“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
It was the last night of peace. Tomorrow they’d be facing the Ahnenerbe head on. Would their plan work? Did they have enough fighting men? Would anyone get hurt? These questions and more were running through their heads that last night.
As ever, with an operation like this, everyone had contributed to the planning. Billy had come good (who could doubt it) with information on both the safehouse where Blecher was being kept, and on the plan for getting him out. Tink had sketched out the relevant part of the Docks on a large piece of lining paper that he’d spread out on the big table, and weighted down with various knick-knacks. The plan was given a three-dimensional feel with boxes of matches and the like. Victor and Isaac had been smuggled into the garret for a thorough briefing and they’d contributed too. Tinkerbell had been on good form and the strategy, which an amateur might see as simple, made best use of the resources available to them. The reference to Servius Tullius, and particularly the anecdote of his discussions with Tink on how to run an army, went completely over the heads of Victor and Isaac, thankfully. Luckily looks cannot kill, and therefore Billy was saved from having to cover up Jack’s attempted murder-by-glare.
After the two soldiers had left, the four regrouped round the table and batted back and forth further ideas and what ifs: they reviewed, yet again, the entire plan, including the parts that Victor and Isaac were not party to. They went on like this for another hour or so, but everyone could feel the room, and the plan, becoming stale. Realising this wasn’t helpful, Tinkerbell suggested they needed to take a step back from all the hows and whys and wherefores.
“What we need is a trip to the pub. Somewhere we can relax, have a drink, make a toast to the success of the mission … and to absent friends.”
“Yer dead right Tink m’old son. But we can’t all march down The Dolphin, we needs to keep it low-key – tonight especially. ‘ow about we goes down to the pub in Bow we meets Jack at? They’ll let us ‘ave a quiet room in the back to ourselves.”
As they started to make plans of how to get there, Michaela put up a brief fight “can’t I just drive there?” only to have Jack firmly respond with “you could, but not in that car. You’ll both stick out like sore thumbs and be the talk of the East End!”
Mollified, barely, Michaela waited with Tink while Billy and Jack headed off first. They’d arrange for the private room so Michaela could be whisked in past the usual riff-raff without causing too much of a stir. Tink tidied away the plan, replenished his tobacco pouch from the jar on the mantel piece and looked inside his bag for one or two items, which he secreted in various pockets.
“Best leave the overalls off for now eh?” suggested Tink whilst offering Mike his squashy tweed hat to cover up all that red-gold hair. Back in practical, if everyday clothing, and with one of Jack’s old coats chucked on top, Michaela could go almost unnoticed.
As Jack and Billy had no doubt done before them, Michaela and Tink wasted a bit of time hopping on and off busses and otherwise checking they weren’t being followed. On arrival at the pub, they spotted Jack waiting outside. Taking up position on the other side of Michaela, he hurried them both through into the rear of the pub. The room was small and fairly gloomy, with four comfortable, if rather shabby, high-backed armchairs. But it was entirely separate from the main pub and so private. Shedding her coat and Tink’s hat, Michaela realised that stood in the middle of the table was a bottle of Connemara Peated Single Malt whiskey, and a jug of water. While she exclaimed in pleasure, Jack gestured to it magnanimously “the least we could do was to provide a drop from home, especially having insisted you leave your gorgeous car behind.”
Billy appeared first with pints, then glasses for them all and they settled in for an evening of pleasant reminiscing. Part way through, during an opportune lull in conversation, Michaela cleared her throat.
“I’ve got a tricky little problem that I’d really welcome advice on – from all of you.” Having received nods and glasses raised in agreement, she continued “it’s Juliet.”
Tink immediately raised his eyebrows and Billy started to ask “Yer sure yer … ?”
“Yes, I’m afraid the first bit is relevant to us all – and I need both advice and possibly help over her future.”
Shrugging, Jack immediately came back with “As I persuaded you to have her, you know I’ll do what I can, when I can. But what’s the bit that’s relevant to us all?”
“After Robert’s car blew up, I arranged to have it towed back to the yard and stowed in one of the garages. As it’s been bothering me, I’ve had Agnarr and Hildr help me carry out a forensic examination of it. What I found, came as a bit of a shock – it’d been jinxed – or a bit of the engine had. I was wondering how Bunty’d managed to do it without anyone noticing when Juliet crept in. She’s been really odd since the explosion which I’d put down to shock but … well, it was quite the story.”
Stopping to take a sip of whiskey and to re-fill her glass, Michaela told them the whole sorry story. Billy was the first to react – with absolute fury he spat out “yer jes leave ‘er to me, I’ll see she gets sorted.”
Jack, ever the peace-maker, put his hand on Billy’s arm in a stilling gesture and interjected “I get the feeling there’s more to this … go on Michaela.”
“Well, the thing is, I think she’s really rather talented. There’s not many of my apprentices who could’ve done what she did. I mean the subtly of what she wanted to do is breathtaking, and what undid her is that she is more powerful than she realises. She may even be as powerful as a fae, and that happens perhaps once in a thousand times amongst the dvergar. Her problem is she seems to be unable to control it, especially when her emotions are running high.”
“That’s not an uncommon problem among my lot – especially when they’re young. All those hormones, emotions up and down, there’s lots of magic being over- and underdone. We don’t mind so much when it’s underdone, but it causes some pretty serious problems when it’s overdone.”
“Really Tink? Oh I’m so relieved to hear you say that. You see, I’ve no real experience of this kind of thing, I’m a bit lost …” she trailed off.
“Why do we care if ‘n she’s talented, she killed a man!”
“Hold on Billy, she just meant for sparks to fly and for him to look silly. She’s no killer. She’s been jolly silly. She’s also filled with remorse and has offered to voluntarily put herself into exile. That’s … well, that’s huge for a dvergar orphan. It’s the ultimate punishment. So, she’s not taking it lightly.”
The room went silent for a while, with each of them deep in thought. Jack broke the silence first.
“I’ve heard nothing but the best about her. A bit uncontrolled and clumsy for sure, but I’d not bring anyone to you who I felt wasn’t pure of heart, you know that don’t you Michaela?”
“I know Jack, and I think you’re right. Not only that, but during that whole business with Bunty and Robert, she was smart and quick-witted. She picked up what I needed really quickly, and she did it. She ran interference for me with aplomb; honestly, you’d have thought she’d been trained. I think she could be a natural …”
“Are you suggesting what I think you are Michaela?”
“Yes. Yes … I believe I am. She’d need training, proper training to get those emotions under control …”
“I could help you with that Michaela – I’ve worked with young fae before. It’s probably best I stay at arm’s length though – at least for a while – and I certainly couldn’t have her in Oxford as there’s far too much potential for gossip. As a start, I’d recommend a bit of old-fashioned meditation – it would do her the world of good. Also, would I be right in presuming that both Agnarr and Hildr would play a major role in her training? I have a feeling that Agnarr – in particular – would have a real bent for the delicate handling my training might need. And I could visit you at Theydon Bois from time-to-time to work with you both, as well as discuss any issues that come up in between visits.”
“Hildr might feel most put out.”
“Or be relieved …? She can sit in too if she wants – the more the merrier! That way there’d be no need for Juliet to find out about me or my background, nor know that her training was anything other than the top-level of dvergar skills.”
“Excellent! Done! And Billy, would you meet with her, talk to her a bit – you know about friendship, loyalty, the codes you live by? Jack and I thought she just needed a role model, but I think she may need some deeply rooted principles … and there’s none who has better than you Billy.”
Billy turned rather red, and took a sip of his whiskey to provide some cover. “Werl, if yer puts it like that, I can’t very well refuse, can I now?” The storm passed, and the memory of a thousand smiles that had been etched into his face were seen again. “Mind you, I’ll be keepin’ an eye on ‘er!”
The all laughed at this. Jack looked thoughtful. “There is something about Juliet though. Something I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it important before, and even she doesn’t know this: she was orphaned in the troubles, but she was a foundling. It was her foster parents who were killed; no-one knows who her real parents are. Once this is all over it might be worth having a look into that.”
“Jack Runward! How could you keep something like that to yourself?”
“Sorry Michaela. It didn’t seem to matter before, but if this level of power is as unusual as you say, it might be more important than I realised.”
In unprompted unison, they all took a thoughtful sip.
Jack glanced at his watch – “Would you look at the time! We should be getting along to our beds. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.” He refilled glasses. Raising his own he said “To Frank…and Robert”.
There was a chorus of “Frank”s and “Robert”s and glasses were drained. Tink put the cork in the bottle: “I’ll take this back to the garret, for afterwards.”
They got up to go their separate ways: Jack and Billy had business with Father Thames, whilst Tink and Mike would go back to the garret, with Mike heading back to the Warren to pick up some equipment.
“Here, Jack.” Tink took the bits and pieces he’d collected from his bag and passed them over. “The glamour, for tomorrow.”
Jack took the ingredients and tucked them in his own pockets. With a wave of his hand that fell just short of an informal salute, he left the room with Billy.
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey