Mardi Gras Locomotive. Happy we’re back on track & ready to dance (Click here)
Back on Track
Last time I hit a bump in the road (or rather the railroad tracks). However, the Victorian locomotive is back on schedule and running at full steam.
John W. Howell gave us the very first set of “things” to guide the plot of this pantser serial. Happily later he sent a second set of three, which I’ve held in reserve.
You’ve heard about John’s great book, My GRL, and the first chapter is available for preview at his blog. But what you might not know about is a really cool radio interview he did.
Except for two second sets of “things,” the serial’s cupboards were bare. There was nothing to drive the train… (A second set of three things was also sent by real estate professional and cooking blogger Suzanne DeBrango. Those will inspire the plot and setting for Episode-18.)
Alastair Wong the elder was a very minor character in both Three Ingredients serials. The set of “P” words John provided drove this plot to a connection with a different character from Three Ingredients 2, a Ghost in the Kitchen. Those of you who were around for that story will be pleased to see this connection.
When I started “decorating” it seemed to me that the Victorians had a particular liking for mushrooms. If you think you see a theme in this episode, you are not mistaken.
The steam engine has reached the station. All aboard!
From last time…
Cornelis held out his harmonic tuner. A faint current of green streamed from the tuner all the way down the hill to the washing machine. The machine wobbled, gurgled, and creaked. The wringer started to turn again, the magic pulling the tablecloth on through as we watched.
Alchemically inscribed phosphorescent lettering appeared on the tablecloth. The Dutchman shined the light on the cloth as it finished rolling from the mangle.
It was in large glowing green script. I read the word aloud,
17. Pistachio, Penne Pasta, Porcini
My first thought wasn’t exactly a thought. All cogitation was clogged in a bottleneck of befuddled ideas. The first thought that got through the blockage was relief that Copper was up at the pavilion. It would be awful if the supernaturally printed word, Daddy, got her hopes up for no good reason.
I wasn’t feeling too optimistic myself, and to be honest, I was losing my sense of trust. And that single, magically written word brought out all my suppressed concerns. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I experienced occasional twinges of distrust for Ignatius Belle (who turned out to be Copper’s half-brother), it also bothered me that I had begun having doubts about Copper’s father, Calvin Hixon.
Granted, if Hixon was abducted, he probably had no chance to leave a warning or reason. But what if he left of his own accord? The notion was so awful — had he willingly left his daughter with no explanation, and worse left the child on her own?
Other than his unfortunate money situation, Calvin Hixon appeared to be utterly brilliant. Could the circumstances be more complicated than an abduction? Did Hixon stand to somehow see a financial gain from the situation? Could he be involved in his own disappearance? Oh surely not, I told myself. I’m over-analyzing things.
Most often the simplest answers are the correct ones. But was running away as simple as being abducted…? Had Calvin Hixon suddenly run away from his adversaries, perhaps thinking he would lead them away from his daughter, thereby keeping her safe? I’m still over-analyzing, I admonished myself.
“Felicity,” I heard my name and realized that Cornelis had called it more than once while I pondered the unpleasant thoughts about Calvin Hixon.
“Do step back,” the alchemist told me. “Something unexpected might happen,” he said as he reached into that supernatural void through which he sometimes fetched things.
“Unexpected?” I said sardonically, knowing how often Cornelis’ tricks tended to go awry.
To my surprise he produced the long map we had been looking at on the terrace. The area on which he had used the harmonic tuner still gave off a greenish glow. However, the phosphorescent script “Daddy” on the table cloth had begun to dim. Cornelis noticed that with a frown. Hurriedly he placed the map atop the cloth.
He held up the harmonic tuner and gave it one sharp clear ring. The tiny ping of a sound reverberated and grew. I felt the vibration at the base of my spine. I could feel the sound spreading outward all around us. In the distance the big gong in front of the pavilion gave a mighty boom, the volume of which was magically transported into our midst. I put my hands over my ears, involuntarily squeezing my eyes shut.
Cautiously, I opened one eye. The map was copied onto the tablecloth. At first the drawings of topography overlaid the word “Daddy,” but then the script blazed through the map. The word shone with eye-searing chartreuse light, before stabilizing and diming to a flat pistachio green.
Kinkaku-ji Temple Sunset
I don’t know if it was a meteorological effect or if it was residual magic from the previous night, but when I got up the next morning, the sky above Alastair Wong’s home blazed with yellow clouds at sunrise. No wonder they called it the Golden Pavillion, I thought.
Cornelis said he wanted to get an early start, but judging by the activity of the household staff, I suspected they were always up at that hour. As I admired the sunrise, the alchemist drove up in the little steam engine.
It didn’t seem like there could be enough room, but Cornelis, Copper, Alastair, and I all managed to get on the road locomotive. To my surprise, Victoria, who was so taken with Copper, insisted on coming along. I wouldn’t have thought one more person, not even a tiny woman like Victoria, could fit on the locomotive… and she carried a large picnic basket too. Yet somehow the tiny woman and the big basket managed to fit. When I saw the hint of a green aura surrounding the alchemist I understood how the group of us managed to get onboard. One of his tricks had made room for everyone.
We would part company with Alastair and Victoria when we reached the Pacific. Wong would take the road locomotive back to his pavilion estate for safekeeping, while Copper, the alchemist, and I continued our journey.
I looked a question at the basket Victoria carried. The night before, all the noise and vibrations from the harmonic tuners had given me a headache — and I still had it. So I was probably frowning fiercely. Victoria looked a bit uneasy.
“It will be past time for a meal before we reach the ocean. Copper is a growing girl and must eat,” the tiny woman said with a sharp nod that would have settled any row. I tried to reign in my smile, because I truly did take her seriously.
“Besides,” she turned and spoke to Cornelis in a flirtatious tone that took me completely by surprise. “You will love what I’ve done with the porcini mushrooms you mentioned earlier,” she added, and the Dutchman’s eyebrows shot up toward his hairline.
“Ah yes,” the Dutchman sighed. “Porcini are God’s great gift to humanity, a mushroom delicate enough to flavor a sauce, yet vigorous enough to stand up to a grilled steak.”
Really…, I thought. Should he encourage the tiny woman by flirting? And Could Victoria actually be attracted to Cornelis? The idea seemed not merely imaginative and impractical, but just plain impossible. I scratched my earlobe as the idea took root. Then I had the wicked thought that I’d like to see an argument between Victoria and Cornelis. The Dutchman would surely get his comeuppance.
“What are you smirking about?” Cornelis asked quietly.
“Oh? Did it seem so? It was just a bit of indigestion,” I said with no attempt to hide my expression.
Victoria held tightly to Copper’s hand as the steam engine barreled toward the ocean. The tiny woman’s eyes were huge with astonishment for the speed at which we traveled. However, it was clear that she possessed a fierce determination. She would not have gone back if the chance was offered.
The sun was directly overhead when Cornelis slowed the road locomotive. We were on high ground overlooking a blue river. Below I could see a collection of log cabins of some sort.
“Look, it’s a fort!” Copper exclaimed.
“Have we really journeyed so far so fast?” Alastair Wong said in a tone of amazement.
“What do you mean?” I queried.
“That is Fort Clatsop,” Alastair explained though I looked at him blankly. “It was built by the explorers, Lewis and Clark and their expedition. They spent a difficult winter there before getting back on their way.”
“And they were hungry, you may be sure,” Victoria interjected, causing Alastair to chuckle as she pulled out the large picnic basket. “That is a fate we shall not share with the explorers,” she said to our oohs and aahs as she opened the basket.
The woman surely could not have a single drop of Italian blood in her veins, but she laid out a feast worthy of any great Italian chef.
“Dear Victoria!” Cornelis exclaimed and bowed. “This is a feast worthy of the 15th-century legend, Maestro Martino de Rubeis!”
“Who?” I couldn’t help asking, even though I knew my question would meet with derision from the alchemist.
Cornelis put on a mournful face and shook his head, muttering about my lacking education. So naturally I had to tweak his nose, so to speak. “Oh, did you know him then?” I made my question a playful taunt.
The Dutchman narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. “The 15th-century, the fourteen hundreds I remind you — that was quite before my time, as you well know. I wasn’t even born until the year 1572,” he said and continued without missing a beat. “Maestro Martino was a culinary expert unequalled in his field at the time. He was quite the celebrity. He was the chef at the Roman palazzo of the papal chamberlain, the Patriarch of Aquileia. The Maestro Martino was called the prince of cooks,” Cornelis lectured.
Then he wriggled his bushy blonde eyebrows. “So of course I did not know the Maestro in the fourteen hundreds,” he said and paused briefly. “I did, however, meet him during his cursed afterlife.”
Though I knew I should not encourage Cornelis, I took his bait yet again. “Cursed? How so?” I asked.
“The poor soul pissed off the Pope. Enough said. Please pass the porcinis,” the alchemist said.
That naturally prompted animated questions from everyone. Cornelis loved to have an audience and he told the tale of the cursed chef and his acquaintance with him most vividly while we enjoyed Victoria’s Italian feast.
Warm Mediterranean Olives with rosemary and lemon zest
Insalata de Compo: Mesclun salad with cherry tomatoes
Penne Alla Vodka: Penne pasta with tomato, cream, and vodka sauce
Risotto Ai Porcini: Risotto with pecorino cheese, porcini mushroom and fresh basil
Salmone in Padella: Pan-seared salmon filet
Menu credit: Scottadito.com
Needless to say, we were all quite pleasantly stuffed. Alastair lit a beautifully carved pipe. I faintly heard Victoria humming what I suspected was a nursery song from her home, as Copper rested her head in Victoria’s lap. I was feeling rather sleepy in the sunshine myself. Cornelis looked infinitely far away in thought as he toyed with a last spoonful of penne pasta in his plate.
“What’s on your mind, Dutchman?” I intruded on his thoughts.
“The next leg of our journey,” he replied, still examining the pasta. “I need to summon our transportation.”
He picked up a piece of penne and held it up to his eye, looking at Copper through the pasta cylinder. Copper giggled. I told the Dutchman that he was a bad influence.
“Copper, could I see your mystic monkeys bell?” he asked the girl.
“Why not use the harmonic tuner that is more familiar to you?” Alastair asked quietly in a voice edged with concern.
I was in agreement with Alastair Wong in his newfound concern about Cornelis and his tricks.
“You are right,” Cornelis told him. “Ordinarily, in the working of magic it is best use implements to which one has become attuned. However, in this case the harmonic tuner that Copper has always thought of as her mystic monkeys bell was a gift from Daddy. And that is whom we hope to find. So the more elements relating to him, the better.”
Copper reverently handed Cornelis the second harmonic tuner. A detailed carving of the fabled three mystic apes — see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil surrounded the bell. He looked down at the scraps of pasta in his plate and arranged three pieces of penne end-to-end. Then the alchemist held the harmonic tuner over them and flicked the bell with his fingernail. It gave off a sharp ping sound.
The pasta glowed greenly. The aura intensified until I had to shield my eyes. When the supernatural light abated, a jade flute lay where the penne had once been.
The alchemist picked up the flute and played a trilling series of notes. Then he abruptly stood. “Shall we?” he asked, and we gingerly made our way down the steep hill to the water’s edge.
Once there he piped the same notes again. Cornelis looked at the water unconcernedly. I looked at him impatiently.
“I don’t see anything. What’s supposed to be happening?” I wanted to know, but the infuriating man ignored me. “Should you do it again?” I asked motioning to the jade flute.
The Dutchman’s mouth twitched to one side in a dissatisfied way. “Perhaps I should…” he speculated.
As Cornelis raised the flute to his lips the water started to bubble and gently swirl. He lowered the flute without playing another note. He wriggled his bushy eyebrows and grinned.
“You’re going to love this,” he told Alastair.
Wong looked somewhat apprehensive. After all, he certainly had reason to be concerned, after the wayward alchemy caused his washing machine to break down the storage building door, and do assorted other damage at his hot spring. But he quickly caught the contagious gleam of excitement in the Dutchman’s eyes.
The movement of the water became intense. Something was rising to the surface. Involuntarily I took a step backward. Victoria took Copper’s hand and pulled her several feet away from the shore.
For a moment I thought a whale was breaching. Then I realized it was no living thing. Wong beheld the sight with gaping mouth, but I had the impression that he at least thought he knew what was coming to the surface. Expressions of worry and wonder were at war on his face.
When the entire large shape was in full view, I still didn’t know what it could be. “Cornelis…” I began, but found I was at a loss for words. “Wha—”
Cornelis Drebbel clasped his hands and a gleeful expression lit his face, as if he beheld something he had long missed.
“It’s my submarine!” he crowed.
Don’t get off the steam engine yet — here’s the recipe for this episode. It’s something for all the carnivores out there! Bon appétit!
Recipe: Porcini-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Butter Sauce
Photo and Recipe Credit: Epicurious.com
Copyright © 2015 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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