Lightning split the sky over a secluded, Philadelphia country road. Autumnal sycamores and ironwoods embraced the winding route. Swollen with deep oranges and dirty yellows, they burst into glossy, earthen watercolors with each strobe of the darkness.
A midnight blue, 1922 Ford Model T sits almost motionless under the driving rain. In the middle of the narrow path, it’s buffeted by strong gusts of disapproval from the angry storm, rocking and complaining at its misfortune.
A greying wisp of a man, fights to close the obstinate, steel hood. A sincerely regretful, worried expression adorns his sallow, wrinkled face. He has a slight build, and an otherwise pleasant, well-mannered, if not boring, demeanour. In fact, the only remarkable thing about him, appears to be a complete absence of remarkability.
While he struggles with the hood – and keeping his battered, brown bowler firmly atop his nearly bald head – another lick of lightning lit up the night sky. In that instant, as the wind whipped his mud splattered Chesterfield out and back from his slender frame, the gunmetal grey of a 1920 Colt, riding securely in its leather shoulder holster, was illumed. Then just as suddenly, swallowed again by the greedy, flowing garb.
He apologized to no one who could hear and then muttered, “Come on, lizzie, ol’ girl,” before turning the crank on the struggling flivver.
With a disgruntled backfire, she rumbled to life. The man, visibly pleased and beaming with pride, patted the hood and hurried around to the driver’s door. He climbed in, bellows to mend, and pleasantly panted, “I’m so sorry, ma’am. Sounds like she’s all to the mustard, though!” Smiling, he looked over his shoulder into the back seat hoping to see approval or gratitude. There was naught but silence, yet his smile never faltered. After a few unnerving seconds, and quite unexpectedly, a thunderous crack overhead starts him out of his gaze. “Apologies, ma’am, apologies! Off we go, shall we?” And they sped away amidst thunderclaps and backfires.
Shortly thereafter, he pulled the Model T into a circular driveway in front of a multi-floor, centuries old, mansion. The porte-cochère loomed over dwellers and visitors alike, while four 2-story, white pillars ominously stood sentry before the entryway. Chandelier lit windows poured light across the front walk, and down to the automobile where he parked.
The man prepares a large umbrella and scurries to the rear passenger door. He opens the protesting hinges to their limit, and waits dutifully by its side. Several seconds pass and, with surprise, he bursts into apologies again. “Oh, ma’am, I’m sorry, ma’am,” he flusters, “…old habits, and all… I’m afraid I’ll not be able to use the rain napper, please pardon the inconvenience, ma’am.” He placed the umbrella on top of the jalopy and leaned with a grunt through the back door.
Inside, lying across the back seat, an attractive woman of 38 struggling with her bonds, attempts to squirm through the metal and glass at her back. If the gag wasn’t enough, her muffled cries and pleas were drowned out by the incessant rain pounding the steel roof. The rope clenching tightly around the ankles of her curvaceously long pins, were looped through the restraints about her delicate wrists. Her hands, her exquisite, alabaster skin, twisted and turned futilely. The gold and diamonds gracing her fingers, jealously stole attention from her brilliant, vermilion fingernails.
As he reached in slowly to grab an ankle and pull her near, she writhed and kicked in terror. “Ma’am, please, be careful. You nearly nose-ended my smeller.” Then after a few attempts, in his first sign of frustration that evening, “Ma’am!” And she froze, but for uncontrollable trembling. He smiled pitifully and took her ankle in a surprisingly strong grip. Their eyes met. She had shockingly blue eyes, almost unnatural, with the faintest hint of gold at the rims. That her mascara ran beneath them, made them all the more beautiful. He began pulling her toward him, all the while apologizing for his rudeness and any discomfort. Then he carried her inside, unprotested.
Later that night…
The man stood at the end of the mahogany dining table dressed to the nines in a pinstripe suit a few sizes too large for his willowy body. He looked out proudly at the gathering.
“I’d like to make an announcement, if I may,” he squeaked, barely containing his glee. “My earliest memories are of this house and my wonderful parents who worked here caring for Madam Farnsworth, when she was a precocious little girl.” He smiled warmly, and nods toward his right. “After taking the mantle from them so many years ago, and watching her son, Reginald,” he nods to Mr.Farnsworth, directly opposite himself, “…grow into the man he is today, and caring for his son,” he nods at Master James to the left, “…my only wish is that my mother and father were still with us, to join in this momentous occasion.”
He smiles, and looks around expectantly. After a moment, he gushes, “Oh! I nearly forgot the surprise!” Continuing excitedly, “I’m sure you’re all aware that Mistress Farnsworth was planning to stay in Paris for two more weeks? Well, I must acknowledge the corn, I used a bit of hugger-muggery to do it, but…” He pauses, briefly ashamed, “Begging your pardon, sir, I know you don’t care for the commoner language in the house… You don’t need to remind me, sir.” The man’s eyes seem to unfocus for a short time, before he collected himself. “Where was I? Ah yes, Mistress Farnsworth! Well, I convinced her to come home early! I picked her up from the airport today!” The ensuing silence didn’t discourage his enthusiasm, “She’ll be out momentarily!”
He picks up the chilled wine bottle and begins to circle the table, with a song in his heart. “Wine, Madam Farnsworth?”
Madam Farnsworth, the family matriarch, sat in an old wooden, wheelchair. Older than he thought possible, she married into the family before he was born. In her left hand, a butter knife from the family’s opulent silver collection. That is, through the back and out of the palm. The stubs of her right hand were propped against the neck of her Farnsworth fine crystal; only her pinky finger remained, so she could forever put on airs. He filled her glass to the brim with the most expensive selection from the Farnsworth’s vast wine cellar. Then glanced at the mechanical larynx he forcibly inserted into her tracheostomy.
With an open mouth grin painted on his face, he gently placed the wine bottle on the table, and began turning his head toward Mr.Farnsworth, while his eyes briefly stayed locked on her.
Mr. Farnsworth. He was a large man, a brutal man. Without patience and quick to anger and violence. He sat at the head of the table, with half a head. Sheared was his skull from his left ear to over his right eye. He had perhaps all the of the world’s cigarettes protruding from his gaping bone box. His left arm was cut off far above the elbow and hung at his side, above a dark crimson stain in one of their many plush, exorbitant rugs. His right arm was removed below the elbow, and resting on the fine silk tablecloth, maggots lapping up the nutrients. There were dozens of cigarette burns covering what remained.
“Mr. Farnsworth, sir, Madam would not like to see your elbow on the table,” he says tightly smiling, before pushing it off to hang at his side. “I don’t need to remind you, sir.”
The man moved on to Master James, passing by an empty, awaiting chair on the way.
Master James, the rude and troublesome son of the Farnsworth’s, sat wide-eyed and slack-jawed. He took after his father in temper and tactic. Nothing brought him more joy than tormenting the man and the memory of his deceased parents. The boy was ruthless in his subjugation. The man moued for a moment over the boy. “Nothing to say today, Master James? No venom to spit? No taunts? Sap? Rag-a-muffin, bully bait? Son of a b-bitch?” His jaw was tight, he’d break his teeth, if he had any of his own left to break, “Fart catcher?!” He stared at him, tendrils of madness stretching wide his eyelids. Then in his best, most affected impression of the boy, he screams, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
Moments later, the rage in his eyes dissipated, and he visibly relaxed. As he rolled back up to a standing position, from an aggressive lean on the table that he didn’t remember making, the man’s gaze crossed the costly china in front of Master James, and he smiled. “Thank you. Was that too much to ask, Master James?” He removes a silk handkerchief from his oversized breast pocket. Monogrammed with the letters R.F., he dabbed at the boy’s lipless, gaping maw. Then he waved his hand to shoo the flies away from the plate, wherein the boy’s eyes and tongue lay, encircled by 29 pearly whites.
Back at his chair, he raises a glass to the table, “To the Farnsworths!” and takes a drink.
“Now,” he says, “is it time to eat?” He reaches for the lid of the silver serving dish at the center of the table. As he does so, his sleeves pull back and expose countless cigarette burns on his forearms, “You don’t need to remind me, sir…”, he says below his breath. Then the empty chair catches his attention, and his brow furrows imperceptibly. “Where are my manners?” he exclaims, “I forgot our guest.”
He then lets out a sharp, quick whistle. In seconds, a beautiful, old golden labrador jumps into the chair. “Dear Master Bart, thank you for joining us,” he says genuinely smiling at his friend, “Do you prefer white meat or dark meat?” Bart only pants expectantly.
“White meat, it is.” And he lifts the lid off the silver tray, slides a jealous gold and diamond ring across the exquisite, alabaster skin, and over a brilliant, vermilion fingernail. Then tosses the finger to Bart, who snatches it midair, and happily trots away.
The man contemplatively sits back in his antique chair. Drained, he gives a sigh and takes in the scene before him. Then, in one lackadaisical motion, pops a gold rimmed, blue eye into his watering mouth.
Note: everything italicized is authentic 1920s American slang, including the title