I’m still trying to find my way around all the widgets on this site, so if you’ve commented on any of my posts and don’t see it yet, be patient. I may not have seen it yet.
At the moment, I’m trying to find a way to pay my bills. This means finding a day job. My abandonment of my old job was immensely satisfying at the time, it’s true, and productive over the past year in terms of self-fulfillment. When it comes to the big picture, I don’t regret doing it. But it’s been mighty hard on the budget, especially now that the money has run out.
I still believe that my long term prospects as a writer are good. The challenge has always been keeping everything else together. My family has been generous and supportive, but they can’t afford to keep paying my way. They have households of their own, and none of us is getting any younger. Besides, I feel guilty taking anything from them knowing that my financial woes are mostly self-inflicted.
At any rate, now that I had someone hit the “like” button on my last excerpt from A City of Wood (hi Dave!), I thought I’d give you a look at another excerpt from the book. This takes place in Chapter Eight when Kasimir goes with his best friend to investigate a lead to someone else who may have seen the mysterious winged flyer Kasimir saw that night on the waterfront…
The trolley came to a stop, and both men got off and set out on foot. The sun beat down on their heads as they made their way through increasingly crowded streets. The streets were narrower here, and the smells of sweat and human refuse mingled with fish and smoke in a way that lingered. It made Kasimir’s nose itch.
At last they came to the waterfront and the lake beyond. Sunlight played upon the water and dazzled their eyes. From a distance, the lake was a painted turquoise backdrop for the city, pristine and calm. Up close, it was anything but.
The harbor beyond was full of ships of all shapes, sizes, and locomotion. Tall sailing ships glided through the water, matronly and beautiful in full sail, accompanied by little tugs that chugged black smoke from their stacks. Closer to the shore, brightly painted paddle-wheeled steamers churned the water with joyous abandon.
They stood for a moment taking it all in, the hurrying mass of people moving past them where they blocked the sidewalk. Annoyed looks and cursing were cast their way, which they ignored for the most part.
“That’s it, then?” Bertram said, nodding at the building on the opposite bank.
“Yes. I don’t suppose he’s still there, as late as it is.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out. Come along, then.”
Bertram motioned for Kasimir to follow him. Together they walked across the bridge, casting wary looks at the ship entering from the harbor. The bridges were equipped with towers that allowed them to be cranked out of the way to make room for the tall masts, and pedestrians sometimes got caught.
The walk across the bridge passed without incident and they entered the tavern, pausing a few minutes for their eyes to adjust to the dimmer light inside. The room smelled of beer and tobacco. A long bar, scratched and stained from much use, dominated the wall to the left of the door, while tables crowded the wall to the right.
It was a long and narrow space, the light fading into shadow on the far end of the room. Kasimir could make out movement there, but little else. He stepped to the bar, where the bartender was slowly wiping down the counter with a grimy rag.
“I’m looking for someone named Dick Fletcher,” Kasimir said, “and I was told that he had lodging here.”
The man looked up, squinting at him through the haze. “Oh, it’s you. Come back again, huh? Look, I don’t mind the business, and you’re quiet-like, mostly. Not like the usual customers, anyways. But did you have to bring your own girls? Aggie ain’t good enough for you? She’s clean, and still has most of her teeth.”
Kasimir blinked at him, confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“What part don’t you understand? I want them two out,” he jabbed a finger toward the door, “before things get ugly. The pretty one especially is gonna get a fight started. Wouldn’t be so bad, but they been turning down offers right and left. Said they was meeting a couple of gentlemen here…a near-sighted blond man and a sharp dresser with curly hair. And that looks like the two of you.”
“I think there’s been a mistake,” Kasimir said, “I didn’t ask to meet anyone here except Mr. Fletcher. Is he here?”
Bertram suddenly put a hand on his shoulder. He was looking at the tables behind them with a mingled look of fear and outrage on his face. Kasimir turned to follow his gaze and saw two familiar figures seated at a table along the wall.
“It certainly took you long enough to get here,” Allegra said calmly.
She smiled sweetly at the barkeep, who scowled back at her. Blossom sat next to her, intently studying the graffiti carved into the tabletop. There were large mugs of beer in front of each of them.
“You ought to be horsewhipped,” Bertram said, advancing on them.
“Not in here,” the barkeep said, “I don’t need that kind of entertainment. Besides, there ain’t enough room.”
Blossom made a small sound and put a hand to her face.
“How did you get here before we did?” Kasimir asked.
“Miss Allegra hired a hansom cab,” Blossom said, uncovering her face.
“How very inconspicuous of you,” Bertram said to his sister.
“Well it seemed safer than public transport,” Allegra said, “and I really expected the two of you to get here sooner.” She bit her lip. “I’m glad to see you. We’ve had offers of all sorts of…interesting things…since we got here. Just what does ‘put out’ mean, anyway?”
Blossom put her head down once more. Her cheeks were red. Kasimir had the impression that she knew exactly what the vulgar expression meant. He wondered again what her life had been before coming to work for his father.
“It’s no more than you deserve,” Bertram said, ignoring his sister’s question. “I told you last night it was no place for you to be. If father found out, he’d have you locked away in a convent until you’re thirty. And to have involved Miss Muldoon—” he broke off, too outraged to speak.
“I know,” Allegra said soberly, “I’m sorry, really I am. By the time I realized what a mistake I’d made, the cab had already left and we were stranded. I am glad to see you.”
Her brother opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a pretty young woman who suddenly appeared at his elbow. She had chestnut hair that was pulled back into a simple knot, and impressive breasts strained her shirtwaist to near breaking point.
“Can I get you gentlemen a beer?” she said, “Or maybe something from the kitchen?”
Kasimir looked around. The room had begun to fill up. Day laborers mostly, by the look of them, with the occasional clerk thrown in for variety. Then he took a closer look at the young woman. It was the same girl whose bed he had shared a couple of nights before. Could the day get any worse?
“Why hello,” she said to Kasimir, her face lighting with recognition, “I see you made it home all right the other night. You was gone when I woke up, so I wondered.”
“Uh, yes…Ali…Agatha…I did,” Kasimir said, “And no. Thank you. We don’t need anything else.”
“Speak for yourself,” Bertram said, “I’m parched, and food sounds good too. Whatever you recommend,” he added to the girl.
She nodded and left, casting a speculative look at the two ladies seated at the table.
“Lovely girl,” Bertram remarked to Kasimir, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “She really does have most of her teeth.”
“I don’t think we should waste anymore time here,” Kasimir said.
“And I think that if I’ve gone to all the trouble of making this trip,” Bertram said, “that I should at least get a meal out of it.”
“Is probably already gone off to seafaring business of some sort by this time. So we might as well tuck in for now. Besides, I doubt the proprietor will surrender any kind of information unless you spend a little coin here. Since we’re currently in mixed company—ah, thank you,” he said to Agatha as she set down a beer in front of him. She gave Kasimir a curious look before retreating to the bar.
Bertram took a drink. “—I think food is the safest way to do that,” he said.
Kasimir sat down and sighed. “I suppose so,” he said.
Bertram sent him an amused look over the rim of his mug, his earlier fury forgotten. Allegra was studying Agatha—now carrying mugs of beer to other tables—with lively interest. Blossom stared down at her beer, her face carefully blank. The silence stretched out a few minutes too long for comfort.
Suddenly, Blossom picked up her mug and drank it all in one long draught, tipping her head back to empty it. The other three stared at her. She set the empty mug on the table with a snap, wiped her upper lip with the back of her hand, and burped softly. Her brown eyes held a look of defiance when she looked up, overlaid with something else that was harder to define.
“Well, I never said I was a lady,” she said.
“No, but maybe you shouldn’t do that without eating first,” Bertram said. A look of dawning comprehension came over his face.
The table was suddenly a swirling pool of undercurrents. Kasimir could make no sense of them. Their food arrived. It was surprisingly tasty, given their surroundings, and they ate in relative quiet, except for the sounds of eating and drinking and the occasional comment on the food and the other diners.