“‘The Yarn Spinner.’ Really?” Le Mon flung my business card against my face. It slid down the fresh blood and landed on top of my well-noosed wrists. “I thought real detectives dealt in fact, not fiction.”
“Every crime is a yarn,” I muttered through the pain. “Spun from the clues you left behind.”
Derisive laughter fractured against the cold stone walls. “You’re just as deluded as that fellow in Baker Street they’re all reading about these days.”
“Except that I’m real.”
“There’s nothing real about a yarn-toting spinster who claims to work for Scotland Yard.”
In spite of the pain, I smiled. You’ve won this round, Le Mon, but you’ve hardly one the match.
From his sweat-soaked bow tie to his scuffed spats and the way he clutched that leather briefcase, the East End’s most wily boss now appeared to be scared of the very spinster he was mocking. For a man with a metal heart, that much humanity was truly astonishing.
I worked my jaw gently. “If you expect the department to ransom you, you’re more deluded than I thought. They know your story.”
“Which story? The one you spun?”
“The one you did when you kidnapped vulnerable children for cardiac surgery to create your own heartless army.”
“Dr. Handwell’s Clockwork Cardiometer works for me. Why not for them?”
Le Mon was so close now, the machine’s tick rang in my ears. “It was murder,” I whispered. “Pure and simple.”
“Speaking of murder, then, we should talk about the fate I’ve got planned for you.” He shoved his hands in the briefcase, grasping something bulky I could not quite make out. “Given you’re a woman and a spinster, society says I ought to look out for you. So I’ve got a deal.”
Out of the bag at his feet rose a length of Angora roving and a hand-carved spindle. He held them out to me. “You’ve got one hour to spin me a great yarn, Detective. If you do, maybe I’ll consider sending you back to Scotland Yard as my courier. If not . . .” a wicked grin spread across his face. “I’ll hang you with it.”
“Single ply,” I bargained, willing away the sweat that now beaded on my neck.
“Make it double.”
“It’s the wrong spindle! Short-staple fibers require a smaller whorl.”
“Your lack of imagination distresses me.”
I swallowed hard. “My hands are changed together, for pity’s sake!”
Le Mon shrugged. “Your business card says you spin yarns. It doesn’t say how you spin them. “He tapped his ticking chest. “One hour, and not a second more.”
The cell door slammed like the gun on a racetrack. I dove into the work. Shaking fingers grasped a hunk of the roving and tried to pull it apart, but the fibers fought back.
Damn you, Le Mon, for buying cheap wool.
But the wool was the least of my worries. Metal bit into flesh as I stretched my shackles as far as possible to make the first draft. The fibers were stubborn. The first length was too clumpy, then too thin, then doubled over itself like the cords on those newfangled telephones. I spun them as if my life depended on it.
Seconds passed. Slowly the roving at my feet narrowed into wool, but each twist of the spindle was answered by a faint tick of Le Mon’s heart beyond the wall. Was this my liberty chain, or my very own noose? Scotland Yard would deny all knowledge of my work. Of the case. Of Le Mon.
No one would believe a spinster’s knack for knitting could have tracked a villain this far. And no one would believe the truth of what Le Mon had done . . . unless, of course, I took him alive and forced him to tell the story.
The roving split between my hands. It fell to the floor, and I scrambled after it, nearly losing my balance. Valuable seconds ticked away. Winding the roving back into the yarn, I gave the spindle a hard twist.
This time, the yarn broke.
Some spinner you turned out to be under pressure.
How much time was gone now? Twenty minutes? A half hour? I went back to work, ignoring how much roving still covered the tattered remains of my gown. All the way down to my flying fingertips, my body ached from abuse. Polar air blew from some passage deeper underground.
I shivered and kept on working.
At length, I finished the first long strand. Doubling it over, I slung the loop through the spindle hook and began plying the two ends into the final skein. My case against Le Mon was as strong as the yarn would be when I finished it.
If I finished it, of course. It couldn’t be much longer now.
Draft. Spin. Gather . . . The spindle’s rhythm consumed me, drowning even the tick of Le Mon’s inhuman heart. With each passing second the two strands shortened and the single lengthened. The spindle gradually fattened. But was it enough.
Footsteps rattled ominously outside my door. Slipping the spun two-ply off the spindle, I clutched it clumsily and wove the remaining bits of thread.
The lock rattled.
A soft click.
I raised my eyes to Le Mon even as I shut out the thunderous tick of his damned heart. “Time’s up, Yarn Spinner.” He stretched out his hand.
His heart ticked several times.
“I said, hand it over.”
I raised my hand. “If you want it, come get it. But I’m warning you, Le Mon. Yarns are powerful. Even the thinnest strand can be far stronger than it looks. Enough to put a man in jail for the rest of his life.”
“I’ll remember that, thank you.” Stepping forward, LeMon grasped the yarn.
With one quick motion, I snapped his fingers back and cracked his elbow, kneeing him in the groin. A yelp of pain, three ticks of his heart, and he was face-first on the stone, hands wound with two-ply angora.
I tied it tighter than Scotland Yard’s handcuffs. With one knee in his back, I pressed my face close to his ear and reached for the business card he had cast aside.
“‘The Yarn Spinner,'” I said, blowing off the debris. “Yes, really. And this time, mine is strong enough to hang you.”
In that moment, I could have sworn Le Mon’s metal heart actually skipped a beat.
* * *
Posting a piece of short fiction for #FlashFriday? Post the link to your story in the comments below, or tweet to me @LisaWEngland #FlashFriday and I’ll share your story. (It’s likely that many other Flash Friday writers will, too!)