Since Pam commented the other day that the snippet from Skeletons in the Closet gave her mental whiplash, I thought I’d try for a repeat performance. (Just kidding, Pam.) Yes, I know. I’m an evil woman. But that’s what happens when no one invents a machine to inject me with enough coffee to function BEFORE I get out of bed. So, in order to try to get Pam’s brain to whip back into its original position, here’s the first scene from a steampunk novel I’ve been playing with, more as an exercise to see if I can do it than anything else.
He leaned back and nodded slightly, satisfaction filling him. Who would have guessed he’d have found so many kindred souls in America. Kindred souls with money and the patriotic fervor only those driven from their homelands seemed to possess. Kindred souls who would do almost anything he asked, if for no other reason than to strike a blow against the English who continued to refuse to admit Ireland was for the Irish.
Perhaps Ireland would finally be freed from its English oppressors.
It was strange, and certainly not what he’d expected, but he felt at home here. Chicago was alive with commerce and trade. Everywhere he turned, someone had an opportunity to offer. Sure and he knew some were merely opportunities to part him from his cash. But now, after several days in the city, he was beginning to understand why so many called this the Land of Opportunity. Where else could an Irish Catholic who’d fled his homeland with nothing but the clothes on his back be able to make his fortune?
But it was more than that. Parts of Chicago were more Irish than Ireland. Even here. The poorly lit pub was filled with voices, many of which sounded as if they’d arrived from Ireland not long before he had. Mixed in with the lyrical accents he knew so well were the broader, flatter accents of those who’d never stepped foot on Irish soil but who were just as Irish as was he, in heart and mind if not in location. Irish Gaelic mixed with English lulled him into a sense of security. Add to that the smells of too many people in too small of a space, stale ale, whiskey and smoke and, well, he could be sitting in his favorite pub in Dublin.
Familiar it might be, but it wouldn’t do to be careless. Even here in Chicago, home of one of the largest Irish populations in America, the Brits had their spies, something his companions didn’t seem to understand. Little did they know that the Home Office, as well as the Metropolitan Police, had agents everywhere, doing all they could to derail the movement for Irish independence.
The Brits might decry those patriots fighting for Irish independence as murderers and traitors, but they weren’t above murder or the use of double agents who thought nothing of leading brave Fenian men and women to their deaths. Of course, he couldn’t explain how he knew this, not without risking his own life. So he’d choose his words carefully and keep his eyes and ears open. That tact had kept him alive all these years. Hopefully, it would for many more years to come.
The fact his four companions seemed unconcerned about meeting in a crowded pub to discuss their “business” didn’t sit well. The Shamrock and Shillelagh might be considered safe by those who frequented it, but its connections to Clan na Gael were well known, not only to those who believed in Irish independence but to those who opposed it as well. A stranger might not be made to feel welcome unless vouched for by one of the regulars, but who was to say one of the regulars wasn’t a spy — or worse, a traitor. Even if the stranger posed no threat, there were too many people around, too many ears to hear what he and his companions had to say. All it took was a slip of the tongue, innocent or not, by someone who happened to overhear the wrong thing to foil their plans. No, he’d feel much better if they were meeting somewhere isolated and easily secured. Unfortunately, he’d left the place of their meeting to his companions and it was too late to change it now.
“You’re not drinking, Francis.”
“Wasn’t I too busy thinking about the pretty lass back home?” Let them think what they would. They were amateurs at the conspiracy game. If he told them how worried he was, it might queer the deal. He couldn’t risk that. So, he’d lie. It was only a white lie after all, one designed to protect them all, whether they realized they needed protecting or not. “Slainte!” He tossed back his whiskey, savoring the smoky taste before signaling for another round. “Now, Paddy, you said you had news –“
Francis Millen paused, shaking his head, as, with a puff of smoke and squeak of metal wheels against wooden floor, a small servercart rolled up to the table. America truly was a strange land. He’d seen some mechanicals in London and Dublin before, but not like here. It seemed as if the mechanicals were almost everywhere, in every shape and size. Steam powered airships floated through the skies. Mechanicals that looked like oddly built spiders scurried up the sides of buildings, sealing cracks in windows and conducting other minor repairs. In this country, technicians and engineers were encouraged, even respected, and they took advantage of it. Even in the pubs their strange machines seemed almost commonplace. A quick glance at the bar showed the pub owner, a large controller in his hands, guiding the servercart amongst the tables, stopping from time to time so the patrons could grab their drinks. Each time the ‘cart started, it gave a puff of steam from its smokestack, much like a train engine’s, adding to the smoke already hanging in the air from cigarettes, cigars and the occasional pipe.
“Well, you’ll be home to her soon enough, Francis,” Patrick Murray assured him, snagging another whiskey from the ‘cart before it moved on. “We think we’ve a solution to your problem.”
“Do you now?” His heart beat a bit faster. “What is it you have in mind?”
“Aye. Tommy here has family in London. His nephew is working with that Professor Ainsley.”
For a moment, Millen said nothing, his mind working furiously. Ainsley. He knew that name. But how?
“Francis me boy, it’s really quite simple,” Tommy Gallagher said, a smile playing at his lips. “Here’s me plan . . . .”
Millen leaned forward, anxious to hear what Gallagher had to say. If everything went as planned, he’d soon be able to complete his mission, a mission that would not only guarantee Irish independence but would strike a death blow to the very heart of the British monarchy.