Richard's Story: The Fifth Part

The next morning, Richard sent a note to Gloria requesting a meeting at her family's home that evening. She would appreciate the formal ritual of Richard’s abasement.

He dressed carefully, unsurprised to find his hands shaking. Phillipa had promised to come to work, but she’d had an entire evening to reconsider. He might arrive at the office to find a message that she was ill, that she had tendered her resignation, that she was applying—as soon as possible—for a position at the museum.

He tied his cravat with lingering attention, ate breakfast with minute concentration. Nearing the moment when he usually departed for work, he began to rush, pulling on his coat, bundling papers into his satchel. He was breathing rapidly when he shot through the front door to stand on the front stoop. He began walking but found a hack at the first opportunity. The sooner he got to work, the sooner he would know whether Phillipa was coming, whether she could bear to see Richard again.

She was sitting at the largest table in the office, studying the Pellon blueprints. She looked up with a wary smile, eyes a dark smudge—she hadn’t slept well either. Richard slumped in the doorway.

“Hullo, Phillipa.”

“Hullo.” She hesitated, then stood. “Phillip,” she reminded him quietly.

Richard glanced back into the hall. No one was about. Government House at this time in the morning was a sleeping hive. He stepped into the office and shut the door.

He meant to apologize again but remembering Lord Simon’s derisive laughter, he said instead, “When did you become Phillip?” It was a question he’d wanted to ask for months.

“Oh.” She was surprised but not affronted. She sank back onto her stool, legs curled around the legs, and Richard lowered himself to the edge of the nearest couch.

“My family is from Thewsbury, near the border.” Richard nodded; he’d recognized the Northern lilt in her voice. “Logging. Mining. My father always intended us, my four siblings and me, to escape that life. My oldest sister got a position in Ennance working for one of Martin Keayne’s sons. That made my father’s dream possible.”

“You’ve had schooling.”

“At a Svetian university. My father wanted me to stay—there are more opportunities in Svetland for women. But my academic focus was Roesia. So I came here. What I earn will help my younger siblings prosper.”

Richard nodded. They weren’t so dissimilar. One hand washes another; one more rung up the ladder helps the next family member climb.

“Your father will get his wish.”

“Yes. He’s very proud. He knows about—” she gestured to her hair and clothes. “He thinks it's clever to outwit Kingston bureaucrats.”

Richard grinned. “Like me.”

“He would like you,” she said quickly.

“Even now--after I--after what happened?”

“We can figure this out.”

“I went to see Lord Simon.”

“Did he—?”

“He says, No. But he says it won’t happen again. The spell, that is—” Richard faltered. “Lord Simon offered to find the bespeller.”

“He probably wants you to slap a historical label on his house,” Phillipa said, miffed, and Richard laughed,  slumping back into the couch.

“I couldn’t accept.”

“Of course not,” she said without hesitation.

“Phillipa—could the spell have been directed at you? Does anyone in Kingston know you’re a woman?”

She shook her head. “I’m sure not.”

“But I know—knew—”

Something slid across Phillipa’s face, a private emotion of–sympathy or amusement? Affection?

“I think something would have happened before now,” she said. “Someone would have . . . approached me.”

“Yes. If that does happen, you should tell me.”

He sounded ridiculous with his protective posturing, not to mention hypocritical, and she gaped at him. And then Phillipa actually blushed. Richard balled his hands and stayed on the couch, not close enough to touch that heat.

“It was aimed at me then,” he said. “I just can’t imagine—other than Lord Simon—”

“An Academy student experimenting?”

“I haven’t seen one in the last two days. Besides, more people would have been affected.”

“Perhaps they were.”

“Someone would have noticed!”

Phillipa quirked her brows at him; he raised his own back at her, and she chuckled.

“No one covets my position,” Richard said. New Government House reverberated with speculation about who had just gotten what post, who had just lost a post (offended a boss, bollixed a project), who had ousted whom from a post . . . Richard might like his position, but it didn't engender discussions of political advancement and social approbation amongst others.

Phillipa said, “What about Lord Rustilion? Does he have a nephew or cousin he wants to put in your place?”

“I think he forgets that I work for him until he sees me in our weekly meeting.”

Phillipa crossed her arms on the table and rested her chin on one wrist.

“Your . . . fiancĂ©e: does she know about me? Might she think—?”

“I don’t talk to her about anything that really matters.”

He didn’t realize what he’d given away there until he saw Phillipa’s surprised smile. He couldn’t help but be pleased. She wasn’t angry or offended. She was . . . gratified.

She said, “Perhaps you should go to the police. To your brother-in-law, I mean. He would be discreet, wouldn’t he?”

Charles would be discreet. He could also give Richard a list of possible dealers of ingredients in love potions. Richard got to his feet.

“That’s a good idea. What was planned for today?”

“Looking up deeds—I was going to spend the morning in the library.”

“If you feel distressed—”

"No." She held out a hand, a gesture of appeasement. “Research relaxes me.”

Richard watched her roll up the blueprints, collect books and papers.

He said, “I don’t know how the potion works, but it must use qualities already within a person.” She was listening, hands stilled, face in profile. “Already in me,” Richard amended. “Kissing you was something I already wanted to do. Not like that, of course, without warning or consent. Just—I was already attracted.”

She said without turning round, “I wasn’t averse.”

The last tension left Richard. There was no reason for him to say more. Except he wanted Phillipa—Phillipa at least—to know that “I love you,” he said and went to find his sister and the police.

* * *
Like New Government House, Police Headquarters was part of Vale District. It was tucked into Cleveland Square, a neighborhood of quiet side-streets on one side, a single long thoroughfare to the main highway on the other.

Richard knew from previous visits that police shifts changed at 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and midnight. The tall building was currently a quiet haven of soft light on tan stone. Richard took the front steps two at a time. Halting in the foyer, he heard muttering voices in the large office on the right and crossed to the door-less arch. Bernard Perry, Mr. Stowe’s second in command, was recording information on a large chart assisted by Mr. Stowe’s factotum, Colin Maillan.

Col said, “Those gentlemen were moved to the courthouse yesterday. And Wally was released again.”

Perry grunted. “Charles needs to explain proven intent to the magistrates.”

“Is Mr. Stowe here?” Richard said, entering the office and setting down his hat.

“Ah, Mr. St. Clair, good morning. Is Charles about, Mac?”

“He and the Mrs. are down at the jail. He wanted her to, ah . . .” Mac shuffled his papers.

Richard sighed. How did one say, Please stop using my sister to terrify criminals?

“Persuasion only,” Perry said as if Richard had asked. “While you’re here, St. Clair, we have some concerns about ministerial debacles, like, Why won’t they fund Mikelson’s fingerprint collection?”

“I evaluate buildings, Perry. I have nothing to do with the police side of things.”

Perry grumbled—this was an old argument. Perry thought that his boss being married to the sister of a minor government functionary should give the police some political cache. Luckily, Charles and Aubrey didn’t agree.

Richard sat on the low couch in front of the office’s uncurtained windows and tried not to contemplate his sister’s marriage or any marriage like hers: a marriage where the wife and husband worked together.

Reality is what we face, not what we desire.

Richard truly believed that. He wondered if Phillipa did too.