The Pearl by Tiffany Reisz

1





The Umbrella





The day progressed as days usually did for young Lord Arthur Godwick, but it took a turn for the strange when a young woman in a red raincoat and red Wellington boots knocked on the door of the Godwick townhouse in Piccadilly. When he opened the door, his first thought was “red alert.”

She was a pretty young woman, bow lips that spread into a mischievous smile like he was in trouble and just didn’t know it yet.

“Can I help you?” Arthur asked the girl in red.

“You Lord Arthur Godwick?” Her accent was decidedly East End, making the “Lord” sound like a joke.

“Guilty.”

She held out a small envelope to him, cream-colored and on heavy paper like a wedding invitation.

“What is this?” he asked, taking it. His name was written on the envelope, but he got no answer. When he looked up, the girl in the red raincoat was already at the iron gate, then through it, then at the sidewalk and then…gone.

Bizarre. Arthur had never had a note hand-delivered to him before.

Slowly he removed the notecard. Hotel stationery from The Pearl. He knew the place well. His sister had gotten married there not too long ago. The hotel’s name was in all black on the outer flap, with a white pearl nestled into the middle of the A.

We need to discuss your brother, it read inside. The Pearl, penthouse at five.

The note was signed only with a looping R.

Who was “R,” and what the hell had Charlie done this time? Could be anything knowing him these days. Gambling? Girl in trouble? Punched the prime minister?

Fuming, Arthur trudged up the stairs to his room on the second storey of the townhouse. It was already past four. He had on jeans and a t-shirt but needed socks, shoes, and a jacket. He pulled them all on, grabbed his keys, his mobile phone. Into his wallet, he stuffed as much cash as he could fit. Good chance Arthur would be paying damages on something tonight. A broken vase. A broken nose. A broken heart.

Although it was November, grey with rain threatening, Arthur decided to walk across the park to Mayfair. He needed to clear his mind before the inevitable confrontation with Charlie. If it had been any other hotel, he might not have been so worried, but this was The Pearl.

In Queen Victoria’s day, it had served as the elaborate London townhouse of a dissipated lord who spent all his money on whores and gaming until he had nothing left but the townhouse and then he didn’t have that anymore. It was sold, turned into a seven-storey hotel. A respectable-enough looking place these days. White and gleaming, black awnings, fine dining. Not a tourist trap. A haven for the wealthy, the titled. Usually both. The interior was dark with heavy oak paneling, the furniture Edwardian, the lights murky and dim. The fallen paradise of aging lords.

It was also a brothel, hence the family connection. Hence Arthur’s fear for his brother.

He’d learned from his older sister Lia about the hotel’s past. She’d told him about how their great-grandfather Lord Malcolm was a fixture at The Pearl in its heyday, living there as a bachelor gentleman about town and playing there practically every night of his wicked life. That’s why Lia had gotten married there. She was a Godwick, after all.

Arthur arrived just before five o’clock. As he looked up at the black iron sign reading The Pearl over a set of double doors, the first raindrops began to fall. Hurrying inside, he strode across the lobby as if he belonged there. He had a title, and he had money. That’s all one needed for entrée into The Pearl. If pressed, he had the note as well, an invitation to a party he did not want to attend.

As he crossed the lobby to the gleaming golden lifts, he imagined he could still smell the cigars of the thousands of lords and industrialists who’d met here, slept here, supped here, and fucked here. The fucking, of course, being the main attraction. Arthur guessed he had been summoned here to scrape his baby brother off the floor of someone’s bedroom or bathroom.

And he’d do it. Someone had to, with their parents away in New York City until Christmas. Even if they’d been in London right now, they’d mostly washed their hands of Charlie. He was eighteen, they liked to remind Arthur. Time for their youngest to stand on his own two feet.

But what if Charlie falls while trying to stand? Arthur would demand. Well, in that case he’d have to learn how to pick himself up.

Easy for them to say. Charlie didn’t call them at four in the morning when he was too drunk to find a way home. They weren’t the ones who answered the phone when Charlie was detained by the police for starting a fight in a pub. No, it was Arthur. Always Arthur. “King Arthur,” his brother would drunkenly proclaim. “King Arthur saves the day again.”

The lift deposited Arthur on the top floor. He found a set of grand double doors at the end of the corridor with a brass plaque that read Penthouse.

He took a deep breath to calm his nerves, then knocked.

The blonde who’d given him the note opened the door. “She’s on the terrace,” the girl said. “With your brother.”

She pointed to a set of French doors along the far wall that opened to the outside. Before Arthur could thank her, she exited the penthouse, leaving him standing by himself in the entryway.

Arthur’s first thought upon seeing the interior of the suite was that his brother was flying in very high circles these days. He’d never seen a grander, more decadent hotel room, and he’d stayed in some of the finest hotels in the world when on holiday with his parents. The walls were gold damask wallpaper with black trim. An enormous gas fireplace with a black china marble mantel dominated the sitting room. To the right of it was a curving staircase that led to a second level, where he imagined he’d find a luxurious bedroom. Black leather club chairs framed the fireplace, and above the mantel hung an oil painting of a pretty young woman wearing a black raincoat and holding an umbrella. As the son of art lovers who owned dozens of galleries, Arthur reflexively glanced at the plaque on the frame as he passed it on the way to the terrace. The Umbrella by Marie Bashkirtseff, a Ukrainian-French painter. Not your typical bland mass-produced hotel art.