On the December night he first heard of the celebrated opera star, Anjelica Serafina, John Sparrow (Jack to his friends) had been delivering twenty cases of bootleg rum to the Royal Palm Hotel. As the porters unloaded his brand new 1919 Model T truck, he watched sheets of cold rain gusting across the choppy bay waters, lit occasionally by purple flashes of lightning.
“Yer late!” The voice came out of the dark, low and raspy.
Jack turned toward the speaker. “Surprised to see you out on a night like this.”
“If ye’d been on time, ye’d have beat the rain.” The hotel’s saturnine manager stepped out of the shadows as the rain tapered off to a drizzle. His craggy features were framed by a sparse beard and coppery hair that could have done with a trim, but his lanky frame was impeccably turned out in a white linen suit and imposing Panama hat. He snapped his gold pocket watch shut and dropped it into a pocket of his vest.
Jack smirked. “Worried it’ll still be pourin’ when the toffs show up?”
The manager threw him a disapproving look, but merely said, “Did ye want to settle up before Christmas? Then get a move on.” Then he disappeared back into the hotel.
Built in 1909 by an enterprising railroad tycoon, The Royal Palm was designed to attract the wealthy and famous with its four hundred guest rooms, gilded ballroom, and blissfully warm, sunny winters. Not the sort of place for a down-on-his-luck adventurer with a murky past like Sparrow. But after local town fathers passed a ban on liquor, he had made a lucrative accord with the Royal Palm for regular shipments of rum and other spirits to discreetly supply the hotel’s affluent winter guests.
His goods delivered, Jack circled the hotel and sauntered in through its grand entryway, passing a framed poster of a bathing beauty admiring a bright yellow sun positioned above a sandy beach fringed by palm fronds. Beyond the beach was a blue ocean drawn with neat curls of white to indicate waves. In the lower right corner, a scroll proclaimed “Florida East Coast Railway to Miami, the American Riviera”.
He crossed the empty Beaux Arts style lobby with a glance at the placard that read, “Col. H. Barboza, General Manager”. No one in Miami could say whether Barboza was entitled to call himself “Colonel”, or how he became the General Manager, come to that. The rumor was that he had been skipper on the yacht of the Royal Palm’s owner, and blackmailed his way into his current job.
Barboza’s long-suffering assistant, Lizbet Swanson had already spotted Jack approaching her desk, and was holding the phone’s receiver to her ear as she spoke respectfully into the mouth piece. As soon as Jack reached her desk, she hung the receiver back on its hooked perch and set down the phone. “He’s busy, John, but I’ll let you know as soon as he’s free.”
Jack tilted his chin up and tried his most charming, roguish smile. “I wish you’d call me Jack, darlin’, all me friends do.”
Lizbet coughed and pretended she hadn’t heard. “He said while you’re waiting, you might as well eat.”
Jack entered the dining room and found it empty except for a lone waiter who looked disappointed to see him. Then he saw that one table was occupied by the scholarly William Turner, manager of the fledgling Little River Opera Players. Turner caught his eye and beckoned insistently.
Jack looked about for an escape but there was none. Resigned to an hour of young Turner’s earnest but soporific monologues on Handel or Scarlatti, he approached and took a seat.
He whistled as he glanced at Turner’s plate of Pheasant Chartreuse and bottle of Perrier-Jouët. “Business must be picking up.”
“It’s been a special day.” Turner signalled the waiter to bring a second plate of pheasant for Jack. Then he set down his cutlery and took out a small photograph. “Know who this fellow is?” He pushed it across the table.
Tilting his head from side to side, Jack squinted at the picture. It showed a young man with long Byronic locks and tragic eyes. “Can’t say I do.”
“That’s Jean-Mari Leclair, the French composer!” said Turner, warming to his subject. “Les Métamorphoses is his only surviving opera, based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. Given in Paris in 1866, for only 18 performances. The part of Scylla was sung by the great mezzo soprano, Anjelica Serafina. It was her debut performance, the start of her meteoric rise to stardom.”
He took the photograph from Jack and tucked it back into his vest pocket.
“As for Leclair, he seems to have disappeared shortly afterwards,” he said. “I wrote a monograph on his work, and couldn’t find a trace of him after that year. But here’s the point-“
He leaned towards Jack. “I’m putting on Les Métamorphoses at Christmas, in the amphitheatre. With Carmen. That should please the Royal Palm guests.”
Jack cocked a sceptical eyebrow. “Not really Christmassy, is it? And don’t those snowbirds get enough opera in New York? They turn up here wantin’ sunny skies, not more opera.”
“I promise you they haven’t got this in New York,” Turner beamed. “You see, Anjelica Serafina herself has agreed to sing Scylla!”
“After all these years? She’s bound to be a bit past it now, don’t you think?” Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw that Lizbet had entered the dining room and was hovering watchfully near the door. He suspected that Turner had already told her of his plan to put on Les Métamorphoses.
“It doesn’t matter with the voice,” Turner explained. “Classical singers develop vocally all through their lives. And I understand she plays quite young for her age.”
Jack took a swig of champagne and one side of his mouth crooked up in a smile. “And the rest of your lot can handle the other parts?”
Turner seemed uncertain, but nodded. “I think so. Except...I asked old Weatherby to sing the part of Glaucus, I thought he’d worked with Miss Serafina before. But he refused outright. Feels outclassed, I suppose.”
Lizbet had appeared beside Jack’s chair. “He’ll see you now,” she whispered over his shoulder.
She lingered rather diffidently at the table with Turner as Jack left the dining room and made his way back to Barboza’s office.
As Barboza wrote out a slip authorizing payment for “comestibles”, Jack noticed a copy of the Miami Herald Record on his desk. The headline announced Turner’s show over a large picture of Anjelica Serafina. Jack picked up the paper and had an impression of dark, poetic eyes, Cupid’s bow lips, and a strong but dainty chin. “I suppose she’ll be staying here then?”
Barboza stopped writing. “She’s not made a reservation,” he growled. “Likely expects to show up out of the blue and have us all scrapin’ and bowin’ to her.” He signed the note and gave it to Jack. “Well, I’ve had Vanderbilts and Rockefellers pleased enough with the Royal Palm. She needn’t give herself airs.”
Still holding the newspaper, Jack took the note out to Lizbet’s desk. “Thought you might be takin’ a stroll with Will,” he remarked with a smile.
“He’s got work to finish.” It seemed as though something had upset her. “He has to prepare everything for Miss Serafina.” She glanced at the newspaper. “Do you want the money now or in the morning, since you’re staying here anyway?”
Getting paid at the earliest possible moment was Jack’s policy when dealing with Barboza. He shook his head. “Tonight, if you don’t mind, love.”
“I’ll open the cash drawer at the front desk.” She locked up and they began to walk through the lobby. Jack mentioned that Barboza seemed always in a bad mood.
“Perhaps he’s thinking about the rainy weather,” she said.
“Nah, he’s thinking he could have been a railroad magnate, but ended up running a railroad magnate’s hotel.” This nearly succeeded in making her laugh.
“What do you think the H stands for?” he continued. “Harold?”
“Horrid.” She smiled, darting a quick glance at him.
As they reached the front desk, a man waiting to check in turned to face them. He was quite tanned, and his thick black beard was speckled with grey. A quantity of rain had dripped onto the hotel’s travertine floor from the oilcloth coat he wore.
“Who might I speak to on the matter of getting a room?” Though polite, his voice was a low rumble like the slow beginning of a landslide. He noticed Jack’s newspaper and his dark, hooded eyes widened. “Tell me,” he said, “has she seduced you already with her incomparable voice, the way the Sirens lured Odysseus?”
“Never heard her sing,” Jack replied. “You ‘er manager or something?”
The man seemed disappointed. He transferred his piercing gaze from the paper to Jack and extended a hand. “Edward Teach,” he said. “Merely a devoted follower.”
Lisbet had produced a room key and turned the book towards Mr. Teach for his signature. He signed, paused, and then wrote something indecipherable under Permanent Address. Jack eyed the page and thought it looked like “Chorazin”.
“Any bags?” asked Lizbet. Her manner had become stiff and she avoided looking at the newspaper.
Mr. Teach indicated two bulging leather suitcases already on the bellman’s trolley.
“Four-fifteen,” Lizbet called out to the bellman, and Mr. Teach set off for the elevator.
“What the hell’s in his bags?” muttered Jack. The middle of the trolley’s frame curved under the weight of the two bags. The bellman pushed with all his might to roll it into the elevator with Mr. Teach.
The moment the doors closed, Jack turned to Lizbet. “You’ve put him next to me.”
She shrugged. “Most rooms are booked for guests coming this week. And we have to keep the best for Miss Serafina, should she grace us with her presence,” she added with a hint of spite in her voice. “Besides, I know you don’t pay for yours – it’s part of your fee for the hooch.”
“I’ll have you know I don’t sell hooch, darlin’,” he replied loftily. “Only the best.”
“Miss Serafina will be impressed,” said Lizbet.
There was no light under Mr. Teach’s door when Jack returned to his room. He listened for snoring or any sign of movement, but it was as if the room (indeed, the entire fourth floor) was unoccupied. This should have ensured a good night’s rest for Jack, but a strange, clammy atmosphere seemed to have entered the place. He found himself listening uneasily and thinking of all the dark, empty rooms below him. But no sound disturbed him, and eventually he slept.
In the morning, Jack stepped off the elevator to find Barboza bellowing at Lizbet in the lobby. “No sheets? No towels in 415?” he bellowed. “Take ‘em up yerself right now – and apologize!”
Lizbet rushed past Jack to the elevator, but he turned and followed her.
“I don’t know how I forgot,” she said as the elevator carried them up. “Poor man – what a way to treat a guest!” The doors opened and she quickly collected linens from Housekeeping.
There was no answer to her knock on Teach’s door, and when she opened it, the room was empty. “Oh no,” she said. “He must have gone away in disgust. And the room smells of salt water. Barboza will skin me alive for this.”
“He ain’t gone,” Jack said. “Look.” The two suitcases stood under the window. Jack grinned. “Perhaps he couldn’t move ‘em by himself.” He gripped one suitcase, then the other. To his surprise, they seemed empty except for a light slapping sound like a fish’s tail in one.
Lizbet made up the room swiftly and locked up. The bellman joined them in the elevator, having just seen a party of guests to their suite. He nudged Jack. “Look what that sap in 415 gave me for a tip last night.” He showed Jack an oddly-shaped elongated piece of metal.
Jack frowned. “You can make a bit off that, mate. I think it’s a Spanish piece of eight. Try that coin shop on Avenue D. Jake Norrington’ll buy it.”
The bootlegging business took Jack away from Miami for a week, but he continued to wonder about Turner’s mysterious diva and the peculiar Mr. Teach. By the time he returned, the rain had abated. The air felt light, and a crisp breeze ruffled the treetops. Bound to be good weather for Christmas, Jack thought. Miami’s winter season was off to a strong start.
A large Christmas tree had been installed in the Royal Palm’s lobby, its branches laden with fine glass ornaments. On each branch, a small candle in a red holder had also been attached. A porter was in the process of lighting the tree, and the candlelight gave a pleasant warmth to the scene. At the top of the tree was a baby-faced angel made of bisque with platinum colored doll’s hair and a celluloid halo lit by a tiny bulb behind her head. More guests had arrived, and the lobby buzzed agreeably with conversation.
Lizbet greeted him at the dining room entrance with a tight smile.
“Will’s diva has arrived,” she said. “Yesterday. She’s brought a companion.” She turned away busily, and Jack took a corner table near the back of the room.
As Lizbet walked towards the entrance, a woman appeared at the door. Jack instantly recognized her from the newspaper as Anjelica Serafina. Lizbet wavered as if looking for a way to avoid speaking to her, but the maître d was nowhere to be seen, and Lizbet was forced to seat Miss Serafina. She thrust a menu into the famous diva’s hands and strode out of the dining room.
There was no sign of Miss Serafina’s companion.
Jack rose from his seat and approached her table. “Sorry about that,” he said with a nod towards Lizbet’s departing back. “Her boss is a bit of a martinet sometimes, and today must be one of those days. Sets her nerves on edge.”
During this speech, he had been studying Miss Serafina. Despite looking like her photograph, she wasn’t at all his idea of an opera diva. She was quite small and slim, dressed in an elegant, square-necked black gown that fell straight to a dropped waist and thence to a hand-rolled hem that floated just above her trim ankles and the pointed toes of her black “Louis” heels. Most of her hair had been tucked up under a modest cloche hat, leaving a few luxuriant mahogany curls to frame her face.
“Oh, dear!” she replied. “Pobrecita! I won’t cause any trouble – let me see!” She ran her eye down the menu and quickly ordered her dinner. Then she smiled at Jack and added charmingly: “Won’t you join me, Mr...?”
“Sparrow,” he said, sliding into a chair. “Call me Jack.” He quickly wiped his hand before extending it.
“Jack...” she said, letting the name linger as her dark eyes sparkled. “You seem so familiar. Have we met before?”
“Ehh, don’t think so. Unless you travel a good deal on British merchant ships,” he said. “But that’s not what I do now. Now, you might say I’m a merchant meself, savvy?”
Just as he said this, he noticed Barboza glaring at him from the dining room entrance. Barboza caught his eye and jerked his head as a way to strongly suggest that Jack take his leave of Miss Serafina.
“But Jack! You were a sailor? How exciting!” Miss Serafina purred, as though she had just opened a delightful gift.
Reluctantly, he excused himself and hurried to Barboza. “Thought we agreed yer weren’t t’ mingle with me guests,” the manager hissed. “Stop importunin’ of yer betters.”
“Merry Christmas to you too, mate!” Jack replied, walking out with a broad grin. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Lizbet had reappeared in the dining room, apparently intending to hover near the kitchen door indefinitely. He wondered if she was expecting Will to turn up.
Having been ejected from the dining room, Jack embarked on an evening stroll along the sea wall. It was the sort of cloudless, breezy evening that always made him long to be sailing out on the bay. He imagined himself on a small sloop bound for nowhere, holding the tiller and letting the stars and wind guide him.
Eyes on the horizon, he would have walked past the amphitheatre, except for two things. The first was the sound of Turner’s footsteps as he came out and made ready to close up. The second was Jack’s sudden awareness that the front of the amphitheatre was papered over with photos of Anjelica Serafina, one after another, their corners dancing in the evening breeze. She was portrayed in what Jack assumed to be various classic roles. One large photo only showed her face, looking quite serious, with her hands pressed dramatically against her temples. Jack couldn’t decide whether her expression should be read as the noble acceptance of some tragic doom, or a fearful plea for release.
“Dramatic,” he commented as Turner joined him.
“It was like this when I got here this morning,” Will shook his head. “Someone put up thousands of these – they’re all posted up and down the streets as well. Maybe she has a publicist -- I’ll have to ask her when she arrives.”
“Didn’t Lizbet tell you?” Jack asked. “She’s here. I’ve seen her.”
“Where? Can you take me?”
Jack agreed to take him to the Royal Palm, and Will shut off all the outside lights except one, which lit Miss Serafina’s eyes in the large portrait. As Jack moved away, he thought the eyes seemed to follow him.
They found Miss Serafina ensconced on a velvet sofa in an alcove off the lobby, beneath a tall, vaguely oriental canopy of palm fronds. She greeted them warmly and said: “This is my companion, Marina. She is always with me.”
Marina was a pretty but sickly young woman in a wooden wheelchair, her legs wrapped in blankets so thick that it was impossible to tell where her feet or knees might be. She smiled wanly at Jack as Miss Serafina whispered, “Mute, poor darling.”
Will was clearly charmed as the diva extended a graceful hand to him, but as he kissed her fingers, she beamed a smile and said: “Your letter mentioned arias from Carmen and one other. But the newspaper says the other is Les Métamorphoses.” She lifted her chin. “I won’t do it. Only Carmen.”
Will’s eyebrows shot up. “But Scylla was your signature role!” he stammered. “I’ve researched it – Leclair wrote it for you!”
She tossed her head. “He was a monster.”
As Jack gazed at Miss Serafina, he noticed that Barboza had appeared on the far side of the lobby, moving out from behind the Christmas tree and scowling ferociously at Jack like a demented version of Father Christmas.
Suddenly Miss Serafina turned her head and caught sight of him. She gave a coquettish little wave. “Does he know you? Is something the matter?” she asked Jack.
“Probably thinks I’m ‘importuning’ you,” Jack replied with a wry smile. “Coal in me stocking this year, like as not.”
Miss Serafina considered, then said brightly: “Why don’t we all go to my suite instead of talking here?”
The suite was on the third floor, with a spacious balcony overlooking the bay. Marina seemed content to sit quietly and gaze out at the water whilst Will tried to persuade Miss Serafina to sing Scylla.
“Like the water, do you?” Jack remarked to Marina, who smiled and nodded.
“It’s a mercy we have the balcony,” Miss Serafina interjected. “You should see the awful little room they put her in – like a prison cell. They claim the hotel is full.”
“She can have mine, if you like,” said Jack. “It’s just the next floor up.” He hoped she wouldn’t ask what he would do about himself; he intended to talk his way into the rooms of one female acquaintance or another.
“What a thoughtful gesture! Will you let me see it?”
Jack took her to the elevator, leaving Marina and Will to make awkward conversation.
He was extolling the benefits of his room when she interrupted him. “Please don’t call me Miss Serafina,” she said, looking at him flirtatiously through her dark eyelashes. “Call me Anjelica.”
The elevator doors opened and Jack led the way down the hall for several feet before realizing she was no longer at his side. He turned to find her standing motionless about ten feet behind him, clenching her fists. Her neck was rigid and her eyes were large and terrified. She seemed to be having trouble breathing.
“Anjelica!” He rushed to her side and she nearly collapsed in his arms. “Do you want a doctor?”
“No, no,” she gasped. Her face was drained of color. “Just take me back to the suite, Jack. I’m so sorry – don’t worry about moving Marina. I’ll need her with me.”
In the elevator, her condition seemed to improve as she leaned against its back wall. She gave Jack a single, shy look, her eyes melting with gratitude, and he thought she brushed the back of her hand against his. Then the door opened and he delivered her to Marina’s care.
“I’ll sing Scylla,” she told Will somberly. “But you must excuse me for now.”
After leaving the suite, Will could hardly contain his joy. “Now we’ll have a real Christmas show! You never know with these divas, do you?” He sighed. “Let’s hope she doesn’t change her mind again.”
When Jack returned to the fourth floor later that night, he noticed that the spot where Anjelica had stopped was just outside Mr. Teach’s door. This began a train of further reflections, and he found he couldn’t stop thinking about her long after he retired to bed.
He had never felt quite such an instant connection with any woman, and vague, unnamed stirrings began to take shape and collide in his chest. She might have been in her thirties judging by her appearance, but given the year she debuted on the Paris opera stage, she must be at least the age of his grandfather. It was possible that she was even older. He speculated on her age, but could not conceive of any birth year that did not make the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
To make matters worse, it appeared that Mr. Teach had abandoned his quiet ways and was determined to make as much noise as possible. He seemed to be talking or reading to himself in a declamatory style that made Jack think of fire-breathing preachers or malevolent wizards casting spells. The low, ominous sounds would grow louder and angrier, reach a crescendo, and then drop back into continual muttering. It made Jack think of waves and rough seas.
Then the voice stopped and it seemed he was throwing or shoving the furniture about. Jack frowned and sat up. Was the fellow drunk? Perhaps he should go next door and find out.
But before he could pull his boots on, there was the rattle and bang of a window sash being jerked open.
And then, silence.
Jack sat for a full ten minutes waiting for a sound from Mr. Teach’s room. At last he lay down again and fell asleep. The night passed without further disturbance.
The next morning, Jack strolled into the lobby to find Barboza directing some activity concerning the Christmas tree. It seemed that the candles had burnt down enough to warrant replacing. A luckless porter was standing on a ladder trying to not jostle the tree as Barboza ignored Jack and issued a series of orders in a loud, raspy voice.
“Seen that fellow from 415?” Jack asked Lizbet on his way out.
She shook her head. “He’s never in his room, never eats here. He must go to one of the saloons outside the town limits.”
Jack set off on his usual walk along the seawall that bordered the edge of the Royal Palm on two sides, and then ran for some distance up the Miami River. But he had hardly gone a hundred feet when he came upon a distressed group of people standing around the seawall, looking on as two policemen bent over a man lying in the grass. One of the onlookers turned, and Jack recognized Will, who appeared distraught.
“It’s Weatherby,” he said as Jack joined the group. “They pulled him out of the river. They say it looks like suicide.” He glanced to the side, where the police had the body on a stretcher and were covering it.
Nearby, a few of the Little River Opera Players stood together silently. “We didn’t know he was in a bad way,” Will continued. “Remember, he refused to sing Métamorphoses. He’d sort of drifted off.”
Lizbet emerged from the hotel and started moving towards Will at a brisk trot. Just before she came within earshot, he gripped Jack’s shoulder. “Whatever you do, don’t tell Miss Serafina,” he stressed. “She might think it a bad omen.”
During the two weeks that followed, Jack’s encounters with Anjelica were limited to brief greetings as she crossed the lobby to or from rehearsals. Occasionally he saw her at dinner, where she always sat alone. He surmised that Marina’s supper must be delivered to her upstairs. He always stopped at Anjelica’s table and engaged her in pleasant, light conversation, but she never asked him to join her. And there was something about her that made Jack just a little unsure of himself, in spite of the warm smiles and meaningful glances he thought he detected.
Work was also distracting him. He was in the midst of negotiations for a new shipment of rum, and by the last night before dress rehearsals, he had made all his arrangements.
At around nine or so, he set out for the small lot where he kept his truck. Strolling towards the Tenth Avenue Bridge, he stopped short. Anjelica was some distance ahead of him, not walking, but standing quite still in the chilly night air, facing the river.
Jack wondered if she had heard about Weatherby. He closed the distance quickly, his heart running several steps ahead of him. Anjelica turned her head towards him as he drew near. She was wearing a tea gown and shoes similar to what she had worn to dinner on her first night at the Royal Palm.
“Oh, good---it’s you,” she said, smiling. Had she been waiting for him?
Jack checked over his shoulder. “As far as I can tell.”
“I was looking at the ships,” she said. “Do you often come out this late?”
“Not often, but tonight I’ve to drive down there”---he waved an arm at the dark, wild woods on the other side of the river---“to pick up a shipment.” He rocked on his heels a bit. “I, uh,...trade in liquor.”
“You’re a bootlegger?” she laughed, not disparaging him, but as if there were something delightfully amusing about this.
“Afraid so,” he replied. “I come from a long line of scallywags, and I do my best to live up to me heritage.”
“Will you let me go with you? I’m not afraid. I love adventures.”
“Dunno what you think you’ll see,” he said apologetically. “No one lives on that side of the river. It’s nothing but mangroves, bats and snakes.”
“Snakes? Do you mean it?” She tucked a slender hand under his elbow, and a short while later, he found himself driving across the wooden bridge with Anjelica at his side. He took the dirt road---almost the only road---that ran south through the dense mangrove forest. Anjelica turned in her seat to watch the lights of Miami receding in the night.
“I’m so glad you let me come along!” She sounded like a child embarking on a carousel ride.
“You’ve got an unusual idea of a good time,” Jack replied. He concentrated on picking out their way along the rough, overgrown road, which was challenging even with the Ford’s electric headlights. Soon the overhanging trees had blotted out the light from moon and stars and the underbrush made the road almost invisible at times. In the woods, the winter air was damp and oppressive. They drove on without talking, and the only sound was the rumble of the Model T’s engine, punctuated by the shrill song of the whippoorwill.
“What’s that?” Anjelica cried excitedly. “Is someone laughing?”
“Hoot owls,” Jack replied. He had made this trip countless times himself, taking little notice of the owls’ laughing calls, but on this occasion they sent a shiver down his spine. He gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter as sweat formed on his palms.
After rounding one particular bend in the road, Jack suddenly braked and the truck juddered to a stop. Anjelica breathed a sigh of delight and stood up to look. The road ahead appeared to be alive with strange blue creatures skittering from one side to the other. The rains had driven scores of land crabs from their holes, and they were moving to higher ground.
“Sorry for the jolt,” he said. “But I don’t want ‘em puncturing a tire. There’s no one to help out here.” As he said this, he began to have misgivings. Taking her on this excursion had been a reckless thing to do, even if she herself didn’t seem to realize it. Will would never forgive him if anything happened to his star; he was counting on Anjelica’s performance to keep the Little River Opera Players going.
When the road was clear again, they drove half a mile further to Jack’s destination. He stopped the truck and walked over to a small pile of limestone rocks. “Ah, bugger!” he said under his breath. The arrangement of the stones was a signal to tell him that his supplier couldn’t meet him.
But before he could relay this to Anjelica, she asked: “What’s that over there? Is it a cave?”
“It is,” he replied, getting back in the driver’s seat. “Look, the meeting’s off, so...”
“Then let’s explore the cave!” She jumped out of the truck.
“It’s just a load of little tunnels,” he said. “The walls are limestone---jagged enough to cut your hands.”
“They won’t bother me.” She stood in front of the headlights with a pleading look. “I promise.”
Suspecting he would have trouble getting her back into the truck if he refused, he took out a flashlight and they picked their way through the muck to a low arch in the limestone.
She seemed determined to view the entire network of little passages, and they wandered further and further along. Then the flashlight flickered twice, and went out. Jack gave it a good shake, but its battery was clearly dead. He peered into the utter blackness of their surroundings and realized he had lost his sense of direction.
“Don’t feel badly about it,” Anjelica’s voice was soothing. “We’ll get out.”
But a strange emotion had laid hold of him and he found that here, in the dark, he was unreasonably afraid of her, almost to the point of panic. He swallowed and tried to remain calm.
“Do I make you afraid, Jack?” she said. “You don’t need to be. You remind me of someone I knew a long time ago.”
“Oh?” he managed to say.
“You resemble him so much,” she went on. “You could be a relative. What do you know about your family?”
“Not much beyond the immediate. My gran was a usurer, they say.” He tried to laugh.
“Oh, well, I knew him so long ago,” she said sadly. “It doesn’t matter now---it’s too late.”
Jack tried to imagine what “long ago” might mean, but couldn’t bring himself to ask.
“It’s really not me that frightens you, is it?” she said. “It’s my follower.”
This particular insight had the ring of truth to it. Jack heard her take a few steps, then she said: “Why don’t we walk along slowly and just keep talking. We’ll get out of the caves. I’ll talk about anything you like.”
He made his way carefully towards the sound of her voice and asked: “How long have you had this...follower?”
Anjelica gave a long sigh. “I wish I knew. I think I’ve known him a very long time, but I can’t remember. He doesn’t often turn up, but when he does, he terrifies me, so I’m not surprised if he frightens you, too.”
“Is that why you wouldn’t let Marina take my room? Because his room is next door?”
“Yes. I knew the moment I stepped off the elevator.”
“Why not call the police? Have him arrested if he threatens you?”
“But he hasn’t threatened me. And he’s the reason I can sing.”
“He put another voice in me and took mine away, and then I could sing beautifully.”
Jack was pondering whether she meant Teach was her vocal coach, when she added: “It’s really Marina whose voice you hear, not mine at all. That’s why she travels with me at all times. And it’s because of Marina---Marina and Mr. Teach---that I stopped getting any older. He fixes a lot of problems for me.”
“Like Leclair?” Jack blurted out.
“Possibly, though I don’t know. Leclair was insane---accosting me, standing outside my window all night, leaving lilies on the doorstep to show he’d been there. I was glad when he disappeared.” She gave a little laugh. “I still hate lilies.”
“Can’t you tell Mr. Teach to leave you alone?”
“I couldn’t do that. After all, he made me a great diva. And what else is there for me, if not that?”
At this point, Jack could see a glimmer ahead, and a few more yards brought them out of the cave. He was quiet on the drive back, trying to make sense of the fantastical story Anjelica had told him. Once back at the Royal Palm, he waited until she had gone up in the elevator before hurrying to Lizbet, who was on the ladder adding strands of tinsel to the Christmas tree.
“Have you seen that Mr. Teach about?” he asked.
“Gone.” She looked down at him, her face flushed from her exertions. “I suppose you men are too busy watching Miss Serafina to pay much attention. The whole tree could catch fire for all you’d notice.”
On Christmas Eve, having never attended an opera in his life, Jack sauntered down to the amphitheatre and got a seat in the orchestra section. He noted that most of the audience seemed very rich and very old. While there were some familiar faces from the hotel, a large proportion of the crowd looked somehow out of place in 1919 Miami, dressed in evening clothes that were glamorous but distinctly out of fashion. He was sure he had never before seen any of them in town, and decided they must have arrived on a private train specially to hear the great Anjelica Serafina.
The amphitheatre had been equipped with an enormous screen where slides were to be projected as a backdrop for the opera. At last the overture was played, and a spotlight revealed Anjelica standing alone, stage center, with her hands at her sides as the first notes of an aria sounded. She slowly raised her arms in supplication and began to sing the part of Scylla.
From that first moment, Jack was transfixed. Ignorant of any technical standards for operatic singing, he was simply and utterly carried away by the beauty of her voice. He knew that he was in the presence of a legend. She sings like a mermaid, he thought, then wondered where he had got such an extravagant idea.
As the opera unfolded, her voice pierced his heart with every emotion: her dread of Glaucus, her fear of Circe’s revenge, her loneliness and despair as her doom revealed itself. He wanted to rush up on stage and assure her of his devotion. The quality of her performance also seemed to inspire the others in the cast, and each one rose to the occasion with exceptional singing.
At the end of the evening, Anjelica came forward after the cast had taken their bows, and stood alone at the edge of the stage as the audience gave her a standing ovation. Jack gazed at her sad, lovely face and struggled with an idea he had never considered. In some mysterious way, he was becoming convinced that Anjelica was the one for him; the woman that, albeit unknowingly, he had been seeking all his life.
She made a low, graceful bow and took a few steps back, making room for a veritable deluge of roses thrown by members of the audience. The local florist shop must have sold out to the bare walls, to judge by the quantity of flowers that were accumulating. Jack could hardly see her over the increasing mound of tributes. Then, after the last rose had been thrown, an unseen hand tossed a single, large bouquet of the hated lilies, which landed atop the roses.
Just then, his elbow was grabbed roughly. It was Barboza, dishevelled and out of breath, his face and white suit marked with soot. Suddenly Jack smelled the strong odor of smoke in the air.
“There’s been a fire,” Barboza told him, trying to be heard through the applause. It seemed there had been an incident with the Christmas tree candles, and the Royal Palm itself had been set ablaze. “You have to tell her,” Barboza was saying. “Everyone got out exceptin’ her friend, that Marina woman.”
Jack turned his head quickly towards the stage, and found that Anjelica was no longer there. The other singers roamed the empty stage uneasily and appeared to be looking for her.
He suddenly felt as if a cold hand was sliding around his heart.
“I thought she couldn’t walk,” said Barboza, “but she went off the balcony, like she was aimin’ fer the river.” He sounded as if Marina had jumped in order to spite him.
The audience was departing, crowding in the aisles and pushing Barboza away from Jack. “I’ll be talkin’ to the fire brigade,” Barboza called out. “You give her the news.”
But Anjelica was nowhere to be found. After he searched the amphitheatre, Jack ran back to the hotel. He wandered, looking through the groups of onlookers, eventually finding Lizbet and Will, huddled together. Will had an arm around Lizbet’s shoulders.
“Where’s Anjelica?” Jack asked, but neither of them had seen her. “Then where’s Marina?” he demanded. “I want to see-“
“Stop yer foolish talk,” hissed a voice. Barboza had come up behind them. “They won’t let you see the body,” he told Jack. “You don’t want to... She don’t seem...Well, there’s no tellin’ what yer lookin’ at.”
“And on Christmas Eve, too,” Lizbet murmured. “How awful...”
“Spoils the start of tourist season, too,” said Barboza. “She must’ve been mad. What did she mean to do in the river? Swim off into the bay?” He sighed and shook his head. “You’d think she was tryin’ to escape.”