Under Lock and Key

WARNING: This story was written before the Grenfell fire in London. 

Charlotte goes to war.

For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page or Wattpad: @JesseQuill

London – 1841

The files were interesting. They weren’t the ones I was looking for interesting but they were definitely interesting.

The study door opened and Mr Handleson came in. He stood with his hand on the door handle staring at me sitting in his chair with my booted feet on his desk and a bottle of his whiskey beside me.

‘Late home, aren’t we?’ I said and took a sip of whiskey, from the glass as I was being polite.

‘I’ll call the constables!’

I turned a page. ‘You do that.’

He coughed and huffed and didn’t do a thing. He didn’t want the constables digging around in his study though I very much doubted they’d bother. Constables chased people and hit them with truncheons, thinking wasn’t a requirement.

‘Do you know who I am?’ he said.

I lowered the pages and looked at him.

‘My employer is an important man,’ he said.

‘All men think they’re important,’ I muttered, tracing my finger around the top of the glass absently. ‘It’s why you’ll always lose.’

He was edging around the bookcases full of unread leather bound volumes towards the safe hidden behind a painting of a fox hunt. I assumed it hadn’t occurred to him that the safe was the first thing a thief looked for. He was going for the musket that was tucked into the back of my knife belt and poking me in the spine. He would’ve been better off keeping it in his desk drawer loaded, but he probably never expected to need it.

‘Your employer is a hard man to find. Crooked business dealings all over the place and not a finger mark on them. He’s good,’ I said. ‘You, however… Writing all your secrets in a criminal code? People that to break into places tend to be criminals.’ I tapped the the stack of pages back together and tossed them on the desk.

They landed with a satisfying thump.

He paused in his creep, watching me.

‘I bet all those aspiring philanthropists who gave you money to try build “quality housing” for the poor would be interested in these. The Fairfields, in particular, gave you a lot of money. I wonder what they’d think about how much off that money you skimmed off the top for your boss.’

My boots hit the ground.

He froze again. ‘Business is business.’

‘Hmmm.’ I got to my feet. ‘Do you have records of how many of those places collapsed? How many people died? Or is that not worthy of your attention?’ I moved closer.

‘Accidents happen –‘

‘It’s not an accident if the wood was rotten before you put it in the building,’ I said. ‘But as you don’t have to live in them I don’t suppose it matters to you.’

He pressed his back against the shelves and glanced towards the safe. He only had a few feet to go but then he had to get it open. He must’ve been regretting having such a big study or that his servants all had the same evening off. No-one was there to hear a shout for help.

‘I’m sure my employer will pay you generously to forget about this,’ he said.

‘I’m sure we don’t know he won’t pay me.’ I took the musket from my belt and offered it to him. ‘Thinking of this?’

He stared at the weapon then at me. It wasn’t loaded but a musket was more useful as cudgel anyway. It was too slow to loaded and likely to miss.

‘I’ll give you money. He need never know you were here. I promise.’

‘It has ceased to surprise that men who murder for profit think I’ll take money to forget their sins,’ I said. ‘Where is he hiding?’

‘I can’t tell you that. He’ll kill me.’

‘I’ll just have to get his attention.’

I stabbed him in the chest. He stayed suspended at the end of my arm, blood running from his mouth onto the bright pattern of the rug.

‘He’ll find you,’ he whispered.

I put my mouth close to his ear. ‘I know.’ Then I dropped him.

I threw the knife. It smashed the bottle and sliced through the candle. The desk ignited. The knife thudded into the bookcase.

‘Come and get me, Richard,’ I muttered and walked out.

Part of Jesse’s Studio’s Fiction Frenzy there will be a new episode of Victorian Mistress everyday from 4th June until 17th June 2017.


Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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