There was little chance that Sam was going to forget about the meeting. Calliope was not going to let him, for one. She had been cleaning up the office while Sam was out on other jobs. He could not recall the office ever being tidy. Now it was cleaner than he had ever seen it.
It was also not that having an appointment was that unusual. Work had been fairly decent, certainly enough to keep the landlord off his back and Calliope paid.
No, the reason this meeting was special was that this was a meeting with a member of the gentry. Sam was a staunch Resistance man. Still, he had to keep a professional cover. So if a baroness wanted to meet with him, the least he had to do was hear her out. If this case worked out, then there might be more work with the better paying upper crust.
That was why Sam found himself seated across his desk from one Baroness Amelia Braker. She was a young woman of about thirty years. She had brown hair tending toward red, and wore it in a fashionable cut just below her jaw line. Her dress was conservative, a matching skirt and jacket set of the lightest blue.
On the lapel of the jacket was an Order of Commerse pin. That particular order was comprised of the business men who controlled most of the economy of the conquering Empire. The more equity that a person controlled, the higher his title within the Order. Baroness Amelia Braker was the wife of Baron Jonathon Braker, chief executive of the Albany-Wichita Railroad.
Calliope had just made an offer of tea or coffee to Sam’s guest who politely declined.
“I would much rather if we could just get to the matter at hand, Mr. Watson.”
“Of course…,” Sam hesitated as he struggled to recall the appropriate honorific, “Your Excellency.” It was tempting to allow his voice to show the faint distaste he felt. He corralled the impulse as not good for either his cover or professional opportunities.
“Please, Mr. Watson, Mrs. Braker is sufficient for now.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Braker. Now, how may I be of assistance?”
“I have been given to understand that you have experience in matters beyond normal.”
Beyond normal. That was a first, even for Sam.
“I presume,” said Sam, “that you mean the supernatural?”
Sam paused to consider. He didn’t question that reputation. He’d had jobs dealing with ghosts and tangled with vampires. They tended to be interesting in manners less conducive to his health. Hopefully that didn’t mean that she knew he was a mage in his own right.
“If you could give me some details, then I can give you what advice I can.”
“I may be in need of more than just advice, Mr. Watson. I wish to hire you to provide some protection for a party this coming week.”
“Protection from what?”
“Pardon me, but I must explain regarding what I fear will happen. My husband’s father and brother had both died under strange circumstances. Jonathon, the Baron Braker, his father, Alexander, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. His brother, Samuel, died after falling between rail cars on one of the company’s trains.”
“Was there anything to imply that the two incidents were connected or anything more than accidents?”
“First of all, Samuel died five years to the day after Alexander. I have difficulty believing that it was a coincidence.”
“Then what makes you think it was not normal foul play?”
“I am not entirely certain. There were guards at both scenes that saw them acting strangely, as if there was something behind them. Either all of the guards were involved in a conspiracy, or something frightened the two barons into accidents. The men in question are above reproach, or so say the Sheriff’s investigations into the deaths. The second option, however bizarre, strikes the family as the only one possible.”
“I get the impression that you are not entirely sold on the idea of a curse.”
“I am not,” said the Baroness. “There are some details that I, having married into the family, to which I am not privy. I have heard rumors among the staff that there was a message sent to Alexander that announced the curse. The stories range from a simple letter to the head of a dog being left in his bedroom. Despite my efforts, my husband refuses to discuss the matter.”
“What of the elder Baroness? Has she told you anything of the matter?”
“Humph. So far as Mildred is concerned, I am a nice little porcelain ornament for her son’s arm. She would prefer that I not have a brain in my head, and so she treats me as such. That has left me little choice but to make arrangements on my own.”
“Has Mrs. Braker made arrangements?”
“Yes, in fact the entire idea of the ball was the idea of one of the members of the Board of Directors. His name is Lamar Steele and he shall be representing the Order of Illumination.”
“Steele is a mage?”
Sam had to consider the point. Steele would surely establish some means of magical protection for the estate. Sam had little doubt about his ability to conceal his power from casual inspection. The defenses should be little problem in that regard. What would be more difficult would be to work whatever spells he might need without drawing attention.
“I believe that I can help you, Baroness. My rate is fifty marks a day and I will need a couple of days before the event to do some research.” The rate was twice what same usually charged, but he reasoned that the rich were different.
He was proven right when the Baroness didn’t even blink at the price. With a handshake, they sealed the deal and Amelia Braker took her leave.
“Calliope, how do you feel about heading for a little soiree?”
“Sorry, Sam, not my scene. Besides, I already have a date.”
“Hmm. Can you tell me where Rachel is working tonight?”
“Sure, she’s at McCallum’s Joint tonight, and she just got a little black dress that she has been wanting to wear out.”
Sam nodded as he picked up his hat.
“Thanks. In the meantime, I need to get to the Times. I need to dig up what I can on this family before the party begins.”