By Phaedra Mintun
Scottie watched the bright green grass swell up to meet them. He was glad they would only be landing briefly, the salty wind nipped at his coat tails like a playful puppy begging for him to run with it and he was eager to let out the sails and set to flying. They had spent three days grounded in New York taking on supplies. Cook had seemed oddly anxious to make sure that the ship was in perfect order. Scottie couldn't help wondering what his motive was.
Below them men in white shirts and loose dark jackets were gathered, waiting to catch the ropes and bring them down. It wasn't unusual for them to dock in unconventional places. But coming down behind a mansion in one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the eastern states was a first. Cook had mentioned that they would be taking on a contract for an old friend that he and Stickywicket had known back in their early days.
As Scottie tossed coils of ropes over the edge of the railing he wondered if they were here to see the owner of the mansion, or the man that had the owner tied up in the basement. As the ship sunk to the ground Scottie savored the salty tang of sea air as it melded with the crisp green scent of freshly mowed grass.
Cook emerged from below deck. "I want everyone to be on hand to greet our passenger."
Scottie nodded. "I'll let 'em know." Scottie leaned into the navigation room. "Cook wants everyone to greet the passenger."
Rick and Finn stared at him. "We aren't a passenger ship." Rick stated.
Scottie shrugged, "We have carried people before, remember that time we picked that guy up in Cuba."
Finn squinted at him. "That was a stow away."
Scottie tipped his head. "What about that time we were headed back from Madagascar."
Rick shook his head. "Prisoners don't count as passengers."
Scottie shrugged again. "Cook says greet the passenger, so go down to the cargo doors."
The pilot and navigator couldn't argue with that. Scottie swung up into the rigging, just far enough to call out to the red headed twins that manned the balloons. "'Ay, Cook wants everyone down at the cargo doors." Before they had a chance to ask questions or argue Scottie was on his way back to the deck. It was only a matter of moments before he had gathered the rest of the crew and they were all standing behind the lanky form of Captain Jim Daniels and the brick wall of a man they called Cook.
The loading door for the cargo hold dropped open and their captain swaggered forward to greet a short balding man in a finely tailored suit standing in the grass just out side. Beside him stood a young woman with long dark hair fluttering around her face. Her dark eyes glittered above her high cheek bones. She was also dressed in the latest fashions, a tight corset and full skirt made the most of her curves and the cream fabric of her blouse was clearly chosen to complement her dusky skin.
The man seemed familiar, like Scottie had seen him before. Scottie was speeding through a slide show of faces in his mind trying to place him when the man turned his head. Something about his profile jingled bells in Scottie's mind. That profile had been splashed across news stands all over the country, it was the face of Jo "Brass Boots" Moretti.
Sticky embraced his old friend. Moretti clapped him on the back. "It's been too long since we have seen you and I am only sad that it is not under better circumstances. I am entrusting to you the care of my precious baby girl," Moretti motioned to the woman at his side, "who I remember you dandled on your knee when you were last with us at my home."
"I'd like to dandle her on my knee!" Dylan whispered from the side of his mouth.
Edwin snickered, but quickly stifled any comment he might of added after a backward glance for Cook.
Cook stepped forward. "Bianca my dear! We are so glad to welcome you aboard." He held out his meaty paw to the girl and assisted her over the small step up to the ramp and lead her into the cargo hold.
Sticky followed them onto the ramp. Turning back to his old friend he offered one last assurance, "Rest assured that she is in the best of hands. I will treat her as my very own. She might very well be you know. You had a lovely wife."
As Sticky pulled the lever and the ramp hissed up and into place. Scottie only had a moment to register the words and the apocalyptic expression on Jo Moretti's face.
Sticky turned to the crew, "Why are you all standing here? We really should be going."
The crew dashed to their stations. Scottie and S'more, the large Samoan cannon man, worked together to drop ties so that the filling balloons could lift the ship. The men on the ground were shouting and Scottie didn't want to find out what kinds of implements of the business were tucked away in their loose jackets. They were rising quickly and Scottie and S'more prepared to let out the sails. Scottie latched his harness into place and leaned out, bracing his feet in the rigging and working the ropes with his gloved fingers. He had his ties ready, listening to the wind. "ONE!" he bellowed. From across the ship he heard S'more return the call, "TWO!" Scottie took a breath that he knew was shared with his crew mate in the opposite rigging and let the rope slither through his hands. The sails snatched the wind by the collar. The engines below chugged to life filling the air with clinks and rattles. Just as the first pops of gunfire sounded below the ship slipped away above the mansions.
The day went by quickly, they were making constant adjustments as they headed north up the shoreline looking for the wind that would sweep them across the ocean and eventually to Sicily. Scottie was snapped into the rigging when he saw their passenger walking the boards below him. She was calmly strolling along the edges of the ship nonchalantly examining the railing and various bits of rope and netting. Scottie groaned, this wasn't good, whatever she was thinking he was sure it wasn't going to go well.
Scottie watched as the young woman glanced around and then quickly grabbed a narrow length of rope. He shook his head and unlatched his harness. He watched as she slowly approached the railing, glance over the edge and then bent down. Her back was to him and he paused curious as to what she was planning. She stood again and leaned over the railing. If he hadn't been watching closely he would have missed it, but in a quick flash she pulled her heeled boots from the folds of her skirt and dropped them over the edge. Miles below Elsie Monroe was given some unexpected assistance. She paced back across the deck and casually leaned against the outside wall of the navigation room. Scottie started moving inward through the rigging, he lost sight of her for a moment as he moved around the yardarm and when he came around the other side she was gone. Scottie shook his head. "Stupid girl!"
He worked his way through the ropes, "Dylan! We need to drop altitude!"
Dylan didn't say anything but Scottie saw him begin flashing his colored paddles at his brother. Scottie headed for the deck. Once his feet hit the boards he tore into the navigation room. "We are going to be losing air. Rick can you get us as close to somethin' high as you can find, a roof or a hill, anything?"
Rick nodded and started to adjust the ship. Scottie grabbed Finn by the shoulder. "I might need a hand."
Finn followed him, "What's going on?"
Scottie looked grim, "The lass decided to dangle off the side of the ship. I thought we might go and get her."
Finn's eyebrows shot up, "Why would she do that?"
Scottie grabbed a coil of sturdy rope and tied it off. "Isn't that how all the young maids like to see the world."
Scottie would have liked to have had the time to put on his squirrel suit before he hopped over the edge of the ship, but their passenger had chosen a thin length of rope and it was already beginning to fray at the point it was rubbing against the railing and pulling her up, or holding off on retrieving her much longer wasn't an option.
Scottie and Finn each slipped a foot into the loops Scottie had made in the rope and then they worked together to lower themselves over the edge. Finn was smaller than Scottie, but built with a wiry strength. They worked hand over hand lowering themselves down the rope. Scottie looked down and saw that Rick was aiming for a flat roofed building in the center of a well developed town. The girl was still at least fifty yards above the ground. And they were still several yards above her.
"We need to be goin' a bit faster if we are gonna be catchin' her 'fore she gets a chance to nommus." Scottie panted.
Finn nodded and they quickened their decent.
The building was coming up fast and she would only be about eight feet above it when they got there. Scottie and Finn came up even to the girl. She was pale and breathless, staring at the roof top with wide frightened eyes.
Scottie tried to look comforting, "Bianca?"
The girls eyes fluttered for a mere moment as she glanced at him and then snapped back to the fast approaching roof top.
Scottie took this as encouragement to continue, "What do you say we just head on back up to the ship."
The girl didn't answer, she kept her eyes on the roof and Scottie watched as she steadied herself with a couple of measured breaths. She was preparing to jump. He didn't have the luxury of talking her out of it. He glanced at Finn. He could tell Finn knew the situation, they were going to have to make a grab for her. They both leaned back and then pushed forward. Swinging their rope toward the girl. The edge of the roof slid under them and she jumped.
"Damn it! Now we have to go after her!" Scottie pulled his foot from his loop and let go of the rope. The fall was nice, but the landing was brutal. His feet collided with the roof, jarring his ankles, knee caps and spine. He managed to keep his feet, which was more than Bianca had managed. She was sprawled on the sanded tar sucking in the air that had been knocked out of her by the impact. Finn dropped down beside Scottie without showing any sign of the drop having affected him.
"Nice try, but-" Finn strode over to the girl and reached to grab her. She rolled away and scrambled to her feet. She leapt off the roof. Scottie and Finn were right on her heels. The drop from this roof to the next wasn't very far and they both jumped. She was already part way across when they landed.
"Quick little thing isn't she." Finn grinned as they charged after her. She reached the front corner of the roof and lowered herself over the edge. They reached it just as her head disappeared. Looking down they could see her climbing down a trellis to a balcony below. Scottie went first. The trellis was old and several of his footholds broke off as he went, leaving him dangling for a moment while he searched for a new place to wedge his boot. He jumped the last few feet onto the balcony and looked around, his skin prickling with sweat. The girl was gone, but there was a door slightly ajar leading into the building. Finn came down next to him with a heavy thump.
Scottie motioned toward the door with his head and Finn nodded. Scottie pulled open the door and peered in. All he saw was a carpeted hallway. They cautiously made their way through the hall and reached a stairwell. From below they could hear the voice of a young woman talking quickly. Slowly they made their way down the stairs, every creak made Scotties hair quiver on end.
At the foot of the stairs they gained a view of Bianca. A fat man with a garish vest and a yellow ringed shirt was holding her by the wrist. Her eyes shot sideways toward them and then her unbound hand snapped up and scratched the man's cheek. He swore and released her wrist in order prod at the injury. She bolted out the doors and Scottie and Finn followed her, shoving past the howling man as they went.
They were out the door and right behind her as she crossed the porch. Bianca charged out into the busy street screaming at the top of her lungs. "Help me! They are after me! Those bad men are trying to kidnap me!"
Scotties eyes widened in surprise. Towns people were stopping and staring and large men were rolling up their sleeves. He and Finn kept running, trying to keep her in view, and muttering apologies and pathetic bits of explanation to the people that they knocked into.
A few yards ahead Bianca ran headlong into a policeman. He grabbed hold of her and though she first tried to break away, she quickly turned and pointed toward Scottie and Finn just as they skidded to a halt in front of them. "Those men are trying to kidnap me!" Her face was a mask of fear.
The policeman's eyes narrowed. "Gentlemen, you are under arrest!"