Today, author of Victorian Age action novel, The Colonel and The Bee, Patrick Canning, is sharing an extract with us all. Historical fiction and an adventure novel, The Colonel and The Bee is Patrick Canning’s second novel, following on from his urban fantasy/black humor novel, Cryptofauna.
Described as ‘Around the World in Eighty Days meets Wizard of Oz, or as one reviewer put it, “Lara Croft, steampunk style.” , it was published by Evolved Publishing in 2018.
[ About the Book ]
A peculiar explorer and downtrodden acrobat span the globe on a building-sized hot air balloon, in search of a precious artifact and the murderous treasure hunter who seeks it.
Beatrix, a spirited but abused acrobat in a traveling circus, seeks more than her prison-like employment offers. More than anything, she wants to know her place in the world of the halcyon 19th century, a time when the last dark corners of the map were being sketched out and travel still possessed a kind of magic.
One night in Switzerland, the mysterious Colonel James Bacchus attends Beatrix’s show. This larger-than-life English gentleman, reputed to have a voracious appetite for female conquests, is most notable for traveling the world in a four-story hot air balloon called The Ox.
Beatrix flees that night to join the Colonel, and the two of them make a narrow escape—Beatrix from her abusive ringleader, the Colonel from a freshly-made cuckold. Beatrix, feeling the Colonel may have the answers to her problems, pledges to help him catch the criminal he seeks in exchange for passage on his magnificent balloon.
The criminal seeks a precious figurine, The Blue Star Sphinx, but he’s not alone. The Sphinx’s immense value has also drawn the attention of the world’s most deadly treasure hunters. A murder in Antwerp begins a path of mystery that leads all the way to the most isolated island on Earth.
What dangers await the Colonel and the acrobat?
[ Extract ]
The tea tasted delicious, and I gratefully drank most of it down before the Colonel had even finished preparing his coffee. I watched as the man built a crystalline pyramid of sugar in his cup, nineteen cubes in total. He stirred the structure into the black liquid until it eroded into a brown slosh.
“There we are.”
“You take no milk?” I asked, half in jest.
The Colonel huffed.
“Imbibe the mammary ghost slime of thoughtless gluttons bested by a pasture fence? I’ve far better things to do with my time than ingest the excrement of udders. Surely you know me better than that by now.”
“This coming from a man who by his own admission employs yak urine on his face?”
“A fresh coat this morning, you may notice,” he said through shiny lips. “Now then, if we’re quite through discussing the finer points of diuretic embellishments, I do believe we’re about to shake hands with the pines.”
A fast scratching noise began to repeat somewhere at the bottom of the basket as we descended into a forest. I yanked the burner strap and we jerked up into the clear sky once more.
The Colonel eased my pull on the thick leather cord and our ascent evened out.
“Despite the demands of last night’s departure, a gentle touch is almost always advisable. Finesse will see you arrive safely.”
The burner strap above our heads was easy to identify and know the function of, but it was only one of many whose appearances were deceptively similar, like the ropey canopy of a great leather jungle. The Colonel gave me a once-over at breakneck speed, and I did my best to remember which was which. The braided valve line vented the top of the envelope, and a secondary looped valve line vented the smaller balloon of helium inside the main balloon. Twisted ballast lines released bags of sand for quick lift, the bags’ individual weight corresponding to the thickness of the cord attached. Most dangerous of all was the ripping line, which connected to the ripping panel: a perforated strip of canvas on the main balloon pulled only for a quick landing when the craft was not more than a few metres from the ground. Pulling the ripping line at any significant height meant certain death for all aboard.
“The name of the game is buoyancy, of course. Less than a degree of temperature informs our ascending or descending. Weight is of similar importance, so I like to keep a close eye on it. I pegged you at about six and a half stone?”
I nodded, impressed, and remarked, “It’s a brave man who estimates a woman’s weight aloud.”
“Only if he does so without accuracy,” the Colonel returned. Then he reconsidered. “Although that too can invite trouble… In any case, six and a half stone was the total weight of the ballasts I dropped. With regard to altitude, I prefer to travel in the neighbourhood of approximately five hundred metres, depending on the required direction of travel, naturally. You’d do well to remember the helium cools more quickly at night. That should suffice for now. I abhor formalized instruction. Comes dangerously close to the greatest of all presumptions: giving advice.”
“But I’ve still got so many questions,” I protested.
“Flying the Ox is much more akin to playing an instrument than operating a machine. Approach the challenge less formally, do so with confidence, and the craft’s perfect obedience will be your reward.”
I lost sight of the burner strap and by accident pulled a vent on the main balloon. We began to rotate and descend with great rapidity. The Colonel allowed me to find the correct cord on my own, and I did so just in time as the Ox nearly scraped a rolling pasture hill, startling a herd of brown Belgian cows enough to sour their milk.
Taking care to avoid the ripping line, I continued to bring the Ox up, searching for the northwest wind. To my chagrin, I sent us southeast, and it took a deft intervention from the Colonel to set us right. Applying the correct pressure on the correct combination of cords in the correct sequence did indeed give him the appearance of an accomplished maestro.
“Skill comes with practice, and northwest can be elusive. North
east can be downright tempestuous,” he said as if recalling a talented snooker rival.
I readied another question, but the Colonel anticipated me. He held up a gentle hand to stay the incoming query, motioned with both hands downward, indicating I should relax, then gestured to the edge of the Ox.
So worried I’d been about that morning’s lesson, I’d hardly taken a moment to observe our environment. I joined the Colonel at the railing, and became lightheaded with wonder. The full effect of flight had been disguised by darkness the previous night, and now, in the maturing light of dawn, I beheld a world transformed by perspective: rivers and mountains were maps come to life, trees were seas of leaves that shimmered emerald in the breeze, even birds flew at a height far below the Ox, moving like schools of fish in currents of wind.
“Toast my bloomin’ eyebrows,” I mumbled, forgoing any attempt at eloquence. “I didn’t know… I couldn’t have imagined…”
“Wonderful, isn’t it? From this height, we’re permitted to see plainly the orchestrations of daily life, rank with crisscrossing motives and the clutter of needless haste. Up here in the rarefied air we are weightless in cool æther, unspoiled by the odour and noise of man’s desires far below.”
We stood side by side, watching the scene in silence, until something in the distance stole the Colonel’s gaze.
“There. Antwerp on the horizon. Drink your leaf juice if you must.”
[ Bio ]
Patrick Canning can usually be found trying to read and write more. He has released two novels, the urban fantasy/black humor, Cryptofauna, and the Victorian Age action/adventure, The Colonel and the Bee. His next release is a domestic suspense/mystery story. He aspires to one day keep bees and play blues harmonica, and if we’re really aiming high, find peace of mind. He lives in weatherless Los Angeles with his dog, Hank (yet unpublished). Check out patrickcanningbooks.com for free short stories and pictures of Hank. Instagram: @catpanning