“Mr Giles. I’m James Mont.”
Giles’s new solicitor was a dark-haired man with a solid jaw, compact and inconspicuous in a jacket with a pinstripe of such subtlety that Giles looked twice. Mont extended a hand to him and Giles met it with the socially prescribed amount of pressure. The man was real. Not the First. Giles felt something inside him relax the tiniest bit.
Mont ushered him to a chair and crossed round to the other side of his desk, a sweep of bare rosewood. Giles sat and crossed his knees.
“My condolences, Mr Giles.”
“Thank you,” Giles said, automatically. Mont said something further, about his Uncle Charles, but Giles had already tuned him out.
The room was restful. It was modern but somehow had the air of timelessness, as if it hadn’t changed in essentials since the twenties. Or before. Reassuring, he supposed: want your money to last a hundred years? Longer? Put it in the hands of these fellows. It might feel more reassuring if an even older institution had not been shown to be fragile enough to be destroyed in mere seconds. One moment, the Council buildings had stood gray, solid, and reliable. The next, they were smoke and rubble. It had taken seconds to wipe out everyone he knew, everything he knew.
And now what was left? Mont was detailing to him the legacies. Uncle Charles’s house, and what was apparently pots of money.
Mont had fallen silent and was watching him with raised eyebrow. Giles raised a hand and rubbed his face, striving to call himself back to the duty at hand. He hadn’t slept a single night through for more than a week, since he’d first tripped over evidence of a plot.
“I do beg your pardon. It’s been rather a trying week,” he said.
“I can imagine,” said Mont, though Giles rather doubted he could.
“What was it you were saying?”
“Your uncle left a letter for you to read.”
Mont slid it across the desk toward him: an envelope with his name written on it, containing a single sheet of heavy cream paper. Giles recognized his uncle’s handwriting, which bore an undefinable similarity to his own and to his father’s. He felt a pang, a twinge in his chest: his uncle was dead. The attack that had taken out the Council building had been real.
Giles unfolded the sheet of paper.
My dearest Rupert,
If you’re reading this, I presume I have departed this mortal sphere. I can only hope that I have done so in proper style without any nuisance or undue fuss. You’ll find my affairs in order. Now they’re your affairs, and my last wish is that you enjoy them.
You were looking too grim last I saw you, before you went rushing back to the States again. No more of that. I want to see you driving fast cars and chasing pretty girls. Enjoy my house, drink my wine, ride my horses, have a bit of fun for yourself. No excuses, my boy, and don’t waste time mourning me. I’ve enjoyed life and I don’t mind moving along. Now it’s your turn.
Your affectionate uncle, Charles
Giles folded the paper and slid it back into the envelope, tucked the flap under and handed the packet back across the desk to Mont. He slid his feelings away with it.
Mont tucked the letter into a file folder, then squared the folder to the edge of the desk. “There is similar language in the will itself,” he said.
“It may be difficult for me to follow his instructions just at the moment,” Giles said, carefully. “There are other issues that will, ah, require a great deal of travel from me in the near future.”
“It doesn’t have the full force of a legal condition upon the request, though the testator was most clear in his wishes. We should prefer to see at least an attempt to fulfill the requirements. To, er, sample some of the pleasures suggested.”
“Fast cars and pretty girls.”
The corner of Mont’s mouth twitched up. “Within the bounds of law, yes.”
Cautious bastard. Though Giles supposed that was what he was paid to be. His professional skill.
“I’ll try, but I may be in and out of the country frequently in the next few months. My, er, line of work requires it.”
Mont raised his index finger and touched it to his lips. “Ah,” he said. “About that.”
“Allow me to show you something.”
The solicitor rose from his chair. He went to a cabinet in the back of his chambers and searched for a moment. He returned with a file in his hand.
“When I inherited the firm from my father, as he from his, we were given to read a letter from one of the founders. It made some curious statements, which your Uncle Charles assured me were entirely factual. Though he had to supply more evidence before I truly believed him. You might find it of interest.”
Mont laid a few sheets of yellowed foolscap on the desk before him. Giles leaned forward with attention, his historian’s curiosity awakened. Dated 1887 below the signature, and no reason to doubt the date from the appearance of the paper and the handwriting. A neat hand, upright and a trifle cramped, expressing itself in economical prose. In it, a man named Soames Forsyte addressed his posterity on the topic of vampires, their reality, and the task his heirs at the firm had of handling the affairs of the institution formed to combat them.
Giles scanned through the rest of the letter, then slid it back across the desk. “A more solemn legacy than mine,” Giles said.
“My great-great grandparent, or something like. His name’s still with the firm. A Victorian legal boffin. He and the original Murbles between them set up the trust that funds the Council. Did rather a neat job of it. When they came to nationalize it along with everything else they found they couldn’t touch it.”
Giles raised an eyebrow. His Tory soul approved; a nationalized vampire-hunting service would have been rather more dangerous to his country than nationalized rail had been.
“They might have done so by special act, but that would have focused rather too much attention on, ah–”
Mont spread his hands. “And so.”
“And so you know my true vocation,” Giles said.
“Yes. In fact, I may have information that you don’t. As yet.”
Giles shifted uneasily in his seat; something in Mont’s shuttered face made him uneasy. “To what do you refer?”
“Your uncle was the liaison between the Council and Her Majesty’s government. MI13.”
“It exists, then.” And Uncle Charles had been as discreet about that as he not been about the affair with that actress, and the dancer before her.
“Yes. It’s a tiny group, a mere handful of people, but critical for the continued unfettered operation of the Watchers here and worldwide. I am acting in the role. I need, however, a counterpart among the Watchers.”
Paperwork, passports, protection from meddling, the license that permitted him to carry the gun hidden under his jacket. Information. If there were trouble in faraway places, the government would get that information to the Council. Or what remained of it. That post would want filling now, along with many others. And Mont could only mean–
“No. I can’t possibly. Find somebody else.”
Mont’s eyes flickered down to the papers on the desk before him and shrugged. “Your uncle Charles recommended you with some rather unambiguous praise. Even had he not done so, there are few qualified candidates remaining.”
“Martin Robson’s still alive. There are a few others. Retired Watchers.”
“None of them heir to the Giles trusts. Beyond mere tradition, there are advantages to members of the older Watcher families in the post.”
Giles sagged in his chair. Another legacy, this one rather weightier than the others. Mont shrugged, as if in sympathy. There was no getting around it, he supposed. He spared a moment to wonder what poor man or woman was next in line, if he should make a hash of his next encounter with the Bringers. He sighed.
“Very well. I’ll meet with them next time I’m in the country.” He raised a hand to forestall Mont’s objection. “No. I have a higher duty than any the Crown might lay upon me. I can’t think about this business, any of this business, at all until–” Giles broke off. Saying until apocalypse was averted felt melodramatic. “Until the current difficulties are resolved.”
“Can’t you deputize?”
Giles laughed. “The Council was blown to bits last week. Anybody who might have been able to help is dead. The Slayer needs me. Now.”
“You need say no more.” Mont tapped his lips with a finger, thinking. Then he shifted in his seat. “I believe this will suffice. I’ll pass along your news to my section contact.”
“Mr Mont.” Mont looked up, and Giles saw in his face that he was paying attention. “Be very sure of anyone with whom you share this information. Our position is tenuous to begin with. And watch out for yourself. You will likely attract unwanted attention because of this meeting with me.”
“Sir, I take all the precautions a man can against vampires. I–”
“Vampires are the least of it. The beings that wiped out the Council are a league beyond them.”
Mont’s lips compressed, and that formidable chin was thrust forward. “What do I do?”
“Don’t conduct business with strangers after dark. And don’t trust anyone who doesn’t let you touch him. Shake hands, clap his shoulder, do whatever you must to touch everyone. Anyone. A person you can’t touch is not real.”
“Good Lord, man.”
Mont rubbed a hand over his face, composure at last shaken. Giles said nothing, but crossed his arms and let his fingers rest on the gun under his arm. Reassuringly solid. Wouldn’t do a damn bit of good against the First’s figments, but would kill Bringers the way it would kill any human. As he’d already proven.
A scant hour later, Giles walked out of the neat building that held his lawyer’s chambers, unlikely survivor of the destruction of the square mile in the Blitz. He stood in the chilly wind on the curb, watching taxis roll past. Chancery Lane. He was in chancery himself. Though perhaps not. The sun shone, and his Slayer lived, and he had an address in his pocket telling him where a Potential and her Watcher had holed up. He shoved his hands into his pockets against the cold and and turned his steps toward the Tube. Time to get it done.