Inedible Sins

Inedible Sins
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Washington, DC, 1856

Washington City was a different creature before the War. Oh, it was stuffed full of self-important politicians and waggish rowdies, muddy or dusty and summer-hot and half-formed, none of that will have changed. I only mean that it was a town about to boil over: this was the summer of party conventions, of John Brown in Bleeding Kansas, and the Brooks-Sumner affair. Not an elaborate excursion, an elite dance, a reception, a country picnic, or private drawing-room party talked of anything else.

sumner caning

An Impossible Friendship

Ashley walked me to the door. When I was about to open it, he said, “It’s true.”

I paused and looked at him over my shoulder. “What?”

“That if I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t offer you a duel because of your birth and station.” He was no more or less expressionless than usual when he delivered this information.

But it was more confusing than ever, considering the subject.

He leaned forward and lowered his voice, as if imparting a secret. He smelled of shaving soap and just the barest hint of some exotic flower – or perhaps that was the vase on the nearby table. “But I do know you. And for what it’s worth, Jonesy, I’d gladly offer to empty a gun into you, if you were to give me motive and opportunity.” And then, at last, he smiled.

I returned it, realizing at once that this was a compliment, if perhaps the strangest of my already strange life. “Well, then. I would accept, if only for the sake of your honor.”

“I’ll bear it in mind.” Still he smiled, and opened the door for me.

Washington, DC

A Clockwork Confessor and Sin Eater

“So I give you Brother Alfie. Disinterested, detached, and capable of proving absolution in the most practical, useful way.”

Though I had expected it to be something of a hit, I was not prepared to have an argument erupt as to who would go first. A dashing young gentleman leapt onto the platform and demanded that I show him how it was done.

“Consider your sin,” I said.

“Any and all of them?”

“Perhaps keep one in mind, and simply choose the categories into which it falls. For the most effective penance.”

He tapped three levers in a row, announcing to the company: “Envy. Lust. Pride.”

I depressed them as he requested, and then let go the switch for the mainspring. Lust/Envy being one of our categories, I awaited his penance with almost as much interest as he. The small crowd fell silent as the internal machinery whirred, echoing off the coppery cuirass and causing small vibrations, as if Brother Alfie rocked back and forth, considering his position with appropriate gravity. When it emerged, I handed off the slip.

The gentleman eyed it, grinned, and then looked to me. “Shall I read it out?”

Shouts of encouragement swelled, some verging on threats of violence.

Prince Charming cannot have all he wants – and you are not Prince Charming. Kiss your hand and be content.”

Laughter – seasoned with one or two disapproving whispers and clucks – rippled through the drawing room. The handsome young buck raised his right hand, sighed at it, and placed a loud, lip-smacking kiss on the back of it.

Clockwork

© Vvoronov | Dreamstime.com

But Some Sins Are Too Hard to Swallow

I let his hair go, and his forehead bashed into the table almost as hard as if I’d done it myself. Still, he sobbed, shaking as if in some sort of fit.

I considered the piece of paper in my hands.

I considered Brother Alfie.

Click cli –

“All right. One last time, if you insist.” I moved to stand behind him, wiped a streak of blood from my fingers with his polishing rag, and depressed Wrath. I flicked the mainspring switch, and Brother Alfie began to shake as if with sobs of his own.

Quite a performance, but I knew Brother Alfie too well. His timing was always perfect. He did have a manipulative streak in him, though he meant it for the best.

He knew compassion, hope, mercy.

But he didn’t know love. That sort of passion would’ve interfered with his purpose. No, he was too perfect for love.

And that was why he never understood anything of importance.

The white slip of paper ejected with the final click. The sight of Jude’s bold print split my soul wide open, shone a light into it, like Emily’s kiss in the carriage.

I read it out, “Learn to forgive, tell us what you would forget. Mr. Altmann, Brother Alfie thinks that you’ve learned your lesson.”

He choked some more.

“He thinks I ought to forgive you… Alas, Brother Alfie and I have fallen out.”

Inedible Sins

A novella by KV Taylor

Now Available from Dagan Books

For posts about the research and process that went into the making of, check out the Inedible Sins category at the blog.

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All excerpts © 2013, KV Taylor
Cover © 2013, Carrie Cuinn/Dagan Books

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