“I’m going to take Mr. Jones upstairs,” Neville said. “Reggie, why don’t you check in with our other guests and see how they’re getting along?”
The werewolf had an idea of what his employer had planned, so he didn’t protest. There was a room upstairs he just plain didn’t like thinking about.
So he headed over to the conservatory first, to look in on the hamadryad. As might be expected she required nothing of him. The ushabtis were seeing to her every desire quite nicely. One of them was up on a stepladder and it looked like he was dusting the oak tree’s leaves, which seemed a bit much, but not compared to what a dozen of the others were doing. Using cut-up pieces of trellis they had built a tiny structure between two of the tree’s roots, a little house with three walls and a sloped roof, a construction no more than a foot tall. Its front wall was open, and Reggie looked in to see a blue porcelain man lighting a candle stub and pouring wine into a saucer.
“Is that a shrine?” he asked them. “Are you worshiping her?”
One of the ushabtis turned to look up at him. Since its face was simply painted on the front of its faience head, he had a great deal of difficulty gauging its expression.
“Hey,” he said, “I didn’t say not to.”
The ushabti returned to its work, aerating the soil beneath the tree.
Reggie had seen weirder things. He’d heard weirder things since breakfast. Live and let live, he decided, might as well be the motto of Grimbly Hall. Except of course that many of the residents weren’t technically alive. But ‘exist and let exist’ just didn’t have the same punch.
He moved on to the study, where Babs seemed to have grown bored with the gramophone and had moved on to other entertainments.
“What’s your poison?” she asked when he came in, holding up a cocktail shaker and a soda siphon. “Horse liniment? Panther sweat? Giggle juice?”
“It’s a little early in the day for me,” he told her.
The flapper shrugged and poured herself a large gin rickey with plenty of ice. “Here’s how,” she said, sipping the drink. “Say, this stuff’s the eel’s elbows. The real McCoy, ain’t it? Not that bathtub rotgut you get at a speak.”
Reggie caught enough of that to grunt in acknowledgement, but not much more. He went to the windows, where sheets of water poured down from above, making it impossible to see anything outside.
“It’s throwing pitchforks out there,” Babs said, coming up behind him. “Don’t it make you want to get out there and play in the puddles?”
Reggie shook his head. “Too cold for me.”
“You’re a real wet blanket, ain’tcha?” she said. She laughed, perhaps to soften the insult. “Don’t mind me, I tend to speak plain.” When he didn’t reply she said, “You’re alright. No pillowcase, anyway.”
He turned and stared at her. And to really look at her for the first time.
She had a ridiculous mischievous smile on her face, and she was standing just a little too close. Her perfume overwhelmed his werewolf’s nose. “Pillowcase?” he asked.
“You know. Full of feathers.” She looked at him as if she expected him to know what she meant. When he shook his head again, she laughed. She had a very pleasant laugh. “Feathers is small talk, grand-dad. A pillowcase’s a fella who won’t stop beating his gums. You savvy?”
“Strong and silent type. That’s not so bad.” She stood next to him, facing the window he was pretending to look through. He could see her reflection in the glass. “Yeah, you’re a honest to Betsy cake-eater. Maybe you talk a little old-fashioned, but if I’m sticking in here with the likes of you, I can see an upside.” And then she did something he wasn’t expecting, not at all.
She ran her fingers through the hair on the back of his head. He shivered, unable to control himself. Her hand was warm and soft and a little damp, probably from the glass she’d been holding. It felt remarkably good against his skin.
Then she scratched him behind the ear.
He squirmed away from her like a ten year-old whose mother was trying to adjust his bow-tie. “Don’t do that,” he told her. “I don’t like it. I don’t like being treated like a dog. That’s not who I am.”
“It’s not what you want to be, you mean,” she said, softly. “Why are you so afraid of what you are? You can level with me.” She’d dropped the slang and he felt his heart hammering in his chest. He felt a sudden urge to run away. On all fours if necessary.
Reggie had plenty of experience with controlling his urges. Instead of running he turned to face her. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “The boss told me he forgot to ask you. The way he described you, I think if you came here looking to eat him for breakfast he’d ask if you wanted coffee or tea. You got his number. But what’re you after?”
“You think I’m some kind of gold-digger,” she said, and she dropped her eyes. “Some dumb dora looking for a darb with lots of voot. Well, I’ll admit, this is a real ritz place, but kale’s not my hop. I just heard through the clothesline this was the crib for a jane like me. You know.” She looked right into his eyes. “Like us. Monsters, if you’re going to make me spell it out.”
“Oh, yeah?” he said. He wondered what it would feel like to put his arm around her waist and pull her close. Bury his face in the crook of her neck and breathe in her scent. He thought she would laugh if he did that. He thought it would be a good laugh. He took a deep breath. “You’re a monster? You don’t look like one. What kind of monster are you?”
“Oh,” she said, and showed a lot of teeth, “the wickedest kind. Wicked, wicked, wicked.”