Written by A. LaFaye
Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
A Breakfast Serials Story
The Story So Far: Down in the hold of the ship, Iah investigates a mysterious rubbing noise, but then he hears something far worse—a sound like seeds in a dried gourd being shaken. That can mean only one thing—the approach of Rattler Cole.
Rattler Cole headed down an aisle, calling, “Dinner!”
Pulling open what sounded like a trunk, he tossed in something that landed with a soft thud. A wild thumping answered back, like a bear trying to break out of a box.
“Still got some spunk, eh?” Rattler laughed. “Another day in this hot box and you’ll be as mild as a lapdog.”
A hard thwack answered him.
“Wu-howdy. You Hemshaws sure are bred tough.”
Hemshaws? What was he talking about? He wouldn’t call an animal by such a name. And it couldn’t be. Wouldn’t be . . . Vinca?
As soon as Rattler closed the hold door, I scurried to find that box.
Had my heart near about torn in half over the idea a body could put a girl in a box, like a hound dog. One half so bloodred happy that God might’ve given me another chance to help her, the other half shocked-to-stone sad to even think that a girl could be in that crate all this time.
Finding the door Rattler had used, I opened it to see a face so coated in sweat, it looked like a fish. With her wild mane of red hair, I made that girl for Miss Vinca Hemshaw right off.
She chomped at the gag in her mouth. How’d Rattler expect her to eat?
She started thrashing around and yelling.
“Quiet, or he’ll come back.”
That just sent her to thrashing all the more. Was she rabid or something? Such a racket would turn him around. And only somebody with brain fever would try to take on Rattler Cole. Then I remembered the bite marks on his face. That girl had bit him!
Too bad I wasn’t that brave. “Quiet now. I’m trying to help.”
Huffing, she settled.
Using the hammer, I pried at the side of her crate. It creaked like an old boat, but I could only pull it open about a foot.
That girl came out wiggling like a snake.
I ran forward, loosened the ropes that bound her, then pulled the gag off.
“Get me out of here!” she yelled.
Wedging the hammer claw into the mess of ropes around her wrists, I pulled at the knots.
She yanked her hands out, jumped to her feet, then made a run for the door.
Leaping forward while still on my knees, I grabbed her around the legs and brought her down like a roped calf. “What are you doing? He’ll kill you!”
“Not before I kill him!” She kicked at me, but I held fast.
“With what? Your feet?”
She scrambled around to grab the hammer. “No. With this.”
“He’ll shoot you dead.”
“No, he won’t. I’m not worth a plug nickel dead.”
“Well, he can still put a hurt on you, so you better keep to that crate until we can find a way to get you off this boat.”
Licking her parched lips, she said, “I’ll just jump in the river and swim me to shore.”
“You won’t be getting past the door up there. Mr. Mike’s standing guard with a rifle.” Mike wouldn’t have sent me into the hold if he knew about Vinca, but even if he wasn’t in on it, he wouldn’t let no stray girl come out of that hold.
“Maybe we could knock him out.” She nodded to the hammer.
“He’s got three feet on us. The only thing we could knock out are his knees.”
If it weren’t for the rose on her nightshirt, I never would’ve believed that crazy-eyed wild-haired kid was a girl. That ranch she’d come from must’ve been some tough place.
“And just who are you?” She sounded calm for the first time.
“Iah Thomas, a deckhand.”
“What says you won’t tell old Bearclaw?”
She raked her hand over her eye.
“Right.” She meant Rattler Cole.
“That man got so sick of waiting for his supper, he killed his own mother and ate her. I’m sure of it,” Vinca said, pacing. “And you can bet old Bearclaw ain’t alone.” Turning to me, she asked, “How friendly is he with the captain?”
“Couldn’t tell you. Just came aboard myself.”
“What good are you?”
Pointing to the crate, I said, “Good enough to get you out of there!”
She rolled her eyes. “I could’ve done it myself. No ropes and boards are going to hold Vinny Hemshaw.”
Vinny? That girl had all the makings to be a boy, right down to her name.
“Nobody’s going to truss me up like a cow for the branding. I’m getting off this tug.” She turned. I grabbed her arm. She might’ve been brave, but she wasn’t acting too smart.
“You go up, and you’ll have another bump on the head and tighter ropes to show for it. And what about me? If that man finds out I’ve helped you, I’m hog-tied and overboard before I can take a deep breath.” The idea of it had me shaking down to my toenails.
She chewed on her lip, then said, “You’re right.”
I thanked the Lord for putting some sense into that crazed girl’s head.
“I’ll put you back in the crate and keep the ties loose, so you can take them off to eat and drink. Tomorrow I’ll find a way to get you off this boat.”
She eyed me close. “What says you’ll do this for me, Iah Thomas?”
“Only a coward walks away from another body’s troubles.” Echoing my daddy’s words choked me for not being true to them sooner. I had to let a confession out to breathe. “Been worried about you since I seen them take you from your aunt’s.”
“You know Aunt Mava?”
“I’m Emmett Thomas’s nephew. The fella who owns the trading post across the road.”
“Do tell. Well, don’t God just weave himself a pretty little web?”
He certainly did, and He had me caught right in the gosh darn middle of it.
(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.