The eleventh story in the Beyond the Rails series
| “It will be late when we get to Nairobi,” Patience Hobbs said to Monroe as they watched the longshoremen bring a small cargo aboard, all they could find on short notice to make their urgent trip pay some money.
“Well, why don’t we leave here tonight? We might find some more cargo, and we’ll be able to see the major as soon as we get there.”
Monroe quietly took notice of a tall African man dressed in western shirt, boots, and trousers, but wearing traditional tribal decorations including a gold arm cuff and a beaded necklace of teeth or claws. He carried a rucksack slung over his right shoulder, and his left hand was missing just above the wrist.
“I’m surprised at you, Patty. Given the interest you’ve shown in Mr. Hafner, I’d think you’d want to be there at the earliest possible moment.”
Hobbs blushed at the suggestion, and turned to look across the deck as Monroe watched the man walk gracefully to the top of the ramp and stand carefully aside so as not to interfere with the cargo handlers.
“Of course I want to be there,” she continued, “but if we get there at midnight, we can’t do anything anyway. If we leave here at midnight, we’ll be there around nine with a paying cargo.”
“Yes, and we’ll arrive exhausted. We get there at midnight, we can get a good night’s sleep and be waiting for Cole when he arrives at his office.”
“Ah. Now that’s a surprise that is pretty much guaranteed to ruin his day.”
“Rather. Sort of its own reward, what?”
They shared a smile as the leader of the work party brought the manifest to Monroe for him to sign. As they departed, the tall African stepped to the opening in the rail and stood quietly looking at them.
“May we help you?” Monroe asked, walking over to face him.
“There is talk in town,” the man said in deep tones, rich with the accent of the African coast, “that you are unhappy with your engineer.”
“No, that’s not true,” Monroe told him.
“This is the airship Kestrel?”
“Are you Monroe?”
“I’m Captain Monroe, yes.”
“My apologies, Captain. The waterfront abounds with rumors. I had hoped that this one might prove true. I am sorry to have disturbed you.” He turned to go.
“Hold on a moment. What’s your name?”
“I am Bakari,” the man said, turning back.
“And the word is that we have a problem with our engineer?”
“The word is that you are not happy with him.”
“No, we’re quite happy with him. He just doesn’t know much about engineering.”
“I do, Nahodha.”
“And you’ve come to replace him?” Hobbs asked.
“I have come to offer my services, miss. You are Hobbs, the pilot?”
“It would be an interesting thing to fly in the hands of a woman.”
“I thought you Africans didn’t fly,” Monroe said.
“Superstition prevents foolish men from doing many things,” Bakari said. “If the Gods did not wish us to fly, we would not fly.”
“That’s a very enlightened attitude. So, what do you know about engineering?”
“I have been apprenticed to Julian Overstreet on the cargo lighter Lightfoot for four years. I believe that old man is going to live forever. As I am not, I feel I must move on to advance in my career.”
“Cargo lighter?” Monroe asked. “Reciprocating engine?”
“You’re aware that the blimps use steam turbines to generate electricity, are you not?”
“Steam is steam. What you do with it is a matter of following the pipes, and the key to engineering maintenance, so Mr. Overstreet taught me, is keeping the pipes and valves in a high state of repair.”
“A wise man, your Mr. Overstreet. What happened to your hand? Machinery accident?”
“What?” Hobbs asked, standing a bit straighter.
“I lost my hand to a rogue lioness.”
“Lions usually take everything, don’t they?” Monroe asked.
“That is often the case. This lioness took my left hand. My spear was in my right. Her claws adorn my necklace.”
Monroe gave a long, low whistle.
“What do you think,” he asked Hobbs.
“I like him. What happens to Nicholas if we take him on, though?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find something for him. How about you, do you need an apprentice?”
“Me and the good doctor in that tiny little pilot house? No thank you.”
“I see. Well, Mr. Bakari—”
“All right, Bakari, here’s my offer. You can fly up to Nairobi with us while our engineer shows you around our plant. On the way back, you’ll run it. If we’re happy with each other, you have a job. If not, we’ll pay you a pound for your time, and no harm done. What do you say?”
“As fair an offer as any man could ask for.”
“All right. Is that all your gear?”
“Well, you can stow it under the chart table for now. Patty, show him. And call Nicholas up here. I have a surprise for him.”
* * *
They were awake early as the port began to bustle. It had been after midnight when they had tied up, and now, at sunrise, the noise of squeaky handcart wheels, the thumps and bangs of containers being dropped and stacked, and the shouting voices of stevedores roused them after around six hours of sleep.
Captain Monroe had pulled himself awake, donned shoes and clothes, and left his cabin without shaving, knocking on each door and calling a mild form of reveille to his crewmembers. Climbing the forward ladder, he looked around the little trading center to see five balloons tethered around the aerodrome area, including two he had never seen before.
“Now, what the holy hell,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his head.
“A bit early in the day for all this blaspheming, isn’t it, Captain?” Ellsworth asked, coming up the ladder behind him in stocking feet with his hair uncombed, just buttoning his shirt as he gained the deck.
“We usually dress before we come on deck, Doctor. Am I to assume you were hoping Miss Hobbs would be here to witness your little burlesque show?”
“Sorry, sir,” Ellsworth replied. “I took your knock to imply a sense of urgency.”
“Only the mildest form. I’d like us to get a bit of food down, then we go to check on Mr. Hafner.”
“What, we’re going to eat first?” Patience Hobbs asked as she came up the ladder, shouldering her way between them to claim her space on the tiny foredeck. “Why Captain, what’s this? Half-naked men on the deck before breakfast? A girl could get used to this!”
Ellsworth blushed furiously; Hobbs didn’t.
“Leave the lad alone, Patty. Have you ever seen this many ships in Nairobi?”
“I’ve never seen this many ships in Mombasa,” she replied, taking them in. “I’ve never seen those two before, either. I wonder what’s going on.”
“We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. First, let’s have a quick meal, and go impose our heathenish presence on the good Major. Always a pleasant treat, eh?”
* * *
An hour later, the crew, minus Bakari and Ellsworth, left behind to study the engineering plant and get their small cargo offloaded, announced themselves at the Office of the Garrison Commander, and after a brief wait, were ushered into the presence of Major Ulysses Cole, Commanding officer of the 10th battalion, 62nd regiment of foot. The man resembled nothing so much as a leprechaun, the sides of his round face adorned with unruly copper-colored muttonchops. The fact that he carried 250 pounds on his 5’ 8” frame did nothing to mitigate the effect.
“Well, Monroe, didn’t expect to see you so soon. Shortage of victims down south, is there? Oh, sit down, sit down,” he added, noticing Hobbs coming in behind Monroe and Smith.
“Actually, Major,” Monroe said as they took seats, “we’re here because word down at Mombasa is that you’re holding a friend of ours in your stockade.”
“If by ‘friend,’ you mean that murdering Kraut, word is correct.”
“Been tried already, has he?” Smith asked. “When’s the lynching?”
“David,” Monroe cautioned him before Cole could. “He isn’t strictly speaking a friend, but we’ve spent some time with him, and murder seems a bit outside his repertoire. We thought he might be able to use a friend, since he doesn’t seem to have one here.”
“Look, Monroe,” Cole said conspiratorially, “you don’t want to get mixed up with this fellow. A vagabond, adventurer, no roots anywhere, this is just the sort of fellow who’d cut the throat of a man who wronged him.”
“He was seen to do this?” Hobbs asked.
“What sort of murderer worth his salt kills a man in front of witnesses, I ask you? Seriously, Miss Hobbs, you should leave this sort of business to the men.”
The look of outrage that crossed her face was truly alarming, and Monroe put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it before she could start to speak.
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you,” Cole said, catching her dangerous expression. “I only meant that, well, you’re a lady, or the closest thing we have to a lady in this godforsaken hole of a country. You should hold yourself above this sort of offal, like a water lily stands above a green pond.”
She continued to glare, but held her tongue.
“Major,” Monroe said, stepping into the gap, “we’ve come to ask your permission to speak to the man. It couldn’t hurt to have someone look into whatever his story is.”
“I don’t know, Monroe. Being the Governor-General’s mercenary doesn’t automatically make you a trained police detective.”
“Nor does being a soldier.”
“One needn’t have served a career with a police force to piece this mystery together. Your friend Hafner was drinking over at N’Bari’s. The drunker he got, the angrier he got, and the story he was telling, loudly enough for anyone who cared to listen, was that he’d spent years and a great deal of money to find the location of a lost treasure, which was back in our back country somewhere, and when he finally got to where it was, his long-time rival had bribed his contacts and gotten there first, cleaned it out, and had the gall to leave him a taunting note. Why, I might have killed the man myself! So you see, very cut and dried. Open and shut, like the barristers say.”
“There’s a funny thing about open and shut cases,” Monroe said. “They’re usually open and shut because lies have been told, evidence planted or overlooked, or because someone with a loud voice has an agenda they’re working on.”
“You aren’t as subtle as you like to think, Monroe. I don’t pretend to know the particulars of your trial. Maybe you were wronged, but that doesn’t apply to this situation. All we have here is an angry drunk, a big strong man accustomed to violence, who was outraged that he’d been beaten to the prize he had worked for. He expressed a desire, or a willingness to kill the man who had wronged him, and when he found that man, he killed him. Nothing mysterious or underhanded about that.”
“No, there doesn’t seem to be,” Monroe allowed, “but we’d like to speak with him, anyway.”
“I don’t see where that’s necessary,” Cole said.
“And that’s one opinion,” Monroe said. “If you won’t allow it, we can go back down to Mombasa and see what Governor-General Sanderson’s opinion is.”
“You don’t need to bother him, Monroe. I’m sure his opinion will be the same as mine.”
“Well, if it is, we may have to reconsider our contract with him. Difficult to say what his opinion of that might be.”
“Damn it, Monroe, you pig-headed bastard, why do you always have to be this way?”
“Because you always have to be that way. Face it, Major, I’m a trained tactician, and I always keep an option available. What are we asking that’s so out of line? A few words with an accused man? Are you interested in justice, or does Hafner represent an agenda for you?”
Cole glared at them for a moment, trying to make his leprechaun’s face look imposing, then nodded to himself.
“All right, Monroe, you can have your meeting, but there’ll be a guard in the room, and you’ll leave your weapons here.”
* * *
The cells were hot, dusty, and Spartan, all a prisoner needed in order to watch minutes crawl by with agonizing slowness. Small wonder that Hafner leapt from the cot and grasped the bars as the Kestrel’s crew filed in. The cells were laid out around the sides of a large square room, and a few were occupied by worn out-looking men who studied the ceiling or watched the flies from the comfort of their straw-filled mattresses.
“I’ll be right at this table,” their escort, Sergeant Crowley, told them. “Talk all you want. You try to pass him anything, you’ll be in there with him before you know it.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Monroe said. “There’ll be no trouble.”
“How did you find me?” Hafner asked as the crew moved to stand before his cell.
“You didn’t meet us in Mombasa,” Monroe told him, “so we came looking.”
“Yes, but a stranger vith no ties to you? I’m sorry you have to see me in here, Miss Patty,” he added.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Some of my best friends are jailbirds.”
“We’re wasting time,” Monroe said. “Our understanding is that you’re charged with murder. What happened?”
“Vell, after you dropped me off at Kisumu, I asked around a bit, and found that Cardenas’ trail vas cold. So I caught a ride to Nairobi on another ship, the Zephyr, planning to take the train to Mombasa. There vas some time, and I decided to pass it by having a drink, so I vent to a tavern near the station, and ordered a lager. Vell, as I drank, I vas joined by another man, a young fellow, vell-dressed, vith a glib tongue who kept the lager flowing. Ve talked of many things, and I think the conversation must have gotten around to Cardenas, though I don’t remember how. I vas very drunk ven ve left, but I made it back to my room and passed out. The next evening, I vas accosted at my hotel by two soldiers of the patrol. They asked my name, and ven I told them, they said I vas under arrest for murdering Cardenas.”
“And did you? Murder Cardenas, I mean.”
“Of course not! I didn’t even know he vas in town.”
“Beggin’ your pardon,” Smith said, “but if you was so drunk you don’t even remember leavin’ the saloon, you might not remember what you did after, neither.”
“Mr. Smith, first of all, I do remember leaving the saloon, but you have the look of a man who has lived an adventurous life. I vill not ask vether you have killed anyvun, but if you have, do you imagine that anything vould cause you to forget it?”
“Prob’ly not. Still, somethin’ to consider.”
“And we’ll consider it, David,” Monroe said. “Now Eric, what was the name of this pub you went to?”
“I don’t recall. Something African. It vas a little shack near the railroad station.”
“Was it perhaps N’Bari’s?”
“Yes, Quite possibly it vas. That sounds right.”
“That’s a rough place. Caters to laborers from the railroad. They water their drinks, and sometimes put worse things than water in them. Prostitutes lure lonely men to secluded spots where they can be beaten and robbed, sometimes even pressed into shipboard service, or sold into slavery. There are cities the world over that are infamous for their dens of iniquity, but this little shack in Nairobi is the rival of any of them.”
“A pity I didn’t have that information before I entered.”
“Indeed. Well, we’ll ask around. Maybe we can glean something that will aid your case, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Obtaining information in a place like that can be like prying a steak from the jaws of a starving dog.”
“I appreciate any efforts you make on my behalf.”
“We’ll do what we can. Sergeant, we’re ready to go.”
“Eric,” Hobbs said to the prisoner, “the Captain is a bulldog when he gets his teeth into something. If there’s anything out there to find, you can be sure he’ll find it.”
“If he commands such feelings from you, Milady, I’m sure I am as good as free.”
“This way, folks,” Sergeant Crowley said, approaching them with his arms spread as if shooing geese. “Right up the stairs, and you can pick up your weapons from Sergeant Michaels.”
As they climbed the stairs, Smith said to Monroe, “We’re obviously gonna have to put some coin about in N’Bari’s.”
“Obviously,” Monroe agreed, “though we won’t offer first. That lot will tell you anything if they think there’s a handout involved in it.”
“Right. I don’t think you ought to come in there, either, Patty.”
“What, you’re joking, right? What will you boys do if there’s trouble? Why, you’re practically babes in the woods!”
“We’ll see, Patience,” Monroe said. “The reputation that sewer enjoys is that even a prostitute is too classy to be seen in there.”
“Hmph!” Hobbs replied thoughtfully.
“Sergeant, is there some reason all these ships are at the aerodrome?”
“Oh, yes. There’s a push on to complete the rail line up to Kisumu, but the Crown doesn’t want to spend the money, so the Governor-General is seeking investors. These are all the representatives of the barons of industry come down to evaluate the job for potential return. We’re starting to turn into a right civilized bit of the Empire, we are.”
Monroe wasn’t surprised to find that alarming.
* * *
N’Bari’s was everything it had been touted as, and from the moment they pushed the door open, they felt they were in a different world. A few sullen drunks nursed near-lethal “ales” at the bar, raucous laughter came from a dark corner, and there was a commotion in the middle of the room as patrons placed their wagers on two of the barmaids who were preparing to arm-wrestle. A haze of smoke that wasn’t tobacco hung in the air.
“What can I get you?” the barman greeted them.
“Actually, just a moment of your time,” Monroe replied as they stepped to the end of the bar. “Last Friday night there was a big Belgian fellow in here. Drinking quite heavily, may have passed out. You remember anything about him?”
The man turned away.
“How much coin would I have to lay on this bar to jog your memory?” Monroe asked.
He turned back.
“I’d love to take your money,” he said, “and if you want to part with it, I got booze for sale, drugs, women, any manner of things to trade for it. But look at this place. This is as dead as it gets, and you want me to remember one man from three nights ago? Sure. Gimme a fiver, and I’ll tell you anything you want to hear.”
Monroe nodded resignedly as the man moved off to service his paying customers.
“This may not be as productive an idea as I’d thought,” he said.
“’Allo, ’allo!” came a shout with a Cockney accent, “wot we got ’ere?”
The shout’s owner, a grimy man, short but stout, reached around from behind to cup Hobbs’ breast. His hand remained there for almost long enough to feel the object of his interest before she spun into him and his wrist was twisted sharply and painfully in the wrong direction, causing him to fall to his knees, bent over and looking up at her as she held his hand effortlessly cranked at that unnatural angle. He tried to reach her with his free hand, but she simply lifted his arm, and his elbow refused to bend. As the laughter and taunting of the other patrons began to swell in his ears, she examined him as if he were some strange insect she had netted.
“Listen carefully,” she said. “I am not employed here, and have no interest in a relationship with you. I can kick you in the face, or I can drive my elbow down on the back of yours, breaking your arm. Now, unless you’d care to continue this conversation, we can just call it a case of mistaken identity, and go about our business, all right?”
He nodded feverishly as she lifted his arm just a bit more.
“Wait a moment, Patty,” Monroe said. “Do you come in here a lot?”
“Yeah.” The man was sweating and grimacing as Hobbs allowed him no relief.
“Were you here last Friday night?”
“Perhaps we could buy you a drink, and we could have a little chat?”
The man hesitated, wondering whether this man was the woman’s father, and what he could want. Patty shifted the angle of her upper body just slightly toward his head.
“Ahh, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay!”
Hobbs showed him the sweetest little smile, as if daring him to try anything, and released him. The laughter rose to a crescendo, then died away as the show ended.
“Barman,” Monroe called, “bring this man whatever he usually drinks.”
The four of them made their way to one of the few vacant tables and took seats, Monroe on the man’s left, Hobbs on his right, and Smith straight across, glaring at him with the look a rattlesnake gives a mouse just before it strikes.
“Last Friday night,” Monroe said when they were settled, and the flagon had been delivered and paid for, “there was a big European in here. Young, fit, got very drunk, talked loud about somebody stealing his money, treasure, fortune. He might have used any word. You must have heard this gentleman, am I right?”
The laborer looked from face to face, obviously weighing the pros and cons of lying.
“Aye, I ’eard ’im. Everyone did, unless they gots no ears.” He took a drink of his ale. “Course, you ’ears that stuff all the time in ’ere. Everybody in ’ere’s been wronged one way or another.”
“So what made you remember him in particular?”
“Ah, ’e kept getting’ loud, you know? Everybody’d stop what they was doin’ an’ look at ’im, then ’e’d get quiet again. Next thing you know, the feller with ’im’d buy another round, an’ ’e’d be at it again.”
“What fellow?” Monroe asked, suddenly very interested.
“Sharp-dressed bloke, this one was, young an’ fancy. ’E never got loud, neither. I wasn’t payin’ no more attention than nobody else, mind, but it didn’t seem like ’e was getting’ drunk at all.”
“What happened after the loud one passed out?”
“Passed out? Well, ’e may have, I couldn’t say, but they eventually left together. Both of ’em walkin’,” he added pointedly.
“Well,” Monroe allowed, “this is certainly an interesting development. You’re sure about all this?”
“Course I’m sure,” the man said indignantly. “I didn’t ’ear all that much, but they wasn’t tryin’ to keep no secrets, that’s for sure.”
“And you’re certain they were both on their feet when they left?”
“Yeah, I’m certain. One might o’ been ’elpin’ the other, but nobody got carried out, if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s what I mean.” Monroe reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a one-pound note. “You’ve been most helpful, Mr . . .”
“Stites. Philip Stites. An’ it was my pleasure, good sir. I’d ’elp anyone for a portrait of our blessed Queen.”
Monroe laid the note on the table and moved the man’s flagon to cover it. He stood to go.
“No hard feelings,” Hobbs said, offering her hand.
Stites drew back in alarm, then seeing no malice in her eyes, accepted her hand for a shake.
“No ’ard feelings, miss. You should see ’umphrey ‘bout a job. A girl with your skills could make a killin’ in ’ere.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stites, but I already have employment.”
She rose and joined her colleagues, already feeling late for the door.
* * *
Out in the street, they separated, Hobbs following Monroe, and trying her best to look helpless and unintimidating, while Smith struck out on his own. Their plan was to find the itinerant, the unemployed, the homeless day-laborers, and offer money for information. Their plan turned out to be a great disappointment, as they discovered that on any given Friday night, the sprawling boom town was alive with shouted arguments, fights, and robberies, and while many of the men they questioned remembered hearing such altercations, no one remembered any particular details, nor did they recall any particular European in a town noted for their presence. It was a hopeless dead end, and a terrible waste of time. But, as is the case with many ill-considered endeavors, it did have unintended consequences.
* * *
“You took your time, Carstairs,” the young man greeted his big guardian as the grizzled man entered the hotel room with a cloth sack of supplies over his shoulder.
“There are strange things afoot,” the larger man said, “things that needed knowing.”
The man lowered the sack to the side table and stood waiting.
“Sit down, Peter,” the young man offered, and the man stripped off his light day jacket, folded it, hung it on the back of the chair, then took his seat, slumping with a deep sigh.
“These things are a problem, I take it?” the younger man asked.
In contrast to the look of the big man, with his rumpled trousers and patched jacket, the youngster wore fine linen trousers of a light tan color, a brown silky stripe down the side. His fashionable boots were fitted and polished, and his black hair was combed back, oiled, and drawn into a short ponytail, bobbed and contained at the nape of his neck. His ruffled shirt awaited only a silk bow tie before the matching jacket could be donned, and he would be ready to step out and woo the ladies of the town.
Except there were no ladies in this godforsaken town, he thought bitterly, only barmaids, prostitutes, and the occasional adventuress as prickly as an American cactus.
“There are people asking questions.”
“Two men and a woman.”
“A woman?” The dandy was immediately interested. “Police?”
“No. Civilians. They are asking about the Portugee.”
The young man perked up at that.
“Asking what? Were you able to find out?”
“In general terms. They are trying to find out whether any of the street people saw or heard the murder.”
“And were they successful?”
“It seems not, for they kept asking, and finally gave it up. I believe the squalor of this particular village works in our favor. What is one dead rat to the pack, you might say.”
“Indeed. Still, you never know what sort of information might be out there, and it wouldn’t do to have them stumble onto it. That would be most, should we say, inconvenient.”
“I doubt they will, sir.”
“Oh, and that is a doubt you can afford to entertain?”
“This town is a hotbed of crimes, large and small. Ours is unlikely to stand out simply because of the sheer volume of crimes being committed.”
“I’m surprised at your attitude, Peter. Surely, as the man who wielded the knife, you must be concerned about discovery.”
“Wielded the knife, sir?” he asked with a skeptical expression. “Well, we needn’t be concerned with discovery in any case. The deed is done, we have the treasure, why do we not simply depart? The world is quite a large place to search for two men who don’t want to be found.”
“In your case, Peter, perhaps true, but not so much in mine, eh? I am the scion of a landed baron who has squandered the family fortune. I am in the public eye, a figure of great speculation among the masses, you see? Nothing interests the hoi polloi so much as watching the fall of the mighty, so what better way to draw attention to ourselves than to disappear before the contracts we came here to seek have been awarded? You see, Peter, this is why you are a natural servant. Leave the planning to me, help me carry out those plans, and you will be fine. Nay, not just fine, you will benefit from my brilliance. See to my wardrobe, continue to guard my person as you have my father’s, and you will find yourself the leading aide to the leader of the greatest house of the Empire.”
“Yes, sir, of course you are quite right.”
“Of course I am. Now, tell me of this woman. Is she young, old, formidable, intelligent, what are her qualities?”
“She is young, small, and quite subservient. She is what the other ladies might call cute. She has the face of a child, wears her hair loose, and wears a man’s laboring clothes. She followed the older of the two gentlemen around, I mean literally followed him, a few paces behind. She always kept her head down, and I only saw her speak a couple of times.”
“Interesting. A young girl, naïve, far away from her comfortable London digs. This, I think, is the perfect channel to deliver our message.”
“Yes, Carstairs, our message to these people that continuing to thrust their noses into our affairs will get them very, very hurt.”
“I see, sir.”
“Good. Then listen carefully. Here is what I want you to do . . .”
* * *
It had been a fruitless day running down tantalizing leads that had proven worthless time and time again. Ultimately, it seemed, no one had witnessed Hafner, nor anyone else, actually committing the murder of Pablo Cardenas, but everyone was eager to offer a story in the hope that it might lead to a discovery, and they would be in line for the proffered reward. Hobbs and Monroe walked along the wooden sidewalk beside the dusty main street headed for the aerodrome at the south end when they passed a general store.
“Hold up, Captain," Hobbs said, "I need a new bottle of brass polish.”
“Yes, now. The binnacle’s getting that green stuff around the gimbals, and I’m not going to let that accumulate until it needs a crowbar to pry it loose. You go on and find David. I’ll see you back aboard.”
“Yes, well, all right. Don’t make me come back for you, though. And don’t buy up their whole stock of dresses!”
“Yes, of course, that’s what I’m really going to do! You run on, now, and tell Nicholas to have something palatable for supper ready for a change. I’m famished!”
She stepped into the store as Monroe continued on down the street. As with most of these African shops, the only organizing principle was that everything was stocked wherever it would fit, so it took her a moment, even with the clerk’s help, to find a bottle of brass polish. She paid the two pence, slipped it into her trouser pocket, and started out for the aerodrome. There were a few more buildings to pass before they gave way to the open space where balloons conducted their affairs, and as she passed the alley between the last of them, a pair of strong hands grabbed her by the hair at the back of her neck, whipped her savagely around, causing her to lose her footing, and dragged her into the shadows between the shops. Once they were in the dark, she was thrown hard onto her back where her attacker knelt on her hair from above and clamped a powerful hand over her mouth.
“Listen carefully, girl,” a male voice told her in a strange accent. “I mean you no harm. I am sent to deliver you a message. Do you understand?”
She nodded as best she could, all the while gathering whatever information was on offer. Male from the voice, white she could tell by the hand. She couldn’t see much of the face because his forearm blocked most of her view, but it wouldn’t have mattered, as he wore a black knitted seaman’s cap of a form that rolled all the way down to cover his face. The eye and nose holes gave him a look of something other than human.
He took his hand off her mouth.
“No screaming, or I will harm you, wishing or not.”
She nodded again.
“You and your group of friends are asking many questions about some worthless pig of a dead man. You are causing problems for my employer. My employer says I am to deliver a message. You tell your friends to remove noses from our business, and you don’t see me again. If you do see me again, it will be when I am killing you. You understand?”
“I understand that a friend of ours is in jail, and will probably hang for this murder if no one finds out who really killed that man.”
“Oh, your friend, the Prussian drunkard, killed the man, make no mistake. My employer is involved in other business that might be compromised if too much information comes to light, so I am to ensure that no more information comes to light. You can walk away and that will be the end of it. You, any of you, ask one more question, you all die. That is message.”
Russian, she decided. Almost certainly Russian. She had encountered very few of them in the regions she had chosen to travel, but their rich, rolling accents had impressed her. Yes, Russian.
“My friends have proven very hard to kill,” she said, trying to keep him talking, ears poised to snap up any little detail he might let slip.
“If they are no harder to surprise than you, I doubt it will be much work.”
“You had better surprise them, because any one of them could kill a coward who attacks women from behind, without thought or effort.”
Middle aged, the gravelly quality of the voice suggested, and also the fact that he hadn’t knelt on her hair with both knees. He was immensely strong, but just possibly the rheumatism that Monroe occasionally complained of had robbed him of his quickness. It would be difficult for a man so afflicted to rise quickly from his knees. He was cheating by keeping one foot flat on the ground!
“We are not here to have intellectual discussion, girl. You will take this message to your friends. They will then choose whether you all live or die.”
He took his other hand from her shoulder, and lifted his knee from her hair. He rested both hands on his right knee and grunted as he strained to lever himself up. She was right, he had some aging issues!
Planting her left foot, she arched her hips, coiled her right leg, and performed what would have been a chorus line high kick had she been standing. The toe of her hard boot drilled into the bridge of his nose, and blood flew everywhere, some of it splattering on her face and blouse as he gave a sharp cry and pitched over backward. She scrambled to her feet as he rose painfully, dabbing at his nose and examining the blood.
“Filthy whore, I kill you now!” He drew a sap from his black clothing, a leather truncheon filled with lead shot, and began to advance on her.
She pulled her knife from the back of her belt, reversed it to hold it like an ice pick, with the sharp edge of the eight-inch blade out, and laid along her forearm. She extended the knife hand back behind her, and formed a claw with her left in front, just as Nakamura had taught her, ready to seize clothing or rake the eyes, whatever was offered.
The man closed quickly, once he gained his feet, raising the sap for an overhead strike that would drive a piece of her skull down into her brain. Instead of shrinking away, as anyone would be expected to do, she stepped into him, taking a blow from his descending wrist with her forearm, and the knife flashed around in a blur, slicing into his ribs low on the left side. If it weren’t for his jacket, she would have cut into a lung.
He backed quickly away, eyes wide in surprise. She had clearly gained the initiative, reversing the surprise onto him. She twitched the fingers of her left hand in a come-hither motion.
“You’re too slow, big man,” she taunted. “Come again, and I’ll take your eyes,”
“You think I am alone? My employers didn’t send their best assassin to deliver a message to a girl. You tell friends. Step away or die!”
He surprised her by throwing his truncheon, striking her in the center of the sternum, knocking her back and sending a sharp pain radiating through her chest. The man turned and bolted into the darkness.
Rubbing her chest, she looked after him. His dark clothing would make this difficult, but he was certainly in more pain than she was. Picking up her flat-topped engineer’s cap from the alley, she set it on her head, slightly askew, and began to follow.
He was out of sight most of the time, but she caught a couple of glimpses as he got careless in his flight around some of the exterior lamps, and as she passed through those pools of light, she could make out dark stains, which she took to be drops of his blood; he was losing a lot. She worked out the line he was following, and stopped being concerned about keeping him in sight.
She made her way through the little town to the Nairobi Inn, the post’s main layover for coffee planters coming in to sell. As she bounced up the three steps to the open double doors, she saw two more large drops on the floor inside. More were in sight as she stepped in, leading to the stairs. She started to walk that way.
“Ah, Missy Hobbs,” she was greeted, loudly enough to make her jump, by Badru, the night clerk. “Is late for bath, but I will draw one if you wish. Oh, Missy Hobbs, you hurt yourself?”
“No, Badru, it isn’t mine. Did a man just come in here, a big white man, all dressed in black? Probably bleeding pretty badly, too.”
“Missy Hobbs,” Badru said in a disappointed tone, “you know I cannot provide that information. I wouldn’t tell someone else about you, and I won’t tell you about someone else.”
“That’s eminently fair of you, Badru. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
* * *
Carstairs gave their agreed-upon knock, one sharp rap followed by three quick taps. He had to repeat it before the younger man, his partner, unlocked the door to admit him. He staggered in, gasping for breath and holding his nose, the sheen of wet blood giving his matte black outfit a sense of depth unintended. Breathing hard, he collapsed into a chair before the young man closed and locked the door and turned to look him over.
“Carstairs, what the bloody hell, man?”
“Get me a wet cloth, for God’s sake.”
“Of course,” the younger man said, hurrying to the pitcher in the bedroom. “But what happened to you?”
“What happened? Sir, that bloody girl you sent me to intimidate was a bit harder to frighten than I was led to believe.”
“You don’t have to make up a story, man. Just say you tried to frighten her when her friends were around. You wouldn’t be the first man who’s gotten careless.”
“Careless? You believe I would make up a story to say that an eight-stone woman did this to me? You see this nose? She kicked it. Kicked it, and while she was lying on her back! She has a knife as well, and she knows how to use it. My ribs are gashed here,” he put his hand on his side, “I am quite sure, to the bone. I need a doctor.”
“Nonsense. If this woman is everything you say she is—”
“Oh, she is!”
“Well, then, she’ll have her friends out looking for you already. Unless you lead her right back here.”
“No, sir, I hurt her. She put up a good fight, but the message was delivered. I let on like I was just messenger boy, and we have trained killers to send if they don’t listen.”
“Brilliant. I’m sure that frightened her right off. Did she have the good grace not to laugh while she was handing you your eyeballs?”
“This was your mistake!” Carstairs said, raising his voice.
“You sent me after this woman.”
“You told me she was weak.”
“I told you she was small and subservient. That does not always mean weak.”
“Yes, well, sir, perhaps a bit more reconnaissance would have been in order, instead of an immediate frontal assault.”
“There wasn’t time for that. Their meddling had to be stopped. You described a small, weak woman. Obviously she was putting on an act. We have to assume that these people are more sophisticated than the average frontier bumpkin you’d expect to encounter down here.”
“Indeed, sir,” Carstairs said, dabbing gingerly at his nose with the wet towel, “but my immediate problem is my need for a doctor.”
“That’s out of the question. Doctors ask all sorts of funny questions, and if they don’t like the answers you give, they tend to involve the authorities. No, that wouldn’t do at all.”
“But my ribs, sir!”
“Superficial, I’m sure. Look, get your coat and shirt off. I’ll go down to the pantry and steal a sheet, and bind them up myself.”
“Are you sure you can do that, sir?”
“Well, it can’t be much, can it? We just wrap them tight and wait for them to heal. I’m assuming, of course, that all the fisticuffs have been dispensed with for the time being. Then we’ll have to change hotels, and quickly, tonight. A girl like that will be looking for her attacker, and the way you’ve been bleeding, you won’t likely be hard to track.”
* * *
Hobbs stepped into the street, experiencing a moment of indecision. Should she collect her crew mates? A redcoat patrol? Now that she was out of immediate danger, the dissipating adrenaline left her breathing in deep gasps, and her fingers shaking just slightly, her mind a bit addled and indecisive.
Pulling herself out of it, she made a decision. She would start toward the ship, and collect the first people she saw on the way.
The first person she saw was David. The American cowboy was walking toward the aerodrome with a sack of supplies over his shoulder, and she called to him as she trotted to catch up.
“Hey, little girl, where you been?” Smith asked. “I thought the captain was with you.”
“He was. I stopped to buy some brass polish, and I got, how do you say it, bushwhacked as I came out of the store.”
“By who?” Smith asked, taking in her disheveled appearance and bloody blouse for the first time as he swung his sack down to rest on the ground. “I’ll give him what-for!”
“I’ve already done that,” she said. “He was a big man, older, Russian accent. He said we should stop asking questions about Cardenas or we would all be killed.”
“Are we going to do that?”
“Are you joking? I’m pretty sure I broke his nose and—”
“You broke his nose?”
“Yes. Pay attention. After I broke his nose and slashed his ribs, I followed him back to the Nairobi Inn. I was going to get some of the crew, and maybe some gendarmes, and go kick the door in.”
“Well, the redcoats aren’t gonna go for that. Come on, let’s take the supplies back and see who’s available for a boarding party.”
“Now you’re talking! Come on.”
The walk back to the Kestrel’s berth was uneventful, and they found Monroe at the rail, awaiting them like a stern father waiting for his daughter to return from a dance.
“Where have you been?” he greeted her. “I was about to start searching for you.”
“She got bushwhacked,” Smith said. “Some thug told her he’d kill us all if we didn’t stop asking questions.”
“What? Patty, are you all right? Good Lord, you’re covered in blood!”
“It’s all right, it isn’t mine. I followed him back to his hotel.”
“She broke his nose!” Smith crowed, as proud as any big brother might have been.
“Yes, David. He’s in a room at the Nairobi Inn. I thought we might go over there and continue the conversation in more civilized surroundings.”
“Beat him senseless, you mean?”
“I wasn’t going to say that.”
“Still,” Monroe said, “probably couldn’t hurt to see what this fellow might have to say when we’re all together. I’ll just get my pistol.”
“How about our engineers?”
“They’ve turned in already. I think we can get by without a one-armed man and a schoolboy for this job.” Monroe disappeared below decks, returning a moment later with his LeMat revolver holstered at his side. With a nod of agreement between them, they set out.
A block from the hotel, they encountered a patrol, a sergeant of Monroe’s acquaintance, and one of his soldiers, walking their rounds, Martini-Henry rifles slung on their shoulders.
“I say, Rutlege,” Monroe greeted him.
“’Oy, Cap’n. Makin’ a late night of it?”
“Something like that. Actually, we could use your help. Patty here was attacked by a thug. She followed him back to his hotel, and—”
“She broke his nose!” Smith interrupted.
“Quite. Anyway, she followed him back to his hotel, and we were thinking of paying our respects, in a disrespectful sort of way. Would you care to come along? You might manage to prevent a murder.” He shot a meaningful glance toward Smith.
“Well, as it ’appens, we got nothin’ pressin’ at the moment. Lead the way.”
He and the private moved their rifles to high port and swung in behind the trio. As they climbed the steps to the lobby, Hobbs greeted Badru’s surprised countenance.”
“Told you I’d be back.”
“Missy Hobbs, what is the meaning of this?” the man asked, looking nervously at the two soldiers.
“Just a bit of unfinished business.”
“Official business,” Sergeant Rutlege added, “so you just sit right there and carry on. Nothin’ you need to concern yourself about.”
Under Badru’s open-mouthed stare, they climbed the stairs to the second floor, following the dark brown drops on the worn-out carpet. A six inch puddle had collected in front of one door, making it obvious where the man had stood, fumbling to get the door open. Hobbs started directly for it.”
“’Old on now, Miss,” Rutlege said. “You’ve plainly got some plan you’re workin’ to. Might be a good idea to let us in on it.”
“It isn’t complicated,” Monroe said. “Patty’s going to knock on the door, and when he opens it, sees her, and panics, we were going to drag him out by the scruff of the neck and bring him over to the stockade.”
“He might fall down a couple of times on the way over,” Smith added helpfully.
“That’s not quite ’ow it works, I’m afraid,” Rutlege said. “Now that you’ve engaged the authorities, there’s a civilized way to do things. Come along.”
The sergeant walked right up to the door and motioned the others to line up against the wall where they wouldn’t be visible to anyone who opened the door. When the others were in position, he pounded five times, hard, on the door’s reinforcing strip.
“Colonial Patrol,” he boomed in his best drill field voice. “Open the door, please.”
There was no response. He knocked again.
“Colonial Patrol! Open the door at once!”
Still no response.
“You ’ear that?” he asked Monroe.
“That cry for ’elp. There it was again! At the ready, Private!”
And with no further warning, he leaned back and kicked the doorknob hard, splintering the frame and knocking the man with his ear pressed against it back into the room.
* * *
Carstairs watched as the door crashed open, sending his employer flying backward to fall back onto one of the hotel’s small beds. He started to rise, looking for a weapon, but the pain in his ribs slowed his motion to a dreamlike push through thick molasses. The Royal Army sergeant who had followed the door into the room stood over his master, rifle unwavering, while his partner, a private, followed him in and dropped to one knee, pointing his Martini-Henry service rifle straight at his face. It’s bore looked an inch across.
Even as the blonde woman followed him in, accompanied by two of her companions, his partner found his voice.
“What is the meaning of this outrage,” he shouted. “I’ll have you in irons for this.”
“Per’aps,” Rutlege allowed, “or per’aps we’ll ’ave you. We’ve a complaint from this young lady that someone from this room attacked ’er in the street, an’ after she surprised ’im with ’er fighting skills, she followed ’im to this ’otel. The puddle o’ blood outside the door makes it plain which room ’e came to, and by the look of your man’s face, sir, I’d say we’ve the right perpetrators.”
“What’s that, Carstairs,” the young dandy asked in astonishment, “you attacked this young woman?”
“By your order,” the older man replied.
“I know you,” Hobbs said to the dandy. “You’re Ogden Martin, Lord Martin’s son.”
“Never denied it, madame. You have the advantage of me, however. What brothel do you hail from?”
Smith took a step forward as Monroe placed a restraining hand on his arm.
“I’m not surprised you mistook me for a whore, given the number that you patronize. I’m Patience Hobbs, and you would know me as one of the ladies of Lord Mason’s household. I see you’re sending out minions to kidnap your women now.”
“Patience Hobbs, of course, the street urchin that some misguided fool put a dress on. I see it didn’t stick.”
“That’s enough,” Rutlege said. “It’s obvious that ’e’s our man. What’s your part in this?”
“I know nothing about any of this,” Martin said indignantly, sitting up on the edge of the bed. “Is this true, Carstairs, you’re out attacking women in your time off?”
“You sent me to do it, and you know it!”
“Oh, don’t lie. Servantry, you know, always stealing from the parlor and playing dumb. Arrest him at once. I’ll not have a back-alley masher working for me!”
“Oh, I can’t believe you,” Carstairs said. “I knew watching you grow up you were not fit for aristocracy, but now you would lay your crime on me? Swine! I will tell you everything, sergeant, and you will judge for yourself who the criminal is.”
“You can’t possibly believe anything he says,” Martin said with a dismissive sneer. “The servant classes will tell any lie to keep themselves out of the nick.”
“Might be an interesting lie to ’ear, just the same,” Rutlege said. “Go on, Carstairs, was it? Speak your piece.”
“I’m warning you, Carstairs!”
“Yes, you’ve been warning me your whole life. Lord Martin is a great man, and I’ll fight any man who says different, but this son of his, this, this, sack of worms discarded by the roadside is as poor a scion as any man could have been afflicted with.”
“Are you aware of the penalties for slander, Carstairs?” Martin raged.
“And what do I care for that? I have assaulted this beautiful lady by your command, and you try to frighten me over words? You are a pig, and I will prove it.”
“And I will see you die in prison, you ingrate!”
“That is likely my fate anyway. I will see that you do not escape your own.”
Martin lunged from the bed bent on murder, hands reaching to claw at Carstairs’ ruined nose. He might have been a match for the big man in his injured state, but Hobbs intercepted him, grasped his forearm, twisted her hips somehow, and the raging man was upended, his flight ending in a heap against the bureau in the corner.
“Oh, nicely done,” Rutlege said, clearly impressed.
“Thank you, miss,” Carstairs added.
Hobbs nodded to him with a small but understanding smile.
“Now, you tell your story, Mr. Carstairs, and if you interrupt again, sir, I’ll have you removed from the building.”
“Fair enough, sergeant. My real name is Pyotr Krestyanov. I was born in St. Petersburg. My mother brought me to England when I was a small boy. Lord Martin hired her as maid in his home. When I came of age, he started me as footman, and had his butler teach me everything about the role of domestic servant. When I grew large, and he knew for himself of my loyalty, I often accompanied him in the streets as his bodyguard. What you may not know is that Lord Martin’s fortune is running out.”
“Carstairs!” Martin shouted.
“Last warnin’, Mr. Martin,” Rutlege said.
“But he can’t disclose our family’s secrets!”
“This is a criminal investigation, sir. Nothing is out of bounds. Go on, Mr. Carstairs.”
“Lord Martin’s fortune is in alcoholic beverages, you see. The market has exploded in competition, and he has made choices, ill-founded choices based on ill advice from friends who think they know more than they do. The creditors are nipping at his heels, and his sales no longer cover their bills. He has sold some assets, but not enough to make any difference. The estimate is that he may survive financially for another year.”
Martin sat on the floor before the bureau, head resting on his raised knees, arms wrapped around it as if to ward off the words.
“When the news came about private builders for the railroad, he sent his son to look into the possibility of investing, and me to keep him from harm. My loyalty to the boy’s father would not allow me to refuse, and now you see what it has led to.”
“Actually, sir, we don’t see much of anything yet,” Rutlege said.
“Carstairs, for the love of God, man! If you have any loyalty left, stop these lies!”
“That does it. Private Jenkins, place this man in irons and take ’im to the stockade. Keep ’im there until I return.”
“Very good, Sergeant. On your feet, sir.”
“Carstairs, think of the family,” Martin said as Jenkins shackled his wrists behind him. “Think of my father.”
Carstairs held his silence until Martin was half-dragged out the door.
“As soon as we arrived,” Carstairs continued, “it became apparent that the competition, the amount of money being thrown around, was going to keep us out of any part of the bidding. All we had accomplished was to waste the money on the trip. The young master went to drown his sorrows. His only response to any problem. Well, while he was out, he heard of this Pablo Cardenas during an evening of carousing. He heard that Cardenas had stolen another man’s fortune, and that that other man was very, very angry. Angry enough to kill, maybe.
“Well, he came back from his drinking with that piece of knowledge, and set me to find Mr. Pablo Cardenas. Once I located his place of residence, Mr. Martin gave me very specific instructions. He told me to confront Cardenas in his room, find the treasure, beat the location out of him if necessary, and report back to him.”
“And was it necessary?” Monroe asked. “To beat him, I mean.”
“Yes. Cardenas was small, but very tough. He gave it up at last. A man will trade almost anything for his eyesight. I left him bound and gagged in his closet, and collected the treasure, two sacks of golden discs, two stone each. A fortune. No one would be suspicious were a member of the gentry to discover some previously untapped wealth. It was stealing from a thief, and I did it for his father.”
“What about the man you framed?” Hobbs asked.
“What about him?” Carstairs asked in return. “At this point, no one had been killed, you have to remember. I assumed that we would leave by the next transport, and by the time Cardenas freed himself, all he could report was that some stranger had robbed him. But Master Martin, no, he had to go see for himself.”
“And you couldn’t stop ‘im?”
“Can you stop a superior officer, Sergeant, when he decides to do something? The lot of a servant is to serve. The bloody fool let Cardenas see his face. Unlike me, the young master is known and recognizable. He then decided that Cardenas had to be killed. I argued, but he was adamant, and before my eyes, he pulled a knife and thrust it through the man’s heart. Then my thoughts turned to how to protect my employer’s son. He still had killed only a thief, as far as I knew, a criminal in his own right, so I laid down a sheet to catch the blood, and cut his throat from ear to ear, like a garroting, you see, and under cover of darkness, I carried him down to the area of the bar where I knew that people would remember the man’s talk of his anger with Cardenas, and left it to be found. Then when we learned that this Hafner fellow had friends here who were asking questions, the young Master sent me to deliver a message via this young lady. She proved . . . obstinate.”
“She often does,” Monroe said.
“Yes. Well, I simply wanted to leave, with Cardenas still alive, mind. If the young fool had listened to me, we’d be rounding Cape Horn right now with a great box of money, and no particular harm done. And now look at what he’s brought us to. We’re likely going to the gallows, aren’t we, Sergeant?”
“I don’t know. ’E’s gonna say you did it, you say ’e did, and the court likely won’t risk hangin’ an innocent man. You’re likely lookin’ at a long stretch in lockup, though.”
“In an English jail, Sergeant? I’d hate to be consigned to one of these African pest holes.”
“I should think so. You and the victims are all European. That should keep you in a civilized lockup. You ’ave anything to add?”
“Yes. The gold is in his luggage, locked with a key that you'll find in his jacket there. That’s the whole story, and I can live in jail if I know that little rat’s in there with me somewhere. I’m sorry, miss. I never meant to hurt you.”
“I came off all right. You’re a gentleman at your core, Mr. Carstairs. I hope you don’t fare too badly.”
“’E’ll fare as a criminal should,” Rutlege said. “All right, Carstairs, in deference to your injuries, I won’t shackle you, but if you try to run, I’ll shoot you down like a dog. Can you get on your feet all right?”
“Yes, Sergeant, thank you. Let’s go.”
Kestrel’s crew stood aside to give the sergeant and his prisoner room to step through the door.
“A sad case,” Hobbs said. “He deserved better than this.”
“So does Eric,” Monroe said. “It’s late, and we’ve likely got a big day ahead of us. Anyone interested in getting down for a bit of sleep?”
“Aye,” Smith said, “nothin’ ever sounded better. You sure know how to throw a shindig, Patty.”
“Just one of the many services I provide, good sir,” she said with her mischievous smile, leading them through the door.
* * *
Morning on the highlands had dawned gray and overcast, with signs of an overnight drizzle apparent on the ground, but nothing falling since. The crew of the Kestrel were up making preparations to get underway for Mombasa when Eric Hafner appeared, walking toward their dock.
“Ah,” Monroe said to Smith, “here comes the lad of the hour.”
“Better put a leash on Patty,” the American growled.
“You just try it and see what happens!” came the instant reply through the pilot house window.
“Patience, that young Belgian fellow that you don’t particularly care for is coming up the ramp,” Monroe said.
“Really?” she answered too quickly, appearing in the door. “I mean . . . It’s good to see that justice was served.”
She came over to join them at the rail
“Good morning, Mr. Hafner,” Monroe greeted him as he reached the top of the platform.
Hafner stopped and studied their welcoming faces.
“Listen to this man, vill you? Hafner said. “Under no obligation, he saves me from a date vith the gallows, then says, ‘good morning,’ like it’s the most ordinary thing in the vorld.”
“We all played our part, Mr. Hafner,” Monroe told him. “In fact, it was Miss Hobbs leading the charge. One would almost have thought she had a personal interest in the outcome.”
“She broke a guy’s nose,” Smith added.
“Vell then, Miss Hobbs, you may consider me eternally in your debt.”
To Patty’s obvious delight, he took her hand, bowed deeply from the waist, and kissed it, causing the formidable frontier pilot to blush like a schoolgirl.
“I am sorry,” Hafner said as Patience unconsciously cradled that hand to her bosom, “but I must ask. Vere you able to find a location that matches the vun on that disc?”
“Disc?” Hobbs asked. “Oh, the disc. I was just now looking over my charts. I’ll have some more time on the way to Mombasa, but I’m not optimistic. You are riding to Mombasa with us?”
“If your captain is agreeable. I’ve put you through far too much as it is.”
“Of course you can ride with us. No charge for this leg.”
“You are too kind, Captain.”
“That etching,” Hobbs continued, “looks more like a bay than a river, and harbors are a rare feature on this coastline.”
“Ja, and Cardenas might have been drawing a location in Burma, or Iceland. Vell, I appreciate your efforts. If you could be so kind as to reproduce the figure on a piece of paper for me, you may keep the disc. A keepsake of our adventure together.”
“Ah, Mr. Hafner,” Ellsworth greeted him as he came on deck, the big African, Bakari, in tow.” It’s good to see you out and about.”
“No small thanks to you, Mr. Ellsworth,” Hafner replied.
“Actually, I was training our new engineer. Bakari, this is our friend, Eric Hafner.”
The two shook hands and nodded their greetings.
“So, Eric, are you riding back with us?”
“Yes, vun last trip for old times sake.”
“Excellent. Captain, the fire is lit in the boiler, and we should be ready to maneuver within half an hour.”
“Very good, Nicholas. Bakari, how are you finding service on the Kestrel?”
“Well, sir, your power plant is of high quality and great technical excellence, but life aboard this vessel is proving quite boring. I’m sure that if you decide to retain me, I shall have to acquire a collection of good books.”
He had no idea why everyone burst out laughing in unison.