In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Obtained "Cow Medicine"
- Rode A Bicycle In An Unsafe Manner
- Performed Industrial Sabotage
- Unleashed Vat 3
- Invested Prudently
The PCs are:
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator.
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College and moral gymnast.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus is now accredited and theoretically accepted by Endon's establishment.
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary (of no fixed portfolio) to Doyle Wormsby.
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Not so much a hardboiled detective as a fried egg sandwich with no napkins.
The month of Malbrogia was off to an unseasonably clear star. Endoners, used to sleet and damp socks, glanced at the cloudless sky and shrugged. It was still cold enough to require fingerless gloves, but it was a bright and cheerful cold. Lizzy Ramchander tried to keep it out of her new house.
It wasn't technically her house. She wasn't sure who owned it. Several expensive lawyers at Dewey, Howe, and Nephew had obfuscated the paperwork. But she'd seen it built and decorated. Assistant Professor Earl and Dr. Hartwell might live there, but she ran the show. The maids were gently terrified of her. Tradesmen who could stare down a brace of butlers nodded politely when she met them in the street. Number 5, Greenfield Lane was a respectable house.
The neighbors didn't necessarily approve of the curious living arrangement, but a Doctor and a Professor added a touch of class to the new neighborhood, so they kept quiet. Lizzy wasn't the housekeeper or the cook (though she did chef some of the meals, chef being her word for "offer helpful advice and criticism, and order the finest ingredients"). New money meant new cheeses and more recognizable cuts of meat.
Doctor Hartwell spent most of his nights on a folding cot at Blumsworth Hospital, returning home at odd hours. His gentle advocacy for magical healing (and pig grease) had scandalized the parts of the medical establishment that enjoy being scandalized, but his tireless work at the Hospital had earned him a grudging sort of acceptance.
Jonty had spent the off-season studying law. He wasn't a lawyer, and he didn't plan on becoming one, but he could lecture for hours. His protégé Tom was a well-known figure on campus. The Lightning Accumulator, his invention, buzzed happily on the roof of Krahlhammer's showroom, happily storing up to three full-power bolts at once. Getting the lightning out safely was proving difficult, however. Difficult but very exciting. He'd harnessed the lightning. The only problem was not getting it to bolt.
"But what is it for?" Lizzy asked skeptically, during dinner at the Unicorn Arms.
"Zapping our enemies," Tom said. "Or we could use it to execute criminals. It's much more humane than hanging."
"Sounds like death by sorcery," Jonty said, citing the well-known and widely feared provision in Endon's criminal code.
"It's not technically a spell though," Tom said. "It's just lighting. A spell can make lightning, but in this case no magic is required. Though if we can turn magic into lightning, I wonder if we can turn lightning into magic..."
"Chastity could help," Lizzy said, with a carefully crafted look of innocence. Chastity Flintwich had worked with Tom to design the Lightning Accumulator. She was an alumna of Mamseltrough Academy and a brilliant thaumic engineer, but notoriously hard to work with, owing to her temper, vocabulary, and accuracy with a thrown boot. Tom politely considered the idea before letting the conversation drift.
"Where are we on the U.S.J.R. case?" Doyle asked, spelling out the name in case Dr. Hartwell's suspicions were correct. 'Uriah Shambledrake Jr', said aloud, tended to invoke sound effects. It summoned thunder and lightning in stormy weather (which Tom intended to exploit), or falling slate tiles, or dropped glasses. It was an ominous name.
Tom shook his head. "No new information. We still don't know where late Uncle Uriah's money went. He can't have spent all of it, but the banks haven't found so much as an olive gumpert."
Lizzy tapped her fork thoughtfully. "We could look at the household bills for Shambledrake Manor. If we knew how many servants and visitors they had in the house at any given time, we could calculate if they spent more on food than normal, and determine if there were secret visitors."
"That's... an interesting idea," Jonty said, "but we don't know if those bills exist, we don't know how many staff were at the Manor, and we don't know if the... the person in question lived at the Manor, and even if he did it wouldn't really tell us much."
"But it was a nice thought," Tom added, seeing Lizzy's expression.
Dr. Hartwell Gets A Letter
The chain of stamps and post-marks started on the front of the envelope and continued onto the other side. Dr. Hartwell cut it open with a scalpel and removed the single thin sheet of paper, examining the perfect handwriting with growing concern. He checked the date on the envelope. A month past.
"Oh Anna," he sighed. Damn the post and damn his sister. Well, maybe just the post.
Anna Hartwell found her older brother at Blumsworth Hospital two days later. "A famous doctor now," she said, admiring his black coat. "Fat and learned. A real schmaltzmayster." Dr. Hartwell, who had a physique like a rheumatic hatstand, scowled. Anna was in good spirits, clean but unfashionable clothes, and carried a sturdy carpet bag full of, he presumed, all her worldly goods.
"Your letter said you met a man and that he paid for you to come to Endon."
"Met, no, but wrote, yes. We have correspondented for some months now. He is a good man."
Dr. Hartwell, who'd seen the good men of Endon, did not believe it for a second. "Who is this man? What does he do?"
"He is John Huffman of name, and of work, he is a math, err, he does the mathematics. And the wizardry," Anna said, digging through her vocabulary. "He is most clever, and writes such interesting letters. He sees the world in a most unusual way."
"So you kept up an interest in mathematics?" Dr. Hartwell said. Though he would never admit it, Anna was at least as clever as he was, but had chosen the rarefied field of highly abstruse mathematics instead of anything practical or marketable.
"There was not much to do on those long winter evenings. It was mathematics or marry a cousin," she said cheerfully, "and I did not care to marry a cousin, so now I am here. I have sold the cottage and the chickens, and come to Endon to seek my fortune, like my older brother the famous doctor." Anna grinned and gently swung her carpet bag at Dr. Harwell's legs.
"Agh! Now wait here until I am done my rounds. I will get you some new clothes, and then you can meet my friends." Dr. Hartwell dodged another friendly swing of the carpet bag. Anna did a little dance and sat on a bench.
The problem with seeking your fortune in Endon, Dr. Hartwell thought as he made his way around the wards, was that everyone else was seeking it too. What was Anna thinking? Showing up to a strange city with an imperfect grasp of the language, a carpet bag full of clothes, and a dream? Just because he'd done it didn't make it was a good idea.
Doyle Takes A Case
Nero Krahlhammer slid into Doyle Wormsby's office with a furtive and nervous air. Lizzy, who hadn't quite got the hang of secretary-ing, handed him a mug of tea and a bun, then sat next to him as he tried to inveigle Doyle into a case.
"There's this illusionist," he said, sliding a playbill across the desk. "Alfonso the Hydra. Calls himself Alfonso the Reliable now. Used to have a stage show. For the past week he's gone door to door in Grenville Court peddling his illusions. One gold piece for six hours of tireless obedient labour from a silent illusionary servant. Seems steep, eh? Well they're paying it!"
"Why?" Lizzy asked, before Doyle could speak.
"The novelty of it. It's fashionable," he spat, "or it could soon be fashionable. It's the future, Alfonso says. Not my Gel Servants."
"Your Gel Servants don't work though," Doyle pointed out. "They don't listen. They can't handle small details, like fire or ladders."
"We're getting closer! They've figured out stairs. Next up, cutlery. Lizzy has been a great help," Doyle said plaintively. "You must destroy this Alfonso the Reliable before he ruins me."
"You want me to murder this man," Doyle said, scowling.
"Not kill him. No," Nero said carefully, "but maybe rough him up a bit. Permanently," he added, under his breath.
"I'm not a thug for hire," Doyle said. "I'm a private investigator, not an assassin."
"Of coooourse not," Nero drawled, as he slid some paper across the desk. "Whose money is this?" he continued, in the timeless tone of badly managed bribery. "Can't be mine, must be yours."
Doyle sighed and pocketed the notes. Money was money. "I will look into this Alfonso for you, Nero, but like a music hall girl, it's looking only, no touching."
Dinner at Number 5 Greenfield Lane
Anna and Dr. Hartwell arrived home in the late afternoon. They'd stopped at several moderately fashionable shops on the journey to ensure Anna had a set of suitable modern outfits.
While Anna and her brother had tea in the sitting room, a procession of neighbors with plausible errands called on the house, and were disappointed to discover Anna was Dr. Hartwell's charming and intelligent sister, and not a fallen woman, decadent blackmailer, or pistol-wielding revolutionary. Scandal averted (at least, for the time being), the neighbors were replaced by Jonty, Lizzy, Doyle, and Tom.
"But who is this John Huffman," Dr. Hartwell said, exasperated. "May I look at your letters?"
Anna blushed. "Oh Augustus, they are private letters. It would not be proper to show my mathematics to you or your friends."
Lizzy thought of several amusing comments including words like "multiplication" and "show your workings out", but bit her tongue. She couldn't keep her shoulders from shaking.
"I think he was a student," Tom said. "I remember hearing about him. Tomorrow, I'll ask around on campus. Just to check on his reputation. I'm sure it's impeccable," he added hastily.
"I am sure also," Anna added stiffly. "John is a good man. He writes so cleverly on many topics." She then launched into an explanation of modern mathematics, including ungeometric field space, symbolic logic, and the Reformed Calculus, that left her audience bewildered but impressed.
"I propose that tomorrow afternoon we visit this John Huffman in Needle Circus."
"Can't," Doyle said. "I've got a case. Nero Krahlhammer hired me to track down a business rival. Someone's selling illusionary footmen to the rich and Nero's not happy about it. I'll need Lizzy's help."
"And I've got classes all day," Tom added.
"Fine, fine. I'll go with Dr. Hartwell then," Jonty said.
"I do not need a laybvekhter, err, a body-watcher," Anna said. Lizzy's shoulders convulsed.
"In this city, it pays to be cautious," Jonty said, laying on the charm.
Jonty and Lizzy had attempted flirtation, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, over the past few months. Jonty was simply too cautious and too ambitious to settle for the bird in the hand (as it were), when potential duchesses and heiresses lurked just out of sight. Lizzy was, no matter how you looked at it, a servant, and while Jonty could probably marry a music hall dancer, a journalist, or his cousin without a scandal, he wasn't sure he could marry a housekeeper and still ascend to the lofty social heights to which he aspired. Lizzy wasn't too bothered, and switched her vague flirtations to Dr. Hartwell (unlikely) and Tom (deeply implausible). Doyle was a good enough employer, Lizzy decided, but not husband material. If he was any material at all, it was patched absorbent cloth, or possibly waxed paper.
The Mysterious Alfonso
The next morning, bright and early, found Lizzy and Doyle meandering around Grenville Court. Doyle wore his usual clothes. He didn't have a "fancy about-town" outfit. Any jacket Doyle purchased immediately acquired grease stains on the collar and a patch of dried mustard, so he didn't bother. Lizzy was wearing her most inconspicuous clothes. She had three outfits: a fashionable middle-class dress, hat, and handbag, her old general-purpose cook-and-brewing clothes, and a secret Copper outfit (pilfered from her old workplace) which she kept in the bottom of her wardrobe.
She'd die rather than admit that on some nights, she dressed up as a Copper and pranced around her room calling herself "Lady Detective Inspector Ramchander", berating (in a whisper) arch-criminals and cunning rogues, and accepting apologies from all her rivals.
The servants of Grenville Court were reluctant to talk about the "allusionary persons" temporarily employed by their masters. The cost was painful - 1gp for a half-day's work when a scullery maid earned 3gp in a Season - but the workers of Endon also knew a threat when they saw it. Alfonso the Reliable was making enemies faster than he was making money.
Doyle and Lizzy also found out that he was casting from his brain, not from a wand or device. "Risky," Lizzy said. "Verrry risky, especially if he's doing four times a day. That sort of thing can wear a young man out." Lizzy waggled her eyebrows, but Doyle ignored her.
They'd glimpsed Alfonso a few times. He was a middle-aged man, well-dressed, with a thick blonde moustache, large ears, and a theatrical air. He was enough of a gentleman to gain admittance, enough of a novelty to be heard, and enough of a wizard to be hired. Doyle had also located his apartment, a tiny but small suite of rooms above a milliner's shop in West Cross.
"We should break in," Lizzy said. "Take a look around. See if he's left any incriminating secrets on his desk."
Doyle sighed and cast knock on the door, holding the handle in case it slammed. The pair nonchalantly climbed the stairs to the apartment. It was full of theatrical memorabilia, old playbills, posters, and a few books of magical theory. Tidy, but clearly not ready for guests or clients. Lizzy flipped through them and checked the notes. "He's not an academic. I don't think he even knows what he's doing, on a theoretical level at least. Must have just lucked into some good stable illusion spells and found a way to sell them."
"Lizzy," Doyle said, peering behind the curtain that divided the room in half, "what do you think this is?"
"Huh. Well, that's a Brendon magic battery, an old one. Rated as a six-charger but the design had mercury loss issues, so it's probably good for four."
"Right. And that?"
"A wooden high-backed dining chair with cables and a metal cap."
Lizzy squinted. "Err... eels, I think. Pair of eels in a glass tank."
They stared at the eels. The eels stared back from their tank of murky river water. They were metallic blue, with oddly bulbous gills. Thick insulated cables ran from the tank to the magic battery, then from the battery to the chair. The entire setup looked amateurish and very dangerous.
"He's using the eels... as a magic accumulator? Then discharging the power into his head? That's dangerous stuff." Lizzy said.
"Burning the candle at both ends," Doyle replied.
"Burning the wizard at both ends if he's not careful. This is no way to run a business. Some reputable people who own shares in a related business should make him an offer," Lizzy said slowly. "A very good offer."
"Nero won't like that. And hang on, aren't you on his side when it comes to oozes?"
"Oozes, sure, but they are so hard to train. But I've almost got the distillation ooze working. The liquor is... well, it's mostly aqua vitae."
"Still having contamination issues?"
"The last batch wasn't poisonous, but it had a peculiar flavour. And it melted the glassware."
Doyle shuddered."Right. Let's get out of here."
As they lingered over a light dinner across the street, Lizzy and Doyle watched the door to Alfonso's apartment. Eventually, the ex-entertainer returned, clearly exhausted, and unlocked the door. Before he could open it, Doyle and Lizzy were at his side like a pair of hounds.
"Helloooo Mr. Alfonso," Doyle said, shaking his hand, "we were hoping to speak with you about a business proposition. Can we come up?"
"No," Alfonso said. "It is late and I have had an exhausting day."
"Wonderful, thank you," Lizzy said, having adjusted the words in her head. Alfonso was gently propelled up the stairs and into his rooms.
"Mr. Alfonso," Lizzy said, before he could recover his equilibrium, "we represent a company engaged that also produces magical servants, of a sort, for the toffs, that is the gentry, of Endon. Our interests align." Lizzy had been reading a lot of trade literature.
"Wait... the Gel Knight people? Nortgreen and Louton? Aren't you supposed to be in prison?" Alfonso asked.
"No, we're with Nero Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparatuses," Lizzy replied.
"What's with the eels?" Doyle said, pointing behind the curtain.
Alfonso looked shocked. "They're my pets. And this is my apartment. I think you should leave. But!" he added, as they went for the door, "I could perhaps be persuaded to meet with you tomorrow. Say, 10 o'clock?"
"Done!" Lizzy said eagerly.
Grids and Laws
In the muddy land around Needle Circus, warehouses and workshops were going up as fast as people could build them. Improvised housing and small shops filled in the legally mandated alleyways, often using material from the same construction sites. "87 Needle St", the address of John Huffman, proved to be down one of these crowded and unwelcoming alleys. In their clean and shining outfits, Dr. Hartwell, Jonty, and Anna stood out, in form if not in intent.
"Are you sure this is the right address?" Dr. Hartwell asked.
"Oh yes," Anna said, holding up the bundle of letters. "It is clearly written."
"Well, in we go," Jonty said. "Try not to step on anyone."
"Anything, I think it is," Anna gently corrected, but then caught Dr. Hartwell's stern eye.
Street was proverbial. It was easier for a camel to enter the kingdom
of heaven, the wags of Endon said, than for a rich man to pass through
Dr. Hartwell's reputation among the destitute provided a sort of buffer. A foreign doctor with bad knees in a bad neighborhood, who didn't charge too much and didn't ask the wrong sort of questions, was a rarity to be treasured. Eyes watched them from every doorway, but they passed untroubled until they found the door to 87 Needle Street.
It was a shack. One room made of bricks, unseasoned timber, slate, and hope. The number was chalked on the door in a very neat hand. The street outside also had a perfect grid of 1' squares drawn on the uneven flagstones.
Anna knocked, then opened the door. John Huffman sat inside, in a room that he clearly inhabited like a set of clothes. He had tufts of brown hair that might have been unmaintained sideburns, no chin, and a thin sheen of sweat and grease. Between his bed, his desk, the stacks of books, papers, half-eaten sandwiches, and calculating instruments, there was just about enough room for the flies, but they presumably had to queue. John didn't look up from his notes.
"Ah, hello," Anna said, after a few moments. "I am Anna Hartwell. We have corresponded by letters for many months."
John turned suddenly, glanced at Anna, and said. "Yes! Look at this," he said, thrusting a piece of paper into her hands. "I have devised a system for performing all possible operations of small integers via a series of tubes. You see?"
Jonty and Dr. Hartwell looked at each other. Loxdon
College, and wizardry in general, had a high tolerance for eccentrics
and the socially inept. "Keeps to himself," they'd say, or "a bit odd
but very diligent". A tendency to mumble, avoid eye contact, categorize objects, and follow
rules could serve a wizard well.
The Alchemists had recently demonstrated a machine that used distilled air
and coal gas to create a blue-white flame capable of cutting through 6"
of steel. The flame resembled a needle of solid heat. John Huffman had a
mind like that. All the attention people normally wasted on food,
decorum, and self-awareness was focused into a point that burned like a
falling star. Most people barely pay attention to anything. John Huffman paid 100% attention to whatever he was focused on, leaving nothing left over for meals, hygiene, or sleep.
was not John's strong point, Anna whispered, as John dug through the piles to show her other papers. He was not a savant. He
had to work out the square root of 27.4 like anyone else. It was the way
he approached mathematics that caught Anna's interest. He was building a
bridge, she explained, and it was up to her to invent the girders and
posts. He knew where he wanted to go, and that math had to exist to
support his conclusions, but he didn't have the time or the inclination
to sit down and fill in the details or explain it to anyone else. She did.
"See," John said, leading the group to the back of the shed, revealing a second shed with an ancient clay golem inside. The golem's chest had been modified with a large brass box full of gears and dials. "Name two large integers."
Jonty did so. John carefully punched holes in a piece of paper, then fed it into the golem's chest box. The golem whirred and held out its hands. Fingers flicked up and down. John dutifully rattled off the resulting sum. "You see? Reliable mathematical operations of any complexity."
"Yes, but it's just a sum," Dr. Hartwell sniffed.
John grew agitated. "Everything is reducible to simple operations. Everything. You see?" He punched more holes in a card and fed it into the golem. The golem marched forwards, stepped from 1' square to 1' square in a complicated pattern, then returned to its starting location.
"Making a golem walk is not hard," Jonty said. "It's a golem. That's what they do."
"But this one does it with math," Anna said. "It reads the card and the spells inside move the limbs accordingly. It's terribly clever."
Dr. Hartwell, who'd seen Doyle's dancing gin spell perform the Kiltkicker Waltz on command, wasn't impressed. "And that's all it can do?"
"It'd be a great help with TFT equations," Anna said.
Field Theory. The bane of an industrial wizard's life. Devourer of
evenings, weekends, and pencils. It hardly mattered for minor
enchantments. Nobody really noticed if a magic kettle made little
rattling noises or shot out sparks occasionally. But in high-energy
magical devices, like magic batteries and accumulators, the field
differentials could add up very quickly. Align your enchantments in the
wrong way and your new design was a very expensive time bomb. Plotting
field equations usually took weeks, as very tired and irritable wizards
redrew lines and adjusted variables. Nobody entirely understood it, and
it only worked some of the time, but it was better than the old "guess
and hide behind a wall" method.
"And banking, I suppose," Jonty said, tapping Dr. Hartwell's arm and pointing at an unopened letter sticking out of a pile. It bore the distinctive red seal of the Royal Bank of Endon, and had a certain richness about it that suggested it was meant to be read immediately and to the reader's profit. It was unopened.
"I'm just going to... open this." With a flick of his wrist, Jonty cracked the seal. John's attention was elsewhere.
The letter was brief, sticky with compliments, and astonishing. The Bank of the Realm, via its officer Alfred Pestvage, offered John Huffman 2,300gp for the exclusive rights to his golem, his works, and his future discoveries. Mr. Pestvage invited him to meet senior bank officials at his leisure. The letter was dated a week past.
Before a very naughty wizard offered him 10,000gp to keep quiet about what happened in his office, Jonty would have regarded 2,300gp with almost religious awe. Now, it was merely a spiritual figure. It would certainly improve John Huffman's situation. He could afford to hire someone to live his life for him while he got on with his work. The Bank of the Realm was more than just a bank. It was the Bank. And the mint too. And he hadn't even opened the letter...
Jonty's roving eye found another letter, this time marked with a black and featureless seal he knew all too well. His roving fingers found the letter was open. His roving bowels turned to ice as he read the contents. "Lord T-on-B, etc, etc, remind Mr. Huffman of certain sums etc, etc, payable immediately or interest will compound, etc, etc." The sums were not named. Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, who had once lent Jonty the small fortune (at the time) of 10gp, tended to take a lively interest in the lives of his debtors. He wasn't the sort of creditor to break your kneecaps. He was the sort to involve you in a ludicrously convoluted kidnapping-and-murder plot for his own amusement. Devils knew what he would do to a man like John Huffman.
"Mr. Huffman," Jonty asked very carefully. "How much money do you owe in total?"
took the letter, read it, rummaged in the piles of paper for a few
minutes for a fistful of IOUs and other letters, punched a series of holes in a card, and fed it into the golem.
"5,253 gold pieces, 8 silver, and 4 copper. 5 copper. 6 copper.
made a little squeaking noise. 5,300 gold pieces was enough to buy a
mansion in the country or a fully equipped magical production line. The small fortune offered by the Bank of the Realm suddenly looked very small indeed. "Ah.
And how much money do you currently have?"
"Six silver two copper," John said, after checking his pockets.
"Are you able to pay your creditors back?"
"No. They gave me the money. If they wanted it, they should have kept it," John said bluntly. Dr. Hartwell and Anna shared an agonized glance.
"But... they want you to pay them back," Jonty said.
"Then they will be disappointed."
"Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl does not like to be disappointed."
"Then he should not have given me money," John said, as if that explained everything.
Anna swore gently in Foreign. Dr. Hartwell whispered a translation to Jonty that ended with "and brains like spreadable cheese."
"Mr. Huffman, do you owe money to anyone local? Say, for example, those two gentlemen of uncertain employment watching us from the doorway of that barber shop?"
John looked up briefly. "Yes."
"Oh good. I'll be right back," Jonty said, motioning for Dr. Hartwell. Anna seemed happy enough to keep John company and listen to his high-speed drone.
Alan Dard and the Needle Street Gang
Johnty approached the barber shop with an air of nonchalance that he hoped would inspire bafflement and fear. "Excuse me," he said to one of the large bowler-hatted men at the door, "who runs things around here?"
The loafer looked at Jonty, looked at Dr. Hartwell, looked up the street to the wizard, looked inside, then motioned over his shoulder with his thumb. Jonty stepped into the barber shop. From the layer of dust on the chairs and the state of the razors, it was clear that most of the activity in the building took place just behind the half-open door to the back room, where Jonty could see a chalkboard, an abacus, and the thick cigar smoke of men engaged in heavy betting.
Alan Dard, master of the Needle Street Gang, stomped out of the back room and shook Jonty's hand, introducing himself with a hearty laugh and a cloud of tobacco fumes. Jonty did not wince, which impressed him immediately, and returned the introduction.
"And you run this establishment?"
"I run a lot of things 'round here. I'm a community leader. Voting days, tax days, civic holidays, me and my lads make sure everything runs how it ought to run." Alan lit a bulbous cigar. "So what can Alan Dard and the Needle Street Gang do for you?"
Jonty made discreet inquires about John Huffman. Alan puffed and considered the matter.
"He paid one of my lads 4gp for a bottle of ink. Didn't even look at the coins, just handed them over. He's not... quite right in the head, I think."
"You've been robbing him?" Jonty asked, leaning forward.
"Oh no, not as such. He just can't seem to help hisself. It's like he doesn't know what money is for. Spends it like water, then gets more on credit."
"Which you are happy to extend to him. I wonder why."
"He's a wizard," Allan said smugly. "And a powerful one too. You can hear him thinking. It's an investment. One day he'll be as rich as King Sheod or explode in a funny way."
Jonty considered this. "We are also investing in Mr. Huffman's future. How much does he owe you?"
"Call it 11gp," Alan said. "Not much, but more than he has, and a debt is a debt."
"I'll pay it," Jonty said. "And pay you and your... friends to watch him for a week. See that he eats and doesn't contract any fresh debt. Keep other prying eyes away. And see that no harm, or even an improper suggestion, comes to Miss Hartwell on her visits."
"That sort of thing costs. Costs a lot. 15gp," Alan said, then held up a finger as Jonty nodded. "On top of the 11 previously mentioned."
"For a week of doing what you're doing already? That's highway robbery!" Dr. Hartwell exclaimed, from the other side of the shop.
"Not this time. This is business." Alan grinned and tapped the table. "26gp is no price at all for my friendship. Unless you'd play for it, that is."
"Cards?" Jonty replied. "What game?"
"Six Man Jack or Gumpert's Away," Alan said, pulling out a dog-eared pack from his vest and starting to shuffle.
"Six Man Jack it is. Stakes are this. I win, it's 11gp. You win, 22gp. We play five sets. Three with my deck and two with yours."
"Think I've marked these cards, do you?" Alan said, grinning enormously and lighting another cigar. "It's a brave man who'd say that to my face. I accept."
Jonty spent the next hour losing, but he lost with skill and dignity, even in the face of some fairly blatant cheating and sharping. He didn't lose deliberately, and 22gp was a princely sum he could ill afford. In fact, he didn't have the money on him. Dr. Hartwell ended up topping up the pile with notes from his wallet. Allan Dard grinned like Fatty Satan* and pocketed the money.
*The legendary crocodile that lives below New Bridge, eating urchins, children who misbehave, and boatmen who owe money to people like Allan Dard.
Later, as he walked north to Loxdon College, Jonty Earl would consider that Alan Dard was not, perhaps, the sort of person one would wish to have as a friend and colleague.
"Poor Mr. Huffman," Anna said. "No one to look after him." Anna was new to Endon, but she was as sharp as a tack.
"Yes, "Jonty added." "If only he had friends to look after his business interests. I wonder... Dr. Hartwell, do you think we could..."
"I'm sure you already have," Dr. Hartwell said. "But we will not proceed further today. We will let Tom make inquiries on campus, meet our friends for dinner, and then we will discuss business matters."
Slumming It At The Unicorn Arms
The group's newfound wealth had propelled them into a social class that didn't, traditionally, visit the Unicorn Arms, but Anna had insisted on visiting "a real Endon tavern", so they obliged her. It was an odd feeling, sticking out in a place where they'd once fitted in, and seeing the looks on the faces of some of the permanent residents. They rented the private dining room at the back and settled down to a dubious feast.
After trying out the local delicacies, including "boiled things", "fried meat", "potato with salt and butter", and, for dessert "more gin", the group got down to business.
Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, and Anna shared their impressions of Needle Circus. Tom had inquired into John Huffman's past. He was a student at Loxon College, two years ahead of Tom. Brilliant in some respects, but reclusive and obsessive, he'd left the College after the Double Spell Contest.
"You see, some students set up a contest for the best new spell that does two things. Light and create water in the same spell, that sort of thing. Bragging rights and beer, and a bit of money, but mostly bragging rights. Entry number five demolished half the building they were holding the contest in, so I think it ended in a draw, but Huffman was entry three. Apparently he turned up and gave a lecture on the theoretical basis of the omni-spell."
The others looked at him blankly. "The omni-spell?" Tom prompted. "Like the alchemist's stone but for wizards? A spell that can do anything?"
"Right. And he'd invented one?" Jonty said.
"No, not at all, that was the bit that got him laughed at. He'd just come up with a theory of how one could be cast. It apparently was all math and things. Nobody understood it. He also mumbled a lot and talked very quickly. And then he left the College and nobody'd heard from him since, except for the letters he'd sometimes send to professors. Brilliant, like I said, but a bit odd."
"We should invest in his future, to ensure he has one. Hire a servant to keep him fed and watered and occasionally bathed. Find him a nice quiet workshop. And negotiate with the Bank, of course," Jonty said. There was something about John Huffman. He wasn't likeable, exactly. He was easily dislikable, between the body odour and the lack of any social graces, but he had a mind that ought to be watched.
Doyle and Lizzy revealed their findings on Alfonso the Reliable.
"Eels," Tom said. "Eels. There were posters for an Eel Hunting Club on campus last week. They were up for about two days, then someone tore them all down. It seemed odd."
"I remember those. Tom, can you talk to the porters? All posters have to be approved and stamped by them, which means money, which means records. I bet the Eel Hunting Club is behind this somehow." Jonty said, fully caught up in the spirit of private investigation. Doyle was contagious.
Tom nodded. Jonty continued, in his usual manner. "Right, then that's our assignments for tomorrow. Dr. Hartwell, Anna, and I will visit Mr. Huffman again, get him to sign some extremely fair contracts so we can act as his agents in negotiations with the Bank of the Realm. We need to get him out of debt as quickly as possible. Tom, you will investigate the Eel Club. Doyle and Lizzy, you will take Alfonso to meet Nero Krahlhammer and see if he can be bought or rented for reasonable rates."
The Burglarious Entry
Doyle slept in a room next to his office. He rented four rooms: an outer office and waiting area where his secretary had a desk full of sandwich material, an inner office with a desk full of notes, his bedroom, and a closet. The amount of visible floor decreased as you progressed through the rooms. The closet was a sort of primordial chaos of paperwork, lost socks, empty bottles, and odds-and-ends.
And he'd been burgled. He noticed the signs before he opened the door. The lock was untouched, but there was the faintest oily sheen of magic around the keyhole. Someone had used knock, probably within the past few hours. He took out his umbrella and prodded the door open. He prodded it again. Locked. Oh, these burglars were good.
After unlocking the door and carefully scanning the office, he stepped inside. The rooms looked exactly as he'd left them; a complete shambles. But there were subtle signs, detectable only by the terminally paranoid. He always stuck tiny pieces of straw into the drawers of his desk before leaving. Some of them were on the floor. There were also faint scratches on the floorboards. He stared at them for a few moments, circled them once, then snapped his fingers. An Iconograph. The burglars had set the tripod here to capture every detail of his office on their plates. Why?
Side Note: On some less organized worlds, iconographs use tiny summoned imps with paintbrushes to create portraits. Endon's wizards found that magically treated paper, a prism, and a few mechanisms are more reliable. Imps might not have much imagination, but it takes a special lack of imagination to draw moustaches and missing teeth on every face.
He looked into his bedroom. Oh. That's why. In a fit of manic compulsion, he'd started to plot all his theories on the wall, using cards, red string, and brass tacks. Entries like "Newt Fancier Club (Shut Down 2 Years Ago Why)" connected to "Prof. T." in a bewildering constellation of theories, facts, and wild speculation. He didn't think anything on the board was incriminating, but he had the feeling he was now playing with marked cards.
He just hoped his enemies couldn't read his handwriting.
Things That Go Bump In The Night
A noise like ten thousand thunderbolts smashed through Doyle's outer office. He leapt from his bed, realized his legs were still mostly asleep, fumbled for the door, and lurched into room in a haze of gin and dust. "Aha!" he said.
"Oh, you're awake," Lizzy replied. "Why did you wedge a chair under the door handle? The door opens outwards."
"We've been burgled," Doyle moaned, collapsing back onto the bed.
Lizzy looked around. "Can't have been. This place is unransackable. Get up. We've got to meet Alfonso."
"What time is it?"
"Eight in the morning?! No such hour," Doyle said, despairing.
"I've got you a toasted cheese sandwich, a mug of coffee, and a baked apple with that spice that makes Jonty sneeze on it," Lizzy said, placing the items on the far side of Doyle's desk. He gave her a bleary look of resignation, then shuffled over.
"And hurry up," she said, tucking into her own cheese sandwich. "The morning edition of the Life and Times says there was a kidnapping in West Cross in the wee hours of the night, details to follow, and I bet know who the kidnapee was."
Doyle spluttered, tried to do six things at once, and sprinted for the door, pausing only to disentangle his legs from the chair, locate his coat, and stuff the baked apple in his pocket.
The group arrived in West Cross at more-or-less the same time. They'd all read the morning papers and, with the grim sense of narrative, arrived at the same conclusion and at the same address. "Oh sugar," Lizzy whispered. She was trying out new middle-class oaths. Her usual repertoire could boil an egg from fifty paces.
A very bored Copper guarded the stairs to Alfonso's apartment. Between the paper, the murmurs of the crowd, and people whose friend had a cousin who'd seen the whole thing, the group pieced together the simple story. In the dead of the night, two men had broken into Alfonso's apartment and dragged him downstairs to a waiting carriage, which sped off into the night. The marks of a crowbar were clearly visible behind the police ribbon (blue and black, to remind people of the bruises they'd acquire if they crossed it)... along with, Doyle noted after a daringly close squint, the faint sheen of magic around the keyhole. His spell, or another one? There were also thick chunks of mud on the steps and several sets of bootprints. Lizzy scooped a few bits of mud into a vial when the Copper wasn't looking.
Victus Crane, one of Endon's rare and mysterious Thaumaturgic Detectives, walked down the stairs and ducked under the ribbon. He scowled at the crowd, then stepped on to the back of the waiting police wagon. Doyle waggled his eyebrows and beckoned. Vicutus frowned and leaned forward.
"Who are you?" he asked, icily.
"Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator."
"What is that?" Victus said. Doyle was asked this frequently. Private investigators had yet to catch on in Endon.
"Like a Copper, but freelance. Or a reporter who doesn't publish," Doyle said patiently, handing over his card.
"Is that so? Well, the ribbon in front of that door still bars you.. and your friends," he said, looking around as Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, and Lizzy tried and failed to be inconspicuous. "Do you have any pertinent information to add to this case?"
"No. Do you?" Doyle said.
Victus suppressed a sneer. "That is not your concern. Where were you last night? Where were your associates?"
"At the Unicorn Arms. Unbreakable alibis, or alibibis as you Coppers call them, and all that. Just tell me one thing," Doyle said, as Victus climbed into the wagon. "Were the eels still there?"
Victus paused. He seemed to think for a few moments, then stepped down, and bent very close to Doyle's ear. "Now why should you ask about eels?"
Doyle didn't flinch. "Just a thought."
"Keep thinking, Mr. Wormsby. And, between you and me, the eels were not there. Isn't that interesting?" And then, without looking back, Victus climbed into the wagon and tapped the partition with his truncheon.
"Also, I've been burgled," Doyle said casually. "So if you'd care to send a few good men to my office, address on the card, I'd appreciate it. Burgled last night, in fact. Just before this kidnapping, I think. By some very clever people. I'll see you then." Doyle smiled placidly as the wagon drove off.
The Tragic Hubris of the Eel Hunting Club
"We didn't mean for it to go wrong!" Jeremy Golt whined, wringing his hands and peering over Tom's shoulder.
Tom took the quickest route to the truth. He'd found a porter, politely asked them about the posters for the Eel Hunting Club, got Jeremy Golt's name, remembered Jeremy was an elementalist of some skill and that they had a class together, and simply sat down next to him and smiled. Merely mentioning the club had set Jeremy's guilty conscience into overdrive. Tom's reputation as a lightning-tamer (and, if rumour was to be believed, professor-killer) didn't help. After class, they'd found a secluded alcove, and Jeremy had spilled his secrets like an overcooked sausage.
"You know how summon spells sometimes bring in weird creatures, like those giant bouncing rats we had last year? The boxing ones? Well, sometimes you get eels that make lightning. They don't live for long and we can't get them to breed, but we were thinking - that is me, Guffy Chesterton, and Nedrick Bilgent, and a couple of others who weren't much use but were along for the hell of it - we were thinking that if we could summon them reliably we could figure out how they worked. I was on the elemental side, Guffy did the biomancy, and Nedrick did the summoning. We used the snail conversion trick to get them to breed, but it all sort of went wrong."
Tom nodded politely, having absorbed about half of the information. "But you called it the Eel Hunting Club."
"Well we had to do something. They escaped, see. The eels we made didn't make lightning. They ate magic, and when they felt threatened they released it. They could suck the thaums right out of your head. It was horrible! And the they blasted a hole in the basement and escaped. We thought they'd probably die in the sunlight, but then Guffy said he'd seen one in the river, so we started the club. Went out with nets and jars. BYOB, bring your own boots, ha ha. But then one of the eels drained Guffy and we had to take him to the hospital, so that was the end of the club. Too dangerous for wizards to hunt them."
"Err, right," Tom said, nodding, as his brain tried to catch up. Jeremy was perspiring freely.
"And then some actor in West Cross wrote me a letter saying he had two magic eels and to meet him at midnight, so we got a bunch of lead and put it in a purse to try and trick him into thinking it was coins, and we dressed up in black and went up to meet him, but when we got there we saw a carriage race away from his door and the door was broken, and people were starting to call for the Coppers, so we left."
"That wouldn't happen to be Alfonso the Reliable?" Tom asked.
"Oh gods!" Jeremy cried. "How did you know?"
"It was in the papers. But you didn't kidnap him?"
"Of course not!"
"But you were going to swindle him out of his eels, if he had eels," Tom said. A nagging voice at the back of his mind suggested that Alfonso probably didn't want to sell his eels. They were a vital part of his magic brain recharging device. But someone who knew he had eels might want some students with a strong motive to be around during the kidnapping, to keep the Coppers occupied. He was starting to think like Jonty.
"Swindle yes, kidnap no. And we never got the chance. Never even got to the address," Jeremy said.
"Fine, fine." Well, sorry your eels escaped. Probably worse than the rats.
"Oh gods! You know about the rats!" Jeremy crumpled against the wall.
Tom paused. "Yes. You just told me. The big bouncing rats that kept punching people?"
"Oh, those rats," Jeremy said, relieved. "Yes, of course, that's right, those rats. Those rats are fine." Tom gave Jeremy a very hard look. "But if you see any other rats," the stricken wizard continued, "definitely remember that they can't talk."
"Of course not," Tom said slowly. Some wizards were too eccentric for their own good.
The rest of the group wandered over to Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati. Doyle was startled to see the lock on the front door also carried a thin sheen of magic. "Aha!" he said, pointing at it. The others patiently waited for his explanation, which took a few moments, as he had a bit of narration to get out of his system first.
"Seems fine to me," Lizzy said, peering in the window. "His clerk is in there moving around. No signs of violence."
"But there's mud on his doorstep," Doyle said, pointing down. Lizzy compared it to the mud in her vial, shrugged, and carefully kicked most of it into the gutter.
Nero, when they stepped inside, was visibly distraut. "I've been burgled! Err, well, not burgled exactly. Come and see." He dragged them through the building and to the back alley, where a pair of large muddy boots were sat ominously on a flowerpot. "I found them in my closet. They are mine, but I rarely wear them. Fresh mud! It's a conspiracy of some sort, I know it."
While Nero could see a conspiracy to ruin his business in the most mundane of coincidences, the group agreed that this was very suspicious. Dr. Hartwell went upstairs to try and coax the scrying apparatus into detecting the source of the mud, while Lizzy examined the boots. They'd been forced open and tied hastily. Someone had worn their shoes inside of the boots.
"River mud, I think," Dr. Hartwell reported a few moments later.
"Someone's definitely trying to frame us for something," Doyle said. "But who? And why?"
Who and why indeed? Who is behind the kidnapping of Alfonso the Reliable and (possibly) his magical eels? Who broke into Doyle's office? What does Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl want with John Huffman? Why is Jeremy Golt afraid of rats? Will Lizzy ever get married? Will Jonty ever get tenure?
Find out next time.