THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY
Leonard McCoy had thought Klingons the most reprehensible creatures in the galaxy. He decided now he had been wrong.
It was British redcoats.
He had been taken hold of and rammed into a chair, his lip bloodied and one eye blackened, and they didn’t even want any information from him. He had simply gotten in their way when Major Tarleton ordered his uniformed ruffians to accost both the wounded Robert Larkin and his aged father, Samuel. Robert lay on the drawing room floor, gasping for breath. His father, bloodied but proud, remained fixed at his son’s feet, held back from taking the major by the throat only by the threat of a loaded pistol.
“You have been raging long enough,” Samuel Larkin challenged. “What is it you want? What crime do you accuse us of?”
“Why, treason, from one and all,” Tarleton said with a broad sweep of his hand.
“This is madness, sir!”
“You will be silent!” the officer snapped.
“I will not be silent,” the older man retorted, uncowed. “You are the invaders here. This is my home – ”
“This is no longer your home. It is property quartered for the use and comfort of His Majesty King George’s troops. And let us understand each other gentlemen. This is not a court of law. This is an outpost of his Majesty’s army and I am in command. I, gentlemen, am Lord here.” Tarleton paused and his steely eyes moved from the old man to his son, to McCoy. “It is my belief that there is treason in this room. Now I shall find out what it is by sunset tomorrow or I shall shoot you all. Does that make my position quite clear?”
“Perfectly,” McCoy replied before the older man could say a word.
“Doctor McCoy,” the major said, turning toward him. “You do know the penalty for harboring and giving succor to a rebel, do you not?”
“No, but I bet I can guess,” he answered, wiping his lip free of blood.
Tarleton frowned. He nodded his head and his thug struck McCoy again. “This is no jest, Doctor. You will all be dead by the next sunrise unless one of you tells me what I want to know! Where is Lafayette?”
McCoy watched as the older man’s eyes flicked to his son. Robert was in pain, but he would not budge. Even if his father did not agree with the younger Larkin’s faithfulness to the Cause and its leaders, he obviously respected his son’s choice – and honored Robert’s integrity by showing his faith in that choice.
“You will get nothing from us, sir,” Samuel Larkin proclaimed. “And if you kill us, you will have nothing still.”
Tarleton’s cruel lips pursed in frustration. “True,” he nodded. “True. You rebels have stiff necks. They are not easily bent, and breaking them seems to do little but release you from pain.” The major beat his finger against his lip for a moment, and then pivoted sharply on his heel to face his sergeant. “Confine the Larkins in the jail. We shall see what a few nights on a cold floor without food or water do to their resolve.”
“Leave my father out of this!” Robert protested as he was pulled roughly to his feet. “He is not a soldier. You cannot – ”
“He is a rebel soldier’s father and, as such, every bit as guilty as his disgraceful child.” Tarleton snapped his fingers. “Take them away!”
McCoy watched as the two men were roughly handled through the door. A second later, he found himself alone with the monster in crimson.
“Well, what do you want with me?” the surgeon asked boldly as he rose from the chair.
“I want you to deliver a message, Doctor McCoy. I understand there is a third Larkin residing in this house. A young one by the name of Jeremiah.”
“Maybe,” the surgeon hedged.
“As such, his resolve may not prove the equal of the elder men in the family. You will tell him this – he will find the location of the traitor, Lafayette, and bring the information to me before the next sunset, or I will have his brother and his father executed the next day as traitors against the Crown!”
“Good God, man! You can’t be that much of a barbarian!” McCoy protested.
Major Tarleton drew close. His eyes were those of a snake about to strike. “Does not poison voluntarily ingested free the body of parasites?” The soldier’s sneer dripped venom. “We both have our methods, equally effective.”
“How dare you compare yourself to a healer!” McCoy shouted, truly enraged. “You are nothing but an unprincipled, sadistic son of a – ”
The sentence went unfinished as the butt of a British musket struck the starship surgeon behind his left ear and drove him first to the ground, and then into darkness.
Jim Kirk glanced at the silent Frenchman at his side, and then rested his weary body against a dockyard building. It had been nearly twelve hours since they had stepped through the Guardian and he was beginning to notice both the lack of rest and food. Leaning his head back, Jim closed his eyes. They were awaiting their companion’s return. As Jeremy Larkin was native to Chester, they had agreed to let him explore the pier alone. That way he could mingle with the town’s citizens and those occupying the dock without drawing attention. In a town as small as this one – a village really – anyone new was a point of interest. Kirk knew it would be hard to hide his own military bearing – harder still to mind himself and keep from snapping orders and arousing suspicion. He was worried about Spock and that did little to lengthen his patience. But he wasn’t the worst of it. Kirk’s hazel eyes peered from beneath thick black lashes at the youth beside him. There was something about Paul du Motier that was exceptional. He was not your run-of-the-mill university student. The Frenchman held himself like royalty and seemed to have as much difficulty surrendering to other’s authority as Kirk did. On their way to the pier Paul had wanted to return to the tavern. Jeremy had said it would not be wise. The man had finally given in, but the color had risen in his cheeks and he had let loose a few choice words – in French, of course – before doing so. Kirk could tell. It had been all Paul could do to keep himself from ignoring young Larkin and plunging into the disorderly crowd.
Du Motier. Why did that seem familiar?
“Jeremy is coming,” the Frenchman in question breathed near his ear.
Kirk was instantly alert. Jeremy was nonchalantly walking toward their hiding place as if he hadn’t a care in the world, making jokes with the men and flirting with the ladies. An open bottle of ale was in his hand. It was a practiced ease and did not suit the determined young man the starship captain had come to know. Kirk wondered, not for the first time, what it was the youngest Larkin concealed beneath the guise of the daydreamer and ne’er-do-well.
With only the merest glance over his shoulder, Jeremy sauntered into the shadows some twenty feet away from them. A few moments later he appeared from out of the shadows, rounding the building that backed them and coming up on them from the rear.
“Gentlemen,” he said with a nod.
Kirk held the barked command at bay. “Did you discover anything?” he asked, instead of ordering Jeremy to report.
“Nothing definite,” the blond man sighed. “There is so much traffic along the river that one wagon fails to stand out from another.”
It was true. In the short time he and Paul had been waiting several dozen wagons laden with goods had passed them by, as well as a half-dozen British soldiers and countless shadowy citizens. This time of night – just past midnight – the wharf was a window on a waking underworld of profligacy.
“So we have nothing,” Kirk spat with disgust.
A slight smile curled Jeremy’s lip. “I didn’t say that.”
“What is it, Jeremy?” Paul asked. “What did you see?”
The blond man shook his head. “It’s not what I saw. My…the girl I see, Elizabeth, well, she is here at the dock with her uncle.” Jeremy grinned. “John Coates seems to be of the opinion that he is meant to be more than a farmer. Of late, he has been transporting goods from Philadelphia with the intention of selling them in England for a profit. Apparently he and Bess have been here for a good two hours. She has been biding in Goodwife Behr’s shop as he goes from ship to ship seeking the cheapest transport.”
“And?” Kirk demanded.
“Two things. Bess recalled a wagon speeding past, headed for one of the packets that makes sail for England with the next tide. And, when her uncle went to speak to the captain of that ship, a man named Brighton, he was treated harshly and denied access.”
“There is nothing unusual about that,” the Frenchman remarked.
“No,” Jeremy agreed. “But you know how it is with women. Bess had a feeling.”
“A feeling?” Kirk asked.
“That something was amiss. That the packet ship’s captain was not interested in any ordinary cargo.”
“What ship was it?” Paul inquired.
“The Beagle out of London,” the blond man replied. “I made some inquiries and found that the Beagle is down a good many men. She came in with multiple casualties from scurvy.” Jeremy’s gaze met Kirk’s. “Word is Captain Brighton is looking for replacements.”
He nodded. “And officers.”
The starship captain pursed his lips and considered all he had heard. “This Maeve, you said she ran a brothel. Has there ever been rumor that she does more than that – that she might be involved in the trade of impressing men into service for the British navy?”
Jeremy shrugged. “The two go hand in hand, but no, I have not heard that. Still, I would not put anything past Maeve. She is well know around here. A man would do well to steer clear of her and her charms.” He hesitated. “Your friend would have been wise to do so. This is harsh payment for one night’s pleasure.”
Kirk couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Trust me, Maeve’s charms would have been the last thing to lure Mr. Spock out into the night.”
“And why would that be, sir?” Jeremy asked. “Is he not a man?”
Jim frowned. Somehow that hadn’t come out right. “Spock is…well….” He hesitated. What should he say? Wincing, he decided. “He’s…studying for the priesthood.”
“And he met his fate in a tavern, walking off with a well known doxy?” young Larkin responded, truly perplexed.
“He probably thought he could save her,” Kirk dismissed it quickly. “None of that matters. Spock’s life does. Where is this ship?”
“Along the wharf. The fifth from the end. Elizabeth is still there, across the street.” Jeremy’s jaw was tight. “I told her to take no chances, but to keep watch for anything unusual.”
“Good man,” Jim responded. He drew a breath and then added, “I’ll go alone from here.”
“To take on an entire ship of what may well prove villains and murderers?” Jeremy shook his head. “No, sir. You will not.”
“I agree,” Paul echoed. “It will take at least two to sneak onto that ship – one to go, and another to keep watch. Three would be even better.”
“Besides, this is my home,” the blond man insisted. “If there is a crimpers’ ring running in Chester, the authorities should know about it. My father and the other men of the council would not tolerate it.”
Kirk hesitated. They meant well, but having the two 18th century men along would hamper him. He couldn’t use his phaser, even once he was out of sight. Also, if one of them died and it effected history….
The starship captain looked from one adamant face to the other. “All right,” he answered, seeming to give in. “You two outnumber me.”
He’d just have to lose them along the way.
Unexpectedly, a sharp voice cut through the night air. “Jeremy! Jeremy Larkin! Are you here?”
Kirk melted back into the shadows as those on the dock turned to stare.
Jeremy tensed, and then relaxed. “It’s all right. It is my friends, Isak and Henry. You two stay here. I’ll go around the back and meet them in the road.”
Kirk and Paul exchanged looks as the lanky blond disappeared into the shadows and then reappeared a moment later directly before them underneath a flickering street lamp. The pair that joined him were the ones they had met at the Larkin home – the men who had had a party to attend. From the look of them, disheveled, dirty, with what appeared to be smoke and perhaps powder burns on their clothes, it must have been one hell of a bang up.
At first it seemed as if nothing was amiss. Then Kirk read in Jeremy Larkin’s posture the evidence of surprise. The blond man’s back stiffened. A shaking hand shot out to catch Henry Abington’s arm. Jeremy slumped, and then straightened to a greater height and resolve.
A minute later he reappeared at their side with Isak Poole in tow. The black man nodded to them as Larkin began to speak. “I must go,” the blond man said. “I apologize for it, but I have no choice. My father and elder brother have been taken prisoner by the British major newly quartered in our home. They are in the town hall jail.”
“Jail?” Kirk felt his stomach sink to his Starfleet issued boots. “What about McCoy?”
“At the moment the doctor is held in our home. He was roughly treated, but is apparently unharmed.”
“How do you know this?” Kirk questioned.
The young man’s eyes flicked to his black friend, and then returned to him. “After returning from their engagement, Isak and Henry went to my home to find me.” Jeremy’s voice was controlled, but with a growing undercurrent of rage. “They found, instead, my wounded brother and aged father being led off in shackles. Henry waited a few moments and then went to the door to make inquiry after me, as if he did not know I was away. He saw your friend with Major Tarleton. The doctor was battered, but seemed unbent.”
Jim scowled. Now what should he do? Spock was in the greatest danger, but the Vulcan was also the most capable of looking out for himself. Bones was a healer, not a fighter.
“You are worried about your other friend,” Jeremy said.
“Yes. Do you think the major would harm him?”
“He wasn’t taken to jail, so that suggests Tarleton does not suspect him of anything,” Isak answered.
“Jim, I will see to my brother and father, and then make certain your friend is all right,” Jeremy assured him. “You have my word. Isak will remain with you in my place, to aid you in rescuing Mr. Spock.”
Kirk’s gaze traveled from the blond man to the black and back. “Who are you?” he asked.
Jeremy looked startled. “I beg your pardon?”
“You are not what you pretend to be, Jeremy Larkin, an idler and dreamer of dreams. You are a man of purpose and, if I had to guess, one of some rank.”
“Sir, you are mistaken.” Young Larkin had actually paled. “I am no such thing.”
The starship captain held his gaze for a moment and then smiled. “Play it any way you have to. Just make sure my friend is all right. Bones may be grumpy and irascible, but he’s the only curmudgeon I’ve got.”
“Henry is waiting, Jeremy,” Isak Poole said. The black man’s tone was unafraid, and his manner cool and calm. He spoke as if he had been educated. Kirk wondered if he was a slave or a freeman. Most likely the latter, he decided. From what he remembered of 18th century Pennsylvania, it was mostly abolitionist.
“Aye.” Jeremy reached out for Kirk’s hand. When he presented it, the young man shook it firmly. “Be well. And may Providence shine on you and your enterprise.” Young Larkin missed the starship captain’s startlement, and then Kirk’s smile as he turned to bid farewell to Paul. “Sir, I am sure my brother did not mean to lead you into such danger when he invited you to visit.”
“Take care of Robert,” Paul said. “He is a good man.”
“Aye, he is.” Jeremy’s look was indefinable. There was something in it of outrage, but more of the kind of sadness a man knows when something – or someone – of great importance is standing on the brink of a precipice.
It probably echoed the look on his own face.
The blond man nodded once and was gone.
Kirk looked at Isak, “So, Jeremy filled you in? You know what we are about?”
“Breaking and entering and knocking British heads together?” the black man grinned.
“Right,” Kirk answered.
This was going to be an interesting night.
Elizabeth Coates shivered with the evening air. It was chill, and her light shawl did little to warm her. Her uncle had left her in the care of an elderly woman of his acquaintance who owned a shop on the pier. The woman owed him money and so, when she had been roused from sleep and rudely ordered to open up her home, she had done so with only the smallest amount of grumbling. Goodwife Behr had made her comfortable and then returned to her bed. She could hear the old woman snoring now. Elizabeth had pretended to fall asleep in a chair, but stood now beside the large window that overlooked the wharf with its army of tall and small ships. Jeremy had asked her to keep an especial watch on the Beagle that lay harbored directly across from the shop. He had explained that a man had been kidnapped, and it was suspected that he might have been taken aboard. That woman Maeve McGinnis was involved. Elizabeth shuddered and pulled her shawl more tightly about her. If there was ever a woman created who set everything pure and noble aside for gain, it was the striking, fiery haired Irishwoman. Elizabeth had often wondered what kept Maeve in a small town like Chester. If she was plying more than one trade – and in with crimpers – it finally made sense. Sneaking impressed men aboard a packet ship at their small but busy harbor would have proved a great deal easier, and less costly, than doing so in, say, Philadelphia.
Besides, here, Maeve probably had no competition.
Her uncle had said he would not be back until morning. He was engaged in back room meetings and most likely would end sleeping in one of the inns. Uncle John wanted her to think he was completely upright and without fault, but sometimes she wondered. On occasion he had come in from the barn smelling of something more than hay and manure.
Elizabeth sighed as she pressed a hand against the glass. Jeremy had told her as well that he, along with Henry and Isak, would soon go to war. It seemed the British intended to confront Washington’s army somewhere close by – perhaps at one of the fords on the Brandywine – and soon. Jeremy thought by the 11th at the latest. Intelligence had pointed to a confrontation this very night, but as no news had reached them, it seemed General Howe had decided to wait for a better opportunity. So far the Society that Jeremy had founded along with the others, named for the derided Yankee Doodle, had placed him in harm’s way, but there had been little real risk. He and his friends released broadsides. They planted explosives and set them off and then ran. They carried intelligence from one town to the other. But they had never been involved in fighting. The thought of it was terrifying. She had seen men return from the battlefield, shattered in both mind and body. She had heard their screams of agony as limbs were sawed off, as infection and madness set in; as they died.
A single tear ran down Elizabeth’s cheek. She didn’t strike it away.
Jeremy could die.
Even as the thought occurred to her, she noticed movement in front of the Beagle. A man and a woman had stepped from a carriage, sending the vehicle screaming away. Elizabeth stepped behind the curtains but continued to peer out. She didn’t know the man, but she knew the woman.
It was the whore, Maeve McGinnis.
Clutching the fine white fabric of Goodwife Behr’s Holland edged curtains, she pulled them back so she could see better. A man in uniform had joined them. The trio spoke for a moment, and then all three mounted the gangboard and headed up and into the ship.
Elizabeth hesitated. What should she do? The Beagle was set to sail soon and if the man Jeremy sought was aboard, this turn of events promised that he would be lost. She knew what Jeremy would say. Sit tight. Don’t do anything reckless.
But wasn’t she too a member of the Yankee Doodle Society? Could she do any less than its men?
Shouldn’t she do more?
Quickly walking to the door, Elizabeth turned the key in the lock. She glanced back at the widow’s room. Seeing and hearing nothing, she opened the door and stepped out into the damp night air. The cries of ships’ business greeted her. The sound of muffled voices and unsavory deals. The pregnant danger of shadows.
She would not be afraid. Jeremy needed information and she was the only one who could get it for him.
Undaunted, Elizabeth Coates squared her shoulders and set off to board the Beagle.