“So what can I do for you today, Inspector?” asked Iolanthe, looking across the great expanse of her desk.
“I would like your help, Ma’am,” replied Saba Colbshallow. “We need to expand the police force. We need half a dozen more men, and we need our own wizard.”
“A—wouldn’t this be more properly a matter put to the city council, and B—we have Zurfina at our service, do we not?”
“To answer your last point first, I would prefer to have an official police wizard, not only because he would then see to police needs first, but also because he would have no other agenda. And Birmisia Colony is more than just Port Dechantagne now. There are half a dozen little settlements going up along the coast. Soon there will be more. It’s not just a city matter anymore.”
Iolanthe burst into a large and uncharacteristic smile.
“What is it?” asked Saba.
“I was just remembering you as a boy.”
“That’s the problem with you women. It’s hard to be a man around you lot when you all knew me as a child.”
“You women? You lot?” asked Iolanthe. Her lips lost their smile and instead took on the round, contracted shape that so many feared.
“Um,” Saba paused like a hunter who has realized that he has activated his own trap. “Anyway, I didn’t know you ever noticed me.”
“Don’t make it more than it is,” she said. “You were one of my household, that’s all.”
“I will take your thoughts on this matter under serious consideration. Your points are valid. Go down to my carriage please, and inform Ursal that you and I are dining out together, so I won’t need him. When you come back up, you may suggest which of our city’s fine establishments we should visit.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Saba stood up and marched out of the office.
Less than five seconds later Mrs. Wardlaw poked her head in the door.
“Governor, there is a man here to see you. I told him you were busy, but he says that he is an old friend.”
“That’s fine, Mrs. Wardlaw. Send him in.”
A lean swarthy man with close-cropped hair entered and walked briskly towards Iolanthe. She held out her hand.
“Good morning. I don’t think I know… you!”
“Yes, it is I,” said the man, grasping her hand in his. She tried to pull it away, but he held on.
“Jolon Bendrin. I told you that if I ever saw you again, I would shoot you.”
“Your mouth says shoot shoot, but your eyes say yes yes.”
She tried to jerk her hand away but to no avail. He grasped her right elbow in his left hand and pulled her to him. Then he wrapped his right arm around her, pinning her left arm against her, and pressed his mouth onto hers. She jerked her right hand free and slapped him across the face. He laughed and fondled her through her dress with his left hand.
“You can’t pretend to be the sweet little virgin this time,” he said. “You’re an old married woman now, but I just had to see you while I was here, for old time’s sake.”
“I was a girl and you took advantage of me.”
“You wanted it and you still…”
There was a loud smack and Bendrin’s face contorted in pain. He bent to the side, revealing an enraged Saba Colbshallow standing just behind him. Saba wrapped his left arm around Bendrin’s neck and hit him again and again in the side, several loud pops indicating cracked ribs. The man crumpled to the floor. Kneeling down over him, Saba planted punch after punch on the upturned face. As he pulled his fist back, a splash of blood flew across the air spattering the bottom of Iolanthe’s dress. Saba stopped, his fist in the air, and looked at her.
“That’s quite all right, Inspector,” she said, stepping toward her desk. “Don’t stop on my account.”
Saba beat Bendrin until he had to sit back and take a breath, and until Bendrin’s face looked like raw meat. Then the police inspector stood up, and as Iolanthe watched from her chair behind her desk, he kicked the moaning man several times, and then grabbed his almost lifeless body by the jacket collar and dragged him from the room.
Iolanthe’s mind drifted away from the present as she remembered that summer. She had been a happy seventeen year old, enjoying life in the country near Shopton. She had been out on horseback twenty miles from the Dechantagne Estate. There, beside a small flowing brook, she had been met by Bendrin. He had seemed nice at first. They discussed their future plans and their unhappy situations. His parents had died in a train wreck. Her father had killed her mother and was now wasting away in a permanent drunken stupor. She had enjoyed his company. Then one day that had changed.
They had both attended Dorit Banner’s coming out party. Afterwards they had walked in the garden. They had talked. Everything seemed wonderful. He had kissed her. She even let him. But then he had pushed her down onto a stone bench and reached under her dress. He put his hand over her mouth so that she wouldn’t scream, though it hadn’t occurred to her. He forced himself on her. He raped her. And he did it again. Though she tried to avoid him, he found her alone several more times over the course of that year. Each time she tried to fight him off, but there seemed to be no more that she could do. He was from a prominent family. Who could she tell—the constable? She would be disgraced. Her father? He was a shell of a man. Terrence was away in the military and Augie was just a boy. When she had turned eighteen, she had gone back to Brech without her father’s permission.