For a limited time, the new gothic, experimental, fun and odd novel, MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE is on sale on amazon!
It can be found for the low price of $1.99 for eBook and $9.89 in paperback via this link.
Below is an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 1. Enjoy…
The Beginning of Chapter 1 – The Dreaded Invitation
It is with great trepidation and very little pleasure that I begin this next chapter in the life of the great Maximilian Standforth. For many long months I have debated with my soul and conscience on whether to share this work with you, faithful reader. But in these hard times, my wallet and empty stomach have forced me to share this chronicle no matter my misgivings. Yes, hard times have forced my unsteady hand and pen, but I will share no more of that now. It’s not important. If it comes, it will come later in these pages. For now, let me warn you of the morbid and sad tale ahead of you. This is a tale filled with horror, dark passages, ghostly apparitions, and deaths I would give my last shilling to forget. A tale, I am sad to say, that even tested the mind of one of our country’s greatest citizens…. The outcome of that test you will see shortly if you dare continue.
This story begins in the later end of 1864. I had been in the employment of Master Standforth for four years and we had already shared the adventures you have read in the previous installments. The world was changing, nervous on what was to come. While our papers were filled with the exploits of the war in the colonies, our London was growing darker under the ashes of our industries. New financial barons were rising, challenging for the first time the noble classes that had ruled our empire for centuries. You could feel the uncertain change in the air, in the heavy fog and rain.
It had been a quiet three months in my employment with hardly an adventure in sight (save the odd, uncomfortable position the rambunctious Maximilian can bring to an evening). My job followed the simple monotony of delivering the morning paper (which he never bothered to read), taking care of his horse (Miss Elizabeth), being ready for the possibility of another evening outing (for his drinking and social visits to friendly female establishments) and doing my best to stay out of the path of his beautiful maid, Miss Maggie Collins. After the exposure of my true emotions to her in our last adventure, I had been avoiding her as best as I can… and sadly, I must admit, I had been very successful at it.
So it will come as no surprise my astonishment one morning when I found her quietly watching me from a short distance as I brushed the mane of Miss Elizabeth. How long had she been there? Her small and delicate hands were carrying what looked like the mail. Did she stop to see me on the way back up to the rooms? I jumped at the striking vision, did my best to regain my composure and gave what I could only hope looked like a welcoming smile.
Can I help you, Miss. Collins?” I asked with the short hint of a bow of the head.
She looked down at the single envelope in her hand and back up at me. She placed it carefully in her pocket and glanced towards me again. “He wishes to see you.”
She nodded back to the house.
She was delivering a message. It wasn’t a social visit. That fact did relax me a little, but only a little, while also pulling at my tender heartstrings. This visit was not by her choice.
“Did he give a time that he will be expecting me?”
“No,” she said and turned to retreat. “But I would recommend sooner than later.”
She paused and then exhaled a great sigh. “He has his pistols out again.”
“Bob! My good man! Name a great painting!”
It was an odd request to receive upon entering a room, even when one has been in the employment of Maximilian Standforth for four years; however, the request had an odder feeling since he was waving two loaded pistols in the air as he asked. He had always been fond of those particular weapons. They were a gift from an earlier happy client in a case that took him to the now ungoverned and degenerate south of the colonies. What he always added at the end of that little story is he didn’t need to be given the pistols. The client’s wife had made more than enough of a “payment” for his investigative work.
“Excuse me, sir?” I asked, trying to stay out of the line of the waving arsenal in front of me. His excitement was strange and he bounded from spot to spot in his dirty and luxurious rooms. The living room had the thick smell of tobacco, alcohol and something else I care not mention. It had clearly been too long since his mind was truly active.
“A painting, my good man. A painting! Name one,” he said quickly.
“Well, I’ve always been fond of the Italian Renaissance.”
Maximilian stopped his agitated (and possibly drunken) movement and gazed at me closely. “You know that makes perfect sense,” he replied slowly.
I did not have to time to register what he meant exactly, since he was in motion again; waving me into the room with one gun and then showing me an empty artist’s easel in front of him with the other.
“Oh,” I sighed, greatly relieved. “I see. You wish to paint a famous painting.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head quickly. “I plan to shoot a famous painting.”
I sat down on his dirty and extravagant couch and looked up at my master with a stunned expression, my natural expression whenever in his presence.
“You wish to shoot a famous painting?”
“Yes!” he said. His red velvet bathrobe swished in the air as he threw a pile of books off a chair near me and sat with a dramatic flourish. He was always dressed in the height of fashion, even when attired for merely lounging in his filthy rooms. Immaculate and messy had a strange meeting in those rooms, a glimpse into my master’s mind. “It’s a wonderfully wicked plan. First, we’ll steal the painting.”
“Steal a work of art?”
“Oh, yes, it sounds hard, but I’m sure we will be successful. We are two cunning individuals,” he said with a little devilish laugh and then continued, his mind working to keep up with his fast tongue. “Maybe a week, possibly two. Yes, I can see it going longer than two. Don’t you think it would take that long to plan and execute? Seems proper to me. We might have to go undercover. A cleaning crew might be best. We could sneak it out in the trash. Or maybe we could try to be security guards. They could just give us the keys.”
“That’s not my confusion, sir.”
I paused and said as simply as I could. “Why would we want to?”
He seemed shocked by the question. “My good man, for the adventure of it.”
I shook my head and then said slowly. “I still do not understand.”
Maximilian nodded, looked away and then back at me. “Bob, art is an illusion,” he said, speaking in a fashion one would use in addressing a child.
“I don’t…” I began to say.
“Understand?” he finished for me. “Yes, well, I see that. Let me go into more detail. Art is an illusion of reality. It’s a lie. You believe what you want to believe about it. You see beauty because you decide to see beauty. You decide to see what the painter wants you to see. You want to see Jesus our savior, you see him suffering or blessing some wayward child. And in choosing to acknowledge the image you can then decide if you will or will not feel for it. Lie, lie, lie. You see, Bob, you decide on some level to feel for it; you want to feel for it… but it’s not real, Bob, not real at all. See, at the heart of the quiet exchange between you and the artist is one inescapable truth. It is an illusion, fake.”
“It’s an interesting theory,” I said carefully. “It still doesn’t explain your wish to destroy a treasured masterpiece.”
“A theory? Pish!” He paused and then leaned back in the chair and with a moan exclaimed. “Fine then, I am bored.” He moved his head up to look back to me, his wild eyes flaring with excitement and glee.
“And think of it, Bob, they might hire me to solve the crime. Wouldn’t that be fun? We could frame anyone we want for our own bit of thievery. Who would you like to put in a cell? You can have first pick.”
It was moments like this that called for my pipe and tobacco, but they were back in the carriage house. All I could do was look away and back at the eager eyes of my employer, then restate the obvious, again in the hope of bringing back a piece of his sanity. “So you would destroy a classic work of art, a masterpiece, out of boredom?”
He turned his head to the side, confused. “By your tone I believe you are questioning our venture.”
I began to stutter as I prepared my response, but he waved it off my prattle nonchalantly. “No more, no more, Bob. I know your opinion. I hear, I hear.”
He jumped back to his feet and walked over to the easel with the blank canvas in front of it. He stared at it intensely as he spoke. “It would be so easy, Bob, so easy. We steal the work. We bring it back here… I then…” He crookedly pointed both his guns at the canvas and shot!
I jumped at the noise. In the street outside, I could hear a crowd erupt in surprise. Some screamed, others began talking loudly. I immediately imagined the people jumping to the ground, some covering their children for protection. Someone called for a constable. Maximilian, who is usually well-aware of his surroundings, didn’t pay any attention to the noise outside. He turned back to me and said ever so casually, “And then we put the painting back. So again, I ask, Bob, what is your favorite painting?”
Luckily, I was saved from answering the question put forth by the harsh clang of the front door bell.
“Fast today. That will be a constable,” Maximilian sighed. “Bob, could you help me? Behind you on the mantelpiece will be my purse, pray, remove a few pounds as a bribe. Thank you, dear fellow.” He waved one of the smoking guns carelessly in the direction. “Not too much, I do plan to go drinking tonight and some cards may be played. I have a knack for losing when I have been drinking.”
I nodded in understanding. I got up and slipped five pounds from his purse, certain that was enough for a bribe, and certain that a constable wouldn’t expect any less knowing the eccentric resident. That resident in question continued to walk around the destroyed easel, certainly picturing with glee the Mona Lisa with one less eye and less of a grin.
As I awaited the sound of footsteps by the door, Maximilian continued with his radical idea. “We could hit entire movements. Think of it, Bob. We would be the terror of the art world. Destroying little illusion left and right.” He chuckled at that. “We might even steer people back to the museums. Swarms of people desperate to see which masterpieces were damaged next.”
I could hear the soft steps of Maggie approaching on the stairs. I instantly straightened up and moved closer to the door. My master paid no attention to the approach and continued speaking to himself. “We could move on to sculptures, just imagine the fun a carefully aimed bullet could have with that? We could shoot the fig leafs right off.” He was certainly enjoying himself. He stopped and nodded with a twinkle in his eyes. “We could even start to terrorize living artists…” He giggled as his mind filled with many new malevolent thoughts and turned back to the destruction….
MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE (a book not for the literary faint of heart) is on sale right now on amazon. The eBook is only $1.99 and the paperback is $9.89. Check it out here.