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Page 7

Daniel shoved the man away and steadied himself on his feet. He couldn’t see a damn thing, and his first step led him smack into a table on which things clattered and clinked. A heavy thud and hoarse breathing told Daniel where the gentleman had fallen, but there was no telling how long he’d stay down.

The short fight had been brutal, the man deadly strong. Daniel shook out his right fist. So much for not hurting his hands.

Daniel took another step forward, this time connecting with a chair. Good enough. He sat down and stripped the gloves from his stinging hands.

“If I can’t finish my motor in time, I’m blaming you,” Daniel said, pulling a box of matches from his pocket.

“I only want the money,” the man on the floor said between gasps.

“You’re the bloke who’s been following Mortimer tonight, aren’t you? What does he owe you?” Daniel struck a match against his boot, and a spark flared to life.

“Five thousand.”

Daniel gave a short laugh. “The idiot. And he owes me two.”

“I’ll have it out of him. I’ll have it out of you. You took all his money.”

“No, I won it fair and square. What he owes you is between him and you.”

The light from the match showed Daniel a table beside him loaded with trinkets. A hurricane lamp waited in the midst of the clutter, and Daniel lifted its chimney to touch the match to the wick.

The glowing light fell over the hard-faced man who lay stretched out on the floor. He looked less intimidating with his arm over his stomach, his face sickly green.

“I can’t go back until I have it,” the man said, struggling to breathe. “It’ll be my life.” He had a London workingman’s accent.

“Hired hand, are ye? What’s your name?”

“Simon. Matthew Simon.”

“Nice and biblical. So it’s kill me or go back and be killed, is that it? Brutal times we live in.”

“That’s the size of it,” Mr. Simon said grimly. “Sorry and all that. But don’t really see a way around it, sir.”

The man did sound regretful. But not apologetic. He had a job to do, and he would use any means to get that job done.

“Tell you what, Mr. Simon, why don’t you come and work for me? Right now. You won’t need to run back to your master empty-handed. You can stop beating on me for the cash, and I’ll pay ye a decent wage.”

“Work for you?” Simon gave Daniel a long, suspicious stare. “Doing what?”

Daniel shrugged. “Lifting and carrying, keeping an eye on things, helping me with my engines when I need it. What do ye say? If ye have another go at me, I guarantee, I’ll do my best to make sure you crawl home.”

Simon’s breathing was easier, but he made no move to get off the busily patterned carpet. “No man’s ever knocked me down before. I thought I was too big.”

“There’s a trick to it.”

“Ye know about fighting.” Simon sounded admiring. “Dirty fighting.”

“I was raised by men who fight dirty. Rules are for the polite. How about it, Mr. Simon?”

The man went silent. Daniel could almost hear the gears turning in Simon’s head as he went through the possibilities open to him. Finally he heaved a long sigh. “I’m your man.”

“Good,” Daniel said. “Now, how did ye get into the house? Ye didn’t hurt that poor little maid to do it, did ye?”

“Naw, I just scared her a bit.”

“Hmm. I think she needs a rise in wages.”

From the dining room, Daniel heard excited voices—Did you see that? Ellingham, it’s behind you!—but in this room all was calm.

Daniel looked thoughtfully at the kerosene lamp amidst the trinkets on the table. He saw by the lamp’s light that, as in the next room, a gaslight chandelier hung overhead, unlit, and gas sconces adorned the walls. Yet Mademoiselle Violette and her mother kept kerosene lamps in here and candles in the dining room. For the ambience? Or because the gas had been shut off?

Simon sat up and drew a long breath. “You have a mean punch, Mr. Mackenzie.”

“You know who I am then?”

“Everyone knows who you are. Me and me mates always have a little flutter on your dad’s horses. Sir.”

“Wise of you.”

Daniel looked around at the wood paneling that covered the room, which was much older than the furnishings. He put the house as built in the last century. In those days, covering the walls with raised panels outlined with molding had been common, and much more tasteful than the garish wallpaper that adorned most people’s houses these days.

The paneling was also convenient, because it could hide any number of things. This sitting room was in the front of the house, the dining room behind it. But the dimensions of both rooms did not match the length of the hall that ran from the front door to the back of the house. Daniel, who could keep calculations in his head to the nearest inch, had noted that immediately.

He rose and made his way to the wall that divided the sitting room from the dining room. Not an easy journey, because the room was crammed with potted palms, potted ferns, side tables, sofa tables, rugs on rugs, and bric-a-brac of every size, shape, and color.

A narrow door through which Simon had dragged Daniel, closed now, led to the dining room. Daniel ran his hands over the wall panels next to it.

His fingertips found a catch. Working it, he pried open a panel about five feet high and a foot and a half wide. Behind this lay a shallow niche full of thin ropes and wires attached to gears. Two metal levers a little below Daniel’s eye level controlled a couple of the wires, but the rest of the ropes and pulleys ran up into the wall as far as Daniel could see.

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