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#28: Beg pardon but... did you say QUIP?

“. . . 's the safest place in London,” Perrigordon grumbled, unlocking the back door of the old waterfront warehouse. “Believe you me, if it wasn't on Smyth's orders. . .” The professor trailed off noting the bleak look in Ms. Temble's eyes, a look that currently trumped his own peevish discomfort over having to allow anyone into his inner sanctum.

“Now, now, miss. He'll be alright. Just you wait and see.”

The reassurance was vague enough to draw Ms. Temble's attention. The vacant eyes now swept over Perrigordon and the opened doorway. She wanted to ask who. Who would be alright? Her brother? Poor Mr. Wexley? Or the mysterious Mr. Smyth?

Had she asked, James mightn't have known himself who he meant by his statement. The professor lumbered into the empty room first, switching on lights and throwing various curtains closed in one smooth motion.

The room, though cavernous, had been subdivided into various pockets of space via long grey curtains suspended from rods along the ceiling.

“What are-?”

Ms. Temble's tentative question was abruptly cut off by a black look from the professor. “Never you mind. Like I'd said, your being allowed in here only comes from it being the safest place in all of England and it being on Smyth's orders.”

That Mr. Smyth could order the professor around did not surprise Jane at all. But while she had known that James Perrigordon performed other work for the Government on the side, the extent of his secret workspace (and the privacy that it required) was a revelation.

“Do any of the others know where we are? Will they tell us if... when...?” Ms. Temble swallowed the rest of her words.

“There there, my dear.” Perrigordon's idea of comfort was, apparently, in the form of strong drink. Ms. Temble took his offering with a small smile, though staring into the glass in her hand provided little contrast for the scene still playing out in her mind.

Blood. So much blood.

“From what I've seen, for all his strangeness, Vincent's a tough 'un. He'll pull through,” Perrigordon downed his drink in one gulp. “And Smyth? I'm pretty sure he'll turn up victorious and right as rain.”

That neither of them openly referred to Orrie, Ms. Temble's brother, was telling.

Secrets upon secrets. Ms. Temble sighed, downing the contents of her own glass and grimacing. It was to be a long night.

* * *

Vincent Wexley's screams could be heard rattling though the house. From his place in the drawing room, Giles Newberry gritted his teeth and tried to distract himself by enjoying the look of extreme discomfort crossing the face of the other occupant of the room, Sir Reginald Crothall.

“Do you suppose the neighbours can hear him?” Reginald ventured at last, inserting the words in the moment of silence that fell before Vincent began his unearthly racket once more.

Giles shook his head, waiting for his own opportunity to respond. “No. Vincent likes his privacy. You can count on this place being soundproof.”

Reginald nodded sagely, doing his level best to match Giles in his cool complacency.

The ungodly noise stopped at long last, leaving Giles and Reginald in uncomfortable silence.

After a long moment, tentative footsteps sounded on the stairs.

“I've said it before, Giles, and I'll say it again: nothing good ever comes from going out of doors.” Pale but whole, Vincent stood in the doorway of the drawing room. Gait betraying a slight sway, he made his way to the nearest armchair, gingerly lowering his thin form onto the soft cushions.

“Damn it, Wexley. You could have rang for us,” Giles' face betrayed none of the glowering that his words held. It was clear that he was glad to see his friend up and about, even if it was medically unsound.

“Has Smyth returned?” Vincent brushed past the reproof. It wasn't, after all, the first time he'd been shot.

The answering silence was reply enough.

“And that professor, he's trustworthy?” Vincent pressed.

Crothall sat up straighter, “See here now. Where do you get off questioning our own?”

“Mr. Johnathan. Smyth.” Punctuated and sharp, Vincent's reply was more robust than either of the other gentlemen could have predicted. In fact, it seemed to surprise Mr. Wexley himself, for he followed the statement with a sharp intake of breath and a look of pain.

Waving off Giles, who'd leapt to his feet, ready to aid his friend, Vincent waited for the fit to pass, giving Reginald another opportunity to act the ass.

“That Mr. Smyth isn't ours. Any more than you are,” Crothall muttered blackly.

“He rescued Temble.” Vincent wheezed.

“Yes. And you saved all of MDOPFGIASA when we had the teapot incident. We all saved somebody,” Giles rushed through the words, trying to placate all sides. The team was scattered to the wind. The last thing they needed was the three of them becoming divisive.

“QUIP.”

“Beg pardon?” Giles blinked a mixture of surprise and frustration at his friend.

“QUIP.” Wexley supplied again.

“What the bloody hell is quip?” Reginald sighed noisily.

“What you should actually be calling you department. Queen's United Industrial Police,” Wexley appeared surprised.

“Why in god's name do we need to change it from MDOPF-?”

“Have you listened to it?” Wexley barked a laugh, holding his bandaged side as he did so. “You could trip on that name!”

Reginald now looked to Giles, as if to say, See? He really has lost his mind.

For the first time in memory, Giles realized he was agreeing with Reginald Crothall.

Newberry addressed his friend, “Tell me, Vincent, how much blood did you lose when John Smyth shot you?”