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#31: The Beginning of QUIP

Pandemonium broke out, each member of MDOPFGIASA doing their best to drown out his fellow man. In the end, it was a knocking on the door of Professor Perrigordon's warehouse that saved them all from black eyes equal to that which Mr. Smyth currently sported.

“It's QUIP.” Vincent managed to sneak one last comment into the ensuing silence that fell upon the small gathering.

The door opened revealing a very pale and trembling Miss Pemsley. She was in the custody of one of Prof James' lackeys—the one known only to their little group as Terrence. He looked the worse for wear while she did not.

The clatter of disorganized voicing of disparate opinions began anew.

It was Reginald who managed to draw Miss Pemsley out first, his oily gentlemanly charm cutting through where piercing gazes and direct address failed.

“I—I. . . It's all my fault!” Miss Pemsley collapsed into tears, her pretty face burying itself unasked into Crothall's shoulder. Even he seemed surprised.

“There, there,” Giles' words were kind but his face spoke of thinly veiled patience. Miss Pemsley in tears, no sign or word of Col Spreenkerton? The stone-faced Terrence appeared to be of no use. He'd delivered the girl then left quick as smoke.

“They should have taken me but for Howard's o-o-offer. . .” Gertrude's tears became sobs, stretching the last words of her sentence. A round of surprised faces met the woman's words. They hadn't known Miss Pemsley to be on first-name basis with Col Spreenkerton.

“Who?” This time it was Perrigordon who stepped in. He came prepared, however, and held a small glass of amber liquid in his hand.

MDOPFGIASA's secretary downed it before thinking, her pretty face turning white then red. Her words that followed, at least, were steadied by the influence: “Them horrible men you've been after. They came for me in the night.”

Guilty looks flashed about the room. Admittedly, they had only thought of protecting the assets in their team that could be deemed a threat. It was only in the wake of the bombing of Vincent's front door that they'd even thought of poor Gertrude, who'd been left out of the excitement from the night before.

“Spreenkerton was there, however. He—” Gertrude's blush deepened even as her voice dropped to a surprised hush “—He saved me. Waylaid them until he, too, was caught. Too many of them, you know? But he made them let me go. Said they only needed him as leverage on MDOPFGIASA.”

“He was right,” Smyth's face had darkened as the woman's face had reddened. “Spreenkerton is a threat where Miss Pemsley is, well. . . Pretty. They wanted to hold one of ours that could hurt them. Someone worth us making a trade for.”

“Trade?” Giles' voice cut in sharp.

All eyes were now back on Smyth.

“Yes. Trade,” Smyth's words were biting, holding a darkness of their own. “For I believe Orrie left them holding the bag without their knowledge. And they likely think we pinched him when we foiled their plans.”

“And why would you think that?” Vincent challenged, leaning back in his chair and fixing a dubious glare at his nemesis.

“Because this note says as much.” Smyth held up a much-stained much-wrinkled piece of paper. “For police, I daresay you all leave crime scenes dreadfully un-turned.”

“Where did you get that?” Vincent demanded, even as Ins Newberry snatched away the proferred paper.

“I found it this morning. Tacked to what was left of your front door,” Smyth sneered around his blackened eye, enjoying getting a little of his own back.

Vincent sputtered, “Crime scene. Bah. That's my house you're talking about.” He paused, adding, “What's it say?”

Giles eyed the demand letter, “It is addressed to Jane. Says that war has been declared. And that by meddling where she was not wanted—even despite efforts made to remove her from the playing field—she has to pick a side. The demonstration on Overstone this morning was a warning. Do not get caught in the crosshairs. The choice is this: rescue your brother and bring him to us or die with the others in your so-called team in our rescue attempt. Signed the School of the Universe.”

“But we don't have Orrie. . .” Jane's voice trembled. It should also be noted that she did not immediately come to the defence of either side.