Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 18

The Janissary man smiled, a predator showing his teeth, and pushed his stake toward the middle of the table. It dawned on Lecocq that the man truly thought he was going to win, which made the situation even worse.

“Four eights. Show ’em, Frenchy,” the Janissary man said, turning over his cards.

Lecocq laid his cards down and reached for the pot.

Chairs scraped on the floor as the Janissary men, as one, stood. “You’re a damned cheater!” one of them shouted. Two circled toward Lecocq. One jumped at him across the table.

He ducked. The man flew past, upending the next table over in a shower of coins, bills, and gold. Rough characters stood, punches flew, and in no time flat, the brawl enveloped the whole hall. The Janissary men, now at its center, had no time for Lecocq.

The bartender grabbed a telephone receiver from the wall and slid down behind the bar. Takahashi appeared at Lecocq’s side. “What did you do?”

“It was not my fault,” Lecocq protested. “I—

Takahashi drew his pistol, holding it on the woman and the breaker, who guiltily placed stacks of cash from the pot back on the table.

Lecocq glared. “Mademoiselle Jameson meant to deal Monsieur White a flush and dealt it to me instead,” he said, gathering the pot and stuffing it into his valise.

“You could have folded,” Takahashi pointed out.

Lecocq shook his head. “That is why you are not a gambler. Quick, before the gendarmes turn up.”

Takahashi holstered his pistol, and the two weaved their way through the fight toward a side exit. They had nearly reached it, ducking away from a stray haymaker or two along the way, when a gunshot rang out.

They dove behind the corner of the bar. The brawlers froze in place. A trio of rough-looking men stood in the door.

Standing, the bartender said, “Thank God. The—”

The lead man cut him off. “We’re looking for the Long Nines.”

Suddenly suspicious, the bartender replied, “Who’s asking?”

“Brotherhood business,” the tough replied. “The council needs one of Cannon’s crew.”

“What for?”

“Insurance.” The tough took a step closer. “Cannon owes the council an explanation for something. Now, I’m not asking again.”

Lecocq and Takahashi exchanged a look. They had heard enough.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 17

“I know,” said one of the men. It sounded like a threat.

The breaker pushed the dealer’s chit to his left, to the woman from Calypso. She shuffled the cards, let the breaker cut the deck, and dealt.

Lecocq picked up his hand. His face showed nothing, but the deal put him in a tough spot. He had the nine through queen of hearts, and the two of hearts besides. A flush. He scrutinized the faces around the table. The Janissary men would jump him if he won.

Something in the way the other two players examined their cards struck him as odd. The breaker glanced to his left toward the lone woman, something surprised in his face. Was he expecting something else? Lecocq’s hand?

It was a moot point. Lecocq could hardly play the hand he had been dealt, not if he hoped to leave with his fingers intact.

Betting came to him. None of the Janissary men raised beyond the ante. Neither did he, but he didn’t fold, either. If the woman and the breaker were cheating, it would be as good as declaring to them that he knew. Worse, it might look as though he were in cahoots with them. Also bad for his fingers’ prospects.

“How many?” the woman asked him. There was something unsteady in her voice.

He raised his eyebrows. “Two,” he said, placing the two of hearts and nine of hearts face-down on the table. He slid them to the woman, who gave him two cards in return.

Suddenly, his problems were worse. He had picked up the king and ace of hearts, to complete the royal flush. The smart thing to do was fold. But…

Lecocq was a gambler at heart. He had backup. He would simply make an enormous bet nobody would dare match, collect the meager profit represented by the antes, and skip out on the game before the Janissary men could get it into their heads to beat his money out of him.

“Raise,” he said, as the betting came to him. “Five hundred francs.”

“Fold,” said the breaker to his left. The woman echoed the sentiment.

It came to the first Janissary man. He looked at his cards, up at Lecocq, and down at the pot. “Call,” he said. His compatriots tossed in their cards.

Lecocq met the man’s eyes. “One thousand francs,” he said, pushing a stack of banknotes forward.

The Janissary man held his gaze. “Call.”

Fighting the urge to swallow, Lecocq said, “I am all in.” He had to drive the man out, or else reveal his hand, and that seemed ill-advised. He spared a glance toward the bar. Takahashi was watching closely, tense. Good.

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November News

Well, our spotty October has come to an end.

Hopefully, November won’t be so bad. I’ve finished my first editing pass on Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross, commissioned the cover. Now, I’m readying it for publication. It’ll be available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and all your other favorite retailers soon.

Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic will pick back up shortly, likely at the start of next week. In the meantime, check out our BattleTech/MekHQ/Megamek Let’s Play over at the Soapbox.

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Spotty October schedule

Serial posts will run on an intermittent schedule through October; I’m trying to polish a 30,000-word manuscript for your perusal, and it’s a busy month at work besides. Oh, and my birthday’s in the middle of it.

Although updates will be spotty, you can follow me on Twitter (@manywordspress) this month for some hashtag game fun. I’m talking about the manuscript mentioned above. Every month, given that I try to keep the front page here uncluttered, Twitter is a prime destination for behind-the-scenes fun.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 16

Lecocq peered over his cards. Four others were at the table with him: a breaker on his day off, a trio of men from the airship Janissary, and a woman off of Calypso. Both zeps, moored out among the breakers’ fields, were pirates, and both had come off of successful cruises.

Not so successful as the Long Nines’ last jaunt, though, and Lecocq had started with money enough to bully the table. His pile of cash was the largest of the five.

Sunbeams slanted in through the window. Light and shadow alternated on the green felt of the table, one of a dozen or two in the wood-floored room. The breeze from the fan overhead rustled the banknotes among Lecocq’s take. He glanced surreptitiously to the side. Tetsutaro Takahashi watched from the bar.

Darwin’s gambling halls were out in the open, compared to Lecocq’s experience in Marseilles, Singapore, and Hanoi. Darwin was a younger city built more fully on a thriving underground economy. Nobody bothered denying it. It was much rarer for a man to be shot over a game of cards here, and much likelier that the police would catch the murderer, but that was cold comfort for the dead man.

Lecocq was a good card player, used to winning, and he preferred to have a trigger man of his own on hand if things got out of control. Takahashi was a bad card player but quick on the draw, and had agreed to play the role of bodyguard in exchange for part of Lecocq’s winnings.

“Monsieur Lecocq?” said the breaker, who held the dealer’s button.

“I apologize,” Lecocq replied, pushing a few banknotes into the pot.

The dealer nodded and play continued. They were playing classic five-card draw this time around the table; not Lecocq’s favored game, but one he could get by in. He had won a hand earlier in the round and was sitting on two pair after the draw, a passable hand at a table of this size. After the next hand, choice of game fell to him, and he was much more comfortable with his chances at his favored seven-card stud.

“Show ’em,” the breaker said.

Lecocq’s jacks over sevens took the pot. The men from Janissary frowned between themselves, a suspicious set to their brows. Lecocq smiled sheepishly. “The cards, they are never this kind, you know?”

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 15

The Brotherhood was a cross between a trade association and a pirate court. They had an airship which roamed the skies broadcasting under the name South Seas Radio, providing helpful news on military patrols and weather conditions around the East Indies, among other things. They kept tabs on a network of prize agents of the European powers willing to pay for captured zeps no questions asked, bribed police on behalf of favored arms, aircraft, and parts dealers, and generally greased the wheels for pirates running in the South Pacific, all at a very reasonable cost.

That part wasn’t controversial. Nor was their Code, the rules under which pirates more or less agreed to operate, to cut down on infighting and stick to the real meaning of the business: making money.

The problem was, they had lately been broadening their charter. Now they had a council—a High Council, they called it—which could investigate, and try, and sentence. That rubbed Cannon the wrong way. There were already rules. The Code of the Brotherhood laid out exactly what one pirate was forbidden to do to another, and exactly what the second pirate could do if the first one stepped out of line. There wasn’t any place in the equation for a higher authority. Cannon had never taken a poll, but he was pretty sure most pirate captains weren’t in the game to submit to someone else’s code.

He let his hand fall from his forehead. “You’d better start at the beginning.”

 

They retired to Cannon’s office in Port Gunport, a thatch-roofed plank-walled square hut just like all the rest, but for a crudely-painted sign in front of the door which read, “NO FUN PAST THIS POINT”. Emma’s handwriting, of course.

“You spoil that girl,” Lecocq observed, a measured neutrality in his voice.

Cannon smiled ruefully. “Maybe.”

“Will you take the sign down?”

Cannon looked to the sign, then back to Lecocq. “Is it wrong?” Lecocq coughed, taking his cigarette in hand. Cannon grinned. “That’s what I thought.”

He pushed the door open. It wasn’t much, the little hut, a single room fifteen feet across. The walls rattled in a stiff breeze, but the middle of nowhere Australia didn’t get many stiff breezes. Cannon wasn’t much for decorating. All he had here was a cot, a desk, and a few battered wooden folding chairs.

He waved Lecocq and Joe to the seats in front of the desk, and took the remaining chair around behind it. “Why don’t you tell me what happened in Darwin?”

Lecocq embarked on the story, told staccato with the occasional jab at the air with his cigarette.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 14

It wasn’t more than ten minutes before the Albatross circled once overhead. It was an oddball plane, a newfangled Chance-Vought design with asymmetric twin fuselages. The one on the right was short and stubby, with a glazed nose for the cockpit and a pusher engine and machine gun turret aft, while the one on the left was longer to carry cargo, with a tractor engine forward. Only the left fuselage had an empennage. A long wing linked everything together.

Presently, the Albatross lined up on the makeshift landing strip, and touched down in a swirling cloud of red dust.

Cannon waited for it as it taxied back toward Inconstant, weaving around huts until it came to a stop in the airship’s shadow. Its engines sputtered to a stop and the propellers spun down.

Cannon looked up and over his shoulder into the yawning black of Inconstant‘s hangar bay. He couldn’t see inside—it was too dark—but he was sure the crew aboard were watching.

The crew hatch on the Albatross’s right-hand fuselage opened at the same time as the right-hand fuselage’s cargo door. Pirates tumbled out of both, a dozen and a half men and women. Many of them had the bleary-eyed expression which signaled interrupted revelry.

Marcel Lecocq jumped down from the crew hatch. He was a tanned Frenchman with dark hair, dark eyes, and a neatly-kept goatee. He took a packet of cigarettes from one pocket of his flight jacket, and settled one between his lips. He took a Ronson from another pocket and put a flame to the cigarette.

Immediate needs taken care of, he looked up and caught sight of Cannon. He walked over.

“Well, Marcel?” said the captain.

“It is bad news, captain,” Lecocq replied around his cigarette. “Or at least, I think it is bad news.”

“Out with it.”

Lecocq nodded, exhaling smoke. “The South Seas Brotherhood is looking for you.”

Cannon exchanged a look with Joe. “Their radios broken?” Joe asked.

“They wanted to keep it quiet,” Lecocq replied, shaking his head. “They are assembling the whole council.”

“I’m off the council this year,” Cannon said.

“You are a witness, the man in Darwin said.”

Cannon rubbed his forehead. The South Seas Brotherhood had been around for a few years now; during his time with the Bloody Flag gang back in the mid-’20s he had been instrumental in setting it up in the first place.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 13

Tearing off the catcher’s mask, Hank King stood and faced him. “You have to be kidding, skipper!”

“Sorry, Hank,” Cannon said with a shrug. “That one was six inches off the plate.”

King pulled the mask back on, shook his head, and got back into his crouch. Cannon half-smiled. He didn’t play much. Nobody wanted to be on the team that beat the captain, for one thing, no matter how much Cannon said he didn’t mind. For another, unlike Joe, he wasn’t much of a slugger, and he was a decade older and a step or two slower in the field than most of the Long Nines.

It was nice to umpire without any mouthy batters arguing his calls, though. The pitch came in, di Giacomo swung, and the ball cracked off the bat. di Giacomo set off for first base at a dead run as the ball sped deep into the outfield, a well-hit line drive. The ball kicked up a puff of dust as it bounced and dribbled to the rickety wall. di Giacomo slowed down and put his foot on second.

An outfielder picked up the ball, but held onto it rather than throwing it back toward the mound. Cannon tilted his head, and realized the reason a moment later. The drone of a distant airplane engine slowly grew louder. The current batch of crew on Darwin liberty wasn’t due back for another two days.

King took the initiative, running over to the base of the mooring mast and cranking madly at the manual siren affixed there. The ballplayers scattered, disappearing into the gun pits to either side of the field. Anti-aircraft gun barrels appeared as the gunners spun the train and elevation wheels to bring the guns to bear.

Someone handed Cannon a pair of binoculars. He pointed them toward the engine noise and scanned the horizon. “Stand down!” he shouted. “It’s the Albatross!”

Joe trotted in from the outfield. Cannon passed him the binoculars. “Wonder why they’re back so soon,” Joe said.

“Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” Cannon replied.

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