Chapter 1: “in there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
My dear Lord Peter Wimsey,
Or should I say favorite cousin? I think I should. Of all my bothersome relations you are definitely the least likely to berate me, sniff at me, or pout when I refuse to steal the thingummy from the whatsit. At least your adventures don’t end with me being chased by policemen. Or Spodes.
Your nephew is taking after the Wooster side of the family, by the way. Heard he convinced several of his mates to steal police helmets! Gets his damned luck from the Wimsey side, though, he got off scot free; I’m rather excited to see what happens when he finally switches on. Aunt Dahlia thinks he’ll be a Sentinel, Aunt Agatha thinks the “jackanapes better never bloom, he would destroy his parents’ Pride,” and the rest of the family is rather split down the middle. The bets are enormous by now, it’s quite barmy.
Of course I think he’ll be a Guide, the little blighter. Smooth as a silk tie, he is, much like you were, old bean.
But this is supposed to be a welcome home letter, so welcome back to bally old England! Missed you like mad, the old girl did (considering my position, I think I ought to know). Warning you now, old chap, gird thy loins before you go see your brother. Last time I saw Denver, he and Helen were talking about those special soirees, and possibly holding one around Christmas. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Reg and I didn’t tell them when you would be back, but you know Helen; almost as bad as Aunt Agatha, she is.
Things in London have changed a bit since we asked you to go to the Continent. While Reg and I were playing with politics in America—the new Alphas of the United States turned out to be old friends, I was quite chuffed to see Jim and Blair again—the Alphas of London died. Quite to be expected, of course, Judith and Margaret were getting on in years. I don’t believe you’ve met the new Alphas; they are Alonso Creed and Bartholomew Grey, only a few years older than you, I believe. Their appearance and subsequent assumption of Alphahood, if you will, was actually quite a surprise, but Creed is one of the Shropshire Creeds, you know, which means the House of Lords is quite happy about his presence in London. Reg, not so much, but then Creed remembers him as a valet, not the bloody Alpha Sentinel Prime of England, and made some nasty insinuations. Only took a momentary meeting though, and tickety-boo, Creed was practically groveling.
Reg is so very dashing when he puts other Alphas in their places. My heart was all a’flutter. I wrote a song about it; Reg was quite enthusiastic and actually slammed the piano shut and took me to bed before the first chorus even began!
The new Alphas have made their home in the bohemian district, of all places. Suppose they didn’t want to move in anywhere near Judith and Margaret’s old place; territory issues, etc. Still, it’s rather curious, considering the rather Bolshevik sentiments that tend to rumble through those old streets. Very few Sentinels make it their home, you know, and only a few Guides, but perhaps that’s their aim; keep an eye on the district lacking any Pairs. So they’ve plopped themselves in the middle of the artistic set, and have been rather helpful in the last year; I understand they’ve assisted the police in numerous cases, from theft to murder! It’s quite titillating, old boy, you should look them up. I’m sure they would be willing to assist you if you needed a Pair on one of your outings.
Though if you do want their help, do try to wait for a few months; I believe they were called in on a rather nasty bit of murder business, something to do with arsenic, I think. Those artistic types, honestly, dropping poison in a chap’s tea instead of a good old-fashioned knife in the back. I do believe your old friend Parker in the charge of the case, maybe he’ll have some juicy tidbits for you? I know you enjoy these sort of things.
And here I am blathering about and probably boring you to death, old boy, I’m terribly sorry! I’m sure you’re enjoying your home after so long on the Continent (they never do tea just right, Reg has to take over every time), but do pop over and visit soon!
Lord Yaxley, Alpha Guide Prime of England, blah blah blah
P.S. Give Bunter my regards!
Lord Peter Wimsey,
I appreciate your discretion with the business in France. Allow me to congratulate you on an exceptional job, and welcome you home to England.
I am sure you would prefer some days of rest and relaxation. However, I suggest you visit your mother; the Dowager had tea with us last Thursday, and mentioned an interest in the process of creating porcelain figurines. She ate nothing but the cucumber sandwiches. She also informed me that the Duchess of Denver has been asking her for assistance with a certain soiree. I understand that the Duchess is planning to visit your lady mother tomorrow whilst your brother is visiting the House of Lords. I believe the Dowager would be most agreeable to a jaunt to London’s Bohemia in the morning, and I am certain she would appreciate a visit to your friend Miss Phelps.
Sir Reginald Jeeves
Alpha Sentinel Prime of England
Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey laughed aloud and tapped his long, slim fingers on the thick paper in front of him. The sound of a door had him pick up the letter and wave it vaguely to the side.
“Not two days in London and already we are called upon, Bunter! Only cucumber sandwiches indeed, Mother must be quite vexed with Helen. As am I, come to think of it,” Peter mused, as Bunter carefully placed the lunch tray on his lord’s desk, then deftly plucked the letter from Peter’s hand. “Really, after over a decade of throwing the same acceptable Sentinels at me, you’d think she would understand they are simply not compatible at all.”
“The Duchess is quite focused on her goals, my lord,” Bunter replied, scanning the letter.
Peter snorted. “Pushy and intent on making me respectable, you mean.” He picked up the soup spoon, but only tapped it against his lips, ignoring the soup in front of him. “Well, Bunter, thou of the all-seeing eye, what do you think of this missive?”
“I think your lordship should eat your soup before it grows cold.”
“Cold as your nerves, my man, cold as stone! We are sent on a quest! Excitement, adventure!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“We shall enter the gates of Hell and bring light to darkness!”
“Of course, my lord.”
Peter stopped flourishing the spoon in the air and eyed Bunter. “Really, Bunter, do show some life. This is certain to be more interesting than France, in any case. Damn Continental spies and smugglers and politicians.”
Bunter placed the letter back on the desk, well away from the slowly cooling soup. “I shall do my utmost, my lord. Shall I make enquiries?”
“Hm.” Peter took a sip of the soup. “Oh, you have outdone yourself once again, Bunter! Yes, please contact the usual, if you would. We may have company for dinner; I shall send a letter out to Chief Inspector Parker and see if he will join us for—what are you planning, Bunter?”
“Veal cutlets, my lord.”
“Hm, very good. Charles quite enjoyed the veal at that restaurant he took Mary to, according to her letter.” As Peter went to take another sip, a sound brought his gaze to the window. “Ah. I shall probably be in here for a little longer than usual, Bunter. Please cancel my afternoon appointment with Freddy, reschedule it to the day after tomorrow.”
Bunter glanced at the window, saw the fluffy feline on the chair before it, and nodded in understanding. “Very well, my lord. I shall be back presently.” He left, and shut the door securely behind him.
Peter was silent for a long moment, then he left his desk and lunch, walking over to the window and kneeling in front of the well-stuffed armchair. The cat blinked back with large green eyes.
“This is quite the surprise, my friend. You don’t usually appear without warning.”
The cat mewed.
“Have I neglected you then? Aren’t you happy to return to London? Or is London no longer to your taste now that Judith and Margaret are gone?"
The cat stared at him for a moment more, huffed, turned his back, and began to wash himself. Peter chuckled and returned to his desk. He pressed back into his chair, his elbows on the arms and fingers steepled before his face. After several slow, deep breaths, he closed his eyes and reached.
Quietly, he touched the calm, methodical mind of Bunter, who acknowledged his lord’s mental presence even as he worked busily to organize a list of visits, calls, and notes. Peter pressed on, his mind opening, touching on the streets and towers and familiar crush of thousands of minds and emotions that made up London. After a moment to acclimate—the mental landscapes of Bayeux and Caen had been desolate in comparison—he pushed toward what he knew to be the “bohemian” district. The simple emotions of everyday life were slowly subsumed by the burning fires of passionate work, the brilliance of an epiphany, and the slow, sluggish rumble of minds in deep slumber.
Peter frowned. In his mind, London glowed like a candle behind frosted glass; Sentinels, Guides, and even powerful Sensitives like Bunter glittered like pinprick stars against the ambient light of a thousand more mundane minds. But here—here it was different. There were splashes of emotion, but the glow dimmed, and there were few stars. Even they were dim, with the exception of two that blazed in the gloom. This was entirely outside Peter’s experience. In the years since he had switched on in the middle of the bloody battle for Le Cateau, even a town full of civilians traumatized by a month of constant shelling had enough emotion left to gleam bright in the mental landscape. This was not—this could not be natural!
Even as he thought that, as he moved perilously close to the blazing lights in the middle of the wrong wrong wrong dimness, something landed on his lap with enough force that his eyes jerked open and his mind rose up defensively protect wrong protect when he met the green-eyed gaze of the cat just a moment before it head-butted his chest, disappeared, and Peter fell into blue.
When he opened his eyes, blue-tinted Scottish moors stretched before him, mountains rising in the distance, and the wildcat was seated on a hillock to his left. Here, in his natural habitat, it was easier to see his muscle mass and heavy claws, rather than fluffy fur and tabby stripes.
“You pest! Be glad Bunter wasn’t in the room, it’s quite possible I would have seen him as a threat after all that!” Peter exclaimed. The wildcat flicked an ear at him. Peter grumbled for a moment, then conceded.
“Very well, I would not have seen him as an enemy, not Bunter. Still, what was the meaning of that? I found something quite extraordinary, and not in a good way. I was attempting to investigate.”
The wildcat murred reprovingly, and as if in echo, a rough caw came from above. Peter looked up, startled. A large raven circled down and landed next to the wildcat. It hopped forward a few inches, cocking its head and watching Peter over its wicked black beak. Peter wobbled a moment, then sat abruptly in the thick blue heather.
“This is impossible,” he whispered, but he knew whose spirit guide this was. Most Sentinels and Guides found blue jungles when they visited the spirit world, but higher level Sentinels and Guides sometimes found themselves in a different geography entirely. It reverted back to jungle when other Guides had tried to contact him. Bertie had confided it was the same for him and Jeeves. Their winter landscape and hidden burrow was open only to Bertie, Jeeves, and their spirit animals. From what literature Bertie had retrieved for him from the SG Council, it was the same for every high-ranking Sentinel and Guide. Only a Guide’s Sentinel could share the Guide’s personal landscape, and vice versa.
Which meant that this was his Sentinel’s spirit. Peter could feel his heart practically stop in shock and a hope that had long been crushed under a decade of waiting.
The raven opened its beak, as if laughing at him. The wildcat began to purr.
And Peter felt himself tumble back into his body.
His neck hurt.
With a soft groan, Peter sat up from where he had slumped in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. He rolled his head and listened to the bones creak.
Bunter stood before his desk, a look of concern on his normally impassive face. The lunch tray had been removed, and by the light outside, it was now late afternoon. Peter blinked at Bunter, then turned his attention to the desk and the still-open letter. He pulled it forward.
“I apologize, Bunter. I had not thought I would be so long.”
There was the faintest brush against his shields, and Peter quirked a smile. “Really Bunter, I’m quite all right, though also rather famished, I’m afraid I never finished that excellent luncheon you prepared.”
“Never mind the lunch, my lord. There will be plenty of supper. I also took the liberty of contacting Chief Inspector Parker. He shall be joining us for dinner.”
“Will he then? Marvelous!” Peter jumped to his feet, swiping the letter and moving to the bookshelves. “You are the eighth wonder of the world, Bunter, truly, I am astonished at your capacity for efficiency! Now, just give me a moment, and I shall prepare to receive the redoubtable Chief Inspector.”
Bunter watched his lord skimming through the books, tugging out volumes and subsequently discarding them as he moved through the rows. “Would you like some assistance, my lord?”
“No no, Bunter, I know what I’m searching for! Egads, where did that come from? I actually own a copy of this ass?” Peter dropped a copy of Percival Slope’s Amazonian Aberrations: Hysteria and Female Sentinels (1832) on a nearby table with a thump and a cloud of dust.
“You insisted, my lord. It is a first edition in pristine condition, and I believe you said it was best to have it on hand in case you needed kindling.”
“Oh yes, so I did!”
“My lord.” Bunter’s voice was hesitant. “May I ask what happened during your walk?”
“Ah, yes.” Peter stopped in front of a shelf of heavy, gilt-edged volumes, his eyes fixed on Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Sentinel of York (1719). “As to that—let us just say that suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”
“Poe, my lord?”
“Poe is such a grim read, really, it seemed quite apropos, most excellent of Bunters.” A chime echoed through the house, and Peter perked up. “Ah, and here is Charles! Early even! Well, crime must be taking a holiday!”
“I shall see to Chief Inspector Parker. Shall I bring him here, my lord?”
“Yes yes, I should like to ply him with scotch before dining, makes him much more agreeable when I ask for ridiculous favors.” Peter heard the door close behind Bunter, and closed his eyes. The raven’s image flashed through his mind, and a shiver ran up his spine, even as a slow smirk curled his lips.
“On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before. Then the bird said, Nevermore.” He whispered, and turned to find his scotch and tumblers.
If you're reading this and thinking "you haven't even finished your Shadow of Mordor fic," don't worry. I tried to finish that one before Rough Trade's Little Black Dress Challenge began July 1st, but that didn't happen. So it will be finished once I have my LBD challenge fics edited/betaed and uploaded, which shouldn't take long, since they're all complete.
This is an AU of Dorothy L. Sayers' novel Strong Poison. Quite a few things have been cut and/or altered, due to the nature of the LBD challenge. There are a few points where I used original dialogue from the novel, but the rest of it is from my own tired brain.
Each chapter will be titled with a corresponding line from Edgar A. Poe's "The Raven."
Once again, my beta is the superlative SvengoolieCat.
Oh, I almost forgot. About Sentinel/Guide terminology: I had to find period-appropriate words for Sentinel/Guide happenings, since the word "online" didn't come into common use in English until the advent of the Internet in the late seventies/early eighties. So, in my headcanon, in the 1800s, the common term for "coming online" was "blooming/bloom/bloomed." The Victorians were pretty obsessed with childhood, innocence, virginity, etc. It seemed to fit. However, once the modern era began, particularly with the advent of electric lights and WWI, it changes to "switch on/switched on/switching on."
Chapter 2: “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”
“I say, Charles, this suspect of yours, who is she?”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
To his credit, Detective Chief Inspector Charles Parker of Scotland Yard waited until he and his host had eaten dinner and retired to the study for an after-dinner drink before he asked, with wry resignation, “what exactly do you want, Peter?”
“Charles, can I not invite a dear friend over for dinner after long months in the wilds of the Continent?” Peter threw himself into a chair. “Such a suspicious mind you policemen have!”
“You’ve been in London for two days and haven’t even seen your mother yet. Don’t try to deny it, I spoke with Mary last night.” Parker grinned. “I shan’t complain, I suppose. Bunter’s cooking is well worth pandering to your insatiable curiosity.”
Peter huffed in mock-annoyance, his lips twitching. “Really, Charles.” Peter watched the other man for a moment, then finally let his smile grow. “So, still speaking with Mary, are you?”
“And you already knew it, you rascal, she tells you everything.”
“Ah well, so I did and so she does. You know, old man, she’s getting rather impatient. If you aren’t careful she might up and propose marriage herself! Ah!” Peter held up one finger as Parker frowned and opened his mouth. “I know what you’re thinking, my friend, you’ve mentioned it often enough. And again I tell you it does not matter that you do not have a title.” Peter stopped, then amended that statement. “Well, it might matter to Gerald and Helen, but it doesn’t matter to Mary, Mother, or me.” Peter chortled slightly at the alliteration, but continued, “and those are the only opinions which truly matter, so hurry up before you end up wearing the diamond instead, what!”
Parker grumbled into his scotch. Peter let him wallow for a moment as Bunter slipped into the back of the study.
“Now, Charles, while I do love your company, I admit I heard some interesting things on the grapevine, as it were.” Peter waved a negligent hand. “Something about arsenic, I think it was.”
Parker sighed. “Damn it all, Peter, not even the newspapers know about that yet! The judge is setting a date for the trial tomorrow morning.”
“How on earth did you manage around the vultures?”
“It wasn’t easy,” Parker said grimly, “but the London Alphas are working with us personally, and asked for as much discretion as possible, considering the victim was a part of their Pride.”
Peter frowned and sat up straighter. He ran a finger on the edge of his tumbler. “Latent?”
“Switched on. A low-level Guide named Philip Boyes, one of the few to live in bohemia, but then he was a writer. Wrote crime novels, actually.”
“Curious. Even if the victim was a Guide, that doesn’t often mean the London Alphas themselves get involved. They usually leave it to the Pairs attached to the Yard.”
“Maybe they felt responsible, since they live nearby. Or maybe it’s the circumstances. The suspect is a dormant Sentinel.”
Peter stilled his finger on his glass. “A dormant Sentinel?”
“A dormant female Sentinel.” Parker said. He downed the rest of his scotch in a rush. “Evidence is that she put arsenic in his tea. Not that I blame her.”
“The man was a damned Jumper.”
Peter felt his mouth twist in disgust. While rare, Jumpers were common enough around the world to earn a specific moniker for their cons. Usually low-level Guides or high-level Sensitives, Jumpers befriended and seduced a succession of lovers, usually pretending that the person in question was actually a latent Sentinel and that close association would switch the unfortunate victims on. They used the person until they got bored or drained their resources, and then vanished. Some experienced Jumpers could “jump” from person to person for years before they were caught. It went back to feudal days, when some nobles—often latent or dormant themselves—exercised their version of droit du seigneur on unbonded or latent Sentinels and Guides.
Peter was actually quite surprised this Boyes had survived in London; modern Prides took a very dim view of anyone, Guide or not, who “jumped.” The last known Jumper, a high-level Sensitive, had died in Spain at the hands of an incensed Pride when he attempted to seduce the Alpha Guide’s brother, dormant due to congenital defects.
“Still murder, of course, particularly since she isn’t part of the Pride and protected by the SG Pride Protection Mandate.” Parker continued. “Seems it was only his second Jump too, though there’s rumors among the bohemian crowd that could be evidence for a possible third Jump with a young dormant Sentinel named Vaughn. Anyway, Boyes came to London after he tried it on a girl in his hometown; when he broke it off, she committed suicide. Everything was hushed up and Boyes was hustled off; his father’s a vicar, and one of the good ones. The girl’s parents didn’t want the son’s crime to harm the father.”
She’s not part of the Pride? Peter filed that away. “Why was this despicable character even allowed to reside in London? Alphas normally don’t abide such naughtiness.”
“Oh, they knew something was up, but they did nothing. I interviewed them for the case, asked them about the boy. The Honorable Mr. Grey, Alpha Guide of London, was quite touchy on the subject.” Parker cleared his throat and affected a high, nasal voice with a distinct Liverpool accent. “We are new, strange Alphas of an old, established Pride, Chief Inspector. I knew there was something different about the boy, but I did not dare upset any Pride members so early in our rule by viewing his mind without permission. It simply isn’t done.”
Peter choked on his last mouthful of scotch and pounded at his chest. Drawing in a ragged breath, he exchanged an incredulous look with Bunter, then turned his gaze on Parker, who was watching him with slight amusement.
“You must be joking, Charles! He said that?”
“Word for word. Why?”
“It’s hogwash! Utter and complete tomfoolery!” Peter huffed. “I may not be bonded— “
“Or even officially acknowledged by the Pride because they would ‘step on your toes’,” Parker said drily.
“—but that is poppycock! The cheek of him!” Peter jumped up and began to pace. “Rule and upset, indeed! When Bertie and Jeeves became Alphas of England, the first bloody step they took was investigating each Alpha Pair in person, which included a mandatory mental investigation by Bertie.”
“I remember that,” Charles mused. “Whole damn Yard was in an uproar when the new Alphas tossed Dartmoor’s Alpha Pair in prison for corruption. Something about bribes, I think…”
Peter ignored him. “Besides, it’s quite impossible for Boyes to have been part of the Pride before these new Alphas showed up; I knew Margaret and Judith personally. They would never have put up with such a—a brutish little chinwag in their Pride!”
“I already considered as much, Peter, but between their status in the Pride and their connections in the House of Lords, my hands are tied. Besides, it’s not about Boyes’ crimes, but the woman’s. Quite a strong-willed character; apparently she kept refusing him, but he managed to somehow convince her into a ‘free-love’ relationship despite her moral qualms. When I spoke to her friends and associates, they said she seemed content enough at first, and was quite certain that Boyes would be her Guide when she switched on. But she discovered the truth of it before he got tired of her. There was a row loud enough to be heard by the neighbors—something about misuse of gifts and another dormant Sentinel, likely this Vaughn of the rumors—and she left him. Never spoke to him again and burned his letters until the night before he died, when Boyes apparently appeared on her doorstep and begged to speak to her. According to her own testimony, she agreed on the condition that he never grace her doorstep again afterwards. They had a cup of tea, and Boyes left after an hour. He died early the next morning at his cousin’s house.”
“What did they speak of?”
Parker shook his head. “She says she doesn’t remember anything between when he stepped through the door and when he left. We have her buying arsenic at a shop in London and found it in her kitchen. She says it was for experiments, due to the novel she was writing. I checked with her publisher; her next published novel is in edits, but I got a look, and it is about arsenic poisoning. Still, the Alpha Guide also investigated her mentally, and informed me that she was most definitely guilty, having put the arsenic in Boyes’ tea.” Parker let out a deep sigh. “All the evidence is against her, Peter. Just the Alpha Guide’s testimony is enough to get her imprisoned, but with the evidence of the arsenic, it’s likely to be a hanging, especially without a Pride behind her.”
Unease wiggled through Peter’s veins, zipping up his spine and tingling on the back of his neck. He thought of the dimness that filled London’s bohemia.
“Charles,” he said slowly. “Have you finished your investigations for this case?”
“Well, no, not quite. We need to re-interview Boyes’ cousin, Urquhart, a solicitor. We only did a preliminary interview on the morning in question.” Parker eyed Peter suspiciously. “What are you thinking, Peter?”
“Could I possibly join you? I have an appointment with Mother tomorrow morning—she’s interested in porcelain now, you know, it’s quite perplexing—but I shall be free as a bird in the afternoon. Do allow me to accompany you, Charles, poisonings are so very interesting!”
“Yes, I can tell you’re interested.” Parker said sourly, eyeing the mound of Notable British Trials volumes on Peter’s desk; all were open at the more famous arsenic cases. A few of the authorities on Forensic Medicine and Toxicology were stacked at the foot of Peter’s chair. “I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm, you might even see something I missed. The man’s a rather slippery fellow, in my opinion.”
“Really, you and solicitors!” Peter laughed. “So, an afternoon jaunt to interview the cousin of a murder victim! Charles, best of men, paragon of police, I worship at your feet, for you always find such interesting puzzles!”
“Pretty cut and dried, I thought, but as you like, Peter. It’s getting rather late, I had better go home, early morning and all.” Parker hauled himself to his feet. Bunter appeared as if from the ether with Parker’s coat; well used to it after years of being Peter Wimsey’s close friend, the Inspector just smiled and thanked Bunter. He clasped Peter’s hand and followed Bunter out the door; before he was fully gone, Peter called out to him.
“I say, Charles, this suspect of yours, who is she?”
“Another detective crime novelist.” Parker replied. “A Miss Harriet Vane.”
droit du seigneur, translated in English as "right of the lord," is a feudal right thought to exist during medieval times, where the lord of a property had the right to take the first night with the bride of any one of his vassals. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, most of the evidence for it is indirect. However, it's become a part of our perception of that time, thanks to books and movies (Braveheart, for instance) which make use of it to show how "evil" the bad guys are.
In this case, I'm giving it a new interpretation, where the noble would take latent/unbonded Sentinels or Guides (probably Guides, mostly) as lovers, willing or not. I connected it in my mind to the idea (mentioned in quite a few Sentinel/Guide fics) that mundanes see Guides, and possibly high-level Sentinels, as hypersexual beings due to the Guide aura.
Chapter 3: “all my soul within me burning”
Harriet Vane stepped out and his heart stuttered.
“So good of you to take me out this morning, my dear.” The Honorable Honoria Lucasta Delagardie Wimsey, Dowager Duchess of Denver, patted her son’s hand as they waited for a small group of pedestrians to cross the road. “I admit I had completely forgotten I told dear Reginald about my interest in porcelain, but that man has such a wonderful brain, I am sure he could do absolutely anything and remember everything even if he wasn’t England’s Alpha Sentinel, we are so very proud of him, and Bertram is just as proud, you know, he practically bubbles whenever he glances at Reginald, it’s quite lovely to see. Of course, I still don’t understand Bertram’s obsession with fish and the connection to Reginald, but then that boy has always been a little different, even though he really has settled now that he has come into his Guide gifts. Oh, are we nearly there, Peter?”
Peter drew his Daimler up across the street from the courthouse that sat just outside the borders of the bohemian district. “Not quite yet, Mother dearest. My curious brain, you know, I saw the paddywagon barrel down the street and got the itch to see what’s going on, what! Who knows what miscreant could be lurking within its depths!”
The paddywagon in question had settled in front of the courthouse. A pair of black cars pulled up beside it and released several policemen; one was Detective Chief Inspector Charles Parker. He did not notice the covert gazes from across the street, his attention firmly on his detective sergeant as the two of them moved inside the building. Peter leaned back as the Dowager tried to lean forward and peer around him, one hand on her driving shawl and another on her hat.
“Well, Peter, who is it? I hope it’s not a child, those cases are so awful, just seeing the poor dears up in front of the court, it’s simply not right.”
Before Peter could answer, his whole body flinched when a raven croaked right in his ear. He whipped his head around; the raven—his Sentinel’s raven—was perched on the Daimler’s door. It was hopping and shuffling in agitation, bating its wings and bobbing its head. Peter knew it was intangible, and his Sentinel’s spirit would never harm him, but he still twitched his hand away from its long sharp beak. There was something in the air, something electric, and Peter felt his eyes move to the back of the paddywagon as if drawn by magnets.
Harriet Vane stepped out and his heart stuttered.
She was lovely. Oh, her chin was too stubborn and her nose a tad too big for a “classical” beauty, but she was beautiful all the same. Peter kept his eyes on her as a constable handed her down from the rear of the transport; Harriet was pale and kept her face turned downward, away from the journalists already gathered by the courthouse steps.
She was moving away.
Not even considering possible repercussions, Peter threw open his shields and reached for her. She was his; Harriet was perfect and she was his Sentinel, she could not be dormant, Charles had to be wrong!
He had barely touched the edge of her aura when a deceptively thin hand clamped onto his knee and a sharp beak nipped at his shoulder. He jolted out of the trance to find the raven scolding him and his mother gripping his leg. Belatedly, he uncurled his hands from the steering wheel, flexing life back into whitened knuckles as he drew his shields back. Peter looked up again, hoping to get one more glimpse before Harriet was drawn into the courthouse. She turned her head, and their eyes met.
There was no recognition. Just a quiet puzzlement, and then she was gone.
As the racket around the steps subsided, Peter became aware of a low rumbling. His wildcat was on the Daimler’s hood, his body still as stone even as his tail twitched in a hunting rhythm. Peter followed the cat’s gaze.
A pair of men were next to the paddywagon. Both were tall and well-formed, with silvering dark hair and spotless suits. None of the surrounding police and journalists got within three feet of them. Ignoring his mother’s intake of breath and admonishing squeeze, Peter lowered his shields again. This time, he was careful. Opening his shields wide like that had been a mistake, he knew, and he refused to court another battlefield breakdown, especially with Bunter away. Bertie had warned him not a year ago that, with his power, lapsing into the memory of that day at Le Cateau could have repercussions for every Sentinel, Guide, and Sensitive in the city. So now, without frantic instinct and need shoving him forward, he carefully thinned his shields, parting them like a beaded curtain.
The taller man was radiating glee and a gloating satisfaction, centered around Harriet. The smaller man—the Sentinel, Peter realized—was sharing his Guide’s satisfaction, but he was distracted.
By Peter, in fact.
The two suddenly blazed to his Guide senses and Peter pulled back abruptly. Both raven and wildcat had disappeared, but now the Alpha Pair of London had their eyes on the Daimler’s passengers. Peter locked his mind down and threw away the proverbial key; they were still watching. Tension crackled in the air. Their personal power rose around them, ready to break like a wave over any suspicious characters. Even with his shields in place, Peter could feel the metaphysical pull of a very strong Pair. The Sentinel shifted his weight, as if he was going to cross the street—
“Peter, you’re so good to your mother, thank you for indulging my prurient curiosity!” The Dowager leaned over and pressed a kiss to Peter’s cheek. The air seemed to still, but Honoria Lucasta Delagardie Wimsey was very good at filling up silence. “I know we’re off our schedule now, but I am so very curious about these sort of affairs, and really, that poor woman, what would drive someone to do something so terrible as poison someone. I mean, I’ve been tempted a time or two, darling, you know Murgatroyd gets on my last nerve with the way she serves her tea, but oh, I did want to see Miss Vane, I’ve read several of her books, you know. So creative! Which reminds me, Peter, we mustn’t keep your friend waiting, she promised to show me her creative process! Do hurry, dear, it’s gotten much later than I expected, I’m so sorry for taking us out of the way.”
Peter had pulled out and was up the street before the Dowager even finished. The Alphas were left behind; a moment later, the Dowager tapped Peter’s wrist.
“Are they still listening, dear heart?”
Peter risked a mental check, and shook his head. “No, I do believe you completely overwhelmed that Sentinel with banal chatter, mother mine. It seems they’ve dismissed us entirely. You have become quite good at that since Gerald married Helen.”
“Well, one does what one must to save one’s sanity.”
There was a moment of silence as Peter turned the last few minutes over in his head. Damn and blast, no wonder Bertie and Jeeves could not move against the London Alphas openly. Between the changes they had made in the Pride—allowing a Jumper indeed—their connections to the House of Lords, and their personal power, it would take something sharp and shocking to shake their foundations. And Harriet—well, that was another problem. She was his, he could sense it, but now that instinct had been wrestled into submission, he realized that her aura had been dim, as if shrouded in a black coal-fog. It was similar to the gloom he had sensed in the area yesterday, and it made the Guide in him furious. Something was harming the Pride. Something was harming his Sentinel and Peter was not going to stand for it.
“Peter.” The Dowager slanted a sly little smirk at him when he turned. “A raven? Really?”
Peter blushed like he had not blushed since he was a boy in short pants. The Dowager laughed aloud.
“Don’t worry, my dear. It will all come right in the end; you’re such a good sleuth, of course you’re going to prove her innocent. Then you can figure out what’s wrong with her—well certainly I noticed, darling, I’m Sensitive, not mentally blind—and hopefully win her hand and bond, and then you can oust those horrible little boys and finally take your place in the Pride.”
Peter shook his head in amusement as he pulled up in front of Miss Marjorie Phelps’ studio. “O Madonna, thou of the bright spirit and undying optimism! Without you, Mother, I think I should fall and shrivel in the despairing darkness of pessimism and self-pity.”
“Well then, isn’t it a good thing I’m here. Now help me down, darling, I really am quite excited about meeting your Miss Phelps.”
Chapter 4: “and each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor”
“I know Harriet Vane is innocent,” he informed them bluntly. “And I am working to clear her name.”
“Your mother,” said Miss Marjorie Phelps, “is an absolute delight and I cannot believe she produced you.”
“Sweetness and light are apparently those things which skip a generation or two, like red hair.” Peter said mournfully. They watched the Dowager poke around Marjorie’s tiny art gallery—she was exclaiming over the tiny shepherd and shepherdess figurines in particular—before Marjorie sighed out a long breath of smoke and stabbed her cigarette into an empty plate.
“It’s a very good thing you’re back, Peter. Everything has gone tits-up since Judith and Margaret died, especially since it happened when the Alpha-Alphas were in America.”
“I don’t believe they’ve ever been called that before.” Peter mused. He rubbed at his chin. “Bertie would love it.”
“Oh, do pay attention, you ass.”
“Your pardon, lady of wisdom. Your words to my ears; sing thy song, and I shall hear. And possibly obey, but that is contingent on a veritable feast of conflicting orders, I fear.”
“You haven’t changed one bit.” Marjorie said wryly. “You’ve heard about this business with Harriet Vane, then?”
Peter tilted his head in acknowledgment. “I—might be quite interested in this particular business, in fact, Marjorie.”
“Well, Lord High Inquisitor, you need to talk to Eiluned and Sylvia. They’re just down the road, bosom friends of Vane’s, and they might have information for you. Actually, I know they have information for you. Eiluned’s switched on, you see, and she’s become damn good at hiding from the London Alphas and their toadies. She’s heard and seen quite a bit.” Marjorie stood, walked over to her painting table, and picked up a small bottle. It said “turpentine” on the side, but it rattled when she handed it to Peter. “This is something that might be connected. It’s been going around the parties and gatherings, touted by Boyes and his crowd.”
“Yes. Rather interesting, isn’t it? He’d hand them out like candy. I took one once—oh, don’t give me that face, I was curious!—but it didn’t do a thing for me, except perhaps make me hungry. I mentioned it to him, and he was rather drunk when he responded, but the gist of his foul, gin-soaked words was that it didn’t affect me because I wasn’t a Sentinel or Guide.”
Peter frowned and hefted the bottle in his hand. “And his whole crowd is doing this?”
“Of course. Likely sanctioned from up top, you know. Little bugger was one of the Alphas’ favorites for a while, kept boasting about being in their ‘inner circle,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean. Had a falling-out with the Alphas around the same time he and Vane had that row, when Vane finally up and left him.”
“Marjorie, you are a veritable fount of information. Are these friends of Harriet’s close?”
“Just down a block, the place with a green and blue door.”
“I think I’ll pop over for a tick and see what I can rustle up.”
“I’ll call first; Eiluned scorns everything in trousers, and can be pretty territorial, what with these Alphas not actually acting like Alphas of a real Pride and pretending not to be a Sentinel, etcetera.” Marjorie moved toward her phone. “I think Sylvia might be her Guide, but I’m not even a Sensitive, you know, so don’t take my word for it. Be sure to keep your mental vault locked tight, Peter. I might be the only person in bohemia who knows you’re a Guide, but most of the active Guides in this area wouldn’t think twice about reporting to the Alphas if they caught wind you had switched on. Now, run along. Your mother and I shall have a grand time when you’re gone; I’m sure she has excellent stories.”
“Oh yes,” the Dowager chirped, looking up from a stylized Venetian mask. “There are ever so many. He used to get into such messes. Why, when he was six, he decided he wanted to be a fish. Stripped off all his clothes and jumped right into the pond! He couldn’t swim yet, of course, so Gerald went in after him, but he was quite determined that he was going to grow scales! And then there was the incident with the baby robins when he was eleven…”
Peter made a hasty escape, almost slamming the door behind him.
As Marjorie had said, the house in question, a two-story brick place squashed into a row of similar houses, was only a block down the road. It was a lovely autumn morning and Peter enjoyed the air as he strolled down the sidewalk. When he found the blue and green door—a rather interesting geometric painting job; influenced by Picasso, Peter expected—he bounded up the steps as if he were twenty again. He rang the bell, and as he waited for someone to answer the door, a voice came from the sidewalk behind him.
“What do you want with these two, then?”
A man, a mundane man, slouched against the light post and watched him with sharp eyes. Peter raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t believe it is any of your business, my good man. Unless, of course, you are the ladies’ agent?”
“Agent? Naw. Just checking. The lads and I have been keeping an eye on the street since the Alphas discovered Vane killed one of our own. These two were friends of hers, you know.”
“Vane?” Peter kept his expression polite and slightly confused; he was quite good at playing the vacant, possibly inbred peer, as several criminals could attest.
“Yeah, guess you ain’t seen the papers yet. Woman novelist. Say she’s a dormant Sentinel. Up and killed one of the Pride, a Guide.” The man leaned forward, as if to impart a secret. “We’re watching, just in case her friends might have been affected. She’s dormant because she’s female, you know. It’s that hysteria that grips ‘em, makes it impossible for them to be real protectors.”
“And you know this how?”
“It’s scientological fact!”
“Right!” The man was getting excited. “That’s why so many women went mad during the shelling in the war, they couldn’t use their new senses because their minds was faulty. Everyone knows that.”
“You know, I shall have to read this scholar one day.” Peter mused, tapping a finger against his chin. The man looked at him with a frown.
“Why, Everyone, of course! Old chap seems to get around, has his fingers in all sorts of philosophical pies; politics, religion, marriage, medicine, and now even, it appears, Sentinel/Guide genetics! He must be a marvelous smart old duffer, what!”
Before the confused man could respond, the door swung open. The woman in the doorway was young and short, with a snub nose, a smattering of rather adorable freckles, and hawkish eyes that glared first at Peter, then at the suddenly pale man on the street.
“Leave, Robert, we’ve had enough of your loitering, you’re driving off possible customers.” She snapped. Her gaze went back to Peter. “Well, come in then, we need to talk about your commission.”
The door slammed shut behind him and Peter watched his host stomp down the hall, muttering to herself under her breath. She stopped halfway and looked back at him.
“Well? Come on, we need privacy to talk. You never knew when someone might be listening, and Marjorie said it was important.”
Peter followed her up a creaking set of stairs and into a small bedroom. Another woman, dressed in rumpled lounging clothes and wearing a pair of spectacles, was propped up on a double bed. She was obviously ill, with pale skin and a discreet bucket by the bed, but she smiled sweetly when Peter came in behind his host.
“Welcome, Lord Peter! I’m Sylvia Marriott, and this is Eiluned Price. Sorry to bring you up to my sickbed, it’s rather awkward, but this is the only place in the house where we can speak in privacy. Eiluned and I paid a pretty penny to soundproof the room only a few months ago.”
“About when the new Alphas took control, I’m sure.”
Eiluned huffed and turned back to the door. “Do you need coffee, or would you prefer more masculine refreshment.”
“Coffee is perfect, Miss Price.”
“Good, we don’t have anything else.” She stomped back down the stairs. Sylvia waved Peter to a nearby stool with a rueful smile.
“I’m sorry, she’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, what with everything. I mean, she didn’t have a high opinion of men to begin with, then along came these new Alphas and their brutes…”
“No need to apologize, no need at all!”
They chatted about the weather for a few minutes until Eiluned returned with the coffee. Once everyone had been served and Eiluned sat on the bed beside Sylvia, Peter buckled down to his business.
“I know Harriet Vane is innocent,” he informed them bluntly. “And I am working to clear her name.”
Both women blinked at him. Sylvia put down her tea—Eiluned had refused to give her coffee—and cleared her throat.
“Well, I can’t say we aren’t grateful to hear it, Lord Peter, but why? I know Harriet has never met you before, she would have told us about it. And probably picked your brain, I’ve heard you’re quite the connoisseur of crime.”
Marjorie had warned him to keep his shields closed, but as long as he was careful… Slowly, gently, Peter cracked his shields and expanded his Guide aura to fill the room. Eiluned’s eyes widened, and Sylvia gasped. Peter touched her aura and recoiled mentally. While not as bad as Harriet’s, Sylvia’s mind was similarly fogged. She was definitely a latent Guide, though. He drew back; both women wore looks of shock and surprise. Eiluned’s did not last long, however, and a sudden smirk spread across her face.
“So that’s how. She’s yours, isn’t she?”
“Or one could say I am hers, but I suppose I shan’t quibble over semantics and just say we should belong to each other,” Peter admitted.
“In that case, we’ll tell you all we know.” Sylvia reached into her bedside table and drew out a small notebook. “We made notes, just in case we forgot something.”
“It’s bad,” Eiluned said. Her eyes fixed on Peter. “Marjorie told you what I am, right?”
“She did, though I sensed it for myself, just now.”
“No one else knows. Even Harriet doesn’t know I’ve switched on. I haven’t registered yet, because they would inform the Alphas, but I’m certainly not Alpha material, so I haven’t worried too much. I don’t have too many sensory episodes, and it turns out, my strongest sense is hearing.” Eiluned made a face. “I heard quite a few things, before I controlled myself, that I wish I could scrub from my mind.”
“Eiluned switched on just after Harriet left Boyes,” Sylvia said quietly. “It only took us a week for Eiluned to steady, and we were certain I was her Guide, but I never switched on. Then she began to listen around at parties and gatherings after she caught Boyes belittling Harriet and things began to…fall into place.”
“The Alphas are running a smuggling ring.” Eiluned growled. Her eyes glittered with anger. “It’s all hearsay, based on what I’ve been hearing from their cronies, but they are creating and selling some kind of drug aimed at Sentinels and Guides. At least, that’s what their distributors say.”
“And Boyes was one of them?”
“Yes. He dropped it into open carafes of water, wine, beer…no party with him was safe from it. Several others did the same. From what we could gather, it’s a large network that began in Liverpool, and the Alphas are definitely in charge, though it looks like few of the Pairs and unbondeds outside of bohemia know what’s going on. They’re careful, you have to admit, and they’re damned strong.”
Peter thought about the bottle Marjorie had shown him. “And you think this has something to do with Boyes’ murder and framing Harriet?”
“Yes. I’m not sure how,” Eiluned admitted, “but I’m certain the Alphas somehow killed Boyes and decided to frame Harriet.”
“He was always greedy,” Sylvia mused. “Maybe he tried to cut into the profits somehow?”
“Drugging every liquid at these parties wasn’t a misuse of profits?”
“Oh no. I eavesdropped on Boyes with Grey, not too long ago, from far enough away that they wouldn’t notice me.” Eiluned’s face was grim. “Bohemia was their ‘testing grounds.’ Apparently each batch was tested for who knows what before it was sent off God knows where.”
Peter thought of that dark, gloomy cloud that hovered over bohemia. He sat up and fixed the women with a forthright look.
“Did they ever name this drug? Nickname?”
“Well, no scientific name, but…” Sylvia flipped through her little notebook. “Ah, here! Vaughn, one of Boyes’ toys, he said something about the ‘floating’ drug.”
Horror welled up, sticking in Peter’s throat. Eiluned stilled, cocking her head and staring at him, and Peter pressed a hand to his suddenly thundering heart.
“You heard that right?” He demanded. “It was floating?”
“Yes, it was.” Sylvia said, startled.
“Damn. Damn those miserable—” Peter cut himself off and cleared his throat. “I apologize.”
“No need.” Eiluned got up and poured him a glass of water from the nearby pitcher. The aggression was oddly gone from her body language. “What has you in such a lather?”
Peter sipped at the water and composed himself. “During the war,” he began, haltingly, “as you know from the papers, Sentinels and Guides switched on in rather horrific circumstances. Many died due to the trauma and the inability to find their partner. There was a thought, after the war, that we could have saved more of them if we had decent suppressants. The ones at the time were somewhat…ineffective, shall we say. Several possibilities were tested, and a few put into production. One was a drug named Varand, after its creator Maximilian Varand; the scientific name is very long and boring and I would likely trip over it. The Sentinels and Guides who tested it soon named it the ‘floating drug,’ for the euphoric feeling it gave the user. It was meant only for the most desperate cases. However, a year after it was released for the public, an ungifted husband brought his wife to the hospital. She was catatonic, and the doctors could not discover what was wrong until a Pair came down from the Sentinel/Guide ward. It turns out, the woman was a latent Guide, and her husband had been dosing her with Varand for nearly eleven months, to ensure she would never switch on and leave him. It had rendered her forcibly dormant.”
“My God.” Sylvia wrapped her arms around Eiluned’s shoulders. Peter’s mouth twisted.
“Varand is a euphoric haze for switched-on Sentinels and Guides, and doesn’t affect the ungifted or Sensitive at all, but exposure prevents latent Sentinels and Guides from switching on, and prolonged usage—meaning ten months or more of regular doses—often leads to forced dormancy and, in most cases, mental and emotional death.”
“And this is why we haven’t heard of it,” Eiluned stated.
“Exactly. Maximilian Varand was horrified, especially as more cases began to appear. The government recalled the drug, and made it illegal to create or sell without a Crown permit. Even then, only two apothecaries in London have the permit, and both employ Pairs and medical examiners to vet any requests for the drug. But it is very much a wanted commodity. Criminal organizations and interested governments found that Varand was the only suppressant that would completely incapacitate a Sentinel/Guide pair—it is almost completely odorless and tasteless—and they will pay fortunes for it.”
“How on earth do you know all this?”
“I do a bit of snooping for the Alpha Primes, from time to time,” Peter said. “Not that I’ll admit it, if you mention it in public, but I just returned from a lovely trip to Caen, where a smuggler was attempting to distribute nearly a ton of various paraphernalia, including a good amount of Varand, to various enterprises throughout the world. I understand the Varand was meant for a particular group in Germany.”
Peter rubbed his forehead, glanced at his watch, and stood. He nodded to both women, who both looked a little sickly now.
“Miss Marriott, Miss Price, it is a genuine pleasure to meet you. Thank you for the information, it is invaluable.”
“You need to run off?” Eiluned stood and escorted him out, as Sylvia waved a goodbye.
“Yes, I’m afraid I left my mother with Miss Phelps. I shudder to think what stories might be swapped.”
“Well, if you ever have need, call us.” Eiluned said. “We are nearly always available. And good luck. I think you’ll need it.”
“You too.” Peter met her eyes squarely; they were out of the private room, but he continued. “Keep an eye on Miss Marriott, Miss Price. What she has isn’t a true illness.”
Realization dawned on Eiluned’s face, followed by fury. Peter reached out, grasped her shoulder, and unleashed his Guide Voice.
“Calm down. All will be well. It’s detoxification; however long she was exposed, she is no longer, and she will be fine once it wears off. I would prepare, in fact. After so long in close quarters with you, it’s quite likely Miss Marriott will begin to switch on once most of it is burnt from her system.”
“Right.” Eiluned sucked in a deep breath. Her fury receded into a slow simmer, and Peter relaxed his hold. “Right, calm down. Prepare. You’re certain?”
“As the grave, Miss Price.”
“Right then. Off you go, Lord Peter. Get these people gone or dead. Preferably dead,” she said fiercely, “because I refuse to expose a switched-on Sylvia to these bastards.”
Peter gave her a cold smile. “I hear and obey, Miss Price.”
Chapter 5: “let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore”
“Cakes are better than compliments, Lord Peter.”
“You’re looking quite grim, Peter.” DCI Parker observed as they walked up to the office door of Norman Urquhart, Esq. “Anything I should know?”
“Not just yet, Charles. Allow me to gather everything in my head, first.”
“Very well, but you’re worrying me. You seem quite invested in this case, and you haven’t even met Miss Vane.”
“All in good time, Charles, all in good time.”
When the door opened, a fussy little man in spectacles and a toupee ushered them through the front office. An older woman in a simple dress, her hair pulled into a severe knot, was typing at one of the desks. As they passed, she glanced up at Peter, and gave a little smirk. Peter grinned in surprise and delight, but followed Parker into Urquhart’s personal office.
He would have to commend Miss Climpson for her foresight in placing one of the ladies of his Cattery in the office of the Pride’s lawyer, for Pride lawyer he was, when Urquhart introduced himself.
“I just have some questions, Mr. Urquhart,” Parker said, unfailingly polite from his seat in front of Urquhart’s desk. Peter wandered over to the bookshelves, keeping his mental “ears” open.
“It’s no trouble, though I do wonder why I merit the detective inspector himself. Surely these things are done by lower-ranked officers?”
“That is the usual way of things, but I decided to see to your interview personally, as the Alpha Pair are quite insistent on everything being kept as quiet as possible. They also informed me that you were to be treated as a member of their Pride, due to your work for them.”
Peter frowned as he felt a spike of panic, fear, and guilt from Urquhart. He glanced at the desk; the man’s face was calm. He was obviously a decent solicitor. Parker waved him over, and Urquhart gave him a long look.
“Mr. Urquhart, may I present Lord Peter Wimsey? He is a police consultant, and asked to come along on the investigation due to his interest in poisons. Do you mind his presence as we take your statement?”
“Of course not. You are most welcome, my lord.” Urquhart offered his hand and Peter took it, smiling genially.
“Awfully sporting of you, Mr. Urquhart, considering this was a personal loss for you. My condolences.”
There was another spike of guilt, stronger now that they were touching, and Urquhart retracted his hand. He sighed.
“Thank you, Lord Peter. While it was a sad loss, I will admit that it doesn’t surprise me.”
“Philip was always quite wild, and preferred the more interesting parts of town. That it was murder did surprise me, though; I had thought he would kill himself.”
“He was suicidal?” Parker asked.
“Oh no, simply very interested in all these newfangled drugs, with a penchant for strong alcohol,” Urquhart admitted. “I thought that one day we would find him face-down in a gutter.”
“Well, that wasn’t the case, and I am afraid I’ll need your entire testimony, in as much detail as you can give me, Mr. Urquhart.”
“Of course, of course. Where shall I start?”
As Urquhart and Parker began to converse, Peter wandered over to the office door, examining a shelf of boxes nearby. A soft snap of fingers caught his attention. The front office was empty but for the matron at the typing desk. She was crooking a finger at Peter. He glanced back, saw Urquhart and Parker in deep discussion, and slipped out into the main office. The officious little man who ran the office was gone, likely for a late lunch, so Peter caught the lady’s hand and kissed it.
“Miss Murchison, what a lovely surprise.” He kept his voice low. “I must commend Miss Climpson for her foresight in placing you here.”
Miss Murchison chuckled. “None of that now, Lord Peter. I’m immune to your wiles. Now, I’ve been here since Mr. Urquhart was named Pride solicitor. When I heard what had happened, I…might have upped my snooping a bit, since something didn’t feel right.” She pressed an envelope into his hand. “This is all the information I have on Mr. Urquhart and his cousin Philip Boyes, as of this morning. There is some rather strange financial information in there, about a famous great-aunt and a will.”
“Miss Murchison, you are a treasure amongst women.”
“Cakes are better than compliments, Lord Peter.”
“And you shall have them.” Peter pressed a quick, flirty kiss to her cheek, and she shooed him away. He slipped the envelope into his jacket and returned to Urquhart’s office just as Parker closed his notebook.
“Well, that’s all I needed, Mr. Urquhart.” They shook hands, and Urquhart escorted them to the door. With a police exchange of goodbyes, Parker started the car and they started down the street. Peter looked back; Urquhart was watching them leave, and Peter could still feel the guilt and anxiety permeating his aura.
“All right, Peter.” Parker’s voice was resigned. “What’s going on in that brain of yours?”
Peter hummed and tapped his fingers on the envelope in his jacket. “Quite a lot, actually. Charles, I’m going to tell you something, and you aren’t going to like it.”
“I thought so. Well, out with it.”
“Not just yet. First, I need a favor. Would it be possible to meet Miss Vane?”
“Such suspicion, Charles! I simply want the story from her own mouth; all the angles, as it were. Is it because you think the Alpha Pair will object?”
Parker eyed him. “You will be the death of me, Peter, probably from heart troubles. Oh, very well, you may meet with her. And the Alpha Pair has no say; she is not part of their Pride, as per their own assurances, and as such they have no jurisdiction over who has access to her.”
“That…is actually very good to hear, Charles.”
“And that is not something I want to hear, Peter.”
“Peace, Charles! Bring me home, and expect me at the prison no later than five. Trust me, old friend. Have I steered you wrong yet?”
Bunter was at the door when Parker dropped Peter off. He accepted his lord’s coat, hung it, and then followed him into the study. As Peter threw himself into a chair, Bunter pulled a small notebook from his pocket.
“I made the usual inquiries, my lord. Outside of bohemia, Boyes was not well-known, though his death—and Miss Vane’s subsequent arrest—are bolstering the sales of their novels. Miss Vane herself has several friends throughout the city, and all are effusive with praise about her kindness, generosity, and even temper, though her editor noted that she could be rather ‘smart’ with her remarks.”
Peter steepled his fingers, staring at the ceiling. “What of the London Alphas?”
“They arrived the day Lady Judith died; it appears Dame Margaret faded quickly and soon followed her Guide. When both had been laid to rest, Sentinel Creed and Guide Grey proved to be the strongest Pair present and took command of the Pride. I understand that most of the Pride is…discontent, but the Alpha Pair is definitely the strongest Pair in London at the moment, besides the Alpha Primes, and Lord Yaxley and Sir Reginald have been embroiled with the House of Lords for the last several weeks.”
“Oh really? About?”
“I believe certain members of the House wish to restrict the roles of Sentinels and Guides within the police force.” Bunter practically radiated his opinion on that, and Peter laughed. “I also took the liberty of visiting Mr. Urquhart’s private residence and speaking with the household staff.”
“Ah, you prevailed upon the ladies of the house for a moment of their time! Well, you have a good, upstanding, impressive figure, if I may say so, and, I am persuaded, you have a way with you, and with the ladies. A veritable Don Juan touch, so to speak! What more should any cook or house-parlormaid want?”
“I am always happy to exert myself to the best of my capacity in your lordship’s service,” Bunter replied drily. “In any case, my lord, their stories imply there was no possibility that food or drink could have been contaminated without sickening the entire household, and as such seem to corroborate Mr. Urquhart’s initial testimony— “
“How on earth did you get that? No, do not answer, I shall merely attribute it to the magic of Bunter. Carry on.”
“However, as we continued to talk, the maid let slip that there were two extra guests for dinner that night. The cook hushed her, but I managed to convince them to tell me. Apparently, my lord, the Alpha Pair themselves were Mr. Urquhart’s guests that evening. They impressed upon the servants the need for secrecy, as this was a confidential meeting with their solicitor about Pride business.”
“You don’t say!” Peter popped to his feet and began to pace. “Anything else, noble Bunter?”
“Only that, according to the maid, Philip Boyes spent the entire meal in a kind of daze, rarely responding to anyone or anything.”
“As if floating, mentally?”
“Exactly so, my lord.”
“So he was completely bamboozled, unable to use his gifts and likely unable to do much physically either.”
Bunter put away his notebook. Peter paced in silence, then began to mutter to himself, and Bunter waited patiently. He was used to his lord’s quirks after so many years. Peter pulled the envelope from his pocket and began to read, then tossed the papers on the desk and continued to pace beside his bookshelves.
After several minutes, Peter stopped and threw up his hands.
“Eureka! I think I have it, most worthy of Bunters! Much is suspicion, of course, but considering my gifts and the nosy talents who have assisted me, I think I have the right of it. Now, I am meeting with Miss Vane tonight.”
“Indeed, my lord?”
“Yes, Charles is going to get me a short interview. However, we have much to do. I need you to go to Scotland Yard and give Charles a note—which I will write presently—and then go to the Alpha Pair. Please give them my compliments, inform them of my professional interest in the case, and ask if they would be willing to meet me at Scotland Yard this evening, after dinner.”
“Very well, my lord. May I ask what you shall be doing in the meantime?”
“I have a call to make, and then I shall eat a little something, I should think.”
“Very good, my lord. I shall set out some bread and cheese before I leave. Please inform me when you have finished your note.”
Bunter swept out. Peter smiled to himself; Bunter was able to shield himself, being a strong Sensitive, but sometimes his emotions leaked and colored his emotional aura. Bunter had been decidedly, intensely focused on something that annoyed him. It was likely on passing a message to the Alpha Pair. He did not like them, and he would have to clamp his walls tight around his mind, which he always hated because it took so much effort.
Peter shook away his thoughts and reached for the phone, dialing a familiar number.
“Hullo, Angela! This is Lord Peter Wimsey… yes, I’m back from the Continent. Is my cousin in?... yes, I will hold… ah, Reginald! It’s lovely to hear your dulcet tones once again!... no, I’m afraid this call is on business, though I do plan to visit sometime soon, I promise… yes, about that business. Besides the reason you sent me in—such matchmakers, the both of you—I believe I have found the smuggling network’s English branch… yes, I am sending Bunter to Detective Chief Inspector Parker… of course he’ll believe the note, he always believes me… well, all right, not always, but he will in this case, I’m sure… may I also assume that you know the House of Lords, or at least some of them, are simply trying to keep you away from Pride issues in London?... of course you do… yes, it will be tonight. If she is anywhere near as powerful as I think, she will be burning through the remnants of the drug quickly, and I do not want her to switch on in prison… Charles confirmed that the Alpha Pair should have no access to her, and so she has not been dosed since she was arrested at least… yes… yes, of course… I shall see you both then.”
Chapter 6: “not the least obeisance made he”
“I know how Philip Boyes died, and I know who killed him.”
At least whatever illness the drug detoxification had visited upon her was over.
Peter sat at the end of a metal table as Harriet was led into the small room. The uniformed Guide carefully helped her into a seat at the other end of the table, and his Sentinel locked the door. The Pair flanked the locked door as the requisite guards, and Harriet finally looked up. Her dark eyes fixed on him, and Peter, having risen to his feet, sat back down and cleared his throat.
“Good evening, Miss Vane.”
“Good evening. According to my guards, you are Lord Peter Wimsey, here as a police consultant.” Her voice was deep and curiously compelling.
“Yes. Yes, I—er, well—I heard about the case, and—well, I thought I might be able to help.”
“It’s very good of you.”
“Oh, not at all, I mean, I quite enjoy investigating things, dash it.”
“Yes, I know. As a detective writer, I naturally followed your career.” She smiled, and his already nervous mouth stuttered again before he managed to gain control of it.
“Well, I suppose that is rather a good thing, as you’ll understand that I’m not really such as ass as I’m presenting myself.”
She laughed, and his spine quivered. “You’re not looking an ass—at least, not more so than any gentleman would under the circumstances.” Her expression faltered. “I’m really very grateful to you, but considering the evidence, I’m quite a hopeless case.”
“Perish the thought. It’s only hopeless if you did it, and I am quite certain that you did not.”
Harriet tilted her head, and Peter was struck with a sudden urge to laugh as he realized just how well her mannerisms transferred to her spirit animal.
“Well, I didn’t. At least, I think I didn’t. Philip did visit the afternoon before he died, but the memories are…quite fuzzy.” She suddenly seemed to wilt, and Peter’s heart lurched. “Perhaps I did. Perhaps my brain decided to blank out the memories as too hurtful. Perhaps my dormancy influenced my actions. I just—I simply don’t know, Lord Peter.”
“Just Peter, please.” He leaned on the table, careful not to look as if he was reaching toward her. “I am sorry to press you, but if I am to help you, I need to know. Would you tell me about your relationship with Boyes? Were you…fond of him?”
“Well, I must have been, under the circumstances, mustn’t I?”
“Not necessarily. There could have been some other force at work; sympathy, exhaustion, perhaps he even bewitched you.”
“That—” Harriet frowned and pressed a hand to her forehead. “I don’t— “
“Harriet, please. And something—you said bewitch, and I suddenly got…very angry. And a headache.”
Peter frowned. “Miss—Harriet. I would like to examine you, if I may.”
“Mentally. I am, as a matter of fact, a switched-on Guide, though unbonded, and these memory problems you are dealing with are quite strange. If you don’t mind, myself, or even Guide McCready,” he nodded at the Guide on the door, “can examine you to be certain it isn’t something like illness.”
“It’s probably the dormancy,” she shrugged, “but you are welcome to look, as long as you aren’t too invasive.”
“I shall be as quick and quiet as a mouse.”
Harriet did not know what to make of this man. She had examined his career, of course, as most detective novelists did, but meeting the man in person was strange. To find out he was a Guide?
“Just relax,” he told her gently. Harriet realized she had tensed, and made a conscious effort to relax her muscles. Peter leaned back slightly in his chair, and his eyes grew distant.
Slowly, she was aware of a slight pressure in her mind. It felt strangely muffled, but soft, and she was reminded of that time when, as a child, she had wrapped her favorite cat up in a silk scarf and the feeling of thick fur under that slick silk. It felt quite nice, actually, and she realized she had, unconsciously, been expecting something much more painful. The Alpha Guide had not been gentle when he interrogated her, and she had expected much of the same.
At the other end of the table, Peter’s face was strained. There was sweat on his forehead, and she could almost hear the concerned murmurs from the Pair by the doors. Just as the police Guide—McCready—stepped forward, Harriet felt a kind of pop in her mind, and suddenly she was furious. Peter slumped backward and opened his eyes, meeting her angry gaze with calmness.
“It was fake?” She practically snarled it, knowing her reaction was over-the-top and knowing she could not contain herself. “He planted it? And the Alpha helped?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said, sitting upright and accepting a glass of water from McCready. “Jacques, please inform Detective Chief Inspector Parker that I was correct.”
The police Sentinel nodded, exchanged a glance with his Guide, and left. Harriet, still simmering with rage, watched Peter sigh and rub a hand over his hair.
“Harriet, I know you’re angry, but I need you to calm down and listen.”
Guide Voice. Harriet had heard it before, but this time it thrilled her to her bones, and surprisingly enough, her anger began to trickle away. He gave her a tired smile.
“Thank you. Now that I have unsealed your memories, what do you remember?”
“That little bastard was using his gifts on me the whole time! He knew I was dormant, knew I didn’t have shields, and he took advantage of it!” Harriet wrapped her arms around herself. “And the Alpha Guide—he helped Philip, he blocked my memory of the row because I found out, that’s why I left. But that memory of Philip coming to visit—”
“A fake,” Peter confirmed. “Few Guides can do it, as it takes a great deal of power. Of course, to get it to stick also takes a great deal of finesse. Grey is certainly powerful enough, but doesn’t have an ounce of finesse, and so the memory was blurred and indistinct.”
“But why? Why go through such trouble just to frame me for a murder?”
“Two birds with one stone. They needed Boyes gone, and you were a threat, so they needed you gone as well.”
“Me?” Harriet was bewildered. “A threat? I’m dormant, I’m not even part of the Pride!”
Peter met her gaze. His eyes were brilliant blue. “You’re not dormant, Harriet.” He said gently. “Thanks to Boyes and his constant dosing of food and water, you are simply recuperating from being drugged with Varand.”
Harriet could feel herself freeze. She knew what Varand was; she had researched it for a novel, not too long ago, and she knew exactly what it could do to a latent Sentinel or Guide. Had she been dosed long? But no, she would be catatonic, or worse. She had been so certain she was dormant, when her burgeoning senses had suddenly receded, and it had been confirmed—by Alpha Guide Grey.
“Why are you telling me this?” She whispered. “I’m still in prison for murder, and I doubt the Alphas will allow me to go free, if they were involved.”
“Well, as to that, I am quite certain you are my Sentinel.” The man gave her a wry smile.
“Philip said the same thing, you know,” she pointed out gloomily, and his smile disappeared. “And even if I am actually latent instead of dormant—and I am not entirely sure about that yet—am I truly the best person for someone like you? What would your family think?”
“The only one whose opinion counts is my mother,” he informed her, “and she already thinks quite highly of you. She has read several of your books.”
“Oh, well, if she’s read my books.”
Peter watched her for a moment, then gave her a somewhat melancholy smile and rose to his feet. “I shan’t press you, Harriet. It’s been quite a long day—several long days, in your case—and you’ve had quite a lot dumped on you at once. I have a meeting soon. I’ll leave you to ponder, and to get used to having your true memories returned.”
Harriet watched him leave, slender and straight in an impeccable blue suit, and felt her heart ache as the door closed behind him.
Peter locked everything away behind his shields. Harriet made him vulnerable, and that was not something he needed in front of the London Alphas. Parker let him into the Scotland Yard meeting room with a nod, and closed the door behind him.
Alonso Creed and Bartholomew Grey were already there. Creed greeted him with a genial smile, while Grey watched him with cold eyes.
“Lord Peter Wimsey, as I live and breathe!” Creed grasped Peter’s hand and shook it with vigor. “I had no idea you were working this case! Interested in poisonings, are you?”
“A bit,” Peter said, taking a seat across the table from the Pair. “I had hoped to speak with you about the case, in fact.”
“Of course, of course.” Creed went back to his seat beside Grey. Watching them, Peter saw the suspicion in Grey’s eyes, and realized that he, at least, was not one to underestimate. Well, Peter had a few aces up his sleeve, and he refused to beat about the bush.
“I know how Philip Boyes died, and I know who killed him.”
Creed’s smile disappeared. “Well, of course you do. Everyone knows Vane poisoned him. It was in the tea she gave him.”
“Well, if we were to go by her memory, then it is a possibility. But I doubt implanted memories are admissible in court.”
There was silence. Peter continued.
“And there are few Guides in the city with the strength to implant such a memory, and fewer who have actively interacted with Miss Vane in the last few months. You’re strong,” Peter said to Grey, “but you really must work on your finesse. It was quite choppy and blurred.”
“We had nothing to do with this.” Creed objected.
“No? Well, that is quite interesting, because I have witnesses who put you at the scene of the death, and also have the evidence of Miss Vane’s memories, which do not place you in a flattering light, I’m afraid. And, of course, there is Mr. Urquhart himself.” Peter made a show of checking his watch. “I do believe Scotland Yard has arrested him by now, both for monetary fraud and as an accessory to murder. I would not be surprised if they found the remnants of the arsenic somewhere in his office, and I have no doubt he will ensure the Yard knows exactly who poured arsenic down Philip Boyes’ throat that night.”
A rumbling snarl answered him, and Peter looked up to see a mangy hyena and a pit viper flanking Creed and Grey. They looked somewhat smug, and Peter just sat back.
“I am rarely intimidated, gentlemen.” He said calmly. His wildcat appeared on the table and hissed at the other spirit animals, which flickered in shock. Peter smirked, then growled and struck out with his mind at a probe from Grey. “And that, Guide Grey, will not catch me.”
Grey hissed back, his viper coiling up as if to strike. Creed laid a hand on his arm.
“So, Guide Wimsey, you think you figured everything out,” Creed said softly. His smile was more a baring of teeth, a threat that the shadowy figure of his hyena spirit echoed. “But everything is hearsay, the ramblings of an unbonded Guide. Do you truly think the police would take your word over mine? Do you truly think even a Wimsey has enough clout with the House of Lords to take down a Creed?”
The Pair slowly moved toward him like hunting predators, but Peter stayed firmly in his chair. The door behind them opened.
“Perhaps they won’t listen to me, old boy, but they’ll listen to them,” Peter said with a smirk.
“Alonso Creed and Bartholomew Grey,” a low, cultured voice rumbled through the room. Creed and Grey snapped around, their eyes wide. Sir Reginald Jeeves, Alpha Sentinel Prime of England, stood in the doorway. He was dressed impeccably, and his face was still as stone. When he stepped forward, Bertram Wooster, Lord Yaxley and Alpha Guide Prime of England, slipped out and moved around the table to Peter’s side. Bertie dropped a slim hand on Peter’s shoulder and squeezed. His mental touch was light and reassuring.
“We were remiss in not investigating you as soon as we returned from America,” Jeeves was now flanked by two Pairs in police uniforms. “Perhaps we could have avoided the damage you have inflicted on your victims in the district. But then, you paid out quite a large amount of money to several gentlemen in the House of Lords to ensure we were busy for a long while, did you not?”
There was silence. After a moment, Jeeves nodded.
“I thought that would be your answer. Bertram?”
Bertie patted Peter’s shoulder. “Off you get, cousin. They’re in our hands now; your Harriet will be free as a bird soon. Go let Bunter make you a cup of tea, and try to relax for a little while.” With that, Bertie moved to his Sentinel, and the Pairs moved to secure the glowering Alpha Pair as the Alpha Primes watched.
Chapter 7: “as if his soul in that one word he did outpour”
“Well, domina? Wilt thou join thine spirit and mine together in bond, word, and deed?”
Several hours after the Alpha Primes of England had taken the London Alphas, Parker sat in Peter’s study and quizzed his old friend mercilessly.
“But why frame Harriet Vane? They could have simply killed Boyes and be done with it; with his history as a burgeoning Jumper, no one would have questioned their right as Alphas to be rid of him. No arsenic needed!”
“Greed, Charles. Greed for power, and a need to keep the current status quo.”
“Whatever are you on about?”
Peter blew out a slow stream of smoke, savoring it. He would have to give up cigarettes soon, in order to make his townhome suitable for his Sentinel. “Tell me, Charles, what level would you put the Alphas at?”
“Something like level four or five, I should think, if we’re talking about the SG Council’s ranking system. They’re powerful enough to be Alpha Pair of London, but they’re not the end all be all, otherwise they would have become the Alphas of England themselves, yes? And I’m rather certain that Lord Yaxley and Sir Reginald are registered as a level six Pairing, the highest possible.”
“If we go by the Council’s scale, anyway, and it’s certainly not considered concrete by most gifted individuals with sense, but quite correct, old man, well done! I see you’ve done your homework like a good little Detective Chief Inspector.” Peter leaned forward. “Now, how would you classify yours truly?”
Parker stopped in the act of lifting his scotch. After a moment’s hesitation, he placed the glass on the side table. “Where is this going, Peter?”
“Trust me on this, Charles. How would you classify me, according to the Council’s scale?”
With a sigh, Parker capitulated. “While I don’t know the whole story—and I shan’t ask—I do know that you came home from the war and spent three weeks behind the doors of Duke’s Denver. When you came out, there was no sign you were a Guide; if you hadn’t informed me, I would never have guessed you were gifted, and most of the Pairs in the precinct certainly don’t know what you are. Very few high level Guides can switch on in what I assume was a traumatic experience and then control themselves to your degree in a mere three weeks without the assistance of their Sentinel. You are also not an officially named member of the Pride, and from what I know of Lady Judith and Dame Margaret, they would have ensured that any high-level Guide was ensconced and protected within the Pride, particularly if they were unbonded, as you are. Yet they let you run free. So, I have to think you’re a level two, possibly a three.”
“Well-reasoned, Charles,” Peter admitted. He titled his head back and stared at the study’s ceiling. “However, I am afraid you are mistaken. It’s not your fault, of course, the Council puts out only the tiniest smidges of information on our kind and the Pride doesn’t think to speak of it to our more mundane friends and family. But I am not a level two or three. I’m not even a four.”
“If we’re to go by the Council’s rating, Charles, I’m a level five. But Bertie has told me that, once I bond, I will be considered a level six Alpha Guide.”
There was silence. Peter kept a tight hold on his shields, but even so, he could feel the shock, denial, and curiosity that looped through his old friend’s emotions. He also felt it when Parker steadied himself, mind and body, with a slug of scotch.
“Come now, Charles, that is no way to treat a twenty-year-old Oban.”
“Shut up, Peter.” Parker pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right, we’ll deal with the fact that you didn’t tell me you are an Alpha Guide later. What bearing does this have on the case? What does this have to do with the status quo?”
“Well, my Sentinel would certainly be of a similar level, yes?”
“And if we happened to meet, and bond, and it turns out we were a stronger Pair than the current Alphas—"
“I see your point, Peter, but what on earth does that have to do with—"
“Harriet Vane is my Sentinel, Charles.”
Peter could practically hear Parker’s brain stutter to a halt.
“…Good God, Peter.”
“Even so. From what I can gather, the whole plan likely unfolded like this. With Judith and Margaret dead, and Bertie and Jeeves gone, Creed and Grey saw an opportunity. They moved their corrupt selves and their smuggling business from Liverpool to London, and with their power, they easily became the new Alphas and recruited a few more corrupt gifted individuals to assist them. They set up the business, and realized that London’s bohemia, with its lack of switched-on Sentinels and Guides, was a perfect testing ground for their drugs.” Peter nodded his head at the bottle of pills on his desk. “Of course, they didn’t care that the suppressant was made illegal due to its effects on latent Sentinels and Guides; it simply made the venture more lucrative. As long as their people did their jobs, they turned a blind eye to their antics. Which leads us to Philip Boyes.” Peter stood up from his chair and moved to the window.
“He was a burgeoning Jumper, but the Alphas didn’t care, until they met his newest interest; a woman come to London to be closer to her publisher, a writer of detective novels. Boyes had been attempting to persuade her into a relationship for weeks, but her morals were undaunted and she continually refused him. What Boyes didn’t know, and Grey discovered within moments, was that Harriet Vane, novelist, was a latent Sentinel who bid fair to be even stronger than Grey’s own Sentinel, when she switched on. Now, that wouldn’t do, of course. If she found her Guide and switched, Grey and Creed would be usurped from their status as Alphas, and their business would be discovered. So, Grey gives Boyes a little nudge, and assists him in carefully twisting Harriet’s emotions until she finally agrees to Boyes’ pleas.”
“My God, Peter!”
“I know, Charles. Now, from what I understand, Boyes truly believed Harriet was dormant; Grey told him this personally, in front of his cousin Urquhart. According to her friends, Harriet considered herself latent at first, though unlikely to switch on, but was suddenly optimistic about her chances of switching and bonding with Boyes. And truly, even with Boyes such a low level Guide and the Alphas playing badminton in her emotions, extended contact with a Guide and the constant possibility of danger to her person—even if she did not know it—should have brought her online.”
“Why didn’t it?”
“Because Boyes did not read the instructions,” Peter said drily. He faced Parker and rocked on his heels. “He moved the suppressants as one of the Alphas’ many smugglers, but he also partook of his patrons’ bounty. After all, these particular suppressants might suppress a Guide’s gifts, but it also induces a sense of bliss and euphoria in a switched-on Sentinel or Guide. He was quite the hedonist, according to various sources. These pills are meant to be dissolved in liquid or food. Bunter spoke with Urquhart’s servants; the housemaid states that Boyes had a personal bottle for water that he always washed and filled himself. However, it turns out that Boyes used the tainted water for everything in his personal home, including tea and food, which he shared with Harriet.”
“And this particular suppressant was banned due to the harmful effects on latents.”
“Precisely. By the time she left, Harriet truly believed she was dormant, because the suppressants squashed any heightened senses that might have been sparking to life. She found out about Boyes’ prospective new Jump—the pitiable Vaughn—and a row ensued where she discovered he had been using his Guide gifts to make her amenable to their relationship. She left, the damage was done, but the Alphas were not satisfied. The suppressant only did permanent damage to a latent if dosage continued for a minimum of ten months to a year, and Harriet had only been exposed for six months. It would take a long while, but she would recover. Then Urquhart decides to kill his cousin.”
“Because of a willed fortune from that famous relation; if Boyes dies, Urquhart gets the estate, and deals with the financial issues that Miss Murchison warned you about.”
“And the Alphas see an opportunity; two birds with one stone. They offer to help Urquhart, as long as he plays along. They visit for dinner, make sure Boyes is dosed with the suppressant, and then feed him arsenic while he’s out of his head. They know Harriet has bought arsenic for testing, and they ensure the police are aware of it as well.”
“And Boyes’ visit to Miss Vane’s home…”
“Completely fabricated, as I told you. It’s why I borrowed McCready and Jacques from the Yard, old boy; that particular Pair is quite adept in spotting mental tampering and distinguishing implanted memories from real ones. If I couldn’t deal with the memories, they had the wherewithal to do it themselves.”
Parker gave a long, low groan and pressed his hands to his face. “Well, you never do anything by halves, do you?”
“You would be bored without me, Charles. I am a light in your darkest days.”
“More like the rock in my shoe,” Parker grumbled. “Very well, then. Give me what evidence and testimonies you have. Urquhart is already giving evidence against the Alphas, and the Primes have informed me that the London Alphas will be placed in Scotland Yard’s cells tomorrow—after interrogation, I presume. With luck, Miss Vane will be a free woman soon. And Peter…” Parker rose from his seat and clapped a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Good luck.”
Two days later, Harriet Vane stumbled down the courthouse steps into the arms of Eiluned Price and Sylvia Marriott. Hugs were distributed, and the two ushered her into a cab before the loitering journalists could shout any questions.
The ride was quiet, at first, then Harriet seemed to rouse from a daze and looked over Eiluned and Sylvia. And looked again. Eiluned smirked at her.
Harriet stared at Eiluned, then at Sylvia—who grinned—and moved her eyes back to Eiluned.
“You’ve switched on.”
Eiluned’s smirk widened. “Yes.”
“Haven’t yet.” Sylvia said cheerily. “But sooner rather than later, I should think, particularly now that those toxic excuses of Alphas will be removed from the district. Also, I find it quite interesting that you can tell, darling.”
Harriet blinked. “I—it was obvious?” But she knew that it was not. Eiluned was not the “normal” vision of a Sentinel, and she had somehow managed to keep any tells quiet and unobtrusive.
“Prison certainly was not good for your mental acuity, Harriet.” Eiluned said drily. “Still, you’re out, thanks to that Wimsey fellow. He’s not bad, for a man. Or a peer.”
“Yes, about him.” Harriet glanced around. “I had thought to thank him.”
“He drove off the moment the verdict was given.” Sylvia informed her. “I’m sure he’ll come see you later.”
“No he won’t,” said Eiluned.
“Too decent. Oh, do stop grinning, Sylvia. Yes, I do like him. He’s not going to do the King Cophetua stunt, and I take my hat off to him. If you want him, Harriet, you’ll have to send for him.”
“I won’t do that,” Harriet said.
“Oh, yes, you will,” said Sylvia. “Believe me, you will.”
Peter was in bed before ten that night, complaining to his valet even as Bunter tidied the room.
“I feel like such an old man, Bunter, really, bed before ten? It’s extraordinary.”
“It has been a stressful few days, my lord.”
“Well, yes, I suppose it has, but honestly—”
They were interrupted by the doorbell. Followed closely by the phone. Peter laughed and waved a hand at Bunter.
“Go, faithful man, answer the door, I’ll take the phone.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Peter wrapped himself in a dressing gown and hurried for the phone in the study.
“Peter? Peter, is that you?”
“Charles? Yes, yes, of course it’s me.”
“Thank God. Peter, stay put.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere tonight—"
“I mean it, Peter! The Alphas were in our gaol here at the Yard, but someone must have tipped off their men, because some of their toadies managed to break them out. Peter, they’re loose, and you’re in danger. I’m on my way with some men, we’ll conduct a search—”
A loud bang made Peter flinch, and Bunter skidded into the room, slamming back first into one of the bookshelves with a yell of pain and collapsing to the ground. Behind him, Creed and Grey stalked into the room, their eyes fixed on Peter.
“No need for a search, Charles,” he said quietly. “They’re here.”
Harriet jerked awake from a sound sleep, her heart pounding. She sucked in a breath, and almost choked as she smelled everything. Her ears caught a baby wailing—God have mercy, on the other side of the city—and the sheets scratched at her skin.
She was switching on.
Why was she switching on? The Alpha Guide Prime had told her that it could take another month for her to recover from the Varand.
A rustling caught her attention. She sat up and saw a large raven with brilliant black plumage on the rail of her bed. It hopped on the railing, croaked a demand at her, and took off, flying right through the wall. Without stopping to think, Harriet leapt up, slid her feet into slippers, and pulled a coat on over her nightdress. She barreled down the stairs and through the door. The raven was fluttering in front of her. It croaked again, and took off toward the heart of London.
Harriet followed, wind rushing past her ears and every sense waking to an entirely new world. A tingle had her glance to the side to see a Highland wildcat pacing her in a graceful lope. She dodged around light posts, nearly ran over a patrolling police constable, and heard-scented-felt-saw sleeping Sentinels and Guides wake as she ran past. She kept on.
After what seemed like mere minutes, the raven disappeared through the wide-open door of a posh brownstone. The cat followed, and Harriet did not hesitate. She walked through the door, and was hit with the scent of her Guide.
This was her Guide’s house.
There were interlopers.
She raced up the stairs, ignoring her tattered slippers and the new-arrived sirens outside. Following that scent, she ran into what looked like a study, and found her Guide facing the former London Alphas. Their scents sparked in surprise, but Harriet did not hesitate. With a snarl of rage, she threw herself at the enemy Sentinel and slammed him into the ground. The wind rushed out of his lungs, and she heard his skull give a distinct cracking sound, even against the carpeted floor. She hit his head on the floor a second time, before he could recover from his shock, and her enemy’s eyes rolled upwards as he fell into unconsciousness.
A cry of anger had her roll to the side, and a knife came down. The enemy Guide buried it in the carpet. He abandoned his weapon, and lashed out with his mind. Harriet flinched, feeling the power rise—
And cut off. The enemy Guide froze, then crumpled where he stood, like a puppet with cut strings. Her Guide stood behind him, his face pale and set, one hand upraised. With a soft sound, he reached out, pulled Harriet to her feet, and tucked her face into his neck. She breathed him in. He pressed a hand to her hair as a hubbub began at the study door.
“I’m all right, Harriet. They did not touch me. Hush, my raven. Just breath, slowly.”
She obeyed, and the haze began to clear from her eyes.
“Good, good. Keep breathing, my sweet.” He kept her head tucked into his shoulder as he turned to speak with a uniformed man. “I’m honestly all right. Her? No, she’ll be fine. She didn’t go completely feral, but she was close. Bunter? Bunter, to the hospital with you. Yes, Bunter, I’m sure. I have no doubt you’re wounded— “
“Cracked ribs,” Harriet whispered. She could hear the bones creak.
“And I would prefer you be treated by professionals. We can handle ourselves without you for one night.”
“If you say so, my lord.” The voice was wry and slightly dubious.
“I do say so. Charles, get them out of here quickly. Shut and lock the door.”
“It’ll be done, Peter. Congratulations, by the way.”
“Yes yes, go on.”
“We’re going, don’t worry.”
Harriet came fully back to herself as the door locked behind the police. Peter shifted back and looked her full in the face.
“All right now, Harriet?”
“I—yes.” Harriet pulled away and blinked at her surroundings. Everything looked so new. “I—switched on?”
“Yes, and at quite the opportune moment, it seems. I have no doubt those two had some nasty designs upon my person.”
Everything was so much clearer. Harriet looked at him, surrounded by books, and gave a rueful little snort.
“Well, it seems you were correct in your earlier statement, my lord.”
“You are my Guide.” Harriet could feel the truth of it in her bones.
Peter smiled, and it transformed his face from something pale and vacantly silly into something sharp and golden and gleaming with pure happiness. He held out one slim hand; it was trembling so slightly she doubted any but a Sentinel would notice.
“Well, domina? Wilt thou join thine spirit and mine together in bond, word, and deed?”
The extremely old-fashioned invitation—usually only used in Sentinel/Guide weddings, now, and by the peerage at that—made Harriet smile. She pulled in a deep breath, and her new senses brought her his scent; silk and tobacco and warm metal overlay the rich vanilla and leather of old books, with a whiff of salt and musk. His heart was pounding, but hers was quiet, calm.
Harriet’s smile widened, and Peter’s matched, as she stepped forward and took his hand.
“Yes,” she said.