It was all still new enough to me that I would stand still once I’d entered my rooms and stand there just looking round. I’d left my old, far smaller, far cheaper and uglier rooms behind a few days ago. It was felt I ought have better accomodations to better suit my new status.
My new status. I grinned. My mother, when I’d told her what I was free to say, had stood there dumbfounded. I’d told her I was pretty dumbfounded about it all myself. Who’d have believed an Irish servant’s son could end up here?
The rooms were in a nice part of town, not far from the Palace or Whitehall. High ceilings, cozy rooms, furnished in a sort of Clubby way. Out my sitting room windows I had a decent view of a pleasant street. The building was owned, I suspected, by the Crown. I hadn’t met any of my neighbors as yet. No doubt they were all kept as busy as I.
My man (who’d have believed I’d have a ‘man’) greeted me with a sight bow.
“Hi Simmons,” I said, handing him my hat, since he had his hand out for it.
“You’ve a message from Lord Mallister, sir. It’s by your chair. I was told it is urgent.”
I frowned. “You should have found a boy to deliver it then.”
“No need. I knew you were due home soon,” Simmons replied as he grabbed my stick out of my hand, and then waited impatiently for me to hand over my weapon. I hated the damn thing and mostly made certain I forgot to take it when I went out. After I’d done so I watched him, holding the thing like it were a dead rat, retreating toward the hall. Maybe I could talk him into throwing it out with the trash.
“Sir, I’ve set out a change of clothing suitable for your meeting.”
When I was a boy I always thought valets were magic. That somehow they could read their masters’ minds, thusly anticipating their every need. That suddenly this man, older and no doubt far wiser than I, was doing this after only two days of employment with me, was slightly off-putting. Rather, it was a lot off-putting.
I shook off my mood and hurried over to my chair. On the table beside it sat a cup of tea and the note in a sealed envelope.
I sat. picked it up, taking a second to examine the richness of the vellum and the golden embossed initials on the flap. Best be sure. I flicked my finger under the wax and snapped the envelope open. Inside was a matching piece of stationary with several lines written in Mallister’s flowing script.
All it said was,
“The Savoy. Eight pm.
You’d best pack for an extended trip.
His usual terse communication. Lord Laurence Mallister did not entirely trust anything written down, I’d learnt. Well, nothing written down he didn't have clutch in his hand at any rate. I suspected he had a safe somewhere hidden, and guarded where he kept detailed notes about everything. It might explain how it was he seemed to always have an encyclopedic knowledge of every little thing affecting the Empire, everywhere, in that formidable brain of his. I found him rather frightening in that regard and quite often felt completely out of my depth around him. Maybe it was the title. No. More like the company he kept. He was, after all, the Prince Regent’s friend and advisor.
I saw Simmons hovering over near my bedroom door. No doubt he’d already drawn a bath. Hell, he’d probably already packed for me. I swallowed my tea and surrendered myself to him for the necessities of proper hygiene and dress.
Lord Mallister was there before me, as I suspected he would be, even though I arrived spot on time. The man made me nervous.
He was a tall man, silver-haired, looking every bit the great lord he was. Most people in London knew he was the personal secretary to the Prince Regent. Few suspected anything at all about his real day job though: spymaster for the Empire.
I wondered why he wanted to meet in public. I’d expected, when he’d told me he was taking me away from Scotland Yard and putting me on his personal staff, that he’d want me to keep a low profile. Or at least seem to still be just a copper.
I glanced away from Lord Mallister and I’m sure my jaw dropped open. I knew the man sitting at the dining table with him. Bloody Hell. Him.
I plastered a smile on my face and allowed the maitre’d to escort me to Mallister’s table. To my chagrin, both men stood as I approached, just like I was an equal. I hoped to hell I wasn't blushing.
“Lord Mallister,” I said, as I took my employer’s hand as if we were friends. “Mr Ainsworth,” I added, nodding.
It warmed my heart to see that Richard Ainsworth must be as ill pleased to see me as I was to see him. He didn’t hold out a hand for me to take, instead he merely flicked me a slight bow, one so slight as to be nearly invisible. I fought down a grin and returned the bow in an identical fashion. I took my seat, keeping my eye on Ainsworth as I did so.
“Richard has come to me with a problem,” Mallister began once we'd all ordered a light repast.
“Ah,” I replied, hoping I sounded nonchalant.
“And when I heard his tale and then agreed to help him with regard to it, he requested that it be you who saw to it.”
That surprised me. Richard Ainsworth had been involved in the kidnapping case that had first brought me to Mallister’s attention. In point of fact, it had been Richard Ainsworth doing the kidnapping. So you can understand why I was, one, surprised he’d requested me my name, and two, that Mallister was agreeable and trusting in him enough to offer assistance. But then Richard Ainsworth had managed to come out of that adventure smelling like a rose. He’d even been offered, and then accepted, a berth at the newly formed Crown Research Facilities at Bletchley Park.
“What can I help you with, Mr Ainsworth?” was all I said aloud.
He turned the full power of his eyes on me.
His Daddy had been declared a traitor and was hunted across the Empire. His Daddy was an industrialist, wealthy beyond belief, although I expect the Crown had since confiscated most of that wealth. But knowing Nathan Ainsworth I figured he'd have made quite certain to have plenty of money beyond even the reach of the Crown. Richard Ainsworth, on the other hand, although obviously privileged in his upbringing, and used to wealth and ease, hadn't seemed to regard money as an end in itself. But then I suppose men born rich seldom do.
“I’ve a friend. A colleague. He’s been murdered,” Ainsworth said without elaboration or social niceties.
“A job for Scotland Yard I should think,” I replied politely, wondering just what else was going on here.
“Ah. Well, you see, he was murdered in the colonies. And not one of ours,” Mallister explained.
My eyebrow rose. I did tend to get testy when I had to pry information out of anyone, even Mallister. Although, I have to admit, it wasn't usually the case with him. He was generally quite upfront with whatever information I needed when I needed it. So this situation felt odd to begin with.
“New Orleans,” Mallister added, watching me, as the server arrived with our first course. “It’ll be a pleasant holiday for you. The both of you.”
I sat back, my mind whirling. New Orleans. I’d never been there. Well, I’d never been anywhere near there. France yes. Its colonies no. “I see,” I said, not seeing at all.
We three began dinner and I knew, at least in public, I wasn't going to get much more in the way of details out of either of them.
I couldn't help but ask, however, “So, what manner of infernal machine am I going to be confronted with this time?”
Richard Ainsworth grinned. Uh oh.
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