The Golden Owl Preview

Chapter 1

Enhanced. A marvel of the ages. Superior to all other felines. That’s how her creator, Lionel Cogg, put it. He named this special cat Calico Cogg. Cali for short. A masterpiece of engineering, a creation of pure beauty. Who could have guessed that a skinny calico from the streets would turn out to be his most marvelous invention to date? As a self-proclaimed Master Tinker, Lionel had spent years dabbling with gears and levers. Though he’d found success with many of his creations, none had given him the pride he’d felt when looking upon Cali. She was truly a masterpiece.

Cali stretched her paws in front of her and arched her back high. Adding a yawn, she allowed her body to shudder, relishing the sensation as her tight muscles stretched. She had slept so well the night before that she’d scarcely moved an inch.

Rays of sun formed a puddle near Cali’s favorite cushion on the wide windowsill. The early morning light, interrupted only by the shadowed crossbars on the window, shone down on her, highlighting the golden facets of her fur. Her brass enhancements twinkled in the sunlight, absorbing its warmth. Turning her head, she gave her side a few licks, calming a patch of black and white fur that had become rumpled in the night. Lifting a paw, she gave it a few licks before rubbing it over her face and nose.

The clatter of a small metal dish made her ears turn forward, standing at attention. Breakfast. With a single bound, she hopped from her perch, her stomach rumbling. The metallic implants of her right paw plinked lightly against the floor as she entered the kitchen. Her mouth watered at the sight of small pink shreds in her bowl. This was a special morning indeed. She normally ate well, but it wasn’t every day she was given fresh tuna for breakfast.

“Good morning, Cali,” Lionel said as he pushed the bowl toward her.

Cali nudged his ankle with her nose, a loud purr vibrating in her throat. Lionel reached down and ran a gentle hand across her fur, adding a few scritchins under her chin for good measure. After brushing herself against his leg in gratitude, she leaned down into the bowl, lapping up pieces of fish and chewing happily. Fresh and flavorful, this was Cali’s absolute favorite meal.

Lionel enjoyed a few bites of pastry as Cali ate her meal. This morning the inventor was dressed in his finest: a white shirt with a high collar, black suspenders and bow tie, beige trousers and dark brown boots polished to a high shine. His normally stubbled chin was shaved clean, his graying brown hair combed neat. On his head he wore a black bowler hat, a bronze key tucked into the band. He had to look his best for the exhibition.

The exhibition was presented courtesy of Ticswyk’s many Guilds. As an independent tinker, Lionel had nothing to do with these corrupt organizations. They ran more like organized crime than organized labor. Occasionally they warred with each other, escalating to brawls in the streets. He tried to stay out of their way, but refusing to join them naturally put him on their watchlist. But he wouldn’t allow them to control him and his work.

Being outside the trade Guilds made finding work difficult at times but easy at others. He could set his own prices and decide which jobs he wanted to take, meanwhile allowing himself plenty of time to work on his own inventions. If he were to join the Machinists or Engineers Guilds, he’d be forced to take work that could be extremely dangerous. Some members came away injured, unable to work again. The Guild Masters didn’t care about a worker’s well-being.

Not to mention the requirement of paying heavy royalties to the Guild Masters. Low-paying jobs that the Guild coordinated resulted in a meanly sum for the worker since the Guild Masters skimmed sixty percent off the top. Higher-paying work oftentimes meant working for shady characters involved in criminal activity, and required the worker to keep his mouth shut or risk serious punishment. The law looked the other way when it came to the Guilds. Power and gold were their main objectives, not happy and healthy workers.

Even more troubling for Lionel was the fact that his inventions would be credited to the Guild, not to himself. That simply wouldn’t do. Lionel liked to let folks know what he’d created. He took pride in his inventions and had no intention of sharing credit for their design.

For the most part, Lionel had been successful. He’d traveled to exhibitions, displaying his latest gadgets and impressing the onlookers. Some of them were even willing to buy. It was a modest living, but it was done on his terms. He’d earned himself a comfortable middle class existence.

There had been a few occasions where the Guild interfered with his work, though. Two years ago, Guild operatives had sabotaged his steam-powered hammer, leaving him with a bruised reputation. The Builders Guild was using the same tool only three months later, proving that someone had stolen his schematics before tampering with the prototype. It had taken this long to invent something else worth exhibiting, and he was delighted to be demonstrating the enhancements he’d made to Cali. Today he would recover his reputation, even in the presence of Guild members.

Cali took her time finishing breakfast before thoroughly saturating her paw with her tongue. Rubbing it vigorously over her mouth, she removed all traces of the meal. Satisfied, she sat back on her haunches and looked up at her friend. Curiously, she cocked her head to the side as she watched him walk away and retrieve something from beneath a blanket. He can’t be serious, she thought as she realized what he held.

“Now don’t give me that look,” Lionel said. In his right hand he held a small crate with dozens of holes drilled into each of its four sides. “I have to keep you hidden before the exhibition starts. That way you’ll be a surprise.” He grinned at the cat, hoping the explanation was acceptable. He knew Cali hated being confined, but it was a necessary evil today.

Lionel set the crate on the ground and let Cali look it over. With suspicion, she scanned every corner of the crate. Making use of her mechanical eye, she checked it for any sign of a flaw, lest she should become trapped or worse, it fail to hold her weight and she tumble to the floor. It appeared sturdy enough, but she still detested being carried in such a manner. Walking on her own four paws was far more dignified.

“Don’t you want to hear the crowd ooh and aah when you come out of here?” Lionel asked, tempting her. “Imagine how amazed they’ll be when they first see you.”

He makes a good point, Cali decided. Nudging his hand, she allowed him to give her a few pets before trotting inside the crate and settling herself in. It wasn’t as bad as she expected. There was even room to stretch a bit. It’s actually quite cozy, she decided, kneading her paws against the thin cushion inside.

“Don’t worry, Cali,” Lionel said. “You won’t be in there long.” He scooped up the crate and held it tightly to his side as he stepped out of the apartment. Securing the door behind him, he double-checked the lock and tucked the key back into his hat.

Ticswyk’s cobblestone streets bustled with activity, hundreds of citizens making their way to the exhibition. From the holes in the top of her crate, Cali had a clear view of the sky. Balloons of every color dotted the skyline, their baskets heavy with passengers. Travelers came from all around to view the annual exhibition, and rightly so. Inventors from around the world came to show their latest contraptions. Any citizen in attendance could boast to their friends how they had seen it first. Competition for tickets could be fierce.

Though it was proclaimed that all inventors were welcome, the Guilds frequently blacklisted certain individuals from entering their creations. Guild members were, of course, given priority, and only a few independent tinkers from inside and outside the city were allowed to exhibit. Fortunately, Lionel’s application had been accepted this year. He had an inkling that the Guilds were interested to see exactly what he had done to his cat. His descriptions on the submission forms were vague, with only scant drawings of his contrivances. Never again, he promised himself, would they be allowed to steal his ideas. If they wanted to enhance a cat of their own, let them figure out their own method. Cali would remain unique.

The shiny tips of Lionel’s boots clicked against the cobblestones as he hurried along, still clutching Cali to his side. Hearing hooves behind him, he paused and turned, waving his free hand to the driver. The carriage came to a halt, the driver hopping down to open the door for Lionel and his crate.

Cali pressed her nose to the crate’s holes, taking in the strong scent of the horse. She was black and white with a stocky frame, her long tail swishing as she waited for her passengers to board. “Good morning,” Cali said to her.

“Morning,” the horse replied with a toss of her head. “Fine day to be out and about.”

“I’m afraid I’ll be inside all day,” Cali replied. “There’s an exhibition, and I’m the main event.” Never modest, Cali knew she would draw a crowd. She was proud of the fact.

“Is that so?” the horse asked. “It’s an honor to pull your carriage.” She clicked a friendly hoof against the street and whinnied.

“And I thank you for it,” Cali replied. Being proud didn’t mean she had to be rude. In fact, Cali was considered quite pleasant by the other animals on her street.

Handing a coin to the driver, Lionel climbed inside and placed Cali’s crate next to him on the bench. “To Exhibition Center,” he told the man.

With a click of the driver’s tongue, the horse trotted forward, the carriage rocking as they went. Cali looked up at Lionel through the holes and mewed.

“You want to look out?” he asked. Lifting the crate onto his lap, he pushed it close to the window opening, allowing her to see the world around her. His hand remained on top of the box for safety.

The wind caressed Cali’s nose and rippled through her fur, the scent of fresh bread wafting on the breeze. Ladies in ruffled skirts walked arm in arm with gentlemen wearing top hats. Fine dress for a fancy dinner, let alone a morning gathering. The exhibition was truly a big deal. To her surprise, she found herself growing anxious as they neared Exhibition Center. It was one thing to be a celebrity in one’s home, but quite another to be displayed to the masses. Small butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Trying her best to bat them away, she put on a brave face and purred.

“That’s a good girl,” Lionel said, sticking a finger through the crate and scratching her ear.

The carriage came to a halt in front of a massive stone building, gargoyles grinning from its heights. Huge windows of stained glass decorated the front, the lights inside projecting the colors onto the granite sidewalk. Everything about the building spoke of elegance. The Guilds had spared no expense in its construction.

Lionel stepped out, carefully tucking Cali beneath his arm. With a nod to the driver, he stepped toward the glass doors of Exhibition Center.

“Have a fine day!” the horse called as she trotted away.

Cali intended to. All she had to do was stay calm and look pretty. How hard could it be? She was a natural. And she trusted Lionel completely. He would never let harm come to her. After all, he’d rescued her from a life on the streets, scrounging in trash bins for scraps. He’d seen a diamond in the rough, and what a gem she had turned out to be. She wished there were a mirror around so she could admire all the wonderful enhancements he had gifted her. All her nerves fell away, and she meowed her gratitude to the man who carried her. For her dearest friend, she would gladly put herself on display. This would be a show to remember.

Inside was all alight, gas-powered lamps illuminating every corner of the cavernous interior. Rows of tiny orange bulbs were arranged on a high balcony, greeting the entering guests with the words: EXHIBITION CENTER. Hundreds of voices talked over each other, the puffing of steam engines and clanging of metal gears and levers filled the place with so much sound that Cali retreated to the back of her crate. There were far too many noises to discern which were friendly.

Clutching the crate tightly, Lionel made his way through the crowd. It was a slow process, as those in front of him couldn’t manage to walk without stopping to peek at a few inventions that were already set up. Though impatient, they would just have to wait. Each exhibit had a scheduled presentation time, and the Guilds saw that it was followed to the letter.

Finally he arrived at his own booth, complete with a small stage and a riser for Cali to stand on. Behind them hung a metal sign, engraved with the words: CALICO COGG, THE CLOCKWORK CAT. Taking a moment to admire the sign, he placed Cali’s crate behind the little curtain beneath her riser. Here she would remain concealed until it was time for the demonstration.

Opening the top of the crate, he allowed Cali to sit up. She stretched her arms and legs and gave a content yawn. The sight of the sign above her made her purr with delight. Lionel had crafted the sign himself, making sure it was bright and polished for her debut.

When she started to step out of the crate, Lionel said, “Just a little longer, Cali.” Petting the top of her head, he gently helped her back in the crate. “Your show starts in half an hour. Until then, you still have to stay out of sight.”

Sitting back on her haunches, Cali twitched her whiskers. That was a long wait, but what else could she do? Until her audience was in place, she would sit here like a good cat and obey. A voice boomed over the loudtalker—a curious device aptly powered by hot air—startling Cali, who pulled her ears backward in response. The speaker welcomed all to the exhibition and ran down a list of presentations that would be taking place each hour. Visitors hurried all around, rushing to their destinations.

Lionel produced a comb from his pocket, and instead of using it on himself, he gently stroked Cali’s fur. Always a fan of grooming, Cali lifted her head, allowing him to comb under her chin. Pressing each side of her face into the comb, she made sure the fur was nice and neat. A quick pass over her belly, and she was all set to be shown. Holding up a pocket-size mirror, Lionel allowed her to check her fur for any strands out of place. She studied every inch of herself before meowing her approval.

“Now’s your moment,” he said, a proud smile on his face.

 

 Chapter 2

Lionel placed his hands behind his back and waited patiently while the spectators assembled around his booth. All walks of life were present, everyone dressing as finely as they could. Those of lower standing were sent to the back, but they were as eager to hear about Cali as the richer folk up front. Children clung to their mothers’ skirts, unsure of the strange goings-on at the exhibition. Bouts of applause sounded across the room as a tall grandfather clock heralded the hour. It was time.

Clearing his throat, Lionel drew in a deep breath before starting his speech. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the one, the only, Clockwork Calico!” With a gesture of his hand, he signaled Cali to show herself.

Delighted to make her appearance, she hopped up onto the platform, her nose held high, whiskers pointing forward. Taking in the scent of the crowd, she was pleased to find so many in attendance. Not all could be seen, but they couldn’t escape her keen nose.

“Ooh,” many of the attendants vocalized, impressed at the sight before them. Lionel had done well designing his booth. Cali stood directly beneath an overhead lamp that glowed a deep yellow, projecting its light on her brass enhancements. She shone with a brilliance that allowed even those in the back of the crowd to see her.

Children, and a few adults, shoved their way to the front, determined to get a closer look at the fascinating cat. The rest kept their distance, scrutinizing the feline from afar. Cali scanned their faces with her mechanical eye, zooming in and out among the crowd. Mostly smiles, she noted, as the spectators gazed upon her. One man caught her attention, the brim of his top hat pulled low over his brow. Dark eyes peered beneath the hat, piercing and analyzing every inch of her, a sinister smile on his face. Realizing that he might be trouble, Cali saved his image to memory.

Sitting proudly at attention, she listened with satisfaction as Lionel ran down the list of her implants.

“You see here that Cali has a number of brass implants,” the inventor explained. Running a finger along the metal, he said, “Her tail is included of course, augmenting her natural balancing skills. The implant allows her more stabilization and control.” He paused a moment to allow the crowd to take in the information.

Cali spun around, waving her grand tail for all to see. One, two, three flicks, and she spun back around, curling her tail around her body. The audience applauded, and she dipped her head in appreciation.

“The implant running along her spine allows for higher flexibility, and it also gives her more strength.”

Cali lay down on her pedestal, allowing Lionel to run his hand along her back. With a nod from her designer, she stood and stretched herself low, almost to a pounce position.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, please direct your attention to Cali’s hind legs.” Cali turned sideways, allowing the crowd a view of her left hind leg. “These enhancements allow her to jump far higher than the average cat. They also soften the landing when she gets where she’s going.” He gave a nod that said, Show them, Cali.

With pleasure, she indicated with a flick of her tail. In a fluid hop, she dropped from the raised pedestal to the ground, right at the spectators’ feet. Many of them stepped back in surprise, some of them gasping at her sudden appearance.

“Note the flexibility of her spine as she jumps down,” Lionel said. “And now the power of her legs as she returns to her pedestal.”

With those words, Cali leapt, her enhanced legs carrying her from the floor, past the stage, and up to the top of her pedestal. The audience erupted in applause.

“A full ten feet from a standstill!” Lionel announced, adding some applause of his own. “The average housecat can jump only about five feet without running.” A wide grin spread across his face. “Now, who’d like to see Cali run?” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

The children in the crowd squealed their excitement, and the men and women cheered. Everyone was eager to see what else Cali could do.

Feeding off their excitement, Cali made herself ready. Jumping from her pedestal, she landed once again at their feet. The crowd parted allowing her the freedom to run. Taking the opening, she bolted past the crowd, sprinting toward the nearest wall. Instead of stopping, she leapt and turned midair, her hind legs bouncing from the stone wall and feeding her momentum. In less than a second, she was back among the crowd, but she didn’t stop there. Once again she leapt, this time flying high in the air. With a twist of her enhanced spine she somersaulted above her pedestal and brought her feet back beneath her. Landing softly on her perch, she raised a paw and bowed to the audience.

“Bravo!” the men cried. The ladies followed suit, crying “Encore!” The children laughed and squealed, delighted by the phenomenal cat’s showmanship.

“There’s more to her than that!” Lionel announced, eliciting more applause. “She has enhanced claws on her right paw, making her a deadly foe to mice.” This was one selling point that Lionel considered adding to other cats. It would improve the skills of mousers everywhere.

Cali raised her right paw, which appeared almost ordinary at first. When she unsheathed the claws, the audience jumped back in surprise. They weren’t prepared for the razor-sharp knives Cali displayed. Though very small, they were terribly sharp and deadly to mice. Cali turned her wrist left and right, allowing the light to hit her enhanced claws. After a moment, the crowd moved forward again, the spectators eager to examine this miniature weapon.

“Don’t worry,” Lionel reassured them. “Cali is in full control of her claws, and no human will be harmed. I can’t say as much for mice, though.” He gave a quiet laugh, and many in the crowd echoed him. “Of course, Cali could use these for defense as well, should she be attacked by a large rat or some other vicious creature.”

Cali almost grimaced, but caught herself. She didn’t like the sound of that. It was best to be on the offensive rather than the defensive, but Lionel was correct. The claws could be used in either case. She could extend or retract them as easily as her true claws on her left paw.

Lionel held up a small sheet of paper and presented it before the crowd. “A demonstration,” he said.

Cali swiped her paw at the paper, shredding it in four neat strips. Generous applause followed. Before the crowd quieted down, Lionel tossed the paper into the air, and Cali pounced after it. Slicing her claws through the air, she struck the paper repeatedly. As she landed on her platform, a shower of confetti rained down on the crowd. The children raised their hands, hoping to catch a piece or two, giggling with delight. The women laughed and brushed the paper away from their hair, the men applauding before removing their hats to brush the paper bits away.

“And finally,” Lionel said, “we’ve come to Cali’s mechanical eye implant. I’m sure the large purple lens hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice. Don’t worry, Cali’s true eye remains intact. I’ve only added to it and given her the ability to see far better than the average cat. With this eye, she is able to magnify her target, seeing it more clearly. She can also detect heat signatures, meaning no mouse can escape her. Cali will always know where it’s hiding.”

Cali tilted her head left and right, allowing the light to dance off the implant. The spectators looked her over, wondering what it must be like to possess such an enhancement. Most of the children brought their fingers to their eyes, their mothers stopping them before they could hurt themselves. Cali would have laughed, but this was a serious moment.

“Now, you might ask,” Lionel began, “how do these implants work? What is their power source?” Cali spun on her pedestal. “You’ll see she has no outward gears or windup mechanisms. Cali is powered on the inside, by a system of tiny gears. Her power source is her own beating heart.”

The crowd gasped, instantly shocked.

“That’s correct!” he went on. “Cali’s own heart and blood vessels are incorporated into the enhancements. She cannot wind down, nor does she require any special rest.” With a glance at Cali, he added, “Well, no more than any other cat.”

Polite laughter came from the audience. Most of them knew how much cats enjoyed their rest. From his pocket, Lionel drew out a small device, no bigger than the average pocket timepiece.

“This device allows me to alert Cali if she’s away, calling her back home.” When he pressed the button, a tiny red light illuminated on the tip of Cali’s tail. If she were away, she would know that Lionel needed her to return home, most likely for her dinner.

“If I could have complete silence for one moment, those in the front row might be able to hear the soft ticking sound associated with Cali’s gears.”

Cali bounced down to the edge of the stage, a hush falling over the crowd. Everyone in the front row leaned in close, some cupping their hands to their ears.

“I hear it!” a boy shouted.

“Yes, yes—I hear it too!” a man announced. Others joined in, agreeing that they could indeed hear the ticking of Cali’s clockwork components, though they were no louder than a whisper.

“You see, ladies and gentlemen,” Lionel said. “Cali is far from the ordinary cat. She is one-of-a-kind, a true masterpiece of modern engineering. Some of these enhancements will be available for your own mouser, should any of you wish to discuss the matter.” He would never make a cat quite like Cali, but he would be happy to add certain features to other cats for the right price. Many areas of Ticswyk were plagued with mice and rat infestations, and he could certainly make a difference to the community while still making a tidy profit for himself and Cali.

Turning to Cali, Lionel said, “How about one more run for the children?”

With a nod of her head, Cali obliged, leaping from her pedestal and dashing across the room. Twisting and turning, she leapt through the air torpedo-style, much to the delight of the children. Not only did they laugh and point, they clapped their little hands as fast as they could. The adults applauded as well, elated to see the charming Cali repeat her best stunt. She was a marvel. Far more interesting than machines and gears, she was a living, thinking being, made spectacular by the hand of man. She was what this age of industry was all about.

With the first show complete, many of the spectators lined up to converse with Lionel. Some had simple questions about Cali, while others were eager to employ him to enhance their cats. One woman even asked if Lionel could possibly enhance her bird. Unfortunately, the implants would be too heavy to allow her parakeet to fly. Ground birds might be possible, though. The woman went away disappointed.

The sinister looking man in the top hat took a very close look at Cali, spending several minutes listening to her ticking. Keeping a polite, soft posture, she surveyed him as well, giving him a thorough going-over with her mechanical eye. When he pulled out a watch to check the time, she could clearly read his name on the inscription: JAMISON MORCROFT.

The name nearly made her shudder, but she managed to keep her composure. She knew him from Lionel’s conversations with his sister. Morcroft was a member of the Engineers Guild, serving as its second in command. He was a dangerous man, notorious for his criminal behavior. He once hired a crew to tunnel beneath Ticswyk’s museum of art in order to steal a painting the curator had refused to sell him. Not only did he steal that particular work of art, he got away with several antiquities as well. Among them was an Egyptian statuette of pure gold, which he quickly melted down to hide the evidence. Three guards were injured during the heist, but Morcroft didn’t care. Neither did he face punishment. The Guild stepped in, and the law backed down. Rumor had it that the judge assigned to the case found himself quite wealthy all of a sudden, and he retired to a warmer climate.

After putting his watch away, Morcroft approached Cali and stared for another minute. She did not back away, though the fur on her back ruffled slightly at his nearness. Thankfully, he did not reach out to touch her. The urge to strike out at him might have been too strong for her to control.

Finally he walked away, and Cali relaxed. Lionel, having finished his conversations, approached Cali and scratched under her chin. She lifted her head and purred, enjoying the attention. From his shirt pocket, he retrieved a small tin, the sweet-smelling treasures inside making Cali’s nose tremble. Liver! Lionel offered up a liver treat, which Cali gobbled readily. With a soft mew, she begged for a second and was quickly rewarded with another treat.

“Only two more shows to go,” he said, patting her head.

The second show went the same as the first. Cali performed her tricks with pride, and Lionel’s confidence soared, his voice becoming more and more inspired. They made a great team, putting on a show the crowds would never forget.

Morcroft attended the second show as well, keeping himself well out of view in the back. But nothing escaped Cali’s superior eye. She watched him closely, scrutinizing his every move without missing a beat in her performance.

After the second performance, Cali was given yet another liver treat. A child ran up as she was swallowing, and pressed his little face as close to hers as he could. Lifting his lollipop to his mouth, he narrowly missed depositing sugar on her fur.

“Not so close now,” Lionel said, wagging a finger at the boy. His mother stood close by, oblivious to the boy’s actions.

The boy backed a few inches away, but lifted his hand and poked his chubby fingers at Cali’s rear leg implants. Cali remained calm and patient. When the boy cocked his head to the side, she could almost hear the wheels turning in his head. He was up to no good.

Reaching a sticky hand toward her tail, he curled his fingers around it. Lionel reacted with lightning speed, batting the child’s hand away. The mother reacted with shock, grabbing her son and holding him to her side.

“Forgive me, ma’am,” Lionel said convincingly. “You see her tail is electric, and if the boy had tugged on it, it would have given him a nasty shock. It could have knocked him clear out the door and across the street!”

The woman gasped, her eyes growing wide. “You leave that cat alone!” she scolded, grabbing her son by the arm. She stormed off, child in tow, heading straight for the exit.

Lionel laughed and stroked Cali’s fur. Amused, Cali flicked her tail and nuzzled her head in his hand. After a few licks to smooth her fur, she was ready for the final show of the day.

More onlookers gathered, the biggest crowd yet as the sun was beginning its descent. Morcroft was among them, still pulling his hat low in an effort to hide himself. When Lionel squinted out in the crowd and gave a disapproving grunt, Cali knew he had seen him as well. Why he had attended all three shows was a mystery, but both Cali and Lionel knew that he was plotting something.

The show went well, Cali performing at full energy despite the late hour. By now Lionel had perfected his act, throwing in a short encore for the final crowd. They closed to thunderous applause. A few spectators threw roses onto the stage, many of which Cali caught in her teeth, taking a bow after each one. She enjoyed showing off, and the crowd appreciated it as well. Soon the applause ended, and the crowds departed for home.

Silence descended over Exhibition Center. The machines were shut down, and no announcer called out shows and times. Lionel opened the crate and asked Cali to step inside once more.

“There could be people hanging around for an extra glimpse,” Lionel explained. “I wouldn’t want anyone to bother you.”

Cali knew he was referring to Morcroft more than any other. He was a dangerous man who had taken an interest in Cali, and Lionel was crating her only to protect her. Without argument, Cali hopped inside and settled herself into the crate.

“Attagirl,” Lionel said.

To Cali’s delight, the carriage that drove them home was pulled by the same black-and-white horse as before. “Good evening,” Cali said to her. “I don’t think I caught your name before.”

“I’m called Nellie,” the horse replied. “And you?”

“Cali,” she stated.

“How was the exhibition?” Nellie asked.

“Fantastic,” Cali replied. “I enjoyed every moment.”

The horse stopped in front of Lionel and Cali’s apartment. “Glad to hear it,” the horse replied. “I had a fine day as well. Lots of carrots and plenty of sunshine.”

“Wonderful,” Cali said as she was taken out of the carriage. “I hope I see you again, Nellie.”

“Likewise.” The horse tossed her head and whinnied before trotting off into the night.

Nestled inside her crate, Cali waited for Lionel to carry her inside. Securing the door first, he opened the crate and scratched at her ear.

“We did real good today, Cali,” he said. “You were a sight to behold.” Lifting her, he hugged her close to his heart.

Cali purred softly, enjoying the warmth as he held her. Back on her feet, she waited patiently as he poured a saucer of cream, which she lapped up readily. After kicking off his shoes, Lionel sat himself in his favorite chair, which also happened to be his second-favorite invention, and pressed the lever that allowed him to recline. Cali jumped in his lap and curled herself into a ball. The day’s events played over in her mind as she drifted off to sleep. Her dreams echoed with praise and applause, a content smile lingering on her face.

 

 Chapter 3

 

Cali awoke bright and early the next morning, still snuggled on Lionel’s lap. All the excitement of the exhibition had come to a close, leaving both of them exhausted and grateful for a good night’s sleep. Lionel was still fast asleep, his head rolled to one side, his arm hanging off the side of the recliner. Cali sat up and meowed.

Lionel didn’t wake.

Her tummy beginning to rumble, Cali tried again. No reply. Leaning up on her hind legs, she pressed her cold nose to his cheek. He awoke with a start. She mewed softly and snuggled her head against his face.

“All right,” he said, grasping the lever to bring the chair back upright. With his feet on the floor, he pulled himself up. “Wouldn’t want to be late to breakfast,” he said.

Cali hopped off the chair and raced toward the kitchen. As Lionel fidgeted with a tin can, she weaved herself between his ankles, purring all the while. After what felt like an eternity, Lionel placed a metal dish on the floor, the aroma of its contents flooding her nose. Shredded beef! Cali plunged into her breakfast and lapped up every bit, barely taking the time to taste it.

Lionel laughed as he watched her eat, twirling his finger around her tail. When she had finished, he took the dish and cleaned it before preparing his own meal. A wedge of cheese and a soft hunk of bread sounded about right. He took a seat at the table with Cali perched at his feet.

“You’d think I never feed you,” he said, offering her a bit of the cheese.

She took it gratefully and savored it on her tongue.

The sun’s rays filled the apartment, bringing with it a warmth that usually made Cali sleepy. Instead, she was surprised to find herself energized this morning, the previous day’s strenuous activities having no ill effect on her. No soreness, no fatigue; she felt like a spry kitten.

A knock at the door alerted them both, and Lionel moved to answer it with Cali, as always, at his feet. When he opened the door, he smiled, happy to see who had come calling. It was his sister, Florence.

Florence stepped inside with a nod to her brother and a pat on the head for Cali. She stood only an inch shorter than Lionel, her honey-colored hair piled on top of her head, a small yellow hat sitting on top of her curls. She wore a ruffled yellow dress and high-heeled leather boots, an outfit suited to her position as factory overseer. The gas lamps produced by her workers were the very same that lit the streets of Ticswyk. She was a busy woman, but she always made time for her brother.

In fact, Lionel saw his sister almost daily. With his apartment attached to the factory, it was natural that the two would come in contact regularly. Lionel was frequently employed by his sister as an engineer, responsible for the repair of several of the factory’s machines. He was a far more dependable worker than a Guild member, and his presence kept her from relying on corrupt Guild leaders. Though the machines did not break often, Florence knew she could count on Lionel when they did. His expertise with all things mechanical, and his hardworking nature, made him a model employee.

Plus, she enjoyed having her brother around. In exchange for his work, she paid him a small stipend and allowed him use of the apartment rent-free. He was perfectly happy with the arrangement. An ample workshop came along with the deal, and he was able to use scrap parts produced by the factory in his own tinkering.

Cali helped at the factory as well. When she wasn’t busy sitting on her windowsill, observing the world, she served as head mouser for the entire building. Being a lamp factory, the place was not overrun with vermin as a food-producing facility might be. But the mice still got in, and Cali was happy to dispatch them for Florence and her workers. In exchange, she received numerous pets and loads of praise from the workers, as well as small bits from their lunch. It was perfect payment.

Occasionally, Cali would leave a fresh-caught mouse in Lionel’s shoe as a gift. After all, it was about the best thing a cat could give her dearest friend. He would feign his delight and praise her, but she knew he wasn’t keeping the mice. He’d toss them out in the refuse bin when he thought she wasn’t looking. Cali didn’t mind. Even she got tired of the taste on occasion.

“Morning, Florence,” Lionel said. “You want some breakfast?”

“Actually,” she said, producing a small bundle from her basket. “I brought these.”

Wrapped in brown paper, Cali recognized immediately what was inside the bag. Pastries! Florence opened the parcel, confirming what Cali already knew. A half-dozen assorted pastries awaited inside, some filled with red jelly, some with creamed sugar. Cali loved the cream-filled pastries best of all. Twirling her tail around Florence’s legs, she hoped to be given a bite.

Florence did not disappoint. Pinching off a portion of the pastry, she dipped it in the cream before passing it to Cali. Purring with delight, Cali lay on the floor, licking at her prize. It was the perfect dessert to complement the breakfast she’d already eaten.

Lionel chose one filled with jelly and took a few bites. “Mmm,” he said as he chewed. “I’ll get you some tea.” He hurried into the kitchen area, where a pot of water was piping hot on the stove, a soft whistle alerting him to its readiness. Returning with two cups of tea, he sat down at the table.

Florence did likewise, nibbling on a bit of pastry and sipping at her tea. “How was the exhibition?” she asked.

“Oh, it was marvelous,” Lionel replied, wiping the jelly away from his mouth and licking his fingers. “Cali was spectacular. The crowd loved her.”

Smiling, Florence replied, “I wish I could have been there.”

“I’ll tell you who I wish hadn’t been there,” Lionel said. “Jamison Morcroft.”

Shaking her head, she asked, “Why was he there?”

“Stalking me, I suppose,” he replied with a shrug. “He came to all three shows. Looked Cali up and down and sideways,” he added. “Mark my words, he’ll try to replicate my invention.” The tinker’s eyes sparkled, and he giggled quietly. “He won’t succeed.”

Pursing her lips, Florence replied, “He doesn’t have the soft touch for such work.”

“That’s exactly right,” Lionel agreed. “And he doesn’t have the patience. Cali’s enhancements were delicate work. I pity any poor creature Morcroft experiments with.”

“Maybe the Guilds will keep him in check,” Florence offered.

“Pfft,” Lionel replied, waving his hand. “They’ll let him do as he pleases. Heck, they may not know that he’s up to anything. But I’ll keep an eye out. I won’t have him harming any animals. If I can do anything to stop him, I will.”

“Just be careful,” she cautioned. “Morcroft is a dangerous man. I think he’d do more harm to a person than an animal.”

“You might be right about that,” he replied. “Still, I’m going to let the police know to keep a close eye on Morcroft’s workshop.” The police were not run by the Guilds, but they often backed down where Guild members were involved. And some of them could be bribed to look the other way. Still, there were many officers Lionel trusted. They were a good lot who tried to do right by the law in spite of the Guilds.

Finishing her pastry, Florence wiped her hands and dabbed a handkerchief to the corners of her mouth. “The boiler’s gone out on the conveyor again. I had to move Adelaide off it. I know it’s her fault, but I thought she’d learned her lesson last time.”

“I can fix it this morning,” Lionel said. With a grin, he added, “Just don’t let Adelaide near it afterward.”

“You have my word on that,” Florence said, laughing. Taking a final drink of her tea, she stood and brushed at her long yellow skirt. “I guess I better get over there,” she said. She gave Lionel a kiss on the cheek before turning toward the door.

Her brother shuffled along behind her, opening the door and bidding her good day. As she left, he spotted the daily newspaper waiting on his doorstep. “Hoo hoo!” he called as he saw the front page. Bringing the paper inside, he said, “Look here, Cali! We made the front page.”

Cali didn’t move closer, instead adjusting her mechanical eye to see it from a distance. There she was, photographed in black-and-white, proudly seated on her pedestal. Pictured next to her were two less-interesting inventions: a steam-powered engine for a horseless carriage, and a contraption made of magnets that supposedly heated food. They were nothing compared to Cali. Her only regret was the lack of color in the photo.

“Exhibition Center’s finest inventions,” Lionel read aloud. “You made the list, Cali.” Setting the paper aside, he said, “I better get over to the factory before the shift starts. I don’t want them getting behind.” He disappeared into the washroom to make himself presentable. After donning a fresh set of clothes, he put on his hat and headed for the door. “I almost forgot,” he said. Trotting back to the kitchen, he retrieved a small tin. “Dried fish,” he said, placing the tin on Cali’s windowsill. “Now don’t eat it all at once,” he told her. “Save a bit for later. I might be a while fixing that machine.” He stroked Cali’s fur and scratched under her chin before taking his leave.

With a full belly and ego, Cali plopped herself in the sun puddle spilling over her cushion. The warmth overwhelmed her, and her eyelids grew heavy. Before she knew it, she was fast asleep.

 

* * * * *

 

“That should do it,” Lionel said as he tightened the last bolt. It had taken nearly three hours of work, but the boiler was working once again, and production could continue.

“That’s wonderful news,” Florence said. She handed him a few coins and two paper bills for his work.

“That’s too much,” he said. When it came to his sister, Lionel had a tendency to undervalue his work.

“It’s the same as I’d pay any other engineer,” she replied. There would be no argument, nor would he try to give back the money. She’d paid a fair wage, and he would accept it, like it or not.

Tucking the money into his pocket, he said, “Thanks, Florence. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“You know I will,” she said with a smile. In a swirl of her skirt, she headed out onto the production floor.

Lionel cleared away his tools, tucking them neatly into a leather holder. One wrench hadn’t been cared for properly and had nearly rusted through. He found out the hard way when he tried to use it and it snapped neatly in half. It was time to find a replacement. There were a few other supplies he needed for his workshop, so he decided to make the trip across town to his favorite smithy. An old friend of his ran the forge and made some of the finest tools Lionel owned. He always gave a fair deal and a fine product, far better than items produced in a factory.

A light drizzle of rain fell from the sky as Lionel stepped out onto the sidewalk. The cobblestones glistened with wetness, the city’s guttering systems doing a decent job of draining most of the puddles. Never one to remember an umbrella, he pushed his hat down on his head and proceeded despite the rain.

Three blocks away he checked for a carriage, but there were none to be found. The rain wasn’t letting up, and he was quickly becoming chilled. One more block and he knew of an alleyway that would serve as a fine shortcut. Overhangs on the buildings on either side would block most of the rain and give him a chance to warm up.

The streets were empty as he crossed, the sky growing ever darker. He proceeded down the alleyway, happy to be out of the rain. A door opened behind him, but he took no notice. The only sounds he heard were his own footsteps and the rain pelting the roofs above him. Catching him unaware, a set of hands reached out for him, and a burlap sack was forced over his head. Lionel struggled and kicked, but the hands were far too strong.

Lionel began to shout, “Let me go!”

“Quiet,” a voice grumbled.

Lionel shouted again, earning him a blow to the stomach. He doubled over, the breath escaping his lungs. A second set of hands grasped his feet, the first not letting go of his arms. Together the thugs strung him between them, carrying him off to places unknown.

No matter how hard Lionel tried to keep his bearings, he lost track as they moved along the alleyways. Twice they flipped him upside down, laughing at his predicament. He kicked and squirmed, but it was no use. It only resulted in tiring him and angering his captors. Several minutes passed, and he knew they’d gone at least five blocks. They turned again, circling, he suspected, to throw him off-guard. It didn’t matter. Lionel had no idea where they were.

Finally, a heavy door opened, its metallic joints creaking from the effort. Lionel was plopped onto a chair, the sack still covering his head. The two men made short work of tying him to the chair, the thick ropes squeezing his chest and arms. His feet were also bound, preventing him from running away. One man finally lifted the sack slightly to place an oily-smelling gag in Lionel’s mouth. Crying out was no longer an option, not that it had done him any good. It had already earned him a beating, and he wasn’t about to ask for another.

The two strong men walked heavily away from him, their footsteps disappearing with the clang of a door. Lionel was alone. Behind him somewhere he heard the whirring of machines. They puffed and vibrated, but he smelled no burning fuel. For all he knew, they were in the next room. It was impossible to tell what the machines were for or which building he’d been brought to.

A clock ticked somewhere to his left, but he couldn’t be sure of the time. It was less than an hour since he’d left the factory, of that he was sure. No one would miss him yet, and that meant no one was coming to help.

His mind turned to his beloved Cali, and how she might worry that he was so long away. She was a good cat, and he didn’t want any harm to come to her. Someone might have kidnapped him in order to get to her. His worst fear was that someone might try to take her apart in an effort to duplicate the technology. The thought sent a chill down his spine. He tried to convince himself that this situation had nothing to do with her. Florence would look after Cali, and she would be fine. It was that thought alone that kept him from panicking.

Minute after minute, Lionel listened to the ticking of the clock. He began to count the ticks, attempting to keep track of how long he’d been tied up. Not that it mattered. Whoever had done this had a plan, and he had no choice but to sit and wait until someone cared to share it with him.

After twenty minutes to Lionel’s count, a different door opened. This one was not nearly as heavy when it closed again. Footsteps tapped along the hardwood floor, a third tap the sound of a gentleman’s cane. Lionel knew whoever it was, he was no gentleman.

“Lionel Cogg,” a voice said, followed by a deep, throaty laugh.

Fingers lifted the burlap sack, removing it from Lionel’s head. At last Lionel could see who was responsible for his mistreatment. Jamison Morcroft stood before him.

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