A/N: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and all characters and settings appearing in this fic are the property of Diana Wynne Jones's estate.
Mordecai blinked and rubbed his eyes. This was the fourth report he'd searched for a lead. He'd read the same sentence three times over, and the words were beginning to blur together. He'd tried taking it to the chaise lounge by the lamp for better light and a fresh perspective, but it hadn't helped. He needed a distraction. He raised himself up on his elbows and looked at his companions, both of them deep in similar study. "Rosalie-" he cajolingly.
"No," said Rosalie automatically from her chair by the coffee table. They were gathered in Mordecai's rooms because Gabriel was engaged with the Prime Minister in a meeting to which not even Rosalie was privy and a magical accident had left the library in desperate need of cleaning.
Mordecai's exasperation was written plainly on his face. Rosalie could not have missed it if she'd looked up from the report she was reviewing, which she didn't. "You don't even know what I was going to ask."
"The same thing you asked the last three times," she replied in clipped tones. "There is no room for new evening wear in the Castle budget." She looked up, daring him to contradict her assumption.
Had it been three? Surely not. "You'll regret that the next time the Government drops a pack of ambassadors on us without warning and Gabriel asks you to play hostess," said Mordecai.
Rosalie looked around the room pointedly. "A wardrobe," she said primly. "Does not need to take up half one's quarters. Mine is perfectly suitable. Nor does one need two pairs of boating shoes when we haven't a lake or a boat."
"Oh, come now!" Mordecai followed her gaze. Half was a gross overstatement. It couldn't be more than a quarter, with another quarter taken up with books, a gramophone, and various magical implements. Overall, he considered the rooms to be quite tastefully decorated. "As for suitable, I'd call it barely adequate when we find ourselves with guests for three weeks." Still ruffled, he gave her a smile that usually won him an extra biscuit from Sally at supper. "Though you make anything look ravishing."
Rosalie colored, although she appeared more irritated than pleased by the compliment. "I'm sure you'll make do."
"It's best to be prepared." Mordecai looked to the third person in the room for help. "Aren't I right, Flavian?"
Flavian, seated at Mordecai's writing desk with the London paper spread out in front of him, had the good sense not to be drawn into the debate. "I still haven't found a hint of where Edward Elliot is now-" he said.
"Not in a tailor's shop," said Rosalie with the air of having scored a point.
Before Mordecai could contest the victory, Flavian continued. "But I think I know where he'll be next Saturday."
That got their attention. Flavian brought the newspaper over to the coffee table and laid it across the piles of reports, photographs and clippings through which they had been working their way. Rosalie leaned across the table to see, and Mordecai came all the way off the chaise to stand and look over Flavian's shoulder. "What have you found?"
Flavian cleared his throat and read from the announcements. "'Charles and Sylvia Howe will be marrying their daughter, Charlotte Howe, to David Phillips, Esq. on Saturday, Twenty-seven October, at two o'clock in the afternoon. Family and friends will attend the wedding at the Howe Family Chapel and the dinner following…'" He folded the newspaper and began digging through the stack of documents on the table. "Where was that photograph?"
Mordecai and Rosalie joined the search. The excitement of a breakthrough after an investigation replete with one dead end after another infected all of them. Rosalie was the one to find the photograph. Eleven men in cricket whites, and there in the middle, arms across each other's shoulders and helpfully identified by the caption, stood David Phillips and Edward Elliot. "Well done, Flavian!" said Mordecai, clapping his friend on the back.
"Gabriel will want to coordinate with the local police," said Rosalie. "A week should give us time to set up outside the estate. Are they bringing in any extra staff for the occasion? It would be better if we could get someone inside."
"I'll check again," said Flavian. "But perhaps we could have a word with the Howes?"
"Leave that to me," said Mordecai, rubbing his hands together and grinning. "I played cricket with Franklin Howe at school. He wrote me that Charlotte was getting married, but I didn't remember the groom's name. I can probably wangle an invitation. Say I'm planning to be in the area." His forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I may even have one somewhere." He patted his pockets, then began rummaging through desk drawers. "Aha!" he said, waving an ornately-decorated envelope triumphantly. He tore open the wax seal and began reading. "'Mr and Mrs Charles Howe request your presence…' Yes, this is it." His voice turned wistful. "I wouldn't mind seeing the place again. The grounds are beautiful."
"Do they have a lake?" asked Rosalie, a little pinker and more pointed than before. "Perhaps you can get some use out of those boating shoes." She pinched the bridge of her nose and added, less briskly. "Try, at any rate, if it isn't too late to accept. It's the best we have to go on. Can you get Flavian in with you?"
Mordecai sat down across from her, reading the calligraphy. "I can try. I do have a plus one, although it would draw less attention if I had a lady with me…" He raised his eyebrows meaningfully.
Rosalie looked doubtful. "I'll see if Yolande or Beryl can be spared."
That was not at all what Mordecai was hoping for, lovely as both ladies were. Flavian, bless him, came to the rescue. "Aren't they attending the Witches' Benevolent Society next weekend?"
Rosalie looked as if she wanted to say something sharp, but one couldn't be sharp with Flavian. He was too nice; it was impossible. Mordecai envied him that trait (among others). "You're right. I forgot it was rescheduled." She frowned at Mordecai. "Since when have you cared about drawing attention?"
"I'm heeding your lectures," said Mordecai brightly. "Turning over a new leaf. Come along. I can guarantee we'll only turn the right kind of heads."
That nearly seemed to fluster her, but she pursed her lips together firmly. "Heaven knows you need a chaperone."
That was as good as a victory. Mordecai beamed. "Exactly! Think of the trouble I could get into on my own."
Rosalie's pinched expression suggested she was, indeed, imagining it. "All right then," she said, at last.
"Perfect," said Mordecai. "I'll accept for two. Flavian can be our back up." He beamed at Flavian, as well.
Flavian only shook his head. Aloud, he said. "I can be there in a moment, if you need me."
"So that's settled," said Mordecai. "Now we just need something appropriate to wear." He raised his eyebrows hopefully.
Exasperated, Rosalie shook her head. "No, Mordecai."