It was damp and cold. A thick blanket of fog rolled slowly through Port Dechantagne, between the trees and houses, obscuring the creatures, large and small, that moved through the mist. It left decorations of condensation upon everything it touched. Police Constable Saba Colbshallow pulled out his gold pocket watch and flipped it open. The time read 6:53. He put the watch away and then stuffed both hands into the pockets of his reefer jacket. He stepped through the remains of the burned out house of Mrs. Yembrick, careful not to step on an exposed nail or a jagged timber.
“I thought I saw you over here.” Eamon Shrub stood at the edge of the building foundation. His uniform exactly matched Saba’s, from the helmet on his head, to the shin-high boots on his feet.
“What are you doing dressed for duty already?” wondered Saba. “You don’t come on till nine.”
“Dot was tossing and turning all night, so I got up early. Figured I might as well get ready. Talking of which, didn’t your shift end last night at nine?”
“You know how it is.”
Saba walked across the blackened foundation and Eamon walked around it. They met on the far side of what was left of the structure and shook hands.
“I can’t stop thinking about what’s going on with the lizzies,” said Saba. “I’m sure that something is up.”
“What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. I caught one in town using false documentation and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. If they’re sharing their bracelets, then it’s possible we have many more of them in town than there should be. Then there’s whatever they’ve been getting from the ships in port. They’ve hauled away loads of crates from two ships that I know of and there may well have been more.”
“It’s probably someone trying to smuggle trade goods past the tax collector, and using lizzies for hired labor. Kind of like what the professor was doing, only in reverse.”
“Maybe. Even if that’s all it is though, it’s still quite a smuggling operation.”
“So what’s that got to do with Mrs. Yembrick?”
“Both times I trailed the lizzies carrying crates; they passed by this general direction. Then I took a look back through the log books and found that Mrs. Yembrick reported seeing lizzies in her window on three separate occasions.”
“That does seem a bit fishy in light of the fire,” offered Eamon.
“Exactly. So since I had no luck following our cold-blooded friends, I thought I would poke around here.”
“All right. I’ll poke with you.”
The two began making a sweep across the yard, carefully examining the ground for anything unusual. After only a few minutes, Saba noticed a pile of debris that seemed oddly placed. Several timbers had apparently fallen a good distance from the fire, and were sitting on five or six boards and a piece of canvas, none of which had been touched by the flames. The young constable began tossing the wood aside. By the time he had finished, Eamon had joined him to help pull the dirty canvas over.
“Did you remember Mrs. Yembrick having a root cellar?” asked Saba, looking down at the door on the ground.
“Can’t say as I did,” replied Eamon.
He bent down at one end of the door and Saba the other. They both lifted the portal open, revealing a set of stone steps leading down into the darkness. Saba, who was closest to the top step, started down. His fellow constable followed him into the darkness. There were exactly ten steps down to a large room with a dirt floor. Though shrouded in shadows, there was just enough dim morning light leaking in for them to see that all four walls were lined with stacks of long thin wooden crates.
With a single stride, Saba reached the stack of crates almost as tall as himself along the left hand side of the room. He lifted the lid of the topmost. Though it had once been nailed shut, the lid was now just sitting on the wooden box. Inside, there was nothing but a handful of straw packing. He kicked the bottom of the stack and could tell from the movement of the boxes that all were empty.
“Look over here,” said Eamon, who had moved to the back of the room.
He was pointing to one of the crates at the bottom of the stack against the wall farthest from the doorway. It had black printing painted across the wood. Saba had to kneel down in the darkness to read the writing. “.30 caliber Hecken 98”
“Oh sweet Kafira. Rifles.”