THE EVERSTEAM CHRONICLES
A special thank you to Terry Bay Powers, Joel E Roosa, Tisha Holman, Ronnie Perkins, Bridgette Brenmark, and Rick Moore!
A dark figure flittered hurriedly across the rainswept street. Black and white patent heels tapped on cobblestones, splashed through puddles, tiptoed through mud, and rushed around a corner of an alleyway. A street lantern illuminated the bleach blonde-haired woman as she paused under an awning to wrap her wolf-furred coat about her. Long, dark lashes squinted in the gloom as she ran a finger down a placard engraved with stamped black words on brass. Her finger stalled on a name and tapped it thrice: O’Connell’s Detective Agency. Red lips pouted. She was a Damsel and she was in Distress! Surely, O’Connell could help her.
She marched up the stairs as though she owned the place and stopped in front of the frosted glass window. She did not even bother to knock before flinging open the door. Spurts of orange light briefly illuminated the room in intervals as the Geissler-tube sign outside the window proclaiming “Haberdashery” flashed one letter at a time down the side of the building. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the grey between the blazing orange bursts. Her gaze settled on the silhouette of the detective. There was only one small lamp illuminating a piece of scratch parchment atop a large, oak desk; a hand holding a nib pen stalled over an inkwell. It dropped the pen and shifted the lamp, throwing some light on the subject.
As though seizing a cue from a spotlight, the woman turned and rested her back against the doorjamb. She took her time to speak, allowing her feminine powers to be completely understood by the man behind the desk. She rested one hand to her heaving bosom and clutched a kerchief in the other. Her coat slipped purposefully off a shoulder, and she slowly swung her leg out; she smirked. If a long, drawn-out rising saxophone note could accompany that leg, it surely would. She was a cabaret performer, all sequins and tassels; she knew well what she could do to men. A moan escaped her lips, husky and drawled, “Oh, detective, I need your help. I do not know where else to go. I’m at my wit’s end.” In feline grace, she moved to the desk and slammed her hands down on its surface, leaning in just enough for the detective to receive a full view of her perfectly smooth, porcelain mounds of flesh spilling from the top of her dress.
Detective O’Connell spoke fumbling words, “Uh, umm, yeeeeesss, yes, I can help you.”
The woman cocked her head in confusion, grabbed the top of the lamp, and shone the light at the detective. It revealed a younger woman, large almond-shaped, amber-colored eyes squinted, and a mousey cocoa-brown, wavy, A-line haircut framed a small tawny face.
“Where is the detective?” the buxom blonde demanded. The throaty drawl left her voice; a haughty shrillness replaced it.
The young woman displayed a tight-lipped smile as though she had heard that question many times before. “I am the detective. Penelope O’Connell, at your service.” She stood, walked around from behind the bureau, and thrust out an open hand. With her other hand, she pointed at the woman’s chest, crinkling up her nose disapprovingly. “You will not be needing those.” She smiled through clenched teeth, bobbling her head.
The woman took Penelope’s hand and shook it gingerly; with her other hand, she closed the top of her coat. “You are the detective?” She took a deep breath and held it briefly, looking Penelope up and down, unsure of how to proceed. Standing before her was a small wisp of a girl, wearing a shirt with poufy short sleeves and ribbons, black and white striped arm gloves, and her buckled underbust corset was not lifting much of anything, and she wore loose dungarees rolled at the ankles, with black and white laced trainers! The woman’s face went blank, haughtiness replaced with red hot embarrassment. She slumped unattractively and stared at her feet. Her hand went limp and slipped out of Penelope’s, doing its best to close the coat around the exposed leg. She looked up despairingly from the floor to Penelope, not expecting to see the look of compassion that greeted her.
“Can I help you?” Penelope’s asked benignly, her look of disapproval dissolving.
Hesitation filled the air; it seemed the woman would confide in this girl… but then she quickly straightened up, tossed her head proudly, and said, “No, no, this won’t do!” Her coat flung open as she whirled around, water droplets spraying the detective. “You will not do!” She stomped out of the office, slamming the door shut behind her.
Private Investigator Penelope Shruti Vetiver O’Connell sagged back into one of the plush, forest green velveteen chairs in front of the desk. An exacerbated sound issued through her lips as she wiped the droplets of water from her face. Another case had slipped right through her fingers! She leaned forward and drummed impatiently on the desk, the rain tapping against the window seemingly to accompany her. She picked up the nib pen and dipped it into the inkwell to finish the task that had been interrupted. She scratched the word FOUND across the sepia photo of a dog. What was this a dog detection agency? She peeked over her shoulder at the frosted window across the room that bore the words No Case Too Small. Well, sorry, Baba, there were cases too small, like missing dogs and stolen highwheelers. She slapped her hand down on the picture and shoved it along with some papers into the waste bin.
When that woman had entered the office, Penelope was sure there was a bigger case headed her way. She had recognized the Look; it was the look of something Lost. The O’Connells had a knack for finding lost things. They had been finding lost things since the dawn of the spærk. Insofar as Penelope saw, the woman had no idea what to do with herself in that situation, and Penelope had felt a pang of pity. Pity, however, was not going to pay the bills.
She sighed a big shoulder-shrugging sigh. From relief, or was it disappointment? She was relieved to not have to deal with such an awful woman, butatthesametime, she needed the work. She puffed up her cheeks and let out a long, slow breath through pursed lips. She smoothed back a loose brown curl and tucked it behind her ear, but it promptly slipped right back where it had been. She felt so strongly that there was something, somewhere, lost; something Big, something Important, waiting to be found. She pulled her knees up to her chest and played with the cuffs of her pants. Resting her cheek on one knee, she began to hum a soft, small tune. Soon her humming faded as the sound of the rain gently lulled her to sleep.
Deep beneath the Earth, soveryfar below the city of Eversteam, the Object thrummed and spun and pulsed like an unbounded beating heart… waiting to be Found.
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