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image The Brittle Sea Chapter 11

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page. Please click the like button if you enjoyed reading this excerpt. Encouragement is always gratefully accepted.

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

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page. Please click the like button if you enjoyed reading this excerpt. Encouragement is always gratefully accepted.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking the link at the top of the page or click here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $0.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my books by clicking here.

 

image The Brittle Sea book cover

When you’re writing your latest novel you will at some point have to make changes to your plot. Even the simplest of stories is likely to need a necessary tweak here and there. But with a complex story-line, you can’t think of every scenario in advance that may pop into your head as you’re writing.

I tend to write by the seat of my pants, i.e., very little planning in advance and only a brief outline of the story. That means I will find many occasions to make changes. Take my current project as an example.

The Brittle Sea is halfway through completion of the first draft. I was getting close to finishing last year and had a beginning, a middle and the final scene at the end. And what did I fail to do? I failed to backup the hard drive on my PC because I thought Microsoft were doing it for me via the cloud – wrong! Twenty-four hours later and my hard drive died and I lost almost 40% of The Brittle Sea.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, surely the story was still in your head. It was, but when you start to write something you have already written or even where it’s just an idea, there is always the chance something different will emerge. Which is how The Brittle Sea’s main character went from a sea voyage of three months, to six months and then back to three months. But that’s fine. In fact, you should never be afraid to be ruthless and remove whole plots and sub-plots or characters if you’re not happy with they way they are performing.

I’ve been publishing chapters from The Brittle Sea on my blog since June and have had a lot of people read what’s been published so far, but I have pointed out that the story, characters, locations and other aspects of the story will and have changed. But that’s fine, because at the end of the day you have to be happy with what it is you publish and you can only hope your readers like it too.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking the link at the top of the page or click here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $0.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my books by clicking here.

 

 

image The Brittle Sea Chapter 10

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context, locations and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

BEWARE: ADULT CONTENT

The Two Minds of Maggie

It was late afternoon and while Blackmore was at Gordon Bellagon’s office, Maggie was in a local shop buying produce for the evening meal she was preparing. It was a chore she had come to enjoy, something she could do to repay the kindness of Blackmore. But over the short time they had been together, Maggie felt increasingly at odds with herself. Initially her cooking had been a strained affair, something she felt she knew how to do but the dishes she was cooking were not sitting well with her. She felt Blackmore was wrong in his assumption that Maggie was Irish. In fact, as the days had gone by, Maggie felt more inclined to cook food of an entirely different type to Irish stews.

As she looked at the produce, studying beetroot of all things, Maggie had what she was later to describe as a flashback, a flashback to her previous life, her real life.

“How much is the beetroot,” she asked the shopkeeper.

“It says on the ticket, Madam.”

“I can’t… seem… to read it. How odd.”

“Beg pardon, Miss, but you’ve read the prices fine until now.” The shopkeeper strained to look at the price over the counter.

“Это не легко читаемы, вы глупый человек,” Maggie said, gasping as she did so. Not only was she speaking a foreign language, the voice was somehow different and the vehemence in her voice was evident to the other shoppers and the poor shopkeeper.

“I’m sorry,” Maggie said, feeling a little sick and holding herself steady on the shopkeeper’s counter.

“Вы почувствовали недомогание, дорогие?” A concerned old lady standing behind Maggie said.

Maggie looked at the old lady with a mixture of confusion and contempt. She felt distinctly sick, but at the same time oddly elated, as if she were on the verge of understanding something about herself, finally. But the feeling passed and suddenly Maggie was embarrassed. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me. Please, forgive me,” she said to the small gathering and left the shop quickly.

***

Blackmore arrived back at his apartment to find it empty. His disappointment soon turned to fear as he thought Maggie may have had a relapse and was lying somewhere, ill and alone. As he began to quickly search the small apartment, the door opened and Maggie walked in. Blackmore’s relief was palpable, but it soon turned to concern as he saw the confusion on Maggie’s face.

“Maggie! What is it? What’s wrong?”

She smiled, a small but sickly smile and took his hand. “I don’t know, something odd happened just now, in the little store down the street.”

“What? What happened?” Blackmore took Maggie’s arm and guided her to a chair and sat her down. “I’ll get you a glass of water.” Blackmore hurried to the kitchen and poured a glass of water, then brought it back and handed it to Maggie who took it gratefully and sipped at the water.

“I’m fine, please don’t fuss. I just had an odd feeling, that’s all.”

“What, sickness? Dizzyness?”

Maggie nodded.

“Very well, let’s get a Doctor here…”

“No, please, Richard. No need it’s passed. I’m fine. I don’t feel physically ill, but just a little lightheaded.” It was then that she realised she hadn’t got her wicker basket.

“I’ve left my basket in the store,” Maggie muttered before bursting into tears. The strain of the last hour had drained her mentally and all she wanted was to clear her head.

“You need to rest, Maggie. Let me help you to your room.”

“But the meal, I was…”

“Never mind that, I can sort that out. Your well-being is more important.”

Maggie nodded, too tired to protest and was grateful for Blackmore’s concern.

***

Though Richard Blackmore had cooked for himself, many, many times in his life, he was nervous in the extreme at the prospect of cooking for Maggie. But providence, in the form of his First-Officer, leant the Captain a hand.

The rap on his front door came as Blackmore was sifting through his pantry, looking for something, anything to cook. Blackmore quickly went to the door and opened it and was surprised to see his First-Officer, David James, and his wife Mary smiling at him.

“Why, Mr. James and Mary, what a pleasant surprise, please come in. Come in.”

“We were passing by Captain and Mary wondered if you would care to step out and take a meal with us, as we’re leaving soon.”

“Mary,” Blackmore said with a smile, “ever the thoughtful Mary. Though Maggie is…”

“Maggie is what, Richard?”

Blackmore turned and was delighted to see Maggie was up and smiling once more. “Maggie was asleep. How would you like to eat out, Maggie?”

“Is it that time, already?”

Blackmore fumbled for his fob watch in his waistcoat, looking down when all he could find was the chain. “Now how’s that fallen off,” he said, holding the chain in his hand.

“Looks like it’s been ripped off,” James said.

Blackmore pulled the chain from his waistcoat and dropped it on the sideboard near the door. “Never mind, I’m sure it will turn up. Now, who wants to choose where we eat?”

***

The two couples had the perfect evening and had parted and gone their separate ways by ten o’clock at night. Blackmore had whispered in David James ear not to mention they would be leaving within a couple of days and he had done so. Blackmore wanted to break the news to Maggie himself.

Half-way through the meal Blackmore had suddenly realised why Mr. James and his wife had come around. Mary James was, as he had said earlier, ever thoughtful and she had realised that Maggie would be at a loss living in a strange city, while unwell, with Blackmore on a six-month voyage. Mary had therefore decided to befriend Maggie and in that way, she could offer her support. His First-Officer’s wife was, Blackmore decided, the most loyal, thoughtful and kind person he had ever known.

Maggie and Mary had of course got on like a house on fire and were firm friends by the end of the evening.

Blackmore and Maggie strolled back to their apartment, content and happy. Though Blackmore frowned on having officers under his command as friends, he had given in to the inevitable. Mr. James was as competent as he was and as such had Blackmore’s respect. Now they also had friendship and that made Blackmore feel good about himself.

Blackmore held the apartment door open and Maggie walked through, smiling at him as she passed.

“You look like the cat that got the cream.”

“Do I? I wonder why?”

“Yes, I wonder why? Did you enjoy this evening?”

“I did. It was nice to make friends with two such delightful people.”

“Then it was a success, thanks in no small part to Mary.”

“Yes, I suspected she had engineered all this. Perhaps she would make a good officer on your ship?”

Blackmore laughed. “Who knows, maybe one day women will be ships captains. Who can tell what the future holds.”

Maggie sat down and clasped her hands together on her lap and Blackmore stood regarding her, a silly grin on his face he found hard to hide. “You have something to tell me? I was wondering, Richard, at what point you were going to tell me you were leaving for another voyage?”

Blackmore’s smile turned to a frown then to amazement. “How did you know?”

“It seems even woman with no memories have the ability to, shall we say, know what men are up to.”

Blackmore shook his head, “I certainly hope not,” he said with a laugh. “Would you like a nightcap before you turn in?”

“I would, thank you.”

Blackmore poured two small glasses of brandy and handed one to Maggie, before sitting cross-legged on the floor at Maggie’s feet. “Will you be alright on your own for, a while. It’s a long voyage and I suspect I’m being punished by the owner.”

“Because of me?”

“No, because I threw his nephew in the brig.”

Maggie laughed, “I’ll bet he deserved it. You’re not a vindictive man, Richard.”

“No, I’m not. And yes, he did deserve it. We needed to get to the Titanic as soon as we could, lives were at stake, not least of which was your life, Maggie.” Blackmore raised his glass and Maggie chinked hers against his and then downed her drink in one.

“Where did you learn that trick?” He gasped.

“I have no idea, but I did enjoy it.”

Blackmore followed suit and reached for the brandy bottle and gave them both a refill.

“How long will you be away, Richard?”

“Three months, Maggie. Three very long months. We sail in two weeks. The life of a ship’s Captain is very solitary, not easily shared.”

“Is that why you never married?”

“I suppose,” he said, taking a gulp of brandy. “No wife would put up with her husband away so often.”

“But it makes the coming home so much more… fun,” Maggie said with a glint in her eyes.

“I never thought of it like that. I suppose it would, yes.” There followed a long pause in which Blackmore struggled to find the right words, but in the end simply blurted out what he felt in his heart. “I’ll miss you, Maggie.”

Maggie held Blackmore’s gaze, their eyes no more than inches away from each other and slowly, but with infinite pleasure, they moved toward each other and kissed with the lightest touch.

Before he knew it, Blackmore was on his knees and holding the sweet face he had longed to kiss with his hands. This time, the kiss was harder, passionate and full of knowing desire.

Still kissing, Blackmore and Maggie stood as one and held each other tightly before Maggie suddenly broke away but held Blackmores hands, dragging him toward her bedroom door.

Blackmore didn’t resist, saying only one word, “I…” before Maggie stopped his words with a passionate kiss that made Blackmore lose all sense and control. He was no longer a ship’s captain, but a slave to this woman that he loved with a fiery passion that time would never quench.

The door to Maggie’s room closed and the living room was quiet, except for the slow ticking of the grandfather clock, as if counting down to some unseen event in the future.

***

Blackmore woke up to a semi dark room, dawn was slowly creeping in under the heavy drapes. His confusion was the same as many a lover before, unsure of his surroundings and why he wasn’t in his own bed. That was until he heard a sigh and realisation came to him as quickly as light to an electric bulb.

He lay on his side with his face to the drapes, beside him lay Maggie and he realised, from the stroking of her finger down his spine, that she was also awake. Then he realised that he was more than awake, he was aroused, yet again, and let out a soft moan as Maggie’s fingers moved across his back, to his buttocks and then between his legs. A gasp escaped from both he and Maggie.

“You’re awake,” she said in a deep, almost husky, voice.

“I certainly am, Maggie,” Blackmore managed to say as she squeezed, hard, manipulating him as she had done the night before. With a groan he turned, and smiled at the gleam in Maggie’s eyes. “I know what you want,” his voice soft and gentle. Maggie nodded, taken him in her hands, sliding down under the covers and began teasing him with the tip of her tongue. Blackmore lay on his back as Maggie’s lithe body slid up his chest, her nipples rubbing against chest and then she held him, opening her legs and guided him into her. She sat astride him, squirming on his hardness until Blackmore slid into her, making her gasp. Gripping the side of his chest she steadied herself and then pushed down on him, rotating her hips to get the maximum pleasure with each thrust. Blackmore arched his body in response and pushed himself hard into her, thrusting faster and faster as the passion blanked out all reason. All that mattered was in that room, in that bed. All they wanted was knowledge of each other as their moans grew louder and the energy of their lovemaking engulfed them.

***

“It was never my intention to fall in love, not with you, not with anyone really. But look at me now, making puppy dog eyes at you. Pleading with you to let me make love with you again.”

Maggie smiled at Blackmore and suddenly burst out laughing. “You are such a pathetic little puppy dog, I think you need training.”

Blackmore’s eyes lit up.

“But not now, now we need to get up and go shopping.”

“But…”

“Even little puppy dogs must eat,” Maggie said, slapping Blackmore’s buttocks as she raced for the door hotly pursued by her lover.

Maggie made it to the bathroom just in time and slammed the door shut in Blackmore’s face. “I’ll remind you who owns this place, woman.”

“I think I know,” her muffled laugh sounding far away.

“Yes, I suspect you do,” Blackmore said, suddenly realising his was in his sitting room, naked. He decided to go back to bed and await her ladyships pleasure.

A clatter and smash of breaking glass and a scream made Blackmore forget his undressed state and he rushed for the bathroom door, charging in and breaking the door lock in his desperation to reach Maggie.

Maggie, on the other hand, laughed out loud when she saw the desperation in Blackmore’s eyes. “Sorry,” she said with a smile, “I broke your shaving mug!”

Blackmore’s shoulders sagged. “Thank goodness for that. I thought you had another

taken another turn for the worse.”

“Sorry,” she said, looking down at him. “But my, isn’t that a surprise. Breaking glass brings out the best in you.”

Blackmore instinctively covered himself with his hands but Maggie was just as quick and managed to get there first. “I didn’t think we had time for this?” His voice quivered slightly as she stroked him.

“We don’t… but I am wanting you, right here, right now Captain Blackmore,” Maggie said, pushing herself up onto the sturdy sink and opening her legs. “Now, Captain. Take me now.”

***

Shopping had never been Blackmore’s idea of fun and that morning it was even less like fun. One thought and one only got him through the ordeal. The thought of making love with Maggie again and the secondary thought of where.

During the shopping ordeal Maggie had flashed smiles at him and they had made eye contact that said everything. No words were spoken to each other, but both knew what was on their minds.

But in the back of Blackmore’s mind, there was a tiny voice telling him this would all end sooner than he wanted, and he would be on a voyage that would seem never to end.

***

The shopping finished. Their lovemaking continued and both now knew that the desperation they felt was heightening their desires and as the days closed in on that fateful day, they sought solace in each other’s arms and their love grew beyond anything either had ever felt possible. But the fateful day would not be spurned and it became a torrent of time that would not be denied. The day arrived and though he didn’t know it at the time, it was the last time Captain Richard Blackmore would see Maggie as she now was, and time was now his nemesis.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking the link at the top of the page or click here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $0.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my books by clicking here.

 

image of Purslane

Dr. Health Benefits

A couple of years ago I went through a phase of wanting to grow various salad plants. I’ve had some success with tomatoes in tubs, particularly the Roma variety. Lettuce has been sporadic and this year is a disaster mainly due to a ferocious heatwave in May.

I also tried a few plants I could use in salads that were a little more exotic than usual. All failed miserably and again I put it down to long hot summers here in Cyprus.

This year has been something of an eye opener because one of the seeds I planted two years ago was Purslane and against all odds it’s started to grow, having spent two years resting! When it first started sprouting up I had to check to see what it was and once confirmed I tasted it and was pleasantly surprised. Purslane’s leaves are edible with a slightly lemony aftertaste and is great to put into salads. But it’s received some good and bad press over the years.

William Cobbett, an 18th century farmer, journalist and MP for Oldham, said of Purslane that it was “eaten by Frenchmen and pigs when they can get nothing else.”

Its healing properties were so well thought of by Pliny the Elder (a Roman author and naturalist) he advised wearing the plant to expel all evil. Personally I think he got it wrong, I think Purslane is the demon seed because it’s now growing everywhere and I can’t seem to be able to stop it from growing. It’s popped up in the front garden, the only tiny bit of real garden I have and virtually all my planters now have Purslane creeping into them.

The problem is that because I use tubs and a variety of planters to grown flowers, fruit and salad plants, I tend to recycle the soil. Naturally in doing that I’m leaving myself open to an invasion like Purslane, so I either live with it, eat it and carry on, or try to remove it every time it shows its head. I’m doing both at the moment and so far I’m winning. After all, what’s it going to do? Run away from me?

Tom Kane © 2018

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image Chapter 2 The Brittle Sea

15 de abril de 1912
Ella nació Magda, pero pronto se hizo conocida como Maggie y, al final, su nombre se convirtió en sinónimo de la historia estadounidense de principios del siglo XX, por razones que se aclararán con el tiempo. Por ahora, en esta breve fracción de tiempo que se está jugando ante nosotros, la llamaremos por su nombre de pila, Magda. Pero demasiado pronto, la guerra, el sufrimiento humano, el amor perdido, el odio revelado, la construcción de una dinastía y el paso de los años enterrarán a Magda, que será perdida y olvidada. Su nuevo nombre y su nueva vida serán por muchos años desconocidos para la familia que dejó en Ucrania.
Pero por ahora, Magda estaba contenta mientras el poderoso barco surcaba con fuerza el mar y ella caminaba elegantemente a lo largo de la cubierta del paseo marítimo. Estaba oscuro y frío, pero la música alegre del salón de baile la cubrió y Magda reflexionó sobre su nueva vida. Sonrió a un oficial de la nave que pasaba, sabiendo muy bien que él y muchos otros deseaban en secreto conocerla mejor. Pero consideraba que la mayoría de los hombres estaban debajo de ella y los trataba con una sonrisa, pero una sonrisa ocultaba su frío desprecio. No era para ella la monotonía de una doncella en una gran casa americana, o la esposa de un humilde oficial de navío. La vida para Magda no sería lo que sus compañeros habían previsto, no para Magda. Su nueva vida sería la amante, el poder detrás del trono para una mansión que nunca había sospechado que vería por dentro, y mucho menos convertirse en la amante de. Magda viajaba a Estados Unidos con un propósito en la vida: ser rica, poderosa y bien cuidada.
Era cierto que con solo veinte años tendría que convertirse en la esposa de un hombre que le doblaba la edad y un hombre al que nunca había conocido. Ella, por supuesto, lo había visto; al menos, ella había visto una fotografía. No es lo mismo en lo absoluto, ella admitió fácilmente, pero fue mejor que nada. Sí, tenía sobrepeso y, sin duda, estaba ansioso por conocer su cuerpo. Magda ignoraría esos pequeños hechos. El hecho más importante fue que él era rico. Rico, poderoso y más que capaz de ser manipulado y moldeado en algo que Magda podría manejar, alguien que ella podría controlar. En preparación, aprendió diligentemente inglés, perfeccionando su acento para que no se detectara ni rastro de su propio idioma. Ella estaba lista para este desafío, lista para cualquier cosa que el mundo pudiera arrojar sobre ella.
El estremecimiento del gran trazador de líneas sacó a Magda de su ensoñación y miró a su alrededor. De repente se dio cuenta de que había caminado casi todo el largo del barco y ahora estaba cerca de la popa, con la proa hacia atrás. Magda se dio vuelta y se quedó sin aliento, la fría noche causó que su aliento formara veloces nubes de vapor de agua. Con el telón de fondo del ébano y el cielo nocturno enjoyado, Magda vio algo que nunca había visto en su vida e instintivamente se apartó de él.
La nave se estremeció una vez más y luego se sacudió con una violencia impactante. El hielo se derrumbó sobre la cubierta en la proa del barco. Magda observó, fascinada, cómo el enorme iceberg se arrastraba inexorablemente a lo largo del costado del barco y dejaba caer grandes cantidades de hielo sobre la plataforma agitada y retorcida del trasatlántico de lujo cuando pasaba. Con una última sacudida, la nave se alejó del hielo y Magda giró a la derecha para alejarse del hielo que caía constantemente.
Magda se movió demasiado despacio, su vestido se enganchó en una tumbona. El lado izquierdo de la cabeza de Magda fue golpeado por un pedazo grande de hielo pesado, un pedazo de mar quebradiza, la fuerza del golpe de corte en su carne y golpeando Magda lado de la borda del buque y, al mismo tiempo que el barco se sacudió. Mientras caía, en esa noche estrellada, fría y fría en el Atlántico, la sangre manaba de su herida y Magda Asparov ya no existía. Menos de dos días después, Magda, renació como Maggie.

 

image Chapter 1 The Brittle Sea

15 de marzo de 1931
La acera de la 42 no estaba especialmente llena para un domingo de primavera en Nueva York y el anciano bien vestido caminaba libremente entre peatones que pasaban, balanceando su bastón, el bastón que le dijo a todos los que necesitaba para la herida de guerra que nunca había recibido. Silbó una melodía suave para él, algo de una parte pasada de su vida. La vida, para él, era buena y estaba más que feliz por lo que había logrado a lo largo de los años desde que se había convertido en viudo, liberado de su servidumbre.
Hah! ¡Viudo! Ella hizo mi vida intolerable!
De pronto se sorprendió de la vehemencia que la idea de ella le traía a su vida ahora ordenada.
¡Perra!
De nuevo, esa ira, pero luego recordó los buenos tiempos. La ira, se dijo a sí mismo, no era para él. Eso fue todo en el pasado.
Fue entonces, en el mismo instante en que el anciano empezaba a perdonarla por enojarlo, que una joven salió delante de él, vistiendo un vestido azul y gris raído, descuidado, gorro sucio y, notó. mirándola de arriba abajo, zapatos rojos desgastados: zapatos rojos desgastados y familiares. Él se sorprendió y dejó de caminar, sorprendido por la repentina familiaridad de su pequeña y dulce cara. Abrió la boca para hablar, tal vez incluso se atrevió a ser descortés y le preguntó si estaba relacionada con … pero nunca tuvo la oportunidad de hablar. Cuando ella le apuntó con una pequeña pistola, él supo quién era ella.
“Magda”. Las palabras se formaron en sus labios y ella sonrió, torpemente amartillando y disparando la pistola, dos veces … tres veces.
El anciano gimió, se tambaleó hacia adelante pero detuvo su caída con su bastón, agarrándolo fuertemente con ambas manos. De repente, pensó en ella una vez más, se inclinó sobre su bastón y miró a su agresor. “Tienes los ojos”, le dijo, tosiendo sangre que salpicó el vestido sucio de la joven. Él le sonrió, perdió el control de su bastón y cayó hacia adelante, golpeando la acera con fuerza.
La joven mujer gritó, y las lágrimas corrieron por sus ojos asustados, tirando del gatillo para amartillar el arma, esta vez con la sien derecha. La pistola eructó la muerte una vez más. Un grupo de peatones, atrapadas en el cuadro de odio y muerte que se desarrolla ante ellas, gritaba su histeria como una sola.
La lluvia de Nueva York de repente salpicó la acera, silbando sobre el concreto y extendiéndose a las charcas de sangre que se formaban alrededor de la víctima y el agresor, la sangre mezclándose en la muerte donde la sangre de la familia se había contaminado y envenenado, alimentada con celos, odio y venganza .
Los ojos del anciano se encontraron con los de la joven, que yacían a pocos pies de distancia. No había odio ahora. Sin miedo. La familia finalmente se unió, la muerte los llevó a los dos y la lluvia de Nueva York borró los pecados de la familia.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2018

image The Brittle Sea Chapter 9

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

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

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking the link at the top of the page or click here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $0.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my books by clicking here.

image Sentinals

Sentinels

Tom Kane © 2018

 

One

Using his arms and legs for traction, the young man scrambled up the scree on the steep mountain slope. In his panic he needed to keep moving and to make his ascent as quickly as possible, but the scree had other ideas and the more he pushed forward the more the scree loosened, and he slipped backwards. Two scrambling steps forward and one back was the best he could manage, but he knew he needed to move faster, ever faster or they would catch him out in the open.

Time, the scree and the coming night were his enemy, but his nemesis was the invader of his world, the alien horde who had wiped out Earth’s human population with a virus. It had been so quick and within weeks millions had contracted a flu-like bug that quickly changed to something like Ebola and it was then that victims bled to death through every orifice. He had no doubt there were other survivors, but with the aliens now launching an air and ground offensive he doubted survivors, like himself, would be survivors for much longer.

A low hum from high up in the sky made him stop scrabbling and curl up into a ball. He hoped his camouflage jacket and pants would thwart the alien craft’s sensors. Suddenly, the scree ahead of him moved, stones loosened and then moved up to reveal a dark entrance. A hand appeared and a disembodied female voice whispered to him. “Quick, get inside before they spot you.”

It took less than a second for him to decide and he was soon scrambling into the hatchway, where two hands grabbed him by his arms and pulled him in roughly. A body pushed past him as he caught his breath and he heard the hatch slam shut behind him. A small beam of light played over him and he looked back. He couldn’t see his saviour but caught her sweaty scent as she pushed passed him again. “Follow me,” she said curtly.

With the meagre light from her pencil flashlight he could just make out he was on wooden steps going down at a steep angle.

“Who are you,” he whispered, involuntarily looking behind in case some bug-eyed alien was creeping up on him.

“Shhh,” was the reply.

He kept quiet and followed the flashlight when suddenly she stopped. He could just make out what looked like a wooden wall until he saw her pull the wood away to reveal a metal door. She quickly opened the door ushered him inside and as quickly followed him inside, pulling the false wooden wall back into place then closing the metal door. He heard a switch click and light flooded the room.

“Sit down, while I check topside,” she said to him, indicating a small wooden stool.

He sat and waited, grateful to be alive and not a pile of ash zapped by an alien weapon.

He could see little of the woman’s face, her hoodie covered her head and a scarf covered the lower half of her head, only a hint of her glistening eyes was visible. She moved to the other side of the room and pushed up on a long tube that had an eyepiece attached. It was only when she had the eyepiece at here eyeball height and looked into the eyepiece that he realised what it was. “A periscope,” he said with a broad grin. “That’s pretty cool.”

“Cool enough to save your ass,” she muttered. “Saw you coming up the scree and watched all the shit you sent tumbling back down the mountainside. You would have been dead in another five minutes.” She stood and pulled the scarf down from her mouth and pushed back the hood to reveal short matted brown hair and a grimy face.

“You look pretty young under all that mud,” he said smiling.

“Didn’t you hear what I said? I just saved your sorry ass.”

The young man blushed, “Sorry, I know and thanks. I guess I’m not the backwoodsman I thought I was.”

She stared at him, shook her head and then thrust her hand out. “Karen. Karen Bickers.”

He took the hand and gripped it firmly, as his long-gone dad always told him to do. “Carl Myers. Pleased to meet you.”

The pair laughed and the tense moment passed, until Karen stopped shaking Carl’s hand and cocked her head to one side. “You hear that?”

Carl shook his head. “No, I don… wait, a low hum… above… shit, they’ve found us.”

“No,” she said, squeezing his hand tighter. “They haven’t. This place is lead shielded. Unless we’re really unlucky we’re safe. Just stay cool. Fancy a beer?”

It was the nonchalant way she said it on letting go of his hand that made him laugh out loud, then slap his hand over his mouth, his eyes roaming upwards.

“Don’t worry, they can’t hear us either. I’ve only got Bud… sorry but it’s…”

“Yeah, I know, like making love in a boat.” Her expression told him she hadn’t heard the punchline. “Fucking close to water,” he said, blushing deeply. “Forgive my French.”

Karen’s smile broadened as she saw Carl’s face go a deeper crimson. She pulled the tops of two bottles and handed one to Carl then sat down on the dirt floor.

“So, what’s your story, Carl?”

“Same as everyone else, I guess. Family, neighbours and friends all dead. Everything and everyone gone. You?”

“Same. School was the worst. Each day a couple more go missing, then the teachers dropping like flies. My mom told me to keep away from large gatherings and wear a surgical mask. Then she died.”

“No point, in the mask I mean. Surgical masks are meant to stop your bugs getting out and onto the patient, not the other way around.”

“You a med student?”

“Yeah, well, sorta. I was going in that direction. You?”

“Still at school, got another year.”

“Not much point in school now, I guess.” Carl shrugged and sipped his beer. “This your place?”

Karen shook her head. “No, found it. Well, I knew about it by overhearing some red-neck say he was building a shelter for when the shit hit the fan. Even boasted the hows, whys and wheres of the place. Bit stupid if you don’t want a horde of infected people at your door.

“So, after all my family and friends died I just came up and spent a few days looking until I found it. Boy was I starving when I finally found the entrance. Lucky the guy had managed to stock up with food and water.”

Carl sipped his beer and Karen watched his frown grow steadily deeper.

“What are you thinking?” Karen asked.

“Well, like, what do we do now? Wait it out until the military show up?”

Karen gave him a scornful look. “What military? I haven’t heard shit for nigh on a week. No aircraft except theirs and certainly not seen any vehicles. I guess we still have subs under the sea but what can they do? Nah, we are in deep shit, man, and nobody but us are getting us out of it.”

“Looks planned then? All this infection was planted on us from space and when that was done, they invaded. Neat way to do things.”

Karen nodded and the two stared at nothing, deep in their own thoughts, sipping on their beer. A small insect buzzed between them and Karen took a swipe at it. “Damned flies get everywhere,” she hissed, swiping at it again.

“Yeah,” Carl agreed, swatting at the buzzing insect.

“Well, not sure how we’re going to sleep but it must be dusk about now and we have to be up early in the morning.”

Carl reached to pull his sleeve back, then realised his watch had stopped weeks ago.

“I stopped wearing mine weeks back,” Karen said pointing to Carl’s digital timepiece. “They must have used some sort of EMP to knock out all the electronics too.”

“EMP?” Carl asked.

“Yeah, like when a nuke goes off. It sends out an Electronic Magnetic Pulse and that knocks out phones, TVs watches, cars… well, pretty much everything that uses electronics.”

“Oh,” Carl muttered. “Should have known that, I guess.”

Karen shook her head. “Why would you? In our brave new world whoever needs to know stuff logs on and looks it up on Wikipedia or some such shit.”

“Yeah,” Carl nodded in agreement. “I guess we’re back to the fields then.”

“Which is why we have to get up early.”

“Why?”

“Foraging, man. We have two mouths to feed now.”

~ * * * ~

Sleep was not easy to come by in the cramped room. Karen had shown Carl the one other room she had, her bedroom, and told him, with a grin, to sleep in the lounge as best he could. So, with a heavy heart, but with some hope since he realised he wasn’t alone, he lay on the floor and covered himself with a large piece of old tarp, swatting away at the damn fly that buzzed him, before he eventually fell asleep.

It was dark when he woke and was startled to hear something scraping above, on the outside. Karen was at the periscope, frantically searching and muttering under her breath about it being ‘too damned dark to see’ when the scraping stopped.

“What is…” Carl hissed, but Karen held up a hand for quiet.

“Something’s up there,” she whispered after a while, “but I can’t see what it…”

The explosion was small but powerful and the concussion knocked both Karen and Carl backwards, both crashing into the rear wall and hitting the floor at the same time.

Carl groaned and reached out for Karen, but strong hands, bony hands, gripped his arm and yanked him toward where the entrance to the shelter had been. Carl could vaguely make out Karen being similarly manhandled as a fly swept passed his head and he lost consciousness.

 

~ * * * ~

 

“Namer.”

Karen’s headache was intense, worse than the time she had drunk three tequilas at a friend’s party a year back and had thrown up over her dad’s car.

“Namer.”

“What?”

Karen heard Carl’s voice and managed to squeeze her eyes together to see a blurred vision of him slumped in a wooden chair, tied roughly to the back of the chair with some sort of cord.

“Namer!” The voice was louder now and very weird.

“What are you saying?” Carl asked, his speech slightly slurred.

Karen was likewise bound to a chair her head forward, but straining to sit upright.

“Chou namer,” the voice said.

Karen looked toward a figure sat in a chair similar to Carl’s, but looking decidedly not right, somehow.

“You namer.” The voice was now lower and Karen could suddenly see why it sounded and looked odd. It wasn’t human, even remotely human. It had two legs, okay sort of going to the same plan as a human design, even a body and a head. But it was the four arms, the jet-black figure had, that made the bile in Karen’s stomach boil and she involuntarily retched. The dark figure swivelled in its chair.

“You,” it said, with a gurgle, “namer.”

“Name, you freak,” Karen said, retching once more.

The creature seemed to think this over, gave out what Karen took to be a chuckle and then swiped her face, hard, with one of its extra bony hands.

“Fuck, man,” Karen swore, “that hurt.” She felt something warm trickling down here cheek and licked at it, concerned she was bleeding. She was and she swore at the creature again.

The black face, so dark it was hard to distinguish features, looked at her without flinching, then reached out and touched Karen’s left temple.

Karen winced.

“Blooods,” the alien said to someone, some thing, behind Karen that she couldn’t see.

“Blood,” Karen muttered, “I’m bleeding, man… thing! My name is Karen. He’s Carl,” she said nodding in the direction of Carl, still slumped in the chair. “Now we’re on first name terms, how about you let us go and we’ll not bother you while we still live. Okay?”

“Liff,” the alien said with a, sush, sush, sush sound, which Karen took for the meanest chuckle she had ever heard. “No liff, you,” it added, pointing toward Karen.

That statement could not have been mistaken even if the execution of the English was somewhat in doubt.

A buzz in Karen’s ear made her shake her head. “Damn these insects, they get everywhere.”

“Inzeks?”

It was a definite question, Karen thought. “Yeah, insects. Fly, you know, swat them. Kill them because they spread disease. You know black thing with…” It was at the point that she was about to say wings that Karen noticed the black alien had very small translucent wings on its back. “Vestigial wings,” Karen muttered, somewhat alarmed.

The creature touched its chest. “Inzek, me,” and he gave the sush, sush, sush chuckle once more. It leaned toward Karen. “Kills me, you? Sush, sush, sush.”

A fly buzzed into vision and then hovered at her eye level.

“Zentinelz.” The dark alien said and nodded. “See hoomanz. We wait.”

“Zentinelz?” Karen had already guessed what he was saying, just by watching the fly hover. It was a house fly, but it hovered and it watched her intently. “Insects… you use them to watch us? Sentinels? They’re here to watch? Watch what? Us, the cows in the field?”

“Zentinelz watch all, earts.”

“Earts? Earth? All Earth’s people?”

The alien shook his glistening black head. “No watch chou, watch all. Clean bad.”

“Clean bad?”

“They’re here to clean the parasites. The vermin,” Carl said.

Karen swung her head toward Carl. He was still slumped forward but had come around enough to understand what the alien was trying to tell Karen.

“Clean the vermin? What vermin?” Karen’s voice had raised a notch in sheer terror at what the answer was going to be.

“Chou,” the alien said, pointing at Carl and Karen.

“Us?” Karen said.

“We’re the vermin, the insects are the sentinels and these guys… these guys are the gardeners.”

Karen shook her head, trying to keep the thought out of her head. “They’re gardeners? The earth is a garden?”

Carl laughed a bitter laugh. “Yes, and they’re here to tidy up, to clean the mess up the vermin have made and rid the garden of the vermin… us.”

The alien stood, and Carl and Karen could see for the first time it was obviously related to insects. The black body, bulbous head, small antenna, large multifaceted red eyes, vestigial wings and six limbs all said house-fly. “Eartsmun, chou dice. Chou dice zoon, sush, sush, sush.

 

Tom Kane © 2018

If you want to read more of this story, then let me know in the comments box below. If I get a big enough audience I’ll write more.

Tom Kane June 2018

 

image The Brittle Sea Chapter 8

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

New York

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.

“Bad news?”

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 what?”

“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.

“Maggie! Maggie!”

“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

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking the link at the top of the page or click here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $0.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my books by clicking here.

image The Brittle Sea Chapter 7

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

Missing

Bad or good, news travels slowly once it reaches sparsely inhabited areas of the world and Kiev was no different in this respect. The sinking of the Titanic did not reach the Asparov family until ten days after the event, but that didn’t make the news any less dramatic or painful. Pokotilova, in the Uman district was quiet and respectable, change happened at a slow pace and time almost stood still. That was until a messenger made his way to the Asparov family small holding, on the outskirts of the town. When he arrived, he brought the full force of the epic tragedy of the 20th century with him.

Magda’s future husband, Ballantine, had bought Magda’s ticket to the new world but to her family he had bought them a new life and a prosperity they had once known but lost over time. The Asparov family had heard the stories that the Titanic was unsinkable, but that information neither impressed or made any difference to their daily lives. What had impressed Magda’s father and mother was the amount of money Ballantine was willing to pay them for their daughter’s hand in marriage. The news of the demise of so many people, Magda included, had devastated them and had a profound impact on their son, Peter. Put simply, Peter adored Magda. It was an old but true saying, he had worshipped the ground she walked on. He was eighteen and had aspirations to go to America himself, with Magda’s help. All that was gone now. But in spite of the odds, he held a glimmer of hope that Magda may still be alive. He didn’t understand where the hope came from, but he could act on that belief. He determined, even before the family tears had dried to be replaced by that empty feeling, that he would seek her out. He would run away to America and find his sister.

Peter’s parents paid him little heed at the best of times, he could do as he pleased so long as he earned some money to pay his keep. Peter spent the next few weeks working as hard as he could at any work that came his way, but kept most of the money himself, giving his still grieving mother as little as possible.

On the ninth week after the news of the tragedy had reached them, Peter packed a small bag, slipped it over his shoulders, took some cheese and stale bread and left his mother and father. It would be the last time Peter would see his parents and it would be the beginning of his education into a new world and an introduction to a new dawn of terror, death and destruction.

 

***

 

As these events unfolded in Ukraine, the Lady Jane was getting closer and closer to New York and at the same time, Captain Richard Blackmore and Maggie were themselves moving closer and closer to each other.

It was the last night on board before the ship docked and Maggie was in a reflective mood when Blackmore called on her in his old cabin.

“I see you’re up,” he said, closing the cabin door quietly.

“Yes, I must get up and move about, I don’t want to leave the ship looking like an invalid. I want to walk and make my own way in life.”

Blackmore nodded. “Good idea. Have you thought further about my proposal?”

Maggie smiled and Blackmore’s stomach flipped with the anticipation.

“If I am to stay in your apartment, with you, then I must pay my own way.”

“I’m not asking for payment, I simp…”

“Yes, I know, you’re doing this out of sympathy and a genuine desire to help me. But I insist on paying my own way. As I have no means of support, then at least let me act as your house-keeper. If nothing else I can do that and who knows, maybe my memory will come back to me.”

Blackmore opened the cabin door. “Very well, Maggie, you are, for as long as it takes, my house-keeper.” He smiled and then left the cabin.

Maggie’s smile quickly became a frown. She had no idea who she was, where she came from or what it was she did, if anything, for a living. However, for certain, there was one other thing she was sure of… she had no idea how to be a house-keeper.

 

***

Matthew Ballantine was tired of trying to get information from the New York offices of the White Star line. They insisted all passengers alive had been accounted for and therefore the list of the dead/missing was correct. There was, they had no doubt, no hope that those missing would actually turn up alive. In fact, in a few short days missing would become deceased and that was that, as far as they were concerned.

“But surely, you cannot say with certainty there will be no more survivors,” Ballantine said, thumping the desk of the grey haired old man White Star was using to fend him off.

“Of course, we can say that. Have you no idea how cold the North Atlantic is this time of year? Nobody could have survived for very long in those waters.”

Ballantine pointed out that Magda was in fact Magda Asparov, not Ballantine as they had listed her. The White Star general manager had no explanation as to why there had been a change made, except that the change was made in Southampton and had been completely out of his control. But it did not change the fact, his intended had most certainly perished in the freezing Atlantic waters.

Ballantine left the office exasperated and getting angrier than he had ever been. It wasn’t so much the money as the principle. His anger was getting the better of his judgement and the object of that anger, Magda, was becoming an obsession.

Nobody thwarts Matthew Ballantine.

Ballantine didn’t know it, but not only was the thought untrue, as his business dealings would attest to, but it meant he had a belief in himself that would lead to something worse than a mere obsession.

As he opened the front door to the office to step out into New York’s cold streets, he bumped into an officer of the White Star line.

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” the young man said as he stood to one side.

Ballantine happened to notice the manila folder in the man’s hands was labelled Titanic. “Were you on the Titanic?”

It was the same old question the officer had been asked a thousand times it seemed and the young man’s smile faded. He gave Ballantine a curt nod, trying to avoid eye contact, anything to make the man go away and leave him alone. It had been days since the tragedy, but it was still raw in the young officer’s mind. He was sick and tired of re-living the tragedy every few days with officials and occasional members of the public he bumped into and inevitably asking the same questions. His mood matched the New York weather, gloomy with a bitter chill that made his bones ache.

“Tell me, did you know any of the passengers? I’m looking for…”

The officer made to push past Ballantine, but the broader man held his ground, effectively blocking entry into the building. “I’m sorry, Sir. I can’t go into any det…”

“Magda Asparov is her name, but she was using my name, Ballantine. We were to be married. A beautiful young woman, dark hair and…”

The officer’s gloomy mood lifted at the thought of Magda. “Yes, I know who you mean, Magdalene. She would often walk on deck on her own. Kept herself to herself. So, you are the Mr. Ballantine she told me she was marrying.”

Ballantine allowed himself a small smile. The officer was obviously British, stiff upper lip and all. “Yes, we are to be married.”

“But she’s listed as missing.”

“I know, but I feel it in my bones,” Ballantine lied. “I know she is still alive and I’m desperate to find here.”

The officer looked down at the folder and sighed.

Such a small thing to represent so many lost lives.

“This is the new list; it shows she is now considered to be…”

“I know what you think, but you are wrong.”

The officer sighed again, his mood swung back to black. “I know she was on deck the night it happened. I saw her. I watched her…” his voice trailing away.

“I understand, she is beautiful and you are a young man, both thrust together on a ship in a vast ocean.”

The officer was aghast. “It was nothing like that, Sir,” he said loudly, his free hand raised palm toward Ballantine. “We rarely spoke, but I would often see her due to my duties. She was on the port side where the ship struck the iceberg. A lot of ice came crashing down onto the deck. People were kicking some of it around for fun.”

“Where did she go?”

“Well, come to think of it, it was odd. One minute she was there, on deck. She was quite close to one of the lifeboats. Then the ship struck the iceberg and I turned away for a few seconds and when I looked back she was gone and there was a pile of ice where she had been.”

Ballantine smiled inwardly. Magda was indeed alive and this time, he could certainly feel it in his bones. The starting point of his investigation would be the lifeboat. Maybe, just maybe, she had fallen and been helped into a lifeboat. Maybe she was on a ship right now, making its way into New York, or even way across the Atlantic to England. But whatever the truth, Ballantine felt she was still alive.

Ballantine lost little time making his arrangements. He needed to get back home, to Texas, but his trusted bulldog, William Harker, was a great investigator and would find the truth of the matter to Magda’s whereabouts, even if it meant searching every ship coming into port that went to Titanic’s rescue. Harker was tenacious and ruthless.

***

Several hours later, Ballantine was meeting with William Harker at a small café, not far from where the Lady Jane would soon dock. Two cold beers sat untouched between the two men, small puddles forming as froth lazily dribbled down the side of the glasses.

“You know what’s at stake, Harker?”

Harker nodded, the glistening sweat on his bald head twinkling in the fading sunlight dappling through the café window.

Ballantine had often wanted to ask Harker if he shaved his head completely or if his hair loss was natural, but more pressing matters awaited their attention and Ballantine stored the question away for another day, knowing full well he would never have the nerve to ask such an impertinent question of a man with Harker’s reputation for unbridled violence.

“This is about me, my reputation. If anyone gets the idea they can give me the run-around then all the rats who know me will crawl out the woodwork and abandon ship. I need to keep my business partners on-board. You need to find a list of ships that went to the disaster area and check each one for survivors.”

Harker nodded again, smiling inwardly at Ballantine’s look of desperation.

You have no idea, you moron, how stupid you are. You can’t even get a simple idiom right.

“We need to find her, find Magda.” Ballantine sat back and reached for his beer, then put it back down without drinking. “How much will you need, to find her?”

“Five,” Harker said.

“Hundred?”

Harker smiled, a predatory smile, “Thousand, Mr. Ballantine. Five thousand dollars.”

Ballantine’s heart didn’t miss a beat, he didn’t rant about the price and didn’t walk out in disgust. He simply nodded. “But, be certain on this Harker. None of this leads back to me. I want what is mine, the girl, and that is all I want. Anyone getting in the firing line is of no consequence to me.

William Harker smiled and the glint in his dark eyes made Ballantine’s skin crawl.

“Do we have a deal, Mr. Ballantine?”

“We have a deal, Harker. The payment will be as per our usual terms?”

Harker stood, grabbed his beer and drained it in one, slamming the glass down on the table with deliberate finality. “Terms as usual Mr. Ballantine.”

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors.

To read other extracts please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

If you wish to leave a comment, please do so at the foot of the page.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking the link at the top of the page or click here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $0.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my books by clicking here.