I suppose I can freely admit that I had been missing him all week, and not simply because of the interesting physical experiments we had undertaken of late. But I was surprised at how often my mind drifted to those singular instances, for I had never seen him so delightfully animated as when I caused him to cry out with pleasure. I was no less intrigued having gotten my first actual taste of him just a few days before he departed for the country, an experience which I was looking forward to repeating, for I was certain that it was one more skill at which I would soon excel. He seemed ever anxious to make a similar attempt on my person, which my instincts were telling me might hold very great rewards indeed.
Unfortunately, there were other matters at hand just now. My heart rate quickened at the rattle of a carriage pulling up to the curb outside. I waited tensely until there was a knock on the door.
“A gentleman to see you, sir,” Mrs. Hudson announced. “Mr. Milverton.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” I replied, “Show him in.”
I braced myself to greet the most despicable man in all of London, a man whose very name incited terror and fear in those who carried a secret in their past, which amounted to most of the London population. I am not known for my habits of social grace, but it is neither often that I recoil from an outstretched hand in a simple sign of greeting. However, when there was a pair of beady, penetrating eyes and a sneering smile at the other end of said hand, my refusal to touch it was borne of an almost visceral reaction.
Milverton was not phased in the least by my show of inhospitality, and he sat his plump self on the settee and regarded me with a challenging glare.
“You are no doubt aware of the letter I have implicating Mr. Godfrey Norton in a scandal of gross indecency?” he barked at me.
“Yes, and I have been engaged by his wife to negotiate the terms,” I replied.
“Seven thousand pounds, sir. I’m afraid I cannot come down in my price,” he said, making a show of casually flicking the tassel on the pillow next to him.
“However,” he added with a sickening grin, “if I find am I able to prove the wife has an indiscretion of her own than I shall be more than happy to raise the sum to ten thousand.”
“The first price is impossible, the second one absurd,” I said brusquely, making some effort not to show my growing anxiety. I tried a different tack altogether.
“What could you possibly hope to gain from such a transaction when Mr. Norton is already quite indisposed by the mere threat?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “This little business of mine is predicated on the publicity of my success, Mr. Holmes. I have a considerable stack of letters in my safe that would nearly double in value once this Norton affair comes out.”
This man was the very devil incarnate.
“And you will not settle for three or four thousand pounds less, and the assurance that the money would be immediately forthcoming?” I tried one last time.
He threw his head back and laughed, a shrill cacophonous ring that held no joy in it. “Your pathetic offer is an insult to us both, Mr. Holmes,” he chortled and rose to leave.
I grabbed his arm. “Supposing poor Mr. Norton dies before the deadline of your terms?” I growled. “What then?”
“Careful, Mr. Holmes,” he smirked back at me. “A man in my position must be armed to the teeth when he enters the public realm,” and he patted his pocket to indicate where his weapon was hid.
“As for your client’s husband, I would certainly be sorry to lose my profit. But I have someone tracking his so-called law partner this very moment, and it has been suggested to me that there is much more to this…situation than meets the eye, so I am not losing hope,” he said behind a twinkling eye. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, sir, I have one or two little interviews this evening.”
I dropped his arm and steeled my reserve. I barely had enough self-control to keep from tearing him apart right there in my sitting room, the law be damned. If he would just take his leave I could begin to think, to plan. All I could do now was imagine how his destruction would be hailed as the greatest public service of the century.