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London, Where It All Began - Page 5: January 6, 2011 - January 25, 2011

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Sandrine, Je T’aime
Counterbalancing a Sarcophagus
The Surgical Assistant Under Steam
Quite the Gentleman
Three Pieces of Paper

Sandrine, Je T’aime

Entry for January 6, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

By the time she stumbled back to the table, Jean-Michel was lying on the floor clutching his hands to his chest. The other patrons were ignoring him, probably interpreting his fall as mere drunkenness. She clouted the nearest large patron in the shoulder with her fist. “This man needs to get to the hospital! Help me get him to the street!” The patron prepared to take offense at the assault and tell her to piss off, but the mixture of delirium and desperation on her face was truly terrible to behold, so he just picked up Petit under the arms and helped McTrowell carry him to the curb. She dropped Petit’s feet and ran into the street right in front of the nearest hansom cab. If the cabbie had looked away for an instant, the horse would have trampled her. She grabbed Petit’s feet again and hauled him into the cab with the aid of the still-dazed patron. “Westminster Hospital!” she screamed frantically at the cabbie. Being a fairly astute man, the cabbie whipped the horses into a gallop, dousing the helpful patron in muck from the street. Sparky held Jean-Michel propped up against her, taking his pulse. His heart was pounding sluggishly. He mumbled deliriously, “Sandrine, je t’aime, je t’aime.”

As the horses rounded the last corner toward the hospital, she propped Petit up in the seat and leapt out of the cab before it had even come to a halt. She flew up the stairs into the hospital, shouting at the top of her lungs, “Help! I’m a doctor. I need licorice root immediately.” The passersby in the hallway all looked at her as if she were mad which was not too far from the truth at the moment. All of them save one. There was the familiar brown bowler, Chief Inspector Drake! “Chief Inspector Drake! My friend, Monsieur Jean-Michel Petit, has been poisoned!”

“Where is he?”

“He’s outside in a hansom.” Drake dashed out of the hospital without hesitation with McTrowell close on his heels. He leapt up into the cab, tossing the cabbie some change and hoisting up Petit. McTrowell grabbed Petit’s feet again, the two of them reversing the procedure performed with the assistance of the pub patron. They hauled Petit inside the hospital. He went into convulsions as they laid him on the floor. “Fetch me some licorice root.” Drake dashed off again without question while McTrowell held Petit.

“Sandrine, mon amor, je t’aime.” He shuddered again and Sparky felt his pulse stop.

“Nooooo.” She dropped her head on Petit’s chest and began sobbing. The front of Petit’s shirt was soaked in her tears when Drake came running back down the hall moments later, a small apothecary jar in his hand.

The look on his face was crestfallen. “I fear I am too late.”

“It was probably too late before we left The Olde Cheshire Cheese. At least Sandrine will not have to hear that he husband died in a pub.”

Drake took notice of the mention of The Olde Cheshire Cheese. “You said your friend was poisoned. Who was he and why do you think he was poisoned?” The commotion had attracted considerable attention by now. He motioned for a pair of orderlies with a stretcher. They lifted Petit gently onto the stretcher and carried him away. Drake helped McTrowell to her feet and proffered his handkerchief. She wiped her eyes and cheeks, struggling to catch her breath.

“He was a professor of mathematics at the Université Toulouse without an enemy in the world. He was not the intended victim; I was.” Drake raised his eyebrows slightly in an expression of interest. “A Mr. Abusir has been courting my mother very aggressively. At the same time, my mother’s gold assaying business has been suffering as her patrons have been dying unexpectedly, exhibiting symptoms of foxglove poisoning. I have tested my theory of the poison by trying it on myself. This is how I knew what had befallen Monsieur Petit and why I sent you for licorice. It was the antidote I used on myself.”

“Astounding, pray continue.”

“Mr. Abusir has been stealing the claims of the gold miners he murders. I have a spy in the claims office.” The chief inspector again raised his eyebrows. “My mother wrote that Abusir was coming to London on some mysterious business, something to do with a wedding gift for a pharaoh’s wife, and I have had the sense that I was being followed ever since I arrived. Recall that you and I were standing at the statue of Osiris yesterday when the blast occurred. After you left, a workman stayed behind. He was somewhat swarthy, but more importantly, he stared maliciously at me and covetously at the statue of Osiris for quite some time before leaving. I saw his face again just moments ago in The Olde Cheshire Cheese! Jean-Michel ordered me a pint of bitters, but I didn’t care for its extreme bitterness, so he drank it! It was Abusir at the Great Exhibition and at The Olde Cheshire Cheese. He’s trying to kill me!”

He smiled knowingly and added, “Why would Abusir wish to kill you?”

“Because I’ve written to my mother opposing the marriage. I love my mother and wish her every happiness, but she is not a very good judge of character in men…” and then she added under her breath “… including my father.”

“Fortuitously, I may be able to fill in some details. Just today I saw two artists who had just finished crafting a replica of the Osiris statue that we discussed. I also saw the electroplating equipment to put a finish of gold on it. They were having quite a celebration of this accomplishment.”

“Abusir must have gold from the miners’ claims. That must be the source of the gold for the electroplating. But why would he come all the way to London to create the replica if he had the gold in San Francisco? If he were here to steal the original, he could have stolen it after I left the Great Exhibition yesterday. Is it missing?”

“If the original were missing, Scotland Yard would have been notified. I will return to The Olde Cheshire Cheese in search of evidence of the poisoning. If you could stay here to make arrangements for the body of Dr. Petit, we should meet tomorrow at the Great Exhibition where we may find more evidence.”

“I’ve made arrangements for my mechanical surgical assistant to be installed at the Great Exhibition. You may find me there.” Drake held his bowler over his heart and bowed slightly before departing. McTrowell walked slowly to the basement of the hospital and wandered dejectedly along the hall until she found the door with the small brass plaque with the single word, “

Counterbalancing a Sarcophagus

Entry for January 8, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus made his way through the morning fog toward Hyde Park, today’s copy of the Times in hand, mulling over yesterday’s excitements. Erasmus’ scan of the first few pages over his morning’s Earl Grey revealed the professor’s recapture didn’t get the lead article, but it was prominent enough to keep the good work of Scotland Yard in the minds of the readers. Constable Higgins had redeemed himself, which was an excellent turn of events, and Erasmus was heralded as a master tactician that foiled the mad scientist with an empty oil can. Well, thought Erasmus, it was somewhere between hogwash and the truth, but the important thing was that it wasn’t dead wrong.

The poisoning of Monsieur Petit had its own article. It read as if it was rushed to the press, given the hour of the day that the newspaper found out about the deed. The paper had a great deal more detail on Monsieur Petit accomplishments, and clearly his loss was going to be felt in a number of academic and industrial circles. The man seemed to have had the rare gift of being able to work in both theoretical realms as well as mechanical engineering disciplines.

Erasmus’ findings at the Olde Cheshire Cheese didn’t turn up as much as he would have liked. Once Dr. McTrowell and Monsieur Petit left in a hurry without paying, their beer glasses had been drained and washed. Most of the patrons were paying attention to their friends, and so Abusir, if he had been there, didn’t leave an impression on any of the patrons. The one interesting point was that the tap boy that delivered the two beers had set them down and turned his attention elsewhere for a few moments, leaving ample time for someone familiar with administering poison to spike Dr. McTrowell’s beer. For someone to do that, he would have to have known which beer she ordered, or make an educated guess, or maybe not even have cared whom he killed. There was just a good chance that the assailant may have been within earshot of the two when they ordered.

Arriving at the Crystal Palace, Erasmus went about the process of finding which hall the surgical assistant was placed in. He was informed that it was to be placed in a unique location, where the steam engine that powered it was located in the Mechanical Engines room, and the actual harness placed in the Industrial Applications room, with a shaft that connected the two. This was done for safety and noise reasons.

Erasmus found Dr. McTrowell in work clothes and leather gloves, sitting on the floor, wielding two wrenches, putting the final touches on reassembling the surgical assistant.

It was an impressive device. Unlike many of the contraptions that Erasmus saw at the Annual Symposium of the Occidental Inventors’ Society, which were heavy brass and wood, this was more delicate, more precise, and more refined. Almost the opposite of what one might have expected from an inventor from the wilds of California.

“Good morning, Dr. McTrowell. I see your mechanical surgical assistant arrived.”

Looking up from her labors, Dr. McTrowell replied, “Ah, a good morning to you! And please, call me Sparky. All of my enemies do. I’m sorry, it’s a bit too early in the morning for dark humor. But still, Sparky is preferred.”

“Sparky it is then, but pardon my British manners, I’m sure I’ll slip up. I see you’re close to completing the reassembly. Fascinating! If you have the time to give me a tour, it would ...”

“I’d be glad to! I’ll try to keep the boasting to a minimum.” She then pointed out and described each major part and its function.

The primary component was worn like a backpack, with extensions to the floor via attachments to the wearer’s legs. It provided two brass foot-plates that the wearer stands on to give stability to both the wearer and the apparatus itself. There were some other fixtures on the foot-plates that allowed it to be fastened to a specially made floor plate for even more stability, but it was only needed for an unsteady or unleveled airship. Erasmus noted there were also small foot pedals, or rather buttons that could be stepped on, but they went unexplained for the moment. For Erasmus, it was its arms that gave him pause. It had two pair that extended from the backpack, one set that was to be attached to the wearer’s arms, the other pair were free standing. The pair worn on the arms were principally for controlling, although they also could aid in steadying by dampening or eliminating small extraneous motion. The free-standing pair of arms were substantially sturdier. They were attached in such a manner that they worked outside of the swing of the wearer’s natural arms, so they could be either above, outside, or below the wearer. They could be used simply for holding, like an extra pair of hands, but could also perform lifting, pushing, or pulling motions, guided by the wearer, but with greater force. It was for this latter function that the surgical assistant required a connection to a steam engine. With this, explained Sparky, she could lift an overweight man onto a surgical table, perform a delicate operation, and then place the man back onto a nearby bed.

On the side of the backpack were additional tools for the sturdier arms, Sparky explained. What surprised Erasmus was that Sparky had designed and built the mechanical surgical assistant so that all of the components that fit onto the wearer were adjustable, with brass winged thumb screws for setting the length between joints. She not only made this for herself, but for a wide range of doctors, he reasoned. It was apparent that with a change of tools, this apparatus could be used for any number of medical applications, from dentistry to autopsy.

The long shaft from the steam engine connected low to the mechanical surgical assistant, near the foot pads, with an adjustable length linkage that went up into the backpack. Sparky finished the bolting of this shaft and declared the apparatus ready for demonstration.

“It’s a shame I won’t be able to demonstrate it during the Great Exhibition,” Sparky sighed.

“Why is that?”

“I’ve been ‘requested’ to pilot an airship in an upcoming regatta. I’ll be leaving within the week. The plan is to display a mannequin in the place of a physician, and not have it actually running.”

“You’re a pilot, too?”

“It started as mandatory training for all crew members, but turned into one of my side passions. Airships, like seafaring ships, require anticipation and early- but not over-reaction. The truth is, Chief Inspector, it’s fun.” At that, Sparky smiled, despite the seriousness of the true reason they were at the Great Exhibition today.

A crash echoed throughout the halls that emanated from the Egyptian Court, followed quickly by shouting from a desperate man, “Help! Help! Oh, Lord, give me strength!”

Erasmus rounded the corner to see a disheartening scene. Two of the workers had been trying to rotate a large wooden sarcophagus on a shoulder-high stone dais when it must have gotten off-balance and fallen, the high end still on the dais, the other pinning one of the workers to the floor. The second worker was desperately trying to lift the sarcophagus with all his might. Erasmus was the first to join him in the effort, Sparky immediately followed.

Within seconds, the room had a half dozen helping workers. The angle of the weight made it difficult to get a grip. Sparky yelled, “You there, and you, climb up and counterbalance it! Pull down on the far end. Hard!” Two workers scrambled up and did as she bid, causing the sarcophagus to right itself with the effort on each end.

The poor workman, not much older than a teen, had taken the full weight on his chest. Although he had youth and strength, the weight had clearly taken its toll, and even to one not medically trained, Erasmus could tell that serious structural damage had occurred to the lad’s chest. He was not moving, and if breathing, it wasn’t obvious.

Sparky was on him in a flash, ripping open his shirt to see the damage. It was not a pretty sight. The skin was torn, a deep, red gash ran full across his chest, and his chest was dented in on his left side. Sparky barked out instructions as she took control of the situation. “Lift this man and follow me!” She sprinted to the room with her equipment, flinging off her leather gloves as she went. Erasmus and three other men carried the lad into the next room as requested. “On the table. Gently, now, he has at least one broken rib.”

Sparky gingerly stepped into her mechanical surgical assistant, buckled both straps of the leather harness and cinched the belt about her waist, while commanding, “Chief Inspector, start the steam engine. Immediately!” Erasmus lead the sprint, with the three other men close behind. “Is there one of you familiar with starting a steam engine?” “Yes, Sir,” said the oldest, “but pray that the boiler is going, or it’ll take a while for it to turn over.”

The Mechanical Room had a number of running steam engines, but not the single trestle German steam engine attached to the mechanical surgical assistant. Erasmus turned to the mechanic, asking, “Move the shaft to a working machine, or stoke this one?” pointing to the one connected to Sparky’s apparatus. “Stoke it! Use the embers from the other engines!” the mechanic yelled as he verified that there was water in the boiler. The four of them stole hot coals from the various surrounding engines with the wide flat shovels available.

The Small German Steam Engine Similar to the One Provided by Jonathan Lord Ashleigh
The Small German Steam Engine Similar to the One Provided by Jonathan Lord Ashleigh

The engine for the surgical assistant was smaller and more compact than the rest, and within moments, the furnace was red hot; the water starting to boil. Erasmus left the starting to the experts while he ran back to tell Sparky that she would soon have power.

Rounding the corner, Erasmus shouted, “power is on its way,” to which she replied, “the sooner the better, I need to carefully retract this rib from his lung.” Sparky was working strenuously to move the outside arms and attach the instruments she needed. It was an interesting process: with her fingers in the brass ring controllers, she was reaching back with her right hand to her own right side, which caused the outer arms to reach back to the tool selection compartments on the side of the backpack. She indicated that she needed the mechanical arms to pull up on the cracked rib once she had gotten access to it within his chest and had power.

Just then the shaft began to turn. Erasmus breathed a sigh of relief, and thought, “it’s all in her hands now.”

The Surgical Assistant Under Steam

Entry for January 10, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Sparky slipped her fingers into the controllers for the outer arms and stepped on the left foot pedal, rotating the left arm around so it was close to the chest wound with a large pair of forceps. She switched feet and rotated the right arm around to brace the workman by his right shoulder with a padded clamp. She slipped her fingers out of the controllers and reached up to loosen the winged screws at her elbows, releasing the inner arms which she also swung into place over the chest wound. She tightened them back down, grabbing two more pairs of forceps out of loops in the chest harness and snapping them into the “arms.” She extracted a scalpel from the harness, took a deep breath, exhaled purposefully, and started cutting. She opened the chest wound cleanly with her own hands, snapped the forceps in the inner arms to the edges of the wound, and then gently pulled back the flaps of skin by gently pushing back with the backs of her hands against a pair of paddles just below the controllers for the outer arms. Having established clear access to the broken rib, she stepped on the left pedal again to bring the forceps on the outer arm down to clamp onto the broken rib. With her foot still on the pedal, she eased the rib back up until the broken ends dovetailed back together. The workman groaned slightly as if he were coming to. Sparky realized she would have to move fast. She had no anesthesia available, and if he came to now, his pain would send him into wild thrashing, making it impossible to finish the delicate operation.

She pulled a length of silk from a spool in the belt, cutting it off with the notched cutter next to the spool. She selected a needle from what could only be described as a pincushion on the belt beside the spool. Drake marveled that she seemed to thread the needle even as she was making the first stitch to the flesh under the rib. She stabbed the needle back into the pincushion when she finished stitching while simultaneously releasing the forceps on the rib. She unclipped the forceps holding the skin and waved the inner arms out of the way with the backs of her hands. Another length of silk and she stitched his chest closed.

Drake was struck by the way that McTrowell’s operation of the surgical assistant made her look like a giant, dancing praying mantis, or a steam-powered Shiva…except that she was bringing life rather than death. She danced a bit of a jig on the pedals to get the outer arms under the workman so she could lift him off the table. From the other side of the belt she produced a large roll of gauze; a pair of scissors from the harness. She snipped off the remains of his shirt and wrapped his chest with gauze. She hadn’t yet finished wrapping when she began shouting orders to the other workmen who were standing by anxiously.

Statue of Nataraja
Shiva as Lord of Dance

“Rig up a litter and bring sandbags!” The workmen snapped out of their stupor and did as ordered while she slowly lowered their injured fellow back onto the table. She swung the outer arms out of the way so they could get to him.

“Put him on the litter on his right side, gently! Use the sandbags to prop him up. Take him to Westminster Hospital as fast as you can without dropping him and tell them to give him as much morphine as he can stand! If they argue, tell them it’s an order from Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake of Scotland Yard!” The workmen hustled to do her bidding and departed with such haste that one would have thought the devil himself was on their tails. McTrowell slumped forward in the harness, breathing rapidly and shallowly. Drake noticed that she was drenched in sweat. He stepped up to the opposite side of the table and pulled a clean handkerchief out of his vest pocket. He began gently dabbing the sweat off her face and she revived slightly.

Looking up at him she said, “I hope you don’t mind that I gave the order in your name, but I thought the hospital would take orders from you better than from me.”

“Quite all right. You have done a miraculous thing today and I think that young man will have you to thank for the rest of his life. Would you care to extricate yourself, and if I may suggest, have a cup of tea and a biscuit?”

“Yes, I think I would. If you be so kind as to shut down the steam engine, I’ll get out of this contraption.”

Drake rounded the corner into the Mechanical Engines room while McTrowell began putting her equipment back in order. She used the pedals to release the outer arms and swing them completely overhead before she lost power. She was collecting the instruments she had left strewn around the operating table when she heard movement at the far edge of the room. When she looked up, her heart almost stopped. It was Abusir! He was sneaking through the room toward the Egyptian room carrying a sack with something heavy in it. Their eyes locked. It would have been hard for an observer to say which of them bore a more ferocious look on their face. McTrowell came back to her senses.

“Drake! It’s Abusir!” McTrowell had seen quite a few angry faces in her adventures, but none to compare to the truly murderous look on Abusir’s face when she called for Drake. The sound that came out of Abusir’s mouth was not so much a shout as the growl of a cornered, feral animal. He dropped the bag and charged toward her. Where was Drake? He must not have heard her! She tried to get out of the harness, but her hands were sweaty and shaking from the exertion of the operation. She couldn’t operate the buckles! The mechanical surgical assistant was powering down, leaving her trapped and at the mercy of the madman charging across the room.

She screamed with the terror of a woman sure she was facing death, “Drake, re-engage the steam engine!” She had just an instant to marvel at the wits of a man who wouldn’t question such an order, but recognize that executing it meant the difference between life and death. Truly he must be Scotland Yard’s finest. The mechanical surgical assistant came back to life just as Abusir closed on her.

She tipped back onto her heals so she could engage both foot pedals at once while jamming her fingers into the controllers for the outer arms. She tried to block his advance with the outer arms, but the engine wasn’t quite back up to power and Abusir had the strength of insanity on his side. His arms waved frantically, trying to grasp at her neck. She waved desperately at the counter-controlling paddles for the inner arms, bringing them back in front of herself and jabbing at Abusir with the forceps that were still locked into them. Useless! The forceps poked at him, making tiny wounds, but doing nothing to actually stop him from getting his hands around her throat.

Drake sprinted in from the Mechanical Engines room just in time to see Abusir begin to choke the life out of McTrowell. She was trapped in the harness and he was too far away to reach her in time. Her hands dropped to the operating table…where they landed on the scalpel she had just used to save the young workman’s life. With her last bit of strength, she clenched it in her fist and brought it straight up into Abusir’s throat with a surgeon’s accuracy. Blood sprayed everywhere. Abusir barely gurgled as he dropped to the floor.

When Sparky collapsed into the harness this time, the mechanical surgical assistant was truly holding her up. Drake leapt the pool of blood forming around Abusir and pressed two fingers to her throat where a bruise was already starting to form; he put his cheek so close to her mouth that the tips of his moustache brushed her face. He felt a faint pulse and a tiny puff of breath. She was alive! He uncinched the belt and unbuckled the shoulder straps of the harness. She collapsed into his arms and took a proper breath, “Behold, I am become

Quite the Gentleman

Entry for January 24, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Catching women, that’s my job this week, thought Erasmus. Sparky was fairly light in his arms, and fading in and out of consciousness. He placed her delicately on the operating table where she had just performed a life-saving operation. And what was that she said about death? It sounded like a quote, but not one that he was familiar with. But first things first. There’s a dead body. Abusir, he assumed. But wait; hello! Look at his face! Wasn’t he the Egyptian man trying to wrangle the statue of Osiris from Mr. Joseph Bonomi a few years back? Here he had correctly associated the name Abusir with the temple of the god of the dead, but hadn’t made the link to the name of the man that was hounding Sparky.

Time to get some help from the boys from the Yard, Erasmus thought. Erasmus raised his whistle to his lips, turned towards the heart of the room to be heard as well as possible, and blew it twice, loud and long. By the time three constables arrived, Sparky was up and walking off her attack. Her throat was in incredible pain, and she had a few short spasms of coughing over the last few minutes.

Erasmus had a short conversation with the constables, letting them deal with the matter of Abusir’s body, while he took on the task of “interviewing” Sparky.

“This is the second time I have come to this room to investigate, and violence resulted. Strange.” Erasmus paused, and then queried, “From your description, Mr. Abusir’s previously been furtive and clandestine in his actions; what could have sent him into such a rage?”

Sparky took a break from rubbing her throat and pointed off to a corner entrance of the Egyptian Court. A plain cloth sack lay on the floor. “Do you want to clean up while I take a look?” Sparky looked down and realized that she was covered with blood splatters from the operation and the attack. “No,” she said grimly, “it’s more important we figure this out. When he saw me, he dropped that sack, flew into a rage and charged me.”

Erasmus strode over to the satchel. It was still gaping open where it had been dropped, the  chipped base of a statue sticking out of it, a result of the bag being dropped in anger. Erasmus hefted the edifice; it was the statue of Osiris! But rather, a counterfeit of the statue. He inspected the broken off fragments. It was a excellent imitation, but it was clearly not solid gold, but rather a heavy base metal, perhaps lead, coated with silver, and then a thin layer of gold. Clearly the work of the artists who were at the Blue Cat. He set it on the marble floor carefully after they both inspected it. Sparky dug into the bag and came up with two letters and some notes.

One letter was from Sparky’s mother, Elizabeth Llewellyn. It stated that she was hesitant to marry Mr. Abusir, on the advice of her daughter. The letter goes on to mention that her daughter was currently in London, displaying and demonstrating her invention, and how proud she was of her. She was planning to wait for her to reply before giving him a definite answer.

The second letter was by Mr. Abusir himself, unfinished and unsent. It stated that he would give her the best wedding present that had been bestowed on a loved one in 2000 years, and that he would be returning to the Americas with it. His final sentence said “A gift fit for the wife of a pharaoh will be bestowed upon you, and further description will only lessen the wonderment.”

The notes were the greatest of the finds within the satchel. It had a great number of pages, full of detailed illustrations: hieroglyphics on some pages, maps of San Francisco complete with X’s and notes regarding mine locations and their owners, and finally a rather improbable multi-page family tree that claimed that Mr. Abusir was a direct descendant of Osiris, the resurrection god. He even made multiple passages to himself within the notes, as if to bolster his confidence, that he had the right to the statue and all things Egyptian. The last page of his notes concluded that he, like Osiris, needed a wife to bring his body back to life after death. It was complete with grisly details of how it was to be accomplished with a combination of salts, flower petals, and gauze, and pseudo-medical description that even made Sparky queasy.

“This is rather disturbing,” Sparky said solemnly. “I’m not sure my mother was aware of what he had in mind for her. I now see why he was so upset with my interference.”

“Actually, there is a bright side to this,” Erasmus mused aloud, rubbing his chin in thought. “Since the only information the Yard has on Mr. Abusir are these letters and notes, it shows no living relatives in his family tree, at least based on the small skulls next to these initial family names. Since your mother is mentioned as a future bride, the Yard will send all of his effects to her, including the bars of gold the artists had received from him for the plating, and this replica statue. It’s the least we could do.”

Sparky eyes welled up, and she stepped toward Erasmus with outstretched arms revealing an instinctive hug, which she stopped short, suddenly realizing her unvarnished show of appreciation. Her eyes looked up to see his smiling face. Erasmus took her right hand, took the tiniest but most precise retreat, bent low and kissed her hand. “Glad to be of service,” he added. Sparky did her best to curtsy for the chief inspector, and looked away to hide an oncoming blush. To Erasmus, it was an interesting sight, this accomplished woman in work clothes, including britches, splattered with blood drops, attempting this most feminine of gestures. He continued to hold her hand a bit longer than he had intended, while he looked into her eyes, wishing there was an additional reason to linger in conversation.

“Chief Inspector, Sir!” a voice interrupted. “We’re ready to go here. May we corroborate on our accounts?” While holding his gaze with Sparky, Erasmus answered. “Of course, my good man, of course.” Still holding her hand delicately, Erasmus said in a gentle voice, “You have my card. Don’t ever hesitate to contact me for any reason. It has been a pleasure.”

Sparky turned to leave, but there was an atypical hesitation in her step. About half way to the exit, she turned to look back, and caught a glimpse of the chief inspector still standing, bowler in hand, standing guard over the scene with the satchel, body, and a pool of blood.

For Erasmus, the next few hours were a haze of activities associated with Scotland Yard: transporting Mr. Abusir’s body to the morgue, creating detailed notes regarding the attack by Mr. Abusir and Dr. McTrowell’s harrowing defense, organizing a cleaning team to address the bloodied floor and askew sarcophagus at the Egyptian Court, sending a constable to visit the artists at the Blue Cat to retrieve the unused gold bars, and checking on the health of the injured workman.

As the sun was setting, Erasmus found himself at the Olde Cheshire Cheese with both William and Constable Higgins, sitting at a table nestled in the back. “Is it really Friday?” he asked, knowing the answer. Zachary answered in an officious and slightly mocking tone, “Friday the 23rd of May, 1851, to be exact,” and raising his pint, “Time has come for the work-week to end.” They all joined him in a sip.

But after the glasses were safely back on the tabletop, William and Zachary looked at Erasmus knowingly. Erasmus, tipped his head slightly, and looked back at them. “What’s all this about?” “Well, you’ve spent the majority of the week with this Dr. McTrowell,” William said, “and we’ve heard you’ve been quite the gentleman, kissing hands and all. Word travels fast at the Yard. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“The doctor had been through quite an ordeal. I
was being the gentleman, I suppose.” William and Zachary looked at each other and each gave a single chuckle. William echoed, “I suppose. I suppose.”

“Judge me if you wish. I had hoped to cross paths with her again. Perhaps she’ll see fit to visit London again.”

Zachary chimed in, “Well, sir, if that happens, I hope it’ll be a less hazardous event to those around you. And may I add, welcome to your first week as Chief Inspector.” The glasses were raised again, and while sipping, Erasmus considered that he may have missed an opportunity to, perhaps, see Sparky off on her flight, or contact her to resolve some last detail of shipping Mr. Abusir’s effects. He thought to himself, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

Three Pieces of Paper

Entry for January 25, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Sparky was feeling terribly dazed as she stumbled out of the Crystal Palace and made her way to Oxford Street.  She had saved a man’s life today.  She had nearly died today.  She had avenged the death of her dear friend today.  She had killed her mother’s fiancé today.  Today she had an encounter with a man with the potential to turn her life upside down.  She was startled by a dark brown hand gently grasping her arm as she trudged along the street.  Virat.  As soon as she looked up at him, he released her arm and motioned toward Lord Ashleigh’s carriage that was waiting at the curb.  She hadn’t even noticed it in her self-absorbed reverie.  He held the door for her without so much as flinching at her blood-spattered work clothes.  And then, as if there were no limit to the surprises today had to offer, he spoke!
“Where shall I take you, madam?”  She gaped with an open mouth for a moment.  More than anything she wanted to get cleaned up and change her clothes, but she wasn’t sure she had the strength to deal with Mrs. McCreary.  Oh, to hell with the old bat!  It wasn’t like she was ever going to stay there again.
“Virat, please take me to Mrs. McCreary’s boarding house.  Thank you.”  He closed the door without another word and drove her straight there, stopping at the curb directly in front of the boarding house.  Of course, when he opened the door for her, Mrs. McCreary was standing at the top of the landing and the look on her face was like none that Sparky had ever seen.  Her eyes were swinging back and forth between McTrowell’s blood-stained work clothes, the “strange” brown coachman, and the obviously expensive carriage.  She was huffing and puffing, her corpulent face was scarlet, and her head looked like it might actually explode.
Sparky turned to Virat and said loudly enough that she was sure Mrs. McCreary would hear, “Please thank Lord Ashleigh for his immeasurable assistance.  I will endeavor to pay him a visit before I depart for Paris and the Bavarian Airship Regatta.”  Virat nodded slightly, mounted the carriage, and drove off.
Sparky summoned the last of her strength and strode up the stairs, the heels of her knee-high work boots ringing with each step.  She turned slightly sideways to squeeze by Mrs. McCreary who was still huffing in astonishment, but was blessedly struck dumb, at least for the moment.  When she got to her room, she slid one of her trunks in front of the door to ensure some privacy and put some water on to boil for tea.  She stripped off the bloody clothes, turned them inside out, and rolled them up.  There was not time to deal with them now.  By the time she’d washed up, had some tea, and put on her traveling clothes, her head had cleared somewhat.  She methodically repacked all her trunks.
She pulled some paper from her flight surgeon’s bag and the enameled pen from the inside pocket of her duster.  Before she could put pen to paper, she remembered that she had bought the pen in Toulouse when she had visited with Jean-Michel and Sandrine just after the joyous birth of their second child.  And she started crying again.  This was no good!  She would have to pull herself together to write a note to Sandrine.  She had to dry her eyes three more times before she made it through the simple note.  She expressed her deepest condolences, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit to Sandrine that Jean-Michel had died for the mistake of being her friend.  She closed by telling Sandrine that Jean-Michel’s last words had been of his love for her.
She sealed the letter and pulled out another sheet of paper.  On it she wrote a bank transfer for the paymaster at Western & Transatlantic who also served as the banker for the highly transient staff of the Airship Lines.  It was a draft for 1,000 francs to Sandrine Petit of Toulouse, France.  She signed it with a flourish that didn’t match her mood.  Nothing would mend Sandrine’s heart except time, but McTrowell could ensure that she didn’t struggle to support their children until that time had passed.  She folded the draft in quarters and placed it on top of the letter to Sandrine.
Finally, she took a third sheet of paper on which she wrote the contents of a telegram in block letters.  MOTHER STOP CHIEF INSPECTOR OF SCOTLAND YARD REPORTS MR ABUSIR KILLED IN ACCIDENT AT GREAT EXHIBITION STOP SCOTLAND YARD FORWARDING HIS BELONGINGS TO YOU STOP LEAVING FOR PARIS STOP WILL WRITE WHEN I ARRIVE STOP LOVE C STOP.  She had tried to formulate a sentence that could explain to her mother that it hadn’t been an accident; that Abusir had died by her own hand.  But then she would have had to explain that he had tried to kill her…twice, and had almost succeeded twice.  And then there was the whole matter of the poisoned miners to force her mother into marriage and the insane criminal enterprise with the statue.  The brevity of a telegram might have been an act of cowardice, but she was all out of bravery.  She folded the paper in half and wrote on the back, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Sansome Street, San Francisco, California, United States of America.
She tucked all three pieces of paper into her flight surgeon’s bag, rolled the trunk away from the door and into line with the others, put on her leather duster, aviator’s cap, goggles and four-button red flight gloves, and stepped smartly out the door.  As she expected, Mrs. McCreary was stationed at the bottom of the stairs, her arms crossed ferociously over her formidable bosom, and her feet planted uncharacteristically far apart.  There was clearly not going to be any sliding by her this time.  Unfortunately, there was also no divining what she thought of the vision of Dr. Sparky McTrowell swooping down the stairs in full flight gear.
“Miss Llewellyn, this is absolutely the end of sanity!  I can no longer countenance your outrageous behavior in this respectable establishment!”
McTrowell stopped two steps from the bottom so she towered over Mrs. McCreary.  She swept the leather duster back with her free left hand, planting her scarlet-encased fist on her hip.  “My name is Dr. Czarina Llewellyn McTrowell.  I am a decorated pilot and the chief flight surgeon of Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines.  I am an internationally famed inventor and today I have used one of my inventions to take a man’s life before he could take mine.”  She waited a moment for her words to sink in. 
“And while we’re on the subject of things you can’t countenance, I should think you would include color and fun.  Buy a bright green dress.  Go to the theater.  Drink too much in the company of a man whose intentions may not be entirely proper.  Just don’t die in this dreadful, cheap, gray mausoleum without enjoying a moment of the pleasure you’ve earned for yourself.”
Mrs. McCreary’s arms dropped to her sides and her mouth opened and closed like a fish dying on the deck of a ship.
“By the way, those who fear me, among whom I imagine you now number yourself, call me Sparky.  A carter will come for my trunks.  I advise against meddling with them in the strongest possible terms.”  She reached out with the open palm of her gloved hand and bodily moved Mrs. McCreary out of her path.  She was out the door and down the street without a glance back.  Once she was out of sight of the boarding house, she spread her arms and spun around, the tails of the leather duster rising around her like a dust devil.  The boarding house had been like a weight on her shoulders and she was glad to be rid of it.
She walked all the way to the airship port for the invigorating exercise of it.  As fortune would have it, she spotted the same air stevedore who had carted her trunks to Mrs. McCreary’s.  Had it really only been three days earlier?  He smiled as she approached, possibly in memory of her as a story told to his mates or the generous tip.  No matter.  He tipped his cap slightly.  “Good day, ma’am.  Pleasure to see you again.”  “Good day.  Do you remember the boarding house to which you carted my trunks?”  To make her point, she produced another florin from her duster.  “Surely, ma’am.”  She handed him the florin that disappeared into his pocket so fast she wondered if he had previously made his living as a fingersmith.  “Please retrieve them and deliver them to the Burke & Hare.”  “Right away, ma’am.”  She didn’t see him shaking his head in bemusement as she walked away toward the business office of Western & Transatlantic.
It was quieter in Littleton’s office than it had been the last time she’d been there.  “Hello, Dr. McTrowell.”  “Hello, Mr. Littleton.  Has the casket of Dr. Jean-Michel Petit arrived from Westminster Hospital?”  “Just an hour ago.”  She handed him the sealed letter.  “Please see that this letter accompanies the casket and charge the freight fee to my account.”  “It’s going to be quite expensive.”  She just glared at him.  Littleton was an efficient manager, but had never acquired the sense not to argue with her when she was in this kind of mood.  He mumbled, “done,” and went back to his ledgers and schedules.
She was beginning to run out of words for the day.  When she arrived at the paymaster’s window, she didn’t even greet him before sliding the bank draft under the grating.  “Dr. Jean-Michel Petit’s casket will be departing for the continent tomorrow morning aboard the Lewis & Clark.  Please see to it that the funds are in the Lewis & Clark’s safe when it departs.”  The paymaster unfolded the draft and gasped.  “Dr. McTrowell, this is a large sum of money.”  She fixed him with an even more withering glance than she gave Littleton.  “Yes, ma’am.”
Final stop, the telegraph office.  Fortunately, the telegraph operator was one of those taciturn, all-business sorts of fellows, so he didn’t ask any questions when she handed him the third piece of paper.  But he did cock a quizzical eyebrow at her after reading the contents twice to make sure he had understood it.
She walked across the yard to a tall, square, open tower.  It was really just a half-encased staircase several stories tall.  It had a large ‘3’ painted on the side.  A workman with a tool belt exited the bottom of the stairs just as she got there.  An airship was tethered to the top of the tower at a height of about four stories.  She started climbing, watching more of London reveal itself at each turning of the flights of stairs.  When she reached the top of the stairs, she stopped and gazed down on the Crystal Palace.  She wondered if Chief Inspector Drake was still there cleaning up the day’s monstrous mess.  She wondered if she would ever see him again.  She wondered what would happen if she did.  A small smile barely curled up the corners of her mouth.  She turned to enter the airship.  Over the door was an engraved, arched sign,
“Burke & Hare.”

This concludes the first adventure of Drake & McTrowell:
“London, Where it All Began.”

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