When last we left our heroes, they had succesfully sneaked the Minotaur into London, only to have it shot dead by Mister Coble! But the Ministry of Objective Sciences isn’t the only group awaiting their return to England…
The criminal gang boss named Fitzhugh was a man of greatness. It wasn’t the greatness most people aspire to; he was neither great of spirit nor great of intellect. He did not have a great ambition nor a great plan to achieve it. He was not great at cards. His name was not “Scott!” No, Fitzhugh was great of girth, great of appetite, and even with those in his favor, he was mostly great at biting off more than he could chew.
He sat that night in the Knight’s End Shipping House, from whence he ran his slice of the opportunity pie called London. It was not an inconsequential slice, but, as has been previously mentioned, it was a slightly larger piece than he had been able to fully digest. That was why he had looked for help, albeit in the wrong place.
There was a leg of turkey on the plate in front of him, but so far he had only been able to bring himself to take a few bites. His rounded stomach felt too full of apprehension to fill with food.
She was here tonight.
It was all he could do to sit at the table giving his men perfunctory orders and trying not to look to all the world like a class boss gone to a meater. Which, truth to tell, as scared of her as he was, was exactly what had happened.
He sat, finely dressed, his long brown hair parted in the center, framing his face from brow to door-knocker, smoking a fine hand-rolled cigarette, all the world his, and he couldn’t bring himself to get up from the table.
His frantic immobility was interrupted by a courier barging in from the back entrance.
The courier was a young man named Kensington who had been with Fitzhugh for almost a year now. Fitzhugh had taken the boy in after killing his father for failure to properly insure his confectionary on Leather Lane. Kensington didn’t know that Fitzhugh was behind his father’s death, but it amused Fitzhugh almost every time the boy eagerly delivered a message. Almost. Tonight he felt too fatalistic to enjoy nasty irony.
“I’ve just got word back from Batson and Quill, sir,” Kensington said, a bit apprehensive from the still and languid posture of his usually cruelly intense boss. “Word is, the Magician’s back.”
Fitzhugh took the message with uncharacteristic poise, considering it meant that he had to tell her about it. Or, judging by the sudden chill in the empty shipping-house, he wouldn’t need to tell her at all. Despite being sure she was there, he didn’t move his head.
“Sir?” Kensington asked.
“Yes,” Fitzhugh said. “Thank you, Kensington.” After a moment colder than the moment before it, he added, “Go.”
She was here.
As soon as the door shut behind Kensington, Fitzhugh steeled himself and looked over his shoulder.
A tall and lithe brunette stood there in a green and violet gown fancier than most balls would warrant, let alone a shipping-house. Her skin was pale and her eyes had the capacity to convey volumes, while her smile was cute, and quirky, and seemed to say, “don’t listen to my eyes, they lie like a rug.”
Thank God, Fitzhugh thought. It wasn’t her.
“I… I assume you heard?” he asked her lady-in-waiting, a woman–if that was the proper term–named Valende.
“The Queen hears everything, Mister Fitzhugh,” Valende said, her voice cold and lovely.
He had just exhaled–for the first time in hours, he felt–when the second voice gripped his heart like a hand of ice.
“Indeed I do,” she said.
The Queen of the Unseelie Court was indescribable.
Fitzhugh got to his feet and it was only through sheer force of will that he didn’t follow that action by falling to his knees. He feared her more than he loved her, but only because even the great Fitzhugh knew that to do otherwise would be the last choice he ever made.
He had thought that representing the Unseelie Court as their human agent in London would bring him the power of the ancient kings. It had only brought him ruination.
“Have your men collect your due from the Magician, and then give me what you owe.”
“Y-yes, ma’am,” Fitzhugh said, stood one second longer than he thought he ever could, then ran from the room like the basest coward he ever killed.
The Queen wandered across the shipping-house floor and sat down in the seat that the great Fitzhugh had vacated. She sighed, looking down at the repulsive bird limb on the plate before her.
“These mortals are ever so tiresome,” she said to Valende. “If they didn’t lay with such vigour, I swear, I would spend all my vacations in the Devil’s Wood.”
Valende suppressed a laugh, though more at her own inner mirth than at the Queen’s quip. Then, like a September chill, her smile was gone and she addressed the Queen with her true concern.
“And you are certain that the Magician will know the whereabouts of my brother?”
It was the Queen’s turn to smile.
“Oh, yes. A quick reading of his mortal soul will no doubt tell us all we need to know about this…”
“‘Society for Cryptozoological Research,'” Valende supplied her Queen.
“Gah!” the Queen said, tossing one hand into the air in immortal exasperation. “Even mortal words give me pain! For what do they need so many syllables?”
To be continued…
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.