The room at Beauchamps’s Introduction House in which I was ensconced, and which the Madame had so generously offered for my purposes, was uncomfortably warm. I’d removed my frock coat in an effort to alleviate some of my discomfort, though in the interest of at least a modicum of social propriety, I’d kept my waistcoat on, collar and tie in place. I’d have opened a window to allow in the cool evening air, but in this particular part of London, while the breezes could certainly be chilling this time of year, they were nowhere near what could be described as refreshing. So I wilted. And I waited.
Light and shadow danced a minuet in the glow of the fire in the hearth, and the clock on the mantelpiece, an unsolicited reminder that the gentlemen I was meeting grew ever tardier, sang a dissonant and tedious tune against a backdrop of noises drifting up from the street below: a harmony of vendors hawking their wares, blending with the occasional clip-clop of horses’ hooves sharing the cobblestone streets with their steamwork counterparts, Lucius Carrington’s wondrous and nearly silent invention, auto-carriages. It was the rhythm of the city and a tune I knew well.
Although this wasn’t the first time I’d set foot inside Madame Beauchamps’s house, I was there that evening because I had been summoned by Queen Victoria’s Private Secretary and assigned the privilege of interviewing one Mr. Beau Schemery on her behalf, the gentleman who’d recently recounted in stunning detail, the events that led up to and included Her Majesty’s rescue from Sir Barrymore Fairgate’s evil clutches. It was not my place to question Her Majesty’s motives, but rumor had it she was still in a rather delicate condition following her ordeal, and it was my suspicion she wanted me to do what she was unable to do herself—become acquainted with Mr. Schemery on a more personal level without actually subjecting Herself to the discomfort of an audience with him. And then, of course, the Prince of Blackside would be accompanying Mr. Schemery. Propriety dictated the villain not be permitted an audience with Her Majesty, so this was the alternative. I was to submit my completed interview directly to the palace before it went to publication, and was determined to make the most of this rare opportunity to assist the Queen.
Madame Beauchamps had instructed the kitchen staff to lay out a light repast, so I helped myself to a cup of strong tea and a savory tart or two to acknowledge their efforts. “I reckon it’d be a shame to let it go to waste.” I started at the sound of my voice and glanced at the clock. “Brilliant. A quarter of an hour alone in a room and you’re already making conversation with yourself.” I huffed a self-deprecating and rather unattractive sound and went about the business of filling a plate. Of course, I’d just popped one of the warm delicacies into my mouth and hadn’t yet had the opportunity to clear my palate when the door opened and a man walked in, a stranger with flowing ringlet curls I presumed to be Mr. Schemery, followed by what could only be described as an eclectic mix of gentlemen in his wake: William Wrathsbury, the third Duke of Sutherland, and bringing up the rear, the young man known as Seven. The Seventh of London. I chewed and swallowed, and I’m afraid I also stared a bit. I was, after all, in awe of what they’d sacrificed for the monarchy. I must admit I had expected Jack Midnight to be in attendance as well, and was more than a little disappointed by his absence.
Seven crossed the threshold, but before he’d had the opportunity to close the door, I caught a glimpse of a young boy who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, smoking a pipe and apparently assuming the position of guard, which, I must confess, amused me greatly. This could only be the young man previously in Mr. Midnight’s employ, Rat. I caught his eye and nodded an acknowledgment to his presence, which did little more than earn me an eloquent scowl, one that communicated his immediate mistrust of me and seemed to imply my parents may not have been legally wed at the moment of my birth. I looked at Seven, eyebrows approaching my hairline; he looked squarely back at me and then shrugged as if to assure me I’d become accustomed to it, had I the opportunity to do so.
I shrugged back at him and smiled, then turned toward Mr. Schemery, offering my hand, “Simon Fletcher, Mr. Schemery, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I assure you I intend to make this as quick and as painless as possible for you.”
“Mr. Fletcher, pleased to meet you.” The author offered his hand and I shook it enthusiastically. “Please, call me Beau.”
“Thank you, Beau. And you may call me Simon.”
“Excellent, Simon. May I present my companions? His Grace, the Duke of Sutherland, William Wrathsbury, recently appointed Prime Minister.” Beau indicated the duke.
“Mr. Fletcher,” the duke shook my hand like a common man. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Your Grace,” I rasped, a bit in awe of the handsome, blond noble. He‘d apparently abandoned the false beard and mustache mentioned in Schemery’s account, the common clothes absent as well.
“No need for such formalities, Mr. Fletcher. You may call me William.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” I answered without thinking. As a proper British gentleman the hierarchy of our society was ingrained. “William,” I amended. The duke smiled warmly and without the judgment I had become accustomed to from one of his standing.
“We’re challenging preconceptions, Simon,” Mr. Schemery offered. “It takes some getting used to.”
“Indeed,” I responded. “I shall try to keep up.”
“Good man,” Schemery said and patted my arm jovially. “This is our man, Seven.” The author indicated the burgundy-haired youth. “Hero of the children, Blackside’s Liberator.”
“It’s an honor, Mr. Seven,” I took his hand and shook it reverently.
“Just Seven, Fletcher.” Seven retrieved his hand from my grip.
“My apologies, Seven.” I responded. “Please, sit down. The madame has provided treats.”
Introductions made and refreshments partaken of, we settled in and I set about adjusting a series of knobs on my Scribner Otovox, the latest and greatest invention to come along—well, to a journalist such as myself, at least—since ink. Simply put, the Otovox would record our conversation so I could play it back, verbatim, when I was set to transcribe it for publication. The box’s gears stuttered and clicked rather noisily at first, but smoothed out quickly to a quiet hum as the piston began turning the recording tube, the needle hovering over said tube and prepared to do its job.
I reviewed my notes, preparing my questions for the impending interview when the chamber door opened and the madame herself entered the room with a young, raven-haired man in a finely tailored suit to match. “Here you are, Jack,” Beauchamps said. She fluttered her eyelashes at the young man.
“Thank you, Bernie.” Midnight bowed slightly at the waist. “You’re the jewel of Blackside, my dear.” He snatched her hand and kissed her knuckles sensually. “Sorry I’m late,” he addressed our little group. It was obvious to me that he was not in any way sorry to be late and, in fact, he appeared to be gathering enjoyment from the fact.
“Jack,” Schemery rose. “This is Simon Fletcher. Simon, may I present his majesty, the Prince of Blackside, Mr. Jack Midnight.”
“Pleased, I’m sure, Mr. Midnight.” I shook the villain’s hand. The contact sent a thrill up my arm and into my body.
“Aren’t you a delectable morsel?” Midnight stated as he eyed me like a Christmas treat. I giggled in response and Midnight released me, but not before I could disguise that unfortunate bout of tittering with a cough.
“Settle down, Jack,” the author warned.
“Yes. Do, please.” Wrathsbury added. In his account, Schemery had hinted at a relationship between the duke and the villain, and now I could see it firsthand.
“Oh fine,” Midnight sat, waving off their admonishments.
As I focused on the group seated before me, I suddenly realized I was nervous, and not just a little, which did nothing to alleviate the fact I was already covered in a fine mist of sweat. Not only was I in the presence of the men who were instrumental in saving Her Majesty, as well as the United Kingdom, I was also in the presence of the criminal mastermind, Jack Midnight himself. I snuck a rather slantways, and what I hoped was a surreptitious, glance at him, and couldn’t help but be struck by both his appearance and presence. He was, in a word, stunning. I cleared my throat and took a sip of my now lukewarm tea. When I chanced to look his way again, he was smirking and, bloody hell, he winked at me, at which point I aspirated the tea, which did little more than to cause that smirk to transform into a full-blown grin.
I cleared my throat and determined not to humiliate myself entirely before this was done.
“Yes, well, gentlemen—“ I stuttered like a nervous schoolboy about to steal his first kiss and felt the blush that began as something like a flutter in the center of my chest, become a steady warmth that crept northward until my face was surely an unflattering shade of crimson. Four pairs of eyes stared at me with no small amount of skepticism that I was, in fact, even marginally sane, let alone competent enough to carry out the task at hand. But somehow I managed to gather my wits about me, and the following, dear readers, is the result of my time spent with an author, a Prime Minister, a villain, and a young hero.
SF: Beau, why don’t we begin with you telling readers a bit about yourself and how you came to write this adventure?
BS: I’m a storyteller, a raconteur, if you will. I’ve told my stories through art, in words, and on the stage. But I must be quite honest; writing this little adventure was not my idea. I believe it originated with Midnight?
WW: Yes. That’s absolutely correct. Jonathan, pardon, Jack mentioned to me that this was a story that needed to be told and I agreed. So I asked Jack to get the ball rolling, as it were.
JM: And that’s just what I did. I think you were quite keen on the idea once you heard it.
BS: How could one not be? Strong young people fighting against an oppressive system, an evil wizard? Jack himself was one of the big draws for me.
JM: Do tell.
BS: I love the non-conventionality of Mr. Midnight.
7: That’s puttin’ it mildly.
JM: Hush, Seven. He’s talking about me now.
BS: Jack’s nature is something that I’ve only seen tip-toed around in other stories of this nature, and I couldn’t wait to show the world what a real villain could accomplish, if given the leeway.
JM: Well said.
SF: Well then, I’d say that begs the question, were you intimidated at all by working with these gentlemen?
BS: Not at first, but as an author, I’m used to making up the stories myself. No surprises, the narrative goes where I tell it to. It’s quite a different thing when the “characters” are dictating the course of the action. One never knows what to expect.
WW: Especially when Midnight is involved.
JM: Don’t sell yourself short, William, old boy. You gave us all quite a start when you revealed your plans for the Royal Wedding.
WW: Ah, yes. Well. Please continue, Beau.
BS: And when one is working with such an eclectic group of personalities, it’s no easy feat to juggle those conflicts. Although I must say, with few exceptions, these gentlemen, and the ladies- because make no mistake- there were just as many ladies who assisted them; this group of people put aside their differences for the greater good of their queen and nation.
SF: Is The 7th of London your first novel?
BS: Not at all. But it is my first solo novel. I have a writing partner and write under an assumed name. We’ve written two novels and a number of short stories together. An interesting aside; this is the first solo novel I’ve had published, but I wrote another before it. That book, The Unlikely Hero, will also be published by Harmony Ink.
SF: What type of book is it?
BS: It’s a high-fantasy, action/adventure, comedy. I realize what a mish-mash of things that sounds like but believe me, it works. Extremely different from this book but hopefully just as interesting.
7: Is it easier t’make up yer own worlds or start with somewhere real, like London?
BS: It’s much more difficult to deal with existing places. Inevitably there are people who live in those places and will know if the author gets something wrong.
SF: Very interesting. Did it take much research on your part to get the book written? How long did it take you to write?
BS: I did a great deal of research. Not just interviewing those involved, I also studied maps and other accounts of the time. I owe a great deal to Mr. Charles Dickens. His writings inspired people to put together an entire collection of information on the greater London area. I had to research family lineage and how titles are passed from father to son. The book took the greater part of a year to finish. Often I would have to pause and check sources for accuracy and locations. Also bear in mind that as I was writing this book, my writing partner and my alter ego were working on other projects.
SF: I’m in awe that you can keep all these characters and their stories straight. And also, if I may point this out, you’re an artist. Do you see yourself as an artist first and novelist second, a novelist first and an artist second, or do your talents go hand in hand?
BS: I am an artist. I was an artist first but not long after I started drawing, I used those drawings to tell stories. I think my art informs my writing and vice versa. I often begin a novel by doing sketches of the main characters. It helps me flesh them out, get to know them. Likewise before I start a piece of art, I’ll think about the story that led up to that piece.
SF: That’s quite impressive as well. Seven, may I ask how are you faring after this adventure?
7: Fair enough, I suppose. We all lost a great deal, but we’re recoverin’. My good friend Silas and I are toyin’ with the idea of visitin’ the colonies. So far my world’s only ever been London. I’m curious t’see what else is out there.
SF: What do the plans for the immediate future include for the rest of you?
BS: Shall I go first? As I mentioned before, I’ve a new young adult novel on the way from Harmony Ink. It’s the first in a series. The stories follow an aspiring hero named Ren. While the first book is in editing, my alter ego is working on a contemporary story that will also be the beginning of a series. Those books will center around a local bar and the relationships that are formed in and around it.
And I’m curious to see what Sev and Silas find in Victorica. Possibly the seed of a sequel?
WW: Trouble does seem to follow you, Sev.
7: I’m not goin’ there t’start any revolutions. I just want t’see the New World. Maybe check out the Wild West.
JM: Good luck with that, my friend.
WW: I’ll be visiting France in my capacity as Prime Minister. Nothing exciting I’m afraid.
JM: France? Hmm. I was just thinking about a nice glass of champagne. Maybe I’ll tag along?
JM: Of course. Or maybe I’ll see what Victorica has to offer as well.
7: No. Please. If trouble follows me, it rides on your shoulders, spewin’ fire and swingin’ a cricket bat.
BS: That’s a valid point.
JM: I can’t deny it, certainly.
SF: Too right. I’ll direct the questions back to you for a moment, then, Beau. If you could choose a single scene from the book, which would you say was the most difficult to write?
BS: Ahem. Some of the more tragic sequences were extremely taxing. An author grows attached to his characters when they aren’t real. When dealing with events such as these, it’s even worse.
SF: Indeed, I can assure you those were the most difficult parts to read as well. And having told us that, now which would you say was your favorite scene to write?
BS: I think my favorite scene is when Silas and Sev went to Austria. What awaited them was nothing like they expected.
7: That’s no lie.
BS: There were some very hilarious moments there.
SF: Yes, I won’t say which, but there certainly was one particular circumstance that I found quite amusing. My apologies if this question is too bold, gentlemen, but how do the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Prince of Blackside continue an association with each other?
JM: William. You’re so melodramatic at times. Although it has become a bit more difficult with his new role as Prime Minister. Thank God for unmarked auto-carriages and false mustaches.
WW: Lovely, Jack.
JM: Sometimes I make him keep the mustache on.
Dear readers, the Victorican businessman Phineas T. Barnum has been quoted as saying his theory to success in entertainment is always to leave the audience wanting more. After getting the answer I’d been looking for to that rather delicate final question, I decided he might’ve had the right of it, and declared the evening not only concluded but also a rousing success. There was just one final request I had for Beau.
SF: May I have an excerpt from The Seventh of London to share with readers?
The 7th of London by Beau Schemery
SEV pulled the collar of his secondhand military coat up and wrapped his scarf tighter to block the cold November wind whipping through the streets of London’s Blackside. Sev hated the cold almost as much as he hated the smoke-heavy air this side of the city. Victoria had the slums cut off in 1861. Just before the death of Albert. In whispers they called that period the great spiral. Sev didn’t get the reference, but he understood the intent. The queen’s mum died, and things started to go wrong. Now it was 1865, and Sev slipped in and out of the throng on King Street. He’d been following the man in the stovepipe hat for a few blocks, blending into the shadows to observe his prey. The once-crimson military jacket he wore was almost black with wear from years on the street, but that suited Sev just fine. He knew what it felt like to get noticed. It hurt more often than not, and Sev’d had enough hurt for two lifetimes.
The man Sev trailed was tall and oddly built. His arms seemed too long for his body; his legs towered, but he moved with mechanical purpose. He wore goggles beneath his stovepipe hat and had a beard as black as night to match his clothes. Sev had been watching the man for more than a week now and was completely intrigued by the dark man’s strange errands. Something about the man’s movement seemed wrong. Sev couldn’t explain it, but he knew to trust his instincts, and there might be money in it for him if he told the right person. Sev needed money if he ever wanted to escape Blackside, and he desperately wanted freedom. He’d heard stories of the colonies and how someone with strength and determination could make a living despite the circumstances of his birth. If there were even a chance that was true, it was a chance he was willing to take. The man looked toward the shadows that hid Sev, and Sev pulled his newsboy hat down to shield his eyes. He looked in the window of the bake shop, feigning interest in the window’s contents. Glancing at the emerald-green eyes of his reflection, he pushed his too-long burgundy locks behind his ear before he allowed his gaze to dart back to the dark stranger. He waited for the gangly man to turn the corner before leaving his perch to follow.
Sev had grown up on these streets. His parents emigrated in 1845 like many others during the potato famine in their homeland, and Sev was born a few years after. He could barely remember how happy he’d been as a small child with his family. Although he remembered being branded like it was only yesterday. Funny how the pain could remain so vivid while the contentment faded so easily. Sev escaped after four years of hellish labor and horrific circumstances. Freedom should inspire pleasant feelings, but when he thought back to that day in 1861 when he’d escaped and took Lord Fervis’s eye, his chest tightened with guilt and regret. Sev barely remembered his mother. She’d died in Fervis’s factory when Sev was scarcely nine.
The city was more of a mother to him now, and he knew her streets, could dash along them without thought and know exactly where he was at any given time. Sev prided himself on not being seen. The skill was born of necessity: trying to avoid detection by the Coal-Eaters, Scotland Yard, and Fervis’s Footmen, Blackside’s own police force. Sev spent more time in shadow than in light and excelled at remaining unnoticed. It kept him alive. He stole some things he needed, sold information to get things he couldn’t, all the while trying to set something aside for his escape. Not to mention trying to stand up for the factory orphans, making sure those who tried to take advantage of them met with unfortunate accidents. If only someone had been there for him and his siblings. It wasn’t an ideal existence, dashing from shadow to shadow and avoiding observation, but it beat living in the workhouses and factories like Fervis’s Auto-Matic Cobblery, which sprang up in Blackside, and which Victoria was rumored to have encouraged. Sev would rather die than return to a place like that, and he had no intention of dying. The young Irishman knew, without a doubt, after what he’d done, showing his face anywhere near a factory would be a death sentence.
Sev wasn’t sure if the queen’s intentions were good when she established London’s factory district, and he didn’t care. It was what it was, but as soon as the filth the industries spewed into the air started to encroach on the affluent portion of the city, she’d commissioned giant fans to be placed along the division, keeping the filth in the air over the filth in the streets and away from the nobles and high society. Sev paused on the edge of a roof, hitching up his oversized trousers, reminding himself to tighten the bracers on his shoulders. He regarded the stranger beyond the toes of his boots, which he’d mended more times than he could remember while desperately keeping a lookout for a new pair. The thought brought memories of his father, and Sev swallowed against the swell of feelings still strong after so many years.
The dark man dashed down another alleyway, and Sev skipped along the rooftop following the man’s every move. He loosed the first few buttons of the double row that led down his jacket despite the chill night. The garment beneath was filthy, and he longed to switch it out for his other shirt awaiting him in the small hideout he maintained above the Royal Museum.
Sev’s ability to avoid detection allowed him to pass easily above or below the guarded lines between Blackside and Fairside. He didn’t have much, but he aspired to something more. He managed to slip from his attic hideout into the museum from time to time and had forced himself to learn to read, sort of; he still had a bit of trouble. His thoughts drifted to Henry, the owlet he’d nursed back to health a few months ago. They shared his attic room. Some other streeters, kids who lived as he did, had killed Henry’s mother for food, leaving the tiny owl orphaned and alone. Sev couldn’t allow the tiny creature to starve to death and had saved the little owl chick. Henry hadn’t left Sev’s nest since.
The dark man ducked into Curtis’s Mercantile, and Sev paused, watching from above. He observed the tall man purchase an odd variety of items: cloth, metal, coal, gears, food, water, and oil. The man didn’t leave with the items, and Sev assumed they’d be delivered later. To where? he wondered.
He’d watched the man speak with an eclectic group of people throughout the week as well: the nobleman Sutherland; the criminal, Midnight; a prominent madam; three floor foremen from various industries; and a duchess. Sev tried to piece the connections together but could spot no obvious correlation. The stranger dashed ahead once more, and Sev lost sight of the man. Sev cursed and forced himself to run faster, turning the corner only to find an empty wall. The dark stranger was nowhere to be found. Sev scanned the alley for any means of egress but detected none. He dropped to the ground. Nothing, he thought. He’s just gone. Sev removed his hat and scratched his head. Someone shouted from the alley’s entrance, and Sev scrambled up a drainpipe onto the opposite wall.
And this is the part where I announce that one lucky reader will win a copy of The 7th of London, but first I’d like to take this opportunity to give a huge thank you to Beau Schemery for being such a great sport and playing along with my idea to try something different with his interview. I hope you enjoyed getting to know a bit more about him and about a few of my favorite characters from this book. And guess what? Now all you have to do is leave a comment (including your email address) right here on this post to be eligible to win. It’s that simple. Good luck!!
**Contest Entry Deadline is 11:59pm Pacific Time on Sunday, December 16, 2012.**
Artwork posted with permission from Beau Schemery: