Traveler: Storyteller Tales: On the Trail of the Worm

            Glen was in trouble for being late to the room.  He did not eat much dinner and he did not sleep well, either.  When he woke up in the morning, he did not remember a thing until he sat down for breakfast.  He lost his appetite thinking about it.

            Once he got free of the family, he went straight to find Second Mate Madison and his helper, Abu Hassan.  They were assigned to find the culprit, though Captain Hawk, as he was called,  thought Madison was a bit of a fool and poor Abu, the one with the brains, was afraid to be anything other than a yes-man.

            “You are Captain Hawk because of your ship the Golden Hawk?”  Abu asked.

            “In part.”  The Captain answered.  “But consider my face.”  He turned to show his profile and pointed out the way his nose stuck out from his eyes before it fell to his lips.  It did appear a bit like a beak.  His skinny features overall also gave his face something of a bird-like appearance, but there was no mistaking that this was a bird of prey.

            “So, I was thinking about what you said, yesterday.  You have seen these worms before?  May I ask where?”  Madison sat behind his desk.  It was clearly the only place he felt comfortable.

            Captain Hawk was not about to be interviewed by a bureaucrat.  He shoved some things to the side and rested his hip up on the desk corner while he left one foot on the ground.  “Best to not go into that.  But for all of our sakes I pray it is only one.  Have you been through the manifest yet?”  He looked over the papers on the desk and craned his neck as if trying to read them.  Officer Madison covered them with his arms and hunched over them like a school boy who was afraid of having his paper copied.  Abu interrupted.  He was good at knowing when to change the subject.

            “What kind of a worm can eat through steel?”

            “A sea worm, technically.”  The Captain answered and got up from the desk to plant himself in a nearby chair.  His point with Madison was made.  “It is a very rare sea creature with a limited ability to come ashore when it is young.  Call it sort of an amphibian in reverse.  Anyway, it should be extinct, at least on this Earth.”  He mumbled the last part, but Abu caught it.

            “And you figure someone brought it on board, but it escaped its cage?”  Abu summarized.  The Captain nodded and Abu handed him a very thick clipboard.  “The passenger list.”

            “Abu?”

            “Mister Madison.  We are getting nowhere.  If this man knows something.”  He apologized and did everything short of bow.

            Madison stared before he shrugged.

            “Who is this Professor Romer?  It says marine biologist.”  Captain Hawk looked at the two men like they should have seen this right away.

            “We did not know it was a sea worm until you told us,” Abu said.  He shrugged and they looked at Madison who shuffled some of the papers on his desk. 

            “There is nothing in the hold with Professor Romer’s name on it,” he declared.

            “Look for a company name, maybe a zoo or aquarium,” Captain Hawk suggested just before they were interrupted.  Two sailors came in and looked twice at Captain Hawk before one spoke.

            “Excuse me Mister Madison, sir.  They found another one.”

            “The worm had breakfast.”  Captain Hawk spoke up.

            “Yes sir.”  The sailor did not know what to say, exactly.  “But this one was a child.”

            “Then we better go see this Romer right away.”  Captain Hawk said, and he started toward the door.  He turned when he got there.  “You coming?”

            Abu looked at Madison.  Madison got up, unhappy about something, but they followed.

###

            “Professor Romer?”  Captain Hawk let Madison take the lead, but mostly so he could look around the room and be nosy, and partly so he could glare at the man over Madison’s shoulder.

            “What is it?  I’m very busy.”  The Professor looked down at his hands rather than up into that frightening Hawk-like face.

            “Just a couple of quick questions, if you don’t mind.”  Madison spoke from the doorway and he would have been most polite about it, but Captain Hawk spied a letter on the desk of that small cabin.  It was from the Philadelphia Aquarium.  He pushed forward into the room.

            “Your sea worm has gotten free.”  Captain Hawk accused the Professor.  He spoke loudly, right over the man’s protests.  He pulled out his long knife which quieted the Professor, but he only used it as a pointer.  “Too bad we can’t try a sea worm for murder.  Philadelphia Aquarium?”  He tapped the letter on the desk.  It said the Aquarium closed last year due to lack of funding, but the board would consider reopening if Professor Romer could deliver the promised specimen. 

            The Professor, an elderly man broke instantly.  “It’s not my fault.  It’s that old woman, Madam Goldman.  She let the beast out.  I never thought…”  The man began to whimper before he stiffened his lip.  “No.  I won’t tell you.  That creature is one of a kind and I will not risk having it damaged by a bunch of frightened sailors.”

            “You and you.”  Captain Hawk pointed at the two sailors who followed them to the cabin.  “Take this man to the brig for further questioning.”

            “Sir.”  The sailors responded to the tone of a ship’s Captain and one gave a slight salute.  They never even glanced at their own officer, Mister Madison.  They hauled the Professor off while Abu asked his next question.

            “We go see this Madam Goldman?”

            “Madison and I,” Captain Hawk answered.  “You need to go back to the office and check the manifests for the hold.  Philadelphia Aquarium and Goldman.”  Abu looked disappointed, but nodded his agreement.  “Don’t worry, Abu.”  Captain Hawk let out his wicked smile.  “I’ll fill you in so you don’t miss anything.”

###

            “Now, you let me take the lead here.”  Madison tried to sound firm.  “ I appreciate your help in this matter, but as an officer of the ship I will be the one to face the heat if we accuse an innocent passenger.”

            Captain Hawk merely tipped his head in response.  He would have tipped his hat, but he left that with his cutlass.  The hat would have made him look too much like the man out of time that he was.

            “Gentlemen.”  The older woman stood with a cane and took an attitude that was completely different from the Professor’s.  “You have come about my pet.  Come in.  I have been expecting you.”

            “Your pet?  I’m afraid I don’t follow.”  Madison let his stupidity show.  The woman ignored him as she looked over the handsome Captain.  “Skinny, but rugged,” she pronounced and she squeezed one of the Captain’s arms to test the muscle.

            “I am glad my lady is pleased.”  Captain Hawk bowed graciously.

            “And you play the part so well,” the woman said.  “Is there a costume party I was not told about?”

            “Alas, no,” Captain Hawk responded.  “I am as you see me.  But let me ask your indulgence.  How did you come by your pet?”

            “A good question,” the woman said.  She backed away to sit and rest on the end of the couch.  This was a first class, luxury cabin with real furniture, far larger than the Professor’s little closet.  “It was by my own art that I coaxed him out of his natural habitat and into my keeping, precious beast that he is.”

            “But you haven’t kept it,” Madison burst out.  “The thing has escaped and it is eating the passengers.”

            “On the contrary, Mister Madison.”  Captain Hawk followed his instincts.  “She has been feeding it.”

            “Very Perceptive.”  The woman was honestly impressed.  She looked again at the skinny man and he bowed once more and introduced himself.

            “Captain Peter VanDyke, Captain of the Golden Hawk out of Amsterdam.  Most people simply call me Captain Hawk.  It is a name I can hardly deny, given my profile.”  He turned his head for the woman.

            “A bird of prey?”

            “One that looks to sink its talons into the great worm.”

            “Ah, but can you match the strength of a serpent?”

            “Your pardon, but it is not yet a serpent, young as it is.”

            “Very perceptive, indeed,” the woman said.  “Too perceptive.”  She touched the diamond knob of her cane and the room filled with a purple light.  It flashed and then wafted through the air like purple smoke before it dissipated.  Captain Hawk found himself still in control of his senses, but his will was sapped.  He had no ability to resist when she said, “Let us go to the hold.”

            “Let me at her.”  Althea shouted in the Captain’s head.  She spoke all the way through time from her life in the deep past.  “I’ll kick her butt!“

            “No,” the Captain interrupted, and in resisting Althea’s suggestion he knew the spell was already beginning to weaken on him even if Madison appeared to be completely under.  “Let us see where she takes us first.”  Althea agreed.

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