For the full chapter list of Out of Shadows, go here.
“Amazing,” Dominic breathed.
Perry grunted and crossed his arms.
“What is it?” Lettie asked.
Dominic circled the monstrosity that sat in the center of the cave, holding his torch close to get the best view of it. “It is a machine,” he said.
“Yes, Dominic, I understand that. I wanted you to be more specific.”
Dominic blinked and looked back at her. “Oh, I apologize. But I would have to get a look inside to see how it works.”
She knew that, of course. The coppery metal outside gave no real hint to what it could do. Lettie stared up at the thing towering over them and marveled. It resembled nothing so much as a poor artist’s rendering of bear. It stood on two legs but a little stooped in order to fit. Dominic would have had to stand on Perry’s shoulders even to imagine the possibility of touching the cave’s stone ceiling. She looked at the rounded joints and massive metal paws and shuddered. “How did you get it in here?” she asked, glancing at Perry.
Perry rubbed the back of his neck as he peered up at its strangely horrible face. “I uh… I had a charm sent from Miss Hely. Single use. I have no idea how I’m going to get it back out again.”
Lie, she thought, but did not pursue it. Yet. “I suppose we’ll have to ask for Miss Hely’s help,” she said.
He nodded, but said, “Maybe.”
“Definitely built for the government,” Dominic mused, tapping his knuckles against one giant leg.
“Hmm?” Lettie looked to her brother again.
“Because it’s a bear. Our country’s symbol.”
“Oh, yes, I know. But…” She stopped. She wasn’t even sure what to ask, or where to take this.
Perry knew. “That’s why I haven’t told Miss Hely yet. What do they want with something like this?”
“To use it to kill things and people they don’t like, I expect.”
“Well, for one, there are far more practical ways to do it than to build a giant mechanical bear,” Perry said. “And for two, Hely Industries sold it to the mayor of Moorgate Hollow. A city, you understand. Not the federal government.”
“Yes,” Dominic said, frowning. “I see your point.”
“I can’t think of one rational reason,” Perry said.
“Then we’ll have to think of an irrational one,” Dominic said. “And see if it explains things.”
Perry grunted. He was silent for a few moments, watching Dominic inspect the machine. Finally, he said, “I’m trusting you both. I have very little reason to do it, you understand.”
“Yes,” Dominic said. “But I can promise you it isn’t misplaced trust.”
“How can you promise that?”
Lettie watched Dominic straighten and turn to face Perry. The two men regarded each other quietly as Dominic weighed his answer. It irritated Lettie to realize that Perry looked for his answer from Dominic and not from Dominic and her but she remained silent and waited.
“Because I have no reason to betray your confidences,” Dominic said finally. “And because I have taken the job you offered. It would be dishonorable to go against you without giving two week’s notice.”
Perry blinked, staring at him. And then, suddenly, he laughed and clapped her brother on the back. “I like that answer. I still have to watch you like a hawk, you understand, but I like that answer.”
They camped for the night and went back early in the morning, before first light broke. Lettie trusted her horse to follow Perry’s and let herself simply enjoy the cold early morning air of the mountains, until Perry had them give the city a wide berth and come in not quite opposite from the direction they should have arrived. By the time they entered the city, she was dreaming of coffee and a second hot breakfast. A better and more bracing one than Perry’s poor campfire breakfast, which had consisted only of a bit of bread and sausage.
Perry did seem to be thinking along the same lines as her, and when they passed close to the market and she insisted that they stop, he did not argue. He gave her a few coins to pay for hot meat and egg stuffed pastries and fresh apples and coffee while he went to pick up a paper from a boy on the corner. He read it while they sat at one of the beat up metal tables set out on the broad sidewalks and ate.
Dominic devoured his pastry and went in to get a second, and it was only after the second that he asked, “What is our next move?”
“We need to find out what the mayor wanted with it,” Perry murmured, turning a page in the paper. “I could try sending a telegram to Miss Hely, but I doubt she’ll be forthcoming so we’ll have to go to the man himse- Well now.”
“What?” Dominic asked, and Perry handed him the newspaper, gesturing to one of the columns.
Lettie craned her head to look and said around a mouthful of apple, “What is it?”
Dominic grinned crookedly, and said, “It appears, dear sister, that you are to be a secretary after all.”
She read the listing. ‘A SECRETARY,’ it said in large letters, and then beneath it in smaller letters it added, ‘The Subscriber wishes to employ a secretary to the offices of Mayer Ashworth at City Hall. Liberal wages will be provided. A woman would be preferred. Apply to E.S. Ellison.’
“Liberal wages,” she said appreciatively. “I could make extra money and spy.”
Perry arched a brow. “When I suggested that you were here to be my secretary-”
“You said you didn’t want me to be your secretary.”
“-You pitched a fit.”
“I did not pitch a fit. And in this case, I would be working for you as an informant while being someone else’s secretary.”
“And what, pray tell, would be wrong with acting as my secretary?”
“You didn’t want me.”
He wrinkled his nose and took the newspaper back. “You should apply as soon as possible.”
She smiled sedately and settled back to finish her coffee. “I’ll wear the blue dress. It’s business-like but men seem to like me in it.”
Dominic frowned. “I’m not sure I like this plan. What if the mayor is dangerous?”
Perry said firmly, “I’m not asking her to do anything more than listen, as any secretary would. Keep track of when he comes and goes. That sort of thing. That’s all.”
Dominic considered this, frowning, but finally he grudgingly said, “That is acceptable.”
“Unless it gets us nowhere,” she said, and Dominic gave her a warning look.
“You do just as Perry says and nothing more,” he said.
She thought of the strange metal monstrosity of a bear and crossed her fingers behind her back as she said, “I know. You’re right. I’ll play it safe.”
By the time they returned the horses to the stables and arrived at Perry’s offices, it was near noon. As he unlocked the front door, Perry said, “You should go back to your hotel and get tidied up, Lettie. The sooner you get into Ashworth’s office and make him make you his secretary, the better.”
Lettie decided to wear the blue dress with the top button undone, just in case. And to leave her hair at least partway down, and to wash her hair with rosewater. But Dominic was right to think of the possibility of trouble. She knew Perry would have to have another pistol or ten. As he opened the door, she opened her mouth to ask him if she could borrow a gun, but he came to a dead stop in the doorway and she ran straight into his broad back. “Mr. Perry!”
When she peered around him, she saw a startlingly pretty young woman with blond hair and an eminently fashionable green silk morning dress. There were peacock feathers in her hat and a spray of small emeralds and pearls dangling from her ears and Lettie recognized her at once, though she couldn’t remember where she had seen the woman before.
The blond smiled at him as they entered, and asked, without preamble, “Jon, just where exactly is my machine?”