Subsubsection: Saturday 6 September 1930 Up Section: Stratford

8 November 2016 (Sculpture in Chelsea)

Everyone takes rough bearings and, telephoning Audrey, get a fairly central location, roughly in Chelsea. They agree to meet at the north end of the Albert Bridge; Millie and Bessie get there first, and see some signs of fire and a fair bit of shine nearby. They walk over to Dilke Street (between the Royal Hospital and the Physic Garden), to see one fire engine leaving, another standing by, and police keeping back the few onlookers. The street is mostly two- and three-storey buildings with the look of warehouses, one of which seems to have had a minor conflagration.
Bessie asks one of the policemen what’s going on, and is told that there was a fire, but the householder helped to put it out, and they’re just clearing up now. There’s a woman sitting on the kerb being fed tea by one of the firemen, and Millie and Bessie talk with her; she’s wearing an overcoat over sleepwear, and heavy work boots. She introduces herself as Sonia, and is impatient to be let back in: “I know where the acetylene tanks are”. She’s told the firemen, but she’d rather be involved herself. She describes herself as a sculptress; her build is fairly muscular, and her hair is unfashionably short but growing out.
She’s clearly reluctant to talk about certain things, but admits she was woken by the fire and fought it with extinguishers until the Fire Brigade arrived. It seems that her bed itself may have been the origin of the fire. The left half of her body is somewhat sunburned, and showing shine. With a bit of prodding (and promises of discretion) from Millie, it appears that her gentleman friend and patron of the arts was Sir William Wilson KC.
An ambulance arrives; two men go in with a stretcher, and bring out a body under a sheet. The shine is extremely obvious.
The rest of the group have arrived by now, and Lin Tan climbs a neighbouring building and works her way along the roof to get to a blown-out window (Audrey distracting the police with offers of help). The open two-storey interior space is largely filled with metal sculpture and scaffolding, except for a kitchen and bathroom arrangement by the back wall. The centre of the conflagration is obvious (a melted bed-frame), and Lin Tan sees a shining human shape much like the one in Stratford. She looks around some more, then checks the back alley (there are bits of metal piled against the inside of the back door, suggesting it’s not used often).
The firemen finish up and let Sonia back inside, and the others drift in with her (as do some of her neighbours, who look like a mixture of artistic and bohemian types). Bessie tries putting a hand near the shining figure, and gets the same impression as the others had from Kennedy-Cox’s body – but it’s an instantaneous image, with no emotional content. There’s an odd sense of distortion, as if the dragon is outside the building and inside it at the same time. She grabs up an empty polish-tin and samples the ash from the bedclothes. Gertrude tries touching the shape as well, but doesn’t learn anything more.
Sonia looks at the sculpture nearest to the bed (“The Spirit of Man”): it’s not the right shape any more, but it seems interesting, so if it’s still structurally sound… She gets started welding corrugated iron over the blown-out windows (“riveting would be antisocial at this time of night”).
Millie hauls in a sofa that’s only burned at one end, and makes up a bed for when Sonia finally comes to a stop. By about 3am, most of the neighbours have gone; Lin Tan, from the end of the road, spies a car arriving, and Millie through the front window spots Ramsey getting out. She answers the door, and he just about maintains his sang-froid.
Bessie: Oh good, we like him.
Audrey: Do we?
Lin Tan follows the trail of shine to the nearby St Stephen’s hospital; by the time she gets there, the ambulance has gone and the body’s in the mortuary. Touching the body gives her the same vision as Bessie saw. There’s nothing easily identifiable on the body; a lump of gold might have been a signet ring, but removing it would mean breaking the remains.
Meanwhile, Sonia gets Ramsey to identify himself, and then asks whether these other people are mad. (“I don’t think so.”) He asks Bessie to show him the centre of the magical effect; when he moves into it, he shows no reaction. He does mention that this seems much more practical than taking a day or two and a long procedure to achieve the same result.
The subject of the masons arises, and he pontificates slightly about the difference between “monstrously dangerous” and “monstrously powerful”; as far as he’s concerned, this is both.
Audrey asks about his amulet, and he describes it as “protective”; it’s claimed to be an ancient design, but since it involves platinum he doesn’t entirely believe that. He shows it to Millie: it seems to be mostly iron with veins of platinum laced through it, with three conical spikes protruding from a central lump. Sonia reckons it was worked with tools as it was cooling, though how you’d get the iron and platinum to be equally malleable is a neat trick. Millie gives it a mental push, and it pushes back. Audrey reckons the materials and shapes might, by some obscure correspondences, be held to resonate with fire. Millie pokes the thing with a fingertip; Ramsey jerks it back, but she’s still slightly burned. Audrey asks about getting into the records of Ramsey’s organisation; he thinks about it, but can’t see a way that could happen. Gertrude asks about other organisations in other countries; he describes the relationship as one of armed neutrality.
Everyone agrees (with Sonia trying not to listen) that this is definitely a dragon; the question is how to get to a position where one can talk to it rather than incandescing. The only obvious connection between Sir William and Sir Reginald is that they were both knighted in this year’s honours (Knights Bachelor, not of a particular order). Gertrude spots Ramsey thinking about asking whether any of the group is a virgin, and deciding not to. Sonia says that Sir William didn’t seem to have anything new on his mind; he had a small overnight bag that’s gone up in the fire.
Audrey goes with Ramsey to the hospital; she puts a hand into the centre of the shine, which blinds her magical sense for a few moments, but she gets an impression (perhaps just a swirling of the fire) of holding up a sword and shield. Ramsey makes arrangements to have the body moved later in the morning.
Millie, Bessie and Gertrude stay at the studio until breakfast-time, after which Sonia finally winds down enough to sleep.