When Tonks hesitated to answer, Thorias jumped in with a quick explanation. “We’re looking for a young lady we know, Henry. She is my … ward … and you see, she’s quite lost. Possibly run afoul of some rather unpleasant chaps. After all, she’s no more than ten, for heaven’s sake!”
Henry’s face darkened considerably. “Ten, ya say? This is no place for a girl her age. If she’s here, then it’s one of them bloody damn smugglers again that brought her up here.”
He jerked a calloused thumb at his chest. “Got four girls of me own down landside. I’m only up here working the season for some extra money so’s I can send the oldest to a proper school. You just say the word, and ol’ Henry here will round the lads, and we’ll set a few things right! Wouldn’t be the first time. Bet it won’t be the last!”
The doctor extended his hand with a smile. “We may take you up on that. In the meantime, we believe one of those smugglers is watching us.” With a glance and a brief nod, Thorias indicated past Henry’s right shoulder. The direction towards the dark corner where the suspicious thin, gangly man stood intently watching the Griffin. “We think that’s him in the shadows past the crates ten yards behind you.”
Henry instinctively looked over, then looked back with a bear-like grin. He flexed his muscular hands, “Oh, is he now? Easy enough to fix that.”
Before he could move, Tonks interrupted, “Hold it now, we can’t go lettin’ on we see him.”
“Ah! Right, it’d might make it harder to get the luverly lady back safe,” Henry said with a bold wink. “Well, I’ll pass the word with the lads, and we’ll keep an eye out. In the meantime, scurry off along the boardwalk here. You’ll be covered by crates for a good dozen paces or so. In the meantime, the lads and I will cook up somethin’ better for the bugger to look at.”
As Henry strode off down the pier, Tonks glanced over his shoulder, looking around for anyone else that might be watching them. Satisfied no one was, he looked back at the doctor. “This is exactly why I don’t play Liar’s dice with ya. Ya took a great big chance there. We don’t know if we can trust him one whit.”
“Gut feeling,” Thorias replied. “Just a gut feeling we could. Like the captain often says, ‘trust your instincts’.”
Unconvinced, Tonks watched Henry suspiciously for a long moment, then shook his head in dismay. “All right. Well, if we’re to trust him and whatever he’s plannin’, we’d better do as he suggests.”
Quickly, the doctor and the pilot ducked behind a long stack of crates as suggested. Just as Henry foretold, the stack was rather long, running for at least forty paces down the curved boardwalk. The wall it created was easily seven feet tall, obscuring their view of anyone who might be watching them. However, it likewise concealed them from the view of anyone who might be looking.
At the end of the row, Tonks waved a hand for Thorias to wait. The pilot eased out, looking as if he was just someone wasting time. All the while, he was watching out of the corner of his eye, keeping that same shadowy corner as before within sight.
There in the gloom, the thin, gangly man still stood. Only now, he was much more animated. Frantically, he looked out at the dock where he was obviously expecting Tonks and Thorias to be. On not seeing them, he moved away from the corner and into the sunlight for a better look.
Suddenly, from back the way they had come, shouts of alarm cut through the air as a gout of hot steam erupted like a geyser. Thorias looked back to see Henry, accompanied by the four other dock hands along with the man inside the CASS. They had surrounded the spider-legged, steam-powered cargo winch.
From the top of the winch, steam blew out of the engine’s boiler with a furious hiss, immediately cooling into fog-like, snowy clouds. As the fog rapidly descended upon the dock and boardwalk, the cluster of dock workers stood huddled together, deep in conversation about what needed to be done.
The doctor chuckled, “I think we can trust them.”
Tonks, who was still watching the thin, gangly man several yards away, made a wry face, “for our sake, I’m hopin’ so.”
Just then, the white cottony cloud of chilled steam blew across the boardwalk, obscuring Tonks’ view. More importantly, it obscured any view of Tonks and Thorias from across the boardwalk.
“Time to go. That won’t last long out here,” he said curtly. The two men walked briskly out from behind the crates, proceeding along the boardwalk to put as much distance between them and the Brass Griffin as they could.
Several yards and many quick steps later, the pair slowed their pace. Tonks looked around. The area of the boardwalk they were in was not that much different than the one they had left. The buildings sitting on the edge of the boardwalk neatly followed the circular curve of the station. Brightly colored awnings were fluttering in the icy wind. People briskly walked along, either carrying packages or looking as if they might purchase something from one of the few available shops.
Out in front of the stores, the wide boardwalk separated the buildings from the regular appearance of a dock, thrust out into the cold, crisp air. Ships of many different kinds were berthed in many of the docking slips there. From where the two crewmen from the Brass Griffin stood, they could see at least ten ships, if not more. All of them were easily large enough to carry the entire compliment of kidnapped passengers from the Fair Winds.
“I say, we have our work cut out for us,” Thorias admitted begrudgingly. “Any idea how we’ll find anything in all this?”
“Luck,” Tonks said with a wry grin, “and a lot of walkin’.”
“Brilliant,” Thorias replied, not quite as amused.
Tonks flexed his gloved hands as the cold tried to seep in. “Well, lets be thinkin’ this through. Other than the people he’s taken, there’s the matter of that cargo he pinched.”
“Not that we’re quite sure of what he did take,” Thorias replied, stuffing his hands into his coat pockets to warm them.
The pilot nodded, then shrugged in resignation, “Ya have me there. But he took some things, so he’ll want to offload them, I’d think. For no other reason than to buy fuel, food and such. We could check the crates that have been offloaded. One or more might still be stamped ‘for London’ on ’em? It might give an idea which ship is dealing what.”
Thorias looked at the long rows of crates stacked two and three deep on the cold boardwalk. All around them, sailors and station hands briskly worked, never being far from any for an amount of time. His sharp elven hearing suddenly picked up the snatch of a conversation, too soft for Tonks to hear.
“Best dried meats imported from the Continent, Ah tell ye!” Growled a voice from a nearby shop. “Fish, fresh off the boat! Salted pork!”
The doctor looked around, smiling when he saw the sign for a butcher’s shop. He nudged Tonks.
“Or, instead of slaving away like some steam-powered automatons out in the cold,” Thorias explained, “we can go check with the butcher and at other similar shops. There can’t be that many.”
“And what? Just ask?” Tonks replied skeptically.
The doctor bowed slightly, with his best thespian air, “why of course, my good man. After all, my young ward is lost, and she might have sought refuge in such a place.”
“The meanin’ of ‘discreet’ is lost on ya, isn’t it?” Tonks asked irritably.
“No,” Dr. Llwellyn admitted, “but I’ve a clearer understanding of the word ‘imperative’. It’s cold out here. While those poor people languish in Clark’s hold – wherever it is – they are out of the elements. Angela isn’t. If speaking to the grocer – thereby risking a knife in the back – ensures we find her alive instead of frozen dead or worse, then so be it!”