[gdf] Captain Jack Aubrey was greatly relieved that his good friends Doctor Stephen Maturin and Sir Joseph Blaine had arrived just in time for the Royal Gala Premiere of The Minotaur and the Maiden by George Frederick Wislon-Handel, MC and bar, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Jack hurried his guests into the balcony box with such determination that a hungry Sir Joseph could only manage to swipe some snacks in passing. A few minutes later the gong sounded for the start of the First Act. Melville and Heneage were already seated in the box, while Jagiello gave them the benefit of his knowledge concerning the Grand Chandelier, which was a special Ikea Chintz design, created by that legendary Swedish mastercraftsman Ikeda Hoover Ericsson-Fonn. Lord Melville's expression was studious and polite, while Jack and Heneage looked bored. Meanwhile Stephen and Sir Joseph had dicovered a rare Trinque flecked wood beetle in the woodwork by using Sir Joseph's high resolution opera glasses. The curtain went up, the orchestra commenced as the two world famous opera singers, Lady Davina Kritchicelli the Italian mezzo, and Babette Bakerlite the famous French chanteuse, otherwise known as the 'Sparrowhawk' of the Bastille and recently arrived (via the cartel) in London, entered onto the stage and started to sing their respective arias concerning the sad plight of the lonely and deeply mis-understood Minotaur at the hands of the fearsome ancient Greek warrior Wenger Blood-axe of Naxos...when the first of three terrible things happened.
Sir Joseph had been looking through his Opera glasses, when he suddenly choked in surprise at seeing someone. Sir Joseph, gasping for breath, fell back into his seat and dropped his opera glasses at Jack's feet. Stephen loosened Sir Joseph's neck tie and asked what ailed him. Sir Joseph was as red as a beetroot. He managed to croaked out "Wogan!" and muttered something about Pecan pie, before he collapsed onto the floor. Stephen realised that he would have to operate there and then to save Sir Joseph's life from a pecan nut lodged in his friend's windpipe. Stephen took the scalpel from his pocket when an awestruck Lord Melville asked him what he was doing. Stephen replied that an emergency Tracheotomy was immediately required to save the life of the Director of Naval Intelligence.
"I would nae like to be in a bloody fleet action without a Surgeon like Maturin on-board!" remarked the ghoulish Melville to a suitably impressed Heneage and Jagiello.
However, Jack had picked up the opera glasses and had heard Sir Joseph's gasp about one absconder known as Wogan. Jack scanned the audience with the powerful glasses and quickly located his target who was seated par terre on the far side of the theatre. Jack stood up in surprise, and at that very moment the whipcrack sound of a pistol shot was heard, followed by a loud scream. Then most of the lights went out. Jack Aubrey leapt into action. Louisa Wogan wasn't going to abscond again if he had anything to do with it! Jack made a prodigious jump from the balcony box to the furled stage curtains. The natural authority, dignity and weight of a Post Captain in the Royal Navy may well be the decisive factor in a sea battle, but the weight of Captain Aubrey proved to much for the old stage curtains. Captain Aubrey and a large amount of velvet stage curtain dropped into the wind section of the orchestra pit, muffled it and its conductor Sir Patrick Von Karajan-Bramwell in velvet, and thus brought the music to a premature halt. An astounded Lord Melville quickly recovered his wits, he wasn't First Lord of the Admiralty for nothing. He ordered Heneage and Jagiello to go and rescue Jack and find some medical help for Sir Joseph. Slowly the lights came on and the terrified audience fled out into the snow covered streets surrounding Covent Garden. After a short while the panic subsided, and a subdued Jagiello who had a serious and grave air about him, returned to the balcony box. He stood to attention and saluted Lord Melville, while ignoring the Stephen's ongoing Tracheotomy operation upon Sir Joseph.
"My Lord, Captain Dundas is attempting to free Captain Aubrey from the Bow Street Runners and the Opera House management," said the young Swedish Attache, "But I'm afraid that I must inform you that the Prime Minister, Mr Spencer Percival has just been mortally shot in the chest!" After allowing a discreet pause, the noble Swede added, "The Prince Regent and the other Royals have been escorted out under close guard."
Whether Sir Joseph had fainted from the Tracheotomy or this terrible news, nobody could say, for both Lord Melville and Stephen were shocked and stunned by what Jagiello had said.
"My God!" cried Lord Melville, "Maturin, this could..."
[shw] be a clue!
"Faith and it might have some bearing on the war efforts," Dr. Maturin replied slowly. "Please ask Captain Aubrey to come immediately he is free, and to shine his little portable light on . . . oh! There you are, Captain. And you shall see Sir Joseph's oesaphagal sphincter, my dear!"
Captain Aubrey felt a bit light-headed, but dutifully projected a small beam of light where directed. He reflected on Stephen's eternal preoccupation with sphincters, and wondered if a pharanxeal purge would be forthcoming.
"I wonder," he ventured conversationally while Dr. Maturin continued the operation, "if this operation to open the, did you say 'asclepiades'? might have been named for the doctor who thought that harmony in the body would be restored through fresh air? As I recall, Homer mentions the good doctor as being a skillful physician, although not nearly as skillful as yourself, I declare."
"Aesaphagus, dear Captain," replied Stephen, wiping his little scalpel on Jack's black and white Nelson-checquered silken necktie, totally unnoticing of the immaculate clovehitch knot that Killick had laboured so long to tie. "And Homer referred not to Asclepiades, but to Asclepius, an altogether different physician, I assure you. . . There, how do you feel, Sir Joseph? Please don't speak for four and twenty hours, however, until the incision is somewhat healed."
Sir Joseph nodded, grateful that his own necktie had been spared. He signalled in Amslan to inquire as to whether Ms Wogan had been captured, but his companions, being English, did not comprehend. He spotted a billboard announcing next week's performance of Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita," featuring the renowned actor G. D. Finlay in the role of the cat. Drawing a quill from his pocket, he hastily scribbled a note in the corner of the billboard, "What of Wogan?"
Jack Aubrey squinted his good eye at the note. "Wagon?" he asked. Certainly you may share our coach to return home."
Stephen squinted his reptilian eye to the same note. Sir Blaine's penmanship had never been entirely discernible, and under the circumstances of the evening's entertainment, it was still less distinct than usual. "Morgan?" he hazarded. "Are you inquiring about the fate of the infamous Welsh buccaneer? Ah!" He exclaimed, light dawning. "Jack - Sir Blaine asks if your coach is drawn by Morgan ponies!"
Sir Joseph closed his eyes. Jack thought to switch neckties with him, but decided against it.
Captain Dundas burst in abruptly. "I have news concerning the assassination!" he exclaimed.
[dac] "There is a rumour that the act was carried out by that famous assassin The Potto".
"So Wogan was right" thought Sir Joseph. "And I sent her away Damn it! What a mess, and this is only the start if what she told us is true". Looking across to the opposite box he caught a glimpse of blue silk and crinoline from behind a pillar, then the flash of candlelight on a bald pate. "Oh no!" he thought "She can't have turned to them".
Jack and Stephen returned to the Grapes, having taken Sir Joseph home and made sure he was comfortable to Stephen`s satisfaction. It was a quiet ride back, Jack due to a raging headache, his only real injury from his fall, and Stephen because of the questions raging in his head. What was The Potto doing in London and who was paying him? There seemed very little point in shooting the British premier as far as he could see, a fairly inofensive fellow to all accounts and no radical, and what had Louisa Wogan to do with it....unless, Johnson, yes that might be it, he had a vested interest in disrupting the slavery bill, and if it was Johnson then Diana might be in danger too.
As they turned into the gates Stephen saw a figure stamping his feet with cold standing in the shadows "That can't be the Earl of Ontario" he thought, "he'll still be at the gaming tables surely. How can the LSP be involved ?"
As it turned out this was almost exactly what the Earl was thinking, "What are Bruce and the Contessa doing playing politics and listening to Wogan", he muttered shivering in the snow. "The League used to be a jolly rescue team, a sort of Commission Implausible, not some bunch of politicos. Damn it all I have my position to think of". Indeed the Earl was seriously thinking of giving it all up and retiring to his penguin ranch on Baffin Island.
At her London residence the Baroness Wenger stormed up and down in front of the fireplace under the portrait of her ancestor Sir Patton Wenger, puffing on her cigar furiously. "Hell Wogan, you said the attempt would be tomorrow night".
Sir Bruce lounging on the chaise longue next to Louisa Wogan nodded, "This does make things dashed difficult you know Louisa my dear. Why specially so because you refuse to discuss this with Dr Maturin, we are in dire need of a prodigious intellect to focus upon this problem. Indeed I feel it may be essential of we are to stop The Potto before he does us the public service of assassinating the entire Cabinet".
[gdf] The well dressed man in a formal dinner suit and wearing a large, blackcoat and a top hat slowly and carefully stepped out of his temporary lodgings in Lincoln's Inn. He stood there a moment, carefully pretending to polish his glasses and looked about for any telltale signs of hidden observers. Having convinced himself of his safety, the man whom few knew as the Potto walked on for a few streets before hailing a cab and directing it to Wapping. It was a short journey through the empty and frozen streets, and only a few clouds scudded across the dark starry night skies of London. After alighting in Thomas More Street, the ever professional assassin watched the cab depart, before again walking through the streets. As ever, time was on his side, everything was prepared, and he had his fallback plans carefully prepared with the most delicate artistry. His destination was the old notorious Wapping alehouse known as 'The Blue Stocking and Gusset'. The Potto slowly walked past the Pub on the oppposite side of the street in order to ascertain whether his rendez-vous with his paymasters had been compromised. As he had plenty of time, he completed two circuits of the Pub, before concealing himself in the dark shadows of a near by alley, so much the better to watch, wait and be sure. This man was a cold professional psychopathic killer and he didn't mind the bonechilling cold of a freezing night in London. Even the black rats, natural denizens of the alley, fled at the presence of such a cold and evil mind so close at hand.
Meanwhile at 'The Grapes' Jack Aubrey had been sent to bed after having received a treble shotted slime draught, with a Viagra bolus and a schooner of Laudanum as a chaser. Stephen descended to the snug where Mrs Broad had stoked up the fire. There was the Earl of Ontario warming himself in front of the blazing fire and minding that his coat-tails didn't get burnt. Stephen quietly signalled for the Earl to join him over a bowl of coca leaves. They fell into discussing the theories and evidence concerning the Potto's whereabouts and future intentions. The Earl asked to be informed of the forensic tests upon the Pecan nuts extracted from Sir Joseph. Stephen agreed and promised to meet the League at a conference to be held at Sir Joseph's residence the next day. Stephen asked if all the members of the league were ready for action.
"Almost all," replied the dapper Earl of Ontario, "except the Contessa di Cambridge who is still mopping up various un-natural specimens after that dreadful affair in Dorking...still she could be called upon at a pinch if necessary."
Their conversation was interupted by a furious hammering at the doors. A minute later a worried Mrs Broad, armed with a huge rolling pin, rushed into the snug in a state of upset.
"Doctor! Come quickly! There's a coach and four, together with sheriff's men. They have a warrant for Captain Aubrey's arrest for assault and false imprisonment at the behest of Sir Patrick Von Karajan-Bramwell and several members of the wind section of the Royal Habachtsthal Philharmonic Orchestra!" cried the matron of the establishment.
"Allow me!" said the Earl of Ontario, as he strode towards the front door, "to deal with this little mis-understanding! Until tomorrow then, good doctor!" and he was away and the door closed behind him, which Mrs Broad then firmly triple bolted. Satisfied, Stephen retired to his dissecting room in the cellar to look at those offensive Pecan nuts. He found himself humming an aria from the Opera that they had incompletely heard that very evening. Stephen was tired and just couldn't put his mind into figuring out the name of that aria from Wislon-Handel's masterpiece. He had heard it, and the singer somewhere before...was it London, Paris or Barcelona? Stephen put all this to the back of his mind and went to work on those damned Pecan nuts.
The Potto, observing the Pub from the depths of his concealed hiding place, noticed the two men that he had arranged to meet enter the Pub. He discreetly waited for ten minutes and then followed them into the Pub. When the Potto entered the Tap room the few remaining customers fell silent. The Potto marched up to Miss Jane the spry, elderly landlady of the Pub and the terror of all Wapping in view of her iron hard discipline to those who frequented her notorious tavern.
"The Seagulls are following the sardines!" said the Potto, to which the hardened landlady replied, "The fishermen are casting their worms!"
At this, the Potto appeared satisfied. He took off his top hat and demanded a yard of Miss Jane's best porter. As Miss Jane prepared his order, she nodded over her shoulder and signalled to the Potto to enter the Smoking room. The Potto made his way into this quieter room which was full of cigar smoke. He noticed the two men and went over to join them. One was of noble character and evidently wearing a false beard, which he was attempting to disguise by sitting in a dark corner and smoking a cigar. Beside him sat a pale faced man of foreign origins, who had his collar turned up to avoid recognition. The Potto smiled to himself at the efforts of these two feeble amateurs. He sat down at their table, stretched his legs and awaited his porter. After Miss Jane delivered this and had returned to her commanding position behind the bar, the man known as the Potto spoke.
"The first stage of the masterplan has been flawlessly accomplished as I predicted. Yet you did not see fit to warn me of Maturin's presence at Covent Garden. I wonder at it!" It was a statement, not a question, and put in a very calm, cold and calculated manner to the two amateurs.
"You have executed a masterstroke, my dear Sir," replied the pale faced Frenchman Lesueur, "I regret the appearance of Maturin. You know that my presence at Covent Garden would have been far too easily recognised by the authorities; our noble friend should have taken steps...But I presume the necessary arrangements are in hand for the next stage at the Mansion House dinner?"
"Naturellement, there is no danger and if Bellingham isn't picked up within two days, I'll personally deliver him to the Bow Street Runners myself! It will muddy the scent!" said the Potto with confidence.
"My dear Potto," drawled Lord Sidmouth as he waved his cigar around, "What a coup! England will be a revolutionary republic at last, even before the week is out!"
"I do not care for my name to be mentioned aloud, your lordship!" said the Potto in a menacing tone of voice, "And I'll trouble you both to keep to our pre-determined arrangements. This will be our last rendez- vous until our design is accomplished. If you attempt to wriggle out of this, know that it is too late to re-negotiate the contract. You were aware of what the penalties are, should you get cold feet!" The Potto stood up and gave them a reptilian glare of intimidation, then turned smartly on his heels and walked out of the bar.
"Just think of it! The new Prime Minister, Half the cabinet, Wellington and half the city financiers wiped out at a stroke!" chuckled Lord Sidmouth, "And those jealous buffoons Castlereagh and Canning ready to gore themselves to a political death as they struggle amidst the ruins...The Twilight of the Gods...Mr L?"
"The Emperor is most fortunate to have you so well placed to be able to pick up the pieces," remarked a cautious Lesueur, "But for now we must be paragons of discretion."
[shw] Jack Aubrey woke up with a stiff neck and a resounding headache. He'd had the usual dream following the course of medication: Liddy Dole chasing after him, clad in a blue floral nightie, and he unable to force his uncooperative, semi-paralyzed legs to run fast enough. He whispered "Diana" under his breath and went to the breakfast room at the Grapes, plucking a couple of roasting rabbits off the spit as he passed to tide him over until breakfast was served. Following his usual minor repast, he returned to the room he shared with Stephen to tidy up. He noticed that both of the Doctor's dissecting kits were missing. He carefully shook Stephen's clothes out the porthole, swept cookie crumbs from the bedding, and sat by the window to darn Stephen's (mismatched) socks.
He thought about the events of the previous evening. The Royal Opera House patrons had recently taken to erecting little wood-and-velveteen-rope barricades around their opera boxes to prevent encroachment from neighboring boxes - Jack did not support enclosures, and wondered if the recent attempt by Madame Skinner Fawkes to blast the operahouse had been a form of protest against that particular practice, and if last night's shooting had been part of the same protest movement. He sang to himself the fine aria from the performance that had preceded the shooting:
"Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Stephen Maturin tripped into the room, barking his shins on a chair. He was still dripping with the sweet oil that Barrett Bonden had dipped him in when he fell into a mudwallow a few moments earlier.
"Top o' the morning," he warbled. "In case you hadn't heard, Sir Joseph is effecting an admirable recovery, but
[dac] "I'm afraid he'll never sing again. Thank God! Ontario did however".
"Eh?" asked Jack looking up from his repast.
"Sir Scott Wilson, the Earl involved with the LSP, you know the one, he came to see me last night. Jaegiello was right it seems, it was the Potto who shot the Premier, and if what Ontario tells me is true, he won't be the last".
"But what has Louisa to do with it?" asked Jack, after Stephen had explained more fully, whilst idly wondering whether he really ought to have another capon. ("Yes ... er..no..um.. oh go on old chap treat yourself, bound to work it off chasing dangerous Pottos and whatnot").
"It appears she heard the plan from Johnso....Jack put that back brother, 2 rabbits and 3 capon for breakfast should be enough even for your constitution... It seems she first went to Sir Joseph, but he sent her away with a flea in her ear."
Jack looked at the crisp golden brown capon sizzling gently on the plate. "So what now?" he asked petulantly.
"Now we cut this Gordian knot and go and see Sir Bruce, whom I'm assured is currently the house guest of Baroness Wenger. Mind yourself though Jack Sir Scott came to us in confidence, for some reason Louisa did not want me to know of this".
"Probably heard about your reputation for starving your friends" muttered Jack who was starting to find the morning most disagreeable.
Stephen sighed, "Be a good fellow and get your coat, for to be sure we have our work cut out for us"
"A'int it going to look a mite strange when we just turn up at 'Fortress' Wenger?" asked Jack in a last attempt to stay near the kitchen.
Stephen shook his head "Sir Joseph saw la Contessa fresh from Dorking at the opera. They must know that we know, or know that we know some of what they know".
Jack looked at his particular friend, wondered why they called it intelligence work for a moment, shrugged then called for his coat.
The coach rolled through the vast iron gates of Wenger Towers or "Fortress Wenger" as it was usually called by the locals. Across the moat and glacis past the lines of 74 pounder siege guns and mortars, the 100 gun first rate floating on the ornamental lake, the Martello tower (that had replaced the boathouse) and the Congreve rocket batteries. Stephen presented his card to the butler, resplendent in his camouflage frock coat Brown Bess and fixed bayonet, who emerged from the blockhouse by the main entrance.
After a few moments the doors of the mansion opened, they were welcomed inside and shown into the study. The Baroness looked up from the map table where 3 chamber maids with billiard cues were pushing little toy soldiers about.
"Ah Maturin, Aubrey, thought La Contessa's role might have been compromised, won't go through all that plausible denial claptrap with you two eh? Sit down, have a whisky help yourselves to a cigar. JENKINS!"
"Tell Bruce and Louisa we have guests, and fire up the lighthouse to summon the others".
Two minutes later a beam of light hit the cloud cover projecting the shape of a small 4 petaled flower.
[gdf] The ever dapper Earl of Ontario casually sauntered out of Mother Abbott's establishment for young ladies and strolled into Piccadilly. He was busy reflecting upon his magnificent win at the gaming tables. He had won somewhere known as Louisiana from a small, sworthy, half Italian looking chappy who had been very unhappy at losing such a place and demanded a re-match. Since this was clearly against club rules, so the cad had been thrown out with his hat tightly rammed over his head. The Earl stopped to buy his daily copy of 'The Times' when he noticed the sign in the sky. The Earl hailed the next passing cab and was soon perusing his paper en route to Fortress Wenger.
Lord Blakeney was at the Palace vainly trying to escape the attentions of Sarah, Duchess of Massey-Ferguson, whom Blakeney had just rescued from yet another failed truffle hunting expedition that had gone wrong in France. Strangely none of the other Royals appeared to be at home. By glancing through the window, Blakeney had seen the Duke of Clarence legging it over the croquet lawn and jumping over the Herb garden wall in order to escape. However, Blakeney pointed out the presence of a lonesome 'After Eight' mint on a side tray to the ravening Duchess, and with that cunning distraction he was away faster than a speeding bullet!
Sir Bruce had been in town consulting with his devilishly admirable and rakish lawyer Sir Lucifer Finlay, King's Counsel, at the latter's opulent gothic Behemoth Chambers set at 13 King's Bench Walk. Sir Bruce absent mindedly gazed out of the window, as Sir Lucifer explained the finer points of the exquisite tort of passing off in relation to...when he saw the sign shine against the grey clouds now covering the London skies. Sir Bruce apologised for his lapse of attention and immediately left for Baroness Wenger's. Sir Lucifer smiled indulgently and billed him a little extra...
While the Baroness, and Stephen were discussing the subject of the Potto, lethal poisons and Pecan nuts. Jack Aubrey absented himself upon the pretence of having a look at that fine first rate floating in the moat. He managed to find his way to the Kitchen and the larder where he marvelled at the spread of fine foods on display. He reached out for the cold roast beef platter when the Duchess of Tasmania and Lord Zimmermann made an un-orthodox arrival by abseiling down the chimney. Jack reluctantly realised with a sinking feeling in his heart that obtaining a decent meal was going to be impossible.
Meanwhile a refreshed Potto made his way to Neal's Yard, just off Covent Garden which had been the scene of his greatest triumph. He wished to verify whether an order he had placed was ready. He made his way to the delicatessen run by one Sweeney Todd, purveyor of Fine Meats to the gentry, and his partner in crime Ma Baker who was the greatest patissiere in all London. Her family had been in service to Lucrezia Borgia's family and knew everything there was to know about poisoning. As he waited for Mr Todd to finish with some other customers, the Potto read his copy of 'The Times' with interest. He gleefully noted the arrest of Bellingham by Chief Inspector Lestrade for the murder of the Prime Minister. He was puzzled by the inside story about several sheriff's men and several members of the Royal Habachtsthal Philharmonic Orchestra having had various wind instruments surgically removed after an encounter with an unknown person, who had been impersonating an well respected naval officer. Apparently Sir Patrick Von Karajan Bramwell, the famous conductor would never be able to play the organ again, let alone raise his conductor's baton! A sad loss to the world of music. Mr Todd had finished with his last customers, and had shown them out. Mr Todd closed the shop, sent his deaf mute assistant Wesley to lunch and invited the Potto into the back room.
"Nice to see one of our most valued customers again, Mr P!" said Sweeney Todd, rubbing his hands at the thought of more specialised business than usual. "Your order is ready for shipping as requested. I'm awaiting your lads a collect when you're ready. And I've even got the invoices all up to date as well..."
"That will be fine. Just bill it to the Home Office's account. Lord Sidmouth has authorised it in triplicate. I will commend you for your zeal and efficiency," said the Potto, "However, something else, totally unexpected, has cropped up. It requires your most specialist services and that of your dear Ma Baker..."
"Oh Sir! I believe that you've got a special request for us in mind. You name it and we'll deliver it personally. Upon my honour!" said Sweeney Todd, as he anticipated a particularly evil and diabolic task for his demanding paymaster.
"Indeed, a dear friend has recently been taken ill. I'm sure that a 'special' gift of some of Ma's wonderful Petit Fours with that cyanide coating masked by the fresh smell of vanilla essence would do admirably in this case..." said the Potto with a darstardly smile.
"Oh sir you are a rascal and no mistake! I'll see it it myself and wrap it most carefully. I'll have Wesley deliver it whenever you desire it Mr P. Would there be any accompanying card or message with this expensive gift?" asked the anxious lowly shopkeeper.
"Just address it to Sir Joseph Blaine, of Shepherd Market. As for the message: Just say 'With grateful thanks', signed Sir Joseph Banks! To be delivered at midday." replied the fiendish Potto. "Oh! and charge that most specifically to Lord Sidmouth's Home Office account!"
"Your wish is my command Mr P! It shall be done to your most demanding specifications," replied the ever compliant Sweeney Todd, "And Ma Baker has been itchin' to use those special skills of 'ers! Ha! ha! ha!"
The Potto made his goodbye and left the shop. He walked on until he came to a flower shop. He paused before it examining the wares. On a whim, he went in and ordered a wreath to be sent that evening to one Doctor Maturin c/o The Grapes. Message to read. "Condolences. Regret personal absence. P." The Potto paid in cash, smiled grimly at the flowershop girl, and remarked in an offhand manner...
"Odds and Ends, my dear. Just tidying up some loose ends! Can't be too careful!" With that done and his macabre sense of humour satisfied, the Potto went on his way out into the streets where he was quickly lost amongst the crowds milling around the streets of London.
[shw] Blissfully oblivious of the comings and goings of El Potto, the good guys were gathering their forces at Fortress Wenger. The redoubtable hostess, Baroness Wenger, was resplendent in her flowered silk dressing gown with its nautically-fashioned gilt faux-epaulets and flashing chelengk, the Blue Peter Diamond which she had won from Stephen Maturin in a game of cutthroat go-fish dangling provocatively in her gorgeous cleavage. A tiny four-leafed clover lapel pin completed the ensemble. Her "guests," all similarly bearing the clover pins, clustered around, snatching avidly at her petite deviled crab hors d'oeuvres (delightfully spiked with just the merest soupcon of cantharides), stewed-sloth-on-a-Ritz, and the death-by-chocolate bon-bons. Alas, the dinner coup de resistance, soused pigs face, had been scarfed down by a certain one of the earliest arrivals, but no-one was going hungry: the Baroness had extensive tanks of exotic tropical fish. Outside, the pale winter garden played apetalously in the wind.
The Earl of Ontario reluctantly tore his attention from the Duchess of Tasmania's stirring account of a an intricate embroidery she was working on, and joined Aubrey, Maturin, Zimmermannn, Blakeney, and Sir Bruce in the library, where they pondered their next step. Maturin and Aubrey would certainly have to return to the Royal Opera House that evening. This would serve the treble purpose of showing England that the Royal Navy was unafraid of the opposition, of perhaps provoking a hasty action by Potto, and of determining the ending of "The Minotaur and the Maiden," which they could then report back to the assemblage the following morning. Jack Aubrey nodded agreement with the plan, the dorsal tail of Geophagus Hendai dangling from his mouth even as Stephen Maturin worked feverishly to determine its anatomy before it vanished forever. Jack said not a word about Stephen's dissecting kits being mysteriously missing, tapping a finger alongside his nose and murmuring "tace;" Stephen replying "tice" in reply. Jack triumphantly hollered "Toe" and drawing a line through the three "exes" on a scrap of parchment and absent-mindedly pocketing Stephen's quill.
"Gentlemen," the Baroness recalled them to their duty: "would there be any news of Wogan at all?"
* * *
Meanwhile, on the far side of town, there was a discreet knock at the door of Sir Joseph Blaine's home in Shepherd Market.
[dac] Louisa had heard Stephen and Jack arrive early that morning, and still adamant that she could not afford to involve Stephen had slipped out the back of "Fortress Wenger" in the nick of time. Wandering around the streets of London for most of the day, by 4pm she found herself sitting in the bar of the Frog and Bucket in St Katherine's Dock taking gin for her nerves and wondering whether she could get passage to Naples, or as far away from the Potto as possible. By 6pm however the gin had had the desired effect and she had convinced herself that Sir Joseph was again her only hope, and that once again she must to try and persuade him to help her.
Sir Joseph's Town House near Shepherd's Bush market was an imposing affair as befitted a senior member of the Civil Service, giving him ample space for his collection of fauna. When Blenkinsop his butler (with an air of disapproval that showed him to be a true professional) announced the presence at the door of "A Miss Louisa Wogan Sir" Sir Joseph was in deep conversation (if somewhat painfully, due to the pecan) with an old friend Admiral Critchley on the topic of beetle carapaces.
In the normal course of affairs The Admiral would have found the topic somewhat tedious after the first hour, but having recently been given an expensive French sabre with an ivory hilt stained with cochineal, (by one of his Commanders, as was - now the RN's most recent Post Captain in charge of a beautiful new frigate), he had been listening hard to what Sir Joseph had to say.
The Admiral however, guessing the important nature of the "Wogan business" excused himself after having been introduced to Louisa. He bid farewell to Sir Joseph telling his friend, that he trusted that "his Pecan'd part would recover in time". And left chuckling.
Sir Joseph offered Louisa a chair, ordered strong coffee, (to counteract the gin) and listened to what she had to say.....
[gdf]"Sir Joseph, I realise that my presence here is not one that you would countenance in the normal run of things, and recent events have conspired against me," said Louisa cautiously, "So much so that I have come here with the intention of making you an offer..."
"With respect, your bargaining position is very weak. A known hostile agent of a foreign power, guilty of shooting a King's Messenger and an absconder to boot. Not to mention this sad affair at Covent Garden! Should anyone recognise you in London, you will be taken up and hanged," said Sir Joseph with the faintest smile upon his face, "And I doubt whether His Royal Highness will make another intervention in your favour after all this!"
"Alas, your appraisal Sir, is all too correct." said a tearful Louisa, "All I ask is a swift and safe conduct out of England to some European neutral country, I ask for no money, and in return..."
"And in return, I would be become party to a felony by aiding and abetting your escape!" said Sir Joseph deliberately raising the stakes, "And if you were in such danger, why did you show yourself in at a Royal Gala Premiere?"
"It was only because of dear John Bellingham! He wanted so much to be a ROH dresser. He was cruelly tricked into it by that masterfiend the Potto!" sobbed the now distraught Louisa, "He set poor John up for the murder! I know because the simple minded lovesick fool told me the very night that the Bow Street Runners came for him!"
"In order to save the young lad, we'll need a live Potto, or else damning evidence of his involvement. Can you engage to deliver so much?" asked Sir Joseph, quivering with anticipation at the prospect of a major intelligence counter stroke.
"Alas, I don't know the whereabouts of the most despicable and loathsome Potto, but dear John mentioned the Mansion House Banquet as the next target. What you don't know is that Lord Sidmouth is the Potto's man on the inside! I saw them both arguing together whilest I was working as a barmaid at 'The Blue Stocking and Gusset' pub. That is why I attempted to contact you. I could scarcely go to the Home Office, and after John's arrest...only you, or the League could possibly help me."
For the second time in as many days, Sir Joseph was rendered temporarily speechless...
[shw] Jack and Stephen strolled in the lambent evening, Jack waving happily toward the setting sky.
"Ain't it a grand time, brother?" he sighed with the contentment that comes to somewhat overweight young men when they are replete with soused hogs face. "Y'know, they say 'Red sky at night, sailors' delight! Red sky at night, sailors' delight!'"
Stephen smiled, genuinely taking delight at his friend's delight. "That's one of the things I so like about seamanship, my dear," he murmured. "It is so absurdly easy to delight a sailor." He surreptitiously fingered an anonymous letter in his pocket.
Jack surreptitiously fingered a few of Stephen's rosin bags in his pocket. He, too, delighted in his friend's delight - it was a hallmark of their deep friendship that they could derive so much happiness from each other's happiness; doubling their pleasure in life, so to speak, despite their differences in knowledges, abilities, interests, pleasures.
Stephen showed the anonymous letter to Jack Aubrey. "What do you make of this, my sweetling?"
Jack studied it.
"Perhaps herein you may detect the key
"It's not like your usual anonymous note," Jack opined. "Not a mention of infidelity, no names, no signature. Poor rhyme scheme, weak scansion."
"Ah, my overgrown catnipball," Stephen replied. "But there IS a name given. It is the very key to the plot!"
[gdf] "Please don't attempt to get up or make any other sudden un-toward movements!" said the smiling Potto as bound and gagged Jack, "It was a stroke of luck that brought you into my lair! Don't worry, your end will be relatively quick and you'll have the consolation of joining with many others who now form part of my exceedingly good meat pies."
Jack realised with increasing horror and desperation that there was nothing he could do to breaks the iron bounds that bound him to the chair. The Potto continued with his impromptu lecture upon the subject of puff pastry and its many qualities and attributes in the catering trade, as he pushed Jack's chair through to the back room. By the flickering candlelight Jack could see the dark, satanic form of some kind of primitive industrial steam engine device that looked like one of those damned expensive devices that Kimber had employed to drain the Ashgrove lead mines so long ago...
"Ah! My dear Captain, you are appreciating the latest wonder in modern technology which will totally revolutionise the way we view the catering industry," said the Potto proudly as he adjusted a few cogs and lubricated some pistons with a greasy rag, "And you too have a part to play, as did poor late Mr Todd and his assistant! This mincing machine is the future for the trade, and yourself!"
Chuckling with mirth, the fiendish Potto pushed Jack above the gaping iron maw of this infernal mass pie production device. He then powered up the machine and checked it was in full working order before ironically giving Jack a naval salute.
"Au revoir or perhaps I'd better wish you Adieu." said the nefarious Potto with a malicious evil grin, "Alas, I have some pressing business with Lord Sidmouth which really won't keep! At least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that in quarter of an hour of being minced, what remains of you will cooking gently in the ovens! My meat pies are renowned for their light buttery pastry and my exceedingly high quality standards! Perhaps you'll be served up at the Mansion House Dinner!"
With that the Potto neatly put away his apron and rapidly donned his formal Beau Bramwell suit and top hat. Once ready the Potto picked up his sword cane and deftly pressed the buttons which fired up the gigantic powered mincing machine. The Potto went out through the back door after carefully locking the front door and giving Jack a final wave goodbye. Jack started to struggle against the iron chains, but it was no good. In quarter of an hour, he would be mincemeat in one of the Potto's pies! The minutes slowly passed, but to no avail. Jack sank lower and lower into the mighty throat of Sweeney Todd's newly patented mincing machine...
As Jack struggled in vain to avoid his seemingly inevitable destiny, Stephen Maturin was pacing up and down in Sir Joseph's booklined study. Sir Joseph was late, very late and it worried Stephen, who in his anxiety, had accidentally sat down on and completely ruined a gift wrapped box of Petit Fours that Sir Joseph had left there in his haste.
Down beside the sluggishly flowing river Thames, a dark figure stood shivering in the shadows next to his waiting cab. Sir Joseph Blaine stood watching his good friend Admiral Critchley embark upon the sailing barge which would carry him and his entourage to his waiting flagship bound for the distant Baltic station. Sir Joseph, by pleading important matters of state, had persuaded the Admiral to take Louisa Wogan as far as Gothenburg. Sir Joseph had noticed that Mrs Wogan no longer seemed as cheerful and charming as in her first interrogations many years ago. Once the Admiral's barge started to disappear into the black night, only then could Sir Joseph relax. With Mrs Wogan safely out of the game, Sir Joseph could deal with the matter of that merciless Machiavellian Mephistopheles, otherwise known as the Potto, with a clear head.
[shw] The chocolate stain on the seat of Dr. Maturin's second-best suit-pants (he'd never owned a BEST suit) brought his mind to Captain Aubrey, and he was reminded thereby that the Captain was due for his daily purge. He drowsed for a while in Sir Joseph's study, images coalescing in his half-awake mind. The waft of french vanilla essence rising from his pants tantalized him, images of Ledward and Wray danced before his closed eyes. "Potto!" he yelled as he jerked himself awake. "There's not a moment to be lost! I must hie to Sweeney Todd's emporium!"
Stopping only briefly to examine a Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus, 1758), ("odd, extraordinarily odd, I'd not seen one outside of Belgium," he muttered, carefully netting the little moth and wrapping it in his neckcloth for Banks), he dashed through the streets, hollering "There's not a moment to be lost" to everyone he saw. Everyone he saw ignored him.
He knew that Captain Aubrey must be in terrible danger. He had no fears of the mincing machine, of course. He knew that Aubrey would eventually chew himself out of the bonds that Sweeney Todd's delicatessen was reputed to employ, but he feared for the Captain's front teeth, which were getting rather worn by the several recent adventures. The dastardly Potto would, of course, be delighted with Jack Aubrey, Stephen mused, re-examining his plexippus. Potto was reputed to adulterate his sausages with suet, which lent a nasty flavor to whatever dish it was employed in; Aubrey sausages would need no suet, and the cook could redeem his flagging reputation with such a delicacy.
A trio of tipsy seamen blocked his path. "Avast there, matey," shouted one, stumbling about in a drunken stupor. "What's that you've got in your neckcloth, eh?"
Stephen was astonished, astonished! "Mr. Bonden! Have you been drinking? Rum?! Oh, the shame, the shame," he scolded. "You should take advantage of your shore-time to refresh yourself with lemonade, that grateful antiscorbutant!"
Bonden hung his head, embarrassed at having been caught out. "Is that you, Doctor?" he inquired politely? "And wuz you in a vast tearing hurry to get somewhere?"
Stephen thought. He'd been in a rush to get somewhere, but had quite forgotten the destination. He remembered that it had seemed quite important at the time, however.
"Lead the way, Mr. Bonden, if you are capable of bow-legging your way in a hemi-demi-semi-straight line, that is. Do you know the way to the food emporium that specializes in wienies? I can't think of the name right now, but there's a magnificent Corylus avellana growing just a few yards from the entrance."
"Bob's your uncle," replied Bonden, sobering. "You mean the saucisson, Sweeney Todd's, of course. You just passed it a few blocks ago."
Bonden and Davis and Joe Plaice raced to the emporium, Dr. Maturin lingering behind to examine the Corylus more closely.
Jack Aubrey was exiting Sweeney Todd's just as they arrived, his gums bleeding, a few pounds of sausages dangling from his pocket. He was hastily scribbling a note to Sophie, describing the events of the day.
[gdf] Lord Sidmouth the Home Secretary sat with his feet up on his desk in his tastefully MFI furnished office at Queen Anne's Gate. He was merrily signing death warrants as was his sadistic custom, when he failed to notice that his delightfully attractive personal private secretary Lady Michaela Howard had quietly double locked the door. Sidmouth looked at Michaela through the haze of his infamous cigar smoke fumes. There was something not quite right about her. Sidmouth mused to himself...shoes? Ankles?? Petticoat?? Slick greased back wig??? This strange thought perturbed the Home Secretary and he put on his green monocle to view this peculiar sight. Lord Sidmouth almost died of fright when he realised that it wasn't Honourable Lady Michaela (who was sitting bound and gagged in a broom cupboard, minus her front teeth resulting from a skuffle with the Potto and a revolving door), but the heavily disguised and heavily armed Potto! Sidmouth attempted to rise to his feet in order to better meet his nemesis, the Potto smiled and they both knew that words were not needed. The Potto raised the pistol and deliberately fired at Lord Sidmouth...when there was a crash and splintering of glass from the French windows as Lord Zimmermann was hurled into the office by one of Baroness Wenger's 32lb cannon from St James' Park. This unexpected interuption caused the surprised Potto to miss his intended target. Ever alert the Potto sprang to the windows to make a daring escape in the roof top style that was his trademark. Lord Zimmermann was reluctantly embedded head first in one of the luxury leather settees which had provided the noble lord with a safe landing place. The soot that fell from the chimney indicated that the chimney abseiling Duchess of Tasmania was in fact stuck, due to recent excessive chocolate profiterole consumption at Fortress Wenger. However the Contessa di Cambridge saved the League's honour by twice headbutting the heavy Oak door until its locks broke. Blakeney, and the others charged into the room...But the Potto was too quick and wily to be taken. Using his supernatural Potto like climbing skills, the Potto was up and away in a flash, over the roof tops and chimney pots, laughing and making crude gestures at Sir Bruce, as he dodged the musket fire from the ground.
Meanwhile in Covent Garden, Stephen was attending to Jack's slight wounds when Sir Joseph pulled up in his cab. Jack once again began to despair of ever having and decent meal and looked longingly on the hard won sausages.
"Well Stephen, your damned Potto is a landlubber," explained Jack, "And for all his legendary skills he doesn't know his knots and ropes! Given sufficient motivation such as a decent meal and a Post Captain in the Navy is indeed capable of superhuman feats of agility and heroism!"
"I'm heartily glad to hear it Jack," replied Stephen, "As for Lord Sidmouth, never fear the League are onto his case!"
On hearing this the newly arrived Sir Joseph paled, but fortunately didn't lose his voice again. He saw that he and Jack were of the same mind regarding the sausages and invited Jack and Stephen back to Shepherd Market for a late dinner.
[shw] * * *
So to make short a long tale, Sweetheart, Stephen begged off dinner, saying as how he couldn't imagine how I'd be able to digest a dinner after all that had happened, and I don't like to show away, but I got off one of my very finest remarks I've ever had the pleasure of uttering. Usually I think of the clever retort five minutes too late to say it with the proper panacea, elan, flourish; but this time it came right to me, although I could hardly get it off, I was laughing so hard at it. Stephen said to me, he said, 'I can't imagine how you'll be able to digest your dinner,' and I came right back at him with 'Digestion begins with the salivary glands, and you doctors don't know a great deal about the salivary glands, it's because they're secretive!' Oh! Sweetheart, it was the completest thing! He didn't even smoke it at first, but when I repeated 'it's because they're secretive' a few times, he laughed out loud, and allowed as how I'd hit the joke on the head that time! Even Sir Joseph gave me a discreet 'hor hor.'
I don't know where Stephen went or what he did while Sir Joseph and I had dinner, but he seemed to be smiling when he returned, and this morning I noticed that his two favourite dissecting kits, which had been missing, were back in their proper place. I don't ask him where they was, I try not to interfere with him, but as he says most quietly that we'll not be disturbed by El Potto nor Lord Sidmouth again, I don't think I ought to request for him to carve today's lunch mutton, if you take my meaning.
I look forward very intensely to see your dear sweet face with my own eyes before very long, because there's a fair breeze blowing, and 'tis a fair breeze that will blow me fairly back to you fairly soon. My kindest regards to your dear mother, and please to let her know that I expect to be home within these three and twenty hours, which should allow her ample time to replace my smallclothes in my seachest as if they'd never been disturbed by her rooting around for whatever she roots around for in my dunnage when I'm out of earshot. All my love, your devoted husband,
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