The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 3

The walk to Nelly’s house was silent and terse.

Nobody answered the knock. Garrett slipped the lock again and opened the door. “Hello?” he called. “Is anybody home? Miss Tate?”

The next door opened and an older woman stuck her head out. “Who are you?” Her gaze slid over their leathers. “Nighthawks, eh?”

“Indeed.” Garrett smoothly introduced them both.

“I’m Mrs. Harroway, Miss Tate’s neighbour. She ain’t at home, if that’s what you’re here for.”

“When did you see her last?” Perry asked.

“This morning,” Mrs. Harroway replied. “When she left for the theatre, about half-nine. Why? What’s wrong?”

“Miss Tate is missing,” he replied, jotting down the time she’d left her home. “She vanished from the theatre just before rehearsals were due to start. We’re just trying to ascertain her whereabouts.”

“Oh.” Mrs. Harroway clapped a hand to her mouth. “Oh, what a shame. I hope she’s all right. I know it ain’t quite right, what she does, but she has such wonderful manners. Wouldn’t think she’s an actress.”

“Does she have many callers?”

“Not a one,” Mrs. Harroway told him firmly. “I wouldn’t hold much with that, and I’ve told her too. She said she don’t like having people in her home. Says it just for her, a space away from all that madness. A private woman, Miss Tate. Don’t ever see her much - nor does she say much about herself.”

“Does she have family?” Perry asked.

Mrs. Harroway frowned and wiped her hands in her apron. “You know, I’ve ever seen anyone. As I said, she don’t talk much about herself, so I really couldn’t say.”

“Thank you for your help.” He slipped her his card. “If you remember anything - or see something unusual, could you please let us know?”

Mrs. Harroway took the card and nodded.

Garrett held the door open for Perry. The moment it was closed, he breathed in. The apartment smelled like rose petals - the kind a woman put in her drawers.

There was no sign of Nelly, not that he’d expected to find one.

An hour later, there was still no sign of anything at all about the woman herself. A mystery. Usually there were letters to be found, or a diary, or something to indicate the lifestyle of the person who lived in a home, but it were as though Nelly were only a mirage. The only hint to the woman’s personality were the scattering of plays and books that seemed to litter the parlour.

“It’s almost as though she doesn’t exist,” Perry murmured, fingering a well-worn copy of poetry. “As though her entire world can be found within these pages, but there’s no hint of Nelly outside of them.” She surveyed the room, as if she could see something that he couldn’t. “It’s almost as though this was merely a place of residence for her, not a home. It’s as though Nelly hasn’t found her home yet, or maybe, she’s still looking for it?”

Garrett eyed her. Nelly reminded him a little of Perry. Barely anyone outside of he - and perhaps one or two others at the Guild - knew anything about her, and that was the way she preferred it.

He was starting to gain an impression of the actress. Was Nelly Tate simply another role the woman played? Did anyone know the woman beneath the polite, young actress’ facade?

That thought led directly to another. Was Perry playing a role too? Aloof, taciturn young Nighthawk?

What was she hiding? And for the first time, he wasn’t entirely certain if he referred to Perry or Nelly.

“Well,” he said, watching Perry with curious eyes as she glanced at the back of a book. No point asking her. He’d simply watch and wonder and slowly work his way through the labyrinth that protected her. “Let’s press on to the enclaves and see if there’s anything in here–” He gestured to the case with the mechanical leg, “that can give us a clue about Nelly’s disappearance.”

After all, an unregistered mech was certainly curious.

As he fell into step behind her, he couldn’t stop himself from examining the short, blackened hair that caressed her nape and wondering about that little speech.

Where’s your home, Perry? For it felt, for a moment, as she’d been speaking of herself and not Nelly Tate.

The guards on the gates at the King Street enclaves let them through after a brief examination of their identity cards and they found themselves ushered into the main offices overlooking the main factory. The King Street enclaves were mainly responsible for shipping, and the enormous carcasses of half-finished dreadnoughts lined the bays. Workers crawled over them, armed with welding rigs, and sparks spat across the floors.

The overseer who met them had obviously never worked a day on the floor in his life, judging by his steam-pressed suit and immaculate tie. Garrett exchanged a glance with Perry, opening the case on the man’s desk to display the leg as he introduced himself.

“Rigby,” the overseer replied, holding out his hand to Garrett. He shook it with a shark’s flash of a smile, virtually ignoring Perry, whom he obviously surmised to be Garrett’s assistant and therefore not worthy of any attention.

“This is my partner, Detective Lowell,” Garrett said, directing Rigby’s gaze to her.

Rigby’s smile slipped as he hastily offered his hand to her.

Then it was time for business. “I’m aware that your main industry is shipping, but rumor has it there’s a handful of mechs you employ who do some finer work. I was wondering if you might have someone who could have done something like this?”

Rigby looked perplexed. “Yes, well, I’ll send for Jamison. Mechanical limbs are outside my realm of expertise, however, he transferred out to the Southwark Enclaves for a year, and they deal exclusively in bio-mech and mechanical limbs.”

He strode to the corner and pulled a lever. A throaty whistle screamed out through the factory and men lifted their faces to the overseer’s office. Rigby spoke into the mouthpiece, “Jamison? To my office, please.”

A man scrubbed his hands against his overalls and started toward the steps.

Rigby introduced them to Jamison, and explained what they were there for. He made as though to hover, but Garrett shot him a look. “Do you mind if we speak to Mr Jamison in private?”

Mechs were already second-class citizens; the man was unlikely to inform on anyone outside the trade, with his supervisor here.

“Yes, yes, of course.” Rigby looked anything but pleased when he left, however.

“There’s only a handful of men I know who could have made that,” Jamison said, after a moment’s silence. He traced his finger down over the rose template down the side of the thigh. “But this here tells me who it were. It’s his signature. Puts a rose on all his work.”


“The Maker,” Jamison replied. “Works out o’ Clerkenwell. Has a shop there, fixin’ timepieces and the like, though that’s just the front for his real business. Makes mech parts for people as can’t afford the enclaves.”

“And just how does a man have so much skill with mech parts? It’s strictly forbidden for a mech to continue this line of work once he leaves the enclaves,” Perry said, tracing the rose with her finger. “What’s his actual name?”

“Not that we’re interested in reprimanding him over unsolicited enclave work.” Garrett offered a smile. “We just wish to know more about the missing girl’s mech leg. We’re trying to establish potential motives for her disappearance.”

Had someone realized that Nelly was a mech? Had they taken offense at it?

It was a weak line of thought, but all they had at the moment, and someone had to know something about Nelly’s background - or who her family was. If there had been an accident, perhaps someone had brought her to the Maker to be fitted for a new leg? And who had paid for it?

Jamison considered the pair of them. One of the most difficult aspects of being a Nighthawk – a blue blood, but not one with any rights – was the distrust of the people. As far as the human classes thought, a blue blood was a blue blood, regardless of whether they were of the aristocratic classes, or simply a rogue who’d caught the virus by chance.

“Hobbs,” Jamison said slowly. “James Sterling Hobbs. His da were a mech, which is how he learned the trade. When the enclaves refuse an application for a mech limb, he’s someone a man can turn to. Sometimes does work for those who can afford his fees, that don’t wish to wind up here.” Jamison gave a tight smile. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to pay him.”

“You’re not a mech,” Perry noted. “Unless I’m mistaken.”

“No.” Jamison tipped his chin to her. “Me wife caught the Black Lung. Needed a new chest pump to be able to breathe, but the cost were twenty years, in this prison.” His voice dropped. “I got two bairns. Rigby agreed to transfer the debt to me. He ain’t a bad sort, for all that. He’d prefer a big, strapping lad working his shifts, and my boys need their mother more than they need me.”

“Do you have Hobbs’ direction?” Perry asked.

With a sigh, Jamison wrote it down, then passed the slip of paper across the desk toward them. He kept his hand on it. “You promise there won’t be any trouble come of this? There’s a lot of folk who don’t end up in this here hell, because of men like Hobbs.”

Sometimes being a Nighthawk meant balancing the needs of the law. If Garrett gave a damn about the Echelon, then he might have used this information, but after his youth on the streets, Garrett knew what it felt like to be crushed beneath the heel of the Echelon. The downtrodden human classes needed some sense of hope, or else there would be more riots and fighting in the streets. “You have my word.”

He ignored the sharp look Perry shot him and took the slip of paper.

“You had no right to make that promise,” Perry told him, as they caught the train to Clerkenwell. They’d shown their identity cards at the station, earning free passage. “You can’t assure Jamison that no harm shall come of this. By law–”

“The only way anyone is going to know what Hobbs is up to, is if either of us tell them. I know I’m not going to speak of it. Are you?”

Perry subsided with a growl under her breath that sounded like she swore at him. “You’re asking me to break the law. This is reportable.”

“And all you’ll end up doing is harming mostly-honest people who had the misfortune to be born to the human classes. It’s a stupid law. The Echelon made it because they don’t want anyone competing with their contracts. Hence, the poor get poorer and the rich grow richer. If you think I’m going to follow their edict, just because some rich lordling’s pocket doesn’t get lined, then you don’t know me very well. I know you don’t like to bend the rules…” She was so bloody obstinate at times, “but allowing this doesn’t hurt anyone. Indeed, quite the opposite.”

“Laws exist to protect society.”

“If you believe that, then you should turn yourself in to the Echelon,” he shot back, following in her wake as she stepped down from the train and fought her way through the crowd. “Females are most certainly not allowed the blood rites that make an aristocrat into a blue blood.”

“I wasn’t allowed to take the rites.”

None of the Nighthawks were. Otherwise, they’d be dining in gilded dining rooms in the West End and not working themselves into exhaustion on the streets. “The point’s the same. Females are unsuitable to the craving virus infection.” He shot her a wry look. “Something about their gentler natures and hysteria and...”

Perry’s glare could have shriveled chestnuts.

“I didn’t make that law,” he reminded her. “I know you’re more capable than most of the Nighthawks we work with. More bloody-minded perhaps, but certainly capable. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think of you as female.”

“Perhaps because I don’t bat my eyelashes at you and simper. That’s how women are supposed to act, is it not?”

Poor choice of words. “That’s not what–”

“Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Miss Radcliffe’s book?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” He caught her wrist.

Perry spun, breaking his hold, her gray eyes spitting sparks. “Why don’t you tell me?” The words were a dare, a challenge.

He ground his teeth together, seeing red. Back to the way he’d handled Miss Radcliffe. Christ. He’d smiled, he’d flirted... It was nothing he hadn’t done with numerous female witnesses over the years. “Perhaps I’m not the one with the problem with Miss Radcliffe?”

Her jaw dropped. “What?”

“Are you jealous of her?” Perry’s cheeks actually paled at his words and Garrett pursued the thought relentlessly. “Is it because she’s everything that you’re not? Is that what’s stirring this insane train of thought?”

The moment the words were out he knew he might as well have used a knife. Her gray eyes widened and a flash of something - hurt - flickered over her face. Then they hardened. “Do you honestly think that I would want to be nothing more than some frivolous bit of muslin? Everything that I am, I’ve made of myself.” She stabbed a finger into his chest. “I hunt murderers and thieves through London, and I’m damned good at it. Tell me that’s not more important than curling my hair or...or butchering some needlework? Or perhaps you’d prefer it if I made my curtsies and bit my tongue and pretended everything you said was the most enlightened witticism I’d ever heard - which it’s not, by the way. Perhaps you’d like me more if I simpered or... or flirted, or.... God only knows!” She threw him off, stalking ahead of him with hunched shoulders, as though he’d somehow wounded her.

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