This is part 2 of my Hardboiled / Noir / Steampunk tale. For part 1 click here. It looks like it will take an extra post to finish it all up. The conclusion will be posted on Monday.
Glass Half Empty (Part 2)
by T.S. Bazelli
The airship was tethered to the ground by two chains five times Claude’s width. A wide ramp extended down onto the plateau, creaking and scraping great gashes into the stone, as the ship swayed above. Party goers made their way up and down its length in a seemingly intoxicated swagger. As Claude climbed the ramp, his stomach heaved.
“Now what are you supposed to be?” A raven masked woman waved a gloved hand in his direction and rubies glittered at her wrists. She clung to a man dressed as a horse. He was balding up top, looked twice her age.
“Well Miss.” He tried not to slur. “It is a detective costume. These coffee stains you see so strategically sprayed about? I spent a week in the company of the foulest sort just to get it exactly right. All in the name of authenticity.”
“Very original good sir!” The horse man chuckled, nearly tripping over his feet as he walked by. Claude found himself smiling back. It was a good thing he’d slept longer than he’d planned. He fit right in. He plucked a flute of champagne from a waiter and sauntered up the ramp.
The main deck of the airship was transformed into a banquet hall. Oddly glowing candelabras were mounted directly into the walls. They gave off a color of light that unsettled him, and it was reflected by the shiny brass workings of the ship making the room far too bright. Electricity? He wondered, and kept his distance. Science made him nervous.
He kept to the edges of the room, but his eyes were soon drawn by two things. Glass cases were roped off behind a flank of black clad security guards. Even in the distance he could see the telltale glitter of diamond, and emerald; the duke’s private collection on display.
Claude also spotted the man himself. Elroy alone wore no mask, among a menagerie of horses, bears, foxes, ravens, and clowns. Why would he? Those jaws were so perfectly angular. His nose was straight, and his skin flawless. He had the bluest eyes that Claude had ever seen, the most perfect dark curls of hair. If Claude had been that genetically blessed, he’d have mounted a mirror to his forehead.
“Sorry.” He mumbled, as the ship lurched and he stepped into a man standing nearby. He saved the man’s wine glass from spilling, and admired downed the rest of the drink in a single gulp. He pressed the empty glass back into the appreciative man’s hands, but soon regretted the decision.
Claude ran into one of the corridors that branched off the main hall. He shoved open door after door, looking for the blasted toilet. He’d desecrated several well appointed rooms, a library, and an office, before he found the toilet.
“What are you doing here sir?”
“I er… ah…” Claude, ran back into the bathroom emptied the contents of his stomach with a great heave. He heard a snort of disgust, and footsteps of the servant stomping off in the opposite direction. For once, being a drunk came in handy. He lay there, for a good long while, his head on the toilet, listening to the gurgle of water in pipes, cursing Colette.
When he finally emerged, the hallways were empty. He felt like a new man, lighter, greatly in need of a drink. He hoped Colette could appreciate how much he suffered for her.
The lights flickered on and off. The ship sunk briefly. Electricity was damned unreliable, he thought as he walked, not sure if he was headed in the right direction. Gradually he became aware of a humming sound, and he made his way towards where it was loudest.
The door was locked. Finally, something interesting, he thought, and removed a set of lock picks from his pocket. Several fumbles later, he heard the mechanism click open. He pushed open the heavy door. The room was brighter than the main deck and he blinked as his eyes adjusted. He ran back out into the hallway and the door clicked closed in front of him.
He caught his breath, his heart fluttering. If he’d had anything left in his stomach he’d have lost it then. Be strong Claude! He heard the lock click back into place. He swore, and fumbled with the picks again.
This time Claude was prepared. He held his breath as he walked into the room, and pushed the mask away. What he thought were the shapes of bodies, were actually the faintly whimpering, moaning, shapes of women. There were half-a-dozen in the room. In the center of it all, a life sized painting of Elroy. On close inspection, Claude could see bits and pieces of other paintings had been glued to the canvas, forming a crazed patchwork quilt of body parts.
He focused on the painting and not the women. Cerulean blue eyes here, lips in crimson oil paint there. Very avant-garde? One of the canvas pieces was peeling in a corner. Claude pulled it off, revealing the original painted stump of an ear beneath. He used his nails to scrape the other pieces off the painting. The duke that stared back had a lopsided face. One eye was too large, his mouth too crooked. Now that is more like it, Claude found himself grinning as confidence welled back up in his chest.
Claude, began to unhook the bandaged, disfigured women, but his sister was not among them. The thought bothered him more than he thought it would have.