“Sorry, bruv,” the voice said as it bumped into him carrying several boxes that he could barely see over. He has bumped into Merlin a bit, but not too badly. “Hard to see over these.” Merlin automatically offered to help, he’d be late for work, but the manager would understand. “Thanks, but only going a few more, to Kingsman.”
Delivery boy, Merlin figured. “I’m across the street at Straub and Rowling.”
“How can you tell?” Merlin wore a simple black suit, not a security guard uniform to work. The owners felt a security guard uniform a bit tacky and off putting to their customers.
“The filth always wear the same types of shoes,” the chav replied.
Merlin had never been an officer of the law, but being former military that bothered him. “The filth?”
“Yeah, what they are.”
They had been walking as they talked, and were in front of Kingsman. “Well, I would hate to get any ‘filth’ on you, and as you said - you can manage. Excuse me.” Merlin crossed over to the shop, and let himself in. He went to the back and tried to shake off the encounter. It was some delivery boy, not like it mattered. He went to the lock box and put the zip ties, pepper spray and collapsible baton in their spots, grabbed the e reader they had given them. The coffee pot was full, and smelled horrible like it had been sitting for hours even though it would be half an hour at most. It reminded him of the coffee when he was stationed in Gibraltar. Just the worst. How he preferred.
He settled in at the stool in the front of the shop, and continued reading his book. The job was boring, but it was better than the sitting around the flat he had been doing. He didn’t even particularly like his flat. It had just been what he had found when he retired, fully furnished because he didn’t own much. It was perfectly generic, in a 30 year old building. He had a balcony, he liked that part. Sat out there as much as he could.
Merlin looked across the way at Kingsman, and that delivery boy was now in the window moving about the display. He was a bit surprised a business in this neighourhood employed a chav like him, but later when he saw the older man in a gorgeous suit, walking with the lad, he figured the situation was a boy toy sort of one and dismissed it from his mind. It was a quiet day in the shop a few people who browsed, and one whom had a private appointment. Them he had to assist with, because private appointment meant serious money was going to be exchanged, and once some sort of bracelet that he thought was rather ugly was purchased, he walked the woman to her car, where her driver was waiting.
He saw the lad back in the window, changing the display. It was odd, there was a female mannequin being put in, but perhaps they made suits for women as well. He went back into the store and finished reading his book. At 3 the other security guard arrived. Merlin put away his security tools in the lock box and headed home.
Merlin put the telly on, made some tea, watched the news and continued to try to find a hobby. Nothing was of particular interest yet. He had tried knitting, and promptly donated all his supplies to a shelter. He went to a range once a month, but that wasn’t a hobby so much as habit. He felt odd not doing that. Though last time someone had a bow in and that had been interesting. Perhaps archery.
Video games were not an option, first person ones made him ill and they just seemed...not for him. He couldn’t draw and didn’t feel like taking the time to get better. His cooking was improving but again not a hobby. Maybe he’d find an old bloke footie league or something.
He eventually ate a proper meal, and was in bed by 10. Tomorrow he didn’t have to be at the store until one. A good hard workout in the morning, maybe poke at the guitar that had been in the living room when he moved in. It was a good night, no dreams, and no phantom leg syndrome waking him up, though that happened less and less with each passing year. He was starting to forget what it had felt like to have two legs, the left gone for 7 years now.
In the morning, he realized he hated the feel of a guitar in his hands, and went to the gym to climb a wall and do some boxing.
“We have an interesting appointment today,” Percival told Merlin, and Merlin looked at him in surprise. The man seldom called things interesting. His resume had been ‘interesting’ and thank god Percival had not commented past that; there were things Merlin did not feel like talking about. An estate sale his business went to once had been ‘interesting’ and Percival had spent tireless hours repatriating the African art that had been in the box to the proper people. It was why Merlin stayed at the boring job - Percival was a good man through and through. Interesting was an interesting word from Percival.
“What is the appointment, sir?” Merlin asked politely. He didn’t care that much, but needed to know what would be expected from him.
“Across the way at Kingsman,” Percival began, “Harry Hart.”
“He’s been in, bought a pocket watch.”
“He did, but he is not interesting, beyond the normal ways,” Percival smiled faintly. There was a joke in his voice that Merlin didn’t quite grasp. But he had never been good with jokes. “Who is interesting is his shop assistant, Eggsy. That is who has an appointment with us.”
“Eggsy? That’s a name.”
“Yours is Merlin, mine is Percival, we are not the best to judge. He, in the last year, has been building a personal business out of Harry’s shop as a stylist, and he wants to talk to me.”
“Is he the one in the track suits?”
“He has a past.” Merlin felt it necessary to point that out.
“And you know this how?”
Merlin shrugged. “I can see it on him.” He had watched the man a bit since their moment outside the shops. He put together a good window display and the owner of the shop dotted on him. “And he works at Kingsman - Mr. Hart would put him in a suit but doesn’t. The lad wears those track suits to make a point. Don’t make a point like that in this neighbourhood unless you have a chip on your shoulder.”
“This neighbourhood? Chip? Are you sure you aren’t speaking of yourself?” Percival was giving him a look, that faint smile. His boss saw more than he cared for sometimes.
“What time can we expect him?”
“In about an hour,” Percival said. “He is due in thirty minutes, but being Harry’s protege, I’ve allowed for lateness.”
“Five minutes early is five minutes late,” Merlin replied, a thing ingrained in him from one sergeant many moons ago when he had been in basic.
“You are so much fun at parties, I bet.”
“Don’t know, been at 5 in the last thirty years.” Merlin ignored the look Percival was giving him, and went back to his e-reader. They had one customer who bought a chamber pot and a couple of browsers, and thirty minutes later, he saw the lad jog across the street. Not in a track suit but grey trousers, black pinstripe waistcoat, and light blue shirt. Everything should have been just a little off, but worked together. He also had a portfolio sleeve with him. He opened the door, and looked at Merlin.
“Hiya, I have an appointment with Percival?” The lad was clearly a touch nervous, the way his fingers tightened on the leather. “I’m like a minute early.”
Merlin felt his lips quirk just a bit. “That will surprise Percival. He expected you to take after your employer.”
Eggsy rolled his eyes. “Harry has a reputation that can withstand being late. I don’t. Not yet. Plus seems like a dick move, when trying to ask a man a favour.”
Percival came out from the back room. “Eggsy,” he was clearly surprised.
“Mr. Rowling, a pleasure as always.” Eggsy held out his hand, and Merlin watched him put on the performance of a gentleman. It was not a man who thirty seconds ago had said dick move. It was impressive the way he drew the skin around himself. Merlin had never had a gift to perform grace and manner, he was too much blunt force trauma for that. He pretended to read, keep an eye on the door, but watched them. He was surprised they didn’t go to Percival’s office.
“So what can we do for you Eggsy. This is more than buying a birthday gift for Harry.”
“This is strictly professional, sir,” Eggsy said. “I’m here to convince you to lend me some of your jewelry for a night.”
“Now that is an interesting proposition. Why?”
Eggsy took a breath. “Because I am dressing two people for the BAFTAs. One a presenter, one an actual nominee. And my first female client.” Eggsy bit his lip. “Roxanne Morton?”
Merlin didn’t recognize the name, but Percival clearly did. “She is nominated for best supporting actress, that historical movie.” That explained it, his boss loved historical movies for the antiques.
“Yeah,” Eggsy took a shaky breath. “She heard me on a podcast, and called the shop. Said how I talked about clothes matched what she wanted, that her current stylist didn’t get it. Would I like a try, and turned out the try was the fucking BAFTAs. The bloke is easy. He’s had a tuxedo made at Kingsman, but I was hoping antique watch and cuff links. It is a super modern cut tux, so a few classic pieces would look good next to it.” Eggsy opened the portfolio, and showed a picture of a man that Merlin vaguely recognized - he thought maybe he had been in a Star Wars. “This is from the last fitting. You can see how it is cut, that the contrast of older pieces next to it would be brilliant.”
“Hmm,” Percival agreed. “And for Roxanne Morton?”
“Similar thing. But not?” Eggsy flipped the page. “Here, we have some sample photos, of the various looks we are debating. She were being dressed to sort of match the role she had played. Roxy has a super classic face, and her old stylist was playing to that - not her actual personality.”
“This is the one you are leaning towards?” Percival gestured at a photo.
“Yeah, she isn’t one hundred sold, but I think the contrast, the almost military top with floaty slit skirt is so damn perfect. Want her hair, severe, bun, pulled tight, and dramatic as fuck antique earrings.”
“Hmmmm,” Percival nodded a bit. “What exactly do I get out of this?”
“I can pay a rental fee,” Eggsy said. “Not a lot, though, not what it is worth.” Merlin watched his shoulders slump before he squared them. “And Roxy is really savvy about social media. She has a huge amount of followers on insta and your business would be splattered all over it. Mine too. Not nearly as much but your store would be linked in every photo I post. I know I am fundamentally asking you to work for exposure, which is rubbish, but on the other hand? She is up and coming, 40 years from now she is bloody Emma Thompson. And she’s the sort to never forget who got her there. Can tell.” Eggsy rubbed his neck. “I am too new, no major jewelry house will work with me, and I don’t want them anyways. All the same, and boring. You don’t have boring stuff in here.”
“No, I don’t.” Percival glanced at Merlin with brows raised.
Merlin thought about it. “Security deposit, rental fee, and depending what pieces you give him, one of us goes with him in charge of the jewelry.”
The lad clearly didn’t like that. “Oi, I am not stealing from Harry’s bloke, what type of shit person do you think I am?”
“I don’t know what type of person you are at all,” Merlin said, “But I do know that my boss asked me my professional opinion, and that is my professional opinion.”
“I have to agree with him, because you’ll want a few samples,” Percival said. “What you think works right now, might not at the moment.” He looked at the photos and was clearly mulling. “400 pounds, which will all be returned to you upon return of all pieces to the store. Merlin will be in charge of the jewelry.”
“Sir, Jesse is better suited to this task,” Merlin said. “He is the sociable sort.”
“You are my best, and you will be accompanying the pieces to wherever it is Eggsy will be working.”
“Hotel, we’ve got suites,” Eggsy said. He looked at Merlin. “This is my job yeah. You treat me like a thief in front of my clients, you ruin my career that is just getting going.”
“I will be discreet,” Merlin found himself promising. The boy had a past, but didn’t they all. And he could read the earnestness pouring off him. He wondered if he had been that earnest in his twenties. But he had already been shot a couple times by then so he doubted it. Earnest had never been in his skill sets.
“Shall we look at a selection of pieces, Eggsy?”
“Sure,” Eggsy agreed. “You really doing this for me?”
“You are interesting.”
Something clearly relaxed in Eggsy at that. “Harry said if you called me interesting, everything was going to be okay.”
“He knows me well.”
Merlin watched them go through the jewelry case, and Percival even took him to the back private collection. Merlin stayed put and read his book. But he was curious and pulled out his phone. He searched Eggsy and this Roxanne Morton. She was gorgeous and on her social media raving about her new stylist and how they were going to blow everyone out of the water at the BAFTAs in a couple of weeks. His social media was more restrained, lots of photos of things called ‘look books’ and talking about clothes that flatter, emphasis on suits and women wearing suits. With working out of Kingsman that made sense. There were some photos of him with a cowboy holding a surf board. Some country singer named Tequila who won a bunch of popularity awards in America. When he heard them returning, he put his phone away.
“So, I need all that at the hotel by 3 the night of the BAFTAS.”
“Merlin is very punctual,” Percival promised. “I thank you for considering my shop.”
“Thanks for believing in me?” Merlin heard the question in his voice.
“You are Harry’s, I could do nothing less,” Percival reassured. “And you earn it on your own as well.”
“Right, well, see you in a couple weeks, officer.”
“Security guard, not the filth as you call it,” Merlin reminded him of their first encounter.
“Yeah, ain’t nothing dirty on you is there?” Eggsy winked and left the store a bounce in his step.
“You really should send Jesse,” Merlin looked at Percival.
“He would get star struck, you do not give a fuck.”
Merlin blinked. He had spent decades cursing outrageously on missions, he didn’t have a problem with cursing, it just sounded so odd coming out of Percival. “I suppose I don’t. You really trust him? You were radically undercharging the deposit for what he is borrowing.”
“Sometimes, you have to accept interesting men on faith and their word.”
Merlin ignored the pointed look Percival gave him, and went back to his book. When he got home that night, he started an instagram account to track Eggsy a bit. Just to find out the sort of man he was that Percival was so willing to trust him with about 80,000 pounds worth of stock, that Merlin would have to protect in a couple weeks.