Melanie Parker was certain that she was about to die.
The wood creaked loud, the cabin tipping until it seemed like the entire clipper ship was about to disintegrate around her and pull her down to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
They were only a day or two outside of New York, but Melanie could hardly imagine walking onto that dock. But she could easily picture the hull walls collapsing, ocean water pouring in like a crumbling mountain of water falling down on top of her. Melanie could almost hear her own scream, heart pounding. She could almost feel that thick and freezing water wrapping around her, pulling her down, chiffon and cotton blends winding around her to pin her legs and arms to her side.
But the walls held, the boat creaking and listing even worse, promising Melanie’s anticipated catastrophe.
A loud bang sent a bolt of panic shooting through Melanie’s body.
Take it easy, Melanie told herself, just stay down here where it’s safe.
Melanie looked around the little cabin. It was as nicely appointed as she could have expected, with brass whale oil lamps and a little round window revealing the dark, seemingly endless ocean beyond, levels rising and falling as the SS John Adams cut through the roiling Atlantic
It was Melanie’s first transatlantic journey since going to London from New York almost ten years before. Melanie’s mind’s eye flashed with images of his friendly smile, his green eyes shooting out from behind his red hair and white skin, an older male version of herself.
Daddy, Melanie couldn’t help thinking. I wish you were here now. This was supposed to be you, doing this, you and me. This was your dream. But I’m going to see it through for you, Daddy. I promise I shan’t let you down.
Another loud bang rang through the cabin, the ship listing even further.
Melanie flashed on her crate in the ship’s cargo hold. She’d watched them secure it, leather straps to hold it in place against the hull. But while that would prevent it from flying across the hold and shattering, spilling its precious contents into wasted nothingness, if the box was exposed to a source of water, the layers of waterproof lining were only going to be so effective, depending on how bad the journey got. Melanie knew that if the ship went down, the contents would certainly be destroyed by the ocean water, and of course, she was likely to join it.
No, Melanie silently swore, I won’t let that happen!
But the little cabin seemed to close in on Melanie; she imagined walls of water crashing in from the port side, the gliding monsters beyond devouring her drowned carcass. Melanie pushed herself up off her little bed and through the small cabin door. The hallway was narrow, tilting one way and then another. Her feet slid out from under her, her body falling into the wall as she trudged on toward the small flight of stairs to the deck above.
At least I won’t be trapped down here, Melanie reasoned, if this great bloody thing goes down!
Melanie got to the end of the hall to the stairs, five steps at a very sharp incline. Her feet slipped on the wooden steps, her brain warning her to go back. But the idea of being trapped in those confines was more than Melanie could endure.
Even if I go flying over the side, at least I won’t be crushed to death by almost one hundred tons of wooden clipper ship!
Melanie clutched the rope running from the rail of the deck up to one of the masts above. Salt sprayed into her face, her bonnet barely holding onto her head. She pushed it down with one hand, clinging to the rope with the other.
Massive masts carried full sail, heavy canvas sheets pushed out taut with the western winds. The clipper ship rose and fell as it pushed across the water, wind propelling it forward and to the side, listing heavily. Melanie looked down at the water, white froth and black chop, sunlight glimmering off the rough surface as it stretched out in every direction. The only other object was a second clipper ship, small in the distance, but slowly getting bigger.
The day was bright blue, a brisk wind propelling the clipper west, closer to its adversary. Melanie had heard of the famous clipper races, already preoccupying the crews of men on such ships, competing for the bragging rights, bonuses, and other benefits of getting there first.
Melanie inched along the dock, hand clinging to the rail as they closed in on the other ship. The crew was all locked in at their stations, men manning their posts, heaving sail lines. What seemed like a chaotic scurry of men and rope and wood struck Melanie as a carefully choreographed ballet of sorts, every movement put to a deliberate purpose. Energy rose up from the men and from the ship beneath them and from the ocean beneath that, and from timeless powers beneath the sea, the seething core of the planet itself. Melanie felt that she was taking part in a timeless ritual which she’d never knew existed, a new way of looking at the world. She’d been a child on her way to London, barely into her teens, still in the protective embrace of her father’s arms. She was coming back a woman, without her father and with a new understanding of loss and tragedy and how it happened to creep up on almost anyone at almost any time.
But the ship sailed on, going faster, and Melanie could sense the increase in the thrust, that same energy which seemed to fill the crew racing up into her own body, from the deck to the soles of her feet and up her legs to curl in her belly, her chest. The flush of excitement pushed a lump up into the back of Melanie’s throat, wind slapping her face.
Melanie held on, legs splayed, heels slipping a bit on the wet deck. The John Adams crept up on her rival, whose name Melanie couldn’t make out at that distance. It hardly mattered. The John Adams lurched and rolled over the Atlantic, the ship creaking and moaning around her, loud hammering of waves against the hull explaining the frightening claps she’d heard below. The ship seemed to flex, its organic wooden material bending with the wind and stresses, as nature had created it to do. The ship almost seemed like it was alive, some great creature in its place of power, carrying her along on its back without even noticing her existence at all, nor caring.
Melanie looked down at the sea, the home of that wooden Leviathan. The boat itself was dwarfed by it, humbled by it, and Melanie knew she’d be best suited to feel the same way. The mysteries and might of the sea had long been the subject of her childhood readings, the stories of her imagination. But they were all too real, all too powerful.
But Melanie knew the powers were in balance – that the conflict was not leading to disaster, but to victory. The waves parted for the John Adams, pushing her west, toward the United States, her home. It was the country on everybody’s lips, a land of adventure and opportunity, danger and romance. Melanie felt certain that she was at a turning point, that things in her life were changing fast, that they’d never be the same again. I may get back to London someday, Melanie thought, but I’ll never go as I was before. Nothing will ever be the same as it was.
Those waves aren’t going to take the ship apart, Melanie told herself, perfectly natural, and in a certain way, quite thrilling!
And as the John Adams matched the adversary’s position, Melanie gripped the line tighter, pulling on it as if that might inch the clipper along just a little bit faster. Faster, Melanie found herself saying, leaning back as the ship listed a bit closer to the surface. Take it easy, the ship’s meant to take this, meant to go faster, meant to win!
The entire crew of the John Adams seemed fixed on the task, each of them knowing what Melanie knew. They were about to overtake their rival, whose name was at last clear to Melanie as they sailed nearer to one another: The SS Amity.
Melanie’s heart beat faster, fist tighter around the line as the John Adams pounded into the sea. It skittered across its surface, the wind so strong and the men so keen that the clipper almost seemed like it was going to lift off the ocean entirely and fly the rest of the way to New York.
The men let up a great cheer as the Amity faded behind them. The wind and the sea and the sheer grit of the crew and the ship cleared a distance between the two clippers, between the continent and the New World, between the past and the future.
Melanie threw in her cheer with theirs, her voice reaching out into the wind, loud but quickly lost. Melanie couldn’t remember when she’d had a chance to yell so loud, to live in such a thrilling moment, and to live in it with such abandon.
Is this what life will be like? Is this what I can expect from my return to the United States? I can only hope so!
But another wave hit the ship’s other side, the starboard, and Melanie felt the power of the wave pass through the clipper and hit her as if it had struck her directly on the back. The line flew out of her hand, and Melanie felt suddenly weightless. Her lungs were robbed of air, arms reaching out as she fell toward the frothing ocean beneath her.
Melanie reached out, the rail passing her as she flew toward a briny death. But her fingers managed to hit the rail just so, and her outward progress away from the clipper was interrupted. She turned and fell back toward the side of the ship, her belly hitting the John Adams’ hull.
Her wet fingers slipped from the rail, but they managed to grab a second hold on the bare run of the deck itself. Melanie’s arm muscles strained, fingers aching, slipping fast. The motion of the clipper and the ocean, up and down and speeding onward, was almost enough to throw Melanie from her precarious grip. It was only a matter of seconds, Melanie knew that.
A man she faintly recognized as one of the crew members fell to the deck, landing hard on his knees as he reached out and grabbed Melanie’s arms.
“Hold on, Miss!”
The crewman braced his feet against the rail and leaned back to pull Melanie up while another man rushed up to join the efforts of the first. This crewman reached over the safety rail and grabbed Melanie’s dress from the back. Now waterlogged with spray, the chiffon was heavy and binding and it cut into Melanie’s side as the three of them combined their efforts to pull her back up to safety.
Her dress dipped into the ocean, her weight becoming almost impossibly heavy. She kicked her legs for a foothold. The billowy material had her legs tangled, feet unable to do much better than kick at the water or the side of the ship.
Melanie looked down at that roiling ocean. It seemed to be reaching up to her, trying to grab her and pull her down, to wrap its briny tendrils around her ankles and yank her down to its cold, eternal embrace.
Melanie’s muscles pulled, tendons near to popping, as another pair of hands found her arms near the sleeves and yanked hard. Their combined strength filled Melanie with a surge of relief as their efforts finally lifted her up and over the side of the safety rail. To feel the support of the rail itself was a joy, and the solid deck beneath her held the promise of life itself. Melanie had come seconds away from death at age twenty-five, a failure in her father’s mission, countless more lives going over the side with her.
And looking at that sea, holding the gristly men who were also holding her safe on the deck, Melanie knew it could happen again, on the sea or on the mainland. She’d be there soon enough if her luck held out, but Melanie had to remind herself not to take anything for granted. Danger and death were always just a footstep away.
Is this what life will be like? Is this what I can expect from my return to the United States? I can only hope not!
New York Harbor was sprawling and complex, crawling with men and women, carriages and horses. Sails and masts packed the harbor. Sailing in, Melanie had to wonder whether there would be any place for the John Adams at all.
Can the entire city be like this?
Melanie thought about London, one of the great cities of the world and her home for so many years. She hadn’t spent much of that time on the dock, but she had been there recently when she put off across the Atlantic. The docks of London had a similar, ugly bustle, there was no denying it. But London also had the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. The same streets which were trod by Bacon and Shakespeare, the mighty River Thames.
But even from the water, New York promised a different type of city, newer and more hardscrabble, still struggling through its adolescent growing pains. This was New York, a microcosm of the best and worst the entire nation had to offer, the optimism and the opportunism, the sensation and the sin.
But the city, any city, could only amount to the people in it, Melanie knew all too well. And the only American she’d known for her most formative years was her father, then laying buried in Highgate Cemetery. Melanie had heard much of the Americans, her own native people, and it didn’t recommend them as very gentile company.
What kind of people are these? Melanie wondered as the John Adams drifted toward the dock, crewmen tossing lines out to others, ready to tie the ship down. Surely, they’re people just like me, just like anybody.
But Melanie knew that coming of age in London, with her father and the great obstetrician James Blundell and their intellectual associates had a definite influence on her, just as growing up in the wilds of Tennessee or the former swamp that was New York’s boroughs would have a certain effect on anybody.
Nature is one thing, Melanie told herself, nurture something else again.
Melanie tipped a crewman to wheel her trunk out on a dolly, going down the gangplank in front of her. Melanie looked around the city as she descended, smoke pouring up in towers from various parts of the city, traces of industry and perhaps tragedy. Even the air above New York seemed darker, lightly hazy despite the clear blue spring skies over the Atlantic just a few miles out.
Melanie reached the dock, the crewman looking at her to await his orders. Melanie looked around, not precisely sure what to tell him. “North American Shipping Company,” she muttered. But she knew simply saying the company’s name wouldn’t produce anyone with a carriage to receive her trunk and the massive crate waiting for her in the cargo hold.
Melanie led the crewman down the dock, hoping to find an office with a nice, big sign. At the very least, she reasoned there would be the driver she hired holding up a sign with her name on it to draw her out of the crowd. From there he’d lead her to the cart, or bring the cart to the ship to transfer the crate.
But as Melanie got to the other end of the dock she looked up and down at a row of shacks and shops, signs of various styles and levels of simplicity. None of them read North American Shipping Company.
Melanie stopped a man walking by, asking him, “You wouldn’t know where the office of the North American Shipping Company might be?” He just sneered, looked her over, and walked on without even bothering to answer. “How rude,” she muttered, disappointed to have her lesser expectations of American civility already proven true.
The crewman said, “Miss, I can’t stand here with this trunk all day.”
“Right, of course,” Melanie said. “I … they were supposed to meet me. Wouldn’t a shipping company have offices here?”
“I wouldn’t know, Miss.”
Melanie only gave that a little thought before asking, “Well, it’s your business, isn’t it? I mean, you sail in and out of here all the time. Mightn’t you know if there is some other place their offices might be?”
The crewman looked her over and said nothing. Instead, he lowered the trunk to stand upright on the dock. He slid the handcart beneath it, and turned to walk back to the trunk.
“Um, excuse me? You’re just leaving my trunk here?” He nodded and kept walking. “What am I supposed to do with it?” Once again without turning, the crewman just shrugged. “But … what about my cargo? I’ve got a big crate yet to be unloaded.” Melanie walked up to the crewman, leaving her trunk behind. “Listen, I’m sorry if I was rude just then, I didn’t mean to be. I’m just … I didn’t expect to be left in the lurch like this. But I do need some help.”
“Sure you do,” he said. “Just like you needed help yesterday, keep from flying over the side of the ship.” A long, menacing pause passed before he said, “But how grateful were you?”
A chill ran up Melanie’s spine, shoulders pulling back. “I beg your pardon?”
“A lot of women might have been a bit friendlier about it, given the circumstances.”
Melanie could only imagine what the man was alluding to, but she didn’t have to let her imagination wander for long. She knew what kind of gratitude he might have been expecting. But it was a reprehensible notion, unthinkable to Melanie. But she heard the American accent, gritty and flat, and wasn’t at all surprised that such a brutish notion would come from such a man.
But Melanie knew she had more important business than dealing with some rude crewman, and she was already facing challenges she wasn’t expecting; challenges that could undo everything she’d come to do, everything her father had died for.
“I’m grateful for your bravery, as I said,” was all Melanie could or would offer. “But what about my crate?” What gratitude will they require for that? Will they hold my cargo ransom to get what they want from me?
Instead, the crewman said, “It’ll be on the dock by the end of the day, nothin’ we can do about that. You best be here to take it away, or somebody else will.”
Melanie had little choice but to walk up and down the pier, hoping to find the offices she needed. Melanie pushed through the thickening crowd, the smells of fish and body odour heavy in the air. The boards of the pier clacked with the innumerable footsteps. People seemed to be glaring at her, though her gigot sleeves and wide bonnet weren’t as out of place as she thought they might be. A lot of the women around her were well dressed, as she might have expected from a city like New York. But they were vastly outnumbered by scruffy men in stained wool and cotton, caps pulled low over their sallow faces.
Melanie walked past one boulevard, perpendicular to the pier and headed into the city. The buildings were charred, holes bashed into the crippled walls, glass windows shattered. Melanie couldn’t ignore the cold feeling in her belly, goose bumps rising on the backs of her arms under those tight chiffon sleeves. Melanie followed her curiosity and her instinct to the charred buildings, one more badly damaged that the two around it.
The charred sign barely read, North American Shipping Co.
Melanie tried to counter the rush of guilt and worry. This probably happens all the time, Melanie told herself as she looked around the wooden buildings, many of them weather-beaten and rotting. It’s the same in London, really. Fires happen, it must be a coincidence. No reason to think it would have anything to do with me.
There was only so much Melanie could say to herself before reaching a moment of truth. She knew how valuable she and her cargo were. As far as she knew, Melanie was the only person in all of the United States of America with her special skills, not to mention the equipment and supplies. Doctor Blundell had warned her how dangerous the trip would be, how many people would take an interest in their mission for their own ends.
But we were careful not to reveal the contents of the crate to the shipping company, Melanie reassured herself, just as it was a secret from the crew of the John Adams.
Melanie sighed. Could somebody have sent word from England, somebody working against us that I’m not aware of?
No, Melanie was happy to contradict herself, that’s just a lot of fanciful nonsense! I’ve been enumerating on the dangers of the trip for too long, the mysteries of the United States, the legends that were already emerging from the former colonies. It’s carrying me away, just as Daddy always said.
Okay, Melanie told herself, time to put all that childishness away and carry on! If this shipping company can’t help me, I’ll find one that will.
Melanie didn’t have to go far to find a competing shipping company, Clarkson & Kane. She stepped into the little office, a bell on the door ringing to alert the small man behind the counter. He wore a small, black mustache, his receding hair combed back.
“Good afternoon,” he said with a friendly nod, a reception Melanie was relieved to get.
“And to you, sir.”
“John Clarkson. How may I be of service?”
“A matter of shipping, actually. Have I come to the right place?”
He smiled with a coy little shrug. He pulled a single-page form from behind the counter. “I will do everything in my power to ensure it. How can we help?”
“I’m en route to Chicago, with quite a large crate and trunk. It wouldn’t be much for the great Clarkson & Kane, I’m sure.”
“And what type of cargo would this be, miss?”
“Um, well, the trunk contains my clothes and … personal effects—”
“Of course, of course,” he hurriedly and awkwardly replied, clearing his throat. “I understand. And … this crate?”
“Oh, well, I’m … these are medical supplies, tools of a certain sort.”
“Tools? You mean like dental drills and the like?”
“Of that sort, yes.”
He chuckled. “Well, in that case, perhaps I’ll refuse on a matter of principle!” Melanie shared the chuckle, glad to have such a receptive meeting and eager to complete it and retrieve her trunk and crate.
“You’ll be leaving the package in our care then?”
Melanie wasn’t sure how much to reveal to the man, but she knew she had to accompany the crate to Chicago, where she’d be living indefinitely. So a sweet smile accompanied a little dip of her head. “No, sir, I’ll be accompanying the crate personally.”
He seemed to give it little thought. “I see.” He returned his attention to the form in front of him, scribbling in a few things Melanie couldn’t decipher.
Melanie said, “Midwest General in Chicago will pay for it upon arrival, and I have a small deposit I was to give to the North American Shipping Company, so—”
Melanie paused, instantly knowing she’d said too much. “The North American Shipping Company. They had some sort of accident it would seem, just before my arrival.”
Clarkson’s smile disappeared, the mood in the office growing suddenly cold. “Indeed, an accident. You’re in from London, I presume.”
“Well, I … as a matter of fact, I—”
Clarkson put away the form. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
Melanie had to pause, twitching in her confusion. “Pardon?”
“I’m afraid you heard me, miss. Now kindly leave my offices.”
“I don’t understand—”
“Then take some time to reason it out. We’re not about to be burned out of business the way the North American was.”
“But … what do you know about that? Wasn’t it just an accident?” But the little man Clarkson said nothing, biting back on his tongue as his eyes jutted around the office.
“Make of it what you will.”
“I’m afraid that’s not going to be sufficient, Mr Clarkson. I’ve come all the way from London, and I’ve got quite a bit further to go. I need help. I have a right to know if I’m not going to get it and why.”
Clarkson seemed to give it some thought, mustache twitching. He walked around the side of the counter to usher Melanie across his office and back to the front door. “There was a man, paid me a visit just a day or so ago, just after the fire.”
“A man? What man, who are you—?”
“He didn’t leave a name, miss. He didn’t need to. His message was clear enough; it was written in char all over the street!”
“What did he look like, this man? Was he British?”
“I … I really can’t remember.”
“You can’t—? You said this happened just a day or so ago!”
“Tall,” Clarkson spat out in a hushed rasp, “balding, nice … too nice. British, probably. You’re British?”
“American, living in England.”
They reached the door. Clarkson held his palm out to Melanie to pause her before opening the door and glancing around. “I don’t think I can suggest you go back, but lingering around New York might be even worse.”
Melanie tried not to succumb to the growing fear in her quivering tissues. “I have no intention of doing either one,” she said, her obstinate streak rising to the fore. “I already told you I’m en route to Chicago, and I mean to get there.”
“I’m sorry to say you won’t get any assist from me,” Clarkson said, ushering her out into the street. “You’ll get the same answer up and down the pier, I promise you.”
Melanie stood on the elevated wooden sidewalk, traffic rolling by behind her, pedestrians pushing past. “Well … what do I do?”
“We’ve got police if you need them. That’s their business. My business is shipping, and I’d like to remain in it, not to mention alive, for as long as possible. Good day.” Clarkson slammed the door between them, flipped the sign on the door to read closed and drew the shades.
Melanie walked back down the pier toward her trunk, keeping an eye out for it as she returned to the spot. But her heart started to beat faster as she scanned the pier and didn’t see it. She ran faster, hoping it was behind some very fat man, or perhaps somebody had dragged it a few feet out of the way for safety’s sake.
But Melanie’s mouth went dry when she arrived at the spot and looked in a dizzying circle around her. But Melanie’s reasoning mind was quick to jump to the obvious deduction. Melanie ran further down the pier, hoping to come upon the thieves with the trunk still in hand.
How fast can they go with such a burden? she asked herself as she ran, turning to shoot a furtive glance down one crossing street before running on, disappointed. Melanie stopped, panting, drawing nasty glares from the pedestrians around her. She looked around again, one last time, one last chance to spot the trunk and retrieve it.
But Melanie knew she had no choice but to turn and slink back toward the spot she’d left the trunk. Down that dock was the John Adams, where her crate could already be on the dock. If it was, it would be the next thing to get snatched up; Melanie didn’t doubt it for a moment.
Melanie pushed her way through the crowd toward the John Adams, the dock cluttered with big wooden crates like hers. But each was labeled in black paint with the name of its owner, and in any case Melanie would know her own crate anywhere. She knew after a quick scan that it was still on the ship.
Melanie checked her little gold pocket watch, one of the few personal possessions she still owned. It read two o’clock. Three hours or less, Melanie said, perhaps much less!
Melanie hurried back in the other direction, walking faster as she thought things through.
Have to find somebody to get me to Chicago, somebody I can trust. Forget these shipping companies; I haven’t got that kind of time to waste. And the trunk, it had everything! Paperwork, identification, all my clothes, and most of my money!
Melanie’s heart started to beat faster again, a throb developing in the back of her head. Okay, steady on, Mel, steady on. I should find a policeman! I’m the victim of a crime, after all. Maybe he knows some likely suspects or at least can refer me to a reliable escort. If nothing else, maybe they could watch the crate for a few days while I figure all this out?
Melanie wandered down the street, away from the pier and into the city. Horses and carriages of all sorts filled the wide, muddy streets; mares and stallions, paints and quarter horses, buggies and carriages and market wagons. Drivers and horsemen shouted at each other, profanities that shocked Melanie with their casual and common use.
She passed no fewer than two saloons on a single block, women gathered on the balcony to wave at the passing gentlemen. They rolled their powdered shoulders, puckered up their painted lips. Melanie had seen such women before, of course, in various corners of London. But they seemed in greater number here, even louder and more boisterous.
But Melanie couldn’t get her mind off the idea of some strange man hounding her journey. After what happened with that shipping man Clarkson, it seemed undeniable. But that small and terrible certainly was only one in a morass of other questions, each more pressing than the last.
Who back in Britain would want me waylaid in New York? An agent of the Crown, perhaps? But why? Doctor Blundell and his equipment are all there in London at their disposal. Coming all the way out here to acquire something they could take in their own backyard? That hardly makes sense!
Doctor Blundell did warn me about people I’d meet here; bandits who might want the device and the knowledge of its use for themselves. I’m the only person around who can do a successful human blood transfusion, and some people are apt to take that as life immortal, here for the taking.
Hence what happened to the North American Shipping Company.
We’ve been outplayed, that seems certain. But … by whom? A British bandit of the Midwest? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Could it be a man masquerading as British, knowing I might have a chance to deduce his true identity? Would that be a strategy to confuse me? I would have to admit to it being a very successful strategy then!
Melanie’s head began to spin as she walked down the street, scanning the crowd for a beat cop or even a government building of some sort, a courthouse or a jail. Surely a city like this has a jail, Melanie reasoned, probably dozens of them by the looks of this rabble.
But the grimy denizens of New York could hold no candle to the looming shadow in Melanie’s imagination, the spectre of some unnamed, faceless danger that was so big and deadly that it could set men cowering and render buildings ablaze.
What more can he or they do? And what do they have planned for me? Whoever this is, they’re not just trying to keep me in New York, they’re trapping me here, trapping me so they can close in for the kill. I could be tortured for what I know, forced to share it with the worst men in the world or die trying to resist.
But I will resist; I won’t let that happen. Daddy died for this. So will I if I must.
Melanie couldn’t deny having thought about her father more and more. After his mysterious death five years before, she’d been haunted by its vague circumstances. She’d always felt the work he and Dr Blundell were doing was so important that those thugs who robbed him of his money and of his life had to be associated with some greater machinery.
But no connections had ever been made, despite a thorough enquiry. Melanie had imagined seeing frightening men everywhere, but even the good doctor was ready to ascribe that to her imagination. Eventually, Melanie had managed to overcome the notions and chalk them up as what they were, the frightened visions of a traumatized little girl.
But Dr. Blundell hadn’t abandoned her. He’d kept her on and given her shelter, bringing her in on his work and making her his principle student. They’d grown almost as close as if they were father and daughter, and Melanie had managed to outgrow the tragedy of her father’s loss and progress into the possibilities of adulthood.
But now all that fear was coming back as the inspiration for it returned. And unlike before, Melanie knew herself to be entirely alone; no sheltering presence of the brilliant Dr. Blundell, no secure home in London with all the benefits of a loving home. Melanie was isolated, in a native country which she did not know, with an urgent need of help and little possibility of getting it.
What about Dr. Blundell? Have they struck at him too? Could there have been some coordinated attack to isolate and destroy us both at the same time in a devious separate-and-destroy tactic? Who could have such reach, and why would they want to be so destructive? I carry the potential to save countless lives for every generation to come. Once I’m in Chicago, teaching this practice to others, delivering all this valuable and necessary equipment, lives will be saved there and beyond. Once the practice is well known and established, it’s going to spread and spread fast. We could be saving thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives over the years! Who would want to destroy that? Can an evil of that enormity truly exist in the world?
But one look around the streets of New York City answered that question in a way that made Melanie sick to her stomach. She was in a den of lions, a nest of vipers, and she felt certain that she’d never make it out alive.
Melanie finally did run into a man wearing a shiny metal badge on his black lapel. He was broadly built with a red goatee, waxed at the chin and both ends of the mustache. He turned to greet Melanie with a startled look, green eyes wide as he held his hands out to calm her.
“What’s all this now?”
“Well it’s … a variety of things, I suppose. I … I had a trunk, and it was stolen from the pier.”
“Right off our pier?” He pointed toward the dock. “Not a mile that way?” Melanie nodded. “Did you see who did it?”
“No, I … I didn’t, Constable …?”
“City Marshal Peck, Mitchell Peck … Miss—?”
Unsure if she should lie to an American city marshal, Melanie slowly said, “Um, Mullaney …”
The city marshal didn’t give her name too much thought. Other things seemed to be on his mind. “And how is it that your trunk was stolen out from under you and you didn’t even see who did it?”
“I was … occupied elsewhere. I’d arranged to be met, but that … fell through.” He’s a city marshal, Melanie reasoned in the growing panic. If all these shipping companies were alerted about me and my arrival, warned to stay away from me, one of them burned to the ground, he’d know about me … about Melanie Parker anyway. Am I fooling him? If I am, what chance do I have of getting away with it for very long?
“But the greater fact of the matter,” Melanie said, “is a chore of finding an … an escort from New York to Chicago. All the shipping companies here seem to be … booked to their fullest extent, I’m afraid.”
The city marshal nodded, hand stroking his sharp red beard. “I see.”
“Perhaps you can recommend somebody? Somebody reliable, I mean.”
“Of course. And just what are you transporting to Chicago?”
“Oh, well, they’re medical supplies, like dental drills.”
But Melanie didn’t get the chuckle she was hoping for. With a deathly straight face, City Marshal Peck asked, “Like dental drills, or dental drills?”
“Needles and things like that,” Melanie said. “They’re for … operations, mostly.”
“They don’t have those things in Chicago?”
“Some, I guess,” Melanie said. “But I’m also carrying a good deal of sodium citrate, which is vital …”
“It’s a … a solution that helps … with the procedure.”
“And … what procedure is that now?”
Melanie paused, glancing around and trying not to show her rising panic, certain it was showing in her blushing cheeks. “Tell you the truth, I don’t really know all the technicalities of it. I’m just here to make sure everything gets where it needs to be.”
The city marshal obviously thought it all over, eyes shifting around the crowded street around them and then finding Melanie once again.
“Not a very proper job for a woman.”
Melanie wanted to say, I beg your pardon? A woman can do things no man can do, my friend! Instead what she said was, “We were to have plenty of rugged, masculine help from a local company —”
“North American?” Oh no, Melanie thought, he does know, he must! But before she could disguise her assumption, he explained, “I am a city marshal, after all.”
A long moment passed, and Melanie could see that the man was thinking things through. Just what those things were, she could only guess. If he knows who I am, if he’s in the pocket of that mysterious Englishman, then he’ll set me up. If he’s not, how do I know I can trust his recommendation?
“Tell you what,” City Marshal Peck said, “I’ll look around, see what I can do. You staying somewhere in town? I could … send some people over.”
A sudden chill ran through Melanie’s veins. This was a mistake a voice inside her cried out, this man’s got something in mind. Whether it’s for his own purposes or this man’s or somebody else’s, who can say? What difference does it make?
“I … I’m not staying anywhere, in that sense.”
“You’re in New York without a place to stay?”
Melanie wanted to explain that she’d hoped to be on the road the same day of her arrival, but she felt he already knew it. It also made her feel incompetent and weak. I may yet have to find a place, Melanie realized, but I’m running out of time to pick up that crate!
“I … I’m just going to go back to the ship, see if I can’t find somebody there.”
“And what if that doesn’t work out?” He smiled, that waxed mustache rising up even higher on either side of his face. “I’m only trying to help you, Miss … Mullaney.”
“I’m sorry; I’m running out of time. I have to go. But thank you … for all your help.”
Melanie turned and raced back toward the dock, hoping that she’d managed to fade into the crowd. She didn’t dare to turn to look behind her, but something told Melanie that she was being followed.
Melanie walked down the street, quickly enough to get further away from the city marshal, but the creeping suspicion that she was in somebody’s sights was persistent.
Don’t get carried away, Melanie told herself. There’s so much happening and so fast, it’d only be reasonable that anybody would.
But a glance behind her told Melanie that she was right. A man in a ratty wool jacket and scraggily hair was walking up behind her, fast, his eyes fixed directly on her. There was no denying it, and it sent Melanie spinning and running down the street. Her lungs flexed harder, pushing the blood faster through her veins.
Pedestrians grimaced at Melanie as she pushed her way through the crowd, suddenly seeming to be going directly and exclusively against the traffic. They tossed out a lot of insults at her, but she didn’t linger long enough to hear a single one. The rumble kept up behind her, even louder, and Melanie was certain that it was her pursuer.
Who is it? By the look of him, he’s a low-rent thug, nothing more. To think anyone associated with the Crown would even deem to toss him a farthing …
But there was no more time to think about it.
Whoever he is, I’m not quite keen on staying here to find out.
“Love Through Adventure and Blood” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Melanie Parker is the heiress of the only fully functioning blood transfusion equipment and the only person who knows how to use it. Young, a dreamer, starts her journey to Chicago in order to introduce the new life-saving technology. However, her life is soon plunged into deathly peril… When a mysterious agent cuts her off from any assistance and starts stalking her across the nation, she will need more than her courage to accomplish her mission. Will she find the partner she needs in this hazardous adventure or will she have to fight alone against the hurdles in her way?
Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, raised by aristocrats, is a man of extraordinary skills, knowledge, and resources. When he sees that beautiful Melanie needs someone to help her in a dangerous mission he doesn’t hesitate and volunteers to escort her. But even though his fate has always called him to more adventure, he never expected this journey to be so tense and unexpected. Will he find a way to help and save the woman he has fallen in love with, or will he risk losing everything?
When the journey seems endless, the two heroes will have to face angry blackhearted bandits, a mysterious agent and great dangers which will threaten their lives. They must prevail over natural challenges of all sorts, wild animals and flash floods. Will they succeed and find solace or will they lose it all, even their lives?
“Love Through Adventure and Blood” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 90,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.