Excerpt from Hell’s Dodo
The Shining Star put in at New Orleans. Samantha Brumble hoped that she could find fresh news of Brandee’s whereabouts. She would prefer to find him and ransom back her brothers while she still had money to ransom them with.
At Captain Bainbridge’s suggestion, they started asking around for news of Brandee in the taverns close to the docks. They got varying results. Some said Bloody Vik Brandee was dead. Some said they could tell exactly where he was, for a price.
These, Sam and Bainbridge ignored. Chances were the blackguards just wanted coin and would tell whatever lie they thought would do to get it.
There were rumors of multiple sightings, though. Brandee had been seen in New Orleans, but no one was willing to say when. He had also been reported all over the Caribbean, as well as around Africa and several islands in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
None of this helped pinpoint where he was most recently.
Bainbridge could tell Sam was growing frustrated with the lack of progress. However, one tavern in the Quarter gave her some hope. Their inquiries were met with fearful hostility. Both she and Bainbridge agreed that these people had seen the pirate recently.
They approached the barkeep. Bainbridge placed coins on the bar and said, “We’re looking for information on the whereabouts of Viktor Brandewyne.”
The man glared at them. “Who wants to know?”
“George Bainbridge and Sam Brumble.”
“You don’t say? Brumble? That name sounds familiar.” He rubbed his chin as if trying to remember. It kept them distracted enough not to notice a slight figure leave the bar and slip out. “Can’t, for the life of me, place it; but I know I’ve heard it before. Oh well, it’ll come back to me, I’m sure. Tell you what, if this pup here can drink two cups of rum without passing out, I’ll tell you what I know.”
“Bring out the bottle,” Sam said with determination.
Bainbridge gave her a worried look. “Sam, you don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, Captain, I do.”
Setting a less than clean cup and a bottle of rum on the bar, the barkeep barked with laughter, “Let the lad have a go, Cap’n. Maybe it’ll put some whiskers on that girly face.”
Samantha smirked a bit at the remark. Before he could pour for her, she grabbed the bottle. Pulling the cork with her teeth, she poured the cup to the brim. It sloshed a bit when she picked it up. She took a deep breath through her nose and drank the cup straight down.
The barkeep watched her with a raised eyebrow as she set the cup down. She quickly filled the cup again and drained it.
She set the cup back down, let her breath out, and recorked the bottle. She swayed for a moment, dizzy from holding her breath, but quickly recovered. She then shot the barkeep a triumphant sneer.
“Be damned if ye didn’t do it, lad,” he grinned, impressed.
“The trick is not to breathe,” she said. “That way, you can drink it fast without choking.”
Bainbridge scowled. “You’ve been spending time with the riggers.”
“I have. Robbins taught me how to drink and play dice,” she confirmed. Her tone was mildly flippant as she began to feel the effects of the rum.
“I’ll have to see to it that he gets more work. Obviously, he has too much idle time.”
The barkeep interrupted them. “So, ye’re lookin’ for Bloody Vik Brandee? Why? Are ye pirate hunters? There be easier prey than that one.”
“No, we’re not pirate hunters!” Sam rounded on him. “Although we are hunting a pirate. Does that make us pirate hunters, Captain? Nevermind; that’sh irreverent.”
“Irrelevant,” Bainbridge corrected her. His tone held a note of worry over how quickly the rum acted on her.
“What he said,” she jerked a thumb at him, never taking her eyes off the barkeep. “Brandee has my brothers. I want them back.”
The barkeep had been watching her with a bemused smile. “Has he sent you a ransom note, lad?”
“You might as well forget about getting them back, then. If Brandee hasn’t asked for ransom, they’re either dead or part of his crew. He’s not in the habit of letting men leave his crew… alive, that is. Are you sure Brandee has them?”
Bainbridge spoke up. “Aye; I was there when he took the oldest brother hostage.”
“Yet here you stand.” Clearly the man didn’t believe him.
“Brandee has some sort of grudge against their father. He wanted my employer to know who was taking his sons,” he explained.
The barkeep looked at them in silence for some time. Finally, he spoke. “I don’t know where Brandee is now, but he makes this port every year or so. Go to Madame Thibideaux’s and ask for Celine or Angelique. They may be able to help you. That’s usually where he stays when he’s in port.”
“The upstairs, aye; the street front is a juju shop.”
“Thank you.” Bainbridge put more coin on the counter. It quickly vanished into the barkeep’s apron.
They left the tavern. They’d passed the shop in question on their way there. Bainbridge stopped Sam when she started to barrel towards the place.
“I think you should go back to the ship, Sam. I can ask around at Madame Thibideaux’s,” he said.
“Captain, I am not afraid of a brothel or some witch,” she protested, her face flushed. “Besides, I’ve never met a whore before. I’d like to know why a woman would do that.”
“No,” he kept his voice stern. “You are drunk, Sam. Your judgment is not what it should be. Your brothers would never forgive me for exposing you to such wantonness. I’ll take you back to the ship; then I’ll return to see what I can learn.”
“Neither of you are going anywhere, mates,” a snide voice said from behind them. “That’s Brumble.”
“You are under arrest. Come with us,” a burly gendarme, one of four, ordered.
“Arrest?” Sam replied incredulously. “For what? We’ve done nothing wrong!”
In answer, the closest gendarme hit her in the stomach with a cudgel. She doubled over, the air knocked out of her. She collapsed to her knees and vomited up the rum she had just had.
“Sam!” Bainbridge knocked the man back before he could hit her again. The other three promptly ganged up on him. One of them managed to knock him unconscious.
He came to in a holding cell. Samantha lay sprawled on the floor next to him. He checked her but could find no bruises or broken bones. He could only surmise she had passed out after the blow to her stomach.
“Sam; Sam, can you hear me?” He patted her face in an attempt to wake her.
“Hmmm? Wha’?” she began to stir. “Oh!” She rolled to her stomach and dry heaved for a few minutes. Finally, she sat up and huddled in on herself, sniffling and wiping her eyes. “Don’t ever let me do that again.”
“I tried to stop you this time, remember?”
“Oh. You did; didn’t you?” Her smile was weak and apologetic. She looked around at their surroundings and asked, “Why are we imprisoned?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I remember them saying something about you being a Brumble.”
“Do you suppose Thom or Zach got into trouble here?”
He shook his head. “Not while they were still free. Your father is extremely intolerant of any employee, be they hired or blood kin, casting an ill light on the business. They wouldn’t have risked a flogging over something stupid enough to get them jailed.”
“Yes, he would be vicious enough to do that to them, wouldn’t he?” she scowled.
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a key scraping in the lock of the door to the cell block. Both looked warily toward it. Some gendarmes, a rat-faced character, and an older, well-dressed man entered and approached them.
The fancy held a kerchief over his nose, apparently not caring for the general funk of the cells or their inhabitants. Sam and Bainbridge barely noticed it, having grown accustomed to the smells aboard a ship. Fresh water was too valuable to be wasted on regular hygiene at sea.
“Etienne, neither of these men is the one who took my daughter,” the fancy said through the kerchief.
The gendarme in question clouted the rat-faced man on the back of the head. “Garner, you cur, I ought to lock you up for trying to get good reward money for the wrong men,” he growled.
Garner rubbed his head and whined, “But, I heard the older one call the lad Brumble.”
Sam approached the bars but didn’t get too close. Etienne had been the one who’d struck her in the stomach. “Sir?” she addressed the fancy. “Am I to understand that you believe a Brumble kidnapped your daughter?”
“Yes, lad; he came into my home under the false pretense of brokering a business arrangement with his family’s trading company. He then seduced my daughter and spirited her away. Now, his father will not honor the agreement and claims his sons have turned pirate and betrayed him.”
Her face flushed bright red with anger. “He misinformed you, sir. My brothers were taken hostage by a notorious pirate; but neither of them would ever do what you claim. Could you describe the man?”
He looked at her closely. “Your brothers? What is your name, lad? The senior Brumble only claimed to have two sons.”
“In that, he spoke truth. I am Samantha Brumble. I am trying to find the pirate that took my brothers so that I may ransom them. My companion is George Bainbridge, captain of the Shining Star. Now, please, describe the man who deceived you. I can tell you if it truly was one of my brothers.”
“Not so fast, Mademoiselle Brumble.” Clearly, he didn’t trust her yet. “If I describe the man, you may easily lie and say it was not your brother. Rather, you describe your brothers to me.”
She didn’t even hesitate. “Zachary is the oldest and favors our mother, as do I. He stands about as tall as Captain Bainbridge and has dark blond hair and grey eyes. Thomas favors my father and has been said to be the very image of him when he was a young man. He is close to the same height as Zachary, but has ginger hair and blue-green eyes. Oh, and he freckles in the sun.”
The man looked shaken. He actually stumbled a bit.
“Lord Mayor, are you well?” Etienne asked as he steadied the man.
“Oui.” He shook it off and regained his composure. “Open the cell and release them. They are innocent of any wrong doing.”
He returned his attention to Sam and Bainbridge. “My apologies, mademoiselle, Captain. The men you described do not match the description of the man who presented himself to me as Thomas Brumble. He was a tall man with black hair and beard and the most striking green eyes.”
“Our quest is the same, sir,” Bainbridge said, his face pale. “You described the pirate that took Miss Brumble’s brothers. Viktor Brandewyne’s grudge against their father must go deeper than we realized.”
“Brandewyne, did you say?” the mayor blanched. “If that is who took my daughter, I fear I will never see her again. I thought he had been reported dead and stricken from the lists.”
“Sadly, the reports of his death were in error. The man has the devil’s own luck at cheating death. He is devious, as well. When Zachary and I encountered him, he had a man-o-war and a crew decked out as British Royal Navy. He drugged us and used that influence to get us to surrender half our cargo, provisions, and stores, and to get poor Captain Brumble to sail off with him. He sent me back with a message for my employer that he had taken his sons in partial payment for the ill-treatment of someone he called Jim Rigger,” Bainbridge told him.
The mayor absorbed this information and said, “I see; perhaps it was for the best that Monsieur Brumble refused to honor the false trade agreement. If Brandewyne bears such a grudge against him, it would not be safe or prudent to do business with him. I am puzzled as to why he would take my daughter and demand no ransom, however. I have not done him or any of his crew any harm that I know of.”
“If and when we find him, I will ask after your daughter, sir,” Sam said.
He smiled at her, but it was a sad smile. “I appreciate the thought, mademoiselle. Perhaps it would be better if you never find him, however. I fear you would only suffer the same fate as my Melanie. Non; it would be best for you to return home. I am sure your father misses you very much.”
“Thank you for your concern, sir; but that is something I will not do. If we are free to go, we have a few more inquiries to make.”
“As you wish. Etienne, escort them out.”