The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 16

“It’s definitely not him,” Garrett muttered under his breath as they went in search of Ned the stagehand. “I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to pen such an eloquent play.”

“Interesting how he seemed afraid of Rommell,” Perry replied quietly.

Their eyes met in silent understanding and he ushered her through the door to backstage, his hand firm on the small of her back.

A couple of young men were working on shifting some of the props. Two of them were laughing, but the third just looked exhausted, dark circles shadowing his eyes, and his cheeks sunken with gauntness.

The second Perry saw him, she hesitated. “That man asked me if there’d been any news on Nelly the other day. I didn’t think anything of it.”

Garrett reassessed the fellow. He was tall and lean, with gingery hair. Hardly the sort of chap to steal a young actress of Nelly’s caliber, but then one never did know when it came to women.

“Edward Barham?” Garrett called, reviewing the list of names that Fotherham had given him.

The weary-looking fellow looked up. The second he saw them, he paled, then turned and bolted through the door.

“It’s him!” Perry snapped, after a shocked moment of hesitation.

They thundered after him.

Barham led them a merry chase through the wings, and across the stage. He leapt down into the orchestra pit, and scrambled up into the seating.

Perry followed, the long flap of her leather jacket flaring out around her like wings as she leapt. Garrett made as if to follow but something caught his eye; a shadow moving above, in the flies.

What the–?

He saw the glint of light reflect back off metal, and realization dealt him a swift blow to the gut.

“Look out!” he roared, leaping off the stage, and going after her.

Perry’s feet skidded to a halt, and she glanced over her shoulder at him. It was the only thing that saved her life.

A shot rang out, sparks ringing off the metal ladder nearby. It missed Perry by an inch. Garrett slammed into her, carrying her to the floor, and rolling his body between them. The world faded to red as the hunger roared through his veins, fury bringing with it a wave of murderous intent. His sight grew clearer, the world snapping into sharp relief as the predator within him roused.

“Son of a bitch!” Perry looked up in shock toward the flies, “Did someone just–”

Yes. His blood ran cold. “Stay down.”

Garrett rolled her out of the way, shoving her behind a seat. He drew his own pistol, looking up. The shadow moved, running along the metal frame. “Looks like my ploy worked.” He just hadn’t expected an attempt to be made against Perry, and that pissed him off. He should have.

Perry craned her neck, focusing on the door that was still flapping from Ned Barham’s exit. “Bloody hell.”

“Go.” He gave her a shove. “Hunt Barham down. I’ll take care of this.” It was the safest option.

“No!” Her eyes blazed, and he knew she was thinking about what had happened the last time they’d separated.

“I’m not going to get shot.” Garrett could just make out the edge of the shadow, vanishing into the darkness of the wings. He needed to move and now, if he wanted any chance at catching the bastard. “We need to know why Barham’s running,” he reminded her. “We need to confirm our suspicions about Nelly and Hobbs.”

Perry wavered. She slid her aural communicator into her ear and hooked it there, “Keep in contact with me.” Both wrist-pistols slipped into her palms, and her fingers clenched around them. “And watch your back. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Always.” Garrett’s gaze returned to the wings, tracking their assailant, and he darted forward, using the edge of the stage to cover himself.

Ned Barham had a good start on her, but that didn’t mean much. Perry could pick up hints and traces of his scent as she ran, and it was soon clear that he was using the theatre’s secret passages to avoid her. Not running so much now, as gone to ground.

She tracked him to the seamstress’ department and entered warily, her double wrist pistols in her hands, just in case someone else tried to take a shot at her.

Dust motes circled through the golden patch of sunlight that streamed into the room through the windows. One foot crossing over the other, Perry crept forward, circling a wire fashion mannequin. Racks of clothing provided the perfect hiding place, and she heard a swift intake of breath as she stepped into the patch of sunlight.

“Edward, I have no intention of hurting you. We just wanted to talk about Nelly.”

Silence, filled only by two racing heartbeats; hers and one other.

Perry cocked her head. He was in the far corner, behind a row of dresses. Perry held her hands up, flipping her pistols back into their wrist sheaths. Then she held her hands up in the air. “We know you were courting Nelly. We suspect that Nelly is James Hobbs’ sister, but we need confirmation of this.” She took a step forward. “Edward? Please come out. I know you’re there.”

No sign of movement, but she heard a muffled sob. Perry stepped forward, and jerked a chartreuse gown out of the way. Edward cowered behind it.

“I didn’t do it! I d-didn’t do it!” Red seared his pale cheeks, and his eyes were wet with tears. His hands shook as he held them up.

“I know,” she said, in a soothing voice. “We know you had nothing to do with Nelly’s death. Come out, please.”

His breath caught on a sob. Perry stepped closer, sliding one hand over his shaking shoulder, and kneeling as he burst into tears. “Why did you run?”

He shook his head, trying to reign his emotions in. “I don’t... k-know... I just saw y-you and ran. I didn’t know w-what to think, w-what to do... She’s gone.” He looked up, face stained with agony. “She’s truly gone, and she’s n-never coming back, is she?”

“I’m afraid so.” Perry’s whisper roughened. “The funeral arrangements are being made for this week.”

At that Edward burst into a fresh round of sobbing. Perry patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. “I’m sorry to ask this of you, but we truly do need to know what happened. I want to catch whoever did this, and make him pay his dues. Were you courting Nelly in secret? Did her brother not approve?”

The whole story spilled out in bits and pieces; Edward - or Ned’s - shy friendship with the young actress, slowly turning to something more. He’d never expected Nelly to ever return his feelings, and they often walked in the park before rehearsal to get away from the mayhem of the theatre. Nelly had begun to confide in him about her difficult upbringing with a mother who didn’t approve of her desires for a theatre life. The young Eleanor Hobbs had run away to London to join the theatre, and her older half-brother James, who she knew little of.

“James encouraged her to take another name to protect his business, when it became apparent she intended to be an actress - with or without his help. James adored her, but he made his feelings on her lifestyle clear. He wanted her to marry and settle down - just not with me.” Ned’s eyes were glazed with exhaustion, his tears drying and chapping his cheeks. “He knew I belonged in the theatre, and he wanted to remove her from its temptations. And then, of course, there was Rommell, and Beckham, and a half dozen others who thought they could buy her... So we kept our... our engagement a secret.”

“You were engaged?”

Ned nodded miserably, and reached inside his collar to withdraw a small golden band on a strip of leather around his throat. “I was keeping it safe for her, for when we could finally announce our intentions to the world. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he whispered, his heart breaking in his eyes. “Nelly believed in me. She believed that I could do anything, that I could become more than... than just a stagehand. I loved her so much.”

The poor bastard. She had to get going - Garrett was alone with a murderer -but sympathy kept her there for a few moments longer... “Then do what she wanted you to do. Publish the play. It’s quite good, actually. I read the little notes she’d been making - that’s how we knew to track you down.”

Ned stared at her blankly, then resolve started to come into his eyes. “She’d have wanted that.”

Perry straightened, and helped drag Ned to his feet. “Do you have any idea who might have wished her ill?”

That changed his demeanour. “It’s the only reason I’ve been able to come back to work,” he confessed. “I keep thinking maybe I’ll see or hear something. Maybe I could find them.”

“You don’t think the clockwork menace had anything to do with it? Everyone else seems to.”

“Lovecraft would never have hurt her!” Ned looked up guiltily. “I met him once, see. When James first threw me out of his shop – and Nelly often spoke of him.”

“Lovecraft?” she suggested, to keep him focused.

“He adored Nelly. She was his ‘aunt’. The poor blighter wouldn’t have hurt a fly, and definitely not Nelly. James took him in, but Nelly... She always made an effort to look out for the less fortunate, you know? She made him feel like he belonged, like there was nothing wrong with him.”

“I’m so sorry,” Perry said again, uselessly.

Ned looked like he’d been disemboweled by grief. There was as much life left in him as the fashion mannequin.

“I have to go,” she said. The tick of time seemed to fire blood through her veins. Where was Garrett? Was he all right? Had she taken too long? But first– “I promise you that we shall do everything in our power to bring whoever did this to justice.”

It wasn’t much, not with Ned’s entire life torn apart. But it was the only thing she could offer him.

A bark of sound echoed in the distance, so quietly that she almost missed it. Perry cocked her head, and cut Ned off as he opened his mouth to say something. A second echo followed. The moment she recognised it, she had no thought left for either Ned or Nelly.

That had sounded like pistol fire.


GARRETT POUNDED through the backstage, following the shadowy figure ahead. It was a circular chase, almost as though the bastard was leading him somewhere. He crashed through a door and–

Something moved in the corner of his vision.

A weapon discharged with a flash of light, and the second before the bullet hit him, he had the thought - bloody hell, there are two of them–

Heat and fire slammed into Garrett’s shoulder. It felt like a punch and he staggered back into the wall, the scent of blood igniting all of the darker urges within him. The room swam, full of shadows as he tried to get his feet underneath him.

A trap. A bloody trap.

He had to get out of here. Clapping a hand to his shoulder, Garrett forced his suddenly-heavy legs to drive him behind a prop. Another bullet bit into the wall where he’d been standing, and a cold sweat sprang up along his spine. Someone was trying to kill him, and if he didn’t pull himself together, they’d succeed.

Where was Perry? Why the hell had he sent her away? Stubborn, bloody pride, that was why, driving him to protect her. Now he was the one who needed help.

Would she even hear the shot?

His right leg gave out, and Garrett went down to his knee, pain tearing through his shoulder, and his pistol skittering from nerveless fingers. His vision blurred. The pistol came to a halt several feet away.

How badly was he bleeding? Through the shadowed haze that filled his vision, he could just make out his right hand, slippery with darkened blood. His blood.

Footsteps stalked him. Garrett clenched his teeth together, and dived for the pistol.

“There he is!” Someone barked.

Even through the ringing of his ears, the man’s tone was crisp and precise. Garrett had spent years mimicking a man’s proper speech, and trying to erase all hints of his own roughened Bethnal accent. He knew what that sounded like.

The Echelon.


Then who the hell had originally shot at them in the flies?

Using another prop as cover, Garrett tried to steady his shaking hand. His wet fingers were slippery on the trigger. Where was the first assailant? He ducked his head around the prop, trying to see the pair of them, and another shot rang out, spraying shards of brick over him as it hit the wall.

Pinned down. Garrett swore under his breath. All they’d have to do is flank him, and he was done for.

Touching the brass aural communicator in his ear, he pressed the button to connect it. “Perry?”

A moment of static, and then, “Where the hell are you?”

“Backstage. There are two of them. They’ve got me trapped.” His vision blurred for a second, and Garrett swallowed hard.

“I’m coming,” she snapped, the communicator turning her voice tinny. “Just hold on, princess, and I shall rescue you.”

Garrett tipped his head back and let out a shaky laugh. She’d gotten him out of stickier situations than this in the past. He just hoped she made it in time.

Priming the pistol, Garrett ducked around the prop, and aimed a shot off, nearly hitting Rommell. His lordship ducked with a startled curse, as though he couldn’t believe anyone would dare try and shoot him. Garrett slammed back behind the prop, and tipped his head back, breathing hard. He had five shots remaining. Just enough to hopefully keep them at bay, and give Perry time to get there.

“So, it was you, Rommell,” Garrett called. “What happened? Finally grew weary of being rebuffed by a theatre actress? It seems not even you can buy everything you want.”

“That bitch should have known where her loyalties lay,” Rommell snapped. “I’m not the type of man one mocks.”

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