“The Masked Phantom Strikes Again.” I read aloud. I hold the paper in front of me, my friends circled around me, drinking their tea, and listening intently. “The Masked Phantom has been reported as being seen by 13 eyewitnesses at The Boulevard, a swank hotel, stealing the crystal lights from the honeymoon ballroom. Authorities are befuddled by the thefts, but assure the public that the Masked Phantom is no harm to the general population and will be caught shortly.”
Mary, my closest friend, and cousin, looks at the paper in my hands. “It’s just ghastly, isn’t it Ana?” She asks me, pulling a flowered fan out, and fanning her paling face.
“It is.” I agree. “They need someone that has experience with a single thief.” I say. Caroline Joseph looks at me and smiles.
“And I’m guessing that your dashing Henry is the man for the job?”
I scoff. “Henry Fitzpatrick is the sorriest excuse of a man that I’ve ever met and I wish that he would stop proposing to me. And furthermore, he is not my ‘man’.” I say cooly. “Besides, he’s too much of a coward to catch the Phantom.”
“Very true.” Mary agrees.
“The police need someone with intelligence, brains, and cunning. Someone just like the Phantom. Otherwise, they need a woman.” I joke. We all laugh and chuckle as we peer at the blurry images of the Phantom. From the pictures we could tell that the Phantom was tall, with a lean body, and dark hair. Other than that, his identity was a mystery. He had stolen various items and I couldn’t help but feel that as he went, he was just waiting for a specific item and these valuables were just practice.
“Well ladies, I must go.” I sigh. I pick myself up with an easy grace and hold my fan in my gloved hands. “I’ll see you next week.”
“Ana, there’s the ball this weekend! We will see you there right?” Charlotte asks me.
“Oh yes, I had totally forgotten.” I lie. Truthfully, I had been hoping to catch a nasty bout of the flu and escape it all together.
“Goodbye then!” Mary says, kissing each cheek and hugging me. “Tell Uncle I say hello!”
“Will do, besides I’ll have to tell him how you agree with me about Henry being such a coward.” I laugh. She smiles and winks.
I leave Charlotte’s estate in my carriage and sit in it to the twenty minute ride to my own home.
“Madam, we’re here.” Charles, my driver, tells me.
“Thank you.” I smile. A bright flash comes from a window in the east wing of the house. I sigh. Father was up to his inventions again. The doors are opened by my father’s assistant, Ronald, and I rush up the stairs and to the East wing, picking up my heavy skirts.
“Father, what is it now?” I cry out as I throw open the doors to his smallest workshop and start to tear up as smoke blows through.
“Ana!” He smiles. “Look!” He hands me a small L-shaped object. “It’s a handheld volt projector! This way people won’t have to drive an airship to use one!” I smile at my father’s happiness.
“Thank you. Now, my dear, did you see the paper?” He asks me quietly.
“Yes.” I sigh. “Can I change and then discuss the phenomenon with you?” I ask looking at my pink dress with ruffles and bows. He looks at it and his nose scrunches.
“Of course.” I turn on my heel and head back down the stairs and to my room in the west wing of my vast home. Father’s money from his inventions, such as the airship, bought the place and my mother’s creativity made my home a work of living art. My mother died when I was five, and ever since then, my father worked hard inventing new devices, trying to bring back my mother by incorporating his love for her, into his love for his work.
I enter my room, and the chambermaid comes in behind me.
“Miss, how may I help you?” She asks quietly.
“I need my work clothes.”
“Of course Miss.” She opens the wardrobe and I see petticoats and bonnets and ruffles spilling out. She shoves them out of the way and a tall dark panel appears. She pulls on a lever and I hand her a star shaped device with gears and copper wires sticking up from it. She places it in a small divot of the panel and pulls the lever. The panel rises and behind the wardrobe’s back, a pair of men’s breeches, a white, skin tight shirt, a leather vest, leather shoes, goggles, and a work belt hang on a black stone mannequin. I tug on my coats, as the maid loosens my corset and helps me out of the ridiculous dress. I take a cloth and some water and wipe off the thick, heavy makeup.
“Your hair Miss?” She says quietly.
“Take it down, I have no use for the heavy locks and pins.”
“Of course Miss.”
Within minutes I change into my work clothes and I tie my long curly locks up with a short brown ribbon. I close my wardrobe and put the star shaped mechanism back onto a thick cord and tie it around my neck. I pull my boots on and trot up to my father’s workshop once I am finished.
“Ready?” He asks me, not turning away from a giant mechanism.
“Ready.” I confirm. I quickly stand next to him and begin to climb into the cockpit. A mess of wires and gears sat before me. “Ok it looks like a simple fix, the steam ejector and control mainframe have been flipped and need a slight adjustment.” I call down to him. He nods and hands me a pair of thick wire cutters.
“Can you fix it please?” He asks as he looks at the blueprints. I roll my eyes. Twenty minutes later, I’m finished. Grease covers my hands as I carefully slip the control panel cover back on. I relax in my seat for a moment before deciding that my father could use my help.
“Father, I’m coming down.”
“Wait!” He yells as I stand up. “Start her up!” I glance doubtfully at the mechanism’s legs.
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“Yes. I need to make sure that the Scorpion’s steam ejectors are working properly and that the voltage for the volt bolts is high enough. Plus I’m not quite sure that the leg stability is high enough for a man of my stature.” I laugh and grab the levers in front of me. It was simple enough to start up. Grab two levers and use them like oars on a boat and then push a button and flip a switch and done.
“It’s up and running, but watch out for the legs!” I yell over the rising sound of the steam. The Scorpion rises on it’s legs and I direct it to skitter across the floor towards the large glass windows. I gently back her up, and that is when I hear a small yelp.
“Father?” I call.
“Ana, he’s here.” he says coldly as I turn the machine off.
“Who is?” I ask.
“Henry.” my father stands up straight. I groan and slide down the coppery leg of the machine.
“I have already told him no, how many times does he have to hear me repeat it.”
“Despite all of his tremendous faults, I will say that he is determined to have your hand.” my father muses, wiping his spectacles with a slightly dirty rag. I near him and he pulls me tight and hugs me.
“Do I have to go out there? I’ll just have to change once again and then entertain him and then change back again so that I can continue to work on The Scorpion.” I complain. His mustache tickles my cheeks as he bends down slightly.
“I’ll take care of it. And speaking of changing, we have another guest coming over to ask for the apprenticeship, and all of the others as well.”
“What’s his name?” I roll my eyes at my father’s calm tone. For three months, young men of all ages had come into my home each night, sometimes three or four at a time, to eat supper with my father, and enquire about the apprenticeship. Each night was the same. They’d talk solely to my father, ignoring me, and be a complete bore as they dragged on about how good with technology they were. To me it was monotonous and I had come to hate supper hour. Instead I would have my meal taken to my room and would fake an illness to give me an excuse.
“James. And please attend supper, this one…this one is different.” That’s what he always says.
“Fine.” I moan. “But only if you get rid of Henry right now. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s in the parlor, pacing, trying to figure out what to say to have me accept his hand in marriage.”
A twinkle of mischief alights in his dark brown eyes and he gives me one last squeeze. “Excellent. I’ll be back shortly.” he trots off at the fastest pace his tall, muscular frame will let and I am left in his workshop surrounded by toys and gadgets. I smile and head to the workbench to mess with the tools and start editing the design of my own little “toys”.
I didn’t bother to dress too fancily, because if I caught sight of this prospect and saw immediately that it would not happen, then I would return to the workshop. I pull on a long sleeved dress that I could easily where my work clothes underneath and a pair of slippers so the sound of my boots walking down the halls would be hidden.
Light makeup, a wig, and the star-shaped key hidden in the lining of the bosom of my dress were last, and quick. I left my room down the Servant’s stairs and through the kitchen to the dining room. I gently open the kitchen door and see my father seated at the head of the table. As far as I could see, no one else was there. I smile and enter the dining hall quickly.
“No company for dinner?” He frowns and shakes his head with a twitch of his mustache. I hide my grin. “May I take off this dreadful dress then and just wear my work clothes?” I ask, with a peek at his clean work clothes.
“Sure, my dear.” he sighs.
The servants enter the hall with a few dozen platters and set them in front of us and down the table. “I guess since there’s going to be so much food here, why don’t we have the servants eat out here as well?” I ask gently. My father stops short and looks at me as I slip the stupid dress off and sit comfortably in my work clothes. I throw the wig on a spare chair and let my hair from its net. “That way we do not waste the Chef’s lovely meal.” I say quietly.
He looks at me. My father is tall, a muscular stature, earned from hard hours at work lifting metal in his workshop. His dark brown hair is combed neatly each day, but after hours of work is slightly mussed. His clean shaven face, apart from his mustache, is drawn and tired. Dark circles and bags line his eyes and his brown eyes search my own for hidden meaning.
“You are–just like your mother. She never wasted anything. And you are right.” he says softly. I swallow hard. My mother was a taboo subject in our house. The servants were trained from the very first day not to speak of her around my father, and very few would talk of her to me. Of course I had tried, but usually unsuccessfully. “Alastair!” he calls loudly for the head butler. A regal man rushes into the room and comes to my father.
“Yes sir?” he asks in a deep voice like molasses.
“Call the staff.”
“Everyone.” he confirms.
“Yes sir.” Alastair leaves us and goes to the copper box hanging from the far wall. He presses a black button and a light bulb brightens at the top as electricity courses through the wires. He picks up a small “ATTENTION ALL STAFF. PLEASE REPORT TO THE DINING HALL IMMEDIATELY. I REPEAT, PLEASE REPORT TO THE DINING HALL IMMEDIATELY.” He shouts into the phone. I smile and sit upright in my chair. Five minutes later, 100 staff members stand in attention in filelike rows in the front.
“Relax and grab a seat.” My father says calmly. Everyone scurries to one of the tall armchairs that encase the mahogany table. When all eyes go to him, he begins to speak. “All of you have been doing an excellent job and my guests have not come tonight. I want all of you to eat and enjoy the excellent meal that the chefs have prepared.” They all look blankly at him.
I sigh and call out, “Dig in.” Cheers erupt and I start to eat with fearless abandon.
1 hour later…
The servants chatter and talk to me politely, if not casually and I find myself enjoying supper, especially when the topic of the Masked Phantom comes up. “He’s a menace, causing us all fright.” one maid says. “He cares my children to death and he gives me the willies as well.”
“Why is he stealing though? That’s the real question.” a footmen inserts as he eats part of a steak.
“Maybe he needs the money.”
“Maybe he gets a thrill from it.” someone else suggests.
“You’re all wrong.” I finally say. All eyes turn to me. “Each theft is bigger than the last. The reason the police can’t find a pattern in the thefts is because there isn’t one. He’s building himself up, preparing himself if you’d like to say. He doesn’t care about the items themselves, just about the experience that comes along with them.” I elaborate.
“That’s very wise of a scullery maid to say.” says a new voice. I turn and am met by a pair of bright hazel eyes.
“Excuse me?” I say coldly.
“What you said is very wise, for a scullery maid.”
“And you are?”
“The name is James and I come to look for the master of this house. I let myself in, I hope he doesn’t mind, but no one was at the door.”
“He won’t mind, but she might.” a voice whispers. Chuckles fill the air and I am soothed by their pleasantries.
“The Mistress will?” James asks.
“Probably.” I say airily. “Since you just offended her by calling her a scullery maid.” he looks at me in surprise.
“You are Ana–”
“I am Anabella Renee Gloriana Delfigo Sparzanza. But you may call me Ana. Now, may I ask why exactly I appear to be a scullery maid.” I say coldly, my eyes turning hard. I stand.
“The pants.” he says as though it is a common thing to see a young lady of high society in pants, which it is most definitely not.
“Father left for a moment, but he will be back shortly Mr…”
“Eric James, but everyone calls me James. Eric is too–”
“Civil.” I interrupt. The staff laugh at my chiding tone, but he remains calm.
“Sit down and eat. There might not be much left, but please help yourself.” I say politely.
“We were discussing the Masked Phantom.” one servant supplies.
“The menace.” someone else adds in.
“Like I said, I do not think that he is a menace.” I smile, lifting my glass to my lips.
“I agree.” James says softly.
“And why is that?” I raise my eyebrows. “Or are you just saying that to get in good with the inventor’s daughter, hoping to charm yourself into a position, are we?”
“Not at all. I’m sure that you probably assist him with his inventions.” He says loudly. The table goes silent.
“Excuse me?” I ask coldly. The staff remains silent. When they each were hired they were forced to sign a contract saying that they could not speak of what me and my father would do. “Why would you suspect that of all things?”
He leans towards me and I smell the scent of his cologne, a warm cinnamon scent mixed with mint, that tickled my nose. “You have oil on your arm. Plus, his design details vary. On some of them he uses solely copper with a hardening gaze, and those always have an initial in a hidden spot.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Come with me.” I say. “Edison, would you mind getting Mr. James a pair of boots, and Elenora can you make sure that some leftovers are put in the kitchen for lunch tomorrow, the rest may go home with the servants.”
“Yes, Mistress.” they bow respectively as I lead James to my father’s workshop.
“You are a very quick study.” I tell him as we ascend the stairs.
“Thank you. Quick question, why are we taking the stairs? We live in an era where airships, and electric weapons are made possible by families’ like yours. Why not an elevator?”
“Guests use the stairs.” I say simply, not delving into the subject any further. He doesn’t respond. Edison, a manservant, appears and hands James a pair of thick boots. I tighten the laces on my riding boots and grab the brass handles on the double doors to the workshop. “What you see in here must not be discussed outside of this home.”
Then I open the doors.