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image from the book The Brittle Sea

Gordon Bellagon.

Gordon Bellagon sat at his desk, cigar in one hand and cup of tea in the other, regaling his guest about how he always instilled in his captains a sense of civic pride in their duties, not just to himself or his ships, but people in general. And yes, he was proud of the Lady Jane’s captain for his heroic efforts in going to the aid of those poor souls on the Titanic.

Bellagon’s guest outwardly seemed impressed. Inwardly he had nothing but contempt for Bellagon.

“And this captain, can I interview him?”

The question made Bellagon stop, mid-sentence. “Well, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. He will be interviewed by me, later today and that will be that. I’ll place a full report with the shipping authorities and that will be the end of the matter.”

“But do you know of any survivors your ship may have picked up.”

Bellagon wasn’t liking the way the interview had turned from him, to his captain being the centre of attention. This reporter was now sounding impertinent. “I do have that information, yes.”

“And…”

“I don’t think I can divulge that information.”

“My readers will be most appreciative, Mr. Bellagon. They know a hero when they read about one and think of how much more business will come your way when your story is told.”

Bellagon thought the idea through, the mere mention of more business and he visibly sat upright, as much as a small rotund man can. The word hero also had a particular impact on him. “Well, of course I don’t suppose it would cause any harm to anyone.”

“No, of course not. How many poor souls did the Lady Jane save from the Titanic?”

This is where Bellagon came unstuck. He would must either lie to fluff up his own ego or tell the truth and risk derision. “One,” Bellagon said in a quiet voice, hoping the reporter wouldn’t laugh at him.

The reporter ignored the answer and asked more questions. “Male or female?”

“Female.”

“Old or young.”

“Young. In her twenties I believe the cable said.”

When the journalist stood and held his hand out, Bellagon was surprised he hadn’t made any crude remarks about his ship only managing to save one life. Bellagon limply shook the man’s hand.

“Thank you so much, Mr. Bellagon. You have no idea how much I owe you… and of course how much the world owes such a hero as you.”

Bellagon watched the journalist walk to his office door and open it. “Which paper did you say this will be in?”

The man turned. “The Sentinel, Mr. Bellagon. Good day.”

As he shut Bellagon’s office door, William Harker walked to Bellagon’s secretary’s desk and smiled at the wizened old spinster who sat upright watching Harker closely.

“Good afternoon,” he said with a broad smile. “I’ve just finished an interview with Mr. Bellagon about the heroic acts of his ship and I wondered if I could interview you as well? It will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper.”

The woman smiled for the first time in many years and pushed her hair nonchalantly with her left hand. “Of course,” she said, her smile broadening.

***

Richard Blackmore’s life as a seaman and eventually as the master of his own ship had made him a happy man, or so he had once thought. The time he had spent with Maggie made him realise he had never experienced happiness. However, as he sat in the office of Gordon Bellagon for the second time in as many days Richard Blackmore realised he was thoroughly depressed.

“That will be a round trip lasting three months, Mr Bellagon.”

Gordon Bellagon’s bald head, rounded face and piggy eyes perfectly matched the small rimless half-moon glasses he always wore when writing and talking at the same time. His small moustache twitched as he spoke. “Is that a problem, Captain?”

Blackmore shook his head. “No, sir.”

“So, to recap, you are taking the Lady Jane to East Africa with a consignment of tobacco, spirits and engineering parts. From there you collect a shipload of Copra and then on to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam you will collect livestock.” Bellagon stopped as he caught a look of distaste on Blackmore’s face. “You have a problem with livestock?”

Again, Blackmore shook his head. “No, Mr. Bellagon, I do not have a problem with livestock.” Blackmore’s look of distaste was not at transporting animals, but at the thought this voyage was a punishment, meted out to him on the insistence of Bellagon’s nephew, his ex-chief engineer on the Lady Jane.

“Very well,” Bellagon continued. “You then sail to England for more livestock, Pigs I believe,” Bellagon said with a smile, knowing full well Blackmore’s ship would smell like a sailing farmyard when the voyage was over. “Then you sail to Nova Scotia, offload and collect Maple syrup, oats, barley and seeds of various kinds which you transport here, to New York. Everything clear, Captain?”

Once more, Blackmore nodded. “I understand, sir.”

“Now, this person you mentioned yesterday, that you saved at the disaster site. I presume she is being dealt with by the authorities?” Bellagon thought of using the person Blackmore had saved to further his social standing with New York’s ruling classes. But, as with many things in Bellagon’s life, his sister had put a stop to that.

Blackmore nodded once. “She is,” he said, quietly. It was a feeble attempt to convince himself he wasn’t telling a lie, but then he reproached himself for his caution. It was true, except the authority in question was himself, he was after all the captain of a ship. Blackmore smiled.

“Is there something you find amusing, captain?” Bellagon didn’t wait for an answer, he wanted this next part over and done with as quickly as possible. “One last thing, Captain Blackmore.”

“Yes, sir?”

“You will not be receiving your normal pay check, this month. In fact, you will receive no pay check for two months. This is due to the tardiness of your arrival at your last destination port.” Bellagon watched for his captain’s reaction with his piggy eyes.

Blackmore stood, towering over the small man seated before him and Bellagon visibly flinched, thinking Blackmore was about to assault him. It quickly went through Bellagon’s mind that he had pushed Blackmore too hard this time.

“I will endeavour to ensure no tardiness will be evident on this voyage, Mr. Bellagon.” Blackmore scooped up the paperwork turned and left without another word.

As he opened the street door to Bellagon’s office, Blackmore bumped into a man entering the building. “I’m so sorry,” Blackmore said.

The man, head down, cap pulled tightly over his head, only grunted and pushed past Blackmore.

Blackmore tutted once at the man’s rudeness and stopped on the sidewalk. He breathed deep of the crisp spring air. He wanted to rage against the unjust punishment Bellagon had just subjected him to, but instead walked briskly away from the office and toward his own home where he knew, Maggie would be waiting for him.

Harker could not believe his luck. What he had expected to take weeks, even months, he had accomplished in two days. He had Bellagon’s description of the only survivor the Lady Jane had rescued, and her description loosely fitted the limited description Ballantine had given him and the old photograph of Magda he had loaned to him. Bellagon’s secretary had been more than helpful and had revealed the time Bellagon was interviewing his Captain, had provided a description of the captain and even went so far as to give him Blackmore’s address. And now he had managed to see Blackmore in the flesh and, had even procured a memento of the encounter. All he needed to do now was prove the survivor rescued by the Lady Jane was indeed Magda and his job was almost complete.

Harker opened the entrance door to Bellagon’s office and made certain Blackmore was well ahead before he walked down the street and followed Blackmore as he walked the short distance to the cab stand. Blackmore boarded a cab and Harker quickly called the next cab forward and told the driver to follow the cab in front. Urging his horse forward, the Handsome-cab driver paid no heed to Harker’s odd request, he was after all a cab driver and they got a lot of strange requests.

When Blackmore’s cab stopped, Harker paid his driver and jumped out, secreting himself into a darkened doorway opposite Blackmore’s home from where he watched the horses pulling the cabs away and Blackmore walking across the road, gingerly avoiding a pile of horse dung in the road.

Harker’s job was a mixture of excitement, danger and boredom. In this shadowy entrance to an old building, Harker settled down for a stint of boredom until he had what he wanted, information on Magda’s whereabouts. But he could feel it in his very being, he may have to wait, but he knew the whereabouts of Magda Asparov.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

Please use the menu system below to read further chapters in The Brittle Sea saga

Chapters

MARCH 15, 1931

APRIL 15, 1912

DISASTER

DEBRIS

THE LOSS

MAGGIE

MISSING

NEW YORK

GORDON BELLAGON

THE TWO MINDS OF MAGGIE

A PARTING OF THE WAYS

VENEZUELA

THE DAYS GROW LONGER

CROSSING THE LINE

MAGGIE’S FALL

STORM WARNING

HARKER’S SEARCH

A BOX OF TRICKS

REBELLION

BALLANTINE LEARNS THE TRUTH

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.

As a English expat author living in Cyprus, you may think my life revolves around cocktails by the pool. You would be wrong. In ten years on the island I’ve had my fair share of adventures and interesting experiences.

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