Thursday, October 20, 2011

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 372

Gerard—for a moment—considered running to the docks and hopping aboard the first ship he could find. Funny, when he was at sea, he always hated it. Maybe that was because it hadn’t been his choice. Sure, he’d been caught stealing from a nobleman. He admitted it, too. He told them straight out that he’d stolen and that he was sorry, but still, the magistrate sent him off to sea—on his way to the Orient or Australia. Gerard couldn’t quite remember where he was supposed to have been sent. But, he knew it was nowhere good. He recalled the day he met Arthur on that ship. Arthur’d been sent to sea against his will, too. Certainly, they fought and quarreled at first. But, hadn’t he become Arthur’s friend? You can’t escape prison—even if it’s a floating prison—with a bloke without becoming something of a friend to him. Had it not been for Arthur, Gerard thought, he’d be tending sheep right then or picking rice or whatever it was he was meant to do wherever the ship was headed.

“I owe it to Arthur.” Gerard told himself quietly. “And, if not to him, then I owe it to them fellas what’s been so kind to me—them Halifax blokes and the Duke.”

He took a deep breath and walked purposefully through the crowd at the Place Congo. No one seemed to notice him. That was good. Gerard almost allowed himself to smile. He ducked behind a row of low benches near the fire and crawled out just enough so that he could signal to Ulrika Rittenhouse.

“Hullo…” Gerard whispered. “Ginger…”

Ulrika looked up and spotted Gerard. She grinned in that way of hers—that grin that made Gerard feel flushed and uncomfortable.

Nodding, Ulrika mouthed the words, “Untie me.”

Gerard nodded in return.

Waiting for a moment when Marie Laveau and her hangers-on were looking the other way, Gerard skittered out like a hungry rat and quickly untied Ulrika’s arms.

“Now, go back to your spot.”

“What? And leave you here?” Gerard whispered.

“I know what I’m doing. Go until I signal for you!” She hissed.

Gerard did as instructed, reaching his hiding place just as Marie approached. When Gerard looked back, Ulrika had managed to put her arms behind her back so that it appeared that she was still bound.

“She’s a clever one, all right.” Gerry thought to himself.

From his hiding spot, Gerard could clearly see Charles and knew that Charles could see him. He nodded at Charles who did not respond, but, instead, continued to stare.

“How are you?” Gerard mouthed.

Charles shook his head.

Gerard shrugged. That Charles was a bother even when he was in trouble. Still, Gerard smiled to himself, “I’ll help him cuz it’s the right thing for me to do.”

Gerard watched as Marie began to speak to Ulrika.

“Woman, have you had enough of the heat?” Marie growled.

“Really, I’m quite comfortable. The sweat on my back is delicious!” Ulrika cooed in her usual way.

“Are you ready to apologize to me?” Marie asked.

“For what am I supposed to apologize?” Ulrika smiled.

“For helping that Marjani escape!” Marie shouted.

“Oh, that!” Ulrika laughed. “Well, if you like.”

“If I like?” Marie narrowed her eyes. “If I like? Do you know what I’d like? I’d like to see you licked in flames the color of your hair!”

“Now, really,” Ulrika shook her head. “What would that serve?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gerard rise and shook her head to indicate to him that he should stay hidden. She did this in such a way that it would appear to Marie that she was simply shaking the hair from her eyes.

“You’re an odd one, Woman.” Marie laughed. “I might just let you go.”

“That would be grand.” Ulrika winked.

“Or, I might toss you into the flames.” Marie spat.

“I’ll let you think about it.” Ulrika teased.

“While I’m thinking about it, shall I also consider what to do with your little helper?” Marie continued.

“What do you mean?”

“The man hiding over there who loosened your ropes.” Marie pointed.

Suddenly, Gerard’s heart began to pound. “Damn,” he muttered as he rolled away from the benches. But, it was too late. Marie’s men were already upon him.

At that very moment, Mr. Punch and Iolanthe were hurrying from the house just as Marjani and Robert were arriving.

“You’re conscious!” Robert said, embracing his friend.

“Sure, I am. Woke up just as this one was tryin’ to choke the life out of me!” Mr. Punch chirped.

Robert released Mr. Punch and scowled at Iolanthe. “Perhaps I should choke her.”

“Don’t bother.” Punch shook his head. “It wouldn’t take. She’s like one of them bugs what you can’t kill, she is.”

“Why are you even here?” Marjani asked.

Iolanthe held up her wounded hands.

“Aren’t there other doctors in New Orleans?” Robert asked.

“None who would see me,” Iolanthe smiled.

“If you’re well enough to try to strangle a man, I’m sure you’re well enough to tend to your own wounds.” Robert responded dismissively. “Now, be gone!”

“She wants to come with us to look for the babies!” Punch said quickly.

“Certainly not!” Robert snapped.

“You’re only wasting time arguing with me.” Iolanthe began.

“Hol’ on.” Marjani interrupted.

“What is it, chum?” Punch asked.

Marjani pointed to the shadows on the side of the house. Punch followed her hand and quickly saw two yellow circles punctuating the darkness.

“Odo!” Marjani screamed. “Get your skinny self out here right now!”

Odo slowly slithered from the darkness.

“Where is the child?” Robert shouted, grabbing Odo by the front of his coat.

“I can’t tell ya,” Odo trembled. “Mr. Cage’ll kill me.”

“If you don’t tell me, I’ll kill you.” Robert threatened.

“And, then, I’ll kill you again just to make sure.” Iolanthe added.

Punch squinted at her.

“I like to kill people.” Iolanthe shrugged.

Punch scowled and shivered.

“Where’s the boy? What did you do with him?” Robert continued.

“He’s safe.” Odo stammered.

“Where?” Robert demanded, tightening his grip.

“The cathedral. I left him at the cathedral.” Odo lied.

“Are you telling me the truth?” Robert shook the man.

“I am!” Odo whimpered. “Go and look for yourself!”

“Oh, I will. And, you’re coming with us!” Robert spat.

Did you miss Chapters 1-371? If so, you can read them here.


Dashwood said...

Iolanthe kills people the way that Joan Crawford slaps them in every movie. And she's just as matter-of-fact about it. I really love that character. I'll bet a dozen mature actresses would "kill" for a part like this!

Joseph Crisalli said...

Thanks, Dashwood. I can think of a dozen right now. Too bad Crawford is dead. Your comment made me chuckle.