I was falling, not figuratively speaking, but literally falling through the air and plummeting toward uncertain doom. That sensation pretty well summed up the next few days in my life. So I feel it is important to start there, with the falling. I had been chasing a rapist for the past few days and had managed to track him down to an airship set to leave that morning. The Duchess was a long travel vessel docked in the Luimere Airship landings. We, the villain and I, had had a scuffle about the ship as it flew over the grand city and the bastard got lucky. I tripped, stumbled and over the rail I went.
So I fell… You never really know how long thirty seconds feels, until you are falling thirty or so stories in open air. I don’t remember the impact with the rooftop of the low building, but when I came to, my body screamed like a dying banshee in protest. It took several minutes for my accelerated healing to mend my shattered bones. All I could do was wait and so I did. After what seemed like hours of intense pain, my legs were healed enough for me to stand. As I struggled to my feet, I whispered a small prayer to my long dead parents, thanking them for my gifts. “I guess I won’t be getting paid for this one,” I grumbled.
Dusting myself off and cleaning up what blood I could. I made my way to the door off to my right and down from the roof. The building that had broken my fall had been a four-story apartment. As I limped my way down the stairs, I passed several confused tenants who I could see did not know what to make of me.
I imagine I looked horrible in tattered bloodstained clothes, with black and blue bruises about my face. I’m not sure if it was my near golden, amber colored eyes or the gun on my hip, but they all shied away as I passed. Minutes later, I exited the front door and took in my surroundings. I was in Middle City, and as luck would have it, not too far of a walk from my office. I sighed deeply and began the painful trek through the cold wet streets of Luimere.
Luimere is a home to every race in the known world. A proverbial melting pot if you will. Anywhere on these streets you are likely to bump in those of orc, human, dwarf, elf, gnome, goblin or any mix of the aforementioned. There are even the occasional giants and ogres that have acclimated to the urban lifestyle as well.
The city, however, does not only breathe with life of its people. We are at the peak of what many call the age of steam. There is not a place where gears cannot be seen turning and winding, generating power. Tufts of white steam and black smoke filled the air making the clouds above ever so heavy with rain.
The city of Luimere is also an industrial mecca. All manner of industry can be found here. Steammobiles, airships, ships, weapons, textiles, produce, and livestock can be found and I‘m only speaking of the legal businesses. The vast underground is fill to the brim with exotic creatures, illegal spell components, experimental technology and other unsavory goings on. Everywhere you look you can see steam pipes providing power to the many high rises and factories. These pipes, filled with copper wiring, are like the veins of the very city providing its lifeblood. The massive power plant in the city’s center, luminescent at all hours, is its massive heart.
The city stretches north to south alongside the Black Sea and is broken into four primary parts. Upper city is home to the upper middle class and the insanely rich. The Middle city is where you would find the bulk of the population, as well as much of the mom and pop shops, small factories and my own office.
The Lower city is where much of the large industrial factories and warehouses are located. Many of the poorer citizens of Luimere call Lower city home and scrape to get by on what work or hustle they can. Lower city is also littered with ruthless street gangs. The final section of Luimere is that of Downtown. Downtown is home to the sky rises that stretch hundreds of feet in the air. Downtown is filled with shops, corporations, museums, and various collages of all manner of talents.
You cannot walk five feet without hearing the release of pressure from a random vent here and there. The streets themselves are littered with grime, moss and all other manner of filth. You find, like in any city, the poor, the homeless, the drunkard and the lost. You see the well to do, the honest and the crook.
The ache of my body lessened as I made my way, and by the time I reached the door to my building, it was a dull memory. I made my way up the three flights of stairs and down the hall to my office door. On it the frosted window it read Moore For Less Investigations. I pulled out my key, unlocked the door and stepped inside.
I stripped off what was left of my cloak and hung it on the rack next to the door. I removed my enchanted goggles that had hung loosely around my neck and placed them on the rack as well. I frowned as I had realized I had lost yet another hat. I pulled off my gun belt, placing Lucy on the desk, and went over to the small table off to the side of the room and poured myself a glass of bourbon. After surviving a thirty-story drop, I figured I deserved a drink. Never mind the fact it was only ten in the morning.
I sat down in my office chair and pressed a small button underneath the desk. Steam hissed as pressure released from the bottom drawer. I slid open the drawer which contained the recharging unit for my pistol “Lucy”. Lucy was special, like the girl that made her and the two of them shared a name. Lucy is a one of a kind handgun designed to fire arcane bullets. The gun was designed and constructed by Lucille Ravens. Like the gun, Lucy is one of those rarities. Her father was an elf and her mother a gnome. The girl was gifted with a mind that understood machines and magic better than most, and how they can work together better than anyone. She isn’t sore on the eyes either, though she tends to be as blunt as a sledgehammer.
I locked the pistol in place and the two tiny vials of green liquid began to bubble. I closed the drawer and turned my attention to the papers and the glass of dark brown alcohol in front of me. I was not thrilled with the idea of telling my client I had botched the case. I tapped the scrying mirror on my desk and made the request for my client. Mr. Felmorn answered after the first chime. I retold the incident in full detail, excluding the falling part, and gave him the projected location of where the man was heading.
He was upset, but understanding, and surprisingly still agreed to pay me. We closed the connection and I filled in the notes for my personal records. Afterwards, I stood and just stared out of the window for a little while. I took a drink from my glass of bourbon as I watched the steam powered cars pass by on the street below. It reminded me I needed to take my Athena for a tune up.
The smell of her perfume hit me before she could rap on the door. A combination of honey and wildflowers drifted under my door and worked its way to my keen nostrils. I quickly stripped off my tattered jacket and put on the spare that was hanging off the back of my chair. I checked myself in the mirror. The rain it seemed had washed away the blood on my face from the fall. I tidied myself up and waited for the knock. A few moments later her shadow appeared and was followed by a soft tap.
The door opened to a radiant woman, human, I could see. She wore a dark gray pinstriped dress with a black bodice over a cream colored blouse and a brown canvas overcoat that was dotted with droplets of rain. Her skin was fair in color with a hint of red to it.
Her hair was a fiery red and pulled back into a small bun. She had a button nose and her lips were painted the color of candied apples. She possessed green-blue eyes like the color of the sea on a sunny day. Yet they were filled with worry and distress. Distress is every man’s weakness. Well, it sure was mine anyway. She sat her umbrella in the rack just outside my office door and came inside.
“Are you Mr. Moore?” she asked timidly.
“Yes Ma’am, Marcus Moore,” I told her as I walked over to the door and escorted her in.
I assisted the lady with her coat and escorted her to the chair, then walked around the desk to sit in my own. She appeared very worried and a bit distracted.
“And you are?”
“Oh I’m sorry,” she said with a start. “I am Arlena Silverstein. I’m the daughter of Augustus Silverstein, the airship mogul.”
“Yes, I am familiar with your father and Silverstein Air. What can I do for you ma’am?”
“Well, you see, I have a problem. My son…” she stammered. She began to shiver uncontrollably.
“It’s OK.” I told her. “Tell me everything and I’ll see what I can do to help.”
She took a deep breath and regained her composure. She pulled a handkerchief from her waist pouch and dotted away the tears that threatened to ruin her make up. “Three days ago, my nanny took my son, Braylen, to the Faultus City Park. No one has seen either since. The police said that they believe the nanny just ran off with my son.”
As she spoke I pulled out my small notepad from my desk and jotted down notes. She continued, “Well yesterday, I received this letter. The letter said, that if I didn’t bring them the new blueprint for the drive core my father’s company is designing, in forty-eight hours, I would never see my son again.” She broke down in full sobs at this point. As I said earlier, I’m a sucker for distressed women in need of saving.
I rose from my chair, walked over and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. I knelt before her, staring right into her eyes. She shied away after a moment. Most do, some say the golden hue makes them difficult to look directly at.
“It’ll be OK, ma’am,” I told her. “I’m really good at finding people. You could say it’s my specialty. Did you bring the letter? I will also need you to send me something of both the nanny and your son, additionally could you provide me with the nanny’s address.”
She reached within her pouch and produced the letter. It had been typed, not handwritten as I had hoped. I held onto it anyway. I quickly sniffed the paper without her noticing. There was something there but her perfume had soaked into the parchment.
“What of your son’s father? Is he still in the picture? If so, is he aware of the situation? If he is not, would he be involved?” I asked her cautiously.
“His father is away on business. He is a scientist and is currently working on some big project up north.”
“My fee is twenty-five sovereign a day in addition to operations fees. Will that work for you Mrs. Silverstein?”
“It’s Ms.,” she corrected me. “Yes, that will do just fine.”
“Very well, I’ll send a runner over with the contract. Just jot down an address they can reach you at on this pad.” I handed her the pad. “Also write down a brief description of both your son and the nanny.”
She scribbled an address and description on the pad and placed it on my desk, along with a twenty and a five sovereign note. She rose from the chair and walked to the door. I aided her as she pulled her coat on once more. She exited my office and retrieved her umbrella from the rack.
I bid her farewell and returned to my desk. Looking back, something felt off about the job, but a job was a job. I did find it interesting that something this high profile was being kept so well under wraps. I sat at my desk and finished my bourbon as I read over the letter again. It seemed very specific and rather unusual. Most kidnappings involve obscene amounts of money. Asking for blueprints for a gadget? It would have been easier to have someone steal it. I’d have to see if I could track down who delivered the letter. I had highly doubted it was sent through the postal service. I decided I would ask the clerk at the messenger’s office if the message came from there, or if it had any other delivery service’s signature.
I walked over to my file cabinet and opened the bottom drawer where I kept a spare shirt and vest. I took off the jacket and stripped off the soiled clothes. I put on the light blue shirt and deep green vest; my black tie had managed to remain relatively unmarred so I put it back on. I checked myself in the mirror once more. A ruggedly handsome fellow, or so I’ve been told, standing at around six feet tall. My brown hair falling to just above my eyebrows was in need of a trim. I quickly parted it down the center and looked over my close beard. Satisfied that I was once again presentable, I retrieved Lucy from its charging station.
I ejected the wheel of the Six Shooter and gave it a spin. I checked the fluid in the two glass vials just above the hammer. From the drawer I took out two speed loaders. One with standard ammunition, and the other with inferno rounds, you know just in case, and put them in my pocket. On the belt were another twelve rounds, each one containing a different spell. I buckled Lucy to my hip and then walked over to my coat rack. I threw on my spare black cloak, goggles and spare top hat. I exited the office, locking it behind me, and made my way back down to the street.
I decided it would be quicker to walk to the messenger’s office as it was mid-day and the streets were busy with steammobiles and horse drawn carriages whizzing about. Airships flew silently overhead, most of which are converted sea vessels. Big ships fitted with massive helium filled balloons and propelled by engines powered by steam. I stepped into the messenger’s office and waited my turn in line. While I waited I took in the office, it was a moderate size place that smell of paper and ink. The walls were painted a pale brown and were complemented dark wooden framing and hand carved accents. As a surveyed the room I noticed Christopher, the proprietor, waving me over to his desk. Which was great, as I had been hoping to speak with him.
“Marcus, good to see you.”
“Good to see you as well, old friend. How is the back?”
“It could be worse. My wife doesn’t hound me about housework anymore.” He laughed wholeheartedly. I laughed along with him.
“Still I’m glad you came in today. I’m in need of your services,” he said it in a low conspiratorial voice.
“I am on another case at the moment, but I can’t really get started until I get this package back. So Christopher, you know my rates. What is the job?”
“It’s nothing too big, just a little spying. One of my lads has been taking longer than expected with his deliveries. I have gotten rave reviews from the receivers. But as you know, time is money, and the time and the amount of money earned per delivery he’s making, is not adding up.”
“Okay, I’ll verify that he’s not moonlighting some other job at the same time. What’s his name and where is he now?”
Christopher pointed to a tall human with chocolate colored skin and hazel brown eyes. His black hair was trimmed close and he wore a gallant style mustache that curled nicely at the tips. He wore a nice auburn colored vest over an eggshell colored shirt and tan colored bowtie.
“His name is Anton,” Christopher told me.
“When’s his next delivery?”
“He’ll be heading out in the next ten minutes,” he said looking at his ornate pocket watch.
“What is he driving?”
“He will be driving the company delivery van, a white painted Hermes with the company logo on the sides.”
“Very well, delay his departure until I have left the building. I’ll follow him now and we’ll see where he goes. How many deliveries?”
“Including yours, six are along the same route.”
“Alright, quick question before I go. Can you tell me anything about this letter?” I handed Christopher the ransom note I had received from Ms. Silverstein.
He took the letter from my hand and analyzed it for a moment. Christopher handed it back to me and said, “This letter did not come from my shop, and all of our deliveries come with our company seal. Actually, that’s pretty much common practice these days amongst delivery and messaging firms.”
“Hmm. I figured as much, thanks. I’ll head out now and tail your man.”
“Thank you, Marcus.”
I left Christopher’s office and took my contract to the clerk. He notarized it and placed it into a brown envelope. The clerk then pressed the embossed stamp in some ink in a small tray. He pressed down solidly on the envelope, clearly displaying the company logo. I paid for the delivery and retrieval and made my way back to my Athena.
Athena’s are not as regal as a Zeus or Poseidon or as sporty as an Apollo or an Artemis as far as steammobiles go. It sits four comfortably and has modest storage space, and with a little help from Lucy is built like a locomotive. I hopped in and started the engine. I gave the boiler time to heat up then waited for the white Hermes to leave the parking lot.
I followed the van through the streets of Luimere. I was careful to keep two cars between us during the drive. With each stop I made it a point to keep driving and loop back around to continue observation. Nothing out of the ordinary happened during the first two stops and I was being to believe Christopher was worried about nothing. My mind began to wonder to the Silverstein case and the missing kid. Years ago I was a member of the Luimere police force. During that time I dealt with a few kidnappings, only one of them went well. My client receiving the ransom note so late in the game was a good sign though. I watched the driver pull up to a set of row houses, I found a convenient park spot and watched the lad from my rear-view mirror.
Like the others, he withdrew the package from the rear of the vehicle and carried it to the door. He rang the bell and waited for the recipient. An elf female answered the door; bare as the day she was born. I had to take a moment to pull my jaw off the dashboard. She was tall, nearly as tall as the delivery boy, and extremely well fit as most elves were. Her hair was a light green showing her wood elf heritage. Her long pointed ears gleamed with several silver earrings. She wrapped her arms around the dark-skinned man’s neck and drew him in for a deep and passionate kiss.
She stepped back from the kiss and led the young man into her home. I sat there in the car and waited. While I waited I set my keen ears to listen. Not, what normal humans consider listening, when I focus, I can hear a heartbeat from fifty feet away.
The noises I did hear made my ears burn. I almost felt like I needed a moist towel. The man definitely had a hidden talent and awe-inspiring stamina. And that is saying something coming from me. After about an hour the chocolate skinned delivery boy exited the elf’s home. She appeared at the door as he left with a look of complete satisfaction on her beautiful face.
The next two deliveries were much the same, the third being a pair of goblins and the fourth being an orc. Each time he spent an hour pleasing his host, with, from what the ladies were referring to, as his amazing manhood. I admit I was impressed and amused at the same time. Being voyeuristic is part of private detective work, but it is rare to come across something this amusing.
I departed after the driver made the final delivery to the location Arlena had provided. I thought it was odd. I knew it would not be her home address. Yet this was not even her father’s office either. The sign on the front of the skyscraper read “Devlin Works.” I drove back to the messenger’s office and met with Christopher in his office. “So Christopher, you do not have to worry about your driver doing double duty.”
“Well that is a relief. What is he doing then?”
“Have you noticed that he makes deliveries to the same clients?”
“Yes, he has a few regulars?”
“Have you noticed that all the rave reviews have been from female clients?”
“Well...I...uh. My gosh, yes, they have been.”
“Your employee is not working another angle while on the job. He is, however, working some angles while on the job. I reckon you will receive three satisfied customer notices today alone.”
He sat back in his chair and rubbed his balding head. He opened the drawer next to him and withdrew a small stack of sovereigns. He counted out twenty-five of them and slid the stack across the desk toward me. I picked up the money and placed it in my wallet. “I should warn you. It is likely these females are housewives. If you continue to employ the lad, I’d suggest either having a chat with him or providing him an alternate route.” I told him as I stood up.
“Wise, as always Marcus. Thank you, I’ll have your package delivered to your office.”
“Very well, take care of yourself and watch that back.”
I walked out of Christopher’s office and headed to the door. The young man walked in just as I reached the door to leave. I tipped my hat and smiled. He did the same and went on about his business. I grinned like a clown and shook my head as I walked back out to the street.
The rain began to drum its beat from the thunderous clouds above. I ducked into my Athena and started up the boiler. The engine rumbled and the steam hissed. I shifted the car into gear and pulled out into the busy streets of Luimere once again.