As Blackmore nervously looked on, the New York Port Authority Pilot skillfully brought the Lady Jane to dock as he had done so many times before. Blackmore had allowed Maggie onto the bridge and he suddenly realised he didn’t know which was more nerve wracking, watching the pilot maneuvering his ship or being close to Maggie. Oddly, he felt like a little boy trying to impress someone important.
Maggie, for her part, said nothing and simply stared at the imposing skyline that came ever closer. Suddenly, a flash of white and a vision of a wall of ice flashed before her eyes and she grabbed the hand-rail, gasping out loud, trying hard to steady herself.
“Are you all right, Maggie?” Blackmore said, the concern in his voice all too obvious to everyone on the bridge. Even the pilot shot a glance at them, raising an eyebrow, before turning back and concentrating on the task in hand.
Maggie smiled at Blackmore and nodded. “A little vertigo, that’s all.”
Blackmore nodded and his attention was then back on ensuring the pilot got his ship safely to dock.
The door to the bridge opened and the telegraph operator walked in and handed a piece of paper to the Captain. “Urgent message from Mr. Bellagon, Sir.”
Blackmore took the note and studied it briefly, frowning heavily.
Maggie’s question didn’t impinge on Blackmore’s mind at first. Then he looked up and caught her questioning gaze. “Hard to say,” he muttered. Then he handed the note to Mr. Archer. “Acknowledge this, Mr. Archer and tell Mr. Bellagon I will see him as soon as we have docked.”
“Aye, Captain,” Archer said, and quickly left the bridge with the telegraph operator.
Blackmore turned to Maggie. “The owner wants to see me as soon as we have docked.”
Maggie said nothing, but could see the news had unsettled Blackmore.
Docking proceeded without incident and Blackmore handed over to his first officer, before going ashore and hailing a cab to take him to Bellagon’s office a few minutes’ drive away.
Blackmore arrived back at his ship two hours later and was in a dark mood. The first-officer couldn’t remember a time when he had seen his Captain so angry. His assumption that the owner, Bellagon, was none too happy at the loss of money due to the Lady Jane’s unscheduled stop was correct.
“How’s the unloading going?” Blackmore said to his first-officer, his voice curt.
“Very well, Captain. Another hour or two and…”
“Well,” Blackmore shouted, “which is it? One or two hours. Time is money Mister.”
David James had been Blackmore’s first-officer for a number of years and had never, in all that time, been shouted at by his Captain. Before he could say anything, Blackmore put a hand on James’ left shoulder.
“I’m sorry, David. My meeting with Bellagon did not go well.”
“Mr. Bellagon’s sister not happy, Sir?” James asked the question with a straight face but Blackmore could see the twinkle in his eye.
“Aye, you could say that.” Blackmore smiled and the two men exchange a rueful glance. “You had better let the Chief out. Tell him he is transferred to the Arabia and that he should get a move on, her Captain wants him onboard in two hours.”
“Aye, sir. And the Arabia is bound for? In case our esteemed Chief asks.”
Blackmore liked his First-Officer’s sense of humour, very dry, very British. “Oh, Russia, I believe. Be a little cold I suppose, compared to the warm and sunny North Atlantic. Tell him to wrap-up warmly.”
Blackmore could still hear the First-Officer’s laughter minutes after he had left the bridge. At about the same time her caught Maggie’s giddying fragrance and turned as she entered the bridge.
Against protocol… but I don’t care.
Not that she was wearing perfume, there was none on his ship and Maggie had nothing with her. It was just her own sweet smell and Blackmore looked forward to not only seeing Maggie, but also to smell her.
Not very elegant, but true. Her smell captivates me.
“Are you well, Captain? I heard raised voices.”
The voice captivates me, too.
Blackmore smiled at Maggie. Despite having worn the same clothes for several days, though Mr. Lee had done his best laundry service for her, Maggie looked stunning.
The look, the voice her aroma… what is she doing to me?
“No, not a problem, Maggie. We have had orders from our owner, Mr. Bellagon. Our engineer is leaving us and we are in for repairs for a few weeks, which means you get the chance of a proper rest to recover and I get the happy chance to show you New York… if you feel up to it.”
“I can think of nothing I would like better, Captain.”
“Please, Maggie, when we leave the ship in two hours or so, please call me Richard. I will no longer command a ship; in fact, I will be at your command.”
Maggie’s smile radiated from her and Blackmore could have sworn at that moment that the bridge had lit up with a subtle glow.
“So,” Blackmore sighed, trying hard to remain in command of his emotions at least for the next few hours, “what would you like to see in New York? Though I suppose our first port of call should really be the White Star line offices.”
Maggie’s radiant smile faded to a deep frown. “Must we?”
“Is there a problem with that?”
Maggie shook her head. “Could we do that in a few days, after I’ve rested. I’m trying to remember, but I have the feeling I don’t want to remember the sinking of the ship.”
“We should not leave it too long, Maggie, but we will leave the tragedy behind for as long as you see fit. Come, let me finish off what I need to do and we will then leave ships and shipping to others. Are you hungry, Maggie?”
Maggie smiled at Blackmore’s good humour and nodded.
“Good. We will dine at New York’s finest and then we will see what fate has in store for us.”
A little over two hours later, as the First-Officer watched Blackmore escort Maggie from the ship, he wondered how long it would be before the two of them realised how much they were in love.
As it was, Blackmore knew deep within how much he had fallen for Maggie. But he was wracked with self-doubt and therefore fearful for what the future may hold. Doubt was a feeling as alien to him as any feelings were concerned. He was a ship’s Captain, he was in command, in charge and responsible for human lives and valuable cargo as well as the safety of the ship itself. He knew self-control, he knew he was self-assured and he never doubted his own ability. But with Maggie and his feelings for her, all was in reversal. Doubt, fear, anxiety and other feelings he couldn’t even begin to name, let alone explain. All this made Blackmore determined on the one hand and doubtful on the other, in equal measure.
Blackmore opened the door to his apartment, an old building, one of New York’s oldest high-rise buildings, and escorted Maggie in.
Maggie walked down the hallway and into the main living area. Blackmore followed at a discreet distance. He didn’t want to say anything that may colour Maggie’s view of his home.
Why am I doing this? It’s only a home. Why do I care if she likes it?
He knew the answer, but at this stage he didn’t want to admit anything to himself, nor did he want to get his hopes up only to be dashed. As a ship’s Captain for the last few years, he had never been in one place long enough to become romantically involved with anyone. But all this, since the tragedy of the Titanic, all this was new to Blackmore.
“You certainly have a lovely home, Cap… Richard.” Maggie blushed a full red and Blackmore smiled and mouthed a thank-you as their eyes locked for barely an instance, but in their thoughts, it was an eternity. Time slowed, stood still and then waited for the moment to flourish and bloom.
This is the moment.
The voice in Blackmore’s head had a certainty to it.
The doorbell chimed and the moment vanished, but continued to wait in the wings. Love doesn’t leave without a calling card and both Maggie and Blackmore knew, in that moment, what the inevitable outcome would be.
“Your luggage, sir,” the building’s porter chimed merrily when Blackmore opened the door. The porter looked beyond to see Maggie framed in the inner doorway, he raised an eyebrow to Blackmore as he bundled the luggage into the hall-way, accepted his tip and left with a worldly wink aimed at Blackmore. As the Captain opened his mouth to give the porter a tongue lashing, Maggie tapped him on the shoulder.
“Let’s not get into an argument, let people think what they will, we know I’m here as your guest and your house-keeper.”
Blackmore closed the door and led Maggie to the living area. “Kitchen to the right, fully stocked but not used a lot.” Blackmore led Maggie to the left wall and pointed to two doors. “Two bedrooms, mine is the left one and yours the right-hand one,” he said, opening the right-hand doorway, stepping back and gesturing Maggie to walk in and take a look around. Blackmore turned a small switch and the bedroom was lit by the dim glow of an electric bulb in a heavily shaded night light.
Maggie turned to him and smiled. “Electricity, I am impressed.”
“You have cupboards and a closet for clothes…”
“Except I have no clothes. I have, in fact, nothing.”
Blackmore looked shocked, as if he had missed a fundamental part of social etiquette. “I’m so sorry, Maggie, I forgot completely.”
“Cap… Richard, it’s not your fault. The fact is, I have nothing, not even my own memories. But I am still happy, as happy as I have ever been, at least I like to think that is true, but who knows, perhaps I was once miserable or happier than I am now, but I doubt that.”
Blackmore’s look of concern turned to a smile. “Yet, you don’t know that to be true.”
Maggie thought about that and shook her head. “Actually, I do know, somehow. Don’t ask me how I know, I but I know I have never been happier.”
Blackmore nodded. “Then it’s up to me to ensure your stay here, to continue to be happy. Tomorrow we go shopping.”
“For you, Maggie. You cannot be expected to walk around New York in the same clothing, day in day out. No! I will hear no more on it.”
Maggie lowered the hand she had raised to try to stop Blackmore making rash promises. She was happy and she could do with new clothing, as well as other essentials, but didn’t want this kind man to promise something he could not deliver.
“If it’s money you worry about, Maggie. Have no fear. I may not be rich, but I am well-off and receive a good monthly wage from the shipping line. On top of that my ever so rich Aunt Cecilia, my father’s sister, in England, remembered me in her will. Bless her she left me a tidy sum which I see the benefit of in dividends and such. It sits in the bank, never spent, earning more, month in month out. This is what the money was intended for and I will hear no argument on the matter.”
Maggie said nothing, but the glistening eyes told Blackmore she was a sensitive caring soul. It was all he needed to know.
Maggie smiled at Blackmore and closed the bedroom door with a soft click, leaning her head against the cold wood and silently wept thanks for being saved by such a kind man, but also for an unknown world she knew she was destined for, yet would not be happy when she reached there.
Maggie didn’t know it, but her lost memories were struggling within her mind to be free and the personality of Magda was straining to exist once more.
“You don’t exist, as far as I am concerned,” the old man said, fumbling through his sheaf of paper once more, in a desultory manner, oblivious to Maggie’s growing frustration. They were in a tiny interview room in the White Star lines’ New York offices and Maggie was not enjoying the experience one little bit. Blackmore had persuaded her they should get the interview out of the way before they shopped for clothing, but here she was and she was getting nowhere with this irritating little clerk.
“But I do, obviously I do! I was on that ship! I didn’t just land in a longboat from the sky! There were, I assume, no other ships sunk in the same location?” Maggie finished her sentence with a derisory snort and look of defiance. The old man re-shuffled his stack of papers.
“Young lady, I have no idea where you came from but there is no Maggie on this list.”
“Of course, there isn’t, it’s an invented name as I have already explained. I cannot remember who I am.”
“Then I would suggest you come back when you know who you are and I will once more look for you on my list. Until that time, good day miss.” The old man shuffled his papers once more, stood, opened a draw and threw the papers in, shutting the draw as loudly as possible and leaving the small interview room noisily.
The door to the White Star line offices opened and Richard Blackmore, standing outside on the sidewalk as requested by Maggie, turned and smiled. Quickly changing that to a scowl after he saw the look on Maggie’s face.
“I don’t exist, Richard,” she said as she tried, but failed, to slam the spring-loaded door. Blackmore took her arm and led her down the steps and they walked away. Maggie slid he left arm around Blackmore’s arm, hugging his arm as they walked.
Neither Blackmore nor Maggie noticed the man reading a newspaper on the sidewalk opposite the White Star offices. Nor did they notice the interest the man was taking in them as they walked slowly, arm in arm, away from those offices as he, crossing the street, entered the offices they had just vacated.
“As I have already said, sir. I cannot divulge information pertaining to an enquiry made by another person. Not without their permission. Now I will thank you to leave these premises.”
William Harker, sat in the very same chair Maggie had not ten minutes before vacated, not moving. His rictus grin stayed on his face, but his growing frustration was turning to outright anger towards the officious little man sat opposite, the same obstinate old man Maggie had spoken to. The difference between Maggie and Harker was that Harker didn’t take no for an answer.
“If it’s a matter of compensation,” Harker said in a low voice.
The old man was having none of it. Many had attempted to bribe him, all had failed. “Money is not the problem here, sir. Privacy is a right to anyone and we at the White Starggh!”
Like lightning Harker stood and reached across with his right hand and grabbed the old man by the throat. His powerful hand grasped the hapless man’s scrawny little neck and slowly tightened his grip. The old man sat and choked, too shocked to move and unable to release himself from Harker’s vice-like grip.
“I will ask once more. What was the name of the fine lady you have just seen?”
“I cannot… cuch!” The old man’s answer was not to Harker’s liking and his grip tightened further. The hapless clerk grabbed Harker’s arm with his own, trying to force Harker’s release, but to no avail. Harker’s strength was such the old man quickly tired as he tried to scratch at his assailant’s face. Harker’s grip only tightened more.
“I will release you enough for you to reply with a name. Any other answer other than a name will result in your swift demise and,” Harker pulled the old man’s face toward his own, “it will also mean the death of your loved ones.”
The old man’s brown eyes, now bloodshot, shot back and forth in their sockets, telling Harker he had made a connection. The clerk was now worried for himself and his wife. The old man’s arms came to rest on Harker’s arm and Harker released his grip enough for the old man to speak.
“Good, my friend. Good. Now for her full name.”
The old man tried to shake his head. “No… cuch.. no name… ggrgh… Maggie… only Maggie!”
Harker swore. He could tell by the old man’s desperate eyes he was telling the truth. So, he smiled at the clerk and he watched for that tell-tale sign to appear in his victim’s eyes. And when the old man’s eyes stopped darting to and fro in panic and fear and finally settled on Harker’s own dark eyes, he knew he had reached that point. Harker grabbed the man’s throat with both hands and squeezed, very slowly, just to savour the moment, throttling the old man until his gurgling stopped and his body went limp.
William Harker stood, arranged the clerk’s body so that it looked like the old man was hunched over reading a piece of paper, and slipped out of the small interview room unnoticed.
Copyright Tom Kane © 2018
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This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.
When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.
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