Genre: Action, 998 words (including the header and teaser)
The Adventures of Grant McSwain–Doer of Daring Feats, Explorer of Forgotten Lands, and Acquirer of Exquisite Treasures, accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway–continue!
Ragtime piano flooded the air from devices like phonographs atop poles. Contraptions of metal and electricity thrilled spectators outside the bar, which smelled like spilled beer and cigar smoke despite being empty. Teagan’s fruity seltzer—an appropriate beverage for the fairer sex, the barman said—quenched her spirits more than her thirst.
The fairground belonged to crime-lord Pops Kimble’s syndicate, with whom Grant had occasional business. Or scraps. Mostly scraps. And Grant loves dashing headlong into danger.
‘Hear the sound of the future,’ signs proclaimed, ‘at the Springfield World’s Fair.’
The present sounded most displeasing to Teagan’s ears, much like the frilly dress she’d been compelled to wear.
Her partner recounted his harrowing tale to their patron, the rotund Master Hamwich Roquefort. “With care for the priceless contents,” Grant said, “I quickly placed the last pack in the boat’s hold and signaled to cast off.” The satchel near Grant’s feet contained the Ixthacan treasures, including that cursed sun plate Teagan nearly died to retrieve.
“A powerful ruckus befell my ears,” Grant continued. He sprang into a rifleman’s pose and shook the table, jostling the shot glasses. “I steadied my Remington and steeled my nerves. The Amazon tribes are known for their unkind nature and bone-craft jewelry. I had no desire to wind up in some cannibal’s pot, my skull strung about a savage’s neck!
“Then what to my cool, collected gaze did appear but Miss O’Daire, stumbling through the bramble like an oliphaunt on the African plains!”
Roquefort gave the expected guffaw and an altogether unnecessary slap on the knee.
Teagan’s eyes narrowed. “Cool and collected? You shot my hat off.”
Grant brushed aside her concern. “Ah, the fragility of womenfolk. So easily spooked. Merely a warning shot to dissuade the heathen cannibals I saw behind you, Teag.”
“No one followed me. And you said you always aim for the chest.”
Grant raised a finger and smiled. “What fortune yours is minuscule, lest you suffer a mortal wound.”
Roquefort coughed and swallowed his entire glass of whiskey, which stoked Teagan’s jealousy and frustration more than Grant’s insult. What I wouldn’t trade for a shot or two, and a reliable pair of trousers instead of this frippery.
“Say,” Grant said, “how did you escape the depths, Teag?”
Roquefort turned to her with genuine interest, and her hopes of being taken seriously swelled. “Well,” she said with a wide grin, “the pit led to a flooded chamber, where an underground river had carved through the—“
“That reminds me of another remarkable expedition,” Grant said. He began another account of a distant land full of dangers he’d overcome, treasures he’d brought back to civilization, and of course exaggerations about both.
Teagan’s eyes wandered and settled on a pair of children—twins, a boy and girl. They sat on shipping crates across the walkway from the bar, wearing matching sky blue and white stripes, the boy in a vest and trousers, the girl in a knee-high pleated skirt. The girl’s blonde locks burst from her floral bonnet in an explosion of curls. The boy’s straight hair swept back beneath a newsie cap. Both held rainbow-colored lolly pops up to smiling lips.
But their joyless eyes stared at the boisterous Grant.
The pair noticed Teagan’s attention and fixed their shared gaze on her. Then something out of Teagan’s view distracted them. They jumped from the boxes and scuttled off.
A couple of burly dockhands followed close behind—chasing them away from the bar, perhaps? Even at midday, the establishment was no place for impressionable youth.
Grant crouched, reenacting their stealthy observation of an illegal dig in the Peruvian foothills. “The fiends,” he said, gesturing toward imaginary Spaniards. “Clearly they meant to claim Vallarte’s lost hoard. ‘Teag,’ said I, ‘we cannot permit such louts to despoil this sacred site!’ After all,” he explained to Roquefort, “one Vallarte chalice fetched a thousand pounds at Sothesby’s. Imagine a full set!
“So, using their powder kegs and my keen understanding of trajectories, we—”
“Master McSwain,” Roquefort interrupted, eyes darting toward the windows, “I am awed by your exploits. But I must know. The Ixthacan lunar phases and sun plate from the ziggurat—you have these in your possession?”
Teagan’s head spun toward the sweating man. “Neither Grant nor I mentioned the sun plate… only that I fell through a trapdoor.”
The barroom doors slammed open, revealing the two children, each with a lolly in one hand and a shiny Colt revolver in the other. The dockhands flanked Grant, their muscles rolling with malicious intent.
Master Roquefort crumbled into a blubbering heap. “So sorry,” he wailed. “They assaulted my home a fortnight ago, when your telegram first arrived. My precious Ginny, I couldn’t let them hurt her.”
“Shut up, fatty,” the girl hissed, “or I’ll plug you full of lead faster’n a racehorse’s hoofbeats.”
Up close, Teagan could make out the weight of years in those youthful faces.
“Pops Kimble, I presume,” Teagan blurted out. “People expect one boss, and a full grown man at that. But both of you run the show.”
The boy shrugged. “Growth disorder. What can ya do but play the hand you’re dealt?”
His sister gestured with her Colt. “Back away from the goods.”
Teagan did as instructed and locked eyes with Grant. The bait worked.
He gave her his most charming wink. Then he laid out one of the toughs with a right hook to the jaw.
Teagan darted for the pack. Gunfire erupted from several directions, spraying wood chips and glass shards across the polished floor…
[To be continued, in A Heart of Pure Gold…]