A Dirigible Disaster: Chapter 5, Scene 1
Ignatius opened the door to the Pullman car slowly. Inside the train car looked as though a giant hand had come down from on high and given it a thorough shaking. Several lamps shone with flickering wicks. The body of Joseph remained on the floor, however someone had seen fit to lay a tablecloth over him. The German, Heinrich, still lay amid the destroyed table he collapsed into when Ignatius shocked him.
“A drink?” he asked Angela.
“I suppose so, whatever they have left behind the bar.”
Ignatius wove his way through the stunned passengers and around the bar. He came up with several bottles, which remained intact despite Angela vaulting the bar and then the emergency application of the brakes. Casting his gaze across the top of the bar, Ignatius failed to locate a complete glass. Angela shrugged and took the one of the bottles from him, pulled the cork out with her teeth and spat it over her shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” asked Ignatius.
He folded his arms across his chest. Angela did not answer immediately. Instead, she took a swig from the bottle and wiped her mouth with the back of her gloved hand.
“I was asked to be on this train.”
“I think you already know. You don’t like the fact that I’m here do you?”
“It does speak to a certain lack of trust on Colonel Witmore’s behalf.”
Angela smiled tentatively and laid her hand on top of Ignatius’s.
“It is good to see you again, Ignatius.”
“I worried that we might not have this sort of chance,” he admitted.
Bey-Feng glided over next to Angela.
“Ah Miss, so nice to see you back in Pennsylvania again. Perhaps you are here to keep an eye on Mr. St. Eligius?”
“What do you mean? I wasn’t aware that a grown man such as him needed looking after.”
Bey-Feng took on a look of contrition, “Oh Miss, I should not say, it is not my place.”
“Yes, Bey-Feng, perhaps you should go back to Mai-Li and your cousin. Have some tea, relax until the Railroad can organize transportation for us,” Ignatius said. The frown on his face grew more severe.
“Most honorable lady, do not let this brute scare you with his overly loud tones. He is merely upset at the fact that I hold certain information regarding his current state of being. He is a slave to the narcotics of dreamers.”
“Outrageous!” Ignatius said. His shoulders tensed and he made to draw his blade.
Bey-Feng scurried back from the counter, the ends of his mustache trailing in the air. Angela put her hand on Ignatius’s forearm and gently restrained him.
“Is what he says true?” she said.
“Of course not. I have not succumbed to anything since that morning when you last saw me as a free man,” said Ignatius.
“Honorable lady,” said Bey-Feng in a snake-oil voice, “if that is true, why does Sir have a packet of the dream poppy in his vest pocket?”
Angela raised an eyebrow and took on a stern expression. “Do you?” she demanded.
“Yes as a matter of fact I do. His henchman flung it at me just before I boarded an airship for Pittsburgh.”
“Did you not receive my letter? William assured me that he would give it to you.”
“He did give me your letter. I read it, and I agree with everything you said.”
“Yet here you are holding a measure of temptation. Estupido!” she exclaimed slapping her own forehead. “I should have known better. No sooner did I hear you were released, I knew it would be only a small matter of time before you’d be back to your old ways.”
“You know nothing! Not of my release and certainly not of my incarceration,” shot back Ignatius. “Every day in that hospital was a different torture, magnified a hundred times because I did not know where you were or if I would ever see you again.”
Angela took another furious drink from the bottle. “Por qué vuelvo?” she snapped and threw the bottle at the far corner of the train car. It exploded in a shower of liquor and glass, sending Rodger Guilgood diving for cover.
“You are here because of money that much is obvious. You did not return to me, just a Federal paycheck.”
“You fool. I am here because the Colonel is afraid that you might be slipping into old habits. I came out of concern for you, not money.”
“Since your worry so greatly about my temptation, then perhaps you will do me the service of taking this and destroying it,” Ignatius said.
He took out the white packet that Lao had thrown at him at the airfield and slid it across the bar to Angela. Searching his eyes, Angela found no duplicity in the green and gold-flecked depths. She took the triangle of paper and walked over to an oil lamp, which remained intact despite the violent stopping of the train. Angela took the wick assembly off and dropped the narcotics into the oil reserve. Then she lit the wick and threw the whole lamp through a window. Outside the glass shattered on the ballast of the train bed and the oil caught fire instantly. Within a few seconds, the viscous fluid incinerated the packet and its contents.
“That was surprisingly fun,” she said. “What’s next?”
Ignatius laughed. It felt like a keystone of his life clicked into place for the second time. Angela returned his smile and laugh. She removed her hat and Jorongo, setting them aside, revealing her athletic build. The Chinese glowered in a corner. The other occupants of the car sat on chairs or the floor looking dazed and confused. Ignatius pulled several curtain ties off the wall and carried them over to the German. With practiced ease, Ignatius bound Heinrich hand and foot.
“This one goes to the Colonel, along with the plans. From there we will see what his pleasure is.”
Rodger approached Ignatius and Angela warily.
“Pardon me, but does this mean we can’t work out a deal together?”
Ignatius chuckled. “Of course we can. I am a multifaceted kind of person. I am afraid though you will probably end up dealing with my business manager for the most part.”
“Well I can live with that. Her Majesty will be most pleased that this trip has not gone to waste. I will call upon you early next week then.”
“Excellent, say Tuesday perhaps? I will make plans for a working lunch. You can see the workshop and tour some of my better notions.”
Angela shook her head. “Even when you stumble, you manage to fall into a feather bed.”
“Yes, well I have an obligation to continue to drive the business forward, my dear,” said Ignatius.
Ignatius turned abruptly to the Indian. Joss White Eagle sat alone to one side of the car. A long clay pipe dangled from his lips. He appeared to be in deep thought, the lines in his face looking deeper for the shadows cast by the various lamps. Ignatius approached him. It was only when the inventor stood right next to him did Joss acknowledge the other’s presence.
“I know what you must be thinking. How could I make a deal with the likes of Bey-Feng. You need to see it from my perspective. The White man has encroached on my lands, subjugated my people, and corralled us like animals. This is one way we can fight back.”
“Blinding your people to what is going on is no way to fight back,” said Ignatius.
Joss laughed bitterly. “You think it is for my people that I make this deal. With it, they can destroy themselves even faster than the Indian Agents from Washington can. It isn’t that at all. We have a plan and it is going to drive the White man from our lands just as quick as a rattlesnake strike.”
“What are you going on about?” asked Ignatius.
“You take our land; ruin it with factories and your steam power. You poison the air with coal dust and fire and smoke. A new revolution is dawning, one which will not tolerate any more machines. Our nation will cast off the chains you seek to bind us with.”
White Eagle rose suddenly and struck Ignatius across the face. Angela sprang forward, but Joss kicked a chair into her path, tripping her with it. The burly Indian sprinted toward the engine end of the car and plunged through the ornate door, slapping it open with such force that it smashed the glass windowpane against the end of the train car. Bey-Feng cackled with glee, while Ignatius and Angela picked themselves up off the floor.
“White people do not understand what it is to live here among your kind. You wonder why every mistreated race or ethnic group hates you so much. You marginalize them in such a way that they lose all sense of their humanity. Why, it breeds rebellion! Surely you remember a hundred years ago, when your ancestors rose up against their masters in England? You could not have forgotten this soon, could you? If you did, how flawed your race must be. Surely, no better than the Automatons you build. You are simple mechanical puppets made to carry out simple instructions repeatedly. I tell you a little secret; I sell drugs to White Eagle at half price just to watch you suffer.”
Bey-Feng looked around, as if suddenly realizing that the train was no longer in motion.
“I’m bored, May-Li go signal for the Golden Dream Cloud to retrieve us,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
May-Li and her assistant shuffled out of the parlor car on quick feet. Bey-Feng yawned indolently at Ignatius.
“I will go now, back to the city, and distribute much opium to the working class. You should contemplate how little you can do to prevent this from happening.”
“The police will stop you,” Ignatius said.
“Hardly. The majority of the police live well because of me,” Bey-Feng replied.
He threw his arms out wide to flare the silk sleeves of his gown and then tucked his hands into the opposite sleeve. He left, followed by his cousin and the faint echo of his laughter. Angela helped Ignatius up to his feet and put a consoling arm around his shoulders.
“There is nothing that can be done right now,” she said.
“I know. There just has to be a way to stop Bey-Feng for good. It seems that the local police will be of little real help.”
“What of Officer Goodman? Do you know if he has fallen in with these criminals?”
“Winifred? He seems to be on the side of decency. Things have changed since you were last in Harrisburg. I am only starting to learn to what extent. Baron Hirsch may be power-hungry and corruptible when it comes to political considerations, but I cannot believe he will stand by idly as Bey-Feng attempts to disrupt the city. A city in chaos is a city Hirsch cannot control absolutely. He may very well ask for Federal intervention.”
“What will we do then?” asked Angela.
“We will do what we can to stabilize the city. Between the threat of Joss, Bey-Feng and this mysterious chap that Witmore is having me investigate, it is going to need all the extra help we can give it.”
“What can I do?”
“Use your resources along with your reading room. Research and see if there is any historical precedence, with which we can counter this threat. Destabilizing a government cannot be a new preoccupation of despots and dictators. In the meanwhile, I will continue Colonel Witmore’s line of investigation as much as possible. I may even need to persuade him to let me see some evidence I turned in earlier, which he did not seem to want me to pursue.”
“How will you convince him?”
Ignatius looked at Angela wolf-like, “I will just convince him that it is in the country’s best interest. After all, he is beyond reproach in his desire to see our fine country hale and hearty. And how can that be possible if Harrisburg collapses in the flames of Anarchy?”