The Secret Tunnel

The Secret Tunnel by James Lear Read Free Book Online

Book: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Lear
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staring, rapt, at Daisy, while their father scowled and stared out the window. Even the steward made a pretense of polishing the silverware, although I could tell from his high color and sparkling eyes that he was almost breathless with excitement. I imagined he too was a great admirer of Hugo Taylor.
    The foppish young secretary fluttered around Miss Athenasy, arranging her gown, calming and pampering her like a pedigree cat. Dickinson whispered a word in Taylor’s ear; Taylor nodded.
    “Mr. Mitchell, Monsieur Damseaux,” said Dickinson, “allow me to introduce you.” We scrambled to our feet, as if under orders; the rest of the passengers fumed silently into their coffee cups. “Miss Daisy Athenasy.” She smiled
sleepily, extended a hand laden with sparkling stones; we both pressed the fingertips. “Mr. Hugo Taylor.” Taylor stood, and gave us both manly handshakes. Was that a little extra warmth, a little extra pressure, that he communicated to me? What exactly had Dickinson whispered in his ear? Was there to be a private party, later, in Taylor’s carriage? Taylor, Dickinson, Bertrand, and me…
    I was aware of a presence behind me, and turned to see a huge hulking form in a black suit, the shirt collar way too tight around the bull neck, dark eyes under a beetling brow watching our every move.
    “It’s okay, Joseph,” said Taylor. “I don’t think they’re going to murder us.”
    The gorilla grunted and took a seat beside—not at—the table.
    “Joseph is a necessary evil, gentlemen,” said Taylor, with a subtle smile on his face. “The studio believes that the world is full of lunatics just waiting for an opportunity to bump me off, or to abduct Miss Athenasy and do unspeakable things to her lily-white body.”
    “Oh Hugo, darling, really.” Daisy drawled. “Your imagination disgusts me.”
    “As you can see, Miss Athenasy and I are the very best of friends.”
    “Now then, Hugo,” interrupted Dickinson, who did not want this carefully orchestrated luncheon to turn into a public mudslinging match, “perhaps you would like to sit down?”
    “Of course. I shall behave. Fear not, Mr.… What was your name again?”
    “Dickinson. Peter Dickinson.”
    “I wish the studio would just give us one publicity manager,” said Taylor. “It’s very confusing for simple folk like actors to be learning new names all the time.”
    “I’m with you for the duration, Hugo.”

    “Good. Now let’s get this show on the road, as they say.”
    Dickinson prepared his camera and signaled his readiness to shoot.
    “Apologies for the interruption, ladies and gentlemen,” said Taylor, addressing the carriage. “We shall simply take a few photographs and leave you in peace.”
    “Well, really,” said the dowager. “I call that an impertinence.”
    Her companion, who had been watching Taylor with brimming eyes, the pupils like potholes, looked mortified.
    Bertrand and I resumed our seats. Wine had materialized in our glasses—presumably to make it look more like luncheon—and we tasted it. It was a little early in the day for me, but I was grateful for the drink.
    “ Pas trop mal ,” said Bertrand, smacking his lips. Here was a boy almost indecently ready to be corrupted by the finer things in life.
    Food was served to the stars, and they made a decent pretense of putting it onto forks and letting it hover around their mouths. They toasted each other (I noticed that Miss Athenasy, at least, was really drinking) and laughed and chatted. It looked convincing. They looked good, and Dickinson worked quickly and efficiently to capture the scene. The rest of the passengers had given up all pretense, and were openly staring—all except the dowager, who decided now was the time to start loudly dictating a letter to her companion.
    There was a scuffle at the door. Joseph leaped to his feet and barged down the carriage.
    “Bloody reporters,” muttered Dickinson, darkly. I pitied the poor creatures, being

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