The Telenet was a rather new invention. It began as an experiment of connecting departmental difference engines, which had evolved from simple calculations to being able to process textual documents that were coded into them, so that professors and upper level students could communicate more quickly and share their findings. Swiftly the English Crown had adopted the system to the government, which initially gave the Empire a leg up over the other European nations. This was remedied quickly, mainly by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then France. Germany was still not unified enough to manage building one, but they had succeeded in mastering the creation of difference engines all the same.
A little over five years after the Telenet being adopted by the British Empire, it had spread to the civilian population. While only the very wealthy could afford it at first, it had trickled down. I personally had a small difference engine connected to the London Telenet, but long distance and international communication was still handled mainly by the telegraph offices, which had the machines and energy to send messages farther.
I pulled my automobile up to the telegraph office closes to my flat and got out. I didn’t put out the fire this time, as sending a telegraph shouldn’t take me long. It was the response that would, though hopefully not too long. The bell over the door rang as I walked in and the operator looked up. A thin, spare man with his sleeves rolled up to the elbow and a pencil tucked behind his left ear, the old man gave me a gap-toothed smile.
“Good day, sonny, will you be sending a telegram of missive?”
I gave him a polite bow of my head as I reached the desk. “A telegram, to New York, care of one Gunnar Erikson,” I replied.
His pencil scratched against the paper as he wrote down the details. “And what will ye be saying, sonny?”
I thought for a second. Since this was mostly involved Amanda’s Tarot reading, I was hesitant to mention Lady Radcliff’s case. While Gunnar’s knowledge of the occult was more expansive than mine for various reasons, I wasn’t sure I’d need his help. I was, after all, hired to catch a blackmailer and a thief, the ring’s past was incidental for all I knew. I’d keep the message on Amanda then, and worry about anything else later.
“Cousin, a Norn plays games. Stop. Requesting aid as convenient. Stop.”
The old man nodded and scribbled. When finished he gave me an odd look. “This all, sonny?”
I nodded, and passed over the required amount. “Yes, and please send it out as soon as possible, if you would,” I said, slipping a few shillings to the man. Bribery wasn’t needed, but it rarely hurt to give someone a little extra when possible. People remember the generous fondly. The gap-toothed smile flashed with reassurances it would go right out.
Giving the man my thanks I left and got back into my automobile. I considered my next step as I put it in gear. The note was in my pocket and testing it at my lab would be a good idea. On the other hand, I could use a bit of food and some more information. If I could find out skilled burglars who were in town, I might be able to narrow down my suspects. Since the list of people who knew Lady Radcliff’s secret was supposed to be short already, narrowing it down further would only aid me. Still, something about Lord Radcliff’s sudden plans to return struck me as odd. I couldn’t rule out that he had some part of this.
I eased the automobile through the London traffic, dodging angry shouts and fishwives. The rain had driven most of the latter under cover, but there were still plenty of the former. I decided that the rain was likely to have driven most of the London underground into various shelters this early in the day, rather than congregating them in a few locations, I decided to turn to home.
I had just pulled up to an intersection and stopped when a figure in a heavy coat and bowler hat pulled low stepped onto the running board of my car. Though I couldn’t see much of his face, I could see the small gun in his hand quite well.
He reeked of tobacco and cheep booze, with the body of a dockworker under the coat.
“Best lay off ‘he Lady Radcliff, mate,” he growled at me, a slight accent of the Australian colonies in his voice. “Roight messy it is, wouldn’t want to see you get ‘urt.”
My hand moved towards one of the potions on my belt, but he vanished into the rain a second later. I bit back a growl, scanning around for him, but then people behind me started shouting for me to move and I had to drive on. Still, while I knew little of my assailant, he had told me more than just to drop the case.
Clearly someone had a vested interest in Lady Radcliff’s blackmail that went beyond getting three thousand pounds. She’d told me the amount would be enough to draw her husband’s attention. Now it seemed that attention was wanted more than the money, since anyone who had researched my client to the point of knowing her secret and where she kept her jewelry so precisely would know she couldn’t pay out that sum. Now, the question was not so much as to who had the skill to commit this crime, but rather who would profit from it the most. I wanted to raise Lord Radcliff’s viability as a suspect, but realized that had more to do with personal feelings towards a man I’d never met rather than evidence, so I pushed it aside. The father of Lady Radcliff’s child, however, would most likely know both her secret and desire revenge for her gaining such a wealthy marriage. Certain members of both her and her husband’s family were also possible suspects, though I knew none of them. Perhaps the Radcliffs had discovered her secret after the wedding and felt that a divorce and Lady Radcliff’s disgrace would free up the Lord Radcliff and permit him to marry a much more wealthy and higher born girl.
I sped up as I headed home, the note weighing heavily in my pocket. It held vital clues and if my brief passenger had been any indication, could be the key not only to the case, but my continued health.