When last we left our heroes, Captain Dexy LaRue of the ghost ship, The Cheated, began his tale… one of piracy, a map to the fabled Seven Cities of Gold, and a black monk who had come back from the dead!
There was a silence as the grey captain watched the woman with flowing black hair gaze out over the seas. It was obvious that she was the Lady Fiona Savage of whom he had been speaking. Finally he sighed and resumed telling his tale.
“I raced to where I had heard her cries, only to find her dead at the feet of the Black Monk himself.
“‘Damn you!’ I cried. ‘Take your filthy map and leave me and mine alone, cursed spectre!’
“The Black Monk only looked at me and smiled, his teeth eerily white in his stygian face.
“‘The map concerns me no longer, Captain LaRue,’ he said to me–though I know not how he knew my name save some kind of fell witchery.
“‘I have decided to make use of you and yours,’ he said. ‘Something great has been lost… and as you have caused my own death, now yours shall serve my quest.’
“‘What quest?’ I demanded. ‘What is it that you expect us to do that you cannot do yourself?’
“‘You shall sail the seas, neither living nor passed, not part of this world but forbidden from the next until such time as you find for me that which I seek.’ And then the devil vanished like a morning fog.
“‘What?’ I screamed. ‘What do you seek?’
“There was no answer from the departed monk and in two hundred years, I have never seen him again.
“I learned shortly afterwards that I was naught but a ghost myself… as was the rest of my crew. We can touch the ship… but nothing but her. Not even each other. And few can see us, either… only the mad… and the doomed.”
“I’ve little doubt which of those we are,” Victor muttered under his breath loud enough for everyone to hear.
Kenneth Valence, Earl of Marston, however, had quite the opposite reaction. There was something of opportunity alight in his eyes and the faintest hint of a smile on his lips despite circumstances.
“Well, then, O captain my captain,” he said, “it seems that we’re both in a position to assist the other. Obviously, we are in need of a boat, while you still have several… ah… does the term ‘life-boat’ offend you these days?”
Captain LaRue had nothing near a smile on his grim visage.
“I was a pirate,” he said. “Nothing offended me in life. These days, only my own continued existence offends.”
Refusing the bait, Lord Marston pressed on. “Right. Life-boat it is, then. If you could take us to Crete and let us off with one of your spares… then we could put our not inconsiderable resources to work trying to sort out your whole deathless quest jibber-jabber for you.”
“Oh Lord, I was afraid he was going to say that,” Victor moaned.
Cassandra Chatterton’s reaction was similarly disapproving and far more vehement. Pushing Lord Marston away from his parlay with the grey captain, she took only a “Might we confer amongst ourselves for a moment, Captain?” to stop the negotiations.
Far enough from the weary but sinister pirate to remain private, she turned on Lord Marston in front of the rest of the Society.
“You aren’t honestly going to trust these… these murderers, are you?” she demanded, lips pursed and voice strident.
“I agree,” Victor added, “I think this is a bad idea.”
Mrs. Chatterton ignored her ally. “Did you really listen to that story? They likely tortured that poor man to death and ravished his daughter! This isn’t some kind of penny dreadful like he would have you believe!”
Frowning like he didn’t even understand having his idea questioned, Lord Marston looked to the steadfast Sir Charles.
“I… ah… well… I agree with Mrs. Chatterton,” Sir Charles said with meek embarassment.
“Colonel?” Lord Marston asked the last of their company, who had once again found some way to smoke a cigar despite a lack of spark, flame or dryness.
Colonel Durant frowned beneath his white mustache.
“What’s our alternative?”
Victor and Charles looked to Cassandra, but none of the three of them had anything to say to answer the hunter’s question.
“Right then,” Colonel Durant said. “Make the deal.”
Meanwhile, back in London, there was dissatisfaction.
The cheapside bar known as the Jug and Jigger was full of the usual manual laborers, dock hands, ladies of ill repute and criminals. Two of those criminals were Misters Quill and Batson, recent associates of the indebted Victor Terranove.*
“I tell you, Mr. Quill,” Mister Batson griped, “I just don’t comprehend the merit in this change of direction.”
“How d’ye mean?” Mr. Quill asked.
“Good Mister Fitzhugh was doing a fine spot of business with all the usual industries, but now…”
“Now’t’s all gone to hell.”
“Well, if not Hell itself, then certainly some adjoining realm not of this earth. These… are they people? These ‘people’ he’s thrown his lot in with…”
“Our lot, Mister Batson.”
“Precisely so, Mister Quill. Our lot. It’s now all so confused with this new consortium backing Mister Fitzhugh. What do they want? Where are they from?”
“An’ what do N.C.L.E. stand f’r, anyways?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Batson grumbled. Mister Quill’s face when pale at his words, and Mister Batson took that for agreement, instead of fear at the lithe woman approaching silently behind him.
“Something ought to be done, I say,” said Mister Batson for emphaasis.
“Something shall,” came a voice beyond honey.
The woman who stood behind Batson had a regal beauty that not only didn’t fit in at the Jug and Jigger, but seemed to make everything else in the establishment diminish. Her gown was years out of fashion yet so light and fine that it would still draw the envy of other ladies, should ladies of any sort other than the of the evening variety ever enter such an establishment.
“Misters Quill and Batson, I presume?” she asked, taking a seat in a third chair that Quill and Batson didn’t remember being at their table. “I am Valende, of the N.C.L.E. Consortium. Your liege Fitzhugh said that I could find you here.”
“An’ what might we do for yeh?” the lean Mister Quill asked, eyes as suspicious as they were captivated.
“Or not,” Batson added, himself unmoved by feminine pulchritude.
“I understand you are responsible for a certain account which I have some small interest in,” Valende said. “You two will tell me everything you know about Mister Victor Terranove.”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.