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The Dead Earl

Published by Elliott Junkyard

Smashwords Edition


Copyright 2018 Elliott Junkyard


All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be used or reproduced in any manner without permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews. This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places and incidents are fictional. Any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental.


Edited by Jo Ladzinski


Cover photo by Todd Diemer

Courtesy of Unsplash.com


Cover design by Elliott Junkyard




Content Warning:


The following book contains descriptions of PTSD and excessive alcohol use.







The Dead Earl

Book Three of Sweet Revenge



Elliott Junkyard





June 23, 1927

Somewhere over the Weimar Republic



Felix stomps down the hallway towards the kitchen, balled fists at his sides. It should have been an uneventful morning. For once, he'd managed to sleep through the night and awoke feeling rested. But upon rising he'd discovered a strange body in a bunk that should have been empty. Ezekial had been reading at his desk, clearly unconcerned. Instead of offering answers, he'd merely shrugged and told Felix that it was a story best left to the Captain to explain.

"What the fuck happened last night?" Felix shouts as he thrusts open the swinging doors.

"Oi, Felix," Wilbur says groggily. "Could 'ya save the yelling for after breakfast?"

Both he and Ollie are seated at the table. Wilbur has his large hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and looks like he might fall back asleep at a moment’s notice. Next to him, Ollie happily munches on a piece of toast with jam. She waves at him with her toast in hand. Both of them still wear their nightclothes.

"I second this motion," Benny agrees from across the room.

Felix whips his head to see the Quartermaster already dressed for the day and putting a tea kettle onto the stove. He stomps over and draws himself up to his full height, puffing out his chest for good measure. Benny appears unconcerned and it stokes Felix’s anger all the more.

"You said that The Majestic was going to be a low key job," Felix says, pointing an accusatory finger at Benny's chest. "That Hazel was going to spend a few hours pickpocketing and gathering intel."

"Yes," Benny says, brushing Felix's hand away irritably. "And that's exactly what happened." He turns away from Felix and reaches into a cabinet. He draws out two tea cups and sets one down in front of Ollie.

"Then explain my new bunkmate."

This statement draws not only Ollie's attention but Wilbur's as well. Benny is suddenly less at ease than he was moments ago. The change in his demeanor is subtle, but Felix has known him long enough to notice the way his nostrils flare and his shoulders tense.

"There was a last minute change of plans," Benny says calmly and quietly.

"I'll say," Wilbur mutters before returning to his coffee. Unless fists start flying, there’s little that can keep his attention before he’s been properly caffeinated.

Felix waits for Benny to continue. He sincerely doubts that Hazel was the one to pick up a random stranger from the cruise ship. If she had, he'd be in her bedroom, not Felix's.

"The Captain decided he wanted to do a sweep of the ship before we departed."

"Great idea," Felix says. "Allow Britain's most wanted pirate to wander around a British vessel unattended."

Benny straightens his shoulders.

"He wasn't unattended."

Benny's meaning sinks in slowly. It isn't enough that Phineas chose him as Quartermaster. It isn’t enough that he chose him as his partner. Now he's choosing Benny for things that are rightly Felix's job. The tea kettle whistles and Benny pushes past him. He sets his teacup down on the counter and prepares the teapot. Felix refuses to be ignored.

"Is this some sort of punishment? For Swansea?"

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Benny mumbles under his breath.

Benny’s swearing means that Felix has definitely struck a nerve. Even in cases of mortal peril -- and they’ve been through plenty of those -- the Quartermaster insists on keeping his language appropriate. Benny finally turns to face him.

This is a conversation that should be private, if had at all and Felix knows it. If there is one thing Benny detests, it’s impropriety. Of course, Felix could be referring to the fact that he all but bullied Phineas into letting him be a part of the ground team when they were in Wales. They both know better.

Benny narrows his eyes. "That is a matter between the Captain and myself and it has since been resolved," he says through gritted teeth.

"So you two just decided to leave the person best at breaking and entering asleep and clueless while you went gallivanting for valuables?"

"I was the one who decided to not involve you," he says plainly. "So at least do the Captain the favor of directing your anger in the correct place. You are loud and impulsive and would have proved a danger to the mission. The Captain takes enough bloody risks without you encouraging him."

"Vaffanculo," Felix spits out. Benny doesn’t speak Italian, but Felix is fairly he got the message across.

"Go to your room and calm yourself," Benny says tersely. Felix can hear the quiet rage simmering in his voice. "I will have the Captain speak to you when he wakes."

Felix is too angry to form words. He snatches the teacup off the counter before Benny can react. It's so small and delicate. He raises his hand without thinking. The sound of the porcelain breaking against metal is satisfying. Ollie gasps. Regret immediately sets in.

"Go," Benny snarls. He stares at the shattered remains of his cup.

Felix stomps out of the kitchen without another word.


***


When Felix returns to his room, Ezekial is sitting in the middle of the floor. He has a pad of paper in his lap and charcoal in hand. Felix can make out the rough sketches of a portrait on the page. The blond seated across from him is not who Felix expected to find when he returned. His age is difficult to determine. There’s a youthful softness to his face but Felix knows better than most that the years between fifteen and twenty can make a world of difference.

He pauses for a moment in the doorway, uncertain if he should say something to their new – roommate? Crew mate? What he could possibly say to make this situation any less strange? He continues to his bunk in silence.

Felix traces the metal of Ezekial’s bunk above him with his fingers before closing his eyes. Perhaps if he goes back to sleep, he will wake to discover this was all just another one of his nightmares. He hears the sound of quiet footsteps and the shuffling of papers. A soft hand touches his shoulder. When Felix opens his eyes, Ezekial is leaning into the bunk. The multi-colored ends of his hair fall down in his eyes and he doesn’t push them away.

"I take it that conversation didn't go well," Ezekial says in his comforting, even tone.

Felix covers his face with both hands. He can’t stand to look at Ezekial right now. His unending patience and concern reminds Felix of his own mistakes.

"I won’t pretend that I know what the heart of the problem is," Ezekial begins. Felix feels a sudden cold spot on his shoulder where Ezekial’s hand had been a moment ago. "But I will listen if you want to talk about it."

Felix rolls onto his side, looking up at Ezekial at last. Behind him, the boy shifts uncomfortably. From the expression on his face, the blond doesn't want to overhear this conversation any more than Felix wants to have it.

"Grazie," Felix mumbles.

"Prego," Ezekial offers with a small smile. He closes the door gently when he leaves the room.

The silence is louder than Felix expected it to be. He needs the background hum of the ship and its crew to distract him from the thoughts in his head. But he’s also not ready to go back out and face Benny.

"Um, Felix?" the boy says, his voice small and uncertain.

Felix sits up and takes a good look at him. He’s like a porcelain doll come to life, complete with rosy complexion. He’s almost as fair as Benny, but with the addition of smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. There's a lifetime of innocence in his soft green eyes.

Wonderful. Another beautiful boy I'm not allowed to have.

"Can I ask you a question?" he continues.

His accent is unexpectedly American.

"Go ahead," Felix says.

"Ezekial told me what he does on the ship, I was wondering if you could do the same?"

"I’m the First Mate," Felix answers. "I'm to take over leading the crew if anything happens to the Captain."

"That sounds important."

"It is."

Felix doesn't want to imagine a scenario in which he'd have to fulfill that role, but in that moment he understands why Phineas gave him that position. Felix is a lot of things, but most importantly, he's a survivor. He hates himself for it more often than not, but the fact remains. If anything happened to Phineas, Benny would be fixed by his side, duty to the crew forgotten. He wouldn't be able to lead. Felix can and would be the one to bury his grief and take charge.

Samuel's voice rings in his ears. "Be safe. Do what you have to."

He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, trying to block out the memory. Now is not the time for a relapse. He inhales deeply and blows a breath out slowly through his mouth.

He glances back towards the boy, who now wears a concerned expression. It reminds him too much of the one he's seen Phineas wear. And Ezekial.

He needs a distraction. The phrase "accidental kidnapping" had come out of Ezekial's mouth before Felix stormed off in search of answers. He still hasn't gotten those answers. There's no time like the present.

"What's your name?"

"Nathaniel," the boy says.

"Nathaniel," Felix repeats. He already enjoys the way it rolls off his tongue. "What were you doing on The Majestic?"

"I played in the orchestra," Nathaniel answers.

The pieces click into place. He already knew Nathaniel wasn’t recruited the way the rest of the crew had been. But now it's clear that he's just another one of the things that were stolen from the ocean liner last night.

"That makes sense.” Nathaniel quirks an eyebrow, waiting for an explanation. "The Captain does like having pretty things aboard his ship," Felix adds bitterly.

Before Nathaniel can formulate a response, the door opens. Phineas stands in the doorway, wearing nothing but the bottoms of his long johns. Felix wishes he could be surprised that he didn't bother to dress properly for this conversation. Nathaniel takes a quick glance at Phineas and climbs into his bunk.

"I think we need to talk," Phineas says.

"No," Felix says, "I think I’ve learned all I need to from our new passenger."

"Felix…" he says quietly. He takes slow steps forward, as if approaching a dangerous animal.

"Don’t," Felix says, holding up a hand. Phineas stops in his tracks.

"I can explain," Phineas says in Italian.

"I don't want your excuses," Felix retorts.

He's not entirely certain Phineas is fluent enough to understand him, but he doesn't care. If Phineas wanted to be understood, he could damn well speak English and risk their new passenger over hearing. Felix’s rage has mostly evaporated, but the hurt remains.

"I understand," Phineas says with a nod.

"I think he’s the one you owe an apology to." Felix gestures towards Nathaniel.

Phineas turns his head and takes a long look at Nathaniel. Jealousy creeps up on Felix like a spider on the back of his neck. Nathaniel shrinks further back into his bunk. He pulls his knees up to his chest like a child hiding at night from the boogeyman. Felix makes a mental note to find out exactly what transpired between them last night.

"I almost forgot!" Phineas exclaims before darting out of the room.

"Is he always this strange?" Nathaniel asks quietly, keeping an eye on the door.

Felix nods. "You’ll get used to it."

When Phineas returns, he’s holding what looks like a violin case in his hands. Nathaniel practically leaps out of his bunk to take it from him.

"I thought it was gone forever," Nathaniel says, almost awestruck. Felix isn’t sure if he’s talking to Phineas or the item itself. He sits back down on his bunk and opens the latch. Nathaniel lifts the violin gently from its case, holding it almost reverently.

"I would have never destroyed something so lovely." Felix isn’t sure if Phineas is talking about the instrument or Nathaniel. Jealousy flares up in the pit of his stomach. "Lucky for both of us, Benny is quite good at saving the day when my plans go awry."

"Thank you." Nathaniel’s voice is cold. He hasn't bothered looking back at Phineas since he got his hands on the instrument.

"You are most welcome.” Nathaniel still doesn’t look up. "If you need anything, come and find me." Phineas waits another moment for a response that never comes and takes his leave.

"You play violin?" Felix asks once the door shuts behind Phineas.

"It’s a viola," Nathaniel says distractedly.

"Oh." Felix doesn’t know the difference. He’ll have to ask Hazel about it later. "Can I hear you play?"

Nathaniel finally lifts his head, uncertainty in his eyes. He holds Felix’s gaze for a long, uncomfortable moment and finally nods. He stands, tucks the instrument underneath his chin and begins to play. A beautiful, deep melody resonates from the instrument and melts away Felix’s jealousy. Just this once, he gets to be the one person allowed something that the rest of the ship isn’t. Maybe for right now, that’s enough.


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