8 A Legacy of Smoke and Shadow: Tartuffe

Continued from Part 7, Family Ties

Muse 8: Dancing Around Men Toward a Burlesque Destiny

(Image source: WikiMedia Commons) 


As her captor begins to draw, Mercedes Karpov sips her tea and considers her escape. On the face of it, he is holding all the cards. The door is locked and he has the key. And he has not one gun, but two: his Ruger, which is on the chair beside him, and her Makarov, still tucked in the waist band at the back of his jeans.

Mercedes knows she’ll be able to summon help when she’s ready. Max never searched her, at least not with anything but his eyes. True; the t-shirt and leggings she wears under the djellaba don’t leave much to the imagination. But it was a mistake, one that she'll turn to her advantage. He clearly never suspected that she wears a GPS sender concealed in the hooks of her bra. She needs only to activate it by undoing one of the hooks.

But not yet, not until she hears what he has to say.

And besides, she vows to herself, I’m not leaving here without Baba’s gun. She has no doubt she can retrieve it using her feminine wiles. He wouldn’t be the first predator who found himself her prey. She had used her charms – and yes, her body – more times than she cared to remember to get what she wanted from men.

Looking at him over the rim of her tea cup, she says, “You never told me your full name. Max what?”

“My name is Max Reynolds,” he replies. “Oh, it’s not my real name, you understand.  But in my line of work, using my real name could be a definite handicap. I actually use a couple of others as well. Depends on who the client is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the Russian mob guys in New York, who believe I’m one of them, know me as Sagittarius. And it’s true; sometimes I play along with them. When it suits me.” Max glances up again, his brown eyes meeting hers. “But your cohorts call me The Monk.”

Mercedes laughs. This was just getting better and better, in an absurd comedy sort of way. First they are related. And now he’s The Monk. It was like a fucking Molière farce. That, or a really bad burlesque plot. 

“I don’t believe that you’re The Monk for a minute,” she snorts. “You’re too…”

Her voice trails off. She was about to say that he was too ordinary, too nice, but decided that might be a mistake. He’d brought her here against her will, after all (well, sort of), and she had no idea what he intended to do with her. But The Monk? This guy? No way.

“Too what?  Nice?” he echoes her thoughts. “Don’t be naïve, Mercedes. I’m one of the bad guys. Probably the worst you’ve ever met, and in your line of work, I know you‘ve met some pretty bad ones.”

“True,” she responds. “But you know nothing about my line of work.”

“Oh, yeah, I do. I told you before; I’ve been ‘avoiding’ you for a long time. Since I realized who you were, I’ve kept an eye on you. Not easy to do and still remain in the shadows.  I felt kind of an obligation, if you want to know the truth.”

He looks up from the paper on the brass table between them and grins at her. “Besides, sometimes it works out to my benefit.” 

He drops his eyes and goes back to his drawing.

“For example, I admired your work this afternoon. You pulled off the impossible. Of course, I had to finish the job for you. And I was happy to do it. I suspect I’ll collect quite a bundle when I take credit for it.”

Frowning, she says, “What the hell are you talking about?”

 “Al-Abayghur? The world will be a better place without that asshole.”

“You don’t mean…?”

Mercedes has an idea what he means. She’s sure she is wrong, but admits to herself that she wouldn’t be too upset if she were right. That asshole had killed her father, after all. 

“Yes, of course I do, honey,” he laughs. 

“You fucking killed him?” 

“Hey, I’m a killer.” Max looks up and shrugs. “That’s what we do.”


Edmond Chase immediately breaks out into a sweat when he walks out of the Menara airport. Nearly midnight, and it must be well into the nineties, he thinks. It wasn’t even seventy when he left London.

He scans the taxis parked across from the door and spots a familiar face. He gestures, and the cab pulls out and swings over to the curb in front of Chase. The cabbie rolls down the passenger window, and calls out loudly, “Where to, mister?”

Chase climbs into the back and the cab pulls away.

“Hello, Hassam. I don’t suppose you can take me to Mercedes Karpov?”

“Not yet, Ed, “Hassam responds. “But wherever she is, I don’t think she went unwillingly. There is no sign of a struggle in her hotel room.”

“Maybe she never returned to her room,” Chase offers.

“No, we know she did. We talked to the man in the room next to hers. It took a little encouragement,” Hassam meets Chase’s eyes in the rear view mirror, “but he decided he would like to cooperate.”


“He was just leaving to attend the Fantasia. He said he saw a woman in a djellaba enter her room shortly after seven o’clock this evening.”

“Did he see her face?”

“No, she had the hood up and pulled low in the front. But who else could it be?”

Chase sighs. “OK. Take me there please.”


At first, Mercedes is shocked at Max’s casual announcement. How he knew about al-Abayghur, she can’t guess, but she decides she doesn’t believe him anyway. She watches as he continues to draw boxes on the sheet of paper.

“Learned my shapes in kindergarten, Max. Get to the point, please.” 

“Patience, my dear.”

Max draws until he has several layers of boxes.

Mercedes gives a wide, gaping yawn. “I’ve had a long day, you know, and I’m really tired. Will you get on with it?"

“Almost there…”

Max draws arrows connecting some of the boxes to others.

“Ah, a family tree...” Mercedes says. “Silly me. I should have known right away. Is this the part where you tell me how it is that you and I are blood relatives?”

“I hear the skepticism in your voice. That won’t last long, I assure you.”

Starting at the top, Max begins writing names in the boxes. He labels the first two boxes Nicholas and Alexandra.

“How’s your Russian history, Mercedes? It’s your heritage, you know.”

“Oh, good grief. I don’t have time, not to mention much interest, for a fucking history lesson. Will you get to the point!”

Relax. You are in no position to make demands. I’m the one with the gun, remember?
“Yeah, yeah.” Despite the unconcerned tone in her voice, Mercedes makes a show of calming down and leans back on the couch. She isn't sure how far she can push him.

“Now for the fun part.”

He quickly fills in the rest of the boxes. All but the bottom two.

He looks up at her.“You see where I'm going with this?”

Mercedes leans forward and turns the page around.  The names mean nothing to her, other than two of them.

“Those are my parents,” she says, indicating the boxes containing the names Grigori and Ella. “I have no idea who these other people are.”

“Here, let me help you out.”

Max swivels the page around again and fills in the two bottom boxes.

“Does that clear it up for you, cousin,” he asks sarcastically.

“Oh, you are so full of shit.” 

Enough of this, she decides.

“Listen, I have to use the bathroom. You will let me do that, right? I can’t be sure. You’re obviously a fucking control freak. Not to mention insane.”

“Sure.” He indicates a door off the small hallway from the sitting room. “But if you think you’re going to make your escape that way, think again. There’s no window or anything you could use as a weapon. I made sure of that when I decided you were going to be my guest.” He laughs. “Not unless you know a cool trick with a bar of soap.”

Mercedes gets to her feet and heads for the bathroom.

“But just in case, leave the door open a few inches.”

She looks back at him and rolls her eyes. Once inside the bathroom, she pushes the door closed until there is a six inch gap between it and the frame.  She lifts her robe, pulls down her tights, and sits on the toilet. As she urinates, she reaches up under back of the robe and t-shirt to her bra and quickly unfastens the middle hook.


Chase looks around the hotel room as Hassam watches from just inside the door.

“What a pit,” he comments.


In the corner of the room, Chase spots a glass on the floor beside a ratty looking armchair and starts toward it.

“Don’t bother,” Hassam says. “It’s clean.” 

Chase sniffs the remnants in the glass. Licorice. 

“No prints?”

“None at all on the glass. The only prints in the room are hers.”

“Well, that says something, doesn’t it?”

Chase’s thoughts are interrupted by a ping coming from the phone in his pocket.

“She’s activated the GPS signal. Let’s go.”


After she returns to the couch, Mercedes says, “You expect me to believe we are cousins?”

“No, not really. But this may help convince you.” He tosses a sheaf of paper-clipped photocopies on the table. “These are official birth records for everyone you see on this chart. My friends in the Russian mob were happy to give them to me. Of course, they had an ulterior motive, but that’s another story.”

Mercedes gives them a cursory glance.

“Look more closely, cousin.  You’ll see that we share a great-grandfather, and a rather infamous one at that. Sadly, my side of the family seems to have gotten the bad genes. I come by my need to be a control freak, as you put it, quite naturally.” 

Max leans forward and adds two names at the top of the chart he has drawn.

“No fucking way!”

“Yep. Way.” 

An evil smile appears on his face. 

Oh, my god, she thinks. It’s true. A Molière play immediately comes to her mind. Tartuffe.

Max goes on. “And, ah, sorry to do this to you, honey, but in the interest of full disclosure…”

Max puts the pencil to the chart again, and draws a big X over one of the boxes.

Mercedes raises her eyes to his in horror.

He smirks and says, “That’s what I do. I kill.”


  1. oh snap..so did he really or is he jacking her....nice gps in the bra...smiles...check you " you have at least one out of place....

  2. Thanks, Brian. I fixed two errant quotation marks. I hope there aren't more...

    As for whether he really did it. well, guess, you'll have to stay tuned. ;-)

  3. There's a pattern in RoM entries in which the last chapter or two become too expository, and I think that applies here. I almost want Mercedes to have her own little adventures where she discovers the information Max is laying out for her (whether it's true or not).

    And I get the drawings, but we really don't need all four. The first one is enough (and maybe the final... or maybe just the final)... Description should be enough to have the reader follow what Max is changing.

    Got another off quotation mark here: “Not yet, Ed, “Hassam responds (it's on the wrong word!) ;)

  4. This could be more. Much more. Limited by Muses, but I believe there is more to be told than one last chapter will.

  5. The cousin from Hell. OMG. I fear for Mercedes. You have set up the tension so well. If I bit my nails I'd be biting them right now....


Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.