A Soul's Worth

By TS_Barnett All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

Chapter Eleven

When Warren stumbled out of the autocar just before dawn, he found Ben waiting for him in the parlor, arms folded and eyes hard. He began to wave away what he was certain would be nagging, but Ben said calmly, “You’ve been broken into, Mr. ‘Ayward.”

“What? Broken into?” Warren pressed his fingers into his temple in irritation, his head beginning to pound as all the fun parts of the night’s alcohol began to wear off. “What do you mean, broken into?”

“I mean a man was ‘ere,” Ben said, rising and taking Warren’s shoulders in his hands. There was a bit of dried blood on his lip and the early signs of a bruising around his left eye. “A man aimin’ to steal the plans for your incredible automatons.”

“Plans,” Warren scoffed, fingertips toying with the collar of Ben’s shirt. “He left disappointed, did he?”

Ben swatted at his hand with a frown. “Love, I know you’re drunk, but this is serious. Try to pay attention. Do you understand what it means that someone broke in?” He bent down to look Warren directly in the face. “He could have seen the workshop. Anyone would be able to tell it’s not a factory in ‘ere. What if someone found out they’re magic?”

Warren frowned at him. “Did he see the workshop?”

“No. I stopped ‘im. Tough little blighter,” he added, sucking at his injured lip, “but he didn’t make it very far. But I stopped ‘im, Warren. He knows I was here.”

“Policemen are supposed to stop crimes,” Warren said with a slight laugh, and Ben sighed.

“Why don’t we do this in the morning?” Ben turned Warren by the shoulders and led him into the master bedroom, helping him strip away his outer clothes before allowing him to drop in a heap on the bed. He got in beside him and allowed him to nuzzle into his shoulder, but he smacked his hands when they began to drift and told him to hush and go to sleep. With Warren’s slow breath against his skin, Ben sighed softly, running his hand affectionately through the other’s copper hair and leaving a single kiss on his forehead.

In the morning, Warren paced the bedroom until Ben stirred, and then he took a seat beside him on the bed immediately.

“Did you say we’d been broken into last night?” he asked, receiving only a sleepy frown in response. “You said a man was here,” he pressed.

“You’re cheery for someone who had trouble walking this morning,” Ben yawned.

“I have a good metabolism,” Warren said flatly, his eyes sternly on Ben’s. “Was there someone here or not?”

“What, you think I got this playing cricket?” Ben gingerly touched the purple splotch on his cheek. “Yes, a man was ‘ere. I managed to get out of ‘im that he thought he’d find the plans for your machines ‘ere. Must’ve worked for some businessman or other, but he wouldn’t say who. Seems you’ve a rival, Mr. ‘Ayward.”

“A rival,” Warren repeated, chewing on his lower lip. “I’d bet everything it was that bastard Arville,” he muttered. “I’ve seen him at Wakefield’s, trying to get at Beckford and giving me an eye. He’s in the automation business as well,” he explained to Ben’s frowning face. “He builds those ghastly things that say ‘Good afternoon’ when they pour your tea all over the table and run on those continuous tracks over everybody’s toes; have you seen them?” He waved a hand without waiting for an answer. “No, I don’t know when you would have. They’re ungainly things, but before Cam, they were all the rage. Doubtless he’s infuriated that I’ve cut into his business.”

“Love, I think you’re forgetting a key detail,” Ben said softly, reaching out to slide his fingers between Warren’s. “Whoever that man works for, he clearly meant you ill, and now he knows that you’ve another man living in your ‘ouse.”

Warren stopped short, and he felt a tight panic in his chest. “I...don’t suppose he’d believe that Scotland Yard is so thorough in their duties,” he said as he squeezed Ben’s hand.

“I don’t think so.”

“Christ,” Warren swore, and he stood to pace around the room a bit more. “There’s no proof,” he said, attempting to convince himself. “Just because you were here, it doesn’t prove anything. Just because you were here in the middle of the night when I wasn’t. That’s no indication that you stay here on a regular basis, or that you have personal business in my house at night.” He sighed, coming to a stop as he pushed the balls of his hands into his eyes. “That won’t matter, will it?”

“Likely not.”

“I’m supposed to attend one of the most prestigious galas of the season tonight,” Warren said, muffled by his hands as he drew them slowly down over his face. “How can I go now, knowing that someone is holding this over my head?”

“You don’t have to go to the party, Warren,” Ben reminded him with a small chuckle that earned him a frown. “Don’t make that sour face at me. Weren’t you just at Wakefield’s until the sun came up? Give yourself a rest. You’ve been to so many dinners that you must’ve met everyone in London twice by now.”

“Everyone has friends,” he insisted. “Buckley said he was bringing his American friend tonight. An American, Ben. America has at least a few people who could afford and appreciate my golems, wouldn’t you think?”

“So we’re in this to be wealthy, now, are we?” Ben asked, standing to place himself in front of Warren and put his hands on his shoulders. “D’you really think this is the smartest thing? These aren’t actual automatons you’re sending out into the world, you know. What if someone figures ‘at out?”

Warren scoffed. “Even if someone did take one apart, you think that they’re ever going to think they’re magic?”

“They will if they take off its loaf an’ it keeps talkin’ to them without being attached to anything.”

“The most ambitious person with that sort of thing on their mind couldn’t think of anything more enterprising than breaking into my home and trying to steal the secret recipe, Ben. I’m less worried about being accused of witchcraft by obviously envious rivals than I am of going to prison for sodomy.”

“But you’re going to go to this party anyway, aren’t you?”

Warren straightened a bit, and he lifted his chin with a small huff. “It won’t do to hide, will it? I’ll either be reported or I won’t. In the meantime, I must continue as usual, and that means doing business.” He looked up into Ben’s skeptical face. “I am doing business when I go to these things; you understand that, don’t you?”

“You’re doing business that brings lipstick ‘ome on your collar, are you?” Ben asked with just a hint of contempt. “I never said I’d mind if you enjoy yourself, Warren, but don’t treat me like a fool.”

“What—lipstick—” Warren touched his rumpled shirt collar as though he expected to find some there. “You know I don’t get into all that,” he frowned, trying to pull his shirt far enough away from his face to inspect it. “But these women at Wakefield’s parties are rather...aggressive.” He sighed. “It’s all business, Ben. Honestly. Please. I have to make some arrangements before the gala.”

“What sort of arrangements?”

“Well, I—I made the acquaintance of some...gentlemen.”

Ben lifted a skeptical eyebrow at him. “Gentlemen.”

“Well of course they aren’t really gentlemen,” Warren sighed. “But when people are breaking into your house and threatening you, gentlemen aren’t exactly what you need, are they?” He pulled off his wrinkled shirt and tossed it haphazardly on the floor, then began to dig through his closet for some fresh clothes.

“Who are you getting in with, Warren?”

He came out of the closet tucking in a clean shirt. “Don’t worry yourself, Constable,” he teased. “These men may have a sordid past, but they’ve been nothing but honest with me. Not a crime to their name in weeks, to my understanding.”

“Oh, well that makes them pillars of society, innit? Who?”

“They’re brothers, actually,” Warren began reluctantly while he tied a thin strap around his hair to keep it out of his face. “I doubt you’d know them.” He glanced over to Ben and found himself looking into a frown, so he admitted with a sigh, “Their name is Travers.”

“Travers?” Ben took a step closer to Warren, turning him by the shoulder while he was tying his tie. “Tell me you don’t mean who I think you mean. Twins?”

“Yes?”

“No. Absolutely not, Warren. I don’t care what you think these men have done for you; they’re dangerous. They’ve been in and out of my precinct so many times they may as well list us as a residence. They’re thieves, cutthroats, cheats, and drunks. There isn’t anything they can bring you but trouble.”

“They helped me,” Warren objected, leaving his tie half done to look up into Ben’s face. “When I was on the Heolstran road, a man tried to rob me, and they stopped him.”

He paused. “They helped you?”

“They did. Did you know only the one is like us? The skinny one. They said it wasn’t right to do wrong by fellow witches. I think I can trust them, Ben, and if you wouldn’t want to deal with them, I’d say that makes them an excellent choice, doesn’t it?”

“An excellent choice for what, precisely?”

“Bodyguards, of course.” He turned back to the mirror and finished and straightened his tie, then snatched up his coat from over the back of a nearby chair and slid it over his shoulders. He felt the weight of the TXM in his pocket, but thought that it might not be wise to let Ben know quite how close contact he had been in with the dangerous Travers of late.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Ben said with an empty laugh. “You don’t know these men. Love, if you need bodyguards, isn’t that a bit of a hint that you’re getting into this whole thing too deeply?”

“It’s just the nature of business, Ben. Even if I was selling vegetables on the side of the street, the man down the road doing the same might set my stall on fire. You can’t help there being ruthless people in the world, but you can account for them and prepare for them.”

Ben sat down on the edge of the bed, watching Warren give himself one last check in the mirror. He looked like a different person in his tailored coat and top hat—he stood straighter and he held his chin higher. In a way, Ben was glad that Warren was getting recognition for his work and finally getting a bit of the life he’d always seemed to want, but sometimes Ben caught him with a bit of that same sneer his lover used to despise on other people. “Just don’t become one of them, love,” he said softly, and Warren turned to him with a conciliatory smile.

“You don’t have to worry about me. With two rather menacing ex-cons and an upstanding policeman keeping an eye on me, I’m not likely to get into any trouble.” He leaned forward to kiss him, meaning for it to be a quick goodbye, but Ben tugged him close and held the kiss so long that Warren gave in and let the other man undo all of his hard work dressing himself.

Ben was never what one would call aggressive or dominant when it came to such things, but he touched and kissed Warren with such need that the redhead found himself a bit overwrought, which he wasn’t used to in the slightest. He gasped and scratched marks into Ben’s firm stomach, letting his head fall back as he ground into the other man’s lap. It should be like this every time—panting and desperate and just barely too warm.

As he watched Ben’s chest slowly rise and fall in the rhythm of sleep, he let out a long, slow sigh. This was what it was all for, after all. He slid out of the bed carefully and dressed himself, leaving the door pulled just to on his way out. He gestured to Cam to follow him, and he stepped into the back of the autocar while the golem climbed into the driver’s seat.

Warren pulled the TXM from his pocket then, and he sent a message.

Interested in a pay raise? Meet me.

The Travers didn’t seem to mind the idea of dressing up and playing the part of intimidating bodyguards, and they even expressed slight concern at the news that Warren’s house had been broken into. Warren couldn’t be sure if this was concern for his well-being or their job security, but he appreciated it regardless. Owen was even keener on the idea when he learned that they would have to have suits made. He managed to make only a few inappropriate jokes while the tailor was fitting him for his trousers and jacket.

“Do you think someone is really going to try something, Hayward?” Simon asked while Owen prodded the tailor for fancier buttons.

Warren shook his head. “Tonight? Not likely. But as there is undoubtedly someone out there who has it out for me, it can’t hurt for him to know what he’d be dealing with, can it?”

“I’m glad you think we’re up to the task.”

“Of course you are. Do you even see yourselves? I can’t imagine why someone would need to be so tall.”

“At’s just because you’re such a lil’un eh?” Owen spoke up with a laugh. “An’ all of us redheaded as well. Could be our little brother, couldn’ye?”

“It’s just as well if people think so, honestly,” Warren chuckled. “I’ll have to practice my Irish accent.”

“Nah, nah,” Owen said, causing the tailor to stumble slightly as he turned to face them without warning. “Better if you’re the silent type eh? I can make a right proper angry face if anyone tries to make ye talk to ‘em.”

“I appreciate it,” Warren said with a small smile, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to make conversation. Do feel free to use your angry face whenever you like, though. I’d hate for you to get out of practice.”

“Aye. I’ll keep workin’ on it.” Owen grunted at the tailor as he swatted the Irishman back into place. Warren felt quite certain that he had made the right choice in bodyguards.

Warren found Ben that afternoon sat in the study with his arm removed and lying on the desk, where Cam sat bent over it with its aperture eyes only blue pinpoints. Ben waved the nub his arm was meant to connect to while Cam tinkered.

“Said you’d got ‘im some parts for me,” he said with a resigned smile. “Determined to spend money on me, aren’t you?”

“What else is it good for?” Warren bent to kiss him, giving his hair an affectionate brush through with his fingers. “This way you don’t have to worry about anyone thinking you’ve got a decent arm, and I don’t have to worry about you not having one.”

The golem had brass pieces spread all over the desk and was carefully replacing the scuffed and tarnished parts that made up Ben’s current arm. It worked quickly, screwing screws and tightening bolts without a single spark until all of the cover plates were back in their proper place. Warren stepped out of the way to allow Cam access to Ben’s shoulder, and the golem easily reattached the mechanical limb. Ben flexed and twisted his arm and tested the movement of his fingers, and the whirring sound the machine usually made was noticeably quieter.

“Not bad, Cam,” he chuckled, and he pat the golem on the shoulder as he stood. “Thanks for that. Mind if I come fetch you the next time it gets sticky? It’s a damn nuisance tryin’ to clean it out with me left ‘and.”

“I am glad to help Ben,” Cam answered with a nod. “If it sticks again, I will look at it.”

“You’re a good lad,” Ben said, but his mood quickly soured when Warren reminded him that he would be late returning home from the masquerade.

“May I dress for the masquerade, Warren Hayward?” Cam spoke up behind him, giving both men pause.

“Dress?” Warren repeated. “What would you want to dress for?”

“Warren Hayward is dressing for the gala,” the golem said simply.

“Well, yes, but I’m not—”

“Oh, let ‘im,” Ben said with a chuckle. “You’re about the same size; must be. Let ‘im wear something of yours. Don’t be a spoilsport.”

“Thank you, Ben,” Cam said.

Warren shook his head, smiling faintly. “If you like. I don’t know why a golem would think it needs to wear clothes, but I don’t see why not.”

“Thank you. May I choose which suit?”

He chuckled. “Why not? Not the tuxedo—I haven’t a spare. You’ll have to be a bit dressed down.” He watched the golem go out the door and heard him rumbling around in the closet, and he looked up to Ben with a small shrug.

“It’ll make ‘im happy. Now when are the criminals showing up?” Ben asked with a resigned sigh.

He was as receptive as expected when the Travers arrived at the house that evening dressed for a gala. He made no attempt to disguise his malice as the twins stood in the parlor to wait for Warren to finish dressing, watching them with his arms crossed and drumming the fingers of his brass hand on his bicep.

The Travers seemed slightly wary, placing themselves across the room from the off-duty constable, but the silence in the room was deafening.

“So, Constable,” Owen began, “you’re mates with ‘Ayward, are ye?”

“Shut it,” Ben snapped, and he moved toward them with a scowl. He stood scant inches from their faces, though they were slightly taller than him, and he spoke in a low voice. “I don’t know what your game is, but you’d best take me serious. If I ‘ear about you steppin’ one toe out of line—if a single hair on your master’s ‘ead comes home out of place—I’ll ‘ave you sent to Australia to live out your days in the mines, you ‘ear me?”

“We hear you, Constable,” Simon said before Owen could open his mouth again. “He won’t come to harm with us.”

“I’ve got both eyes on you, maleficum,” Ben sneered, and Simon raised an eyebrow at him. “At’s right. You aren’t foolin’ me. I know those eyes. The minute I’ve got proof, you will find yourself at the bottom of the river just dreamin’ you was in the colonies.” He raised a brass finger at Owen when he began to object and clicked his tongue at him in a warning, preemptively silencing him.

“If I were a maleficum, you would probably find that more difficult than you think,” Simon said coolly, adding with a small nod, “Constable.”

Ben let out a low, empty chuckle, and he stood up straighter to look Simon in the face. “You threatenin’ me, my son? That don’t seem much wise, does it?”

“We’re employed, Constable,” Owen piped in, drawing Ben’s gaze to him. “Keepin’ us off the streets and honest ‘Ayward is, isn’t he?”

Ben narrowed his eyes at the smirk on the Irishman’s face. “‘At’s a strange thing,” he said quietly, “as it was my understanding that you boys were in a bit of a scuffle in Mayfair not so long ago.”

“Can’t blame a man fer gettin’ a bit a piss an’ vinegar in ‘im of a drinkin’ evenin’, can ye Constable?”

“I can, actually,” Ben growled, and he looked between both brothers. “Now you twits understand that I’m not askin’ you to stay in line, I’m tellin’ you. Either one of you shows your arse and you may consider my patience well and truly worn, am I clear?”

“You don’t have to worry, Constable,” Simon said, and Owen grunted out an agreement.

“We’ll see,” Ben murmured, staring the Irishman in the eyes, and he turned his back on them when he heard Warren enter the room behind him.

“All ready, gentlemen?” Warren said with a smile, his mask dangling from his wrist by its strap. Cam stood behind him in a dark grey suit and blue waistcoat, holding his lapels lightly in mimicry of a gentleman and looking quite pleased with himself. It was an odd sight—the brass head with a crooked jaw sticking out of the expensive suit of clothes—and it almost made Ben break out of his intimidating mood.

“A minute, Warren,” Ben said, and he stepped out of the room with a quick gesture for his lover to join him. Behind the shut door of the bedroom, he said softly, “You be careful with that lot, you understand? I don’t give a tinker’s damn ‘ow you say they’ve been to you; they’re rotten to the core, the both of ‘em. I really can’t warn you enough.”

“You can, Ben, and I assure you that you have,” Warren said, a small smirk pulling at his lips as he placed a gloved hand on the taller man’s chest. “Stop worrying. I can look after myself.”

“If you could, you wouldn’t need bodyguards.”

“You know what I mean. Everything will be fine.” He leaned up to press a light kiss to the corner of Ben’s mouth and felt the cold grip of a brass hand on his wrist.

“You phone me straight away if anything ‘appens, you ‘ear?” Ben sighed and reluctantly released him.

“I will. I promise. I’ll be back later, Ben. Try not to sit up and worry like an old woman, will you?”

Warren opened the bedroom door to leave, and Ben called out loud enough for the twins to hear, “And you mind that thick blighter’s ‘ands; he’ll pocket anything within reach if you let ‘im.”

“On me best behavior, me ‘and to God, Constable,” Owen said in return, and Ben scowled down the hallway at him as the three men went out the front door to the autocar.

In the back of the carriage, Warren leaned back in his seat and peered across the way at the twins. Ben had every right not to trust them, of course. No doubt they had a history that Warren would never know. On the other hand, underneath all of the criminality, Warren thought they might be almost friendly. Owen, at least—Simon occasionally caught him off guard with the way he stared. There was no reason it shouldn’t be possible to be the kind of rough men that Ben thought they were and still have loyalties.

“You both stay at The Green Man, don’t you?” he asked while they rode along in the golem-driven autocar. “I have a proposition for you.”

“What, another one?” Owen chuckled. “You’re a merry basket of opportunity, Hayward.”

“Well, I would say this is rather more serious than our dealings thus far, but I suppose it doesn’t get much more serious than what you’ve been doing for me. I’m asking about a change of location.”

“Going somewhere?” Simon asked, turning his attention from the passing shops to look across at Warren.

“The house I’m in now is my old master’s,” he explained. “I’ve a number of bad memories there, honestly, and I’m not satisfied with the level of security since I was broken into. I’ve talked to a solicitor about some available properties in the city, and I’ve decided to buy. I’d like you both to take up residence with me as permanent employees. Aside from the security factor, it will be infinitely less suspicious to have you coming and going from your own home.”

The twins exchanged a glance.

“For free?” Owen asked, peering back at Warren with his good eye. “We’ll stay for free, ye mean.”

“What? Of course. I’ll still pay you for your work.”

“Keep doin’ as we are, except we get to live in a posh house in the West End instead of walkin’ on The Green Man’s sticky floors?” Owen glanced at his brother with a laugh. “No down side eh?”

“It’s hard to see one,” Simon agreed. “I think you have a deal, Hayward.”

“Excellent,” Warren said, sighing softly with relief. Despite Ben’s warnings, he would feel infinitely safer with the Travers always within arm’s reach. “As for this party, please just keep your eyes and ears open. I’ve no guarantee that the man who organized the break-in is who I think it is, so any hint would help.”

“You’re the boss,” Owen said, slouching in his seat and rumpling his tuxedo jacket.

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