Once again we are beholden to the current executors of the Knolly estate for letting us publish this, the second package of the great man's journals and memoirs.
We don't belong to Glasgae
Chapter 10 Part 7
Given the circumstances surrounding our host and our combined knowledge of his kind, Bertie and I tried to relax as much as we possibly could. The tea though was an excellent brew. Then again, you could suppose he had had many years during which to to perfect the perfect cup.
The trick when sitting this close to a Vampyre is to always ensure that one keep one's eyes moving and looking in opposite directions. It was hard to do and one would end up with a horrendous headache at the end of an interview with a Vampyre. Alas, to-date it was the only tried and tested method that the League and Hobbes had as an answer to an undead's "glamouring". Elspeth's "hard stares" had a similar effect on people, and thinking about it, it is quite probable that by learning to avoid my dear wife's admonishing and withering glares, Bertie and I had become so well practised in the noble art of avoiding eye contact with Vampyre types.
To be honest, a Vampyre cannot help but project "glamour". After all, does not everyone like to be neat and tidy a with wonderful dress sense ?
"You'll have heard of the Scottish Widows, nae doubt?" began our host.
Bertie nodded emphatically (which must have hurt given he had one eye looking to the left and the other at the ceiling). I shook my head, wondering how on earth a Mutual Society formed during the Napoleonic Wars could have any relationship with the two dark figures that were stalking us, and so he continued.
In March 1812, a group of eminent Scots gathered in Edinburgh to discuss establishing a fund to secure provisions to widows, sisters and other females. In 1815, The Scottish Widows Fund Life Assurance Society was opened for business, and things went very well indeed. Our host smiled knowingly at this point; he briefly became silent and closed his eyes as if remembering something from his past. We stopped our meandering glances and looked at him. After a few moments, he blinked and shook his head, quickly returning to us - and in turn we quickly returned to our bagatelle-gazing whilst listening.
"Where was I? Ah, yes! Did you know that Sir Walter Scott was issued a policy in 1824? No? Thought not."
He supped his tea and went on but could sense there was more than just a passing interest in these Dark Ladies. He continued.
Something went wrong, and by the 1830's the company began to have a wee problem with ensuring that monies got paid to them on a regular basis and so they begin to employ some of the women to ensure that debts were paid on time.
"So they are like bailiffs?" butted in Bertie.
"More of a secret police, I would say," said our host.
"They are tolerated by the law?" I added.
Our host nodded.
"Who is going to argue when most people in Scotland owe money to the parent company? Local Police are quiet happy with the arrangement as they get to deal with all the big stuff - your murders and such - whilst the Dark Lassies handle all the street crime and oddities that the coppers don't want to touch."
He smiled and supped some more tea.
"Oddities, eh? Special cases ... Like you, you mean?" I asked, probing for a way into his past.
He stiffened slightly. We could tell that we were on to something.
"Hmm. Indeed. I have been on their watch list for some time now," he replied.
"You've not always lived hereabouts, have you?" I asked.
"I see where you are going Mr.....Knolly. I was there in Edinburgh when the company was formed. In fact, you could say I'm the last surviving original shareholder."
"So the Widows keep an eye on you because of that? Or what you became?"
"Och, neither! They know that I have evidence that can expose them, but the legalities around shareholders have until now prevented them from stepping in and dealing with me. However, I think that your arrival will have given them the excuse they have been looking for."
"I'm sorry don't quite follow?" said Bertie, staring at the ceiling and lost once more.
"Bertie, those women have not been watching us specifically. They have been keeping watch on the shop and waiting for someone - or someones - unusual to come knocking. And we seem to fit their bill."
"Unusual? said Bertie, sounding rather hurt "Us? What, with all those other foreign johnnies waltzing up and down in readiness for the exhibition?"
"I doubt if many Turks or Zouaves have taken an interest in this emporium," said our host.
Bertie nodded. The penny had dropped.
"I take it that your Uncle is deceased? And you just use this premises as a base of operations?" I asked.
"Lord, no! I do help him out and he is very grateful for my creative flair on making the dead look at peace. But as you have surmised, your arrival may mean that it is time to move on."
I caught Berties eye. Well, eyelids to be precise.
A WORD IN MRS CHURCHILL'S EAR PERHAPS? he blinked, although I admit that this took me a while to decipher.
"In that case, my colleague and I may be in a position to offer you employment," I said. "A friend of ours is always on the lookout for complementary skill sets ... "
"And yours are definitely different!" chimed in Bertie.
Our host laughed as he responded.
"I take it you'll not be referring to my artistic flair, but rather more to the fact that I'm undead?"
"My friend prefers to think of you and others of a similar nature as 'respiratorily challenged'", I replied.
"Well," said Bertie. "If you're out of luck or out of work, we could send you to Johannesburg .... though on thinking about it, that may be too sunny a climate for you."
Our friendly meeting was interrupted by a banging on the shop door.
"I think the ladies have made up their minds and have decided to have a polite word with you," I said. "Do you have a back door?"
The young man smiled. "Of course. My emergency route ..." and pointed a finger.
"Up? Not down?" said Bertie after he had sorted out where he should be looking. "That's a surprise. Children of the Night and all that ...."
Our host sighed. "But I'm not the one wearing an opera cloak , am I?"
I stifled a laugh. The banging stopped and the little bell rang out its last tinkle.
"Gentlemen, I believe now would be a good time to make ourselves scarce or else we may find ourselves subject to Lord knows what!"
Our friendly Vampyre took us back out towards the front of the shop, but quickly opened an upright coffin behind which was a ladder. Climbing it reminded me of my cadet years, though - strangely - this escape seemed rather more safe than climbing up to a ceremonial crow's nest. The technique despite the years that had passed, was not lost. Bertie lacked the skills but was still just as nimble.
After a few more ladders, we found ourselves on the roof of the shop, and thankfully it was not as high as some buildings. Taking care not to slide off the roof, I edged myself across the tiles towards the front of the building. The break-in by the Widows had caused a small commotion which in turn had brought the local constabulary along. In the scheme of things, this was an excellent development as it meant further delay for the Dark Ladies.
"I think we can make good our escape," I said as I joined Bertie and our host, who was sitting hunched by the chimney stack like a modern day gargoyle.
"Will you come with us?"
He pulled himself up from his crouching position to lean nonchalantly against the brickwork.
"It is a tempting offer that I need to think over. Plus, I need to make things tidy below once they have moved on. Who knows what sort of mess they will have made, and Uncle would not be happy."
I nodded. "Well, I'm sure you'll be able to find us when you want to."
"Indeed." He sniffed the air. "Your blood type is quiet unique Mr Knolly as is your pet ...Cat?"
"I say! How do you know about Charlie? And what about how my blood smells?" complained Bertie.
"Bertie! We have things to do and it seems we will have to avoid the streets for the time being. Tell me," I said to our host, "which roof is the nearest telegraph office?"
"You see that building with the weather vane, two streets away?" he said.
"Right then ! We shall bid you good day and adieu, for I am in no doubt our paths will cross."
He smiled, gave a curt nod to Bertie and myself, and then jumped back down the hatch from which we had only recently emerged.
"You know they give me the willies, don't you?" said Bertie.
"I understand. Each one we seem encounter is different from the last, but at least you can rest your eyes now. I think that his story needs some investigation."
"Hmmmm .... I know what you mean," said Bertie quietly before livening up with a loud "SO! Over the rooftops, is it ?"
"'fraid so. This is beginning to be a bit of a habit, isn't it?"
"At least these roofs are fixed. Do you think he'll want to join the League?"
"Time will tell, but he would be useful and I'm sure Hobbes would have lots of questions for him."
"Well that's a fact. He's never met a live one .... I mean an animated one, has he?"