“So we had a most marvellous afternoon walking around a poncy park looking at some ugly statues,” said Clackprattle to Pook and Bisset as they sat around the table. “And we learned precisely nothing. Is it possible, Bisset, is it possible your crack team of witless map readers can suggest some places instead of us trailing around the Jennings’ wake like puppy dogs?”

Bisset smiled.

“It is entirely possible for my brothers to supply to you a list of possible locations. The problem is that that list would take a year to investigate. The Tuileries was indeed a candidate so it wouldn’t be a surprise they looked there,” he said. “Of course, they have the advantage of having spoken to the Oracle so may know more than we.”

“That pitiful creature was useless,” said Clackprattle. “She told us nothing but riddles.”

“Indeed that is the nature of an oracle,” said Bisset, “and our task is rather to solve those riddles. It is indeed unfortunate that she was killed when you met her as she may have been helpful. I have to say, some of the brothers are concerned by that and what it implies.”

“What do you mean by that, sir?” said Clackprattle rising, his glove slipping off his hand.

“I mean,” said Bisset, “they are concerned that maybe the… abomination that infects your hand also affects your mind, affects your judgement.”

“I believe I can interject here,” said Pook. “I can honestly say I can see no deviance between Master Clackprattle’s resolve and composure from before his acquisition of power. He is, and remains, as solid and reliable as ever.”

Clackprattle snorted.

“At least one man can see the truth,” he said, indicating Pook.

“Indeed, that is most enlightening,” said Bisset. “I will be happy to convey that to my brethren. But there is nothing you can remember of your conversation, nothing however insubstantial seeming that may help?”

“As I said before, it were nonsense,” said Clackprattle. “So I suggest your brethren pull their enlightened fingers out of wherever they have stuck them and find us some answers before we lose another key piece!”

Clackprattle thumped on the table for affect.

“This bores me,” he said. “I shall retire.”

After he had gone Bisset and Pook smiled at each other.

“This is a most unfortunate situation to find ourselves in,” said Bisset pleasantly. “I worry the order may lose patience if we do not progress soon. I am sure they can be placated in the meantime by the completion of your other task.”

“We are indeed very close to that goal,” said Pook. “But I must admit to a certain nervousness on that score. Were we to complete that task, and given our current difficulties, it would rather seem that we were exposed somewhat to any negative consequences triggered by the order. We would have, as they say, no chips with which to bargain, if push came to shove.”

“An understandable concern,” said Bisset, “but I can assure you, as a friend, that should push come to shove, it would be the architects of the failure that would shoulder the blame, not their agents or servants.”

Pook smiled.

“I feel I must press you for a little more clarity,” he said. “I believe for example it could be suggested that I may bear some small responsibility for the problems that were encountered in recovering the piece from the Oisienne. I would like to be sure I am not seen as the, ah, architect in that situation.”

“M Pook,” said Bisset, “whilst fingers were understandably pointed after those events, I think I may be able to reassure you here. For when push does indeed come to shove, any who assists in the, er, shoving are bound to be seen as above reproach in eyes of the brotherhood.”

Pook leaned back, his shoulders dropped a little.

“I am sure,” he said, “you will always find me a most willing servant in all your endeavours.”

“I would imagine nothing less,” said Bisset.

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