A biting mid-day wind whipped between the buildings, chasing steam clouds along walkways edged by weathered pipes. In gaps between the warehouses, tall masts and canvas gas bags of airships were dirty blots against the ice-blue sky. At the dock, a few Icelandic gulls watched in silent observation while repair crews worked diligently at knocking away ice from railings.
The Revenge, a squat but wide vessel, sat in her mooring slip like a bulldog waiting to be slipped from her leash. She measured in at two hundred and forty feet in length with a draught just above twenty. The metal plates of her hull gleamed dully in the sunlight from beneath the rigid frame gas bag, reinforced to support the greater weight of her armor plated hull.
“Impressive lines on the lady,” remarked Captain Anthony Hunter, who had been watching the ship for some few minutes. “Armored hull, is it?”
“Ja, two inches of compound steel plating,” Captain Klaus Wilhelm replied, pulling his coat closer around his wide frame to stave off some of the cold wind. “She’s quick and armored, good for weathering storms … or would-be pirates calling themselves ‘inspection ships’ for France, Prussia or elsewhere.”
They had just arrived from their walk from The World’s End, a pub that sat towards one of the innermost rings of buildings of Port Signal. In keeping out of the wind, and to grant them a place to observe the ship without seeming to have sinister motives, the two captains were in a wide, recessed doorway of a warehouse. With them stood Moira Wycliffe, Krumer Whitehorse, Conrad O’Fallon and Albert Pryce.
Moira watched the steady activity of the crew on deck of the Revenge. Accustomed to shipboard life and chores, she easily guessed what many were up to after watching a moment. However, another thought nagged at her mind. “So, we’re gonna search his ship?”
Hunter shook his head. “No, not yet. Despite his previous actions, I want to give Black Jack the benefit of the doubt. We talk to him first. Hopefully away from prying eyes. I still suspect he was being watched at the pub.”
Krumer glanced around at the others, “perhaps only two of us should go visiting. If we all go, it might give the wrong impression.”
“Of what?” Conrad asked curiously.
“An angry mob,” Krumer replied matter-of-factly. “He did try to shoot Captain Hunter.”
“Och, Ah see ye point,” Conrad said, turning to watch the activity aboard the Revenge.
“However it transpired, in the end he started to confide in me, but stopped,” Hunter said thoughtfully, “He’s desperate to trust someone with whatever demons are chasing him.”
“Why you, though?” Albert asked, “There’s bad blood there from what you said earlier.”
“Quite,” Anthony agreed. “However, that might be the key. Someone not directly involved, someone outside it all. Therefore, I think I need to go along, so he has another chance to tell me what he almost said in the pub.”
“Followin’ the ‘angry mob’ idea along, Ah can’t be goin’,” Conrad chimed in. “Ah be tryin’ to shoot the daft man dead as a doornail before, it might look like Ah be wantin’ a round two with him,” the Scotsman said with a shrug. “Not that Ah’d be against it, mind ye,” he added.
Hunter gave the quartermaster a concerned frown. Conrad, in turn, gave the captain a helpless shrug, “what? Cap’n, he nearly shot ye.”
Hunter shook his head, but dropped any comment he had.
“I’ll go too,” Moira said firmly.
“Nein,” Klaus said equally firm., “It would be too risky and unwise.”
“What?” The young woman replied aghast, her voice angrily rising in pitch. “I’ll have ya know, Uncle, I can be takin’ on far worse than a boat load of them drunken sods.” She quickly snapped back, gesturing to the ship with a stab of a finger.
“Ja, I have no doubt of that, mein niece,” Captain Wilhelm replied with a smirk, “However, you cannot go stalking up the gangplank alongside your kapitän, no more than the Scotsman can, eh? Nein, I will go along with Kapitän Hunter. After all, Johann is the kapitän of the Revenge, but I am her owner.” He finished with a sly smile. “If I wish to see the ship, then there should be no question about why.”
Mr. Pryce asked, raising an eyebrow. “Clark’s not himself, Cap’n. You said that yourself.”
“If luck is with us, having a small number call on him plays to our advantage,” Hunter explained, “it’s less threatening to Black Jack, and presents less of a danger to whomever has him upset.”
“Just be mindful of where you are, Captain,” Mr. Whitehorse replied “We’ll find a way to keep watch from out here.”
“Aye,” Moira replied glumly.
“Someplace warm,” Albert grinned.
With a reassuring smile, Hunter turned away from the others, then set off across the boardwalk alongside Captain Wilhelm towards the lowered gangplank of the Revenge.
Klaus frowned at the condition of the ship. He gestured at the broad curve of the hull. “The burn marks along the hull are new,” the German captain remarked.
“Oh?” Anthony replied. “New as for today, or since last you saw her?”
“Since last I came to see her,” Klaus admitted. “My comments of Kapitän Clark being on station were from both seeing him and hearing reports from him. I confess, I had not made it by to see the Revenge with mein own eyes.”
Hunter nodded, peering curiously at the faint scorch marks along the hull. “It does look as if she’s had it out with another ship, and came away with a bit of a bloody lip.”
Wilhelm frowned. “Something else to ask Kapitän Clark,” he replied before walking up the gangplank. Captain Hunter followed a moment later.
At the top, they were met by a thin, wiry man in a blue peacoat. Beneath a gray woolen cap, his long thin face was slightly weathered, his eyes narrow and wary. “Kapitän Wilhelm, was für eine Überraschung!”
“Guten tag, Herr Bauer,” Klaus said with a broad smile, “would Kapitän Clark be about?”
Peter Bauer glanced over his shoulder uneasily, then back to the two newcomers. “Nein, Kapitän Wilhelm. Kapitän Clark ist hier nicht gerade jetz.”
Klaus shook his head, “Nein, Herr Bauer. Please, in English, for mein guest, ja?”
The man blushed slightly, then cleared his throat. “Mein apologies. Nein, Kapitän Clark is not here. He’s off to see after missing crew, I think.”
“A shame,” Wilhelm said, putting his hands on his hips, then gestured to Captain Hunter. “I have brought an old acquaintance here to see him. Did he say when he would return?”
Peter’s eyes glanced over to Anthony, and the captain saw … something. Recognition? A wariness? He was not sure. Hunter searched his memory but did not recognize the man, not even from the pub earlier. Despite his usual outward calm, Hunter was immediately alert.
Mr. Bauer shook his head, “Mein apologies again, I just do not know. If you vill excuse, there is work I must see to. Come back later, ja?”
“No need,” Wilhelm replied stepping aboard, “we will just wait here. I am certain he’ll be back soon.”
“Kapitän?” Mr. Bauer protested, “are you certain? He could be awhile. A pub out of the weather would be more comfortable?”
“Nein, we will be fine,” Klaus replied glancing up at the rigging while waving a hand as if dismissing Peter. “Kapitän Hunter is well accustomed to the weather, as am I.”
Peter started to protest, but then shook his head. “Of course, I’ll let Kapitän Clark know you both are here, once he returns.”
As the thin man hastily retreated across the deck, Hunter watched the man leave. The captain’s eyes clouded over with suspicion. “He’s quite eager to be rid of us, eh?”
“Ja,” Klaus replied. “For a moment, I wondered if he wanted to deny me access to mein own ship. Very strange. I am starting to wonder if there is something to what you’ve been saying, Kapitän. That there is something dark lurking here.”
Hunter thought a moment, “we could try and search the ship … discreetly of course.”
“Ja, of course,” Wilhelm echoed with a grin. “Come, it is mein ship, let me show you about.”
Anthony chuckled, while the two men headed below decks, away from the watchful eyes of some of the crew.
Towards the stern of the ship, the pair walked along the short corridor to the small officer cabins and the common room that connected them. Hunter recognized the layout through similarity to what he was accustomed to aboard the Brass Griffin.
“And these are the main cabins. Some are officers, some are for passengers,” Wilhelm said gesturing at the cabins as the two men walked through the doorway.
“Very nice, larger than what I have aboard the Griffin,” Hunter replied, then he lowered his voice. “Do you believe there is time for a quick search?”
“Right now? Nein,” Wilhelm said after a moment’s consideration, then he smiled. “However, let me go on deck and be a distraction. That would buy you much more time.”
“What are you planning?” Anthony asked suspiciously.
“Clark may be the kapitän, but the Revenge is my ship, ja?” Captain Wilhelm asked. “Then I can make a ‘spot inspection’!”
With a nod and a wink, the big German captain strode purposefully down the small corridor towards a ladder reaching up to the deck above. At the cabins, Hunter shook his head slightly, then turned his attention to his search. Quickly, Anthony began with what he considered to be the captain’s quarters. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him.
The cabin itself was built much like any other captain’s cabin aboard a ship the size of the Revenge. At ten feet across and fifteen feet wide, it was not altogether uncomfortable. The cabin’s decor was rather spartan – a narrow bed, worn sea chest, a small table covered in maps, and two old wooden chairs – with only the barest personal effects scattered throughout the room as an afterthought.
Captain Hunter searched the obvious places. The maps were navigational charts, covered with markings. He glanced at one, but the notes indicated trade routes, along with markets for various goods and the best time of the year to sell what. Interesting, but not what Hunter was hoping to find.
The sea chest came next. Little more than a squat wooden box wrapped in metal bands, it was not very interesting to look at. The captain tried the latch. Fortunately – and surprisingly – it was not locked. Hunter had expected to find it locked tight. He filed that thought away for later, then opened the lid.
Inside was a disarray of clothes and more personal effects: a stack of letters bound by a cord, a small black and white photograph of a young woman, and a log book. Hunter set the log book aside then glanced over the bound letters. They were postmarked either from his son, Thomas Clark – now captain of HMS Intrepid – or John’s wife, Lucy. He replaced those back where he found them.
“What is it that’s haunting you, Clark?” Hunter remarked in a low voice to himself, feeling a growing sense of unease. Nothing so far matched Clark’s obvious deranged state of mind. That disturbed Hunter even more than if he had found signs of the man suffering a mental derangement. Hunter then turned his attention to the log book.
The entries in the ship’s log, at first glance, were nothing unusual: just the normal accounting of day to day activities aboard ship, inventory, and places visited. However, Anthony noticed the occasional marks next to certain items, such as a regular pattern of the miscounted inventory with regards to the ship’s stores, or accidents that had befallen the officers of the Revenge, causing John to find replacements. Replacements for specifically the quartermaster, clockwork engineer, and the first mate.
Captain Hunter frowned in thought. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a smuggling operation, only John didn’t know about it at first. But how does this put you raiding the Fair Winds?”
A few pages later, Hunter paused in his reading. There, in the middle of the page, buried under a dull accounting of shipping textiles to Munich, was a single sentence that Anthony nearly missed.
“Picked up ‘shipment’ from Munich, under guard, to take to Inverness.”
The captain looked over the inventory and shipment accounts, but found no record of any cargo delivered to Inverness.
Another line was buried in the journal a few lines farther down.
“Saw the Inverness ‘cargo’ today. That new Prussian quartermaster warned me to leave it be. I couldn’t. I’ve damned myself now. I can’t tell Klaus, I won’t drag him into this. I have to do what I must to keep Lucy and Tom safe.”
Anthony read the words twice over, shaking his head. “I don’t think you’re here about revenge,” Hunter mused under his breath, “though I still very much doubt you’ll be sending Thorias or myself a Christmas goose anytime soon. John, what have you mired yourself into? I need to talk to Wilhelm about this. What was that Inverness cargo?”
Just then a noise outside the cabin door, soft, like the whisper of voices, caught Hunter’s attention. The captain looked around for a weapon. On finding nothing more menacing than a sextant and knowing a gunshot would be far too loud, he opted for his fists. Carefully, he crept across the room to the cabin door.
Slowly, he eased the door open just a crack. In the outer room, he heard a soft sound, not unlike … someone sleeping? Cautiously, Anthony opened the door further. It was only at the last moment that he noticed the figure of a man leaning against the wall, just within arm’s reach!