Lydia Hiddlestone sat with a fine China teacup in her quivering hands. She hadn't taken so much as a sip since she'd arrived. Whatever his father had ever seen in that woman, Warren would never know. She was like a baby lamb who'd found herself trapped with a wolf; frightened. Miserable. Pathetic.
"How much longer do you suppose Molly will be?" she asked, her creased ivory skin pulling in between her eyes. She must have been at least forty, which still made her quite a young companion for the deceased Bartholomew Meriwether. If they had been doing the dirty, that was. And Warren suspected this was the case, yet he didn’t enjoy dwelling on the thought.
“Oh, not much longer,” Warren parroted for the twelfth time. That was the problem with older women; they had patience like a tortoise.
She nodded, eyes anxious, and began to tap her fingertips against the side of her cup.
Warren sat opposite her in the study, which his father had converted to double as a sitting room of sorts before he died. He had hoisted one leg up over his knee and sat with his fingers on his cheek, wondering how long it would take the wench to get bored and leave. It was still littered with Mr. Meriwether’s textbooks, his notes, his drawings. Warren made a mental note to burn all of it shortly and to redecorate it to his own tastes.
If the bank didn’t take the house, that was, he thought, a sick feeling sticking in the back of his throat.
The sad silence in the air suddenly shattered with a violent, ominous knocking on the front door of the townhouse. Lydia started in her seat, her black tea almost sloshing over the rim of her cup, but she managed to steady herself just in time.
“Oh, golly, what a loud knocking. Do you think that could be her?” she asked hopefully, her round fawn eyes almost popping out from her skull.
Warren had to roll his eyes as he rose from his father’s chair. “Could be. Though she does spend an unusually long time down at the market these days!” he said dramatically as he trotted wearily to answer the door.
Bucketfuls of rain were being overturned on London’s streets. And on Warren’s doorstep was an eager-looking Silus Splendid.
“Even’, Mr. Meriwether,” he said smoothly. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“No, no, no, not at all!” Warren blurted excitedly. “Come in, come in, my dear chap, I just made some tea. Well – I wouldn’t say just made, but I can certainly, certainly make some more if needs be.”
“Do be quiet, Warren.” Silus brushed apast him, already having unbuttoned his coat and extended it towards his host. “I do hope you’ve got the fire lighting in the study?”
“Indeed, I have. Let me just – uh, take that from you –” Warren grabbed the coat and scurried after Silus, who had already trudged wet boot prints through the house and pushed open the door to the study.
“Oh. Warren, you didn’t tell me you had…. Female company,” said Silus as his eyes fell upon Lydia’s tiny form in the armchair.
The woman practically leapt a mile high in the air when she took in the bony, grey-skinned figure in the doorway. The little colour in her cheeks evaporated, and it seemed that not only was she a lamb facing a wolf; she was like a lamb facing a lion.
“Ah. Yes. Silus, this is Lyd –”
“Lydia Hiddlestone,” Silus interrupted. “Yes. I’m quite familiar with her work. Rath’ a Jack of all trades, quite like your poor old man.”
Lydia gulped audibly. “M-Mr. Splendid. An honour to meet you, sir. I-I read about you in the papers all the time.”
“And why wouldn’ you?” Silus smirked down his nose at the small woman, strolling nearer to her. “I do believe you were somewhat of a carer for the young Mary Elizabeth. Before –”
“Before Father died, yes, she was,” Warren exclaimed.
Lydia trembled even harder than before. Clearly the lawyer’s cold and unsettling presence was just what the doctor ordered, Warren realised.
“I-I think I should go, Warren,” she murmured, stumbling to her feet.
“Oh, that’s a shame! Here are your coat and hat,” said Warren, immediately acquiring the items from the study’s hatstand and pushing them into her reluctant hands. Sad, sunken eyes greeted them.
“Thank you,” she said. “Oh, do tell Molly I’m sorry, and that I’ll catch her another day soon.”
“Oh, I will, dear,” Warren said with a huge smile. “You know where the front door is, yes? Toodle-oo.”
She’d no more than stepped out of the room when Warren slammed the door shut, and spun around to see if Silus had judged him for his discourteous treatment of the woman.
“Women would be fine things,” Silus mused aloud, his back turned to Warren as he faced the dancing fire in the hearth, hands joined loosely beneath the small of his back, “if they knew how to.”
Warren clapped his hands and rubbed them together in anticipation. “Very true, very true. Can I tempt you with a glass of scotch?” He pranced across the room to the giant mahogany desk, which he had currently adapted into a display surface for his expansive assortment of spirits.
Warren halted, took a deep breath. “So, have you got some good news for me, old friend?”
“I believe I do.”
Warren crossed the room, feeling as though he were walking on a cloud, to join Silus by the fireplace. He watched him with big, inquisitive eyes, asking the question with his face rather than words.
Dark, slanted eyes watched him from an angle. Eyes that shot waves of terror up the spines of regular folk. “It’s not enough just to claim the girl has disappeared. There will always be a chance that she could show up on her eighteenth birthday and claim the inheritance for herself.”
Warren nodded hastily. “What do you recommend?”
“She needs to die,” Silus said simply. “And ‘til I’ve got her severed head in my office, there’s nothing more I can do for you.”
“What?” Warren exclaimed. “How does that help me now? I’ve got debts, Silus, God damn it, I told you that the last time!”
“Well, why don’ you start by selling some of that gold on your hand? Not to mention those pointlessly elaborate decanters,” Silus muttered. “And I don’t doubt you’ve got oth’ fine pieces in the house you don’ tell me about. I’ll wage’ you’ve got it hoarded away like a greedy little miser.”
Warren opened his mouth to protest, but bit his tongue as he thought of the solid gold octopus sculpture that was mounted on his bedroom wall just because, and the diamonds he’d had put into his back teeth. And that was just the start.
Silus gave a grunt of finality.
“But that won’t be enough forever!” Warren moaned. He flung himself towards the lawyer and grabbed onto the thick black material of his waistcoat. “I need that inheritance money, Silus, I really do!”
“Get off me, cretin!” Silus snarled, whirling away from him in annoyance, and re-aligning the folds of his waistcoat. “Bring me that tea you promised. And we’ll discuss it further.”
“Discuss what further?” Warren begged. “Please, tell me what we need to do!”
“The tea!” Silus snapped his fingers, and dropped himself down into Mr. Meriwether’s old armchair. “Bring it to me. And I’ll tell you all about some associates of mine that might be able to help you. Two associates that specialise in a very specific form of hunting.”