The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace

The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace

Bec
McMaster

 

 

Copyright 2014
Bec McMaster

Cover Design by
Angela Waters

 

SMASHWORDS
EDITION

 

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titles by Bec McMaster:

Kiss of
Steel

Tarnished
Knight

Heart Of
Iron

My Lady
Quicksilver

Forged By
Desire

 

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Notes

 

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For Byron, for
always being there.

CHAPTER
ONE

London,
1877

 

MASCULINE LAUGHTER echoed through the hotel door, followed by
a distinctly feminine giggle. Perry Lowell grimaced as the
elevation chamber doors closed behind her at the Charing Cross
Hotel. She could
hear a faint murmur now;
words she couldn’t quite make out - and was grateful not
to.

She rapped her
knuckles against the door. The laughter froze, a listening quality
echoing through the stillness. “If it’s housekeeping... then we’re
not at home to visitors.”

Another
feminine giggle followed the man’s words.


Get your backside out of bed, Garrett,” she shot back. “It’s
Perry.”

That brought
about a flurry of movement inside. “Give me a moment.”


Oh, stay love. Tell them to go away, and stay with me,” the
woman cooed, as the sound of bare feet padded on the floorboards
within.


Business, I’m afraid.” His voice hinted at a smile and Perry
could just imagine what was going on behind the door – Garrett
snatching at his clothes as he winked, and made smooth promises to
the friendly widow he’d been cultivating. She’d seen it all before.
Women loved Garrett, and he loved women.

Perry stepped away, and peered through the window in the
hallway, giving him the illusion of privacy. Or perhaps not wanting
to hear those whispered love words, and promises he’d no doubt
break.

Garrett had been her partner for nearly six years, after
she’d arrived at the Guild of Nighthawks one night, soaked to the
bone, and shivering with the dark hungers of the craving virus. Her
first few months as a blue blood had been horrendous as she
struggled to rein in her bloodlusts as her body slowly changed;
becoming leaner, faster, stronger, and hungrier. Not for food
though. Only blood.

The door
jerked open and Garrett appeared, his shirt still half unbuttoned
and a bite mark on his neck. Perry caught a glimpse of the plump
widow who wore nothing more than the froth of sheets in the middle
of the bed. An ice bucket housed an open bottle of champagne by the
smell of it, and sheer, gauzy lace fluttered over an open window,
beneath red, swagged drapes. The smile the woman had worn for
Garrett faded as she caught sight of Perry, becoming a little
sharper, a little narrower. Then the door closed, and it was just
the two of them.


I thought we had the day off?” he said, buttoning the shirt
to his throat and hiding that condemning mark.


Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention that to the criminal
classes,” she replied. The scent of somewhat rancid lilies wafted
through her sensitive nostrils as he drew closer. Perry screwed her
nose up. “You smell like a whorehouse.”


And how would you know what a whorehouse smells like, my lady
peregrine?”

Touché
. As one of the only two
female blue bloods in London, she was expected to be above
reproach, in all respects. The aristocratic Echelon who ruled the
city, had decreed that only males were to be given the blood rites
that infected a human with the craving virus, and began the
transformation into a blue blood.

The Echelon
feared that a female’s sensitive nature would be unable to deny the
strong lusts and fierce cravings of the virus. Perry was determined
to prove them wrong. She sipped her blood in private, using her own
money to purchase it from the draining factories the government
collected the blood taxes at, and maintained herself with a fierce
decorum. Indeed, Garrett often told her she was almost puritanical,
which bothered her a little.

Not everyone
could be as careless as he though.


So what is urgent enough to drag me from a rather pleasant
bed?” he asked, thundering down the stairs in front of her, and
slipping his black leather coat - the uniform of the Nighthawks -
over his broad shoulders.


My apologies. Perhaps I should have waited another five
minutes - that’s how long the ladies keep your interest, isn’t
it?”


They keep it for considerably longer than five minutes.” The
sound of affront in his voice faded with the appearance of the
devilish grin he shot her over his shoulder. “But not a great deal
longer, you’re correct. You shouldn’t sound so prudish. All work
and no play, Perry... Makes a girl... dull.”

That smarted.
“Does a murder sound interesting enough?”

The smile died on his face, his blue eyes sobering.
“Who?”

Holding onto her own frustration seemed petty too. “An
actress at the Veil Theatre, possibly.”


Possibly?”


The body hasn’t been found yet,
only... traces of blood, I’m told. Whatever that
means.”

 

Now that
transportation had improved, and the streets were safer at night,
theatre had begun to face a little of a reconnaissance. Broad
Street, in the middle of SoHo, had begun with the intent of being
as grand as nearby Mayfair, and after a brief battle, had slowly
given ground to the theatres, music halls and brothels.

They disembarked from an omnibus, near the
Newcastle-upon-Tyne pub, and Garrett scanned the cobbled streets.
Eating houses and pubs lined the streets, though a man could find
much more than something to serve his stomach if he looked for it.
The occasional window advertised ‘French Lessons Given’, and
Garrett had seen places where they corrupted the
tableaux vivants
art
form into something a little more risqué. At night, women of ill
repute would stroll the streets, with their skirts edged just high
enough to reveal their petticoats. He’d seen worse, growing up in
the East End, though he preferred not to think about his past.
Still, he usually felt more than a little pity when he saw the
hard-etched desperation on the women’s faces, and the tight, false
smiles they displayed. There was nothing he could do about it, of
course... But he never forgot
that his
mother had worn a smile like that, toward the end.


Have
you
ever been to a play?” he asked Perry, in order to shake off the
grim thoughts plaguing him.

She looked as
solemn and sober as always, her short, dyed black hair pomaded into
neat, glossy strands. It often hung over her gray eyes, as if she
were hiding from the world, but wearing it swept back like that
gave a sharp slant to her cheekbones, and the firm set of her chin.
A stubborn chin. It matched her well. Only Perry could frustrate
him enough to make him want to bang his head against the wall.

They’d been
partners for nearly six years, and he still sometimes felt as
though he barely knew her. She was good at what she did; she could
track a criminal from the barest scrap of scent, and she was
devilishly clever. Some of the men ribbed him for having to work
with a female, but none of them knew what Garrett did.

He’d
volunteered.

Having her as a Nighthawk went against all of the rules, and
had set the
Guild on its ear. She might be
a blue blood, but she was a woman. As far as half the lads went, it
should have been the end of the story. If the Echelon had gotten
wind of it... Well, they’d come down harshly on rogue blue bloods
like himself - those that had been infected by chance, not
selection - and Garrett didn’t care to think of what they’d do to a
woman. Force her into an asylum perhaps? Someone had to keep an eye
out for her, and he knew he was the best choice.

Glancing at
the playbill, she hesitated. “I’m not a complete bore. I have seen
several plays, a long time ago. It’s difficult now that I’m a
Nighthawk. I rarely know when I’m going to get a day off.”

This was interesting. He knew next to nothing about her life
before the Nighthawks, but there was no point asking for more.
She’d only clam up. “I’ve heard of this one,” he replied, instead.

‘A Season for
Scheming’
. Mrs. Scott claimed it’s
terribly wicked and witty.”


Is this Mrs. Scott of the rumpled bed sheets this
afternoon?”


Yes.” Though he could think of a dozen other ways he could
refer to the widow. Mrs. Scott of the very ample cleavage. Or Mrs.
Scott of the very clever tongue. Garrett smiled to himself. Her
prejudices were showing. “One would think you raised in a
nunnery.”


My favourite play was
Phèdre
.” There was a
wistful note to her voice that he nearly missed.

Good God, did the sphinx just reveal something about
herself?
They were forced to part around a
pair of ladder-men, with their cans of paste, ladder, and posters
advertizing Tucson’s Luxury Soap, then came back together.
“A tragedy?”


Not everything has to be a comedy, Garrett.”


Life is meant to be laughed at. How else can you keep smiling
in this kind of world?”

She looked
startled, then thoughtful.


I’m not trying to be philosophical. You and I both know the
reality of the London streets. There’s nothing better than a good
comedy, or a night out with the lads, to clear those kind of
memories, and make it easier to forget the day’s case.”


I read,” she admitted. “It takes my mind off the worst
cases.”

They both felt
silent. With the ruling class of blue bloods deeding humans few
rights, there was little he hadn’t seen, in the course of his
investigations; bodies drained of blood and discarded in the gutter
like so much refuse, or young girls kidnapped off the streets and
sold into slavery... It made a man weary in a way that could
threaten to drown a soul.


Here, we are.” He paused in front of the Veil Theatre. The
poster advertised,
‘Murder. Mayhem... And
mistaken identity
.’ “Well, we’ve got two
out of three,” he said, pushing open the door and ushering her
inside.

The moment
they entered the Veil, a small crowd of people hastened to meet
them. Two of the women looked visibly distraught, while the man in
front swallowed hard before coming forward to meet them with an
outstretched hand.


Nighthawks Reed and Lowell.” Garrett flashed his identity
card at them.


Thank goodness,” the man replied. “I’m Mr. Fotherham, the
director. This is my wife, Mrs. Fotherham, and Miss Radcliffe, our
lead understudy. She’s the one who found... well, found Miss Tate
to be missing.”

Garrett tugged
out his pocketbook and flipped to a blank page. “Missing? I thought
the telegram said murder?”

They all
shared a glance, then hurried to speak in a mangle of voices. He
managed to work out the logistics. Miss Nelly Tate was the actress
playing the lead role in the play, and had gone missing earlier
that morning. Miss Radcliffe, her understudy, had gone to fetch her
for a final rehearsal for tonight’s opening, and found only a few
drops of blood in her room.


And no sign of her since?” Garrett continued, with a friendly
smile.

The actress’
shoulders softened as she shook her head. “Nelly’s always so
punctual. Six hours is a notable length of time for her to be
missing. She’s not at her home,” Miss Radcliffe finished. “We sent
one of the stagehands to check, and well, the blood, you
see...”


Any relatives we might be able to talk to?”

Miss Radcliffe
bit her lip. She was the type of woman who seemed to overplay every
emotion, but he wasn’t entirely certain if that meant she was
hiding anything, or whether she was simply overdramatic.

She was also
very lovely, he noted, in an entirely masculine way that had
nothing to do with the case.

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