The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 2

Rommell’s jaw worked, his eyes darting at the assembled witnesses. “Yes, yes. Of course.”

“So what do you think?”

Perry watched as Garrett prowled the room.

Nelly Tate’s dressing room was significantly more opulent than expected. A painted silk screen stood in the corner, with a red robe discarded over the top of it and a good half dozen slippered heels were scattered around the base of the wardrobe. A splash of blood sprayed up the screen and Garrett examined it, particularly the height and size of the spatter. His jaw locked tight - no doubt the scent of the blood was rousing the darker, more predatory part of his nature.

“Not enough blood to be deadly,” he said, with a tight swallow, “but she - or someone - was certainly struck a blow, most likely to the head.”

Perry caught a glimpse of herself in the enormous mirror in the corner as she circled the room, a dark blot of shadow in the cocoon of pink-wallpaper. She felt distinctly out of place here.

“For a theatre starlet, she’s certainly earning more than Miss Radcliffe.” Perry glanced through the items on the vanity; expensive mother-of-pearl hairbrushes, a gleaming silver clockwork-locking jewelery box with expensive pieces strewn carelessly inside, powders, brushes, and a brooch that would cost six month’s worth of Perry’s wage. The difference between Miss Radcliffe and Nelly Tate’s attire was immediate.

“It depends if all of this comes from her wage,” Garrett disagreed, “or a lover. Blue blood lords frequently take an actress as a mistress, especially if she were as beautiful and witty as Miss Tate supposedly is.”

“Something to enquire about,” Perry noted. There was a long polished chestnut box almost hidden in the corner. “It seems strange that Miss Radcliffe made no mention of a lover.” She’d talked almost non-stop about Miss Tate on the way to her rooms.

“What have you found?” Garrett followed her toward the box.

“I’m not quite certain.” Perry knelt and examined the case. “It’s locked.”

“Allow me.”

Usually he carried a lock-pick set with him, but his afternoon with Mrs. Scott had obviously left him unprepared. Perry plucked one of the pins from Miss Tate’s dresser and handed it to him.

Sometimes she wondered if Garrett had ever been on the wrong side of the law. He was very good at getting into places he wasn’t supposed to, or unlocking doors that were latched.

The lid sprang open, light gleaming back off the metal inside. Perry frowned, “What in blazes?”

Garrett lifted the item out, his hands cupping beneath the smooth curve of a metal thigh and caressing the elegant calf. “It’s… a mechanical leg. A woman’s leg.”

Of course he’d notice that. Perry knelt down, running her fingers over the creation. It seemed designed to fit within a matching metal hip socket, and the patella floated free. The work was exquisite, with all of the hydraulics and pistons hidden inside smooth steel sheeting. Quite often, the work on a mechanical limb was crude, with the spars bare to the gaze. This obviously cost someone quite a lot of money.

“No synthetic skin,” Garrett noted. He rolled it over, revealing elegant brass flowers etched down the outside of the thigh, like the embroidery on a stocking.

Perry tilted the foot, noting the flex of it. The knee joint also moved in response. “I’ve never seen the like.”

“Not unusual. Most mechs don’t advertise their disability.”

For good reason. Most mechs were trapped in the walled enclaves the Echelon owned, where they were forced to work off their ‘mech-debt’ to the government in payment for their new limbs or clockwork organs. Sometimes those debts took fifteen or twenty years to pay back.

“Do you think it belongs to Miss Tate?” If it did, then how the devil did the actress afford to pay for such a creation? The sheer artistry of the limb dictated at least a twenty-year stint in the enclaves.

“Not certain.” Garrett traced his fingers over the joints, searching for the numerical stamp that would indicate which enclave and mech the limb had been registered to. “If it is Miss Tate’s, then I doubt she would have mentioned it to anyone.”

The ruling Echelon might have thought humans a lesser class than blue bloods, but at least humans had some rights. A mech on the other hand, was considered not completely human, with their mechanical enhancements.

“If it is Miss Tate’s, then I doubt she had a blue blood lover,” Perry said. “She couldn’t have kept something like this secret, and he’d have been disgusted.”

“There’s no serial number.”

“What? Every mechanical limb is required by law to be registered.”

“Unless it wasn’t created in the enclaves.”

“But… the only other blacksmiths belong to the Echelon and they’re kept under lock and key.” Only the Echelons blacksmiths knew the secret to creating truly functional bio-mech limbs, where flesh combined with steel, tendons fusing to hydraulic cables as if they were one. And this limb, as fine as it was, had never been fused with flesh. The hip socket gave it away.

Garrett frowned. “The other question is: if this is Miss Tate’s, then why is it here? And where is she? There doesn’t appear to be another case, so we have to presume this is the only limb she owns.”

“If it isn’t, then I think I ought to become an actress.” It certainly seemed to pay better than a Nighthawk.

“I’d like to see that,” Garrett drawled. “You on stage, trying to feign emotion.”

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t spent the past six years hiding everything. Perry snorted under her breath. If only he knew just how good an actress she truly was.

He smiled, then surveyed the room. The smile died. “No sign of a struggle, apart from the blood.”

“Think they hit her from behind?”

“Perhaps. Either way it indicates someone she knows.”

“How did they remove her then?” Perry glanced at the bloodied screen. “Nobody claims to have seen anything unusual.”

“The whole place is a warren,” Garrett replied. “I don’t think I could have found my way here without Miss Radcliffe to guide us. Perhaps it’s easy to slip about unseen?”

“Let’s do a thorough search here then, just to be certain there’s nothing we missed,” she said, turning back to the vanity and the letters there. “Then we’ll see what else we can find in the rest of the theatre.”

They spent the next couple of hours thoroughly interviewing the actors and actresses. Garrett took the lead. He was far more comfortable with making an interrogation seem like a conversation, and he swiftly put the suspects at ease, flashing quick smiles at the ladies. Perry watched, with her arms folded over her chest and her eyelids lowered sleepily. People’s expressions and the tone of their voice were often far more telling than they thought, and if they were hiding something she might be able to pick it up.

Her first instinct of Miss Radcliffe made her back bristle. The pretty young actress had a wealth of naturally curly, red-gold hair and she blinked earnestly at Garrett as he questioned her. Garrett’s smiles grew a little deeper, and Perry glanced away as she felt the mood of the room shift. Miss Radcliffe’s anxious expression relaxed, replaced by a slightly coy smile, and when he asked her if Miss Tate had been ‘seeing someone’, she rested her hand on his sleeve.

The woman was beautiful. It shouldn’t have mattered. She was exactly the type of waifish, pretty blonde that usually caught Garrett’s attention. And it was clear it was caught.

“I couldn’t say,” Miss Radcliffe said in response to his question. “Nelly... well, I’ve not realized until now, but she was the sort who always asked questions about you, rather than telling you anything about herself.” A pretty blush stained her creamy cheeks. “Some of the other girls have... well, admirers, but not Nelly. Nor myself.”

Garrett glanced up from his notebook and the faintest of smiles curled over his mouth as their eyes met.

Good grief. Perry pushed away from the door. Garrett shot her a look, and she made a circling motion with her finger, letting him know she was going to have a look around.

What did it matter if he was flirting with a witness? It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him take an interest in a young, attractive woman. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Perry prowled her way across the stage, pushing the thought from her mind. She spoke to several of the stagehands on her way, gaining a good appreciation for Miss Tate. The results were conclusive.

‘Kind-hearted.’

‘Not like some of those actresses you get, who usually play the starring roles...’’I couldn’t possibly fathom who would actually want to hurt her.’

“What did Miss Tate do after hours?” she asked the man who managed the lighting. “Was she... walking out with anyone?”

“Couldn’t rightly guess.” His gaze slid away. “She kept to herself a lot.” A frown, before he looked at her earnestly. “You don’t think she’s in trouble, do you?”

“Well, she did get them flowers, remember, Ned?” One of the stagehands called. “On her birthday.” He tipped his head to Perry. “I’d almost suspect she had a beau, though she never mentioned one, but she were awful excited about the flowers. Showed ‘em to everybody and they was only peonies. Considering she gets sent roses all the time from the patrons, you wouldn’t think they was much, would you? Gets ‘em regular-like now.”

Perry jotted that down. Interesting. No doubt theatre rumor had been all over that little titbit. “When were they delivered? After a performance?”

“Nope, during rehearsal. First time she’s ever stopped a rehearsal.” The man shook his head. “Wanted to get ‘em straight in a vase before they wilted.”

Very interesting. Perry tapped the pen against her notebook.

It looked like Miss Tate had a beau.

And, she thought, her eyes narrowing slightly, it hadn’t taken Garrett’s rapport with people to work it out, which was a good thing, considering his current distraction...

CHAPTER TWO

“SOMETHING BOTHERING YOU?” Garrett asked, as they hopped down from the omnibus, a half-mile from Nelly’s home.

Stormy gray eyes the color of thunderclouds glanced up at him, but Perry looked slightly distracted. “What?”

Garrett shifted the case with Miss Tate’s leg inside it, getting a better grip on the handle, as they turned toward Nelly’s house. “You seem distracted.”

A long moody silence ensued. “No. Just… some things never change, do they?”

“I’m not certain what you mean.”

Perry finally looked up from her boots, her strides long and loose-hipped, and her hands hiding in the pockets of her long leather coat. “I was just thinking about human nature. It rarely changes, especially on a case like this.”

He had the feeling she’d deflected the answer, but he didn’t push her. “So who do you like for this?”

“It’s too early to tell,” she replied. “There’s something going on with Rommell, however. Both Miss Radcliffe and Mr. Fotherham grew distressed in slightly different ways, when you brought up his name. Perhaps it’s monetary? Mr. Fotherham certainly seemed focused on the theatre’s finances.”

“And Miss Radcliffe?”

She took her time in answering. “My read on her is… uncertain. But I think she’s hiding something. She dropped her gaze and glanced away when you brought up Rommell, so I think there’s something there – but then that could also have been the fact that you were the one asking that question. She changed the conversation fairly quickly.”

He digested this. “Why would I have anything to do with it?”

Perry rolled her eyes. “Good grief, Garrett. She was practically cooing at you. Though I’d be mightily surprised if you hadn’t noticed that.”

He had noticed. His eyes narrowed. “Are you complaining about the way I ran that interview?”

“Of course not. You had her eating out of your hand.”

“I’m not there to be the enemy,” he said. “People respond better to a more reasonable approach. If they think I suspect them, then they tend to think they might have something to hide.”

“I’m not talking about people.”

That riled him, and he stopped in his tracks. “You think I stepped over the line with her?”

Perry took another two steps before realizing he’d stopped. “Let’s not discuss this here.”

It would hardly be the done thing for two Nighthawks to be caught arguing in the streets. Who knew what the press could get their hands on? “We’ll discuss it later, back at the Guild.”

Just so that she knew this wasn’t finished between them.

Still, the idea that she even considered his approach today to be less than professional irritated him. He never let his emotions or his flirtations get in the way of a case anymore, particularly not with a potential suspect.

He had once, a long time ago, on one of his first handful of cases. He’d let a few tears sway him away from a potential suspect, when the widow had, in fact, been a merciless poisoner. The memory still humiliated him, with the way he’d been so easily manipulated.

Christ, the Guild Master - Lynch - had nearly chewed his head off over that breach and warned him that it was never to happen again.

Garrett knew it was a weakness of his. He didn’t like to see women cry and more than once he’d stepped between a woman and her cruel husband or pimp. Every single time he saw the blank look in his mother’s sightless eyes when he’d gone searching for her that long ago morning. He hadn’t saved her then and he couldn’t save them all now, but sometimes he had to remember that women weren’t always in need of protection. Sometimes they were just as guilty as men.

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