"Oh!" Mrs. Pollifax's cry of dismay was soft, but heartfelt. She descended the stairs moments later with a bulbous white straw hat cradled gently in her arms. A brilliant red feather was secured between her fingers.
Cyrus, who was currently enjoying his morning coffee and a fresh bagel from Mr. Omelianuk's, regarded Mrs. Pollifax with a deceptively sleepy-looking gaze. "I remember that hat," he said.
Mrs. Pollifax felt warmth bloom in her chest. The dear man. Cyrus Reed was a retired judge, and the sharp eye that had served him so well in the court of law had not been lost when he retired. Cyrus' keen observational skills had been one of the many traits that had first impressed Mrs. Pollifax when they had met during a safari in Zambia.
"It's been crushed," Mrs. Pollifax said. She turned the hat in her hands to show Cyrus the extensive damage done to it's crown. Something had fallen on, and through, Mrs. Pollifax's straw hat. She had her suspicions about the stray golf club found in the same closet as her hat.
Cyrus took an appreciative sip of his coffee before leaning back in his chair. "Damn shame, my dear," he said. "I have good memories of that hat. Helped me save your life, you know."
Mrs. Pollifax certainly did know. When not doing volunteer work or raising her award winning geraniums, Mrs. Pollifax dabbled in the murky world of international espionage as a courier for the CIA. Cyrus had not quite been dragged into Mrs. Pollifax's secret world--he had, she recalled, quite calmly strolled into it--and he had acquitted himself beautifully.
"That feather was a beacon in the crowd. Shudder to think what would have happened if you hadn't been wearing that hat," Cyrus said.
"But I was, and you did save me quite handily," Mrs. Pollifax said firmly. It was, she thought, kindest not to dwell on the what ifs and could have beens of her adventures. Standing in her kitchen, warmed by the glow of the morning sun, assassination attempts and near death experiences seemed a world away.
Mrs. Pollifax gently deposited her hat on a nearby chair. She rolled the stem of the feather between her thumb and index finger. Very few people had witnessed the smile that bloomed across Mrs. Pollifax's face at that moment. Mrs. Pollifax--a kindly, if slightly odd little woman of a respectable age--looked sly. Working for Carstairs had helped Mrs. Pollifax discover a depth of courage and ingenuity previously unexplored. Marriage to Cyrus Reed had helped Mrs. Pollifax connect with a playful side she hadn't indulged in years.
"The hat is quite ruined, I'm afraid. The feather is still in excellent shape. It would be a shame to toss it away," Mrs. Pollifax said. Having once nearly thrown herself away, Mrs. Pollifax was a great believer in fresh opportunities.
Cyrus arched his brows inquisitively. "What devious plan do you have in mind, my dear?" Cyrus asked. "I recognize that look. Can't tell me you aren't plotting something."
"Not plotting, surely?" Mrs. Pollifax said. "At least, not anything sinister. You will trust my good intentions and close your eyes, Cyrus?"
Cyrus at Mrs. Pollifax with fond amusement. His drooping lids slid shut.
Mrs. Pollifax took in the sight before her with delight. The Emily Pollifax of old had been coddled, and tended to, and humoured. To have someone obedient and vulnerable to her every whim was thrilling. Mrs. Pollifax neatly avoided the floor tile that creaked under pressure, and approached Cyrus with the utmost stealth. He twitched when Mrs. Pollifax lightly drew the feather from his temple, and down the line of his jaw.
"Good intentions, was it?" Cyrus asked.
Mrs. Pollifax smiled warmly. "Very good intentions," she affirmed. "What do you think, Cyrus?"
His eyes still closed, Cyrus tilted his head thoughtfully. He spoke with the same slow consideration he gave every topic, although Mrs. Pollifax delightedly noted the rasp in his voice. "Tickles," Cyrus said decisively, "but it's not unpleasant, my dear."
Mrs. Pollifax cupped Cyrus' face in one hand. She took a moment to appreciate the feel of his morning stubble against her palm. One learned to appreciate the small, sensual details when they lived as long and adventurously as Mrs. Pollifax. The way Cyrus leaned into the touch was quite gratifying.
"Should we play a game, Cyrus?" Mrs. Pollifax asked.
"Thought we were," Cyrus replied. He turned just far enough to kiss Mrs. Pollifax's palm.
Mrs. Pollifax drew back by a step. She studied his beloved face for a thoughtful moment. Mrs. Pollifax reached out with the feather, and flicked the tip of Cyrus' nose. The feather trembled at Cyrus' sharp breath.
His eyes remained closed, but the curve of Cyrus' eyebrows managed to convey a feeling of reproach. "This will be a short game if you give me a sneezing fit, Emily. A bit dusty, I think."
The hat had been in the closet since their return from Zambia, Mrs. Pollifax admitted to herself. "All part of the game," she said cheerily. "What power this simple feather has! First saving lives, now causing sneezing fits. Truly a marvel."
Mrs. Pollifax too shameless advantage of his distraction. She darted forward with a quick series of flicks to his neck. Cyrus' large body shuddered. "You're sensitive this morning, Cyrus!" Mrs. Pollifax said, smiling with delight. Her impulsive game was proving more fruitful than she'd imagined.
"I am being mercilessly attacked by a feather," Cyrus said wryly. "A little sensitivity seems to be called for."
Mrs. Pollifax drew the feather over Cyrus' ear. "And that? How does that feel?"
"Soft," Cyrus said, "but I can still feel a trace of it after the feather is gone. My skin prickles." He rubbed at the ridge of his ear. "Maddening, really."
"Should I stop, then?" Mrs. Pollifax asked, trying to keep the dismay from her voice.
"Don't recall saying that, Emily," Cyrus said. "I think I'm more than capable of handling a feather." It was Cyrus' turn to sound sly when he said: "if you're willing to return the favour, of course."
Mrs. Pollifax laughed. "Of course," she agreed, and touched the feather to Cyrus' lips, like a kiss.