Devil's Cove (Tortured Souls)(2)

By: R.C. Matthews

“Good evening, mate,” Victor said, coming face to face with a bald-headed chap the size of an ox. “Do you know where Captain Devlin Limmerick might find transport in town?”

The men halted and glanced at the captain, wide-eyed, before drawing back and offering apologies, nodding their heads respectfully.

“Heard they call him the Devil,” whispered one of the men, rubbing his hand along his neck. He dared another stealthy look, then swallowed hard and headed toward town, never looking back.

“Well?” Victor asked, lifting his brow.

The ox cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Best to speak with the bartender at The Black Serpent on Main Street. Henry always has a man waiting to do his bidding for the right price. It isn’t far,” the man said, gesturing in the direction of the tavern. “Just down the road a bit.”

The men scattered, clearing a path. With a nod of thanks, Devlin led the way toward town with long, confident strides. The cobbled streets were nearly deserted, but he followed the boisterous cries emitting from an establishment on the far end of the street. He stopped in front of The Black Serpent and eyed the sign hanging above the massive oak door. An intricately carved half-woman, half-serpent with lustrous, black hair beckoned customers to join the frivolities within.

Victor cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes on the sign.

“What’s wrong?” Devlin asked. “Afraid the black serpent lies in wait within?”

Victor grinned and shook his head. “For a moment, I thought the sign looked familiar. But I must be mistaken,” he said, reaching for the wrought-iron handle and yanking the door open. A blast of warm air rife with the scent of fish and chips accosted them as the men stepped over the threshold. A mixture of upper and lower class citizens filled the tables and booths. Devlin ignored the gawking stares penetrating his back as he strode to the long, oak bar. He leaned casually against it while Victor motioned to the bartender.

A stout man with thick, bushy eyebrows ambled toward them, wiping his hands on a towel before tossing it across his shoulder. After eyeing Devlin and Hatchet, the bartender’s steady gaze turned deliberately to Victor’s. “What’ll you have?”

“Three ales,” Victor said, gripping the edge of the bar. “And the name of a coachman for hire.”

The bartender grabbed three mugs and poured the dark brown liquid. “At this late hour? It’ll cost you. What’s your destination?”

Leaning into the bar, Victor said, “Captain Limmerick requires a coach to escort him to his new residence, Devil’s Cove Manor.”

The bartender blanched and stared at Devlin with wide, buggy eyes before making the sign of the cross over his chest. “Good Lord, man, don’t you know the place is haunted by the devil himself?” He lowered his voice and glanced at the neighboring patrons. “Nobody has entered the manor in years, you crazy fools. You’ll not find a coachman willing to take you there—not in the dead of night, not ever.”

So, his reputation was surpassed by that of his newly acquired mansion. It was all Devlin could do to hold back a chuckle.

Victor’s jaw clenched, and he slapped a gold sovereign on the bar. “You sure about that, mate? There’s more where this came from for anyone willing to hire on and clear out the cobwebs.”

“Can’t spend it if I’m six feet under, now can I?” asked the bartender. “Keep your coins! I’m not a bloody idiot.”

Devlin’s shoulders tensed, and he bit back a reprimand. He hadn’t survived years of torture only to be deterred from his goals by a blithering fool who wet his knickers over toothless rumors.

The bartender’s outburst gained the attention of the other patrons sitting at the bar, and Devlin used it to his advantage. He accepted a mug of ale and grinned, soothed by the fact that he’d never met a man who didn’t fold when his courage was questioned.

“I beg to disagree with you, Henry,” Devlin said boldly, taking a long draw of the brew. He wiped the foam from his top lip and stared down his nose at the bartender. “Anyone who believes in haunted houses is an idiot.”

But the man would not be swayed. “Better a live idiot than a dead one, I say.”

Hatchet snorted and plucked the gold sovereign off the bar, holding it high in the air between his finger and thumb. He waved his hand to gain everyone’s attention and bellowed, “Who’s brave enough to escort Captain Limmerick to Devil’s Cove Manor?”

The room fell silent. Men and women alike shifted in their seats, avoiding eye contact with Hatchet and each other. Devlin searched the crowd, but there wasn’t a single soul bold enough to seize the offer. Cowards, the lot of them.

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