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Something Nasty in the Garden

Chapter Text

"...Save me from death, because I am loyal to you;

save me, for I am your servant and I trust in you -

Bethany Spencer, "Hellhounds"

… … …

 - I’m sorry, Jock dear. – Mortdecai’s voice is clear, noble, dignified, yet humbly apologetic for a reason. – No, really. I am. I didn’t… um, meant for it to have been turned that way. – He gives a dry chuckle and lowers the horribly dull and infinitely incomprehensible book masking as an art treatise by some German kunst-kenner he’s idly been leafing through for the better part of the hour, before going on. – You know, I thought they would’ve never laid a finger on you, for gracious heaven’s sake, what with ‘em being just ordinary art purveyors – with an egregious lack of moustache, at that (unlike yours-truly) – whose grazing rights, disagreeable as it may be, just prob’ly sort of crashed with those of another ordinary art purveyor’s, that is yours-truly’s. All in all, you’re a lucky gent, Jock, you are.

 - ‘Tis nothink, Misteh Charlie. Me alrigh’. Arrgh. Cooden’ feel worse if ‘tis were a bleedink lorry laden with coal driven over me head, not that guy’s brass-shod fist... Yeah, sir. Real alrigh’.

The one-eyed, one-fanged Jock’s answer is in a laconic low growl, the sound which soothes Mr. Mortdecai immensely, as always. When his faithful thug-cum-manservant-cum-bodyguard spoke like this, you could be certain he did mean what he said. Not that he ever didn’t mean what he said, but still.

Gracefully Mr. Mortdecai lifts the sparkling Bohemian-crystal wine glass to his lips once again (filled with an exquisite, rare vintage wine, as it is – for Mr. Mortdecai stubbornly holds that a bottle of wine isn’t worth drinking unless its value is at least equal to the monthly income of its purveyor). Slowly he sips at the blessed noble drink with a sort of pleasure only good news can bring (the news of Jock’s purportedly good state of health being precisely that sort of news, as it is). The bottle stands by his left side on a low coffee table, while the wine-drinker himself lounges in a soft, golden-colored, Empire-style sofa, which had at one time undoubtedly been at times occupied by some general or other of the old Little Corsican chap’s – or if not by him, then surely some general or other’s wife’s nobleman brother had sat thereupon – or if even this was not so, then some Corsican’s general’s wifey’s brother’s hound most probably used to warm his furry, fat rears upon this very thing, at best. Comical? Maybe, yet still antique all the same.

It is late in the evening – for sure Mr. Mortdecai never goes to bed so early as if he were still a common schoolboy; and taking into account that his own boarding school had certainly been the most common of its kind, never again would he give his consent to anything that even remotely reminded him of its timetable-training-order-shameless-bullying-whatever-bleedin’-else convention absurdities. Thus, instead of forcibly and brutally dragging himself to the old antique-furniture-stuffed bedroom, Mortdecai leisurely enjoys his customary glass of wine and watches the loyal Jock’s unsurpassed trouser-pressing techniques.

With a light buzz still ringing in the back of his skull from the concussion sustained earlier in the day, Jock raises his head from the ironing board. Right in front of him, on the opposite wall, over an intricate pattern of the light-green wallpapers, hangs one of his master’s prized possessions. A rather simple but extremely rare fin-de-siècle French painting, which presents a stark contrast to the endless range of those garish-passing-for-juicy abominations on the walls of seedy bars and brothels Jock has visited over the years. It is a conventional summer landscape – a rustic stone house, a flagstone pathway and flowerbeds in full bloom on both sides – all in pastel tones and delightful, breathtaking details. And, though to a more sophisticated audience it would certainly look too cutesy and mediocre, for the grim ex-con thug like Jock it was precisely this picture that had given him the first taste of real art back when he just started working for Mr. Charlie; the first simple yet clear sign and harbinger of another life – the life his master has lived, the genuine and wonderful one despite its naivety.

Jock looks at the picture in question as he often likes to do when finding himself in this particular room, taking in its fine details and soft hues in a sort of dreamy, melancholic contemplation. As always, the canvass enchants his hardened thuggish soul, if only briefly, and he mentally thanks the fate once again for having graced him with such a marvelous employer like Mr. Charlie. But then the light of a Tiffany chandelier overhead starts hurting his eyes – his one good eye, that is – and the painting’s features begin to blur and dance before his eyes, dimming his vision. Jock lowers his head and meticulously slides the iron up and down his master’s strictly-formal-black-silk-trousers, feeling the peal of the pain bells in his head once again, but heavier this time – or is it blood rushing through his more-‘en-likely damaged skull? He quickly thinks of the bandages covering his poor skull and wonders if there are any bloodstains visible. Not good if they are. Not good at all. Well yeah, the chap with that brass-armored fist was one hell of a nasty thing, he’d give ‘im that, however much Jock would wish for his master to remain in blissful ignorance – that is, to think the opposite.

Jock resolutely clenches his teeth and breathes though his nose, sweeping the feather-light iron over yet another, finest-woolen-dress-suit specimen of the Great Mortdecaian Trouser Collection. Probably, in the morning to come he will have to try an’ tell Misteh Charlie that he does need to go see a doc, after all. The main thing, he decides, is going be try not to worry Lady Mortdecai.

… … …

Chapter Text

"Man with the head and woman with the heart:

Man to command and woman to obey;

All else confusion".

Lord Tennyson, "The Princess"

... ... ...

<< POV Johanna >>

It was raining all that day long, and in the afternoon Charlie sneaked into the house trying, rather unsuccessfully, to go unnoticed – though I did pretend not to notice, for I have learned to know better when my husband was behaving like this. Only in the evening did he approach me, dressed at his very best, his trousers freshly ironed and his neckerchief tied just splendidly; an uncomfortably happy smile playing on his lips, mein Herzchen suggested he makes it up for my lonely day and takes me to one of our favorite clubs, just to unwind a little. To be honest, I wouldn’t say I’d been feeling very much lonely that day; in Charlie’s absence I visited a luxury cosmetic store in Old Bond Street with an acquaintance I’d made here in London, emptying several shelves full of nice makeup and perfume in the process, the only drawback being the lack of my husband’s servant to carry my bags back home. Still, Charlie’s immediate company is always the best I can wish for, and although I’m not very fond of such establishments as a whole, I agreed, wanting to make Charlie-dearest glad – I’m such a selfless wife, if only he knew that.

Outside, the weather became much milder than it’d been earlier in the day; the previously heavily-clouded sky had cleared, and countless tiny stars brightened its black-velvet expanse like twinkling diamonds. That fashionable little club was not very far from home, and we walked to it in the evening coolness, Charlie arrayed in a yet another elegant topcoat (his 76-th, purchased on a momentous occasion as always) and me wearing a light leather jacket over a dark-green, knee-length dress. Charlie was frowning all the way to the doors and smoking cigarette after cigarette.

– So how the day been then, Charlie mein Schatz ? – I carefully inquired, sensing his poorly-concealed nervousness with my sharp-honed (yet not having worked properly with Milton of all people) wifely instinct.

– Better than could’ve turned out, to think of it, - Charlie responded a tad crossly, inhaling his tobacco fumes with utmost concentration and frowning even deeper. – Remember darling, you told me to tread carefully when dealing with those guys? Well, as much as I may make a special effort to always be on my guard against the exalte, half-baked female advice, I must say I have indeed heeded your wise words with much consideration this time. We’ve got off relatively easy, if you may call it this.

He paused for another deep, long drag on his third or fourth lung-killer.

– It’s just that… It’s Jock I’m worried about. He’s kept stiff upper lip the whole skirmish throughout; really been on the ball. Such a great chap he is! I’ve no idea what I’d be doing without him. No success for a humble art dealer out here without a thug these days, you see.

He gave a dry laugh, his face generously enshrouded in thin bluish ribbons of smoke.

– But he’ll be all right, I think – he always is; huh, even swallowed the loss of an eye without a word of complaint.

He finally turned to look straight at me, took out a half-burnt cigarette (fourth or fifth one– I’ve lost the count by this moment) out of his mouth, and his frown gave way to a broad, yet somewhat forced smile.

– And you, my precious dearest treasured Johanna, have absolutely nothing to worry about. I’ve taken good care of that. And as for the tomorrow deal… It’s so much more promising that that stupid one was; I can assure you of this. This deal we’ll pull off just splendidly, have my word for it. Of course, if you, my caring darling, behave like a really good obedient wife and do give your Liebster  hubby carte blanche  this time. Will you?

To make him happy, I nodded.

To my relief, upon arrival I found the place to be nice and atmospheric. The public here were better-off than in Milton's usual haunts back in the Southern States, and the drinks were of much better quality than anything I’d sampled before. Reclining against a comfy leather backrest, I listened lazily to live jazz music being played on a small stage, all the while getting pleasantly drunk on a glass of some unknown but doubtlessly first-rate cocktail which I was slowly drinking, my head leaning onto my gracious husband's shoulder. Charlie for his part opted for a heady mixture of his own, which he has downed way swifter than me with my habitual uptight carefulness. But all the same, I loved it here: the place was friendly and very much cozy; but most of all, I loved being here with my husband, enjoying the gaze of his beautiful eyes the colour of the finest cognac, and the subtly fragrant notes of his favorite cologne as I leant down onto his neck.

– What do I see, Charlie mein Schätzchen, - I whispered when the alcohol had already begun taking its silent toll on me, - We’ve applied an eye-liner, haven’t we?..

I chuckled at the absurd yet strangely endearing thought that my husband would care to apply makeup to his eyes when preparing for a place like this.

– Only a touch of it, darling, – He chuckled back a bit shyly, squinting at me with one eye and gracefully arching a brow above the other. – Um, in fact I thought you’d like it.

To make him happy, I said that I did.

– What’d you say milady, care t' move a little? – Charlie quietly proposed hoping to change the theme without obvious discomfort, whispering into my ear with evident pleasure, his neatly trimmed moustache tickling my small lobe and diamond earring.

Well, if you please I could not help but nod eagerly – he's just so incredibly attractive like that – and let him lead me to a small dancing area, where several other couples were already swaying slowly. Enshrouded by thick tobacco fumes, I moved graciously, my movements a little slowed because of the drinks. Never have I danced with Charlie like that before – I haven't even had an idea that he could dance, but then he surely had to do some dancing at those grand balls at his school and at Oxford or wherever he’d studied. Yet his steps were careful and precise, and I quickly got into the leisurely rhythm, enjoying my husband's hands on my shoulder and hip, his dark eyes' oily glimmer in the smoky shades; a wave of tenderness suddenly welled up inside me.

– Charlie dearest, – I whispered into his ear as we continued to sway gently in a crude yet enjoyable imitation of waltz. – Charlie mein Liebling... D'you have an idea how much you mean to me?..

I smiled inebriously, pressing even closer to him, unheeding of what others may think – the local public, it seemed, wasn't a particularly prim one, after all. Fortified by the consumed alcohol, I slid my tongue into my beloved's harsh-liquor-and-cigarette-tasting mouth, deeply kissing him even as we moved, our bodies comfortably pressed together, and waiting for an answer. I knew he would answer; I hold such a deliciously firm command on him that any wish which may arise in me is his duty to accomplish, I have only to wait a little, and he will be all mine – so eager to please his wife, so unlike that stupid, unbearable, hateful Milton with his dull face of a fucked-up attorney.

The longer we moved like that, the wilder and more impatient I was becoming. Finally I sensed like I could restrain myself no more. I grabbed my husband's silken sleeve and decisively pulled the startled Charlie towards the restrooms. Once inside, I locked the heavy wooden door and firmly pressed the man to the tiled wall, my body trembling in anticipation.

– Take me here, Charlie dearest, – I demanded, my voice low and husky with arousal. – Right here. Now!!! – I growled, swiftly unbuckling Charlie’s belt.

– You such a dominatrix today, are you?.. Why, with great pleasure, - He growled quietly, bringing me close to him and drunkenly biting into my tender, tasty lips, his sweaty moustache brushing against my upper lip (how could I even gag at the feel of it before?) as he slammed hard into my delicious flesh. My eyes rolled back; it was not long before I felt that special fiery explosion going off inside me. Then he swiftly brought me to my knees, in trying to bring me into what he dubs as “melting, wifely submission”, and this time – due to the spirits consumed, I believe – I was quite eager to comply. Quickly and artfully I performed what mein Süßer no doubt expected me to; and mind you, being dominated felt almost as great as to actually dominate; for my heated body at least. Such nooks do make one act incredibly horny.

After this unexpectedly, unusually wild session, I washed my face over a sink, and tired yet immensely pleased, we returned to our place near the bar. As an award Charlie ordered “his diligent wifey” a generous round of her – mine – favorite cocktail, quite popular with the locals – Campari-on-ice or something, which I promptly downed.

– We'll continue at home, if you’d like, – Charlie whispered as if in passing, lightly grazing my tender neck and playing with my tousled fair hair which I was painstakingly trying to comb back to normal. – Ah my dear Johanna, you’re as tender as a rose, you’re… “‘E'en the most gifted bard's rhyme can only sing but to the lack of her and all she isn't !” [1]

I laughed contentedly, brushing my hand through his gelled-up hair and reclining against his broad shoulder, enjoying his strength and his – as well as my own – persuasiveness which has served both of us so nicely. I did like this place very much, with its clouds of bluish smoke and jazz music slowly pouring from the small scene, and everything. I must say I do love such a lifestyle – Charlie's lifestyle – so much. All in all, I was awfully glad to have become his faithful companion, to have joined this man at a time when he needed it most; but I guess I’m getting sentimental. I emptied another glass of the bright-orange Campari, listening to the ice cubes rattling merrily inside it, and smiled at my own thoughts.

Finally we exited the crowded club, heading in the direction of our home. Our footfalls echoed hollowly on the rain-slicked flagstone pavement, accompanied by the loud clanking of Charlie’s cherrywood walking stick. Fresh night breeze sobered me up, and as soon as we were inside Charlie grabbed me into his arms, grinning happily.

– Mark me word, love: you ain't going to sleep for a long time... – He promised, his hands roaming up and down my body as he decisively pulled my clothes off. I laughed, knowing he adored the way I laugh.

Du mein süßes, leckeres Stück Sachertorte, – I teased him, undoing his deliciously silken patterned aquamarine kerchief, in that horny voice I know he adores so much, I’ve took great pains to have taught him adore it. The man did hold his promise, alright. Having once been one of the best cartographers with the Royal Military Survey, Charlie is able to read a woman’s body as well as any map and strike just the right spot to make her melt and shudder.

To cut a long yet passionate story short (for sure you’re good, decent, satisfied readers and don’t hungrily gobble up the specific details of others’ happily married life, do you?), only as the golden waves of dawn seeped into the spacious bedroom from the window did I fall asleep, completely – yet pleasantly – wrung out from what was doubtlessly one of the coolest marital duties in my whole life. Then, after several hours of blissful sleep, I woke up to the sound of the phone and the cold legitimately reigning in our room (the fireplace had burnt out, you see). Charlie woke too, stirring beside me.

– Hey Johanna… Joe dearest… - He muttered sleepily, his forehead still resting firmly and cozily atop my breasts, thus preventing me from breathing freely. – Mmm, don’t go, stay here with me… like that… “Heart on your lips, and soul within your eyes, Soft as your clime, and sunny as your skies…” [2] – He muttered some stanzas against my left breast, his customary sophistication not leaving him even in the clutches of semi-sleep. Then he mumbled something else, something inscrutable either in French or Italian; though I’d really tried to learn both these languages a century ago (don’t even remember for what reason exactly), now they’d have surely stood me in good stead if only I could’ve make out what Charlie-dearest was trying to convey, which sadly I could not; besides, he can’t speak any German or Spanish, which at that moment denied me the last chance to understand him. Thus I decided it’d be better if I’d collect all my remaining strength and willpower and answer the nagging call.

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Chapter Text

Up in the morning’s no for me,

Up in the morning early;

When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw,

I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

Robert Burns, “Up in the Morning Early” 

… … …

<< POV Mortdecai >>

The phone rang jovially, thereby roughly forcing me out of my personal Garden of Eden which all consisted of sweet dreams and the feel of Johanna’s luscious body underneath me. Quite frankly, I was in no condition to answer any unwanted calls, much less in the immediate morning. But despite the drowsiness which still clung stubbornly to my grey matter, I knew at once who that must not be: those shady guys intent on using the crafty, talented people like yours truly as cannonmeat for some shady mission or other, so as not to dirty their own well-groomed, manicured hands in the process, as you may understand. Such folk never speak to you over the home phone and likewise never elucidate on their exact ultimate intentions; but for some reason, what they want (or seem to want) the poor Mortdecai to do just sort of always resists all common sense. I must believe you’ve already guessed, dear reader, that I, the Hon. Lord C. Mortdecai, have no particular desire whatever to put at risk any part, however diminutive, of my not-that-young and less-than-ideal body, for any others’ sake. God forbid. (Johanna might be an exception, in fact).

By the way, upon seeing me waking up Johanna reacted at once, for a while ignoring the stubborn phone.

Charlie-mein-Liebling, – she exclaimed passionately enough, instantly taking me prisoner into her graceful arms and forcing an elaborate sky-blue porcelain vase by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons to clank plaintively on a coffee table with the sheer volume of her exalted voice.

– Grmblmgrlmohrning, – I replied with all the honesty I was able to muster. It’s just simply impossible to stop a woman from professing her love of (or desire for) you these days, especially when you're lounging in your lawful marital bed like this, “imparadis'd in one another's arms” [3].

– Answer that call my love, will you, – I pleaded, burying my head in the welcoming pillow.

She complied, grabbing the receiver and listening attentively. I couldn’t help but to stifle a nervous chuckle. Maybe my wife was just about to be introduced to yet another of Jock’s girlfriends hoping to blackmail us by declaring she’d got knocked up – for you see, such incidents did occur over time – but then Johanna covered the handset with her elegant palm and whispered in urgent notes, “Mo - ther”. All remnants of sleep left me that instant.

– Oh - ah, – Was my only reaction (the most eloquent one, on consideration).

If you promise me to remain good readers and don’t tell Johanna (will you, darlings?), I’ll admit that I have always been a tad afraid of the notorious gryphon – sorry, Gräfin – sorry, Countess Whatsername – that is, my dear Johanna’s mum and a steadfast Krampf-, as well as Mortdecai-hater.

– Well, what did she want this time? – I asked as soon as Joe finished her amiable chirping. - Vexed the fact of how much you lost by having rejected a German lord she’d found for you, once again?

– Not at all, Charlie-darling. Just said she prays for me every might, and besides advised me to use three blankets at night instead of one, as always – it may get so terribly freezing in England, she’s afraid.

– Oh, – was what I answered.

Luckily, I was spared from further mental discomfort. As if on cue, Jock's impressive bulk entered our bedroom with the breakfast trays, and the air became pleasantly saturated with delightful scents of the good old English full breakfast for me, and a Viennese one for Johanna. (It should be noted that since our marriage Jock has been making a really great effort learning how to cook all things Austrian, though the quality of his Wiener Schnitzel still leaves much to be desired, as well as that special spice-laden Mexican dishes Johanna had developed quite a liking for back in the States).

– Mohrnink, Misteh Charlie, Ma’am Johanna. Your breakfast. – He deftly put the trays in our bed and stepped politely back, hesitating. - Um, eh, Misteh Charlie, I was just wonderink… um, you know… That’s regardink me head, see.

– Holy shit, Jock. What’s this about your head? – I grumbled sleepily, but already coherently, noticing only now that the head in question was still wrapped in slightly soiled bandages. To quell the gently but insistently pounding post-cocktail headache of my own, I hungrily knocked back a glass of my trusted morning medicine – Jock’s trademark B-an'-S (naturally the one without soda, the most potent one).

– Um, I mean, I got it hurt the other day, didden’ I, Sir? Um, wait, yesterday reelly. See, ‘tis must be somethink serious if memory starts failink me already, ain’ it Sir?...

I heard Johanna gasp barely audibly. There was, I presumed, genuine panic I heard in Jock’s voice, after all. At first I’d been careful not to believe him at once: despite being one of the best, loyalest menservants one can indeed wish and pray for, Jock is prone not only to outbursts of savagery, but also to exaggerating his problems and whining just like most other specimens of this folk, however.

– Hell, but you did remember not  to put any soda in my brandy, right?

– Yeah, Misteh Charlie. That’s an ist-, an instink of mine.

– Very well, Jock, – I mumbled again, stirring in my downy bedcovers (without so much as caring to throw my blue-green silken Schlafrock over my white linen pajamas) and getting at my breakfast with all the appetite of a man who had slept blissfully for the past eight hours. – I mean, it’s not very well that your memory fails you, and not even that your head must be hurting like hell, but that’s just how the saying goes.

I sent into my mouth a hearty bite of my fluffy omelet with bacon and looked at the looming Jock once more.

– I think I’ll take you to some good hospital I know; I don’t presume it’s anything serious, but the cost of the visit will be on me, as well as any medicine you may need. For you see, I highly appreciate your valiant attempts at defending my worthless life, Jock dear.

– Thank you, Sir. Thank you much.

I think I discerned tears of gratitude in his eyes – both in his good, sordid-blue right one and the clear-blue, glass left one.

– Yes, yes, – I repeated hastily, gobbling up what still remained ungobbled of my breakfast (beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, pudding, toast). – I’ll go with you. Now if only you would be so kind as to let me gobb- finish my breakfast and please get lost, Jock. – I pointedly motioned my hand.

He please did and got lost. Always knows my wishes. An ideal manservant if there ever was one, is my solid Jock.

– Charlie-Charlie-Charlie, – Johanna cooed with evident urgency, daintily destroying her crispy bread-roll with jam. – Please don’t you take too much time at the hospital, will you? We should be getting you ready for your Italy flight, remember.

– Sure thing, – I croaked, searching the recesses of Mortdecai’s memory for a German word or two, wishing to please my lawful wife. – Du hast Recht, meine Liebe.

As I devoured my hearty breakfast, I thought about the forthcoming events. My plans for the day included an immensely (hopefully) profitable deal with one Count Cavagnari (a nice Parmese chap I’d arranged to meet at noon in the Chez Maurice French restaurant round the corner), involving an expensive Rachel Ruysh still-life and a valuable watercolor by a highly talented yet equally unprolific British landscape painter I was going to offer the Count as a bonus for that beautiful still (the one with the dragonfly – maybe you’ll remember it). Frankly, I didn’t intend the bargain to concern only that 18th-century canvass plus a later Victorian piece. In fact, I hoped to eventually make the guy my trusted companion back there in his homeland. “In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”, Ecclesiastes 1:18 once happened to say. But however fully would Charlie Mortdecai agree with the wise king of the ancient times, it was many years ago than he realized one simple thing: all this sorrow – I mean, this knowledge – you can always use for your own benefit; and very nicely, at that. Thus what precisely I had in mind with regard to this particular case was the prospect of traveling there, to Italy, in person for a couple weeks. Striking up new acquaintances in the land of the great masters promised to turn as useful as it ever gets. Hopefully, there would be no Anti-Mortdecai Plot in the making which would call for an immediate presence of either Jock or Johanna, or their joint presence at worst.

When Jock returned to collect our trays, I addressed him straightforwardly.

– You know what, Jock. Regarding our journey… I think we’ll need to invent you a nom de guerre. That is, an alias. Just in case. How d’you like “Bellini”?

Jock gave it a diligent thought.

– Um, that’s one of ‘em panter  fellas, eh?

– Exactly. It’s just that, you know, I hold special feelings for Bellini. The very first canvass yours-truly has sold for much profit was by one of his students, you see.

Jock rolled his good right eye in vexation – a rather uncanny sight even for the Hon. C. Mortdecai, an Oxford graduate and Household aide-de-camp, I can assure you.

– Um, but eh, Misteh Charlie, surely I don’ look all that much Italian?

– Ah, – I replied, disappointed. – No, you don’t.

– That’s the think. Who’s gonna believe a fella callin’ himself Bel-lee-ney an’ lookin' common Cockney? In fact, I’d had in mind, um, James.

– What? James, like in, Jesse James?

– Exactly, sir. It’s that, you see, I hold special feehlinks for the guy. Was, like, me greatest idol back at Hoxton first time I did there, the place they made me paint ‘em walls at.

I only rolled my (two) eyes in reply.

Jock only grinned at me, thereby forcing me to behold the bulwark of his large, gapped crockery, and however eerie, this smile reassured me somewhat – it’s not like he smiles often, you see, especially like this.

With Jock, things are generally as simple as it gets: I am able to read my servant like an open book consisting of only several pages, him being a man who requires only simple mundane things like food and pleasures of the flesh, which I – my purse, I mean – is more than glad to give him. But I, Charlie Mortdecai, am entirely different, for despite my somewhat bitter personality (not my own words), I am a nobleman first and foremost, my requirements of the earthly existence far more refined and elaborate.

– Very well, Jock. Let it be James, anything you wish. Just please don’t forget: I’m taking you to the hospital in an hour. And may I hope you won’t take that little shank, or shiv, or whatever you jailbirds call it, to play with in the waiting room, will you?

– Jammer, you sure meant. I won’t, Misteh Charlie. Promise.

I let out a sigh of relief.

… … …

Chapter Text

A-breakin' rocks in the hot sun.
I fought the law, and the law won.

Sonny Curtis, "I fought The Law"

... ... ...

<< POV Jock >>

Been in quite a bad mood in the morning. See, this damn head injury made me sleep little an’ fretfully, groaning with a dull nagging pain.

An’ when I did manage to sleep, I had real nasty dreams.

One nasty dream, to be precise. One that been rollin’ in me poor brain in a constant dirty loop, again and again.

Just an ol’ mental trauma generously served by me bloody memory, to go with the fresh physical one. It wooden’ leave me mind even after I woke up. Suppose I’d burnt Misteh Charlie’s omelet in the process, what a shame.

It happened a dozen years ago, I do recall correctly and vividly. Been grabbed by them bobbies after one certain job you need no details of; done some fairly unhandy bloke in, not very smoothly though. Well, they clearly thought I wasn’t alone, wanted to know who’d been in the job along with me.

Maybe you heard a little of how they actually get this sort of info out of you, down there at those dens. They hang you up by the handcuffs on a door or a desk and then just bluntly attack your actual kidneys with ‘em bludgeons till you start to piss blood.

With me, they were slightly more creative: hung me up to the ceiling by me thumbs before leisurely gettin’ at me kidneys. One hell of an exquisite pain, indeed.

I remained silent throughout that little amusement, however. Bit my lips reelly hard, got all drenched with sweat, but didden’ breathe a word.

An hour later, they grew tired. And naturally aggravated. You see, they still thought I had the info they wanted.

I told ‘em that I didden’. They believed me not.

Then here comes their boss – a youngish, well-groomed and clean-shaven officer with his badge shining brightly. Looks at me hanging stubbornly by me hands an’ demands his men be workin’ more diligently on me.

And then that short, lean, wiry bobbie comes sprightly up and says somethink like, maybe we need to hang the guy the other way round an’ give ‘is actual balls some beating, and see what he’s gonna tell. I realize straight away I wooden’ hold for long through this  one; surely I’d give up at the third strike at most. For that’s a real powerful way of forcing you speak; ain’t exaggerating in the least, believe me.

Their boss has what he thinks is a better idea, though. He says in his calm, matter-of-factly voice that there’s an empty wine bottle left in the adjacent room after a little carouse the previous day, and so let us use this  instead.

The guy who’d dreamed of ruining me balls liked this suggestion at once. Was him who volunteered to give it a try. The bottle brought in, he chains me to the desk, rips me pants down and slams the thing up me actual bum.

That is as gross and foul a method as the balls-beating; I’m sure I’d cry and break eventually, but for some reason I knew only later, the bobbie whammed his makeshift weapon into me with much less force than I’d expected. All the while watching me rather intently – I had an unnerving idea he’d grown an uncannily queer interest in me groin area, in fact.

Anyway, I withstood that new torture, didden’ tell ‘em narthink and consequently been dragged to languish in a dirty cell till the next morning when me captors would come up with whatever else they’d like to do with me.

It was night time; I was heating the lower bunk drowsy and alone, when I heard the clank of the lock and the screech of the rusty barred cell-door being opened. There stood a sharp silhouette against the background of a narrow, dimly-lit corridor. Quietly the man slid inside, and at once I recognized the guy who’d gotten at me earlier in the day with the bloody wine bottle.

I jumped up to fight him off, moaned with sharp pain that flared up in me kidneys, lost what advantage I might’ve had.

He swiftly handcuffed me and in a quick motion pressed me back into the thin fleatrap, shackling my cuffs to a metal crossbar over me head. Then he climbed into the bunk, seating himself onto me legs so as to prevent me from kicking ‘im hard. Brought his blackjack to me dried lips, promising in a hushed hiss to knock out me teeth should I utter a cry.

He undid me pants and lowered ‘em boxers, grinning in a reelly disgusting way at me slack engine. Then he pulled up me soiled shirt and cast a long satisfied look at me well-built muscles, clearly admiring the view.

I remember him licking his moistened lips, telling me I have the dick of a fuckin’ steed, asking me how many whores I'd had, and calling me some rather dirty words.

He sat there leering down at me, that fucking lousy queer in the bobbie uniform, his face so very smug and aroused I wanted with all me heart to brutally destroy it that instant, with me bare well-trained fists if not with me by then confiscated knife.

And what happened then I cooden’ describe even if forced to. An actual hell it was, in a word. The guy just got at me and screwed me hard. Every time this particular memory comes to me again I try with all me might to push it back, to quell it forever, but it just wooden’ go.

I’ll be frank with you: I felt so fucking ashamed; I thought I would up and die of that shame.

Well, in the end I killed ‘im, surely. After I'd ridden me whole bang an’ they let me out of jail, six years later. How on earth could I let the fucker live?!

What I did was I stalked ‘im one day down a dark, deserted alleyway of some quiet industrial area, me faithful old Luger in hand. Then I just put a nice large bullet right into ‘is actual pelvis.

You shoulda heard that bugger cry. And weep. And wail. Truly enjoyable sounds.

He took three whole hours to finally kick the bleedin’ bucket, me thinks. Or maybe four – a long enough time, in a word. Anyway, it was a great  pleasure for me eyes to behold.

Oh, and in the meantime I did brutally destroy ‘is ugly mug. Just like I’d desperately wished back then, half a dozen years ago.

He pleaded with me to finish ‘is worthless queer life with another shot, in his head.

But in no way could I have tempered me justice with such mercy. The fella was too very mean for that. I just stood there an’ waited patiently till the bastard ceased all movement, unaided.

Ne’er again will he screw anyone with narthink, won’t the fucker. Ne’er is he gonna jolly tell ‘is buddies just how nicely he done me back at that dingy backstreet station cell.

For sure dead guys ain’t tell no tales, do they?

But yer know what, mates. ‘Twas Inspector Martland  behind all that.

Yeah, you heard me right.

‘Twas him  who caught me after that small job of mine, who brought me in that bloody torture chamber. Why, stood right there an’ watched me bein’ abused by his boys, did our Martland. He didden’ use to be as secretive then as nowadays, ya see.

But what’s most important is that should he wish for it, he’d gladly tell us a tale or two.

Yeah bruvvers. That stinkin’ high-rank Gestapo-style swine hoped I’d break down like a common pussy an’ readily speak me piece.

Me hadn’t. Not once in me whole half-dozen-year time at that max-sec jail did I let anyone lay a finger on Jock Strapp again. Nah, dear guys. I fought, I maimed, I screwed, I struck alliances, I did make ‘em inmates respect and fear me.

Later, when I started working for Misteh Charlie (a real shame I must mention this most honorable man in such an abominable conteks), I made sure straight away he never got to know what had passed one day between the fucker Martland and me. I just dunno how I’d have gone on livin’ me life should His Lordship ever learn a word about that.

But now it seems that Martland is weaving somethink against Misteh Charlie again. I say, I cannot let ‘im get ‘is way. If ya guys think Jock Strapp is a bloody beast, please consider Inspector Martland instead. That’s  who’s a truly cruel, dangerous beast. No one could attest to it better than me.

And I know this die-hard fucked-up bobbie won’t stop at nahthink to get what he so wants.

Misteh Charlie needs my full protection. I’m here to provide it, at whatever cost. Will take any number of bullets for ‘im. Will even die for ‘im, should the need arise. Gladly.

But first, I’ll make sure to take Martland to the eternal darkness with me. Will see to it that he is finished slow and clean, just as he’d prefer.

I, Jock Strapp, swear: I reelly  will.

... ... ...

Chapter Text

Hey Joe, say now where you gonna run to now?
Where you gonna run to?
Hey Joe, I said where you gonna run to now?
Where you, where you gonna go?

Well, dig it
I’m goin’ way down south,
Way down to Mexico way alright
I’m goin’ way down south,
Way down where I can be free
Ain’t no one gonna find me.

Jimi Hendrix, “Hey Joe”

… … …

<< POV Johanna >>

After a brief lunch – two English porcelain cups of strong, fragrant Fortnum & Mason’s “Earl Grey” accompanied by Scottish buttery shortbreads and raspberry-crème cupcakes – Charlie strides leisurely into my impeccably-furnished bedroom, which he’s often prone to do at this time of day, and instantly takes advantage of the welcoming softness of my ornate-carved mahogany chaise lounge. I put away a slightly creased last-month issue of the “Country Life” I’ve been leafing through prior to husband’s arrival, and eagerly snuggle close to him, my hands quickly sliding over the velvety upholstery to rest on the soft fabric of Charlie’s cotton shirt.

The last hour has come before he leaves the house to go about his scheduled matters – first taking our incredibly brave servant Jocky to hospital to tend to his injury, then off to carry the Cavagnari-centered negotiation (I mean of course that Count Adolpho or something which makes endeavors to get, by means of my husband’s assistance, another masterpiece or two for his private collection); and, finally, to hit the road – the airline, to be precise – to the mellow, glorious land of Italy.

With adjusted, habitual movements husband takes out his silver, finely-engraved cigarette-case, clutches a thin cigarette between his teeth, brings to it his daintily-wrought lighter, strikes the wheel, and greedily draws in his habitual portion of strong Argentinean tobacco. In a matter of minutes, the room will be filled with bluish fumes; yet in fact, never once have I objected to this certain habit of hubby’s. Then again, the late hateful bugger Milton Quintus Krampf Jr. was an even heavier smoker, used to smoke like hours on end, especially in my presence (and I think this was no coincidence). Now that  was decidedly unbearable. In all certainty, Charlie would never in a million years hope to rival that bastard, however much he would try.

Anyway, a moment later Charlie’s head becomes enveloped in the waves of transparent smoke lazily rising up into the high coffered ceiling. Despite his outward calmness, my husband seems just as nervous and tense as he was yesterday, on our way to the nightclub. He sits on the edge of the lounge deep in thought, sulking and looking at some unknown point straight in front of him, as if beyond the curly ringlets of smoke he were able to make out something visible only to him.

At once I have this special feeling that I am kind of poignantly desirous of soothing and caressing him. In a smooth and easy motion, I press up to him, putting my arms round his drooping shoulders. This somewhat enlivens my silent spouse; discarding the smoldering cigarette in the heavy crystal ashtray on his night-table, Charlie hugs me back, smiling slightly from under his moustache.

I close my eyes in silent delight when Charlie’s curled-up, elegantly trimmed facial hair lightly yet persistently scratches my upper lip, and his hands come to firmly rest on my shoulders. It’s always like that at such moments, when he gets down to kissing me ever so deeply and earnestly. His soft kiss tastes of good freshly-drunk whiskey and expensive tobacco, and my face becomes enwrapped in the pleasant, delicate citrus-and-woody scent of his cologne which I would gladly keep on inhaling again and again.

My fingers brush against his gently smoothed, slicked-back hair. This has a curious, lovely effect of Charlie pulling back slightly, looking at me in his usual manner – with a sly squint of one eye and the other’s eyebrow uplifted in mild surprise. His formerly dull eyes acquire this special radiance which is typical of them when I’m around. For whatever reason these moist, shiny eyes of his, boasting the tint of dark noble cognac, always bring me into a barely suppressed carnal frenzy, right since that stifling New-Mexican day when I got to behold him for the very first time. Now I do realize that was just one lucky break, all down to being in the right place at the right time... I don’t know what came over me then: whether I fell under the spell of Charlie’s roguish, middle-aged charm together with poorly disguised vulnerability (yes, men do have their fair share of it all right), or just desperately wished to escape the stuffy confines of my wretched life with fat bastard Milton. What I am  sure of is as follows: on that same day I did make a choice definitely not to be regretted.

Up close, as of now, I am able to discern small wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and on his forehead: he is aging, is Charlie-sweetheart – quite naturally, and nothing to be done about this; and still he does remain in his prime, such a truly dashing, terribly attractive man... So much so that, despite permitting myself to be fairly aware that I am his one true love, I do worry for him when he has to travel on business, for fear that he may become baffled and seduced by some wily, addicting, unscrupulous female or other, the one that knows absolutely no bounds of getting around them males.

I glide my caring hand over Charlie’s freshly shaven cheek. The feel of my golden rings cool his skin and he startles with pleasure, shivering barely discernibly, but I catch his right hand with a gold-and-sapphire ring on his little finger, which he’s been clearly intending to run through my hair, and bring it up to my lips, kissing it in gratitude. Heated words flash through my mind, words that I want to say out loud so much, but find it difficult to say them, only to feel... To-be-with-you is the-greatest-pleasure, Charlie; I’ve-learned-so-much from you, Lord Mortdecai; you opened a-new-world-for-me, darling; you showed me its beauty and richness... Don’t-go-away, I-beg-of-you, Charlie, not now; stay-with-me-for-longer, let-me-be-with-you for some more time... All this silly sentimental stuff, in a word. You see, he does  unwittingly make me feel sentimental. How do I adore him, despite everything including this. After all, what Milton ever did to me was make me feel utterly repulsed.

Have I said this out loud?.. I seem to, for Charlie obeys; what a strong power over him do I hold if he’s so very willing to do anything just to remain with me... I turn my gentle hand to his silken neckerchief and upper shirt-buttons, and with a slight rustle the starchy-white shirt slides from his shoulders, offering my hungry eyes the sight of an old wartime scar above his left collarbone. I lower my head and softly slide my lips over it, forcing a sharp gasp of pleasure off husband’s lips. He flashes me a shy, childlike smile, exposing a narrow gap between his upper front teeth, and presses his dry lips to my forehead.

– I’m sorry, my dear... not now... Got to go... – He whispers in an urgent, hoarse, jerky hiss.

But I perfectly sense that the desire welling inside him is fiercely battling with duty right now and is just about to win... A bit more time – and he is all mine, slice him wherever you wish... Just a little time...

Suddenly Charlie pulls away, guiltily averting his sparkly eyes, and with an expression of innocent modesty dives in his waistcoat pocket – his hand is trembling barely perceptibly, but for me not a single slightest movement of my other half’s ever goes unnoticed, however much he may try to conceal it. He retrieves his engraved stainless-steel flask, quickly unscrews the lid and takes a long convulsive swig, then another one, all the while still trying (rather in vain) to awkwardly avoid my gaze.

– Oh you my blue-blooded alcoholic... – I grin teasingly, trying my best to cheer him up. – Just what on earth have you got in there: cognac, brandy? Do please kiss me, Charlie mein Schatzi. Pleeease. I’m so in love with you each time you smell of brandy...

You see, prior to meeting Charlie and falling in love with him I drank almost no spirits myself: that greasy fucker Milton was definitely enough to give me splitting headaches. But with my current husband, that’s another kettle of fish, another pair of shoes, a horse of a different color – quite another thing, in brief.

My dear Charlie utters a chuckle, but otherwise remains silent. I can see his Adam’s apple tremble, as if he’s going to speak, yet still my husband doesn’t say a word. His countenance darkens abruptly; he turns sharply away and hides his face in his palms. A few moments later words finally escape his lips yet – not a drop of his usual endearing irony in them; he is trying to remain stern and dead serious.

This? Of course that’s port, darling! Yeah, I may drink a little, but what’s in it for you? – Charlie feigns umbrage. – Pray, do tell what sinful atrocities there are kept in an honest glass of some fine liquor?! I’ve told you countless times that I’m not  an alcoholic; I much prefer to be addressed as a drunk: please do keep this in mind. And for your further consideration, I’m not much of a smoker, either.

– Of course  you are not, – I eagerly reply, thereby performing my humble selfless task whose nature you may already guess: making him happy. Why, I’m entitled to it given the obvious fact of being his woman and belonging to him by random choice of my own free will.

Husband chuckles mirthlessly, then suddenly changes the topic of discussion.

– Joe... my dear, my sweet... you know what... The matter is, I have to be there sort of not just on my own behalf. You, as my beloved wife, have a right to know… Suppose I may be unlikely to return. I know, I know, an utterly preposterous thought, but that’s how I feel, make no bones of it… Even if Jock... erm, even if he’s around, I may have no chance. Not one. And there’s no way back... If I don’t make it, I’ll simply...

Just as abruptly he stops short, and I regard my husband skeptically.

– You always  say something along these lines when going on a journey, like it’s one sick custom of yours. Why being so pessimistic?! Listen Charlie-sweetie, did someone force you to become an art dealer in the first place, or what?

In actual fact, I think it’s not inopportune to remark that he is  rather strong, is my Charlie – mentally no less than physically. Proofs? After having kept his lips sealed on the matter for quite a long time, he had once admitted, however uncomfortably, to have been tortured several times because of his alleged underworld connections. On one of our especially blissful nights he openly and candidly recounted, in a fit of what I may call conjugal sincerity, how they actually tortured him - Alistair Martland with his electric battery and the States cops with their blackjacks and all the other guys, and what he felt at those moments and how cruel it was – though each time he did manage to get fairly out and about, did my dear Charlie. He told me everything, and I was immensely impressed at and proud of his exemplary endurance.

But, my dears, if there is  one lesson that getting a whiff of the luxurious lifestyle – that is, being a lawful member of the upper crust – may teach you, it’s this: You simply can’t have it all, and one must indeed pay dearly to live a classy life. No doubt all those occasions made Charlie a hardened, debonair, somewhat bitter person, a man committed to slightly outdated ways of living and playing in the underground art world, forever certain that there’s always something up his starched sleeve yet still very smart and refined. Light-headed and careless at times, he’s been in a strong need of a faithful other half, which is what I, Lady Mortdecai priding myself on my prudence and inner strength, am here for. But then again, his tendency to sell for outrageous amounts of cash the paintings that aren’t supposed to be sold (mostly infamous classics supposed to be safely stored in museums) frequently gets him in trouble and requires the selfless services of Jocky who’s always ready to help my husband fight or shoot his way out of a scrape, either at home or globetrotting. In fact, when circumstances call for it, I  am fully ready to jump in and save the day as well – if I feel like brave enough, that is.

Back to the current moment, though.

Charlie pulls out a brightly-colored, lavender-scented handkerchief, sloppily wipes his lips with it and casually hides the soft patterned piece of cloth back inside. There follows a small ivory comb with which my man usually brings his mustache in order. But as Charlie raises his hand to trim and smooth them, he suddenly changes his mind. Again he turns to me, his eyes gleaming playfully.

– Jolly-good, so be it dear Joe. Whatever his gorgeous wifey-dearest wishes, must Charlie-sweetheart perform, must he not? Ah, to hell with them all... Now I take it you’re about to assure me I’m going to like it  very much – but first let the Lord Mortdecai humbly graze on your lovely juicy pastures, will you m’lady? C’mere love, let’s begin...

And we begin; and I like the beginning. I’m sure dear readers will believe me if I tell them the details to follow are none the worse. I am overjoyed, though careful enough not to show it: yet again have I won our little marriage game. Husband happily draws me to him, gives me a tight hug – and there comes ein hitziger Zungerkuss. He kisses me way more deeply than before, greedily claiming my lips with his as if he were an exhausted, thirsty desert wanderer swallowing drops of cold water. His facial hair’s persistent rubbing slightly irritates my skin, but I don’t give a damn at the moment: enjoying the power of his hot, decisive passion makes me forget everything else.

Ah, to remember that, cross with my husband for valuing this same quirky, forever groomed and showed-off mustache more than his actual wife, I would refuse to even sleep or eat in the same room with him. It became a recurring theme with us clashing at nearly every turn; and how very ludicrous it seems right now! After he’d gladly proposed to shave his treasured ‘stache off for my actual sake, I’ve known he would  do absolutely anything for me. But I’ve made a good effort of getting used to that thing over time; I just clenched my teeth, did it and got into it – hell, even learned to enjoy its feel on me.

– Charlie my dear... – I say when he shortly breaks the kiss. – You want me to put some Mozart on? Or Handel, vielleicht?  You’re so fond of them, are you not Liebster?

– No need for this... – He whispers hoarsely, pleasantly rougher than usual, without letting go of my lips. – C’mon, let’s do it in silence... Just you and me...

Again this sweet, noble, delicate scent of his male perfume, so close up that it actually feels like part of myself...

His glorious ‘stache touch my cheek again, and I must say it really doesn’t feel all that scratchy to me – in fact, it’s quite soft and pleasantly tickling, its fine brush against my skin making me giggle in delight. I lower my eyes and notice with satisfaction that the sight and feel of me has given my husband the hard-on, its quite impressive form poorly disguised by his dark velvet pants – I mean, trousers. I smirk knowingly, intending to perform one little particular torture of my own, which is all about making Charlie squirm in impatience before I finally allow him to enter me. Excruciatingly slowly I slide his braces off his shoulders, and he smiles slyly into his moustache, in anticipation of what’s about to come.

I lean in to kiss his neck, gently going over the soft fabric of his kerchief, playfully pulling down his halfway-unbuttoned shirt. Charlie is no athlete of course, yet his physique is graceful and beautiful, quite a pleasure to admire. There’s another scar on his right hand, over his elbow – from the day when he was shot at by that Tong fellow in Macau; and still one more, on his lower chest, left by a knife: a gross reminder of his ill-fated trip to the States... But on all those days and many others my husband survived, thank goodness... He does always seem to get in some danger or other – a real shame to think that I myself have also once put his very life in jeopardy... But we won’t dwell on that.

– Ah, that delightful yet strangely eerie silence “where the birds are dead yet something singeth like a bird” [4]... Quite enjoyable, in’nit Lady Mortdecai?..

My husband’s voice gets rougher and huskier by the second.

– Just what a day, an occasion  like this requires. But e’en more so enjoying this silence with you, such a splendid, valuable woman; for you’re my treasure, my fortune, my…

He wisely cuts himself off, thinking it better not to continue praising me profusely but instead to show me exactly how much of a treasure I am to him.

His skilful hand glides down my face, the elegant yellow-sapphire ring on his little finger pleasantly cooling my skin. Charlie takes down his trousers, and there is a long deep cut visible on his right leg, above the knee – previously I’d always get a bit uncomfortable looking at it; he tells me he’d gotten it back in early childhood, when “questing in the dense noble woods” near the village, but I remain certain it’s yet another wartime imprint.

Slowly, reverently my husband leans his head onto my bared breasts, his tobacco-smoked mouth tenderly going over my hardened nipples, just like I’ve taught him to, if dear readers care to recall – back on that sun-dappled sultry day of our first, and fateful, encounter. I sigh barely audibly and stroke Charlie’s oiled, slicked-back if a tad disheveled hair, nudging him to go further.

And further he goes; his hand comes to rest on my firm thigh. On this day I’ve opted for a pair of Levi’s that, as husband puts it, “does make no bones about my pelvic delights”, to go with one of the silken lacy shirts that look perfectly pasted to my slender form. And that’s really basically all I live and care for: to provide any pleasures my other half would wish. He grins in anticipation, uttering fervent words of reward through his clenched teeth.

– “She beguiles even his wise heart whensoever she pleases; and she wears twisted brooches and shining earrings in the form of flowers; and round her soft throat are lovely necklaces” [5]... – The slightly drunk Charlie drawls musingly, running his other hand over my pearl necklace and the heated skin under it. – My stately, sweetly-winning, coy-eyed, chaste and careful wife; most glorious, a marvel to see...

You know, he’s often like that after a gulp or two of his favorite port: often calling to mind one line or another from the ancient poets he’d studied once; but it’s a true delight to listen to him at such moments, a real pleasure to enjoy the sound of his voice.

– You my wily lady, are you Joe? Whatever have I done to earn such a grace as you?.. You hold all my desire in your supple body, you know this? – He grins mischievously. – Let me give your perfect, round hard bottom a hearty squeeze…

Gerne, mein guter Herr. – I smile back cunningly, my German low and husky. – Erst triff bitte aber die Wahl: Ein guter Fick oder mehr?..

– Well, my unsurpassed horsewoman… – He retorts, flashing me another gap-toothed smile. – Depends on how nicely you’re going ride me this time…

– Only if you  are ready for the ride, Du mein mächtige Hengst… – I riposte with a sly smirk; oh, the irresistible charm of the man.

Du meine kleine, süße Nymphomanin, – He happily returns the favor.

Komm doch, gib mir hier Dein nettes dickes Werkzeug… – You see, Charlie has learnt a certain German phrase or two.

My husband has this habit of drawing the line at my complete, totally unrestrained dominance – that’s just too much for him – yet he always goes about his business much milder and tenderer than Milton could ever hope for.

What follows is a seemingly endless bliss which makes me forget everything except the two of us (and the details of which I leave for your rich imagination, dear readers). I’m positive enough that prior to entering my room Charlie has dutifully skimmed through a volume of a certain kind; for not only do we have one of the best sex ever, we’ve been having real fun non-stop since we begin. It’s always like that before he’s going to leave me to embark on a trip, to go deep into the art-scene underbelly, maybe only to become wrapped up in some caper or other yet again.

After it’s all over, husband turns aside, takes another cigarette out of his holder, lights it up and takes a hungry drag. So much for “not much of a smoker”. But seriously, the sheer dapper appeal of the man… I love my Charlie to bits when he smokes like that, in bed – looking so very concentrated, so calm and sexy. All in all, he’s just so beautiful and very pure and naïve, in a strange way; and at the same time, certainly immoral and roguish – though, dare I say, most pleasantly so.

– All right, my darling lady. – He says finally. – Really have no more time... Don’t worry for your Mortdecai; let’s hope all will indeed turn out in the most safely way; you just keep your graceful fingers crossed for me.

Sheer confidence now appears in his mellow voice: the strong effect of my skilful caresses, no doubt.

– As for the certain manservant of mine, he’s going to be on the mending hand before long. The divine Jocky’ll get well enough to give me a shoulder to lean on – he’s very tough and crafty, after all. Such an amazing fellow, is my faithful minder – a tad crazed and beastly as fuck, and rather costly of course, but the best defender one can indeed have hired. You know what… It was me  who left him without an eye... Boy, did he take that wound in stride.

Charlie sighs bitterly at the reminiscence, then snorts with laughter.

– It’s just that, somehow or other, Jock’s perfectly able of always fitting a quickie in… Let’s just hope he won’t be bringing any more of his one-night-stand conquests into the hotel. Do you know, sweetheart: the last time he did, it got so very loud I positively couldn’t catch any sleep all night long!

He pauses briefly before going on, this captivating gaze of his directed squarely at me.

– Or inside an airplane washroom, for that matter. Did I tell you about that married gal he slammed there once? Got to know about that one by sheer chance.

I feel a pang of need at these words. You see, we’ve truly done it countless times, in a bubble bath and in his favorite library worn-leather armchair hidden under his plaid, and in various other places the dear readers will know about in due time.

– Oh please, please Charlie, – I give a sigh of mock exasperation. – You  never made love to me in an airplane washroom!..

– I promise  I will fill this want someday, Joe sweetest, – He solemnly replies. – Well, while I’m away toiling in the art of art-dealing for our joint sake, you’re going to have a jolly good time dropping in at Harrods and everywhere. Look after the house, enjoy yourself.

Finally he gets up, adjusts his clothes and addresses me in a dry, compelling voice.

– See darling, my mind’s already made up, come what may. You know how it is, Joe – some shady folks always eager and lining up to use your wits and good-looks and experience for their inscrutable goals, at whatever costs to your own bodily health and mental wellbeing. Thankfully, Jock will unfailingly accompany his old hapless boss, God bless them both.

He grins a bit, the small gap between his upper teeth somehow looking more endearing than always.

– What we’ve just done was truly capital, Joe dearest. Something to warmly recall while I’m torn away form you... Well, behave here, darling. See you. Hoffentlich… “As for my own self, - he cites, half-sad and half-ironical, - just let me live long and happily, seeing the light of the sun, and come to the threshold of old age, a man prosperous among the people!” [6]

Even though he gives a short laugh I can feel tears prickling at the corners of my dark eyes. What a shame. I never allow this myself. For me, Lady Mortdecai, Baroness of Silverdale, to break into tears before my own husband, and only because he’s going on yet another journey! How utterly preposterous. Thus I quickly put on the merriest of smiles I’m able of.

– Of course, my lovely Schätzlein. I’ll be missing you. Take good care.

At the door he turns to look at me for the last time, his dark-blond hair still pleasantly disheveled, his face lightly glistening with sweat. Then he leaves quickly, in order to spare me even more pre-departure worry, for he perfectly knows how worried I may become.

When the door closes behind him with a thud, my gaze falls instinctively onto the beautiful art-nouveau piece of René Lalique jewelry – an exquisite, iridescent gold-framed butterfly brooch Charlie gave me to celebrate our third anniversary – he’d said that the small graceful creature really reminded him of me; I hadn’t suspected until then that Charlie is such a romantic... We celebrated by staying at a de luxe  Alpine lodge in the French Switzerland, with its clean air and beautiful scenery, at once intimate and picturesque. By the way, among other places I studied at the Villa Pierrefeux regimental finishing school at the same part of Le Suisse  (a true bastion of such institutions), which actually purported to be “making marriageable, accomplished ladies out of girls who can then conquer the world”. Quite a shallow turn of speech, don’t you think?.. But in reality it was all about learning how to sew, host tea parties, perfect table manners and floral arrangements: etiquette-and-protocol, table-service-and-decoration, home-management, personal-presentation, and to crown it off, ballroom-dancing; in a word, a charm school with a no-nonsense attitude.

Goodness, to think of it now: Fräulein Johanna Grettheim being taught, in excange for an unimaginable sum of money, how to be a good future Mrs. Krampf, a properly-finished young lady-wife of an obese millionaire bastard – yet instead having entered the blissful Mortdecai-filled future and learned all by herself how to be an English Baroness.

Still, the things I’d learned at that poor excuse of a school have really served me in good stead, after all. While Milton Quintus etc. didn’t give a silent curse about my origins or skills, Charlie seems to be truly worshipping me day and night. I dare believe I’ve actually brought the best out of Lord Mortdecai – or so it seems… Suddenly my heart begins to throb as I realize that never once during our life together have I told him yet that in all certainty I won’t be able to produce a Mortdecai heir: I just used to be on the pills all the time living with Krampf; I guess that’s finally taken its inevitable toll upon my health. Never once did I take things for granted, and I am of a strong belief that you should pay for your own choices; and yet, around Charlie I do want to feel different, to trust and hope and believe.

Ah well, I guess I better change the track before I fail on the sentimental count. Who on dear earth wants to listen to the happily married women sounding sentimental?!

Little do I know at the moment that the little episode just described is really nothing but an entrée to a series of grave misfortunes – but then again, is there someone who knows precisely what Fate keeps in store?

… … …

Chapter Text

Midway upon the journey of our life 

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.

 

Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Inferno. Canto 1.

 

… … …

<< POV Mortdecai >>

So, before dropping in at Chez Maurice I bring Jock for his appointment to the hospital – a place despite being very spacious and very much sun-filled, still very much a hospital, if you see what I mean. Jock shambles, moodily yet obediently, into the consulting room of whom he calls, by force of habit, a “croaker”; as for me, I have nothing else to do but wait patiently until his little tortment reaches its end.

I sit in a leather armchair in the green-tiled waiting room – Jock had asked me, politely and somewhat ashamedly, to wait for him down here. The minutes crawl by with the speed of a dying tortoise, and I desperately want to smoke, which is of course prohibited. For something to engage myself with, I take a look around. There hangs a large contemporary painting on the opposite wall – I deliberately avoid the proud, lofty title “a work of art”, for I positively cannot tell what artistic qualities one may possibly hope to find in this crude, psychotic jumble of nauseatingly bright lines and vague circles. You see, I don’t trade in the so-called contemporary art, in contrary to the Hon. Baron Jopling and the likes. No, dear readers, I prefer to deal with the Good Old Masters only – those most reliable and profitable chaps the artists’ world has to offer. The reason is that the only examples of the contemporary art I can bear the sheer glimpse of are those in which I can make out at least something  of what’s depicted; that is, predictably, none. And this particular painting is just as gross as the cold fat corpse of Milton Quintus Desire Krampf, which my wife – erm, then still his wife, in fact – had gladly taken me into his lavish room to have a long, disgusted look at. So, I have to sit through the whole ordeal facing the base abomination of the very notion of art; I’d gladly have moved aside my sofa or the “painting” itself, but am adamant on sparing my strength for the forthcoming flight.

Instead, I flip through a lavishly illustrated book I’ve brought – the incredibly rich reproductions of Caspar David Friedrich’s. Dear readers have maybe heard of the guy; in no way am I a connoisseur of this idiosyncratic painter’s oeuvres, so without drilling down on specific things in-depth – as I’m prone to, having once written an extended article on the man in the “Giornale delle Belle Arte” (I’m an art historian, in case you haven’t yet inferred), I’ll just purloin from that same article and tell in a cursory way just a couple things which will be of interest to my art-loving friends, as they are to me. He was actually one of the early Romantic painters – quite melancholic, on close inspection – and his works, embedded with rich details, are fantasy landscapes increasingly lost to us, sweet and evocative in an oblique yet fanciful way. Especially Friedrich's by far the most valuable piece, the one depicting a slender, contemplative gal on a misty backdrop of the vast, endless expanse of night. For some reason unfathomable, this lonely woman at once reminds me of my darling Johanna whom I am forced to leave behind in favor of striking yet another deal. This wistful, nostalgic painting is a thing of rare beauty, an intricate tapestry of feelings, overwhelmingly beautiful without unnecessary exuberance.

As I lounge here enjoying the prints of Herr Friedrich’s paintings while waiting for my loyal manservant to reappear out of the doctor’s room confines (poor chap, what terrible atrocities he must be experiencing right now!), I make a special point of calling to mind the delightful scenes of my latest private session with my dear Johanna. I don’t know what may be better than to relive (but without sharing with anyone) one’s recent sexual experiences; maybe only a cup of the strongest, nicest Earl Grey Blend, but even that  wouldn’t seem on a legitimate par.

At this point I must slightly digress; you see, in my sexual exploits I do heavily draw on the vast and invaluable experience of the true masters in this field. In a sense, one’s library is a public place of one’s living quarters, and I always take great pains to maintain in mine an aura of gracefulness and style. According to my orders my “devoted, not servile” Jock regularly sees to it that its shelves and floors sport no dust whatever, and twice a week I myself make a meticulous inspection of the room and make sure it is kept in immaculate condition. As well as boasting a decent number of classical literature dating back to my Victorian-era predecessors and quite a presentable collection of coffee-table art albums for my frequent guests to enjoy, I must confess to holding possession of quite a few volumes of certain contents as well – my readers will know exactly what I want to say. Well, to peruse them at leisure, especially before calling upon your lawful wife, does give you loads of inspiration in certain departments; though I should make it clear that my treasured Johanna, in her own powerful and unsurpassed manner, has been providing me with quite original ideas as well.

The latest time, a couple hours ago to be precise, has been no less exciting like most others. She is gorgeous right from the beginning. She makes my poor old Johnny Thomas twitch in anticipation as she showers my face and neck and chest with generous kisses. I especially like it when she makes this little trick with kissing me on my neckerchief; it really begins with her full, soft lips gently grazing the actual fabric, then her deftly fingers undo the thing and she goes on to kiss me on the neck. What else I like to do with Joe is ridding her of the valuable brassiere, freeing her lugged-up bosom and getting down to her supple, firm, richly-nippled breasts – I think I might’ve actually described them already at some point, no? I firmly and possessively cup one of them completely in my large palm (I happen to prefer a breast that I can hold in one hand, don’t you?), while grazing and sucking on the other, my twirly moustache scratching her white delicate skin.

This has the unforgettable effect of eliciting deep sighs of pleasure out of her at the feel of my hot lips and gently scratching bristles, as her lush body sensuously arches to meet my mouth – quite an arousing sight in itself. I cannot stress this too strongly: I simply love the way the divine Joe reacts to my humble ministrations; it always gives me the feeling that the old chap Mortdecai’s talents in this regard are not completely wasted, after all. And then this special, sensitive part of my body which is always so eager and capable of reaching deep into women’s sacred regions reaches, quite predictably, into her sacred regions. To be precise, she  makes it go down there; for you see, she’s on top of me this time, while I presumably camp it up as her steed, and it never ceases to astound me just how great a power does she hold over me when she’s in this position. I simply can’t help gasping and groaning: so firmly does she have the yielding, reticent, good-natured mess of a Mortdecai thrown under her spell. D’you have an idea what it feels like – for the noble, brave Lord Charlie to be reduced to a mere panting mush?!

But then, it’s a pleasant sort of submission, I must remark – what do you think? The sensations are the pleasantest of, well, pleasant; I just lie there on my back, reclined against the broad headboard, my head cozily resting on a large soft pillow, while I am playing the much-enjoyed part of a lazy stud in-training. She looks down at me the entire time, hungrily taking in the sight of me, which I love. She seems to especially like my high socks and garters, for some reason – well, in any case I’m glad that she does. As delectable Johanna dutifully bounces atop me, I watch her flashed features, all the while fuming at my habitual cigarette, the rich white exhausts enshrouding her face, making it quaver before my eyes. Much as I enjoy the physical pleasure, I am nonetheless no less taken in by her magic appeal and self-conscious beauty: it is charmingly tempting and relaxing – for me, at least; for my wife it’s clearly invigorating. It gives me a new appreciation of just how seductively beautiful she is; wouldn’t it be the same with you?

You’re really having to be quite diligent in such a position, believe me. But then, my dear Johanna has these strong, well-trained legs of a horse-rider, which alone would allow one making such moves. I never cease to be amazed at her exceptional artfulness; I can't help but admire her dazzlingly irresistible skill. She does know a thing or two about how to make her humble Mortdecai, living off memories of youthful vigor, any more pleased and entertained; it’s so much fun. I don’t even realize that I’m spitting out many a crude word of encouragement through my clenched teeth – “There’s a dear girl, go on hottie girl”, and the like; things a chronic bumbler like me doesn’t normally say to a lady, does he? Yet I encourage her in a rough, curtly voice, and it fuels my good lady to keep working. As I feel my finish nearing, I bite at my lower lip hard, catching the tip of my moustache between my teeth – quite aggravating if you can imagine how much time goes into their perfection – and nearly breaking my cigarette in two in the process, so much pleasure my sweet, graceful, fragile yet powerful and insatiable wife endows me with. I have no idea if this is what they used to teach them young ladies at that Pierrefeux  casemate of a school back in the Swiss Alps; I for one am pretty sure that one learns such things by immersion only, but still you never know. The words “inexhaustible energy”, “creativity” and “passion” spring to what’s left of my mind.

What initially feels like a brief sampling turns into a full-blown feast (entrée, main course, dessert). Why, in the end, not yet having sufficiently exhausted my inner stallion, she even asks me to go at it from behind – well, sort of; and is it a wholly marvelous thing, forgive me wordplay. I think I do my servicing quite diligently, slamming into her delightful bottom; I jerk and moan with the thrill, unable to do anything about it. Much as I love my women offering this position to me, I always feel a bit awkward about it; call me a sensualist hypocrite pervers  brimming with impure, unpardonable thoughts, but whatever character flaws I do possess (and they abound), it has nothing to do with this. The fact remains that with ma chere bijou  Johanna I do let myself unwind completely, and somehow I always manage to get just the results I want – is it my exceptional charm and sexual appeal?.. That being said, I am very much glad that she likes it as much as I, sinful, do. She is the brightest glimmer of humanity in the middle of the fierce tempest known as our life, is my stern but loving wife. Can you believe it, when we were in a pool of debt and forced to sell off various heirlooms we both held dearly to our heart, she didn’t utter a word of complaint – that’s my wife.

Anyway, each bliss you are destined to experience should eventually come to an end; thus having enjoyed enough rest from this sheerly capital, mind-numbing experience, I reluctantly get up and, adjusting my new and costly mohair suit, head for the doorway. As a goodbye, my absurdly beautiful Austrian-Jewish-American wife casts me a languishing glance which nearly makes me turn round and embrace her; but this would mean to indulge her feminine whims – one almost says “of course” – which we men should never attempt to do, for it positively makes everything a hell and turns us into their slaves. Now I can hear you scornfully snicker and call me a goddamn sexist; so be it. You see, throughout my hardship-ridden life I remain of a strong opinion that as long as your male pride (and by this I don’t mean your treasured, meticulously maintained moustache) isn’t firmly settled deep inside a woman’s body – thus paving you a straight path to her heart – then you can’t be said to have truly conquered her. Breathtakingly beautiful Johanna, this somewhat repressed, extremely self-controlled and very manipulative Lady Mortdecai who’s actually used to often getting her way, wouldn’t of course agree with this, but then, which woman ever would? Ah, ce que femme veut, Dieu le veut”  [7], they say; “Femme rit quand elle peut et pleure quand elle veut”  [8], I reply.

Now, on second thoughts I suppose I really shouldn’t have told you all this, but see, such is the manna on which the unmet human desires feed; thus I am more than happy to share something for your pleasure. Smiling sweetly to myself, I make a mental notice to myself to send Johanna greeting cards every day I’ll spend in Italy – and, naturally, to drop in a local antique shop or two in what free time I’ll possibly steal. Please don’t think I wouldn’t meddle in such matters; I’m as notoriously scrupulous around such establishments as I am around art galleries, plus it’s always much fun. Should you happen to visit this blessed hallowed land as well, I especially recommend the ones in Milan – there is such a wonderful array of nice little knick-knacks therein.

At this moment Jock exits the doctor’s room and gruffly informs me that the doc has prescribed him to recuperate at home for several days. The poor bastard hasn’t been allowed to go with me…

– Him croaker tells me better stays in bed for a day or two, Misteh Charlie, – Is what he really says – or rather, apologetically mumbles. – Turns out me have hurt me head real nasty, he tells. Me very sorry, sir.

I hang my head at this news. Just as ill luck would have it. His Lordship Rt. Hon. Charlie Mortdecai, 7th Baron of Silverdale, is going to embark on a two-week journey on which he is probably going to go hurtling forward into yet another predicament of sorts, some other manic, whiz-bang adventure, deprived of the indispensable company of his one-eyed, one-fanged, truly and unbelievably loyal thug-cook-driver-and-muscle-combined… In general, of his esquire in the truest sense of the word, who’s bailed his master out of numerous scrapes by means of his deadly fists and old Luger and, erm, jiffy  (have I had it right?); who can drive his pride and joy – his motorbike, I mean – up and down any flight of stairs like nobody I ever knew. What a shame, indeed!

– What a shame indeed! – I tell Jock respectively.

– Bloody right it is… – Jock sighs, squinting at me with his good right eye. – Anyway, ye didden’ forgot to take yer “banker’s special” with you, did you Sir?..

I find myself at a loss for a witty riposte; doubtlessly the consequences of the pleasurable events just past.

– Of course I didn’t, – I reply, barely holding back scarce masculine tears.

So that’s how it is: my capable, vintage pistol is going to be my only means of defense for the immediate fortnight. Oh well, suppose I must just raise my spirits, man myself and accept my fate with proverbial resignation. After all, it’s just a routine, danger-free journey hin und zurück, as Joe would put it. And I see only too well that my reliable manservant does indeed look like he’s in a grave need of a good, healthy rest: his eyes are murky, somewhat hazed – I think it’s because of the concussion or whatever he’s got. Yeah, my faithful Jock is  slightly out of kilter, it’s rather alarming to see him like this; maybe he does need a good solid treatment after all.

– Well then, mind your malaise, vieille branche, – I say, shaking my much chagrined hulking manservant’s large, spade-like hand which sports a straight-through bullet scar. How much have we gone through together… He’s loyal to a T and only too happy to serve, no matter how many times I might accidentally shoot or otherwise mutilate him.

– Erm, and please, don’t peep in at the first conceivable pub while you’re convalescing, – I add in a mentor’s voice. – For, as dearly as you love certain fluids, I do advise you to abstain a bit, just for your own sake. Nor spend too much time with the girls, for that matter – forget that quirk of yours for a short while; see, them gals not only heal you, but make you ill.

I give a quiet, good-natured snicker which is meant to reinforce the latter maxim.

– Enough for you that there’s this thing with your head; I’d positively lose all sleep if I happen to know that your life is endangered once again. All in all, take care, will you Jock?

– Right, me ol’ mate, - he replies in a rough, strained voice. – Bloody sure I will.

Although his glass eye gives me a sad, sorrowful look, Jock beams affably at me before departing, at a slightly staggering gait, in the direction of my townhouse, where he will be at liberty to feast on the delicacies meant for his gracious master, and invite his buddies round for a play of domino and light drinks and things: a jolly nice time is he certain to gain. Still, a melancholy sight it is to behold him disappear; I sharply turn on my heels and, volens-nolens  at it is, hit my own road.

As I exit the cab right before the kitschy restaurant where Cavagnari awaits, I am hungry for a quick intake of tobacco, but find myself torn between Argentinean “Nobleza Piccardo” and French “Gauloises”. At last I go for the latter. Standing at the entrance in a sort of oblivious bemusement, I take a long, pleasant drag, then exhale the smoke, watching as the greedy wind promptly sweeps it away. The day is full of sunlight, yet there’s no denying that winter is very much present in the crisp, cold air; the stubborn gusts of wind strike at my head, going over my carefully oiled hair.

Suppose that now, another couple hours or so before I depart to the fairy-tale country of the marble walls, mellow harvests, luxuriant and voluptuous flood, sweet sensations, etc. etc., eagerly awaiting its northern wanderer [9] (minus the dolce far niente, as it regrettably seems), in order to sell off yet another apocryphal, priceless chef d'oeuvre – yet, in all probability, only to embark upon some perilous venture again – it’s time I told you that I’m freighted down with thoughts regarding my dear Johanna’s plans in my absence; that I must be gnawed with burning jealousy, desperately wishing I’d left her locked in a tower, a belt of chastity over her sweet nether regions, and so on and so forth. But hey, this would be needlessly fey: I’m definitely not your classic jealous husband, am I? As to the any possible doubts I man entertain re: my dashingly gorgeous nymphomaniac of a wife, I am more than certain that our latest session has left Johanna wholly satisfied for the upcoming couple of weeks – that is, the entire time her husband will spend abroad. Or has it, dear readers? What do you  say to that?..

… … …

Chapter Text

I said, “She must be swift and white,

And subtly warm, and half perverse,

And sweet, like sharp soft fruit to bite,

And like a snake’s love lithe and fierce”.

Men have guessed worse.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Felise”

… … …

<< POV Jock >>

It’s been several days since that Misteh Charlie-initiated hospital drop-in. Thanks to wisely sticking to the boring bed regime and to some special medicine the croaker’s prescribed, me skull’s been obviously mending well. At least the pain is not as excruciating as previously, and the things don’t blur and haze before me eyes anymore quite as much as they’d got a stubborn habit of doing.

Well, it’s not mine first experience of such kind, actually. Misteh Charlie himself, as you’ll surely recall, had once walked over me actual head in a truly valiant if desperately failed attempt to help me go down a murky Lancashire quagmire and not into the dirty hands of Martland an’ buddies’. It didden’ half hurt, really.

Speaking of Misteh Charlie, the boss has phoned the previous day. Kindly yet hastily informed us that he was basically faring well if a bit tired – I’ve no idea what from. Certainly not from making outrageous sums of money on all those paintings he sells and fences to them rich blokes overseas.

That said, I am currently left in the family townhouse together with the Lady, of all people. Can’t even go anywhere (a pub or a gal, say) on me pride and joy – this lovely old pre-war Ariel 1000 c.c. motorbike with four cylinders and Brooklands fishtail exhausts. Due to me remaining forcibly stuck inside for several days, my services have come down mainly to two things. First, to make sure our feathered friend the little singer canary is in splendid voice as always. Second, to cook Madam’s meals, as it is.

Not actually all that much of a chore for good old Jock, as he happens to find both the cooking and the boss’s wife highly agreeable.

Hey, no dirty thoughts please.

This morning Lady Mortdecai’s breakfast is as follows: me trademark fluffy omelet, a couple cucumber sandwiches, and rich Darjeeling tea she prefers to imbibe in the morning, accompanied with her beloved clotted-cream-n’-raspberry scones.

After, seeing that me general condition’s considerably improved, she announces we are calling in at Harrods, this huge Knightsbridge-located upmarket store, to do a little bit of shopping. Quite a fair number of the upper crust geezers (as well as an equally fair number of black-swathed, swarthy-skinned ladies from eastern ambassadors’ harems) have a nice habit of materializing there now and then. Thus, understandably, you aren’t allowed into the building if the clothes you wear are a bit below their standards, you see. That’s why Lady Mortdecai insists that I wear me best black topcoat and dark-grey suit. I do as she instructs, though I really ain’t all that comfortable in them suits, as you might’ve already guessed. For one thing, a stiff suit is not a very good choice for a guy whose job is to quickly jump to action in case their employer’s in jeopardy (like me own often tends to be).

The store itself is rather unpretentiously-looking on the outside, but inside it’s really something nearing paradise. Shopper’s paradise, if nobody else’s. I for one got little interest in most of the stuff, at least as long as I don’t need a new gun; and I highly doubt they boast quite as nice weapons down here as the ones that my good ol’ acquaintance Ginge the Gunsmith so smoothly trades in.

However, as I stand in the middle of the lavish ground-floor foodhall gaping at the fanciful sculptures adorning the space (stags, boars, mermaids, and things) and intricate stained-glass motifs adorning the ceilings – whilst Lady Mortdecai talks affably to an elderly tea merchant – I notice a couple of pretty tourist girlies gaping at me  in what may or mayn’t have been genuine enchantment of sorts, with a dash of respectful admiration them gals are always prone to show towards us brawny, solid guys. Just what I cherish most. It does flatter me immensely, in all certainty – wouldn’t be likewise with you?.. Even though I don’t in me right mind intend to try and go any further with any (or both) of them, I must confess that this little episode really makes me day.

Then Madam and me ride the escalators up an’ down in a leisurely sort of way, occasionally paying a short visit at this little shop and that. It turns out that they actually used to offer the very first customers who dared to use these moving stairs – back in the 1890s or so I guess – an actual complimentary shot of brandy to calm their nerves after such a frightful ride. What a nice little treat; a real pity they don’t practice it anymore.

Later, when I go take a leak at the local House of Lords (a Misteh Charlie’s expression, the slang of college kids’), I’m instantly taken in by the sheer range of those gorgeous male perfumes over the sinks. All of them the very scents I always wished, yet never had a mere chance to use before. Me eyes flash joyfully as I pick up the first generously-sized bottle that meets me eye. As I appear back in the main hall, Lady M. instantly smells on me the mix of those colognes, eau de toilettes and whatever else I’ve managed to make a good use of. With a somewhat derogatory smile Madam sternly remarks that it’s only in the fashion of handsy hoi-polloi and occasional Touristins  to sprinkle oneself with this free stuff so liberally. I hang me head in shame, yet the fragrance’s already there, nothing to be done about it.

Then I carry Madam’s ample game up to the cabbie, and away we ride. Back home, Lady Mortdecai gets me to make a lunch from some of the goodies she’s purchased – sweet biscuits (lemon pretzel, butterscotch, cherry bakewell, stem ginger and malted milk flavors – all sorts of them), choc chips shortbreads, and a lovely fruit-n’-nut cake for dessert. And all this not just for her; for me as well. She knows that me dearly love ‘em sweets, does the fair Lady – I do, just as much as drinks if not more. Sweet tooth, is Jock bloody Strapp, eh.

There are only two of us in the whole house. At first I feel quite constrained feasting on them godly sweets around the boss’ Madam. I’m fairly sure that she’s missing her husband Misteh Charlie, so the fact I am sitting just across her and gobbling up all those mouthwatering things must feel, shall I say, mildly offensive to her, or else – I dunno for sure, but still. In truth, she isn’t even looking at me at first; just sits there, across from myself, glancing either into her plate or into her teacup; silent and, I daresay, unnervingly moody.

I start to feel like I’m losing a bit of me heart, and besides my glass eye feels like it somehow ain’t been inserted properly. I take it out and deftly thrust back in. Yet Lady Mortdecai doesn’t even turn her head in my direction.

At last she casts a look at me – boy, ‘tis one hell of a powerful look; it hits me right in me very soul almost as badly as that bullet which hit me in the chest a couple years ago. The scar I still bear from that incident is large and rather grisly-looking; I doubt if the other one left on me actual soul will be any smaller. Ah, to hell with it, I think as soon as Madam finishes her lunch, gets up and, without a word, goes away into her bedroom.

For some reason, she won’t take no dinner.

At ten o’clock in the evening, announcing my appearance by a polite cough which almost takes the door off its hinges, I stride into the master bedroom to bring Lady Mortdecai her usual cup of the finest-blend mint tea – she always drinks this kind before going to bed, finding it pleasantly soothing (not as soothing as a swig of good whiskey, I dare remark). As for me, prior to entering the Lady’s quarters I brewed myself the stuff known as the “Sergeant-Major’s” – a sort of the cheapest Indian tea boiled up with sugar and condensed milk, especially nice if you put a little rum inside. It’s great indeed, does one a power of good; but you buddies don’t want none of it.

The Lady’s room is plunged in darkness – only a fancy Tiffany bedside lamp gives off a shaded, dark-amber circle of light. She is lying onto the lavish marriage bed, on her back, her eyes closed, and her face – it seems – slightly pale. Dressed in a white finest-silk blouse over her glorious bosom and a black knee-length skirt with an elegantly-buckled belt. Does look killing like that.

Although there’s Le Nozze De Figaro playing on the turntable (yeah guys, I do recognize this particular one), she doesn’t seem like listening to it. Yet it turns out that she is, and with a melancholic attention.

– Charlie and I, – she says aloud as I approach her to place the tea-tray with her steaming fragrant cuppa onto the bed, – We listened to the bits of this very opera on the night after he got back from his long treatment. You will surely recall – it was mid-February, it snowed heavily in the city, and dear Charlie spent five weeks in hospital with his jawbone gravely shattered in one of his deals…

I know about all this, for sure – His Lordship does seem like he pretty often gets in trouble for no reason whatever like a Drury Lane whore – just havin’ a joke, pardon me Cockney. I honestly have no idea if he would still inhabit the land of the living had me, a former jailbird in the heyday of his career as an actual art-dealer lord’s bodyguard, not been around at most times.

– The poor man, – Lady Mortdecai continues, unabashed, – could take no food whatever; they had to hold his mouth shut the whole time, naturally, feeding him only through the nose with some stuff they use in such cases… So when Charlie was finally released and sent back home and stepped over the threshold I swear I nearly fainted at the sight of him, so very thin, attenuated he’d become… And his voice had gone hoarse after many days of total silence, and when he took his first normal meal, he was barely able to chew. And then I took him here to the bedroom, where Charlie and me were lying in bed side by side, in darkness, holding each other’s hand firmly and listening to this very Mozart on the player. Ah, and we both got fairly drunk, to push everything out of our minds. Then, as soon as the opera neared an especially sad point, I got up and changed the record to some jazz album, it was way livelier. I used to listen to quite a lot of jazz back in the States, you see.

I stare down at her with rough compassion. The Lady falls silent and absently reaches for the tray, grabbing a Harrods shortbread biscuit, decadently hand-dipped and enrobed with couverture  milk chocolate. These little things, as is stated on the tin box, are sweet, buttery, complemented with a hint of spices; me poor mouth waters at the thought of one of ‘em slowly melting onto me tongue – I’ve had abso-bloody-lutely no chance to be allowed to get a bite of such a luscious little treat as of yet. Involuntary, I grin down at Lady Mortdecai, flashing her the civilest smile I’m capable of, with me large lower dogtooth baring jovially.

She only sulks back at me, not really appreciating me honest efforts at being friendly. Then again, the Lady must be really angry with me in fact, for not having accompanied Misteh Charlie onto his current trip, even taking me head’s pitiable condition into account. Well, she has every right to do so. The Lady seems to admire her hubby very much, she truly does. Not entirely surprising if you care to remember she was initially forced by her gold-digger mommy to marry a Texan oil-fields proprietor (utterly spoilt, utterly repulsive, stinking-rich bloke) long before meeting me honorable boss. Meeting him, as luck would have it, on the very day of her first hubby’s undoing (which did happen at her own hands, I strongly believe). How deliciously serendipitous, no?

So well, yeah, it’s only natural that she’s pretty much worried about Misteh Charlie’s safety. She probably thinks I’m literally indefatigable.

As a matter of fact I’m afraid to say that I actually ain’t, though with time I did have to learn how to mend myself. It all started back at the jails where I done Her Majesty’s nice wholesome porridge a solid few times. You see, the wardens had a nasty habit of beating us inmates senseless out of boredom; they broke me collarbone once, not to mention a large number of other equally ghastly things.

All in all, it was always a matter of either you struggle and pull through and keep on living, hoping to enjoy freedom with all its pleasures once more, or you just don’t.

Well, me did. Many times.

Yet this is not to say that I’m some sort of immortal, certainly. Nobody is.

Yet I’m pretty ready to take half again as many bullets as me already got, for the sake of my gracious boss.

And should a day (or night, blimey) arrive when I must die for Misteh Charlie, I will without hesitation.

For apart from him, I have no one.

All of a sudden, Lady Mortdecai beckons me to come closer.

Before I realize what’s this all about, I feel a Harrods biscuit being pressed at my lips. Turns out it’s Lady Mortdecai’s gracious hand that gently yet firmly guides it into my mouth. Not having a pretty decent idea of what I’m actually doing, I take a hungry bite.

It looks like heaven; it does taste respectively. Without knowing it, I close my eyes with pure bliss, the bittersweet chocolate slowly melting onto my tongue.

Gawblimey, what does she think she’s doing?! I’m bleeding dumbstruck; I feel like she’s really got me under her spell. But then, I’m pretty sure you would feel the same, were a dashingly pretty woman like this particular Lady M. feeding you a luxurious handmade treat from her very hand.

I take a second bite, then Madam takes another, and then we look at each other, chocolate cream and filling smearing our lips, and chuckle.

Lonely and frustrated as she certainly is, I think I discern a mischievous glimmer in the depths of her eyes.

Yet the greater surprise is to arrive a moment later.

Before I have a chance to open my eyes, I feel Lady Mortdecai’s full, sensuous lips come into contact with mine. I startle and draw back a little, the sensation pretty much unexpected.

Me breath quickens, but she doesn’t break the kiss. Her mouth tastes of the same little biscuits, chocolate and marzipan. I dunno how to best describe what I feel at this moment; all words sort of escape me – I ain’t no bloody man o’ letters, you understand.

Yet it surely is like nothink that I, a hard-case whorehound at body and at heart forever condemned to go round hunting ‘em big dames, have yet experienced. Ya see, these reach-me-down pleasurehouse hotsies go about their business dispersing equal doses of ministrations to anyone who happens to stroll into their filthy domain; there’s no senses in that, only desire that of money. I do have vast experience in the ways of their load; in fact, after doing me last (and longest) stretch me and one of me ol’ mates had a lot of fun at one of such establishments – I’ll tell me curious friends about it a bit later, I promise.

At last I myself take the work of breaking this kiss, and then make sure I look at her nonchalantly, non-committaly.

– Would ya care for some jazz, Madam? – I inquire in as courteous a voice as I can muster.

– Why not, Jock, why not… – She replies in what I take to be a careful tone of voice.

I go to the turntable and put a jazz record on. The music sets the right mood in the room. It’s a nice record, something by him Johnny Hartman chap – “Lush Life” and such, if you please.

– Jock, – The Lady says suddenly.

– Yeah, Ma’am?

– Jock, do come here. Yes, here. There’s a good man. How are you feeling, Jock? Your eye is much clearer now. Pray do lie down here. Yes, onto the bed.

I give Lady Mortdecai one of me best befuddled looks, the one which includes rolling back part of me upper lip in a nasty grin, hoping to probably frighten ‘er sort of, and thus quit making me feel uneasy. It does frighten Misteh Charlie, you know. Not terrifies, thankfully. In actual fact, boss is the only man who I myself am slightly afraid of (but I didn’t tell ya nothing).

Though ‘tis ain’t working with her, it seems. Madam’s not scared of me in the least. Why, she even smiles a little – a coy, inviting smile. Not at all one smile of a married chick, if a guy like me understands anything about married chicks.

Ah well, she’s the lady of the house after all; it seems like I better obey, or else.

I leer back at her – equally coyly, I hope – then creep over to the bed and lie down, stretching me tired body onto the soft tartan bedspread. I cast a tentative look onto Lady Mortdecai: she doesn’t make no move to look at me, her gaze still directed at the high coffered ceiling lost in the near-darkness.

I must admit that her lush golden hair looks ever more stunning in the dim close lamplight. Outright gorgeous. So much so that before long – some kind of instinct, eh – I find myself reaching out to her and fleetingly yet bravely apply me own bunch o’ fives onto its soft, glorious locks. Oh yeah, is it a treat, dead-honest. Her hair feels just as wonderful as it looks. Heavenly, guys. Simply heavenly.

I expect the Lady to start or tremble or whatever they gals do when you touch their hair like this. Yet she does no such thing.

What she does do is she turns onto her side to face my bulky form.

Takes one long look at me face, does Lady M., her radiant eyes going over this ugly mug of mine slowly, unhurriedly, seemingly taking in every last scar and shallow cut, before sliding lower to rest on my firm chest under a dark-grey shirt. I for me part do nothing but stare benignly into her strikingly beautiful face.

She seems to enjoy it, all of it. Dead right she does.

And then – and then she smiles at me once more.

In quite another fashion this time.

Hungrily. Predatorily.

I instantly recall Misteh Charlie fleetingly mention me the fact about his wife’s being a bloody nympho or something.

It makes me shudder all over.

I have to stop and ponder it.

To think that a genuine (and ravishing one, at that) nympho Lady would do a thing like this  to an ex-con thug of her hubby’s, who not once in his fucked-up lifetime dared so much as hope to court any good, decent woman outside the hookshop walls…I feel like I may lose my temper, pretty soon.

To think that she, the  Lady, –

Smiles. Predatorily. At me.

Ah well. Jolly good.

What I do in return is give her a knowing, juicy, lewd grin.

… … …