I was down in a well and someone was calling to me from the surface. Someone was calling... My name... My name is... I... “Bloody hell!” I said.
“Inspector Rory!” Mind your language!” I was told. The voice was female.
I opened my eyes, struggling not to swear again. Damn but my head hurt.
Agatha was leaning worriedly over me, and her mother was with her.
“See?” asked Mrs Christie. “I told you he was fine,” she said to Agatha who was biting her lip and had tears in her eyes.
Fine? I was NOT fine, thank you very much! I’d been bashed over the head, my room had been ransacked and there was one bloody storm out there.
Agatha had looked away from me and her eyes were surveying the wreckage of my room. She bit her lip again.
I struggled to sit up, and Mrs Christie did what she could to help me. “Agatha, go fetch Inspector Rory’s friend, Mr... Mr...”
“Mr Ainsworth,” Agatha supplied as she got up and ran toward the hallway.
Thunder crashed again, and lightning lit the corridor. The claxons were still screaming. That was when I noticed that people were heading down the corridor toward, I assumed, their emergency stations. Altho, if the bloody airship went down over the Atlantic there wouldn’t be much safety anywhere.
I tried to sit up again, and failed. The world went away for awhile and when next I discovered painful consciousness, strong male hands were lifting me up to a sitting position. I met Richard Ainsworth’s worried eyes, all six of them. I also noted his hand came away bloody from when he touched the back of my head, which felt like it had been smashed into two parts.
Between Mrs Christie and Ainsworth, with Agatha’s worried hopping about around us, they got me to my feet and I staggered along between them toward the nearest emergency station. A crewman, assigned to that station, hurried over to survey the damage. His look of dismay told me I looked even worse than I felt, if possible.
“I fell,” I stated firmly. Well, I tried to state it firmly. I’m not at all certain that’s how it came out. “I’ll be fine.”
“Bandages?” Mrs Christie demanded. “We need to do something with that slice in the back of his skull.”
“Preferably before what brains I have fall out,” I added, groggily.
I passed out I suppose as when I was next aware of anything around me the sodding alarms had finally gone silent. The airship seemed dead in the air, but at least we were in the air and not in the sea, so I took that as a good thing.
A steward was hovering around me, and an older man was staring into my face with an expression of concern. I assumed, well hoped, he was the ship’s doctor. With my luck perhaps he was just a passenger who wanted to be a doctor.
“Here. Let me take a look at that cut, son. We might need to do stitches.”
“I hate needles,” I whined, wincing when he poked at my pounding head. I think he was trying to distract me because I felt a sharp pain in my neck and then I was fading or maybe it was the shapes around me that were fading, or something. Because then everything went black.
When I next awoke I was in a bed. Not in my stateroom either. This place seemed more like a ship’s sick bay. Smelled like one too. So indeed it must have been the airship’s doctor who’d tended me.
My eyes weren’t working quite right so I squinted in an attempt to make the room stop spinning around me and also to make the four identical faces floating around in front of me coalesce into just one. Finally they did. It was Ainsworth, watching me with a worried expression.
“Oh, he’ll be fine once the drugs wear off,” a voice behind me said. “He has a concussion, however, so we’ll have to keep a close eye on him for awhile.”
“Bloody...” I muttered and forgot what else I had planned to say.
“You’re all stitched up, my boy. You’ll be fine. Next time, don’t let lightning frighten you so.” The doctor, smirking, shared a laugh with Richard. The bastards.
I opened my mouth to protest that someone had bashed me over the head, thank you very much, but a hand on my arm made me look away from the doctor. Ainsworth leant over and put a finger to his lips warning me to keep silent about what had really happened.
I pouted at first but then reluctantly nodded. Which, I confess, was a grave mistake. Waves of pain washed over me.
“He’s going to faint,” someone said.
“Men don't faint,” I protested weakly.
The next time I opened my eyes, it was daylight. The wild gyrating of the airship in the midst of a storm was gone, thankfully. Sunshine flooded the room and reflected off the deck, making me squint at the brilliance of the scene. Once my eyes adjusted to the light, I could make out Richard sitting in a chair beside my bed, a book in his lap, a cup of tea in his hand. He looked up from the book when I groaned, then ran his eyes over the wreckage that was me.
“We’re about to make port in New York,” he informed me. Not good. I’d been unconscious for a day then? “The doctor thinks you should go to hospital. He thinks there's pressure on your brain and that's why you’ve been unconscious for so long.”
“No,” I protested weakly.
“That’s what I said, but he’s close to overruling me. You’d best look healthier than you do at the moment if you expect to convince him otherwise,” Richard advised. I hate men who say the obvious.
I struggled to sit up and realized my head was swathed in bandages. The world tilted and spun and I doubted it was the airship that was the cause. But I did manage to sit up without falling over, so I took that as a victory.
“What’s been happening?” I demanded of Richard.
His eyebrow rose, then he put down his book, taking the time to carefully mark his page. Then he turned his full attention onto me.
“We nearly lost the engines during that storm, as well as you. I think I’d have missed the engines more, I must say. Still, I was able to assist the ship’s mechanics inn repairing the damage and we are now limping into New York. By far the best possible result of being caught in that severe a storm,” he added.
I nodded. Then winced. The nod had definitely been a mistake.
“And then there is you,” he went on. “You do have a bit of a filthy mouth on you when you’re under the influence of sedatives.”
“Well, I can hardly be held responsible for that. If the doctor insisted on drugging me, you all will simply have to live with the consequences,” I hissed.
Richard grinned. “Now, that’s more like it. Sound like that and maybe we can talk the doctor into letting you continue on to New Orleans with me.”
“If I don't go, you don't go,” I growled.
“Oh. And you’ll stop me how?” Richard asked, his lips twitching as he fought back a smile. “I doubt you can stand up.”
“I’ll curse you to the heavens and frighten you to death,” I replied glumly.
Richard laughed. “You’ve already tried that. Alas, I’m still here. The Sidhe or whatever they are, didn't come and eat me or whatever it is they do to bad Englishmen.”
“Too bad,” I muttered. I’d no idea my subconscious was quite so Irish.
“Oh, do stop being a spoil sport. By the way, did you actually have anything in the room worth stealing? Papers, whatever? And did they get them?”
I started to shake my head no and luckily thought better of it before I did. “Yes, but safely locked in the room’s safe. But someone obviously hoped otherwise. He’d counted on being long gone before I returned to my rooms, no doubt.”
Richard nodded. “No doubt. And you did leave dinner early. You should know I found my room ransacked as well. Like you, I had taken the precaution of putting my valuables in the ship safe.”
I tried to think, but felt like my brain was full of molasses. Shouldn't someone have guessed we’d done that? “Perhaps whoever it was was merely attempting to send us a message,” I finally commented.
Richard gave that some thought. “Still, he tried to kill you. The doctor opines that you happened to turn at the right moment and that’s the only thing that saved you from a crushed skull. So whoever it was wanted you out of the way.”
“Odd,” I muttered. “I have no more idea now than I did in London what is going on in New Orleans. So why would anyone see me as so much a threat as to attempt to remove me?”
Richard sipped his tea and regarded me over his tea cup. “You really do need to work on your self-image, old fellow.”
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