March Lipogram Steampunk Genre No 'V'
Amie Wakefield stepped down from the self-propelled steam cab and tapped the door to send it back to its stand. She took a deep breath, but was forced to start the air cleaner modification disguised as large pearl in the notch of her throat, due to the foul air. She began to walk into the dock area, hoping for the smell of salt and sea that was Londontown to her.
The sea was dead, due to the long war and she could tell. By the time she got to the docks, she was saddened to see scores of out-of-work sailors and fishermen. She wanted to share the newpds she had on her, but she was on a mission.
“So this is New London in Britannia, part of the Amalgamated States of Europa. It’s definitely not my old stomping grounds! In the spite of the fact that it’s been ten years since the end of the final Repulsion War that defeated the Deespa, there is little of my London left,” she mourned aloud.
On the way down here, she’d noticed the whole city was actually slums now, with the upper crust ensconced in ornate round pods on three legs. You were either poor or rich, nothing in between.
“Those Sky Estates are built where they are so the toffs won’t need to smell reality,” she snorted and walked faster.
During her trip back from her forced exodus to the Outreaches during the war, she’d heard about a floating casino that was moored at the dockyards. It catered to rich gamblers and was the new place to be.
“This getup should get me in when I find it,” she said smugly as she admired herself in a puddle.
From the magenta top hat perched in her side-parted and upswept curly red hair, down to a beribboned white lace corset and a frilled white skirt edged in gold with a high-low hem. This was cinched with a gold front-laced belt and ended with white kid knee-high heeled boots accented with magenta embroidery. She was a picture of fashionable elegance.
A single diamond stud adorned her left ear. Special goggles were tucked behind the belt in which she also kept her money, while a knife nestled in her boot top.
‘If my friends from the orphanage and old stews could see me, they’d laugh until they were sick,” she grinned.
Still smiling, she approached the crumbling docks. She looked left and noticed a newly built one. Picking her way onto to it, she saw a refurbished old-style ocean-going sailing ship moored to it.
“There’s a gangplank, a deck and a wide open door. This must be the place,” she said aloud, as she admired the rebuilt ship with its garish paintwork and brass fittings.
Boldly she strode up the plank to the door. A couple of men were exiting and whistled when they saw her. She coyly greeted them and asked if they would escort her inside.
They obliged readily while they ogled her legs and bosom. Inside, it was crowded enough to lose them in the smoke and noise of the room. She wandered around admiring the ornate gaslights, lush risqué tapestries on the walls and other furnishings.
Her eye was caught by a mechanical arm in the center of each table. Apparently it distributed the winnings and collected the losses from those around the table. Fascinated, she drew closer.
Hawk Ford stood at the railing of the poop deck that was at the end of the room. The tall, muscled man had his longer than fashionable blonde hair parted in the middle and fastened in ponytail with a copper slide. The rest of his dress was easy-going elegance from a snowy white collarless shirt with ruby cufflinks to dark slim pants and black half-boots with copper toes and heels guards.
His brown eyes saw her the minute she came in and he could not take his eyes off her. Her creamy skin and petite figure drew him like a magnet. He put down his crystal whiskey glass and went down the stairs to cross the room.
He watched as she donned some green tinted goggles and began to play cards. His eyes sharpened as she started to win immediately. Pasting on a slight smile, he stopped at her side.
“Do you play cards often, Miss?” he asked.
She ignored him and did not look up from her study of the other players. The goggles were specially made to spot marked cards, so she knew the cheats before they could take her money. She herself didn’t cheat now that she was highly skilled at gambling; except to cheat the cheaters, especially the rich ones.
Hawk bent down to whisper in her ear.
“If you are cheating, I won’t stand for it.”
Amie looked at him then and sized him up as a typical toff, here to play and drink.
“My eyes are affected by smoke and light since the war, if it’s any of your business,” she retorted.
“Aren’t you that Sky Ship hero from the war, Captain Hawk Ford?” she asked.
“Yes, I am, though I got a mechanical arm and pensioned off at the end of the war. I piloted a sky scow at first. Now I’m the owner of this establishment and wary of cheats, Miss?”
“Amie Wakefield, professional gambler and not a cheater. Which is more than I can say for that so-called gentleman at the next table,” she told him pointing with her chin at the man in question.
“Lord Rowland Bowles, how did he get in?” Hawk muttered with a curse.
Amie watched as Hawk strode to him, grabbed the drunken lord by the collar and hauled him through the door and onto the outer deck. Curious, Amie followed. To her amusement, her new friend tossed the peer from the side into the dank water below as if he weighed nothing.
He pushed past Amie angrily and begins to watch the other players. She returned to the cards at a new table. She could feel Hawk watching her extremely closely.
A sotted man who lost to her repeatedly, loudly demanded Hawk eject her or he’d do it for him. Ford stepped to her side and raised an eyebrow at the man.
“No doubt you saw what happened to Lord Bowles,” he drawled.
At the man’s nod, he continued.
“You could follow His Lordship into the drink or take losing like a man should, no matter who he loses to.”
Later, Amie stood on tiptoes and asked Hawk in a whisper where the water closet was. He indicated stairs going below deck. She hurried down. On her way back, she noticed a bundle of dynamite and wire with a clockwork switch.
“A bomb!” she breathed and ran to tell Hawk.
He shouted for his crew and went downstairs with them. The old ship shook as an explosion rocked it. Alarmed, Amie headed for the stairs to help.
The men, although extremely blackened and suffering minor cuts, were fine.
“That bomb went off too soon and the charge was much too small to do what I think it was meant to,” Hawk told her as she bathed his cuts and cleansed his skin.
“Do you think it was the work of Lord Bowles? Men of his ilk are more dangerous when thwarted,” Amie asked.
“Most likely someone working for him,” Hawk gritted.
After she made her statement to the police and fire brigade, Amie decided to depart, her money belt full. Just as she was going through the door, a hand roughly grabbed her right arm.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw it was Lord Bowles and he was holding a lethal looking long-barreled pistol to the same side of her body, at her waist.
“Ford!” he raged, spittle spraying from his rubbery lips.
“I want my money! What I gambled with and any winnings that I would be mine if you hadn’t thrown me out! I am a Lord and refuse to be insulted like that! Be quick, or she dies!”
Slowly reaching into her boot with her left hand, Amie pulled out her knife and plunged it behind her back and into her captor’s body. With a cry, he dropped the gun only to be subdued by the police.
Hawk reached Amie in time to catch her as she fainted, for the first time in her entire life. She came to consciousness slowly, only to hear a surprise proposition from the man who held her so gently.
“Amie Wakefield, you are wonderful! How would you like a job as my floor assistant? I’m willing to sweeten the deal with part ownership if that helps make up your mind,” he said softly.
Amie knew she would be fool in more ways than one if she turned him down. Life changed on the turn of a card and this was hers.