A Kind of Alchemy
by London Lampy
Fran stared out the window of the cab, looking at the morning bustle on the street outside. Life going on as it did everyday, everything was normal out there, whereas inside the cab normal life had been suspended.
"I'm so sorry." Fudge sniffed against his shoulder, hiccuping sobs. "I'm so...sorry."
"Sweetheart, you've got nothing to be sorry for." He wrapped his arm around her to comfort her.
"Mama..Mama made it sound like you'd betrayed both of us when she told me last night. She woke me up and explained how you'd sold The Empress, I was so angry with you...she took me to a hotel...but I couldn't sleep, I kept thinking...thinking about that note I left for you...and how upset you'd be when you read it." He took a clean white handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to Fudge, who blew her nose loudly. "And I was scared, I didn't really want to go away...Mama goes so far from here. By the time the sun was up I just wanted to go home...but mama said I couldn't, said you wouldn't want me back."
"You'd have to something far worse than write a stroppy note to make me not want you at home." Fran said, pushing down his rising anger at his sister.
"I feel so stupid." Fudge blew her nose again. "I don't want anyone to know...does Sam know?"
"Listen, Ava didn't even tell you anything close to the whole story." He wished that he didn't have to do this, against all reason Fudge had always placed her mother on a pedestal, and he was about to smash it to pieces.
"I thought there had to be more." Fudge looked up at him, her big dark eyes wet with tears. "I want to know the whole story."
Fran took a deep breath, this wasn't going to be easy, especially when loosing Sam was still so raw for him too.
As Fran ushered his niece back into their house he placed a hand on her back and he could feel her shaking. It had been a lot for her to take in, and she was both horrified by her mother's behaviour and intensely worried about Sam, as was he.
"We have to find him." She said he unlocked the door.
"I know we do, I just don't know where to start." It was all he'd been able to think about, but the only lead, the only person who might be able to tell him where the boy had been taken was the one person he wanted to see even less than Ava right then. Even though he knew he had to the thought of visiting Mother made him feel sick, and he very much doubted that the vile man would be forthcoming with information either.
"How could Mama do that?" Fudge slumped down onto the couch and hugged herself.
"She was angry at me and found a way to both get the one percent back and take revenge on me. She didn't care about Sam, or what happened to him."
"She's not very nice sometimes is she?" Fudge's voice was close to breaking again, and Fran felt his heart ache for her.
"No, she's not." He agreed, setting her suitcase down and sitting beside her. "She can be very selfish and spiteful, she's always been like that ever since she was little. Perhaps if she wasn't a star and people weren't happy to indulge her then life might have knocked the worst of it out of her as she got older. However she's still a part of our family, and in an odd kind of way she did what she did out of loyalty to that."
"I guess she doesn't know Sam like we do." Fudge said after a moments pause. "To her he's just some stranger you sold the business for, I can sort of see it her way, but she should never had done what she did."
"That's a very grown up attitude." Fran said with a small smile.
"That's because I am grown up now, mostly."
"You are, aren't you? I should have trusted you enough to tell you about my deal with Mother."
"So are we going to go and see him and get him to tell us where Sam is?" Instead of upset Fudge sounded resolved now.
"I'm going to go and talk to him, you're going to work. Mother is a dangerous man and I don't want you anywhere near him." He recalled Mother's crude remarks about Fudge and the auction.
"But you said I was grown up, and anyway, why is it safe for you to see him but not me?"
"Because..." He thought about it. Mother couldn't do anything to her with him there, he just didn't like the idea of him anywhere near her. "Because it just is."
"Tough, I'm coming with you." She was sitting up straight now, and instead of hugging herself her arms were folded across her chest, and her chin was lifted defiantly.
He drew breath to tell her absolutely no way, then changed his mind. She'd been so hurt and defeated a few minutes ago, and he would expect her to remain that way for several days. If her helping him to find Sam could keep her occupied and stave off the worst of her misery over everything that had happened with Ava the perhaps it was worth her briefly being exposed to Mother.
"All right, you can come." He agreed. "But you have to promise to let me speak to him and to keep your mouth shut, and to do what I say."
"I'll try." She nodded.
"No, not try, you will, or you'll be going to The Empress right now and staying there."
"I'll do what you say and keep my mouth shut." She mimed putting a key to her lips and turning it. "I promise."
He waited until mid morning to visit Mother, doubting that the man's working day would start any earlier than then, especially with the auction last night. When they arrived at the restaurant below Mother's offices the only person to be seen was a cleaning woman who was slopping sudsy water around the floor with a mop, she let them in after Fran had been knocking on the glass door trying to get her attention for quite some time.
"Is...he upstairs?" Fran asked her.
"Dunno." She replied, going back to work and splattering Fran's trouser legs with water as she went. "Not my business to know."
"We'll just go up and see then." As the woman didn't try to stop them, or even look round, Fran led Fudge across the restaurant and up the small back stairs.
"I imagined we'd be going into one of the big buildings." Fudge said quietly as they climbed the dingy stairs. "Not some restaurant."
"Mother's not that sort of businessman." Fran replied. "Most of what he does is far from legal, and he hardly wants to call attention to himself with a flashy office."
The waiting room was empty and Fran couldn't help looking at the place where he had first seen Sam, handcuffed to the radiator with no future beyond being whored out by Mother. If he hadn't happened to have come here on that particular day at that particular time he would never have met Sam, and if he had never met Sam he wouldn't be back today, filled with fear for the safety of the boy and hoping against all reason that Mother would tell him his whereabouts.
Fran knocked on the office door and it was answered by one of Mother's suited minders, he wasn't sure if it was one who had been at the auction the night before or not, to Fran they all looked much the same. Peering past the man into the room beyond he could see Mother sitting behind his desk reading a newspaper and drinking tea, incongruously the tea was in a delicate looking cup with a pattern of flowers on the side, Mother didn't even bother to look up to see who was at his door.
"I need to speak to your boss." Fran said, trying not to sound too desperate or scared.
"He's busy." The minder replied.
"He's not, he's reading the paper." An indignant voice came from behind Fran. Without him noticing Fudge had come up behind him and was standing on tiptoe looking over his shoulder.
"Tell them to take a seat." Came Mother's phlegmy voice. "I'll be with them when I can."
"He says take a seat and he'll see you when he can." The minder pointlessly relayed, then shut the door in Fran's face.
Fudge raised an arm to knock on it again, but Fran grabbed her wrist to stop her. "Don't, the last thing we want to do is annoy him." He hissed.
"But he could see us now!" She protested.
"Fudge, what did you promise me?"
"That I'd keep my mouth shut and do what you say." She said sulkily, following her uncle to sit in the waiting room. "But he knows where Sam is..."
"Fudge." He warned.
She ignored him and carried on. "...and the longer we wait to find him the more chance there is that something bad will happen to him."
Sam badly wanted to help Bonnie, but she wouldn't let him get anywhere near her, or even tell him what had happened. One thing turned out to be a small relief, she had put her hand into her pocket and pulled out the broken remains of the small bottle of chicken blood, which at least meant that the blood stain on the side of her dress hadn't come from her.
"I want to go home." She said blankly, staring at nothing, lying on her side on the small bed. "I want to go home."
She repeated these words periodically in the same toneless voice for quite some time before the door was once again unlocked and the two servants, the tall masked man and the small golden eyed man, came in.
"Up." The tall man said, gesturing to Bonnie.
"No." She shook her head, curling up into a protective ball.
The man strode the few paces across the room, grabbed her arm, dragged her off the bed to the floor then pulled her to her feet. Bonnie attempted to struggle, but she was no match for the man who pinned her arms to her sides with little effort.
"Leave her alone!" Sam shouted, getting to his feet and attempting to pull the man's hands off her, but the tall man casually kicked out at him, his foot making hard contact with Sam's shin bone, and the burst of intense pain sent Sam tumbling to the floor.
The small man swiftly tied a length of cloth around the girls eyes to act as a blindfold, and this seemed to make her frantic, she thrashed against her captive screaming loudly, Sam had only ever heard a panicked animal making the kind of noises she was making, and it was chilling to hear it coming out of a human. Before he could get to his feet again the screaming girl was bundled out of the door and it was locked behind her. He sat on the floor as her screams receded, pulling up his trouser leg and looking at the bruise that was already starting to form on his leg, wondering if he would ever see Bonnie again.
They had to wait nearly an hour before Mother deigned to see them, by which time Fudge was climbing the walls in anger and desperation, and although Fran was attempting to keep a cool demeanour he felt much the same on the inside.
"Sit down, sit down." Mother oozed fake bonhomie as they entered the room. "Hello Fran, I thought our little event went very well last night, yes? And I see you've bought your lovely young niece with you to see me today, hello my dear, we haven't met..."
"Where's Sam?" Fudge demanded, cutting Mother off in mid oily flow.
"Sam?" Mother frowned as if in thought. "I'm afraid I don't know a Sam."
"You know who he is, you sold him last night!" Fudge shouted, as her uncle put a hand on her arm and told her to calm down, sorely wishing that he hadn't agreed to let her come with him.
"Oh, is his name Sam? I didn't know, and I don't know." Fran shot Fudge a look, trying to convey with his eyes that she shouldn't rise to Mother's bait. "You see when a butcher sell a slab of meat he neither knows nor cares about its final destination, why should I be any different?" a nasty smile spread across his face.
"You must know who bought him, you must have records." Fran tried to sound calm. "Please, we need him back home."
"Records? Maybe, but I don't recall one for that particular transaction, no not at all." Mother chuckled. "Must have slipped up in my bookkeeping there. But even if I did the boy was mine to sell, look." He passed Fran a piece of paper, it seemed to be a handwritten agreement to give him, or any other member of his family, back one percent of The Empress in return for "a single item of unspecified goods", and it had Ava's flamboyant signature at the bottom, he must have drawn it up hastily last night. "And therefore he's no longer any of your concern." There was no humour in the man's voice now.
"This cannot be legally binding." Fran said, his hand shaking as he held the document.
"Fran, oh dear." Mother shook his head, his pasty jowls jiggling. "Are you going to take it to the authorities and tell them how you held a virginity auction in your theatre and how the boy you bought off me some months back was sold out from under your nose?" Fran heard Fudge draw breath to speak from beside him, and he nudged her with his foot to stop her. "You know." Mother continued. "If your charming sister had been a touch more...ah...forthcoming last night then I might have been amenable to something akin to refund, maybe." Fran recalled how Ava had rebuffed Mother's suggestion that she spend the night with him. "But as the situation is the whole thing stands, you have your majority back, I have the profit from the boy, which may I say is not inconsiderable. There was quite the bidding war for him, yes there was."
Fran knew that he was running out of time and options, Mother wasn't going to tolerate him being here for much longer, so he decided to try one last desperate thing. "Please, I'm appealing to you as a person, I'll give you back the one percent, more if you want, just give me back Sam."
"Hmm." Mother looked like he might be considering it, and hope briefly flared in Fran's heart. "No, I don't think so, I'm afraid I don't see it would be of any benefit to me." He gave Fran a look of pure malice, telling him that the only reason he was doing this was because he was enjoying Fran's pain. "I think I want to look at getting out of the theatre business."
"You bastard!" Fudge shouted. "You total fucking bastard!"
"Tut tut." Mother said. "Such foul language from such a pretty mouth. If I was your uncle I'd pull your panties down, put you over my knee and give you a good spanking." Fran watched in disgust as the man ran his tongue over his lips at the thought of this. "But then I don't think that's quite you uncle's style, is it? Fran, perhaps you'd like me to discipline your niece for you? Hmm?"
Without a word Fran stood, pulled Fudge to her feet and they left Mother's office, with Fran slamming the door behind him hard enough to cause a small shower of plaster dust to fall from the ceiling.
"We need to go." He said tightly to his niece, trying to keep hold of his anger.
"But what about Sam?" She asked.
"He's never going to tell us where Sam is, we'll just have to find him some other way."
They descended into the restaurant where the staff were now setting up for lunch. He pushed past a waiter who nodded to him in recognition, it was the man who had been at the auction last night, but Fran didn't bother to return the nod, he wanted to get the pair of them out of the place as fast as possible.
"How are we going to find him?" Fudge said once they were back out on the street, her eyes once again damp with tears.
"I don't know sweetheart." He wrapped his arms around her, feeling close to tears himself now. "But somehow we will, we have to."
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