Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 54

They circled each other, a little more hesitant now.

I could really hurt her. I’m better than she is. It was a frightening kind of power. Sophronia would have thought to find it thrilling. After all, this was why they trained so hard. But it was merely scary.

Monique nipped in again, unguarded, aiming for Sophronia’s chest—her knife sharp and focused. Sophronia might be a better fighter, but she wasn’t as bloodthirsty.

Sophronia ducked out of the way and slashed at Monique’s shoulder, cutting through the tightly stretched material there, above the older girl’s corset, leaving a wide gash. Sophronia had thought Monique would now be accustomed to pain, offering up her neck to vampires on a regular basis. Perhaps vampire bites didn’t hurt, because Monique dropped her blade and began to wail loudly.

Soap and Sidheag turned, surprised.

Sophronia kicked the knife off the train.

Sidheag gave Monique a dirty look and went back to chatting with the sootie. She was shoveling under his supervision while he consumed kidney pie with evident joy. Apparently, that was just the thing to alter loyalties. It probably helped that Sidheag was genuinely interested in locomotives. Strange, for until recently Sophronia would have said Sidheag cared for nothing but Scotland and werewolves, with the possible addition of small dogs and cigars. Not that she’d seen Sidheag with either; dogs and cigars were not encouraged at finishing school. But one could easily imagine Sidheag with dogs and cigars.

Sophronia returned her attention to the unpleasant Monique. She snapped her bladed fan closed in disgust. “I had no idea you were so weak!” I once thought this girl so very dangerous.

Monique was petulant, clutching her shoulder. “It stings something awful!”

Sophronia rolled her eyes. “Well, there you go, stay away from bladed fans. Oh, for goodness’ sake, shush! Here, let me bandage that up.”

She did so, Monique fussing the whole time.

“Toss her or keep her?” she asked Sidheag and Soap.

“Toss,” said Sidheag, without looking up from the boiler.

“I agree,” said the kidney-pie-filled stoker. “That one is rotten to the core.”

“Keep,” said Soap. “She might have vital information.”

“She’s just like us, educated to resist.” Sidheag really did not like Monique.

“Still,” said Soap.

Sophronia was tempted to tip the annoying female off the train, but there was no knowing how useful she might be as a bargaining chip, if nothing else. She narrowed her eyes at Monique. “Which would you prefer?”

Monique shrugged, but her eyes slid to the door.

That settled it; Monique was staying.

They’d had lessons from Lady Linette in how to escape bonds, so Sophronia tied Monique’s hands above her head and then looped them up and over a protrusion on the outside of the doorway. Monique had to stand on tiptoe, occasionally swinging out the door and back again in a most precarious manner. That would keep her distracted from slipping her restraints.

After that, it was a matter of ignoring the girl’s whining and learning how to run a train.

Soap applied all his prowess as a sootie to monitoring gauges, throttle controls, and the brake lever. The stoker proved most helpful and most taken with Sidheag. Sophronia wondered if he saw through their disguises, or if he was merely the type of young man who preferred the company of other men. Whatever the case, he and Sidheag had formulated a relationship, even though nothing was left of the kidney pie. He was knowledgeable about trains in a way only a young man raised on the railways could be.

They chugged along happily, stoking the boiler up to a nice clipping speed, one that made Monique squirmy and discontented, swaying back and forth. Sophronia left her to dangle for a good hour, to contemplate her choices in life. They all ignored her pleas and attempts at bargaining.

Finally, they had to stop at a switch. Their young stoker friend explained the niceties of signaling. They waited politely at the switch for a local train to toot past them.

There was a moment of terror, wondering if the train would stop to find out who they were and why they were running on a normally vacant track. But the other train sped by, showing no interest whatsoever and no inclination to stop. It was mostly second class and clearly had its own problems to worry about.

If anyone saw Monique, a well-dressed woman of quality, dangling from the doorway, they apparently assumed everyone had difficulties in life and moved on.

Sophronia hopped out to handle the switch under the guidance of the stoker.

They were back on their way, hoping no other trains were due across that stretch of track. Had the vampires filed this journey with the appropriate offices? There was only one person to ask. Sophronia approached Monique as they clattered back up to speed.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Sophronia, cut me down, do? My arms have come over all numb.”

“Riddle me this, Monique,” Sophronia responded. “How dark are your masters keeping this journey? Did they file it with the controllers, or do we risk our lives on every new stretch of track?”

Monique would have shrugged if her shoulders hadn’t already been up by her ears. “That’s why they have signals, isn’t it?”

“That’s a very lax attitude when hauling valuable equipment on an important covert mission.”

Monique looked away out the window, past Soap and into the gray countryside. “Little do you know.”

“So why don’t you tell me? What are you really up to? Why are you intent on sabotaging mechanicals? Is it only to discredit the Picklemen, or is there something else going on? You realize society would crumble without mechanicals?”

Prev Next