"You'll never get away with this," Regan shouted up from bottom of the well, trying to ignore the sensation of ice cold water flowing down the inside of her boots. Nine hundred eighty six dollar and ninety seven cent boots, to be precise, not that the additional expense did anything to help keep her feet dry when they were submerged.
Jermiah Book, Master of the Library of the Straits smiled down at her. "Oh, but I already have," he answered with a grin. "And there's no meddling kids with their dog to stop me." He knelt down as though he were not a good fifteen feet above her. "Just be glad that I still need you, dear Miss Fairchild. It's the only reason I'm covering this and sparing you the noonday sun."
"I'm not helping you," she spat back defiantely.
"Such a curious thing to say in your position, girl," Jeremiah shot back. "After all, I could also leave this uncovered and allow you to aquire quite the tan by midday. I would think that someone in your position would be a bit more compliant."
"You haven't given me a good cost-benefit analysis to compare it with." Regan paused. "Have you considered that, really, as it applies to you? Surely you could use an objective pair of eyes to review the accounts on the library. I would wager that with your operation you're probably bleeding about thirty forty percent of your gross revenues, which if you were able to harness them I could reinvest and leverage for a fifteen percent margin benefit. Then when you consider the misappropriation of material resources in procuring and managing those margins you will probably find a gross improvement of twelve percent across all of your accounts." She could feel the power of the words coursing through her as she talked, projecting confusion and compliance upwards as she had done with others. To her surprise Jeremiah only smiled back down at her.
"Well said, bookkeeper. But, sadly, I'm afraid I've been around long enough that those powers have little effect on me now, at least by someone your age. I admire your effort but now am forced to bid you good evening."
And with that one of the stone servants of the library covered the hole, sealing Regan in the darkness.
"So I'll just wait here to see if you change your mind?" It was futile but it seemed like a good idea to at least have the last word even if she was the only one to hear it. She stood a few minutes in the dark, feeling the cold water pooling in her boots and soaking into her skin. There was no real rush at this point; any hope to keep her investment from being a total loss was now long gone. She was standing in the most expensive leather scraps she had ever owned. She slipped her phone out of her handbag and powered it up. The light from the screen filled the small space and reflected off the sickeningly black water around her knees. She cursed.
All the great plans for being a self-saving princess, for showing up the great Jeremiah Windsor Book by escaping from his prison and going about her own way were blocked just as sure as her cell signal. Now all she could do was sit and wait, either for someone to rescue her or for the return of Jeremiah and his stone servants. From what he had suggested, that would not be until the next evening. She would have to sit down in the muck to sleep when day broke and her death-sleep took her. That would mean the sacrifice of a three hundred dollar skirt and possibly a two hundred dollar blouse.
Really, this whole conspicuous consumption thing that had over taken her mind was becoming a bit of a bother. She could not explain it at all. They were nothing but expensive statements of her own wealth and bore no rational purpose. But, like her need to dress in the softest materials and the most expensive laces, she just felt a need to wear the best and most expensive she could find. She would have to put "Seek out another blood of the coin and ask them about this" on her list of things to do, right after getting out of this hole, getting revenge on Jeremiah, finding out who actually killed her maker, and replacing these boots.
She had a long to-do list and "forge a financial empire on which she could build complete independence" still needed to find a place onto that list but she could not decide if it should come before or after finding out who had seen to her maker's demise.
Regan looked at the screen again, the words spelling out her current predicament plainly: No Service.
She could shout, though it was unlikely that anyone would be able to hear her. She tested the side of the well with a hand. The bricks were damp and smooth, well worn after years and years of use. Climbing out was going to be nearly impossible even if she were in better shape, and she was not. She leaned back against the slick side of the well. There was little to do now but stand and wait. She was definitely not going to sit.
Her mind wandered to a more proactive approach to the Lord of the Library. Estates the size of the library were notoriously expensive to maintain. There had to be substantial investments to provide the necessary operating capital for the affair, and all investments were open to a certain risk. Even the most stable of company could suffer an unpredicted downturn, or find itself the target of a hostile take over. Then there were all the regulatory hurdles to the kind of sums that the library surely had at its disposal. A good number of laws had been passed over the last two hundred years. Had Jeremiah and his associates kept abreast of all of them?
Regan revised her to-do list, again. Getting out of the well remained the first item, but "launch intensive investigation of the library's fiscal holdings" was now just a few items behind it.
She had just begun a mental tally of potential allies she could call in favors from to finance her new mission, that being the complete ruin of any cash holdings by Jermiah Windsor, when an arc of white light appeared before her. She had no idea how long she had been standing in the dark and had long tired of checking the time on her phone. The arc widened until she was looking up into the night sky above her recessed prison.
She could not make out the face, back lit by the stars above but she recognized the voice instantly.
"I guess I picked a good night to come home," Stacy called down. "That was one fantastic show you put on for everyone."
"Thanks," Regan answered. "Now how about you drop me some kind of rope and help me out of here. I think my feet are actually getting waterlogged."
A long stretch of climbing line dropped down in front of her. It took some doing but eventually Regan was able to climb the slick sides of the well and emerge to the relative freedom of the library grounds. As she as she was clear, she unzipped her boots and peeled them off, wiggling her toes in the warm night air.
"Thanks," Regan said, her arms sore from the effort.
"Are we keeping score?" Stacy asked as she started to wind up the rope. "I think that's, like, three you owe me."
"You set me up with Dodger."
"Okay, so that's one you owe me."
Stacy grinned as she tied off the rope loops. "I hate to make it seem like 'no big deal' but I'm pretty sure that you'd only have been in there the one night."
"That's one night long enough to ruin more than just these boots." Regan winced as she peeled off her stockings and tossed them with her footwear. "Why?"
"Tomorrow night the Earl's got a big shindig going on that every biter in the county is expected to be at. You don't show, with your rep, and you're likely to get foxed."
Regan rolled her eyes. "At this point I'm pretty sure the Earl is just looking for an excuse to get rid of me. But what's that got to do with getting out of the well?"
"Well," Stacy continued, "it'd be almost as bad if Jeremiah were responsible for you missing the party. Tossing you in the well, that His Lordship is probably fine with. Making you miss the big announcement of the future of the county? Not so much."
Regan nodded and then made a connection.
"Future of the county," Stacy repeated, her brow knitted in confusion.
Regan let the silence between them continue as she thought. "Do you have any idea what this future is going to be?"
Stacy shook her head. "Nothing specific but the Biter twitter feeds are all abuzz with theories that the Earl is going to announce another heir he intends to bring over to the night. Probably plans to do the deed at the party with everyone a witness to it."
"Can he do that? What about the population limit?"
"Doesn't apply to him," Stacy answered quickly. "What's up, Regan? What do you think is going on."
Regan thought another few seconds before answering. Stacy had just retrieved her from the well, but she could not shake the cautions provided time and time again not to trust anyone, that everyone had their own agenda to forward, and the only way to stop being a pawn was to stop acting like one. However, she was going to need allies if she was to survive, and it was not easy to gain them without a little faith.
"I've got an idea about what Jeremiah might be up to, though I'm not entirely sure why he is."
"Oh?" Stacy's question came quickly. Her curiosity was completely aroused.
Regan was not ready to say yet. She was not even sure herself what the plan really entailed and she resisted even thinking about the specifics. Still she knew, somehow, that a crucial part of it all hinged on this party the Earl was planning. "I don't want to speculate." It was partly true.
"Aw, c'mon, speculate me!" Stacy's need to know was on full display.
"Not until I know why. But I'm sure Jeremiah has a real need to be at that party tomorrow night, and we need to be as well. I think Jeremiah is going to make a play for the Earl's progeny."
Stacy blinked. "He's going to what? No way."
Regan stared back at her silently. "I really don't want to say anything more, yet."
Stacy studied her, looking her up and down. "You know something but you don't even trust me enough to tell me. You don't trust anyone with this, do you?"
Regan shook her head slowly.
At this Stacy lept at her, arms outstretched and wrapped Regan in a mighty embrace, pressing her cheek into the larger woman's chest as she clung to her. "I'm so proud of you!" She held to Regan for a moment and then pulled back, looking up at her. "You're growing up so fast."
Regan laughed and pushed the smaller woman away gently. "You're a loon."
"Maybe," Stacy snapped back. "But I'm your kind of loon. So what's our plan?"
Regan had not thought that far ahead yet. Just getting out of the well had been her only priority so far. Now that they were they had options.
"Well," Regan began, "we could go straight to the Earl now and tell him what I think I know. I doubt it would change much but if I'm right a touch of fore-warning would probably be appreciated."
Stacy nodded. "He's not likely to believe you, but he's not a fool either. Being four hundred some odd years old comes with a touch of wisdom, you know."
"Or we could make a point of being at the announcement in our finest, hide in plain sight and show Jeremiah that we're not his pawns."
"Oh," Stacy laughed, "That's going to go over well. He won't kill you at the party but we can measure how long you last after it with an egg timer."
Regan brushed out her hair. "True, but if I'm right about his plans he won't be in a position to do much. Lastly, we could attend the party on the quiet. Slip in the back, and try to find this progency before Jeremiah does. We can keep an eye on him and see what happens." She looked at Stacy, her brows knit in seriousness. "And I'm not letting you out of my sight between now and then, understood?"
Stacy put her hands up in surrender. "I said don't trust me, not assume the worst."
"There's a difference?"
Stacy shrugged and started to lead the way back to one of the estate's service sheds where her car was hidden.
Our story continues into Chapter 25