Amy Jones sipped at a glass of mediocre Beaujolais and scanned the party with bored detachment. Corporate launches were always the same – fully two thirds of the guests were solely there for free drinks and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the album/car/website search engine that was being frantically touted by the event’s sponsors. Amelia, too, didn’t care at all about the purpose of this gathering on the top floor of SyxSoft – ostensibly to celebrate a product launch, but also (rumor had it) for the CEO to show off his trophy wife – but she did care about the access it gave her to the building. Three floors down sat a packet of data that was worth a great deal indeed.
“I’d say you didn’t belong here, but we’ve had that conversation before haven’t we, Amelia?”
Amy turned, shocked to hear someone echoing a conversation had more than a lifetime ago. When she saw the speaker, she almost dropped her glass. It took all of her effort to maintain even a semblance of calm.
“Bishop?” Sure enough, it was his almost-forgotten face smiling at her.
“Surprised? I’d say that makes two of us.”
Amy gulped at her wine and nodded. “Indeed…”
By midnight, Baron Thurlow’s party was in full swing. Nearly three hundred guests – the cream of London and nearby counties – had descended on Thurlow’s Grosvenor Square home, intent on showing off the latest fashions and exchanging the newest gossip.
Amelia was impressed. The baron had recovered from his disgrace of backing what had turned out to be the wrong horse in last year’s Regency crisis. With apparent ease, he had managed to restore friendships with both the Tory and Whig elite – most of whom were on the guest list. Amelia had noticed that the Prince of Wales was already roaring drunk in the ballroom and settling in for a long night.
The august company wasn’t Amelia’s concern, nor she theirs. She hadn’t been invited, but admission was simply a matter of showing up in the right clothes, with the right accent and discreetly passing the right amount of money to the household valet. Most doors were open to inventive people with enough money – except the door Amelia had her eye on this evening. Getting into the house was a step in the right direction.
But it was still too early. It would be at least an hour until Thurlow could be counted on to be too intoxicated to want to lure his evening’s interest into his study, which was Amelia’s intended destination – without the baron’s company. In the meantime, Amelia sought a distraction.
She saw him by the fireplace in the library. Young enough to capture the attention of aging flirts like Lady Lincoln – with whom he was speaking - but old enough to be invisible to the usual crowd of fortune/husband hunting debutantes, he struck Amy as an adequate distraction. In fact, with his ever-so-slightly worn coat, not-quite-fashionable hair – neither wig nor ribbon – and carefully crafted smile as his listened to Lady Lincoln’s no-doubt rivetless conversation, Amelia wondered if she had found a kindred spirit. Lincoln clearly thought so as she flirted obviously with him.
Given that Lord Lincoln was well known to be a sot with an indiscriminate appetite for women, Amelia couldn’t blame his wife for finding amusement wherever she could. For a moment, Amelia’s pity for the other woman almost overcame her own desire for distraction – almost, but not quite. How to get her away? Amelia wondered. Ah, yes…
Amelia hurried towards the tipsy noblewoman, playing the part of one with fresh news. Sparing her companion the briefest of glances as she interrupted their conversation, Amy spoke quickly. “Lady Lincoln, I’m so dreadfully sorry to interrupt, but Mrs. Cartwright wanted you to know that Lady Devonshire has just arrived and has been asking after you.”
Predictably, Lincoln’s eyes widened in pleased surprise, tinged with not a little greed. Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire was the most desirable acquaintance outside of the royal family and some people would have argued that qualification. Had Lady Lincoln not been such an ambitious social climber – as Amelia had heard she was – it might have occurred to her that the presence of Georgiana and the Prince of Wales under the same roof was unlikely in the extreme. But hope clouded reason, as Amelia had guessed it would and Lady Lincoln departed with unseemly haste and barely a word of apology to either of her companions.
“I should probably thank you for that,” the abandoned gentleman said in a voice so low that Amelia strained to hear him over the crowd. Amelia noticed a slight lilt in his voice and wondered Irish? That’s a surprise…
“Perhaps not,” she countered. “Lady Lincoln’s fortune is substantial and her generosity is well-known.” Let’s see what he thinks of that.
He laughed. “A gigolo, am I? Looking for the latest in a string of fat, unhappy women to pay for my supper?”
“Well, you’re certainly not a guest of Thurlow’s.” Amelia replied quickly.
“And what makes you say that?” His apparent amusement faded just slightly.
“You’re Irish.” Amelia shrugged. “Thurlow’s family has a multi-generational hatred of the entire nation and everything associated with it. I believe a previous Baroness ran off with an Irish soldier.”
“Is that so?” the stranger still smiled, but his eyes had taken on a harder glint.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Amelia admitted, honestly. “Inviting oneself to parties is a popular sport in London. I doubt half of those around us really belong here.”
“Speaking of which, neither do you.”
“Oh?” Now it was Amelia’s turn to go on the defensive.
“Your clothes are too new. I can smell the dye in the fabric,” that surprised her. “All the women around here have been planning their outfits for weeks but you-”
“Made a decision to attend at the last minute.” Amelia took a glass of champagne from a passing footman. “My brother is Baronet Kemp. I chose to attend in his stead.” He was probably invited, she thought.
“Well, if that’s the only story I’m going to get,” the stranger said with a hint of her earlier amusement. “I’m Bishop.”
“Amelia Kemp.” She offered her hand, which he accepted with perfunctory politeness – another giveaway as far as she was concerned. She wondered at his evocative moniker, but decided not to ask.
Instead “If you’re not looking for dowagers to keep you out of debtors’ prison, why are you here?”
“Ah, that’s my story to keep to myself,” he chided. “I’m just a wandering fellah looking for adventure.”
“Fair enough,” Amelia’s curiosity almost overwhelmed her, but she sensed that there was only so much prying that Bishop would tolerate. “I thought the traditional thing was for young men to run off to sea?”
“Young?” Bishop shook his head. “I’m old after my time.” Amelia wondered if he was drunk. “And sea travel never agreed with me. No, I’ll find my way by my own two feet.” Again, Amelia sensed a joke that she wasn’t privy to. He glanced at the carriage clock above the fireplace. “Speaking of which, it’s time for me to be moving on,” he announced.
Amelia doubted that, but she had no grounds on which to argue. “How infuriating you are,” she commented mildly. “You’re leaving me in quite a fog of mystery.”
“Mystery is good for the soul,” Bishop chuckled. “It keeps you on your toes. Good night, Miss Kemp.”
Amelia watched Bishop make his way out of the now over-warm library – why had she stayed so close to the fireplace? – towards the ballroom and, assumedly, out of the house. He probably was just what he seemed to be, an itinerant young man with a taste for involuted conversation and other people’s food. Well, that needn’t be a bad thing, Amelia thought as she began the slow process of moving towards Baron Thurlow’s study via roundabout means. Perhaps I’ll see Bishop again sometime, in less crowded circumstances.
Almost an hour later, Amelia had just finished re-affixing some carefully-removed seals to a pile of Thurlow’s correspondence when she felt a slight breeze through the French windows that she knew to be shut. Almost without thought, Amelia grabbed the knife at her elbow and brandished at her intruder.
“If you’re going to rob a man, you should lock all the doors behind you. And the windows” Bishop scolded her, his voice mocking. Amelia’s grasp on the knife didn’t waver.
He shook his head, wearily amused. “Lass, put that down. It won’t do either of us any good.” Bishop deliberately turned his back on Amelia to close the window through which he had entered the room.
“I had just taken a walk in the garden with,” here, he smiled, “one of the kitchen girls and I noticed the tiniest bit of light coming from the good baron’s study. And here I find you, Amy, going through the Baron’s papers.” The knife remained steady in Amelia’s hand, and Bishop sighed. “If I wanted to raise an alarm, I would have done so already. Now put that stupid thing away.”
Amelia glared at him for a second, then shrugged and did as Bishop suggested.
“You’re not interested in money otherwise you would have taken someone like Lady Lincoln into the garden,” she said curtly. “And you’re not interested in power – you would be wearing better clothes if that were the case. So I’m not going to worry about blackmail.”
“It’s better than being a coward, wouldn’t you say?”
Amelia gestured at the open lockbox that rested atop Thurlow’s desk. “Help yourself to whatever you like in there.” She suggested. “I’ve got what I wanted.”
“And what’s that?”
“Some letters I wrote to Thurlow’s son,” Amelia wondered if Bishop knew about Master Thurlow’s reputation as a rakehell. ”I wanted them back and Thurlow wouldn’t give them to me, so I’ve been forced to take steps.”
“You’re a better thief than a liar. Try again.”
Amelia made a dismissive gesture, irritated at Bishop’s perception of the situation. “If you don’t like that story, I’m not crafting you another.” Amy tapped the iron box. “This is your last chance before I lock it up again.”
Bishop approached the desk, looked into the open box and saw some bundled of bank notes, several stacks of ribbon-bound documents and a fine strand of pearls. With a barely perceptible shrug, he took the bundled banknotes. Just because he didn’t care that much about money didn’t mean he wouldn’t take it if he came across it. “I think you’d look better in the pearls.” He murmured.
Amelia chuckled and dropped the strand into a pouch-like bag that sat on one corner of the desk. Then she closed the box and locked it with an odd-looking key that Bishop suspected she customarily carried in that bag of hers. Three letters were left on the desk, which she tucked down her bodice, blushing only slightly as she did so.
“I’m just an Englishwoman looking for adventure,” she grinned, trying to cover up her embarrassment.
“That sounds more like the truth.” Interesting.
“I’m past twenty-one and insufficiently rich, pretty or stupid to be much of a marriage prospect particularly since my brother had the sense to marry a startlingly fertile wife who presented him with three healthy boys in four years. I suppose I could resign myself to being a dull spinster but, frankly, I would rather hang myself.”
“I can sympathize,” Actually, he didn’t, but it seemed to be an appropriate thing to say. Humans and their self-made prisons, Bishop would pity them if he could be bothered to take the time.
“Which is why you chose to investigate, rather than go running to Thurlow?” Bishop’s lazy grin was her only answer. “So be it,” she had already gotten used to his avoidant ways.
Once again, Amelia took her knife in hand, this time to hide it somewhere in the folds of her skirts. Bishop noticed that current fashions were more than adequate for such things. Amelia was quite modestly dressed by the standards of the time, but Bishop suspected that she could probably hide an armory under the yards fabric in her gown if she wanted to.
“Well, Irishman, if you’re wandering feet don’t take you out London before the next week-end, why don’t you use some of those ill-gotten gains to buy a decent suit of clothes and come to Barrymore’s party? He’s currently burning through his inheritance and I hear adventure has a tendency to crop up in his presence.”
“You’ll be there?”
“Absolutely. His mistress owes me money.”
“Then, I’ll think about it,” Bishop lied. He had no idea where he would be in a week’s time, but he doubted it would be at another foppish party. The food wasn’t worth the effort. Give me a tavern, any night of the week.
“Good enough,” Amelia smiled. Her hopes that she had met a fellow thrill-seeker seemed to have been borne out. “Why don’t you unlock the windows and we’ll go?”
Bishop complied and indicated that she should lead the way. “Ladies first,” his tone suggested that he believed Amelia to be anything but a lady.
Amelia heard that tone, too. “Rogue…” she half-smiled as she made her way out.
Amy Jones, nee Amelia Kemp, put her half-empty glass aside and leaned closer to her unexpected companion, an expression of polite interest hiding her inner thoughts. “So, Bishop, I know why I’m still here but you?” She looked at him closely. “Ah, I see.” She nodded to herself, a fact realized and noted. “Why don’t we take a walk? There’s a smoking area outside that is quite free of company – these Californians are so wretchedly healthy.”
Bishop followed her as she led the way up to the roof of the SyxSoft building. For the evening’s occasion, the tar-and-gravel roof had been decked out in a lush array of potted plants, trellises draped with ivy and thousands of tiny white lights, creating an effect that both Bishop and Amelia considered utterly unappealing. As she had predicted, the patio was entirely deserted.
Amy lit a cigarette, but barely paid attention to it once she dropped the match into a nearby plant-pot. “You’re one of the kindred. I should have realized.”
Bishop scrutinized her carefully. She didn’t seem much older than when they first met – five years, perhaps. Her breathing and incidental metabolism seemed quite natural. “And you’re a ghoul.” He concluded. “How long has it been? Two hundred years?”
“Two hundred and twelve. A hell of a slog but I can’t quit now.”
A worrying thought occurred to Bishop. “Who’s your boss?” Bishop had returned to San Jose with a specific mission in mind. If his target was tipped off ahead of time…
Amelia considered her answer, and then shrugged. “Technically, a Ventrue financier over in the city.” Bishop relaxed slightly. A connection was unlikely. “But bosses have come and gone since 1789. Fortunately, I’ve never been too attached to any of them.”
“Really?” Bishop regarded Amy quizzically. That wasn’t the typical ghoul line.
“Really.” She nodded. “I’ve seen other ghouls, those poor wretches sniveling and whining for their monthly ration and justifying every shitty thing that their Domitor doles out.” Amy’s disgust was apparent. “But not me. Treat me like shit and I’ll move on. It’s best if I don’t stay in one place too long, anyway.”
“Still breaking and entering?” he asked, surprised.
Amy nodded. “Amongst other things. Theft is still a huge rush. By now, I’m almost as good as I thought I was when we first met,” she added, smiling.
“Yes, well, I was young then.” Bishop noticed she had that brittle cynicism that seemed to infect most ghouls and their vampiric masters at some point in their lives.
Amy glanced at Bishop, curiosity apparent. “How long has it been for you?”
Bishop chuckled. “That would be telling.”
“Yes, it would. Come on, Bishop. Can’t I get a straight answer out of you for once? You owe me for blowing off Barrymore’s party.”
“Did you get the money his woman owed you?”
“No,” Amelia shrugged. “I spent most of the night avoiding a very vexed Lady Lincoln. The evening was a total waste of my time.”
“Poor girl.” Bishop’s sympathy was clearly feigned.
“Not after I hocked the pearls I wasn’t – at least, not for a few weeks. And you’re trying to change the subject.”
“I have changed it, love. Maybe I’ll tell you in another two hundred years.”
Amelia rolled her eyes. “Assuming I’m still around by then. One day I’m going to lose a boss ahead of schedule and then poof! Amy vanishes in a cloud of dust.”
Bishop nodded, not particularly caring. A thought occurred to him. “Speaking of dust. If your…schedule includes any of the Settites hereabouts, you might want to make some adjustments.”
Amelia considered Bishop’s words, then nodded. “I wouldn’t go near them if my life depended on it – literally. But I’ll take that warning into account. Thanks.”
“No problem. Consider it a payback for the baron’s money.”
“And Barrymore’s party?” Amelia persisted.
“Now that, you’ll have to wait for…”