The Rolls was purring down the road. One could expect nothing less; it was expertly maintained and it was a Rolls Royce. Ralph Cyffylog, as First Chauffeur to His Majesty was driving, and doing it well. There’s a certain aplomb required in driving a Rolls, and Ralph had it down to an art. He had a certain look for the ill-mannered, road oaf, some violator of the norms of civilized deportment; he would do this from beneath the brim of his cap, and somehow convey his contempt for that criminal without appearing to have actually seen the person. The cap helped, of course, as First Chauffeur it wasn’t just any cap, there was a golden crown embroidered on the peak with some discreet gold braid edging the brim. Serious but understated.
Ralph and his brothers Harry and Terence were among the first friends the King had made when he arrived. The three had planned on following their father into the 24th Regiment of Foot, but their friendship with the King had offered new opportunities. Their father, Sergeant Cyffylog, had strongly recommended that his boys seize their opportunity and find a career outside of the army. Then the King had called them down to the stable and offered them part time jobs with his cars. This required that all three of the boys attend school. They had access to the palace library and books began to interest them. They were all three shrewd survivors in a world that, outside their home, was not always kind and could be dangerous; but opportunity had stimulated their imagination and answers were sought in books, which gave rise to more questions, more books. It became a lifelong cycle. Then there was the fateful interview with Minerva, and now the heavens seemed to beckon.
“So Prince J,” Ralph addressed the King with a familiar nick name they had bestowed upon him years ago. “What’s the latest with the Space Patrol?”
Ralph sighed dramatically. “Come on, you know, we’re goin’ to the Moon and Mars and on a five year mission ‘to boldly go’ new places an stuff. Can’t hardly do that in a straw hat an blue blazer. Vyvyan would never let you get away with that. Yep. Gotta have a swank uniform. Gotta look good on the moon, don’cha know?”
“Well, I think we might want to ask Colin about that.”
“Oh he’ll be for it. Not to worry. He’s a real mate.”
“Yes, but Space Patrol? What kind of name is that? I can see you now all dressed-up in some clinging outfit like Captain Kirk wore. ‘Captain Cyffylog here, Royal Space Patrol, take me to your leader! We come in peace! Do you like my booties?’” The King laughed.
Ralph sulked, “Nuthin’ like that.”
“And there you’d be, standing next to Chipper, or your Tad; them all sharp in the great uniforms of the Navy and the Army and you in leotards, or maybe short shorts and a mesh t-shirt.” Justin laughed some more, thoroughly enjoying his vision and Ralph’s discomfiture.
But you can’t keep a young man who has elevated himself from the mud of the palace rugby field, to the heights of King’s First Chauffeur down for long. “I’ll ask Vyvyan. He’ll know. No fookin’ leotards that’s a sure!”
And he did. And he and Vyvyan, the King’s First Valet, enjoyed the exercise; then Thomas, First Orderly to the Earl Martial, joined in on the grounds that it was a military matter and Vyvyan and Ralph were out of their element. The three of them enjoyed the dispute immensely.
“So I’m trying to devise a new badge for the Naval Air Force. I’m thinking something with Pegasus and, maybe, Bellerophon too. Got any ideas?” Colin asked Justin. They were at breakfast in the palace preparing for the day. The King was in a morning suit as he’d be meeting with several of his Private Counselors after breakfast; Colin was in his generals undress tunic with his Earl Martial epaulets.
Cameron appeared perched on the back of a chair at the breakfast table. Taras immediately put two link sausages on a plate and presented them to Cameron. Taras and Keisha now served Justin and Colin at all informal meals. However they were wearing their proper uniforms with the King’s Household Medal glinting on their chests. It was only at the bath and the swimming pool that they would be nude.
Thanks, Cameron acknowledged Taras and he picked up one of the sausages and began to eat it with complete decorum.
You’ll be pleased to know, Cameron paused between sausages, that we have agreement in principal to the marriage arrangement. Needless to say, there’s a great deal of work to do before the actual wedding. You’ll have to be seen together at social events. Then there’ll be an engagement. A fairly long engagement. And then we’ll have the weddings.
Might I have some coffee, please, Taras? He started on his second sausage as Taras smoothly provided a cut crystal bowl filled with finest Æthiopian coffee. Keisha provided two slices of French toast with blackberry jam to go with the coffee.
So that’s pretty much that. Expectant is on hand if you have any of those sorts of questions, but if the girls can do it, so can you.
“So they’re okay with this?” Colin was suspicious.
Well it’s pretty much the same as it is for you. They’re not royalty, but they’re from ancient families that have played important roles in the life of our kingdom for generations. Sure. They probably think it would be fun to have their own palace and live together out in the country somewhere and do precisely what they’d like. But that never works does it?
“No, it doesn’t.” Justin was contemplative. “And, I suspect, that they only think they’d like that. I mean, you know, when first I got here, I thought the palace was pretty neat. And of course it is, but there’s more to it than just comfort for the king. The palace is a statement by the kingdom. A statement of national value, as well as a symbol of state. But it would be a pretty boring place if the work of the kingdom did not flow through every hall and room of the palace. It would be like a museum. Moving. Interesting. But not alive. I used to think I could change the workings of the palace. ‘Aethnen,’ I said one day. ‘We don’t need two servants in our room when we wake up. One will do,’ but Aethnen, or the palace really, wasn’t having it. One, I see now, would have been a subtraction. A diminution. And that’s not the way it works. We are here to work for the kingdom, to improve and enhance, not to denigrate and dilute.”
You’re right, of course, my King. You’ve just spoken to the heart of all the familiars. To their very reason for being: which is service to our country. And the palace and the person of the King are vital symbols of the country. On earth the French are spending millions to restore Versailles and the Russians are spending millions to restore the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace. Neither country has proper monarchs, but the palaces remain potent national symbols.
“And I think the girls would get bored rather quickly if all they had to do was make love and ride horses.”
“So,” the ever practical Colin wondered. “When do we need to start all this. I’ve got a lot of important work to do.”
“Well,” Justin temporized.
“Okay. Here’s what we’ll do,” the Earl Martial took command. “Cameron, you and Surus have a lot of other things to do. So let’s have Expectant handle most of the planning here. Have her check with you and Surus and set-up some dates. Also some ceremonial stuff. These meetings are not to interfere with anything important. We’ll go from there.” He looked around.
As you will my General, Cameron observed.
“Okay. I guess,” the King appended.
“Excellent. Sweetie, let’s go out for enchiladas tonight.” Colin concluded the meeting.
I’m just saying, you know, that I really don’t like this bird business. That’s all I’m saying. Babieca glowered at them mentally. I carry knights in battle, lift sieges, conquer provinces and do all kinds of neat stuff like that. And I don’t even like fish.
They were on the Sausalito side of the Golden Gate Bridge, next to the public rest area. Babieca was on the roof, looking formidable even if he was in the guise of a pelican.
Oh puh, lees, sniffed Minerva. We need a master familiar for this Op for empathetic awareness and that’s just that. You were a bird in San Diego and you were all right with that. Not much call for haulin’ knights around these days anyway.
Listening to this was Lance Corporal Ackroyd recently promoted after the Brooklyn operation. Sergeant Jones was still recovering from a gunshot wound so ‘Axel’ was the senior soldier present. There were three other soldiers and Drummer Frank Young present as well as Bobby Seward and Terence Cyffylog. Axel was watching his two civilians with an eagle eye. ‘Hell,’ he thought, ‘it’s plenty hard keepin’ track of squaddies without a bunch of soddin’ kids to watch, too.’ But this operation was designed to rescue abandoned children and it was thought that some young people would be appropriate.
Aha, Babieca said and took wing.
“You!” There was a screech. “You ruined my picture! I had him framed against the bridge! You scared him.” A lady glowered at them with her serious camera clenched in one hand as if it were a cudgel. She was bundled against the stiff breeze, but her hair was flying about, increasingly loose, as though striving for freedom. She was thoroughly muffled with a scarf and an ugly anorak. She was wearing sensible shoes.
Axel was startled somewhat by this apparition and started considering how to defend his charges. But the matter was quickly solved by Frank who stepped forward and laying his accent on thick, said “Yes mum, sorry mum. Meant no ‘arm mum.” He grinned disarmingly. The photographer snorted with disgust and moved onto the bridge in pursuit of the wily pelican; one of the wily pelicans of San Francisco Bay.
Listen up you lot, Babieca called. Likely subject coming your way. He’s thinking if no one smiles or speaks to him, he’s gonna jump off the bridge. Family kicked him out for some reason. He’s a white boy: five foot eight or so, slender, brown hair under a blue knit cap, can’t see his eyes, checked shirt under a white hoodie and blue jeans.
“Come on, lads,” and Frank started across the bridge with Terence and Bobby a pace behind him.
You’re almost to him.
“We got him.” Frank reported and, as a decorated drummer of the Guards Fusiliers, he moved directly toward the target; a target who was unaware of the approach as his eyes were downcast.
“Oi mate!” Frank accosted their target, “Bet yer kin tell we ain’t from around ‘ere.” He went up to the target with his hand out to shake and a great smile across his handsome face.
Axel had been preparing to give instructions for the soldiers to move into position as the meeting took place. The meeting had taken place, and he had good soldiers, so they covered Frank and the two boys without seeming to do so and not a word had been needed.
“I’m Frank an this is Terry an this is Bobby. Me an Terry is visitin’ from Woostashure in Ellen…, er, England.”
“Oh, well, ah, I’m Allen,” and he shook hands with Frank and his crew. Wrenched, almost physically, from the dark thoughts he’d been harboring, he responded courteously as his mother had trained him. He was not aware that he was the tactical objective of a young Bwca Fusilier.
“Do you mean Worcestershire in England?” Allen wondered.
“Sure,” Bobby answered. “That’s where him and Terry are from; but we’re here to look at the bridge, but it’s time for lunch. Will you join us?” His Mid-Western tones were soothing to Allen’s ears and he found himself going along without consciously thinking about it. He was really hungry.
There was some minor confusion in ordering and Allen bestirred himself to help Bobby convince his new friends that ‘chips’ and ‘French fries’ were quite the same thing. Then they settled down with cheeseburgers and an assortment of drinks and tucked into an ample meal. Allen had thought to complain that he had no money but Terry ran roughshod over this objection on the grounds that he was their guest now.
There was much laughter and joshing as the boys ate. It was a comfortably full and much relaxed Allen, who looked up from the wreckage of his French fries straight into a pelican’s eye.
Then everything went dark.
Inspector Hollweg looked down the table at the assembled policemen.
“Gentlemen, thank you for attending. These meetings are, I think, important, and they are, as I believe you’ll agree at the conclusion of today’s meeting, becoming of increasing import. I’ve got some informal reports, for you to review; but first, let me read you this letter. It’s dated the twelfth of last month.
January 12, 2018
Dear Inspector Hollweg:
A few weeks ago we received a bulletin in the squad room that requested that any unusual cases, and this meant really strange cases, cases that are strange as in impossible, would be forwarded to our Captain and then ultimately forwarded to you.
I must tell you that, in this case, I never filed an official police report. The circumstances were quite impossible and I was unable to find even a shred of corroborating evidence to support what I had seen. But I did see it, and it was really impossible. So for what it’s worth, here’s what happened.
I had just stepped out of small delicatessen on 50th Street in Brooklyn. I had an assortment of cold cuts and some excellent Irish Cheddar in a small bag. My partner was in the car around the corner on 14th Street waiting for me. I always try and stop by this store when I’m in the area because my Mother used to always buy us this cheddar and this is the only store I know of that has it.
Anyway, there was a subject leaning against a post office drop box not twenty feet from the door of the store. The subject was breathing hard, leaning against the drop box for support, and definitely looked suspicious, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved with the situation, and wasn’t even sure I had a situation to get involved with. He didn’t appear to be having a heart attack or other medical emergency, and he was certainly not committing any crime. But he was definitely a classic example of a “just don’t look right” subject. As I watched, a boy somewhere between ten and thirteen years of age came running down the street. He did a sort of skip and dance step, when he was next to the subject at the mailbox, and then kicked him solidly in the groin. The subject collapsed onto the sidewalk and the boy promptly kicked him in the head. The boy reached down and removed an old revolver from the subject’s waistband. At that time I noticed that the boy’s hands were stained reddish as if from drying blood. And it was then that I set down my groceries knowing I had to do something. As I stood up and drew my service pistol, there was a sort of golden flash of light and a sharp snapping sound and the boy and the subject disappeared right before my eyes.
And that is why there is no police report.
I went and got my partner and we went up and down 50th Street to see if we could find anything unusual. It is difficult to describe what might be ‘unusual’ on the streets of Brooklyn to someone who is not familiar with Brooklyn. That said, the only thing even slightly unusual were two young Hasidic boys in some kind of an argument with some older Hasidic students. What was odd was that the two boys were wearing those Scottish caps like they wear in the pipe band. These are not the normal hats for Hasidic boys. Neither had it anything to do with the disappearance I had witnessed. It was just the best ‘unusual’ my partner and I could find.
I would be willing to take a polygraph with respect to this incident; but I’m not about to subject myself to all the jeering and kidding I’d receive if I formally reported this. So I wouldn’t do this at my Department. But you sound like a policeman with a problem, so perhaps this information will help you in some way.
Very truly yours,
“Our friend, Detective Flynn, attached full descriptions of the subject who was assaulted and the boy who assaulted him on attached pages. He also could find no reported crime in the immediate vicinity of the mysterious disappearance on the date and time of the event. No missing persons reported matching the description for a period of two weeks before and after the incident.
“So here, again, we have a flash and a disappearance of people. What could this possibly be? And while we’re on the subject of disappearance, I call to your attention the newspaper account of the Japanese whaling ship. What the newspaper had was a fairly straightforward report of a ship losing its propeller at sea. This is rare event, but has happened from time to time. Interestingly, it usually happens with a new ship or after a period of time in the yard when some work was done on the machinery in question. Nothing like that pertains to the ship in question.
“Additionally, and unreported by the press, was the fact that the shaft to the propeller was sawed-off in front of the actual propeller. It did not fall off; it was cut off. Here are some photos of the shaft where it was cut. The repair took longer than planned as it was necessary to obtain a length of shafting to replace the damaged piece as well as a new propeller. The Hamburg police have seized the shaft and we are studying the cut and we’ll have a complete report fairly quickly, but I have no major case so no real priority.
“So here we have two most unusual events. One had an eyewitness; the other left some physical evidence, but we have no idea what kind of technology was used to so precisely cut the propeller shaft of a major ship while it was underway. It seems clear, though, that we are dealing with some fairly sophisticated technology. Technology that can render a large ship crippled and can somehow move people in a way that I cannot even begin to explain.”
The detectives studied what they had, and decided that all they could do now was keep things quiet and continue to gather information.
Inspector Hollweg dreaded the thought of what the newspapers would do with his information. He could already see the ‘Aliens Attack’ headlines in his mind’s eye.
Cadet-Lieutenant William Brownlees was not having a good day; but then again, neither was anyone else.
It had all started last night when Corporal-Cadet-Major Winn had advised them that today’s exercise would be conducted in the kilt. There had been a chorus of groans. Some of the cadets simply thought that any regional dress, other than their own, was beneath them; then there were others who did not cut a very fine figure in the kilt, and knew it: but it was the regional dress of some of the cadets, and they made their pleasure known; and others, whose legs showed to advantage in the kilt, as they well knew, smiled at the thought.
Cadet-Lieutenant Fitzherbert Lord Flushing, who thought rather highly of himself, objected, “I say, Cadet-Major, ain’t that odd. I mean, what can the point be?”
And so Corporal-Cadet-Major Winn calmly and slowly regarded the young lord. This could be unnerving. The Cadet-Major was a combat veteran who had actually spoken to the Earl Martial. He was every inch a military monarchist for whom service in His Majesty’s Army was virtually a religious vocation.
“There are two battalions of guards. There are six regiments of the line. That all wear the kilt. His Majesty’s soldiers can be expected to serve where His Majesty directs. That. Is the point. Cadet-Leftenant.
“The field service uniform in the academy kilt, under arms, with sixty rounds. Muster at 0500.” The Corporal-Cadet-Major concluded.
And the young lord was actually abashed, for it had dawned on him suddenly that Corporal-Cadet-Major Winn was entirely capable, in the mysterious way of long service NCO’s, of arranging for him to be assigned to a kilted regiment.
Next morning, after inspection, they breakfasted on field rations, and marched five miles. Then they ran for a mile. There was a fifteen minute break. Then there was calisthenics for an hour. Then they marched five miles and then had a half hour break for chota hazri.
It finally dawned on the cadets that they were in one of the endurance drills that would test them to the limit and that they would be expected to finish. They march/jogged to the range where they fired the sixty rounds they’d been issued in a variety of shooting drills. There was no break for lunch on the grounds that sometimes the press of battle prevented lunch. There was, naturally, a ‘brew-up’ of tea, an army ritual that did not respect mere battle.
They were now twelve miles from the base, and they began the march home at an extreme tempo: fifteen minutes at double time; thirty minutes at the more relaxed route step; thirty minutes at the regular drill pace; ten minutes break; and repeat.
Two miles from entrance to the Academy Cadet-Lieutenant Fitzherbert Lord Flushing gave it up and collapsed on the roadway from exhaustion.
“Hey, Billy! Can ya fall back here,” Cadet Karl Gustav called to his friend, Cadet-Lieutenant William Brownlees who was leading this particular group.
Cadet Gustav shouldn’t have called Cadet Brownlees ‘Billy’ but they were at route step, there were no instructors present, and everyone was tired.
Billy fell back and found Karl rousing his lordship, half dragging him, and carrying his rifle. Billy grabbed the other half of his lordship and they dragged him upright and got him staggering along between them.
Corporal-Cadet-Major Winn did not bother to call his classmates to attention and march in the last stretch. His class had done very well, all things considered. Three members had dropped out from exhaustion and all three had been brought along by their classmates. The class had displayed that they were in superior physical condition and fine morale. He was quietly pleased. As they reached the barracks he told them to go inside and he told them they’d done well. He was waiting at the barracks door when the final few cadets lurched home. He had noted who was being carried and by whom and he was proud of Brownlees and Gustav.
The next morning Cadet-Lieutenant Lord Flushing was at a loss. He was of two minds. One part of him suggested that he was the son of an earl and a member of a family that had served their King and Country for generations. And that should be all there was to it. He ought not feel obligated, but somehow he did.
Then, too, there was the other part; that part of him that had absorbed the notion of being an Elven Chevalier, a champion, a noble man, a man whose honor required that he help and assist whenever possible. He looked back upon the events of the previous evening and was compelled to realize two things. One, he was not as physically capable as he thought he was and he needed to work on that. And two, he had not been the chevalier he thought he should be; his exhaustion prevented him from helping, he had not served himself, his class, his King or his Country.
Cadet-Lieutenant Lord Flushing went to breakfast, but he did not sit in his regular seat. Instead, he went to where Brownlees and his confederates were seated.
“May I join you?”
He took the ensuing silence as an affirmation, and sat. “I’ve been an arse. I’m sorry. I hope you’ll accept my apology. But you must know that the time will come when I carry you in.” He smiled.
Cadet-Lieutenant Brownlees smiled. “Will you have some eggs?” He passed the platter.
Allen Tolliver opened his eyes and saw the concerned face of the young man who had been introduced as Bobby.
“They saved me too,” an anxious Bobby Seward told Allen. “You’re safe now.”
Allen looked around. He was in a nice large room with three windows in a bay. It was comfortably furnished in what he though was an ‘old fashioned’ style. The room had very high ceilings with an ornate brass lamp hanging in the center.
“Where am I?” Allen wondered.
“Were in the City in what they call ‘the Kings House’,” Bobby offered.
Allen looked at him blankly.
With a clatter the boy Allen remembered as Frank came into the room with a handful of Cokes. “Thirsty are you then?” He inquired of Allen as he thrust one of the Cokes into his hand. Another went to Bobby and the remainder he set on the table.
“There was this bird,” Allen began.
“Oh that’s Babieca. We calls him Baby sometimes. Gets ‘im going. He’s a familiar. Do you know what they are?”
“Doesn’t that name mean ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ in Spanish, something like that?”
“Dunno. Don’t think so. He’s a bloody great warhorse the most of the time. Carried El Cid when he was just an apprentice. He’s a mate.”
“But. Like that was five hundred years ago. Was El Cid. I saw the movie.”
“Well, there’s plenty of time to discuss all that stuff. You were in a pretty black spot there for a while an it’s our job to help folks out. We know your father beat you up and kicked you out cuz you like boys. No big deal where we come from. So we’d like for you to come home with us so we can talk about all of the choices you really can make. If you wanna that is. Wait one! Minerva just got back; you should listen to her for a sec.” Frank smiled.
A pigeon swooped through the open door, landing on the back of a red velvet chair. Looking directly at Allen, the pigeon said, You really should come with us. You’ve had a rough time and there’s a lot to digest. Why don’t you come along?
But Allen had had it. He’d had a rough time; he’d recently been on the brink of suicide; he’d been savagely disowned by his parents. Had felt completely abandoned and was on the brink of exhaustion. So, perhaps mental telepathy with a pigeon was a bit much and it was not too surprising when his eyes rolled back in his head and he went to sleep.
Right, then, we’re for home, and Allen and Minerva disappeared with the usual flash and flourish.
Across town, Lance Corporal Ackroyd of the 99th Mounted Rifles, assisted by Babieca, arrived at the home of Allen’s parents. After a formidable and sustained knocking on the door produced Allen’s father, glaring, with a napkin in one hand. Axel jerked him out of the doorway and onto the front path.
“My pal Allen says, ‘Hi’ yer fuck.” Then the Lance Corporal with scientific savagery and swift precision hospitalized Allen’s father for six weeks.
Regina Varela was a formidable survivor.
While still on Earth her father had been accidentally poisoned by a pesticide he was supposed to be applying in an orchard. A mechanical defect doused him with the chemical and his protective gear, being just one step above non-existent, did little to protect him. He felt obliged to continue working until he was finished with the job. He went to the emergency room later that night, but it was too late.
Regina’s mother cleaned houses. She took on several additional homes until she was regularly working ten to fourteen hours every day. She would call one of her customers every once in a while to request a schedule change so she could have an entire day off. She had enough customers that her request never seemed unusual, indeed, they seemed quite rare to the customer.
Regina, legally, was too young to work. But there were enough friends that she was able to get a little side work in three different restaurants where she was paid under the table. On her way to one of these jobs, the Rajah’s men kidnapped her. She was a prisoner in the house and was receiving heroin injections in order to render her dependent on the Rajah’s organization for her drugs and thus amenable to prostitution. The 24th Regiment of Foot rescued her as a part of the San Diego operation.1
She received excellent care at hospital and her recovery from the heroin was quick. She had never wanted it, and it really didn’t have a chance to sink its talons into her soul. She looked about the palace and Kingstown, saw the beginning of major construction at the university complex and the zeppelin field and had an idea.
She knew Lawrence from San Diego and recovery at the hospital. He was now in the train of Humphrey, Principal Wizard to the King. More accurately, he was the principal mover and shaker of Humphrey. For Regina, this was serious business so Regina, accosted Lawrence with a business proposal. Lawrence arranged a loan for her and soon she had a small cart and an agreeable donkey to pull it. She was selling tacos, burritos, cold beer and soft drinks all around the growing complex. Mexican cuisine was not particularly well known at that time. Some of the more experienced wizards and familiars knew of it, but it rapidly became well known throughout the complex. Regina went back to Lawrence having speedily repaid Humphrey’s original loan, and had another business proposition. She wanted to bring her mother and her two younger brothers to Kingstown and open an actual Mexican restaurant.
Accordingly, Wilde took her back to San Diego where she made her proposal to what remained of her immediate family. They speedily returned to Kingstown. Her brothers, Luis and Jorge took over the cart while Regina and her mother began planning the restaurant.
So in short order, the Casa Del Rey was opened. It was an intimate sort of restaurant, cozy and familial, with a very complete menu of Mexican dishes that were already tilting slightly toward the local enthusiasm for avocadoes and crisp taco shells. An enthusiastic young Bwca took over the cart and the boys came to work in the restaurant too.
One enthusiastic member of the expanding clientele of the Casa Del Rey was Able Seaman Tavers, SSM, of His Majesty’s Air Fleet. The workday was coming to an end and he had been working on the elevator operation on the HMS Prince Eugene of Savoy to which ship he had recently been assigned. This was the first of the capital zeppelins and would soon be commissioned. The Genie as her crew had started to call her, had both mechanical and hydraulic controls, but the hydraulics only worked if the number 4 engine was running. Chipper wasn’t sure he liked this set-up.
But it was Friday; it had also been payday, and Chipper was thinking he deserved lobster enchiladas at the Casa. It was close enough to the end of the working day; close enough for routine government work anyway, so Chipper closed up the panel he’d been working behind, wiped his hands with the tattered rag that was virtually part of the working uniform, and started through the hull to the service bay which was opened in the hangar. He rattled acrobatically down the ladder to the floor of the hangar as young sailors do so effortlessly. Standing there, almost as if he was waiting for him, was Lieutenant Cascone.
“Hi, L T, were you waiting for me?” Chipper joshed his officer affectionately, saluting as he did so.
To be sure, Lieutenant Cascone had in fact been waiting for Chipper. Chipper rather suspected that he was and was pleased by the thought. Lieutenant Cascone, however, would never admit this.
“Er, uh, no. Well, I mean, yes, I wanted to ask you about din-I mean the hydraulics, but no, I guess not.” He was flustered. Cool as ice when maneuvering a zeppelin, but flustered in the extreme when talking to the handsome rating he had a crush on. He’d forgotten to return Chipper’s salute, but Chipper hadn’t held it all that long anyway so he just smiled to himself.
The crush was not one sided, but both parties to this particular crush had some extraneous problems to contend with. One of them was an Able Seaman who would soon be promoted to Petty Officer and the other was a Lieutenant who would soon be promoted to Captain-Lieutenant. One was the son of a stevedore; the other was the son of a prosperous merchant. One would be the quartermaster/elevatorman of a new zeppelin; the other would be the captain of that same zeppelin. How to bridge these divides while maintaining their strong personal identities was something of a challenge.
“I was thinking I might go to town for dinner tonight,” Chipper observed.
“Well, er, so, I was thinking kinda the same thing,” Lieutenant Cascone fumbled turning his lovely tan somewhat darker while his ear tips flushed red where they peeked through his abundant, glowing brown hair. “I’m, uh, er, I.” The L T stumbled to a halt, unable to finish the sentence.
“So,” Chipper came to the rescue as a good petty officer should. “Why don’t you ask me out? We can go to the Casa and have enchiladas and drink sparkling drinks. What do ya think? We can talk about hydraulic steering and the color of your eyes.”
“Oh thank God.” The L T muttered, then he smiled broadly at the grinning Chipper.
“Soft clothes, I’m thinkin’,” Chipper decided. “Meet me at the library.” He squeezed his L T’s hand and they were off to change.
They arrived at the Casa after a pleasant walk during which the subject of hydraulic steering never came up; to be sure, neither did the color of Lieutenant Cascone’s eyes. Lieutenant Cascone got Chipper telling sea stories of his time on the Brendan and with difficulty extracted the story of the rescue from him. According to Chipper, everything was done by Stoney and Ted and he was little more than an onlooker; while Lieutenant Cascone knew better than this, he did not push and let Chipper maintain his modesty.
At the restaurant, Chipper bantered happily with Luis. They were shown to a table and, as this was a sort of first date, they sat on opposite sides of the table and began to peruse their menus though Chipper knew he was going to have the lobster enchiladas without need of the menu.
The front door opened smoothly and the King and the Earl Martial entered; they were dressed in casual clothes that clearly meant an informal visit. The two were too well known in Kingstown to escape recognition altogether, but hoped for minimal attention.
Chipper came immediately to attention at his place, and Lieutenant Cascone was right behind him coming to his feet. This attracted some notice by other diners, who noted that the busboy was also at attention and that Luis was bowing to the couple who had just entered. As the diners recognized the King and the Earl Martial they also came to their feet.
“Please. Please,” the King requested. “Sit and enjoy your dinner. We’re here for dinner too.” He smiled around the room and noticed his friend Chipper. They moved slowly toward Chipper’s table, chatting with other patrons as they went. They were immediately asked to join Chipper and friend for dinner.
“This is my friend Michel Cascone,” Chipper smiled introduction to the King. “He’s also my Leftenant, but we don’t hold that against him.”
So began a lovely dinner.
At the conclusion, the two couples began leaving together. The King put his hand on Michel’s forearm to separate them from Colin and Chipper. Chipper was going on about “how soggy” hydraulic controls felt and Colin was listening attentively.
“Rank can be a problem,” the King murmured to Michel. “It will complicate your life. There is for you, as for me and Colin, our public duties; and we must perform those with propriety. But, then there is our private life. For what it’s worth, I always strive to remember that Colin is the king of my heart. Chipper should probably be the captain of your heart if it’s going to work. It’s hard. Good luck, you both deserve it.”
Colin and Justin left in one of their Rolls’. Michel and Chipper strolled back to the base; frequently hand-in-hand. There were confessions of attraction; there was a lovely good night kiss.