Fall Scenes

DSC_0355 DSC_0293 DSC_0493 DSC_0494 DSC_0495 These are from previous years, but show what I’m looking forward to in Alabama this fall. The mosquitoes will be senescent, the temperatures moderate, and the scenery stunning.

The Art of Deception, a WIP #workinprogress #regency #sweetromance

A Work in Progress.

I’ve been struggling a bit with this one. I had a whole series of chapters describing how Alice was recruited and trained, with a few to try to introduce the hero, Roderick Lord Hightower. It wasn’t working. I realized I could cut all that out, introducing it as background, and suddenly it’s going again.  The bits about codes and secret ink I’d posted earlier are for this one.

Let me know what you think.

Funny Doings in Bristol.

The Asp scudded up the Severn, riding the tide towards Bristol harbour. A fast monthly packet from New York, she’d stopped off the coast of Ireland near Cork. Then after spotting Land’s end she’d worked her way up Bristol Channel. She carried Roderick, Lord Hightower, lately military attaché to the British embassy in Washington and his friend Edward Spode.

A month of dreary cold North Atlantic spray followed by several days of tedious tacking had left both men ready for land. Even if Edward had only joined the ship at Cork as part of his duty to meet the monthly packet and escort diplomatic couriers. They’d tried to hop a shore boat as soon as the Asp lowered anchor in the Avonmouth. A day later, they were, finally, ashore.

Lord Roderick nodded to his companion, “That young chit.” He pointed to a servant on the low rise above the harbour, “she’s counting the ships.”

“No, she’s just watching the workmen down in basin. Probably has a special friend or possibly even a husband at sea. You’re seeing things.”

“I tell you. She’s counting. Didn’t you see her while our ship was docked in the Avonmouth yesterday?”

“Roddy, old chap, you need to relax. I know it was hard, spying on those bloody rebels, but we’re home, England, Bristol. You’ve been on the jump since I met you on the packet boat off Cork. It’s someone else’s problem, if it’s a problem at all.”

“There is something to what you say. Edward. Suspicion is an occupational hazard in our line of work. However, I don’t think I’m jumping at shadows.”

“This is England, we don’t do things like that. Even the blasted French spies are polite. It’s not like poisons are available in every druggist like rhubarb.” Edward watched his friend; he seemed to relax. “If you’ll stay out of trouble so that I have the chance to do it, I’ll send the express to Lord Grey that we’ve landed.”

“Good, can you also check about my other shipment?”

“Which one? Sorry, you mean the one from Philadelphia?”

“Yes, I gave my manservant Thomas the cipher machine, code book and correspondence, we, ah recovered, in Washington. Good thing too, my bags were thoroughly searched in New York.”

“Along with his wife? You said earlier that you had someone, a servant, in the President’s House working for you. Damn Roddy, you’re good.”

“Wasn’t a servant, a slave. We had to decamp in a hurry. I home Mr. Merry was up to cleaning up the details. It was rather a mess.”

“Anthony Merry? Don’t worry, I’ve worked with him before, he’ll smooth things over. He may only be a wine-merchant’s son, but he’s a professional, one of the best.”

“Can’t be worse than Sir Robert was.”

The girl gathered up the sheets she had been exposing to the sun, and put them in her basket. Roderick noticed her writing something on a piece of paper and then tucking it away. After that she started walking back into town. Lord Roderick told his friend, “See you in a few minutes Edward, some business to attend to.”

“Roddy, Drop it!”

Lord Roderick raced through the streets. Edward shook his head in disbelief and then followed. The express would have to wait. Roderick paused to catch his breath, smoothed his garments, and sauntered, deliberately casual, over to her.  He said, “Mademoiselle, bonne journee, est-il pas?”

Without missing a beat, the young lady replied, “C’est bien, ou allez vous Mousier?” in an excellent Parisian accent.

“The Swan, I think that’s where I’m booked.”

“And then London, on the stage, I’d think. Or are you staying in Bristol?”

“It depends.”

“Depends, on what, Sir?”

“Whether the assembly is worth the candle.”

“I wouldn’t know, Sir. My Mistress likes it.” She nodded to him, curtsied, and then walked off. He waited a few seconds and followed her. As he watched from a distance, she put a small piece of paper under a stone near a street corner, and then marked the wall with chalk. It didn’t take her long, and had he not been watching her carefully he’d have missed the whole thing.

“Come on you laggard,” Roderick called to his friend, “We’ve got her. She’s a real professional.” He dashed up, took the paper from under the stone, and started to read it.

“See, Edward, it is a count of the ships. Profes-”

He didn’t get to finish his statement. A member of the militia, delegated to watch the docks, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, if you’d please. You’re coming with us.” Another soldier stood behind him, ready to back him up should force be required.

“What for?”

“We think you’re a spy. Information has been laid to that effect.”

“What do you mean?” Roderick rapidly looked around, and then saw the chit, still carrying her basket, standing a few yards away. She smiled at him, mockingly curtsied, and then turned to continue her daily chores.

After several hours of tedious conversation and explaining, which only ended when he showed his credentials to the commander of the guard, Roderick was finally freed of his confinement. His friend Edward met him as he left.

“I booked us rooms at the Swan for a few days. The Assembly’s tomorrow night and rumour is that there are some dashed pretty young ladies in Bristol.”

“I see you have your priorities in order.”

“Your’re not expected back in the city for at least another week. I telegraphed[1] Lord Grey and he said so himself in his reply. Why not enjoy the trip? Besides there’s no point in catching the night mail to London. Tedious in the extreme, not to mention dashed uncomfortable.”

Roderick gave his friend a rueful grin, “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Gives me a chance to track down that French agent. Clever one, her, reporting me to the watch.”

Lord Roderick spent the next morning watching the hill where that servant had been. Even though it was a fine sunny morning, excellent for the airing of sheets, she did not turn up.  Edward did, “Roddy, old boy, leave it.”

“She’ll be here. I will catch her. No brown-haired, blue-eyed chit gets the drop on Roderick Lord Hightower. No matter how pretty she is.”

“Roddy, it’s most likely not her washing day. She’s off doing, I don’t know, whatever housemaids do when it’s not washing day. Scrubbing floors or something equally dreary. You probably were the best thing that happened to her yesterday, if not in her life.”

“I suppose you’re right, but she used a dead-drop, and was quick about it. A trained professional. A French professional.”

“If you say so, but I still think she was playing a game with you Roddy.”

“Very likely, but something wasn’t right about that chit. I could smell it.”

“You’re making a spectacle of yourself waiting here.”

“How many maids speak perfect French?”

“Not many, I’ll admit, but maybe her mistress is an emigre, or maybe she is one herself. There’s bound to be a perfectly sensible and not very mysterious reason. You need to stop jumping at shadows, Roddy.”

“If you say so.”

“I do, now how about we find ourselves a good public house and something worth eating.”

“In Bristol?”

“They must eat something here, and the beer isn’t half-bad. Or we might find some half-decent Madeira.”

Sir Roderick shrugged, “I suppose you’re correct, as usual, Edward. Lead on MacDuff.”

“It’s Lay on MacDuff, but I second your intent. Once more into the breach, dear friend, once more.”

The Horn, the pub Edward led Lord Roderick to, for their repast, had a well-deserved reputation, even better than the Swan’s, for the quality of its food and drink. While Edward negotiated with the innkeeper for the hire of a private parlour and an impressive spread, Lord Roderick idly watched the crowds in the street.

“It’s her!” He shouted. “That servant.”

As he ran out the door, Edward shouted after him, “Roddy no! I’ve just arranged for … Damn.” As he dashed after his friend, he shouted to the innkeeper, “Please hold the parlour for me, shan’t be long.”

Roderick followed the servant girl while she walked along the street. She turned to talk with a street vendor, and he dodged into a doorway. Then she continued on her way, apparently unaware of his presence.

He followed, carefully avoiding her direct view.

Minutes later, she turned into a stylish Modiste’s establishment, Madame Fanchion’s. He rushed to follow her inside. He ran into a young woman on her way out. “I’m sorry. I nearly knocked you over.”

The young woman was obviously not a maid, as she was dressed in the latest style.

She curtseyed, “I’m sorry. Should have been watching out myself.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No,” she smiled, “Not at all.” Lord Roderick could not help but notice she had a beautiful smile. “Can I help you?”

“I was looking for a servant, a girl. She turned into this shop.”

“She did? Amazing. Imagine turning into a shop.”

“No, I mean she entered the door.”

The young woman turned to the modiste, herself, “M. Fanchion, did you see a servant girl enter? I didn’t.”

Mais non, Madamoiselle.”

The woman shrugged, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

Lord Roderick peered inside. If the servant had entered, she had vanished into the backrooms.  He shook his head, “Lost the spoor …What has become of my manners?” He bowed, “May I introduce myself, Roderick Lord Hightower.”

The young woman curtsied again with a blush, “Delighted, Miss Alice Green, daughter of Lady Green.”

They would have conversed longer, but a stout middle-aged woman joined them, “Miss Alice, talking to strangers. What would Lady Green say?”

If they’re rich enough, nothing. “I don’t know Martha.”

“Well I do. Come.” The woman led her charge away, off to a waiting carriage. “You are needed at home.” Once they were aboard the postilions prodded their mounts and it clattered off, cleaving a path through the crowd with the imperious disregard only noble status could provide.

Edward finally caught up with his friend. “What happened Roddy?”

“I don’t know. You’re right, I need a repairing lease. I’m jumping at shadows, seeing things. I’ll send an express to London and then stay a couple of weeks in Bath.”

“Stout idea, but dinner first. I hope that parlour’s still open.”

“Stout, save me from stout middle-aged harridans.”

“Governess? They can be intimidating.”

****

Meanwhile Alice was being evaluated in the carriage as they rode out of the city. In addition to ‘Martha’, Mrs. Hudson, the woman in charge of training new female agents, gave her critique. “Did you tell that man your real name?”

“Y-yes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It just, I mean he smiled.”

Mrs. Hudson stared at Miss Aldershot. “What do you think?”

“Other than that, she did well. That trick of hers, yesterday, to put the watch on that man. Masterful.”

“Yes. … Coming up against a French agent on your first test. It does make for an additional level of difficulty.”

Alice inserted, “Was he a real French spy?”

“Oh yes my dear. Very much one.”

Alice smiled, “Good. I thought something was odd about him. How did he escape from the watch?”

“Most likely a few guineas dropped into the right pocket. Jobbery will be the death of us.”

“Did you like my reports?”

“Most observant. They were accurate and timely… Miss Aldershot, what do you think, is she ready?”

“I think we’ve taught her as best we can. Mr. Ou says she’s earned her black belt, and we’ve both seen that she’s mastered the ciphers and concealed writing. Time for her to move on. Bath?”

“Bath it is. I shall be sorry to see you go, Miss Mapleton, but -”

“Needs must?”

“Indeed.”

“I was wondering,” Alice said, “but no probably not.”

“What?”

“The assembly tonight. Could I be permitted to attend, perhaps with Lucinda?”

“Teach that sluggard some tricks?”

“If you wish. It might motivate her to get on.”

Mrs. Hudson laughed, “That it might, or I might be lucky and have her meet someone. I’m sorry to say she’ll be a better squire’s wife than an agent. I had my hopes for her. Loyal to a fault, but -”

“Not quick on the uptake?”

“Precisely, Miss Mapleton.”

“Then may I make a suggestion?”

Mrs. Hudson nodded.

“Have Lucy play the heiress, and me her companion. No one watches companions, and with luck she might meet someone.”

****

Lord Roderick slowly walked back to the Horn. He shook his head in sad disbelief. Edward met him, “At least you didn’t get arrested this time.”

“I must be losing my grip. I would swear that servant went into the shop. She didn’t. Or, …, No.”

“No, what old chap?”

“I bumped into her on the way out. The old quick change. Edward, we’re dealing with a trained professional agent.”

“Hope you’ve put the scare into her then. Come on, dinner will be cold, and the Horn does one very special spread. You must miss fresh food after those weeks at sea.”

[1] The optical telegraph linked ports and coastal points with London during the Napoleonic wars. It would only have taken a few minutes to send a query and get a reply. At least during the day and in good weather.

Rainy Day in Atlanta

The Rainy Day

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Carnitas, Mexican Roast Pork #recipe #goodeats

Carnitas, in the dutch oven.

Carnitas are a Mexican staple, actually “men’s” food, that are surprisingly easy to make. They’re also dashed good, either prepared in the home or on a campout.

The essential ingredient isn’t food. It’s a cast iron, unglazed dutch oven. There’s a whole mythology about curing these (some other post). However, as long as you don’t use soap or detergent on them, keep them dry and oiled, and generally don’t abuse them too much, they’ll serve for many years. The black layer is an iron oxide (not hydroxide or rust) that is relatively non-reactive with the water and sugars in the food. Hence things tend not to stick.

Enough chemistry, here’s the recipe:

Cut boneless pork butt or similar slightly fatty pork into large (2-3 inch, 5-6 cm) chunks. Remove any obviously nasty bits, but don’t be too neat.

Flour the meat in a mixture of wheat flour (plain flour) with oregano, ground chilli pepper (NOT chilli powder which has cumin in it). The meat can be frozen at this step for later use. I used chipolte for this batch, but only because I was out of the powdered pepper from my last trip to New Mexico. Typically for a cup of flour, I’ll use a tablespoon of both oregano and chilli, but your mileage may vary.

Place a layer of oil in the bottom of the dutch oven (or 1/2 stick of vegetable shortening, or a similar amount of Lard (authentic)). The idea is to have enough fat on the bottom to coat it so that the meat is greased before the fat from it cooks out.

Indoors:  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 2-3 hours. The pork will be very tender when done. You should turn the meat once or twice during this time.

Outdoors: Use charcoal briquettes,  about 8 beneath and 8-12 on top. Rotate the dutch oven about 90 degrees every 15 minutes, and counter rotate the lid about the same amount. Add charcoal as needed. You don’t want it too hot, but you need it to cook.

We served this with tortillas, fresh salsa, lettuce and yogurt (out of sour cream). Oh, and hot peppers.

Cider and Stout, Upside Down #recipe

Dark on top, light underneath and thoroughly enjoyable.

This is an unusual drink idea, and one that actually works. Not quite ‘Lager and Lime,’ but much better.

We used a milk stout rather than the original Guinness, because a) the store was out of Guinness, and b) it’s nicer. Any dark beer will do, and lactose-intolerant people probably shouldn’t use a milk stout.

Stout and cider are about the same density, so layering them is rather difficult. Except if you know the trick. You need to increase the density of the cider. Bar tenders probably do this with ‘neutral syrup’ (i.e. a dense sucrose solution) or even (gag) corn syrup. We used honey. Much better.  You could use table sugar, but be prepared to lose most of the carbonation because all those little crystals will nucleate bubbling.

So, without further ado, here’s how to make them.

  1. mix 1 teaspoon of honey with about 1/3 bottle of cider. We did this with a single wooden chopstick. Save the chopstick because you’ll need it for step 2.
  2. Use the chopstick to pour a layer of stout over the cider. Put one end of the chopstick just above the cider and slowly pour the stout down it. (just like you did with solutions in chem lab. Didn’t take chem lab? You missed something worth the time). As the amount of stout in the glass increases, gradually raise the stick keeping it out of the solution. The middle glass in the picture shows what happens when you rush it, so don’t.
  3. Enjoy.

FrankenKitty 2#wewriwar

Frankenkitty

Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my work in progress, “Frankenkitty”, and I hope you enjoy it.  It started out as a young-adult superhero book, and well, you’ll see. Last week’s was an introduction, where Dr. Frankenstein’s notebooks emerged. This week Jenny makes an important decision – to take up medicine. She asks to dissect a real frog in biology class, unlike nearly all the girls, and is paired with two ‘nerdy girls’ Amber and Mary. Things are about to ‘get real.’


“Do we have to?” Mary and Amber enjoyed working together.

“Yes, unless you have some very good reason why not.”

That Jennifer had been a ‘C’ student and they ‘A+’ students wasn’t quite a good enough reason.

Their reserve lasted all of ten minutes; up until Jennifer had a turn with the scalpel and delicately laid open the frog. She quickly identified the liver and heart, then with Mary’s help pulled the intestines to the side to see the blood vessels behind them. Mr. Jefferson remarked that it was one of the best presentations he’d ever seen a student team do.

Amber asked, barely keeping the astonishment from her voice, “Where’d you learn that?”

Dr. Frankenstein’s lab notes would be the truth; he had worked with frogs before trying bigger things. That was so clearly unacceptable that Jennifer skirted the truth and said, “I looked it up in study hall – I wanted to be prepared for class.”


This is a work in progress. In other news, I’ve become a booktrope author, but more on that latter. It has meant a change in pen-name. Last Weeks is here and you can read the whole chapter if you’d rather.

Friday chapter from a WIP. Frankenkitty.

The Beginning.

frankenkitty It was all because of the car that ran over Mr. Snuffles. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, exactly. He’d sneaked out the back door one morning. That wouldn’t have been too bad, but then he’d dashed into the road. Had Jimmy not been learning how to drive, he’d have been able to stop in time or swerve to miss the poor cat. But he didn’t and now Mr. Snuffles lay on the side of the road, with all nine of his lives rapidly passing.

Jennifer ran from her house and picked him up, but it was too late to call the vet. He’d been named after her favorite character in a children’s show when she was three and been her constant companion ever since. Now he was gone. Jennifer’s mother came out and did her best to comfort her little girl. Not so little now, fifteen, but still crying over her best friend. She helped her daughter wrap the poor cat in a towel, then in a plastic bag.

“We’ll bury him at our vacation house. He liked it at Grandma’s and it will be good to know he’s still there.”

Jennifer tearfully agreed, and so it was that Mr. Snuffles rested in the deep freeze, awaiting the family summer trip and his ultimate fate.

In the meantime, high school beckoned. There was homework to be done, tests to be taken, boys to giggle about and parties to attend. Life, for everyone who wasn’t Mr. Snuffles, had to go on.

One way life went on was for old people to get older. The cranky, strange old woman across the street, a German war bride, was finally moving to assisted living. She, and her husband, had moved to the neighborhood when it was first built, way back in the 1950’s, and settled in for the long haul. He’d died, years ago, but she’d grimly hung on to her independence until old age, and the urgings of her children and her grandchildren, finally forced her to move. She couldn’t take the accumulation of junk from all the years with her. The family had selected what they wanted to keep, and the rest was for sale.

Despite her reputation for crankiness and order, she actually had a soft spot for Jennifer. She’d seen Mr. Snuffles fate, and knew how much the girl missed her cat. So the morning of the estate sale, before the dealers arrived to scoop up the best bits, she hobbled across the street and rang the bell.

“Mrs. Jones,” Jennifer’s mother answered the door, “What are you doing here?”

“Emily, ist your daughter here?”

“Yes,”

“Ach gut. I have something for her. Something I think she vill like.”

“Oh, well please come in. How is the move coming along?”

“I don’t know. The Towers are a nice enough place, but there are just old people living there. It’s like a prison or warehouse. Everyone just waiting to die. I thought I left that behind mich in Germany.”

“I’m sorry. We’ll visit, if that will help.”

“If young Jennifer could, she’s always been such a gut girl. Anyway, I must get back.”

Her mother called down to her children, “Jennifer, it’s Mrs. Jones. She wants to see you, and”

Jennifer raced up from the rec-room. She’d learned one scary Halloween, when she’d been the only one of her friends willing to brave the consequences that Mrs. Jones’ crankiness and fearsome looks belied a soft heart and friendly character. She said, “Mrs. Jones I’m sorry that you’re leaving. Did you need my help for something?”

“In a way I do. Please come mit me, I haf something for you.”

Her mother nodded at her, and Jennifer helped the old lady back across the street. They entered her house and Mrs. Jones painfully lowered herself onto one of the stuffed chairs in the living room. Then she pointed to a wooden box. A shipping crate the size of a footlocker sat there on the other side of the room. It was from the late 1940’s when she and her husband had come to America.

“That is for you, my dear. Use it vell.”

“May I see what’s in it here?”

“Ov course.”

Jennifer opened the lid and looked at the contents. They were books. Dusty old hand-written books.

“Mrs. Jones, what are these?”

“They were my great grand-vaters. From his laboratory.”

Jennifer opened the one she held and tried to read it. “It’s in German. I don’t know German.”

“Not German, Schwabish. Bring it here and I’ll read the first few words. You’ll soon learn.”

“I will?”

“It’s an ancestor of English. Not Hoch Deutsch.”

Jennifer took the first volume to Mrs. Jones. The old woman opened it and began to read, “Experiments in the reanimation of dead tissue.”

“What?” Jennifer asked, “What is this?”

“Didn’t you know, I am a descendent of the great Dr. Baron von Frankenstein. These are his journals.”

“Did he really do it? Make dead things live again?”

“I don’t know.” Mrs. Jones smiled at her, “But it might be fun to try.”

“But why me? Surely your family.”

Mrs. Jones reached over with a shaky age-spotted hand and tousled Jennifer’s hair.

“Ach, I had these from my mother, she from hers, and she from hers. With a sacred charge to guard them. Not let them be used for evil. Mein daughter, she’d just sell them. I trust you.” She paused, “Besides, this way I know I’ll have at least one visitor at the Towers who wants to see me.”

Jennifer regarded the crate with awe. “Thank you Mrs. Jones. I don’t think I can carry all that by myself.”

“I know just the thing. There is a wagon in the garage, my son’s. Take it.”

“Is that OK with you?” Jennifer had heard about the tragedy of Mrs. Jones’ son from her parents. He’d disappeared into the jungles of Vietnam, never to be seen again. His parents had kept his room intact, almost as a shrine, pending his return.

“Yes, I’m sure he’d agree. He was a good boy and would have liked you.”

“He’d have been older than my father.”

Mrs. Jones gave her one of her cryptic fleeting smiles, then replied, “That’s true. I’d rather you have his wagon than any of those vultures.”

Jennifer brought the wagon around to the front door. Then by first unloading the crate, moving it to the wagon and then reloading it was able to take the books away. By then the crowds had started to arrive so she could only wave goodbye to Mrs. Jones.

That evening, alone in her room, Jennifer paged through the first volume. Despite Mrs. Jones’ reassurances the German didn’t suddenly spring to life for her, and the archaic Schwabian dialect gave the online translation programs she could find fits. There were a few words, “rot”, “blut”, “muskel”, “vene”, and “arterie” that she could guess. There were detailed and beautiful anatomical drawings that were drawn in the Baron’s delicate hand. She studied these intently. Then about halfway through the volume she noticed something. It was now written in English. She paged backwards to find where the language switched and came to this passage near the beginning.

“My assistant Igor has been passing copies of my notes to my rival Count Melindorf. Since neither he nor the Count read English, I shall take advantage of my time in London and continue in this barbarous and uncouth language.”

Jennifer smiled to herself. This was going to be much easier than she thought.

It was probably just as well. Mrs. Jones hadn’t lasted long in the Towers. The news came the next day when Jennifer and her mother were getting ready to visit her. The empty house across the street went up for sale that afternoon.