Shattered, p.20Dick Francis
Pamela Jane cried out, “Oh no, you can‘t!”
“You shut up, you silly little bitch,” Rose acidly told her, “or I’ll spoil your soppy looks instead.”
Whether or not he was aware of Rose’s speed in standing on the treadle part of the floor that raised the flap of the furnace, Hickory was unable to protest more vigorously than to shrink ever deeper into the chair. He did understand, though, the diabolical choice she was thrusting under my nose.
As if she could read his mind, she said in the same sharp tone, “You, what’s your name, Hickory? You’d better pray that this boss of yours won’t let you burn. Because I’m not fooling, this time he’s going to give me what I want.”
She picked up one of the long punty irons and pushed it into the tank of molten glass. Her movement was un-graceful rather than smooth with constant practice, but somewhere, sometime, she had watched a glassblower collect a gather from a tank. She withdrew the iron with a small blob of red-hot glass on the end of it, and revolved the rod so that the glass stayed adhered to it and didn’t fall off.
Pamela Jane moaned at the sight and all but fell onto the doctor’s needle.
“Gerard Logan,” Rose said to me with emphasis. “This time you will do what I tell you, now, at once.”
Extraordinarily she sounded less sure of herself than screaming “Break his wrists” into the Broadway night, and I remembered Worthington’s judgment that as I would beat her at the tennis match of life, so she would never again face me on the actual court. Yet here she was, visibly pulling together the sinews and nerves of resolution.
I’d seen Martin summon his mental vigor when going out to race on a difficult horse, and I’d seen actors breathe deeply in the wings when the play ahead dug deep into the psyche. I understood a good deal about courage in others and about the deficiencies in myself, but on that Sunday in January it was Rose’s own mushrooming determination that pumped up in me the inner resources I needed.
I watched her as she in turn watched me, and it wasn’t what she said that mattered at all, it was which of us would win the desperate battle for pride.
She plunged the cooling small ball of glass into the tank again and drew it out again, larger. She swung the iron around until the molten red-hot lump advanced to a too close spot under Hickory’s chin. He could feel the heat. He shrank frantically away and tried to scream behind the adhering tape.
“Look out, for God’s sake,” I shouted automatically, and as if surprised, Rose swung the iron away from Hickory’s face until he wasn’t for the minute threatened.
“You see!” Rose sounded all of a sudden victorious. “If you don’t like him burned you’ll tell me where you’ve hidden the videotape I want.”
I said urgently, “You’ll disfigure Hickory if you’re not careful. Glass burns are terrible. You can get a hand burned so badly that it needs amputating. An arm; a foot ... You can smell flesh burning ... you can lose your mouth, your nose.”
“Shut up,” Rose yelled, and again, at the top of her voice, “Shut up!”
“You can burn out an eye,” I said. “You can sear and cauterize your guts.”
Pamela Jane, who lived with the danger, was affected least of all in spite of her fluttery manner, and it was big Norman Osprey of the great muscular shoulders who sweated and looked ready to vomit.
Rose looked at her red-hot iron. She looked at Hickory and she glanced at me. I could more or less read her rapid mind. She had come to threaten me through my regard for Hickory and now here I was, a target again myself.
Beside Rose’s powerful identity her companions’ egos were pale. Even Adam Force’s good looks and persuasive smile faded to second rate in her presence, and I began to realize fully that her reputation in inspiring real abject terror, in men particularly, was in no way a myth. I felt the fringes myself, try though I might to counteract it. Her effect on her father sent him to the confessional at the best of times, and this being Sunday again I could barely imagine the turmoil churning in his good Catholic conscience.
To Norman Osprey no doubt one day was as good or bad as the next. His days were judged by the amount of muscle needed to achieve his own way, coupled with the fizzing ability to add, divide or multiply as if by instinct.
Adam Force’s finger seemed to itch on the plunger set to activate the syringe’s undisclosed contents. I wished to heaven that poor Pamela Jane would sniff back the tears and swallow the sobs, both of which seemed increasingly to irritate Doctor White-Beard; and as for Hickory, stuck with wide brown bands into silence and sightlessness, and deep in the soft armchair, I thought he would be staying exactly where Rose had put him until someone pulled him out.
Impressions flashed and passed. Rose stared at me with calculation, enjoying her certainty that she would defeat me pretty soon. I couldn’t swear she wouldn’t. This time there were no black masks or baseball bats. But to be faced bare-armed with molten glass was worse.
Suddenly and unexpectedly Rose said, “You came here this morning to make a trophy horse of glass and gold. I want the gold.”
Wow! I thought. No one had brought gold into the equation before. Gold for the trophy hadn’t been mentioned in Rose’s hearing as far as I knew. I had ordered enough for the trophy, and a little over for stock, but a quantity worth holding up the stagecoach for, it was not.
Someone had misled Rose, or she had misunderstood, and her acquisitive imagination had done the rest.
Rose was still sure that, one way or another, I could make her rich.
Adam Force was admiring her with a smile and applauding her with his eyes.
If I could use this, well ... golden... opportunity ... I could but try ... I did need time now, and if I made the trophy horse I could slow things nicely.
I said, “The gold isn’t here yet. I’m fed up with the delay.” The carefree but complaining tone I used non plussed Rose into lowering the tip of the punty iron for the moment.
“If I don’t get the trophy glass horse ready on time,” I said, “the one that’s ordered, that is, well...” I stopped abruptly, as if I’d teetered on the brink of a monster mistake. “Never mind,” I said as if nervously, and Rose demanded I finish the sentence.
“Well ...,” I said.
“Get on with it.”
“Gold ...,” I said. “I have to use it on the horse.” Pamela Jane, to her eternal credit, dried her tears in mid-sniffle and in horrified disgust told me frankly across the workroom that I should be thinking of freeing Hickory, not making a trophy for Cheltenham races.
“How can you?” she exclaimed. “It’s despicable.”
“A car from the jewelers is bringing the gold for the hooves, mane and tail,” I said.
Rose wavered, and then demanded, “When?”
I said I wouldn’t tell her.
“Yes, you will,” she said, and advanced the hot iron in menace.
“Eleven o‘clock,” I said hastily. A good lie. “Let me make the horse,” I suggested, and made it sound on the verge of pleading. “Then, when I’ve made the horse, I’ll tell you where to look where I think the tape might be, and then you must promise to set Hickory free as soon as you have the gold.”
Pamela Jane said helplessly, “I don’t believe this.”
She couldn’t understand how easily I had crumbled. She couldn’t see that her scorn was the measure of my success.
Rose looked at her watch, discovered she would have to wait an hour for the gold to arrive and did the unwise calculation that she could afford to wait for it.
“Get on and make the trophy,” she instructed. “When the gold comes, you’ll sign for it in the normal way, or your Hickory’s for the slow burn, understand?”
“Get on with it, then.” She looked around the workshop, assessing the state of things, and told Pamela Jane to sit deep in the other soft chair. There, while Adam Force held his threatening needle at her neck, Norman Osprey taped her ankles together.
Pamela Jane glared at
Rose consolidated this decision by telling her I’d always been a coward. I looked expressionlessly at Pamela Jane and saw the shade of doubt creep in, even while she listened to Rose pour on the disdain.
I hadn’t meant to shape the trophy horse under the threat of Rose’s hand on the punty irons. I had in fact mobilized the bodyguards to prevent it, and they hadn’t. On the other hand a confrontation with Rose some day had been inevitable, and if it were to be now then I’d need to think a bit faster. I stood flat-footed, without drive.
Rose taunted, “I thought you were supposed to be good at glass.”
“Too many people,” I complained.
She peremptorily ordered Norman Osprey and Eddie Payne to go around the half-wall into the showroom, and with more politeness shifted Adam Force around after them. All three leaned on the half-wall, watching. Having pulled out one of the punty irons that I’d put to heat beside the active part of the furnace, Rose thrust it into the crucible—the tank—holding now white-hot glass, and drew it out, a reasonably sized gather, revolving it just speedily enough for it not to fall off onto the floor.
“Go on,” she said. She shoved her lump of burning devastation towards my right arm and I retreated far enough for it not to char my skin.
It was no way to make a trophy of any sort. I needed to start the horse’s body with several gathers of clear crystal and Rose, with irons loaded with plum-sized tips that would destroy whatever they touched, hovered over Hickory’s and Pamela Jane’s heads and threatened to melt off their ears, to make their roasting flesh smell like meat cooking if I gave her the slightest cause. I was to tell her all the time what I proposed to do next. There were to be no sudden unforeseen moves on my part. Hickory and Pamela Jane would suffer. Did I understand? Rose demanded.
I understood. So did Pamela Jane, and so did Hickory, who could hear.
I told Rose I would need to take four or five gathers
from the tank, and while she had her own lump of destruction close to Pamela Jane’s ear I harvested enough glass to make a horse standing on his hind legs a third of a meter high.
Pamela Jane closed her eyes.
I told Rose in advance that it was almost, if not totally, impossible to make a horse of that size without an assistant, which was partly because the body of the horse had to be kept at working heat, after one had sculpted the muscles of the neck and the upper legs while one added two pieces of glass for each lower leg and foot, and others for the tail.
“Get on with it and don’t whinge,” she said. She was smiling to herself.
People in circuses could keep a dozen plates spinning in the air by twiddling sticks under them. Making that rearing horse in Broadway felt much the same: keep the body and legs hot while you sculpted the head. The resulting head wouldn’t have won in a preschool contest.
Rose was enjoying herself. The less I blocked and opposed her the more certain she grew that I was on the way to capitulation. She liked it. She smiled again, a secretive dirty-little-girl underhand twist of the lips.
I looked at that smile and abruptly I personally understood what Worthington had described. Victory for Rose was never complete without the physical humiliation of a male adversary.
Victory over Gerard Logan, which Rose now saw as gloriously her own, wouldn’t be sufficient for her in that place unless it included her inflicting some depth of burn.
I might shudder at such a prospect but Rose wouldn’t. I might use plain muscle power in an all-out attempt to defeat her, but I wouldn’t try to wreak havoc of molten glass on Rose. Nor on anybody. I lacked the brutality.
Neither, though, could I desert my team and run.
With tweezers I pulled the horse’s front legs up and its rear legs down and held the whole body on an iron within the furnace to keep it hot enough to mold.
There were still things I could do, I thought.
Exits that were more or less honorable, anyway.
I managed to juggle body and leg pieces into a headless racer.
Exits, hell, I thought. Exit wasn’t enough. Defeatism never got anyone anywhere.
I held two punty irons with difficulty and transferred enough glass from one to the other to attach and shape a mane, but it hadn’t the elegance necessary for Cheltenham.
Worthington opened the gallery door and began to come in from the street. His eyes widened as fast as his comprehension as he spun a fast 180-degree turn and was on his way down the road before Rose could decide which had priority, chasing Worthington or keeping me penned.
When Worthington was out of anything but whistling distance she told Force and her father to lock the gallery door immediately and was furious because neither of them could find a key. I hoped to hell and back that Pamela Jane wouldn’t report obligingly that she herself had a key to everywhere.
She gave me another uncertain stare and shut her mouth.
Rose stopped smiling, loaded her punty iron with a white-hot golf-ball-sized end of glass and held it close to Hickory.
I did my best to make and fix a tail to my increasingly non-thoroughbred creation. The tail and two hind feet formed a triangle to support the rearing horse. When I wanted a great result, this stage often went wrong. That day it all balanced like perfection.
Hickory wriggled desperately to get away from Rose’s white-hot threat.
Pamela Jane saw me doing nothing to help Hickory while constructing only a toy, and went back to despising me.
I stuck the head on the neck and tweaked the ears forward. Finished, the object had four legs, head, mane and tail, and no grace whatever. I stood it upright on the marver table, where rearing, it was ready to start leaping into the future from a crystal ball.
In spite of the faults, Rose seemed impressed. Not impressed enough, however, to lower her guard, or her punty iron beside Hickory’s head.
I glanced at the workshop clock.
A minute—tick tock, tick tock—was a very long time.
I said, “The gold will cover the hooves and the mane and the tail.”
Tick tock, tick tock.
Rose thrust her cooling punty iron back into the furnace and brought out a new white-hot gather, which she again held near Hickory’s head.
“How long,” she demanded, “until that gold gets here?”
Hickory wriggled violently, trying desperately to free himself from the sticky strips on his mouth and his eyes.
Pamela Jane, eyes closed, seemed to be praying.
Two minutes. Tick tock.
“The gold,” I said, “will come in small bars. It has to be melted, then it has to cover the hooves and the mane and the tail...”
Hickory threw himself forward, trying to get out of his embracing chair. Rose didn’t move her punty iron far enough away fast enough to avoid him, and one of his ears did touch her waving white-hot blob of glass.
Under the parcel tape, he couldn’t scream. His body arched. Rose jumped back, but Hickory’s ear sizzled and now smelled of fried meat, and would never be perfect again.
Three minutes. Eternity. Tick tock.
Hickory’s horror, plain and agonizing, had everyone staring. Rose should have jettisoned her iron and gone to his help, but she didn’t.
Three minutes, ten seconds since I stood the rearing horse on the marver table.
Dangerous to wait any longer.
I picked up the big tweezers I’d used to form the horse’s mane, and with them tore the parcel tape securing Pamela Jane’s ankles. I pulled her up by her still-tied wrists, and Rose turned towards me from Hickory and yelled at me to leave her alone.
Pamela Jane had no idea what she should do, and dither could be fatal. I said to her urgently, “Run,” and she didn‘t, but hesitated, looking back to Hickory.
No time left. I lifted her up bodily and carried her.
Pamela Jane objected. Rose ordered me to put her do
Rose came fast across the workshop after me, and drove at me, holding her hot glass—laden punty iron like a sword.
Half seeing her, half sensing the searing future, I twisted both myself and Pamela Jane roughly to let the iron miss us, like a bullfighter, but Rose in fury dragged and stabbed and burned a long black slit through my white singlet.
No more time.
I lugged Pamela Jane around the half-wall to the showroom and threw her, screaming protests, to the ground, and I fell on top of her to pin her down.
The rearing horse had stood unannealed at maximum heat on the marver table for three minutes forty seconds when it exploded.
The horse exploded into scorching fragments that flew like angry transparent wasps throughout the workshop and over the half-wall into the showroom beyond.
Adam Force, refusing to get down because it had been I who suggested it, had been hit twice, once in the upper arm, and once, more seriously, across the top of the cheekbone below the eye, taking away a chunk of surface flesh. Half fainting from shock, the doctor had dropped his syringe. Blood reddened his sleeve, but there was no spurting arterial flood.
It was the wreck of his good looks though, I thought, that would in the end grieve him most, and if he had peered into a looking glass at that moment, he would probably have collapsed altogether. The speed and sharpness of the flying glass fragment had opened a furrow that was bound to leave an untreatable scar, and like many facial cuts this one was bleeding copiously. Adam Force bled into his white beard, which was fast turning red.
Doctor Bright-Scarlet-Beard Force. Serve him right, I thought. A pity it would wash clean. Wash clean ... other things would wash out too ... an idea.
Glass cooled rapidly if it expanded and thinned. One could gently blow down an iron into semi-liquid glass so that it would expand until it looked like a soap bubble: a dollop of red-hot glass would cool to the cold shell of a brittle bubble in the few seconds it took to blow it from one state to the other.
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