SHADOWS

alleyway Even ashore the dangers of the wartime oceans follow. Word travels and plots entwine. Captain Ben Deland, reluctantly enlisted to serve the British Admiral, seems to attract more than his share of French intrigue.

From my recently released action/adventure historical novel, CAPTAIN’S SORTIE:

Ben still chafed at the city clothes. He much preferred his buckskins or the loose deck clothes, but they would not do for a respectable ship’s captain. His captain’s coat was of good quality. Suzanne had seen to the upgrade of his wardrobe. She had not been able to change what he wore in the mountains.

The bloodshot eyes in the shadows followed the movement of the gray captain’s coat as Ben turned the corner, but the watcher did not see the hawk, knife and pistol the coat concealed on Ben’s belt underneath. Slurring and in French, the man with the bloodshot eyes said to the much larger man beside him, “That’s the one; lively now.”

The streets smelled foul. Life in this town seemed to be too much of a burden on the senses to Ben. At this hour people were at supper and the shops and storefronts were shuttered and dark. The sun had set and clouds blocked what little starlight there would have been. Even though it was chill and damp, Ben left his coat open at the waist. Habit. His progress toward the meeting was rapid; he wanted this King’s business attended to so he could be about his own.

Jovalle was just a little too old to be much of a protector for his family and Hans, Ben’s former crew member who now helped run Jovalle’s business, was much better at telling funny Dutch farmer stories than fending off ruffians, so Ben wanted to return and make sure he got them all back through the dock district to the ship. But his worry turned inward when he heard the footfalls behind him.

One for sure, maybe two. Ben stopped and seemed to be looking at a pocket watch. He didn’t carry one, it was safely back on the ship, but used the ruse to snatch a glimpse into the darkness behind him. One figure was there pulling another, bigger one, back into a shadow.

So that is how it is, Ben thought to himself. He pretended to return the invisible watch to his vest and snugged the dispatch packet tighter into the gathered waist. As he stepped off again, he drew the hawk into his left hand and rested his right on the grip of the French dueling pistol with his thumb on the lock.

The footfalls became just a little louder and Ben knew they were advancing on him. The tavern where his meeting was set was still several streets away and the redcoat guard that was sure to be there with the colonel was not going to be of much help. Ben’s route was straight ahead, but at the next building, he turned right and then right again behind it. The darkness was deeper there than the street. He drew the pistol and waited.

He heard them coming and then a stumble and a blaspheme uttered in French. Ben grew up speaking both French and English. He had since added several more languages to his abilities, but the hawk and pistol were about to speak for him now.

They walked right past him, the smaller one leading. Ben slipped in behind the giant and turned the hawk sideways, striking the fellow hard with the flat of the blade. It took a moment, but the blow made its way through the man’s thick skull and he dropped straight and fast to the ground. The leader heard the pistol being cocked and turned to see the fifty caliber muzzle pointing at his nose.

In French Ben said, “Good evening. Your friend seems to have taken ill. I guess that leaves you alone to answer to me.” Ben smiled and glared directly into the bloodshot eyes of his new acquaintance.

The wine the smaller man had gulped earlier began to rise up into his throat and it was much more bitter now. He tried to swallow and speak at the same time. “No, no, we just, I mean to say…”

Ben cut him off, stepping to the side so the bulk on the ground was not behind him. “Shall we decide that tonight was not a good idea? Whoever sent you did you no service. I will let you live, though I shouldn’t, to carry back your tale. You can spout your bravery and cunning, no one but the three of us will know the truth.”

The small man tried to say something, but it would not come out. He spit out the sour wine and stomach juice and shuddered.

Ben lowered the pistol and moved in closer to the shivering man. “I know you now. Do not misjudge my generosity tonight for weakness.” The hawk rose up and the razor sharp blade touched the man’s chin, severing the surface of the stubbled skin drawing a rivulet of dark, warm blood. “Make your peace with God, for if you cross my path again, you will have to explain yourself to Him.” And then Ben was gone into the darkness. The piss filled the man’s worn left shoe as a French groan rose from the squirming form on the ground.

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