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image from the book The Brittle Sea

A Parting of the Ways.

Richard Blackmore was once more subservient to Gordon Bellagon’s wishes. He was pacing on the dock at the foot of the Arabia’s gangway, impatiently waiting for his erstwhile engineer to allow him on-board. At Bellagon’s insistence, Blackmore was to apologise for his treatment of Bellagon’s nephew. It had been a full forty minutes since he had arrived and asked the officer of the watch for permission to come aboard and visit Bellagon’s nephew. Finally, exactly an hour after Blackmore had first arrived at the Arabia’s birth, Arthur Collins, the new chief engineer of the Arabia, slowly made his way down the long, creaking, gangway, a knowing smirk on his face.

Blackmore noted there was nobody around, even the officer of the watch had deemed fit to leave the two men to their business. “You wanted to see me?” Blackmore said.

Collins’ smirk was replaced by a serious scowl. “I believe you were ordered here. By my Uncle.”

“He suggested I might want to see you.”

Collins, stepped the final step from the gangway onto the dock, facing Blackmore. “You have something to say to me?”

Blackmore nodded. “Not really, only an observation.”

“Observation?” The scowl on Collins’ face turned to a serious frown.

“Yes, after sailing with scum you tend to notice two things. How much it clings to you in the hope you will carry it on to better things. And two, how much you tire of the awful stench.”

“Wha…”

“Yes, you Collins. I am talking about you. You’re a drunken excuse for a man. I can smell it on you now. Tell me you haven’t been taking Dutch courage to face me this evening. You are the scum I have had trailing me and I’m so glad to be rid of you.”

“You’re supposed to apologise.”

Blackmore turned to walk away but Collins grabbed Blackmore’s arm. Blackmore’s ensuing punch stunned Collins, his legs crumbling beneath him and he suddenly flopped down onto the ship’s gangway, sitting heavily.

“Bastard,” Collins said, spitting blood from a loose tooth. “You will regret this, Blackmore. My Uncle will…”

“Will what? I am already resigned to this being my last voyage. I have better things to do than waste my time with the likes of you or your family.”

“Better things, like taking your whore to bed and…”

For a big man, Blackmore was fast and he had scooped Collins off the gangway by his uniform collar and dragged him to the gap between the rocking ship, which occasionally ground against the dock.

“If I threw you down there Collins, no one would know where you went. Your body would be crushed to pulp and you would feed the fishes for quite some time. And believe me,” Blackmore said pushing a squirming Collins’ head toward the gap, “nobody would really miss you, would they?”

Collins’ suddenly sobbed. The fear in his eyes was too much for Blackmore and he let the sobbing engineer drop to the deck. “I came here to satisfy my desire for justice. To all those people who may have been saved had I not had the misfortune to have you as my engineer. You disgust me Collins and after this final voyage, I will be done with you and your family.”

Blackmore didn’t look back as he walked away from Collins and the Arabia. If he had, he may have seen a tall, lean, figure walk from the shadows towards Collins.

The man stayed as much in the shadows as he could, but Collins knew he was there nonetheless.

“What the hell are you gawking at?” Collins said, wiping a dirty cuff across his nose.

“A wretch,” the man said. “Captain Blackmore hit the nail on the head from what I can gather. People don’t seem to like you Collins. But I’ll tolerate you, even pay you some money for information.”

Collins stood as the Arabia lurched a little on her moorings, scraping the side of the dock with her fenders.  ”What is it you want?” Collins asked, wiggling his loose tooth and then spitting blood at the shadowy man’s feet.

That will cost you dearly.

“I have a hundred dollars that says it has your name on it. But I want a name in return.”

Collins walked toward the gangway. “What name?”

“You mentioned Blackmore’s whore. Who is she?”

“You said a hundred,” Collins muttered, leaning against the gangway.

The shadowy man pulled out a $100 bill and waved it under Collins’ nose. “One hundred bucks. All yours, Collins.”

Collins grabbed the note and the man let it fall and flutter down to the quayside. “Name. I want a name.”

“Maggie,” Collins gasped as he stooped to collect the money, money he needed to settle gambling debts and to stock up on essential liquid supplies before the voyage.

“Was she a survivor?”

Collins stood having finally grabbed the last note. “Yes, from the Titanic. By all rights, she should have been dead. The doc fixed her up though, and Blackmore staked his claim on her.”

“So, her name is Maggie and…”

“It was a name given to her. She claimed to have lost her memory. Not surprised the state she was in.”

“Amnesia,” the man muttered, “that explains a lot.”

“How so?” Collins asked.

“Never mind, Collins. Here, take a shot of this and warm the cockles of your heart.” The man had produced a metal hip-flask and proffered it to Collins.

Collins took it and opened the top, taking a long drink. “Good stuff,” he blurted, dribbling the fiery liquid down his chin.

“Glad you like it. I’ll take care of Blackmore from now on.”

“Really? And what are you going to do to him?”

“Frame him for murder.”

“Who’s murder?” Collins asked, handing the hip-flask back.

The man took the flask and smiled at Collins. “Yours of course,” he said, suddenly smashing the hip-flask into Collins’ face. The engineer staggered back, stumbled at the edge of the quayside before plummeting down the gap between the Arabia and the quayside. The inadequate ship’s fenders did nothing to save Collins and a dull thud followed a swiftly cut-off scream could be heard as the grinding of the boat and stone quay killed Collins in gruesome fashion.

The shadowy man examined his dented hip-flask and tutted, calmly placing the flask back inside his coat pocket, then pulled out a silver fob-watch, which he carefully lay at the lowest step of the gangway.

William Harker merged back into the shadows and waited until the officer of the watch returned and discovered both the fob-watch and a little later the fact that Engineer Collins was missing.

***

As the days had gone by, both Blackmore and Maggie found they wanted to be closer, not further apart. Blackmore’s job was going to tear asunder that which they had developed over the last few days, though even as they rescued Maggie, Blackmore knew she would be his. But the days were not endless, they moved quickly from dawn to dusk with never enough time, it seemed, to become a real couple. And now, today was the day and the Lady Jane was due to sail.

Theirs was an unusual romance even for New York society, but they intended to make it work, though time, Blackmore’s nemesis, was against them and in what seemed like a blink of an eye, Blackmore found himself on the quayside, holding Maggie close to his heart, not wanting to let go. His men and officers were already on-board having said their goodbyes to their loved ones earlier in the day. Blackmore was the last reluctant piece to the crew of the Lady Jane and he knew in his heart that this would be the last time he would sail away and leave Maggie.

“You will write?” Maggie’s gaze tore at his heart.

“I will, though the letters may arrive after I get home.”

Maggie’s smile broadened.

“You like the idea of home?”

“I do,” she said, “and I do so want us to be together and to have a family.”

“A family? It had not occurred… but yes, a family, with all my heart, my love.”

Maggie pulled away. “Then make me proud, Richard Blackmore. And when you return, I will be waiting to greet you with open arms.”

A roar of approval went up from the officers and men of the Lady Jane and Blackmore turned crimson, suddenly realising his private conversation had been listened to by all and sundry.

Maggie curtsied gracefully to the crew and Blackmore stood, mouth open, gaping at the crew.

“Go, battle the sea and do your duty. The sooner you go the sooner you return to me, Captain.” Maggie turned and walked to the join Mary James who waited patiently beside a cab. Then Maggie turned and blew Blackmore a kiss and then blew another kiss to the crew. The crew went wild and Blackmore turned a deeper hue of red. “Gentleman, we have a tide to catch,” Blackmore shouted at his crew, the stern look turning to a wry smile. “Shall we make sail, men?”

The crew cheered once more and Blackmore turned to Maggie. They looked at each other for a few moments and then Blackmore turned back to his ship and walked up the gangplank.

As Maggie and Mary James stood watching the Lady Jane depart and swiftly grow smaller and smaller, a carriage pulled up at the dock master’s office. A small, portly man, alighted from the horse drawn cab and hurried over to them.

“Why, Mr. Bellagon, I trust you are well?”

“I’m not sure Mrs. James. I seem to have lost my nephew. I was hoping to catch Captain Blackmore, as he was, I believe, the last person to see him.”

“He wa…” Maggie began to say.

But as Bellagon turned to her, looking her up and down with a raised eyebrow, seemingly appraising her worthiness to talk to him, Maggie fell silent.

“You are?” He said, somewhat arrogantly.

“Maggie, Captain Blackmore’s h…”

“Friend,” Mary James blurted out.

“I see.”

“When was Richard with your nephew?”

“The early hours of this morning, I am told, by Captain Reynolds of the Arabia.”

“But I would have…”

“Been told eventually,” Mary said, once more interceding on Maggie’s behalf and saving her from too much grief from the super religious Bellagon. If Bellagon had the slightest inkling any of his employees were in any way co-habiting their employment would be terminated within minutes. The words of God and his sister were Bellagon’s guiding principles.

“I’m sure your nephew will turn up soon. He’s perhaps having time-off with friends.” Mary James was a smart woman and she knew Bellagon’s nephew was a drunken wretch most of the time. This was her way of being polite and pointing out to Bellagon that which he already knew.

Bellagon’s eyebrows knitted together as he tried to work out if Mary James was being clever or polite. He decided on the latter as, in his own stupid biased way, he could never attribute cleverness to a woman… except maybe his sister. He pushed that thought aside and shivered. “Well, I shall keep searching. I’m sure he will turn up soon. His ship sails on the evening tide.” Bellagon turned and pulled his short and tubby frame into the cab with some effort. “My office,” his muffled voice said and the cabbie flicked his whip across the top of the horse’s head with a well-practiced crack and the horse pulled the cab away, with a lurch and a grunt from Bellagon.

“I thank goodness that man is no relation to me,” Mary James sighed.

“He seems very… particular.”

“The word you are looking for is peculiar, my dear. And you would be correct in that assertion. Forgive me for butting in but if he knew about you and Richard, well, it’s best not to say anything about anyone in Gordon Bellagon’s company.”

“Know what about Richard and I?”

Mary turned to face Maggie and smiled.

“Is it obvious?”

Mary’s smile broadened. “I will say nothing, Maggie. Yours and Richard’s business are your own and not for open discussion. But I will say that you should consider your future, very carefully.”

Maggie frowned.

“Suffice to say, Richard is a good man and you are a good woman. You should get Richard down the aisle, any aisle, as soon as possible.” Mary turned to the cab, opening the door and being helped in by the cabbie. Maggie followed, a puzzled frown on her face.

***

The Statue of Liberty was a distant sight and Blackmore was feeling nervous, guilty and full of self-pity as he stood on his bridge, watching the receding statue and longing to be home, with Maggie as the day wore on and night fast approached.

“Sad sight, I always think, in these circumstances. That’s why I never watch her as we sail away from New York.”

Blackmore turned to his left and his First-Officer held his gaze. “Best not to think about it Captain, I find. Do the job, get through it, but try not to let it play on your mind. Dream about Maggie when you’re asleep, not when you’re on duty.”

David James suddenly thought he had overstepped the mark with his Captain, until Blackmore smiled and turned his attention toward the ship’s prow. “Sound advice, David. The words of a married man, and a good friend. Thank you and I will try my hardest.”

David James smiled at his Captain.

“Oh, and for your impertinence, this is your watch, Mr. James. You have the conn. I’ll be in my cabin.” Blackmore winked and smiled at his First-Officer as he left the bridge.

Mr. James sighed and realised he had been thanked as a friend and put in his place at the same time. “No mean feat,” he muttered as he scanned the horizon.

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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