Fate is indeed a pliable thing
|It was cold at Buckingham. January is cold most everywhere, I suppose, but Buckingham should not have been so cold by my reckoning. As I stood at the gate, I couldn't help but feel overly exposed to whatever was about to happen. I glanced back over my shoulder, towards the palace, and was assured by the view of my grandfather standing in the shadows of the entrance. He told me he'd be there in case anything went wrong. So, I stood and waited for my appointment. It turned out I didn't have long to wait. A carriage stopped close by the gate, and a familiar gentleman stepped down briskly. Mr. Franklin Cabot was about my height, portly, and was wearing a black bowler hat over his shock of white hair. His black overcoat had the familiar shoulder drape so often seen just before the turn of the century, and his dark gray trousers ended at white spats over his black shoes. He smiled and strode towards me purposefully, extending his right hand as if to shake mine. As I extended my hand to his, he straightened his elbow, and a large bore derringer sprang out of his sleeve and into his hand. Had I not been prepared for it, he surely would have taken me by surprise. As it was, I was already sweeping my left arm across my body and upwards, and the back of my Bowie knife struck his right wrist where it joined the hand.
The discharge of the small gun was louder than I'd expected, but the bullet sailed off over my head to land somewhere far less lethal than my forehead, and that was good enough for me. Cabot's expression of sheer surprise was followed in short order with a grimace of pain as he realized I'd neatly broken his wrist. As he grabbed it with his left hand, he looked left and right, trying to see what options he had for escape. By the time he looked back to me, my own revolver was a mere six inches from the end of his nose.
His eyes nearly crossed as he tried to focus on the muzzle of the Peacemaker, it's nearly half-inch bore promising impending doom with grisly certainty. He froze in place and tried a weak smile, "Well, that didn't go as I expected, to be sure." His light accent made me think he was French-Canadian. "That's the problem with trying to do things without thinking them out completely," I said, "there's always something else to consider." His shoulders slumped as he cradled his injured arm in his left hand. He gave a little gesture of defeat, just as Granddad said he would. I stepped up as if to approach him more closely. As his left hand slid under his coat, the barrel of the Colt caught him above the right temple as I backhanded him. The knife dropped out of his coat, and his surprised eyes glazed a little as he dropped to the pavement quietly.
The Velocitor whipped up to the curb as he fell, with Constantine sitting up on the deck behind the front seats. Granddad jumped out and we grabbed Cabot up and tossed him across the hood of the car. As we hopped back into the seats, Constantine took us to my parking place in the alley behind The Clockwork Teapot in 1896. Emily was waiting for us as we arrived, and greeted us warmly, "Ah, gentlemen. 'Tis good to see the both of you on this fine afternoon." She stepped down to the front of the car as Cabot began to come around. He raised his head as he caught sight of her skirts, clearly readying himself to bowl her over. He was discouraged as his gaze swept up and onto the point of a very sharp blade in her hand, pointing seriously towards his right eye.
"Now, my dear," she said coolly, "I wouldn't be gettin' any ideas. I may be a lady, but I'll take out your eyes in a flash if ye try to take advantage of my size and gender." He visibly relaxed, finally resigned to his failure. He turned his head towards the two of us and smiled weakly as we alit from the Velocitor.
"It seems you have me at a disadvantage, gentlemen. I have failed, and I'm not sure how." He looked at me, then at Granddad, then back to me again. "I should have noticed the resemblance before I ever let them talk me into this. Merde!" I looked at my grandfather, seeing it was clear that he knew much more about this than merely a simple place and time. "Yes, Franklin, you should have known better. Even more important, you should have known that Mr. Cooger generally does things for himself. He would only farm something out like this if he was afraid to attempt it himself." Cabot seemed to consider this for a moment, then smiled. "But how do you know he didn't make a contingency plan?" He sat up suddenly, a wild grin coming to his face. And just as suddenly, the top of his head exploded into a huge mushroom of blood, and his eyes took on the shocked expression of the unexpectedly dead.
As he rolled off the front of the car, we both looked in surprise at Emily, standing there with her own Colt Peacemaker, smoke curling from the muzzle. We walked to the front of the car as she flipped his overcoat up with the toe of her shoe. The bomb was a piece of genius, clearly rigged to explode by a gesture from Cabot that we would never see. Emily looked down at the dead body of Mr. Cabot for a moment, then looked up at us. "So much for 'im," she said simply. Then she gave us her dazzling smile and invited us in for tea as if nothing had ever happened.
While we discussed the day's events over tea, I found out some fascinating things about the Aether. First, it was extremely hard to travel to the same place and same time more than once. This was because of the limitations of technology just as much as it was for maintaining stability on the timeline. There were two notable exceptions: Her Majesty's Time Brigades possessed a certain technology that allowed them to, with great care, visit more often. This technology, of course, was well known, but procuring the resources needed to do so was very costly. This placed it out of the reach of most private individuals. The other exception, of course, is Constantine. His unique abilities, along with his penchant for attaching himself to the Coffins, made us rather unique by extension. He is apparently limitless in age and intelligence, and has no restrictions placed on his ability to navigate the Aether at will. This is a source of great comfort to me now.
As we finished our tea, Granddad and I went out to the Velocitor in preparation to moving on to our next adventure. The body of my would-be assassin was gone, as well as any evidence of there having been any kind of altercation whatsoever. Constantine sat coolly in what would become his regular perch, right between and just behind the seats. It gave a regal appearance to the huge machine, as if an Egyptian god had blessed us with his presence to protect us on our sojourns in the Aether. I was saying my good bye to Miss Puryear with a tip of my hat and a slight bow when she stood on tip-toe and wrapped her arms around my neck. She kissed me soundly then, and as she let me go she said, "Don't be a stranger now, luv. I'll be waitin' for you right here."
I could feel the color rise in my cheeks, and my idiot grin might take a week to subside, but I wouldn't have taken a million dollars for that feeling. I finally managed to wink at her and said, "Dear, dear Emily, wild horses won't keep me away." She threw her head back and laughed as she turned to go inside, and I climbed into the Velocitor with my grandfather. He smiled broadly at me and said simply, "A very good catch, my boy, very good indeed!" As I smiled at him in agreement, Constantine took us into the Aether and back to the entrance to Mrs. Hudson's garage.