Clockwork Enterprises: The Girl and the Clockwork Crossfire

by Nikki McCormack

Maeko only wants to protect the people she cares about. Somehow, that goal has taken her from living a life as a pickpocket on the streets of London trying to pay off her mum’s debt, to becoming deeply enmeshed in rising hostilities between the Pirates and the Literati.

Now she has offers from both sides to help protect her loved ones. But things have gotten more dangerous. All around her the Pirates and Lits are hard at work on ways to destroy each other. Meanwhile, things are spiraling out of control with Chaff and Ash.

With Macak as her one constant companion, Maeko is going to have to decide for herself who she will trust. She needs to be at her most clever to survive this and she’s going to need someone’s help to keep from getting caught in the crossfire.


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Information:

Title: The Girl and the Clockwork Crossfire, Clockwork Enterprises Book Three
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: Steampunk
Length:
Release Date: June 2017
ISBN: 978-0998376523

Excerpt from The Girl and the Clockwork Crossfire

by Nikki McCormack

Copyright © 2017 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.

CHAPTER ONE

Officer Wells made it back to the London Juvenile and Adult Holding Facility a little after four in the morning. The first thing he had to take care of after he sat behind his desk to start on the paperwork he needed to file was the last thing he wanted to deal with after watching his new partner die.

Detective Emeraude stormed in through the front doors. She slapped a hand down on the front desk, glaring her frustration at him over the head of the officer on duty there. The man was a new recruit in spite of his advanced age. His flinch and anxious stare went unnoticed by the detective.

“There was a raid on a house in Chelsea last night. I need to know if anyone was taken or killed.” The detective looked as miserable as Wells felt, with a heavily bandaged forearm and a scrape on her cheek.

Wells couldn’t help but notice that the raw scrape on her cheek gave her typically harsh features a burst of color. He was not in the mood to deal with her or her impertinent demands.

“Detective Emeraude,” Wells started, trying to keep it respectful, “I can’t help you. I just lost a new recruit, and my superiors want me to clear it with them before I share any information with you.”

Finding someone to help transport his late partner’s steamcycle and body back to JAHF had taken almost an hour with the rancid fog—fog so thick you could almost swim in it. The young officer was the latest in a string of short-lived new recruits. He was the latest, but he wasn’t the first. The Literati’s aggressive recruitment lately only added fuel to the fire, increasing the frequency and toll of confrontations with Pirate activists. It was getting too dangerous to venture out with an experienced team, let alone brave the streets with a trainee.

The situation made him miss his foul-tempered ex-partner Tagmet. Almost. Wells met Emeraude’s gaze, making no effort to hide his miserable state. His head hurt. His heart, too. Another dead recruit.

“I’ve got a mountain of paperwork waiting,” Wells said, hoping for some sympathy.

Emeraude didn’t get the hint. She stared at him for a moment without comprehension, as though he’d spoken another language, then her expression darkened. “I need that information, Officer Wells. If you don’t have it yet, you can get it. I’ll wait.” She took a few steps back, folded her arm across her chest and leaned against the wall.

Curious that she was demanding information on the same event the street rat had asked him about before scarpering off on the Pirate airship. Wells and the new recruit had been trying to apprehend the street rat and Asher, son of Captain Garret. Captain Garrett would be happy that his son got away. Wells wasn’t happy that a Pirate shot down his new recruit

Wells released a heavy breath, hoping some of his twitchy irritation would depart with the exhale. It didn’t. He shoved back from his desk, stood and walked around it to where she’d settled. Her stance shifted forward, pulling away from the wall as if poising for a possible attack. She was a bit taller than him, which made intimidation tactics difficult, but he’d had more than enough for one night.

“Maybe everyone else puts up with your attitude because they feel bad for you, but I didn’t even work here when your brother died, so dredge up some bloody manners or get out.” He pointed to the doors.

For an instant, something unexpected flickered across her features. A deep grief and guilt that made him feel a little sorry for even bringing her brother up despite his words. She held his gaze, the muscles in her jaw twitching, then she drew in a deep breath and the aggression in her stance faded a touch. She relaxed her arms.

Wells reciprocated, taking a step back out of her space.

“If there is any information at all that you can give me, I would appreciate it.”

Her expression made it clear that the polite approach took considerable effort. To try to encourage that behavior, he turned to the desk officer who had actually been here to get a firsthand accounting of the raid. The man glanced between them uneasily. Wells nodded encouragement.

“There was a woman killed in the raid,” the older man began. His eyes locked on Wells who gave another small nod to get him to continue. “And they brought in a young man who’d been injured. They said the others escaped in an older model airship. A real patchwork job.”

Detective Emeraud leaned forward, eager. “Do you know who the woman was? Who’s the youth they brought in?”

The other officer waited for Wells to nod once more before answering. “Don’t know about the woman, but our records show that the youth has been through here several times. A street rat turned kidsman who goes by the name of Chaff.”

Wells tuned in more intently then.

Chaff?

That was who the street rat asked him to check on. With the dead recruit to deal with, he hadn’t even looked yet to see if anyone was brought in from the raid. Now he had that answer at least.

Em nodded once and spun on her heel, darting out the door without another word. The desk officer stared after her, looking puzzled. Wells shrugged. She’d been nicer than usual once he made it clear he wasn’t in the mood for her abuse. Something to keep in mind for next time she came around. Although he would have liked to question her about her interest in the house raid before she rushed off.

He turned to the man at the desk. “You said this Chaff was brought in injured?”

The officer nodded. “Shot in the hand.”

Wells winced. That would be a nasty wound. Lots of bones in a hand for a bullet to break. “Has a physician seen to it?”

“No, Sir. One of the officers wrapped it and said someone would be by later.”

Far from satisfactory treatment. Wells tried to ignore the uneasy swirl in his stomach. Even prisoners were supposed to receive appropriate medical care, which did at least give him the excuse he needed to investigate. He wasn’t doing it for the street rat of course—he had gotten in enough trouble for aiding her during the search for Lucian Folesworth even though she had found the missing inventor—but for his own curiosity.

“I’ll go check on him.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Wells strode down the hall, through the east intake room, and back into the east cellblock. The block was empty now aside from a passed out drunk in the first cell and the young man in the fourth. The youth sat on the cot with his head bowed and one hand, bloated with a crude wrapping of bandages, held high against his chest. His eyes squeezed shut and he wore a pained grimace. Bright blood seeped through the thick wraps. His pallor wasn’t reassuring.

“Chaff?”

A slight tensing of his jaw was the only response. It was confirmation enough.

Why hadn’t they seen to the injury more thoroughly?

“Have you had anything for the pain?”

“No,” he answered hoarsely.

What was the street rat’s interest in him? She might have been one of his thieves, though he didn’t look that much older than her. “Are you a Pirate?”

“I may be daft,” he rasped, “but I’m not a bloody Pirate.”

He looked up then, his blue eyes red-rimmed and glassy with pain. Sweat beaded on his brow beneath a mop of dusty blond hair.

He was a decent looking bloke. He might be almost handsome under different circumstances. Perhaps… “You know a young Asian girl? A creature of the streets like you?”

A flicker of panic chased away the grimace for a second. “Is she all right?”

That made things clearer. Whatever her interest in him, the youth obviously cared about her. “She got away. I don’t know if that qualifies as all right considering the company she’s keeping.”

Chaff bowed his head again. He didn’t say anything else.

Wells shifted his feet. He wanted to keep the conversation going, try to learn something about the situation, but the youth was in such obvious agony. It felt wrong to interrogate him.

Before he could think of something more to say, the door swung open and two men strode into the cellblock. The first was Joel Jacard, partner in Clockwork Enterprises. The other was a man called Bennett, a lean, fierce-looking chap Wells had seen with Lucian Folesworth. The latter didn’t look like much more than a common thug. Given the way he hovered quietly behind whomever he was with and rarely spoke, Wells suspected Mr. Folesworth had hired him as a bodyguard.

But now Lucian Folesworth’s brother was dead, and Bennett, for all his menacing presence, wasn’t the one who inspired Wells to step away from the two of them. Wells didn’t know much about Bennett, but he couldn’t forget that Mr. Jacard had been on the inside of those bars, and his incarceration, however brief, had been full of hateful and vile threats toward the street rat—and Folesworth himself. Folesworth might have forgiven Joel and given him back his considerable rank and privilege. Wells couldn’t shake the feeling of wrongness the man gave him.

Joel gave Wells a curt nod. “Good evening officer. We’re here to see this new prisoner of yours.”

Wells shifted his feet, fighting the urge to slink out like a mistreated dog and let them have the run of the place. “I’m not sure this is a good time. He needs medical attention.”

Joel waved off his concern and walked up to the bars. “Rat, you want to tell me where your friends went.”

“They’re no mates of mine.” Chaff’s harsh, resentful tone was enough to convince Wells he might be sincere, though his interrogator appeared uninterested in the truth.

“Really?” Joel chuckled. “I find that hard to believe, but if it’s true, then you won’t mind telling me where they went.”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

Joel smiled pleasantly. “I can give you something for the pain.”

A sick feeling spread through Wells, like poison racing through his blood. They should be giving the boy treatment regardless of his crimes, not using that care as a bribe.

Chaff slowly raised his head, his bloodshot eyes glaring purest hatred into Joel. “Bugger off. I’m not talking to you.”

Joel’s head tilted to one side and he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the youth.

“I know you,” he said after a few seconds of scrutiny. “You were with that detective the night they arrested me.”

The darker look vanished as quickly as it had appeared and Joel smiled again.

“It seems we’ve traded places.” He leaned close to the bars, grinning like a merry demon now. “I promise to make sure you enjoy your stay.”

Chaff dropped his head back against the wall with a groan. His eyes squeezed shut and he clutched the wrist of his injured hand. More blood stained the bandage now. Wells got the feeling the youth wasn’t going to hear them anymore. His pain consumed him. Did he realize they would have to amputate it if it wasn’t tended properly soon? It might be too late already.

Joel turned to Wells. “Someone will be here within the hour to move him to the new facility.”

“The new place? He doesn’t look that dangerous to me. Besides, moving him now is just going to make that hand worse.”

Bennett smirked and Joel’s lip twitched in a hint of a sneer. “Perhaps you would do well to remember that we’re on the same side of the bars now and my authority comes from high above you.”

Yes. They were on the same side of the bars now. Not long ago, Lucian Folesworth had been more than ready to see Joel die for his crimes. How could Lucian welcome the man back so enthusiastically? Perhaps the evidence proving Joel’s innocence was truly irrefutable. Wells hadn’t been part of that investigation, but he found when he tried to swallow the pill of Joel’s exoneration, it stuck in his throat.

“Shouldn’t we at least see to his hand before moving him?”

Joel glanced at Chaff and sneered. “He’ll live. Let them deal with it there.”

Wells watched them go, then turned to look at the youth in the cell again. It didn’t sit well with him to leave a prisoner like that. Something about the whole situation didn’t feel right. It made him want to go try to hunt down the girl, to tell her everything he knew about Chaff and where they were taking him. He’d spent his whole childhood dreaming of a life as an officer of the law. Upholding justice. Defending the weak. This wasn’t justice and the idea that he was a part of it only made him feel sick.

He took hold of one of the bars. Perhaps he had gone barmy or perhaps he was just now coming to his senses. “Hang in there, mate. I’ll tell her where they’re taking you.”

Chaff’s eyes snapped open, his gaze feverish and intense. “No! Tell her nothing. Tell her you don’t know where I am. Please.”

Wells stepped back from that burning gaze, from the pain and the desperation. He shook his head and walked away. There was no doubt about it now. He hated his job.