|Henry Fielding, who started the Bow Street|
|Runners along with his brother John Fielding.|
“Don’t you start,” Simon said and cringed; he never criticized Hannah, never challenged her too directly. It wasn’t her wrath he feared so much as her fragility.
This time—she chuckled.
She said, “I was considering moral, not intellectual superiority; I suppose arrogance and self-entitlement are as likely in the first case as the second.”
“I’m hardly a moral center.”
She was silent, a weight of gentle contemplation against his mind. He mounted the stairs to the solarium where he checked fermenting and bubbling potions (the latest fad in potion creation).
Hannah said, “Because you won’t save yourself. You stay. This house—corrupts you. If you left—”
“I won’t,” he said.
I won’t leave you. I won’t abandon you to the cliché of a haunt in a disintegrating house.
Maybe she heard him. Maybe not. She didn’t argue. She hated to be alone.
* * *
Six years later, the king abdicated for a cash settlement and the retention of his title. His queen had never produced a child; his extended family was elderly or disease-ridden. With the ministers’ blessings—and their heart-felt relief—the king’s court moved to Ennance. It was a pity that Simon’s aunt had died three years before; she would have loved to revist the scandals of the past.
At least she had left Simon her fortune.
* * *
Simon brushed off his hands and capped the jars of powders. Colors and effects had seeped into his blood over the years. Individually, the powders were harmless, but his dealers’ latest finds—Valerian and Centella and Catagus—caused racing of the heart, faint images in the corners of his eyes: wide-winged owls, blue-green rivers, caves of Lucorey snakes.
Or maybe it was just Simon’s age.
* * *
He washed his face and drank a glass of water before proceeding down the stairs. From the landing, he could see Magistrate Cummings’ tall hat and his assistant’s bare head. Since the king’s abdication, the ministers had promoted the use of more watchmen throughout Kingston. Someday, the newspapers warned, the ministers might even advocate a police force. Magistrate Cummings had already proposed giving watchmen the authority to arrest and investigate, not merely to warn and intervene.
Simon didn’t invite the men into his parlor. He descended to the hall and waited for Magistrate Cummings to turn from a low-voiced discussion with his assistant. Hands clasped behind his back, Magistrate Cummings strode towards Simon. He came to a stop under the dust-covered candle chandelier. The assistant, a young man of barely twenty, hung back, a notepad in his hand.
“Good morning, Lord Simon,” Magistrate Cummings said, his eyes sliding from Lord Simon’s face to his clothes and hands. “I understand from my connections at the Academy that you are still a force in the potion community.”
“The Academy overemphasizes my importance.”
Simon had supplied the Academy with four formulas in the last eight years, all from his earliest experiments and his “performances” before the king. He had passed on nothing that could negatively impact Simon or his house or Hannah.
“Academy heads are like that,” Magistrate Cummings said affably.
Only this was not the affable and blind self-interest of Sir James. Behind his geniality, this man watched Simon closely, eyes roving without stop. Simon forced himself not to tense.
“They certainly evince a flexibility of association. Tell me, Lord Simon, how closely does Mr. Kev Marlowe work with the Academy?”
“I understand the Academy despises the work of all slum magicians.”
“Do you?” Magistrate Cummings didn’t wait for an answer. “Mr. Marlowe has taken to supplying interested parties with bespelled corpses. Recently, a stash—hmm—”
“Claque?” his assistant suggested.
“Collection of corpses was stolen from a pauper’s hospital.”
“Save the city the price of burial.”
“Not the price of recovery.”
“The Academy does not promote vivisection.”
“Even if it could promote potion understanding?”
Simon felt Hannah’s sharpened interest. Close against his side, he extended his fingers in supplication. Wait. Let him finish.
“And you, sir?” Magistrate Cummings said. “Any bodies in your cellar?”
Hannah snorted softly against Simon’s ear. He half-smiled.
“No,” he said. “Would you like to check?”
The assistant raised calm gray eyes from his notepad and studied Simon.
Magistrate Cummings said, “Well, thank you. I’ll send a few men this afternoon.”
* * *
“They’re looking for me,” Hannah said when the magistrate and assistant had departed.
“They’re looking for you and evidence of Kev’s criminality.”
“I told you what he is.”
“I’ve always known what he is.”
“Not about this.” Simon added, against the weight of her skepticism, “You want to be freed, don’t you? Don’t you?”
“If I thought it was possible, I’d wish us back to the beginning before you tainted yourself.”
“Age is age, whatever the priests might say.”
“If only I hadn’t come to this house that night. There was a moment when I could have gotten away, run into the fields.”
“They would have pursued you.”
“Gentlemen in their shiny boots?”
“They would have seized you the moment you returned to the Academy. Unless you kept walking, all the way to Wallaiston and Hanswe.”
“Maybe I did.” Her voice was a sing-song of pleasure. She was lost in possibilities. Simon lowered himself to the bottom step and listened, head in hands. “I walked all night under clear starlight. When I crossed Resurgence, I took the highway through Lucorey into Wallaiston. My family came from there originally. My brother likely returned there. But I don’t stay. I continue to Hanswe where I offer my service to the questing princess. You and I create potions for her quests, transformations and invisibility to challenge her guests.”
Her tales always ended with “you and I”—Simon reborn to a lighter existence, no longer the guardian of a mausoleum. Daydreams. Delusions. Simon sat and let her talk.
* * *
Magistrate Cummings’ men came and searched the house, even the solarium. Simon ignored them. Nothing in his workshop currently reeked of the black-market. He had long ago dumped the Suvaginney powders.
He left the house at midnight. Kingston slums—“Trades district,” the minister insisted on calling them—was a wild cage. Watchmen prowled its edges—the animals mustn’t spill out into respectable areas—but not even Magistrate Cummings would sacrifice his men in a pointless bid to achieve law and order.
Simon stalked through the brawls and orgies without hindrance. He no longer carried potions to repel or attack. His own skin seemed to ward off interest.
He made his way to Guy’s warehouse. Kev used it now ever since Guy disappeared seven years earlier. Simon never asked where he had gone. Guy’s assistant Max ran the shop away from the warehouse and continued to supply Simon’s requests. Kev pursued a separate path.
Simon hammered on the door, called, “I’m coming in, Kev” and went in.
The door may have been locked—Kev guarded his secrets—but locks never worked on Simon. He found himself in the dark passageway that ran through the warehouse. He stepped forward cautiously yet without pause. He could see as well as a cat in the dark, and he was immune to Kev’s “defenses,” potions that burned like incense.
Simon recognized most of those potions, bastardized forms of the ones he’d given the Academy--with whom Kev did have contact.
Simon stopped in the door to the largest space. Kev was already crossing the floor from his workbench, hands clasped in obsequious greeting.
“What a pleasure—”
“I had a visit from Magistrate Cummings, Kev. You are under suspicious.”
“A mere potion maker like me—”
“For selling corpses.”
“Oh, yes. Yes. I told you I could procure bodies.”
“It is how you’re procuring the bodies that worries them.”
“Will not even acknowledge you. This is your known residence. I suggest you leave it as quickly as possible—”
“I could live with you.”
“No,” Simon said. “I’ll give you money to relocate. I suggest you do it quickly. I won’t defend you in a court of law, Kev.”
“No. No. I understand. You are too good.”
Simon avoided the clutching, greasy hands and circled around Kev to study the bubbling potions on a rickety table. He recognize transformation and levitation, his own spells watered down and made ineffectual. Kev had no talent, no hidden quality of genius.
Except a lack of moral sense.
“Did you keep any corpse for yourself?”
“Of course. I trained under—”
“Lurbur. I know. You mentioned it. What have you discovered?”
“The conditions I have to work in—cold, dank charnel houses— I dare not bring them here—”
“Kev.” For Kev would whine incessantly if one let him.
“It appears that potions don’t affect tissue.”
Penderley had postulated the possibility that potions affected bone in several letters before his correspondence devolved into incoherent diatribes against close-minded doctors. Bone versus tissue would solve so many problems. Bone could be harvested without causing the beneficiary’s death. Bone lasted. Bone powder from Suvaginney had affected Hannah the most. If Simon could cull it from himself (a finger, a rib), mix it carefully with just the right ingredients, no contamination . . .
“The victim suffered from a love potion before it died—”
“Not anything that you might create, milord. Another corpse will reveal more.”
Dissection is a dead end. Simon should say. Cut up nothing more for me.
Even if Kev believed him, he would still continue to sell bodies to the Academy. Simon couldn’t stop him—unless he gave up Kev to Magistrate Cummings. Simon watched Kev's insect like shadow scuttle across the walls, Kev's true nature revealed.
He turned and left the warehouse without a word.
Someday I will exorcise myself of this loathsome man.
* * *
“You wouldn’t happen to know Mr. Marlowe’s whereabouts, milord?” Magistrate Cummings returned two days later. He stood in the center of the hall, his grey-eyed assistant at his shoulder.
“No? Mr. Marlowe reportedly brags of your patronage.”
“Mr. Marlowe is desperate for respectability.”
“Are you respectable, sir?”
The gray-eyed assistant managed to look amused without altering his face. Simon smiled coldly.
Magistrate Cummings said, “In any case, the corpses were recovered from a charnel house bordering the east fields.”
“Recovered? All of them?”
Magistrate Cummings rocked on his heels while he absorbed Simon’s bewilderment. For once, Simon hadn’t been able to hide his reaction.
“It appears Mr. Marlowe’s corpses were less bespelled than he claims. Potions do need to be administered before death, isn’t that so?”
“Mr. Marlowe is, shall we say, conning his buyers.”
“None of the corpses were dissected?”
“Not a one. Are you sure you don’t know Mr. Marlowe’s whereabouts?”
Kev had likely already moved. Still—
“I can give you the address for his warehouse,” Simon said.
* * *
He collapsed onto the bottom step when the magistrate and his watchful assistant left, sank his head into his hands. Kev conned me. Me.
“”You’re well rid of him,” Hannah said.
“I should have realized—”
“You wanted answers.”
“All my informants are swindlers—bad, bad men.”
“That is the nature of a curse.”
“I was trying to protect you.” He hadn’t excused himself in years, but the inner cry was always there: I had good intentions once. My face was towards the light.
“I know. Simon—you must save yourself. You must go. Your uncle never escaped. You can. Leave. Go to Wallaiston, to Svetland. Abandon me.”
I no longer have the will.
Simon couldn’t say it.
“I would miss you,” he said instead, and Hannah wept in relief.