"He's an artist. And he desperately needs a housekeeper."
Frank Shekle had other clients, but none of them occupied his time and efforts as much as Archimedes Nesselrode. As the sole agency for Nesselrode's work, the prestigious firm of Shekle and Kronor enjoyed considerable prosperity. But Nesselrode was rather high maintenance, and Frank's father, the venerable founder of the agency, had put Frank in charge of the account. It was very nearly a full-time job, requiring him to act as agent for far more than just the artist's creations. Frank was wearing one of those other hats now, trying to find someone to manage what had to be one of the most chaotic and woefully neglected households imaginable. It wasn't easy, but enough money could buy anything. In time. He hoped.
This was the seventh applicant he had interviewed so far that morning. He'd been at it for a month and a half.
"Miss Mare," he began.
"Ms. Mare," she corrected him firmly. "You have my references."
Frank opened the folder on his desk. The remaining pool of acceptable applicants was discouragingly small. Nesselrode was very particular about the qualifications. But never mind what that lunatic wanted; the real challenge was to find someone who would put up with him. Out of well over a hundred applicants, only a fraction had passed muster, and none of them so far had lasted more than a few hours with their prospective employer. For most, it had been a matter of minutes.
The woman sitting prim in the chair in front of his desk was wearing a severely conservative navy skirt, ivory blouse and jacket. She was tall, her dark hair braided and pulled back into a bun (whoever did that nowadays?) with stern, brown eyes and a firmly set mouth. She had a brisk, masterful manner (she'd need it). Not an exceptionally attractive woman, but pleasant enough to look at. A healthy thirty-two, unmarried, no children (lesbian?). Her employment history listed some prestigious households and her references included a letter of recommendation from a literary celebrity. She was, all in all, the most hopeful prospect he had left.
He glanced through the folder again. "Impeccable." Clasping his hands over the neat, orderly paperwork, he said, "You've heard of him, of course."
"He makes things," she said with indifference.
Frank pointed with a pen to a small Lucite cube on his desk. It contained a black-spotted, orange salamander, curled up around a white and grey marbled stone. Frank tapped the cube lightly. The salamander opened its golden eyes and flicked a long tongue from its mouth. A fly emerged from behind the stone. The salamander's tongue darted out and caught it. Then it crawled on top of the rock and regarded them both thoughtfully.
"My word!" Ms. Mare exclaimed. "Is it alive?"
"Some sort of holograph?"
Frank shook his head.
"What is it, then?"
"No one knows."
She scowled at the cube. "How does he make them?"
"No one knows that, either." And Mammon only knew how many multiple millions that secret was worth!
She picked up the cube and the salamander slid off the rock. It glared at her. "Hasn't anyone ever tried to take one apart?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Frank assured her.
He shrugged. "The image disappears. The cubes are empty." He took the cube from her, setting it back down on the desk. "Lovely, whimsical little mysteries which can't be mass-produced, and thus are fantastically expensive."
"How intriguing! I shall take the job," she said.
Frank raised both eyebrows. "I haven't offered it to you yet."
"Is there any reason why you should not?" she challenged him. He confessed he could think of none. Ms. Mare rose from her chair. "Then it is settled."
"But, we haven't discussed your terms of employment--wages--duties--"
"I am sure they shall all be satisfactory. When do I begin?"
"There are some details about this position that you should be, shall I say, warned about. It's not your usual household."
"All the better. You shall have to inform me of all the particulars."
"But, Miss Mare--"
"Ms. Mare," she reminded him severely. "Ms. Vivian Mare."