Today, I am treating readers to a special sneak peek of Chapter 2 of Chasing the Green Fairy, Book II of The Airship Racing Chronicles, releasing March 4th, 2014.
I rapped on the door of Phineas’ home, a well-appointed townhouse situated just off Hyde Park, clacking the brass bumblebee door clacker loudly. I waited for what felt like an eternity. On both sides of Phin’s townhouse, the neighboring residences had arched foyers. The vista gave me vertigo. I was about to bang again when the butler, but not Phin’s usual man, opened the door.
“Yes?” the man asked, looking me over from head to toe.
“Yes? I’m here to see Phineas.”
“Master Shaw is not in.”
“Yeah, that’s a lie. Tell him Lily is here.”
The man frowned then closed the door. I sighed and waited. The butler returned several minutes later.
“My apologies, Miss Stargazer. Mr. Shaw had indicated he was not permitting guests, but he said I may let you in. He is in the conservatory,” the butler said. “You may see yourself back.”
“What’s your name?”
“Kent. Nice to meet you. In the future . . . well, Phin always sees me.”
“So he indicated. I do wish he’d said so before,” the man said with an exasperated expression. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Stargazer.”
“Call me Lily,” I said with a smile then headed toward the back.
Phineas’ house was a hodgepodge of the odd and unusual. You could barely blaze a path through the ornate sculptures, carved masks, tinkered contraptions, tables crowded with jars of god-only-knew-what, and a copious amount of plants. Now and then, you even had to duck a bird flitting past. I stopped to look at a locked box with a human skull on its lid. Shaking my head, I wound my way back. The glass-roofed conservatory, situated at the center of Phin’s odd little house, allowed him to grow his herbals in private. And there, amongst all the wildly growing plants, I found Phineas, shirtless, pouring a bubbling yellow liquid into a copper pot.
“Have a seat, Lily. Almost done,” he said.
I looked around. There were no chairs anywhere, but I spotted a large tribal drum. I sat on it and watched him work.
“What’s brewing?” I asked as I eyed Phineas over. He looked paler than usual. His face looked drawn, and though it was rather cool, he was sweating profusely. His auburn-colored hair, wet with sweat, stuck to his head, and he’d grown a moustache since the last time I saw him.
“I think I’ve finally got a good extraction of refined opium,” he said. “A tinker at the market made me a device to spin the tinctures, to separate them at a higher velocity than ever before. I’m getting much more refined products now.”
Phineas and I had once shared a passion for opium. For me, it had been a passion of habit, a way to dull the pain. For him, it was a passion of science. Phineas had an eye for detail, understanding a puzzle down to its very roots. While nothing escaped him, he put much of his mental energy toward herbals. Sometimes he was after medicine. Sometimes he was after pleasure. As I watched him work, I tried not to think about smoking opium. But it was impossible. Around me, beds of opium flowers were in full bloom. Heaps of the dried herbs littered a nearby table. I was ashamed of the craving it caused.
“There,” he said, stirring the pot. “We’ll know in an hour. Too bad you aren’t in the habit anymore. We could try it together.”
“You look like you could use a break. And a nap. And a meal.”
Phineas shrugged. He mopped off his forehead and wiped down his armpits and chest. His skin was pasty, and he looked like he’d lost weight. His pants were hanging low on his waist. I tried not to notice the dark hair trailing down from his bellybutton below his belt. I looked away as he pulled on his shirt. I wondered if I used to look like him, a bit eaten up, when I’d let my habit get the best of me. “Tea?” he asked.
Phin motioned for me to follow him to his small kitchen at the back of the house. After clanging around in the cupboards for several minutes, he retrieved a teapot. It took him two tries, but he finally filled it with water and set it to heat. “So . . . what brings you by?” he asked, flopping into a chair across from me.
“Someone tampered with the Stargazer.”
“Removed one of our modified devices. Sabotaged the ship.”
Phineas got up and looked in his cupboards again. “I don’t have any sugar.”
Phin’s hands shook as he prepared the tea. The china clattered.
“Sit down,” I said then got up and started preparing the cups.
“A woman’s hand is sweeter anyway,” Phineas said then sat again. “The Stargazer . . . that’s awful,” he said, picking a tobacco pipe up off the table. “I’ll come by tomorrow and have a look, start talking to people. Surely someone saw something. I’ll get to work.”
“Don’t forget,” I warned. Phineas was great at sorting out details when he was himself. Right now, however, he was seeing the stars.
“Forget what?” he joked.
I grinned and shook my head. I went back into his cupboards for another look around. Inside, I found a jar of jam. There was a box of biscuits on the counter. I spread the jam thereon and set the plate down in front of Phineas. “Eat.”
He began munching immediately. “Oh! I nearly forget something,” he said, his mouth full. “I followed up on your inquiry about that man, Temenos, the one the Venetian tracked down. I found the same information her people did. It appears this Dorian Temenos died in Portugal.”
In the heat of the quest for Aphrodite, I had tried to shake off the news that my father was dead. Upon return to London, however, the mystery haunted me. I’d asked Phin to contact Celeste’s order. They were pleased to help me and passed on all their information to Phineas. “How did he die?” I asked. I set down the tea, again joining him at the table.
“I’ve got a record of him arriving in Lisbon then his death record about six months later. No other details.”
“Oh,” was all I could think to say. I took a sip of tea. The news left me unsatisfied. “Nothing else about him?”
“Not yet. No family records. No work records. I can travel to Lisbon if you want.”
I shook my head. Something told me it was time to leave well enough alone. “No, that’s okay.”
“I’ll be passing through Southwark later this week. I’ll inquire about the grave you’d asked about—the woman at the debtor’s prison. You still want me to do that?”
I nodded then set the cup down. I pressed my fingertips against my forehead. My head had started to ache.
“You all right, Lil? You want me to bring you something mild?”
Yes, I did. “No, I can’t.” I opened my eyes and looked inside my cup. The tea leaves had fallen into the shape of the triskelion, the symbol painted on the balloon of the Stargazer.
“Don’t let this bit with the Stargazer rattle you. You might love that ship, but to others, it’s just a beautiful thing they want a piece of. They don’t care about it the way you do.”
I smiled at Phin and set my hand on his.
He squeezed my fingers. His hazel eyes twinkled. I knew the look all too well. More than once, Phineas and I had enjoyed too much herbal and woke up in bed together. “You still with the Italian?” he asked slyly.
“Yes,” I said, patted his hand, then let him go. “Regardless, you are in serious need of a bath, and I don’t like that moustache.”
Phineas laughed. “I thought it made me look gentlemanly,” he said, stroking the moustache. “You know, I’ve been wondering. Why, out of all of us, was old Salvatore the one to win you away from Byron? What made him so special?”
I grinned at him. “Get some rest and don’t forget to come by the Stargazer tomorrow.” I rose to leave.
“All right, Lily,” he said with a laugh. He followed me to the door.
Outside, thunder rumbled. I grabbed my hat, adjusted my lily pin to ensure it was securely fastened, tossed it on, and headed outside.
“And shave off that moustache,” I called to Phineas who was leaning against the door frame smoking his pipe. Grinning, he bowed ever-so-elegantly then went inside.
I walked away thinking about Phin’s question. I’d never really seen what had happened between Sal, Byron, and me like that. In the end, I still cared deeply for Byron. I just wanted something more, something different . . . with Sal.