11 July, 188x, New Babbage year 5
“The Bend”, Bayou Parish, New Toulouse
The pirogue slid along the brackish water towards the house that
sat perched on the stubby finger of land in the bend of the river.
Locals called it ‘le vieux cabin’ and nowadays folks tended to steer
a wide berth around it if they went up the bayou.
The boy slid the slender canoe up to the end of the dock and rang
the cowbell that was tied to the end piling. He canted his head and
looked up at the house for a second and waited.
“Miz Emma! Miz Emma! Where you is?”
Creaking softly the cabin door swung open as a figure walk out
onto the porch.
“Comment ca va? What can I do you for?”
The young man edged the pirogue closer to the porch of the cabin.
While all he could see of the woman standing there was from the waist
down, his eye was drawn to the knife that hung at her hip. He
couldn’t see her face, but he could feel her eyes on him. He shifted
a little, feeling a touch uncomfortable under the sudden scrutiny of
“Monsieur Breaux sent me down here on account he said you got a
letter up at the station. Special delivery what the railroad brought
and everything. Talks like it’s real important so he told me to bring
The woman walked off the porch and down the dock towards the boy.
She carried a pint swing top canning jar in her left hand that was
full of a light amber liquid. Her hair hung loose across her
shoulders, the raven strands shining like an oil slick in an inkwell.
She knelt down and took the envelope the boy handed her.
“You some of Mamere Hebert’s people, oui?” The boy nodded. A
smile crossed her lips as She handed him the jar and a silver coin
she pulled out of a pouch on her belt. “Take her the jar, and keep
the four bits for yourself. And don’t be sampling none of that
neither.” The boy giggled, nodded his thanks and paddled off the
way he came.
She walked back across the dock and returned to her chair
underneath the porch. The envelope was addressed in a fine clear
boilerplate hand, probably by a clerk or someone who has to write
documents for a living. She held up the envelope to the light and saw
there was something opaque wrapped in the letter. A card of some sort
most likely, she mused. She slit the envelope open and pulled out the
letter. Wrapped inside was a single playing card from an average
deck, the Queen of Spades.
“Dear Miss Huntress,
You are requested to travel to the City-state of New Babbage on a
matter of family business. This is an urgent matter and our client
has requested that you act in the utmost state of urgency. We were
instructed to send you the following item and relay the following
message: “mon coeur désire ardemment“. You will receive further
instructions on your arrival.
T.M. Jarrett, Atty.”
She turned the card over in her fingers, and looked it over
carefully. The back of the card was rubber stamped with the words
“Courtesy of Buckeye Mercantile”. The smile danced across her
lips for just a moment before the hard reality of what she read in
the letter settled in.
A half hour later, she walked out onto the porch of the cabin with
two packed gladstones in her hands and a very focused look in her
eye. She leaned towards the space under the porch and smiled just a
touch. A rumbling growl sounded out from the shade under the house.
“Bonsoir Etienne. You mind the house while I’m gone beb.”
The old one eyed alligator seemed to nod as his mistress walked
out onto the pier towards her waiting pirogue.