Mr. Harring flipped a switch on the wall, igniting all of the lamps in the library at once. Their soft golden light illuminated the thick Persian rugs, leather chairs, and Harring’s many books standing neatly on their walnut shelves.
“So these are your famous teardrop sculptures,” said Harring’s guest – a new acquaintance from the capital. “They’re magnificent.”
Harring proudly described that the sculptures were made of Chinese porcelain. Venetian tile mosaics covered each circular bulb. This particular sculpture was pure white and had mother-of-pearl inlaid on the teardrop’s stem.
The guest said, “I didn’t expect them to be so large. You could fit a man inside one.”
“You are not the first to say that,” Harring replied. He remembered the local Chief of Police making the same observation after the first sculpture was put on display. It was the last time the Chief had set foot in Harring’s library.
The guest looked around the room. “Nine of them. All unique?”
“Of course. When the artist wanted to make more, I had to buy the entire collection.” Harring also made sure that all of them met the same specifications as the first. Save for the color of the surface decorations, the sculptures were virtually identical.
“You certainly know how to show off your wealth, Mr. Harring.”
The millionaire chuckled. “My family has always been a patron of the arts.” Harring wanted to say more, but his guest had already moved down the row. He was standing in front of the second sculpture now, inches away from the bulb’s widest point, staring intently at the orange mosaic and amber inlay. He leaned one way then another, trying to see the sculpture from all sides. Harring stood still and sipped brandy from the glass he was holding, watching his guest as worry bubbled in his heart.
“These shelves – are they custom made?”
“Beg your pardon?” Harring asked.
His guest noted, “The sculptures are so large, yet they each fit into their own niche. It makes me wonder if the library was built around them.”
The man was perceptive. Harring was right to be anxious. He hid it with a smile and said, “One does not hang a Rembrandt in an ordinary frame, nor store their Ming in a common cabinet. Speaking of which, have I shown you my collection?”
“Thank you, but perhaps later. I’d like to admire these sculptures a little longer. They fascinate me.”
Harring studied his guest as the guest continued studying Harring’s sculptures. So far that evening, Harring hadn’t caught this guest’s name nor what the man did for a living. All Harring knew was that he was a visitor from the capital and a friend of Harring’s neighbors. It would have been ungentlemanly for Harring to refuse him a seat at the dinner party tonight. Harring remembered the newspaper reports of abductions in the nearby villages and rumors that the police were seeking help from the capital. Could this unexpected guest be one of those reinforcements – a detective in disguise? Was he a private investigator who caught the scent of opportunity?
A familiar set of footsteps pulled Harring out of this dangerous mental spiral. Robinson, the butler, stood beside Harring and whispered, “My apologies for the disruption, sir, but Madam Prisk has indulged in a significant amount of brandy and is upsetting the other guests.”
This often happened whenever the Prisks attended a dinner party. Harring told Robinson, “In a moment. Do you know that man’s name?” Harring motioned toward his guest, who was now examining the blue teardrop sculpture.
“Mr. Eric Bosley, sir,” Robinson answered. “The kitchen staff informed me that he is staying with the Prisks.”
Eric Bosley. Harring must remember that name. “If he’s still here by April, remind me to invite him to the garden party.” Mr. Bosley could join the Chief of Police on Harring’s list of people to keep as far away from this library as possible.
“I’d also like to serve coffee in the front parlor after dinner tonight.”
“Sir, may I inquire as to why you are making this change?”
Harring pointed to a window on the opposite side of the room. “I was standing by that window earlier and felt a draft.” He had to lie. Robinson didn’t know the secret of the teardrop sculptures. Harring kept all of his servants in the dark for their own safety.
“Understood, sir. I’ll inform the staff and see to that window straight away.”
“Good. That is all.”
Robinson bowed and left the library. As the butler was leaving, Harring’s wife entered. “Mr. Bosley,” she said, “Mrs. Prisk wants a word with you. She seems distressed.” Harring and his wife caught each other’s eyes for a brief moment. Distressed wasn’t how he would describe Mrs. Prisk after too much brandy.
Bosley immediately stopped examining the sculptures. “Distressed?” he asked Harring’s wife. “What is all this about?”
Harring’s wife and Bosley left the library together. Harring could hear their voices fade down the hall but paid little mind to their words. He surveyed the nine teardrop sculptures for a minute. Nine test subjects slept inside them, kept alive by the tubes and wires descending through the stem from the machines hidden in the ceiling above. Bosley came close to discovering them – too close for Harring’s comfort. Those abduction cases had to remain unsolved. His research depended on it.
Harring flipped the switch on the wall, concealing the library in darkness. He returned downstairs to fulfill his obligations as host.
©2019 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.