A Gram of Silence

I saw her eyes, just the once: when she pulled me from Father’s house, her blindfold had come undone.


2. Our House (2)

I was checking the new shipment when the Seneschal hurried in and tripped on the boxes. His burgundy slippers flew away in a squeak as his face mortared a stack of fresh kaijin roots. Cursing and slavering, he wiped the powdered bark from his forehead and grunted in my general direction: ‘Is he in?’

I tried to sweep the carnage into a pan but half of it was stuck in the rug. ‘Do you have an appointment?’ I asked.

He dug into his burgundy robe and fished out an ingot. ‘Master Cowen is indisposed in the laboratory,’ I said.

Fuming, the Seneschal fished out another.

It took a while to find room for them in the safe. The banks have been closed for a week now, by this very man’s decree. ‘The couch is steamed, if it pleases you,’ I said.

The Seneschal did not seem particularly pleased, but he sat down anyway, kicking away his slippers and grunted again as they landed in the yellowcake box.

I left him there and took the basement stairs. She was standing before the leaden doors of the laboratory, still as a statue. She turned her head when I came near; the dim yellow lamplight made the hollows of her cheeks look like bottomless holes. 

‘Seneschal Harding is here,’ I said, staring at my fascinating toes. ‘Please let –’ James ‘– Master Cowen know that his is an urgent request.’

She nodded slowly, but made no move to open the door. Today her blindfold was silk again, dyed rosy pink and embroidered with tiny golden scrolls on the edges. That piece of cloth – shorter than a scarf, too meagre for a pair of gloves – was ten times more expensive than the kaijin roots that took four months to arrive from the other side of the world.

The Seneschal was displeased by my mentioning the price of that which was flaking off his ruddy beard. ‘I’ll have your little hind flayed on the stockade,’ he declared through his nose, ‘and no respectable man would look twice.’

His slippers now looked like artifacts uncovered in a dig. I picked them out of the yellowcake and shook them; little came off. Wear these again and a week from now he’ll be oozing from his soles, and the lesser Houses will be most pleased to receive such an honorable client.

But…James has his reputation. 

‘I’ll have these cleaned and sent to your office, Master.’ I said to him. ‘Sandals weaved from ironvine are quite robust. May I offer you my craft?’

The Seneschal wiggled his flaming red toes. ‘What manner of craft?’

‘Sandal weaving.’

His jowls wobbled. ‘I’ve a mind for other…crafts.’

‘Master Cowen does not cure the limpness. That would be the House of the Dowager.’

I was halfway done with the second shoe when James appeared. His leather apron, that patchwork of horrid dyes and stains, was splattered with what looked like congealed blood but smelled like nothing. The same gooey stuff dripped from his gloves, which he clutched inside-out in his left hand. In his right was an empty flask and a bunch of swabs.

He nodded as I came over. ‘Sample the emulsion,’ he waved at the not-blood, ‘then sample the leavings in the lab. Tag, three-one-five. Sanitize after you’re done. Incinerator.’ He shoved the flask and swabs at me, then noticed what I was holding. ‘What are those?’

‘Sandals,’ I mumbled. ‘The Seneschal lost his shoes.’

‘Lost his –’ James rounded on his client – who was askew on the couch and rubbing sleep from his eyes – and said most pleasantly, ‘Harding, the hour is late. We’re not due until two o’clock.’

The Seneschal spoke plainly. ‘It’s over. My son is dead.’

The two men looked at each other for a while.

Heavy footsteps. She came up the staircase carrying a triple-deck tray of empty glass jars that jingled with every step. They were as spotless as I had left them, which was a relief. She set them down next to the boxes. The jars jingled and clanked one last time, and all was silent again except for the wet scrubbing of a cotton swab over leather.

‘Thank you, Lucia,’ I said, whispered, declared loudly inside my head as I stared at the strange goo on James’ chest. There seemed to be worm-things wriggling in it. They clung to the swab like glue, and would not go easily into the flask.

Then the Seneschal sniffed. ‘Well?’

‘My office,’ said James, then to me: ‘Get to it. Leave those silly things.’

I fetched fresh gloves and apron and carried the tainted ones down to the lab. The leaden door was ajar; I threw my weight against it and managed to squeeze in without rubbing against any of the red stuff, which turned out to be futile. The lab was a mess. Whatever had been inside Autopsy-3 was now in a thousand pieces and smeared across every conceivable surface. The condenser in the corner had shone this morning; it was now crooked and dripping. The workbench was no messier than usual, only stickier. And the door to cold storage now has heavy chains wrapped around it, triple-locked. A note was stuck on top of the keyhole, written in James’ illegible scrawl: thaw in two weeks.

The glassware cabinet looked nasty, but inside it the racks of test tubes were still pristine. A dozen swabs should be enough. Whatever this stuff was, it didn’t look that much different from three-one-four, or three-one-three – apart from it having exploded. Either that, or James had sprayed it out of a hose to give me more work to do.

The sampling went quickly, but not the rest. The cleaning closet was wide open, the mops and buckets and steamers thrown in a petulant pile on the floor. An attempt was made, it seemed, to look like there had been an attempt to clean up; the big bottle of solvent-6 was half empty, and the simmering pile of blue lumps at the bottom of the strainer suggested that it had been poured undiluted.

I yawned, then pulled on another layer of gloves. 

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...