Here is the latest installment of the Steampunk novella "The Alchemist Files." To catch up on the beginning of this story, click here.
In the offices of Henton Clode, Alistaire Templar was reading a telegram from the Ministry Main Offices in London which was as follows: Description of woman matches all available information on Bergamot STOP Advised to apprehend suspect for questioning STOP Negotiate situations with caution STOP Do not allow suspect to escape STOP Sending re-enforcements to Paris immediately STOP Keep us apprised of all actions STOP.
Mr. Templar smiled. The famed assassin had walked into his office and asked for his help. There was a promotion in this for his if he was careful. He took the address Sybil had given him from his desk and tucked it into his pocket. For once he was the cat and she was the mouse.
On the Rue de Capri, outside a café, a man leaned against the lamppost. He held a black Russian cigarette languidly between his leather gloved fingers, drawing puffs and blowing them slowly out his nose. In his impeccable hat and long black coat, the man resembled a thin Chinese dragon. He tossed the cigarette into the street with a delicate flick of the wrist. To the average Parisian, he was just another bored gentleman with too much money and too much time. But to a trained observer, his posture, his careless half-eyes-closed gaze, and the conscious ennui with which he smoothed his waistcoat were all contrived.
Sybil was a trained observer because she had done what he was doing countless times. From the café, she watched him out of the corner of her eye. She couldn’t see half his face, but she didn’t recognize the small ears or trimmed black beard. She was careful not to look at him directly because she knew he was watching her. He had been following her all day. She had first noticed him at the patisserie that morning, sitting at a little table outside drinking a Turkish coffee. He had followed her at a distance, but whenever she turned her head all the way, he seemed to disappear into the surroundings. He was good: definitely not a Ministry man. He was too sophisticated and careful to be a Ministry agent. Worried at his presence, she had tried to lose him after the B&L offices, but he had stuck with her all the way to this café. And by now he had been standing against that lamppost for over an hour waiting for her as if he had nothing more interesting to do. During all that time, he had never shown her his whole face. He had never revealed that he was watching her. He appeared to be watching the carriages that passed on the street. He seemed completely content to lean against the post for the rest of the day.
Sybil had finished two pots of tea and a plate of petit fours while trying to think of a way to lose him. She had used up all her usual tricks. The only thing to do now was to leave through the kitchen of the café. If she did that, he would know she was on to him. But better that than to have him follow her to London. She left a generous tip on the table and slipped out through the back door.
She hurried through back streets the rest of the way to the docks. There was no sign of the man in black. By the time she reached the docks she was out of breath. The airship manifests were posted on the customs inspector’s office and she looked for a ship leaving within the hour. One was leaving immediately, but was bound for Dublin. There were no larger ships leaving for London that day. She entered the office.
“Sir, I was wondering if there are any airships leaving for London today. It is very urgent. My grandmother is dying, you see, and I must reach her before she passes!”
“Let me check.” The inspector was a thin old man with a thin waxed mustache and large teeth. He sniffed and smoothed his mustache as he poured over the departure schedules. “Mmmmmm, none of the larger ships… ah, here we are… cargo ship Bucephalus is leaving from number 17 in just a few minutes. If you hury you could get there.”
Bucephalus. Sybil knew that name. But it was too unlikely to be true… “What is the captain’s name?”
“Seems it’s a lady captain, name of Victoria Potsworth. Good solid name, Potsworth.”
It was true. “Thank you,” she shouted as she ran out of the office. “Thank you!” she hitched up her skirts and sprinted towards dock 17. This was more luck than she had ever hoped for. Sybil wasn’t a religious woman, but at that moment she believed someone above must be looking out for her.
The airship was just casting off as she reached the dock. The turbines were roaring and the crew was pulling in the mooring ropes. Sybil shouted “Wait!” and kept running. At the edge of the dock she jumped – her feet tread air for a moment – then she caught one of the ropes. “Pull me up!” she called. As the crew hoisted the rope, Paris floated away below her, the low-lying clouds enveloping her skirts and covering the city in a soft pink glow. For a moment she was reminded of the sunsets in Marseilles, then a crewman grasped her hand and pulled her over the deck railing.
“Captain,” he called, keeping a firm hold on her wrist, “We’ve got a stowaway.”
“Hardly,” Sybil retorted. “More like an uninvited guest, or a late passenger, perhaps.”
Stay tuned for Part 6!