Upriver: Ch. 8 “Wrestling with the Facts”
Written by A. LaFaye
Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
A Breakfast Serials Story
Wrestling with the Facts
The Story So Far: Iah Thomas is feeling discouraged in his efforts to rescue Vinca Hemshaw, the kidnapped girl whom he has discovered tied up in a crate in the hold of the Capitol.
With all of the storytelling I’d caught wind of, I knew Cole counted the pilot among his foes, but what could the pilot do against all those gunmen? Just walking among them made me feel itchy inside. What’s more, I figured I’d never get Miss Vinny off that boat. The idea of it filled my heart with lead.
A mess of shouting drew me to the main deck. Found a whole crowd of folks cheering on an arm-wrestling match.
When a scrawny guy with a wiry beard sat down to wrestle, I remembered seeing him the day before walking his young daughter to the privy. The pigs in their path had frightened her, so he’d hoisted her on one hand and walked the rest of the way with her up there like a dish on a tray.
Uncle Emmett would’ve tanned my hide if he knew I’d bet my money, but I won. And all that hooting, hollering, and winning took my mind off Miss Vinny for a spell.
As everybody drifted to bed, I headed off to secret away an empty water bladder, some water, and some food. Then I had to see if I couldn’t get sent on rat patrol. Seemed kind of funny to be hunting up Mike after I’d spent most of the day trying to avoid him. But it turned out that Mr. Davis stood guard that night, with a cane rather than a gun. Darn it. Being in cahoots with Cole, he’d never send me down into the hold.
But seeing him standing so close to where I first met him onboard flipped my mind back to that nervous Bertrand fella, and I spun myself a lie. “Mr. Bertrand asked me to check his china, Mr. Davis.”
“Tell him it’s fine.”
“Said I had to see it for myself.”
Mr. Davis looked down his nose at me. “Did he offer you a coin?”
He nodded. “Keeping an eye on the finances. That’s a good lad.” He patted my head, then let me in.
I hurried to Vinny’s crate. Knocking, I said, “It’s me, Vinny.”
“‘Bout darn time.” She popped open the crate.
Stepping into the aisle, Vinny looked like she might pass out. “Tell me you got water.”
“And a place to make some.” I laughed at myself as I handed her a bladder of water and held up an empty one. She drank that water down like she’d been in the desert for a month.
I shook my head, feeling my tongue dry up at the thought of going without water. Gave me a hint of why having no access to it for his cattle might drive a man to something as dark evil as kidnapping. But I didn’t get much further than a start, ’cause kidnapping’s wrong no matter what the reason.
I expected Vinny to go for the food next, but she grabbed the empty bladder and a blanket from the crate. She went arunning like she’d just robbed a bank, leaving a wake of stench that made me gag.
“Cole’s got himself an army up there.” I spoke to take my mind off the idea of being trapped inside a box with no privy, no light, and no way out.
Before Vinny had a chance to answer, the door above opened. We both froze.
“Iah?” Mr. Davis called down.
“Coming, Mr. Davis.” I turned to Vinny. “We’ll think of something.”
“I think of nothing else.” She slipped into the crate. I pushed the side back on, hoping it wouldn’t come loose when Cole kicked it.
“You didn’t open that crate, did you, Iah?” Mr. Davis asked as I came up the stairs.
“No, sir.” But he did give me an idea. “I just knocked on all sides to be sure it didn’t rattle with broken pieces.”
“That man. Why’s he even moving that precious china of his?”
“Don’t know, sir, but a corner’s come loose on the crate. Mind if I hammer it down?”
“You go hammering on that crate and break a plate, and I’ll never hear the end of it.” He pushed me through the door.
“I promise I’ll be right careful. He said he’d give me five dollars if I help bring his china in safe.”
Mr. Davis shook his head, but he let me go get a hammer and nails.
I used them to hammer Vinny in nice and tight. She didn’t take kindly to the idea, but if that crate came open easy, Cole’d know she had her mind on escaping and he’d truss her up tighter than a lady in a corset on her wedding day.
Proud over my little ruse, I thought I even came up with a way to get Vinny out as I lay down in bed to the tune of snorting pigs. Who’d miss one pig? If I could get it into the hold, then we could truss it up in the crate and move Miss Vinny to another one.
Yeah, a pig would put up a good fight if Cole kicked the crate. Wait. Did I have rotten potatoes for brains? How was I going to get a pig into the hold?
I might get a cat down there to hunt up the rats, but I’d never get a pig past the guard, whoever it might be that night.
Some rescuer I turned out to be. The abolitionists would’ve sent me packing. I never would’ve gotten a single slave to safety. Thank heavens the war had set them free. But I couldn’t wait for no war to help Miss Vinny.
Then, like a snake, a great idea bit me. I knew just what I’d do come morning.
(To be continued.)
Text copyright © 2006 Alexandria LaFaye. Illustrations copyright © 2006 Peter Catalanotto. Reprinted by permission of Breakfast Serials, Inc., www.breakfastserials.com. No part of this publication may be reproduced, displayed, used or distributed without the express written permission of the copyright holder.