Grey smoke lazily drifted by the three panel office window trying to imitate rain clouds but only dropping flecks of silt and ash on the ground below. An old upright piano added a somber melody to the scene outside making time with the ticking of a metronome that faded in and out of sound.
Sam smiled as the ticking steadily grew louder.
“I do not find this amusing,” the mechanical voice of his clockwork assistant, Steno, said in his best attempt at annoyance. “And you need to get that tuned.”
“I’ll get it and you tuned up when we get another case,” Sam began to play a sultry jazz tune that would have made any speak easy proud.
“Very good, sir,” Steno shuddered as a gear ground roughly somewhere inside the chassis that was his chest. “Why you never became a pianist in a house of ill repute I will never know.”
“Steno,” Sam looked over his shoulder at the collection of spinning gears, gyroscopes, and internal workings in a humanoid shape and could not bring himself to be upset.
Steno was as his name suggested a clockwork machine that would function as a stenographer. The brushed bronzed plated body was unpolished and peeling off in patches to show the tin below. His head was dented and there was a rivet missing in his left shoulder which made the sound of his inner workings very loud. Sam was one of the few people who thought of the clockworks as people, well Steno at least. All clockworks were given a function, stenographer, doorman, driver, and many others from something as silly as being a walking grandfather clock to guarding important people but most thought of them nothing more as machines or possessions. Sam was not sure if it was the fact that Steno was going on five years of service or that fact that the function of being an assistant and partner to a private investigator was so encompassing that gave Steno more of a personality but whatever the reason Steno was a ‘he’ and not an ‘it’.
“Yes, sir?” Steno tilted his head from one side to the other, taking in the scene.
“Go down stairs and check the front desk for messages,” Sam turned around and returned to playing the melancholy tune.
“High class clients don’t like to be seen going into the office of a gumshoe,” he added a bit of jazz back into the nameless tune. “The front desk though, that serves this entire building and there are plenty of respectable places a fine upstanding member of society could visit without fear of it getting back to their social circle.”
“Very well, sir.”
The steady tick-tock and grinding gears faded as Steno departed. A low slung jazz tune tried to fight the silence in the office with the departing of the walking metronome but the silence won out. The vast quiet claimed the office as well as the attached room where the piano and the player sat as the door closed. Poking at the keys he tried to get the music back but it was long gone now.
“That was quick even for you,” Sam heard the door open and he turned to face the door.
Instead of Steno standing at the door it was a young woman wearing a dress that was made from the down of angels wings and it hung on her like a prayer on Easter. On her arms were two gloves that stopped just below her elbows of matching material that shimmered blue when she moved. Her deep brown eyes focused on the office and then him. The raven haired beauty sniffed slightly as she walked over to the desk and waited from him to take his place.
Sam smiled and knew what she was seeing when she looked at him. Beyond the sparse, dusty office and the light filtered through the smoke from the street below there was Sam, dressed in a suit the same gray as the ash filled clouds outside with his tie loose around his neck and black stubble touched with silver that any respectable man would have shaven off two days ago. When she saw him she did not see the man so much as the echo of a man and the age he wore almost outweighed her desperation, almost.
As he crossed the room he could smell a faint wisp of perfume on her, tantalizing his nose and making him want more of it.
“I like your perfume,” he inclined his head. “What’s it called?”
“Trouble,” the throaty voice purred.
“Interesting,” he nodded. “What can I do for you Miss Trouble?”
Her eyes narrowed and for a moment Sam realized that somewhere this woman was not to be trifled with but that place was not here. He took his time getting to his side of the desk and casually sitting down, taking time to get his hat and adjust it just right.
“My boss sent me to hire you,” the purr had a poisonous edge.
“That is very nice of him,” Sam shrugged. “Hire me for what?”
“If you want to know you’ll be here,” she slid him a business card. “Tonight.”
“Interesting,” Sam nodded.
“I’ll see myself out,” the trouble wrapped in angles feathers stood and walked to the door glaring at every piece of dust that flitted near her.
Sam waited for her to leave before picking up the card. It was a simple card for a tailor downtown, under the name of the proprietor was the word ‘knuckles’ was written in a fluid pen-stroke. The ticking of Steno announced his approach a moment before the door opened.
“There are no messages today or as of late for that matter, sir.” Steno closed the door behind him and looked at Sam carefully. “Is that expression one of humor or consternation, sir?”
“A little of both,” Sam shrugged and stood. “Take a look at this.”
Sam held out the business card and Steno took it.
“Are we working for a tailor or are you getting a discount on a new suit when you ask for Mister Knuckles, sir?” The machine inside his chest clacked a copy of the message onto the slip of paper that was his running record.
“Very funny,” Sam shook his head. “We’re meeting a client in the speakeasy under the tailor. I need to make myself presentable and you need to get things ready.”
“Clean and load the revolvers and make sure your knife is sharp, sir?”
“That’s the usual,” Sam tossed his hat on the table. “I think we have time to get this suit cleaned too.”
Steno nodded and the gears in his neck creaked with the unfamiliar movement.
“I was rather hoping you were getting a new suit, sir.”