New page

A quick post to let you know about a couple of changes.

First, the obvious: there’s a new look to this blog. The old one was attractive, but I really prefer to have everything out in the open, especially my book covers. they can be viewed in the column to the right. Hopefully, that will make them easier to access from the front page. I’ll probably tweak things a bit in the coming weeks.

Second, I want to let you know that the first two volumes of A City by the Lake are now available on KIndle for $2.99 USD. I changed the price to better reflect Amazon’s recommendations, based on their own algorithms, for books of a similar length and category. This is a price reduction of $3.00 USD. We’ll see how it goes.

Please note, that this price is for e-books only, and not for the paperback versions. I may change the prices on those, as well, but I need to examine that, as paper books have a definite minimum price due to the cost of printing.

Also, the release date of the third book in the series, A City of Air, has been pushed back a bit. I’ve been wrestling with the manuscript for a year now, and while going into final edits I finally figured out why: I had started the story in the wrong place. This happens now and then, and the only thing to do in such a case is to start over.

It hasn’t been a total loss, however. I now have about eighteen thousand words of the new version, and the ending remains the same. It will just take some time to re-work the beginning. Never fear, the end is in sight.

Until next time…

-kf

Long Time, No Post

Wow. It’s been a while since I posted anything here. The summer went on too long and was too lean for comfort. For my comfort, anyway. To make matters worse, I was caught in the grip of a mental logjam that some like to call writer’s block. Seriously, nothing was coming out of my brain with any kind of coherence.

But summer is finally at an end, there is food in the pantry, and the logjam has broken at last. I may get through this after all. And to celebrate, I’ve fixed the formatting issues in A City of Wood and A City of Stone, as well as giving them new, professional-looking covers. The paperback versions are very nice to hold. Check them out:

http://www.amazon.com/City-Wood-Lake-Book-ebook/dp/B00OV8EZLM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414264076&sr=8-1&keywords=kelly+faunce

http://www.amazon.com/City-Stone-Lake-Book-ebook/dp/B00I85380I/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1414264076&sr=8-2&keywords=kelly+faunce

You may notice that the links are Amazon only. Despite a long time on their site, I never got anything out of Smashwords (others have had more luck, I’m sure), and I decided to try KDP Select for a while. It certainly can’t hurt.

I set up a new work schedule for myself that seems to be going well so far. The concluding volume in the trilogy, A City of Air, is coming along nicely. I’m more than half way to the end of it. Hopefully I can finish before Christmas. Then I have it in my head to try my hand at a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. I don’t have a title for it yet, but have two chapters done. It should be fun and funny, as the original stories were. See you next week with more updates.

-kf

Kasimir and his valet; an excerpt from A City of Stone

It’s been a while since I posted any book excerpts. Mostly, it’s because it is difficult to come up with anything that isn’t too spoilery. Here is a scene from the second book, A City of Stone, that is pretty self-contained. I hope you like it. I certainly enjoyed writing it.

-kf

“I’m not sure about this waistcoat,” Kasimir said, frowning at the mirror.

There was gold threaded through the brandy-colored brocade, and he thought it a bit much. Especially with the amber fob hanging from the gold chain on his watch. Every time he’d seen the businessmen of the city, they had nearly all worn raven black. Not this tobacco-and-brandy combination of silk and cashmere. And gold.

“You look fine,” Sims assured him, giving the coat another brush. He was a medium-sized man with limpid dark eyes and not much hair on his head. “Not everyone can carry off that combination, and you want to make an impression.”

“Yes, but I don’t want it to be the wrong impression.”

He wasn’t entirely accustomed to Sims yet. The man had showed up rather suddenly when the word went out that he was in the market for a personal valet. Kasimir wasn’t exactly sure why he needed a valet in the first place. He had been dressing himself for years.

But his father said that if he was going to take his place in the business world, he needed to look the part. Besides, John remarked, he’d seen over the years how his son dressed, and thought he could use all the help he could get.

From some of the combinations that Sims suggested, Kasimir began to suspect that his credentials as a dresser had been in the theater dressing the actors. He was forever going on about effect and lighting.

“You won’t,” Sims replied, “the effect of that color on your hair…all golden, and it brings out the little gold flecks in your eyes. You’ll look like a young Adonis, emerging from the fog. Everyone will be impressed.”

Definitely theatrical.

“I wasn’t aware that I had gold flecks in my eyes.”

Kasimir’s eyes were light green, and tilted upward slightly at the outer corners, like a cat. They were a legacy of his Russian mother.

“Oh yes sir, near the center of your irises.”

Kasimir leaned in closer to the mirror to look. Sims was right, after a fashion. There were tiny flecks in his eyes, but they looked more brown than gold to him.

At last, the other man ceased brushing his clothes and stepped back to admire his work.

“Perfect,” Sims declared. He looked very happy.

“If you say so,” Kasimir replied, “I’ll bow to your expertise.”

He headed for the door. No point putting it off any longer. He was probably going to be late anyway. Sims called out to him when he reached the hall.

“Wait! There’s one more thing. I nearly forgot.”

He hurried over with a mahogany walking stick in his hand, and presented it to Kasimir as if handing him a scepter. Kasimir looked at it dumbly.

It looked heavy, and had a gold head on it that was set with a large nugget of amber. This was truly over the top. Besides, he never carried a stick. That was always something Bert did, and he didn’t recall ever seeing Bert use one as ornate as this one.

“I really don’t think that’s necessary,” he said when he found his voice again.

Sims appeared to deflate a bit.

“But it completes the ensemble,” he protested, “and can be a very useful prop.”

Kasimir wondered again which acting troupe had abandoned him in this city.

“How so?”

“Well…some men find it an effective weapon to use in their defense,” Sims said, “And there’s a small flask inside. The head is actually a cup. Just large enough for a nip on very cold days. Winter is coming, you know.”

“It always does. All right then, show me the flask.”

Sims unscrewed the head of the cane to reveal that it was hollow inside. A rubber stopper was stuck into the shaft of the stick, held in place by a tiny hinge and lever similar to those on apothecary jars. It was cunningly done.

“I took the liberty of filling it with brandy,” Sims said, “and don’t worry about the metal affecting the taste. That’s twenty-two carat gold.”

“Good Lord, I thought it was brass.”

“No sir, the tin in the brass would’ve given the liquor a bad taste. I’m told the gold is from one of your mines. In California, I believe.”

“And you think that will help me impress the board of directors?”

“It will let them know you mean business sir, and are not someone to be trifled with. ‛All the world is a stage,’ after all. You need to look like the lead player to get them to pay attention.”

Kasimir took the stick from him and looked at it. He had a feeling that he might need the brandy before the day was through. Too bad it didn’t look like enough to get drunk. He looked up at the other man, who was looking back at him with hope in his eyes.

“Thank you Sims,” he said. Then he went downstairs to the carriage that was already waiting at the front door.

His father stepped out of the library as he came down the stairs and looked up. John stood frozen for a moment, an arrested look on his face.

“It’s too much isn’t it?” Kasimir said, brandishing his walking stick.

“No,” John said, recovering himself, “It’s not that. It’s just that…for a moment…you looked for all the world like Vasily Andreyev. I thought perhaps I was seeing a ghost.”

Vasily Andreyev was Kasimir’s maternal great-uncle.

“Really?”

“Yes. A little more quietly dressed perhaps, but…if you could summon even a tenth of his imperiousness, then you should have the board cowering at your feet in no time,” John smiled at him. “Just don’t overdo it. I wouldn’t want to live with Vasily’s ghost for any amount of time.” A slight shudder went through him.

“Was he really that awful?”

Kasimir had heard so many conflicting stories about his mother’s uncle. Yelena practically worshipped him.

“Well I was always afraid of him,” John admitted, “I suppose from his perspective, he was only upholding the family honor. But I’ve never met anyone with so much…presence. There was story going around that he could summon the dead to do his bidding. I wouldn’t have put it past him.”

That hit a little too close to home. The dead that kept haunting Kasimir’s own waking dreams insisted that he was the one doing the calling. Except that they didn’t seem to be willing to do his bidding. Nor the living, for that matter. He wondered how his great-uncle had managed it. Blossom came out of the library then, and looked up at him.

“Well?” Kasimir said to her, stretching out his arms, “What do you think?”

“You look lovely,” she said.

Her face turned pink.

“I mean, handsome,” she amended, “Well-dressed. The colors suit you. I don’t really know what I mean. I mean…I know what I mean…but the words aren’t coming out right.”

She was becoming even pinker as she spoke. Then she made a sound under her breath that sounded shockingly like a curse, and went back into the library. John looked in her direction, a speculative look on his face.

“I shouldn’t keep you any longer,” he said to Kasimir after a moment, “You’re going to be late.” Seeing his son’s expression, he added, “Don’t worry, it should afford you the opportunity to make an appropriately grand entrance. Image is everything to these people.”

Kasimir shrugged into the coat that was held out for him by a servant—he had yet to learn all of their names, most of the old staff had fled before the fire—and took his leave of his father.

The morning fog had cleared off by then, and it was noticeably colder outside. They should have frost by tomorrow. He climbed into the waiting carriage and settled back into the cushions, trying to steady his racing pulse.

Gideon

It’s been a busy week around here. A last minute reprieve in the form of money for my birthday kept me out of the pawn shops for a few more weeks. The March bills are paid and the fridge and pantry are full of food. Life is doable (is too a word) once more. Not to mention the fact that I had a job interview (at last!) yesterday that has left me feeling hopeful.

In other news, my publishers’ pitch for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award apparently wasn’t up to scratch. I didn’t make the cut into the second round. It didn’t help that I was probably in the wrong category. I always thought of A City of Wood as a mystery novel with steam punk elements, but others seem to view it as urban fantasy. I’ll know better next time.

I also have another excerpt from that novel that I’d like to show you. I haven’t mentioned Gideon Harper yet. He forms the third POV character in the book. In some ways, he’s the second lead. Gideon is a Civil War veteran and Bertram’s secret lover.

The scene below is unfolding at the same time that Kasimir and his friends are trying to track down Dick Fletcher in the previous excerpt, and also has an appearance by the mysterious Mr. Smith. Gideon has spent the morning puzzling over a series of thefts that have been taking place at the warehouse where he works, when something else catches his attention..

-kf

THE MORNING PASSED quickly on the docks. Cooler weather did indeed seem to invigorate everyone and kept tempers in check. Crates and kegs were unloaded from both steamers and schooners smoothly and on schedule. Thankfully, there were no repeats of yesterday’s disasters.

Gideon could find no further discrepancies in his ledger. He began to wonder if the heat and frenzied pace of the past few days had simply softened his brain, and he really had miscounted the silk . People did make mistakes, and he was certainly not immune. Neither was Jameson, for all of his obsessive checking and double-checking.

Noon saw him sitting on an empty keg, eating an apple that he’d purchased from one of the vendors who catered to the waterfront. Somehow in all of his distraction that morning, he’d forgotten his lunch.

“That all you got to eat?” Krakowski asked. “You want to maybe share some of mine?” He held out a tin pail and lifted the lid. The smell of cabbage wafted out. “I got plenty.”

Gideon shook his head. He hated cabbage. “No thank you. This is plenty for me.” He took another bite of the apple.

“Well, I guess you’re little enough you don’t need much. Me, I couldn’t last an hour on what you eat in a day. Isn’t that right, Jameson?”

Jameson was perched on his own keg, nibbling at some sort of pastry. He slanted a sideways look at the big man and said, “You certainly eat enough for three. Though how you can stomach that mess you bring every day, I don’t know. It smells like something’s died.”

“Ho, you just don’t understand good hearty food, that’s all. This stuff my mama makes, that her mama taught her, all the way back in Bialystok…it makes you big and strong. That’s why you’re so skinny, maybe.”

“I tell you, I can smell something putrid every time the wind shifts,” Jameson retorted.

Gideon chewed slowly, ignoring their bickering. He really could’ve used something else to eat, but decided it would cause too much trouble to ask for it now. He took another bite, savoring the tart sweetness, and gazed at the sunlit waters of the harbor.

A tall ship slowly turned into the mouth of the river. As he watched, men scrambled to turn the gears that swung the ninety-degree bridge to one side—pedestrians be damned—in order to give the ship passage. It was a tight fit.

The wind shifted, bringing with it something else under the smell of sweat and tar and fish. Gideon paused in the act of taking another bite. He knew that odor. It choked his memories and haunted his dreams, a ghost of old battlefields.

All of his senses suddenly alert, he scanned the docks, looking for the source. His eye fell upon a huddle of dark blue. Cyrus was curled up in his usual place, his head on his chest. It didn’t look as if he had moved all morning. Gideon’s heart, which had been in his throat, fell down to his feet as his body went cold with dread.

“Has either of you seen Cyrus move, or talk to anyone today?” he said. His tone caused Krakowski and Jameson to look up.

“No,” Krakowski said.

Jameson shook his head. “I wasn’t watching him,” he said, “I couldn’t tell you if he has or not.”

Gideon tossed aside the apple and hopped down off the keg. He walked rapidly toward the dock, his heart racing. The other two men followed. The putrid smell grew stronger as they came closer.

The old man was leaning against a pier, his head bent toward his chest. His hands were curled in his lap. He might’ve just dozed off, were it not for the livid color of his skin and the flies crawling around his collar. His eyes were closed. Jameson made an inarticulate noise and covered his mouth with his hand. Krakowski looked green.

Gideon crouched down beside the body. Something wasn’t right, apart from the obvious. He had seen enough dead bodies over the course of the war, their mouths agape and their eyes…when they still had eyes…fixed in a glassy stare. Untidy heaps of humanity, without grace or dignity.

Unless someone came along to tidy them up. From the look of it, someone had taken the time to close Cyrus’s eyes and arrange his body. Even his collar was pulled up tight around his neck. That collar drew his attention. He watched for several heartbeats as flies crawled in and out of it in some profusion.

Swallowing hard, heart pounding in anticipation of what he knew must be there, he held his breath and gently pulled it back to expose what was underneath. A swarm of flies buzzed around the old man’s neck like a necklace, feasting on the dried blood of the gash that neatly split his throat in two.

A retching sound pulled Gideon’s attention away from the grisly sight. He looked around and saw Krakowski kneeling on the edge of the dock, spewing his lunch into the water. Jameson had retreated several feet away, staring at the murdered man. He looked pale.

“Go and fetch the harbor master,” Gideon said to him, rising to his feet. “I’ll wait here with the body.”

Jameson met his eyes, shock and growing horror in his gaze. Gideon waited, letting his words sink in.

Comprehension finally dawned in the other man’s face. He nodded, apparently still unable to speak. Gideon watched him sprint across the docks, and then turned to Krakowski, who had subsided to dry heaves.

“You going to be all right?” he said. Krakowski nodded.

Jameson was gone for what seemed an eternity. Gideon was beginning to wonder if he should go in search of help himself, when Jameson came back with the harbor master and a couple of policemen in tow. Gideon stepped back, giving way to the newcomers.

The harbor master did not look happy. Gideon didn’t blame him. It was not the first dead body to fetch up there by any means, but they were such a damned nuisance to the men who ran the place. The last thing a busy port needed was a major distraction and a mountain of paperwork.

The harbor master, whose name escaped Gideon for a moment, frowned down at the buzzing flies. He cleared his throat and spat upon the ground.

“Who found the body?” he said.

“We all did,” Jameson said, before Gideon could answer, “but Mr. Harper here was the first one to notice something amiss.”

The other man looked a question at Gideon and waited.

“There was a bad smell,” Gideon said, “It was noticeable when the wind shifted. I looked around to see where it was coming from, and saw that Cyrus hadn’t moved since I saw him early this morning.”

“Cyrus? That his name? He got a last name?” He was addressing Gideon now.

“I’m sure he must have, but I’m sorry to say that I never knew it.”

“Looks like he’s been dead awhile by the sight and smell of him. When was the last time you saw him alive? That you’re sure of.”

“Yesterday afternoon. He was sitting in this spot telling stories to anyone who would listen. He did that most days.”

Gideon wondered if the policemen were going to do anything but gawk at the body. So far the harbor master—Martin, that was his name, Gideon suddenly remembered—was the only one asking questions.

“What kind of stories?” Martin was speaking again. Gideon hoped the police were at least taking notes.

“About the war, mostly,” Gideon said, “He was in quite a few major battles. You might be able to check army records for the rest of his information. I think there’s a division badge sewn on his coat. You may be able to trace any family he might’ve had.”

Martin grunted, whether in agreement or dismissal, Gideon couldn’t tell. “I’ll have the police look into it. Did he have any enemies?”

“Not that I know of.”

“I don’t suppose he had anything valuable either. Do any of you gentlemen notice anything that might be missing?”

Gideon stepped closer. Jameson hung back a bit, then followed, holding his hand over his nose and mouth. Krakowski didn’t move from his spot on the edge of the dock.

“No,” Gideon said, after a few minutes of scrutiny.

Jameson shook his head.

“But I don’t know exactly what he had,” Gideon added. “There wasn’t anything obviously valuable that he carried. He did sometimes collect coins from passersby in exchange for his stories. For all I know he may have had a cache of them somewhere.”

Martin nodded. “That’s likely what happened,” he said. “Robbery gone bad, probably after sundown. Old story.” He scratched the back of his neck reflectively. “Well, I guess you gentlemen can get back to work now. I won’t keep you any longer. We’ll let you know if we need anything else.”

Jameson nodded and turned to go. Krakowski got to his feet at last and shuffled off, not looking up. Gideon hesitated. It was more than likely that Martin was right in his assessment of how Cyrus met his end, but something about the scene still bothered him.

“Yes?” Martin said. “Was there something else?”

“When we found him he was sitting up just like you see him now, eyes closed, and his collar pulled up over his throat. It looks to me as if someone took the time to arrange it that way.”

“So? Just means that the robber wanted to cover his tracks long enough to get away. The night watch was on duty last night. The police can question them to see if they saw anything. Let them take over and don’t worry about it. It’s not your concern anymore.” He gave Gideon a shrewd look. “Unless you know something you’re not telling.”

For some reason the image of the man with the wolf-gray eyes rose unbidden in Gideon’s mind. He shook his head.

“No,” he said, “I just thought I would mention it.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s anything but what I said. No need to make a mystery where there is none. I’ll check for the army badge and see if the army can track down any people he might’ve had who want to claim the body. Thank you for your help.”

This was clearly a dismissal. Gideon took his leave and went back to the lengthening shade of the warehouse. McCreery was there, screaming abuse at his other two clerks.

“—I’m not paying you to stand around the docks all day gawking! Ships are out there waiting to be unloaded, and every minute they spend idling is money lost! If you can’t—”

“Then it would be better if you allowed them to get back to work,” Gideon cut in coldly. He’d had enough of the man. “Time being so valuable, and all.”

McCreery wheeled around, purple-faced. He lifted his hand as if to strike.

“Don’t touch me,” Gideon said, his voice deadly quiet.

McCreery paused only a second, then turned his hand to wave them all away.

“Go on, then,” he said, “Don’t let me keep you. Except you, Harper. I got something to say to you.”

“Yes?” Gideon was suddenly very tired.

“I know it’s you,” McCreery said in a vicious tone.

“Come again?”
“Things taken out of the warehouse at night. Stokes’s stuff wasn’t the only things gone missing. Don’t think I ain’t noticed. You’re the only other one with a key. Now a dead man on the dock that you just happened to find? What happened, did he see you? You decide to keep him quiet for good?”

Gideon stared at him, stunned, his theory about McCreery’s involvement in the thefts crumbling around him. Then the full import of his words sank in, and he felt cold.

“If you truly believe that,” he said, “then why don’t you go to the police?”

“Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll just tell them all about it right now.”

McCreery shot him a malicious look and scuttled off, heading to the growing crowd of onlookers that was gathering at the dock.

“You probably shouldn’t have given him the idea,” a voice said behind Gideon. He wheeled around to face it.
It was Smith, leaning against the side of the building. His gray coat nearly blended into the shadow. “It’s going to make things even more difficult for you,” he said.

“Jesus Christ,” Gideon said.

“Blaspheming won’t help your cause, I’m afraid. Unless, of course you were simply praying for divine guidance. In that case, carry on. You’ll need all the help you can get from here on.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Long enough. I understand the old soldier yonder has met his maker, and not in a peaceful fashion. It’s a hazard of living out in the open, I suppose.”

“What are you doing here?”

Smith shrugged. “I came to finish our conversation from yesterday, of course. And here I find all sorts of drama. I was wondering when anyone would notice the body. It’s too bad that it had to be you.”

Gideon rubbed his face with his hands. “You don’t really think I killed him, do you?” he said.

“No, of course not,” Smith said. “You went straight home from here yesterday evening and didn’t leave your room until morning. It did give me pause to learn that you had a late night visitor, but as he didn’t leave until after you did, my fears of conspiracy were put to rest.”

“You were spying on me?”

Gideon remembered the kiss by lamplight. In front of an open window, no less. His stomach tightened.

“My dear fellow,” Smith said, “you needn’t look like that. You didn’t strike me as the sort to steal from your employer—and certainly not in such a stupidly obvious way. But as Mr. McCreery pointed out just now, you are the only other one who has a key to the warehouse. I had to be sure. It’s lucky for you that I did, since it enables me to provide an alibi for you should the need arise. I hope it won’t come to that, of course, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to let you hang for a crime you didn’t commit.”

“That’s very good of you.”

“Indeed it is. I am not a bad man, whatever you may think of me. I am simply careful. My hope is that one day you might come to realize that. It would make our interactions so much easier.”

“What makes you think I want to have anything else to do with you?”

Smith studied him for a moment.

“My informant didn’t peer into your window, you know,” he said, “Whatever intimacies you may have shared with young St. Denis have had no witnesses so far. I was only interested in your movements from one place to another. Nothing more.”

Gideon flushed, angry at himself for being so transparent. “You haven’t answered my question,” he said. “Why should I involve myself in all of this?”

“You’re already involved, Mr. Harper. You are in it up to your neck. I just overheard a man accuse you of murder and theft. If that isn’t involved, then I don’t know what is.”

He looked over Gideon’s right shoulder, and Gideon turned around. McCreery was having an animated conversation with the harbormaster while both policemen listened intently. McCreery pointed and they turned as one to look in his direction.

“While he has no real evidence against you,” Smith continued, “There is enough of circumstance and proximity to cast suspicion in your direction. That would be extremely uncomfortable for you, however it turns out. And the authorities are not always fastidious when it comes to hard evidence if they can close an investigation quickly.”

Gideon swallowed hard, his throat gone dry.

Kasimir at the Waterfront; an excerpt

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?

It could.

“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.”

“But Fletcher—”

“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.

Book Excerpt: A City of Wood

Since I first started this blog to promote my books, I thought I’d show you a sample. Here is the first chapter of A City of Wood. Enjoy.

-kf

“IS GOING TO be big fire,” Yelena said, and then fell silent. The dead were patient like that. They had time.
Kasimir stood looking out the window at the moonlit waters of the lake. Every detail stood out sharply, despite the fact that his spectacles were on the table beside the bed. He turned to look at the figure huddled under the blankets. Still asleep, by the look of it. He always hated to have anyone witness his conversations with the ghosts of his childhood.
“Why you care what girl think?” Yelena demanded.
The rich and guttural language of her youth had no native words for a or the, and she disdained their use even in death, considering them a frivolous affectation.
“Girl not important,” she said, “You know her name, even?”
“Adelaide,” Kasimir said promptly, then frowned. That didn’t sound right.
Yelena’s face took on a look of malicious glee. That wasn’t the girl’s name, and she knew it. She folded her hands over the richly embroidered front of the Russian sarafan that she wore. Its bell-like curve made her look like an especially malevolent tea cozy.
“Abigail?” Kasimir said.
“That is sister of father’s girl assistant.”
A shadow fell across the window, and Kasimir turned around in time to see a tall ship creak by in near silence as it headed up the river from the lake. The crow’s nest was nearly level with the window. It was occupied by a young sailor, who looked at Kasimir with lively interest as he passed by.
An errant breeze came off the lake, cooling the fine sheen of sweat on Kasimir’s skin. He suddenly realized that he was naked. No wonder the sailor had looked at him. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of the night air. It held the flavor of fish and tar.
He cast his mind back to earlier in the evening. The girl in the tavern below, her chestnut hair coming loose from its pins. Beer—too much of it—and the way she had leaned into him as she set the tankard in front of him.
Surely she had told him her name before leading him upstairs? He could remember the feel of her breasts, the smell of her hair, and the small sounds she made when he slid inside her. But her name eluded him.
“You say nothing?” Yelena said.
“What do you want me to say?” Kasimir replied, opening his eyes. “There’s always a fire. The entire city is one giant bundle of kindling.”
The ship was already out of sight, and the full moon glittered on the vast waters of the lake. Moonlight bleached the brightly painted clapboard buildings along the waterfront nearly white, and the giant grain silos that stood sentinel at the mouth of the river cast deep shadows over the tangled web of railroad tracks beyond. The whole city creaked from the summer-long drought. September had brought no relief.
“Is going to be big fire,” Yelena repeated.
“Big? Like a whole block?”
“Whole city. No escape.”
That sounded dire. Then again, Yelena’s pronouncements usually did. She had always had a flair for the dramatic, even in life. Kasimir sighed.
“How?” he said.
“From men. In sky.”
He puzzled over that for a moment.
“In the sky?” he said at last, “That’s impossible, you know.”
“So is talking to me. You dreaming, maybe?”
He was quite sure that he was, and was equally sure that she knew it too, so he said nothing. A flash of light from the corner of his eye drew his attention back to the window. He heard a slight rumble, like distant thunder, but instead of the lightning he expected, he saw something else streaking across the night sky.
A ball of fire plunged into the lake, leaving behind a trail of bright smoke. He blinked. The afterimage still burned itself on the inside of his eyelids. It must have been close.
He wondered if his father had known that a meteor was in the vicinity, and if so, why he hadn’t mentioned it. His father wasn’t shy about his astronomical discoveries. He would be disappointed to have missed this one.
“You see?” Yelena said, “They here now.”
“That was a meteor.”
“Was man,” she insisted. “He comes now.”
Kasimir looked and saw a pair of wings gliding toward the shore. It looked too large to be one of the lake gulls harrying the shore. A cormorant? Some sea bird blown off course? It wheeled closer.
“I don’t see anything,” he said.
“There. Is flying here.” Yelena’s voice had grown impatient.
“That’s a bird.”
“Is man, I tell you.”
He watched it approach. The wings were enormous, bigger than any bird he had ever seen, and oddly formed. As it wheeled closer, he saw that it looked more like a giant bat than a bird. He stepped back from the window, suddenly reluctant to be seen.
The creature had come close enough to scan the shore. Its eyes, too large and set at the wrong angle for a bird, caught the light of the moon and seemed to glow. Kasimir felt the hair on his arms stand up.
It finally landed on the pier below, stumbling a bit before righting itself. Then, with a fumble and a shrug, it shed its wings. Kasimir saw it fold them under its arm and walk away. Its walk was indeed very human-like.
It paused a moment to look at something on the dock, just outside of Kasimir’s line of vision, before moving on. Soon it disappeared in the shadows beyond the silos.
“Is going to be big fire,” Yelena said again, like a Greek chorus emphasising the plot. Then she vanished.
Kasimir’s vision blurred, and then he was awake, and alone, and naked by the window. There was movement from the bed. The girl was sitting up, and looking at him.
“You was talking to someone,” she said.
He walked back to the bed and sat down on the edge of the thin mattress. She smiled at him tentatively, but he felt her body tense when he reached out his hand to rest on her thigh.
“I’m sorry, uh, Alice,” he said, “I didn’t mean to wake you. I talk in my sleep sometimes when I’m tired. Or have too much to drink.” He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“Agatha.”
“What?”
“My name is Agatha.”
“Oh. I’m sorry,” he said again. “I guess I had quite a lot to drink last night.”
He pulled his hand away. This was clearly not going to be the restful night of release that he’d hoped for.
“It’s all right,” she said, “most men forget my name afterward. At least you came close.” Her tone was soothing, but it only made him feel worse.
He reached for his spectacles and put them on, and then went in search of his clothes. By the time he left, she had already gone back to sleep.