Castrato opened his hand, revealing a pair of scratched and dinged diopters. “Tiberia thinks this was lost down a drain,” he said. “She ain’t so good at knowing what’s lost and what a clever bloke with a piece of wire can get.”

“You mean…?” Claudia began.

“I’ve peeked through them enough to know that ain’t a single glow changed in all the fifteen years since I’ve worn the shackles,” Castrato continued. “Not a one has got brighter, not a one has got duller. Much as it kills me to have a look without their say-so–not that it bothers Tiberia none–I just had to know.”

“Miss Tiberia says that if they don’t dim, they’re kept here forever,” Miss Claudia whispered.

“Think about it, missy,” said Castrato. “I been here all of fifteen years in the shackles, and that oughta mean there’s some girls at least 20, maybe even 30. What’s the oldest girl you seen? 15?”

“No,” Claudia said. “That’s not-”

“You wanna know why no assistants last longer than two years here? You wanna know why no one ever leaves? It’s on account of Tiberia taking ’em below, to the catacombs, and ending ’em.” Castrato let out a strangled sob. “The shackles, they keeps me from doing anything about it. Half the time I can’t even get the assistants alone to tell ’em. The other half, they just up and leave.”

Castrato’s face was streaming with tears now, and the shackles were aglow at his wrists and ankles, the smell of searing flesh welling up in Claudia’s nostrils.

“Please, Miss Withers,” Castrato said. “Do something for ’em. Do right by these girls. Even the nastiest of ’em doesn’t deserve a screaming death in the catacombs at that hag’s claws.”

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Robert lay in a heap at the bottom of the grand staircase. His legs were limb, numb above the waist. Dimly, he recalled a meaty snap as he had plummeted: his spine.

“My dear! Oh, my dear.”

At the sound of her voice, Robert cut his way through the forest of pain closing in around him and tried to dig his hands into the floor, to pull himself away, toward the great oaken doors, toward safety.

“My dear! Oh my sweet, sweet dear.”

Orthodontia appeared at the top of the stairs, dressed only in her nightgown. She began descending slowly, making a grand entrance. A pair of silver sewing shears glittered in her hand.

“Stay away,” croaked Robert. “Stay away!”

“You’re not well,” said Orthodontia. “Come, dear. Let me sew you back together.”

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The maid showed Burgess into Forrestal’s sitting room. A servant tottered in with steaming tea and biscuits, though Burgess could tell at a glance that both were poor quality and quite old, quite stale.

Mr. John Forrestal arrived a moment later, an impressive barrel of a man in pince-nez held betwixt hearty muttonchops. “Mr. James Burgess, is it?” he said. “Solicitor with Hamilton & Burr?”

“Quite right,” said Burgess, offering his hand. Forrestal declined to take it. “I assume you’ve had the opportunity to look over the papers I left with my calling card?”

“Quite.” Forrestal walked to the sitting room window and gazed out it. “My brother and I had not spoken for over two decades,” he said. “You’ll forgive me if I am not as visibly bereaved as seems proper. I have, in the interim, thrown myself into charitable works in an attempt to make amends for Peter’s…indiscretions.”

Burgess set down his case and began leafing through it. “Yes, I’ve seen the papers on file. The Charitable Association, the Workhouse Improvement League, the Liberal Party…it is quite the basket of bleeding hearts you have allowed to suckle from the proverbial teat.” Ordinarily Burgess would not have spoken so, but the man’s chilly and rather rude welcome had him in a testy mood.

“More than suckle,” snapped Forrestal. “I involve myself as a volunteer as well as a benefactor, and donate of my time and expertise as an accountant to the financial nitwits who run these sucklers.”

“As you say,” Burgess agreed. “Very kind, I’m sure.”

“And as an accountant, I have an…offer…for you, should you care to consider it.” Forrestal did a military about-face, his spectacles opaque and white with reflected sunlight. “Peter was a barrister specializing in fraud, so when it came to committing the act himself, he covered his tracks well. It was prudent for him to take leave, but the sum he left upon his death must have been substantial.”

Burgess pursed his lips. “It’s all in the papers, Mr. Forrestal.”

“Indeed. And I also see from the papers that the whole is to be awarded to…her…should you ajudge her competent of recieving it.”

“And if not, it will be awarded to the only other living next-of-kin,” said Burgess drily.

“She…is a carbunkle on my family,” Forrestal said. “Our great shame, an idiot and a cripple, scarcely capable of seeing to her own day-to-day needs, let alone a substantial estate. There are charities that could use that money for the benefit of mankind, solicitor. And there are many loopholes that can see Hamilton & Burr amply…rewarded…for their services in seeing that the monies are dispersed properly.”

“In that case,” said Burgess evenly. “You ought to suggest as much to your niece and, as of now, only living relative. If she is as much an idiot as you say she is, no doubt the suggestion will be taken up quite readily.”

Burgess and Forrestal glared at each other a moment, all that was unsaid between them hanging thick and dusty in the air. “So be it, then,” growled Forrestal. “Mary! Show the solicitor to Melindas chambers. And make up a room for him in case his business with that creature demands more than an afternoon’s time.”

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