Saving the Scientist – Riley Cole

Being a skilled dissembler himself, Edison Sweet felt no compunction about judging the skills of others. Successful liars used words to confuse and misdirect. True artists seduced their marks into believing. The man fidgeting and sweating in the seat across from him accomplished neither of those things. To put it bluntly, the man had no ability to lie. It was the only thing about the unremarkable dandy that intrigued him. No one requesting the league’s assistance lied. What would be the point? Edison set the mechanical arm he was designing down next to the league’s new typing machine and tried not to flinch every time the man stuttered over another false claim. The half-built mechanical servant lying on his workbench upstairs needed it’s pulleys resized. The elbow joints wouldn’t bend far enough to make pouring tea a possibility, and he dearly wanted an automatic tea pouring mechanical butler, even if he had to settle for a platform and wheels in place of actual legs. Edison reached for the arm. He could leave the interview to his cousin, Meena, and her new husband. Between the two of them, she and Crane could steal the drawers off an archbishop and leave him bare-assed in Trafalgar Square. They were more than a match for a weasel-faced liar. If he hurried, he might get the arm back on before his dinner engagement.

Which made him think of an entirely different sort of arm. An arm attached to the lush form of one warm, willing spitfire of an actress who might just let him polish off his dinner before she pounced. “…they took it all, my device and every scrap of notes.” The man’s whine buzzed in Edison’s ears, like a persistent mosquito. “I know who it did it. I can point you straight to them.” His words rang true. The tone did not. The twisting, shifting story niggled at Edison. This gent was playing at something dangerous.

But dangerous for whom? Edison leaned against the doorway and folded his arms across his chest. His automaton could wait. Meena sat forward, her full attention on the slight form swallowed up by the great wing backed chair across from her. “That’s what the police are for, Mr. Templeton. Have you—?” “Too slow. Much too slow. Time is of the utmost importance.” That was the man’s first true statement. Whatever the thing was, he was desperate to have it.

“What exactly have you discovered?” Edison probed. He couldn’t help himself. It was rather like scratching and itch. “It’s a… a sort of energy device.” Edison rubbed the back of his neck. Truly, it was like toying with an infant. “An energy device. That could be anything. Could be a bomb. A lightbulb.

A turbine engine the size of a house. Really, man, you’re going to have to narrow things down.” Templeton nodded vigorously. “Forgive me. Whole thing’s very hush hush. Top level security if you take my meaning.” Edison resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “We understand. National security, I’m sure. So this device, it’s—” The clock above the filing drawers chimed the hour, cutting him off.

Edison stared at the strange man, urging him to get on with things. His invention would wait. The hottempered actress he’d promised to dine with before her evening curtain call would not. And her temper—he had great cause to know—was as magnificent as her other… attributes. Someday soon he’d tire of both. But for now, he wasn’t willing to trade a fierce tumble for a fusillade of crockery and a tongue-lashing. He gestured impatiently, hoping to spur the man along. Templeton’s thin lips turned down, as if he disapproved of Edison’s prodding. “It’s a type of stored energy device. Damned complicated to explain the workings, but I can describe how it looks.

It’s a metal cylinder about so big.” He raised his palm above the arm of the chair, indicating something about a foot tall and several inches wide. Edison considered for a moment. “You’ve designed a battery. A single cell battery.” “First of its kind.” The man’s narrow chest swelled with pride. “Certain elements close to the Crown are intrigued. National security interests, you know.” Edison looked at his sister, his cousin, and Crane, willing them to understand the magnitude of such a device.

If his suspicions were correct, someone—certainly not this overdressed nob—had figured out how to design a closed-cell electrical device. The industrial applications—the military applications—were staggering. And this poor excuse for a mastermind thought they’d be stupid enough to steal it for him. “I’m presenting my findings to some well-positioned men in the Queen’s cabinet,” Templeton continued. “Even if I had my notes, there’s no time to build another device.” There it was again. The truth, at least as far as it went. “It’s my life’s work,” Templeton continued. “I have competitors, other scientists on the brink of discovering the same. I must deliver it to the Crown before someone else devises their own.

” Edison was tiring of the game. “Wet cell or dry?” Templeton jolted forward as if he’d gotten an electrical shock of his own. He blinked and blinked and blinked. “What was I thinking?” Edison pushed away from the door jamb. “Wet cells were perfected several years ago, if I recall.” He pretended astonishment. “You’ve perfected a dry cell device?” “I uh… Yes.” The words carried more certainty than the tone. His sister, Briar, was seated at Templeton’s left. She snorted loudly.

At a sharp look from Meena, she masked her disbelief with a delicate fit of coughing. “Apologies.” She said patted her chest. “A touch of the ague.” Briar leaned toward the poor man, causing him to shrink back into the deep chair. Even as she grinned at Templeton, Edison sensed her fingers tightened on the throwing knife always hidden in the pocket of her skirt. A sharp jab to the side caught Edison’s attention. Their office girl, Nelly, had sidled up next to him. “No scars,” she whispered. “He’s got no scars.

No scratches. No burns. Seems odd for someone who works with glass beakers and potions and the lot, don’t it?” It did at that. “Excellent observation,” he murmured. The girl’s cheeks pinked. Her thin shoulders rose in a small shrug as if to suggest his approval hardly mattered, but Edison could tell the compliment pleased her. Now that he looked closer at their prevaricating client, he detected a certain cruelty. It was there in the eyes, in the thin lips, pressed into a hard line. He wondered who really designed the device. Even more to the point, what was the little bugger willing to do to steal it? He imagined some elderly scientist, shoulders sloped from years spent hunched over laboratory benches.

A frail, elderly soul who’d finally made the discovery of a lifetime. And now this half-penny sot thought he could convince them to grab it. Not bloody likely. His jaw tensed. The muscles in his forearms ached with the effort it took not to flatten the liar’s delicate nose. He glared down at the brass arm he’d been assembling. He itched to bash the man over the head with it. A sharp movement caught his attention. Meena was glaring at him, reminding him to behave. He scooped up the arm, and pretended fascination with the wires dangling out the end.

She gave him a minute nod, then smiled at their guest. “Well, Mr. Templeton—” “Archie,” he interrupted, far too eagerly. “Call me Archie.” Meena’s chest rose as she took in a great breath. Edison smirked down at the brass joints of his mechanical arm. Now who wanted to wanted to do the smacking? “Archie then.” She reached for her husband’s hand, twining her fingers with his. A look of concern passed between them before she finished. “This sounds like exactly the sort of problem we solve.

We’ll need to do some research, after which we—” “Research?” Archie bolted forward in his seat, as if outrage might shoot him right to his feet. “But I need it now.” Only the tightness in Meena’s jaw betrayed her irritation. She leaned forward, taking the man’s pale hands in her own. Unlike Archie, she was an exquisite liar. She stared him straight in the face, exuding sincerity. “Give us some time. No doubt the forces who have taken it are highly placed. I’m not sure we can—” “—find it quickly.” Edison jumped in.

He willed her to understand where he was taking the conversation. “We’ll need some time find your item.” “I understand.” Templeton shot to his feet. “I only pray you’ll turn all of your resources to my problem. It really is a matter of life and death.” Edison shared a knowing look with his brother-in-law. They’d find out whose life and death. Crane stood, and held his hand out to his wife, helping her to her feet. “Understood.

We are nothing if not resourceful. Expect to hear from us soon.” The man nodded curtly and strode out of the offices. Irritation trailed behind him like a foul smoke. He wasn’t going to wait on their answer. He’d hire the first set of cheap thugs he could find to seize the invention. Edison couldn’t let it rest. A warm, willing, wickedly inventive woman awaited, but he couldn’t let Templeton endanger some innocent man. He thrust the mechanical arm at Nelly and raced across the room for his own jacket. “I’m going to find the real Templeton.

And his device.” He pulled up the collar of his coat. “Then we’ll teach that little nob not to toy with the Restitution League.” * * * By the time Edison located the laboratory three days later, the weather had slipped firmly from summer into autumn. As he hurried down the darkened street toward the back of the property, he buttoned his overcoat against the evening chill. Nestled in the back corner of the yard, the laboratory looked like an ordinary hot house. Constructed entirely of glass plates, the front doorway was ringed by a cheerful arch of wild roses. He hadn’t dared examine the place during the daylight, but the property most certainly belonged to an Archibald Templeton. The family had owned it for generations. It was a fashionable home in a fashionable part of the city.

Its owner would have enough wealth—enough leisure time—to pursue any interest he wished. It all fit. Except the perfume. A light floral scent, it was clearly detectable through the slight opening in the window. Odd that. The metallic tang of chemicals, he’d expected. Even a sour note of old sweat. Such could be forgiven in the heat of scientific discovery. But perfume? Edison trotted along the lush hedge bordering the garden, careful to stay in the shadows. It was full dark now, the air sharp with coming cold.

He glanced at the house. Large windows faced the rear lawn. Though curtains were drawn against the night air, lamp light seeped through the seams at several windows. He detected no movement, no bustle of servants, no party guests. A fashionable home like this, the residents were likely off to a gala or a ball, maybe the theater. Left to themselves, the servants would have retired to their rooms to put up their feet. A pocket knife made short work of the useless door lock. Edison shook his head. Perhaps this scientist had no idea the true value of his invention. Anyone who did would’ve hired guards.

Well-armed guards. Once inside, he pulled the door closed behind him. The small workshop was far enough from the house that using his police-issue lantern seemed an acceptable risk. He set aside the rucksack of smoke bombs and other distractions he’d brought in case he ran into unanticipated resistance, and lit the lantern, opening the shutter a sliver, risking just enough to discern shapes in the dark. Two workbenches ran the length of the small building, each piled high with delicate laboratory equipment, much of it glass. Bottles and tubes and jars took up most of the available counter space. The air inside was cold, of course, but even so, he caught a whiff of that same perfume. It lingered around the benches, growing stronger near the stool where Templeton’s notes lay strewn across the only uncluttered surface. It was delicate and feminine. Not strong, not designed to seize attention or inspire sensuality, like the languid, spicy aromas so many women favored.

Especially women eager to seduce… or to be seduced. He sniffed the still air again as if sampling a fine wine. Neither was it girlish or innocent. He had the fanciful notion that the woman who wore it knew what she was about. Which had nothing whatsoever to do with his mission. He snatched up a notebook and tilted it toward the meager light from his lantern. Feminine writing—bold and legible, but rounded enough to suggest a lady’s hand—filled the pages. Feeling foolish now, he set the book back down. Of course. The man’s wife assisted him.

Nothing odd about that. Edison scrunched his eyes shut. Never mind about the damned woman. He needed the notes and the battery device. Once he’d spirited those back to the league’s offices, they could decide how best to protect the scientist himself. He rubbed a hand down the smooth page of the notebook. Even tracing his fingers over the sensuous writing stirred his blood. He gusted out a breath. Damnation, he’d need to see about a new paramour. Sooner rather than later.

He tilted the journal back toward the sliver of light. Line after line of chemical symbols fill the page. He was no chemist, but he had picked up a passing knowledge of scientific notation. He recognized the symbols for chlorides and other substances necessary to create electrical power. He snapped the book shut. The papers beneath it were a mix of more formulas, and some correspondence. All the letters were addressed to A. Templeton. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. The little weasel had told the truth about that at least.

He was indeed searching for a Mr. A. Templeton. He tapped the papers into a tidy pile and picked them up, along with the notebook. There was no desk in the workshop, nor any other boxes of books or papers he could see. So now the device. He hurried to the back of the room. It would be cylindrical, and there’d been no need for the fake Templeton to lie about the size. He had, after all, wanted them to find it. Quietly as he could, Edison opened the crates and boxes piled against the back wall.

Several packages held empty cylinders, others coil upon coil of copper wire. The last three boxes contained nothing but plaster of Paris. Quite an excessive supply. But no completed battery cells. It wasn’t a sound that got his attention, so much as it was a feeling. And a scent. The same perfume, but stronger. More alive. He had no interest in flowers, but if he had to guess, he would’ve guessed violets. Not that the woman filling the doorway would care about his opinion.

The revolver aimed at his chest spoke for itself.


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