A loquacious waltz droned phantasmically throughout the spacious foyer of Partridge Manor. Charles Jauther found the music simultaneously entrancing and unnerving. He paused beside the U-shaped double stairway which let up to the second floor landing and loosened his tie, eyes roaming aimlessly over peculiar marble statues and framed monochrome illustrations, and ornate synth-spun tapestries, looking for an exit from the oppressive opalescence.
“What is it, Charlie?”
Charles turned to his elegantly garbed wife and forced a smile.
“Nothing, nothing. Just nervous is all. I’ve never been to a showing this ritzy.”
“Whats there to worry about?”
The couple were met at the base of the left foyer staircase by a pale, middle-aged woman dressed all in black. Charles found her outfit curiously antiquated and her lynxish gaze disturbing.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jauther. So pleased you could both make it. I’m Ariadne Campbell.”
“Oh yes, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Catherine Jauther replied with a warm smile, “You’re Mr. Partridge’s secretary, right?”
“Yes. He speaks highly of your husband’s work. I’m sure he’s keen to meet him. This way.”
The couple followed the woman up the left stairway and then left again down a long corridor, lined with simply framed photographs of various people and places. Always there would be a portrait and a construct, a building, a painting, a line of code, directly across from it.
Charles gestured to the photographs.
“Who are all these people?”
Ariadne replied without turning or pausing.
“Mr. Partridge’s students—and their work.”
“There’s… so many… he must be quiet a busy man.”
“Industriousness is one of the few qualities you and he share.”
He felt that the words were meant as a subtle insult and wondered if it was the quality of his work she took issue with, or the philosophy that motivated it, or both. He decided against addressing the issue for the sake of his wife and continued following the icy hostess.
The hall of portraits let out into a massive ballroom where the bulk of the host of the stately manse had gathered. The buzzing throng huddled around a singular figure, pale and elegant, garbed in long white coat, tipped at the collar with similarly albescent fur, appearing more as one of the marble statues that lined the manor’s halls than a man.
Ariadne stopped before the pristine figure and turned towards the two new arrivals.
“Mr. and Ms. Jauther, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Partridge.”
The albescent man turned to greet the couple, revealing a sharp, bloodless face and keen, azure eyes.
“Salutations. So pleased you could make it.”
Catherine smiled and curtsied as Charles extended his hand and shook Lynder’s black-gloved own.
“We appreciated the invitation.”
Lynder nodded and then beckoned a young servant, who approached bearing a platter filled with drinks.
“Oh yes, sounds lovely. Thank you.”
“What kind is it,” Catherine inquired.
“Scharzhof riesling,” Lydner replied as he gingerly removed two glasses from the servants silver plate and handed them to his guests.
“That’s quite expensive, isn’t it?” Catherine cooed as she eagerly, but cordially, took a glass.
Lynder nodded, “Indeed, but, as the saying goes, one gets what one pays for.”
“Fraid I don’t know much about wine.” Charles declared flatly as he stared down at his glass indecisively.
Lynder raised his vessel to the light, gently swirling the topaz liquid within.
“The drink of choice of the ancient Mediterraneans.”
“Didn’t know they had Scharzhof riesling back then.”
Lynder turned to Charles with a faint smile gracing his bloodless face and then gestured for the man to follow him.
“I hear you’re planning a trip to Nunavut to record the wildlife.”
“Yes. I’ve recorded damn near every land-animal on the continent, but never a polar bear. Besides my wife has always wanted to see the north. So its a win-win.”
“Taking anyone else along?”
“Wasn’t planning to. Why do you ask?”
“Its dangerous up there.”
“Its dangerous everywhere.”
“Yes, but, on my island, for example, you stand little chance of being vivisected by a polar bear.”
“Equipment is sensitive. Won’t be getting too close; that is, if I’m even able to find any.”
“You will at least take a gun with you?”
“Don’t own any. Wouldn’t take one even if I did. Cat hates guns.”
“So do polar bears. Did you know that a man was eaten by one last year. On Sentry Island, up by Nunavut.”
“I know of the place, but I hadn’t heard. What happened?”
“Man named Ridley Garrick had taken his children – a son and daughter, both very young – up for a fishing trip. The isle is a popular fishing spot. While Garrick was distracted, a bear attacked the children-”
“However, Garrick was able to intervene before it could reach them and fought it – unfortunately, for him, he was unarmed, and thus, swiftly killed.”
“Did the kids get away?”
“Yes. RCMP was notified and found the bear eating Mr. Garrick’s remains. They shot it in the face – twice – and that was the end of it.”
“What an unfortunate affair.”
“One which could have been easily avoided through the addition of a lightly armed detachment.”
“Do you write for the gun lobby or something?”
Partridge smiled with amusement and took a sip of wine before replying.
“If I were a lobbyist, you’d have long ago returned to your wife out of boredom.”
“Ha, well, its just… you seem like you don’t like animals.”
“We are animals, Mr. Jauther. I’m speaking specifically about the bears. It is not a question of liking or disliking them, but of understanding their nature.”
“Its only because of our disruption that they attack.”
“I’ll not insult your intelligence by suggesting you truly believe that.”
“Condescend all you like, but we press into their territory. Disturb the natural balance.”
“The ‘natural balance?'”
“Yes. Natural harmony.”
“Mr. Jauther, there is no harmony.”
“Butterflies and pollination – that isn’t harmonious?”
Lynder downed the last of his wine and turned the sanguine dregs in the light.
“Even butterflies drink blood.”