Kraken and Canals
Kraken and Canals
An old love.
A giant kraken.
A dive into the infested canals of Venice.
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Time has run out. Rules must be broken and her patron’s wrath risked. To save the woman who raised her, Lady Judith must visit the underwater grotto of a giant lagoon kraken. Survival isn’t guaranteed, but Arturo will not let his love face the dangers of the canals alone.
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Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
“Hang in there, Gino.” Arturo Piatti wound the tourniquet tighter about the man’s wrist while struggling to keep his voice calm as his field engineer howled in pain. “Help is on the way.”
Overhead, an emergency dirigible transport made rapid progress in their direction over the clay roof tiles of Venice. Gino’s hand was badly mangled — far too much blood pooled on the pavement beside the canal. He’d lost a lot more while still in the water.
Crack! The sound of an air rifle tore through the air.
“Nailed him,” his sharpshooter announced, though it was small satisfaction. Luigi set aside his weapon to grab a hooked pole and drag the lagoon kraken’s limp body — glistening and still twitching — from the foul-smelling canal. “Indio kraken. Should bring a good price at market. Pay for the doctor.”
Jaw clenched, Arturo nodded. Even if it didn’t, he would see the bill paid.
Damn kraken. Bane of his existence, they’d stolen too much from him already, including the woman he loved.
Twenty-three years ago he’d proposed. She’d declined. Gently. But her work on the Thames river kraken — her career — took precedence. The resulting wound had never fully healed. Then — half a lifetime later — they’d found each other again. A look. A touch. A whispered flirtation and once again they were love-struck fools.
In the distance, he could make out the roofline of the palazzo where she worked upon a new, mysterious research project. Though another rejection would slay him, he meant to try again.
Shoving the ache of old regrets aside, he focused on the job. If not for these miserable cephalopods infesting the canals, his team wouldn’t be diving in them to begin with. Walking beside the Venetian canals was dangerous enough, but sending men into the canals? That required hazard pay.
For decades now, Venice had been plagued by lagoon kraken. In his childhood, the arrival of small squid-like creatures had been largely ignored: a minor nuisance a gondolier could knock off the sides of his craft with an oar. But feeding upon the shellfish that lined the canals, the kraken grew larger. And larger. Until the sharp, claw-like hooks upon the tips of their tentacles began to damage building foundations as they dug into the canal sediment. Not enough to collapse a structure, not yet, though a nearby brick building on the Rio della Sensa was dangerously close. Aether help them all if the kraken managed to reach the wooden pilings underneath, the city would begin to crumble.
Such concerns were the reason Arturo had agreed to undertake the design and fabrication of I Cancelli di Recupero del Canale — Canal Recovery Gates — that were designed to eliminate the threat kraken posed to Venice. Once the gates were in position, their sharp, spinning blades would operate twice daily, drawing water through the system — slicing and dicing any kraken inhabiting the city’s canals — until it was once again safe for gondolas. Though he imagined the canals would be putrid for some time, discouraging pleasure boats, it was a necessary process. From that point forward, the gates could be opened and closed as needed. Installation of the very first gate was nearly complete when disaster struck, irrevocably altering Gino’s future.
A sharp whistle drew his attention upward to where a steel gurney lowered on a rope from the rescue dirigible. With Luigi’s help, they quickly transferred Gino onto the stretcher, tightly securing the leather buckles. He waved to the medic above, and the gurney lifted. Arturo prayed the surgeons could piece the man’s hand back together.
Luigi handed him a rag. “That was no accident. I checked the blades before we lowered the gate into the canal. They were perfectly balanced.”
“Sabotage,” Arturo growled, wiping blood from his hands before peeling off his dive suit. “And I know exactly who is behind this.”
His team had been so close. Every precaution had been taken. Wire grating. A drag net. Even cephalopod-stunning oil had been poured onto the water’s surface prior to the installation dive. But in the end, it was human greed that derailed the project and nearly cost a man his life.
Lips pressed into an angry line, Arturo scanned the gawking crowd.
Months ago, word of his project had leaked, raising hope among the populace that the canals of Venice might one day again be navigable. Quietly, a certain British lord had approached him, offering an obscene amount to clear the Rio della Fornace — a canal that passed through a formerly rich district of the city — instead of here, in a small, narrow out-of-the-way canal.
But he’d be damned if he’d assist a man who had taken advantage of the kraken infestation to purchase large swaths of Venetian real estate to the detriment of those families who had lived here for generations. Cheap now, those same buildings — adjacent to the Grand Canal — would be invaluable if — when — his project succeeded.
That particular man now leaned against the crumbling stucco of a nearby building, well out of reach of any wandering tentacles. A hint of amusement lit his eyes.
“Lord Garrick,” Luigi hissed. “Want me to drop him?” He squinted while he judged the distance, his hands tightening upon the stock of his rifle.
“No,” Arturo said as loathing welled in his chest. “Too many witnesses.” Hands clenched at his sides, he stalked across the short distance, grabbing a fistful of the man’s frock coat and dragging him onto his toes. “Why?” he demanded, not bothering to offer him a chance to deny his involvement.
“I did advise you not to begin with this particular canal.” Lord Garrick’s ever-present and irritating smile slithered upward, twisting the corners of his lips. His dark eyes flashed, eyes that were forever assessing people for an exploitable weakness. Easy to spot the resemblance to his reptilian relatives. “Cease and desist, or suffer the consequences. This is your final warning that any attempts to proceed will have deadly ramifications.”
Growling, Arturo shoved him away. “Your soul is no doubt a dark pit to be so completely at ease with destroying a man’s life to ensure personal profit.”
Smoothing the lapels of his coat, the lord stepped backward, unperturbed. “On the contrary, I seek to save many. A point needed to be made, and if one life was the price…” A shoulder lifted.
“Explain.” Arturo braced himself. What kind of twisted justification would be offered?
“Did Lady Judith not enlighten you as to the value of indigo ink?” Lord Garrick’s head tipped slightly.
Arturo twitched at the mention of her name. What could she possibly have to do with this?
Lady Judith Ravensburg was a cryptobiologist, famous for her quay-side lectures upon kraken, wherein she scooped baby kraken from the sea to illustrate her points. Often he attended, standing to one side, studying her. A few strands of silver in her dark hair reminded him of the years they’d spent apart, but her figure was still slender and her blue eyes bright. He delighted in her animated presentations on the finer points of The Kraken Controversy. Were the creatures more closely related to squid or octopuses? With features of both, the various hypotheses made for lively debates among kraken enthusiasts.
Afterward, he’d once escorted her to diner wherein they had sampled a variety of squid ink pasta. One particular dish had been colored a strange dark blue. Its flavor was off, however, the bromine salts making it too pungent. Eyebrows raised, he’d asked if she was attempting to poison him for past mistakes.
“On the contrary, indigo kraken ink is rumored to stimulate the immune system.” Her eyes had danced. “The species feeds upon the banded dye-murex — a sea snail — known for a purple-blue dye secreted from its hypobrachial gland, a dye which indigo kraken concentrate and chemically alter.” He’d gagged, and she’d laughed. “Most can’t detect the dibromo-indigotin component, but then again,” her voice had dropped to a husky whisper, “you do have a most talented mouth.” The air about them had shimmered with heat.
Ink. Kraken. Venice. A wealthy man sponsoring her research. Pieces began to fall in place. In London, her work had drastically reduced the number and size of the Thames river kraken, but here she’d been working to… preserve them? A bitter taste crept into the back of his throat as nausea gripped his stomach.
A low, mocking laugh oozed from Lord Garrick’s lungs. “So she hasn’t shared a single detail.” There was that damned smile again. “Loyal to the core. Loyal to me.”
His heart gave a great thud. She couldn’t… she wouldn’t.
“There she is now.” Lord Garrick’s chin lifted. “Back from Rome.”
Arturo turned, catching sight of her dirigible as it made its roof-top landing. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Absolutely not. She does not work for you.”
“Ah,” Lord Garrick’s laugh grated as he turned and strolled away, throwing his last words over his shoulder, “but she does.”