Juliana and Louise finished stacking books. It had been a week since Juliana met Carlo. She'd taken a day to lay in bed, feeling pain for her parents and what they were going through. She prayed that what Carlo predicted was true. They were alive. Held captive, but alive.
The women went to the front desk. Mrs. Goodwin was talking to two men dressed in silk suits and top hats. She saw the librarians from the corner of her eyes. “Juliana,” she called. She faced the men. “This is she.”
Juliana scanned the two men. One had a handlebar mustache. He sniffed with a scowl. “Juliana Russo?”
“Y-yes,” she affirmed skeptically.
The clean shaven man walked around her; she heard clinking chains. The man pulled on her wrist. Handlebar Mustache said, “You are under arrest.”
A shiver went up Juliana's spine. Clean Shaven was locking her in iron handcuffs. She instinctively began to resist. Mrs. Goodwin protested. “Under what grounds?”
“Trespassing on private property,” Handlebar Mustache simply stated.
Louise laughed in disbelief. “This is outrageous! Juliana wouldn't harm a fly, as the old saying goes.”
Juliana looked over her shoulder at Clean Shaven. “There must be some mistake. I've never trespassed in my life.” Not entirely true, as she and Nathaniel had sneaked onto private property many times as children. Still, she hadn't done so in years. Certainly not recent enough to cause her arrest.
“We have complaints that you have, Ms. Russo,” Clean Shaven stated. He moved her forward. Panic rose in her chest. She yelled back to Louise. “Go get Nathaniel! Tell him what's happened! He'll meet me at the jail!” The two men led her outside and to a stagecoach. Clean Shaven sat in the back with her and Handlebar Mustache operated the horse Anichanical.
Juliana opened her mouth to plead her innocence, but Clean Shaven held up his hand. “Keep quiet, Ms. Russo. There's no point.”
The handcuffs were already starting to sting her wrists. She fidgeted and tried to stay composed. There was no way she could be punished for something she didn't do. Unless... she'd trespassed on Carlo's property. Would he have called the police on her? Why would he do that? Was he trying to keep her from going to New Paris? She'd thought of going on her own, but without the code it would have been pointless.
The stagecoach turned towards the cities zeppelin port. That was odd. She said, “The jail is the other direction.”
Clean Shaven said nothing. He kept his dark eyes forward. Juliana kitted her eyebrows. If this situation wasn't strange enough it just got stranger. She pressed her face against the window and tried to make out her surroundings. Where were they taking her?
The stagecoach clambered up the wooden bridge to the elevated port. Zeppelins were lined along dock after dock. Crates were being loaded and unloaded. Passengers were checking their tickets for a cruise. One zeppelin in particular caught her full attention. It was larger than even the cruise zeppelin. It was one of the few zeppelins made entirely of metals. Copper, iron, brass, and even gold reflected under the blips of sunlight escaping the shadow of clouds. At the top stood two cylinder smokestacks. Black smoke rose from them, an indication the zeppelin was ready for departure. On the sides of the round surface, Juliana made out the emblem of Black Industries. A black circle with a capital G in the center of it. The G was rough and ridged, as if clawed by massive talons.
The stagecoach stopped in front of the gangplank. Clean Shaven exited and turned back to help Juliana out. She stumbled on her way and he had to catch her. Handlebar Mustache snorted, wiggling his nose. “Clumsy girl.”
The two men led her up the gangplank. They weren't taking her to the jail. She dug her heels into the ice on the gangplank. The men each took hold of an arm and tugged harder. She was no match for their strength. They easily dragged her inside the metal craft.
The inside smelled like sweat and the bitter smell a coin leaves on skin. The men took her to the left up a flight of metal stairs. They climbed two stories before they towed her down a long hallway. They passed a few crew members, some coated in soot, but no one took note of Juliana. It was as if she weren't on board.
The men finally stopped in front of an iron door painted red. Handlebar Mustache unlocked the lock and opened the door. Clean Shaven moved her inside. She saw a row of cells. Clean Shaven unlocked her handcuffs and then shoved her roughly inside one. The clang of the door shutting brought a chill to her blood. Quickly, she whirled around on her heels and gripped the bars keeping her confined. “What do you want with me? I haven't done anything!”
The men ignored her and moved to depart from the horrid room. She gripped the bars until her knuckles turned white. “Please! With no right to hold me this is considered kidnapping!”
Only Handlebar Mustache spared her a passing glance. He had a sinister grin on his face that would forever live deep in Juliana's psyche. He then slammed the red door.
Three and a half hours surpassed. Juliana's throat felt raw from all of her shouting. The room only had one small porthole across from her cell so she had no idea which way they were flying. Even so, she could still see the sky and that gave her hope of escape.
Her mind reflected on the fact that this was clearly a Black Industries zeppelin. Why did Gerard Black's people want her? There was no way they'd learned about her little meeting with Carlo. No one except Alec knew about that night. Something else was happening here.
The cell had nothing to offer her as a weapon or tool. She would have to use her wits. She waited, staring out the round porthole. She could win. She could escape.
Another hour went by before a man came inside the room. She hadn't seen him before, but he obviously worked on the zeppelin judging by the Black Industries patch on his sleeve. He had a tin cup in his hand and passed it through the bars to Juliana. She took it with a grateful nod. “Thank you,” she said before downing the warm water. She smacked her lips at the taste. Her eyes peeked up to study the man in front of her. He looked younger than most of the crew she'd seen. The way he carried himself suggested he was bored of his mundane job. On his belt hung a ring of keys. Perhaps one would unlock her cell.
The man stuck his hand back through and she passed the cup back. He turned to leave. She quickly called out to him. This was her chance. “Wait! I have a question for you.”
The man faced her. “I am just the maintenance guy. I was told to bring you water and that's it.”
“Thank you again for the water,” she said, trying to sound kind despite her frustration. She rested her forehead on the bars. “You know where we're going, don't you?”
“And . . . you know why I'm here, I assume?”
He shook his head. “Don't care. Not my job to care.”
Just what she'd hoped to hear. She licked her lips seductively. The man's Adams apple rose and fell as he watch her. She wiped sweat from her forehead. “It's hot in here.”
He shrugged and she saw his pupils dilate. She removed her hat and tossed it in a corner. “I stole something from Black Industries. They want it back.” She made sure she still had his full attention, which she did. “I haven't told them where it is . . . but I'll tell you.”
The man gave an incredulous look. “Why?”
She giggled and stepped back from the door to the back wall. She pressed herself against it, her hands over her head. “Come in here and get it.”
He stumbled forward, unsure how to reply. She winked at him, her eyes inviting him in, hoping he'd take the bait. Come on, she thought. Open the cell.
He dropped the cup and went to the cell door. “Why?” he repeated.
She ran her fingers up and down her neck. “You don't have too. I can wait for my next visitor.”
His forehead creased and his fingers fumbled on his belt. Once he had the correct key, he inserted it in the lock and entered the cell. She waited, her heart pounding as he neared her. His dirty hands found her waist and he pulled her against him. They kissed. The entire time Juliana could only think about the open door.
She pivoted, turning them both around so her back was to the exit. She pried her lips from his and whispered in his ear. “You are a nice man. I won't forget you.” She gave him a hard shove. He fell backwards, hitting his head jarringly on the wall. The poor man shook his head in a daze. Juliana hooked her foot behind his leg and yanked his feet out from under him. He fell hard and bumped his head on the steel floor. Juliana darted out of the cell. Her hands were shaking so fast she found it difficult to shut the door. Using her body, she forced it shut and fumbled with the key in the lock. It finally obeyed her and clicked into place.
She stared into the cell at the man on the floor, waiting for a sign of life. Even though she'd meant to put him out-of-action, the idea that she could have permanently injured him made her sick. After a few seconds the man stirred slightly but didn't get up. That was good enough for her.
Juliana took a breath and peeked outside the red door. No one was coming. She went in the direction of the stairs and headed up. From the deck she would be able to see which direction they were flying and once they landed she would call out for help.
Ten flights of stairs later, she pushed open a door and shielded her eyes. The sun was shinning brighter than she'd experienced in a long while. There were hardly any clouds. When her eyes adjusted, she saw that the deck was rather empty save a few men who didn't see her. She went the opposite way and peered over the edge of the railing. Below was almost completely similar to New Tuscany, only she knew they were nowhere near New Tuscany. No. Not only did the hours of flight give that away, but her knowledge of the world's countries gave away clear clues.
Juliana wished she could remove her restricting corset. It made it even more difficult to breathe. She fell to her knees, well aware as to where they were taking her. What had she done to deserve this?
“Hey!” a man shouted. Four sets of feet came charging at her from a few feet away. She stood up and tried to find a place to run and hide, but she'd lost time during her panic attack. The men surrounded her. One of them was Handlebar Mustache. He raised his gun on her. “Clever, clumsy girl,” he taunted. Or was it a complement?
She pointed over the side. “New Scotland? What is going on?”
Two men seized her. She didn't bother struggling; there was no point. Handlebar Mustache lowered his weapon. “Gerard Black needs to have a word with you.”
The men took her back to her cell.
End of Part 3