Storm and Silence(169)By: Robert Thier
‘Where to now, Sahib?’ Karim asked from beside me, keeping pace.
Wordlessly, I nodded at the bank down the street.
‘Very well, Sahib.’
There were quite a few customers in Bradley & Bullard’s Bank, waiting at tables, writing documents, busily chatting. At least they chatted until Karim, his sabre, his turban and his beard stepped into the main hall. All voices died, and all eyes were drawn to the huge Mohammedan. Then I followed him inside, and Karim was forgotten. There are things with which even a sabre and a turban cannot compete.
Ignoring the line of people in front of the counter, I marched up to the closest bank clerk and fixed him with my gaze.
‘You there! How much does this bank cost?’
‘Um… we offer very affordable bank accounts, and our fees for stock management are also-’
I cut him off with an impatient gesture. ‘That’s not what I asked! How much does this bank cost?’
The man blinked at me, the confusion in his eyes slowly changing to disdain. His eyes wandered over my simple black tailcoat, my lack of silk, satin and gold embroidery, and I knew he was busy judging by appearance. Bad mistake.
The bank clerk’s eyes narrowed. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have the pleasure of understanding you, Sir.’
‘Rest assured, understanding me is no pleasure.’
‘I can readily believe it, Sir.’ He sniffed, derisively. ‘Will you please remove yourself? You are holding up the line.’
Reaching into my pocket, I took out one of my business cards and slammed it onto the counter. The bank clerk’s eyes focused on my name and widened in shock.
If I hadn’t lost the ability years ago, I might have smiled. Sometimes, a business card says more than a thousand words.
The man’s frightened eyes rose from my name to meet my gaze.
‘Get me the manager,’ I ordered.
When we left the bank five minutes later, Karim was carrying the documents detailing the sale in a suitcase that the manager had, in his generosity, gifted to me. People tend to be generous like that when they are scared of losing their jobs.
‘Is our business here concluded to your satisfaction, Sahib?’
Taking a deep breath of filthy London air, I glanced back at the bank.
‘Well… It’s not the bank of England, but it’ll do for a week or so.’
‘Quite so, Sahib.’
‘Where to next…?’ I hesitated on the sidewalk, thinking. Bloody hell, I really needed a secretary to keep track of my appointments, and fast! Hopefully, that youngster would live up to my expectations. He seemed like a bright young man. Where to now… where to-
‘Chauvinists!’ a shout rudely interrupted my thoughts. Or, to be exact, it was more of a shriek. ‘Oppressors of womanhood!’
I turned, just in time to see… What the hell?
Farther down the street, a figure was being dragged down the front steps of a polling station by two police officers. A figure I knew. I stared. Was it really…? Yes. My future secretary.
No. Oh no, this would not do. Not at all. If the police had caught that foolish youth breaking the law, they would just have to forget about it, until I had found someone cheaper and more law-abiding.
‘Officer!’ In three long strides I was in front of them. I was damn well going to get to the bottom of this! ‘Officer, what are you doing with this young man, may I ask?’
The sergeant turned and, when he caught sight of me, paled. Unlike the bank clerk, he clearly knew with whom he was dealing. If his facial expression wasn’t enough proof, his hurried salute definitely was.
‘Good morning, Mr Ambrose, Sir!’ he mumbled, trying his best to keep hold of my prospective secretary, who was wriggling like a rattlesnake in an attempt to get free. ‘Um… Sir, if I may ask, what young man are you speaking of?’
My eyes slid from the policeman to the young man in his clutches and back again. Was he daft? Who else would I be talking about?
‘That one, of course. Are you blind? What are you doing with him?’
‘Not him, Sir.’ Reaching up, the sergeant gripped the young man’s top hat and pulled. It was like that silly trick magicians did when they pulled a rabbit out of the hat - only in this case, I would have actually preferred it if a curious bunny poked its nose out of the hat. Instead, masses of wild chestnut hair tumbled out. I felt a cold hand clench hard around my vital organs. ‘Her. That's a girl, Mr Ambrose, Sir.’
More silence. And for the first time in my life, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to say something. It was because I did absolutely not know what to say. Or to yell. Or to bellow.
No. No, this is impossible.
‘Something wrong, Sir?’ the sergeant inquired dutifully. He got no answer from me. I didn’t have one. After a long moment of waiting, he cleared his throat. ‘Well, if you'd excuse us, Sir, we have to take this one away to where she belongs. Maybe a night in the cells will teach her not to do what's only for men.’
‘Aye,’ one of the constables chuckled. ‘Women voting? Who ever heard of something like that? Next thing we know they'll want decent jobs!’
Jobs for women.
A job for a woman.
No. No. No. No. No. No!
I only distantly heard the laughter of the policemen. Most of my attention was focused on the seething volcano of ice-cold rage that was rising inside me. Taking a deep breath, I met the girl’s eyes. She met my gaze head-on, not looking away, not even blinking. Other people had died at my hand for the kind of defiance I saw in her eyes right then.
A job for a woman.
But she wouldn’t really…!
Paralyzed, I watched the policemen drag her away. Just before they pulled her around the corner, she turned her head back towards me and, grinning in a way that made me want to strangle someone, shouted:
‘Looking forward to seeing you at work on Monday, Sir!’
She wouldn’t! Would she?
This story is dedicated to all my awesome fans and fiery little Ifrits without whom the book would never have been possible. All of you have been an inspiration!
Firstly, I would like to thank the contributors to the publishing campaign who have opened their hearts (and their wallets!) to get this book into print. The most generous contributions came from (**taking a deep breath**): Alexis Rose Stinson, Ammarah Maryam Abbasi, Bianca van den Berg, Cailin Ingram, Cindy Susana Orozco-Cazapa, compulsiveeater, Daisy Orozco, Dakota Trauth, Deb Caputo, Dominique C. Mohler, Elisabeth Nettesheim, Faryal Motiwala, Filipa Silva, Gabriela Grant, Jodie Perry, Julia Davis, Julia Hazima, Katrin Störmer, Kuini Erika, Laura F. Carlson, Laurianne Wohlscheid, Leisa Zaharis, Madeline Bunde, Marcia Robichaud, Marnurwani Bte Mohd Noordin, Michele Marquez, Mohsanh Omar, Natalie Y. Young, Nicole Strong, Nina Lawrence Akpovi, Noelia Wehrhahn, Reman Jawar, Romina Avaness, Shelby Nunn, Sonali Chander, Tahani H. and Tasneem Hiba. Thank you! Without your generosity, this book would never have made it into print.
Additional thanks is due to Deb Caputo, who indicated a number of points that helped me significantly in fine-tuning historical accuracy. And a big cartload of thanks goes to Iris Chacon, the wonderful editor who volunteered her time to edit this opus from front to back.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank all those fiery fans and Ifrits who might not have had the means to contribute funds to the publication campaign, but who inspired me with their encouragements, during a mighty Twitter battle helped this book win the People’s Choice Award in the Wattys, drew wonderful portraits of Lilly and Mr Ambrose or scattered glowing reviews of this book all over the web. I truly have the most amazing fandom south of the North Pole! Three cheers for you all! Lilly would be proud of you, and even Mr Ambrose would be mildly impressed. I look forward to scribbling many more stories for your enjoyment, knowing that you shall be with me every step of the way.