The gentleman stepped into the office head held high and posture perfect, with nary a glance for the liveried Negro servant holding the French glass doors open for him. Came to a halt a few paces inside the room, booted tread muffled by the silk carpets covering a polished hardwood floor, and waited, hands clasped behind his back, to be recognized. His clothes, while several years out of fashion, were impeccable.
Behind the desk, Richard de Vere, Esquire, continued to write, his quill scratching across parchment, pausing occasionally to dip into the bottle of ink sitting by his elbow. Sunlight, fading but still strong, cast his profile into sharp relief; catching on the pair of gold rimmed spectacles perched on the end of his nose whenever he tilted his head in thought. Seconds ticked by until, letter finished, de Vere lifted it and blew gently over the ink to dry it. Only after the letter had been folded and sealed with the East India Trading Company signet did he raise his eyes to the waiting man. “Mister Cutler Beckett?”
“Sir.” Beckett inclined his head in a polite bow. “You requested my presence?”
De Vere ignored the question; his fingers touched the edges of a piece of paper on his desk, correspondence he’d received a few days ago. “Lord Whittington gives you high recommendations indeed.”
“Sir,” Beckett said again, with another slightly deferential nod.
Richard de Vere’s lips twisted in amusement and distaste. “Lord Whittington is a fool.” He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers in front of him and raising an eyebrow. A heavy gold ring adorned his left hand. There was no response from Beckett, neither emotion nor movement. “In any case, there is a shipment of spices from our factory here in Jamaica which requires escort to St. Kitts. They’re a special commission for the governor’s wife, who is a close personal friend of our very own Director Hudson. I expect you to see that these goods are delivered on time and in good order. You understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Beckett said, confident. “You can rely on me.”
“Hmph,” de Vere grunted. “The ship’s not expected to make port until early tomorrow. I want you underway as soon as she’s resupplied.” He waved a hand in a curt dismissal, cutting off any further words Beckett might have had.
Beckett strode out of the offices of the East India Trading Company struggling to keep his temper in check. Catching sight of several red-coated guards, he snapped his fingers at them. “You, men, attend me. I want the shipment of spices that’s going out tomorrow to be taken down to pier four so they can be loaded as soon as the ship arrives.”
The men exchanged looks, and one of them said, tentatively, “Begging your pardon, sir, but if we leave the goods out overnight, there’s a fair chance some of the dock rats’ll make off with them.”
Beckett sneered. “Then I suggest you post a watch. That is what we’re paying you for, isn’t it? I shouldn’t expect guarding a pile of boxes to be beyond your capabilities.” He started to turn away; stopped. “And don’t think to help yourself to a bit of the product, either; if the weight’s off by so much as an ounce the difference will come out of your pay.” Gauging that his words had impressed the seriousness of the situation upon them, he nodded smartly, and headed off to pack his own effects.
“But we’re supposed to be off-duty in an hour…” The protest drifted after him, ignored.