The Professor's base of operations was a brownstone mansion on the far end of Bay Street, its northern face overlooking the sea. Sandra, Isaac, and Liam materialized out of the evening gloom and passed under the stone archway leading into the grounds. A wide cobblestone path led from there to the front door, which stood in the shelter of an enclosed porch. Night things sounded in the bushes surrounding the mansion. Isaac's footsteps seemed to echo back to him.
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"Christ," Liam said. "I feel like a townie. I feel like some kind of fucking serf, approaching his Baron's palace."
"Have you ever noticed," Isaac said to Sandra. "That he curses more when he's talking about the Professor?"
Sandra grinned. "It's a defense mechanism."
"It's me annoyed, is what it is."
"Uh-huh." She turned to him and crossed her arms. "So it's you angry, is that what you're saying?"
"Ye- wait." He tilted his head. "This is a trap, isn't it?"
"You know what anger is, don't you?"
"Anger is the child of fear," she said. "Every time."
"Every time, my-"
Liam's eyebrows drew down over the lenses of his glasses. "That's crap logic, and you know it. That's that fucking grade-school tripe they feed you in 'sensitivity training' or whatever they're calling that shite now. 'All of life is a choice between love and fear'."
"I said love was the child of-"
"It's still the same black-white true-false shit the fucking Empire uses!"
"It's a statement based on observation. It pisses you off because it scares you, which backs up what I was saying in the first place." Sandra pointed a finger at him. "If I'd said 'water is wet' or 'the sky is blue', it wouldn't bother you, even though those are just as 'black-white' as what I said."
"Are you seriously comparing complex human emotions to fucking 'water is wet'?"
"Complex? There's nothing complex about fear. It's hardwired into us! It's part of the backbrain, where we're all robots. Robots, Liam!"
"Don't shout at me."
"You won't hear me otherwise! We're robots! We're all programmed to fear, fuck, feed, and fight. Anthropology 101: We're animals with complex thoughts and emotions stapled onto our brains like an afterthought. I don't care what you think you are, you've got the same black-white animal brain as the rest of us."
"Oh, fuck off," Liam said, almost snarling. "You can have your 'just the way it is' world if you want it, but don't fucking impose it on me. All anger is NOT just fear in fancy dress. Hate is NOT just the opposite of Love. That's-"
In a moment she was on him, pushing him back against the front wall of the house, her face inches from his. "No," she said, showing her teeth like a wolf. "Hate is NOT the opposite of Love."
"Shut the fuck up. Hate is not the opposite of Love. You want to know what is? And listen closely, 'cause this is a big secret, maybe THE secret." She leaned in close, her face swimming in his glasses. "The opposite of Love...is Indifference."
The door opened.
A jowly, middle-aged face peered out at them. "I'm terribly sorry. I wouldn't be interrupting anything, would I?"
Sandra let go of Liam and stepped back. "Professor."
"Yes, indeed. The master of the house makes a habit of answering his own door, from time to time. I suppose you'd best come inside. I'd hate to have blood spilled on my doorstep. What would the neighbors think?" The face withdrew, and the door opened all the way.
Liam turned to Isaac. "And you worried that I would make a scene."
"Both of you made a scene," Isaac said. When Sandra looked back at him, he shrugged. "Well, you did. Tear my throat out if you want, but it's true."
She sighed, and her face relaxed. "There is going to be whiskey after this," she said. "There is going to be much whiskey."
"I'll buy you a big-sorries glass of Adjective Bird when we get back," Liam said.
She looked at him, and to Isaac she looked suddenly tired. She smiled, just a little. "All right. Just don't expect a 'big-sorries' anything else," she said, and stepped through the open doorway.
Liam leered comically after her, then followed.
The inside of the house was cavernous, the foyer paneled in dark wood and lit by electric lamps hanging from the ceiling. They cast a fitful light over the corridor, leaving deep shadows in the eaves and corners.
Down a long hallway to an open sitting room, a fire burning in a stone fireplace. The Professor had set up a sofa and a wing-backed chair across from his own, which he lowered himself into, crossing one leg over the other. The table in front of him held a decanter of mellow gold liquid, a box of cigars, and several lidded jars.
Isaac thought: My life seems to revolve around taking meetings these days.
Liam took the single wing-backed chair, leaving Isaac and Sandra to occupy the sofa. Sandra sat down and curled her legs under her in an uncharacteristically girlish gesture, made all the more surreal by the big black boots she was wearing.
"Well," the Professor said, steepling his fingers atop his knee. "Ms. 'O'. Lovely to see you again, of course. And I see you've brought the prodigal son." He turned his attention to Liam. "To what do I owe the...pleasure of your sudden return, Mr. Steiner?"
"I come and go as I please," Liam said. "Nothing to do with your 'pleasure', believe me."
"And just as charming as ever. Splendid." The Professor shifted his gaze to Isaac. "And I don't believe we've met before, Mister-?"
"Angelus. Isaac Angelus."
Isaac studied the man studying him. The Professor was a tall man, stoop-shouldered and somewhat bowed forward, as many tall people seemed to be. He had the ample belly and heavy jowls that told of rich meals somewhere in his past, and he wore a tweedy, Oxonian outfit under a garish red smoking jacket. As if to give merit to the jacket, he took a full-bent briar pipe from a rack on the table and began to fill it with dark shag.
"And have you always had such a unique morphogenic field, Mr. Angelus?"
Magician, Isaac thought. Aloud, he said: "As far as I can remember."
"Indeed. Most interesting. And what, my dear Ms. O, brings you to my doorstep?"
"You still run business in Knightsbridge, right?"
"In my small way, yes."
"Small way, my ass."
"We have need of your services. I mean, your assistance. We-" She broke off. "Liam? Can you tell it?"
"Will His Majesty sit still for that?"
The Professor raised an eyebrow. "We are not amused. Do you have something worth telling or not?"
Liam ran through the Penniford story again, haltingly at first, but relaxing into the telling as it became apparent that the Professor did not intend to interrupt him.
When he was finished, the older man sat back, crossed his arms, and appeared to consider what had been said. Smoke wreathed his head like a halo.
"Well," he said at last, still drawing heavily on his pipe. "I see. You've certainly done the right thing in coming to me."
Liam leaned over toward Isaac. "Do you think he thinks he sounds like Sherlock Holmes when he does that?"
"Sherlock Holmes," the Professor said. "Was an amateur. You, my lad, are dealing with a seasoned professional in the realm of finding people. I have senses you cannot even begin to imagine, and those senses you can imagine have been refined and honed to a keen edge. For instance-" He raised his head and sniffed at the air. "I can smell fine wine- taken immoderately, I might add- cheap beer, cannabis-"
"Ooer," Liam said. "Give us another, master."
"-as well as the moon-smell of Lensmoor, your associate Bishop's personal study, black cavendish, and-" He sniffed again. "Patchouli soap. That would be you, Mr. Angelus."
Liam and Sandra looked at Isaac.
"What? I like patchouli."
Sandra turned back to the Professor. "All right," she said. "Will you help us, then?"
"Oh, certainly. Provided you agree to my terms."
"Credit for masterminding the job when- if- you dispatch this individual, and a personal oath from all three of you to at least consider any further work I send your way. And I want the body."
Liam sat up. "Why?"
"Why is not part of the agreement. Do we have an accord or not?"
"Yes," Sandra said.
Liam frowned at her. "This was my plan, you know."
She whipped around and glared back. "No. Your plan was 'I need to do this-n-that, and I don't can't think of anything better than asking you'. You don't want in on this? Get the fuck out."
Liam recoiled as if slapped.
Sandra turned to Isaac. "You still want in?"
"Even if Liam doesn't?"
"I didn't say I wanted out, I only said-"
"Yes," Isaac said. "Liam can make his own decisions."
"I only said-"
She turned back to him. "In or out, Liam?"
Liam scrubbed a hand across his face. "Fucking hell. In."
Sandra faced the Professor once again. "So we're good?"
He nodded, once. "All's well. D'accord." He smiled a grandfatherly smile. "Shall we celebrate? I've a small reserve of Lux cannabis from Midport, the original white variety"
Liam sat up. "I thought you couldn't get Lux anymore."
"Indeed. You can't. I've been saving this for a special occasion. Shall I?"
Liam and Sandra looked at each other. They looked back at the Professor.
Before they could say anything, Isaac said: "Sic Luceat Lux."
The Professor grinned. "Bravo, Mr. Angelus." He got up and headed for a set of stairs.
Liam was frowning at him. "What was that, then?"
"It's Latin," Isaac said. "It means 'thus, let the light shine'. It was in a textbook at College. I only just thought of it."
"Just now?" Sandra said.
Sandra and Liam looked at one another again. Sandra raised her eyebrows.
"Oi!" Liam called after the Professor. "You haven't got any Piracetam as well, have you?"
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.