There was no question about it. Master Steerpike wanted something done, and it would be done. Even if he was only the Under-Secretary. After all – Barquentine would croak soon enough. Oh, yes he would, Steerpike thought as the tailor passed the measuring tape around his neck.

Steerpike swallowed.

"Now don't go making it too tight," he told the tailor haughtily. "But don't let it be too loose either."

The tailor sighed and muttered 'yes, Master Steerpike', just under his breath.

It was time, Steerpike mused as he let the working man measure his shoulder. Mirrors and keyholes weren't enough anymore, and the damn old fool, oh, the blubbering, exasperating fool had to be disposed of.

It was time, he told himself, because he hadn't risen as high as he hoped, and the only way he could ever dream to meet his own objectives was by becoming a Groan himself. Of course. Undoubtedly. And for that reason, and many others, he needed Fuschia. Whom he wanted to seduce desperately. Sex was only a side benefit which he barely thought about.

"What color, my lord?" The taylor was obsequious enough, and he was dignified with an appropriate answer.

"Black," and that was all that Steerpike had to say. Flay gone, there was no other shadow within the halls to prowl them.

Flay gone, Steerpike could wear black and be both Barquentine's assistant and slowly slip into the position he wanted – if only Dame Gertrude weren't so... distrustful. He had to find a way to respond to her mistrust and make her love him.

Of course, that would require more work than any other female at court, which dismayed Steerpike quite a bit. After all, even Irma Prunesquallor was less horrifying to look at then the Earl's wife. Just the thought of her fat lips and springy hair, not to mention her quadruple chin... but of course, there was no shudder in the assistant secretary's body as he envisioned his approach.

Cats, he decided, were the way into her Ladyship's good graces. Now, to find a cat, an animal of sorts that might charm her and win her favour for him, that would be a grand plan.

"Master Steerpike?"

He turned nonchalantly, glanced over at the tailor's assistant with a look that seemed to be almost bored, and made an undistinguishable sound that indicated his attention.

"Tomorrow," the man said. "After the afternoon ceremony, will that do?"

Barquentine's days were now barely numbered. After that, he would set on counting Lady Gertrude's, and only she would stand in his way.

"Oh, yes," Steerpike replied, smiling in response to a private joke. "It will do perfectly."

As would his new scheme, of course.