There was only one truly human woman working at Grimbly Hall. The rest of the human servants had all fled when they realized that their new master was a four thousand year old mummy, not even bothering to ask for recommendations, their back pay, or, in several instances, their luggage.
Considering the character of their previous human master, Septimus Grimbly, and comparing it to the demonstrated genial affability and class consciousness of Neville Imsety, this might have been a short-sighted decision, but nonetheless it meant that only Mrs. Patavatsky remained to cook and keep house. Unlike the erstwhile scullery maids and footmen, Mrs. P was made of stout stuff. She had been a Bolshevik and a champion of the Russian revolution, in her time. She had once taken on a cavalry division of Czarist revanchists while riding on the back of a tractor (admittedly, a tractor that had been refitted with more than the usual complement of machine guns) and then made it back to camp in time to craft a perfect lemon curd in honor of a visit from Comrade Lenin.
Playing house for a mummy and a werewolf was light duty by comparison.
When Babs wandered into the kitchen this redoubtable woman was busy punching balls of dough for the day’s baking, with flour up to her elbows and a look of intense concentration on her face. Babs was almost afraid to interrupt such deadly serious work. Almost.
“Hiya,” she said, leaning on the kitchen’s doorframe. Trying her level best to look friendly.
Mrs. P lifted her eyes in Babs’s direction. For a moment her stern mouth looked as if it might spit out some dire curse. Then she sighed and nodded. “Is that time, yes?”
Babs had no idea what she meant.
The housekeeper rubbed her hands on a greasy cloth, then planted her fists on her aproned hips. “Is time to make good the escape, for you.” She nodded and pointed at a cupboard above the sinks. “Best silver is up there. How much you can carry? Skinny arms on you, but you are spirit. Maybe you are magically strong. Is twenty-four settings, you maybe sell for thousand dollars, find the right fence.”
Babs’s eyes went very wide. Considering how much kohl and eye shadow she habitually wore, the effect was probably quite dramatic, though it was rather wasted on Mrs. P. “I beg your pardon?” she asked, in that tone that indicates she understood exactly what had been said to her but that she would give her interlocutor exactly one chance to claim they’d been misheard.
Mrs. Patavatsky was a plain spoken woman, syntax notwithstanding. “They leave you alone here. Finally, you have your chance. Get the goods and run, as children say now.” She shrugged. “Am not unsympathetic. Stealing from rich capitalist, is not theft. Is returning means of production to worker class. I tell authorities I see nothing.”
“I ain’t no grifter,” Babs sputtered, deeply offended. “You think that’s why I came here? That I agreed to live in these digs just to cut and run when I got the first chance? For crying out loud, lady—”
“Ah, understand now,” Mrs. Patavatsky said, nodding in appreciation. “You no thief.”
“No. You other thing. What is called? Woman who makes the, the…” she made a very rude gesture, so rude it cannot even be described here, which should tell you exactly what it looked like, “with man, then he pay for furs, cars, jewels. What is word for this? Parasite? Adventurer?”
“The word,” Babs corrected. “is gold-digger. And I’m going to pretend like you didn’t say that.” Which, technically, she hadn’t.
“You have him wrapped around finger, I see it. And poor Mr. Reggie, you torment with promise of—”
“Sure, Neville and me, we’re—well, I don’t know exactly what we are, yet,” Babs said, side-stepping the question of the chauffeur entirely. “But I’m not after his money!”
“Then why come here?” Mrs. P asked. “You show up in rain, drunk and maybe hopped up. Out of nowhere. Is this how modern women act?”
“This one does. Look, I was in a little trouble with some bootleggers down in the city. I wasn’t exactly on the lam, let’s just say the heat was on in the kitchen, so I legged it while the getting was good, sure. Then I heard about this place—it ain’t exactly a state secret, down in New York, about this mummy who’s offering sanctuary to any monster who can crawl, wriggle, or float in astral form to his doorstep. I figured maybe it would be a place to lay my head for a couple days. That was all I was looking for. He was the one who offered me my very own swimming pool!”
“You did not say no,” Mrs. P pointed out.
“Why, I oughta—”
Babs stopped there. Which was probably for the best. Had the two of them continued to follow that conversational trajectory, something might have been said which could not be taken back. Someone’s feelings might have been hurt. Alternatively, someone might have gotten a black eye or a sore jaw—and between the two of them, the powerfully-built housekeeper and the water spirit, it might have been quite a slugging match.
Babs did not stop in mid-sentence because she wished to avoid further confrontation, however. She stopped because she’d clearly heard the sound of the Hall’s doorbell ringing.
“More of this, later,” she said, and headed out of the kitchen in a huff. The butler was already answering the door, but Babs determined that she would be the one to greet their visitor. Even if it was a six-foot-tall cockroach—which was not out of the realm of possibility—they would be better company than the servants of the house.
She stormed through the front hall with a forced smile on her face and one hand already out to greet the newcomer, intent on making a friend here if she had to convert to the Jehovah’s Witnesses or buy an acre of swampland. It was not, however, a traveling salesman she saw revealed in the open doorway. Nor a six-foot-tall cockroach, for that matter, but a girl of maybe fifteen years.
Rather a pretty one, Babs thought, in a provincial sort of way. She was blonde with hair that fell around her shoulders, the kind you had to brush a hundred times each night before you went to bed (as far as Babs was concerned, the bob cut was one of the great innovations of human technology). The girl was wearing a simple and modest print dress cut to ankle-length and rather ugly shoes that were covered in mud. Maybe another orphan of the storm, as they saying went, just looking for a little sanctuary.
Then Babs got closer, and she noticed two odd things about the girl. For one, her face and all of her visible skin was marked by a pattern of zig-zagging lines, lines that radiated outward from a central point like the delta of a river, or perhaps like the branches of a tree. It looked like someone had drawn lightning bolts all over her.
The other thing Babs noted was that the girl was weeping uncontrollably.
Babs’s foul mood slipped off of her like water off a rusalka’s back. “Oh, you poor thing,” she said, and tried to throw an arm around the girl’s shoulders.
“No, don’t!” the girl said, by way of warning.
A moment too late.
A powerful electric shock rushed through Babs’s body, knocking her backwards and sending her sprawling on the marble floor of the foyer, her head buzzing with light.