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

Posted in Novel on April 2, 2010 by ejrussell

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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“Joe Quinn and his Adventurers in: Lightening in a Bottle” Chapter 2 “Questions and Answers”

Posted in Novel with tags , on March 31, 2010 by ejrussell

Chapter 2

Joe sat silently in the darkened carriage. He was on his way to meet the president and he wasn’t sure why. Joe was puzzled by the invitation considering the secrecy in which it was delivered. Well, attempted secrecy anyway. The four men were the personal bodyguards of the president, not exactly official law enforcement but something to be treated with respect regardless. After the confrontation, Joe was then quickly placed into an armored carriage headed toward the Presidential Mansion.

The carriage had no windows only iron plating bolted to the thick hardwood doors. A brilliant flash of light suddenly erupted in front of Joe; his eyes began to focus on what was a match lighting a gas lamp that hung from the ceiling of the carriage. “What if he hit a bump and that lamp falls off and breaks?” Joe asked. Silence was the response from the guards. “Anyone wants to tell me why you had to rough me up just to tell me that president wanted to talk?” asked Joe to the still silent men. Frustrated, Joe took off his brown Stetson hat and ran his hand through his blonde nearly brown hair and let out a sigh.

Just then one of the guards spoke “Mr. Quinn, name’s Calvin and we here have been given strict orders not to tell you anything.” This was the same guard who first spoke to Joe. Calvin was fairly large more so in girth than in height. His face was long which made the skin under his neck look even more pronounced like that of a frog inflating his mouth. Joe sat stroking his mustache, studying Calvin then asked “Nothin’ at all?” “’Fraid not.” “Why? You felt the need to jump me in the street; I figure I deserve some answers.” Calvin furrowed his eyebrows and gave a hard stare at Joe “President Edison gave us strict orders.” he said. With that Joe sat back and looked up and stared at the ceiling thinking about what he knew of the president.

Thomas Alva Edison was a true hero to the people. Everything about the man exemplified the New American spirit: Hard work, independence innovation and integrity. When he was in his 20’s he invented the first electric light, and other marvelous inventions such as the phonograph. His professional life as a business man came to an end when he refused to provide devices for the war. He later ran for president after the cease fire and truce was signed, on a platform of pacifism. Joe personally didn’t vote for this current president, writing off the candidate’s promise of peace naïve. However the man was still to be respected and any invitation to speak with him is considered an honor.

Aside from Calvin, none of the bodyguards spoke during the short carriage ride. The carriage came to a stop, and then proceeded once more. Checkpoint Joe thought we must be clearing through the gate now. The carriage came to stop and the doors were open, letting slivers of light peak through. Joe and the guard’s eyes began to adjust to the daylight as they stepped out of the carriage. Joe blinked as his eyes focused on the grand mansion that stood in front of him. He’d walked by it several times when going to various meetings and such when he had business in the city. It was far more impressive up close than he realized. The large red brick Presidential Mansion was a symbol that the world had come to know as the symbol of the free world. Constitutional law was possible, and the N.A.S. was proof of that concept. Many people from the European Empire secretly tried to make passage through the gulf up into Texas to be free from the iron fisted rule that clutched most of Europe.

Joe was escorted into the building and was stunned by the ornate architecture and vibrant paintings that adorned the halls. The display was rather impressive, as Joe began to see the various portraits of presidents past. The largest painting was at the end of the hall, where a small staircase led up and forked into two staircases leading to the second and third floors of the mansion. The painting that hung between the two staircases was of the first New American Sates president Benjamin Franklin. It was well over ten feet high and about six feet wide. The painting gave the impression that Old Ben wasn’t looking down on you; rather that he was inviting you. Inviting you to what seemed to be the big question on Joe’s mind as he and his escort began to ascend the stairway to the right.

Eventually they made their way to the famed Outer Office where Joe would wait and be invited into the more famous Inner Office to meet with the president. The wait wasn’t long as the Inner Office door was opened. Out stepped one of the president’s secretaries and invited Joe into the office. Seated behind a large oak desk was President Edison who immediately stood up and made his way to greet the young adventurer. “Young man it is an honor to meet you!” he began “I’ve read the reports of your various dealings, during and post-war. Tell me Josephus what must it be like to travel the world, free from the tethers that tie us to the ground?” Joe found he couldn’t speak. Was this really all the president wanted to speak with him about? There was more to this story and Joe needed answers. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Sir. I mean President Sir… I-” Edison raised his hand and interrupted Joe “Thomas will do fine. Please have a seat.”

Joe sat in down in the empty chair that was in front of the desk, feeling overwhelmed by the new experience. He drew a deep breath and exhaled and began to speak. “Mr. President, why did you send for me?” Joe asked solemnly “I get the impression that you went through the trouble of sending out your men to find me, not so you can discuss my explorations.” The president let out a sigh, and gave Joe a hard look. “Mr. Quinn, are you familiar with our history?” The president asked. Joe wasn’t quite sure where the question would lead, but he nodded slowly. The president spoke again. “We all know about the Displacement of 1776, where our Founders fled into the French controlled territories. Then of course, the Land Treaty that President Franklin drafted with King Louis the XVI.” Again Joe wasn’t sure where this meeting was leading him, but continued to listen to his president.

“You see Mr. Quinn no one really knows what’s in the treaty, only that we know that an exchange was made.” said the President. Joe was beginning to understand where the conversation was leading, but before he had his say he continued to let the President speak his piece. “The exact wording of the treaty states that land would be given to our new government, in exchange for ‘valuable goods furnished by the citizenry of New America’.” As the President finished his speaking it became clear to Joe as to why he was here: A conspiracy theory. Not exactly a conspiracy but an old folk tale about how Old Ben found a secret treasure to bribe the French with. “Thomas,” Joe began “There is no secret gold treasure. It’s a myth.” “I’m well aware of that fact Mr. Quinn. That is not why I summoned you here.” The President answered firmly. Joe did not expect this response from the President.

“May I continue?” the President asked Joe innocently. Joe slowly nodded more confused than before. “As I said an exchange took place that didn’t cost the citizens a single cent. The King was somehow satisfied with our gift and now we have land! What was exchanged? Ben Franklin gave the King Louis a weapon he designed himself!” This was a new one Joe hadn’t heard before. Everyone knew of how Old Ben was a tinkerer and inventor, but a weapon? That was hard to swallow. All Joe could manage was a single question “What kind of weapon?” he asked. The President stood up from behind his desk and began to pace, took a look at Joe. “Benjamin Franklin was working on a device to help repel the British after Displacement.” The President began “He was using his experiments in electricity as a starting point, when it was announced that King Louis would be willing to help out the Rebels.” “The Land Treaty of 1779…” Joe said aloud.

“Precisely!” exclaimed the President “The French knew what Old Ben was working on and convinced him to give the weapon to their King in exchange for land.” Joe thought about this for a moment, not entirely sure what to believe or think. Could Ben Franklin really have made such a device? Anything was possible but Joe wasn’t sure what this had to do with him in the first place. “So this weapon” Joe said slowly “What’s it do?” “It fires pure electricity in one concentrated ray.” the President answered. To Joe it seemed impossible like something out of a Scientific Romance. As Joe sat there and began to reflect on what he had just heard, one question still needed to be answered “Even if this tall tale is true, what’s it got to do with me?” asked Joe. After all there must have been a reason for the President’s odd request to meet with him.

“Three weeks ago our spies from the Empire have informed us that our enemies have found the clues that would lead them to the location of the weapon, here inside our own borders.” said the President. Another bit of startling news for Joe, as he now hung on every word the President was saying. “Worse than that news is, I’m afraid is that the Empire has already learned of the location and are now searching for the weapon somewhere in France.” This was beginning to become too much for Joe to take in and it didn’t answer his main question “What does this have to do with me exactly?” Joe asked again. “Well isn’t it obvious Mr. Quinn? You’re going to help us steal the weapon.” said the President. Joe was dumbstruck by the revelation and now had more questions than he had before.

Sitting and contemplating on what was going to be a request he knew he wouldn’t be able to get out of, Joe shook his head and let out a laugh. President Edison took notice and asked “Was there something humorous that I missed Mr. Quinn?” “How exactly do you expect me to do this?” Joe responded. “I don’t even know where to start or where to go. I’m not sure if I’m the right man for the job.” After Joe finished speaking he stood and made his way to the door. Before he could leave the President’s hand gripped him on the shoulder, prompting Joe to stay. “I know this is all overwhelming and understandably confusing, but no one else in this great country of ours has your skill set.” The President said as he walked back to his desk and sat down in his oversized swivel.

Joe looked at President Edison and saw a troubled and weary look on the man’s face. Joe stood and watched for a few minutes until the President spoke again “I promised this nation that after the Appalachian War we would have peace. I have gone through great measures to ensure that our treaty would be enforced and the things I have done are most regrettable.” Joe started to think that maybe the President wasn’t so naïve after all.

After listening to what the President had said Joe asked “If I agree to this what guarantees do I have of even finding this thing? I mean they already know where to look, how do we know they don’t have it?” President Edison looked up at Joe and smiled “They know where it is, they just can’t get to it.” “Go on.” Joe said. “They have located a secret catacomb somewhere in southern France that may have served as an archive of some kind, storing all kinds of treasures. They just don’t know how to open the passageway.” “So they don’t know how to open it, how do we? Walk through the wall?” Joe asked rather sarcastically. “You have an archaeologist friend do you not Mr. Quinn? I’m sure he could figure out a way.” The President answered. He was right of course Joe did in fact have such an acquaintance; Professor Miles Thompson former Archive Director Madison University in Kansas city. Professor Miles had been one of the few individuals Joe actually accepted any kind of payment from for transportation.

It had everything of course to do with their mutual love of looking for trouble in all the wrong places. Also having the good professor’s lovely granddaughter, Hannah, onboard didn’t hurt either. Joe was beginning to formulate a plan in his mind without actually agreeing to the President’s request. It had been nearly six months since he had gone on expedition of any kind and his old crew went back to their homes. At the moment it was just himself and Tsui living on the Jefferson at the airship docks. If anything this would break up the monotony, although Joe wasn’t sure how his crew would react considering the last journey effectively kicked them out of South America.  Walter was up north in Chicago, Babineaux was somewhere in Ohio and Elisabeth… He wasn’t quite sure he’d bring her along. As far as the Professor was concerned he was out west in Idaho. For Joe this would be a massive undertaking getting everyone back together and agree to undergo this secret mission. As a matter of fact Joe was going to decline.

“I’m sorry Thomas I can’t. I don’t have my crew or the resources, I just can’t.” Joe said softly. “I wish I could help but the war is over and I’m a private citizen now and I want the past to stay buried.” Those last few words Joe spoke hurt. He had spent the last three years after the war had ended trying not to think about what had happened to him during the fight. While he was grateful and proud of what he had accomplished, it was no longer his fight. “Mr. Quinn, I’m well aware of your actions during the war and the horrible sacrifices you made but your country needs you more than ever. Think of what could happen should the Empire get this device. They could replicate it and have the ultimate power and the will to use it. I know it’s quite a task to ask of you but I can’t let my actions be known to the public.” The President’s words hung of Joe’s head like a heavy gray cloud threatening to burst. The President was right and he knew it.

Everyone’s gonna hate me for this. Joe thought. “All right Thomas, where do I start?”

© 2010 by Eric James Russell. All Rights Reserved.

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

Posted in Novel with tags , on March 29, 2010 by ejrussell

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.