A Watching Case

WARNING: Contains Lot’s rude humour.

Lot gets a grip on things and points Bran in the right direction.

Nine Shillings and Victorian Mistress are also available on Wattpad.

London – 1843

Bran was sitting on a bench opposite the Windermere Hotel smoking his pipe while appearing to read a newspaper. No-one ever questioned how long a man with a pipe and a newspaper sat or stood anywhere, sitting and standing around was what men with pipes and newspapers did.

At a tea cart down the road some well-to-do young ladies were comparing him to a roguish highwayman with his long hair, bristly jaw and crumpled clothes. They seemed oblivious that he was the same man they’d called ‘old’ and unattractive a few years earlier.

I crossed the road and sat down beside him, looking respectable in my silk dress and thank-God-I-no-longer-needed-to-breath corset, to the muttered disapproval of silly girls.

‘I thought you were going to keep an eye out inside?’ he said.

‘I got bored of the attention,’ I muttered and scratched. ‘Did you know a lovely lady shouldn’t be left sitting alone?’

The stem of his pipe creaked between his teeth.

‘It may have been suggested I leave after threatening to crack an important man’s testicles like nuts at Christmas.’ I smiled. ‘I had firm grip on the situation.’

Bran sucked smoke in sharply and coughed.

I patted his back. ‘How can you be sure Saint George is getting ridden? They could be taking tea.’

Bran cleared his throat then gave me a look that asked when the last time we went to a hotel and only took tea was. Never, was the answer but I wasn’t going to mention that.

I scratched my neck again. The enchantment on my silver pendant was making me itch, the illusion hid the scars across my neck and shoulder but I could still see them. It annoyed me that I’d conceded to Josef’s point that being so identifiable was problematic for a vigilante and an immortal. It was little consolation that I only needed to wear it around humans, there were a lot of them.

‘What’s the fella’s wife thinking of doing anyway?’ I asked and shifted closer to press my thigh against Bran’s. ‘She can’t divorce him.’

He grinned around his pipe. ‘They’re not married, she’s his mistress and she has all the money.’

‘A wife and two mistresses? Some gentlemen have too much time of their hands.’ I flexed my fingers, fighting the urge to scratch again. It wasn’t just my neck, the magic made me uncomfortable all over.

Bran flicked his newspaper to straighten it and the front page caught my eye. It was another article on the ‘epidemic’ of death by fright with a ghoulish sketch of a man holding a candle and frozen in horror at the top of some stairs.

I clasped the corner of the paper to adjust it for a better look. ‘Is there nothing better in the news so they have to make it up?’

Bran closed the paper and reread the headline. ‘They make a vague mention that the shock of finding a maid dead at the bottom of the stairs might’ve done it.’

I took the paper. It claimed the dead man, Artimus Goodington, was an acquaintance of the Widow Merryborn and a few other ‘victims’ of the ‘epidemic’ and it was ever so tragic that this group of ‘philanthropists’ were kicking the bucket. I snorted at that; they bought and sold babies as their acts of charity, I’d have got round to them myself it they hadn’t dropped off the mortal coil. At the bottom of the page was brief a sentence about a maid being dead at the bottom of the stairs. They didn’t name her.

‘Nobody’s going to bother finding out what happened to her,’ I said. ‘Just another dead poor girl.’

Bran’s fingers touched my leg then withdrew.

‘If you want to help people you should help her, instead of licentious rich folk,’ I folded the paper and offered it to him.

‘You’re the one who said I should take paid cases.’ He took the paper but didn’t open it.

‘I’d pay you,’ I muttered, fists tightening.

‘Do you think Josef’s right and I should cut my hair and shave?’ He rubbed his chin and making his bristles rasp.

My fists released and I smiled, trust Bran to know how to distract me from my rising temper. I leaned in and tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear, fingers tracing the top of it. ‘Do you like it?’

‘Do you?’

‘What have I told you about wanting things?’

He caressed my jaw. ‘I like it.’

‘Good, you look delicious.’ I kissed him softly. ‘But we’re veering off the subject.’

Bran sat back, blushing at remembering we were in public. He tapped out the contents of his pipe against the bench then scraped it out with a blunt knife and excessive concentration.

I took advantage of the pause to look directly at the young ladies. They whispered to each other about whether I was looking at them, I couldn’t possibly hear them over the people in the street. A carriage passed by and I continued to stare. They muttered about how I couldn’t know.

Another minute of staring and they decided they’d rather be elsewhere and walked off. I smiled to myself.

Bran tucked his pipe and knife inside his coat. ‘I might know someone. He owes me a favour.’

I didn’t question that. Josef had told me once that Bran collected favours and then forgot the bit where he was supposed to call them in. Seven hundred years was a long time to be collecting favours.

I nodded towards the hotel. ‘You’re adulterer is getting away.’

Bran looked back at the hotel in time to see The Right Honourable Roger Gilbert striding down the street, alone. ‘Did you see if he left with anyone?’ Bran asked, turning his gaze back to the hotel.

My smile grew. ‘Of course.’

Read more episodes of Nine Shillings here. Or read Lot’s first adventure Victorian Mistress here.


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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