Talia didn’t have to creep to pass unseen across the factory floor. The machines were hammering away, steam blasting from ramshackle and rusted pistons in long, roaring gouts, gears clattering, hammers smashing against plates. Even with her ears filled with cotton, the noise was so intense she felt like needles were being stabbed through her ears.
Despite the pain, this noise was for the best. She could be stealthy when needed, but Umberto Pollyglog, wobbling along behind her in his working class disguise and with a length of pipe dangling from his hand, was as light on his feet as a hungry elephant.
Raising one hand, she held Pollyglog back while she peered out between the machines.
On a pedestal above the ship floor was the overseer’s stand, where the men who had attacked her said Jan Shofflekrep was meeting them. No-one was there yet, which wasn’t a surprise. What was surprising was that there was literally no-one in the factory, even though the machines were running.
Hairs on the back of Talia’s neck twitched.
Turning to Pollyglog, she pointed at him and then at the spot where they stood, indicating that he should stay there. He nodded his understanding.
She drew her sword with one hand and pistol with the other, then stepped out into the open space, that roiling maelstrom of noise. As she cautiously approached the pedestal, she saw brief twitches of movement between the machines.
They weren’t alone.
She turned to see half a dozen men and women emerging from between the machines.
One of them stood behind Pollyglog, a knife pressed against the side of the accountant’s neck.
Talia tensed. It wasn’t the first ambush she had walked into, or the stupidest one to get caught out by. But moments like this were hardly a source of pride for a private detective.
Now came the tough choice. Fight back and risk Pollyglog getting skewered or give in and risk that they would both be murdered out of hand. After all, Jan Shofflekrep’s freedom was at stake and the bankrupt agitator was a big deal for there people.
To her surprise, Pollyglog made the decision for her. Somewhere in their time together he’d clearly grown a backbone. He slammed his elbow into the man behind him and lurched to the left, away from the knife.
The blade nicked Pollyglog’s neck. He clutched one hand to the wound even as he used the other to swing his pipe.
Talia leapt into action. With a single shot she shattered one man’s shin, the roar of the gun lost amid the factory noise. She parried an attack from the next thug and punched him in the face so hard his head bounced of a pillar and he slumped to the floor.
Every second counted. Neck wounds were serious business. She needed to deal with their attackers and get to Pollyglog before-
He slumped to the ground. His face was pale. Fingers slid away as blood streamed from the wound.
Everyone else stood still, looking from him to Talia. Their expressions were smug and expectant. None of them moved to finish off Pollyglog but no-one went to save him either.
Umberto Pollyglog was an arse and an annoyance. The people he worked for were scum. But still, Talia reluctantly admitted, he didn’t deserve to die.
Certainly not while his company was paying her bills.
Moving slowly enough to avoid alarm, she laid her weapons on the floor. Still no-one moved. She walked over to Pollyglog, squeezed the wound shut as tight as she could with one hand, and tore a strip from the bottom of his shirt with the other. As she struggled to bandage him while still staunching the flow of blood, their attackers closed in.
Here was hoping that the two of them wouldn’t just be murdered.
* * *
Oh, Pollyglog, your name is so much fun to say.
You can find the previous episodes of this story over here. And come back next week to see what Shofflekrep has planned for our heroes.