“Hand in Glove”

by Ysabeau S. Wilce

I. The Police

Like bees to honey, they cluster around him, Anibal Aguille y Wilkins, the golden boy of the Califa Police Department, thrice decorated, always decorative. Eyes like honey, skin as rich as molasses, a jaw square enough to serve as a cornerstone. He’s a dish, is Detective Wilkins, but that is only half of his charm. More than just ornamental, he gets the job done. When he is on the dog, no criminal is safe. He’s taken stealie boys, and jackers, cagers and rum padders, sweeteners and dollymops. He’s arrested mashers and moochers, b-boys and bully rocks. He’s a real hero. Everyone adores him.

Well, not everyone. Not the shady element in Califa, who prefer their unlawful livelihoods and criminal hobbies to go unmolested. Not the families of those he has sent to the drop. They hate and fear Detective Wilkins. But the honest citizens of Califa consider him a real trump. Except for one lone constable, who thinks he is a real jackass. And whose opinion matters to this story as we shall soon hear. Hold that thought; you’ll need it later.

It’s after hours at the police department’s favorite saloon, the Drunken Aeronaut, and jubilation, centering on Detective Wilkins, is in full swing. The PD is celebrating a successful conviction in the detective’s biggest case yet, a hard case, the worst crime that Califa has seen in a hundred years. For three months, until Detective Wilkins snared him, the Califa Squeeze had the City in an up-roar. He was crafty, and busy, with a modus operandi quite chilling: he crept up on his victims—in the bath, in an alley, at breakfast, weeding the garden—and squeezed the life out of them. Then he stole their jewelry and vanished. The City is not unfamiliar with the petty thief, but normally its murderers confine themselves to those who are asking to be murdered: other criminals, dollymops, street orphans, to name but a few unfortunates.

The Califa Squeeze was a different breed of homicide, shameless and daring. He chose his victims from the ranks of the utterly blameless: a City gardener, a lawyer, a lamplighter, a nanny. Innocent folks who kept to the law and expected, therefore, to die old and happy in their beds. By itself each murder was shocking, but when it became apparent that the heinous crimes had been committed by the same maniac, the City had erupted into a frenzy of fear and shrill indignation: the Califa Squeeze must be stopped!


About the Author

Ysabeau S. Wilce is the author of the Flora Segunda books, the second of which, Flora’s Dare, won the Andre Norton Award in 2009. Before she was steampunk, she was just punk, and now she is considering trying on steamgoth for size. For more info, stories, and such, check out her website at Crackpot Hall.