Down the back alleys and walkways, a block away from where the Revenge was berthed, Captain Anthony Hunter and Moira Wycliffe searched the hidden places behind a collection of weathered buildings that lined the edge of Port Signal’s boardwalk. For nearly an hour, they checked every shadow, every forgotten crate, but to little avail. There was no sign of Peter Bauer. It was as if, once he had tried to murder them, he then vanished into thin air.
Disgruntled, they returned to the boardwalk where they had last seen the first mate, Mr. Bauer. Around them, a light snow fell from the gray clouds overhead. It dusted the rooftops in a thin, white blanket of cold that wrapped the air with an unnatural stillness. Along the boardwalk, spread out in front of the Revenge, the remains of smashed crates and their contents of iron ore spilled out along the cold wood in a chaotic display. Work crews had slowly begun the tedious effort of cleaning up the damage to both the cargo and the boardwalk itself.
On the weather-worn wooden planks, Krumer Whitehorse waited a few feet to the left of the scene. The first mate of the Griffin was wrapped up in a thick woolen coat pulled close against the cold. Over his shoulder, Captain Wilhelm stood on the deck of the Revenge, supervising repair efforts to the ship. All around him, his crew – the loyal ones not locked in the brig below – worked busily at their tasks.
Krumer rubbed his hands together to warm them. He wore wool fingerless gloves, but it was a thin wool, that stretched to cover his calloused olive-green hands. He brushed a stray dreadlock of hair, now dotted with snow, away from his face to join the tumble of others that hung down his back, and nodded in greeting to Captain Hunter and Moira as they emerged from behind the buildings.
“Good to see you both,” the first mate said with a smile, showing a hint of his oversized orcish canines. “Any luck?”
“No!” Moira replied, fuming and gesturing to the wreckage of a crate a few feet behind them towards the Revenge. “I dropped iron ore on the git, and he just up and prances off.” With a derisive grunt, she tugged her wool-lined denim coat and fidgeted with her green wool fingerless gloves, her face a storm cloud beneath her curly brownish-red bangs.
Hunter shook his head, “I wouldn’t say ‘prance’, but we did lose our quarry down that close over there. He knows them better than we do, I dare say. We’ll pass the word onto the dock master, he won’t get far.” The captain glanced up, squinting at the light snow as if he could make it stop by force of will. The snow, however, stubbornly continued to fall. With a sigh, he withdrew a pair of knit gloves from his leather long coat and slipped them on. “Any luck yourself?”
“Some,” the first mate replied. “We’ve tracked down Captain Clark, but so have some of the crew from the Revenge. It’s all rather odd. I can explain on the way. He’s at a public house called ‘The Purple Heron’.”
Anthony nodded, “We’ll need to tell Captain Wilhelm.”
“I’ll do it, and tell O’Fallon, too,” Moira replied. “Ya both run on, I’ll catch up.” Turning quickly, she raced across the boardwalk for the gangplank of her uncle’s ship, coat tail flapping behind her.
“Lead on, then,” Anthony said to Krumer. “Hopefully, Clark won’t make this more complicated than all of this has already become.”
After a few minutes’ brisk walk in the cold towards the center of the station, Krumer and the captain arrived at the corner of two narrow walkways. There, illuminated by the blue glow of a flickering spark lantern, was the weathered sign for The Purple Heron.
The public house was nestled comfortably between two of the dormitories used by some of the station’s crew. Warm, welcoming electric arc lanterns glowed in the windows. Inside, a few patrons could be seen sitting at the tables enjoying drinks and conversation.
The pub was ideally placed, being no more than a dozen yards down from the stout four-story tower sitting at the center of the relay station. It was obvious to Hunter that the owner chose the location so the pub would serve as a stopping off point for those engineers leaving the station’s boiler rooms before they reached their beds.
The nearby relay tower, a central fixture on all relay stations, housed the main boilers, propellers, and other engineering mechanisms meant to keep the station aloft. Likewise, it held most of the signal antennae that relayed long distance telegraph signals from ship-based opti-telegraphic devices.
This one, while taller, looked no different than the surrounding buildings. Its plain, dirty tin sheets bolted to the outside were proof against the weather. Large steam pipes running along the outside, redirected steam exhaust as a means of heating other parts of the station. Hunter gazed up along the lines of the multi-story boiler room, and repressed an involuntarily shudder of dread; a cold feeling that ran along his spine.
Krumer tapped the captain on the shoulder, breaking him from his reverie. “Captain, Mr. Pryce should be over here.” The first mate said, pointing to a door across from the pub stenciled with the faded letters ‘maintenance’. Krumer glanced around, then quickly walked that way.
Hunter glanced over at the door, then at the pub. He nodded, then followed the orc. “Good vantage point.”
“It was also the only appropriate option available,” Krumer said, knocking twice on the door. He was rewarded by a soft click from the door latch.
“Cap’n!” Moira called out as she raced into view down the walkway. Hunter motioned for her to be quiet, then to hurry up and join them. She tugged her denim coat around her and ran over.
“O’Fallon’s comin’, he had to help with that Brian fella,” Moira said panting as she fought to catch her breath against the cold air.
“Excellent,” Hunter replied. “How is Sirrah Tanner doing?”
Moira shrugged, “Fine enough for bein’ shot. Uncle Klaus has his own doctor lookin’ after him.”
“I see,” the captain said thoughtfully, “we’ll need to check on him later, but for now he’ll be safe with your Uncle.”
The first mate glanced over his shoulder, then pushed open the unlocked door, stepping inside. Captain Hunter followed a moment later, with Moira on his heels. Beyond the doorway was a small square room, barely ten foot across.
It was rather plain, with a set of four pipes bolted to one wall that ran from floor to ceiling. Next to that, a clipboard hung on the wall by a wooden peg. On each of the pipes, a pressure gauge displayed the current temperature and activity of the steam. Not to anyone’s surprise, the needles in the gauge jiggled incessantly. A few steps past the pipes, a single door opened out to a larger room beyond.
Behind the main door into the small building, Albert Pryce slowly closed the metal door, then carefully replaced the revolver back into its holster beneath his blue peacoat. The action was not lost on Hunter, who raised an eyebrow curiously.
“There’s been trouble I take it?” The captain asked, gesturing to Pryce’s revolver.
Albert shook his head, and pulled his peacoat closed over his denim vest and cotton shirt. “No, not a whit. Just bein’ cautious. Those boys from the Revenge have me jumpy.”
Krumer folded his arms across his chest. “Have they been back?”
“Twice. Both times, they’ve done nothing more than we’ve been doin’. Just watching.” Mr. Pryce replied. He gestured for the trio to follow him into the larger room beyond. The room they entered was an expanded version of the smaller one, draped in a light fog of steam.
Unlike the previous room, at least a dozen pipes ran along the walls with their customary pressure and temperature gauges. Eventually these collected at a dingy, tarnished control station with several levers and turn-wheels for controlling the pressure in the pipes.
Albert ignored the control station entirely, walking around it towards a lone, grime-covered window where a smear of dirt had been removed to allow view of the road outside, and a prominent portion of The Purple Heron.
“They’ve not tried going inside after Cap’n Clark, but meet to the left of the pub every time,” Albert said, pointing to a spot just beside the pub that would be moderately well-concealed from the average passerby.
Hunter frowned thoughtfully, “Odd they never go in. Captain Clark is inside?”
“Oh yes,” Albert nodded. “He’s upstairs. I’ve seen him pacin’ by a window every so often.”
“Pacing?” The captain echoed, glancing out the window towards the pub’s second story.
“Aye, just so,” Albert replied.
Moira put her hands on her hips, “I don’t like it. Sounds like a trap, and Cap’n Clark’s the bait. Otherwise, why wait? He’s holed up in a pub upstairs. Not like he’s going anywhere.”
“Indeed,” Hunter agreed. “However, a trap for whom?”
“We’ve company,” Krumer interrupted, gesturing at a pair of figures.
From around the corner, two men bundled in woolen peacoats and caps hurried into view. Each were of average height, and beyond the peacoats, were dressed rather plainly. They walked to the left side of the pub and waited among the lightly falling snow. A moment later, four more figures joined them.
“Those first two I know as crewmen from the Revenge,” Krumer explained. “The other four are new.”
“That many tells me they’re going after Clark,” Hunter said, turning to leave the room. “They’re tired of waiting on whatever they hoped would happen.”
“Cap’n wait,” Albert replied, “they’ll see you comin’. Give it a moment, they’ve come and gone twice now without causing a scene. If we come after them and they’ve done nothing, we’ll look as if we’re muggin’ them.”
Moira grinned, “I’m for it. Catch ’em for they know what’s happenin’.”
Hunter shook his head grimly, fighting back his own urge to charge full steam ahead. “No, Mr. Pryce is correct. This is complicated enough. We move only when we know they are about to try for Captain Clark.”
“So Captain Clark is bait?” Krumer asked.
“After a fashion,” Hunter replied, “yes.”
“I though he was bait for us?” The first mate asked.
“He is,” the captain replied with a smirk. “I suspect they are just more eager to bite than we are.”
“He shot at ya,” Moira said sternly, “I’m all for it. ‘Sides we’ll grab the lot. They could help us find that Peter Bauer.
Captain Hunter glanced outside the window at the group. Right at that moment, one of the men from the Revenge pulled out a small bag from under his coat. From the bag he produced bottles filled with a yellow liquid.
“What are those?” Krumer asked curiously.
Hunter shook his head, “I’m not certain, but I found the remains of one bottle in an alley the moment after we lost Peter Bauer. It could be a liquor like whiskey, but the smell for that wasn’t there.”
The crewman handed each man a bottle, then made a gesture at the pub itself. With the bottles handed out, three of the men headed for the back of the Heron; the other three towards the front.
“They’re moving,” Hunter said quickly, racing for the door. “Albert, you and Krumer head for the ones in the back. Moira and I will deal with the ones here in front.”
Without waiting for an answer, the captain rushed out the door, and briskly walked across the walkway towards the three men. Hunter slipped the loop from the hammer of his revolver.
“I say!” Hunter called out, resting his hand on the smooth grip of his Schofield. “Stand down, all of you. Your little band on the Revenge is in irons. Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”
One of the three men – one that Hunter recognized from the Revenge – grinned savagely, flexing his hands into fists. “Oh ‘guv, who said anythin’ about easy?”
Abruptly, there was a crash upstairs as a chair sailed through one of the plate windows on the second floor! Glass and wood showered everyone on the walkway below as John Clark slipped through the hole in the window and raced across the roof. Moira and Hunter ducked under their coats to shield themselves as they ran out of the way. In front of them, the three men from the Revenge raced for the protection of the front door of the pub.
As the glass storm ceased, Moira and Hunter looked up, brushing off bits of debris. In that moment, the three thugs raced out of the pub as if shot out of a cannon! They disappeared around the corner and out of sight, before anyone else had time to react.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Moira growled, racing after them. “Cap’n, I see a ladder!”
“Moira! Not that way!” Hunter called, but the blacksmith was already around the corner. The captain sighed and finished his thought, muttering, “they’re too fast. We need to cut them off.”
“We’re on the others,” Krumer said quickly. He exchanged a nod with Mr. Pryce, before the pair raced for the back of the pub, Hunter looked toward the direction that Clark was running. With a frustrated sigh, the captain headed down the boardwalk, running parallel to the direction that Clark used over the rooftops.
The thin cold air bit at the captain’s cheeks and tried to steal the air from his lungs. Despite this, he forced himself to keep running, but was soon stopped by one of the long barracks for the station crew. Remembering what he knew of most relay stations, Hunter rounded the corner, hoping for a ladder up to the roof. He smiled as he found it right where he expected. Quickly, he scaled the ladder as fast as he could.
Atop the roof, the snow had begun to gather in small clumps while the rest drifted lazily about, driven by the biting, light wind. Anthony looked around for any sign of Moira, Clark, or the three men chasing Captain Clark. Immediately, he spotted them. Unfortunately, Clark saw Captain Hunter as well! Turning to his left, Clark jumped over to another rooftop, then raced towards the relay tower at the center of the station.
“Damn it man, we’re trying to rescue you!” Hunter growled under his breath as he took off running after Clark.
Across the rooftops, Clark reached the relay tower first. Quickly, he scrambled down a ladder that ended at a steel door. Hunter ran harder as he watched Clark tug on the wheel to unlatch the door. At the ladder, Captain Hunter scaled down, jumping off at the very end. Clark spun around, whipping a revolver from his belt!
Hunter froze, then narrowed his eyes. “You’ll not use that, not right now. Especially, not right now.”
“Yer a right hauty, git, ya know that Hunter?” Clark snarled. “Ya think I won’t?” He raised the revolver to aim at Anthony’s chest.
Suddenly, the steel door opened and a man walked out. He was dressed in stained coveralls, an old woolen coat and wool cap. His boots were dotted with grease stains, and fatigue shone in his face. On seeing Clark with the revolver, the station engineer froze, eyes wide.
“Oi! What’s this about?” He asked.
Captain Hunter stood very still with his arms away from his own revolver. His eyes never left Clark’s, although a smile danced lightly across Hunter’s lips before he replied. “If you had any interest in shooting anyone, captain, you could have done so from that pub. Upstairs? Excellent shooter’s post. Every last man jack was out in the open in front of that same pub. Yet, you ran instead of shooting.”
Black Jack’s features turned ugly, “Maybe it wasn’t worth the trouble then. Might be worth the trouble now. Then I’ll take care o’ yer Fomorian mates, eh?”
“Who?” Hunter asked, visibly confused.
“Who?” The engineer asked, also confused.
“Us,” a rough voice said from the rooftop above. The crewman from the Revenge ripped a revolver from belt and quickly opened fire into the alley where Hunter and Clark stood!