“Joe Quinn and his Adventurers in: Lightening in a Bottle” Chapter 1: “A Gentleman’s Bet”

Chapter 1

Josephus Quinn didn’t care much for card games. His mother taught him early on that face cards were tools of the Devil himself. Like a good obedient son Joe listened to his mother, and took up other games instead; chess for instance. It wasn’t until years later that he found out why his mother hated “face cards”, and the reason being was that his mother confused regular table game cards with tarot cards. At least that’s what Joe figured anyway. Joe thanked his mother for the fact that he was never allowed to play card games, and that she encouraged him to play a real thinking man’s game, chess. The big difference between chess and say poker and its various forms, was that you couldn’t cheat at chess. Everything was out in the open and no one could hide their moves.Yet for reasons Joe could not explain in a million years, he was playing poker in the capital city of New America. St. Louis somehow or another loved games of chance, poker being the most favored. Joe couldn’t quite figure out why exactly, but he was fairly certain it had to do with the fact that this city’s history was built on chance. It was either that, or they just loved to gamble; Joe wasn’t sure which.

Seated next to Joe Quinn was his friend and crewman, Tsui Huang. Tsui had been a mercenary during the Appalachian War with Joe, and was notorious for his gambling amongst the troops he was hired to fight alongside with. His services were almost terminated for his misconduct had it not been for Joe’s intervention with his higher ups. The decision not to let Tsui and his men go would pay rather large dividends later for Joe’s squad. As crucial and life saving as that decision was, Joe couldn’t figure out why he had brought Tsui along as some sort of “mascot” or “good luck charm”.
Just because Tsui liked to gamble didn’t necessarily mean he was any good at it, especially poker. Tsui peaked at his boss’s hand and whispered “That hand’s no good. Trade those two cards.” Joe was about to say something when he was interrupted by his opponent from across the table. “Pardon me sir, but there will be no collusions or conspirings in this… gentleman’s game.” The voice was attached to a rather portly fellow named Arthur Carlyle.

Arthur was a well known industrialist and business cheat. He was something of a dandy who reveled in his own flamboyance and sense of great importance. Well over 300 pounds with thin grayish hair and the finest tailored suits, Arthur truly believed he was a god among men. At least that was Joe’s initial impression of the over bloated slab of lard that just so happened to have eyes and a mouth.
“Pardon me, your highness this won’t take a bit of time,” Joe said evenly “This is a simple business matter and then we shall continue our little hand.” Arthur shifted uncomfortably in his seat and began to sulk, while Joe and his friend, the mercenary Tsui Huang continued to conspire across from the self styled aristocrat. “Why in all of Hades did I even bring you along?” hissed Joe. “Simple, I’m your lucky charm! Plus I know poker real good, and you’re terrible.” Tsui said in his defense. If you’re good at poker, Joe thought incredulously then birds are powerful good swimmers. “Fine,” said Joe in a tone of defeat “why these two cards?” “They give off negative energy, and four is unlucky.” Tsui said authoritatively. Joe glanced down at the cards, and saw that he had a chance for a straight. By eliminating the four of diamonds and the six of clubs, the other negative card, Joe was certain he’d lose the hand. “Are you out of your damn mind?!” Joe groaned. “Just have a little faith.” smiled Tsui. Letting out a sigh and the thought that knowing he was going to lose this bet and become some fat degenerate posing as a noble’s personal airship pilot, Joe conceded to his crewman’s demands. “Are we finished with your business matter?” Arthur Carlyle cooed from across the poker table “I really must hurry with this tiring match, money never sleeps you know.”

Joe acknowledged that he was indeed finished and requested two cards from the dealer. Upon receiving his cards, Joe’s heart sank even lower than when he agreed to this inane bet. The two cards he had received would have indeed given him a fighting chance, had he not traded the original cards. He looked up and saw his foe, which was as happier than a fat weasel in a hen house. “Ante up my dear boy!” said the aristocrat, as he threw in his chips. Joe knew this hand was beyond salvaging; any hope he may have had was long gone. So to put this useless venture out of its misery, Joe upped his ante. The last of Joe’s gambling cash was thrown into the pot, and he’d only been playing for a half hour. Mr. Huang and Captain Quinn were going to have a chat. “Well Captain, I have a full house, aces over kings!” Joe looked at his miserable hand, and threw down the pair of threes that sealed his fate. Arthur let out a loud roar of laughter, as he saw Joe’s lousy little hand. Joe could do nothing but glower at his crewman, who looked genuinely shocked. “I don’t get it.” said Tsui disbelievingly, “You have all red cards; red is very lucky.” “That’s not the way this game works Tsui!” Joe said, seething through his teeth.

All the while Arthur Carlyle was happily gloating, as he gathered his winnings. Joe was completely defeated. He had done the world a great service by socking that pompous ass right in the mouth, after he had the gall to insult the best flying ship in New America. Before the insults however, Arthur attempted to make the Jefferson and its captain, Josephus “Joe” Quinn, his own personal property. The gathering had been for the national Hunters and Explorers League, of which Joe is a member. Arthur was invited to the event by one of the Co-Chairs who also owned stock in Arthur’s steel refineries. After photographs of Joe’s latest exploits in South America was viewed, Arthur attempted to hire Joe as his personal airship captain, to whisk the businessman on various holidays and adventures. Joe declined. Words and fists were exchanged, leading them to “a gentleman’s bet”. Joe simply sat and stared at the green felt table cloth, thinking of ways to stage an unfortunate accident involving his newest employer. As Arthur finished gathering up his winnings, one of his attendants began placing the chips on wooden racks, to be transported to the cashier cage. Arthur stood over Joe, giving him his new orders “I wish to have the Jefferson available for the coming Saturday.” He said evenly. “Before the day is out, I will be sending my personal decorators and servants to deliver my personal effects to the ship.” Arthur noticed the red, nearly boiling expression on Joe’s face. He smiled and stuck out his fat right hand in Joe’s face, prompting a handshake. Joe looked up at Arthur’s round ruddy face that was all smiles, back down to his chubby hand. Joe in that instance noticed something. There appeared to be a white corner sticking out of the businessman’s sleeve. Joe’s eyes widened as he grabbed a hold of Arthur’s right arm and pulled back the sleeve. Sure enough, there was a small stack of playing cards that had been tucked away.

“You loathsome, yellow… turd!” roared Joe, “First you mistake me for some touring captain, who does nothing but haul around fops and dandies like you. Then you call my ship a flying refuse heap!” Arthur tried to open his mouth and speak, but his face was met with a rock hard fist. Joe had once again laid out his opponent, although this time felt much more satisfying. The towering well over six foot tall frame of the airship captain towered over the quivering figure of Arthur Carlyle. “Pierre!” screamed Arthur, calling out for his bodyguard. Pierre made his way into the executive gambling lounge saw his boss on the floor and immediately went to his defense. Before Pierre the bodyguard could get to his boss, Tsui Huang intercepted the pathway. Pierre was stunned by the blinding speed of the much smaller Chinese man, who seemed to appear from nowhere. The bulky man threw a lunging punch at his foe, who then quickly deflected the blow and unleashed a series of blindingly rapid punches on the bodyguard. Bones began to break as the succession of blows increased in intensity, until poor Pierre hit the floor.

Arthur stared in disbelief, while Joe smirked and nodded toward his friend. As Joe stood over the cowardly cheat, he spoke “Now here are the new rules. Rule number one: Don’t come near me again. Rule two: If you come near me again, I’ll… Well I’ll do something that ain’t very nice!” After Joe spoke he quickly made his way to the wooden racks of poker chips on the table. The attendant slowly backed away from Joe as he grabbed the racks. Upon exiting the lounge with the chips in hand, Joe heard Arthur screaming after him “You thief! That’s my money! If you think you can simply walk out of this casino, you have another thing coming I tell you!” Joe turned and looked at the mussed up face of the businessman and spoke “C’mon Arty, y’know the casino rules. Executive lounge is exempt from the formal house rules. Which means that what goes on in here is none of management’s concern. Besides consider this money as restitutions for your stupidity.” After Joe finished speaking, he and Tsui turned and walked out of the lounge.
***
After Joe and Tsui cashed in the chips and Joe had his firearm returned, they exited the casino and stepped outside to a gorgeous late spring afternoon. The trees were now in full bloom with bright green leaves that matched well with the cloudless blue sky. The air felt good on Joe’s face as he began his walk down the sidewalk toward the airship docks. Tsui was by his side and began to speak “I’m sorry about the game Joe. I thought I could help, but really I don’t know poker that good.” Joe gave a slight glance toward his friend and slightly shook his head “Don’t fret over it too much Tsui.” He responded “’Sides that old cheat had a mind to deceive me anyhow, even if you knew what in the blazes to do.” They continued their walk and saw one of the many new inventions that had recently taken to the streets; a steam carriage. While rail travel was still the preferred land travel in New America, horseless steam carriages were becoming the new fashion. Critics of the device claimed it was more trouble than it was worth, while the supporters claimed it was far more efficient than both horse drawn carriages and rail travel. As far as Joe was concerned, the sky was the ultimate mode of travel. It was open, no roads or rails to restrict your movements. It was free and endless, something to be at once respected and exploited.

Joe had a theory about the sky and that is was God’s domain and it should be treated with respect. Lately it had become fashionable to walk about in aviator uniforms, with leather caps and wind goggles. Joe found this to be disrespectful to real aviators and pilots, since they actually knew how to fly airships and other flying machines. Joe knew better than to be pretentious about things he didn’t understand, however that didn’t stop the fops and the would be men-about-towns. That lot would simply play dress up and have their private pilot’s do the flying, while the rich folk entertain their guests.
Joe had been a small child when he first witnessed a flying machine. It was a gyrocopter. Comparatively primitive by modern standards, it had still been an awesome sight to behold. Steam technology saw exponential growth in the early days of the country after the king of France granted the land to the Founders during the Displacement. No one is quite sure how that happened, but it had been a boon for the young Nation. Soon after, railways were constructed flying machines took to the skies and young Joe Quinn vowed to take to the skies as well. Unfortunately it took a war to grant that wish.

Still lost in his thoughts, Joe quickly snapped out of it and was about to suggest to Tsui that they should take a cab ride to the docks. It was then he noticed four very large men in plain black suits and derbies. Joe thought they may have been law enforcement of some type, but he wasn’t quite sure. He thought that maybe Artemis had alerted the authorities about the gambling incident, but dismissed the thought. They weren’t too close to Joe and Tsui but it was close enough to make Joe nervous. “Tsui, take the satchel and meet me at the docks. Take a cab there; make sure no one follows you.” Joe said as he slung off the bag and handed it to a very confused Tsui. “Are you sure you want to leave me with the money?” He asked. “Just do it!” Joe said forcefully. Tsui reluctantly took the satchel and went to a nearby cabby who was waiting patiently for his next customer. Joe watched as his crewman went away in the cab. The four men were still standing in the same spot, when Joe first noticed them. Now Joe thought, let’s see if they follow me or the money.

Joe departed from the sidewalk across the street, to an alleyway. Joe knew the city well enough, that he could probably lose his pursuers. Navigating his way through the labyrinth of alleys and streets, Joe looked over his shoulder multiple times to make sure that no one was following him. Just when he thought he was in the clear, he noticed one of the men about fifty yards ahead of him. Sneaking back into an alley Joe drew his weapon and carefully pulled the hammer back; slipped a round in the empty chamber that housed the firing pin. He turned and made his way back through the maze of alleyways, with his hand gripped to his pistol just in case things south. St. Louis wasn’t exactly fond of weapons, but they weren’t outlawed either. If push came to quick draw Joe was ready. After nearly a half hour of watching his steps and looking over his shoulder, Joe was confident he’d lost the men who were following him. Before stepping out into the street to go back to the docks, Joe safely removed one of his rounds and uncocked the hammer placing it into the empty camber.

Joe stepped out onto the sidewalk and made his way to a cab. Just as he was nearing the cab closest to him, he saw one of the men in black. Joe turned back around and saw another one directly in front of him. He turned to cross the street, but the other two were coming straight towards him. Joe had no choice but to run. He wasn’t sure which direction just as long as it was away from the black suits. It was no use they had him surrounded, as they enclosed around him like black soot on a chimney sweep. Two of the men grabbed him from behind, tightly gripping his arms. Joe was a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier than the two men, but together they would be difficult to fight. As the other two closed in, one of them spoke “Mr. Quinn, the President would like a word with you.”

© 2010 by Eric James Russell. All Rights Reserved.

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6 Responses to ““Joe Quinn and his Adventurers in: Lightening in a Bottle” Chapter 1: “A Gentleman’s Bet””

  1. Steve jackson Says:

    Is artemis same same as arthur?

  2. This has caught my attention

    This is not you first is it?

    • This is my first. I honestly don’t expect to publish this in any mass market. It’s more like a creative exercise than anything else. Just getting some feed back on what I could do better, so I can polish the current project or know what to do when I do my second book. Thank you for the compliment!

      • I take it from the times on the replys you are on the left coast.
        I am not a literary critic or in any way a authority of the art of
        writing so any comments I make please do not take as personal.

        It seems you use the names (Joe, Arthur) a little to often
        in the same paragraphs.

      • As near to the Left Coast as I can get with out going crazy. However thank you for the advice! I noticed I did the name thing as well when revising other chapters. Please if you notice anything that detracts from the writing let me know and I’ll work on it. Thanks again!

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