Inspector Giles Newberry curled his lip in frustration and disgust as one of his officers hurtled out of the sky, passing mere feet from the edge of the roof, just out of arms’ reach. The unfortunate man’s panicked scream cut off by his eventual, abrupt collision with the street below signaled the demise of yet another of London’s finest and Giles leaned back from the lip of the rooftop to glance upward at the rising airship that shadowed him from the cold light of the full moon.
“Shall we open fire, sir?” Thomas, Newberry’s second in command, inquired. His voice carried a rumble of discontent, and Giles couldn’t blame him, but the Inspector held up a hand.
“Hold for just a touch longer. If we can’t bring her back, the very least we could do is wait for her to swing out over open ground,” he cautioned.
Squinting up into the night sky, it was clear Thomas didn’t much care for the directive, “I’m looking to save ‘s many lives as you, sir. But, beggin’ your pardon, I’d like ‘em to be some of ours and the higher she climbs—” He let the mild criticism hang in the air as the two men stood on their darkened rooftop perch, impotently watching the balloon drift up and away from the tethering spire.
Sucking on a finger and then lifting it aloft, Giles frowned and calculated, “Five blocks sou’east, grey gabled boys school. Quick as you can. We’ll see if we can collect any of the others to improve our spread.”
Dashing down the stairs, the two officers exited the building, their sudden exodus of the roof drawing four of the remaining officers they’d positioned aloft.
Giles’ voice echoed eerily in the empty street as he shouted his new directive, “Back up boys. Going to catch ‘er further out and take ‘er down.” The half-dozen uniformed men sidestepped the broken body lying in the street, not needing a reminder that this was officially damage control and no longer a simple raid of an airship smuggling ring. With one long furious look at the airship drifting lazily off into the night sky, Inspector Newberry swore softly, A covert raid on a full moon night? Oh, the Superintendent would hear of this one, he would.
* * *
“Five. Five of my men dead in this . . . this . . . fool’s errand!” Ins. Newberry thundered, voice carrying through the closed door and down the hall, to be heard faintly echoing through the foyer of Scotland Yard.
The gentleman he addressed, a corpulent—nay, downright fat fellow—by the name of Danny Blushton shook his head, jowls wagging at the movement. “’S a sad thing, Giles. And the Yard is aware of their exquisite bravery in the face of a difficult task—”
“Difficult my Aunt Biddy’s arse!” The irate Inspector exploded, turning to pace the room, “Was a bluidy impossible task for them. A suicide mission.”
“Sir.” Within their flashy folds, blue eyes hardened like ice, “A suicide mission, sir.”
Newberry’s jaw worked in the resulting moments of electrified silence as the inferior officer tried to regain control of his temper. From his place near the window, looking out over the city that he loved, Giles continued softly but with no less intensity than before, “I beg your pardon, sir. But you must understand that I cannot do my job, cannot in right conscience lead these men ill-prepared and ill-equipped into certain disaster time and again.” He turned from the window, regarding his superior with the cool resolution born of a clear conscience, “If I forget myself, sir, it is only because I care so damn much that I do my job properly, effectively.” He’d quit, he would, before he led one more doomed raid, had to sign the paperwork sending one more of his men to St. Charles’ Home for the Mentally Infirm.
Unable to meet Giles’ cool gaze, Superintendent Blushton harrumphed and shifted heavily in his chair, inspected his fingernails, and answered, “I see.” Reaching into a drawer, he shuffled around for a moment, head bent to the task. Not finding what he sought, he sighed and put his great lungs to use, “Bella!” In a flash, the door opened to a timed-looking mouse of a woman. “Papers 42, 46, 1117, and, er… 8756(d),” Blushton rattled off the numbers and with a quick bob of her head and eyes widening slightly, the secretary ducked out, shutting the door behind her, but not without a curious, anxious glance at Inspector Newberry.
“So,” Newberry addressed his chief.
“So,” Blushton returned the word and then leaned back in his chair, his heavy sigh drowning out his chair’s protesting squeak, “So you’ve spoke your piece, Giles. Made your point and as much as I hate to do this—” Stone faced, Giles Newberry braced himself for it. “—I concede the point.” Relieved, the Inspector blinked in surprise. Superintendent Blushton continued, “I also believe that things cannot go on as they have. Outspoken, disrespectful, with little to no regard for rank and file. You’re not who I’d have chosen to lead men—”
The door opened, Blushton’s secretary meekly passing off the requested forms. “I’m putting in a request to the Crown for a transfer and promotion. We’re going to try things your way . . . for a while.” Scribbling furiously, head bowed, Blushton steadfastly ignored Giles’ gape-mouthed murmurings of appreciation. “Don’t thank me yet, Newberry. This is all still subject to approval from the Crown. And I’m not about to let you run off all half-cocked, not with that loose cannon of a mouth. All team appointments and budgetary concerns are subject to your partner’s approval, as well as mine.”
“My partner’s?” Giles prompted.
“Yes,” he headed off a file, “You’ll be paired up in your administrative duties with this gentleman here. Sir Reginald Crothall. You didn’t think you were the only one complaining about last night’s airship fiasco, did you?”
Pouring over the file, Giles Newberry suppressed a groan. The name Crothall had piqued his brain, half-remembered stories in the papers putting him in mind of the worst sort of citizen. But it was worse than that. A quick glance at Crothall’s file confirmed his fears and he remembered exactly why he recognized the name of Sir Reginald Crothall. The man was a bureaucrat. A failed politician who’d kept his fingers in the government gears only by merit of his family connections. If Sir Reginald Crothall was complaining about a botched raid it’d only be about the noise and the mess. Partner? Good lord!
Superintendent Danny Blushton frowned at him from across the desk, “It’s this or you’re out, Newberry. And I’d hate to lose a man of your talents just because you can’t play nice with—” Even he struggled to find a polite word for the lackadaisical gentleman bureaucrat, an idler with a reputation for doing more talking than doing, and less thinking than either. “Just make this work, would you, man?”
The interview was at a close.
* * *
Inspector—no, Chief Inspector Giles Newberry reread the letter with glowing eyes. The stationary, the seal, the words themselves spoke volumes of confidence—the Queen’s blessing had been bestowed upon his little venture. He tried out the new Division’s name, “Majesterial Department of Protection for Gentlemen Inventors and Scientific Advancement. Bit of a mouthful, but not bad.” Propping the letter up against the lamp on his desk, he glanced around the walls of his cramped office, wondering cheekily if he oughtn’t frame it.
The creak of a door brought him to his feet and out into the main office. Weaving through the piles of furniture that crowded the office and prevented a good solid look at the newcomer, Giles wished ungenerously that the Crown had been a little more magnanimous with the provision of space for the newly minted Department.
“Hello?” the newcomer hovered near the doorway, peering into the dim room as if afraid to enter. “Is this MDOPFGIASA?”
“Sorry, who?” Giles materialized from behind a hulking wardrobe, his sudden speech startling the be-speckled gentleman who had yet to venture into the shadowy, crowded room.
“Oh, beg pardon. I seem to be a bit turned ‘round. I was looking for MDOPFGIASA,” he blinked and moved to leave.
“Mid-off-gee-what?” Now Giles was curious. Who else was headquartered down here in the Yard’s storage basement?
“M.D.O.P.F.G.I.A.S.A. Majesterial Department of Protection for Gentlemen Inventors and Scientific Advancement.” The man pronounced the full title with relish . . . with ownership.
Oh God, Newberry strode forward with his hand outstretched, a smile pasted on his face to cover his sudden and deep misgivings, mentally taking notes on this man who he gathered was Sir Reginald Crothall. “Ah, well, you are unfortunately in the right place. Chief Inspector Giles Newberry.”
“Sir Reginald Crothall.” Introductions made, the newcomer now turned an appraising eye to the room and its sole occupant, “Unfortunate is right. What, they couldn’t afford us space not in a storage closet?”
Giles shrugged, “I was told we can use what we’d like ‘n chuck the rest. Shd be quite spacious, quite serviceable, once we get it tidied up.”
The glasses were off, Reginald giving them a furious polish, “Not right. Not rt, you know. ‘T should be the most highly technical department in the whole of Scotland Yard. Place should be gleaming. ‘Lectric. Full of all the whatzits and things you need to get your job done.” The glasses were back on over the now resolute and judgmental face.
Our job, Giles mentally corrected, wondering if his lordship would deign to equip himself with more than a fountain pen once things got underway in MDOPF— oh, damn, now he was doing it!