The Train Ride Back
The train car swayed and rumbled as the countryside faded into city. Alfred watched Winifred go through her finger exercises. To all appearances, Winifred was simply stretching and twiddling her fingers. But under a glove, no one watching would know the fingers were a clock work capable of crushing a brass rail. Winfred focused at the movement with a steady eye and said, “I haven’t broken a glass since we came ashore.”
Alfred, dressed in his usual plaid suit vest and plaid pants, licked his finger and carefully turned the page of his book and said, “It will save a bit of money and I am sure Neville and Findley will appreciate your greater control.”
She lifted the crystal glass and sipped the wine as the outer apartments of London started to roll by. She asked, “Did Smith say when we needed to be back at that horrid island?”
Alfred carefully slipped a ribbon book mark in place and closed the book. He rubbed his stiff leg. Healing was progressing or so he was told. He took regular walks and did his stretches. He and Winifred had coordinated their exercises so they could work out together. Alfred responded to the question, “Smith said we should be back at Cardiff no later than a month after we left.”
She crossed her arms and scowled out into the passing tenements and hissed, “I shouldn’t have to ask my servant for my schedule.” There was a hint of a stress on the glass and she set it back down. The glass was intact save a scratch. Winifred took a deep breath.
Alfred looked at the glass, still unbroken. He remarked, “Your control is definitely better. You would have shattered that last week. “ He looked up at her and said, “I am your butler. Lots of folk ask their butlers for their schedules.”
Winifred snapped back at him, “Don’t patronize me. You know what I mean.”
He leaned back, smiling, and said, “You weren’t fully aware after the fight. When your senses had returned, you have been occupied. Smith and I took time to get acquainted and he folded me into his strategy.”
She pouted her lip in a manner he hadn’t seen in five years saying, “and I have been folded out. Why? Why? I ask.”
Alfred pursed his lips and said, “He questions your judgment.”
Winifred turned to face him, her eyes wide as she snarled, “How dare…” She stopped in mid-sentence when she saw Alfred’s calm expression as he picked his nails with a previously hidden knife. She took three deep breaths and then asked in a strained voice, “Did Mr. Smith say why he questions my judgment?”
Alfred looked at her and said, “Can we agree not to kill the messenger?”
Winifred eyed the knife and said, “I suspect you would be hard to kill in the first place. But I understand you are merely relaying information.”
Alfred smiled at the comment and pulled a honing stone out of his pocket and sharpened the knife. He said, “I do so hate unnecessary arguments.”
Winifred rolled her eyes and said, “What does he say? I won’t blame you even if you agree.”
Alfred chuckled and said, “I knew progress was being made. Here is what we have discussed. Mr. Smith has noted that a) you have a bit of a temper; b) we are about to engage with Morgaine’s crew who have upset you a bit, “ he pointed with his knife at the robotic hand. She flexed it into a fist. He narrowed his eyes and said, “and c), I’ll be blunt Miss Stanhope, Smith has said your …enthusiasm with Miss Woodson has tainted the well.” Alfred watched her response. She tensed at the comment, but took several more breaths. She then, using her robotic arm, took a sip of wine. Alfred thought she is finally learning self-control.
She said calmly, “I wasn’t aware I needed to be…delicate. And as I recall, you had your part in her experience as well.”
Alfred shrugged and said, “Smith laid no rules and he said he wanted your interests put to good use. I follow your lead on such matters. Findley and Neville hardly needed encouragement. But Eleanor Woodson was not one of our street urchins. She and Simone Campbell are now with Morgaine.”
Winifred completed the thought, “And now we go to their door with an olive branch? We’ll be lucky if we walk away with all of our remaining limbs.”
Alfred scratched his chin and said, “I thought that as well. But Smith says our delivery will be a ‘statement’. I have no frigging idea about what, but we deliver a message and get a response. He is very confident that we will be left unharmed. If we were harmed that would damage Morgaine’s reputation and she has precious little else. At least that is what John Smith believes.”
Winifred drank some more wine and looked at the glass, “How intriguing. Millicent Morgaine with limits. Perhaps this meeting will be more satisfying than I thought. Do they know we are coming?”
Alfred said, “No. Smith felt surprise would move the negotiations in his direction.”
Winifred smiled broadly and said, “Tomorrow will be an interesting day indeed and I have not had one of those in weeks.”
Meeting the Opposition
The taxi rolled from the Stanhope house in SoHo to the warehouse district in North London. Winifred’s reunion had been tearful, gracious and strained. Alfred had attended dinner as Winifred’s footman. Winifred’s parents had asked about her use of gloves during dinner which Winifred had deflected deftly by saying she wished to be more formal. She expected her new job to require more formal attire. Discussion turned to her new job in a distant locale. Winifred was adept at prevarication and Alfred focused on enjoying surreptitious sips from a hidden glass of the excellent table wine.
Camille had provided the location of Millicent Morgaine’s warehouse. Alfred, at times, thought Camille’s idea of bombing the place would be more prudent. But Smith said there was a substantial profit to be made and power to be gained in working with Morgaine. So the destuction discussion was stifled. The taxi arrived around 11AM and dropped them at the corner of Caledonia and Wharf road. Winifred and Alfred walked the remaining two blocks. Outside the nondescript warehouse, the two paused. Per Camille’s instructions Alfred took off his hat. He then rapped on the door with his cane and stepped back.
After a few moments, Winifred tapped her foot in typical impatience and said, “Why are they taking so long?”
Alfred patiently explained, “I expect they’ve identified us, if Camille is correct. Now I expect there a rather testy discussion going on about how to respond. Watch Lass. How they respond will say volumes about their state of mind and ability to react.”
Winifred moved toward the building, but Alfred commanded, “Stay away from the building. Their Charles can probably waste us where we stand, but no sense in making it easier.”
Winifred snapped, “They are taking too long. We should leave.”
Alfred frowned and ordered, “We stay and you will learn patience.” He rapped the door with his cane again and stepped back.
After 10 minutes, a figure opened the door, stepped out into the street . He then held the door to allow a second figure out who was in a wheel chair. They were being greeted by Liam O’Hannigan and Rachael Weiz. O’Hannigan was of medium height and wiry build. He wore a long coat and a bowler hat. Weiz was smaller although it was hard to tell her height with her seated in the chair. She had a scarf on and a short jacket. Her hands were gloved. There was a hand warmer in her lap but it was unused. Alfred suspected there was a weapon in it; if it were his charge there would be. Her legs were covered in a blanket. The short jacket, knit cap and scarf seemed more appropriate to a youthful boy save for the long hair and the colorful scarf.
O’Hannigan began the conversation, “Can’t say if you’re brave or crazy coming here.”
Alfred replied with a smile, “Neither. Like you I deliver messages on occasion. Mr. Smith has a message he wants Miss Morgaine to receive.”
O’Hannigan put on a brave front and crossed his arms, spat, and said, “Don’t know that Miss Morgaine is interested in any messages from you or Smith.”
Alfred scratched his head with a finger and said, “Really? My apologies on our intrusion. I will let Mr. Smith know he was mistaken.” Alfred replaced his hat and quickly turned , grabbing Winifred by the elbow and began to lead her away. From behind he heard Rachael Weiz say, “Wait. Millicent is interested in this message.” Alfred stopped and then leaned in and whispered to Winifred, “Never overplay your hand.” He turned around and said in a loud voice, “Change of heart?”
Miss Weiz rolled a bit forward, smiled darkly and said, “Mr. O’Hannigan expressed a resentment many of us have. Nevertheless, we could have left the door closed and you would have gotten that message. Apparently Millicent was expecting something from Smith. We’ll take the message.”
Alfred took off his hat and bowed to Miss Weiz. He could almost feel Winifred roll her eyes. No matter, Smith had wanted a message delivered on multiple levels. “Miss Weiz, I had heard your mind was sharp. I am so glad your injury hasn’t dulled it at all.” O’Hannigan clinched his fists and moved forward. Rachael tensed at first and then smiled thinly, “Eleanor and Simone send their regards and ask if you prefer their blades to be heated or barbed when they gut you.”
Alfred started for a moment and then laughed. He nodded to Winifred who then spoke as she pulled her robotic hand out of the muffler that had hidden it, “I’m still getting used to it. But I find it is working out nicely. Is the chair comfortable?”
O’Hannigan hissed but Weiz stayed him again with a hand and rolled herself a bit forward and said, “As you say, I am still getting used to it, but it is comfortable. I move faster than everyone else and I’ve loaded a fair number of conversions. There is a heating system so I am quite comfortable in this weather while we trade insults.” She turned to Alfred and said, “Mr. Redman, you said you had a message?”
He could feel tenseness in Winifred who was more used to baiting than being baited. He put his hat back on, “Certainly. Unlike you, I do not have a heated seat.” He pulled out an envelope and handed it to her. “Mr. Smith has proposed a meeting time and location.”
Weiz took the enveloped and nodded, “Consider your message delivered.”
Alfred said, “Mr. Smith has asked for the courtesy of a reply.”
Weiz considered the envelope. She said, “Assuming it is simply a meeting location and time, I assume Millicent will reply within a day or two. Does she know where to reach you?”
Alfred said, “We will be in residence at the Stanhope house. “ Alfred tipped his hat to Miss Weiz and said, “I’d suggest a pub crawl while the Parents are meeting as it were but I fear the bar wouldn’t survive the encounter.”
Miss Weiz smiled darkly and nodded her head, “I am always up for a good pub crawl Mr. Redman. If you’ll leave Madame De Sade at home, I won’t bring Eleanor or Simone. The two of us can have a drinking contest – Stepney vs. The Service.”
Albert paused for a moment. He could hear Winifred mutter under her breath, “You bitch.” He held Winifred’s elbow for all the good it would do if she chose to act. Then he could only laugh, “I underestimated you a second time Miss Weiz. I suspect we could have a jolly good time absent our compatriots.” He maneuvered Winifred in the direction of the main street and shouted over his shoulder, “We’ll expect a response in two days.” And then quickened his pace away.
As he and Winifred walked away, she hissed, “What was that all about? – ‘Jolly good time?’”
Alfred said sharply back, “Watch, listen, learn. That is how to overcome enemies. First Morgaine sent her team’s equivalent – her major domo and her most severely injured. Smith had his own reason for sending you. I expect showing off that magnificent hand of yours was one reason. Miss Weiz showed off her new toy as well. I would not be surprised if there was enough armament in that rolling chair to take out you, me and the two hidden drones Camille sent. Morgaine did not rattle to Smith’s surprise much if at all. Second, you underestimated Weiz once before and probably did this time.”
“I did not underestimated her before. She is the one in the wheel chair.” Winifred’s voice was tight.
“From what I hear, she was as feisty as you. She took a nasty fall that you may or may not have caused. You certainly underestimated her today. O’Hannigan could not focus back there. And neither could you. She called me on my offer to converse and upped the ante. If I offer that pub crawl, she will be there. Rachael Weiz does not overplay her hand.” Winifred crossed her arms and looked away but there wasn’t the same certainty in her snort of derision. Alfred continued on, “Third, this is a dispute between Smith and Morgaine. I would like to restore it to that. I do not need half a dozen extremely smart people seeking my untimely and lingering death. Since I am to look after you, I do not need them seeking yours either. So, yes, I will invite Miss Weiz to a pub crawl while Smith and Morgaine trade God knows what. If that is what it will take to restore everyone’s perspective, I will let her drink me under the table.”
They walked in silence to the main street where Alfred attempted to hail a cab. Winifred said in a low voice, “I can’t stand that uppity, Cockney Jew.”
Alfred said evenly as a taxi approached, “And she can’t stand you. You won’t be joining us. Now we head back to your parent’s house to wait for a response.” He assisted her into the carriage, settled in next to her and said, “I will be making a call to Madame Malcome’s for a guest for the next few days.”
Winifred’s eyes brightened, “If you get two, I will forgive you for that scene at the warehouse.”
Alfred said sternly, “If I get any, you will play by the rules and remember the safe words. Smith does not want a dust up with local constabulary right now.”
Winifred put her lips out in a pout saying, “Fine. By the rules, safe words, blah blah blah. You are becoming quite the bore, Alfred.”
Alfred sighed and said, “We’ll both find it is for the best Miss. I’ll obtain two guests for the week. One of each I presume?”
Winifred Stanhope smirked then slapped Alfred’s knee and said, “Use Daddy’s account.”