The clockwork scarab, p.7
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       The Clockwork Scarab, p.7

         Part #1 of Stoker & Holmes series by Colleen Gleason
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Chapter 7

  Miss Holmes

  An Unwanted Encounter

  The day after the ball at Cosgrove Terrace, I was in my laboratory working on a new project. Like Uncle Sherlock, I spent a great amount of time conducting studies and experiments, and writing treatises. On this particular day, I was making notations for an instructional paper I intended to write regarding the residues of various powders and creams, in particular those found in a woman's boudoir.

  Unfortunately, I found myself distracted by the events of the prior evening; in particular, the brazen actions of my partner. Miss Stoker's impulsiveness had endangered not only our persons, but our mission. I had no inclination to continue to partner with such a capricious person. And much as I wanted to speak with Miss Adler about the situation, the lady wouldn't arrive at her offices at the museum until two o'clock. Thus I had to wait until then to travel across town and apprise her of the events of last night.

  I was about to set flame to a dish of geranium-scented Danish facial powder when I was interrupted by a knock on the door. I extinguished the flame and set the finger-size steam-thrower aside. "Come in," I called, raising my protective goggles.

  Mrs. Raskill had learned early on not to heedlessly follow these instructions, but to enter the laboratory with care. Her hesitation stemmed from an incident several years ago when she'd walked in during an experiment with bees. I was properly protected, but she, alas, was not. The multitude of stings she acquired was one of the reasons she wasn't a particularly attentive chaperone. I could be in the laboratory for days, and she wouldn't notice, for she only bothered me if necessary.

  "A parcel has arrived for you," she said, poking her head around the door as her eyes scanned the chamber for reasons to retreat.

  A package? I was immediately suspicious and on guard. I had been expecting some sort of reaction or response from the Ankh-an abduction attempt or even a threatening letter. Possibly a package. After all, both my father and uncle regularly received such articles, and my uncle had been in perilous situations more than once.

  "How did it come to be delivered?" I asked, eyeing it in speculation.

  "It's from the Met," Mrs. Raskill told me.

  My concerns dissipated in a rush of disappointment. It would have been interesting to determine how to open a package without setting off the bomb that might be inside. However, as the Met was a reference to the Metropolitan Police, my concerns were alleviated. There was no reason the police would send me a bomb. But nor could I fathom a reason they would send me a package of any type.

  Apparently deciding it was safe to breach my inner sanctum, Mrs. Raskill entered. As always, her gray-streaked black hair was pulled into a no-nonsense bun at the back of her head. Not one tendril dared escape, even during her most active days. I often wondered whether she used some sort of shellac to keep it in place.

  Although our housekeeper barely reached my chin, she managed to convey a sense of disapproval as she handed me a package about the size of a small book. I wasn't certain if today's disapproval was due to the disarray of my lab or the implication that I was involved with the police.

  I took the parcel, examining it closely.

  Atop: my name written neatly, but with many splotches and streaks of ink-a bad pen, or someone in great haste. Left-handed.

  No other markings, and the wrappings were yesterday's newspaper; little clue as to the sender. I began to pull the paper off and the object slipped out and clattered to the table.

  "What in land's end is that?" Mrs. Raskill exclaimed, moving closer to gawk at the sleek metal object.

  "It's nothing of import," I said. But my fingers tingled as I picked up the device that had lately been in the possession of Mr. Dylan Eckhert. Why would he send this back to me after stealing it from my bedchamber?

  Or had someone else sent it?

  "I ain't seen nothing like that before," Mrs. Raskill said. Her tiny, rabbit-like nose was fairly wriggling with curiosity. "Is it a fancy mirror? What does it do?"

  "It could be an explosive," I suggested, hefting it in my palm and attempting to appear concerned.

  She edged away. "I'd best get back to the kitchen. The bloomin' Gussy-Maker's not workin' right again. I'll be havin' Ben comin' by to take a look at it later. Maybe you'll invite him to dinner. "

  Ben was Mrs. Raskill's cloud-headed nephew, and although he was quite competent when it came to fixing mechanical devices, he was not at all the sort of company I preferred for dinner. I didn't actually prefer any company for dinner-or any other meal, for that required me to relinquish whatever book I was reading or experiment I was conducting in favor of inane conversation on topics such as whether it had been foggy, drizzling, or foggy and drizzling today.

  "Thank you, Mrs. Raskill," I said, still staring down at the device. Mr. Eckhert had said it was a type of telephone, but once again, I couldn't see how.

  As the housekeeper took herself off, I picked up the newspaper wrapping to see if anything else was enclosed. Inside, I found a further message. It was short and simple: Please come. I'm in jail.

  I considered whether I wanted to have further involvement with the young man who sneaked out of my house without so much as leaving a note in gratitude for my hospitality, and who sneaked into my bedchamber and stole this device from me.

  Curiosity got the best of me, and I also appreciated the distraction from my aggravation toward Miss Stoker.

  I made certain I wasn't followed during my journey across town, and no more than thirty minutes later, I was alighting from a street-lift at the lowest level of Northumberland-avenue. The police commissioner and his men entered the offices at Lower Whitehall No. 4, but the public came in through the rear entrance off Great Scotland Yard, which was how the police headquarters got its familiar name.

  For all my uncle's complaints about the Met and the incompetency of its Criminal Investigation Division, the individuals I met inside were quite efficient in assisting me to find Mr. Eckhert. I'm certain my surname was an incentive.

  Moments after my initial inquiry, I was escorted down a curving, dark staircase to a subterranean cell-lined hall. We passed several chambers, dark and dingy, scented with sweat, blood, and other unpleasant aromas, until at last we reached Mr. Eckhert's cell.

  "Mina!" he said when he saw me. He clambered to his feet from where he'd been slumped on the floor in a shadowy, dismal space. Rushing over, he grabbed the bars with both hands. "Thank God you came!"

  I concealed my surprise at his informal use of my given name as well as his language. Instead, I turned to the constable. "Thank you," I said, dismissing him. "I shall see myself out. "

  "What are you doing in here?" I said, turning back to Mr. Eckhert. "Did you come upon another murder scene?" I noted he'd stolen clothes from my father's closet.

  The trousers were the correct length, and the shoes seemed to fit. But the coat and shirtwaist were too rumpled and loose, for, despite being slender elsewhere, my father has a healthy paunch. The prisoner had either lost his gloves and neckcloth or hadn't seen fit to obtain either from my father's wardrobe.

  "Thank you for coming," Mr. Eckhert said, pressing his face into the metal posts as if he could somehow pass through. His nose and a small wing of blond hair protruded from between the bars. "I didn't know who else to call or what to do. Thank you. "

  "What happened?" I asked again, feeling a twinge of sympathy for the foreigner, despite my misgivings. Even dirty and a bit pungent, he was still very handsome. His blue eyes were soft and filled with admiration and gratitude.

  I couldn't remember the last time someone had been so glad to see me.

  "Can you get me out of here?" he asked. "I think . . . I think I understand that they'll let me out on bail. I don't understand your money system, but I sent you my cell-my phone. My telephone. As payment. "

  Something inside me shifted in the face of his obvious desperation and fear, and whatever hesitation I had abo
ut him evaporated. "Why have they arrested you?"

  His forehead bumped against the bars, making a dull clunk and rattle. "They caught me trying to break into the museum last night. I was trying to get inside so I could look for the Sekhmet statue. I didn't know what else to do. "

  I lifted an eyebrow. "If you hadn't sneaked away yesterday morning without talking to me, I could have assisted you. " I declined to mention I'd seen his Sekhmet statue only last night, and not at the museum.

  "I know, I know," he said, bumping his forehead against the bars again. "It was stupid. But I didn't want you to ask me a bunch of questions, and I just wanted to . . . " He sighed. "Whatever. Mina, will you help me? I don't have anyone else, and . . . I want to go home. I don't belong here. "

  His blue eyes fastened on me. There was something in his gaze that tugged at me. At that moment, I realized I'd walk across a bed of nails for this young man.

  I don't belong here.

  How many times had I felt that way?

  I tamped down the soft feelings welling inside and replied tartly, "Yes, I'll help you. I can arrange bail and release you, and even assist if charges are pressed. But I require two assurances in return. "

  "What? Anything, Mina. Anything. "

  "You'll tell me everything, and you won't abscond again. "

  "Abscond? Oh, yeah. " He nodded against the bars. "I was stupid to run away. I've come to realize that if anyone can help me, it's Sherlock Holmes's niece. As weird as that might be," he muttered. "If you get me out of here, Mina, I promise you won't be able to get rid of me. "

  "Very well, then," I said, trying to subdue the burst of fluttering in my insides at his words. "I'll return as soon as I've made the arrangements. "

  I was just signing the last of the papers to release Mr. Eckhert into my custody when a familiar voice interrupted.

  "What brings you to Scotland Yard, Miss Holmes?"

  I managed to keep my handwriting from jolting. Nevertheless, I chose to finish authenticating the documents instead of turning to confront Inspector Grayling.

  But the clerk behind the desk wasn't as circumspect. "Why, Miss Holmes here, she's postin' bail for a real shady character what we got us in custody down below. "

  Grinding my teeth, I shoved the papers at the clerk, then turned to Grayling. "I'm quite certain, Inspector, that my presence here could be of no interest to someone as busy as yourself. Surely you're needed at some crime scene. Far from here. "

  Grayling ignored my comment. "Posting bail for a criminal? What's he in for, Fergus?"

  The clerk shuffled through the sheaf of documents and said, "Attempted robbery. Breaking, entering. Was appr'-hended trying to get into the museum last night. "

  Grayling's hazel eyes speared me. "So criminals are the sort you prefer to consort with, Miss Holmes?"

  "Thank you, Mr. MacGregor," I said to the clerk, and snatched up the document granting Mr. Eckhert release. "I can find my own way to the constable. " I lifted my chin and spun on my heels.

  Despite my speed, I'd progressed only a short way down the passage when Grayling's long legs caught him up to me. "Miss Holmes, I don't know what you've become involved with, but-"

  "Inspector Grayling," I said, pausing at the intersection of two corridors as I tried to determine which way to go. "I cannot imagine why you should concern yourself with my activities. Should you not be investigating the murder of Miss Hodgeworth? Instead of attending Society balls?"

  "Miss Holmes," he said, stepping closer. I backed up into the wall behind me. He was as close as he'd been last night when we were waltzing, and the very realization set me off balance.

  "Miss Holmes," he repeated, "I am investigating the murders of two young women, along with the disappearance of a third-likely also murdered. Everything related to them is my concern. Particularly since you attended a ball last evening in the place of one of the victims, using her invitation. "

  My mouth opened and then closed, and I could feel my cheeks heat. He must have learned from the Hodgeworths how I'd obtained the invitation. Not that I'd done anything illegal; Mrs. Hodgeworth had given Miss Adler and myself permission to take the card.

  "I believe I've misjudged you, Miss Holmes. " Grayling's Scottish burr had become more evident, and his eyes were as cold as the sea in December. "I supposed you were merely playing at detective, trying to be like your uncle. But when you returned from the Star Terrace last night after an extended period of time in the dark gardens-and not alone, I wager-I can only assume you have placed yourself in untenable situations. What is your intention?"

  By now I had drawn myself up straight and was bristling. "My intentions are none of your affair. "

  His cheeks had gone ruddier, and his mouth was a thin, flat line. "Miss Holmes, when you returned to the ball after your lengthy disappearance, it was quite obvious in what sort of activities you'd been engaged. Your hair was mussed, your skirts were rumpled, and one of your gloves was missing. And now I find you here, at the Met, posting bail to release a prisoner. You are obviously fraternizing with the wrong sorts of young men. "

  Incensed by his accusations and assumptions, I could hardly keep from gasping in outrage. How dare he? I would have berated him in return, except that he was standing very close to me. So close I might brush against him if I should express my deep anger as passionately as I felt it.

  "Does your father know of your nocturnal activities, Miss Holmes? And what of your uncle? If he were aware, I wager he'd put an immediate end to them. "

  His statements were absurd. My father cared little for how I spent my time. And Uncle Sherlock was only slightly more interested in me, simply because he knew I was a loyal audience for his lectures and that, unlike Dr. Watson, I actually learned from him.

  "If you please, Inspector Grayling. " My voice was clipped with fury. "I have more important things to attend to than continuing this offensive exchange. And I'm certain you do as well. Good day. "

  His eyes bored into me as I edged away. I could feel his angry stare between my shoulder blades as if he held the barrel of a Steam-Stream gun there. And of course, the moment I was out of his presence, I thought of all sorts of cool, smart things I could have said to put him in his place.

  I was so discombobulated I went in the wrong direction, and it took me some time to relocate the constable who could release Mr. Eckhert. However, a short time later, the newly released prisoner and I retraced those steps on our way to the outside. We obtained his meager belongings-a small sack which I deduced contained his foreign clothing.

  I decided to take Mr. Eckhert with me to the British Museum when I went to speak with Miss Adler, and as it was approaching two o'clock, I felt the necessity to make haste. But that was not to be, for as we rounded the corner, passing several policemen dressed in their blue uniforms and sturdy hats, we came upon a small cluster of people blocking the corridor.

  In the center of the group rose two heads that made my stomach plummet. One of them was that of a tall Scot with a high forehead and curling, rust-colored hair.

  The other . . . oh, blast.

  "Alvermina! What the devil are you doing here?"

  "Hello, Uncle Sherlock. "

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