Chapter 27: The deal
That evening I’m back at the door that looks like a den. Part of me is surprised they’re open already but the other part tells me Abel wouldn’t send me out here this early if he knew otherwise.
I knock on the nondescript door with sweaty palms.
“Yeah?” the latch slides open and I’m greeted with nothing but a pair of eyes on the other side.
“Uhm, I was here with Tungsten the other day? Big fellow, dog ears.”
“Yeah, we know him” the voice on the other side admits as the door opens with a sigh.
I dive into the glitz and glamour. As I look around for Abel among the many guests I can’t help but think back on this afternoon.
Now I just need to figure out what to say.”
“Wanna practice?” Miss Melody offers.
“What you want to say, is that weird? I thought it might help.”
“That’s not a bad idea actually, thank you.”
She nods patiently for me to start talking.
“Do I…do I have to pretend you’re him or…”
“Whatever you think works best.”
I get up from my seat.
She follows suit.
“Uhm, good evening mister Gloria,” I tell her while shaking her wrinkled hand.
“Good evening, have a seat.”
“You wished to see me?”
“Yes, uh…I need money?”
Melody coughs at this “Try to do some small talk first.”
“Oh right, uhm…the weather is…dark.”
She smiles, eyes filled with pity “What do you know about the man?”
“Barely anything, he’s a nephew a bazillion times removed, he’s gotten adopted or something by my parents to keep the line going-”
“Are you okay with that?”
“I’m honestly relieved to know they’re no longer looking for me.”
She nods as if to say ‘I understand, please continue.’
“He has kids, two of them.”
“Well then, ask after the kids.”
“Right, uh, how are the kids?”
“They’re a handful but I’m still trucking.”
“Oh, I don’t know, just keep going.”
“That’s…good? Anyway uhm, I asked you here to ask for a favour.”
“Should I explain the whole thing?”
“How much money do you need?”
“I…uh… I’m not sure, twenty lodis or something?”
“What is it for?”
“Oh uhm, well I told you we need to talk to the alchemists before, but my friend and I have trouble finding where they are so we want to lure them in with a doll heart. But the dolls holding onto Stegarius’ because they’re afraid it’ll get stolen. So I figured I make a replica, or at least something that looks like it and then use that to lay a trap.”
“What’s a doll’s heart made of?”
“Gears mostly, and channels and springs but the mechanical part is encased in a glass shape that I don’t know how to make myself. So I’ll need to hire an artisan to make that part for me.”
“For twenty lodis?”
“Is that too much?”
She cackles “Darling you better offer at least fifty if you don’t want to be chased out of the shop.”
“Uhu gotta pay for the expertise, the time and the materials. And the mechanical part you want to build yourself?”
“Yes, all I’ll need for that are some photographs of the heart from Jaxogeras for reference material”
“And the gears and springs, do you have those already?”
“So you need money for that too?”
“Hold for a moment, I’ll grab some paper and a pen, you don’t want to come back later to ask for more, so we better get our calculations right.”
“Inquiry, it’s good to see you,” Abel tells me as he puts a hand on my shoulder. I turn, heart shot straight into my throat “Abel hi, I mean good afternoon.”
Seriously how does he keep finding me before I find him?
He smiles patiently “I ordered a bottle of soda water, would you like a drink?”
“Uhm, sure, thanks.”
I get led to that same table as last time and sit down in the same seat.
“I’d offer wine but I didn’t know your preference” He explains while pouring a glass.
“That’s all right.” I feel like it would probably look suspicious if he’d ordered alcohol…
I take a sip and find it tastes normal.
I’m glad. Hanging around alchemists made me rather paranoid.
“I was quite surprised to find you called me this soon…”
“How are the kids?” I try.
“Oh, the kids are fine, miss Punct says Virtue has a real gift for mathematics. Justice is a bit more stubborn, he challenges the tutor a lot but I think that could also be a good thing, don’t you?”
He smiles and takes a sip of water “So, what did you need?”
“Uhm well…okay so-” I chuckle awkwardly “Speaking of tutors did my parents ever mention my tutor Stegarius?”
“I’m afraid not, was he a good tutor?”
“He was a doll,” I explain but his expression stays blank. Well, that’s not good, I expected my mother to at least have complained about him before. “He was a good doll, I mean tutor, he was a good both.”
“Uhm. Right, so he taught me everything I know about mechanics and etiquette and such. But then I turned sixteen and my parents sent me off to university without him. And well…as you well know that’s when I ran away from home. I left to learn alchemy instead. I wanted to make dolls but then things went went…wrong…”
I bite my lip as if I can tease the right words out of it.
“Wrong?” Abel asks curiously.
“I thought making dolls was a good thing and I was doing it for good reasons. But then when the experiments kept on failing my mentor, the one who taught me alchemy, got impatient… She tried to kill Stegarius. She failed and we left but then she kidnapped one of his friends and he died trying to save her.” I think that’s the best way to phrase that without incriminating Prishtoli.”
“He’s dead? I thought dolls were immortal.”
“A common misconception, even the dolls themselves have found it out recently. But the alchemists who are responsible for the kidnapping are still at large and we need to talk to them but I can’t find them. I know they want a doll’s heart, but I don’t want to risk losing the real one so I need a fake. I can build a heart that looks like his. But the pieces of jewelry I kept as security got stolen so I can’t sell those meaning I’m flat broke. So I need money…and metal parts and I know that’s a lot to ask of a guy I just met but I can pay you back. Once the alchemists are united I’ll build a school and then that school will generate enough revenue to pay you back with the appropriate interest of course and in a timely manner. So…uhm…did that make sense?”
“Sounds like you had quite the adventure while you were out on your own.”
“You…could describe it like that yes.”
“I won’t pretend I understand all of what you just said. But I do understand you came here for money?”
“Yes…to pay for the parts and hire a glassblower to create the exterior of the piece. I can probably do a lot of the interior stuff myself but I’ve never blown glass in my life and I don’t know anyone who can.”
“How much do you need.”
“One hundred lodis.”
The man folds his hands together and rests his hand on them as he looks at me “That’s not an insignificant amount of money.”
“I know but look-” I pick the list Melody made out of my pocket “Artisans are costly and with the prices of brass fluctuating so heavily it makes no sense to ask for anything less and risk having to come to this point again.”
“I see. Now…you said wanted to make dolls, is that correct?”
“Like, living dolls, like your old tutor, not some autos that merely look like dolls?”
“True dolls with souls and everything.”
The man sucks his teeth. Then takes another sip of water. “Now last time we met you told me you weren’t planning on having kids.”
“I did yes. And I still stand by that.”
Abel laughs at this. I wonder what’s so funny. But then his expression goes serious in a heartbeat as he says “Now I feel like I need to clear the air a bit. You talk about making dolls with souls. And this may be me being cautious but what’s to keep them from coming to Winton manor, claiming you as their father and taking away my children’s inheritance from them?”
“Huh? Oh uh, I don’t think they would do that”
“That’s all well and good but that doesn’t help me sleep at night. I’m trying to rebuild a place for my family. Create security for my children in this mad world. If I help you I might ’d be directly contradicting my own goals.”
“Can’t I just promise to keep the dolls from going to Winton Manor? They don’t even need to know.”
“Promises die with the ones who made them, dolls may not be immortal but your children could outlive you by centuries. Even if they stay away from my children, what about theirs?”
“You know as well as I, I can’t make guarantees like that.”
“Then I guess we’re done here.”
“Look, I’m going to be honest with you. Because I think you’re a good kid-”
“Regardless, I’m not the one with don’t have the money you need.”
“What!? But you’re the heir to the Winton fortune.”
“Yes, and you may recall your parents the old Wintons are still alive.” He sighs and takes a sip of water “If you want to get in on the Winton fortune you need to talk to them, not me.”
“Can’t you lie to them and get some-”
“I’m going to stop you right there. I don’t know what happened between you and your folks. That’s all very much not my business. However, the truth is very simple. I cannot help you with what you need. They can, and if you’re willing to go along with it I can arrange a meeting and if not well, you’ll have to look elsewhere for the money.”
“Right, I’m sorry I meant no offence-”
“I’m not offended, I’m confused mostly.” He chuckles awkwardly “And a bit hurt the first time you reached out to me is to give you access to the family fortune and threatening my inheritance while sidestepping your responsibility towards said family.”
“Look if you can remove me from this family to give you the security you need be my guest. I don’t want to be a Winton anyway, But I’m not going to denounce any souls I may create I’m not going to write away their rights before they’re even born. So just break the chain with me and rest assured that I have no intention of ever surpassing you in the line of succession. I just need to get this money so I can fix my mistakes and move on.”
“That can be arranged if that’s what you want.”
“Great then just do that and be done with it.”
“I can’t and you know who can.”
“I don’t want to go home.”
“Then don’t, I’m not forcing you to do anything.”
“But you won’t help me unless I go to my parents.”
“I can help you get to your parents, I can help you talk to your parents. But I’m not your parents I can’t denounce you and I don’t have a hundred lodis to borrow to you.”
“All right, fine but I’m not denouncing my position unless I get the money so you better help me.”
“I’ll do anything in my power to assure all parties have an equally good deal.”
“Now, the car is parked around the corner, I suggest we finish off our drinks and get moving.”
“You want me to go home now?”
“Of course, weren’t you in a hurry to save doll-kind or something?”
“I guess I am.”
“Then follow me.”
We exit Utopia together and a man in a motorcar greets Abel with a tip of the hat and an umbrella in his hand. “Sir.” He says handing it off.
“Thank you Modest. We’ll be having a guest today.”
“I can see that sir.” The man responds dryly. He then looks at me and squints his eyes “Is that the lad I think it is?”
I scratch the back of my head “Hello Mister Modest.”
He huffs “And where on earth did you come from?”
“Uhm…it’s a long story.”
“One too long to be having in the rain.” Abel pushes me in the back gently. “come on. Let’s get you home.”
I take a deep breath.
Look behind me Abel smiles at me encouragingly.
I push down my fear.
And step into the motorcar.