Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Hi there, Shieks and Shebas! You’ve come to the train station for Jazz Age Wednesdays. This is where I share stories set in the Roaring Twenties.
The fabulous images for this #DieselPunk story are created by artist, Rob Goldstein. He also makes pos-i-lutely swell videos that are parallel to the story. Plus, Rob sent random “things” that I used as prompts as I envisioned and authored Hullaba Lulu.
If you need reminders of past chapters, I did a Real World Tech Review post that has links through episode 11.1.
That said, I’m nearing the end of this adventure for Lulu and the crew. So I’m posting a longer chapter today. I’m still pantsering, writing in an unplanned spontaneous way, so I’m not sure whether the end will arrive next week or the next, but we’re almost there.
Previously with Hullaba Lulu
Iset with her multicolored wings flew away with Valentino! The angel-bots stood on one another’s shoulders making a automaton tower to try and take Valentino away from Iset, but with disastrous results. They all fell and… Oh the bot-manity!
I think I hear the trumpet’s call. Let’s get a wiggle on.
Beginning the End
Vaselino, Ellis Island
Nikola Tesla bent over the unmoving angel-bot, Moon. I couldn’t see what the inventor did, but he seemed to examine the automaton in much the same way a medical doctor would check a human. Moon, desperate to aid Valentino had tried to charge Tesla’s electric automobile by using his own body to power the vehicle.
I thought about Moon’s kindness to me when I had bumped into the Tesla coil in the control room of the train. Although, the real problem was that sabotage had previously been done to the control room, my clumsiness was the cause of the train careening toward the Cotton Club and then into a pittura metafisica. The train had emerged from the painting to land in the sand dunes of Egypt.
The saboteur’s actions also caused the gradual degradation of Valentino’s connection to the train, resulting in his mysterious illness. I didn’t understand how it all worked, but Valentino had to be “attuned” to all the control components of the train. If the train wasn’t working perfectly, then neither was he.
Anyhow, Moon was a real gent. He didn’t let anyone know I had touched a thing.
I heard Tesla sniffle as he worked on Moon. Gramps seemed to feel sorry for the inventor. I think my grandfather was trying to take the man’s mind off Moon and the other angel-bots who were damaged or possibly destroyed. Gramps cleared his throat awkwardly.
“I had wondered if it was a problem to get fuel out here. It’s not as though there’s a filling station on every corner,” Gramps began. “So, the automobile is electric, you say.”
“Did you know the woman?” Pearl abruptly asked Gramps. “You spoke a name when you saw her.”
In contrast to the kind intent of my grandfather, Pearl simply didn’t understand Tesla’s concern for the automatons. The look on Tesla’s face when Woo hit the ground and came apart… the poor man was mortified. With Moon’s collapse, he had another clockwork creature to try and save before he could even reach the one with the worst need.
“Satchmo?” I asked Pearl, hoping she would just go back inside. “That wasn’t the woman’s name. It’s the nickname of Louis Armstrong. He’s performed at Gramps’ speakeasy several times. But you weren’t there the times he played. I guess you were worried about being seen with the wrong people,” I added pointedly, unable to forget Pearl’s snooty comment about my family and me.
Suddenly, something clicked into place in my mind.
“Oh, that’s it!” I exclaimed in epiphany. “That spiteful thing the woman said to Valentino!”
“I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal, you. Oh, I’ll be tickled to death when you leave this earth, it’s true,” Gramps sang in a gravely voice. “Yes, Lulu, she was singing a Louis Armstrong song,” he told us.
Nickola Tesla let out a guffaw, surprising all of us. He straightened from working on Moon, and wiped a tear from his eye.
The inventor stepped back from the damaged automaton. He stopped beside me. His hair had a mildly citrus scent from the pomade that oiled his hair into place. Tesla was almost a vaselino, the men’s hairstyle popularized by silent film stars. I supposed a man with a phobia about human hair liked to keep his own mane well controlled.
“I apologize,” the inventor began. “It’s the idea of the goddess Iset having a fondness for American jazz,” he finished, chuckled, and took his handkerchief from his pocket.
“A gorgeous, exotic woman who likes Jazz…” Gramps began in a wistful tone. “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen since I was a young man delivering bottles my father and I made. I had a delivery at Ellis Island, where I met your grandmother, Lulu. Priscilla had just arrived in this country. I loved her the minute I saw her,” he added and opened his pocket-watch to look at the inscription from his late wife.
“Goddess? I admit she was no cancelled stamp, but ‘goddess’ is excessive, don’t you think?” Pearl interjected, taken aback.
Then everyone began to speak at once, wanting an explanation for the inventor’s comment. Tesla reminded us that Valentino said the name “Iset” when the woman bent over him. I wanted to know how Tesla could know who the woman was.
“Didn’t you notice her crown?” he asked.
“That ridiculous chair-hat?” Pearl burst out in an unladylike way.
I thought the fair-haired flapper, whom I had thought of as a friend for so long was close to losing her temper.
Tesla paused and looked at her oddly. Pearl had been practically glued to his elbow since she put that turban on her head to cover her hair. Pearl sank back demurely, most unlike her usually exuberant self. She glanced at Tesla covertly.
“She had all that long hair. It was just… loose, able to get on anything,” Pearl added in a soft voice.
Pearl made a little face as though she found the long hair distasteful. I watched Tesla’s expression. His face remained calm, but his shoulder twitched. I realized he failed to completely suppress a shudder at the idea of all that human hair. Pearl smirked when she saw him twitch. She put her hand to the turban to make sure her blond hair was securely underneath it and moved a little closer.
My pal was more devious than I had ever guessed.
“Iset is thought to be a healer,” Tesla continued. “Yet, telling a man she will be glad when he is dead, even if quoting a song… Well, that does not bode well.”
Pearl gave a knowing nod.
With a series of clicks and whirrs, Moon sat up. The angel-bot’s eyes blinked a few times as he looked around at all of us. He bounded to his feet.
“Papá,” Moon began. “We must hurry. Many of the automatons are injured. You are the only one with the skill to have even a small chance at repairing Woo.”
It looked like Tesla had fixed Moon. However, the angel-bot abruptly stopped in the middle of what he was saying. All sorts of sounds came from his insides, clicking, whining, even a screech of metal.
“Moon,” Tesla said. “You are conflicted aren’t you. You do not have to make the decision. You are committed to helping both Valentino and your sisters and brothers, are you not?”
Eyes open wide, Moon managed to nod once.
“I relieve you of that responsibility,” Tesla continued. “We will take the automobile to the injured automatons. That is also the direction Valentino was taken. If necessary, Lulu and her grandfather will part company with us there, taking the vehicle to pursue Iset and Valentino.”
That statement seemed to help Moon. After a moment I heard gears whine again, but it sounded like they reset themselves somehow.
The electric automobile was fully charged, thanks to the selfless efforts of Moon. We got into it and hurried to the scene of clockwork carnage. The sands of Egypt were littered with shining gold pieces and parts. If the victims had been human, it would have looked as bad as any of the horrific battle scenes of the Great War.
Apparently, it really did seem that terrible to Nikola Tesla. The inventor fell to his knees, covering his mouth with both hands. Moon gently placed a blue-gold hand on his shoulder.
Pragmatic as ever, Dynamite along with his blue surge, Hot Ginger already had the scene organized. Angel-bots in pairs worked to carry their damaged fellows to various areas that appeared to be organized according to the type of damage incurred.
Pearl’s patience had clearly worn thin with Tesla’s devotion to the automatons. A sneer marred her pretty face. She looked around at the wreckage, and then back toward the train. Pearl scanned the horizon, probably looking for a means of escape. However, the only thing in view was the Great Pyramid.
She took a deep breath. Pearl tucked-in platinum blond hair that had escaped her turban during the drive. She straightened her back and smoothed the old-fashioned dress. Then she walked over to Tesla.
“It’s not proper work for a lady,” she began and that phrase alone told me that she was calculating again. “But perhaps I can help somehow,” Pearl suggested to Tesla.
A small smile told me the way Pearl worded her offer had the desired effect. Tesla patted her hand and told her not to fret, that he would take care of everything. Then as a brilliant finishing touch, Pearl staggered, as if swooning. She placed a pale hand to her brow.
For a moment, Tesla’s attention transferred to Pearl. He asked Ginger to look after Pearl. The delicate flower was clearly having a fit of the vapors.
Ginger solicitously helped Pearl to a canopy that was erected nearby for shade. It was obvious to me that Ginger could tell nothing was wrong with Pearl. When Dynamite joined them, I could hear a series of clicks and whirrs as the two angel-bots watched Tesla converse with my grandfather. The two automatons hurried off toward the train.
Gramps and Tesla spoke softly. A moment later my grandfather got behind the wheel of the electric automobile. I hopped in beside him. Before we could leave, Ginger and Dynamite came toward us at a run. Dynamite held a wooden box. Ginger carried a case that looked sort of like it was for a trumpet, but it was longer. The angel-bots jumped in behind us.
I always knew the rose-gold automaton, Ginger had a soft spot for Gramps. I chuckled to myself. Dynamite might have had some competition if my grandfather was more like Tesla.
“Bushwa!” Gramps muttered. “Where’s the starter in this thing?”
I had a moment of déjà vu when Ginger leaned forward and pressed a button under the dash.
The electric automobile lurched forward. The vehicle moved faster than any jalopy I had ever seen. My hat flew off, but Dynamite reached up and caught it. Clouds of dust and sand billowed in our wake. The Great Pyramid of Gisa loomed ahead.
The Jazz Man
“Sarcophagus!” Valentino had cried, moments before Iset carried him away on multicolored wings. Every time I thought about that moment it gave me the heebie-jeebies. (Chapter 11.3)
A thick layer of dust softened the sound of our footfalls. The atmosphere felt close inside the Great Pyramid. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe, because I was so worried and afraid that I could barely draw air into my lungs.
The angel-bots Dynamite and Ginger found the way inside the ancient, gigantic structure without difficulty. Gramps and I followed their lead. They had an unexpected amount of knowledge about the place.
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” I asked the clockwork creatures.
They both paused, turned to look at me, and blinked. Dynamite shifted the wooden box he carried. Ginger still held the odd leather case that looked like it was made for a musical instrument. They looked at each other while an inordinate number of clicks and whirrs passed between them. After a moment, I got the most unexpected answer.
“Giver of Names,” Ginger began. “We were born here. All of the angel-bots came into being here.”
“Our bodies at least,” Dynamite added. “Our births were not complete until after Valentino made various changes to make each attendant unique. Our varied voices came in response to the location of Valentino’s train when our individual births were finished. For instance, it was near Memphis, Tennessee when I was being born. Hence my southern drawl and the other accents you have noticed with the other angel-bots.”
“I know most people think we look alike. Yet you, Miss, you saw our individuality and began giving us names. You are most unique among your kind,” Ginger said. “Yes, the process of our births began here. However, neither Dynamite nor I have been inside this pyramid in a fully conscious state. We have some innate knowledge of the place, but no clear true memories of it.”
We entered a broad chamber with columns and tall Egyptian statues. The center of the area was sunken. We walked down three broad steps. In the focal point was an elevated stone bench or bed. Gramps moved to inspect it.
“I don’t see any blood,” my grandfather commented.
“Bushwa! Is that an alter?” I asked about the stone bed. “Do you think that woman meant to sacrifice him?”
Gramps shrugged. Abruptly I noticed his foot prints in the dust. I cast the light of my torch around the floor. I didn’t see any prints but our own.
“We’re the only ones who have been here in a very long time,” I murmured. “Are you sure they came here?” I asked Dynamite and both angel-bots nodded.
“Iset flew here. She likely entered the pyramid at its pyramidion. That is to say its top,” Dynamite answered, sounding rather pleased with himself. “Before I learned to speak flapper, I learned to speak pyramid.”
Ginger walked to a broad pillar. Only then did I notice the bronze statue of a woman with wings and the chair-like hat that I had learned was a crown. I gasped. It looked just like Iset!
I lifted my skirt and took out a flask. Pearl wasn’t the only flapper with a garter flask. I took a swig and then sat it down on one of the steps.
The rose-gold automaton shifted her position a few times. Dynamite joined her and made the same movements. Gramps removed something from his pocked. At first, I thought it was his pocket-watch, but I saw that it was a compass. He went to stand beside the angel-bots.
“You’re checking the direction, aren’t you?” Gramps asked. “You are made with an internal compass?”
Ginger placed her free hand on my grandfather’s arm and they walked across the chamber. When she stopped, Ginger opened the leather case.
“None of the attendants can play wind instruments,” Ginger told Gramps as she removed a slide trombone from the case. “The correct notes must be played on the proper type of instrument to open the hidden door. However, I don’t know what combination of notes will open it,” she added pointing to the wall.
“There could be endless combinations of notes,” I complained. “Do you know any of the notes at all?”
Together Ginger and Dynamite made a sustained musical tone. Gramps immediately nailed the note, humming with them for a moment. One of his bushy eyebrows arched upward. He stopped humming and made a harrumph sound.
“Could it have been a clue?” he muttered. “Iset quoted the lyrics to one of Satchmo’s numbers. That song begins on the same note.”
Gramps put the slide trombone to his lips and played the notes that went with the words, “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal, you. Oh, I’ll be tickled to death when you leave this earth, it’s true.”
The angel-bots swayed along with the music. The sound of the horn echoed throughout the pyramid.
My skin twitched. Something wasn’t right. I noticed my flask. The hooch inside the glass container swished. The chamber was trembling. Sand peppered down from the ceiling. I put the cap on the giggle water.
The vibration became stronger. It was accompanied by a low scraping sound. Large stones of the wall shifted back and then to the side. Gramps had played the right notes to open a secret door.
I hissed for him not to do it, but Gramps stepped into the dark room. I ran to catch up with him, and the angel-bots followed. My torch started to flicker. In the center of the room was a dais of alabaster tile and surrounded by a stone railing. Gramps stepped onto the dais. The angel-bots and I followed. Lights beneath the translucent tiles came on, providing soft illumination.
With a jolt the dais started to move upward. I staggered and grabbed the stone rail. As the alabaster disk rapidly ascended, I heard the scrape of stones as the secret door closed.
I think Tesla and Moon can probably repair the injured angle-bots. Although, Woo was in pieces when she hit the ground… Now Lulu, Gramps, Dyanmite, and Ginger are in the Great Pyramid. Where is that rapidly ascending alabaster disk taking them? Will Valentino be there? What about Iset? We still don’t know what to expect from her. Be at the station again next week as we climb toward a conclusion.
Real World Notes
Vaselino: Many men in the Roaring Twenties copied silent film star Rudolph Valentino’s look. A man with perfectly greased-back hair was called a “Vaselino.”
In “Mud and Sand,” Stan Laurel played matador Rhubarb Vaselino in a parody of “Blood and Sand,” which starred Rudolph Valentino.
I hope you will be at the station again next week to catch the diesel-punk train.
Thanks for visiting. You’re the cat’s pajamas!
Now some shameless self-promotion for my other 1920s books — the original “three things” stories about Paisley Idelle Peabody, aka Pip, and her friends.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Artwork Copyright © 2018 by Rob Goldstein
Copyright © 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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