By Marcus L. Rowland
"More wine?" asked Willie, topping up Modesty's glass then refilling his own.
"I'd better not," said Sir Gerald Tarrant, "I have a lot of reports to read tonight."
"Are any of them about Rupert Giles?" asked Modesty.
"I was wondering when you'd get to that," said Tarrant. "How did you come to meet him?"
"I told you; he was at Barbi's salon."
"Yes, I thought that was what you said."
"Come on," said Willie. "What's his game?"
"I think that this is where I ask you to change the subject," said Tarrant, sprinkling a little pepper onto his omlette.
"It's that secret?" asked Willie, raising his eyebrows.
"In a manner of speaking. It isn't intelligence work."
"In that case," said Modesty, "why not tell us? And why come here in the first place?"
"Because I knew that you'd react this way. Let me give you a hypothetical example," said Tarrant. "Suppose, say, that the Queen were to die. What happens?"
"Prince Charles becomes the King," said Modesty, "unless he's already dead."
"Doesn't the government have to agree to that?" asked Willie. "Decide if he's competent."
"Yes," said Tarrant. "The Privy Council appoints the monarch. Usually it's a formality, but there are certain circumstances in which the next person in the line of succession might be unsuitable. Illness or insanity, for example."
"What's that got to do with Giles?" asked Modesty.
"If such a meeting took place, Doctor Giles or his successor would be one of the people reporting on the suitability of the heir."
"So Giles is... what? An investigator for the Privy Council?"
"No. The point is that while his work in that respect would be extremely confidential, it would have nothing to do with intelligence."
"I could look him up, you know," said Willie. "It isn't that common a name."
"You could," said Tarrant, "but I'm asking you not to."
"All right," Willie said amicably.
"You'd better warn him that someone's taking an interest in his movements," said Modesty. "We took care of Brunel for you, but Tommy Waddell was a nasty piece of work in his own right."
"Already done. His people are looking into it."
"He has people?" said Willie, raising his eyebrows.
For a moment Tarrant looked annoyed with himself, then he chuckled and said "I'd really prefer not to discuss the matter any further."
"Okay," said Willie. "'Ow's the fishing been going this year?"
"What did you make of that?" Modesty asked after Tarrant had left.
Willie thought for a second, then said "Whoever Giles is, he doesn't work for Tarrant, but Tarrant respects him. He's some sort of doctor, probably not medical, and that business about the Privy Council is a red herring."
"Yes, I thought that. If that was really all that Giles does, I doubt that Tarrant would care that we knew. It might be something that he might do if the Queen died, I can't see Tarrant lying about it completely, but it certainly isn't the main part of his job."
"So what do you want to do about it?" asked Willie.
"I think I'll change my next booking with Barbi to Thursday morning," said Modesty.
"Because that's when Giles has a practice session. I overheard him talking to Barbi."
"Nice one, Princess. Want me to tag along?"
"Better not," said Modesty, pouring coffee, "he might get nervous."
"If you're sure..." he said, disappointment in his tone.
"I think so. Besides, you're the one who promised not to do anything more."
"And you didn't, did you?" said Willie. "Clever."
"I think you threw Tarrant off balance a little or I'm sure he would have asked. But since he didn't..."
"No, no, no!" Barbi shouted as Modesty entered the salle. "You are developing the faults of Monsieur Giles!" He was yelling at a tall brunette girl wearing fencing clothes and mask, who seemed to be waiting patiently for the tirade to end, though it was hard to tell through the mask. Giles, also wearing fencing clothes though holding his mask in his hand, was watching from the side, and seemed to be trying hard not to laugh.
"And another brawler arrives," added Barbi, catching sight of Modesty.
"Don't mind me," said Modesty, "I'm a little early."
"Actually," Giles said mildly, "I think we're running a little late."
"Early, late, what does it matter!" shouted Barbi, "You are both beyond my help. At least Mademoiselle Summers is young enough to learn to fight properly."
"Then perhaps you could give Dawn some instruction, and Miss Blaise and I can amuse ourselves for a while. If that's acceptable to you, of course, Miss Blaise?"
"Why not? It'll give you a chance to get your revenge."
"Very well," said Barbi. "I would suggest that you both concentrate on precision thrusts and the development of your wrist muscles, but I know that it would be useless. Brawl away, and I will attempt to impart the rudiments of technique to Miss Summers."
Modesty and Giles moved to another piste, and Giles quietly said "I believe that I owe you my thanks."
"What for?" asked Modesty.
"You were told I spotted him?"
"I guessed, and you've just been good enough to confirm it." Modesty felt slightly annoyed with herself for falling for such an old trick. Now Giles knew she was connected to Tarrant, if he hadn't known already. "As it happens we knew he was there but hadn't identified him. Now we've been able to take steps to resolve the problem." On the centre piste Barbi and Dawn began to fight.
"She's very good," Modesty said after a few moments.
"She's a natural," said Giles. "Better than I was at her age."
"A little, but I mostly work with her sister."
"How does she compare?" said Modesty, moving to the en garde position.
"It's difficult to compare them," said Giles, engaging Modesty's blade. For the next few minutes neither had time to talk. Eventually Modesty said "Your point."
"And I think my match." On the centre piste Barbi was showing Dawn a complex feint.
"You never really answered my question," said Modesty. "How does her sister compare?"
"Oh, she's a brawler too. I wouldn't ask her to fight Barbi, it'd be a massacre."
"Oh yes. She'd slaughter him."
"Best of three?" Giles asked blandly.
"Giles likes you," Dawn said as she was showering. With the fencing mask off she was a beautiful young woman in her late teens or early twenties. From the neighbouring shower cubicle Modesty said "Really?"
"Definitely. There's not many people he'll talk to that easily since Jenny..." she tailed off into an embarassed silence.
"Jenny?" repeated Modesty.
"Jenny. His girlfriend. She died eight or nine years ago."
"I didn't really know her, I was only eleven or so. She was about your age when she was killed."
"Nine years is a long time to mourn," said Modesty, wondering how Jenny had died.
"Oh, he's had girfriends since then. Mom, though that was pretty much a one-night stand and I'm not supposed to know about it, a couple of others. Nothing right now."
"Well... maybe a little..." There was another embarassed pause.
"You must be very good friends."
"We've known him pretty much since my parents divorced, he was working at my sister's new school when we moved house, and he's been around for us ever since. He helped a lot when mom died, and when my sister was.. ill." Modesty wondered why Dawn had paused momentarily before saying 'ill.' Maybe she meant mental illness.
"I think I'm done," said Dawn. She walked past Modesty's cubicle, with a towel around her waist and another over her shoulders and covering her breasts. Under it Modesty glimpsed her midriff and three long white scars, vivid against her tanned skin. She wryly remembered her own scars, and wondered what Dawn would make of them as she finished showering and went to join her in the locker room.
"...can't recommend being a human sacrifice," Dawn said as she and Modesty came out of the changing room, "but that's wacky California cults for you. I was rescued and the world didn't end, that was the main thing."
"Oh dear," said Giles, "I do hope Dawn hasn't been telling you too many tall tales."
"Would I do that?" asked Dawn. "On second thought don't answer that..."
"Would you care to join us for lunch?" Giles asked Modesty. "There's a rather nice little Italian restaurant around the corner."
"I know it," said Modesty, "and I am a little hungry. I'd be delighted, if you don't mind my company. Dawn?"
"Actually," Dawn said quickly, "I just realised, I'm supposed to be meeting Faith for coffee."
"Faith?" said Giles, with an air of surprise. "Has she suddenly teleported from Boston?"
"Sorry, did I say Faith? I meant.. um.. Kennedy!"
"Of course you did," Giles said in a slightly amused tone.
"Gotta dash!" Dawn ran for the door, fencing kit in hand, and went off before he could ask any more awkward questions.
"Matchmaking again," said Giles, shaking his head.
"Does she do it often?" asked Modesty.
"Only when I spend five minutes or more in the company of an attractive woman."
Modesty raised her eyebrows.
"Well, she does seem to have good taste. I just wish her excuses would get better, Kennedy was in Cornwall the last time I looked."
"Well," said Modesty, "nobody's perfect. Let's eat."
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