Being experienced travelers both, it didn’t take long for Bookworm Hienrichs and Mariah Lanfier to pack what they needed to bring with them. Other supplies, and horses, would be bought later in the trip. Just before they left, they both heard rumblings about the escalating pranks occurring between the various drinking establishments. While Mariah was disappointed at missing the fun, Bookworm decided it was just as well to be away from the inevitable explosion—real or metaphorical—and associated clean-up.
They took an airship to Caledon and stayed the night there, spending some time with Captain Halivand and making sure accounts were settled between them all. They also took turns telling the captain what had really been going on when he’d helped Bookworm last fall; that sequence of events, at least, could be looked back upon with some amusement now.
The next day, they boarded an airship for New York City. Bookworm had never been there, and Mariah was more than happy to spend a couple of days showing her around. They were both suitably impressed with the statue newly installed on Bedloe’s Island, and spent hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Further hours were spent simply strolling through the streets, and even in Central Park, which was the only thing that convinced Bookworm that they hadn’t somehow ended up in a noisier, more frenetic, more *crowded* version of New Babbage.
Late the afternoon of the second day, after they returned to their hotel, Mariah poked her head out of her separate bedroom and asked Bookworm, “Would you mind if I went off by myself this evening? I’d like to visit some other of my old haunts, and see who’s in town.”
“Go ahead,” Bookworm replied with a smile. “I’m sure I can keep myself occupied for one night.”
“Thank you.” With a grin, she emerged, wearing one of her more accustomed suits. Grabbing a light cloak, she threw it over her shoulders, letting its draping line create the illusion of a dress. With a jaunty wave, she left their suite and hurried downstairs.
Their hotel was in a fairly upscale part of the city, and Mariah wanted to be discrete about this jaunt, so she took one hansom cab to a more neutral area, walked a few blocks, then hailed another cab to take her to her destination–the Rod and Compass. The tavern that had been the center of her first few years as a retired smuggling captain.
When she stepped inside, it seemed as if nothing had changed in the years since she’d last been there. The furniture, the sounds, the smells, the voices–all were the same. The burly bartender, Dick, might have a few more grey hairs and wrinkles, but he still looked strong enough to easily heave around the full kegs of ales and spirits.
It took only a few seconds for some of the patrons to recognize her. They hailed her cheerfully and beckoned her over to their table. More tables were dragged over as more smugglers joined their group, all wanting to hear how she’d been faring the past few years, and all eager to share the best stories, true and tall, of their own exploits.
The next thing Mariah knew, it was nearly 10:00, and she had no intention of stopping the talking, or the drinking, yet. Captain Pamela Worth offered her space to bed down for a few hours at her nearby apartment, which Mariah gladly accepted. Caging paper, pen, and ink from Dick, she penned a quick note to Bookworm explaining that she’d be spending the night elsewhere, and stepped just outside the tavern entrance. As she expected, a few boys were hanging around nearby, playing dice. Mariah looked them over, spotted one who looked reasonably clean and more than reasonably intelligent, and whistled him over.
“You know where the Rosewood Hotel is?” she asked.
“Sure do, ma’am,” the boy replied with a confident grin.
“Deliver this note there, please,” she said, handing him the paper. Then she gave him a few coins. “There’s for your trouble.”
“Thankee, ma’am!” He took off running, beckoning his friends along, ready to share his bounty with them. Mariah stepped back inside the tavern and rejoined the large group.
Close to two more hours passed, and suddenly, a voice belligerently cut through the undiminished conversations. “Captain Lanfier!”
“Captain Berenger,” Mariah replied, not surprised that he had shown up, too. She turned her head, and saw him standing by her chair, swaying a little.
“Stand up, Captain Lanfier,” he growled, slurring a bit, “and take the thrashing you deserve for sending me here.”
“What–I did you a favor, man. You’re doing better here than you ever did in Caledon.” She’d asked Captain Worth about him, wanting to be sure the man had indeed found profit, despite her misdirecting him away from his main goal of finding Mr. Mureaux.
“That…” Captain Berenger seemed to lose his train of thought for a few seconds, but then refocused on her. “That is beside the point. You sent me here on a wild goose chase, and I *will* have satisfaction.”
Mariah looked him over. She knew full well she was drunk. She also knew he was drunker. She could handle him. Moving deliberately, she stood up and stepped away from the table.
“You think you can take me?” she said, hands poised at her sides. “Go ahead on. It’s your move.”
Captain Berenger threw himself forward immediately, winding back his arm for a wild swing. Mariah neatly sidestepped it, letting his own momentum carry him into two men sitting at the bar, men who had been so concentrated on their own business they hadn’t even turned around at the commotion. They took exception to this interruption, however, and one of them grabbed Captain Berenger by the shirt front and gave him a solid punch, one that sent him flying into a table further from the original scene of action. The table easily gave way under Berenger’s weight, spilling drinks everywhere, and those sitting there were up and immediately going for the man whose punch had sent the unfortunately captain there. Within seconds, everyone was enthusiastically brawling.
Five minutes later, there wasn’t an unbroken piece of furniture left in the barroom, and scarcely a patron left standing. Mariah and Captain Worth, who had managed to stay out of most of the general fracas, pitched in to help Dick clear up, including tossing out much of the broken furniture and a few of the unconscious patrons. Most of the others, they were able to slap or splash enough sense into to send them on their ways. Captain Berenger, the man who’d punched him, and the patrons of the table he’d smashed were, however, all left where they were.
“Sorry about the mess, Dick,” Mariah said. “It certainly wasn’t what I planned.”
“Not to worry,” he replied. “I’ll get it out of their purses later.”
Mariah grinned. Smugglers were as much a contentious lot as pirates, and scarcely a week went by in the Rod and Compass without at least one small-scale fight. Tavern-wide fights generally happened about once a month. Dick had, over the years, found it easier and cheaper to use flimsy furniture in the barroom–tables and chairs that would break easily and not inflict much damage on other furnishings… or the patrons. All participants in the small fights, and the instigators of the large fights, would subsequently have to chip in to help replace the broken furniture, on pain of being barred from the tavern entirely. No one had yet challenged him on that point. Rumor had it Dick had a small warehouse full of cheap furniture–certainly, he always seemed to have enough replacements on hand.
Mariah drew out several bills from her purse. “I do bear some responsibility, too. Let me pitch in.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Dick smiled as he took the bills from her. “Now, be off with you! I still have work to do.”
She and Captain Worth scurried outside as fast as their inebriated conditions allowed, then strolled to Captain Worth’s apartment, laughing uproariously as they recounted their favorite portions of the fight. Once inside the modest dwelling, Mariah quickly spread out on the couch and let sleep take her.
Despite the overindulgences of the evening, Mariah was awake by 7:00. Captain Worth heard her stirring, and roused enough to make some coffee for her before sending her on her way. She followed the same routine back, taking two hansom cabs and arriving at the hotel just after 8:00.
At the front desk, she inquired if Bookworm had received the note she’d sent last night.
“Yes, she did,” replied the clerk, who was just ending his night shift.
“Good,” said Mariah. “I suppose breakfast has already been sent up?”
“Actually, no. Miss Hienrichs has not rung for breakfast yet.”
“Really?” Mariah was brought up short by that news. “That’s odd. I hope she’s not unwell.” She hurried to the elevator and took it to the third floor, where their suite was.
When she quietly entered the common room, she bit back an oath. Bookworm was curled up on the couch, her back to the door, still wearing robe and slippers. A brandy bottle, one Mariah hadn’t thought Bookworm knew about, one that had been hidden in the depths of her suitcase, was sitting out in the open on the low coffee table.
Out in the open, but unopened.
Mariah sighed silently in relief and picked up the bottle, taking it to her room, vowing to give it away quickly. ‘This trip may be a better idea than I realized,’ she thought grimly.