The Strange Tale of Miss Victoria Frank is the first novella in a series which pays homage to the great gothic/horror writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. This first was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Nikola Tesla, the visionary genius, is lecturing in New York City when he falls for Victoria, the mysterious young woman he sees night after night in the front row. The woman intrigues him; her curiosity is as great as his own, and her interest is wide-ranging.
But there’s something she’s hiding, a family secret so horrendous no one speaks of it. When Tesla finds out, he has a decision to make: listen to the inner voice warning him to stay away, or abandon his morality and help her with her own terrible science.
New Year’s Eve, for the city’s upper echelons, aroused the most ferocious competitiveness. Warring factions politely complimented each other’s party themes and plans in person, but behind backs the undertaking of outdoing one’s closest friends, while still remaining cordial, was elevated to an art form.
Tesla had received eight invitations to different gatherings around the city, each charming in its own way. He chose the one nearest to his rooms, the closest thing to a home he had, at the Waldorf Astoria on Fifth Avenue.
He was gazing up at the crystal chandelier when a hand on his shoulder made him jump. The large hostess had appeared, her silent approach all the more mysterious given her size and the bulk of material that made up her dress.
“Mr. Tesla, please let me introduce a dear friend. This is Miss Victoria Frank.”
Tesla turned and there before him was the young woman who attended his lectures. Her face flushed red as she held out her hand and bobbed her head at him.
“Of course, Mr. Tesla needs no introduction, does he my dear?” The hostess winked at Victoria and addressed the scientist again. “You have something in common, Miss Frank’s is also of European origin, although she doesn’t like to talk about her family, do you dear?”
Tesla glanced at Victoria’s companion and frowned. It was the man with whom she’d been arguing, outside of his lecture.
The hostess mistook his brief frown for a chastisement of her own behavior. “My goodness, where are my manners? You must excuse me.” Turning to the man, she held out her arm. “This is Mr. Edward Huntly. Edward is a lawyer at a very fine law firm.”
With a curt nod, Edward Huntly was both acknowledged and dismissed. Tesla turned back to Victoria, eyes raised to the hostess questioningly.
The woman took her cue. “Miss Frank has a curious disposition, I’m certain you’ll find an interest in common to discuss.” With another wink at Victoria the hostess floated away to ambush more unsuspecting guests with helpful advice and useful introductions.
Edward watched the hostess’ back then turned to Victoria. “I’m stepping outside for some air. Are you coming with me?”
“No, it’s much too cold. You go, I’ll stay here.”
Through narrowed eyes he glared at the scientist before walking away.
They watched him go, then Tesla nodded at the woman. “Miss Frank.”
“Please, call me Victoria. It’s an honor to meet you, I’m a great admirer of your work.”
The scientist’s face fell, and he chastised himself for his expectations. Here was just another ‘admirer’ of his work, instead of the intelligent young woman he’d imagined.
“I was especially impressed by your radio-controlled boat.”
Eyes widened, Tesla spoke. “You know about that?”
Victoria stopped a passing waiter to take a tall crystal champagne flute. She raised her eyebrows at him and, at his nod, passed a glass to the scientist. “Yes, such a brilliant idea.”
“I thought so too, but the military applications made it impossible for me to continue with the work.” Tesla shook his head.
“In what way, if you don’t mind me asking?” Victoria’s eyes shone as she stared intently up at him, the same look he’d grown used to seeing at his lectures.
“Oh, they’ll find a way to attach gunpowder or some explosive to the device and send it merrily on its way to kill.” His voice had begun to rise; the topic upset him.
Victoria sensed his distress. “Did you really tell the audience they were the ones controlling it, with their shouting?”
Tesla smiled, his earlier distress gone. “Well, THEY accused me of using a trained monkey to control the boat, I had no choice but to have a little fun with them.”
She giggled and quickly covered her mouth with a satin-gloved hand. Her eyes still held their mirth. They stood, watching the room and its bejeweled and bedecked inhabitants.
“You wear no feathers, Miss Frank.”
“No, I do not, Mr. Tesla.”
“Every woman in New York wears feathers.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Not every one.”
Before he could reply Edward was once again at Victoria’s side, wrapping an arm around her waist possessively. The veil of formality Tesla had discarded for her shrouded him once more, and he stood stiffly, drink in hand. “I’ve been invited to speak again, I’m currently preparing my notes. I’ll be ready in February. May I look forward to your presence in the front row?”
“You noticed!” Victoria’s voice revealed her delight. “Yes, I believe I will attend.”
Tesla smiled and bowed. “If you’ll excuse me.” He moved away as the hostess once more headed in their direction, but not before glimpsing the angry frown on Edward Huntly’s face.
Copyright Kelly Evans (2020)