THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY
Dr. Leonard McCoy stood at the window staring out into the growing night. The day was waning and both Jim Kirk and Spock were out there somewhere. How often had his oath as a physician prevented him from joining his friends in danger? How many times had he been forced to remain behind to care for someone who was injured? So far, his absence had not made a difference. Both Jim and Spock always came back. But he knew one day it would be different. One day one of them was going to die and he was going to curse himself to eternity that he had not been there to do something to stop it.
McCoy whirled to find Robert Larkin awake and attempting to rise. He crossed quickly to the bed and held the young man down. “Whoa, son. You’re not going anywhere.”
It wasn’t really much of a struggle. Robert was pallid and profusely sweating from the brief effort. “I have to go – ”
“No, you don’t. Not for a while.” The surgeon smiled and turned on his best bedside charm. “You listen to your good old country doctor and it will be one day. Fight him, and it might be three.”
Robert’s eyes darted about the room. Finding it empty, he fought to sit up again. “Where is the mar – ” He paused, swallowed, and went on. “Where is Paul?”
“He’s with Jim and someone named Jeremy,” McCoy answered as he gently pushed back. “Now calm down or you’ll start bleeding again.”
“Jeremy? What the devil is he doing with Jeremy?” The young man’s words carried such astonishment it made McCoy stop what he was doing to look at him.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No. Not really.” As Robert fell back to the bed, a slow smile spread across his handsome face. “I suppose the only trouble he could get into with Jeremy wouldn’t matter much to anyone but Paul’s wife.” The blond man lay still for a moment as if thinking it through. Then he asked, “Who is Jim?”
“A kindred spirit, it seems,” McCoy mused almost to himself.
“To Paul or Jeremy?”
“Jeremy,” the surgeon laughed as he reached for a roll of fresh bandages. “Jim Kirk’s got a way with the ladies. He loves them and leaves them – smiling and thanking him for it.” Placing the bandages in the cloth bag he carried, McCoy added, “James T. Kirk is my captain. I’m a…ship’s surgeon.”
“Navy men, then.”
“Yes.” It wasn’t quite a lie. They just sailed a different kind of sea.
Robert Larkin fell silent and remained so for a few minutes while McCoy moved about the room, gathering his things. As soon as he could, he intended to follow after Jim. If Spock had been injured there would certainly be no one in this time to care for him. With that green blood of his, they would as soon hang him as a witch or warlock or whatever they would call it.
As he closed his bag again, Robert said, “I must go, you know.”
McCoy pivoted. “You certainly must not.”
“Doctor McCoy, you are a military man. You know, no matter whether a man is injured or not, there is still his duty.” Robert shifted so he rested on one arm. “You must let me go do mine.”
Yes, he knew. He’d argued with both Jim and Spock about it – and lost – often enough. “You’ll reopen the wound.”
“Then it reopens.” The blond man’s tone was entirely in earnest. “If I must die, then I die.”
“What’s so important you’d risk your life for it?” the surgeon snapped.
“I have intelligence that must be taken to General Washington’s army concerning the movement of General’s Howe’s troops and his intended plans. Matters are coming to a head. Tonight. Tomorrow. The next day. One of them will see us at war.”
McCoy scowled, thinking back to the tavern and the scene with the redcoats. “You and Paul deliberately bated those British soldiers.”
Robert laughed weakly. “Oh, no. That was not deliberate. My…friend is used to having things his own way. When he gave me an order, there was nothing I could do but follow.”
The surgeon frowned. “That young pup is your superior officer? He can’t be a day over nineteen – if that.”
His patient paled. “I would be pleased if you would forget I said that doctor.”
“Why? Who is….” McCoy’s grizzled brows shot toward the ceiling. “Wait. He’s French. Good God, man, you don’t mean that teenager is General Lafayette!”
Robert had shifted into a sitting position. “Doctor McCoy,” he panted, “how do you know that?”
“Yes, Doctor, I would like to know that as well,” a snide voice interjected even as the door to the bedroom swung in.
Revealing a British major in full military splendor.
“Allow me to introduce myself, gentlemen,” the officer said as he stepped into the room. “Major Fletcher Tarleton of His Majesty’s Royal army.” Moving with arrogant surety Tarleton came to the side of the bed and looked down at Robert. “My men informed me of the altercation in the tavern. I apologize for their beastly behavior. While it is quite acceptable to kill a Frenchman on the battlefield, it is decidedly bad form to knife one in the back. Still, it was not all for naught.” He leaned in close. “It seems we have discovered a nest of rebel vipers in the Larkin household. You, sir, are apparently a part of that scoundrel, Washington’s, army. And you,” he looked at McCoy, “a rebel surgeon. And somewhere in this town it seems we have quite a prize. Washington’s adopted frog, Lafayette.” Tarleton reached out and grabbed Robert’s shirt, and savagely hauled him to his feet. “You will tell me where he is!”
Robert winced with pain and remained silent.
McCoy couldn’t help it. He started forward to break them apart. “He’s injured, damn it, man! You’ll reopen the wound if you – “
A look from Tarleton stopped him. “Quite true, Doctor. And I intend to open several more.” The words were hissed with the venom of a snake. “Mr. Larkin, here – “
“Captain Larkin,” Robert corrected defiantly.
“The good captain will answer my question, or he will bleed a great deal more than he already has.”
“You’ll get nothing from me!” Robert spat.
Tarleton’s eyes flicked to McCoy. “Or from you, I suppose. Oh dear.” He released Robert’s shirt. The wounded man fell, breathing hard, back to the bed. “You rebels are such a bore. I think, though, that there is someone who can be made to talk.” The British major walked to the door. “Of course, if he doesn’t have the information I need – and no one else offers it…. Well, your father is an old man and due to die soon anyway.”
Without preamble, Robert Larkin exploded from the bed. “You villain!” he shouted as he went for the major’s throat. Tarleton simply stepped aside and allowed the blond man’s momentum to carry him into the wall. Robert fell, stunned, and lay panting on the floor.
“And what of you, Doctor? Do you plan on any histrionics?”
McCoy’s back was rigid with anger. “Allow me to treat him.”
Tarleton glanced at Robert. A sneer curled one lip. “Certainly, Doctor. We wouldn’t want Captain Larkin dying before he can be executed.”
Maeve McGinnis halted outside one of the guest rooms in old man Morris’s inn. She was playing a dangerous game and she knew it. But then, that was all she had done since she was eleven years old and had been forced to sell herself to feed her six brothers and sisters. They had come to the American colonies with their parents, but both had been taken in one of the frequent fevers that swept through Philadelphia. As the oldest she had had to provide, no matter what it took. Twelve years had passed since then and her looks and…talents…had allowed her to advance to a place where she no longer had to work, but could sit back and enjoy the benefits of other’s labors. She had a stable of half a dozen girls, all clean, all from middling to upper class homes. They serviced the lawyers and doctors and diplomats who came and went on the packet ships traveling to and from London. It was a good living. A stable one.
In a word, boring.
Maeve craved excitement. She delighted in living on the edge. It was this need that had drawn her into the crimpers’ trade even more than the money. She kept an eye out during her shift at the bar for likely candidates. The British navy paid handsomely for men who were healthy and able. Most of their seamen were culled from the lowest ranks; scoundrels, drunks and reprobates that nobody wanted and no one would miss. She steered clear of those. The thrill of the hunt was to snatch a man out from under his companions’ noses, to spirit him away – and to get away with it.
With this new weapon that Happer had supplied her with, it was going to be that much easier.
Happer Clayworth was dangerous too, and that was what attracted her to him. He had a way about him. One minute he would be kissing her, and the next he would drive her away. Seconds later his arms would be about her and they would make love. Happer had appeared one day from out of nowhere, talking nonsense that somehow made sense about stopping this bloody war. It was wrong, he said, and she agreed. The trade was fine with things as they were. English men were some of the tavern’s best customers and, since the conflict had started, they were dwindling away. She had no desire to see them replaced with pious New England farmers who were faithful to their wives.
Maeve reached into the basket hoop beneath her skirt and pulled out the strange pistol. Standing there in the hall, she stared at it. Happer had not actually supplied her with it. She had stolen it while he slept. He had several and kept them locked up in a trunk. Of course, life had taught her to pick locks as well, a talent she had not shared with him. She didn’t understand how the weapon worked, but one blast from it and a man crumpled and slept like a babe for hours. There was a wheel of sorts on it that turned. She had no idea what it did other than the fact that the light coming out of the weapon grew brighter and altered in color when she shifted it.
The man she had used it on tonight had been something special. She didn’t know why. She only knew that Happer had told her he was valuable. He had described him and his companions, but it was obvious he had particular interest in the tall, raven-black haired man. Happer had told her to keep watch for the trio. That they would be coming to Chester with the intention of stopping him. He didn’t much care what happened to the other two, but the dark haired man he wanted.
Maeve’s plump lips curled in a lascivious smile. She had wanted him too, but she had set that aside as well.
A packet ship was sailing on the morrow. The captain of the Beagle was named Brighton, and was one of her clients. He had approached her that morning asking if she knew of anyone of officer quality who could be persuaded to sail back to England with him. When she saw the trio, she knew either the blond man or the ebon haired one would do. It was perverse pleasure that made her make her choice.
Happer was not the only one who could play games.
Returning the weapon to her pocket, Maeve raised a hand and knocked on the door. A second later Happer called out for her to enter. The redhead drew a breath and did just that.
Only to find that her lover was not alone.
Happer was sitting behind a campaign style desk looking every inch the mad general. The desk was piled high with maps and charts and letters, and looked like a battlefield in itself. One map – near the size of the desktop – lay open upon it. Happer was gesturing wildly and speaking animatedly to a rough looking British sergeant. As she approached, Maeve noticed the map was of the local area. Happer was pointing to the Brandywine River and tracing a route along it with his extended finger. “Corner Ford,” he said, naming the southernmost crossing. Then, Pyle’s Ford. Gibson’s Ford. Lower Ford. Chadd’s Ford. Brinton’s Ford. Jone’s Ford. Wistar’s Ford. Aaron’s Ford.
Happer’s finger halted just above Jone’s Ford, which was the last one she was aware of. His alarming blue eyes glinted with craft and excitement as they swung toward her. Maeve moved in closer. Yes, there it was on the map, a place called Aaron’s Ford. She had never heard of it, but then, she had never seen anything like Happer’s maps either. They were not made of parchment or vellum, but of some strange kind of paper, smooth to the touch, and the writing seemed almost to be a part of the paper, instead of written or stamped on its surface.
The British sergeant nodded gravely. Then his rough countenance broke into a smile. “Lord Howe is in your debt, Commander Clayworth. With this information, we can win this war.”
Happer’s cobalt blue eyes met hers. Then he turned back to the man and the map. “No doubt. Washington does not know of Aaron’s Ford. You will take him and his troops completely by surprise and you will crush them.”
“Aye. That we will.” The sergeant agreed gruffly as he extended a hand to the map. It was only then that he seemed to notice her. “Miss Maeve,” the soldier said, dipping his head.
Instantly Happer was alert – and jealous. Even when he chose to disdain her inestimable charms, he still didn’t want her with other men. She had told him that was impossible. That other men were her bread and butter. Grudgingly, he had learned to accept her occupational necessities. Still, whenever they were together, there was a fire in his eyes that warned her she had best not try his patience too far.
“You two know each other?” Happer asked as his lanky frame unfurled and rose from the chair.
“From the tavern, Commander. Nothing more,” Sergeant Ashford replied. And it was true. He one was not one of her customers. Maeve smiled and nodded, acknowledging him. Sergeants rarely were.
They couldn’t afford her, or her girls.
“I see.” Happer angled in front of the desk and balanced his long, lean frame by resting one hip on its well worn edge. “A different kind of customer, eh, Maeve?”
“So long as they pay, I don’t give a fig what kind they are,” she answered, even though she knew she shouldn’t.
The sergeant looked from her to Happer, and then back. Tipping his hat, he arranged a hasty exit. “I’d best be on my way,” he said. “The general’s waiting.”
With that he exited the door – with alacrity.
Happer followed him across the room, moving toward her. Maeve suddenly had the uncomfortable feeling of a hen watching the fox’s approach. She took a step back, but then thought better of it and held her ground.
Such was the game they played.
Happer Clayworth was at least ten years older than her. Age had plowed furrows in his brow and laid wheel ruts that ran on each side of his nose to his chin. It had frosted his near amber-colored hair with white, but only at the temples, lending him a distinguished air. He was not exactly a handsome man, but the purpose and certainty that shown out of his piercing blue eyes made him damnably attractive. She had met him at the inn a few weeks before and had actually targeted him for the crimpers. As the night wore on, she found herself sitting at his table listening to him, and then flirting with him, and then….
Their first night together had fed the animal in her. The second and third, her burning need for excitement. After that, well, her mother had always warned her about what happened to the moth drawn too close to the flame.
Happer Clayworth was her flame and she was sure, before he disappeared from her life, that she would be scorched.
When Happer reached her, he caught hold of her and crushed her to his chest. His kiss was hard and meant to hurt. She whimpered and he laughed. Then he pushed her away to the length of his arms.
“Where is it?” Happer asked without preamble.
Maeve stuttered. “Where…where is what?”
His hand cupped her chin. He forced her to meet his unblinking eyes. “The weapon you stole.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered, turning away.
He was not about to let her. Happer’s fingers dug into her flesh. “I have more than one. If you don’t want to see what happens when I place mine on setting three, you’d better answer my question.”
“What makes you think I have it?” she challenged.
“I know you, Maeve,” he replied, his voice pitched in a low threatening growl. “You and I are too alike. I should never have shown it to you. It was too great a temptation.”
“What would I do with such a thing?” she demanded.
Happer laughed again. It was a high bark, that spiraled down into something resembling madness. “Why, become Queen of America, what else?” His fingers slipped from her chin to her throat and he began to squeeze. “Tell me. Where is it, and what did you want it for?”
She swallowed under the pressure as she began to choke. Her words were forced out between ragged coughs. “There was…a prime…specimen. I didn’t…want him to…get…away.” Maeve gasped. “Happer…you’re…killing me.”
He moved in closer; so close his breath rustled the hair drifting across her cheeks, so close his steel blue eyes were daggers. “Are you working for them? Did they recruit you? Did they set you to find me?” Happer’s silk smooth fingers dug ditches in her skin. “Have you betrayed me?”
“No!” Maeve felt her knees weakening. “No…I…don’t work...for them. I…stopped one…of them…just like you said. Happer….” Tears welled in her eyes. “Let…me…go.”
He did. So abruptly she plummeted to the floor.
A second later, as she knelt on all fours gasping like a beached fish, he crouched beside her. Taking hold of her hair, he forced her head up so she could meet his wild stare. “Tell me.”
She was afraid to lie, afraid that somehow he would know. “It was…the man with the…dark hair.”
“Which man with dark hair? The human or the Vulcan?”
She stared at him, not comprehending. “What?”
His fingers tightened in her hair. “The younger or the older?”
She was doomed. “The…younger,” she admitted, fully expecting that in the next second his anger would snap her head back and she would be dead.
“I told you I wanted him,” Happer snarled.
Maeve couldn’t help it. The game had its own rules. She looked up and met his violent eyes.
“So did I.”
She saw it in those eyes. He considered killing her. Then, suddenly, he released her. Pitching his body back, Happer Clayworth fell to the floor as his high-pitched, insane laughter once again filled the room. Maeve remained completely still. She had witnessed such a fit before. He would either emerge from it a reasonable man, or he would break her neck.
“Happer…” she ventured at last.
Even as the laughter faded, he held up a hand as if in surrender. “Queen to King’s Level One.”
“You win this match.” Happer sat up abruptly. After climbing to his feet, he held his hand out and wiggled his fingers. “The phaser. Please.”
Maeve didn’t argue. She reached into her pocket pannier and produced it.
“Where did you send him?” Happer asked as he shifted the tiny wheel forward.
“To the Beagle.”
Happer held out his other hand as he pointed the weapon at her. Whether to help her up or for the money she didn’t know. “How much did Brighton offer you?”
Maeve permitted herself a slight smile. “A king’s ransom.” Producing it from her pocket, she dropped a velvet pouch full of coins into his hand. There were dozens and they were all gold.
Happer Clayworth’s cruel mouth quirked with an acid smile.
“Then we’ll make twice the profit when we retrieve the merchandise.”