A Steampunk Tale, part 2
The key slipped between his fingers and landed in the plush carpet. Adrimond ran his hand over the pile, snagged the key, and turned back to the table to admire his bounty, trying to ignore the lingering ghostly feeling on his crawling skin.
Someone rapped hard on the door. Adrimond jumped and slammed the lid closed. The clasps rasped together but wouldn't snap. Blast it!
The maid cracked the door. "Anyone there?"
Adrimond collected his scattered papers. "Er, I'm still here."
"Oh. Shall I come back later?"
"No, I'm leaving now, just got to -" He grabbed the second briefcase, and the rickety lid flipped open. Bundles of cash tumbled across the floor. One of them came to a stop on the toe of the maid's slipper.
Adrimond dropped to his knees and scrambled to gather the goods. The maid bent down and picked up the last bundle.
"Ooh, thousands," she commented. "Struck it rich today, then, eh?"
"Er - yes, my lady, I suppose you could say so," he said, heart thudding. What was she doing?
"Oh, I'm not your lady, I don't know why you men always say such absurd things," she teased him lightheartedly. "Do you want this or not?"
Adrimond got to his feet and looked the maid in the face for the first time. She was smiling, and she was plump and pretty, with long nut-brown hair. He blushed. "I, yes, I do, thank you." Why, oh why did he always get so nervous? The money was his. Anyone else would have just demanded it back!
She plopped it smartly into his hand. "You didn't think I would keep it, did you?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "Well, for your information, I see this kind of money all the time, and I've never stolen any of it." She tilted her chin up and looked at him defiantly. "Want help fixing those clasps?"
"I'm an inventor, I can fix them myself," said Adrimond. Who was this crazy girl? He turned away reluctantly and fiddled with the worn-out clasps. He'd guessed why the businessmen had used a junk case, but why not at least make sure the clasps would hold?
The key was the trick. He twisted it out of the second lock and swung the case tentatively. The clasps held. He slipped the key into his pocket.
The maid was still there, watching him.
"I'd better go," he said.
"Right, then. I need to clean this room. At least you businessmen didn't leave it a mess," she joked. She passed him and went around the other side of the table. He sidled awkwardly through the narrow door and trotted down the hall.
"Wait! You forgot something!"
Could he have missed a roll of bills? Adrimond stopped and turned around, in time to put his arms out to stop the maid from cannoning into him.
Except it didn't work.
The maid stumbled right through his chest and caught herself against the wall.
The inventor's eyes grew so huge, he thought they might take leave of his skull. He blinked hard and looked around at the maid.
"That was new," she said.
So I wasn't imagining it, he thought.
The girl stopped staring and approached him tentatively. She could have run away. Adrimond felt like running himself.
But she didn't. Instead she stepped up to him and poked her finger right through his nose. He hopped back. "Ow!"
"A lot of peculiar folks come here," she told him, "but I don't think I've ever seen a ghost boy before."
"I'm not a ghost!" he protested.
"Could have fooled me." She pushed closer and jabbed her dainty finger right through his chest.
He yelped and backed away, rubbing the spot. "Stop that!" It didn't hurt, exactly, but it made his skin crawl.
"Beatrice!" A tall man in a green top hat stood in the doorway.
The maid whirled. "Mr. Davis?"
"If you want to keep your job, get out there and start clearing tables."
"Yes sir. Only -- what shall I do with this prat?"
"Show him to a table! I can't have you losing my customers!"
"But sir, he's drunk!"
Drunk? Adrimond opened his mouth to protest, but the manager cut him off.
"Show him out the back door!" Mr. Davis muttered something about incompetent help and stomped off.
Beatrice reached for his hand. "Come with me." Her small fingers sliced right through his insubstantial ones. "Oh, brother. Just come on!"
"What are you playing at?" Adrimond said, trotting to keep up with her. He had a feeling that if he'd actually been a drunk, and she'd been able to touch him, that she would have been quite capable of dragging him out by the shirt collar.
"I'm getting you out of here. Haven't you heard about the robberies?"
"Just wait 'til we get outta here!" She pushed open the final door into a gloomier passage.
"Alley's this way."
The noon sunlight sliced down into the narrow space. Warmth from the bricks toasted Adrimond's face as he stepped out and closed the door. "What was all that about?" He hoped the manager didn't know who he was. Drunk, indeed!
"Someone's been robbing the banks, yeah? Almost every bank in town's been hit, and the thing is, there's never any sign of a break-in. The robber isn't coming in through the lobby, like you'd expect. But he's not coming through the back door, either."
"So it's an inside job," said Adrimond. "Right? The same guy, working for all the banks, or a team, maybe. But what's this have to do with me? I signed papers, there's no possible way they could think my money was stolen!"
"I haven't told you about the last one. Northwestern's manager checked the vault at lunch and sealed it, bang on schedule. He worked at the desk all day, and when he opened the vault again in the evening, everything was gone." She waved a hand, and her coppery hair bounced. "Poof! No armed robbery, nothing, a perfect day. They're saying whoever it is must be able to walk through walls. And now -- here you are."
"But I can't!" Adrimond shoved hard against the brickwork. "See?"
"The coppers aren't reasonable about this kind of thing. They're going to see an untouchable bloke with a bag full of money, and you know they're not gonna think twice."
"I can't believe that."
"If you're not careful, you'll find out the hard way." She shook her head and paced down the alley.
Adrimond fiddled with his case. The idea of losing all the money he'd worked so long for, and being branded a bank robber, twisted in his gut. He couldn't risk that. Yet there was nothing he could do to hide the false evidence.
He could get out, and go straight to Bellingham.
Beatrice turned around and headed back toward him. She ignored the door. "This is fascinating. Since you're not the thief, how did you come to be untouchable?"
"I don't know." He stared down at his feet and saw that she was standing in them.
"Run into any dark wizards lately?" she joked, backing off.
"No, I -- oh, wait."
The girl watched him expectantly. "Who?"
"There was an old man. I, er, kept running into him, and the last time he got angry and said that I'd better not forget about him."
Beatrice stopped tracing her finger through his arm and looked at him oddly. "How many times did you run into him?"
"Three times, I guess."
"Really?" Now her eyes bored right into his soul. "Are you sure?"
Adrimond squirmed. "Positive. But good grief, how come it matters? Dark wizards are only in Canada anyway, and he had an accent like yours."
Beatrice threw up her hands. "That old fool, I can't believe he did it again. I'll tell him what's what!" She stormed down the alley and disappeared into the street.
Just FYI, I switched out New York for Sedro-Woolley and Bellingham in Washington, because it's easier for me to invent about places I've been. :)