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Saving the Scientist (The Restitution League #2)
Author:Riley Cole

Saving the Scientist (The Restitution League #2)

Riley Cole

Chapter 1

October 1881

Restitution League Headquarters, London

Being a skilled dissembler himself, Edison Sweet felt no compunction about judging the skills of others.

Successful liars used words to confuse and misdirect. True artists seduced their marks into believing. The man fidgeting and sweating in the seat across from him accomplished neither of those things. To put it bluntly, the man had no ability to lie.

It was the only thing about the unremarkable dandy that intrigued him.

No one requesting the league’s assistance lied. What would be the point?

Edison set the mechanical arm he was designing down next to the league’s new typing machine and tried not to flinch every time the man stuttered over another false claim. The half-built mechanical servant lying on his workbench upstairs needed it’s pulleys resized. The elbow joints wouldn’t bend far enough to make pouring tea a possibility, and he dearly wanted an automatic tea pouring mechanical butler, even if he had to settle for a platform and wheels in place of actual legs.

Edison reached for the arm. He could leave the interview to his cousin, Meena, and her new husband. Between the two of them, she and Crane could steal the drawers off an archbishop and leave him bare-assed in Trafalgar Square. They were more than a match for a weasel-faced liar.

If he hurried, he might get the arm back on before his dinner engagement. Which made him think of an entirely different sort of arm. An arm attached to the lush form of one warm, willing spitfire of an actress who might just let him polish off his dinner before she pounced.

“…they took it all, my device and every scrap of notes.” The man’s whine buzzed in Edison’s ears, like a persistent mosquito. “I know who it did it. I can point you straight to them.”

His words rang true. The tone did not.

The twisting, shifting story niggled at Edison. This gent was playing at something dangerous. But dangerous for whom? Edison leaned against the doorway and folded his arms across his chest.

His automaton could wait.

Meena sat forward, her full attention on the slight form swallowed up by the great wing backed chair across from her. “That’s what the police are for, Mr. Templeton. Have you—?”

“Too slow. Much too slow. Time is of the utmost importance.”

That was the man’s first true statement. Whatever the thing was, he was desperate to have it.

“What exactly have you discovered?” Edison probed. He couldn’t help himself. It was rather like scratching and itch.

“It’s a... a sort of energy device.”

Edison rubbed the back of his neck. Truly, it was like toying with an infant. “An energy device. That could be anything. Could be a bomb. A lightbulb. A turbine engine the size of a house. Really, man, you’re going to have to narrow things down.”

Templeton nodded vigorously. “Forgive me. Whole thing’s very hush hush. Top level security if you take my meaning.”

Edison resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “We understand. National security, I’m sure. So this device, it’s—”

The clock above the filing drawers chimed the hour, cutting him off. Edison stared at the strange man, urging him to get on with things. His invention would wait. The hot-tempered actress he’d promised to dine with before her evening curtain call would not. And her temper—he had great cause to know—was as magnificent as her other… attributes.

Someday soon he’d tire of both. But for now, he wasn’t willing to trade a fierce tumble for a fusillade of crockery and a tongue-lashing.

He gestured impatiently, hoping to spur the man along.

Templeton’s thin lips turned down, as if he disapproved of Edison’s prodding. “It’s a type of stored energy device. Damned complicated to explain the workings, but I can describe how it looks. It’s a metal cylinder about so big.” He raised his palm above the arm of the chair, indicating something about a foot tall and several inches wide.

Edison considered for a moment. “You’ve designed a battery. A single cell battery.”

“First of its kind.” The man’s narrow chest swelled with pride. “Certain elements close to the Crown are intrigued. National security interests, you know.”

Edison looked at his sister, his cousin, and Crane, willing them to understand the magnitude of such a device. If his suspicions were correct, someone—certainly not this overdressed nob—had figured out how to design a closed-cell electrical device. The industrial applications—the military applications—were staggering.

And this poor excuse for a mastermind thought they’d be stupid enough to steal it for him.

“I’m presenting my findings to some well-positioned men in the Queen’s cabinet,” Templeton continued. “Even if I had my notes, there’s no time to build another device.”

There it was again. The truth, at least as far as it went.

“It’s my life’s work,” Templeton continued. “I have competitors, other scientists on the brink of discovering the same. I must deliver it to the Crown before someone else devises their own.”

Edison was tiring of the game. “Wet cell or dry?”

Templeton jolted forward as if he’d gotten an electrical shock of his own. He blinked and blinked and blinked.

“What was I thinking?” Edison pushed away from the door jamb. “Wet cells were perfected several years ago, if I recall.” He pretended astonishment. “You’ve perfected a dry cell device?”

“I uh… Yes.” The words carried more certainty than the tone.

His sister, Briar, was seated at Templeton’s left. She snorted loudly.

At a sharp look from Meena, she masked her disbelief with a delicate fit of coughing. “Apologies.” She said patted her chest. “A touch of the ague.”

Briar leaned toward the poor man, causing him to shrink back into the deep chair. Even as she grinned at Templeton, Edison sensed her fingers tightened on the throwing knife always hidden in the pocket of her skirt.

A sharp jab to the side caught Edison’s attention. Their office girl, Nelly, had sidled up next to him. “No scars,” she whispered. “He’s got no scars. No scratches. No burns. Seems odd for someone who works with glass beakers and potions and the lot, don’t it?”

It did at that. “Excellent observation,” he murmured.

The girl’s cheeks pinked. Her thin shoulders rose in a small shrug as if to suggest his approval hardly mattered, but Edison could tell the compliment pleased her.

Now that he looked closer at their prevaricating client, he detected a certain cruelty. It was there in the eyes, in the thin lips, pressed into a hard line. He wondered who really designed the device. Even more to the point, what was the little bugger willing to do to steal it?

He imagined some elderly scientist, shoulders sloped from years spent hunched over laboratory benches. A frail, elderly soul who’d finally made the discovery of a lifetime. And now this half-penny sot thought he could convince them to grab it.