Peter walked into his cabin to find it transformed. He could not put his finger immediately on the change, but his quarters looked neater; ‘tidier’ would have been a better word. In spite of his anger, the thought popped into his mind: this must be what happens when a man marries and a woman enters his world.
Lavinia had been standing over his desk with her back to him. As he entered, she turned, with a glorious smile on her face, pointed to the stunning display of flowers where the mess of his papers usually cluttered the desk, and announced, “Aren’t they beautiful! And Boggins was so sweet to find me something to put them in.” The ‘something’ was the tall silver wine cooler Peter used when entertaining guests for dinner. Its newly-polished surface gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the stern windows. Her smile gradually faded as she saw the raw expression of anger on Peter’s face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“For starters,” Peter snapped back, “you are.” He watched the flow of feelings surge across her face, starting with confusion and ending in guilt. She knows, he thought.
“You’ve planned a number of surprises for me, I see,” he said. “This display, to be followed this evening by my betrayal and capture by your master, Chameau.” Lavinia stepped back, almost recoiling from his rage, pulled out his desk chair and collapsed into it, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Finally she spoke in short, breathless bursts. “Yes, I work…have worked…for Chameau, but I had no choice. My father here in Nantes owes him huge sums of money. Were Chameau to call these debts accountable, my father would be ruined, and the loss would surely kill him.” Her expression was now something much closer to grief. “I lured you in on the quay by design – Chameau’s design – but then, last night, something changed.” Then she added passionately, “No, everything changed. I would have warned you. I swear it!” she pleaded.
“Happily, the decision to warn me is no longer a dilemma for you to struggle with. I know it all: your sham of a ‘brother,’ the myth of the ‘sea captain’ waiting to take you to America, the ambush on Ile de Fedeau…” He let the list of her treacheries hang in the silence.
“Now let me tell you how this sad farce will end,” he continued. “You will go to the sick bay with Doctor Evans and tell your ‘brother’ that I will escort you home at 5:00 this evening as planned. I assume he has made a full recovery from his ‘injuries.’ I assume, as well, that he will want to leave the ship to make some arrangements for your sailing – actually to alert Chameau to be ready to intercept us. He should do that. And, know,” Peter added forcefully, “that there will be someone in the sick bay listening to your conversation who speaks fluent French. Any treachery on your part will result in you and your ‘brother’ being turned over in irons to the Prefecture of Police here in Nantes. He is a gentleman I know well, whose purse is now a great deal heavier than it once was, thanks to what I pay him from the spoils of my prizes. We will leave the ship as planned, you and I, accompanied by a single servant, at 5:00.”
“And then?” Lavinia asked in a small voice.
“That’s not something I choose to share with you.”
“I didn’t mean foiling Chameau’s plot,” she sai.” I’m sure you have planned that well. I mean once Chameau’s threat has ended.” When he didn’t answer she added, “Everything until last night with you was a lie. I admit that. But last night, what we experienced was real. You must have felt it too, again” she pleaded.
Peter could not meet the passion in her eyes, and looked away from her. “What I felt then and feel now will remain unspoken. You will go to the sick bay and do what I told you to do. Evans is waiting outside to escort you. Remember that the slightest deviation in your communication with your fellow agent will mean your ruin.” With that, he turned and left his cabin.
* * * * *
As soon as Lavinia’s accomplice had left and she had been escorted back to Peter’s cabin under guard, he met with Thomas, O’Brien, and Fox in the wardroom, a rough sketch of the Ile Feydau in front of them.
“How many men will Chameau have?” asked Thomas.
“I asked Lavinia for details. She thought four men to wait in the abandoned warehouse here, by which we must pass,” he pointed to a spot where the Rue Kervégan intersected with the Pont de la Belle Croix, “and perhaps two others with Chameau, hidden in the Rue Kervégan itself.”
“But is she telling the truth?” Thomas asked.
“She certainly duped me once,” said Peter. “For reasons I can’t explain, I believe her now.” Thomas and O’Brien exchanged quick glances as if to confirm their fear that they knew all too well the cause of Peter’s trust, but said nothing.
“In any case,” Peter continued, “this is the perfect way to stage an ambush. It’s a deserted area, especially in the evening. Such travelers as there are take the Ponte Hollande towards the Bourse and the Palace Royale. We leave the ship at 5:00 and will arrive at the spot in ten minutes. Chameau’s men will gather in the empty warehouse, perhaps at 4:00 or a bit earlier.”
He turned to O’Brien. “You and your men will be there to greet them. I want your four best sharpshooters with rifles, two on top of the warehouse and two on the building across the Rue Kervégan. You and six men in the warehouse. Pistols, of course, but also your bayonets, and each man should also have a capstan bar. Chameau’s men must be seen to in silence if we have any thought of capturing Chameau himself. I would prefer to capture him alive, of course, but if you have to kill him, do so. You will look for an older man, about my height, with grey hair, probably dressed in a dark greatcoat. Any questions?” O’Brien shook his head. “Then see to it immediately. There is not a moment to lose.” O’Brien saluted, and quickly left the wardroom to assemble his men.
Lavinia had been escorted back to Peter’s cabin. Alone, she flopped down on his bed, instantly aware of what she had felt the last time she lay there, and sobbed for a while in a grief greater that she had ever known. Finally she rose, and went to the wash basin to clean her face. The flower’s on Peter’s desk stood there still, now in silent mockery.
The other men I’ve slept with at Chameau’s orders meant nothing, she thought. It was as if when they were panting on top of me, I wasn’t there, just my body. I never imaged the kind of feelings I have now were even possible with a man. She walked around the cabin, playing absently with the papers she’d arranged so neatly, then picking up Peter’s sextant, then his spy glass, running her fingers over their surface as if to capture the presence of his hands. Love came to me magically, she thought, then just as cruelly disappeared. But I won’t lose him. I won’t.
* * * * *
Peter, Lavinia, Fox and Lasalle, one of the Frenchmen Peter had recruited to fill out Dihya’s depleted crew, crossed over from Ile Gloriette on to the Pont La Belle Croix exactly at 5:10. O’Brien’s squad had been quite busy before their arrival. As expected, Chameau’s hired thugs had slipped into the dark warehouse at 4:45. O’Brien let them get comfortable, then at a whispered “Now!” he and his men surged from the deep shadows near the door. The surprise was total. Sharp cries of alarm, then pain, and the thud of three-foot oak capstan bars crashing into bodies and skulls or the grunt as bayonet thrusts went home. O’Brien’s men quickly finished off the wounded, pulled the bodies away from the door, and waited for Peter’s arrival with the warehouse door now slightly ajar.
As Peter and his companions reached the intersection of Pont La Belle Croix and Rue Kervégan, four men stepped out in their path, pistols pointed at them. “Stop where you are,” their leader cried, stepping forward. “You are our prisoners!”
“I think not,” said Peter. “Look above you.” The Marine snipers appeared on the roof tops, their rifles aimed at the four men below. “And as for your comrades in the warehouse, I think they have been detained. O’Brien!” he called loudly. O’Brien and his men spilled from the warehouse and took positions on either side of Peter, their pistols also pointed at Chameau’s men. Peter scanned the would-be attackers quickly. No one matching Chameau’s description was among them.
“Where’s the man who hired you?” he demanded of the group’s leader.
“Oh, that one? He watches, but never comes close to the real work,” he spat out.
Peter considered getting them to tell him where to find Chameau, then abandoned the idea. “I could have my men gun you down where you stand,” Peter said. “But if you throw your pistols to the ground and take to your heels now, you can save your worthless lives.” Chameau’s men happily complied.
With the area clear now of any danger, Peter turned to Lavinia. “I assume the talk of a captain waiting to take you to America was all just another story?” Lavinia nodded dejectedly.
“Well with the spoiling of Chameau’s plans, it will be perfectly obvious to him that you have turned against him. Chameau will want revenge, against you, and I have no doubt, your father.” Lavinia, now meeting his eyes, nodded again.
“Do not ask me why I do this. For the life of me I don’t know.” His gaze had now softened. “I have arranged passage for you and your father with Samuel Nicoll on the New York privateer Scourge. They leave tomorrow with the morning tide. You mentioned you might have friends in New York. Was that, too, a lie?”
Lavinia, her heart racing with all she was hearing, looked directly at Peter, and answered simply, “No.”
“Good then,” said Peter. “I will send Lieutenant O’Brien and some men to escort you to your father’s house. Will he be at home?” Lavinia nodded. “And what is the address?” She named a small street, Rue Nathaniel Rudier, near the cathedral. “Pack quickly, and lightly,” he continued. “The sooner you are safe aboard Scourge the better. Do you have money for when you arrive?”
“Some,” she replied. “Not much.”
“Then take this.” Peter reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a small purse and handed it to Lavinia.
“Have you..?” she began.
“Nicoll knows nothing about you save that you are two people I care about whose lives are in danger here and need to get to New York.”
Peter left Lavinia and spoke quietly with Fox. “Chameau may follow her and her father to Nicoll’s ship. Chameau works for Napoleon; so long as Chameau is at large, he can do harm. Take Lasalle with you and be at the Place St. Pierre at the corner of the Rue Nathaniel Rudier before O’Brien arrives. Make sure no one follows them when they leave.” Fox whispered a few words to Lasalle and the two departed rapidly
Now,” he turned back to O’Brien, “take four men with you to escort the lady to her father’s house and then to Nicholl’s. You should leave in five minutes, no longer. And have your wits about you. Chameau is still a danger so long as he has a chance for further mischief.”
O’Brien stepped forward to take Lavinia’s arm. She gently pushed his hand away, and reached, instead, for Peter’s arm to turn him towards her. “When you said ‘people you care about,’ did that include me?” It was plain from her face the answer she desperately wanted to hear.
“I am utterly lost in trying to understand how I feel about you,” he said. “I hope you find safety, and perhaps a measure of peace in New York. Please do not attempt to contact me on my return to the States, however. I need time away from you – a good deal of it – before I can even imagine seeing you again. You managed to hurt me in a way quite different from what you intended when you staged our first meeting. Now go. There’s no more for us to say, and you, O’Brien, and his men need to get to your father before Chameau does.”
She dropped his arm, then her eyes, and turned back to O’Brien with sadness deeply written on her face, but something else, too. Perhaps hope?
* * * * *
Fox and Lasalle had found a table in an outdoor café across from Lavinia’s father’s house. Peter had selected Lasalle for this mission because he knew he could trust him completely, and, in addition to being an excellent topman, he had specialized skills that suited Peter’s purpose. Lasalle was a small, wiry man who reminded Peter of a wolf, and he was an artist with a knife. Lasalle’s parents had been petit bourgeoisie who had been first impoverished, then slaughtered in the Reign of Terror. He would kill Chameau with pleasure.
Shortly after O’Brien’s party arrived, two men took a table in the café. They made no secret of their interest in the cluster of men outside Lavinia’s father’s house. They were big, tough-looking men, judging from the scars on their faces, prize fighters − genuine bruisers. When Lavinia and her farther emerged from the house, each carrying a small valise, and the party began walking down Rue Nathaniel Rudier towards the quais, one of them got up, and headed towards the Rue de Strasbourg, that would intersect with the Rue Nathaniel Rudier at the Quai Bouffay. “Take him,” Fox said to Lasalle, and the Frenchman slipped quickly out of his chair in pursuit. When O’Brien and the others had a two-minute head start, the second of Chameau’s men threw a few coins on the table for the drinks they hadn’t touched, and began following them. Fox dropped his own coins on the table and smoothly slipped in behind the Frenchman. Fox caught up with him a block later.
Knowing how much he relied on Fox for difficult tasks, Peter had tutored Fox in French on their long weeks at sea. Fox had polished his command of the language in Nantes’s bars and brothels.
“Hé! Connard!” Fox called out
The Frenchman spun around instantly. They were a few feet apart. “Qui t’appelez un connard, branleur? Who are you calling an asshole, you faggot?” the Frenchman bristled.
Fox wasn’t interested in a brawl, especially with this thug. He buried his foot in the Frenchman’s crotch. As the Frenchman writhed on the ground, Fox stomped on his right knee, shattering bones and cartilage. As Fox hurried on to catch up with O’Brien and the others, he called back, “Je pense que tu es le branleur, quoi?”