Godfrey Pike: The art of diplomacy

Wainwright in Khartoum – Dangerous things to know – Bull in a china shop – The order of Cross and Moon – Unintentional bycatch

ARE WE UNDER SIEGE?

Rina Prescott reporting

With the recent troubling events, it is clear that measures must be taken to ensure the safety of Algernon university’s students and faculty. As I’m sure we have all noticed, the Porters have been given permission to stop and search anyone for weapons, to demand the opening of any school locker with or without the owner’s consent or even knowledge. No one in their right mind would stop the University’s security staff from doing all the necessary to prevent miscreants from threatening us.

But at what cost comes this safety? There have been several instances of searches that, as expected, turned out to be completely unnecessary and an invasion of our privacy. It might be argued that as students here, we have little enough privacy as it is, but what little there is, we must defend tooth and nail if need be. As Benjamin Franklin said, those who give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Another question that might be asked is this: What good will it do to all our safety if students may be subject to all kinds of intrusions to our already small personal space? While we all may have wished dire misfortune upon certain Faculty members, I am confident that we are not the people threatening Algernon University’s condition as a safe home.

We must impress on the University’s leadership that we, both students and faculty, have certain unalienable rights, the violation of which far outweighs the need for essentially useless information.


 

Standard encryption applied.

Dear Professor Pike,

I have taken the airship to Cairo, and have now arrived by train in Khartoum. I am in one of the Service’s safe houses, under the care of our local agents. I have requested an appointment with Mr. Bouzid Moghadam, but so far, I have had no reply. Our contacts here are for the most part helpful, but they have earnestly warned me not to go off on expeditions on my own. Anti-English sentiments here are still strong. I blame your generation, Professor, and your urge to bring civilisation to parts already sufficiently civilised. One of our men, named Kamal, will introduce me to Moghadam’s under-chamberlain or something, a man named Samir. He may be willing to introduce me to his boss, and we can get some kind of negotiation going.

I mentioned the Tennant family to my new friends, and they gave me very filthy looks. It seems that Miss Alexandra has taken up with some unsavoury characters, namely a Mr. James T. Riley, and an Oberst Gustav Klemm. People are also still sour about Miss Alexandra’s little expedition into Mr. Moghadam’s basement. Apparently, Moghadam Mansion’s security has been stepped up considerably, with even Moghadam Junior’s wife falling under suspicion and being kept on a tight leash. As you have often reminded me, once you say a word, you can’t take it back, so I kept my trap shut. I will write more after my meeting with Grand Vizier Samir.

Yours,

Wainwright.


 

Dear Winston,

Our enemies have been exceptionally quiet, which means that they are probably planning something. If so, then they are not using any old tricks. We have hired nobody, no strange new students have arrived, there haven’t even been any unknown visitors from abroad. I don’t like it, Winston. It gives me the feeling that things are moving outside my field of vision. Perhaps the Enemy simply means to climb the University walls under cover of darkness and murder us in our beds. I wouldn’t put it past them, everything else has failed.

Professors Wadcroft and Enderby have been steadily working through the pile of documents from the Hammond expedition. I can tell from the mad stares in their eyes that these document are not up to Algernon University’s standards of scientific rigour. Prof. Enderby described one of the documents as ‘word soup with pretty pictures’. Wadcroft says he is either very close to a solution to world hunger, or precisely the day and hour that the Old Gods will awake from their slumber and devour the world. I know one or two scientists from Miskatonic University, Winston, and they’ve always struck me as slightly unhinged. If either Professor Wadcroft or Enderby starts exuding eldritch emanations, I will regrettably have to abandon this line of investigation. So far, nothing seems to point at a breakthrough, but Algernon Scientists are a hardy bunch.

On a happy note, please thank Quentin for his generous gift of ammunition. We now have enough to start a small revolution. The Rifle Club members are progressing well, to the point where I think they may have a chance at this championship. Miss StJohn is clearly the best shot of the lot, but I daresay there are others who are at least in the same weight class as she is. We may yet bring home the trophy, Winston!

Yours as always,

Godfrey Pike.


 

Dear Winston,

Curse and crush our enemies, they have tried again! I don’t want to turn kindly Algernon U into a fortress, Winston, but by Jove, if I must, I will! As it is, we must be grateful that nothing serious happened to Margaret. She has come through this like a trooper. I was keeping her and Wadcroft company, guarding their sanity as they ploughed through the pile of drivel, when she announced that Nature called, and she must obey. Wadcroft only answered with a few suitable words in a tongue not of this world, and she left. There are those of us who have made a careful study of the time women need to take care of business such as this, but I am not one of them. Still, twenty minutes later, she had not returned.

“What’s keeping Margaret?” I said.

Wadcroft just shrugged, concentrating too deeply on his work to even have heard me. He made some notes on his notepad and dropped the document he was working on back into the trunk. I stood up, and walked out of the door. It took me all of five minutes to find the nearest ladies’, and I hesitated. There are places Man is not supposed to go. Luckily, Miss Jocelyn of the Rifle Club came by, and I asked her to see if Margaret was inside. She reported that nobody was inside, and that nobody was lying in any of the toilets in a pool of blood. I sometimes wonder about Miss Jocelyn, and the wisdom in training her to use firearms. Acting on a hunch, I ran to Margaret’s vault, and found the door open. Voices came from inside, a soft male voice, and Margaret’s rather more forceful tones, using vocabulary that I’m sure she must have picked up in the West Indies somewhere. I pulled out my revolver, and stole inside. By the light of the desk light, I could see Margaret and a man I’d never seen before, dressed in dark clothes. I should have put bloody glass shards on top of the University wall as soon as I mentioned climbing over them to you, Winston.

“You know what documents I am talking about,” said our intruder. He had a foreign accent that I couldn’t place.

“I’ve told you, you stupid bugger, they’re not here! We’re reading them!”

“You’re lying. You would have returned them by now.”

“What are you, a bloody librarian?

At that point, a knife gleamed in the gaslight. At which point I thought I’d introduce myself. I gave a little cough. I should have just shot him, Winston, because he jumped like a cat, and the next moment, he was standing behind Margaret, holding one of her arms behind her back, knife at her throat. From what I could see in the dark, she was looking furious rather than scared. There was very little I could do. I’ve never been much of a martial artist, as you know.

“Let go of me, you bastard!”

“No.” The man peered past Margaret at me. “Drop the gun or else.”

“You’re not going to escape,” I said.

“Drop the gun, or I start cutting.”

“Godfrey,” Margaret hissed.

“Yes?” I said.

“Thee, two, one, now!”

With her free hand, Margaret reached behind her and did something to bring tears to the eyes of lesser men, or at least distract them for a splintered moment. In that moment, I aimed, and shot him in the eye. It was all that was exposed. He fell down like a towel put on its tip, nicking Margaret with his knife on the way down, though thankfully not seriously. Margaret stood for a few moments, blood dripping down her shirt, until I pulled out my handkerchief and pushed it up against the cut. I gently led Margaret away from her assailant, and turned back to see that he was, as expected, dead as a doornail.

Margaret looked back at me, handkerchief pressed to herself. She glared at me.

“He came into the ladies, Pike. Into the bloody ladies! Is nothing sacred?”

I gave her a quick once-over. She still seemed angry more than anything else.

“The ladies? Oh, that’s just not on.”

“Bloody heathens.” She pulled away my handkerchief, inspected herself.

“Let’s get you to the infirmary,” I said. “See if they have any plasters.”

Damn it, Winston. One of these days, I will catch one of them alive. I’ve taken Margaret to see Dr. Bernhardt, and informed him that there’s another nice autopsy waiting for him. I look forward to his description of the cause of death. Like all that went before him, this miscreant carried nothing on him to identify himself. He looks European, maybe French, maybe Italian. We’ve put him in the morgue next to his partially dissolved colleague.

Margaret is in the infirmary, under a mild sedative. I will write more when I have spoken to her in the morning. Wadcroft has been to visit her, which seemed to do her some good. I grow tired of this, Winston. I hope young Wainwright manages to go on the offensive in Khartoum, because I am starting to feel like a goalkeeper here, and I can only pray that I won’t let any balls through before the game ends.

Yours,

Godfrey.


 

Dear Winston,

I’ve had word from young Wainwright, but it is not very encouraging. Wainwright, sad to say, has not yet learnt the humility fitting a defeated former adversary in war. I wish I had gone myself, but I’m not sure our energetic young friend would have been able to hold the fort here. He has spoken with Samir, Mr. Moghadam’s functionary and managed to annoy him, beyond even the power of avarice to calm him. Disappointing, Winston, but he’s still wet behind the ears. He’ll learn. Meanwhile though, our investigations overseas have ground to a halt. Unsatisfactory.

I have doubled the guards here. The porters are doing a splendid job, with never a complaint. Mustn’t grumble, there’s a war on you know? I have also spoken to Chancellor Munroe, and he has agreed to make the wall slightly more suited to keeping people out. This will sadly also keep the young lads from visiting their lady friends in town, but in times like this, sacrifices must be made.

Wadcroft and Margaret have finished going through the Hammond manuscripts. I have heard of the famed Pnakotic manuscripts coming out of Arkham, that can drive one mad simply by reading them. Wadcroft reports that he has now developed a taste for the unutterably vile mess hall coffee, and Margaret occasionally hums Tibetan chants, but I am confident they will recover. Wadcroft says that Hammond was convinced that the pitchblende he found could be used to produce energy on an unprecedented scale. He showed me some scribbled drawings of some sort of centrifuge designed to purify the ore at the atomic level. According to Hammond, this could then be used to boil a kettle. Not boil the water in the kettle, Winston. Melt and boil the actual kettle. It would never work, of course. Wadcroft is of the opinion that the best thing to do is let them get on with it, and let Darwinian evolution take its course. They are sure to blow themselves up trying.

Yours as ever,

Godfrey


 

Standard encryption applied.

Dear Dr. Pike,

I have finally made contact with a group of people who know of the Hammond expedition and the abduction of the Paris scientists. Or rather, they contacted me. I was in a local tea house when both of our agents simply got up and left, without even looking at me once. As I was wondering what had got into them, three Arabic men surrounded me at my table and told me in broken English that I was coming with them. When asked, they informed me that my life was in danger if I didn’t, and further explained that someone might slit my throat with a knife not unlike the one he was holding. I was convinced, and they took me into a labyrinth of small alleys. They didn’t bother to take my revolver, but they were within twenty-one inches of me, never mind feet. We went into the basement of a tapestry shop. I do remember the name of the shop, but this contraption does not have Arabic characters and I can’t translate it. They will be long gone anyway.

I was shown a chair and offered tea, which was very civil of them. No milk of course. They were very well informed, and knew the name of Lady I and all who sailed in her, up to the little baby. They then told me of an abandoned coal mine belonging to the Belian-Ibelin company, coordinates attached, that we might be interested in. They offered to take me there, which was awfully nice. They will be collecting me from the same tea house as before, at noon tomorrow.

I have returned to the safe house for now, but our associates aren’t here, offended perhaps that I should go with my new friends without as much as a “thank you” for all their care. Well, stuff them. I am going on a safari, it seems.

If I don’t make it back, please tell my mother I love her, and inform Miss Tennant that I will come back to haunt her for what she did to me.

Yours,

Wainwright.


 

Dear Winston,

Algernon University is now a fortress. I hate it, Winston. As well you know, I feel strongly that we guardians must allow those in our care to live their lives in peace, never knowing about the wolf at the door. The sharpened surveillance has come up with a dozen stupid little affairs. Boys smoking in the boiler room. Girls meeting their friends for little forays into the more interesting parts of Biology. A lot of illicit substances, ranging from erotic writings and imagery, via cigarettes, up to the vilest of alcoholic beverages. I emphatically don’t care. All I want is to keep Algernon U and its staff and students safe from harm. I have begged Barker to ignore those things, but some he honestly can’t. People are afraid, Winston. Afraid and angry. The worst is that there is nothing I can do about it. I will finish this tomorrow.

Another evening spoilt, Winston, and a fine example of what I was talking about just now. Head Porter Barker knocked on my door and informed me that he caught someone walking round armed with a rifle. He had managed to seize her, and she was on the top floor, awaiting interrogation. Interrogation, Winston! For goodness’ sake. I followed him up the stairs, into one of the classrooms we use for detentions. In a chair, looking like a bird fallen out of the nest, sat Miss Jocelyn Vale. Another porter, Jenkins I believe, was keeping an eye on her. Thank God he wasn’t standing behind her with a rifle, but as far as Miss Vale was concerned, he might as well have been. She looked at me with large brown eyes as I entered. Jenkins gave me and Barker a quick nod, and made himself scarce.

“Well Barker,” I said. “What have we here?”

“Young lady, Sir. Walking about the corridors after dinner time bearing a deadly weapon.”

“Sir! Please let me…” Jocelyn started.

“Yes thank you Miss Vale,” I said. “Anything else, Barker?”

“It may interest you to know, Sir, that this young lady has in fact shot someone on University premises.”

“That was…” I silenced Jocelyn with only a look. My skills at bullying young girls haven’t left me.

“Got a bit of a reputation, this one.” Barker looked at Miss Jocelyn. “Some people might say she’s a bit funny in the head, though I myself would never voice such an opinion Sir, it being against the Rules to use derogatory terms against our students.”

I looked at her. She was shaking with anger, only made worse by fear.

“Barker?”

“Sir?”

“Would you excuse us a moment?”

Sir?

I heaved a deep sigh. “Pass on to your men my gratitude for all your efforts, Barker. I will handle this myself. If Miss Vale murders me horribly in your absence, be it known that you will be Head of Security in my place.” Bugger off. I swear I only thought that, Winston.

Barker left. I pulled up a chair and sat down next to Miss Jocelyn.

“Would you like to tell me?”

“I’m not a murderer, Sir! I only shot the woman who was trying to stab Miss Alexandra. And she lived. Um.”

“So that was you then.” I’d heard of the affair, and quite understood the ‘Um’. That woman was killed, alledgedly killed, by Mr. James Riley under interrogation.

“What were you doing with that rifle, Jocelyn?”

“Nothing Sir! I was just on my way to the range.”

“The range is closed for the night. Well, the gun lockers are.”

“I’m a marshall, Sir. I can get the key. We’re allowed to use the range as long as a marshall is present.” She swallowed, looked at her hands. “Just wanted to get some extra practice in. For the tournament. The Brownings are always taken.”

“You didn’t burn through your ammunition allowance, then?” Jocelyn has a bit of a reputation for rapid-firing.

“No Sir. I didn’t even have any live rounds on me. Dry-firing plugs only. Look.” Her hand went to the rifle on the table. She took a short breath and pulled back her hand, looking at me.

“Go on,” I said.

She picked up the Browning, routinely keeping it aimed at the ground as she ejected the magazine, even just to show me that there were no actual bullets. I couldn’t care less about their scores, Winston, but Algernon Rifle Club’s fire arm discipline is beyond reproach. There has not been a single negligent discharge since the club was formed. Miss Tennant can be proud.

“You’re trying for a place in Folkestone?”

Jocelyn put down the rifle. “Yes Sir. Everybody knows Carrie’s going to be the first. It looks like Nigel will be second.” There was a certain set to her jaw that betrayed determination. “I want to be the third.” She seemed to deflate a little. “I guess that’s not going to happen now, is it?”

“Jocelyn…”

I pulled my silver cigarette case from my pocket, a present from Beatrice. I swear I only carry it with me for her sake. I held it out to Jocelyn. She wrinkled her nose and shook her head.

“Never touch the things.”

I smiled at her, put them away. “Very sensible. ‘Not a cough in a cartload.’ What a load of rubbish.”

That got the beginnings of a little laugh out of her.

“You did nothing wrong, Jocelyn. Your place in the qualifiers is safe. It’s just that with the recent troubles, we’re all a bit jumpy. And we’re paying more attention to things. Which is why suddenly you can’t get a decent drink anywhere on the grounds.”

“Don’t I know it,” said Jocelyn, then snapped her eyes to me realising what she’d said.

“Sometimes, dolphins get caught in nets meant for tuna,” I said. “And so does alcohol. And so do you.”

“Dolphins are nice,” said Jocelyn.

I got up from my chair. “Go to your dorm, Jocelyn. When next you want to practice, come see me and I’ll get you a note saying it’s all right.”

“Um…” Jocelyn pointed at the rifle. I picked it up.

“I’ll bring it back to the closet. I once smuggled an entire batallion of tanks into Angola. I can get a single rifle past the porters.”

Jocelyn got up and gave me a long look. “You’re not a real professor, are you?”

“I can put people to sleep with the best of them,” I said. “Best not to talk about other things.” I held open the door for her. “Good night, Jocelyn.”

I watched her go. I like her, Winston. In a world that turns out people like cogs on a conveyor belt, she is refreshingly unconventional. And now I think I’ll go and have a little chat with Mr. Barker and inform him that despite recent events, Algernon University is not yet under martial law.

Yours,

Godfrey.

Previous: Alexandra Tennant – The talons of the eagle – Next: Andre Dupont: The suffering of others

Advertisements