Journey to New Europa
Chapter 15, Lawful Prey
It's Wednesday morning, and we are laying plans for the report we plan to circulate to all the interested parties we have so far discovered. We also plan to start measuring the local physical constants, to get a better grip on their magic.
But we are interrupted by the delivery of a telegram from Mycroft Holmes to Ashleigh. He is "at our disposal" at the Diogenes Club. Ashleigh accordingly heads out, with Kate and Dafnord. The two women go disguised as men, a trick Ashleigh first practiced at the other Diogenes Club, back on her home timeline.
Just before they leave, a boy on a steam unicycle, wearing a bell-hop uniform, shows up with a letter for Nick. This is from Somerset Hall, and is very long and rambling. It is, however, perfectly spelled and grammatical except for one phrase where he has written "received a answered." Could this be a very careful, circuitous way of sending "A answered," where A = the Assassination Bureau? Or maybe Auberon? Nick, Tom, and Lorelei set out to visit Mr. Hall.
So much for the quiet morning.
At the Diogenes Club, they are met by a close approximation to the Mycroft Ashleigh knows, plus a fellow named "Archer," who is not further introduced but seems to be Mycroft's personal secretary. Mycroft is impressed that little brother Sherlock acknowledges that he cannot disprove Ashleigh's remarkable story. Ashleigh lays all the details before him and learns that he already knew we were being tracked to London by the Unseelie. Mycroft, who works for and sometimes is the British government, also knew of a disturbance in Somerton, where we first appeared.
He is grimly amused at our vague directive to solve the "current problem," since he knows of lots of current problems, including the looming wizard-war, murkily entangled "deaths and manipulations," turmoil in the underworld, strains in British-Bavarian relations, and a mysterious absence of problems with the Unseelie for the last three years. We opine that the Unseelie are Behind It All, and Mycroft concedes it as a possibility. However, he is now late for an important meeting, so he excuses himself. Ashleigh dabs a tracer on him as he goes, though.
We are left with Archer and tell him the remaining bits of news about the Assassination Bureau. He promises to inform Mycroft. We ask him for some details about Unseelie movements concerning us, and he opines that they'll catch up with us today. (Whee...)
He also tells us that someone besides Auberon and the British have been investigating Unseelie activity in Somerton. That's all very interesting, but just then the tracer on Mycroft goes away. (!) The last time anything like that happened was when we were probing clairvoyantly around the Golden Dawn HQ. Interesting. Having learned all we can for the moment, we leave.
Meanwhile, Nick, Tom, and Lorelei have arrived at Somerset Hall's town house. Hall himself opens the door and greets only Tom. We all pile in quickly, inferring his desire to be circumspect. Hall collapses, quivering, and asks, "Were you followed?" "I don't think so," Tom assures him. "Would you like some brandy?" "I think you could do with some."
Hall assents to this and reappears with a tray of four brandies. We are still standing in the entry hall, by the way. He takes us to the drawing rooms and then absent-mindedly drinks all four brandies in the course of the conversation.
He is (obviously) terribly rattled. He was visited by a "terrifying man" whose most unnerving characteristic was that he was completely Unremarkable. Hall can't remember a thing about his appearance. He gave Hall a calling card. If Hall wants to go through with "it," he should present the card at 17 Deerfield. The card is for an "A. Jeffers." Hall then rattles on a bit about how astonishingly nondescript this fellow was, which was somehow horrifying. We begin to suspect the man was a patharch.
Hall's nerves are in no way soothed by the fact that he's noticed several people watching his house. He drinks a brandy.
Hall remarks that he's had us investigated by one Roger Chancellor, who drew a blank. "We fell from the sky last week," Lorelei explains. "Those were Chancellor's very words," Hall remarks. He drinks a brandy. Lorelei then gives a synopsis of our story so far, which we're getting very good at doing, with all the practice. We tell Hall that we think the World Crime League (represented by Major Murchison) wanted to eliminate and then impersonate Hall so as to contact (or confront or trace) the Assassination Bureau.
This, rather oddly, makes Hall feel better, because it gives some rationale to an otherwise incoherent business, the incoherence doing nothing for his nerves. He drinks another brandy.
Lorelei asks Hall how he tumbled to the Assassination Bureau and its "Mesopotamia" password. He reminds us of his non-sterling semi-friend who died an accidental-seeming death at a very appropriate time. When the same thing happened to another unsavory person Hall knew of, he started investigating. He did this by spreading a rumor among his less-intimate acquaintances that he was in difficulties and had an enemy. Six or seven weeks later, he was stopped by a "bum" on the street, who told him his troubles could be taken care of and mentioned the "Mesopotamia" password. This led him to a chain of investigations like those carried out by Holmes and Katrina.
We offer Hall sanctuary with us, explaining that we may not have all that much to offer, what with Unseelie after us and all. Hall politely declines at first, then thinks he might spend the night.
We also recommend that, if he has got on the Assassination Bureau's mailing list, he might as well employ them and put out a contract on Murchison. This appeals to him. He finishes off the brandies and reflects that his late secretary might, for the story, have told him that Murchison was his enemy. Since the secretary is now dead, poor fellow, the Assassination Bureau can't disprove the story.
He resolves to set off for 17 Deerfield at once. We're to meet him at 4 PM at the Devonshire Tea Shoppe, to check on his continued safety/survival. If he isn't there, we're to look in at the Norfolk Arms at 10 PM, not to contact him, but just to observe if he is there. We offer to give him an invisible companion, but he declines. We put a tracer on him unilaterally, though.
Meanwhile, Ashleigh, Kate, and Dafnord, having finished their business with Mycroft, head over to the Bavarian Embassy to see Morrolan. He comes pattering down, cutting through the layers of protocol as usual, and is very amused at the cross-dressing disguises.
They give him an update on Somerset Hall's adventures. Morrolan doesn't see any connection to the Bavarian affairs, but is glad it isn't him in Hall's boots. Ashleigh points out there may be a connection -- the Assassination Bureau may be the immediate agents of Blackthorne's death. Morrolan acknowledges this and tells us that Auberon is coming back to London tomorrow. Auberon's agents report that the Adversary's own lieutenants are tracking us. The Adversary is the head of the Unseelie and his lieutenants are ... best not spoken of. We think uncomfortably of Nazguls and Balrogs.
One reason we interest the Unseelie so intensely is that we are not, like the Seelie and local humans, signatories to the First Compact. We are therefore lawful prey.
We remark that, of course, this cuts both ways and we aren't bound to pull punches against the Unseelie, either. Morrolan is considerably startled that we presume such a close equality to the Adversary's lieutenants, but he also warns us that our provoking the Unseelie will make it harder for us to get any protection from Auberon later.
On the other hand, he reflects, a good fight with us would probably win us some time while the Adversary did a slow burn over the humiliation of it all. Mind you, it would be best to be in some other continuum when he got finished with his slow burn...
We go on to tell him we were considering signing the Second Compact, since it was to late to sign the First. Morrolan concedes that might be a good move on our part. But nothing can be done about that until Auberon comes back, so we'd best not get in any fights with the Unseelie until tomorrow, if we can manage that.
We all go home and work on our projects of report and physics until time for the evening machinations. Mithriel, however, interrupts some experiments of her own on glamour to remark that she feels something bad in the air. She feels reluctant to go outside, and there's a general "something wicked this way comes" feeling.
We send the servants home and dispatch Mitchel to Morrolan at the Embassy with the simple message "It's happening." Lorelei then posts watches in the upstairs windows and starts warming up her Wards Major.
Copyright © 2003, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.