The Theft of the Papers, Part 1

By the time Merri reached the front door at Cl0ckw0rkings she’d already made the transition from light-hearted socialite to hard-headed, pragmatic airship captain. Esther met her at the door, wringing her hands — but since she was not screaming or fainting or showing other signs of distress, Merri supposed it was simply nervous habit when something upsetting had happened.

“Has anything been touched since the theft was discovered?”

“No, my lady, we left it as it was, but–!”

“Very good. I need to ascertain what was taken. Do not contact the constables, we don’t need them for this. Carlo? Harry?”

“Oi?”

Sí, madonna?

“Harry goes to the Flit, and I want you to concentrate on the flying bridges over the Docks and all the way to the carnival. Ears spread, I want to know what’s up there. Don’t waste too much time on details just yet and get back here with what you can in two hours.”

Their respective responses commingled as they headed for the exit.

“Esther, I’ll want your help to sort through what’s left, as you’ve enough sense not to try to read anything you know shouldn’t. Have Astrid sent up with some tea for both of us. We’ve got two hours.”

“Yes, my lady! Right away!”

.-*-._.-*-._.-*-.

She knew almost as soon as she opened the door that this wasn’t one of the usual thefts that plagued all scholars in the Neath. The papers on her writing desk were still there, largely undisturbed — ever since the first theft, she’d taken to leaving “fake papers” as bait for the unwary. They looked authentic enough and were an easy “grab and go,” things like faked up Correspondence symbols and mathematical equations that, if they were ever solved, would turn out to be attempts to describe the flights of bats in the stalactites above. Or possibly the ratio for a perfectly sweetened cup of tea.

Those were all still where she’d left them. But her locked cabinets had been completely rifled, papers, pens, ink bottles, slide rules and compasses scattered helter-skelter across the floor.

Figlia di puttana,” she whispered. “I think I know what they took.”

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