This is the fifteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1545 words.
June 1898. Madame Enescu returns.
On the Monday evening, Madame Enescu and her assistant returned as arranged. Patrice had not long got home from work, and his expression was glum as he handed over the notes. She passed them to her assistant, who leaned forward and counted them at the kitchen table. The young woman flicked through them with the professional skill of a bank-teller, and in no time seemed satisfied. She placed the bundle into the leather bag, and turned to the older woman. ” O mie. Tot acolo.” That seemed to please her employer and she nodded, turning to Patrice and his wife.
“So, one thousand, and all there. Thank you. Now we have to have a serious talk. This roaming spirit inside your daughter may have been around for centuries, or only since last month. From the way he speaks, and the things he says through her, I suggest he is experienced, and will now be wary too.
We will need a familiar, something to tempt him out of Patricia. And your daughter must be tied down. We cannot allow her to touch our heads or faces during the procedure. I have brought leather straps for that purpose”.
Adele looked at her. “A familiar, Madame? You mean like a black cat, or another such animal favoured by witches?” Madame Enescu appeared to be suppressing a smile as she replied. “No, nothing like that, Adele. May I call you Adele? I mean another girl, preferably a child. One with blonde hair like your daughter’s, and those perfect lips. We will bring her here, and this German will leave your daughter, and enter her instead. Then my assistant will wrap the girl in a sack, and leave her outside an asylum. I have been unable to find anyone suitable today, so wondered if you knew of any local children who would suffice? If not, there will be a delay until we find one, I’m sorry to say”.
Patrice jumped back as his wife stood up, her face bright red. “This is your solution? These are your skills? How dare you think that we would save our Patricia by enslaving another innocent! No, Madame, that will never happen. Perhaps you should leave now. In fact, get out! I want you out now!” She turned and ran into their bedroom, tears streaming down her face. The woman looked up at Patrice, her face heavy with powder, and her eyes wrinkled in annoyance. “And you, Monsieur? Do you agree with your wife?
Did you think it would be as easy as saying a few prayers, and it would all be over? Even if we get the girl back, it may only be the start of a long recovery for her. She will remember it all. That’s the pity”.
He had an idea. A fleeting thought that became something solid in his troubled mind. “Please stay, madame. I have a plan. I will have to go out, but I will be back in no more than thirty minutes. Meanwhile, you and your assistant can secure Patricia as you suggest”. She tapped her perfect fingernails on the table-top. “I will give you that time, but no more. I am not happy with your wife’s attitude, I confess. And there will be no refund if your plan fails, you understand that I hope?” Patrice turned to leave. “You can keep the money either way. Without our Patricia, it means nothing”.
There were no cabs outside, so he had to run to the corner to wave one down on the main boulevard. He gave the cabby the address, adding quickly, “As fast as your horse can trot, and I will double your fare”. When they arrived outside the workshops of his employer, Patrice handed him some coins.
“I need you to wait, I will be very quick. As I said, double the fare if you get me home as fast as you got here”. The driver looked at him from under the low brim of his waterproof beaver-fur bowler hat. “Very well, Monsieur. But don’t think to cheat me later”. Using the key provided to him as chief toy-maker, Patrice opened the heavy door and ran inside, leaving it open. He knew exactly where to go, and what he wanted. And at the back of his small office, it was there, waiting.
The company had recently completed a commission for the Russian royal family. A special doll, designed to order. Patrice had overseen the manufacture of the prototype, quietly suggesting some minor alterations, until it resembled his own daughter as a small child. Then they had made the doll to send to Russia, and he had kept the first one in his office, with an idea to pitch it to the sales manager as part of the Christmas range. He had even thought of a name for it. ‘Claudine’. The suggestion had been well-received, and they had decided to make it a limited edition, for the very wealthy clients only. Plans for that were still being arranged, when Patricia had been struck down.
Grabbing the doll, he emptied a calico sack full of wound ribbons, and stuffed it inside. He was back in the cab in less than three minutes.
The woman rubbed her chin in thought. “It might work, it just might. The doll looks enough like your daughter, and he will not realise it is not a person until he is inside. By then it will be too late”. The young assistant shook her head, a scornful look on her face. Madame Enescu rounded on her, her respectable veneer disappearing fast. “What do you know, foolish girl? You are just an apprentice. Look and learn, and keep your scorn to yourself. Many times in the dark past spirits were charmed into dolls and animals. I know it is easier to use a child, or some brainless woman, but this could work, I tell you”.
Patrice followed them to his daughter’s bedroom. Adele had not left their room, and he could hear her sobbing behind the door. Patricia was strapped to the bed, her arms above her head, buckled to the iron bedhead. Her legs were wide open, and her ankles secured to a chain running under the mattress. But as he saw she was naked, he looked away, distressed to observe Patricia in that way. The assistant spoke to him in her heavy accent, her tone soft, and suddenly kind. “Do not think of her as your daughter at this moment, Monsieur. We had to cut away her nightdress so we can get about our work. Wait over there, and be ready when I ask for the doll”. Madame Enescu took a pot from the leather bag, and a fine artist’s brush. She began to paint strange designs on Patricia’s naked body, singing a haunting melody that reminded him of a Gregorian Chant he had once heard at a concert.
Patricia’s eyes opened wide, and her head began to move from side to side. Then her body strained against the restraints, and seemed to be trying to lift itself up from the bed. The foul smell returned as the singing continued, louder this time, and more repetitive. His daughter’s mouth opened wide, and the hair stood up on his neck as the voice came from inside her. “Tu dein schlimmstes, Roma-hure”. Seconds later, he heard his Patricia’s own gentle voice. “Papa, oh dear Papa”. Madame Enescu nodded at her helper, who turned to Patrice. “Now, Monsieur, be quick!” He passed over the doll, and the young woman pressed it hard against the face of the girl on the bed.
The singing stopped, and the woman reeled back from the bed, sitting down heavily on the floor with a bump. The assistant thrust the doll into the bag, and tied the top tightly. Patricia slumped back against the pillows, her eyes closed, and her expression finally serene. As his head turned from his daughter to the woman on the floor and back again, Patrice raised his voice. “Is it over? In the name of God will someone tell me what has happened?”
Madame Enescu struggled to her feet. Rivulets of perspiration had left small channels in the powder covering her cheeks. “It has left her, Monsieur. At least as far as I can judge. You have her back, but perhaps not all of her. There is a long struggle ahead for your family, but I can do no more. Now go and tell your wife while we unfasten the straps. She can come in and kiss her daughter”.
As they sat in the cab on the way home, Madame sounded pleased. “You did well tonight, my dear. Tomorrow, I will give you the address of a toy shop I know. They will surely buy it from us, and a doll as pretty as that will not stay long in the window, I would guess. Some customer will buy it, and then who knows? Maybe we will get more lucrative business charming out the evil once again”.
Inside the bag, Rudolf looked through the large glass eyes into the darkness surrounding him. He had been charmed indeed, and now no longer had a voice.
No matter. Someone would suffer for that.