The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 7

Dumping it on the table, she gathered up the logbooks. There was a diary there too, more of a field diary, than a personal one. The notes were crude and rudimentary, and odd little scientific drawings had been tucked into the folds. Anatomical drawings of a child with strange cleft hands, and a cleft foot. A gap in its lip showed it’s teeth, and Perry paused.

The drawing was titled, ‘Lovecraft’.

The next page detailed the finding of a child of monstrous proportions, who’d been abandoned in the alley behind the shop, and beaten by local children.

‘It is believed that Lovecraft’s mother,’ the author mused, ‘suffered a fright during her pregnancy of such proportion that it caused the mother to go into paroxysms. Hence, the child was born severely malformed. It is truly hideous to look at, and the local children all fear it, but I wonder at the malformations. Could I, with my skills, create limbs to replace the misshapen ones? Though the child tends to deafness, perhaps he could live a relatively normal life once the defective limbs are removed or enhanced?’

A floorboard creaked above her. Perry froze, glancing upwards as she slowly eased the diary closed. She was just about to relax when a faint shifting whispered again. Someone stealthily slipping across the floor. Tiny little pinpricks marched down the back of her neck, and she eased out the breath she’d been holding.

Someone was in the shop with her.

She’d locked the door behind her. Perhaps they’d come through the side door that led out into the little brick yard behind the shop?

A pair of pistols were strapped to cuffs around her wrists. She triggered the right one, and the wrist-pistol slapped into her palm with a faint click. Perry melted behind a stacked shelf with mechanical arms and legs hanging from it. The lamp on the other side of the room betrayed her presence, but there was no way she could bring herself to extinguish it. Darkness was the one thing she truly feared after that time as a young girl when–

-don’t think of that–

Fear punched through her chest. It was too late. She’d given the monsters of her past a glimpse into her mind, and the familiar swirl of panic settled in her chest.

Damn it. She could barely hear over the thumping of her heart. Tingling started about her lips, and her mouth went dry. Hell.

She hadn’t suffered a fit of hysteria in years, and she couldn’t afford another now. Her protective over-corset seemed to tighten as if fingers dragged through the laces at back.

Identify the cause, Lynch’s calm, familiar voice reminded her. What is it you fear?

They’d worked together over the years to manage her hysteria. The martial arts and meditation he’d recommended helped, but Lynch’s true power was working out the rationale behind maladies of the mind.

I can’t see him. She focused on breathing out, nice and slow. I can’t see who it is, and I’m trapped down here, the way I was when–

She forced the past out of her mind. It had no place here, and the brief thought of it only made the sway of dizziness worse.

If she didn’t move, she wouldn’t be able to.

Perry swallowed hard, and forced her muscles to unlock. She was strong and powerful now, the way she hadn’t been as a young woman, and her then-tormentor was gone. She’d never have to see him again. This wasn’t the same. She was a blue blood now, with power.

But the not-knowing was making it harder to breathe. She had to see him.

Confront the fear, Lynch whispered in her mind.

Exploding up the narrow ladder, Perry squinted briefly against the glare of the light through the shop windows. The enormous shadow in front of her froze, hunching low, and as her eyes focused, she saw its hideous face widen in shock as she leapt over the counter and held her pistol up.

“Don’t move.” The tremble in her fingers betrayed her, but the pistol held steady. She wasn’t alone in the dark anymore, and somehow that made it easier to breathe.

The creature was enormous. It towered over her by a good foot, with shoulders the size of a wine barrel, yet something about the way it hunched made her confidence soar. As if it was afraid of her.

Perry licked dry lips. “Stay right where you are. What’s your name? What’s your purpose here?”

Thick fingers flexed behind the creature’s leather half-glove, revealing four thick fingers. She could just make the tiny clockwork whirring in the joints as they flexed. Not mech-made, but clock-mech, which was an older form of mechanism the blacksmiths had been able to devise. True mech work often joined seamlessly with flesh, but this was a stop-gap measure.

Clothes hung from its figure and someone, not too long ago, had cut the man’s hair neatly, though lack of attention made it stick out beneath the cap he wore. His cheeks bore the burr of gingery fluff, though nothing grew on the scarred section of his upper lip. Brass earmuffs covered its ears, and she could almost hear the tinny vibration of her own words echoing within the contraption, with her superior blue blood senses.

“Lovecraft?” Hobbs’ diary had said his lip was cleft, and he suffered from deafness, after all. Could this creature be the orphaned child he’d spoken of? “Can you hear me?”

The behemoth didn’t move. One eye rolled, as though he was trying to see what she’d been doing below stairs. Nervous sweat trickled down his temples. Perry made a decision.

“I’m going to put my gun away,” she told him, holding it up. “Please don’t make any sudden moves. I just wish to speak to you.”

The man backed up a step as she moved, his eyes trained on her pistol like an animal that knew when something could hurt it.

Perry slid it into her holster, and held her hands up in a placating gesture. “My name is Perry. I’m a Nighthawk, here to discover what happened to Hobbs. He was your... your friend, wasn’t he?”

Wary blue eyes met hers. The man nodded, and made a sound that showed where his lip had been sewn together over what looked like a pair of fused metal teeth.

So, Lovecraft could hear her - or understand some of what she spoke of. Another glance at those clockwork hands promised that he’d had nothing to do with Hobbs’ murder. He wouldn’t be able to grip a pistol.

“Did you know Nelly Tate, the actress? Did she come here at all, to get her leg seen to?”

“Nerly,” Lovecraft growled, but she couldn’t be certain if he was repeating her, or answering her question. He circled her warily, then disappeared down the ladder.

Perry hesitated. Returning to the dark made her feel somewhat less safe, but she didn’t gain the feeling that man-child would hurt her, so she followed.

The behemoth limped across the floor, then lifted the mattress in the corner, and slid out a thin lacquered box. “Nerly,” he said again, lifting the lid to show her.

There were photographs inside it; a seated man and a woman who stared unsmiling at the camera, with her hand resting on his shoulder. Scrawled across it were the words: ‘To James, With Love, Nelly.’ There were also a whole string of playbills advertizing her in various theatre productions going back almost six years.

More photographs revealed the young actress, both at another theatre and smiling shyly in a park. One of them featured a young boy in short strings, with his hand clasped through a much-younger Nelly’s, and a frozen look on his deformed face as he stared at the photographer.

Lovecraft. Perry looked up over the edge of the photographs, and put them gently back into the box. “Nelly and James were friends, weren’t they? They’ve known each other a long time.” Since Nelly was a young girl, judging by that last photograph.

He made a muffled sound, fingering the last photograph with a child-like wistfulness.

“Perhaps it would be best if you come with me,” Perry suggested, setting a hand on his sleeve. From the smell of him, he’d been sleeping in alleys the last few nights. “I’ll take you to the Guild. We can get you something to eat and drink, and perhaps a bath? Would you like that? Would you–”

He yanked his arm out from under her grip. “Nuh. Nuh. Stay ‘ere. Nerly.” Fisting the enormous clockwork fingers, he curled them up by his face.

“Nelly’s not going to come here again,” Perry whispered. “Nor Hobbs. Do you understand that? Hobbs has... gone to sleep. Forever. You put the coins on his eyes, didn’t you?”

That set him off. He pounded his fists against the brass muffs that covered his ears. Then again.

Perry tried to grab his hand. “Please don’t, Lovecraft. You’ll hurt yourself.” She swallowed. “Come back to the Guild with me. Maybe you can help me find Nelly? If you answer my questions, I might be able to trace where she’s gone. Maybe she’s not sleeping, like Hobbs? Maybe you can help me save her?”

The big brute bared his teeth at her. “Nuh!” Agony twisted his ugly features. For a moment, Perry almost reached out again, at the look in those childlike blue eyes, but he shoved past.

Lashing out at her, he drove her back into the wall, and thundered toward the ladder. Perry caught her breath, then started after him, but he jerked the ladder up through the trapdoor and slammed it shut. The lock clicked home and footsteps hammered dust down between the floorboards. Then a door slammed.

Gone. He was gone.

Damn it. Perry glared up at the trapdoor. It was going to give her a devilish time, trying to get it open. And what in blazes did any of that interaction mean?

At least she now knew that Nelly had been a frequent part of Hobbs’ life. Nelly must have visited often enough for Lovecraft to have formed some sort of affection for her, which meant the link was there. Hobbs’ murder was directly involved with Nelly’s disappearance.

She just had to find out how.

As soon as she got that damned trapdoor open.

The theatre was a hive of activity.

Last minute costume changes had to be seen to for Miss Radcliffe, who was slightly taller than Nelly Tate had been, someone was screaming about greasepaint in the wings and demanding to know where the wig for Concetta was, and the lights were all blaring as the stagehands tested them.

Garrett used the cacophony to move about relatively unseen in the background. Nelly’s dressing room was the last in the row, and somewhat isolated. He spent an hour examining the walls and mirrors in the room, trying to locate any hidden passages backstage. One door led to a storeroom filled with garish backdrops, but there was no sign of any other mysterious way in or out of that area.

Someone had to have seen her leave. Unless she’d not been missed in the chaos?

But if there was blood in her room, then she should have been injured. Surely someone would have noticed if Nelly had staggered out of her room, or even been helped out by someone else.

Garrett found a small, out-of-the-way alcove from which to watch the stage, while he waited for Perry. It wasn’t long before a dark-figured blur stepped past the stage directly into the wings where he stood.

“Lord Rommell.” Garrett tipped his head to the man.

Rommell looked less than pleased to see him, though he responded with a curt nod, and settled in beside Garrett. “How is the case progressing? Is there any sign of Nelly?”

While he’d questioned Rommell the day before, the man’s sudden involvement in the reward for her return gave him a new lead to chase. “Unfortunately, there’s been no sign of her. Might I ask about your involvement with Miss Tate? That’s quite a substantial reward you’ve posted.”

Rommell’s attention seemed caught by something on stage. “Nelly was under certain contractual obligations to me. I ensured that she gained the role she desired, and was properly attired in jewels and clothes, and in return...” He gave a suggestive gesture.

“Ah.” Nothing more needed to be said. Nelly had been Rommell’s mistress. “Are you aware that flowers were delivered to her almost every week during her last run? Red roses. They didn’t by chance come from you?”

Dark eyes glanced his way. “I’m not the only one with an eye for actresses. No doubt some of my peers sought to steal her out from under me. She was always receiving flowers. I cannot say she ever had red roses in her dressing rooms, however.” He grimaced. “Had a thing for peonies, I believe. Received them every now and then, and they’re the only damned things she’d keep. I can hardly fathom her interest, they’re so cheap.”

Not every woman liked the best that money could buy. Though he did frown a little. Nelly liked peonies, did she? It was the kind of thing someone of less-well-to-do-stature could afford. And she received them regularly? He’d thought they only came on her birthday.

Following the focus of Rommell’s gaze, Garrett realized the lord was surreptitiously eyeing up Miss Radcliffe, which was curious. “You were sweet on her?” he suggested, though he didn’t believe his own words. “Is that why the reward?”

“I want to damned well know where she is,” Rommell growled. “She was my mistress, and I wasn’t finished with her yet. If someone’s stolen her out from under me, there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Why would you presume someone’s stolen her?”

Rommell looked surprised. “Well, what else could have happened? Where else could she have gone? I’d given her the best role in this damned theatre, and more than enough coin to see her well in hand. She won’t have run from that. But I have enemies, and those jealous enough of my success to make me wonder. If they managed to somehow snatch her out from underneath my nose, they’ll be crowing to themselves about such a coup. I can’t allow that to stand. No, you mark my words. You should be searching among the Echelon for one of my rivals. They’ll have her. I’ll bet fifty quid on it.”

Nelly wasn’t a piece of furniture, but it was clear that Rommell thought of her as little more than a possession. The roses, Garrett suspected, definitely weren’t from his lordship.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies