Revisiting the main characters from “Cannons and Honor” generated this small story. A prompt from Eden Winters — Leigh Westman receives a drink and a note signed JB — set me to work.
The fans whirred slowly overhead, moving the heavy air in a semblance of a breeze, the coolness bought with the efforts of an Indian laborer turning the crank that drove the belted fans in unison. There were clubs in town, meant for the East India Company sahibs, where one could get a drink containing actual ice, brought at great expense from the far Himalayas, but this was not one of them.
Not the poshest, not the lowest, this club was modeled on the clubs left behind in London; there were drinks, meals, and rooms to be had, lest members need to stay in the city over night. The attraction tonight was that Jessamy could not accompany him into this males-only preserve. For the first evening since Die Zigeuner was taken, Leigh Westman could evade his sister’s misplaced concern about his “dreadful experiences” in their recent encounter with the pirates. Captain John Bull was much on Leigh’s mind as it was, but not in any way he cared to explain to Jess.
“Once Jessamy is settled in her marriage, I am free to find my own way in the world.” Major Rotherby-Sims would relieve Leigh of his last ties to England. “Perhaps, perhaps… perhaps I shall go to sea after all.” He spoke to himself, ignoring and being ignored by the others who took their conviviality in this room.
He blotted the fine mist of sweat from his upper lip and contemplated the depleted state of his glass, some Dutch spirit mixed with the quinine water that was sovereign for warding off the malaria endemic to the region. The taste and the intoxication made him suspect he’d want another dose before returning to the hotel and his sister.
Though he had made no signal to the bartender nor to the silent Indian boy who carried glasses both full and empty, another fizzing goblet appeared at his elbow. “I did not ask for this,” he told the server, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. His purse was too near empty to doctor himself with another glass of indulgence.
“Compliments of the gentleman across the room.” The boy set down a visiting card and gestured minutely to the far corner. The copperplate print read George Vaughan, Esquire, of Courtland, Herefordshire, a name that was completely meaningless to Leigh. No one he knew in England, nor from the City, nor from the voyage. Puzzled, he turned it over to see the hand-inked note on the back.
Once again, JB
JB? No. It couldn’t be.
No. Leigh had put aside any hopes of seeing the dashing pirate captain again. Perhaps someone from the ship was playing a trick, hoping to see the fallen hero make a fool of himself, roaring about and threatening duels over the dishonor done him, or someone hateful, wanting to see him leave in upset over the remembered shame.
Since he would neither challenge John Bull to any duel that required weapons, though a dawn encounter wasn’t out of his desires, nor feel shame in what had been a joy as well as the saving of his sister, someone was bound to be disappointed. Leigh didn’t look around, but instead stowed the card in the inner pocket of his jacket. He would drink the gin and tonic, and drink confusion to the sender.
Leigh lounged back in the wicker chair, trying to catch a bit of the manufactured breeze, and took a sip of the new drink. Making no point of looking around, he checked again for familiar faces. Finding none, he concluded that it had been a hoax, and refused to ponder it further. Except… JB?
How he wished to see the man again, so much so that the suited businessman returning from the jakes outside turned into that captain in his mind. No, a similarity, that was all. The man took his seat again and raised his glass, pausing in a small toast before sipping.
His own glass in midair, Leigh stopped. There would be no disguising the sailor’s tan, but there was also no disguising the impish cast to the stranger’s eye, nor the recognition within it. That was the captain himself! Only a few drops of the gin shook out over the rim, and then Leigh took a drink, needing to wet his suddenly dry mouth.
A drink from afar and a visiting card — the captain was not pressing the acquaintance. Nor was he taking a terribly great chance that Leigh would expose him, either, though how could he be so sure? Had he taunted other of his captives, knowing that to expose the pirate was to expose oneself as a sodomite, no matter how willing or unwilling? Or even — how true?
The liquor did not help him think. Leigh set down the glass and retrieved the card, turning it over in his fingers and trying to decide what to do. Looking up, he saw only steady regard from across the room. He had to know.
A few steps put him at the captain’s table. “Ah, Mr. Vaughan, I did not expect to see you here.”
“Nor I to be here, actually.” The captain rose to shake the offered hand. “My ship was meant for Goa, yet here I am. Fortunately, my club at home has some reciprocity, or I should be in sad straits. Do join me?” Leigh sat, marveling at the charade they both worked to maintain. “How is your sister, Mr. Westman? Anticipating her marriage?”
“She is well, thank you, and will be a lovely bride. We leave tomorrow for Bangalore.”
“Tomorrow. So soon.” My, my, there was a note of regret in his tone.
“Indeed. And you?”
“Off to sea again, I am expected, you see, and must not disappoint. An early evening for you then?” The hope lay muted in the captain’s eyes, for there were too many in that room who could never hear or see anything but a meeting between equals.
“Perhaps.” Leigh thought fast — he had not spoken for a room here, only asked to go to the bar when he arrived, but he might yet procure them some privacy, for plain talk if not for more.
“I am in room sixteen here.” Captain Bull took another drink from his glass, leaving it nearly as full as before.
Better yet. “I — am also on that hall.” Leigh rose. “Shall we adjourn?”
Extremely early for trying to sleep — the heat of the day had not yet broken, but Leigh did not wish to sleep in room sixteen. Nor did he wish for his own heat to break, though he could have wished for rather less of it for the few moments it took to finish their beverages and take leave of the public rooms. Leigh followed the captain to the guestrooms at the far end of the club.
Never had he been so glad for a door to shut between him and the world.
“How did you–? Why–?”
“Shhh, Leigh, the walls have ears here and we are not exploiting your insincere screams now.” Then there could be no speaking, for the captain had taken Leigh in his arms and crushed their mouths together. It took long, glorious minutes of shushing before he broke away to whisper answers.
“Why? Because I wished to hear the news, and how — the late Mr. George Vaughan decided to be the sort of hero who balks at pirates taking his possessions, which left me with rather more visiting cards and such than I usually take. The identity will be useless when his ship does arrive from Goa and word gets around, but for now, his club membership has given me a prize more than I ever expected to take.” Iron strong arms drew Leigh more tightly to his chest. “I did not know if you would be so glad to see me again on dry land.” Hot lips and hard cocks crushed together — how could the captain possibly doubt Leigh’s delight? “To find you here and willing — more treasure than I could have hoped for.”
“So willing,” Leigh breathed softly, for the tread of others could be heard in the hallway, “but pressed for time — Jess expects me back at a reasonable hour. So plunder me, Captain.”
The pirate John Bull could take nothing that Leigh was not anxious to give.