Tales of London #11
Even though he was given a job to do, Robert had a life of his own. He had certain responsibilities as a teaching professor and other arrangements, too. Such as spending time with family...
He got out of the big black cab right in front of the Baker Street Underground Station. Walked by the bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes, passed around the tourists who had to have a picture with the great detective and went towards the corner of the station building.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, as nice as autumn gets with a slight breeze and white, cotton-like clouds in the bright blue sky. Leaves were falling in pretty colours, yellows and browns and pinks and clarets. This was Robert's favourite season of the year, because of all those remarkable colours everywhere. He wished that he could take a walk in Regents Park, but he had an appointment to keep. Maybe, later on, he would steal an hour for just himself. He knew that he will likely be in need of one anyway.
Given that it was a nice, but breezy day, people around Robert wore shorts and T-shirt, maybe slippers, or, if they weren't native Londoners and hence, repellant to cold, jeans and a light jacket. He wished he could be more casual himself, but things being as they were, he wore a grey three-piece suit, jacket in his hand, with his silver-topped cane.
He felt his phone go off in his pocket and took it out. He had a message from Jenna Carvelli.
long time no c, montgomery. any news about the statue?
Robert stopped to type an answer.
I need to confirm one last thing, have a meeting with an expert tonight. I will know more afterwards.
He waited for a moment, but there was no reply, so he put his phone back, which obviously vibrated the very second he took his hand out of his pocket.
can i help with anything?
Robert did not know how to answer that question. There was nothing Jenna could have done until he hadn't seen his old college friend about some unfamiliar carvings on the statue. Yet, he felt the urge to say yes. He had a surprisingly pleasant time with the woman the other day. After the match they saw, they went to an actual restaurant to eat, and they talked about usual things, like old, famous Duel games, time in college, their jobs, and it was… Normal. Nice, even, something Robert's life lacked very much in these days, or, in fact, in any other days.
On the other hand, however smart and interesting Jenna was, the fact remained: she was a Carvelli. So he only answered "Not at the moment. I will let you know." for which he got an "ok" and the conversation apparently ended. He sighed and continued his walk towards his father's house.
Lord Montgomery lived in a three stories tall, blindingly white villa with his wife and half a dozen servants. He was thinking of himself as a modern man, so he stopped calling them servants for a while now, and used the word "staff" or "help" instead.
The villa was, as real estate agents would say, at a frequented location. In walking distance from the beautiful Regents Park and the London Zoo in it, or from Madame Tussauds wax museum in the other direction. With those nearby, and of course with all the shops offering relics about The Beatles or Sherlock Holmes or God knows what else on Baker Street, Robert and Bailey could have had a nice, happy, decent childhood. If only the lord was not thinking that places like the Zoo are for common people, and was beneath his sons and their rank in society. So he forbade them to visit all of those places and ordered his children to stay in the house, as any normal little gentleman would do.
Robert sighed again, as he arrived at the house in question. The ground around was hidden by the tall hedge, and so was the first floor of the villa. Robert could not name the style it was built in, as he never had eyes for that kind of detail on a building. He was sure that Bailey would know, but it was his job, after all. The fact that his idiotic little brother managed to become an actual architect between street fights and parties, never ceased to amaze him.
Robert stopped in front of a smaller side gate in the hedge, which opened to the street. He did not have a key to his parent's house, and even if he did, he was well aware of the dozens of currently invisible spirits guarding the property. His father somehow failed to tell them that Robert is not a free target in case he would arrive uninvited. Which he never did. On the contrary, he tried to skip even the ones they have agreed on.
But now Robert pushed the bell and the gate opened up immediately, with no noise whatsoever. Shivered as he felt the presence of something. One of the spirits, undoubtedly, perhaps one which chose air as its physical form on this plane of existence, so it can hide from the eye much easier.
Robert entered, and walked up the long path made out of round white stones, leading to the front door. The area around the house was immaculate, as always, perfectly mowed lawn and not a loose leaf from the pruned trees. Nor any birds or friendly squirrels: animals from the park knew better than to risk going near the villa.
Robert went up on the short but wide, white staircase to the door, which opened before he could raise his hand to knock. His father’s man, Maxwell, opened the door personally; such a rare honour. Behind him, the big hall seemed full of shadows and felt cold, although Robert was fairly sure that was to blame on his imagination. He needed a couple of seconds until his eyes got used to the new circumstances after he stepped in.
'May I take your cane, sir?'
Maxwell closed the door behind Robert. He was an old man, with sparse grey hair, a slight pot belly and a straight back. He wore a traditional butler uniform with white gloves. He worked for Lord Montgomery since Robert could remember. Robert never liked him, and it was mutual. In a way he was even worse than the lord himself: Robert's father had the desirable quality of not caring about his sons, but the same could not be said about Maxwell. He decided that shaping the boys up to be decent men was one of his duties, and he was not picky when he chose the ways to do it.
'I'd rather keep it, Maxwell, thank you,' Robert answered politely.
The butler frowned.
'Your father does not like the presence of weapons at the table, sir,' he said in a strict voice.
'Magic is much more than a weapon, but it is something people in this house cannot understand, can they now?'
'Your father does not like disrespectful behaviour either, sir,' Maxwell said with a slightly threatening voice, something that always made Robert and Bailey obey when they were kids.
Robert gave a tired sigh, which he noticed to do a lot when it came to family gatherings. He handed his cane to the old man, who grabbed and took it away.
Maxwell then showed him the way to the dining room as if he didn't grow up in this house. The whole place reeked of Lord Montgomery's taste. The walls were all plain white, and there was no decor, except the boring oil paintings along the two-winged marble staircase which led from the hall to the first floor. They were all portraits of red-headed men with very similar features and in different clothes: Robert's predecessors. The Montgomery family had a very long history, even if most of it was not something to be proud of.
The dining room was a big and tall place, with windows reaching for the ceiling, covered by translucent drapes to give shadows to the room. A coldly yawning fireplace accompanied a long table, way too big for one small family.
Three people sat at the table when Maxwell announced Robert's arrival.
Lady Montgomery was a very skinny, fragile woman with sallow blond hair, sharp cheekbones and a pointy chin. Robert knew for a fact that his mother once was beautiful and full of life, but he barely had any memory of it.
Lady Elizabeth stood up as she saw Robert coming. They hugged, and Robert was careful as if he could break his mother if he was not gentle enough. The woman smiled, however weakly, as she looked over him. For a moment it looked like she was going to say something, but then the spark faded in her green eyes, and she just sat back silently, staring into nothing in front of her.
Next to her sat Bailey, unusually elegant and serious, with a freshly shaven face and tidy blond hair. He gave a look to his brother, which told him that the Sunday lunch special, namely, mental abuse had started already.
'You are late,' his father greeted him from the head of the table.
Robert took a seat, across from his mother.
'Good to see you, too, father,' he said dryly.
Lord Montgomery once was an impressive man. He had broad shoulders and a robust figure and he was even taller than Robert. He was still strong and handsome, despite the fact that he was well over sixty. His grey eyes were sparkling with intelligence and there was always a derisive half-smile hiding in his neatly groomed reddish beard.
The car crash, which broke his spine beyond repair, and forced him into a wheelchair, did not change his personality, but only because he was an unpleasant, eccentric, condescending, aggressive, racist, and borderline psychotic arse to begin with, at least in Robert's opinion.
'Your brother was telling us about the new trouble you got yourself in, when you rudely interrupted,' said the lord.
Robert saw that his mother hides her face behind her big wine glass, a sight that was a little too familiar from his childhood.
'You are going to have to be more specific, Father. I am a disgrace on many levels,' Robert answered, with a nice smile which somehow said "fuck off" at the same time. He learned that from Jenna.
Bailey had to hide his laugh, so he pretended to cough. The lord still rewarded him with a cold gaze.
'I hear you two are working with the Carvellis, with that little whore and her weird gay cousin. I wonder if you have fucked any of them yet...'
'Patrick, please!' said Lady Elizabeth in a weak voice. 'Not at the table…'
'You are right, Liz. Forgive me. It shows bad manners to talk about such disgusting things as the Carvellis, at the table. I was only curious, you see. How it could have happened, given that the first thing I taught these two was never to do exactly that?'
'It was the last one, too,' murmured Bailey.
'What was that boy?' Lord Montgomery snapped.
'That's what I thought. So how did this happen?'
Robert took a deep breath to keep his voice calm.
'As I am sure you already know, we did not really have a choice. We have to help out the Commissioner, or we are all going to jail. I assumed your sons being in prison would reflect on you even more badly than them working with the Carvellis.'
Lord Patrick actually thought that one through, then slowly nodded.
'For a change, you might have a point now, kid. I guess there is indeed a first time for everything.'
Robert did not answer, but nodded to one of the staff standing in the shadows, and pointed to his empty glass. He wasn't a big fan of wine in general and suspected that this was one of the reasons his dad only had that at the table. And even though he knew that his father would only serve the most expensive ones, he wished that he could fix it up with some coke. On the other hand, it was alcohol, and he really needed that. The valet arrived with a bottle and filled Robert's glass until half.
'So what is that very secret assignment the bloodsucker makes you do?' Lord Patrick asked. He was one of the loudest protesters in the House of Lords around the time the city appointed a vampire to be the new Commissioner, and he didn't change his mind ever since. That was not a surprise. Conservative politicians, especially noblemen like Lord Montgomery, had a difficult relationship with vampires. Although vampires were equal citizens for a while now, Robert knew for a fact that his own great-grandfather used to hunt them for sport around the turn of the 20th century. Vampire hunters used bows, rifles and even magic to kill their prey, who were starving and weak because the fair play wasn't something those brave men used to appreciate.
'I'm afraid it is an ongoing police investigation, father, and as such, I cannot give away any information.' Robert could barely hide his cheeky smile while he said that. Lord Patrick scoffed.
'Fine, don't tell me. It's not like I don't have my own way to find it out.'
‘I’m sure you do, father,’ Robert said indifferently.
Silence fell in the room, only broken by the clanking of plates and cutleries as two valets served the food. There was a whole roasted turkey with blueberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Lord Patrick was a man of tradition, and even if nobody in the family liked the old-fashioned British cuisine, he had the cook make it anyway. Robert would give his arm for one of Luther's grilled cheeseburgers as he looked at the bird. The turkey being dry seemed to be another tradition in the Montgomery house.
'So, tell me, what's going on at the university?' Lady Elizabeth asked. Her words were blurry, proving that she already had a couple of glasses before lunch. Even so, ice needed to be broken, and her attempt was just as good as any.
'Same old, same old,' said Robert, 'from the next term I am going to have more classes, and to be honest I am kind of excited about one of them. It will be advanced transformative magic, something I’m really interested in lately…'
'Teaching basics at a very basic university,' the lord cut in. 'Isn't that nice? It reminds me, I have a friend, who is an actual professor at a real university, a little place called Oxford, you might have heard of it. Or maybe not, actually, I wouldn't be surprised. Anyway, he tells me that for some reason people are not as interested in his summoning lectures anymore as they used to be. Why is that?'
Bailey shot a worried look at Robert.
'Summoning magic is not popular these days, father, because people tend to do things by themselves, without slaves.'
Lord Patrick had a sip of red wine and then started to cut his turkey. He pretended that he didn't hear his son.
'My friend thinks, and I have to agree with him on this one, that summoning is simply too hard for this new, soft generation. It requires discipline and ironclad will, something young people lack nowadays. Back in the days, when I was younger than you are now, we weren't considered as a man until we summoned our first fire spirit without burning down the house. Do you remember, Max?'
The butler stood at the lord’s shoulder, refilling his master's empty glass.
'I certainly do, sir,' he nodded. 'I had a particularly nasty spirit as my first one, if I may add. I found that at the end of the day, you just have to be very… Stern. Like when you train dogs. Or children.'
He said that the last one with a malicious little smile and looked at Robert, who had to count to ten in order to not say anything.
'Good one, Max,' laughed the lord, 'but joking aside, you are not wrong.'
Robert looked at Bailey, who seemed to be very busy with his turkey until their mother asked about his job. He was very enthusiastic as he talked about his firm, the new contracts and architecture in general, and Robert knew that his passion was partly caused by the fact that as long as he was talking, their father couldn't. And surprisingly enough, Lord Patrick did not interrupt, although he made sure that his boredom would be obvious. He wasn't entirely disappointed in Bailey's career choices, although he barely missed an opportunity to say that a Montgomery should have had a more respectful job, architecture being, in his opinion, almost in the service sector.
They made it until dessert in a relatively peaceful mood, thanks to Bailey's anecdotes and Lady Elizabeth's gentle but firm way to keep the conversation at bay. Robert tried hard not to make faces as he ate the way too sweet apple pie when the lord finally circled back to his favourite topic.
'So, what's your plan, boy?'
'Beg your pardon?'
'About this whole Carvelli-thing. How do you plan on taking advantage? What's going to happen next?'
Robert put down his fork and looked into his father's eyes.
'There is no plan, father. No, that is actually not true. The plan is to do our job, together, and after that not fight anymore. We are done with that.'
Lord Montgomery looked surprised for a moment, and then anger flickered in his eyes.
'You cannot be serious, son.'
'I am. Look, you have to understand. They are just people. You and Don Carvelli might have your own reasons, but that's yours, not ours.'
'They tried to kill your brother a mere week ago, boy!' Lord Patrick shouted, hitting the table with his palm.
'I don't think she would have…' Bailey started, but the lord cut in again.
'Silence! Listen, boy. The Carvelli family is dangerous. They are everything we stand against. If that moron Sebastiano gets elected as Mayor, he will flood this city with immigrants and vampires and God knows what else. You have seen his campaign, haven't you? He would teach magic to anyone. And not only in high school, no, but he also wants to give a chance to everyone to become a "great sorcerer"! Our society is founded on the idea that better men have more power, for a reason. Because we are better, son, we can make the hard decisions, and we take responsibility and risk! We know what is good for our country. But will that Polish, Romanian, Hungarian or whatever third-world country-born sorcerer care about London? About England? They've already left a home, they won't be loyal to another one. And they are still the smallest bad, at least they are humans…''
'Patrick, please, try to…'
'Not now, Liz! I'm teaching your sons.'
'Hey, don't…' Lady Elizabeth touched Bailey's hand and shook her head, so Bailey did not continue.
'Mark my words, Robert. We need to step up and stop this madness before it's too late. Men like us, like you and me, led this country for centuries. Powerful sorcerers. Noblemen. We were great. We were an Empire. Everyone knew where their place was: under our boots. There was an order. Peace. Look what happened, when we gave power to common men, to blacks, to vampires, to people whose parents were born in our colonies. Our city is dying. The whole country is dying. And Sebastiano Carvelli is the reaper who is here to collect its very soul. You cannot let that happen. You…'
Robert stood up.
'Thank you for lunch, mom,' he said and gave a pale smile to the terrified woman. 'Father, always a pleasure. See you later, brother.'
He started for the door.
'I haven't finished with you yet, boy!' the lord said, rolling his wheelchair out of behind the table.
'Yes, you have, father,' he answered, in a low, dark voice, not looking back.
'Turn around, son.'
Robert did so.
'You were always a coward, Robert. You are not worthy of the name Montgomery.'
Robert's fingers clenched into a fist. Something cracked loudly, maybe one of the walls. Then he took a deep breath and relaxed his hand.
'After all these years, father, finally something we can agree on,' he said, then walked out.
He reached the hall before anyone else tried to stop him. He stopped, looked around for his cane and that was when Maxwell caught up with him.
'I need my cane, Maxwell, if you don't mind,' Robert said quietly. 'I am leaving.'
The butler stepped between him and the door. On his face, there was an expression Robert knew too well. Some of his worst childhood memories started with that expression.
'You need to go back there and apologise to your father, young man. You were disrespectful and unreasonable. He is concerned about our way of life. I will not be having…'
'You?' asked Robert in the same quiet voice, almost whispering. 'You, Maxwell, are an employee, a servant who is disregarding a direct order.' He hated how similar he sounded to his father now. 'Get out of my way. Now!'
On Maxwell's white gloves, a few Runes sparkled up. They were embroidered with white thread and were almost invisible when not in use. Robert smiled, and it wasn't a nice smile. He raised his arm and snapped with his fingers. The Rune of Movement, engraved in the silver of his watch's strap flashed and his cane, knocking down something fragile flew across the hall. As the wood touched his hand, all the Runes started to glow with bright, golden light.
'I won't ask again. Step aside, Maxwell.'
For a moment he thought the butler will try something. He was ready to fight, ready to give back everything he had gotten through the years when he was living under that roof.
But then the old man obeyed. Robert touched the door with the silver top of his cane. It not only opened but burst out, half-broken, hanging on one hinge.
Robert Montgomery left his father's house intending to never come back.
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