The cabbie’s head was a swarm of fireflies and it swayed as he turned to the left. His plethora of eyes insured that he never had an accident. Today had started with clear day rich purple skies, but green clouds had been gathering since mid morning and the air smelled like the stone so it would rain before evening.
Clattering, the taxi pulled to the curb. Maxi took three silver Notions from her purse and passed them to the driver.
“Keep the change.”
With an atonal buzz, the taxi moved back to traffic. Maxi smoothed her outfit and looked at the impossibly tall building that ascended steadily from the hole. She checked her chronoton, her floor was almost there.
One, two, three… Hop. She got on perfectly. It was a relief, the stairs could be troublesome, what with the Escher Spiders. Maxi didn’t have the time to climb through non-Euclidean space. She took a deep breath, walked down the corridor to room twenty three hundred seventy two and opened the door.
Monsieur L’Horloge’s assistant sat behind a crescent shaped desk. Six of its eight arms were punching the enameled brass keys that set into the machines built into the curved, mahogany top.
“One moment please, “ chirped the assistant.
Maxi gazed around the outer office. Framed sepia photos of famous clocks adorned the walls. It was difficult to tell if they were old pictures or just made to look old and she supposed it didn’t matter. It felt as though she had stepped over the threshold and gone back in time. Possible, but unlikely, time travel always slightly aroused her and she felt none of that familiar frisson.
“Monsieur will see you now,” issued the assistant.
The double doors opened silently and Maxi entered. Monsieur L’Horloge’s office was filled with crystal display cases filled with timepieces. Each clock and watch was synchronized, she could tell because the ticking matched. It made her felt as though she was in the heart of an enormous automata. Outside the tall windows, the building passed through cloud cover and the gaslights reflected off the cases.
Monsieur L’Horloge stood up as she approached his desk. He was, unlike his surroundings, slightly disheveled. He wore no jacket, his shirtsleeves rolled up, waistcoat unbuttoned and a jeweler’s loupe with multiple lenses over his mussed up fair hair.
“Mademoiselle Maxi! A pleasure!” he exclaimed.
He always sounded surprised even though he only saw people by appointment. Maxi supposed he got lost in his work as ironic that was.
“Monsieur, it is good to see you.”
“Is your Roosenmutter running well?”
“Yes, very much.”
“May I?” he asked.
She unlatched her chronoton from her wrist and passed it to him. He placed it carefully on the octagonal velvet tray that sat in the middle of his desk. With a practiced twist, he removed the case back and examined it with a series of loupes. Satisfied that it was running properly, he resealed it, gave it a polish with a soft cloth and returned it to Maxi.
“I’ve always admired how well you treat your time pieces. Many people are so very careless,” he said.
“You’ll make me blush Monsieur,” Maxi replied.
“Mademoiselle, you are not the type to blush, and since you Roosenmutter is running perfectly, why have you made this appointment?”
Maxi removed an oval cherry wood box from her bag. There was a brass spider embossed on the cover. She placed it on his desk and opened it. Monsieur L’Horloge’s eyes went wide.
“If I might enquire, where did you get this?” he asked quietly.
“My Semi-Aunt Ismay recently passed-“
Monsieur L’Horloge said, “My condolences.” But his eyes never left the contents of the cherry wood box.
“Merci, but she was quite elderly and passed in her sleep.”
“Terrible,” he said distractedly.
“This box and what lies inside were bequeathed to me. I don’t quite know what it is, there were no instructions, but I thought that if anyone could tell me, it would be Monsieur L’Horloge,” she finished.
For a while, the only sound was the synchronized ticking of the many clocks and chronotons in the room.
“Monsieur, can you tell me what this is?”
Monsieur L’Horloge took off his loupes and dropped into his chair. He ran his long fingers through his messy hair then looked up at her.
“Mademoiselle, let me ask you one question, do you have the key for what is in that box?”
“I’m afraid not.”
He sank a little deeper into his chair and smiled.
“Well then, for now time is not up.”