Tag Archives: adventure

The Duplicitous Dare #blogbattle

Genre: Adventure (999 words)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain and His Hapless Assistant, Teagan O’Daire—Both the Unsuspecting Victims of the Unnamed Vixen 


Teagan flung the dim sum restaurant door wide and crossed into the crowded street to meet up with Grant. The moon stood high above Los Angeles, its soft radiance overwhelmed by the glow of a hundred paper lanterns on ropes between buildings. A wave of sounds and smells crashed over Teagan—stewed pork, stir-fried vegetables, dozens of voices bartering and bantering in a harsh, tonal language.

Lots of restless bodies on the street, Teagan noted. Many looked homeless, their clothing dingy, their hair greasy and unwashed. Desperate eyes sought paying work, but who had money to spend? Even in Chinatown, the Great Depression took its toll.

“Any luck?”

Grant shook his head, then looked up and down the street. Fake pagodas and decorative Hollywood style façades captured the attention of Westerners, while stylized Chinese characters in gold-leaf calligraphy mystified the uninitiated.

“No one knows anyone named Dare.” Grant said it like the English word for challenge.

Dah-rey,” Teagan corrected. “And in this part of town, you should ask about Shei. Little Tokyo is a couple streets south of here.”

“Maybe that’s where we should be searching, Teag.” Grant rubbed his face in his palm. “No one here tells me anything. Watch.”

He approached a food cart with a sign proclaiming the best soup dumplings in Chinatown. A wiry gray-haired man behind the cart smiled wide. “You want hsiao-lung-pao? Two dollar one dozen.”

“Sorry,” Grant said. “I’m looking for someone named Shay.”

Shei?”

“Yeah.”

The merchant cocked his head. “Ni zhao shei ah?

“That’s what I said.”

Teagan snickered. “I told you, her alias means ‘who?’ He’s asking who you’re looking for, and to him it sounds like you don’t know.”

She drew a bill from her purse and handed it to the man. “Six please. Hsieh-hsieh,” she said with a grateful nod.

The man placed the steaming swirled buns on a disposable mat of woven straw and offered the makeshift plate to Teagan. His eyes flickered toward Grant and he laughed. “Ta de naozi huailema?”

Rusty Chinese filtered through her mind. Is his brain broken?

“Indeed,” Teagan said with a smile. “Grant, let’s try Little Tokyo.”

They strolled south, eating dumplings and enjoying the foreign atmosphere, each pointing out oddities and unknown attractions that caught their eye.

Then Grant stiffened.

“What is it?”

He kept his eyes forward and whispered, “Don’t turn or make eye contact. But we’ve got tails on our left. About two houses back now. I’m guessing Tong.”

Teagan fought the urge to search for the threat. “You sure?”

“Grew up running ‘shine for a mob boss in the Prohibition days. Seen enough gang toughs to know—they’re not just guarding their turf.”

“Maybe they’ll have information we need?”

Grant chuckled. “Tong ain’t known for their friendly disposition, especially to us foreign devils. We should get into Little Tokyo quickly.” He picked up the pace.

“They won’t enter?”

“And tangle with Yakuza? Nah.”

Teagan hesitated. “Yakuza too?”

“You’re the one that suggested following our leads to Dare.”

She sighed.

“Dah-rey,” Grant corrected.

They entered Little Tokyo and saw drifters seeking work. Teagan examined the faces watching her, and felt palpable hostility. She edged closer to Grant.

He offered her his muscular arm. “We’re not particularly welcome here, are we, Teag?”

“The government’s been saying the same thing to the Japanese,” Teagan said. “Coolidge’s Immigration Act cut off all new arrivals from the Empire. Since then… well, maybe President Roosevelt will change things.”

“We have enough problems of our own to deal with,” Grant said.

They approached an older woman with a rack of shoes on display and Teagan checked her notebook. She spoke in a slow, clipped tone. “Dah-rey doko dess-ka?

The woman laughed and repeated the question. “Dare?

Grant crossed his arms. “This is searching for a twig in a pile of chopsticks, Teag.”

Teagan ignored Grant and considered her question. Maybe if I add an honorific term, it’ll be clear who I’m looking for. “Dare-san doko dess-ka?

The woman’s eyes lit up, and she glanced around before leaning in close. “You seek Dare-san? Yakuza seek Dare-san too.” She pointed a bony finger toward a truck with a covered flatbed in an open lot between two tall apartments.

Teagan and Grant dashed toward the lot, then Teagan paused to look back.

The woman had gathered up her rack and hustled into one of the apartments with uncanny speed for her age.

Grant approached the truck and froze when four Asian men jumped out. Two held tommy guns, and two carried cudgels. One pointed his club at Grant. “What you want, gaijin?”

“I’m looking for a mysterious woman—goes by Shei. Or maybe Dare.” He finally said it with proper Japanese pronunciation.

Face twisted in anger, the man stalked toward Grant. “You Shei’s partner or something? Did she bring you the opium she stole?”

The scrape of footfalls behind her caught Teagan’s attention and she turned to find half a dozen armed men. One stepped forward and pointed his pistol at Grant. “Where is the Yakuza piaotzu named Dare, laowai? I heard you say her name. Where’s the safety money she took from us?”

The Yakuza raised their guns. “Get off our turf, Tong dogs. And don’t come back unless you bring us Shei.”

The lead Tong laughed and aimed at the Yakuza who spoke. “Give up this Dare and our money, and we’ll leave at once.” His men formed a rank beside him.

Teagan pressed against Grant. “Sounds like we all got played. Got a way out?”

Grant raised his hands and scrunched up his face, narrowing his eyes with a wide toothy smile. “Evelybody carm darn,” he said with a poor mockery of an Asian accent. “We awr go home now, no trouber!”

Rivalry forgotten, every gun pointed at him.

Teagan stood horrified and dumbfounded, jaw hanging open.

Grant shrugged. “Yeah, I got nothing.”

The Voice of the Vixen

This is another Grant & Teagan adventure episode for this week’s #blogbattle, with the theme word of “voice.”

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Man of Mighty Endeavors, Discoverer of Ancient Treasures, and Explorer of the Farthest Reaches of the Planet 
…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway.



Arms crossed, Teagan paced the barren holding room and glared at her reflection in the one-way mirror. No doubt the FBI agent watched her every move and noted every word she said. 

So what if the Navy rescued Grant and Teagan from the waters off the Florida coast? They might have been better off taking their chances with the leviathan.

“You should sit down, Teag.”

Like a docile sheep before the shears, Grant had taken the chair offered, promising full cooperation with the Bureau’s investigation. He leaned back, hands behind his head, fingers buried in his thick, black hair. Had he not spoken, Teagan might have checked whether he was awake.

“How can you be so calm? They might lock you away. That agent had a pretty thick stack of evidence against you.”

Grant laughed. “I’ve played this game before. Trust me. They’re not interested in us. They’re after what we found—what the Germans know, what sort of weapons they’re developing. Nothing I need to keep to myself.”

Teagan strode past the one-way mirror and suddenly leaned close, hoping to see her observers through the reflection. She couldn’t make anything out, but she heard a chair scrape across the floor, moving back from the window.

She stuck out her tongue and whirled back toward the desk.

The door opened and Agent Shay returned, carrying a beverage tray. Long midnight hair framed her thin face, reaching to the bust of her petite navy blue suitcoat. A matching skirt hugged her thighs and revealed her calves in what Teagan deemed a decidedly improper fashion. Shay’s heels clicked on the floorboards with each purposeful step. She ran a slender finger across Grant’s back as she passed him, and her almond eyes didn’t even glance at Teagan.

Shay set the tray on the table with practiced grace, and Teagan sighed as soon as she saw the selection. A thick glass held two fingers of whiskey for Grant. For Teagan, a small metal box and an empty teacup sat beside a steaming kettle.

“For someone dressed so… progressive,” Teagan said, “you presume much about my taste in drinks.”

Shay smiled, and her eyes narrowed. “Miss O’Daire, I brought only the best oolong leaves. I doubt you’ve ever had the pleasure of such luxurious flavor.”

Grant’s eyes seemed glued to Shay. Teagan debated whether to smack him or scold him. Naturally, the United States government would take advantage of Grant and Teagan for whatever useful information they could provide.

But Teagan had been in enough binds and seen enough dangerous situations to recognize a growing sense of danger. Something about this whole arrangement felt like a trap.

“Your accent is intriguing,” Teagan said. “I can’t quite place it. You’re from the Republic of China, yes?”

Shay nodded. She slid the box lid open and scooped three spoonfuls of loose tea leaves into the cup with deliberate and familiar precision.

“I spent a few months between Peking and Tientsin,” Teagan said. “I didn’t get to travel very far, with Chiang Kai-shek’s men fighting against the government.”

“Then you have never been in Kwangtung,” Shay said. “I am from the south. Cantonese is my mother tongue, Mandarin my second. Perhaps my English is not as skillful as I should like to think.”

Once she added the boiling water, she lifted the teacup in both hands. Her wrists barely moved, and the liquid swirled in the cup. She repeated this twice, watching the amber color spread beneath the surface.

Teagan found herself mesmerized by the obvious respect and sense of tradition with which Shay prepared a simple cup of tea. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I just–“

Shay extended the cup to Teagan and gave a hint of a bow before straightening. “It is nothing.”

Teagan lifted the tea and savored the unique aroma, then took a long drink. At first, it revitalized her. But then exhaustion settled like a heavy burden on her shoulders.

Shay handed Grant his glass then unrolled a map of the Atlantic. “Mister McSwain,” she said in that exotic and melodious voice, “I am ready to hear your account.”

Grant sat up and took a swig. “You want to hear about the leviathan? That thing is on the loose somewhere off the coast between the Bahamas and Bermuda.” His finger traced a rough triangle over the area.

Shay laughed. “I am not interested in fanciful tales.”

“I’m just saying, bad things are gonna start happening there,” Grant said.

“Mister McSwain, you did spend many days in the sun. Perhaps you were dehydrated and hallucinated this event.”

She folded the map to display South America only. “Tell me all the details about the German sub base—its location and size, what sort of vessels you saw there, what intelligence might remain.”

Teagan reluctantly sat at the table and took another drink of tea, hoping to regain some energy. Fuzzy thoughts floated through her mind, and dissipated like mist every time she tried to grasp one.

Then sudden sleep overtook her and she dropped her head into her arms on the table.

* * *

She awoke when the door opened. Two agents stepped in, both male. “Alright, McSwain, O’Daire, let’s get to the bottom of this. We’re ready for your account.”

Teagan’s head pounded and recollections faded in and out. The exacting method Shay used to make tea resembled a Japanese style ceremony. And Shay’s almost unconscious bow fit Japanese culture.

Grant asked the question on Teagan’s mind. “Didn’t you talk to Shay?”

The agents froze. “Who’s that?”

Teagan’s minimal grasp of Mandarin came to mind. ‘Shei’ isn’t a Chinese surname. It means ‘who?’

Her fists balled, anger clearing her head. “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”

Dead in the Water

From the Continuing Adventures of Grant McSwain, Maritime Global Circumnavigator, Menace of German Cretins, and Master of Gargantuan Creatures

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Wind rustled through Teagan’s hair and saltwater sprayed droplets across her face as she leaned over the rail of the swift-moving vessel. The afternoon sun blazed and the heat and humidity of the Caribbean thickened the air.

The fuel for the vessel’s engine ran out two days earlier, so nothing broke the silence other than the crash of waves against the bow. A sense of tranquility refreshed Teagan’s weary spirit so long as she paid no attention to the choppy motion propelling the ship through the swells.

She looked away from the water’s rough surface. Best to avoid considering the source of that power.

But Teagan had to admit the plan Grant devised worked better than anticipated.

Grant on the other hand remained incapacitated. The large man hung doubled over the handrail on the port side, far enough away from Teagan that the splashing water below her drowned out his much less pleasant sounds.

He straightened, and clutched the railing with white knuckles and a quivering arm while wiping his mouth with a rag. “God, Teag, how do you do it?”

She took a deep breath of the ocean air and grinned wide. “I used to go on fishing trips with my brothers, out to the Aran Islands just beyond the bay. This feels so much like home.”

The vessel suddenly cut left, across the current. Teagan wobbled but steadied herself with ease, her sea legs quickly returning after far too long on land. “Well, almost like home,” she admitted.

Near the stern, Grant clung to the railing like a soon-to-be shipwreck victim. He stared at the churning waters behind the boat, his breath ragged. “We passed Antigua days ago,” he moaned. “It can’t be much longer to the Florida coast, can it?”

“Avoiding the Bahamas makes the trip a little longer,” Teagan said. “And keep in mind that the roundabout navigation was your idea.”

“One I deeply regret,” he replied.

Teagan strode across the wooden deck to the stern of the vessel and put her hand on Grant’s shoulder. “Watch the horizon, not the water. And try to take slow, full breaths to calm your nerves. We’ll get through this.”

The vessel lurched and picked up speed. The thick ropes at the bow creaked and the ship’s hull groaned with added strain. Teagan grimaced. “At least I hope we will.”

They travelled in silence for a time as the sun crawled beneath the horizon. The ship bounced on the ocean swells at a speed the vessel’s shipwrights would never have imagined possible. As the sky turned shades of red and purple, either Grant managed to overcome his seasickness, or his body gave up the fight.

Teagan ran her fingers over the jagged wood of the broken mast, and the twisted hemp strands of the thick ropes, then shook her head with amazement.

On the horizon, Grant spotted a shadowy mass. “Land ho,” he cried, with a proud fist raised into the air.

“Aren’t you still on the Federal Bureau’s Most Wanted list?”

Grant turned and flashed Teagan a smile. Unlike Teagan, who covered up head to toe after the first terrible sunburn, Grant’s skin darkened to a light caramel. Proper color had returned to Grant’s stubbly face, and the sight of land seemed to revitalize him. He posed like an Old World explorer, leaning forward, one foot on the railing at the bow, as if he propelled the ship forward by sheer force of will.

“Bah. The FBI,” Grant scoffed and dismissed Teagan’s concern with a wave of his hand. “‘Removing protected cultural relics’ is a made-up offense. I don’t think such a law even exists.”

“What about the part where you robbed the Smithsonian?”

“Oh, that. There is that. No worries… this is my ticket to get back into Uncle Sam’s good graces.”

“Please tell me you mean the satchel of classified documents and German submarine blueprints you recovered from the ruins of the base.”

“That’s the icing on the cake,” Grant said. He looked down at the massive shadowy figure beneath rushing waters and laughed. The taut ropes stretched below the waves and wrapped around the hulking body of the leviathan.

“A really, really big cake,” Grant said, “with tentacles.”

The vessel groaned and shuddered as the bow crashed through a powerful wave that splashed across the deck. Grant and Teagan gripped the slick rails, but the water pushed them from the bow. The silver plates used in the Ixthacan summoning ritual clattered across the wooden boards, torn from the tiedowns Grant fashioned when they’d embarked.

Teagan watched one of the plates with wide eyes. “Grant,” she said, “aren’t those part of what’s controlling the creature?”

Grant’s face blanched. “Well, Teag,” he said with a gulp, “Let’s be honest. Can you really claim to know how the ritual works in the first place?”

The vessel lurched, dead in the water. The ropes, once taut, hung limp over the bow.

Grant looked over the railing and frowned. “Hey, Teag? Back in Ireland, did you do a lot of swimming?”

“Some,” she said. “But we generally tried to stay in the ship.”

Four black, scaly tentacles burst from the surface of the water and stretched dozens of feet into the air, two on each side of the ship. They lashed the wooden vessel, shattering the railings and the deck with loud snaps. Teagan and Grant stumbled as the vessel’s hull cracked.

“I don’t think that’s an option,” Grant shouted, then dove over the side.

The front half of the vessel rose into the air, lifted by the leviathan’s twisting tentacles. Teagan gasped as more of the creature’s limbs crushed the ship’s stern beneath the waves.

She shut her eyes and leapt into the waves below.

To be continued in The Voice of the Vixen

Indiscriminate Assistance – a #blogbattle entry

It’s not quite the quality I wanted, but I had to fly yesterday and I’m flying again today. So I’ll be content with getting another Grant and Teagan submission in. Hope you enjoy this newest installment.

From the Continuing Adventures of Grant McSwain, Champion of the Daring, and Foiler of Dastardly Deeds 

Accompanied as always by Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway


Teagan rammed her shoulder into the side of a large wooden crate of electronic parts and pushed it into place against the iron door of the radio room, sending a cloud of dust into the air. A thick beam of wood held the entrance closed. It shook as the German guards battered against the metal from the other side.  

Then the whole cliffside base rumbled like an earthquake.

Teagan watched the ceiling, fearing a collapse. Then she turned to her partner, hands in tight fists on her hips. “Grant, what have you done?”

Grant McSwain sat in front of the large microphone, his hands fumbling across banks of controls for shortwave radio communications and the personnel address system within the base. His unapologetic eyes met Teagan’s and he laughed.

She took a deep breath that did nothing to calm her wild anger. “You said you were going to call for assistance!”

“I did.”

“I thought you meant the local authorities,” Teagan said, “or some government agency.” She checked the weight of another box and decided it would do nothing to barricade the door.

“That was the original plan, sure. I improvised.”

The base shuddered again, as if God punched the surface of the earth with His fist. Muffled shrieks and frantic voices filled the hallway outside the radio room.

Teagan considered throwing the box at Grant. “You summoned the Leviathan.”

Grant shook his head. “No, no, you’re not blaming this on me,” he said, and thrust a thick finger her way. “You’re the one who wrote out the incantation phonetically. You know I can’t understand that Ixthacan gibberish.”

“Then why did you read it over the base address system?”

“First, if Vilhelm wanted it,” Grant said, “I didn’t want him to have it. Second, it seemed like a good distraction when we had nowhere else to run.”

In the nearby cavern that housed the massive German submarine, stone crumbled in a combination of bass like thunder and metal twisting with an ear-piercing shriek.

Teagan winced and gave Grant a withering glare.

Grant met her stare while tuning the radio. “Did you honestly believe there was a creature to summon?”

“Did you have reason to think there might not be?”

Grant tweaked some knobs. The radio hissed to life with soft static. “Any sheriff, any station,” Grant called, “anybody hearing this: is there anyone in a position to provide aid?”

A heavy battering ram thudded against the iron door in a steady pace, the rhythm broken by another tremor that rattled the walls of the mountainside base. Otherwise, the room fell silent save the crackling quiet of the radio.

The voices outside screamed and cut off abruptly when something crashed into the door, shearing the steel framework supporting the radio room. The thick beam holding the door shut snapped with the impact. Teagan’s makeshift barricade tipped to the left and dumped parts across the floor. Then everything lurched forward, and Teagan propped herself up against the wall.

Once the beam broke, gravity swung the battered door open. A scaly tentacle, thick as a full-grown oak, slid through the twisted wreckage of the metal stairs, withdrawing toward the water. In the tangle of steel supports, bloody limbs stretched into the air seeking aid that would never come.

Face white, Grant watched the tentacle slither away. He and Teagan both sat frozen, awaiting a devastating blow to the radio room, afraid any motion might draw the attention and wrath of the leviathan.

The mountainside shook again, but this time the impact seemed far away.

Grant sighed with relief then switched on the base address system. “Achtung! Gehen sie in die U-Boot,” he repeated in rough German.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s panic out there,” Grant said. “No one’s going to know what to do, so they’ll listen to the first order they hear.”

“And meanwhile, what will we be doing?”

Grant gestured toward the elevator to the small, nondescript outpost far above on the surface. “We’re getting out of here.”

He lowered Teagan through the slanted doorway and she hopped to the floor, landing in a crouch on an unstable metal platform. Across a gap of a few feet, another walkway stretched toward the waiting elevator.

Grant dropped through the door of the radio room and hit with a thud that shook the damaged structure. It wobbled but held together. He checked the distance, then made a running jump over the jagged wreckage. “Come on, Teag,” he called.

But there it was. She couldn’t look away.

Tentacles flailed dozens of feet above the water’s surface, crashing into the walkways and structures surrounding the submarine’s berth. A huge pointed head rose from the waves with giant black eyes on either side and a maw lined with rows of sharp teeth. One of the creature’s manifold limbs batted aside a trio of German sailors running for the supposed safety of the submarine, and another tentacle lifted a screaming man high into the air before dropping him into the leviathan’s mouth.

The horror shook Teagan’s heart… but the mystery and majesty of the creature filled her with awe and wonder.

The submarine inched forward, moving toward the underwater tunnel leading to the ocean. Then a pair of tentacles wrapped around the vessel, lifting it out of the churning waters. Metal groaned and squealed. The vessel broke in half with a resounding snap.

“Teag!” Grant cupped his hands over his lips and screamed. “The elevator, before that thing takes it out of commission!”

Teagan leapt across the bloodied steel of the ruined walkway and chased Grant with all due haste.

The automated pulleys of the elevator strained and groaned, but raised the pair from the devastation of the underground base like souls set free from the pit of Hades.

Operation: Leviathan, a #blogbattle short story

The Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer of Exotic Locales, Finder of Forgotten Treasures, and Charmer of Classy Dames

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway and occasional fire demon

“Grant,” Teagan called from above, “Are you certain you’re fit for this?”

He hung on the side of a tall cliff, suspended from a rope wrapped around his leg and pinched between his feet. Waves crashed against the rock face far below, spraying white foam. Gulls called and circled in the blue sky.

With each arm-over-arm motion lowering him down the cliff face, Grant felt the sharp pain in his gut—his gunshot wound was recovering but not fully healed.

“Never better.”

A guard stood sentry duty on a metal observation deck twenty feet above the waterline. The man smoked a cigarette and leaned out over the railing, listening to the ocean. Grant counted on the calming noise to cover his approach.

Below the deck, the low tide revealed a small arch in the stone, the top of a much larger mouth to a submerged cavern.

This must be where the Twins stashed their submarine, a vessel mentioned in documents Teagan recovered from the plane wreck. The classified papers were marked “Betrieb: Leviathan” and pointed the pair to this secret Brazilian base.

He realized Teagan was right, and it struck him how frequently that was the case.

Grant hissed through gritted teeth to ignore his pain, and continued his descent toward the guard. He reached the end of the rope ten feet above the deck, then sprang toward the guard. Though the sudden impact shook his wound, his powerful elbow struck the man in the back of the head and knocked him to the ground, unconscious.

Grant changed into the guard’s uniform—just a little snug, he told himself—while Teagan shimmied down the rope.

She dropped to the ledge and laughed when she saw him. “That coat is stretching like pulled taffy. I feel sorry for those buttons.“

Grant folded his arms across his chest and heard a seam pop. “So let’s not get caught. If we do, the guards won’t be looking at me. You’re the prisoner the Twins want.”

“Vilhelm,” Teagan said coldly. “The other one—the one with the wandering hands—is dead.”

Grant picked up the fallen guard’s rifle and slung it over his shoulder. Then he pulled open the heavy steel door, revealing a hall cut into the mountainside. “Shall we?”
Deep in the winding maze of tunnels, they found a massive cavern housing a berth for the largest submarine Grant had ever seen. Dark hallways stretched into the mountainside where two armed men stood guard. The skin of the submarine glistened under banks of lights. Fuel trucks pumped diesel into the sub’s refueling ports.

“There’s your Leviathan,” Grant said.

“My God,” Teagan said, “that’s big. It’s like a couple U-boats smashed together.”

“Maybe you can call it a W-boat,” Grant said with a chuckle.

Teagan glared at him, oddly reminiscent of her time as a fire demon in the camp of the Atuachans.

Grant felt no regrets, and grinned broad at her ire.

A network of scaffolding and walkways hung suspended from the cavern ceiling. Grant and Teagan crept toward the submarine, careful to avoid the light.

But the underground base seemed practically deserted, and they reached the submarine with ease.

Grant opened the main hatch and clambered down a ladder, then helped Teagan down. “Operation: Leviathan,” Grant whispered as they moved through the cramped spaces of the sub. “What’s that even mean?”

“It comes from the Old Testament of the Bible,” Teagan said, “especially Job, chapter forty-one. ‘Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.’”

Grant stared at Teagan, and she blushed. He shook his head and asked, “Why would you have that verse memorized?”

“I grew up in a devout Catholic family,” she said. “They viewed reading the Scriptures like eating a meal. In fact, some days we went hungry, but we never skipped our daily reading.”

They reached a pair of chambers with ornate décor, incongruent with the spartan atmosphere of a military submarine.

Teagan paused at the door. “So I always picked the interesting chapters, the ones that talked about powerful creatures and the end of days in strange, fantastic terms. The mystery and thrill of discovery attracted me even then. This looks like the Twins’ rooms. Shall we?”

Grant stepped inside and looked around. Exotic skins covered the bed and floors. Oxidized metal artifacts of ancient cultures lined the shelves. Tapestries with occult symbols hung on the walls.

Teagan gasped. “This is a treasure trove, a private collection with more than most museums. Is that the banner of Vlad Tepes? And what sort of creature has fur like a beast but a shape like a man?”

Grant began rummaging through the desk drawers, and directed Teagan toward stacks of papers and tied-off notebooks.

“What exactly are we looking for, Grant?”

“Operation Leviathan implies they’re going to do something with this sub. Uncle Sam will pay a pretty penny to find out what.”

Teagan held a notebook marked with Ixthacan symbols and flipped through its pages. Then she froze and stared, her face pale. “No, this can’t be right.”

Grant rushed to her side, even though he couldn’t make sense of any of that Ixthacan scratch. “What is it?”

“It’s a legend,” she said. “A tale of a ritual for summoning a destructive force from the ocean depths. I think they mean to—“

“I shoot you,” an angry German voice said, “you don’t die. You crash my plane, unt still you do not die.”

Vilhelm stood in the doorway, his scarred face flaring red, his Luger pointed at Grant.

“But as you Amerikans say, perhaps third time ist ze charm, ya?”

Feather


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This went over on word count and I don’t have time to edit it down to fit the Blog Battle standards. But I had fun with it, and it made me do some writing. So here’s another installment of Grant and Teagan:

The Adventures of Grant McSwain, Man of Intrigue, Daring Do-Gooder and Fearless Explorer

accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway and occasional fire demon

 

This is the Caproni Ca.90, from Wikipedia Creative Commons license
 


A high-pitched whine pierced Grant’s ears and a constant thunderous rumble shook him awake. Strong winds battered his face, bearing a strange scent of lilac. He cautiously opened his bleary eyes, and found them safe behind a pair of pilot goggles. A leather cap with ear muffs strapped under his chin offered minimal hearing protection.

Far below him, snow-capped mountains formed a jagged horizon. Oh my God, I’m flying in an aeroplane.

A wide wing above and behind Grant shaded him from sunlight. On either side of Grant, four large piston engines hammered away, spinning propellers in front and behind their shaking frames. Centered above the cockpit, another pair of engines strained with effort. Several bullet holes riddled the engine on the left, and it sputtered smoke. The glass around the cockpit had broken in places, with spider-web cracks across what remained.

The plane lurched to the left, and Grant felt sudden discomfort in his stomach like a punch to the gut. Then a sharper pain struck, and he sucked in air between gritted teeth. Breathing brought agony. Something was wrong.

Teagan’s rough-chopped, wispy hair fluttered in the wind, the source of the lilac fragrance. Grant would never admit it, but the hasty haircut of the Atuachan savages gave Teagan a rather fetching new look. How she managed to cling to feminine refinements on their forays into uncivilized lands was beyond his comprehension. Why she bothered also fell in that category. Who wasted valuable space in a rucksack on perfumes and shampoo where a bottle of fine whiskey could fit?

The stabbing in his gut throbbed. He gripped his side and the pain intensified.

Teagan turned her head back and yelled, “Don’t touch it! You’ve been shot.”

A foggy memory filled his mind—the German twins laughing over him, the one with the scarred face holding a smoking revolver, the other clutching a satchel full of Ixthacan artifacts and Vallarte’s gold.

“He shot me?” Grant winced and shifted to a position he told himself felt slightly more comfortable. “That damn Kraut actually shot me?”

“My skill with medicine is minimal,” Teagan shouted. “But I believe you’re bleeding inside… and your intestines may have been perforated.”

“That sounds like a foul way to go.”

“It is. And excruciating as well.”

Grant squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, and felt tears well up. “Thanks for the ray of hope.”

“We can make it back to Caracas,” Teagan said. “Master Roquefort might be waiting for us. Otherwise, we’ll have to steal another plane.”

Grant opened his eyes. “…Another plane?”

“Look at the markings on the fuselage, you overgrown baboon.”

Grant craned his head to see the side of the plane. The black and white cross of the German luftwaffe shone proudly from the gleaming metal.

He settled back into his seat, surprised at a crippling wave of exhaustion from such a small effort. “The twins?”

Teagan struggled with some controls out of Grant’s view, then turned to answer. “It’s an Italian prototype, actually. Caproni C-A-90. Only one ever built. The twins’ exploits on behalf of the Kaiser earned them enough money to get their hands on it, and they’ve added the latest technology from various aeronautical manufacturers. Synchronized machine guns, variable pitch propellers…”

She said some other terms Grant couldn’t make out, and he stared at her through the blurry goggles. “When did you become an aviatrix?”

The plane shuddered and Teagan adjusted some levers. “I went with an RAF ace from the Great War for a couple years. Didn’t work out, but I picked up some things.”

Grant sat back with bemused chagrin and watched the thin clouds like stretched cotton floating past. “It’s strange, Teag, but I never considered that you had a life of adventures all your own before becoming my assistant.”

“Well that sword cuts both ways,” Teagan said. “You were delirious when I helped you hobble onto the aeroplane. You thought I was some exotic dancer from Batavia. Kept talking to me about a night of cavorting and revelry in the East Indies…”

Grant opened his mouth to speak, then thought the better of it. The plane shuddered again, and he checked the engines, unsure of what to look for.

“Teagan, is something wrong?”

With the rush of wind, he couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like she laughed. Then an engine sputtered and belched out black smoke.

Grant realized how much open sky sat between himself and the mountain peaks. At the same time, it hit him how little he knew about aeroplanes. “Should it sound like that?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but his white knuckles gripped the edge of his seat. “What’s the problem?”

“Several problems, in fact,” Teagan called back. “The cargo hold is too full, the radiotelephone is inoperative, and three of the six engines are damaged from gunfire. But really the issue is we don’t have sufficient fuel.”

“What?!”

“The crew was distracted with fueling operations,” Teagan said. “It seemed the perfect time to sneak you onboard and steal the aeroplane. I’m doing what I can to glide us to Caracas.”

She pointed at the smoking left engines. The four blades in back and two in front were turned parallel to the aeroplane’s course of flight, cutting through wind resistance like knives. “The Germans installed the newest in variable pitch propellers, so I’ve feathered the props to reduce drag.”

“Oh man,” Grant said, racked with another throbbing pain. “The twins are going to be peeved you stole their toy.”

“Scarface’s brother didn’t seem too happy about it after I got airborne.”

Grant spun—and suffered another stab of anguish for it—then checked the cargo hold. There was no sign of any other passengers. “Where is he now?”

“The cargo hold was rather over the weight allowance…”

Grant checked the rack of tightly-packed parachutes. None were missing. “You jettisoned one of the twins?”

Teagan gave a sheepish shrug. “My mate from the RAF was an amateur pugilist. It seemed like a useful skill to pick up.”

Grant shook his head in wonder. A few silent moments passed as he considered everything his assistant had done for him over their time together. “Teagan,” he finally said, “I’m impressed. I realize I’ve often overlooked your contributions to—is that flame supposed to be there?”

Teagan’s head whipped toward the left engine, with its plume of oily smoke.

“No, the other one,” Grant shouted.

Tongues of fire flashed out of the right engine, and a thick white smoke billowed behind the wobbling aeroplane.

“I have to cut that engine too!” She pulled a lever, and the high pitched whine and rumbling ground to a halt with a sound of metal shearing on metal. The aeroplane dipped toward the ground and twisted into a spiral, pointed at the snowy slopes of the mountains.

Old habits returned, and Grant shouted, “I thought you were an aviatrix!”

Teagan shot him a glare through her goggles. “I never said I was a good one!”

Teagan Oh-Hair and the Barbaric Barbers #blogbattle

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Hero of Countless Tales, Harrower of Cold-blooded Villains, and Handsome Bachelor

accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway.



Teagan blinked several times, trying in vain to clear away the stinging smoke and the fog of unconsciousness.

I’ve been drugged. 

She moved to rub her eyes, but her hands stayed behind her back and coarse rope dug into her wrists. The crackle and heaet of a nearby bonfire flooded her senses, along with a sweet smell and sizzle like bacon.

Feral boar, perhaps? Do they raise swine in the mountains of Uruguay?

A chilling sense of foreboding told her no. She tugged on the rope, hoping for some give in the restraint. But she remained firmly held against a thick tree trunk.

“You’re not going anywhere, Teag,” Grant said. His dejected voice provided a small sense of comfort. She thought she could make out his bulky form, kneeling between two tribesmen’s spearpoints.

The tribe came into focus as tears from the smoke cleared Teagan’s vision. Several men in animal skin loincloths chanted around the bonfire. They wore carved bone jewelry on leather straps, and carried sharp spears that glinted in the firelight. Nearby a few men and most of the women tore at pieces of steaming roast meat laid out on a large round table. Like many tribes Teagan had read about, the uncivilized Aktuacha left more skin exposed than covered. 

Grant’s wide eyes and red cheeks caught Teagan’s attention. He turned this way and that, as if unsure where to look.

“Surely you’ve seen a woman disrobe,” Teagan said, trying not to laugh. Their uncertain situation and the hostile growls of the Aktuachans should have stifled every bit of humor. But perhaps because of the danger they faced, Grant’s embarrassment at something so natural struck Teagan as hilarious.

Then she felt the breeze across her skin in places she ought not.

“Where the hell is my shirt?!”

“I think they tore it apart fighting over the fabric,” Grant replied.

“And where is Juancarlo?” Their guide claimed intimate knowledge of the mountains and assured them he could help find Vallarte’s gold mines. Moreover, they had to beat the twins dispatched by the German Kaiser before the desperate Weimar government could claim the treasure. This was an unacceptable delay. “When we get out of here, he’s dismissed for certain!”

“I think they’re tearing him apart right now.”

The aroma of pork. The sizzling fat.

Teagan vomited, involuntarily straining against the rope.

One of the tribesmen rushed toward her, shaking a bone fetish atop a staff decorated with feathers… and long red hair.

Teagan couldn’t reach her head, so she shook it back and forth but felt nothing on her bare shoulders. The slight breeze cooled her scalp far more than it had a right to.

“Oh my God, did they–”

“He thinks you’re a fire demon,” Grant explained. “Taking your hair gives him your power. Killing your consorts is necessary since we’re tainted by your presence.”

“I… oh God, what happens after that?” Horrifying thoughts swirled in her imagination.

“Well, frankly, I don’t care. Because I’ll be dead and eaten. So let’s stop that from happening, right?”

Teagan struggled once more with the rope, and felt objects in her trouser pockets and belt pouches. They hadn’t taken all of “the demon’s” possessions, just her dignity and pride. With careful effort, her long fingers reached into a pouch near the small of her back, drawing out a pair of metal cylinders.

“I’m sorry, Teag,” Grant said, voice cracking. “I can’t think of any way out.”

“I can.” She held the cylinders, one in each hand, and rubbed them together in motions as sharp and swift as the bonds allowed. “They want to call me a fire demon? I’ll oblige them.”

Bursts of pain and heat shot through her arms, but she let the fury urge her on, smashing the flint and steel together.

The tribe’s shaman approached again, taunting Teagan with the red hair fetish. Behind her back, the dry fibers of the rope loosened with a snap, then came apart.

She held the smouldering rope aloft in blistered hands, then kicked the shaman’s staff into the bonfire.

The man gasped and fell back, and the rest of the tribe followed his lead. 

The fire demon they feared snatched a burning branch from the flames and howled with rage, dashing around the tribal village. As she passed thatch huts, she set them alight. When anyone came close, she shook the coil of burnt rope and makeshift torch at them with crazed eyes.

The forest and clearing glowed orange in the light of many fires, and the tribesmen fled Teagan’s wrath.

She dashed to her pack, next to Grant’s, and grabbed a fresh shirt along with her knife. Her curiosity burned for a moment, and she almost pulled out the compact mirror to assess the damage done to her luxurious mane. But there would be time for that once they were free.

She raced over to Grant and watched him rise to his feet, blowing on seared skin where he burned off his rope.  

He stared back at her, and she became self-conscious, turning her back on him while throwing on her shirt. “I thought women in states of undress discomfitted you!”

“Not often,” Grant said. “And I’ve told you before, you don’t have much to be embarrassed about.”

Teagan whirled, mouth agape. “I do have a knife, Grant!”

He raised his hands in surrender and laughed, his wide smile disarming her anger. “Only jesting, Teag. I’m not one of these foolish savages.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know better than to infuriate a fire demon!”

A Trace of Terror – a #BlogBattle entry

Blog Battle entry for Week 51 – Trace

Genre: Action

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Doer of Amazing Deeds, Dashing Explorer of Dangerous Locales, and Reclaimer of the Treasures of Antiquity…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

A Trace of Terror 

Rickety stalls and wooden carts laden with produce or hand-craftedgoods blurred as Teagan raced past, and her heart pounded in her chest like a steam engine. Panting for breath, she kept her eyes on Grant and tried to ignore the burning sensation in her side.

Even with the noise and bustle of the Caracas market, she heard his angry voice clear as day. “I can’t believe you gave him the actual map!”

“He had a gun!”

Grant’s wide shoulders slammed into a rack of jewelry, sending beaded necklaces flying. He spun off the impact and regained his pace.

An old woman yelled a string of curses that made Teagan’s freckled cheeks burn. “Lo siento,” Teagan said as she dashed by.

“Why didn’t you do some of that sleight-of-hand, thief-y stuff?” Grant asked, seemingly unfazed by the exertion of their frenetic chase.

“He checked the map,” Teagan said, breathless. “And he knew… what he… was looking for…”

The small clusters of people moved for Grant as he barreled down the street. Teagan had to weave and elbow her way between bodies.

Grant paused at an alley, and Teagan caught up to him again.

“Dead end,” he said, and pointed at a distant warehouse between the wooden stalls and back doors of stores. He started down the alley, checking for any sign of the German thief and muttering to himself. “After all that work pulling the Corazon de Oro out of the water, discovering the topographical map etched into the ridges on the side…”

He left out the part where Teagan nearly drowned, and she wasn’t sure whether the omission was out of kindness or simply because it hadn’t crossed his mind.

He wiped his brow and stared down the alley. “Now that damn Kraut has the only lead to the source of Vallarte’s treasure.”

Teagan caught her breath and shot Grant a glare. “If only someone had a photographic memory!”

Grant’s eyes narrowed. “Just because I can remember the map you traced doesn’t mean I can find the hidden mines. They could be anywhere in the Carribbean.” He lowered his voice and his cheeks flushed. “And you saw that I can’t produce even a remote facsimile.”

Teagan stifled a snicker. She’d seen toddlers with better control of charcoals. The ‘map’ Grant drew only led to a headache if one stared at it too long.

They checked the shops as they moved down the alley, but saw no sign of disturbance. Then they reached the warehouse and found the doorframe busted where the lock had been forced. A heavy chain and lock held the wide shipping dock doors closed.

“I don’t see any other exits,” Grant said. He slipped inside and held the door for Teagan.

Dust motes floated in sunbeams shining on stacked crates of furniture marked for shipment to Europe. The room smelled like sawdust and wood polish. A nearby ladder provided access to a grid of walkways ten feet above the floor. Grant grabbed the rungs and ascended. “I’ll take the top, you take the bottom.”

Teagan opened her mouth to protest, but Grant had already disappeared. The floorboards above her creaked at first, and Teagan winced. Then Grant moved with unexpected stealth for his large frame.

Suddenly, the silence felt oppressive, and every noise sent a jolt of fear down Teagan’s spine. This is a terrible plan. She looked around for a makeshift weapon, and eventually found a crowbar.

White-knuckling the bar over her shoulder like a baseball player waiting for a pitch, she crept through the maze of boxes. With each squeak of a floorboard, with every scrape, she spun toward the sound and her heart skipped a beat.

“Grant,” she whispered. No response.

She hissed out his name a little louder. Still nothing.

By force of habit, she almost put her hand in her pocket, reaching for the Saint Nicholas medallion she always carried. But the crowbar provided an immediate and tangible sense of security, one she wasn’t willing to give up even for a moment.

The hammer of a revolver clicked into place behind her, loud as a gunshot in the silence. Teagan froze.

“Set ze crowbar down,” a soft-spoken man said, “on ze crate next to you.”

Teagan did as commanded and raised her empty hands level with her head.

The man behind her chuckled. “You couldn’t just let ze map go? Vas ziss treasure vorth your life?”

Panicked, Teagan’s gaze flickered around the crates in search of an escape route or at least some cover. But the German couldn’t possibly miss at such close range.

“A shame,” he said, “to kill a rather competent and intelligent voman. You showed promise. But my employer desires no vitnesses…”

He raised the gun toward Teagan.

Grant’s bulky form crashed into the thief from above, knocking his arm down and to the right. A gunshot echoed and the board of a wooden crate snapped. The men fell into a heap.

Grant scrambled atop the thief and smashed a fist into the German’s face before pinning the man’s arms beneath his thick legs. Teagan snatched the gun.

“Where’s the map?” Grant screamed, fist raised to deliver another blow.

The German laughed, coughing up blood that speckled his blonde hair. “Fools! I don’t haff it.”

Teagan waved the gun at the man, hoping it seemed threatening. “But you accosted me in the hotel and demanded my tracing of the corazon.”

“Did you know,” he said with a grin, “that I haff a twin brother?”

Grant chuckled. “Really?” Then he punched the man in the face again, knocking him unconscious.

Teagan gasped. “What was that for?”

“When we find his brother, we’ll be able to tell them apart.”

To be continued in Teagan Oh-Hair versus the Barbaric Barbers

"A Heart of Pure Gold" Week 50 #blogbattle

Genre: Action

Word prompt: Pure

997 words

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Hero of Harrowing Deeds, Delver of Dangerous Depths, and Charmer of Cold-Hearted Dames…

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

 

Teagan swept thick layers of spider-silk aside with a machete and slipped between the narrow walls of the tunnel onto a small shelf overlooking deep darkness. Pebbles jostled and fell, clattering on stone and splashing in water far below. “There’s a ledge here, Grant. Watch your step.”

Her partner stood frozen, his sharp and fetching jawline offset by a grimace, his wide eyes inspecting every inch of web. “Set it on fire, Teag,” he whispered.

“The webs are ages old,” Teagan replied. “There aren’t any—“

“Burn it!”

Teagan gave him a playful smirk and waved the torch around the opening. The webs recoiled from the flame as if alive. “Better now, muffin?”

Grant exhaled loudly and took a deep breath, then crept forward.

“If Master Roquefort could see you now,” Teagan said with a laugh.

“Not one word, Teag,” Grant growled.

“He’d think less of your next round of tall tales, I don’t doubt!” She shot him a sour look, wasted in the dim light. “You have that poor sot fooled—a feat I admit might be a trifle too easy.”

“He’s a good chap with a heart of pure gold,” Grant said. “Keeps us paid, doesn’t he? And agreeing to lure out the Pops Kimble twins for the Feds took some guts.”

Grant held his torch aloft. The outlines of an underground structure appeared in the shadows below. “The Fortress of Castanzo Vallarte,” Grant declared. “Hamwich will thrill to hear of this discovery.”

Teagan tied a firm knot around a rocky outcropping and tugged on the rope. “Only if we find the treasures of the Corazon de Oro. Vallarte’s ship bore wealth from the Ixthacan Empire when it ran aground.”

“True, Hamwich may care more about that,” Grant said. “If he ever hears about it.” He took the rope and descended into the shadows before Teagan could press him for an explanation.

She wrapped the rope around her leg and caught the length between her feet for a measure of control. Even so, her heavy leather gloves grew warm from friction on the descent.

At the edges of the circular plaza surrounded by an underground lake, proud likenesses of the conquistador sneered at Teagan as she stalked across the dusty stone. “What do you mean ‘if he hears,’ Grant?”

Grant had already moved to the front of the rough-hewn fortress. He stood at a pair of iron doors, looking for a means of entry. He didn’t even turn at her voice. “I promised the treasures to Bonhomme in Paris,” Grant said. “He offered twice as much as Hamwich.”

A mechanism clicked out of Teagan’s view, and Grant gave a triumphant laugh as the doors swung open. “Don’t worry. I have a reliable fence with a reputation for discretion. Hamwich need only hear tell that someone beat us to it.”

He crept down the wide hall toward the central chamber, pointing out an obvious trap with a long pole.

Teagan followed, fingering the Saint Nicholas medallion in her pocket. “And if, God forbid, he discovers the truth? He funded the expedition, after all.”

“Not to fret,” Grant said. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” He flashed her his devilish smile, the one that shook her steel will and resolve. Then he noticed her hand in her pocket. “I assure you, Saint Nick won’t jot your name on his naughty list, Teag. It’s just business.”

“It’s not Santa Claus, you dolt,” Teagan hissed. “After so many voyages and successful expeditions, even a lout like you has cause to thank Saint Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of sailors.” She swallowed a wave of guilt for ill-gotten bounty. And repentant thieves.

Grant brushed Teagan off. “Me an’ God? That bridge burnt long ago.” He stepped into the main chamber and began a methodical search for Vallarte’s wealth. “God’s of the mindset money’s the root of all evil, and I—like Vallarte—am rather fond of it.”

“Love of money,” Teagan corrected while checking their supplies.

Grant laughed. “Yeah, but who has money and doesn’t love it? We have about four hours before we need to head back. Let’s get to work.”

But after three hours of grueling search, Grant and Teagan sat on the steps outside the Fortress, defeated. “What are we missing, Teag?”

Teagan reviewed research notes she’d meticulously copied. “Castanzo Vallarte dedicated the spoils to the Throne, of course. But historians claim he was infatuated with Princess Anna of Austria, before she married King Phillip.”

She glanced at Grant. “How would you try to win the heart of a queen?”

Grant nodded. “Gold more pure and plentiful than she’d ever seen before…”

Teagan surveyed the plaza’s silent sentinels. “Could Vallarte have hidden his treasure in plain sight?”

Grant grabbed a pickaxe and dashed to the nearest statue. Then he plunged the point into the stone man’s chest. Pieces of rock fell away, and Teagan held up her torch.

Gold glittered in the flickering light.

Grant laughed and broke more of the stone. A flow of coins, cups, and dinnerware poured from the cavity. But Grant’s eyes stared into the statue’s remains. “Teag,” he whispered, breathless, “shine the light here.”

She did so, and beheld a massive golden heart on a stone support. “A literal corazon de oro,” she said with a gasp, “meant for his love.”

Grant pried it free and turned toward Teagan, that charming grin splitting his face—then shrieked at the furry spider crawling across the heart.

Before Teagan could react, she caught the massive heart in the chest with a sickening squish of spider guts. The impact knocked her back, and she splashed into the chilly water.

Weighed down by the massive gold heart, she plummeted into the gloomy depths…

To be continued in “A Trace of Terror”

Lolly-Pops of Peril

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…]