The Dark Discovery of Jack Dandy Page 8

There were footprints in the dust and dirt on the floor. Some were almost completely refilled in, but others were more recent.

“What makes a footprint like that ‘un?” Toby asked, pointing.

Jack placed his own foot beside it for reference. His feet were long, but this print was even bigger than his boot. And then there were all the little quasi-round tracks. Either a troupe of tiptoeing children had run through here, or metal had been—at least once upon a time.

“Nothing human,” he replied. “Come on.” Metal—especially large automatons—unnerved him. Unless someone had figured out a way to make them sentient—and according to Finley someone had—he couldn’t read them. They weren’t creatures of emotion or irrationality, so he had no idea how to know their intentions or use his abilities to gauge what they might do next. He couldn’t read them, and he hated it.

Abernathy had told him that the crate would be on the floor, in the back of a room designated as the office. He’d mentioned that right around the time he assured Jack that there was nothing dangerous in the crate—just that the people who wanted it hadn’t the means to fetch it and transport it themselves.

It was only because Jack had sensed at least a partial truth in that statement that they were even in this death trap of a building. If he’d believed the viscount had set him up, they wouldn’t be here. Still, there was something not right. They needed to get out of here and soon.

They found the office without incident, save for a few sneezes from Toby. The place was full of dust and debris. The crate was marked with black paint—”E.312.” It was over five and a half feet long, two feet wide, and approximately just as deep. Not a huge piece, but big enough that it wasn’t going to be easy to be inconspicuous with it.

“That’s it,” Jack said, fingers creeping closer to the pistol at his thigh. His nerves hummed at an alarming pace, instinct sharp and raw. The “voices” he called his intuition screamed for him to get out, that this building held nothing but danger. And yet...

There was one voice—the strongest one—that urged him forward. His instincts had never let him down before, and even though he knew they should just nab the bloody thing and run, he had to walk up to it and place his hand on the top of it.

It was like being hit by lightning. His heart slammed into his throat. Every hair on his body bristled. Every nerve tingled—painfully.

Bloody hell. He’d never felt anything like it. He couldn’t explain it, couldn’t find any reasonable logic, but he knew he had to take that crate with him. He had to get it out of here no matter what the cost. Whatever was inside it was special. Important.

“We’re not going to be able to carry it,” Toby informed him. “Not easily. It’s heavy.”

As luck would have it, there was one of those two-wheeled things used to cart about heavy objects in the office. Most warehouses had at least one. That no one had stolen this one was a testament to just how unsettling the place was.

The crate stood on its end lengthwise, so it was easy enough to get the lip of the transport cart underneath it. Then Toby did the pushing and Jack steered them down the path of least resistance to the exit.

They’d gotten to the door—almost out—when Jack heard it. It was the sound of metal in need of oiling, of mechanical parts grinding together and squealing in protest.

The flesh between his shoulder blades tingled, and he turned his head.

Climbing out of one of the holes in the floor was an automaton. It appeared incredibly human, dragging its ragged torso across the floor. Its lower half had been ripped away by something strong. Its gaze was menacing as it settled on Jack. “You cannot take that,” it said in a tinny voice. “Please do not.”

There was such sincerity in its voice that Jack had second thoughts—again—about this job.

“Jaysus, is that thing talkin’?” Toby’s voice was shrill, his eyes wide.

“It is,” Jack murmured. Then, louder, “Sorry...mate. I’m being paid to deliver this to St. Pancras.”

The metal looked up, pivoting its torso to meet his gaze. God, but it was unnerving! “St. Pancras?”

Something in its tone pinged Jack’s intuition. Telling it about the drop had been the right thing to do. Saying more was the right thing, as well, because as he’d been talking to the thing, more had joined it—along the walls in the shadows, on the ceiling. Not many—maybe three—but enough to kill both him and Toby with ease.

“Yeah. That okay with you?”

Its smooth metal head nodded. “Take it and go. More are coming.”

The words echoed with Jack’s intuition. Something was coming. Something worse than the things in this room.

“Go,” Jack commanded, giving Toby a shove. “Go now!”

They burst through the door of the building with their prize, Toby pushing and Jack steering. As they raced toward the carriage, Jack saw Philippe raising an Aether pistol. “Hurry, mes frères, we have company!”

Jack didn’t glance behind, or to either side. He could feel them closing in, every nerve screaming with it. He ran faster, and so did Toby.

They reached the carriage. The cargo brace had already been lowered. They dumped their cargo onto it and pulled the lever. Automatically adjusting clamps closed and tightened around the box as it lifted and drew back toward the carriage.

“Get in,” Jack commanded, finally glancing over his shoulder. Good God. “Philippe, get us out of here.”

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