Authors: Darrell Pitt
Tags: #Juvenile fiction, #Juvenile science fiction, #Mysteries and detectives
Darrell Pitt began his lifelong appreciation of Victorian literature when he read Sherlock Holmes stories as a child. He quickly moved on to H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and others. This early reading led to a love of comics, science fiction and all things geeky. Darrell is now married with one daughter. He lives in Melbourne.
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright Â© Darrell Pitt 2014
The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published in 2014 by The Text Publishing Company
Book design by Text
Cover illustration by Eamon O'Donoghue
Author photo by Darren James
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Pitt, Darrell
Title: The firebird mystery: a Jack Mason adventure / Darrell Pitt.
ISBN: 9781922147752 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781922148759 (ebook)
Target Audience: For young adults.
Subjects: Steampunk fiction.
Detective and mystery stories.
London (England)âJuvenile fiction.
Dewey Number: A823.4
This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
To my parents
THE FIREBIRD MYSTERY
Jack Mason turned to see Charley Spratt and his croniesâAlfie and Felix Smithersâemerging from the fog. Beyond them the metrotower soared into the heavens, airships crisscrossed the sky and steamcars belched smoke into the mist.
He broke into a run as the other boys gave chase. Jack was small but fast for his fourteen years. Someone had once described him as a monkey. And though he didn't think any monkeys could be found with brown hair and blue eyes, he was certain none could move as fast as himâwith the right motivation.
âYou're gonna be sorry, ya little maggot!' Alfie yelled.
Jack raced down the street. They were all inhabitantsâsome would say
âof Sunnyside Orphanage, surely the most inappropriately named organisation in all London.
If there was a bright and sunny side to the institution, Jack had yet to see it. He'd spent the last two years at Sunnyside, where there was never quite enough to eat and the clothes provided to the children were little better than those worn by the homeless. Jack's coat was tattered and thin, his shirt and pants had a dozen holes, and his boots were brownâalthough what colour they started life was anyone's guess.
The people who ran the institution were generally decent, but the children who lived behind its high walls ranged from kind and clever to cruel and evil. Charley and his friends definitely fitted into the latter category. Away from the eyes of those in charge, Charley made it his mission to inflict pain on the smaller children. This ranged from bashings in the middle of the night to stealing the meagre allowance allocated by the orphanage director, Mr Daniels.
That morning, before leaving for school, Jack had decided to pay back Charley, and his friends, for some of those evil acts. All three boys found their boots right by their bedsides where they had left them the previous night. Dragging their boots on, however, their feet sank into mud.
Jack's revenge was simple but effective. The boys were forced to clean the boots themselves, much to the amusement of every kid in the orphanage. And despite their efforts, the footwear would never be quite the same again.
Charley may have been dumb, but he knew who had made a fool of him. His eyes met Jack's as he dragged off the sodden boot. Jack stared back with steely resolve. He feared Charley and his henchmen, though he would not allow himself to be crushed by them.
âNo-one makes a fool out of Charley Spratt!' Charley yelled out from down the street.
They were getting closer.
I've got to shake them off
, he thought. He had to lose them and circle back to Sunnyside some other way.
Jack raced past a line of steamcars. Most were the old Fullner 45s, and among them sat a Stephenson 77. Larger and more powerful than its predecessor, it boasted a ten-foot-high chimney at the front. Behind it the barrel-shaped steam chamber tilted up to meet the cylindrical carriage. The front wheels were twice as large as the rear.
It was a thing of beauty. Normally Jack would have stopped to admire the car, but now was not the time. He reached an abandoned factory and spotted a few missing boards in the fence. Climbing through, he saw an empty parking area. Beyond this lay a pair of huge double doors leading into the plant. Racing across the yard, Jack glanced back to see his pursuers squeezing through the fence.
The double doors were ajar. Jack elbowed through. The building had once been some sort of iron works. Huge pulleys and conveyor belts ran overhead from one end to the other. At the rear lay the foundry where ore used to be smelted. The interior was dusty, but not ramshackle. It almost looked as if workers could come back at any moment and resume their jobs.
The interior spread out before him. Unfortunately, there were few places to hide. His only real place of refuge layâ¦
He looked up.
A set of stairs led to a mezzanine. Jack raced up. Pieces of machinery and discarded metal lay in half gloom on the next level. He hid among rickety shelving.
Voices drifted up to him.
âI saw him come in here.'
That was Felix!
âWell, I can't see him now,' Charley said.
âMaybe he found a door?' Alfie suggested.
Jack started to breathe easier. He leaned against the timber wall. People like Charley and his gang had little interest in learning about the world or becoming better people. They were more interested in making themselves feel powerful by walking over those who were smaller and weaker.
Jack liked to read. It made him stand out from many of the other kids at Sunnyside. His parents had instilled a love of books in him and he enjoyed nothing more than reading classic adventure stories. Charley and the others didn't even know how to read. Jack had once seen Charley staring at the words in a book as though they were a foreign language.
The bullies had a short attention span. Jack thought if he stayed where he was the gang would eventually lose interest and leave. Then he would find another way back to Sunnyside.
Jack jumped. He had knocked an old pot of paint off the shelf.
, he thought.
That's done it.
He raced along the mezzanine, diving around pieces of equipment. He heard the boys coming up behind him.
There had to be an escape route down to the floor. He would be safe only if he could find it.
âYou're gonna die, you little rat!'
Charley's voice sounded close. Very close. Jack reached the end of the building. He hurried between mountains of metal pipes to see if he could find stairs leading to the ground.
Jack caught a glimpse of movement among the piles of junk stacked high on the mezzanine. Alfie had come around the other side to cut him off. In a matter of seconds Jack would be caught between the two bullies.
He stumbled to a halt. There were no stairs leading down. No way down at all. He glanced over the railing. He was about twenty feet above the floor. Below lay machinery and jagged pieces of metal. A jump from here would lead to serious injury. Maybe worse.
âYou little piece of sludge!'
Jack turned. Charley had caught up with him. He had a piece of pipe in his hand. At his side stood Felix Smithers, grinning with malicious intent.
âYou're gonna regret what you did,' Felix said. âYou'll be real sorry.'
âNot likely,' Jack said.
He turned around to see Alfie appear from between two mounds of junk.
Now he was hemmed in. He would be helpless as they proceeded to exact their revenge. Jack swallowed. They had beaten some of the children at the orphanage black and blue, but they had never actually killed someone.
But there was always a first time.
There was no way to escape. Exceptâ¦
âHow about we make a deal?' Jack suggested.
âWhat sort of deal?' Charley asked, suspicious.
âHow about you learn how to read and write, and I won't call you dummy?'
Charley's eyes widened with rage. âYou little grub. I'm gonna...'
The bully started forward. Jack ran at the railing. Just before he reached it he jumped, and pushing off with all his might he leapt into the air.