‘Well. I mean. Makes sense, dunnit. What with them turning up like this so soon after that lord died, and all. And they do say that their Ambassador was Lord Wyndham’s friend. Very personal friend, if you take my meaning.’ The old man winked. ‘And they’re saying as how he was also his arch-rival and that they were,’ he paused to check the front page of his newspaper, ‘constantly intriguing against each other in the most diabolical manner.’
‘Is the Ambassador a vampire too?’ Irene asked. It would be totally inappropriate of her to use Kai as bait, if the Ambassador’s tastes ran that way. That was the sort of thing Bradamant would do, she reminded herself.
‘Naaah. Where’ve you been spending your time, love? Nah, he’s one of them Fair Folk, see. Always has to have artists draw his picture in the papers, ’cause none of them cameras will work on him, not even the stuff them geniuses make.’
‘Fair Folk,’ Irene said, a cold feeling gripping the pit of her stomach. This was bad news.
Chaos liked (if liking was quite the word) to manifest into a world where it could take advantage of illogical laws. Vampires and werewolves were particularly vulnerable to chaos. After all, strictly speaking, why should werewolves be allergic to silver, or vampires to garlic, or sticky rice, or a dozen other things. And as for the reasoning behind vampires rising three days after death, or behind most of Dracula – anyhow, the point was that chaos used creatures that obeyed illogical laws logically. Fae or fairies or elves or youkai or whatever they were called were among its favourite agents. Some of them were even living pieces of chaos, slipped sideways into various worlds and taking form from human dreams and stories. If there were Fair Folk manifesting in this world, and being accepted by the population, then she needed to know. Dominic had made a note in the briefing about Liechtenstein being a ‘potential chaos portal’ but hadn’t gone into details. She wished that he had. Liechtenstein could be the nexus of all the chaos in this world, if it had perhaps been weakened by too many supernatural or Fae living there, though at this point she could only speculate. However, that would make any agents operating from Liechtenstein particularly suspect.
‘Right,’ she said briskly, taking a few steps out of the old man’s earshot, and gesturing Kai over with a wave of the newspaper. ‘We’re splitting up. I want you to find out everything you can about the Liechtenstein Ambassador, his Embassy, and his involvement in the current situation. I’ll check out Wyndham’s place. We’ll meet at the hotel in Russell Square – eight o’clock at the latest. Find some way to get a message to me there if you’re delayed.’
‘Wait,’ Kai said slowly. ‘You’re just sending me off, like that?’
‘Of course,’ Irene said firmly, and tried to ignore her slight feelings of disquiet. ‘You were already competent when the Library recruited you. It won’t do either of us any good for me to keep you under my thumb all the time.’ And it’ll drive me up the wall and onto the ceiling if I have to constantly operate with someone looking over my shoulder. ‘We need information as fast as possible. I’m relying on you. Do you have any problems with this?’
He looked at her for a moment, then put his right fist to his left shoulder and gave her a formal bow. ‘You may rely on me to do my share of the work.’
‘Excellent.’ She smiled at him. ‘Then I’ll be seeing you in a few hours.’
He smiled back, his face surprisingly warm for a moment, then turned and headed briskly down the street, shoulders squared for action.
She’d only known him for a few hours, but there was something reliable about him. And she had to admit that the way that he’d said he’d do ‘his share’ of the work was a well-balanced way of putting it. No attempts to try and do her share as well, no trying to wriggle out of it . . .
Was she actually starting to like him? It wouldn’t be hard. Kai was likeable. She’d enjoy sharing a mission with someone that she liked. It’d make a nice change.
Irene drew her veil partly across her face to shield her mouth and nose from the smoke and steam in the air. Most of the other women in the street wore veils across the lower parts of their faces too, ranging from filmy drifts of silk for the better-off to thick wads of cotton or linen for the poor. Men wore their scarves drawn up over their mouths. She wondered what they did in summer.
She scanned the newspaper’s front page.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN
WYNDHAM MURDER CASE,
Our correspondent informs us that the police have made great progress and expect an arrest at any moment.
So the odds were that the police were still baffled. Good. It’d be difficult to extract the target document from a police station, if they did manage to catch the cat burglar and lock her up.
Irene rolled the newspaper up, scanning the street. The local type of taxi-cab was black, small, and seemed to be a combination of old-fashioned hansom carriage and electric car. With some determined waving she managed to signal one over, and directed the driver to take her to the Hyde Park Corner Underground Railway station, a couple of streets away from Lord Wyndham’s residence.
Lord Wyndham’s residence was in an expensive street, with marble frontages and clean-scrubbed gutters, unusual in this grime-stained London. The place stood dark and empty, in contrast to the houses on either side, both already lit up against the afternoon dimness. With practised experience, Irene made her way round to the servants’ entrance at the back.