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Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears - Page 6: June 26, 2012 - July 24, 2012

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Unwrapping the Scary Present
Water Water Everywhere
Secret Powers
You Know How to Whistle, Don’t You?
A Late Visit to Scotland Yard
A Clandestine Tryst

Unwrapping the Scary Present

Entry for June 26, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

The entire group was there. Sparky and Erasmus had arrived at the Pogue residence just a few minutes before, and Yin had retrieved Edmond from a nearby pub where he had downed a quick noontime meal. The crate was in the middle of the laboratory floor, its top off, with a bit of the straw packing on the floor nearby. The four of them were standing around the crate, making a plan.

Dr. Pogue cocked his head slightly, and stated the obvious, “Let us avoid what happened last time.” Without looking at it, he held up the mechanical section of his left arm to emphasize his point. “May I suggest that we create a controlled environment where we can escape from if something goes awry.”

Yin offered, “We could use a winch to haul all of the parts up away from us quickly by attaching a line to each part.”

Edmond shook his head. “Too risky. This thing could climb, cut the winch lines, or worse, there may be multiple mechanical entities in here that would make it hard to corral them all.”

Yin continued, “We have the makings of a cage, left over from the work that you did on hardening the railings around Her Majesty’s garden. It wouldn’t take long to create an enclosure with a single exit.”

Sparky nodded approval. “I see. We could tie a line around whoever is working on the parts. To pull them to safety if needed. Once they are out of the cage, the door can be slammed shut and locked. That may be rather harsh, but it might save their life.”

Erasmus offered his observation, “Do you have enough grating to cover the top of this cage? And the bottom, now that I think about it.”

Edmond thought for a second, and then answered, “No, but we could build it into a smaller room, so that the cage is fastened to the floor and ceiling.” He gasped at his own moment of realization. “Oh, yes! Delightful! There is another benefit if we use one of the rooms off the lower hallway. The cold water conduit for the building’s steam engine runs through there. We can tap off of it to allow the flooding of the room. The device in the crate is metal. So if needed, we can flood the room, leaving the contraption on the floor, while the person working on it can swim to the top of the water, escaping danger.”

Yin reacted, but so subtly that only Erasmus noticed. To him, it looked like Edmond had said something that bothered her. Perhaps Edmond wasn’t aware of the room used for sparring, and she was hoping that he wouldn’t find out about it. His first thought was that he wasn’t concerned about the outcome; it wasn’t his job to either help Edmond find out or to help Yin prevent it. But then he remembered that Sergeant Fox was involved, and if he and Yin thought it should be kept secret, then it would be best if it stayed that way. Now how could he get either Yin or Sparky to reveal which of the rooms it was so that he could help with the ruse?

“Yin, why don’t you and I go to select the best room for the task while Sparky and Edmond figure out a way to transport the crate and fence segments?”

Yin nodded her head, “Yes, that is a good plan. Doctor, and Doctor, please excuse us.”

Yin and Erasmus wound their way around a few worktables in the laboratory and made their way to a heavy wooden door in the back that Erasmus hadn’t noticed before. From its position, it lead to a basement level under the retired mill. Despite her gender, Yin lead the way and yanked the door open, signaling Erasmus to enter.

Erasmus stepped into a stone hallway that had a series of doors on each of its sides. It was lit by a few small gaslights that just barely kept the hallway from being dim. The hallway was clean, but smelled musty. “I’m constantly amazed by the number of rooms in this place. What are these used for?”

“These were originally grain storage and milling rooms. On the right side, there is a shaft running through all of the rooms near the ceiling attached to the main steam engine in the room at the end. Originally it was for belting for grain grinding, sack making, and other machinery. We occasionally use the rooms for such machinery, but the laboratory has stayed the primary location for most our work and experimentation. The rooms on the left are used for storage of a great number of odds and ends. The second door there has the hardened wrought iron garden fencing.”

Erasmus grabbed the ring on the door and gave it a yank. Locked. Or stuck. He looked at Yin, who was already fishing out a ring of keys out of her pocket.

“Dr. Pogue keeps doors locked in his own place?”

Yin smiled as she fit the key within the lock. “We work on things that require discretion. Some for Scotland Yard. Some for universities. There are others, too.”

She turned the key and swung open the door open. Erasmus was greeted with a slightly unkempt room of parts and pieces that one might expect of a laboratory that took on a wide range of scientific enquiry. It was even mustier than the hallway. There were shelves along the three doorless walls, all containing baskets and wooden boxes of mechanical parts, pots, oversized and specialty tools, beakers, and hoses. The floor was covered with black wrought iron fence grating, wooden table parts, and a couple of handcarts.

While getting the handcarts and loading the gratings, Yin worked her way through a soliloquy describing how this was a storage room for solid objects, as opposed to nearby rooms with chemicals, soils, and specialized vessels for those substances, or other rooms containing delicate optical instruments for microscopy and astronomy. She also suggested that the room across the hall would be perfect for setting up the cage. It was a room housing an industrial force pump that, in its day, had been used to pump any unwanted water out of the building. Its floor was the lowest in the mill, even lower than the floor of the laboratory. It was also relatively empty, and had overhead water pipes with spigots. Unfortunately, it had a stone ramp from its hallway door down to its floor, so moving the garden fence into the room was going to take a bit of muscle.

All the while, Erasmus wanted to ask her about the room for sparring. But he had to stop himself for one simple reason. He wasn’t sure that Yin knew about the new relationship between Sergeant Fox and himself. It might be the case that J. B. was gathering information on Yin and Edmond, and Erasmus would be tipping his hand to even reveal that he knew about the encounter.

Erasmus was good at keeping secrets. What he had to curb was his curiosity, and that was a challenge. The best way for him to learn more was to approach J. B. about this. So he needed to tuck his curiosity into a musty storage room in the back of his mind.

After about six handcart trips between the storage room on the right and a workroom on the left, there was enough wrought iron to build a cage. During the trips, Erasmus noticed that the workroom not only had the steam engine shaft running from apertures in the walls, it also had two pipelines with tap points. That would allow the flooding that Edmond desired. At the end of the ferrying, Sparky and Edmond joined them.

Sparky looked at the two of them, and noticed their fatigue, but her heart went out to Erasmus. “My dear man, I cheated you out of your noontime meal. Would you like to join me in getting some sustenance?”

“Yes, I would. But I don’t want to abandon the construction effort to Doctors Pogue and Young.”

“Oh, pish-posh!” Edmond exclaimed. “This is what we do. Run along, you two. There are a number of establishments that should suit you nearby. I recommend a new place over on Gravel Lane called the White Swan and Cuckoo. Great food. Just opened last year.”

After considering their options, Sparky and Erasmus headed out to find the White Swan and Cuckoo.

 The Sign over the White Swan and Cuckoo Pub
The Sign over the White Swan and Cuckoo Pub

Upon returning, contentedly full of lunch, both Sparky and Erasmus were impressed by the progress. The grating had been fastened together using various bolting systems so that it went floor to ceiling within the room in an area that did not contain the shaft or pipelines. The grates were anchored to both the floor and the ceiling by wedging chisels in between stones, and then fastening the chisels to the grating. The combination of all of the sturdy points of contact made it a sturdy cage. They had left two exits: a door of sorts that hinged on three chains, and a window, if one could call it that, opposite the door and hinged in a similar manner. There was room to walk around the entire closure, and Erasmus took that walk to inspect the workmanship.

Inside the cage, the floor was covered with a carpet, a workbench had been set up, and the crate had been placed in a corner. Two pipes ran along the ceiling, both of which terminated about waist height, with red-painted crank shut-off valves on the ends.

Edmond, standing in the cage, was placing tools on the bench. He had a chain linked around his waist that trailed off outside of the cage thorough the door. Edmond noticed Erasmus’ inspection and wry grin. “Why the smile, may I ask?”

“You may have been too busy to notice the little leaves and flowers on the garden fence that contrast with the oversized hammer and wrench on the bench and the chain around you. I enjoy juxtaposed dissimilarity. While at the same time, and please don’t think of me as being unkind, but I couldn’t help but think of you as a scientist in a scientist cage. Like a bird might be.”

This raised similar smiles from Sparky and Edmond, but Yin seemed unmoved by the observation. Sparky thought to herself that Erasmus’ wit was growing on her, and she let her eyes linger on him for a few seconds, before entering the cage to help lay out the parts.

Yin spoke up uncharacteristically. “May I suggest a plan? I would offer that Dr. Pogue and I unpack and inspect the parts. Dr. McTrowell, if you would be willing, please mind the chain for Dr. Pogue, and haul him out if needed. Chief Inspector, if you would, please man the water spigots.”

Sparky was not really happy with the assignment, and though she tried her best not to show it, failed. “I’m not sure that is the most efficient approach. I am an inventor, and if I help with the reconstruction, the three of us would be able to get the work done more quickly.”

Yin smiled, but only to show she wasn’t hurt by Sparky’s response. “You are correct, Doctor, that it would be more efficient. But I’m afraid that speed isn’t our primary concern. It’s safety. I am offering that Dr. Pogue and I put ourselves in the greatest danger. The water pipes, both the distilled cold water for the boiler and the Thames water are under enough pressure that the spigots are difficult enough to turn that the Chief Inspector should have that job. We are counting on your quick hands.”

Sparky didn’t like the idea of standing about while others got their hands on the hardware. But she saw that Yin was right. “Fair enough. But Yin, you don’t have a chain. How will you be removed if an issue arises?”

“With Edmond’s mechanical arm, he will not be able to swim. One cannot whistle under water. I am a strong swimmer, and can make my way though the window if needed. Lastly, you should use all your strength to get Dr. Pogue to safety. You will not be able to pull both of us out in time.” Sparky begrudgingly nodded agreement. Everyone manned their stations and the work began. Erasmus stood on the window side of the cage within an arms reach of the two spigots. Sparky stood near the door, the chain resting on her foot so that she would have quick access to it.

Two hours passed. Most of the parts had been pulled from the crate by Edmond and Yin, and laid out all over the cage on every horizontal surface. There was packing straw and thin strips of curled wood strewn everywhere, even some of it hanging outside of the cage. A few of the parts were already assembled, particularly those components with complex gearwork, tubes, or a series of lenses. Each piece was taken out and examined by the two in the cage, then shown to Erasmus and Sparky. Many lively discussions ensued. What was the function of the component? How did it fit into the chassis? Why were the connections made in the way they were? There were almost no screws or bolts. The metal chassis resembled armor or the outer shell of a wasp. This was not the slick polished brass of the EPACTs, but rather rough iron with interior fastener knobs.

Edmond removed the final piece, another rugged iron leg, the sixth of its kind in the crate. It, like the others, resembled the shape of a mountain lion’s rear thigh. Edmond looked deeply in the crate to make sure that every tiny piece was removed.

“Hulloooo! Delightful! Seriously delightful!”

He hopped up a tad, landing with his waist on the rim of the open crate, and readied his left arm. He breathed out a series of quick little toothy whistles that were too quiet to hear by anyone else, but it clearly instructed his arm to reach to the bottom of the crate and retrieve something. He sprung back down to the floor clutching a single piece of paper in his metallic fingers.

Practically sing-songing the word, he held the paper high, “Directions!”

Erasmus and Sparky grabbed the gratings and held their faces close to get a better look. Edmond spread the slightly wrinkled paper on the workbench and smoothed it out with his right hand. Yin was craning her neck over his left shoulder.

Edmond’s voice took on the air of a discoverer, as if he had just stumbled upon previously unknown hieroglyphics carved in the side of an ancient tomb.

“It’s handwritten in French.
Assembly for Dragon’s Tooth Style 5. It then goes on to give eighteen steps. That’s odd. There are more than eighteen pieces here. Is it possible that we are missing the rest of the instructions?”

Each of the four had an opinion and they all tried to get it into the conversation in sputtering anticipation. French? Dragon’s Tooth? Style 5? Should we construct it? Misinformation, perhaps? But Edmond held up his hand to stop the chatter. “Let’s carefully follow what we have, and see where that takes us. Wait, wait, what’s this?”

He flipped the paper over. “There are another five steps. And it is signed! By Misters Hedgley and Martin; no first names. It also has another name.
Monsieur Punaise! Delightful!”

Sparky chimed in. “That is the mysterious
Monsieur P!” Eyes closed, she did a bit of a dance with her arms, but then soberly followed that with, “That is interesting that there is not a fourth name. What did Lord Ashleigh say his name was? Oh, yes. A Mr. Grossman. Maybe he was just involved with the activity near Paris.”

Edmond held his hand up again. “Enough sleuthing. You can discuss that later. On to the assembly!”

Edmond had no difficulty reading the French directions, which he did out loud, in French. The instructions used simple verbs, and not many of them. There were a few rough drawings with numbered parts and arrows, but they were mainly details of how parts connected, rather than an overall drawing of the finished construction. Most of the initial work was to connect internal parts. Some were clearly the power transmission components; others were timing and sensing constructs. It seemed like they were only a quarter of the way into the effort as they neared the end of the instructions.

Edmond scratched his head, using his right hand, of course, as he tried to puzzle out why the directions were so partial. The internal parts were all connected, which had a good number of tubes and other parts loosely held together, but the external structure was still lying about the floor and bench. The final step had him open a door in the side of the empty spherical chamber and toss in a handful of wood blocks and chips. He followed the instructions to the letter, including shutting the door and latching it. “Well, that’s all we have.” He instinctively looked into the crate to see if there were one more thing he should have done or followed.

Yin pointed at the parts and gasped, “Edmond!” The shock of hearing her use his first name was what surprised Erasmus and Sparky first, and they looked at each other with a “what was that about?” look.

It was clear to Yin that shutting the door of the spherical chamber set off a chain reaction. The system hissed and the chamber grew hot. Dr. Pogue stepped toward the workbench, reaching for the chamber’s hatch, but it was already too hot to handle. He pulled his hand away. “I must have caused a striker to ignite the wood!” He stepped back to give himself a buffer of safety.

Hot air filled the black rubber hoses, and the collection of parts sprouted inflated elastic legs. But after inflating for a few seconds, they bent and became jointed, and the wobbly automaton righted itself on the workbench. Erasmus jumped to the spigots and Sparky grabbed the chain from the floor. The object teetered on the bench for a few more seconds, like a surly balloon animal. “Hold steady,” Edmond cautioned, “let’s see if this is the end of it.”

Four people held their breaths with their eyes glued to the six tube-legged beast. As suddenly as it started, a gust of air came out of a number of small vents, and it crouched and swung its compound optical assemblage around, as if it were surveying the environment. Each of them jumped back as if a bear was trying to sniff them.

Instead, the creature rolled its right side into one of the exoskeleton enclosures, snapping the armor in place. It immediately rolled back up onto its tube-end feet, and flipped over another enclosure piece, rolling its left side into it with a snap. It now appeared as a bizarre armored dachshund from hell, hissing as it waddled on its six black rubber conduit limbs. It jumped off the workbench, landing just right to force a front rubber leg into an armature assembly. It then jammed the other front tube onto another armature, allowing it to tip up into its newly acquired crutches.

Yin yelled to Edmond, “Leave! Now!”

Water Water Everywhere

Entry for June 28, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

One more perfectly executed hop and the creature blocked Pogue’s exit from the cage, standing on his chain. Not knowing whether it could “hear” or not, Sparky raised her fingers to whistle at it to attract its attention. And then she realized that doing so might have disastrous, unintended consequences given the signaling for Pogue’s arm.

Yin yelled at Drake with an intensity that startled both him and McTrowell, “Open the valves!” Looking at the situation with Pogue and the creature, Drake hesitated. Yin hollered even louder, “Now!” Drake cranked the valve handles as fast as his wrists would rotate.

Oblivious to the water rushing in, the metal beast began tearing up the rug and workbench in the cage without budging off the chain. Stunned by this activity, Sparky froze. What could it possibly be doing? She lost precious seconds in this reverie before she remembered that it was her responsibility to extract Pogue. She grabbed the chain at her feet and tried to haul him out. The shoulder she had injured hauling Drake over the railing of the Burke & Hare screamed in agony. An image of the packing slip for the crate flashed through her head. The monstrosity cutting off Pogue’s escape route weighed nearly 350 pounds! Letting the chain get wet wasn’t helping either. It was all she could do not to break a finger as her hands slipped on the links and in between them. As much as she adored her red, four-button leather gloves and would have hated to ruin them, she wished she had them at that moment. At least they would have provided more traction, maybe enough to pull
Dragon’s Tooth Style 5 off balance.

Yin had begun crawling up the far side of the cage toward the window. Despite the constraints of her cumbersome dress that was further weighed down by its soaked hem, she was making good progress. She was clear of the water and just a couple of handholds from the window when she looked back. The creature was undeterred by the water that was already up to its “knees.” It was bending some of the metal scrap on the workbench. It was assembling something rather than just destroying the contents of the cage! It had formed the wood from the workbench and the metal strips into a crude barrel-like form. It swiveled its head around as if it were searching for something. It pointed itself at Pogue. To the horror of all four of them, it fixed its attention on his left arm. Not one of them needed to guess what that meant.

Drake yelled over the sound of rushing water, “Dr. Young, I have to turn off the water or Dr. Pogue will drown!”

“No!” If Sparky didn’t know better, she would have thought that Yin sounded hysterical. Despite everything Sparky had recently discovered about her scientific colleague, she was completely unprepared for what Yin did next.

While hanging onto the side of the cage with her left hand, Yin grasped the piping at the collar of her dress with her right hand. With one swift, deft pull, she yanked it up and away from her body. It wasn’t piping; it was a cord. Sparky had mistaken the tiny metal adornments down the front of the bodice and the inside of both sleeves as mere decoration. Given the supreme practicality of Dr. Young, McTrowell should have known better. They were tiny swing clasps. The dress burst open like a chrysalis to reveal a lighter version of the pajama-like ensemble Sparky had seen Yin wearing while sparring with Sergeant Fox.

Yin sprang lightly to the floor of the cage. The water was nearly up to her hips. Despite that encumbrance, she hopped up onto the remains of the workbench and executed a handspring, vaulting herself over Pogue’s head and landing on the back of the beast. She wrapped her legs around its neck and began striking it with the sides of her flat, rigid hands. It acted mildly perturbed by this assault, but slogged inexorably through the rising tide toward Pogue, or to be more precise, his left arm that he was trying to keep above the water line. Yin wrapped her legs around her opponent’s neck, grasped the head with her hands and the full length of her forearms, and twisted viciously. The head spun off the neck and disappeared into the swirling water. And then something truly unusual happened; Yin smiled.

Sensing that the danger had passed, Drake reached down into the water to crank the valves closed. One of them moved fairly easily, albeit somewhat impeded from being submerged, and he closed it snugly. The water was rising only half as fast, but it was still climbing. For all his strength, he couldn’t get the other handle to budge. “It’s jammed! I can’t close it!”

Sparky finally abandoned the completely hopeless task of pulling on the chain. There was so much water in the room that she no longer had any leverage against the floor, and the headless hulk was still standing on the chain. She grabbed the cage and attempted to drag herself around to Drake, but she was fighting the current and her freshly inflamed shoulder. The water was inching up Pogue’s chest and it was clear she wouldn’t make it to Drake in time.

Yin’s smile vanished. She took a deep breath and dove into the murky maelstrom. Drake and McTrowell held their breath. Sparky began counting anxiously. Perhaps Yin had trained as a pearl diver in addition to her other interesting pursuits. Sparky looked back and forth at each other and Edmond desperately. How could they have so misjudged the danger of the situation? The water had crept up to his chin when he suddenly bobbed up. A second later, Yin surfaced next to him, grabbed him under his left arm, and began swimming for the door of the cage. Drake swam for the ramp, reaching it just before McTrowell who was still struggling with her wounded right arm. He dragged her up above the water line.

Fortunately, the room’s original intended use worked in their favor. There was still a grating a couple of feet below the door that had originally been for the force pump’s discharge pipe. Once the water reached that level, it began flowing out of the room and down some drain toward the Thames. The two of them waded back into the water up to their knees to help Yin haul Edmond to safety. The four of them collapsed in a heap at the top of the ramp, gasping for breath. Although Pogue was clearly out of danger, Yin continued to clutch him tightly in her arms. She appeared to be shivering from the cold and the water was running off her hair and down her face. At least that’s what Sparky chose to believe.

Surveying the lake in his basement and showing no concern from his brush with almost certain death mere moments before, Pogue wondered aloud, “
Do you suppose that force pump still works?

Secret Powers

Entry for July 6, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Mr. Reginald Wallace looked uncharacteristically powerless as he entered the Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines’ London Terminal on crutches. He was unfamiliar with operating such supports and he labored with the timing and balance needed to make the confident-looking strides that one traditionally needs to run such a business. His gout-swollen foot was trussed up to prevent any possible chance that it would touch the floor, so as to prevent the incredible shooting pains that would cause.

Reginald made his way through the wide main corridor toward to the reception desk, where Mr. Littleton was working. Due to the racket the crutches were making on the floor and Mr. Wallace’s strained breathing, Mr. Littleton looked up from his books before the lame man had made it to the counter. Mr. Littleton jumped to his feet, clearly concerned for his employer’s welfare. “Mr. Wallace, how may I assist you?”

“Please retrieve my wife. I need to speak to her.” Mr. Wallace’s tone was uncharacteristically somber.

“Understood, sir. Can I have a porter fetch a wheeled-chair for you?”

“Priorities, Mr. Littleton. Fetch my wife.” He was more curt than usual and that was saying something.

“Yes, sir!” Mr. Littleton kicked up his heels and ran to the back office. In a few moments, Mrs. Wallace strode out toward the reception desk, Mr. Littleton following closely. She cleared her throat in an authoritative way before addressing her husband.

“You should not be up and about, dear. Would you like me to arrange for a cab to pick you up?”

“Thank you for the concern, but no. I wanted to attend to a particular shipment that may not have gone out. You mentioned it the other night. A crate of clockwork parts. I would like to help them get shipped to their destination.”

“I am aware of the crate and I am afraid that is out of the question. One of your pilots, Dr. McTrowell, had it transported elsewhere.”

“That does not make sense. Why would she do that? And why did you allow her to do that? … My dear.” Reginald was not practiced in the art of hiding his displeasure, and he failed to do so. But he also realized that to get through the process of retrieving the crate and getting it shipped off, he would need his wife’s cooperation.

“She absconded with it. She indicated that Scotland Yard would have an interest in it. I don’t know where the crate is now, but she indicated that you should take up the matter of ownership with them. Would you like me to arrange a cab for Whitehall Place?”

Reginald’s eye twitched. He had no immediate response for his wife. He broke off his stare at her, and looked at Mr. Littleton, who instinctively looked away and shyly took a small step back. Reginald then looked around at his terminal. What mess had he gotten himself into? “Wait,” he thought to himself, “the Chief Inspector! Drake’s his name. I’ll see him and clear all of this up. But first, I need to write a letter indicating that the shipment will be delayed.” He did his best to feign confidence and answered his wife.

“Such effort for a trifling. A cab to Scotland Yard would be excellent, although I typically don’t go to these lengths for a single crate. First, I would like a sheet of letterhead and a shipping envelope for it, Mr. Littleton. I need to clear up a minor matter.” Mr. Littleton immediately went to fill his employer’s request. Reginald looked at his wife, who was seething inside, and he knew it. “Don’t worry my dear, I’ll get back to the mend as soon as I address these issues. You know how I can’t stand to be away from my work.” She cocked her head slightly and narrowed her eyes. That’s all it took to clearly convey to Reginald that she knew that he was up to something and that he was going to have to do some fancy dancing to avoid problems with the Yard.

Then Mrs. Wallace smiled politely. “Wonderful. Let me arrange your cab. And be careful with the foot, dear.”

It took a few minutes for the four in the flooded room to catch their breath. Yin, still dressed in her sparring clothes, responded to Dr. Pogue’s question about the force pump.

“Yes, it still works. I’ll set up the belt to the drive shaft.” She pointed overhead to the shaft that ran near the ceiling. Without hesitation, she dove back under with water to retrieve the belt that was stored in the stone pit where the force pump resided. Edmond crawled his way up the ramp toward the door, trying to get out of the rising water. He then stood, trying to get any remaining water out of his mechanical left arm. After a number of shakes, he gave up and forced it through a ninety degree rotation, releasing it from his arm so he tip it about more easily. More than a cup of water poured out. Edmond reattached his arm, and waited to help Yin when she resurfaced.

Erasmus signaled to Sparky, saying, “Let’s see if we can get that water shut off.”

Sparky wearily nodded, but added, “I can only do so much with this shoulder. But I’ll do my best.”

Erasmus and Sparky swam against the incoming water to get to the uncooperative spigot. It was now well below the waterline, it took some diving underneath and considerable underwater struggling with the value. It took more than a few synchronized bobs up to get air before they made progress, and once freed, the faucet closed. By the time the two had swum back to the ramp, Yin had already climbed up a set of ladder-like stones and with Edmond feeding the belt up to her, configured the drive train belt around the drive shaft. She dove back underwater to attach the belt to the pump and draw its laces tight while Edmond volunteered to go and connect the shaft to the running house steam engine. He disappeared out of the door, still shaking moisture off his metal fingers.

When Yin resurfaced, the three looked over the mess that the room had become. The water was now chin-deep. It was scummy with the dust of the room, mixed with the packing straw and splintered wood from what was a worktable. Some lubrication oil from the force pump was also mixed in, giving the water a truly disgusting sheen in various spots. Sparky mentioned how lucky it was that the gas lamps were high on the walls, and that it would have been a bigger misadventure if they had been extinguished, leaving them in the dark and underwater.

The drive shaft above came to life, slowly at first, and then increasing in speed, as Edmond was obviously easing its clutch in place in the mechanical room. After the initial slippage, the belt grabbed tight and the three, who smiled at the progress, heard the muffled sound of the force pump doing its duty underwater. They also heard a secondary gurgling as the force pump drove the water up a drainpipe, allowing it to flow out of the room towards the Thames. Edmond returned to the room, pleased with the sounds of the working pump.

Erasmus suddenly realized the wetness of his clothes and how cold he was becoming. He reached into his pockets to clear them. Out of his left front pocket he pulled out what was a white waxed paper sack, now stained grey. He opened it to find three sad-looking anise-flavored jelly babies, stuck together in a gooey clump. Erasmus remarked to Edmond, “Hmmpf, I’ll have to ask you make more of these.”

Edmond smiled. “Don’t worry, my good man. You can just buy more of them at my favorite sweets shop. Morgan’s Tobacconist and Quality Confections at 22 Cleveland Street. It is a distance from here, I know, but I’m particular. Oh, don’t look at me that way! There isn’t anything miraculous about them other than that they are thick with the anise oil and invoke that unique state in you. It is a reaction similar to the smells of mother’s cooking conjuring clear memories from one’s childhood. Only … more extreme.” He wagged his head a bit as if this was all a simple notion.

The four of them wrung out their sleeves as the water slowly receded from the soggy room. Yin went and fetched some tea to warm everyone up, and by the time they had emptied they’re cups, the room was back down to standing puddles.

Edmond left to disengage the drive shaft, stopping the flapping of the rotating belt and silencing the force pump. They ended up standing around the cage, looking at the metallic body, the separated head, and the incredible mess it had made. Edmond squatted down to take a better look at the head. What an odd set of perception units it had, he thought. He pointed with his left arm just inside the cage to the place under the optical lenses. “What could that be? A single nostril?”

Just then, the faintest whistle could be heard, just a bit of air passing over a metal lip. Edmond’s mechanical arm sprung to life grabbing the bars of the cage. It gave a wrenching twist, and through its own motion, unclipped itself from Edmond’s stump, separating the mechanical from the living flesh. Edmond gasped at the loss, and the others followed suit.

Still commanded by the Dragon’s Tooth head, the arm swung itself inside the cage, and wormed its way over to the torso, reached inside the shoulder joint and popped off the front left leg. The arm then forced itself backwards into the stump, where it appeared to attach itself, creating a new complex limb. Without hesitation, it then grabbed its own head and snapped it back onto its neck with a small twist, rejoining the beast into a single automaton again.

All of these actions happened quickly, far faster than any of the humans in the room could have reacted to. Everyone was stunned as the contraption re-rose upon its five remaining legs and went back to feverous work on disassembling the workbench and carpet.

Yin jumped at the cage door, wanting to get into it and rip off its head again. Edmond, minus a left arm, stepped back in amazement, looking at the scientific marvel. Sparky looked around for a weapon.

Erasmus, still holding the wax bag, instinctively reached inside the small sack, ripped out the gummy contents, and popped it into his mouth. It was initially a disgusting watery goop flavor, but once bitten, the strong anise flavor filled his senses. “Wait,” he said. His brain filled with clarity.

Sparky turned to him. “Pardon me? Are you serious?”

“Wait,” he repeated. “Listen to me.” All three stopped and paid attention to his incredibly calm voice.

“First: there were instructions in the crate, which means the shipment was to someone that was buying or using the Dragon’s Tooth. They were unfamiliar enough with it that they needed clear instructions to use the contents of the crate.”

“Second: there was no additional information beyond the limited instructions. The recipients must have received an earlier message or package, since they knew what to expect once this Dragon’s Tooth came to life.”

“Third: because of this, the Dragon’s Tooth wasn’t sent to destroy the recipient, but rather it was a demonstration of its capability. Since it is building or constructing something, and is interested in mechanical hardware, the most likely explanation is that the previous shipment contained a different Dragon’s Tooth. This one is trying to demonstrate its ability to reconfigure the previous Dragon’s Tooth. Let us watch this Dragon’s Tooth Style 5 until it finishes its demonstration, and see what it constructs.”

The three others stared at Erasmus for a few seconds, trying to transition from panic to observation. They then turned and watched the beast go about its mysterious task. Erasmus’ first impression was how eerily the contraption was immediately taking advantage of its additional arm to speed its progress.

Over the next forty-five minutes the automaton continued, including tossing additional wood blocks into its burner. Edmond rattled along with his observations, as Yin noted them in a notebook that she had fetched from the laboratory. Edmond noted that its vision, if one could call it that, was actually very spotty, and that it could distinguish between light and dark objects, but not much more. It did a great deal of feeling around, and had to try things multiple times to get it right. When it finished, it had constructed a very poor imitation of itself, with three wooden legs, one of its own metal legs, and a body woven together out of carpet and straw. It did a final search throughout the cage, laid down, and became completely still.

At this, Edmond turned to Erasmus, stating, “This is all delightful! The next round of jelly babies is on me.”

Erasmus smiled. “Fine with me. I think I am ready for some dry clothes.”

You Know How to Whistle, Don’t You?

Entry for July 9, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Aren’t we forgetting something?” Sparky asked, pointing at the Dragon’s Tooth Style 5 slumbering on its ill-gotten left front leg. They exchanged exhausted looks. None of them was fooled by its seemingly quiescent state or relished the idea of tangling with it again when it inevitably awoke. They all stared blankly at their opponent. A couple of minutes passed during which Pogue gazed wistfully and longingly at the stump of his left arm.

Sparky suddenly brightened up. “I’ve got an idea, but it’s a little mad.” The other three looked at her as if to say, “Mad, as compared to what we’ve just come through?”

“Dr. Pogue, how much do you suppose the arm weighs?”

“Eleven pounds. Dr. McTrowell, what do you have in mind?”

“So long as it can’t find any new materials, it seems to remain in some sort of waiting state. And, it can’t see very well. I propose we go back to your laboratory and assemble a non-functional replacement. We’ll bring it back here under wraps. The Dragon’s Tooth is resting close enough to the edge of the cage that Dr. Young and I can unfasten the limb if we work quickly. Once we’ve released your arm, you’ll whistle for it. Dr. Young and I will attach the replacement once yours has crawled free.”

Yes, mad was clearly an accurate adjective. But as none of them had a better plan, they agreed it was worth trying. “But first, perhaps some dry clothes.”

Erasmus deposited a small peck on Sparky’s cheek. “Dr. McTrowell, you seem to have things well in hand.” The expression on his face suggested he wasn’t being entirely truthful. “Just promise me you won’t open that cage again. I need to go and report our discovery to the authorities.” He attempted to twirl his sodden moustache back up and into shape, but it was hopeless. He squelched out of the room, leaving his equally soggy compatriots to execute the slightly daft plan.

Crocker knew better than to ask too many questions when Drake slogged into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and asked the barkeep to send up a ploughman’s. Drake looked as if he’d been caught in a sudden downpour without an umbrella, except for the fact that it was a clear summer day and his bowler was dry. Upstairs, Drake devoured the thick, chewy sandwich while hanging up his wet clothes and putting his moustache to rights. Saving people from drowning was hungry work.

It was after dinner by the time he reached Cheyne Street. He really hoped Fox was still about because he didn’t want to have to wait another day to report what they had discovered. He needn’t have worried. Some of the other fellows were spread around the room drinking brandies and smoking cigars, but Fox was stationed at a small desk with a pile of newspapers at his left elbow and another pile discarded on the floor to his right. He had his left hand perched on top of the stack with his index finger tracking the text of a small article while his right hand, holding a pen, hovered over a notebook on the desk. He looked up as Drake entered. Although he tried to make the action look casual, he closed the notebook before Drake quite reached the desk. Drake took in the situation at a glance. The newspaper on the top of the stack was in a Germanic language, but not German. Dutch? The one on the top of the discard pile was Italian. There were no dictionaries on the desk. He filed away his observations for later.

“Sergeant Fox, I’ve come on the matter of Mr. Martin and Mr. Hedgley. They are almost certainly in Carlisle. Dr. McTrowell serendipitously intercepted a crate shipped from there containing a dastardly mechanical contraption that can only be the work of their co-conspirator, Monsieur Punaise. We also have good reason to believe that this is neither the first such shipment nor the only type of device they’re producing. This would certainly explain their black-market deal to obtain clockwork gears. They must have some sort of factory.”

“Chief Inspector, I don’t doubt your facts or your deductive powers, but it’s highly unlikely they could have built such a factory without revealing themselves.”

“I agree, but the facts remain. I would gladly show you the device to confirm what I’ve reported.”

“That won’t be necessary, at least not this evening. There’s another possible explanation. Westley, have we had any reports recently from Carlisle?”

“Carlisle, you say? Hmm, that does sound familiar.” He pondered for another moment before turning to the filing cabinet. He rifled through a couple of crumpled, askew slips of paper before pausing. “Here’s one from yesterday morning.” He handed it to Fox who read it rapidly while Drake peered around the substantial bulk of his shoulder.

Fox looked at Drake. “Does this description sound like what you intercepted?”

“It’s not Style 5, but it might be 3 or 4.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ll explain later. This is certainly what we’re seeking.”

Fox turned the sheet of paper over and read the initials, HMS. His expression grew dangerously dark. He scanned the faces in the room, not finding the one he wanted. Drake was a little relieved. He really didn’t want to have to arrest the sergeant for murder this evening, which would surely have been the outcome if Fox’s intended target had been in the room.

“I’ll deal with him later. You and I need to get to Carlisle immediately. Meet me at Euston Station tomorrow morning for the first train. Oh, and perhaps you should bring Dr. McTrowell as well. We may need her unique skills.”

“I know I cannot convince the three of you to stop for a proper meal, so I brought some tea and scones. I’ve put on a pot of oxtail soup for when you drop from exhaustion.” Mrs. Bingham left the laboratory without waiting for the response that she knew would not be forthcoming.

Poor Pogue, having only one good arm, was mostly reduced to directing traffic in his own laboratory while Sparky and Yin scavenged for likely sized pieces for the decoy limb. They had to keep reminding each other that it didn’t need to be functional, only the size, shape and weight of the real arm. And, of course, it had to match the cleats. It was more like art than science or engineering, which was a challenge for all three of them. They made a final check that it fit the fasteners on Pogue’s stump and he confirmed that the weight was right before they wrapped it in a bit of tarp to carry down the hall. Sparky stuffed the spanners and screwdrivers she’d been using into the loops of her tool belt. She swept the remaining couple of handfuls of nuts and bolts into the pouch on her belt for good measure in case they had to make some modifications in a hurry. They polished off their tea and scones to fortify themselves and headed out the laboratory’s side door with their swaddled package.

Sparky put her ear to the door that they had bolted for good measure. “I don’t hear any sounds of movement. Perhaps you two should stand back while I make sure.” Yin put out her arm and swept Pogue behind her in the direction of the laboratory as she stepped away from the door. Sparky unbolted the door and opened it slowly, although quietly was out of the question given the recent elevated dampness.

The gaslights were turned down, but there was enough light for Sparky to see that nothing was moving below on the basement floor. She opened the door the rest of the way and motioned for Young and Pogue to follow her. They didn’t exactly tiptoe down the ramp, but they approached slowly and quietly. They stopped near the edge of cage closest to the Dragon’s Tooth. Yin placed the wrapped decoy limb gently on the floor next to the cage and began to open it stealthily. The creature hissed, chugged, and lurched to its feet. McTrowell and Pogue froze. Although Yin had changed into dry clothes, she had not returned to a dress. She was wearing a pair of her “pajamas,” a “gi” as she had explained to Pogue and McTrowell. This one was black rather than white. Without hesitation, she sprang between Pogue and the cage, striking a fighting pose. Sparky admired the foresight of this choice, but didn’t take her eyes off the occupant of the cage. She held her breath, preparing to run if necessary. The monster made two circuits around the cage, searching for parts. Finding nothing usable, it resumed its previously resting posture with its full weight pinning the gleaming brass arm to the floor. Sparky let out her breath slowly.

“I think it’s designed to wake up periodically to perform whatever tasks might be at hand. I would rather not wait to find out how often it does so. Dr. Pogue, would you please take your place around the corner of the cage. Dr. Young, you’re with me. I don’t know if it will wake up if we jostle it, so let’s not find out.” She pulled the screwdrivers and spanners out of her belt and placed them on the floor next to the edge of the cage. She and Yin laid down, head to head, next to the cage, and reached in with all four of their arms. They loosened the clamps on Pogue’s appropriated arm. Sparky finished unwrapping the decoy, threaded it carefully through the grating in the cage, and handed it down to Yin who placed it on the floor inside the cage right next to the Dragon’s Tooth. She resumed her position adjacent to Yin.

She asked quietly, “Are we all ready?” Pogue and Young nodded. “Dr. Pogue, please summon the arm.” Pogue whistled softly, but nothing happened. “I fear you’ll need to whistle louder.” Sparky could feel the sweat trickling across her forehead and into her ear. Her arms were cramping and her shoulder was screaming as she stretched to insert the false limb. Pogue whistled louder. The mechanical arm made a fist, causing it to lurch toward him, bumping the replacement slightly out of alignment and nudging the Dragon’s Tooth. It started to hiss. She and Yin knew they couldn’t wait for the chugging to start. They forced their faces against the cage, scrambling to lock the replacement limb in place. The two of them barely managed to pull their arms back out and roll away as the beast stumbled to its feet. Pogue snatched up the inching arm with his right hand and fished it out of the cage.

Sparky pointed at the door and yelled at Pogue, “Go!” She didn’t have to tell him twice. He sprinted up the ramp. The beast stamped around the cage furiously, thumping the inferior limb on the floor in a way that almost suggested frustration. It turned on Sparky and Yin, and then looked down. The spanners and screwdrivers! If it got ahold of them, there was not telling what damage it would do. It banged on the cage, trying to get to the tools. She didn’t dare to reach for them. Then she remembered the nuts and bolts in her pouch. She grabbed a handful and threw them through the grating like she was feeding chickens. The Dragon’s Tooth whirled around and began snatching them up. With its attention diverted, she and Yin retrieved the tools, and retreated in Pogue’s wake, slamming and bolting the door behind them.

Sparky flattened herself against the door, trying to listen inside the room through her gasping breath and the pounding in her ears. The room fell silent after a couple of minutes. She waited a bit longer to ascertain that nothing else would happen. “
Did Mrs. Bingham say something about oxtail soup?

A Late Visit to Scotland Yard

Entry for July 17, 2012 Written by David L. Drake

Mrs. Wallace turned to Mr. Littleton. Her eyes were tight and menacing, but somehow conveyed that it wasn’t Mr. Littleton who was vexing her. “Now that Mr. Wallace has left, I would like you to hand me his letter.” She held out her open hand, and wiggled her fingers with a “give it here” gesture. He hesitated with a false sense of propriety and loyalty. “Now, Mr. Littleton, … please.”

He sheepishly deposited the letter into the beckoning hand. “Thank you, my good man.” He imagined that she would rip it open right there in front of him, and be shocked at whatever contents it contained, but that waking nightmare didn’t occur. Instead, she made an unexpected request. “I would like for you to arrange a cab to take me to Scotland Yard.”

Without thinking, Mr. Littleton asked, “Are you going to join Mr. Wallace there?”

“Normally I don’t disclose such things, but I strongly doubt that my husband is going directly there; I do believe that I will arrive in advance of him. But that is neither here nor there. A cab, if you please.”

Mr. Littleton looked at his counter, and chose the button labeled “Transport Request” to hold down for a few seconds. “It has been requested, Mrs. Wallace.”

She nodded to him as she placed the letter into her handbag, turned confidently, and strode towards the front of the terminal to get her ride.

Mrs. Bingham gave the soupspoon a last lap around the oxtail soup, scooped up a bit of the broth, and gave it a sip. She pursed her lips and looked off in the distance with satisfaction at the flavor. Sparky, Yin, and Edmond sat at the wooden kitchen table normally used for food preparation and casual dining. To a person, they looked only slightly refreshed by their clean up and fresh clothes, and were looking at the cook in anticipation. With two kitchen towels for insulation, she picked up the pot with both hands, carefully turned, and placed it on the trivet in the center of the table. Bowls were filled and hungry eaters dug into the sustenance.

Mrs. Bingham smiled at the enthusiasm. “Glad to see you enjoying my soup, but I have not seen three such hungry mouths at this table in as long as I can remember.”

Dr. Pogue was willing to take the time to respond. “We have worked up a great appetite, I assure you, Mrs. Bingham. This hot soup is exactly what we need.” He looked around the table. “I think another round is needed, please. Do we have more of that rustic bread? That would accompany this nicely.”

The diners continued on in silence for a while. The warmth of the soup made Sparky almost nod off at the table. “Oh! Please excuse me. I have exhausted myself. I’m going to lie down, if that is acceptable.”

Dr. Pogue replayed cheerfully, “Why of course, my dear.”

Sparky quietly left the kitchen and trundled off to her room to get some early sleep. Mrs. Bingham then gathered up the pots and cooking utensils, excused herself, and left to the sink room.

Dr. Pogue looked at Yin, who was slowly enjoying her meal. He noticed her black, straight, unwoven hair, still damp from her bath. He noticed her cream colored kimono, decorated with small white birds, either flying or roosting in crooked black trees with pink flowers. She looked up from her bowl with kind eyes. Why hadn’t he noticed?

His voice was lowered but steady. “You saved me. At least twice.”

She set down her spoon. “Yes. I … I …”

He slid his right hand slowly over toward her, stopping short of touching her. She gave him a quick smile but lowered her gaze to hide it. She moved her hand over to his and took it. Her petite hand on top of his countered the specifics of who saved whom. They sat at the table, quietly soaking in the intimate moment until they heard the clanking of Mrs. Bingham returning with the clean kettle full of utensils, then Yin reluctantly removed her hand. Their gaze continued to be locked, and Mrs. Bingham noticed.

“Well, I had a full day. I will be off to bed, if you don’t have anything else for me, Dr. Pogue.”

Hearing his name seemed to awaken Edmond back to reality, if only a bit. “Oh, yes, of course. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Bingham.” Yin smiled at his awkward recovery.

Just as Mrs. Bingham was about to leave the kitchen, the deep thud of a heavy doorknocker filled the air. Mrs. Bingham whipped off her apron and scurried to answer the door. From the kitchen, Yin and Edmond could hear pleasantries exchanged, the door shut, and the sounds of two pair of voices approaching. Edmond took the opportunity to look deep into Yin’s eyes once more. Mrs. Bingham cleared her throat, and announced, “Chief Inspector Drake has arrived.”

The pair turned to look at their guest. Erasmus was dressed in black pants, a white pressed shirt, and a blue vest. Carrying his frock coat over the same arm that held both his black bowler and cane. Edmond studied him for a split second. “Erasmus, you have that look about you. You’re on a mission of a serious nature.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but I need to make sure that Sparky can join me early tomorrow. We have a journey to take. Is she about?”

“She turned in for the night. What kind of journey?”

“I’m afraid that I can’t say. Official business, and all that.” Erasmus noticed that Yin was paying particular attention to him. Odd, he thought. “Do you mind if I stop by her room? Which one is it?”

“Not at all, but I warn you that she was exhausted from today’s hijinks.” Edmond then began to give convoluted directions for finding her room.

Mrs. Bingham cleared her throat to interrupt politely. “Chief Inspector, allow me to show you the way.”

“That would be grand. Lead on.”

Edmond turned to Yin. “How very interesting. Erasmus doesn’t look the least bit tired from today’s battle with the Dragon’s Tooth. He looks like he’s starting a brand new day.”

When Mrs. Bingham and Erasmus arrived at Sparky’s door, it was closed, without any sound of activity from within. Mrs. Bingham gave a polite knock, and with a quiet voice, she asked, “Dearie? You have a visitor.” There was a very slight sound from inside the room, and then it stopped. She knocked again.

The door opened a crack, and Sparky’s petite face appeared, squinting from the light in the hallway. “Who? … Oh, Erasmus. I was asleep. Can you come back tomorrow?”

“Actually, that is why I’m here. Sergeant Fox and I would like you to join us for an assignment tomorrow. Can you do that?”

Her sleepy voice contradicted her words. “Of course. Of course. Where?”

“Meet us at the Euston train station first thing in the morning. We’ll be headed north. Be ready for … anything.”

Sparky woke up a bit at that. She paused while taking the time to comprehend the weight of Erasmus’ request. “Understood. I’m going to go back to sleep now. See you in the morning.”

“Good night, Sparky.”

Erasmus rejoined the cab that had waited for him. He nimbly hopped up and requested that the driver take him to Scotland Yard. He wanted to go there and tidy up any remaining tasks he could perform in an hour and delegate the rest. As the horse broke into a trot, Erasmus tugged his beard a bit as he thought about which set of weapons he wanted with him tomorrow. They were traveling by train, which meant they could take a rifle if he could secret it away in a case. He could also bring one for Sparky. A frontier woman has experience with one, assuredly. But the issue was that they were probably going to have to carry everything that they brought, like a foot soldier would. That meant their entire arsenal should be light enough to maneuver. But it was the three of them, J. B., Sparky, and himself, going up to find and perhaps arrest three people, Mr. Martin, Mr. Hedgley, and Mr. Punaise. They shouldn’t need too much firepower.

When Erasmus arrived at the Yard, it was just a few minutes before nine o’clock. Compared to the daytime population, there was very few staff present. Despite the hour, a well-dressed woman was waiting, seated, outside his office door.

“Good evening, ma’am. Can I help you in some way?”

Mrs. Wallace stood, and addressed him confidently, “I certainly hope so. I am Mrs. Annabelle Wallace, wife of Mr. Reginald Wallace, who is owner of the Western and Transatlantic Airship Lines. I am waiting for Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake. It is my understanding that he was aboard our Burke & Hare racing airship during the international airship regatta held last month. Do you know where I can find him? I have been waiting for quite a while.” Her words flowed without a single intake of breath, and they seemed very rehearsed. Erasmus correctly guessed that she had been mentally practicing that introduction for the entire time that she waited, and it was critical to her that she appear important to everyone she encountered. Good for her, he thought.

“I am the Chief Inspector. My apologies for your wait. How can I help you?”

“I assume you are familiar with Dr. C. McTrowell. She was the pilot of the Burke & Hare during the regatta. Today, she took a crate from our warehouse, saying that she was delivering it to Scotland Yard for analysis. No one here is aware of this, so I waited for you.”

“Ahh, you are correct, ma’am.” Erasmus knew that he needed to provide some information to Mrs. Wallace, but not too much. “Dr. McTrowell did deliver the crate to one of our technical analysts, who has determined that its contents are of great interest to the Yard. I assume that there will be some paperwork that we’ll need to provide your company regarding this acquisition.”

“Was it ‘acquired’ because it was dangerous, or because it was evidence of a crime?”

“That is a very interesting question. May I enquire why you are asking?”

“Because of my husband. He was concerned about the crate, and wrote this letter regarding it.”

Mrs. Wallace produced the letter from her purse, and handed it to Erasmus. It was addressed to Mr. Punaise! It also gave his address in Carlisle. This would make tomorrow’s task all that more straightforward.

“I’m afraid that this letter is unopened, and I don’t have the authority to go through private mail.”

Mrs. Wallace took the letter out of the Chief Inspector’s hand. “Allow me to help with that.” She deftly ripped one of the shorter sides off of the envelope and handed the contents to him without even looking at it. Erasmus found this odd, but he didn’t want to seem surprised by her willingness to help him in his investigation.

He opened the letter and read it silently. “Yes, this will help us a great deal. Thank you.”

Mrs. Wallace smiled a polite smile. She dipped her head as if to leave, but as if an afterthought replied, “I do hope I’ve been of service. Please have the paperwork regarding the crate delivered tomorrow. Thank you, Chief Inspector. It was a pleasure.” She turned and left.

Erasmus looked at the quickly written letter one more time. Well, he thought, this changes everything.

A Clandestine Tryst

Entry for July 24, 2012 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Good morning, Sergeant Fox. It’s amazing how often I see you coincidentally, particularly in and on trains. Where are you going this morning?” She meant for her slight smile to be ironic, suggesting that she didn’t think the situation the least bit coincidental.

The subtlety of her facial expression was lost on him, not least because he had expected she would know that they were traveling together. “Carlisle.”

“You see, there is that coincidence again.” Apparently the sergeant wasn’t an adherent to the school of irony.

“You’re going to Carlisle as well.”

She pretended not to notice the lack of rising intonation at the end of his sentence, and treated his statement as a question. “I can’t be sure, but it’s the most likely conclusion. Ah, and here is the man who can confirm my deduction.”

“Good morning, Sparky, Sergeant Fox.”

“Good morning, Chief Inspector. I have booked us a private compartment so we can arrange our final plans.”

Sparky turned those words over in her head, “arrange our final plans.” She hoped that this conversation included telling her what the devil was happening. For the time being she had to content herself with following her companions onto the train and into the private compartment booked by Fox. They sat in complete silence while the rest of the passengers boarded. Once the train was underway, she started to open her mouth to ask questions, but Fox silenced her immediately by just raising a finger. She continued to sit and fume, wondering at this extreme caution. Only a few moments passed before there was a knock on the door. Fox slid it open to reveal a middle-aged woman in an apron pushing a tea cart. The usual discussions of drinks, sugar and cream transpired efficiently in just a couple of minutes before the tea cart moved on down the passageway. Fox looked up and down the hall before closing and locking the door.

“Drake, you haven’t briefed Dr. McTrowell on our mission.”

“I was accompanied the last time I saw her, so I was unable to give her any instructions beyond the request to meet us this morning at the station. Additionally, another very valuable piece of information came into my possession last night.” He withdrew the letter provided by Mrs. Wallace from the inside pocket of his coat. He showed Sparky the address and then opened it for her to read. Her eyebrows shot up. Drake passed it to Fox who was sitting opposite them. His reaction was almost as pronounced as Sparky’s, which was saying something considering his more reserved nature.

“This will make our work today easier, but it complicates the whole business quite a bit. How did you come by this letter, Chief Inspector?”

“Indirectly through Sparky’s intervention. When she had the crate sent to me, she piqued Mrs. Wallace’s curiosity about the business arrangement. Mrs. Wallace intercepted the letter from her husband and brought it to me last night.”

Fox made a mental note that Drake had taken to referring to Dr. McTrowell by her nickname with considerable regularity. “I’m sorry to have to ask this, Dr. McTrowell, but did you have any prior knowledge of this business relationship?”

“No. I had no idea about it until Mrs. Wallace asked for my assistance with the crate.”

“Very good.”

Sparky wondered what Fox found very good about that answer. More than anything she wanted to ask Sergeant Fox what his true mission was because there always seemed to be more afoot with the young Royal Aerial Marine than there should be. However, she doubted he would give her a full and honest answer, even if this were the right time.

“We have the element of surprise on our side. However, we should be cautious. It would be best if we could capture Punaise, Hedgely, and Martin without the locals noticing. I think the three of us are up to that task.”

“And what about their manufacturing facilities?”

“No need to worry about that, Dr. McTrowell. Local resources will take care of that after we have captured the enemy.”

Sparky was suddenly carried back to her first few interactions with Jonathan Lord Ashleigh in which he had used that same word in such a mysterious and oblique way.

Fox continued, “We will leave the train separately. I have to go one place before we proceed to our destination. I had not anticipated that Chief Inspector Drake would provide the extremely valuable location information, so I made an appointment to collect local intelligence. You two should stay out of sight in case any of our targets are about the village. Our advantage will be ruined if you’re recognized.”

They finalized the remaining details of their plan to regroup once they arrived, after which there wasn’t much more to discuss until they arrived at the cottage and surveilled the situation and the locations of their targets. Sparky wondered if Drake had taken the time to acquire more jelly babies because he seemed quite alert considering their exertions the day before. She, on the other hand, was still completely exhausted. She tried to make some notes in her pocket journal, but dozed off almost immediately. Even a second cup of tea when the cart came by again wasn’t enough to revive her. She slept almost the entire way.

Fox was up and out of the compartment even before they reached the Carlisle station. Erasmus shook Sparky lightly to wake her. He pointed to the left, “I will go this way. You should exit from the other end of the car. I will see you in 15 minutes.” The train ground to a halt. He dropped a kiss onto her cheek and ducked out the door. She was still a little foggy, but she smiled to herself before heading the opposite direction down the passageway.

Looking neither right nor left, she exited the train as if she were traveling alone, but she also took care to keep the brim of her hat tipped down to hide her face. She searched her memory. Yes, she was wearing different attire including headwear than she had the times the trio of troublemakers might have seen her. Hoping that she was striking just the right balance between nonchalance and purposefulness, she took her time making her way around to the far side of the west tower out of sight of the comings and goings at the train station. Drake was already there.

Without saying a word, he started down Warwick Road. She waited a minute by her pocket watch and followed. As she approached the intersection with St. Aidan’s road, she nearly caught up with him. He was standing at the crossroad consulting the time on his own pocket watch. She hadn’t quite reached him when he flicked his eyes left surreptitiously. Without actually making eye contact, he snapped his watch closed and marched northeast on St. Aidan’s. As soon as she was close enough to the corner to keep an eye on his progress, she stopped and made as if she were retying her boot. She raised her eyes to peer from under the brim of her hat just in time to see him duck into the bushes along the road. No one else was about. She followed again, pretending to be looking at the birds and flowers, but really just making sure that she wasn’t seen when she joined him in his leafy concealment.

“How long do you think we will need to wait for Sergeant Fox?” she whispered.

“I should think not more than half an hour,” he replied sotto voce. “We will need to keep quiet.”

“You make this sound like a clandestine tryst.” She smiled a rather wicked little smile, the likes of which Erasmus had not yet seen on her face. Despite the welcomeness of the attention, it did make him blush slightly.

When Fox approached, he was walking so silently that Drake didn’t notice him until he had passed. Or at least that’s how Drake excused his inattentiveness in his own mind. He gave a short, high-pitched trill like a chaffinch. Fox turned and shouldered his way into their hidey hole. It was now too crowded for comfort.

“My local resource confirms the story in the report. He considers his source to be highly reliable and corroborated the address of the cottage. Punaise hasn’t been seen around the village, but Martin and Hedgely haven’t been able to stay away from the Dog and Duck Pub.”

Sparky thought to herself, “There was that word again.”

“They have been careful enough not to reveal any details, but they seem to be unhappy with their relationship with Punaise. It also seems that the Frenchman may be truly mad. I think it best to revise our plans slightly. Dr. McTrowell, you will be responsible for apprehending Martin. Drake, you will take Hedgely. Punaise may be dangerous, so I will take him. Is everyone clear?”

Sparky nodded, but she couldn’t help thinking that she wasn’t clear on the reason she was here instead of someone more...qualified. They repeated the stealthy leap-frog the last few hundred yards up the road to the dirt cart path that led to the cottage. As they crept up behind the trees, they discovered that quietude was almost completely unnecessary. The air rang with the sounds of metallic industry. They skirted the perimeter of the property in a counter-clockwise direction, avoiding the cottage and the open yard around the well. They approached the barn from the stream side embankment.

They crawled up the slope and peered over the edge. Sparks flew out of the open barn door from which a glow emanated. They could even feel a little of the heat on their faces from their blind several yards away. But what instantly captured all their attention was arrayed in regimental lines, filling the space between the well and the cottage. Several dozen dragon’s teeth of multiple designs. Fox signaled them urgently back down to the stream. He didn’t bother to retrace his steps around the property, but just waded straight across the stream until they were well out of sight.

Were going to need a bigger force.

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