The clockwork scarab, p.15
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       The Clockwork Scarab, p.15
 

         Part #1 of Stoker & Holmes series by Colleen Gleason  
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Chapter 15

  Miss Holmes

  An Impossible Choice

  Dylan arrived at my house just before eleven o'clock, carrying a heavy satchel.

  Ignoring Mrs. Raskill's muttering about more comings and goings, I brought him into the parlor so he could show me the diadem. He greeted me with a smile and seemed to be moving toward me as if to offer an embrace, but caught himself at the last minute. A light stain flushed his cheeks, and he stepped back.

  "You're wearing pants. " The way his eyes traveled over my trouser-covered limbs made me self-conscious about the way the fabric clung to my shape. I felt indecent and exposed, and the way his blue eyes filtered over me made my cheeks heat up.

  "I . . . erm . . . "

  He smiled and sat down without waiting for me to do so first. "I didn't mean to embarrass you, Mina. I was just surprised. You look really hot-uh, really good in pants. In my time, girls-women-wear them all the time. It's considered completely normal. "

  My discomfort eased in favor of curiosity. "Is that true? Women can wear trousers in the future without it being frowned upon?"

  "And a lot of other things you'd find scandalous. Like short skirts," he added with a bashful grin.

  I bit my lip, holding back more questions that bubbled to the surface. It never seemed the right time to ask him all the things I wanted to know. I'd have to save my interrogation for another time-when I didn't have a friend's life to save.

  "Very well," I said. "Back to the matter at hand. I'm relieved you located the diadem. It's a most fortuitous discovery, considering the development of the last twenty-four hours. " I explained the events of the night before, leaving out my disastrous detour to Lady Cosgrove-Pitt's house. "And so I'm going to deliver the diadem to the Ankh. "

  "And I'll be going with you," Dylan said. He raised a hand at my sound of negation, his blue eyes boring into me. "I've been stuck in the darned museum for almost two weeks, and it's time I did something besides sulk. You can't go alone, Mina. And it's not because you're a woman," he added when I began to fume. "Remind me to tell you about Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall someday. Going alone would be crazy, especially after last night. You should have taken me with you, or at least told the police. And besides all that, if the statue of Sekhmet is there, I want to see it. Maybe I can find a way to use it to get home. "

  I had a variety of reactions to this pronouncement. First, I found I rather liked this Dylan who spoke with such strength and passion. Who didn't think that simply being a woman was a reason not to go alone. And who liked the way I looked in trousers.

  And second, I had a sudden, brilliant idea with which only he could assist me.

  And third . . . I felt an unexpected pang at the thought of Dylan finding his way back to the future. Just as I was getting to know him, to feel as if we had some sort of connection, he might be leaving. I hadn't felt such kinship with another person in a long time. Perhaps ever.

  "Naturally I can't tell Scotland Yard about this," I said. "The Ankh is too smart; surely she'll be watching for us when we arrive to make the exchange. If there are any authorities in the vicinity, I'm certain the deal will be off. Will you show me the diadem?"

  Dylan pulled the item out of his satchel, and I examined it eagerly. It looked exactly like the drawing in the text I'd been reading. There was no doubt that, regardless whether it had actually belonged to Sekhmet or not, it was the instrument of legend. Delicate gold filigree created a very un-Egyptian-like crown. Two topazes were set in such a way in the front of the crown that they appeared to be lion's eyes, and the slender gold was wrought in the shape of a lioness's snout and whiskers.

  "It was where we thought it was, wasn't it?" I couldn't allow the Ankh to have it. There had to be another way.

  I'd make a copy. I had the equipment in my lab, and we had at least another hour before my acceptance of the Ankh's arrangement was delivered.

  "Do you have your special telephone with you?" I asked, my mind working again on the half-formed plan I'd already been considering.

  "Yes, although it's low on battery, so I've had it turned off for most of the last week. I have to find a way to charge it. But I can still use it. "

  "Can you force it to emit sounds and noises at will?"

  "I sure can. "

  "Come into the laboratory. I'll tell you my plan while I work. " I needed something to occupy my hands as well as my mind while we waited to hear of Evaline.

  Time crawled, and it was well after five o'clock when Mrs. Raskill interrupted us.

  "It's your visitor again," she said, poking her head around the ajar door. "Lands!"

  Finally. I'd been unable to contain my growing apprehension for Evaline and her safety.

  "At last we'll find out how to make the exchange," I said to Dylan, gesturing at the false diadem. It required only a few more adjustments, and I was confident it would easily pass muster as the instrument in question.

  I hurried out of the laboratory, wiping my hands on a rag, and then stopped short. "Inspector Grayling. " Drat!

  "Good afternoon, Miss Holmes," he said, his voice cool and unemotional as he held his hat in a large, freckled hand. His eyes widened fractionally, however, as they swept over me in my masculine garb, bringing a warm flush to my cheeks.

  Dylan might be accustomed to seeing women in trousers, but Grayling was not.

  "How may I help you?" I asked as Dylan appeared from behind me.

  Grayling's attention went to him and his expression turned stony. "I've come to take your statement regarding the events of last evening. " He spoke to me, but seemed unable to pull his attention from Dylan.

  "I'm rather busy at the moment. "

  "Obviously," Grayling replied crisply. He returned his attention to Dylan. "Have you been notified when you'll stand trial for the attempted break-in?"

  I gawked at him, shocked by his rudeness, but Dylan didn't seem to mind. "I've been lucky. The museum isn't going to press charges, thanks to Miss Adler. She took care of it all before she left town. " He glanced at me. "I meant to tell you earlier-Miss Adler had to leave unexpectedly. "

  I nodded and quelled an unfamiliar moment of uncertainty. My mentor was gone, and I was on my own. I'd already made one grave error. . . .

  I stopped those thoughts and turned to Grayling. "I have a rather delicate project I must finish today. Perhaps we could make an appointment to speak tomorrow?"

  That was assuming I'd be alive and able to speak tomorrow.

  I shoved that thought away.

  He fixed me with a steady look, then gave a short, sharp nod. "Very well, Miss Holmes. Good day. "

  We'd hardly returned to the laboratory when Mrs. Raskill thudded on the door yet again. "It's. Another. Visitor. Ye. 'Ave," she said, clearly capitalizing and punctuating each word. And the fact that she'd dropped the h in have indicated her extreme exasperation.

  The same messenger who'd come earlier stood at the front door. "I've got 'nother message fer ye. "

  My attention swept over him once again, noting several changes to his appearance.

  Gray dusty grit on the outside of left shoe only-he'd been on Pennington-street since he was here last.

  A shiny dark green stain low on his trousers, the faint scent of algae-he'd been at the dockyards within the last hour.

  A red-and-green paper wrapper peeked from his trouser pocket-he'd recently patronized Shertle's Meats for one of their meat pies.

  "May I see the message?"

  The folded packet's exterior was identical to the first. However, inside was a lock of dark, curling hair. There was no doubt to whom it belonged-Evaline's curls coiled in a clockwise direction and were a deep, shiny walnut color of this precise hue.

  I turned my attention to the message:

  You have until nine o'clock this evening to bring

  the diadem to Fannery's Square.

  If you do not, Miss Stoker will

 
embrace Sekhmet for all eternity.

  If you do not come alone,

  the deal is defunct, and she'll die.

  "Are you to wait for a response again?" I asked.

  "Nay, miss. Except I'm told ye'd pay me fer my troubles. "

  My mind was so busy analyzing my observations that I didn't have the attention to spare for being vexed by this assumption. I paid the young man, sent him on his way, and then returned my attention to the message and Miss Stoker's hair. I sniffed both the letter and her curls, and examined the latter on a piece of white paper.

  "Where's Fannery's Square?" asked Dylan, who'd been reading over my shoulder.

  "She's very clever. Oh, the Ankh is quite clever," I said, mulling over all I'd absorbed since the young man returned. "Fannery's Square is outside London by one hour. But the only way to get there is to take the train. The next train leaves at seven, and there is one more today at half past eight. The latter would get us to our destination too late, so we must take the seven o'clock train. "

  "How long will it take us to get to the train station?"

  I pinched my lower lip.

  The strange churning I always felt when I was getting close to something fascinating had begun in my belly. "This means the Ankh wants to ensure we're on the seven o'clock train, for some particular reason. That's why she waited so late in the day to send the message. She wants us in a particular location or on a particular route at a certain time. And everyone knows the Fannery train is precisely on time, so one must be at the station before seven. "

  I paced the room. The churning had grown stronger, my belly tighter. I recalled my observations of the messenger, and the churning turned into more of a warning prickling.

  I didn't like it.

  "Our messenger-who had to have received this message from the Ankh or someone close to her-was nowhere in the proximity of the Fannery line train today," I said. "He was at the docks. He spent at least the latter part of the day there, because Shertle's Meats never serves their pies until after half past four. And his trousers-the gray debris on the left shoe indicates he was walking on Pennington-street. It's the only location that sort of concrete is being poured this week-I read about it in the Times. That's one block north of the Yeater Wharf. He didn't have time to go from Bond to Pennington and Shertle's after walking along there at noon, for the algae on his trousers is fresh. It hasn't yet dried. "

  Dylan was staring at me as if I were speaking in some slang that was just as incomprehensible as some of the things he'd said to me. "So what does this all mean? In plain English?"

  "It means that I have a decision to make. " I realized the churning, which was normally a comforting feeling, had turned into something akin to nausea. "I either follow the instructions herein, or I go where our messenger was-and where he received this message. That's where the Ankh is. "

  Suddenly the image of last night, with Lady Cosgrove-Pitt in her housecoat and her bemused expression rose in my mind like a terrible specter. Along with Grayling's exasperated, rigid face. The nausea grew stronger.

  "I think. "

  I don't believe I'd ever said or even thought those words before. I think.

  Dylan watched me. "So you're thinking we ignore the message and track down the Ankh somewhere . . . where? By the wharf? How will we know what building?"

  "I can narrow it down to a block," I said, thinking of the particular smell clinging to the lock of Evaline's hair. "The one with the fish-smokers on New Gravel Lane. And as for which building? We'll look for the one with the airship coming out of the roof. Surely the Ankh won't risk leaving her Sekhmet statue behind. "

  I glanced at him, my palms damp and my insides heavy and rock-like. That was what the facts told me.

  But the message-directions from the desperate woman who held my partner and who wanted the diadem above all else-commanded me otherwise.

  Yesterday, I wouldn't have hesitated. I'd have listened to my deductions and ignored the message.

  But today . . . I had to decide whether to follow my instincts and my conclusions . . . or to follow directions and possibly put myself into a trap.

  But if I didn't follow the directions, I risked Evaline's life.

  Last night's mistake had been nothing more than mortifying and inconvenient.

  Today's decision was a matter of life and death.

  I looked at the clock, my insides roiling. After six. I had to make a decision.

  "I can't risk it. We're going-" I drew in a deep breath, fighting my logical mind. I made the decision and immediately felt ill. But I soldiered on. I couldn't afford to be wrong this time. "We're following the directions. We're going to Fannery's Square. "

  Miss Stoker

  Miss Stoker's Decision

  With the Ankh gone, I investigated my prison, limited as I was by the length of my bonds. I was looking for weapons or at least something to unlock the chains.

  One option was to pull the heavy statue over and unloop the chains from around her. While that would free me from that massive anchor, it wouldn't unlock my ankles or wrists. I'd still be trussed. And whoever was below would hear the sound of Sekhmet crashing to the floor. There had to be another option.

  Two huge floor-to-ceiling windows offered dirty light, but I couldn't get close enough to draw attention to myself. The roof was closed to the sky, but I could tell it was near twilight. Chairs and tables lined the space, and an empty fireplace yawned in one wall. The faint glow of coals cast an eerie red light in the darkening chamber. A bookshelf and a desk were arranged at one end of the room. This had been an office at some point, but now there was a pile of clothing in a corner, as well as a trunk.

  The smell of rotting fish and the distant sounds of water told me I was near the wharf, in a completely different area of town than Witcherell's Pawnshop. I wondered if Pix considered these streets and docks part of his domain.

  Surely he was back in the stews, arm wrestling with his friends. From what I understood of his brief explanation in the opium den, he'd come to rescue his friend Jemmy from the Ankh. And in the meantime, he got caught up with Miss Holmes and me. He had helped the other girls to escape too. And he'd taken advantage of my confusion and stolen a kiss as well. Although Pix seemed to care about my well-being, he would have no way of knowing where and how I'd come to be here, in the captivity of the Ankh.

  I looked around the room and at the altar. There was no doubt what the Ankh had planned for me. The mechanical device, with all of its wires, waited, eerie and foreboding, next to the sleek Sekhmet.

  Miss Holmes was going to bring the diadem, the real diadem, to trade for me, and then the Ankh would have it. She'd have all the instruments.

  She'd also have both of us.

  I wasn't a fool. No matter how intelligent my partner was, the Ankh was the one giving the orders. Setting up a trap.

  It didn't matter whether the goddess could be reanimated, or if her power could be harnessed. The Ankh didn't care. She'd keep trying. She'd already killed too many young women. She wasn't about to stop there. She'd keep killing and killing until she managed to raise Sekhmet. . . .

  My path became clear. Crystal and absolute.

  I had to stop the Ankh before Miss Holmes stepped into the trap.

  I looked up at the statue of Sekhmet and then over at the mechanical device, its ugly wires a portent of what was to come.

  Yes. That was it. A feeling of calm and rightness settled over me. I'd never been more certain of anything in my life.

  I was bound and restricted by the length of my chain, but I still had some range of motion. I inched toward the mechanical device and used my body to shift its position. It had to be in the correct location, and I could only hope the Ankh didn't notice.

  It was difficult work. I had to use my considerable strength to tug the massive statue a little closer to the device, taking care not to tip Sekhmet over. Not yet. By the time I got everything int
o position, I was out of breath but satisfied.

  No sooner had I finished with my arrangements than I heard the sounds of voices and footsteps. Quickly, I scooted my bound body back over to the opposite side of the statue and tried to appear docile and hopeless.

  "The girl didn't go to the station," someone said as the door opened. "We waited, and she didn't appear. "

  The Ankh swept in, and I could feel his rage. He had changed clothing again, and this time was attired in trousers and a shapeless dark tunic. A low hat was settled down to his eyebrows, and a mask covered him from eyes to nose. A short dark beard shadowed his jaw and mouth.

  "What does she mean to do?" the Ankh said as he stalked into the chamber. He was followed by Hathor, Bastet, and Amunet.

  They couldn't find Miss Holmes. She'd done something unexpected. Was she coming or not?

  I wasn't certain whether to be relieved or offended.

  "It's nine o'clock. " The Ankh looked over at me, his eyes dark and furious from behind the mask. "Your friend has recanted on our agreement. She's leaving you to die. "

  "She lied, you know," I said. "She doesn't have the diadem. She intended to trick you all along. "

  The Ankh swept over to the table. "I'll find her and show her what happens to one who tries to trick me. She might have caused a delay, but in the end, I'll win. As for tonight-I shan't wait any longer. I have everything I need. " He looked at me and then at the crown Amunet had placed on the table. "This one will work. I'm certain of it. And if it doesn't . . . I'll continue to search for the real one. "

  I kept my eyelids hooded. I didn't want him to see I was ready. And willing.

  Because I was taking him with me.

  The Ankh conducted the same preparations as last night, and soon red smoke curled throughout the chamber. Hathor dragged me to my feet and, as Amunet kept a gun pressed into my side, he unbound my hands and one ankle, leaving the other still chained to the statue. If I made any sort of move, they'd shoot me . . . but not to kill. I was meant to die another way, and the level of agony was up to me.

  The Ankh continued with his work, reading another chant to Sekhmet. This time, he didn't direct his words to the sky, but toward the large window. I could see Sekhmet's reflection in the glass as the sky darkened outside and the firelight inside our chamber glowed more brightly.

  I was forced to stand facing Sekhmet just as Della Exington had done. With a sharp wrench, Bastet forced my arm to mirror the statue's. The gold was cool and smooth against my bare skin. I kept my breathing calm as a thin wire running from the mechanical device was wrapped around my arm. It cut into my skin.

  I was going to die.

  And I was at peace. This was what I was meant to do, what my family legacy required of me: bravery, strength, and sacrifice. For the good and safety of all.

  I drew in a deep breath and looked at the gear-ridden, wired device. It was still where I'd placed it.

  Hathor tightened another wire around my right arm, positioning it against Sekhmet's scepter, and then Bastet brought over the false diadem. I trembled a little as she positioned the crown on my head. I mentally reviewed the steps of my plan. Me. The one who never made plans. If only Miss Holmes were here to witness my brilliance.

  When the Ankh began to pull the lever, I would have a few brief seconds to lunge to the side. I'd pull the heavy statue over with me . . . down and onto the Ankh.

  We'd fall into the mechanical device together, and thus entwined, the Ankh and I would together give our life forces to a Sekhmet who would never rise.

  My pulse was faster now. The Ankh placed the dishes of smoking coals around the statue, and the fog rose around me like a red curtain. It was time.

  Which was worse? Knowing what was to come-the searing, sharp agony? Death? Or to be ignorant of it, as Della Exington had been?

  "I'm not certain whether to be offended or pleased that you began the festivities without me. "

  The familiar, pompous voice carried across the chamber.

  Mina!

  A soft little pop of warmth spread through my chest . . . then drat! She was here. She was going to ruin everything!

  "Well, well, my sweet. So you've graced us with your presence after all," said the Ankh.

  I shifted in my restricted position to see Mina standing in the doorway. She was holding a cloth-wrapped parcel, and . . .

  Bloody hell. She'd got herself captured. And the diadem too.

  Hathor's counterpart prodded my partner into the chamber with a complicated looking weapon. Whatever it was-gun, Steam-Streamer-it looked lethal.

  I met Miss Holmes's gaze. Either she was too stubborn or too distracted to see the message I sent: Get out of here!

  "Please come in, Miss Holmes. I'm delighted that you've arrived in time to see your friend share her life force with my beloved Sekhmet. We were just about to begin. Osiris?"

  The attendant followed the implicit command by taking the parcel from Miss Holmes and ushering her into the chamber.

  "I'm sorry I didn't follow your directions," my partner said. "I wasn't fond of the idea of being taken by surprise or otherwise abducted while on my way to Fannery's Square, which was, I'm certain, your original intent. "

  "Pish," said the Ankh. He sounded delighted. "But you are here, and it truly doesn't matter how that happened. You won't be leaving anytime soon, and Osiris would have made certain you came alone. "

  At that moment, I heard a soft sound to the right behind me. As if something was sliding across the floor. Miss Holmes had a sudden coughing attack, meeting my eyes over her hand. I turned to look in that direction, on the other side of Sekhmet, but no one was there.

  "Very well, then," said the Ankh. "Where were we? Ah, yes," he said, moving to the machine. His hand rested on the lever, which I had positioned so he stood in the perfect place for me to bring the statue down on top of him.

  I craned my neck, trying to look at Mina, but she was too busy making some odd expression at me. Her eyes bugged out and her mouth was twitching.

  The last thing I wanted to remember seeing before I died was Mina Holmes, silently lecturing me about the mess she'd gotten herself into.

  I heard another soft, skimming sound of something going across the floor. I looked over as the Ankh began to lower the lever.

  I focused, waiting for the right moment . . . waiting for the first sensation of shock. I must act before it paralyzed me.

  The lever shot down and I propelled myself toward the Ankh.

 
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