My best friend Nip and I snuck into a real bar – sort of. We’d annoyed our zeppelin’s one and only barkeep until he punished us with dishes.
Giz parped in my pocket. Things are truly dull when your automata complains. But then I saw two men whispering, with their heads bent close.
I snuck closer and heard one man mutter that the black diamond had to be found. As I took their empty mugs, I heard a name – Esmerelda.
“But Jack,” Nip said again, narrowing his Chinese eyes at me until he went cross-eyed, “we don’t know an Esmerelda, and nor does anyone.”
We were half mad with curiousity, so we went and asked Matron if she knew an Esmerelda. “Oh no,” she said, “other than me, none at all.”
“Do you know anything about a black diamond?” I asked. She blushed three shades of red: “You orphans weren’t meant to know I was engaged.”
Nip and I hid outside the jeweller’s where Matron’s ring was getting polished. “So it was her fiancé we threw off the zeppelin roof,” I said.
“He DID try to kill us,” said Nip. “And, we blew him up.” “Shh! Gizmo’s coming out!” Giz parped frantically at us, and fled down a pipe.
The jeweller was deep in conversation with a hooded man. I crept in to listen and heard, “Do you think Esme knows what it is?” “No chance.”
Nip and I went to the library (ugh!) to learn (ugh!) about black diamonds. The librarian scowled at us, but she let us in.
Nip said, “Hey Jack! Black diamonds come from outer space.” “Is that why the jewellers are interested in Matron’s one?” “I don’t think so.”
I rubbed more grease into my side of the cog while Nip worked on the other side, hidden by the mechanism. The engine thrummed around us.
I said, “Black diamonds are exciting, when people aren’t silly enough to make them all lovey-dovey. But I think Matron’s ring is special.”
Gizmo said, “Bing!” and we moved on to the next piston. I said, “There’s only one way to figure out what it is, and that’s to steal it.”
Nip and I snuck into Matron’s gondola, wincing at the girly stink of it. I reminded myself she wasn’t a real girl, and was able to go on.
Hoping against hope that Matron was too old for cooties, I snuck close and saw the ring glinting beside her bed. I reached out and-
-she whipped out a hand and got me. “Jack? You’re demoted to sixth assistant cogmonkey for this. And you should be ashamed!” “I am.”
Nip and I bravely crept back to Matron’s gondola. There were other boys at her door, and when they spotted us they gave a shout! We ran off.
Nip knew the boys Matron had set outside her door, so he sacrificed himself for my sake, and challenged them to a kung fu battle elsewhere.
Giz and I crept to Matron’s gondola alone – only to be foiled again. More boys! As Matron, Esme had an endless supply. Giz parped sadly.
I reported to Matron for my extra duties, wearing my saddest, most parentless face. She shook my hand by way of forgiveness.
Her diamond ring slid off, neat as you please. Being a good boy is worth it after all! I took it to Nip and once.
There was something strange about the ring. The surface was badly scratched, despite the supposed polish. Giz rolled over to look.
Nip and I broke into an alchemist’s lab (much easier than Matron’s gondola, and far less hazardous in cooties terms) to borrow their scope.
Between the three of us, we drew the pattern of scratches from the ring’s surface. The scientist returned, but we just hid under the desk.
I returned Matron’s ring and told her a story about rescuing it from a Nasty Piece of Work. “Thanks,” she said drily, “you’re my hero.”
Somehow I found myself demoted to seventh assistant cogmonkey. Oh well – it could be worse. I could be blown up and thrown off the roof.
I had a dream and woke up knowing what was scratched on the black diamond. “It’s a map!” I said. Gizmo said, “Bing!” and I knew I was right.
Nip was unimpressed. He said, “A map of what? It’s just squiggly lines and a picture of a lemon.” I said, “And an X. Don’t forget THAT.”
The picture of a lemon was definitely A Clue. Nip and I went to the grocer to “investigate”. We stole three lemons, two limes and a tomato.
The fruit was delicious. The clue remained a mystery. What kind of treasure had anything to do with citrus fruits?
Nip passed me a rag saturated with oil, and I wiped down the number four piston. As I leaned forward, the map fell out of my shirt.
I grabbed the map, but it was covered in engine grease. Gizmo rolled around on his six little legs, parping miserably.
Nip carefully spread it out: “It’s okay, Jack. The oil seeped into the pencil grooves, but we can still read it.”
I slept with the map under my head, determined to keep it safe. When I woke up, my pillow was covered in squiggly lines of oil.
Matron called Nip and I to her office. Did she know about the fruit? I hid Giz in my metal arm in case she tried to confiscate him.
Matron dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief: “You boys know what happened to my fiancé, don’t you?” I said, “Didn’t know you had one.”
“We’re going to have to tell her,” I told Nip. Matron burst in: “Tell me what?” I panicked, and showed her the map taken from her ring.
Matron said, “A map? Really? It’s just squiggly lines and a picture of a lemon.” “And an X,” I said. She said, “Hmm.”
Nip and I had Gizmo thoroughly check we were alone before we dared to talk openly about the death of Matron’s evil fiancé.
“We have to tell her,” I said. Nip said, “She’ll kill us to death for not telling her sooner.” “Yes.”
I woke up and the map was gone! Someone had snuck into the foundlings’ quarters and stolen the only valuable thing. I suspected Matron.
Nip searched with me, but it was no use. The map was gone. But all was not lost – we still had a backward copy of the map on my pillow.
Nip and Giz and I were temporarily assigned to roof cleaning duties. The burnt nets where Matron’s fiancé had fallen through were fixed now.
When I’d scraped off the bird poo, I stopped to look at the view. Below me the wide sea was smooth, and the few people in the bay were tiny.
I pulled the stained pillow from my shirt and yelled for Nip, “Come here quick! It’s the bay! The map shows the coastline of Botany Bay!”
Nip and I went up on the roof again, so no-one could eavesdrop. I said, “How do we get down?” Nip said, “Can you fly? Because I can’t.”
Nip said, “Isn’t the Bay full of convicts anyway? Isn’t that why all reputable folk are up here in an airship – to avoid them?”
I said, “We’ll deal with the convicts later, once I’ve thought of a way down. Nip – Gizmo – we’re going to fly!” Nip said, “We ARE flying.”
I went to Matron and told her the truth: her fiancé had given her a treasure map. “We need your help to get down and collect it,” I said.
“There’s no way I’m applying for permission to take you on land,” she said, “You’d be a bad influence on all those convicts. I’ll go.”
“Nice work,” said Nip when I told him. I said, “Yep. Now we gotta get down there before she does. I bet she’s made copies of the map, too.”