The Adventures of Penney Dreadful: A Port in a Storm

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


The crew of the Rose retreat to a tower to lick their wounds, only for Reaves to be kidnapped by a violent group of rebels.

Submitted: September 04, 2017

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Submitted: September 04, 2017

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The Adventures of Penney Dreadful

A Port in A Storm

Rain pounded on the deck of the Marianne Rose. The crew hurried away at their tasks, wearing waterproof coats and jackets. Tower Christina loomed ahead. Lights from the cities illuminated her bulk. She was a shining beacon against the dark. Reaves sailed his ship through the oppressive storm. Blake stood beside him.

"Can we risk a little elevation?" Blake shouted. His words were nearly drowned out by the thundering heavens.

Reaves looked up. The upper levels of Christina were wreathed in dark, nebulous clouds. Lighting flashed and flickered in that churning cauldron.

"Unlikely," said Reaves in answer to Blake.

"Guess we're docking here then." said his companion, pointing to the middle levels.

Reaves nodded solemnly. The Rose was due for repairs and restocking, and her crew needed a rest from the dreadful storm. They had been stalking the lower skies for the Ruckus and her dastardly crew, rising to the upper atmospheres periodically. Their efforts, so far, had been fruitless. Penney's vessel had been lost after their last encounter. Reaves had silently raged for days. His anger never stopped, but he had tempered himself. After all, he had his crew to look out for. And a soggy, tired crew make for poor sailors.

Reaves made for the middle levels. The storm raged around him. His crew made preparations for docking. Below deck, Barron watched water drops race down his port window. As the Rose approached Christina, he walked to his desk, opened a drawer and produced a cylindrical black case. He twisted it open and pulled out a feathered pen. Grinning, he gently caressed the reddish yellow feathers. They felt warm. A great comfort against the raging storm outside. If only he had some good whisky. Barron sat down, produced a sheet of paper, and began to write.

 

The Rose docked in a place called Port Calais. The crew went through the docking procedure without incident. Work then began on procuring new supplies and repairs for the ship. Men scrubbed burn marks and replaced splintered wood. An order was called in for a new mortar. The few wounded, who had been sustained by the ship's doctor, sought out further care in a local hospital. Fresh food and drinks were brought in. Pepper and the other captured pirates were escorted to the nearest jailhouse.

"I serve booze and peanuts," Pepper complained. "Is that a crime?"

Reaves' men prodded her on with the other prisoners.

 Now and then, a curious onlooker would stop and observe the process. Over time, a crowd began to congregate.

As Reaves and Blake oversaw the proceedings, a voice spoke out among the masses. "Traitor!" it cried.

Reaves, from his perch on the Rose looked down to the docks. A small, balding man was pushing his way through the crowd. He screeched and hollered until his face turned red.

"Murderer!" he screamed.

Gradually, more and more onlookers joined in. They shouted curses and obscenities to Reaves. A few began to throw rubbish and shoes at the Rose.

"Get off our tower!" they yelled.

"Traitor!"

"Butcher!"

More people rushed at the ship. Her crew pushed back and held them off. Reaves heard whistles in the distance, and soon a squad of constables entered the scene. They beat back the crowds and soon succeeded in dispersing it. The officers waved their nightsticks at the retreating figures and shouted warnings after them.

Reaves watched all this with detachment. He remained at his post, staring down at the rain-drenched streets. Blake eyed his captain while the whole scene played out.

"If you want me to shoot one of these fools, just say the word." Blake said.

"They are citizens of the Regency," said Reaves. "They are free to speak their minds."

"Would you like to go inside?"

"No."

"If this upsets you, I can-"

"No."

Blake remained silent. After the scene had played out, the lead constable walked onboard. His black uniform was soaked, and his silver trimmings were slick with rain. Despite his weary breathing, the officer looked like a sturdy man, with wide shoulders, thick arms and a face lined with age.

"Everything alright up here, gentlemen?"

"Just dandy," said Blake.

"My apologies for all that. Rather a poor welcome to Christina, I'm afraid. Shouldn't pay those ruffians no mind, though. Folks like those are all talk."

Reaves watched the constable carefully as he spoke. Although the man seemed sincere, he notably averted his eyes from Reaves. News of the famed captain's return had spread fast. And the people of the Regency had not forgotten his sins. Reaves suddenly wished he had turned down Sim's proposal.

"I can have some men stand guard during your stay, if you'd like." the constable continued.

"That will not be neccessary." said Blake. "We are fully capable of defending ourselves."

"As you wish," said the constable.

He saluted the two men and slogged into the rain. He kept his eyes off of Reaves the entire time. The captain of the Rose went back to his duties as if nothing had happened. He worked with Blake and the rest of his crew until the Rose was back in shape. When all was done, he issued shore leave. Blake protested to no end. He urged his captain to take the helm and continue the hunt.

"Our people are tired, hungry and downtrodden," Reaves said to him. "They must be allowed a night of rest, or revelry, whichever they prefer. The hunt will go on. But now, we must take ease."

Reaves turned his back on Blake and walked to his cabin. Blake looked after him solemnly.

 

Warm lights emanated from the tavern windows. The cold, wet night beat against them, but the company inside paid it no mind. They danced and sang and drank to their hearts content. The place was full of sailors young and old. Shanties and stories danced on the air. Weary souls dried themselves by a roaring chimney.

Everett Smith had wished to sleep back on the Rose for the rest of the night. But his friends had insisted on a drink or two. Gregory was on his fifth, Janet on her seventh. Smith had barely touched his mug. He watched raindrops pour down the dirty glass of the tavern window. The lights were reflected in each quivering drop. They looked like liquid jewels or fiery sparks.

Everett's eyes drifted to Janet. He always lost himself when he looked at her. She was the picture of earthly beauty. Her features were soft, yet weathered. Her skin was lightly tanned. Her short dark hair was a mess, but it was a lovely mess. Her eyes were dark pools with a star in each.

Smith blushed and returned his gaze to the window. Gregory was telling some story about his days at the Academy. Like most of his stories, it was highly exaggerated. Gregory was describing his encounter with a most devious woman when a commotion startled the group. Near the bar, a tough-looking local man was shouting with drunken rage.

"You're all bastards!" he screamed.

Although he addressed the whole tavern, his wrath seemed to be focused the Regency sailors in attendance.

"Bastards I tell ya! You cheat an' ya steal...that's all yer good fer."

The troublemaker was met with silence. Everyone continued with their merrymaking like he wasn't there. Action was taken when he threw a bottle across the room.

"Cut it out, ya louse!" someone called.

"Get out before you break something else!" said another.

Still, the man raged. Everett and his companions intently watched the scene unfold.

"Bloody leeches," the drunkard yelled. "Every last one of ya!"

"Watch yer mouth, pig!" a gruff old man yelled back.

The bartender gestured to a pair of men sitting at the bar. They stood up and took the ruffian by the arms. He kicked out and struggled against their grip. Everett half-rose from his seat, but was stopped by Gregory's thick hand.

"Don't get involved, kid." the old sailor growled.

The two men dragged the ruffian out the door. Half-eaten food was thrown at him, and beer was splashed in his face as he went by. Everett watched on in pity.

"They're suckin' me dry," the ruffian protested, with tears in his eyes. "They took me brother...took him to the low quarters. Said he couldn't pay!"

The ruffian was violently thrown out into the street. He glowered at the patrons inside the tavern, but stayed crouched in the rain-slick road.

"Fuck that!" he roared. "Fuck the Regency! Damn you all to hell!"

When the door closed, the tavern returned to life. The troubles of the world were once again forgotten. Any pity or remorse for the woes of the common man were quickly drowned in talk or drink. Janet shook her head.

"Almost feel sorry for the chap," she said, taking a swig from her mug.

Gregory grunted in agreement. Everett said nothing. After a moment, Gregory cleared his throat and smiled.

"Well then," he said. "Where was I? Oh yes, the incident with the lass and the griffons!"

Janet laughed. Everett sighed and looked out the window.

 

Reaves walked through the dark streets of Christina. He hated to leave his Rose, but he needed space. He needed isolation. He was familiar enough with the districts of the tower, and had chosen a quiet, seldom-traveled route. He paid no heed to the rain. His uniform was drenched. What would his teachers at the Academy think of that? What would they think of him?

Reaves shook his head. He didn't want to think about that. He focused on the cobblestones beneath his feet and the rain. He focused on the biting cold that coursed through him. It was a small suffering. A suffering he could take. Suddenly, another thought intruded his mind: What would Rose think of you?

He stopped. A vice closed on his heart. He leaned against a nearby post, as he found his strength waning. The tall, shuttered buildings closed in on him. Darkness danced before his eyes.

"Rose," he whispered her name, and it melted in the rain.

Reaves saw her. In all her beauty, he saw her in his heart. Tall and graceful, with golden hair and eyes like a clear sky. His whole body ached. His heart was torn asunder. The image of Rose slowly faded, and another took her place. Gold became red, blue became amber. Her soft, loving smile became a mocking grin. A goddess became a devil. It was a defilement of the most horrendous nature.

Reaves slammed his fist against the post. He straightened himself, letting out a low growl. He flexed his muscles and breathed. Once again, he focused on the rain and the cobbles and the cold. Slowly but surely, he composed himself. After a moment of contemplation, he turned back in the direction of his ship. He didn't get far before he heard movement behind him. Before he could investigate, however, something struck his back. Reaves winced. Another blow went to his leg. He toppled forward. Hands roughly took hold of him from behind. A black bag went over his face. Reaves struggled against his captors to no avail. A sharp blow landed on the back of his head. The captain of the Rose went suddenly and violently to sleep.

 

When Reaves awoke, the bag was gone. It took a moment for his eye to focus in the dark. He was in a dank, dirty room filled with ropes and shipping crates. A dozen ill-dressed men stared at him with intensely cold eyes. Dirt and grime covered their faces and hands. Their clothes were little more than rags splotched with stains. Reaves  tried to stand, but found his legs and feet tied to a wicker stool. A man wearing a wool cap and a torn scarf approached him from the shadows. The man leaned in close and grinned. His teeth were rotten and his breath was nearly sulphurous.

"How do you do, captain?" the man said in a wheezy whisper.

Reaves opened his mouth to reply, but could only emit a harsh cough. The man in front of him barked an order to one of his subordinates. A moment later, water from a cracked ceramic pitcher was being gently poured down Reaves' throat. It was warm and fetid, but it helped. As soon as the pitcher left his lips, Reaves growled; "What is the meaning of this?"

"You don't know?" laughed the ringleader.

"Assaulting an officer of the Royal Regency is punishable by death."

"You are in no position to be making threats."

"That wasn't a threat. I was simply stating a fact."

"Oh, we got a wise cracker here, do we?"

The leader laughed. His gang joined him, cackling in the dark. Without warning, the leader slammed his fist into Reaves' gut. Reaves grunted as a wave of pain shot through him.

"Listen here," said the leader. "I call the shots here. In this room-on this tower-you have no power. How does it feel to be on the bottom of the totem pole?"

"If you have any complaints, please send them to your local governor." Reaves wheezed.

"Complaints? Oh, we got a few."

The leader circled around and put his hands on Reaves' shoulders. Reaves winced from the pressure.

"Look around," said the ringleader. "These are the people you are supposed to protect. This is what you what you are supposed to fight for. Look at all the Regency has done for her people!"

The men glared out from the dark. They cracked their knuckles and spit on the floor. Reaves now noticed that some were carrying weapons. One man played with a switch knife, another with a pair of brass knuckles.

"Look what you've done for us," the leader continued, screaming into Reaves' ear. "You fucking murderer."

The word hit Reaves like a hammer to the skull. For the first time since his abrupt abduction, he felt a twinge of fear.

"If that's what this is about, I'm sorry," he said. "It was an accident."

"Hell of an accident." the leader spat.

"I made a mistake," pleaded Reaves.

"So I've heard. What made you do it, then? A miscalculation? Stress induced hallucinations? Or did you just not give a damn?"

The leader whirled around and punched Reaves in the jaw. His followers cheered.

"You're angry," said Reaves with a mouthful of blood. "I understand that. But killing me is going to solve nothing. You people need help. Let me-"

The leader kicked Reaves in the shin. The assault caught Reaves off guard, causing him to bite down on his tongue.

"We're not going to kill you," said the leader, grinning ear to ear. "I have grander visions for the esteemed Captain Reaves."

The men laughed once again, like a pack of hungry hyenas. Reaves steeled himself. Whatever they had in mind, Reaves resolved not to scream.

 

"And that's why griffins make poor pets." Gregory slurred as he, Janet and Smith stumbled through the street.

Smith's vision swirled. Every step was shaky and uncertain. He clung to Janet, who guided him to the best of her ability.

"You aren't much of a drinker, are you?" she said to him.

"No, I'm afraid not." he replied.

Janet laughed. Smith was glad that she was enjoying herself. The sound of her laughter almost made the nausea bearable. The three sailors made their way back to the Rose. When they arrived, most of their crewmates were already there. The dock was buzzing with activity. Blake was shouting orders to the scurrying figures around him.

Gregory exchanged a puzzled glance at Janet. Smith moaned. As they approached the ship, Janet hailed a lithe young cadet.

"Robertson," she cried, "what's going on?"

"Captain Reaves is missing," he replied.

"Missing? How the hell did that happen?"

"Talk to Blake. I've got work to do."

Janet nodded and walked up the ramp. Blake eyed her and her companions up and down when they approached him.

"Are you three sober enough to follow orders?" he said.

"Yes, sir!" said Janet, snapping into a salute.

Smith almost fell without Janet's support. He stumbled for a minute before greeting Blake with a clumsy salute. Gregory attempted a salute of his own, only to slap himself in the face.

"Right," Blake sighed. "Here's the situation; Captain Reaves left the ship an hour ago. I told the old fool to take on an escort, but he assured me that he would return within the hour. He did not. I've sent word to the local constabulary. They could be of use. I am now in the process of assembling a search party. I need volunteers."

"We're up for it, sir!" said Smith.

"Sober volunteers." Blake growled.

"Give us a minute," Janet said with a sheepish smile.

 

Reaves observed his captors as they moved about. The grubby men paced back and forth, carrying crates and barrels. Reaves heard them working, but could not see precisely what they were up to in the dark. He suspected that is was nothing good.

One of the men approached him. He wore a woolen cap and a tattered coat. He carried a half-empty bottle in his callused hands. Reaves squinted as the man stared down at him.

"May I help you?" said Reaves.

"You can die. That would be helpful."

"Is that all you can think about? Revenge on a man you don't even know?"

"Everyone knows you, friend. And yes, revenge sounds mighty sweet right now."

"What's the point? I've already been punished for my actions. Both by the Regency, and by my own hands."

"Listen here," the man downed the remainder of his drink and leaned in close. "If you think you can change my mind about this, you are more of a fool than I realized. I've made my decision, friend. If the Regency won't execute you, than we will."

"Perhaps I do deserve death," said Reaves. "But only I may choose the specifics. I will not perish at the hands of some thug."

The man grimaced. He turned his bottle upside down and struck Reaves with the underside. Reaves grunted when the cold glass hit his jaw. The other men in the room turned to examine this new development.

"You really are an arrogant old fool, aren't you?" said the assailant.

Reaves returned the man's cold gaze, but said nothing.

"Do you have any idea what we've been through?" his attacker continued. "Do you know how the common man fares under your precious Regency? Do you know how much you've made us suffer? Do you?"

He swung the bottle again, smacking Reaves in the cheek. He stumbled drunkenly. Tears suddenly appeared in his eyes.

"My wife was on Isabella!" he pointed to another man in the shadows. "And his son!" he pointed to another. "And his father! They're all dead because of you!"

The ringleader stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Easy there, Charles," he said, "take 'er easy."

"No!" the man screamed, striking Reaves yet again. The bottle began to crack. "It's not fair!"

He was sobbing steadily now. He struck Reaves again and again. Each impact shook the captain to his bones. The man put such strength into each blow. It was like being pummeled with a brick. Finally, the glass shattered. Reaves' head hung low. Blood dripped from his nose. The ringleader pulled the man back.

"That's enough, Charles. I'll tolerate a little horseplay, but remember, we need him alive for now."

Charles muttered something incoherent. He turned and dropped the broken bottle. Behind him, Reaves stirred. He looked at Charles dead in the eyes with a steely gaze.

"My wife was on Isabella too," said Reaves, "and I love her with all my heart."

"Did you kill her too?" Charles snarled.

"No. I am hunting the one who took my Rose. If you kill me, you will deny justice. You will allow a wanted criminal to go free. The one who forced my hand in the first place."

The crowd whispered to themselves. They had read the reports. They knew Reaves wasn't lying. The ringleader scowled.

"Will you do it?" continued Reaves. "Will you allow Penney Dreadful to kill again?"

 

Everett Smith rushed through the halls of the Rose. His gear belt rustled with hastily packed supplies. A bright silver saber hung from his hip, and a freshly-cleaned flintlock rifle was slung tightly on his bandolier. He huffed and panted as he ran to meet up with the rest of the search party. He turned a corner and came across Reaves' quarters. Everett instinctively slowed to a brisk walk as he passed it. He knew it was silly, since the Captain was absent, but he still felt the need to pay respect.

Then he noticed something odd. The door was wide open. Reaves closed and locked his door every time he went out for long periods. Everett peered inside. Reaves' quarters were immaculate. The layout was the same for the crew quarters, but it was decorated with blue drapery, gold furnishings and a bed that actually looked comfortable. It was a world of difference from Everett's bare walls and dirty mattress. Medals and trophies were prominently displayed on the walls and desk. There was only one thing wrong with Reaves' room; Barron was in it.

The writer was sitting on an elaborately carved wooden chair, leafing through a collection of papers.

"What are you doing?" Everett snapped.

"Rifling through Reaves' belongings, of course." said Barron. "What did it look like I was doing?"

"Get out!" yelled Everett, pointing at the door."

"Your captain is most likely dead, dear boy. He's not going to miss a few papers."

"Leave now, or I will toss you out myself."

"You really care for the old coot, don't you?" Barron smirked.

"Of course. Reaves is a hero."

"You really think that, even after what he's done?"

"He made a mistake, Mr. Barron."

"Do you believe everything he tells you?"

"He was hurt, Mr. Barron. He was confused. I can't even imagine what he was going through. But I do believe in him."

Barron rose and put the papers down. He walked to the porthole and stared at the storm.

"Your naivety is charming, really." he said without turning. "But you may be right. However, I think you may be missing something. You see, I believe Reaves knew what he was doing. The only thing on his mind at that fateful moment was vengeance against she who plucked his Rose from the Earth."

He paused to examine himself in the glass. He noted the areas that needed improvement, then continued.

"After a loss like that," he said, "Nothing else matters. So you see, Reaves did not care who lived or who died. He simply wanted to kill one little pirate whore. And we all know how that turned out. It was an...interesting turn of events, really. Someone should make a ballad out of it."

"No," said Everett.

"Pardon?" said Barron, glancing back at the boy.

"No. Reaves did what he thought was right. I don't care if you don't agree with that. You aren't the only one. But you didn't know his pain. You weren't there."

Barron smiled. "Neither were you," he said.

Everett shook his head. "I choose to believe in Captain Reaves. If you don't, fine. But if you disrespect him, or anyone aboard this ship, I will make your stay here very short indeed."

"My, my," said Barron, finally turning around, "what have we here? Look who's finally grown a backbone! That night on the town must have done you some good, my boy. Or maybe you've been taking lessons from our fine Captain? Either way, I'm impressed. Keep it up, and you'll have the ladies falling at your feet."

"Get out, Mr. Barron. I'm serious."

Everett glowered at Barron and once again pointed at the door.

"Very well," said Barron. He walked to the doorway, looked back at Everett and smiled. "But before I go, let me tell you something. Reality is a much better teacher than some old codger."

He tapped on the wooden frame, grinning like a fool. "Trust me."

Everett watched Barron go. When the eccentric writer was out of sight, Everett took one last look at Reaves' room, sighed and closed the door. He made sure to lock it.

 

Blake watched the crew in the action. The search teams were being assembled with rapidity, and he was told that the constables were on their way. He barely noticed the pounding rain. Barron strode up beside him and leaned on the slick railing.

"What have you been up to?" Blake asked.

"Oh, just getting some rest. This commotion woke me."

"Reaves is gone."

"Yes, I know. That's what everyone keeps crying about."

"We can't lose him, Barron."

"Yes, Sim will be very disappointed in you."

Blake turned his eyes on Barron.

"If we lose Reaves," he said, "Sim will have both of our heads."

"I imagine so. Better catch him then!"

Barron laughed and twirled around.

"Oh, you will." Blake called after him.

"Pardon me?" Barron asked, turning back.

"You are joining a search party."

"What?" Barron cried.

"You'll be with Saxon's group. They meet on the docks in five minutes."

"You can't send me out there! I'm not a soldier, I'm a scribb-writer."

"So," said Blake. He turned to face Barron, leaning back on the railing. "Write. You wished to archive this journey, did you not?"

"Well, it wasn't a wish as much as it was an-"

"Order?" Blake narrowed his eyes.

"You must be joking!"

"You'll know when I'm joking."

"Will you at least give me a gun? Or a knife, or something? Hell, I'd even take a broom!"

"What good would that do? You are no soldier. You said so yourself."

"What if I need to defend myself?"

"The others will protect you."

"But-but...but I'll only slow them down!"

"My men will assure that you do not." Blake smiled and crossed his arms. "I have given them permission to shoot you, should your services, or lack thereof, prove to be lacking. If Sim asks, I'll tell him that your demise was an accident, or a causality."

"You can't do this to me!"

"Five minutes, Barron."

"I refuse!"

"Clocks ticking, friend."

Barron threw up his arms and stormed off, grumbling the whole way. Blake grinned. It felt good to bring the self-proclaimed poet down a few pegs. It would feel even better to see him dead. If not tonight, then another. Any night would do.

 

The crew of the Rose stood at attention. Determined faces watched as Blake met with the captain of the constabulary. The two men shook hands.

"How can we be of service?" asked the captain, who had introduced himself as Hogan.

"You can tell me why your citizens have kidnapped our captain, for one."

"How do you know for sure he was kidnapped?"

"Captain Reaves is not the most popular individual right now. I'm sure many citizens would like to see him hung."

"Aye," said Hogan, scratching his nose.

"Have you any idea of who would be so bold as to abduct a man of the Regency?"

"I can think of a few," Hogan spat. "This district has been plagued with anti-Regency riots even before Reaves started all that ruckus."

"Are these rioters organized enough for something like this?"

"They're passionate enough, that's for certain. They've grouped up, but operate only in small gangs. Mostly, they seem to be content with picketing and shouting nonsense. Buncha whiners if you ask me."

"Have you identified any members of these gangs? Do you know where they operate from?"

"We have our suspicions," Hogan gestured to the slick streets of his home, "but nothing concrete. I've seen signs of trouble in the southern quarter, near Knight's Row, and the east, by Tallow Town."

"Have you searched these areas?"

"Yes, but we haven't turned up anything aside from a few conmen and petty thieves."

"Well, sir, let us hope that tonight brings us better luck."

Hogan nodded. Blake relayed commands to his crew. Each search party would be accompanied by at least two constables. The rest of the crew would remain by the ship, in case more trouble occurred, or if Reaves returned. Blake watched the brave men and women of the Rose march into the stormy night. Barron shot a venomous glare at Blake before retreating with Saxon's group. Blake smiled after him.

 

Saxon's group was to investigate Knight's Row and the surrounding area. The grim-faced senior officer walked with Barron, two constables, Everett Smith, Janet Bain and Gregory Ware. The constables led the crewmates through the lonesome streets, illuminating the way with handheld lanterns. The only sounds were that of the rain and the occasional comments of the constables.

"Do you two gentlemen know of any good restaurants around here?" Barron inquired after a short while.

One of the officers opened his mouth to respond. Janet put a hand on his shoulder and shook her head.

"Just ignore him," she said, "it's what we all do."

"How about a tavern?" said Barron.

"Shut up," Everett snapped.

Janet and Gregory glanced at Everett, then at each other. Their eyes were wide. After a moment, they smiled.

"Boys growin' bold," Gregory said with pride.

Everett blushed. He tried to focus on the task at hand. He had a mission to accomplish and he would not let Barron distract him. His anger at the snooping scribbler was fresh. Everett sighed deeply, resolving to stay calm and focused. He stole a glance at Janet, who had already brushed Barron's foolishness aside.

Barron laughed silently to himself.

 

An hour later, Everett struggled to keep his eyes open. Janet and Barron moved sluggishly beside him. Only Gregory, Saxon and the constables hurried on. They had been scouring every dark corner for ages. Now and then, the constables would point out a likely hiding spot, spurring a search. Each attempt proved to be fruitless. The constables would also interrogate the few citizens they came across. Sometimes they asked nicely. Mostly, they talked with their fists. Everett looked on as they accosted a group of clergymen. The group was dressed in ragged clothes, and they looked far too thin. Janet looked away as the constables began asking questions.

All around them, broken bottles and discarded papers lay in the street. Dirt and grime, reduced to brown liquid by the rain, raced down the gutters. Everett had visited the middle district of his home tower of Amelia, but he did not remember it being so filthy. He was used to the clean, breezy streets of the upper levels.

"Aren't middle districts more well maintained then this?" he asked.

Janet looked around at the filth at her feet and said, "Even here, life can be cruel."

Everett stared at her. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"I'll be fine," she replied.

"Seems the lady is speaking from experience." said Barron.

"Shut up!" Everett and Janet both barked at him.

Ahead of them, the constables, along with Gregory and Saxon, dismissed the clergymen and resumed their march. Everett cast a shy glance at Janet as she scanned the darkness with her torch.

"Janet," he said, "if you don't mind me asking...well, are you speaking from experience?"

Janet nodded, still not looking at him. "My parents are military, but Regency benefits can only get you so far. They were born poor, then worked their way up to middle class."

Although he didn't show it, Everett was surprised by this. He knew that Regency benefits were notoriously stingy, but he could scarcely believe that Janet hailed from a middle district. She was too beautiful for that. She held herself with too much grace.

"When they had me," Janet continued, "my parents took up working class jobs. Once I was old enough, I enlisted with the Academy. Even then, money was an issue."

Janet smiled and finally looked at Everett.

"That's why I'm here," she said. "I'm doing this for them. They need the money more than I do."

Everett, blushing under her gaze, smiled back. When she looked away, however, his smile faltered and his mind raced. Janet was middle class. Janet Bain was middle class. He couldn't believe it.

"So," he said, slowly. "What you're telling me...is that you are middle class?"

She looked back at him with a raised eyebrow. "Well, yeah. Way to pay attention, Everett."

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"I take it you're upper class?"

"Well...my parents are," he stammered. "But I've visited the middle district on Amelia many times! It's...lovely."

Barron snickered behind him. Everett and Janet both glared at him.

"Quiet back there," Saxon growled. "We've got a job to do, remember?"

Janet and Everett returned to their vigilance. Everett, however, could not concentrate. The girl he loved was middle class. Could it still work between them? Did she even belong here? Everett knew the ordained hierarchy of the towers. Everyone knew. The middle class was for workers. The upper class was for the important people; soldiers, sailors, politicians and nobles. And the lower class was nothing but a living plague. By all accounts, Janet should be cobbling shoes or paving roads or flying on a merchant ship. It wasn't unheard of for workers to step outside their boundaries, but it was unusual. Especially for a woman. It was admirable, Everett supposed, but could he really love someone from another world?

Everett's train of thought came to a screeching halt when he heard the sound of bullets ripping through the air.

"Could be our fight," said Gregory, looking in the direction of the sound.

"That would be convenient," said Barron.

Moments later, a trail of fire blazed in the night sky. The flare exploded like a firework, alerting all search parties and waking entire neighborhoods.

"That came from Tallow Town!" cried one of the constables.

"Let's move it!" said Saxon, setting off on a run. The others swiftly followed. Barron trudged behind them, dragging his feet on the cobble road.

"I should've gone to the tavern early." he grumbled.

 

Reaves drifted in and out of consciousness. He was tired and sore. The beating he had taken from that thug had set in as well. One minute he was in a dark room surrounded by dirty, violent men. The next, he was with Rose. The men worked around him. He couldn't see what they were doing. The air was buzzing with their grating voices. He did not hear what they were saying. He didn't care anymore. They had ignored his pleas. Every now and then, someone would kick him awake and make him drink. Then they would hit him in the stomach or the leg.

Reaves did not care. He knew he deserved this. The citizens of the Regency were finally getting their revenge. He almost smiled. He wanted to be with Rose. And if these people had their way, that could happen. They could be together again. Reaves suppressed a laugh. Both parties would have their wish tonight. The people would have their vengeance, and Reaves could have his Rose.

No, not mine, he thought. Rose belonged to no one. She had always been what some would call a free spirit. Reaves could see her, radiating in the dark before his eye. Golden hair flowed like a silken gown. Eyes as blue as a clear summer sky gently stared at him. Her skin, pale as porcelain, seemed to emanate a soft glow. Reaves wanted to reach out and take her hand. He struggled against his bonds, desperate to hold her.

Pain brought him back into reality. Reaves groaned from the impact to his gut. The gang leader loomed over him and punched him again in the same spot. The wicker stool nearly toppled over, but the leader grabbed Reaves by the hair and pulled him and the chair back into place.

"Wakey, wakey admiral," said the big man, wearing a wide, cruel grin.

Reaves looked up at the man but said nothing.

"Still giving us the silent treatment, huh?" said the leader. "That'll only get you so far, admiral."

The big man stood up straight and opened his arms, gesturing at the darkened room.

"You think this is bad?" he asked, leaning in again. "This is nothing. Tonight, you are gonna get what's coming to you."

Reaves continued glaring. He was silent and still. The big man scowled.

"Edwin!" a younger voice shouted from the shadows. The voices owner, a scrawny man with a wild beard came running to his leader. His eyes were darting around in his head, and his whole body trembled.

"What is it, Carl?"

"We've got company,"

"Regency?"

Carl nodded. "And constables," he added.

Edwin grinned. "It's about time they showed up. Grab the guns. I'll take the dear admiral out back."

Carl nodded and got to work. The men sprang into action. They opened the barrels, reached in and took out guns. Dozens of guns, each looking new and freshly oiled. The mark of the Regency adorned every one of the deadly weapons. Reaves nearly gasped.

"How did you get these?" Reaves demanded.

"Ah, now you're interested again." said Edwin, slipping on thick black gloves.

Carl returned from the dark and handed his leader a shiny, silver rifle. This time, Reaves really did gasp. In his filthy hands, Edwin held a steam rifle.

"Who gave you-?"

Edwin smacked Reaves with the butt of the rifle. Lights danced in Reaves' vision. His head throbbed. Two of his teeth clattered on the floor. He grimaced, but did not scream. He faintly heard a shot going off from somewhere in the building, then the scream of a flare.

"Time to go, admiral." Edwin whispered.

 

Saxon's team met up with the other groups from the Rose. Bullets soared through the air. The smell of gun smoke wafted into Everett's nostrils. Most of the gunfire was coming from a narrow alley. A squat, military-style building lay beyond the alley, concealed by the darkness from the neighboring houses. Saxon got the attention of Mr. Halstead, who was taking cover with his group behind an old inn. Halstead then explained how his men had spotted a suspicious character slip into the alley. They had given chase and demanded to have the captain returned. The locals did not take kindly to this, and Halstead and his men were forced to retreat.

"Are we certain the captain is in there?" Saxon bellowed under the roar of bullets.

"Why else would they be shooting at us?" Halstead bellowed back. "These tower-lubbers are defending that building for a reason!"

Saxon nodded and ordered his group to join the battle. Gregory and Janet began to fire down the alley. Everett could hear breaking glass as bullets ricocheted off the walls. Every time there was a lull in enemy fire, the crew of the Rose would break cover and dispatch a volley down the alleyway. They withdrew and hugged the walls every time the enemy began to return fire.

"These buildings have been abandoned for years," one of the constables shouted above the din. "So don't worry about killing anyone you ain't supposed to."

"What about squatters?" asked Janet.

"Screw the squatters!" the constable shouted. "We shoot 'em all the time."

While his team was engaged, Everett stood back, out of the way of danger. His eyes were wide and jittery. His skin was ghostly pale. His hands shook so violently, he almost dropped his rifle. Everett took a step forward, then hesitated. He cursed inwardly at himself. He had not been this afraid during the battle with Penney Dreadful and her pirates. He had not even been this afraid when he had joined Janet, Gregory and the captain in the Abyss. Why, then, was he so afraid now?

Barron crouched beside the boy, covering his ears.

"Taking the cowards way out?" asked the scribbler. "I knew there was something about you that I liked!"

Everett did not even possess the courage to mutter a 'shut up'. Why was this so difficult? All he had to do was point and shoot. Look down the sight. Pull the trigger. Watch a man die. What was so hard about that? He had seen blood before. He had seen death during the battle with the Ruckus. And yet, he could not bring himself to kill. Tears formed in Everett's eyes. What kind of soldier could not kill?

"Move, son!" someone yelled at him.

Saxon rushed at Everett, grabbed him by the arm and ran back to cover. He roughly shoved the boy to the wall.

"Get a hold of yourself, Smith!" he growled.

"Y-yes, sir." Everett whimpered.

There was a pause in the shooting.

"Now's our chance," said Halstead, "push forward!"

The sailors and the constables ran down the alley, with Everett nervously trailing behind. As they approached the military building, their enemy resumed fire. The sailors ducked for cover and fired back. A man in Halstead's group was shot in the ankle. Gregory dragged the man out of harm's way. One of the constables who had led Saxon's group was hit twice in the chest. Everett watched the battle unfold in horror. His head was spinning. He felt nauseous, and it wasn't just because of the drinks he had had earlier.

"Everett, what's wrong?"

Everett blinked. Janet was crouching beside him. She looked worried. Everett winced as another constable went down screaming. He looked into Janet's eyes. In them he saw fear and concern and even a hint of sadness. Then he looked again at the battle. His allies were fighting and dying before him. Janet was afraid, but still she fought. She did not abandon the cause. So how could he?

"Are you alright?" she pleaded.

Everett shut his eyes. When he opened them, they were hard.

"I am now," he said.

Hands steady and eyes set, Everett aimed down the sight and fired at the enemy.

 

Edwin shoved Reaves out into the storm. With each step, Reaves stumbled and cursed Tower Christina. He could hear gunfire and screams close by. His crew was out there dying. Reaves struggled against his restraints, which only earned him pain. Edwin smacked him in the back with the illegal weapon every time Reaves squirmed.

"When this is over," Reaves muttered, "I'll execute you myself."

"When this is over, I'll be rich." Edwin replied.

"Isn't this about justice? I don't think you'll get much for my head."

"Oh, I'll get plenty. The whole 'justice' thing is just for the little guys."

Edwin inclined his head back toward the building.

"As soon as I start talking about justice and revenge and all that hogwash, those chumps will do just about anything."

"Even for a middle class pig, you disgust me." Reaves scowled. Being kidnapped and beaten he could handle. Hypocrisy was inexcusable.

Edwin just laughed.

Shortly, they arrived at a wall. There was nothing to see but darkness and rubbish. Just as Reaves was about to speak, a shadow moved. A figure approached, cloaked in black. Although he could not see them, Reaves could feel the stranger's eyes burning into him.

"Hello, captain." the figure said.

Reaves furrowed his brow. The voice was familiar. It brought back memories of days gone by. He struggled to remember. Where had he heard this voice before? Who stood before him now?

"I will be very disappointed if you do not remember me, captain."

It was a low, thin voice. It sounded confident and reserved. The speaker stepped closer, carrying himself with dignity. Although he was shorter and thinner than Reaves, the cloaked figure seemed to radiate power. Here was one who could demand respect without ever uttering a word. Now Reaves could see into his bright, cunning eyes. And suddenly he remembered.

"Cutter," Reaves whispered, "Horace Cutter?"

The figure smiled. His face was all angles, as if it was cut from diamond. A tall hat concealed wavy black hair. He stood with thin, lanky legs.

"I hear the Rose is back in action," said the man called Cutter. "How is the old girl?"

"Cutter, what is this?" Reaves asked.

"Justice," said Cutter. "Mostly. It will be preceded with torture and humiliation of course."

"Why?" said Reaves. "Why go through all this trouble for petty revenge?"

"You dare call it 'petty'? You went against everything the Regency stands for! You are no worse than the pirate whore you hunt."

Reaves thrust himself forward with such force that Edwin lost his grip. Cutter took a step back.

"Horace," said Reaves in a hoarse whisper, "I'm losing my patience with you."

Edwin was reaching for Reaves when Carl burst out of the backdoor of the building and into the rain-slick alley. He paused when he saw Cutter.

"Boss," he said to Edwin. "Who is that?"

"Never mind him. What's wrong?"

"The Regency, they've broken through the line!"

Reaves allowed himself to smirk.

"It seems that you have underestimated my crew." he said to Edwin.

As if on cue, his crew swarmed out from the building. Edwin took aim with his rifle and pulled the trigger. He knew he was overmatched and outnumbered, but he refused to die like a coward. He had always intended to die like his father had, during the war. Edwin was not disappointed. The steam rifle did not fire a lethal dose of lead. Instead, it fired a thick, concentrated jet of boiling air. Edwin had charged it to his liking. He managed to get two shots in before he was filled with holes. One shot hit Halstead right in the head. He fell convulsing on the floor, with smoke rising from the hole in his face. The smell of cooking meat wafted away into the night. The other shot hit Everett Smith in the left shoulder. The young man screamed and dropped his gun. Janet Bain came to his side as he clutched his burning skin.

Reaves had tried to stop Edwin before he could use that infernal weapon. Cutter had other plans for the captain, however. He grabbed Reaves from behind, wrapping his arm around the others neck. Reaves squirmed and struggled, but Cutter held tight. In his other hand, Cutter produced a revolver from the shadows of his cloak. The advancing sailors stopped in their tracks, but still aimed their guns at Cutter and Carl.

"Easy now," Cutter cooed. "Wouldn't want your captain to get a bullet in his brain, now would we?"

Reaves tried to speak, but Cutter choked him off. Cutter backed up slowly to the wall behind him, holding the gun at Reaves' head the entire time. Through his grip, Reaves managed to muffle something.

"Save your breath," mocked Cutter, "you'll have plenty of time to scream later."

Reaves stomped his foot down on Cutter's polished black shoes. Cutter yelped in pain and loosened his grip, giving Reaves time to elbow Cutter in the gut. The revolver went off inches from Reaves' head. He ignored the ringing in his ears, turned around and knocked Cutter's skull against his own. As Cutter fell back against the wall, he flung his cloak around his body.

Then, he was gone. When Reaves' sailors illuminated the wall with their torches, they saw nothing. Only Carl, Reaves and his crew stood in the alley, with the bodies of two men. Reaves stared at the wall. Everyone was silent. Carl cowered in a corner. Everett's eyes were on the captain, although he was still in pain. Janet was still at his side, holding him close.

At last, Reaves turned to his crew. He looked at the body of Halstead and noted the few men and women who were missing. He was rescued. He was free. But he did not smile. Instead, he looked into the eyes of his crew and said; "It's been a long night. Let's go home."

 

The rain ceased. Dawn rose in the clouds. Carl and the other survivors of the Tallow Town gang had been interrogated by the constabulary. Each survivor told the same story of justice and representation. They all hated Reaves. That much was clear. Most, but not all, despised the entire Regency as well. They claimed to be oppressed and burdened with overtaxing and marshal law. For these claims, as well as other crimes, they were put to death. Reaves watched them hang. While one man announced himself as a spy who had hidden in the crowd earlier in the night, none of the bastards claimed to know anything of Horace Cutter.

Aboard the Rose, Reaves was treated by Marcus Gray, the ship surgeon. Reaves had insisted, however, that those who had come to rescue him be treated first. No one had suffered an injury the good surgeon could not fix. Except for Halstead, of course. He was interred with traditional Royal Regency military honors. His remains were then carefully hauled off to a local funerary home, where they would wait to be returned to his family. The few others who had been lost received the same treatment.

When everyone was rested and healed, Blake sought an audience with Reaves. The two men sat in Reaves' chambers, Blake on a stool and Reaves himself on the edge of the bed.

"Are you sure there is nothing else you need?" Blake inquired.

"You should have faith in Mr. Gray," said Reaves.

"I do, captain. But still I worry. There will be other rebels, in other ports. Not even the towers are safe for us."

"I know."

"And now Horace Cutter is out for blood."

"Only my blood, it seems."

"You said he vanished...like magic. A relic?"

"What else could it be?"

"If he can go wherever he damn well pleases, why didn't he attack you directly? Why deal with those no good ruffians?"

Reaves reached into a drawer near his bed and produced a bottle of aged brandy. He took a hearty swig and handed the bottle to Blake.

"Cutter is feeding the fire," Reaves said as Blake drank. "He's working with rebels to gain their trust, and to secure his place in their circles."

"Are you certain about this?" Blake handed the bottle back to Reaves.

"No. But it is what I would do."

"Well, he did learn from the best." Blake grinned.

"Perhaps," Reaves laughed. "But now it's come to bite us in the a-"

There was a knock at the door. Reaves put the bottle away.

"Who goes there?" commanded Blake.

"E-Everett Smith, sir. May I come in?"

Blake looked at Reaves. The captain gave a small nod. Blake gave the boy clearance. Everett opened the door, but kept his distance. His left sleeve was rolled up, exposing the bandages which were wrapped around his burnt tissue.

"How's the shoulder, son?" asked Reaves.

"Better," said Everett. "Thank you, sir."

"What do you want, boy?" Blake asked.

"I-I just wanted to know to know if I can do anything for the captain at the moment."

Reaves stood up and smiled at the boy. Everett instinctively saluted. He marveled at his captains composure, even after sustaining injuries of his own. It was taking nearly all of Everett's will to keep from scratching his slowly healing flesh. But Reaves stood tall and proud, without a hint of discomfort or humiliation.

"I require no assistance now, my boy," the captain said, "but I will call on you should the need arise."

Everett nodded and turned to leave. He paused halfway out the door. He looked back into the room and said, "Welcome back sir."

"Wouldn't have made it without you, Mr. Smith." said Reaves.

Everett suppressed a smile and closed the door. His hand shook on the knob. His shoulder itched. A tear dripped down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away. Everett was joyous. The captain was back. Janet was safe. All was right with the world. Why then, did he feel ill? Why was there a pit in his stomach. Everett closed his eyes and remembered the battle from just a few hours ago. He had not killed anyone. Not a single person. His hands had still been too shaky. That had to be the reason. He had seen people die, however, on both sides. Each death had felt like a punch to the gut. Halstead's demise felt worse. Everett could still smell cooked meat. And to think, he had almost shared Halstead's fate. Everett shuddered and forced himself to smile. He was a soldier, after all. He could not afford to be afraid.

Inside Reaves' chamber, the bottle of brandy was back out on the bed. The rising sun cast a golden glow through the windows. The room shone like a horde of treasure.

"Now," said Blake, "what shall we do about Mr. Cutter?"

"We can discuss it later, Blake."

"That is unwise, captain."

"Cutter is not the target of this hunt. I've already composed a report of last night's events for Mr. Sim. The constabulary assures me that their courier ship will be swift in its delivery."

"But sir, don't you think-?"

"We cannot fight two foes at once, Mr. Blake. We have one in the sky and one sneaking around back alleys. One thing at a time, Blake. One thing at a time. Besides, we have neither the time nor the resources to scour every port and street on this tower."

Blake could think of no protest to that, so he simply nodded.

"Now," said Reaves. "Leave me. Attend to your duties. I will be along shortly."

"Very well, sir."

"And tell the crew that from now on, we will only rest at port if it is absolutely necessary. We cannot afford to waste more time on petty criminals and vengeful idiots. Penney Dreadful will not wait to be found."

"Understood, sir."

Blake left the room grinning. He was glad to see the captain make up his mind. No more distractions. No more detours. Although Cutter's use of a relic was a matter of concern, Blake was certain that Sim would take care of it. The old man excelled in making problems disappear.

In his chambers, Reaves drank the remainder of the brandy. He threw the bottle on his bed and walked to the window. He watched the sun climb higher and higher into the sky. As darkness gave way to light, he placed his hand on the glass. He saw a reflection in there, but it was not his.

"Rose," he whispered.

Have I done right by you? he asked her. It was a question he asked every day. She never answered. In his mind, Reaves could still see the rebels staring him down with hard, angry eyes. He could see their ragged clothes and dirty skin. He could smell the odors of sewage and rotten food that lingered on them. He could see the conditions they lived in. And, as much as he hated to admit it, he could see their point.

The middle class had been suffering for years. They were burdened with taxes, unlike the upper class of which Reaves belonged. Every time some middle class worker decided to expand their business or home, those taxes rose. For most, it wasn't so bad. For others, it was hell. Some sub-districts almost resembled lower level slums. The people living there were barely a step above the lower class. Thus it had always been, and it had only gotten worse.

Reaves had thought nothing of the middle class when he was a boy. He had thought even less of the lower class. Then Rose had come along. She had showed him a truth that was so simple, and yet so elusive. Wealth was not the worth to be had. Honor and beauty had many forms.

"Oh, Rose," he whispered, almost sobbing.

What would you have me do?

 

Earlier last night

Pepper leaned back against the stone wall of her prison. Two-Teeth Tom whistled an off-key tune in the corner. Sammy Lean and Jim Buckle watched the hallway. The other captive pirates and wenches from the pub raged in adjacent cells. The guards would periodically come by to demand silence, which only made the imprisoned mobs turn up the volume.

"Think they'll hang us?" said Lean. "Or will they just throw us into the abyss?"

"Whichever one is worse," grumbled Buckle. "That's what they'll do."

"Which is worse, then?" pondered Lean.

"Dunno. My father got the noose. Looked like it hurt."

"Falling's worse," cried Tom. "Trust me. I fell down a well once, and I cried like a girl the whole way down."

Tom paused and glanced at Pepper. "No offense," he added. Pepper grunted.

"It ain't like fallin' down a well, though." said Lean. "There ain't no bottom. You'd just fall forever."

"Actually, you'd burn up long before reaching the bottom." Buckle explained.

"If there is a bottom," said Tom.

"Shut up," Pepper shouted, "all of you shut up, or I will kill you!"

The pirates went silent. Even those in other cells settled down. Pepper, they knew, would be the horrific executioner of all. The gallows almost seemed cheerful compared to the gray-haired pub owner. After several minutes which seemed more like hours, there was movement out in the halls. Pepper perked up and walked up to the bars. She saw the two guards talking to several higher ranking officers. Listening carefully, she overheard snippets of their conversation. Evidently, dear captain Reaves had been kidnapped and additional officers were needed to aid the crew of the Marianne Rose. In the commotion, the officers, including one of the guards hurried out into the storm.

Pepper grinned. She knew there were likely more guards upstairs, but she had escaped from worse prisons. At one point in her life, she had made a habit out of it. That was before the pub, of course. The pub had changed everything. Pepper had long ago learned that the best way to swindle people was to run a business.

"Boys," she said, "it's time to go."

The guard sat on a wicker stool, flipping through the pages of a penny dreadful. It was a terrible yet entertaining read, full of blood, impractical sword fighting and scandalous encounters. The chief would probably confiscate if he caught the guard reading it, as the book painted pirates as romantic heroes. A proper story would have the noble men of the Regency saving the world. Still, the laughable dialogue and titillating details were worth the risk.

The real pirates, awaiting justice in their cells, were quiet. The guard thought he heard a chuckle now and then.

"Hello?" said a voice from the third cell down. The guard nearly jumped out of his chair.

"Hello out there," said the same voice. It was soft and husky, in a feminine sense. "My mates here aren't playing nice. May I transfer to another cell?"

The guard did not answer. Was it one of the pretty little wenches speaking? Or perhaps the gray-haired woman? She had been on the older side, but still pretty enough to look at. Either way, the guard felt his heart race.

"Oh," cried the pretty voice. "Pretty please, officer? I'll make it worth your while."

From the bars of cell three, a bare leg poked out between the bars. It was pale, thin and utterly flawless. The guard drooled. But he couldn't...could he? No. Not with a dirty wench or even worse, a pirate. The owner of the voice whimpered softly, and the leg danced around. The foot was bare, and just as delicate as the leg. The guard put down the book. Couldn't he just feel it up a bit? Besides, if the little lady wanted another cell...well, there was an empty one in the back. He would grant her a transfer. And why not? It would only take a few minutes. All he had to do was open cell three, grab the girl and lock it before the other inmates got any ideas. Then it would just be him and a pretty girl. She was his prisoner after all. He could use her as he wished.

The guard stood up and walked to cell three, keeping his eye on the leg the entire time. When he was at the gate, he stooped down. The voice giggled as he lifted the leg up and caressed it. He traced her lean muscles and soft skin. As he worked on the leg, he slowly lifted his eyes to meet the owner of that beautiful voice. A pock-marked face grinned back at him with yellowed teeth.

"Hello, darling," said Sammy Lean.

Before the guard could react, Sam Lean kicked out with his gorgeous leg, striking the man in the groin. The guard convulsed in pain. Lean grabbed the man's head and slammed them against the bars. With a dull clang and the crack of a skull, the guard fell back. Lean reached out, unhooked the keys and from the guard's belt and handed them to Pepper.

"I still don't see why I had to do that," he scowled, rolling down his pants leg.

"Not my fault you got such nice legs, Lean." said Pepper as she fumbled with the keys.

That was a lie, of course. Lean's shaved legs were a direct result of Pepper's influence. Lean had once accumulated a substantial debt against her, so Pepper had forced him into one of the showgirl routines back at the pub. To the surprise and equal disgust of everyone present for the event, it appeared that Lean made an attractive showgirl. If you ignored the entire facial area, of course. Pepper had burned the dress afterward, but Lean had kept the legs.

Tom and Buckle snickered at Lean while Pepper unlocked the cell. Every wench and scallywag locked up in the hall was shouting and begging to be set free. Pepper knew she did not have time to free them all. The constables upstairs would be on the move. Then again...perhaps an angry mob of whores and pirates could be an advantage. If the crew of the Rose really had called on the constabulary, it would mean that the government of Tower Christina would be indebted to the Regency. The constabulary would have to give it their all for the Regency. If they did not, it would mean increased taxes and cutbacks. Both options had their share of risks, Pepper knew.

Pepper formulated a plan in her mind, remembering her life before the pub. With a sigh, she began to unlock the cells, even as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Tom, Buckle and Lean stuck close to her, but the resultant horde ran toward the stairs. Pepper and her boys fought their way through the crowd. She could hear angry shouts and gunfire from the constables. The pirates roared as one. Pepper snaked her way through the prison, bypassing the conflict almost entirely. Her small entourage desperately followed. They ran through small, darkened corridors and crawled through vents. They hid in barrels of pickles and wine whenever they heard a stray guard come their way. With Pepper's expert guidance, they soon tasted fresh air.

The boys paused to savor the heavy rainfall, tasting the drops with their tongues. It was the closest thing they had had to a shower in months. Pepper did not wait for them, but they caught up. They ignored the sound of gunfire. Ignored the knowledge that their friends were being executed in the streets. The mob had done its job.

Besides, most of those bastards had owed Pepper money. To hell with them.

"Where to now, Pepper?" asked Buckle.

"We steal a ship," she said. "Then we head back for the pub. I've got blood stains to wash out."

"Everything's so simple with you, isn't it?" said Tom.

"Ah, quit complaining. Port Calais isn't far from here. There's sure to be plenty of vacant ships for the taking."

Pepper could not wait to get back to the pub. It had become a home for her, and a home away from home for many others. Besides, that bastard captain Reaves had shot a man right on her counter. Granted, that wasn't unusual, but the body had been there for months now. The place probably stunk like high heaven. Unless the Regency had torn it down of course. If they had, Pepper would simply kill at least one of the boys in a blind rage, then find a new place to open up business. In exactly that order. She prayed it was still standing. If the Regency had taken it as their own, she would be prepared to take it right back. Pepper had powerful friends.

With grim determination, Pepper and her boys set off into the night.

Fin


© Copyright 2019 Daniel Borin. All rights reserved.

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