by Kirsten Weiss
Sensibility Grey Book Three
A Midsummer Night’s Murder
The California Territory, 1849 Blamed for burning down the San Francisco wharf, clockwork inventor, Sensibility Grey has spent the last three months in hiding. Now all she wants is to depart the gold-crazy boomtown for a new life in the East. So when the owner of a traveling theater offers her work embellishing his mechanical stage, she turns him down. Then he turns up dead on her doorstep along with his enigmatic stage.
An explorer of the mysteries of aether, Sensibility has her own secrets to keep, and adversaries who’ll stop at nothing to learn them. Is the mechanical stage a part of a bigger game? Or the key to unlocking her true, magical potential?
Genre: Steampunk SuspensePurchase link(s): Amazon BAM Kobo B&N
Content/Theme(s): Clockwork, Inventor, Historical, Fantasy
Release Date: May 1, 2016
Publisher: Misterio Press
Excerpt & More
“Not by half! I know it was Hounds who shoved me into that barrel last spring.”
Sensibility’s jaw tightened. Where was the justice? The Hounds should be in jail. But this was San Francisco, and the odds of that happening were null.
“But who am I going to complain to about it?” Mrs. Watson continued. “The Army won’t take charge, and our alcade can’t. He’s a good man, but he’s just one man against a town of gold-crazed miners. Maybe after the election we'll get someone who’ll act like a real mayor.”
“But there are still good people in San Francisco. You took me in, when….” Tears warmed Sensibility’s eyes, and she blinked rapidly. “If it weren’t for you, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“Ah, well, you’re a rare bird, Sensibility. If we ever get a decent mail system between here and the States, I expect regular letters.”
“As do I. And if my uncle stops by, would you tell him I’ve gone east, to Washington?”
Mrs. Watson huffed. “Him! You don’t want him following you.”
“Oh, I doubt he’ll do that. He enjoys the California Territory.”
“He enjoys picking the pockets of those poor miners.”
“It’s not as if he cheats at cards,” Sensibility said, defensive.
Mrs. Watson’s chest heaved. “Well, he’s your blood, so he can’t be all bad. I’ll tell him, if you’re sure it’s what you want.”
“Oh, and you’ve got a visitor in the parlor. He wants to meet you.”
Sensibility rubbed the back of her neck. “A visitor?” She didn’t get visitors. She didn’t want visitors.
“He’s new in town. Said he arrived yesterday.”
“A newcomer,” Sensibility said, doubtful. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“To meet the great lady inventor, what else? He insists on seeing you. Stubborn as a mule, he is. If I have to get someone to throw him out, it will ruin my reputation for running a nice, quiet boarding house.” She planted her fists on her broad hips. “It’s a shame that Mr. Sterling isn’t here.”
“Why Mr. Sterling?”
“He’s good with his fists, isn’t he?”
Sensibility blew out her breath. Mr. Sterling was also good with the ladies and was likely romancing one or several of them now. The government agent could not help but flirt. It was his nature, as were his shallow, careless relationships. “Do you think our visitor will cause trouble?”
“He doesn’t look the type, but you never can tell these days. And Mr. Sterling would have no trouble tossing someone out on their ear,” Mrs. Watson continued.
The teacup behind Sensibility rattled violently.
“There’s no reason to be scared,” Mrs. Watson said. “Look at you, shaking so hard the cups are rattling. The man’s harmless. I can take that tray—”
“No!” If her landlady found the raccoon, she’d be furious. “Don’t trouble yourself. I’m not quite finished. And of course I shall see the man, whoever he is. I shall be down shortly.”
“I’ll tell him.” Her landlady walked to the door, and Sensibility relaxed.
Mrs. Watson turned. “Say, did you go into the yard through the kitchen door today?”
“I say it over and over, no men in my kitchen! But someone left that kitchen door open. If it wasn’t you, it must have been one of them.” Muttering, she left the room.
Sensibility walked to the bed and lifted her pillow, withdrawing a gleaming, brass aether gun. She hesitated, then pocketed the device. The unexpected visitor probably meant nothing. Most likely he was seeking a commission and did not know she had been burnt out of her workshop. But her pulse thrummed erratically.
She stared at the raccoon and assessed its size. It should fit in her other skirt pocket. This was her chance to take the animal downstairs and release him outside.
Sensibility reached for the raccoon. It hissed, brandishing a dried bit of egg.
“I don’t think you need to take that attitude, even if you are a bandit by nature.”
But it was a dreadfully skinny animal, its ribs pressing against its gray fur. She could put it outside later, after it had eaten its fill.
“Very well. I’ll leave the window open. When you’re done with your meal, I expect you to leave.”
She tucked a stray wisp of mahogany hair into her chignon and tugged down the front of her leather waistcoat. Checking her pocket watch, she glided downstairs.
In the parlor, a man with curling white mustaches leapt from the sofa. Whisking his broad-brimmed hat from his lap, he bowed low and swept his violet frockcoat behind him.
Mrs. Watson slipped from her chair. “Mr. Zanobini, may I introduce Miss Grey?”
He straightened. “It is an honor, dear lady,” he said in a thick, Italian accent.
Sensibility curtseyed. “Sir.”
“Please forgive my intrusion.” He smoothed the front of his butter-colored waistcoat. “But am I to understand that you are the famous lady inventor of marvelous mechanicals?”
Sensibility’s face warmed. “I am an inventor, but—”
“Excellent! I have had the great pleasure of knowing other inventors — geniuses at their trade. But what I have heard of you surpasses them all.”
“I doubt that, sir,” she said dryly. If he thought flattery would sway her, he would be disappointed.
“You are too modest! Just like a lady. And of course you have heard of me?”
Behind him, Mrs. Watson rolled her eyes.
Sensibility cleared her throat. “My life has been cloistered of late—”
“Of course! You are an inventor, too engrossed in your work to bother with the world outside. I am Zanobini, of Teatro Zanobini!” He thrust out his chest and clicked the heels of his shiny black boots together.
“Teatro Zanobini.” Sensibility had never heard of it, but she smiled. “How intriguing.”
“Of course, the soul of my teatro is its people. But the heart is the stage. Have you heard of it?”
“It walks. It bigifies itself. It smallifies itself. It is mechanical, and the greatest inventors in your country—”
“This is not my country. I am English.”
He waved his gloved hand. “It shall be yours soon enough, shall it not? This great nation welcomes all. But as I was saying, the greatest minds of this generation have added to this stage and now, the honor is yours!”
“I do not collaborate,” she said.
“Not a collaboration, an improvement. You may crown my jewel—”
Sensibility coughed. “Excuse me?”
“You have no idea what a nuisance it was getting the stage over the mountains. Worth it, of course! The miners have been most generous and eager for entertainment. But the mechanical legs were not designed for such steep terrain.”
Sensibility gaped. “Your stage walks?” She had created mobile mechanicals, including a digging machine that walked about on four legs. But a walking stage, large enough to hold multiple performers?
She shook herself. No. She did not care. She was leaving tomorrow, and Mr. Zanobini’s stage was of absolutely no interest.
“Yes,” he said, “it walks, but now it shall fly!”
“Precisely, dear lady! Can you imagine the stage, lifting above the ground before the amazed eyes of an audience?”
“I cannot.” What he requested was utterly impractical.
“But you must! You cannot say no to the Teatro, to art!”
“You said your stage is mechanical. May I presume it is also built of metal?”
“Have you any idea of the weight?”
“It is extremely solid.”
She had once seen a hot air balloon at an exhibition in Lima. If one were to attach steam-powered propellers beneath to provide control… Her blood quickened. She had developed designs for miniature, flying mechanicals. But to build one to transport something so large… The balloon would have to be massive.
Unfortunately, she had neither the interest nor the time. “Regretfully, I must decline the commission. I’m afraid I am departing San Francisco tomorrow for the States.”
He laid his hand over his heart. “What? Leaving San Francisco! But why, my good lady?”
“I must… The town… It is complicated.” She raised her chin. Three months had passed, and the town still blamed her for the fire last March that had destroyed her precious laboratory. Three months, and ladies hissed at her on the streets, men made coarse suggestions, and a child had set his dog on her. As far as she was concerned, San Francisco and nearly everyone in it could go to the devil.
“No,” he said, “I cannot accept it. We two have not met only for you to deny me. As I said, the miners have been quite generous. Name your price.”
“I have no price. I am leaving tomorrow for the States. Perhaps one day, if you return to the east, we shall meet again.”
“But, Miss Grey—”
“She said ‘no,’ and ‘no’ is your answer.” Mrs. Watson pursed her lips. “Good day to you, sir.”
He looked as if he would speak. Then he bowed and walked to the front door. Mr. Zanobini turned, the tails of his violet frockcoat flying. “This is not the end of it, ladies. You shall find that Zanobini does not give up so easily!” Setting his hat on his head, he departed. The door slammed behind him.
“Thank you, Mrs. Watson.”
“You’re too polite, Sensibility. Some men won’t get the message unless you hammer it into their heads.”
“Yes, er, you are no doubt correct. I shall attempt to be more direct in future.”
“Besides, the money was probably all talk. You can’t trust theater folk.”
“And a flying stage! Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
“No, not a flying stage, but a man traveled across the English Channel in a balloon nearly a century ago. So why not an airship? Or an air stage, for that matter? I imagine it would be a bit like piloting a ship, though the current would be all around you rather than beneath.” Not that she was interested in the project. Not. At. All.
“An air ship! That I would like to see.”
Sensibility nodded. Perhaps, when she reached the East, she could again experiment on what interested her rather than work where commissions demanded.
If I ever arrive.
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