“Joe Quinn and his Adventurers in: Lightening in a Bottle” Chapter 3 “Sunday Meetings”

Chapter 3

It was a pleasant day in the province of Virginia. Arch Duke Sebastian Reinhold of the American Provinces was enjoying his breakfast in his palace. While he wasn’t particularly fond of this part of the world, he did enjoy the pleasant weather that came with it. Aside from that however he preferred to be in his home land of Germany. Reinhold didn’t understand why the Holy European Empire just didn’t take the rest of the American continent by force. After all it was the destiny of the world to be unified was it not? The so-called “New” Americans were self indulgent and uncaring for their own neighbors. They simply thrived on the disease of competition and the illusion of “free will”. No one man is the other’s better; all are equal. They would soon understand that or they would suffer the consequences. The Arch Duke was on a personal errand by the command of the Holy Emperor of Europe. He could not be selfish in his own desires to be home, he must find the key to the weapon.

Reinhold was contemplating on the wonderful irony of it all; a weapon designed by one of the Founders of New America only to be destroyed by it. It would only serve those cowards right, to be destroyed by their own desires of “free enterprise”. If such a notion were true they would share their inventions with the world and not keep it hidden from their neighbors. The Unification had not been easy for Europe and would not be easy for the rest of the world, but it had to be done for the harmony of mankind. Reinhold finished his musings and his breakfast. He made his way from the dining hall to his personal chambers to change from his pajamas to his formal military wear. He found his uniform hanging on a rack which was on the door leading to the closet. The dark blue jacket and pants matched well with the cold blue eyes of the Arch Duke.

After he dressed and groomed himself Reinhold took a long look at himself in the mirror, proud of his handsome looks. He ran his fingers through his jet black hair and permitted himself a vain smile. There was much to do today; there were briefings from his agents who were arriving from New America for the latest details. On top of those duties his son had a piano recital that was to be performed later in the evening. Reinhold didn’t enjoy the thought of his son attending a boarding school on foreign soil; he needed to be taught in his own country. No that wasn’t right; Reinhold was being selfish again. It wasn’t his will it was the will of his Emperor to have his son educated here. Reinhold was grateful.

Making his way to the bottom floor of his cavernous palace, Reinhold was greeted by his valet who then escorted him to the Arch Duke’s steam carriage. It was a truly marvelous device, only one of five in all of the thirteen provinces. Situating himself in the passenger seat in the rear of the carriage Reinhold fastened his wind goggles over his eyes and awaited his driver who did the same and the two were off. During the drive Reinhold was hoping for good news for a change. It had been nearly six weeks since any new information had been uncovered regarding the location of the key that would lead to the weapon. Reinhold did not want to be disappointed.

After a ten minute ride Reinhold arrived at his desired destination, the train depot. His top agent would be arriving any moment with news for good or for ill. It was only a moment waiting on the platform when the train arrived. Stepping off the Royal passenger car reserved for Empire officials was Reinhold’s man Owens. Owens, Reinhold knew, did not enjoy his previous assignment in killing Jonathan Foster but sacrifices for the Empire had to be made. Reinhold watched the shorter stockier Owens make his way to himself. The expression on Owens face was not pleasant. When Owens approached he gave the customary salute of the Empire “Guten Tag Herr Owens” said the Arch Duke “I’m sure you have some news to give me?” Owens grimaced and let out a bitter laugh “Hardly.” The spy said “It’s been o’er two months and we still don’t ‘ave the key.”

It was stunning to Reinhold that a country could have invented an entire language yet they didn’t even know how to speak it. No matter there was more pressing issues at hand. What Reinhold needed to know was what was available at the moment, regardless of what little information they have. “I’m beginning to question whether we need this key to open the ruins to retrieve this weapon” said the Arch Duke “His Holiness wouldn’t want us delaying our Empire’s plans any further.” “Oh we need it boss, trust me on that” countered Owens. Reinhold was afraid of that. Something was protecting those catacombs and no one knew how to get around that door. They tried everything from explosives, to steam powered drills, to wishful thinking and nothing seemed to work. “Is there anything else to report Herr Owens?” Reinhold asked. Reinhold looked over at Owens and noticed a particularly sour expression on the man’s face “Well Owens, anything?” “The bloody N.A.’s know.” Owens said bitterly “What do they know?” “Everything boss, everything. They even hired some sort of national war hero to do the job of stealin’ the weapon.” This was most unfortunate for Reinhold to hear.

He began to wonder how long the N.A.’s, as Owens called them, knew of the Empire’s plans. None of that seemed to matter at the moment any longer, what mattered now was stopping the enemy from gaining access to the weapon. “You say they know everything, correct?” Reinhold asked his spy “Yeah everything. The treaty, location, all of it.” came the reply. Reinhold permitted a little smirk “Then they are as much in the darkness as we are Mein Bruder. We will use this to our advantage.” Owens seemed to understand what Reinhold was saying and nodded slightly. Reinhold was about to do everything in his power to be sure the enemy never reached the Empire. Well everything without creating a new war of course. “Come Owens. The N.A.S. will be ready for us to strike, therefore we must strike first!” Reinhold said as they made their way to the steam carriage.

***

Elisabeth Fayette had just arrived from New Orleans. Joe was late again as usual and she didn’t like to be kept waiting. She wasn’t exactly sure what he was playing at, considering he was the one who forced her out of his life. She wasn’t in the least ready to forgive him for his actions in South America and if this was supposed to be his way of apologizing then forget it! So Elisabeth was left on the platform at the train station in St. Louis, tempted to purchase another ticket back home. Her first interaction with Joe had been wonderful. He was handsome and brave, most importantly however was that Joe treated her equally. Elisabeth felt safe when she was with Joe, in spite of his moments of recklessness. He often praised her marksmanship and her ability to curse like the rest of “the boys”. Now Joe had grown cold towards her, Elisabeth felt.

Elisabeth just wasn’t proper like a lady. She was far more comfortable as an adventuring heroine. She was drawing quite the stares from passersby on the train platform, with hushed tones of disapproval. Elisabeth’s crime? She was wearing trousers and what appeared to be a man’s duster coat. Not that it diminished her beauty in any way. Standing at just under six feet, Elisabeth’s statuesque figure was far more striking in trousers than she would be in a formal dress with a corset. Her dark brown hair was put up in a bun, and her head was adorned with a black coachman’s hat. With deep blue eyes and skin that was a medium tan, Elisabeth was hard to ignore. Her Choctaw and Parisian features were on constant display. Her grandfather, a former representative of the Choctaw nation, called her “Masheli” which translated into English meant “Fair Sky”. She often wondered why; before his death she asked him “Because men must look up to the sky to see your loveliness” he told her. She was unusually tall for a woman, but Elisabeth never felt she was all that beautiful.

That made the young woman even more confused as to why Joe had been so fond of her. He wanted more, Elisabeth needed less. The worst came when she felt that maybe there might be something between them. Of course she realized that there was only animosity between her and Joe; deep down it broke her in two though she would never admit it to anyone.  She began to realize she was happier than she was now. She had been with Joe’s crew for three years until it disbanded and now every young suitor her mother could find came to call. It was a nice change of pace for Elisabeth, yet she didn’t been long to that world. Frankly she wasn’t sure where she belonged. Elisabeth, for whatever reason, felt compelled to at least hear Joe out.

When the waiting began to become far too unbearable and the temptation to head back home too great, Elisabeth heard a familiar voice call out to her “Bonjour mon petite enfant!” it was Babineaux! Elisabeth turned around and found the old man dressed in the most presentable outfit she had ever seen him wear. She quickly rushed to embrace her old friend and through her arms around the man who had been the father she never had. “I’ve missed you so!” Elisabeth said while kissing Babineaux on each cheek. The old man laughed “I’ve missed you too Fair Sky.” he said. “I assume that you’re here for the same reasons that I am Madame?” Babineaux asked. Elisabeth was reluctant to give an answer but she knew she could never slip anything past Babineaux. At the same time she didn’t want him getting the wrong idea about why she came back. Then again why had she come back? She immediately shook the feeling and thought it best to tell the truth “Yes I’m here to listen to Josephus’ newest venture” said Elisabeth “However I’m not sure I will accept his offer of helping him start a shipping company of all things.”

Babineaux let out a laugh loud enough to wake the dead. Elisabeth was immediately confused by the outburst from her friend “What are you laughing about?” she asked sternly. “Is that what he told you?” Babineaux said trying to contain his laughter “Young lady this isn’t about a mere shipping company, this is something else entirely.” Elisabeth could feel her face going red with unbridled anger How could that, that, braggart, lie to me?! She thought. Babineaux seemed to notice the young lady’s demeanor change and stopped laughing. She had had it! Elisabeth picked up her two suitcases and began to take off towards the ticket counter. “Wait, Fair Sky! Wait!” she heard Babineaux calling after her. She didn’t listen nor did she break step; she made her mind up. She was going home. Suddenly she felt a harsh grip on her upper arm. Elisabeth turned and saw Babineaux holding her arm with enough force to crush a diamond.

Babineaux may have been much older but he was stronger than most men who were in their prime. “Unhand me!” Elisabeth protested. “Not until you simmer down and tell me why you ran off in a huff.” Babineaux said evenly. As Elisabeth began to relax, Babineaux’s grip also slackened. At this moment Elisabeth felt very foolish, as she looked around and saw that she had created quite a scene. Onlookers were giving disapproving shakes of the head and continuing their silent criticisms of the young woman. “Why did Josephus lie to me?” Elisabeth asked. “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him when he gets here?” countered Babineaux. Elisabeth felt even more foolish for her behavior. She didn’t like being left in the dark about things and worse yet, he had sent a telegram. Why didn’t he just call her on her telephone? She could, for whatever reason, feel tears starting to well up in her eyes. Why did she even come here? Elisabeth let out a sigh and fought back the tears and the last scrap of romantic feelings that she may have had for Joe. She was here for business, even if it wasn’t for what Joe had originally told her in the telegram. The one true consolation in this trip is that she could visit with Babineaux.

“Are you going to be all right, Fair Sky?” Babineaux asked Elisabeth, calling her by the pet name her grandfather had given her. “I’ll be fine” Elisabeth replied “I just don’t understand why Josephus isn’t here to explain himself.” Babineaux let out another laugh and said “My dear, don’t you know that today is Sunday? Joe’s gone to church like the do-gooder he is.” Elisabeth should have realized that today was Sunday. It explained why everyone was in particularly splendid dress as opposed to casual daily wear. Another thing that Elisabeth couldn’t figure out about Joe was his religious belief; especially after all of the horrible things that he went through during the war… Her mind was wandering again when she didn’t want it to.

In an attempt to clear her mind, Elisabeth thought it best to steer the conversation toward her present company. Elisabeth asked Babineaux “Well Dr. what have you been working on during your ‘forced retirement’?” At that Moment Babineaux’s eyes lit up with excitement and he began to speak excitedly “This new invention could revolutionize the world of transportation! It uses a modified form of oil as fuel that burns internally. Using the crude oil that’s in abundance from Texas, this new form of engine could solve our resource problems!” Elisabeth wasn’t exactly sure what her old friend was talking about but he seemed excited about it anyhow.

“It sounds wonderful Babineaux.” Elisabeth said politely. The two then made their way back to the shipping platform to wait for Babineaux’s crate which contained his device. All along the way Elisabeth continued intricacies of Babineaux’s new invention, but her mind began to slip back towards Joe. She didn’t even want to think about him, yet there he was in her mind’s eye. She wanted to shake him but her memory refused to let go.

***

Joe was sitting in the third pew from the pulpit, listening to the sermon. It was a typically fiery one as well. Joe wasn’t overly faithful but he felt this was the best way to honor his family’s memory, particularly his mother who was very devout in her faith. He believed of course, but he wasn’t too sure if there was a vengeful being that created all of mankind just to kill it all in the end. That to Joe indicated that, God had made a mistake when God was supposed to be perfect. Joe believed in something, he just wasn’t sure what. It was nearing 1 o’clock and would have to be leaving soon to meet with Elisabeth and the crazy old codger Babineaux. Babineaux had surprisingly been the easiest persuade to come back to the crew. Walter decided to come back for the plain reason that someone else would crash the airship and there wouldn’t be any of that. The Professor had been slightly more difficult to come back because he was convinced the whole thing was a hoax. If it hadn’t been for the urgings of the old man’s granddaughter Hannah, the two wouldn’t be arriving tomorrow morning.

Tsui of course was somewhere in town losing money and not staying on the ship. It was a constant struggle for the Captain and the Mercenary. Joe was constantly trying to rein in Tsui’s appetites and bombast. There was many a time when he was close to firing Tsui, but had changed his mind. It was an odd partnership for the two. They got on well when it was convenient for the both of them but, it was never a fully trustworthy partnership. Joe needed Tsui for this adventure however, and there was no way he was going to let him go.

The droning of condemnation from the pastor continued while Joe was lost in thought until at last it was time for a hymn. It seemed to Joe that singing was the only time one could feel any love from a higher power in church. It was in this time that the service felt any emotion resembling love and love toward one’s fellow man. Joe wasn’t much of a singer but this was the one exception in which he sang publicly. The hymn came to a close and the congregation seated once more as the collection plate made its way around the chapel. Joe hated the collection plate. He could feel the eyes of the congregation peering in on him. It seemed to Joe that they were simply seeing how charitable Joe really was with his money. Frankly how Joe had it figured it was none of their damn business if he gave $100 or $.01 to the plate.

The plate made its way to Joe begging him to give it everything he had. The meager donations would make some of the wealthiest donors in the nation scoff. Although that had been the point of the Widow’s mites was it not. Everything these people had was on that plate. Joe let out a sigh and pulled out his pocketbook and felt the room grow still and silent in anticipation. So much for not letting what one hand knows what the other did thought Joe as he doubled the amount that was on the plate. Instantly murmurs spread amongst the congregation about Joe’s donation. Some were grateful, most however felt that he was being boastful. Joe didn’t care, he did his Christian duty.

With that the service was over and Joe needed to get going, Elisabeth was going to be upset and she hated him enough as it was. Joe also didn’t feel any better about lying to her in the telegram but he didn’t have her connecting number for a phone call. He couldn’t let risking the telegram being intercepted by spies. She was most likely going to be upset with the news, but Joe couldn’t care less. Joe felt that he could persuade Elisabeth once she knew what was at stake.

Joe was nearly at the door when he heard the voice of the pastor call out to him. Joe cringed, put on his most polite smile and turned around. “Yes sir?” Joe said as he greeted the pastor. Pastor Reynolds firmly gripped Joe’s hand and smiled. “Josephus this church is grateful for your contributions today!” boomed the pastor. For being significantly shorter than Joe, the pastor had quite the booming baritone. The rather loud voice echoed throughout the chapel’s stone walls. Joe wasn’t quite sure what to say to the man other than a simple “You’re welcome” as he tried to make a getaway from the clergyman. Not only was the pastor shorter than Joe, he also possessed an iron clad grip on Joe’s hand.

“Young man,” the pastor began to drone “If only the whole of the congregation could match your generosity!” Most of this congregation can’t afford a can of beans, Joe thought incredulously. Somewhere in the pastors heavy handed words a scream echoed throughout the church. Not exactly a scream but more a cry for help than anything really. Both the pastor and Joe looked around for the distressed voice. At that moment one of the church’s endless deacons appeared, clearly panic stricken. “Pastor Reynolds!” shrieked the deacon “The money from the collection plate is gone!” With that Joe began to look around for the culprit.

As Joe looked around he saw coins on the floor and the doors to the chapel ajar. He immediately bolted out the door and looked up and down the street and saw more coins littering the sidewalk heading southward. Joe followed the money and turned left into an alleyway a block from the chapel. There he saw a small frame of a boy curled up close to a wall, with his eyes tightly closed. Joe crouched down to the boy’s level and saw that the boy was tightly clutching the collection money to his chest.

Joe saw that the young boy was wearing trousers that were about three sizes too big, with a belt tied around his waist for a belt. Similarly the shirt was much too big, that the sleeves looked like sails on a boat. The same went for the well worn shoes. As far as Joe could tell the poor boy needed the money more than the church. “Say boy, y’all together?” Joe asked, “If you need money for your family, perhaps I can help.” At that moment the boy shrieked “Leave me family ‘lone!” Joe was startled by, not only the yell but, the accent as well. He was from somewhere in what was formerly known as the British Isles. Although Joe couldn’t tell if it were Scottish or British, as he could never tell such things. The boy stood up and began to run, but Joe being much quicker and bigger grabbed the boy.

“Now settle down boy, I ain’t gonna hurt ya!” Joe said while the boy in his arms struggled to break free. “Don’t hurt me dad!” shrieked the boy, continuing his struggle to break free from Joe’s grasp. After hearing the boy’s voice a second time Joe recognized the accent as being from one of the southern provinces of Old America. He then asked the boy “Where’s your dad?” The boy stopped struggling in that moment and started to cry “I’ve lost ‘im. I can’t find ‘im!” Joe put the boy down and looked hard on the little one’s dirty face. Tears were leaving streaks in dirt on the boy’s face. The boy cried some more and in between gasps he managed to speak “I’m lost! I’ve been takin’ monies ‘cause I haven’t any food.”

Joe listened to the boy and began to conjure up an idea that was sure to rile the crew but he had no choice. “Tell me boy where ya from an’ what’s your name?” The boy looked up at Joe with his big blue eyes and replied “Virginia. I’m Billy.” Joe smiled and said “Name’s Joe. Now if you help me take back that money to the church I’ll help ya find your dad, all right?” Billy gave Joe a quizzical look and asked “How’re ye goin’ to do it?” “Well I got an airship and can fly you back to Virginia and we can find your dad. Do we have a deal?” Joe answered. Billy’s face lit up with wonder as his eyes darted from left to right. “Well?” Joe asked studying the young boy’s face. “You ‘ave a ship?” Billy asked in excitement “You can use it to find me dad?” he concluded.

Joe smiled and was relieved that he got the boy to simmer down. “Yep I gotta ship and I can help you find your dad, but we gotta take the money back.” Billy eagerly nodded and started to head back toward the church. Joe turned and followed the boy out of the alley quickly catching up to the boy. Hopefully the crew wouldn’t mind making a detour to Virginia before heading to the Haven Peninsula. As Joe figured it this boy needed to be where his family was, maybe he had some relations that could look after him. Although the only thing Joe was hoping for was that Elisabeth wouldn’t be too upset for Joe showing up late.

© 2010 by Eric James Russell. All Rights Reserved.

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