Chapter 1- The Violinist
Simon Winter drew up the collar of his black, woollen coat slightly as his nostrils twitched at the stench of the docks. It was difficult to say what irritated him more- the odour of salt from the murky waters, the potent aroma of sewage, or the general stench of the unsavoury characters that lingered along the damp wooden paths in the shadows. The twenty-year-old felt no fear for the sallow faces that glanced his way as he hastened past, it was too dark for them to make out any of his features and most of them were addled with drink, drugs or both.
Simon was quite certain that the lateness of the hour and the chill of the autumnal night had most people indoors and those that were out were probably hugging close to the porches in a vain attempt to keep warm. He had only to turn one more corner to bring himself face to face with the dark waters and conclude his unpleasant business.
Simon hesitated as he heard what sounded like a cry. He waited for it to sound again, trying to pick it out over the lapping of the waters and the background hum of the restless city.
Simon waited a few seconds in the arctic dark before he dismissed the noise for something mundane and continued on his way. He sidestepped abandoned netting, broken lobster pots and unused barrels as he headed round the corner to face the obsidian sheen of the ocean. To him the black gleam was a welcome sight even if it came with an unpleasant smell, he knew all too well how easily things could be lost in it.
Simon stepped up to the edge of a wooden pathway built alongside it and tugged off his coat. He bundled up the coat hastily, confident that the heavy lead pipe in the inner pocket would weigh it down. It was a shame he had to lose the coat as well, but he knew the blood on the pipe had smeared the insides and blood was always difficult to wash out. The inner lining of the coat was damaged too, torn deliberately so he could hide the pipe within it.
Simon swung the bundle low in both his hands and then stretched his arms out to let the coat and its condemning burden fly as far as he could throw them. It hit the water quickly with a satisfying splash and sank from sight in seconds.
Simon readied to go when he glimpsed a hint of movement amongst the calm swell of minute waves. "Jesus Christ," he muttered as he paled. There was someone in the water!
Who took a swim in those stinking waters and at this time of night in autumn? Had this person fallen in somehow or maybe jumped? As Simon pondered grimly if he was witnessing a suicide and squinted to see with the light of stars and a half-moon partially hidden behind gossamer clouds he realised they were holding on to something.
"God damn it," Simon cursed again.
The person was clinging for survival, struggling and losing against the thick salt water as they bobbed up and down unsteadily in the darkness.
Simon looked for the glint of the iron ladder rungs built for access to boats, telling himself that he certainly wasn't jumping if there was no easy way back out again. No sense in them both drowning. The problem was Simon was realising quickly it was just a child struggling out there and he couldn't fathom how they had come to be in such a sinister situation.
Simon decided thinking about it too long wasn't going to do the kid any good, he would only talk himself out of helping them and then they would drown. He moved quickly, running and jumping in the hopes that he might propel himself closer to them with a running start. He hit the water hard and shock surged through him as he was immediately drenched in ice cold water and his nostrils filled with the sting of the wretched salt water.
He avoided giving into the urge to open his eyes and made himself swim upwards. Even without his coat his clothes still weighed heavy on him and he knew he could very easily be dragged down by the water, lost to the darkness just like the pipe.
Simon gave a gasp as his head broke the surface and he finally opened his eyes. He swallowed down a curse as they stung with salt and he struggled to see anything other than a blur of black. He shook his head angrily as the water slapped against his face and glanced over his shoulder to the right. There were the docks looking a little further away than he would have liked. Now where was the child? As his vision was all but useless with no light to help him Simon tried to listen for them. It was hard with the water splashing against his ears and pouring into them, and for a moment the only thing he could hear apart from the sea was his own stiff breathing.
"Where are you kid?" he snapped in frustration as he cocked his head from right to left. He fought the urge to turn his whole body as he tread water, the last thing he wanted was to become disoriented in the darkness.
Simon heard a gasp and a splutter followed by small, frantic splashes and turned to his left sharply. He made out the vague silhouette of a floating object with a form struggling to reach out for it. The child had lost their grasp and was drifting away from the item.
Simon pushed towards them, extending his arms in fast powerful strokes whilst kicking the water hard and rapidly behind him. For a moment an adrenaline rush surged through him and he forgot the sagging of his clothes, the chill that turned his body numb and had him chattering between breaths, and the God awful taste of saltwater.
The child bobbed up and down several times blinking in and out of Simon's vision. Nearer, nearer. Shit they were gone. Simon sucked in a deep breath and plunged under the water. He knew he had to move as quickly as he could, without light he'd lose them if they sank too far, Hell he'd get lost himself in this damnable darkness. Never mind how quick the cold was liable to kill them both. Tiny fingers brushed against his hands without warning sending a thrill of fear through him. He shrank back in alarm before realising his error and reaching out to grasp at them. Catching the child's hands tightly in his own, he turned upwards and kicked hard, propelling them both back to the surface one more time.
Simon cursed as his head smacked off something on his way up. He winced even as he gasped for air before realising what it was. It was the flotation device the kid had been clinging to! He reached for it clumsily with one hand whilst trying to hold the child up with his other. Tired now, he felt his arm sink into the water all too easily, his limbs were feeling heavy and he was starting to struggle. One more try. He reached for the object again and grasped a handle. With the handle he tugged it over to him and the kid and then, with great effort, he hoisted the child's arms and the top half of their body onto it. The outline of a dress hem or skirt and a spill of long hair made Simon aware that it was a young girl he was trying to save. Simon manoeuvred his own arms around the girl and grasped the strange object at either side. It had an odd shape, wider at the left side that the right with rounded off edges. Simon knew it was familiar but his mind was slow as he struggled in the water and he dismissed trying to work out what the object was.
Simon started to kick, heading for the docks as he searched desperately for the metallic gleam that revealed the ladder. He couldn't see it. He tried not to panic as he kept kicking. He had to get them to the docks first, he would worry about the ladder when he was closer.
Simon retched and started to cough as he caught another mouthful of saltwater. How the hell could he have successfully beaten and maybe even killed a thug twice his height and size just to end up perishing in the ocean following a foolish attempt to rescue a drowning kid? He cursed at his luck as he realised his head was bobbing under the water more frequently now and that his kicks had slowed to a weak paddling.
The wisp of clouds parted above sending a sliver of pallid moonlight down from the heavens. It wasn't much but it was all Simon needed. In the pale light of the moon there was a flash of metal at the docks, the rungs of the ladder! Simon felt a new burst of energy fill him and he started to kick hard and fast again.
It was with relief that they reached the ladder rungs. "Up we go kid," Simon said tiredly. He was surprised when a small, shaking, pale hand reached to grasp at the first rung. He had figured the girl was unconscious, exhausted, frozen and half-drowned at this point. Simon frowned when she tried to clumsily take the floating object with them. "Let it go," he grumbled.
"Nyet." The voice was faint and hoarse but Simon heard the stubborn undertone in it anyway.
"You can't climb with it," Simon complained.
The kid tried anyway, sloppy as she struggled to tug herself up with one hand as her feet skidding on the rungs with the damp. She was too small for the ladder and had to jump on the rung to get the right height to reach the next one.
"I'll carry it," Simon snapped impatiently as he fought to pull the item back. The resistance was there but it was weak and Simon was able to pull the object back, although he nearly yanked the child back down with it.
It felt like an age before Simon could start climbing up behind the girl. His chatters and shakes were back, his whole body trembled from head to toe with the cold and he wondered how they were going to get to heat before it was too late. It was a mess and Simon knew it was one he had brought upon himself.
At long last Simon felt the steady supporting surface of the docks. He clambered up on his hands and knees spluttering and coughing up sea water before pushing himself to his feet hastily. He looked to the girl, grabbed her by one hand and pulled her quickly and roughly. He hurried up the docks, darting down a narrow side street that led them to a path with street lights and a payphone. All too aware of the cold, Simon opted to move to the payphone first. He stopped at the booth and frowned down at the kid before slamming the object into them.
"Stay put," he snarled as he fumbled in his soggy trouser pockets for coins. He picked up the receiver and addressed the operator briskly. As she called back currency to him in a voice that sounded crackled and distant he began to tug out coins, putting in a nickel as requested.
Simon's teeth chattered loudly as the tinny ringtone echoed through his ear. He realised his ear still water logged and shook his head sideways in frustration to try and dislodge some of the water. He purposely didn't bother glancing to his small companion whom he had decided was easily far more trouble than they were worth.
Simon began to curse at each ring and started to worry he wasn't going to get an answer. He wondered if instead of drowning he was going to freeze to death in a phone booth that reeked of piss and cheap cigarette smoke.
"Good evening, Caruso household," a polite woman's voice greeted.
Simon recognised it as belonging to the housekeeper Rosa. He had known her for almost two years but all he had bothered to take in about her was that she had a daughter, Danielle, who was beautiful and mesmerising with umber eyes and glossy onyx ringlets that framed her face perfectly, adding depth to her cheekbones. Simon had dedicated many wet dreams to Danielle, odd when he had barely spoken more than a handful of words to her and had met her perhaps five times if it was even that, he wasn't sure. Yet for their brief time together he knew how her cheeks glowed with an appealing cool undertone of violet when she blushed and she laughed quietly only when she thought no one was listening but otherwise practised an expression of polite interest.
"It's Simon," he answered bluntly into the transmitter, conscious that his voice carried the tremor of the cold in it, "I need to speak to the boss, it's urgent."
"One moment please." If Rosa ever felt any frustration she never showed or expressed it, no matter the hour or the drama the woman was always polite, demonstrating a quiet calm in demeanour and voice as she carried out her duties whether it was one in the morning and someone was screaming bloody murder at the front door or it was two in the afternoon and the mistress was expecting afternoon tea.
Simon waited and waited, shaking as he huddled into the booth and shot one quick glance down at the girl. She was quiet, head bowed and body almost doubled over whilst she held the odd object close against her body with her arms bundled about it.
"Do you not sleep Winter?" the irate voice of Lorenzo Caruso called down the phone.
"Sorry boss," Simon scrambled for an apology, wincing as his voice quivered again.
"Are you stuttering?" Lorenzo snapped, he still sounded irritated but there was a hint of concern there too. "What's happened?"
"Took a dip in the sea," Simon jested, "now I'm wet and cold and probably gonna freeze to death, that's er why I'm calling," he attempted to explain.
There was silence as Lorenzo waited for the full explanation. As a general rule Lorenzo tried to practice patience and tolerance and he knew Simon well enough to know that he wouldn't go so far as to ring at one in the morning simply because he'd gone swimming.
Simon purposely omitted his business of the evening before finding the kid, who knew who could be listening in on the call.
"When I was strolling home I saw a kid in the water," Simon continued. "Don't know why but I figured I couldn't let the kid drown and now we're both standing in fish town about to die of the cold."
"A kid?" Lorenzo repeated quietly.
"Yeah, a little girl, I know, sounds crazy," Simon mumbled, "I don't have the story of that yet. Can you send someone boss?" he pleaded.
"This isn't a joke is it Winter?" Lorenzo queried with a cool calm.
"No, if I was joking I'd have said I went swimming after a half-naked dame or a mermaid, not a kid."
"Alright Winter, tell me where to send the car."
Simon glanced about for some distinguishing landmark all while he shivered. "23rd street, near the fish market, God what a stench."
"Right Winter, it's on its way."
The line went dead.
Simon hung up the receiver and ushered the girl out and over to a street lamp. There he stopped to scrutinise her.
An ashen face turned up to Simon showing him blue tinged lips, a bruised cheek, a cut forehead and large eyes that twinkled almost obsidian in the darkness. She had a long, heavy spill of hair that was black in the night and lank with water, hanging in all directions about her head and reaching down to her waist. She wore a short sleeved dress that hugged her like a second skin, probably ivory initially, the muck of the sea had already stained and soiled it to an unpleasant sallow shade. There was little else to her petite form save the object she hugged to her.
"A violin case," Simon muttered. If he had had a million guesses as to what it was out there in the water he would have never gotten it right. "Well..." He trailed off as his teeth chattered and cut him off. Simon didn't know what to say anyway, there were a hundred questions to ask her sure but his head was pounding and all he wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep by a blazing fire, preferably after a couple of glasses of whiskey. Just hours ago he had possibly murdered a man but his nerves had stayed as strong as steel so why the hell did this situation have him uneasy?
Simon moved against a brick wall of a shop that boasted equipment for fishermen. He slumped down against it and wondered if he was going to make it until the car arrived. It wasn't just the cold and damp but the smell of fish and salt water as well, he detested it. He felt his waistcoat crease against him and wondered why the hell he hadn't taken it off before jumping in. Loathing the weight of it constricted against his chest, he unbuttoned it and discarded it to one side.
The girl sat down beside Simon, pressing against his right side as she sought a heat he couldn't offer. He felt a tinge of pity feeling her shake beside him and again wondered what could have resulted in her drowning in the sea clinging to a violin case for survival?
Simon sighed and turned his head up to the stars, determined not to shut his eyes and give in to the urge to pass out. He was past the point of exhaustion, his nerves were shot, he was numb with the cold and had lost the feeling in his hands and toes. He wondered how bad the girl must be and how she was still conscious. What kept her going?
Forty-five minutes passed by before salvation arrived in the form of a royal blue Packard automobile. Simon filled with relief at the sight and tried to stand but his legs refused to move and he realised that he couldn't feel them anymore.
The car pulled to a graceful stop beside the pavement and there was the sound of a door opening. "Morning Simon," the New Jersey tainted and Italian tinged voice of Nico di Traglia called out cheerfully. "I get woken up at this hour of the morning and I'm told to collect you and a kid who'd been swimming and I think, nope, must still be dreamin' or it's code for something, maybe poor Simon has gone and got himself shot and is too embarrassed to say but damn, you really did go swimmin' for a kid."
Nico stepped forward as another car door banged shut. He put Simon in his shadow, resting his hands loosely on hips as he glanced from him to the girl who had slipped into unconsciousness during the wait for the car. "Ain't it a picture Nevin?" he quipped tauntingly.
"Sure is," the voice of Nevin O'Reilly retorted dryly followed by the sound of spitting.
Whilst Nico was dressed for the weather and emulating a degree of style with a brass buttoned, long, navy, woollen coat that Simon was instantly envious of, Nevin stood out like a sore thumb as with his winter brown-grey wools he was also wearing a brown cowboy styled hat.
Nevin O'Reilly's main problem was that he couldn't accept that he had been born in New York as a poor child of Irish immigrants instead of a cowboy ready to ride out in Texas. His fascination with the Wild West proved to be a help more than a hindrance as his determination to match the quick draw and fast shooting of outlaw legends made him a gifted shot with his pistols.
"You gonna sit there all night soaking in the moonlight or are you getting in the car?" Nico queried scornfully.
Simon frowned up at him. As the oldest of their trio Nico was quick to put on airs of authority when it was just them and their boss Mr. Caruso wasn't about, confident that at twenty-one years of age he was adult enough to lead.
"I can't stand," Simon admitted, feeling a very real blow to his ego as he did.
Nevin laughed at this. "Noodle legs," he scoffed.
"No he's just no sea legs," Nico teased. "Anyway, it's cold, let's do the charitable thing and help him and this girl. She got a name?"
Simon shrugged. "I'm sure she does but I don't know it."
Nico nodded. "Could be anyone then, lost little violinist. I'll get her, you help Simon, Nevin," he instructed.
Fed up with the chill in the air, Nevin didn't bother debating it and moved to help Simon.
Once Simon was on his feet he was able to stagger forward to the car with only a little help from Nevin. It was awkward trying to clamber into the back seat but for the blankets that awaited him Simon made the effort.
"Boss said you'd be cold," Nico mused as he pushed the unconscious girl in beside Simon. "She's still got a grip on that violin," he said admiringly. He dropped Simon's damp waistcoat to the car floor and fixed two of the blankets about the frozen girl. "Boss also wants to see this so that's where we're heading."
Simon nodded in answer even though he wasn't really listening. He slumped against the hard glass window and closed his eyes letting the sound of water dripping off his hair lull him into unconsciousness.
Although Simon knew he had to have awoken to exit the car, enter Mr. Caruso's house and reach his living room he couldn't remember doing any of it. He didn't remember drinking whiskey either but he could taste the potent remains of it on his lips. He wasn't quite sure when he'd stripped out of his damp clothes and surrendered them to Rosa but they were gone and he was in a dry shirt and trousers.
All Simon knew was that the cool blue light of dawn was seeping through the edges of the windows, the roaring fire had almost died out and was now being stoked back to life by Nevin, and Lorenzo Caruso was sitting opposite him, serene with a cup of coffee in one hand looking alert and presentable, ready for business like it wasn't an unreasonable hour of the day.
Simon' eyes were crusted at the edges and stung like they had been burned. He rubbed at them wearily with his right hand as he tried to wake himself up. He caught a flashback of what might have been a dream conjured by a memory of the night's events. A man's eye swelling and reddening like an overripe tomato and his nose cracking like an egg and spilling out blood all while the man howled like a beast. Simon swallowed hard as he smelt fresh blood, urine and shit all over again. It hadn't been easy or planned.
Patrick 'Patches' Mulhoney had been a six feet tall muscular brute, an Irishman who boxed for fun. He'd offered a few unpleasant jibes in Simon's direction after Simon had lost a bet and things had turned heated. Patrick hadn't been expecting the lead pipe Simon had snatched up from behind the bar before they headed out to the alleyway to exchange blows, he'd been expecting a fair fight. Simon had allowed for one until the kidney punches became too much. Once he was on the ground Patches had sneered and spat on him before kicking him hard in his lower regions. When Patches had then yanked him up for another round Simon hadn't even hesitated, he'd swung that pipe until Patches' face was an unrecognisable mess of shattered bone and battered flesh. Then he had pocketed the pipe and fled. He didn't even know for certain if he had murdered the man but the possibility was high.
That was why Simon had saved the girl. He realised now, it had been pure selfishness. He hadn't cared whether she lived or died and he still didn't, he just hadn't wanted her haunting his sleep like Patrick had and probably would for a while. Simon had known a drowning kid would give him nightmares for years.
"Where is she?" Simon queried curiously.
"In a spare bed for the moment," Lorenzo answered crisply. He took a sip from his cup. "If she takes ill you can take her to the orphanage, I've no desire to pay doctor's bills for a stranger."
Simon nodded numbly at this. The coldness of it didn't surprise him, Lorenzo was fair and practical but he only gave to those who earned it and considered charity a soft touch. Simon disagreed but he figured he might be wrong in his beliefs, Lorenzo was in charge after all and Simon was barely more than a gun for hire.
"She will take ill," Nico announced as he arrived in the doorway. His footsteps were soft as he approached. Nico had always been skilled at stealth, quieter on his feet than a mouse since Simon had met him, it made Nico adept at eavesdropping and sneaking. "She's already burning up and coughing."
Nico looked at Lorenzo awkwardly and seemed to consider his next words carefully.
"Mrs. Caruso is in with her," he said flatly.
Lorenzo almost lost his composure as his mouth tightened and his cobalt blue eyes filled with annoyance. "What?" he queried crossly in a quiet voice.
Nico rubbed at the back of his head with his right hand as he lost some of his confidence.
"I couldn't stop her, she just came in and ushered me out. I don't know how she found out," he added lamely.
Lorenzo slammed his cup down hard on the low wooden table before him and stood up swiftly, turning a glower on Simon. He pointed to the young male with one finger and said firmly, "when it gets to a more sociable hour you're going to take her to the orphanage."
Simon nodded back silently.
"Aren't you curious about what she was doing in the sea boss?" Nevin piped up as he finally abandoned the poker and stepped away from the rejuvenated fire.
"Not enough to be burdened with medical care costs," Lorenzo retorted moodily. He glanced to the open doorway and let out a soft sigh. "I suppose I must now persuade my wife to see the same reason."
Lorenzo walked out the door swiftly heading down a dark hallway to a modest lobby with a simple wooden staircase. He headed up the stairs with Nico following quietly at a respectable distance.
The bedroom door was open allowing a soft amber glow to spill out along with a barely audible hum.
Lorenzo, who had steeled himself for his wife's tenderness, determined not to fall for guilt tripping and to thwart her sympathy with cold reasoning, was instantly rendered helpless by the scene before him.
Lorenzo's young wife Renata Caruso sat in a wooden chair pulled close to the side of the singular bed and its sweating, bleary eyed occupant. Renata was leaning forward to the girl, gripping the child's left hand tenderly in her own as she hummed a soothing tune.
The girl was half-upright, back slouched against the pillows behind her as she huffed for breath and let out pitiable moans of pain. All the while the violin case sat on the bed with her, its handle firmly clutched in her right hand.
Renata, sensing her husband in the doorway, turned and gazed up at him with a small frown of worry and a damp sparkle in her bronze and copper eyes. She was dishevelled, her dark hair hanging messy and free about her shoulders whilst a violet silk nightgown hid her sleeping garments from view. If it bothered her to be seen in such a manner by her husband's young employee she didn't show it.
"She's delirious," Renata remarked almost in a whisper, "and her skin is hot to the touch. It's lucky Simon brought her here to us." Her gaze filled with hope as she held Lorenzo's blue stare. "I know it's late but you'll get the doctor soon for her, won't you Lorenzo? She won't take any water and she shakes in pain."
Nico, who lingered in the hall only just able to hear Mrs. Caruso's words, watched his boss very carefully as he awaited his answer. He saw how Lorenzo tensed and took a tight grasp of the door frame in his left hand as he fought the urge to be cruel and dismissive. Nico knew how Renata was a weakness to her husband and it made him scorn the fragility of a man's power to a woman's whims. Yet the young man often wondered what it would be like to kiss Renata's sweet mouth and imagined he might give into those pretty metallic eyes and gently spoken words too if it meant getting a chance to touch her smooth skin and explore her small but enticing body.
"Alright Ren, if you think she might live," Lorenzo gave in, his quiet voice sympathetic as his dark cerulean stare darted over to the girl.
Renata nodded confidently. "She will live, she's strong willed, she hasn't drifted off yet or relinquished that violin."
Lorenzo turned away from the scene, almost bumping into Nico as he did. He frowned up at the twenty-one-year-old who smiled awkwardly in response as he took a step back.
"Get the doctor called," Lorenzo instructed bluntly.
The doctor came with the day, arriving at the Caruso household in the wake of a cool grey morning. He was a tall, thin man and cut a spectral figure as he arrived in the shadows of the fading night wearing a long, navy winter coat. It was he who insisted on the removal of the violin case causing the previously quiet girl to erupt into loud, violent screams as she fought to keep it despite her pain and exhaustion.
Simon, who had been in a whisky induced slumber in the living room, awoke with a panicked start at the screams. Half-delirious from being caught in the throes of sleep coupled with a budding temperature, he did not attempt to consider the possibilities of the sound. Fearing taking time to think it through might only lead to a fatality, the young man bolted after the sound.
Simon staggered with a pant against the open doorway to look in at the scene wearily.
He felt sheepish when several pairs of eyes looked his way and he purposely focused on the screamer. Realising who it was, Simon tensed a little as he became conscious of the heat of Mr. Caruso's glower.
Simon figured he was already in trouble for introducing the girl to the Caruso household, how much worse could it get? He glanced out of the corner of his right eye, pausing to rub away the blurriness that plagued it briefly, and winced as he spied Mrs. Caruso there. She was teary eyed, kept back from the bedside by her husband to allow the doctor to examine the girl. Her mouth was open in a protest as she gasped and shuddered at the girl's squeals and she kept looking to her husband, who held her firm by the shoulders, gazing at him with equal parts anger and pleading.
"That's enough," Simon grumbled as he stepped into the room and fixed a glare on the girl. He came to a halt at the end of the bed and rubbed at his brow wearily. "Such a noise, you woke me you know. Not much thanks for saving you, is it?"
The girl's screams softened to whimpers as she looked up at Simon in surprise.
"Such a fuss over a silly interest, can't stand violins, all they do is screech. Anyway, you'll get it back you know, no one here wants it," he scorned her.
Simon leaned forward, lowering himself slightly so that his intense grey-green gaze was even with her watery stare. It was difficult to keep his stare focused when his head was beginning to pulse. His mouth felt dry and his eyes burned at the edges and were threatening to water.
"I think I know how this works, you're just like any other little brat, shiny things, toys and money, that's all it takes. I'll make you a trade, I'll buy a moment of time with your wretched violin."
Simon fumbled under the collar of the borrowed shirt he wore, reaching for the only coin remaining on him.
The girl's pale eyes widened when Simon produced a large silver dollar gleaming on a piece of tattered brown string about his neck. A hole had been pierced through the coin and a metal clasp was hooked through it, binding it to the string. Simon unbound the string hastily and held the coin out to her in the palm of his right hand with a wary stare. Her hand reached for the coin eagerly but he pulled it back quicker than she could reach it and held out his left hand to her pointedly.
"It's a trade," Simon said firmly as he met her look of confusion, "you let me have that for a few minutes and you can have the coin for a bit." He pointed to the violin case with one finger.
The girl shook her head with a glower of protest as she tugged the case closer to her, both hands now clutching the handle tightly.
Simon shrugged and clamped his hand closed over the coin.
"Pity, I only want the stupid thing for a while, anything for a moment of quiet. This is the best deal you're going to get for it, turn it down and someone's just going to snatch it off you in exchange for nothing, except maybe a slap to shut you up."
"Simon!" Renata cried out with a look of horror.
Nico, leaning silently against the wall until now, let out a low snicker.
Simon purposely did not look Renata's way as he felt another look of ire from his boss. He wasn't even sure if the girl understood him, none of them were. Why did he assume she understood English? It wasn't often that people coming from the water had it as their first language.
"You owe me as it is," Simon complained, "so it's a wonder I should offer you anything."
He opened his hand and showed her the coin again.
The girl leaned forwarded to squint at the coin over her violin case. She released the handle tentatively before hesitating to look at the doctor with mistrust. She whimpered and shook her head.
"Doc can we swap sides?" Simon quipped wearily.
The doctor frowned over at the young blonde. "It's Doctor. Gelford and I think all this delay in her treatment will only make her worse."
"Can't see what a few minutes will hurt," Simon grumbled. "Unless you all want her screaming again, she has been quieter since I arrived," he pointed out hotly.
"Probably just scared of you," Nico jested with a grin, "you do have that effect on people."
Simon ignored his friend as he moved round the bed to the doctor's side.
"He has a point," Renata piped up. Seeing her husband's questioning look she frowned and snapped, "not Nico, Simon, the poor child has been quieter since he arrived. Please Dr. Gelford, give him a chance to calm her better for you."
Dr. Gelford just managed to withhold a sigh before uttering coolly, "as you wish madam."
The doctor stepped away from the girl slowly, giving Simon a disapproving stare as they swapped places.
"Now," Simon said confidently as he crouched at the bedside this time, putting himself lower than the girl, "you can view the coin better." He held it out to her again, holding it close so she could take in the shape of the eagle. "I won't even leave the room with your fiddle, alright?"
The girl looked to the violin case and then to the coin. She reached for the coin again with one hand and this time Simon let her take it. She snatched it up quickly and pulled it close in her right hand, all while her left hand remained on the case's handle. She opened her right hand when it was close to her face and marvelled at the silver treasure within it.
"Ahem," Simon said dryly in a heavy tone.
The girl looked at his unimpressed stare before finally releasing the violin case with another whimper. Two tears trickled down her cheeks causing Simon's expression to soften just a little.
The young man reached out with his right hand and patted the girl on the head awkwardly. "I don't want it," he reassured her, "I'm just going to hold it here for a few minutes." He lowered his hand to the handle of the violin case and withdrew it from the bed slowly.
Simon stood upright with his new possession and took a few steps back from the bed. He took care to hold the case up high against his chest so the girl could see it. He gave a flicker of a smile, amused as she never took her gaze off the case. It felt oddly light in his hands prompting Simon to wonder how heavy a violin should feel. He gave it a gentle shake but couldn't hear anything moving about within.
For a few moments the girl was compliant as the doctor checked her over but when he produced a needle from his leather bag she began to whimper.
"Teppop, teppop," the girl started rambling as she shrank back against the bedhead.
Dr. Gelford looked at her oddly before glancing over his shoulder at Lorenzo. "Who is she?" he queried softly.
"Teppop, teppop," she repeated frantically.
"What language is that?" Renata quipped in alarm. "Oh the poor thing, what if she hasn't understood us this entire time?" She looked at her husband pleadingly. "We must find someone to assist her!"
Lorenzo's stare was calm as a frown plucked at his thin lips. "My dear we have the doctor to assist her and at this hour of the morning that is more than adequate." He released his wife and stepped forward to the doctor. "Perhaps she just rambles because she's sick, wouldn't that be possible doctor?" he queried carefully as his frown turned into a small smile.
The doctor looked ready to argue until he seemed to spy the glint of warning in Lorenzo's gaze. He nodded readily and said hastily, "of course. She has a high temperature, I was going to sedate her to give her some relief from it but perhaps we'll do without. I'll leave you with medicine for her, the important thing is to burn the fever out."
He moved to stand upright, withdrawing from the girl as he gave her an uneasy look. He fumbled with his bag, rattling through bottles before hunting out what he needed.
"What about Simon?" Renata queried with a look of concern.
Several pairs of eyes looked Simon's way but he didn't seem to notice as his gaze was fixed on the girl.
"He's fine," Lorenzo dismissed calmly. "Dr. Gelford, if you would be so kind as to leave instructions, then I'll pay you for your services and Nico can lead you out."
The doctor nodded rapidly although he gave Nico a wary glance. The doctor seemed to move at an unnecessary haste to produce liquid medicines, a notepad and a pen.
The girl was still mumbling the word 'teppop' over and over again.
Nico gave Simon a light nudge causing him to jump slightly. He looked at Nico scornfully as the older man snickered. It was as if Simon had been pulled from a trance, he blinked hard and pressed his right hand up to his brow, pressing a finger and thumb against his nose in a weak attempt to abate his growing headache.
"Are you fine?" Nico quipped quietly with a look of concern.
Simon lowered his hand and gave his companion a serious stare. "Fit as a fiddle," he said dryly.
Simon looked to the case in his possession once more as Nico snickered again. It was too light, he knew it was and as he shook it he didn't think there was a violin rattling about in it. He lowered it to his side and glanced over at the girl once more. He feared what he had done by saving her.
As the doctor headed out of the room, following in Nico's shadow, Renata moved quickly to fill his place. The young woman scanned the doctor's notes before turning an indignant stare upon her husband. "This won't do, she's just a young girl and that doctor's scared her. You know Lorenzo that children don't take medicine easily, some orange juice would be appropriate."
Lorenzo looked at his wife in disbelief before gesturing to the single belled copper alarm clock resting on the wooden cabinet beside the bed. "My dear we are almost approaching the more sociable hours of the morning but I still have hope for sleep, something most say is the best medicine. The child is dry and warm and the doctor has seen her and not without expense, let her sleep."
Renata frowned up at her husband. "And if she can't sleep with such aches?"
Lorenzo's deep blue stare fixed on Simon. "Well that will be Simon's problem."
Simon glanced over at his boss silently, knowing better than to object. Feeling Renata's curious stare upon him he remarked seriously, "I'll keep an eye on her."
Renata gave a thin smile as her bronze gaze glittered with disapproval. "It's not that I don't trust you Simon but you're not much more than a boy yourself, such responsibility is unfair."
Simon bristled at the accusation, his own stare filling with ire though he knew better than to say anything. All he could think was how boys didn't kill people or leave people for dead, if he hadn't done one he had definitely done the other.
The girl started to cough and whimper again before rasping out, "teppop."
"Get me something for her to drink Lorenzo," Renata said softly, "something to mix her medicine in with, then you can go to bed. I'll stay until she sleeps, then I too will return to bed, I promise." She looked to Simon again with a softer stare. "On the guarantee that Simon calls us if something goes wrong with the girl."
Lorenzo suppressed a sigh and instead awarded Simon with another glower. He knew the firmness underlying his wife's tone, she would be unbending on this matter. "Very well dear, I suppose we are all awake and the house is quite disturbed anyway," he remarked bitingly. He moved to the open doorway just as Nico appeared in it.
Nico read the annoyance in his superior's face and took a careful sidestep out of his way without a word. Lorenzo headed past him swiftly, moving for the stairs. Nico followed after him obediently.
Simon was left to wait impatiently for the men to return. He slouched against the wall, suppressing his own coughs into subdued grunts against his raised right hand. He was aware of Renata's looks of concern when he trembled and wondered if she could spy the glint of sweat on his brow. All the while he kept a tight grasp on the violin case's handle in his left hand, knowing he should trade it back now that the doctor was gone and yet determined not to until he learned what was within.
The girl's coughing grew more erratic and with each one a whimper of pain joined it. Renata started to hum gently but it did little to soothe the child.
Lorenzo returned with a small glass partially full with orange juice. He handed it to his wife wordlessly. "Don't linger too long," he instructed sternly.
"I won't dear," Renata assured with a small smile as she accepted the glass.
Lorenzo glanced at Simon once more. "Try not to disturb us before ten," he instructed.
Simon nodded. "Sure boss."
Lorenzo turned his attention to Nico. "You can stay in the other spare bedroom, no sense in you disturbing the peace of the streets by wandering through them at this hour, only crooks walk about at this time."
"Where's Nevin?" Simon pried.
"Home," Nico retorted calmly with a small grin, "no sense in us all being here."
Simon nodded agreeably.
Nico left the room first, slipping out quietly and heading down the corridor to the spare room. Lorenzo, after giving the girl another cool glance of suspicion, departed after.
Simon shrugged out his shoulders and stepped away from from the wall. His muscles were aching, his legs were stiff and his head was throbbing. He wanted to sit on the floor and close his eyes to the world but he knew he couldn't do it in front of Renata. Reluctantly, after giving his legs a light shake, he resumed his exhausted stance against the wall, waiting impatiently for the girl to nod off.
Renata mixed a teaspoon of medicine into the glass of orange juice before offering it to the girl.
Thirst seemed to win out over suspicion as the girl accepted the glass with a scowl and took a few greedy gulps. Her eyes widened at the taste and she glanced down at the glass with intrigue before finishing it eagerly.
"Good," Renata said with a smile as she accepted the glass back. She leaned forward to fix the pillow under the girl and pull the blanket closer to her chin. "Now close your eyes." She pressed her right hand gently to the girl's brow and found it hot to the touch. She resumed humming as she stroked the girl's brow and the crown of her head in short sweeping motions.
Simon wished he could feel some peace with the humming but he just felt agitated. He sniffed a couple of times as his nose threatened to run, wincing at the fresh pangs of pain it caused in his skull.
It took an hour before the girl nodded into a sleep laboured with heavy breathing. Each breath was taken through a partially open mouth as her nostrils snorted to indicate a blockage. She seemed restless and tense but her eyes were closed and she was definitely unconscious. Satisfied that it was the best the girl might do given the circumstances, Renata rose slowly and quietly to go.
Tired herself, Renata just managed to stifle a yawn before conveying a look of sympathy at Simon. She could see he was dead on his feet, his eyes were bruised with fatigue and starting to redden as was his nose, which shone at the nostrils with discharge. She knew he was falling ill from his watery escapade and determined that he would be treated with medicinal aid too should he worsen despite her husband's flippant dismissals.
Renata didn't say anything as she moved to slip out of the room, treading softly in shoeless feet protected only by thin stockings. She nodded briefly to the blonde and he nodded back before she exited out to the dark hallway. She took a care to pull the bedroom door behind her though she did not shut it tightly, fearful of disturbing the girl with the sound.
Once Renata had departed, Simon purposely waited ten more minutes at the wall, all while watching the girl. Believing her sleep to be deep and Renata to be in bed and out of hearing, Simon sank to his knees and placed the violin case on the ground.
Filled with curiosity and suspicion, Simon fumbled with the clasps, cursing internally at the loud clack each one made as he slipped it open. Certain that the girl was still asleep Simon pushed open the lid. It moved with a small squeal of protest, stiff from water damage and still damp to the touch. Seeing its contents at last filled Simon with a dumb shock. Whatever he had been expecting this was not it. He held the lid up with one hand and stared with wide eyes. He wanted to yell, curse and rouse his boss excitedly but a voice cautioned him against it. Instead he stayed silent, once more wondering who he had rescued and if he had committed a grave error in saving her.