The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and her Exceedingly Tiny Dog)
by Alex Acks
Part 1 – Part 2
They met Elijah among the warehouses not too far from Union Station. He’d brought one of the more innocent looking railcars down from the mountains and thus was able to berth it along the public tracks. Elijah Masterson was a man of medium height and untidy habits, though today he seemed particularly untidy, perhaps because he’d been called down so abruptly. His brown hair stuck out in untamed curls and a shadow of stubble decorated his chin. He wore a rumpled brown-checked shirt, one sleeve half rolled-up, and a vest he hadn’t bothered to button, no jacket in sight.
Or, Simms thought upon a closer look at the younger man’s rather red eyes, today he wasn’t so much untidy as quite hung over. This really only served to affirm Simms’s decision to give him this task. It’d certainly keep him out of trouble.
Elijah still offered the Captain a snappy salute, after first glancing around to confirm that they were alone. “Sir, I was told you had an important task for me.”
Captain Ramos waved a hand dismissively. “Oh indeed, Mister Masterson. Simms?”
Obligingly, he held Chippy out toward Elijah. The tiny dog began to squirm, yipping excitedly at the prospect of making a new friend. “Here you go.”
“Sir?” As was all too often the case when an item, no matter how strange, was offered to a person, Elijah took the little dog without thought, and then stared at the Captain. This was a habit Simms had broken in himself long ago, realizing if he would be spending much time around Captain Ramos, more concern for his own physical health and sanity was necessary.
“His name is Chippy,” Captain Ramos said in her most helpful tone, which wasn’t helpful at all. More…amused.
“You’ll be minding the dog while we see to things in the city,” Simms supplied in his own, almost equally helpful, tone. “There’s a nice bit of park not far from the station. You ought to walk him there. And pay careful attention if he…ah…hm.”
“If he feels the call of nature,” Captain Ramos finished. “Which he ought to, quite often, as we’ve had to give the poor thing a bit of croton oil.”
Elijah’s expression became one of horror as he stared at them. Chippy, still in his outstretched hands, squirmed into position to place his paws—which as luck would have it were quite muddy, thanks to a puddle they’d found on the way to the station—on Elijah’s chest so he could give the man’s be-stubbled chin an enthusiastic washing. “But…but why?”
It was probably a kindness to refrain from telling him what had been in the dog’s mouth recently. “And when that happens,” Simms continued, reveling in Elijah’s befuddlement, “you must carefully check the results for evidence of a rather nice pearl and diamond necklace. We need it.” Observing the dawning horror in Elijah’s eyes, he was forced to wonder if Captain Ramos felt like this all the time and perhaps this was why she seemed so determined to mess with his mind at every turn.
“Do give it a thorough clean.” Captain Ramos smiled. Perhaps observing Elijah’s rather slack look, she drew a stained handkerchief from the top of her boot and tucked it into his breast pocket, giving it a little pat at the end. “There’s a good fellow.”
“Buck up, Elijah,” Simms added. “There may be some ladies at the park. Ladies have a weakness for such tiny dogs, I’ve been told.” Though presumably not when they were in the midst of explosive diarrhea.
Chippy still held out at arm’s length, Elijah said weakly, “Oh, is that so?”
“If anything of interest emerges, Mister Masterson, any of my regular runners will know how to find one of us.” Captain Ramos waved airily. “Have fun with your new friend.”
“But!” Finally, Elijah set the dog down. All that prevented a well-timed escape by Chippy was Elijah’s hasty grab for his leash. “I don’t know anything about dogs! Mum never let us have any pets. Will he need water? What does he eat?”
Simms smiled sardonically as they turned to leave. “Nearly anything, it seems.”
Chippy thus made into someone else’s problem for the time being, Marta saw to the suitable outfitting of herself and Simms for their errands, using carefully selected clothing from a bolt-hole she had constructed not far from Union Station. She’d done this by covertly bricking off bits of the storerooms of two adjoining shops and knocking down the wall between them. As one of the shops was a bakery, it guaranteed that everything smelled nicely of freshly baked bread, even if the heat of the ovens made the room incredibly stuffy in any season but winter.
Padded out to hide her proportions and properly dressed in a comfortable but stylish maroon tea dress and jacket, Marta selected an appropriate parasol to go with her ridiculously small hat and slipped out into the cheerfully sunny day. Simms followed along behind her, looking particularly hangdog in his plum-colored jacket and freshly-starched white shirt.
The will of the late Miss Nimowitz had, upon closer examination, yielded the addresses of both Deliah and Morris Emmett Nimowitz and clarified the relationships as grandaunt to niece and nephew respectively. In the street outside the station, Marta hailed a steam-powered taxi that didn’t appear overly rugged and spent the cross-city ride mentally establishing the cover story for her and Simms as the granddaughter and grandson-in-law of one of Miss Nimowitz’s school chums. There’d been more than enough keepsakes and reminders of younger glory days in the deceased lady’s bedroom to provide the necessary veneer of detail.
The address for Morris ended up being a rather grand house not far from City Park, though the house showed subtle signs of not being cared for as well as it needed. The paint wanted to be refreshed, and some of the shutters had been damaged, probably during the last great storm of the recent winter. The interior of the house showed the same subtle shabbiness, the carpets a bit drab, the paintings a bit too spaced out as if there had once been more. Through sheer luck, it was an at-home day for Morris Emmett Nimowitz and his wife.
Marta surreptitiously kicked Simms in the ankle when she caught him fiddling with the starched shirt collar as they waited for the maid to convey their card—carefully sorted from her cabinet of stock as bearing one of the most common family names—inside. She answered his glare with a murmured, “If you’d only stand up straighter, it wouldn’t worry you so.”
“If I stand up any straighter, I’ll run my head into the door frame.”
“If only architects had taken into account the return of the Titans,” Marta said dryly. She quickly smiled as the maid returned to see them in.
As Marta had expected, Morris Emmett Nimowitz was the male half of the two anthotypes, a perfect match from the cheekbones up. His chin was hidden conspicuously under a well-groomed goatee. Coupled with the rust-colored brocade day coat he wore, he looked rather like a circus ringmaster, one who was attempting—but failing—to be just to the titillating side of sinister.
He was dressed well enough, though to Marta’s keen eye, there were tell-tale signs of financial trouble in his wardrobe. His day coat, while natty, was of a fabric that had been popular several seasons ago, likely an older garment that had been delicately readjusted to look more current. Covert glances around as they were shown to the sitting room revealed several decorations that were carefully plated pot metal; Marta had learned early on in her career of thievery how to discern at least cheap fakes with a glance. She’d wager anything the originals had been pawned or sold. Interesting, that.
Introductions were made and bows exchanged. From the look on Morris’s face, this time around “Mister Smythe” had managed to keep his handshake below bone-crushing strength, and his bow was passable enough. Polite conversation was then had, the familiar and heartily boring routine of socializing. Marta carefully followed the motions until the last tiny cucumber sandwich had been consumed before remarking, “How is your grandaunt, by the way? Grandmama asked us to stop by her house while we were in the city, but she doesn’t seem to be in. I’d like to be able to take some news back to the Duchy of Charlotte even if it’s not from the grand lady’s mouth.”
Morris and Adelaide exchanged a glance that was likely intended to be unreadable, but it certainly howled of some kind of disturbance and nervousness. “Grandaunt Clementine doesn’t travel around much at all these days,” Missus Adelaide Nimowitz said, her tone just a little too bright. She was a slim, nervous woman with premature threads of white in her mahogany-colored hair. Her deep blue dress wasn’t the most flattering shade for her and showed the same signs of reuse and alteration that her husband’s coat did. “I’m afraid she’d have little news for you even if she was in.”
“Oh, but surely a bit of tea talk…”
“Doesn’t go out much for tea either,” Morris drawled. “Her health, you know.” A sharp look from Adelaide and he added, “Good health for a lady of her age, that is, but…of her age, you see. She doesn’t take many visitors.”
“Oh dear. She hadn’t mentioned anything at all to Grandmama.” Marta rearranged her expression into one of rather vacant concern.
“Well, you know. Stiff upper lip, wouldn’t want to be a complainer.” Morris shrugged.
“Well, at least she is surrounded by her loving family in her twilight years,” Marta burbled happily, just to see what sort of reaction it might provoke.
Morris’s expression went stony. “Adelaide and I do try to keep her entertained. I’ll be certain to mention your visit when I next see her.” His voice held a firm note of finality.
Marta sipped her cup of tea. “I thought I might visit your cousin Deliah, perhaps tomorrow. I’ve heard lovely things about her from Grandmama.” She watched Morris’s face with interest, trying to place where she’d last seen a color quite like the one his cheeks had gone. Somewhere between an eggplant and the top of a rutabaga, really. Adelaide was trying to catch her eye as well, making little sharp shakes with her head.
Still, Morris managed to keep his temper enough to only sputter and not actually degenerate into cursing in front of his guests. “Deliah,” he ground out, “is no one you should waste any time on at all.”
Marta pretended to be both shocked and contrite, taking out her fan for the sole purpose of fluttering nervously. “Oh dear, I have put my foot in it, haven’t I? But she sounds so nice, and I have so few lady friends at home…”
“Deliah is very good at seeming nice when she thinks it politic to do so,” Adelaide said primly. “I hate to speak ill of our own family, Missus Smythe, but she is…is…a consummate con artist, if I’m to be brutally honest. Do be careful if she asks you for anything.”
“Oh my. That sounds frightful.”
Morris cleared his throat as if trying to dislodge a chunk of bile. “Forgive my display of temper. It’s been very trying, recently, with cousin Deliah worming her way into Grandaunt Clementine’s affections for something so base as money.” Marta began to wonder if the addition of the goatee hadn’t been so much a fashion choice on Morris’s part as an attempt to remove all family resemblance between himself and his female cousin.
“Morris is her heir, you know,” Adelaide added. “Rightfully by law.”
Only, Marta knew, since there was just a fortune involved and no actual title, the law would bend to whichever of the wills in her possession turned up. The fact that Morris had a few extra bits stashed in his trousers didn’t really matter in the fact of the deceased Miss Nimowitz’s wishes.
Whatever those had been. What a delightfully murky question.
What did you make of that?” Simms asked after they were a safe distance from Morris and Adelaide’s little townhouse.
“I think their cook ought to be fired. The paté was a ghastly concoction of gristle.”
He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“I do.” Marta rubbed her chin meditatively. “And I don’t quite know yet. We’ve only just begun to stir the pot, after all. But cousin Deliah sounds quite interesting, I think. Morris most certainly has motivation; if he doesn’t have a gambling problem, I will eat my hat, including all of the pins. People will murder each other cheerfully over baubles and who got the bigger potato from the midden. I have little doubt that the money involved is suitable motivation for murder.”
“So now what?”
“We talk with Deliah, of course. Or perhaps, I should. There was no husband mentioned in the will, so it’s a safe assumption that she’s a spinster. A woman to woman chat might be a bit more revealing.” And if she truly was a con artist as Morris had claimed, presenting her with a single and obviously idiotic target might draw her out. “Perhaps Morris is trying to play us, but if so it wasn’t a very subtle move on his part.” A challenge, Marta liked a challenge.
“What should I be doing then, while you’re off having crumpets with the Queen of Darkness?” Simms asked.
“Why don’t you look into the disappearance of Miss Nimowitz’s maid? That seems a piquant question all its own, and no doubt important.” Marta gave him an exasperated look. “And it means you can take off the shirt collar before you ruin it with all your scrabbling.”
Deliah Nimowitz lived in one of the nicer areas of the city that served as the Grand Duchy of Denver’s rather rank heart, not too far from the Platte River. Her apartments were in a terraced house, which was situated to provide a nice view of the mountains when they weren’t obscured by the brown fog of smoke. The house was painted a delicate robin’s egg blue, with its trim and embellishments a much more emphatic purplish shade, similar to the juice of a blackberry. Pots, window boxes, and hanging baskets of flowers provided a minor riot of color for the front.
A crisply uniformed maid answered the door and took her calling card into the recesses of the house, her hand moving to turn down one of its corners as she did so. Marta cooled her heels in the dove-gray front hall, inspecting the umbrella stand, which contained nothing but ladies’ parasols. There were several plants in the entry hall as well, mostly common houseplants such as grape ivy. On a small end table, Marta spotted a small potted plant with sprays of delicate white fluted flowers. Closer inspection confirmed it was a very well-cared-for Zacatechichi, notably far from its home environment of the Third Mexican Empire.
And, as a source of an interesting hallucinogen, not at all the sort of plant she’d expect to find in the possession of a well-bred young lady. Suddenly, she found herself all the more eager to meet Deliah Nimowitz.
Thankfully, the younger Miss Nimowitz did not disappoint, or she would have had to come up with a far more creative solution. The maid reappeared and gave Marta—or as she intended to be known for the purposes of this interview, Abigale Smythe—a friendly smile. “Miss Nimowitz would be pleased if you would join her for tea in the parlor, Missus Smythe.”
Marta gave the maid her most fatuous smile. “I would be delighted! I’ve looked forward to meeting her ever so much.”
The drawing room wasn’t quite what she’d been expecting. For the most part, it was tastefully furnished but also very cluttered. Every available surface where a keepsake could be displayed held something, ranging from enameled eggs to interesting fossils to a few wooden and porcelain figures that looked shockingly cheap when put up against everything else. Marta took in as much of the clutter as she could with a single sweep of her gaze; if the selection were of personally acquired souvenirs, the younger Miss Nimowitz was exceedingly well-traveled. There were items there from each of the continents but Antarctica.
A single glance was all she could spare the room in her current persona, however. Abigale Smythe was supposed to be social in aim and buoyant in personality–and not terribly observant. She didn’t want to put one of the main suspects for the late Miss Nimowitz on the defensive. Marta smiled broadly at the living and much younger Miss Nimowitz, who rose to her feet for a proper greeting.
Deliah Nimowitz proved to be the woman from the anthotype in Clementine’s room. The light hints of coloration had not done justice to the rich tone of her skin or the long fall of slightly wavy black hair. A deep blue tea dress complimented her coloring perfectly. Her features were graceful, her lips curved slightly as if she’d thought of a joke but wasn’t about to share it with anyone else. She had tawny eyes; the color alone was enough to put Marta in mind of a mountain lion, but there was a secretive, amused quality to her gaze that was even more distinctly cat-like.
More interesting to Marta, however, was the spark of bright, calculating intelligence she thought she caught in the woman’s eyes, as calculating and considering as her own. The look disappeared a split second later, obscured by Deliah’s lace fan and perhaps carefully packed away.
Or more reasonably, a figment of Marta’s imagination. She’d never been one to believe in such fuzzy emotional ideas as reading someone’s spirit in their eyes.
“Missus Smythe, welcome to the Grand Duchy of Denver. I hope travel has treated you well…” Deliah’s voice was low and well-modulated.
“Oh indeed. And thank you ever so much, Miss Nimowitz, for such hospitality and on such short notice.” Marta pitched her own voice higher, layering onto it an accent that would place her neatly in the borders of the Duchy of Charlotte. That duchy was still most tightly tied to the Caribbean kingdoms and Britannia; its few minor aristocratic families weren’t so well known in the rest of the American duchies.
The maid returned to serve them tea, an array of delicate sandwiches, and biscuits. As was socially expected, they made polite conversation regarding the state of the weather, any news of a non-exciting nature from their respective home duchies, and did a bit of cooing over the announcement that the Grand Duke of Denver’s daughter was pregnant and certain to produce a strapping grandson for him. Only after all those topics had been covered did the conversation circle back onto interesting territory.
“Now, Missus Smythe, I must say this has been a pleasant surprise, as we’ve obviously not been introduced before. If you don’t mind me asking, what has brought you to our fair duchy?”
“I don’t mind you asking at all!” Marta said, smiling brightly. “My husband has come here on a business trip. He’s looking to expand his shipping interests west, since we’ve been hearing of such expansion in both Denver and Salt Lake.”
“Oh, how excellent for you. I do hope his trip is a success.” With a delicate tilt of her eyebrows, Deliah seemed to be indicating an additional question that she was in fact far too polite to voice.
“We’ve been here for a few days, but I believe it’s going well. He let me out to do a bit of shopping and make some social calls while he takes a look at the warehouse situation near the stations. And social calls are what brought me to your door. I don’t know if you’ve heard her speak of it, but your grandaunt and my grandmother, Eloise Gordon-Smythe, were school chums at St. Elbert’s. They’ve been corresponding ever since, and Grandmama did want me to say hello to Miss Nimowitz while I was here.”
There was nothing in Deliah’s expression but mild curiosity. Either she didn’t know her grandaunt was dead, or she was very, very good. “Oh, I see. Would you like an introduction?”
“I’ve a letter of introduction from Grandmama, as you might expect. No, the reason I thought to pay you this call is that I’ve been by your grandaunt’s house these last two days, and no one’s so much as answered the door or responded to either of the notes I left. I don’t suppose she’s gone traveling?” A fairly absurd suggestion for a woman of Clementine’s apparent perimortem age, but the real function was to offer Deliah a polite social out if she thought Clementine simply did not want to receive these visitors at all.
Instead, the woman’s fine dark eyebrows arched up. “No, she hasn’t traveled at all in the last, oh, five years? Her health has always been quite good of course, but she said she wanted to spend her golden years near her heir.” She quickly continued on before Marta could inquire just who the heir might be. “That is puzzling. Grandaunt Clementine prefers to live simply within her means, but she does have a maid who lives in the house.” She snapped open her fan, obscuring her mouth for a moment as her brows drew back down. “Well, I’m certain there’s a simple enough explanation for this. If you please, leave me the details of your hotel and I shall let you know once I’ve spoken with her.”
Marta bowed her head. “I do appreciate it. Grandmama would worry so if I left things just as they are.”
“But of course. I’m sorry you’ve been so troubled.”
She smiled over the rim of her teacup. “No trouble at all, Miss Nimowitz. Ah…while we’re on the subject of your relatives and their travel schedule, I don’t suppose your cousin Morris is in town, is he? Mister Smythe has been eager to meet him.” It was no effort at all to lie and pretend she hadn’t just been to see the man. From the way Morris had spoken, it wasn’t as if he’d be telling his cousin he’d had visitors.
Deliah’s eyebrows went up. There was a distinct hint of distaste to the set of her lips for a moment. “Really? Whatever for?”
“I think it’s something to do with sport. Mister Smythe played cricket in university, and he never tires of going on about it.” She smiled indulgently, rolling her eyes. “Ever.”
Apparently mollified, Deliah nodded. “My cousin Morris seems to have the same affliction in regards to his glory days, whether it’s sports or his time in the Grand Duchess Elisa’s East Asian Expeditionary Force. As you can imagine, there’s little we have in common in that regard.” She took a small sip of tea. “But yes, he is in his house in town. He and his wife have put down their roots here quite firmly. Investments and the like, I hear.”
“That isn’t the case for you?”
Deliah laughed. “It always seemed best to me to stay light on my feet, at least until I’ve caught a proper husband.”
Marta indicated the room with a wave of her hand. “But you’ve done a good deal of traveling, haven’t you? Some of these little curiosities seem quite foreign…”
Thus led, Deliah demurely admitted to a bit of travel throughout the Americas and even in to Asia, particularly the Chinese Empire, which explained much of the décor. More polite and innocuous conversation was made, Marta subtly poking at various topics in the hope of garnering some sort of interesting reaction.
But from the opera to literature to subtle proddings at the much less innocuous topic of politics, Deliah Nimowitz was startlingly, determinately boring. She thought the new soprano at the opera was terrible, limited her reading to poetry and cerebral romance novels that Marta was fairly certain no one read but everyone claimed to have, and had no thoughts on politics beyond what a lovely fellow the Grand Duke was and didn’t he seem to be doing a lovely job, how could anyone think he was anything but lovely and more lovely.
Marta Ramos had met people like that before. The aristocracy was full of them. Yet somehow, it all seemed a little suspicious. Quite possibly because Deliah Nimowitz was also the only unmarried woman over the age of thirty of any sort of wealth and station that Marta had ever conversed with for more than three minutes. Or perhaps it was because those tawny eyes seemed to be challenging her at every turn to ask just one untoward question that the brainless Missus Smythe wouldn’t possibly ever think to ask.
Marta didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, she simply enjoyed the excellent tea and a few more baked goods than she probably would have on her own—Missus Smythe, unlike Captain Ramos, was rather pleasingly plump, however—and allowed Deliah to walk her to the door. On the way, Marta indicated the Zacatechichi on the table. “By the by, Miss Nimowitz, I was wondering where you might have found this plant? It’s quite cute, but I’ve never seen one like it.”
Deliah smiled. “I’m afraid I don’t know the proper name of it. My grandaunt gave it to me years ago, and I never can remember what she called it. But the little flowers look a bit like lace, don’t you think?”
“Indeed. It’s quite a fetching effect. I’ll have to ask your grandaunt when I do meet her. I’ve a little window box that would look darling if occupied by a few of these, I think.” Marta smiled. After a hand clasp and a curtsey and a few more pleasantries, she was on her way, mulling over what she had observed.
What she found most curious was why Deliah had lied about how long she’d had the plant. Upon earlier inspection, most of the plants on the hall table had been there long enough to make marks or even rings in the wood, caused by careless watering. There wasn’t so much as a blemish associated with the Zacatechichi; the plant must have been very new.
It was far too early in the game to yet draw conclusions, but Marta had a great deal to mull over as she listened to the chuffing of the taxi. There was an unpleasant metallic whine hidden in the normally cheerful sound that indicated some of the gears in the drive were in need of re-machining. Marta wrote a note to that effect and tucked it between the seat cushions as an extra bit of tip when she arrived at the designated meeting point with Simms, a coffee shop only a few blocks from Brown Park.
Rather than the big man, a small, grubby child perched on the nearby garden wall. Catching sight of her, the little girl scampered over and held out a crumpled bit of paper. Marta dug past her revolver in her handbag to come up with a quarter for the girl, and then read the message: Need you back at the warehouses at once. V. urgent. —EM
Marta sighed and strode to the street to hail another taxi, her long skirts swirling around her ankles. Sometimes she felt as if the world did its level best to fall to pieces the moment her back was turned.
End of Part 2
About the Author
Alex Acks is an award-winning writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. Angry Robot Books has published their novels HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF (winner of the 2017 Kitschies Golden Tentacle award) and BLOOD BINDS THE PACK under the pen name Alex Wells. Their steampunk novella collection, MURDER ON THE TITANIA AND OTHER STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES, was nominated for the Colorado Book Award, and the sequel WIRELESS AND OTHER STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES is available from Queen of Swords Press. They’ve had short fiction in Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Giganotosaurus, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and more, and are a contributing editor at Book Riot. They’ve also written several episodes of Six to Start’s Superhero Workout game and races for their RaceLink project. Alex lives in Denver (where they bicycle, drink tea, and twirl their ever-so-dapper mustache) with their two furry little bastards.
About the Narrator
Sandra is a New York born and raised voice actress with a background in literature and writing. After a childhood where video games were banned from the house, she one-eighty’d so hard she’s finally in them and never leaving.
Some games Sandra’s voiced for include Heroes of Newerth, Marvel’s Avengers Academy and the critically acclaimed Wadjet Eye Games adventure RPG “Unavowed” as Mandana. Catch her on Twitter or Facebook under the handle “DustyOldRoses,” obsessing over good food, good games and the color pink.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.