“We have come a long way, sir. Now, to business. Will you take Renard as a witness?”
“Yes, sir. One other would please me.”
“Renard, a second?”
“Yes. We can use my assistant.”
“Excellent. Shall we?”
Sterner led the parade, Raven and Renard behind him, with Uriah poking and prodding the Governor. A lean, tall man hopped off one of the ships, landing on the dock in front of them. To his surprise, it was a man that Raven knew well. He’d been captain of one of Raven’s ships.
“Carlos, is it you?”
“Raven!” He dashed forward, clasping his friend by the hand, before pulling him in for a hug. “My friend, we thought you dead! How have you survived? When the ship didn’t come in, we feared the worst.”
“There was a storm at sea. My own fault for traveling so late in the season, but I was summoned to Maine. I didn’t know myself for some weeks, when I remembered my business, I had to make my way on foot. Now, I come to find that my ships are in the service of another.”
Carlos frowned. “I’m assuming he’s not in charge of this inquiry?” he pointed to the Governor.
“I am,” Sterner said. “Your name?” He opened his book, pencil poised.
“Carlos Gonzalez Cortez Prientos Hermida, originally from Barcelona.”
“And your connection to Mr. Willoughby?”
“I was his first captain when he bought his first ship, The Annabelle, in a port in Cardiff. She was a fair and lovely ship, fastest thing I’d ever seen. I was her captain three years.”
“And why are you no more?”
“She was confiscated, as were the other ships of the Willoughby line. One by one, they came to disaster and were impounded by himself.” He nodded, gesturing rudely at the Governor. “Sat in dock a wee bit, then their looks and names were changed. They fly his flag now. This one here, she was the Heart Song, out of London. Next to her, that’s the Artemis from Greece. She’s a bit slower, but hell for stout.” He went on to name the other ships, pointing to each and telling the origin.
“Those aren’t the names upon them,” Sterner said.
“As I mentioned, Governor Blot there….”
“Bluth,” the fat man corrected.
Carlos shrugged, making it known what he thought of Bluth. “He bribed and finagled until he got what he wanted—best ships on the ocean. Runs his own docks now, as you see.”
“If you knew this was going on, why didn’t you report it?” Sterner asked.
“Who would I tell? Who would believe the word of a Spaniard over that of an Englishman? If I had come to you, would you have listened, or would I have been forcibly removed from your offices?”
Sterner had the decency to look chagrined. “I believe you now, Señor Cortez. And you’re right. None would believe your word over this puffed up, poor excuse for a man. Bluth, I don’t know how you pulled this off, but we’ll find out. Mark my words.” He turned to Raven. “My apologies, sir. It will take some time, but with fair witnesses….”
“I believe I can add credence to my captain’s words, Mr. Sterner. On each of my ships, there is a secret compartment, that only I know about. In them, I secured papers, not only to identify the ships, but to identify me. If you will follow me below, with Mr. Renard, I will happily produce these documents.”
“What of me?” Bluth bellowed.
“You’ll stay here with Carlos and Uriah, so you can’t sneak off. And if you’d be so kind to send our young friend for the constable, I’d be appreciative,” he said to Uriah.
“As you wish, my Lord.”
A nearby sailor was sent up to give Boris the message. The noise of his footsteps faded as he ran up the grassy hill.
Raven led the men to the captain’s cabin. Removing a poorly executed painting, which had replaced a portrait of the original ship, Raven took a knife from his pocket. This, he slipped in a concealed slit between the finely hewn boards. A sharp click and a panel opened. Inside, wrapped in oilskin, was a steel box, secured with a padlock. Raven reached further into the hole and produced the key.
“You keep the key with the box?” Sterner scolded. “Is that wise?”
“Since no one knew this was here but me, it was safe. Not even my captains knew.” He opened the box and lifted out another oilskin packet. Inside, there was a lithograph of the ship, another of himself, and ships registry. Sterner looked them over with a critical eye.
“You realize, this looks little like the ship we’re standing on.”
“If you take away the decorative items and look only at the lines of the vessel, she’s easy to identify. A shipbuilder could tell you, if doubt arises. I know each detail of my ships, Mr. Sterner. For you see the last six years of my life represented by board and tar, wheel and sail. I worked long and hard on my business, sacrificing home and family. These ships are my home, the men who worked them, my family. Aside from Carlos, I know not if they live. I mourn their losses and could tell you each by name.”
©2021 Dellani Oakes