The Girl and the Clockwork Conspiracy
Maeko hasn't been long away from the gritty London streets and she's already learning that her new “civilized” life comes with its own challenges. She has to dress proper, eat proper and be a proper lady. She can’t even talk to a boy without a chaperone. She's got proper coming out of her ears. If not for her feline companion Macak, she might go mad.
Her one hope for some freedom and excitement comes when the moody detective, Em, asks her to be an apprentice. But that apprenticeship comes with a price. She must agree to spy on Macak’s owner, Lucian, the wealthy businessman and inventor whose life she saved.
Everything changes when Lucian's brother dies in an explosion while visiting Lucian’s home in the heart of London. The Literati—a powerful group vying for political control of London—say it was murder and Maeko is on their suspect list. With Macak at her side, she must turn once more to her allies, Chaff and Ash. They will have to brave city streets torn by rebellion and conspiracy to find the truth.
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Title: The Girl and the Clockwork Conspiracy
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: YA Steampunk
Length: 213 pages
Release Date: September 2015
The Girl and the Clockwork Conspiracy
by Nikki McCormack
Copyright © 2015 by Nikki McCormack. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
The street was quiet. Too quiet for London at night. The steady dripping of water from a recent rain the only sound. A special kind of unnatural silence lurked in the darkest corners, the kind that promised to line an undertaker’s pockets with coin. Detective Emeraude had been around enough to know that silence all too well. It made her skin crawl, triggering the urge to turn back. It was her job to keep going, taking heed of that instinctive warning only in an increase of caution.
“Why’re we here, Em?”
She scowled over her shoulder at the stocky man in the bowler cap and put a finger to her lips for silence. Amos stared back at her, small cynical eyes black beads in the darkness. He didn’t take the hint.
“We’re gettin’ paid for this, right? This is somehow going to help us figure out where Mr. Bricker’s wife’s been spending her evenings?”
To hell with Mr. Bricker and his roaming wife. She gave Amos another warning look.
“Do you even care about the case we are gettin’ paid for?” he demanded with a little too much insight.
She looked up at Rueben, seeking support for her cause. The tall Texan offered nothing back. His lazy southern drawl gained physical manifestation in the careless hunch of his shoulders and the bored wandering of his gaze. He didn’t agree with her preoccupation either, but he wasn’t the type to trouble himself with arguments. Even after three years working together, she still wasn’t sure what type he was.
“I have to know why Commissioner Henderson was paying a covert nocturnal visit to Mr. Folesworth.” She peered into the dark, watching the shadow-cloaked gentleman striding along, casting furtive glances over his shoulder. That looked suspicious enough, but he had also avoided brighter, busier—and consequently safer—streets since leaving Lucian Folesworth’s flat at the top of the Airship Tower. She couldn’t see the two men being old chums given the way Lucian’s political and financial support of the Literati contributed to the dissolution of the City of London Police and the ousting of the Metropolitan Police Service from many of the London outskirts. The Bobbies no longer had enough funding or political influence in London to fight off the expanding jurisdiction of the Literati’s new police force.
“Why we still got our noses in Mr. Folesworth’s business? We did the job his brother was paying us for.”
This time she ignored Amos. Something about the Folesworth case didn’t add up in her head. The mystery of who murdered Lucian’s wife and child had wrapped up neatly. Too neatly, perhaps. The killer, Lucian’s late business partner Joel Jacard, sat in jail awaiting trial and the supposedly wrongly accused Pirates had returned to their normal lives, cleared of guilt.
That last part peeved her. Damned Pirates danced around the law, claiming to fight for the rights of the common man and getting innocent people hurt or killed more often than not in the process. Maybe Captain Garret and his bunch weren’t guilty of that crime, but they were certain to bring someone to harm in the name of their misguided subversions if they hadn’t already. Still, she didn’t think it was the Pirates and street rats getting off scot-free at the end of the case that left her with a bad taste in her mouth. It felt like they were missing something, some deeper subterfuge below the surface, and her instincts were rarely far off.
Except with Maeko.
Em ground her teeth and brushed the thought aside. She crept ahead, sticking to the darkest shadows and trying to keep up with the quick pace set by the MPS commissioner without making enough noise to draw attention. Where was he going now? And why all the secrecy? He’d looked smug coming out of the Airship Tower. What did that mean? What was Lucian Folesworth up to?
The commissioner turned down another dark street, disappearing around the side of a building. Three shots rang out in the night, each one setting off a blast of adrenalin in her. Em sprinted for the corner, drawing the gun out of her shoulder holster. Amos and Rueben kept close behind. The second she passed the edge of the building, another shot fired and she dove for the ground, landing beside the still body of the commissioner. Whoever the shooter was, they weren’t looking to leave any witnesses.
“Get back!” she shouted.
Amos and Reuben obeyed, shrinking back behind the corner of the building. She stayed down alongside the commissioner, the cold damp of the wet street soaking through her clothes. The commissioner’s blank eyes stared up into a dark, soot black sky. A bullet hole in his forehead seeped red. The shooter didn’t fire again. Either they didn’t have a good angle or they had decided to make a run for it. She didn’t hear footsteps to indicate the latter, but the gunshots would draw more attention soon. Whoever had done the deed couldn’t be happy about sticking around.
Two more gunshots split the night. The first hit the corner of the building Amos and Rueben hid behind, sending out a spray of mortar. The second hit a puddle behind her, splashing muddy water on the back of her head and neck. The side of her neck started to sting.
Warning shots. That likely meant they were about to make a run for it. She tensed, holding her breath to listen.
There! Up the street, she heard the sound of someone running and surged to her feet to give chase. Rueben was already out and sprinting. She glanced back and gestured at the commissioner. Amos hurried to the body to stand watch.
Tall as he was, Rueben had a slow southern drawl to his run too. By the time they turned onto the cross street the killer had darted down, she was sprinting alongside him, cool night air spreading icy fingers along her damp side. She spotted a figure running almost a block ahead of them. Average height, lean build, average dress. Easily one of hundreds of men in the city. The type she’d have a hard time tracking down if she didn’t get more to work with.
More shots rang out, bullets firing down from the top of a nearby building. Rueben grunted. They both veered to the near side and ducked behind a pile of bricks next to a building under repair. The killer wasn’t alone. She peeked out to see their quarry turn down the next street, but she didn’t dare give chase now. The rooftop shooter had too good an angle, and he might not be the only one up there.
Rueben crouched down, his right hand clasped tight around his left bicep.
She almost grinned at the pained drawl. Did nothing ever get him worked up? “How bad?”
He shrugged, his long face drawn in a tight grimace.
Em leaned out as far as she dared and peered up at the roof. A figure stood above, staring into the dark street. Her pistol didn’t have enough range to make that distance, but whatever he was firing clearly did. He wore a long jacket full of holes she could see dark grey sky through when he moved and a western style hat with a warped brim. One forearm was thick and bulky, wrapped in a cast perhaps. When he moved, he did so with a significant limp, leaning his whole body to lift his left leg. A hip injury of some kind?
Her smile wasn’t kind. Here was someone she could hunt down.
Raised voices reached them from the street they’d just left. The shooter on the rooftop retreated from sight, moving with considerable speed in spite of the limp. Time to get Reuben’s arm tended and explain things to the local Lit patrol before they arrested Amos. Em holstered her gun and touched the stinging side of her neck. Her fingers came away sticky with blood. She shuddered. That shot had come a little too close and now her suspects were getting away. She had one distinctive suspect though and a few leads, including a former street rat who might have inside information regarding one part of this mystery.
Em ran a hand through her hair, realizing after she did so that she had most certainly smeared blood in it. She frowned.
It was going to be a long night.