Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 48
Hawthorn put his glass down and looked directly at the servant for the first time.
“Now you interest me. Let’s sit over there.”
Hawthorn pointed to a table in a quiet corner. He walked around the table to take the chair with his back to the wall.
“I was in a bar in Cambridge when this bloke started up a conversation about the cider,” Boswell said when they were seated.
“You knew him?” Hawthorn asked.
Boswell shook his head.
“He kept trying to steer the conversation around to the general.”
“Really, what did you tell him?”
Boswell lifted his head and looked Hawthorn in the eye.
“Nothing, I don’t discuss my clients.”
“A good policy,” Hawthorn observed.
“I didn’t think much of it at the time but I found out later that this bloke was in the habit of buying the soldiers drinks and talking about the general. Apparently, one of them had pointed me out as the general’s servant. I dunno, it just seemed odd when I thought about it so I decided to report the thing. Anyway I have so I’ll bugger off.”
Hawthorn stopped him by gripping his arm. He laughed as if Boswell had said something funny.
“Some plum brandy for my friend, here,” Hawthorn said loudly to the barman.
Hawthorn started a monologue about a girl he’d known who ran a burlesque show until the barman had finished serving them.
“I don’t suppose you took any pics of our curious friend?” Hawthorn asked.
“No sorry, but I would recognize him again” Boswell said eagerly. “He had an unusual orange tint to his eyes and a mass of scar tissue on his neck.”
Hawthorn smiled and inwardly cursed. There was nothing better at disguising a face than a few hideous defects to distract attention from everything else.
“No matter, I will arrange a hard cash payment for you in a way that doesn’t look as if it comes from me.”
“There’s no need for that, sar, I don’t need bribing. I pride myself on my loyalty to my clients.”
“If I had any doubts about your loyalty, Boswell, I would have removed you long ago,” Hawthorn said, pleasantly enough but something about his smile seemed to bother the servant. “It’s not a bribe but a bonus for services outside the normal expectation of your duties.”
“Oh a bonus,” Boswell said, brightening. “In that case I gladly accept, sar.”
The way people divided simple acts into classes according to complex social rules had always puzzled Hawthorn. If he fancied a girl and she was willing then he took her. Some ladies had fixed fees for their favors while others required flattery and presents. It was all the same to Hawthorn but apparently the difference was a matter of great importance to the women.
It was the same with people like Boswell, to whom a bribe was an insult but a bonus was a compliment. It was still just money, something whose only value was in its usefulness to achieving one’s goals. No matter, Hawthorn learned society’s rules and how to game them.
He had a rapid change of mind and insisted that Boswell kept him company for the rest of the evening’s entertainment. Boswell had chosen his moment wisely. It was very unlikely that anyone who mattered would ever hear of their meeting but Hawthorn liked to play the odds. He wanted to leave memories of only a couple of pals enjoying a jolly evening. The best place to hide something was in plain sight. Hawthorn was a good raconteur and worked to keep Boswell in stitches. He left a decent tip for the barman when he finally paid up and they staggered off into the night.
Actually Hawthorn was nowhere near as smashed as he looked. He came to a decision. Allenson’s security would have to move up a gear from a defensive reactive posture to a more aggressive proactive strategy. Or, to put it another way, he was going to have to kick arse and get answers.
It turned out that Trina had travelled with a number of cases of wine, plum brandy, and even assorted sweetmeats in vacuum packs. Dinner in the officer’s mess that evening was a great success and not just because of the novel varieties of food. The leavening effect of the ladies transformed the mood. Allenson did his best to join in but he was not by nature a party animal and at the moment his responsibilities lay heavy on his shoulders.
Sleep came slowly that night. He lay for what seemed a lifetime listening to Trina’s fluttering breath. When he did sleep it was fitful and much disturbed by dreams. Sari Destry danced in front of him singing a bawdy ditty about the indirect approach. She waved a document but danced out of reach whenever he tried to grab it.
“Too slow, Allen, too slow,” she trilled.
Somehow she disappeared to be replaced by Hawthorn who balanced an impossibly heavy hydraulic pump on his shoulder.
“Can’t wait for you to catch up old son, I’ve got a battleship to build,” Hawthorn said.
Allenson stood on the causeway above Oxford. Laser pulses reached slowly out for him like colored marbles rolling down the channels in a children’s toy. He soared into the air avoiding the fingers of light. His flight path went over Oxford.
“Look that man’s got no clothes on,” yelled a small child pointing up at the sky.
Women and girls laughed and pointed. He tried to cover his nakedness with his hands which caused them to laugh all the more. In desperation he threw himself away from the city, trying to hide amongst the vapors over the marsh.
Trina leaned out of her carriage and shook her head sadly to see him.
“You’re not going to find the indirect approach by rolling around in the mud stark-bollock naked are you, hmmm?”
His stepmother sat next to Trina.
“He’s always such a disappointment,” his mother said to his wife. “The wrong brother died.”
Allenson flushed. He tried to defend himself but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. He sank deeper into the mud. When he tried to climb out his legs wouldn’t work. Hawthorn sat on a stone pier fiddling with his pump.
“Look it works fine even in the vapors,” Hawthorn said. “I could drain the swamp.”
Kiesche appeared beside him.
“It wasn’t the pumps that blew but something else. Some idiot always disobeys the rules and brings in an unauthorized bit of kit sooner or later. Kaboom!”
Allenson tried to yell for help but his mouth filled with vile-tasting ooze. A strangled scream was all he could manage before the filthy stuff filled his lungs.
He woke and sat up with a jerk.
“What?” Trina said, dozily.
“Just a nightmare, go back to sleep,” Allenson said.
Eventually, he took his own advice. When he woke in the morning he knew just how he was going to capture Oxford.