A whisper from inside, barely audible. Scarlet always kept her hair coiffed forward, over her ears and down to her cheeks, but she pressed to the wood anyway, leaving a smear of flesh-toned makeup as she did so.

“Please, let me go.” It was Pearl, unmistakably, and with a tremulous edge that was quite out of character for one of the Boudoir’s most assertive girls. Scarlet was immediately on alert.

“Sir,” she said, “I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but I assure you, it will end badly if you seek to impede my girls, any of my girls, in the pursuance of their duties. You may have heard about one LQC Muntz, Jr, that was shot down and then kicked by a horse after failing to heed a similar warning.”

This time there was a response, in a deep voice, calm and assured: “Very well, then. My name is Jedidiah Edenburner; you might have heard of me. I’m the local stationmaster for the Valley Union office. If you don’t know what a stationmaster is, think of a security detail. I keep those big lovely boxes that bring money flowing into Smokewood from coming up empty once they arrive. You may call me Jed.”

Scarlet vaguely remembered hearing the name, and a face that was uniformly unpleasant and framed by black strings of hair came to her mind. “I don’t care if you’re General Muntz himself, come to avenge his only idiot son,” she said. “Let my Pearl out of there, safe and unharmed, or I will end you.”

“Oh, of course,” said Jed. “I wouldn’t think of harming her. But first, you’re going to tell me about her special delivery. I want names, I want locations, and I want them now.”

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