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Just a quick short story for a class. Thought I’d post it here, since I don’t have much else to post of mine.
Michael Pomare, 1132267
To some, the pub might be called seedy. Or ramshackle. If you wanted to be less kind, “unfit for use by the public,” followed by “closed by order of the London Borough Council.” But to its occupants, who had been frequenting it for nearly thirty years (and counting!) it was the Frog’s Head, so named for the rumour that the original owner had brought home the shrunken head of a Frenchman from the Colonies.
Doctor Kelley didn’t know if it was true, and didn’t particularly care. He tried to keep up an affable front as he waited in a small private booth, as large, tipsy men staggering past him. He tried to look friendly and unthreatening, but dressed in a long, plain coat, a broad-brimmed hat and large, round, reflective glasses, he was the picture of conspicuous.
“You stick out like a sore thumb, Doctor Kelley,” drawled a voice in his ear in a thick but serviceable German accent.
He swallowed nervously. “I do not often frequent such establishments,” he muttered. “You have the advantage of me, Mister…”
“Captain. Captain Volsung,” the voice corrected as the owner sidled past, flopping into the chair across from him, flashing him an amused grin. “Really, Herr Doctor, they would hardly choose to pick a fight with such an obvious target – they seem to think you are either an undercover Peeler, or a gentleman whose wrath they could ill afford to bring down.”
“You wanted a skimmer?” The Captain asked. “The Voraussicht awaits an employer who can afford her services.”
“But you…I mean, I don’t mean to sound…but, you’re a-”
The Captain rolled her eyes. “A woman? Your powers of observation are to be commended, Herr Doctor. Is there something wrong?”
She was indeed a woman. Short, stocky and muscular, but with a remaining grace. Her hair was in a thick bun on the back of her head under a brim of a sailors cap. Her face, what little of it that poked above the high collar of a thick leather trench coat, was pale, eyes hiding behind a thin fringe of thick black hair. The overall impression was of a modern-day Valkyrie, and if she had produced a spear and a horned helmet, Kelley could hardly have been more surprised.
Keller was at a loss, and continued to sputter. “Well, I just…er…I thought my contact would be…I mean, the man I spoke with…”
“My First Mate. Surprisingly, people seem to be reluctant to engage in business dealings with a woman. I cannot imagine why.”
His mind finally catching up to the conversation, Kelley mentally filed her under a category labelled ‘New Woman, do not provoke’ and moved on. “Well, the terms I stated to your First Mate still stand. Engagement of your services and your ship for a period of four weeks for myself and thirteen others, transport to a point in the Channel Dredge, whatever assistance we require in our investigation, and safe return. And, if needed, defence against any French patrols.”
Volsung frowned. “You expect trouble with the French? How close to the old shore do you plan to come?”
“Not far, but well within British territory.”
“The French may not agree on that point.”
Indeed, there had been objections from the French to the business of damming and draining the Channel, but the combined political and military pressures of Spain, Germany and the British Empire has been enough for them to back off. It did, after all, promise much economic wealth now that Britain shared a border with the continent, but it had come with problems – France had insisted that while Britain was free to claim the new mountains that had once been islands, it had no claim to what had been seabed, and the retrofitted French Navy had been a persistent but not forceful source of harassment.
“The French can take it up with the Royal Navy, then. Our business has nothing to do with them.”
“That, Herr Doctor, remains to be seen,” Volsung said, crossing her arms across her chest and leaning back. “What exactly are we to be doing so close to France?”
Kelley steepled his fingers thoughtfully. “First, I need your assurances that you can fulfil the terms I stipulate. Is your Vor…vorow…”
“Voraussicht,” she said gently, used to it. “You may refer to it as the Forethought if it is easier for you. And I can assure you, she is quite adequate by any definition. I regularly make runs across the Dredge, averaging three days per run. We may need to stop at Jersey or Guernsey to refuel, but this will not take long. Bought second-hand from the Royal Navy, but she is quite up to date – A Revanchist-class Patrol Skimmer, with a Model Six Mills/Harper Compression Percolator, with some modifications. Ten meter clearance, with a top speed of thirty knots and a maximum load of eight tonnes, though that takes us a bit lower than you may like. The pressure jets can only lift so much.”
“I have faith in your skills as a navigator,” Kelley said. “And defences? As I mentioned, we may encounter resistance from uninvolved parties.”
“We have a few guns of varying sizes, yes,” she said reticently. “And a few other…surprises. Pirates are not as extinct as you may think, Captain, and we have some experience defending ourselves. And now that you have the measure of my ship, I might ask what is to be expected of us.”
Keller brought out a thin bound notepad, writing a few details down with a pencil drawn from another pocket, and then replaced it, pushing his glasses back further up his nose bridge. “Fair enough, Captain. You are to take us to the Hurds Valley, where we are to begin salvage operations. The Great Dredge has allowed us many opportunities, among which is the chance to recover something of significant value to my government.”
Volsung raised an eyebrow at the mention of government work. “Would a Royal Navy skimmer not suffice for your government?”
“We are concerned about…interception. The decision was made to conduct matters ourside of usual channels, to prevent undue concern on either side of the Channel.”
Volsung frowned. “A political item. I see. You understand, of course, that our fee will be increased proportional to the risk you put my crew and my ship through?”
“Of course,” Kelley said. “The Ministry will also reimburse you for any materiel or personnel lost during our expedition.”
“Of course. Well then, in that case I think we have an agreement, Herr Doctor.”
They both stood, Volsung extending a thick gloved hand. Nervously, Kelley shook it and nodded politely. “I expect you ready in two days time. Myself and my associates will be ready after three in the afternoon.”
“At the Victoria Docks, pier three,” Volsung said, withdrawing her hand.
And with that, business concluded, the two parted ways.
Kelley never did find out if the story about the Frog’s Head was true.