The Dauntless Rook (§.16)

Continued from §.15

 

When Sprill realized his tenants were either sleeping, hiding, or vacant, he gave a soft grunt of irritation, produced a keyring and turned the lock. Adair followed the landlord and moved through the small, sparse room to the window and peered out into the cluttered lane below, spying only a grim, gray-clad man, conversing with two mailed sentries of the paramount, who stood before a swelling crowd, barely visible in the great thoroughfare beyond the alley. Though Adair could not make out the conversation, it was clear from their body-language that an argument was underway, in which the ashen man was rebuffed. He subsequently turned and left off from the ramshackle lane, shaking his head and muttering and vanished back from whence he’d come.

Adair turned from the window to behold Hoston starring at his pocket-watch.

“Apologies, my comitem. I’ve no idea where they’ve gotten off to.”

“No trouble at all. Perhaps I’ll stop by another time. Wherefore all the commotion?”

“Outside?”

“Aye.”

“Thou art surprisingly unprimed of thy classes own affairs.”

“Sir?”

“The Lord Paramount has organized a parade in honor of Baron Avarr’s triumphal return.”

“The Torian noble?”

“Aye. I mean no offense, my comitem, but should thee not know of this? Surely thou wert invited?”

“If I was, I remember not, but thou speaketh rightly – unfortunately, I’ve been swamped of late. I am to be married and-”

“Why, that is wonderful! I had not heard.”

“Of that I am pleased. I should not wish for my life to become a staple of the gossip columns.”

“Nor I!”

“The business has been most taxing. I’ve had little time for anything else.”

“I suspect that blackguard what came after ye, has somewhat disturbed the tranquil waters of thy recreation.”

“Thou hath heard of my adventure?”

“Heard of it! I should be a queerly isolated soul were I to have not. Why near the whole of town is jawin’ of it. It were said that thee dodged the brigand’s pitch. Is it true?”

“A man may accomplish the extraordinary when by it, he is beset.”

Shortly after the words had left his mouth, he froze, eyes fixating upon a small, black thing at the periphery of his vision. He turned to the left and beheld a feather, laying upon the ground beneath a chair. He bent to a knee and plucked it from the ground, turning it in the ambered light.

It was a crow quill, familiar in constitution.

“I’d no idea they’d a bird,” declared Hoston, briefly observing the feather, “Hmph! How dare they sneak such a creature in here! I’ll have them on the street for this!”

“Its not from a living bird. Note the glue upon the shaft.”

Hoston bent to the feather and peered at the quill.

“Ay. Must have come from a costume… Well, I must be off, my comitem. I take it the path out lays fresh in thy mind?”

“It does. I thank thee for thy time.”

Sprill bowed and left whereupon Adair unfurled himself from the hardwood floor, placed the plume in his inner-jacket pocket and gave Dren’s curiously unfurnished room one last cursory glance before shutting the door and hailing a hansom.

He twirled the feather between his fingertips as the vehicle clattered down the cobblestone streets, wondering why the absent renter had stolen his coat.

The Dauntless Rook (§.15)

Continued from §.14

Luned gasped as she spied Oeric Adair through the keyhole of her flat. The comitem walked patiently, yet eagerly, behind the corpulent, key-jangling landlord, Hoston Sprill. Both men advanced slowly, but steadily, down the corridor; scant minutes from the door.

“Damn that conniving wind-tossed scoundrel. This is all his fault.” She muttered, backing past the divan and the sofa, swiftly towards the tiny apartment’s only window. When she turned full round, she nearly screamed.

Casually lounging upon the sill was Drake Dren, shorn of his recently riven coat, smiling like a jackal.

“How goes it?”

“How many times must I tell ya not to do that, damn thee. Where in blazes have ya been?”

Luned straightened as the sound of Hoston’s fist resounded upon the door of the cramped and peeling flat. Then a pause and a voice following.

“Ms. Luned? Mr. Dren? Anyone home? Its Hoston. Hello? I’ve a gentleman whose most desirous to meet ye.”

“What say you? Shall we stay and chat with Hoston and his friend?”

“Of course not – its Adair. Thou hath said-”

“Of that later. Come.”

Without hesitation, Drake took the woman’s left arm and guided her through the open window to a ladder he’d laid against the side of the tenement to reach the sill. Where he acquired the ladder, Luned had no idea. The man threw his legs out, grabbed the sides of the ladder and slid down a little, smiling at his own successful display of agility, as Luned gasped and redoubled her grasp.

“Curb thy trepidation. Manful make thy heart.” He whispered up to the woman with a grin before sliding all the way down to the bottom of the contraption.

“Mettlesome blighter.” She huffed hotly before beginning her descent.

When the woman made it to the bottom of the ladder, Drake withdrew the device from the side of the tenement and, to Luned’s very great surprize, began folding it up as one might a newspaper, speaking in tones of feigned offense all the while.

“To reproach me for thy own proclivities is to reproach thyself. Or didst thee forget how came our divan and sofa? A simple ‘thank ye’ would be sufficient.”

When the portable ladder was folded to the size of a large suitcase, Drake stuffed it in a heavy and battered leather pack that lay in the alley adjacent their sill and surveyed the alley.

“Where on earth did ya get that?” Luned inquired, gesturing to the pack.

He shushed the woman and drew up his hood, turning away from the woman, and moving into the shadows as a grim figure ambled into view at the leftern end of the alley.

“Who’s that?”

“A man best avoided,” he whispered without pausing, heading to the right exitway.

“Its him isn’t it – the assassin?”

“Aye. He knows me not in my present state and thou art wholly foreign to his experience. Quell thy tongue and shift away.”

She nodded and moved up to his side. Together they passed swiftly to the far right side of the alley, whereupon a considerable throng had gathered in the great thoroughfare beyond. The avenue, however, was obstructed by two large men who stood shoulder to shoulder, clad in heavy haurberks of the paramount.

“Excuse me, sirs, may we pass?”

“Sorry miss,” the smaller of the two guards replied courteously, “Baron Avarr has recently arrived at the outskirts, enroute to Tor. Consequently, the Lord Paramount has commanded the main thoroughfare sealed, to make way for his lauded guest’s procession. Considerable is the host, even now, and word has yet to fully spread; when it does, there will doubtless be all manner of disorder, which our dispensation shall, our lord hopes, in some measure abate.”

The sound of cheers, trumpets and drums flared in the distance.

“I’ve heard he contributed considerably to the war-effort.”

“Aye. Victoriously he returnth.”

The larger guard gesturing flippantly towards the opposite end of the lane, “We’ve answered ya query. Begone. Both of ye.”

Luned and Dren exchanged looks whereupon Dren drew forth, cleared his throat and pulled from his shoulder-slung pack Adair’s plumed cap, revealing the tag to the guards.

The guards furrowed their brows, perplexed.

“Recognize ye the crest?” the thief intoned in his best Adair impression.

The smaller guard’s eyes widened.

“The crest of House Adair! My comitem… please accept my apologies. I recognized thee not.”

“That is precisely as I had intended it – for thou art doubtless primed of the dire circumstance which previously dogged me.”

“Aye milord. And so the cloak.”

“Indeed.”

“A wise precaution. We are pleased to see thee safe.”

The guards then parted and Dren, assuming an air of amiable regality, extended his arm to Luned who took it with a grin.

Arm in arm, the designing pair passed beyond the lane to the great and crowded thoroughfare as a cacophony of ringing steel foretokened the baron’s arrival.

 

*

 

continued in part 16 (forthcoming)

Elevens (2001)

(Excerpt from the novel Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad)

 

“You count the money. I’ll count the blood.” Daniel pushes the open case of dollars toward Jesús who in turn opens a large cooler releasing a cloud of mist. The cooler is tied to a dolly. Daniel’s gloves lift blocks of dry ice, revealing pint bags labeled O negative, A negative, A positive, B positive, etc. All will be consumed during a single meeting of Fiona’s extended family. The O negative is for her.

“All good.” Daniel replaces the ice and shuts the lid. “Let’s do this again sometime.”

“You got it.” Jesús shakes hands and nods toward the twin-engine plane fronting a skyline of red rock formations. “Baron, huh? What’s it cruise, 200 knots?”

“I’m not a pilot.” Daniel grins. “I just hire them.” He tilts the dolly back while Jesús opens the door. “I need a steady source for O negative. What can you get me every other week?”

Jesús shrugs. “80 or 90 pints. Maybe 100.”

“Get me 100 and I’ll pay 200 bucks a bag.” Daniel pushes his cargo into the morning sun. “See you in two weeks?”

“You got it. I’ll have 100 for you.”

Outside, today’s pilot – Bud — opens the baggage door. When Daniel unstraps the cooler, each grabs a handle and lifts. Bud groans. “This feels heavier than what we agreed.”

“131.5 pounds, like I told you.” Daniel grunts through his teeth.

Bud puts his end into the cabin. “Same as my daughter who flew with me yesterday. Course, she’s at the age where she’d kill me for telling. You got kids?”

“None that I weighed recently.” Daniel looks at his watch. “It’s after six. Let’s go.”

Bud starts the engines. “Sedona traffic, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha taking off runway Two-One, left turnout.”

That you, Elevens? It’s Boxcar on your six. Where you headed?

“Goin’ to Chicago with all that money I won last night.” He turns onto the taxiway.

Me too.”

“Uh, I recall you leavin’ more than you came with.”

“I meant Chicago. And I was doin’ all right until you dropped triple Jacks. I’m staying at the downtown Hilton. Sure would love a chance to get my five hundred dollars back.”

“Game on!” A smile creeps across Bud’s face. “Of course, we could bet that five hundred on a race to Chi-Town.”

“Hmm. Where you stopping for fuel?”

“Garden City, Kansas.” Bud enters the runway. “Wanna make it double or nothin’?”

“That’a Texas-sized 10-4.”

Bud opens the throttle and the engines roar in stereo. Seconds later they’re airborne, white wings disappearing into a cerulean panorama. He looks in the mirror at Boxcar’s Mooney lifting off. “So, Mr. Strange, what’re we haulin’ today?”

Daniel is so entranced by the Mars-red surface he almost forgets his “business” name, Robert Strange. “Uh, lab samples. Tissue. Can’t say much beyond that.”

“Long as it ain’t stem cells – or clonin’.” Bud shakes his head. “So sick of people playin’ God when they should be worshipping Him. You a church-goer?”

“It’s been a while. I might come back.”

“Don’t wait too long. Never know when Judgement Day will arrive.”

“So why do they call you Elevens?”

“My lucky number. Born November 11. On my eleventh birthday I went to church for the first time and got moved by the Holy Spirit. At twenty-two, I became a father for the first time. And at the age of thirty-three, after wandering in the desert so to speak, I came back to Jesus. Yessir, born again.” He pauses. “Of course, you heard about my last winning hand.”

“Three Jacks.”

“Which was the eleventh hand of the game.” His right hand goes up. “God as my witness, I kid you not.”

Daniel wrinkles his forehead. “I’m trying to remember the significance of eleven in the Bible. All I remember are twelves.”

“Right, the number of apostles, and the age Jesus was when he questioned scholars in the temple. Plus, twelve sons of Jacob who formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Yep, the good book likes an even dozen. But eleven is connected to the main event for people in my church – hold on.” Bud listens to frequency traffic for several seconds. “Chatter on the east coast. Reports of a plane crashing into a skyscraper.” He shakes his head. “Where were we?”

“Eleven in the Bible.”

“Right. Eleven appears less often in scripture but when it does, it usually signifies judgement. Take the Book of Genesis. In Chapter 11, mind you, mankind rebels against God and builds the tower of Babel. God responds by confusing their language – literally, they start babbling, and the result is chaos.” He pauses to listen again. “The apostle John had eleven visions in connection with the final judgement. And the Gospel of John tells of eleven promises God makes to mankind, beginning with everlasting life if you believe in Christ and ending with a call to obey Jesus. My takeaway: Eleven is a sign to get right with the Lord before Judgement Day.” Listening again. “For the sake of completeness, I’ll note that our savior was 33 when he was crucified.” He presses a headphone tight against his left ear. “Another plane hit the World Trade Center – South Tower this time – and now they’re saying both were airliners. Looks like an attack of some sort.”

“Let me hear.”

Bud switches to an AM channel and they listen silently for several minutes. The news gets worse as reports come in about another airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Even the distance of two time zones can’t deaden the reality that the nation is under attack. There’s confusion about a fourth plane which, at first, was headed for the White House but now lies burning on the ground in Pennsylvania. Aboard each plane, the hijackers shouted “Allāhu akbar” – 11 letters spelling “God is greatest” — as they used boxcutters to slit crewmembers’ throats. Now the media is sharing voice messages from those trapped in the burning towers. Daniel keeps swallowing to quell the emotions rising in his throat. Bud just lets his moans, groans, and tears flow unchecked. He improvises a prayer:

“Dear Lord, it’s Elevens here, your perennial sinner. I know we haven’t spoken directly about my little gamblin’ problem, but I’d like to make sure we’re square. If this is your Final Judgement, please have some mercy and take this flawed but well-meaning servant to sit by your side. If, however, this is a trial you’ve set for us, I’m ready to show my devotion by givin’ up cards. Just, please, give me a sign. Show me the way.” He turns to Daniel. “If you need help prayin’ – maybe you forgot some of the words – I can help.”

“I’m sure my fate has already been decided.”

Bud looks forward. “And Lord, let’s not forget our quiet friend here, Mr. Strange. He may be a mystery, but I’m guessin’ his intentions are just as noble as mine. That, I believe, makes him worthy of your protection. Amen.”

Albuquerque Center to all aircraft: All flights are to immediately land at the nearest facility. This is a nationwide order from the FAA. Repeat: Land immediately.

“Ask for a sign, receive one.” Bud clears his throat. “Albuquerque Center, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha. Message received. Over.” He spreads a chart across the control wheel. “No long runways in front of us, so we’ll have to turn around.”

“No.” Daniel holds a pistol in his right hand. “Keep going.”

“You out of your mind? I’ll lose my license – and my livelihood.” Bud’s eyes land briefly on the gun. “Careful with that trigger. We’ll both die if you pull it.”

“I’m not pulling anything so long as you keep flying.”

Bud sighs. “Mr. Strange, you’re makin’ a big mistake. And it’s a hell of a thing to do, dragging me into whatever scheme you got going on.” He glances back. “I’m guessin’ that’s not lab samples, is it? What are you into, drugs?”

“The less you know, the safer we both are.”

“Sounds like you’re in deep.” Bud softens his voice. “Look, man, it’s not too late. I’ll testify in your favor if you just give me the gun and let me follow orders.”

“We’re all obeying someone, Bud. Just get us to Garden City.”

“And then what? You can’t take off. All flights are grounded!”

“Let me worry about that.”

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, Albuquerque Center. Turn around now and land at Sedona. That is an order.

Daniel pushes the gun closer. “Don’t acknowledge.”

Bud exhales and puts both hands on the wheel. After several seconds, he shakes his head. “The Lord is testing me today. With signs I do not like.”

“When we land,” Daniel adjusts his tone, “I’ll pay your second installment early, and we’ll part ways. The world has no time right now for this little problem between us.”

“Problem? You hijack my plane and call it a ‘little problem’? That is a breach of trust, my friend, and comes at a time when my very identity is shaken to its core.”

“Identity?”

“Eleven has always been my number — whether it’s cards, horses, or life events. Then this morning happened. I woke up and said, ‘It’s the 11th of September, gonna be a good day.’ But clearly, it’s not. It’s a shitty day for everyone – possibly the worst in our nation’s history. That’s one sign.” He points at the gun. “Next, I’m held up by a Colt M1911. And now,” he punches his door, “111 miles from Sedona, we get intercepted.”

“What?”

“LOOK OUT YOUR GODDAMN WINDOW.”

Daniel’s jaw drops when he sees an F-16 with its flaps open and gear down, slowing into formation. Its pilot raises a hand, finger pointed down.

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is Captain “Spike” Ripley of the United States Air Force. I’m in visual contact and will shoot you down if you fail to comply with the following order: Land immediately. Repeat: Land immediately.

“There’s nowhere.” Bud is sweating. “NOWHERE TO FUCKING LAND!”

Daniel snatches the chart. “There’s a private strip on a mesa up ahead.”

“What’s the heading?”

“25 miles straight ahead.”

“Length?”

“What the mesa?”

“RUNWAY.”

“2,900 feet.”

Bud snatches it back. “Shit, that mesa looks half the size of Sedona. It’ll be like landing on an aircraft carrier – which I’ve never done before.”

Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is your final warning. Land immediately.

Bud’s voice cracks. “Don’t shoot, Captain! Gimme two seconds.” He switches on the landing lights, decelerates, and snaps his fingers at Daniel. “Airport elevation.”

“What?”

“FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL.”

“4,700.”

Bud clears his throat. “This is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, descending. God bless you, sir, and God bless the United States of America.” He glances over. “I’m assuming there’s no tower at this little outpost we’re shootin’ for.”

“Correct.”

“Well, brace yourself, because crosswinds are gonna be a problem.” He scowls when he notices the gun again. “Put that away.”

“Are you calm now?”

“Fuck you.”

Daniel complies and settles into his seat as the runway comes into view, sitting atop a block of crimson stone. The approach is fairly calm until a quarter mile out, when a gust knocks them off target. Bud’s knuckles are white as he raises the nose and straightens out against the crosswind. Back on track, he finally lowers the wheels, adjusting for the extra resistance which now appears to come from everywhere. At 500 yards, the plane shakes violently while Bud struggles to stay on target. At 200 yards, he pulls back on the wheel, keeping the nose up, while gunning the engine to stay above the rim. At 50 yards, a giant gust pushes the plane below the runway. Bud yanks back again and accelerates sharply as the rocky face grows bigger. Nearly above the rim, Daniel sees another plane above them.

“Shit, that you Elevens? I’m on top of you.”

“THE FUCK, BOXCAR. ABORT LANDING.”

“Pulling up.”

Too late. The Baron’s wheels catch the rim and collapse, causing them to skid diagonally across the runway. They knock aside a parked helicopter, then hit another plane before smacking into a hangar. As he slowly regains consciousness, Daniel hears a gurgling sound. Turning his head, he sees Bud’s eyes staring down at a long piece of metal in his throat. The gurgling slows to intermittent choking before Bud finally goes silent. Next, Daniel turns to the right and sees his arm hanging out the window, bent the wrong way. A piece of bone sticks out through his bicep.

***

“Daniel.” A familiar voice, but not the one he hoped for. His eyes open to see Søren Fillenius leaning over him, eyes piercing the narcotic haze. He snaps his fingers and waves his hand in front of Daniel’s face.

“Stop it.”

“There he is.” The hand withdraws. “That must be powerful stuff they gave you.”

Daniel looks at the tubes hooked up to his left arm. “Where’s Fiona?”

“Really? I come to your rescue, and she’s all you think about?” He shakes his head. “She’s not coming.”

“Rescue? Bullshit. You’re here for the cargo.”

“I did salvage some A positive. The rest will go to waste because the elders canceled the meeting. I suppose you’ll blame the pilot for our having to reschedule.”

“Waste? Take the O negative to Fiona.”

Søren looks indignant. “I’m not your mule – or hers.”

“You piece of shit. I nearly killed myself to deliver that.”

“Well well, the truth comes out.” Søren’s face comes closer. “I’ve got some truth of my own to share.” Two icy hands grab Daniel’s face and turn it to the right. “Look at what’s left of you and tell me you’re still useful.”

Daniel’s breathing accelerates when he sees the stump wrapped in bandages. “That’s up to Fiona…”

“She and I have already spoken.” Canines appear as Søren’s voice changes to a snarl. “I’m to estimate your value and decide whether you stay employed or remain here. Permanently.”

“I have a new source.” Daniel struggles to speak. “100 bags of O negative every two weeks. That, plus Atlanta and Cleveland, and Fiona is set.”

“Where is this new source?”

“Sedona. All we have to do is hire a new pilot.”

“All the planes are grounded.”

“For just a few days. The economy would collapse.”

“100 bags of O neg, huh?” Søren regards him carefully. “Add 100 of A positive to each flight and I’ll let you live.”

Daniel’s vision fades as the drugs take hold again. A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads throughout his body, and the pain that was rallying begins to recede. At this point, he could care less if Søren brought him home or drained him dry. He wonders if heaven feels this good, and kind of wishes he could slip away forever. Would Elevens be there? His prayer for protection should carry weight, right? With St. Peter or whoever guards the gates? If, however, he must stay here it better be with a steady supply of this shit. The label on the drip bag was hazy but it might’ve said Dilaudid. Maybe Jesús could add a few bags of this, too. Get rid of the bad dreams. Allow him to forget everything.

The shadows gather again. Søren’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an old phonograph. Soon, all Daniel can hear is his own shallow breathing. Sure ain’t hell, that’s for certain…

###

The Dauntless Rook (§.12)

Continued from §.11.

Serlo poured himself a tumbler of scotch as his father ambled into the drawing room of Wealdmar Estate, mahogany cane clacking violently off the decorative and newly-swept marble floor.

“How is our dear Cerelia?” Grædig Wealdmaer inquired with scant concealed venom, taking a seat upon the leather armchair opposite his son, who slouched dejectedly over the worn coffee table, eyes to the grain. Serlo could not be certain, but was confident his father’s severe gray eyes were upon him, and did not wish to meet the old man’s gaze.

“She’s fine father.”

“Fine? How could she be fine when she’s still set to be wedded to an Adair?”

Serlo sighed.

“She loves him, father.”

“Love? How swiftly that word is deployed as universal justification.”

“I tried to talk her out of it. Thou knowth the affair sits ill with me, yet, on the matter, her mind is as flint.”

“Thou should more forcefully ply thyself.”

“Have I not done all that may become my name? What else could I have done? Already she has eschewed her inheritance.”

“Thou could, if more rightly blooded, act the man thou pretends, rebuke her ill-fitting suitor, with tongue and arm alike.”

“This avys, father? Again? I can not.”

Serlo rose swiftly, vexed and shaking his head.

“I can not.” He repeated more emphatically, pacing back and forth with nervous excitation.

“Sit thee down, boy. Warm blooded and womanly, thou art.”

“He has not grieved me.”

“That he is Adair is grievance enough.”

“For thee!”

“And so, for thee.”

“Nay. Nay! What hath I not given thee but blood? Still, thou hath the temerity to chastise me?”

“Temerity thou couldst use. Curse thy pacing. Sit, damn ye!”

Yetta Wealdmear frowned as she moved into the drawing room, elegantly gowned, pausing in the entrance to better observe the debacle.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Hear thy mother not? Go on, boy. Flap thy gums since thine bawdryk evades thy callow exercise.”

Serlo opened his mouth to rebuke the old man, thought better of it and spoke to his mother instead without meeting her gaze. He did not wish to see her disapproval anymore than his father’s.

“Father wants me to present a writ of grievance to Adair.”

“He’s still on about it? Why so excited my dear boy? Surely thou art not afraid?”

“Have ye not see the papers?”

“No, I eschew those wretched things.”

“He was attacked.”

“Oeric?”

“Aye.”

“Who by?”

“No one knows. Whoever it was, they wanted him dead.”

“Thou should be thanking them, not mincing thy words and wringing thy limp and lotioned hands.”

“Father!”

Grædig Wealdmaer slammed his ciser upon the table and rose, ambling stiffly towards his son, cane at his side, face twisting with disdain.

“Had I the alauntz of my youth, I should have long-since thrashed the welp across the grand thoroughfare, were he man enough to face me. But thee, nobly born, who are so able in thy faculties, shake as a gale-blown leaf. Thou art a coward.”

“Grædig!” Yetta cried in dismay.

“Why must thee treat me so wretchedly?”

The old man looked his son up and down and once more rapt his cane.

“Allye thou art, that worsens the humiliation of this betrayal of bachilrie.”

He sighed and turned away.

“Perhaps, for this, I bear some blame.”

“By noon assent, Father. I am sorry to dissapoint thee so. I shall not do so again; this, I promise thee.”

Thereafter, Serlo, red-faced and despondent, spun on his heel and left the room.

 

*

 

Continued in §. 13 (forthcoming)

The Dauntless Rook (§.10)

Continued from §.09

Volfsige hung back, adjusting his newly acquired beige traveling coat and melting into the crowd as Oeric Adair moved deeper into the eastern bazaar, ringed by a small retinue of guards. He cursed. The minor legion would make any attempt upon the noble’s life impossible.

“Despite his skill, he brings such a guard? Aye, that is wise. I should do the same were I in his position. But what is he doing here? Likely looking for something for the misses. But why has he dispensed with his hat and coat? Perhaps he didn’t like the style…”

Volfsige adjusted his blonde wig and moved in closer, pretending to peruse the wares of a jewelry stall directly adjacent the one before which Adair and his men stood conversing.

“Looking for anything in particular, milord?” The lust-eyed merchant before Adair inquired meekly.

“Through no fault of my own, I’ve placed my wife in a most trying situation. Consequently, I thought I might brighten her mood with a gift and had in mind a bouquette, and yet, decided swiftly against it. Thoughtless really, she doesn’t even like flowers.”

“Why is that, milord?”

“She hates to see beautiful things die.”

Volfsige shifted out of earshot, desperately fighting a rising sense of guilt. It seemed to the stalker’s mind a shame to snuff out a life so filled with radiant promise and spritely virtue, yet, there was, for him, little he could do to extricate himself from the venture.

“A contract must be fulfilled,” he muttered with grim resolve.

*

The Dauntless Rook (§.09)

Continued from §.08.


Aymon Degarre found Learc Demelody smoking her ever-present whale bone pipe in the ministry library, pouring through a stack of papers. Before he could get close enough to inspect the content of the pulpy pile, Learc blew a cloud of smoke towards him without removing her eyes from the items before her, as if warding against some noxious insect.

“Go away.”

“Madam.”

“Shoo.”

“I can not.”

“Can not or will not?”

Still she did not meet his eye, her attention fixed to the papers before her.

“The lieutenant has assigned me to the Adair case, madam.”

Finally, Learc looked at the man. He found her eyes disquieting, for they were large and glassy, like the eyes of a fish.

“Wert thou primed of the affair?” Learc inquired.

“Yes. Thoroughly. No one knows much of the matter, so there was little to impart.”

“Very well. I’m headed down to the theatre.”

“Whatever for?”

“To catch the thief.”

Degarre furrowed his brow in confusion and followed the older inspector out of the building into the whirring streets of the smouldering city and in short order found himself within the garish lobby of Mazrak’s Grand Theatre, wherefrom a gathering of patrons milled, listlessly conversing betwixt swills of ambered wine.

“I’ve long held theatres to be strange aberrations,” Learc declared abruptly.

“Why’s that?”

“In constantly seeking the drama of artifice they are apt to miss that which is transpiring around them everyday.”

“I fancy that is because they’re dissatisfied with mundane drama. The reason I joined the ministry was because of a play of General Godwin Galorion I saw as a child.”

The accipiter looked at the young man with a expression he could not place and then turned towards the ticket counter, wholly disinterested in the crowd and addressed the old clerk without emotion.

“Has Ms. Harrington’s hat been recovered?”

The clerk shook his head.

“I was verged to ask thee the same.”

“Thy superiors shalt, I presume, in no wise object to our presence?”

“Nay. In truth, quite the contrary,” he removed two tickets from beneath the counter and handed them to Learc, “Courtesy of Madam Ibbot.”

She took the tickets with a nod of appreciation, “Give her my thanks.”

With that Learc and Degarre traversed the flight of stairs to the second floor and moved down the main corridor to the upper stands of the auditorium. Learc paused as Degarre settled down into the small box-seats.

“What art thou doing?”

“Watching the show.”

She shook her head and counted the seats.

“They’re only eight seats available.”

Degarre looked at the ticket he had been handed, “Ah, of course, yes, these seats are reserved.”

“Which means that to steal Harrington’s hat the thief was either garbed as a valet or reserved a seat himself.”

“Could it be that the rogue is a woman?”

“I find it unlikely. Though I know not whether the one who stole Harrington’s hat and Adair’s coat was the same that posed as the latter, it strikes me as likely. If not, why pass off the merchandise?”

“That’s sound. But why a man?”

Learc moved to the white polished balcony and peered down at the stage as the curtain rose to reveal the sundry actors thereupon.

“A female valet would look glaringly out of place, as the theatre does not hire them.”

Degarre pondered the issue a moment, nodding to himself.

“So as to have a staff strong of arm should any actor or patron require assistance with their luggage.”

“Aye. Most of the valets double as gophers for the production company. Our thief is not a woman.”


Continued in §.10.

The Dauntless Rook (§.08)

Continued from §.07.


Oeric Adair read and reread the Ersentwyer Evening Standard as he waited in the drawing room of his newly purchased manse for Cerelia to greet him. His nerves such that the paper jittered in his hands, which, in erratic interludes, would irregularly flutter down to the tabletop to tap in rapid succession as his shoes clacked upon the hard surface of the polished marble floor as if modulating the pedals of a great and invisible organ.

After several minutes of timorous tapping, Aldwyn shut the novel he was reading and threw his friend a look of vexation.

“Thou shalt scuff the floor with thy clacking.”

Adair sighed and threw the paper on the table and withdrew a cigarette from a small silver case in his inner jacket pocket, lighting it with the pumpkin-scented candle Cerelia had given him along with the stolen corvine coat.

“Apologies. I know not what to do.”

“What is to be done?”

“They herald me now as a hero… Cerelia, if she’s read the paper, doubtless thinks likewise.”

“Demelody knows thou wert absent the shipyard.”

“Aye, yet the ministry has no outlet of its own as The Standard. Besides, they’ll keep all information pertinent to the investigation within their walls until the matter is concluded; giving more primacy to the apprehension of the assassin than to the enlightenment of the public on all details pertinent to his capture.”

Aldwyn raised a brow, grave concern plain-writ upon his face. Moments later, Cerelia Wealdmaer burst into the drawing room, swaddled in a peacock-feathered overcoat, followed by a tall, powerfully-built man, expensively attired in a gold-trimmed waistcoat, dark-blue suit and checkered breeches.

Adair nearly gave an audible groan. After the travails of the day, the last thing he wanted to see was the perpetually scathing visage of Serlo Wealdmaer.

Cerelia smiled and dashed towards Adair, throwing her arms about him in loving embrace, as Serlo slowly made his way to the middle of the drawing room, where Aldwyn sat, sipping tea, novel upon his lap.

“My hero returns!”

“Hero?” Adair replied with amusement, taking the woman about the waist and setting her down upon his lap, “Hardly, hardly.”

“Oh, Aldwyn, how rude I am! Wert thou present when the blackguard beset our man?”

Aldwyn looked up from his book uncertainly. Adair thought that if his eyebrows moved any higher, they’d fly right off his face.

“No, I was at Mazrak’s. Destrali was playing.”

“Ah. When I read the paper,” Cerelia continued breathlessly, “I could scarcely believe it.”

“Neither could I,” Serlo declared, turning full toward the master of the house, “Wherefore the departure?”

Adair perked up, “Hm?”

“The theatre. Why didst thou depart?”

“Oh, that. The concert simply wasn’t what I had expected. So I sought some air, and in seeking, made way to the cargo yard where the villain attacked.”

Serlo looked to Aldwyn who nodded blankly.

Adair rose, swaggering arm in arm with Cerelia, and addressed Serlo confidently.

“Since thou shalt shortly be my brother, thy presence I should be overjoyed to retain.”

“Nay. I’ve matters to attend to. Shalt thy accompany me, Cerelia?”

“After all that has transpired, certainly, I must stay a while. Oh, Serlo, stay.”

With a grimace he turned to the door, “Take care, sister. Goodday, gentlemen.”

As soon as the door had shut behind the man, Adair turned to Cerelia with exasperation.

“Why didst thou tell me not of thy brother’s accompaniment?”

Cerelia was much taken aback, “After what had transpired, wherefore thy vexation, dearest? A killer nearly pinned thee to a cargo crate; I shall not travel alone whilst freely yet he lurks.”

Adair’s face fell slightly, for, during the interim from his departure to the theatre and return to his villa, he had in no wise considered Cerelia’s safety.

She’s right, he thought in self-reprimand, the cutthroat was after me, but that means not that those who sent him are after me only. Surely, the root of the matter lays with my family name. How thoughtless I have been, and how unworthy I am of poor Cerelia, who handles the matter with all the reserve of a baroness! And how more nobly than I does her scowling brother attend his blood…

Aldwyn rose from his armchair to address Cerelia.

“Perchance our goodly hero shall bring the rogue to justice.”

Adair puffed out his chest.

“Perchance I shall.”


Continued in §.09.

The Dauntless Rook (§.07)

Continued from §.06.


Luned Fey leaned back in the old wicker chair she’d stolen four weeks ago, lowering the paper to behold a lithe, pale man, garbed in a corvine coat, who sat across the charred table. He settled down into the chair and poured some of the coffee Fey had freshly brewed looking impossibly pleased with himself and wholly oblivious to her increasingly dour expression.

“I see ya’ve finally returned with ya ridiculous spoils.”

“Ridiculous? Aesthetically refining, I should say.”

“Ya look like a giant bird.”

“Thouart my size, would that make of thee a giant shrew?”

“Its not funny, Dren. Ya’wert reckless.”

“My last name is only invoked when thourt in some wise vexed.”

“Vexed? Vexed! Have ya read the Evening Standard?”

“Indeed.”

“Ya made the front page.”

“No, no, no,” the man, sipped his coffee and wagged a finger before the woman, smiled and pushed up the brim of the azure-plumed hat to reveal gold-green eyes that glittered through the gloam, “Oeric Adair did.”

“The dockman saw thee. He’s been jawing to the press.”

Drake removed his hat, ruffled his matted, obsidian hair, listlessly waving his hand, as if brushing away a slothful fly.

“Let him jaw. Does it mention Emory’s condition?”

“Who?”

“The dock worker that took a dagger to the thigh.”

“No. Only mentions he were injured in the attempt on ya life. Drake, are ya even listening?”

Drake Dren tapped his chin, beetle-black brows furrowing momentarily.

“Hm, I shall just have to go and see for myself then…”

Luned folded the paper and tossed it upon the battered table, scowling.

“My dear woman, thourt either miming a prune or signalling thy disapproval.”

“Ave ya gone daft? Ya already saved the man’s life – theys naught left ta do in returning but show thy tail to the mousetrap.”

The man paused and dramatically scanned his backside as Luned rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Its serious, damn ye. Yawert nearly kilt!”

He smiled slightly and leaned theatrically towards her, voice low and smooth and coaxing.

“Thou wert worried about me, wernt thee?”

“I wert worried about having my tenement overrun with accipiters! Which now, thanks ta thee, will be trawling the area for information, once it comes out that the man what dodged the cutthroat wasn’t Adair!”

“Ah, that is where thourt mistaken. To understand, thou must, of Adair, grow thy knowing. The ministry will hound after the assassin, but they shant come looking for me.”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because, my dear Luned, Adair won’t want them to.”

*


Continued in §.08.