Phaedra entered the odd little underground pub in a dark corner of Wheatstone and surveyed the loud crowd through the haze of cheap cigar smoke. A small stage had a number of girls capering across it in a crude mimicry of the cancan dancers of France. Men shouted and whistled at them or else ignored them entirely, focused on the barmaids delivering trays of foamy, filthy beer and their games of cards.
She spotted the hulking figure she was looking for and made her way across the floor. A small gentleman in a red toque preceded her, somehow parting the crowd before it though it seemed no one acknowledge their presence in the least.
She stopped at the table, waited a moment and then sat a little heavily. He didn’t acknowledge her in the least “Boris.”
Boris lifted his gaze no higher than her chest, “Yes?”
“I need to speak with you.” The little gentleman brought a cup of tea and sat it at Phaedra’s right hand. She started to reach for it, but paused in a curious way, returning the hand to her lap.
“I’m not in a speaking mood.”
She pulled a jingling pouch from her pocket and dropped it on the table, “How about now?”
Boris lifted it and examined the contents, then signaled to a barmaid and returned his gaze to her chest, “That’ll buy you a listen.”
“I need a thug to ensure that no physical harm comes to myself or my,” she hesitated as if unwilling to say the word aloud, “or my lover. Also perform a little, ah, heavy-lifting? Shall we say? You’ve always had a delicious knack for mindless violence which I’ve greatly admired.”
“Hmm,” A barmaid bent low in front of him to deliver a fresh foamy glass.
Phaedra lifted her tea and sipped and sat it back down. The movement lacked it’s usual effortless grace and seemed, somehow, forced, “Hmm? Does that mean you’ll consider the offer?”
She stood a little too slowly, her left arm cradled against her stomach, “Good. Naturally I will permit you to negotiate your fee on your terms. Whatever those may be. I should return…”
One meaty hand shot out and grabbed her left wrist, dragging her toward him. She let out a hiss of surprise and pain as he pushed the sleeve up her arm, peering at the white bandage that was now rapidly turning red. In an instant the small gentleman was at Boris’s side, pressing the sharp tip of a dagger against his stomach.
Boris let her go and there was a strange feel in the air while the small gentleman looked up at Phaedra, not moving his dagger and then, slowly, he stepped away and reached to steady her where she swayed on her feet.
Boris pulled a cigar from his pocket and chomped the end, spitting it out, “Seems to me you got force there.”
“Quite a different sort of force.” She tugged her sleeve down to cover the bandage, her composure regained. “You will consider?”
He nodded, noting the slight glaze to her eyes. Was she ill? If she was weakened it meant he could ask double price. Hell, he knew the Underbys. He could ask ten-times past reasonable and she’d pay for the sake of her own safety.
And he had heard the rumors…
Phaedra turned and walked away from Boris, the little gentleman once again parting the crowds before her. Once they were out of the pub and away from prying eyes Phaedra sagged against the wall, giving into the waves of dizziness she’d been fighting and retching dryly.
The small gentleman came up beside her and she leaned against his shoulder, like one might a walking stick or cane, “Thank you, Pip.”
Pip looked up at her with dark eyes and lay his own small hand over her’s and started leading her again through the streets.
Giles was waiting in his office, pacing anxiously when they arrived. She collapsed into the office chair like a marionette with the strings cut, lacking the strength to walk up the stairs.
“Where were you?” He demanded, “I woke and you were gone and so was…” he gave Pip a long, disgusted look, “that thing.”
“Pip was with me,” She said softly, “I was taking care of business. Don’t be cross.” she started folding up the sleeve of her gown, “Someone grabbed my wrist, I think one of the stitches pulled.”
His face was suffused with concern as he knelt to un-bandage the wrist and check it, “Hell. You’ll get an infection, you know.” He walked away from her to fetch his kit.
“Can you fix it?” She passed a hand over her eyes wearily.
“Of course I can.” He stole a look at her over his shoulder, she looked like a consumption patient in the final days of her illness, “I can’t believe you went out.”
“I won’t go out again,” She said softly, “I’m sorry, Darling. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
He carried a tray and a stool over, “I’ll steal your shoes if I catch you so much as looking at that door. You need to rest. You look half-dead.”
“I promise, I’ll rest. I just have to see to Pip’s supper this evening.”
Giles frowned, “Must you?”
She looked to where Pip was crouched by the door, watching her, waiting, “Yes. I must.”