The Barbary Mark

Chapter 33


     “Show me your hands,” Nonie ordered Jamil, holding a pistol to the back of his head. “I’ve a bone to pick with you, my friend—not to mention I’m inclined to wring Fatima’s sweet little neck.” 

     She’d lain in wait near the slave market, and then followed him, dressed in her boy’s clothes, until she could confront him where there were fewer people about—not that this was easy, considering this miserable town was positively teeming with miscreants and bad actors.  Fortunately, he had diverted down a small alley, which had given her the opportunity. Despite everything, she felt a bit uneasy, holding a weapon to a priest—there must be a twinge of conscience left in me, somewhere, she decided, and drew back a bit.

      His expression was a satisfactory mixture of chagrin and astonishment, as he slowly raised his hands. “Miss Rafferty.”

      “I think not; I’m a missus, thanks to you—Missus Something-or-other, I never learned my true name. Do you always dupe your brides?”

      But Jamil was not one to be taunted into giving out state secrets, and stared straight ahead with a stoic expression.  “What is it you wish from me?”

     “I wish to have an audience with my erstwhile husband, but I am fearful that he will double-cross me yet again—the man can’t be trusted to knot a string.”

     Jamil lowered his hands. “Where would you like to meet?”

     She sheathed the pistol in her waistband. “Tell him I’ll meet him at the storeroom where you rescued me—at nightfall. And you must swear to me on the soul of the Blessed Mother that there will be no tricks; my patience, such as it is, has worn thin.”

     “My promise on it,” he said immediately.  “He will be anxious to speak with you.  The ship—did it founder?”

     “De Gilles’ ship is en route to wherever it was headed; I had other plans.”

      She saw that he hovered on the edge of asking how on earth she’d managed it, but thought the better of the question. It was just as well, she’d learned that half of one’s reputation in this business was built on mystique; to this end, she rarely made explanations.  

     “Off you go.”  She watched as he walked away, then she quickly disappeared into the busy street, doubling back several times in the crowds until she arrived at the safe house, followed closely by Jamie, who had tailed her the entire way.

     Jamie’s eyes were sparkling, as they greeted Saba. “What did he say? He looked as if he’d seen a ghost.”

     “I imagine a ghost would have been more welcome.” There was nothing like turning the tables to give one an acute sense of satisfaction, especially after one had been made to look foolish.  Nonie took off her taqiyah, and shook her curls out. “And anyway, he’s a priest, so he doesn’t believe in ghosts.”

     “The Holy Ghost,” Jamie teased.

     “I’ll Holy Ghost him one, the feckless mackerel-snapper.”

     “All is well?” asked Saba in her halting Italian, as she looked from one to the other.

     “Si.” Jamie took her hand and smiled reassuringly. “All is well.”

     But this reminded Nonie that they had a problem. “Lord, Jamie—what should I say to the mark about Saba?   He’ll be that worried—”

    “Nonie,” said Jamie with deceptive calm. “He doesn’t deserve an instant’s concern, after the trick he’s pulled.”

    But Nonie found she was unwilling to abandon the necromancer to Jamie’s scorn. “He was trying to protect his own assignment, Jamie; surely you can give him credit for that. And he was willing to give up Saba to you—and even though she’s not his wife, she’s a relative of some sort, I think.”

    “Then we’ll leave matters as they are; I’m not willing to give her back, only to have her used as a bargaining chip against my good behavior.”

    This did make sense, and Nonie had to reluctantly concede. “All right, then—but you must lay low until you sail; he seems to have a very efficient spy system of his own.”

     “You needn’t warn me; until I have to leave I’ll spend every moment I can sequestered with Saba.” Upon hearing her name, the girl looked up, and he smiled into her eyes.

    “You probably shouldn’t tell her you’re about to depart for parts unknown,” Nonie warned. “I know it’s wrenching, but we don’t want anyone catching wind of the assignment, or putting two and two together.”

    Jamie nodded in agreement—even the fishmongers didn’t know the particulars of the assignment; the residents of Algiers were infamous for their shifting loyalties.

     They sat in silence for a moment, and as Saba had the good sense to have tea brewing on the brazier, she rose with a graceful gesture to pour them out a cup. As they smiled their thanks, Nonie asked, “Are you ever going to tell her what you truly do for a living?”

    Jamie took a sip of tea. “I think she already knows.”

    Startled, her gaze flew to his. “Surely, you haven’t said?”

    “No, nodcock. But haven’t you noticed that she asks no questions?” 

    This was true; despite abandoning ship, returning to Algiers by stealth, then being left alone with strangers without explanation, the girl had shown neither dismay nor curiosity.

    “She’s a brick,” Nonie pronounced with a small smile. “It hardly seems fair—I wish mine were a brick.”

    But perversely, it was Jamie who was now willing to defend her husband. “He was a brick to explain it to Saba before she made her choice—not many men would have, I think.  Or would have allowed her to marry the likes of me, in the first place.”

    Nonie could not agree with such a viewpoint, and was moved to protest hotly, “She’s carried off the palm, Jamie O’Hay.  She’ll never find a better man, and I’ll not hear another word.”

    He chuckled, and she chuckled, and Saba smiled over her teacup to see them laugh. Nonie rose to her feet, and stretched her arms over her head. “Talk to her as long as you like; I’ll retreat outside to sit with the fish, whilst I rehearse how to play my rendezvous with my better half.”

    He watched her walk to the door, his gaze sympathetic. “Will you be needing reinforcements?  Do you want anyone on site?”

    She considered logistics, while running her fingers over her scalp—the woolen boy’s hat made her head itch.  “No—the mark and I may come to blows, and the fewer to witness it, the better for my dignity. And I truly don’t believe he’d try anything again, so I think we’ll need just a man on the perimeter.”  She glanced down at him. “If it goes wrong, you’re to sail with the pearls, regardless, and never mention to a soul that it was my own foolishness that did me in.”

    “Understood,” he said easily, then couldn’t suppress a smile.  “Lord, Nonie; what will you say to him?”

    She put a hand on his shoulder to steady herself, and removed a sandal to as to rub between her toes—the dust got into everything ,and she would be certifiably insane to consider staying here for any reason, particularly for a man who’d duped her every bloody chance he got, and she had to stop—stop allowing such a ridiculous notion to keep creeping into her brain. “I will try to have him confirm my theory.  And I will explain to him that he is interfering with the king’s business—although he probably doesn’t much care. But mainly, I’m going to comb his hair with a joint stool about duping me into marriage.”

     “Good on you,” he grinned. “I wish I could be there to see it.”