Hettie’s days melted into a routine. She would wake up exhausted and stumble downstairs to eat Mina’s breakfast and listen to Geneve’s gossip. Then she would be perked up enough to dress properly before going into the shop, where she would sell the mechanic wares that still astounded her. Eventually she would turn the crank on the door sign so it would change to ‘Out For Lunch’ and she would eat something else Mina had prepared. After that, Mina took charge of the shop.
What Hettie did in the afternoon varied. Sometimes she went into the workshop, where she was greeted by cussing from Hugo, a mild ‘good day’ from Carl, and a head-nod from Drake.
Despite herself, she liked the workshop. It smelled like copper, even more so than the store, and a hint of something more subtle. Hettie could only assume it was magic, or some sort of metal that she hadn’t heard of. She would sit on an unused counter and watch the men cut out bits of metal, piece them together, or scribble on blueprints.
Hettie tried to learn what she could by watching. The blueprints seemed a mess to her, but each day she gained more and more sense from them.
Whenever the men got to Tempering, she was ushered out of the room.
Is it dangerous or some sort of trade secret? She would wonder, every time.
Some afternoons, instead of the workshop, she would talk with Geneve. Mostly on how to act like a Crease-born.
“I can’t decide if it’s a good thing your bruise went away.” Geneve said.
“What do you mean?” Hettie looked in the brassy mirror in Geneve’s room. Her face had no traces of green or purple left.
“Well, with it you either look weaker, like someone who can be slapped around, or stronger, like someone who can hold her own in a fight.”
“I prefer the latter description.”
“No.” Geneve said. “Too flowery. Say that again.”
“Uh… I like that last bit better.”
Geneve sighed. “That’ll do for now. Shoulders forward. Hips out. There you go.”
Hettie looked in the mirror and laughed. “It looks as dreadful as it feels strange.”
“Well, to sit up as straight and proper as you do is strange and dreadful to us. And say that sentence again.”
“No wonder it looks wonky… I feel like a sack of potatoes.” Hettie attempted.
“That’s the spirit.” Geneve nodded.
“Geneve… what about the Crease?”
“What about it?”
“Well… will I ever go into it?” Hettie asked. She felt like a petulant child.
“You’re in it. Let’s hope you can survive in it.” Geneve frowned.
Hettie rolled her eyes. It was a strange sensation. “I know that. I mean outside of Temper Mints. Suppose I want to go window shopping.”
Geneve snorted. “With what money?”
“That’s why I said window.”
“Most windows are closed up or filled with junk. Not much to sight-see.”
“Geneve! Answer the question!”
Geneve sighed. “Honestly, Hettie. I don’t know. You’re far from ready now. You might could pass if you pretended to be deaf and dumb.”
“Good luck with that.” Hugo said. “I bet a dysk and five dims she can’t stay quiet for five minutes.”
Hettie glowered at the once-closed door. “Do you have to keep the hinges oiled, Geneve?”
Hugo had the nasty habit of sneaking up on people. Perhaps it wasn’t on purpose, but it was aggravating. One minute you were having a perfectly quiet conversation and the next Hugo was butting in.
“Sister, Carl says it’s time again.” Hugo said, dusting off a shoulder off his great-coat. The red-head frowned.
“So soon? Didn’t we agree on the plan?”
“Time for what? What plan?” Hettie asked. She had become quick with questions. The people at Temper Mints knew one another so well that they often forgot that there was such a thing as explanations.
“To spy. We agreed that I would pretend to have run away with you.” Geneve offered.
Hettie’s stomach clenched familiarly, as one’s stomach does when one remembers something that has been weighing on one’s mind.
What if Benedict comes for me? He would find out about Temper Mints… everyone here could go to jail. And I can’t let him have the key. Nocks said not to. Not that I know who Nocks is… which is why I need to go to Nocks and Emery Legal. But I can’t, because I can’t survive on my own in the Crease. It was the same cycle of infuriating thoughts that she had played over in her head for days.
“Where am I going?”
“Not another High Brass. Just a banker… he seems to be connected with Wickes.” Hugo said. He looked at Hettie. “Hope you don’t mind that we’re prying into your husband’s affairs.”
I’ve been a bit of an idiot, haven’t I?
“Wait.” Hettie stood up. “I was so exhausted and confused I never got to ask… why was Geneve spying on me? Why are you spying on my husband?”
Both fell silent.
“Well… Sister was never actually spying on you. Just Big B.” Hugo said.
“But why? He’s not done much but be rich and strike illegal deals with some other Cases. And assassinate them.” Hettie’s voice grew cold.
“Exactly! We’re High Brass vigilantes.” Hugo said, grabbing Geneve’s arm. “Sister, Carl’s getting impatient.”
“Carl’s never impatient.” Hettie said.
“Too true!” The door shut.
Hettie opened the door and yelled after him, “You really think I’m that dumb?”
“Yes!” Was the reply.
Hettie scowled and followed them downstairs, then turned away from the kitchen and into the workshop.
Drake was the only one at work. He pulled his loupe away from his face.
“I want to thank you.” He said.
“You’re welcome?” She said hesitantly.
“For Sister. I haven’t seen her smile or heard her laugh in a long time.” Drake said in his quietly earnest way.
“I never did anything.” Hettie said honestly.
“You’ve been a friend. Given her something to work on besides revenge, I suppose.”
“Revenge?” She blinked.
Drake nodded and wiped his hands on his apron.
“Do you know how Sister and I came here?”
“No.” Hettie said. “I- I assumed you were Mina’s and Carl’s children, but that doesn’t make sense since neither of them have red hair or blue eyes.”
“It also doesn’t make sense because they’re not married.” Drake said, eyes twinkling. “But you’re not the first to assume that. Sister and I are orphans. We worked in a Tempering shop. One more illegal than this.”
“How can it be more illegal? It either is or it isn’t.” Hettie said, feeling a little prickly on that subject. She never had taken Geneve’s offer of asking Drake why they thought it wasn’t immoral to run an illegal Tempering business.
“Because they used slave labor. Child labor, actually. Sister and I grew up working on machines and Tempering. She hated it. But even more, she hated the people who did it. When we were taken in by Carl and Mina, she had a hatred and coldness I never did. It slid off me, but she clung to it.”
“So when I was first here, and she first came back… that coldness was how she was for years?”
“Since before I can remember. She’ll never be like you, or other girls who lived more comfortably. Or even without the pointless pain and retribution. But she is a little less like one of Carl’s automatons.” Drake smiled at the analogy.
Hettie was horrified. It was horrible.
No wonder they hated High Brass.
“What was the shop?” She asked.
“A place called Nocks and Bangs.” He said. “We blew it up a few years ago.” It sounded like a joke, but his eyes weren’t kidding.
Nocks and Bangs. Nocks and Emery. Nocks and the key. Isn’t he just everywhere? Of course, there could be more than one Nocks. But still…