Bronze

This is “Bronze” my current work in progress. It is in the western genre and I hope people will give it a chance (I know westerns are not popular) Everyone is really into Fantasy right now with Harry Potter etc… yes this is primarily set in the old west of North America, but it is more about escape, and fighting for a better life and future. I will be posting and updating it as soon as I finish a chapter. Forgive any errors, it is being edited right now, and this is the original (In all of its glory… and mistakes) Thanks for reading people! And I look forward to any thoughts you have!

Chapter 1

THE MURDER

Mr Stevens was in a furious temper, he hated the whole world at that moment and did not hold back his disgust as he paced back and forth across the dusty wooden floor. He puffed on his pipe continuously, and held it in the side of his mouth free hand by biting down, the smoke drifted around him as he turned on his heel with his hands behind his back.

“The little runt should have been out on his ear! I told everyone he was trouble! Lazy little bleeder! Vicious! Like an untamed dog! Does anyone ever listen to me!? No course they don’t! Now you have to mop up what that creature released from Roger! That’s gratitude for you! Roof over his head and food in his belly, and what happens?! Guts you like a fish when your back is turned! Animals like that should be put to sleep good and permanent! They are all the same! The mere existence of orphans is a gift from the devil himself! Where is the little runt hiding!?” he said coming to a stop and bringing his right hand from behind him to strike the bar with his palm, spilling drinks with the force.

“He ran off before anyone knew what had happened sir, He could be anywhere by now” A young girl called Lizzy said as she wiped the spilled beer of the bar and on to the floor with a look of intolerance that Mr Stevens luckily did not see.

“Yes, he ran like a rat up a drain pipe, little sod should have been drowned at birth”

Mr Stevens was a local who was friends with the victim, he worked as an odd job man, and spent whatever money he made on alcohol and women. He wore scruffy overalls and had no shoes on when he came down the stairs after hearing the women screaming. And now he was eager to find the person responsible for ruining his evening. He had been ranting about Thomas Bronze, a boy of just 15 years and alone in the world, his mother Mary was a prostitute, and he was born and lived in the public house which was also a brothel called The Crown Posada that faced the river Tyne, where Mr Stevens spent all of his free time. The Crown Posada was always full of sailors, fishermen and anybody who could afford it, including people who had booked passage on board a ship. They docked in the river pretty much outside of the doors, and most of them were trading ships or wailing ships that picked people up for a considerable fee. It was a dark establishment inside the Crown Posada, and it smelled terrible with cigar smoke and damp wood, not to mention the customers who stunk of fish, and everything was made of wood that had turned black over the years with a stone floor making it a cold and gloomy place. Mary Bronze had died and left her son to the mercy of her employer when he was just 4 years old, and his father could have been pretty much anyone, from anywhere. Roger Brown who owned the establishment allowed the young Thomas to stay after the death of Mary despite the advice of Mr Stevens, free labour he thought, and he was taken care of by the women. He earned his keep by cleaning the rooms after their use, changing bed linen and emptying piss pots. The rest of his time was spent collecting glasses, washing dishes and clothes, and sweeping out the cellar. Roger Brown liked to hit him on the head with the back of his hand when the mood struck him and made sure the young Thomas worked hard day and half the night with very little food or sleep. He called him pooch because he slept in the corner on an old rug like a dog, and whistled whenever he wanted him to do anything. Thomas had no choice but to be a slave in the dirty old brothel, or sleep outside in the cold streets of Newcastle and probably starve or freeze to death with the rags he wore and lack of money. Roger Brown constantly told him he should be damn grateful that he had saved him from certain death by allowing him to stay rent free, even though he worked for his food and bored and was given no money. The women looked out for him by giving him what little they could, old blood stained blankets and clothes that were often left behind by clients but never food, they did not get much themselves. He lived a sorry and pointless life with no future or prospects, and on this night something snapped inside of Thomas. Roger Brown had entered the kitchen while he was preparing vegetables for the evening meal and caught him eating a slice of carrot, he had not eaten that day and could not resist it.

“You little bastard! Eating my food are you!?” Roger had shouted with anger, his voice booming. He had a huge bushy black beard just like a pirate and wore an old sailors shirt and trousers which were a tight fit due to his size. He was well over 6 feet tall and at least 250 pounds, all of it muscle. He had walked up to Thomas with his huge tree trunk like arms swaying back and forth before he smacked him in a back handed knuckle slap that swiped across his face cutting his eye and knocking him against the wall in a daze, before he slid to the cold stone floor. “You ungrateful son of a whore, you dare to steal from me?!” he began kicking Thomas in the face drawing blood from his lips and nose, being careful not to injure the boy to the point where he could not work, just a good kicking to keep him in line he had thought. Sally, one of the working girls could hear Roger shouting and came to the kitchen to see the beating in progress.

“Leave him alone Roger!” she had said with as much conviction as she could, which was not a lot, since everyone feared the giant of a man.

 “You shut up, and get back to work” he had scowled at her before resuming his own work on Thomas.

 “Roger, please” she had pleaded, before getting a slap of her own.

“You will stay out of my business and get back to your own!” He had leaned over Sally to make his point clear, and she had also went down to the stone floor now, holding her hand to her cheek which was burning and starting to turn a dark shade of purple.

“And clean yourself up! There is a ship leaving tonight, and we are going to be busy with customers wanting a woman before they board, now get up and move girl”

She was a woman in her forties with dark hair that betrayed her age by showing a few Grey hairs that stood out in the darkness of the others, and a red dress that looked older than she was, and had obviously been owned by a few women that had come and gone over the years because it was stretched and out of shape where a bigger lady had squeezed it on at some point in its long life. Thomas had got himself up on one knee without a word or complaint as he tried to overcome the dizziness. Blood dropped from his nose and down his old white shirt, which was more Grey than white because he wore it every day, and he finally managed to stand upright with a wobble. He had looked at Roger standing over the scared Sally who was trying to hold back her tears as she cupped her bruised cheek, and at that moment he decided he would not live like that anymore, and Roger would not treat him and the women like dirt anymore. Thomas had walked back to where he had been cutting and chopping potatoes and carrots to pick up the pealing knife. Without a word or sound he walked gingerly up behind Roger, gritted his teeth, and let the years of anger and rage rise in him before he gave a war cry and stuck the knife into the mans back, puncturing his liver before repeating the stabbing action several times while Roger cried out in shock and pain. Thomas gave one last punch of the knife before Roger collapsed to the floor dead in front of the terrified Sally who was covering her face and crying.

“Are you alright Sal?” He had finally asked her looking just as terrified.

“Run you stupid boy” she had answered in a low voice without looking at him making him feel even worse fear.

He had always wondered why a warning in a low tone chilled him to the bones when a loud unchecked rage did not. Roger had been good at that, whispering his evil scared Thomas a lot more than his shouting. He only had moments to think, and he swept the chopped vegetables into a potato sack along with a bottle of red wine before he ran for his life, adding theft to his list of sins. He ran out of the kitchen and through the bar without anyone giving him a second glance before slamming through the doors and out into the open. He was now outside, running across the cobbled ground under the lamp lights, straight towards a ship called The Lord Gambier. It was a wailing vessel and was due to leave, the Captain was a frequent customer at the Crown Posada and Thomas often over heard discussions. The Lord Gambier was going to rendezvous with an American wailing ship called The Charles W Morgan, according to the skipper, and Thomas was thinking of this when he spotted the ship, he needed to get away, America could be a new start, new life, if he could get aboard the Lord Gambier and stay hidden until they met up with the American ship. He had no idea how he would get aboard the Charles W Morgan, but he decided he would deal with that when the time came. If the time came, and he stopped in front of the wailing ship. It was dark, and he could see nobody aboard, although he knew there would be a handful of the crew at least, probably eating or drinking he thought. He sneaked up the little wooden bridge that crossed from the ship to the quayside and was surprised when nobody jumped out to question his presence. All was still and quiet, and he crept across the deck looking for somewhere to hide. It was naturally a big ship, and Thomas was convinced he could find somewhere to take cover without being caught.

Sally finally sat up and shrieked a terribly loud scream, she had given Thomas enough time to get away, and it would not look good if someone walked in and seen her sitting in front of Roger who had just been killed. Her terribly loud shriek brought a score of girls to the kitchen who also let out a yelp of shock and fear that brought Mr Stevens away from his paid woman and into the blood spattered kitchen. After, realizing Thomas was gone, Mr Stevens knew he was responsible. He shook Sally and slapped her to try to calm her down and find out what had happened, but she just said she found him like that and slipped in his blood hitting her head, and knocked herself out. He believed her easily enough, knowing that the young Thomas would one day do something terrible, being an orphan he was always going to bring trouble he thought. He was now pacing again and puffing his pipe trying to think where to look for the murderer.”Sally! When is the last time you saw the runt!? He could not get far without money” He said stopping suddenly with a look of confusion as he waved his right hand in front of the bar almost knocking more liquids over and making Lizzy make a grab for the bottles to save them.

“He was preparing supper, must have been about twenty minutes before I found Roger” Sally answered in a small voice.

“Well he must be somewhere, rats disappear easy enough, but they always come back, he must be close, there is not many places to hide”

Mr Stevens was much calmer now and his brain was ticking away in thought. He started his pacing and pipe puffing once more before stopping dead again.

“The little bastard is on board a ship!” He almost screamed with realization before running past the bar with his arms swinging wildly and catching one of the bottles sending it to the floor with a smash before making his way back up the stairs to his paid room to collect his boots. He pounded down the steps and out of the main doors to look at the ships floating on the river and tried to work out which one he would go to if he wanted to escape from a murder charge. He looked intently at the ships as a couple of men staggered past him in a drunken state singing loudly and laughing. Mr Stevens did not even notice them, his attention was fixed on the river, he walked slowly past each one studying them from a distance for any sign of movement or noise with nothing but the street lights glow to aid him.

“Think damn you” he said to himself in a whisper trying to work out where the boy would hide, and why. Thomas had decided to hide in one of the huge crates used for storing supplies, since the ship was docked and had not brought the necessities aboard yet. But he knew the ship was leaving soon, and he had to find somewhere else to hide before the ships company returned with their salted meats and fruit. He would be caught. He had seen Mr Stevens burst out of the Crown Posada and hid in the first place he had seen, he knew Mr Stevens hated him and would love nothing better than to catch him, the man was a bastard, Thomas thought. He held his breath as the man hunting him stopped in front of the Lord Gambier and seemed to look right at him with a scowl, even though he was hidden and nobody could see him through the very slight gaps in the crate. He watched on as Mr Stevens put his hand to his brow as if shielding his eyes from the sun, and it would help him see further and more clearly.

“Idiot” Thomas whispered as the man continued to look at the ship before moving on. Thomas decided to get out of the box while he had the chance and sneaked across the deck once more, he looked around desperately looking for somewhere to stay hidden until the ship took to sea.

“What’s going on!” Someone shouted from close by making Thomas freeze with terror.

“Looking for a murderer!” Mr Stevens yelled from a short distance away.

Thomas flinched at his harsh voice and then gulped as the word murderer echoed as if taunting him, but more importantly nobody had seen him, he had time to do something before the game was up. He forced his legs to move, and he walked on his tip toes, the boat creaked, and he flinched once more with the sound stopping still before swallowing his heart back down to his chest and continuing, he reached his destination and looked over board seeing one of the small wailing boats hanging there.

“No choice Thomas” he said to himself in a panicked gasping breath as he climbed over board and down to the boat.

“Nobody would be stupid enough to hide on a ship! Nowhere to run is there!?” The unknown man’s voice shouted in reply.

“He is just a boy, daft as a brush too! He is around here somewhere!” Mr Stevens insisted.

“I have been here for the last few hours!, no young lad has been near here I would have seen him!”

Thomas thought the man must be on one of the ships, probably this one, he sounds really close.

“Alright!” Mr Stevens yelled in disappointment as he walked back towards the Crown Posada, scouting around as he went.

Thomas wiped sweat from his brow and took a long deep breath before slowly releasing it as everything fell silent once more and that bastard Stevens seemingly looked else where.

“Alright lad, he is gone” the unknown man said.

Thomas suddenly became physically sick to his stomach and clutched the potato sack close to his chest.

“It’s alright lad, I’m not going to hand you over to that bastard” the unknown man said looking down at Thomas who suddenly looked up at him in shock. “Come on lad” he said reaching his hand down to help him up and out of the small boat.

Thomas stayed silent and shook his head in fear backing away.

“Don’t be stupid lad, you want to die? I could have easily handed you over to Dick Stevens, but no matter what you have done, I will not give that bastard any satisfaction if I can help it” he motioned to his offered hand with a nod of his head and a small smile.

Thomas knew he had no choice but to accept his hand and get back on board, he gave a nod in defeat and reached out to take the man’s hand and climbed back on to the deck of the ship.

“Good lad, my name is Dance, Joe Dance, and no laughing, now, who did you kill then?” Joe said casually putting his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. He was a young man not much older than Thomas, and had blonde hair that covered half of his face, which was hansom and looked mischievous.

“Roger Brown” Thomas said looking over to the Crown Posada as Mr Stevens entered, just waiting for Joe to turn him over to somebody, so he could meet justice.

“Firstly, you did not kill anybody, did you? Someone else killed that big bastard Roger Brown, who everybody hates by the way, and you are getting blamed, is that not what really happened lad?” Joe Dance winked and smiled before nodding his head at Thomas.

“Yes sir, that’s what really happened” Thomas said looking up suddenly and meeting Joe’s eyes.

“Thought so, I also didn’t kill a big bastard a few years ago, and I got blamed same as you, the git deserved it and the person who killed him should be rewarded, but justice doesn’t work like that, not that I know about these things, being a law-abiding man” Joe said smiling and shaking his head.

“Roger Brown deserved it too” Thomas said giving a small smile of his own.

“Of course he did, I knew the bastard, and I remember a young lad who worked for him, he was lying in the corner like an animal, any man who treats people that way deserve what they get, not that we know about such things” Joe said making that point clear.

“No sir, we do not know about such things, being law-abiding men” Thomas said opening up and starting to trust him more.

“The name is Joe Dance lad, I’m no sir, I’m an orphan, guessing you are too, now the skipper is a sir and a good man, I will introduce you, but if you stay aboard this ship you will have to be useful, what can you do lad?” Joe asked.

Thomas became nervous knowing that his new friend Joe was taking him to the Captain of the ship, who had seen him many times in the Crown Posada .

“I can cook and clean” Thomas said eagerly hoping that would be good enough to escape aboard the Lord Gambier.

“Brilliant, we need a good cook, and the men on this ship are dirty bastards, a cleaner would be most welcome, so what’s your name lad?” Joe asked putting his hand out.

“Thomas Bronze” he answered shaking Joes hand with a grin.

“Quite a name, I like it, come on Bronze, let’s get you some clothes and a hat, we don’t want anybody mistaken you for a fugitive” he patted Thomas on the shoulder and took him below deck.

“Why are you doing this Joe?” He asked quietly following him to a small cabin that had a tiny bed and nothing but a small table that was only big enough to hold a small bible.

“Somebody helped me once, and I was in the same situation as you, your life would be over if that bastard caught you, just like mine would have been, but look at me now, I’m no danger to anybody, and I’m good at what I do, you can make a life just like I have, not easy being accused of murder, not that we know anything about murder” he said handing Thomas a blue coat and flat cap that hung on the back of the door. Thomas pulled the coat on and buttoned it up before putting the cap on his head.

“What do you think?” He asked Joe feeling ridiculous .

“Coat is a little big but that’s not a bad thing and you look good with a hat” he answered walking back out the room and motioned for him to follow. They made their way back on deck and stood looking out at the sea. “Ever been to sea Bronze?” Joe said.

“No, never been anywhere” he answered trying to follow Joe’s eyes that looked out at the thin river.

“It’s freedom Bronze, a good life, bloody cold most of the time, you will never feel dry again, but a good life, ever gave any thought to what you want to do with your life? No, course you haven’t, neither did I, but the skipper told me I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted, never believed him, but he was right” Joe was talking a lot and Thomas did not really understand why he was being so open with him and going to extraordinary lengths to help him and make him feel safe.

“I want to go to America” Thomas replied without thinking, not knowing why he had said it, he wanted to go there to escape, but with Joe helping him there was no need, he could stay aboard the ship and live a good life, but something inside of him wanted more.

“America eh? Full of strange characters that place, we meet up with American ships often, odd lads they are, there was one man I saw wearing a white suite and a huge hat, must have kept a cannon ball under it or something it was so tall, and they all wear guns” Joe said scratching his chin in thought and nodding.

“It has to be better than this place, and everyone says there is gold there” Thomas said waving his hand in dismissal of the prison that used to be his home.

“That’s true enough, lots of stories of men getting rich over there, but do you want to risk going because of stories?” Joe asked pushing his hair back revealing his face fully.

“Yes, I think it is worth the risk, if nothing else it is somewhere to start” he nodded with surprising certainty.

“Then you do it Bronze, that is what life should be about, making your own choices and going after what you want” he patted him on the shoulder once again and nodded his agreement at Thomas and his decisiveness.

“How do I get to America Joe? I have a bag of chopped carrots and potatoes, and sour wine” Thomas smiled and shrugged like it was just an inconvenience.

“Well lucky for you we are going to be meeting some of our American friends for that very reason, you are not the only one who wants to get to America, only difference is they pay to board our ship and pay to board the Americans ship, and like you said, you have a bag of chopped carrots and potatoes and some sour wine, so you will have to work on board this ship to pay for your passage, then hope the skipper of the Morgan will allow you to do the same” he also smiled like it was just an inconvenience.

“Will your Captain let me do that? And the American Captain?” Thomas said without any feeling.”Our skipper will, and I will ask him to have a word with the skipper of the Morgan, shouldn’t be any problem Bronze, unless you are not as good a cook as you are making out” Joe laughed. Thomas smiled but was nervous of his answer, he was laughing, so he was joking, but what if they hate my cooking? He thought.

“Ah here are some of the dirty bastards you will be cleaning up after now” Joe said turning his head to the side to listen. A dozen men walked up the small bridge crossing to the ship from the quayside carrying barrels and boxes.

“What have we got here Dance?” One of the men said putting down a barrel and a sack he carried over one shoulder.

“This is Bronze, he has been wrongfully accused of murder” Joe answered with a grin.

“Oh, so this is the lad who everyone is looking for, do not let them catch you boy, you will be strung up by the bastards, and we hate innocent people getting strung up, right lads!” Another man said to his ship mates with a grin which they all returned with nervous nods and smiles as they went about their business. The man was called Robert Ward and his ship mates did not like him, in fact they hated and feared him, while most of the men on the ship were thieves and murderers, they never planned on doing those things, it was just necessary at the time, but Ward was something more, he enjoyed killing, he liked to let his victims suffer and beg for as long as possible before finishing them off. He laughed at his own joke and left the ship again.

“Right, I will go and find the Captain, stay here and meet the lads, I will not be long Bronze” How said pulling up his hood and leaving the ship.

Mr Stevens was back in the Crown Posada and drinking heavily, he could not believe the little runt had escaped, he was certain the boy was close, someone would have seen him if he was out in the open, he must be hiding somewhere close by.

“Another!” He said slamming his glass down for a refill of whiskey from Lizzy. She topped him up and backed away knowing his foul mood could get violent now that Roger was gone and there was nobody to keep him in check.

“Got away” he spat and shook his head before his whiskey disappeared in one gulp, he gave Lizzy an evil look, and she stepped forward to fill his glass again with shaking hands. The doors opened, letting in a gust of wind, and a short thin man entered. His beady watchful eyes scouted around until he spotted Mr Stevens, looking like a sneak thief with his hood up and long black coat that hung below his knees, he crept more than walked towards him, looking over his shoulders and moving cautiously. He stood beside Me Stevens and nodded at the whiskey and glasses for Lizzy to pour him a drink.

“I hear you are looking for a young boy” he whispered to Mr Stevens without looking at him.

“Yes, what of it?” He said irritated with the scrawny man.

“I know where he is” He whispered again before swallowing his drink and tapping the glass on the bar for another. He waited for Lizzy to pour his drink and back away again before he continued his secretive talk with Mr Stevens.

“Where is he?” Mr Stevens growled. He felt his hopes grow at the thought of finding Thomas Bronze, but he was not convinced this creature who was masquerading as a man knew anything worth listening to.

“I want free women in here every time I return, I am leaving tonight, but we come back now and again” He said swallowing another whiskey and tapping his glass again while nodding at Mr Stevens glass for Lizzy to refill.

“I do not own this place or the girls in here, and how do you know where he is? Why would I believe a thing you say?” He said looking the man up and down with disgust.

“Nobody owns this place now, but I bet you could become the new owner, you know the right people, and I have seen the boy, and I know his plans” He answered.

“Fine, you can have as many girls as you want if I get my hands on that little runt, but if you are lying to me then Fredrikson will have another body to collect and size up, do you understand?” Mr Stevens said with a hint of malice in his voice. Fredrikson was the man who took care of people who had died, cleaning them up and measuring them, so he could build their coffin.

“Your word on the deal?” The man asked before saying anything more about the fugitive.

“Do not question my honor, I could beat the information out of you if I wished, now bring me the boy and you have your deal” Mr Stevens said angrily at the man.

“What? Bring him to you? No, I can not bring him, my ship mates will kill me” He answered.

“I knew that little bastard was hiding on a ship, which one?” He said backing away from the bar.

“The Lord Gambier” The man answered with an evil grin.

Chapter 2

TAKING BRONZE

Thomas looked around as the sailors carried crates and sacks on to the ship, and he felt uneasy. He had no idea who these people were or if he could trust them, and he could almost feel the rope wrap around his neck and end his life. Men looked him up and down as they moved around deck but nobody spoke to him, and he had the urge to run when one of them winked at him and laughed. He knew he was dead if just one of these men decided it, and he could only feel anger and despair at his life being in the hands of these ruffians.

“You alright lad? You look a bit sick, that will happen the first time you are on board a ship” A man said approaching him. Thomas could only nod, because he knew who the man was instantly, he was the Captain, and he had seen him many times in the Crown Posada.

“Oh, it is you, sorry lad, did not recognize you with the hat and coat, no wonder you look sick, the smell of blood in your nostrils will do that” He said smiling at him. He was a tall man, not muscular, but not thin either, and he always looked smart in his pristine uniform and perfectly trimmed mustache.

“Yes sir, sorry sir” was all he could say in reply.

“Sorry? For feeling sick? That can not be helped, like I said that will happen the first time you are on a ship, I could tell instantly you had never been on water the second I saw you, and the first time you kill someone will do that also, anyway, I suppose you will want to stay aboard?” The Captain asked him plainly.

“Yes please, sir” he answered relieved, with the imaginary rope beginning to slack off.

“Well you obviously have no money for passage, unless you robbed Mr Brown after bleeding him?” He asked in an inquisitive manner and receiving a shake of the head in reply.

“Well you will have to work for your passage, or you could join the crew, tell me, what can you do lad?” The Captain questioned him.

“I can cook and clean sir, but Joe Dance said he would talk to you about that, he went to find you not so long ago” Thomas answered.

“Dance? I have not seen him, but he will be back soon, probably helping with the necessities, and we need a good cook, and a cleaner for that matter, the men are not very good at that I am afraid, be hard work sorting their mess out every day I can tell you, you will certainly earn your keep” he said with amusement that Thomas could not share, he was still scared, he could see the doors of the Crown Posada from where he stood, a stone’s throw away from a man who would see him dead, with pleasure.

“I will work hard sir” Thomas said gratefully while looking away from the doors of doom where Mr Stevens was surely planning his capture and death.

“I know you will lad” The Captain said patting him on the shoulder.

“Sir, we are ready to depart, all necessities are aboard, just waiting for a few stragglers” one man said standing at attention and reporting to the skipper.

“Thank you, Phillips” He said to the man before nodding his understanding and repeating the motion to Thomas, and walking away leaving his men to their business.

“The Lord Gambier, I knew it, that bastard was hiding him” Mr Stevens said to his secretive new friend.

“Dance” said Robert Ward with a look of disgust.

“Dance? What are you talking about, man!? He said to Ward not understanding his comment.

“That’s the bastards name, Joe Dance, he is scum if ever I did see it” Ward replied with a contorted frown at just mentioning his name.

“Dance? What kind of name is that for a man?” Stevens said horrified.

“He is a bastard orphan” Ward mentioned, and that was all he had to say to Stevens who understood the kinds of names orphans were given. He believed all orphans names were horrific just to let people know they were beneath decent folk.

“So how do you get that little murdering rat of that ship?” He asked Ward thinking.

“We will have to be careful, if we are seen dragging the boy away, we will be stopped good and permanent, the lads do not like to see one of their own killed” Ward said scratching his stubble in thought.

“We? Who is we? You are going to get him and bring him here, to me” Stevens said pointing at Ward hard faced.

“That will cost you more than just women, for that sort of risk I want payment” Ward said turning to look at Stevens with an evil glare that made Stevens think twice about questioning him. Ward was a vicious animal locked in a man’s body and Stevens got a small peek at the evil within him.

“Fine, get him here and you get this” He said placing down a shiny stone.

“Diamond, very nice, whose throat did you slit to get that?” Ward said grinning with crooked and yellowish teeth, looking straight into the soul of Stevens and seeing greed and murder in him. Stevens flinched at his words and the look in his eyes, knowing this man could read him.

“Do we have an agreement?” He asked without looking at the man and feeling strangely nervous in his company.

“Fine, I get that little bastard for you, and you give me that shiny, and all the women I can handle” Ward grinned and let out a lustful laugh with sour and possibly deadly breath into Stevens direction making him wince. Ward finished his drink and stared at the small diamond twinkling on the bar, he stood like a statue with a small smile on his face for what seemed an eternity before putting his glass down and walking out of the doors of the Crown Posada.

“Give me another drink! Something is not right about that man” Stevens said to Lizzy for another whiskey before muttering to himself.

Joe Dance had followed Ward after his meeting with the young Mr Bronze, the way he made a joke of him being caught and killed had alerted him to something sinister. Ward loved money and wealth, as did every other man in the world who had none and was born in the gutter. Ward was a gutter rat just like the rest of them, but he had a mother who had died to save him from being hanged, and he often spoke to the sky and asked her questions like she was looking over him, and keeping him safe. Joe Dance had known Ward for only a few years, but that was more than enough time to realize he was completely crazy, and thought of himself as invincible.

“My mother protects me, she is an angel, she will not let anything harm her Bobby, she loves me you see? I can not be harmed” He had said to Joe the first time they had met. Ward had cornered him and ordered him to hand over a small ring he wore on his hand, it was the only thing he had been left by his mother before she had died. Joe had defied him and pulled out a knife, making Ward laugh and make his speech about his angel mother who protects him. His lack of fear and total certainty of his belief that he could not be hurt, shocked and terrified Joe, forcing him to hand over the ring. Ward had moved like a cat, and grabbed Joe by the throat after the knife was put away, breathing his foul stink into his face with that evil grin and soul destroying blue eyes before his faced changed, and the grin was gone.

“Never defy me boy, I will fill you full of little maggot holes” He had said in a whisper with wide eyes and a stone face, which made Joe want to scream for help. He was the most terrifying man he had ever met. And now he was after a pay day thanks to the arrival of Bronze, he was certain of it, even more so now that he had followed him to the Crown Posada and seen him talking to Stevens. Joe would not allow that monster to harm that kid or hand him over to be killed, he was living in fear, and was beaten regularly, he killed a man to break free of that life, and Joe knew all about that, he had been in a similar situation, and could understand what Bronze had done better than anyone. He watched from a short distance away as Ward left the Crown Posada and sneaked back towards the Lord Gambier. Joe waited for a few minutes before following him back aboard the ship.

“Ah Dance! Your young friend tells me you were looking for me, to discuss his staying on board” The Captain said to Joe as came back on board.

“Yes sir, he is a good lad, tells me he can cook and clean, and would like to ask you to have a word with the Captain of the Charles W Morgan, he wants to go to America, but all he has is a bottle of sour wine and some chopped up vegetables” Joe said smiling.

“Well I think I can convince the Morgan to take him” He replied with a nod.

“Thank you sir” Thomas said respectfully.

“Everyone aboard now Phillips?” The Captain asked.

“No sir, we are still waiting for Ward, he is the last” Phillips answered. Joe looked at Phillips confused and shook his head.

“Something wrong Dance?” The Captain asked.

“Yes sir, Ward came aboard before I did, I saw him” Joe replied looking around. Ward cursed under his breath at Dance giving him away, everyone knew he was on board and now he had no chance of getting to Bronze and collecting his reward. Phillips began shouting his name and he did not know what to do except fake being drunk, so he stumbled from behind the crate he was using to hide, and waved to Phillips with a grin before sitting down and giggling.

“Drunk again, we should have known, all accounted for sir!” Phillips yelled and stood at attention.

“Good, let’s be on our way Mr Phillips!” The Captain said professionally.

“Wait! Wait! Hold on!” A voice shouted from a short distance away.

“What do you want, man!? We are leaving! We are already behind schedule!” The Captain yelled at Stevens who pounded on to the Lord Gambier.

“Him!” Stevens shouted and pointed at Thomas Bronze who was hiding behind Dance. Stevens had been standing in a shadow close to the ship, waiting for Ward to bring the boy, and heard the Captain shout to Phillips to be on there way. He did not want to order them to hand Bronze over, they were more likely to kill him, but he had told all of the girls to stand outside and watch, that would give him a little protection, and make these pirates think twice about murdering him with a dozen witnesses. He would have to watch his back when the Lord Gambier returned, Bronze was there property now.

“What? Are you sure you want him?” The Captain said with an evil grin, letting Stevens know he would pay for taking the boy, with his life.

“He murdered Roger Brown, I want him” Stevens said forcefully, putting the consequences of his actions to one side, and thinking only of Bronze pissing his pants as he danced on the end of a rope.

“Very well, take the boy to him Dance” The Captain said staring at Stevens without so much as blinking or looking away. Dance whispered in the boys ear before walking him over to Stevens with a smile.

“Now get of my ship” The Captain said calmly. Stevens nodded and grabbed Bronze by the collar, dragging him off the ship and back towards the Crown Posada.

“Who’s turn is it?” Phillips asked the Captain.

“I will do it sir” Ward said suddenly standing up and looking sober.

“You look better Robert, something I should know?” The Captain said.

“No sir, had a bit of a moment, but I can hold my drink sir, I am perfect as the day I was born sir” Ward replied very formally.

“Let me do it sir” Joe Dance said quickly, before the Captain agreed to let Ward leave the ship and condemn Bronze.

“Both of you go, Dance can get the boy, and Ward can get the very stupid and naive Mr Stevens, but make it quick, I want to be out of here as soon as possible” He replied and walked away before any protests could begin. Joe let out a puff of air as he walked off the ship with Ward following.

“You made a mess of my plans Dancie, you will have to pay me for that” Ward said in to Joe’s ear as they sneaked in to the shadows not far away from the Crown Posada, looking for anybody watching.

“You will get something from Stevens, worked out well for you” Joe answered feeling nervous with Ward looking over his shoulder.

“Yes, I will get something, but now I have to work for it, you owe me for that, and I will expect payment” He said with a low chuckle before nudging Joe forward to sneak closer. They looked intently, searching for watchful eyes, they knew Stevens would be on guard and have people keeping watch until the Lord Gambier left. They heard Mr Phillips shout at the men and within seconds the ship was moving away, Dance and Ward continued to wait until the three women who had been watching came out of there hiding places that were also in shadow and returned to the brothel.

“Right we wait a few minutes, then we go in there and cause havoc” Ward said with a blood thirsty lust that made Joe’s heart pound faster.

“They have gone” Lizzie said to Stevens with a sorry frown at Bronze.

“You hear that pooch? They are gone. Left you to the mercy of justice, who just happens to be the hangman” Stevens chuckled and rubbed his hands together, before grabbing one of the girls who were acting as his look out and pushing her towards the stairs, his entertainment was just getting started he thought.

“Nobody touches that animal, I am taking him to meet his end once I am done here” He said forcefully to Lizzie while pointing at Bronze who was in the corner with a rope around his neck and his hands and feet bound together.

Ward and Dance were peeking through the window waiting for Stevens to take his girl up the stairs and for the other few people to go back to there business, before entering.

“I go in first and get that bastard up stairs, and you stay down here and wait for me with the boy” Ward said walking towards the doors and pulling out his knife.

“Alright” Joe answered with a nod of acceptance also taking out his knife, when Ward gave him that cold stare.

Ward opened the door quickly and ran for the stairs as Dance followed him in and ran towards Bronze, pushing Lizzie to the floor and placing his finger to his lips for her to be quiet as he cut the ropes that had Bronze hog tied. Ward was listening intently at the top of the stairs for a sign of Stevens where abouts, he walked silently past each door until he heard his voice.

“Got the little runt, he will be kicking and struggling all the way to hell” Ward heard Stevens say from behind a door with a laugh. Ward grinned and stepped away from the door, he stretched his legs and did a little jog on the spot to warm up before he chuckled, and put his big right boot through the door, taking it off its hinges with a snap. The girl screamed and covered herself up as Stevens jumped up from the bed in fright.

“Sorry to interrupt” Ward said entering the room and licking his lips at the girl.

“Jesus! What the hell are you doing!?” Stevens said still terrified.

“Got a job to do, and I want that shiny” He said with his eyes wide and continuing to look at the girl.

“Come here you” He said to her as he approached the bed and grabbed her by the arm, pulling her to her feet.

“Here, you can have it, just go away” Stevens said as he pulled on his underwear and took the diamond out of his clothes that was in a pile on the floor.

“Take it girl” He growled. She stepped forward and took the jewel before handing it to Ward.

“Now, time for some fun, you both like fun, I can see that” Ward said waving the knife in front of the girl and Stevens.

“Please” The girl said crying.

“Oh I am not going to hurt you girly, if you do what I say” He whispered in her ear loudly enough for Stevens to hear.

“Anything, please, I will do anything” She cried harder.

“Good girl, here” Ward said with wide eyes again as he put the knife in her hand. The girl looked shocked and stopped crying.

“What? What do you want me to do?” She said looking up at Ward confused.

“You know girl, do it” He motioned to Stevens.

“No, please, you have the diamond” Stevens said backing away. Ward laughed and shook his head, and grabbed the girls hand holding the knife and placed her other hand on it also.

“Do it now!” He shouted to the girl who stood staring at Stevens in shock , not knowing what to do. Ward gritted his teeth at her hesitation before he gave an extremely loud war cry down her ear, making her let out a scream of her own before running at Stevens who shouted.

“No, please!” As he put his hands out in front of himself for protection, before the girl stabbed the knife into his stomach repeatedly until he hit the floor, dead. She began sobbing uncontrollably and dropped the knife, which Ward picked up and wiped on the dead Stevens clothes before laughing and leaving.

“Lets go” He said to Joe when he reached the bottom step. They left the Crown Posada in a hurry and reached the Lord Gambier which had swiftly returned having only moved a short distance away before coming back.

“All business finished?” The Captain asked.

“Yes sir” Joe said patting Bronze on the back with Ward nodding.

“Excellent, let’s get moving then!” He said smiling. The ship moved up the Tyne and would soon be in open water, on there way to rendezvous with the American ship, the Charles W Morgan.

Chapter 3

GROWTH OF BRONZE

The Lord Gambier was now in open water, and Thomas Bronze had been aboard for five days. He had not seen many people so far, as he spent all of his time cooking and cleaning, only Joe Dance came to the kitchen to pass the time with him when he was on a break. They played cards and drank whiskey as they ate there meals, preferring there own company away from the other men. The first night aboard, Thomas was kept on his toes as the men treated him as a waiter, asking for refills of whiskey and rum every other second, after that night he decided to eat alone in the kitchen. Dance decided to join him and teach him how to play poker and drink whiskey without being sick.

“There is a trick to everything Bronze, poker and drinking is no different, you will need to know about these things when you get to America, they love gambling and drinking, and they love to cheat” Dance had said to Bronze. He taught him how to mark cards and how to spot others who had marked cards, along with switching cards and dealing hands out that set him up to win.

“Why do I need to know how to cheat?” He asked Dance.

“People can not be trusted, they will cheat you, and if your short of money which you will be, then you need to make some, gambling his an easy way to do that, if you know how to cheat that is, but it is also dangerous, people hate to lose, and after a few drinks and a gun close at hand it is easy to get killed, but if you find yourself in desperate need of a meal than it is worth the risk” He answered handing the cards to Bronze.

“Alright, I will keep practicing” He winked and did a one handed shuffle of the cards, making Dance laugh and nod.

“You learn quick Bronze, you are a natural, make a pretty penny with the unsuspecting folk”

On the sixth night aboard, Bronze had beaten Joe a dozen times at poker, and Joe could not spot how he was cheating, he really was a natural. Joe had left the kitchen as normal to go back to work, leaving Bronze alone to practice. A few minutes after Joe had left, Robert Ward had come in and grinned at him.

“All settled in and cosy Tommy?” Ward asked with a chuckle.

“Yes, thank you” Thomas answered plainly.

“Cat that got the cream, all happy, warm and dry, while the rest of us are cold and wet and getting our hands dirty” Ward spat and looked at Thomas with disgust.

“Would you like to swap jobs with me? You can cook and clean day and night and I will stand around spitting and cursing instead of doing my job” Bronze answered with a small smile knowing that he could not boil an egg. Ward smiled at him playfully and nodded his head as he walked up to the small table where Thomas was still sitting and playing cards.

“Want to play?” He asked Ward feeling confident of beating him.

“My mother would not approve of me gambling” He said with an evil grin and chuckle to match.

“Your mother?” Bronze asked like he had never heard the word before. Ward ‘s eyes went wide and he grabbed Bronze by the throat, making him fall backwards of his chair and pinned him to the floor.

“My mother is an angel, she does not like gambling, or people who try to cheat her Bobby, like you, she protects me, I can not be hurt, untouchable I am, and you are filth, mother wants me to get rid of you Tommy” He said seriously and nodded furiously quick, before squeezing the boys neck.

“Let him go Robert” The Captain said casually as he entered the room and picked up an onion before biting into it. Ward released his grip and stood up.

“Back to work Robert, and get up Bronze, he was just being playful” He said continuing to eat his onion.

“Playful? He tried to kill me sir” Bronze said disbelieving and holding his throat.

“Oh do not be baby, you will have to toughen up if you are to be a member of this crew” He waved his hand at the near death experience at the hands of a crazy man. Ward smiled and winked at him before leaving.

“I understand sir, but I do not plan on staying, I want to go to America” Bronze said standing up.

“What? We save your life, and offer you a home with a job and money, but you turn your nose up at it?” The Captain said suddenly looking angry.

“I am sorry sir, I am truly grateful, but that was my plan before I came aboard, I enjoy it hear, but I still want to go” Bronze replied.

“Fine, you can leave, if the Morgan will take you, but you will regret turning down my offer Bronze” He said almost like it was a threat, before dropping the half eaten onion on the floor and leaving. Thomas felt that familiar fear come back to him, he walked up to the onion the Captain had dropped on the floor, and crushed it with his foot. He suddenly had the feeling he was a slave again, unimportant and inferior, they certainly went through a lot of trouble to help him, why? He thought. I murdered a man and they go to great lengths to save me from the gallows, it makes no sense, unless they are keeping me here to work for them. Those thoughts were swimming in his mind as Dance came back.

“What is going on? I heard Ward was in here, what did he do?” He asked Bronze.

“He tried to strangle me to death, and the Captain stopped him, not that he thought it was wrong for him to try and kill me, he acted very normal when he saw him on top of me with his hands around my neck” He replied angrily.

“New ones always get roughed up a bit, it is normal around here Bronze, but stay away from Ward, he is crazy” Dance answered waving his hand like it was of no consequence.

“The Captain was angry when I told him I wanted to leave and go to America, he said I would regret it” Bronze said folding his arms and talking in a questioning manner.

“Course he is angry, he wants you to stay, you work hard and your cooking is not half bad, he has offered you a good life and you have turned him down, he will get over it, do not worry yourself Bronze” Dance told him before leaving again. Thomas thought that made sense, everything Dance had said sounded logical, but Bronze could not get that image of the Captain casually walking in on Ward trying to kill him out of his head, and him being so calm about it. Bronze decided he would keep his head down and his mouth shut until he was off the ship and away from these men who were starting to change and become threatening, even if it was really just Ward, he was dangerous enough on his own without the Captain. The months rolled by and Bronze became a master cheat aboard the Lord Gambier, and an excellent shot with a knife, throwing it at a painted target on a piece of wood hanging on the wall, thanks to Joe Dance, who was showing his real talents and teaching him to survive. They were becoming close friends and shared stories of there hardships and upbringing in the kitchen, which was there hangout, away from everyone. Bronze was no longer the nervous child, he was a man, and his fear was all but gone. He still did not trust Ward or the Captain, but he hoped Joe was on his side and not just trying to keep him in a false sense of security. Bronze had decided to keep his knife in his hands at all times since the strangling episode with Ward, and it had worked, he never tried anything again, but his evil glares and sinister grin was always there, showing Bronze that he was watching, that he would be ready to pounce the second his guard was down, but it never was.

“Just got word Bronze, we are meeting the Charles W Morgan today, the Captain is coming aboard” Dance said entering the kitchen where Bronze was practicing with his knife, hitting the ace of spades which was on the target board.

“Brilliant, I can finally be on my way to America, I never thought it would take this long” Bronze replied with a deep voice, he really had crossed that barrier from boy to man, growing a few inches and beginning to shave, thanks to the guidance of Joe Dance once again.

“What? You still want to go? Why? I thought things were going good for you here?” Dance said confused.

“Come on Dance, you knew I wanted to go, a few months is not going to make me change my mind, and believe it or not I do not want to cook and clean up after that scruffy bunch for the rest of my life” He answered nodding his head at the door Dance had just came through, and indicating there ship mates.

“Yeah I understand that, but you have never mentioned it, I thought you had decided to stay that’s all” Dance said taking out his knife and hitting the ace of spades on the wall.

“Nice shot, and there was no point in mentioning it, I have no idea what my plans are, and I was waiting to hear when we were meeting up with the Morgan, I need to get aboard, and get to America, I have just been trying to survive until then, one step at a time” He replied pulling Joe’s knife from the wall and handing it back to him.

“Trying to survive? Are you still worried about Ward? He has not tried anything, you are in no danger Bronze, you can think about the future, nothing wrong with that” He threw his knife at the ace again and hit it again.

“He is just waiting for me to drop my guard Dance, I’m tired of him watching me, and no offence, but I do not trust the men on this ship, the way they helped me get away with murder, and Ward killing Stevens, people do not go to those lengths for no reason, there must be some sort of reward in doing that” Bronze said throwing his own knife at the ace and splitting the card in half.

“Nice shot, and we helped you because we had already agreed to take you aboard, to cook and clean, which has benefited this ship greatly, we have got our reward alright” He smiled and nodded at Bronze.

“How many other passengers are there aboard then? And where are they?” Bronze said sitting down at the small table and shuffling his pack of cards.

“There are about a dozen I think, I have not seen them since they came aboard, never see the passengers, they pay the Captain then stay in the rooms out of the way, you will see them when you board the Morgan with them” Dance sat down at the table with Bronze and tapped it for him to deal a hand of poker. They both knew how to cheat, but they had been playing the game honestly against each other, Bronze still needed to know how to play the game without cheating, and better his skills.

“Why do you not come with me? We could travel around America gambling, make some money, and buy a business, tavern or something” Bronze said seriously.

“Sounds like a good plan, but you do not need me to do that” Dance replied turning over his cards, showing two pair, and frowning at the full house Bronze turned over with a wink.

“You sure you are not switching cards Bronze?” He said looking at the cards and shaking his head.

“Nope, I am just good, and the offer stands if you change your mind” He stood up with his knife in hand the second the Captain walked in the door with Ward behind him.

“Bronze, at ease lad, did not mean to startle you, just wanted to tell you we have one extra person to feed” The Captain said holding up his hands to Bronze with a pleasant smile to match. Ward was standing behind him with his eyes wide and his face neutral, staring at him without blinking or looking away, making him feel uneasy.

“I understand sir, sorry sir” Bronze said putting the knife away.

“Good, make it delicious Bronze” He replied before he turned to walk away.

“Sir” Bronze said before he could leave.

“Yes?” He stopped and looked at Bronze.

“Will you have a word with the Captain of the Morgan about my going aboard sir?” He asked him.

“Not this again, why!? You have a job and a life here!” He said beginning to get angry. Joe Dance looked on from his seat uneasily, the Captain had shocked him with his tone, it was something he had never seen before, he had heard him shout and look angry, but that was just for the benefit of the crew, keeping them in line and getting them to do there jobs, but this was real anger, and it made him think.

“Yes sir, I am pleased you want me to stay, and greatful, but it was always my intention to go, I never said I had changed my mind sir, it has always been the plan” Bronze said looking down.

“The plan” He said in a mocking voice.

“Alright, you can go, but remember that I offered you this opportunity, you will regret throwing it in my face” The Captain said with spite before spitting on the floor and leaving.

“That was strange, I have never seen the Captain act like that” Dance said confused.

“Now you know why I have to leave, and Ward is following him around, I hope he meant what he said and let’s me go” Bronze said showing his own anger, and spinning around, throwing his knife with all of his force at the target on the wall with a thump. Dance nodded his head and began to see why Bronze was always on his toes. They met up with the American wailing vessel later that day and Bronze was waiting eagerly for the word to leave after the meals were cooked, and it did not take long for Dance to come to the kitchen and nod to him, and let him know it was all arranged, and time to leave. They made there way on to the deck of the ship and watched on as the other passengers were handing over money to the Captain of the Morgan, and getting into a small boat, ready to head towards the American ship. Bronze walked up to the Captain of the Morgan and nodded his head at him with his hand held out for a shake in greeting.

“Thomas Bronze sir, pleased to meet you” He said to the Captain.

“Captain Jack Penn, pleased to meet you Mr Bronze, so you are the cook, excellent, I hope you are as good as everyone says, I do not want to lose my money on a useless fool who does not know an egg from his ass, although I will make a profit once we reach home” Captain Penn said with a laugh and patting him on the shoulder.

“I am sorry sir, I do not follow you” Bronze said confused.

“Well I payed good money for you and your friends, I know slavery is a harsh word, but just think of it like a job and getting a place to stay, you will get food and a warm bed, not much different to this ship, except you will be on land” He chuckled.

“Slave? You mean they sold me to you? And you are going to sell me on for a profit? To be a slave?” He asked Penn shocked and confused. Penn nodded his head like it was all very normal.

“I warned you Bronze, offered you a good life here, you are going to America like you wanted” The Captain of the Lord Gambier said shaking his head at him.

“You mean you sell those people to the Americans? Every time we have given people passage and took there money, you have sold them? Without them even knowing it until it is to late?” Joe Dance said to his Captain.

“Keep your mouth shut Dance unless you want to join your friend” Ward said speaking for the Captain who looked on without saying a word.

“Fine, sell me to him, I would rather be a slave than stay here with you lot, selling people is not something I want to be involved in” Dance said walking up to Captain Penn and nodding at him.

“I buy people, and I sell them, I am just as bad as they are” Penn said amused.

“Yes but I will sold and away from you, and them” He said looking down in defeat.

 “Very well” Penn answered walking over to the Captain and handing him some money.

 “Let us be off then gentleman” He motioned to the small boat full of slaves who had no idea that they were not leaving on an adventure to a new place to make a life, but were going to a new place to be sold

Chapter 4

TALKING BUSINESS

Bronze and Dance were offered the chance to work, if they did then they would get decent meals and a bed on board the Charles W Morgan as payment. They both agreed, since the alternative was being locked in a room with a dozen other slaves and one bucket to share to do there business in. They had no beds, and ate old bread once a day with water as a meal, working was a good choice.

“You know, I did not know if I could trust you, but it looks like they used you, just like they used me” Bronze said to Dance as he diced vegetables for the evening meal on board the Morgan.

“Yeah, they did, I am sorry Bronze, I am the one that got you into this mess, but I will get you out of it” Dance said as he stood in the doorway of the new kitchen, where they spent there free time.

“Do not be stupid Dance, you saved me from Stevens, I would be dead right now if it was not for you, we will get out of this, I have a plan” He winked at Dance and sat down at the table and picked up his deck of cards.

“What plan?” He sat down with Bronze and picked up his cards, to play a hand.

“Poker, I will play him for our freedom” He replied.

“You need something to gamble with, Penn has nothing to win, now if you have something to offer him it might work, but we have nothing Bronze” Dance shook his head at the futility of his plan.

“If I can prove to him that I can pay him double what he is making from selling us, then it might work” Bronze said turning over a straight flush and beating Dance.

“If you cheat against Penn, he will know, and probably beat the crap out of you” He stood up and walked away from the table thinking it was a bad idea.

“I will cheat, and he will not see me doing it, that is how I will convince him, I will beat him, or anyone else who plays me, then I will tell him I cheated” Bronze smiled.

“Are you mad? What makes you think Penn will let you go? What is the plan? To gamble in taverns and make money, then give it to Penn? That is just stupid, you will be shot, and Penn knows it, he will lose you, and his money, all of it, what he payed for you, and what he would have made selling you, not to mention the likelihood of you running and not giving him his money, he will never do it” Dance tried to make Bronze see sense, but he just shook his head at his words.

“Penn obviously likes money, it is a dangerous business he is in, if he is caught he will be in quite a mess, I will offer him a risk free pay day” He argued.

“Think Bronze! Risk free? How about the risk of losing his investment in you? His payment from selling you? And yes, he is in a dangerous business, so why let you walk away and shout your mouth of about it? If he agreed to this ridiculous plan, which he will not, then he will also have to kill you afterwards, you already know to much to walk away” Dance was talking real sense and Bronze knew it, but he did not see any other options, he would deal with everything else once he was off this ship and not a prisoner.

“We have no other choice Dance, it is this or slavery, we submit to it, or we take our chances, are you willing to take a chance and probably die? Or just be a slave?” He asked him plainly.

“What if we become slaves and then escape? That might be a better option” He answered looking for an alternative.

“That is the unknown, we have no idea who or what will be waiting for us when we get off this ship, I am sure they have precautions in place to stop the likes of us escaping, that option is out” Bronze waved his hand at the idea.

“Fine, we do it your way Bronze, but I am telling you it is not going to work, I will speak with Penn, tell him you would like a word” Dance shook his head again and left Bronze alone in the kitchen. Captain Penn had agreed to talk to Bronze and he had said he would see him later that night. Bronze and Dance practiced with the cards until Penn turned up at the kitchen with three of his men.

“What can I do for you Mr Bronze?” He said politely as he came in, taking of his hat and smiling. He was going bald and had a moustache, all Captains must have moustache, Bronze thought. He was quite a short man and round across the middle, like every rich person Bronze had ever met, they like to eat a lot, if someone was over weight then they were definitely wealthy.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak to me sir, I know you must have better things to do” He said to the Captain.

“Quite alright Mr Bronze, we are civilized people here, no reason not to talk to one another when there is something to discuss, what is on your mind?” He replied kindly, which Bronze knew was fake, this man was just another bastard, making money from selling innocent people.

“Well I was wondering if I could buy my freedom, and the freedom of my friend Mr Dance, sir” He asked him, speaking just as kindly and fake as Captain Penn, who began to laugh at his words.

“Buy your freedom? You have no money, and even if you did, it would not be enough, I payed a good price for the both of you, and will be payed even more through selling you, I am sorry Mr Bronze” He continued to laugh.

“I can get you the money sir, I will pay you double the overall price” Bronze said smiling at him confidently. Captain Penn stopped laughing and looked at Bronze interested in what he had to say, the idea of money always made people listen.

“How would you get your hands on that kind of money? And what would stop you telling people about my little business here? Why would I trust you to pay me and keep your mouth shut?” Penn said with his pleasant manner gone.

“Poker sir, I can beat anyone, but of course you will have to give me some money to gamble with in order to actually win any” He said shuffling his cards in an elaborate way. Captain Penn looked at him horrified and shook his head.

“Do you take me for a fool? Is he serious?” He said to Dance like he had been told a bad joke.

“He is serious sir, and he can be trusted, we both can, we want our freedom and we do not care about your business, we are not going to shout our mouths off, we want to forget all about it and move on, we will forget all about you and you will forget all about us” Dance said seriously.

“I will show you how good I am at poker sir, I will beat any man you want, I am sure there are plenty of poker players aboard, good poker players, if I win, you let us go and we pay you double” Bronze said holding out his hands with the cards in his right palm, waving them at the men in the room.

“A young kid like you can not be that good, and if you think cheating will work, your wrong, my man Jones knows every trick in the book, and the ones that are not in the book, if you beat him I will agree to your proposition, go and find Jones” Captain Penn said to one of his men with amusement. A few minutes later, Jones turned up.

“Mr Jones, would you be so kind, and beat this stupid child at poker, he thinks he is the best player in the world” Penn laughed and patted Jones on the back. Johnson Jones was well known for playing poker on board the Charles W Morgan, many of the men had seen him win a lot of money against people who were said to be experienced professionals.

“With pleasure Captain” He said smiling. Captain Penn thought it was one big joke, that Bronze would lose easily, but he enjoyed watching people play poker, and he decided to entertain Bronze, and see him put in his place. Jones took out his own deck of unopened cards and began to shuffle them as he sat down.

“Get the gentlemen a drink Me Dance, and I will have one myself, poker should be enjoyed with whiskey” Penn said standing behind Jones and waiting for the first hand to be dealt.

“What are we betting with Captain? I do not think the boy has any money” Jones asked Penn with a chuckle.

“Oh, yes, of course, I do not know, suggestions Bronze?” Penn asked.

“You could give me the money sir, and I am sure Mr Jones will give it back to you if he wins, and if I win, I use the winnings to buy our freedom” Bronze said smiling, making the Captain shake his head.

“Very well Bronze” He shook his head with a smile as he placed down a handful of gold from his pocket, enjoying the futility of it all.

“Thank you sir, that is very kind of you” Bronze gave Penn a small smile of his own, as he watched Jones continue to shuffle the deck. Jones placed the deck of cards on the table, and Bronze gave them a tap with his for finger to say he was satisfied before Jones dealt the first hand. Bronze looked at his hand and folded instantly, making Jones look at him curiously, but he remained silent. He folded the next three hands in exactly the same way, and Jones spoke up.

“What are you doing? Do you want to play or not?” He said to Bronze.

“Yes, when you stop cheating” Bronze replied smiling pleasantly.

“You think I am cheating? Why?” Jones said just as pleasantly.

“You dealt me good cards every hand, you wanted me to think I was winning before you pull out a better a hand, no doubt you want to make me look stupid” Bronze drank his whiskey and nodded at Dance for a refill, making Captain Penn look at him in a new light, he was beginning to think he had got Mr Bronze all wrong.

“You deal then” Jones said placing the cards down in front of Bronze.

“Give me the ace you have hidden in your sleeve” Bronze said taking everyone by surprise.

“How did you know? It was in my sleeve before I even opened the deck” Jones smiled again, this time with a new found respect for him.

“I did not know, it was just obvious, you underestimated me, and you took the ace out of the deck before you even turned up” Bronze laughed and held his hand out for the hidden card that Jones pulled out and handed over.

“He is a smart boy Captain, he knows what he is doing, but that does not mean he is good at actually playing the game, he has not played a hand yet” Jones said over his shoulder.

“Yes, it appears he is intelligent, but he has no experience, he will not beat you, and he can not cheat, you will see him” Penn said patting Jones on the shoulder. Jones nodded, and Bronze winked at at them both as he shuffled the cards slowly, so they could see he was not taking any cards from the deck or trying to mark them. He placed the deck down, and Jones tapped it just as Bronze had. The began to play, and Jones won three out of the first five hands, as he folded twice. Then Bronze decided to make his move, now that everyone thought they were playing a fair game, and Jones was winning. Nobody noticed Bronze take one card every time Jones dealt at the beginning of the game, he gave him kings and queens, trying to draw him in, but he just took the good cards and folded, giving him a ready made winning hand. Nobody saw him cheating because he cheated before becoming the dealer, and making it clear he was dealing a fair hand by doing everything slowly, just so everyone watching could see, and were satisfied. He started to speed up his deals, and continued to bet and lose hands by folding half way through every time Jones raised, undoubtedly Jones thought he was scaring him out of the hands by being aggressive, but it was all part of the long term plan to take him in one go. As he went faster in his deals people did not look as closely as before, because he was still losing, and he managed to sneak a few more cards out of the deck. He had enough to deal two good hands now, one for Jones and one for himself, and he shuffled the cards into the deck ready to see the killing hand and beat Jones. The hand was played, and Jones had three queens and two sevens, but Bronze had three kings and two nines, and they both bet everything they had. Normally neither Jones or Bronze would be so quick to bet everything on those hands, it was not certain that a full house was going to win with the cards that were down, there could easily be a better hand being held. But Bronze had sucked him in, with intelligence and timing, and Jones looked close to passing out when he turned over his winning hand and scraped the pile of coins away from the centre of the table away from him.

“How did he beat you? Did he cheat?” Captain Penn said disgusted.

“If he did I did not see him Captain” Jones replied feeling embarrassed at losing to Bronze.

“Do not worry Jones, I did cheat, I just wanted to make a point and prove I can make money, and now we can prepare to leave and pay Captain Penn for our freedom” Bronze separated the money and pushed the coins across the table towards Jones, and keeping the money Captain Penn had given him.

“Do you really think I am letting you walk off this ship a free man? You can not be trusted, and I am not so convinced by this” Penn said to Bronze as he waved his hand at the table.

“Send someone with us sir, and then your investment is covered, you are in control of this situation, and we are not going to mess this up, we can be trusted to pay you and keep our mouths shut” Dance said stepping forward before Captain Penn finalized his decision.

“I will go with them Captain” Jones spoke up.

“You have already failed me today, I will allow you both to go, but I will be sending the twins with you” He said with a small smile that made Dance look worried.

“Thank you sir, you will not regret your decision” Bronze nodded his thanks.

“You might regret it, if you try anything, the twins will keep you in line” He said before waving his men out as he walked away.

“This is bad Bronze, we better get the money, and hope the twins do not kill us” Dance said feeling the pressure.

“Who are the twins?” He replied.

“Jake and James Bray, they are strange characters, and will not think twice about shooting us if we give them cause” Dance said looking emotionally exhausted.

“One step at a time Joe, we have the money and the Captain is allowing us to leave the ship to get him his money, now we need to work out where to go to get it, and we might have to pay the twins off as well, we are making progress” Bronze said scooping up the coins from the table and putting them in his pocket. They kept there heads down and did there jobs as normal as the weeks went by, until the day came when Dance was told they would be at there destination within the week.

“San Francisco, that is where we are going, and I have never been there, I have no idea how good the players are around there or how dangerous it is, but I have heard of the place” Dance said looking nervous.

“One step Dance, we know nothing about the place, thinking and worrying about it is pointless, but I do think it would be a good idea to get some guns, after we have won some money that is, and some decent clothes would be nice” Bronze answered.

“I wish you would stop saying one step at a time to me, and then start planning a shopping trip with money we do not have, we may not even live to shop” Joe Dance was getting angry, which also meant he was getting scared, they would be going into the unknown to gamble and cheat against people who they did not know. They had no clue how it was going to play out, and if they could even pull it off, Thomas Bronze was a rookie, he had never sat at a table with seasoned players, he had played one real game against Jones, but that was different. They had hope, however slight it may be, because Bronze was very talented with a deck of cards, and was a lot better than Dance was after a very short time. They were now sailing up the West coast of America towards the harbour of San Francisco, and they held on to that hope and tried to push away the doubt and fear, they were going into the unknown and prayed that luck would be on their side.

Chapter 5

SAN FRANCISCO

The twins, Jake and James Bray, were stood at the door of the kitchen waiting for Thomas Bronze and his friend Joe Dance to confirm they were ready to leave. The Charles W Morgan had docked, and the enslaved men, women and children were escorted from the ship, to probably never be seen again, spending the rest of there lives on a farm or in a brothel. Bronze and Dance nodded to each other in confirmation and followed the twins on deck.

“So Mr Bronze, what is the plan?” Captain Penn asked him before allowing him to leave the ship.

“The plan is to get you your money and forget about everything, then who knows, get a job I suppose sir” He answered.

“That is a good plan, just remember, the twins” He pointed at Bronze before turning his finger towards Jake and James.

“I will not forget sir” Bronze nodded before leaving the Charles W Morgan with Dance and the two watchful men following. The party of four stood on solid ground for the first time in months and Bronze smiled as he looked around.

 “Where are we then? Which way do we go?” Dance asked the men around him.

 “This is Buena Vista Cove, the Barbary Coast, dangerous place lads, you will find prostitutes in the hundreds, opium dens, murderers, dozens of Saloons” James said with amusement to Dance who looked worried.

 “Yeah, not to mention all of the Shanghaiing that goes on around here, be watchful boys” Jake put in with a chuckle, and Dance looked ready to vomit at there words.

 “Shanghaiing?” Bronze asked without fear of the words of danger.

 “They mean crimping, drugging and kidnapping sailors” Dance said trying to sound calm.

 “Why kidnap sailors?” Bronze said confused.

 “Lots of reasons lad, and non of them good” Jake laughed.

 “We better be careful then, come on, that way is as good as any, I want to take a walk and look around” Bronze said happily and starting to walk.

 “That is Pacific Avenue, and Terrific Street” James said angrily putting his big hand on his shoulder stopping him. Bronze looked at him with his eye brows raised.

 “And? Pacific Avenue sounds nice, and Terrific Street sounds terrific” Bronze chuckled.

 “This idiot is going to get us killed, if he wants to look around and find the best place to gamble and win big then that is fine, but we are not going that way”James said to his brother Jake.

 “Agreed, I say we go to Dick’s Saloon, it is still dangerous, but it is better than going through Pacific Avenue and there is no way we are going to Terrific Street” he answered.

 “Alright, we will go the other way, but I want to look around first, we need to know our bearings around here” Bronze said patting Dance on the shoulder.

 “Fine” James said taking his hand of him.

Bronze stood with a smile on his face as he looked around. He stared in the direction the brothers were afraid to go. Terrific Street which was centered upon a single block of Pacific Avenue cut through the hills of San Francisco, starting near Portsmouth Square. The docks at Buena Vista Cove were to the east of Portsmouth Square, and Bronze gazed towards it, before he turned and nodded that he was ready to get moving. Followed by his friend, and the  watchful twins, he walked in the other direction. They walked down streets that were full of people and noise, horses whined and men shouted to potential customers to come buy there vegetables. Bronze was in a daze at the magnificent scenes and size of the buildings around him, it was more than he dreamed of. He now truly believed America was a land of hope, and prosperity, and he wanted to be part of it, to succeed in building a good life. The twins lead the way, and soon they came to a more quiet area and less brilliant to look at. The buildings were little more than wooden shacks standing on clotted dirt, with mud paths and rotted walkways.

“Here we are then, lads” James said pointing at a building with a big red sign above it saying Dicks Saloon.

“Good poker players in here? Dance asked the twins who nodded.

“Some of the best, they like to keep a low profile, big money players who do not like to lose, you may find yourselves dead in an hour or so, if you win they might kill you, if you lose we will kill you, hard times lads eh?” Jake laughed.

“Yeah, deadly” Dance answered shaking his head as he looked at the place they were about to enter.

“We will be fine, we will win, and we will not be killed, just have to be smart about it, and take our time” Bronze said with a look of thought on his face as he stared at the old wooden shack.

“Come on then, lets get this over with, we will wait a few minutes before coming in, we do not want to be associated with you if you get shot” Jake said pushing Bronze and Dance in the back towards the shack. Bronze pushed open the swinging doors which creaked loudly, and stepped in to the saloon with Dance right behind him. They walked towards the bar where a man was shouting at the bar tender.

“It is disgusting Coe! Take it down!” The man yelled.

“It is a picture of a bull! What is wrong with it?!” The bar man yelled back.

“Its privates are showing in all there glory! Its not right! God forgive you!” He continued to shout as he gulped down a beer. A man wearing all black stood up from a table where five others where playing poker, and approached the bar. He looked at the picture of the bull on the wall behind the bar and shook his head. He had a gray mustache and beady malevolent eyes.

“This old drunk is right, take that filth down, now” He said with a deep voice, pointing at the picture.

“But it is just a picture Bill” The barman continued to argue. The man he called Bill did not ask twice and pulled out his gun. Before anyone could say or do anything, he shot him in the forehead and put another four bullets in the picture making it fall from the wall. Everyone stood silently and never said a word to the man who turned around and sat back in his seat where he finished his whiskey and collected his winning before leaving. Bronze and Dance stepped aside as he approached and walked out of the swinging doors without giving them a single glance.

“Poor fellow, I will go and find the Sheriff and explain what happened” The man who started the argument over the picture said, leaving right after the murderer.

“What can I do for you two strangers?” Another man said popping up from behind the bar, talking to Bronze and Dance who walked towards the bar when spoken too.

“Two whiskeys please” Dance said nudging Bronze and nodding at the barman for him to pay him. Bronze placed down a few coins and smiled.

“Something amusing partner?” The man said placing down a bottle and two glasses.

“No, just curious” Bronze answered.

“Curiosity is dangerous friend, you did not see nothin’ and you did not hear nothin’ now who are you and what you doing here?” He said looking both Bronze and Dance up and down.

“I never see or hear much, too many bangs on the head, I am Thomas Bronze and this is Joe Dance, we heard this was the place to go for a good game of cards against real good players and gentlemen” Bronze said smiling widely, making Dance cringe.

“We do not like strangers around here, especially curious strangers, and if you are thinking about talking of certain events that may or may not happen around here, then don’t, trust me, you do not want to be in the bad book of Wild Bill Hickok” He said seriously to both men.

“When we got here that poor soul was already dead, and I have no idea what happened to him, or who Wild Bill Hickok is, we simply want a drink and a friendly game of poker if that would be agreeable with the gentlemen?” Bronze said still smiling.

“Ben Thompson, my dead friend here was Bill Coe, we own this place, well, I suppose I own this place now” Ben said introducing himself and his dead colleague. The swinging doors opened again and the twins, Jake and James entered and nodded to all of the men in the bar before standing beside Bronze and Dance.

“Whiskey gentlemen?” Bill asked them and received a nod in confirmation. Bronze stepped away from the bar and approached the men playing cards across the room.

“Room for one more?” He said.

“You got money boy?” one man asked without looking.

“Some” Bronze answered placing down a small pile of coins on the table. The men all laughed and one kicked a chair away from the table for him to sit.

“Small amount, but we will accommodate you sonny, I’m Roger, that is Jack, Elis and Dave” Roger said pointing out the others around the table.

“I knew someone called Roger once, you are much more of a gentlemen than he was, pleased to meet you all”

Chapter 6

Life is a Gamble

Dance and the twins were standing at the bar watching Bronze play his first hand. They were not convinced he had enough experience to play a real game with real, and dangerous men. The whole saloon was empty except for the poker players and themselves at the bar. That made Dance nervous. Saloons were always full of people and noise, but this one was as silent as the dead man still lying on the floor, who the barman had dragged out of the way and placed by the entrance doors, his face covered in blood. A drop came from the hole in his forehead, and rolled between his eyes in a line that travelled down the left side of his nose to rest on his lower lip. The swinging doors suddenly opened, and a short plump man walked in. He wore a star on his dirty brown shirt, and the twins let out a chuckle when they watched him waddle towards the bar. The man was not a Sheriff, only a deputy, and Dance was becoming more concerned by the minute. He was shaking his head when the deputy stood beside him. We are dead, he thought, and closed his eyes. He cursed under his breath and looked over to Bronze, willing him to hurry up and win or lose. He was sitting with his back to him, and Dance prayed he knew the dangerous situation was likely to get worse.

“A wh-wh-whis-ky p-p-please” the deputy said to Bill the barman, with the worst stutter Dance had ever heard. Jake and James burst in to laughter making Dance jump with a look of shock.

“Hows it going Sid? Don’t mind these boys, few to many drinks, in a jolly old mood they are” He said placing down another glass and pouring his drink.

“So wh-wh-what ha-p-p-end?” Sid asked, ignoring Dance and the twins, and pointed at the lifeless body.

“An unknown gentleman, wearing black, who likes to gamble and drink” He answered Sid with a shrug bringing a look of concern to the deputies face.

“He I-I-Is g-g-g-gone?” Sid said looking around, knowing exactly who he was talking about.

“Yep, gone, nobody seen nothin’ Sid, maybe the Sheriff will know what to do” The barman said, knowing that Sid could do nothing about Wild Bill even if he was still around. Sid nodded and drank his whiskey in one gulp and placed a coin down.

“S-S-Steve w-w-will be he-re s-s-s-s-soon” He said, and waddled back out the doors.

“Ah well played, sir” Bronze said to Roger who won the pot. Bronze folded the hand before betting, he wanted to get a feel for the players. After several hands, Bronze had won one, and was even. He had neither won nor lost any of his cash, and he was feeling nervous, they were very good players. He chose not to cheat, they would spot anything out of the ordinary, he knew it in his guts. They were watchful and suspicious. Every time somebody moved to scratch, sneeze or cough, unblinking eyes were on them until there hands were in clear sight, and in no suspicion of pulling an ace out of a sleeve. Bronze needed to play it smart. Win big in one hand and get out of the saloon. He heard the deputy come and go, and knew somebody else would be coming to deal with the murder that had happened. He was just as watchful as the other men around the table, and made certain the deals were good before he made his move. He was dealt a pair of sevens. He looked at every man around the table intently, trying to work out who had good cards. He had already worked out what type of players they were, cautious. Except Roger. He was greedy, and eager to win big. Bronze decided to strike.

“Well, you gentlemen have a lot more coin than me, and my friends are waiting for me, this will be my last hand, so I will go all in, and see if lady luck is on my side, are you all agreeable with me leaving the game?” He asked everyone who looked at him like he was crazy.

“That is up to you boy, if you want to step out of the game I have no objection, just like you will have no objection when you lose this hand, and your money, and have no way to win it back” Roger said matching the bet and smiling.

“Oh you boys are in for a real surprise, I will call you both, and take the rewards”

“I am in”

“And me”

Jack, Ellis and Dave matched the bet. Bronze was shocked. He thought them cautious, and only expected Roger to bet. Now it was between five players and he only had a pair of sevens. He knew the odds of winning this hand were slim, and shook his head. He had been stupid. They had played him. He was suckered in real good. He really was not ready for the big games with big time players. Ellis was the dealer and turned over the first three cards. Ace, ten, queen. Bronze was beat. Four other players who could have any number of hands that had him beaten easily. The others all checked, and the next card was a six, it came down to one card now. They all checked again. Bronze gulped. The twins and Dance walked over to look over the shoulders of the players, making sure to keep some distance, and hands in sight.

“Best pray lad, does not look good for you” Jake said with a low growl.

Ellis turned over the last card. It was a seven. Bronze had three sevens, but the others must have something better, he thought. They all turned over the cards, Ellis had a three and a king, he lost, along with Jack and Dave who had nothing, five and an eight for Dave, and a pair twos for Jack. They were playing with hope with those cards, hope and greed. Bronze took a deep breath as Roger turned over his cards. A pair of six’s in his hand, Bronze had won the hand by some miracle. Roger smiled and began to scoop the cash towards him when he saw Bronze gulp and look flushed. He looked like he would be sick, and that was true, but it was because he had won, and now had to turn his cards over and take the money from these men. How many seconds will it take them to shoot me, he thought as he revealed his sevens. Roger stopped his coin scooping and glared at Bronze.

“You son of a bitch” He said angrily.

“I am the son of a whore actually” He replied without thinking and instantly regretting his words. Roger stood up and backed away from the table, he stood up tall and continued to glare at Bronze with the fingers of his right hand flexing at his side, inches from his gun.

The doors of the saloon swung open once again. It was a lawman. He stopped at the entrance and looked down at the body to the side of the doors. He tipped his hat back and scratched his chin, before walking over to the bar and picking up a bottle of whiskey and taking a gulp. He slammed the bottle down and cuffed the dribbles away from the sides of his mouth.

“Speak” He said to the barman who looked flushed.

“Mr Earp, I did not know you were in town” He mumbled in reply.

“Passing through, who killed him? Was it Doc?”

“No, sir, it was…”

“good” He held up his hand, cutting him off from speaking, and threw a coin in to his hands. He buffed his hat “Good day gentlemen” he said, and walked back out of the saloon.

“Who was that?” Dance whispered to James.

“Wyatt Earp, lawman, and friend of John Doc Holliday, gambler and murderer, and he is no better, except his brother is a Marshal and now he is a Deputy Marshal. Last I heard he was in Dodge City, strange them being in these parts” He answered while still watching Roger and his fingers flexing around his gun.

“Why did he not say anything about the murder? Or about this?” Dance said pointing at Roger.

“Not his business, he only cares about his own business, that is why he asked if it was Doc Holliday, he thought he had to clean up his mess, but it is not his mess, so he leaves, good lawman eh?” He patted Dance on the back, and an evil chuckle escaped from his grin.

“You going to shoot me because I beat you in a game of cards, friend?” Bronze asked Roger who did not answer. Roger kicked his chair away from him and stepped back, ready to draw his gun.