Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are back to take on Richard Montanari’s most frightening creations yet: the debonair Mr. Marseille and Anabelle. Mr. Marseille and Anabelle have a macabre mission, one that belies their refined appearance. Below is their first appearance in Montanari’s new novel, The Doll Maker, which is on sale today.
At just after six a.m., as every other day, Mr Marseille and I opened our eyes, dark lashes counterweighted to the light.
It was mid-November, and although the frost had not yet touched the windows—this usually comes to our eaves in late December—there was a mist on the glass that gave the early morning light a delicate quality, as if we were looking at the world through a Lalique figurine.
Before we dressed for the day we drew our names in the condensation on the windowpane, the double l in Mr Marseille’s name and the double l in mine slanting toward one another like tiny Doric columns, as has been our monogram for as long as we both could remember.
* * *
We followed the group of girls at a discreet distance. They had attended a showing of a film at the Franklin Institute, and were now boarding a bus to take them back to their school.
Mr Marseille had thought of making our invitation on Winter Street, but decided against it. Too many busybodies to ruin our surprise.
At just after noon the bus pulled over near the corner of Sixteenth and Locust. The teenage girls—about a dozen in number, all dressed alike in their school uniforms—disembarked. They lingered on the corner, chatting about everything and nothing, as girls of an age will do.
After a short time, a few cars showed up; a number of the girls drove off in backseats, carpooled by one mother or another.
The girl who would be our guest walked a few blocks south with another of her classmates, a tall, lanky girl wearing a magenta cardigan, in the style of a fisherman’s knit.
We drove a few blocks ahead of them, parked in an alley, then marched briskly around the block, coming up behind the girls. Girls at this age often dawdle, and this was good for us. We caught them in short order.
When the tall girl finally said goodbye, on the corner of Sixteenth and Spruce, Mr Marseille and I walked up behind our soon-to-be guest, waiting for the signal to cross the street.
Eventually the girl looked over.
‘Hello,’ Mr Marseille said.
The girl glanced at me, then at Mr Marseille. Sensing no threat, perhaps because she saw us as a couple—a couple of an age not significantly greater than her own—she returned the greeting.
‘Hi,’ she said.
While we waited for the light to change, Mr Marseille unbuttoned his coat, struck a pose, offering the well-turned peak lapel of his suit jacket. The hem was a pick stitch, and finely finished. I know this because I am the seamstress who fitted him.
‘Wow,’ the girl added. ‘I like your suit. A lot.’
Mr Marseille’s eyes lighted. In addition to being sartorially fastidious, he was terribly vain, and always available for a compliment.
‘What a lovely thing to say,’ he said. ‘How very kind of you.’
The girl, perhaps not knowing the correct response, said nothing. She stole a glance at the Walk signal. It still showed a hand.
‘My name is Marseille,’ he said. ‘This is my dearest heart, Anabelle.’
Mr Marseille extended his hand. The girl blushed, offered her own.
Mr Marseille leaned forward, as was his manner, and gently kissed the back of the girl’s fingers. Many think the custom is to kiss the back of a lady’s hand—on the side just opposite the palm—but this is not proper.
A gentleman knows.
Nicole reddened even more deeply.
When she glanced at me I made the slightest curtsy. Ladies do not shake hands with ladies.
At this moment the light changed. Mr Marseille let go of the girl’s hand and, in a courtly fashion, offered her safe passage across the lane.
We continued down the street in silence until we came to the mouth of the alley; the alley in which we parked our car.
Mr Marseille held up a hand. He and I stopped walking.
‘I have a confession to make,’ he said.
The girl, appearing to be fully at ease with these two polite and interesting characters, stopped as well. She looked intrigued by Mr Marseille’s statement.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Our meeting was not by accident today. We’re here to invite you to tea.’
The girl looked at me for a moment, then back at Mr Marseille.
‘You want to invite me to tea?’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she said.
Mr Marseille smiled. He had a pretty smile, brilliantly white, almost feminine in its deceits. It was the kind of smile that turned strangers into cohorts in all manner of petty crime, the kind of smile that puts at ease both the very young and the very old. I’ve yet to meet a young woman who could resist its charm.
‘Every day, about four o’clock, we have tea,’ Mr Marseille said. ‘It is quite the haphazard affair on most days, but every so often we have a special tea—a thé dansant, if you’ll allow—one to which we invite all our friends, and always someone new. Someone we hope will become a new friend. Won’t you say you’ll join us?’
The young woman looked confused. But still she was gracious. This is the sign of a good upbringing. Both Mr Marseille and I believe courtesy and good manners are paramount to getting along in the world these days. It is what lingers with people after you take your leave, like the quality of your soap, or the polish of your shoes.
‘Look,’ the young lady began. ‘I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else. But thanks anyway.’ She glanced at her watch, then back at Mr Marseille. ‘I’m afraid I have a ton of homework.’
With a lightning fast move Mr Marseille took the girl by both wrists, and spun her into the alleyway. Mr Marseille is quite the athlete, you see. I once saw him catch a common housefly in midair, then throw it into a hot skillet, where we witnessed its life vanish into an ampersand of silver smoke.
As he seized the girl I watched her eyes. They flew open to their widest: counterweights on a precious Bru. I noticed then, for the first time, that her irises had scattered about them tiny
flecks of gold.
This would be a challenge for me, for it was my duty—and my passion—to re-create such things.