Millicent’s crew finished their tasks at the ruin of the house. Felicity had completed her sketch of the garden design, its features and the current location of the pond. Michael was sketching the house including its collapsed portion and furiously making notes. John had taken to collecting bits. By now there was a heavy bag of various bits and pieces. Millicent had made what observations she could at this point with assistance from Rachael and Jason. Everyone gathered at the rotting gate.
Millicent said, “We are heading back to the pub. I leave in the morning. Smith’s news of Eleanor disturbs me and needs to be dealt with. I expect there will be a bit of fighting in the process. That wasn’t in your agreement. You are under no obligation to follow me.”
Liam spoke first, “Ye already gave me that talk and naught’s changed. Anyone joining us at the train tomorrow?”
John raised his hand which was expected. Michael and Felicity raised theirs and that was hardly surprising as well. Rachael raised hers and that caused Millicent to raise her eyebrow. Jason raised his. Millicent didn’t know him well enough to know whether to be surprised or not. She wondered if the impetuosity of youth were acting more than thinking.
Michael spoke with the clipped London working class accent that seemed to dominate and define her group. “Tisn’t right what he’s done to Neville and the others. Smith made it sound like Winifred is torturing Eleanor. Right nasty bastard if he encourages that. If I can help, I am in.” John and Felicity echoed a bit of “here, here.”
Millicent looked at Rachael, “You have no contract. You are sitting on the fence. You owe me nothing. You can return to your father and take a holiday if you want and I won’t hold it against you. It would be safer for both of you.”
Rachael shrugged, “Uncle Morris would tell stories of Russia and the Cossacks around Passover. Daddy never could talk about them. They treated us like we were vermin; pushing villages out when they wanted our land. Killing us if we fought. I think Smith would get along nicely with them. So I get to help Eleanor? I get to poke a hole in Winifred’s balloon of cruelty? I think Daddy would be upset if I said we should go on holiday instead. Uncle Morris would say it’s a mitzvah we do. Like Michael said, what he’s doing to Neville, what he’s doing with Findlay and Winifred tain’t right.”
Millicent closed her eyes for a moment. As Rachael explained it, her actions made sense. But Millicent was still surprised. She had come here so many times for so many years and she was finding there were things she still hadn’t seen on Earth.
Millicent turn to her right and asked, “Jason?”
Jason dusted off his jacket and said, “I’ll be signing on. The answer to my parents is out there.” He waved vaguely in the air. “And Eleanor is good folk; she deserves better. We lower class folk had to stick together at University. Doing it now just makes sense.”
Millicent looked to Liam who said, “D’ya have to even ask?”
She looked at the group as if she were seeing them for the first time. In all of her years as a finder, working with contractors involved a business transaction. Loyalty was defined by the terms of the contract. What just happened was different. They were involved because it mattered to them, they cared or because they were loyal without a contract. She felt overwhelmed and turned back toward the pub walking at a brisk pace. Unsure of her voice, she said, “Then off we go…Mr.McNeill – I will have a contract for you to sign. The rest of you have drinks on my tab.” She was walking fast and outpacing the others. She was sure Jason could have kept up, but Liam, Rachael and John were clearly flagging and huffing a bit. Perhaps their nanotechnology hadn’t taken full effect. Michael and Felicity were slow but for different reasons which brought a small smile to Millicent’s lips.
The group arrived at the pub around three in the afternoon and filed in. Millicent had the water samples and metal fragments sent back to Stephan’s office. She headed up to the bar and sat down heavily. “Stephan dear. A wee dram of a good whiskey and leave the bottle if you please.” Stephan eyed her suspiciously. He scanned the wall and brought a decanter from a closed cabinet and set it down with two glasses.
“Glenfarcus 25 year old. Sean and I got it when we got back. Haven’t had much call to drink it lately.” Stephan poured two glasses.
“I hardly bring celebratory news” she said, her shoulders low and not looking at him.
“You’ll help the lad. Besides, that rollicking bunch over there sound celebratory enough,” pointing to the collection of young people, the Dean and Miranda. “I haven’t seen you in more than 20 years – I think that is enough to celebrate.” He raised his glass.
Millicent raised hers . Clinked it to his and swallowed half of it.
He took a smaller sip and looked at the glass appraisingly, “Now if you savor it a bit, you’ll notice hints of mango, fruitcake, chocolate and coffee” he said. “Problems?” he asked.
Millicent looked through her glass admiring the dark, amber colored liquid. “Do you want the bad news? The terrible news? Or the simply awful news?”
Stephan eyed her and then drank half his glass. “Is there no good news?”
Millicent smiled, “Ah…Jason is going to sign with me in a bit. Although I expect any number of young lasses in this village will not see that as good.”
Stephan smiled, “Ye’ve got the right of that. The lad is dense as 200 year old oak when it comes to women. Candace will be crushed. I suspect Stephanie won’t be happy either.” He looked on at Jason with the group laughing. He raised it in Jason’s direction and took a small sip and said, “But it is probably where he belongs.” He sighed and said, “Let’s start with the bad news.”
Millicent said, “The pond water is radioactive. Alpha particles it seems. A decent filtration system should be enough to offset the worst.”
Stephen took a sip and grimaced, “I suspected as much. I’ll work with the mayor to start some filtration in homes that have water. However, I don’t have the means to test other wells.”
She looked at him disapprovingly.
He became defensive, “I don’t’ have the skills to make one. That was Sean’s area.”
She finished her Scotch and pointed to the glass, “That’s very good. I’ll have Jason make one for you. Just avoid questions.” Stephan put another measure in the glass and she took a healthy sip, “Speaking of the mayor, it seems Findley Brown has signed with John Smith. Findley also has a nasty cruel streak. Tell me about him.”
Stephan finished his glass and filled it as well, “That’s my last. Jolene will hide me if I’m drunk before four. Findley Brown is scion of the town mayor who is also owner of the assembly factory. The mayor’s a good fellow, but Findley seems to believe he is owed something. He has a cruel streak alright. A couple of months ago, he hired one of the local prostitutes. Apparently he did some terrible things to her. The mayor had to buy off the girl, her matron and several constables to keep it quiet. He sent Findley away for a few weeks while he tried to fix the damage. Findley seems to have a special feeling for Jason – and it ain’t a happy one. I am guessing he resents Jason’s ability and little successes.”
Millicent said, “Ignorant power always fears genius.”
Stephan shrugged, “I suppose. But arrogance and genius lead to amoral power.”
She grinned, “You always were the philosopher. You simply must spend some time with John O’Malley before we head out tomorrow.”
Stephan looked shocked, “Tomorrow? You only been here a night and that was spent nursing Jason.”
She drank another good swallow, “And now the awful news. Smith has abducted one of my candidates. And he gave every indication he is trying to break her spirit even if he can’t put a collar on her. I have got to free her. It’s my fault he has her., “ She finished her whiskey.
Stephan said, “It’s serious?”
She grimaced and said, “Smith brought along someone with Mr. Brown. A boy named Neville Carter-Fraser had a collar and Mr. Brown seems to be in charge of it. Regardless, Smith took care to humiliate the poor boy in front of my group. Then he said he had Eleanor and implied she was being tortured now.”
Stephan muttered, “Bastard. Know his patrons or his sponsor?”
“Not yet. I haven’t had time to set Charles loose. I will have that info eventually.”
Stephan grinned at the thought of Charles and took a drink. “So what happens on your last night here?”
“I sign Jason and I let the young ones have a bit of fun before things turn nasty. I take Miranda to a proper tea. Speaking of which…Can your recommend one in this town? And can you get some of your workers to join us tonight? I think a bit of levity is needed. I’ll pay for everything.”
He said, “I’ll have Stephanie put the word out. I won’t say it’s ‘good-bye’ for Jason. You have to let him put things right before he goes.”
She said, “He’s coming with me tomorrow. If things don’t’ go to Uncle Buck too much, I’ll see that he is back for a bit.”
Stephan laughed loudly, “You’ve been around that cockney far too long or the whiskey’s getting to you.” He finished his drink and said, “So if you want a proper tea in this town, you need to go to…” and he filled her in on the details.
The tea had been very pleasant and served to distract Millicent for a bit. Miranda had been thrilled with the cozy shop. The proprietress had an excellent cut of Darjeeling with a hint of smoke. The tray of sweets and savories had satisfied everyone at the table. Miranda ohhed and ahhed at every step and Dorothy, the Dean’s wife, had complimented the matron on her servers. The banal conversation was a welcome respite from the troubles she had found. The three then went to take a bath at the local spa and had a good soak which further relaxed Millicent.
Back at the pub, Jason was sitting very close to Candace; bothersome but expected. Millicent moved to the table. Candace eyed her with squinted eyes and tight lips. She ignored the look filled with daggers and spoke to Jason, “At your convenience, I will have the contract for you to sign in Stephan’s office. After that, you are free for the evening.” And she headed over to the bar where Stephan was reviewing one of the infamous lab notebooks. She sat down and Stephan poured an ale for her. She asked, “What was Sean doing?”
Stephan scratched his beard. “Don’t rightly know. This weren’t my specialty. Frankly I think Jason would make more sense of it. There are some alloy formulas – those I know. There is a fair amount of electrical circuitry and equations which baffle me. There is an extensive set of physics equations that make so little sense that I can’t say they baffle me because that would imply some degree of understanding. I think I see some of Margaret’s handwriting in here as well. It wasn’t all Sean’s”
Millicent eyes got bright and said, “Well that is quite interesting. It seems our young Mr. McNeill has quite the pedigree.”
Stephan snorted, “If you’re breading cattle.” He looked over at Jason with Candace, “Oh he’s gifted alright and he didn’t get that from the farm.”
Millicent drank her beer and then said, “He needs to be tested. They all do. I think my patron may end up waiting a bit for his fancies if things don’t go well here soon.” At that point, Jason arrived and said, “I am ready to sign the contract.” Millicent took a gulp of beer and said “We’ll work on your timing. Come along.”
The procedure for his signing the contract and special clauses was the same as the other candidates. At the end, Millicent said, “Contract, edit, addendum clause.” She paused, “Party of first part to be allowed twenty percent time calculated over one year to search for Sean and Margaret McNeill. Party of third part will supply resources and compensation during aforementioned time. Details on resource cost to be added later.” The words appeared as a notation in the contract in the notebook as she spoke them. She then pricked her thumb and placed it next to the clause. She then told Jason, “I have just agreed to supply the search for your parents and to pay for 1/5 of your time to do the search. Assuming you sign the clause. I will add more detail to resources and such later, but the basics are in place.” Jason said nothing but placed his thumb on the screen. The notebook flashed in acknowledgement. She took a bit of cloth, damped it and cleaned off the splotches of blood on the notebook. She looked at him and said, “For good or ill, you are committed now. Stephan says I will have to bring you back for goodbyes. When the dust settles, I will arrange that. But we leave tomorrow. Have a proper evening with Candace.”
Jason smiled a bit sadly, “It will be a bit melancholy. It is the one aspect of life I don’t seem to understand.”
Millicent pursed her lips and then said, “You’re young and youth never does understand such things. Experience changes that. Go. There is someone who appreciates you for you. Let her know you finally understand that.” Jason left the office hurriedly and Millicent sighed. She had no one to say good bye to in Dunstable. She put her notebook in the satchel and headed back to the pub. A lively darts game with John and Rachael versus the Dean and Miranda had started. Jason had returned to Candace’s side and was very attentive. Others of the establishment had arrived and the noise level was picking up. Jolene and Stephanie had set out light food that could be grabbed and eaten. Liam seemed to be engaged in a conversation with Stephan.
She found a booth and simply sat. The difficulties of last night and the shocks of the afternoon were finally catching up to her. She felt tired and old. She missed Charles. She wanted to talk to her sponsor. She pulled out the notebook and looked at the cover. It held the contracts, the maps, the cultural information she needed to function. She could use it to send messages to Charles. That would be risky. She was considering sending a message when Liam arrived at her side.
He said with a dramatic bow, “with your permission, your grace” and sat in the chair at the end of the booth.
She snorted at his feigned politeness, “First, you sat before I answered. Second, I would have thought by now you would know to dispense with formality.” She nodded at the crowd of people at the bar and gaming area, “Leaving the festivities? The darts gaming becoming too competitive?”
Liam leaned back and waved a hand dismissively, “Pah. I got tired of taking their money. Besides, the youth needs their moments with the Dean. The man means well. He’s tried and figured out he has a bit to learn. They just need to see that.”
Millicent raised her chin and narrowed her eyes a bit, “A fine bit of wisdom Mr. O’Hannigan. They need to see he is a good man.” She slipped her notebook back into the satchel and said, “I was wrong.”
Liam looked shocked and looked around the room as if some disaster was about to happen, “The great Millicent Morgaine was wrong? How has your grace been snookered?”
Millicent laughed a little at the sarcasm, “I have been extremely lucky to have found you in this affair. I was too blind to see that three days ago. You have been a hidden gem. The young ones listen to you in ways I can’t follow.” She patted him on the knee, left her hand on his knee and said, “I am going to need more of that street smarts I fear. It is going to be ugly, Liam. People are going to be hurt. People already have been hurt and I haven’t been able to protect theones in the way.” She pulled her hand off and leaned back and closed her eyes.
Liam was quiet for a while and then said, “When I was growing up, I went to Catholic school. The nuns tried to beat sense into me. I guess my head was too hard, because I didn’t much care. They also fed me and made sure I had clothes that were a bit less tattered. When I decided to leave, the abbess tried to get me to stay, but I was young and knew everything already. But I would hear that she and other nuns would ask about me and tell my friends to let me know I could come back. They were worried about me I suppose. I suppose they had reason. But I managed – I got jobs. I made some friends and few enemies and somehow I survived. Those nuns worried about me more the me Mam. I guess they were worried about the lost lamb. You’re like the nuns Millicent. You try to take us all in, but you can’t Millicent – the contractors, the Dean, his secretary, their spouses, ME for Godsakes. At some point you can’t protect everybody. Life don’t work that way.”
Millicent pleaded, “But the trouble is here because of me. I brought it.”
Liam laughed, “Oh you are a rye one.” He looked at her with a cocked head, “How many times has Merrie Olde England been invaded or attacked?”
Millicent looked down surprised and trying to remember, “Good heavens, I can’t guess. I think it’s sport for the Continent: the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, the Normans, Lord knows how many Viking tribes. Spain and France have tried. I think the only peoples who haven’t are the Italians and the Swiss.”
Liam scratched his chin, “I knew it was a lot, See we’re used to it…it tain’t nobody’s fault but the bastards doing it. The way I see it, if it wasn’t you who found us, someone else would have come along. What if Smith found us first? I don’t think he’d be near as careful as you. You ain’t to blame, but you can fix this mess. That I do believe.”
Millicent was very quiet and kept her eyes closed.
Liam stood up and said, “now you sit there. I am going to get us some beer and we are going to get proper drunk going before we head out tomorrow.” She could hear him walking to the bar. She hoped Liam was right; she hoped she could fix this. Things were changing so fast, and she wasn’t controlling it anymore. She could hear the shouts and laughter getting loud by the darts game. People she had started to care about were relaxed for the moment. She opened her eyes. Some of the changes were not so bad. She might even learn to like the new relationships with her contractors. It was at this point the Liam returned with the first of what would be many mugs of ale.