‘Right,’ Irene said as they finished their coffee. ‘We have to assume that our cover’s blown.’
‘Because of Vale?’ Kai asked.
‘No.’ Irene tilted the cup, staring at the dregs. ‘The man who tried to snatch my purse. If he’s working for the Fae, I can only think he saw me at Lord Wyndham’s house. And if that’s the case, then he knows my face, he probably knows my hotel, and now he knows you as well. We need to break our trail.’
‘But all our things are in the hotel room!’ Kai said. ‘All the clothes we bought—’
‘How many did you buy?’
Kai tried to meet her gaze, but his eyes wandered down to his coffee cup. ‘I was just setting up several possible identities, in case we needed to move among different circles of society,’ he said, unconvincingly.
Irene patted his hand. ‘Don’t worry. In that case, they’ll be sure we’ll return, and you’ll have tied up some of their resources.’
‘So,’ Irene said briskly. ‘Standard measures.’ These were taught in the Library alongside languages and research, but were rather harder to practise inside the Library’s boundaries. But Kai’s personal experience should mean he was good at this sort of thing. ‘We’ll leave here separately; I’ll go first, and draw off anyone obvious. They may only have a single watcher. You go to the hotel room, pick up our papers and our cash supply, then leave via the back of the hotel. Do your best to lose any followers. Meet me in front of . . .’ she considered, then checked her new clockwork watch. There was no point wearing something electronic when she might have to take it into the Library. ‘Holborn Tube station at eleven o’clock. That should be busy enough to throw off any watchers. Damn. I’m never sure whether I prefer worlds that have invented mobile phone equivalents or not.’
‘It’d make communication easier,’ Kai said.
‘But it would make it easier to track us, too,’ Irene said. ‘And would empower anyone who’s trying to catch up with us. All right, are you okay with those instructions?’
Kai nodded. ‘What do I do if you don’t turn up at Holborn?’
‘Contact Dominic,’ Irene said. ‘He’ll put you in touch with Coppelia, and she’ll work out what to do next. But I don’t expect that to be necessary.’
Kai nodded. He picked up his coffee cup, and tilted it sadly, looking at the dregs in the bottom. ‘We’re not doing very well so far, are we?’
Irene blinked. ‘What? Where do you get that idea?’
‘Well, the book’s been stolen, enemies are tracking us, we’re having to abandon our base—’
‘Get that out of your head right this minute,’ Irene said. ‘Did you expect us to just be able to waltz in and pick it up?’
Kai shrugged. ‘I had sort of got the idea that it would be appropriate for an assignment involving a novice like me.’
Irene leaned forward in her chair. ‘Point one: the Library never has enough people to be able to give novices “easy” assignments. Never expect an assignment to be “easy”. Point two: yes, the manuscript has been stolen, but we already have several leads to follow, including an appointment to meet a famous detective.’ The thought made her smile. Perhaps sometimes wishes did come true. ‘Point three: it’s not a base, it’s a hotel room. Point four: the fact that we are being tracked is a lead in itself, and means we can use them to work backwards to find the book. And point five: we’ve an invitation to attend a ball at the Liechtenstein Embassy, which ought to be very interesting.’
Kai stiffened. ‘We’ve got what?’
‘See you at Holborn,’ Irene said, rising and collecting her bag.
There was indeed someone waiting outside the restaurant. She spotted him while checking her reflection in a shop window. The glare of the actinic streetlamps made them better mirrors than the flyspecked piece of glass in the hotel room. Small loss. The tail was an average-looking type, with a cheap bowler hat and a frock coat frayed at lapels and elbows. He also wasn’t very good at being inconspicuous. Maybe that was usually the job of the colleague who’d tried to snatch her bag.
At the next street corner, she managed a surreptitious glance back while waiting to cross the road, and saw him murmuring into cupped hands. He opened them, and something buzzed out, circling his head before zooming upwards in a clockwork clatter of wings.
Two streets later, he’d rather obviously acquired reinforcements. She stopped to check her hat in another shop window, and caught another glimpse of him, clearly gesturing to three newcomers and pointing in her direction.
Irene jabbed a hatpin back into place viciously, and considered how best to lose them. This London was laid out like most Londons, and she was on the edge of Soho. It’d be easy enough to lose followers there, but a woman on her own would attract the wrong sort of attention, and it might take too long for her to extract herself inconspicuously. A department store might work, but if they had any sense they’d put watchers at front and back before searching for her inside. Also now there were at least four of them, and there could be others that she hadn’t spotted. The Tube itself was a possibility, but she hadn’t investigated it yet. And while the crowds might let her hide herself from her pursuers, they’d also be ideal cover for an ‘accident’ or kidnapping. She was halfway to Piccadilly by now, too, so she needed to start turning back if she was to meet Kai comfortably by Holborn at eleven.