Part Two

Chapter One

A month or so passed before next domino fell in the chain reaction leading to the Porter War. In that time the Caroline seemed to undergo a transformation. What was once a decrepit airship became a well oiled machine. Though he did not look like much and his unusual mischief was almost beyond the bounds of patience, the little King was exceptionally versed in the inners of the steam engine. He stripped down the engine, taking out many of the captain's ill wrought fixes, and then built it back up again with spare parts that he found about junk yards. The boy mechanic seemed to be worth all the trouble he brought us.

As the airship recovered we started to see money again. The job in Fremont was more profitable than we expected, considering we had shot Jericho and most of the outlawed men. This was mostly because many of the freelancers on the side of the law were killed in the skirmish. The reward pie was carved into fewer and bigger slices. To bolster our success, we took a few jobs escorting pioneers to and fro. I was even able to buy myself a small corset on the sly.

All the time Seven lived off of Captain Wright's dime.

The captain often visited her cell when he thought that the rest of us were asleep. I do not believe that their relationship was carnal. The captain preferred to flirt with the temptation. Instead of fulfilling their lust for each other they talked in hushed voices as the engines whirred and hissed their ways through the passageways. They talked of rumours and jobs. They talked of the western folk they had met. Seven asked of Abel King and his eccentric antics fearing for the safety of the crew. She also asked of Oriole and why she didn't visit.

All the time the captain asked about Tillman.

It was one night I was listening to their conversation as I hid at the entrance to the cell block that Seven began to speak of our first nemesis.

"Have you ever been in love, Captain Wright?"

"I reckon so," the captain replied lazily.

"No," she said. "I mean really in love. The unconditional sort."

"Is there such a thing?" The captain scoffed.

"Only someone who has really been in love would be so cynical. You've been in love before."

"I don't suppose I said anything of the sort, ma'am."

"You can shove your feigned chivalry, captain - call me Seven like my daddy used to call me."

"Like Tillman called you?"

"Tillman called me a whore," Seven snorted. At the mention of Tillman's name she became agitated. I heard her shuffle about her cell in an attempt to make herself more comfortable or wrap her blanket closer around her slender shoulders. It was draughty about this part of the airship nacelle. I breathed softly into my frigid hands.

"That ain't right," the captain said.

"No it ain't!" she snapped. "He is a leech or something. He doesn't know anything about me. He don't know who I am and of what I am capable. I'm going to bring that man down."

"If you two ain't on the friendlies," the captain said. "How'd it come to be you got to be on his coin?"

"Blackmail," Seven said.

I could hear the scratch of a striking match. Seven exhaled heavily. I could smell the dank smoke hanging in the air from the cigarette that they were sharing.

Seven continued, "My friends in the south were interested in my friends in the north and so on and so forth. By allowing a few things pass hands a few times, I was doing my part to end the war. It's looking like St. Louis was going back to the south. At least that is how it began to look before I was run out of town. I wanted to make sure that the rebels had a chance. I don't know how Tillman caught wind of the whole affair, but he decided that it weren't right for a someone like me to be in the favour of the south when they took the city."

"If he made like he was going to sell you out to your Union friends, why didn't you just leave, stay south of the Mason Dixon?"

"Because I was in love with Fredricks. I couldn't stand to live with myself if he knew - " Seven drew an unsteady breath.

"If you loved him you shouldn't been traitoring and such," the captain said.

"I loved him so much that I wanted the war to be over," Seven said regaining her composure. "I wanted him to make a home for us. I didn't want him to get killed. I figured that if St. Louis fell, McClellan would finally make good on his promise to call the war off."

They let silence set in and then Seven continued, "So I kept Tillman informed with all of my traitoring. He used the information to pay off the right people and make backhanded deals. Tillman wanted St. Louis to be southern again 'cause it meant favourable business. Well I kept doing like that until I could bear it no longer. I confessed and told Fredricks everything. You know what he did? He kissed me told me that everything was going to be fine and that he would take care of Tillman for me.

"He was found dead the next day.

"They pinned the murder on me. I was the last person to see him alive. For all of his brutishness, Tillman knows talent. He threw his considerable weight around and got me out of prison and out of the noose. He then gave me the task of hunting you down. He should have known better than to let a girl like me set off on my lonesome. I suppose if I hadn't chanced by you and your crew I really would be in San Fransisco about now. Perhaps, he knew exactly what he is doing by setting me loose on you. He don't like you much, cowboy. What did you do to him?"

"In no certain way, I might have let it be known that he was playing the field," the captain said.

He took a long drag from his cigarette.

"He has got you in a bind, don't he?" Seven asked.

"I reckon he does," the captain said.

"Don't like it that you have some sausage-fingered city goon having a mind to do in some poor cowboy like you?"

Captain Wright didn't answer.

"You know I might be able to do something about your predicament."

Again the captain didn't answer.

"There are going to be others, you know that," Seven said as I could hear her slinking closer to the captain. "You ruined his whole plan. He's living underground now until the rebels take St. Louis back. It's a smudge on his record to let you get out alive though you're gallivanting about the west or not. He wants you dead and so he is going to have you dead. He'll just keep hiring men, each more dangerous than the last, until he has his way."

The captain still kept his jaw tight.

"Tillman might know that I'm at your mercy - but I can convince him that I had my way with you. I can get your crew into a position to take your war to his doorstep."

"I ain't yet inclined to let you out of your cage," the captain said.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Come now, captain," Seven purred. "You know I could do it."

"I know," the captain said. "And that don't do much to ease my mind."

"If you want something to ease the mind," Seven said playfully. "Why don't you spit out that cigarette and come over here, cowboy."

The captain stood. The faint plucking sound of a cigarette hitting a tin can caught my attention. I could hear his footsteps. All of a sudden the captain was standing outside the of the door.

"Eep!" I yelped.

"Is that the kid?" Seven called out. "Let him in here! I'm dying to have a talk with him."

The captain stood, a confused look upon his rugged features. He looked to me, then back in the door at Seven. Finally his eyes rested on me and took on a posture of understanding. His features softened if only just a little bit. I, however, just stood paralysed as someone who gets caught eaves-dropping often did.

"Don't get any ideas, kid," the captain grinned. "She ain't your type."

He turned and left me to stand there with my heart slowly coming down from out of my head.