Clockwork Image

So far in Clockwork Image:

The vandalism has scared most the board members at Westwood. They have decided to not accept Tressa's fund at this time, worrying that doing so would drive the perpetrator to do something worse than leave them a bloody message.

As Tressa was out looking for a child to send for the Constable, she comes across a singular door with horrible memories associated with it.

“Paper, sir?” a young boy with dirt smeared across his face held up a broadsheet. “Only ten pence.”

 

Tressa gave the boy a worried smile as Jasper dug deep into his breeches pocket. If the boy was trying to pawn off his papers for so little, he must have given up on turning a profit for the day and was simply hoping to eat less of his own cost.

 

Jasper pulled a single, well-folded pound from his pocket. “Blast. This is all I have.”

 

The boy’s eyes were wide with desperation. “I can break it fo’ ya. I can, sir.” The little thing dug his own hand deep into a pocket. Judging by the soft clinks, there weren’t many coins inside.

 

“Sorry, my lad,” Jasper said. “We don’t have the time. Important meeting with the Constable.” Without waiting for the boy to respond, Jasper slipped the paper out of his small hand and pushed the pound note into it. “You’ll just have to keep the whole thing.”

 

The boy stared at the bill in shock. “But sir . . .”

 

Jasper ignored him, buried his face in the large, single sheet of paper, and studied it as he moved farther down the street.

 

Tressa patted the boy’s shoulder. “Just don’t go showing it to the other boys.” She pointed to her retreating brother. “He tried that once. I was picking glass shards out of his back for a week.”

The boy grimaced and then slipped the bill deep into his pocket.

 

Tressa hurried and caught up with Jasper. “I remember those days. You lasted, what, eight months in that profession?”

 

Jasper didn’t so much as glance up from the broadsheet, though she doubted he was paying it much attention. “A man won’t know what he wants from life if he never explores his options.”

 

“So why didn’t you agree to let me help you explore life at sea?”

 

“Because,” he said, folding the paper. “We both know I would have washed out of that one, too, eventually.” He said it will all the lightness of a man discussing the weather. “Getting me on a ship would have required you to stick your neck out for me and then you would have been left holding the bag when I found it wasn’t to my liking. I didn’t want to do that to you.”

 

“You didn’t . . .” Tressa’s pace slowed. “I always thought you just didn’t want to spend that much time in the same space as me.”

 

He laughed and looped his arm over her shoulders. “Are you kidding me? I’ve missed you.” He gave her a gentle squeeze.

 

Tressa didn’t know how to respond. He’d always been more apt to speak of feelings and such. Still, this was cavalier, even for him.

 

“That was good of you to give that boy so much.” It was all she could think to say.

 

Jasper’s smile grew sad. “You’re not the only one who remembers those days.” Then the solemnity was gone, and with a grin, he skipped ahead and held the door to the police station open. “Ladies first.” With an overt swish of his hand, he gave her an exaggerated bow.

 

She twisted her lips to the side and shook her head as she walked by him. Though Jasper was quite grown up, he was still flighty and prone to fancy as ever before. Still, she’d come home to find he had also developed a sound business mind and a generous heart. He was making good money with his art—excepting his photographs. Even after their long discussion the night before, she wasn’t any closer to convincing him to sell those.

 

“Miss Wimple?”

 

Tressa paused just inside the door—no one had called her Miss for decades. The speaker jogged up to her—a short man with far-too-long chops growing down the sides of his face. Tressa would never understand that hair style choice. He held a pad of paper in one hand and a mechanical pen in the other.

 

“That’s Seawoman Wimple,” her brother corrected. Though Tressa wasn’t currently employed aboard a submarine, Jasper was eminently proud of her previous title and still insisted on using it. “You don’t stop calling a man doctor just because he’s moved and hasn’t set up a practice yet,” Jasper had explained to her a couple of days previous. He called her “Seawoman” and made sure everyone else did as well.

 

The man barely spared Jasper the smallest of glances before he hurried on. “I’m with the The Courier, ma’am. Is it true you plan to bequeath Westwood Orphanage with a lifetime’s worth of money?”

 

Well, that was a bit of an exaggeration. It was enough that she could live comfortably for a while, but she would hate to make it stretch an entire lifetime. More importantly, who leaked her plans? It was probably Mr. Clark, the large-bellied fool.

 

“No comment at this time,” she said and stepped further into the station.

 

The reported made as though to follow, but Jasper put a hand to the short man’s chest. “No comment. Is that clear?”

 

The short man glanced up at Jasper—scowling, and suddenly menacing—then nodded and moved back outside.

 

“I see you haven’t forgotten how to be intimidating,” Tressa whispered to her brother.

He gave her a wink. “It’s like an old, favorite paint brush—you might not need it much, but it’s certainly worth keeping around just in case.”

 

She could appreciate the analogy, even if she’d never owned a paintbrush in her life. Knowing how to intimidate was a crucial skill when living on the street, or in a place like Westwood. It had certainly aided her in her career as well.

 

The police station was spartan in its decor. A few chairs for those waiting, a desk, and a solitary sour-faced officer behind it. No plants, no drapery over the single window. No nonsense. Tressa rested her hands against her hips. It was an act meant to prevent them from clenching tight; she still felt they ought to bequeath her funds to Westwood immediately. The influx of money might allow the orphanage to better secure its property, staying off further vandalism. But, after decades at sea, she also knew how to follow orders, even those she didn’t agree with.

 

“Mr. and Seawoman Wimple to see Constable Michaels,” Jasper said to the officer.

 

He glared, first at Jasper and then at Tressa. “Fine.” Without another word, he stood and disappeared into a back room.

 

Yes, Tressa hated that those orders now came from Mr. Clark. Nonetheless, he was the one running Westwood now. It took her a while after leaving the orphanage, but Tressa had eventually learned that if you wanted anyone to respect your title, you had to respect theirs.

 

That being said, her orders from Mr. Clark said nothing about sitting around on her hands all day long. Hence, this trip to the station.

 

Jasper folded his arms and leaned in closer to Tressa. “I should paint him into my next portrait. I can just see that expression on the face of a wrinkled donkey.”

 

Tressa pressed her lips tighter together to stop the chortle that wanted to burst from her. It wasn’t at all what she had been thinking, but now that Jasper mentioned it, the officer did look remarkably like a stubborn, gray-haired donkey.

 

“What’s got you two so diverted?”

 

Tressa turned around. Brox stood smiling in yet another bespoke suit, this one a light brown that set off his the dark blue of his eyes.

 

Her stomach did that wonderful, flipping thing again. Why was it, now that she was free to pursue a relationship and now that she’d met a fascinating, handsome man, said man only saw her as a good ‘ol pal?

 

She scowled and looked back toward the empty desk. Once, when Tressa had traveled to India, an old woman had regaled her with stories of destiny and miracles wrought by the gears above which governed all their lives. Well, it seemed the gears above had only one destiny in mind for Tressa, and that was for her to be shoved, quite irrevocably, into the category of a man.

 

Jasper wasn’t watching her, but she could tell by the tone of his voice that he hadn’t missed her scowl. “We were just comparing certain human faces to animal ones.”

 

“Oh?” Brox glanced between them both. “Anyone I know?”

 

“Sorry, old man, you just missed him.” Jasper laughed and placed his elbow against Brox’s shoulder, fake-leaning against Brox with his other hand in his pocket and one leg crossing the other at the ankle. It was a humorous sight since Brox was nearly a head taller than her brother. “You here to demand the Constable do more, too? ’Fraid my sister beat you to it.”

 

“Actually,” Brox said, “the Constable asked to speak with me.” He faced Tressa. “Have you heard the good news? Tom was sent back to Westwood this morning.”

 

Tressa tried to smile, but the sudden weight against her chest prevented her lips from turning upward. She ought to feel relief at the news; Tom being well enough to return to the orphanage was the best possible outcome.

 

And yet, the thought of anyone returning to live there only made her stomach twist.

 

Brox watched her, his brow slowly dropping. Apparently, her lack of enthusiasm had not gone unnoticed. Brox didn’t speak. Instead he raised an eyebrow in an unspoken question. He seemed to be asking if she was all right.

 

No one ever asked Tressa if she was all right. She was the older sister, the head engineer, the one in charge of keeping others safe. That he would worry for her was sweet and unexpected.

 

“Mr. Broxholme.” The sour-faced officer was back and smiling. Though, on him, the usually pleasant expression was almost disturbing. “The Constable can see you now.” He didn’t even acknowledge Tressa or Jasper.

 

Perhaps she should have worn her seawoman uniform; it wasn’t often someone ignored the sharp, dark blue, copper, and white of her engineering vesture. Tressa pressed past the officer and headed in the direction he’d indicated Brox should go. If the Constable was available to see Brox, then he was available to see her, too.

 

“Ma’am,” the officer called after her in a far less friendly tone. “You aren’t allowed.”

 

“Don’t worry,” she heard Brox say. “The Constable will want someone like her focused on this problem.”

 

Tressa slowed at the compliment. Was that how he truly felt? Normally people were uncomfortable with a woman charging ahead and solving problems.

 

Brox gave the officer a tip of his hat and hurried up beside her. Then he turned back toward Jasper. “You coming?”

 

Jasper had the most idiotic grin on his face. “No. I think you two can handle this better alone.”

 

Tressa raised an eyebrow. Something about the way he dragged out the word ‘alone’ made her think he wasn’t speaking of them meeting with the Constable.

 

Jasper threw a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ll just go see that Tom has settled in.” Lifting the rolled-up broadsheet to his forehead, Jasper gave them a cockeyed salute, and then sauntered out the door.

Thanks for Your Vote!

The survey is now closed. Below are the options which were available. 

In Chapter 6,  what does the Constable look like?

Option A) Middle aged, stick-thin, and bored with life? 

Option B) Old, salty, and wrinkled with a thick mustache?