The Girl in the Steel Corset Page 35

He chuckled again. “There you are. For a moment I thought you lost your backbone. I’ve information, Treasure. Information regarding a certain gent’lman who calls ’imself The Machinist.”

Finley’s heart jumped. “What is it?”

“Wot’s it worth?”

She almost asked what he wanted, but then thought better of it. “My undying gratitude,” she replied with mock sweetness.

“You wound me, luv.” But there was humor in his voice. “’Ow about you come ’round for dinner some night. Just the two of us.”

It wasn’t a good idea. Jack Dandy was dangerous and tricky. He was also very intriguing… What was that saying about keeping your enemies closer than your friends? She wasn’t sure which category Jack fell into, but the notion of keeping him closer didn’t bother her as much as it should.

What kind of girl was she? She was attracted to Griffin, but Griffin was way out of her sphere. She was also attracted to Jack, who was also out of her sphere, but in a much different way. But Jack also had information, which she needed.

“All right,” she agreed. “I’ll come to dinner. When?”

“Don’t you worry nuffing about that right now. I’ll let you know when. Now, you pass on to his dukeness that whispers in this part of the world say that The Machinist’s plannin’ something for the twenty-second.”

“Planning what?”

“I don’t know what,” he sounded terse. “Do you know ’ow much bother it was just to find out that? The Machinist ain’t exactly loquacious when it comes down to his nefarious undertakings.”

There was something strange and almost lyrical about those educated words uttered in that thick Cockney. Finley shook her head. “Sorry, Jack. I was just hoping for more. I appreciate you ringing me. Honestly.”

“All right then.” He sounded mollified now. “If I hears anything else, I’ll let you know. And, Treasure?”

“Yes, Jack?”

“Be careful, will ya? I employ a very fine cook and I ’ate for you to miss out on what will be the meal of your lifetime because you’re dead.”

Finley smiled—at both his words and his tone. He might have coated it with caustic wit, but she heard the genuine concern in his voice. “I would hate for that to happen, as well. Don’t worry about me.”

He sighed exaggeratedly. “Not sure as I ’ave much choice in the matter.” Then, abruptly, “Right. I’m off then. I’ve a menu to plan, don’t I? Let me know how things turn out.”

The connection broke before Finley could say goodbye. Bemused, she hung up and then went off in search of Griffin to let him know that whatever Garibaldi had planned he was supposedly going to do it in three days.

Griffin was sifting through all information he’d managed to find in his father’s notes about Garibaldi when Jasper entered his study. Not much to help them find the villain, but it provided some insight into the man’s mind.

He glanced up from his father’s handwriting—his father had been worried that Garibaldi might do something rash to prove to Victoria how important the Organites were to modern science. “Jas, what’s wrong?”

Jasper rubbed one hand over the back of his neck. “I just wanted to tell you that whatever you need me to do to help you get this Machinist fella, I’m in.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.” His acquaintance—no, friend—looked distracted. “Is there something else you’d like to discuss?”

The cowboy met his gaze. “You know, I’ve done some things in my life that I ain’t proud of, and I haven’t always been a decent sort of man. But working with you these last few days…well, I feel like I’m on the right side for a change, and I just wanted to say thank you.”

Griffin couldn’t have been more surprised if Jasper had shot him. “Uh…you’re welcome.”

Jasper shrugged. “Listen, about why I came to England…”

Whatever he was about to say was interrupted by Finley’s arrival.

“Oh,” she said, spotting Jasper. “I’m sorry, Griff. I thought you were alone. I’ll come back later.”

“No,” Jasper said. “It’s good, Miss Finley. I’m done.” He shot one last glance at Griffin before pivoting on his heel to walk toward the door.

“We’ll talk more later?” Griffin asked.

Jasper looked over his shoulder at him and shrugged. “Sure.” Then he brushed past Finley and left the room.

“What was that all about?” Finley asked as she came to stand beside him. She was looking at the door as though she kept expecting Jasper to return.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Griffin replied with real honesty. “What do you need?” It was perhaps rude and abrupt of him, but he wasn’t in the mood for patience today.

“I spoke to Dandy,” Finley confided, turning toward him. “He says he heard that Garibaldi has something planned for the twenty-second.”

“The twenty-second?” Griffin mulled the date for a moment. Bloody hell! He gaped at her. “That’s the day of Her Majesty’s jubilee procession through London.”

The gravity of that realization filled Finley with dread. “It will be next to impossible to find him in that crowd. But what can he do? He can’t very well walk his creation right into the throng, can he?”

“No, but he could waylay the queen at some point. If he means to make a statement, such a venue would be the perfect spot. What if he puts a bomb in the bloody thing? He could pretend to offer the automaton as a gift to Her Majesty and then detonate it. Or he could kidnap the queen and put the mech in her place. God knows what he has planned.” And there was no way to find out.

“What do we do?”

“It’s only three days till the procession. It’s imperative at this point that we warn the queen. Hopefully he’ll reclaim his toy from the house in Covent Garden and lead us to his lair. Otherwise, we’re useless.”

“What about that contraption of yours?” She pointed at the Aether Engine. “Can’t you use that, or your powers, to find him?”

“It doesn’t work that way. Don’t think I haven’t tried—many times.”

“So we don’t know what he’s going to do, or how he’s going to do it, but we know what date he’ll do it on and that the Victoria automaton will be part of it.”

Griffin’s mouth tightened. “Exactly.”

“Well,” she said with obviously forced lightness, “that’s still something, isn’t it?”

Griffin raked a hand through his hair. “If we don’t find him beforehand, we’ll find him that day. I don’t care if one of us has to hide in the boot of Her Majesty’s carriage. We will prevent Garibaldi from seeing his endeavor to completion.”

They had to. The fate of the monarchy—of the entire country—depended upon it.

Chapter 21

The next two days were taken up with rigorous training and preparation. Emily worked in the lab on various weapons with the assistance of Griffin, a small automaton and her mechanized cat, since she only had the use of one hand. Sam and Finley sparred twice a day, and when she wasn’t sparring with Sam, Finley worked with Griffin on controlling and completing the amalgamation of her shadow self. Jasper practiced shooting with the electro-disturbance pistols and ordinary guns, and experimented with just how fast he could be while Cordelia timed him. The cowboy misfit had become a part of their group quickly, and no one questioned his right to be there.

Warning had been delivered to Buckingham Palace that The Machinist might strike on the twenty-second and security was stepped up around Her Majesty, who sent along her hope that Garibaldi would be arrested prior to that so that “We may continue with our plans.”

All this activity did nothing to take Griffin’s mind off the fact that they were essentially waiting. Waiting for The Machinist to reveal his hand so they could make a preemptive strike.

On the eve of the twenty-second, as Griffin left Emily to her devices in the laboratory so that he might confer with his aunt, the small apparatus in his jacket pocket began to click and clank. His heart kicked against his ribs as he freed the contraption and looked at it. It was to power on once the mechanism the remote portion was attached to began to move—Emily called it “motion sensitive.” Once it came on, it would stay on until it was shut down. The rectangular device in Griff’s hand had a built-in compass that pointed in the right direction and the audio signal emitted by the tracker became louder the closer you got to the tracker. The alarm meant that The Machinist had powered up the automaton left behind in Covent Garden. It was moving.

Elation rushed over him. It didn’t matter that he was in the dreaded lift still below ground, but climbing. He stopped counting bricks and shouted with glee, “Got you! Garibaldi, you bounder, I’ve got you!”

He pulled his pocket telegraph from his coat and sent a message to Emily to come to the surface as soon as possible and to bring her equipment. Then he sent a message to Sam. One more went to Jasper, whom he directed to fetch Finley. He really should have Emily make one of these gadgets for Finley, as well, blast it. The last message was to Cordelia, who was at Buckingham Palace, scanning the minds of staff and guests to make certain Garibaldi didn’t have an accomplice on the inside. The tunnel beneath the palace had been sealed, so there would be no one using it to sneak in or out.

When he finally exited the lift, Sam was there, eyes wide. “Is it him?” he asked, with bloodthirsty exuberance.

Griffin nodded and clapped him on the shoulder. “I believe so, my friend. Help Emily bring up the equipment. Jas and Finley should be here directly.”

His large friend saluted him. “Give me a couple of minutes’ head start then send the lift down after me.”

Griffin’s stomach turned. He hated when his friend did what he was about to do, but in the interest of time, he decided not to argue. He watched, slightly nauseated as Sam maneuvered his considerable bulk around the side of the lift. Then, using the caging as a handhold, he eased himself down into the shaft. A few seconds later, there was a zipping sound, that quickly faded into nothingness as Sam slid down the cables to the laboratory far below.

Griffin sent up a silent prayer that his friend wouldn’t fall, or that if he did, he healed quickly, and then closed the gate and sent the lift downward so they could load it with what they needed.

He stopped by his study, where he poured a glass of water from the crystal pitcher on the sideboard and took a small cobalt bottle from the locked drawer in his desk. It was a new version of his Aether potion—one that wouldn’t tire him. He removed the top and poured a small amount into the water. He stared at it for a moment before lifting it into his mouth and downing it all in one swift, bitter swallow. No turning back now.

A photograph of him with his mother and father, taken when he was thirteen, lay on the bottom of the drawer. Griffin picked it up and studied the smiling faces of the adults standing behind him, their hands on each of his shoulders. His mother was so pretty and young. His father so tall and noble-looking. He knew he resembled his father in many ways, but he fancied he had his mother’s smile.

“Soon,” he said to their likeness. “Leonardo Garibaldi will answer for what he did to you.” Then he dropped the photograph back into the drawer, which he shut and locked, slipping the key into his waistcoat pocket.

Straightening his cuffs, he left the study to run upstairs so he could change clothes. Anticipation sang in his veins.

Soon, he would have justice.

They assembled in the foyer within twenty minutes of Griffin’s summons. Finley wore her usual uniform of short-knickers, stockings and boots. But this time she wore a long black coat over her corset. Snug, with a mandarin collar and long sleeves, it would keep her warm, but the dearth of buttons below the waist gave her freedom of movement. The fellows wore their usual clothing paired with heavy, thick-soled boots. The only deviance from this was Griffin, who joined them dressed entirely in black and without his usual cravat. He looked vaguely like a pirate, Finley thought, enjoying the sight of him.

But Emily was the biggest surprise. She wore her usual short trousers and corset-vest over a short-sleeved top. Her jacket was a military style—a mossy green color that complemented her pale skin. It wasn’t her clothing, however, that caught Finley’s attention—it was the great cat sitting at her feet. Finley had never seen it operational before this, and it hadn’t looked like this even then. Easily three feet tall, its head was the size of a human’s and its paws sported razor-sharp claws. Its engraved coat was the flat gray of gunmetal, and all-too-real-looking feline eyes stared from inside iron sockets. It was beautiful and scary at the same time. Finley didn’t know if she should pet it or stay as far away from it as possible.

“You finally finished it,” Griffin commented, stroking a hand over the cat’s smooth head. “She’s beautiful, Em.”

Emily beamed under the praise. “I know. I made a few changes in her design to aid in our adventure.”

“Equipment’s loaded,” Sam informed Griffin. “We’re all set.”

Griffin looked around them, meeting each and every one of their gazes. “I don’t have to tell you how much danger we’re putting ourselves in. Garibaldi will undoubtedly have more than one automaton sentinel at his workshop. Stay focused, stay sharp and, for God’s sake, stay together. Understood?”

They all nodded. Finley’s heart was like a thundering train in her chest. She opened and clenched her fists, experimenting with the feel of the brass knuckles Emily had made for her. They anchored with a bracelet around each wrist and a ring around each finger. Thin but strong chains crisscrossed over the back of her hands and fingers, attached to curved metal shields over each of her knuckles. She’d be able to hit that much harder now.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next