Plagium

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Adverse Action

The Bank of Mondon was one of the few reputable establishments within the large city of Mondon. Due to its trustworthiness, and ability to prevent the theft of customers’ money (unlike other similar establishments), it quickly became the High Constable’s number one source and trustee of its funds. It was of no surprise to Tracey, then, that Bentam was ready and waiting for them as they arrived that morning, already done with his business. It was also of no surprise that their own group had a low priority to the bank, leaving them waiting a full hour later than the combusted note had arranged for them.

Charlie, who had just given up in unlocking Mr. Porter’s book, sat with his head in his hands and legs kicking and let out a loud sigh. “What time is it?” he grumbled.

Mittie’s attention snapped up from a book that she had carried with her, her head swiveling to the glowing gearclock that hung prestigiously on the far wall. “Look at that, it’s already half past 10.” Mittie closed her book and stood. “D’ya think we should go ask for someone?”

“The more inconspicuous we can be, the better,” Bentam said with a shake of his head.

“Oh,” Mittie said, slowly sitting once more. “How’s that locked book comin’ along, Charlie?”

“All a’ bunch of rust,” he growled.

“Charlie…,” Harriet said with a warning glance.

“Well, it is. Can’t make heads or tails o’ this lock.”

Tracey scanned the bank, her eyes flitting on the bustling activity of businesswomen and businessmen scurrying about on their daily tasks. The crowd was so large that she couldn’t tell if anyone was walking towards them, or simply crossing to the other side of the foyer. “It has been quite a while, Bentam,” she sighed. “You were able to get your business done rather quickly…”

“That’s right,” Mittie joined, “How’s it you were able ta get in so fast?”

Bentam waved a hand nonchalantly. “The Bank of Mondon doesn’t tarry with High Constable business, I suppose.”

Tracey sighed and settled back in her seat, looking once more at the teeming masses. “I wonder if this Wiliams Matthews know where Mr. Porter may be,” she said.

“Hopefully so,” Bentam replied. “The sooner we find your Mr. Porter, the sooner we can wrap all of this up.”

Harriet suddenly straightened in her seat. “Is that the Williams Matthews fellow? He looks like he’s walking over here.”

Tracey’s eyes followed her gaze. There!

From the crowd of people strode a small man, his most notable feature being a mustache stretching from ear to ear—or rather sideburn to sideburn. His sharp attire indicated his being a banker, from the high collar to the vest to the polished shoes. His eyes locked with Tracey’s and his pace quickened. “Ms. Higgenbottom?” he boomed as he drew nearer.

“Y-yes,” she stammered, taken aback by how loud his voice was.

“Please follow me.” Everyone stood as if to follow. “Only Ms. Higgenbottom,” he snapped.

“What?” Charlie cried indignantly. “We’re all together here!”

“I’m merely following instructions,” was his simple response before he whisked back towards the crowd. Everyone slowly sat once more.

“If you need us, yell!” Mittie said as Tracey took a few hesitant steps. She steeled herself, bunched up her shoulders, and took a deep breath before quickening to reach the banker in the crowd.

⚙️⚙️⚙️⚙️

The banker led Tracey through a grand corridor, down a set of stairs, across a perilous catwalk, down another set of stairs, and finally to a set of two, dark, imposing doors. He swung both doors open to reveal an equally dark and imposing room, and marched down the length of the long room before sitting at a desk at its far end. Tracey squinted to see the desk, let alone him sitting behind it. “Do close the door behind yourself, Ms. Higgenbottom,” he said, his voice somehow just as loud as when he was right in front of her earlier.

Tracey hurriedly closed the door behind her and made the long trek through the room before nearly tripping over a set of chairs that sat in front of the banker’s desk. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “I do apologize, I couldn’t see these here from the door.”

“Take a seat, please.” The banker took a key from underneath a desk lamp and unlocked a cabinet behind himself, pulling out a thin, black portfolio. “I understand that Mr. Porter has sent you here?” he said as he flattened and placed the portfolio between themselves and flipped it open.

Tracey blinked. “No…,” she said, uncertain of how much to reveal.

The banker stopped mid-page-turn and raised an eyebrow. “I see.” With a flourish, he closed the portfolio and placed it back into the cabinet. “I hope you understand what your coming here implies?”

“No, I’m just following some instruction I had received yesterday?”

“Oh.” The banker frowned and rubbed his chin. “Of course Remington wouldn’t tell you,” he sighed. “I’m sure you’re aware of what sort of strained relationship banks have with non-bankers?”

“Yes,” Tracey replied, taken aback by this banker using Mr. Porter’s given name. Mr. Porter’s position as a keeper (or non-banker) placed him as a competitor to local banks, especially to a bank like the Bank of Mondon. Oftentimes, customers who would use keeper shops in the city of Mondon were trying to avoid laws that would otherwise have penalized them had they chosen to take their business to a traditional bank. Understandably, it was highly uncommon for bankers and keepers to be on any sort of speaking status.

“Well, there’s a bit of a shared client that Remington and I personally account for,” the banker continued.

“That’s hardly uncommon,” Tracey said in surprise. “Most of our customers have accounts at banking establishments…?”

“This client,” he replied, “is different.” He squinted at her, scrutinizing her face before taking the portfolio out again. “I don’t believe I’ve introduced myself to you yet,” he said as he flipped once more through the portfolio’s contents. “My name is William Matthews, I’m a lead banker here at the Bank of Mondon. What I’m about to give you is a document that I’ve been holding for Remington as a…favor for him. Under no circumstances may you show this to any staff at this bank.” He yanked a sheet of paper out, folded it, and lit a candle.

“I don’t understand why I had to come in person just for a sheet of paper,” she said. “Couldn’t you have sent this via the motor mail?”

“Motor mail!” he scoffed as he held a block of wax over the flame and paper. “I hardly trust all of this steam technology, let alone send you this document over motor mail. Look around you, Ms. Higgenbottom. Do you see any sort of steam technology here?”

Tracey looked. “Well…now that you mention that…no.”

“Twenty years ago, steam contraptions would have been unheard of,” he sniffed. He took up a stamp and placed it onto the melted mound of wax that had landed on the paper. “We used real means of communication!” He removed the stamp and held the sealed paper to her. “Nothing like now.”

“You don’t use steam technology?” she said as she took the paper and rose.

“Never.” Mr. Matthews stood as well, and the two made the long trek to the exit.

“Then you weren’t the one who sent me the instructions to come here? Via motor mail?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Then…how did you know that I would be coming?”

“Simple,” he said as he opened the door. Tracey stepped out and turned back to Mr. Matthews. “Remington sent me a letter yesterday.”

Tracey stared. “Mr. Porter…sent you a letter…yesterday?”

“Yes, yes,” he waved off. “Of course, there’s a couple of day’s delay sending mail by post and not…,” he shuddered, “motor mail. So I’d assume he sent this a few days ago then?”

“The return address was for Porter Keeper Shoppe?”

“I hardly pay attention to that.” Mr. Matthews squinted. “Is something amiss with Mr. Porter? Why are you asking so many questions?”

“No—no reason!” Tracey quickly supplied. “Thank you, Mr. Matthews.” She bobbed her head and rushed away.

“Ms. Higgenbottom!” he boomed.

Tracey stopped, then turned. “Yes?” she said.

“The lobby is in the opposite direction.”

“Of course. Thank you.” Tracey bobbed her head again and rushed in the other direction.

“Up the stairs, across the catwalk, up the other stairs, and through the corridor!” he loudly called as Tracey retreated.

“Couldn’t you just walk me there?” she asked, exasperated.

“No, no, too busy! These letters won’t send themselves.”

“They would with motor mail,” she muttered, as she continued back.

“With what?” he yelled. Tracey quickened her pace. “What?” he repeated as Tracey turned the corner. “Motor mail?” She glanced back, relieved to not see Mr. Matthews in pursuit.

⚙️⚙️⚙️⚙️

“Ah, Ms. Higgenbottom,” Bentam said as she approached the group. “We were just going to inquire after you.”

“What did he tell ya?” Charlie asked, pausing briefly from tinkering with the locked book to look at her.

“He gave me a document—,” she started.

“Can we see it?” Mittie inquisitively inquired.

“Mr. Matthews—,” Tracey lowered her voice as she noticed passersby turning their heads at the sound of his name. “Mr. Matthews requested that no staff here sees it.”

“Why don’t we go somewhere else, then? I know just the place!” Mittie said with a clap.

“Where would that be?” Tracey asked as the group gathered their things and began their walk to the exit. She paused, suddenly feeling a gaze prickle the back of her neck. Tracey turned.

Behind them trailed a rather familiar figure whose eye Tracey met in surprise. Before she could say a word, however, they slipped back into the throngs of people.

“Oh!” she gasped.

“What?” Charlie said, turning around.

“I thought I saw somebody that we met yesterday…”

“Who?” Harriet inquired.

“The…the pamphlet woman?”

“Ms. Halpin?” Bentam said, suddenly alert. “Where did she go?” He took a few steps towards the crowd, an expression of frustration growing on his face. “It really should not be this difficult to bring someone in for questioning.”

“Remember, we’re looking for Mr. Porter, not Ms. Halpin,” Tracey curtly replied.

Bentam sharply turned to her. “Ms. Higgenbottom—.”

“Well,” Mittie interrupted with a nervous chuckle. “I was going to suggest we visit Mondon Center Park to look at that paper, Trace, but I think I may know somewhere a bit more private.”

“Any place private is fine with me,” Tracey sniffed as she whisked away. The rest trailed her, Bentam lingering behind a few paces. “Where is it?” Tracey said as she swung the doors of the bank open, squinting in the bright morning sun.

“I’ll show ya,” Mittie said, taking lead. “How does going up a few hundred feet in the air sound?”

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