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You Furnish the Headlines…

“..and finally, Sir, the last of the dry goods will be delivered Tuesday next.”

There was a passing silence between the valet and his master. I watched, equally as silent, as Mr. Wexhome’s left hand tugged at his right index and middle fingers from behind his back. It had been some time since I had seen him without his jacket on. Must be a trying day, indeed.

“Why the delay, Stephen?“

For a moment I thought Stephen looked into the corner at me before giving his answer. The moment passed without incident.

“The dispatch from the Captain says that they encountered a squadron from the New Babbage fleet. Evidentially, he was afraid that the acting mayor was enforcing traffic and hunting smugglers. He begged off and made for Sibley Island.”

Mr. Wexhome gave a short nod and then stared at the floor beneath his feet. I imagined the floor giving a valiant effort not to whither under that stare. Stephen departed.

“You know better than to try and hide from me Alastair.”

As usual, he was right. Damn him for knowing how to find me in the shadows. I threw up my hands and gave a shrug as I stepped into the light. “Not for lack of trying, eh, Mr. W?”

He said nothing. Never does. Just stares at things; bloody creepy. I often wonder if the ticking isn’t that mind of his, drawing plans, connecting dots, and making moves on some unseen board.

“You have something to report?”

“Dagger provided no comment; she is doing as you predicted.”

Again the nod, but nothing more. So I supply his end of conversation – Of course she is. Jed is reliable.

“And Underby?”

“He’s as quick at providing a comment as he is at noticing interlopers.”

Not a flinch; at least give me the speech, Mr. W. – Don’t underestimate the man; he is an extraordinary fellow. A good friend or terrible adversary. Blah…blah…blah. I’m actually beginning to pity the acting-mayor; that bloody mob’ll string him up if given half the chance.

“Did he take to the suggestion you were given to deliver?”

“I believe so, yes. There appears to be quite the storm building. Going to make for some amazing press…if it goes anywhere…” I left the sentence hanging, hoping he’d give me something…anything…so I could guess what was ‘ticking and tocking’ in there. Still nothing.

“You going to tell me what this is all about, Mr. W? The little nudges…the moving pieces you’ve been playing out since the Clockwinder departed?”

“Alastair, my friend we each have a part in this Great Game. Your’s is to furnish the headlines…”

And then at last he turns to face me. His cold metal stare…that unsettling grin.

“…Mine is to furnish the war.”

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