Richard's Story: Part Six

“Oh, hello, Richard,” Charles said, strolling in a half-hour later. “How are the verifications coming?”

“As expected,” Richard said, shaking his hand. “We’re still dealing with Lord Simon’s property.”

“I hope you’re keeping your distance from the man.”

“Not exactly,” Richard said, and Charles gave him a cool look, grey eyes speculative. “You have a moment?” Richard added.

Charles tilted his head and Richard followed him back into the lobby. Aubrey was standing in the front doorway, talking to a large policeman—Smithy, if Richard remembered correctly.

“Try Sutter’s Pawn Shop,” she was saying. “Bobby Worth was sure that’s the place his partner mentioned.”

“Does she flick claws at your criminals?” Richard muttered to Charles. “Is that why they are so ready to spill information?”

“Mostly, she just stands there and smiles,” Charles said.

Smithy ambled away, and Aubrey smiled, teeth glinting, at Richard.

“Hullo. You’re not here with more real estate opportunities, are you?”

Charles and Aubrey currently occupied the top room of Police Headquarters. When she’d learned, Gloria had been appalled. “He should at least put her up in a house!” She had insisted that Richard pass on her suggestions of solid, “respectable” properties in Vale and Trades although Richard suspected that Charles could probably afford a nicer house than Richard somewhere in Residence.

Richard had obliged rather than argue; Charles had looked vaguely embarrassed; Aubrey had rolled her eyes and said, “I like living where the action is; besides, one room is easier to clean.”

“No,” Richard told her, following Charles down the hall and several steps to the stone-flagged scullery; it was the most private room in the building.

“Because,” Aubrey said behind him, “you’ve put ideas in Charles’s head about my status.”

“You have no status,” Charles said mildly, sitting at the scullery’s worn table. “You’re sui generis, Aubrey.”

She snorted and sat beside him facing Richard.

He said, “I need names of dealers in potion ingredients. And addresses, if you have them.”

“We have that information, of course. Are you asking the police to investigate—?”

“I would prefer to do it myself.”

They both studied Richard; Aubrey didn’t even asked, Why? His sister was gaining some of her husband’s self-possession.

“I was bespelled,” he said.

“Are you alright?” Aubrey got to her feet, came around that table, lifted his chin with one finger. “What happened?” at the same time Charles said, “Was it Lord Simon?”

“No—woah,” Richard exclaimed as one of Aubrey’s talons nearly scratched his cheek. “Watch it!”

“Sorry. Was it him?”

“No. I don’t think so. No. He says he only cares about removals.”

“He only cares about himself,” Aubrey said tartly. “You didn’t turn into anything?”

“Nothing so radical. And it didn’t last.” He smiled up at her. “It wasn’t like your bespelling. I guess I’m a more typical citizen.”

“Potions don’t take with everybody,” Charles said, which was true. A potion inflicted on a crowd of 100 might affect as many as fifty but only ten or less would feel its full effects. Only one in millions would be permanently changed—physically at least. Emotional changes were less definitive.

Charles slumped in his chair, tapped the table. “Dealers specialize in different ingredients. It would help if we knew the type of spell—” his voice ended on a query.

Richard shook his head. He had left the office before Phillipa could respond to his declaration. He had likely embarrassed her. He had very likely put her in an untenable position—there was nothing Richard could do about how he felt. At least he could keep what happened just between them.

“Something common,” he said. Everyone talked about love potions, even if few people experienced them (many more people claimed to be affected love potions).

Charles nodded, eased to his feet, and strode out. Aubrey reseated herself opposite Richard.

She said, “Common? Maybe a vanishing spell?”

“I heard those potions don’t really work. People can still see outlines.”

“Lord Simon made a woman vanish. Or killed her. Charles thinks he killed her.”

“The house does have a presence.”

“Yes. I think I saw her once—the truth is, nothing ever really vanishes.”

None of us can ever really hide.

“Levitation?” Aubrey hazarded.

“I wouldn’t mind that.”

“Neither would I. You weren’t dumb enough to drink a notice-me spell?”

Notice-me spells were banned from New Government House—unnecessarily, in Richard’s opinion. They seemed to attract as much bad attention as good. Every bureaucrat wants to be noticed when he improves his department’s standing; no bureaucrat wants to be noticed when he bungles an operation.

He made a face at Aubrey, and she laughed.

“Okay. Not. How about a spell to get your fiancée interested in someone else?”

Richard had actually thought about that possibility a few months after the engagement—for a moment only. Spells were notoriously unreliable, almost always backfiring, and almost always temporary. The ones that took could have devastating results—as they had with Aubrey.

Gloria irritated Richard, but she didn’t deserve—she truly didn’t deserve—to be given a love potion that sent her after an inappropriate mate: a drunkard or a servant (or, by Gloria’s standards, a policeman).

“He said levelly, “The engagement isn’t going to vanish.”

“There’s no one else for you?” and then, “Richard?”

His damn non-poker face. He scowled. “Aubrey,” he said, a warning.

She said, “This marriage is the rest of your life. Unless something horrible happens. And what kind of people would we be to wait around for that?”

“It’s life, Aubrey. The job, the wife, the house. Maybe children—”

“Over whom she’ll run roughshod. For their sake, can’t you break it off?”

“It would look bad. And the Cartwrights have some clout—”

“So fall in love with someone with more.”

Which was not Phillipa.

“I like my job, Aubrey,” he said, almost desperately.

No job-no wife of any kind, not even Phillipa. And Richard was proud of his work, cared about it, liked going to the office every day, not only to see Phillipa. Romance wasn’t everything. A person had to live in his own skin.

“I know,” Aubrey said and sighed. “I got lucky.”

“I’m not envious,” Richard told her, which was true. Most of the time.

Charles returned with a list of addresses. “Max is your best option,” he said, pointing to the name at the top. “It’s not the most respectable place.” Aubrey snorted agreement. “But he sells a little bit of most things. If these names don’t work, I can get you more.” Richard nodded. Charles touched Aubrey’s shoulder. “I’m wanted at Residence Station,” he said. “Shoplifting charge.”

“See you at lunch.”

He brushed her cheek with one finger and went out. Aubrey followed Richard upstairs at a more leisurely pace. At the front door, she said, “Richard, this woman that you won’t pursue, does she know how you feel?”

“She does. I know that isn’t fair.”

“Not much. Have you heard what she has to say?”

“I don’t think she’s pining for me.”

“Maybe you should let her tell you that.”

But Richard didn’t see the point in wallowing in heart-ache. More heart-ache. Except, the last two days hadn’t given Phillipa many chances to explain, choose, decide much of anything about Richard. She deserved to be heard. He owed her a listen.

He hailed a hack. Before going into Trades to find Max, he would collect Phillipa from Government Library.