Jane unlimited, p.22
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.22

           Kristin Cashore

  This, Jane realizes, is part of what hurts so much about Aunt Magnolia. It’s not just that she lied and hid who she really was. It’s that she did it because she never trusted Jane enough to tell her.

  * * *

  Kiran, Jane thinks later, would make a good spy.

  The gala is in full swing. Jane is on the second-story bridge, looking down at all the fancy people, Kiran and Jasper at her side again, except that now Kiran is wearing a strapless crimson gown that probably cost a million dollars. A diamond hangs from a fine gold chain and sits nestled in the hollow of her throat; her ears drip with diamonds. Jane has never seen so many diamonds.

  Jane is wearing a gray cashmere sweater dress with long sleeves, unlike anything she’s ever worn before in her life. She borrowed it from Kiran. She’d planned to wear a sleeveless gold top over purple jeans to look like a royal gramma, a reef fish found in the Atlantic tropics, and carry the Aunt Magnolia Coat umbrella. She’d planned to keep her tattoo fully visible so people would ask about it. But if Aunt Magnolia pretended to be someone else, well then, she can too.

  She’s still wearing her big black boots, though. They’re what she wears when she’s mad.

  The scene below is like something out of a movie. Women in flowing gowns of every color and men in black mill about, holding drinks in crystal glasses, smiling and laughing, shifting shoulders and backs now and then to let someone new into their group or squeeze someone out. Lucy St. George is down there, wearing an understated chocolate-colored gown and talking to Phoebe Okada, who’s dazzling, actually, in turquoise. It’s funny that Lucy goes undercover sometimes as a private investigator, but has no idea about Espions Sans Frontières.

  Near them, Ravi, who always looks good in black, has his arm thrown around Colin’s shoulder with a sort of affectionate possessiveness and is talking and laughing with a man and a woman Jane doesn’t recognize. Among these guests are two New York State Police officers, two FBI special agents, and one Interpol officer. They’re formally dressed, like everyone else, except, according to Kiran, who spots them instantly, they’re not dressed like everyone else.

  “Like me?” Jane asks.

  Kiran takes a sip of her Pimm’s and glances at Jane with an expression that startles Jane, because of the fondness it contains. “You do look like the rest of us, sweetie, except for those boots,” she says. “It’s strange to see you this way. These cops are trying to fit in, but their shoes are cheap and their clothes lack a certain tailored elegance.”

  Kiran points out the state police officers, the FBI special agents, and the man from Interpol. It’s the FBI special agents, in fact, that Ravi’s flirting with.

  A woman Jane doesn’t recognize comes through the front door with Ivy, who, Jane now understands, is the reason black gowns were invented. Her hair is wrapped around her head in a series of complicated twists and braids that must’ve taken someone ages, and her glasses are the perfect touch. The woman beside her is maybe fiftyish, small and plain, in a simple gray dress, carrying a dripping black umbrella. Ivy leads the woman on a winding route through the crowd, gently taking her hand or her arm, positioning her to left or right.

  Jane imagines herself in the woman’s place.

  “I wonder who that is with Ivy,” says Kiran. “I can’t tell anything from her clothing. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Ivy’s shielding her from the cops?”

  “What?” Jane says in instant alarm, less because it’s probably true and more because Jane doesn’t want Kiran noticing Ivy shielding spy-type people from cops.

  “She’s doing kind of an amazing job of it,” Kiran says.

  “What?” Jane says. “She’s not!”

  “Watch her,” Kiran says.

  And so Jane watches as Ivy and her charge pass near Colin, Ravi, and the special agents. Not only does Ivy put herself between her companion and them, but she reaches a hand to Colin’s arm and gently shifts Colin, hence Ravi as well, to better block the agents’ view of the woman she’s leading. Colin glances around in absentminded annoyance, but doesn’t seem to gather what’s happened or who’s touched him. Ivy and the woman are already beyond his sight.

  Next, Ivy and the woman pass through the doorway that leads into the ballroom. Then, a moment later, the Interpol officer passes primly through the same doorway. Before Jane even realizes what she’s doing, she herself is moving across the bridge, propelled by worry for Ivy.

  Not missing a beat, Kiran moves with her. “Going somewhere?” she says, too suspicious, too interested.

  “Just for a walk,” Jane says, beginning to move down the stairs.

  “I’ll join you,” Kiran says, which is stating the obvious, since she’s practically glued to Jane’s side.

  “It’s not necessary.”

  “Isn’t it?” Kiran says in a menacing voice, then plunks her Pimm’s down onto the tray of a startled serving man who tries to give her a tiny meat pie. “Beautiful party,” she tells him with a serene smile, not pausing as she and Jane fly along. The dog thuds from step to step behind them, trying to keep up.

  From the ballroom, Jane and Kiran pass into the banquet hall, where guests congregate around mountains of food Jane barely notices, because she’s looking for the slightly balding head of the Interpol officer. Kiran grabs Jane’s wrist and pulls her into the kitchen, and there he is, striding past the stoves and the long wooden table. An uproar of catering people are preparing tiny English food. None of the regular house staff is present.

  “Kiran?” says Jane. “What are we doing?”

  The officer disappears into the kitchen’s deepest depths, where the dumbwaiter, the door to the back stairs, and the pantry are. Kiran follows him around the refrigerator and freezer, still gripping Jane’s wrist, not speaking, her heels clapping across the tile floor like gunshots. Jane feels like she’s on a Nantucket sleigh ride.

  As they reach him, the Interpol officer opens the door to the dumbwaiter carriage and sticks his head in.

  “That seems dangerous,” Kiran says to him cheerfully, letting Jane go. “We don’t want to be responsible for an injury to an Interpol officer. What if someone sent something down while your head was in there?”

  “Up, rather,” the officer says, extracting his head from the dumbwaiter doorway, shutting the door, and peering at Kiran and Jane suspiciously. “I can see the mechanism below. What’s down there? I heard the voice of a man speaking what may have been Bengali.”

  “Yes, I heard it too,” Kiran says. “That’s one of the servants, Patrick. Today’s Saturday. Saturdays are Patrick’s Bengali days.”

  “Bengali days?” says the officer dubiously. He’s a pale man with puckered lips, French-sounding, and speaks English with a deliberate distinctness, as if he’s determined to convey how much he hates speaking it.

  “To help him learn,” Kiran says. “Patrick has a gift for languages. On Wednesdays he speaks only German. Would you like to meet him?” she says brightly, taking hold of the handle on the back door. “We’re headed down to help him carry up some English sparkling wine.”

  “English wine,” says the man, looking mildly offended.

  “There’s a secret trapdoor in the wine cellar floor that leads to a genuine oubliette,” Kiran adds. “You might find that interesting, being French.”

  “I’m Belgian,” says the man stiffly. “And I can think of nothing more silly than an American oubliette in a building barely one hundred years old. This house is a theme park.”

  “You don’t want to see the oubliette, then?” says Kiran. “It’s super creepy.”

  With one last, affronted glance at Jane’s boots, the Interpol officer releases a breath of air and stalks from the kitchen.

  “Good riddance,” Kiran says once he’s gone.

  “Kiran?” says Jane. “Why did you chase away the Interpol man?”

  “This door is locked,” Ki
ran says, tugging at the back door. “Why would it be locked?”

  “Does Patrick really speak Bengali and German?”

  “He knows some bedroom Bengali,” Kiran says, distracted. The dumbwaiter is humming and squawking.

  Kiran yanks its door open.

  A man sits cross-legged inside, brown-skinned, with thick black hair, dressed in a fine black suit and gaping at Jane and Kiran in sheer amazement as he glides upward in the carriage.

  Kiran speaks a few words to him calmly in a language Jane doesn’t understand. The dumbwaiter continues its smooth upward climb and the man disappears from sight.

  “Did you know that guy?” Jane squeaks.

  “Never seen him before in my life,” Kiran says, closing the dumbwaiter door, “but that was the guy the Interpol officer thought he heard speaking Bengali in the wine cellars. Because he’s an interfering Belgian ignoramus who can’t tell Bengali from Arabic even though they’re nothing alike.”

  “You speak Arabic?”

  “It was one of my majors.”

  “What did you say to him?”

  “‘Have no fear,’” Kiran says. “‘Your cover isn’t blown.’”

  Jane is beginning to feel a little hysterical. “What’s that supposed to mean? Kiran, why would you say that to him if you don’t even know him?”

  Kiran shrugs. “It seemed the safest thing to say. I mean, think about it. If he’s a bad guy, we don’t want him to think we’re against him, right? And if he’s a good guy, then of course we’re not going to blow his cover.”

  “Kiran,” Jane says, enunciating each syllable. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

  “Listen,” Kiran says, “I don’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on in this house tonight, but I think you’re pretending to be more ignorant about it than you actually are and I don’t appreciate being lied to.”

  The dumbwaiter is making its noises again, and before Jane can contrive to stop her, Kiran swings the door open. The carriage, descending from above this time, passes by containing Patrick, who holds on one arm a toddler with curly dark hair, solemn dark eyes, and southern Italian looks. It’s Grace’s little brother Christopher Panzavecchia. Jane recognizes him from the news reports.

  “Hi!” Christopher cries cheerfully. Patrick, meanwhile, gapes at Kiran in dismay. In his other hand, he holds a gun.

  “Hi,” Jane says to Christopher, because, wide-eyed and delighted, he seems to be waiting for it.

  “I love you,” Patrick says to Kiran, almost as if it’s a question, as the carriage slowly glides past.

  “Go to hell, Patrick,” Kiran says, practically spitting.

  Once he’s gone, she slams the dumbwaiter door, holds on to the handle, and seethes. The groans of the mechanism fade away, then go silent.

  “Goddamn him,” Kiran says. “Goddamn him to hell. He loves me? He’s in my dumbwaiter with a gun and a Panzavecchia baby who’s wanted by the Sicilian Mafia and the New York State Police! Goddamn you, Patrick!”

  “Oh, god,” Jane says, because this is her fault. She’s the one who sprang off to follow the Interpol man while Kiran was growing increasingly suspicious beside her. She’s the reason Kiran’s seen what she’s just seen. “Oh, god.”

  “Oh, brace up,” Kiran says, clapping Jane on the shoulder.

  “Brace up?” Jane cries, incredulous.

  “I mean, really, it’s funny,” Kiran says. “Isn’t it funny? He invited me home. He wanted to confess something! Ha! Ha!” Kiran begins to gasp, then clasps her stomach and roars with laughter, until she’s wiping tears from her face with one pinky, trying not to disturb her mascara. “Oh, lordy,” she says, hiccupping. “At least now we know the Arabic man is a good guy.”

  “We do?”

  “Well, Patrick is a good guy,” Kiran says. “It follows that anyone else riding in the dumbwaiter is a good guy too.”

  “It does?” Jane cries in utter confusion.

  “I mean, I’m furious,” Kiran says, drawing herself up straight, dropping all traces of amusement. The dumbwaiter is humming and squeaking again. “I never want to see his face again. The things I’ve told Patrick, trusting him. And I was right; I always knew there was something off about him. But he’ll have a good reason to be in the dumbwaiter with that child and a gun.”

  “I—think he actually does,” Jane says weakly.

  The dumbwaiter stops rumbling. Kiran swings the door open. A folded piece of paper is propped inside the carriage with a message written on it. “KIRAN,” it says. “GET IN.”

  “Mrs. Vanders’s handwriting,” Kiran says, then begins to climb into the dumbwaiter carriage. “This feels like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Where do you suppose this is going?”

  “I don’t know,” Jane says. “The west attics? The servants’ wing? The oubliette?”

  “There’s no oubliette,” Kiran says. “I made that up to get rid of the snotty Interpol man.”

  “You’re awfully good at this,” Jane says a bit wildly.

  “Am I?” Kiran says, sitting there calmly in her crimson gown, clusters of diamonds sparkling in her ears and at her throat, her arms wrapped around her legs. “I guess it’s the first time I’ve had fun since I stepped back onto this goddamned island.”

  Someone somewhere along the track of the dumbwaiter pounds a wrench—maybe it’s a gun—against metal, twice. Kiran checks that her fingers and toes are completely inside the carriage, then knocks twice on one of the walls, impassively, as if everyone knows that’s what a person is meant to do in this situation. The carriage begins to rise.

  “Meet me above,” she says, “if you like. Unless you’ve got some secret mission you’re on too.” Then she’s gone.

  Jane is left in the kitchen, staring at the moving cables in the empty track of the dumbwaiter carriage, trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Is this why Aunt Magnolia became a spy? Because it was fun? How can Kiran see what she’s just seen, and laugh, and say it’s fun? Oh. Jane clutches her temples, wishing for a way to extract herself from all of this.

  Then Jasper leans heavily against her legs.

  “Well, Jasper,” she says. “I guess, whatever else happened, we succeeded in getting that Interpol man off Ivy’s tail. What do you say? Should we return to the party and see if we can undo any more of my damage?”

  Back in the ballroom, she finds the Arabic-speaking man from the dumbwaiter drinking Pimm’s and being charming with other party guests. She supposes he must be a good guy if Mrs. Vanders is letting him ride in the dumbwaiter, but she gives him a wide berth anyway. Passing into the receiving hall with Jasper, she spots a familiar form: Ji-hoon, the South Korean “cleaner,” who’s smoothed his hair handsomely back and donned dark-rimmed glasses and black formalwear. Jane almost doesn’t recognize him, he’s so polished and slick. He’s ascending the east staircase calmly, unhurriedly. He doesn’t see her.

  Abruptly, Jane turns for the west stairs and starts up them, moving as fast as she can without drawing undue attention. Why do I keep doing this? she asks herself, exasperated. Why do I keep involving myself! Jasper falls behind. Guests drift past now and then as she climbs, seeming to come from all wings of the house. Jane gathers that there must be a tradition, at these parties, of wandering the upper floors to look at the art. No wonder people can sneak all over the place without arousing suspicion.

  She’s huffing and puffing by the time she reaches the third floor. Stopping outside the door to the servants’ wing, she catches her breath, no idea what to do next. Assuming this is even Ji-hoon’s destination, she’s beaten him, but how will she stop him when he arrives? Start reciting poetry and hope he joins in? Ivy has warned her that he’s dangerous, he’s armed. Where is Jasper?

  Then the door to the servants’ wing swings open and Phoebe Okada steps out, her turquoise dress delightfully swishing, her eye makeup smoky and flawl

  “I’d love to know what you think you’re doing,” she says.

  “Phoebe,” Jane says. “Ji-hoon is coming.”

  Casually, Phoebe reaches under her skirt and extracts a gun. “Don’t give yourself an aneurysm,” she says. “We’re tracking him. You need to leave. This is no place for kids. You should go to your rooms and stay there.”

  The door opens again and Ivy sticks her head out. She grabs Jane’s arm and Jane says, “Wait,” irrationally, waiting for the dog, who then appears on cue, shouldering his way toward them, gasping for breath. Jane is impressed. He must have made a heroic effort on that last stretch of stairs.

  “Quick,” says Ivy, hustling Jane and Jasper into the servants’ wing.

  “Where are we going?” Jane asks.

  “Out of the way.”

  It’s a humiliating answer, coming from Ivy. I’m like Ravi, she thinks, when he was a child, “helping” the gala staff.

  “Is Mrs. Vanders mad about Kiran?” she asks.

  Ivy shoots Jane a cautious look, as if trying to gauge whether she’s friend or foe at the moment. “Mrs. Vanders has been going back and forth about telling Kiran the truth for some time now,” she says. “She thinks Kiran would be really good at our work.”

  “She would,” Jane says fervently.

  “Personally, I’m relieved she finally knows,” says Ivy. “It’s been hell being around my brother.”

  For a moment, a wave of dizziness fuzzes Jane’s brain. Ivy is shepherding her along quickly and it occurs to her that she’s been holding her breath. “Wait,” she says. “Can I have a second?”

  “Yes,” Ivy says with immediate concern. “Are you okay?”

  It’s impossible to breathe deeply and deliberately without thinking about a jellyfish. Jane tries to think of a dumbwaiter instead, her own internal dumbwaiter, air moving up, air moving down. Her body is a microcosm of this house. This corridor is a path toward . . . toward something. Toward the next step; toward however Jane will get through this night.


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