The Assembler

Chapter 21 - I Spy With My Little Eye

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

 

Chief Inspector Kevyn Rory did not think of himself as a spy. He did think of himself as a copper. A damn fine copper, if he had to say it himself.

Exactly how he’d become a spy instead of a policeman still rather confused him. It had all come about far too fast, and far too oddly, or so he'd have said had anyone bothered to ask him. Unsurprisingly, no one had.

He’d learned a thing or two since becoming a spy. The most trenchant bit of learning he had was that being a spy was much like being a minor inspector with Scotland Yard. You go to work, you do your job, no one says thank you, good work, no one says much beyond ‘‘Ullo, here’s your next assignment.’ Obviously one didn't choose either job in the hopes of getting either public or private approbation.

When he'd first been assigned to Special Branch he was foolish enough to think it a sort of promotion. Little did he know. What he’d learned since was that there was next to no difference between being assigned to hunt down people who wished the government ill as opposed to sussing out people who just wanted to do anyone at all ill. Bad guys were bad guys and whether you were chasing terrorists acting against the Empire or chasing someone who’d nicked some pretty lordling’s gold pocketwatch, was as near as made no odds.

Well, a tad bit more dangerous granted, as terrorists tended to play with bombs and hire assassins, but still. The basic methods were the same. You examined the evidence, considered the usual suspects, put it all together, then chased the bad guys down and arrested them. Nothing very difficult to understand about that.

But from there things got a bit more complicated. The trip to the Admiralty and then to Whitehall sealed his fate. He'd let it be known he was happy, thank you very much, just being a detective. His refusal only seemed to ensure his hiring. So, as with most things in life and at the Met, if you were happy with something, it was bound to be snatched away from you.

He was still a bit overwhelmed by the size of it all, not to mention the complexity and the extent of the organization the British Government were forming. It had its tendrils everywhere! Early days yet, and already it had taken on a life of its own. And his now as well. He seemed to fit some pre-ordained profile, determined to be spy material for some reason he didn't quite wish to learn, and so here he was in beautiful Bermuda rather than in dismal, cold and rainy London. That at least was a plus. And no one, so far at any rate, was shooting at him.

He’d known when he’d first joined the Metropolitan Police that there would be lots of things that as a beat cop he didn't need to know - or even want to know. The more he learned about his superiors, for instance, the more he wanted to keep his head down. And when he'd been promoted to detective sergeant, the same proved true. When he made Detective Inspector, though, the game changed and he was forced, despite himself, to begin to play office politics and fight for resources and support. He'd hated it. So when they’d offered him a chance to transition to Special Branch he'd thought.... More fool he. There the scales began to be drawn from his eyes and the drawing of them was not always painless. Not so much because of the usual office politics, but because the work was a bit more than he’d expected. It was shocking to discover how many attempts were made to assassinate members of the royal family, or quite a few other major political figures. It seemed to be a cottage industry. And not only major enemy governments played the game. Your average pissed punter would sometimes decide his grievance merited the murder of his local pol. It was bloody depressing.

Then one day he'd moved on up in Special Branch. Instead of being assigned to deal with disgruntled clerks, he’d found himself assigned to the Prince Regent’s personal security detail. That had proven truly a unique experience, one he'd dearly love to forget, although the scar on his abdomen seemed to ensure he wouldn’t.

It was that assignment he blamed for his predicament now. He’d always heard it was a bad idea to come to Bertie’s attention. Now he understood exactly what they'd meant. It seemed the Prince of Wales truly did have a memory like an elephant, if those who'd given him the job were to be believed.

Bertie had been a carouser for much of his life, but after a near miss assassination attempt on the Queen, he’d suddenly become not just king in waiting, but a real power behind the thone, and apparently not just in London. And as he proved himself over time, the Queen began to rely more and more on him, giving him full authority for quite a few bits and pieces that kept the Empire running.

Now the Prince was the Queen’s right hand and his particular interest was, at least so Rory had been told, the field of technology and science and the use they could be put to in order to protect, defend and expand the Empire. Thus Bertie, although keeping his public profile one of rather silly carouser, was a prime mover in creating the Security Service or SIS or MI-6 or Box 850 as the older men in the Admiralty tended to call it. Rory just wished they’d settle on one name. And he wished he could manage to keep his head down.

Yet here he was, having been press ganged into becoming a part of the bloody thing. And not, apparently, just a part of it, but one fairly important cog of it, given what he’d seen of Benedict Black and his incredible Assembler. That it could manipulate reality was, he expected, something that even the Prince would find a bit daunting.

Rory sighed. However it all had happened it was a fact. He was here, Black and the machine were gone, and frightening as it might be, he was beginning to enjoy it, this game of spies and lies, fool that he was.

Such were his thoughts as he sat back in the steam car the Governor of Bermuda had sent round for him. He relaxed for the first time in several days and attempted to put his mind at half-power whilst the driver navigated the island and then the narrow and bustling streets of Hamilton. They wound through the formal gardens and luxuriant foliage of the estate and then the driver was pulling up to the Residence. A footman stood under the portico and opened his door.

The footman looked none too impressed as he ran his eyes over Rory’s dishabille. Well, whomever he saw would simply have to live with the fact that he hadn’t slept in two days, had lost his luggage somewhere or another, had no clean clothes and not even a razor to his name.

The footman led him through the residence whilst Rory turned his brain back on to consider all the questions that were bubbling away in his mind. He hoped he might learn an answer or two whilst he was here.

Like, for instance, was Ned Black truly in danger of hanging? And if he were why the devil he'd possibly, if he ever turned back up again, offer the government any sort of assistance? Were all politicians so dim as to think ... He sighed again. He was rather afraid they might be.

He and the footman climbed the grand staircase and then Rory was ushered into a spacious office. The windows were wide open onto a veranda that looked out over Hamilton Harbor. It was a beautiful day. Too bad Rory hadn’t had any time to actually enjoy it.

“Ah, there you are, Chief Inspector,” came a voice from behind him. “So good of you to come.” The voice belonged to a short and balding man who spoke as he strode confidently into the room. He looked like someone’s slightly dotty uncle rather than a spymaster. “I’m Alastair Simcoe.” He held out his hand which Rory was forced to take. It was slightly damp and very soft. “Do have a seat, Chief Inspector, whilst I read your report. You do have one for me to read, don’t you?”

Rory suppressed a grin, not only at the old boy’s appearance. He also found it amusing to hear the titled class make it sound as if you actually had a choice in things. “Yes,such as it is.” He fished a slim folder of hand written notes from inside his jacket and handed it over to Simcoe. “I’m sorry it’s hand written. No typewriter to hand.”

Simcoe waved a hand in dismissal of such a minor inconvenience.

Simcoe took a moment to look him up and down. Rory resisted the urge to reach up and attempt to straighten his collar and finger-comb his hair.

“You know, the Prince has a high regard for you.” The tone made it sound as if Simcoe had no idea why the Prince would possibly find Rory of any use whatsoever. “Thus your presence here. I do hope you won’t be disappointing him.”

Rory doubted the Prince had the least idea just who he was. “I hope I won’t disappoint him either, my Lord.”

Simcoe gestured at a sideboard. “Make yourself a drink, relax, whilst I catch up.”

“Thank you.” Rory made the proffered drink and walked with it out onto the veranda. He could live like this, in the warmth of the tropics. He hated cold London this time of year. However, having Simcoe as one’s superior...

Then, all too soon, he heard Simcoe clearing his throat to get his attention. He downed what was left of his drink and turned, walking back into the room to hear the verdict. He wondered if he'd get his hands smacked for losing Black.

Simcoe gestured him to take a seat.The man waited until Rory was comfortable before commenting, “Rather surprising report, Chief Inspector. I’d like you to explain to me your thinking on this. Beyond what you set down in your formal report. I want to know what you really think,” Simcoe said, regarding Rory over the top of his glasses. The look was hard and measured.

“Sir, I...”

“Sir me no sirs, sir. Tell me. You were there, you’re experienced. We expect you to make informed guesses and to deliver them to us so we can decide our next best move. Now,” he added, slapping down the folder, and clasping his hands, sitting them on his desk. “Give me a useful report.”

Rory wished he had a second drink he could slug back. Well, might as well die a lion as a lamb.

“Richard Ainsworth is doubtless behind taking Black and the Assembler. I’ve no evidence to that effect, but it's the only explanation that makes any sense. I also find it interesting that he purposefully chose to leave the others behind, including the woman Black clearly loves, and took only Black and the machine.”

“I see,” Simcoe said thoughtfully, using one hand to rub his chin, and staring out at the view. “So you don't think he left the others behind because of some sort of limitation on his abilities to move the mass involved?”

“No, I don’t. Listening to first hand reports, several of those there reported that the look on Black’s face just as he began to disappear was one of surprise. Which indicates, to me at least, that this was most likely not his idea, but Ainsworth’s.”

“Yes, but what is the significance of leaving Lady Emiline behind, do you think?”

Rory cleared his throat. “That Richard Ainsworth is less than an enthusiastic member of the entire operation. I believe he genuinely cares for her and wants to keep her out of it. I also think he realizes that Black will not be amenable to force no matter who they attempt to use to sway him.”

“Hmmm. Which brings to mind .. Who else might they try next to use as a threat?” Simcoe muttered more to himself than to Rory.

Rory chose to answer anyway. “Black’s mother. I doubt even Nathan Ainsworth would be cheeky enough to kidnap Lord Silver.”

Simcoe looked surprised by the answer then he smiled. “Yes, I agree. I’ll have our colleagues back home check on Mrs Black’s whereabouts.

“Meanwhile, you round up your little band of punters and get them to the aerodrome. I’ll ensure there are enough berths for all of you even if I have to toss off some obscure members of a Royal Family to do it. The airship leaves at 6pm. Make sure they’re all on it.”

“All of them?” Rory asked. “I’m not sure I can convince....”

“Arrest the lot of them if they won’t agree to accompany you willingly. Although I doubt you’d be able to stop Lady Emiline from boarding the thing. She’ll understand, when you explain who you think is behind it, that her best bet for finding Ned Black lies in Britain, not in Bermuda.”

Rory stood, “Sir..”

“Yes, Chief Inspector?”

“Is Ned Black really at threat to hang as a traitor?”

“He might be, if Lord Silver had anything to do with things. But then he doesn’t, does he?”

“No, my Lord,I dare say not,” Rory replied.

“And Rory?” Simcoe said, as Rory stood. “Are you armed?”

Rory looked shocked at the thought. “No, sir.”

“Ah. Well here. Take this then.” Simcoe held out a gentleman’s cane.

“Sir?”

“Tap it hard on the ground twice then push the button there under the carving on the handle.”

Rory did that and, with a grunt of surprise, stared at the bottom of the cane. The barrel of a pistol protruded just an inch or so. He looked up to see Simcoe’s amused eyes watching him.

“Tapping the ground charges the thing. Don't ask me for details, I merely deliver the amazing weaponry to our agents, I do not create it. And don't go shooting a hole in Her Majesty’s airship envelope. You’ll annoy her no end if you do.”

Rory won the battle with his lips and bowed his way out the door, clutching the cane.

He found his own way down the grand staircase and out to the portico. His car was still waiting for him there. He was whistling when he climbed into the car to go back and collect his little band of blighters. He laughed out loud, holding up the cane to examine it. The carving on the handle was that of a lion.

This job, he decided, could get positively addictive.

 

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