A car engine rumbled down the street as a vehicle pulled to the front door, interrupting Cecile’s conversation with Lymen. Mrs. Roker’s driver got out of the car, walked to the other side and opened Mrs. Roker’s door for her. Lymen Smith glanced at Mrs. Roker and Cecile sensed he wanted to ask Mrs. Roker the same questions that he’d just asked her.
Quickly, her eyes scanned Lymen. He looked fairly well-dressed. He was probably a business man with some money in the bank. She doubted he was a policeman, but he had an “official” air about him. Cecile’s mom had taught her how to look at a person, assess them, come to a vague conclusion about who you were dealing with before making your move.
There was no way she was going to let Lymen speak to Mrs. Roker. She pulled him into the house, hoping to take him to the sitting room before Mrs. Roker entered, but, she moved too slow and her hands were shaking. Rubbing her forehead, she realized she had a headache, but, she had to get Lymen alone to talk to him.
Mrs. Roker walked up the steps, giving Lymen a curious glance before her eyes rested on Cecile. “What on earth? You look dreadful! Are you ill?” The large white feather on her church hat bobbed when she spoke, and Cecile swallowed, hoping Lymen would take the hint and follow her lead.
Ignoring Mrs. Roker’s question, she spoke. “I’m going down the street to the coffee shop for lunch. This is my friend Lymen. He’s taking me.”
Lymen shook Mrs. Roker’s hand, seemingly taking Cecile’s cue. “Glad to meet you,” he said.
Mrs. Roker nodded. “Likewise.”
Cecile’s heart fluttered when she realized that Lymen’s voice was deep, deep and masculine. She could get used to hearing a voice like that. Cecile sighed with relief when Mrs. Roker went up the steps, not asking any other questions. If Cecile were lucky, Mrs. Roker would be going to bed for her Sunday afternoon nap right now.
She pulled Lymen into the house, closing the door. Not giving him a chance to speak, she cleared her throat. “I’ll be right back. I can’t talk to you here, but, I can answer your questions. We can go to the coffee place down the street.”
Cecile rushed upstairs on her shaky legs, still feeling a bit ill. Her clothing and makeup supplies were meager, and it was hard to make herself presentable before going back downstairs. After dressing, she stared at herself in the mirror, wincing at the way her dowdy brown dress hung on her gaunt frame. Her eyes and lips were her most striking features – her entire face was beautiful, the most beautiful face in all of America, she was sure of it. If she wanted to entice Lymen, she had to enhance her large blue eyes and naturally cherry-red full lips.
After she’d applied her makeup, she winced at her sunken cheeks. There wasn’t much she could do about them. She recalled her mother telling her, while she was growing up, that life was a survival game. Find a man to take care of you, Cecile. Make him happy, no matter what. If he stays happy, he’ll keep coming back. Don’t matter if he’s your husband or not. Don’t end up like me, old and having relations with poor men who can barely pay us with enough money to buy food.
Once she was ready, she pulled a lacy shawl from her closet, hoping the item would detract from her hideous-looking dress. She then stepped out of her bedroom, noticing that Mrs. Roker’s door was open, indicating she’d probably already gone downstairs. Her mind had been so preoccupied that she hadn’t heard Mrs. Roker leave her bedroom. Cecile gasped, hoping Mrs. Roker was not downstairs talking to Lymen! She rushed downstairs just as Mrs. Roker came out of the kitchen. She glanced at Cecile, her brow furrowed with worry. “Geri was supposed to leave a loaf of bread and butter for us to enjoy with our lunch. I saw it on the counter before I left for church and now it’s gone. Do you know what happened to it?”
Cecile could sense Lymen standing in the foyer, watching her, listening to their conversation. She’d thought about lying to Mrs. Roker, but, for some reason, she sensed that it was not a good idea for Lymen to hear her lie. “I ate it.”
“You ate a slice of bread and butter? What about the rest of the loaf? Where is it?”
Cecile shook her head, realizing Mrs. Roker had misunderstood her. She toyed with the light, lace-patterned shawl around her shoulders. “I ate the whole loaf.”
Mrs. Roker’s dark eyes widened like saucers. “You ate an entire loaf of bread?”
Cecile nodded, rushing away from Mrs. Roker, not wanting to answer any more of her questions. She found Lymen where she’d left him, and she felt confident that Mrs. Roker had not conversed with him while he’d waited.
Lymen opened the door and they stepped outside. The hot sun beamed from the vivid blue sky and she blinked, realizing she had rarely been outside the house since she’d taken residence in New York. The blazing sun scorched her pale skin and she clutched her shawl in her bony fingers, hoping Lymen wouldn’t notice her shaky hands. She longed to go back into the rooming house, but, she didn’t want to talk to Lymen there with Mrs. Roker in the kitchen. Also, she wasn’t sure how long Jack’s and Rose’s wedding was supposed to last. What if they came back while Lymen was there?
“Before we go anyplace, we need to talk.” Lymen’s deep, mesmerizing voice swept over her, and Cecile again realized she loved to hear him speak.
“We’ll talk when we get to the coffee place. I promise.” She pointed toward the sky with her bony finger. “The sun’s really bothering me and I don’t want to stay out here longer than necessary.”
Lymen grunted, and Cecile figured he was not happy with what she’d just said. Recalling his earlier question about her illness, Cecile decided to remind him. “Remember, I don’t feel well.” She paused, toying with the fringe of her shawl. “Once we’ve chatted, I believe you’ll have all the answers to your questions.”
Lymen found himself intrigued, mesmerized, and suspicious of the woman strolling beside him on the busy sidewalk. Since assessing people was part of his job, he realized there was something physically wrong with her. She clutched her shawl, trying to control her shaky hands, probably hoping he wouldn’t notice how she shook.
But this stranger needed to realize that Lymen Smith noticed everything.
He stopped in front of the coffee place, one of the few businesses open on a Sunday, and opened the door for her. He sensed that this woman probably had information to share with him. They entered the busy establishment and found a table. A waitress soon approached, wanting their order. Her pen was poised, ready to write their order on her small pad of paper. Other waitresses bustled by and the cacophony of the voices of other diners echoed in the background.
He allowed the strange woman to order first. “I’ll have tea and blueberry scones with lots of clotted cream.”
Lymen ordered black coffee. Since he’d just eaten lunch, he didn’t order any food. Being a gentleman, he decided to patiently wait for their food to arrive before starting his inquisition. The waitress brought the food on a silver tray. The appealingly strange woman poured sugar into her tea, spilling some granules at the side since her hands shook. Waiting for her brew to cool, she attempted to slice one of the blueberry scones in half with a knife. She dropped the scone with her shaky hands, and she whimpered, as if frustrated.
The urge to help this woman swelled within him. “Let me help you,” he offered. Taking the knife, he sliced each of the large scones in half, length-wise. The enticing scents of fresh blueberries, bread, and cream now filled the air.
She glanced at him with her large cornflower-blue eyes. “Thank you,” she muttered, her face flushing. It appeared she was ashamed that she’d had trouble slicing the scone. He figured he really had to watch her – she might be shaking so badly because she was nervous – she might even attempt to lie to him.
He offered her the knife and she accepted it from his hand, their fingers touching. He jerked his hand back, shocked. Her fingers were as cold as ice! Again he wondered from what kind of illness she suffered. She clutched the knife in her bony fingers and slathered the clotted cream onto one of the huge blueberry scones. She ate hungrily, wolfing the food down as if she were afraid the food would disappear. Clotted cream clung to her full, cherry-red lips, and when she licked the cream away with her long, pink tongue, desire coursed through him like a red-hot cannon. He longed to kiss her luscious-looking mouth, but, he pushed the thought away, focusing on the task at hand.
He continued to stare at his lunch companion, mesmerized. Since she’d eaten, her hands no longer shook and since the scones and cream were gone, she sipped her tea slowly. He wondered about her skeletal body, why was she so thin? She was probably the skinniest woman he’d ever seen in his life. However, her face was striking. He could certainly get used to looking at her moist, ruby-red lips and large blue eyes. “I can help you, but, you’ll have to pay me.”
He jerked back, surprised at the words that had just tumbled from her mouth! He was the person doing this investigation, so he was in charge! “What did you say?” Perhaps he’d misheard her.
She ran her bony fingers through her hair, causing the sleeve of her loose-fitting dress to slide up, revealing a stick-like, skeletal arm. “I said I can give you the information you need, but, you’ll have to pay me. A twenty should do it.”
“You’ve got the nerve to bribe me and I don’t even know who you are.” Lymen struggled to keep his voice lowered, again realizing this woman might try and lie to him.
She pointed to the middle of the table. “Put the money right there. Once you’re satisfied with my answers, then I can take the money.”
He narrowed his eyes. “How will I know you’re telling me the truth?” He had the uncanny notion that he was playing a cat and mouse game with another private detective. His eyes swept over this woman from head to toe, noticing her long hair, her pretty face, and her gaunt frame. He knew of every private investigator in New York, but, he’d never come across anybody like this. What kind of game was she playing?
“Well?” Her appealing voice tinged with impatience. He sighed, not liking the fact that it appeared he was no longer in charge. He again thought of Cal Hockley and his offer of paying him double if he was able to find Rose Dewitt Bukater. Pulling his wallet from his pocket, he slapped twenty dollars in the middle of the black, wrought-iron table. She eyed the money with her piercing blue eyes before speaking. “You asked earlier if I knew Rose Dewitt Bukater and Cecile Black?”
He shook his head. “I did not. I asked if you knew Lily Jackson and Cecile Black.”
She chuckled, and the sound swept through him like warm honey. “No you didn’t, you said Rose Dewitt Bukater.”
Lymen winced. Had he mistakenly asked for Rose instead of Lily? He recalled when this woman had answered the door. He’d been taken aback by her beautiful, yet sickly, appearance. It was scary to think that his attraction to this woman had caused him to say the wrong thing when he’d been at the door.
From his knowledge of people using an alias, he’d figured that Rose was probably using the name of Lily Jackson. Reason being, Cal had mentioned her relationship with Jack Dawson. If Rose took on a new name, he could imagine her using part of Jack’s name in her new name, plus, Lily was the name of a flower, the same as Rose being the name of a flower. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. He glanced at his lunch companion and realized she smirked, and he again felt himself get angry since it appeared he was no longer in charge of his own investigation!
He threw his hands up into the air, anxious to get started. They’d already wasted enough time with this woman wolfing down scones! In his entire life, he’d never seen a female eat with such reckless, unrestrained abandon! He again eyed his companion while she sipped her tea, attraction slamming into him again. Was she wild, un-restrained, behind closed doors? He shook the thought away, again forcing himself to focus on the task at hand. “Well, do you know Rose Dewitt Bukater, Lily Jackson, or Cecile Black?”
She nodded, setting her cup back onto her saucer. “I’m Cecile Black.”
He gasped. “Why didn’t you say that when you answered the door?”
She shrugged her bony shoulders. “I didn’t know what you wanted. I needed some time to think before I told you who I was.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Why? Do you have something to hide?”
She shook her head. “No, but Rose certainly does.” She gestured toward the twenty dollars. “I’m used to assessing people, finding secrets. Using secrets against others…” she leaned toward him, her loose gown gaping down, revealing a non-existent bosom. “I’ve even blackmailed people. It’s the way I was raised,” she whispered.
He blinked, shocked that she’d reveal something so personal to him, when she barely knew him. He was anxious to know more about this lady, but, first he had to find out about Rose, after all, that’s why Cal was paying him. “What is Rose Dewitt Bukater hiding?”
In her delightful, mesmerizing voice, Cecile talked about all that had happened to her since the Titanic survivors had docked in New York. She spoke of Rose’s costume as an old lady, their arrival at Mrs. Roker’s boarding house, Rose’s relationship with Jack, and then Cecile told how she, herself, had been raised with the habit of lurking. “In Mrs. Roker’s house, I lurked in corners, stairways, doors, looking for secrets.” She revealed that she’d been caught snooping in Rose’s room and she’d discovered the necklace. Lymen’s mouth dropped open and his heart skipped – Rose Dewitt Bukater was indeed a thief and she needed to be caught!
Cecile continued to speak while Lymen removed his notebook, taking notes about everything that she revealed. She even told that Rose was marrying Jack on that day, and she revealed the location of the wedding. “It’s a remote woods, but, it should be easy for you to find. She’s going to be moving in with Jack afterwards.” From her snooping around, listening, she’d even discovered where Jack and Rose would be living after the wedding. “Rose is coming back to the rooming house later to get her things. I heard her telling Geri and Mrs. Roker about it since Mrs. Roker might want to find another person to take Rose’s room. Also, Rose is pregnant with Jack’s baby. They had relations while on the Titanic and that’s when she got pregnant.”
Lymen stopped writing, shocked. He digested this news. He figured Cal would be mighty upset to discover that Rose was pregnant. He also figured he needed to settle the bill at the coffeehouse and rush over to Cal’s hotel to tell him about his findings. However, he’s agreed to give Cal a full accounting for both women – both Lily and Cecile. Since he could say that finding Cecile Black had been part of the investigation, he decided to extend this visit at the coffeehouse and find out more about Cecile Black’s background.
Cecile had been talking non-stop for close to two hours, telling him all about Rose’s activities, now it was time to focus on Cecile. “I’ve been hired to give Cal Hockley a partial dossier for both Cecile Black and Lily Jackson. Tell me, Miss Black, why were you traveling on the Titanic when you weren’t listed on the original passenger roster?”
She paused, her beautiful blue eyes widening, as if she were taken aback by the question. Lymen’s curiosity about this painfully thin, yet beautiful woman sprouted like a geyser. “Call me Cecile, please.” She paused again, closing her pretty eyes for a few seconds before speaking. “I wasn’t initially supposed to be traveling on the Titanic. Did you see the names Mr. Mark Baker and Mrs. Mary Baker on your roster?”
Lymen nodded, recalling that he’d told Cal that the Larsen brothers as well as the Baker couple had not boarded the ship, but they were listed on the roster.
She cleared her throat before speaking. “Mark Baker is a multi-millionaire. He’s a businessman with homes in several countries. I was his mistress. I lived in his house in France.”
“How long were you his mistress?”
She winced, and Lymen wondered if these questions were too painful for her to answer. “I was his mistress for two years. When his wife found out the first time, he didn’t visit me for six months but he still let me stay in his house in France. I loved living there because I was provided with my own staff. During his six-month absence, I worried he’d never return, or he’d throw me out, making me homeless. But, he showed up unexpectedly one day, and when he saw me, he was extremely upset.”
“Since I wasn’t sure when or if he’d return, I’d started eating again, abandoning my diet. I’d gained weight and he…” Cecile winced, tears gathering in her eyes. “He slapped me. He was disgusted with my weight gain. So, I started dieting again. He loved extremely thin women. I’m not sure why. As long as I was skinny, he loved me and he loved my body. He treated me like a princess as long as I stayed thin.” She sighed, shrugging her bony shoulders. “Plus, in spite of the way he was, I loved him.” She shivered, as if she’d caught a chill.
Lymen’s mouth dropped open. “You stayed with a man who treated you like that?”
Cecile nodded. “I loved him and I loved his money even more. I thought I could get him to change, maybe even change his mind about my starving myself. I thought he might leave his wife for me. I know it was stupid to think like that, but, it was what I thought.” She sighed. “I knew I couldn’t live like that forever. It was too hard only eating when I absolutely had to, just enough to avoid my headaches and my dizzy spells. While living like that, I had access to his money. I hoarded it whenever I could.”
Lymen stared at Cecile, again saddened by her gaunt frame. He thought about the way she’d wolfed down the scones and also recalled that she’d confessed to eating an entire loaf of bread with butter earlier. “So, why did you board the Titanic?” He asked again, for some reason desperate to know about Cecile’s background.
“Mrs. Baker found out that her husband had rekindled his affair with me. She got angry, threatened to kill herself if he didn’t get rid of me. She was highly emotional and extremely unstable. She refused to go on Titanic with her husband – they were supposed to be celebrating their anniversary and she said that the entire trip was a farce, so she refused to go. Mark had to get me out of France and back to the States since Mrs. Baker wanted me gone. She made him put his house in France on the market to be sold and she wanted proof that I was gone. He made me board the Titanic, and I stayed in the room originally assigned to Mr. and Mrs. Baker.” She bowed her head, staring at her clasped hands. “He promised he’d meet up with me after I docked. Supposedly he’d arranged for me to stay in a hotel. Once the Carpathia landed, I couldn’t find record of any arrangements made in the hotel, plus, I didn’t have the funds with me to pay. I’d wondered if he’d lied and had abandoned me, but, I stayed on my diet, hoping he’d return.” She swallowed, continuing to stare at her hands. “I wrote to him, letting him know that I was staying at Mrs. Roker’s. He sent me a letter back, stating that he never wanted to see me again and he sent me a check.”
“What about the money in France that you’d hoarded?”
“He accessed my bank account and closed it.” She looked up at him, her eyes gleaming with unshed tears. “The check he sent me had my hoarded funds, plus some extra. So, I’m all alone now, so I don’t have to diet any longer.”
Lymen winced, repulsed by the story. He stared at Cecile. Was she mentally stable? “Why did you put up with him?”
She blinked, then she looked at Lymen as if he were an idiot. “I told you, I loved him plus he’s rich. Money is everything…it’s power. Just being with somebody with that much wealth…have you ever been poor Mr. Smith?”
He jerked back, surprised at the question. “My parents weren’t rich.”
She shook her head. “I’m talking about being poor. My mother washed people’s clothes for a living. Her hands were cracked and red all the time. She had six children and none of us knew our fathers. She was also a prostitute, turning tricks to make extra money to feed us. She also sometimes bribed her johns – ensuring she didn’t tell their wives about the sexual encounters. In spite of doing all of that, there was never enough money. I was hungry a lot, that’s why it was possible for me to keep that strict diet as a mistress – I’d grown up hungry and extremely thin.” She shook her head. “I put up with him as his mistress, but, I did it for the money. I knew I couldn’t do it forever, but, I was hoping something would happen to make my situation better. I knew I wasn’t going to end up like my mother – dead with only two cents in her pocket.”
Lymen grunted, settling back in his chair. “Might I offer you some advice?” Cecile barely nodded, so, Lymen continued. “In my work as a private investigator, I’ve dealt with wives looking for evidence about their cheating spouses. I can tell you this, the husband almost never leaves his wife for his mistress.” He shook his head. “It just doesn’t happen. I wished more mistresses would understand this.”
She nodded, indicating she’d heard his advice. She took a sip of her tea, which had probably grown cold. She then placed her cup back into her saucer, lifted the twenty dollars from the table and leaned toward him, batting her long eyelashes, tugging her dress down to slip the money into her non-existent bosom. Her luscious lips curved into a smile and she placed her bony hand over his. Her frigid, cold fingers dug into his skin, making him tense. Why were her hands so cold? “So, Lymen Smith, are you married?”