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RPG The Peculiar Murder of Alice Longfellow [PG]

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[font=century]It was late in the afternoon when Stanford Gaines, movie star, pulled into the Longfellow estate in his midnight black Jaguar convertible. Many had referred to the grounds as ?Monticello?s Cousin,? in architectural and historical journals ever since its? construction in the early 1800?s. Sadly, this comparison was lost of Stanford, and the only word he could think of to describe everything was ?big.?

It wasn?t uncommon for Stanford to be invited to such a large party, but the invitation itself was most certainly unique. Alice Abigail Longfellow, aging socialite and darling of the New England political wives, had personally invited him to solve her own murder (which she suspected was about to take place that very night.) Stanford thought the woman was merely trying to be dramatic, or worse yet, had confused the B-movie actor with the detective he had portrayed in a popular film series. While certainly charismatic, Stanford was the first to admit he was nothing like his character, Bruce Carnage, the brilliant and wisecracking detective. Given his very public reputation as a womanizer, many of those key differences would remain a secret as long as Stanford continued to pay his publicist handsomely.

After a short drive past the main gate and up to the mansion, Stanford stepped out of his vehicle and handed his keys to the nearest valet. One of the others handed Stanford a small piece of paper and a pen, demanding that he sign it.

?Oh? You?re a fan of my movies? That?s wonderful, boyo, but I?m here for Mrs. Longfellow,? Stanford said as he pushed the paper and pen away, ?Not autograph hounds.?

Frustrated, the valet forced the paper and pen into Stanford?s hands as he spoke.

?Mr. Gaines, we need you to sign this for your car. We have a lot of black jaguars tonight, and it helps to keep things organized.?

?Oh, of course,? Stanford avoided eye contact as he signed the paper quickly, ?Well there you go. Just be careful on the paint job.?

The movie star sighed, and adjusted the tie to the custom tuxedo he was wearing. He briskly walked up the front steps to the Longfellow mansion where the host of that evening?s festivities was waiting to greet her guests.

Alice Longfellow was a woman whose graying beauty and political ties made her the object of affection to men half her age. Growing up the daughter of a powerful New Hampshire Senator, she had her choice of any number of the East Coast?s most eligible bachelors, and in her younger days she made a point of giving all of the candidates a ?test drive.? Throughout this time she continued to explore a passion in Eastern philosophy and religion, going so far as to build a temple to Ganesh in her conservative Catholic family?s backyard.

It was on a spiritual retreat to India that Alice finally met the man she would marry, guru Rahja Saba. However, due to Alice?s unwillingness to move to India permanently and a distinct language barrier between them (Rahja didn?t speak any English) the pairing was doomed from the start. It was only several weeks after their infamous wedding that she had already filed papers for the annulment and headed back to the United States. Alice had made of point of keeping her last name during the marriage, but oddly enough continued to refer to herself as ?Mrs. Longfellow? long after the divorce had gone through. Many suspected she kept the "Mrs." and her ring to keep potential suitors away, but in reality this was only one of countless eccentricities that made up the woman who was Alice Abigail Longfellow.

Given the way she was dressed, one might think she was hosting a wake instead of a Valentine Day?s party (and perhaps rightly so.) Alice wore a modest black dress, jacket and hat, a stark contrast to the stylish pink gowns that seemed to litter her dance floor. She completed the macare ensemble with a widow?s veil to hide the annoyed expression on her face as she greeted party guests. Mrs. Longfellow made sure everyone knew who was hosting that night?s festivities, but she still dreaded the formality of having to meet and greet every single person she had invited.

?Good evening, Mrs. Longfellow!? Stanford shouted as he reached for the elderly socialite?s hand, ?I?m thrilled to finally make it to one of your parties!?

He pulled the woman?s hand near, smiled, and kissed it in the way one would to the queen or the Pope. Mrs. Longfellow rolled her eyes, and folded back the dark veil to reveal her sneer.

?[i]Mr. Gaines[/i],? she dryly replied, ?Just because I?m elderly doesn?t mean that I?m deaf. And please don?t touch me, it?s disgraceful.?

Stanford was speechless, but maintained a blank grin to mask his insecurities from anyone who might be within an earshot of the conversation.

?If you don?t mind me asking, Mrs. Longfellow? What exactly is the story behind my um.. unique invitation??

?Don?t worry. I?ll explain everything soon, but I?d prefer that you keep that invitation a secret until I can gather everyone together in private and discuss it. You see, some people are here to solve a murder, and others? others are here to [i]dance.[/i]?

Stanford grinned.

?Speaking of which, Stanford, where?s [i]your[/i] date??

?They?re running a little behind. I had invited a? erm, friend, but I?m not sure if they?re going to make it, Mrs. Longfellow.?

?Call me ?Alice,? my child. President Johnson is the only one who has to call me, ?Mrs. Longfellow.?

She put the veil back over her face after noticing that another black Jaguar had pulled in front of the mansion.

?Now go out and get yourself a drink until I call all of you Jr. Detectives together. If your friend does show up, be sure to introduce him to me, I love meeting handsome men.?

Mrs. Longfellow cackled as Stanford sheepishly walked away.[/font]

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[font=times][COLOR=DarkOrchid][i]Genivive Montgomery pulled around the drive towards the valet who was flagging her down. As she stepped out of her car, she noticed the valet's eyes not quite make it to her face. Instead they were focused on her extremely delightful legs, and perhaps the sleek black pumps that matched with the leggings. When she stood up, she noticed his eyes doing the elevator trick she had always dealt with.

From his point of view, she supposed, a gorgeous female with sleeked back auburn hair, almond shaped hazel eyes, and fair skin was a sight to behold. An equally lovely sight she supposed was the way her lavender linen suit clung to every part of her body. Either way she signed the paper he handed to her and favored him with a dazzling smile, then stepped away, her heels clicking on the pavement, giving him full view of her backside. Of course, since he wasn't a mind reader, he wouldn't have known she was supressing the urge to roll her eyes to the back of her head.

Once at the party, she bobbed her head slightly to Mrs. Longfellow, who she had recently read files on and was well informed about. She held onto her clutch bag with what could've been a death grip, but under pale purple gloves, it would've been hard to see her white knuckles. Genivive made a beeline towards the bar after exchanging somewhat pleasant words with Mrs. Longfellow. After all, the poor lady had done lunch with Genivive's boss on several occasions... ...at the bar she noticed right away the presence of a certain Mr. Gaines, who was surrounded by women. Busty women.

His eyes watched as she came up to the bar nearby and ordered a martini, completely ignoring him as she did. She turned to face the seething crowd, sipping delicately, when he somehow made his way past all those adoring eyes and latched onto her.[/i]

"May I ask your name?"

[i]Genivive turned her eyes on him and took in the features of his face. She held up a hand, which he took with a relieved sort of expression, kissing it gently.[/i]

"I daresay you'll find that you may."

"Then, what is your name?"

[i]She raised her lips to his ear, pressing herself quite close against him, one hand at his shoulder.[/i]

"You may call me Gennie."

"Well then Gennie, would you care to dance with me?"

[i]Noticing he still hadn't dropped her hand, she smiled and let him lead her to the dance floor.[/i]

"I'd be delighted. But I'm afraid you're disappointing your real fans."

[i]They began to make their way across the dance floor, moving to the music, but not quite as much as the other people. Gennie put her lips to his ear at a point in the music where it would've been acceptable and whispered quietly,[/i]

"If you're not using me to get rid of all those women around you, then I'm a communist Mr. Gaines. I know who you are, and what you do when you're not in the public eye."

[i]His smile was bland, not quite making it to his eyes like a real smile would. He leaned his head down slightly to whisper back to her while his eyes roved the floor, looking for people that might be watching. [/i]

"I take it I should fire my publicist tomorrow?"

"Hardly Mr. Gaines. It's not his fault he doesn't have the power to overrule a federal agent. If anything you should commend him for holding out on me for so long. Don't worry. I liked your movies enough to not turn your life upside down."

[i]This time the smile he gave her was real, quite like hers. She laughed softly and he chuckled back.[/i][/COLOR][/font]

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[font=arial][size=1][color=indigo]Jade was a nice guy, born and bred, and he was willing to show any woman the courtesy of his attention, but Sandra was pushing it. She couldn't stop talking the entire trip, not just about Mrs Longfellows party, but also every conceivable topic in existence, which included, most irritatingly, the state of Jade's dilapidated car. It was all he could afford, and he loved it tremendously, but she just couldn't stop picking at it. If it wasn't the torn upholstery, it was the rust spots, and if it wasn't the rust spots it was the crack in the windscreen. Normally Jade loved driving, but it was all he could do to get out when they finally pulled up at Mrs Longfellow's estate.

"Sir..." the valet began, picking his words carefully as Jade begrudgingly helped Sandra out of the car. "Am I to assume you're here for Mrs Longfellow's dinner party?" Jade slammed the passenger side door hard enough to make the whole car rattle and grinned at the man.

"Of course," he said, throwing his keys over the roof. "You think I got all dressed up for nothing?" In his scuffed shoes, creased black pants and well-worn blazer, Jade wasn't joking.

"I must assume you are the, err, honourable Mr McGuff then?" the valet ventured. "And this young lady is your date?" Sandra slipped her arm in Jade's and winked at the man, who was still examining Jade's car with the mixture of horror and disgust one usually reserves for road kill.

"Yes he IS," she said, her shimmering satin gown and meticulous hair and makeup clashing terribly with Jade's worn clothes and tired face. "And yes I am. Now if you'll excuse us!" Without another word Jade found himself being dragged up the steps into Mrs Longfellows grand house, looking back and mouthing 'women' at the valet as he stumbled up the steps. The valet only nodded knowingly and climbed cautiously into Jade's car, all the while wondering how the car ran without exploding.

"Am I to believe this is the famous Jade McGuff?" a dignified voice asked, snapping Jade from his silent conversation. Jade looked around dumbly for the source of the voice and clapped eyes on a woman who age had been especially kind to. Despite her greying hair and lined face, she seemed to possess a timeless beauty that momentarily left him speechless. Sandra's jealous punch snapped him out of his revelry.

"Why yes, I am. You're a fan?" Mrs Longfellow smiled graciously.

"Of course. I buy whichever magazines are running your stories each week," she looked at Sandra and appraised her. "And this is your date...?" Jade nodded.

"Mrs Longfellow, Sandra Lee," he said, making introductions. "Sandra... err... Mrs Longfellow." Sandra curtsied and smiled at the matron.

"A pleasure, Mrs Longfellow," she said politely. Mrs Longfellow nodded in way of reply and gestured inside.

"You will find a fully stocked entree table inside, Mr McGuff," she smiled. "You look like you might need it. I will catch up with you later." Jade grinned, his eyes sparkling at thought of two good meals in a week.

"I'm sure Mrs Longfellow," he said. "Quite sure indeed!" Bowing, he took Sandra by the wrist and started to drag her inside, his nostrils already sniffing at the air.

"It was nice meeting you!" Sandra called back as her date dragged her mercilessly.

"Not a problem dear," Mrs Longfellow said softly as the couple disappeared inside. "Not a problem at all."[/color][/size][/font]

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[SIZE=1]OOC: I?ll be away on the weekend, so I won?t be able to post until Monday afternoon. And I deeply, deeply apologise for the fact that this has been rushed, I only realised I would be away a few hours ago and haven?t had much time to really work on this.

------

What reason would Mrs. Longfellow, who was far wealthier and far more popular than Lance Marlo, want to invite a magician to one of her ?famous? parties? If the invitation was any indication, he was to attend her murder. For what purpose? He had been wondering that throughout the whole drive down. Was he there simply to perform, to entertain the guest with his highly acclaimed magic act? Otherwise, he couldn?t see much use for his being there.

He sighed, wiping his brow with the red silk cloth that would probably disappear in a trick during the night. He slowed his silver car down as he reached the Longfellow Estate. His car was really nothing he was proud of, nor did he know the company which made it. Not that it matted to him.

A drive through the main gate was enough to stop Lance dwelling on why he was here, or the irrelevance of his car. He looked out of his window up at the mansion in which the party would be hosted and allowed a grin to creep onto his face. He liked the look of the place, and Lance Marlo was a hard man to please. The size was probably why he was so impressed.

He caught the attention of a young valet, Lance didn?t even give him a smile. He stepped out of the car and pulled his coat down, straightened up the collar and gave his pockets a brief check for all his items. Once he was done with that, he looked over to valet, whom seemed to be waiting for something, and finally gave him a nod and a smile. Lance handed his car keys over and started for the entrance but was forced back by the valet showing a pen and paper to him.

[B]?You need to sign, Sir,?[/B] the valet began, nodding over at Lance?s silver, well-kept vehicle. [B]?For your car.?[/B] He added.

Lance looked at the valet for a moment. He sighed and rubbed his hands together in his silk cloth, before crunching the silk into a small ball in his right hand. He took the pen off the valet and, to the valet?s amusement, the red cloth had disappeared from Lance Marlo?s hands. He was aware of the valet?s eyes staring at him as he signed his name and it amused Lance to no end. He wiped the grin off his face before he looked back up to the valet, giving a polite nod before heading off towards the party and to greet its host.

If there was one thing magic didn?t help Lance with, it was recognizing people. Not that he had actually met Mrs. Longfellow in person, which may of helped as well. Lance felt it would have been rather impolite to enter into a party without introducing himself, even if Mrs. Longfellow knew exactly who he was (judging from the cryptic invitation, she probably knew him well). After glancing around for some time, Lance sighed again and shook his head, pulling down his long coat once more and the black jacket underneath. He paused upon noticing a woman, dressed in black and hardly matching the other guests. Lance thought for a moment and decided to trust his instincts, though he would probably look quite the fool if he were wrong.

[B]?Mrs. Longfellow! Good evening.?[/B] He said, hiding the nervousness in his voice. He was relieved when the women turned upon hearing her own name.

[B]?Lance Marlo, I presume??[/B] she said, turning to him. Lance couldn?t see the expression on her face due to the black veil, nor was he sure he wanted to guess it.

[B]?I am, and I must say I?m honoured to be here. A delightful place you have, Mrs. Longfellow.?[/B] Lance replied with a short nod of his head.

[B]?Alice.?[/B] She corrected.

Lance Marlo smiled, and nodded again. [B]?Of course.?[/B]

[B]?I?ve heard a few tales of your magic acts, ?Lance?.?[/B] Alice said, and judging from the way she said his name she probably knew it wasn?t his real one. [B]?I looked forward to seeing a few of your tricks this evening.?[/B]

[B]?And I look forward to performing them for such a person as yourself.?[/B] Lance smiled again, half turning to walk away, before giving her another slight nod to end his introduction with.[/SIZE]

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[SIZE=1]Elizabeth fiddled with the hem of her dress as the taxi made it's way through Mrs. Longfellow's garden. She wasn't used to fancy clothes like this, her own miss-mash of styles was much more suited to her personality. She was even wearing a simple dark-purple gloss, just for tonight.

She looked to the man next to her and couldn't help but smile. Seeing Maxwell in a suit and bow-tie was indeed quite something, and no matter how much she insisted that he looked quite handsome, he would only scowl and dip two fingers into his collar. And pull. He'd already popped off the top button of his shirt.

Elizabeth rubbed her forehead, a sign of nervousness, as the taxi stopped. She'd wanted to hire a nice sleek car, or at least use her own convertable, but Maxwell didn't like pretending. Or so he said. Whatever the case, Elizabeth had listened to him, and now she had to let herself out of the car after paying the balding, 50-somehting year old man with a beer belly and cigarette breath. She grimaced inwardly.

[B]"Right then, Maxwell. Take my arm, and I'll try and make you look decent."[/B]

[B]"Thank you." [/B] He never was one for subtle humour.

The pair walked arm in arm to the very bored looking butler standing in the entry hall. He bowed and looked at his clipboard before glancing up to Elizabeth.[B] "Name?"[/B]

[B]"Miss Elizabeth Archer, this is my guest Mr Maxwell Schubaltz."[/B]

Maxwell simply nodded and smiled softly. Elizabeth noted the dimples and smiled herself. He really was very charming, if you forgot he'd been brought up in a wild jungle.

[B]"Very well," [/B] the butler said, his smile not showing in his watery eyes, [B]"She is waiting in the hall with other guests."

"The--?"[/B]

[B]"Down the corridor and to your right. Thank you!"[/B]

Elizabeth smiled again, less politely than before, and made her way to the hall with Maxwell, laughter and voices meeting their ears as they reached two lavishly decorated oak doors.

[B]"I suppose this is it,"[/B] Maxwell almost growled, digging around under his collar once again. Elizabeth slapped his hand away and straightened his bow tie, placing a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth.

[B]"Please behave."[/B] she said, her voice quite sincere, just to make sure Maxwell understood. He simply nodded, and that was all she needed to hear. They entered.

An elderly woman, still quite elegant in her own way, was seated mostly away from the throng of people. She had a small glass on her table, but not much else. She looked up when the pair entered and stood to greet them.

[B]"Mrs Longfellow?"[/B] Elizabeth asked tentatively, letting go of Maxwell's arm.

[B]"I am, dear. You are?"[/B]

[B]"Elizabeth Archer. This is my guest, Maxwell Schubaltz."[/B]

[B]"Ah, the reporter,"[/B] Mrs Longefellow said, hiding a small amount of disdain in her voice rather well. Elizabeth was used to it, anyway, and chose to ignore it out of politeness.

[B]"I'm very flattered that you invited me, Mrs. Longfellow."

"Of course you are, dear, now get yourself a drink. I'm sure that's what you came here for."[/B]

Maxwell stayed suitably quiet, but tilted his head to the side, bringing a hand up to rub the corners of his mouth. He was obviously hiding a smile.

Elizabeth simply grinned and turned on her heel quickly, tugging Maxwell toward the bar. [B]"A drink. Jolly good idea."[/B]

[B]"I'd have to agree."[/B][/SIZE]

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[font=century]Genevieve and Stanford continued dancing for several songs, drawing attention from the various onlookers in the crowd. By the time they had reached the tango, many of the other couples had stopped entirely just to watch the famous movie star and a mysterious woman careen across the dance floor. Stanford cleverly turned Genevieve as a human shield of sorts, hoping to use her slight frame to hide his face from any photographs that might be taken.

?Mr. Gaines,? she said with a sigh, ?If one didn?t know any better, they?d think you were embarrassed to be seen with me.?

Stanford dipped Gennie as low as she could bend, practically touching the floor.

?It?s not that, my dear. You see, I?m supposed to be dating Elizabeth Taylor.?

She laughed softly as the band finished their song. A waiter approached the pair with a tray of champagne, handing them each a glass.

?Here you go, sir.? The man said, ?Compliments of the bar.?

?Why thank you very much,? Mr. Gaines turned his attention towards the handsome bartender, and smiled, ?Just tell him to keep those drinks coming, and hopefully we can talk later on tonight.?

?Yes sir.? The waiter nodded, and moved elsewhere to serve the other guests.

Amused by the conversation in front of her, Genevieve felt the need to prod.

?My. It?s a fine line you have to walk, isn?t it??

?It is,? he leaned in closely as he spoke, ?But at least it?s kept me limber.?

?That?s what Ethel Rosenberg said.?

Stanford playfully sneered.

?Don?t you find it funny how you?re here alone on Valentine?s Day? I can?t imagine why.?

?I?m not the only one. Where?s your date, anyway, Mr Gaines??

?That?s a very good question, my dear,? he said as he looked around the room for a moment, ?But I wouldn?t worry too much about that. I?m sure someone here is available, or will be, before the night is through.?

Gennie laughed out loud as Stanford downed the entire glass of champagne in a single gulp, moving elsewhere on the dance floor to socialize with the other guests.

?Mr. Gaines!? A feminine voice called out from one of the surrounding tables, ?I just caught the last few songs? your dancing. You were wonderful.?

Stanford eyes followed the voice and the young, freckled girl it came from. She was a pale, blonde young thing who wore heavy eye shadow to give off the illusion of glamour (although even Stanford knew that she may have overdone it just a bit.) Attached to her side was a young man: tall, thin, brown hair and penetrating blue eyes. He seemed even less interested in Mr. Gaines than Mrs. Longfellow, a fact which immediately caught Stanford's curiosity.

?My name is Sandra Lee,? the young girl said enthusiastically as she shook Stanford?s hand, ?It?s a pleasure to meet you. I?ve seen all of your films.?

Stanford rolled his eyes.

?Well it?s always nice to meet a fan. Who is this handsome fellow you?re with??

?My name is?? The young man?s name was interrupted by Sandra.

?His name is Jade McGuff, and I?m not really [i]with[/i] him. This is our first time going out together, so it?s not terribly serious yet.?

?Oh I see.? Stanford said, turning his full attention towards Mr. McGuff, ?I guessing that means both of you are? single??

?Apparently,? Jade replied callously.

?So, Jade. That?s a very unusual name. Where did it come from??

?My parents, I believe.?

?No-no,? Stanford let out a bit of laughter, ?Where did the name come from? Is it a family name? It?s very beautiful.?

?Yes. Don?t be rude,? Sandra twisted the back of Jade?s arm as she spoke, ?Tell the movie star where your beautiful name came from.?

?I don?t know?? Jade thought about it for a moment, ?Rocks??[/font]

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[size=1]

Jacob Dorsey pulled into the Longfellow estate sometime in the early evening, his dusty red Chevrolet sputtering as he eased his foot onto the brakes, coming to a halt outside the main gate. For a few minutes he sat in the drivers seat, nervously tapping the steering wheel and staring up at the huge house. Did he actually have any reason to be here? He guessed not, but any chance for him to play to an audience was good publicity, especially to a group of aristocrats.

He finished the quick drive up to the mansion and pulled up behind a line of other cars, thoroughly confused. After a minute or so, a valet walked up to him with an outstretched hand. Not used to this, Jacob stared blankly at him.

[B]"Your keys, sir?"[/b] The valet offered, voice cheery but his eyes clearly impatient. Jacob's eyes narrowed. For a rusty, beat up 1960 Chevrolet? That was a little much.

[B]"...Why?"[/B] He asked suspiciously. The valet eyed the car with obvious distaste and glowered at the musican.

[B]"I honestly don't know, sir. It [i]is[/i] required of me. If you would give me your keys I will be sure not to let anything damage your...vehicle."[/B]

Jacob rolled his eyes, opened the door abrubtly as to frighten the valet, and unfolded his long legs, pushing himself out of his car. At full height Jacob towered over the valet, but his extremely thin frame made him no more intimidating. He thrust the keys into the guy's hand and trudged off to the party.

In a form fitting suit, Jacob wasn't entirely out of place, but his embarassment was easy to see. Out of nervous habit, Jacob kept scratching the side of his nose, trying in vain to hide it. It was always the first thing anyone looked at while speaking to him, but usually the gaze would drift upwards into Jacob's impossibly blue eyes. But there was always that nagging feeling that out of the corner of their eye, the nose was still being closely watched.

In his haste to keep his nose out of sight, Jacob nearly bumped into Mrs. Longfellow herself.

[B]"Oh! I'm sorry...!"[/B] He mumbled, not realizing who the elderly woman was.

[B]"Don't worry about it, dear. I take it you are Mr. Dorsey, correct?"[/B]

Jacob blinked, eyebrows arching. [B]"Uh, yes. And you are...?"[/B]

[B]"Alice Longfellow."[/B] She said, smiling slightly. Jacob groaned inwardly and kicked himself.

[B]"Of course, Mrs. Longfellow, excuse me-"[/B]

[B]"Alice, dear. Just Alice."[/B] She corrected, sounding impatient. She probably had to point this out to many a person.

[B]"Yes, Alice. You're free to call me Jacob.. I mean, if you want. You don't have to, but... You know... I left my guitar in the car, I should go grab it."[/B] He finished awkwardly, after realizing a few attractive, richly dressed women giggling at him. Or just giggling, faced towards him. Either way his hand reached up to attempt to block his nose again instinctively.

[B]"You don't worry about it. I'll send someone to go and fetch it for you. Now, the food is on the opposite side of the room. I want you to eat as much of it as you possibly can."[/B]

With a bright red face, Jacob nodded stiffly and spun around. He tried to contain his excitement when he saw the large table piled high with food; he hadn't eaten anything more than cereal and cocktail cherries in a week.[/size]

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[font=arial][size=1][color=indigo]Stanford laughed again.

"My boy, you are hilarious. I haven't encountered such wit in a long while." Jade laughed nervously.

"Err... yeah, wit. Eheh." At his side Sandra watched the exchange with a mixture of intrigue and jealousy etched into her features and, eager to bring the star's attention back to her, dove into her clutch bag and pulled out a napkin and pen.

"Can you sign this please Mr Gaines?" she asked, doing her best to appear demure. "I would... love it so, if you did." Stanford nodded graciously and quickly scribbled out a signature and message, handing it back to the young woman with the speed and efficiency of a factory worker. With glee Sandra carefully folded the napkin and inserted it into her clutch, momentarily oblivious to the rest of the world around her.

"What do you do as living, Jade?" Stanford asked while the young woman busied herself. Jade looked down, considering his answer. 'Nothing' or 'struggling writer', which sounded better? Eventually he formed an answer that avoided both possibilities.

"Oh you know, a bit of this, a bit of that," he winked. "A jack of all trades, you might say." Stanford seemed intrigued, and waited on the young man to elaborate, but Jade took the moment to escape the awkward conversation for the lure of the entrees. "At the moment though, eating is my trade, and it's a trade I enjoy greatly, so I trust I'll meet up with you later, Mister Gaines." With a grand, almost sarcastic, bow Jade about faced and started weaving through the dance floor, Sandra still in a daze as she followed along.

"I have his autograph..." she whispered. "Stanford Gaines' autograph..."

Stanford could only blink bemused, and almost laughed when the young man almost knocked over another party guest on his quest for food. At least, he mused, he could be forgiven for wanting to eat. He looked like he hadn't had a good meal in a great while.[/color][/font][/size]

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[SIZE=1]The reek from a hundred different perfumes and colognes irritated Maxwell's nose to an untold degree, they were so unnatural he felt as if he would soon be unable to breathe. Elizabeth was looking at him, her calm poise was something he tried to hard to mimic, but it always felt uncomfortable for him, how did she manage it ? It was a question which continued to puzzle him, like so much else, he did not realise her poise was a veneer, this was work, one of the biggest scoops she would land, and so she had to be calm, she had to pretend she felt natural here. Maxwell however had never learned how to "pretend", to him to pretend would be the same as to lie, and he never lied, never understood the need to lie sometimes.

The bar was fully stocked, dozens of different wines and spirits, taken from all corners of the world, but he was not a drinker by nature, and did so only under Elizabeth's guiding watch. It had been only a few years since they first met, guarding a pompous man in love with his own celebrity, Maxwell had intercepted Elizabeth as she tried to get an interview. Originally she had been rather amused, that a B-movie star like Stanford Gaines would hire such a person so unsophisticated said a multitude of things about him, his vanity must have known no bounds, but slowly as she came to know Maxwell it seemed he was the more interesting story. At first she took to him out of pity, he seemed to removed from the world that it cried out help to her, simple tasks such a posting a letter were a challenge to him, and his manners were so coarse it bordered on animalistic.

Over the years, progress was slow, but steady, he began with simple things like learning to use a knife and fork, and gradually moved onto more difficult social requirements like dancing, and as frustrating as it had proven to both of them, it served to bring him closer to her, until eventually Maxwell found himself needed her more than he needed anything else, she was like his air, he could not breathe without her. He did not know if this was "love" a term he had read in newspapers and heard on radio, but it sounded right, and she seemed to feel the same way for him, so it must have been love.

"[B]Are you alright ?[/B]"

The concern in her voice soothing to him, she knew he felt unnatural here, but this was important to Elizabeth and Maxwell would do his best to make it go well for her.

"[B]I'm fine.[/B]"

"[B]Are you sure ?[/B]"

"[B]Yes, I'm sure.[/B]"

He kissed her gently on the forehead, he wanted to make her feel at ease more than anything. He would get through this, as best he could.

"[B]Do you want a drink Elizabeth ?[/B]"

"[B]Thank you. I'll have a glass of red wine.[/B]"

He watched as several others were served before him, it brought back unpleasant memories, the night he'd killed a man with his bare hands. It had been nearly twenty years since that day and yet he still felt troubled by it, angry that if he'd simply had a normal childhood like most people it would never had happened, and saddened by the fact he was too ignorant to understand the consequences. He smiled as he ordered the drinks, a red wine for Elizabeth, and a small whiskey for himself, before bringing them gingerly back to his love. She smiled at him as he handed it to her, it was a real smile this time, not the ones he'd seen her use before one other people, he knew when people really smiled, one of the few falsehoods he could see beyond. She was happier now, more at ease, this was good.

"[B]Shall we dance Elizabeth ?[/B]" [/SIZE]

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[SIZE=1]Audrey Claireborne did not attend parties. She was never one to enjoy mingling, the idle chatter of the upper class, nor the taste of wine. Out of the dozens of invitations she received each year since her novels' rise in popularity, not one of them caught her interest.

That is, until now.

It was well into the evening when Audrey's automobile pulled into Mrs. Longfellow's expansive driveway. She seemed to arrive later than the other guests--not that it mattered, as she figured the [I]true[/I] reason she came to this party wouldn't begin until later that night. Audrey stepped out of her vehicle and engaged in a wordless exchange with the valet; he took her keys, frowning slightly at her plain white gown, and handed her a sheet of paper, which the young woman quickly read through and signed.

Once inside the mansion, she was immediately greeted by an aged, yet oddly youthful woman.

"Ms. Claireborne, I assume?"

Audrey gave Mrs. Longfellow a respectful nod and softly replied, "It's an honor to be here."

"You're just a child," the older woman mused, "The famous novelist looks not a day older than twenty. I'm surprised a young woman such as yourself didn't come along with a date."

Audrey smiled somewhat uncomfortably and replied, "I'm 28, Mrs. Longfellow. And I don't have the luxury of keeping much company."

"Please, call me Alice. And I'm sure you'll find yourself surrounded with company by this party's end. The guests are brimming with excitement just at the thought of you attending. They say you rarely appear in public."

"These are special circumstances, as I'm sure you're aware."

Mrs. Longfellow smiled knowingly, and gestured down the hall. "Enjoy the party, Ms. Claireborne."

Once Audrey entered the dancing area and scanned through the crowds of well-dressed woman and men drinking and laughing the night away, the first thought that flashed through her mind was, I [I]highly[/I] doubt that I will.[/SIZE]

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[font=century]Stanford stood there at the table for a moment, deciding to finish off an untouched martini that had seemingly been abandoned by one of the other party guests. He checked his watch, 6:34, and sighed.

He wasn?t the only celebrity there, not by a longshot, but there were few Congressmen who could draw the attention that a real movie star could. Even if he could have his choice of company for the night, Stanford still felt like an outsider among the crowd.

?Mr. Gaines?? a male voice called out from behind.

Stanford, expecting another out of control fan, adjusted his tie, rolled his eyes and turned around. He was surprised to see who was waiting for him.

?Max??

Maxwell Schubaltz, Stanford?s former bodyguard and confidant, stood before the star with his longtime female companion, the popular crime journalist Elizabeth Archer. Elizabeth was wearing one of her notoriously loud evening gowns, while Mr. Schubaltz struggled in his suit and bowtie, the first formalwear Stanford had ever seen him in.

?It?s good to see you again, Mr. Gaines,? Maxwell said as he adjusted his collar uncomfortably. The man may have been a soldier of fortune, but the social scene was one jungle he had yet to conquer.

"You don't work for me anymore, call me Stanford."

"Yeah, yeah. Of course, Stanford. Old habits. ?I?m sure you remember Elizabeth.?

Many would criticize Maxwell for keeping a reporter so close to one of Hollywood?s most devastating secrets. but Stanford had come to trust both of them over the years. After all, if he didn?t trust them, Maxwell wouldn't have made for a very good bodyguard.

?Hello Liz. Forgiven me yet??

?Hmpff,? Elizabeth rolled her eyes in disgust.

?Don?t mind Elizabeth, Mr. Gaines. When she heard about a night with the Longfellow?s she thought she was going to get a night away from dead bodies.?

?And from me?? Stanford raised his eyebrow.

?That sounds about right. At least she might get a story out of this. Isn?t that right, Elizabeth??

?Yes, yes. If the eccentric Mrs. Longfellow does go, I?ll have a front row seat to all of the juicy details. It?s almost like we?re in an Audrey Claireborne novel.?

Stanford pretended to laugh as though he understood the reference.

?It seems literacy is lost on this crowd. Maxwell dear,? Elizabeth reached out to her date forcefully, ?Hadn?t you asked me to dance with you before we were so rudely interrupted??

Stanford grabbed Elizabeth?s hand, and passed it to Maxwell before she could slap him with it.

?You heard the girl. As my bodyguard I think it?s your job to keep any danger away from me...?

?Remember, Stanford. I don't work for you anymore."

"Oh yeah," he sighed, "Right."

"But this is for old time's sake. The next one won't be free.?

Maxwell and Stanford shared a nod as he escorted his date to the dance floor.[/font]

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[font=times][COLOR=DarkOrchid]"Frightening." [i]Gennie raised one eyebrow towards Mr. Gaines and smiled slightly. Not only was he terribly exciting to watch, even from a distance, but he appeared to attract more attention than she was accustomed to seeing one man attract. She glided across the floor, watching several more reporters armed with flashing cameras line up for the kill.

She snatched up two full flutes of champagne and gracefully placed one in his open hand while turning to bring herself back into his view.[/i] "Is it always like this at social functions for you?"

"Sometimes there are more fans."

[i]He expertly swooped around Gennie just in time to avoid another flash from a reporter.[/i]

"And sometimes there are obsessed fans."

[i]Gennie noticed that his expression became mildly strained. She chuckled at the thought of thousands of Savage-crazed fans rushing around them, waving papers, screaming for autographs....then shook her head to bring herself back to reality. Mr. Gaines was watching her as if he knew exactly what she was thinking.[/i]

"Oh well. Just think of all the beautiful pictures the reporters will have of your profile Gennie. And your legs, and your face, and that nice outline of someone who just can't be identified..."

[i]Her expression was thoughtful as she remarked dryly,[/i] "Oh yes, I can think of the headlines now. [b]Stunning Female seen accompanying Man of Mystery.[/b]."

"Your boss won't mind all the press you're getting. Will he?"

"Oh dear, I hope not. I think he'd mind more me talking to someone that's under a private investigation."

"Who did you talk to that was?"

"Well besides you, that Elizabeth Archer character..." [i]Gennie smiled thoughtfully to herself.[/i]

"She's a communist?" [i]Mr. Gaines's eyebrows rose several degrees and he turned to her as if suspending disbelief.[/i]

"Hardly. Well at least I don't think so. My boss seems to think that everyone who doesn't pursue blue collar jobs, you know..."honest hard man working" type occupations..." [i]She let her voice drift off suggestively.[/i]

"So basically everyone here, to his eyes, is a potential communist."

"Oh yes. And some we know are communists."

[i]The two laughed mirthfully, holding glasses, looking at the crowd. Gennie secretly wondered how long it would be before Mr. Gaines employed her figure as a human shield once more. Certainly there had been an inordinate amount of it going on, but she could hardly find fault with him. It was an occupational hazard, just like she knew that her gathering intelligence on everyone present that she didn't already have complete files on was. Mrs. Longfellow had been lucky to avoid trouble so far. Her annulment was a great help. Ten seconds later it suddenly occurred to Gennie that Mr. Gaines had been speaking to her and she had no idea what he'd said.[/i]

"I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"I said, who is that girl in white? She looks completely bored."

"Bored or just boring?"

[i]Gennie turned and saw who she immediately recognized as Miss Audry Claireborne of England. A writer. She paused thoughtfully.[/i][/COLOR][/font]

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[SIZE=1]Though she did not have the appetite for hors d'oeuvres, Audrey had made her way to the entree table. At that point of the party, that section of the room had been nearly deserted, and she assumed it would be a good spot to observe the other guests while remaining undetected.

One pair in particular immediately caught her eye. Other guests parted when the two stepped near, and a circle of photographers surrounded and watched them with hawk-like attention. From her angle, Audrey was unable to see the gentleman's face, but his profile alone was enough for her to identify him as the actor who played Bruce Carnage in those mediocre detective movies. And the woman in his arms was...

Audrey's eyes widened upon recognition, and she backed away reflexively, bumping into the table behind her. What was [I]she[/I] doing here?

She was so distracted by her thoughts that she didn't notice a man approach her until he pointedly remarked, "You sure look excited to be here."

Audrey broke her gaze from the blonde woman and turned slightly to regard him. "And anyone who loiters around an entree table for half an hour must be terribly excited as well."

The man smiled in amusement. "The name's Jade Mcguff," he said, then frowned slightly when the woman made no effort to state her name in return.

Audrey suddenly furrowed her eyebrows in deep thought, then just as suddenly relaxed her face and said, "Oh, I see. You received a special invitation as well. It seems there would be no other reason for a man like you to attend this party."

Scarily perceptive, Jade thought, though he briefly wondered if 'a man like you' was an insult or a strange compliment.

"Actually, a friend of mine demanded for me to attend and bring her along," he said, gesturing to a young woman on the other side of the room, clutching her bag and staring dreamily in Mr. Gaines' direction, "But yeah, I received one of [I]those[/I] invitations as well."

And with that, their conversation drifted into silence. Jade couldn't help but feel that the woman looked familiar somehow...[/SIZE]

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[font=arial][size=1][color=indigo]Jade shrugged off the odd exchange and looked about the room, deciding that 'a man like him' had every right to be at this party, as he was amazing and even Mrs Longfellow seemed to think so. Taking a biscuit from the table, he leaned back and pressed on with the conversation.

"So who did you say you were again" he asked between mouthfuls of food. The woman's features briefly flickered with irritation but she otherwise gave no reaction.

"You don't know who I am?" she asked back, her face impassive. "Are you illiterate or do you live under a rock?" Jade grinned, intrigued with this strange pale woman.

"Sandra?" he said, getting the blonde's attention. "Do I live under a rock?" Sandra shook her head to clear away Stanford-induced cobwebs and blinked for a moment.

"You don't live under a rock, you live in that horrible apartment in the building next to the grocery," she said, her senses slowly kicking back into gear as she realised she was at a party. Jade smiled.

"As I'm a writer, I daresay I'm not illiterate, so I pick option C," he winked. "So who were you again?" The woman was momentarily lost for words.

"My name is Audrey Claireborne, I'm a thriller novelist" she said weakly, overpowered by Jade's confidence. "May I ask what you have written?"

"A bit of this, a bit of that... I can't keep up, it gets published all over the country." Audrey looked queerly at the man, reassessing him. "I don't keep up with other writers though, I don't have the money." Audrey's reassessment stopped dead.

"Oh," she muttered.

"Oh?"

"It was very nice meeting you, Mr McGuff." Jade took two champagne flutes from a passing waiter and passed one to Sandra, grinning as he made a toast to Audrey.

"Always a pleasure," he said cheekily as the novelist wandered off to a Jade-free section of the party.[/color][/font][/size]

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[font=century]Stanford and Gennie had decided to leave the ballroom and explore the Longfellow Estate. Most of the crowd was centered on the dining room and dance floor, so this was a superb opportunity for the two to have some privacy.

While the outside of the Longfellow Estate was that of a beautiful New England manor, its? interiors were decorated in a mishmash of unusual and exotic styles. In her parents? old age Alice Longfellow had begun to take over the duties of decorating, often choosing to do away with most of the antique furniture in favor of bizarre and curious items she had collected on her various trips throughout the world.

?These rooms sure are weird,? Stanford said as he peered down a long hallway, ?One looks like the Oriental restaurant I dine at in LA, while the next has little African dolls--?

?Voodoo dolls,? Gennie corrected him while entering the room in question, ?These are supposed to contain some sort of mystic properties. You make a doll in the likeness of a person, and then use the doll to curse them.?

?I think I was in a movie about these once? ?Voodoo Witches of the Bayou,?? Stanford opened up a large glass case containing several hundred of the wonderfully ornate dolls.

?And how did that work out for you??

?I was eaten by zombies, I think. I can?t really remember. I died a lot in movies before I became famous.?

At that moment one of the dolls in particular caught Stanford?s eye.

?Oh.?

?Oh? Oh what??

?Oh my,? Stanford said nervously as he handed the doll over to her, ?I think it?s you.?

The movie star was right. The small figure, although poorly sewn together, looked almost exactly like Genevieve Montgomery.

?This doesn?t look a thing like me,? she pouted, ?For one, the figure is all wrong.?

?Don?t look at the figure. Look at the outfit it?s wearing.?

?It?s wearing the same dress I?m wearing tonight. How can this be??

Stanford continued looking through the case.

?It looks like there might be a doll for every guest here. Huh. What strange party favors this old woman has.?

?I think there is something more to this than meets the eye. Maybe we should make our way back to the dance floor, Stanford,? Gennie said softly, ?Or, short of that, our automobiles.?

?A shame. And the night was just starting, too.?

Stanford shut the glass case of dolls and began walking away.

Gennie grabbed the movie star?s arm, pulling him away in the opposite direction and towards a door leading to the gardens. She carefully stowed her effigy deeply into her purse, making certain not to damage it.

?I think it?s best if we go out this way, Mr. Gaines, so as not to be noticed. And before we go,? Genevieve thought out loud, ?If there?s a doll of you in that case, Stanford, we should probably try and find it.?

?Don?t bother,? Stanford said confidently, ?I?m not really one to play with dolls.?

Gennie sighed as the two made their way into the gardens.[/font]

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[SIZE=1]Elizabeth kept her arms wrapped firmly around Maxwell's large frame as they danced, rather clumsily, in the middle of the ballroom floor. The redhead was not very pleased, finding that the very sight of Mr Gaines made her rather...edgy. He was too cocky, that man, and Elizabeth had only come to realise this after ending her brief period of stalking him. Stalking? Yes, she supposed that was fair. A sign that she was squeezing a little too hard came as Maxwell gave a soft grunt of displeasure and moved his hands to grip her wrists.

[B]"Something is bothering you?"[/B]

[B]"Don't worry, darling, just thinking."[/B] Elizabeth smiled and leant up to kiss Maxwell on the cheek, her garish burnt orange high heels clicking on the marble floor as she inched forward. Maxwell smiled in turn and rubbed her forearms thoughtfully, used to his partner's loud way of dressing.

[B]"How about we have some fresh air? It will do you good."

"Oh, I don't know Maxwell. I think I could just use a stiff drink."[/B]

Maxwell frowned and watched as Elizabeth made her way through the crowd, her wide ball gown skirts managing to make quite a large path. Though, it could have been the colours that made people step back, Maxwell realised this was very likely.

Elizabeth didn't look back to see if Maxwell was following her, never having been the sort of woman to depend on a man to keep her company. Before Maxwell she's had only a thin string of flings and had grown into a very independent, confident woman. Maxwell had just become a very comforting thing to come home to.

She ordered a whiskey and rested her chin on the back of one hand, glancing around the room in search of Mrs. Longfellow. Her brow furrowed as she frowned in contemplation, wondering for the umpteenth time what kind of party this really was.[/SIZE]

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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]Gennie let Mr. Gaines lead her through the flagstone paved pathways. She pointed out a small grove of huge yellow trees, dripping with long flude-shaped blossoms.[/i]

"See that tree?"

"Yellow leaves, yellow blossoms, yellow bark?"

"It's laburnum, a poisonous tree. The whole thing, root, wood, leaves, flowers."

"Mrs. Longfellow keeps toxic trees?"

"Well they are very pretty. But look over here."

[i]She turned him around to look at a low, beautifully manicured hedge, surrounding a delicately made gazebo. Huge vines of wisteris spiraled up the sides of the gazebo, the huge purple blossoms bending over and fluttering across the ground. The spiky leaves of the hedge surrounded small fist sized flowers in pink and yellow. Gennie smiled at him, but as he reached out to pluck one, she swatted his hand away.[/i]

"Oleander." [i]She gave him a warning glare and frowned slightly.[/i]

"Let me guess, it's deadly too."

"Children sometimes die from eating these flowers. Somewhat depressing. Good thing our hostess never decided to reproduce."

"I'm starting to be glad I never reproduced."

"Well...yes. Over here she's growing a pleasant clump of foxglove. That's deadly too. It gives you heart attack like symptoms. Unfortunately it tastes very sweet, and pets and children like it too."

"Voodoo dolls...poisonous trees... ...toxic plants..." [i]Mr. Gaines appeared to be lost in thought. Then he turned to Gennie curiously.[/i]

"Do you think she's trying to scare us?"

"Well not everyone knows that these plants are deadly, so maybe someone is hoping for an unfortunate accident or something. A man picks some flowers for his date, the unsuspecting lady sniffs deeply, starts to feel sick..."

"That's possible."

[i]Gennie stopped next to a perfectly harmless row of miniature roses. Mr. Gaines sat on one of the many long, low benches and led her to sit next to him.[/i]

"Maybe it isn't all her idea."[/COLOR][/font]

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[font=arial][size=1][color=indigo]Sandra sighed. They'd been at the parties for hours, and apart from a brief interaction with Stanford Gaines all she had done was watch Jade eat. Which was understandable of course, as the boy was starved, but it didn't make for fun on her part.

"Jaaaaade," she whined. "Let's go somewhere else. I'm bored." Jade stopped halfway through a mouthful of food and looked at her.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked, ready to play the gentleman. Sandra looked around thoughtfully for a moment.

"Let's take a walk in the garden," she replied carefully, wincing as Jade's face fell, unhappy at the prospect of leaving the delicious food. "I'm sure you can take a platter, though." The gaunt man grinned and picked up a small tray, loading it quickly with an assortment of delicacies, and took her arm.

"Onward, my dear."

~~~

"This place is surprisingly beautiful," Jade said as the couple walked. "I mean, I'd not have expected anything like it." Sandra slapped his arm.

"What do you mean you didn't expect anything like it? This is a mansion, Jade, Alice Longfellow's mansion, don't be daft." Jade shrugged.

"I've never visited an estate before I have nothing on which to judge." Sandra hugged herself closer to him to escape the cold and sighed, exasperated by Jade's obliviousness.

"Well now you know."

They walked in silence for a time, both taking in the beautiful surroundings and trying to escape the awkward silence. Desperate, Jade latched onto what men for centuries had been using to escape such silences.

"The stars are really beautiful tonight, aren't they?" Sandra half-smiled.

"Yeah, they are," she said almost sadly as they rounded a corner. "You know, you're a nice guy Jade, despite the" She never finished her sentence however, as she had noticed who was sitting on the bench ahead of them.

"Despite the what?" Sandra put her hand over her heart. "Sandra?"

"Oh my God Jade, is that Stanford Gaines again?" Jade ceased his stargazing for a moment and sighed, the almost connection lost.

"Yes, Sandra, I suppose it is." Sandra swooned.

"Let's say hello!"

"Haven't we already said hello?"

"You can never say hello too many times to a [i]movie star[/i]." Jade sighed, and soon found himself being dragged back into another awkward encounter with Stanford Gaines, with no escape route in sight.[/color][/size][/font]

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