September 12, 1898
New City was a regular port for the airship Lady Fair, each visit made the crew think of where they would rather be, home on the Island of Paaku with clean, salt air filled with the smells of wondrous flowers, sandy beaches and the sight of vivid colors everywhere. New City had the smell of progress, sooty with a taste of grit in the air. The poorest steam-cars belched black smoke from the cheap coal. Nicer ones flew flags of gray wood smoke from the exhaust stacks. The most expensive, left a stink of burning oil to add to the mix. Passing years added more steam-cars and the air got thicker. The clatter of the wood spoke wheels over stones, and the chuffing of the engines, went un-noticed by the people on the street who lived with the noise every day. The three and four story brick buildings of New City were coated with the gray-black accumulation of dirty air, streaked by rains that made them look like they had cried. The people in the street wore a shade of gray or black that would not show the soot on their clothes.
The Captain in his white uniform, and his jet-black
shoulder length hair, stood out against the others His six foot height allowed him
to see over the heads in a crowd. The two women with him were a pair of the few
women that came near the Captain’s height. Alexandria, 5 feet 11 inches tall,
wearing a simple, full, pale green dress that reached her ankles, and covered
her to the neck, walked at his left side with baby Kira in her sling. Victoria
was on his right, her eyes constantly scanning for trouble. Her hand was never
far from the .50-caliber revolver hidden in a fold of her voluminous robin egg
blue dress. The special holster under the dress carried the weight of it on her
hips but low enough under the ruffles with a pocket like slit for fast access. Her
dress, short of touching the street stones, hid the work boots she wore. They
glanced at the wares of the street vendors in passing, but were not tempted.
The smells of the street food, made them think of Chef Joan’s cooking waiting
for them back on the airship Lady Fair. Street food would be tasty but her’s
was food for the gods.
The Captain paused in front of a pushcart of breads and rolls. “If you both have ordered everything you want, let’s go back. Victoria, we’re safe enough. We don’t need a bodyguard all the time. You can relax and do what you please while in port.”
She gave him a hard stare, took a wide-footed stance, and leaned slightly towards him with her hand on her hip. “Captain, you hired me to protect the Lady Fair, and that means you too. Have you forgotten already, that bullet in your shoulder or the lump on your thick head? I’m just doing what I was hired for, and if I can do as I please, I’m doing it.”
The words had barely passed her lips, when a street urchin pushing past at a run between them and the bread vendor’s cart, knocked her back a step. Rolls and loaves of bread fell from the stack as the small hand grabbed a roll in passing.
Alexandria gave a gasp as she felt her coin purse snatched by the running youth. “He got my purse!”
Victoria gripped the front hem of her dress in
both hands, pulled it up to clear her legs, and took off after the figure. She
had no problem keeping up but stayed back a short distance, to avoid a confrontation
in the street. The Captain’s footfalls seemed loud behind her as he followed.
After a full block, the figure ahead slowed, and the number of people thinned
to a few. Victoria stopped running and used long strides to keep up but not be
obvious she was following. The four-foot tall figure with the dirty, long,
brown ragged coat and black cap pulled down over the ears, was easy to follow.
The Captain caught up with her but said nothing.
“Captain, stay back. That white stands out too much, and I don’t want the brat to start running again. He hasn’t taken a bite of that roll, so that means he’s taking it to someone. I want the one that sent him out to steal food and purses.”
The Captain fell behind several paces.
A few turns and streets later, the figure
stopped, did a quick look in case there was anyone chasing, then ducked into a
dark and narrow alley. Victoria waited at the entrance for the Captain to catch
The Captain came to stand behind her shoulder and whispered. “Let’s go get him.”
Victoria shook her head and tapped her ear with a finger. She peered around the corner. The alley was short, full of trash and a dead end to a brick wall. Against the wall was a four-foot high, old, wood crate on its side, with burlap sacks over the top and covering most of the opening, like a curtain. Victoria turned to the Captain to whisper but he spoke first.
“Let’s hurry this up and get back to Alexandria.” The response he got was a surprise. She smiled at him and shook her head. He felt a tap and looked over his shoulder.
Alexandria’s big grin greeted him. “Why would you do that when I’m right here?” She was only slightly out of breath from the quick pace to keep them in sight. Little Kira in the sling, giggled softly from the game of walk-fast.
The Captain sighed and turned to whisper to Victoria but she was gone. Looking around the corner, he saw her taking slow and careful steps towards the crate and stop a few feet away. Tiptoeing with caution, he came to her side. Alexandria’s lilac perfume wafted from behind him. A voice drifted from inside the makeshift shelter.
“Is okay Willie, ya eat da whole thing. I’ll go back and snitch for me later. Look, I gots us a purse and der’s lots. Maybe even ‘nough, I can get something for your cough. I know da sack is itchy, but keeps it up ta keeps warm. Willie, you’re da bestest. It’ll be all okay soon. I just know it. I’ll find us nudder fat purse or two, and we can goes somewheres better and eat good. You’ll see.”
The Captain stepped closer. “Lad, you might as well come out. I would hate to have to tear up your shelter to get you.” Sounds of scrambling came from inside the crate but no response. “There’s nowhere to go, so come out now.”
A dirty face under a black cap peered around the hanging burlap. Eyes went wide seeing his six foot height towering above, with a woman on either side of him. Looking up from a kneeling level, they appeared even taller. Both women were as tall as the man. The one dressed in blue had long black hair and the other woman had bright red hair to her waist.
No other movement indicated there was any intention of coming out.
“You have a purse that doesn’t belong to you. Would you be so kind as to give it back, please?”
The women remained silent, letting the Captain handle the matter. Their gaze watched the scared face. Their stern looks began to soften.
A hand extended out with a small pale green purse and offered it.
“Please open it and take out the monies.”
“I din take none of it. All der, sir.”
“Please take out the monies. I did say ‘please’ you know.”
Keeping an eye on the Captain, the purse was opened and the coins dumped into the other hand.
He reached out, took the purse and gave it to Alexandria. “Thank you. You can keep the money.”
“Wha?” It didn’t seem possible for the eyes to get any bigger but they did. “Dis some trick? Wha trick is dis?”
“No trick. Who’s Willie?”
“My brother. Please mister, dun take us. I have ta stay wit’ Willie, take care of him. He’s right sick.” As if on cue, a deep coughing fit started inside the crate. It was a deep, hard coughing, not that of a child faking a cough. The face disappeared back inside.
Victoria spoke up. “Now what do we do?”
Alexandria squeezed his arm. “We can’t just leave a sick boy like that.”
The Captain shook his head. “You both think so little of me.” They waited until the coughing eased.
The dirty face poked back out to see them still standing there. The eyes squinted and the lips set into a thin line. “Wha else ya want? I got nuttin, less ya wants da coins.”
“It sounds like your brother needs help. I think more than you can give. Maybe I can get him some some. We need to come to some kind of deal though.”
In a flash of movement there was a cobbled-up knife made from a sharpened scrap of metal clutched in a dirty fist. “You dat kind dat likes kids?”
Alexandria and Victoria laughed hard. Still with mirth in her voice, Alexandria managed to speak. “Captain, you should let me do the talking.” She took a half step forward. “No, he’s not like that. I’m Alexandria, his wife. Please, what’s your name?”
“This is Kira, our daughter.” Alexandria smiled down at Kira. “She’s with us now, but there was a time when she needed help, and he gave it. Over there is Victoria; she looks out for us. The Captain is tall and might look mean right now, but he has a soft heart.”
The Captain cleared his throat but remained silent.
Alexandria squatted down to Max’s level. “Max, the Captain was trying to offer help for your brother. That cough sounds bad. He has a doctor that works for him that is very good. Doc can help I’m sure. The Captain does things like this now and then, helping people I mean. When he said, make a deal, he meant some kind of agreement. Knowing him, he meant he’ll help both of you, and you’d have to agree not to steal from any of the crew or the ship. Probably have to follow ship rules. If you have any skills, you can work on the ship, and get paid as well.”
“Why should I trust ya?”
“I can’t give you a single reason, but think about it, you haven’t been touched, he told you to keep the money, he just wanted my purse back, and he still hasn’t done anything but stand here and offer help. Now if you want, get your brother and follow us. We’ll be at the end of the alley and wait a few minutes. I warn you, I’m hungry and so is Kira so we won’t wait long before we go back to the ship and get something proper to eat. Oh, something else to think about, weather will be getting real cold soon. If you need help with Willie, let us know.”
The Captain mumbled under his breath. “Woman’s thinking. Says no reason and gives four.”
Victoria took a step forward, bent over, and pulled the skirt up her leg. Above her work boot was a knife sheath strapped to her calf. She moved slow, pulled out the knife, and laid it in front of Max. “That’s a throwing knife. Remember if you throw it, you don’t have it to defend yourself with anymore until you get it back. You can practice here on your own with it.” With a big grin, she added. “If you decide to come along, I’ll teach you myself.” Victoria turned and walked off to the alley entrance closely followed by the Captain and Alexandria.
A few minutes later, there was a shuffle behind them. They turned and saw what appeared to be a bundle of rags on the back of Max as the figure scuffled forward. The Captain looked Max over and made a decision. “I’ll carry Willie for you.”
“No, I take cares of Willie. Sides, ya get dat white dirtied up din be mad.”
“Alright. Max, you won’t be able to walk far like that. I’ll get a cab.” He looked at Alexandria and said one word. “Clothes.” He pulled some money from his pocket and placed it in her hand, then took off at a trot.
Alexandria tapped Victoria on the shoulder. “I just remembered I have more shopping to do.” She left Victoria with Max.
Victoria had a soft smile when she looked at Max. “I might as well tell you, Chef Joan is going to insist you wash those hands before you get her apple pie.”
September 12, 1898
The Captain entered Sick Bay followed by Victoria. “Doc, I’ve got work for you, a sick boy.”
Doc’s head came up from her reading at her desk and turned to look. “Where’s the patient?”
The Captain spun in place and didn’t see Max. Taking a few steps back to the hatchway, he found Max standing around the corner of the hatch. “You’ve come this far. Maybe it’ll help if you meet Doc out here.” The Captain raised his voice. “Doc, could you come out and meet your patient, please.”
In a few seconds, Doc stood at the hatchway where Max could see her. She wore a big smile and was shorter than the Captain. At five foot, five inches, she was not so much taller than Max, and much less threatening than the tall people. She looked important in her white ruffled blouse and black skirt.
“Hello, just call me Doc, everyone else does. Welcome to the Lady Fair. The best airship anywhere. I don’t normally work in the passageway but if you’re scared to go in, I’ll do my best out here.”
“I ain’t scared o’ nuttin. I restin’.”
Doc re-entered Sick Bay. “Captain, if everyone leaves I might be able to do my job better.”
“You’re right, Doc. I’ll go see if Chef Joan has some good medicine she can spare.”
Once everyone had left, Max took hesitant steps and entered with eyes darting around to take in every detail of the room. The Sick Bay was large with four beds, a desk, white metal cabinets with glass in the doors and bright, electric lights overhead.
“Let’s start over. Hello, I’m Doc. How can I help?”
Max had stopped in the middle of the floor. “I’m Max. Dat man said you can help Willie.”
“Maybe I can. Where is he?”
Squatting down, Max eased the bag of rags down to the floor. Peeling away layers revealed a small dirty face of a boy about six years old with matted brown hair. “He sleeps lot cause he gets tired, special when he coughs.”
“Let’s get him out of all that. We can let him rest on a bed while I check to see what I can do. Okay?” Doc moved with care as to not scare Max further. “You did a good job keeping him warm. How long has he been coughing?” As she talked, she bent to pick up the boy.
“Wait. I put Willie on da bed. No need ta get mad iff’n you get dem clothes dirty. Peoples always get mad when dey get dirty.”
Doc gave Max a big grin, lifted Willie up, and placed him on the nearest bed. “These clothes have seen much worse than dirt, don’t you worry. How long has he had the cough?”
“Two months maybe. Just after he couldn’t walk much anymore.”
“His left arm ain’t good. Can’t move it much.”
Doc felt the boy’s
limbs and used her stethoscope to listen to his chest.
“Max, I’ll need to get him nice and clean. That dirt isn’t helping. Plus, it will let me see him better for sores or bruises and things. We might as well get you cleaned up too.”
“Ain’t no reason to. We just gets dirty again when we gets our stuff back on.”
“Stop worrying so much. I’m at least smart enough to know the clothes get a wash too. I’m going to call the Chief to carry Willie to a cabin so you both can get cleaned up. Chief is a big man. Bigger than the Captain. At first, that can give a person a fright but he’s a kitten when it comes to kids.” Doc used the loud box calling the Chief to Sick Bay.
“I can do it. Don’t need no help for that.”
“Yes, you do. It’ll be wet and slippery and I wouldn’t want Willie to fall. Now, after we get there, the Chief can help or I can. Take your pick.”
Before Max could decide, Chef Joan entered carrying a large apple pie on top of two plates. The dome of the pie was inches higher than the pie pan. “I heard someone needed special medicine. My apple pie should fix you up in no time.”
Max’s eyes fixed on the apple pie as Chef Joan set it on Doc’s desk. The aroma of hot apples and cinnamon filled the bay. Max’s stomach grumbled.
Chef Joan grinned. “My pie will fix that. Let’s get you a piece right now.”
Max took a step towards the pie and stopped. “I’ll save it for Willie.”
“I guess Willie is the boy sleeping over there. Don’t you worry, I have another one for him too.”
Doc touched Max’s head. “You can have as much as you want. I would rather you had a good meal first, but I think it will be okay for now. You eat a piece, then we’ll get you both cleaned up. After that you can have more, or a proper meal, or both.”
Max dashed to the side of Willie on the bed and had a knife in each hand, the homemade knife and the throwing knife. “Wha da trick?”
Both Doc and Chef Joan took a step back. Doc held out both hands. “What did we do?”
A voice at the hatchway made Max turn. A man six feet six inches tall blocked the whole hatchway. His baldhead almost touched the top of the hatch. “Fighting in the Sick Bay is not allowed. Now, put those away, unless you really think you’ll make it past me.”
“No, you all be up ta sometin’. Never get sometin’ for free.”
Chef Joan spoke up. “Did I say it was free? No sir, you have to wash the dishes after supper. They have to be clean, and trust me, I’ll check.”
Max lowered the knives a few inches.
“That’s better, and another thing, no one eats my food with hands and face as dirty as that. I want people to taste my food, not dirt.”
The Chief sat down cross-legged on the floor, looking less scary but still blocking the exit. “I’ll wait right here while you make up your mind. Chef Joan, think I can have some of that pie I smell?”
“That’s up to Max. If Max doesn’t want our help, then sure. Which is it Max? Your’s and Willie’s pie, or the Chief’s?”
Max put the knives away and with slow steps went to the sink in the corner and washed face and hands.
The Chief got up. “What do you need Doc?”
“I was going to have you carry this young man to my quarters, but it can wait.”
“I’ll come back after I
go get my own pie.”
Max looked at the exit. It was now clear.
“While you eat, I’ll check Willie as much as I can. Then we can make a plan on how to get him better.” Doc poked and prodded the boy gently as to not wake him while Max ate a slice. She stopped the exam and placed her hand on Willie’s chest. A frown came to her face.
Doc pulled up a chair next to Max and looked at the mouth surrounded by apple pie filling. “Looks like your face is dirty again. I need to check you too. I think I know what’s making Willie sick and you might have caught it as well.”
“I’m otay. I don’ gots no cough.”
“Max, you may be ill and the cough’s not set in yet. If you have it, others can get it too. Even Willie being here is a risk to the crew.”
“So, we gots ta leave then. I unerstan. Can I take some pie for Willie when he wakes up?”
“There’s no reason to leave. I am saying I have to do all I can to make sure no one else gets sick. That means I have to check you too.”
“No, I’m not sick. No need ta check nuttin on me.”
Doc sighed then sat straighter in her chair. “Chef Joan, can you let us talk in private please?”
“Sure, I’ll leave the pie just in case. If you need another, call me. I’ll go make some tarts to have after the beef stew for supper.” Chef Joan left and pushed the hatch door closed behind her.
“You’ve taken good care of Willie, but he’s very sick. Have you heard of tuberculosis?”
“No, wha dat?”
“Have you heard of consumption?”
Max’s eyes went wide then began to tear up. “Peoples die wif it. Willie don’ got dat do he? Da man said you’d make him better. I was hopin.” Max leapt from the chair and ran to a corner. Flopping down on the floor, Max pressed hard into the angle, feet pulled up and arms wrapped around the knees. The glass of the cabinet reflected the sad face as tears fell.
Doc walked over, sat on the floor next to Max, stretched out her legs, and folded her hands in her lap. “Max, I’m going to do my best, so don’t give up on hope or me. If I can’t help, I’ll get someone better who can. You have to trust people sometimes. Now’s a good time to start. What are you hiding you don’t want anyone to know about?”
“Nuttin. Sides, not about me, just fix Willie. Willie’s all I gots.”
“You’ve probably never been to a doctor. That means you don’t know good doctors keep secrets. I’ll keep things a secret unless you tell me it’s okay to say something. That’s why I asked Chef Joan to leave and didn’t say anything in front of her. I should inform the Captain about what Willie has because it’s a risk to his crew. Any other secrets, you can decide what we should keep secret. Fair?”
“I guess. I just so tired taken care of him by myself.” Max stared at the bed where Willie lay. “I don’ mean I don’ want to, it’s just hard. Din I thought he get better with doctorin, now he gonna die.”
“I’ll do my best for him. You’ve done a great job. I understand you’re very tired and at a loss what to do. People get worn out when they carry worry by themselves. You have help now. Let’s get started and check you over.”
Max sat quiet for a minute. The shoulders slumped with the decision. “Otay, cause I want Willie fixed. Wha ya need me to do?”
Doc stood up. “Let’s get you undressed and I can examine you.”
Max hesitated, rose, and undressed while facing the wall. Max kept the cap on.
Doc listened with a stethoscope to Max’s lungs from the back and tapped now and then. Max was very thin, just like Willie, due to being malnourished. “Alright, turn around so I can listen some more.”
Max slowly turned.
Doc stepped back a step, her hand raised to her mouth, and her eyes widened slightly. “Oh my.” Doc took a moment and her hand lowered. Her eyebrows arched a little. “What’s your real name?”
Max took off the cap. Dirty, brown hair dropped into place falling past the shoulder blades. The answer came out a whisper.