A small tap at the door of Room 302 of the Hotel Excelsior.
“Yes?” answers the woman inside.
A young woman’s voice replies, “Ma’am, it’s me Gracie, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Bertram Osgoode is in the lobby asking to see you privately.”
The woman looks up with a smile and moves quickly to the door to open it, “Thank you Gracie, please send him up directly, he is an old friend. Would you kindly arrange for a fresh pot of tea and some brandy please? And see if the kitchen has some biscuits or other sweets for a weary traveller.”
“Yes ma’am, right away”
A quick, sweep of blue eyes across the room confirms that everything is tidy and in place. Leaving the door slightly ajar, the woman goes to fluff one of the pillows on the settee. A few minutes later, heavy footsteps can be heard on the stairs and the steps pause at the door, hesitating.
With a turn, the woman grins widely in greeting to the face peering through the opening and she quickly opens the door wide offering the big, handsome bear of a man a warm hug, exclaiming “Bertie! I’m so glad to see you old friend.”
His available arm hugs her back with the warmth and care of their lifelong friendship, and less energetically, he replies with a professional tone, “Me too, Leia”.
Pulling back, his expression is one that is lacklustre and downcast. He steps back from the greeting and moves towards the sitting area. He bends slowly, and puts his heavy black solicitor’s case near him and removes his tophat, careful not to look directly at the woman.
Oblivious, she chatters gleefully and smiles, nearly clapping her hands, “Refreshment is on its way, brandy for you, tea for me and some surprise treats from the kitchen. You must be tired, it was a long trip. Sit and relax for a while, tell me, how was the flight?”
His response was interrupted by the loud clinking of china and crystal approaching the room in the unsteady hands of the young hotel maid that first knocked on the door. Tea, brandy and a heaping plate of profiteroles, biscuits, and delicate sandwiches filled the heavy tray, which was carefully placed on the table. With a curt nod and reward in hand, Gracie exits discreetly, her young mind racing at what business the handsome man had with the pleasant Mrs. Rossini.
Leia moves to sit beside him and reaches over to fill a glass generously with the amber goodness from the decanter and holds it in her hand, extending it to him.
“So, tell me, what business brings you to Babbage?”.
He finally wrangles the strength inside, and looks up meeting her hopeful eyes with a solemn gaze. The pink in her cheeks quickly drains from her face as a terrible, sinking feeling in her stomach recognizes the dark, sombre expression of a solicitor who has to tell an old friend that he’s really here on business, her business and that her husband is missing at sea and presumed dead.
“Edward”, she gasps quickly, barely audibly.
The glass drops onto the floor with a crash, splintering into several pieces. Bertie reaches for her shaking hand, looks into her broken eyes and says, “Leia. I have some news”.