A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Nine

Warren managed to make it to the washroom without Ben seeing him, and he was at last able to remove the blood from his face after excessive scrubbing. He asked Cam to dispose of his stained shirt and to bring him the leather case from his bedroom drawer.

He sat on the edge of the bathtub and took a smooth black stone from a small pouch, running his thumb over the runes carved into the glassy surface. He mumbled the words etched into the stone and firmly pressed it against his arm, gritting his teeth as he ran it the length of the wound. The cut knit itself together in the stone’s wake, but the area was still red and painful. He didn’t know enough healing magic to do more than stop the bleeding, but it was enough.

Warren rinsed his blood from the stone and put it back into its place, tucking the leather case back into his drawer before finding Ben in the study. He greeted him like usual and apologized for being late with some excuse about an old friend from Huntingdon being in town, but his mind was on the Travers and what trouble they had gotten into for his sake. He almost asked Ben if he knew them, but decided against having to explain his association with men with prison tattoos.

In the morning, Warren spent a bit of the morning pacing. He had no way of contacting the Travers, and he felt quite useless not knowing how they had fared through the night. He imagined that they had escaped in the confusion they had caused and would call on him shortly.

He was proven wrong when the telephone rang and he went to answer the line in the study. He picked up the receiver and the small oval screen on the wall clicked on, showing a moment of static before revealing the face of a tired man in a uniform.

“Home of Sir Edmund Bennett,” he said, and he saw and heard the man on the other end sniff unpleasantly.

“This is the Mayfair Police calling,” a gruff voice answered, the man scratching idly at his chin. He looked into the screen with a skeptical eye, peering through at Warren and tilting his head. “We were given this number as a contact for two gentlemen currently in our care.”

“In your care? You mean at the jail?” Warren glanced over his shoulder to be sure Ben wasn’t listening.

“Aye, sir. They’ve been charged a fine, but ‘ad no money. You can pick ‘em up or not, as you please.”

“No, I’ll collect them,” Warren said hastily, and he wrote down the address the other man rattled off, tore the sheet of paper, and stuffed it into his pocket as he hung up the telephone line. “Christ,” he muttered to himself, turning with a jolt as he found Cam standing silently behind him.

“Will Warren Hayward teach me to build ones like myself today?”

“What? Oh. Perhaps,” he said. “I have somewhere to go first, but later, yes? Definitely later.”

The golem nodded, so Warren left it to its business in the study and went looking for Ben, who he found sitting at the dining room table with his shirt off, his right arm lying on the table with a few of the plates removed to show the moving gears inside. He’d certainly made himself at home the past couple of weeks—coming to bed when he pleased, showing up at mealtimes. It seemed they both were quickly growing accustomed to not having to sneak around Warren’s master in the dead of night. Warren smiled as he approached, hoping he was hiding the anxiety he felt at having to pick up his accomplices at the jail right under his constable lover’s nose, and paused beside Ben’s chair to watch him work.

“Giving you trouble?” he asked, leaning over to look into the brass workings of the arm. He could see the tiny marks scratched into the brass palm—the same lines of ogham that his attacker had used on him on the Heolstran road. Ben hadn’t been able to cast any spells with his right hand since his accident, but the metal seemed to work well enough as a grounding tool for the words he needed to use on his patrols, and the marks were small enough to be passed off as accidental scratches.

Ben removed his still-flesh fingers from the open hatch, taking the small screwdriver from where he held it in his teeth and making some minor adjustments. “Been a bit sticky in the wrist,” he mumbled.

“Why don’t you take it to the specialist? He could fix it—” Ben hissed as a small spark erupted from his arm, dropping the screwdriver to the table with a clatter. “—better than you can,” Warren finished with a smile.

“It’s my arm, I should know it well enough to fix it when it sticks,” Ben objected, picking up the screwdriver again. He leaned out of the way while Cam set down a cup of tea and a small plate of biscuits for him, pausing to thank the golem before leaning in close to peer into the machinery of his arm.

“We could buy you a new one,” Warren suggested. “There’s more than enough money. Or there will be soon.”

“You’ve got money, dear, but I ‘aven’t,” Ben answered without looking up. “I’ll just tell the blokes down the station that I come into a small fortune, shall I? Not suspicious at all.”

Ben had only been able to afford the prosthetic he had because a number of his fellow policemen had chipped in to help him purchase it. It probably would be suspicious if he suddenly had one that was top-of-the-line. “Perhaps you have,” Warren tried anyway. “Who’s to say you don’t have a wealthy uncle somewhere? You deserve better than that old thing.”

“I deserve whatever I can earn,” Ben insisted. “It’s fine, love. Be right as rain in no time.”

“Suit yourself,” Warren shrugged with a small sigh. “Just tell Cam to telephone someone if you electrocute yourself too badly. He bent down to get Ben’s attention and gave him a brief kiss. “I’m going out,” he announced. “I think it’s best you not come. This time.”

“Going out? Again?” Ben asked as he pulled away, stuffing a biscuit into his mouth and talking around it. “More trips to the Heolstran road? At least it’s daylight.”

“No,” Warren said. He hesitated. “I’m going to buy an autocar.”

“What happened to Sir Ed’s?”

“I got rid of it,” he lied easily. “It hardly worked, in any case. I’d like a new one.”

“What for?”

“For carrying me to lots of fancy parties,” he said with a sly smile, and Ben chuckled and waved him on.

“Someday you’ll have to stay home and visit with me, Mr. ‘Ayward.”

“Everything’s falling into place, Ben,” he said. “Soon we’ll have all the time we like to stay at home and do whatever we please. I promise.”

“I’ll keep you to it,” Ben answered, and he smiled up at the redhead before returning his attention to his malfunctioning limb.

Warren dressed himself in the nicest clothes he owned aside from the formalwear he’d worn to Mr. Wakefield’s party, which weren’t all that nice, comparatively. He made a trip to the bank, where they were quite happy to provide him with his own account separate from Sir Bennett’s, now that he had almost £2500 to open it with. They gave him a checkbook, which he tucked carefully away into his pocket as though it were a treasure. As he stepped out of the bank, he kept a hand on it, as though he might be robbed between the desk and the front door.

The noise was constant on the streets. People bustled by him without many second glances, lost in their own daily goings-on. He made his way toward the autocar dealership, looking in windows and smiling as passers-by as he never would have dared before. It seemed that every shop he passed had some mechanical wonder peddling goods on the pavement—a waving automaton offering tiny samples of soaps on a tray, a gleaming brass dog opening and shutting its mouth to advertise a groomer’s salon. There was no shortage of flashing electric lights in the windows, calling to passers-by and tempting them with promises of incredible goods for reasonable prices.

He suddenly felt out of place on the street as he was passed by men and women much better-dressed than he, some of whom looked down their noses at him in response to his smile. It would have to do for now. He would just tell the policeman that he was there on Sir Bennett’s behalf if he was asked.

Warren made his way to the station and entered the lobby just in time to be jostled by someone being dragged through the front doors by his shackled arms. He muttered a pardon as he was forced out of the way, and he approached the tall counter where an older man sat surrounded by no less than four telephones and a tall stack of paperwork. Warren had to clear his throat once or twice to get his attention.

“Yes, what is it?” the man grunted, leaning over his desk to peer down at Warren. Apparently he didn’t remember the conversation they had had less than an hour ago.

“I received a call that I would be able to pick up a pair of gentlemen? I’ve come to pay their fine.”

“Name?”

“Travers. Simon and Owen.”

“Oh, them.” The man clicked his tongue and dug through the papers on his desk. “They’re lucky they only got charged for brawling this time. The fine’s three pound.”

Warren signed the paperwork given to him and gave the officer his three pounds. How he had already paid the twins seventy pounds, and yet they still claimed poverty, he certainly didn’t know.

“You tell those two that they’re on thin bleedin’ ice,” the man said, waving an accusatory finger in Warren’s direction. “The next time they show up ‘ere, I’ll send Constable Cartwright into the cell to show them what for.” That answered the question of whether or not Ben knew them, Warren supposed. Apparently he knew them well enough to be called in for beatings when they were arrested.

“Yes, sir, I’ll tell them,” Warren assured the officer, and he waited patiently in the lobby until the twins appeared from a back hallway, looking only slightly worse for wear. Owen’s scarred eye was darkly bruised, his nose swollen, and Simon’s lip was still crusted with dried blood and his shirt torn and stained red.

Warren waved them on by him to the door, but Owen turned to take a few steps backwards so that he could wave cheerfully at the intake officer. “See ye next time, Fred!”

“Get out of it, you bloody vagabond!” the man called back, and Owen laughed as he turned and pushed through the door with his brother.

“Thank you,” Warren said once they were away from the entrance. “For last night, I mean. I hope you didn’t get into too much trouble.”

“No more than usual about a Thursday night,” Owen chuckled.

“Thank you for collecting us,” Simon added. “You could just as well have left us to work it off.”

Warren shook his head with a small smile. “I can’t do without my employees,” he said. “But we will need to find a way to keep in better touch.”

He let the twins go after shaking their hands, deciding not to wonder too much about where their money went. It wasn’t his business. He had an autocar to purchase, in any case, he reminded himself.

Whether he had the money or not, it was unlikely the autocar dealer would take him seriously in his servant garb. He made a sudden decision and turned a corner, making his way instead for Savile Row.

He did a very good job, he thought, at not balking when the tailor informed him that each suit of clothes would be forty pounds, and some quick calculations reassured him that he wasn’t going to ruin himself before he ever saw the autocar. He placed several orders that he was told would take weeks to fill, but he left in a set of black trousers and a sharp, silver pinstripe waistcoat that fit him snugly. He slipped on the dark grey jacket when the clerk offered it to him, and he buttoned it up and inspected himself in the mirror. He chose a shorter top hat instead of the uncomfortably tall one he had worn to Mr. Wakefield’s party, and he slid on his thin black leather gloves. He barely recognized himself, but he couldn’t help smiling at his reflection.

Leaving the tailor with a substantial check, he considered himself well-equipped to purchase an autocar.

The salesman treated him quite politely as he inspected the machines, running his gloved fingertips gently over the painted metal. Some of the autocars were meant to be driven by the owner, and some were meant to have a driver, like the carriage he had given to the Travers. Some of them even had mechanical horses in front, with legs that moved on front wheels in a mockery of natural motion. Some had closed seating, and some were open to the elements. Some had more doors or carried more people. There seemed to be infinite variations, and Warren felt a bit overwhelmed.

He didn’t really need an autocar, anyway. If he had to attend any more fancy parties, he could just as easily take a taxi. If he drove it himself, he might be considered low-class, but who would he have to drive it for him? Certainly not Ben. He wouldn’t have him feeling like a servant. But he did have a servant, didn’t he? If people knew about the golems now—the automatons—there wasn’t any reason to keep Cam a secret. It would be good advertising.

Warren shook his head while the salesman was talking to him about seating arrangements and paint colors. Good advertising? He couldn’t continue this forever. Every sale he made was a human life. The clothes he bought, the autocar—even the food he put on the table was purchased with blood money. He had unrepentant, tattooed criminals coming to his home on a weekly arrangement. He’d already given three corpses to the Llewan. How could he consider letting even more people know about the golems and asking for machines of their own? He pictured the laughing look on Ben’s face, the way he would touch the paint and test the doors as soon as he brought home the autocar, and he smiled.

He bought one called a “town car,” with a bench seat for the driver covered in red leather to match the blood-red paint. A compartment behind the driver held two long cushioned seats, enough for four people to face each other in close company. The wheels were white, the accents gold, and the price ghastly, but Warren paid it happily, and the salesman told him it would be delivered to his home the following day.

Warren kept himself in check as he made the trip home, despite the thrill that came from making what was undoubtedly a larger purchase than he ever expected to be able to make in his life. Almost as soon as he walked through the front door, Cam was waiting for him with a curious look. Warren laughed at him, asked for a moment to change, and then took the golem up to the workshop to make good on his promise.

It came as no surprise that Cam was adept at building machinery. The measurements had to be precise, the metalwork perfect, the joints smooth. After delivering the new golem and collecting his twelve hundred pound check, Warren worked together with Cam over the next week to build the next husk. When all was finished but the head, Warren paused.

“You know, you’ve rather a knack for this, haven’t you? Do you think you could build other things? Working things, not just these husks?”

Cam looked at him with a curious tilt of its head. “I would like to learn.”

“Think you could fix up Ben’s arm, if I got you some parts? It’s important that it doesn’t look new, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t have one that works properly.”

The golem nodded. “I would like to help Ben.”

“Excellent. I’ll buy some supplies. Now you can do what you like with this bit,” he went on, gesturing to the husk’s head. “It’s better if they don’t all look exactly the same. Gives the customer a unique product, you understand?”

“Yes.” Cam looked down at the headless shell for a moment. “May I change things other than the head?”

Warren paused. “Well. I suppose. As long as they’re human-shaped, do whatever you like. Some people might even like more outlandish ones.” It occurred to him that he was talking about this as a long-term business, instead of something he’d fallen into that necessitated a dozen murders, and he wasn’t positive that should be his line of thinking.

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