Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

The Most Boring Man in Fallen London, Part Six

Penned upon the 6th of February, 2014

Doctor Taupe-Wainscot sat on his bed, his hands laid in his lap. They were good hands – strong and dexterous – and they had served him well for the past thirty years, but now he felt that all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten them. Blackmail! He’d known an Anglo-Barbadian colonel who’d been got hold of by a blackmailer – the poor man had blown his brains out rather than face the scandal, and he, the doctor, had been called in to examine the body. As though it had been necessary – a child could have seen all there was to see in that grim display, and its artist had gone beyond the talents of any mortal physician. He sat and stared, lost in the recollection, until a loud rap at the door startled him to his feet. He imagined a rush of reporters into his modest quarters, followed by burly constables to take him away in chains… but it was only his hostess, letting him know that there was a courier at the door with a delivery for him, that he was popular today, and that as the sitting-room still smelled of fresh paint, he should join her for tea in her private drawing-room that afternoon.

“Another package arrives at the Soft-Hearted Widow’s establishment; this one is delivered via the grinning, smells-of-rats courier. His red-and-gold, eye-covering mask is still in place, but he seems to have swapped his tired, unmemorable clothing out for a black, slightly stained vest, a long-tailed brown jacket and a set of pants of the same colour. It’s all very stiff, though—likely they’re disguising something much sturdier. He waits until you are present, not speaking at all until then, then hands the package over with a clumsy bow. “Th’ boss wants t’… Well, I suppose th’ best way t’ put it is ”e wants t’ see you,’” he says, doing his best to fake a Devilish drawl and grinning menacingly. “’E’s at one of his fancy throw’way ‘ddresses t’night. So what he proposes is… Well, I suppose you’ll figure it out soon enough after tearing the paper. It’ll be good fun, I’m sure. If y’ like losing.” Then he strides off, without so much as a goodbye. The address in question, along with the initials “SF,” are scrawled onto the paper. After that: “We have contacts among the Constables. We’ll know.” The package itself contains a rather simple, wooden chess-board. The pieces, it seems, ‘SF’ has kept for himself. “

An invitation to chess? He was no stranger to the game – indeed, during his last posting, he’d enjoyed regular sessions with the governor’s private secretary. Seldom had a summons been so… menacing, however. The board was a plain affair, unadorned besides the image of a row of pawns… and then, suddenly, quietly, he thought he saw a light guiding him out of terror and strife. He returned the board to its wrappings, together with some papers, and, informing the widow that he had an errand to run and would return shortly, stepped out into the street with a deliberate nonchalance. A cab, hailed at the corner, took him to the “throw’way ‘ddress” – a suite of soot-choked furnished rooms carved out of a once-noble town-house, of the sort favoured by aspiring artists and failing actors. He knocked twice and the door was opened – apparently by legerdemain – for his host was seated, alone, at a table in the centre of the room.

Taupe-Wainscot had half-expected a criminal mastermind out of a gothic novel – red eyes, hunched shoulders, perhaps an opera cape. Instead, Mr Ferenczy was a small, stocky man in the costume of a common labourer, whose cool, fixed stare betrayed a rapacious intellect. The man spoke, with the faintest suggestion of an accent: “Good day, Doctor. Please, join us.” He indicated an empty chair, and began to pull chess pieces from a small box, adding “We are, of course, being watched.”

As he took a seat and placed the chessboard between them, the doctor disclaimed any active part in the prison… incident. He’d been a passive participant – really, little more than an observer. These objections were dismissed with a wave of the hand. “Our interest in you lies elsewhere.” Ferenczy set up the pieces with an easy precision, and advanced a pawn. They played for some time in silence, before he added, “You are new to the Neath?”

“Entirely.” the doctor admitted.

“You’ve attracted a deal of attention.” The tone was emphatically not that of a question, and yet demanded an answer.

“I certain amount, I suppose… old acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances… and, I must confess, some from complete strangers, which I am at a loss to explain.” A nod, and he felt emboldened to bring his rook onto the field and to continue. “Not all of which has been entirely welcome.” He removed the blackmailing letter from his bundle and passed it to his host, who read it without apparent emotion.

“You do not know the sender?”

“No… nor can I, in my present circumstances, afford to pay them. My luggage and papers…” Ferenczy gestured to indicate familiarity with this part of his story, and he continued with some discomfort. “Given that this person takes exception to my association with your own… your own employees, I hoped that – well, I would not dare to presume, but I thought that it might be of some interest to you.”

The man nodded, and tucked the letter into his breast-pocket. “Quite right, good doctor; quite right. This will not do at all. We shall look into these matters.” He returned his attention to the board, and the doctor soon found his king penned in by a knight and a bishop, and checkmate quite inevitable. His host accepted his surrender with a bow, and intoned cryptically, “L’église, l’armée, le trône; Ware serpents.”

The doctor felt unsteadied on leaving the stuffy apartment, and the full strangeness of the scene outside struck him – an ordinary city street, lined with shops and houses, beneath a sky of solid rock studded with impossible stars. Still, he had received something approaching a promise of assistance – and if he never received another anonymous communication, he’d feel all the better for it. There was a rather raffish crowd milling about – evidently a luncheon-party, looking for transportation to some distant, fashionable eatery. There were more people than cabs, and he found himself having to share his return journey with a young man in a dark coat and an extremely tall hat.

The Masters of the Bazaar… he’d heard the term. He gathered that they were a syndicate, or something like, and controlled the lion’s share of the city’s trade. Foreign, by the sound of it – which would explain the fuel magnate taking the name “Mr Fires”. Though perhaps it was the fellow’s real name – stranger things did happen. Growing up, his parents had known a tonic merchant by the name of Acker, and he had always thought that terribly amusing. Nonetheless… London had always held her mysteries, and no doubt he would learn much as he established himself there.

Fallen London and all its contents are (c) Failbetter Games 2010-2014.

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