Chapter X

“In the back, dear,” Finch calls.

Mewsy stands in Finch’s front hall with her hand on a crocheted ornament.


Will my destiny have changed when I see this rabbit again?


She tunes in to the regular heavy clangs from the loading docks below. The stewing-spice smell of Finch’s flat stirs up some affectionate pang.


She follows the voice through the towers of tchotchkes and mags.

“Would you close it, m’love?” Finchy says as Mewsy steps into the muggy back office. She, Finch, is sitting and writing, as always, but behind to her right sits a svelte, unknown person.

“Have you met?” asks Finch without looking up. “Lazephine Joe Baker — Miss Mewsy Fran Stone.”

“It’s my pleasure,” says Mewsy, pulling at her fur despite the closeness of the room.

“Lazephine is here to help,” says Finch.

“How wonderful,” says Mewsy as warmly as she can manage.

“You know we’ve had our inconveniences,” Finch goes on, looking up now. “With this project. And Lazephine has made those a specialty.”

“Call me Lazy,” says the stranger smoothly, standing and coming to lean on the front of the desk. “I’m here to help.”

“How lucky for the Old Cheroot!” says Mewsy.

“Indeed, the Cheroot — well, that’s the first thing, but we’ll come back to it. What I need to know, Mewsy, is this: how familiar would you say you are with the rôle of Vigorella in Heriodonclitus?”

“Oh, perfectly!” Mewsy blurts. “That is — I did prep Miss La La extensively — why do you ask?”

“We have managed to get The Maria Toilette off the hook from a luxury liner engagement so she can come headline for us here. And on such short notice, well — we truly are blessed. It’s a coup. There has, however, of course been concern that she’ll need some support as she crosses the aisle — you’ll understand without my saying more.”

“No, I don’t follow.”

“Mewsy, I get it. You can say what you want about Maria Toilette – recalcitrant seaward, no-account man-eater, slut – I’ve heard ’em all. But that Queen can sing. And she’ll get us the butts, you can count on it.”

“Maria Toilette as — Vigorella, you don’t mean?”

“Surprising, perhaps, yes — but that’s part of why I’m here.”

“And me — you’d like me to — ?”

“You’re our man on the inside. Not to paint it too broadly, but it hinges on you. Between leading l’orchestre and assembling his scholar’s reconstruction, Maestro won’t have but the odd moment for La Toilette. She’s a force majeure, past reckoning, sure — but for nuts and bolts and the style de l’époque, well — will you help?”

Mewsy sets her smile.

“Well, — naturally, uh, Lazephine, I’d be honoured.”

Lazy, please, Mewsy, please do call me Lazy. That’s grand. And we want you to know that you’re stepping up mightily. Much, much more to be said, now, of course, but I’ll save it to tell the ensemble together. Mewsy, The Old Cheroot — no, pardon me now — Th’Electric Cigarette! — the brand new Electric Cigarette extends you her thanks.”