Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Immokk

Part 4 of 39

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It was a classic spring day. Not too hot but not too cold either and there was some moisture in the air, like it could rain at any moment but probably wouldn't. Jack Aldridge used his spare key to open the back door and slipped into the house, hanging his hat on the coat stand when he walked in. The hallway was dark, as usual, and he waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the lack of light.

Slowly, as his eyes got used to dimness of the room, he slid his coat off and hung it with his hat, before wandering through to the kitchen. It smelt of baking and was always the lightest room in the house. He let his lungs fill with the scent of the bread as he walked through the dining area, into the living room, and then to the closed door of the study.

Jack rarely had any qualms about the way he earned his money or who he worked with, no job was too dirty and no job was too much. When he was a boy he would stay out into the small hours of the morning, as the night dipped black and the crooks came out to play. Once Samantha, a young girl from the same block as him and the girl he was destined to love and lose, had asked him why he chose to spend all of his time outside in the dark when it was so dangerous. He remembered looking at her with such awe that day, her innocence almost overwhelmed him, because she could live a life that involved parents who loved and protected her.

The simple answer to her question was that it was much safer, actually, for him to be out with the criminals and in the underworld than it was for him to be at home. That the sight of his face was enough to send his father into such a rage that he would pummel Jack until he could barely breathe.

Until either of them could barely breathe.

His mother often looked like she might like to help, her eyes were like a deer's, so wide and dark… and afraid. She never did help him, of course, his father had enough fists and feet for the both of them and Jack was resilient, enough, she had thought. Sometimes, Jack could even pretend that he understood how his mother could let her husband beat their only child.

Jack didn't tell Samantha all of this, obviously, what would she have thought of him if he had confessed it? Instead, he just told her that he preferred the danger and he preferred the dark, and in a lot of cases, this was pretty much the truth. He couldn't really stand the thought of her feeling sorry for him, of anyone feeling sorry for him, for that matter, and he liked it much better when they started to fear him.

Not Samantha though. Never her.

Although he didn't want her to feel sorry for him he had never wanted her to fear him either, all he wanted…

He shook his head, shook the thoughts out and glanced up at the study door. For a moment he was lost and it took him a few minutes to remember where he was and what he was doing there.

His mother had always called him a day dreamer.

Jack glanced down at his clenched fist and, with a deep breath, used it to knock on the study door. Knock first, he thought, never, ever, just walk in.

He waited until his boss' voice boomed out from the other side, 'Who is it?'

'It's Jack, Mr Schwarz,' he said, swallowing.

'Well, come in then,' Mr Schwarz returned, almost sounding exasperated. The man had the nature of a hungry bear.

As always, Schwarz didn't even turn to look at him, just said, 'What have you got for me?'

'I think we've might have a deal,' Jack replied, feeling more confident now. Work was good, work kept him going, no matter how underhanded, no matter how disgusting… it didn't matter to Jack. In his line of work, he was the best.

'You think,' Schwarz repeated.

'He says he will need to clear it with his brother first,' Jack explained, not feeling quite so sure of himself but none the less pleased.

'How was he when you left him?' Schwarz asked.

'A little worse for wear,' Jack responded. 'But I made sure he got to his brother's house just fine,'

Silence surrounded him and, just for a moment, Jack worried that he might have done something wrong. Jack considered himself a man of little fear; he had spent too many years fighting and dodging the law to be any different. He did not deny that he was ruthless, that he could kill if necessary, that he thought nothing of stealing, fighting and conning. He knew that he was not a man with many desirable qualities and yet his fearlessness was something he was truly proud of.

Well, until he stood in this room with this man.

This man that made his knees tremble almost as his father had, this man who sent the fear of God through him just by speaking, this man who could do terrible, horrible things without blinking an eye. Sometimes, Jack was not sure whether it was complete terror he felt or whether it was a mix of dread and admiration.

'Good,' Schwarz finally said, and it was only that then Jack realised that he had been holding his breath. 'Go back tonight, press the position,'

Jack swallowed. 'Aren't you worried that we will push him… the other way?'

'No,' Schwarz said, simply and to Jack's surprise, without anger. 'There is a payment for you on the kitchen table and some extra, for tonight,'

'Thank you, boss,' he said sounding all of the New Yorker that he was. He hated the damn accent, especially when he spoke to Mr Schwarz with his fancy voice, and wished he knew how to get rid of it. Saying that though, he wouldn't want to stand out too much, not in his line of work.

Without another word he left the study and clicked the door closed behind him. In the kitchen he found the envelope stuffed with dollars and smiled, tucking it into his pocket, he didn't dare count it in case he was being watched. It wasn't so much that he might encourage a mugger, but more that he wouldn't want to insult Mr Schwarz… ever.

After he had grabbed his coat and hat from the stand, he crept out through the back door and made sure that it was firmly locked behind him.

Home, planning, work… it was true what they said;

There really was no rest for the wicked.

When Philippe woke up, he found himself covered in a soft, white blanket and was lying in what looked like his brother's parlour room. He pushed himself up from the pillow and lurched forward as he felt his head do a quick spin, sending nausea and throbbing through his whole body. Slowly, he sat himself up right and leaned forward, pinching the bridge of his nose in the hopes that it might help his eyes focus.

He couldn't remember getting to Raoul's home but he remembered everything leading up to that and his excitement buoyed him so that he found the energy to stand and tug his shoes on. He saw his jacket resting over the back of one of the chairs and slung it over his shoulder, then set off in search of Raoul.

When he stepped out into the hallway, he noticed that the house was unusually quiet and wondered where everyone was. He made his way through the dining room and kitchen until he heard the sound of the piano in the area that Raoul called, 'Family room'. Opening the door without knocking he found Christine sitting on the stool, gently playing with the keys on the instrument.

He coughed loudly.

When she turned she did not look particularly surprised to see him there and said, without pause, 'If you find Helen, she will make you a drink,'

Philippe did not respond.

'Coffee, perhaps?' she asked but her eyes were dark and angry as they glared at him across the room.

He ignored her question, as he often did. 'Where is Raoul?'

'Out,' she said and clearly didn't deem in necessary to elaborate.

He waited a moment and when it became clear that Christine was going to tell him no more, he said, 'Where?'

'With Benoit,' Christine replied, still not really answering the question. She stared at him, eyes hard and as cold as he had ever seen them. If his head wasn't aching so much, he would probably have found it funny. 'He will see you tomorrow, no doubt,'

'When will they be back?' he prompted, his patience starting to wear thin. Still, no matter how sharp or curt he was with her, she held no fear and often gave as good as she got. This was the way their relationship was and had always been.

He was content with it.

'Later,' she answered simply.

He laughed, 'And I have outstayed my welcome,' he said, and the look in her eyes confirmed just that.

Knowing that there was little point in debating the matter further, he left Christine to her own devices and headed home. The journey was not a long one and the spring morning was warm and pleasant, so he decided against sending for a cab, choosing instead to walk and shake away the cobwebs.

Once at home he washed and put on fresh clothes, ate a little of what he considered breakfast but what most would see as lunch, and then read through the papers he had been given the previous night. Happy with his understanding of the potential agreement, he filed the documents and managed to grab another hour of sleep, so that he was prepared for the night ahead.

At seven that evening there was a sharp knock at his door and when he opened it he was surprised to see his new acquaintance, Jack Aldridge, standing in front of him. Smiling he invited the small, stocky man inside.

Jack smiled, 'I was thinking we could grab some dinner. Perhaps discuss business matters over a glass of wine,'

Philippe eyed him carefully, sceptical at first. Partly because he had only known the man barely a few weeks, partly because he knew he should stay in… and partly because he simply could not afford it.

'My treat, of course,' Jack grinned. It was a grin that did not reach his eyes and although Philippe knew, deep down, that this should worry him, he ignored it all the same. 'Well, the boss' anyway,'

Philippe thought for a moment but he knew already that the decision had been made in his gut. He could rarely resist a glass of wine, and a free one at that, considering the investment the man wanted, it might turn out to be a full bottle… or two.

'Let me get my coat,' Philippe said, leaving the door open so that Jack could step into the hallway.

'Nice place you got here,' Jack commented, as Philippe tried to find a suitable coat.

'Thank you,' he mumbled.

'No wife?' Jack asked, and Philippe could feel the other man's eyes on his back. It sent a chill through him, but he dismissed the sensation and finally found the brown coat he was looking for.

'Er… no,' Philippe replied, slipping the coat over his shoulders.

'Good choice,' Jack said, as he turned and walked towards the door.

Philippe was confused for a moment and asked, 'The coat?'

Jack turned to him, this time his eyes twinkling with amusement. 'No. Not having a wife,'

Philippe closed the door behind him and checked the deadlock, 'Um, yes, I suppose,'

'You suppose,' Jack said and although it was not a question, Philippe felt compelled to speak anyway.

'Well, yes, I'm not sure really, I have nothing to compare it to,'

'Your brother's wife, perhaps?'

Philippe shook his head. 'I told you, she makes him happy. She might be a pain in my neck and she might be a little lower in the social standing than I would like but she does make him happy,'

'Not all women can make their husbands happy,' Jack said as they walked along the cobbled street.

'Do you speak from experience?' Philippe asked, curious.

Jack either did not hear over horse's hooves and the general street traffic or he chose to ignore the question, either way Philippe never got an answer. Instead, Jack said, 'I'm looking forward to meeting her,'

'Ah, well, I haven't had chance to speak to Raoul yet… it's awkward,'

Jack looked over at him as they turned the corner to the street where Philippe's favourite restaurant was situated. 'Perhaps you could try speaking with him when you are sober,'

Philippe should have been affronted but Jack had said it in such a way that it sounded more like a gentle, considerate suggestion than a slight on his behaviour. Before he had chance to answer or think too much more about the comment, Jack clapped him on the shoulder and his grin returned.

No harm done.

Philippe said, 'He probably won't agree to it,'

As they entered the restaurant Jack's eyes sparkled roguishly in the low light. 'Then perhaps, my friend, we need to think of a way to sweeten the deal,'


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Immokk

Part 4 of 39

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