Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
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Chapter 12

T
he Piazza San Marco was bustling with people and pigeons. The square, framed on its sides by shops and market stalls and capped by the Basilica, was an image of Venice I’d known only through paintings. Now I stood in the shadow of the Basilica watching the Venetians stroll past. The place was a feast for the senses. Warm wind blew in from the canal. The small cafes and bakeries surrounding the square offered up sweet aromas. Textile vendors sold brightly colored silks at outdoor market stalls. Glassmakers showcased a rainbow of delicately blown plates and goblets, trimmed with golden filigree, which caught the morning sunlight. Prisms cast rainbows all around. And then there was the sound of the thronging market crowd and clink of hammers from the tinker stalls. I watched, intrigued, as one vendor displayed his small clockwork pets to two delicately dressed women and their very clean looking children. The little girl squealed with terror and delight as a clockwork spider crawled from the tinker’s hand onto hers. Opposite the clockwork creatures, a vendor displayed wrist-holstered guns to two men wearing matching blue silk suits and top hats.

Angus and Jessup, armed with Sal’s drawing of propulsion modifications, headed into the market in search of parts. Byron had suggested I consult the clockworks about the kaleidoscope, but I wondered who I could trust. Sal, however, knew a man from Rome with whom he’d grown up. The man kept a small workshop at Torre Dell’Orologio, St. Mark’s Clock Tower.

“He’s on the second floor,” Sal said as we stared up at the building. The signs of the zodiac on a starry background spun around the Roman numerals on the dial. Above the clock face, the winged lion of Venice, also with stars at his back, stared down at us.

We headed into the building and followed a twisting staircase to a small room at the front of the tower on the second floor. The sound of the massive clock gears clicked loudly through the walls.

Sal knocked on the door.

From within, we heard a rustle and the sound of metal clanging to the floor. Moments later the door opened and a man wearing a leather apron appeared. He was about Sal’s age. He had cropped silver hair and twinkling blue eyes. He was a tinker, of that there was no doubt. Everywhere I looked in the room behind him I saw clocks: wrist watches, pocket watches, cuff watches, necklace clocks, wall clocks, zodiac clocks, replicas of the clock tower, and more. The tick, tick, tick sound of the room was nearly deafening.

“Salvatore?” he said, seemingly shocked.

“Anthony,” Sal said with familiarity in his voice.

“Salvatore!” the man yelled and pulled Sal into a hug, kissing him on both cheeks. The man turned and looked at me. “Chi è questo?”

“This is Beatrice. My wife,” Sal said.

Beatrice? Both Anthony and I were stunned to silence. I raised an eyebrow at Sal who simply smiled lovingly at me.

“English, eh? Well, she is still beautiful! Oh, Salvatore, you old devil. Someone finally captured you! And I thought you would never find a girl good enough for you. Too bad your mama is not alive to see it. She would be so proud of you,” Anthony said with a laugh then turned to me. “Mrs. Colonna,” the man said happily, kissing me on both cheeks.

“Beatrice, this is Anthony Arcumenna,” Sal introduced. “We grew up together in Rome.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Signor Arcumenna,” I replied.

“Come in, come in. My goodness, I cannot believe I am seeing Salvatore in Venice. And I thought you swore you’d never return to Italy.”

“Yes, well, under the right conditions, we all outgrow our past,” Sal said simply.

I looked deeply at Sal. I had never questioned him about his former life, his youth in Rome. It suddenly seemed odd to me to think he had a mother, a mother who would have been proud of him for marrying me… well, at least Beatrice. And I hadn’t known he’d forsaken Italy.

“Let’s have a drink. It is early, but I like this news,” Anthony said with a laugh and poured us all a small glass of sambuca. I tried not to drink mine the way I knew how.

The two old friends made conversation; I paid attention. They exchanged news on common friends and people from home. They reminisced a bit. Their youth was typical of most boys, except they were both geniuses. Then Anthony turned serious, asking Sal about the matter with his brother. “He is what he is,” Sal said dismissively, but I saw a line of worry furrow on Sal’s forehead that I’d never seen before. “I do have a favor I need help with, old friend,” Sal added.

“Of course. Anything,” Anthony answered.

Sal motioned to me to give Anthony the kaleidoscope. I unwrapped it, leaving the wrapper safely stowed in my bag, and handed it to him.

“Ah, now, this is something,” Anthony said, pulling a jeweler’s monocle from his pocket and pressing it into his eye.

“We’ve come by it with a bit of trouble attached, I must warn you,” Sal said. “I can see there is some tampering in the colored glass display, but I cannot make out what is there without taking it apart, which we do not wish to do. What do you see?”

As Anthony looked over the kaleidoscope, he too translated the Ancient Greek lines. “The symbols on the side, Salvatore, are not just decorative. These are all symbols of the Goddess Venus: the doves, swans, apples, shells. I use these in my jewelcraft. Ah, and here I see the anemone flower. Do you know the story of Venus and Adonis, Mrs. Colonna?”

I shook my head.

“It is a very romantic tale fit for a young bride. The Goddess Venus once loved a mortal man, Adonis, with a depth of passion she had never felt for another. Adonis, a rough young youth who liked the hunt, flirted with danger in an effort to impress his Goddess lover. Though Venus told him she did not need his bravado and advised him to be cautious, Adonis insisted on showing his strength. He hunted a wild boar, piercing it with a spear. But the boar would not be defeated. It snapped the spear from its side and ran Adonis through with its tusks, mortally wounding him. As Adonis lay dying, Venus came to his side and wept bitterly. Adonis died in her arms. In her grief, Venus transformed his spilled blood into the anemone flower. The red blossom, which can bloom and die in the same strong wind, is a memorial to the fragility of love. That is why the anemone is called the wind flower. A tragic story, is it not, Mrs. Colonna?”

“Truly,” I replied. I suddenly felt like I needed another drink.

“Without dismantling it, I can only tell you it is very old,” Anthony said, handing it back. “And by that, I would guess it is from the ancient world. It is quite a find. I’ve never seen its like. You say it came along with some trouble?”

“Indeed, so I would appreciate it if you did not mention having seen it—if anyone asks. Now… let’s have a gift for my bride. Let me see your cases, Anthony.”

Anthony rose. “Oh, indeed! Yes, yes, let me see. Let’s have a nice ladies’ cuff,” the man muttered distractedly as he began pulling cases from the shelves. He set several in front of me. Inside were beautifully crafted cuff watches. I looked them over. I could not help but notice a petite watch decorated with freshwater pearls crafted to look like cattails. They surrounded a watch face adorned with a swan. Gold and brass colored gears gleamed in the background of the watch face. Dragonflies with topaz wings and abalone shell lily-pad charms decorated the cuff.

“That one,” I said, pointing to it.

“Ah, of course, Mrs. Colonna. After such an excellent story, that is the right choice. After all, swans are the very symbol of love.”

Anthony looked at Sal who nodded permissively then boxed up the watch. Sal thanked Anthony heartily, passing him an uncomfortable amount of money, and promised to stop by to see him again before we returned to London. Sal asked again for Anthony’s discretion, and we left. By the time we were out of the room, the ticking of the clocks had given me a headache.

“Your friend is very sweet, dear husband, but his head must pound all day long,” I said as I leaned against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. I rooted around my bag for the laudanum. I pulled out the bottle and turned from the crowd to take a drop. I offered the bottle to Sal who imbibed as well.

Sal handed me the box containing the watch. “For my Lily,” he said with a smile.

“Oh Sal, it was too expensive. Please, let me pay you back.”

Sal shook his head, and as he put the box into my satchel, he leaned close to me and kissed my neck. “I liked you as Mrs. Colonna,” he whispered, wrapping his arm around my waist.

I grinned. “Beatrice?”

“Well, who else could lead me to heaven but Beatrice?” Sal leaned back and looked deeply at me. He had a sentimental look on his face. Perhaps taking him out of his workshop had been a bad idea.

“Sal… I didn’t know you had forsaken Italy. Why did you agree to come with me?”

“Did you give me a choice?” Sal replied. He stroked my cheek. “I would not miss out on a chance to be with you.”

I laughed nervously. “Let’s find Angus and Jessup,” I said, giving him a quick kiss, then led us back toward the crowd.

The piazza thronged with people. The smells that had formerly delighted me now made me feel nauseous. My head was aching, the bright sunlight hurting my eyes. I put on my dark glasses and followed behind Sal. It was reaching tea time and the market was packed. The crowd of people bumped and pushed us. I don’t know how, but soon Sal and I got separated. I don’t even know how long I stumbled along before I realized Sal was gone.

“Sal!” I yelled into the crowd of ladies and gentlemen who glared at me. “Sal!” I turned around in the rushing crowd, but Sal was nowhere to be seen. I walked deeper into the market, thinking I would find Angus or Jessup amongst the tinkers, but I couldn’t find them anywhere.

I was just about to head back to the gondolas when I realized I was being followed. Behind me, a man in a dark suit tried to look nonchalant as he perused a stall displaying carnival masks. The random nature of my searching made his presence obvious, but in true Lily fashion, I didn’t know I was in trouble until I was already in the middle of it.

I slipped my hand into my bag and grabbed my sidearm. I turned then and advanced on the man. Startled, he turned and began walking in the other direction. He passed between two tents; I followed him. When I made the turn, he grabbed me.

“What are you doing in Venice, Lily?” he asked, knocking my gun from my hand then twisting my arm behind my back as he tried to reach into my satchel.

With my free arm, I elbowed him hard in the side. He let go. I turned and kneed him in the crotch. When he fell to the ground, I grabbed my gun and fled.

Thankful I had forsaken Byron’s dainty heels for my boots, I hiked up my skirts and took off through the crowd. I turned back to see the man picking himself up off the ground. I ran. I rushed through the crowds, dodging between the tents, then under the arched walkways of the piazza to an alleyway behind the square. I ran into the belly of Venice, my assailant pursuing me. I dodged between buildings then paused, peering out of an alley to see the man talking to two other gentlemen also dressed in dark suits. While I could not make out their words, they were speaking English. All three men had sidearms drawn. Taking a deep breath, I slid down the alleyway. At its end, I found myself stuck between a four-foot wide trench and the alley leading back to the street and the men who pursued me. I pulled my dress up to my knees and taking a running jump, I leapt across the water.

“There she goes,” I heard one of the men yell. He spotted me just as I landed on the other side. I ran between the buildings, dodging children and workers on velocipedes. I turned and looked back to see one of the men emerging from the buildings behind me. I ran over a footbridge, down another street, then found myself cornered between three palazzi. There was no way out. I looked around for a means of escape. To my surprise, I noticed that above the door directly across from me was a façade carving of a swan with an anemone flower in its beak.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Go that way,” I heard a man yell from the alley.

I ran to the door and knocked hard. A confused looking maid answered. “Please, let me in,” I told her.

She shook her head.

“Please,” I said, gesturing toward the swan, but the woman did not budge.

Just then a startlingly beautiful woman with raven black hair and round, gold colored eyes appeared behind the woman. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

The men’s rough voices floated toward the alley. “Please, let me in,” I said, trying to push my way inside.

The woman started to push the door closed. “I don’t invite trouble.”

Desperate, I grabbed her hand. “I have the kaleidoscope.”

Her big eyes grew even larger. She peered closely at me then pulled me inside. She clapped the door shut behind her.

“She’s not here,” one of the men called from the alley outside just moments later.

The woman peered out the window. The midmorning sun shone in on her causing flecks of blue to sparkle in her black hair. After a moment, she leveled her golden eyes on me.

“Hello, Lily,” she said in a rich voice that poured out of her like liquid velvet, “I didn’t recognize you dressed like that. Please, come with me,” she said, offering her hand. “I’m Celeste. Welcome to Palazzo del Cigno, the House of the Swan.”

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
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