One Lump or Two - Chapter One

“Tea! The panacea for everything from weariness to a cold to a murder. Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.” ~Henry Fielding

Chapter One

Penelope sat shaking in the heavy armchair, its wooden frame straining and creaking beneath her gyrations. The tidy office struck her as ominous and oppressive, and she struggled to produce enough saliva to enable her parched mouth to speak. After performing several involuntary facial twitches, none of which had the desired effect of producing an audible answer, she stammered, “May I have a glass of water, please?”
“It’s a simple question, Miss Price,” said the scowling, buttoned-up man facing her. “Are you or are you not the grandniece of the deceased?”
“Yuh-y-yes,” Penelope whimpered, fidgeting with the clasp on her ponderous purse.
“Speak up!” he snapped.
“Yes, I’m a great niece.”
“I mean she was my niece,” Penelope answered, breathing in sharply and causing her corset to give a cobra-like squeeze to her ribs. She was certain she would faint.
“Miss Price!” the scowler bellowed, standing up abruptly, the veins in his neck pulsating against his starched collar.
“Rather, I’m her aunt … great aunt … grandaunt, that is,” Penelope said, the right side of her facing twitching again.
“This is ridiculous,” the man snarled, slamming closed his briefcase, his annoyance now bordering on rage, “and a complete waste of time.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Beekham. I get nervous when it comes to legal matters,” Penelope offered in explanation.
Her comment was made in understatement. Penelope Price went through life in a state of perpetual guilt, always fearing she’d either just said or done something wrong, illegal, or uncouth, or that she was on the verge of doing so. Those who knew her only slightly tended to view this trait with suspicion. Those who knew and loved her well found the innocent quirk endearing, especially given that Penelope had never in her life broken the law—at least, not to her knowledge.
The impeccably groomed man looked hard at her, easing back into his chair. “You’re not on trial here, Miss Price,” he said evenly. “I am merely attempting to settle your grandaunt’s estate, of which you are a principal beneficiary.”
“Yes, I understand.” A ray of sun pierced the cloudy sky and bathed the oak and leather-bound room in warm, encouraging light. Penelope sat up, closed her eyes and took a single slow breath. “Yes, Dorothea Tate was my grandaunt, my grandmother’s sister. I am her grandniece, or is it great niece—one of two—the other being my sister, Pauline, who was named after her actually.”
“But Miss Tate’s Christian name was Dorothea. And you just said your sister is named Pauline.”
“It’s a funny family story really, you see—”
“I’m sure it’s quite the knee-slapper,” the man said brusquely, collecting his things as if in preparation of departure.
“Perhaps another time,” Penelope muttered, recoiling in her chair.
He merely glowered at her. “Here are the keys and all of the attendant paperwork including the deed. Remember, your grandaunt’s will stipulates that you maintain an antique shop on the premises. To do otherwise would find you in breach of contract; and you wouldn’t want that, now would you, Miss Price?” He handed her a well-worn key ring and overstuffed file folder held together with a frayed ribbon as he made his way to the door to open it. “Do you have any further questions?”
“Yes, several, thank you. I was wondering—”
“I thought not,” he said, striding over to her chair and lifting her by the elbow to lead her to the door. “Goodbye, Miss Price.”
“But how do I—” were the last words she got out before the lawyer’s door closed behind her.
Once again, she breathed deeply and slowly so as not to antagonize her corset. “I need tea,” she said, using both hands to hoist and transport her gargantuan carpetbag as she shuffled off to her car, her hobble skirt inhibiting her strides and causing her to take petite geisha-like steps. She arrived at her Model T panting, and for several minutes fumbled with the shop keys and papers as she sought her own keys in her massive all-purpose satchel.
After experiencing a variety of tactile sensations ranging from fluffy to sticky, her gloved hand emerged holding a coin. She made her way to the nearby telephone booth, trying desperately to flick the sticky stuff off of her glove. All she managed to accomplish was the flinging of her telephone-designated coin into the great beyond. In searching for another coin, she fortuitously found her car keys—but then lost both the phone number she was to call and her train of thought as to whom she was calling or why, and then proceeded to lose track of her keys again. When she finally sorted herself and placed the call, the voice on the other end put her immediately at ease.
“Z, is that you?” Penelope shouted into the telephone “… Yes ma’am, it’s really and truly mine. Now I just need to figure out what to do with it … How did you know I was just about to ask you … Ten minutes sounds grand. Wait, is that ten minutes my time or Zara time? Because ten minutes for you generally means about three hours for others…
“Why do you need to know the number of this telephone? … Pardon me? Oh all right, Franklin one, eight-six-seven-four … Hello … Hello? Well can ya beat that! She hung up on—Ooh were those my keys?” she squealed, digging down through several strata of paraphernalia in her cavernous repository.
Just then, the public telephone rang. With her hands buried deep in her bag, she employed her chin and shoulder to answer. “Hello? … Zara, why on earth? … I don’t understand … What do you mean you’re on the road? You’re talking nonsense … And how do you propose to see me in a ‘minute or two’ when you’re still at the hotel which is a good twelve minutes away? … Aha!” she exclaimed, espying the tip of her room key poking through the edge of her bag.
A moment later, she was seated behind the wheel, glancing left and right, and checking her rear view mirror for the third time as she inched back out of her parking space. Gripping the steering wheel for life in a stable ten and two configuration, she motored conservatively toward her new business, previously known as Dorothea’s Finds, Treasures of Rare Value from Exotic Lands. A rather high-falootin’ business name in Penelope’s estimation, but then again, Aunt Dee had always been the romanticist in the family.
Penelope cruised at her usual speed—exactly two miles below the posted limit. A car careened around a corner behind her, narrowly missing her as the driver honked wildly and swerved to pass. “Why is everyone always in such a hurry these days?” she said aloud. Indeed, Penelope was seldom in a hurry. Her methodical and exacting nature demanded she take her time when accomplishing any task to ensure she’d done it correctly and not forgotten a step. Her mind and mouth operated on the other end of the velocity spectrum, often working so quickly that when excited, she tended to speak in fragments to the confounding of those with whom she conversed.
When she pulled up to the antiques store five minutes later, she found Zara waiting for her in the back of her Model A Duesenberg touring car, the fastest, most powerful machine on the road. Zara lowered her window and held a bubbling flute aloft for Penelope who grabbed a handful of skirt and speed-shuffled over to the auto. Penelope did her best to grasp the glass stem while opening the sedan door and taking a seat inside—a feat which resulted in her standing paralyzed and confused for a moment, then passing the glass to herself through the car window from one hand to the other and back again, eventually managing to sit next to her best friend and tap champagne glasses with her.
“How … where …” Penelope began.
“Just drink, darling,” Zara cooed.
“But you were on the telephone—”
“Yes, I was. It’s a portable telephonic device—invented by a brilliant Swede with whom I spent a week at his dairy farm. Three days later I was still finding pieces of straw in the strangest places.”
Penelope responded by taking a gulp of the champagne to calm her nerves and wet her parched whistle. Immediately she spat it out. “Zara! This is real champagne!”
“Real expensive champagne, you mean, and not the kind you spit out! What were you expecting?”
“Ginger ale, I suppose, under the circumstances.” Penelope used her sticky handkerchief to wipe the sparkling wine off her tongue, and accidentally got the gummy cloth stuck in her hair.
“And what circumstances would those be?” Zara asked, running a finger around the rim of her flute.
Penelope looked out the car windows for observing passersby before responding. “Prohibition,” she mouthed.
“Oh that! It’s just a passing gimmick, mark my words. Fortunately, I have enough booze stored to wait it out. Besides, I have a medical prescription for the stuff.”
“But you’re breaking the law!” Penelope said, her heart racing and mouth going dry again.
* * * *
The two women could not have been more opposite. While Penelope was inordinately law-abiding and considered by friends and family to be a consummate ‘goody two shoes,’ Zara had always been a wild spirit, going anywhere the wind blew, or at least where the nearest dashing rogue whisked her away on his motorbike. Zara had no sense of peril or impropriety. Penelope was in constant fear of offending someone and always made a point to look for pitfalls and signs of jeopardy before taking a step, both figuratively and literally.
Whereas close friends often grow to resemble one another, whether through mannerisms or similar fashion and style, there was no mistaking Penelope for Zara. Penelope was a wisp of a woman—diminutive, though full of energy, and far more physically fit than her delicate frame suggested. Her hair was of the lightest chestnut and was wavy unless it determined to be unmanageably curly or unbudgingly straight. With a peaches and cream complexion, she always had a glow to her cheeks and charming color in her lips. Her green eyes were pale and inviting, and were it not for the look of worry that contorted her features on most occasions, by all accounts, she was lovely and, at times, even captivating.
Zara’s appearance commanded attention, even at a young age. She was part Apache and had the sort of natural raven-black hair that was uncommonly shiny and tinged with midnight blue. She’d worn her hair in a bob as a schoolgirl, and now as an adult flapper, she’d bobbed it again, occasionally swinging its strands or mussing them up to punctuate her speech. The pupils of her dark chocolate eyes were surrounded by a starburst of gold, and her enviably long black lashes spoke a language all their own. When in a jam, she would activate her dimples in a sweet cherubic smile that melted hearts of both genders and all ages. As she matured, she grew taller than all the girls in her class, and her shape developed alluring buxom curves. She learned in her teens how to use her physical attributes as tools of persuasion, and she’d mastered a room-hushing gait.
Her friendship with Penelope had been forged in the sandbox in their hometown of San Pedro, California, and throughout their lives they had remained close at heart, despite changing circumstances and habitats. Penelope was Zara’s touchstone. Zara was Penelope’s adventurous alter-ego.
* * * *
Zara disregarded her friend’s protestations about liquor laws and asked, “How did it go?” parting her red lips to tip the golden brut into her practiced mouth.
“It went,” Penelope said, sighing and turning her gaze to the sign over the shop’s door. “I haven’t a notion as to how to run an antiques store.”
“They won’t let you turn it into a tea room then? Pity, that had always been your dream, to have a tea room,” Zara said, leaning back into the bench seat like a femme fatale in the first stages of seduction.
“I suppose we should go in and face the music,” Penelope said, letting out a defeatist sigh and slumping her shoulders. “Ready?”
“Always,” Zara said, downing the remainder of the costly vintage in one easy quaff, then patting the headrest of the driver’s seat. “Paolo, we’re going into the shop. Feel free to wander around, but stay close by, if you don’t mind—no telling how long we’ll be.”
The chisel-jawed Italian driver responded with a tilt of his head and look of confusion.
“Stay,” Zara said, raising her palm in a stop gesture. “I’ll ring you in the car when I need you … Then again, I suppose I always need you, Paolo,” she said coquettishly, sharing a long, smoldering look with him by way of the car’s rear view mirror.
Penelope glanced about the spacious back seat, at a loss for where to place her glass. Zara wrested it from her hand, slid the stem into a polished mahogany rack, scooted Penelope out of the car, and locked arms with her. “Your new world awaits.”
Once at the front door, Penelope realized she was without her shop keys. Zara sauntered over to the display window and peered in as Penelope returned to the car and fumbled through her bag, grumbling under her breath and shaking her head as she began yet another key search—an activity in which she invested a substantial portion of each day. Eventually, Penelope unlocked the door, and the friends entered, both awed by the vast collection of curiosities, artifacts, antique furniture, and objets d’art.
The main room rose two stories and was jam-packed with items representing various eras, cultures, and countries. Having originally been the public library, the space still featured a sliding ladder used to fetch items from the higher shelves. Bookcases displayed the bulk of the stock, while new and seasonal items graced the two bay windows that flanked the entry door, each a magical nook surrounded by beveled diamond-shaped panes of glass. Overhead, the sun streamed in through a stained glass skylight decorated with an ornate pair of intertwined peacocks.
Visitors to the shop were known to spend hours contentedly losing themselves in the curios, and so the center of the room strategically boasted a red, crushed velvet, doughnut banquette sofa, where shoppers sat in the round with their backs against a shared column. Across from the entrance stood an old-fashioned, bank teller’s cage where orders were rung up and the shop’s high-end valuables were stored under glass, lock, and key. The cage also featured a door secured by a heavy bolt.
“Zara, this place is like a gold mine. I had no idea Aunt Dee collected things like this,” Penelope said, inspecting a glass case packed with arrowheads and thumb-sized animal figurines.
“I get the feeling there’s a whole lot we don’t know about Aunt Dee. Really, this stuff is incredible. You sure you don’t want to own an antiques shop? The stories these trinkets could tell.”
“Looks like I don’t have a choice. I’d had my heart set on owning a tearoom as long as I can remember,” Penelope said with a wistful sigh. “Too bad I can’t do both.”
“Who says you can’t?” Zara asked.
Penelope opened her mouth to reply, but realized she had no rebuttal. “No one, come to think of it,” she said, her eyes widening and thoughts racing.
The concept of taking the bull by the horns was foreign to Penelope. In most situations, she was too timid to ask for permission in order to make a move, let alone make the move sans prior permission. If not given specific directions on what she could or should do, she did nothing. That way, she reasoned, she would avoid taking a misstep, upsetting someone, or getting into hot water.
“C’mon, let’s see what’s in the back,” Zara said, grabbing Penelope by the hand and tramping toward a doorway concealed by a heavy brocade curtain.
Penelope gasped upon entering. Stacks of unlabeled crates and cartons in various stages of deterioration teetered precariously, and each step Penelope took caused the towers to jiggle just a little. The air in the room was thick, and Penelope felt she was breathing in the millennia as she ambled through the room, running her hand along a row of boxes. The only thing more fascinating to her than the unknown contents of the containers was the promise of what she could do were the space cleared out.
“Why, this room is even bigger than the shop itself!” she exclaimed, looking up to the inexplicably sooty ceiling.
“It’s also overflowing with unpacked crates and a ton more stuff.”
“This would make a perfect tearoom!”
“Did I mention it’s floor to ceiling with stuff?” Zara said, turning sideways as she entered to avoid knocking into one of the unsteady containers and causing an avalanche.
“I could just move it all to the garage at the boarding house. Mrs. Prescott, the landlady, would likely drool at the thought of extra rent money,” Penelope said.
Zara looked unconvinced.
“Or I could rent out a couple of additional garages …”
“Or ten,” Zara added.
“My point is, this could be the tearoom!”
Just then, Penelope dashed outside to view the space from the street. Zara followed at a leisurely stroll.
“Look at these majestic windows!” Penelope chirped. “They’re enormous! I didn’t even notice them when we were in the tearoom.”
“Oh, we’re calling it the tearoom already, are we? And the reason you didn’t notice the large windows is because not only are they blacked out with paint, but there are boxes blocking them, bottom to top. Do you have any idea how much work you’re in for?”
“Small price to pay to make a lifelong dream come true,” Penelope said, dashing back into the room in question and making mental calculations as Zara ambled back in as far as the doorway. “I wonder what other mysteries this place has in store.”
“You and me both.”
“Come on. Let’s go find out,” Penelope said, tiptoeing out of the room to prevent the containers from jostling.
* * * *
Across from the proposed tearoom’s streetside windows was situated a closed door that opened onto a small hallway—a hallway that extended the length of the store down to the door of the teller’s cage at the front end. On the other side of the hall stood three doors—one leading to yet another crammed storage room, one leading to a small office, and one leading to a fully functional bathroom, complete with a large clawfoot bathtub and working shower fixture.
Penelope beamed as she and Zara peeked their heads into the crowded, dirty, dank storage space. “This will be the kitchen.”
“Appetizing,” Zara said. “You realize you’re gonna spend a fortune on garages!”
“Since when are you the pragmatist and I the dreamer?”
“Since Mercury went into retrograde … Don’t worry—it won’t last.”
“Let’s go see the office!”
Zara covered her mouth as she followed Penelope down the hall, the smell of musty disuse making her gag.
 “Zara, look at this—a Murphy bed! Do you think Aunt Dee lived here onsite? Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing anything in the court documents regarding a residence for her, and all of her correspondence always came from this address.”
The desk was covered with a thick coating of dust and little else. A faded blotter set, dried inkwell, a pen with a rusty nib, and an ordinary looking rock sat quietly enveloped in the layers of time and buildup. Penelope opened the top drawer to find a ball of rubberbands, an empty envelope postmarked from Istanbul, and a silver letter opener in the shape of a small sword engraved with the name Edward Teach, an appellation Penelope failed to recognize as the Christian name of the famed pirate known as Blackbeard.
“This is strange,” Penelope said, opening the desk’s filing drawer. “It’s empty! For all her chattels, Aunt Dee’s cache of bookkeeping and mail is surprisingly sparse.” She opened the closet door and her breath caught. “Look! Aunt Dee’s personal effects. So she did live here then.”
“And why not—did you get a look at that enormous tub? Sheer heaven.”
“You know, I have a marvelous feeling about this place. I think I’m going to be very comfortable here in Pacific Grove.”
Just then, a loud rapping on the shop’s front door startled the two friends, and they screamed in unison.
“You were saying?” Zara remarked, taking a deep breath and following Penelope to the shop entrance.
“May I help you?” Penelope said as she opened the front door to find a tall, rugged man wearing stylish dark tweed trousers, a bespoke grey button-down shirt, black leather braces, and a charcoal fedora, carrying an industrial tool belt that looked out of place with the rest of his dapper ensemble.
“Actually, I came here to see if I can help you,” the man said, smiling.
“You most certainly can,” Zara purred, sashaying toward the door and undressing the visitor with her gaze. In an instant, she’d taken in his tall, muscular workman’s build, his ice blue eyes, easy smile, sun-streaked hair, and effortless debonair posture.
Caught off-guard by Zara’s burrowing stare, he searched one of the pouches on his tool belt and produced a business card.
“Handy Hank’s Handyman service,” Penelope read as she accepted the card. “Hank Edwards, licensed and bonded. I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I just wanted to introduce myself and offer my condolences. Dee and I were good friends.”
“I see. Well that was awfully thoughtful of you to come by, Mr. Edwards,” Penelope said, eyeing the stranger with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.
“Right neighborly, if you ask me,” Zara said, posing provocatively.
Penelope glared at her, wise to the coquette’s antics.
“Did Aunt Dee engage you often?” Zara asked, her every word delivered with innuendo.
“That’s an understatement,” he answered, glossing over her advances. “I’ve been doing the work on this shop nearly daily for oh, more than nine years now.”
“Gracious! Is there really that much wrong with the place?” Penelope asked, her heartbeat accelerating with the fear of the cost required to keep the shop in operable shape.
“Not any more, there isn’t!” he said with a casual smile. “When Dee first contracted me, the place was a powder keg, faulty electrical wiring, life-threatening asbestos insulation, decades worth of code infractions and neglect. It took us a few years to get it up to scratch. By then, we’d become chums, and she really just liked having company, so she’d trump up excuses to get me down here to fix something or other. She even got me taking afternoon breaks to drink tea with her—not exactly the usual modus operandi of a handyman! But boy, the stories she’d tell of her adventures and the lengths she went to obtain some of her rarer treasures. She was quite a gal!”
“And all this time I just thought she was a docile spinster from Northern California,” Penelope said, reflecting on the annual visits her aunt would make to San Pedro, always bearing unusual gifts from places of which Penelope had never heard.
She’d viewed her aunt as a simple hobbyist, rather like a philatelist or numismatist, and the trinkets Dorothea proffered as inconsequential and uninteresting mementos that only a devotee could appreciate. She assumed Dorothea had mundanely purchased the items at a specialty shop or through a catalogue. Never did it occur to her that her aunt had embarked on harrowing adventures to distant lands in order to acquire the objects in person, and often at personal peril.
Hank’s words snapped her out of her mental meanderings. “Where are you from, umm, Miss …”
“Penelope Price,” Penelope said, extending her hand to shake his. “And this is my lifelong friend, Zara.”
Zara poised her hand in a manner that begged Hank to kiss it. He grasped a pair of her fingers and shook them quickly, avoiding eye contact.
“We’re both from San Pedro in Southern California,” Penelope said.
“Once upon a time,” Zara amended. “When I came of age, I became a citizen of the world.”
“That’s true,” Penelope said. “Zara’s lived all over this great planet of ours.”
“What about you, Hank? Where were you born and so heartily bred?” Zara asked, looking him over again to appreciate his statuesque posture, effortless elegance, and classic features.
“I’ve lived here and there around California, but Pacific Grove is where I call home. Do you two live in town?”
“I do. Zara’s just visi—”
“We’re both new in town—and looking forward to getting to know the locals,” Zara said, trailing the back of her hand down her long slender throat.
“We are?” Penelope said, cocking her head and looking at her friend to divine what she was up to. Is Zara’s visit more than the brief stopover I had anticipated? she wondered.
“Well,” Hank said, clearing his throat. “It was a pleasure to meet you both. Give me a ring if anything goes haywire. Ladies,” he finished as he pulled down the front brim of his fedora.
“Wonderful to meet you, Hank. And we look forward to working with you. Can you swing round in a couple of days and show us the lay … of the land, so to speak?” Zara said, her tone unmistakably sultry.
“Come again?” he slurred, clearly flustered by Zara’s boldness.  
“How’s noon, Wednesday?” she asked.
“Noon?” Hank mumbled, still somewhat dazed.
“Twelve it is. See you then, Hank,” Zara concluded with a dimpled smile.
“It was delightful to meet you, Hank,” Penelope said, attempting to put him back at ease.
“Miss Price,” he said, nodding and backing into an amphora planter placed at the shop entrance, nearly knocking over the enormous, heavy stone pot.
Once Hank was out of sight, Penelope closed the door and locked it, then turned to Zara, looking for some sort of explanation.
“My, my, who knew they grew ‘’em like that in this teeny tiny township?” Zara said, peering out the window to ogle Hank’s shapely backside as he strode to his truck.
“Just what are you playing at, Z?” Penelope asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms in front of her.
“Nothing yet … but I hope to be up to my neck in local color soon enough.” Zara sat on the shop’s banquette sofa and surveyed the room. “I think I’m going to like it here.”
“That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to ask you—how long do you plan to stay in town?” Penelope said, dropping onto the couch next to her and causing a puff of dust to issue from the fabric.
“Sick of me so soon, P?” Zara asked, gently tucking a stray strand of Penelope’s hair into her Gibson Girl pompadour.
“Just the opposite! I don’t want you to go, actually. I don’t know how I’ll get through all of this without you once you go home … Where exactly is home these days, by the way?”
“Pacific Grove, Califor-ni-a!” Zara said, opening her arms wide.
“Yes, I know that, but I mean once you leave. Who are you going back to … and where? Was it Costas in Greece? I lose track.” Penelope said, absentmindedly drawing abstract stars and flowers on the dusty sofa with her finger.
“You’re not following me, chérie. I’m staying here.”
“Here here? In the shop here? I’m confused,” she said, looking up into Zara’s face for answers.
“You know, one of these days that technical, analytical mind of yours is going to get you in trouble. I mean here in Pacific Grove … with you.”
It took a moment for Penelope to process what Zara was saying as well as its import. “Really?! That’s fantastic! Oh, thank you, Z! You have no idea what this means to me. I can’t believe you’d—” she broke off, becoming choked up with emotion.
“Calm down, P. I’m not doing it just for you. I’m doing it for me too. I may be Costas’ favorite, but I’m certainly not his only.” She paused as a shadow crept across her typically vibrant visage. “The time’s come for this courtesan to hang up her garter belt and settle down. Let’s face it, at my age, I’m in the twilight of my career. Why not go out while I’m still on top, so to speak?” she said, adding a wink to camouflage her heartache and trepidation.
“But won’t a sleepy little town like this be too dreary and simple for you? They roll up the sidewalks at about eight in the evening,” Penelope replied, oblivious to her friend’s despondency.
“The quiet life is an adventure I’ve never had. Besides, Pacific Grove just got a whole lot more exciting—it’s the new home of an internationally famous courtesan!” she said with a cheeky flip of her shaggy bob.
“True,” Penelope said, weighing the veracity of Zara’s statement. “For my part, I’m looking forward to uneventfully running my new little business and enjoying my spinsterhood in peace. And this quaint community seems like the perfect spot—a place where I can be myself … without explanation or apology, I might add,” she said, followed by a satisfied exhalation.
“You mean a place away from your sister’s stranglehold and imperious rule.”
“You read my mind.”
“I always do,” Zara said with a grin. “Now, what do you want to do first? I’ve no doubt you’ve a plan already.”
“But of course,” Penelope said with a wry smile. “At some point today, I want to ring up the realty office and ask them to look for something more permanent than the Mrs. S.A. Virgin House boarding facilities, given Pacific Grove’s looks to be home for the long haul. I can ask them to start looking for something for you too, if you like.”
“Would you? You know how I detest business transactions … well, other than carnal business, that is.”
Penelope shook her head and looked to the heavens. Having gone through her adolescence with Zara, she was well versed in salacious banter, though discourse was as far as her prudery had taken her; and she felt that Zara made enough whoopee for the both of them.
“Tell them I require a palatial powder room and an outdoor Turkish bath,” Zara said. “For the rest, anything goes … I don’t even care if it has a kitchen.”
“I’m fairly confident kitchens are standard issue. Where else would you store your caviar and Brie de Meaux?” she said, smiling, and getting up to look for paper and a writing implement.
“Good point—I’ll need a wine cellar, of course. And a hookah lounge—”
“A what?” Penelope replied from the teller’s cage, blowing the dust from off a receipt book and picking up a fountain pen.
“I suppose I can be flexible on that if need be … See? I’m already adapting to suburban life!”
“You’re a real trooper, Z … There,” she said, ripping off one of the receipts and tucking it into her sleeve. “I’ve written myself a note to call the realtor later this afternoon.”
“Ee gads, would you really forget to call this afternoon without a note?”
“I like to keep a record of all my important activities and conversations—helps eliminate muddles and comes in handy for later reference.”
“I need to teach you to have some fun.”
Penelope returned to the banquette and heaved her purse into her lap to initiate the ritual of searching for her keys. “I have plenty fun—just not courtesan fun.”
“For now,” Zara said with a devilish smirk. “So, where are we off to next?”
“Nowhere, unless I find my keys. I just had them!” Penelope said, her voice muffled as she burrowed with both hands in her gaping satchel.
“Some things never change.”

Penelope peeked up over the brim of her carpetbag and smiled. “Comforting, isn’t it?”