Synopsis of Dexter and Sinister:
John Sinister, a man with friends in all the wrong places, is hired to look into some shady goings on at the airship factory. It might be nothing, but with the fortunes of the greatest inventor in the Britannic Empire at stake, you can bet John will do his best to get to the bottom of things (even if his best might generously be described as mildly shambolic). But when people start dying, and it looks like there might be a killer on the loose, John has to team up with Dexter, the world’s only walking, talking mechanical cat, to try and figure out what the hell is going on. He’d rather not, but it doesn’t seem to be up to him. Dexter is going to make sure this “lazy sack of meat” does the job he was hired for if it’s the last thing he ever does. With secret societies, arrogant aristocrats, and criminal chocolatiers to contend with, John and Dexter are going to have to keep their wits about them if they’re going to come out of this alive. And if John happens to fall in love with his employer’s daughter along the way, well nobody said catching a killer was going to be easy now did they?
An ill wind blew through the cobbled streets of Hammersmyth. It guttered the gas lamps, whispering a warning to those with wit enough to hear it. It was not safe to be abroad that night. Something bad was going to happen. Somebody was going to die.
In a poorly lit street on the edge of town, two men – one big as a bull, the other skinny as a rat – stood before a large wrought iron gate. They were examining the old iron chain and brand new steel padlock that had been bought to replace the night watchman, dismissed just two weeks previous in a misguided attempt to save money.
“I reckon I can pick that,” said the skinny man.
“We don’t need to—”
“Here, watch.” The Skinny Man knelt by the lock, jammed a bent piece of wire into the keyhole, and started fiddling about. The big guy beside him sighed. That was the problem with looking like the unholy union between a shire horse and an angry gorilla, no one ever listened to you. It drove the Big Guy up the wall, because whilst he might not be the sharpest thingy in the whachamacallit, he was certainly as clever as most of the guys he ended up working with. And quite often for, too.
“Look, just let me have a go will you.”
“Just a sec, I almost got—” Ping! “Damn it!”
“The wire broke.”
“Right. Get out of the way.”
“Why? What do you think you can—”
The Big Guy inserted a crowbar through the loops of the chain. With a quick twist, he snapped it like a dry twig. “New lock, old chain,” he said, stepping back.
The Skinny Man glared at him. Barging his way through the factory gates, he stormed off into the darkness.
The Big Guy took his time stowing his crowbar, in no rush to follow his skinny friend. He didn’t like his current associate very much. He was a nasty piece of work and no mistake. He always had a knife on him in case he ever needed it, and he always seemed to need it. They’d only been working together a couple of weeks and already he’d had to step in to stop him from cutting someone who didn’t deserve it. It was just a matter of time before the two of them had Words, and then things would get really messy – for the Big Guy, at least. Getting rid of a dead body was a right pain. It took all night, and it always got on your shoes. And that’s if you were lucky. Many a promising career had been cut short for those caught lugging a man-sized roll of carpet around town before now.
As the two men crossed the dark, cobbled courtyard, they saw the silhouette of a huge airship in the field beyond the factory, its distinctive shape noticeable by the way it blotted out the stars in the sky.
The Skinny Man’s eyes lit up. “Well would you look at that. Maybe we could—”
“No what? What did I say? Did I say anything?”
“I know what you were gonna say, and I said no. We’re not here for that.”
“And what if I am, eh? What then?”
“Then you gets to explain yourself to the boss, that’s what.”
Inside the factory the darkness was tangible. What little moonlight that came in through its high windows did nothing to illuminate the factory floor.
Skinny and Big separated to begin their search for the device. The Big Guy was slow and methodical, edging his way through the darkness with outstretched hands. His skinny friend was less careful. From the other side of the factory came a timpani of clangs and clatters as metal God-knows-whats went skittering across the factory floor. This went on for a while until eventually there was a loud thump, followed by a rainbow of colourful language.
“Oh, sod this for a game of soldiers!”
A match flared in the darkness. The Big Guy hurried over to find his associate rubbing his knee by the flickering light of an engineer’s lamp, liberated from a nearby workbench. “What the hell’re you doin’? We’ll be seen,” he whispered.
The Skinny Man couldn’t care less. “Don’t be daft,” he said. “There’s no one here to see.” He pointed the lamp out into the darkness. “Come on. D’ya wanna wander round here all night or what?” He marched off into the factory, the light from his lamp throwing long shadows high up the factory wall. Begrudgingly, the Big Guy found and lit a lamp of his own.
The extra light did nothing to quieten the Skinny Man’s search. He still made more noise than a bag of spanners thrown down a spiral staircase. After what felt like forever, the two men met again by the front door.
“See anything?” said Skinny.
“Right. Then we’ll just have to look again then, won’t we? You go that way this time, and I’ll go the other.”
“What about the workshop?”
“The one next door.”
The Skinny Man’s lamp danced with rage. He charged up toe-to-toe with the Big Guy, although not nose-to-nose as he had hoped. Even at full stretch he still barely came up to the big man’s chest. “Why didn’t you mention that before?!” he growled, flecks of enraged spit flying all over the place.
The Big Guy wiped something unpleasant out the corner of his eye. “I said so now, din’ I?” he replied, watching the other man’s hands in case they made a move he didn’t like.
For a few seconds, neither of them moved. Then slowly, deliberately, the Skinny Man lowered his heels to the floor. Keeping his eye on the Big Guy as he backed out of reach, he turned and stormed out of the building, his lamp swinging wildly with each furious step.
The Big Guy took a moment. Maybe this is it, he thought. Maybe tonight’s the night. He felt the back of his belt where he’d stashed the crowbar, before following his associate out the factory.
He found his homicidal friend in the workshop next door, admiring a strange, four-wheeled contraption.
“That’s her, I reckon. Has to be. Ain’t she a beaut?”
The Big Guy nodded. “Y’know what, I ain’t usually one fer new-fangled tecnollergy, but that there is one nice lookin’ bit of kit.”
“She sure is. Hey, did you hear what the boss plans to do wiv ‘er?”
“No. And I don’t want to neither.” The big man tried to sound final about that, but his skinny accomplice couldn’t contain himself.
“Suffice to say, someone’s gonna be real surprised when they see that comin’ down the street towards ’em. The shock could even kill ’em, you might say.” He giggled like a little boy who’d just seen a flash of someone’s knickers.
The Big Guy watched him out the side of his eye. “You need to stop listenin’ at keyholes, mate. You’re gonna get in trouble,” he warned, but his associate simply swatted away his concerns. “Anyway, come on, let’s get her going. I’ll drive.”
“I’ll drive!” the Skinny Man hissed. “I’m the coachman around here.”
Considering the device, and its utter lack of horses, the Big Guy couldn’t see how that was a factor. But he couldn’t be bothered to argue about it either.