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London, Where It All Began - Page 1: July 5, 2010 - August 16, 2010

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Dr. McTrowell Alights
Curious to a Fault, in which Chief Inspector Drake is Introduced
The Lucid Dreams of Professor Farnsworth
Kulachniy Boy
The Enlightening Walk

Dr. McTrowell Alights

Entry for July 5, 2010 Written by Katherine L. Morse

In the hustle and bustle of the London airship port, she was hardly noticed.  The ground-sweeping leather duster would look out of place on the Marleybone high street.  It was only slightly unusual among the international air travelers owing to its being worn by a woman and a slight one at that.  One or two of the air stevedores took note of the wisps of blonde hair poking out from under her aviator’s cap and the well-turned ankle barely concealed by buttoned ankle boots, but the icy look in her eyes when she removed her goggles suggested more trouble than such a small morsel might be worth.  She signaled one of the air stevedores with a whistle and pointed to several travel-worn trunks.  From a pocket concealed inside the duster she produced an engraved calling card and an elaborately enameled pen.  She flipped over the card and rapidly scrawled an address on the back.  Pulling a florin from another hidden pocket, she handed both to the stevedore, turned on the heel of her boot, and strode off into the melee of the airship port, completely trusting that the generous tip would be sufficient to ensure the safe delivery of her belongings.  The stunned stevedore bit into the coin to verify it and checked the address.  He heaved the trunks onto his cart.  Only then did he turn over the calling card.  It read simply, Dr. Sparky McTrowell.

Curious to a Fault, in which Chief Inspector Drake is Introduced

Entry for July 19, 2010 Written by David L. Drake

The furniture wasn’t actually new. The desk showed signs of wear, and one of the drawers didn’t operate smoothly. The springs in the chair that allowed it to rock back a bit squeaked, and the wheels had seen better days. But for Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake, the office felt new. With his recently appointed title, and the office that went with it, Erasmus sat and looked out at the teams of constables, taking on the myriad of minor cases that had popped up today. But in the wake of the last major case, all of these were standard procedure, run of the mill crimes. The perpetrator was most likely known, in most cases already in lock up, and if protocol was followed properly, going to be tried and sentenced without incident. Three such cases had been turned over to the magistrate this morning. Scotland Yard was running in its usual efficient manner.

Erasmus was taking all of this in. He was in his den of quiet reflection, while the workers buzzed in the hive. He was rewarded for a job well done, after months of grueling police work, and here he sat.

The comfort of success lasted less than five minutes. The leftover details, mostly unrelated to the closed case, were gnawing at his penchant to resolve loose ends. There was that eyewitness who mentioned the unexpected overwhelming smell of freshly ground coffee in the back of a temporary exhibit room at the grand pavilion. Or was it cocoa? The room was for electrical apparatus, not the dispensing of food, nor entertaining. What was the name of that witness? Mr. Hamstead? It would be in his notes, he knew, but why ferret them back out. They were filed away with the closed case.

And this wasn’t the only remaining unturned stone. Why was Mr. Hamstead, if that was his name, who was of questionable character, running errands for the likes of Professor Farnsworth? The professor had many students who could perform these manual tasks for him, and with greater clarity of purpose.

Chief Inspector Drake Thinking

These questions not only nagged at Erasmus, but set up shop in the back of his mind, and went about tinkering in such a manner as to spring to life more questions, who then joined in with their shop-mates.

“Enough,” he thought. He sprung up from his chair, grabbed his cane and bowler, and headed out of his office, into the bustle of the precinct, and toward the street. “This curiousness will not stand unsolved.”


Entry for July 26, 2010 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Toting only her commodious flight surgeon’s bag, Dr. McTrowell headed toward the line of hansom cabs. While such a mode of transportation was unseemly and “racy” for a lady of quality, it wouldn’t be her most inappropriate activity of the day. As she approached the first cab in the line, the driver gave her attire a quizzical look. Surely a woman wasn’t going to hire his cab alone. She strode up to his cab smartly. He gave her another quizzical look as it became apparent that she indeed intended to hire his services, but he kept his mouth shut since money is money, after all. “University College, please,” she said to the driver as she stepped up into the hansom without hesitation. He was beyond astonishment as he mumbled, “Yes mum.”

The scene in Bloomsbury was incongruous to say the least. While most of the streets reflected their usual quiet, residential nature, if one turned off the busy thoroughfare of Euston Road onto Gower Road, one would have been greeted by the site of a melee of cabs and private carriages disgorging a motley crew of variously attired characters. Some would have appeared normal if rendered in a broadside illustration, but only because such an illustration would not reflect the garish colors of the living soul; perhaps the wearers were colorblind. Others wore more restrained hues, but combined contemporary attire with recognizably anachronistic articles of clothing as if they were time travelers lacking effective research skills. One such individual, a strikingly handsome and exotic young man, appeared Indian to Dr. McTrowell. Many carried parcels of varying sizes or contraptions and mechanisms of unfathomable function. And then there were those truly remarkable individuals who exhibited the totality of these anomalies including some who appeared to be wearing their inventions.

Dr. McTrowell observed the maelstrom from her cab while she waited for the driver to maneuver her closer to the curb in front of University College, London. Certainly there was no guessing what was in the closed parcels, but she could divine the intent of some of the openly carried contraptions. The wood box with the miniature steam engine attached to the outlet valve of a glass sphere of ether was probably an ether compressor. The oxygen depriving facility of such a device could be very dangerous in an enclosed space. As she was contemplating the sort of mind that could devise such a dastardly contrivance, her mood was lifted by the arrival of an individual riding rather than carrying his contrivance, or rather, conveyance. It was a spider-like walking machine that chugged and lurched toward the building, its “driver” smiling triumphantly. And then he attempted to surmount the stairs. The spider tottered; the gears ground as he shifted them; he grabbed and adjusted several levers; the steam engine on the back wheezed and strained; and spider toppled, unceremoniously dumping its inventor on the ground. Dr. McTrowell did her best to suppress an uncharitable smile.

Just as she was turning around from paying the cab driver, she spotted a couple just entering the building. No, not a couple per se, but a man and a woman simply walking together. Seeing them from the back and at a distance she couldn’t be sure, but they looked like Mr. Babbage and the Countess Lovelace. Well, they would certainly lend an air of respectability to the proceedings. With her attention diverted to the pair, she didn’t turn quite in time to get a fix on something just at the edge of her vision, something of a brown shadow…and a bowler. She shook her head to try to erase the tingling in the back of her neck. As she entered the building, she passed a sign on an easel with elaborate lettering,
Annual Symposium of the Occidental Inventors’ Society.

The Lucid Dreams of Professor Farnsworth

Entry for August 2, 2010 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus strode through the precinct with conviction, hoping to make daylight without disruption. He was not to be so fortunate. Having spied Erasmus’ appearance from his office and his beeline for the door, Sergeant Tate Parseval took it upon himself to see if he could intercept Erasmus and find out what would make the newly appointed chief inspector head out so early in the morning. This required the sergeant to make more haste than usual, shoving his chair back with an audible squeak, and making his way between the desks at a pace unusual for an office setting.

“Mind if I join you? It looks as if something has caught your attention. If you need a second man I can make myself available,” Tate sputtered, trying his best to hop on the coattails of one of Erasmus’ interesting adventures. The chief inspector replied without a break in his step, “That is very kind of you, Sergeant Parseval, but this is a minor matter, and doesn’t warrant the attention of two from Scotland Yard. It is simply a matter of clearing up a detail or two. I’ll give you a full account when I return.” Given a choice between ordinary day-to-day police work and venturing out with Erasmus, Tate felt that he could have done a better job with the request. With a nod of his head, he retreated back to his desk while his posture gave away his disappointment. Erasmus headed for the door.

Erasmus tugged on his bowler enough to block the morning sun, turned right, and started in earnest stride down the sidewalk, the tip of his cane tapping out a strident cadence as he contemplated his tactical approach. Professor Farnsworth was most likely going to be at pre-opening preparations at The Great Exhibition. Erasmus’ goal was to find his low-life errand man first. He would be able to get the truth from him long before he could get the professor to admit to whatever he was concocting. The half-hour walk would give him time to figure out a way to chat up the ne’er-do-well.

Erasmus was not more than a block down the street when a figure in the shadows of an alleyway made herself known to him. Erasmus made a slight change in his trajectory and headed straight for her, greeting her by name. “Abigail, as always, a pleasure.”

Abigail Schopenhauer was dressed plainly, with a long scarf that covered her head and wrapped about her shoulders. She was a sturdy woman with the shape of a grandmother that hailed from the continent, providing that odd cross between sturdiness, gentleness, and strength. Abigail stayed in the shadows given that she was traditionally a creature of the night, although daytime afforded her the ability for panhandling and picking pockets, it more importantly permitted the gathering of minor daily news.

As Erasmus neared her, she looked at him with her toothy grin and revealed her cataract-plagued eyes. “Erasmus, I was hoping, or rather, expecting to see you this morning,” she answered, using her lyrical but raspy whisper. “Is there anything new you can tell me to help me with my sessions tonight?” She produced an arthritic hand and laid it gently on his forearm, which he accepted. Erasmus enjoyed their arrangement. Abigail would supply news of activities in the underworld, and Erasmus would bestow upon her upcoming events that only would be known within the precinct. When Abigail would perform her gypsy soothsayer act for the working class at night, she would be able to predict actual events such as the delayed arrival of a passenger ship, or the closing of a business. These simple touches added a great deal to the believability of her predictions.

Erasmus proceeded to inform her about a delayed coal shipment that may affect the output of a number of factories in the area. Additionally, a small band of drunken scientists reveling in Regents Park struck an infant with a diminutive flying gizmo, doing minor harm, but raising a significant kerfuffle. Although this kind of detailed information would be provided tomorrow in the
Times or the Daily News, tonight it would be unknown to the public at large.

However, the news that Abigail provided was vexing. “Erasmus, be very wary of the activities of the student artists. There is something amiss within that community; I can’t put my finger on it. Strange goings-on. Check out the pubs and private meeting halls when you can. I know they’re a strange bunch, but this is different. Mark my words, it’s worth looking into.” She gave Erasmus a quick smile and patted his arm, as shorthand for an acceptable exchange of information, a confirmation of trust, and goodbye. She knew his time was valuable and by respecting it, their relationship would endure. Abigail turned back into the shadows. Erasmus proceeded on his journey, putting Abigail’s bizarre declaration in the back of his mind to be assessed at some future time.

The work on the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park was underway, and was bustling with activity. Cranes, which were a very rare sight, were lifting metal girders for placement within the structure. It was to be a magnificent spectacle and would be housing the majority of The Great Exhibition. There were hundreds of people, mostly laborers, going about their duties. Tents were set up on the outskirts in which some of the more complex exhibitions were being prepared, particularly those where heavy machinery or articles from faraway places needed to be assembled.

Erasmus was familiar with the future layout of the Great Exhibition, and headed directly to where Dr. Farnsworth had set up a tent in which to piece together his contrivances. As he had hoped, Erasmus recognized the man he recalled as Mr. Hampstead sitting nearby on a crate, his well-worn bowler pushed back in an almost comical manner, whittling a stick with no more of a goal than to simply shorten it. His clothes showed signs of wear and exposure to enough dust and dirt that it allowed his ensemble to match, despite whatever the original colors were of the individual pieces. Erasmus approached him in the manner of a man with a mission.

The chief inspector led with “My good man, I hope you recognize me from before, as I do you. But I must admit I have forgotten your name. I do wish to see your employer, Dr. Farnsworth, if you can be so kind as to let me know where I can find him, I would be very grateful.” The reply was simple and short. “The name’s Raleigh Hampstead, but everybody calls me Red. The professor’s not here.” He went back to his whittling.

Mr. Hampstead’s Knife
Mr. Hampstead’s Knife

“Why, thank you, Red. Actually, I’m willing to meet the professor where he is currently located. I have some news he may be interested in. It’s worth the price of a pint for me if you know where he is.” This bit of information woke Red up. “Yes, sir, I do happen to know. He’s at some meeting of inventors that’s held every year. It’s going on now over at University College in Bloomsbury.” This is going well, Erasmus thought, and replied, “Excellent, and thank you again. Let me reward you for your knowledge.” Erasmus dug some coins out of one of his front pockets and started counting through them. Red gave this a great deal of attention. Erasmus took advantage of this opportunity to ask, “Please pardon my curiosity. What does the good professor have you do for him?”

“This and that, finding parts that no one else can, but mainly I track down Green Fantasy for him. It’s hard to find, and I’m good at locating it.” Erasmus’ puzzled look caused Red to continue. “Oh, forgive me. Green Fantasy is new, but totally on the up-and-up, mind you. It’s a combination of a number of things, but mainly absinthe. Someplace local mixes it up, not sure where, but the professor loves it. It gives him what he calls lucid dreams, and helps him with his work. I’m not an inventor type, so I’m not interested in the stuff. I’m more of a beer man myself, if you get my meaning.” Red let all of these words flow out without impediment, as he watched Erasmus finger the coins.

“You’ve been more than helpful, my good man. Well worth the cost of a beer.” Erasmus placed a few coins into Red’s outstretched hand. Without looking back, Erasmus turned on his heel and set out for Bloomsbury. “Well,” he thought, “this is getting to be as complicated as I feared. Excellent!”

Kulachniy Boy

Entry for August 9, 2010 Written by Katherine L. Morse

The scene inside was even more chaotic than outside. Dr. McTrowell was thankful she hadn’t removed her duster when she entered the building because it protected her from getting poked by elbows, wildly gesticulating hands, and various pointed protuberances from the inventions of other attendees. She was so busy wading through the crowd that she very nearly knocked over a colleague she hadn’t seen in some time, the French mathematician, Jean-Michel Petit of the Université Toulouse.

Several years earlier she and Dr. Petit had collaborated on a mathematical analysis of the flow of pure oxygen through airship baffles. While he often tended toward being a bit fussy, his acute attention to detail had been invaluable in preparing the final mathematical calculations that had enabled Dr. McTrowell to improve the stability of her employer’s airships, and subsequently, the comfort of his first class passengers who were only too happy to pay for such comfort. Her employer had rewarded her generously, although not as generously as his first class passengers had rewarded him, but at least he had seen fit to share a small portion of his good fortune. The windfall had afforded Dr. McTrowell the opportunity to pursue some personal lines of inquiry, one of which had brought her back to London for the symposium, among other things. In contrast, Dr. Petit was simply quite pleased to report the exemplary results in his curriculum vitae.

“Madame … er Mademoiselle … Dr. McTrowell, how vewy plaisan to see you agane.” Dr. McTrowell adjusted her audio-linguistic filters. “Monsieur Dr. Petit, the pleasure is all mine. How are your work and your lovely family?” Dr. Petit could never get used to the bluntness of Americans, especially those from the wild frontiers of the West, but he chose to ignore this bluntness from Dr. McTrowell because he knew from his previous association with her that she only asked such personal questions out of a sincere affection and interest, and not simple impudence. “My family is quite well; thank you for asking. Sandrine’s mother is again visiting (in spite of himself, he pursed his lips slightly) as we will be six in another month.” They would be six? Oh, six people! He must have welcomed a third child since their last encounter and now be expecting a fourth. “A fourth little Petit, or is that petite Petit?” She smiled and grasped his hand enthusiastically. Again the bluntness and excessive familiarity! “Yes, we are blessed. Are you perhaps here to share a new invention or procedure with the Society? Perhaps an advancement of your mechanical surgeon’s assistant for the small spaces of airship infirmaries?” “Very kind of you to ask, but no. I am here only as an observer this time Dr. Petit. And your work?” “Ah, yes. How providential that we should meet at this time. I believe I have arrived at a proof of Fermat’s little theorem. I would very much like to have the benefit of your review of my proof.” She was prepared to answer with an excited affirmative when she once again felt the tingling in the back of her neck and looked around quickly to see if she could identify the source of her disquiet. Nothing again!

When she turned her attention back to Dr. Petit, she was confronted by a very large and unpleasant Englishman who also appeared to be quite drunk. He was slurring his very loud words and spraying Dr. Petit with spittle, much to the horror of the fastidious Frenchman. “Fermat was a pompous, posturing liar like all Frenchmen.” He jabbed Jean-Michel hard in the lapel with his portly index finger. Jean-Michel attempted to maintain his polite composure. “And you think you can come here, prancing about with your fancy mathematical proofs and supplant solid English craftsmanship!” He planted his meaty palm on Jean-Michel’s shoulder and shoved. The Frenchman staggered back a pace before regaining his balance. While he stared at the Englishman with an absolutely stunned look on his face, Dr. McTrowell’s temper boiled over. She had come here to be a silent, unobtrusive observer and this oaf had assaulted her dear friend. Enough was enough!

She tapped the bully on the shoulder. He rounded on her and looked down. Before he could prepare for it, she struck him squarely in the face with a practiced blow. He too staggered backward, but she didn’t give him time to recover. She advanced on him again, delivering several rapid, sharp blows to his face, neck and solar plexus. On the sixth or seventh blow he toppled over. Dr. McTrowell relaxed and flexed her fingers to confirm that she had done no damage to herself. Just then the exotically handsome young man she had seen outside stepped in close. He was carrying a very fine, inlaid cane. He raised his cane as if to strike the now-unconscious miscreant. She stayed his hand. “The rules do not permit hitting one who is already down.” He wrinkled his smooth brow quizzically. “Rules?” In that single word she detected the refinement of nobility and the lilting silkiness of the exotic Indians. “The rules do not permit hitting one who is already down. Nor may you kick nor keep iron up your sleeves.” She glanced at the unnecessarily elaborate decorations on the cane. “I suspect you were about to violate one, or maybe two, of those rules.” “Of what sport or martial art are these the rules?”
Кулачный бой.”

The Enlightening Walk

Entry for August 16, 2010 Written by David L. Drake

Chief Inspector Drake was off on his usual fast pace. As is his tradition, he avoided the cabriolets, and any of the other wheeled conveyances, when simply walking through London was an option. He felt that the walk kept him sharp, and kept him tuned to the life on the London streets. This was one of the few philosophical points that he was quick to share with others.

The trek up Oxford Street gave him time to ponder what he knew so far. Professor Farnsworth was using connections to the underworld to get access to something. If Red was being totally honest, a major part of the activity was to procure what must have been cases of spiked drink. Was it for use in some peculiar experiment or invention? Absinthe was popular enough in Paris over the past decade, and as a liqueur, was known for its ability to allow writers to loosen the imagination. Was the Professor plying his students with drink? Erasmus then asked himself the question that he dared not ask: was this loose end even worth a brisk morning walk to investigate? Or should he be back overseeing his subordinates at Scotland Yard? He had gone this far, what could it hurt to have a conversation with the Professor and mentally close the book on this?

Absinthe Paul Beucler Collection personnelle photo arnold.p ; oct 2007
Poster for Absinthe from the Montbart Distillery

The busyness of Gower Street was a minor distraction to Erasmus, even though he otherwise would have found it entertaining. The Annual Symposium of the Occidental Inventors’ Society was in full swing. Every odd character in London seemed to be here playing inventor, dressed outlandishly, and putting on erudite airs. Erasmus was already distracted from his primary job as Chief Inspector. He didn’t need an additional distraction from that.

Erasmus entered the main university building, working his way through the cacophonous assembly, many of which were holding contraptions of brass, glass, and polished wood. Three of the smaller hand-held devices were even running with non-harmonious sputtering sounds, releasing fine pulsating mists of steam that caused some gestures of avoidance by those nearby. Erasmus wouldn’t have been able to conceal himself in this crowd; his brown topcoat, trousers, and bowler were too subdued and color-coordinated for this gathering. On the other hand, he noticed they seemed far too absorbed in themselves and each other to notice him. His understated dress and demeanor became his camouflage.

While Erasmus was sizing up the various symposium attendees to see who looked like they had enough clout to know where the Professor would be, a rumpus in the next room broke out. The clamor shifted from elevated intellectual blather to directed chatter about an attendee that had been pummeled. To add to the normal excitement at such violence in an academic setting, the babbling seemed to indicate that a woman had downed a sizable gent. Erasmus changed roles in a flash, and started the process of elbowing his way through the throng. “Scotland Yard! Step aside! Let me through.”

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