Authors: Darrell Pitt
Tags: #General, #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure
The Steampunk Detective
Copyright 2011 Darrell Pitt
Published at Smashwords
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To My Parents
“Get him!” a voice yelled.
Jack Mason turned around to see Charley Spratt and his cronies – Alfie and Felix Smithers – half way down the street behind him.
He broke into a run as the other boys gave chase.
“You’re gonna be sorry, ya little maggot!” Alfie yelled.
Jack raced down the street. He had a pretty good idea what he was supposed to be sorry about, but he doubted he would ever actually feel any sorrow about it. They were all inhabitants – some would say inmates – of Sunnyside Children’s Orphanage, surely one of the most inappropriately named organisations in all of Britain.
If there was a bright and sunny side to the orphanage, Jack had yet to see it. The people who ran the institution were decent enough, but the children contained within its high walls ranged from kind and clever to cruel and evil. Charley and his cronies definitely fitted into the latter category. Away from the eyes of those in charge, Charley made it his mission to inflict pain on the smaller children. This ranged from bashings in the middle of the night to stealing the meagre allowance they were allocated by the director of the orphanage, Mr Daniels.
That morning, before leaving for school, Jack had decided to pay Charley and his friends back for some of those evil acts. All three boys would have found their shoes right by their bedsides where they had left them the previous night.
Upon dragging their boots on, however, they would have found their feet sinking into mud.
Jack’s revenge had been simple, but effective. The boys had been forced to clean the boots themselves, much to the amusement of every kid in the orphanage. Despite their efforts, the boots would never be quite the same again.
Charley was dumb, but he was not so stupid as to not realise who had made a fool of him. His eyes had briefly met Jacks as he dragged the sodden boot off his blackened foot.
Jack had stared back at him with steely resolve. He feared Charley and his henchmen, but he would not allow himself to be crushed by them. The last few years had been difficult enough. He and his parents had once been known as The Flying Sparrows. As a team of flying trapeze artists, they had amazed circus audiences and defied death all over Britain.
One day, all that had changed. They had defied death one time too many and death had taken its revenge.
“No-one makes a fool out of Charley Spratt!” Charley yelled out.
Jack glanced back.
They were getting closer.
I’ve got to shake them off
, he thought. He had to lose them and circle back to Sunnyside some other way.
Jack raced past an old abandoned factory. He spotted a few missing boards in the fence. Climbing through, he saw a large flat parking area. Beyond this lay a pair of huge double doors leading into the factory. Racing across the yard, Jack glanced back to see the larger boys climbing through the hole in the fence.
The large double doors were slightly ajar. Jack squeezed through. The factory had once been some sort of iron works. Huge pulleys and conveyor belts ran overhead from one end to the other. At the far end of the building lay the foundry where metal would have been melted. The interior was dusty, but not ramshackle. It almost looked as if workers could come back at any moment and resume their jobs.
The interior spread out before him. Unfortunately there were few places to hide. His only real place of refuge lay…
His eyes looked upwards.
A set of stairs led up to a mezzanine level that ran around the outside of the factory. Jack raced up the steps. Pieces of machinery and discarded metal lay in half gloom. He took refuge against the wall among some shelving.
Voices drifted up to him.
“I saw him come in here.”
That was Felix!
“Well I can’t see him now,” Charley said.
“Maybe he found a door,” Alfie said.
Jack started to breathe a little easier. He leaned against the timber wall. People like Charley and his gang had little interest in learning about the world or becoming better people. They were more interested in making themselves feel powerful by walking over those who were smaller and weaker.
Jack liked to read. It made him stand out from many of the other kids at Sunnyside. His parents had instilled a love of books in him and he enjoyed nothing more than reading classic adventure stories. Charley and the others didn’t even know how to read. Jack had once seen Charley staring at the words in a book like they were written in some foreign language.
Charley and his friends had a small attention span. Jack thought if he stayed where he was, the gang of bullies would eventually lose interest and leave. He would find another way back to the orphanage -.
Jack jumped. He had knocked an old pot of paint off the shelf onto the floor.
, he thought.
That’s done it.
He raced along the mezzanine level, diving around pieces of equipment as he ran. He heard the boys coming up behind him. Bazookas! There had to be a route of escape down to the floor below. He would be safe if only he could find it.
“You’re gonna die, you little rat!”
Charley’s voice sounded close. Very close. Jack reached the end corner of the factory. He hurried through piles of old metal pipes. If he could just find a set of stairs leading to the ground below -.
He caught a glimpse of movement amongst the piles of junk stacked high on the other side of the mezzanine level. Alfie was running down the other side of the factory to cut him off.
In a matter of seconds he would be caught between both sets of bullies.
He stumbled to a halt. There was no set of stairs leading down. There was no way down at all. He glanced over the railing. He was about twenty feet above the floor. Directly below lay machinery and jagged pieces of metal. A jump from here would lead to serious injury and maybe worse.
“You little piece of sludge!”
Jack turned. Charley had caught up with him. The bully stood about twenty feet away. He picked up a piece of pipe and waved it threateningly. Next to him, Felix Smithers grinned at him with malicious intent.
“You’re gonna regret what you did,” Felix said. “You’re gonna be real sorry.”
“Not likely,” Jack said.
He turned around to see Alfie appear from between two piles of junk.
Now he was hemmed in on both sides. He would be helpless as they moved in to exact their revenge. Jack swallowed. They had beaten some of the boys at the orphanage black and blue, but they had never actually killed someone.
Still, there was always a first time.
There was no way to escape.
“How about we make a deal?” Jack suggested.
“What sort of deal?” Charley asked suspiciously.
“How about you learn how to read and write,” Jack suggested. “And I won’t call you dummy?”
Charley’s eyes opened with rage. He looked so angry he almost looked like he was suffering some sort of seizure. “You little grub. I’m gonna-.”
The bully started forward. Jack ran straight towards the railing. Just before he reached it, he jumped and placed his left foot on the top. He pushed off with all his might and leapt into thin air.
For a moment he felt like he was back with his parents. Jack was one of the Flying Sparrows once more. He was not an orphan living among other orphans, but part of a family. His mother would cook dinner for him and he and his parents would sit around the campfire outside their caravan at the end of a long day.
The fantasy lasted only a second. Jack brought himself back to reality and threw his arm out. It connected with a metal hook that hung from a chain. The chain was part of a conveyor mechanism that ran the whole length of the factory. Propelled by his momentum, the hook slid along its track, taking him away from the bullies and back towards the entrance to the factory.
The chain finally reached the end of its track and Jack came to an abrupt halt. Now he swung back and forth a couple of times before leaping onto another chain. Balanced by a counterweight, he slowly descended towards the factory floor until he found himself only a few feet above ground.
Jack let go of the chain and landed safely. He looked back to the far end of the factory. Charley and his henchmen stood on the distant mezzanine level, staring at him, open mouthed.
“I’ll see you back at Sunnyside,” he called.
As he turned away, he muttered under his breath, “Rotters.”
He hurried through the front entrance of the factory and out into the street. The bullies would not catch up with him now. He allowed himself a moment to relax.
Around him, steam cars and horse driven vehicles fought for supremacy on the narrow street. Glancing up, he saw lines of airships crisscrossing the sky above London. The skies were busier than ever now the express route to Europe had been opened. In the distance the London Metrotower cut the horizon like a mighty mountain, rising from the heart of what was once Northam. It reached taller into the sky than the eye could see, punching a hole through the clouds like a mighty elm tree as it cut through the atmosphere directly into space.
From its upper reaches, steam powered spaceships navigated the globe, facilitating trade and commerce with other countries as well as maintaining a military presence at the edge of space.
As their Prime Minister, Mr Kitchener, had very famously said, “Whoever controls the high ground controls the world.”
Jack half jogged the last few blocks back to Sunnyside until he reached the great stone entrance to the structure. From here the place looked even more like a jail than an establishment for raising children.
Home sweet home
, he thought dismally.
What did I ever do to deserve this?
He was half way across the courtyard when he heard a voice call to him from behind.
He turned to see the orphanage director, Mr Daniels, standing in the entrance way to one of the buildings. The man waved him over.
Surely I can’t be in trouble over the boots
, he thought.
Someone must have ratted on me.
“Good afternoon, Jack.” Mr Daniels looked down at him. “I need to have a word with you.”
“This is your new home,” Mr Daniels said. “Two twenty–one Bee Street. You’ll want the top floor. Ask for Ignatius Doyle.”
Before Jack could utter a single word, Mr Daniels tapped his driver on the back of his shoulder with his stick and the steam car chugged off down the street, leaving him stranded on the footpath. After a moment it merged with the traffic and Jack could not pick it out from any of the other vehicles.
Jack looked up at the building. Ten stories high, the old brick structure showed obvious signs of wear and pollution. Black soot stained the exterior. Most of the windows were either cracked or looked permanently boarded up. Even the front stone steps slanted downwards at one end.
Jack felt like turning around and fleeing. He wanted to be away from this place. But where could he go? He had no family and Mr Daniels, the director of the orphanage, had already said his farewells.
“We have found you gainful employment,” Mr Daniels had said the previous evening. “You will be an assistant to a man with an infirmity.”
Jack had been unsure as to what an ‘infirmity’ actually was, but it had not sounded like fun. Still, the promise of a new life had appealed to him. It meant he would not have to deal with Charley and his cronies any longer and possibly the food would be better.
So he had agreed and packed his meagre belongings into a bag. After saying a few quick goodbyes to a few close friends, Mr Daniels had bundled him into his vehicle and driven him across London to this run down location.
On the street around him, overflowing rubbish bins lined the pavement. The open doors of workshops revealed men forging metals and constructing instruments. Altogether it was an unremarkable street in a run down section of London.