It continued in London – Episode 25

A small job, really?

Nothing Rodby did, didn’t have an ulterior motive, and as cynical as that sounded, I had to wonder what it was.

Rodby just didn’t understand I didn’t want to go back to that life of always looking over the shoulder.  Disappearing and reinventing myself with Violetta changed my life.

Now she was no longer there, it was like that cloak of invisibility had gone.  Rodby hadn’t said as much but I knew he was going to formally ask me to return to work, citing the reason I’d be better off doing something rather than dwelling on the past.

It was hard to dispute that fact.  I needed something to do.  Just existing even in a place like Venice was not living.  And finding someone else, well, I was not sure what Violetta might think, but I knew she would not want to see me like this.

I was not sure how going to the opera as a plus one was going to make a difference, and I was trying not to play down Martha’s invitation. She didn’t share her passions with just anybody, nor would she be a cohort in one of Rodby’s recruiting schemes.

He was not so circumspect

So, I dusted off the tuxedo one more time, even though I didn’t really feel in the mood for anything. Time had not made me a size too large or smaller, despite the good life I’d had over the last few years.  Italian cooking was hardly the manna dieters went to as a first choice, but then, I was not under so much pressure to stay fit.

This was in part due to the fact I didn’t forsake the fitness regime I had adopted for many years; I just didn’t go at it so hard, and it had served me well.  The suit still fitted.

The text from Rodby arrived about ten minutes before the car was due to pick me up outside the front door.  I was hoping I would not have to get a cab, expecting I would have to get myself to the Royal Opera house

When I reached the curb, the car was waiting, the chauffeur waiting to open the door for me.  My first impression, he was more a bodyguard than a chauffeur; I could just see the earpiece connecting him to an invisible army.

As the door opened, I could see there was another person in the car, and, at first sight, I thought it might be Martha, Rodby, who detested opera, somehow getting out of going, but it was not. 

It was another woman, very elegantly dressed about my age or perhaps a few years younger though she had managed to keep what must have been, in her younger days, devastating beauty.

A princess perhaps of a foreign country, she had that classical European look.  Martha knew a lot of different people, rich, poor, aristocratic, and others like me.

I climbed in and the chauffeur closed the door.

“Welcome, said the spider to the fly.”  She said it with just a hint of a smile, discernible in the light striking her just right from a streetlamp overhead.

“Rodby didn’t tell me there was another guest, so please forgive my momentary surprise.  My name is Evan Wallace, but no doubt you already knew that.”

“I did.  It was going to be my next question.  Rodby would be very annoyed if I picked up just any man off the street. I am Countess Heidi von Burkhardt, though I do not want you to use that title tonight.  I am, today, just Heidi.”

“Then just Heidi it will be.”

The car eased its way out into the traffic quietly and smoothly.  It was so quiet I could just hear the symphony playing in the background, one I’d heard before but could put a name to.  Just yet. It would come to me.

“Rodby failed to mention you would be coming to the opera.”

“He would.  Martha’s idea, she seems to have this soft spot for you, or at least that was the impression I got when she mentioned you might be coming, and I suspect she might also be dabbling in a little matchmaking.”

It wouldn’t be the first time.  She had tried finding someone for me after Violetta died, but I told her it would be too soon.  Perhaps she had assumed enough time had passed.

“There isn’t a Count?”

“There was, but he passed some months ago.  It would not have mattered though; we had an unusual and mutually agreeable arrangement.  I spent his money, and he did, well, whatever it is Counts do.  He didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask, but I suspect it killed him in the end.”

“Did you love him?”  An odd question that had popped into my mind and was out before I could stop it.

“My.  Martha did warn me you could be direct; she called it refreshingly honest.”

“Sorry, sometimes the words come out before I consider whether they’re appropriate or not.  Just ignore that question “

“No.  It’s one I asked myself after his passing, and truth be told, I did. I had such romantic notions when I was young, that I was going to find a prince and marry him.  I didn’t find the prince, but I live in a castle, with turrets and towers and dungeons.  Just no dragons, except for the housekeeper.”

She shuddered. 

Cold or memories?

“You live there?”

“I did, I haven’t been back since Gustav died, but I will have to, some inheritance matters have come up, and I’ve been summoned to Bacharach to meet with the Rechtsanwalte.  Perhaps I’ll go after the opera, literally joy followed by pain.”

The car stopped and we arrived outside the Royal Opera house.  For a few seconds, the smile had disappeared, and it was replaced with a frown, no doubt brought on by the thought of facing the German legal system.

Then, as the door opened, she changed.

No one told me she was a celebrity and there would be limelight, flashing cameras, and a host of journalists.

© Charles Heath 2022

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