A Steampunk Pardon

The carriage moved quickly through the cobbled streets, but slowed to a creaking crawl when it entered Phoenix. Bridges swooped over the apex of the double-decker carriage once in the city limits, coming close to breaking the stove top pipe belching steam at its highest point. Those crossing the bridge when the large vehicle passed below recounted the story later that night over a shot of absinthe. Mothers clutched their children and rushed to flee, dropping their parasols and groceries, laborers gripped the copper railing, waiting to topple over. But the carriage trundled along without causing harm. Standing in a cloud of steam, those bridge -goers raised their fists and shouted their anger, but to no avail. They could see no one in the large vessel’s stained-glass windows.

Had it been in the sea, the carriage would have been more at home. It carried the appearance of a Man O War, but without sails of any kind, only large wooden wheels and paneled walls reinforced with iron rigging. Those who witnessed the vessel from the cramped, hot street level saw a name burned proudly on the stern, STEAM SHIP ONE. It made its way down the winding, cobbled interstate to the center of the city, where the forefathers erected a large copper phoenix, metal feathers and head pointed toward the heavens, as a reminder that it is possible to rise from ashes and be stronger for it. Every day at noon, the phoenix spouted a geyser of flame straight up. Some days, however, the smog of industry made even the flames of the giant statue hard to see. Today was one of those days. Within moments, Steam Ship One vanished into the brown haze.

For those who saw it approach, the meaning was clear. The President had finally arrived to pardon their sheriff. The nation’s first mechanical leader, run by well-oiled gears and golden pistons, had been elected due to his inability to act in the political theater. The sheriff supported him, which meant protection from his enemies. There were those who said it would never happen, that the heat of Phoenix would melt his clockwork brain, but others knew better. The mechanical man could take the heat. He boasted of it often enough.

The pardon, hammered onto a tin sheet and branded with the presidential seal, meant their jailed lawman would be back on the street, free to unleash his reign of single-handed terror on the mute second class. They were the ones who stoked the fires, suffered the pits, cobbled the interstate, but never spoke. They were the ones who never crossed the bridges over the interstate, but they built it.

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Noir at the Bar – October 20th, 2017

19059861_1986112188278233_1335083638625727466_nPicture yourself in a dimly lit room. A light bulb hangs from the ceiling, swinging slowly to and fro, as if an ethereal skeletal hand had reached down from the inky shadows and tapped it. Beneath the light are a series of faces with dark shadows for eyes and grim, black lines for mouths. The grimy bulb swings overhead. The faces are there, then swallowed by darkness, then appear again, under the dancing, pale glow. This assembly is here for one reason and one reason only.  And there are laws against it.

When you picture an evening of crime fiction called “Noir at the Bar”, that’s how I picture it going down. It won’t be like that. Well, maybe it will be. Who knows? Maybe it will go down like a tea party in a Hercule Poirot novel, or turn into a backstage party at the end of a Rage Against the Machine concert on the eve of a government revolution? Or we’ll pose like we’re trapped in a Hopper painting. Perhaps we’ll just compete for who does the best “drunk Sarah Huckabee Sanders” impersonation?

My money’s on Dietrich Kalteis.

Dietrich is an amazing author and one of many who will take part in the Friday, October 20th, Noir at the Bar at the Press Club in Seaside, California. Starting at 7 p.m., and emceed by Janice Blaze Rocke, this event features not one or three, but nine incredible writers all in one place, and all ready to spill the beans on crime fiction. Authors for this event include Eric Beetner, SW Lauden, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Dietrich Kalteis, John Lansing, Sandra Balzo, Joe Clifford and myself. Old Capitol Books will bring books to buy and the Press Club will provide the rest.  What’s not to drool about with this lineup?

The Press Club can be found at 1123 Fremont Boulevard, Seaside, CA. They say the road construction will be done by then, so let’s celebrate. If it isn’t, come anyway, just bring a flask.