Her high heeled boots clicked delicately on the hardwood as Andy passed from the carpeted aisles where the other passengers sat and into the hall leading to the galley. She was just in time to see him duck into the storage room on the left side of the hall. She’d had her eye on him since the voyage had begun, perhaps not so much on him as on his exquisite pocket watch. Andy fancied herself a collector of fine things, and coveted the delicate gold engraving and sturdy chain of the watch the moment she laid eyes on it.
As she approached the door the slender woman pulled a compact mirror from the small velvet purse on her wrist. Getting the watch should be simple, few men stood up to her wiles. She grinned as she thought of how much easier it would be since her target had but one arm. Cripples were the loneliest she knew from experience, but she’d never been with a one armed man.
She bumped into a passing airship steward and watched his eyes dart from the dimple in her cheek to her bodice in response to her signature smile. Reaching the door she found it locked. Her pulse quickened as she pulled the steward’s key from her sleeve and wondered how long it would take him to notice it missing.
With a soft click the door unlocked and a sudden lurch in the airship caused Andy lose her footing. Falling into the door, it burst open dropping her straight into the arms, or arm, of her quarry. Her face flushed at the graceless entrance, but she quickly regained her composure and swooned gently into the man’s embrace.
He looked down at her with his dark amber eyes for a moment. His shaggy dark hair hung low, concealing most of his brow. Without a word the finely dressed man turned quickly, nearly dropping her on the floor, and began rummaging in the large bag she had seen him carrying earlier. Andy grimaced. Continuing her game she started to speak only to be interrupted by the stranger.
“You’re early Miss Cunningham,” the man gave half a glance at her as he continued working at something in his bag. Andy gave a start.
“You must have me confused with someone else,” she choked out as calmly as she could.
“Andrea Cunningham, originally from Caledonia, wanted in several countries, as a burglar, thief, and escape artist,” pausing from his work he looked up briefly. “The only place I can think of where you are not wanted is New Portland. Really, I expected more intuition from you than to walk in now.”
“Let’s stay that I am this ‘Andrea’ woman, who would that make you?”
“No one of consequence my lady, but you may call me Hawkins.”
“And Mr. Hawkins, what would you be doing undressing in this quiet room all on your own,” the playful tone in her voice had returned as she stepped closer. Indeed Hawkins was swiftly unbuttoning his fine blazer.
“Still at that game? Did you not see the six thugs make their way down to the captain’s deck, or feel the ships abrupt change in course just a moment ago?” Hawkins’ one hand worked quickly while he spoke, removing his jacket and lifting his leather bag to his injured shoulder and attaching it there by means of a heavy strap that crossed his fitted vest.
“I.. erm,” it was perhaps the first time in Andrea’s life that she had been speechless. There was something about this man that quite put her off her game.
“Well, while I would love to collect the handsome bounty for your capture miss Cunningham, I’m afraid I must bid you farewell and save the continent,” With a jerk Hawkins removed the outer cover of the bag to reveal a most strange device now strapped to his shoulder.
With the flip of a few levers and the press of a button the device whirred to life and extended to form a formidable looking robotic arm of steel and brass. Flexing the fingers of the contraption into a robotic fist Hawkins set to work pounding at the large port-hole window opposite the door and Andy. BANG. BANG. BANG.
He didn’t hear the electric whine from within her purse until it was almost too late. With a deafening blast the porthole was blown open, filling the room with the whipping breeze of the moving airship. Hawkins had barely got out of the way in time.
Returning her palm sized pistol to her purse she grinned with satisfaction. “You may call me Andy, and next time you may want pack something lighter with a bit more punch. Size only matters in some areas you know.”
“I was going for a bit more subtlety,” Hawkins muttered as he inspected the gaping hole. Andy’s smug expression faded when a loud thudding was heard at the door behind her.
“You best come with me Miss Cunnigham,” Hawkins fiddled with his prosthetic for a moment before reaching out to her with his good arm. With a whir and a clunk a barbed spear replaced the robotic hand. Pushing against the wind Hawkins leaned out of the open hole and fired the spear into the ship’s hull just above them. The one armed man leaned against the rope that connected the spear to his gauntlet as he took Andy’s hand and pulled her close to him.
“With any luck we’ll land in the coat room just aft of the captains deck,” wrapping a strong arm around her, he pushed off sending them both swinging out into the open air. Her frock fluttering wildly in the wind, Andy found herself holding tightly to Hawkins and felt surprisingly secure in his strong embrace. The moment was interrupted as the pair descended and crashed violently through a window on the deck below.
Piled on top of one another and covered by broken glass, Hawkins and Andy found themselves surrounded by glaring gas-masks that concealed heavily armed men. Hawkins rose to his knees and retracted the rope and spear into his forearm while retorting, “It would seem that I missed. Perhaps your beauty impaired me more than I realized Miss Cunningham.”
One of the men stood from where he had been working at a device below the ships helm, securely anchoring it to the base of the large steering wheel. He glared at Hawkins through his monocle and cried out, “Kill them!”
With a whir and clatter, Hawkins’ arm revealed a dozen Gatling barrels. With a barrage of fire he laid out half of their adversaries. One of the masked assailants moved in on Hawkins from behind but was blasted against the far wall by a well placed shot from Andy’s ladies pistol.
Hawkin’s turned to look at her with an expression of appreciation, but froze cold in fear as strong arms gripped Andy from behind. She soon found herself held tightly and her screams stifled by a gloved hand.
“Not another move Hawkins!” Came the peaked voice from beside her ear. Andy could feel the tether of the monocle brush against her cheek as her heart pounded in her ears. Hawkins watched helplessly as her pistol was wrenched from her hands. Using it, the villainous leader blasted the shattered window further, allowing a greater rush of wind and noise to enter the captains deck.
“You’re too lake Hawkins. The only way to deactivate the device now is with this key,” a long metallic object was briefly dangled in front of Miss Cunningham. “Secure your masks gentlemen, and prepare to depart, soon the entire south coast will be a lifeless wasteland!”
The remaining henchmen donned parachutes and leapt from the giant aircraft as Hawkins patiently watched. The monocled leader himself was last to go, dragging Andy to the edge with him. He pulled his mask from his belt and shouted, “So long Mr Hawkins!”
With a powerful shove he pushed Andy from the airship. The emptiness beneath her feet drove her heart into her throat until her hand caught the edge of the gaping hole in the ship’s hull. From the corner of her eye she saw the monocled man jump from the ship past her. She turned to see him secure his mask as he fell. But in doing so she lost her grip and down she fell again screaming vainly into the rush of the buffeting wind.
A firm hand grasped hers suddenly, and with a jolt that wrenched her shoulder her descent stopped. Looking up she saw the dark locks and amber eyes of Mr. Hawkins, as his entire body dangled from the ship secured only by his robotic arm. With surprising strength he pulled her up and allowed her to climb back into the aircraft, where she in turn helped him aboard.
He quickly rushed to the device secured below the console. Its dials spun rapidly counding down the moments till detonation. Shaking his head, he looked up at her. “I’m afraid it’s no use Miss Cunningham, without that key yours will be the last face I look upon. Though I couldn’t wish for a finer sight to be my last.”
Andy’s heart fluttered childishly. She smiled slyly back at Hawkins and reached into her pocket. “You mean this key?”
Hawkins eyes widened.
“What can I say I’m a girl that likes shiny things,” she reached down and gently touched his mechanical arm as she spoke.
Moments later the blinking lights and meters on the device dimmed and both Hawkins and Andrea breathed a sigh of relief. Turning to face her Hawkins drew Andy close. She could feel his warm breath against her cheek.
“Your an amazing woman Miss Cunningham,” his tender voice was nearly a whisper and she felt her cheeks flush. “Would a woman like you ever be able to…”
“Yes?” she cooed.
“…land this boat on her own?”
“What!” Andrea exclaimed stepping away from him.
“Well I can’t simply let them escape like that,” Hawkins appeared baffled, nearly offended at her disbelief. He walked quickly to the open hole in the wall and looked after the escaping terrorists.
“I’m sure you can manage, and the port will radio in to help you I have no doubt.”
Speechless Andy could do little more than watch.
“It was a pleasure Miss Cunningham,” Hawkins’ adjusted his spectacles as he stood with heels on the edge. “I hope to see you around again someday.”
He smiled wryly at her then jumped back into a free fall after the criminals below. Andy rushed to the edge and watched him fall, watched him wait till the very last moment before opening his chute.
Her grimace of fury slowly softened into a sly grin as she pulled a gold object from her pocket. The pocket watch was indeed a fine prize that would fetch a fine price. Inspecting it more closely she found the case finely engraved and adorned with the image of a dagger and the words, “Her Majesties, Distinguished Armed Gentlemen Reserves – D.A.G.R. -”
The watch chain slid the rest of the way out of her pocket and affixed to it she saw found something attached to it. That ribbon certainly had not been there when she had lifted the watch from her dear Mr. Hawkins. Attached to the ribbon was a small card which read,
New Portland Square, September 15th 7 pm.
The dimples in her cheeks emerged as she grinned and bit her lip. It was a trap of course. But the only thing more exciting that escaping such a trap was the chance of finding that it wasn’t one. Besides, New Portland was lovely in the fall.