Read Revived Spirits Online

Authors: Julia Watts

Revived Spirits (6 page)

“The Gatwick Express will take us straight to Victoria Station.”

Mr. Wescott threaded the luggage cart through the tapestry of humanity and parked it where his wife could lean on it and balance Anna. Liv, Anthony and Cal watched him make his way to the train ticket counter and resumed their argument, discreetly standing just out of Mrs. Wescott’s hearing.

“Stop worrying, Sis.” Anthony fidgeted, shifting his jacket and carry-on bag from one hand to the other. “Morehouse turns out fine—we already know that.”

“That’s how it was without your talking to him about his future. It’s different now. Maybe he’s on edge, maybe he’s realizing he needs to get out in a hurry. What if he doesn’t act the same around his partners and they get in a fight or something?” She tried to keep her expression neutral, but she knew the strain showed in her voice.

Cal pointed ahead. “Chances are, nothing will come from anything we’ve seen or said. Meanwhile, let’s have some fun. I’ve never been on a train before!”

Liv smiled in spite of herself and fell into step behind her parents. She marveled at the number of trains and tracks, waiting in the darkness to absorb the stream of passengers flowing from the terminal. People darted around the enormous garage, all seeming to know where they were going. Her parents conferred, heads close together, and her mother nodded and pointed to an empty car on an empty train.

The fluorescent lighting cast a blue sheen onto the plush seats, beckoning passengers to climb in and plop down in quiet comfort. Liv felt drained. She was ready to speed to London, far away from pirates.

They boarded the car and took turns shoving their suitcases into the luggage hold. She slid into one of four seats, two forward and two backward, with a table between them. The boys joined her, piling backpacks into the fourth seat. She caught sight of her reflection in the window and saw a face that looked pinched and pale.

The train pulled out of the station. The vibration and noise made it easier to let conversation go and enjoy the ride, while they all sipped on bottles of juice purchased from the food trolley. Early morning light crept into the train, competing with the interior lights and revealing the English landscape. A field with grazing sheep. A town with charming tile-roofed houses clustered together, a modern supermarket and parking lot, a station with passengers standing, waiting for their train to stop.

They were really in a foreign country. Anna and her parents dozed on the other side of the aisle, but Liv, Anthony and Cal stared out the window, taking everything in.

In the first class car of the train, Cumpston found the ride barely tolerable. The scenery was nondescript, the company of Morehouse annoying, and the presence of so many people in first class was starting to smother him. What was the point of paying extra for something if others could have it, too? He needed to think, and who could think with inconsiderate idiots yakking on phones (“Hullo, it’s me. I’m on the train.”) and rattling newspapers?

And there sat Morehouse, unperturbed, with the maddening expression of good-humor Cumpston had often observed on attractive people. Pleased with themselves, that’s what they were, because the world always went their way. People smiled at them at every turn, wanted to do things for them, wanted to make life easy for them. A handsome man like Morehouse wouldn’t know what it was like to have to claw your way from the bottom and fight for every pound you made.

Now, the reason for his current worries was sitting in the seat across from him, half-smiling, gathering admiring glances like a dog might gather ticks on a walk through the woods.

That made Morehouse a magnet for trouble. People noticed him—they remembered him. It had been a mistake to involve him so closely in the antiques side of their business. The internet and real estate scams of Cumpston, Pridgeon, and McKnickel were more sensitive and dangerous, and Morehouse was the nosy type who might want a piece of the action, which he didn’t deserve.

He needed to be dealt with. How and when could be decided later. The other issue must be addressed right now.

“So tell me, Morehouse, how do you know those delightful children?” The sneer on his face crept into his voice. “Relatives, perhaps?”

“Oh, no, just. . .friends—acquaintances, actually.” Morehouse sounded confident and unconcerned, but he had missed a beat when he answered, tripping Cumpston’s internal alarm.

“Hmm. . .” Cumpston reached for a copy of the
Times
and opened it, more to hide his face than to search for something to read. The family would get off the train at Victoria Station. Perhaps they needed watching for a bit.

The Gatwick Express eased into the western side of Victoria Station and slid to a smooth stop. Morehouse had expected Cumpston to spring out of his seat, grab his luggage, and exit swiftly, but instead he continued to read his newspaper. After a full two minutes, Cumpston rose slowly and folded the paper, leaving it on the table. He removed his leather case from beneath his seat, then dismounted the train, never so much as looking at Morehouse to see if he were following.

Morehouse didn’t like Cumpston, didn’t want him as a friend, but the sudden chill in his manner was troubling. He followed him down the train steps, and watched as his partner scanned the area and moved forward. Morehouse caught up and followed his line of sight. They were tailing the boys and their family.

Light poured through the vast transparent roof of Victoria Station’s open area and bounced off the white terrazzo floor. Pigeons loitered and relaxed while people rushed past them.

The family, minus the father, stood by a money-changing kiosk, probably waiting for him to return from purchasing travel passes for the London tube and trains. They chatted happily and pointed to the stores above the concourse, the shop fronts, and building exteriors housed inside the huge structure, unaware that Cumpston was keeping an eye on them.

Morehouse grew more uneasy by the minute. What was Cumpston up to? Surely he didn’t think these kids were a threat. He sighed. Cumpston’s moods were unpredictable, his remarks often cryptic.

If he had a good side, Morehouse needed to get on it in a hurry. He tapped him on the shoulder. “Let me buy you a coffee. What do you like?” Morehouse indicated a nearby coffee shop and hoped he sounded friendly, but not too friendly. At ease, not trying too hard.

“What? Oh, all right then.” Cumpston pointed with his briefcase toward the Terminus Place. “Meet me there, at the taxi stand.” Morehouse stepped away and disturbed a gathering of pigeons, who flew over his head, politely restraining themselves until they passed Cumpston. Then they released two white bombs, spattering the carefully pressed T-shirt and causing its wearer to press his lips together and turn an unhealthy shade of red-purple.

Morehouse stole a look back and groaned silently. His companion’s expression was murderous. He hoped the hatred was directed at the birds.

Chapter Nine

Six travelers and as many suitcases made their way to the front of the queue at the taxi stand. Mr. Wescott could be an indulgent parent at times, but he was a tyrant when it came to luggage. One piece of checked baggage per person, and if you couldn’t tote it up a flight of stairs, you didn’t need it. Even Anna carried her bunny rabbit in a teeny-tiny backpack.

Liv looked up and down the row of empty cabs and admired the orderliness of the system. Waiting passengers moved forward every ninety seconds or so, and cab drivers pulled their vehicles forward. The cab at the front swallowed up the passenger at the head of the queue and sped away. Very efficient and civilized.

She studied the parties waiting ahead of them: a couple holding hands and a slender man in a dark suit with matching dark turban. A pair of elderly ladies in plain skirts, cardigans and sensible shoes stood behind the Wescotts. The couple and the turbaned man barely gave their cabs time to put on the brakes before opening the doors and climbing in. Suddenly, it was the Wescotts’ turn.

As they picked up their belongings and prepared to move to their cab, Liv became aware of a young man in a leather jacket swaggering toward the cab that should have been theirs. The tattooed, shaved head, the piercings and skin-tight black jeans complemented his sneer.

Mr. Wescott raised his hand as if to protest, then looked back at his family and shook his head. Liv was sure her dad would have challenged the punk if he’d been traveling alone. The cab driver shrugged.

The queue-breaker opened the door and leaned down to enter his ill-gotten ride. A blue-veined hand clenched his arm and, catching him off-guard, spun him around, where he faced two very angry old ladies.

“You should be ashamed of yourself! Taking advantage of a nice family that way. And with a baby! What’s the world coming to?” They pressed in fearlessly, like mongooses standing down a cobra. They had to be in their eighties, and the taller one’s curly white head was barely higher than Liv’s shoulder.

The cab poacher began to stutter an excuse, but was immediately shouted down by the shorter woman, who brandished her cane perilously close to his nose ring. “Didn’t your mum teach you any manners? I wager it’d break her heart right in two if she could see you now.”

The young man had clearly lost both battle and dignity, and he turned to leave the way he’d come. But the octogenarian avengers weren’t through. “Oh, no, you don’t! We won’t have any of that, sneaking back to break the queue again after we’re gone. All the way around to the end for you. That’s right, step lively, that’s better.”

Their victory complete, they stepped back to wait their turn.

The queue burst into applause. The cab driver removed his cap and bowed to the women. The Wescott party stood frozen, watching, a little afraid to move.

The old lady with the cane pounded it impatiently on the sidewalk, and her friend shouted at Mr. Wescott, “Well, go on— don’t just stand about. Get in! You’re holding up the queue!”

“Nothing like a bit of drama to start your morning— welcome to London!” The driver secured the luggage, nodded at the address given to him, and merged the cab into the stream of traffic. “Beautiful day to be in London, right? But then that’s always true for me. No sir, nowhere else I’d rather be—right here in the middle of things, driving my cab.” Liv found his accent delightful. It sounded down-to-earth, friendly. He continued, “And what brings you folks to London—business or pleasure?”

Mr. Wescott inclined his head toward his family and Cal. “Pleasure for them—I’m afraid I’ll be working most of the time.” Liv noted that her father didn’t reveal what kind of business. He was proud of his work, but he didn’t like lawyer jokes, which strangers often felt astonishingly free to share when they learned he was an attorney.

The cabbie braked for a red light. “Well now, if you love your job half as much as I love mine, it won’t be a burden to do it.” The light changed to green, and he tapped his horn to encourage a car dawdling at the intersection.

“And if you hate it, at least you’ll be doing it in the greatest city in the world.” He left it at that, just short of asking what Mr. Wescott did for a living. The silence grew. Anthony filled in the gap. “Dad’s a lawyer. He’ll be working with a barrister here this summer.” Mr. Wescott’s smile never faltered, but Liv saw the muscles in the back of his neck tighten.

The cabbie glanced over his shoulder at Mr.Wescott. “Guess you’ve heard the old proverb about two farmers who each claimed to own the same cow, right? One pulled at the head, the other pulled at the tail, and the cow got milked by a solicitor.” He threw back his head and laughed with his whole upper body, a guffaw that shook the front seat.

Noticing that no one was laughing, he peered in the rearview mirror and caught Mrs.Wescott’s wide-eyed stare, then pulled his cap lower on his face. “That’s the trouble with solicitor jokes,” he grumbled. “Solicitors don’t think they’re funny, and nobody else thinks they’re jokes.”

This time, it was Mr. Wescott’s turn to belly-laugh. The ice broken, he and the cabbie began to chat about the weather, the traffic and who was likely to win the World Cup. Mrs. Wescott’s smile returned, and she pointed out sights to Anna and her bunny as they passed them. The driver gave them a history of London cabs, informing them that they’d been licensed since the year sixteen sixty-two and were still officially called hackney carriages.

The grownups continued to listen while Cal turned to Anthony. “Your dad’s a lawyer, so what was that about solicitors? I thought those were people who sell stuff door-to-door...”

Anthony explained, “Solicitor is Britspeak for lawyer. American attorneys do any part of lawyering they want to. But if he practiced here, he’d have to choose between being a barrister or a solicitor.”

“Solicitors go to trial,” said Liv. “Barristers are considered a little higher up.”

“But trial lawyers can make a lot of money!” said Cal.

Liv shrugged. “Go figure.”

They turned their attention to the sights. Trafalgar Square was coming up, with its huge statues, lofty monument and hundreds of pigeons. Liv pointed them out to Anna and said, “The pigeons of Trafalgar Square—just like in the guidebook! Aren’t they graceful?”

“Winged rats, is what I call ’em,” opined the cabbie. “Now there’s a bird that’s useful.” He pointed to a young man with a leather glove and sleeve, looking intently at the branches of a tall tree on the edge of the square. The handler gave a signal with his free hand, and a beautiful falcon glided from the highest branch, landing elegantly on his master’s sleeved arm. Bystanders oohed their appreciation, as did Anthony and Cal, but Liv observed the cabbie frowning into his rearview mirror. He had done that twice in the last few minutes.

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