Read The Friday Society Online
Authors: Adrienne Kress
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Copyright © 2012 by Adrienne Kress
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Friday Society / by Adrienne Kress. p. cm.
Summary: Cora, Nellie, and Michiko, teenaged assistants to three powerful men in Edwardian London, meet by chance at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered man, leading the three to work together to solve this and related crimes without drawing undue attention to themselves.
[1. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 2. Criminals—Fiction. 3. London (England)—History—20th century—Fiction. 4. Great Britain—History—Edward VII, 1901-1910—Fiction.5. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.K8838Fri 2012 [Fic]—dc23 2012005364
ECAUSE IT MAKES SENSE TO DO SO WITH THIS BOOK,
A THREE-WAY DEDICATION:
To my mom
She inspires me to be confident expressing my thoughts,
and proud of being smart, enthusiastic, and weird.
Also totally unashamed to crash open houses.
She had class, athleticism, a great sense of style, and great taste.
She was also one of the bravest women I’ve known.
And to Zadie
Because behind every great woman is a great man.
He sent his daughters to college, and loved to cook.
And encouraged his grandchildren to follow their dreams.
* * *
When the nations of the world are in crisis, they turn to our city for aid.
But to whom do we turn in our moment of desperation?On whom does the great city call in its hour of need?
A fog lifts.
A new brand of hero is born.
One simply doesn’t do such things in polite society.
Three Helpful Girls
ND THEN THERE
was an explosion.
It was loud. It was bright. It was very explosion-y.
Cora dove under the table and held her breath, waiting for the tinkling sound of glass to cease. It could have been a nice sound, actually. If it didn’t reflect her total incompetence.
Stupid tinkling sound of glass.
She’d fixed the calculations, she’d double-checked the equipment. How was it possible to change everything about an experiment and still have it result in the same thing?
That was the technical term for it.
Cora crossed her legs under the table and pouted. Pouting didn’t really solve anything, but she was annoyed. She was also covered in green goo. And it was hard not to pout when covered in green goo.
Now, it wasn’t that she didn’t love explosions. Quite the opposite. She even remembered her very first explosion. (Some girls remembered their first corset or first grand ball, but she wasn’t “some girls.”) It had been seven years ago. Lord White had her put on the goggles he’d had custom made to fit her tiny ten-year-old features, handed her the strangest-looking gun she’d ever seen, pointed it in the right direction, and told her to pull the trigger.
Just like that.
So she had. And the dummy’s head in front of her had exploded into a million pieces.
“Great aim!” Lord White had laughed enthusiastically for a good five minutes after the destruction.
She had been in love with things exploding ever since.
What she didn’t love was green goo.
Cora noticed her notepad and pencil floating beside her. She extracted both from the gloop and examined her calculations. She knew she’d only have a few moments of peace before—
“Cora! You all right, love? Cora!”
“Yes, Mrs. Philips, I’m fine.” She maintained focus on the paper in front of her.
“That was a loud noise. . . . Where are you, pet?”
“Over here.” She rolled her eyes and glanced up, watching Mrs. Philips’s skirts sweep toward her.
“What a mess.” Cora watched the feet of the housekeeper as they maneuvered carefully through the broken glass and goo on the floor. “I’ll send for Barker.”
Mrs. Philips’s round face appeared beneath the table. Her normally pleasantly plump countenance was distorted by gravity into something slightly grotesque. “Why are you hiding under here?”
“Just trying to gather my thoughts.”
“Well, I don’t know really. That’s why I’m trying to gather my thoughts.”
“Looks like something exploded.”
“Yes, I know.” Cora finally made eye contact with Mrs. Philips. Mrs. Philips shook her head, which looked really odd at that angle.
“No need to get all huffy. Just sayin’ what I see,” replied the housekeeper standing upright. “Come off the cold floor, love. That ain’t healthy for a person.”
Cora grabbed the pencil and pad, pushed herself out from under the table, and stood up. She got a head rush when she did and had to hold on to the edge of the table for a moment to steady herself. Then, regaining her balance, she swept the wrinkles out of her long lab coat and pushed her goggles up onto her forehead.
Mrs. Philips was surveying the general damage in what appeared to be a pretty dejected manner. But Cora knew her attitude didn’t have much to do with the mess she’d created. Messes occurred—let’s just say—a lot, in his lordship’s top-secret lab. It wasn’t anything to get upset about. No, Cora knew the real reason Mrs. Philips seemed so sad.
“It ain’t right. What with all the work Lord White makes you do keeping track of his schedule and such . . . but also helping him out down here? That’s too much.”
“No it isn’t,” replied Cora. How many times had they had this argument? It’d been years of the same thing, as if somehow one day it would sink in and Cora, in a flush of realization, would say, “My word, Mrs. Philips, you’re right! It
too much. And not only that, it turns out that after all those years of saying I loved working in the lab, I actually meant I hated it. How can I ever thank you for showing me the error of my ways?”
She knew the housekeeper would never give up trying, though. Just as Cora would never give in to her. But there were days that Cora wished Mrs. Philips would be just a little bit more understanding. After all, she was the closest thing Cora had ever had to a mother, and even though she hated to admit it, Mrs. Philips’s opinion did matter to her.
Lord White’s housekeeper had been so wonderfully understanding when his lordship had brought Cora home seven years ago, a tiny little urchin. She’d looked much younger than her ten years, but he’d given her a chance to work as a chambermaid. Mrs. Philips had taught her how to be the perfect servant, and cared for the girl when she caught cold or hurt herself. The hurting-herself thing happened a lot. She’d even supported Lord White when he started taking Cora under his wing, showing her how to do basic math, keep accounts, how to maintain his timetable . . .
How to blow things up.
But Cora had noticed Mrs. Philips’s concern when he’d begun bringing in a tutor to teach her the classics, and a linguist to help round out that thick East End accent of hers. It had been a fear, Cora knew, that she would grow beyond her station, and though the precocious girl had learned how to pretend to be of the same class as her boss, Mrs. Philips had cautioned Cora on many occasions that this would only make her unsuitable for any job but being Lord White’s assistant.
“A creature of both worlds is a creature of none,” she’d warned late one night, sitting on the edge of Cora’s bed.
Cora knew the danger. She also knew that she’d probably never find someone willing to marry such a creature. She was too good now for the boys she’d grown up with in the street, and yet would never be good enough for any of his lordship’s peers.
Deep down, Cora had wondered if it had been a plan of Lord White’s from the beginning. To keep her for himself, his personal assistant until the end of time. But she knew he had acted toward her as he had only because he cared about her. His intentions were usually good. He laid them out, one flagstone at a time, along the road from the proverb, and she walked along them obediently.
So she’d decided to simply appreciate the moment, not think of her murky future, and throw herself into work. And what she loved most was working in his lab. She loved mixing chemicals and playing with electricity. She loved winches and gears and clockwork pieces. She loved how things came together, and she loved taking stuff apart.
It made her happy. Even just unpacking boxes for his lordship made her happy.
Shit. The boxes.
“When’s the shipment arriving?” Cora asked, following Mrs. Philips to the winding wrought-iron staircase that circled up toward what appeared, from this angle, to be a closed domed ceiling.
“Soon. An hour. Maybe two.”
Cora opened the panel beside the stairs and pushed a large brass button. The dome slowly began to open, revealing a large well-lit room above.
“And I assume his lordship has returned home to greet it?”
Mrs. Philips took a step onto the stairs and stopped, not actually answering the question. Cora knew the housekeeper so well that she could understand her silences as if they were sentences.
“Aw, love . . .”
“Mrs. Philips, Lord White hasn’t returned, has he?”
“Not yet, love, though I imagine soon. . . .”
With a rush of energy Cora crossed the room, removing her gloves, lab coat, and goggles and tossing them all in her cubby. Then she returned to the stairs, where Mrs. Philips stood with her arms folded across her ample chest.
“I asked you,” said Cora to the formidable bosom before her, “to get me if he hadn’t returned by three. He has a very important event tonight.”
“I know that but—”
“But nothing, Mrs. Philips. I need to fetch him, even if you don’t approve of my doing so. I don’t have time to argue about it. Now, would you please bring me my pistol from my room and meet me at the front door?” Cora slid past Mrs. Philips and made her way up the stairs and out into Lord White’s vast library.
“It ain’t right, it ain’t right,” muttered Mrs. Philips, coming up behind her.
Cora just ignored her. In trying to protect her from visiting what Mrs. Philips called “a most unhealthy neighborhood,” the housekeeper always wound up utterly ruining Lord White’s schedule. Sometimes it frustrated Cora that Mrs. Philips seemed to care more about the welfare of her master’s personal assistant than the welfare of her master himself. Lord White mattered more than all of them put together. As a highly influential member of Parliament, he was quite likely to be Prime Minister someday, if he played his cards right.
And boy, was his lordship good at cards.
Despite her disapproval, Mrs. Philips fetched Cora’s “pistol.” Though it had the same shape and purpose as your typical firearm, it was, in fact, one of Lord White’s more successful experiments. It was a fair bit smaller than the average, yet it had twice the power. Energy was stored up every evening when she placed it into the “electricity container” by her bed, and the charge, which sent bullets flying at twice their normal speed, lasted a full day. The bullets themselves were tiny, but they carried within them a highly pressurized acid that exploded on contact.
Lord White had invented the weapon especially for her, out of concern for her general safety, and also because he knew she liked destructive things. It had been her gift a few years ago in honor of her fifteenth birthday. He’d even had her name engraved on it.
Cora loved her present and made sure to take it with her wherever she went. Just in case. Mrs. Philips also kind of insisted on her doing so. Cora placed the weapon snugly in her purse, and in no time at all, she was out on the high street in her coat and hat, hailing a cab.