A Soul's Worth

By TS_Barnett All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

Chapter Fourteen

Warren didn’t know precisely the kind of paperwork he would need, but he had made enough acquaintances over the past few weeks that he felt confident he now knew someone who could tell him what a death certificate was supposed to look like. It would be easy enough to have one made up on the spot, perhaps, if he could produce credible evidence that Sir Bennett had died in some far away, uncultured country.

That was simple. He typed up a letter and crumpled it until it looked suitably weathered, and he dressed himself in a rush, pausing to pull Ben down and kiss him before heading out of the house and onto the street.

He made his way to Mr. Errington’s home, presented his card to the doorman, and put on a suitably glum face as he was admitted. Errington was an attorney of some note, and could doubtless help him with the practicalities of death and inheritance. A few carefully timed moments of excusing himself for being overwrought, and Errington was assuring him readily that it would all be sorted out, that the paperwork was merely a formality, as everyone knew. From there, it was the easiest thing to hire a solicitor to sell Sir Bennett’s home.

His TXM buzzed in his coat pocket, and he excused himself at the solicitor’s desk to check the message. It was from Wakefield.

Which one did you like? I’ll arrange a tea.

Warren shoved the machine back into his coat and cleared his throat. He supposed he had to make a decision, but the thought of having any one of the women Wakefield had presented him with at the masquerade made him weary.

The bell on the office door jingled behind him, and he turned his head to see Miss Trentham entering with a dark-skinned man in tow, his arms loaded with bags. Warren remembered himself enough to get to his feet, and he bent politely to Miss Trentham’s hand when she offered it.

“Mr. Hayward,” she said with just a hint of congeniality.

“A pleasure to see you again, Miss Trentham,” he returned as he released her hand. “I was just finishing up,” he added, eager to get out of her way. She looked much more approachable today in her simple grey dress and small lace-trimmed hat, but her severe face still made Warren wary.

“Don’t hurry yourself, Mr. Hayward. As long as you don’t buy up every property in London and leave me living in the blighted hotel I’ve found myself in.”

“Unhappy with your accommodations, Miss Trentham?”

“I don’t care to lay my troubles at your feet, but suffice it to say that I’ve a few unanticipated furry roommates. I somehow expected London to be a rather cleaner place than New York, but I’m afraid it simply isn’t the case. No offense—I know how you Englishmen take such pride in your mother nation.”

“I’ve no illusions, Miss Trentham.”

“Glad to hear it. Might I ask what property you are taking up? I assume that is your purpose here, isn’t it?”

“Ah...yes,” Warren answered. He wasn’t sure it was wise to tell this woman where he meant to move to, given the likelihood that it was her agent who had invaded his first home, but he supposed it wouldn’t remain a secret very much longer in any case. “Mr. Ainsworth here was looking into a place in Belgrave Square for me.”

“Belgrave Square? I was looking there myself. What number?”

“Ah—149, I believe.”

She tutted at him, and for the first time he saw a touch of a smile on her lips. “The unfashionable side, Mr. Hayward.”

“Is it possible for one side of a street to be more fashionable than the other?”

“I’ve found that once one reaches a certain tax bracket, it becomes possible for anything in the world to become fashionable or unfashionable according to the whims of people with nothing of more importance to concern themselves.”

Warren chuckled despite himself. So far he’d trusted Wakefield to keep him on the proper path with his newfound peers, but he would never have thought to consider asking about fashionable ends of streets.

“It’s to be expected that you wouldn’t know such things,” she added with a slight tilt of her head. “After all, from what I’ve heard from some of the older ladies in town, you are that most disagreeable of things known as ‘new money.’” The corner of her mouth twitched just faintly, and Warren couldn’t tell if she was teasing him or not. “At any rate, don’t let me keep you, Mr. Hayward,” she said as she offered her hand, effectively ending the conversation.

Warren took her hand automatically, and he gave her a polite bow before nodding farewell to Mr. Ainsworth and scooting by the encumbered servant standing behind Miss Trentham. She was a strange creature.

As it turned out, Sir Bennett’s house wasn’t worth all that much compared to some of the more expensive homes in London, but it was sold for a suitable amount that Warren had no worries about his ability to pay for the place in Belgrave Square—one on a more fashionable side of the street than 149, per Miss Trentham’s advice.

They left everything as it was in Sir Bennett’s house (including his books, which Cam had apparently already finished reading), except for the furnishings and supplies in the workshop, which the Travers packed up and shipped silently to the new house.

Ben was reluctant to come to call at the new house, since it was in a much more visible part of town, which meant that his options were either to stay away until they thought of a suitable cover story or to shut himself inside the house to avoid being seen by any neighbors. He had voted for the former, which meant that Warren was left to himself to move into the house. That suited him fine, since it gave him the opportunity to set up the workshop to his specifications without Ben’s questions.

The cellar door into the garden was shut tight with a lock that had no key—it could only be opened by magic, meaning that access was essentially restricted to either Simon or himself. Warren didn’t think it likely that Ben would bother checking the house for secret passages. The door into the cellar from inside was hidden by an illusion, leaving the physical key that Warren carried on his person rather pointless, but the extra precaution put him a bit more at ease. The cellar was quite large, meaning that Cam had more than adequate space for building the husks, which he seemed to be quite enjoying. Every one that he produced was slightly different—some more bare and simple, others ornate and heavily detailed. It almost seemed that the golem had moods that reflected in his work, though Warren thought that rather unlikely. The rest of the cellar stored the incense, candles, chalk, and various other supplies necessary for Warren to do his work, and a corner of the room had been blocked off for storing newly-activated golems before they were delivered to their masters.

The house had three bedrooms—one for Warren and Ben, one for the future wife, and one for the Travers. They didn’t seem to mind sharing. Warren suspected that any accommodations were preferable to their grimy room above The Green Man.

By the time the three of them—plus Cam—had finished letting in movers and ordering them around for three days, Warren was more than a little morose at Ben’s absence. He could have him play the part of a servant, but Ben would never agree to that.

The problem stayed at the back of his mind, but he had orders to fill. The Travers went out, and Warren waited in the cellar, drawing the circle on the floor easily from memory. He didn’t pace anymore while he waited for them; it was actually rather monotonous. By the time he heard the lock move in the cellar door, he had already been playing noughts and crosses against himself in chalk on the floor for three-quarters of an hour.

The Travers stepped down the cellar stairs, Owen with an unconscious body slung unceremoniously over his shoulder. He dropped the woman on the floor with a heavy thud and worked his shoulder once it was rid of the weight. She groaned faintly and stirred from the abrupt motion, but she didn’t quite come to. Owen immediately made his way up the stairs to the house, since they were all quite familiar with the process by now, but Simon lingered while Warren dragged the woman closer to the circle by the arm.

“You could teach me, you know,” Simon offered quietly, making Warren pause.

“Teach you?” Simon nodded toward the woman in Warren’s grip, but he shook his head. “No.”

“It would make things much easier,” Simon went on. “You know I don’t have any interest in being any more than I am; you’re in no danger of me starting up my own business after all you’ve done for my brother and I. But it would allow you to take on a more...managerial role. If you liked. It would be much easier for you to disavow any knowledge of the wrongdoings going on in your cellar.”

“It’s bad enough that I’ve asked you and Owen to bring people here to their deaths,” Warren said softly, looking down at the quietly breathing woman at his feet.

“You don’t have to worry about my conscience, Hayward.”

He chuckled despite the situation. “Not to worry; I’m under no illusion that you spend much time feeling guilty, Simon. It’s mine that I worry about. This is my burden.” The truth of the matter was that Warren wasn’t actually terribly bothered by it anymore, and that was the only bit that bothered him.

Simon shrugged, pausing to glance down at the woman before turning back to the stairs. “Let me know if you change your mind,” he called over his shoulder, but a rattling at the outside door made both men pause.

“Anyone in there?” a man’s voice called through the door during a pause in the sound. “Scotland Yard; open the door!”

Warren’s heart sank immediately into his stomach, and he awkwardly attempted to stand in front of the woman as though that would hide her, but Simon walked calmly across the room to the stairs and looked at Warren with a questioning look on his face as he hissed and waved at him.

“What are you going to do?” Warren whispered, and a small smirk pulled at Simon’s lips.

“I’m going to guard your body, Mr. Hayward,” he said blandly as he reached up to pull open the outside door. The constable outside had barely begun to speak when Simon reached up and snatched him by the front of his uniform, tossing him carelessly down the stairs onto the hard cellar floor.

Warren stood back from the scene, hiding the knife in his hand guiltily behind his back as the constable got to his feet. The man took the billy club from his belt and waved it threateningly at Simon, who only pulled the outer door shut and stepped casually down the stairs, slipping the gloves from his hands and dropping them to the floor on his way.

“What’s all this then?” the constable demanded, glancing quickly between the two men before his eyes landed on the unconscious woman. “What are you doing with her? I saw you bring her down here,” he said gruffly, clearly imagining he still had the upper hand in this situation. When Simon stepped close to him, the constable warned him once before swinging the club at the side of his head.

Simon’s hand went up to catch the club before it could connect with his skull, flinching slightly at the impact but keeping a grip on the wood while the constable tried to tug it away. When smoke began to hiss from the wood underneath Simon’s grip, the constable let out a short cry but—to his credit—kept his hand on the club in an attempt to reclaim it. Simon jerked him close by their mutual hold on the club and tilted his head to draw near to the constable’s face, and a thick, sickly green smoke fell from his mouth as he exhaled, causing the other man’s eyes to roll back almost immediately as the gas was drawn into his lungs by his gasp.

With a thud, Simon dropped the constable’s limp body, followed by the billy club, which rolled across the floor to bump against Warren’s foot, smoke still drifting from the burned print of Simon’s hand.

“Well,” Simon said, pausing to blow a bit of cinder from his palm, “that could have been troublesome. Lucky he decided to barge in on his own rather than make a report.” He looked over at Warren. “What shall we do with this one?”

Warren took a breath as he looked at the twitching body of the constable and the still woman at his feet. “I suppose it’s a doubly productive evening,” he answered in a voice much more calm than he expected. The idea didn’t move him at all. He was simply glad that he had two husks to use.

“Excellent. We’ll be upstairs.” Simon stepped easily over the motionless constable and shut the cellar door behind him, leaving Warren alone with his victims.

With only a brief moment of consideration, Warren reached down to put his hand into the woman’s yellow hair, lifted her over the circle, slit her throat, and braced himself against the now-familiar shockwave. Mr. Anderson would be pleased to hear he’d be receiving his machine a week earlier than anticipated. Perhaps it was time to tell the twins that one a week was not enough.

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