He awakes, finding himself half buried, as the snow pounds the cobblestones like rain. He pulls himself to his feet and attempts to get his bearings. What was his name? Clockwise? How odd…
He stumbles onto the street. He then pauses in front of a butcher's shop window, and aside from his button-up short sleeve shirt, knickerbockers and buster browns, is aghast at his reflection. That can't be right, can it?
CASEFILE THE SECOND: CLOCKWISE
So there we were, enjoying a leisurely night of mahjong at our Grimalkin street flat (well, one of us were- it all ways looked like playing with sushi to me. If it swims and it's not a duck, I'm not interested). So of course the phone rings and guess who it is?
"Mrs. Forde just called- we're needed." So off we go, Penelope complaining that I cheat when I don't even know half how to play the stupid thing. Luckily we arrive at our destination before I can contemplate smacking my partner in the head with a two-by-four.
Avalon Bridge, to most people is just another stoic city landmark, but to us it's home sweet home: the secret HQ to "His Majesty's Bureau for the Rehabilitation of Remarkably Gifted Waifs and Strays" run by the equally stoic Mrs. Vivian Forde.
Folders on the desk, she regales us with the tale of one Professor Cecil Cogsworth, a well-known and respected automaton scientist and inventor. I've seen these things in action at the World's Fair- creepy but fascinating. "It seems the professor has gone missing for over a month now. No contact whatsoever in that time. The authorities are stumped. His family is frantic." I look to the Miss when she says, "Dramatic and worrisome to be sure, but what does it have to do with us?"
In answer to this question, Mrs. Forde simply presses a button on her intercom: 'Ada, please send our guest in." A mysterious hooded figure walks in. Mrs. Ford's features soften- I didn't think they could do that,
'It's OK, dear, you're among friends here.' Dear?
"'Yes, mam'n." His voice is young, timid
He removes his hood, The Miss and I catch our breath. The young man appears to be completely made of wood! Soft wiring and clicking noises indicate he runs on clockwork.
"My name, I believe, is Clockwise, and I used to be a real boy.'
The room was opulent, luxurious, fit for a king. Greek statuary, plush leather seating, Currier and Ives originals everywhere, On one side of the room sat billionaire industrialist Jericho Wahl. On the other, Clarence Cogsworth.
Stout and balding, Wahl was the physical opposite of the frail and greying Cogsworth, who was bound and gagged to his chair.
Wahl had a chuckle like an old theater villain. "Frankly, I didn't think you had it in you, ol' boy, but here we are."
Wahl moved within a hair's breath of the professor. "You know what I want." Cogsworth mouthed, "YOU. CAN'T. HAVE. HIM!"
Wahl just kept on laughing.
"So I wandered the streets; my father's factory abandoned for I don't know how long, my father nowhere to be found, and me like this…" Clockwise spread his arms to indicate himself, a catch in his voice. Poor kid.
Penelope knells beside the boy, hand on his shoulder, and says, "Now listen Clockwise, this is important- are you sure that is all you remember? Anything, anything at all?" Clockwise's eyes shut, lost in thought- then suddenly fly wide open, and he exclaims, "I fell! Whether I slipped or was pushed, I don't know, but I remember falling from a high place! Oh no-"
'Anyone seen the green tea? I've been- woah, who's this cutie pie?"
Just then Tinderbox flies into the room and sobers Clockwise right up. Whether it its because she is an EmberSprite or blonde and curvy is up for debate. I'm big enough (no puns) to admit to a certain amount of jealousy on my part. Don't push it, though.
She makes a right fuss of him, too- flirting outrageously, ruffling his hair and such. I didn't know wood could blush,
At this point, Penelope cheerfully suggests we investigate Cogsworth's factory, Prometheus Inc., which I heartily agree- without Clockwise, "For the boy's safety".
I could tell Tinderbox was about to protest- when Penelope says, "No, I'm afraid I have to disagree. We need him to help us search the factory. He would know places to look." And with that bit of info Tinderbox grabs Clockwork by the hand and out the door they fly.
Penelope sighs, "How sweet."
I contemplate that two-by-four.
Prof. Cogsworth considered fate that morning- his own and his son's. He thought back over his son's life- and death- and life of the past year. It all came too close- too close.
First, his son was pushed from the rafters of his factory by some –then- unknown assailant. It was only by some miracle he was able to save the boy's life. Did he save his son's life? Is that truly what he did? Or doom him to a life of ridicule and ostracism? What now?
What now is he needed to escape and soon.
The darkened factory is the size of a museum- looks like one too, with automa all around of things like elephants and giraffes, but with exposed gears and metallic skins. The place is still empty, which adds an extra eerie atmosphere. Towards the middle is a massive something filling up the better part of the hall, covered in a leather tarp and bolted to the floor.
Suddenly a loud clacking noise fills the factory as one by one, the overhead lights snap on.
The voice that follows is pompous and arrogant.
"TESTING, TEST- ah, very good"
Well, maybe not so empty.
"I'll dispense with the formalities, as you obviously know who I am."
Actually, we have no idea, but what the heck.
"And you are obviously here for the Professor as I recognize the Boy with you. How convenient."
Suddenly the bolts to the tarp pop like firecrackers as it flies off the,,, flying whale?
The creature roars as its set free, while we watch dumbfounded. A little too dumbfounded as we react too late to the creature swooping down and swallowing us whole! "Well, that was unexpected."
The interior is bathed in the dull red glow of red emergency lights, We are still alive, also unexpected. The voice of our captor crackles over the creature's inner loudspeaker- "I will let you all go if you turn the Boy over to me." Typical. Nice to know who the villain is, mister.
Miss Penelope is seething- "What do you want with him? He's just a boy!" Wahl laughs, "It should be obvious, it's because he is a boy! With him, his body, I can be young forever!" In return Clockwise exclaims, fists curled, teeth clinched, "You're the one who pushed me off the rafters! Let my father go! You can have me!"
Wahl chuckles and says, "How generous" and presses an unseen button. A hatch opens in the roof of the creature like a blowhole and starts to suck all of the air out, Clockwise with it. Just as soon the hatch closes, leaving the rest of us behind, gasping violently. Our host is at least gracious enough to leave the air running.
The Professor was free. He found we was able to worm and wiggle his way out of his bindings as his arms were tied to each other across his back, not the chair he was in. He made his way for the door. Unfortunately, someone was there to greet him.
"Going somewhere, Professor?"
I look at Penelope. Tinderbox looks at Penelope. We look at each other. Penelope looks at the pretty red emergency lights. Lather, rinse, repeat. The Miss then gets that mischievous look usually associated with, well, me, and says,
"I have an idea". She then motions to Tinderbox and whispers conspiratorially in her tiny ear; the embersprite brightens up figuratively, smiling ear to ear, then literally, lighting up like a Christmas tree. The Miss places her hat over the fire elemental, and watches as her chapeau goes up in flames.
Claxon alarms and warning lights go off, as smoke fills the creature's lungs causing it to lurch, coughing violently. Thrashing about, the whale spews springs and bolts and (not incidentally) us across the factory floor like eggshells. We hit the tile floor, skidding madly. The whale is on a rampage, tearing through the factory unabated, smoke pouring from its nostrils. It smashes into the rafters wildly, taking out half a floor with it. The rafters collapse in on it, We manage to climb from the rubble. Let's see the bald fellow laugh that one off!
The wooden boy ran to his father, embracing him fully, forgiving him for all his foibles. "How touching." Wahl snided. Clockwise launched himself at his father's taunter, snarling. "It's because of you that I wound up this way! 'YOU KILLED ME!"
But before he could reach Wahl, the man pulled out a Remington from his vest and trained it on the boy's father. "BACK OFF! Don't think I won't use this! I can just as easily waste him as you, boy!
And that's when we show up. That's about when we always show up. This nick of time business is getting old. "Let the gentleman go, mister- mister- just what is your name, anyway?" "Jericho Wahl, at your service" The man bows, eloquently. "The industrialist? How fancy." "Even so. Let him go, Mister Wahl, there is no automaton to distract us now." Jericho Wahl backs away, gun tight against the Professor's head. "No, I don't think so, Madam. Like I said, I can- "
"BOOM!" said Tinderbox, setting what was left of the man's hair on fire. That's when the Miss knocks him across the noggin with her bumbershoot, putting him down for the count, out cold. Tinderbox is gracious enough to put the man's hair out.
We win. That never gets old.
"Oh son, son. Can you ever forgive me?" The Professor laid his head in his son's hands, weeping. He lifts his father's head up and says, tenderly, "Father, how could I ever accuse you of anything? You saved my life!" Me and Tinderbox pretend we have something in our eyes. The Miss coughs to cover a sniffle. "I hope you will consider our offer, Professor Cogsworth. Both of you." Clockwise looks to his father, hope in his brown glass eyes. "Oh father, can we?" The Professor sputters, "Well I don't know…" That's when Tinderbox flies up into his face and says, roughly translated, "Whatdoyoumean'youdontknow'?YOUDONTKNOW?Whenyouhavea reallifeEMPERSPRITEinfrontofyoutostudy?Areyoucrazy?Humans, fah!"
And that's how our group got a little bigger that day..