So far in Clockwork Image:
Tressa is disagrees with the board's decision to wait before accepting her large donation. Instead of sitting around waiting herself, Tressa has gone to see the local Constable intent on helping him find the vandal.
“I want to reassure you both,” the Constable said. “We are committed to apprehending the culprit soon, so that Westwood can continue to care for homeless children.”
Tressa and Brox sat across a wooden desk from him in a small, unadorned room. At least the Constable wasn’t adamantly ignoring Tressa. He seemed to take it for granted that she was to be a useful ally.
“Thank you, sir,” Tressa said. “We are eager to resolve this as well.”
“Indubitably,” he agreed, his white mustache puffing out slightly whenever he spoke. “Which is why I wanted to bring this to your attention.” He pulled out a small envelope and slid it across the table.
Brox reached for it and flipped it over. Nothing was written across the front. Brox opened the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of slightly crumpled paper, which he unfolded.
Words, cut from a broadsheet then pasted together, spelled out the short message:
You need to know Westwood’s secret.
Meet me outside Rayden’s.
Today. Four o’clock.
Tressa leaned back in her chair and wrapped her arms tightly across her chest. Rayden’s was still open? It was hard to believe, but thinking about the old hatter’s shop did little to distract her mind from the other line: Westwood’s secret.
She’d spent over a decade in those halls; Tressa knew all the secrets. She knew that the cook liked to steal scraps from supper and take them home for her own children. She knew that many of the older girls kept the nice ribbons and lace they’d stolen from visiting benefactors in a small box, underneath the floorboard in the attic.
But none of those types of secrets were noteworthy enough to bring to the Constable’s attention. No, there was only one thing the writer could have meant.
The one that Tressa was trying her hardest not to re-see.
Tressa’s throat felt closed off and she coughed softly a couple of times trying to clear it. Of course, it wasn’t the door itself that created the terror, it was everything the door led to. When Tressa shut her eyes at night, it was often the door and the hallway wall beyond that she saw.
Was the hall still littered with ghostly drawings? In her mind’s eye, she could see so many of them clearly, as though they were before her, even now. The strange shapes drawn by children hoping to distract themselves from the inevitable.
“I assume you’re going.” Brox’s deep timbre brought Tressa back to the present.
She was in the Constable’s office, not in that dark hallway. She would be heading home soon, or at the very least into the daylight, and not marched down the hall.
“Of course.” The Constable rocked back, resting his hands over his amble stomach. “Though I wanted to ask you,” he nodded toward Tressa, “and you, miss. Do you have any idea what the note might be referring to?”
Brox shook his head. “I haven’t the foggiest.”
The Constable turned and looked at Tressa. She should speak up. She should tell him, both of them, where that cursed hallway led.
Tressa tried to open her mouth, but it felt riveted shut.
“I will be better able to cope with this problem if I know all the details,” the Constable said, his tone gentle, but also firm.
This was ridiculous. It was only a hallway. True, it led to hard times, but . . .
But this was childish. She needed to speak up. The Constable was right—he needed all the details.
Before she could speak, her hands began to shake. It felt as though a darkness pressed up and around her. Panic from her childhood welled around Tressa, clawing at her chest and smothering any words which tried to break through.
Tressa met the Constable’s gaze, but only shook her head.
The Constable lifted both hands, palms up. “Well then. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.”
“Excuse me, sir. Would you be opposed to me coming with you?” Tressa blurted out. Now she could speak? Why was it one particular topic had rendered her dumb twice now in as many days? It seemed years away from Westwood had beguiled her into thinking she had come to terms with her childhood experiences. Clearly, she had not. Years of not speaking of her past had only rendered the topic all the harder to speak of.
It didn’t matter, though. The door was closed now—locked up for good. Children were no longer forced to endure what she had.
Tressa needed to know who was behind this most recent claim; she could not let her own struggles interfere with her plan to help the children.
Tressa kept her back pressed against the outer wall of the store across the street from Rayden’s. The street was not so popular as it once had been. Where there had once been patrons with coins to spend and not a worry in their heads strolling shoulder to shoulder, now there were but few who walked by. Most of them hurried along with hats pulled low and hands deep in their pockets.
“Our culprit should be here any minute,” Brox whispered from beside her.
Tressa nodded her understanding, fully aware, yet again, of how close he was to her.
After their discussion with the Constable that morning, Brox had agreed to spend the day with her, picking out the best attire to help them blend in as well as find the best hiding location from which to spy on the meeting.
It had been one of the most enjoyable days she’d had in who knew how long.
Tressa had worked alongside many a good-looking man over the years; none of them had brought her the tingling awareness Brox did. There was something about the way he held himself and spoke, something about watching him care for Tom and how they talked over the best ways to guide Westwood in the future. Then there was the way she felt when he offered her his arm or placed his hand against the small of her back.
There was simply no other way to put it. Tressa Wimple was quite taken with Brox.
One of the best things about being in her forties was that Tressa was comfortable with herself in a way she never had been while young. She knew who she was and she didn’t feel the need to prove herself to anyone. In that, Brox was in lock step with her.
She didn’t need Brox in the same way many young ladies proclaimed they needed their beaus. But being around him, she felt happier, more complete. Tressa felt all that, plus the growing desire to press herself up close to him and explore the idea of becoming more than friends.
“Is that Mr. Clark?” Brox whispered in her ear.
Tressa blinked. She’d been staring out at the passersby, yet she’d stopped seeing anything. Sure enough, Mr. Clark strode down the street, glanced once over his shoulder, then ducked inside Rayden’s.
He was the one? Tressa felt her face warming. “That lying, two-faced, jack-a-napes.”
Brox chuckled. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”
The Constable strode out from where he was discreetly standing just around the corner and followed Mr. Clark in.
“And now we wait,” Brox whispered.
Tressa placed her hands on her hips, her lips twisting to the side. She hated waiting. “I’ll give the Constable five minutes, then I’m going in to speak with that idiot myself.”
Brox took hold of her hand, the touch heating her down to her toes. He said something—she heard the words ‘pompous’ and ‘Mr. Clark’ and understood he was jesting with her—but she couldn’t seem to focus on the individual words, only that he was holding her hand, and that it felt incredible.
Mr. Clark burst out of the hat shop doors and stormed down the street. Tressa’s head snapped up and she watched him stalk away. Even from where she stood, Tressa could make out his muttered curses.
“Huh,” Brox said. “Doesn’t look like the meeting went as planned.”
It most certainly didn’t. They waited for a moment longer, but still the Constable didn’t emerge.
“I don’t like this,” Brox mumbled.
Tressa nodded. “Let’s go see what actually happened inside.”
Option B Won! Thanks for your vote!