Saturday, September 28, 2019
Note: This post was meant to publish on the above date. However, between WordPress finikyness and the absurdly shoddy Internet service I get from TDS Telecom… well, it was doomed.
Hello, my chuckaboos! Thanks for coming back to the #steampunk riverboat, after the detour for my book launch of A Ghost in the Kitchen.
This week’s random reader things
Thanks to Dan Antion for letting me use some of his photos. Be sure to visit Dan. I’m there today, celebrating A Ghost in the Kitchen!
I realize it’s difficult to keep up with serials. Since I didn’t do a chapter of The Delta Pearl last week, I’m writing an extensive recap today. It makes for a long post, so feel free to skip the recap.
The Delta Pearl has a full complement of crew. Senior staff like Captain Cecil Perlog, Agate, and Jaspe are parental figures to Émeraude, whose sixteenth birthday is near. We’ve also met Blue John, the dashing First Mate. Plus, there’s Obsidian, the Cadette. Not to mention the clockwork creatures, Amethyst and Onyx. Oh yes, and Jaspe’s cat, Sir Reginald La Felin, although I’m not sure we know enough about Reggie to cat-egorize him.
The steampunk riverboat has taken on an array of passengers. If you ask me, any and all of them spell trouble.
The Harveys are a pair of newlyweds, stuck with their nephew on their honeymoon. Little Hershel is adorable, but possibly a tad too indulged. Harrison is beholden to his wealthier brother, though we don’t know how far in debt he is. Hyacinth pushes him to move up the social ladder, and I’d hazard a guess that she’s an envious young woman.
Two men came aboard separately. A famous young inventor, Victor. Émeraude is most intrigued! Although she dislikes the questionable choice of facial hair, although appropriate to the era, of Benjamin Dundas. We don’t know much about him yet.
Hopefully everyone remembers the wealthy Needleman couple. Also the nervous young governess, Azalea, along with her charge. He’s a boy from a large and wealthy family, Alex.
Now that I’ve reminded you of all the cast here are a few random details. Mrs. Needleman’s Pharaoh diamond – don’t big valuable gems always attract trouble? Victor Elam, the inventor seemed excessively fussy over his luggage. Benjimin Dundas had rather scary facial hair and wore a strangely inappropriate overcoat.
Then there’s the Delta Pearl – the riverboat. Remember that big gash in the floor that seemed to heal itself? What about that portrait that has such a strange pull for Émeraude. It reminds her of someone, but she doesn’t know who.
Last time Émeraude slipped and nearly fell to severe injury or worse, because of some very suspicious oil – right after she heard an unseen person giggle. Afterward, she heard the giggler again, and then later, the sound of someone moaning.
If you still need to review, click the link for Chapter 7 — Catch. Shall we get back on the riverboat now?
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 8 — Think
Let’s blame it on the fact that I was still shaken from my nearly disastrous fall, and not my utter lack of grace. As I was saying, the sway of the boat caused me to stumble against the guardrail. If my view had been from any other angle, I would not have seen the source of the worrisome moans.
In the shadows I spotted Azalea Morton, and the teenaged boy from that very large and wealthy family, Alex Rice. I took a frightened step toward them.
My tumble over the rail was accelerated by the oil on which I slipped. However, even without a slick floor, one or both of them could also have been injured when the riverboat lurched so forcefully.
Oil where it had no business being… and an oar that fell into the paddlewheel, causing the riverboat to malfunction, together those things were very unsettling. My world felt out of kilter.
At the sound of a louder groan, I took a step closer. Then I saw clearly.
Oh, there was moaning alright, but no one had been hurt. They weren’t in the middle of amorous congress, but there was certainly some dirty-puzzling. The governess and her charge were kissing — and quite passionately too.
There was more to that educator and student situation than met the eye. In fact, it looked like the “student” might be teaching the teacher a thing or two.
I moved back to the stairs without making a sound. Then I went back to the gaming area and found the Captain was already there, talking to the Dealer.
Whatever was on Cecil Perlog’s mind when he sent me with a cryptic message to Jaspe must have become more important to him.
“Well, now at least I know which two you wanted watched,” I told them with just a touch more of a “so there” attitude than I intended.
Yet I was unrepentant. That should teach them to leave me out of such things. They had no business excluding me that way.
However, when I told the Captain what I had witnessed between the governess and her charge he made a harrumph sound. Did he think I had been slow to figure it out?
“Do you mean to tell me that they are not the two you meant to keep an eye on?” I exclaimed.
Captain Perlog removed his cap and ran a hand through his thick shock of platinum blonde hair. For an instant, a rueful smirk twitched his mouth.
“Émeraude,” he began. “Did you stop to think? Perhaps all as not as it seems.”
“But I saw with my own eyes!” I declared.
The Captain gave a deep rumbling chuckle. That was as much of an answer as I was likely to get.
The Dealer had a half smile. It was maddening. Those two took delight in knowing things that I did not.
Without looking, Jaspe dealt hand after hand of cards onto the table. Each one would have been a winner in most circumstances.
I could never understand his ability with the cards. It had to be some sort of sleight of hand trick, but I never caught so much as a hint of how it was done. It was as if the cards simply did what he wanted, put themselves into any order he wanted.
Sir Reginald La Felin jumped up onto the game table at which Jaspe sat. The Dealer gave his cat a quick scratch under the chin.
On that first day, when I came to the Delta Pearl as a very young girl, Jaspe called the cat Reggie. Because of his regal bearing, I playfully dubbed the cat Sir Reginald La Felin. Soon all the crew began calling him Sir Reggie.
I found the cat as mysterious as Jaspe. It seemed like an ordinary cat. Yet as the Dealer scratched under its chin, I thought that the purr had a rather mechanical sound.
Similar to my occasional thought about the Dealer, I couldn’t help wondering if Reggie was, in fact, a cat at all.
“There is always a reason why people board the Delta Pearl,” the Captain began. “She doesn’t accept just anyone, you know.”
The entrance of Randal and Eliza Needleman interrupted whatever else he seemed to be ready to tell me.
Drat those people, I thought. Cecil wanted the Dealer to keep an eye on two passengers, and now I’ll never know which two. It’s such a carriwitchett!
It would have made me feel better if I thought the Captain found the Needlemans suspicious. However, as vague as my knowledge of them may have been, I didn’t think they were dodgy.
The wealthy couple headed toward the Captain, probably meaning to pay their respects. Cecil turned to meet them.
The Dealer held out some cards, face down. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. We knew each other so well, that minor expression was enough for me to know he meant for me to pick a card.
I looked at him curiously. Could he be giving me a clue about the identity of “the two” passengers who bore watching? I knew full well that no matter which I picked, the card I drew would be the one he intended me to get.
The card I drew was the ace of hearts. That seemed like a strange card to use for a message.
I handed it back to Jaspe and looked the question at him. However, I wasn’t going to get an answer from him either, because the Needleman couple was moving closer to us as the husband spoke to the Captain.
The Dealer glanced at Randal and Eliza Needleman and discretely put away the deck of cards. It would not do for the passengers to see what a deft hand he was with manipulating them.
It all seemed so cloak and dagger to me that it made me feel just a tad uneasy. I was not accustomed to that emotion. It was unlike me. I didn’t really expect any trouble onboard, but I was suddenly glad for the small pistol that was holstered beneath my gown, just above my knee.
“That indeed is the truth. The price tag alone makes for an exclusive voyage,” Randal Needleman was saying.
His wife, Eliza, nudged him. She murmured something unheard, but I could tell she indicated her embarrassment at her husband’s comment.
“I jest. By everything I have seen thus far, a journey aboard the Delta Pearl is well worth each and every penny of the price,” he added with a surprisingly disarming smile.
It was bold of me to insert myself into their conversation. However, I didn’t tend to let that sort of convention hinder me.
“Mr. Needleman, I’ve seen your name in the newspapers many times,” I began. “Not that I have time to read each one, but it seems that with every story, I see you associated with a different kind of business. If it wouldn’t be prying, may I ask what it is you do as a profession?” I asked, sincerely curious.
Anyone could see that the Needlemans were well-to-do. As a couple they were in the society pages as often as the husband was in the news and business pages. I could easily have gotten the answer to my question on my own, but I wanted to see how he would answer.
I’m getting too much like the Captain, I thought.
“Such a surprising question to come from a lovely young lady,” Randal Needleman replied jovially. “Do I detect a keen business acumen? I suppose you could say that I’m a dabbler. I dabble in all sorts of things.”
Although playfully said, I still found his response condescending. Unfortunately, that was the way of most men.
A stinging retort started to form on my lips, but the Captain shot me a warning glance. I knew he was right — it was too early in the voyage for me to go to that level of honesty with a passenger.
I was somewhat consoled to see Eliza raise an eyebrow at her husband’s manner. Needleman cleared his throat. I had a hunch that Eliza Needleman was a force to be reckoned with.
“I believe you are quite good at… dabbling,” the Dealer said, pausing over the word as if it was strange to him.
As the Dealer spoke, the term dabbler suddenly seemed dubious to me. Jaspe’s tone gave me the impression that he would agree with me.
In my mind I snorted. Or considering the sharp glance I got from Jaspe, maybe I snorted out loud. At any rate, from that moment I thought of Randal Needleman as the Dubious Dabbler.
A minute tug at the hem of my gown distracted me from Needleman’s irritating comment. The tug gradually moved up the back of my skirt to my waist, and then onto my shoulder. Without looking, I knew what caused it.
It was the purple clockwork spider. An amethyst cabochon was set into the spider’s back, so I named it Amethyst. She had a row of four eyes, which were deep purple cabochons, almost black.
The two center eyes were larger than the other two. Amethyst was a great observer of visual things and of audio events. The spider tended to follow passengers that caught her interest. Often, she would retain bits of their conversation, and relay them to me.
Eliza Needleman gasped as she looked at me.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed with an uncomfortable sounding laugh. “For a moment I thought it moved. Your brooch, I mean. It’s a very, um, intriguing piece.”
Clearly a spider brooch would not be to her taste. Fortunately, when Amethyst was detected, she usually became utterly still. With the gemstone cabochon set in her back, the spider passed for jewelry. However, if the clockwork creature was out in the open, or if there was room, she preferred to scurry away.
“That’s also a lovely pin you wear, Captain,” Mrs. Needleman continued. “All things Egyptomania fascinate me. That has the look of an heirloom.”
Seed pearls dotted Eliza Needleman’s white mesh gloves. She delicately placed a finger on the silk of the Captain’s puff tie, but did not touch the all-seeing eye pin that held it in place.
The Captain awkwardly muttered an unintelligible reply. He cleared his throat and added a thank you.
I knew the Captain’s all-seeing eye pin was indeed passed down from one of his forefathers. Although I had no idea how old it really was, or if it originated in Egypt. That was not something I had thought about. To me, the strange pin was as much a part of Cecil Perlog as his thick platinum hair.
When Eliza mentioned the spider “brooch,” the Captain cast a meaningful glance at me. I knew he didn’t want the guests to notice the clockwork creatures.
Damfino how he could blame me for spider being caught in the open! It wasn’t as if I (or anyone else) could control her.
It seemed Amethyst had taken an interest in the couple. I wondered if she had been about to relay information about Randal, or even Eliza Needleman. Unfortunately, since she had been interrupted, I might never know.
End Chapter 8
Thanks for reading, my chuckaboos. I hope you’ll leave a comment — and if you want, a “steam era” type of random thing to go in a future chapter.
I’ll be waiting for you at the steampunk riverboat dock next time!
Now for the obligatory shameless self-promotion…
Universal link to my Amazon Author Page
Universal link Kindle/e-book A Ghost in the Kitchen
Universal link paperback A Ghost in the Kitchen
USA: Atonement in Bloom
USA: Atonement, Tennessee
(E-book still on sale at 99¢ )
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.
Copyright © 2019 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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