Hey all, this is a response to Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: in 1,000 words or less use 5 of these ten words – Whalebone, Foxglove, Djinn, Orphan, Lollipop, Casket, Hermit, Hound, Acid, Topaz. I wanted to show off and use ALL of the words. I almost did it too, but I was about 46 words over the limit so I had to cut back, losing two of the ten. It’s pretty rough, but I hope you enjoy this adventure of a new character named Topaz Burke.
Topaz Burke: Adventurer
He waited inside the trees. Had he not been dressed in black with a scarf concealing half his face and holding a musket, he might have been mistaken for a traveler, stopping for a rest.
But Topaz Burke never needed to rest, even when acid and bile swirled in his belly, occasionally making a foray up his throat. Topaz reached into the inner pocket of long coat to get a charcoal tablet. He popped it into his mouth and bit down, grimacing at the gritty texture. A few moments after swallowing, though, the vile wash in his stomach quieted.
The road ran north to south before him, lit by the sunset. But for the fallen tree that blocked the way, the road continued for several hundred miles to Hampsbarrow. He eyed the downed trunk. It and the hound at his side were his only allies in this business. He hoped they proved enough.
Beside him, Fergus shifted. Topaz patted the dog’s head. Fergus panted and pushed his head into the caress. Topaz set down the musket and removed his tricorn hat, swiping the sweat from his brow. They had waited in this same spot for five hours – ever since the funeral began at Filigree. Even for late summer, the air felt soupy. He had sweated through his shirt and vest, could feel moisture trickling down his back. The services had to be over by now and the feast could not last much longer. Horace Pettisworth had been a hermit for God’s sake! Only six people had bothered to attend his burial – and two of those had been lawyers.
At last he heard the rumble of carriage wheels along the road. Topaz gathered up the musket and stood, Fergus rose with him. They jogged to squat on the far side of the fallen tree, hidden from the people in the carriage. He removed his hat again and chanced a quick look at the road. A black carriage, festooned with garlands of roses and black tulle rolled into view. Four black horses pulled the conveyance at a steady trot, guided by the driver on the box. Topaz saw no footmen. He ducked back down and replaced his hat, readied the musket, and drew his saber.
The driver called out to the horses and the team decelerated to a walk before halting. Topaz heard the sharp thwack of the brake lever, followed by the whupf of the driver jumping from the box. Then footsteps grew close as the driver came to inspect the obstruction. Topaz gripped his upper lip between his teeth, counting the footsteps.
“Bloody hell,” the driver said. “Day get any worse?”
Topaz smiled. He stood and pivoted at the same time, leveling the musket at the driver’s chest. “If you have to ask, you know it can.” Fergus leapt onto the trunk, snarling.
The driver raised his hands, a scowl twisting his face. “Steady on! What’s this, then?”
Topaz set one foot on the trunk and stepped up. “This? This is a musket.” He had to raise his voice to project it over the scarf.
“We ain’t carrying money, friend. Got nothing to interest ya.”
Topaz shook his head. “Not interested in money, friend.”
The scowl left the driver’s face. His skin paled. “What ya want, then?”
Grimacing, Topaz jumped down from the trunk. Fergus landed beside him. “Not what you think. Let’s go, and keep your mouth shut.”
The driver turned and led him back to the coach. Topaz could read the man’s thoughts in the tense lines of his shoulders. “Don’t do anything stupid. You’ll walk away from this just fine if you do what I say and keep your heroics inside your head where they belong.”
The driver looked over his shoulder. Topaz saw him swallow before he nodded. “Sure, whatever ya say.”
“Call out your passenger.”
The other man cleared his throat. “Miss Foxglove. Could ya alight for the moment?”
Topaz frowned and felt his chest constrict a little. This was something he had not expected. A gloved hand appeared at the window, followed by a face surrounded by a black bonnet. “Is something wrong, Mr. Terrance–“ She stopped when she saw Topaz. Her face lost its inquiring smile and smoothed into a mask. “I see.”
She opened the door and stepped from the carriage. She folded her black-gloved hands and watched him. “Mr. Burke?”
Anyone else in that carriage would have taken him for an anonymous thief. But Rosalie Foxglove was never fooled by pretense. Topaz pulled off his mask. “Miss Foxglove, always a pleasure.”
“I wish I could say the same. Would you mind telling me what this is about?”
“Do I need to?”
She glanced at Terrance. “It isn’t here.”
“Now, why don’t I believe you?”
“It’s the truth. I placed it in Mr. Pettisworth’s casket, just before the burial.”
Topaz studied her face. It sounded like something she would do – bury a powerful treasure rather than keep it for herself. Despite Pettisworth’s indifferent rearing of his orphan ward, Miss Foxglove had obtained a rigid conscience from somewhere. Then, he saw her fingers press the skirt of her gown. He pushed Terrance onto the step. “Stay.” The coachman nodded. Topaz turned to assess Miss Foxglove. “Lift your skirt.”
Her lips parted. “I beg your pardon?”
He put up his saber and slid his musket into its back holster. He reached out and grabbed a fistful of muslin before yanking it up to her waist. She cried out, tried to pull free. But Topaz had found what he sought. Tied to her garter with twine was the whalebone ring. He unsheathed his knife and cut the twine. The ring fell into his hand. He held it up, brow raised. “Why, Miss Foxglove, you seem to have a bit of bone in your drawers.”
She yanked her skirt from his hand, smoothed the material. And spit in his eye. “Which is more than you can say, Mr. Burke.”