And now for our villain. In the first book, John Smith was just bad. He was deceptive. He had a cruel streak and easily angered. I added a second side in the Omicron Matter which is making it difficult to keep him generally unpleasant, but he has better motivations than Snidely Whiplash now. Neville Carter-Frasier started as fop and stayed one until just recently in the Omicron Matter. He might be smart and technically talented but he is more vacuous than space. Of course being away from Winifred and around John and Rachael might start to change anyone’s attitude around class.
This is the first to two entries. My wife, brilliantly suggested that I break it into two (as there are two clear sections). The both came from one chapter, “John Smith Signs his Candidates”. For this entry, nothing of consequence was eliminated – the trip over, proof that Smith is a cheapskate in addition to all his other flaws, and his general disdain for the local culture.
For your enjoyment. Look for more tomorrow.
John Smith with Neville Carter-Frasier
John Smith wore a brown vest, white shirt brown jacket with a beaver top hat. He came up to the double doors and pounded the knocker. After a moment a short, stout man with a receding grey hairline wearing a grey waist coat appeared at one of the doors and said, “Carter-Fraser Residence.”
John Smith replied with a smile, “I am looking for Neville Carter-Fraser. Professor Mill at the University recommended him to me for a short job opportunity. My card.” Smith handed over the customary card and bowed slightly.
The balding grey haired butler looked at the card, eyed Smith and said, “One moment sir.”
Smith relaxed and looked at the flowers in the flower boxes on the windows. The butler returned and said, “If Sir will follow me.” The entry way was dominated by a sculpture of some ancient goddess and a profusion of flowers. This world might have technology advances worth selling, but it was ridiculously superstitious to claim civilization.
The two arrived in a room with overstuffed dark leather furniture typical of well to do households. Neville, his intended recruit, was tall and thin. He had no jacket on at the moment, but sported a pinstripe vest over light grey pants. These were accented by a purple and blue striped tie. Neville nodded to the butler and said, “Thank you, James. Some tea please.”
“Certainly, Master Carter-Fraser”. Smith smiled inwardly. At least some on this planet understood the importance of place. Although Neville might not yet know where he properly fit at the moment, but such matters would be explained later.
Neville started, “So old man, you have a job. You should know I’ve already said yes to Barrett and Jones Engineers.”
Smith smiled easily, “I am hardly surprised at one so qualified having a position already. The Dean said as much. My position is short term– a bit of consulting abroad. A local chieftain wants a bit of entertainment lighting in his garden.”
Neville sounded skeptical, “That’s hardly something you need a degree for. Workmen could do that if there is gas.”
Smith raised his hands apologetically and said, “You and I know that, but the local chieftain wants to say it will be expert. Really it will be simple devices: a Jacob’s ladder, a spark cage, maybe a coil or two. He likes to thrill at parties and thinks electrics are the thing. I supply the equipment. You supply the expertise to put it together and demonstrate its use. He lives in the tropics so there are a fair number of thunderstorms to a source. I expect three or four days of work, but you’ll have to decide that. He will want you for six weeks.”
Neville looked a bit relieved at the changed scope. “Six weeks for three or four days of work? That seems a bit long.”
Smith put his hands behind his back and replied, “It is a very pleasant climate and the local customs are,” Smith paused and then leaned in, stroked his moustache conspiratorially and whispered, “exotic.” Leaning back he continued, “The pay is quite generous. 200£, 100 of that is up front.” James, the butler arrived with the tea and began serving.
Neville brightened considerably. “Six weeks. I start at B&J in August. I might be able to delay them until September.”
James placed the filled cups on saucers and placed them in front of Smith and Carter-Fraser. Smith took a sip and smiled, “I have a contract I will want you to sign.”
James cleared his throat, “Sir, I can have Barrister Jones here tomorrow – to help you review the contract.”
Smith scowled. He did not want a barrister seeing loopholes. He waved his hand around lightly saying, “It is a simple contract. Just three pages. I can explain the clauses. I want to get this settled today. My client is expecting a cable tomorrow morning.” He sipped his tea.
Carter-Fraser pleaded to the butler, “James, it is a cherry deal: six weeks away in the tropics.”
Smith corrected, “eight weeks – two weeks for travel there and back.”
Carter-Fraser continued, “eight weeks. I do three days or work”
Smith corrected again, “five at most.”
Carter-Fraser continued, “and I get 200£.”
“It sounds simply wonderful, sir. Hard to believe such luck in getting a job like that,” James said quietly.
Smith, scowled at the butler who merely stared back. Smith took a more aggressive stance. “if this works out, my client will want the latest devices to his island estate regularly.”
Carter-Fraser asked, “Island estate?”
Smith winked and said, “As I said Neville, the local culture is exotic.” The trap was baited. Could he get this impressionable boy to bite while his guard dog watched?
James clasped his hands behind his back and stared at the window sconce saying, “I think it best to wait for Mr. Jones, sir.”
Smith added more urgency. He set his cup down and started to stand up. “Well, I have other candidates to see today. If the position is still open tomorrow, we can review it with Mr. Jones if you think that is best.” Neville looked stricken. James looked daggers at Smith who simply smiled back and straitened his brown coat.
Neville asked, “Who else are you asking?” and bit his lower lip.
They would know eventually and Smith saw no harm is saying “A Edward Wayland, a Simone Campbell, Winifred Stanhope and a Mr. Findley Brown. I understand Miss Campbell has a bit of electronics.”
Neville muttered to himself, “All good connections. Simone is damned brilliant. Edward gets things done. Winifred is a bit fierce, but very good.” He looked at Smith, raised his eyebrow and asked, “Just for the one position?”
Smith pulled the trap closed and said, “Oh no, there is work for two. But I wanted to talk to you first with your experience in electrics.” Smith picked up his hat and bowed and said, “I’ll send a note about tomorrow morning if the position is still available.”
Neville acted in a predictable fashion. “Nonsense. Sit down.” Turning to the annoying butler he said, “I’ll read carefully, James. Truly.” Back at Smith he added, “I can sign today.” James grimaced, frowned, but said nothing.
Smith smiled and said, “Wonderful, I have a contract here” and pulled out the sheets of paper. He sat down on the settee next to Neville.
James muttered under his breath, “How convenient.”
Smith began to read the terms. “The first section identifies the parties: you, me and the client – first party, second party and third party. The second section outlines the work: electrics to be installed, tested and instruction given. Demonstrations are also required.”
James, the butler, asked sharply, “Is there a limit to the number ofdevices?”
Neville, sounding irritated, “It’s for a garden. How big could it be?”
James muttered under his breath, “It’s the tropics, could be an island.”
Smith continued, “Next paragraph lists start date and end date.”
Neville pointed to the contract, “It even lists the end date, James.”
James said, “How reassuring,” sounding unconvinced.
Smith continued, “The third section lists compensation. 100£ upfront and 100£ on completion of your contract.”
James raised his eyebrow and asked, “Who decides the work is complete?”
Neville, annoyed, said, “It is a simple set up. It will be obvious.”
James responded, “Master Carter-Fraser, nothing is obvious.”
Smith patted Neville’s knee and said, “Just so. This next paragraph lists the dispute process and liability.”
Neville looked a little alarmed, “Why is that necessary?”
James muttered under his breath, “this entire contract could be disputed”
Smith reassured, “Disputes happen. This defines how those will be settled. You and the client will use an arbiter to settle the conflicts. It is a standard in the local culture.” Smith added, “For such a short time in a small matter, arbiters are hardly ever called in.”
James, squinted at Smith and asked, “Who hires the arbiter?”
Smith clenched his teeth. “They are considered neutral parties and paid by both parties a percentage of the settlement.”
Neville raised his hands saying, “That sounds perfectly fair,“ as James looked at the ceiling nodded with disapproval. Smith grinned at the naiveté of this young man. If the settlement exceeded his available funds, he would be held liable and the third party would be made a trustee of him until such time as payment to the arbiter could be made. The collusion of arbiters and patrons across the galaxy was notorious. The Guild had considered acting on this matter in recent decades. But like all action in the Guild, this was held up by procedural maneuvers from members such as his sponsor. He had learned to love consensus driven decision making.
Smith asked innocently, “Interested enough to sign up?” handing Neville a pen.
“Absolutely,” he said preparing to sign.
Smith said, “I need you initial at these points, “ pointing to lines in what appeared to be random spots on the contract. Neville did as he was instructed. Finally, Smith pulled out the lancet kit. “My client’s customs are a bit exotic.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It is an old world custom that agreements be signed in a unusual fashion. If this is to be binding, I’ll need a spot of blood by each of your signatures.”
Neville looked simultaneously shocked and eager, “Really? A contract signed in blood?”
James snapped loudly, “Master Neville! Stop this absurdity, I beg you.”
Neville dismissed the old butler with a wave, “Oh James, don’t be so stuffy. How positively native. I do believe this will top anything the boys at the club will have. Let’s sign this in blood old chap.”
Smith smiled darkly and took that lancet and drew some blood. He had Neville put a drop by each of the initials and his signatures. The blood signature would make the contract fully binding in the courts of the Guild no matter what Neville might say in the future. He waited a moment or two to let the spots and the ink dry. Smith rolled up his copy and left Neville’s on the table. “Well sir. I shall see you in three weeks for our adventure.” Smith got up and bowed to Neville. James escorted him to the door.
James said as he left, “I don’t trust you.”
Smith smiled back at him and said, “You don’t have to. Neville does. Have a pleasant day, James. Neville is in good hands now.” He headed out the door and walked down the block to the Marybone Street and hailed a taxi to the next location.