The Last of August

Page 64

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We were being kept in the basement because we were children and therefore supposedly collateral. Milo had gone away—I’m sure that last night, Hadrian had managed to weasel that fact out of his guileless little brother—and Hadrian saw his opportunity. He would make a point to his older brother Lucien that he was capable of doing what, to Hadrian’s mind, Lucien could not do—that is to say, punishing me for what I’d done to baby brother August. After all, I was still alive.

This is all idiocy, of course. Lucien was doing a lovely job. My mother poisoned? My father somehow still in fine fettle? A multitude of cameras in the family home, a live-in physician, and no evidence to be found? Was I or was I not puzzling through this at least once every seven minutes? Yes, of course I was. If Lucien was interested in killing me, I would be dead, Milo or no. No, toying with me was Lucien’s hobby, and one’s hobby stops being a hobby once it’s buried beneath an angel statue in an excruciatingly posh cemetery.

I had never worried about Lucien murdering me; I worried about Lucien murdering Watson. Think of the endless mental trauma—it would be exquisite, a masterpiece of revenge. Think of the iterations! Exhibit one, in which I am framed for Watson’s murder. Exhibit two, in which I do in fact kill Watson: for example, am put into an impossible situation where I must slit his throat or see a city explode. Exhibit three, in which I do and Lucien explodes the city anyway. Exhibits four through twenty-nine, the last of them so wretched I couldn’t even consider it.

Watson leaned more heavily against my shoulder; he’d stopped moving his own legs, but his breath in my ear let me know he was still alive. We’d reached Phillipa’s office. I knew it was hers because of the way in which the carpet was worn—a woman’s heel had tread this, and often, a tall heel judging by the pressure points, and I’d seen her wearing stilettos at our horrid lunch. Just inside the door, her bodyguard checked the time. I could hear the snap of his phone as he locked it.

This one would be a bit more complicated.

TWO AND A HALF MINUTES LATER, I’D PUT THE UNCONSCIOUS bodyguard through the window, and I had his gun trained on Phillipa Moriarty.

It wasn’t particularly good to see her again. She looked much the same. Her face had a pinched, appraising look I most often associated with toddlers. “What do you want?”

We had approximately thirty seconds more before her baby brother arrived with the cavalry. The battering sound at the door had finally stopped. There was no use worrying about August—what was done was done, and anyway, I’d seen that he carried a knife in his boot.

I hoisted Watson up; his legs were beginning to go, and with an effort, he managed to straighten them. His eyelashes were fluttering. “Where is it?” I asked Phillipa.

“Where is what, exactly?”

With my other hand, I clicked the safety off my gun. “Twenty seconds. Where is the auction being held, and at what time?”

Because the halls I’d dragged Watson down, on this floor and the one below it, were filled with paintings. Paintings with quite a lot of black paint, and sad-looking young Edwardians looking at glass scarabs and their hands and microscopes and each other. This was a storage facility, but she was pleased with her wares and proud of herself, her crown jewels, these forged Hans Langenberg paintings, and what is a Moriarty if not someone who gilds their abattoir?

(Watson, when you read this, I do hope you appreciate my restraint in reserving this information until now.)

Of course they would be sold to buyers through her private network; the question was only when.

“January,” she said. “The twenty-seventh. It’s a pity that you aren’t dead, Charlotte.”

“Yes, well, we all have our crosses to bear,” I said. “January is too late. You’ll have one sooner.”

“When?” She spat the word.

“Tomorrow.”

“Why on earth should I do that?”

“Because I’ll expose you. Because I’ll send every last bit of information I’ve gathered on your operations to the government. Because, if you don’t, I will have my brother hit this warehouse twenty minutes from now in a precision strike that he’ll write off as a training exercise, and then, for good measure, I’ll do your house. Because I’m holding a gun, you cow, and I am perfectly capable of making your death look like a suicide.”

In that moment, I wasn’t entirely sure I was bluffing.

“Fine,” she said at length. “Where?”

I took a few steps forward. The office had concrete floors, and Watson’s shoes skittered along them. “At your auction site in Prague. You still use that museum after hours? Give me the address.”

She hesitated. My time was up. I could hear the feet pounding up the stairs.

Very, very carefully (as one must be in these situations), I shot out the panel of glass above her head. She screeched.

“Phillipa!” someone called below.

“You will in fact give me the address, or I’ll have all of your assets frozen by the morning.” I thought for a moment. “And your new orchid gardener sent on permanent vacation.”

“Without your brother, you’d be toothless,” she said.

“Accurate. Unfortunately for you, he’s very much alive. The address. Now.”

She gave it to me: it was in Prague, in Old Town, and I committed it to memory. The footsteps in the hall now. Watson moaned, low in his throat. Under his weight, I’d lost all feeling in my left shoulder.

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