Now . . . as I've mentioned every time I've blabbed about Mobry's Dick, the novel has historical chapters (from 1899 to 1903) scattered among its contemporary chapters. This is the first time I've delved into the past since I wrote Plagued for Ellora's Cave. In that novel, "the past" was mid-14th-century England, and it wasn't pretty.
Following the blurb, which I've reposted just to refresh your memories, is a fin-de-siècle excerpt from MD. The period and location are considerably more pleasant than 1349 London.
* * * * *
Nineteenth-century illusionist Alain Mobry is known for his clockwork automata. He isn’t known as a member of the Green Carnation Club, a secret gathering place for gay men of the theater, or as a dabbler in the occult. But there’s an aura of "real" magic around his beautiful male assistant, never seen in public, and in a profane automaton Alain has devised to entertain the Green Carnation’s members. He would like his creation to be for one man in particular, a fellow magician with whom he’s infatuated. Only he never gets the chance to offer his gift . . .
Over 100 years later, a peculiar item turns up at a flea market. It looks like an artillery shell to Cameron Waters, who buys the piece out of curiosity. It looks like the legendary automaton known as Mobry’s Dick to Paul Patrillo, who’s been researching the history of stage magic. It looks like a blessing as well as a curse when it brings the two men together.
While Cameron inches his way out of the closet and Paul struggles to free himself from a sugar daddy who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants, the unlikely pair grow closer as they tackle the mystery of Mobry’s Dick -- with startling and nearly tragic results.
* * * * *
It was a cold November night. Alain’s shop had no basement furnace, so the acrid smell of coal, burning to ash in his stove, hung heavily in the air. Lamplight cut wavering swaths through shadow. When his day’s work was completed, Alain often lit a lamp or two. He found the nimbus cast by a yellow flame far more soothing than the glare of an electric bulb. The glow seemed to pave his way to sleep.
Feeling pensive and tentatively hopeful, Alain activated the automaton. Inscribed on the stones of the moon was the right to wish. Kafele could earn that right if he demonstrated courage and integrity, a desire to love and be loved regardless of risk. But if he demonstrated perfidy and put himself beyond Alain’s reach, the gift would be beyond his reach. Forever.
Once the automaton had completed its various cycles and again sealed itself, Alain got up and went to his favorite piece of furniture, a wide dental cabinet of quartersawn oak. Its numerous drawers and shelves of varying sizes held watch and clock parts, appropriate tools, and meticulously drawn diagrams. He’d modified the cabinet slightly to add several concealed slots and drawers, and it was from one of these that he pulled a small silver chest.
Carrying it to a Morris armchair, he nudged aside the footrest and sank into the tufted leather. Alain loved this chair perhaps more than he loved the dental cabinet. This was the seat of his dreams. It was here that lines drew themselves in his mind, looping and intersecting, as if the blades of invisible skaters were inscribing them on a frozen pond. It was here that he, dreaming further, plucked bits of brass and nickel and steel from a corner of heaven and fit them lovingly to the lines.
Growing wistful, Alain moved his fingertips over the silver box. In this chair he also dreamed of that one man -- not perfect, but pure of heart -- with whom he could share his magic and for whom he would always make more. He still didn’t know who that man was. Probably, he thought ruefully, not the Turk. But he still clung to his unraveling threads of hope.
Never did fame play a role in Alain’s dreams. It had never been important to him.
He opened the lid of the silver chest, embossed with birds and butterflies. Whenever he looked at it, he thought of taking flight. How glorious it must be to soar or glide through life, unencumbered and unimpeded. How glorious…
The envelope that lay within the box was circled in dried ivy and bore symbols Alain had executed. He lifted the envelope and withdrew the folded paper it contained. The scent of a complex potpourri rose to nostrils, a blend of apple blossom, dragon lily, amaranth, grass, iris, rose, carnation, angelica, and yew. Plant fragments formed a cushion both beneath and within the envelope, thus imbuing the paper he held.
Which of his skills, Alain wondered, did he value the most? The natural sensitivity and dexterity he displayed when pleasuring men? The acquired craft through which he earned a living? Or the secret arcane art that allowed him to cheat fate?
He couldn’t decide.
On the handmade paper was a wish Alain had composed for himself. He’d held off employing it, thinking there must be some man in this vast, complex world who would come to care for him before he grew too old to enjoy such fellowship. His parents had always taught him patience was a virtue and there was immeasurable strength in bearing one’s burdens with grace. But he was past thirty now and often weary. If Kafele ultimately disappointed him, why should he resign himself to a life of bitter loneliness?
Alain rubbed his eyes, reached to his left to turn up the lamp’s flame, and read what he’d written.
It is the time
That his is mine
And love comes, fresh as dew.
Across the ages
We’ll turn our pages
And with each page, renew.
It was an ambitious wish, perhaps even unforgivably arrogant, and for that reason he would hold it in reserve as his last resort. He tucked the paper back into its envelope and set the silver box on the table where the lamp stood.
After rising from his chair, that friendly seat of inspiration and optimism, Alain went to his stove and opened the door. Iron squealed against iron. He touched the envelope to his lips and whispered, "Wish come true when I need you to." With a small flick of his wrist, he tossed the envelope onto the bed of glowing coals.
And hell broke loose.