Read Blazing Bodices Online

Authors: Robert T. Jeschonek

Blazing Bodices

Blazing Bodices



Robert T. Jeschonek



More Fantasy
by Robert T. Jeschonek


6 Fantasy Stories

6 More Fantasy Stories

– a
n urban fantasy

Girl Meets Mind Reader

Groupie Everlasting

Rose Head

The Genie's Secret

The Return of Alice

The Sword That Spoke




Blazing Bodices


When the woman who was not a woman burst into our evening, we were just setting up some balls for the breaking.

Shortly after Miss Patel had finished her story of the Emerald Guardians, I and several members of the Wanderers' Club retired to the billiards room. After all the idle chit chat, we felt the need for action. After all, we call ourselves
do we not?

Just as Mr. Asteroth-Phipps was drawing back his stick to break the first rack of balls, the heavy oak door of the billiard room flew open. As the door slammed home against the oak paneling of the wall, the five of us in the room looked toward the noise all at once.

My first impression was of a statuesque woman standing in the doorway, two or three inches taller than six feet. A black overcoat encompassed the upper reaches of her frame, occluding many details of her figure. The rest were hidden by the vast bell of the royal blue skirt of her dress, fanned out over its frame of whalebone hoops.

Her blonde hair, instead of being worn up and properly pinned, lay in a tangled fall upon her shoulders and back. Her hair looked wild, as did her eyes; her long, oval face was glossy with sweat.

A statuesque woman in distress; this was my first impression. Had she been accosted on the street and sought shelter in our club? Was she the victim of a medical emergency, in need of urgent care?

Whatever her business, it didn't take long for us to offer our assistance. The five of us moved forward more or less at the same time. I would expect no less from such a gathering of men of action.

"Madame." I spoke first, bowing my head briefly as I stepped toward her. "I am Captain Buckingham Thrice of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, Occult Brigade. These good fellows and I stand ready to assist in any way possible. How may we be of service?"

It was then, just before she spoke, that I realized the truth of the situation. Raising my head, I suddenly got a closer look at the woman. My steps had carried me to to within ten feet of her, enabling me to make out more details of her appearance.

At which point, my heart skipped a beat. I stopped walking toward her and gaped, unable to look away.

Because there on her cheeks and chin and throat was the unmistakable roughness of stubble.

My colleagues stopped approaching her at the same moment, also gaping at her unexpected appearance. Was she some kind of bearded woman, then, straight from a carnival midway?

Not if her voice was any indication.

"Thank God, thank God!" Her voice was deeper than I'd expected, deeper than the voice of a typical woman. "I'm finally safe!" It sounded deep enough to be something not at all womanly, in fact.

At that moment, the biggest surprise of all kicked in, leaving me reeling. For it was then that I realized this was not a woman at all, and not just a man, either.

This was someone I

The words tumbled from my lips before I could stop them. "
Is it
" Even as I spoke, I wished I could call back what I'd said. I thought it sounded utterly insane.

To my absolute surprise and horror, the person in the doorway did not laugh at me. Did not scowl at the offense or look down in humiliation.

Instead, one black-gloved hand flew upward, took hold of the gleaming fall of blonde hair, and tugged. The entirety of those golden locks came away all at once, revealing a scalp studded with silvery stubble.

The scalp of a man in woman's clothing.

"Can we waste no further time on ridiculous
guessing games?
" He souded incensed as he heaved the blonde wig to the floor. "We have a most
business to conduct!"

Sir Hogshead?
" Doctor Yarrow sounded positively apoplectic. "
Sir Algernon Hogshead?
One of the charter members of our very own
Wanderers' Club?

Mr. Asteroth-Phipps sounded a good deal more amused. "Have you come from a masquerade ball of some sort? Or is this simply a typical night out for you, sir?"

Sir Hogshead plowed forward. Even under the white powder makeup on his face, I could see he was flushed as a stewed tomato as he shoved past me. "Enough
We are in
, each and every one of us!"

Asteroth-Phipps chuckled. "Is there a shortage of
at hand, good sir?"

Hogshead grabbed a bottle of whisky from the sideboard and spun, wielding the bottle like a weapon at Ravensthorpe. "The very
of our
is at stake!"

"And would that fabric happen to be
?" said Mr. Asteroth-Phipps.

Hogshead uncapped the whisky, gulped an amount that could in no way be considered womanly, and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket. "Laugh if you like," he snarled. "But I've come here to tell you that no less than our very
is in extraordinary

"Do tell," Asteroth-Phipps said with a smirk, and then Hogshead began his tale.



This whole awful business began innocently enough. I, Algernon Hogshead, arrived home early one afternoon to surprise my wife. I had just concluded a most propitious deal for my import/export company, one that would keep the British Isles well-stocked with exquisite foreign-made musical dentures for years to come, all at a tremendous profit to myself. I imagined I might celebrate the occasion with my beloved Bess.

Imagine my surprise when Bess was nowhere to be found. Our London home was empty as a beggar's bowl--children in school, Bess absent, even the servants gone from the premises. The
servants, that is.

Eternal optimist that I am, I expected not the worst, but the best. Surely, Bess had gone to the market. After all, she was known for joining the household staff in their shopping on occasion to get some fresh air and supervise purchases. It was her own little adventure, she liked to say. I might travel the world with my Wanderers' Club chums, but she could tell just as many cock and bull stories about her own trips down the market with the staff.

Disappointed at the lack of someone with whom to celebrate, I retired to my study and poured a snifter full of brandy. Undoing my tie and collar, I relaxed in my favorite high-backed chair by the fireplace and sipped the brandy, resolving to wait for my wife's return.

One hour passed. I watched its slow progress on the face of the antique clock on the mantle. My first brandy gave way to a second and then a third.

Just as the second hour gave way to a third with no sign of my wife. Wherever she was, whatever she was doing, it was taking longer than a simple trip to the market.

Yet still I entertained no suspicious thoughts. Even when the third hour melted into the fourth, my only concerns were for Bess's well-being. I began to wonder if something terrible had happened to her, if she'd been injured or fallen ill in the course of her errands.

Just as I was preparing to leave the house in search of Bess, I heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. Then, the sound of her shoes clacking on the hardwood floor. Immediately, I ran out of the study and down the hall, heart pounding with anticipation.

When I hurtled around the corner at the end of the hall and saw her standing in the entryway, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of intense relief. She was not dead, and she did not appear to be injured.

But she
appear to be surprised.

Gasping when she saw me, Bess flung her left hand to the base of her throat and stumbled back two steps. "Al-Algie?" She sounded stunned. "What are you d-doing here so soon?"

"Came home to celebrate a deal, my dear." I took a step toward her, frowning with concern as I looked her over. "Are you all right? Have you hurt yourself or some such?"

Bess shook her head once, then nodded. Her perfectly creamy complexion shaded crimson as she blushed. "It's why I'm late getting home, actually. I was visiting Lorna Farnesworth, and I suddenly came down with the vapors." She fanned herself, making the auburn strands of hair around her face dance in the little breeze. "It took me
to get my sea legs back, I'm afraid."

Such an e
minently reasonable explanation. I believed her on the spot, no questions asked. "You're feeling better now, though?"

She patted her hair with one hand, keeping the left hand clasped at the base of her throat. "Still a bit shaky, truth be told. Best if I have a little lie-down, I should think."

"Very well." I nodded and backed away. "We can celebrate another time."

"Thank you ever so much for understanding." Bess smiled thinly and moved past me, heading for the stairs.

Before she could elude me completely, however, I shot out a hand and caught her left wrist in my grip. Tugging her hand free, I kissed it lovingly...all the while stealing a glance at the thing she'd been hiding.

At first, I could have sworn it was staring back at me. My first impression was of an eyeball planted in the high collar of her dress, flicking in its socket to look in my direction.

Another moment's inspection, however, revealed the truth. It was an eye, all right, but it was crafted of silver, not humors and muscles and blood vessels. It was just a piece of jewelry, a pendant on a silver chain--an elongated eyeball mounted inside what looked to me like an Egyptian symbol.

I'd never seen it before in my life...not in my house and certainly not on my wife.

But I did not speak of it at that moment. I lifted my lips away from her soft, pallid hand, allowing her to cover the pendant once more.

And then, with a sigh, she was gone up the stairs. I heard the door to her bedroom close, and I frowned.

For the first time, suspicion took shape within me. Why had she felt the need to conceal that strange pendant? What was the real reason for her absence that afternoon?

Perhaps, I thought, my mistress might shed some light on the subject.



Lady Undine Crenshaw reclined on a fainting couch in the parlor of her rooms at the Savoy hotel. Her black-trimmed red silk dressing gown flowed over her voluptuous curves, leaving her pale ankles and feet scandalously bare. Sunlight streamed from the open windows through her luxurious blonde hair as it lay across her shoulders and breasts, forming a wispy halo. Her eyes, a brighter blue than any robin's egg could ever be, twinkled as she gazed at me.

"You're asking me about the likelihood that your wife indulged in an assignation?" Her voice was deep and husky. One corner of her mouth was cocked upward in a knowing smirk as it almost always seemed to be. "Darling, how should

I shook my head in frustration as I paced in front of her. "I'm simply asking your
As a

Lady Crenshaw sighed and turned her gaze to the ceiling. "She was
you say? Alarmed?"

I stopped pacing and looked down at her, expecting insight. "Exactly."

"Perhaps she wondered if your company had collapsed, or you'd committed some
crime." Lady Crenshaw met my gaze. "Seeing you unexpectedly, and so out of context...of
it would worry her."

"This was different." I waved her off and resumed pacing. "Bess was
happy to see me."

"Believe it or not," said Lady Crenshaw, "wives are not
happy to see their husbands." Twisting around, she reached for the silver cigarette case and matches on the round marble table behind her. "Or so I've heard."

"But the
." I pressed my left hand at the base of my throat as I recalled it. "She was
it from me. And it looked so

Lady Crenshaw opened the case, drew out a slender brown cigarette, and slipped it between her lips. "Perhaps you've been spending too much time at that Wanderers' Club, darling." Her words were muffled as she spoke around the cigarette. "You're starting to see exotic secrets and dangers simply
" Raising the lighter in its little metal box, she pressed the switch with her thumb. A flame popped out of the nozzle on top of the device, and she directed it at the tip of the cigarette while inhaling.

learned to be alert to hidden dangers." I paused at one end of my pacing track and rubbed my silver goatee. "I've learned the
way. Relaxing your guard can lead to sudden

Lady Crenshaw sighed loudly. As I turned to continue pacing, I saw her blow a huge cloud of smoke in my direction. "Is this the only reason you've come over, then? To talk about your wife ad nauseum?"

"Of course not." I brushed aside her question with a swipe of my arm. "When have I
let her come between us?"

"Perhaps I should bring one of my
into the conversation." Lady Crenshaw laughed, puffing out three rings of smoke. "But which one shall it

Ignoring her baiting, I spun and pointed a finger at her. "I must
Treat this as one of my

"Leave off it, Algie." Lady Crenshaw took a drag on her cigarette, then blew out more smoke. "This is bloody
, home of the illustrious
Wanderers' Club.
a worse place to try to hide a naughty little
thanks to

I grabbed the gold boar's-head handle of my ebony cane from the back of the red velvet chair on which it hung. "It has been my experience," I said as I gave the cane a twirl, "that the quieter the
, the closer the

"Oh, dear." Lady Crenshaw crushed her cigarette in the bowl of a crystal ashtray on the marble table. "You've got the
, haven't you?"

I grinned and reached for the doorknob. "What does your female intuition tell you, darling?"

"Something about people in glass houses throwing stones," said Lady Crenshaw just before she rolled over and turned her back on me.

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