Gunfire whined like angry bees, peppering the wooden doorframe and tossing splinters into the air. Outside the room in the corridor beyond, a spark lantern hanging from a wall dribbled electrical sparks from a fresh bullet hole. From the nearby hatchway, angry shouts and cries of pain punctured each passing moment on the deck above.
Captain Hunter sat on the floor to the left of the doorframe, out of the path of the bullets. “How is he?” He asked, pointing at Brian Tanner’s limp form, now stained with blood.
Conrad O’Fallon, crouched to the right of the open door, glanced over at Brian, then at the open doorway. Taking a deep breath, the Scotsman raced forward, grabbing Brian by the undamaged side of his body and pulling him out of the path of harm’s way. Immediately, a bullet whined overhead to strike the far wall, with another burning the quartermaster’s cheek, making him flinch slightly.
Tanner moaned in a dazed pain while being slid across the oak floor. Once clear of the gunfire, O’Fallon put a hand to the man’s chest, then felt along the side of his neck with two fingers. At that, the wounded sailor’s eyes flickered open.
“Me brother in Portsmouth,” Brian spat out in a hoarse whisper, “help him. They shanghai’d me, said they’d go and kill him if’n I didn’t do what they wanted. I’m bleedin’ out, I can feel it. Save me brother, I beg ya!”
“Shut it,” Conrad said firmly, “once ye up and fightin’ trim, ye can be savin’ him on ye own.”
“You shut it … an listen … Cap’n Clark,” Brian continued, ignoring O’Fallon, “if he’s not dead, he’ll be at Market Square. It’s where he goes to drink …to be forgettin’ everything for a bit.” With those words, Brian’s breathing became labored before he fainted.
Conrad checked the man’s pulse again. Despite the wounds and exertion, he was still alive.
“Ye one tough bugger,” O’Fallon commented with a note of surprise to Brian, before looking over at Anthony. “He took two in the chest, high and on the left. The angel’s be watchin’ him, Cap’n. If them bullets be hittin’ any lower, he’d not have lived to know he fell.”
“Understood,” Hunter replied quickly, knocking broken wood from his face, “would he survive being taken to a doctor?”
Conrad looked back at the wound. He had seen many gunshot wounds in his time, on others and on himself. This one wasn’t the worst … not quite. “Maybe? Just need to be a wee bit careful.”
“Damn,” Hunter said sternly, edging over to the side of the doorframe. “We need that man alive. Outside of Clark’s logbook, he’s our only actual proof something underhanded ishappening. Let me think a moment.”
Conrad looked around him for anything that might serve as a temporary bandage. Spying a loose shirt laying on a bunk in another of the officer cabins, he raced over to swipe it. On returning to Brian, he sliced it into wide strips using the Bowie knife. Quickly and carefully, he moved the wounded man’s clothing aside and tied off the bandages.
Over by the door, Anthony glanced through the opening to the corridor beyond. He could hear a brawl in progress somewhere nearby, but not within his line of sight. The hallway was covered in a gloom, made worse by the flickering spark lantern. With every dying sputter of the gas voltaic cell, glowing bright blue sparks trickled out like some tiny stream of St. Elmo’s Fire.
Shadows danced along the walls, skittering about insanely. Again, another blue spark fell, glowing furiously then dying away. Hunter slipped the loop from the hammer of his Schofield revolver. He pulled it free of its holster, the metal making a dull rasp against the leather. He watched carefully as each shadow moved in its wild, elemental dance.
Suddenly two shadows moved differently than the rest. Anthony tensed, waiting for something more: an indication of who they were. He did not have to wait for long.
Another blue spark dribbled down from the lantern, brighter than the others. In a single moment it lit the hallway, driving back the shadows. There, crouched behind a large storage chest, two men had just taken aim, then fired. As their guns spat flame, Hunter could see the face of one of the gunmen in the brief light. It was Peter Bauer!
The bullets tore wood away from the doorframe about Hunter’s head as the captain fired back. He squeezed the trigger once, then twice. Foul smelling gun smoke filled the hallway. In the following moments, a body fell hard to the floor while footsteps echoed as the remaining attacker turned to run.
“If you sent your men in to kill me, why gun them down?” Anthony said under his breath, thoughtfully. “Is this more of your ‘cleanup’?”
“Cap’n?” O’Fallon asked curiously, adjusting Brian’s bloody coat over the wounded man. “Ah didn’t quite be hearin’ that.”
“Nothing, just turning the moment about in my head,” Hunter explained, quickly breaking open his pistol and shoving two bullets into the cylinder. “Is he ready?”
The quartermaster sighed. “Och, as he’ll ever be. Lost a lot of blood, he has.”
“Understood. I think the corridor’s clear to the ladder. That man needs a doctor and staying here is just not safe. I’m sorry to say you’ll have to manage Brian on your own. One of us needs keep sharp watch for any more eager to take shots at us.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” Conrad replied, glancing down at Brian with a frown, trying to figure the best way to get the unconscious and bleeding sailor to safety.
Hunter continued, “Once on deck, head for the gangplank, then get as far from the Revenge as you can. The Griffin is a good walk from here, but I don’t know of anywhere else.”
“Don’t be worryin’ about that, Cap’n. If Ah can be gettin’ him on deck, we’ll make for the Griffin, unless ye be sayin’ otherwise. If makin’ it on deck just won’t be workin’, Ah’ll find the doctor’s quarters and hole up there.”
The captain nodded curtly. “Brilliant then. Ready?”
“Aye, Cap’n,” O’Fallon replied with a nod. “Beggin’ ye pardon, Cap’n, what will ye be doin’?”
Hunter adjusted the grip on his revolver, then smirked at the quartermaster, “taking a brisk walk, full steam ahead.”
The captain drew up from his crouch and slipped out of the common room. Quickly, he hurried along the hallway, gun lowered but tightly gripped, ready to fire. He raced over to the ladder, then two steps beyond to the body of one of the two men that had been shooting at him a moment ago. He nudged the body onto its back with a boot.
The face was not that of Peter Bauer. It was another man, boasting a similar complexion save for the growing blood stain on his shirt. Hunter located the dead man’s pistol, a clockwork .44 revolver. The captain kicked it away, in case the sailor came to and was still able to raise a gun and fire. Behind him, O’Fallon lumbered down the corridor, half-carrying Brian Tanner.
“Leave me behind,” Brian pleaded weakly as he regained consciousness.
“Shut it,” O’Fallon replied tartly. “Ya need help. So ye be getting it. If ye story’s true, then ye’ll be havin’ all the help ye need. If it be ringin’ false, Ah’ll shoot ye meself.”
Hunter chuckled and holstered his pistol, looking up the ladder at the cloudy sky above. “Brilliant bed-side manner, doctor.”
O’Fallon snorted rudely. “That be why Ah don’t be bothering about with learnin’ ta be one. Ah’m no dobber. Got a wound? Just be rubbin’ a wee bit a dirt in it and walk it off, ye’ll be fit as a flea in no time. That’s as medicine as Ah be getting’.”
Hunter smirked, quickly scaling the ladder. At the top, he hesitated, watching a pair of sailors embroiled in a knife fight. The captain frowned again. He had thought the commotion to be more like an assassination or a mugging. He scrambled up the ladder and out into the fresh cold, crisp air.
The moment Anthony appeared on deck, a voice to his right exclaimed, “it’s Hunter! He’s alive!” Instantly, the sailor, a burly man with a pot-marked face and brown clothes, ripped a knife from its sheath with an ugly grin. “Hold still, I’ll fix that ‘alive’ problem for ya!”
Immediately, Anthony slammed his clockwork fist into the man’s face, splitting the sailor’s lip and stunning him to his very core. Dazed, the sailor lurched to one side, knife falling from his hands.
“That’s ‘Captain’ Hunter!” The captain snapped back, “mind your manners!”
The captain turned, looking for any other attackers. Within his line of sight, he could see a full brawl in progress. No more than twenty yards away, Klaus Wilhelm pounded an upper cut into a sailor’s stomach, lifting the man off the ground.
When the sailor’s feet touched the deck, his knees wobbled as, shaken from the force of the blow, he dropped to his knees, stunned. Alongside Wilhelm four other sailors stood with the broad-shouldered German captain, defending him with clubs and knives.
A few feet away from her uncle, Moira was fully embroiled in her own battle. Four sailors, deciding there was safety in numbers, tried to corner her near one of the main masts. As thick as a full grown oak tree, the two main masts supported the mooring lines and rigid frame that was part of a ship’s gas bag. Right at the moment, the forward mast also acted as a solid surface off of which Moira bounced a sailor like a rag doll.
The man struck the rough wood, stumbling backwards drunkenly. With a bold grin, Moira snatched up a belaying pin before proceeding to use it like a bludgeon upon the oncoming fist of the next nearest sailor.
Captain Hunter glanced down the ladder to the deck below. At its base stood O’Fallon. Next to him Brian leaned heavily against the wall, looking terribly pale.
“This is Moira’s plan?” Anthony asked incredulously. “Invade the ship?”
O’Fallon shrugged slightly. “It be a work in progress. What did ye be expectin’?”
“Perhaps something subtle?” The captain replied, which earned him quick look of disbelief from the quartermaster.
Hunter glanced around again at the brawl, “Quite. What was I thinking? In any case, it’s safe enough for the moment. I can lend you a hand.”
Slowly, with O’Fallon behind and Hunter above, Brian Tanner painfully climbed up the ladder to the deck, where he collapsed, his face deathly pale.
“Can’t … can’t make it,” Brian croaked.
O’Fallon shook his head grimly a moment. “Ye be just lazin’ about. Up with ye! We can be makin’ it!” With a steel like grip, the Scotsman hefted Brian carefully to his feet.
A shout of agony cut through the air. Across the deck, no more than forty feet away, two sailors had just finished clubbing two of the men assisting Wilhelm. On seeing Brian Tanner with Hunter and O’Fallon, they rushed forward. One held a club, the other scooped up a forgotten pistol that lay abandoned on the deck.
“Go!” Hunter shouted to O’Fallon. Immediately, the quartermaster complied, helping Brian limp painfully yet briskly across the deck to the gangplank.
Hunters’ right hand instinctively moved. In a blur, he drew his Schofield, aimed and fired in one smooth motion. The sailor with the pistol screamed, his newly acquired gun flying away as if yanked by an invisible hand. In its place, the sailor’s hand was a bloody mess.
Without pause, Hunter aimed his pistol at the second man rushing towards him, shooting him a glare that would curdle milk. “Sirrah! You will stand down!” Captain Hunter bellowed “or so help me, I will stand you down!”