Hettie went downstairs for breakfast. She’d slept even worse than she normally did. That is to say, the little sleep she did manage was filled with night terrors. She rubbed her eyes, wishing she could rub away the mental image of Benedict repeatedly stabbing Hugo in the stomach.
“How dare you kiss my wife?!” He had screamed.
Actually, that part was almost enjoyable. It was when he turned to Drake, Geneve, Mina, and Carl that she woke in a muddle of hysteria.
“Good morning, love!” Mina said happily. She shoved eggs that had been whipped into a jumble on Hettie’s plate.
“Morning, Mina.” Hettie reflected on the statement as she blew cool air on a steaming forkful of eggs. It sounded much more like Crease-slang than ‘good morning’. And it was more honest.
“Hettie.” Drake nodded his head. Hugo waved his hand over his shoulder without bothering to face her. Carl sipped coffee.
“Where’s Geneve?” Hettie frowned.
“Sister’s gone off to the Urwins. Apparently, Lord Urwin has shipped items via your husband’s train company that are marked under ‘Confidential’. Sister’s going to look into it.” Mina explained.
Hettie put down her fork. “You still have yet to explain why my husband is under such suspicion. Surely other lords have also arranged assassinations.” Hettie thought it was strange how she could refer to Benedict in such a removed manner. As though he were not someone she knew and loved.
Then again, I never really did know him, She though wryly.
Carl set his coffee cup in its saucer. “Because Benedict is the only lord known to have meddled in the affairs of illegal Temperers, with the exception of Lord Wakefield and Baldwin’s ensuring their capture and closure.”
“What do you mean by ‘meddled in the affairs of’?” Hettie asked, taking another bite.
Hugo turned around, leaning against the counter, holding a bit of toast with beans on top. “As in he contracted them.”
“Contracted’s not the correct term. No illegal Temperer is going to enter a legal contract.” Drake put in.
Hettie frowned. “What would he want wi-“ She considered. Nocks…Could he have been a Temperer? She had never seen contracts with him, but the same would be true if he were merely a spy. Or maybe, if he were at Nocks and Emery Legal, he covered up any legal problems for Benedict.
Perhaps Benedict had an illegal Temperer Temper my necklace. If I could get to Nocks and Emery Legal, someone there might recognize it. She mused.
Everyone was looking at Hettie.
“What?” She asked defensively.
“What were you thinking about when you got all quiet?” Hugo asked. “Not that I’m complaining.” Hettie glared.
“I was thinking about contracts.” She said carefully. Her thoughts of Nocks seemed foolish now… he was hardly someone to obsess over.
But I still want to go to Nocks and Emery Legal, She thought grimly.
Everyone resumed breakfast, more silently than before.
“Chattoway said that he spotted Becca in Chainswallow.” Hugo said as he scanned through the post.
“Chainswallow?” Hettie exclaimed. “What’s she doing in Chainswallow?”
“What’s Chattoway doing sending information like that in the mail?” Drake growled.
“He didn’t.” Hugo scoffed. “He told me yesterday at the pub.” He tossed the stack of post on the rickety table. Hettie’s eye scanned over it, but she knew nothing would be for her. No one was supposed to know she was here.
Which was why she was so surprised to see one addressed to her.
As Mina scolded Hugo for being at the pub when he was supposed to be at the station for Becca, Hettie picked it up.
It wasn’t addressed to her actual name. It was labeled, ‘To the girl whose name is not for sale’.
Hettie slid her thumbnail along the flap and pulled out the letter.
To the girl whose name is not for sale,
Would you do me the honor of meeting me for a lunch today? Our legal firm is located inside the Dead Pinion Pub. I look forward to seeing you… and perhaps finding out your name.
Although snickering at his tenacity, she was ecstatic.
Maps of the Crease were never found. They were never made. A lot of people came to the Crease in order to not be found. But a pub was easier to find than any other place… pubs weren’t afraid to advertise. And often, as in the case of Nocks and Emery Legal, they were a front for some other operation.
She tucked the letter in her corset and stood up, pushing her chair back.
“Thank you, Mina.” She said.
“You’re welco- what do you mean you met Henry?” Mina asked Hugo.
Hettie went upstairs.
She was terrified at the prospect of going out. But she had to know more about Nocks.
I’ll probably end up gutted. Or worse. She reflected sourly on the wolfish grin Albert had sported, knowing full well that some men acted to match.
She took out the letter.
Dead Pinion Pub. Dead Pinion Pub. If only I could get Hugo to take me there somehow… but they’d catch on in an instant. Truthfully, Hettie didn’t know why she didn’t tell the others what she was thinking, or where she was going. Part of it was that Hettie felt if they knew where she was goings, she would be refused, like a child who wants a treat. Partly, however, it was the fear of what she was finding out.
Don’t be silly. You already know what your husband is.
She went downstairs into the shop.
It will be a long morning….
* * * * *
Hettie threw on Mina’s cloak. It was too short and too wide, but perhaps it would conceal her shapelier figure.
To be ugly would be a blessing.
Heart in her throat, she went out the back door into the narrow alley street.
It was a grimy little backstreet, but then, all of the Crease was gritty. The brick walls towered above her, and the cobbled road was missing more than a few cobbles. Making her way around the moldy old crates, she moved out into the road.
In truth, the main roads were not that much larger than the backstreets. Secrecy and low profiles were a must in the Crease. Though crowded, the Crease could hardly be considered ‘sprawling’. It had to confine it’s unpleasantness to a portion of Seolfor.
Hettie drew her hood up, wishing her face was still bruised. She moved through the streets with her head down, trying to look like she knew exactly where she was going.
Men still leered at her. Dour faced children watched her go past. A puff of smoke spat out the side of a machinery shop and caught her in the face, and a woman nearby chortled.
“Watch out fer the smoky’n bits, mum.” Her friend snickered. Hettie’s facial features jerked as she was reminded of Geneve, back when she was a maid. She walked faster.
Her steel-colored eyes scanned the street signs ahead. Most of the pubs were on the main road of the Crease. She frowned as she realized there were no street signs.
I suppose everyone just has a mental map of the whole soldering thing, She scowled.
Hettie turned. The turn was marked with a pub, The FlyWheel, and she thought she could remember the name.
This street lead to the market road. It was lined with stalls and booths, selling everything from food to Tempered jewelry. Her mind flitted to her necklace again.
“Tempered rod, mum?” A man called out. “It’ll help ya find all yer needles!”
“Tempered? More like magnetized. Get yer mind set, Teddy’n!” A woman laughed at him. He swatted her rear, and she swatted his hand. Hettie shuddered at the thought of his filthy fingers touching her and moved on quickly.
“Pipes! Tempered pipes! Sure to keep yer cancer’n down!”
“I’ll give ya two Dysk and not a Dim more!”
“Arsenic! Sure to make all yer clothes the finest shade of green!”
The shouts and yells of the market coupled with the rhythmic beating of hammers on metal made for a rowdy street. Hettie knew she blended better here than on the other street. And she was very glad she didn’t have a purse… she caught several young boys cutting them off of other shoppers with knives.
“Can I help ya miss?” A boisterous looking man asked. He held up a necklace that matched her hair.
“No thank you’n, sir!” She called out in her best imitation of Nylisle accent. It was common enough to not stand out, but strange enough it shouldn’t link back to her. “But could ya direct me to’n some good eatin’ an’ drinkin’ places?”
“May’haps.” He said, looking a little disappointed. Hettie moved over and pretended to be interested in the jewelry.
“Ya do fine work, sir’n.” She said.
“Thank ya, miss.” He puffed up his chest. “What sorta places were ya lookin’ fer?”
“Ach… my friend suggested a place… Dead Gear?” She picked up a ring.
“Dead Cog?” The man raised his eyebrows.
“At was the one.” She nodded.
The man chuckled. “No need fer embarrassment, miss. You and the ole man lookin’ fer a Disunity?”
Hettie put the ring down and picked up a bracelet. Perhaps her blush would be taken in for his meaning rather than her true one.
“Well…” She said.
“No worries, miss. It’s just a few blocks down.” He made a motion with his fingers. “Can’t tell my left from my right, but it’s a thataway.”
Hettie hoped desperately that she could remember the motions.
“Thank you, sir’n.” She said. “Perhaps when my ‘usband stops takin’ in all my income, I could get somethin’ like this.” She gestured to the copper necklace.
She left before he could reply.
Left. Left. Right. Straight on. Hettie scanned the emptier street ahead.
THE DEAD COG a sign proudly displayed. Scribbled underneath was the line, “And Nocks and Emery Legal”.
She went in.
A small gong resonated above her head. The smell of stale beer stifled her, but she went in, her slippers thudding lightly on the surprisingly clean floor.
There were two men in quiet conversation in the corner, both of whom quieted and looked up when she entered. Hettie pushed her hood back.
The barmaid, a stout girl with a split-lip, looked up and sneered.
Does he invite pretty young girls in often? Hettie mused. I hope I could hold my own in a fight…. No, I hope it doesn’t COME to a fight.
Albert stepped out of a door down the hallway and looked into the pub. His face brightened.
“Is this No-Sale?” Asked one of the men in the corner. “I thought you said she had gold hair.”
“Nay, copper. And don’t be rude, Emery.” Albert laughed. Hettie pursed her lips.
“If this is Emery, where’s Nocks?” The words flew out quite without Hettie’s permission. I suppose I’m not beating around the bush, then.
Deadly silence in the pub.
“Why do you as-“ Emery stood up, but Albert interrupted.
“Emery’s name is a coincidence. Nocks and Emery is based on a child’s fable rhyme.” Albert smiled toothily.
“I admire your lying skills.” Hettie said smoothly. “If you don’t know where Nocks is, I could be obliged to answer. But first, I want to know what he has to do with Lord Benedict, and if he was ever in the Tempering business.”
Albert looked nothing short of astonished. Emery, however, looked furious.
“We can meet later, Tab.” Emery said to the other man, not taking his eyes off of Hettie. “And say a word about this and my word on the estate gets out.” The terrified looking Tab got up and went out the side door.
The bar-maid discreetly slipped into the room Albert had come out of.
Oh dear, Hettie thought.
“What do you know about Nocks? Why are you here?” Albert said. Emery strode beside Albert and smacked the wolfish man in the jaw.
Albert was tall and lean, Emery shorter, but muscled. Hettie didn’t like physical odds against either.
“Who are you?” Emery asked quietly.
“I know that he is being kept in Lord Wickes cellar. If he isn’t dead.” She added. “I’m here because I need to know about this.” She tapped the silver disk on her throat. Emery eyed it cautiously. “I’m a nobody.”
“Obviously not. You have access to Wickes cellar.” Albert said. He put one foot on a chair and leaned on his knee, eyes on Hettie.
“The man doesn’t lock a thing in the house.” She spat. He might now, however.
Emery regarded her, then spoke carefully. “Nocks was engaged in business other than the legal firm. The last time I saw him, he was stark raving mad.”
“Key.” Hettie whispered. Emery’s gaze sharpened.
“Yes. About a key.”
Emery blinked. “But… you said it yourself.”
“Not about the key!” Hettie said. “You know more.”
“As do you.”
The two men looked at Hettie, and she looked back.
Emery turned to Albert. “Al, how do you always get messed up with the insolent ones? Why can’t you bring an idiot here for once?”
Albert shrugged lazily. “So… what do we do with her?”
“You’re not doing anything with me.” Hettie said, voice higher than she liked. Both ignored her.
“She does know about Nocks.” Albert said. “Maybe she could get him back here.”
“Or run away.” Emery growled. “I say we take her to the wench house.”
Hettie snatched at the handle of the pub door, only to find there wasn’t a handle on the inside.
In fact, there wasn’t anything on the inside to let you open the door.
“I don’t advise trying that one.” Albert said casually. “It’s in for repairs.”
I’m an idiot. Hettie tried to dash for the side door, but Emery was standing in front of her before she made it two feet.
“No!” She yelled. “I just need to know about Nocks! I need to know what he did for my hus-“ She snapped her jaw shut.
“Husband?” Emery said instantly. He stepped closer. “Hey, Al, know what pays better than a brothel? A lady with a lord looking for her.”
“He’s looking for me?” She blinked. No, Hettie! This isn’t time to worry about Benedict. Just get your skin out of this mess.
“Hmm. Does he take damaged goods?” Albert asked, considering.
Emery shrugged. “Probably.”
Hettie opened her mouth, and Emery smirked. “I take that back, Al. She’s dim as I could hope. Just a bit lucky with her information.” Albert snickered.
“You know, I bet the necklace fetches a price too.” Emery said. “If it’s that key Nocks was all a-flutter over.”
They’re playing with me. Trying to whip me up like some of Mina’s eggs.
“You bet it does.” She snarled. “I remember what Nocks had to say about it. ‘Don’t let him have it! Don’t let that crack-brass get it!’” She shrugged. “At the time, I thought he meant Benedict, but I suppose he meant you crack-brasses.”
Emery’s smirk faded.
“All right, smart-mouth. Let’s get this show on the road.” He reached out to grab her.
Hettie jumped up on a table. Of all the moves Emery might have expected, up was not one of them.
She planted a foot in his face, and he went sprawling into a table. Albert chuckled as he walked closer. “Dim, you said?”
Hettie moved towards the side-door and wrenched it open, running into the smoggy air outside. Never had it smelled fresher.
She hadn’t gotten more than a few feet down the alley when Albert had her wrist in his hand. The jerk of being stopped in her tracks knocked her to her knees. Albert ran a finger along her cheek.
At least they’re clean, She thought drily.
Emery stamped out of the pub, furious.
“Wenches like you can’t get away with something like that and just run off.” He snarled. Hettie gasped as he drew back his hand.
It stung. Worse than she expected. Blinking back tears of pain, she sat, dazed.
“I suppose you’re going to beat her up no matter what I argue?” Albert said.
“You’re rust right.” Emery grabbed the front of Hettie’s cloak, bringing her to her feet. She was taller than him, and he didn’t like it. Roughly, he shoved her back and she slammed into the brick wall.
Any thoughts of resistance had fled along with her rationale. She was too stupefied to consider it.
Emery took one of her soft, white hands and held it up. She hazily made out the point of a knife, and then the sight of scarlet dripping along her forearm.
The sharp sensation brought back a bit of her senses. She kicked out at his leg, and he dropped the knife, cursing.
Then there was an explosion.