Archive for March, 2015
Moira Wycliffe bolted through the doorway. She skirted around two of Britannia’s crew and came to a quick stop. Adonia Salgado was two steps behind her.
The Britannia was large, so large it was easy to become lost. The number of passengers, and the crew to support them compounded the problem. This made their search for one particular porter all the more complicated. The ladies stood in an intersection of two busy corridors used for the ship’s crew.
“There!” Wycliffe pointed at a particular man among the crowd in the hallway to her right.
The porter in question set his serving tray on one of the rolling carts bound for the galley. He let out a small sigh; either relieved or tired, he looked glad to be done with his burden. He pulled a pocket watch from his waistcoat to check the time. So lost in thought, he did not notice Moira Wycliffe and Senhorita Salgado walk toward him.
A fellow crew mate tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. He pointed out the two ladies who looked expectantly at the porter.
“He looks surprised,” Senhorita Salgado commented. She glanced at the engineer. “I wonder if we’re mistaken. This cavalheiro may not know about the poison.” She smiled at the porter, waved and raised her voice. “Olá. Do you have a moment?”
“It be about that tea ya brought down,” Wycliffe added.
Without warning, the porter spun on his heel. He shoved a crewman to the floor, then bolted down the hall away from the ladies.
“Stop him!” Wycliffe shouted, charging after him. Senhorita Salgado bit back a string of curses. She grabbed the hem of her skirt and raced after the engineer.
The porter raced down the corridor, narrowly avoiding other crew members who stepped in his way. In his wake he overturned wooden carts, bags of dirty linens, anything he could reach to throw behind him as an obstacle. He tossed a bag of laundry over his shoulder right before he collided with a pair of sailors in an open doorway. The porter crashed to the floor, the newcomers falling against the door frame.
“God’s blood, Fineas!” It was the heavier set of the pair that spoke up first. He pulled himself upright using the door frame. “Mind where yer runnin’.”
The second man got his legs under him. With the door frame as a crutch, he stood up and brushed at a faint smudge of dirt on his uniform. “That’s all I be needin’.” He glared at the porter. “Fineas, what’s this about?”
Fineas Carrol managed a weak smile and drank a lungful of air. “Harry. Peter.” He greeted them each with a nod. “Sorry about that, eh? It’s nothing. Just in a bit of a hurry.”
Ten yards behind, Wycliffe vaulted a laundry bag in a smooth motion. “Hold him! We be needin’ to speak to him about poison tea!”
The two sailors looked at Carrol in surprise. Before either could move, Carrol slammed a fist into Harry’s mid-section, then cracked Peter across the face. Peter yowled in pain, blood streaming down from a broken nose. Harry lay collapsed on the floor.
Carrol looked over his shoulder. Wycliffe and Senhorita Salgado were a few yards behind him. The porter bolted for the doorway. He was almost there when Harry tripped him. Carrol grabbed at the door frame with both hands. Once he had a secure grip, he hammered a boot heel against Harry’s head. The sailor collapsed to the floor with a groan. Once free, the porter continued his escape.
No less than a minute later, Wycliffe raced after him while Senhorita Salgado stopped at the injured men. She snatched a napkin from a nearby serving cart and pressed it gently under Peter’s nose.
“Now, hold that there and be careful.” The senhorita looked over her shoulder. “Where is he? Do you see him?”
Wycliffe stood quietly in the doorway and searched the space beyond with a careful look. The room she watched, specifically its type, served multiple purposes aboard ship. First, it was an intersection between two long-running corridors used by the Britannia’s crew to traverse passenger sections or ‘blocks’. Second, it was also a small storage area kept stocked with dry goods, such as napkins, linens and other similar items. Last, it was one of the many ladder-accessible hatches to the large passenger airship’s superstructure, including the rigid frame surrounding the gas bags. A passenger liner often had several similar, well organized rooms placed throughout its structure.
But, this one was the exception to the ‘organized’ rule. Damp crates and singed boxes were stacked deep near the walls and ladder. Some of the stacks reached at least six feet in height. While the room was over ten foot square, the stacks of boxes from damaged parts of the Britannia gave the room a cramped, trapped feel. Wycliffe scowled at the contents of the room.
“Not seein’ him so far, but the room be a bit cluttered,” she admitted. “He could be running down another hallway, or up in the superstructure.”
“Be careful, Moira. He could be waiting on us,” the senhorita warned.
Senhorita Salgado turned away from the sailor with the broken nose to focus on the one who had regained consciousness. A spectacular bruise had appeared on the man’s forehead. She put a hand on his back to help steady him when he sat upright. “There, senhor. Do you remember your name? Where you are?” She asked.
He nodded. “I do, mum. I’m Seaman Peter Fitzroy, an I’m aboard the Britannia.” He touched the welt on his head and winced.
The senhorita gave him a sympathetic smile. Slow, hypnotic movements of her hair tendrils echoed that sympathy. “Senhor, tapping at it will not help.” She waved at two porters in the distance to join them. “Now, your crewmates will get you to a doctor. What can you tell me of the man that struck you?”
Fitzroy glanced at her, then nervously at her hair. “His name’s Fineas Carrol. Friendly sort, at least I thought so. I’ve no idea what he was about, taking a swing at us like that.”
She nodded and patted him on the shoulder. “Sim. No matter how well you know someone, they might could still surprise you,” she said.
Once the two injured crewmen were led back down the hallway, Senhorita Salgado got to her feet and joined Wycliffe. “Have you heard anything, minha amiga?”
“Not a thing,” the engineer admitted, easing into the room. While she searched, she clenched her jaw and worried at a thought. “What was all that about before with Durante Marino? Rather forward of ya, wasn’t it?” she asked uncomfortably.
“Moira, do you really think this is the best time to talk about this?” The senhorita asked.
Wycliffe shrugged. “We know the man we’re runnin’ down be in here somewhere. Figured this be passin’ the time while we suss him out.”
The senhorita smoothed the folds of her dress and frowned at a smudge. She carefully stepped into the room after Wycliffe, then joined in the search.
“Very well,” she replied after a thoughtful moment. “It was forward and unbecoming but necessary, minha amiga.” She gave a thin, tired smile. “Nations work very hard to find out what the other one is up to. They send people like me to find out what. Being forward? It is part of what I have to do. But it does not mean I enjoy it.”
“A spy? Is that what ya do?” Wycliffe asked, surprised. “I always be wonderin’ about that.”
The senhorita sighed and gave Wycliffe a withering look. “Moira, this really is not the time for this conversation.”
The engineer blew a stray strand of her hair out of her face “It’d be either that or I start talking out about that helical gear I found.”
Senhorita Salgado frowned at her companion. “Gear? What gear?”
“In the Britannia’s engine room. Noel found it.” The engineer scowled at the room packed with crates. “A little brass and silver helical gear. I tinkered with it some. I think it be for a music box. On it was a bit of a song, a real nice one even if the melody seems a bit odd. What really gets me wondering is that the silver’s been reworked more than once. Like it’s been heated to put new music on it.” She hummed a part of the haunting melody then shrugged. “We be thinkin’ it came from the bomber.”
“We need to find this man,” the senhorita said adamantly.
The engineer fidgeted with curiosity before she approached the ladder in the room and a pair of tall crates behind it. “So being a spy and all, you be havin’ some way to get this one to talk once we be layin’ hands on him? It’ll not be something bloody or gruesome will it? I read a few stories about that.”
“Oh, spare me the dramatics!” a man’s exasperated voice exclaimed. It was the only warning before a stack of crates tumbled towards the two ladies.
“Moira!” The senhorita grabbed Wycliffe by her vest and yanked her back through the door.
Crates broke open against the door frame. Crystal wine glasses spilled out like a waterfall into the room. They bounced against each other, shattering into a cloud of needle-like shards. The ladies threw themselves to one side of the door. The crystal shrapnel continued past them and scattered over the floor.
“Moira? Are you hurt?” Senhorita Salgado asked, worried. Her hair tendrils dislodged what few crystal shards had landed on them. They were careful to pick at the pieces and cast them aside.
Wycliffe pulled a canvas handkerchief from her vest. That she used to brush the debris from herself, taking care to not cut herself.
“Ah’m fine. Just me pride be bruised. Let’s get that bloody bastard,” she snarled.
They got to their feet and approached the doorway. It was thick with ruined crates, but there was still enough space to enter. Crystal crunched under their feet while they eased forward. At the doorway they heard the sound of boots scrambling up a metal ladder!
“He’s headed up!” Wycliffe exclaimed.
The ladies rushed into the room. Above them the backside of Fineas Carrol slipped through an opening in the roof. He leaned back to grab the hatch intending to shove it closed.
“Oh no ya don’t!” Wycliffe was up the ladder in an instant. She shoved on the hatch with her shoulder just as Carrol made to push it closed.
“Bloody hell!” the porter exclaimed. “Let go, woman!”
“Not likely!” the engineer snapped, then shoved again. The hatched moved upward one inch, then descended two. Wycliffe was losing the contest of strength.
From below, Senhorita Salgado searched around for a way to help. She would not fit on the ladder with Wycliffe, the ladder was not large enough for two people. In one corner, she found a set of fitted pipes. She quickly screwed two ends together and examined the result. The extended pipe was just long enough to reach the hatch.
“Moira! Watch yourself!” It was the only warning given.
The senhorita charged forward, folds of her dress trailing behind her, and the pipe tilted upward toward the hatch. At the last moment, Wycliffe moved aside, and the pipe struck the hatch. It rang like a well struck bell. Instead of forcing the metal door open, it slipped sideways and smashed against Carrol’s knuckles. The man yowled in pain and retreated from the opening. The hatch flew open.
“We’ve got him!” Wycliffe exclaimed and bolted through the opening after her prey.
“Moira! Wait! Look first!” the senhorita replied in alarm. Wycliffe paid her little attention and continued out of sight. Senhorita Salgado sighed heavily, then reached for the ladder to follow the engineer.
Beyond the hatch in the ceiling, the senhorita located Wycliffe a few steps away.
“Minha amiga, you should be more careful,” she told her companion. “But since we are here, is there any sign of him?”
Wycliffe looked up into the cavernous superstructure which held the titanic gas bags. “Not a one.”
Gunshots cracked the air! Two bullets struck the metal deck plates at their feet.
“Until now!” Wycliffe said alarmed. A bullet snagged her vest, narrowly missing her arm by a hair’s breadth.
Senhorita Salgado grabbed Wycliffe by the shoulder. “Run!”