The Drache Girl – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow rapped his knuckles on the front door of the five-story structure, again, louder than he had before, but there was just as little response as there had been the first time.

“Police constable!” he called.  He waited a bit longer, and was just about to leave when he heard a distinctly sultry voice from inside.

“Who is it?”

“Police constable,” he said again.

The door opened and Zurfina stood in the doorway, her strange little leather dress displaying a good portion of her breasts with their star tattoos as well as her long legs.   Her thigh high boots had such high heels that she could almost look Saba in the eye.

“Yes?  What is it?” she said, with the air of someone who had just been interrupted in the middle of something vitally important.

“May I come in?” he asked.

With an exaggerated sigh, the sorceress turned her back and walked into the house, leaving the door wide open.  Saba followed her in and looked around the large room that formed the lower level of the structure.  It was, he thought, a surprisingly mundane looking combination of kitchen, parlor, and dining room.  The place was tidy and organized, none of the furnishings looking particularly worn or new, expensive or poor.  Zurfina waved her hand and the door slammed shut behind him, causing him to jump a little.

“Well?”

Saba swallowed.  He had known Zurfina for four years now, and found her just as wondrous, mysterious, and fascinating as he had when he was sixteen.  He had of course grown up to be a police constable, but she had grown to be a legend. She was an attractive woman: not as beautiful as Mrs. Dechantagne of course, not as charming as Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere was at least capable of being, and nowhere near as adorable as Miss Lusk. Neither did she have the curvaceous figure of Dr. Kelloran.  But as writer Geert Resnick wrote in his novelThe Pale Sun, “the painting that most draws one to it, is not the most beautiful, but the one hanging to the wall by the most tenuous thread.”  Zurfina held the same appeal as a fast horse, an unstable bomb, or a canoe in a river filled with crocodiles.  And there was power.  Power was always appealing.

Zurfina sensed his hesitation and moved to stand very close to him.

“Now, little Saba,” she said, with exaggerated slowness.  “What brings you to see Zurfina the Magnificent?”

Saba had perfected his stare: a piercing look that let those he was interviewing know that he would brook no nonsense.  He gave the sorceress one of these stares, but it didn’t seem to work as well as it was supposed to.  She stepped a little closer and he suddenly realized he could smell her breath.  It was minty.

“Little Saba.”  Her charcoaled grey eyes seemed to be looking at something just below the surface of his face.

He swallowed.

“Police Constable Colbshallow,” he corrected.

She leaned forward so that the tip of her nose was only an inch from his.

“Little Saba,” she repeated.  “There’s something you’ve been dying to tell me.”

“No there isn’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here about a Miss Amadea Jindra.”

Zurfina leaned back and scrunched up her nose.  “Now what business is that of yours?”

He retrieved the notepad from his coat pocket and flipped it open.  Turning so that he had better light to read by, he took the opportunity step away from the sorceress.

“It was reported that you kidnapped, um… acquired Miss Jindra from the deck of the S.S. Arrow four days ago, and no one has seen her since.”

“I say again, what business is it of yours?”  Zurfina spoke distinctly, chopping each word as if came out of her mouth. The temperature of the room dropped several degrees.

“You cannot simply snatch people off the street…” His voice trailed off as he noticed the sorceress’s eyes flashing.

Zurfina folded her arms across her chest and raised one eyebrow.  At that moment the door swung open and Senta walked in. Her bright pink dress peaked out from beneath a heavy white overcoat, with a fur trimmed hood.  She was carrying a large bed pillow under each arm. She kicked the door shut with the heel of her shoe, and walked over to stand next to the sorceress.  She looked first at Zurfina and then at Saba.

“Okay,” said Senta.  “What’s going on?”

“Little Saba was just telling me what I can and cannot do.”

“Well, this isn’t going to end up well, and you know who will have to clean up the mess?  Me, that’s who.  Here are your pillows,” Senta shoved the pillows into Zurfina’s hands.

Once the sorceress had taken the pillows, Senta took Saba by the hand and led him toward the front door.

“Let’s talk outside.  I love the smell of pine trees and chimney smoke.”  She led him outside, closing the front door behind her.  “What exactly are you doing?”

“Conducting police business.”

“Stopping me from taking care of those wankers who shot Bessemer has gone to your head, eh?”

“This is my job.  This is what I do,” said Saba.  “I protect the public peace.”

“And do you ever think about how you would do that job if you were turned into, say, I don’t know, a pig?”

“A pig?”

“Maybe a pig.  Could be anything really.  I thought I was about to see a Police Constable shaped lawn ornament.  But then I don’t have Zurfina’s wide experience and peculiar wit.”

“Well I have to go back in and talk to her.”

“Did they have to take your brain out to make that helmet fit?”

“That’s not funny little girl.  I have to find out what she did with Miss Jindra.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 9 Excerpt

The S.S. Queen of Expy was the largest ship yet to dock at Port Dechantagne, almost twice as large, in terms of tonnage, as the H.M.S. Minotaur, the battleship that had brought the first colonists to this shore.  Her four massive smokestacks were no longer pouring out giant black clouds as they had done all the way from Greater Brechalon. The great ship was now, ever so slowly, turning without the aid of any tugs, so that she could connect to a dock that was so much more primitive than she was used to.  It all put Saba Colbshallow in mind of a very fat lady trying to maneuver herself around in a bathtub.

“How long do you suppose before they can get the gangplank up?” wondered Eamon Shrubb, who like Saba stood in his heavy blue reefer jacket and blue constable’s helmet.

Saba consulted his pocket watch.  The ornate little hands showed 10:30.  A snowflake settled upon its glass face, just above the six.  He turned his face skyward and saw a few more large white flakes falling toward him.

“A while,” he said.  “Tea?”

Eamon nodded, and the entire police force walked across the gravel road to the cart that Aalwijn Finkler had set up to sell hot drinks and cakes.

There were exactly five vending carts in Port Dechantagne, and all five were within fifty yards of the dock. In addition to Finkler’s, there was Mr. Kordeshack selling fish and chips, Mrs. Gopling selling smoky sausages, Mrs. Luebking, selling scarves, mittens, and knit caps for those who had either not brought warm clothing or were unable to find it in their luggage, and Mr. Darwin, who sold purses, wallets, belts, and hat bands, all made of dinosaur skin.

“Two teas,” said Saba, setting a ten-pfennig coin on the cart.

“Sugars?” asked Aalwijn.

“One.”

“Three,” said Eamon.

“Milk?” asked Aalwijn.

“No.”  With no cattle in the colony and few goats, the only milk available was in tins. While this was fine for cooking, most people had given up milk in their tea because of the metallic taste.

The snow started coming down more heavily as the two constables sipped the steaming tea from the small, plain porcelain cups.  When they had finished, they set the cups in the bin on the side of the vending cart reserved for dirty dishes.  Saba turned around and looked at the S.S. Queen of Expy.

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Saba.

“What’s Expy?” asked Eamon.

“It’s an island.”

“Does it have a queen?”

“I don’t think so.”

“How come they named a ship Queen of Expy then?”

“That’s just something they do.”

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Eamon.

“Come on,” said Saba.  “Let’s do a tour.”

“Together?”

“Sure.”

The two constables started off to the north, walking past the warehouses, and reaching the end of Bainbridge Clark Street, and the edge of Augustus P. Dechantagne Park.  The park occupied ten acres just past the narrowest part of the peninsula, and was mostly composed of a large grassy area where during the summer, people had picnics, and played football or cricket.  On its western edge was a copse of several dozen large trees and rose garden with a gazebo, a reflecting pool, and the base for a statue that had not yet been completed.  The base was four foot square and two feet high, and would eventually hold a life-sized statue of the man for whom the park was named.  It already had his name embossed upon it, along with the phrase “Stand Fast, Men”.  Trailing through the park and the rose garden within it was a winding cobblestone path, which Saba and Eamon took.  They stopped between the statue base and the reflecting pool, which was completely frozen over.

“You knew him pretty well, eh?” asked Eamon, indicating the spot where the statue would someday be.

“Yep.  He was a great guy.  He used to tell me dirty stories when I was a kid, and he usually gave me a couple of pfennigs when he saw me.  That was big money for me then.”

“Sure,” said Eamon, who had grown up in a poorer family than Saba’s.  “Do you know what it’s going to look like?”

“Nope.  Nobody but Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere knows.  Knowing her, he’s going to be standing like he has a stick up his ass, and he’ll probably be pointing forward or waving heroically.”

“How do you wave heroically?”

“You know.  Like ‘Come on, Men!’”  Saba waved invisible soldiers behind him to move forward.

“Okay.”

“You know they should have named this park after Zurfina.  She’s the one who saved our cake.”

“I’ve heard you say that before.  It’s just because you fancy her.”

“No.  I’m serious. I was there.  I know.”

“She really put it on the lizzies?”

“Oh, it was bloody awesome.”

“But you do fancy her?”

“She’s too old for me,” said Saba.  “Not that I haven’t had the odd fantasy about her.”

“She’s not that old is she?  I’ve only seen her a few times, but she doesn’t look… forty do you suppose?”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Stepping out of the S.S. Arrow’s mid-deck hatch and onto the gangplank, Radley Staff looked around at the peninsula on which Port Dechantagne was built. He was amazed at the growth of the little colony. When he had left, a little more than three years ago, it was nothing but a few barracks buildings in a clearing in the woods. Now it was a real town. From where he stood, he could see hundreds of buildings, warehouses, apartment blocks, businesses, and the rooftops of more building off between the redwoods. A large, dark cloud hung amid the white clouds, formed by hundreds of fireplaces and stoves. The smell of wood smoke overcame the smell of the seashore. He stopped for a moment and enjoyed the scene. Someone behind him cleared her throat. He turned around to find Miss Jindra, in a shimmering white and teal day dress with waves of white ruffles down the front. She wore a matching teal hat with a lace veil and carried a parasol, though she seemed unlikely to need one.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to hold you up.”

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Staff. I’m surprised you haven’t debarked yet.”

“I waited to avoid the rush.”

“I’m afraid I was expecting more,” she said, looking with a raised brow at the nearby buildings.

He followed her gaze.

“Really? I was thinking just the opposite.”

He turned back around to face her and started. Miss Jindra was just where she had been, but a second woman stood directly behind her—a woman who hadn’t been there only a second before. Though her hairstyle was different, Staff remembered the charcoal circled grey eyes and the wry smile. He had thought he remembered her scandalous dress too, but what she had on now went beyond the bounds of decency. Black leather covered only the lower half of her breasts, leaving her two star tattoos clearly visible. The dress reached down only to the top of her thighs. Two thick straps attached to a tight leather collar, which seemed to be holding the whole thing up. Forget fitting a corset beneath this ensemble. One would have been hard pressed to fit a piece of lace in there.

“Well, Lieutenant Staff, I do declare,” said Zurfina in her unforgettable sultry voice.

“That’s Mr. Staff,” he corrected.

Miss Jindra spun around, getting a piece of her voluminous dress caught on a spur of the railing. There was a loud ripping sound as a four-inch tear was opened in the beautiful teal cloth.

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” said Zurfina, placing a hand on each of Miss Jindra’s shoulders. Looking around the olive-skinned woman’s head, she said in a loud whisper. “Too long a dress. Bound to happen sooner or later.”

“What exactly do you want, Zurfina?” asked Staff. “I’m flattered, but surprised that you came to meet me.”

“Oh you are a pretty boy, but it’s your friend I’m here for.”

“Miss Jindra?”

Miss Jindra started to speak. “I don’t…”

“Don’t spoil the moment,” said Zurfina, placing a finger on the woman’s mouth.

“Perhaps I could bring her around to your home later,” said Staff.

Zurfina flashed him a smile that was only slightly more than a smirk. Then suddenly she was gone. Miss Jindra, her voluminous white and teal dress with matching teal hat and her parasol, were gone too. There was nothing to indicate that anyone had ever stood on the gangplank behind him, except for a single teal colored thread, clinging to a spur in the railing.

For a moment, Staff thought about finding Miss Jindra and rescuing her. On the other hand, she had never expressed a need or a desire for his protection. He didn’t really know her all that well. She was only a dinner companion, assigned by the ship’s purser at that. And it was not as if he had any knowledge of how to deal with a sorceress or knew Zurfina’s address. So he shrugged and continued down the gangplank, across the dock, and into the street beyond.

It was cold and snow clung to the ground, the roofs of buildings, and the branches of trees, but the street had been cleared by the heavy traffic. People were moving up and down the street. Some of them he recognized from the ship. Others must have been locals. People were buying food, hot drinks, and scarves and mittens, from vendor’s stalls. He was mildly surprised to see a green-skinned lizardman moving slowly along among the crowd of humans.

“Been a long time since you saw one of them, huh,” said a small voice.

Staff looked to the edge of the street and saw a blond girl seated on a crate. She wore a very fancy blue dress and a wide blue hat. She was much older than he remembered, though he did remember her well.

“Senta, isn’t it?”

The girl nodded.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 7 Excerpt

The S.S. Queen of Expy was the largest ship yet to dock at Port Dechantagne, almost twice as large, in terms of tonnage, as the H.M.S. Minotaur, the battleship that had brought the first colonists to this shore. Her four massive smokestacks were no longer pouring out giant black clouds as they had done all the way from Greater Brechalon. The great ship was now, ever so slowly, turning without the aid of any tugs, so that she could connect to a dock that was so much more primitive than she was used to. It all put Saba Colbshallow in mind of a very fat lady trying to maneuver herself around in a bathtub.

“How long do you suppose before they can get the gangplank up?” wondered Eamon Shrubb, who like Saba stood in his heavy blue reefer jacket and blue constable’s helmet.

Saba consulted his pocket watch. The ornate little hands showed 10:30. A snowflake settled upon its glass face, just above the six. He turned his face skyward and saw a few more large white flakes falling toward him.

“A while,” he said. “Tea?”

Eamon nodded, and the entire police force walked across the gravel road to the cart that Aalwijn Finkler had set up to sell hot drinks and cakes.

There were exactly five vending carts in Port Dechantagne, and all five were within fifty yards of the dock. In addition to Finkler’s, there was Mr. Kordeshack selling fish and chips, Mrs. Gopling selling smoky sausages, Mrs. Luebking, selling scarves, mittens, and knit caps for those who had either not brought warm clothing or were unable to find it in their luggage, and Mr. Darwin, who sold purses, wallets, belts, and hat bands, all made of dinosaur skin.

“Two teas,” said Saba, setting a ten-pfennig coin on the cart.

“Sugars?” asked Aalwijn.

“One.”

“Three,” said Eamon.

“Milk?” asked Aalwijn.

“No.” With no cattle in the colony and few goats, the only milk available was in tins. While this was fine for cooking, most people had given up milk in their tea because of the metallic taste.

The snow started coming down more heavily as the two constables sipped the steaming tea from the small, plain porcelain cups. When they had finished, they set the cups in the bin on the side of the vending cart reserved for dirty dishes. Saba turned around and looked at the S.S. Queen of Expy.

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Saba.

“What’s Expy?” asked Eamon.

“It’s an island.”

“Does it have a queen?”

“I don’t think so.”

“How come they named a ship Queen of Expy then?”

“That’s just something they do.”

“I don’t think it’s moved,” said Eamon.

“Come on,” said Saba. “Let’s do a tour.”

“Together?”

“Sure.”

The two constables started off to the north, walking past the warehouses, and reaching the end of Bainbridge Clark Street, and the edge of Augustus P. Dechantagne Park. The park occupied ten acres just past the narrowest part of the peninsula, and was mostly composed of a large grassy area where during the summer, people had picnics, and played football or cricket. On its western edge was a copse of several dozen large trees and rose garden with a gazebo, a reflecting pool, and the base for a statue that had not yet been completed. The base was four foot square and two feet high, and would eventually hold a life-sized statue of the man for whom the park was named. It already had his name embossed upon it, along with the phrase “Stand Fast, Men”. Trailing through the park and the rose garden within it was a winding cobblestone path, which Saba and Eamon took. They stopped between the statue base and the reflecting pool, which was completely frozen over.

“You knew him pretty well, eh?” asked Eamon, indicating the spot where the statue would someday be.

“Yep. He was a great guy. He used to tell me dirty stories when I was a kid, and he usually gave me a couple of pfennigs when he saw me. That was big money for me then.”

“Sure,” said Eamon, who had grown up in a poorer family than Saba’s. “Do you know what it’s going to look like?”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 6 Excerpt

“I did everything I could,” said Terrence Dechantagne.  “I called for a doctor and a priest.  A doctor and a priest came.  It was just bad luck that he died anyway.”

“As he was trying to shoot me at the time,” Radley Staff paused to bring the whiskey glass to his lips.  “I consider it rather good luck.”

“Bad luck for him, I meant.”

Staff nodded.

“Sometimes bad things just happen,” said Mr. Merchant.

“Quite,” agreed Mr. Shannon.

The four men sat at a small table in the first class lounge, sipping their drinks and smoking cigars.  Outside, the railings had formed a thick decoration of long, pointy icicles, and the deck was rapidly becoming obscured by a white blanket of snow.  The grey day was well on its way to becoming night in spite of the fact that it was only four in the afternoon.

“Well, I do believe here comes your priest now, Dechantagne,” said Merchant.

All four men stood up as the severe looking woman approached in a black dress. Her graying hair was pulled tightly back into a long pony tail and her lips were so thin, it seemed as though the pony tail was pulling most of the skin of her face with it.  Her black dress was not a robe, not quite, and as was almost all feminine attire, it was endowed with a prominent bustle, but had no brocade or lace, just a priestly collar at her neck, and a thin strip of white running from each shoulder to the floor.  She had a large and ornate golden cross on a chain around her neck.

“Mother Linton,” said Dechantagne.  “May I introduce Misters Staff, Merchant, and Shannon?”

Mother Linton nodded to each.  “May I speak to you, Mr. Dechantagne?”

He shrugged and stepped away with the priest.

“So what do you say about this weather, Staff?” marveled Shannon. “Whenever I think of Mallon, I think of the jungle.  I never expected snow.”

“I suppose there is a great deal of Mallon that’s tropical,” replied Staff, “but Birmisia is cool, dry, lots of pine trees.  Even the summers are not too bad.  That’s good from a business perspective, too.  Nobody wants to muck around in swamps.  That’s probably why Enclep isn’t better developed.”

“Good man,” said Merchant.  “Always keeping business in mind.”

Dechantagne returned to the table and sat down.

“What was that all about?” asked Staff.

“It seems Mother Linton has been pegged by the Bishop of Brech as the High Priest of Birmisia.”

“And?”

“And priests are no different than anyone else.  They all want something.”  He waved to the waiter for another drink.

“And what does she want?”

“Oh, it’s all Mother Church this and Mother Church that.”  Dechantagne picked up the cigar that he had left smoldering in the ashtray when he had stepped outside with Mother Linton, and he stubbed it out.  Then he got up and walked out the door, intercepting the waiter for his drink along the way.

“So, you don’t think he’s a major player?” wondered Shannon.

“Oh, he may prove a friend to our business,” said Staff.  “But make no mistake, Mrs.… his sister is the one who’s in charge.”

“Excellent.  I’m glad to see you know your way around,” said Merchant.  “Have you had a chance to talk to Buttermore?”

“The office man?  I did. I didn’t have a chance to meet all of his staff, or the engineers.  Shame they couldn’t be in first class.”

“My boy, do you know how expensive that would be?” asked Shannon.  “There are ten of them, and ten more family members besides.”

“Don’t you own the ship?”

“Yes, but that would be twenty first class passages that wouldn’t be available for sale.  It’s not like we put them in steerage.  Second class is very nice.”  Shannon’s face was becoming pink.

“I know it is.  I myself am in second class.”

“Indeed.”

“We would have had you bumped up to a first class cabin if we had known,” said Merchant.

“I don’t have enough baggage to need a first class cabin.  I’m fine where I am.”

“Very sensible,” said Shannon, his face returning to its normal rather jaundiced hue.

“Well, Buttermore seems like a good man.  He knows exactly what we need to do.  I’ll handle the connections with the government and then we can get started. Of course, there’s plentiful unskilled labor.”

“Excellent,” said Merchant.  “If this all goes as well as I’m expecting it to, we’ll have to send over our short accountant to count all our money.

The dinner bell rang and Staff said goodbye to his two employers and went to his table.  The broken glass had been repaired and the dining room looked none the worse for wear. As usual, the darkly beautiful Amadea Jindra was already seated; her heavily laced white dress was a study in contrast with her dark olive skin.  As Staff sat down, he noticed the plunging back left both her shoulder blades sensuously exposed.

“Miss Jindra,” he said.

“Good Evening, Mr. Staff.”

The waiter brought a salad of leaf lettuce and thinly sliced fruit.  It was garnished with a peach cut into the shape of a rose.  A moment later, he returned with glasses of sparkling wine.

“You must come from a wealthy family, Miss Jindra,” he said.  “To be able to travel first class passage alone to Birmisia.”

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