“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”
The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.
“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”
As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “The protagonist of author Neve Talbot’s ‘West End’ introduces himself thus:
Theodore Laurence. My friends call me Laurie. Strange, I know, but the lads were calling me Dora. Given the choice, Laurie is less objectionable. Jo calls me Teddy. Can’t seem to break her of the habit.
“Welcome, Laurie!” Will greets the young man now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – for the benefit of the vision-impaired members of our audience, won’t you describe in your own words the eye candy I’ve got the pleasure of looking upon right now?”
Laurie blushes, but complies. “Well . . . I’m tall—but not too tall. Not so tall as you, Will. Not so muscle-bound neither. Not that I’m scrawny, mind. I can hold my own in my weight class. Have you ever leg-wrestled?”
Will’s eyes brighten. “Oh, frequently! Good fun, that!”
“Greco-Roman wrestling, too,” Laurie adds. “I do that pretty well. Ivy-league stuff. Average looks, I guess. Beth calls me Adonis, but she likes to tease. Women don’t really think of me that way. Jo certainly doesn’t.”
“Thank heaven for Will Scarlet, then,” Allyn mutters off-camera.
“Ignore him,” Will advises Laurie. “You were saying?”
“My father’s family was originally British, but my mother was Italian. And I got her coloring: black, wavy hair, dark eyes, that sort of thing.” He shrugs. “I play the piano like her, too, but with the war and everything—I wanted to build something, after all the destruction. MIT suited. As for being a doctor . . . I’m fortunate to do what I love and still make a difference to people.”
“Difference-making and loving it is the best,” Will agrees. “Now, then. This Jo you’ve mentioned on multiple occasions… Jo March, I believe. Am I right in inferring that there is or was a little something going on between you? Or that you wish there were?”
“Jo—I didn’t fit in with her plans. I thought I did, but . . . Let’s just say, I had good motivations to bury myself in my studies, and leave it at that. I thought this was supposed to be entertainment?”
“All right, all right, doubling back to doctoring, then. What sort do you do, and what is it that attracts you to that particular niche?”
“Of a truth, I hadn’t actually planned on becoming a doctor. I spent prep school in Switzerland, not far from where I was born in Italy. Then, I returned to Concord with the plan of starting Harvard when I was ready. Grandfather wanted me to join his banking firm. But . . .
Laurie backtracks, “They don’t have much steam technology in the Alps. They’ve cities enough, but it’s nothing like you see in England, where everything is steel and soot. But, that’s when I first met Edward Rochester, my grandfather’s friend. Surely you’ve heard of him, the famous inventor. You’ve never seen such a sight as his airship, Will. No one has! The Andromeda 2 is like nothing else on the planet. Crossing the Atlantic in the airship started me dreaming. I wanted to make things, so Grandfather allowed me to attend MIT instead of Harvard.”
His excitement sobers. “The United States was deep in a civil war when I came from Switzerland, although it never reached Massachusetts. They only stopped shooting because there weren’t enough people to make weapons any longer. There were no more soldiers to use them. They finally made peace and rejoined forces when they realized the British and French were just waiting to step in and pick over their bones.
“People kept dying even after the armistice. Famine, disease, pestilence—it was a nightmare. They would have never recovered nor held off the invaders from Europe if it weren’t for Rochester. He meant his mechanical men for heavy labor, to remove the rubble, erect buildings, grow crops, bury the dead. He brought the first shipment of Mandroids to Concord just after I graduated MIT.
“I said that Massachusetts escaped the war, but I should say, the cities escaped the destruction. There was death enough, with all the soldiers that never came home. The people still knew plenty of privation, especially when the refugees from New York started flooding in. Then came the wounded. Too many had lost an arm, a leg, an eye or two, often times multiple amputations. They came streaming through Boston, Cambridge, Concord, and the residents did their best to offer relief, especially Mrs. March and the girls.
“I saw those broken soldiers and what passed for prosthetics, and knew I wanted to use what I’d learned at MIT to give them their lives back. After I graduated, I spent time in England learning from a brilliant metallurgist, then went on to medical school, and the rest is history.”
Will chuckles. “Well, so much for the short version.”
“Gosh. Sorry. I didn’t mean to rattle on, but you did ask. That’s a sore subject with me: war, weapons, mass destruction, wholesale murder.”
A still-chuckling Will holds up a lenient hand. “Hey, I banded with Robin Hood. I’m used to voluble passion on the subject of humanity – and inhumanity. How ‘bout a fresh topic to bring your blood down a few degrees? New England, Old England, Switzerland… Amazing all the geography you can cover, when you’re not stuck on an immortal Faerie island. Which of these places have you enjoyed most and why?”
“My parents lived a fairly Bohemian lifestyle when I was a child. They took me all over Europe, although our home was in the Alps above Milano. I had thought to share those warm memories with Jo. We would see the world together, but . . . but it’s just as well. One can’t very well study metallurgy and medicine and globe-trot both at once.
“I haven’t found a favorite place, but Jamaica just may be it. My friends are there. I’ll begin my career there. And, it’s just different—peaceful. They don’t have coal, you see. Rochester’s inventions don’t use it. They harness the sun to create steam to power their technology. He has even installed electricity. Everything on Jamaica is still green and clean and unspoiled—Rochester’s personal Utopia.
“I am looking forward to an extended stay on the island. I’ll be leaving London soon to start my residency. I’m only doing this interview because a certain young lady coerced me into it.” The sound of giggles causes Laurie to glance over his shoulder into the wings and scowl. “I lost a bet.”
“Which brings us to the final question,” says Will, eyes twinkling, “where all bets are off. Tell me, Laurie, what is your author Neve’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He grins. “Or would you rather kiss me?”
More giggles from the wings. Laurie glances suspiciously from the source to the smirk on Will Scarlet’s face. A decided glint of mischief sparks in Laurie’s eyes. He relaxes into his chair, finally making himself at home on the set. “Well, Will, let me tell you, Neve Talbot is just about the most boring person on the planet. She has no deep, dark secrets, and certainly no hilarious ones. As for mortifying—let’s allow the woman some dignity, shall we? So, I’m afraid I can’t help you on that score. And, while I certainly don’t walk on that side of the street, you are a rather fine specimen of manhood.”
Laurie rises from his chair and advances on Will, then turns back again, his brow furrowed as he considers the ramifications. He begins to pace. “How far does this broadcast reach? My grandfather is of a conservative bent, you see.” He pivots and paces as the off-stage giggling continues. “The man actually disinherited my father when he married my mother. I know Grandfather would be mortified if . . .” Giggle, giggle. Pivot, pace. “On the other hand, ‘Bohemian’ is putting it rather lightly when I describe my upbringing—hence the disinheriting—so, the idea isn’t so very shocking to me—”
Of a sudden, he lunges into the wings. A curious yelp is heard. Laurie again emerges onto the stage, propelling a beautiful young lady with corn-silk hair and blue eyes toward Will Scarlet.
“Perhaps a substitute? Miss Amy March, meet Will Scarlet, but I see you two have already met. I’m certain the Snow Maiden here will suit, and she is more than happy to oblige.”
Will laughs. “Ah, well, Amy, we nearly had him. What say you and I make good on the kiss while Allyn gives us a word from our sponsor?”
“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, as Will and Amy get busy, “was brought to you by Neve Talbot’s ‘West End’, a short story included in Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology.
In this steampunked sequel to “Tropic of Cancer (Mechanized Masterpieces #1)”, it’s Jane Eyre meets Little Women, with a bit of intrigue and skullduggery thrown in to keep it interesting. Rejected by the love of his life, Theodore Laurence travels to England to continue his education, ultimately arriving in Jamaica for his residency as a doctor specializing in prosthetics. As the protégé of Edward Rochester, he achieves some sense of purpose healing the severely maimed, but finds himself thrown into the middle of an international plot to steal Rochester’s inventions for nefarious purposes.
“Thank you, Allyn,” says Will. “Thanks also to you, Laurie and Amy. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided in this post, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”