from The Voyage of Ginger Glass
Ginger got up and walked amidships. She petted the cat, then turned to look overboard. Gemma was paddling idly in circles. “I think I’ll go ashore for a little,” said Ginger. “Are you going to be all right?”
“Knife strapped to my calf,” said Gemma.
“Oh, me too,” said Ginger. She walked to the stern, then sat down and took off her boots. Taking them in hand, she jumped into the water, which came up only to mid-thigh. She padded to the beach, her feet pushing into the sand underwater. She strode ashore, then turned to look upon the Countess, at anchor in a calm sea against the backdrop of a magnificent evening sky.
Up and down the beach, she could see a few fires springing up as the fisher-folk cooked. Behind her on the hills, two moons were caught in the pine trees. The beach went away gleaming on either side. The breeze picked up a little, then settled again. Ginger took another long breath of sea air, and sighed as she let it out, tasting every cubic centimeter. A light sprang out amongst the eastern stars: a meteor trail flew down the sky and then flashed out.
“Ooh, that’s a nice touch,” said a woman’s voice a little way behind Ginger, who whipped around. The woman, visible only as a dark shape of just about Ginger’s height, went on, “I hate to be a nature critic, you know, but it was quite a nice sunset.”
“Yes, it’s especially beautiful tonight, isn’t it,” said Ginger guardedly. “It’s our payback for suffering through the heat of the day.”
“Yes, it does get hot down here, doesn’t it,” said the woman.
“But it’s better than that week of rain we just got through,” said Ginger.
“I bet,” said the woman. What was that accent? They stood there, near each other but almost invisible. Finally, the woman asked, “You’re, uh, Captain Glass, am I right?”
“Who wants to know?” asked Ginger reflexively.
“Well, I was told in town that Captain Glass would be the only one with the skills to handle the job I have to offer. Um, they also told me Captain Glass had the best ship on this coast.” She waited, her smile wafting like a scent. “I pay well,” she added.
“Do you really?” asked Ginger. “How well, and where do you keep it?”
“Right here in my bag,” said the woman.
“Right here? Aren’t you—?”
“Insecure? No. If you’re Captain Glass, I’d be happy to show you my treasure. If you’re not, and you’re just pretending you are to get my treasure, well, I have other things to show you.”
“Really?” replied Ginger. “Other things? Why don’t we pretend I’m not Captain Glass and you go ahead and show me those things.”
“No thanks,” said the woman.
They stood facing each other. Ginger could not, in any case, call her bluff: she was never raised to mug people. The woman knew she was Captain Glass, and Ginger still didn’t know who the woman was. And the woman had a job, and she had some means of paying. And something about this woman suggested that she knew how to bluff and didn’t need to.
“All right, I’m Ginger Glass.” Again she could practically smell the smile. “Now, who’s asking?”
“I’m sorry,” said the woman, “I should be more polite, as I’m a stranger around here. I’m called Jacky Clotilde.”
“And what is your business with me?”
“Might we discuss this aboard your fine ship? Or back in town, somewhere private?”
“Back in town, somewhere private,” said Ginger.
They returned to the subject of the weather as they walked the kilometer to town along the high beach, above the level of the carousing fisher-folk. Dancers, feasters, drunks and fighters played out their dramas and comedies as the two women passed by. Then they were on the boardwalk of the port of Maquisto, among a thin crowd of sailors and porters and families packing up their trade goods. Up a side alley, double doors stood open at the Golden Lob, whose name had been longer before its sign broke. Ginger led her new acquaintance in and to a table in a booth behind a curtain.
“I see,” said Jacky Clotilde, “your regular table?” Jacky Clotilde turned out to be a woman of a bit above medium height for a man, fairly young except for her blue eyes, thin but steely, pretty but hardly striking, with hair black as night, tied back with a bit of rag, and plain clothes of dark colors. She looked like jewelry would suit her well, but she had none on except for a single ring with a large, pale blue stone.
“It has no special memories for me,” said Ginger, “unlike the table across the way, where I stabbed a man who tried to take something of mine.”
“All right, all right,” laughed Jacky. They both looked up at the mustachioed waiter. “A bottle of good red wine,” said Jacky. “I don’t care about the price.” He bowed and went off.
“So,” said Ginger, “you have a proposition for me.”
“Yes I do,” said Jacky. “I’m new here, but I need help now and not later. I have to be somewhere and find some things. And I don’t know but I think I’m pretty far from my target. I can’t even seem to get a good map of things, and that’s unfortunate. But here I am, with only my feet for transportation.”
The waiter returned with a bottle and two glasses.
“Well, how’d you get here?” asked Ginger.
“Oh, not by feet, that’s for certain,” said Jacky.
“And where do you have to go?”
“Across the sea to the other coast, at least. Have you—do you know it as the city of Vendalor, or what?”
“You have to get to Vendalor?” said Ginger. “Tell me you don’t have to be there in three days.”
“I have no actual time limit,” said Jacky, “but I need to get there soon, and I’m given to believe it’s not on this continent.”
“No, it’s not,” said Ginger. “What makes you think I’d be able to take you?”
“Everyone I talked to in this town,” said Jacky. “Like, two dozen people said ‘Captain Glass’ when I mentioned needing to sail across, you know, the—!”
“The Western Ocean,” said Ginger. “No one else around here will, that’s for sure. They don’t know a thing about sailing away from the coasts. It’s a lost art.”
“And there’s this,” said Jacky, putting a pouch on the table. Ginger opened the end of the pouch and took a peek. There were shiny baubles inside. “Go ahead,” said Jacky, “pull one out and have a look.”
Ginger gave Jacky an appraising look, then pulled out a shiny bauble. It was clear, or any tint it had was invisible in the dark booth. It was a diamond, or something very much like one, but it was quite large. She put it back. The others were clear or red or blue or other colors in the dim white bag.
“I really don’t want to, though,” said Ginger to herself. She looked up at Jacky Clotilde. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know why you want to go sailing across the Western Sea. I don’t even know if these are real, or if they’re, oh, cursed or something. I’m comfortable here, I don’t want to take some stranger on a long voyage. There are some things money can’t buy, Jacky Clotilde. I’m willing to take you up the coast to Anthiari, where you might well have better luck.”
“Do they ply the sea lanes from there?”
“That’s where I learned the ropes.”
“Do they have ships as good as yours?”
“That’s where the Countess hails from.”
“So,” said Jacky, “you could take me up the coast to somewhere where I might find a ship as good as yours and a captain who might be in your league. Or not. No, I think I’d like it to be you, Captain Glass.”
“What if I say no?”
“Haven’t I already?”
“No,” said Jacky, pouring them each a new glass, “I don’t think so.”
After the bottle was gone, and after Ginger had sort of turned down the vague offer for the ill-defined job several more times, they parted ways out on the street. Jacky Clotilde went up some outside stairs to the room she had taken, and Ginger returned up the beach. She waded out to the boat and climbed aboard, and soon she was snoring in her hammock. The cat hopped up, only using her claws a little, and secured her fat fuzzy butt amongst Ginger’s feet.
Ginger had a strange dream: something about a misty lane, and a little girl with a sad face. No, not sad. Ginger woke up, in the wee hours, still disturbed by that intense gaze. Was it the intensity that only young children could project, or was it purely adult? Where was that rainy lane? What was going on among the scenery? Wasn’t there a chase, or words spoken?
Ginger sat up. The cat was up too, peering out as from a fog-bound bridge. The sound of commotion had ceased.
Ginger climbed out of her hammock and picked up her long knife from the floor. She stole through the low door and up the steps to the deck, and as soon as she was outside she could hear voices. It was Gemma, browbeating some guy, whose reply was a barely audible whining.
“Go easy,” Ginger heard Harry say.
“Oh, I’ll go easy, all right,” said Gemma.
Ginger headed for the bow, where she could make out figures standing, kneeling and lying. Gemma and Harry, who was holding the electric lantern, looked up at her without losing attention to their catch. The catch looked pathetic. Ginger thought she might recognize him from Maquisto, if the light were better—and if he didn’t have bruises on his bruises. Then Ginger gasped: she saw his tools. A bag lay near the man, and out of it spilled two saws, a power drill and a power torch.
“So what have we here?” she couldn’t resist asking.
“He won’t say a thing,” said Gemma, who stood over him with a naked saber. Gemma’s favorite part of the saber was the wide bolt at the base of the hand guard. Ginger thought she perceived several marks of that bolt on the man’s head.
“Let’s have the story, Gem.”
“Well, I was just back on deck after my swim, and these two guys were wading up. They thought they were being quiet. This guy climbed aboard, and then he and the other guy were talking about where to drill. I thought I’d better put a stop to it then and there.”
“I’m with you so far.”
“Well, I come up behind him and whack him on the head. He just sort of goes ‘ow!’ and turns around, so I start wailing on him with the side of the weapon. His friend is starting to chop away at the rudder, so I step over and stick my point down there and sort of stir around. I got something, but the rest of him took off—see, there’s blood there, and it isn’t this guy’s.”
“And this guy?”
“He was just getting up when I turned around, and then Harry plunked him with a board. We’ve been interrogating him.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Oh, you just missed the fight, Mom. You haven’t missed the interrogation.”
Ginger gave her daughter a grin, then knelt to look into the face of the saboteur. She put a gentle hand to his cheek. “I’m sorry for my daughter,” she explained. “She has a violent streak. Did she hurt you bad?” He mumbled sympathetically. She went on, “You didn’t do this on your own. Are you going to tell me who it is that you work for?” He actually smiled and shook his head. She caressed his face with the back of her hand. Then she slapped him with a sharp crack. She just couldn’t resist. She stood up. “Ah, hit him on the head again and dump him in the water. Make sure to knock him out good this time.”
Gemma and Harry picked the guy up. “But, but—!” he began. “I can help you!”
“Who cares,” said Ginger, walking slowly away. “You attacked Countess.”
“I’ll talk, I’ll talk, I’ll talk!” he cried out.
Ginger turned around, five meters away. “Okay, who sent you?”
“Uh, Jacky Clotilde!”
“Oh really?” Ginger replied.
“Yes! Yes! She paid us much gold.”
Ginger turned away. “Dump him off the deep end. We don’t want anyone saving his worthless life.”
“You want to do the honors?” Harry asked Gemma.
“Oh, okay,” said Gemma, lifting her saber and aiming that bolt right at the peak of the perpetrator’s skull.
“No, it wasn’t her,” the man cried out, “it was someone I never saw before, I’ll tell you—!” The blow fell, and he went down on the deck. Harry and Gemma picked him up.
“Actually,” said Ginger, “just tie him up and throw him below. Say, these tools of his aren’t bad make. Let’s keep them. My power drill has to sit out in the sun all day to recharge, and it still doesn’t have the juice to cut young wood.”
In the hour before dawn, Ginger Glass sat on the stern of the Countess, examining the drill. It wasn’t from around here.
She looked up, and there was a dim figure moving along the beach. The figure grew clearer as it approached and as the light slowly grew. It stopped opposite the Countess, just where the waves could lap its feet. It was Jacky Clotilde, of course, looking quite chipper for the hour before dawn. She had a pack over her shoulder.
“Halloo,” she called to Ginger.
“Hey,” said Ginger, “have I got questions for you.”
“Does that mean I can come aboard?”
“Sure, but don’t think we’re going to lower a boat to come get you.”
Jacky waded into the water, her pants soaking it up as she went. She climbed aboard with Ginger’s help, wet right up to her belt and onto her shirt.
“Rather an interesting night,” said Jacky.
“You too? We caught two guys trying to drill holes in the Countess. One of them got away, but the other one told us that he’d been hired by Jacky Clotilde. Paid in gold, he said.”
“I’m used to being lied about,” said Jacky coolly. “The one who actually did pay him was attempting to ransack my room about that time, I bet.”
“Well,” said Ginger, “I can see you’re not impressed with the story. That’s all to the good. He took it back. Let’s see: for one thing, you wouldn’t have paid him gold, you would have given him one of those diamonds of yours. Second thing, why would you try to hole our ship? You hadn’t given up on persuading me to take you away in it.”
“So you almost trust me on this,” said Jacky. “Might I ask where he is?”
“We still have him. I wonder if you know any ways to find out—?”
“Oh, I do.”
They went down into the midships, the low roofed area behind the wheelhouse, which had short stairs at fore and aft going down to the living quarters under the bow and stern. Ginger lifted the hatch in the floor. “Cargo space,” she said. They climbed down into a space in which a man, sitting, would hit his head on the ceiling—in fact, a man, sitting, was hitting his head on the ceiling, as he tried to rise. “So, you haven’t been thrown overboard,” Ginger greeted him. “You’re not dead yet. You know who this is?”
He looked. Even in the semi-dark, he recognized the other woman. His eyes grew wide.
“Who paid you?” Jacky asked.
“A, uh, man and a woman,” he said. “Not from here. He had a pointy beard. She had red hair. She had a scar on her forehead.”
“Yes,” said Jacky. “I’ve often wished I’d made it. Did the male have a large behind?”
“They paid me and my brother each a hundred gold to sink the ship. They’ll kill me.”
“They told you that Jacky Clotilde would kill you,” Jacky pointed out. “So either I’m going to, in which case it doesn’t matter what they would do, or I’m not, in which case they’re liars.” She turned to Ginger. “You can do what you want with him,” she said. “He’s told us everything he knows.”
“Don’t kill me!” he pleaded, struggling to his knees, banging his head on a beam, and then sinking back down.
“We’ll see,” said Ginger, shutting the hatch in his face.
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