The Grey Edge: Chapter Seven

‘Women are like bulldozers, no one wants one, but as soon as one goes on sale, there’s always two or three interested buyers.’
Magnolia looked up from her thick file, across to Taylor, then to Clarke, sitting at the head of the conference table, his legs up on the polished surface.
‘What,’ she asked, ‘did you just say?’
The liaison agent grinned. ‘You heard me.’
‘No, I’m not sure I did.’
‘Women are like bulldozers-’ he started again. Taylor growled, and Clarke frowned. ‘You think there’s a chance we can get Grigori back? You’re almost, like, a person when he’s around.’
‘You told us to be here,’ Taylor said. ‘We’re here. They’re late.’
‘Well, you know what they say about fish-’ Clarke started.
‘No,’ a strong voice said, ‘how about you inform me?’
Clarke was out of his chair, and bowing low before she had time to blink. She spun on her chair, and saw a tall, older woman, dressed in a beige dressed, adorned with jewels. Behind the woman was the agency secretary, and four guards.
‘Thank you Natalie,’ Clarke said.
‘I’m-’ the tall salmon woman began.
‘Matriarch Rose Brooke Besper-Smith,’ Clarke said. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, madam, are you going to enter the ballroom dances again this year and wow the judges yet again?’
The woman’s face softened a little. ‘Flattery, young man, will get you into my bed, but nowhere in this room. May I suggest we stick to business?’
‘Of course,’ Clarke said, ‘please sit.’
The Matriarch turn, looked at her for a moment, then turned back to Clarke. ‘Not with that bird here. You are lucky I don’t take her presence here as insult tantamount to-’
‘Without Recruit Hammond, we wouldn’t have this warning to give you.’
‘I’ll listen to you, not to her.’
‘I don’t-’
‘Her mother,’ the Matriarch said, ‘ate my sister.’
She swallowed, then stood. ‘If I could,’ she said, careful not to take a step toward the woman, ‘I could kill, pluck, and roast the magpie warden. I despise her to a degree you cannot image.’
The Matriarch stared at her. ‘If you despise her so, why do you proudly display here colours?’
‘Just view me as a recruit,’ she said, standing her ground, ‘not as her kin. Or, you can let another of your family die.’
‘The others are-’
‘They’re dead,’ she said flatly. ‘Or will be soon enough. My mother does not keep prisoners for very long, not unless they serve some purpose, and none of the salmon taken were of any importance, in terms of your fiefdom, correct?’
The woman hesitated for a moment. ‘No,’ she said finally, ‘they were civilians.’
‘So they know nothing, so she has no reason to keep them alive.’
The Matriarch took a step toward her. ‘And if I took you, little birdy, what then? Would she stop taking my people? Would she return any that live?’
From the corner of her eye, she saw Taylor stand, and begin to round the table.
‘If you think,’ she said, ‘that I have any value to my mother, you are more delusional than she is. I have absolutely worthless to her, for a multitude of reasons, not least of all my career, and that is how I am speaking to you, as a recruit.’
‘Take the warning or leave it,’ Taylor said, standing beside her. ‘Matters between courts is none of our business.’
‘And if this is trap?’ the woman asked.
‘What benefit would warning your people have?’ she countered.
The Matriarch turned to her guards. ‘Wait outside.’ The one closest to her gave her a questioning look, but they all shuffled outside without a word. She looked to Clarke. ‘Close the door, young man.’
Clarke did as he was asked.
The woman sat at the other end of the table, looked at them briefly, then turned her attention to Clarke. ‘I think it might be me, Agent.’
‘Pardon, madam?’
‘Last week, there was a function, boring dinner party, politics, you know the kind, several courts and fiefdoms in attendance discussing the usual kind of thing. I was bored out of mind, until a young man came along and gave me a much better night.’
‘Care to elaborate?’ Clarke asked.
‘I will quite possibly demonstrate with you later,’ she said. ‘I am an old woman, older than I look, and I enjoy being romanced by young men, it makes me feel young, it makes me feel like something other than a politician. We did as you would suspect. He was young, unrefined, I’m not even rightly sure what he was doing there in the first place?’
‘Does this story have a point?’ Taylor asked as he sat, and pulled her back down into her seat.
‘He was a mongrel,’ the Matriarch said. ‘Predominantly crow, or at least his dominant traits were crow, he was also magpie. I wouldn’t have suspected half, but it’s very few kind less than half-blood that can take their family’s form, like he did when he left our room, and flew off into the night.’
‘Did he say anything that…with hindsight, connects him with these disappearances?’
‘Do you think that since the moment the first of my kin disappeared that I haven’t examined every word of that night, every action, a hundred times?’ The woman shook her head. ‘No, Agent, nothing that he said, or did, leads me to suspect him. We didn’t even speak of politics, the fiefdoms, or the war, nothing. He was just…a sweet young man.’
‘What was his name?’ Taylor asked. ‘We should still question him.’
‘Benjamin,’ she said. ‘No last name, it wasn’t the kind of night for last names.’
She felt Taylor’s eyes, and turned to answer his unasked question. ‘I don’t know him, sir.’
‘Don’t you know anything useful?’ Taylor asked, looking at the Matriarch.
The woman bristled. ‘You’re the Agency, aren’t you supposed to know everything?’
‘We know what we need to know. You expect us to protect you, you need to tell us what we need to know.’
‘He was a student of some kind,’ the Matriarch said. ‘Let me go for a swim, and I might remember more.’
‘A swim, madam?’ Clarke asked.
‘I’ve been dry for too long,’ she said, brushing at her beige dress, ‘this may be the form I have to use, but I still need the water. You have a pool, I assume?’
‘We can easily accommodate you,’ Clarke said, standing and offering an arm. ‘If you’ll follow me.’
She watched Clarke and the Matriarch leave, then turn to Taylor. ‘I’ll get the scholars to check, we may have some record of him, though a single name and the occupation of student may lead to-’
‘Just get Merlin,’ Taylor said as he stood. ‘I know you know he’s a reader. Get a name, or get a sketch, whatever he does, make him earn his keep. We have a better chance to get a reliable result from him than from an aquatic politician.’
‘Yes sir.’