Magdalena approached the run-down dockside hotel in good spirits, hanging on the arm of Lucas nd playing her role perfectly. Integration into the mock Victorian culture hadnt been hard, she’d simply plumbed the more selfish and hedonistic tendencies she always felt. The longer she spent here enjoying the freedom to simply _be_, the less she wanted to return to the strict button-down culture of the Scout Service. Here there were no rules other than the ones she chose for herself, within the parameters of acting as landed gentry in this society of course. She dutifully laughed at one of Lucas’s jokes and scanned the entrance of the hotel they were approaching.
The customary three women were waiting outside the door. Magdalena sighed briefly and with a commanding air beckoned the middle of the three to come over.
“Yes M’lady?” she asked, curtseying with eyes downcast, just as she’d been taught.
Rosie had responded to the training well. Magdalena suppressed a smile of pride and turned to Lucas.
“A gift for you, a little something to seal our agreement. Dont worry, I’ve made sure to … train her … to satisfy your particular appetites.”
Lucas raised his walking cane and using the tip he raised Rosie’s face, turned it from side to side as he examined her. His was a practiced eye, slave master appraising a new purchase. He withdrew the cane and paced around her slowly. Magdalena stepped back far enough to observe, trying to capture a mental image of the moment. Her body language spoke of predator and prey, submission to the alpha male displayed clearly without portraying weakness. For his part Lucas rose to the role perfectly. He was the dominant lion of the pride. The alpha dog. Whatever fine words and cultural trappings he wanted to dress himself in, he was a predator to the core. A killer at the top of his food chain.
Rosie’s conditioning at Magdalena’s hands had been in the art of submission, a potent fuel on the fire of Lucas own passion. His pacing slowed and he barked an order. Rosie didnt flinch, she merely complied. She never made eye contact, kept her body language within the submissive postures that Magdalena had taught her.
Lucas looked over to Magdalena, a fire in his eyes, “You didnt seriously expect me to take this gift here and now did you?”
Something cold and hard settled into the pit of her stomach. Had he seen through her? Was she to become the target? She swallowed.
Lucas pursued the issue, “Well? Am I to take her here, or did you have arrangements already made?”
Magdalena hastily recovered herself, “The hotel clerk has a key, a suite is arranged.” she hesitated and added, “My Lord.”
She gathered her skirts and made haste inside, took the key and went upstairs to the suite she’d used for training Rosie, hoping to the core of her that it would be adequate for Lucas’s taste.
James threw himself into the noisy, smelly environment of the pub with gusto. He wanted to wash the cloying smell of death from his skin and hair but settled for replacing it with the smoky, sweaty aroma of the pub’s main room. It was a busy night and more than the usual number of unwashed drunks and their companions. Drew and Zachary waved to him from the bar, calling him over.
“What’re you drinking?” Drew asked.
“Grouse … make it a double.” James said, “Oh, and skip the ice. I need the burn, dont want anything watering it down tonight.”
Drew nodded and turned to the barman. Two identical pints of beer were placed in front of the almost identical men. James snorted to himself as he studied them. “Twins separated at birth perhaps?” he wondersed as his mind still had not wrapped itself around the conversation he’d overheard outside. Almost to reinforce his sense of similarity both men reached for their pint with their left hand, took a long swig the firelight glinting off their smooth heads as they tilted them back. The barman returned with his whiskey and James took it with a nod of thanks.
Vincent and Billy had grabbed seats near the fire and were engaged in a spirited discussion when James arrived and sat down.
“I’m telling you the rail yard is haunted, as is Regents Park near the Zoo!” Vincent said.
“Cant be – there’s no such thing as ghosts!” Billy countered.
“I still know what I saw. James, you’ll back be up on this wont you? Vincenet said, drawing James into the conversation on his side.
“I dont know. Is this a way to get fabulously wealthy with no effort?” he asked.
Both men laughed, “No. But Vincent just wont get his head into the 19th century on this one. Good grief. Keep talking like that and people will think you just got off the ship!” Billy said.
“So, what’s all this talk about ghosts?” Drew asked as he stepped into the circle.
Billy and James both pointed as Vincent, “Dont look at us. It’s him. Seems to think we’re a ghost hunting society or something.”
“Well, arent we? We come down here to pursue _spirits_ most nights…” James said, knocking back the last of his double Grouse with a grimace at the burn. Still, another we help to take the edge off his evening and lingering feeling of loss and horror.
“Vincent, bring them up to speed while I get another. Anyone else want something?” he asked, standing. Around the circle there was a chorus of “no” and “no thanks” as he left for the bar. He returned a little while later with a huge grin, the cat who got the canary, brandishing an entire bottle of whiskey not just a glass full.
“So, what did you solve while I was away?” he asked.
Vincent waved a hand at the rest of the drinking crew, “No-one will believe me. They want so called ‘proof’ of these ghosts – a second opinion. I know they are real dammit!”
James laughed as he sat down, not wanting to talk about the vomit on invisible work boots, or the dark figure in the swirling smog. Ghosts? Maybe. “Questions of life after death are all very well but I think we should raise a glass to life BEFORE death!” he said, slopping a generous amount of cheap liquor into his glass. Everyone joined him in the toast.
Magalena knew she only had a few moments before Lucas arrived, and he expected the room to be ready for him. The key fumbled in her hands as she tried to get the door open. Her hands were shaking. She mumbled expletives under her breath as she threw the door open and stamped inside. The room was cold and dark. She didnt have time to light the fire and all of the gas lamps in sconces around the walls. The fire would both light and heat the room so she threw logs into the grate. From her purse she extracted a slim silver device, pointed it at the logs and depressed a particular corner of its surface. A red beam lanced out. Flames danced along the logs where ever it touched. In moments the fire was blazing. She turned her attention to the sconces. One by one she turned a samll brass faucet below each gas light, reached up and lit them and moved on to the next leaving a glowing fan-shaped flame behind. In her haste Magalena forgot to skip the sconce to the left of the fireplace. As she stepped away, the flame flickered.
Lucas arrived perfectly on time and Magalena breathed a sigh of relief. He swung his gaze around the furnishings, nodded to himself, and slipped his cloat off his shoulders and tossed it onto a nearby chair. His cane was laid carefully across the coat. Rosie had been following him a few steps behind, but she’d stopped at the threshold of the room and knelt there in silence. “Good girl!” Magalena thought.
Lucas turned to her, “You may enter.”
Without turning his head he pointed at Magalena with an accusing finger, “… and you may fetch me something to drink. I want something full bodied this time, matured at least ten years, and be sure to let the vessel breath at room temperature before you serve it. Go.”
Obedient to her master’s command Rosie entered the room remaining low to the ground, on her knees, eyes never moving from Lucas’s boots. Magalena left the room quickly, aiming to match the urgency of his command, registering in the back of her mind how quickly she had exchanged the mastery of the Scout Service for the personal attentions and sovereignty of Lucas. In the quiet of the corridor she allowed herself to breath again, glad to be out of the room before he started to _indulge himself_ with the subservient Rosie.
James had tried to follow the debate between Billy and Vincent but the whiskey was slowing getting in the way. As the debate became harder to follow, so too did the horrors of the evening so far. Some details remained clear – all the talk about ghosts being real made him want to ask if vomit clings to them, or are they spirits? He chuckled to himself at the thought and Zachary looked at him with eyebrows raised, “Oh, nothing.” James said. He looked up and noticed two of the street-walkers who hung around the hotel had entered the pub. He waved to them and smiled, raising the steadily depleting bottle as invitation. They came over. One draped herself around Billy (much to the consternation of Vincent) the other around Zachary, her hand going to gently stroke his smooth head.
Vincent got up to go out to the bathroom. On his way past the small table they were all sharing his pants knocked a beer glass over.
“Hey!” Billy shouted at him, “That was my pint. You did that deliberately!”
Vincent shrugged and pointed out back, “Got to go man!”
Billy extracted himself from the woman’s embrace, “Back soon, this wont take long…” and followed Vincent. As he walked across the room he rolled his sleeves up, speeding up enough to catch the taller man by the door to the toilet. James sighed as Billy threw a drunken punch.
“That’s not going to end well.” he said, and poured himself another drink.