The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 4

Shit. Garrett started after her. “Perry, wait.” If anything, her strides lengthened. “Perry.” He grabbed her arm. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.” He’d never been so unkind, but she’d touched a nerve and he’d cut back at her before he could think. “I like you just the way you are. You know that.”

Her gaze slid away. “Of course you do. It doesn’t matter. This is it. 291 Aplin Street.”

“What?” He looked up in surprise.

“We’re here,” she repeated tonelessly, shrugging out of his grip. “Now, let me go. I’ve got a job to do.”

“We,” he corrected, following her. She hadn’t forgiven him, he knew that, and he was still feeling a little irritated himself, but they had a job to do now. It could be dealt with later, though he certainly wouldn’t forget himself again and cast his words so carelessly. He shot her a sidelong glance. He felt like a right proper bastard, and she’d been the one who was challenging his professionalism.

Later. He let out a slow breath and knocked on the locked shop door.

There was no answer.

“Garrett,” she murmured.


“I think I can smell something. I think you ought to pick the lock.”

A moment’s work. The shop bell tinkled as she pushed her way through but the place was empty and silent. Garrett eased the door shut, then wrinkled his nose. His blue blood senses were nowhere near as acute as hers, but even he could smell the faintly rotting odour. It was nothing a human would have picked up, however.

“Jesus.” He cupped his sleeve over his nose. “What is that?”

Perry had a handkerchief at her face. She tracked through the shop to the counter and peered over it. There was a trapdoor there - and a mess of blood spatter against the back wall.

“It’s coming from below.”

Their gazes met.

“You first?” she asked hopefully.

“Flip you for it.” He tugged a shilling from his pocket and tossed it in the air.

As he clapped his palm over it, Perry called, “Heads.”

It wouldn’t take much to skew the results - he’d seen which way it landed and could easily use a bit of sleight-of-hand - but the memory of her shock outside as he laid into her, still haunted him. Garrett sighed as he lifted his hand. Tails it was.

“Bugger,” he said, and swung his way down through the trapdoor.

Perry followed, shaking the small glimmer ball she’d brought with her. Its phosphorescent glow lit the interior of what looked like a storeroom. Eerie half-finished mechanical limbs hung in racks along the walls. Evidently, this was where Hobbs kept his side commissions. Out of sight and out of mind.

There was a pallet made up in the corner, with a pair of nestled blankets and a small stack of personal items, like children’s books and toys. Garrett lit the candle down there and lifted it high. A body sprawled on the bed, though bloodied drag marks on the floor showed that it had been moved from upstairs.

The man looked to be at least two days dead, judging from the softening state of cadaveric rigidity. His arms were crossed over his chest and a pair of pennies gleamed over the closed lids of his eyes.

“Hobbs, I presume.”

“What are the chances that he’s been shot in the chest, just as an actress goes missing from the theatre?” Perry breathed softly.

“Interesting circumstances,” he agreed. And that was what they had to look for. Patterns, coincidences... Anything unusual. “Looks like we’re investigating two possible murders.”

“Well, this one is definitely murder. Unless he ran into a bullet at high-speed.” Perry stepped cautiously around the pallet. “The door was locked and nobody would have seen his body behind the counter. Why move him down here?”

“It was done very shortly after he was shot too,” Garrett noted. Otherwise they’d have never gotten his arms to cross like that.

He checked inside the man’s shirt. Bruising darkened his right shoulder, but not the left. Tugging the man’s shirt out of his pants, he checked the man’s sides. Signs of livor mortis on his side, but though he’d been lying on his back, the skin there was pale, where the capillaries were compressed.

“He fell on his right side and lay there long enough for his blood to begin congealing. Could have been an hour or so. Not much longer I think, judging by the minimal extent of the discoloration on his side - and see here, where the majority of it indicates he spent most of his time on his back.” Garrett sat back on his heels. “I doubt whoever moved him was the killer. It looks like he was shot and lay there long enough for livor mortis to begin setting in, but not rigor mortis. So somewhere between an hour and three hours after he was shot, somebody moved him.”

“It could have been the killer,” Perry argued. “He might have stayed around and shifted the body later.”

“Then what was he doing for that first hour or so?” It usually took at least that long for signs of discoloration to begin mottling the skin.

She had no answer.

This was how they worked. Coming up with theories that the other would try to shoot down.

“They didn’t alert the authorities, whoever they were,” Perry said. “Why wouldn’t they?”

“Perhaps they were protecting this.” He gestured around the room. “Once the blue bloods of the Echelon realize he was crafting mech work on the side, they’ll run an investigation into Hobbs.”

“Or they panicked, or were threatened.”

“Maybe they witnessed it,” he suggested, looking up at her. “Maybe they knew the killer?”

“The interesting question is, just how well did Nelly Tate know Mr Hobbs? The link is definitely the leg - he must have crafted it for her at some stage, so she obviously had fittings with him.”

“So either the work he does has some involvement with the case, or perhaps it’s the connection between the two of them,” he said.

“He could be her mysterious beau, perhaps. That makes more sense than someone killing mechs.”

“She has a beau?”

“I suspect. The stagehands were telling me how excited she was to receive peonies on her birthday - when she receives roses and far better bouquets from her numerous admirers all the time. She’s been receiving the bouquets once a month. They thought she had been walking out with someone.”

“Hmm.” Miss Radcliffe had said nothing about Nelly having an admirer - and women were usually alert to these matters. Though Miss Radcliffe had said that Nelly was close-mouthed about herself.

Perry reached for the stack of books beside the pallet-bed. “So, Hobbs was killed, then a day or two later - judging from the smell and the rate of decay - Nelly goes missing.”

“Jealousy? We could be looking at a disdained suitor taking revenge on Nelly’s lover.”

“Could be something from her past too - perhaps a member of the mysterious family nobody knows anything about.” Perry gently flipped the pages in one of the books. “Or the mysterious person who moved Hobbs and placed him like this. Maybe Nelly had something to do with Hobbs’ murder, so the witness goes after her?”

“You’ve been reading too many penny dreadfuls.”

“Ha, ha,” she said flatly. “Do you want upstairs or down here?”

He was still feeling guilty, damn her. With a sigh, he said, “The smell’s not as bad for me. You take upstairs. And send a ‘gram to the Guild so they can send the autopsy cart out to collect Hobbs.”


HOBBS WAS BUNDLED back to the Guild, so Perry and Garrett took a couple of hours to question the nearby business owners and go over the scene for anything else. Nobody had heard a gunshot, but with the bustling intersection outside, that could perhaps be explained away.

They took a brief swing by Hobbs’ listed residence, but the place was cold and sterile. Nobody had been there for days and indeed the place looked like Hobbs spent most of his time in the shop. Time to get back to the Guild then.

Perry vanished the second they returned on some pretext of paperwork. Garrett watched her go. She despised paperwork.

Which made it evident she was avoiding him. Neither of them had mentioned the earlier argument, but it lingered in the room like some ghost. Lips thinning, he turned down into the depths of the Guild, toward the autopsy room and Fitz’s dungeon. Doctor Gibson hadn’t finished his autopsy - they’d put a rush order through - but from the sounds of gunshots, Fitz was in next door.

The tall, scrawny blue blood was the Guild’s resident blacksmith-of-sorts, once it became obvious he couldn’t handle anything gorier than a poisoning. For a man who took his blood with his tea, the sight of it tended to make him even paler than usual. If it was mechanical, however, then Fitz could tell you the make, model and purpose.

Garrett didn’t bother to knock. The man was half-deaf anyway.

The testing room was fitted out like a shooting gallery. Garrett waved hello as Fitz saw him.

Fitz pulled the trigger and the target fluttered as the bullet hit the outskirts of it. He lowered the pistol and then tugged down the heavy sound-proofing earmuffs he’d designed. “That’s the type of pistol used on Hobbs,” Fitz called loudly, handing the pocket revolver to Garrett. “A Webley Bull Dog with a .442 Webley round. Gibson dug the round out of his chest an hour ago.”

“That was quick.”

Fitz shrugged. “Hardly a challenge, my friend. They’re as common as muck.”

A small, automated servant drone wheeled closer, hissing out steam. They were the sort of thing more frequently found in a merchant or aristocrats home, as a sign of affluence, but Fitz had long ago rescued this one from a pile of scrap and resurrected it.

Fitz set his earmuffs down on the tray it held, then handed a pair of bullets to Garrett. “So, how’s the case going?”

Garrett loaded the bullets into the pistol and put one dead centre through the target. The Webley was in wide circulation, especially among the Royal Irish Constabulary, though better suited to short-range encounters. Small enough to hide in a coat pocket, which was part of its allure. “Hobbs died immediately. Whoever did it, walked up to the counter and shot him over it. From the blood pattern, he didn’t try to run, so either he wasn’t expecting it or maybe the killer was a stranger? Someone he thought was a customer?”

Fitz stared at him, his freckles standing out in stark relief.

It must have been the mention of ‘blood pattern’. Garrett sighed and put the pistol down.

“I’ll try and estimate the distance the perpetrator was at when the shot was fired,” Fitz said.

“Thank you.”

A clatter in the corner announced the arrival of a message in the pneumatic cylinder system the Guild used. Fitz unfurled the paper, then passed it to him. “You’re wanted upstairs. Lynch wants a report.”

That was unusual. Garrett flicked a glance over it. Brief and to the point, much like Lynch, the guild master. “He usually doesn’t bother to get involved in a case this early.”

Unless there was a reason.

“So, what do we have?”

Sir Jasper Lynch, the Master of the Nighthawks, leaned back in his chair and surveyed the pair of them over the desk. Perry stood at attention beside Garrett, her hands clasped behind her. A thick wall of silence hung between them, and as she glanced sideways, she met Garrett’s glance.

Though they’d barely spoken on the way home, they’d worked together sufficiently well. It was only now, with no dead bodies between them, that what had happened earlier reared its ugly head.

She certainly had no intentions of replying to that question.

“A burning curiosity about why this case is such a priority,” Garrett finally replied.

Lynch pushed a piece of paper across his desk. “What do you know of Arthur Lennox, Lord Rommell?”

“We met him today. He’s a part-owner of the Veil Theatre,” Garrett replied, “I’m more interested in the theatre employees and what their relationship with Miss Tate involved, as well as trying to work out what happened to her.”

“There’s been no sign of the body yet, sir, or even any indication whether she’s alive or dead,” Perry added. “We’ve checked her home and none of her neighbours have seen any sign of her, though judging from the way she vanished from the theatre, I certainly don’t expect her to have simply hurried home to fetch something.”

“She was taken from the theatre?”

“So it seems,” Perry replied.

“You mentioned Rommell?” Garrett prompted.

“Rommell’s not just a financial backer,” Lynch replied. “It’s a particular interest of his.”

“The theatre? Or actresses?” Perry asked. She knew what the blue bloods of the Echelon were like, only too well.

“Both.” Lynch snorted, gesturing to the paper.

Garrett picked it up before she could and scanned it, his eyebrow lifting. He placed it back on Lynch’s desk instead of giving it to her.

Petty. Perry’s lips thinned, but she gave no other outward sign of irritation. Lynch was far too adept at reading people for that, and he wouldn’t tolerate arguments between the assigned partners on a case.

“That’s… a considerable commission,” Garrett said. “If Rommell put it up himself, as reward for her return, then I’m wondering what the precise relationship between he and Miss Tate was.”

So that was the push for priority on a missing person’s case. Private commissions were accepted by the Nighthawk Guild, but the rate structure was often exorbitant. That served to prevent aristocratic blue bloods from demanding that their missing bracelet be placed above a murder case - which was entirely likely - but it also meant that when one of the Echelon did offer a commission, then it had to be given a certain priority.

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