
The lovely young woman was shaking as she exited the bin: she had bits of Cornish Heath stuck in her hair; this due to the fact that the bin was where they deposited the detritus of their floral endeavors in “Flowrys”.
She made her way from the rear of the store to the front door, where her aunt had exited in the company of the handsome visitor.
Nellie carefully unlocked the door; and poked her head out to see if there was any evidence of which way the man had taken her aunt. The pair of them were not “long” gone; as they had left the shoppe only a minute before, but Nellie could see no sign of them as she looked to the left and right. She did make out a pair of footprints in the light dusting of snow that was still clinging to the walk, in front of the shoppe. The prints indicated that her aunt and the man had gone off to the west. The young woman thought this was a mixed blessing; as if she had been able to see them, they would have possibly been able to see her as well. Nellie was certain that her aunt had told the man that she was alone; and he had believed her, or else he would have taken the both of them.
She locked the front door as she considered what to do. Some people: maybe most people would first think of contacting the police. Nellie did briefly consider this course of action; but only briefly. There was a lot of corruption in the city’s law enforcement arm: surely there were some good officers, but honestly. she felt they were more of a limited deterrent. She didn’t know how motivated they would be to help; over one missing shoppe keeper.
Her next thought of course was of her cousin Teague. If anyone could handle this; it was he. She could remember her father saying of Teague that he was maybe too clever for his own good: and damned tough in a scrape. That was high praise coming from her father, as he didn’t think much of most people.
Nellie ran upstairs to the shared rooms that she inhabited with her aunt and cousin Teague. Since she had lost her father to the War; her aunt and cousin had become her only family. For the last several years, she had worked and lived with them, and they were most dear to her.
She didn’t bother going through her aunt’s room, because she had left with a killer. She called out for Teague as she searched the upstairs rooms. Nellie had not seen her cousin all day; but went to his room in the off chance he was there.
His door was unlocked; it almost always was. She opened it and entered: Nellie had always thought Teague’s bed was a bit frilly, and it was neatly made with military corners. His chambers were sparsely furnished: everything but the bed was very utilitarian.
There were two framed pictures in the room. One was Teague as a small boy, standing next to a tall man in uniform. Nellie knew that this was Teague’s father, though she had never met her uncle. The other picture was Teague himself, in similar Uniform, at the end of the Great War. She could see medals on his chest: Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as they were affectionately known, were there. Even more prominent was the Victoria Cross. Teague never offered the details of how he had received his grateful nation’s highest award for gallantry: and Nellie didn’t feel it was her place to ask.
Teague was not to be found in his room; so Nellie would need to look elsewhere. Before she left his chambers, she checked the battered chest that was at the foot of Teague’s bed. At the bottom of the chest was an old service revolver that had belonged to her uncle.
Nellie knew that her cousin seldom carried the weapon; but she had seen him fire it several times when they were on holiday. She knew that Teague could quite easily hit a target, the size of a melon from fifty paces. Nellie knew this because she had watched her cousin shoot a dozen actual melons from that range.
She broke open the action to make certain that the pistol was loaded. Once that was done, she went to her room and collected a shawl; because there was a chill in the air, from the unseasonable snowfall earlier that same day. She hid the weapon in the folds of her shawl and took the back stairs down to the alley behind the shoppe.
She didn’t know where her cousin was; but she thought a good place to start would be the Penrose Enterprise office. Nellie had never been there; but knew it was in one of the nicer hotels in the city. Not the Finest in town; but still quite nice.
Nellie walked past the large truck that Flowrys used for deliveries; but had decided against using it to get to her destination. The Penrose office was only a brisk ten minute walk away: she didn’t care to drive the truck on the best of days, and there was still some snow on the ground.
She took off in the opposite direction that her aunt had been taken by that man. Her breath fogged the air as she walked briskly toward her destination. It was quite dark, as the nearest white way was not till she would reach the hotel.
After five minutes of walking; a group of four men rounded a corner and noticed her right away. Nellie kept walking briskly; but she did put her hand in her shawl and lightly grasp the grip of the heavy service revolver she had hidden in it’s folds. The men spread out slightly as they approached and one of them spoke; “hi there missy,” he said. The men were all good sized; several of them close to her cousin Teague in stature. The man who spoke actually had a pleasant voice; but there was something about the way he spoke, and his posture that made Nellie a little uneasy.
She saw that one of the men; the shortest of the small group, put his hand on the speaker’s arm and said something to him. Nellie heard “Teague’s cousin,” but missed the rest of what the one man told the other. The change in the men’s demeanor was immediate. The man who had spoken to her, and caused a bit of unease, spoke again. “Beg pardon Miss,” he said, as he bowed his head and actually doffed his hat. “I meant no disrespect.”
She nodded in assent and the man continued; “it’s rather late Miss, could we perhaps escort you to where you’re heading?” Nellie told him; “I don’t think that’s necessary gentlemen,” she was going to continue but the man interrupted with “it would be our pleasure Miss.” he told her;”I wouldn’t want your cousin Teague thinking we let you alone out here where any ne’er do well might molest you.” So, Nellie ended up with an escort of four able bodied gentlemen for the last part of her walk to the Penrose offices.
She left the men at the entryway to the hotel and bid them farewell. “Thank you gentlemen;” she had told the four men. They all responded with some variation of “my pleasure.”
Nellie was unfamiliar with the fine hotel; but did know that the office was on the third floor. Teague had made mention of this. She couldn’t see a lift from where she stood in the foyer; but did see a staircase off to the left. So up she went.
The hotel was a fine example of its’ type and very luxuriantly appointed. The lovey young woman’s feet made no sound on the thickly carpeted stairs as she climbed to the third floor.
The third floor landing deposited her in the middle of a long hallway; she chose to go left, for no particular reason. Halfway down this hall; again on the left Nellie saw the door. It was partly open and looked a bit out of place. It was different than the other doors: darker of wood, ornate, and there was a dark handprint on the door. The handprint had been deposited and stained the door with: blood maybe? The portal was altogether disquieting; and she found herself shivering slightly as she rapped on the door.
“Enter;” a voice told her, so she did, without making actual physical contact with the door. She found herself in a spacious office and saw the slight leader of the Penrose enterprise himself come from behind an elaborate desk of Ivory and some dark wood. She found herself smiling slightly at the contrast between the small man and the giant desk.
Penrose came to her at the doorway and said; “Miss Nellie, what brings you here?” she knew the man mostly by reputation and did not approve that her cousin or Bran worked for him; but she had to admit to herself that he did seem concerned. “Is there aught amiss?” he asked. “Something with your shoppe, or your Aunt?” Nellie answered; quivering as she did so,”she was taken by that man.”
Penrose spoke up; “was he handsome, well dressed, possibly Italian?” She nodded; “yes that is exactly right!” He nodded his head slowly, in a negative manner and muttered; “that will not do.”
“Mr. Penrose sir,” Nellie said, “where is my cousin? He needs to handle this.” Penrose told the girl; “and so he shall Miss Nellie.” The slight man laid a gentle hand on her arm and guided her toward the settee near the window.
“I can see you’re upset; please have a seat by the radiator. I’ll send for some refreshment.” Nellie thought about protesting; but suddenly felt quite tired. She hadn’t realized how exhausting this much stress could be. She allowed the enterprise leader to usher her towards a comfortable looking settee and took a seat.
Nellie spent the next several hours on the comfortable perch near a window and a nicely warm radiator. Since it was so late, and she had experienced such stressful events; she found herself dozing off and on while the enterprise leader went about his business.
She could sense the slight man was near frantic; though he didn’t outwardly display anything out of the ordinary. Several men came and went over the next few hours; and she occasionally did nod off briefly.
At one point she woke with a start and thought she saw a small figure dart out the front of the office. It was quick; she had barely a glimpse, and she wasn’t sure there had really been anyone there. Later she would remember thinking that the small figure reminded her of a picture that her own father had of his grandfather as a boy. But that was silly.
By the time the sun was coming up; Nellie had come out of a doze to the delicious smell of breakfast. She could see a sideboard that had mounds of bacon, eggs, biscuits; along with coffee and tea. She was pleasantly surprised that when she got up; the slight enterprise leader had made her a plate with a bit of everything.
“Thank you sir;” she told Penrose, and he smiled, which made him look like a pleasant uncle, or even grandfather. “Of course Miss Nellie.” He continued with; “no word yet from your cousin or his companions; but I hope to have them back here quite soon.”
The young woman ate a healthy plate of breakfast and then took a lovely cup of tea back to the settee where she continued to wait for Teague.
Not long after she had finished her breakfast; Nellie heard someone at the troubling door.
Fitz was the first one through the door. He had hair black as pitch, and a calm face.
Honestly, her heart jumped just a little when he looked at her. She found this to be the case more and more lately.
But Teague followed directly after the big man, and when she saw her cousin she jumped up from the settee; dropping her cup to the floor.
“Teague!”, she cried out as she ran to her cousin; “he took her!” Teague asked explosively; “What?”
Nellie told the enterprise troubleshooter; “that man took your Mother!”