Spotlight – The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a father’s lament
I am happy to host Don Jacobson today with the blog tour of his new book The Avengers: Thomas Bennet and a father’s lament. This volume is the last of The Bennet wardrobe saga, started by the author in 2016. This saga, which is freely inspired by Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen, manages to combine the historical novel with the fantasy one using the time travel. The real protagonist of this saga is actually the wardrobe that allows every person who possesses Bennet blood to travel to the future. The object has a strange sense of humor because it takes its travellers where they need to go to receive an important lesson.
Each volume focuses more on one character, while not neglecting the secondary ones, and this deals with the figure of Mr. Bennet. After reading The Keeper, the first volume of the saga, I hoped the author would give us the chance to see this character, and his ancestors, travel through time.
Mr. Bennet has always been a very controversial figure to me because although he was Elizabeth‘s great ally in the matter of Mr. Collins’ proposal, he has always turned out to be lazy and unresponsive.
Even if in the first volume, with his behavior towards his daughter Mary, he improved, I have always wanted the wardrobe to teach him his life lesson as well.
Thoughtful, compassionate and vindictive, this Mr Bennet finally presents himself as an active character.
Obviously there are a lot of links and references to the other volumes and the author does not forget the much loved notes at the foot of the book.
Pellicci’s Café, Bethnal Green Road, February 20, 1951
Winters stepped out of the black cab which had carried him from the golden quarter and Claridge’s back into the darker warrens of town. His gentle outreach over the past three days had led him from the hotel’s bell captain to one illicit gambling den and then to others, gradually ascending into the upper reaches of London’s underworld.
Marius had made certain to leave tantalizing evidence of his flush accounts as he burned through a stack of £100 notes at first one back-alley card room and then another. At each, the German let it be known that he was hoping to play in games where like-minded gentlemen were not constrained by the pedestrian table limits that he had thus far experienced. The card runner at his most recent session suggested that if he wished for unlimited wagering, there were games available, but only after his resources and antecedents had been approved.
A note passed to him by a bellman had led him to the cabstand in front of his hotel. He handed the note, a cross scribed in green ink on one corner, over the seat to the hack, waited for it to be returned, and ultimately settled back onto the stained cloth seat. His mood was elevated for he knew that this game would also give him an entrée into a world where artwork with questionable provenance was never subjected to uncomfortable scrutiny so long as they could be certified as genuine.
Winters’ near-euphoria was enhanced by a subtle presence that tamped down his natural caution while massaging his pleasure centers. His Gardiner blood, unknown to him, opened his mind to unseen dimensions while another force obscured the Guide’s meddling. Thus, he never noticed the two gentlemen, one older and moving with a noticeable limp and the other tall and youthfully agile, sliding into the black cab directly behind his in front of the hotel.
Both vehicles pulled off toward Winters’ assignation.
When his taxi pulled up in front of the eatery at 332 Bethnal Green Road, Winters paid the driver, but demanded he wait, holding him by passing over half a £100 white. The trailing hackney had parked about 50 yards behind, three pairs of watchful eyes tracking their prey across the sidewalk and into the café. Then the passengers exited and ambled down the walk to enter the restaurant about a minute after Winters. They installed themselves at the bar and ordered whiskey. Their vantage point had a clear view of the entire facility.
Marius scanned the room, foggy from an evening’s worth of cigarettes burned in a space closed against the February chill and damp. He had no idea to whom he needed to apply. A white-jacketed captain eagerly approached him, recognizing the expensive cut of Winters’ bespoke overcoat above Peal and Company oxfords. Winters’ body language oozed quality and a purse greater than the usual run of Pellicci’s customer.
Winters presented the note to the floorman whose eyebrows shot up, and his attitude altered the moment that he caught the green cross. With near reverence, he returned the note to Winters and begged that he follow. He led the way through the crowded room to a rear-wall banquette where three men lounged over filled ashtrays and half-finished pints.
Before the double star came too close to the trio, a pair of bulky men stepped from the room’s perimeter to bring the procession to a halt. The captain bowed himself away, returning to his other duties. Winters again surrendered the note which was handed across the white cloth to the older man in the center. The other two, identical twins, stared with poorly disguised curiosity. The elder looked up at the guards and nodded.
Hands expertly frisked Winters who had, wisely, chosen to arrive unarmed. They relieved him of his billfold which they tossed upon the table in front of the man who was clearly the leader. While Marius re-arranged his clothes, agile fingers rifled through the contents of his wallet. The sheaf of high denomination bills vanished into a pocket. Then the chief addressed Winters.
“You migh’ consider that my commission for agreein’ ta meet’cha. Sit’cha down. Me name is ‘ill, Billy ‘ill,” he said, motioning at a chair which one of the heavies had pulled over.
Every movement economical, Winters stepped around to the indicated seat, his eyes never leaving Hill’s face. He spoke not a word but glanced at each of the other two men, his eyebrows up in question.
Hill replied, “These are me two associates, Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Don’cha try to figure out which is which. Don’t matter to you. Can’t figur’ them out me’self ‘alf the time.
“But, you, ‘oo are you? And how can an ‘onest biz-nez man like me do sumthin’ for you?”
Winters smiled, apparently accepting Hill’s alpha-ness, and replied moderately, “I am lately from the Argentine, but formerly that sad land known as Germany. I am called Kurt von Langsdorff.
“I have searched you out as I have been led to believe that you are a man who can locate lost merchandise. Specifically, I seek certain items of a French origin.
“Lest you wonder about my wherewithal to execute my desires, I would hope that you might apply to Cox and Company in Charing Cross. They are the corresponding bank with access to my accounts housed at Banco del Este in my home country.”
Hill looked up, as if in thought. In truth, he was seeking out Mr. Barraclough who was seated at the bar. Catching the older man’s eye, he stared. Bennet stroked his nose with his right index finger.
Satisfied that he understood, Hill focused again on Winters, replying, “I ‘ave no doubt about’cha ‘bility to pay for what’cha want. If you di’nt and tried to play me false, you would never leave the country alive, if’n you know whut I mean.
“I may ‘ave an ‘andle on some interestin’ pieces from th’ last cen’try. They ‘ave been in th’ wind for a few weeks.
“Might those be of in’trest?”
Winters’ spirits surged, and he quickly rejoined, “If these are the ones publicized, I would be most interested. To whom should I apply?”
Hill smiled for this was the easiest £35,000 he had ever earned—all for a short night’s work and one meeting.
He reached into his pocket and removed a small pasteboard card upon which was printed a telephone number.
“You call this number. Ask for Mr. Barraclough.
Once Winters had left the restaurant, Bennet slid off his barstool. A porter brought him his overcoat and hat. After he had shrugged the coat over his shoulders, he turned toward where Hill and the Krays sat in the back. Lifting his topper by its crown, he saluted the crime lord and clamped his fedora on his pate. Then, trailed by Schiller, The Founder left Pellicci’s and popped the door to the cab which had pulled up to the storefront.
After Schiller had pulled the door closed after his own entry, Bennet doffed his hat and ruffled his thinning locks before he grimly smiled at Alois saying, “As my brother Gardiner, angler that he is, would say, ‘the hook is set.’ Now all that remains is to reel him in.”
Oakham House, Same Time
Fanny settled back into her chair, looking around the circle at her five companions. She contemplated how much akin this felt to Longbourn’s parlor when all her girls were still at home. Admittedly she had to make some allowances for the older features of the two countesses, Georgiana and Annie. They were, after all, her age, at least physically. However, she lumped them with the other three—Letty, Eileen, and Lizzy—when she thought of them as “the children.”
Having an extra 130 years in one’s accounts will always make you the room’s senior…unless Mr. Bennet is in attendance, she thought with a barely suppressed giggle.
Mrs. Bennet had invited them to wait with her while her husband was overseeing the final setting of the trap. However, the lady had another motive. T’was to this that she directed the conversation.
“I will own,” she opined, “that I am not terribly convinced that the plan that my Thomas, Richard, Allie, and Denis has concocted will work as they imagine.
“They have been going about everything with such extreme delicacy to this point: using multiple watchers to trail Winters all the way from South America, through the airport, and into town. Then they use Mr. Hill and his associates to first purloin the artwork and then to act as cutouts to arrange the final meeting. That was unfailingly elegant, to my mind.”
She set her glass of sherry on a sideboard and jumped to her feet before continuing, “Yet, the denouement of the caper is reduced to simple strongarm tactics with the overpowering of Winters at the safehouse, something that could have been done any of a number of times over the past several days.
“T’was not as if your Lord Tom,” at this she nodded at Annie, “found that ‘disappearing’ that animal from Gatwick, Claridge’s, or the street was beyond his capabilities.
“Why? Why be so careful up until the last moment? Switching tactics this way is no different than trying to open a window by throwing a rock.”
Fanny paced toward the fireplace where the coal fire snapping in the grate threw her into a titian-hued relief from nose to toes as she stared down into the flames.
Eileen used her position as the Bennet’s near-daughter to gently probe, “What are you saying Mother Bennet? Why are you bothered at the manner with which we plan to take down Winters? He will be captured.”
Fanny spun to face the group, “But, at what cost? Mr. Bennet might be injured or worse if Winters resists. We know he is a well-seasoned killer. How will our men, who must be hidden away from Winters’ eyes lest he refuse to enter the room, pile through the doorways to subdue him without giving him a chance to strike a blow against my husband?
“Even if he is disarmed before the meeting, I would imagine he, like your husbands,” at this she pierced the younger ladies with a sky-blue stare, “is acquainted with several ways to end a man with his bare hands.”
She wrapped her arms around her middle, a look of concern shadowing her features.
Then she said, “Something about all of this strikes me as completely wrong. It all seems so ham-handed, as if someone…or something…muddled, meddled with, the final stage.
“Yet, when I try to bring it up with Thomas, he brushes me off, telling me that everything is in order and not to worry.
“T’is as if he is blind to the problem.”
By this time, Lizzy had straightened and had looked over at her mother who silently replied with a raised eyebrow and a shrug.
The youngish Gräfin interjected, “You are not alone in either the unease or the male denial. I observed the same difficulty in the plan as you did, but when I asked Alois, he turned all Prussian, even dropping back into German, and assured me that alles war gut.
“He came this close,” she continued holding up a thumb and index finger a hair apart, “to telling me not to worry my pretty little head.
“The boneheaded nerve of that man. Nothing I could say would cause him to budge from his surety,” she huffed.
Both Letty and Eileen added that they had had misgivings like Lizzy but had not bearded their men. All the women then waited for Fanny’s conclusion.
“I have been struck at how the Wardrobe…yes, the Wardrobe…seeks to inject itself into the business of clan Bennet. If it had hands, I would suggest that I could see its handiwork in the incredible obtuseness exhibited by our men.
“Since the cabinet wants to be a part of things…and it has done nearly everything short of sending one of us a Founder’s Letter…let us grant its wish!”
About the author
Blog tour schedule
12/28 – Babblings of a Bookworm;
12/29 – Interests of a Jane Austen Girl;
12/30 – My Love for Jane Austen;
01/03 – My Vices and Weaknesses;
01/04 – So Little Time…;
01/05 – My life journey;
01/07 – More Agreeably Engaged;
01/08 – Diary of an Eccentric;
01/09 – From Pemberley to Milton.
Don is generously giving away 4 eBooks of The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament