Jane unlimited, p.18
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.18

           Kristin Cashore
 

  None of which explains what kind of work the Panzavecchias were doing in their lab. Or if it has anything to do with smallpox. Or why Grace is talking about French spies. Or why she’s here.

  Who even knows she’s here, besides Jane? Doctor Philip Okada? He was in the attics yesterday wearing medical gloves, then sneaking around in the middle of the night, saying inscrutable things about a journey and carrying a gun. And a diaper bag. Jane realizes suddenly that the white bag with orange ducks Philip was carrying last night must have been a diaper bag.

  Phoebe Okada? Patrick? Mr. Vanders? Jane saw him carrying another small child—little Christopher Panzavecchia?—across the Venetian courtyard only yesterday. What about Ivy, who was with Jane then and didn’t give any explanation for the little kid when Jane asked? Ivy was in the attic with Philip too.

  What on earth is going on in this house?

  “Grace,” Jane says. “Are you okay?”

  The question seems to trigger the girl’s fury. She sits her rump down again, wraps her arms around her legs, and starts crying, but it’s angry crying; it’s her temper she’s trying to contain by holding her own body tight. “I don’t even know who you are!” she yells.

  “Is someone here hurting you?” says Jane. “Patrick? Or—” She can’t get her mouth to say “Ivy.” “Phoebe Okada? Are your parents in the house too?”

  “I bet you’d like to know! I bet you’d like to ask me a whole lot of questions! I’m not telling you anything!”

  “Grace!” says Jane. “I only want to know that you’re okay!”

  “Stop calling me that! My name is Dorothy!” She rockets to her feet suddenly.

  “Where are you going?”

  “I bet you’d like to know!” she yells again, then takes off running, around the terrace, along the wall of the west wing and away from Jane. She disappears around the corner of the house.

  Jane is standing there, staring numbly after the girl, when the scrape of an opening door spins her around. It’s the door Jane came through herself, the one in the fish tank. Patrick emerges, looks to right and left, sees Jane. His face registers nothing. Patrick seems to have a gift for projecting innocent, blue-eyed vacuity. At any rate, his is more convincing than Ivy’s.

  “Hello,” he calls, walking toward Jane. He’s swinging a heavy flashlight in one hand, powered off at the moment. “Getting some air?”

  “Yes,” Jane says shortly. “Clearing my thoughts before I do some work.”

  “Ivy tells me you make umbrellas,” Patrick says, clapping his bright, blank eyes on Jane’s face. “Seen anything interesting out here?” he adds, just as if he couldn’t care less, and the hair rises on the nape of Jane’s neck. She thinks, for some reason, of the leer of that eel in the fish tank.

  “Not a thing,” says Jane. “What are you doing out here, anyway?”

  “Lost something,” he says, indicating his flashlight, as if having lost something is a justification for carrying a flashlight in broad daylight. “Thought I might find it here.”

  “What is it?”

  “It’s hard to describe.”

  Does it have crooked blond hair, Jane wants to ask, a tear-stained face, and a mistrust of all people? “How enigmatic,” she says.

  A sudden, staticky noise makes her jump. “Patrick?” says a metallic version of Mrs. Vanders’s voice. “Come in, Patrick?”

  Patrick pulls a walkie-talkie from his back pocket. Tucking his flashlight under one arm, he presses a button on the walkie-talkie. “Go ahead.”

  “Dorothy’s come home,” says Mrs. Vanders’s voice.

  Patrick grins brightly. “There’s no place like home,” he says, then pockets the walkie-talkie, gives Jane a nod, and moves on, taking the same route Grace Panzavecchia took, along the wall and around the western corner of the house.

  “Aunt Magnolia,” Jane says to the air. “What the actual hell is going on here?”

  The air does not respond.

  * * *

  Jane winds her way back through the pool room, the bowling alley, the stuffy green parlor. Her goal is the second-story east wing, where she last saw Mrs. Vanders headed—something about a Vermeer—and where she intends to confront Mrs. Vanders about how she knew Aunt Magnolia, about who Dorothy is, about everything strange going on in this house. But when Jane steps into the Venetian courtyard, Mrs. Vanders is right there, standing beside the fountain, her back to Jane. She’s muttering into a walkie-talkie.

  “Who’s Dorothy?” Jane asks without preamble.

  “Oh, hello, Jane,” Mrs. Vanders says, lowering the walkie-talkie and turning around smoothly. “Dorothy’s my great-niece, visiting from out west. Why? Have you met her?”

  “I was with Patrick when you called him on the walkie-talkie and said ‘Dorothy’s come home.’”

  “Yes,” says Mrs. Vanders. “She knows she’s not supposed to wander around without telling us where she’s going, but she does it anyway. I worry, especially since there’s a pool in the house. Patrick is fond of her. He was worried too.”

  “What did you mean by ‘Dorothy’s come home’? Where’s home?”

  “Wherever I happen to be when she finds me,” says Mrs. Vanders crisply. “I’m her family. Family is home.”

  “Speaking of family,” Jane says, “Mr. Vanders just told me you knew my aunt Magnolia.”

  Mrs. Vanders grunts, her eyes sweeping the balconies of the courtyard.

  “How could that be?” says Jane. “I don’t remember Aunt Magnolia ever saying anything about knowing anyone here, besides Kiran.”

  Mrs. Vanders grunts again, then says nothing, just studies Jane. An odd silence stretches between them. Jane tries again.

  “She made me promise once that if I was ever invited to Tu Reviens,” she says, “I’d come. Was that so I would meet you?”

  “Do you like to travel?” says Mrs. Vanders.

  “Yes, I guess,” says Jane. “I haven’t really traveled much, so I don’t really know. Why? Did you travel with her or something?”

  “We have one of her travel pictures,” Mrs. Vanders says. “A yellow fish peeking out of the mouth of a big gray fish. Your aunt had a talent for . . . uncovering hidden truths.”

  “Oh,” Jane says, amazed, then flushing with pride that Aunt Magnolia’s photo should end up on the walls of a fancy house like this. “So, is that how you knew her? Were you in touch about the photo?”

  “Do you like Ivy?” responds Mrs. Vanders, peering at Jane.

  “Sure,” says Jane in confusion. “Why?”

  “I may ask for your help at the party,” she says. “If I do so, I’ll convey the message through Ivy. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She turns and walks away.

  “I don’t work for you, you know,” Jane snaps at the empty air.

  It’s one thing for Mrs. Vanders to lie and evade on the subject of Grace Panzavecchia, who’s obviously mixed up in something bad. But why would she need to be cryptic about Aunt Magnolia?

  Unsettled, Jane stares into the cheerfully splashing fountain. Somewhere behind her, she hears the approaching voices of Lucy St. George and Colin Mack, and finds herself moving away from them, up the stairs. She needs to think. “I’ll be a bit longer,” she texts Kiran as she climbs.

  Jasper is waiting outside her door. Inside, smoothing her ruffled, red-orange shirt, Jane sits on one of the armchairs before the cold fire. Jasper burrows under the bed and begins snoring, a soft, low, soothing rumble.

  For some reason, Jane can’t stop picturing the last thing she ever saw Aunt Magnolia wear, the day she left on that final, fateful Antarctic trip. A simple, deep purple dress, flowy, with long sleeves and pockets. Her clunky, sturdy black boots and her long, iridescent purple coat with the silver-gold lining. She’d looked like some sort of fashion warrior set to take on the Antarctic night.

  Jane has only ju
st begun the gold-and-brown self-defense umbrella, with its sharp ribs and powerful springs. But what she’s imagining now is an iridescent purple umbrella, with a contrasting interior of silver and gold.

  Could Jane make an umbrella like that, without it hurting too much?

  Probably not. But she gets the feeling she’s about to do it anyway.

  * * *

  In her morning room, Jane works, until she becomes aware of the sound of someone yelling. No, not someone; Ravi. Somewhere in the house, Ravi is yelling.

  With only half her focus, she goes into the bedroom and sticks her ear out into the corridor. It’s coming from the house’s middle, quite some distance away.

  The trouble is that Jane’s stumbled upon an unusual challenge with the curve of this umbrella, and it’s asking for her full attention. Damn Ravi, she thinks, then comes awake. Wait. If people are yelling, it’s got to be about Grace Panzavecchia.

  Jane moves quickly down the corridor toward the noise. She steps onto the third-story bridge and finds Ravi in the receiving hall far below, holding that little mirror table she was inspecting earlier, waving it around and screaming. The table’s reflective top flashes at Jane as he whirls it about. The checkered floor is strewn with flowers and water, the glass shards of a broken vase.

  “Octavian!” Ravi screams. “Octavian!” Cleaners and decorators, interrupted in their work, line the bridges and staircases, staring. Lucy St. George stands beside Ravi, as do Colin Mack, Kiran, Ivy, and Phoebe Okada.

  “What’s going on?” Jane whispers to the person nearest her, who happens to be the man with the bucket who’d asked directions at breakfast this morning, the apologetic cleaner with salt-and-pepper hair. He’s wiping down the banister of the third-story bridge with a wet cloth.

  “Don’t know,” he says, wringing his cloth into his bucket intently. “He just started yelling.”

  “What’s that little table he’s holding?” Jane asks. “What’s it for?”

  “Don’t know,” the cleaner says again in his unplaceable accent, then freezes for just an instant as Mrs. Vanders sweeps into the receiving hall. She stops before Ravi.

  “Be quiet!” bellows Mrs. Vanders. “What in the name of all that’s reasonable is the matter with you?”

  “This!” Ravi yells, shaking the little table at her. “This is what’s the matter with me!”

  From where Jane is standing, she can’t see Mrs. Vanders’s face. She can only observe the housekeeper’s silence and the stillness of her stance as she holds a hand out for the little table, inspects it, then passes it to Lucy. White-faced, Lucy inspects it too, especially the small dot in the middle of the mirror. Lucy raises shocked eyes to Colin, who’s standing nearby. Lucy doesn’t look well; she’s a bit shaky.

  “Ravi?” Lucy says, clearing her throat. “The sculpture was removed cleanly from the pedestal. Assuming the sculpture itself is unbroken, it should be easy to reattach it.”

  “Well, that’s just wonderful,” Ravi says, chewing on sarcasm, “just fantastic, except,” he screams, “where is the goddamned sculpture?!”

  “Calm down,” Mrs. Vanders says. “Take a breath, Ravi, and tell me where you found the pedestal.”

  “Right there!” Ravi points to a row of side tables. “It was sitting right there—with a vase of lilacs on it—as if it were a party decoration!”

  “All right,” Mrs. Vanders says. “Breathe.”

  “It wasn’t there last night,” says Ravi. “No part of it was there when I got in. Someone took the whole thing away, broke the fish off the pedestal, then put the pedestal back! What kind of lunatic would do that?”

  Jane is remembering, now, something about a million-dollar sculpture Ravi was asking Octavian about last night. A fish, a missing sculpture of a fish, by Brancusi. This little mirrored table must be the pedestal for Brancusi’s million-dollar fish.

  “I don’t get it,” she whispers to the cleaning man. “Isn’t that sculpture worth a fortune? I can see why someone would steal it, but why would someone break it?” And why, she doesn’t say aloud, would Grace Panzavecchia be carrying the pedestal around, slipping it onto tables in the receiving hall? Are her parents involved in art theft now, since the bank theft failed?

  Now Ravi is interrogating Mrs. Vanders, demanding a list of everyone who’s recently set foot in the house. Turning suddenly on Phoebe Okada, Ravi spits, “Where’s your husband? Where’s Philip? He’s run off, hasn’t he?”

  “Good question,” Jane whispers, then glances at the cleaner beside her, who’s gotten very quiet. It’s because he’s gone. Only his damp cloth and his bucket of suds remain, and when Jane peeks around in confusion, she catches a glimpse of him stepping off the bridge into the house’s east side.

  She’d think little of it, except for something odd that happens below. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just imply that my husband stole from you,” Phoebe says to Ravi, then strikes out across the floor, heading for the Venetian courtyard. But before she starts moving, she throws her head back and narrows her eyes at Jane, or rather, at the space beside Jane where the cleaner was a moment ago. Something about it seems . . . deliberate. Phoebe’s gaze on the empty spot beside Jane is ferocious.

  It’s enough to turn Jane around and propel her onto the nearest balcony overlooking the Venetian courtyard, to see where Phoebe is going. Behind Jane, Mrs. Vanders is suggesting to Ravi that the broken sculpture might be an accident or a prank. Ravi is responding with bewildered hysterics—“Call the FBI, the CIA, and Interpol!”—while in front of Jane, in her own private world of bewilderment, Phoebe zooms across the courtyard floor to the stairs on its west side. She begins flying up them, two and three at a time, faster than Jane has ever seen anyone move in her life. Phoebe is somehow achieving this astonishing speed in high-heeled boots without making a clatter; Jane hears nothing but the voices in the receiving hall and the splash of the fountain. Who is Phoebe? What is her job? Phoebe shoots desperate glances now and then at the third-floor balconies across from her, and when Jane tracks her gaze, Jane finds the cleaner, slowly rounding the atrium via those balconies. It’s as if Phoebe is racing to intercept him somewhere without him knowing, and it’s as if everything depends upon it.

  “Espions sans frontières,” Grace said, or at least, that’s what Jane thinks she heard. Espions. Spies.

  She’s moving before she’s even really decided. She catches up with the cleaner as he nears the final turn before the servants’ wing. He doesn’t hear Jane behind him, just slinks smoothly around the corner and out of her sight again.

  As she nears the corner, Jane hears a conversation start up between the cleaner and Phoebe, who seems not only to have beaten him to the servants’ quarters but to have done so without getting winded. Their voices stop Jane; suddenly Jane can’t think what she imagines she’s doing, pursuing the cleaner, spying on Phoebe, eavesdropping. How will she explain herself?

  “Hello,” Jane hears Phoebe say, in a casual, even tone. “Where are you going?”

  The man clears his throat. “To the bathroom.”

  “So far from where you were a moment ago? There’s a toilet beside the main staircase on every floor.”

  “Why does it matter to you which bathroom I use?”

  “When a theft has been discovered,” says Phoebe, “everyone’s movements become fascinating, don’t you think? Interesting that you’re sneaking away while a member of the household is making a scene and everyone’s distracted.”

  Jane can’t stand there listening anymore. Where does Phoebe come off suggesting that this random guy might be involved in the theft, just because he has to pee? She stomps around the corner. “Phoebe!” she says. “What are you doing?”

  Neither one seems surprised to see her. “Janie,” says Phoebe, raising an eyebrow at her. “Come to play Robin Hood?”

  “What does that even mean?” says Jane. “
I’m here to tell this guy that he can use the bathroom in my rooms. If that’s your idea of Robin Hood, then, yeah.”

  “All right,” says Phoebe. “Go on. Do your ‘tired masses yearning to be free’ routine, but I’ve got my eyes on this fellow. I’ve half a mind to tell Ravi, or Mrs. Vanders.”

  “Tell them what?” says Jane. “That you can quote the poem on the Statue of Liberty? That you’ve been stopping people from going to the bathroom? That you hate immigrants?”

  “It’s ‘huddled masses,’” says the man, interrupting.

  “What?” say Jane and Phoebe.

  “‘Yearning to breathe free,’” he says. “‘Give me your tired, your poor, / your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.’”

  “Oh,” says Jane.

  “Whatever,” says Phoebe. “I’m British.”

  “So?” says the cleaner. “I’m South Korean.”

  “Well, I’m American,” says Jane, “and I’m kind of offended by the poem now that I’m hearing it. My ancestors were not wretched refuse!”

  “Perhaps the wording was chosen for alliterative purposes,” says the man, with a brief, comprehensive look at Jane. His eyes take in her boots, her red-orange ruffled shirt, her striped skinny jeans, her boisterous hair. She feels oddly . . . catalogued.

  “I’m getting a headache,” says Phoebe. “Are you taking this cleaner to your toilet or aren’t you?”

  “Ugh!” says Jane, disgusted by Phoebe; floored, really, that some people are actually this snobbish. “My rooms are at the other end of the house,” she tells the man.

  “Thanks,” he says.

  “What’s your name?”

  “Ji-hoon.”

  “Ji-hoon,” says Jane, extending a hand. “I’m Janie. Do you know a lot of poetry?”

 

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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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