London, July 1862
After stepping into the taxi, Millicent said “Lunch, I believe Mr. O’Hannigan. Your choice, my treat.”
“Righto” he said and took another swig of water grimacing. He clucked the horse to start. After a very short ride just up the road, they stopped at Thornhill Square. He parked the taxi and let her down and suggested, “There is a nice pub with some booths just down Richmond Road.”
Millicent said “That sounds perfect.”
The pub was better lit than most with big windows and large lighting fixtures. The tables were clean and not sticky. The bench at the booth was smooth and well finished. The barmaids were more conservatively dressed than many and one arrived quickly at their booth. Millicent was impressed with the choice. “If the food is as good as the set up, we are in for a treat, Mr. O’Hannigan.” They each placed an order for a meat pie and ale. The barmaid returned quickly returned with large mugs of ale. Watching the barmaid leave, Millicent said, “I will admit I am surprised.”
“That a Stepney lad might have some taste? That a non-University boy might like good food and conversation? You’re better than most Miss Morgaine, but you’ve a road to walk before you can really see us,“ Liam smiled and drank his beer.
“I am learning that. I am hoping you will be patient with me as I adjust my thinking.” She took a drink of her beer and said, ”Now I promised you answers. I am ready to answer as best I can. Do you want to ask questions? Or shall I provide a history?”
“My belly is still amiss from my last question. The history it is,” Liam waved his hand at her.
“I belong to a guild of merchants. We supply goods from different worlds to collectors. These collections are quite prized and people pay to see them. Think of them as privately managed British Museums,” Millicent said.
“The Mediterranean collection of statues is quite good,” Liam said into his tankard.
“Really? You continue to impress,” Millicent said.
“One has to know the town if one serves the tourists, Miss Morgaine. You continue to underestimate me,” Liam took a swig of beer and waved his hand again.
“True, but I suspect that will happen less. Anyway, in more recent times, some exhibits have started having living active participants. It would be as if the British Museum found some Greeks to populate the halls to make busts and philosophize,“ Millicent said.
“I doubt any Greeks do that these days.”
“Don’t underestimate Greeks, but you have a point. It might be better to say the museum had a section in which Indians, or Africans, or whatever set up a village and you are allowed to interact,” Millicent said.
“So these University folk you are talking to will be the Indians, Africans, etc.” Liam leaned back.
“A bit like a petting zoo.” He drank his beer again.
“Ouch. Some have equated it to that and my profession isn’t universally acclaimed. But I make sure my recruits are well paid, well fed and treated with some respect. One of my current recruits has called it ‘indentured servitude’ because there is no escape. I won’t deny the similarities. But these people will work with materials and principles that have yet to be discovered here. For the right person, it truly is an experience like no other. At the end, if they want, they can return and are paid handsomely.” Millicent said.
“Still sounds like a gilded cage.” Liam continued to lean back.
“I haven’t tried to hide that. My rationalization is that my contractors walk into that cage with eyes wide open. Smith hid those realities. I let his recruits know just exactly what was going to happen and they weren’t happy. Unfortunately, I think when they complained, he resorted to even more ghastly methods.” Millicent frowned at the last statement and took a drink of her beer.
“I’m not saying your competitor ain’t a bad guy, but this seems personal, you don’t mind me saying,” Liam leaned on the table as he said this.
Millicent’s eyes narrowed and she got close to his face. “You are right, this is personal and it was as soon as he started. I have been recruiting and collecting here for a very long time. There are procedures in my guild that allow me to say ‘This is my territory’. He ignored my claims. So you are right, this is my little bit of paradise. He is pissing on the rug and I don’t like it. I have been very careful to limit my influence and impact around here. I doubt he has compunctions about that. Even if he had contacted me before he started doing his work, the way he has acted around his recruits is detestable. He is the type of merchant that gives the rest of us a bad name in the galaxy.” She leaned backed and said, “Patrons use him or we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But it is rather like saying pimps are a not a problem because lonely gents do regular business with them. Pimps are evil and exploit their women. The lonely gent might treat the drabs better without a pimp and the ladies would certainly be paid better.“ She drank half her beer as a punctuation mark.
“Never heard an argument like that,“ Liam looked thoughtful. The barmaid arrived with the food and placed the platters. Both Liam and Millicent said they would want a second ale soon. “So what is going on now?”
“Much of it you already know. I’ve contacted 4 of my 5 candidates. No one has signed yet. I gave Eleanor her inoculation. But she has found the details of the arrangement …a problem. I will meet the other three again tonight. I will inoculate them and have them talk to an old friend and let them ask her questions. I’ve got Mr. Smith’s candidates under observation although I think there is little I can do for them. Smith knows my name; knows my hotel; but might not know my face. We’ll have to find a new place to stay.”
Liam tucked in and took a drink. In between bites he asked, “When did you contact this ‘Smith’s’ candidates?”
“Do you remember an older woman three days ago?” Millicent asked and smirked a bit.
“She was another odd one, like you. No offense” Millicent nodded and smiled. “She took down two…” and then he eyed her more closely. “Couldn’t be… she was totally different.”
Millicent supplied, “Charing Cross was far superior to Picadilly.”
“Who was she?” Liam asked and narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
Millicent modulated her voice a bit and used Penelope’s voice “now that is a bit forward young man. I hardly know you.”
Liam stopped in midbite and stared. “Blimey. I wouldn’t ever known.”
“That’s the point. Smith is inexperienced in this. He is new here and he doesn’t know the competition. I intend to teach him a lesson or two.” Millicent took a good size forkful and ate.
“What about the furniture store effort?” Liam asked.
Millicent finished her food, wiped her mouth. “Eleanor? I’ve place an order with the Woodsons. I hope her father becomes a tyrannically idiot. What about your watchers?“
“She takes a walk in the afternoon and seems to be alone at that point,” Liam reported.
“So we can pass a message?” Millicent raised an eye brow.
“No problem. I’ll have one of the tykes slip her a note,” Liam said and took another bite of the pie.
Millicent took out a note card and wrote.
You can contact us during this walk if you have reached a decision.
“Can you have your watcher pass the note?” Millicent asked.
“They usually take from pockets, but they can place stuff too… with an incentive. Eleanor may not even notice when it slips in her pocket.“
“And what of our messenger this morning?” Millicent asked.
“She should be back at the hotel shortly,” Liam said.
“You will need to contact her instead of me.” Millicent looked around, “We will need a new place to stay. I am thinking a different neighborhood is best. Does this place have rooms?” she looked around speculatively.
“I’ll find out. If it does, it won’t be the Savoy,” Liam said.
“Which is probably a plus. We’ll need at least two rooms for a night or two. Probably more. We are going to take a train trip in a day or two.”
“Where?” Liam asked.
“Dunstable. I need to meet the last candidate. I am worried about Rachael, John and Robert. They may need to come along.”
“I’ll go check on rooms,” Liam said and got up.
“Thank you, Liam,” she said with sincerity. She finished her meat pie in silence as he discussed the accommodations with the proprietor. This whole conversation was something new for her. She didn’t speak in such detail except to candidates. And even then she said as little as possible. She almost had an itch from the discomfort she had around the revelations. But it had clearly been necessary to reestablish good relations. For good or ill, Smith was forcing her to change her methods.
Liam returned and said “They have a few rooms above.”
“Then this location will do nicely. We’ll need at least two tonight and possible four,” Millicent said.
“He has four rooms, but I don’t know if they are all available,” Liam said.
“We’ll ask then. There are other options as well. I want everyone where they are safe. Let’s go negotiate with the gentleman.“ They walked together. Liam started the conversation, “This is the lady what needs the rooms.”
The man was on the back half of his middle age. He had a bit of a paunch and he was nearly bald. He had a heavy growth on his chin and droopy eyes. “Aye. It’ll be 10 schillings a night. Breakfast is included. Be down by nine in the morning.”
“A little pricey. How many rooms do you have for the next two nights?” Millicent said.
“Four, if I clean up one this afternoon. Why?”
“I want them all,” Millicent said definitively.
“That will be” the burly man started doing the math on his hand, “three pounds a night”
Millicent countered, “If I pay for both nights in advance, five for both nights.”
The bar keep scratched his poorly shaven chin. Liam decided to help a bit, “It’s mid week mate. Who’s going to take all four rooms for two days? Two in the hand?”
“Five – deal, but no fancy breakfast. Bread, cheese and tea.“ the bar keep said.
Millicent smiled and said “That will work fine. I’ll stop by later with the others. Here is the fiver. Who should I talk to about the rooms?”
“I’ll be here till closing bell,” the man said dourly.
“Then I will see you later. I expecting at least eight more plus us here tonight and we will be hungry,“ Millicent said.
The bar keep did a quick calculation and realized he had just more than made up the pound he lost in negotiation. He smiled broadly and said, “Appreciate the business Ma’am” tipping an imaginary cap.
Liam and Millicent headed outside to his hack. Millicent started in on her plans for the day. “I need to go to the clothes shop and rearrange the delivery. You’ll need to meet up with the courier for the messages. Be cautious. I expect there to be watchers for me.“
“I’ve lost watchers before,” Liam sounded nonchalant.
“I’m sure. These may be more difficult to see. I need to settle the bill with the Savoy. See if the courier can get my bill and I will settle that account and get my trunk back,” Millicent said.
Liam spoke knowledgably, “We should be able to do that with a note. Let them know you want to settle and to pass the bill to the courier.”
Millicent pulled a note from her satchel and wrote
To the Desk Manager:
I will need to check out as of today. Please pass my balance to the courier who handed you this note and I will settle today or tomorrow at the latest. Place my bags in storage as I will retrieve them in a fortnight.
Thank you so much for your gracious hospitality,
Millicent Morgaine, (room 2014)
Liam read the note and grunted, “Adequate.”
“Then we shall be off” Millicent said cheerfully
“Add your card and it is done.” Liam said. Millicent handed him her calling card and he tucked it in the note.
She commented, “Have the courier meet me at Lancaster Gate after your transaction. She and I shall take a walk in the park.”
They arrived at the park 45 minutes early to meet the courier. Liam headed over to the hotel to wait for the courier. Millicent headed to the dress shop and arranged for her dresses to be sent to the pub over by the furniture store and her warehouse. She waited by the gate for a short while before the same fresh faced girl from the morning arrived. She was a bit windblown from her deliveries but otherwise in good shape.
Millicent greeted her and commanded “Walk with me, Elizabeth”. Millicent had a broad brimmed hat with feathers hoping to obscure her face from any drones. As they entered the park, they sat near a fountain. Millicent raised her hand and said “One moment, I need to check something.” She pulled out her notebook and checked the screen. There were two yellow dots. She quickly pulled out her EMF pulse device and dialed some nobs and pressed a button. Her ears buzzed as before when the pulse went out. One light winked out and there was an audible bounce nearby, but the second was further away and quickly fled. Millicent sighed, “Couldn’t last forever.” Turning to the courier, “Alright child, hand me the bill.”
The girl handed over the slip. The desk had written that a fortnight was the maximum.
“Thank you dear. Here is a half crown for your efforts,” Millicent said.
“Ma’am. Mr. O’Hannigan already tipped me,” she said.
“Very honest. I like that and I am sure he did. But this has been immensely helpful to me. I wanted to let you know. Also there are fellows who may be looking for me around here. I would rather they didn’t find me. I think if you could work somewhere else for a day or two, I would be much happier,” Millicent said.
“Problems?” Elizabeth asked.
“Some. But you need only be someplace else. I expect they will give up the search for you quickly. So, just for a couple of days and then back here. I will put a good word in for you at the Regency over by Piccadilly.“
“Tain’t my territory,” the young girl protested.
“Well change something dear or you will be accosted,“ Millicent’s voice was getting sterner.
“I can keep confidence,” Elizabeth said defiantly and crossed her arms.
Millicent was annoyed. She admired the girl’s spunk, but a little deference right now would be appreciated. Finally admitting she couldn’t control what the girl did, Millicent said, “I am sure you can. Just lay low and avoid strange awkward men. “
“As you say” and the young girl headed off muttering. Frustrated at the drone getting away; frustrated at the courier’s intransigence; frustrated with the situation as a whole, Millicent slammed the notebook shut and put it in her satchel. She headed over to where the sound was made when she sent the EMF pulse out. On the ground, was a round orb a bit smaller than an English football. It was hard to see with the human eye – it was smooth and the surface seemed to shimmer a bit as it seemed to almost match its surroundings. But its circuitry was hopelessly scrambled. There were no hand holds on the orb – it was not meant to be transferred by hand. The outside had two protrusions. One was very thin and long. Millicent broke that one off. The second was long and round. It looked somewhat like the lenses of the new photographic boxes. She smashed the device on the ground shattering the lens. She examined further and found a switch on the device. She flipped the switch and the device suddenly was white enamel. She lifted it up and headed quickly to Lancaster Gate. The information it held might be useful, but she had needed to disable it to make it safe. Hence the damage she inflicted to its transmitter and camera before shutting it down. The other device had gotten away and had good images of Liam and Elizabeth. It might even have a decent image of her. She felt a pang of disappointment. She had put so much effort into obscuring her identity and the secrecy crumbling.
Liam was waiting at the gate. She quickly said, “We are likely identified now. Staying low will be essential from now on. We need to avoid this area. Your name will likely come up with searchers.”
Liam was waiting at the gate. He looked at the strange object in her hands. He asked “What the hell is that?”
She quickly said, “This is how John Smith can follow us and not been seen. I have my own. I got this one but another got away. We are likely identified now. Staying low will be essential from now on. We need to avoid this area. Your name will likely come up with searchers.”
“That thing sees you?” he asked looking at the orb skeptically.
“This one and its partner saw the courier and probably saw you. Smith will probably get to Elizabeth and she will spill your name one way or another,“ Millicent said.
“Lizabeth is trustworthy,” Liam protested. “I’ve used her for stuff like this before.”
“I am sure she is. I am also sure no one can hold out if Smith wants his information. I’ve told her to lay low. That is best we can hope for. We may have 24 hours. 48 hours at the outside before he starts a search in earnest,“ Millicent said in a tired voice.
Liam helped her into the taxi. “Let’s say Elizabeth spills my name and they find someone who can describe me. What can they do?“
“I assume you taxi types have a bit of brotherhood?” she asked.
“More of a cooperative society, but yes,” Liam said.
“And everyone knows about where you work, and a few probably know your favorite watering spots,” Millicent said
“I can’t say they don’t,” Liam agreed reluctantly.
“So Smith can get to you. And they can get to me through you. We need to get you armed in some fashion. We need to go to the warehouse. Charles can check on your inoculation as well,“ Millicent said.
Liam cluck the reigns to move the hack. “I have my own methods of protection.”
“Humor me. Besides I think you’ll find my suggested weapons amusing. I’ve found it effective several times. “ Liam grunted and they moved through the traffic at a slow and steady pace.