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Friday, July 25, 2014

THE MAN I WILL MARRY by Elaine Charton/Elaine Joyce

Hello Readers-
This short story is sort of a prequel to my novel, The Pink Lady.  It's the story of how Leticia and Reginald, the ghosts who haunt the Pink Lady, first met. I hope you enjoy the story and will read the blurb for The Pink Lady that follows.
~Elaine Joyce

Leticia Greenwood looked at herself in the mirror. She had finally cut her  blonde hair, worn long for as long as she could remember. Now it was a stylish bob, set in soft waves that not quite reached her shoulders.  Tonight was her best friend's twenty first birthday party.
She wondered what it would be like to love someone as much as Penny loved her Tommy.
Her escort for tonight's party Walter Brace was nice but that was it, He took her to all the right places. Escorted her to parties, dinners, gave her nice presents but she did not want to spend the rest of her life with him. Her father had him to dinner one evening and he returned after that.  Her mother encouraged the relationship, wanting to see her daughter married. If only she could get her mother to realize that she would not marry Walter Brace.. Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on her door and her maid came into the room.  “Miss, your mother sent me to tell you that Mr. Brace was downstairs waiting in the library.”
     “Thank you, Daisy. Please tell Mama I'll be right down.” She gave herself one last look in the mirror before grabbing her small purse and wrap.
   Downstairs her parents were talking with Walter in the library.  She ran over and hugged her parents before twirling around in front of Walter.  “Will I do?”
    “You look lovely dear,” her mother said.  Her father came over and kissed her cheek. “You know you do. Please pass our apologies again to the Weeks.”
    “ They understand.  Mama didn't expect to break a bone in her foot. Walter?” She asked, ."You haven't said how you like the dress?"
    “You know you look marvelous”  He glanced at his watch.  “We have to go or we'll be late.”
    She grabbed the present she had wrapped earlier for Penny and a second one from her parents before following him out the door.  They drove down Madison Avenue and parked in front of the building where Penny and her parents lived. They had been one of the first families to move into the luxury apartment building.
As he helped her out of the car Walter said, “I still do not know why they wanted to move into one of these apartments. I don't want anyone living above me.”
"Then it's a good thing you don't,”  Leticia said. He had a large brownstone  that she felt was far to big for one person. He told her that one day he hoped to see it filled with children.
“When I have the proper wife," he once explained to her.
She hoped that he didn't think she was that wife,  She liked Walter and they had fun at first but he was getting more and more staid. She couldn't see herself married to him. Maybe before he took her home tonight she would tell him how she felt.
 The Weeks' apartment took the entire first floor and their knock on the door was soon answered by the butler.  Penny and her parents stood in the foyer greeting their guests. A few people were gathered in the drawing room.  Leticia hurried over to her friend.
“Happy Birthday!” She hugged Penny and handed her the gifts.  As they were early there was time to open the gift. 
She handed one to her mother and opened the other. “Oh my,” Penny said and took the hair-combs out of the box. Gold with diamonds around it, they would peek out of her friends dark hair and look marvelous.  She knew that because they had tried them on one day when she and Leticia were out shopping. “You remembered.”
"Of course, silly. Why do you think I talked you out of buying them?”
The front door opened and more guests entered. “Come Leticia, let Penny greet her guests.” Walter steered her into the room. “I see the Steeles. Lets go talk to them.  I'm trying to get Patrick to let me handle his portfolio.”
    She stopped and pulled away from him. "Can we have one night off from business talk? This is a birthday party.”
    "Yes it is, my dear, and some of the most influential men are here.  There is not a better time for business talk. His wife is with him, you can talk with her and keep her occupied.”
    Marion Steele was older than her mother and she did not come to the party to spend time with her. Leticia looked around the room and found another of her friends by the punch bowl. “Fine, you talk business but I'm going to talk to Regina Weatherby.” She strode off before Walter could protest.
    “Good evening Regina.” She took a cup and held it out to her friend who promptly filled it.
    “I see Walter is still hanging around.” She wrinkled her nose. “I don't know what you see in him.”
   “Mother and father like him.”
   “That's not enough to marry someone.”  Regina led her friend across the room to chairs by the windows. They sat down and looked around the room.
   “I'm not going to marry him. He hasn't asked and if he did I’d say no.”
  “That's not what he's saying. My brother is a member of the same club as Walter and he heard Walter say you would soon be engaged.  He said your parents approve."
   “They may, but I can tell you right now we will never marry. I don't love him.”
    “Oh look, there's your brother Malachi.” Regina began fussing with her hair.
    Leticia smiled. Regina had such a crush on her brother and he hasn't figured it out yet. He strode across the room toward them, another man with him.  Leticia's heart stopped, he had to be the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Tall, slim, black hair neatly trimmed. His dinner jacket was obviously made for him.  She thought she knew all of Malachi's friends. She didn't know this one, but she would.
    “Letty!” Her brother came  over and took her hands before kissing  her cheek.  “You look lovely, as always." He turned to his friend. "Reginald Fairfax, may I present my sister Leticia.”
    “I am pleased to meet you Miss Greenwood. Your brother speaks highly of you.”  He took her hand and raised it to his lips. “He neglected to tell me how beautiful you were.”
    Letty blushed. He had a slight British accent which added to his appeal. “Thank you. May I present my friend, Regina Weatherby.”
    The four of them stood there talking but all to soon Walter came over. “Malachi, good to see you, Miss Weatherby. And you, sir, are?”
    “Sorry Walter, this is my friend, Reginald Fairfax. Reggie, this is Walter Brace, a friend of the family.”
    The two men nodded and Walter once again steered her away. "Come dear, Penny needs you to help her with something.” 
    Just before reaching the foyer, she turned to look back.  Regina and her brother were deep in conversation but Mr. Fairfax watched her intently. She blushed when he nodded and winked.
    “Here she is,” Walter said to Penny's parents.  “I'll see you at dinner, dear.” He kissed her on the cheek and went back to the drawing room.
    “Come dear, Penny decided she wanted to wear your gift tonight and would like you to help her with them.  She's in her dressing room.”
    Letty knew this apartment as well as she knew her house and hurried down the hall to her friend's room. Penny jumped up as she came in. “I'm so nervous.  Tommy came in and he and father immediately went into his study.”
    “Do you think? What else could they be talking about?”
    “I don't know. I'm almost afraid to hope.”
    “What else could it be? Your parents said you couldn't get engaged until you were twenty one."  She reached for her friend's hairbrush. “Lets fix your hair. Those diamonds will be the perfect thing to match your smile when your father announces your engagement.”

    It did not take her long and soon they were heading back to the drawing room.  Tommy was waiting in the foyer and Penny ran to him.  Letty slowed down a bit to give them time. When she reached them, the smile on her friend's face said it all.  “Congratulations!” She hugged the two of them. “You better treat her right, Tommy, or there will be trouble.”
    “No fear there, Leticia.” He put an arm around his fiancée and hugged her
    "Let's go in, you two. Father wants to make the announcement before dinner. He won't let Tommy give me my ring until he does.”
    “Then let's go.” She followed them in; just inside the drawing room, Walter stood waiting for her.
    “You two were a long time just fixing hair.”
    "Shh, " She watched her friend join her parents with her fiancée by her side. The room exploded in applause when the engagement was announced. She glanced across the room and saw Reginald Fairfax.  He may have been applauding the happy couple but he was looking at her.
    “I don't like that man, ”Walter whispered in her ear.
    She groaned. If his breath were any indication he'd already had more than one glass of whiskey. “Oh please , Walter. Mr. Fairfax is a friend of Malachi's.”
    “Still.” he took her hand. “Come with me. I want to talk to you for a minute. Everyone will be busy congratulating the happy couple.”
    She followed him out of the room and into the salon next door. This was where Mrs. Weeks received her close friends during the day.  It was hot in there and she opened the French doors to let some air in..
    “Leticia, come sit down. We need to talk.”
    She did, but immediately began chattering. She thought she knew what Walter wanted.  “I'm so happy for Penny.  She asked me to be her maid of honor if this happened. We're going to have fun shopping for gowns.”
    “Maybe you can do the same for her.””
    “We always intended to be each others maid of honor, but I'm not getting married any time soon. I have to love a man before I marry him.”
"Could I be that man?" He pulled her closer. “I love you, Leticia. I want to marry you. I'll be a good husband.”
He pulled her even closer. Before he kissed her he whispered, “I can make you love me.”
    “Walter, no!” She tried to push him away but couldn't.  His lips were cold and the smell of whiskey on his breath was making her sick.
    "Come on, Leticia, you know you love me.”
    His hands seemed to be everywhere and she was about to scream when she heard a welcome voice.  “ My sister said no, Brace.”
    He let her go and she ran to her brother. He stood at the French doors with Reginald Fairfax standing behind him. Malachi put his arms around his sister, “Did he hurt you ?”
    She shook her head. “I just want him to leave.”
    Reginald stepped out and stood next to them.  “You best do as the lady requested, Brace.”
    “That lady is my fiancée, I just asked her to marry me. This has nothing to do with you.”
    "But she is my sister."  Malachi said.  "I believe it has everything to do with me.
    Leticia pulled away from her brother and walked over to Walter.  She gave him a resounding slap across his cheek.  “I will never marry you.”
    “You heard my sister. You better leave. I'll be sure she gets home. I'm sure my parents, especially my father, will be very interested in  what happened here tonight.”
    “Fine." He turned on his heels and strode out the room slamming the door forcefully behind him.
   Malachi held her at arms length and looked her up and down, “Now little sister. He didn't hurt you?”
    Leticia shook her head.  “Can you get Penny for me?”
    Reginald said, “Allow me, please, Miss Greenwood. I think you'd feel better if your brother stays with you.”
    She nodded and reached out to touch his arm. "Thank you, Mr. Fairfax. Just tell her I am unwell. I do not want her party ruined.”
    “Of course.”
    Once it was just her and her brother she started shaking all over.  Malachi lead her over  to a chair  and pulled his jacket off to wrap around her before pouring her a  glass of brandy.  “Here, little sister. Drink this.” He sat on the arm of the chair and put an arm around her.
    "Thank God, you were here, Malachi. I don't know what mother and father will say."
    Before he could reply Penny came in followed by her mother.
    “Letty, are you hurt?”  Penny and her mother asked at the same time. "What happened?"         
    She shook her head.  "It was horrible.  She told them what had happened. "Luckily, Malachi and Mr. Fairfax were outside and stopped him."
    “We were outside having a cigar and we heard voices here.  We came to investigate and it's a good thing we did."
    “Yes, it is, Thank you.” Mrs. Week smiled at both the men.  “Do you want to go home, Letty? You're welcome to stay in Penny's room. We'll just tell people you were sick. No one has to know a thing. I am sure that it will be all over town soon enough. “
             “What will people think of me?” Leticia asked.
    Reginald said, “If they have any sense they'll be happy for you to be rid of that idiot.”
"That's for sure,"  Penny said. "I heard father tell someone they only invite him because of you.”
Mrs. Weeks rang the bell and a maid soon entered the room.  “Kathleen, please bring Miss Greenwood  to Miss Penny’s room. She's spending the night and she's not feeling well.”
“Yes Ma'am.” She bobbed a curtsy.
Leticia stood and hugged her brother. before returning his jacket to him..  “Will you explain to mother and father??”
He nodded,  "When father finds out, I pity Walter. I'll have mother send a carriage for you tomorrow with a change of clothes.”
"Thank you." She turned to Reginald. “And thank you, Mr. Fairfax. I only wish your first visit had been a little less eventful.”
He took her hand in his and raised it to his kips. “Not to worry, Miss Leticia. I am sure we will meet again. Especially as I will be working with your brother at the newspaper.”
She smiled and followed the maid out. Penny promised to join her as soon as she could.
In the bedroom the maid helped Leticia undress and get into one of  Penny's night gowns. “It's a good thing you and Miss Penny are just about the same size.”
Katherine helped her into bed, promising to come back with a cup of tea and some toast.   
"That will be lovely. It will help my headache.”
She sat in bed and replayed the scene in her mind, trying to think if she could have done anything different.  In a way he had done her a favor. She was glad Mr. Fairfax had been there.  If not Malachi and Walter may have gotten into a fight.  Walter was too much of a stickler to start a fight in someone's house. Malachi had no such qualms. 
Her mind went back to Reginald Fairfax, the way he looked at her, the way he looked at Walter. Given half a chance she'd bet her would have socked him in the nose. 
She loved the sound of his voice, especially when he said her name; his lovely accent and the way he made her skin tingle.  No other man had ever done that before, definitely not Walter. She managed to stay awake until Penny came up.  
“Good, you're still awake.”  She had  a plate with two pieces of birthday cake. She placed them on the bedside table before sitting next to Leticia.
“Is it over all ready?”
“No, Tommy and my mother both told me to get up here. I was driving them both crazy.”
Leticia smiled and took a bite of cake. '"Yum. Mrs Johnson's chocolate cake.”
“Of course. She wasn't letting any one else make my birthday cake. She also insist she is making the wedding cake she put her plate down and said, “Now, Leticia, tell me everything.”
So she did, and surprised herself by not falling apart. Instead she got angry all over again and her friend joined her in that anger.  “How dare he!”
“If  it wasn't for Malachi and his friend, who knows what might have happened.”
“That's for sure, have you met Mr. Fairfax before tonight?”
Leticia shook her head.  “I hadn't even heard of him before tonight. Apparently he is working with Malachi at the newspaper. They were at Harvard together.”
“Well, I heard some gossip downstairs, apparently he's the son of some earl but he was born on the wrong side of the blanket. He was sent to school and when he graduated he was given money to emigrate here, and go to Harvard.”
    “Yes, apparently he's very smart and according to my father a good reporter.  Someone said something derogatory about him and your brother defended him.”
    “I would expect nothing else from Malachi. Mr. Fairfax is handsome, isn't he?”
    “Not as handsome as my Tommy. Though he certainly seemed worried about you.”
 "Probably because Malachi is his friend. He does seem rather nice."
  “Leticia Greenwood, are already interested in someone else?”
  “Come, Penny. We know I was never really interested in Walter. I only kept company  with him to keep my mother from bothering me."                    “What do you think she'd say about Mr. Fairfax?”
“She better like him, I may end up marrying him."
© 2014 Elaine Charton ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
“Old Ghosts are good for business but dead bodies are not. “
The Pink Lady is a venerable Victorian home located near Cape Cod, in Massachusetts.
Anna Murray inherits the home from her uncle and decides to turn it into a bed and breakfast with the help of the two resident ghosts, Reggie and Leticia Farnsworth and BJ Kent, a contractor who specializes in Victorian restorations.
As Anna and BJ peel back the layers of grime, the layers of time reveal the truth behind the death of the Farnsworths so many years ago. Their present day situation has parellels to the Farnsworths, can Anna and BJ solve the mystery before it reaches the same sinister conclusions?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dr. Truth and the Logical Lady by Sarah Raplee

 Miss Henrietta Lafleur tipped her pink parasol back to peer up at the airship straining against its tethers under the hot May sun. Strong hemp ropes as big around as her wrist held the amazing flying ship captive to the St. Louis Air Dock. A light breeze ruffled the white lace bow at the front of Henri’s little straw hat. The ship’s lines creaked in protest.
Several people in line to board on the crowded wooden dock ducked and cried out when the huge shadow shifted a bit.
Henri shook her head in disgust. Anyone with half a brain could see that the tethers were more than adequate to control Eagle. The ship was only one hundred and fifty feet long. When railroad workers had announced their anticipated strike a month ago, a wealthy shipbuilder had been ready with plans to launch a fledgling regional air service. Relatively small airships like the Eagle would transport a dozen passengers as well as mail and small amounts of freight between cities in only hours—for an exorbitant fee, of course.
Her little dog wriggled in the heavy portmanteau she carried. Her stomach clenched.
“Scotty, quiet!” she said under her breath. She did not believe a small black dog, no matter how well-behaved, would be welcomed on board an airship.
The wriggling stopped.
A tall, gray-haired woman wearing an unfashionably-large hat peered down at her through a smudged pince-nez.
“Do you need to borrow a handkerchief to clean your lenses?” Henri asked without thinking. Gazing through smudged glass made her hair stand on end.
The woman had opened her mouth to speak, but she snapped her jaws shut with an audible click, stuck her big nose in the air and then turned her back on Henri. She is offended. Henri swallowed hard. She had meant the offer as a kindness. She feared she would never completely blend in, despite Miss Green’s best efforts to mold her into a lady.
Henri sighed. She would miss her kind governess. Leaving home was surprisingly heart-wrenching.

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The ship’s looming presence drew her gaze upward once more. The shear mechanical genius of the thing made her heart skip a beat. Her face felt strangely stretched. She must be grinning from ear to ear—something she hadn’t done since Father had surprised her with a telescope last Christmas.
She stiffened, remembering what had followed. The next day her parents had explained all the logical reasons why her fascination with science was all well and good as a pass-time, but she must give up her ambition to be recognized as a real scientist. Instead, Father and Mama would provide a governess to teach her the finer points of etiquette and how to run a household. She must apply herself to learning these skills like any proper lady from a good family—in preparation for a suitable marriage, of course.
In that moment she had decided to wrest control of her destiny from the hands of her hopelessly old-fashioned parents. Henri agreed one-hundred per cent with the Rationalist movement that asserted the restrictions Society placed on women in 1860 were not only illogical, they were harmful. All that potential talent going to waste! Women like Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman and airship designer Marie Van Allen were making significant contributions to America and the rest of the world. Henri would do the same.
With her parents none the wiser, she had pretended meek submission to their plans for her. She’d studied the ways young ladies hid their true feelings behind masks of civility while manipulating others to get what they wanted. Using her newfound social skills to hide her plans, she’d managed to secure an in-person job interview at Chicago’s prestigious University of Science and Industry—which was what had brought her to the air dock today. She’d pawned her jewelry for funds to procure an airship ticket.
The conductor’s whistle blew from the top of the docking tower. “All aboard!”
Henri glanced up with a frown. She dreaded having to haul her heavy bag up the steps. A mustached man in a gray uniform frowned down at the elderly gentleman with a cane who was first in line. The poor man could only climb the thirty-foot stairway at a snail’s pace.
Relieved to have a moment’s rest, she set her bag down. Scotty should be all right until after their flight left. If only the day had not been unseasonably warm. As it was, she’d wet his fur to keep him cool. Even so, she feared he might grow ill from the heat in his stuffy bag. However she could not bear to leave Scotty behind. If she secured the position at the university she would not be returning home. Scotty must remain hidden until they were well underway.
Henri pulled her handkerchief out of her reticule and dabbed at her sweaty face in what she hoped was a dainty fashion. Her cheeks burned with the heat and her throat was parched. The effort of carrying the heavy bag and the abominable parasol had made her bodice cling unbearably to her warm skin above the accursed corset Society required her to wear. The damp dress felt like some unnatural second skin. She shuddered and bit her lip to take her mind off the urge to strip off her clothing as she would have done in her room at home.
A giggle bubbled in the back of her throat, threatening to squeeze off what little breath the corset had not. Undressing in public would definitely draw attention to herself, something she could ill afford. Where in heaven’s name had she put her fan?
Bending over to unbutton the side pocket of her portmanteau, Henri nearly pitched forward onto her face as black spots appeared at the edges of her vision. A strong hand caught her elbow and easily righted her. She looked up into a smiling male face sporting a well-trimmed brown beard. Aunt Eliza’s voice echoed in Henri’s head. A fine physical specimen, that. Aunt Eliza had held great admiration for the male of the species. The proportions of this stranger’s features were certainly pleasing.
“Please forgive me, Miss,” the man said. “I fear the heat may have overcome you.”
He scooped up her bag with one long-fingered hand as if it were as light as a dandelion seed. In his other hand he carried a large traveling case that no doubt held his own belongings.
Eyes the color of aquamarines gazed into hers. “Are you feeling lightheaded, Miss?”
Henri shook her head in denial. The breeze had strengthened, cooling her cheeks.
His gaze raked her from top to toe and back in a perfunctory manner. “We Americans would do well to dress for the weather rather than for modesty. It is unfortunate that Society does not agree with me on this point.”
I agree with you, she thought, but she didn’t speak aloud. The less she conversed, the less chance she would say the wrong thing and draw more unwanted attention.
In her bag, Scotty growled a warning.
The man’s brows drew together above his blue-green eyes. He leaned in and whispered. “Do you realize there is an angry animal in your portmanteau?”
His warm, whisky-scented breath on her cheek made her shiver in spite of the heat.
How very strange.
As he straightened his eyes sparkled, however the corners of his mouth did not turn up. Was he alarmed? Angry? Joking?
Nonverbal communication was not her strong suit.
She decided the simple truth would have to suffice. “Scotty is my dog,” she whispered. What had Miss Green taught her to do to disarm a gentleman? She stepped closer to him and fluttered her lashes. “Please do not give us away. I can’t leave him behind.”
The man blinked. His eyes darkened. “I could never give you away,” he responded softly. “I’m not a fool. Besides, I’ve always fancied myself capable of smuggling. Now is my chance to test the idea in the company of a beautiful woman.”
Henri did not know what to say. Why would giving her away make him a fool? Why did he want to try a criminal activity with a beautiful woman? Why did his words make her feel hot and cold at the same time? She moistened her dry lips with the tip of her tongue, her mind uncharacteristically devoid of thought.
He indicated the base of the tower with his chin. “After you, Miss. The Eagle awaits.”
Scotty had settled into a resigned silence, apparently deciding the stranger was no threat. In her experience the dog was a good judge of character. A young woman in the company of a gentleman would not stand out among the passengers. She could turn the man’s attentions to her advantage. However, she must act the proper lady. It wouldn’t do to give him the wrong idea.
Henri inhaled deeply and lifted her chin. “We have not been properly introduced, Sir.”
The corners of his wide mouth turned up. “Under these unusual circumstances, I shall beg you to allow me to introduce myself. Dr. David Truth, at your service. I promise I won’t let the cat out of the bag.”
He waited patiently while she sorted out his meaning. He was joking, of course, because he had already promised not to let Scotty out of the bag. Henri considered pointing out that Scotty was not a cat She decided the species of her pet was irrelevant.
Miss Green had instructed her to express admiration when introduced to a gentleman. Truth was an unusual name. “Truth is a name to be proud of, for what is more desirable than Truth?”
His smile widened. “I like the way you think. But what of beauty? Kindness? Skill? Meaning?”
Henri tipped her head to the side, considering. “Are they not all a form of Truth?”
He nodded. “You are intelligent as well as beautiful, Miss—?” He paused and looked at Henri with expectation in his eyes.
“Lafleur,” she said, hoping she was not making a mistake. “Henriette Lafleur, of Lafayette, Louuisiana.” Would he expect more information?
“A lovely name for a lovely lady,” Dr. Truth said.
She dropped her gaze to the ticket in his pocket. Why did his statement make her cheeks burn and her breasts ache? Other men had said as much, but as soon as she had opened her mouth, they had come to realize she was ‘touched’ and the admiration had faded from their eyes. Yet she had spoken to this man for several moments and he continued to compliment her. She stole a glance at his face. His eyes shone with what she believed was intelligence and humor.
“Miss Lafleur, I assure you I am quite harmless,” he said. “I’m a physicist on my way to Chicago to interview for a position at the University of Science and Industry. You are quite safe in my company.”
Henri’s felt as if someone had just cinched her corset. This stranger must be the other applicant for the position with Dr. Krieger. They were on their way to apply for the same opening. He was her competition.
The conductor’s whistle shrilled three times in quick succession. Glancing around, she found the line had moved past them and up the tower to the boarding gangway without her noticing. Dr. Truth dropped his bag, grabbed his hat and waved it overhead. “Hold!”
The red-bearded conductor returned his wave. Dr. Truth retrieved his big travel case. “We must hurry. Miss Lafleur, or we will not make our flight.”
They hurried. Henri worked at digesting this new revelation. Having knowledge her competition didn’t might give her an edge. She must keep her true reason for traveling hidden.
Five minutes later a winded Dr. Truth stood beside her with his back to the Eagle’s railing. About half the passengers remained on deck to experience the airship’s launch, They had spread out to give one another privacy. The remainder preferred to sit inside the main cabin with a cool drink and watch through glass windows.
Henri’s portmanteau sat on the deck between her and Dr. Truth. She unfastened one end to let Scotty breathe some fresh air. His black button nose poked through the opening. Straightening, Henri leaned her arms on the chest-high railing and scanned the crowd behind the safety barriers for familiar faces. Many had come to the air dock to see a fabled airship. When a thin, well-dressed mulatto man appeared, Henri feared for a moment Uncle Claude had come to fetch her home. Then he lit up a pipe. She was mistaken. Smoke of any kind gave Uncle Claude coughing fits. Her knees sagged with relief.
A strong hand on her elbow should have steadied Henri Instead the doctor’s kind support further weakened her knees. Her hands tightened on the polished brass rail. What was the matter with her?
“Perhaps we should sit down,” Dr. Truth said. His gentle touch guided her to a wooden bench attached to the outside of the ship’s main cabin. Strange new sensations coursed through her body like the effects of a spirituous drink.
She took her seat and opened her parasol. At least the ugly pink monstrosity blocked some of the heat of the sun. And the eject-able knife she’d built into the tip might come in handy if she encountered ruffians on her journey. She had only to press a small button in the handle and the knife would appear.
Dr. Truth stowed their bags under the bench and sat down.
She sighed. “If only it weren’t so pink.” Miss Green insisted men preferred a woman with a pale complexion. Henri’s skin darkened with the slightest kiss of the sun, so she must be extra careful to be consistent with the use of her parasol.
“What?” Dr. Truth said, fingering his aquiline nose. “Am I sunburned?”
She must cease talking to herself in front of others, as Miss Green had told her a thousand times. People became confused. “No. My parasol is so ugly. I hate the color pink.”
“I see,” he said, lips twitching below his thin moustache. “Does it help if I say that I am color blind? To me, your parasol appears the same color as a field of lush spring grass. I cannot tell the difference between reds and greens, other than the intensity of the shade.”
“I only wish it appeared that way to me.” Color blindness. She’d heard of the condition without giving any thought to what it would mean to someone afflicted.
A bell like a train bell rang at the bow of the airship. Dr. Truth started To Henri’s surprise he proceeded to reach underneath the bench and unbuckle his travel case.
“How very odd the world must seem to you now,” Henri said.
Peering between his legs, he lifted the lid of the case an inch as if verifying the contents, then shut his bag and sat up without fastening the locks. “I have never seen it any other way, so the world is as beautiful to me as to you.”
She tipped her head, considering. “Perhaps more so. Bright pink hurts my eyes. I cannot enjoy that color as others do.”
“Nor can I,” he pointed out.
“Is this a debate?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because each time I present a theory, you counter it. I point out our differences; you insist they are similarities.”
“We are flirting, Miss Lafleur. It is a common courtship ritual.”
She frowned. “Forgive me. I did not intend to flirt.”
“No forgiveness necessary—”
The deck lurched beneath them. All the color drained from his face. Henri braced her boots against the boards and grabbed a handle nailed into the wall beside the bench. She watched the doctor do the same while her stomach seemed to drop, then rise. The deck slanted upward toward the bow.
Scotty whimpered.
Henri had never felt so daring. The changing forces of lift and acceleration were the only thing keeping her from running to look over the side.
“We’ve taken off!” she said to Dr. Truth.
The man’s face seemed to be turning green. The expression on his face reminded her of Father when he’d had too many whiskies.
Then her dog made repeated hacking noises.
“Oh dear! I have heard of this, Dr. Truth. You and Scotty have the air sickness.”
Sweat shone on his skin as he shook his head in denial. A muscle jumped in his jaw. “The dog, yes. My problem is not the same.”
“Perhaps drinking and flying do not mix,” she ventured.
“I believed a few shots of whisky and a parachute would keep the terror at bay,” he ground out. “I have an illogical fear of flying. Of not flying, actually. Of c-crashing.”
The bench pressed against Henri’s bottom, the deck against the soles of her boots. The Boatswain’s Mate relayed orders to the crew and the crewmen called them back to him.Tthe great ship seemed to crest a wave and the pressure fell away until Henri thought she would float off the bench. The ship leveled and the world seemed to right itself.
Dr. Truth gasped air as though he’d been holding his breath through the maneuvers. “I apologize…for my cowardice.”
Henri’s father had a similar horror of birds. So odd that such an unreasonable fear could bring a strong man to his knees. Birds were mostly small and harmless creatures. Whereas on occasion, airships did crash. Not often, though.
“No apology necessary,” she said. The poor man was trapped in a nightmare.
Once, determined to overcome his fear, Father had bought Henri a pretty yellow canary in a gilt cage. At the tender age of five years she had been unable to understand his distress. She’d simply accepted that, no matter how hard he tried, he could not bear to be in the same room with the little creature that sang pretty songs. She’d accompanied her mother give away her pet as a gift to a distant cousin. Her father had been gone for a week after they’d returned home.
A small object impacted the hull with a solid thunk. Eyes closed, Dr. Truth flinched.
“Probably an unfortunate bird,” Henri said.
There was no response.
Unlike her father, the doctor could not escape the situation until this evening when they landed in Chicago. Perhaps she could distract him?
“The odds against the airship crashing are a hundred to one,” she said, smiling. She laid her hand on his rigid one that gripped the seat between them. “Personally, I am more concerned with a fire. The hydrogen gas that gives the ship lift is extremely flammable. That is why no firearms are allowed onboard.”
Dr. Truth’s gazed at Henri through slit lids. “Are you trying to make me feel better?”
“No. Do you? Feel better, I mean?”
He gave his head a little shake.
“I have lavender drops in my reticule. They calm me when my nerves act up. Would you like one?”
His gaze had fastened on her mouth as if it were a lifeline. His nod was nearly imperceptible. She located the small drawstring purse tied to her waist and removed a smaller bag of the medicinal sweets. When he merely stared, white-knuckled, at the drop she offered, she reached over and poked it between his lips with her index finger. The moist heat of his mouth penetrated her

Friday, July 4, 2014

One Hot Medium by Sarah Raplee

Psychic medium Cora Merryweather popped a couple of antacid tablets to quell the burning in her stomach.  Today’s one o’clock appointment will be a doozy for sure.
Limiting readings to locals might weed out the haters, but her bank account couldn’t afford to take that kind of hit. Half of Cora’s clients came from outside Iowa City, some from as far away as Waterloo and Des Moines. Like everyone else, mediums had to eat. And she refused to set her rates so high only the well-off could afford a reading.
                Cora’s sigh was cut short by a string of sneezes. Great, just great. She sounded like Typhoid Mary. How was she supposed to relax into a meditative state with her anxiety level rising like the temperature outside?
The sneezing fits had started as soon as silver-haired Mrs. Donovan, her morning client, had departed. After grabbing a box of tissues off the table, she’d settled down at her small desk and opened her old laptop. By lunchtime, she’d finished her record-keeping in spite of continued bouts of off-and-on sneezing. The persistent, unusual symptom made her suspect she was having a negative psychic premonition. She was normally an extremely healthy young woman. Besides, her negative premonitions had manifested as physical symptoms a few times in the past. When the chocolate protein shake she called lunch soured as soon as it hit her stomach, her fears had been confirmed.
The grandfather clock she’d inherited from Aunt Tillie along with the house whirred before emitting a single deep chime to mark the quarter hour. A shiver skittered up her spine. Fifteen minutes to show time. She reached for her blue plastic water bottle to wash down the last of the minty antacids.  The burning in her stomach had eased, but now she needed to pee. She plunked the bottle down  and drew her brows together in a deep, dark, heartfelt scowl.
No doubt her next client would turn out to be a hater. Why couldn’t the Doubting Thomases live and let live, the way she and most other mediums did? How would they like it if she barged into their places of business and accused them of being liars and con artists? Tried to ruin them?
She grabbed her neon orange cell phone off the desktop, paused to sneeze into a tissue and then texted her friend Joan at Discrete Security.
Is Owl on duty? The message was code asking if the security camera in the stuffed barred owl on her bookshelf was working properly.
Owl’s awake, Joan replied. Big Sister is watching. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.
            Cora’s lips stretched into a grateful smile. It helped to know someone had her back, someone who cared about her and believed in her unusual abilities.
On a computer monitor in her office across town, Joan had a clear view of Cora’s room through the wide-angle lens in Owl’s left eye. Her friend wouldn’t hesitate to deploy a pair of well-trained security officers if “Barry” flipped to the Dark Side.  No cops would be called unless Cora appeared to be in physical danger; Joan’s business wasn’t called Discrete Security for nothing. Plenty of business people whose clients expected privacy preferred to handle unpleasantness without attracting media attention. Lawyers, therapists, talent agents…psychics.
Knowing Joan had her back gave Cora confidence. She stood and waved at Owl before heading down the short hallway toward the bathroom.
Bring it on, Barry—or whatever your name really is!
She never asked for more than the client’s first name and phone number. Her job was to channel their loved ones to bring her clients healing and a measure of peace. In order for them to accept that she was the real deal, she had to be careful not to acquire any information about them or their deceased loved ones ahead of time. No last names, no checks, nothing.
Her lack of information made it relatively easy for the haters to get in to see her. The patient ones, anyway; she was booked up for months ahead because of her spotless reputation. Luckily most doubters weren’t that dedicated.
Unlike Barry, her one o’clock. She sneezed three times and shut the bathroom door.
Tom Chase twisted the bell key beside the red front door of Cora Merryweather’s blue Victorian house and schooled his face into a pleasantly neutral expression. The authentic antique bell sounded a lot like an old-fashioned bicycle bell, only louder.
         The smell of fresh paint permeated the air. Business must be exceptionally good if she could afford to hire house painters. He squelched a grimace that wanted to curl his upper lip. How many grieving widows did it take to paint a house, metaphorically-speaking?
         An indignant-sounding meow sounded at his elbow. He glanced down into the unblinking, deep-blue eyes of an enormous, long-haired white cat laying in the wide porch swing. A sunbeam highlighted the snowy whiteness of his fur against the red-checkered cushion  How could the animal stand to lie in a sunbeam when it was so damned hot? Tom’s oxford shirt was already sticking to his back, and he’d only been outside his air-conditioned truck for a few minutes.
       “Hello,” he said. He'd always liked cats. The cat’s tail tip twitched a warning. He turned away.
       A bee buzzed past his head and drew his gaze to baskets overflowing with sweet-scented, multicolored flowers that hung above the porch railing. As he’d gone up the front walk, he’d half-noticed the row of neatly-tended snapdragons that guarded the front of the house and the green, long-leafed hostas that encircled a young sugar maple tree.
He caught a whiff of the flowers’ perfume and clenched his teeth. This place reeked of hope.  He knew from hard experience that hope was a dangerously addictive emotion. He’d spent more than two years trying to break his own habit.
His eyes narrowed at two weathered wicker armchairs framing an equally dilapidated side table at the far end of the porch. A cluster of white spray paint cans peeked out from behind one of the chairs.
Tom frowned. Maybe business wasn’t as good as he’d thought.Or she needed to raise her rates.
On the other side of the red door, a clock chimed the hour. He glanced at his watch and then gave the bell key another impatient twist. The medium was late. He tried the doorknob, but it wouldn’t turn. Maybe she’d stood him up. His gut began to burn. He’d waited six months for this reading. She’d damned well better show up.
The knob rattled and then turned.  The door opened and a pretty, ponytailed blond wearing a short pink sheath that showed off her legs smiled up at him. The smile didn’t quite reach her clear gray eyes.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Barry.” If she’d had a tail, he was sure it would have twitched a warning.  
Even so, she nodded, sending her gold beaded earrings swinging in graceful arcs from delicate her delicate earlobes. She opened the door wider. “I’m Cora. Please come in, Barry.” She turned and walked away.
Eyeing the seductive swing of her hips, he followed.
They passed through a small, tiled foyer that was empty except for a coat rack and an umbrella stand. The large room they entered ran the width of the house. To his left, a comfortable-looking overstuffed couch and chair were grouped around a brick fireplace.  On either side of the fireplace, mullioned windows let in the light.
Cora moved to the right. “What kind of name is Barry, anyway?” she said.
“What do you mean?” He turned and watched her retreating ass. She didn’t seem to have heard him.
“Please, sit down.” She waved a casual hand at the square, polished wooden table, then took a seat. The wall behind her was lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with books and a few knickknacks. 
Tom chose the seat across from hers. He wanted a clear view of her facial expressions while she “read” him.
She sat as if a she had a broom handle for a backbone and folded her hands on the tabletop. Her short, neatly-manicured nails were unpainted, probably because she worked in the garden.  A thick gold band etched with a raven totem encircled the middle finger of her right hand. Her left hand was bare.
His shoulders twitched. She made him uncomfortable in his own skin.
“Is Barry short for—what? Barold? Barney? Barrow?” The frozen smile had been replaced by a look of disdain.
Why was she fixated on the damned name? “I was named after my father.” That much was true.
Something flashed in her eyes. “I don’t doubt that for a minute. Your father’s come forward, you see. The problem is his name is Thomas, not Barry.”
Cora scowled when his earth-brown eyes slid away from hers. The skin under his fashionable dark stubble reddened. A muscle jumped in his jaw. At least he had the decency to be embarrassed at being caught in a lie.
When he shot to his feet, she realized she was mistaken. His voice dropped to a feral growl. “Where is it?”
She swallowed. He seemed to occupy a lot more space than he had a minute ago. Her tongue darted out to lick lips that were suddenly parched. 
A jumble of images flashed in her. Too many spirits vied for her attention for her to make sense of the mess in her head. Right now she needed to focus on the crazy guy in her living room, and he was very much alive.
Not now, she told the spirits. Later, I promise.
They pulled back their energy and left her to deal with Thomas on her own.
He squatted and ducked his head to look up at the table bottom, then stood once more and glanced wildly around the room.
Heart chugging like a runaway train, she rose from her chair. She had to tip her head back to catch his troubled gaze. Why had she bothered to bait this tall, dark and handsome nut job? How long would it take Joan’s minions to get here?