Chapter 13 - Unexpected Rendezvous

 “Hemlock, that’s absurd.”
“Is it, Eddie? Someone wanted these plans, badly enough to kill for them.” She held up a hand to forestall my argument. “Regardless, my theory has been supported, and we should leave Mrs Bantam alone.”
“Yes, yes, quite so,” I said, blustering. “Thank you very much for your time and help, Mrs Bantam. Rest assured we are hot on the trail of the killer and he will be brought to justice!”
I heard Hemlock sigh behind me. “Come on Edward. Good day, Mrs Bantam. We will be in contact shortly.”
Mrs Bantam nodded again and bid us good day. Once we had left, I drew in a great breath to admonish Hemlock for indulging in flights of fancy.
“Don’t even, Eddie.”
“But it’s impossible,” I cried.
“No it isn’t. It’s pretty far-fetched and unlikely, but far stranger things have happened. So, once we determine that something, no matter how unlikely, is possible, we must consider it in our investigations.”
“That sounds a lot like something Sh—”
AS I was saying,” Hemlock continued. “Some fiction is based in fact. Myths are based on history. In this particular case, it seems that perhaps the fiction is fact. So, we treat it as such. N has the plans for Frankenstein’s machine.”
“Do you think he’s building it?” I asked.
“Hmm. You know, I think he might be. I’d have laughed at that notion before, but the soldier, the spider? They rather convince me that if N puts his mind to something, he’ll do it.”
“You think he’s built a machine to reanimate the dead? To make corpses move? And, I suspect see. And probably kill us.”
 “Well. That huge thing – the giant – that chased us from the theatre. Didn’t it remind you of Frankenstein's monster?”
I paused. Whoever had chased us from the derelict theatre had been huge. A monster. And he’d lumbered after us, much like I imagined Frankenstein’s monster might have moved (despite Shelley’s descriptions to the contrary).
Hemlock continued, “I suspect that our theatre-dwelling villain’s giant is what the tribes of West Africa would call zumbi, which means ‘reanimated body’. A dead person that somehow walks. Given what we’ve seen of clockwork soldiers and spiders, I think it’s probably steam that powers pistons and cranks that move the body but, no matter how complex your machine is, it can’t replace a real brain. I suspect that this N person has managed, or is trying, to somehow build Frankenstein’s machine to also provide some measure of brain activity.”
“A zombie? That’s what you’re calling it?” I asked.
Zumbi. And yes, it seems fitting.”
“And, you honestly believe that Nemesis somehow built the fictional machine from Frankenstein, and used it to animate a corpse? Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds?”
Hemlock looked at me. “We were shot at by a soldier animated by clockwork, chased by a strange giant that likely isn’t human, are trying to solve the mystery of an apparent angel of death that kills people using allergies and we’re searching for the missing plans to build a machine that can animate the dead…” Hemlock trailed off, her eyes narrowing as she stared in to the distance. “Clockworks, cogs, animating the dead. How could I have missed that?”
“Missed what?”
“The obvious link.”
“What obvious link?”
The obvious link, Eddie.” She smacked her forehead with a palm. “Stupid. So stupid. I think I know more than I thought I knew. Which is an odd situation as normally I know exactly as much as I thought I knew. I know where we need to go to find N, but I’d like to check one thing first.”
“I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, Hemlock.”
“What I’m talking about is that two people weren’t murdered just so our Nemesis could create a giant bodyguard. And clockwork zumbi hardly explains the ‘Angel of Death’. Clockwork. Clockwork! Don’t you see? The giant is an experiment, the first real guinea pig for Nemesis’s grander scheme, whatever it might be. We need to work out why he killed Professor Bantam and Molly Dudgen, how he made it look like some apparition committed the crimes, and what his true motivations are.”
I considered for a moment as we walked. “So, we now believe that this N person killed two people, in order to acquire two objects – the plans to build Frankenstein’s machine and something else. Only, why kill them both? If your theory is right, Professor Bantam already gave or sold the plans. So why is he dead?”
“Why indeed,” she replied. “Why indeed…I think the only solution is to visit Mr and Mrs Lively's home, sneak in and find out what was taken.”
I sighed. Just as I thought I’d avoided any illegality, Hemlock was once again suggesting we ‘explore’ someone else’s house.
“Yes, we certainly should,” I said. “I’ll send a visiting card as soon as we’re back.”
“There’s no need for that. We can walk there in fifteen minutes.”
“Oh.”
Hemlock laughed. “Oh, stop fretting, Eddie! We’ll knock and confront Mrs Lively about the fact that something was clearly stolen.”
“We will? Oh good,” I said, much relieved.
“Of course. I’m sure she’ll quail beneath the glares of two eleven year olds and confess that something was on the mantelpiece.”
I realised that Hemlock was probably right. If Mrs Lively had lied previously (as Hemlock was adamant she had), then there was indeed little point in confronting her about any missing objects. However, I was also exceedingly reluctant to snoop around someone’s property.
“Well, what do you suggest?”
“I think we work it out when we get there,” said Hemlock. “Then, I think we’ll go to the place on the business card.”
“We will? But we don’t know where it is. Do we?”
Hemlock pulled out the card and showed it to me. The four gold pillars topped by a gold triangle stood out on the plain white card.
“Can’t you see? It’s a temple!”
“That’s what I said it was!” I exclaimed.
“Yes yes, who said what isn’t important. The important thing is that it’s a temple. It’s the Templeton Club in Cheapside.”
“How can you know that?”
Hemlock grinned at me. “Trust me, Eddie. I know. I just can’t believe it took me so long to realise it.”
I very nearly stamped my foot. “Will you please tell me what’s going on?”
“Later, later. First the Lively house. I want to know exactly what was taken. There are still some pieces missing.”
So, we walked to Albany Street, Hemlock striding in her determined, ungracious way, hands clasped behind her back. She’d occasionally mutter to herself. I followed behind or, when I walked quickly enough to match her pace, beside her. We didn’t speak, but it was a strangely companionable silence.
Our route predominantly passed through quieter areas of the city, past large, set-back houses. The few people we passed on the streets were well-dressed. I tipped my hat repeatedly. Hemlock tended to ignore them.
As we neared the Lively house, Hemlock slowed a little and slipped her arm through mine. I confess I jumped.
“Hemlock?”
“It’s easier for us to discuss plans like this,” she explained. I was unconvinced by her explanation, but I felt it would be rude to push her away. Instead, I tried to appear nonchalant as I continued along the pavement towards the Lively house.
As we approached the front door, it swung open.
Hemlock dragged me down behind the low hedge lining the front gardens of Albany Street.
I barely avoided crying out in shock, but when I saw a tall, broad man stepping through the door, I remained quiet and peered between the foliage.
The man was dressed well in a suit, and had an very impressive moustache that curled upwards from his face like the tusks of a boar. I could see Mrs Lively in the doorway. She reached her head up to kiss him on the cheek.
“Good luck at the club.”
The man laughed coldly. “Unlikely. I’m ensuring that we’re out. We’re done with this cad. He has what he wants from us, that thieving fraud Bantam is dead, as is the only witness to the deal. So, I’m going to tell him our business is concluded. Then, perhaps we can get on with installing the Lively Light-bulb in every house in London.”
Mrs Lively smiled her tight, pointed smile and the man strode down the steps and out onto the street. He hailed a hansom cab. As he stepped in, he instructed the driver.
“Templeton Club.”
And he was gone.
Hemlock slowly rose to her feet. I sat down.
“Good lord,” I muttered. “I think that was Mr Lively. And he’s going to the Templeton Club. What are the chances?”
Hemlock was staring down the road after the cab. “Well, I would say rather high right now, wouldn’t you? It would seem that the Livelys aren’t exactly innocent victims and witnesses to a murder.”
“Do you think we should ask Mrs Lively what’s going on?”
“Somehow. I doubt she’ll be overly keen on assisting us with our investigations.”
I considered. “Hmm, you’re probably right.”
“Indeed. I don’t think that we’ll get much out of Mrs Lively, though it would be nice to discover what was on that mantelpiece.”
“Would Mr Lively tell us?”
“Hmm, probably not; after all, from what we overheard he’s quite comfortable going to extreme measures to get what he wants. I wonder what deal poor Molly Dudgen overheard.”
“So, what do we do?” I struggled to my feet.
Hemlock turned to look up at the Lively house. “I’m tempted to look around and see if there are further clues, but I don’t think that there’ll be a reward for our risk. So, that leaves us with following Mr Lively to the Templeton Club.”
“Which is also where the clue from the scene of Bantam’s murder was to lead us!” I declared.
Hemlock nodded. “Quite so.”
“Then aren’t we wasting time not heading there?”
Hemlock continued to stare at the house. “I suppose we are.”
“Are you all right, Hemlock?”
“Hmm?” She looked away from the house and met my concerned gaze. “What? Yes, yes, I’m fine. Just frustrated by my inability to tie all the knots and connect all the dots. Once I’ve confirmed my theories, I’ll be much happier.”

****

The Templeton Club on Cheapside was one of those peculiarly British establishments which secures its status as a meeting place for the elite by concealing its vast wealth and rich clientele behind a small, plain oak door and eschewing a sign of any kind. As far as I can tell, no other nation would be at such pains to conceal the drinking holes of its rich and famous. I visited America once, with Hemlock, and can still clearly recall that the bigger, brighter and bolder a location, the richer those that frequented it. It always made sense to me that way, though perhaps if I were rich I’d prefer the anonymity of British gentlemen’s clubs.
Either way, we arrived at the unassuming and anonymous door on the bustling Cheapside.
Or rather, we arrived at an unassuming and anonymous door.
“Is this the place?” I asked.         
Hemlock shrugged. “It’s where the taxi brought us.”
She knocked on the door.
The door opened and a man looked down at us. He was tall and violent-looking, with a shaved head, and squeezed in to a dark suit with an embroidered pocket with the same gold logo as the business card.
He didn’t speak, though he made a strange grunting noise.
Hemlock raised the small, white card with the gold temple logo on it.
The door-thug looked at the card. Then at us. Then at the card.
“No girls.”
The door began to close.
“Excuse me?” Hemlock’s voice was unmistakably affronted.
“No girls. Not ‘llowed.”
“We have a card,” I offered helpfully from behind Hemlock.
“It was given to us so we could meet Mr Templeton. We’re old friends.”
“We are?” I asked, surprised. I had no idea who Mr Templeton might be. I wish that had remained the case. Sadly, I was not to remain unfamiliar with Mr Templeton for long.
Hemlock elbowed me hard in the ribs.
“Ow! I mean, we are. Absolutely. Old, old friends.”
“You friends of Mizzer Templ’on or Mazzer Templ’on?”
“Err...” I began.
“Master Templeton. I was led to believe that he’s here?”
“Yeah, but he’s wiv a man.”
Hemlock moved forward as she spoke. “No problem, we can wait.”
She strode forwards with calm self-assurance. The door-thug did not move. Hemlock looked up at him. He took a half-step back and, as Hemlock tried to fill the space, he slammed the door.
Hemlock stood at the door, her nose less than an inch from the black-painted wood.
“Hmm.”
I tried to gently pull Hemlock away from the door.
“Come on now, old bean,” I said, using my most soothing fatherly voice. “I don’t think we’re getting in this way.”
“Unexpected.”
“Is it? Even with the membership card it’s still a gentleman’s club. Neither of us is old enough to be gentlemen, and I strongly suspect you will never be a gentleman, not matter how old you get.”
“What? Stop wittering, Edward. I need to think.”
“No, you need to step away from the door, and we need to walk away. Otherwise we might draw attention...” I paused. “We could always try a back door? The kitchens maybe?”
Hemlock clicked her fingers. “Of course! I’ve got it! We could try the kitchens!”
I spluttered. “That’s what I said!”
Hemlock winked at me, grinning, and dashed back up the stone steps.
We ducked down the first turning we came to, and then cut along the narrow cobbled alley that ran behind the buildings on this block of Cheapside.
Hemlock walked with purpose, as ever, her eyes narrowed, concentrating on the buildings on our right, one of which must be The Templeton Club.
We stopped opposite an open door. Steam drifted through it, a cloud of warm mist that obscured the inside of the building even as it escaped into the air.
“This is the place,” Hemlock said.
I nodded and leant against the red brick, trying to look, well, like the sort of young man who loiters in alleyways, as I watched the bustle inside.
It was a kitchen. Chefs in tall, puffy white hats, cooks, pot cleaners, and various other kitchen staff filled the room, speaking loudly over the noises of cooking. Young people in shirts and bow-ties occasionally appeared carrying trays of dishes.
“I have to admit that I didn’t really think about how we’d get in to the kitchen,” I muttered.
“Simple. We’re walking in.”
I laughed. “Because that worked so well at the front door, Hemlock.”
She sniffed, to my ears a little dejectedly. My stomach lurched. I stopped leaning against the wall.
“I’m sorry, Hem—”
Hemlock stuffed her hands in her pockets, hunched her shoulders and shuffled her way to the open door.
Somehow, she managed to almost look like she belonged. With barely a pause she passed through the steam and into the Templeton Club kitchen.
I tucked my hat under one arm, took my walking cane in hand (quietly cursing my affectations now that I needed to be an inconspicuous kitchen worker), and trying to look and feel like I belonged, I followed Hemlock through the curtain of steam.
Inside, the kitchen was a maelstrom of smoke, sizzling and kitchen staff. I ducked and staggered around men and women shouting and rushing with saucepans of hot water or cooking food. It was very much like dodging businessmen at Piccadilly Circus or Monument – stop-starting, moving in short bursts as I made my way across the tiled floor.
“Mind out!” I dodged a pile of plates, before scuttling forward through cloying smoke, bouncing off a large butcher’s block, reeling around a short woman with a rolling pin and finally reaching a set of double swing-doors.
“You there!” A call from behind me.
I turned. A thin man with a pretty poor attempt at a moustache and a white waiter’s apron looked down at me. He couldn’t have been much older than I, but he made an excellent show of trying to be superior.
I drew myself up, puffed out my chest and tried to look affronted. “Yes?”
“What are you doing in the kitchens?”
“I am looking for the lavatories, and I’ll thank you to remember that you are addressing a guest and diner at this establishment, my boy!” I looked down my nose at the waiter and attempted the indignant quivering of the chin that my father had mastered years ago.
The waiter seemed a little cowed. “Ah, apologies, young sir. You’ll need to go back through these doors and turn right. At the end of the corridor.”
I nodded my faux imperious thanks and pushed open one of the swinging doors. I stepped into a large, opulent and yet peculiarly cosy room. Gentlemen of various ages and sizes rested in huge leather chairs, clustered around discreet coffee tables resting on thick burgundy carpets. Candles lit tables, while dim electric lighting offered as much shadow as light. There was a gentle hubbub throughout, the murmur of conversation, punctuated by the occasional exclamation. One white-haired chap in a corner laughed with a distinctive “haw-haw.”
Hemlock grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into a shadowed corner.
“What took you so long?” She whispered.
“I followed you. I was right behind you.”
“Well, you took your time. Now, shh, and look over there.” Hemlock pointed across the room.
On the far side of the room from where we were hiding, I could see the same gentleman who had left Mrs Lively’s property sitting across from a young man of my age. There were three sets of chairs and tables between us and them, but even this far away I could see that the young man was so thin as to be nearly skeletal. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes at this distance were dark pits in his feverishly pale face. His hair was so dark that it seemed to suck in the light from the room.
Mr Lively was leaning back, slumped almost. In contrast, the young man was leaning forward, intent and intense. He was clearly speaking.
“Hemlock, what do you think?”
Hemlock was silent.
“Looks to me like that boy is giving Mr Lively a good talking to, wouldn’t you say?”
No response.
“I have to say, he has something of the sinister about him. Hemlock?”
I turned. Hemlock was leaning forward. “I know that boy,” she whispered, her voice hoarse.
“That one?” I asked (in hindsight completely unnecessarily). “I think that’s Master Templeton.”

“Yes. Templeton. Napoleon Templeton. N. Nemesis.”

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