I introduced you to Abel Fresnel. Now I’d like you to meet Malcroft Shy.
At five minutes before the two o’clock hour, a large and wide figure loomed in the doorway of the kitchen entrance of the townhouse. Yvienne remained seated at the kitchen table as the dockside thug stepped over the threshold, ducking his head under the low lintel. Albero, Mrs Francini, and Uncle Samwell ranged themselves around the kitchen, with Noe crammed into the corner, making herself small. The only one obviously armed was Mrs Francini, with a formidable rolling pin. Yvienne had her pistol in her lap, under the table.
Noe’s ringleader scanned all of them with admirable aplomb that just masked a vee of concern between his eyebrows. He was a large and imposing figure, made even more imposing by his wet great cape, large boots, and broad-brimmed hat. His black eyes were keen. He was rough-skinned and tanned, and obviously had spent time at sea as well as along the docks. His nose had been broken at least once, and there were red veins alongside it that indicated a fondness for drink. He grinned, and his teeth, though yellowed, were straight, and he had all of them. He looked straight at Noe, and she shrank back in fear, all her earlier confidence drained away.
“Well, Noe,” he said. He removed his worn leather hat and slapped it against his great cape. “You brought me here. And I don’t like playing games, not with the quality. So tell me true — are we playing games now?”
“No–no,” Noe stuttered.
My turn, Yvienne thought. “How good of you to come, Mr Malcroft,” she said. “As you will soon learn, I have a proposition for you that I think you will find it prudent to accept. You halt your activities as the head of the housemaid’s ring, and work for me. If you choose not to accept –” She put her hand on the piece of paper in front of her. “I’ve called you here to say this little game of yours ends now. Noe has signed an affidavit and will swear to that effect in court that you are running a housemaid’s ring, and furthermore that you have implicated the dock boss Cramdean in your wrongdoings. That affidavit is with my lawyer. If anything happens to any of us here, or to Noe’s family, it goes straight to the Chief Constable and the courts. You can play dumb all you like, but if you try anything you will spend a great deal of time in gaol, where no doubt you will be at the mercy of Cramdean’s inside men and their boss’s displeasure .”
His expression darkened. Yvienne kept her breathing easy, though her heart was racing, and her hand on the pistol was wet with sweat. He looked straight at Noe again, and she swallowed hard.
“You stupid little cow,” he said. “You think they’ll be able to protect you? You better say your prayers, little girl, because when I get through with you, you’ll wish it was Cramdean you were dealing with.” He jutted his chin at Yvienne. “She’s nothing but a fine bit of silk and lace, playing at her daddy’s business, and she’ll turn you off at the first sign of trouble.”
Yvienne felt a great swelling of anger. “Mr Malcroft,” she said, her voice soft. “Do you know who House Mederos is?” She stood up, though he still towered over her, and she cocked the pistol and pointed it at his nose. She didn’t know who gasped — Albero, Samwell, Mrs Francini, or Noe.
It got the man’s attention most thoroughly. He was almost cross-eyed in keeping his eyes on the pistol. He held up his hands and took a step back.
“Let me remind you, Mr Malcroft, with whom you are dealing. We ruined Guildmaster Trune and drove him from this town. We took down the Merchants Guild and we restored our family to its proper place. House Mederos rid this city of the corruption and filth at the top, and there is nothing to stop us from ridding it from the filth at the bottom. Do you want to go back to Cramdean? Be my guest. But you take this message to him if you dare. House Mederos will not rest until Cramdean and his ilk are served as thoroughly as we served the Guild.
“And I am House Mederos.”
There was a thrumming silence. She could practically see the man’s calculations going on in his head as he weighed his two fates — throwing in with her or returning to Cramdean and trying to explain what had happened. After an interminable interval, Malcroft broke. He glanced down at the paper on the table.
“All right, all right,” he said, smiling an obsequious smile. “All right. No need to get hasty. How can I help House Mederos?”
She gestured with the pistol and he fumbled backward and sat down on a stool by the door, looking like a chastened and overgrown schoolboy.
“First you can acknowledge here that Noe is no longer a part of your gang and her family will face no repercussions from you.”
He glanced at Noe. Something passed between them, some communication that Yvienne could not read. He returned his gaze to her and nodded.
“Second, you work for me now, Mr Malcroft. Not Cramdean.”
She pushed the paper over to him, wondering if he could read it. He could, and she saw the comprehension in his expression as he scanned through the contract, his eyes widening at the terms. She nodded to Albero, and he produced a pen and ink. Malcroft wrote a credible signature and pushed it back over to her.
For a second there was something shrewd in his expression but it was gone in a flash. But I saw it and won’t forget, Yvienne thought. Contract notwithstanding, she had no doubt he had no intention of being bound by it. She lowered the pistol and released the hammer, and he let out his breath.
“You’ll be amply rewarded, provided that you don’t return to your old tricks,” she said. “If you double-cross me or steal anything, then we turn you over to your old master.” In response, he crossed his heart and yanked his ear. “Welcome to the team, Mr Malcroft. You are now head of security for House Mederos.”