It had been a struggle to convince his main housekeeper that he was well enough to attend this meeting and yet a new struggle to find a way to ensure that his doctor would allow him to travel that far, even with a driver. The doctor was less interested in his reasoning but relented finally when he saw that there was no changing his patient’s mind, no matter how bad of an idea this likely was. The housekeeper was to be less yielding but Victor had made a bit of a softer plea on behalf of the child. He had already allowed for the beginning of the decorations to be put up and had made a point to put the girl in charge of some minor tasks. She was over the moon with excitement in a way he’d never seen her before and he knew that the housekeeper was keen to see her happy too. Likewise, it had done wonders for the rest of the household and the atmosphere around his home was becoming much more quiet and calmer than it had been since he’d fallen ill. All this was not lost on his head housekeeper but she would not be so easily swayed if she thought he was being reckless. He’d not lied at all when telling her that he intended to look for small items around the house and perhaps, if he could find something suitable, perhaps a token of his appreciation for the girl’s hard work. The housekeeper was still adamant that she did not like the idea of him leaving in the cold but the idea of the girl having something of a surprise for Christmas managed to soften her resolve enough to let him leave. When he’d managed to secure his regular driver for his more delicate affairs, Victor made his way outside into the storm of ice and cold and into the car that may take him somewhere worse than this frozen wasteland.

In some ways, he thought mirthlessly, this was much like his own travels when he’d gone to see the widow. He had prepared each time for it to be the time she had stopped caring to see him. Of course, those trips were taken alone and he had time to assume that this might be his last trip with no one the wiser on where he was going or what might happen to him on the way to or from his destination. He wondered about that woman now. He had not yet heard anything from her and he could only blame the roads now for the terrible conditions that they were in. For the best, even if it was suspicious to him that he had not felt her presence in his life since he’d given her the rose. If she had sent for him, it might well be an attempt on his life anyway, considering the treacherous streets that were still filled with snow covering a thick layer of ice beneath. As it was, they had been cleared as best as they could be but there was still such a mess to be dealt with and the lesser used roads out of town were even worse. Victor had heard from some that the bootleg trade was getting very difficult these days, the supply dwindling and the demand getting higher. There were even rumors that some of the more important people in town had found their homes invaded and their own stash of alcohol raided by those who knew that the rich did not suffer without quite like the poor did. He might suspect that more people would be getting tempted into such desperate measures. The alcohol in town was becoming less palatable as the weather got worse and it didn’t help that the roads out of town were getting more dangerous. If not for the sheer treacherous conditions of those icy backroads taking out late night drivers, there was also the very real chance that someone would use the weather to their advantage to make sure that if someone was making a booze run without permission from certain sources, it would be the last run they made.

Accessing the road into town had taken some doing but thankfully, this driver was nothing if not a miracle worker. He was told that he was also the driver that had made a point to get the doctor when he’d first been poisoned. It made sense. Victor had hired him early upon arriving, making sure that he only used this gentleman for the most sensitive of meetings and ensuring that the man was well compensated for his troubles. He was only to drive the one car which was available to him at his leisure any time he desired it. He had taken it for other work in town before but always returned it in better condition than it left in. Victor had wondered about where this vehicle had found its way to when it went off, particularly after he’d once found that the driver had taken the license plate off and driven it out for the day without it. He had never questioned this, however, and allowed himself to turn a blind eye to the fact that this driver had also been one to service Brother Edward when there was a need. It had been how he knew that this driver could be trusted with more discreet matters. It was also why he was particularly concerned in regards to this meeting that he was allowing this man to take him to. Considering also that Brother Edward’s loss was still likely fresh in the minds of his own so-called family, this may very well be ugly. He would not only be missed by them but Victor knew of his skills and knew that he was a valuable asset to those whom he was connected to. They were likely livid about this loss and would want to have some answers wherever they believed that they might find them.

Coming into the township proper, Victor sighed at the way that Courtland County attempted to dress up these ugly little streets. He never cared much for this place but it was somewhere convenient to allow his operations to grow and it was largely unconnected to the greater areas that his businesses served. It was a necessary evil to live so close to this town and its people that he so disliked. It wasn’t necessarily quite as bad as it could be but all the things that he hated where here and on display far more than they liked to think. He’d seen it in the few times that he’d been able to be coaxed to come into town. The small minded people here who were so focused on simply the town’s reputation. They cared little for the people in the poor areas that they had pushed out to the fringes. They did little to stop the things that affected them and now that this dreadful experiment in puritanical sensibilities had come to call, he could only imagine that there were many people who lived in this wretched little town who were quite proud of themselves for the sober lives they lived in the day while they hoarded their wine at night. Meanwhile, the people who washed their laundry and made their meals and cleaned their houses went home to squalid little shacks and toiled in misery. He wondered, idly, if he would ever have thought to look for such people in this world had it not been for her. Had it not been for his own rush into the world of poverty when he’d left that prison he’d escaped from. He wondered if he would be a man he hated more than he already did.

“You’ve got much on your mind today, sir,” the driver remarked, his tone neutral. “This meeting got the better of you, does it?”

“No, I’ve made peace with this outing and would very much like to get it over with,” he sighed. “I would prefer to make a small stop to pick up an item for the girl as I indicated before I left. My hope is that I am early enough in the day that I might not be caught in this dreadful town for too long.”

“This nonsense doesn’t much please you,” the driver commented, nodding at the garland that had been wrapped around each streetlamp post and crowned with ribbons. “Not much a fan of it myself, sir. Does seem a bit odd that you’d be setting up your house in such things.”

“My pleasure is of little concern at the moment but for as offensive as I find these displays, a miserable household is a far worse thing to behold,” Victor replied, settling back and stretching out his legs. He sighed and gripped his cane. “To suffer the festivities of this time of year is a small price to pay for a peaceful home to resent them in.”

“A fair point,” the driver laughed. “And do you suppose this peaceful environment is likely to come following this appointment of yours? I seem to recall that you and the gent we’re meeting share somewhat of a hostile relationship.”

“We are civil for the most part and that is the best either of us can muster,” Victor admitted. “I will say that this man is undeniably capable and has been more reliable than most. Still, be on your guard. It troubles me that he has insisted on meeting this way.”

“I always am,” the driver shrugged.

“Good,” Victor sighed, looking out the window as they passed the shops of main street. “I should hope that this may be a short day for both of us but I cannot guarantee anything other than your full compensation for this.”

The driver nodded signalling he understood and they approached his first destination. Victor quietly hoped that the grey morning would soon turn up the means to finish with this obligation.

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