The Theft of the Papers, Part 6

If it took great care and planning to prepare to break into Hookman House, it was as nothing compared to the monumental effort of robbing the offices of the Bazaar itself.

Endless neddy men, flocks of bats, the spires completely covered with Correspondence symbols; these were the obstacles she knew. It was what she didn’t know that wanted to make her frantic; Merri courted every rumor, every whisper, every mad raving in the Flit, examined every known route into and out of the building likeliest to have the papers, called in every favor she had and promised a few she didn’t to gather the resources and information she needed. Many of her contacts faded into the background when they learned her plans, not wanting to be associated in any way with what they plainly considered to be an exotic form of suicide. Most of the rest didn’t care — they were beyond the reach of the neddies and the constables. They told her what she wanted to know.

The minutes turned into hours and the hours eventually spanned a day. She didn’t sleep, drank little, ate even less. Her shoulders and thighs burned with exertion, crossing and recrossing what used to be the eastern half of the city after questions, and after answers. Poor Harry kept up as long as he could, but his youthful exuberance and enthusiasm simply couldn’t keep pace with the determination of his guardian, a woman determined to protect those she loved from coming to harm. She left him curled up in a makeshift hammock near the Topsy King’s court and gave one of the raggedies the string of dead rats she’d found and a fat envelope of reading material (the forbidden kind of course) to watch after her young ward while he slept.

It was eventually Carlo who tracked her down, discovering her amid the stays and supports of one of the great bridges that spanned the Stolen River. Merri was deep in conversation with another darkly-clad woman when she saw him approach, but paid the woman her glim and sent her on her way before her henchman arrived.

Madonna. You’re going to find a place to sleep. Now.”

“Oh I am, am I?” Tired, aching, everything in her bristled at his tone. “Who’s going to make me? You?”

“If you want.” He shifted his weight easily on the vast cables, as if waiting for her to make her move. Carlo had absolutely no illusions about her — it was usually something she found refreshing, but just then it only added to her aggravation. Merri also recalled that the reasons she hired him were his utter loyalty to his employer’s red-gold, and his ruthlessness in carrying out his orders.

Well, let’s give him one, see if it distracts him. I can’t afford to stand down now, this is coming together too quickly. “I want you to head back to the Docks,” she told him flatly, obviously disregarding threats both open and implied. “I’m going to need a distraction at the front offices of the bazaar here in a few hours, something to draw off the neddies. You’re going to have to hire some more toughs — maybe some of the dockworkers striking this week would like to collect a day’s wages for an hour’s work…”

His weight shifted again. “I’ll have it seen to. But you’re going to sleep if I have to knock you out myself, madonna.

“Threats, Carlo?” She readied herself to leap to the deck of the bridge if need be — she was a Black Ribbon duelist, he was not –but she would not kill him without cause. “Aren’t you still taking my rosty-gold?”

Sí. I want to go on taking it too, for a long time. Can’t do that if you’re dead.”

Her eyebrows flickered. “I’m not going to die.”

Carlo stared at her levelly. “I know you’re not. You’re going to sleep a few hours, then you’re going to eat, because without those things you’ll be too spent to do the thing right. I can collect information. I can give orders for you. You already have your plan, you’re just waiting on details now. Even a ‘stupido like me can manage that.”

“You’re not stupid,” she hissed. “You know I could kill you. I know you do.”

“Maybe. I think you’re too spun out right now to pose much of a threat to anyone. Let’s test it. Make your move.”

It held there for a long moment, long enough for her to feel the defiance start to bleed out of her, long enough for her to notice the fuzziness at the edges of her thoughts. His fingers twitched — and that extra fractional second it took her to react to it — an interval that could well have meant the distance between success and failure — was what finally caused her shoulders to sag in defeat.

“Good choice,” he drawled. “Come on. I know a place. You’ll be safe. You still have friends here, madonna,” he told her, gesturing for her to lead the way back across the bridge. “People here take care of each other, they remember a good turn done for them, not like some of those society people.”

Merri bristled again, looked at him sharply, but didn’t have it in her to rebuke him. His opinions about her usual class of friends and acquaintances had never been high — a reverse kind of snobbism, she’d supposed. But it was an argument they could — and certainly would — have later. If she survived the Bazaar.

“Just shut up and tell me where we’re going, so I can tell you what I’m waiting for….”


The Theft of the Papers, Part 5

We did it! But, wait... what?

In the end, the most difficult part had been finding her works in the hundreds of thousands of texts secreted away in that place.

“Hssst. Merri.” Harry was crouched just ahead of her, moving like a ghost-spider atop the ranks of shelves. She could just see him jerk his head toward a table that was partially shadowed at the end of the hall. Piled upon it were courier’s bags and boxes, all of them stuffed full of newly arrived, freshly confiscated material from the scholars, revolutionaries and malcontents of Fallen London. With a nod, she sidled past him, using a hand signal to tell him to keep watch for approaching guards. Pausing only for a moment to listen to the clotted silence in the room around them, she climbed down the shelves like a ladder, leaping silently to the floor and slipping silently to the table.

“No… no… no…” Bag after box after envelope, she rifled through the pile searching as quickly as she could. Harry gave the alert for the next patrol in only barely enough time for her to clamber back up to a safe perch. The vicious dogs paused, sniffed menacingly, but moved on when the human guard, impatient and bored, yanked on their leashes with casual cruelty.

Merri found the folio of the Correspondence research about halfway through the pile, rivers of relief running through her as she stuffed it into her own courier’s bag. Though interrupted twice more, she continued with dogged determination to find her work on the Parabola equation at least, but it simply was not there. A cold knot in the pit of her stomach, she gave the signal to Harry and they slithered their way back across the tops of the stacks, getting out of the building without even raising a hint of an alarm.

Any elation she felt was short-lived, once she paused back on that familiar nearby rooftop to check the contents of the folio more closely. Her encrypted notes on what had happened with Henrik had been removed. There was a note attached to the last page detailing the destination of that specific section.

“Dear God,” she breathed, leaning back against a chimney stack. “They’ve sent it to the Masters of the Bazaar.”

The Theft of the Mirror

As I reported earlier, the red-framed mirror has vanished. It was in fact stolen from my saddlebag by one of the natives while I was assisting Dr. James in the collection and identification of various species of butterfly (Colonel Hazard, your identification of the swallowtail was quite correct, Dr. J confirmed it). No one realized what had happened until I returned for luncheon to find my bags rifled. It was then that Mr. M discovered the missing man and by that time he had several hours’ head start.

Not that anyone except me seemed predisposed to recover either man or mirror. It was only when I made it clear I would pursue him alone that Mr. M relented — and not very graciously, I might add — recruiting the best tracker among the natives to assist him in the chore.

It took us the remainder of the day to find him, dead in at the bottom of a narrow gorge, the mirror lying shattered beneath his body. He’d apparently been clutching it to his chest as he ran, failing to notice when his feet took him over the edge of the cliff.

I am camped with Mr. M (“call me Madison”) some small distance away. Of necessity we left the other native to care for his friend’s remains in whatever traditions they observe. He insisted on gathering up the shards of the mirror for their tribal medicine man to remove whatever curse was/is upon it.

I wish them luck. I find it exceedingly likely that the mirror was a carefully placed reminder for me to find and I do not think the power of the Masters can be so easily circumscribed.

Madison watches me from across our small fire, openly now. I sense he has questions. I sense answers are not all he wants. Even were I disposed to dally with a married man it would not be tonight. Tonight, I hear that chill, high-pitched whisper in every breeze, see those large, mis-shapen forms in every moonless shadow.

Was that poor man acting alone, or was he forced, possessed, somehow
required to take possession of that mirror and run? It’s a question that haunts me, a question to which I doubt Madison has any answer.

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The Red-Framed Mirror

How intriguing.

After explaining the significance of finding such a mirror in this place I was left to my own devices in studying it. The Madisons are hard-headed moutaineers with little patience for “what goes on in them foreign parts” and my dear old Dr. J claims such exotic pursuits are my bailiwick, not his.

I have discovered little definitive thus far; the reflection of the flames stirred uneasiness and even our guard dogs growled with hackles raised and fangs bared. Once, as Dr. J passed it to Mr. M I saw lightning reflected in the sky to the NORTH and, just briefly, I thought I saw a large, hump-backed figure in a cloak though of course nothing of the sort was there when I turned to look.

The dogs wouldn’t settle until I covered it and put it out of sight. Now the natives stare at me uneasily from around their fires, clearly not liking what they don’t understand. It would seem more research is in order, but possibly when I can do so alone.

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