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Extraordinary Circumstances: 1 The League of Red-Eyed Gentlemen

Extraordinary Circumstances

Episode One: The League of Red-eyed Gentlemen

Stephen B5 Jones

 

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 by Stephen Jones.

All rights reserved.

 

 

Hanich the Prayer

The Kitchen

The League of Red-eyed Gentlemen

Miss Sonya’s League Shop

The Ghost Thief

 

Hanich the Prayer

 

Hanich Argus did not like to pray. Of all the activities in the world it was his least favorite. He had so many other things to do, and it was high time for him to start. He wasn’t one to study in dank rooms at the school, or suffer under the indignation of one of the sisters at Sunday meeting. Hanich was a young man who needed to be outside, to make his hands filthy with work and to be under the sky from the early dawn to the first evening star.

Unfortunately he was rarely granted permission to be outside of their large house sitting on three full acres. He was not allowed near the trees at all. He wasn’t allowed to play in the spacious grass yard. He certainly was not allowed to work in the vegetable garden, with its ten rows of vegetables and one row of popcorn, or even the flower garden.

His mother could not see how imperative such things were to the well-being of the world. She told Hanich he was too small, that he did not have the constitution for any manner of strenuous activity. He had been given an extraordinary mind, she said, one which noticed every detail. He was created for better things than simple manual labor.

Elder Dan had been impressed when he’d asked the class to memorize the first chapter of John, and Hanich had asked if he intended for them to remember all fifty-one verses. Hanich sometimes remembered the oddest details. At first Elder Dan thought he was cheating somehow when Hanich knew the numbers of verses for every chapter in John. He felt much better when the young man could not duplicate his uncanny knowledge for the chapters in Matthew. Hanich had yet to read those. He also could not, unfortunately, remember many of the particulars in the content of the book of John. It would have spared him a lot of study time.

Hanich’s mother stood over him as he read books he did not want to read, she worked to keep him from any meaningful activity, and she made him pray.

She did not actually force him to pray, not as such. Hanich would be sent to his room three times in a day, and when he emerged his mother would ask him whether he had been in study and prayer.

Hanich did not like to lie to his mother, and he hated her look of disappointment when he did not live up to her scholarly expectations. With a mind to the grand scheme of things he chose prayer as the lesser of evils and managed through it, as distasteful as it might be.

He did not, however, pray with the flowery words like they used at Sunday meeting. Hanich did not intend to make a career of speaking the right words to God, and therefore should not be expected to use anything other than common words when speaking to the maker and caretaker of the universe. He was sure God understood.

It was a chilled fall day, but the wind was quiet and the sun was shining. His brothers were outside, setting the front yard in order, his sister tended to the flower garden, planting bulbs before the first freeze so they could bloom in the upcoming spring. Hanich was in the upper floor sitting at his desk, looking through his window, trying to figure what he should pray.

“God,” Hanich finally said. “I’m thirteen years old, almost fourteen. I’m nearly too old to be an apprentice. I would very much like to be put to work. I would like to do something which helps people, and I think I would enjoy being tired at the end of the day. I know it’s not possible. But as Elder Simon said last week at Sunday meeting, you enjoy doing impossible things.”

For a moment Hanich thought he was done, and that he would have to rest for the remaining half hour before he could go back downstairs, where his mother would ask him to sit. But then another thought occurred to him, and since he was already supposed to be praying, he decided it would not hurt to say a bit more.

“If Elder Simon is right,” he continued. “Then you should really enjoy doing this, because it’s the most impossible thing I can think of.”

Hanich settled back down at his desk, and took one of the books off the pile which continuously grew there. If he could tell his mother he had prayed some and read some, she would be even more pleased. He opened the book, and adjusted its distance from him so that the letters were only a little fuzzy and set himself to reading, but after a moment he looked up, spying himself in the mirror.

“What if He answers?” Hanich asked himself.

 

The Kitchen

 

It was five days later, on a Thursday. Morning rain fell from the nearby grey sky as a man and a boy disembarked from the horse drawn trolley on a corner of the city where few ever approached. It was called the Academia. Once there had been a University of some reputation there. It was certainly not a place to walk through for it was the last section of the city before the gentle slopes turned to steep rocky hills. Every road worthy of remark circled around the area or went in some other direction.

The handful of industrial buildings were short, the tallest was four stories, and older than most. The stones used to build them were worn by the sun and wind. The paint on the frameworks and eves on most of the buildings were cracked if not missing, and the glass of the windows was dull and misty.

It rained quite often in the fall, and the days grew colder with every dark evening. Hanich had just left home, and for the first time in his life had no plans to return for anything more than a visit. It was an important moment in his life. Not even the dreary weather could dampen his enthusiasm.

They walked half a block to a well-lit building on the corner. The hand-crafted sign read “Comfort for People in Extraordinary Circumstances.” The wood was darkened on the sign and the outer walls, but in better repair than most of the surrounding buildings. In much smaller lettering at the bottom of the sign was the message, “Alster Scrimm, pres…” The rest of the last word had been worn away. As to whether the sign once said “president” or “presiding” or some other word prefaced with “pres-”, one would be obligated to hazard a guess.

It was a shop of sorts, two floors high; the lower floor being for the business residing therein, and the upper floor looked to be filled with rooms for storage or living space. There were three gables on the front side. Because of the rain and its attendant fog, Hanich could not see to the top of the roof.

The building was situated at the corner of the streets Felicity and Studious, just beyond a street called Knowing which seemed to be a main thoroughfare. The streets had been given names designed to encourage young scholars to be at their best.

Elder Dan, who had accompanied Hanich, instructed him to stand at the corner while he stepped within to speak to the man in charge. He found an overhang to avoid being soaked all the more as he waited.

He had wanted to seek out an apprenticeship since he had turned ten years old, but rumor about him said he was sickly and an insufferable know it all. It was unfair and untrue; Hanich was small for his age, and could not see well due to a round of childhood illnesses, but he was not sickly. His mother had started hinting about how Hanich would make a good cleric. Hanich had begun to believe it might be his only option.

However, Dan, an elder, had approached his mother after Sunday meeting and proposed a place where Hanich could learn a trade, one, he said, well suited to the young man. Hanich, who was not supposed to be listening at all, had taken that moment to retreat from the landing of the steps. Afterwards he had regretted not waiting long enough to hear the particulars.

“Enter boy,” Elder Dan said as he opened the door to him. “You must make a good impression. We will not be allowed a second chance.”

The man in the shop was older, half his hair missing, and half of what remained was shaded grey. He wore round glasses, but the lenses were not overly thick. As he walked around the desk he walked with a controlled limp which told of misadventures in younger days. Hanich noted the gleam in his eyes which revealed a glimmer of wit, and what he hoped was kindness.

“Mr. Scrimm,” Elder Dan said. “This is Hanich Argus. He is of a good family and a kindly mother, and he is ready to learn a trade.”

Mr. Scrimm considered him from top to bottom, never once uttering a sound as Elder Dan waited less than patiently for his verdict. It almost seemed like Mr. Scrimm was aware of Elder Dan’s impatience, and was not inclined to acquiesce to it.

“Hanich,” Mr. Scrimm finally said. “I understand you are one to pay attention to detail?”

“I believe I do sir,” Hanich answered.

“Good,” Mr. Scrimm said. “How many buttons would I find on the sleeve of Elder Dan’s jacket?”

“That would be three, sir,” Hanich said. He stopped for a moment, but then continued. “…on his left arm, and two on his right. The middle button on the other arm was moved to take the place of the third button down on the front of his shirt. You can tell because it’s slightly smaller than the rest.”

Elder Dan put one hand over his right sleeve. Hanich worked to keep a serious visage to his face. His possible employer had noticed the buttons first and had used it as a test. Mr. Scrimm showed no reaction whatsoever, and even more, he was not quite finished. He walked around the desk and sat down before he asked his next question.

“If you have a cricket in your room, what do you do?”

Hanich had never heard of such a question being given as a test of employment, and considered for a moment. He was not sure what was required of him, so he was forced to answer the question with honesty.

“Crickets are good luck sir,” Hanich said. “But if he insists on making his noise while I attempt to sleep, I would be obligated to catch him and put him outside.”

Mr. Scrimm allowed himself the barest edge of a smile.

“I guess he will do,” Mr. Scrimm said. “But I will send him home the first time he abuses his time, or takes anything not belonging to him.”

Elder Dan seemed pleased. He offered his hand to Hanich, who shook it hesitantly.

“I’ve brought you to the door young man,” Elder Dan said. “Whether you get to stay is on your shoulders. Put your heart into your work. Also, your mother would prefer to see you attend the meeting on as many Sundays as you can manage.”

“I will do my best Elder Dan,” Hanich said.

After collecting his fee Elder Dan departed, leaving Hanich standing in front of the desk where Mr. Scrimm sat. There was silence in the Kitchen for the whole of a minute.

Mr. Scrimm looked up.

“We help people here, people who need it,” Mr. Scrimm said. “No one is less of a person because they need help. If you are accustomed to looking down on people who have less than you, I will not require your services.”

“That will not be a problem sir,” Hanich said.

“I do not have an extra room for you,” Mr. Scrimm said. “But there is a nook on the other side of the fire where you can keep your things and sleep. This is Mira, she will find you a bedroll. You should change out of your wet clothes before you get to work.”

Behind Mr. Scrimm a girl stepped forward. Hanich would not have known whether she had been in the shadows the whole time, or if she had just arrived. She was slightly taller than he, and thin with dark hair straight down to her shoulders. Her left cheek was porcelain, as if someone had put a patch to cover her face from chin to cheekbone. It sparkled in the lamp on the desk.

“Follow me,” she said softly, and put her head down as she led him down the hall into the main room and then to the other side of the fireplace.

The girl was wearing a modest dress, the flax colored cloth was adorned with blue flowers. She was also wearing two wrist watches. They were very similar, one had a brown band and the other band was black. There were also some consistencies in the faces, like they were produced by the same maker. Hanich noticed they both were set to the same time.

“Your name is Hanich?” she asked as she put down two layers of blankets in the corner, and he opened his sack to retrieve his other change of clothes.

“It is,” Hanich said. “Mira, may I ask what happened to your face?”

Mira looked down again, taking a small step back from him.

“It is not an unpleasant thing to wear,” Hanich said. “I only wondered about the reason.”

Mira looked up at him and smiled slightly.

“You do not know what we do here.”

Hanich threw his bag of clothes on the bedroll. It was a small corner and wasn’t as large as the room he had at home, but he wasn’t obligated to share it with three brothers either, so he could not imagine anything more perfect. It would also be warm, being next to the fireplace. Someone had put up a three paneled privacy screen which Hanich would need to adjust.

“I guess I don’t ma’am,” he said. “I understood we help people somehow.”

“You need not call me ma’am,” Mira said. “You had best change quickly. We have much to do today. This evening we will prepare a meal, and we will serve it to those who arrive in need of food and company.”

“How many would that be?” Hanich asked, but Mira had already walked away from his corner and was shutting the door of the main room behind her. He quickly put his wet clothes on a set of hooks on the side of the fireplace where they might dry and put on his other clothes.

Hanich had been eager to work for a long time, and there was no one here who would hold him back saying he was too sickly or small for such things.

“Here Hanich,” Mira called him as he entered a room with long tables, lined with chairs to either side. Hanich made his way across the room and she greeted him with a tray covered with cookies of every kind and shape. Mira held it out to him until he reached for a cookie, then she moved it out of his reach.

“No Hanich,” she said. “Take the entire tray.”

He took the tray; it wasn’t as heavy as he thought it would be. Hanich decided he would enjoy working in a place where they let him have whole platters of cookies to salivate over, trying to decide which he would sample first.

“Go outside on the corner and give these to as many children as you can,” Mira said. “Return when you are done.”

Hanich felt his face fall. He had misunderstood the purpose of the tray from the beginning, and had done a fine job of making himself look silly. Hopefully it was something which hadn’t really been noticed and would be quickly forgotten.

“What if I don’t find any children?” Hanich asked. He had seen only a few people milling about in the short walk between the horse trolley and the shop, however, it had been raining at the time.

“Trust me,” Mira said, not quite hiding a smirk. “The children will most assuredly find you.”

Mira was correct, of course. The rain had subsided, leaving the gutters with a lazy flow of water and the occasional puddle. The sun was hidden behind clouds, but they were lighter than they had been before. Between the time Hanich stepped outside and when he reached the corner, he found himself in the company of twenty-seven young bodies who had converged on him and jostled for the best positions relative to the tray as he lifted the cookies out of the reach of dozens of tiny hands. It was like the time when the cousins had visited for Christmastime; they had supposed the candy set high on the shelf was meant exclusively for them.

“There is enough for you all,” Hanich said with a firm voice. “And I will box the ears of anyone attempting to take more than one. Form a line if you would.”

The children were eager in their desire for the cookies, but Hanich managed to keep them in check. All the while a young girl who wore a ragged dress stood at his side, offering her support for his efforts to create order amidst the chaos. She was, of course, eating her own cookie all the while.

The treats were quickly gone, and the children just as quickly dispersed to their play, a few actually thanked him before they were on their way. Hanich returned the tray inside. Mira had put the chairs all upon the tables and was busy sweeping the floor. Hanich found another broom and began sweeping from the other side.

It was in the midst of this task that Hanich remembered the little girl had, at one point, put the tops of her fingers into this vest pocket. At the time it had seemed innocent enough, he hadn’t given it a second thought.

Hanich stopped for a moment, and put his hand into the selfsame pocket. Where once the lucky coin his father had brought back from the war rested there was nothing to be found. The coin was indeed gone, and it was most likely the little girl had taken it.

“Doggon it,” Hanich exclaimed. He had not realized how close he had been working to his new employer. Mr. Scrimm had in fact stopped at a nearby table to write something on a document he had been holding.

“Is there a problem Master Hanich?” Mr. Scrimm asked without actually looking up.

“Begging your pardon, sir. I’ve lost my lucky coin,” Hanich said, trying to look down into this pocket in case his fingers missed something his eyes might see. “I believe it was one of the children.”

“I see,” Mr Scrimm said, then turned back to finish the note he was scribbling onto the page.

As Hanich returned to his work, Mr. Scrimm stood up, put the pages under one arm and turned to Hanich.

“Perhaps Master. Hanich,” Mr. Scrimm said. “You will no longer require the services of a lucky coin.”

“I seem to have little choice in the matter, Mr. Scrimm,” Hanich said.

Mr. Scrimm thought for a moment. He had a distant look when he was thinking, and a bit of a smile.

“If your coin is indeed lucky,” Mr Scrimm said at last. “You may find it will return itself to you.”

“On that,” Hanich said. “We will be obliged to wait and see.”

 

The League of Red-Eyed Gentlemen

 

After an afternoon of cleaning the large dining room, and assisting the cook as he prepared a large meal, Hanich counted thirty-two people as they showed up for dinner.

The cook was a large dark man named Ope who seemed to only speak in one word sentences, on those rare occasions when he chose to speak at all. He indicated what was ready to go out to the tables with a nod or by pointing a kitchen utensil. Hanich busied himself with carrying food to the table and after a few minutes used dishes to the back where he put them to be washed. He stacked the dishes with some care, hoping he would be allowed to wash them.

Hanich had never washed dishes before, but when he watched his sisters they seemed to enjoy it. He had always wanted to try his hand at it.

The guests arrived as families, but the men gathered at the middle table and the women and children sat on the two outside.

The men were rough and worn as if they knew work, but had a demeanor about them which showed they knew the lack of work as well.

Hanich thought little of it when he saw that all the men all wore shoes that had the shape of the chalky pills the doctors regularly gave him, although, the shoes were dark and leathery. They all wore baggy grey pants and thick cotton jackets which reached down to their knees. Every last one of the men had black bowler hats and thick round spectacles. The lenses were colored a dark blue and it was a wonder they could see a thing through them; but the lenses were also so thick one wondered how they could see at all without them.

The oddest thing happened when one of the men removed his spectacles to rub his forehead. His eyes were glowing the reddest red Hanich had ever seen. Hanich looked at the other men, each of their faces were alight with a deep red from the fire in their eyes. He looked again to make sure it was not a reflection, but the light was coming from the depths of their eyes. For a moment Hanich froze in place, watching the men. Then Mira jostled him from behind.

“Keep working Hanich,” she said.

“But their eyes,” Hanich said. “They are lit up… they are glowing.”

“Of course they glow,” Mira said. “I’ll tell you all about it later. We have work to do.”

Hanich took a glance back at the men, then continued serving. It was nice to know there was an explanation, but without a doubt it was the oddest thing he had ever seen.

“Professor, you have a new boy,” one of the patrons said to Mr. Scrimm. “A bit on the scrawny side, ain’t he?”

Mr Scrimm had entered the room carrying with him a small silk package. Hanich noticed him, but kept to his work. His new employer went directly to one of the men and handed the package to him. The man nodded a thank-you and pulled a pair of the dark lensed glasses out. He replaced his old pair, his eyes flashing when they were uncovered.

Mr. Scrimm did not seem daunted at all. He sat in the midst of them, eating a little. His attention was more on the conversations he had with those near him than on actually eating.

“Sit down and eat, son,” another said, pulling out an empty chair. “One good wind would take you completely away.”

“Give the boy a break, Mr. Bert,” another one said. “He will acquire his girth after he attains his height.”

Hanich made eye contact with the man speaking, as he had been taught to do. His eyes were definitely glowing. The red color had its origins in the iris, which was brighter than a candle flame. Not only did it glow, it seemed to throw off the occasional spark. The man immediately looked away from him, which Hanich took to mean he had stared at his oddly colored eyes and had been the cause of reticence.

“I’m sure I can avoid the wind, sir,” Hanich said, using his best smile. “Would you like more bread?”

The men ate and talked and laughed into the evening. Hanich gathered the dishes that had amassed so far and washed them, listening to the sound of glasses clinking in the water and reveling in the triumph embodied in every clean dish. At least, he decided, he had landed in a merry place. His arms would be sore in the morning, but he enjoyed working without someone nearby to tell him what he could not do or sending him to his room for prayer and reading.

He heard some snatches of conversation as he returned to the dining room. Amid the levity there was a more solemn mention of some child whose “lungs are underdeveloped” and who “could probably see just fine for a few yards, but for whom the rest of the world would be an impermeable haze.” Hanich wondered who it was they spoke of, and if it would be someone he would meet in the course of his activities. A boy like that could definitely use a friend. Perhaps Hanich could be a help to the young unfortunate.

Then another man, wearing the thick glasses which glowed purple when he wore them, arrived in the room, holding his bowler hat in his hand as he entered.

“Gentlemen,” he announced. “There has been an incident, and we are needed to lend help.”

It was as if the middle of the room exploded as the men stood up, putting on their jackets and thick glasses and moving to the door. Mr. Scrimm was in their midst, and grabbed hold of Hanich’s arm as the group walked by. The men congregated outside, none quite looking at any of the others. There was a chill in the air, but little wind.

“What’s happened, Mr. Green?” Someone asked as the red-eyed men placed their bowler hats on their heads and gathered into a tight circle. They were standing quite close, but not one of them looked up into the faces of the others.

“Someone broke into Miss Sonya’s teapot shop,” the new man announced. There was a muttered outrage from the rest of the men. Hanich did not know who Miss Sonya might be, but the men apparently felt a certain amount of protectiveness toward her.

Mr. Scrimm put his hand on Hanich’s shoulder.

“Do you mind if we accompany you,” he said to the men. “Perhaps we can help.”

“A’course sir,” Mr. Green said. “Glad to have ya along professor. We can always benefit from a set of clear eyes.”

 

Miss Sonya’s Teapot Shop

 

Mr. Scrimm retrieved his top hat and cloak as Hanich gathered his warm jacket. The sky was clear and the first stars were beginning to show as they walked out from the kitchen.

Miss Sonya’s teapot shop was a few blocks away, up the hill next to the steep hills which bordered the Academia. It had a very nice hand calligraphied sign hinged on a post out over the sidewalk, and a rather distressed young woman sitting out front. She was short, unreasonably short. When she stood she would not stand taller than Hanich’s elbow. She looked like a three-quarter sized doll wearing a fancy white dress, all covered with lace. Her brown hair was pulled up in a bun on top.

She looked as if she had been crying.

It was about a dozen men who arrived as the sun was starting to set, the group of red-eyed men, Mr. Scrimm and Hanich. As the sun faded from view the men’s eyes glowed visibly even through their dark glasses. It would be a chilling effect on a dark night.

“Mr. Scrimm,” the young woman said as she noticed the group approaching.

“What has happened?” Mr. Scrimm asked. The group of men deferred to his leadership from the moment he joined them. Hanich took this as a good sign, that he was apprenticed to a man who was a leader.

“I left the shop for dinner,” Miss Sonya said. “When I came back to clean before evening and saw this…“ She pointed at the front display window. “…My prized gilded teapots are gone! Someone has been in my shop.”

Hanich looked at the prominent front window of her shop which would typically be a showcase for her wares, but the shelf behind the window was quite empty.

“You haven’t gone inside?” Mr. Bert asked.

“I’m afraid to take the first step inside,” Miss Sonya said. “Whatever thief stole my pots might still be there.”

“It will be okay young miss,” Mr. Green said. “All o’ us are here now.”

As Miss Sonya stood up and pulled a set of keys from the pocket in her skirt and unlocked the door, Mr. Scrimm leaned down to speak to Hanich.

“Hanich,” Mr. Scrimm said. “You said you pay attention to details. Now is a good time to do so. Anything could be important. Look around and tell me everything you see.”

Hanich allowed himself to notice everything, even to the smallest detail. Mr. Scrimm guided him through the door with one hand gently on his right shoulder. He looked concerned. The front door was a wood framed door painted black with three glass windows on the upper third. Miss Sonya entered right behind them. She smiled sheepishly at the men which belied the look of horror which was evident in her eyes.

“See?” She said motioning at the window display. “The shelf is cleared off. Those were my best pots.”

The men with them lit four lamps which illuminated the four corners of the teapot shop. Four display cases near the back were filled with ten pots and thirty-two cups. On the floor beneath the window display shelf was a wide step which Hanich assumed Miss Sonya stepped up on to reach the teapots.

One of the boards in the floor in front of the empty display shelf creaked as Hanich stepped on it.

“It was likely someone who had been in the shop before,” Mr. Scrimm said. “They knew where to find what they were looking for.”

Hanich moved in so he could see more clearly. There was a small amount of dust on the shelf which once held the teapots. The circles where the pots once sat was faintly evident, as well as the trail where each of them had been taken off to the left.

“He took them off.” Hanich said, miming the right to left action with his right hand. “This way.”

“Right handed,” Mr. Scrimm said.

Hanich followed their direction to a small door in the corner of the shop. He turned the knob and walked through. He looked before he walked in, there was a small courtyard was open only to the sky. There was a potting wheel near the center of the open area, along with two work benches.

“Wouldn’t this door usually be locked?” Mr. Scrimm asked.

“Yes,” Miss Sonya said. “This is my potting area. It is always locked when I’m not using it.”

Hanich looked at the outside of the door. It was a large door, heavy wood painted green. The fixtures were burnished brass, the handle was worn smooth by the touch of many hands and there were fine lines around the opening for the key, lines which were brighter than the rest of the metal.

“Scratches around the lock,” he said to Mr. Scrimm. Hanich had heard the kids at school saying that even the best lock picks could not enter a door without leaving scratches.

Hanich entered the courtyard slowly. It was a rectangular area with a dirt floor which may have once been used for a garden. The shop surrounded the courtyard on two sides, and a two story brick building on the other side. There were no windows. To the back was a wall of bedrock which had once been buried in the side of a hill.

Near the middle of the courtyard was a potter’s wheel along with a stool for Miss Sonya to sit on as she worked. The wheel was accompanied on two sides by work tables which contained four pots in various stages of completion. Behind one of the tables, up next to the wall of bedrock, was a trash heap comprised of broken pots, a black bag and a few empty bottles which once contained paint.

“The front door remained locked,” Hanich said. “This door was picked from inside the courtyard. The thief entered from here. I don’t know if it means anything, but the theft coincides with the time the airship would be right overhead. I remember hearing it as we were serving dinner.”

“When does the airship fly over?” Mr. Scrimm asked.

“The evening flight lands at the Academia depot at six and a half,” Mr. Bert said. “And it leaves for Downtown Tower at seven and a half. Mr. Green tells me there are no scratches around the lock on the front door.”

“Could the thief have entered from above?” Mr. Scrimm asked as he looked up past the walls surrounding the courtyard into the night sky.

“They couldn’t have climbed it,” Hanich said pointing up. “The wood on the eaves would show the marks if they used ropes. They would need ropes, the walls are too smooth.”

“They jumped in using a parachute?” Miss Sonya asked. “Or some kind of harness?”

“Or what they did was loud enough that it needed to be covered by the sound of airship engines,” Mr. Scrimm said. “We must consider all possibilities.”

“Even if they somehow got in, how could they get out?” Hanich said. He wasn’t seeing any possibilities. They could not have locked the front door behind them without a key, and there was no way for anyone to have gotten out of the courtyard of Miss Sonya’s teapot shop.

Mr. Scrimm looked down at him, then put his hands on Hanich’s shoulders.

“Question your presuppositions,” Mr. Scrimm said.

Hanich took a deep breath and looked around again, asking himself what he was presupposing.

“There are some animals who can climb almost anything,” Hanich offered. “Maybe someone trained one to steal the teapots.”

“Keep trying Hanich,” Mr. Scrimm said. “If you do not have good guesses, look for more information.”

“He’d have to walk through walls to get in,” Mr. Green said. “Or out. Maybe our thief is a spirit.”

Hanich had been looking around the room, trying to see if there was a reason the room was unlocked. The trained animal idea was not a good one, but the spirit idea was worse. If someone could walk through walls they would have no need to pick the lock on the inside courtyard. On the other hand, picking a lock would be easier if one could remain unseen. It would be a good way to gain entrance into the teapot shop, if one could only find a way to get into the courtyard without attracting attention.

Hanich decided to look around the courtyard again, perhaps there was something he missed. He found what he was looking for when he looked behind the workbench.

“If they came at the same time as the airship,” Hanich said. “They may well be back in a few minutes.”

“Why would a thief come back?” Mr. Green asked.

Hanich reached around the workbench and picked up a large black bag. It had been placed in the trash heap. Hanich had noticed it earlier, but it took a few minutes for him to realize why the bag attracted his attention.

“Is this your bag Miss Sonya?” Hanich asked, holding it up.

“No,” Miss Sonya said. “I do not have a bag like that.”

Mr. Scrimm took the bag and opened it.

“I believe these are your pots,” he said, pulling one of the pots out and handing it to Miss Sonya.

“Some of them,” she said, looking into the bag and carefully taking the pots out.

“A third of them if I counted right,” Hanich said. “Why would someone collect all of the pots, but not take all of the pots with them when they departed?”

“Perhaps they could only carry so much at a time,” Mr. Scrimm said. “Whatever mechanism they are using to enter this shop is limited by weight, and they have not returned for the rest by this point, which indicates some sort of time constraint. So, Mr. Hanich, we should be prepared in case we are right about the thief returning for the rest of the teapots.”

 

The Ghost Thief

 

The courtyard was quiet, and mostly dark. The only light was reflected from the streetlamps on the other side of the building.

The distant thrum of the airship engines sounded from overhead. It was lit from the inside, lending an eerie light to the neighborhood.

The men and Hanich had taken various places around the courtyard, and in the front of the store. Once he had time to think, Hanich had to wonder at the theory attributed to him. The more he thought of it, the more he realized it was really Mr. Scrimm’s theory-- he had only observed and made a few guesses.

In the distance there was a sound like a large bird flapping overhead. Hanich looked up to see a shape backlit by the airship above. It looked like a rather large bat, but it resolved into a young man with light-colored hair. On his back was an engine, puffing away as it flapped the two large wings attached to the framework. The wings were dark, and if not for the illuminated airship above, they would have been impossible to locate on a moonless night.

The thief settled down in the courtyard and looked around. The wings folded in to his side as the engine on his back idled. He was young and unusually thin. He wore knee length breeches and a gilded waistcoat. Seeing nothing about, he walked up behind the bench and picked up the large black bag.

“That will be far enough,” Mr Scrimm said. “I think Miss Sonya would rather you buy her wares than steal them.”

The young man crouched down as he looked around. He was suddenly surrounded by men wearing glasses that glowed purple. He looked at Mr. Scrimm, the one who had spoken, and grinned in mirth.

“But I would rather steal them than buy them,” the thief said with an enunciation defined more by affluence than geography. He jumped up into the air, his wings started flapping, carrying him upward toward the airship.

Four of the men looked up and took off their glasses, bathing the the courtyard in a bright red glow. They were staring up at the young man as he flew away, illuminating him as well. Hanich wondered why they were doing such a thing and was about to ask when suddenly the thief’s wings burst into flames. He flapped ineffectively, trying to regain control as his wings disintegrated, and then fluttered down onto the street in the front of the teapot shop.

By the time they had run through the building the man was in the middle of the street, the frames of his wings still attached to his dented and dinged engine. He was surrounded on three sides by red-eyed men.

“He landed on the engine professor,” one of the men said. “He’s banged up, but none the worse for wear.”

“We’ll take him to the Constables,” Mr. Green said. “They’ll know what to do with him.”

“Too bad I had to break those,” the thief indicated the bag, lying on the street. “And you’ll not be getting your other pots back.”

“You broke nothing,” Miss Sonya said, standing up to her full stature. “…Except for a good share of flawed pots which would have been tossed away in the morning.”

Mr. Scrimm leaned down and touched some powder which was on the hood’s jacket. He peered at it as he rubbed it between his fingers and then wiped it off on his sleeve.

“I believe we’ll find the rest of the teapots in the steerage area of the airship,” Mr. Scrimm said. “I’m sure the Constables can arrange to have someone there when it docks at Downtown Tower. Is there anything else you wanted to say?”

The thief sputtered and said something unintelligible as the red-eyed men took him up the street toward the constabulary.

#

When Mr. Scrimm and Hanich arrived back at the Kitchen, the dishes had been washed and dried and put back in their places. The kitchen was clean and quiet. Hanich found no further work to do, so there was nothing more than to return to the nook on the side of the fireplace where his bedroll awaited. It had been a good day, he thought, he had worked harder than he’d ever been allowed to, and also managed to help someone when she was definitely in need.

Miss Sonya had been quite pleased as she returned a third of her pots back to their shelf, and the Constables had sent messengers to the Downtown area so constables there would meet the airship as it arrived. They were confident the remainder of her pilfered pots would find their way back to her shop within a day or two.

He walked back through the dining room, and found Mira sitting at the edge of the table, across from an untouched plate of food which happened to include one of the cookies from earlier in the day.

“Hanich, sit and eat,” she said.

He sat, taking a covert glance at her face. He did not want to embarrass her, but he could not help but look at the girl with the china face. Hanich had wondered at the cause of such an appliance throughout the day, each of his imaginings more exotic than the last. In the end he had no clue.

“Thank you Mira,” he said as he sat down. Even though the food was not warm, it was as delicious as it had smelled all evening, perhaps all the more for the amount of work he had done. “Will we do this again tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow has trouble enough on its own,” she said. Mira seemed far away at the moment, looking off to the wall but really not seeing it.

“Huh?” Hanich asked as he took a bite of bread.

“We will, but tomorrow is an open meal,” she said, returning to the here and now. “Their meal is only on Thursday. That was the league of red-eyed gentlemen and their families. They were once miners in the illuminatanium mines.”

“That’s what made their eyes glow red?” he asked.

“It is,” Mira said. “The mining company discharges them once their eyes turn. They gain sight beyond that of ordinary people, but they cannot gaze too long at any one thing. If they stare too long at something it lights itself on fire. It is not a good situation in a mine.”

“It came in handy tonight,” Hanich said, but thought about it for a moment. There were many circumstances where such ability would be a disadvantage. “But I can see how it could bring about some difficulties.”

“Yes,” Mira said with a slight smile. “If you were so afflicted you would have scorched my face by now.”

“I can’t help but look,” Hanich said. “The decoration on your face is beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mira looked down, for some reason she did not seem to appreciate that answer. Hanich managed to look contrite, even as he continued to eat. It made little sense to him, why would she wear something and not want anyone to notice it?

“Mr. Scrimm is the one who constructed those glasses for them,” Mira said, continuing on her former conversation. “Between finding the right material and then finding which tinting worked best, it took near a year to work it out. It helps them not to burn everything they look at.”

“And the glasses hide the glow except at night,” Hanich said. “It’s very smart. They all call him professor.”

“He was once,” Mira said. “He still dabbles in the sciences; he has a laboratory in the building. Often he is the one to find solutions for problems, like those experienced by those men.”

“But the mine still won’t hire them back,” Hanich said. It was not a question, it was obvious.

“You should be prepared,” she continued. “What we do is important, but it is not always easy, and not always as effective as we would like.”

“Okay,” he said, gulping down a potato.

“The Academia is an epicenter for the most extraordinary events,” she said. “No one knows why. People come to us, some of them with the most unusual problems. Mr. Scrimm tries to help them, he finds the best cures or solutions for them, and if he cannot…”

“He gives them what comfort he can,” Hanich said. “I like that. It seems I have come to be an apprentice in a most unusual place.”

Mira smiled slightly and looked up at him.

“Hanich,” she said. “You are not meant exclusively to be an apprentice here.”

She stood and walked toward the kitchen. The back hallway which ended in the staircase to the second floor where she had her room.

“What do you mean?” Hanich asked.

Mira stopped at the door, holding it open she looked back at him.

“I think I will call you Itch,” Mira said. “It suits you. You’re a bother, but you’re not very big.”

 

 

This is the first episode in an 11 story series. I will release them one a week on Thursdays, then I intend to publish Extraordinary Circumstances as a combined paper book through Amazon/Create Space.

Please be kind and post reviews.


Extraordinary Circumstances: 1 The League of Red-Eyed Gentlemen

1 The League of Red-Eyed Gentlemen Hanich was too sickly, and was nearly too old to acquire an apprenticeship. So when he was offered a position in a soup kitchen in a run down neighborhood he thought it the most extraordinary thing he would ever experience. He was wrong. Welcome to the Kitchen, where comfort is offered, even to those in the most extraordinary of circumstances. A Christian Steampunk Experience Extraordinary Situations is a story told in eleven episodes.

  • ISBN: 9781311635976
  • Author: StephenB5 Jones
  • Published: 2016-06-24 00:05:07
  • Words: 7679
Extraordinary Circumstances: 1 The League of Red-Eyed Gentlemen Extraordinary Circumstances: 1 The League of Red-Eyed Gentlemen