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“Your campaign is not just rolling again but is a steamroller to flatten your opposition. Introduce me as your new benefactor. You cannot make too much of my ability to help you, Trevor. Dodge shall have no mention, no part in any of this from now on.”
“He won’t like that.” Trevor’s lip quivered.
“He already doesn’t like me,” I laughed carelessly. “He thinks I am a foreign spy. I stole his Poison Maiden from him. I have been your real friend and protector. And I will go on being those things, plus you shall never want for money again. You can tell Dodge’s messenger I said so.”
“I am not certain Madame Phoebe meant for you to expose yourself so directly to Dodge’s wrath,” Zambo said uneasily.
“How could you do that?” Kera hissed. “Are you mad?”
“Madame Phoebe is very fond of using bait,” I shrugged. “We must stop Dodge. While we falter, he enslaves, kills, and builds an empire that must not be. He must take me on if he wants to keep control of Trevor’s campaign. Why wait for Dodge to creep up on us unawares?”
I posed with Trevor for pictures and even a brief filming session. The reporters were clamoring to know more about me but I had perfected a mysterious smile and simply diverted the focus back to Trevor, his campaign, what he meant to do for England and the world. Trevor had fully regained his composure in front of the reporters and cameras and he looked every inch the charismatic, trustworthy candidate. Several reporters tried to stay after the session, pressuring me to tell more about myself.
We had been standing on the mezzanine outside Trevor’s suite, overlooking the lobby of the hotel. Someone entered through the front doors and, incredibly, began to jump like some possessed kangaroo, across the marble lobby and then up the grand, spiraling staircase. Reporters and hotel guests scattered in every direction. An extraordinarily pale man dressed in some sort of white leather close-fitting tunic and marred and distressed steel armor landed in front of Trevor, who backpedaled into me. He had a pair of steel bat wings half-unfurled attached to a kind of corset around his midsection and rising above his head. Clouds of steam enveloped anyone unfortunate enough to be in his wake, emitting from huge, heavy steel boots that made him over seven feet tall and rocked when he first landed as if they had springs built into them. Finger armor shaped like steel claws waved languidly in Trevor’s direction. Trevor quailed and I quickly placed myself between them. He cast a curious glance at me.
“Who’s your new friend, Newsome?”
“I am Florizel of Bohemia. Trevor and I have been friends for many years. I came to make a donation to his campaign. May I ask who you are?”
“Spring-heeled Jack, some folks like to call me.” The man vaulted into the air and deliberately came down so that I was forced to retreat or be landed upon, casually shredding a costly velvet curtain and the wall behind it with his claws. He rocked wildly on his hissing boots and laughed. “You look pretty well-heeled yourself, Florizel of Bohemia.”
“You represent the foundation that pretended to support Trevor but has lately only bedeviled him?”
“Trevor’s been falling in the polls. The boss thought he might be slacking off, only wasting money and time. I was sent to make sure he was serious.”
“He is serious, and so am I,” I responded. “Tell your employer Trevor has no need of his help or his harassment. He may withdraw. Trevor will do very well with my support from now on.”
“Yeah, Dodge don’t ‘withdraw,’ Princey. He’ll be watching Trevor real close and maybe he’ll be watching you, too.”
I had been affecting boredom and impatience but was actually studying the mechanism that operated “Spring-heel Jack’s” boots. I realized how much time I had spent watching my mechanically-minded comrades work on the various devices that had impacted our mission and suddenly thrust out the toe of my boot and poked a lever near the right knee of the armored intruder.
A shriek of escaping steam filled the air. Spring-heeled Jack catapulted over the railing, whizzed like a pricked balloon raking gashes in any surface his vicious claws impacted, and spiraled downward to crash onto the lobby floor. The flattened boot-lift would not bear his weight, and though he tried to rocket back up he failed to do more than whiz sideways and crash into the banister.
“Comin’ back for you, Princey!” He stormed out, gripping the failed lift boot with both hands and pulling it alongside the good one. Trevor enveloped me in another embarrassing hug and Kera tittered behind me.