When last we left our heroes, Mrs. Chatterton admitted to Lord Marston that she had a baby… which had been abducted and replaced with a faerie changeling… and even more shocking… that the baby was his!
At the hardly posh at all headquarters for the Ministry of Objective Sciences, Mister Sam Coble sat, fuming. It wasn’t that he took it personally when someone tried to kill him, it was that he took it incredibly personally when someone tried to kill him, and that upset him almost as much as the attempted murder did.
“Damn it, man,” he muttered to himself, “you’re trying to save the world, did you think the forces arrayed against you were just going to sit around waiting for you to get all Victorian on their ass?”
He realized he was talking to himself. “Yes, yes, Smeagol, they are tricksy hobbits, aren’t they?” he riposted before realizing that the only thing more embarrassing than talking to himself was talking back to himself in a voice from a movie a hundred years away. In the year he was living in now, being a geek meant biting heads off of chickens. He reminded himself to drop the self-referential postmodernisms.
Fortunately, his internal dialogue was interrupted by a knock on the door. Twice, then once more. It was Ashbrook.
“C’min!” Coble shouted.
His fastidious assistant looked tired today, but in his hands was a file, so it apparently hadn’t impacted his work. Ashbrook stepped into the room and proffered the folder to Coble.
“I’ve compiled a report on everything we know about this Fitzhugh chap,” he said by way of hello. “He seems to be a simple criminal type, working out of a warehouse in the East End… mostly moneylending and illegal gambling.”
“So why target me?” Coble asked himself (not Ashbrook). “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Ashbrook answered anyway. “It does not, sir. Still, I have put out an inquiry with our associates at the Yard.”
This time, Coble looked right at his assistant. “What about this… ‘Consortium’ he mentioned? Anything there?”
The answer still came from someone he hadn’t asked. A mellifluous woman’s voice with a strange accent came from the doorway.
“I suspect that I can help with that,” it said.
Coble and Ashbrook both turned to the office door to see a pale-skinned woman in a green and violet dress. Her long brown hair had body Coble hadn’t seen the like of since the Loreal Age. There was an unearthliness to her beauty and Coble reminded himself not to make the mistake of underestimating her. There was magic in her eyes.
“No one was let in, sir!” Ashbrook cried, stepping between the uninvited guest and the Minister of Objective Sciences.
“I don’t need to be ‘let,'” the woman said, stepping up to Ashbrook and running a finger under his chin. “I go where my business takes me.”
Coble knew how this scene would go down. It was pure Raymond Chandler, except in Victorian times, the dress code prevented his detailing just how far her gams went. He put on his best vocal swagger.
“You must be from the Consortium, then,” he said, meeting her eyes.
“The N.C.L.E. Consortium, Mister Coble. My name is Valende.”
She was tall enough that they were able to speak around Ashbrook, but Coble didn’t want to chance a good man being ensorcelled as collateral damage.
“I’ve got it from here, Ashbrook. No visitors, I’m in a meeting.”
“Go. It’s all good.”
Nodding nervously, Ashbrook circled the pale lady and backed out through the office door, closing it behind him.
Coble offered the woman a seat, and she sat across the desk from him.
“So, Miss… Valende, was it?” he said. “I’ll go out on a limb here and assume that you’re here to be good cop.”
“Your words are strange,” she said in a lilting voice that somehow reminded Coble of Kate Bush, “but if I understand your meaning… yes. I am here to offer you a deal.”
“A deal,” he said suspiciously.
“The people I represent…”
“The Y.M.C.A. gang.”
“The N.C.L.E. Consortium. We wish to be given license to operate in London without interference from your… Ministry.”
“And in return, you don’t send any more hired goons to try and whack me?” Coble asked.
“You are a curious man, Mister Coble,” she said. “Actually, we offer this.”
Coble would have sworn that there was nothing in her left hand, but as she extended it to him, palm up, there was suddenly a diamond the size of a walnut in it, immaculately cut and impossibly clear. It was wealth itself in one single stone.
It was also the Consortium’s second mistake in dealing with Sam Coble. He didn’t need wealth. He had prescience.
“Right,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight…”
Valende closed her fingers around the diamond and placed her hands in her lap as Coble continued.
“First, you ally your ‘Consortium’ with a criminal organization which you use to attempt to kill me. Then, when that fails, you come here–all fluttery eyelashes–to work out a ‘deal’ to keep the Ministry–my Ministry–off of your backs.”
He paused just long enough to interrupt her as she began to nod.
“Now why would that be necessary, hm?” he mused. “The Ministry of Objective Sciences isn’t involved in mercantile matters, nor do we bother with most areas of local politics… What we do interfere with are spiritualists, occultists, dabblers in magic, and… oh, yes…”
He cleared his throat dramatically before adding slowly and clearly, “…supernatural beings.”
Finished monologuing, he rested his hand on the rim of his upper right desk drawer, which opened slightly.
Valende smiled. It was a beautiful smile, and if Coble hadn’t seen years ago–or maybe years away–how dangerous a beautiful smile could be, he might have been taken in by it.
“You’re a very perceptive man, for a mortal,” Valende said. She raised her empty hands palms-up in an innocent shrug. “What would you have me say?”
“Ouch,” Coble said as he drew his 9mm Beretta automatic and fired twice in the same action. The first shot grazed her arm, but the second hit dead center in her chest. Her blood was darker than red.
Then she did something that Coble didn’t expect. With her grazed arm, she reached into the hole in her chest, her lithe fingers somehow finding their way inside to draw forth the bullet. She held it up before her eyes, almost amused.
“Next time you ought to try iron, Mister Coble,” she purred at him, dropping the crimson stained bullet on his desk. “Any child could have told you that. Now, I fear we’ll have to do this the hard way.”
Mister Coble tried to pull the trigger again, but he couldn’t move a muscle as the faerie woman drew forth a green cloth bag, from which she removed a handful of flower petals.
With a single breath, she blew them into Coble’s face and the last thing he remembered thinking was “what the hell does N.C.L.E. stand for?”
To be continued…
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.