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The Ball – 2

This turns out to be a chapter in the next book, despite the fact that I’ve got five books in progress for Mission, (see http://www.missionthegalaxy.com).  This is the creative process in action for me.  I’m also super busy with work things, so updates have become fragmented, though in fact I’m writing stuff every day.

In order for any of this segment to make sense you have to have read, http://dailywords.co.uk/the-ball and there is more of this tale, but I’m still writing.

I thinking of starting a Patreon thing for the writing.  I don’t know if that’s a good idea.  I could write more if I had some income to cover the time.

Anyway, this will come out as a book eventually, but for now enjoy the next, unproofread, but slightly corrected next chapter.  Note that John smith has left at this point, so there is a change of voice….

oOo

The group looked away politely as a big tear rolled down Catty’s face, and as she dabbed it with a napkin.  Miss Catherine St. John-Smythe Fotheringill watched her true love absent the room without a backward glance.

Her brother leaned over.

“I say, are you alright, Catty dear?  That was the most frightful scene.” She turned to look at him sharply.

“I don’t know what you’re remembering brother, but it was as peaceful as it could possibly be.”  She sniffed slightly.  “It’s still the last of him I shall see.”

“You know nothing is certain dear.”

“Your prescient powers notwithstanding, I am certain of it.  He is a man of resolve.  Indeed, you know he must be to resist me.”

“You can hardly use your charms to ensnare a real partner though.”

“I am aware, and you know I was not.”  A woman tapped her on the arm, from the other side of her seating at the large round table.  There was an exchange between the lady, Mrs McGill and Catherine, then she turned her attention to her brother once more.

“James, what’s going to happen to him?  Can you see?”

“No dearest.”  The man’s face creased up in puzzlement, his moustache becoming thin and flat.  “In fact, I have lost track of him entirely, since he left the room.”  He sat up straight, allowing him to pop his head above the eating, talking diners in the hall.  “Actually, I couldn’t tell you what exit he used.”  He murmured.  Catty could see his head turning this way and that.

“Give it up, James, you’ll twist your head off.”

“I’m concerned.”  He slumped back down.  “It’s strange.”  He looked across the table where the first of the dessert course was being served to Miss Tatworthy, one of the exclusive group at the table.  Her hair was short and wavy, cut in the style of ten years before, and she sported a ball gown of sheerest green forming around her slender frame in layers of shimmer.  Her pleasant face was smiling at Mr Foster, seated next to her, but James caught her eye and she excused herself before paying attention across the table.

“Julia, do you remember where John smith went?”  Miss Tatworthy’s power was of memory.  She remembered everything in detail, anywhere in her purview.

“Why yes,” she said, “he exited from the main doors three minutes ago.”  She pursed her lips for a moment.  “Did you lose track?”

“Yes.  We may have another player in the room.”  Miss Tatworthy glanced about casually in response to this.  “I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Doesn’t affect me.  I’m sorry, Catherine.  I’ve never seen a man more determined or at odds with himself.”

“I appreciate your solicitude, but it is quite unnecessary.  John has chosen the path he must chose and we must pursue ours.”  She looked around as well.  “That includes finding this person interfering with us.”  Ponsonby arrived at the table.

“I might advise you that this table is the subject of some scrutiny from there and there.”  He indicated with his eyes two other tables, all the while clearing plates and glasses onto a large tray.  “I would further advise, Miss Fotheringill, that your powers no long have sway over the room, and that there is some talk of your presence.  We have been detected I fear.”  And with this he whisked the tray away as another exquisitely tailored gentleman approached.  It was the maître d’hôtel.  He spoke to James after smiling briefly at Catty.

“Excuse me, sir.  I am asked by the host to identify you and your group.  There seems to be some confusion about your presence.  I hate to cause embarrassment, but could I see your invitations.”

James made some show of patting his jacket pockets.

“Terribly sorry old man, but I seem to have…”  The maître d’hôtel held up a hand.

“I’m sorry sir, but the host of the event has vouchsafed to me that none of you or your party are known, and unless you can produce an invitation…”  he left the clause hanging.

“Look I’m sure this can be sorted out…” began James, but he trailed off as a larger man approached.  He looked the sort who would take no nonsense, bulky; unlike every other man in the room his head was shaved closely, and he walked with a swagger stick.  Although the event was black tie he was wearing a cravat, presumably in deference to the face that neck was barely narrower than his head, and he had a kerchief in his hand with which he wiped his perpetually sweating head, which despite the coolness, was covered in rivulets of sweat.

“Is there some problem here Derekson?”  He rumbled.

“I was just enquiring as to the group’s bona fides, Sir.”

“Bit late for that isn’t it?  After the dessert.”

“As you say, Sir.”  The big man glanced behind him, barely, and Derekson gestured.  A chair was produced and the man seated himself with his stick between his legs and his hands stacked atop.

“You will excuse Derekson I hope, Mr…”

“St. John-Smythe Fotheringill.”

“Mr Fotheringill, he can be, enthusiastic.”

“James St. John-Smythe Fotheringill.”  The big man took a moment to mop his brow again.

“I do beg your pardon; may I call you James?”  He sighed heavily, and before James could reply, he said, “Thank you.  Names are such a mouthful in the modern age I find.”

“As you wish.”  Said James.  He looked at Catty, glancing around the table.  It was full.  Slightly chagrined, he turned again to the man quietly composing himself at their table.

“I fear you have the advantage of me, Sir.”  The man looked him straight in the eye.

“I do, somewhat, but you may call me Jones.  I expect that you won’t be able to steer this conversation as a result of your future knowledge of it, James.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Perhaps you should introduce me to your sister?”

“I can see you, Mr Jones.”  He looked away studiously.  James sighed.

“Buffy, Cecelia, Hope, Julia, Mr Foster, Catherine, I’d like to introduce Mr Jones, the host of this event.  Mr Jones this is Miss Pinkerton, Miss Concordat, Mrs McGill, Miss Tatworthy, Mr Foster, and my sister, Miss St. John-Smythe Fotheringill.”  Each of the table nodded in turn and the big man rose as he was introduced to Catherine.

“Delighted to meet you my dear.”  He schmoozed, attempting to take her hand, but she removed it before he could touch her.

“I still see you Jones.”  She said flatly.

“Ah, but you don’t see in here,” a tap of the temple indicated his inner thoughts, “do you?”  In response, she frowned in concentration.

“That won’t work right now, Catherine.

“Miss Fotheringill.”

“As you wish.”

“I expect that you have some sort of expectation that I will find a man I cannot read fascinating, or some such.”  Jones mopped his brow again.

“I will admit of some slight expectation.”

“Prepare to be disappointed.” She replied archly.  “I find known quantities to be more than adequate for my needs.  Mystery holds no attraction.”

“A shame, for what is life without mystery?  A predictable trammel of the unexciting.”  He gestured a little, and James could see a drink being prepared instantly at the bar.  “I find a little of the unexpected to be a piquant flavour midst of the blandness of life.”

“I prefer my food without too much flavour, Mr Jones, it keeps the palate clear for nuance.”

“I fear you have deprived yourself of a great feast, Miss Fotheringill.”

“I doubt you fear anything, Mr Jones.  A pity, really because you have no sense of danger, no real self-preservation.”

“An astute observation, Miss Fotheringill, but I take account of this; my intellect allows me to compensate.”

“Not entirely, Mr Jones.”  She turned more fully on to face him as the others watched.  “Perhaps you would like to tell us, what is your interest here?”

“Apart from the fact that you have invaded my party, eaten and drunk my food and yet managed to conceal yourselves all the while?”

“Apart from that, yes.”

“As if that were not a sufficiency in itself?  Well, I might enquire of your interest in me.”

“Oh, that is easy, Mr Jones.”  James coughed and she looked at him.  “Oh James, he knows about us, otherwise he would not be sitting here, isn’t that right?”

“Quite.”

“So, what is your interest.”  A waiter appeared at Jones’ side with a meticulously prepared Martini.  He took the drink and after contemplating it for a moment, downed it in one movement, expertly keeping the olive from entering his generous mouth.

“I will admit, you’re all very good, I didn’t know a thing about you before I discovered you were here.  It came to my attention when Mr Smith left.”  James looked at Catty and shook his head a little.  “Now, now, James, your delightful sister is not to blame.  She couldn’t conceal him for the same reason that she couldn’t keep him, the man has the ultimate free will.  You can’t hide him and he cannot be bought.  The Secret Service is lucky to have such a man.”  The big man looked around.  “Where is Mr Forster?”

“Who?”

“Come now, we have some resources, modest though they are.  One of your number is missing, we counted one more of you than there are now, and only Mr Forster is missing?  Is he nearby?”

“I daresay.”  Catherine said in a non-committal fashion.

“Then I should caution him, and you against any rash actions.  I have the room thoroughly, ah, covered, shall we say?”

“Say what you wish.”

“I generally do.  What are you doing here, Miss Fotheringill?”  The change of tone was abrupt, snappish.

“Getting the measure of you, old boy.”  Said James, suddenly.  “Seeing if you do.”

“And how do I measure up?”  said Jones.  There was a sardonic lilt in his tone, a retort ready on his lips, Catherine could see it.

“Afeared of nothing, but not a patient man I see,” said James, “working for someone, so not entirely his own master, and resenting it.”  The retort stopped in the throat of the big man.

“Well.  Quite independent, quite independent I assure you.  After all who can truly say we are our own master, or mistress eh?  Oh yes, you’ll find that if you seek to interfere with me I am capable of much, ah, independent action, Mr Fotheringill.”  He rose abruptly.  “Enjoy the rest of the evening.  I understand the orchestra is booked until late.  Dance, have fun, while you can.  Good evening.”  And with this he walked away.

Mrs McGill was the first to speak, the first time the whole table had heard her all evening.

“We got nothing.”

“Not true.” Said Mr Forster, appearing in his seat.  “We know he, and his operative or operatives cannot detect or counter me.”

“And his information network is good, inside the agency.”  Said Miss Tatworthy.

“I see no-one who could have insulated him against me though, can any on you?”  The chorus shook their heads.  James raised his hand slowly.

“We’re not in class dearest,” said Catty, “what is it?”

“I don’t think there is anyone now.  I think it was John, and someone piggy-backed on his power.”

“That’s quite a supposition.”

“I have nothing to back it up, except…”  Catty looked at him and raised an eyebrow.  “…a few years hence, we’re caught out again and I lose my vision, and this person is there, I can can’t quite…”

A commotion distracted them, the loud clang of a tray hitting the hard floor of the dance area, and waiter apologising, and a woman, unconventionally dressed in a tuxedo, though cut for her figure, cursing the man and trying to get away from the tangle of dishes and person.  As she disentangled herself, she shot them a look, an unmistakeable look of disapprobation.  James made to rise, but Catty held his arm suddenly with grip like iron.

“No, James, I have the outline of her now, and Julia has seen her face, we have her.  Not here, not in his hall.  Jones will have others on hand, muscle.  Mr Forster, if you please.”  The man glanced about, but all eyes were on the strange woman, so he tapped once on his temple, and for all intents and purposes, disappeared.  “The rest of us should leave.  I suggest that we make sure we are not followed and make our way back to, ah, our usual meeting place.  Oh dear, James, I nearly slipped up.”

“You didn’t though.  It will be fine.  Perhaps we should be discreet,” the orchestra struck up and a great many of the crowd rose to dance, “or take advantage of this excellent opportunity.”  The group rose at once and made their way to the cloakroom to collect their coats and robes, and made their way out into the night.

It was March, and while in the northern climes there still lay snow upon the ground, London was enjoying day temperatures which were relatively balmy, but the nights were still bitter and it was into this frosty exterior that the group cast out onto – Street, just as a local church clock was striking a quarter of the hour of eleven.  Two taxi cabs were waiting on the kerb for fares, of the new “Low Loader” Austin type, their exterior shiny and interiors unworn by the seats of the masses.  James looked about suspiciously, but Foster commented,

“Mr Austin has done rather well with this new design.”  The cabbie looked back.

“Quite right, sah, very comfortable for the passenger and driver alike.  Bit of an enthusiast are we, sah?”

“I like to tinker now and then, keep an eye on the industry, see what’s new.  Embankment please.”

“As you say, sah.”  The man pulled away smoothly from the kerb and began to navigate the slight night traffic, which was mostly on foot.  “A lovely drive, and affordable too.  I do enjoy it, and seeing the sights.  You wouldn’t believe the people I’ve ‘ad in ‘ere.”  Foster rolled his eyes, and Catherine winked at him, and the cabbie fell silent, though with the broad grin on his face.

“I wonder how the other three are faring.”  Said Foster.

“Was that a joke, old man?” said James, sardonically.

“I hadn’t thought of it.”  Foster turned to Catty.  “What did you do?”

“I’m having a conversation with him in his head, the excitable young woman impressed by all the new mechanisms, he can’t hear us.”

“I gathered.”  James sat up.

“This means we’re not in the influence of whoever interfered with our powers.”  Catty looked him.

“That’s obvious James, John is long gone.”  James shook his head.

“No, it’s not just John, remember about the borrower, or maybe Jones lied and that woman has a power, to cancel us out.  It doesn’t matter, we’re not in their influence now.”  Mr Foster looked bright.

“Then I shall make this journey somewhat less laborious.”  With this he sat back and closed his eyes for a moment.  In his practiced vision, he laid out before him the framework of London’s roads and byways, watched the map form in his consciousness, and then, one by one, took out the streets between their position and destination.

Their cabbie was a little confused when at last Catherine’s influence cleared from his mind, though a generous tip quelled any concerns, but the following cabbie was disoriented, and though tipped equally well, exited his vehicle to look around.

“But, that’s not right…”  he cast about.  “I’m sure…”  Catherine approached, and reached in for his thought, but withdrew quietly.  The groups walked off in the direction of some apartments.

“Why did you leave him?”  Asked Foster.

“He knowledge is so deep seated.  He will get over this, but he would not get over thinking it was natural, not like our chap.  I had ours in the palm of my hand.”

“I shall bear it mind for the future.”  He gallantly held his arm out and Catherine took it, the group walking slowly until the cabs were out of sight.  An abrupt volte-face, and the group made rather more briskly for a series of plain looking buildings facing the river and turned in to a shadowed doorway.

Inside awaited them a marble hallway, sparsely furnished, the shoes of the ladies clicked prettily upon the hard tiles as they approach a lift, and pressed the button.  The place was lit by gas, flames flickering eerily in the darkness, no windows could be discerned and though alcoves with statues dotted the hallway, no doors or other exits were to be found.  The lift itself was lit from the ceiling by some green glow, not electrical, wood panelling absorbing rather than reflecting the dim light, and barely illuminating the two buttons within.  They assembled in the device, and James closed the outer door and slid the gate across, and then nodded at Buffy, who pressed the lower button.  The lift began its long descent, and they remained in silence until it reached the bottom of the shaft.  As one, they closed their eyes, and James opened the doors once more.