Authors: Jim Musgrave
Tags: #Mystery, #Steampunk, #mystery action adventure, #mystery suspense, #mystery action, #mystery detective
O who knows what slumbers in the background of the times?
, Act I, sc. i
Prologue: Whereupon there is a Meeting between a Spanish Inventor and the Steam City Pirates
January, 1868, New York City
Señor Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol was going to a meeting with Mayor John Hoffman at New York’s City Hall. He walked with a slight limp, and he held his cane out in front of his thin body, as he meandered down the crowded avenue called “Broadway.” His brown eyes were behind wire spectacles fixed upon the road ahead, his conservative brown frock coat and vest matched his bowler hat, and his side-whiskers blew in the breezes that were coming up the avenue. His short frame was enveloped with pedestrian traffic, and the wide expanse of the road was filled with noisy delivery wagons, hackneys and handsome cabs. It was quite a contrast to his home city of Figueres in Catalonia, where the fig trees lined the small road leading up to Sant Ferran Castle at the end of Pujada del Castell.
The Spanish inventor had been referred to the New York mayor by the United States Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Monturiol was in dire need of money for his steam-powered submarine, but the Secretary of the American Navy had said that the government was having a difficult time paying its bills after the War Between the States. Monturiol had received the same treatment from the Spanish Navy, and his last chance at getting the funds he needed was to talk to the man who represented the City of New York, John Hoffman.
As he walked up the marble steps, Monturiol noted the domed tower in the center of the columned entrance porticos on the roof and top of the steps, both capped by balustrades. This was no architecture he would ever use, as his submarine was quite oval-shaped, natural and sleekly designed to house his new engine.
These public buildings are built to expand the egos of men and not to save men’s’ lives
, he thought, as he pushed open the metal door with shining copper plates behind the brass handles and stepped inside the huge edifice.
As he limped into the Outer Ceremonial Room, adjacent to the Mayor’s office, he could hear his tapping cane echo up into the soaring rotunda. There was a grand marble stairway rising up to the second floor as if into heaven. Ten fluted Corinthian columns supported the coffered dome, and he knew the mayor would not be inside this grand room to greet him. He did have an appointment, but he was not the King of Spain, or other such dignitary, and he knew the only chance he had at acquiring the funds he needed was to prove to this Hoffman that his little craft would somehow serve some profitable venture for this city’s government.
Monturiol glanced up on the wall at some of the huge tapestries and paintings, one of which was the portrait of the man he had seen on the face of the United States ten-dollar bill he had used to pay for breakfast and for his hotel room. He did not know this man’s name, but he knew he probably had something to do with making money. These Americans seemed to worship money and its accumulation in vast quantities.
Monturiol’s hopes were high as he opened the small door to the Mayor’s office, which was located in an insignificant space on the northeast corner of the first floor. Inside, he was greeted by a young man seated at a desk in front of the mayor’s suite behind him. There was a single sofa next to the wall, with several newspapers on a table in front of it. The man wore a dark suit and cravat, and his hair was parted neatly down the middle. His clean-shaven face beamed up at Monturiol.
“Good morning, sir! May I help you?”
“I am here to see Mayor Hoffman. My name is Narcis Monturiol. I believe he expects me,” he said.
“Why, yes, Mister Monturiol. The mayor wants you to go right in.” The young man stood up and walked about five feet to the mayor’s office door. He opened it, and stood there, waving his hand in a magnanimous gesture.
Mayor John Thompson Hoffman stood in front of his desk, and his right hand was outstretched, waiting for his visitor to take it. The mayor was about six inches taller than Monturiol, and his expensive blue suit, snow-white shirt and dark-silk, bowed tie made the inventor feel inconsequential. Hoffman’s dark-brown hair was parted on the left, with curly plumes on both sides of his head and a long, full and distinguished mustache neatly adorning his upper lip.
The inventor grasped the mayor’s large hand and let his own, much smaller hand, be propelled up and down like a standing well pump handle. “Señor Monturiol! Welcome to New York City! Please, have a seat. How have you been enjoying your visit to America? I’m afraid I’ve been busy gallivanting all over the state. We have our governor’s election this year, and I am a candidate of the Democratic Party.”
“I was told by Secretary Welles that you might need an invention that can explore the undersea for fish, lobsters, and oysters. My latest submersible is called
. You might have read about my first craft, but she was powered by humans. This was not good enough for the depth we needed to explore, so I came up with an air independent engine for underwater navigation. Steam power cannot be used beneath the surface, so my chemical reaction of zinc, manganese dioxide and potassium chlorate can provide enough heat to power the steam engine, and the oxygen it releases can be used for breathing and lighting inside the submersible.”
“How big is this ship? How can you see what’s down under the water? How fast does she go?” Mayor Hoffman was clearly enthused. He bent forward in his chair, his elbows on the desk, and his face between his hands, as he watched the inventor pull out a rolled-up drawing of his craft that he then spread out upon the desk.
“She is 45 feet, 11 inches in length. The beam is six feet, seven inches across, and the height is nine feet, ten inches. She can do about four-and-one-half knots underwater and over eight on the surface. Not only can the two sailors see, they can also use my mechanical arms to retrieve objects from the ocean floor. This would greatly improve salvage efforts if you wish to use my craft for this profitable endeavor!” Monturiol smiled over at the mayor. He hoped this description would please him.
Mayor Hoffman frowned. “Only two people can drive this? I must be frank with you, Señor Monturiol. “We already have hundreds of immigrant salvage divers that can retrieve what we need. Besides, most of the money to be made is off the Florida coast. New York City has few ship wrecks. I really don’t see any commercial advantages with your invention.”
“I have cannons that can be used to deter pirates or other intruders! Your coast guard batteries surely could use such protection,” Monturiol pleaded. “Mister Mayor, if you please. My invention can lead to the exploration of new sources of food for your people. I can also show you how to construct underwater cities powered by my anaerobic engines! My submersibles will transport settlers, and they could live and farm the seas for your industrialists! Did I tell you how I first imagined my
? I saw a coral diver who was trapped off the coast of Cadaqués and I watched him drown. I then knew I could…”
“Thank you, Señor, but I have heard enough. I’m afraid I must be off to my next political rally. If we develop an interest in your unique fish machine, then we shall be in touch.” Mayor Hoffman stood up and walked over to the door. He held it for the older man until Monturiol finally moved, passing by the American, in a limping shuffle, through the doorway.
Outside, in the street, Monturiol did not know where to go next. He was checked out of his hotel, the Plaza, and the only option left for him was to go down to the embarkation pier to take his ship home to Spain. He would be meeting his creditors, and the outlook was not bright. This was his last chance at saving his life’s work, and America had rejected him.
“Excuse me, but I was in the mayor’s office just moments ago. He told me you have a submersible you are trying to raise funds to develop. Is this correct?” A tall, thin and awkward-looking gentleman in a black waistcoat and vest was standing beside the inventor. His head bobbed up and down as he spoke. He appeared to be almost mechanical. Monturiol had never met a human with such precise movements. His hands gestured in straight lines, and his head moved in segmented, jerky motions. His face was expressionless, and the mustache on his upper lip looked pasted on.
“Yes, I do. He told me there was no interest in my invention. Why have you approached me?” The inventor was curious, but he was also wary. His friends in Spain had warned him about all the confidence men in New York who daily attempted to trick foreign visitors, and Monturiol was not about to be fooled. That would be the worst indignity of all.
The man reached into his coat and pulled out a billfold. He opened it and then extracted a card. He thrust this card, in a very straight line, at the Spaniard. “Here,” he said, “read this.”
Monturiol took the card and squinted down at it:
Inquisitor Bat Egan Carry Who Represents the World Scientific Advancement Society for Progress
“I don’t know of this organization. Are you affiliated with any academic institutions? Where are you located?” Monturiol handed the card back to the scientist.
“We would like to introduce you to our group. The funds are predicated upon how favorably our scientists view your inventions. If this is agreeable, then you can follow me.” The tall mechanical man turned and began to walk briskly down Broadway.
The Spaniard knew he could not keep up, so he shouted over the din of traffic, “Wait! Can’t you see that I have a cane? Please slow down!”
Thankfully, the tall man glanced back at the inventor and began to relax his pace. The two men, from above all the traffic and uproar of New York City, looked like two tiny dots moving along between the tall buildings and the variety of merchants and their pushcarts full of foods and wares. The odor of the pigs running and rooting up garbage, the horses whinnying as they pulled their hackneys and delivery carts, the feel of the bustling thousands of humans who collided with each other, like magnetic iron filings, sticking together momentarily, but they were all breaking away to plunge into their individually chosen destinies—whether they were heading to the church or to the madhouse—they all collided along the streets of congested traffic.
They walked into the huge park, and Monturiol followed closely behind Bat Carry. Who was this man? Where were they going? If the inventor had not been on his last legs, grasping at straws, afraid to return to the creditors in Spain, he would not be following this mechanically manic man. Up ahead, a tall statue of some American Civil War general appeared. There were other park strollers, and they all looked contented in the early evening glow of sundown.
The Spaniard stood behind the tall scientist as Bat Carry looked up at the statue. It seemed as if he were almost praying to this piece of granite memorabilia. Monturiol could hear the man taking deep breaths, and his head began to move in manic, segmented motions, up and down, from side-to-side, until there was a whooshing sound in front of him at the base of the statue, and steam came up from the grass. A metal door opened upon a coffin-like structure.
They both stared down into a chute-like, circular opening into the earth of Central Park. It was just wide enough for a human body. It also had within its metal confines two chairs with ornate sphinx heads crafted upon the armrests. It reminded the inventor of a chair from Egyptian mythology. However, the rest of the chute looked like advanced technical wizardry. The chairs were enveloped by a copper cocoon resting upon about two inches of steam! Air was hissing around this steam-powered cocoon run by some kind of mammoth steam engine running beneath the New York City Park!
A voice came from the cocoon:
Get in! Welcome, Señor Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol.
Bat Carry moved behind the Spaniard and politely guided him into the front chair by his arm. Monturiol grunted as he bent his body down into the awkward position needed to get inside the copper cocoon. He kept his cane alongside his leg, and he gripped the sphinx heads with all his might. He could hear his guide slide upon the rear chair, and then their capsule lowered into the earth about three feet, and the metal top of their device closed over them, trapping them into what the panicked Spaniard believed was eternal darkness. His Catholic upbringing was acting upon his imagination, and he thought about Dante and his infernal punishment of humanity. Was he going down to this kind of Hell?
There was a monstrous rush of steam and then their capsule lurched forward, gaining speed, spinning down the pipeline like a bullet. Around and around, in looping circles they sped. Monturiol held onto the sphinxes and pushed his feet against the floor of the cocoon in an attempt to stay secure in his chair. The looping darts of the pneumatic engine’s force gave him a feeling of doom. Was he being flushed into some kind of cesspool beneath New York? Was the panic in his stomach being caused by a poisonous gas exuding from the steam all around him?