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New Story Awaiting a Title - Page 1: April 19, 2015 - June 26, 2016

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The Attempted Ten Dollar Exchange
How I Met Sparky’s Mother
Leaving San Francisco
You Can't Get There From Here


The Attempted Ten Dollar Exchange

Entry for April 19, 2015 Written by David L. Drake

The three men stood silently on the docks looking out across the quiet San Francisco bay. The morning sun warmed their faces. The young man in the middle pulled his pocket watch out of his waistcoat and squinted at its face.

“What time do you have, Charlie?” asked his companion to his left.

“Can’t rightly tell, Pat,” Charlie replied as he held the watch at its full chain length up to his ear. “It’s near eight, but I think the mechanism stopped.” He shook his head in disappointment and returned the watch back into its rightful spot. “I just got it back from Bill’s shop, and it’s still not right.”

“All due respect,” Pat replied, “but your brother ain’t the best of repairmen. Take it downtown to that new shop on Post Street. The one with the blue sign.”

“Thanks kindly for your advice, but I’ll support my blood a’fore I take my business elsewheres.” His voice had a restrained seriousness for such a young man.

“Suit yourself, Charlie. But as a newspaper reporter, you’d best know the time to the minute. Readers demand accuracy.” Pat drew out his own watch and took a quick look. “It’s seventeen past eight.” He slipped the pocket watch away as he added, “Is the ship running late?”

“You two…” the third, and oldest, man chimed in. His sonorous voice quietly rumbled, “You lack patience. Of course the ship is running late. We might get some late morning fog, making the ship further behind schedule.” For emphasis, he casually pointed his thumb over his shoulder to the low marine layer clouds over the ocean to the west. “Relax - the ship will come. Probably within an hour or two.”

Pat asked, “Sam, what do you think they’re like? Rough and coarse? Or all pretentious?”

Sam removed his cap and scratched his head to give himself time to form his thoughts. Looking out across the bay, he plopped his hat back on and started his soliloquy.

“I assume you are here for the same interview I am. That couple mentioned in the
London Times: Drake and McTrowell. I have spent many a year at the San Francisco Examiner in conversation with a gaggle of these globetrotting yahoos, who gallivant about making a name for themselves through fisticuffs and mayhem, and they are, without a doubt, the most arrogant, selfish, and dangerous folk you will find save life-long criminals. I am sure these two will have the most ludicrous justifications for the misery they dole out. My concern is that a truthful version of their story will make my readers blanch, souring my name as a reporter as well as the newspaper’s. If I were not sent here by J. M. Montgomery himself to do this interview, I would have headed over to the Phoebus’ mine, where I heard they struck a new vein of gold. A much better and more wholesome story, I reckon.”

Pat made a gloomy face. “Not sure I want to wait an hour or two. And the
Daily Sentinel is very selective about the stories we run. I think I will head back to the office. Hope you two won’t suffer the fog for long.” Pat turned and headed back up the dock, towards the shore.

Sam looked at his lone companion. “Charlie, is it? You are new to the newspaper business, are you not?”

Charlie shuffled a bit. “Yeah. Joined the
Observer about five weeks ago. Good paper, I guess. My first real job, if you don’t count setting type for Bayside Printers. That’s where I met Pat. I get paid per story, so this waiting for the Hornet to arrive is taking money out of my pocket. You really think this Drake and McTrowell will be criminal-like?”

Sam smiled and turned to face the teenager. “I am quite sure of it. You could go to the county jail and get a half dozen stories that would be just as good, and be done with your editing before the
Hornet docks.”

Charlie beamed. “Well, that‘sa great idea! And I’ll head for the mine after that. Thanks for all your advice.” He turned to stride away, and turned back, out of courtesy. “Sorry you have to stay here on the docks. Hope you get your interview.” He quickly walked to the end of the dock and trotted in the direction of the dock warehouse to get a ride back to downtown.

Sam watched his departure and mused out loud to himself. “Oh, I will get my interview. If you two checked the harbor schedule before you rushed to the dock, you’d have known that the
Hornet is due at half past eight.” He turned nonchalantly to observe the bow of the ship come within view as it rounded into the bay. “Timing, as they say, is everything. Another exclusive interview. How do I do it?” He chuckled quietly to himself.

Flourish Break


Sparky McTrowell stood on the deck of the Hornet wearing her favorite airship maintenance ensemble: canvas breeches and external work vest, and a man’s white work shirt tailored to fit her frame. Her knee-high leather boots were polished and their brass appointments shone in the sun. She was unbuttoning her shirt cuffs as she dispassionately said to Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake, her fiancé, “You should get a good footing to lessen your fall if I knock you down.”

Erasmus was wearing a jacket, waistcoat, and knee breeches, a fashion that he had grown accustomed to during sea travel, but would not have been seen as fit for a grown man on land. He raised just a single eyebrow at Sparky’s remark, trying to hide his surprise.

“My dear, I thought you were showing me how you throw a punch. What did you have in mind?”

“Erasmus, it is not enough for me to demonstrate by striking at the air. You will learn faster if you can feel the blow. I will aim for your right pectoral muscle. That will do the least harm. Remove your jacket and waistcoat.”

Erasmus started reluctantly unbuttoning his jacket, adding, “You know I have done my share of pugilistic activities throughout my life. Would it not be better if I show you my technique and have you critique it?”

Sparky gave him a dismayed look. As she rolled up her sleeves, she answered, “We only have a few minutes before we dock. We have put this off long enough. And, my dear, you wanted us to exchange our marshal expertise. I have put up with your sword training for hours. This will not take as long.”

Erasmus dropped the jacket and waistcoat onto the deck and looked around at the deckhands who might not have understood why this woman was about to strike him, or why he was allowing it to happen. He noticed that they were all too busy with their occupations to notice the goings on of these two passengers.

His shirt flapped lightly in the breeze. He took a modified fencing stance, a bit more squared off to his opponent than usual, and he braced his arms. He then remembered his bowler, which he plucked off his head and tossed on to his pile of outer garments. He retook his stance, trying his best to keep his body taut.

Sparky stood in front of him, her right leg slightly back. “You already know that the punch should come all the way from your rear foot, all the way up your leg, and crack out from your arm. To hit hard, it is not desirable to fully straighten the arm, it should be like this.” She pointed out her right elbow, which was at about eighty degrees. “What you will notice is that the force is multiplied if you can time a hip turn into the punch.”

The execution of the blow was a blur of linear efficiency. Her small fist rammed into his chest and he was lifted off his feet; the punctuation of the hit caused his entire body to go slack instantly, as if she had simultaneously knocked the air out of him while she stuck an oar handle into his chest.

Erasmus landed a couple feet away on his rump, all the while noticing that she held her final position longer than usual. He rolled onto his back and skidded a few inches more, his legs awkwardly waving in the air before his heels returned to the deck. Lying there, he tried to take a breath, but there was an incredible pain between his ribs. He blinked twice to try to focus back on reality. Sitting up to show that he was all right, he realized that she had bruised his backside as well as whatever damage she had made to his chest. Holding onto his knees, he croaked, “I see what you mean about the hip turn.”

Sparky hopped up into a normal standing position and put her fists on her hips. “Good! I hope that was fluid enough. I think I could crack the arm out a bit faster.”

“I will keep that in mind.”

He slowly stood and lightly pressed at the sight of the punch to see if he had broken a rib. His quick inspection made him grimace slightly.

She continued in an authoritative voice. “Although I used my full body for the blow, particularly the power in my legs, my punch alone could not lift you off the deck. The smallness of my fist makes the pain more intense, and
your legs involuntarily forced you to leap backward to avoid the pain. You have more strength than I expected! You were airborne!”

“I will take that, believe it or not, as a…compliment.” He tried to hide the fact that he was rubbing out the pain on the right side of his butt.

“Next, I want you to slowly imitate that strike. Oh! We are maneuvering to dock. We are here! San Francisco!”

The ship continued its graceful turn and the deckhands ran to their docking duties. Sparky turned and shouted back to Erasmus. “I will ready our cargo and the
Peregrine.” She ran off towards the stairs leading to the hold below.

Erasmus gathered his garments and bowler and smiled at her enthusiasm. He slipped on his waistcoat as he walked to the rail. The green of the land around San Francisco Bay was an uplifting sight after the ten-day journey from the Hawaiian Islands. As the ship slowed, Erasmus noticed the lone man on the dock wearing a suit and cap. He was looking straight back at Erasmus, sporting a sly smile. Erasmus raised a single eyebrow as he wondered what was running through this man’s mind.

Docking the large ship kept many of the ship’s hands busy. Sailors ran from station to station, steadying lines, hauling chain, and calling to dock hands as they stepped through the process of bringing the ship safely to the pier.

These were the sounds of Erasmus’ nautical childhood, causing memories to flood back. He wistfully observed the scene that played out in front of him, remembering that sailing on the open sea was an episodic undertaking, long periods of ocean going punctuated by visits to ports and harbors. These stops in the ocean-side sanctuaries brought back the sights and smells, the calls and cooing of the shore birds, and the bustling of the ship hands; it was like revisiting his boyhood.

He was brought back to the present by a ship hand mentioning that an airship was to be unloaded from the hold. Erasmus figured he should head down the stairs to join Sparky, who was sure to be overseeing the activity, and determine if his help was needed.

Flourish Break


“I don’t understand. Why can’t we just carry each piece out separately, just like we brought it onboard?” The airship pilot was not pleased with the request by the supervising stevedore to hoist the constituent elements of the Peregrine out in a large pile.

“The pieces are much too oddly-shaped, ma’am.” Erasmus, arriving onto the scene, understood his reasoning, but didn’t want to weigh in.

He noticed that rather than regularly shaped crates, many of the components were awkwardly wrapped in canvas and had no convenient hand-holds. They were also atypically weighted and didn’t sit on flat bottoms.

Sparky winced. “Don’t
ma’am me, sir. Call me Doctor if you must use a title. I’m concerned for the safety of this craft, and I would rather have it transported by hand or by handcart rather than dangled out over the bay.”

Erasmus saw his fiancée place her fists on her hips for emphasis, and knew that the stevedore was in for a longer explanation if he didn’t acquiesce.

“But ma’am, I mean Doctor, we don’t have enough available men to carry each part separately, so I would suggest….”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand when she saw Erasmus. “Darling, this may take longer than expected, so…” She pulled a piece of paper out of her work vest and handed it to him. “Here is a list of things you can take care of while in town.”

The Chief Inspector glanced at the list. “This will take some time my dear, and I am not familiar with San Francisco. Would it not be better if I help you here and then we can work together to get through this list?”

The sailor sighed heavily at being ignored.

Sparky looked quickly to the stevedore. “Hold your horses, sir.” She returned her attention to back to Erasmus. “We will make better time if we work separately. Do all of these things make sense?”

Mumbling his way through the list, Erasmus went through the items in a syncopated cadence. “Settle bill for ocean voyage - lease large cart – send letters to London – arrange hotel stay…”, the last item tripped up his reading. “I assumed with your mother in town we would be staying there.”

Sparky smiled. “My mother is not as modern or as untamed as you may have thought. I do not expect her to agree to your sleeping in the same house as her only, and unmarried, daughter. To be prudent, you should reserve two hotel rooms.”

The stevedore cleared his throat and tapped his foot twice with impatience. Sparky shot him a “hush up” glance and returned her attention to her betrothed.

Erasmus shook his head in agreement. “The rest of this list appears undemanding. I will take care of these with measured haste. Best of luck here. I’ll put on some respectable trousers and get into town. I will return with these food items you requested here at the bottom of the list. Three types of cheese and sourdough bread? I see you yearn for your regional noshes. This will be an interesting meal.” He kissed her lightly on the cheek before striding towards his stateroom.

Sparky turned to the stevedore and wagged her finger. “Do NOT, and I repeat, do NOT…make me cross with you!”

Flourish Break


The ship was swaying as Erasmus disembarked, so he held tight to the rope handrails as he disembarked. At the end of the gangplank, he placed a slightly unsteady foot on the dock and let go of the lines. He wavered a bit trying to accustom himself to the transition from an ocean-going vessel too small to prevent the Pacific from dictating its constant swaying to an all-too steady dock. With his feet planted, he stood for a minute and felt his brain and inner ear make the uncomfortable changeover to an unrolling horizon. While he stood there, the man in the cap approached.

Erasmus performed a whirlwind assessment.
“Dressed well but casually. Wool jacket with natty shades of brown. Leather elbow patches showing slight wear, so he leans on his arms as he works. Could be caused by either close up toil or writing. May do bench-level repair, but his hands and fingernails are quite clean. The cap gives him the look of non-confrontational friendliness. His style is not of a professional businessman, so he is most likely approaching me for something other than business. He is too forward for a chauffer or vendor. That leaves the possibility of a fellow law officer, dock security, reporter, confidence artist, or a relative of Sparky’s that I haven’t heard of.”

Sam stopped too far away for a handshake and pulled off his cap in a simple show of respect. His thinning light brown hair hinted of a future bald spot that the cap normally concealed. “Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake? I’m Sam Henderson. Glad to make your acquaintance.”

Erasmus replied, “Good morning, Mr. Henderson. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I had hoped to meet both you and Dr. McTrowell. We local newspapermen have been following your exploits since your first meeting, which was in London if I remember correctly. The passing of Mr. Abusir has changed Miss Llewellyn’s fortune considerably. I am sure there is more to the story. Can I give you two a ride into town?”

“Yes, it was in London where it all began. Unfortunately, Dr. McTrowell is detained on-ship, but I will take that offered ride if I may. I only have Hawaiian silver dollars and Mexican pesos. I’ll need to get to a bank to change them.”

Erasmus wanted to test the honesty of this stranger by telling him about the money he held, but it didn’t appear to affect the newspaperman one way or another.

Without hesitation Sam stated, “The offer is still good, of course. My carriage is right over there…just beyond the warehouse. If your equilibrium has recovered, please, follow me.”

The two men exchanged pleasantries during the short walk, and covered the topics of ocean travel and west coast morning fog. Sam gestured towards a black, well-maintained tilbury carriage standing in the lot, with a pleasant-mannered chestnut mare hitched to it. As they approached, the horse looked up from sniffing the ground, and looked directly at Sam. Sam pulled a chunk of carrot out of his pocket and offered it, open-handed, to the horse. “There you go, little lady,” he said quietly. The horse’s thick lips nabbed the vegetable morsel and she began munching on it in a flash.

Erasmus noticed the reins were left in the middle of the carriage, so he hesitated to see which side of the tilbury Sam headed toward so he could go the opposite way. Sam took the right side seat and Erasmus slipped into the left. Using the reins deftly to lightly shift the mare’s head from side to side, he urged her to back up the cart.

“She’s new to backing up after her early farming years. I still have to baby her along.”

With the carriage backed out of its space, Sam flicked the reins and vocalized a lateral
click-click to urge the horse into a forward trot toward the road leading up and towards the buildings packed on the hillside.

Sam began a new conversation. “It’s hard to tell how big San Francisco has become from down here near the docks. In 1848, we had about one thousand inhabitants. After just three years, the population is now estimated to be over twenty thousand. That’s just too quick a growth spurt for a town. I can see why Dr. McTrowell was itchin’ to leave.”

“I am not sure that was her primary motivation, although I do see your point.”

“The town’s growing pains are showing. That’s where I come in. I report on our progress, both the good and the bad. I work for the
San Francisco Examiner. You may have thought I’d hoped to get an interview with the doctor and you, which I’d be eager to have if you wouldn’t mind, but I’ve got…well, a bigger fish to fry.”

Erasmus requested, “Do tell.”

Sam wound the mare through the busy streets bustling with activity.

“The institutions for public good have had to expand to meet San Francisco’s development. We now have an organized fire department to deal with the numerous fires. The churches have orderly parishes around town.” Sam squinted and pursed his lips in anger. “But our great failing is our police. There are about thirty on the force. They are a collection of robbers and criminals, using their place to intimidate and menace the population. They’d just as soon help in a crime as stop it.”

“That is terrible, but how can I help? I am both an outsider and I have no jurisdiction here.”

“You are correct. But together we can do something. Here is my offer, plain and simple. If you could solve a major crime before they do, I will write an article about it, showing the population what a real officer can do. The paper’s readership will push for reforms. The paper will run an opinion column on how police protection should be handled. That will cause the town council to take action. If you’re just passing through, which I assume you are since you live in London, then you can do your good deed and leave town, dodging any long-term political complications.”

Drake rubbed his chin. “For a plain and simple offer, that is a tall order.” He shook his head as he contemplated the challenge. “I have no constables to assist me.”

Sam negotiated the carriage around a left-hand turn onto a busy street. He steered between various carts stacked with rugs, bundles of bamboo, bolts of cloth, and what were apparently goods wrapped in cloth marked with Asian characters painted in large black strokes.

In hushed tones, Sam mentioned, “Just as an aside, this area is Little China, as we call it. Don’t investigate crimes in this part of town. There’s plenty of big trouble here, but don’t put your British nose into their business. It’ll end up out of joint.” The road cleared a bit, so Sam gave the reins a slight snap and the horse picked up the pace.

Sam continued. “I want to make this worth your while. My newspaper will pay you one hundred dollars if you can accomplish this undertaking. It’s a benefit to you, to the town, and to the newspaper. What do you say?”

“One hundred dollars? That is a banker’s monthly salary, is it not? The
San Francisco Examiner must want this story very much.”

Flourish Break


Sam dropped Erasmus off at Portsmouth Square. He handed Erasmus his card with his address written on the back, and pointed out the various places Erasmus needed to visit to complete his errands: the bank, the general store, and a respectable hotel. He also gestured in a northeasterly direction. “The police station is a block over and two blocks up.” Erasmus shook his hand and Sam urged the mare on down the street.

Erasmus looked at the bank and general store, and finally in the direction of the police station. He pondered if he should complete his chores first, or take a crack at the local authorities.
“It will be easier to have a chat if I am not burdened with bags of goods. Hmmm. Let me see what the local peelers have to say.”

He strolled into the station and looked around. It appeared to be a gathering from a pub on the rough side of town. The large front room was ill kept and dark. The officers were not dressed in uniforms, but instead were clothed in shoddy street clothes. The majority of them had drawn their chairs up into a circle around a circular table where they were playing cards. The others around the room were in small clutches of conversation. All conversations stopped at once when the occupants noticed Erasmus.

Erasmus scrutinized the twisted columns of smoke lazily making their way from the glowing tips of cigars up to the haze that blanketed the ceiling. Erasmus tried to avoid the acrid air with the slight kicker of unmanaged body odor by breathing as shallowly as possible. He noticed a few eyes glanced up from their cards for a split second to look him over, but they all returned to their cards without a hint of assistance to him.

Using his authoritative voice, the Chief Inspector announced, “I need to see your Chief of Police. Where can I find him?”

A bearded man with a grisly mustache locked eyes with Erasmus long enough to judge that Erasmus was serious in his request. He pointed this thumb over his shoulder towards the back wall containing a single closed door. While still watching Erasmus, he slid the moist end of his cigar between his lips and drew on it, causing the ashen end to glow red-hot in the shadowy room.

Erasmus walked around the group and knocked on the door. A few seconds passed without a response. A voice behind Erasmus, most likely the man who directed him to the door, stated, “Don’t waste your time. Just walk in.” A couple of other men chuckled. Erasmus privately screwed up his face at the unmannerly company, but decided to take the advice.

He opened the door and walked in. Inside a man hunched over the desk was scribbling on paper. When Erasmus closed the door, he looked up in indignation.

Erasmus started the conversation. “Chief of Police Brandt Sequine, I presume.”

“I can tell by your accent you’re new in town. How did you know my name? Who are you?”

“Your title is on the door, and I just watched you sign your name to that paper. I am Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake of Scotland Yard.” Erasmus moved his bowler to his left hand and prepared to shake Mr. Sequine’s hand, but the man never left his seat nor showed any offer of courtesy.

“I am extremely busy.” The officer stopped there, neither volunteering help nor asking why Erasmus was visiting.

“May I take a seat?” Erasmus suggested, gesturing toward the unoccupied seat in the room.

“I’d prefer you didn’t. Get on with it.”

“Well, I guess I will get right to the point.” Erasmus cleared his throat. “I am a bit of a world traveler, and I am known for my adventurous exploits. I am also known for being able to bring criminals to justice. Given these particulars, I would like to offer my services over the next few days.”

The Police Chief stared at him for a few seconds, wrinkled up his face, and proclaimed, “I am not an idiot. I don’t need you or anyone else interfering in police matters. ‘Offer your services?’ I assume you are working with one of the citizen vigilante crowds that’s undermining the authority of the police force.”

“On the contrary. I make my name bringing in criminals. I am…paid for my stories. I traditionally pay the local police force fifty dollars for the privilege of working with them. I benefit from the publicity, you benefit from the support, and the town benefits by ridding the streets of a criminal or two.”

The Police Chief stared at his visitor again. “You walk into my office and try to bribe me? My predecessor, Chief Malachi Fallon, nearly got himself hanged for his good work back in April, and I’m not about to follow in his footsteps by compromising the good work of this office with either your flights of perilous fancy or your bumbling maverick plot to support anarchistic dissentients. Please leave. Now.”

It was Erasmus’ turn to stare for a few seconds. He internalized,
“I tried to be reasonable. I do see his point, but why does he have to be such an ignoramus about it?”

Erasmus made a farewell gesture with his hat, open the door, left the office, passed though the front room, and returned back out into the street.
“This is not over,” he thought.

His first errand was to visit the bank. He crossed the crowded streets and passed though their well-maintained entrance. Inside he exchanged a letter of intention from Queen Victoria along with his remaining foreign money for a good sum of United States currency; enough, he hoped, to allow Sparky and himself to get back to London.

He folded up the majority of the money and secured it in a hidden inside pocket that he had added to his trousers while on board the
Hornet. The remainder he placed in his wallet and headed back outside to acquire two hotel rooms.

As soon as he stepped back onto the sidewalk, a freckled youngster about the age of ten approached him. Erasmus looked at his well-worn and dusty clothes, ill-fitting shoes and sun-bleached leather hat, and sized him up as probably the son of a miner.

The lad was very forthright. “Good morning, sir. You look like you could use a wagon for hauling or getting around town. For a dollar, I’ll take you anywhere you need to go today.” He then displayed a smile that cheered Erasmus right up.

“Well, young man, I do need to run some errands, but I had planned to lease my own wagon.”

“I noticed your fine duds, and I’m sure you don’t want to mess them up tending to a horse-for-hire. You will also need someone to watch your wagon while you make your rounds. If you hire me for the day, all those worries disappear.” The beaming smile reappeared. After a second, he continued with his pitch. “Due to the fires this summer, many of the streets have changed. I know them better than anyone.” The simile returned yet again.

“What is your horse’s name?”

The lad became happily animated. “George, sir. He’s as strong as they come. He can handle every one of these San Francisco hills without straining.” Then that smile reappeared and his gaze stayed locked on Erasmus.

Erasmus felt himself weaken. This would make all of his errands easier, and he’d have a wagon to haul all of the things from the
Hornet without the bother of bartering for a convenience.

“Do you know the local stores and hotels?”

“You bet I do. I can make recommendations, too. That’s a’cause of all my hauling visitors and asking about their experiences. Come with me!” The boy turned and made a sweeping motion over his shoulder to urge Erasmus to follow. The youngster took three steps and then looked back to see if Erasmus were doing so. The Chief Inspector had complied and was mid-step when the lad turned and stopped.

“Oh, I have a favor to ask,” the boy said. “At sunset, I’m taking the wagon back up to get my Paw, who’s working our sluice.” He pointed up into the mountains. “I have this pocketful of dollars, and I was hoping you could change it for a ten-dollar bill. No use hauling the extra weight.”

The boy eagerly reached into a deep pocket and, after a bit of jingling, held up ten gold coins in his out-stretched hand.

Erasmus looked at the shining pile of change and pulled out his wallet. He removed a ten-dollar bill and returned his wallet into his pocket. Holding the bill in his right hand and using his left, he plucked the ten coins from the boy’s hand. The boy’s face showed shock at the fact that this stranger now held all of the money. “Hey, mister…”

Erasmus smiled broadly. “Now we can negotiate.”

Flourish Break


Sparky sat on the bunk in her stateroom, staring at her packed parcels. Everything was in its proper place. It was time for her to depart the ship. She thought back to the adventures that had brought her here, and particularly, the last week and a half of traveling with Erasmus over the Pacific from the Hawaiian Islands. She was back in her hometown.

A big tear rolled down her face.
“Home is where you run to. Home is where you run from.”

She thought about how Erasmus had become part of her new life. He was her anchor, of sorts, in a sea of chaos. And now she was bringing him to the place she steadfastly left behind and vowed to make her life elsewhere.

She hopped off the bed and pulled herself up tall, resolutely sniffed, wiped her nose dry with a corner of her handkerchief, and said out loud to herself, “Meet mother, get some Dungeness crab in an Italian restaurant, say our
hellos and goodbyes, and make good our escape.”

Flourish Break


“Are you thieving me, mister?” asked the boy.

“Hardly,” replied Erasmus. “I just wanted to get your full attention. Do you really have a wagon? And a horse?”

“Yes! Of course! That’s how I make my money!” The boy was close to tears.

“Then you will take me to them as I critique your confidence scheme.”

“The wagon is this way.” The boy pointed down the street and started walking. “You’re going to do
what to my what?”

“I am going to let you know how to improve your swindle. I once was a boy in the street, and learned a few things along the way.”

The lad pointed out his sturdy flatbed wagon, hitched to a well-muscled reddish-brown bay horse that looked like it had seen hard work and was well cared for. With a quick one-two step on the axle nub and the footboard, the lad was up in the seat. He patted the seat next to him and motion Erasmus to join him. Erasmus obliged.

The lad took on a serious tone, “Where to first?”

“I need a hotel that can safely provide accommodations for a woman alone, but I can also get a room there. But not too expensive. How about the one right back there?”

“That’s a place where you prove how rich you are. What you want is up on Montgomery Street. Refined but fair prices. Clean rooms and good service. Safe part of town. Will I get my money back?”

“Yes.” Erasmus smiled at the seriousness of the young man.

“So why do you think I was swindling you?”

“You watched me enter the bank, exchange money, and how I pocketed it. I saw you through the glass window. You should practice looking like you are doing something else, like dusting off your trousers, rather than just looking in the window.”

The boy nodded, but was still not convinced of his client’s answer.

Erasmus continued. “Excellent job getting my attention and getting me to hire you. But you were too quick to ask for the coin exchange. That made me look at the coins carefully. Since you live in a place where gold is panned, you have to be much more subtle. I could clearly see that you shaved the edges of these gold one-dollar coins down to the ticking pattern. You did a good job of being consistent, but I’m sure that they will be hard to pass to anyone living in San Francisco.”

The lad’s voice was still serious. “It’s actually easier than you might think, mister. But it’s folks coming into town from the ships that have the money. I prefer to trade up to a ten-dollar bill. Trading one coin for change is a lot of work. I have to find new person each time, so for ten coins, I have to find ten targets.”

The cart turned and headed up a hill. As the lad had said, George wasn’t straining at all.

Erasmus asked, “What to you do with the gold? Sell the dust?”

“No. That wouldn’t be worth the effort. It’s for my Paw’s sluice. It’s kinda complicated.” The lad’s tone indicated that he was stopping the conversation.

He drew the reins up and halted the cart. The young driver pointed his nose at a quaint two-story hotel. Erasmus looked at the building and gave it a nod.
“Nice place. The boy was right.” He turned and held out his hand, and the lad responded by holding his out underneath it. Erasmus plopped the ten coins into the open hand. The lad nodded with understanding.

Hopping off the wagon, Erasmus turned and stated, “This should not take long.” He started to turn, but then turned back. “What’s your name?”

“Jenkins, sir. Jim Jenkins, Junior. But everybody calls me Jingles. I think it’s because of all the coins in my pockets.” He made a goofy face that indicated that the nickname was from his family and that he had accepted it with reservations.

“Well, Master Jenkins, when I get back, we will need to find a good selection of cheeses as well as something called sourdough bread.”

Flourish Break


The hotel room door swung open and the two elbowed their way in. Erasmus looked around and gave a satisfied nod. The furniture was simple but functional. The wallpaper was light blue with thin white lines that divided it into diamond shapes. The curtains were a cotton lace drawn back at the sides to let in the sun.

With a thud, both Erasmus and Jim set down their crates of provisions on the hotel room floor. Inside was a selection of cured meats, savory cheeses, crackers and flatbreads, and a couple of loaves of sourdough bread.

Jim thought for a second and said, “I think that was everything on your list. Do we go and pick up your…is she your wife?”

“No, she is my fiancée. Which is a fancy way of saying that I plan to make her my wife. We have not set a date yet…”

Jim had that far-off “lost in the subtleties of adult life” look on his face. Erasmus saw this and decided to change the subject.

“I have another errand I want to get in before we pick her up. But I will need your help. The police force here is known for…not doing their job. So there must be someone or some group that you think is…breaking the law. Do you know where I would find someone like that?”

“Are you planning to join them? I’m not sure I want to help you with this.”

“Actually just the opposite. I was hoping to catch a criminal and get a story about it in one of the newspapers. Should be simple, right?”

“Ah,
no.” Jim leaned forward with a big-eyed expression on his face indicating that it was a stupid question. Suddenly he became excited and asked, “Are you a gunman? Or a detective? Wait a…Why didn’t you capture me?”

“Hah! No, I’m not a gunman. Actually my gun skills are seriously wanting. I’m not a great detective, although I work at it. And I did not capture you because you are trying to do a good deed, I think, but going about it in a questionable way. I am looking for really bad men that all of San Francisco will be happy if they are locked up. Where do you think I should start?”

Erasmus was hiding the fact that he knew that any young man working the streets knows which corners to avoid and which people you must steer clear of if you want to stay whole.

Jim initially screwed up his face and was hesitant to answer. Then he slowly sighed, resigned to answering.

“Mister, San Francisco has gambling and all sorts of wicked businesses. But those are all legitimate, even if my Paw says they’re ‘enterprises built on a foundation of vice.’ However, I do know a place where all the local businessmen visit. I think it’s to keep their shops from being robbed or burned down or…you know…something worse. It’s guarded day and night by these really big men. Is that what you’re looking for?”

“That would be perfect. Could you give me a ride there?”

Jim thought for a moment. “Can I be of service? I’d like to be in the newspaper story, too.”

“Ahh, I will see what I can do. Let us start our investigation!”

“But mister, what’s your name? What should I call you?”

Erasmus thought. “Call me Drake. Just Drake. That’s what I was called when I was your age.”

Flourish Break


George clopped along Broadway in the noon-day sun. Without stopping, Jim stuck his chin out in the direction of a blue-grey three-story clapboard-sided building sandwiched in between two other non-descript buildings. There were two men standing outside of its front door having a quiet talk.

“Master Jenkins was right; they are big,” Erasmus thought.

Erasmus motioned to a place to hitch George, and Jim pulled the wagon over to it. Erasmus leaned over to Jim and asked, “Do you have any weapons on you?”

“No! Do I need one?”

“I am sure we will be searched if we go over there. I just want to make sure we are not seen as a threat.”

“You plan to go over there?! Drake, you know where this place is now. You can just contact the Police Chief and have whoever’s in there locked up. Since they closed the brig on the Euphemia, the jail’s right there with the police office.”

“We need to investigate. I need proof of a crime.”

Erasmus slid off the seat and stood in the street. He motioned for Jim to join him. Jim rolled his eyes and climbed down, tied off George, and came around to stand by Erasmus.

“Follow me and stay close.”

The pair walked towards the building and two large men turned to face them. Before they reached the other side of the street, one of the men held up his hand in a “halt” gesture, and loudly demanded, “What do you two want?”

Erasmus answered back as he and his companion continued walking, “My son and I are starting a new business. We were told to come by. Is there someone we should talk to?”

The man that hadn’t talked to Erasmus opened the door while the other man circled around behind Erasmus. Jim started shaking, but he kept walking with Erasmus.

Erasmus said, “Everything is fine, son. We are just doing business here.”

They entered the building and the man behind them followed. Once inside, Eramsus and Jim turned to face the guard.

“Hold open your coat. We don’t want to have any trouble, now do we?” Jim and Erasmus complied.

“Follow me,” the man stated, and walked up the stairs. Erasmus followed, keeping an eye on their caretaker. Jim brought up the rear, and as he did so, he looked about trying his best to discover any criminal activity.

The staircase twisted up through the center of the building, with halls leading off of it at the second floor. As the two men in front of him clomped up the second flight of steps, Jim quickly tiptoed into the hallway off to the side of the staircase. About halfway down, he saw a door with a small sliding panel in it. He tried the doorknob. It rattled, but was locked shut.

In response to the rattling, someone plaintively said, “Help me!” from the other side of the door. Jim got up on his toes to see and slid the panel back. Within the room, he could spy an older man with white hair who looked hungry and anxious. When he saw Jim’s eyes peeking through the panel, he held up his hands to his chest to reveal that he had been manacled. “Save me, boy! Please.”

Jim slammed the panel shut and sprinted back down the hallway and up the stairs to rejoin Erasmus. Trying to comprehend what he had just seen, crazy theories raced through his mind. Just as he pulled up behind, the large man opened a door at the top of the stairs and led Erasmus and Jim into a well-appointed office on the third floor. Jim did his best to hide his panting as he entered the room.

They took the two upholstered chairs facing the desk. A man making notes on a map of San Francisco sat behind the desk. With a final scribble, he looked up to his oversized guard.

“They say they’re starting a business,” was all the guard said. The man behind the desk dismissed the guard with a sweep of his hand. The guard stepped out of the room and the door clicked closed.

“You were foolish to come here,” was the man’s opening statement. “Do you know who I am?” Erasmus didn’t answer, since there was no good answer he could think of. With huge eyes, Jim just stared at the new stranger.

“You brought your boy here? This is a conversation for men. There is nothing he needs to hear. Boy, wait for your father downstairs. And keep your mouth shut and stay out of trouble. My guards are not nursemaids and won’t be as friendly as me. Go now.”

Erasmus looked at him. “It is for the best. I will be down to join you soon.”

Jim got nervous. “I need to tell you about…”

Erasmus took on a serious look. “It can wait. I will see you downstairs.”

Jim stood and hesitated. He turned and went to the door, opened it, and looked back at Erasmus. They both nodded their heads, but for different reasons. Jim shut the door behind himself and eased his way down the stairs.

Erasmus took advantage of the opening in conversation. “My lad will be taking over my business in just a few years. He really should have been here.”

“I think not. If you are new to San Francisco, there are some harsh truths you need to be aware of.”

“My name is Erasmus Drake. I trade in high-grade industrial chemicals for various types of factories. I work more on the shipping and receiving side. I am afraid I am not much of a chemist.” Erasmus extended his hand for shaking, and the man behind the desk stood and shook it.

“I am Lewis Adams. I am here because the police force in this town is appalling.”

Flourish Break


Jim thought back as he quietly descended the stairs. “We are looking for really bad men that all of San Francisco will be happy if they are locked up.” He got to the second floor. Looking around, he could hear voices downstairs, but no one could see him. “They are holding a prisoner against his will!”

Jim tiptoed down the hallway to the door with the panel. He slowly slid the panel back once again. The man inside jumped up.

“You have returned! Oh, thank you. Please help me. I’ve been in here for weeks! Look at me. My clothes!”

Jim wanted to help.
“I can get Drake into the newspaper article! I can hear the headlines now. Drake and Master Jenkins Free Prisoner.”

“How can I help?”

The shaky whispered voice answered back, “Look at the wall behind you. They keep the keys there.”

Jim turned around and saw a small side table with a box on it. Opening it, he saw that it was empty. He turned back to the panel.

“There’s nothing in the box.”

“Look around. Look around!” the captive whispered back.

Jim turned back and noticed a small drawer in the side table. Opening it, he saw a ring of three keys. He snatched them up and looked around to see if anyone had seen him. Satisfied that he was unnoticed, he went back to the panel.

“I found them!”

“Quickly, lad! Unlock the door!”

Jim fumbled with the keys as he tried them in the door lock. It took a few tries with the different keys and what direction to turn, but eventually the bolt gave way. Jim turned the knob and the door swung in.

The white haired man was overcome with gratefulness. “Oh, child, come in. The keys, hand them here. They are for these shackles.”

Flourish Break


Erasmus pursed his lips as he digested the conversation. “So you are providing protection to the area…the one here marked on the map…where the police force is ineffective. And local businesses give you the money to operate your own force. This all sounds noble, but what keeps your group in check?”

“We are not lawless thugs, Mr. Drake. We are trying to change San Francisco through the proper means, via its legislature. We were a major force in stopping ‘The Hounds,’ a large group of criminals that would march openly in the streets and terrorize our neighborhoods. I remember the exact date we brought them down: July fifteenth, 1849. After that, Malachi Fallon became Police Chief. We drove that crook away earlier this year though rallying voters and letting the ballot box foster justice. We call ourselves the
Committee of Vigilance, and we have changed San Francisco for the better.”

“You say the police are not doing their duties. Do you have proof of that?”

“The best proof! We caught one of the maniacs who was setting fires throughout town. Quite insane. We are holding him in one of…”

A young man’s scream rang out from the floor below. Erasmus jumped up from his chair and in a single motion threw open the door and flew down the stairs. He used his arms to ricochet off the wall and continue bounding down the next flight, taking two or three steps at a time. Another ricochet off the second floor wall and down the final set of steps. Erasmus caught sight of a man running out of the front door with Jim tucked under his arm like a sack of potatoes. Although Jim’s screams had stopped, he was alternating between “No!” and “Put me down!” as he kicked and squirmed to free himself.

When Erasmus reached the door, the kidnapper was headed for the one unoccupied wagon, the one belonging to Jim.

“Jim!” Erasmus shouted toward the lad.

Erasmus turned to see the guards hesitate to leave their post. He could see that they were stationed there to keep unwanted people out, not stop villains running out of the building.

Erasmus yelled, “You,” pointing at the bigger of the two, “help me!”

By the time Erasmus looked back around, both the kidnapper and Jim were up on the wagon’s seat. Erasmus noticed Jim was manacled, and the kidnapper had his arm though the boy’s circle of arms and manacles, allowing the madman’s hands to control the reins. Jim was looking back at Erasmus with a desperate look.

“Drake! DRAKE! I tried to do a good deed! Help! Help me!” The boy was close to tears but fighting his capture as best he could by pulling on his arm.

The maniac snapped the reins and using a sing-song voice mocked the boy as he drove the wagon away, “Drake…Drake…I’m a crying little boy…” His voice changed to a harsh one as he barked, “Shut up and hold still, you brat!”

Erasmus’ final sprint allowed him to get just his left hand on the back of the wagon as George broke into a full gallop. Erasmus’ feet went out from under him. He tried to catch himself with his right hand, but it couldn’t reach the ground and his knees took a ferocious thump onto the cobblestones. The Chief Inspector winced. Using the shock of pain to spur himself on, he forced his other hand up onto the back of the wagon.

A shot rang out from behind. The edge of the wagon between Erasmus’ hands splintered from the shot. Erasmus thought, “
He is shooting in my direction. How outstanding. It is so hard to get good help these days.

Tucking his legs up under himself, he was able to put his feet out under the wagon. When they got purchase on the cobblestones, it shoved him up enough to get his belly onto the wagon.

“Jim!” Erasmus yelled. “Hit him in the head with your manacles!”

Jim instantly went from pulling on the kidnapper’s arm to swinging at his head with his irons.

As the wagon careened through the street, Erasmus pushed and clawed his way up, one leg at a time, into the bed of the wagon. Meanwhile, the kidnapper tried his best to steer and swat away the attacking boy.

In frustration, he suddenly reined in George. He turned, stood, picked up the boy, yelled, “Drake, if you want the lad, here he is!” and pitched the youngster into the plate glass window of a tea salon. The lad instincts were good and he had covered his face with his arms. Erasmus watched helplessly as the lad landed on a table within, sending cake slices, petit fours, and hot tea everywhere. He also knocked a glass hurricane oil lamp to the floor, shattering it and igniting the oil and the nearby tablecloths. An ear-splitting screech of multiple ladies shrieks rang out, which was joined by the lad’s scream.

The kidnapper was quickly back in his seat and snapping the reins.

Erasmus hesitated.
“Do I stay and help Jim or…?”

An evil laugh emanated from the kidnapper as he whipped the reins harder.

Erasmus leapt forward and without hesitation, threw a deep two-armed chokehold on the driver. But his position was too high as he hugged the back of the man’s neck to his own midsection. Instantly a boney fist hit Erasmus hard in his right pectoral muscle. Erasmus’ body convulsed from the closeness to the spot Sparky had struck that morning, and in response he tightened the chokehold even more by flexing his arm muscles. His attacker delivered a harder second punch that was square on the spot Sparky had walloped. This time, Erasmus’ vision blurred from the pain and he knew that he would be black and blue for the rest of the week.

“You are lucky I want you alive!” the Chief Inspector thought.

Fighting the best he could, the kidnapper kicked hard against the footboard, forcing both himself and Erasmus back into the bed of the wagon. Erasmus knew he had to keep the stranglehold on for it to work. As the two men struggled in the back of the wagon, George continued forward down a steep cobblestone street. Shouts and screams from the passersby in the street could be heard as they leapt out of the way of the uncontrolled horse and wagon.

Suddenly the wagon took a sharp left turn. Erasmus figured that George had the brains to avoid something. The wagon tipped up on its two right wheels, momentarily groaned, crashed onto its right side, and flung the two scuffling men onto the hard road.

Lying there, Erasmus shook his head to clear the pain from landing in the rock-hard street. The kidnapper lay motionless. Erasmus worked his arm way from the throat of the kidnapper, and stood. The wagon rolling over had caused George to be forced to his side. The horse lay in the street, his feet pointing uphill, and he struggled to hold his head up. He whinnied once and tried to get his feet under him, but initially failed. Four men ran to the rescue of the horse and wagon, tipping the conveyance back onto its wheels and righting the horse.

Erasmus reached over and held the inside of his wrist to the kidnapper’s mouth.
“Still breathing. That is good…I guess.”

Erasmus stood and stretched his back and arms out against his newfound aches. He bent over and snatched his displaced bowler off the cobblestones and returned it to his head. He grabbed the unconscious man around the hips and hoisted him to his shoulder. Erasmus felt a new pain in the hip on which he apparently had landed. He turned to limp back up the hill towards Jim. A nearby young man asked, “Hey mister, can I help you?”

“No…no…I need to do this myself.” Erasmus tried his best to smile at the lad for the offered support and his kindness in asking. But all he could think was,
“Another week of healing.”

With a man slung over his shoulder, Erasmus walked his way back to the tea salon. He stood outside and looked at the aftermath within. There were young couples inside busily cleaning up the mess. It was clear to Erasmus that tea had been used to douse the fires. The helpful patrons were at the stage of wadding up the burnt and soaked tablecloths that had gone from a bleached white elegance to a soggy tanned shambles.

Jim was lying of the floor but had propped himself up by one of his elbows while still constrained by the manacles. He had a few cuts on his shirt sleeves that were slightly blood stained from the minor lacerations below. His eyes were closed as he worked his way back to sharpness. There was broken glass everywhere, and yet no one looked injured.

One of the younger ladies looked at Erasmus crossly. “Why did you leave? This boy could have been gravely harmed!”

Erasmus smiled. “Children are much tougher than you could imagine.” He nodded and touched the brim of his bowler. She seemed unconvinced. Erasmus’ voice brought Jim around and the lad opened his eyes wide to see the silhouette of the Chief Inspector in the window.

“Drake! Did you catch him? The bad man?”

“I have him right here on my shoulder, Jim. He was knocked senseless. Are you injured?”

“Nothing that won’t heal. We did it! Will we get in the papers?”

A familiar voice from behind interjected, “Yes you will. Hello, Jim. I’m Sam. I’ll be writing up your story.”

Another voice from behind chipped in. “That’s fine with me.” Erasmus turned to see Mr. Adams standing near Sam. He continued, “Sam is one of us. We all know my boys originally caught this scoundrel, but this story is exactly what is needed. Include the boy. Excellent touch. Oh, Jim…I have the keys to those irons.” Lewis opened the shop door and stepped inside. Jim offered up his wrists and Lewis quickly removed the manacles.

Jim jumped up and shook the glass off his clothes. His eyes grew wide in excitement as he said to Sam, “My name is Jim Jenkins, Junior. I’m ten years old!” He added his winning smile. Then it was back off as he turned to Erasmus.

“My horse! Where’s George?”

Erasmus pointed and started to say something, but Jim was off like a shot.

Erasmus turned to the newspaperman. “Well, Sam, Let us invent a great story.”




How I Met Sparky’s Mother

Entry for May 9, 2015 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Elizabeth Llewellyn looked back and forth at the faces of the two callers standing on her front porch with the morning sun at their backs.

In her more than thirty years as Elizabeth’s daughter, Sparky had never before been confronted by the expression on her mother’s face. Clearly it wasn’t joy. It was somewhat akin to exasperation of the “you’ve been down at O’Reilly’s improving the efficiency of his steam-powered sausage stuffers and in your best clothes...again,” variety. But it seemed sadder and angrier, and a little bit scared.

“Mother?”

“Hello, Czarina.”

Sparky was stymied by the cool maternal welcome. She tried again, “This is Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake.”

“Yes, I know.”

If anyone else had treated her this way, McTrowell would have offered a blistering riposte. But it was her mother. “We’re engaged.”

“Yes, I know.”

Sparky’s filial reticence dissolved. “Mother, I don’t know what this is about, but could we not have this conversation on the street?”

Elizabeth Llewewllyn gave way to allow the adventurers to enter. The party of three had barely settled into the floral print armchairs in the parlor than she continued her interrogation. “So, what, are you going to marry him?”

“I wouldn’t have accepted his proposal if I didn’t intend to marry him.”

Although Drake was usually a man of action, he had observed enough mother-daughter interactions to know when discretion was the better part of valor. He resigned himself to being discussed in the third person like a ham.

“And now you’re just going to settle down in a little cottage, have his babies, and be content as a policeman’s wife?”

Drake and McTrowell exchanged a quick “Oops, children. We forgot to discuss that,” look before Sparky continued, “He doesn’t live in a cottage. He has a flat over an old pub.”

Drake winced. Concluding that he couldn’t make the situation any worse, he interjected, “He’s not a policeman. He’s a chief inspector of Scotland Yard personally selected and commissioned by Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria.”

“The empire can go to hell in a handcart for all I care! And apparently he thinks so much of himself that he talks about himself in the third person as if he were the queen herself,” Elizabeth retorted icily.

So much for his inability to worsen the situation. Drake retreated back to silence.

“Mother, he’s famous! That’s why you know who he is. He’s in the newspapers, even here in San Francisco.”

“I don’t care if he’s famous. My only concern is that my amazing daughter doesn’t waste her life.”

Sparky’s famous temper gave way, “At least my fiancé’s not a drunken gambler or a maniacal murderer!”

“Your father had his faults, but he wasn’t deranged and the only person he ever killed was himself with his drinking.”

“I’m not talking about him. I mean Abu...” She froze. Drake’s heart dropped into his stomach. In her anger, his fiancée had broken their implicit promise to never again speak the truth about what had happened in the days leading up to the eventful confrontation in the Egyptian Court. She broke down and started crying, “Jean-Michel, I’m so sorry!”

Drake jumped up and took her in his arms. “There was nothing more you could have done.”

“He should be in Toulouse teaching his fourth child to say ‘papa,’” she sobbed.

“It wasn’t your fault. It was Abusir’s.”

Elizabeth was baffled. “What are you talking about?”

Drake proffered his handkerchief to his beloved and reasserted his natural authority. “Your late intended committed a string of murders in his quest to steal a priceless Egyptian artifact from the Great Exhibition. His long list of victims included several of your customers and very nearly included your own exceptional daughter. On that day I swore to myself to make her my lifelong shield-mate so we would always face these dangers together. I will do so with or without your blessing.”

Sparky stood and wiped her nose. “Our wedding will be in London. I suggest you wear something new and fashionable because the sovereign of the empire about which you care so little will probably be in attendance. I know you can afford it because the love of my life made sure of it. You have him to thank for all of this,” she waved her arm to indicate the entirety of the beautiful house that her mother had inherited from Abusir. She turned to Erasmus, “I think I would like a hot meal and a comfortable bed.” He took her arm in his and led her back out onto the street. The door quietly closed behind them.

Flourish Break


Erasmus tapped lightly on the door of Sparky’s hotel room, “Are you awake, my love?”

Sparky fairly snatched the door out of his hand as she answered. “Awake and ready to go!” she chirped. She was dressed for work: comfortable cotton shirt, canvas vest, brown knickers with a plethora of pockets, sturdy ankle-high work boots, leather gloves, and a fully loaded gear belt.

Erasmus was pleased to see that she’d shaken off the malaise from the previous day’s unpleasant visit with her mother. Her attention was happily refocused on her vocation and her spirits were lifted accordingly. “What are we about today?”

“If we’re going to rejoin Sergeant Fox and Dr. Young in Washington, DC, I need to get the Peregrine in shape. Since I was unable to convince the master stevedore to do things the correct way, which is to say, my way, I’ve made other arrangements. I have hired a more capable team to haul the components of the
Peregrine out of the Hornet, but they require my supervision.”

“Are you going to crate it for shipping?”

“No dear. There are no railroads this far west. We have to get to Winnebago, Illinois before there’s a route to Washington via rail. It would cost more than the Peregrine is worth to ship it via wagon train. I need to do some calculations. Since there will just be the two of us aboard, I hope we can carry enough fuel in the Peregrine to get us over the Sierra Nevadas and all the way to Salt Lake City. I still have to figure out how we can play Scotch-hopper from there to Winnebago. But first I have to fully refurbish the air yacht after its journey from Hawaii.”

The Chief Inspector stood in stunned silence for a moment as he absorbed the enormity of the journey ahead of them sunk in. “How far is it to Winnebago?”

“I’m not precisely certain, but it’s at least 1,500 miles.”

“That is equivalent to flying across the entirety of Europe.”

“Indeed. We’ll have a long time to discuss wedding plans,” she winked. “Would you care to come to the docks with me so we can get ready for that journey?”

Flourish Break


Sparky wiped her grimy face on her already-grimier sleeve and huffed out a breath of exhaustion. “That should about do it.” She slapped the hull section of the Peregrine closest to her that was strapped onto an enormous wagon led by four gigantic draft horses.

Drake shouted up at the driver, “Do you have the address?”

“Yessir.”

“Good man.” The Chief Inspector reached up to shake the man’s hand, but gave up at the impossibility of the distance. He settled for patting the flank of the nearest horse. The dock groaned and swayed under the combined weight of the draft horses, wagon, and disassembled air yacht. Drake watched the departing wagon for a few moments until it reached the street. He just wanted to reassure himself that the driver actually knew where he was going, at least at the first turn. He doffed his bowler and drew his no-longer-pristine handkerchief across his sweaty brow, and thought about how it had been so nice and clean when he’d put it in his pocket that morning. He turned back to his fiancée as he restored his hat and handkerchief. “Darling, I think we have earned ourselves a hearty meal. Shall we return to the inn to freshen up?”

Her back was turned and she wasn’t paying any heed to what he was saying. Her attention was riveted on the
Hornet, from which they had just offloaded the Peregrine. He couldn’t imagine what she found so fascinating after more than a week aboard the vessel. He walked up behind her and looked over her shoulder. From this vantage point, he could see that she wasn’t observing the ship, but rather a small scene playing out in front of it on the dock. “What is…,” she reached back over her shoulder and put her fingertips on his mouth to stop him from talking. She wasn’t just watching; she was listening. At that distance, they could just barely make out the conversation, probably because it was echoing off the garishly decorated closed wagon behind the party of interest. The wagon bore images of robustly healthy and happy individuals, an officious portrait of the gentleman standing in front of it, and a swirling ribbon emblazoned with the words “Dr. Abbott McGlennon’s Patent Medicine.” The rest of the party appeared to be comprised of stevedores.

“My good fellows,” McGlennon boomed in a practiced stage voice, “do you want to leave yourselves vulnerable to the ravages of the pox widely known to infect the heathens of the islands? Island paradise, ha! Not just pox, but measles! And what of the constant threat of scurvy? My patent medicine protects from each and every one of these scourges, and all for the unbelievably low price of 15 cents.” He waved a bottle of yellowish liquid bearing a label similar to the wagon’s decoration in their faces. “Tell me, my stout fellows. Aren’t your health and your very lives worth a paltry 15 cents?”

Drake would have sworn that he could actually feel McTrowell’s temper heating up through her shirt and vest. There was no doubt about her opinion of quacks and charlatans like this “Dr.” Abbott McGlennon. He gently placed his hands on her upper arms to calm her, and to pre-emptively restrain her in case she decided to take matters into her own hands…literally. “Sparky, dear, you cannot improve this situation with your fists. And I have no jurisdiction here with which to protect you.”

“You’re right. Revenge is very good eaten cold,” she replied icily. He shuddered. He thought he’d seen her temper at its worst, but the tone of her retort made him realize he had underestimated. He almost felt sorry for this quack.

They stood silently for a few more minutes while Abbott McGlennon relieved three of the stevedores of 45 cents. With that business transacted, the dockworkers began unloading crates out of the wagon and stacking them onto a pallet for loading onto the
Hornet.

Sparky turned crisply and walked off the dock. Drake followed closely behind. Once they had rounded the nearest street corner, she stopped and turned to him. “The
Hornet is returning to Hawaii, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And that charlatan claims his bottles of colored water prevent measles?”

“Yes, again. Where is this going?”

“Kalei kidnapped Edwin Llewellyn and got himself killed by the Senegalese trying to steal the money to save his village.” Although it was a statement rather than a question, Drake nodded in agreement to encourage her to continue. “Kalei was trying to save his village from measles. I’m willing to wager that Abbott McGlennon is not preparing for his
first voyage to Hawaii. That man,” she spat, pointing back toward the dock forcefully, “was complicit in your adoptive father’s kidnap and Kalei’s murder! He duped Kalei into thinking his village could be saved, setting that whole disaster in motion.” She trembled with fury. “And there’s nothing the law can do.”

Although Erasmus felt there were more forces at play in their last adventure than just Kalei and Abbott McGlennon, he had to agree with her on the last point. Even if there were legal recourse, he was still without authority to execute it. Well, he hadn’t always been an officer of Scotland Yard. Perhaps some of his skills from his earlier life could be brought to bear. “Come my dear, let us make a plan to be agents of greater justice than the law,” he winked at her.

Flourish Break


“The first thing you must understand about scoundrels is that they care not a whit for the opinions of decent society,” Erasmus explained as they made their way back to their accommodations. “The only effective way to undermine them is to discredit them with their peers, which is to say, other scoundrels. We must find his weakness and expose it in front of the other charlatans.”

“But they’re all charlatans and they all know it! They’ll just ignore us.”

Erasmus smiled and continued. “Oh no, my dear. Remember that they are not respectable members of society. They are hyenas. If we weaken one, the others will turn on him. Removing one from the pack will reduce competition for other spoils.”

Sparky shook her head. “Just when I think I had a strange childhood, you say something like this and realize it could have been so much stranger. What’s our next step?”

“We need to acquire some of the offending liquid and analyze it.”

“Oh, I know just the person to help with the second part. I can’t believe I didn’t think to visit him and introduce you! I hope he’s still here and alive. We should go right after we eat.”

“I’m intrigued. Who is this person?”

“His name is Yào Hǎo Xiào  (
藥好笑). He’s a Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist. My colleagues who practice Western medicine scoff at such practices, but Eastern medicine is centuries ahead of Western medicine in many ways. I should just warn you. He’s a little…peculiar,” McTrowell offered hesitantly.

“Peculiar?”

“He has an odd sense of humor.”

Drake wondered why she felt the need to warn him of such a thing. He expected this would prove to be yet another interesting encounter initiated by his fiancée.

Flourish Break


“Here it is,” Sparky exclaimed happily as she opened the shop door. A tiny bell jingled as they entered. Drake took note of the dark interior, rows of ceramic jars lining the shelves, and oddly pleasant herbal smell. “Yào Hǎo Xiào, are you here? It’s Sparky McTrowell.”

A slight, hunched Asian man shuffled out from behind a curtain hiding the back of the shop. “Miss Czarina, what a pleasant surprise.”

Sparky bowed deeply, “It is an honor to be in your presence again. May I present my fiancé, Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake?” Drake executed a less practiced bow.

“Drake, you say? Miss Czarina, I canardly believe you would choose such a husband.” He cracked a mischievous smile, but Drake scowled.

Sparky groaned, “Master, I see your English vocabulary is improving, but your sense of humor is just as dreadful as ever.” She turned to Drake. “He was not insulting you. He was making a joke about your last name. Drake, canard, both words for duck.”

Drake just replied sardonically, “Oh,” but Sparky’s earlier warning now made sense.

The proprietor waved his hands at a pair of chairs, “Please, sit.” Unfortunately, one of the chairs was already occupied by a flat, wood crate filled with loamy, black dirt and sprouting shiitakes. “Oh, sorry, I see there is not mushroom to sit.” He cracked a grin.

Sparky just shook her head at Erasmus as if to say, “Don’t say anything. It just encourages him.”

Sparky continued, “Yào Hǎo Xiào, we have come for your help. There is a patent medicine salesman whose actions have…,” she struggled for a moment. She didn’t want to have to explain the whole Hawaiian mess. “…have caused harm to many of people far beyond the usual empty promises of miracle cures.”

The cheerful healer’s face changed instantly. “Peddlers of death!,” he fairly spat. “It is bad enough they promise ‘cures.’ Some of their ‘medicines’ kill! I am old and my arthritis makes me slow, but I could help more people if I could get around.”

“Yào Hǎo Xiào, I share your disgust for these quacks. Will you help us?”

The medicine man stood up as straight as he could and looked Sparky straight in the eyes. “It would be my honor.”

Sensing this was his cue, Drake interjected, “I believe the first step is to acquire some of the offending liquid. I can easily disguise myself as a sailor and buy some. We must hurry. I believe the
Hornet sets sail to return to Hawaii in two days on the morning tide.”

Sparky jumped in, “I have an idea. I’ll fetch some of the engine components from the Peregrine. Meet me back in an hour.”

Erasmus cautioned, “Be careful of your shoulder, dear. It is only just beginning to heal.”

“What ails your shoulder, Miss Czarina?,” Yào Hǎo Xiào asked.

“I injured it pulling up a heavy weight,” she glanced at Erasmus. “But I was glad to do it.”

“Let me get you some Po Sum On oil.”

“What is Po Sum On oil?,” she asked.

“It is good for pains. When a muscle hurts, you Po Sum On.”

Drake and McTrowell groaned in unison and made good their escape before the herbalist could concoct any more noxious puns.

Flourish Break


McTrowell was supervising a carter unloading the Peregrine’s boiler along with a smattering of pipes and gauges when Drake returned disguised as a sailor and brandishing a bottle of McGlennon’s elixir. She gleefully waved a broadsheet at him, “We’re in luck!” She observed him more closely. “Are you injured? You’re limping.”

He promptly straightened up. “My apologies. Scurvy was part of my disguise. I forgot I was still ‘wearing’ it along with the rest of my costume. What is this piece of luck?” He reached out for her to hand the yellowing sheet to him. In a visual cacophony of fonts, it declared, “Patent Medicines for All Ailments! THE LARGEST GATHERING OF CURES ANYWHERE! Central Wharf, Friday, 17 October 1851.” In addition to the usual stock of vibrantly healthy visages of allegedly happy customers, it presented a rogue’s gallery of the nefarious purveyors including Abbott McGlennon.

“The stage is set,” she smiled wickedly. “Shall we get that bottle inside and see what Yào Hǎo Xiào can tell us about its contents.” He opened the door and she preceded him through it.

“Master, we have the elixir,” Sparky called out as they entered. Drake handed over the bottle.

The herbalist turned the bottle back and forth, watching the liquid slosh from side to side. He uncorked it and sniffed. He shook his head to clear the repugnant smell. “Alcohol. They always have much alcohol. It makes you feel calm and want more. It hides the other flavors. Peppermint. It wakes you up. Liu huang gives it the color.”

“What is liu huang?”

“You call it sulfur. It is good for hair and skin, but it will not cure any pox.” Finally, he dipped the tip of his small finger in the bottle and rubbed it across his gums. He ran his tongue over his gums a couple of times and waited for a moment. And then he actually spat on the floor. “Coca! It will make you feel excited and want more. That is all.”

Sparky summarized, “Wide awake drunks with sweet breath and good skin. But just as dead as the rest of us. Is that about it?”

“Yes, I think so, Miss Czarina.”

“I will need flour, sugar, and salt.”

Drake was perplexed by the sudden change of direction the conversation seemed to have taken. “Are you going to bake cookies?”

“No, magic.”

Flourish Break


“Darling, perhaps we should make a more detailed plan before we reach the wharf,” Chief Inspector Drake offered tentatively, recognizing McTrowell’s proclivity for simply charging in when she was all fired up as she was on this occasion.

“What do you have in mind?” she replied, continuing to push the loaded cart along Sacramento Street toward Central Wharf.

“I am always in favor of reconnaissance prior to a risky mission. We should secret the device and play the part of potential customers to gain the advantage of foreknowledge and surprise.”

“And how do you propose to do that?”

“This is one of those problems that, as you like to say, can be solved with money.” He held up his hand to signal that they should halt just as they reached the intersection with Drumm Street. He scanned the passersby, most of them heading to the wharf, until he found the individual he sought. He reached in his pocket to retrieve a Seated Liberty quarter-dollar coin which he held aloft while looking directly at a boy loitering attentively against the nearest building.

“That’s quite a lot of money,” Sparky commented.

“Precisely the point, my dear. I am outbidding the competition before the game even begins.” By then, the street urchin had closed the distance.

“Whatcher want, sir?”

“Would you like to earn this quarter for half an hour’s honest work?” Judging by the boy’s appearance and affect, work of the honest variety wasn’t his usual stock and trade.

“I serpose,” he replied slipperily.

Drake fished a dime out of the same pocket and proffered it. “Keep a watch over this cart until we return in thirty minutes time. At that time, I will trade you the dime for this quarter. Do we have a deal?”

The boy was clearly disappointed that he wouldn’t be getting the quarter right away, but he’d engaged in enough such transactions in his short lifetime to realize that he was bargaining with a master. He grudgingly accepted the smaller denomination coin and pushed the cart out of the way down the side street.

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” Sparky remarked.

“Right you are.” Erasmus smiled as he took her hand to the inside of his elbow so they could stroll into the gathering looking like a proper couple.

Sparky was grateful for this gesture when they reached their destination because in kept them from being separated in the teeming throng. The patent medicine vendors had encircled the open ground before the actual wharf with their wagons as if to entrap potential customers. Sparky had no doubt this was intentional. Drake maneuvered them to the center of the crowd where he turned around a few times, judging distances and lines of approach. He leaned down as if to bestow a peck on his beloved’s cheek and whispered in her ear, “Now I have a plan.” And then he actually kissed her for good measure. “Let us return to our young associate.”

Flourish Break


“Young man, what is your name?”

“What’s it to yer?” The boy had positioned the cart against the wall of a building and was standing between it and the Chief Inspector.

Erasmus extracted the quarter from his pocket once again. “I am prepared to make good on our bargain, trade you the quarter for the dime, and walk away.” He waited a moment for the fellow to think about that. “However, if you would like to get the quarter AND keep the dime, I have a further business proposition for you.”

Predictably, the boy replied positively, “The name’s Jeremiah an I’m listenin’.”

“I am certain you have several like-minded friends who would enjoy the opportunity to earn a couple of pennies for the task of making some quick mischief for some stuffed shirts. Run into a crowd, make enough fuss to clear some room, and disappear into the shadows, quick as you like. Can you do that?”

“Thas’ it?”

“That’s it.” Drake held out the quarter which Jeremiah snatched from his fingers. The boy made as if to leave, but the Chief Inspector snapped his fingers a couple of times and held out his palm. “The dime, if you please. Be back with your friends in ten minutes and it will be yours to keep.”

Flourish Break


“I can’t believe we’re doing this. I hope the whole thing,” Sparky gestured to the jury-rigged device on the cart to signal both the metaphorical and physical interpretation of her statement, “doesn’t blow up in our faces. I hope your 35 cent diversion works.”

“Well, my dear, fortune favors the bold,” Drake winked back at her. He nodded at Jeremiah. The ring leader and his five co-conspirators dashed into the middle of the crowd assembled for the patent medicine show, yelling colorful epithets at each other about fair shares of some ill-gotten booty. Drake and McTrowell followed closely in their wake with the cart. When the diversionary force reached the center of the assembly, they dragged each other to the ground in a mock wrestling match. The packed crowd faded back. And just like that, the boys disappeared, leaving a neat little hole that Drake and McTrowell swiftly occupied.

Sparky leapt up on the cart and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Dr. …er,” she affected a fake British accent that was so inaccurate it made Drake wince, “Constance…um…Pogue of the British Royal College of Physicians. These so called medicines,” she swung her arm in a dramatic sweep, stopping with her finger pointing directly at the wagon of Abbott McGlennon, “are dangerous fakes. They will kill you as quickly as cure you! By appointment to Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria, I have devised this chemical analysis engine to reveal the danger of such concoctions.” She thrust her other arm out to indicate the contraption cobbled together from Peregrine parts, most notably the boiler which comprised the upright body of the device.

Drake couldn’t help but think that, between the dreadful accent and the alleged ‘appointment,’ Sparky would find herself in hot water with his monarch yet again if the Queen caught wind of this stunt.

“You there!” Sparky continued, pointing to an aged woman in the crowd who was holding a bottle of McGlennon’s elixir. “Will you allow me to test your purchase?”

“But I paid good money for this,” the old lady croaked.

“I will fully refund your money if it passes my test.” McTrowell raised her voice so others in the crowd could hear her, “If it fails, you should seek a refund from Mr. McGlennon.” Even at a distance of some twenty yards, she could make out the look of fury on the face of the man she had just accused of quackery.

Reluctantly, the old woman handed the bottle up to McTrowell who dumped the entire, jaundiced contents of the flask into a glass receptacle that suspiciously resembled a Chinese apothecary jar positioned prominently atop the contraption. A small portion of the fluid flowed through the perforated cork in the bottom of the receptacle into the top section of a dramatically curled glass tube where it was prevented from further progress by a stopcock. She shouted down to Drake, “Do we have enough pressure?”

This was his cue to turn a small handle they had mounted on the back of the boiler to manipulate the pressure gauge on the side of the boiler. There was neither water nor coal in the device; their presence would have made the cart too heavy and the whole artifice too dangerous. He rotated the handle until the needle was past the half way mark and mumbled, “Yes, mum.”

She opened the stopcock briefly, allowing some of the elixir to sweep through the loops of the glass tube and dribble into the bottom of a curved metal dish. Sparky reminded herself that she owed Yào Hǎo Xiào a new wok. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please pay close attention to this gauge.” She pointed to another gauge in line with a length of copper tubing inserted into the side of the pan. Drake had employed his remarkable artistic skills to fashion a new face for the Peregrine’s spare pressure gauge. The green end of the scale now read “Safe” while the red end read “Poisonous.” The needle was resting in the safe zone.

Sparky threw a big switch affixed to the edge of the wok which hid a Lucifer positioned to strike against the inside edge of the pan. Her hand shook with nervousness, nearly detaching the switch and spoiling the desired effect. She held her breath in anticipation. Despite the mishap, the matchstick caught fire, igniting the glaze with which she had coated the inside top half of the wok. The sugar sparked. The flour flashed. The salt burst into orange flame. And then the elixir caught fire, the sulfur turning blood red and emitting a blue flame. The conflagration gave her the diversion she needed. While the crowd was gasping in amazement at the changing colors of the fire, she flipped a lever on the back of the poison gauge to throw it all the way to the far range of poisonous.

Once the flames died down, she pointed directly at the gauge and addressed the crowd, “As I suspected, pure poison!” The members of the crowd in possession of the offending solution pivoted in anger and closed on Abbott McGlennon’s wagon screaming for refunds.

Sensing the ugliness that was about to ensue, Drake reached up to McTrowell, “I think it best we take our leave.” The shift in the crowd cleared a path for their retreat, which they happily took, energetically pushing the cart.

This cleared the melee and slowed down to a stroll. Sparky commented to Erasmus, “I love it when a great plan comes together.” They heard police whistles coming toward them, heading in the direction of the commotion behind them. Drake flinched. Sparky continued, “No, my dear, this is not your jurisdiction. Best we make ourselves scarce.” He nodded dejectedly in agreement.

Just as they were crossing Drumm Street, a young voice called out behind them, “Look out!” They whirled around to see the enraged Abbott McGlennon charging toward them, manically brandishing a bottle of his now-worthless elixir with the local constabulary in hot pursuit. Without thought, Drake leapt in front of McTrowell and parried the bottle with the back of his hand, knocking it to the ground. The bottom broke out, spilling its sulfurous contents into the street. McGlennon screamed in frustration and dropped to the ground. The police closed on his and attempted to restrain him, but they underestimated the strength that his anger imbued him with. He lurched to his feet, throwing off his three captors, the jagged remnant of the bottle in his hand. He lunged at Drake who ducked away reflexively, but not before McGlennon barely caught him at the outside corner of the left eye. Blood poured down Drake’s face. The police tackled the disgraced patent medicine salesman and this time they firmly contained him.

Sparky whipped her handkerchief out of her pocket and pressed it to Erasmus’ face. She called out to Jeremiah who was still loitering against a building, apparently his usual location, “Come here!” Sensing yet another opportunity for remuneration, the boy complied. Sparky continued, “Thank you for the warning. I need to get my fiancé back to the St. Francis hotel. Do you know Yào Hǎo Xiào?”

“The ole Chinese man wif the shop full o’ dried out stuff?”

“Yes, that’s the one.” She fished her pen and notebook out of her pocket and scrawled a quick note. Ripping it out of the book, she handed it to the urchin along with a half dime. “He will pay you another half dime when you deliver this cart to him.”

“Pleasure doing bizness wif you.” He whistled for a couple of his compatriots who materialized to help.

Flourish Break


“I know this is painful, but please try to hold still. You’re very lucky McGlennon missed your dominant eye. I would hate to finish the job for him while trying to clean up his mess.” After another minute of careful stitching using the skill learned in needlework lessons from her mother as a child, Sparky declared, “There! And you’re as ruggedly handsome as ever. I’m beginning to think you’re only marrying me to have me on call as the personal surgeon you so obviously require.” She kissed him playfully on the cheek.

“Thank you, my dear. I’m marrying you because I love you, but I have to admit that having a personal surgeon is an added benefit. Shall we go discover the fate of my assailant?”

While Drake checked her handiwork in a handheld looking glass, he answered with another question, “Are you sure you’re not too tired?”
“I am never too tired to see a miscreant get his comeuppance.”

Flourish Break


“Name?”

“Chief…er Erasmus Drake.”

“Occupation?”

“Um, adventurer?”

The police sergeant looked up from his logbook to actually examine the gentleman standing in front of his desk. “Hold on a minute. You’re that fellow from the paper! That Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard that helped capture the arsonist!” He leapt up from his desk and shook the Chief Inspector’s hand with such vigor that he nearly knocked Drake off his feet. He turned his attention to Sparky. “And you must be Dr. McTrowell! A local gal no less!” Although she was generally disinclined to the gesture, she curtsied to forestall the possibility of an equally energetic engagement by the sergeant. “Chief Inspector Drake, you were part of the brawl at the Central Wharf?”

“I’m afraid so.” Erasmus pointed to the fresh stitches to bolster the position that he was the victim rather than a perpetrator.

“Are you pressing charges?”

Sparky gave Erasmus a significant look, encouraging him to reply, “Why, yes, I am.”

Flourish Break


“That’s a very nice wagon you have, Mr. McGlennon.” Sparky paused for the hint of the threat to sink in. She turned her back on him to face Drake. “How are the stitches, my love? I think they’ll need some more salve when we get back to the hotel.” She returned her attention to the patent medicine peddler. “As I was saying, I believe the police will probably confiscate that lovely wagon when you go to prison.”

“I’m not going to prison. You started this!”

“Really? I have half a dozen police officers who saw you charge us from behind as we were walking down the street.”

“You started the riot.”

“Because I’m the fake physician who was selling poison as a cure all? Oh no, I’m the real physician who saves peoples’ lives! Here is what is going to happen. You’re going to give your wagon to the Chinese herbalist Yào Hǎo Xiào and then you’re going to go find yourself an honest profession, perhaps in one of those traveling puppet shows. Only then will we drop the charges. That’s our offer. Take it or leave it.”

“You…!”

“So, leaving it?”

“I’ll take it.”

“I thought so.”

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” Erasmus quipped as they departed the police station.

“Right you are,” Sparky replied with a huge grin plastered on her face.

Flourish Break


Erasmus knocked on Sparky’s hotel room door. “Are you ready to go?”

She opened the door. “Yes, I’m packed.”

“Yes, but are you
ready to go?”

“I don’t understand the question.”

“Are you really going to leave San Francisco without saying goodbye to your mother?”

“I’d rather face Ishild commanding an army of EPACTs.”

Drake winced at the comparison. “I understand that you and your mother have history. I have almost none with her and I do not wish to leave matters as they stand. I intend to give her one more chance. Will you go with me?”

“Yes, I suppose I must.”

Flourish Break


Dr. Czarina Llewellyn McTrowell once again found herself standing on her mother’s front porch trying to decipher an enigmatic maternal facial expression. “Mother?”

“Please come in,” Elizabeth replied flatly.

Drake took the initiative as soon as he was in the door. “Miss Llewellyn, I cannot pretend to understand the challenges you faced in raising this amazing woman by yourself. But I can assure you that you are the only person in this world who can possibly love and respect her more than I. I promise you that I will cherish and protect her until my dying breath.”

Elizabeth picked up a newspaper from the foyer table emblazoned with the garish headline “Drake & McTrowell Save the Day…Again.” The story under Sam Henderson’s byline retold the previous day’s pandemonium with considerable hyperbole. She pointed to the stitches under his left eye. “Did this Abbott McGlennon do that to you?”

“He gave me the gash. Your daughter did the fine stitching. I understand she learned this skill from you, for which I am eternally grateful. She did this one too.” He pointed at the fading crescent-shaped scar around his right eye.

“Is the newspaper right? Was he after Czarina?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You could have lost your eye.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well then.” She kissed his cheek. “
Drake & McTrowell it is.




Leaving San Francisco

Entry for March 28, 2016 Written by David L. Drake

The mid-morning sun shone down on East Street with little warmth. The early-to-work fishermen had cleared the thoroughfare of carts heavy with the day’s catch, leaving behind the organic smell of their haul. The odor drove almost all pedestrians inward toward the heart of San Francisco and away from the bay-side street. Two lone boys, dressed in britches and rough cotton shirts, ambled north near the buildings, making a good deal of noise in their nonchalant progress. To kill time, one was making odd little sounds with his mouth and the other was carelessly hitting the closest row house building with a slim piece of discarded wood that he had found just a few blocks before.

“I don’t want to play the bad guy,” Jeremiah grumbled as he trailed the other boy. “How come you get to be Drake?” Then he snapped a finger into the hollow of his right cheek, making a wonderful
plunk resonate out of his circled lips. He continued plunking while making his lip-circle bigger and smaller, creating a delightfully primitive percussive musical instrument out of his face.

Jim marched ahead and held his chin up high. “I am older and smarter. That makes me Drake.” He stabbed at the brick wall to his left with his crate scrap, doing little harm to his pretend opponent.

“That’s a poor excuse and you know it. I’ll never be older’n ya, and only ya think ya smarter!”

Jim smiled back at his friend. “I am friends with Drake personally. I know him and he knows me.” Jim felt that his last statement settled the discussion, and he progressed to whacking on the upcoming tin windowsill with a
tonk that made a sound he liked. He slowed his walk to tap and bang around the sill to find an even more pleasing metallic note.

Jeremiah was unsatisfied with the retort. “I helped the two of them get the medicine man arrested or, I don’t know, in trouble or sumptin’. So you’re not so important.”

“Just be a bad guy and I will chase you. That is what Drake does!”

Jeremiah’s face screwed up and he asked, “How come you’re talkin’ funny?”

Jim’s raised his eyebrows in a show of self-worth, “Drake does not use contractions!” He face scrunched back down and directed, “Now run, bad guy, so I can track you down like the mangy dog you are.”

Jeremiah just kept walking, mouth open, and rapped his knuckles on the side of his head to see if he could make an empty gourd out of his entire skull. It was of limited success. He responded grumpily, “I don’t think so.”

They walked past an aisle between two brick properties where a scrawny cat was making breakfast of a small discarded fish head it had dragged into the walkway. It defensively looked up at Jeremiah but continued chewing in exaggerated open-mouthed gaping bites. The boy immediately stopped to mock the cat with a wide-open toothy chomping.

“Well,” Jim spun around to look at Jeremiah with the excitement of a new thought, “you can play McTrowell!”

“McTrowell!” Jeremiah howled, still parodying the feline, “Are you crazy?!”

Within the nearby building, a man’s frightened scream was cut short by an explosion. The eruption rocketed glass, wood, and rock fragments out into the passage. Jeremiah was swept off his feet and instantly gone. Jim watched as his friend was thrown like a potato out into the frigid San Francisco Bay. Jim heard the internal structure of the three-story building begin to collapse.

Flourish Break


Elizabeth Llewellyn took a step back and looked at the engaged adventurers. Sparky took Erasmus’ hand and gave it a squeeze that said, “I need your strength right now.” He reciprocated with one indicating, “I am here for you.” Elizabeth smiled at what she saw: her daughter trying to look feminine in a dress she only pulled out for occasions where she needed to impress and her older-looking fiancé with his bandaged cheek and awkward smile. They really wanted her approval.

“Czarina, be a dear and make some tea for us all.” She gestured demurely behind herself in the direction that Sparky assumed was towards her kitchen.

“Oh...uh...yes, I will,” she hesitantly stammered out, as if by leaving she was feeding her betrothed to a lioness. The pair unlinked their fingers and Sparky left the drawing room to discover her mother’s newly decorated kitchen.

“Erasmus, have a seat,” Miss Llewellyn offered, this time gesturing at a side chair that was close to her couch. Erasmus stepped carefully around a low central table, hitched up his pants, and sat. She made her seat at the close edge of the couch.

“I love my Czarina, but she can be a difficult woman at times.” She paused, carefully watching Erasmus’ face, and let the weight of her words sink in before she continued. “Ever since she was small, she has had a mind of her own and an independent streak that many would find off-putting. Are you prepared to start a life with someone of her...temperament? Oh, I know you will say ‘yes’ to keep me happy, but I really want you to think hard about the question. She is not some living curio that you may toss aside after the excitement of the chase has evaporated.”

The Chief Inspector gave her a thoughtful smile and busied his hands by checking the curl of his mustache while he thought about the proper response. He had already considered the matter, and his mind had been made up by the time he had proposed back in London, but he needed to show that he had properly mulled over the point.

He smiled at the mother of his betrothed to make sure his dimples showed. He cocked his head slightly, and started his mentally prepared speech. “Czarina is…”

The sound of the detonation was muffled by distance, but it still stood the hairs up on the back of Erasmus’ neck. He jumped to his feet and raced to the front window, pulling the white lace curtains to the side to see out. Sparky was by his side in a flash.

Looking out toward the morning sun over the bay, the two saw the curled dust and smoke of the discharge rise up over the rooftops.

“Not again,” Miss Llewellyn sighed. Erasmus looked at her, but Sparky continued looking out the window. Elizabeth continued, “It is a town full of miners. There are warnings everywhere, but they continue to store their casks of blasting powder in-town. One spark and ‘boom,’ a building comes down.” She shook her head in dismay.

Sparky turned away and stated flatly, “That was close. Less than a half a mile away.” She slowly returned to her errand in the kitchen. Erasmus found his seat again and tried to determine how to get back to the previous conversation. He toyed with the lace doily on the arm of his chair and Elizabeth unhurriedly smoothed a wrinkle out of a couch cushion as they both hoped the other would restart the dialogue.

A loud banging on the front door interrupted the household. Erasmus leapt back up and trotted to the door while the thumping continued. Opening it, he saw Jim, breathless and soaking wet from his elbows down.

“Drake, Drake! Help me, please!” In an instant, tears he’d been holding back sprang from his eyes. “Jeremiah has been thrown into the bay! I can’t reach him and the water is freezing cold.” Erasmus could see the goose bumps on his arms and his level of fright.

“Show me where!” Erasmus ran out of the house without hat or coat, leaving the front door gaping open.

Sparky sprinted back in. “Where did he go?!”

“Off to the save the world,” Miss Llewellyn offered, “Is the tea ready?”

Flourish Break


The two sat and sipped their teas and soaked in the moment that their newly formed family was a real possibility.

“You love him,” Elizabeth stated flatly, “I can see that.” Sparky opened her mouth to talk, but her mother summarily cut her off. “I want you to have all the things you want in life. Even your adventures and thrills. And I will come to your wedding. But he is a risk-taker, too, and may lead you into situations where, well, you might not have gone on your own. These are real dangers.” She stopped speaking for a second to carefully refill her cup from her porcelain teapot.

Sparky tried to cut in. “But mother...”

Elizabeth severed her daughter’s phrase without hesitation. “You are my child, my only child, and I worry about you.”

The adventuress looked into her mother’s eyes and thought about how her life affected the parent she loved. “Mother, I want you to know that…”

Erasmus burst through the front door. He was soaked to the waist and his hair was dripping wet. The bandage under his eye was coming loose. “Sparky! Come quick! We don’t know if we can save the boy.”

Sparky jumped to her feet, looked around, and grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch. “Go!” she ordered as she ran to the door.

The two sprinted through the cobblestone streets with Erasmus in the lead.

“What’s his status?” Sparky panted.

“In the bay for about twelve minutes. Fifty-degree water. Skin is blue. Lips and fingers are even bluer. Not breathing. We have been pumping the water out of him.”

They rounded a corner and renewed their pace, Sparky clearly struggling to run in a ruffled dress.

“Pumping? How?”

“Head down on a tipped cart. Pressing rhythmically on his back to get the water out of his lungs. Something I have seen done on a ship as a boy.”

They rounded another corner and came upon a crowd on East Street. Men were standing in a circle taking turns pressing on a soaked boy in the back of a wooden cart.

Sparky sprinted ahead and pressed past the concerned but unhelpful on-lookers.

“You,” she threw the blanket at a brawny man close to the child, “and you,” pointing at another man on the other side, “strip those wet clothes off him and wrap him in this blanket.”

She turned her back on the boy allowing the men to do their task with just a touch of privacy.

“Who has the nearest house with a hearth lit? We need to warm this child up.”

A slight man holding his cap in both hands gestured to a nearby doorway. “Right here, Miss. My mother needs the heat to keep away her chills.”

“Go! Open your door. And it’s ‘Doctor.’”

She turned back to the boy, who was now wrapped in the blanket. “Hand him to me!”

The larger man started to hand the child to her across his two arms. “No, flat, head up, so I can hug him close. We need to get his body temperature up.”

The man positioned the bluish, unresponsive child with his flaccid arms over Sparky’s shoulders and his head to one side. Sparky started hugging the child in a rhythm: tight then loose, tight then loose, as she carried the boy toward the doorway indicated by the man with the cap.

Inside she stood near the fire, bouncing the boy while continuing with her measured squeezes.

Outside, Erasmus looked at the crowd. “We did everything we could…thank you for all your help. Ben, thank you for the use of your boat.” A weathered man tipped his hat at the Chief Inspector. “You’re most welcome,” he muttered. A few minutes passed and the crowd started to disperse.

Sparky stuck her head out of the doorway. “He’s breathing! I’ll need help getting warm washcloths on his extremities.”

The man Erasmus called Ben looked at the Chief Inspector. “How could that be? The boy looked…dead.”

“I have no idea. But that is Sparky McTrowell. Come. I will introduce you to the woman who does wonders.”

Flourish Break


Erasmus pulled off his damp shirt and hung it over a doorknob in his hotel room. Sparky sat on the sole chair in the room and watched her fiancé pick a new shirt out of his duffle bag.

“You saved that boy’s life today, Erasmus.” Her sly grin gave away how proud she was.

“How can you say that? You were the one to get him breathing.” Erasmus selected a new cravat he had purchased just the day before.

“You found him in the bay; you cleared his lungs; you kept his blood flowing enough to save his internals.”

“I got a great deal of help. I am lucky that the collapsed building had no one in it or that would have been the calamity of the hour. Did you know that the boy was the same one you hired to…”

“Erasmus, you saved his life. That’s incredible. Where did you learn that pumping technique?”

“I saw my older shipmates use it when a sailor has breathed in too much water. This…this is the first time I have seen it work.”

She let out a soft laugh. “I’d write a paper on it, but no one would believe me.”

Flourish Break


Sparky and Erasmus stood for the second time on the stoop. Erasmus knocked lightly. The door opened and Elizabeth exhibited a reserved demeanor.

Erasmus presented himself as best as he could without a hat or coat. “Miss Llewellyn, please forgive our hasty departure. We knew the lads involved and felt obliged to lend a hand.”

“Please come in. I am not used to company leaving so abruptly. I heard it wasn’t for naught.”

Erasmus hesitated to answer as the two stepped into the sitting room. “Our bad manners cannot be excused. We wish to make amends by taking you out to lunch.” Erasmus retrieved his hat and coat he had previously left behind. Sparky quietly closed the door but lingered near it.

“I don’t think I’m up to changing clothes, eating someone else’s cooking, and being the third person in a meal meant for a couple. I know my daughter had planned to leave today, so rather than be an impediment to your progress, perhaps I will bid you two a safe journey,” Elizabeth replied.

Sparky wasn’t happy with the direction of the conversation. “Mother, please join us.”

A polite knock on the door interrupted the household. It startled Elizabeth, who seemed surprised that she was receiving this many visitors to her residence. She strode over past Sparky and opened the door.

Jim stood on the stoop with a man at his side.

Elizabeth couldn’t help but sound like a shop owner when she asked how she could help them.

The man snatched the soft felt hat off his head and answered, “Good day, Miss Llewellyn. I’m James Jenkins Sr. This is my son, Jim Jr. Please forgive us, but we came to talk to the Chief Inspector and your daughter, Dr. McTrowell.”

She nodded her understanding and stepped beck, letting them enter.

“Pardon me while I tidy up in the kitchen.” She scurried off and left her visitors to talk.

The elder James spoke first. “I want to thank you both for what you did with Jim’s friend, Jeremiah. Through the kindness of some of the folks who helped retrieve him from the bay, he’ll get the care he needs to recover. If my boy here was just a few feet one way or the other, it might have been him we were pulling out of the drink.”

Erasmus looked at Sparky and then at James Sr. “You are most welcome. Thank you for stopping by.”

Jim’s father shuffled a bit. “Jim here seems to know where practically everybody is in this city. He said we could find you here. Hope the intrusion isn’t…well…we just hope the two of you and Miss Llewellyn don’t mind.”

Jim scrunched his face and turned to his father. “Ask ‘em, pa! Go ahead.” Jim’s father shuffled his feet again.

Erasmus and Sparky simultaneously raised their eyebrows, and Erasmus asked, “What is it you would like to know?”

Jim Junior blurted out, “Can we leave with you? We have nothing here except a sluice that has no gold, a cart, and a horse. We have to get back to ma in Iowa. Pa, tell ‘em!”

“That’s why we came here. Jim said you were planning to leave today, and we hoped we could escape our misfortunes.”

Erasmus looked thoughtful for a second and started to say, “Well, I suppose…”

Sparky grabbed Erasmus’ sleeve and commanded, “Come with me!” and marched the baffled Chief Inspector towards the front door. As she pulled it open she stated, “Please excuse us!” and towed her fiancé outside.

With the door secured, she turned to Erasmus. She started wagging her finger for emphasis even before she spoke. “Listen to me for one minute without interruption. Understood? Good. The folks in there are good people. And you see all this?” She waved her arm to indicate the entirety of San Francisco. “It is full of good people. They all came here to seek their fortune, which means practically every one of them is broke, desperate, unhinged, and desperately needy. They vacillate between overly optimistic and hopeless. And more of them pour into this city every month. Some, like my mother, have found their niche, but many are living hand-to-mouth in shanty towns in the outskirts of town. This is the important part so listen closely. I want to do great things. This city could have siphoned off all of my compassion and kindness and given me nothing in return.
That…that is why I left. There is a big wonderful world out there calling my name. And I want to make my mark out there. I dearly love my mother, but she would rather I stay and nurse everyone here to health. I don’t have that kind of strength. As for the folks in there, they need to find their own way. Otherwise, we are just dragging a part of San Francisco with us. And it may take a day or a week, but they will be an anchor to our escape.”

Erasmus slowly nodded his understanding.

She continued, “Erasmus, please remember this. I never want to feel that I’m drowning in people that cannot be saved. I need you to promise that you’ll never put me in that situation.”

“I promise, my dear. I promise.”




You Can't Get There From Here

Entry for June 26, 2016 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Dr. McTrowell pushed her breakfast morosely around her plate. “As long as I’m here, maybe I should do some useful work for Wallace. Not that there’s anything I can do for him at this point that would prevent him from wanting to murder me if not for the intervention of Her Royal Majesty.”

“What do you have in mind, my dear?” Chief Inspector Drake asked, hoping that shifting her attention back to her vocation would lift her spirits from all the emotional drama of the preceding few days.

“Well, as we’ve already discussed, there are no railways west of Winnebago, Illinois, and there are a lot of mountains to cross. It’s very expensive and time consuming to build railroads. It would be a lot easier and cheaper to build a network of airship ports. If I could do some location scouting, it would give Wallace a huge advantage. Since we’re going to have to hop to Winnebago in the Peregrine, we’ll have the perfect tool to do the job. I thought I would start my scouting here around San Francisco. A good location would be flat and close to the bay where coal can be unloaded from ships, maybe south of town. I wouldn’t need the Peregrine for that. Would you like to go with me?”

“I would like that very much. Should we pack a picnic lunch? I am ready for a quiet, uneventful day,” he offered sweetly.

She leaned in and ran her fingers through his sideburns. “You know, darling, every time I think life with you is going to be quiet, some adventure breaks out,” she replied archly.

Flourish Break


“Well, my dear, you have picked quite the spot for our picnic. This is terribly flat and uninteresting,” Drake needled good-naturedly, as they both stood in the middle of a level plain of sparse scrub and weeds.

“Just the sort of place one would want to build an airship station. Uninteresting translates to cheap,” Sparky replied.

“Sometimes you frighten me with the ways you sound like your employer.”

“’If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.’”

“I beg your pardon?”

“It’s a quote, more or less, from an ancient Chinese warrior philosopher named
Sun Tzu. I’ve struggled through some of it in French. So far as I know, there’s no English translation. My point is that it’s easier to deal with Wallace if I adopt his perspective,” the airship pilot explained.

“Very interesting,” Drake replied, pulling out his notebook and scribbling hastily. “I shall have to investigate this further. This Sun Tzu sounds like just my sort of chap.”

“Some entrepreneurial soul could also build a train station here, although further south in the capital of San Jose would be better. It’s a straight shot down to Los Angeles. From San Jose, you might find a pass across the Sierra Nevadas, although that route may be too hard to construct or traverse.”

“I do not wish to alarm you, my love, but have you noticed that someone has been following us since we left the city?”

She strained her eyes to look around without turning her head. “I’d thought it just a coincidence until we got onto this dirt track, but I agree. How do you want to play this?”

Drake contemplated potential scenarios before concluding, “We are just a pair of sweethearts having a romantic picnic lunch.”

“Out here in the middle of boring nowhere,” quipped Sparky. But she obliged his ruse by nonchalantly extracting the picnic basket from the wagon while he used the cover of spreading out the picnic blanket to get a good look at the man approaching alone on horseback. It was a fine Paint horse and the stranger rode well. He had the look of someone who spent his life mounted: lean and permanently tanned like leather. His clothes and hat were the color of the Southwestern dust. The horseman made no show of pretense, but simply stopped right next to Drake and McTrowell’s hired wagon.

“Afternoon…,” he drawled. “What brings y’all out here?”

“As we are private citizens engaged in legal activities, I do not see that our business is any of your business,” the Chief Inspector replied evenly while maintaining firm eye contact.

“Y’all aren’t from around here, are you?”

“Nor are you.” Drake didn’t flinch or give way.

“Fair enough. I see that you’re like I expected.”

“Please explain yourself or move along.” Drake reached inside his coat as if to produce a weapon.

The rider tapped the brim of his hat, “Name’s Frank Carothers, Texas Ranger.” He flipped over the lapel of his duster to reveal the badge concealed underneath. “I read about you in the paper in Frisco. I can see there’s no use in hiding my intentions from another man of the law. There’s a matter that concerns the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company. That explosion in town was no accident. That building held the workshop of a certain fella who’s developing some new railroad contraptions. I’ve been trackin’ a certain criminal element fixed on derailing the effort, if you’ll pardon my pun.”

Drake, never a fan of low humor, was disinclined to offer such a pardon, but held his tongue.

“Anyways,” Carothers continued, “I got to wondering if that young friend of yours had anything to say about the explosion.”

“To which young friend do you refer?” Drake asked.

“Well either of ‘em, Jim or, who’s the one whose life you saved, Jeremiah?”

Drake allowed himself a glance past the ranger’s horse to check the look on Sparky’s face. It was predictably stormy considering the fact that the ranger has completely disregarded her contribution to Jeremiah’s salvation. “Neither of them uttered a word to me on any such subject. Jeremiah was occupied with trying to stay alive and Jim’s attention was wholly on supporting the same.” Despite himself, the Chief Inspector’s response was stony. He didn’t like the stranger. “Now, if you will excuse us, we were preparing to have a quiet lunch…alone.”

“Much obliged, Inspector.” The ranger gave his horse’s reins a gentle tug to the side, turning the beast and heading back toward the city.

Chief Inspector,” Drake grumbled under his breath once the rider was out of earshot.

“I don’t know about you, dear,” Sparky interjected, “but that smelled as fishy as the bay to me.”

“I could not agree more. If you have enough information to report to Wallace, I suggest we eat our lunch on the way back to the city. More investigation is in order.”

Flourish Break


Drake made his way back to the explosion site after returning the wagon, but he kept his eyes open for the Texas Ranger or anyone else attempting to tail him. The site still smelled of acrid smoke and he thought he sensed warmth still emanating from the ruin. As he rounded the enormous pile of rubble, he spotted a woman clambering purposefully around the wreckage. She held a small metal rake in her hand that she was using to search methodically through the detritus. He observed her for several moments during which time she pocketed a few bits of paper and some metal fragments. Once he was certain that he had observed everything he could from a distance, he approached slowly and casually, attempting to convey an unthreatening air. “Good day, ma’am.”

She looked up from her inspections. “Good day, sir…oh, Chief Inspector Drake.”

Drake was beginning to see the negative side of fame, the loss of the element of surprise that anonymity provided. “Madam, you have me at a disadvantage. Clearly you know who I am. And you are?”

“Samantha.”

“Samantha?” He drew out the end of her first name in the hope that it would elicit her last name.

“Yes.”

“Are you looking for something?”

“I was hoping to find some evidence to the cause of my son’s accident.”

Drake thought it peculiar that a concerned mother would use a word like “evidence.” “Your son?” he queried.

“Yes. He was injured in the explosion. You and that Dr. McTrowell saved his life. For which I’m grateful.”

“Ah, Jeremiah.”

“Yes, Jeremiah.”

“He also did us a great service in bringing down that unscrupulous medicine man.”

“Medicine man? Oh, yes, him.” Her searching became more furtive as if she wished to finish and be away. “Jeremiah’s a good boy,” Samantha added perfunctorily.

Drake noticed that her attention was wholly focused one piece of the wreckage, but she was trying not to look directly at it as if to keep him from shifting his focus toward the item. He made a bit of a show of turning to inspect something else while watching her out of his peripheral vision. Just as she snatched up her quarry, he commented, “This bad bit of business is also being investigated by a Texas Ranger.”

This piece of news brought her up short, giving Drake the instant he needed to turn back around and get a good look at her find before she had a chance to shove it into her pocket. It was a scrap of paper with an engineering diagram that appeared to be a modified train locomotive. Well, at least that was consistent with what Carothers had told him earlier in the day.

“That’s strange, don’t you think, a Texas Ranger here in San Francisco investigating an accident?” She prodded.

“He believes it was not an accident,” Drake replied, watching her expression for a telling reaction. Remarkably, her face gave nothing away.

She pressed further, “What did you say his name was?”

“Frank Carothers.” He was sure his response evinced a slight wince. He was also quite certain that she wasn’t going to give up any more information willingly. He needed to pay one more visit before rejoining Sparky at the hotel.

Flourish Break


It only cost him a penny to one of the wharf urchins to locate Jim in just a few minutes.

“Hello, Jim. How is Jeremiah faring?”

“He’s gettin’ better.”

“I thought as much as his mother did not seem concerned about him.”

“His mother?” Jim asked incredulously.

“Yes, I met her just a few minutes ago at the site of the explosion.”

“Mr. Chief Inspector, Jeremiah’s an orphan.”



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