Chapter 15: Foxes Hunt the Rabbit
The pink hydrangeas sent by Mr. Frost had already begun to wilt on the corner of Sir Bryson’s desk. He pushed his bronze spectacles up his broad nose and stared at the drooping petals. Frost never failed to send a fresh vase every three weeks with a different floral arrangement and an envelope of business requests. Although it felt odd to receive flowers, from a sixteen-year-old girl no less, Bryson appreciated the way their scent freshened up the dank bachelor odor of the room.
The sun receded behind the stenciled windows of his small private office building. Bryson finished updating Mr. Frost’s ledger and then organized the most recent batch of letters with investment requests from his exclusive client along with stock updates from Frost’s numerous factories. He lifted the ledger and documents and carried them to the wall safe closet Frost had insisted on him installing.
Eccentric did not even begin to describe Frost’s character—paranoid was more fitting. There were times Bryson struggled to accept how much his life had changed since that first fateful encounter. Initially, Lady Edith had hired him to secure Lady Maura’s inheritance from her money-hungry and abusive family. But it would be almost a year after the old heiresses’ death before Bryson finally met his young client.
He still remembered the bruises that mingled with the ugly brown spots scattered across her face when Frost showed up at his office door and his surprise when she promptly declared that she would be hiring him to help her invest in a few local businesses.
The cold certainty in her ice-blue eyes as Frost continued to list out her instructions still sent a chill down his spine. Here was a ten-year-old child with every right to cry about the ugliness fate had thrown her way, but she was talking percentages, capital, and plans for expansion.
Bryson had originally accepted Frost as a client to protect her from the Turnbells until she came of legal age for emancipation, which for a woman in Lafeara, was twenty. But instead of sheltering and protecting a helpless child, Bryson had found himself working for the notorious clairvoyant Mr. Frost—the most sought-after investor and inventor in Lafeara.
He often found himself doubling over with laughter at the local bar when he heard the merchants and tradesmen ramble out their wild guesses as to who Mr. Frost really was, and how they might obtain his investment or patronage through bribery of crescents, drinks, and whores.
What would these desperate fools think if they knew the esteemed Mr. Frost was merely a sharp, levelheaded sixteen-year-old girl?
Bryson set the files inside the wall safe, shut it, and secured the thick metal door with two black-iron keys. And, because that wasn’t enough security for Frost, then he closed the hidden closet door attached to a bookshelf that fit in seamlessly with the three other bookshelves lined along the office wall.
Bryson kicked over the carpet that hid the scuff marks of the secret door along the floor as he tucked one of the black keys into his waist pocket. The other he placed in the spine of a thick red book that matched a row of eight similar volumes in the bookshelf by the office door.
There were times Bryson imagined he was one of those secret undercover agents or spies with all these secretive security precautions. Though in reality, he felt more like a banker than a lawyer with all the money Frost pulled in each month that Bryson was in charge of collecting, monitoring, investing, and documenting.
A man with half of Bryson’s integrity might have been tempted to steal from such a wealthy young client, but Frost was backed by a powerful member of Aristocracy—one that Bryson would never dream of crossing.
And besides, Bryson would be lying to himself if he denied the enjoyment and benefits he had obtained while working for Frost. His annual salary alone had been enough for Bryson to buy himself a title, though, in his opinion, being a noble wasn’t exactly all it was cracked up to be.
Satisfied that he had completed the list of investment arrangements for the next month, Bryson grabbed his jacket and pondered the investor’s recent decision to obtain various medicinal herbs in large quantities.
“Perhaps Frost is planning to open a hospital?” he muttered as he stepped out into the small reception area. Because he only had one client, who hardly ever visited his office, Bryson didn’t require a secretary, but he did have one other employee.
Julian, his nephew and errand boy, rose from the couch where he had been napping. “Any letters for me today, Uncle?” he asked brightly.
“Yes, five for you,” Bryson answered as he pulled out the already prepared envelopes, each sealed with the letter F stamped in wax embellished by an inked snowflake. “Remember now, no funny business. See to it they are delivered to the postmaster before he closes today.”
“You know you can count on me, Sir Bryson!” The cheerful boy accepted the letters, stowed them inside his satchel bag, then spun on his heels and dashed towards the front door. His feet pounded across the wooden panels with the flurry of youth. The doorbell jangled in protest behind him.
Bryson sighed and pulled out his pocket watch. Four in the afternoon. The post wouldn’t close until half-past five, Julian would have plenty of time.
The doorbell rang again, and Bryson looked up in surprise as two men entered the office building.
“Sorry, gentleman, I’m afraid I’ve just—”
The words died in his throat as he caught sight of the fox masks beneath their hooded cloaks. He dropped his pocket watch, which was saved by its chain, and staggered back.
“Who—what do you want?”
“We’re looking for a Mr. Bryson?” The first masked man replied in a casual tone.
“That’s Sir Bry—” Bryson covered his mouth in horror.
“That’s him,” the second masked man confirmed as their unnervingly silent steps brought them purposefully towards him.
“P-please!” Bryson held up his hands and tried to swallow the quiver of fear in his voice. “H-how can I h-help you, gentlemen?”
“We’re looking for someone,” replied the first assassin.
“Someone you might be familiar with,” added the second.
“I—I’m not sure—who—who are you looking for?”
‘Please let this be some sort of mistake!’
The first assassin held out a piece of paper. Bryson stared at it and recognized the legal document he had drawn up that protected the designer, Lady Aconitum’s rights to 35% of all sales which used her designs. His name was written as the legal representative just below the designer’s name in this binding contract with the Holy Maiden Boutique store Co-owner, Sir Everly.
Bryson stared at the name, his confusion growing, as he raised his gaze to the thug who now had him pinned against his office door.
“So, lawyer man,” said the second assassin with a hint of impatience. “Tell us where we can find this Lady Aconitum.”
‘How had they gotten that document? It should be locked up in the legal records office—No, now was not the time to be wondering that. Why were they asking for Aconitum and not Frost? Unless they didn’t know—’
“Speak Bryson!” the first assassin snapped as he grabbed Bryson’s collar and, with a savage jerk, slammed the lawyer’s head against the solid door behind him. “And quickly!”
“I wish I could help you—but I can’t!” Bryson replied, ignoring the sting and ache at the back of his skull. “This was the only job I did on Lady Aconitum’s behalf. It’s a simple protection clause on royalty distributions with a boutique store. I never met her—personally. I did the paperwork on her behalf at the request of another client!”
“What other client?” the first assassin demanded.
‘So much for steering the conversation away from Frost.’
“I can’t tell you—”
A dagger bit deeply into the wood next to his ear, and Bryson felt his legs buckle.
“One last chance, lawyer man,” sneered the second assassin as he made way for his companion, who pulled the dagger free and pressed it against Bryson’s neck. “Think it over. Give us the name, and we let you live.”
It took all of five seconds for Bryson’s pride as a lawyer and as a man to run down the side of his trousers in a warm, humiliating dribble.
“Ah shit, he pissed himself!”
The first assassin swore, but he didn’t move away. Instead, the masked man shifted the knife’s weight ever so slightly, and Bryson felt a trickle of blood run down his throat.
“Frost! Frost! My client—” he gasped for air as the pressure on the blade shifted. “My only client, his name is Mr. Frost.”
‘Mercy’s tit! I’m sorry, Frost—it’s all over now.’
The assassin withdrew his blade, stepped back, and shook his boot with a mutter of annoyance while his comrade scratched his neck and murmured. “Who in Hell’s Teeth is Mr. Frost?”
“How the hell should I know? Looks like he’s not even a noble,” replied the first assassin.
“So—what do we do now?”
They both looked at Bryson, who barely retained the strength to stand as he pondered his chances of survival.
“Take him to the boss,” the assassins said in unison.
“W-what?” Bryson panted. “You—you can’t kidnap me in broad daylight?”
The second assassin sniggered.
“It’s not kidnapping if you come with us willingly,” replied the first assassin as he slid his knife into his belt. “And I promise you, if you refuse, try to run, cause a scene, or attempt to cry for help—” The assassin grabbed Bryson’s collar and yanked him down to his knees.
“It will be your blood you’ll be kneeling in instead of piss next time.”