Chapter Sixteen

 

 

Smitty’s , 8:40 a.m.

 

Emma took her time down the steps as her new footwear was heavy and she was skeptical of the shaky steps. Herc was saddling up his horse alone. The others were heard talking in the foundry nearby. The voices rose as Emma and Herc wandered into the dim building.

Herc tugged her sleeve. “For now, I think it’s best if you keep as silent as you can. We ain’t told Smitty as to your true nature, so the less said, the better.”

“What if he speaks to me directly?”

He paused and stroked his newly bald chin. “Keep it brief and speak it low.”

Emma had a surge of unease. She was attired so as to fool the casual onlooker, but no one thought about her womanly words, voice or manner.

Silas, Romeo and the fat captain, Smitty, were gathered around the near corner at the back of the building. There was a genuinely heated debate brewing. The center of the parlay was what was to be done with Pie, who was still bound and hanging upside-down by the hook. His face was purpled and his eyes appeared about to pop right out of his head and commence rolling about the shop floor.

Despite his position, he displayed vigorous signs of life as he thrashed wildly and swung back and forth, hitting his head against one of the forges in a regular rhythm as he went one way and back again. It reminded Emma of a raccoon that once tangled itself up in her mother’s knitting yarn. With no one around to help. it eventually strangled. Her mother never knit one or purled two again.

Smitty did not notice the two new audience members, and ranted hotly in a thick Scottish brogue. “I dinna care wha he stole or whom he stole it from, ye canna hang a man like a ham in my shop without first askin’ me! This is na good for business. He’s gonna run up and down the levee tellin’ people Cap’n Smitty is a kidnapper.”

Though the forges were cold this Sunday morning, Smitty had a highly crimson face and sweat poured freely from his brow. His shaggy, full grey beard dripped with it.

Silas attempted reason. “Smitty, I guarantee he will not be sayin’ a word about this to anyone. What would he tell the police? ‘You see, officer, I got knocked the hell out whilst I was absconding with another man’s horses?’ He does not have a leg to stand on here.”

Herc and Romeo laughed.

“Besides, once we get a good length downriver, Romeo will cut him down and stress how prudent his silence would be . . .” Silas added.

Herc broke in, “I ain’t so sure discussing our itinerary in front of our little pendulum here is a good idea.”

“Agreed,” Silas said as he motioned for them to retire to the courtyard out back. Dee Dee stayed behind. As Romeo closed the doors behind them, Pie gave out one last muted plea.

“Let us not dwell on this whole Pie business,” Herc said. “Ain’t one person gonna listen to that old river rat anyhow. What we need to discuss is how far you’re gonna take us.”

“I dunno, now,” Smitty said wiping the moisture from the back of his neck but leaving the cascade of sweat on his face, “I get a sickly feeling ye are not tellin’ me the whole tale here. Why are ye so eager to scurry off? Why not take one a the passenger boats? Nay, I get a feelin’ there’s some shifty sand under me feet. What have ye boys done now and who is this bit of kindling ye’ve got in tow?” His eyes scoured Emma like he was scraping mussels from the hull of his ship. “I don’t like the looks of him.”

“None of that is your concern, Smitty,” Silas whispered. “You have done a good lot for us in the past, but we’ve done you many times better. Need I remind you of Haskell and the fire on his boat? You could’ve been swingin’ on a rope out over the Missip’ if Herc and I had not run that diversion . . .”

“Now why do ye always feel the need to bring up that old opera? Ye know I was grateful to ye and I’ve done all I can to pay ye back! I simply feel if I’m stickin’ me neck out, I should be duly compensated. Ye’ve got an undercurrent yer not tellin’ me about . . .”

Romeo who spoke up. “Boss, you had a deal. Don’t go and be breakin’ it, ’cause I can’t see myself workin’ for no man what don’t keep his word . . .”

“Ach, now ye are gonna strong-arm me?”

Romeo shrugged.

Smitty sighed, took out an already damp handkerchief and finally wiped his face. “How far are ye hoping to get?”

“Natchez,” Silas said.

“Nay,” Smitty countered, “I go as far as Memphis.”

“Vicksburg,” Herc said.

“Nay, Memphis.”

Silas took off his hat and riffled his hair. “Helena, then. It ain’t but a short chug past Memphis.”

“Nay. I have a contract to scuttle the Keller Lee. Two boilers and her engine parts. She caught fire on the foredeck and sunk nose first. Most of the equipment is just pokin’ up pretty as ye please there ready to be plucked—least that’s the word on the water. If I dinna get there first, Parker and his outfit will get the haul. Truth be told, if I dinna get rolling soon, I will be hard-pressed to stay afloat at all. The Keller Lee is this side of Memphis.”

“Alright, Memphis it is,” Silas said, once again shaking hands with the fat man on spindly legs.

“I’m gonna see to the load off and re-wooding, boss,” Romeo told Smitty, “You all should be ready in ’bout three-quarters to an hour.”

He swung the door open and stepped into the shop where he stopped abruptly and said, “Dee Dee! Whatchu doin’?”

Emma and Silas raced shoulder to shoulder and crowded in to see the commotion. Dee Dee was kneeling next to Pie’s head. She had a cup of water in one hand and crackers in the other.

“I’m just givin’ him some water and such,” she said, looking up contritely at her father. “He been hangin’ up here all night and mornin’. He may be a thief, but they even feed thieves in jail . . .”

Romeo relaxed and even grinned sweetly. “A’right, but he so much as snap like a turtle at you, you put that rag and rope back on him. Matter of fact, put it back on soon’s you done, y’hear?”

“Yes, poppa.”

Most meandered off to their chores of preparation, but Emma stayed and knelt next to Dee Dee and the hanging man. “That was very sweet of you, Dee Dee.”

“Oh, I know you would have thought of it soon enough.”

Pie tried to speak, but a spray of cracker dust was all he produced.

“I ain’t never seen a man eat up-side down afore,” Dee Dee mused. “I wonder if it goes on up or if it stays down in his throat.”

“I suppose you will find out soon enough.”

“You look good in them clothes, Miss—I mean, Sir,” Dee Dee said, taking in Emma’s disguise.

“I fear that will be the extent of my charade.”

“Oh, it ain’t hard to pull the wool over people’s eyes—especially men. I been doin’ it for years now. They see what they wanna see and that’s about all. If it ain’t in skirts and frills, they don’t rise up much.”

“That’s true. I just hope one day you will be able to be on the outside who you truly are on the inside.”

Pie took on a confused look between bites and swallows.

“I don’t think that has nothin’ to do with the clothes you wear, does it?”

“You are indeed a wonder, Dee Dee. I wish more grown-ups saw things the way you do.”

Dee Dee straightened at the compliment, yet something on her mind weighed her right back down. “I hope you all are gonna be alright. Maybe you could stay here with us?”

Emma smiled and ran her hand across Dee Dee’s head. “You are sweet to worry, but I have a plan.”

Dee Dee ate one of the crackers and bits of the dust flew from her lips as she blurted out, “I know! Poppa told me you all is headed all the way out to Prescott, in Arizona—“

Though Dee Dee was proud of knowing of the plan, Emma panicked and quickly slapped her palm over Dee Dee’s mouth, causing her to choke on the crackers.

Emma apologized and patted her gently on the back. She stared at Pie, searching him for some sign he had heard Dee Dee’s words. He only closed his eyes and blinked tighter when crumbs fell from his mouth and brushed his eyelashes. She decided he was too intent on his crackers to be listening.

To be safe, though, Emma took Dee Dee by the arm and led her out into the courtyard.

Once out of Pie’s hearing, she explained the rest of her plan. “Yes, we are headed to Arizona. My grandfather has a mine there near Prescott and once I reach him, he will be able to protect me.”

“He sounds like a good man.” Dee Dee replied, staring down absently at her hands as she brushed them off. “I wish I knew more of my family. Still, my Poppa is more than enough family for me most times.”

“I am glad I met your father. I am sorry to say I actually have never met my Grandpa.”

“Then how you know he’s gonna keep you safe once you all get there?” Concern deepened the crease in her brow. “You got a long ways to go and it could be worse than what you runnin’ from.”

Emma shook her head and laughed. She stared into the horse stalls and watched Shot’s tail flick at flies. Ezra Bean was leaning out over the roof, intently watching the tail swish about. “Nothing could be worse than what I’m running from. Still, the first thing we have to do is get downriver unnoticed. That is why the men have decided to disguise me.”

Dee Dee took Emma in again, more slowly. “What you gonna go by?”

“I do not understand.”

“You all’s name. You can’t have nobody callin’ you by your regular name. That’s gonna be a right dead give away. Poppa called me Dee Dee ’cause it’s close to my real name and he don’t slip up in front of other people that way.”

“Oh my. I never thought of that. What would you suggest?”

“Emma is real close to Emmet, so that should be a name you would recognize. Even if they was to slip up, you still close enough for it to make you turn and say, ‘Yes? May I help you with somethin’?”

Emma laughed, but Dee Dee gave her a teacher’s glare, for she was dead serious.

“Very well, Emmet it is.”

“I’m gonna help you with your theatrics now,” Dee Dee said as she went back inside the foundry and slipped Pie’s gag back on. He was still trying to chew and she gave him a gentle pat on the head which he tried to avoid by jerking his head out of her reach.

Dee Dee smiled at him and crossed once again out into the courtyard. Silas and Herc were loading the mule with their supplies.

“Now when you walk,” Dee Dee instructed, “you gotta take longer strides. Yeah, that’s good. Now bow your legs out a little too.”

Emma’s clumsy strut brought muted chuckles from the men, but they nodded encouragement.

“You gotta stride like your farts don’t stink and you the boss of the bosses.”

Emma had no idea what this meant, but endeavored to please her instructor. After a few moments of comical preening about, Dee Dee was laughing, jumping and clapping. “Yes, Sir! You is the cock of the walk!”

The courtyard echoed with laughter and then it was back to work.

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