The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 6


He glanced over his shoulder and let the shirt fall over the broad mass of his chest. “You didn’t like her the moment you met her.”

“I’m a trained investigator, Garrett, and she’s the understudy of a missing actress. You tell me where my mind was going with that!”

“You’ve dealt with suspects before. You’ve never been like this.”

“Maybe I’m not the one with the problem with Miss Radcliffe.” She flung the words in his face, then turned and yanked at her coat, wincing slightly as she tried to fit her right arm through the sleeve.

He could have taken exception to her words, but he watched the way she favoured her arm. She’d never admit it, but it was hurting her, and now that he’d let out the force of his anger, it was finally burning low, like oil poured on a fire several minutes beforehand. Watching her struggle with her leather coat didn’t make it easier to hold onto his fury. He couldn’t shake the feeling that if he hadn’t been so angry – if he’d controlled himself better – then she wouldn’t be hurt.


Garrett stepped up behind her, catching hold of her wrists.

“What are you doing?” Perry demanded.

“I wrenched your shoulder, didn’t I?” He stroked his hand over her right shoulder. “Let me ease the muscles.”

Perry subsided with a growl, letting him draw her arms behind her in a stretch. Tension hardened the line between her shoulder blades, as if she didn’t quite trust him so closely behind her.

“Relax.” Garrett slid his hands up her arms, forcing her shoulders to drop and giving the tight muscles there a squeeze.

“I thought you were angry with me?” She tipped her head forward as he dug his thumbs into the smooth line of her trapezius. With every circle of his thumbs, tension dissolved in the muscle, and she made a faint murmur of pleasure.

Garrett let out the breath he’d been holding. He knew how to melt a woman beneath his touch; he’d have never realized, however, that Perry was just as vulnerable as any other woman to that particular ministration. She made such a strong case of being just as capable and tough-natured as the rest of the Nighthawks, that he’d rarely seen a softer side to her.

“I’m still angry, but we have to work together.” And it was a mild rasp along his nerves now, not a blazing inferno. A good fight was almost as physically relaxing as a hard f**k. The same sleepy lassitude rode through his body. “I’m angry that you thought I overstepped the line with Miss Radcliffe. I know where that line exists. I smile and flirt a little, because it puts female suspects or witnesses at ease.” He clapped his hands over her shoulders and dragged her close enough to whisper in her ear, “Perhaps you should attempt such an approach. There’s a reason I handle most of our interrogations. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

“Is that what this is?”

“What?” He tried to peer at her expression.

“Forget it.” Perry scowled and moved away from him, his hands falling from her shoulders. “I never said you weren’t good at what you do, and I’m well aware of my own limitations, thank you very much.”

She’d looked uncertain though. There’d been something there that he couldn’t quite read, and he’d long considered himself an expert on women. Perry however, was outside the realms of what he knew. She always had been.

Perry picked her over-shirt off the hook on the wall and slid her arms into it. When she looked up, there was no trace of whatever he’d seen on her face, but he knew he’d not forget it.

“No,” he said slowly. “But you intimated that I stopped being professional.” He could still hear the crack of the lecture Lynch had given him all of those years ago, when he was a novice.

She arched an eyebrow.

“Fine,” he snapped. There was no point arguing with her anymore. “We’ll agree to disagree. But next time, you can handle Miss Radcliffe.”

“Perhaps I will.”

The sound of her words followed him through the door, which he slammed, just a little.


SOME WOMEN - like Perry - looked ghastly while crying.

In others, it brought only a rosy bloom to already creamy cheeks, and made the limpid pools of their eyes look even bluer. Of course, Miss Radcliffe was one of the latter group.

Perry sank into the chair opposite the woman, well aware that Garrett was watching from the door, with his arms crossed over his chest.

Next time, you can handle Miss Radcliffe, he’d snapped. It hadn’t been an idle threat.

“So tell me about the flowers,” she suggested. An uneasy sensation made her stomach squirm. She hadn’t been handling this case well at all, and Miss Radcliffe wasn’t to blame for that. And whilst she genuinely felt sorry for the blonde actress, Perry knew she wasn’t very good at handling grieving people. That was more Garrett’s forte than hers. Easy for him to say you could catch more flies with honey, but he had a natural charm she could never hope to mimic.

Miss Radcliffe’s eyes kept flickering between them, as though even she could sense the tension. It was utterly humiliating.

“Red roses,” Miss Radcliffe sniffled into her delicately patterned handkerchief. Her message had arrived by pneumatic tube that morning, requesting a word with Garrett. “Two dozen of them. They always arrived for Nelly before her big shows.” A wave of wetness coursed down her cheeks as she looked up, her eyes betraying a hint of fear. “They arrived for me this morning with a note. I haven’t let anyone touch it, but it’s the same person who’s been sending them to Nelly. Do you think...? Do you think it’s the man who took her?”

Garrett strode toward the flowers in their vase, and examined the note. “‘For your upcoming debut as lead. I look forward to it, my dear. You shall be a shining jewel among the masses.’“ He flipped it over, but there was nothing on the back.

“It could simply be an admirer,” Perry said awkwardly. Should she reach out and pat the woman’s hand? Such a display was uncomfortable but Garrett often touched people. It put them at ease.

“But they knew I’ve been offered the lead.” Miss Radcliffe suddenly flushed, as though realizing how that sounded. “Just until Nelly’s back. Mr. Fotherham said the show must go on. How could someone know that? Only the theatre staff are aware. They don’t have time before tonight’s show to change the playbill!”

Perry made a decision. “Even if it is the abductor–” She was loathe to call it a murder, until Nelly turned up in one way or the other, “–both Garrett and I shall be in attendance. Nothing’s going to happen to you tonight. And... And Garrett shall see you home safely afterwards.” That would help this situation, wouldn’t it?

Garrett had been correct. For whatever reason, Miss Radcliffe’s mere presence made Perry uncomfortable in a way she’d rarely experienced before. Was it jealousy? Of what though? Miss Radcliffe’s simple ability to be utterly charming, stylish and clearly well-bred?

She’s exactly what you tried to be as a young girl, a voice whispered in her head. And what you failed at.

Maybe Garrett was right? Maybe her gut reaction did have something to do with jealousy?

Good God, was she behaving less than professionally here? After accusing him of the same?

It was an ugly thought.

“Do you know who delivers the flowers?” Perry asked, flipping open her notepad. “We could perhaps trace them back to the owner.”

Facts were easier than emotions. Miss Radcliffe wasn’t entirely certain, as the youth who made the deliveries to the theatre was unknown to her, but she did offer a description, and she knew what time the lad arrived each day.

“Thank you for your co-operation.” Perry stood, tucking her notepad in her pocket. “We should leave you to prepare for the night ahead. We’ll follow up on the flowers tomorrow at noon, when the delivery lad arrives.”

Garrett was smiling at Miss Radcliffe when she turned toward the door. “Break a leg tonight. That is the correct expression, is it not?”

Instantly Miss Radcliffe relaxed. “Thank you.” She took a deep breath, a small glitter of excitement glowing in her eyes. “It was a positively horrible dress rehearsal, which means tonight’s show should be spectacular.” Then she sobered. “Oh, I shouldn’t even be thinking such a thing when poor Nelly is... missing.”

“Leave Nelly to us,” Garrett told her. “People don’t just disappear. We’ll find her, for you. You just concentrate on the show.”

They left Miss Radcliffe nervously murmuring her lines.

Garrett’s smile lasted only so far as several feet along the corridor. “I’m walking her home, am I?”

“She feels more comfortable with you” The corridor seemed narrow and hot all of a sudden, and Perry’s strides were brisk. “Perhaps it would be best for us to separate? There’s something bothering me about Hobbs’ murder. I want to go back through his books, see if there’s any reference to Nelly or her amputation in his ledger. There has to be some sort of connection between the pair of them.”

“And you want me to remain here?” Garrett’s shoulder brushed against hers as they reached the bottom of the stairs, leading up to the back of the stage.

“Someone needs to keep an eye on the theatre.” Perry shrugged. “The flowers bother me. Whoever sent them has turned his attention from Nelly to Miss Radcliffe quite quickly.”

“You think someone removed Nelly from the show to make way for Miss Radcliffe?”

“Always a possibility. It could mean she’s in danger too. Maybe Nelly rejected her suitor? Mrs. Fotherham said earlier that Miss Radcliffe bears a striking familiarity with Nelly.” This was the frustrating part of a case: dozens of tiny little pieces floated before her, none of them fitting together in a nice, orderly pattern. She needed more information, more clues - the missing pieces to the puzzle. To keep digging until she found something that tied the pieces together, and she could put a working theory into place. “But I’m not quite sure how Hobbs fits into that, and I need to find out - I think he’s the string tying this whole thing together. Maybe you could examine Nelly’s room again? Try and work out how she could have disappeared without anyone noticing.”

“I don’t like you working alone.”

“We often work alone,” she retorted. “And I’m perfectly capable of handing someone his teeth, if needs be.”

The faintest quirk of a brow. He was standing quite close to her, in the shadows of the theatre. Above them, dozens of stagehands scuttled around the stage, setting everything into place for tonight. “I’ve always found you more partial to a man’s privates.”

Perry colored up, and he noticed.

“As a target,” he said wryly. “You’re far more ruthless than I.”

“That’s only because you suffer an instinctive wince whenever you see a man downed in such a manner. I don’t have that problem. Any vulnerability, any time.”

He let out a soft exhale of a laugh. “Lynch’s favourite motto.” Then his expression sobered, and he added in a gentler tone, “Watch your back. If you haven’t returned by three o’clock, I’m coming after you.”

Perry rolled her eyes. For a moment it felt very much like their old sense of camaraderie - though she could still sense something lingering beneath the surface, between them.

Let’s just pretend nothing ever happened.

“If you’re not here by the time I return,” she shot back, “I’ll come rescue you too.”

Garrett grinned and brushed his knuckles along her jaw. “Happy hunting.”

“You too. Break a leg. Or don’t,” Perry said dryly. “You’re too big of a lummox for me to carry around.”

There hadn’t been a good chance to examine the Maker’s shop in detail yesterday, what with the discovery of the body. Perry made certain she locked the door behind her, and eyed the trapdoor into the cellar. She wouldn’t find any evidence of Nelly upstairs in the shop, she guessed. No, Nelly and her mechanical leg would be somewhere in Hobbs’ paperwork below.

“Somewhere nice and dark and creepy,” she murmured under her breath, sliding down through the trapdoor into the workroom below. She lit the lantern she’d brought with her, and its flame gleamed on the trays of metal implements and the mech limbs that had been already crafted. They weren’t as finely made as Nelly’s leg, and lacked the synthetic skin that she’d used to hide the metallic gleam.

Hobbs had been a meticulous record keeper, judging from the heavy leather-bound tomes on the shelves - if one counted on the work to be coded.

Taking several of his logbooks from the shelf, she flipped through them, her eyes straining as she sought to work out the code. Bloody hell, he must have been paranoid. A legitimate fear though, when one thought of the Echelon’s enclaves, with their enforced registration of mechs. The blue bloods of the Echelon wouldn’t like knowing that unregistered mechs moved throughout the populace without so much as a serial number or means of identification.

A further search brought her to a timber box, which opened to reveal some sort of cipher machine, or cryptograph. There were six wheels within it, each indented with copper letters and numerals she didn’t know. She’d seen the type before, once, on a visit to the War Office, but this was outside her realm of experience.

There’d be a key that helped decipher the algorithms used. Possibly the long line of text rotating on a cylinder above the copper wheels. Snapping the lid shut, Perry dragged it off the shelf. Fitz would know how to crack it, if necessary, and then Hobbs’ secret ledgers would be available for her perusal.

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