Every field or discipline evolves into its own little world, in which the inhabitants know each other - by name and reputation if not by sight, and interact and react much like they do in the outer world - but with certain differences in how they react based on the peculiarities inherent in every field. Yet for every world the principle is the same - those on top want to stay on top, at the top of the food chain. Those in the middle wish to achieve topness, or at the very least do not wish to lose any ground to the upstarts below them. And the upstarts, gazing upon the mountain of rivals above them attempt, one way or another, to move the mountain or climb over it in order to get to the other side.

The world of silent film search and restoration, study and critique, appreciation and fandom, is a world of relative smallness, but with its share of sharks and snakes, lions and lambs within the various strata. Most of the inhabitants of the heights know each other, and the climbers either know them or knowof them. Little did Professor Victoria Mason suspect, as she searched and seethed within the Faustus mansion that morning - that various members of this menagerie, of varying degrees of familiarity to her, were even now preparing to converge on the Faustus estate like ants converging on a honey-soaked body staked out in the sun.

I.

Reporter Carl Ruy-Lopez grimaced at the crash of sound in his ear, and replaced his own telephone receiver much more gently. His eyes had sharpened considerably. Even more so than the discovery of a long lost film, the sheer venom in the professor's voice had signaled that there was much more going on within the estate of the infamous Erik Faustus than met the eye. Exactly the kind of story he liked to dig in to and expose.

These stories weren't the kind that met with welcome by his editor at the Northeaster, but that didn't matter. He was a stringer for AP and one of these days one of the big papers would pick up one of his stories, and his career would be made. Chandler nodded sharply. This might be it. He knew, perhaps better than anyone except the woman currently subjected to it - that there would be a horde of reporters from tv, newspaper and magazine encircling the Faustus mansion. He also knew that he wouldn't let a little thing like a horde, or iron gates, prevent him from getting access to that house and the secrets it contained.

Lopez shoved his chair back with his calves as he rose from his seat, slung his camera over his shoulder, and plopped his favorite straw hat on the back of his head. As he rushed out of the office and through the hallway he spared not a glance at the mirror on the wall.

II.

Frenchman Paul Morphy lounged in his leather chair and stretched his long legs out before him. He held a cigarette clipped between the fingers of his right hand and a telephone receiver in his left. He lounged, his head cocked against the phone, listening to the silence on the line, gazing out of the plate glass window which formed an entire wall of his penthouse office. Beyond the glass lay the city of Paris, the nightscape that was his favorite view, with the lights glittering like jewels scattered over the dress of a beautiful woman.

Seated as he was, Morphy's height of six foot four was not readily apparently. The whipcord strength of his hundred and eighty pounds was hidden beneath a well-fitting Armani suit. Brown hair was combed back from a high forehead, streaks of grey at his temples leant an air of distinction. His nose was long and straight, his cheekbones high and gaunt, his lower lip sensually full. His most striking characteristic - his eyes, were an almost incandescent blue as he squinted them against the smoke rising casually from the tip of the Gauloise.

He was in the process of making reservations to fly from Paris to New York.

As he waited for the minion on the other end of the line to finish checking her computer for suitable flights and times, he continued to do nothing more than enjoy the cigarette and the view.

''Messieur?''

''Oui.''

Morphy placed the cigarette into an onyx ashtray, plucked up a solid gold fountain pen and wrote down the information she gave him. His flight was leaving in two hours and he had a first class seat reserved. ''D'accord. Merci.''

He replaced the phone and rose to his feet, moving towards the window. As he grew closer to it his reflection appeared in the suddenly opaque black glass. Morphy stopped, turned away, and then glanced back, staring at the silvery outlines of his reflection. It was a habit of his that had grown over the years. Whenever he unexpectedly caught his reflection - in a mirror, in the gleam of a polished car, in a window - he always did a double take. Witnesses all assumed, either indulgently or sardonically, that he was an incredibly vain man. But it was not vanity that caused Paul Morphy to try to catch his reflection off guard.

III.

Sarah Giocco sat at a piano, tinkling the ivories casually to keep the patrons happy, waiting for the movie to begin. The patrons, hundreds of them - had come to this Film Archive to view a showing of the Shepherd restoration of Paul Wegener's Student of Prague....Sarah was one of the top ten or twenty solo accompanists in the country for these do's.....much as she'd wanted to cry off tonight and get to New York she could not....

But her mind was not really on her work, but rather travelling back in time, to when she had been a young girl of seven or eight, and her mother had taken her to the movies. Not to see such films as Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera or Conrad Veidt's The Man Who Laughs, but because her mother's sole source of income was playing accompaniment for silents, her father having had died at a place called Chateau-Thierry in the war to end all wars, and she had no relatives with whom she could leave Sarah on those nights when the films weren't suitable for a young girl.

In that beginning was her ending....the very first movie at which she had accompanied her mother was the grand premiere of Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera, and as a publicity gimmick, as soon as her mother had started playing the piano, Lon Chaney himself, dressed in full costume, had burst through a faux movie screen and stunned the audience, as if he had come to life from within the movie itself. Of course, it hadn't been the real Lon Chaney, but an actor hired for the publicity, nevertheless it and he had seemed so real to her. For ever after, music and movies and life were all that occupied Sarah Giocco's thoughts.

She learned the piano while watching her mother play, she learned the power of music while watching and feeling the audience react, at a very young age she had become a spectacular pianist....and only after the death of silents had she moved on to classical music and the concert stage where she had made her fame and fortune.

And where she had met Erik Faustus.

Sarah smiled now, as she thought of their first meeting. He had come back stage after her last performance in Prague, had told her how much her music moved him and begged her to let him show her the city. They had walked the night streets in perfect safety, and he had spoken movingly of how music affected him, and none more so than her music that night. And she had responded... she had intended to tell him of her dream, of her lifelong goal...''

''To play with such power and irresistibility that you will make your entire audience willing slaves?'' he had asked seriously.

She had laughed. And said, ''Yes!'' and that had not really been a lie...she had not, then, told him of her real dream, for he would have thought her insane...but eventually, as he had followed her around Europe, she had told him of her goal, and he had not laughed at her....

It had been such an innocent ambition, such a na�ve view of the use of her power...

She had never thought that Faustus would die. He was as old as she - perhaps even older, but she had never thought that he would die. And if he had died, why had he done so so...quietly? His house....still standing....with all that there was within it. The organ that she had played in the theater in that house....the organ with the keyboard of solid black....surely he would have destroyed that if nothing else....

She had to get to Faustus house, and make sure that it was destroyed. She couldn't tell the new inhabitants of that house of the danger they were in...what kind of a story could she tell them that they would believe? But she must get to the house...and then, do something. Or else....

Sarah blinked and came to herself to realize that the crowd had hushed and was listening - breathless and stunned - only to her music. She had been playing Mozart's Requiem.....

IV.

Patrick Caro-Kann stared at his face in the mirror, but only because he was tying a tie and could not do that without its assistance.

Caro-Kann was a handsome man, and a vain man - so vain that he did not need to look in a mirror every few seconds to know that he always looked good.

He was also a very angry man. For years, literally years, he had been soft-soaping and fawning and scraping and losing at golf and losing at chess, all to gain access to the film collection of Erik Faustus. And now....now...Faustus was dead, and Victoria Mason! Victoria Mason - an upstart from a small univerity with absolutely no stature in the world of film studies was going to reap all the profits of that wonderful collection.

Of his collection. Caro-Kahn glanced at the sheaf of letters he'd tossed onto the corner of his bed, tied together with a red ribbon. Letters from Faustus to him. Many of the passages in them could be interpreted to read that Faustus had wanted him - him, Caro -Kahn! to have the disposal of the Faustus film collection on the unfortunate demise of its owner. With those letters Caro-Kahn would assert himself and win the day.

He would go to the Faustus mansion, and he would rout out this Professor Victoria Mason. Professor Victoria Mason of the long brunette hair and eyes like chips of stone. She'd attended some of his lectures on reinterpreting women's roles in silent film, and she'd dared to argue with him in the letters pages of the presitigious magazine Silent Film International! In fact, she'd generated quite a feud which had kept the letters pages rocking for several issues.

And now she thought she was going to have the sole access to Faustus' filims. Well, it would not be. He would show her the letters, he would charm her and sympathize with her, perhaps make love to her and smelt those cold eyes of hers, and he would graciously allow her name to appear in a footnote in the articles he would write on the collection.

Caro-Kann settled his tie into place and turned away. He slid the sheaf of envelopes into his inner breast pocket, and then picked up the small revolver that had lain next to it He checked that all the chambers were loaded, and then placed the gun in the waistband of his trousers. He closed and buttoned his suit coat over it. Yes, all would be well. One way or another.

Next: Mason Madder

Return to: Table of Contents

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This chapter and this novel are copyright 1999 by Barbara Peterson.

This chapter revised April 28, 1999.


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