When last we left our heroes, they had succesfully sneaked the Minotaur into London, only to have it shot dead by Mister Coble… now they attempt to return to their regular lives, unaware of the new threat that closes in on them!
Her daughter resting in her arms, Cassandra Chatterton rocked in the wooden chair next to the white painted bassinet.
“There, my dear,” she cooed to the baby, “Mother is here.”
The baby’s nurse, a middle-aged woman named Rose Leighann Ashbrook, watched from the corner where she worked on tatting a lace doily. There were quite a lot of lace doilies decorating the red doored flat at 1346 Gosling Street.
Gazing out the window at the street outside, Mrs. Chatterton found herself frowning at any passerby who stood within view for too long. The adventure to Greece hadn’t diminished her paranoia a whit.
“Rose?” she asked, “have there been any more men about?”
The nurse smiled kindly; in her mind her job was just as much about soothing the mother as it was the babe.
“A few, ma’am,” she said, “but m’husband took care of things. He’s taken quite the keen to little Emmaline.”
“And he hasn’t…”
“Oh, no, ma’am!” Rose said, answering Cassandra’s question before she could even ask it. “He knows how t’separate business loyalties from personal one.”
Mrs. Chatterton breathed out some of her tension. “I haven’t the words to thank you both, Rose. If you hadn’t taken Emmaline in, well…”
“There’d be a lot to say to Mister Chatterton, I’m sure!” Rose said before thinking it through. Realizing her gaffe, she pressed a hand to her open mouth, ashamed.
Cassandra’s voice was neither chastising nor offended, though. “My husband and I have… an arrangement,” she said. “He is not the one I’m worried about.”
“I’m so sorry, Missus Cassandra,” Rose apologized. “I didn’t mean t’pry…”
Cassandra held Emmaline closer to her chest, leaning in to breathe in the comforting smell only found from the skin of clean babies. Lifting the bottle of warm milk from the console table next to her rocker, she teased the infant’s lips with the rubber nipple. Emmaline cooed as she tried to pull her mother’s hand closer to her face.
“Think nothing of it, Rose,” Cassandra said, looking down at her daughter as she let her draw the bottle to her mouth. “Besides, I’d rather not sully my day with Emmaline dwelling on ill thoughts. There’s nothing to frown about when I have my little girl with me.”
She gazed into the eyes of her daughter, who remarked in an very uninfantile croaking voice, “Says you, lady. I could use a shot or two of gin in that bottle, myself.”
“I…” he said, waiting for the moment of greatest impact for his pronouncement, “…check the bet.”
“Check the bet,” agreed the winesodden ex-gentleman of means next to him.
“Two pounds,” bet a third, followed by a mournful “call it,” from a man with overstuffed holiday bags beneath his eyes.
Suddenly all of Victor’s fellow players fell silent, their eyes staring nervously at a point a foot above and too the left of where Victor sat. He didn’t need to turn around to see who had entered the room behind him.
“Mister Terranove,” said the raspy voice that could only belong to half of Victor’s personal bete noire, the gangster known as Mister Batson. “How good to see you again.”
“It looks to be that he’s gambling, Mister Batson,” said the other half and more nasal-voiced of the legbreaking team.
“So it does, Mister Quill, so it does.”
“Look,” Victor said, one white gloved hand indicating the card game before him, “I swear to you two that I’ll have your money. I… I was ahead by a good score not an hour ago, gentlemen. A few more hours and I could…”
Just as Batson and Quill had snuck up on Terranove, it was Mister Batson’s to be interrupted by a hand on his shoulder from behind.
“Problem here, Victor?” John Hardwicke, proprietor of the publick house and notorious ex-roustabout asked, his grip on Mister Batson firm and insistent.
“No… no, John,” Victor said.
“Prboably best we talk outside,” Mister Quill said, and the gun suddenly in his hand had very quickly taken the lead in the menacing-words-from-behind fight.
“Look here,” Hardwicke said, still trying to maintain an upper hand in his own tavern, but as Batson swept the hand off his shoulder and lifted Victor from his seat, it became apparent who had won. Quill led Terranove out the back door while Batson drew his own gun and just for the heck of it, stole all the poker money. It seemed a waste not to.
In the brick alley behind the pub, the stocky Mister Batson cracked his knuckles menacingly.
“Mister Terranove,” he said, “we have been very patient with your debt to Mister Fitzhugh. Unfortunately, said debt has finally come due.”
“Look, let me talk to Fitzhugh,” Victor pleaded as charismatically as he could. “Let me explain…”
“I’m sorry, Mister Terranove,” Batson continued, matching Victor’s charm with his own mock symphathy. “But I’m afraid that your marker has been bought out by another interested party… and this new party has no interest in straying from the contractual date of the agreement, isn’t that right, Mister Quill?”
Quill nodded. “Sad but true, Mister Batson.”
Victor was already looking for an escape route, but between the meaty hand of Batson pressing his shoulder to the wall and the gun in Quill’s twitchy hand, he didn’t put much stock in the “nice to meet you, run for my life” plan.
“So… so what are you saying, then?” he asked, hoping at least to delay his beating a little while.
“It’s collection time, Mister Terranove.” Mister Batson put out one hand, palm up, to his partner. “The tongs, please, Mister Quill?”
From his jacket pocket, Mister Quill removed a silver set of ice tongs with some kind of clawed animal paws at the end.
“Here you are, Mister Batson,” he said and placed them in the bigger man’s outstretched hand. Before Victor could even wonder why two gangland thugs would be carrying decorative ice tongs, Quill had grabbed his free arm, leaving him held immobile against the bricks by the two.
Then Batson pulled back his arm like he was going to stab Victor with the tongs.
“What are you maniacs doing?!” Victor screamed as Batson thrust forward with the open tongs. They entered his chest with no small amount of pain, but it wasn’t pain of the kind he expected. Victor screamed again; wordlessly this time, the sound of ultimate suffering.
Mister Batson seemed to be struggling trying to remove the tongs. “Normally, Mister Terranove, we just take a finger or crack a leg… but our new boss–nnnghh!–she wanted something a little more specific…”
With one final yank, he pulled the tongs free. Victor looked at his chest but there was no wound, no tear in his expensive silk shirt.
There was, however, something small and twisty and made of blue light caught between the paws of the silver ice tongs.
“It’s nothing too valuable, really.” Batson laughed, almost more of a bark, echoed by Mister Quill’s more jackal-like gibbering.
“It’s only your soul, Mister Terranove. You’ll hardly miss it.”
To be continued…
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.