For the full chapter list of Out of Shadows, go here.
Perry tried to beat the truth out of his unfortunate assailant, but Lettie suspected it was more than half an excuse to express his feelings. Eventually, Dominic tapped his shoulder and Perry backed off to let him try.
Dominic pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Robson. He drew a knife from inside of his jacket and set the tip against his leg, just under his knee. “Perry,” he drawled. “Did you know that you can just pop a man’s kneecap right off?”
There was a pause as Perry gave Dominic a measuring look, as if this one statement had completely undone whatever opinion he’d built of the man. “I do believe I’ve heard that,” he replied.
Dominic smiled wickedly. Lettie fought the urge to sigh. “I don’t actually know how to put it back on,” he said. “But I think I’d like to look at one.”
Dominic had seen plenty of kneecaps. He had, after all, been enrolled at the University of Worthington to become a doctor, and had performed his share of autopsies in the name of learning and research.
Perry crouched down as if to get a better look. “I’d like to see one, too. I’ve never seen a kneecap outside of the flesh of the leg.”
“Stop!” the man cried, his eyes bright with sudden terror. “Please stop.”
“I’m not certain I can, Robson,” Dominic said gently, pressing the point of his knife in a little. “We’re interested now.”
The man attempted to jerk back and knock his chair over to evade the point of the knife but Perry held the chair. “Wait a moment, Bentley,” he said. “If he can give us something more entertaining than a kneecap…”
“You know what was in the airship!” Robson cried. “You stole it.”
“I swear on the life of my mother that I did not,” Perry replied. Lettie watched him carefully. It was difficult to say for certain. He looked more compelling now than he had before. Beating a bound man must have been steadying for the nerves. She wrinkled her nose, annoyed.
“Your mother is dead!”
“The kneecap, then,” Perry said.
“Stop!” Robson almost screamed. “A war machine! There was a war machine in the airship.”
Perry’s brows furrowed. There it is, she thought. That’s the look. “And who’re you working for? Who wants it?”
“I don’t know.”
Perry sighed and looked at Dominic. Dominic made ready to make good on his threat but Robson said quickly, “I got hired by the man that got hired to find out what you did with it. I don’t know who hired him.”
“So who hired you?”
“Teague. Teague hired me.”
Perry swore. “That son of a-” He knocked the chair over, sending Robson crashing to the floor.
“Who is Teague?” Lettie asked.
Three heads turned her way. “Bentley, I don’t believe this is any kind of place for a lady,” Perry said.
Dominic shot her a sour look and Lettie narrowed her eyes. “I saw worse in Worthington. If my brother and I are to work with you-”
“Your brother and you?” Perry looked incredulously between them. “I put in an advertisement for an assistant, not for an assistant and a secretary.”
Lettie squawked. “I am not a secretary!”
Dominic said soothingly, “I can send her back to the hotel.”
“Absolutely not,” Lettie said, and gathered up her skirts to go upstairs. “Get rid of Robson. I don’t think you’re going to get anything more out of him.”
Perry considered not doing what she said if only to make a point, but they couldn’t keep Robson in the cellar forever. He knocked the man out and Dominic helped him carry him out into the city. They dumped him in front of Teague’s office before making their way back. “So he knows,” Perry said in explanation, but Dominic didn’t seem to need an explanation and only nodded in understanding.
When they made it back, Lettie had produced coffee and sandwiches from the shop down the street. “Maybe I could use a secretary,” he tried joking, but she ignored him.
“So what is all this?” Dominic asked around a mouthful of sandwich.
Perry considered his options. He could lie. He had to. But he supposed he could spin the truth in such a way as to make them both useful to him. “I got a telegram from Hely Industries asking me to recover merchandise from the airship meant for Mayor Ashworth. It had gone missing.” Truth.
“Missing merchandise. The war machine,” Dominic said. “Do you know anything more about it?”
Perry shook his head. “No.” Lie.
Lettie was peering at him again, her eyes narrowed. Her eyes were the most beautiful, vibrant shade of blue he had ever seen. There seemed to be a touch of green in them, until the sun broke through the clouds and sent warm rays through the wide front windows and then he saw violet there. He could get lost in those eyes. Except at that moment, when they were narrowed in suspicion. “They didn’t give you dimensions, weight, color of the crate they packed it in, anything?” she asked.
Perry took a bite of his sandwich to give himself time to come up with a good answer. “I know what the airship looked like.”
“Airships all look pretty much alike.”
“Yes, but sometimes they bear different flags. This one had our fine country’s flag, but it also had a white flag with a cross of blue and gold, and the ship itself was painted red.”
“But Robson didn’t care about the airship. And your Miss Hely seems to care about the war machine, so I ask again, what did the crate it was packed in look like?”
“How do you know it was packed in a crate?”
“How would you know it wasn’t?”
“The term ‘war machine’ makes it sound pretty big.”
Lettie tilted her head. “My brother and I designed a small catapult that could light and hurl dynamite. That’s a war machine.”
Perry blinked. “You did what?”
“My brother won’t sell the design or we’d be living off the patent money.”
“It’s too simple a design anyway,” Dominic said. “I don’t think we’re missing out on very much patent money.”
Perry shook his head. “I don’t know how it was packed,” he said and took another bite of sandwich to try and befuddle her. She was peering at him so shrewdly. She couldn’t know he was lying, could she?
She knew. “You’re lying,” Lettie said. “I know you’re lying.”
He swallowed, the sandwich suddenly thick and dry in his mouth. “I beg your pardon?”
Dominic arched a brow, but didn’t stop her from continuing. “You know what they want. I’d be willing to bet you’ve got what they want,” she said. “You’re not a bad liar, Mr. Perry. Better than most. But I’m good at spotting lies. You know what it is, where it is, and you’re nervous about giving it back.”
Perry growled. “Are you calling me a liar, Miss Bentley?” Deflect.
“I do believe that’s exactly what I said.”
Dominic cleared his throat. “You’re certain, Lettie?”
Dominic looked to Perry. “What is it?”
Perry growled again. “You are not hired.” That was a stupid thing to say. Now they know you lied.
“Yes, he is,” Lettie said indignantly. “He helped you torture a man.”
“Yes,” Dominic said. “Put of self-interest, I must side with you for my job and because I have already helped you. You can be assured of my loyalty.”
Perry glared back and forth between them, but before he could work himself up properly, Lettie said, more gently, “A war machine sounds like a terrible thing. I don’t think you have any intention of using it yourself, do you?”
She’s trying to manipulate me! “What the devil would I do with a war machine?” he demanded.
“Exactly,” she said. “What’s this Mayor Ashford like? Why don’t you just deliver it to him as intended?”
He looked between them, studying their faces. Dominic looked unperturbed, quietly eating his sandwich and studying Perry in turn as if sizing him up. Lettie had that gentle look of understanding on her face, and he could tell she had already sized him up and made a decision.
“Mayor Ashford is an idiot,” he said. “A bumbler. I don’t know why Hely Industries is sending him a war machine.”
“Well, I would assume that he bought it,” Dominic said.
“There’s no reason to buy it. There’s no one here to go to war with,” Perry replied.
“Then there’s no reason to send a war machine,” Lettie said. “I would imagine it is not easy to buy one. You have to prove you can afford it, and I think the government would prevent Hely Industries from selling it to just anyone for just any reason.”
Perry looked at her more closely and she met his gaze with those arresting eyes. But before he could say anything, Dominic said, “What is it like? Perhaps we could get a sense of why someone would want it if we could see the features.”
Perry couldn’t argue with this idea. But neither could he think of an adequate way to describe it. Finally, he said, “Early tomorrow morning, I’ll take you to it.”
Lettie smiled brightly. “I’ll pack breakfast.”
“Just your brother and I,” Perry said. “It’s not easy to get to.”
“Robson saw my face and you didn’t kill him. Do you think I’m safe on my own?”
Perry opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again with a snap and a growl, and then he managed, “I didn’t hire a damn secretary, too.”
Lettie only smiled at him and finished her coffee.
For the complete chapter list, go here.