December 1805, Genoa, Italy
This is sheer lunacy. I am cold, and wet, and tired, and hungry, and I smell! I could not be just another wastrel like most men of my age and stature; oh no, I have to be noble, take up the calling of my government. I am an Earl for God’s sake! I should be a candidate for bedlam; that is what I should be. What I would not pay for a hot bath, a home cooked meal and my bed. Robert Farrell, seventh Earl of Wingate, grumbled silently to himself as he hunched behind a stack of fetid crates on a dark and virtually deserted dock in what he deemed the seediest port in all of Italy, or at least it was when he was in such a sour mood. For the third night in a row, he waited; waited for the man he had followed from London, then through France and now Italy to reappear. The lout could not take much longer; surely, after three days he could not think he had been followed. Robert knew he had not been spotted; he was far too well trained for that to happen. After four years working for his government and on the course of becoming one of the finest agents under Sir Aaron’s command, he had matured well beyond his chronological age. Robert was confident the man would show and, in the process, reveal whom he was working with; then Robert would be able to report in, get the support he needed, capture the bastards and go home.
A rat scurried across the crate in front of him and he shuddered; he never could stomach the vile creatures. Home, that is where he should be. If he had any sense, at this very moment he would be at his brother Christian’s wedding instead of in this rat-infested hovel. This was not exactly the way he had pictured spending Christmas Eve, his twenty-first birthday. Damn Christian any way, it is his father-in-law’s murderer we are after; it should be Christian out here freezing and hungry, not me. Oh, who do you think you are fooling? You know damn well if he were here, you would be right by his side; so quit your sniveling and be a man.
Lord, now he was not just talking to himself, he was chastising himself right back. He needed to get some sleep. Just as he was about to call it a night, he heard footsteps in the distance. He strained his ears; yes, they were coming closer. Robert tried to tamp down the butterflies in his stomach. This could be it, what he was waiting for. He crouched further into the shadows and waited, praying the rats would not choose that particular moment to attack. The man he had been trailing slowly materialized through the mist, stopped twenty paces from where Robert was hiding, and started to look around. A few minutes passed before Robert could hear the approach of a second set of footstep, footsteps with a distinguishably uneven gait. Mother Nature, with her usual sick sense of irony, chose that moment to let the fog roll in across the water, and Robert rolled his eyes. If this did not have the making of one of those tacky mystery novels he used to love as a boy, nothing did.
The second man approached; he did walk with a noticeable limp. He was dressed completely in black; his long coat tails flared in the breeze. Without a sideways glance, he confronted the first gentleman. Robert strained his ears, but could not make out what they were saying. In the blink of an eye, the second man turned and started to walk away as the first crumpled to the ground in a heap. Robert’s eyes had never left the duo, but without a doubt, he knew the man he had followed across three countries was now dead, he just had no idea for the life of him how it happened.
Robert held his breath as the new man limped past him. He was tall, not quite as tall as Robert, but of good height none-the-less; and, although the long flowing coat could be deceptive, he appeared to have a slight build. Robert scrutinized the man, but saw no sign of a weapon; no trail of blood dripping from a concealed knife; there had been no shot fired for surely he would have heard it. Now the dilemma, should he check the body to determine how he was killed and risk losing sight of this newest player, or should he take his chances and follow, hoping he will not fall victim to the same fate.
Quickly Robert took inventory of the arsenal he carried, a pistol in his pocket, one knife in his waistband and another strapped to his leg. It would have to do. He drew a silent breath and slinked from the shadows. In a short period of time, the fog had become impossibly dense. Robert could no longer see his prey, but he still could hear his muted footsteps scuffing along the wharf; step…thump, step…thump. Without a sound, Robert furtively closed the distance between them, only getting close enough that when the mist swirled he could make out a vague shadow in the distance.
Robert ducked behind another pile of crates when the man paused before heading up a gangplank of a moored ship. When the man was onboard and out of sight, Robert crept closer. Emaline’s Nemesis the ship read; rather ominous he thought. Wonderful, could this day get any better? Now how, for the love of God, am I going to get onboard?
Robert looked around. His only hope would be to somehow join the crew. Lord how he hated ships; the mere thought had him nearly retching. This cannot fair well for me. He gathered his nerve and went hunting for the crew of the Emaline.