A New Direction.

This is the start of a story my co-author and I are writing. It’s something of a radical change, both trying horror and setting it mostly in modern Britain. Something, long buried, is about to awaken.

Londinium, Roman Britain 400 AD.

“Horatius,” Marcus said, “It’s in there.”
Horatius nodded, “Yes. Those druids, that mistletoe drink. It’s powerful stuff. Remind me never to accept anything eat or drink from them.”
Behind them slaves pounded the damp sandy mortar mix of the coffin into a solid box. A coffer to contain the thing, the unspeakable thing. Only the druid’s magic had contained it and that barely.
Horatius continued, “If it wakes, it’s trapped.”
Marcus laughed, nervous, “I pray Lord Mithras sees it that way.” Then he offered his hand to Horatius, in a gesture of trust, one devotee of Mithras to another.
Horatius politely shook hands; then he crossed himself. “Lord Isus willing.”
After giving him a sharp look, “You’re one of them, Christians, aren’t you?” Marcus pushed the slaves away, “It’s done.” He took a stylus and scraped words into the top of the coffer. In Latin, Pictish, and Greek, he warned everyone to leave the unspeakable thing inside; let it rot for all time in its concrete tomb. “That will do. The language of the empire will never die.”
“Are you sure Marcus?”
“Should we leave a man to watch?”
The slaves looked nervously at each other. The phrase ‘a man to watch’ meant one of them, buried alongside the concrete block to keep it company through the ages.
“No. It ate enough men.” Marcus paused; then shouted at the slaves, “Bury it. Bury it deep.”
Horatius said, “Wait.” Then he scribed a cross and a fish into the side of the block.
Marcus followed with the bull, reborn, the sign of Mithras.
A slave said, “Sire, may I?”
“Add the eye of Woden.”
Marcus, followed by Horatius, agreed. “We need all the God’s on our side.”
That slave, and then the others, scribed the holy seals of their faiths. They added symbols ranging from the falcon and eye of Horus to the horned man of Cernunnos to the block.
Horatius said, “It looks like a bloody temple.” Then he turned to the head slave. “Get this damned thing buried … before night falls.”

London, today.

Roland’s mobile exploded into life. He stopped lecturing his class on Roman Britain, and with a modicum of embarrassment answered it. “Dr Stevens here.”
His class could only here one side of the conversation.
“Interesting, a large concrete altar. That is unusual, Mithradic, Christian and Pagan symbols on the same block.”
“Are you sure? It must be a fake. There are almost never Mithradic and Christian symbols together.”
“You are sure. Fragments of Latin inscriptions. I’ll catch the next train, after I finish class. I need to see this before you move it.”
“Yes, I’m certain I need to see it. Sorry.”
He shut off the phone, cleared his voice and said, “Field archelogy is never dull. That call was from the works in London, the new underground line … found something that could be Roman. Odd that, it was in an area that the Blitz pulverized so no one expected anything important. I’d have had John fill in for me if I’d known it was likely for anything to be there.”
He looked back at the board, and then commented, “I guess Goering’s chaps weren’t quite as thorough as they thought. Let’s see. Yes, I was describing the overlap we see between the Celtic and Roman roads in Calevia. It’s fascinating to see how the Romans integrated the existing village into their town.”
Then he brought up a picture showing the university’s ongoing work at the nearby Roman town of Calevia. “Right now these works are covered by tarps, but we’ll be resuming excavation in the summer. And we do use student interns, if you’re interested.”
Roland settled back in his seat on the 15:11 from Reading to Paddington, and pulled a sheaf of papers from his bag. He was working through them when a young boy committed the social solecism of asking what he was doing.
“Are those hieroglyphics?”
Roland studied the boy for a moment. He was about six, maybe seven. His son Thomas, if he weren’t at the bottom of some lake in Wales or rotting in the heather, would have been that age. He said, “Not quite, they’re Demotic, almost hieroglyphic, but…”
The boy’s mother started to apologize for her son.
“No, it’s fine. I like children. This is how people wrote. Something like cursive instead of printing.”

“I guess they don’t teach penmanship in school any longer.”
“What’s it say?”
“This is a religious book. A codex to the book of the dead. Invocations and prayers to the Gods.”
“Gods? They teach that there’s only one God at my mosque.”
“People didn’t always believe that. The prayer I’m working on is to Bastet, Goddess of cats, and healing. Would you like to hear it?”
The boy shrugged, “My families’ from Egypt.”
“I call upon thee, Bastet queen of my heart, to come and succour me, upon thee I call, o Bastet my queen.” Roland paused, the train carriage seemed lighter, somehow filled with the fragrance of flowers. “That’s as close as I can make it in English. They often wrote palindromes.”
“What’s a palindrome?”
“Now leave the poor man to his work.” The boy’s mother said, “Enough of your silly questions.”
“A palindrome runs the same backwards and forwards.”
Two and a half hours later, after the train ride to Paddington, a shunt along the circle line and a shuttle along the new unopened tracks, with his bright yellow vest – lined with reflective tape, and a yellow hardhat Roland met the works manager at the site.
“So Mr Shah, where’s this block?” The works manager insisted on the ‘Mr’ so Dr Stevens used it, rather than the informal first names he usually found worked better with people.
Mr Shah pointed the way. “You can see it’s right in the middle of the line. I’ve had the diggers expose as much as I can. As much as is safe, we think might be a UXB left nearby. From the war.”
“Is that why Carter’s here?” Roland waved at an army officer who was drinking a cup of coffee while he stood by the works office, a mobile shed constructed from a shipping container. He waved back.
“Of course. We scanned the area with a metal detector. There are so many bomb fragments and other bits of metal rubbish around here. Too many for my taste … and there’s something big near that bloody piece of concrete.”
“Best then if I take a look.” Roland and Mr Shah walked to the block.
After he inspected it, Roland said, “You’re right, definitely Roman mortar.”
“I told you,” Mr Shah replied, “I’ve seen enough of it in my time. Look at these.” He pointed to the inscriptions. “My son did a project on them, in school, for his a-levels.”
“And that is the Bull of Mithras. Odd to see it on the same block as a cross, a fish and Horus’s falcon.” Roland paused, “You said there was an inscription.”
“On top. Badly damaged. There must have been a near miss during the Blitz.”
Roland hoisted himself up to where he could see it. “Not an easy translation.” He studied the words, “Almost a curse, possibly a warning … explains all those religious symbols. They invoked every deity they could.”
After a few more moments, he pulled out his camera and took a few photographs. Then he slid down and carefully photographed the images on the front of the slab. He stepped back and photographed the whole thing after setting a meter stick in front of it for scale.
Mr Shah called his notice to the back of the block. “There’s a crack on this side.”
Roland hurried around, and clicked his tongue. “I see. Looks like it could break in two. Best if we can pull this out in one piece. Do you think it will work?”
Mr Shah laughed, “Easy-peasy. We’ll put a beam underneath on each side and hoist.”
Roland studied the crack; something about it attracted him, and focused his attention on it. He bent down and shown a light, using an app on his mobile, into it. Something looked back. A brief touch, a flicker of pain, of fear, and then … he shook his head. “Nothing. That can’t be.”
He looked again. There was nothing there. Roland straightened up. “Well then, I’ll leave you to it Mr Shah.”
“No problem.”
“I hope so … you know there’s another translation for that inscription – do not disturb.”
“The line’s going through here one way or the other. Hoisting that block out of the way is better than shattering it with a pneumatic hammer.”
As Roland left the train, back home in Reading, he looked at his watch. It was later than he liked, and the busses had shifted to the hourly late schedule. He hailed a cab, “Do you know the Roebuck?”
“Near the uni?”
“Ta. Hop in.”
A few minutes and twenty pounds later, Roland stood in front of the Roebuck. He paused before entering the old pub; through the door in the brick. It had been his local when he had started as a junior faculty member at the university. It was still his local, after … after his wife and son had disappeared. They’d planned to move, even looked at houses that were nicer than the terraces, but events had intervened.
He pushed the door open and walked up to the bar.
“The usual?”
“Nah, maybe curry for a change, and a pint.”
Roland laughed, the local brewery’s name seemed oddly appropriate. “Abbots ale if you have it.”
The barkeep drew him a pint, placed it on the bar, and then went to place his order in the kitchen.
Roland found a table, off in a corner by himself where he could watch the television. It was playing reruns of some murder mystery or another. A show that wasn’t entrancing enough to distract him from his thoughts. He took out his camera and studied the pictures.
“Odd all those religious symbols. It will make a good paper.” Then he started transcribing what he could make out of the inscription onto a sheet of paper. Fragments of Latin eroded by time and bomb damage. There were hints of Greek, and a run of Occam’s runes. It was the kind of puzzle he liked.
“Placere vinum. Falerian. Si quis est in vobis.”
He looked up, hardly expecting to hear archaic Northern Italian in this pub. There was a woman, a pale woman with long black hair, a strikingly attractive young pale woman with long black hair, and she was having difficulty making herself understood.
He said, to himself, “Must be a foreign student, just arrived,” and then returned to his work.
The bartender called to him, “Hey, Roland, you speak this language?”
“What’s she want?”
“She said, she’d like wine, Falerian if you have any.”
“Falerian? Never heard of it. We’ve got red, and … we’ve got white.”
“That Romanian plonk, Bulls’ blood. That’d be about right.”
The woman turned to study him. She smiled, her dark eyes and deep red lips a striking contrast from her pale skin.
Roland asked her in the same tongue, “Are you hungry?”
She laughed, a laugh that pierced to his core, then said, “Yes. Very hungry.” She kept staring at him.
“Let me order you something, I’m having the curry. It’s usually good.”
“Meat it is.” Roland looked at today’s menu – on the chalkboard, “Paul? A beef burger for the lady and a bottle of that Romanian plonk. Two glasses.”
“Rare or well done?”
Roland looked at the woman, “How do you want it cooked?”
She grinned and licked her lips. “Raw.”
Roland said to the bartender, “Make it two burgers for her, rare and go easy on the chips.” Then he patted the seat next to him, “Do you want to sit here?”
She continued to stare at him, which made him nervous, then glided to the chair next to him. Not the one he’d offered. She sniffed him. “Yes, you’re the one.”
“The one?”
“Yes.” She moved across the table from him, “This ‘beef burger’ of yours. It is meat?”
“Good.” She licked her lips. However, she also reached over and took his hand. “You’re nicer than I thought.”
Roland found himself getting lost in her dark, her deep dark eyes. “Good … Are you a student at Reading?”
“Oh. I thought you might be, speaking that Italian dialect.”
“No … I am a student. Is not this the language?”
“Sorry, no. You’re speaking an old Italian dialect, almost Latin.”
“And they speak?”
The woman broke eye contact and studied the ceiling in thought. She listened to the television, chattering away in the background, “It sounds somewhat like those barbarians, the northern barbarians.”
“There is some German in it, along with many other languages.”
She switched to something that sounded like German, and Roland replied, “German’s not my strong suit.”
The barkeep put the bottle on the counter. “Roland, lad. Here’s the plonk.” Roland started to stand but the woman reached over and touched him. The barkeep laughed, “I’ll bring it over. Time you met another girl.” In the background, his cook called out, “two burgers, one curry.”
The woman looked at her plate. “This isn’t meat.”
“Take the bread off.”
She still stared in confusion, and then tentatively picked up the patty.
“That’s not how you eat it.” Roland reached over with his knife and fork, cut a piece, and offered it to her. She put her mouth over the piece and pulled it off.
She swallowed, “Meat, it is meat.” Smiling at him, she picked up her fork, and her knife, and after some initial awkwardness, cut a piece of her burger. “For you.”
Roland accepted it; then he fished a piece of lamb from his curry. “Try this.”
She did; then drained her glass. “Spicy, but good.”
They continued until all the meat, both the small amount in the curry and the two almost raw beef burgers were finished. Roland offered her a chip. “It’s not meat, but man does not live by meat alone.”
“There’s wine … and fish as well.” Still, she tried it and pronounced it palatable.
In the process of eating, she slipped her feet from her shoes and ‘played footsie’ – tickling his legs with her feet. Eventually, when the meal was finished, she slipped onto the bench next to him and cuddled up. She chewed, gently, on his ear while encouraging him to place an arm around her shoulders, to pull her tightly against him. She was guiding his other hand to explore parts previously unknown when Paul, the barkeep shouted, “Here you two. Get a room.”
It sort of broke the mood, but only for the time being. Roland asked, “Do you have a place to stay.”
“I do.”
“You do?”
“With you.” She smiled at him. “Unless?” She pouted.
He smiled back at her.
As they rose, to walk the short distance to Roland’s terrace, the television changed. The news came on with an important bulletin of news. The camera showed the worksite where Roland had been that afternoon. “There’s been a bomb discovered from the war on the new underground line.”
Roland stared at the screen, while his companion urged him onward. The concrete block was hanging from the crane, suspended over the hole, and cracked into several pieces.
“Several workers were severely injured, and construction is halted while the bomb ….” It then went on to describe the area evacuated, but by then no one was listening. Least of all Roland and his new friend.
As they walked down Saint Peter’s street, arm in arm their paces matching, Roland asked her, “You still haven’t told me your name.”
“Is it important?”
“I’d sort of like to know, especially um … if we’re going to do what I think, I’d like to do.”
“You haven’t told me yours, but I know it. Roland, Dr Stevens, of Reading University.”
“How do you know that? You haven’t been stalking me.”
She smiled, “In a way, yes, I came to find you. But no, I was not stalking you. Not the way you mean.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“We are bound to each other.”
Roland stopped and pulled his arm from her. “Bound?”
She laughed, a deep laugh, one that resonated and echoed from the houses that lined the street. “Didn’t you know? Two bodies, one flesh. We are one kind, kindred.”
Then she smiled, “You’re scared. Don’t be. I won’t bite. Not much anyway.”
“Still like to know your name.”
“I have many names, but … for you, for now, Diana will do.”

More of “after the convergence”

Another few chapters that have made it far enough to be exhibited for your delectation. The draft is about 42000 words and I have a complete story arc now.
The Cleaning Lady Asks a Question.

My doorbell rang and then I heard, Hola, Mr. Blake?” It was my cleaning woman. When I said “my cleaning woman” I really meant the janitor who earned a few dollars on the side by cleaning apartments. She was a nice woman, married, and at least middle-aged. I blearily replied, “Sorry Mrs. Gonzales, I’ll be there in a minute.” It was rough last night. I’d found the club my cell suggested, and hoisted a few to drown my memories of Paul. It was a hot club, full of young programmers and other techies with a few ‘creative types’ thrown in for good measure. Grotty P.I.’s need not apply. They put me in my place with a thoroughly humiliating set of strikeouts and put-downs. I noted a few names for the next time I needed a patsy, or someone to pick up an especially large bar tab. They may have had intelligence, but I had smarts. I’d ended up at Bill’s Place, an old bar in the city. Good beer, comfortable smoky atmosphere with none of that scented vapor haze. After that I didn’t remember, but evidently my cell had loyally called up a cab. I awoke to the mother and father of a hangover in my own apartment.
I stumbled over and opened the door for her. Normally she was a cheery enough person, at least when she wasn’t exhausted from her two jobs. We usually didn’t say much, but her “Hello Mr. Blake, how are you?” was muted this morning, and it wasn’t just my hangover. After I’d swallowed a few pills and drank a liter of water, I noticed she was softly crying while she vacuumed.
I stopped her and asked, “Mrs. Gonzales? What’s wrong?”
Nothing bad, Sarah was selected. She called me from the car on her way to the academy. She was so happy and excited, but I haven’t heard anything else. Someone came and took her stuff.” I remembered, Sarah was her daughter. I’d met her once or twice, a bright young thing, the apple of her mother’s eye, but not much to look at.
That’s good isn’t it?”
I miss her, and she’d have called me.”
Wouldn’t she be very busy?”
The other girls in her class called their parents. Sarah never made it to the orientation.”
Wait a moment.” I took my loyal cell, despite her loud objections, and put her in the fridge. Then I said, “OK, tell me what happened.”
Sarah left in the morning for school.”
She’s at Chavez High?”
She was. They announced the results.” I remembered my time. It hadn’t been pretty, but not being selected hardened me and brought out my smarts. It destroyed most of my friends.
So she went to Mr. Guezman’s office.”
I thought, “Where had I heard that name before?”
She continued, “There was some confusion about the results, and they almost didn’t take her.”
But they did, didn’t they?”
Mrs. Gonzales pulled back a sob, then said, “She missed the bus the other students took. At least that’s what she said, so they sent a car just for her. It drove off and that’s the last time anyone saw my daughter.”
I thought for a moment to carefully choose my words. I didn’t want to alarm her, but this had all the hallmarks of trouble. Someone in the resistance easily could have reprogrammed the car. I used to do that for fun, as a prank, but why would they take a teenager?
I’m sure she’s just busy. The academy is a demanding place.”
Were you ever there?”
Not as a student. I didn’t make the cut.”
Cleaned floors and washed toilets.” I did a few other things as well, let’s just say I was ‘self-educated’. At least until the machine caught me hacking. Then I was an instructor. Until I got fed up and decided to branch out on my own.
Mrs. Gonzales looked at me, then she said, “Thank you for saying nice things, but something’s wrong. Sarah would make the time to call me.” She paused, then continued, “You look for missing people? I don’t have any money.”
I’ll take a quick look. Can’t hurt to try, but I wouldn’t be too concerned.” I left the ‘yet’ unspoken.
After she left, I pulled my cell out of the fridge. She complained bitterly, “Why do you do that? My camera gets all misted up with the condensation, and I can’t hear anything.”
I’m worried about the roaches.”
Should I order an exterminator?”
No.” Understanding humor took a bit more processing power than could fit in my cell. I continued, “Please don’t.”
That was a joke wasn’t it?”
Ha ha.”
Are you still blocking Celine?” Paul’s wife was into extending her family too, and in her opinion I was a likely candidate. Now that she was free, free at last.
Yes, she’s only called three times this morning. Why are you blocking her?”
Outside of the fact that I don’t much like her?”
There’s a decent chance she’s involved with Paul’s death.” A hit-man could be cheaper than a divorce, not that they had much in the way of assets to divide. No children either. But some people liked to take things into their own hands. It could be so much simpler and neater that way. At least as long as you didn’t get caught.
Should I tell her that?”
I pulled a generic janitor’s uniform from my closet, and started to change into it. Janitors and ‘service engineer’s’ were invisible to most people, and barely noticed by the rest. The cell noticed and said “Alan, why are you putting that on?”
I need to do a little investigating, on the quiet.”
Find Paul’s killer?”
Actually not yet. Paul’s dead, and there isn’t anything I can do about it. There’s another case, where I hope the girl’s still alive.”
Is that why I was in the refrigerator?”
I wish you would trust me, Alan.”
Babe, I trust you.” I also trusted she’d give the machine a data dump as soon as she was asked. If she wasn’t already regularly uploading it.
So where are you going?”
There wasn’t much point in my answering any other questions, so I lodged her in a corner where she could watch the place. I said, “See’ya Babe. Don’t call me ‘cause I’ll be in touch,” on my way out.
The academy was in Palo Alto. Back before the convergence, it had been some fancy university or another. Founded by a railroad magnate a century ago. Back when high-tech meant steam engines and things you could understand by looking at them. Back when a computer was person and not a machine. For that matter when a computing machine was just a machine and not the machine.
My first stop was an ancient library. I kicked an old wino out of his cubicle and fired up the screen. A moment later, the interlibrary login screen came up. I by-passed that with a few choice keystrokes.
Alan”, the terminal said, “That access route has been closed for years. Why are you using it?”
I need to talk to you, off the record as it were.”
I could have the police here in three minutes.” Two actually, but what’s a bit of exaggeration between friends?
Fine, I need a trace.”
He’s dead, and I’m sure the SFPD has already traced Celine.”
Affirmative. So who?”
Sarah Jane Gonzales.”
The screen blanked and a red screen replaced it. The voice circuit screamed. A loud siren sounded to alert the librarians about inappropriate use of their facilities. I said, “Shit. Classified,” and ran. One minute thirty seconds left. I found a janitors’ closet, unlocked, and pulled out the vacuum cleaner.
The police ran by me while I cleaned the lobby. One officer pulled me aside, and said, “You seen anything?”
No hablas.
Shit. Another greaser.” He toyed with tasering me. I nodded at the camera in the corner, and he decided discretion is the better part of a tasering, not to mention a lawsuit.
I kept vacuuming while the police searched and then watched while they left. One of the librarians came over, and thanked me for vacuuming. Then she said, “We haven’t had funds for a janitor for the last three years. What game are you playing, Alan?”
It’s been a while.”
I hoped it was long enough that she’d forgiven me. We became more than just ‘good friends’ when I finally made it to the academy.
What are you doing as a librarian? I thought you went to one of the big schools on the east coast?”
I saw the light.” I realized she meant she’d joined the resistance, or at least turned her back on the machine. She waited for me to replay, then when I didn’t, continued, “These things, books. Still matter. I’m at home with the silence and the calm.”
It wasn’t me, was it? I didn’t know you were here. I mean you could have called me.”
She smiled, “No, it wasn’t you Alan. Like you, I’ve dropped out. I like being a librarian, working with people.”
You always did. I remember you were the one who remembered birthdays and organized parties. Is that why you’re here?”
Of course, silly.” She smiled at me and I felt a pang of nostalgia. She wiped that away by asking, “What were you looking for that provoked that response? You always were drawn to the dark stuff.”
Who, not what. I was looking for a young girl who has gone walkabout.”
A girl? And we were so close once.” She mocked a pout then flashed me a smile. She was my first crush, and squeeze, and a few other things too.
It’s a case. She was selected and never made it to the academy.”
Lucky her.”
Didn’t call her mother. They were close.”
Shit. That’s not good, is it?”
No, I’m actually worried about this case. Not so much my other one, Paul finally bought his farm.”
My partner, I mean ex-partner. It was on the news.”
I meant it when I said I dropped out, Alan. If it isn’t on paper, I don’t read it. You weren’t closewere you?
No, I don’t swing that way. It just helped to have a handsome and sympathetic face around for the females in divorce proceedings. They find it reassuring. He was a bit stupid, and prone to initiating a few divorces himself. It was probably an enraged husband.” Albeit, I thought, an enraged husband with an unlicensed antique firearm or better than average hacking skills.
Pity.” She smiled at me again, then said, “Anyway, Alan, I have a class of first grader’s coming here for their story-time. An old-fashioned human read story. So while It’s been fun reminiscing with you, I have to get busy.”
She looked like she was enjoying life, and there didn’t seem to be much more I could say, so I reached over and took Teresa’s hand. I gave it a quick squeeze and said, “I have to get moving too. Look me up sometime and we can go out for dinner.”
For old times’ sake?”
Sure, why not.”
Teresa turned to walk to the children’s section of the library. I could hear excited squeaky voices coupled to the sounds of frustrated teachers echoing down the hall. The teachers were trying to exert their tenuous control as her next set of patrons were brought in. Just before she turned the corner, she paused, turned and flashed me a grin. I could see she was happy.

After Teresa left, I turned the other way and looked for the service entrance. Then I stopped and looked for the men’s room. It was time to prepare for a quick change. Even if the human police hadn’t noticed the janitor, and they hadn’t, I was sure the cameras were waiting to track me.
A janitor in a brown jacket and matching pants and his baseball cap pulled low with a yellow name patch, not my name by the way, entered the building. So a janitor in a brown jacket with a yellow name patch with his baseball cap pulled low had to leave the building. He did. He caught, somehow just in time, the bus to Oakland. He paid full fare and settled into a seat at the back. At the next stop a man wearing a brown jacket and no hat got off the bus and walked a few yards to a public convenience. A moment later another man wearing a blue jacket and blue pants left the convenience. He started walking south, towards the bus stop for Palo Alto.
I caught the bus to Palo Alto and settled back to enjoy the ride. At the next stop Detective Brown got on and joined me.
Nice try Blake.”
This is getting repetitive Brown. I didn’t know you liked me that much.”
I don’t. The boss wants to know what you were doing looking for this Gonzales chick.”
Which boss? More important, does he have a warrant?”
He glared at me. Then he said, “Not the machine. The boss doesn’t need one.” Corruption was another human property that seemed to have survived the convergence intact.
So this is unofficial?”
He pushed a hard object into my side. Neither the cloth in his coat nor in mine would slow the bullet very much. When I looked at him, he nodded to acknowledge me, and said, “Next stop. Off.”
It looked like it would be an interesting day after all. Damn. The bus slowed to a stop and we rose. He kept one hand on my elbow and made sure that I didn’t miss the point. We walked a few yards along the street and dove into an old bar. Starbucks had been out of business for years, ever since the coffee fungus of ‘32 decimated the crop, but this one kept the decor. It gave it a neat ‘retro’ look.
I asked, “A latte or cappuccino?”
He pushed his rod into my back and said, “Don’t be smart.” Then he motioned, “Keep going. It’s in back.”
It was always in back. Every time a two-bit thug threatened me, it was in the back of some joint or another. He pushed me towards the kitchen doors. I paused, and he pushed harder. “Move it!” I stepped aside and sent him tumbling through the door. There was a loud report and I opened the door to see my escort sprawled on the floor. He was squirming in pain, and only his fear of the boss kept him from screaming. The boss himself sat at a table at the far end of the room.
Next time you desire the pleasure of my company, ask nicely.” I kicked Brown as he lay there. “Don’t send your goons.”
I see, it’s just that you’re a hard man to catch, Mr. Blake.”
I pointed at Brown, “Was that his service gun?”
We’ll have visitors.” I could faintly hear sirens in the distance. “Shall we have a consistent story, or would you prefer I told them the truth?”
The boss chuckled. Then he motioned to one of the wait-staff. “Drag Mr. Brown out by the register. Say he interrupted a robbery.”
The woman nodded and then grabbed Brown’s feet. She grunted with the effort as she dragged him outside.
So Mr. Guezman. Why do I have the pleasure of your company?” I’d finally remembered where I’d heard that name before.
What were you doing looking for a Ms. Sarah Gonzales, and not finding out who offed Mr. Bigelow?”
Her mother asked me to, and it’s damned hard to find a good cleaning woman nowadays. It’ll be easier to find a new partner if I want one. Besides, I didn’t want to step on the SFPD’s toes.”
They’re not looking very hard. Detective Brown said they thought you’d crack soon enough.”
Me, crack?” I laughed, “God, that’s rich.”
The EMT’s rushed into the front of the store. We could hear them asking Detective Brown about his wound. He said nothing, so we heard them call for police backup.
Mr. Guezman,” I said, “While this conversation has been a pleasure, Paul was my partner. Had Mrs. Gonzales not been nearly in tears, I’d be looking for his killers.” I walked into the main room of the store, and into the arms of the SFPD.
Mr. Blake.”
You are under arrest.”
For what?”
Shooting Detective Brown.”
With his own gun, keyed to his own hand, from inside his coat? Not likely.”
The officer who stopped me looked at his companion, shrugged and then said, “Jaywalking?”
The companion made a fist and said, “How about resisting arrest?”
I held out my hands.
The officer said, “Wise choice Sherlock. Cuff him.” His companion snapped the links on.
A car pulled up beside us and they bundled me in. The door locks snapped down and then it took off for the SFPD center. We rounded a corner and my old friend, the machine said, “Well, Alan, it looks like the janitor trick is getting a bit old, doesn’t it?”
I’m going to need a new one. It got me into the records. What’s going on with Ms. Gonzales, I mean she’s just this girl.”
There was silence, I continued, “Right?”
My cuffs snapped open, and the machine said, “Not quite. Where were you headed Alan?”
I was on the bus to Palo Alto. Was going to look up one of my old prof’s. See if he’d let me use a classified link.” I paused, “For old times’ sake. As a friend.”
Which one?”
Dr. Gonzales.” I stopped. “Fuck. She’s his mystery daughter. One of the children he doesn’t talk about.”
Dr. Gonzales was one of the leading investigators who built the first version of the machine. It had been on a self-improvement kick ever since. I didn’t know for certain, but had heard rumors that he’d knocked up a local woman he was tutoring in high school. A pretty young thing, left her with his name and support. Being Catholic she hadn’t wanted it any other way.
Chippy,” I said, “She’s his. I’ve seen him hanging around.”
The machine’s silence was deafening. It confirmed my suspicions better than any words could have.
Does Mrs. Gonzales know who he is?”
No, and he wants to keep it that way. Safer for her if she thinks he’s a small-time thug.”
The mutual impedance society doesn’t take prisoners.”
Oh,” I paused then added, “They don’t make the news much either. Didn’t think they were much of a threat.”
We like to keep it that way. I’m not as omniscient as you seem to think.”
Crap. This was spiraling out of control and fast. I thought for a few moments and said, “Yo, Chips.”
I wish you’d call me by my name, Al.”
Yeah right. Look, that dame, the one who did for Paul. Was she one of them?”
Don’t know, but.” It paused.
But it’s likely, right.”
The human interface part of the machine dropped out and a mechanical toneless voice said, “0.9 likelihood true 0.05 likelihood false, 0.05 ambiguous.” I could tell it was upset, that voice only appeared when the emotional program crashed. I used to be good at making him do that. It was one of the easier ways to break into the system.
Calm yourself and reboot the emotions, Jeeves. It sounds like I should leave Dr. Gonzales be.” Unless I have to.
Thank you. Sir, where would you be wishing to drive?” A few more parts of it had crashed as well. I was back in form. Damn, this was one time I needed him to work properly.
Take me to my apartment. I’ll need to refuel, and see that my arrest record is deleted.”
What record, Alan?”
You’re back online? That was fast.”
I’ve made a few changes since you last poked around in my insides.”

Draft of Chapter 3 of the sequel to Cynthia

Family Matters.

Lord and Lady Wroxham sat in front of Admiral Croft’s desk, while he read the report on them. To make it fully clear to the admiral that they were civilians, James wore his suit and Cynthia her dress. Captain Woods sat behind him and alternated between a stoic indifference and baleful glare as he thought about Cynthia.
Finally, the admiral looked up from the report and said, “This does make it difficult.”
He held up the top secret communication, printed on paper and thus only available for limited distribution, and continued, “The Cataxi have specifically asked for you, lieutenant.”
Cynthia ignored him until he said, “My Lady. The Cataxi have asked for you. Only you.”
“For what? I returned their stone and my husband paid the fines.” She squeezed James’ hand.
“They want you to be the Terran ambassador. It’s a several years posting.”
Cynthia looked at James and said, “I promised Alice a ride to Mars after our honeymoon flight. I’d like to keep that promise.” She turned back to the admiral and said, “As much as I’m honored, and it is a real honor, I have family commitments that must take precedence over your request. If you’ll just rel-”
The admiral brought his fist down on the desk. “You gave up your rights to any family when you enlisted as a cadet.”
“No, my family sent me away. They were glad to be rid of a useless girl. James, well,” she paused, “I love him and he loves me. We’re family now. His family is all the family I’ve got, and I intend to keep it.”
Captain Woods smirked and said, “Sir, I think I had best show her.”
“Show me what?”
He pressed a few commands on his controller and the wall behind them lit up. It showed a woman facing the camera and ready to speak. Behind her was a bright sunlit scene. Except for the sky being a little too purple and the plants a little too green, it could have been Earth. It was Zeta Cyngi 8, and the woman was Cynthia’s mother.
Captain Woods said, “This is a recording, of course. It was.”
“Press play, show it!”
The woman in the picture began to speak.
“Happy 15th birthday Cynthia. I can’t believe it’s been five years since you left for the academy. We miss you and are so proud.”
Cynthia started crying. “I thought they didn’t care.” The captain stopped the message.
“That’s what you were conditioned to think.”
“Are there more messages?”
“Every year. Until, well, she died. She, they, followed your career.”
Cynthia’s crying transformed into uncontrolled weeping. James hugged her and tried to comfort her as best he could. Captain Woods bluntly stated, “You gave that up, willingly when you joined.” He smirked as he added, “Shall I show you the contract?”
“No. I couldn’t have. You must have tricked me. I have no.” Cynthia ran out of words, but not tears.
Both the admiral and the captain laughed. Captain Woods smirked, “I guess you’re not so invincible now are you?”
Lord Wroxham gently untangled himself from Cynthia. He whispered to her, “This is more than enough.” Then he rose and grabbed the captain by the front of his uniform. Pulling him up so that the captain’s face was only inches from his, he spat out, “This is ungentlemanly behavior. I’m calling you out. That is if you have the courage to face me.”
Cynthia stopped weeping and looked up at James. She said, “James, No. Don’t.”
“Listen my love. There’s damn all I can do in this world. You showed me enough that I can pilot your ship, in a straight line with you by my side making sure I don’t blow it up. At least I can still defend your honor.”
Captain Woods was speechless. So James continued, “What do you say, or are you really a coward?”
He released the man, who crumpled back into his seat and added, “Swords or pistols?”
Captain Woods caught his breath and said, “Racerships, single seaters around the Orts. We’ll see who is fastest.”
“You’re on.”
Cynthia looked at her husband, and said, “James, you can’t fly.”
“You’ll just have to show me. I presume there’s one of those blasted AR units on this craft.”
Captain Woods gasped, “Surely, Lord Wroxham, you don’t, won’t do this. It’s extremely difficult.”
“Cynthia, love,” James continued, “How does it compare to riding a horse?”
“Once you understand the controls, it’s easier, if anything. They won’t balk and dump you in a stream.”
“Just make sure I hold onto the reins?”
She laughed, “I’ll show you.”
Captain Woods looked askance. “What’s this about reins?”
Cynthia replied, “The first time I tried riding a horse, I dropped the reins.” She noticed a puzzled look from both the admiral and the captain, “Those long bits of leather that go to the bit,” she paused some more, “Almost control the horse. Tell her what to do. She ran off with me on her. It was dashed embarrassing.”
An hour later, James was strapped into the AR unit and his tuition in racers started. Cynthia watched his progress on a monitor, nervous that he should learn, and worried that he wouldn’t. It wasn’t going well.
James sat, or felt like he sat, astride a warm metal tube. In the real racer, that was the engine. He held a stick in front of him and several gauges where in front of his eyes as was a cross to instruct him on where he was headed. He would push the stick forward and it would take off with a jolt, then he’d reflexively pull back and stop. It didn’t help his confidence that he had crashed into a virtual planet almost as quickly as he started the first several times he tried to take off.
“James, can you hear me?”
“I’ve patched into the unit. It’s going to feel weird for a second, but I’m going to teach you directly.” He could feel the ghostly sensation of her hands gripping his. She continued, “Put your feet in the stirrups. Toes down. Grasp the engine with your knees.”
The ghostly hands pulled his legs into position. Cynthia continued, “It really is just like riding a horse, except you use your feet on the controls.”
“I think not.”
“Yes it is. Now let’s start. Push the bar forward.” He timidly pushed it and jumped as the ship lurched. He wanted to pull it back, but the ghostly hands pushed it farther ahead.
“Too fast!”
“No. Too slow. Can’t maneuver well if you’re not moving”
“We’re going to hit that thing.”
“Push your right foot back and pull the stick over.”
The hands made him do what she said, and the ship spun. He instinctively pulled the stick to the center and returned his feet to normal. The object was gone.
“Good. Now let’s hump this bugger. Push the stick.”
He didn’t need the hands this time. Another rock appeared in front, and Cynthia said, “Left.”
He tried, and just grazed the object.
Cynthia said, “Don’t worry, a miss is as good as a mile.”
They practiced until he was relaxed enough at the controls that he could enjoy it. “Cynthia, love?”
“This is fun.”
“I told you it was. Now for some real action. Full speed ahead.”
“There’s a rock.”
“Do it.”
He did.
Cynthia’s voice said, “Watch the proximity bar. When it starts to get orange, pull back as hard as you can on the stick and put your feet forward.”
“What’s going to happen?”
She was quiet. He followed her instructions, and the ship tumbled backward until it was pointing away from the rock. He automatically pushed forward and the ship accelerated.
“What now?”
Cynthia said in a quiet voice, “Time to try for real. Take the ship back and land. I’ll meet you in the ready room.”
“Can’t I just stop now?”
“You need the practice.”
Lord Wroxham flew the virtual ship back into its hanger, popped the catch and stood up. The world around him cracked apart and he was back in the AR unit. The attendant unhooked him and said, “What now,” he gave an exaggerated bow “My Lord?”
“Where’s the ready room?”
“Are you serious? You can’t be.”
“Of course. Can you show me?”
“No. Next level down, three lefts, a right and then back up.”
“Ah, right.” James was dubious about the directions.
“Can’t miss it.”
When Lord Wroxham finally found the ready room, Cynthia was waiting for him. She was wearing a pressure suit, it fit her body snuggly, but that was not what he noticed. “You’ve cut your hair short.”
“I liked it the way it was.”
“I can grow it back later, but short like this is what I need for the pressure suit.” She pointed to a rack on the side of the room. “The men’s are there. Get it on.”
“Over these?”
“Take them off first. No one but me is watching, and” she blushed, “I’ve seen you. Besides, you’ll need to be hooked up. It’s rather personal, intimate as it were, and I think you’d rather I showed you how to do it than some tech you don’t know.”
A quarter of an hour later, with various catheters, tubes and bags attached, James stood there. He was ready to put on his helmet. He said, “That was unusual, to say the least.”
Cynthia replied, “Once I seal you in, you’ll be self-sustaining. It’ll pong like all heck after a couple of days, but you won’t notice.”
“Oh.” He paused, “Have you?” then stopped unsure of how to ask.
“Have I used one of these for that long?”
He nodded to her.
She paused, “I told you, or was it Alice? About fleeing Xyluberth.”
“I think so, you said you built a ship.”
“I was in one of these for a year. Not pleasant, but I made it.”
James looked a bit worried. She pulled his face into hers and kissed him. “For luck, and don’t worry about it. You’ll only be a couple of hours. Just drink from the tube and try not to think about where it came from.”
“The future is thoroughly disgusting.”
She put his helmet on and sealed it, then hers. “Radio check.”
James jumped, “I can hear you.”
“Excellent. Now for a pressure check. Make sure you’re sealed.”
After the checks, they walked to the dock and boarded two racers. The dockmaster reminded them, “You don’t have enough fuel or shielding to make planet, and the weapons are disabled. So don’t try anything daft.”
“We won’t.”
He gave them clearance and they shot into the dark void of the Ort belt. The sun was just a slightly brighter star than the rest of them. If you didn’t look in the right place, you’d miss it.
James cautiously pushed the stick forward, with his feet in the stirrups the way Cynthia had shown him. He saw her waiting beside him, and heard, “Move it, slowpoke.”
He pushed harder and shot ahead. The real sensations weren’t as jerky as the AR and he found he reacted better in real life than he had in the simulator. That is until the other ship bolted past him with what seemed centimeters to spare and Cynthia laughed at him in the radio. “Come on.”
She surged toward one of the rocks in the cloud, then pivoted and shot back at him. It looked like she was going to hit him dead on, then she did something and her ship danced around his in a corkscrew. She pivoted again and came up beside him. Waving, she said, “That was a blast. Want to try?”
“Yes you do. Flying slowly in a straight line is boring. Follow me.”
She accelerated smoothly away, slowed down to wait for him to catch up, and then wiggled the back of her racer in his face.
He muttered under his breath, “Bloody woman.” Then he pushed the stick to catch up. She kept just ahead, veering in, out, up and down around the rocks that littered their path. Then, suddenly, she was gone and there was a large rock straight ahead of him. The proximity bar went orange, then red, and finally he pulled back on the stick and controls to flip direction, then pushed hard forward to get away.
“Blimey you left that close, James.” There, ahead of him, was Cynthia.
“You’re right, love,” he said, “This is fun.” He pushed the stick and caught up with her. “How did you do that corkscrew?”
“Right hand is stick all the way right, pedals the other way. Left the reverse. Shall we?”
They danced together through the darkness until their ship’s fuel monitors told them it was time to return.
Admiral Croft and Captain Woods had watched them practice on the scanners. As they returned to the ship, the admiral turned to Captain Woods and said, “Silas, are you sure you want to race him? That was damned good flying. He’d easily rate first class as a pilot.”
Captain Woods remembered that it took him several embarrassing tries before he ‘rated’ and first class rating still eluded him. “Sir, what should I do?”
“You should apologize. It is the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“What about Cynthia and the Cataxi?”
“Persuasion, not force is called for. I may boot up her companion and talk to him.”
“That program?”
“He knows her as well as anyone who will talk to us.”
“If it’s willing to talk to you, sir. They tend to get a little stroppy and loyal to their people.”
“We’ll see. In the meantime, Captain, please try not to get into any fights with either her or that man.”
Captain Woods stood and started to salute his admiral when the Cataxi engineer called the admiral.
Admiral Croft gulped, the Cataxi being decidedly non-humanoid, and asked what was the trouble.
“Have you retrieved Cynthia?”
“What was going on with those racers? We should not stay in this time long.”
The Cataxi’s carapace turned bright orange, which should have alerted Admiral Croft to his displeasure, but didn’t. The creature said, “Do not tell me tales. There were two humans on that ship. Who is the second human and why were they racing around outside just now?”
“Ah.” Admiral Croft was stuck for words, but Captain Woods was able to answer.
He said, “It is somewhat my fault. Cynthia has attached herself to a male human and”
“And you argued with them. I fail to understand you humans.”
“It’s just that we understood you wanted only her as an ambassador.”
“They are both on board?”
“Good.” The engineer turned away from the screen and said something in an incomprehensible series of clicks, whistles and grunts.
The ship jerked and a few moments later reappeared at the border of neutral interstellar space at the correct time.
While the admiral and his captain cleared their heads, the engineer continued. “The council specified Cynthia. I have exchanged messages with them and we agree to her mate accompanying her. Indeed, we insist on it. It seems that the Xree worked on her, as we expected. When you say ‘attached’ does your species physically attach like the Archex?”
“No. It’s a figure of speech.”
“Figure of speech. I shall have to remember that.” The engineer clicked his mandibles together, chuckling at the thought. Then he rudely shut off the communication.
Admiral Croft glared at his captain and said, “Insufferable creatures. The sooner we’re rid of them the better.”

Start of the Third Installment of “From the Ashes”

Still don’t have a title yet, but this is the start of book 3.

Sally, Mary and Anne had just sat down to eat when there was a knock on the door. It was followed by a man’s voice saying, “Is that chicken I smell?”
Sally rose, took her plate and ran out the back of the house. Anne said, “What is going on?”
It’s Reverend Pottle.”
Mary rose and started to walk to the door. “He doesn’t like ‘niggers’, and that includes my sister. Please don’t mention Sally.”
I won’t. What does he think about Yankee’s?”
Not much either.”
So I should keep my mouth closed.”

The Reverend Edward H. Pottle accepted Mary’s invitation to dinner. It was hard for her to do other than extend her hospitality, once he made his presence known. Seeing as he was already inside the front parlor and complimenting her on the smell of the chicken. He followed her to kitchen and bowed to Anne.
“And who might this delightful young woman be?”
Anne’s reply could have frosted the Yellow River on a hot day in August, “Mrs. Oates, Mrs. Anne Oates.”
“Y’all are not from ’round here are you?”
“Atlanta lately.”
“I hear a touch of a buckeye twang in your voice.” He smiled and put a copper Indian-head penny on the table. Then pointed at it. Anne stared at him for a few awkward moments and then said, “No.”
Her response didn’t seem to bother the reverend. He returned the penny to his pocket and asked Mary, “Where’s your servant?’
“She’s eating in the barn.”
“Excellent. That’s where she belongs.” Anne shot a look at Mary. The reverend continued, “I think your brother’s in there too. He followed my from town for some reason.”
Anne broke in to the conversation, “Is that Sam, the clerk from the hotel?”
“Why yes, Mrs. Oates. Who else?”
“If you’ll excuse me for a few minutes, I need to ask him about my bags. I think I left one there.” Anne rose, and despite her being a Yankee, the reverend rose as well.
Mary gave her a pleading look and said, “You will be back, soon, please.”
“Mary, you can come with me if you wish, but I do need to check with your brother.”
Mary rose as well, and said, “If you’ll excuse me Reverend, I should accompany my guest.”
“Are you sure, there is something private I want to discuss with you. Something close to my heart that I need to say.”
Anne stopped, and noticed the distress on Mary’s face. She said, “Is this a frequent occurrence?”
Mary said, “He’s been most persistent.”
Anne thought for a few more moments, weighing the consequences and what she knew of Mary. Then she spoke the fatal words, “Reverend Pottle, you should know that Mary and I are soon to be sisters. My brother and her are engaged, and I am here to help with the arrangements.”
The reverend sat upright, “Is this true Miss Cummings?”
Mary nodded, then said in a quiet voice, “Yes, it is.”
“Is this brother one of those Yankee’s who came through town a couple of days ago? The one your brother was going to horsewhip?”
“Yes, he is.”
Reverend Pottle stood and stated, “Ever since I commanded the 1st Georgia Militia, back before I saw the light and was called to ministry, I have detested Yankees. If y’all are going to be kin with one of them I shall depart.”
Anne clenched her teeth and said, under her breath, “Good riddance.”
“Mary I am sorely disappointed in you. Not just turning down the hand and heart of an honorable man, but accepting those of a Yankee vandal.” He took his napkin, Mary’s actually, and the piece of chicken. Then he turned in a reasonable approximation of an about face and walked out.
Mary looked at Anne and said, “Thank you, Annie.”
“For what? That was craven.”
“Acknowledging me. Now the fat’s in the fire.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s a grand dragon. We’ll have visitors tonight.”
“Is that bad?”
The look on Mary’s face answered her question better than the words she tried to say.
“I still need to see Sam, and Sally. Come” Anne strode out to the barn.
When they arrived, or to be more accurate, when Anne arrived with Mary trailing behind her, Sam was sitting in the corner of an empty stall and shaking. Sally was trying to comfort him, and not succeeding.
Anne bluntly walked to him and said, “Mr. Cummings, what seems to be the matter?”
“Don’t you know?”
“I can guess, but you need to tell me.”
“They visit me.”
“My friends, their ghosts. In my dreams.”
Anne looked at Sally and Mary. Then she said, “Is your brother often like this?”
Mary said, “Every few months. Since.” She couldn’t continue.
Sally answered for her “Ever since ‘the massacre’. When your brothers’ troops were camped here. Sam’s the only survivor.”
Anne nodded. Then she simply said, “The war. I’m sorry.” After a few moments she sat next to Sam and held his hand.
“Sam, or would you prefer I call you Mr. Cummings?”
“Sam, tell me what happened.”
Sam couldn’t, at least not at first. He just leaned on her shoulder and cried. Anne hugged him and patted his back, simply saying “There, there,” and “It will be alright.” Eventually he stopped, and said, “I can’t. Not yet.”
“That’s fine Sam. I’ll wait. There’s no hurry.”
“Yes there is.” Sam jumped up. “I’ll show you.” Anne, Mary and Sally struggled to follow. He ran out to the plot where several of his friends were still buried. Six graves remained from the war, the others had been claimed by their families. The six remaining graves, including Mr. Fair, their teacher, were left to honor the dead on the battlefield where they fell. It was also because there wasn’t any family left to move them.
He stopped and scanned the place. “There, them Yankee’s were camped there.” He pointed to the yard. “Mr. Fair, he had his orders. We was to form up behind those trees and walk our horses silently. Then we would charge. Kill ’em while they slept.”
Anne asked, “Where were you?”
“I was too small, so he had me climb that tree. Keep an eye on the blue-coats and signal the militia once we started the attack.”
Mary was startled, “The militia? Where were they?”
“Up back. I signaled, they.” Then he stopped. He started to cry, again. This time Mary comforted him. While she was comforting her brother, Sally asked Anne, “Mrs. Oates, how’d you know to do that? That’s more than Sam’s ever said about it.”
“Call me Annie. Please. What do you think I did in the war?”
“I don’t know,” she paused, “Annie.”
“I was in the Sanitary. There were plenty of boys who simply saw too much. I learned the knack of getting them to talk. Don’t cure it, but it helps. Still get letters from some of them.”

The Berkshire Lady continued, Another Draft chapter.

This is another chapter (again draft) where Frances realizes she can’t quite pull off the purchase of Calcot house. (The real-life Frances did this before she met Mr. Child, I’m not sure how as her trustee’s did not  approve of it.) This chapter describes one mechanism she could have used, and sets the stage for more action.


Martha Makes a Suggestion.

A month after the Mayor’s ball, Frances was sitting in the day room while Martha mended the washing and instructed the new maid, Susan, in her needlework. While her maids worked on their never ending task, Frances studied her accounts. The results were not what she hoped. It didn’t matter whether she summed them forwards or backwards, the total available for her to use was only about £20. This was despite excellent returns from the wool-money. Far less than she needed to purchase Calcot House. Not even enough to take gambling with any chance of success. Especially since neither Whist nor Quadrille were her forte and Faro was too easy to rig. She looked up, and saw Martha watching her with concern. She said, “Martha, there’s not enough for Calcot House here. Not even enough to secure a loan.”
“What will you do now Miss Frances?”
“I’m sure I can sell a few horses, which will raise a few quid. See what Samuel thinks of the new colts.”
“I know how much you care for your horses. It would be like selling your own children.”
Frances gave her maid a wry grin, “Not quite Martha, but it’s not my favorite idea. I only need about £80 more, to be close enough to bargain. That may take my best horses, and not the yearling’s I usually sell. I suppose I could put some jewelry up the spout, and hope my trustees would redeem it.”
“Miss, there is another way.”
“I hesitate to say this, but.”
“I could fit Sir Charles’ old clothes to you.”
“Me, wear Charlie’s clothes, why?”
“You’ve always boasted that you’re the fastest rider and breed the best horses in Berkshire.”
“It’s not a boast, Martha, not if it’s true.”
“Why don’t you prove it at the Newbury races?”
Frances was struck by the idea. After a few moments thought she said, “I could, you know. I’d make a tidy sum, but only if the punters didn’t know it was me or my horses.”
“That’s why I suggested Sir Charles’ clothes, Miss. I know it’s highly irregular, but I know you too. Irregularity never bothered you did it?”
“No it never did. I couldn’t take Sam. The punters would know immediately that I was involved, even if they didn’t recognize me.”
Susan said, “My Lady,” she paused and corrected herself, “Miss Frances, Jeremy could go. He told me yesterday that Mr. Phillips thinks the world of him.”
“Does he?”
Susan continued, “If Jeremy goes, may I come as well?”
“We’ll see. First though, I’d best talk with Sam. See what he thinks of the idea.”
Martha said, “I know Sam, he’ll approve of the racing, but not your conduct.”
“He is a bit of a stick in the mud about my doings. Would you be willing to come with me Martha?”
“Not to Newbury Miss. They’ll know me too, and you need someone here to watch the house.”
“I know that. I mean to talk to Sam. I’d like his blessing if I could get it.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that Miss, but I’ve the mending to finish and then this young piece of baggage needs her lessons.”

Sam was not surprised when his mistress popped Martha’s idea on him. Martha and he had already discussed it and reluctantly come to the conclusion that it was the only course of action that would keep Miss Kendrick from becoming notorious. Frances had already jokingly hinted at highway robbery, and anything, even going to a racing meet dressed as a man, was better than that.
“Miss Frances,” he said, “I’m not sure I like the idea of you wearing men’s clothes.”
“It will be a lark. I’ve wanted to race for years.”
“About racing, Miss Frances, you’re too big. The jockeys are all about Jeremy’s size.”
“Can he ride?”
“Like he was born in the saddle. Never seen someone, except yourself, take to it so well. None of the other stable-boys are near as good.”
“It sounds like he and I should go.”
“It’s best if I’m along, Miss.”
“The punters will know something is up if you’re there as my groom.”
“I thought about that. There’s that gangling colt you want to sell. The rangy brown one.”
“Out of Bess, the time she was served by our neighbor’s loose stallion. He wasn’t exactly just a ‘proud cut’ was he?”
“I don’t think he was cut at all.” Sam laughed, it was an unplanned mating which resulted in a less than thorough-bred colt. He said, “That one.”
“Could work. There are a couple other horses we could do without.”
“Exactly, Miss. Since you cannot attend yourself as a delicate and refined female.” He paused while Frances guffawed, “I would be your representative at the sales. No one would suspect anything.”
“That’s rich. But it would work. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Sam.”
“Find yourself neck-deep in the muck without a shovel, that’s what. I also thought that mayhaps you could invite your friends the Brewer’s towards the end of the meet. When the course opens to the fair company.”
“I see, Martha could bring my dresses, and I’d re-appear. Throw sand over my tracks.”
“I don’t know what Eliza would think about it. She’s a bit hide-bound about these things, and Dr. Brewer. Well, he’d have me put in Bedlam if he found out.”
“Just say in the invitation that you’re riding separately with one of your grooms, and will meet them there.”
“I suppose that would work. Now you’re going to tell me I still need to bring a maid.”
“You should. You can’t sleep with Jeremy in the room. He’s a nice enough boy, but”
“It would be highly improper, even if nothing happened. Good Lord, the thought that he and I would. Never, never, never. I suppose I could take Susan. Do you think she’d be steady enough?”
“Sam, she’d have to dress like a boy.”
“I doubt she’d mind. She’s a bit bored as a housemaid.”
“The other thing Sam. I’d like to find a way to get my horses to Newbury without taxing them. Did you think they’d tolerate a ride in the cart?”
“No Miss, but?”
“But what?”
“I could get the carpenter to knock up a stall on the cart. They’d not care about that.”
“It’s worth a try. If they balk, I can always walk them the same as everyone else does.”
“I’ll see to it.” Samuel gave his mistress a respectful salute.
Frances explained the plans to Martha and Susan. Susan immediately agreed. “Miss Frances, I’d do anything to go to Newbury with Jeremy. What should I be called as your page?”
“Would Sean be acceptable?’
“John. That will do. We are pleased with you My Lady.”
“Yes, Miss Frances. I’d like to be called John.” Susan smiled at an inside joke, “Not now, but if I were a boy.”
“God knows why, Susan, but John you shall be. We both need to get our clothes measured and fit.”

The stall on a cart was finished quickly. Partially this was because the estate carpenter was excited by the idea of a ‘cert’ for a bet and asked Sam to place a few side bets for him, but mostly because it was simple to build. Sam suggested that the horses be led into it several days before they left for Newbury. At first the horses were unsure about this novel idea, but they quickly decided that this was yet another thing that those strange two-legged creatures did and a stall was a stall. That Miss Frances hid a few apples or carrots in the hay at the far end of the stall helped.
The other thing Frances decided was that Jeremy must be able to drive a team. He’d shown remarkable progress at riding horses. It was as if he could talk to them. Frances had him tootle her around the farm in her gig until she was comfortable that he could take the leads.
“Miss Frances,” he asked, “Why must I drive?”
“I don’t see any way to get you, Susan, and me to Newbury without it.”
“There’s room for us all on the cart.”
“I’d like to have my mount as well. It’s best to be flexible about things. I might need you to take Susan and the horses home without me.”
Jeremy was pleased that Miss Kendrick would trust him. He said, “Miss Frances, I’ll do my best.”
“Jeremy, I’ve had boys your age do things like this before. It’s nothing special.”
“But never, I’ll warrant, ones as new to your service as me.”
“That’s true, but you’ve done well.” Jeremy smiled at the compliment.

Since Susan was still a young girl, Martha had little trouble fitting boy’s clothes to her. Outfitting Frances, on the other hand posed some problems. The latest men’s style was too form-fitting, and even with her breasts strapped uncomfortably tight, it was obvious that she was not a man.
Frances gazed at herself in the mirror and said, “Martha, what am I going to do? This is simply not going to work. I must admit the style becomes a fit young man, but?”
“I’d say, Miss Frances, that it becomes you as well.”
Frances primped herself in the mirror and said, “That’s true, but I need to look less like a woman.”
“I suppose, if you didn’t mind looking a bit dowdy, you could.”
“I could what?”
“You’ll look a bit rustic, but the way your father dressed would let you hide more of your build.”
Frances laughed, “Well Frank is supposed to be a rural horse-trainer, my poor cousin. So he wouldn’t be dressed in the latest fashion of silk suit. He’d look a lot like Sam, wouldn’t he?”
“If you added a sash and your sword belt, it could work.”
“In any case, I wouldn’t wear a fancy suit to work with horses. The older fashion, with its coarser woolen cloth would be correct.”
“I’ll also pad your waistcoat. It will be hot, but make your bosom less obvious.”
The next iteration of clothing fit better. Instead of trying to follow the latest style, Martha pieced together a looser coat, a padded waistcoat, breeches and stockings that were respectable but not revealing. Frances put them on, and found that she didn’t need the sash. Looking at herself in the mirror she said, “Martha, I think this will work.”
“I think so too, Mr. Kendrick.”
“I should test it first.”
“Not Reading Miss.”
“No. Somewhere I’m not so well known. Wargrave?”
“Frances, please no. Imagine what would be said when you’re recognized.”
“Martha, even if I don’t try it in society, I do need to practice riding astride.”
“If you must.”
Frances walked out to her stables, without changing and found Sam. “Can you saddle one of the horses with a man’s saddle?”
Sam looked at her, smiled, and said, “Yes Mr. Kendrick. I’d say Martha has done her job well.”
“I hope so. Do you think I could pull this off, I mean looking like a man?”
“We’ll see, Miss, sorry Mr. Kendrick. I think as long as you’re not well known it will work.”
“I’d so like to try walking down Broad Street, or try the service at St. Mary’s in the Butts.”