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The Bavarian Airship Regatta - Page 1: February 4, 2011 - February 28, 2011

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Airship Regatta Broadsheet
A Serious Knock
Au Revoir, London
A Pretty Face
Best Laid Plans

Airship Regatta Broadsheet

Entry for February 4, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Curious as Drake? Adventuresome as McTrowell?
Calling all good Londoners!
Travel on the Burke & Hare to the Multinational Airship Regatta!

Transfer the image of the broadsheet below to your personal analytical engine by pursuing the link corresponding with the broadsheet image below. A Portable Document Formatted version of the broadsheet will be displayed or transferred, depending on your configuration.

Suitable for framing or posting in main thoroughfares.

Then follow along the continuing adventure at this web location,
The Adventures of Drake and McTrowell.

Airship Regatta Broadsheet
To download, click the broadsheet image above, or here.

A Serious Knock

Entry for February 7, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

“You like?”

Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake answered uncharacteristically with his mouth half full. “I like!”

The new French bakery had opened near Trafalgar Square, about midpoint in Erasmus’ morning walk from his apartment above the Olde Cheshire Cheese to 4 Whitehall Place. Erasmus was trying one of their freshly baked croissants, after the proprietor, Jacques, had dunked one end into an open jar of strawberry jam. Erasmus had only stopped by to see the new store, and see if he could get something reasonably small to eat on his commute. Instead, Jacques has started him on tasting the pain au chocolat, followed by a cream puff, and then half an almond horn. Erasmus liked them all, but politely informed Jacques that they were a bit too sweet for his English palette. The croissant was the baker’s response, despite the added jam.

Erasmus held up two fingers, and redundantly requested “deux” verbally. Jacques smiled. “No French needed. My English iz good, Chief Inspector Drake.”

“Oh, you recognize me?” Erasmus asked, a bit surprised.

“But of course! You are in zee paper twice zees week! A very good illustration!” Jacque pressed a paper bag with the croissants inside into Erasmus’ hands. “New store! Samples of our goods for you. Enjoy them, s’il vous plait.”

Erasmus’ initial response was to force some payment on him, but Jacques looked so happy to have him there. A mother and her child had been peeking in the window, and finally got up the courage to enter the newly opened shop. The bell over the door gave a cheerful ring as they entered. Erasmus finished thanking Jacques, turned and gave the young mother a nod combined with bringing his bowler halfway up to his head and tipping it from there. The bowler was eased back onto its rightful place on his head as he exited the bakery.

Tock ... tock ... tock. Erasmus’ cane made its distinctive sound on the sidewalk. Erasmus took in the scenes of early morning London, while he mentally listed the minutia that needed to be addressed at work. Mondays always had a feeling of new beginnings and new challenges, particularly at the Yard.

Erasmus entered 4 Whitehall Place, and the office had an atypical calm demeanor. He settled into his office chair, and pulled out his latest notes to see if there was any additional details that he had forgotten to include. Filled his pen with ink, and started the process of verification.

Erasmus’ door opened just far enough to allow Superintendent Bartholomew Horner’s head to jut through. “Minute of your time?” Erasmus motioned him in. “Good morning, Superintendent. How can I assist you?”

Bartholomew strode in with a rolled up broadsheet in his hand. He placed it on Erasmus’ desk and unfurled it, anchoring it to the desk at top and bottom with his burly hands. “Seen these around?” Bartholomew asked. “Yes, I have, but I haven’t had time this week to read it in detail. I had heard about the airship regatta, but I hadn’t noticed the particulars.” This was not true. Dr. Sparky McTrowell mentioned the regatta, and Erasmus has looked over the broadsheets that had been posted around London many times over the intervening weekend.

“I need to place a member of the Yard on the Burke & Hare. The airship is assuming the role of Britain’s international participant in the regatta. Due to the nature of the voyage, Her Majesty requested that we provide guardianship of the crew and passengers. Normally I would ask for volunteers, but I thought you may want a bit of a breather from last week’s excitement. Didn’t you get to meet this doctor who’s piloting the craft? What was he like?”

Erasmus knew he was being played. Bartholomew read over investigation notes with enthusiasm, which he had access to all weekend, and Erasmus knew that Bartholomew was aware that Dr. McTrowell was a woman. Erasmus also knew that this was a bit of a test, to see if he would bite at the chance to join the voyage. But all of that didn’t really matter, now did it? Getting a chance to be on that airship would just fulfilling the aspiration he had toyed with all weekend.

“Interesting offer, I do say. I see by the date here that it sails today. I would have get a number of personal and occupational things in order. Do you have word on when it launches?”

“Erasmus, what about the doctor?”

“Oh, yes, yes. Dr. McTrowell turns out to be a woman. Hails from the Americas. Known for a number of things, including inventing. She was in the process of displaying a contraption at the Great Exhibit when she was attacked. Upstanding character, she is. That said, do we know the launch time? Can I still board?”

“There will be a dinner on the Burke & Hare itself tonight, 7 o’clock, just after launch. Can I count on you to shoulder this?”

“You can. I’ll put my things in order straight away,” Erasmus replied, employing his best straight face.

“One more thing,” Bartholomew added, “I want you to carry arms. I know you have a revolver. Take it. I also want you to have a sword from the armory. Some of it is for show, I know. But you can always count on a sword to let others know who’s in charge.”

It took an entire hour for Erasmus to get out of Scotland Yard. He kept the broadsheet that was presented, procured a saber from the armory, and arranged to have Sergeant Tate Parseval take over command of his charges for the duration of his absence. The Sergeant had his flaws, but he was a good administrator.

On leaving, Erasmus turned the corner to head back to his apartment, when he saw Abigail Schopenhauer in the shadows. She was wrapped, as usual, in a shawl that covered her shoulders and head, leaving her grandmotherly face peeking out. She was “looking” in Erasmus’ direction with her cataract eyes, and smiling to the extent that it made her entire face rounder than usual. As Erasmus approached, she started in with, “I was right wasn’t I? Eh? The artist’s den. That’s where you had to look.” Her voice was cheerful but raspy, with a bit of kindness showing through.

“You were spot on, my dear. Spot on.”

As he got close she took his arm. Her smile didn’t lessen a bit. She queried, “Anything new for me?”

“Hmm. Word at the Yard is that the cold weather in the north means less wheat coming into the mills. Expect the price of bread to go up.”

“Thank you, thank you. Are you off to travel or a formal ball? Oh, don’t look at me like that. You don’t usually have a sword at your side. You’re off to play bodyguard, I bet.”

Erasmus realized that she was better at detective work than some of his own officers. He replied, “Why, yes. I’ve been called to duty, of sorts. I won’t be around for a few weeks.” Abigail’s smile lessened. She didn’t like the idea of Erasmus playing hero somewhere. Good way to end up as a statue in a London park. No use being gloomy, she thought. “Well, safe travels, then!”

Normally Abigail had some dire warning that she passed along. Odd that she didn’t this time. Perhaps it was because of his traveling away, and she didn’t want to worry him. The truth was that she was very concerned about the growing number of cholera victims in the city, and that something needed to be done soon. No one knew what was causing the sickness, and since it struck the poor the most, it didn’t get as much notice as it should.

As usual, they parted and Erasmus made good speed back to his apartment. Within two hours, he had his trunk packed, and informed James Crocker, the proprietor of the Olde Cheshire Cheese, that he was to be off for the duration of the regatta. James would let Erasmus’ laundry service know about his departure, and forward his mail to him. Erasmus scribbled a few quick missives to friends, including William, of his journey, and provided them to James for posting.

The Colt Pocket 1849 Erasmus Packed into His Trunk
The Colt Pocket 1849 Erasmus Packed into His Trunk

A carriage was hired to transport Erasmus and his trunk to the London Airship Port. The short ride was uneventful for the most part, but Erasmus had time to think about the fact that it had been a long time since he had been outside of London. It had played a safe haven for him, and the idea of leaving was one of exiting a protective bubble. But those were a memory of a long ago past. He shook it off, and prepared himself to look forward to the things to come.

At the Airship Port, Erasmus procured his ticket with a few simple words describing the request by Scotland Yard for him to join the crew. He released his trunk over to the porters for storage in his cabin on the Burke & Hare, and lingered a bit in the station, looking at the posted broadsheets and pamphlets for visiting foreign lands. He then strode across the flight yard to the Number three tower that tethered the airship, and climbed the stairs. He stopped at the top, and took a minute to look back at London. It was a grand view from this height. And this was the city where he had made his mark. The sun was just setting, an orange glow adding a little extra warmth to the city of gray.

Erasmus took an extra look at his ticket, which directed him to cabin number seven. Once inside the airship’s gondola, it was clear that the craft was made for speed more than comfort. The passageways were compact, with handholds for when the airship was used in an athletic fashion. The decor was of oiled teak, brass fixtures, and nautical rope.

There were a few other people on board that Erasmus saw on his way to his cabin. Most were dressed in the attire of the crew, making prelaunch examinations of all of the various mechanical systems on board. About halfway down the main central corridor, Erasmus found his cabin door: the knob of which was an exaggerated oval, for easy turning, even if one’s hands were slick with oil. He entered and found a cozy room on the port side, his trunk secured to the wall away from the bed with a long leather belt. On the bed was an invitation for the evening’s dinner. It indicated that it was formal. Erasmus opened his trunk to remove the formal dinner vest and jacket. A serious knock on his door interrupted his progress.

Upon opening the door, Erasmus was met by a well-dressed man in a formal black British military uniform. He stood with an air that said he was trying to look informal, but it still looked like he was at attention. His cap was trapped firmly between his hand and elbow, and he was looking straight at Erasmus, waiting for him to start the conversation. So Erasmus did.

“Good evening. I’m Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake of Scotland Yard. How may I be of service?”

“Pardon my bluntness. Are you alone?”

“Why, yes. Would you like to talk in my cabin?” Erasmus offered, with a small wave of his hand.

“Thank you, yes.” The military man took two steps forward, turned quickly and shut and bolted the door, and then turned as quickly back. Snapping a salute, the man rattled off, “Sergeant J. B. Fox of the Her Majesty’s Aerial Marines. I must inform you that your mission here is more extensive than you have been told.”

“My instructions were to provide guardianship of the crew and passengers. I volunteered to take on this responsibility. Are you sure you have the right man?”

“Chief Inspector, Her Majesty has reason to believe that marauders using fast airships as attack vehicles have a home base somewhere near Vaduz, one of the waypoints in the regatta. A request was made for support from the Her Majesty’s Aerial Marines, as well as support from Scotland Yard, to investigate the validity of this intelligence, locate the marauders base, if possible, and protect the crew and passengers of the Burke & Hare. Her Majesty has relayed to Her Aerial Marines that cooperation between the nations of Europe is critical at this point in time, and any intelligence we can gather will be used in securing international relationships. I was requested by name by my superiors for this mission. You were also requested by name by Superintendent Horner. We were told that you would not know the full extent of the mission upon arrival, and that you may even have been duped into believing that you volunteered for the mission. Again, I assure you, you were chosen. Scotland Yard gave your name to us last week for this mission. My first responsibility was to brief you on this.”

This was more than Erasmus had expected. But what was initially a concern that he had been leaving London to go gallivanting around, was now seen as a real opportunity to help the British Empire. So full steam ahead, he thought. He bent over and grabbed his best ascot out of his trunk, held it up and said, “You keep saying ‘marauders,’ but I keep hearing ‘pirates’! I’m in. Let’s get to this formal dinner, and get the hunt underway.”

Au Revoir, London

Entry for February 11, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

McTrowell wiped her hands on a rag and stuffed it in the pocket of her work apron. Her final checks and preparations for the crossing to Paris were complete. She climbed the ladder out of the mechanical compartment up into the bridge and closed the hatch in the floor. The sun was still high in the sky despite the late afternoon hour. She loved being far north as midsummer approached. It gave one the sense that the endless day had endless possibilities, and today was definitely one of those days. She would launch the Burke & Hare just before sunset so the passengers could enjoy the sight of the London gaslights coming on as they sailed southeast toward Brighton. Once they were underway, she would turn command over to her first officer and join Wallace’s table for the launch dinner. These dinners were usually dreadfully painful affairs dominated by puffery and bloviating, but there was no getting out of them and occasionally someone interesting was seated at the table. She scanned the London skyline one last time before heading back to her cabin to clean up and change into dinner attire.

One of the advantages of being the captain on a racing airship like the B&H was having a proper cabin with a porthole. The rest of the crew was stuck in the sunless gloom of the second deck, but Sparky got the last second-class cabin, number 14, at the back of the ship nearest the engine room. It could be a little loud, but she sometimes found the hum relaxing when she actually got a chance to sleep. Although she doubted there would much of that on this trip once they left Paris.

Knowing that Wallace would wear something ostentatious in eye-assaulting colors, she selected a starkly elegant ensemble in black and cranberry. The John Bull topper was a decidedly masculine and middle-class touch that, no doubt, would get Wallace’s attention, but he wouldn’t be in a position to comment during dinner. The cranberry cockade picked up the color of her double-breasted velvet jacket. She laced up her black ankle boots snugly, did the best she could to assess her appearance in a hand-held mirror, and headed back to the bridge.

The passengers were on board and getting settled. She heard voices and the bumping of luggage through the walls of the cabins. There was an odd passenger standing in the passage outside cabin seven, a sergeant of Her Majesty’s Aerial Marines. The man looked as if he’d been born at attention. She squeezed past him, strode past the remaining second-class cabins, and cast only a glance at the doors of the two first-class cabins opposite each other at the head of the passage before entering the main hall. The galley crew was busily putting the finishing touches on the table settings for dinner. She exchanged nods with the chief steward, Luis-Miguel Sevilla. The fact that Wallace had pulled Sevilla off the Toulouse-Madrid route meant he was pulling out all the stops to make this event perfectly memorable for the select few passengers who had paid the exorbitant price to be on the B&H during the regatta. The crew would be stripped back to the bare minimum during the regatta and the few remaining would have to be the very best to keep such rarefied customers happy. Sevilla was just the man for the job.

She crossed the main hall and opened the shiny brass door to the bridge. The first officer, Ivan Krasnayarubashka, was already making prelaunch preparations. She had to hand it to Wallace; he had really gone all out to assemble an international crew for the event. She was sure his accounts of the regatta would include copious mention of the uniquely international reach of Western & Transatlantic. Truly the man never missed an opportunity for self-promotion. She snapped out of her reverie to check the pressure gauges. The engines would be up to full power right on time for the launch. The airship port crew was assembling below on tower 3 to release the tethers. The sun was making its way toward the western horizon. She had the same thought she always had when she watched the sun set in the west, “When all else fails, the setting sun will lead me home.” She shook her head to clear out the nostalgia and addressed the first officer.

“Gospodin Krasnayarubashka, are you looking forward to the regatta?”

“Da, Gospozha Doctor Lyotcheeka McTrowell. Please to not inform Gospodin Vallace, but dis is my last trip for Vestern & Transatlantic. I am thinking to start, how you say, fabrika, for airship parts in Suzdal.”

“Factory. You’re a very good pilot. Won’t you miss flying?”

“Mozhet buite, but the money vill be much more.”

“Yes, you have a point there. I think it’s time to go.” She signaled to the port crew to cast off the tether lines. She rang the bell for the engine crew to reel in the aft line while Krasnayarubashka cranked in the fore line. She set the engines to one quarter speed and set a course for Brighton.

“Mr. Krasnayarubashka, keep the engines at one quarter until we clear London and then go to half speed. If I am detained by our glorious leader, go to full speed once we reach the English Channel.”

“Aye, aye, empress of the air.” She usually tried to keep her actual given name to herself. She wondered if he knew, or if he were just being humorously deferential.

She pushed open the bridge door to the main hall and scanned the passengers seated for dinner. When her eyes settled on Wallace’s table, she nearly tripped over her own feet in surprise. Chief Inspector Drake was sitting right next to Wallace! He was looking straight at her as if he had been expecting her. She took a deep breath to regain her composure and walked directly toward the table, hoping that her face did not give away her mixed emotions: surprise, delight, trepidation. Drake was up and out of his chair before Wallace. Typical that he would have better manners than Wallace, but Wallace spoke first. Or rather, bellowed.

“If it isn’t the illustrious Dr. McTrowell?” As if it were some kind of surprise to discover that she was piloting the B&H for this historic event! The man had an infinite supply of cheek. “If I’m to believe what they print in The Times, and of course I don’t always, you’re acquainted with Chief Inspector Drake.” He made an oversize, sweeping gesture toward Drake. Like herself and unlike Wallace who, as she had predicted, was dressed garishly, Drake was dressed elegantly and appropriately in black. He pulled out the chair to his right for her. Before she could take the seat, he took her hand and kissed it…again. But this kiss was more intimate and lingering than the last. She suspected that he had been preparing for this moment mentally. She glanced around to see if anyone else noticed, but for once she was grateful for Wallace’s personal circus act. Everyone else had their eyes on Wallace, so they missed the intimate moment and the half wink from Drake as he reluctantly released her hand. He deftly slid the chair under her as she swept up her long black skirt to sit down. Wallace plopped his considerable bulk into his beleaguered chair.

Wallace continued, “Chief Inspector Drake is here by special request of Her Majesty.”

“I’m flattered by such an idea, but I volunteered to participate to observe on behalf of Her Majesty’s interests.” His response struck Sparky as uncharacteristically vague and she wondered if there were more to the story. And then she realized that he had admitted that he had volunteered. He knew she was going to be piloting the Burke & Hare; she’d told him. She fixed him with a direct, quizzical look and she could have sworn that he turned the slightest bit pink before breaking eye contact.

She glanced around the table to ease the tension of the situation. The coveted seat to the left of Wallace was still empty. Surely Wallace hadn’t left this seat unassigned! She scanned the rest of the room to see if any guest was still standing. And that’s when she got the second big surprise of the evening. The door from the passage to the main hall was opened by Virat who held the door for Jonathan Lord Ashleigh to enter the room after him. As usual, Ashleigh was dressed colorfully, and yet not garishly like Wallace. Perhaps she should suggest that he give lessons in men’s fashion to Wallace. She stifled an uncharitable giggle. She was just opening her mouth to greet her friend when he winked at her and gave an imperceptible shake of his head. Ah yes, the Machiavellian machinations of Lord Ashleigh. This should be good fun.

Lord Ashleigh strode up to Wallace smartly and shook his hand vigorously. Wallace replied, “Lord Ashleigh, I was beginning to think you wouldn’t make it.” Yet more Wallace circus. She was quite certain without checking that Ashleigh had been installed in cabin two opposite Wallace in cabin one, and that Sevilla had been given strict orders to notify Wallace the very instant Ashleigh was settled. Perhaps Ashleigh was having his own little bit of theater, making an entrance after everyone else was seated. Two can play at that game, she thought. Virat held Ashleigh’s chair for him and then evaporated to a table in the far corner of the room.

The crew poured champagne for everyone at Wallace’s table. Wallace lifted his glass, “To victory in the regatta and success in other ventures.” Everyone raised their glasses and drank.

Feeling like having a bit of fun, McTrowell asked, “What other ventures pray tell?”

“I suppose it’s safe to tell you, but I must swear Chief Inspector Drake to secrecy as a man of honor.”

“Of course. I have no personal interest in business ventures…so long as they are legal.” Wallace roared with laughter as if the chief inspector had been joking.

“Lord Ashleigh and I are building a new airship port in his home town of Talkad.”

“My older half brother, Vijay Deva, is the current ruling Maharaja of Talkad. Although I have no official power, I am always working for the benefit of my people. Airship travel is the road to prosperity and I wish to open that road for my people. If Talkad has an airship port before the neighboring principalities, my people will benefit with jobs at the port and in commerce, and the tariffs will enrich my half brother’s exchequer.” Sparky smiled. Nowhere in his explanation had he mentioned this enterprise benefiting him directly, although she was sure it would in some way. The generosity of her new friend renewed her faith in humanity. When her attention returned to the conversation, Wallace and Ashleigh had dived into the details of the venture including the number of towers they would build and how the new roads to the port would need to be paved to support the transport of cargo. The table’s occupants were saved from sure boredom by the arrival of the soup course.

Sparky turned her attention to the only other two occupants of the table who seemed a bit out of place. Judging by the similarity of their faces, they were a father and teenage son. Their clothes were of good quality, but all looked absolutely new. And the wearers didn’t look particularly comfortable wearing them. They had a slightly awestruck air about them. What were they doing at Wallace’s table on such an occasion?

“Welcome aboard the Burke & Hare. Will you be accompanying us during the regatta?”

“Um, yes. My name is Aldrich Fremont and this is my son, Jake.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance. Are you racing aficionados?”

“Racing what?”

“Racing enthusiasts?”

“Um, no. This is our first time on an airship.”

“Your first time on an airship and you’re participating in an international regatta? Well, that is certainly bold!”

“Well, I inherited a large old warehouse and dock on the Tyne from my father and his father before him. They’re getting ready to expand the shipyards and they paid me a pretty penny for that rundown bit of Tyneside. No more patching and scraping by for us! Jake and I are having a bit of adventure before he goes off to university.” Jake didn’t look any too excited about the prospect of university. He looked more like the sort of lad whose interests ran to pretty girls and brown ales. As little as Sparky had in common with them, it provided the opportunity for her to give them an education in airships and racing. They looked genuinely interested and altogether grateful for being rescued from the chore of making interesting conversation themselves. It also kept her from having to listen to Wallace and having to make much effort to avoid any eye contact with Ashleigh, potentially giving away the fact that they knew each other. Drake didn’t say a word throughout the meal, only occasionally offering an affirmative sound and nod, but every time she turned to look at him, he met her gaze.

The crew was clearing away the after-dinner port when Wallace stood up without preface and said to Ashleigh, “Shall we go to my cabin to discuss particulars?” And he walked out. Once again displaying more refined manners, Lord Ashleigh executed a slight bow to the other occupants of the table and said, “Good evening. I look forward to our upcoming adventure.” One side of his mouth quirked up in a sly, half smile when he looked directly at Sparky and his eyes twinkled. He sailed gracefully out of the room. Aldrich Fremont stood up as well, followed awkwardly by Jake. “I think we’ll turn in. Good night.”

No sooner had the Fremonts departed than Virat materialized behind Drake and McTrowell. As helpful as the man was, it was unnerving the way he came and went like one of those legendary Japanese ninjas. He produced two identical pieces of Lord Ashleigh’s engraved stationery folded crisply in half, one addressed to each of them. They opened them simultaneously. Each one had an identical, one-line request, “
Please meet me in my cabin. JLA

A Pretty Face

Entry for February 21, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus looked up from his note and glanced at Sparky’s identical note. “May I accompany you to Lord Ashleigh’s cabin?” he asked Dr. McTrowell with a slight smile.

“I’d be delighted,” Sparky replied.

Erasmus retrieved his cane from the nearby wall where he had left it, and putting a well-mannered crook in his left arm, offered it to Sparky. She slid her right hand in, and they proceeded toward the main passageway, walking a bit slower than they would normally on their own, lingering in the moment.

Once inside the passageway, the 14 doors within the hall faced them. But which was Lord Ashleigh’s? Two steps in, and Reginald Wallace’s booming voice could be heard emanating from cabin one. He was clearly doing business with Lord Ashleigh by dominating the conversation. Erasmus didn’t understand how that worked, precisely, but it seemed to be a universal trait of those in command of industrial endeavors. One more step, and Virat opened the door to cabin two in a crisp but inviting manner, and with a small sweep of his hand, offered up two cushioned chairs visible from the doorway, both draped in dark green fabric. Upon entering the room, it became apparent the care that Virat had taken to transform the teak and brass cabin into a sitting room worthy of Lord Ashleigh. The day bed was converted into a magnificent couch, decorated with green, mustard, and burgundy striped pillows, and the cover was a shiny blue overlay that looked silky and luxurious, complete with braided gold-yellow fringe tassels on its outer edge. Both Sparky’s and Erasmus’ eyebrows raised at the sight. A door in the room led apparently to Lord Ashleigh’s chamber.

They settled into the offered chairs; Erasmus’ cane laid once again against the nearby wall. Virat appeared with a steaming silver pot, hovering it over a tea set on the small table between the chairs. The gesture was both an offer and a question. Virat looked first at Sparky, who simply nodded yes. A decisive pour and her cup was full of the light brown liquid, steamy and creamy. She recognized it as the same formulation of chai she had had before. Virat looked at Erasmus, and he also nodded in approval. Another cup was dispensed. All of this was happening without a word. Virat disappeared into the adjoining room; the door clicking quietly shut.

Sparky and Erasmus lifted their cups and gave them a polite raising to each other before taking sips. Sparky broke the silence. “Are you familiar with Indian chai? It was new to me just a few days ago.”

“Actually, no. But I hated the thought of you sitting here sipping it alone. It’s a potent brew with these infused spices. I could smell them on the first pour.” He was desperately trying not to ask her why Lord Ashleigh may have invited him here, not wanting to look curious or uninformed. Perhaps a different line of conversation may help in getting there. “Have you been working with Mr. Wallace for a long time? He seems quite the character!”

“A number of years. But to be honest, he talked so much about himself throughout dinner, I’m sure he hopes that everyone aboard is discussing him. May I suggest we talk about something else? I’m intrigued by your cane. You obviously don’t need it to aid in walking. Does it have sentimental value?”

Erasmus had spent his life giving away very little information about himself, that he felt caught between telling her everything or nothing at all. How did she do that?

“Actually, it is just an added bit of protection. I just don’t feel fully safe empty-handed. So the cane is something to have in my hands when trouble arises. I hope that isn’t too ungentlemanly.” He looked for a negative reaction that never came, so he continued. “I often deal with the rougher side of society. Having a hand up is important.”

“I had assumed as much. But it’s a bit ornate. I had expected a story along the lines of a present or heirloom.”

Erasmus thought that he might as well finally tell this tale. He took a deep breath, and got out two words, “Well, I ...”

The cabin door sprang open and Lord Ashleigh glided in. “I’m terribly sorry to have kept you waiting. I’m so pleased to see that you both accepted my invitation.” He moved gracefully to the couch and sat gently on it. Just as he sat down, Virat appeared from the other room, poured his master a cup of chai, and disappeared again into the other room. Lord Ashleigh continued, “I have been looking forward to this all week.”

Erasmus welcomed the interruption. After years of keeping his past behind him, he couldn’t imagine how this young lady from the Americas had him almost blurt it out with not much more than a simple query. Erasmus thought momentarily how a pretty face came close to loosening his tongue.

Best Laid Plans

Entry for February 28, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“And why is that?” McTrowell asked Ashleigh, failing to notice the look of mixed discomfort and relief on Drake’s face.

“I always enjoy the company of my dear friend, Dr. McTrowell, and I missed seeing her before her departure from London.”

“For which I apologize. Preparing the Burke & Hare for the regatta took considerably more effort than I anticipated.”

“And it was undoubtedly less unnerving than dealing with people after the trials of the preceding week.”

“Insightful of you, as always, Lord Ashleigh.”

Lord Ashleigh beamed brightly and turned his attention to Chief Inspector Drake who had regained his composure. “I have been most anxious to make the acquaintance of the illustrious Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake. Each day I look forward to the delivery of The Times in anticipation of another story of your derring-do, protecting the citizens of London from nefarious miscreants.” Drake fidgeted very slightly in the manner of good men uncomfortable with compliments about their value. “And I am forever in your debt for your part in protecting the life of my dear friend, Dr. McTrowell.” The expression on his face turned somber with this last utterance, reflecting his recognition of the fact that Sparky’s life had been in clear and terrible danger. He brightened back up right away, and a broad smile turned up the corners of his mustache. Ashleigh continued, “Of course, I’m very excited about the regatta. I believe we will all have an excellent adventure!”

“And what is this venture with Wallace and why are we pretending not to know each other?”

“Ah yes, I was certain the very direct Dr. McTrowell would come immediately to this point without beating about the bush.” He grinned and winked at Drake as if to say that they both found this quality of McTrowell’s charming or amusing. “The business venture is precisely as I explained at dinner. Although my older half brother, Vijay Deva, is the current ruler of Talkad, he doesn’t always act with foresight for the well being of his subjects. Nor does he understand, or choose to understand, the potential ramifications of their lack of well being for the throne and its occupant.” He cocked his head and smiled archly as if he hadn’t just called his brother a selfish, idiotic git. “Talkad Palace is currently serving as a British consulate for the region around Talkad. My brother is less than pleased about having British soldiers billeted in his palace, nor does he care for the rather clownish young officer in charge of the garrison. He takes the short view about the situation and concerns himself only with his personal discomfiture. Having spent much of my life in England, I believe I understand the English better than he does. My apologies, Chief Inspector Drake, if my words offend, but the English are fundamentally businessmen. Arranging one’s own interests with the business interests of the English is the surest path to a satisfactory future with them. Denying that such a future will surely exist or fighting their business interests is doomed to failure…for a ruler and for his people. My half brother won’t sit upon the throne forever. Nor do I expect to sit upon it myself. However, whoever sits on the throne will almost certainly be a member of my family and the people he rules will be my people. It is for their future I work.” He took a sip of chai while his words sank in. “As for the pretense that we have only just met, Wallace is a man who will use any information to his advantage, an advantage I don’t intend to give him. I would appreciate your discretion concerning what I’ve just told you.”

Sparky gaped at Ashleigh for a moment. “I’m looking forward to the day when you don’t surprise me. It’s a shame for your people that you’ll never sit on that throne.” And then she too took a sip of her chai because she couldn’t think of anything to add.

Lord Ashleigh leapt into the uncomfortable gap in the conversation. “Dr. McTrowell, would you be so kind as to explain the regatta course?” McTrowell relaxed visibly at the mention of a very comfortable topic.

“We will dock in Paris by morning where we will deposit most of our current passengers who booked passage that far. Of course Wallace wouldn’t waste the cabin space just flying the Burke & Hare to the regatta.” She and Ashleigh had a chuckle. “We’ll pick up a few passengers who are willing to pay a premium to be at the start of the regatta and proceed to Munich. There we’ll unload as much excess weight as possible and collect our referee. He’ll be a handpicked representative of Maximilian II who will ride on the Burke & Hare for the entire race, ensuring we don’t cheat.” She scoffed at the implication that she would need to cheat to win the race. “From there, each leg will be a single day. Munich to Salzburg is a flat run so the crews can learn to work together, and to shake out any pretenders. Salzburg to Innsbruck is the valley run, testing our ability to maneuver the tight confines of the alpine valleys. Then we have the mountain run from Innsbruck to Vaduz. This one has me worried because we’ll be climbing and descending at steep angles for which airships are not really intended. The final leg is the downhill run back to Munich. This will be more of a test of the Burke & Hare’s speed than the crew’s skill. I’m really looking forward to this one because it will take us over the Ludwig South-North railway, a new line being constructed by Royal Bavarian State Railways. Since my piloting duties will be light, I’ll have the opportunity to observe the construction from the air and I do love railroads!”

Just then there was a knock on the cabin door and they heard Wallace’s voice, “Viscount Ashleigh, are you still up?” Drake and McTrowell froze. If Wallace found them here, the secret of their acquaintance with Ashleigh would be revealed. Before they could think what to do, Virat silently opened the door to the other room, stepped out, and waved Drake & McTrowell in. They pulled the door closed behind themselves and each put an ear to the door, the tips of their noses almost touching. They didn’t get to see Virat scoop up their teacups, put them on a side table, and deftly cover them with a cloth before opening the door for Wallace.

Ashleigh stepped in front of the doorway, mostly blocking Wallace’s view of the cabin, although it didn’t keep Wallace from craning his neck around to try to see into the cabin. “Good evening again, Mr. Wallace. I was just enjoying a cup of tea before retiring.” He lifted his teacup from the saucer to his lips to emphasize his point. “How may I be of service?”

“I just wanted to warn you to be careful about our illustrious pilot.” He craned his neck around again as if he expected to see her in the cabin. “One can’t be certain about the nature of a woman of that age who’s not married.”

With their ears pressed to the cabin door, Drake and McTrowell were able to hear Wallace’s words clearly, aided by the inevitable volume of his voice. Drake opened his mouth to defend McTrowell against this slander, but she placed her fingertips over his lips to prevent him from saying a word. She leaned forward to whisper in his ear, her lips so close it made the back of his neck tingle.
“Nemo Me Impune Lacessit. None shall provoke me with impunity.”

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