Odo stumbled as he was dragged toward St. Louis Cathedral. Mr. Punch held one of Odo’s arms while Robert held the other. They walked briskly—in silence as Marjani and Iolanthe Evangeline followed closely behind.
“Could you, at least, look at my hands?” Iolanthe asked Marjani. “I’m in terrible pain.”
“Ain’t that fittin’?” Marjani responded without looking. “Think of all the pain you done brought on other people. Ain’t it high time you got some of your own?”
“You think I don’t suffer?” Iolanthe snapped. “I suffer plenty, and I don’t want you thinkin’ that I don’t. Sure, I bring pain to some folks. Sure. But, I sure enough bring pleasure to a lot more of ‘em.”
“The kind of pleasure you give don’t count.” Marjani muttered.
“Who are you to judge me anyway?” Iolanthe snarled. “Has bein’ set free made you so high and mighty?”
“Ain’t nothin’ makes me high and mighty.” Marjani shook her head. “I do what I do and I let the Lord judge me.”
“And, don’t you think He’s gonna judge you harshly for turnin’ your back on a woman in need?”
“I’ll take my chances,” Marjani smiled.
“What did I ever do to you?” Iolanthe sighed.
“You tried to kill my daughter.” Marjani frowned. “To start…”
“She was dyin’ anyway.” Iolanthe shrugged. “Didn’t she die not a day later?”
“You killed my friend, Naasir.”
“That wasn’t personal. That was business.”
“You murdered the Duke’s mama.”
“Also business. Besides, ain’t no one in the world who would say she wasn’t awful and didn’t deserve it.”
“You…” Marjani stopped in her tracks. “Listen, you, I don’t gotta tell ya why I don’t like you! You got an answer for anything anyway! So, jus’ be quiet. I got some fine salve back at the house. I’ll doctor your hands when we get back, if only you’ll just keep silent!”
“I knew you’d see it my way,” Iolanthe winked.
“Quiet.” Marjani whispered.
“Certainly,” Iolanthe laughed as they hurried along.
As they arrived at the cathedral, Robert gripped Odo’s arm even tighter and growled in the man’s ear. “If you’re lying to me, if that boy isn’t in this church, so help me God, I will paint the courtyard with your blood.”
“He better be in there,” Punch added. “Me chum ain’t tellin’ no lie.”
“Anything you want to say to us, Odo, before we go in that building?” Marjani asked the man as his eyes filled with tears.
“No.” Odo shook his head.
Punch and Robert pulled him to the doors of the cathedral.
“Wait!” Odo yelped. “He ain’t in there. I lied.”
Robert forcefully pulled Odo’s arm and flung him to the ground.
“But, you can’t hurt me!” Odo cowered. “Cuz I’m the only one who knows where he is. If you hurt me, you’ll never know.”
“Tell us!” Punch screamed, kneeling down to look Odo squarely in the face.
“Not ‘til you do somethin’ for me.” Odo trembled.
“You’re in no position to make requests,” Iolanthe snarled.
“I’ll take you to the baby, but I won’t go with these white men. I want to go alone with Miss Iolanthe.”
“Not a chance.” Robert shook his head. “We all go!”
“No. I’ll only go with Iolanthe.” Odo said shakily.
“Why would we trust Iolanthe any more than we’d trust you?” Robert barked. “She’s the one who sold the child to Edward Cage in the first place! Do you really think we’d let you go alone with her?”
“The only reason she’s following us now, I’m sure, is so she can get her hands on the boy before we do and bring him back to Edward Cage!” Robert continued.
Iolanthe nodded. “I figured you knew I’d follow you anyway. So, why hide?”
“Odo, use your head. Tell us where the boy is, and then, run. You don’t gotta go back to Mr. Cage. Run! We won’t make you go back!” Marjani said. “Go north! Go to your freedom. This is your chance to do somethin’ right and earn yourself a chance to be free.”
“Free?” Odo frowned. “And give up my place with a rich family in a mansion? What else am I gonna do? Dig for the railroad? No. Carryin’ trays and sayin’ ‘yes sir,’ is fine enough by me.”
“You’re a snake,” Marjani shook her head.
“How long you know me, Marjani?” Odo asked. “You jus’ realize that?”
Mr. Punch lunged forward. “I’m tired o’ waitin’, I am! Tell me where me nephew is!”He grabbed Odo by the shoulders and pushed his back against the cold ground.
“With Agnes!” Odo screamed. “At the Hotel Triumph.”
“You left that baby with that woman?” Marjani gasped.
“Sure, she’s a nanny, ain’t she?”
“She’s a devil, is what she is.” Punch hissed. He turned around and noticed that Iolanthe had already left. “Damn!”
“Come on,” Robert took Punch by the elbow. “We’ve got to get to that hotel before she does.”
“What about Odo?” Marjani asked.
“Leave him here. He’s Edward Cage’s problem now.” Robert replied as all three of them hurried off.
Odo lay on the steps of the cathedral, looking up at its massive front façade.
“No, Englishmen, I ain’t Edward Cage’s problem jus’ yet. I’m still yours.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-373? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, October 24, 2011 for Chapter 375 of Punch’s Cousin.