Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 14

Chapter 14


The Pig’s Head was where we used to meet, me and Sam and Betty and Henry, two couples madly in love with each other and with the revolution. It had been under these dim torchlights, over a round of the bartender Hal’s famously bitter brandy, that it had all come to be.

It was strange that Jonathan had bid me to come here, because as far as I knew he had never been a regular. There were dozens of pubs in Boston, and yet he had brought me to the very one that stirred up so many memories.

When I entered, I did not spot my brother. Usually Jonathan was punctual, and I was a little late, so I expected him to await me at the bar, or one of the tables in the back. Somewhere.

After making another scan to confirm he wasn’t here, I settled onto a rickety chair at an empty table, one where he’d be sure to see me when he came in. There weren’t so many women here; certainly, there were few enough that it wouldn’t be difficult to find me.

“Lucy,” I heard, the voice booming low from behind me. It was not Jonathan. And the familiar hand that grasped my shoulder was not Jonathan’s, either. I did not dare to imagine it was really him, the man whose voice and hands felt just like this. It could not be.

I looked up. “Sam.”

I was breathless. His shaggy curls had been cropped into a more army-appropriate cut, which he no doubt resented, and his posture was more authoritative. Even if I had not known he was an army man now, I could have guessed it. Nothing could stop Sam from fighting for the cause.

“I’m looking for Jonathan,” I explained. “Might you know if he’s on his way?” It was indeed unusual for my brother to be so late. Had something happened?

“Jonathan’s not coming,” Sam said, still hovering over the table. “You’re meeting with me.”

Before I could even blurt a question, he disappeared. Unlike The Red Pearl, where either Jasper or I were always making rounds to offer drinks or refill glasses, here at The Pig’s Head you had to approach the bar on your own if you wanted a glass. I hadn’t thought to do it yet, but I had no doubt Sam would return with a glass of brandy for me, too.

When Sam plunked the pair of glasses onto the table and confidently lowered himself into the other chair, my instinct was to shield my eyes from him. How could I look into these eyes again? Did he know how much pain it caused me to see him now?

“Why won’t Jonathan see me?” I demanded.

“Not his job,” Sam replied easily, taking a sip. I did the same, almost gagging at the long-forgotten sour taste. God, all those drinks I sampled at The Red Pearl, and still I was surprised sometimes by a drink’s bitterness. Too many Loyalist drinks, I supposed; they all drank like girls, so we had to water everything down, which made the taste of real brandy unfamiliar. “The information you brought us falls under my responsibility.”

“And what exactly is your responsibility?” I asked. Even Jonathan hadn’t been clear with me why they were in Boston; the rest of the army, including Betty’s husband, was marching on Philadelphia.

“Can’t tell you. But I will say that information such as yours is part of it.”

“So you’re gathering intelligence?”

He took another sip. “How long have these men been regulars of your husband’s bar?”

“Tavern,” I said, “and you didn’t answer my question.”

“I’m not allowed to answer. How long - a few weeks, a month? Several months?”

“A few months,” I said. “But the meetings started only a few weeks ago.”

His eyes widened a little. “Yes, your brother mentioned that. “And this was the first time they spoke of smuggling?”

I shook my head. “It had been mentioned before, but I’d never heard any details.”

“Do you believe this is the purpose of their meetings, or do they speak of other things, too?”

“I’m not certain,” I replied, a little frustrated. How was I supposed to know all this?

“You’ll have the opportunity to listen in on future meetings, correct?”

“I believe so, but I don’t see why that’s important. You foiled their shipment, didn’t you, or else you wouldn’t be here interrogating me. What else do you need?”

“We want ears on them. There are certain to be more shipments.”

I grinned. “I never thought the army would care so dearly about cases of rum.”

Sam gave me a confused look. “You think it was just rum we found?”

“Well, that’s what they said. Was there something more?”

He leaned closer. “I will not speak in detail,” he replied crisply. “But there were munitions, too. Boxes and boxes of it. If we can keep ears on these shipments, we could arm a quarter of the men in Pennsylvania.”

That seemed like an exaggeration, but my heart soared a little. Munitions? So I’d given the men more than just a few free drinks. “You don’t want to stop the operation entirely? It seems, if you keep busting their ships, they’ll simply stop the smuggling altogether.” And they might make me as the one who’d caused it.

“We don’t have the manpower to stop every single one,” he said. “Besides, it’s much easier to pick off a few of their ships here and there, as many as we can get away with without arousing too much suspicion, so they keep them coming. They know the risks, after all; it would be impossible to get every ship through.”

“And you want me to help?”

“Lucy,” Sam grinned, “you’ll be the keystone of the whole thing.”