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Chapter 7

A Midnight Search; A Hand from the Dark.

Inside the Peg Leg House, the chaos and confusion had increased in my absence. The cockfights had commenced in earnest with all the ensuing cries and calls of man and animal. Bettors were waving banknotes in clenched fists and wager were made with such speed that I could not believe that all would be honored at the close of the match. But sure enough, as the losing cock lay bleeding on the sawdust floor debts were paid with a civility I would have thought impossible in the Peg Leg.

I knew that Jack had not been serious about me returning to my whore; it was just part of the rouse to persuade Lucas Ramsey to release me. I looked for Elsie anyway and saw her sitting with an old canaller who was well aware of Elsie’s occupation and just as happy for it.

The Bully of Rochester had arrived and had stripped to the waist, preparing to fight his Watervliet challengers. He looked frighteningly strong; a man would have to be very drunk to enter a boxing ring with this man—and of course, quite a few were. The Bully was the only man I had seen in town who might be a match for Lucas Ramsey. But even if I could convince him to fight the good fight, and help me free Jack, he had a lot of business to take care of first.

I would need a plan much more clever and realistic than recruiting the Bully of Rochester as a hero. There was no point in trying to follow Ramsey and his men. They would be vigilant, and I was unlikely to get close enough to achieve anything. I believed they would take her to the Queen of the Mohawk. I would need to find that boat, then determine how to free Jack, all while trying to navigate a town I did not know, where I had neither friend nor finances.

Fortunately, some of Queen of the Mohawk’s crew were drinking at the Peg Leg House, and as Jack had observed, they had a tendency to very loudly announce their intentions. The Queen was third in line to enter the locks for Albany the following morning. There was not a power on earth, they boasted, capable of preventing Lucas Ramsey from pulling his boat to the head of the line and entering the locks first. I now, at least, had direction—I must find the canal, find the locks, and count back three boats to the Queen of the Mohawk. There I would find Jack.

For someone familiar with the city of Troy, or someone conversant in the lore of canals, the goal would, no doubt, be easily attained. In my brief time on the canal, though I had traversed several locks, I did not pay close enough attention to now be able to distinguish a lock from any other structure on the canal. But even prior to that, walking in the dark with no point of reference, I could not even find the canal. I must have walked for an hour before asking a man on the road. He thought me daft and told me the canal was through the trees, just two rods to my right. I had been walking parallel to the canal the whole time and in the wrong direction.

I went through the woods and easily found the canal, then walked back along the towpath. Eventually, I could see the canal boats tied up for the night, waiting for sunrise, and the slow travel through the locks. Walked further, past the boats, to the point where they could go no further, shut out by a huge wooden gate. This, of course, was the first lock. I counted back, and sure enough, the third boat back was Queen of the Mohawk.

At first, I thought the boat was quiet, and all aboard were asleep, but as I got closer I realized a group of men were sitting on the roof, taking and passing a jug. They were extremely drunk, and I could not make out all of what was said, they seemed to be arguing over what was to be done with the money and what was to be done with Jack. They would be traveling through the locks all day, then unloading their cargo, then taking another day back through the locks, all before they started their journey back down the canal. They did not want Jack Horne on their boat that long; thought the prisoner too difficult to guard and too annoying to listen to. One didn’t trust Jason Horne to pay the reward; wanted to leave Jack in Troy, split the money with no one the wiser. Another thought that plan would fail unless they murdered Jack Horne, and left no witnesses.

Between the drinking and the arguing, the men were too preoccupied to notice me climb aboard the boat go down below looking for Jack. The Queen was hauling grain, barrels and barrels of grain backed tightly side by side throughout the boat. Unless she was inside a barrel, there was no room for Jack here. I had read a story once about a man who hid underwater in a swamp, breathing through a hollow reed. Could Ramsey have Jack hidden in a barrel of wheat, breathing through a straw? No, that was too clever and involved too much work for the crew of the Queen of the Mohawk.

I looked through the crew’s quarters, under filthy bedding and among their wretched possessions, she wasn’t there, and she wasn’t in the galley either. When I was convinced that Jack was not below deck, I went above. There was very little room between the cabin and the gunwales, and I made sure Jack was not occupying any of it. Finally, I peeked up to see if the men on the roof had her with them. I saw all of them now passed out, sprawled around the jug, but I saw no sign of Jack.

I was starting to think they had her somewhere on shore and I would never find her. Then I remembered the perfect place to hide a captive on a canal boat. In the front of each boat was a small stable where the mules slept when they weren’t hauling. On the Mary Claire, many times I saw the Horne brothers pulling the mules out of there, holding their tails so they wouldn’t get skittish. Jack was in the stable or she was nowhere.

I hurried to the front of the boat; the stable door was bolted but not locked. As quietly as I could, I unbolted the door and opened it. Careful not to awaken the mules, I ventured forward to look inside. A hand shot out from the shadows, grabbed my collar pulling me inside. I lost my balance then; my legs were useless as my arms flailed about for something to grasp as my head was bashed soundly into the timbers. For an instant I saw stars shooting from behind my eyes, then all sensation was gone.