[Vicky Bliss series] Rosanna is in gravest peril. So why does everyone insist on defacing Vicky's masterpiece?
The Vicky Bliss mystery series by Elizabeth Peters comprises these books to date: Borrower of the Night (1973), Street of the Five Moons (1978), Silhouette in Scarlet (1983), Trojan Gold (1987), and Night Train to Memphis (1994). Written for Thermidor, for the 2005 Yuletide obscure fandoms exchange.
"So this is where our food has been disappearing." One of the
sweating, begrimed luggage carriers surrounding her leaned in,
his breath foul and harsh against her smooth, creamy skin. "You
thought we would never find you in with the silver plate and table
Escaping from the bordello in Lima had seemed the most expeditious
course of action, before her honor could be besmirched by the greedy,
lustful attentions of its owner or patrons, but how could Rosanna have
known that stowing away in the steamer trunk would lead her into yet
further peril? These thoughts plagued her, now that her hiding place
had been discovered at last.
"No! Let me go!" Rosanna cried. "Where is this place?" She writhed,
helpless, in the encircling bonds that restrained her to the trunk
of the massive tree, here in this vast, heated, dripping green
jungle. The taut ropes pressing upward against her bosom drew
all eyes to her predicament.
"The rain forest, /aber naturlich/," said Schweinelaus, the
short, bearded, bald Bavarian. "Did you not realize? Graf von und
zu Gefenstein agreed to fund my expedition. To find the lost city
of the ancients has been his dream ever since those first, fabulous
tales emerged of their enticing undergarments." His fingers twitched,
as though even now he imagined running his hands over these
articles of apparel. "And mine as well!"
"How vile," Rosanna breathed, offended to the core of her being.
"/I/ want nothing to do with this."
"/Nein!/ Is not the phrase you want, 'How convenient'?" the
German leered at her, rubbing his chubby hands together with
glee. "I had not thought to provide entertainment for this journey!"
"What, whatever do you mean by 'entertainment'?" Rosanna said,
recoiling from the pawing hands on the porters. "You have let
them tie me to this tree! A gentleman would never do
"Are you a lady then?" the German laughed raucously. "Did we
not acquire you at our previous lodgings in Lima? I am suspecting
we did. /Vielleicht?/"
"You are mistaken," Rosanna said with haughty dignity. "I was being
held captive there."
"/Und/ now here," he said. He watched avidly as Rosanna's skirts
fell away, the porters tracing the long, shapely length of her legs
with their rough palms.
"No! You beasts!" Rosanna screamed, lashing out with her foot. The
men roared with laughter. But just then
Vicky. To be writing such things is an unproductive use of the work time. Nor is to encourage Herr Direktor Schmidt in this way proper. Nor is to bring up the hobbies of the distinguished founder and patron of our National Museum, Graf von und zu Gefenstein, in this context. That is what I think. The expenditures for the art historians' conference in Belgrade would place you over budget for the quarter. Also your mother is right about the second newspaper article about the single women. -- G.
Gerda. Stop writing on my manuscript. -- V.
Schmidt, damn it! Tell Gerda to stop opening all my mail, and make her stop "organizing" my desk! I've had it! I can't find a damn thing now! Do it -- or no more Rosanna for you! -- V.B., Ph.D.
Vicky, /Liebchen/, be reasonable. It has been so long since the perfumed tents of Emir Ahmed. Nothing romantic happened in that city! Are there not eleven men in this party? Schweinelaus is a heroic explorer. Yes, it will be the most romantic chapter of all! You cannot stop here. I will give you tomorrow off so that you may become inspired by the glorious sights of our Munich. Is this not generous? -- A.Z.S.
I told you. No rape for Rosanna. We'll see. -- V.
But just then the porter on Rosanna's right, with his hand on her
thigh, pitched forward into her lap, limp and weighty. An arrow
protruded from his back.
"No! It cannot be! The savages have returned!" Schweinelaus cried.
"The guns, get the guns!"
But it was too late. While the entire party had been distracted by
Rosanna's piteous charms, the natives of this jungle, who had been
silently, stealthily dogging the group's trail for over a week,
had chosen to attack at last. In the chaos of the fighting,
Rosanna struggled against the ropes in despair -- but she could
not loosen herself from the tree! What was to become to become
All too soon, her fate became evident. The men of the party,
including Schweinelaus had fled in terror, and those who had not
had been dispatched with alacrity. Now, a group of tall, beaded
and feathered natives surrounded her, dressed in naught but
abbreviated loincloths of skin. Blushing at the sight, Rosanna
turned her eyes aside quickly, but not before she had had an
opportunity to examine their apparent leader. He was much taller
than the others, perhaps nearly six feet, of slight build, but
with muscular shoulders and smooth, dark skin. His long, shining
black hair was held back in a simple tail down his back.
Curtly, he issued an order in a tongue Rosanna could not
understand, and she found herself being loosed from the
tree, only to be bound anew, her hands before her.
"Oh! What are you doing? What are your intentions?" Rosanna asked
fearfully. No one answered her; rather they exchanged more
incomprehensible words among themselves, then nudged her forward
into the undergrowth. In this way, Rosanna found herself endangered
Vicky, this is very exciting, but what has happened to Schweinelaus? -- A.Z.S.
Who cares? Schmidt, listen, that new guard down in the Armor Room down at the bottom of my stairs is infernally rude, and he's all shaggy hair. He never looks anyone in the eye -- as a matter of fact, he looks at every part of me but my eyes. Why on earth did you hire him? -- V.
But he is only temporary until Franz returns from the hospital. He had many fine recommendations. Now, about the novel, so exotic, I approve! But I feel that Rosanna was better off with Herr Schweinelaus.-- A.Z.S.
Forget it. -- V.
At last they came to a village of scattered, round huts. Rosanna
found herself thrust through the doorway of one of these dwellings,
as the other men departed, leaving her alone with the tallest of them.
"What is it that you want from me?" she said.
Without a word, the man squatted and lifted a gourd, pouring a
stream of dark fluid into a clay bowl. He held this out to Rosanna,
indicating that she should take it and drink it.
"What is it?" she said, sniffing it with suspicion. "Why can't I
have water?" A taste revealed to her that it was a bitter yet
sweetish beverage, as she could only have imagined having during
that endlessly long, hot trudge through the jungle. Rosanna took
a deeper draught, and he refilled it again when she'd finished.
He pointed to himself, "Javier," he said simply.
"I, I am Rosanna," she said hesitantly, sipping the second
helping. "I don't speak this language, it is Spanish?"
"That's quite all right," he said. "English is fine as well."
"What?" Rosanna stared at him, appalled. "You, you've understood
me all along! But you said nothing! And my hands are still tied!"
She waved them and the once again empty bowl angrily. "You really
are a horrible savage!"
"I daresay that some might not consider Oxford their choice of
schools for economics," he said, frowning. "But 'savage' seems
a bit much. I am the kakajam here, you know."
Rosanna tried to struggle to her feet, but her head swam. "I, I,"
she stuttered, "wait, what was that you gave me to drink?"
He stood up. "/Nijamanch/ beer is made by the women of our
tribe from manioc root," he said, lifting Rosanna to her feet
as well. He loosened her wrists. "First, they peel the tubers,"
he explained, steadying her as she swayed. "Then they boil the
tubers and mash them together," he continued, sliding his arms
around her. "Then they chew the pulp, and ferment it in a large
pot with a nantag stone to make it sweet and intoxicating.
Do you like it?"
"Chew the pulp?" Rosanna said, confused. "But doesn't that mean --?"
She had a much better view now of his long, thick eyelashes, and his
thin, hard lips.
"That's right," he murmured. His long fingers slid up her back to deftly
cup the back of her head. "But I can think of more entertaining ways to
"You can?" she breathed. "But I, I'm not certain what you mean."
"Of course you are not," he said. "I shall have to demonstrate."
With that his lips lowered to her own, even as he clutched her,
molding her slender frame against his hard, muscular body.
"No, no," Rosanna sighed, as her hands glided over the shifting
muscles of his back.
Then his tongue was exploring her mouth hungrily, his tongue
tangling with her own, as the traces of the manioc beer mingling
with his own taste. He pressed her body more firmly to his smooth,
brown, muscular form, and she flushed, growing aware of little
he was wearing, of his manhood throbbing against her. She gasped
as he freed her mouth.
"For weeks," he said lowly, "I followed them, watching each day as
you eluded their detection. Finally you gave me the opportunity to
act. Ah, my spirited Rosanna, I am fascinated by you. How I have
longed to make you mine."
"Ja-javier," she moaned. "But we can't --"
But one assumes that they will, alas. I've found this installment as wretched and clichÃ© ridden as the contents of the three previous crates. Although Rosanna's dalliance with Louis XIV and interlude in the concubines' quarters of Emperor Qianlong were intriguing enough, the vast majority of this is drivel never reaches the even lowest tier of a Jacqueline Kirby or Valerie Valentine bodice-ripper. Allow me to assist you.
Javier reached down and attempted to divest the fair Rosanna of
her garments, at which point the seduction encountered technical
difficulties. After struggling with the assortment of fasteners
for several minutes, even this fierce, educated, amorous warrior
was forced to concede his defeat. "What in heaven's name is this
device, and how does one get it off?" he complained, as any
rational man would.
"It is a corset," his captive flower said, seeming peeved as was
her wont. She ordered him to stand aside, grumbling, "I don't
understand what your problem is." When at last she was free of
her self-imposed confinement, she tossed the garment into a
corner and swooned again: "No, oh no! Javier . . . !"
Javier dutifully hefted Rosanna off her feet with a grunt, for
her proportions were as Amazonian as their milieu. With her
abnormal height and measurements -- if I have estimated them
correctly by feel, 38, 26, 36 -- perhaps a winch and tackle
might have been more appropriate for this effort. One must
have a care of one's back.
Now, do carry on. -- A Casual Critic
You bastard! Stay out of my desk! No one asked you to read it! How long have you been here?! (Since when do you read Jacqueline Kirby?)
Merely passing through, I'm afraid. One has read many things as part of a well-rounded education. (Did you like your present?) -- J.S.
Ach du liebe Zeit! Sir John, how I appreciate your sentimental feelings! But I prefer Vicky's chapters. (Vicky! What present? What did he mean?) -- A.Z.S.
None of your business. Schmidt, damn it, stop being polite to that bastard. You don't even know what he's taken yet. You hired him -- I told you there was something wrong about that new guard! -- V.
Vicky. Great portions of the discretionary budget are allocated now to the cost of the outside experts. They reappraise the contents of the Gem Room. It is too bad, yes? Your application for funding for the Turin conference is to be denied. -- G.
Smythe. Turin. TURIN. The last straw. The LAST. If I see you again, I'm going to eviscerate you with my bare hands. (Yes. Gift. I did. So who do I have to return it to? WHERE DID YOU STEAL IT?)
I'm wounded. Cut to the quick by your doubt. (I can't provide a receipt this time. This one was earned. The previous owner will never be want to see it again, trust me.) -- J.S.
NO ONE TRUSTS YOU.
My dear Dr. Bliss,
I hope my brief note finds you well. I must confess, I have found
this manuscript unworthy of your talents, but I shall leave this
note here as it seems to be the most trafficked portion of your
I see that you have acquired a Marguerite of your own; as one
would expect, she is a most charming animal. Hans and Rudi are
quite fond of your Doberman as well. I must beg your pardon for
the intrusion, but I did instruct them not to create too great
a disarray while searching your home. We did not, unfortunately,
locate the object we were seeking. As for what we did find, I
am unaware of its provenance, so I have left it in your
If you would like Smythe eviscerated, rest assured that I would
be most pleased to have this service performed on your behalf.
Once again, I feel that our interests coincide.
auf Wiedersehen, perhaps. -- Max
Vicky, I expire of curiosity. You must tell Papa Schmidt what it is! -- A.Z.S.
Schmidt. No. Go away. I am at the top of a damned tower, up five flights of stairs, so why has my office suddenly become Grand Central Station?! -- V.
"You two are incorrigible," Vicky said, eyeing her pets. "You're not supposed to make friends with them, you're supposed to drive them away. What part of home defense don't you understand?" Caesar, her pony-sized Doberman, slobbered enthusiastically, front paws balanced on the overturned couch. He'd clearly had a fine day. Clara, her Siamese cat, calmly continued with her bath, ignoring them both. She'd turned up her nose at a mere dinner, giving Vicky a distinct sense of betrayal.
Vicky sighed, picking up a few more of her shirts from the floor. "Max, you've got some funny ideas of what constitutes 'little disarray,'" she mumbled, but she supposed it could have been worse. Much worse. Gangs of international art thieves were better known for their ruthlessness than their gallantry, and Max and his ilk were no exception.
But Max did have a soft spot for her, however misplaced it might be. Despite its obvious value, he'd left John's latest souvenir behind. She didn't think she would have. When she'd found it on her pillow after she'd woken up that morning, she'd been astonished. As she lifted it from the shelf now, the soft, high, delicate chimes filled the room: a red rose, half the size of her hand, the finest gold filigree work she'd ever seen. Cunningly hidden within it were tiny hinges that allowed the petals free motion, creating soft notes when the petals stirred. She'd assumed that these tiny pliquÃ©-a-jour plaques were glass, but closer inspection of the thin, translucent slices of ruby reds and emerald greens made her wonder.
Glass. It couldn't possibly something far more costly. But she didn't dare take it into the museum's workroom to ask them to verify that.
She'd spent the afternoon searching through the museum's reference library, and had even made a few discreet phone calls, but no whisper of this piece had showed up anywhere. Perhaps it might remind her of work from the House of Faberge, but . . .
"Russian art, not my field," she muttered automatically. "One red rose, once a year," she said finally. "Bastard." She supposed that she'd shut Clara in the kitchen tonight and leave her window unlocked, just to see what else might turn up.