Drake & McTrowell Icon
The Bavarian Airship Regatta - Page 4: May 25, 2011 - June 28, 2011

Previous Page Next Page

Look Down
Play to Win
Four Countries, Four Stories
Pall Mall
All In Good Time
Augustiner Keller

Look Down

Entry for May 25, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The rest of the room faded away as Sparky concentrated on the perfectly wrapped package on the bed. She shook off the obvious guess as to who would have sent it. Perhaps, instead, it was a bon voyage package from Wallace, or a “good luck” gift from the crew for the regatta. But those were remote possibilities. She knew that the only way to find out was to open it, but that would also open a place in her heart that she had purposely closed off for quite awhile, so she was hesitant.

She picked it up. It was unexpectedly light. Its base was about the size of a shoebox, but the box was considerably flatter. The wrapping gave away that it had been wrapped professionally, most likely by the shop where it was purchased. The wrapping paper was of a fine quality, and was completely held in place by the ribbon that fashioned it; not a hint of glue or paste to simplify the wrapping process. She took gentle hold of one of the ribbon ends and held her breath for a couple of seconds. A slow tug and the bow untied; the ribbon sliding off the package as only satin can.

The paper wrapping relaxed about the box, and begged to be removed. Sparky carefully reached under the wrapping and cradled the box, and removed the paper. The box was a superb paperboard, white, with a gilt swirl on top. Inside was an envelope and a beautiful light yellow silk scarf. Sparky slipped out a “ooo...” and the scarf was around her neck in an instant, the box and envelope left haplessly on the bed as she examined the new adornment in her hand mirror. She thought, “Not too feminine, but just enough. And so stylish! It will make me want to return to Paris all the more.”

Now to the hard part. She took up the small white envelope into her hands. It was tucked rather than glued or sealed. It obviously was written while at the shop of purchase, and secured inside the box before wrapping. Inside was a simple, plain card.

Dearest Sparky,
Please accept this small gift as a memento of our outing in Paris, which I have enjoyed immensely.

The history of the package became obvious to Sparky. Erasmus must have slipped into one of the shops while they were walking about Paris on Tuesday, purchased the scarf, written the note, and had the package delivered here to the Burke & Hare. How clever. That way he wouldn’t have to carry it around or present it immediately. Actually, with all of the excitement of today, he may have even forgotten that he had it sent.

Sparky spent an extra minute mulling over the details of the present and note. It wasn’t too flowery or flattering, but he did use first names, showing a level of familiarity. And despite his claim that it was a small gift, a Parisian silk scarf wasn’t a trifle. The intent of the unexpected package was still to be determined by Sparky. She could wear the scarf to dinner tonight to see the man’s response, jog his memory of the purchase, and force a bit more reaction. That seemed a bit sneaky, but it would not be too outside her usual manners. Making a plan to do just that, she proceeded with dressing for the piloting of an airship.

Sergeant J. B. Fox was on his third round of walking the entire airship. His plan was simple. Memorize the details of the Burke & Hare while all was well so that he could spot changes of interest when they arrived. He had finished the lower deck, and was making his way up to the outer catwalk, hoping to take a last look around before launch.

Sparky entered the bridge in her full pilot’s uniform. First officer, Ivan Krasnayarubashka, who was already making prelaunch preparations, turned and gave her a polite smile, and turned back to his labors. He was using simple hand gestures to verify with the airfield workman on the tower that all of the lines but one were safely released and the Burke & Hare was close to launch.

Sergeant Fox suddenly appeared on the catwalk on the starboard side of the bridge, rapping anxiously on the window. His face was unusually serious. His shouts were nearly inaudible given the thickness of the glass, and he quickly resorted to simply pointing to something off the starboard bow.

Sparky grabbed her brass telescope and aimed it in the direction of the aerial marine’s gesture. Coming through the arched entrance of the airship port was an undulating wave of dust. A shape of golden-color was rushing onto the airfield. Through her telescope, Sparky recognized dozens of brass creatures that were scurrying at top speed. She shouted, “EPACTs! Coming this way!”

Her first thought was to wonder how the EPACTs had found them, and what destruction they could cause on the Burke & Hare.

Ivan’s face screwed up into a quizzical look, and he said “Vat is dat? Ipecac? You vant to be sick?”

She grabbed the voicepipe that lead to the cabin hallway and shouted, “Drake! Drake! To the starboard side! EPACTs!”

The Chief Inspector was just making his exit from Lord Ashleigh’s cabin when he heard the strangely dampened and echoey plea, and sprinted to the main hall leading to the external door. Outside on the catwalk he quickly joined Sergeant Fox. “Where are they?” Erasmus shouted, the slight breeze of the evening air at this altitude making it hard to hear. The Sergeant pointed, but followed with his own question, “What are they?”

“Tunneling and excavation contraptions. We not only encountered them just outside Paris, but ended up capturing a couple.”

Sergeant Fox raised an eyebrow for an instant, but showed no more surprise than that.

The two men looked over the rail to determine how this might play out.

The EPACTs were scurrying in a fashion that actually raised dust despite that the airfield was a well-trimmed lawn. Then, as if flocking birds on the wing, they changed direction in unison, and headed for the site where the sizable Fortis was launching. A single remaining rope line was all that was left on the ground from its launch. The EPACTs were headed directly for it.

The five workman on the port side of the Fortis were oblivious of the scene below as they went about their business of gathering lines and stowing them. The size of the Fortis camouflaged the great distance between the airships, and Erasmus instinctively started to wave his arms to get their attention, to no avail.

Sergeant Fox jumped to the small storage compartment on the bulkhead of the Burke & Hare, and from it took up the red and yellow semaphore flags stashed within. Bracing himself, he started a series of ridged-armed flag positions as succinctly as if he had practiced them earlier in the day. After 10 positions, he repeated them.

“What are you signaling to them?” Erasmus shouted.

“The easiest thing I could think of,” the Sergeant shouted back, “LOOK DOWN!”

The workmen stared at the flags for a few seconds, and then looked down, as directed. But the EPACTs were at the line. At this point, it was also clear that one of the crawlers had carried a cutter on its back to the scene. The first to the line attempted to climb it, but it wasn’t really made for such an endeavor. The best it could do was to trap the rope between three legs and hold on. The next EPACT then scurried over its predecessor and gained a foothold on the line above it. One body length at a time they scurried onto the line. Even from this distance it was clear what the workman did: two ran off to the bridge to request that the Fortis get underway, while the others stayed and sawed away at the sizable rope with their pocket knives.

The race was on, EPACTs climbing one at a time, and the workers slicing the rope as fast as they could. Just as the EPACTs made the halfway point, the rope gave way and down came the jumble of brass and hemp. But unlike living entities that would have had to recover from the fall, the EPACTs righted themselves in an instant, and headed for the Fortis’ tower, climbing up the outside with ease.

The peril was over though. The Fortis had pulled away from the tower before the EPACTs even got to the second floor. The Fortis backed away from the tower slowly, a couple dozen propellers at its aft, chopping away at the air. As the massive airship turned to exit the port, the EPACTs did likewise, changed direction, descended the tower and headed back off the airfield at the same clip they arrived.

Sergeant Fox asked the obvious question, “What could have possibly drawn them to that airship? And with that level of resolve?”

Erasmus said, “I’m not sure,” yet to himself thought, “but I’m afraid I may have set poor Dr. Pogue up for a surprise.”

Play to Win

Entry for May 29, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Drake hurried onto the bridge. “How long until we cast off?”

“Only a few more minutes. We need to clear the Paris air space before we lose the rest of the light.”

“I need to get back down to the telegraph office to send a message to Dr. Pogue warning him about the nature of the EPACTs.”

“You’ll never make it in time and I can’t hold the Burke & Hare. However, I may have another solution. In his constant efforts to extract yet more money from his customers, Wallace installed an optical telegraph on the Burke & Hare. There is a relay at Calais and another at Dover. Once we’re away from the lights of Paris, I can signal to Calais, but we can only hope that Dover isn’t fogged over.” She handed him her enameled pen and one of her calling cards. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to be succinct.”

Drake quickly scribbled a note on the back of the card: DR EDMOND POGUE, SHADWELL, LONDON. CRATE ARRIVING SOONEST. EXTREME CAUTION. CI E L DRAKE. He handed the pen and card back to McTrowell. He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but they were in very close quarters with Mr. Krasnayarubashka. He resigned himself to tipping his bowler and backing out of the bridge.

She inspected the handwriting on the card carefully. She closed her eyes and visualized the handwriting on the small card that had accompanied the scarf. The card in her hand had been written in haste with block letters and only the support of his hand behind the card. The other had been written carefully in script on a proper writing surface. She looked for characteristic similarities, but could find no concrete evidence one way or the other.

Sparky doffed her leather duster as she entered the main hall and handed it to Sevilla. Only one dining table remained in the main hall. Everything save the minimum that Sevilla considered civilized had been removed. Knowing his exceptional organizational skills, she had no doubt that he had planned the menu for the regatta so as to minimize the necessary crockery and cutlery while still offering a delicious variety of foods. The man was truly a marvel. Such a shame he wasn’t an engineer.

She made a bit of a show of untucking and arranging the scarf after she removed her duster, wondering if anyone would notice. If Drake noticed, his expression gave no indication. The extra time it had taken her to calm Mr. Krasnayarubashka’s nerves about the EPACTs and to send the telegraph had made her a few minutes late for dinner. There was only one seat left at the table, right between Drake and Wallace, and directly across from Lord Ashleigh. She was done for! Wallace would bend her ear incessantly. Drake would sit on the other side, silent as the sphinx, offering no intervention. And Ashleigh would just smile sweetly, with only his cheery brown eyes revealing his mirth at her discomfort.

All the gentlemen stood as she approached the table and Sevilla held her chair for her. She wondered why they continued these habits when she was the only woman around, but all previous efforts to change this behavior has come to naught, so she just went along with it. At least this evening it had the benefit of providing noisy cover for her to whisper to Drake as they all sat back down, “I will discover how you managed the purchase and delivery of the gift.”

No sooner had they settled than Lord Ashleigh flashed a brilliant, wicked smile at her and commented, “Dr. McTrowell, what a lovely scarf. I believe it’s a perfect complement to your hair.” So, a co-conspirator was revealed.

“Why thank you. One would hardly have thought I would have had time to shop during all of today’s excitement.” Of course, the entirety of the true conversation escaped Wallace who thought they were actually discussing a scarf, a topic of absolutely no interest to him.

“Sevilla, champagne to celebrate Western & Transatlantic’s glorious finish in the regatta,” Wallace boomed. Everyone else at the table looked at each other uncomfortably. Confidence was one thing, but this was just bald-faced arrogance. Sevilla wisely pretended that serving the soup course was an exacting science requiring skills of which a chemist would be proud, thereby delaying any action, or lack thereof, on Wallace’s outrageous order. Sparky scanned the faces of her cowardly dinner companions, a task made more challenging by their sudden, intent interest in their dinner napkins and fingernails, giving her a better view of the tops of their heads than their faces. Ah well, once more into the breach.

“Sir, if I may be uncharacteristically cautious and modest; it seems a bit premature to be celebrating. The other pilots are exceptionally qualified, and I would not want to bet against their skills in the treacherous peaks and valleys of the Alps.”

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Luck is for the unprepared.” Up to this point, Sergeant Fox had made almost no impression at all on McTrowell. However, Wallace’s last comment made him sit up even straighter in his dress uniform, if such a thing were physically possible, and fix Drake with a stern and meaningful look. At least it appeared to be meaningful to Fox and Drake, but it only served to induce more trepidation in McTrowell. There was another topic on which she would need to buttonhole Drake later, but one problem at a time. She hated to stoop to such a tactic, but it was the only one against which Wallace had no effective defense under the circumstances. She turned to Sevilla and fixed him with the smile her mother referred to, ironically, as “sweet as pie.”

“Luis-Miguel, surely you acquired some nice Bordeaux while we were in Paris?” Sevilla was so thankful to McTrowell for throwing him a lifeline that he didn’t flinch when she referred to him by his first name. He produced a bottle and opened it so fast that McTrowell wondered if he had been carrying it around in his pocket. He promptly poured her a glass, which she immediately raised, “To the Burke & Hare, the finest ship of the air.” She had to hold her arm in the air for an uncomfortable period of time before Sevilla managed to pour a round for the rest of the dinner guests, but it was worth it to forestall any further discussion on Wallace’s part.

“To the Burke & Hare,” the rest of the guests chimed in. Sevilla had an instant of panic when Wallace took his first sip of wine because the look on his face suggested the Bordeaux was corked. But no, it was only the bitterness of Dr. McTrowell besting him. The rest of the guests smiled when they tasted his selection. Sparky took rather more than a sip.

The rest of dinner passed without incident. Drake, McTrowell, Ashleigh, and Fox seemed to have made a silent pact to discuss neither Wallace’s comment nor the multiple EPACT encounters of the day, so dinner conversation was reduced to the Fremonts recounting their “adventures” in Paris, mostly strolling through the Latin Quarter gawking at its colorful denizens. They stayed at the dinner table only as long as polite manners absolutely required. Lord Ashleigh rose first.

“Lady and gentlemen, I find I am quite depleted from today’s exertions. Good evening to you all.” With that he walked smartly out of the main hall. Drake, McTrowell, and Fox stood up and said, nearly simultaneously, “Good evening,” and marched out as well. When they reached the passage outside the main hall, they found the door to Ashleigh’s cabin held open by Virat. They filed into the cabin without question and Virat closed the cabin door silently behind them.

Virat’s hand was still on the knob when Dr. Sparky exploded in the manner that had earned her her unusual moniker, “Did I just hear Wallace admit that he’s going to cheat to win the regatta? He may only care about winning, but I have a reputation to maintain! How can I be taken seriously as a pilot if it comes out that the race was fixed? It won’t matter that I had nothing to do with it! They’ll all say that the only way a woman could have won the regatta was by cheating!” She turned on Drake and Fox. “And what was that look you two exchanged during dinner? What do you know about all this? Out with it!”

Drake cleared his throat. “A woman won the regatta? Now who is celebrating prematurely?”

She scowled back at him. “You know what I mean. I intend to win and I intend to do it fair and square. ‘Play to win.’ That’s my motto.” While her personal motto was news to Drake, it certainly wasn’t a surprise.

“I can assure you that, if Mr. Wallace intends to cheat, neither Sergeant Fox nor I have any knowledge of it.”

Lord Ashleigh piped up, “Nor I.”

“We will be assigned an unimpeachable referee in Munich, a personal representative of Maximilian II of Bavaria. He will know all the rules without consulting the rulebook. He will be absolutely up to date on all the latest techniques for cheating. He will be unbribeable because his life would be forfeit to the emperor if he were to accept a bribe. In short, Sergeant Fox and I are concerned about the extremity to which Wallace would have to go to cheat.” Drake glanced at Fox who, at that moment, was marveling at the fact that Drake had offered up such a plausible explanation without uttering the word, “pirate.”

McTrowell let out a weary sigh. “I suppose there’s nothing to do but be patient and see what he has planned. Patience is not one of my better qualities. Good evening, gentlemen.” Drake and Ashleigh put up a mighty struggle not to chuckle at this statement as she turned to go. Virat executed an exaggeratedly low bow to hide his face as he held the cabin door for her. Even he had his limits.

Sparky was thankful for turning in at a reasonable hour when the early morning light filtered in through the porthole of her cabin. The last few days had been taxing and she would need to be at her best for the next week. She rose and dressed quickly. Ivan would be tired and in need of some sleep too. He jerked upright in his chair as she entered the bridge, not a moment too soon. “Mr. Krasnayarubashka, job well done. Go get yourself some sleep.”

He mumbled, “
Spasiba,” and trudged off the bridge. Sevilla caught the bridge door before it closed.

Buenos dias, Señorita McTrowell.”

Buenos dias, Señor Sevilla.” He handed her a steaming mug of café con leche into which he had scooped some cocoa. It was going to be a good day. She could just make out the outskirts of a city up ahead. She pulled out her brass telescope and scanned the countryside. She flipped open her pocket watch and checked the time; Munich, right on time. She scanned to the right, looking for the large open space that would be the airfield. She spotted such an open space. At one end was an inclined embankment with some kind of colored shield on it. It was a hooded monk with outstretched arms made of tiles or paving stones. Written underneath in the same materials was the word Ludwigsvorstadt.

The Crest of Munich.jpg
The Crest of Munich

Four Countries, Four Stories

Entry for June 12, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

A small stone building sat near the edge of a rocky cliff on the northern shore of Calais, France. The structure had an odd tower above it, topped with large parabolic dish fashioned from a collection of polished metal plates, pointed out across the English Channel. At the heart of dish was a mirror that was being toggled about once per second, flopping this way and that. To the untrained eye, the action looked spastic and random. To the two engineers within the building, it was the lifeblood of the communication system that reached across the English Channel. Although there had been an unsuccessful attempt to lay a wire telegraph cable across the Strait of Dover last year, it would be months before it is attempted again, and the light telegraph worked properly most of the time.

The night was setting in, cold and damp. Although communication during the day was possible, it was slow enough that waiting until night was commonplace, since the signals, a sequence of momentary flashes of light, could be relayed much more quickly. But tonight wasn’t starting out well; the mist was coming off the channel, causing the 21 miles to the English shore to be unreachable by their light beam. The engineers grumbled. They were looking at a late night or long day tomorrow, and that meant sleeping in one hour shifts to check the on-going conditions. They had a stack of telegrams to relay as quickly as technically possible. Near the bottom of the stack sat a message from Chief Inspector Drake.

The first workmen to approach any landing airship were nicknamed the line monkeys, and this was true at the Ludwigsvorstadt airship landing site as well as at all other airship ports. These brave men had the very dangerous job of gathering up the lines deployed by the incoming airship, which if mishandled would easily wrap around a limb or torso and do grievous harm if the airship shifted as it came under the influence of the unpredictable air currents near the ground. Even lighter airships, such as racing ones, would be quick to pivot, or come under the effect of a warm bubble of air rising off the airfield, causing a sudden skyward rebound.

As the Burke & Hare descended, four men, quick and strong, grabbed the lines as if they were living vipers, and hand-over-hand climbed high enough to force their own body weight to help in the airship’s decent. Within an instant the airship was determined to be under control, and a fifth man, on the tower assigned to the craft, was tossed a lead line off the bow of the airship, which he quickly secured and threaded through the winch to tow in the vessel for the remaining feet until it safely docked. Additional lines were dropped and secured. The movement of the airship was reduced to a minute quirky sway, with the Burke & Hare imitating a fine race horse, trying to be calm as it was lead to the starting line.

Two other airships were already at the airfield: the entry from Germany, the Iron Eagle, and the entry from France, Le Lapin. Despite the early hour, each had their own flurry of activity: the loading of fuel and water, inspection of envelopes and the crisscross of lines embracing them, and in the case of the Le Lapin, the colorful paintings of a leaping rabbit on each side was being touched up by its crew from rope ladders.

Sparky snapped her brass telescope into its full length, and peered through it at the Iron Eagle and the activity beneath it. To Sparky, the Iron Eagle had a seriousness to its appearance that was awe inspiring. The envelope was literally bullet-shaped, and the gondola clung closely to it, wrapped in the same material, as if hiding the piloting area in an airship marsupial pouch. Sparky’s competitiveness kicked in. Quietly to herself she said, “Too long to be as maneuverable as the Burke & Hare, although it will do well in the straight runs. Hmmm.”

She was familiar with the exploits of the German racing master, Willy Dampf, and was looking forward to meeting him. In her mind, he was the competitor to beat. She was able for find him easily in the busyness below his craft: a tall, barrel-chested man, wearing a black uniform with ornamental shoulder epaulets, and clearly at the hub of activity. What was unexpected was the young gentleman beside him to whom Willy was giving a great deal of attention. The lad looked to be a young teenager. Willy and he had a very lively conversation going, pointing up at their airship’s envelope, rudder, propellers, and nose, and discussing something where both were listening to the others ideas. It would have been very advantageous to Sparky if she could overhear that conversation, she thought.

In the middle of Hartford, Connecticut, was a fairly newly built factory, complete with brick walls, two high smokestacks, and a sign over the front door that read “Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company.” Inside the building was a bustling factory floor, manufacturing revolvers for the Mexican-American War. In the plainly furnished office in the corner of the building sat a slightly confused Samuel Colt. He laid down the letter that he was reading, a lengthly fifteen page tome, and wrinkled up his face at what it was describing. Another gentleman walked into Samuel’s office, and noted the quizzical look.

“What’s bothering you Sam?” he asked.

“Ah, Eli, I didn’t hear you walk in. It’s a letter from a London lawman. He owns one of my ’49s. He’s quite happy with it, but sent along these detailed notes on how to improve the firing mechanism. It’s the idea of using the exhaust gas pressure to expend the spent cartridge and insert the next round in place. It’s been discussed before, as you know, but his ideas address the manufacturing of the mechanism. His notes read like he has been in the firearms business for a while. At first I thought he was taking us to court by fooling us into imitating his patented idea. But the end of the letter clearly indicates that he’s turning the whole concept over to us to do with as we see fit.”

“Does any of it make sense, or is it just another amateur trying his hand at engineering?”

“I have to believe he’s studied the craft of arms manufacturing. Look at the details of these drawings! Although they are hand-drawn, he has bore sizings, spring tensioning details, locations of set screws, and three pages of timing illustrations. There are no details on metal hardness, but that could be determined without too much effort.”

“Sam, we need to get this order of revolvers out to Captain Samuel Walker as soon as we can. Please don’t let this distract you. We’ll need to add a new wing to the factory if the war continues.”

“Mr. Blake, you’re absolutely correct. I’ll set this aside until we have time to look it over.”

As the morning fog lifted, the London airship port line monkeys could see the immense airship above them: the Fortis was starting its descent toward the airfield. A cadre of eighteen men were needed to bring in the cargo airship, and they had to work as a unified team. Their very lives depended on it. The crew leader started his set of vocalizations that could travel over the field. “Ho. Ho. Gaa. Ho. Now!!” The men rushed in unison to their appointed lines. Inside the cargo area, the very tip of a brass leg jutted out momentarily between two pine boards, and then disappeared back into the crate.

Erasmus was dressed and preparing to exit his cabin as the Burke & Hare was being docked. Again, a serious knock came at his door. He recognized it immediately. At the same time he swung the door open, he said, “Good morning Sergeant Fox.”

The sergeant fired a welcome directly back, “And a good morning to you, Chief Inspector. Our mission truly starts today. I would like to inventory our weapons and, if I may inquire, the mastery we have over each. I don’t want to learn this information when its too late.”

Erasmus thought to himself, “I like this chap’s forthrightness and gumption. He’ll make a good comrade in arms.”

Pall Mall

Entry for June 13, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Edmond!? Edmond, dearest?! We have company for dinner.”

Dr. Edmond Pogue emerged from behind an enormous book that hid his presence in the large and well-used wing chair by the fireplace.

“As you say.”

Miss Slate walked right up to Dr. Pogue without introduction, looked him straight in the eye, and stuck out her hand to shake his. Pogue was so unaccustomed to being treated as neither a celebrity nor a curiosity, especially by a young woman, that he returned the gesture unthinkingly. She shook his hand smartly. “Miss Sarah Slate of Aspinock, Connecticut. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. I have read your treatises on high-pressure pistons with keen interest. Your sister, Miss Esmeralda Pogue, was kind enough to invite me to meet you and join you for dinner, although I would not presume to intrude on your private life.”

“Um, my private life? Does that mean you would presume to intrude on my professional life?”

“As I said, I have read your treatises on high-pressure pistons with keen interest. My grandfather left me a small inheritance with which to pursue my interests. I am traveling in Britain and the continent examining industrial and scientific works. I consider it very good fortune to have met your sister today as it affords me the opportunity to meet you in person and discuss your work.”

Pogue was slightly stunned by Miss Slate’s plainspoken manners as years of attempting to communicate with his sister had proven to be an exasperating exercise in feminine prevarication. Little did he know that his sister had much the same feeling about their communications, obscurity being in the ear of the beholder.

“Well then, Miss Slate. Dinner is not quite ready yet. Would you like a tour of my laboratory?”

“Yes, I would like that very much.” In years past, Esmeralda would have been peevish about being disregarded as if she were nothing but a small side table, but she had long since realized that there was no interrupting Edmond’s brain when it found something more fascinating. She headed out the side door of the drawing room toward the kitchen to check on dinner preparations.

McTrowell turned her attention to the activity on the ground. Preparations were mostly complete. At the base of the emblazoned embankment was a stage draped in suffocating waves of red and black bunting. The platform was set with a dozen or more baroque chairs dripping with gold leaf and upholstered in red and black, although she wouldn’t have gone so far as to describe them as matching the bunting, given the battle of fabric patterns. In the center of the stage was a dais with a podium on top, the sum of which towered over everything else on the stage. Even more gold leaf and bunting! No doubt this was Emperor Maximillian’s perch from which to extol the glory of the event to the adoring (or cowering) masses that would assemble in the grandstands arrayed in large U facing the stage. Ah yes, and the arrangement of grandstands left plenty of room for a marching band. Her stomach executed a little churn when she realized that she was probably expected to occupy one of those baroque chairs for the entirety of the opening ceremonies, feigning interest and gratitude. She hoped that Sevilla hadn’t offloaded all the good port in Paris.

There was a great deal of activity near the base of one of the unoccupied towers. There were shipping pallets and crates strewn around the ground, but in an elliptical shape where the inside area of the ellipse was clear and about the size of a small airship. Even from the air she could see big yellow circles painted on many of the crates with large blue numbers painted inside them. The crates seemed to be arranged in sequential, clockwise order. She pulled out her telescope again. She could make out dozens of workmen pulling metal beams and wooden slats out of the crates. Other men were rushing around holding sheets of paper with diagrams on them, small boxes of screws, and bent rods of various sizes. They were examining the diagrams, fishing screws out of the boxes, and using the bent rods to fasten the beams and slats together. Although the whole activity appeared completely chaotic, by the time the line monkeys had the Burke & Hare safely anchored, the men on the ground had assembled something that looked remarkably like the gondola of a small airship.

Sparky put away her telescope and made a complete circuit of the Burke & Hare’s catwalks, double checking the security of the mooring lines and ensuring everything was in good order. When she returned to the airship in a few hours, she would be accompanied by the Emperor’s referee. Despite his supposed objectivity, his first impression of the ship would color all his subsequent judgments of the crew. She intended to run a clean race, but she wanted the referee to be favorably disposed should circumstances call for a little “latitude.” Satisfied that the Burke & Hare was in a state of complete preparation, she marched across the gangplank to the scaffolding that served as a temporary mooring tower. The tails of her leather duster flapped wildly behind her as she bounded down the stairs of the tower. The first smells of summer swept down from the Alps, lifting her spirits. She was really looking forward to the regatta!

Half an hour later, her spirits were in the doldrums again. She had arrived a few minutes early at the judges’ station and collected a copy of the rules printed in English. There was a lot of superfluous text, but the rules were the obvious ones:

  • No drafting
  • No intentionally forcing an opponent down or into a mountainside
  • Minimum and maximum altitudes for each of the legs of the race
  • No dropping ballast after a leg had begun
  • Additional equipment and devices not inspected by the referees prior to the start of the race was strictly forbidden
  • The decisions of the referees and judge were final

It had taken her less than five minutes to read and absorb the rules. And then the referees, judge, and other pilots arrived. The judge welcomed each pilot personally, showing off that he could greet each of them in their native language. “Guten tag, Herr Dampf. Bon jour, Monsieur du Garde. Buenos dias, Señor Garza. God dag, Herr Swenson. Good morning, Miss Dr. McTrowell.” Oh well, at least he was trying. “Ich bin Herrn Zimmermann.”

He then proceeded to make some sort of speech in German, in very slow, sonorous tones, punctuating his monolog with grandiose hand gestures. This went on for several minutes during which she thought she would nod off despite a good night’s sleep. Then he switched to Swedish and after another minute she realized she was seeing the same hand gestures again. She was shifting from foot to foot to stay awake by the time he got around to English. And then she discovered that he wasn’t even saying anything of substance! Glorious Bavarian Alps, magnanimity of the Emperor in hosting the regatta, the honor of good sportsmanship… Only the risk of incurring the disfavor of the referees kept her from pulling faces at the judge. Although, truth to tell, a few of the referees were struggling to maintain their carefully constructed façades of professional decorum and she was sure she caught one of them rolling his eyes. The judge finally finished his human marionette show in all five languages. He picked up a copy of the rules printed in German and handed it to Captain Dampf. He picked up another copy for himself and began reading them out loud! Was there going to be no end to this torture?

Just as she felt her brain actually getting numb, she heard the level of noise on the field behind her rise above the usual hum and clatter. She heard rowdy shouting. She was dying to turn around and see what was causing the commotion, but she wasn’t going to be the first. The revelry was getting louder and closer. It finally disrupted the judge’s droning and he now wore an expression of umbrage that suggested he felt this interruption warranted a martial response. One of the referees turned toward the noise and Sparky seized the opportunity to do likewise. A dozen or so gentlemen dressed entirely in white were gamboling across the airfield shouting, “Hup, hup, hup,” in cheerful unison. Their sprightliness was remarkable considering the fact that they were loaded down with picnic hampers, folding chairs and a table, umbrellas, and two sets of brightly colored mallets and matching balls. When the white-clad swarm reached the middle of the field, they spread out. Despite their disorganized appearance, it only took them moments to set up a picnic table covered with white linen and loaded down with mouthwatering picnic fare and champagne! Everyone on the field stood in stunned silence. And then, in a twinkling, the cohort had laid out two perfectly straight pitches of iron arches without any measuring!

Sparky heard a string of invectives coming from behind her. While she didn’t speak German, she was pretty sure she recognized the sound of cursing in any language. The judge was so infuriated by the intrusion into his moment in the sun that he was spitting as he cursed. Little droplets of spittle clung to the bottom of his moustache. Although there were a couple of sympathetic looks among the referees and pilots, they were mostly captivated by the spectacle in the middle of the field. The judge stormed off toward the entrance of the airfield, probably in search of enforcements. Ah well, nothing to do but pass the time until this little disruption sorted itself out. Her curiosity got the best of her, as usual. She picked out the tallish fellow who seemed to be directing the improvisational fête and walked straight up to him.

“Guten tag.”

“Guten tag. You’re not German.”

“Nor are you.” But the accent was neither quite British nor quite French.

“Breton. Marius Hinault, at your service.” And he doffed his hat with several extraneous and extravagant flourishes.

“Dr. Sparky McTrowell, pleased to meet you. What is this?”

“Pall mall, a game of skill. Mark my words; it will be all the fashion quite shortly. Will you care to join us in a match?” He followed this by a sweep of his arm as exaggerated as the hat salute to indicate the pitch.

“I don’t believe I know this game. And Herr Zimmermann will undoubtedly return with the Wachtmeister in short order.”

“On this I depend!”

“Excuse me? You’ll be arrested.”

“Oh most certainly not. Maximillian will never permit his grand event to be spoiled thus. Merely we will be asked to leave and so it will be in all the broadsheets. And thus shall I make my great fortune.” His head bobbled enthusiastically. He raised his arm above his head, made a couple of swiveling motions of his hand, and snapped his fingers twice. One of his compatriots dashed over and handed him two glasses of champagne, one of which he extended to Sparky.

Caution was not generally in her nature, but she hesitated before she took it from his hand. “You say ‘thus’ quite a lot. How will you ‘thus’ make your great fortune?”

“In my family are carpenters for generations. When my father dies, I look for new ventures. We play this game and I think it needs more color. So I make these.” This time his sweeping arm motion took in the rack of painted, matching mallets and balls. “The dilettantes will thus read about our party in the broadsheets and they must buy a set. I am making the only ones like this which they must have!” He threw his arms up in the air, nearly spilling his champagne. “Oops.” He took a sip of his champagne, selected a bright blue mallet and matching ball, and marched onto the pitch.

Sparky abandoned her unaccustomed attempt at caution, took a sip of her champagne, grabbed the matching yellow set, and followed. A few of Hinault’s partners in mischief joined them on the pitch as Hinault explained the rules. He took the first stroke, but missed the first arch. Someone helpfully took her champagne glass out of her hand so she could take her shot. It went in generally the right direction, but was a little short. She turned back around to discover her glass in the hand of Willy Dampf. He had a glass and matching mallet and ball set of his own. “Zis looks like fun, ja?” He held out his glass, so she returned the favor and held his glass while he took his shot.

As Hinault had expected, a crowd gathered, including a few reporters. Since the Wachtmeister had not yet arrived and the mischief seemed contained to the pitch, no one concerned themselves enough to intervene. The fact that one of the Bretons was passing through the crowd handing out glasses of champagne and small plates of cheese and charcuterie probably placated the crowd as well. Although the contestants all started off pretty well, it became clear on the second turn that Hinault had had quite a bit more practice than everyone else, including the other Bretons. He beat them all on only his third, and very timely, turn. Herr Zimmermann had returned at the head of a small troop of Wachtmeister.

Sparky stepped backward into the crowd, slowly and nonchalantly. One of the Bretons threaded his way through the crowd, relieving the spectators and Sparky of their champagne glasses while another zipped about the pitch, snatching up the iron arches and a third collected and racked the balls and mallets. Marius Hinault strolled up to Herr Zimmermann with his hands clasped prayerfully under his chin, a smile on his face, the very picture of serene good cheer. Needless to say, Herr Zimmermann’s expression bore nothing in common with Hinault’s. Sparky couldn’t hear their exchange because she took advantage of the diversion to return to the judge’s table at a smart clip before Herr Zimmermann noticed that she had been an accomplice to the unauthorized frivolity. Captain Dampf rejoined her a moment later, striding up as if he had been away on important business. He winked and smiled conspiratorially at her, but didn’t say anything.

The pilots watched the spat from a distance for a few more minutes. The reporters stood just out of range and scribbled frantically. Despite the waving, pointing exhortations of Herr Zimmermann, the Wachtmeister seemed disclined to take punitive action. The instant that the judge’s hands came to a rest, Hinault grabbed his right hand and gave it a firm, warm shake, smiling broadly. He turned and waved to the reporters and crowd. And he simply walked off the field, having been safely preceded by his brothers in arms with all their gear.

Willy Dampf turned to her and smiled again. “
Neffer or alvays do business vis zat mon.”

All In Good Time

Entry for June 26, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The morning fog was lifting off the streets of London. Dew, which is beautiful as it settles over an English meadow, had a different effect on limestone city buildings: it made them slick to the touch and added a slight shine. Within minutes, the condensation formed rivulets on the stone walls, gathering the previous day’s soot as it trickled down in minute, running-mascara tears. Dr. Edmond Pogue took note of this, as he often did, as he made his way to his laboratory. What intrigued him was the competition between order and chaos, and how the simple reaction to temperature changes of the buildings and air, and the relationship of humidity and gravity caused the building walls to self-clean. Well, to some extent. But, over time, the cycle of night and day, cooling and heating, caused the buildings to become cleaner, less chaotic. Interesting and strange.

As Edmond neared the laboratory tower, he saw a figure standing near the entrance. As he approached, it became clear that it was Miss Sarah Slate, returned from dinner and the tour of the laboratory the night before. She was staring at the granite stone of the building, completely obsessed with what she was studying. She was dressed as simply as the previous day, a light woman’s jacket over a checked cotton dress. She wasn’t wearing one of those fashionable hoop skirts, thank goodness, since it was clear that she wanted to re-visit the laboratory. She was using her finger to dam up a rivulet of condensation, then reroute it to another path. Was she thinking of the struggle between order and chaos, Edmond wondered, or was she off on some other tangent completely?

“Good morning, Miss Slate.”

She simply turned, without hesitation, and replied, “Dr. Pogue, last night at dinner you offered a continued discussion on piston compression and the theory of multi-stage steam engines. I am here for that discussion.”

Normally, one would be taken back by such brusqueness, but just one dinner with Miss Slate was all it took for Edmond to learn her ways. He was neither surprised nor put off.

“Now would be excellent. I am expecting to complete some analysis today, and start some new work, but that can wait for a short time. Allow me to let you in.”

At that, Edmond produced a sizable key ring covered with a jumble of keys of varying proportions. One of the largest was guided by Edmond into the door lock, turned, and greeted the two of them with a most satisfying sound of turning tumblers and sliding latches. With a push, the heavy wooden door groaned on its iron hinges as it swung open.

“After you,” Edmond offered, and Sarah walked in without hesitation.

Sarah entered the granite-walled hallway that ran for approximately one hundred feet straight ahead from the entrance. On its right side were a number of archway openings for domestic rooms, such as a kitchen and a sitting room. But the prize for Sarah was at the end of the hallway, the door leading to the well-publicized tower laboratory. She could not hold back her enthusiasm, and walked as quickly as she could without running to the far door. There, she opened the door herself, and stepped out onto the landing within the tower. The look on her face was if she had found a new home. She surveyed the tower laboratory, and it was all she could do to not sprint down the stairs. Despite her being there just the night before, her eyes grew large, and she was just taking it all in as Dr. Pogue caught up to her.

“Grand, isn’t it?” Edmond asked, seeing it through her eyes. “Go on down, I’ll be right with you.”

As Sarah descended the stairs, Edmond turned, and as expected, Yin was quietly waiting behind him holding a rosewood serving tray bearing a silver tea set and a china cup.

She smiled delicately. “I have your Earl Grey, Doctor. The usual: two lumps and a splash of milk?”

“Thank you. Yin, that would be perfect.” After a slight pause, he added, “You may want to ask Miss Slate if she would like something.”

Yin nodded acceptance to the request, and backed away a step, and turned towards the kitchen to retrieve a second teacup.

Edmond gave Sarah a greater amount of his morning time than he had originally intended. As with most conversations regarding high pressure systems, the mathematics were straightforward enough, and were covered in the first half hour or so. But the comparison of the theoretical and the practical was the fascinating part for both of them. What caused pressure leakage, mechanical failure, long-term corrosion? How can engine dimension scaling, multi-piston staging, and dry-steam reciprocation, and any other consideration be employed to maximize temperature energy conversion into mechanical energy? How does the materials used for the boiler, engine, and drive chain effect output? Now those topics were interesting and entertaining.

Near 10 AM, Yin descended the stairway and approached Edmond, even though he and Sarah were deep in conversation and layering pencil mark mathematics over pencil mark mechanical drawings on a stack of paper that was slid back and forth between the two of them.


“Yes, Yin.”

“I wanted to tell you that two delivery men are here with two crates. Should I have them brought down?”

“Odd. I wasn’t expecting any deliveries. Yes, please have them brought down.”

In a few minutes, Edmond and Sarah cleared one of the laboratory tables, the delivery men placed the two crates on it, and they withdrew after Yin provided them a nice compensation for their efforts.

One of the crates looked slightly damaged in transit. On top of it was the shipping instructions and an attached letter. Dr. Pogue removed and open the letter, punctuating his reading the complete letter silently by reading key phrases out loud.

“Delightful! It is from Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake! ... Contents are mechanized mining tools. ... Interesting. ... EPACTs. Electric-Powered Automated Crawling Transport. Two crates containing ...”

In her enthusiasm, both to help Edmond and through her own curiosity, while Edmond was reading, Sarah took up a nearby pry bar and started to open the top of the slightly damaged crate. One corner came up.

Yin appeared at the top of the stairs again, and swept smoothly down the stairs. “Doctor! A telegram has arrived.” She handed the envelope to Edmond. Edmond ripped open the envelope without hesitation knowing that in his business, telegrams were only sent if there was an urgent communication. Unfortunately, the top line of the telegram was a formally-worded expression of regret and defense from the transmission conglomerate.


“Curious,” he says. “I love puzzles, I bet I can make a good guess at the original transmission.” And he read out loud the miscommunication.


“Well, it’s also from the Chief Inspector. And it’s particularly garbled. Let’s see ...” Edmond turned his back to Sarah and ran his left-hand fingers through his brown hair while staring at the telegram.

Sarah was not interested in jumbled word games. Pry bar in hand, she returned to the task of opening the crate. She took on a second top corner. Pry bar in place, she pulled down using her weight to force the corner up. In an instant, the EPACT inside muscled its way out, being even scarier by being crippled. It crawled out like a ghoul from the grave, its broken legs working spasmodically while its two good legs dragged it forward, as if going for its liberator. Sarah didn’t scream, but instead stood catatonically at the sight of the diminutive brass monster. Edmond spun around in time to see Yin grab the empty crate, flip it upside down, and slap it over the crawling EPACT just inches from the feet of Miss Slate. Then, just as quick, she jumped onto the box, standing, to hold its prisoner again. The EPACT reacted to being caught again, and began poking holes through the side of the crate with its two good legs.

It took quite a while for Edmond to capture the EPACT, calm down Sarah, who didn’t like being startled, and realize that Erasmus was trying to warn Edmond of “extreme danger,” or something of that nature, with the telegram. However, Edmond did note Yin’s quick response, and cool demeanor. Perhaps there was more to Yin than he had previously suspected.

The rest of the letter, which Edmond read out loud for Sarah, explained what Erasmus knew of the switch on the base of the EPACTs, and the Chief Inspector’s desire to understand how such a small mechanism can do so much autonomously with such strength and endurance. Sarah and Edmond looked at each other, and knew they had a shared interest.

“Miss Slate, would you care to be in my employ to investigate this mystery?”

“But of course. Can we start today?”

“Delightful! Just delightful!”

On the Burke & Hare, Erasmus and Sergeant J. B. Fox agreed that the limited size of Erasmus’ cabin room was too confining to properly display their various martial skills, both with and without weapons. With swords and pistols tucked under their arms and stuffed in their jacket pockets, they exited the Burke & Hare, and found a cleared quiet corner of the airship landing grounds.

For the next hour, they both demonstrated their shadow fencing skills, hand-to-hand combat, and pistol handling. Styles were compared, and in general admired, although they both agreed that the Chief Inspector had a good deal of room for improvement regarding his pistol handling capabilities. The final exchange had the men stripped to the waist, illustrating the pugilistic techniques that they preferred.

Gathering their shirts and vests, J. B. said, “That was very instructive. I have enough particulars to proceed forward with planning against the marauders.”

“All due respect, my dear man, but how can you have enough to make plans? Do you have additional information on how these pirates operate? Or their strategy? Can you share with me what kind of battle preparations would make sense?”

J. B. smiled. “All in good time. It will be revealed all in good time.”

Erasmus uncomfortably accepted this answer, but tucked this issue in the back of his mind to think upon later.

The two men returned to the Burke & Hare to store their armaments. While in the sergeant’s cabin, J. B. commented, “My good man, I do believe you didn’t revel everything either. All of your defensive sword postures show a slight squaring of your hips and shoulders, indicating that you are used to having a second sword or staff in your right hand. You didn’t show a two-sword technique. Are you planning to share that with me?”

It was Erasmus’ turn to smile. “You are very observant. All will be revealed in good time.”

They both understood the symmetry of the information that they withheld, and the understanding of men who highly regard their privacy. At that point, J. B. opened his trunk to place in his sword, and Erasmus spied a complicated wooden slat and canvas mechanism stashed within. “Ah ha,” thought Erasmus, “this military man has even more tricks up his sleeve.”

Augustiner Keller

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

What was it with all these infernal headaches? Sparky felt like she had a fence post sticking out of the back of her head. She gingerly opened her eyes one at a time, wincing as the light coming in through the porthole assaulted her light-starved pupils. Things were not yet in focus when she heard Drake’s voice off to her left, “You’re awake!” For a man usually so reserved, he managed to pack quite a lot of relief and concern into three syllables.

“Yes, and you’re quite loud.” She hadn’t meant to sound quite so surly.

“I’m terribly sorry, Dr. McTrowell. I am exceedingly relieved that you appear to be on the mend. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“What?” Her surroundings were now in focus. The sun was setting. On the wrong side of the ship. And she was in the wrong cabin. “Who moved the Burke & Hare and what am I doing in Lord Ashleigh’s bed?”

“No one moved the Burke & Hare since you docked it three days ago. I am endeavoring to explain why you are in this cabin.”

“Three days ago!? What day is it and why is the sun setting off the port side?” Her raised voice must have penetrated the walls of the cabin because Lord Ashleigh dashed into the room followed closely into the cramped space by Virat.

“Oh, my dear friend, I feared the worst!” Ashleigh exclaimed. “I haven’t slept for two nights!” Virat simply proffered a hot cup of chai, but the smile in eyes conveyed his own sense of happy relief. McTrowell took a long, grateful swallow of the steamy, sweat, spicy drink that miraculously dulled the throbbing in the back of her head.

“Obviously something momentous has happened and I’m the last to know.”

Drake returned to his questioning, not entirely successfully resisting his natural tendencies to make it an interrogation. “The sun is not setting; it’s rising. It is,” he snapped open his pocket watch, “8:15 AM, Saturday, May 31st. If you will tell me what you remember of the events of Thursday, May 29th, I will fill in everything else.”

Drake and McTrowell were passing the tower dock for The Iron Eagle, heading for the exit from the airfield, when Captain Dampf exited the tower.

“Und vot mischief are you zeeking today, Captain McTrowell?”

“My colleague, Chief Inspector Drake, and I are going to sample the local beer about which we have heard so much.”

“Hm, an excellent idea. Und vere vill you be performing zis sampling?”

“We have heard a great deal about the Hofbräuhaus.”

“Hm, yes, zis is ze ushual choice.”

“But, undoubtedly you have a better suggestion?”

“Ze Augustiner Keller is not so vell known, but I sink it is more…agreeable. Und not zo many drunk visitors.”

“And where would we find the Augustiner Keller?”

“You haf only to vollow me. I vas chust on my vay dere.”

McTrowell winked at Drake as if to say, “Yes, I’ll bet he was.”

For all her suspicions about Captain Dampf’s nefarious intentions, he didn’t seem to be trying to ply her for information about the capabilities of the Burke & Hare or her strategy for the regatta. The barmaid in the dirndl greeted him by name and he ordered their first round of beers before they even found a table. As promised, the patrons seemed to be mostly locals drinking beer with their friends. There was an occasional burst of loud laughter, but no real rowdiness and no one seemed to be embarrassingly drunk, but then it was still the middle of the afternoon.

When the barmaid brought the beer, Sparky’s first impression was that she could stick her entire head into the stein. She would have to pace herself. Both of her drinking companions weighed half again what she did. The other delightful revelation was the delivery of a basket of pastries or rolls twisted into the shape of loose knots. They were chewy and an excellent complement to the beer. The fact that she hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast made them all the more delicious. And maybe the lack of breakfast was making the beer go to her head even faster. She gnawed the second loop of the treat and waved the remainder at Willy Dampf.

“These are delicious! What are they?”


German Pretzel (photo courtesy of Windell Oskay)
German Pretzel (photo courtesy of Windell Oskay)

“They remind me of sourdough from home.”

“Zour dough? Zis does not zound tasty.”

“It loses something in translation. It’s really good and so are these.” She wolfed down the last third and washed it down with a healthy swallow of beer. She peered down into the stein. Despite her efforts, it was still frightfully full.

She lost track of time as they swapped stories of daring airships landings in treacherous weather. Drake acquiesced to retelling the story of his literally hair-raising capture of Professor Farnsworth. Dampf regaled them with the virtues of the sheepherding dogs he bred at his family farm in the Bavarian countryside. More honest and trustworthy than the “dogs” one encounters in the city he opined. They all drank a toast to that. The light was cutting a very sharp angle across the table and McTrowell couldn’t remember if she had drunk three or four of the head-swallowing steins of beer. She’d eaten so many of the brezels that, despite the lack of breakfast, she was not going to need dinner.

“Gentlemen, I declare that I can drink no more beer nor eat any more of these.” She waved the last little bit of a pretzel. “Shall we return to the airfield?”

Drake stood up crisply, “A capital idea.” McTrowell looked him up and down. Apparently one of the chief inspector’s many excellent qualities was his capacity for drink. As she stood up a bit unsteadily, she assessed the contents of his stein. About an inch of liquid remained in the bottom and it appeared quite flat. She could only recall the barmaid delivering a single stein to him when they first arrived. No, that couldn’t be correct. She must have not noticed during all the collegial storytelling.

Captain Dampf waved across the hall to get the barmaid’s attention and then made a loose circling motion in the air with his fingers pointing upwards. He walked toward the door, more steadily than McTrowell as she noticed.

“Um, shouldn’t we pay for the beer?”

“I haf made arrangements.”

She smiled at him. “The French have a term, bon vivant. Do you know it?” He smiled broadly and slapped her warmly on the back, nearly knocking her off her feet.

The streets were more crowded in the evening than they had been at mid afternoon. The regatta was intended to draw crowds to Munich and on that point it was succeeding. The streets were crowded with out of town visitors in search of dinner and entertainment to accompany the festival atmosphere of the regatta. In an attempt to escape the press, Willy Dampf led them down a narrow side street heading more toward the Marienplatz, but away from the crowds. They had only gone a few meters down the street when a band of gypsies entered behind them making quite a racket and moving with remarkable haste. As they were in no particular hurry, the three of them moved to the side, single file along the wall of a building to allow the gypsies to pass. It seemed not to be enough because the gypsy band expanded to fill all the space between the encroaching walls. And they were making quite a ruckus. Sparky scanned around herself for her companions, but there seemed to be gypsies everywhere. Being pressed this closely by other human beings had always had an unpleasant, disorienting effect on her. She only needed to calm herself for a few moments until the gypsies passed. She took a deep breath, stopped where she stood, closed her eyes, bowed her head, and placed her hands over her ears.

“And that’s the last thing I remember.”

“You couldn’t possibly be expected to remember any more. The ‘gypsies’ used a ‘picking’ technique I have observed the gangs of pickpockets in London using. They approach in a tight, loud group to the discomfort of their target, forcing the target into a corner. As they get closer, they spread out to block the target’s passage and separate the target from the rest of their party. And then they close back in on the target. It is not unlike packs of lions on the veldt in Africa. The chief distinction in this case is that their intended prize was not your money; it was you.” The expression on his face was as grave as she had yet seen. “To be more precise, you and Captain Dampf. As soon as I recognized the tactic, I came to your aid. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough to prevent the felons from striking a foul blow to your head, knocking you unconscious.” She could see on his face that he was mentally flogging himself for not being more alert or faster in his response to the danger. “I must say, however, that I left an ‘impression’ on one of them that he will almost certainly never forget.” She wasn’t entirely sure what kind of impression he meant, but she had the distinct feeling that it was of the irreparably physical variety. This seemed to bring Drake a bit of cheer.

“What about Captain Dampf?”

“I could only reach one of you in time.” Her eyes opened wide and she gasped in distress. “However, it appears that Sergeant Fox has been keeping close watch on us. By this I mean that he apparently followed us all afternoon. When he observed me coming to your defense, he executed a flanking maneuver from the back of the pack of gypsies and came to the aid of Captain Dampf. Although I must say that Captain Dampf acquitted himself admirably and Sergeant Fox probably did more of a service to the gypsies than to Captain Dampf who gave three of them a proper thrashing before Fox reached him.” And now Drake seemed considerably cheered. Sparky smiled as well, not only to know that Dampf was unharmed, but because she knew that Drake had not had a moment’s hesitation when faced with the choice of whom to defend.

“Why would a band of gypsies try to abduct me and Captain Dampf?”

“Ah, well that’s an interesting question, the answer to which lies in the

Previous Page Next Page