Charles’ fingernails dug into the flesh of his palms as he crouched behind the crates which were stacked along the docks. He watched as Barbara was carried off, and followed as closely as he could without being detected by the dark-skinned brute.
He did, however, make sure that Barbara saw him as she helplessly looked over the man’s shoulder. He put his fingers to his lips and nodded. She returned his nod and knew that he would follow.
Given the size of the man, Charles knew that he had no chance of overtaking him. Having been in his fair share of fights—mostly due to his desire to defend his family’s honor after his brother had been accused of yet another atrocity—he knew his own limitations and weaknesses. What he lacked in stature and physical power was a cunning that was not inherent in most people given to scrapping. And, so, he used that advantage as best he could.
Knowing that Charles was near, Barbara began to struggle less. She’d grown quite cold and lethargic—her wet clothes still sticking to her body—and she was feeling weak. Had she not seen Charles, she’s probably have given up her futile attempts to be released from the grasp of Louis Glapion.
She always knew, deep down, that she’d never escape the alliances she’d made in New Orleans. If she wasn’t haunted by her marriage to Arthur, she’d certainly always be in the grasp of both Marie Laveau and Iolanthe Evangeline. And, speaking of Arthur, what had become of him after the deception he suffered at the hands of Ulrika Rittenhouse and his rejection by the Duke of Fallbridge and Dr. Halifax.
Let’s leave Barbara, her captor and her shadow for a moment to journey back to the Garden District where Arthur and Gerard were rethinking their futures.
The two men—men who had joined together out of necessity after a fierce introduction—sat together quite intimately in the chilling darkness, their only cover, the lingering mist which seemed to have blanketed all of New Orleans.
“What we gonna do now, Artie?” Gerard asked.
“Hell if I know.” Arthur said raspily.
“Ain’t got nowhere to go.” Gerard mumbled. “We got any money left?”
“Not much.” Arthur shook his head.
“Your wife wasn’t much help, were she?”
“Shut your gob.” Arthur coughed.
“I’m only statin’ the God’s truth.” Gerard shrugged. “She don’t like you much. Seems like no one likes you much, Artie. The Duke don’t like you. His companion sure don’t like you. That Ulrika bitch, she don’t like ya either. Think you’ll go back into service, then?”
“Never.” Arthur said, coughing again. He shivered.
“Well, then. Back to sea for us?”
“No.” Arthur growled.
“All we got is a lump of blue glass and you in your nice suit of clothes.” Gerard continued. “Can’t go too far on that.”
“Can’t we?” Arthur said, standing up from the low stone wall upon which they sat.
“What you mean?”
“Well, if I was fooled by this hunk of glass, surely someone else will be.”
“Get off it, Artie,” Gerard shook his head. “Folk with money enough to buy somethin’ like that know the difference between glass and a real diamond. Look at what the Duke said, right. He knew right off that it were a fake.”
“Well, what if we don’t sell it to one of them noble folks. What if we offer it to someone what don’t know better.”
“But, they ain’t got money for such things.” Gerard argued.
“No, I ‘spose not.” Arthur said, bending over as he body was racked with a fit of coughing. He spat, and droplets of blood landed on the banquette.
“Here, you’re bleedin’, mate!” Gerard gasped as he rose and backed away.
“Ain’t nothin’.” Arthur rasped.
“Sure it is. It’s the ‘Yellow Jack!’” Gerard replied covering his face with his sleeve.
“You don’t think?” Arthur said, becoming alarmed.
“I do.” Gerard replied. “Listen, mate, it’s been nice, but I gotta…”
“You can’t leave me!” Arthur coughed.
“Sure, I can.” Gerard shrugged. “Listen, if no one else likes you, I don’t see why I gotta.”
“You’re all I’ve got!” Arthur exclaimed, reaching for his friend.
“Not no more, mate.” Gerard shook his head, continuing to back away.
At that very moment, Arthur wasn’t the only soul in distress—if you could say that Arthur had a soul. Mr. Punch, or Julian to be more precise, had souls to spare, or at the very least—personalities.
Though Julian’s body was once again breathing, he remained unconscious—much to the alarm of Robert, Adrienne and Marjani who watched over him in the flat above the Routhe’s dress shop. Robert wondered what was transpiring within the body of his beloved friend and cursed the fact that he had no way of knowing.
Still, it was probably for the best that he was unaware. Mr. Punch was in a terrible state having vanquished Guignol and Jack Ketch, he was quite alone inside that body, and not sure what had become of Julian.
Then, Punch recalled the key that had been given him by the spirit of Naasir—that key which had unlocked the memories that Punch had long tried to keep hidden from Julian, those memories which still had yet to be fully realized.
Punch held out his hand and concentrated. They key appeared in his surprisingly supple wooden palm.
Punch grinned as he looked around the room. He glanced at the imaginary mantelpiece with its massive slate clock and noticed that the key he held was no longer the key to a door latch, but rather the kind of key one uses to wind a clock.
Opening the clock face, Punch inserted the key and began to wind the clock in the manner in which he’d known Julian to do it hundreds of times before.
Instead of the usual sound of a clock being wound, Punch heard the scraping of stone against wood, and stood back as the mantel rose to reveal a blackened corridor.
“There’s more in here than I ever knew,” Punch muttered, taking a deep breath and heading into the darkness.
Did you miss Chapters 1-289? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, July 11 for Chapter 291 of Punch’s Cousin.