In the evening, Jacquelyn enjoyed a casual walk along the worn out boardwalk near the pier while watching the waves hit against the shoreline. The ocean breeze and moonlight soothed her thoughts from the clamor inside The Black Rose Tavern where she worked as a barmaid. Thursday evenings in the tavern are the busiest with merchants that come from Europe to conducted business trading their merchandise to the local shops, blacksmith, and mercantile. The ships dock in the harbor as early as 4:00 am on Thursday, and sometimes as early as half past midnight. The small community of Port Townsmont relies on the merchant ships for business. The docs are not far from the tavern, just five blocks away if you count the graveyard that’s a short walk from the tavern next to the Protestant Church.
Jacquelyn folded her thin arms across her chest and headed back towards the tavern when a group of merchants strolled past her laughing stridently, bumping into each other with each step of their boots on the cobblestones. She smelt whiskey on their breath and sensed from their behavior she overstayed her time away from the tavern and imagined that Mr. Struthers would be waiting for her late return. She rushed in her black laced boots as fast as her slender body could run.
Being in sight of the cemetery and two blocks away from the tavern, Jacquelyn hurried her pace with each stomp of her heal until two ghostly figures appeared in front of her. Startled, Jacquelyn jumped backward a foot and froze in place. She had never seen a ghost before, nor did she believe in their existence being raised Protestant. “You both must be angels sent to protect me,” she said reaching to touch the spirits. “That’s right, my guardian angels.” Both faces on the apparitions glowed a bluish-red and moved backward not allowing any contact. Jacquelyn trembled and realized the phantoms were not angels, but something sinister. But what?
The ghostly creatures circled around her slowly. Her jaw hung down to her chest as she gazed when they floated two feet in front of her. What is this mystical presence? She thought. Amazed, Jacquelyn put aside her fear. Her curiosity tempted her where she bravely extended her right hand out to touch one of the transparent beings. As her left hand went all the way through the apparition, Jacquelyn pulled her hand quickly back.
“What. Are. You?” Jacquelyn asked hesitating between each word. “Are you, Angels?” No words were spoken from the mystic beings. A red glow flashed where the eye sockets once were on the translucent image. Jacquelyn released a scream and bolted her way past them not looking back.
Reaching the corner fence line of the graveyard, Jacquelyn stopped to catch her breath. “It must have been the day-old bread and roast beef I ate for dinner,” she whispered. “Yes, that must be it! The dinner didn’t agree with me and gave me indigestion. Just like it did to Ebenezer Scrooge,” Jacquelyn murmured and strolled slowly along the edge of the black iron gate that bordered the graveyard. She stopped when she heard soft voices coming from a nearby tombstone. Jacquelyn stopped on the cobblestone street not wanting to make any sound. She was unable to make out who the figures were that she saw standing and moving back and forth. Jacquelyn saw a lantern on the ground and something lying on a blanket. “Is that a body?” she whispered.
“Let’s hurry and finish digging the grave the rotting flesh is making me nauseous,” a man holding a hurricane lantern said. His voice was deep and scratchy. Jacquelyn knew from his voice that Frank the gravedigger was in the cemetery. But who else was with him and what were they doing in there so late at night Jacquelyn pondered?
Jacquelyn scrambled backward, grabbed hold of the black Iron Gate that outlined the perimeter of the graveyard. Her gloved hands slid down the length of the bar, resting her knees on the ground.
“What do you think happened Dr. Morehead?” Jacquelyn heard Constable Montgomery ask in his thick Scottish accent.
She wrapped her dark blue cape around to the front of her chest, concealing her presence.
“I’m not sure... But,” replied Dr. Morehead.
Damn, wonder what could have happened? And at this hour! Jacquelyn thought. She knew she’d be in trouble and is risking her job by staying away from the tavern so long, but she wanted to know what happened in the graveyard. And who died.
The doctor stood up straight after examining the neck of the boy and allowed Frank the gravedigger to lower the body into the open grave. Dr. Morehead remembered the same markings that are on the lad's neck from when he traveled to Egypt twenty years ago. The puncture wounds and torn neck appeared to be the same markings on villagers in Giza.
Constable Montgomery handed a shovel to Dr. Morehead, taking one for himself. The three men shoveled dirt into the grave.
“What’s wrong, Doctor? You’ve clammed up,” Constable Montgomery remarked.
“Nothing is wrong. Nothing at all,” Dr. Morehead replied. The frown on his face worried the others. Dr. Morehead stayed silent. He did not want to say too much or cause alarm.
“Well, if you ask me,” Constable Montgomery stated. “We just might have a murderer on the loose!” His voice is deep and convincing.
Jacquelyn could not believe her ears. Had she heard correctly? That there might be a murderer in Port Townsmont. From a distance, she continued to watch the three men shovel dirt into the grave and listen to their conversation and then a rat ran across the length of the gate where she sat. She swiftly covered her mouth so her fear would not give her being there away.
“A murderer?” responded Dr. Morehead quickly. “I don’t know how you’re going to prove that, Constable. Not with all the merchant ships in port. You would need to question the crew, delaying their departure in the morning.”
The possibility of Port Townsmont having a murderer had Constable Montgomery thinking and took into consideration what Dr. Morehead said. How was he going to prove that a murder took place without any suspects? And if he questioned all the crew from the merchant ships, the captains would be unhappy not leaving out of port on time.
Jacquelyn remained silent and hung on to every word they said.
“What I think happened,” Frank said unexpectedly. “The boy got into a fight with one of the crew members and got his throat cut. Then they threw his body overboard.” Frank scratched the side of his head. The boy had been drinking as well, there’s whiskey on his breath. I’d make a good detective Constable!” Frank chuckled.
Dr. Morehead raised his brow and glanced towards Constable Montgomery.
“That’s a possibility, Henry.” Dr. Morehead packed down the mound of dirt with the shovel. “You’d have more trouble investigating a murder, and not allowing the ships to leave port might cause trouble with the ships captains!”
Constable Montgomery scratched his long red beard that hung down, resting on his chest. “I’ve been entertaining the idea. I wish I didn’t find the boy's body lying on the shore.”
“Neither did we,” Frank added. “After being out here in the chilly air, I’m ready for a brandy.”
Dr. Morehead grinned and coughed a few times.
“Same here. I could use a drink myself,” Dr. Morehead remarked, tossing the shovel down. “Let us go, we’re finished here.”
Standing up slowly, Jacquelyn headed away from the graveyard onto the cobbled street until a pebble caught underneath her boot causing her to fall. “Ouch,” she cried and noticed a slight tear in the bottom of her dress.
“Who’s there?” Constable Montgomery called out. Lantern in hand, he moved quickly through the cemetery, kicking dirt up with his large boots.
“It’s me, Jacquelyn Cassiel,” she said sardonic and limped back towards the entrance of the cemetery.
“Stay where you are!” He ordered and huffed and puffed every step of the way towards the front of the cemetery. Reaching the front gate, Constable Montgomery hinged his hand on the gate to catch his breath. He pushed his eyebrows together in an intimidation tactic. “What are you doing walking the streets at this hour?” His voice stern and disgruntled.
Jacquelyn despised Constable Montgomery’s approach. She understood it was a policeman’s job to ask a civilian the reason for walking the streets during the night, but Constable Montgomery knew she used to work as a courtesan for Madam Aimée, and she was afraid he had other ideas. “I stepped out for a breath of fresh air,” she admitted. “Why? Have I committed a crime?” A sharp twinge traveled down to her ankle. Jacquelyn slid her right hand down her leg, giving her ankle a quick rub.
Constable Montgomery snorted. “Not that I can prove...” Grunting like a grizzly bear, he released his air. “You’re a little far away from the tavern to have stepped out for a breath of fresh air. Hmm,” he replied indicating something more. Constable Montgomery was tall and pudgy with a long reddish-brown beard that hung below his chin. He had so much hair that it hid his thin lips and you could hardly tell that he had a mouth at all. Jacquelyn never cared much for him because he was not approachable and harassed the women at the brothel.
There were many times during the years when Jacquelyn worked as a courtesan when both Frank and Constable Montgomery would be in the parlor wanting service. But she would not have anything to do with either one of them. And that included her boss Alfred Struthers, who is the owner of the Black Rose Tavern. Alfred would come over to the house drunk and wanted to be with her when she sat alone on the settee waiting for a gentleman. She refused him every time. Jacquelyn fancied older men with a slenderer shape. Dark eyes, and dark hair much like her own. She was not attracted to overweight men or anyone that lived in Port Townsmont. Her affairs with men were those who came from upstate, New York, and Washington D.C. She enjoyed entertaining distinguished, attractive gentlemen with influence and authority.
Jacquelyn glanced over Constable Montgomery’s shoulder recognizing Dr. Morehead, and Frank the gravedigger approaching the entrance. Dr. Morehead met her eyes, reached into his front pocket and pulled out his watch. “It’s after eleven thirty.” Indicating his concern. “You shouldn’t be out walking the streets alone at this hour Jacquelyn,” he said rubbing the lower part of his brown-white beard.
“I haven’t committed any crime, have I?” she asked again as the three men looked off towards the pier.
“No, but at this hour walking the streets are dangerous.” Dr. Morehead pushed the round spectacles back on his face when they slid down his nose. Jacquelyn almost thought the doctor was concerned for her well-being and decided to have a new respect for him considering who his cousin was.
“Did you see anyone prowling around the docks when you were there?” Constable Montgomery said and squinted his blue eyes towards Jacquelyn. “Answer me, girl, did you?” he shouted strictly.
Jacquelyn jumped almost losing her balance. Dr. Morehead reached his arm out to catch her. “Just a cat digging in the garbage.” Starting to feel uncomfortable, Jacquelyn started twitching as if she had a tick. From their expressions, she could only imagine what they were thinking. “Well, if you’d excuse me, I need to return back to the tavern.” Not being happy that they might be thinking she was prostituting, Jacquelyn turned up her nose and strutted off in the direction of the tavern. She was not thrilled in returning to work either and not in the mood to tolerate Alfred Struthers if he harassed her. And when she passed the staircase that led upstairs to her loft, Jacquelyn stopped walking for a moment and almost darted up the stairs. Animosity overflowed her. She had been outside for too long. Her boss, Mr. Struthers will be drunk by now. And being away far longer than the ten minutes allotted her, her pay would be docked one hour. But Jacquelyn did not care. Not from what happened tonight. She was still trying to digest the conversation in the cemetery and the apparitions that she saw and was angry from the interrogation.
After hanging her cape on the brass hook on the wall behind the bar counter, Jacquelyn took the broom that was waiting for her in the corner. She turned her head to one side when she heard a soft, pleasant humming. “You sound happy,” Jacquelyn said facing Gabriella.
“I am,” Gabriella replied. Her smile was larger than the length of a centipede. “I have a date with a sailor after work.” Gabriella continued to hum as she spun around behind the bar.
“Why a sailor? You normally like older men as I do. The ones with money.” Charlie, who was standing two feet away, started whistling. Jacquelyn nudged the side of his arm. “Do you mind? We’re trying to talk,” she implied, pushing her way behind Gabriella.
“Damn, women. Always getting caught up in each other’s business,” Charlie said, stepping to one side to wash the dirty glasses. Gabriella and Jacquelyn wrinkled up their faces. “Well, you better stop talking and get back to work. Mr. Struthers is heading this way.” Charlie lifted his head up and down getting their attention.
Jacquelyn breathed in deeply, gripping the broom handle tight.
Blowing a large puff of smoke into the air, Mr. Struthers tapped the ashes down at Jacquelyn’s feet.
“There's a table in the center of the room waiting to be served,” he said with a depth of tone that can sink deeper than a well.
“Yes, sir,” Jacquelyn replied quickly. Without hesitation, she handed the broom to Gabriella.
Once at the table were four merchants were sitting, Jacquelyn glanced over towards the door. Sitting alone underneath a window, she saw an older gentleman. He had dark hair, grayish eyes and dressed neatly.
The merchant cleared his throat twice. “Excuse me, miss, but could we get three ales and one whiskey?”
Finding it difficult to do so, Jacquelyn pulled her eyes off the stranger. “Certainly. I’ll bring your order right over.”
The sailor turned around to look at the man in the corner. “Saw him earlier down at the pier.”
“You did? What was he doing?” Jacquelyn raised both brows. She normally wasn’t so curious, but there was just something about this man that intrigued her.
The sailor scratched his left ear. “He was just walking around talking to a few merchant sailors. We were still unloading cargo. When we left the docs to walk to the tavern, he was gone.”
Jacquelyn glanced back over her shoulder with every step she took going back to the bar counter.
A peculiar sensation came over Jacquelyn suddenly as she returned to the merchant's table. She glanced over and noticed the older gentleman staring at her. She placed the drinks onto the table and began her way towards the gentleman. Afraid to go any further when a smoke cloud covered her face. She coughed, turned around and went off towards a table that had empty Steins.
“Bastard!” She angrily muttered under her breath. Not understanding his reasons, and being disgruntled for never giving him the time of day when she was a courtesan, Jacquelyn has tried to understand Mr. Struthers attitude towards her. Unless she finds a way to leave Port Townsmont, or if Mr. Struthers were to drop dead from a heart attack, she had no idea how to solve the animosity with her employer.
In the brief silence, Jacquelyn heard soft voices of men at the next table where she was cleaning up spilled ale. She bent her ear to listen.
“Tomorrow we should go to the pier and see if we can find the ship the boy is from. It's only fair to notify the ship’s captain.” Jacquelyn heard Constable Montgomery say.
She wiped the table slowly and continued to listen and spotted Madam Aimée heading in this direction.
“It might be difficult to find exactly what ship the boy is from,” said Frank grumpily. “Ship crews come and go its cargo and slaves they keep an accurate log.”
“Frank is probably right, Constable. I was under the impression you weren't going to investigate.” Dr. Morehead’s voice was hesitant.
“I’m not. I thought the captain should know what happened to one of his crew.”
Frank glanced over the crowded room and spotted merchants sitting at tables and drinking whiskey. He met the constable’s tired eyes. “Out in the rough waters of the Atlantic, sailing back and forth from port to port.” Frank paused briefly. “Do you really think any ship captain cares or even knows how many men are aboard their ship?”
Constable Montgomery shrugged his square shoulders back. “I guess not, Frank. I had forgotten before you arrived at Port Townsmont that you worked on a merchant ship.”
Gathering the empty steins, Jacquelyn turned around right when Madam Aimée approached the table next to her.
“Good evening, Madam Aimée,” Constable Montgomery greeted formally. “It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
Madam Aimée raised her brow.
“Gentlemen, what drags all of you together on a chilly night?” Madam Aimée asked sounding suspicious. “All of you should be home where it is warm. All except for Henry, who should be out walking the streets patrolling. Isn’t that what my tax dollars pay for?”
“Well, since you’re that concerned, how about sending me one of your women?” Frank said indicating intentions. Madam Aimée ignored his remark and turned instead to Dr. Morehead as he began a coughing spell.
When he caught his breath, the doctor replied, “Frankly, I believe we stayed in the chilly air too long.” He continued coughing louder with every word.
“Charlie,” Jacquelyn heard Madam Aimée yell over the crowded room. “Bring over four whiskeys. Charlie reached for the whiskey bottle and four glasses. “That’ll get rid of your cough, Allan,” Madam Aimée said.
“Just when I was going to order around myself,” said Constable Montgomery. By the expression on his face, Madam Aimée knew very well that he wanted a drink without having to pay.
“Instead of rubbing elbows with these two, don't you think you’d be more useful if you were patrolling outside?” Jacquelyn heard the sternness in Madam Aimée’s voice.
“Clairee, don't be giving Henry a hard time. We’ve been out in the graveyard for...” Dr. Morehead started to explain, but Madam Aimée lifted her hand for him to stop talking when Charlie approached with the whiskey.
Charlie arrived at the table with the glasses of whiskey and sat them down on the table. Madam Aimée reached into her purse and pulled out a shiny coin. “Thank you, dear,” she said handing Charlie a penny. Charlie gave a quick nod and returned to the bar counter. “As you were saying, Allan,” Madam Aimée continued.
Just then, Mr. Struthers strolled over to the table right beside Madam Aimée and glowered toward Jacquelyn at the joining table. Madam Aimée turned sharply around and noticed Mr. Struthers hostility. “Why the threatening expression Alfred?” asked Madam Aimée.
Mr. Struthers grumbled and took a long puff on his cigar and blew smoke in Jacquelyn’s direction. “Don’t you think you’ve spent enough time gathering those steins, girl?” he said hatefully. Madam Aimée turned to face him, slanting her eyes. Jacquelyn turned around quickly and headed towards the bar counter.
Jacquelyn loathed Alfred Struthers and for the mere fact that he thought of himself as a ladies’ man, and she could not figure out why. He was a short man with a beefy body. His neck buried below his shirt. His gray, thinning hair swept to one side. And his dark beady eyes have always been cold as stone. She did not think he was handsome either. She would giggle at times when he would be drunk, and strut like a tomcat through the tavern. He smoked Cuban cigars puffing on them all evening while drinking whiskey. Most people in the town remembered when Alfred Struthers was young and attractive, but the liquor and smoking aged him. Years ago, during the time Alfred was married to Angela Bolton Struthers who was the niece of Julian Carver, he had everything he wanted, until a dreadful spring afternoon. Angela had been in labor for twenty hours. The baby was breached and died moments after she was born. Angela lost a lot of blood and was weak. Two hours later, Angela died. There was a large funeral with everyone in the community attending. The baby was placed beside Angela in the casket. It was only a few weeks later when Alfred Struthers started to show up at in the tavern on a regular basis, drinking all night long and smoking cigars.
“What's going on here?” asked Mr. Struthers his voice grumpy and focusing his stare at Constable Montgomery. “Shouldn’t you be out patrolling the streets, Henry?”
Madam Aimée coughed and waved the smoke away from her face while she mumbled profanity under her breath.
“Could’ve used your help two hours ago, big boy,” Constable Montgomery said boisterously.
“You're not exactly small around the waist yourself,” barked Mr. Struthers. “And what brings you in here tonight, Allan. Another interlude with Clairee?” he said making a rude insinuation. Dr. Morehead did not say a word. In fact, all three of the men continued to sip their whiskey as if Mr. Struthers had not spoken.
Dr. Morehead coughed a few more times before being Madam Aimée interrupted.
“You were saying, Allan. Why the three of you were in the graveyard...”
Dr. Morehead met her eyes with a blank stare. “We buried a young boy tonight.”
Madam Aimée’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “Oh, my goodness! Anyone, we know?”
Dr. Morehead reached into his coat pocket and took out a dark colored handkerchief. He wiped the sweat from his brow. “No! He’s from one of the merchant ships. Constable Montgomery found his body washed up on shore.”
Madam Aimée did not question anymore. The tavern was packed and full of people from Port Townsmont, along with many merchants. With so many people she was not in the mood for any more questions.
Dr. Morehead coughed repeatedly.
“Henry, you and Frank take Allan home,” Madam Aimée said. “He’s not looking well.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Dr. Morehead replied. He propped his head up with his hand. “I have a headache, and feel a little light headed.”
Constable Montgomery and Frank helped Dr. Morehead to his feet and out of the tavern. Madam Aimée and Mr. Struthers at the same time looked over at the large clock that hung on the wall.
“The Tavern will be closing soon. I have payments to collect,” said Madam Aimée strolling off into the crowd.
Mr. Struthers returned to the table that is in the center of the room. He sat down in the oversized oak chair and finished logging receipts in the ledger while keeping a watchful eye on Charlie, Gabriella, and Jacquelyn who were behind the bar counter.
Reaching down towards her feet, Jacquelyn pulled off her boot and rubbed the bottom of her foot. The twelve-hour shifts caused her feet to hurt. Sometimes she would get blisters on the edges of her feet, and on the bottoms of her heels from standing and walking around the Tavern on Thursday nights. Thursdays were one of the busiest nights in the ta0vern. Every week on Thursday, the merchant ships would sail into port with new cargo. Early the next morning shortly after sunrise, all the ships would be out of the harbor, sailing to their next destination.
Gathering towels to clean the tables, Jacquelyn stopped and caught a glimpse in the large mirror that hung on the wall behind the bar.
“He’s still sitting there,” she said, just above a whisper.
“Who’s still there?” asked Gabriella. Turning her head around, she caught a frown from Mr. Struthers. “You know that Mr. Struthers sits in the center of the room every night.”
“No, not him,” replied Jacquelyn. “The man reading the newspaper.”
Gabriella moved closer towards the mirror. When she saw the man that Jacquelyn was referring to, she backed away. “He’s been here ever since you stepped out for a breath of air,” replied Gabriella. “A very distinguished and courteous gentleman. I served him coffee and brandy earlier. He’s interesting to talk to. And quite the world traveler.”
Jacquelyn turned towards the mirror again. “He’s definitely attractive.
“Why don't you walk over to his table?” Charlie suggested and nudged Jacquelyn’s elbow. “Go on, Jacquelyn, what could it hurt? You’re not a coward, are you?”
Jacquelyn gave Charlie a crossed look and shrugged her shoulder. “I tried an hour ago, but Mr. Struthers saw me, and blew smoke into my face.” Jacquelyn took one last glance in the mirror. And when he looked away from the newspaper spotting Jacquelyn’s stare, her face flushed and she jolted from the mirror and pumped water into a bucket. She looked up from the water and stared in his direction. His long face, dark wavy hair, and grayish eyes set her into a trance.
Gabriella cleared her throat when Mr. Struthers stood up from the chair. “Jacquelyn get back to work, Mr. Struthers is watching,” she warned. “We don’t need any trouble from him now. The tavern closes in thirty minutes.”
Jacquelyn turned sharply around and reached for a dishcloth. Dabbing the cloth to her forehead, Jacquelyn wiped the sweat that formed. “You’re right,” Jacquelyn replied and squeezed behind Gabriella. “I’ll sweep the floor tonight if you clear off the tables.”
Gabriella nodded and handed Jacquelyn the broom.
While sweeping the floor, Jacquelyn looked towards the table where the man was sitting and thought of what she might say to him should she build up the courage to approach him. When she worked as a courtesan for Madam Aimée, she did not have an issue approaching anyone. But the more she would think of what to say, her words in her mind twisted around.
When the man placed the newspaper down and took a sip from a china teacup, he spotted Jacquelyn starring in his direction. He gave a friendly smile. Jacquelyn was instantly beguiled. Her hazel eyes glued to his gray eyes. She found it difficult to pull her eyes away from his eyes.
Speechless, Jacquelyn smiled casually and shifted her eyes away from his and down in the chair where she spotted his black overcoat that was neatly draped over the chair. Gray gloves were folded crisscross on top of each other that rested perfectly next to the newspaper. The gentleman wore a white long-sleeved button-up collared shirt, and charcoal gray vest. He sat as if he’s a usual part of the scene: relaxed and comfortable, paying no mind to the squabbling nonsense from the next table.
Jacquelyn stood in the center of the room as if her boots had glue on the bottom and stuck to the wooden-planked floor. Their eyes gazed at each other for a few minutes, unaware of the patrons walking around. She felt as though she was in a trance and could not turn away from his influence. His dark, pearly gray eyes fixed on her hazel eyes. Jacquelyn’s heart raced, causing her breathing to be rapid. Drawn to him, she moved slowly towards his table. The gentleman pushed the chair out from him and stood up. Jacquelyn was speechless.
He smiled friendly. “Good evening, my dear. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is, Victor.” He reached his hand towards hers. He was straightforward and so sure of himself. Jacquelyn placed her palm into his and gave a quick shake.
“G-Good evening,” she stammered, bewitched by his powers. “It’s nice to meet you.” A burst of heat covered her face.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied politely. Jacquelyn took a step backward and looked over her shoulder, and caught a snarled glare from Alfred Struthers. Victor saw over her shoulder, noticing the same glare. “I won’t keep you, miss. I wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble with your employer.”
Jacquelyn bent down to remove the empty teacup from the table. “Would you care for another brandy?” she asked with hands shaking, and cup rattling.
Victor folded his arms against his chest. “Well,” he paused briefly when a group of merchants pushed their way behind Jacquelyn. She took a step forward, closer towards the table. “Would you care to join me this evening, after you have finished with your duties?” he asked softly, as he draped his coat around the broadness of his shoulders.
Shocked, Jacquelyn did not know what to say. She wanted to go with Victor but feared if anyone found out and told Mr. Struthers, he would cause her trouble.
“Thank you for your offer, but I couldn't,” she said, frowning.
“Why do you care what the patrons in this establishment think? You’re a grown woman,” Victor said, encouragingly.
“But I do care. I am not well liked in this town. Besides, what would people think if I went off with you?” Jacquelyn whispered so the patrons close by could not hear. “You’re a stranger. I've never laid eyes on you until tonight.”
“Not well liked,” said Victor, surprised. “As beautiful as you are. What could you have possibly done to not be well favored in this ghostly town?” Victor wrinkled his forehead. The lines across his brow ran deep.
Jacquelyn hesitated. “Years ago, I worked as a courtesan for, Madam Aimée.”
Jacquelyn pointed towards a nearby table where Madam Aimée was standing, collecting payment from businessmen.
Victor smiled while looking at her intently.
“I understand completely. You must have had your reasons for that line of work. I don't blame you. Nor do I condemn you.”
Sighing regretfully, she said, “Thank you, sir. But because of that very reason, I must decline. I’m sorry.”
Jacquelyn turned away as tears filled her eyes.
Victor understood without further explanation and walked towards the oak curved door. Before leaving, he turned around, glanced around the tavern, and saw Alfred Struthers gloating in his direction. Victor glared back with hatred, kindling in his soul like a raging fire. When he felt the beast within him start to transform, he stopped himself, turned sharply away, and back towards Jacquelyn, making one last attempt to persuade her to go with him.
Jacquelyn noticed Victor’s raging eyes. Her heart sank deep into the pit of her stomach. She sensed Victor’s hatred that’s depicted towards Alfred. But during that very minute, and only that moment, she no longer cared what others thought. Her heart ached with the desire to go with him.
With tear-filled eyes, she said, “I'll… When…” and her mouth shut silenced as if someone put a lock on her lips.
Victor reached for her arms, trying to encourage her. But she could not bring her lips to say the words. When she tried, only a quiver from her bottom lip vibrated a squeak of remorse.
“It will be all right. Perhaps another time,” Victor responded disappointedly and stroked the side of Jacquelyn’s cheek with the softness of his palm.
Then purely out of spite, Alfred Struthers stood up and spoke so the whole tavern could hear.
“Don't just stand there. Move your ass, and finish your duties before I deduct your pay. Good help is so hard to find. Especially the ones I rescue from Clairee.”
His speech slurred. He moved his round body towards Jacquelyn, but a merchant pushed his chair back, blocking Mr. Struthers.
“Miserable bitch!” Mr. Struthers added, bitterly.
Embarrassed, Jacquelyn hung her head and started walking away until Victor reached for her arm, pulling her gently to his side. His arm wrapped around her thin waist.
“I’ll kill him! It will be a slow and painful death...!”
Comfortable and secure. A moment of hope traveled through her small frame. Jacquelyn tightened her hands into a tiny ball and faced Victor.
“I fear him the most.” She managed to squeeze out her hummingbird lips. “When he drinks all night, Alfred is belligerent.”
Her bottom lip quaked.
Victor narrowed his brows inward. “Drinking is no excuse to behave in such a disrespectful manner,” he said and placed both hands on her shoulders. “Come with me, I'll never harm you.” His voice was soft and sincere. Jacquelyn leaned inward towards Victor and stopped.
As kind of thought as that was, Jacquelyn knew she could not go with him for the evening. Not now. Not ever.
And a single tear dripped from her eyelid.
Jacquelyn could not believe that a handsome man, one she just met, was interested in her. She was not afraid to go off with Victor. She only feared the cruelty from Alfred Struthers when she returned.
Victor sensed Jacquelyn’s concern. He lifted her right hand up to his lips and kissed her gently. As she watched him walk towards the door, tears rolled down the paleness of her cheek. Regretting her decision, she hurried towards the back room. And wept.
Realizing the time, Jacquelyn regained composure and returned to the bar counter. She noticed there were five minutes left and the tavern was nearly empty. Waiting for the next few minutes to pass, Jacquelyn’s mind drifted to the man she met. He captivated her. She never believed in love at first sight. Until now.
Jacquelyn, Gabriella, and Charlie walked to the door together. They heard laughter from the center of the room where Mr. Struthers was standing by a table, talking with two of his friends.
“I wish all of them would get diphtheria and die,” said Gabriella, slanting her large blue eyes towards them.
“You shouldn't say things like that,” said Charlie. His eyes turned the size of an egg yolk. “You're going to burn in hell for your obscenity.”
Gabriella turned up her lip.
“I'll just say a few more ‘Hail Mary's’ and ‘Our Father’s,’ and light a candle for the souls in purgatory.”
Swirling around to reach for the brass door handle, Gabriella caught Mr. Struthers snarling in her direction, and quickly opened the large oak door.
“Let’s leave immediately before that bastard walks over here. Besides, I have someone waiting for me down by the pier,” Gabriella added cheerful and loud. She unclipped the barrette, allowing her blond hair to cascade down onto her shoulders.
Jacquelyn placed her hand on Gabriella’s shoulder and smiled.
“Thank you for being my friend.”
Gabriella took Jacquelyn's hand, gave it a pat, and smiled back. “I’ll see the both of you tomorrow.” Gabriella hurried out the door.
Charlie motioned Jacquelyn to walk in front of him, but Jacquelyn turned around when she heard Madam Aimée call for her.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Charlie. Give Elizabeth my love.”
Jacquelyn went towards the bar counter where she saw Madam Aimée sitting and tapping her groomed nails on the side of a crystal glass, glaring towards Mr. Struthers.
“You wanted to see me, Madame Aimée?” Answered Jacquelyn. She glanced at her own reflection in the mirror and noticed her puffy hazel eyes.
“Gabriella snuck a word in my ear,” Madam Aimée said, removing her snarl away from Mr. Struthers. Jacquelyn faced her, scowling. “Now dear, don't be cross with Gabrielle. She’s a good friend, and she cares deeply for you. Now then-” Madam Aimée paused briefly as she took Jacquelyn's cold hand into hers. “I’d like for you to consider in returning to my house to live. I just might have a room available soon.”
Jacquelyn pulled her hand away.
“I don't think so!” Her anger brewing. “And why would Gabriella say anything to you? I never said a word to her suggesting I wanted to move back to your house.”
“Simmer your temper, love. Apparently, there’s some miscommunication.” She explained. “Gabriella, saw you crying in the back room after the gentleman you were talking with had left. She also heard Mr. Struthers calling you unpleasant names.”
“Let me think about this for a few days. But if I decide to move back into your home…”
Madam Aimée smiled slightly.
“Of course not, dear,” she said empathic bearing in mind the redness on her face. “It would be understood that you would be just a border and not a courtesan.” Madam Aimée reached for her chin, cupping her face gently. “You seem so sad. I am worried about you.”
Jacquelyn’s mood became melancholy. A stream of tears flowed out of the sides of her eyes. “It's… just… that,” and her voice cracked with every word.
Madam Aimée pulled out a white lace handkerchief from the inside of her corset and handed it to Jacquelyn.
“I know, dear, I know…”
Jacquelyn wiped her tears, wondering how Madam Aimée could know what she felt in her heart. She wanted to go off with Victor and knew as she tried to rationalize the idea that the thought was crazy. At that very moment, Jacquelyn decided she was not going to care what people thought about her anymore.
“I'll give you my answer is a few days,” Jacquelyn promised and blew her nose.
“Now then, I need to go check on Dr. Morehead. He was feeling a bit under the weather earlier.” Madam Aimée reached over and wrapped her plump arms around Jacquelyn’s chest. “That sounds fine, dear. No pressure.”
Jacquelyn rolled up the handkerchief into a ball. “I’ll wash your handkerchief out before returning it to you,” replied Jacquelyn, forcing a smile. “And I will ponder the offer you’ve made.”
Madam Aimée walked out the door with Jacquelyn following right behind her. With her hand on the door handle, Jacquelyn tightened up and froze in place. The odor of a cigar was behind her. She opened the door quickly, trying to push her way out. But a large hand grabbed her from her waist, pulling her back. His other hand slammed the door shut. Jacquelyn stepped back against the corner of the door, waving the smoke away from her face.
“My shift is over. Do you mind? I’d like to go home.”
“What's your hurry, love? Why not stay and join me for a nightcap in my chamber?” Said Mr. Struthers, breathing heavily on her face.
The stench of whiskey on his breath caused her to gag.
Jacquelyn turned away from his flirting.
“No! The very sight of you repulses me.”
Mr. Struthers puffed on his partially burning cigar. “You know you want me. Why resist my charm?”
He stroked the side of her cheek with the tip of his finger, making his way down her neckline. He gazed at her plump breasts that pushed up from the corset she wore, drooling. Jacquelyn wanted to scream, but no one was left in the tavern to help her, let alone care. She slowly scooted along the wall and opened the door.
“C’mon, my pet. I'll satisfy you like no other...” Mr. Struthers said, slamming the door shut. He touched the top of her breasts, sliding his hand down, cupping a breast in his hand.
She gripped his hand and pushed it away, but he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her tightly towards him.
“Get away from me, y-you drunken bastard!” Jacquelyn stammered.
Mr. Struthers stepped back and snarled.
“You're nothing more than a lousy whore. Go, before I lose my temper and fire you,” he muttered under his breath.
Jacquelyn squeezed past Mr. Struthers and raced out the door.