Tuesday, April 9, 2013

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS: Chapter 4


Chapter 4 (For previous chapters, please see links on the right column)

The next morning I rose early, ate well, and read the paper, glad not to answer to anything. Bessie, a long-time friend of the family who had served as housekeeper since her husband died and our families bonded in grief, was out for the morning. My father and I had enjoyed comfortable silences for far too many years due to the Selective Mutism I had now nearly entirely overcome. But old habits and all... The silence was actually a bit of a comfort, a reminder of when times were simpler. A time before Jonathon.

However, I'd not go back to permanent silence ever again, nor would I ever regret the lord that overturned everything, curses in his wake. Times may have been simpler, but I baffled my father then just as much as I did now. Someday I'd make him proud, just never in the ways he'd imagined. I kissed my father's cheek as I saw him out the door to the Metropolitan, and the bright green eyes I inherited from him glittered. He might never have known what to do with me, and that was likely the same with Mother, but he loved us unconditionally, of that I was certain. Once he was off, I was then free to be consumed with one name, one mission.

Brinkman.

No, this English spy wouldn't be expecting me. But it was good to meet things unexpectedly. Often a person's true colors shone through in moments of surprise, and Jonathon might see a chink in Brinkman's armor if things didn't go to his plan.

I was glad to walk the many blocks to Mrs. Northe's home, hoping the activity could focus my nerves. Jonathon had been inspecting apartments in Greenwich Village for possible purchase, fancying a home in both Greenwich territories on either side of the “pond,” but nothing had been settled. So he remained with our most generous benefactor. I forced aside any jealousy that Lavinia and Jonathon would be under the same roof with one another. Lavinia was utterly preoccupied and over the moon about Jonathon’s best friend, Mister Veil. Still, the uncertainty of my relationship with my dear lord brought a heretofore unknown paranoia to my already industrious imagination.

The maid let me in, gesturing me to the parlor where I was relieved to see Jonathon awaiting me. He looked, as usual, dapper and stunning. Having procured finances from his trip to England, he must have gone to the very best in men's shops here in New York for fresh suits, nothing too flashy, everything dark and elegant. This was a charcoal suit with a black waistcoat and deep blue cravat, his blue accents always setting off those heart-stopping eyes. Maggie would've known the brand and store of his attire, surely. She had a nose for such things. I'd have to learn, if I wanted to truly understand Jonathon's world. So many daunting tasks, from the more mundane function of the ways of the elite to the gravest of hard work ahead: dismantling a deadly secret society. Surely the infamous and aristocratic "Majesty" that had been giving Jonathon orders as if he were still his demon-possessed self would know where Jonathon's suit came from too.

Upon my entrance, Jonathon bowed his head and said not a word as he rose, a walking stick in one hand, top hat in the other, and gestured toward the door. I saw no sign of Mrs. Northe or Miss Kent. Perhaps they were out bonding in the same ways she and I had done months prior. I tried not to fear for my favored place at the center of things, but jealousy has its ways.

“We’ll only volunteer vague answers to Brinkman’s questions," Jonathon instructed. "Wait for him to volunteer information first.” I nodded.

We took the elaborate route Brinkman had instructed in his note and kept silent the whole way. I'd seen Jonathon play his demon doppelganger eerily well and so was fully prepared for him to take the lead with his countryman. But I palmed the hilt of the small knife I stowed between the stays of my bodice and the corset beneath, accessible via a partly opened seam. This action steeled me. If the spy proved a turncoat, I'd draw and defend Jonathon in a heartbeat...

We were making the last turn of the particular route, the park ahead of us, when a flurry of action at the door to the carriage had us exclaim in alarm. My knife was out in the instant, but so was Brinkman inside in the same, with a cry of, "If you've weapons put them down, I'm on your side!"

The door yawned open as the man's hands were planted upon the roof of the cab and his feet were up and between Jonathon's and mine before a lanky body lithely followed. In another smooth motion, he threw his weight to the side, plopping next to Jonathon. He then bent to draw the flapping door shut once more and turned to both of us with a wide and winning smile, plucking a black wide-brimmed felt hat from  his head.

He was dressed in a fine black suit and grey striped waistcoat and white cravat, all well-made and tailored but not ostentatious. His features were nearly weasel-like in their somewhat pinched quality, and yet somehow their arrangement was disturbingly attractive. His dark brown hair was slicked back, a few ends turning out in defiance, his eyes were a sky blue, a shade darker than Jonathon's strikingly pale ones, but that just didn't seem fair, as I found Denbury's so hard to look away from.

"Gabriel Brinkman at your service, Lord Denbury," he said in a gently refined accent that I guessed came from a London elite. Though I knew little about England and its regionalisms, I could tell upper class from common well enough. "And who might this feisty young lady be?" he asked, offering a dazzling smile that dimpled lean cheeks. "I saw a telling flash of silver." He bowed his head to me. "An impressively quick draw, miss." He then turned to Jonathon. "Hiring a female body guard? Very clever and very good cover, sir."

Jonathon offered a slight smile, but I could tell he wanted to laugh. I said nothing and tried to look menacing. I doubted it worked, but both gentlemen seemed to enjoy it. Jonathon introduced me only as "a colleague" and gave no name. If Brinkman was a good spy, he'd figure it out. Brinkman narrowed his bright eyes at me. And did.

"You must be Miss Stewart. I had a look through the files pertaining to your portrait, Lord Denbury, and the goings on surrounding it. Sergeant James Patt seemed all too glad to have your nonsense wrapped up and to have pinned the blame on someone, batty Mister Crenfall, eh?"

"Well, he was an accomplice," Jonathon replied. "He was the broker who facilitated the transfer of my portrait and...incapacitated body onto these shores. Justice was served in his arrest, certainly."

"Indeed." Brinkman nodded. "As for the rest of the justice... You've taken that upon yourselves, have you?" While his tone held no judgment, neither of us were sure how we should reply. Brinkman continued. "Patt gave me leave to peruse your diary, Miss Stewart. And am I to presume that it is true?"

I blushed. He'd have read all the kissing bits in that diary. That was so unfair.

"It is," I said through clenched teeth.

"I stake my life on it," Jonathon replied. "The life that is wholly in her debt, you'll know from having read her accounts."

Brinkman smiled at me again. That didn't help the blush. "You're a very good writer, Miss Stewart." Even worse. There went the heat of my cheeks a few degrees further. He released me from his stare and turned again to Jonathon. "My contact, Mister Knowles, tells me you met a certain 'Majesty,' and there has been correspondence." Jonathon nodded. "May I see it, please? Do you have it with you?"

Jonathon reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a letter with the familiar, insidious red and gold seal of The Master's Society, the one he’d withheld from me pertaining to the offices and looking in on Stevens. "They have three avenues of experimentation," Jonathon explained. "Splitting the soul from the body, I was the unfortunate test on that. Reanimation had us dealing with poor Doctor Preston. And now, pharmacology, with the chemical given to Veil's Associates." He lifted up the note and proffered it to Brinkman for perusal. "This may have come before what you assume was the undoing of my cover in Doctor Preston's death. How should I proceed with this Doctor Stevens? I went to the offices herein, but there is nothing there.”

“Are you entirely sure about that?” Brinkman asked.

“Indeed. I’ve a way of…seeing things," Jonathon replied carefully, keeping the particulars of his new gifts out of the discussion. "No living soul was present there.”

Seeing things?”

“Keen eyes, Mister Brinkman,” I offered quietly. “I do hope you have them too.”

“Things are never exactly as they seem at first glance with the Society,” Brinkman replied cryptically.

“And you? Are you as you seem at first glance?" I queried. "What reason do we have to trust you?”

Jonathon flashed me a warning glance not to be too harsh and was quick to add: “I’ve my reasons for why I will trust you, Mister Brinkman. But I also have ways of knowing if you’ve betrayed me to my enemy, so I’d truly not suggest you do so. Are you saying I should try these addresses again?”

“I think you might find evidence there. Persons, no. The Master’s Society manages to operate with scant personnel that don't keep regular patterns, the bane of any spy.”

Brinkman held up the Master's Society letter to the light. He fished in his own breast pocket and produced a small vial with a sponge on the stopper. He uncorked the vial, brushed the damp sponge over the paper and something bloomed forth in response.

My mouth hung open a bit at this magic, and Brinkman smiled again as he explained: "Sympathetic stain. Terribly useful in espionage. Your American Revolutionary rings, that Culper set, were quite fond of it. Your troops gained many advantages passed through unsuspecting pages." He glanced down at what had been revealed, then passed it to Jonathon. It was a date. The following Tuesday. "It is likely Master's Society protocol, then, to encode something important within the letter. Something is obviously scheduled."

"Another experiment?" Jonathon posed. "Should we expect for another 'outbreak' like what happened with Nathaniel's Association?" He turned to his countryman. “We believe we need to find their center of operations to terminate the beast at its source. I hope you’ll help us in that quest, Mister Brinkman.”

“It changes, they’ve several offices. I’ve only pinpointed two, there may be four. They seem to like to commandeer grand spaces.”

At this, Jonathon's jaw clenched, and his crystalline eyes darkened. "I don't suppose you've any news of my Greenwich estate."

"The situation will have to be...addressed, Lord Denbury. I don't believe the tenants who overtook your manor are fully in control there; Knowles informed me that he thinks something is a bit off."

"Could that be a center of operations?" I asked.

"In part, perhaps, though their focus seems to zero in on a few cities, London, New York, Chicago. That your estate got swept into this is rather an outlier, my lord," Brinkman replied. Jonathon's leather-gloved hand clenched, and I resisted the urge to put my lace-gloved hand over his. There was no avoiding Jonathon's return to England. This time I wouldn't let him go without me.

“I’d like to know those addresses, and also, do elaborate on how you know someone is ‘coming for me’ as your note intimated,” Jonathon said carefully.

“The former? Intercepted mail. The latter? Let’s say instinct. And I was trying to get your attention.”

“Idle threats may get attention but not trust,” Jonathon countered.

“If I knew exactly who or what or when something was coming for you, my lord, I’d have left you an itinerary. But I do believe they’d rather kill you than wait to see if you bested them, especially without word from Doctor Preston directly. So be on the lookout for anything and everything. Where are you staying? I’m sure I could arrange for protection.”

“I am well protected,” Jonathon assured. I wondered if Mrs. Northe had increased guards around her home. If so, they weren’t visible. The woman was artfully subtle. Brinkman bowed his head. “How can I find you, Mister Brinkman, if I have information to give you or questions to ask?”

“Here is what I know of possible property in Master's Society hands," the spy replied. "And don’t worry where to find me, I’ll find you.” And with that, he was again out of the still-moving carriage, the door slamming behind him.

“Well,” Jonathon and I said at the same time.

“He didn’t have any aura of the demon about him, but then again, he didn’t have any light at all. Generally speaking, when people will be of particular help, they’ve a soft white light about them. You, of course, were colored in the exact inverse hues the demon sported; thusly, I knew you could stand in direct opposition to its magic. But this fellow, curiously nothing, and for him to be so involved, I’m not sure what it means.”

“Could he be a possessed body?” I asked.

“Generally, the possessed have a flicker of fire about them, that odd sulfuric haze. I saw none of that. What do you think, were the eyes off? Did they have that dog-like reflective quality?” Jonathon replied. I shook my head. He shrugged. “Perhaps it means he’s neutral.”

“You mean he won’t help but won’t harm?”

“That’s all I can think of it.”

“Well, that’s disappointing.” I folded my arms, elbow brushing the knife hilt I’d returned to the unconventional sheath of my corset.

“And troubling,” Jonathon added, “if his allegiances are easily swayed.” He unfolded the paper.

“You’re not going alone,” I cautioned. “That you went, with that note, and tried to find—”

“That I did anything without you truly disturbs you, I realize. But you cannot mother me through everything, Natalie,” he said, an edge to his tone.

“Mother you? No, I…” I felt sounds die in my throat. Come on, Natalie, words. Words to fight what isn’t fair.

He sighed. “I’m not ungrateful for anything, Natalie, but I also need to be able to do things for myself and on my own. Not only because I worry for your safety, but also because this is, at heart, my own personal vendetta and the only thing that sets my mind at ease is constantly thinking of the next step to best them. I will try to involve you if it seems plausible. Allow my independence, as you would wish I allow you yours, Miss Natalie,” he said, driving home the point of my femininity, of the world that sought to confine me and offer me no independence whatsoever. He didn’t say it with cruelty, but with a worldliness I could not deny. I had to tread carefully with him. I could lose him at any moment, and while I was not one to beg or plead for anything, I truly wanted him in my life.

His words were not to be argued. But I did take the paper from his hand to examine the addresses before he could yank it back away from me. One was on the Upper East Side, Park and 66, the other downtown, in an area I was fairly sure was industrial, off 14th Street.

“Tomorrow?” Jonathon queried. “Shall we scout?”

“No, tomorrow I’m…busy.”

“Busy?”

I considered a moment whether or not I’d tell him, but there was no sense in secrets. It was all for his benefit; to set this madness to rest once and for all. “Mrs. Northe and I have a date with a madman. Crenfall. Mrs. Northe thinks she might glean some sort of clue from him about what to target in the city.”

Jonathon made a face and was silent. He helped me down from the carriage as it let me out near the red-brick Romanesque fa├žade of the Metropolitan, a grand building quickly outgrowing itself, where I would go check in on Father so that he could feel as though he were checking in on me. It was now more important than ever that I keep my freedom by making Father think I were subject to his constraints as any good unmarried girl should be. Jonathon bowed his head to me before turning away. The gesture seemed too formal. If the forced intimacy of having met soul to soul receded into the cool detachment that supposedly came with “mature” sentiment, I couldn’t bear it. I was passionate, and I wanted to live, and love, passionately. Mutually.

“Do you want to come tomorrow?” I blurted, not wanting him to go, wishing we could replace our last day in the park with a better one, one where everything was said exactly so and unfolded as any girl might dream.

“I doubt a madhouse will do me good, Natalie. I will walk by the addresses Brinkman gave—” He put up his hand as I opened my mouth. “I’ll not make any attempts at entry or contact. Merely surveillance. Allow me this while you see what can be gleaned from that wretch who helped imprison me,” he muttered, grinding out words through clenched teeth. “We’ll be more productive if our team splits up.”

I prayed he didn’t mean that in terms of our relationship as well, and the fear of this had me blurting again. “I love you.”

His beautiful face, as world-weary as it had been in the painting when he feared all was lost, brightened a bit. He took my hand and kissed it softly. My entire body reacted in a sweeping thrill. And then he turned away, gave Mrs. Northe’s cross streets to the driver, and climbed in, disappearing behind the lace curtain of the carriage window. Perhaps his wounded pride still sought to punish me a bit, and so he did not return my words of love, but I would relive that kiss upon my hand until he could.

I watched the carriage turn town a side street, waiting for him to look out the window at me. He didn’t. I waved at the carriage anyway, biting my lip. I doubted a madhouse would do me good either, but I'd rather I suffer it than Jonathon. He was truly alone in the world save for me. The young man who had yet to grieve his murdered parents and all that had been taken from him was doing the very best he could in a land that was not his own, and I had to be the best I could be, for his sake. For our sake. Tomorrow might bring us one step closer to answers and closure.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day till the last syllable of recorded time… My Shakespearean life would yet unfold day by day, in an inexorable march toward the undiscovered country.

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(End of Chapter 4 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Donations directly support the editorial staff. Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

1 comment:

houndstooth said...

Well, I certainly have a funny feeling about that madhouse visit!

Bunny