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Persia Squadron, Orange Fleet, East Africa, July 1437
Amy awoke to the familiar view of the ship's beams above her suspended bed, and had to blink away tears before she could see much else. This might not be hell, but it certainly wasn't heaven. Unlike her hospital waking, she hurt from her neck to her hips. Wait a minute. Her hips hurt? Suddenly excited, she tried to move, but could not.
She almost panicked, but Ruth's face interposed. So did her generous tongue. "You're tied down to keep your arms still. You have facial lacerations, a sprained right wrist, badly bruised left forearm, two ribs broken, both collarbones dislocated, a slightly torn left MCL, lacerations on your left leg, and a broken left ankle. Your ribs are wrapped, and you have a cast on the ankle. Captains McCarthy say you have to rest in bed for another day besides the one already, but can sit up again after that and resume work. You'll be as good as new in a few months. Does that answer your first question?"
It does, but so what? That's still as good as living dead, except for whatever's happening with my hips.
"What happened and why am I not dead?" Which I'd rather be.
"Answering the second first, the elevator shaft ends in what was originally a cupboard on the orlop. The purser's steward told his assistant to move some spare bedding that we loaded from Hercules out of his main store. He was none too specific, and his man, who had transferred aboard at Simon's Harbour, didn't know the aft cupboard had been taken for the shaft, so found the empty space and filled it. The elevator cage landed on nearly five feet of mattresses, pillows, towels, and sheets. Squashed them down to two, but the Lord of Heaven used him to saved your life. He's become a hero."
Not to me. Would he'd never shipped. Would he'd never been born. She almost forgot her other question in her funk, but Ruth didn't.
"As to what happened, a seaman named Jordans tried to kill you."
"What? Third Gun Captain David Jordans?"
"The same. Just as Jenson started the lift, Jordans jumped down from the poop, shoved him aside, and cut the lift rope with his knife. Jenson recovered his balance and stabbed him in the chest, but of course it was too late."
"Where is Jordans now?"
"Under heavy guard in the infirmary, but with serious internal injuries and unlikely to live much longer"
Her desire to die vanished. "Get me dressed and in my chair at once. I must speak with him."
"But the captains said..."
"Overridden. I must speak with the man before he dies." This makes no sense. Dukowski spoke highly of Jordans just two days before the battle. I agree. He's a solid loyalist. Mutiny against his admiral is miles outside the man's character. It simply cannot be.
* * * * *
Ten minutes and two doses of stimulant later, she had the dying man semi-conscious and had dismissed his guards.
"Admiral Rea, I knew you'd make it." He coughed violently.
"Call me Amy, David." She took his hand. "Now tell me what happened."
"Heard them talking...they said...cut most of the rope...jumped down...tried to jam winch with knife...save you. Jenson must have...glad I succeeded...tell my family..." His head sagged to one side.
"I'll tell them you're a hero, Jordans. But tell me who you heard talking and where."
"He made an effort, but it was too little, too late. Moments later, her own surname the last word he breathed, Jordans was dead.
So, not him, and I'm guessing not Jenson either if the rope was pre-cut, though I'll have to check the man out all the way back to what his grandmother ate for breakfast. And, I'll need to comb the crew carefully looking for at least one, probably two or more others who've conspired. Partway through her introspection, she noticed herself doing it. Right-o, Amy girl. If there's people out there interested in you being dead, you're suddenly mildly interested in the contrary. After all, it's one thing to attack Amy Rea. It's quite another to try to kill the Admiral of the Orange. That's a problem worth solving before I die. So why not temporarily postpone my demise? Neither did she fail to notice she hadn't mentioned the Lord of Heaven in this introspection. "He doesn't care, anyway."
* * * * *
She allowed Jordans' burial without revealing the truth, though not without collecting his fingerprints first, but delivered a report to Fiona and Dermot, then had them seal it for a later dispatch, so that even her own death could not rob Jordans of his due recognition and pension. Then she carried on as if nothing had happened, except that the repaired elevator was guarded around the clock by two men and the winch rope checked before her every use. She also had the bedding removed from the shaft and resumed regular visits to all parts of the ship, with only occasional one-day forays to others in Persia Squadron.
Interesting that I'm eating like a team of horses, and all those injuries healed inside a week as I would expect. So why the spinal issues still? And is the partial feeling telling me something or not?
In parallel, she interviewed Jenson exhaustively, not ruling him out as a suspect, but not uncovering anything of interest either. She had Jordans' sea chest, hammock, clothing, and effects delivered to her cabin quite ostentatiously, then had Kennedy rifle through Jenson's on the sly. She collected everything else associated with the case.
A first clue came from Jordans' sea chest, which she saw at a glance had been tampered with. The lock was scratched, and when she checked the marks inside it against the key she'd taken from Jordans' pocket, they didn't match. There were no fingerprints on the lock or the brass band around the cover, and the inside revealed nothing that couldn't be found in any seaman's chest--until the very bottom.
"What have we here?" Amy picked a weighted sock from the last layer of clothes and hefted it, then poured the contents onto a white sheet. "Pennies, fivepennies, tenpennies, half crowns and crowns." She compared what she saw to a small ledger book from a pouch on the lid, and those entries to the paymaster's. The figures matched. She was looking at a gun captain's net savings. "So what are these four gold one hundred crown coins doing here, except as a crude attempt to close the case with all the blame on him?"
There were more such in the ship's treasury and she had a bag of two hundred similar coins in her personal effects, intended to help open trade negotiations, as opportunity presented, but all those were dulled, and of several different years and providences, for two Irish banks, Cork and Tyrone, had coined such to exacting Royal standards for decades, and at three different mints.
She picked up each with tweezers. They were new, uncirculated Bank of Tyrone issue for the current year, therefore secured directly from the bank just before Victory sailed on the fifteenth of January. A small dot under the year meant they were coined at that bank's Tara mint, not in Tyrone. Yet Jordans was from Limerick, and had signed up for this voyage at Shannon. She dusted the coins, but found no fingerprints. For comparison, she picked three others of smaller denomination at random. All three did have fingerprints, and two were readily identifiable as Jordans'.
All right, whoever engineered this clumsy frame-up visited the capital, and was well off enough to have a bank account. If I were there, I might be able to discover who took out gold coin in the few days of this year that were available before sailing.
A second clue was provided by the lift rope. "See this?" she said to Ruth, waving her to the close glass for a look.
"What is it?"
"On the top are strands of the lift rope that was cut. On the bottom, more strands of the same rope that I cut with my knife. Tell me what you see."
"The bottom cuts have a fine fuzz around them as if they were partly sawn, but the top ones are clean and sharp."
"Very good Ruth. I'll make a forensic scientist out of you yet."
"Is that the latest culmanic branch you've invented?"
"Queen Kat started it with her fingerprinting catalogue."
"So tell me why we are seeing what we are."
"Rather, what we are not seeing. This is a standard issue ship's knife, honed as sharp as I could make it, and it still frayed the hemp. Whatever sliced most of the way through the lift cable was an exceptional blade--Arabian steel folded multiple times, perhaps." As in a black knife, but I won't show her how one of those cuts.
"So you're looking for someone with an unusual knife."
"And likely with quarterdeck access."
"Which is how many people?"
"Including gun crews, about ninety. I've made a list. I want you to make a card for each one, record basic personal information, then check the purser's records, the infirmary records, the Captains' roster, punishment book, and annotate each card."
"With what kind of information?"
"Anything you discover, especially if it indicates a pattern different from others. I'll flip through the cards periodically. Include the cook in your survey. Tell him I'm doing a nutritional study of gun crews and want to determine if those who work out in the open on the quarterdeck eat differently from those who work primarily below."
Ruth chuckled. "That is the sort of non-medical monograph you would write isn't it? Sounds more interesting than 'Soils of Tara', 'Determining a Tobacco from its Ash', 'Occupational Calluses', 'Fingerprints on Knurls', or 'Practical Field Cryptography'.
"You've read all those?"
"While you were in Simon's Town. I asked Jimmy for copies of some things you'd written so I would know you better."
"All right. You gather the data, and we will publish it jointly. But I want it to catch a murderer." Jenson may have mistakenly killed Jordans, but her attacker was also his real killer, and she was determined to finger the man. She started her chair toward the lift.
"Where are you going?"
"It's almost time for gunnery practice. I want to check the accuracy of my quarterdeck list against who I see there."
"Do you need a copy?"
"No, I know it."
"All the names. Memorized?"
"Of course." She halted and looked over her shoulder. "Oh, and make me a new list of every man aboard who's known to have lived in the capital."
"Cards for them?"
Amy grinned. "Not until I see how many there are, but add the information to any card you do make."
Good thing I heal fast. My ribs already feel almost normal, and I should be able to dispense with the wraps in another week, the cast on my foot in two or three. But why won't my neck heal? Or is it? I still feel my hips slightly.
Amy Rea at Masowa, Ethiopia, July 1437
After they passed the Horn and were beyond the land of Somalia, Amy had Victory put into Masowa.
"I want to check on pirate activity, and it'll be a chance to practice my Ethiopic," she messaged Cara, "so I'll detach from the squadron for a few days."
But there she was in for a surprise, for a host of small boats came out to welcome Victory to the harbour, and as soon as they anchored, an official was ushered to her cabin.
"I present Fazwe, a high court official, near as the captains can make out, Sir," Kennedy announced.
The visitor stood listening while Kennedy rattled off Amy's titles, then bowed, and spoke in Ethiopic, "This humble slave, the steward of Kwestantinos, Lion of Judah, Son of Solomon, and King of Kings bids the honourable admiral Rea welcome to Ethiopia in his name, expresses his gratitude for your disposition of coastal pirates, and humbly requests the opportunity to meet with you at his coastal palace for a state dinner this evening."
Amy raised an eyebrow. "And you know I understand and speak your language because..."
"Because my master said he himself taught you the language of heaven, and because your captains confirmed this, though their command of our tongue pales in comparison to yours. When King Kwestantinos heard that Admiral Rea was ravaging the coastal pirates, he moved the entire court from Axum to the coast in the hopes of meeting with you. He gives thanks to the God of Gods for your visit, and awaits your pleasure."
Ah, they have throne names here, like they do in China. "So your master is he who was Zera Yacob. Very well, tell him we accept with thanks. How many may we bring to the dinner?"
"A party of five plus whatever number of soldiers you deem necessary for security would be appropriate."
She asked a few more questions, translating for Kennedy to make arrangements, and Fazwe left.
* * * * *
The state dinner was like nothing Amy had ever experienced. The decorative wealth on display was beyond imagining, the entertainments exotically lavish, and the food arrived in so many courses it was impossible for anyone but her to eat more than a taste of each. When all was complete, the king led the way to a private conference room, with only his queen, plus Fazwe and two other counsellors, matching her, the MacCarthys, David Lamb, and Duffy O'Duff. She also had Ruth Davidson watching over her, and the King, seeing this, ordered one of his servants to accompany him. Two guards from each party stood at the walls, the others outside in the hallway.
Once they were all seated around the conference table, Kwestantinos waved at the woman beside him--a strikingly beautiful woman of perhaps twenty-five, or some dozen years younger than the King. "First Queen Eleni has some questions, if you will indulge and excuse her curiosity." He grinned.
Something odd going on here.
Eleni leaned forward. "Is it true that you come from a land so far away that you have your own king?"
She spoke in Ethiopic, and Amy answered likewise. "We do. We call him the High King, and use the title of no one else."
"And you travel in a ship as large as a small mountain and that spits fire to destroy pirates?"
"Victory is a pretty big ship all right."
"But not as large as that of Zheng He who visited here from China a few years ago."
"I have heard of Zheng He, but have not seen his ships." Not likely as large as Victory though.
"Do you also come to trade?"
"We have many trading vessels, but Victory is a war ship, and our purpose is to remove pirates to make trade safe for all nations, and to hunt Ireland's enemies."
Kwestantinos intervened to ask "With whom is the Irish King currently at war?"
"The French and Spanish as usual, but the Dutch have treacherously joined them recently, and it is they we seek."
"Can't help you with that project, Amy," he replied. "Apart from a few French frigates, yours is the first European warship that's been here in years. Haven't seen a Dutch vessel of any kind."
He grinned as Eleni pressed more questions. "How can a woman be a warrior? How is it you travel in a chair on wheels? How can you be a warrior sitting down?"
Amy chuckled, though grimly. "In my country, anyone with the ability and interest can be a warrior. Not many women choose this path, but they may. I am in a wheeled chair because I was injured in our last battle and can no longer stand or walk. But as long as my country leaves me in charge of our battle fleet, I am a warrior."
Now it was Amy's turn. "How did you reach the throne, Zera Yacob? When we last met you were ambassador to Tara and our language instructor."
"When one who is King of Kings dies, the counsellors meet and pick one of the princes to take his place. In times past, to avoid premature regime change, all the potential rulers were sequestered on Mount Gishan, the mount of princes. But contact with Europe changed that a few years ago, so I along with several others was taken from the mountain and sent instead to the courts of Europe, the counsellors reasoning that we could scarcely plot to take the throne while far away. Eleni's father was one of those princes, and assigned to Roma, so she lived there for some years. Later, when three elderly kings died in a space of little more than a year, my name was put forward, and I was summoned home."
"To the Academy's loss," Amy noted. "It was they who said the two of you must marry?"
"Her father represents a Christian tradition that, among other differences, holds both Sabbath and the Lord's Day are to be kept holy, and I the tradition that only the Lord's Day need be celebrated. Joining the two of us was part of a compromise that allows bishops and priests to follow either tradition without fear that the state will intervene on one side. We also determined to allow the Egyptian-appointed bishops to retire, and have the priests elect bishops as in the Irish church."
Amy had been watching their body language. "Perhaps your counsellors did not anticipate the two of you falling in love."
Eleni blushed. "There will be no second wife for a long time," she declared, quite pointedly.
Kwestantinos leaned forward again. "And now, Eleni, my dear, we must discuss business."
"Yes, trade." She folded her hands on the table and looked searchingly at each member of the Irish delegation in turn.
Not as disinterested as she pretends.
Kwestantinos spoke first. "Ethiopia is at the natural crossroads of trade from India and the east to Egypt and thence to Europe. We are familiar with goods from all these, and have gold, silver, ivory, and grain to trade for Irish fabric, steam and electrical engines, and shipbuilding equipment. Once Farid Nadal's canal is finished, Masowa could become a major port for trade to Africa's interior, and Ethiopia could join the trading nations of Europe plying the seas. However, we lack some of the basic skills and infrastructure, such as access to a modern banking and trading system."
Amy shrugged and looked up to Ruth.
She replied. "Both can be arranged. Levinskys could set up a factory and a branch of the Mercantile Bank here in a partnership with local merchants."
Eleni looked at Ruth, startled. "I am familiar with Saul Levinsky's firm of course, but your servant takes a part?"
Amy grinned. "Ruth is not my servant but my assistant, and an officer of the crown. But both she and I speak for Levinskys, and indeed when we get to Egypt, we anticipate meeting with Saul."
"I see. Well, the King would be your local partner," Eleni said, quite definitively.
"And you his representative, perhaps?"
The king chuckled. "Eleni has studied European business methods in Roma. She is well aware of what we need."
"You mention ships," Amy noted. "For that you need not only buy or build trading vessels, but also must have a trained merchant marine to operate them. Now, on the former point, I have partners who could sell you ships, and later work with you to build your own, but you do require sailors."
"Exactly," replied the queen. "So, could Palma Yards sell us a couple of merchant vessels, officered and partly crewed by Europeans and Egyptians, with Ethiopia supplying a third of the crew for training, and commit to building ships here in Masowa, say starting in two years, if that is enough time to do the yard construction?"
She knows about Palma Yards. Very thorough. "Yes," Amy said, "we can arrange that, too, assuming you have the financing covered."
"My analysis," she replied, "suggests the equivalent of forty to fifty-five thousand Irish crowns to buy two new ships."
Amy thought fast. "Yes, that could be about right. A good new trader is is about twenty-five thousand, fully equipped and with sufficient funds held to pay the crew for a year."
"We can supply half up front. Could we finance the rest?"
This lady is sharp.
"I have a better idea. Suppose I get a Tara investor to put up twenty-seven thousand for a half interest, and persuade a bank to loan eight. You will have to build dock facilities as well."
"True, but your twenty seven thousand buys you only four hundred per mille."
Amy blinked. The woman had slipped on her cover and spoken this last sentence in pure, unaccented Gaelic with a touch of Latin music in her voice.
"Your learned your Gaelic well from the woman of Armaugh who was your teacher." Amy bowed in acknowledgement. "Four fifty, and Tara Traders gets port calling rights, is allowed to buy land for its own dock, and you permit the Irish RANC space in the harbour for an anchorage, with the option to build a base."
Eleni flushed. "But you must provide Irish guns to protect the port and never have two more warships in port than Ethiopia does at any given time."
"One maximum at first, then. Agreed, but we will want a hundred of your people to serve in our warships to train them before we consider selling or building you any, and we would allow nothing larger than a frigate."
"Frigates," observed the king, "are all Ethiopia needs to keep the coasts clear of pirates."
"And it's understood," Amy said, "that Ireland would want a treaty to that effect, committing to open trading on the seas, your participation in the invention registry, the banking system, the standards institute, and the stock market."
The king nodded. "We are familiar with all those."
"Agreed," Eleni replied for them both.
"Then, done," Amy answered, extending her hand, first to the king, then the queen. "I will have the papers drawn up aboard ship for our signatures, and make my part of the arrangements from Cairo. The name of the local entity?"
"Covenant Traders," the queen replied, her answer ready. "And the Bank of Axum."
"Levinskys," added Amy, "will send a representative to work out the details of a factory and bank branch."
"And," Ruth added, "I may be able to get a second bank interested."
But before she left, Kwestantinos had a surprise.
"And now, Amy Rea, a lesson on Irish culture for Eleni, if you don't mind. She claims that no music surpasses the Italian, and no instrument the Neapolitan violin. I say otherwise, so we need you to settle the matter."
He clapped his hands, and a servant appeared holding a violin case in both hands. It was already open, and when he knelt before them, she saw it was the Harris that had once hung in The Pipe and Harp.
"I once heard you play the violin solo in O'Daud's fifth for a production of All the King's Horses. If you would favour us..."
And so, after a few moments spent tuning the priceless instrument, Amy obliged, soon losing herself in the vigorous war-themed piece with its simulations of infantry battles, and cavalry charges, and the haunting refrain at the end when Kat and Cullin march between their respective battle lines after the Battle of Dublin and are married to re-unite the throne of Ireland. She poured her soul into the piece, picturing the heroism, the blood spilt, lives lost, history and heroes made, the country united and re-established. Her ribs hurt afterward, but it was a healthy hurt. When she finished, silence, then Fiona and Dermot slowly exhaled breaths they had been holding.
"I've never heard it like that," Ruth declared.
Eleni rose, then bowed from the waist. "As so often, husband is correct," she declared. "The instrument, the artist, and the music are without parallel. I absolutely concede the point."
Kwestantinos nodded agreement. "And the player and instrument should never again be separated. We have other violins. This one is now yours, Amy Rea."
"The gift is priceless," she replied. "I will treasure it always."
She turned to Ruth. "On the shelf of my chair, the green bag." Good thing I brought gifts of all values, just in case. She returned the violin to its case and accepted the bag from Ruth. "Here is my own small gift, one of my own making, given for you to remember our friendship always."
She presented the jewelled cross, holding it on black velvet. "The base is pewter, the figure in gold, and the gems among those once given by one Zera Yacob to a girl of Tara as part of a gift exchange."
"And now they return as a personal one." He stood and bowed, took the cloth and showed his wife.
Eleni was stunned. "You fashioned this? Why it is a treasure finer than anything I have seen in Roma, Athens, or Vienna. It will take its place at the forefront of the crown jewels. Oh, husband, it must be held at the shrine at Axum with the tabot and the crown jewels."
Amy didn't catch the reference at the time, so didn't show much embarrassment then, but later learned that the tabot at Axum was supposedly the Ark of the Covenant, lost from Israel in antiquity, and carried here to Ethiopia for safekeeping by a group of priests. An honour indeed.
Amy Rea in the Red Sea, July 1437
They left a day later and rejoined the squadron. Over the next two weeks of intense summer heat, Cara moved them slowly up the Red Sea and then the Gulf of Suez, repeatedly weaving from shore to shore, checking on known harbours, stopping every ship they saw to check its bona fides. Several were small Egyptian frigates, pathetic little craft compared to what the European nations boasted, but apparently effective for these waters, as they encountered no more pirates.
Amy sat in her chair, the funk over her paralysis temporarily set aside, touring the ship constantly to gather gossamer threads of information, looking for patterns to weave into a whole that still eluded her.
Late in the afternoon, three days before they were to arrive at Port Suez, she gained a major break when Kennedy called her on the teletalkie.
"Patrick Davis was before the mast for punishment this morning. Caught beating a messmate after an argument over a bet."
"He's in the infirmary now of course, but I just got around to opening his sea chest. You need to come down to the orlop and have a look. Captains say he's all yours."
Two hours later, a barefoot, sweating, limping, and chained Davis between them, Kennedy and Savage reported to her cabin, then dismissed the marine guard. Her two bosuns supported the man as she began her questioning. Good thing Fiona gave me a free hand with her crew to investigate.
"Your name and rank."
"Patrick John Davis, Able Seaman."
"History in the Naval Corps." She knew, but needed to have him talk to establish a baseline for his voice, body language, tension, and other indicators of whether he was telling the truth.
He cleared his throat and looked longingly at the flask displayed on her desk.
"Ruth, give the man a drink to help lubricate his tongue." She'd offer him more, too. Alcohol was a pretty reliable truth serum. Ruth had to hold the cup for him as his arms were chained to his sides. He'd be in the stocks afterward.
When he finished, he answered without further prodding. "I signed on from Kinsale in February 1434 to the sloop Anna. Transferred to the Pride of Dublin in July 1436, then to Justice when she was commissioned late in the year, was transferred to Victory after the Cape battle."
"And you're a high rigger, is that correct?"
"Yes, Sir. Best on my watch."
"Why were you punished?"
"May I have another drink of that fine rum, Sir?"
"Ruth, give him a double."
When he finished, he seemed bolder, less in pain. "Davey Entwhistle lost a bet on who could make it to the crowsnest fastest, but wouldn't pay. I guess I lost my temper."
"Ever lost it before, Davis?"
He took yet another swallow before answering. "I spent time in the Kinsale jail betimes."
"In fact you were pressed into Anna from the jail where you were being held following a bar fight, were you not, Davis?"
"I was." He hung his head.
"What is your pay?"
"Ten a day less supplies."
"Then explain this." She withdrew a velvet cloth to reveal a green bag embroidered with the name "John Davis". The contents spread out alongside included over eighty crowns and another of the hundred-crown golds, identical to the first four. "There is more in your hammock duffel."
He blanched, struggled briefly against his bonds, then went limp to his captors in resignation.
"This wasn't about a race, was it, Davis?"
He shook his head mutely.
She produced one of the small bottles Kennedy had taken from the man's sea chest, uncorked, and smelled it.
"You were selling oil of poppy. Was Entwhistle one of your customers? Did he fail to pay?" Then, when Davis didn't answer, she continued, "You realize that according to the articles of war, peddling narcotics aboard ship is a hanging offence?" and when he slowly nodded, she added, "If you cooperate, I may be able to persuade the captains to reduce it to confiscation of your money and sixty lashes. You'd be a long time recovering, but would probably live. Hung by the neck from the yardarm, you'd choke your life out in a few minutes' kicking your feet in mid air. Which will it be?"
The now white faced Davis broke. "I'll tell you everything, Sir. I will. But don't hang me. Please don't hang me." He seemed to crane his neck, as if feeling a rope there instead of the light chain.
"I'll see what I can do--provided I get the full story. Now, how much did you charge?"
"A crown for four drops injected."
"Where did you get the oil?"
"Stole it from Dublin's dispensary the day I transferred out to Justice."
"How many customers had you?" Change the subject. Keep him off balance.
"Fredericks, Samuelson, Peachland, and Tansay. They had injuries, and needed it for pain killer. They had maybe ten or fifteen doses each."
"Your heaviest user?"
He spoke to the floor, but his tongue was fully loosed now. "He paid in crowns at first, like everyone. Then he gave me the gold, for a hundred shots. It would have lasted more than three months. But he started taking it twice a day, and used it up weeks ago. Then he said he had another gold, but would give it to me this time only after using half on credit. But he started on three times a day. When he reached forty-five crowns worth I asked for the gold piece. But he said he hadn't got it yet, and I had to wait."
"So you beat him and got caught. Who gave him the gold and what for? What was he selling and to whom?"
"I don't know. He didn't say. I never asked. All I cared about was my money, not where it came from."
"So it may have been stolen, for all you know." That was pure misdirection. She didn't want him learning what crime she was really trying to solve.
He looked at her then, beaten, and sadly shook his head. "No, I don't know."
"Anything more to say?"
He shook his head.
"Right then, Kennedy. Brig this man, and double the guard. Use only marines. Then gather the other four and bring in Entwhistle."
But that was where the trail ended, for Entwhistle was nowhere to be found, and in the end was put down as "presumed overboard, drowned". The other four admitted using the oil to recover from wounds, and a search of their belongings turned up nothing suspicious, so she turned them over to the captains for punishment. Their crime was deemed minor, so they got ten each. Davis survived his sixty, and was brigged again to recover in silent confinement.
So, the lead pinched out, but that night Amy slept restlessly, turning the problem over in a half-aware state. Somebody with gold to spread around is trying to kill me. That somebody gave gold to Entwhistle and he expected more, but for doing what? Had he cut the lift rope? It seemed unlikely, as his sea chest had delivered up nothing by way of an unusual knife, and no money at all. So what had he done? She arrived at no answers before falling into a restless sleep, but the next morning, the first thing that caught her eye was the small glass vial on her dresser containing two deformed musket balls. Ruth had placed it there when she'd first come home to Victory saying, "These are the balls that hit you. One came from your spine, the other from the deck. Thought you'd like a souvenir."
Amy had planned to throw them overboard, but hadn't got around to it. Now...
She was brisk business when Ruth arrived an hour before dawn's muster.
"You remember how to use the mass spectrometer?"
"Yes, though I've only run it the twice you showed me."
"That's enough. This is a simple run of four samples, and you can bring me the scattergrams to analyze."
"Right after we greet the dawn at stations."
"What am I analyzing?" and, when she told her, Ruth was astounded at the implications.
"One more thing, and keep this strictly to yourself."
"I want you to ditch my diaper, the catheter, and the bag, and help me to the cabin head."
"You have feeling?" Ruth's face lit up in a broad smile.
"Not in my legs, but above, yes. And don't get optimistic. It hasn't changed even slightly since the day after the lift crash. That seemed to help."
* * * * *
Later that morning when Ruth came in from the lab, Amy was transferring measurements to a medical mannequin she'd had her set up exactly as she'd been standing the day of the battle. Below it and to one side was a red cross to mark the equivalent place where the bullet had gone through her arm and lodged in the deck planking. She'd had Cara show her the spot, and asked her to make careful measurements. To one side was a small wooden model of Victory presented to her by the carpenters. Cara and Dermot had an identical one in their cabin.
"How did you know?" Ruth asked, as she handed over the three scattergrams.
Amy took them in with a glance. The first, labelled "assassin's bullets" and the second, marked "Dutch bullets" differed substantially, but the third, bearing the annotation "stock Victory musket balls", had a composition identical to the first.
"The man who shot me was in our own rigging, approximately here." She touched a point on the main yard. The next task is to find out who."
* * * * *
"Seventh Officer Patrick Flannery reporting as ordered, Sir." The gangly crew cut redhead snapped to attention in front of her desk. Savage and Kennedy flanked her, and Ruth sat to one side taking notes.
He can't be more than seventeen. Yet if this war keeps expanding the way it has, he might be a ship's captain in another year or two.
"Have a seat, Patrick."
He spread out a book on her desk. "The duty roster for the sharpshooters as requested, Sir."
"Who was in the rigging on the starboard side near the main yard during the battle at the southern Cape?"
"Davey Entwhistle and Piotr Kovacheva."
"I've taken the initiative of dividing the men into loaders and shooters, Sir. They take three muskets aloft between them in case one overheats or jams. We can keep up a rate of fire nearly two hundred permille faster than if every man reloads his own musket. After every ten shots, they switch places."
"Commendable initiative, Flannery. Now what do you know of the two men?"
"Entwhistle was the best shot aboard when we left Belfast, but he seemed disoriented lately and his performance in drills became so poor I replaced him with another man a couple of days ago."
"You've heard he vanished?"
"Scuttlebutt is he fell overboard."
It was more a question than an answer, but Amy had no inclination to give away information. "Now, what of Kovacheva?"
"Eastern European, Bulgarian, I believe. I heard him say once that he was a pressed man from the port jail at Belfast. He and Entwhistle were great friends, and it was after his death Kovacheva's accuracy dropped off."
"What happened to Kovacheva?"
"He was shot in the battle, fell to the deck, and later died in surgery."
"I see. So Entwhistle was alone in the yards?"
"Not for long, Sir. This was just as things seemed to be winding up."
"Give me a better reference, Patrick. Was it before or after I fell?"
"You're sure?" That meant either or both could have shot her.
"I was forward of the main mast at the time and watching the Dutchie aft when you fell, Sir. I turned and Kovacheva hit the deck several seconds later, in a direct line between us. The gunfire stopped, and I had two other topmen take him to the orlop."
"Anything else about these two, Flannery?"
"They were good shots, but tended to be malingerers, Sir. Spent a lot of time in the infirmary with trivial complaints. You know the type, I'm sure."
"Very well, Flannery. This conversation is confidential, between you and me. You may discuss it only with those in this room and the captains."
He knew the tone of dismissal. He rose, snapped off a parade salute, turned, and marched out the door.
She glanced at Kennedy.
"I'll turn out his sea chest from the hold immediately."
"If they followed the custom, bring me the ball."
The custom Amy referred to was placing the fatal ball in an envelope with an explanation, and putting that with the man's effects for shipment home. Amy thought it macabre. What family would want such a grisly souvenir? But this time...
After two more gold coins in Kovacheva's duffel and a fatal ball that spected as Irish, Amy had a working hypothesis. Both men had shot her, then Entwhistle had killed his "friend" to reduce the number of witnesses. Now, he'd been reduced in turn by their paymaster.
Two days later, they had another corpse, another possible clue, and another dead end. Kennedy had decided to check a few bottles of laudanum at random, and discovered some now contained only coloured water. Shortly after he questioned all the surgeon's mates, one of them, Jack VanDam, was found dead, an apparent suicide from an overdose of laudanum. His sea chest yielded nothing of note, but his bunk duffel produced a surgeon's scalpel with hemp strands stuck in the clasp, and yet two more of the gold coins. A frame? The one who cut the lift rope? No way to know, but Amy added to Ruth's growing card index all the surgeon's mates and any man known to be a malingerer. Given the haul so far was mostly foreigners, she was tempted to add all non-Irish to the list, but there were hundreds aboard, from at least twenty nations.
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