We are waiting for Christopher to get home. Sipping wine around the kitchen table, Alice and I are just at the stage of starting to get worried. He’s all right, we say to each other occasionally, betraying our concern that there might be something wrong. He’s all right: Dick Charters will have picked Chris and Harry up okay from after-school drama practice, it being Dick’s turn this week to fetch the two nine-year-olds. Maybe the traffic’s hellish. Maybe Dick’s run out of gas – wouldn’t be the first time he’s done that – and even now they’re waiting for the rescue vehicles. Something like that.
The Midas Scorpion was an assassin’s tool of the Elder World, from a time long before there were distinctions between magic and machine, or life and art, or death and love. It was made of gold, finely articulated, with a single bead of poison still on the tip of its sting and its ruby eyes still glittering with mindless evil, even though it lay dead and flayed open on John Whelan’s work desk. The haphazard scattering of its eviscerated remains testified to his last moments of panic as he’d unsuccessfully looked for the secret of curing its poison, but Whelan was no longer in his workshop. He was upstairs in the little bedroom above the little shop which he and his wife Mary owned in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter; watching her die.