Wake snakes — get into mischief. “So I went on a regular wake snakes sort of a spree, and I went here and there turnin’, twistin’ and doublin’ about until I didn’t know where or who I was,” a man testified in court as to why he was intoxicated, according to the New Orleans, La., Times Picayune of Aug. 15, 1842. Link to the rest at NPR.
Capella jumped from her small boat and tied it off before she scurried down the quay.
Her best friend, Phoebe, was set up for a shell game in the mouth of a tiny alley. “Hey! Where you goin’?” She scooped her cups and the ball into her jacket pocket and folded the tiny table.
In four steps Phoebe’d caught up. “In a hurry?”
“Yep.” If her friend wanted come that was fine but she’d better keep up.
“Who’s the mark?” Phoebe brushed by a sailor staggering along the quay. She slid his wallet into her pocket without missing a stride.
“No one you know.” Capella clenched her teeth.
Phoebe arched an eyebrow. “Personal then. What’s the plan?”
Phoebe was always ready to help. She’d want a cut of whatever could be taken but that was fair. “Some jerk beat ma to snot. I’m gonna find him and make him pay.” Capella accepted that women, especially in a port town and without prospects, sold what they had to whoever would buy. No skin off her nose.
“Last seen?” Pheobe fingered the haft of the knife she kept in the belt at her waist. Capella knew Phoebe had another at her back and a third in her boot. Capella had checked her knives before she left the hovel she and her mother called home.
“Turner’s. Jerk and his shipmates have camped there for the last two days.”
Phoebe spat on the quay. “How many?”
“Six. You’re thinkin’ we need back-up?”
“Yep.” Phoebe eyed her. “Unless you know how to separate him from his mates?”
“I planned to get friendly and get him out into the alley, then deal with him.”
“He ever see you before?”
“Nope. Ma gave me a description. The jack didn’t even pay her the fee. There’s no call for that.”
“Agreed. He needs a correction. We could get a couple of the boys.”
Capella thought about it. It was tempting to call in the boys but things could go sideway’s too easy. She looked at her friend and eyed the table tucked under Phoebe’s arm. “You set up a game on the quay just outside the door. I’ll tell Turner you’ll give him a cut so he won’t bother you. Let them win once in awhile to keep them interested. I’ll chat up the jerk and get him to come out back.”
“I can do that. What are you gonna do?”
“I’ll think of something.”
“I’d feel better if a couple of the boys were there to help.”
“Me, too, but they get side-tracked and next thing they’re robbin’ and beatin’ and…hmmm, maybe that would be the better plan.” She slowed to a stop. “They can keep everything the guy has but my ma’s fee. Where are they?”
“Over at Mally’s.”
It took an hour to get to Mally’s, talk to the boys, get two to come along, and get back to Turner’s. The boys, Zen and Lecki, hid in the alley while Capella and Phoebe started things out front.
The sailors tumbled out of the tavern door and lay their bets. Phoebe smiled and flirted while Turner watched from the door. Capella spotted the jerk and gave him a smile. As soon as he noticed her, she oozed up beside him. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself.” He slid an arm around her shoulders.
A glance at his knuckles, freshly broken open, convinced her she had her mother’s attacker. “You new in town?”
“Off the Octavia Jones for a few days.”
Capella simpered. “You lookin’ for a good time?”
He leered down her shirt at her breasts. “All the time, sweet thing. What do you have in mind?”
“Three credits. There’s a spot in the alley where we can get some privacy.”
He grinned. “Back in a minute, boys.”
As he turned with her in his grasp, Capella caught Phoebe’s eye. Phoebe nodded and allowed one of the sailors to win. They never noticed the jerk leave.
Turner arched an eyebrow at Capella who gave her head a tiny shake. He wouldn’t tell, but she’d have to pay him off. After wake snaking all over the city in the hot sun, the cool, shaded alley leading to the back of the building, was a relief. At the back of Turner’s she said, “Over here.” She pulled him into a corner of a small storage shed and the building. She backed into the corner and unbuttoned the next button on her shirt. “This what you lookin’ for?” She peered up at him through her eyelashes.
He moved in and grabbed her around the waist. Over his shoulder she watched Zen and Lecki come up behind him. They clobbered him over the head and as he went down, beat him with their fists and kicked him, stomach and back, as he tried to protect his head. Once unconscious, they went through his pockets.
“Ma’s fee and money to pay off Turner.” She held out her hand.
Zen handed her the coins while Lecki took the rest. “Nice doin’ business wit ya.” They tipped their hats and ran off along the back alley. Capella buttoned her shirt and went out front. She nodded to Turner and eased down the quay. She’d come back later to give him his cut.
Phoebe closed the game to the moans and groans of the sailors. “Time for me to move on, boys. Safe journey.”
The girls ducked into a side alley. “You all right?” Phoebe asked.
“Fine. He never touched me. How’d you do?”
“Fifty credits for me, fifty for Turner.”
Capella peeked around the corner. “Time to go. Gotta get ma some meds.”
Phoebe thrust twenty credits at her friend. “Take ’em. For your ma.”
Capella hesitated then sighed. “For the meds. That’s all. You took a risk, too.”
“Thirty credits in a morning is a good day for me. Take Turner’s share.”
Capella nodded. “Safe journey, Phoebe.” She hurried out onto the quay and to her boat. Time to help her ma.