Here is the first chapter of our Steampunk romance/adventure novella. To read previous episodes click here. Enjoy!
The sign on the door read “Henton Clode, Missing Persons” but the visitor knew that Mr. Clode had been dead for at least two years. Wheels in this small Ministry office moved slowly. Though the office was in Paris, arguably the most exciting city in the world, this office had long been determined (by the higher ups of the Ministry, or course) to be superfluous. But the woman who turned the door handle in her lace gloved hand knew that “Missing Persons” was a misnomer. The office of Henton Clode dealt with all incidents related to the Agency.
Inside, an elderly clerk was nestled behind stacks of files, typing. He looked up when she entered and pushed his glasses up. “May I help you, Miss?”
“Oh yes, sir, please! I must speak with Henton Clode! Are you Mr. Clode?”
“Calm yourself, Madmoiselle! I’m afraid Mr. Clode passed away last year. Please take a seat… here…” he gestured to the bench and chairs by the door, both of which were covered in more stacks of files. “Well, please wait here for a moment and I will alert Mr. Templar.”
He went into the next office, closing the door behind him, and she took the opportunity to examine her appearance in her compact. She dabbed some powder on her cheeks to make them paler and rubbed an extra bit of itching powder around her eyes. Perfect. She looked like she had been crying for days now.
The old man returned. “Madmoiselle? Mr. Templar will see you now.”
“Oh thank you!” She sniffled gently and entered the inner office.
This office was much cleaner. The walls were lined with filing cabinets; the desk contained only a typewriter, a notepad, and a small stack of letters. Young Mr. Alistaire Templar was exactly the sort of man one would expect to find in a Ministry office. He was handsome, in an intelligent and passionate sort of way. He stood nearly a head taller than her with his hands clasped sympathetically in front of him. His worn vest was a size too small and the fabric pulled on the buttons across his chest. She was distracted from her sniffling for a moment before she moved on the inspecting the rest of him. His glasses magnified the enigmatic zeal in his eyes. She had seen his sort before. The sort that believed in the strength of the law and its cloaked arm: the Ministry. The sort that was still hungry for the chase and not for the truth. Truth was a word they didn’t use in the ministry; everything was grey area here.
Mr. Templar was standing in his sympathetic pose: feet planted together and shoulders held aloofly back with hands clutched gently in front of him, as if he were praying. He found that this pose, both masculine and protective, gave women a sense of ease and safety. This lady in his office was most certainly in need of comfort. She was tall but held her shoulders in a slump. Her face was red with crying and she dabbed her nose with a delicate lavender handkerchief. The auburn hair that brushed her cheeks was loosely piled on her head in a sort of bun that evinced both hopeless distraction and a habit of meticulous hairstyling. Oh how Mr. Templar loved to aid a lady in distress.
“May I help you, Madmoiselle? I am Alistaire Templar, head of the Paris Missing Persons division. Please take a seat. May I offer you something? A glass of water, perhaps?”
She let herself slump hopelessly into the chair. “No thank you, I only need your help. It is my friend, you see. She’s been taken!”
“Your friend has been taken? Perhaps you had best tell me all of it.”
“Of course. It was a few weeks ago. I was away visiting friends and Evonne (that’s her name, Evonne LaCroix, she is my roommate), she went to see the bull fights in Barcelona. She told me it would be a short holiday, just a few days. She was supposed to get back before I did. But I got home and she wasn’t there! She’s been kidnapped! I’m sure of it,” she shouted, waving her damp hankie for effect. Then she sneezed, which had not been in the plan, but it worked in her favor.
“I realize how painful this is for you, Miss…”
“Oh, Marie. Marie Albion. Forgive me for my distraction.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Miss Albion. I have dealt with many such cases before. Can you tell me why you think she was kidnapped?”
“I don’t think. I know! You see, when I returned to the apartment, she wasn’t there, and her valise was still gone, and there were no messages left for me. She would have sent a telegram if she intended to stay longer because she knows I worry so! But there was nothing. And none of her other friends had heard anything either. So I called the hotel where she should have been staying and they said she wasn’t there, so I went to Barcelona to look for her and the concierge at the hotel said she never checked out, she just left her room key and some money at the front desk just the day after she checked in and when I looked in the room everything was gone! She just disappeared without a trace. Mr. Templar, I’m worried out of my mind. Evonne is away somewhere with strange men, frightened, alone – oh Gods! It’s been nearly three weeks and I haven’t heard a word!” This time the tears were nearly real.
Mr. Templar sighed. These were the difficult cases. This woman obviously loved her friend, but a disappearance in Barcelona… that just wasn’t the best city for a woman to visit alone.
“Miss Albion, does Evonne have any family. Anyone who might have been sent a ransom note?”
“No. I’m all the family she has.”
“Do you know who might want to hurt her?”
“Perhaps. Everyone has enemies. But she is such a kind quiet girl.” She wiped the corners of her eyes and look away. She was used to lying, but it was hard to call one of the most successful assassins in Europe ‘kind’ and ‘quiet.’
“I’m afraid I can’t do much to help you. If you describe Miss LaCriox for me, I can see if she matches any of our sightings.”
“She is average height with a curvacious figure. She does have a” – she cleared her throat gently –“an ample bosom. Dark curly hair, olive skin. She’s half Turkish and half French, you see. Lovely eyes; some sort of lavender grey. She doesn’t smile much. And she has small, she has such small—” and this time the tears were real. He let her cry and compose herself while he filled out the missing persons file, but he knew the end to her sentence before she could say it. “Small hands. She always wanted to borrow my rings, but they didn’t fit. You will look for her, won’t you?”
“Yes. No one of her description has been reported missing by anyone else, but I’m sure she is safe, Miss Albion. I will look for her, and I promise you, we will find her. Is there somewhere I can reach you if there is any news?”
There was. She gave him the address of the little apartment she shared with her best friend complete with their false names. They shook hands and he reassured her that he would not rest until he found her friend. She doubted he could find her roommate, but it was worth the try, even if the itching powder made her eyes puff up for a few days. As she closed the office door behind her, she turned back and smiled at him. “Thank you, Mr. Templar. You have very kind eyes.” She meant it. There was something about the honesty in his eyes; she almost believed him when he said everything would be alright.
As she walked home, the young woman entertained her memories in silence. She had worried more in the last two and a half weeks than ever before. And Mr. Templar, as professional and handsome as he was, was certainly no match for whomever had managed to kidnap her friend. “Oh, Viviette,” she said as she unlocked her front door. “If you don’t turn up soon, I may have to begin praying again.”
Stay tuned for Part 3!
The Lonely Alchemist (copyrighted 2012)