by Brian K. Asbury
The tall blonde woman looked around anxiously as she entered the restaurant, a task not made easy by the dark shades she wore over her eyes. Spotting her, Marcel the head waiter sashayed across and cocked his head to one side quizzically. “Does Madame have a reservation?”
“Madame does,” said the blonde, the collar of whose elegant designer coat was pulled up high, partially obscuring her face. “An alcove table booked for two, under the name of Ms. Hare. H-A-R-E.”
“Ah, yes, but of course, Ms. Hare. If you will step this way… May I take your coat?”
“No, thank you. I’ll keep it on.”
“As Madame wishes,” said Marcel. “Your guest is already waiting for you.”
“Oh. Is she?” The woman sounded dismayed. Marcel idly wondered who she was — some pampered minor celebrity with a husband or lover who abused her, judging by her nervousness and the bruises on her face, which the high collar did little to conceal. Well, it was nothing new. In his years in the restaurant business he had met many such women. The older woman already seated at their table was probably her agent or her lawyer.
The older woman in question made no effort to greet the newcomer, sitting still and impassive while Marcel held the blonde’s chair back to allow her to sit. He handed menus to both women. “A drink, Mesdames, while you make your choices?”
“I’ll have a large gin and tonic,” said the older woman.
“Just a Perrier for me,” the blonde said.
“As Mesdames wish,” said Marcel.
As he scurried away, he heard the older woman say, “Well, about time, Cas. I have been waiting here for nearly half an hour.”
“Oh, mum, don’t fuss so!” replied Godiva, sighing.
Dorien Leigh glared at her daughter. “I always brought you up to be punctual, Cas. I don’t know what’s come over you.”
“I was held up in traffic. It’s horrendous in London at this time of night, and I’m living out of town at the moment.”
“Yes,” Dorien said, “I’m not surprised, after that debacle the other day. Really! How could you make such a public spectacle of yourself? I hardly dared show my face at the Women’s Institute that night — my daughter, splashed all over the papers and showing her — her…”
“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘knickers,’ mum. Or ‘panties.’ Or–”
“That will do!”
“Well…” said Dorcas. “How was I to know those sodding photographers were there? I didn’t ask that Janet Smith bitch to blow my secret identity wide open!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 2: The Company of Fenris.]
“Language! Is this what living in London has done to you?”
“Oh, give it a rest, please. I’m tired. I’m not in the mood to fight with you. And before you start on that topless pic in The Sun, it was a fake. Even they’ve admitted it. They had to, or my solicitor would’ve taken Rupert bloody Murdoch to the cleaners.”
Dorien stared at her. “You look as though you’ve been fighting someone.” She reached over and pulled off her daughter’s sunglasses. “My God, Cas, what’s happened to you? Your face is a mass of bruises!”
“Someone gave me a good kicking. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“A boyfriend? Cas, what have I told you about men like that? They’re not worth it!”
“Not a boyfriend. An evil little punk calling himself Karma. You’ll be reading all about it in tomorrow’s papers, I daresay. Perhaps you can entertain your W.I. friends with tales of how much it all shocks you.”
Dorien opened her mouth to make an angry retort, but checked herself as she saw how upset Dorcas was. She sighed. “We seem to have started off on the wrong foot, Cas. Shall we begin this conversation again?”
Dorien shook her head. “Is this how it’s going to be from now on, my sweet baby? Always wondering how badly you’re going to be beaten by the next horrible little criminal you take on? Never knowing if next time you’re not going to survive?”
Dorcas reached out and took her mother’s hand. “Mum, I’ve been doing this for over five years now. Usually I manage to come away unscathed. I just got unlucky this time.” She looked away. “Why do you think I didn’t tell you about this before?”
“I would have found out sooner or later,” said Dorien. “But it was a big shock, I can tell you, to find out that my only child is leading a double life as a… as a super-hero. I still can’t take it in. In fact, looking at you now, I can’t see it. Your hair doesn’t even reach your shoulders. How can you possibly be Godiva?”
Dorcas managed to smile. “Remember that Tressy doll I had as a little girl, mum? You turned a key in her back and her hair would get longer or shorter. Well, I don’t have a key, but I can will my hair to be more or less any length I want — although the shorter I make it, the harder it is to stop it from spontaneously growing again. That’s how I’ve got away with not wearing a mask. People look at Godiva and see only the hair.”
“Incredible!” said Dorien. She paused as a waiter approached with their drinks. As he departed again, she said, “How in the world did you get like this? You were such a normal child, Cas — tall for a girl, perhaps, but that’s all.” She paused. “This doesn’t have something to do with your father, does it?”
Dorcas grimaced. “I’m afraid it does.”
“I might have known,” said Dorien, scowling. “Well, then, you’d better tell me all about it.”