Pacific Odyssey:

Book I

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five

Vengeance

 

 

The next night, Zorro waited until just before the moon had risen and then slipped silently out of the window and to the other cabin.  As the ship bucked in slightly heavier seas, he slid in through the gun port.  The moon began to rise over the horizon as he opened the chest nearest the window.   It was filled with egg shaped packets, similar to the one he had seen the captain examining earlier.  Curious about this product that seemed to be the source of so much greed and misery, Zorro opened one of the packets and perused the opium in the light of the moon.  He held it close to his face, sniffed it and then touched the soap-like cake with his finger.  A little of it stuck to his glove and he licked it off.  Then Zorro shook his head at the bitterness of the substance.  By the Saints, this is terrible! he thought, but he soon experienced the almost pleasant cessation of the pain that he had felt from the ankle he had twisted the day before. 

He understood why some called this God’s Own Medicine.  It was tempting, but he resisted and began unwrapping and then dropping the opium out of the gun port.  Occasionally, Zorro listened for any splashing or indication that he had been heard, but the sound of the ship plowing through the waves hid any noise he was making, and he heard nothing from outside the cabin or above him.  Zorro continued working steadily, even after the moon ceased shining directly into the cabin.  As he worked on the chests near the door, he began replacing packets with cannonballs wrapped loosely in the leaves and cotton cloth.  That made the work slower and more difficult, but sometime not too long before daybreak, the job was finished.  Zorro removed the mask for a moment, and rubbing his eyes and face, tried for some measure of wakefulness before he squeezed back out of the gun port. 

His body felt numb from fatigue, his fingers slipped several times and it took him twice as long to reach his cabin as it had in the past.  His eyes burned and he sneezed softly.   As he used the knife to help him along his way, he licked his lips, swallowed and then realized what he had done.  Opium residue!  Finally, he slipped in the window, removed the costume, stowing it away, and used a rag to wipe his face, but when it came time to climb into his hammock, Diego was simply too tired and he lay on the floor next to his sea chest.  His last thought as sleep overtook him was the fine joke it would be when Beatty or his buyers undid the wrappings and found cannonballs….

 

 

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With Cavanaugh dead, Victoria felt safer on deck at night, even though her experience had frightened her out of her nightly walks for almost two weeks.  Tonight, though, she was so restless that she had to go out.  Checking Martha Ann, the woman threw a wrap around her shoulders and ventured out of her cabin.  She climbed to the poop deck and then to the very rear of the ship.  The poultry rustled softly in their coop and the breeze gently pulled at her hair.  She walked back and forth for a few minutes, waving quickly to the watch, one of the older sailors, to reassure him as she stood at the port railing.  A movement below her caught her eye and she watched.  A small, dark package fell out of a window and into the sea, then another, and another.  It was a steady stream and she wondered what it could be.  Who has a cabin down there? she thought. She looked up to see the position of the watch and saw that he was climbing up to the poop deck.

Duggan, she thought in relief and then wondered whether she should let him know about the mysterious packages.   She glanced down again and felt the need to keep her discovery to herself.   Turning, she walked to meet the old sailor.  

“Evenin’ mum, ain’t seen much of you lately,” Duggan said amiably. 

“No, I’ve been sleeping better and haven’t felt the need to walk the decks as much,” she said.  “And besides, that was a bit scary, Mr. Cavanaugh disappearing like that.”  

“Aye, mum, that it would be.  But he kind of brought it on hisself, he did, drinkin’ on watch,” he said.  

Victoria shuddered.  “Maybe, but to drown . . . that seems a terrible way to die.”

“Never tried it, mum, but been told that it’s really an easy way to go, if it’s your time.”  The old sailor chuckled.  “Better than gettin sick or fallin’ to the deck or the like.”  He paused and then continued.  “Or just plain getting old, like me.”

“Mr. Duggan, you are not old,” she replied with a chuckle.  On a sudden whim, she leaned over and kissed him on one grizzled cheek.   

“Now, missee, don’t go startin’ that.  I be definitely too old for that!”  He, too, chuckled and then, bidding her good-bye, sauntered back down to the quarterdeck.   Victoria wandered back to the portside of the poop deck and surreptitiously looked down at the waves.  More packets fell out of the port and she suddenly remembered what was down there.  It was the cabin in which Captain Beatty had stored that shipment of opium.   Someone was throwing out the captain’s opium!  But who? she wondered.    

Trying to stay nonchalant about it, Victoria leaned on the rail and watched the light of the moon in front of her dancing on the waves, all the while keeping an eye on the activity below.  Finally, she decided that there was no way she could figure out who was in there unless she went below.  But how could she explain her presence one deck below her own cabin if someone saw her?  And what would the culprit do if he caught her spying on him anyway?  This was one mystery that she would not be able to solve tonight, she thought after a while, and she began to turn away.  Then she saw a different movement.  It was a figure, all wrapped in dark, sliding with great effort out of the gun port. 

My dark-clad friend!  She continued to watch, glancing in Francis Duggan’s direction every so often.  The costumed man continued slowly along a tiny ledge toward the gallery, carefully maintaining his balance.  Her heart stopped a few times when it seemed that he was going to fall, but he used his knife to keep a sure hold on the ship.  Finally, the dark-clad man got to the gallery windows and slipped through an open one.   

Victoria made her way toward her own cabin.  She had left Martha Ann too long alone.  All the way, though, she pondered.  Whose cabin was that?  Who could that man be?  He had saved her, he was obviously the captain’s mysterious visitor, the avenger, and now he was destroying the shipment of opium.  Not only who, but why?  She thought of who had rooms in the great cabin on the port side.  Mr. Hackley did and Mr. Bowman did.  Somehow, Victoria couldn’t see either one of them as a dark costumed avenger risking his life clambering on the outside of a ship in the middle of the night.   She thought that Mr. Sharpe did, too, but she couldn’t be sure.   

This was a mystery to be sure and Victoria felt that if she kept her eyes open she might soon figure it out, if for no other reason then to thank the man who had saved her from dishonor and possibly death. 

 

 

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The next morning, Bowman stared at his assistant, fast asleep under his hammock.  When he tried to awaken him, he found his friend so groggy and listless, he feared that he may have caught a fever, but Diego didn’t seem feverish. The supercargo wondered if the young man had possibly had some rum to drink the night before, and then remembered that his assistant didn’t care for the taste of rum.  Bowman was curious, because Diego looked for all the world like someone with a mild hangover.               

Diego peered at Bowman as though through the wrong end of a telescope.  His mind tried to come up with something plausible, but it was so hard to think.  Thinking was like walking through a mudslide. So tired.  Rubbing his burning eyes, he finally mumbled,  “Something I ate,” and lay back down.  Bowman went to the purser and received an appropriate antidote for Diego’s ‘food poisoning’.  The horrendous taste of the antidote chased the fuzziness from the Californiano’s mind much faster than the antidote itself did.  By midmorning, his head had cleared and he felt somewhat normal again, but with a new and fearful respect for the stuff he was trying to destroy.   He also realized that he could not work the sails, help Mr. Bowman and play avenger all night without some repercussions.   Looking outside at the soft puffy clouds, he was very glad that there wasn’t any weather that would take him aloft.  And very glad that he had finished his mission the night before.  

His run in with the opium also made him think of his actions and motivations.  Everything he had done recently was directly related to his bitterness, disappointment and homesickness.  Never before in the guise of Zorro had he taken upon himself such a quest for vengeance and it slightly disturbed him.   What was he going to accomplish with this mission of his?  He would most assuredly hurt the captain.  He would put a slight dent into the opium trade, but Diego realized that had been a rationalization on his part to cover his real motive, that of vengeance.  He had already begun this action, but what would be the end result of it?  Now that the shipment was destroyed, the captain might be forced to let some of the crew go and make short runs in the orient to recoup his losses.  If that were the case, Diego supposed that the indentured sailors would be the first to go.  That meant there would be the possibility that their new ships might take them back east.  He could only hope for the best, because he couldn’t totally regret his actions that much.   

The two men worked on manifests most of the afternoon.  As they did, they bantered.  “Our next port o’call will be Canton.  About two weeks time, I believe.”

“I have been told that it is a huge city, comparable to Madrid,” Diego replied.

“Yes, very comparable.  In fact bigger, I would venture to say.  And it is filled with warehouses and merchants offices of several European countries,” Bowman continued.

“Do you think there would be Spanish offices?” Diego inquired softly.  

“Might be, even though I’ve never heard of any,” Bowman said. 

If there was a Spanish business consulate, then there was a great chance that he could get away from the ship and plead his and the others’ cases with his countrymen, especially if Mr. Bowman was willing to speak for him or help him to that end.  Then he and the other eleven men would be on their way home.  Home…  What a wonderful sound that one word had in his mind.  It was almost an obsessive thing, working into every corner of his consciousness. 

As though reading his mind, Bowman said, “Diego, I think that it might be possible for you to look for a Spanish consulate.  And if there is one, I will help you to plead your case.  I can make no guarantees, but I will do my best.”

“That could be dangerous for you,” Diego protested.  

“Again, my boy, there is not much that frightens me at this stage in my life,” Bowman said.  He motioned for Diego to come closer.  When the young man had done so, Bowman said softly, so softly that it was almost a whisper, “Diego, I want you to make me a promise.”   

Diego looked at his mentor in curiosity before he nodded. “I will do all in my power to keep a promise to you, Mister Bowman.”  

“I want you to promise me that no matter what happens between now and the time we dock in Canton, you will go to someone who can help you get back home.  You will not hold back this time!  If you have to, you will jump ship.”  Bowman’s gaze seemed to bore into Diego’s eyes.  “Promise me, my friend.”  

Diego saw the intensity in his mentor’s eyes, but still he hesitated.  He didn’t want anything to happen to his mentor and friend and he said as much.  

“Diego, listen to me.  I am old.  There is nothing they can do to me.  I have too many years of good service for them to put me in a brig or to do anything drastic to me.  At worst they’ll ship me out and send me back home to England.”  Bowman paused and leaned back in his chair.  “And that doesn’t sound like anything too bad to me.”  He smiled and then leaned forward again.  “Promise me, Diego.  I know you are a man of honor.  If you promise, then I will be satisfied.”   

Diego finally nodded.  “I promise, Mr. Bowman.”

“Good.  Now I feel much better.  If we can arrange for the others, that is to the better, but at least I know that you will get home.”  Bowman sighed and continued working on the manifest before him.   Diego felt a bit of trepidation at the supercargo’s request. 

 

 

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All day, Victoria wondered about the mysterious man in black.  How could she discreetly find out who was in that cabin right below the captain’s.  She went down to the great cabin area, Martha Ann in tow, to see Mr. Sharpe.   “What do you have for a headache,” she asked.  She noted that his cabin was not below the captain’s, nor did it have a gallery window.  In fact it was next to the cabin with the opium.  She noted that Mr. Hackler’s was on the other side and by her best guess, it, too wouldn’t have a gallery window.  

Then she remembered the day she had helped care for the Spaniard, Diego de la Vega.  Martha Ann had almost run to the end of the corridor, but had stopped at the supercargo’s cabin to check out the new sailor.  Victoria remembered that there had been gallery windows in Mr. Bowman’s cabin.  But Bowman?  No, of course not.  Then it hit her.  It had to the young Spaniard.  He was the mysterious friend.  And everything fit.  She seemed to remember now that the young man slept in his mentor’s cabin.  He was the one who protected her on the Sandwich Islands.  But why the opium? 

For whatever reason, Victoria realized that she would never divulge his secret.  But on a ship like this, how long could he keep this dangerous secret?

 

 

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That night, the ship weighed anchor just outside a port at the tip of Indochina.   Again, a smaller vessel sailed alongside, and Captain Beatty and Mr. Hackley haggled with the owners for over an hour.  When all was said and done, twenty more chests of opium were brought on board in exchange for two full bags of gold.  Although the talk around the crews’ mess was that part of the gold might be for their salaries, no one really complained too much.  The return in China for that much opium would be more that ten times what the captain had paid for it.  The chests were carefully stacked on top of the ones already in the cabin.  Beatty then locked the cabin door and went to bed.   

Diego mentally groaned.  While he had questioned his own motives, when it came right down to it, he felt compelled to destroy the foul cargo and he knew that when the time was right, he would do so.  From what Mr. Bowman had said, he would have more than a week to act. 

 

 

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Three days later, Bowman was slower getting up than he usually was.  “Just tired,” was his mumbled response.           

Diego insisted that his friend see Mr. Sharpe, the purser, who also was serving as the ship’s doctor.  He was worried about Bowman, who really didn’t look well to him.  Not only did he look as tired as he claimed to be, but he seemed pale and acted as though he was in pain.  The purser checked the cargo master over and suggested that he take something that would help him rest.  

“No, I will be fine.  Keep that foul tasting stuff of yours for those who are really sick, Richard,” Bowman said to the purser.   

“No, Mister Bowman.  If Mister Sharpe thinks this will help you, then you must take it.  Whatever needs to be done today, I can handle it,” Diego admonished his mentor.  Sharpe just gazed at the older man sternly.  

“Good heavens, you two act as though I am about to fall over and die right now.  I’m fine.  I just need an hour more rest and I’ll be all right.”  

“Perhaps it is the thought that I have not been taught well enough to take over your duties for a day, Mister Bowman,” Diego said pointedly, hoping his friend would take the bait.  

“Of course I have taught you well, Diego.  You could do this job blindfol….” he began his retort and then realized what his assistant was up to.  He gazed at both of the men and realized that the odds were too overwhelming for him.  “All right, I will take the medicine.  If it makes me sick and I leave my breakfast all over the cabin floor, it will serve you right, Diego.”   

After accompanying the old man back to their cabin, Diego watched while Bowman took the medicine and only left his side after he had fallen asleep. Diego then went to see Sharpe again and was very blunt in his query.  “Can you tell me what is wrong with the supercargo?”  

The purser sighed.  “This isn’t the kind of life that a man his age should be living,” the man explained. “I think his heart is weakening.  The heartbeat seemed to be erratic.”  

Diego paled.  “And the medicine you gave him?” he asked.   

“Exactly what I said it was,” Sharpe said.  “Something to help him sleep.  I think that sleep is the best thing for him right now.  Do what you can for him, but try not to act out of the ordinary.  As you know, George Bowman is a proud man.”  Sharpe paused.  “Just to help you feel a bit better, Mr. Bowman has had problems similar to this before, but has recovered.  He just needs to rest and take it easy,” the purser said seriously and then paused for a moment.  “Diego, the supercargo really likes you.  I think you remind him of his dead son, and you are the closest thing to a family he has had in years.  He might listen to you as long as you don’t overdo it with concern.”            

Diego spent most of the day keeping an eye on his friend, when he wasn’t writing letters for others or running errands for the ship’s officers.  Making sure Bowman received and ate his meals and stayed close to his bed, Diego decided that it would be a good idea to take care of the opium tonight.  He would try to get the job done and get back to his cabin a little sooner, just in case his mentor needed him. He had also heard one of the sailors say that the signs pointed to a big blow the next morning and Diego wanted to be near the sick man when that happened.   

As Diego made his plans, there was a slight niggling of anxiety in the back of his mind, but he finally attributed it to concern for his friend.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six
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