As promised, this is part two of the Chuck Versus the Daemon series.
For anyone coming in here, this is an AU Steampunk Chuck story set in the early 1870s. Casey is a US Marshal and Sarah, Chuck, Ellie and Carina are Secret Service Agents. Most of the characters are based on the series (or at least my reading of them), and where possible, the theme of the series' episodes is used as a framework, though elements of some of my other stories are used as well.
Usual disclaimers, no rights to any characters portrayed and this is neither the real world nor a Disney Princess tale. There will probably be changes in the first hour or so as I proof read it as well.
Over a week after Sarah had sent the message to start the search for Kathleen and her daughter, the people at Tolbert, Ives and Jager still hadn't found a thing (the search was hampered by the fact that the maiden aunt that she'd gone to live with had died about five years before) and John was getting impatient.
John's anger at the lack of results was putting everyone on edge, so they almost breathed a sigh of relief when people started talking about a tall Chinese woman who had just come to town, looking for a Chinese boy and asking questions about the Tong that Anna was hiding from.
Maybe some action may sooth jangled nerves, they could only hope.
They all suspected some kind of trap at first, but Sarah, Chuck, John and Hattie all had the feeling that this woman was really looking for the boy, as did Anna.
It was Anna who raised out a key point to Chuck, that this woman was showing every sign of being a warrior priestess, what Anna had been training to be before she was taken away, and that function carried a strong presumption of honesty and integrity with it.
With that consideration, it was decided (after much argument) that Anna, Chuck and Sarah would contact this woman to find out what in fact she was doing in Los Angeles, while John, Hattie and a detail of Tom and a dozen of his men waited nearby in case they were needed.
When they located the woman, Anna went to speak to her first, but she was met with suspicion, so Chuck went to talk to her. As with every other Chinese person he'd talked to in the old dialect, she was shocked, but at least this helped get past her suspicions about Anna. Once she was more inclined to talk, to some degree at least, they got her to come back to Jane's house to so that they could do so off the street.
Once they were inside the house, the woman turned to Sarah and spoke to her in Chinese, but Sarah shook her head, asking Chuck to make her apologies and explain that she didn't speak Chinese, they were rather surprised when the woman responded to her in quite good English.
"Well, that is a relief, I was beginning to wonder what sort of world that I had stepped into here, with everyone speaking Chinese to me."
With the ice broken, they all introduced themselves and brought John, Hattie and Tom in as well, Anna made tea while they waited for a trooper to go to the stable to get Ellie, Andy and Hank.
Their visitor was Cho Mei-Ling, and the reason that she was in Los Angeles was that she was looking for her brother, Li-Wei. With the volatile political climate in China, and in particular Li Hongzhang being appointed as the Viceroy of Zhili, her father had deemed it prudent to send the family's heir, her twelve year old half brother, to America to get an education in a safer and more stable environment than was available in China at the moment and Mei-Ling had been recalled from the temple to escort her brother safely to the boarding school in the America.
The trip across the Pacific Ocean on the clipper ship had gone well, taking them just over a month to reach San Francisco, but when they'd arrived, it was obvious that word of their trip had preceded them. They were attacked and captured by one of the Tong at the hotel where they were waiting for the train that was to carry them across to New York, where Li was to go to school.
It was obvious from Mei-Ling's aggravation that this had been a traumatic experience for her, but at that point, her listeners did not realise just how traumatic it had been. She explained that she'd escaped and began looking for Li. She'd managed to extract the information from some of the men that she'd questioned that, when it was discovered that she'd escaped, the Tong had sent Li to Los Angeles with two of their hatchet men to hide him from her, Smooth Lau and Jason Wang.
These names triggered memories for Chuck. He saw that Smooth Lau had been in training to be a warrior priestess when she was rounded up to be sold into indentured service when her family fell from grace, just like Anna, but she'd caught the eye of a senior member of the Tong and he'd taken her to be his concubine, as well as an enforcer for the Tong. Smooth Lau had apparently enjoyed this life, because the memories he recalled showed her approaching her duties as an enforcer with great gusto. Jason Wang was just a hatchet man, but the memories that Chuck had on him showed him carrying out his duties with equal gusto.
Sarah saw Chuck shudder as he recalled what these two had done, but he covered it up well enough that anyone who didn't know him would have missed it. When he said "I'm aware of them, and now we know that they're in Los Angeles, we will hasten to rescue your brother and get him safely to his school in New York so that you may return to your temple", no-one but John and Ellie showed any indication that they saw him covering up anything, but Mei-Ling reacted to his last statement.
As soon as they saw the look of shame cross over her face they realised what had happened to her, so it was no surprise when she said. "I can never return to the temple, or my family, I am unclean!"
She had to take a moment to compose herself before she could continue.
"They decided to send me to the brothels, as all they wanted was Li to use against my family. One of the Tong elders said that no-one would expect a woman of my age to still be a virgin, so they told the men to give me the experience I needed to work there. It three days before I was left alone with one of them and had the opportunity to kill him and escape."
A horrified silence filled in the room, then Ellie and Anna immediately rushed to try to comfort her. Sarah and Hattie (and Chuck and John) wanted to comfort her, too, but they were frozen with horror at what she had just said, and didn't know quite what to do.
After a while, Chuck stood and walked across the room to stand in front of her, bowing before addressing her in old Chinese. 'I sorrow deeply for what has been done to you. We will help you rescue your brother and get him to safety. Then, if you wish, we will assist you in avenging yourself against those who did this to you. Once that is completed, it would be an honour if you would join us. The shame in this is not on you Cho Mei-Ling, it is on those who did this to you. You will have a place with us for as long as you wish.'
Mei-Ling stood and bowed to him, responding in the same language. 'I thank you for your wishes and assistance, and for the offer that you have made. I do not believe that I am worthy of this, however I will consider your offer carefully and give you an answer once we have delivered my brother safely to his school.'
Sarah signalled to Chuck and the others to leave her and Ellie to talk to Mei-Ling, so they did so. She started by telling her that they would be determining the locations of all the Tong houses so they could plan how to go in and recover Li-Wei.
Mei-Ling shook her head, saying that she needed to do it, they wouldn't have the skills to get in and bring him out safely.
Sarah looked her in the eye. "Mei-Ling. Chuck, John, Hattie and I are spies, some of the best, and we have a picked military team of thirty four to back us up. I promise you that we can do this!"
"For now, however, we need to put that aside. The reason I sent the others away is that you really need to let Ellie examine you, she is a doctor and a very good one. After what you've gone through you could have damage inside which needs to be tended to, as well as other issues like the pox and pregnancy. Please let Ellie look at you and see if there's any care you need. If you are up to it you can come with us when we go to rescue your brother but if not, I promise you that we will get him back safe for you."
Mei-Ling looked at her for a while, then nodded reluctantly, because in truth, she knew that she did have damage inside, she was hurting a lot.
When Ellie examined Mei-Ling, she had some internal damage, but it didn't appear as though anything would be permanent and Ellie did what she could to ease the pain and assist the healing process. She showed no signs of the pox, but Ellie gave her a treatment anyway in case it wasn't showing yet. There was no signs of pregnancy yet of course, but she gave her what Chuck had come up with for that (they had discussed what treatments there were in the memories he had and Chuck had provided treatments for this and other common problems like the pox) to try and finish anything that might be starting.
With Anna's help, they quickly mapped out all of the Tong houses and who they belonged to. Chuck was adamant that they needed to hit all of the houses to cover up what they were doing as otherwise they were likely to work it out and come after them to recover Li-Wei. The others agreed with this, but they could see from the hatred in his eyes for things like the Tong that there was more to it than that.
It was John who brought up a bigger issue. "What about the girls? At least a quarter of the Tongs' money is from the brothels. We can't leave them there, and if we set them free they'll just round them up again."
They were having this discussion after closing at the Two Widows, as that was the only place they could, so Jane was there. "Between Bolonia and I, I'm sure we can find people who can keep the girls safe."
Chuck looked at her "Are they in town?"
That earned him a questioning look, so he explained "These girls won't be safe in town, because if anyone sees them the Tong will find them. The only place they can be safe is on a ranch or a farm that's far enough out of town that no-one's likely to find them."
She nodded musingly "OK…..Yes, I can think of a number of friends who can offer that."
Chuck looked at the information they had (and what it was bringing up in his head). "We could be looking at between thirty and fifty girls between these places, do we have any way of looking after that many girls?"
She thought for a moment and nodded "Yes, for a while, anyway."
That made him stop for a moment and ask. "Are there any ranches for sale at the moment a little way out of Los Angeles?"
She looked at him, confused, "I know of three I've had my eye on but could never get the money for, why?"
"Do any of them meet the criteria for what we've been discussing and are capable of taking at least fifty to sixty people? And if we gave you the money, could you arrange the purchase for us?"
She still looked confused. "At least two of them do, but where could you get that sort of money?"
"Never mind that. If you have the money, could you arrange the purchase?"
Chuck nodded at that, and looked around the table "Are we comfortable with that solution to the girls' problem?"
Heads were nodding, so after asking Jane if she could talk to those friends and confirm how many girls they could look after, they went on with their planning.
Even though she didn't have full mobility, Mei-Ling insisted on being part of this so Chuck set her up with the weapons she needed.
Like Sarah and the other spies, her eyes lit up when Chuck demonstrated the function of the hiders to her, so she had a pair of the .38s with hiders attached as her firearms for this operation like Chuck, Sarah and John, as they would be the other ones going in, at least at first.
While Hattie, Tom and his men were accomplished fighters, they weren't assassins, able to sneak into a place and take out the people inside without giving themselves away. Sarah and John were, and with the memories in his head, so was Chuck so they, plus Mei-Ling, would be the ones going into the Tong houses first.
Once they had control of the house, they'd let the others in to get the girls out, and clear out any valuables as well. This was to make it look like a rival Tong or gang was wiping out the opposition and taking everything. Some of Tom's men would also have the job of hacking up the bodies with hatchets, to make it look like the Tong had done it.
They wanted to keep Anna away from this but Hattie pointed out that, if Mei-Ling and Chuck were inside, who was going to talk to the girls and keep them calm once they got them out? The women in the group agreed with the logic of this so Chuck give in grudgingly.
As well as organising people to look after the girls, Jane had been using her business connections to get information about all the fast steamers heading for San Francisco which had capacity to take on a couple of dozen people in the next day or so, and she'd broached the matter about booking passages for those people in a hurry with those that she knew.
They'd also sent off instructions to the Tolbert, Ives and Jager to have a Pullman's Hotel car available in San Francisco within three days.
Chuck had spent a while preparing himself for this. As much as he did not like killing, he accepted the fact that anyone other than them, Li-Wei and the girls (or boys) who were being held captive in these houses would have to die. He also accepted that they may have to deal with the so-called law of Los Angeles as well, as most of those thugs were in the pay of the Tong anyway.
By the afternoon of the second day, they'd decided on the order that they were going to hit the houses, they had the weapons and equipment they needed and Jane had confirmed that she had at least fifteen friends on farms who would put up three to five girls for a while. Jane and Bolonia also said that they had a storehouse that they owned in an out of the way part of town that they could take the girls back to when they got them out. Ellie could see to their treatment (as they expected most of them to have similar issues to Mei-Ling), and they could be looked after there until they were taken out to the farms. They were ready to go in once it was dark.
They found Li-Wei in the third house they hit. They also found and dealt with Ben Lo Pan and his Lieutenants at the same time because by fortuitous chance they had all been at that house for a meeting with Lo Pan that night, so they'd wiped out the entire leadership of that Tong in Los Angeles. Smooth Lau and Jason Wang had also been there and they were eliminated as well.
By then they had the process working smoothly, they'd get in via a window and slip through the house, using knives where possible or throwing knives or the .38s with hiders if the Tong members they found were further away, and once most of them were dead, they'd let the others in. Mei or Chuck would explain to any girls they found what was happening and they'd be escorted to a wagon outside where Anna would look after them. They'd hack up the bodies with hatchets and clean out all the money, gold and anything else of value or interest in the house (Chuck had them collecting any and all documents found as well as the valuables) to make it look like a rival Tong had taken them out, then leave and move on to the next house.
They hit another dozen houses after that and it was after midnight by the time they were all back at the storehouse. As well as Li, they'd rescued 36 girls. Ellie had examined all of them, some of them were hurt worse than Mei had been, some had bad cases of the pox, and five were pregnant, three too far along to do anything about it. Ellie gave them the treatments that Chuck had come up with and left medicines with instructions for any of the girls who needed on-going treatment. The girls all knew English to some level, and they made sure that those with less English were sent along with other girls who spoke it better.
As they were treated and paired up with other girls, Mike, Al and Jeff had been taking the girls out to the farms when they had a wagon load to go. By about two in the morning, all the girls were safely in bed on the farms where they'd be looked after, they'd stashed the valuables and documents where they wouldn't be found, and Sarah and Chuck were at Jane's going through the plans to get them onto the steamer in the morning and purchase one of those ranches that they'd been discussing to give the girls a place to stay.
Jane was shocked when Chuck asked her how high she thought the price of the ranches could go, and after she thought about it and named a figure, he calmly counted that much out of the money chest, and then added a third more, just in case. All cash they took from the Tong houses and Miss Sasha had gone into the money chest, so it was a lot more packed than it usually was, but they didn't tell her that they generally carried more than enough cash to cover the figures she was talking about.
With the money in front of her, they told Jane that they'd leave the choice of the best place to her, and asked whether she could also help find trustworthy people to run and work the ranch. Once they had possession and it was being run by trusted people, they could move the girls there. They also asked whether Anna could keep an eye on the girls and make sure they were OK. Ben would assign troopers to make sure she was safe, but none of them could speak Chinese and wouldn't be able to reassure them.
Well before dawn Chuck, Sarah, Ellie, John, Hattie, Tom, Andy, Adele, Elijah, Isaiah, Hank, Bill, Weed, Mei-Ling, Li-Wei and nine other troopers were assembled in Al's stable, ready to leave. They had both of their wagons hitched to a team of six of their mules. The trunks and travel bags they were taking were loaded up and the beds of both wagons had been lined with bedrolls to give some padding, as they expected the ride would be rough. Al and Mike were driving the wagons, and each would have a trooper up on the driver's seat with him.
Once they'd said goodbye to Jane, Ben and the others, they climbed into the wagons and headed off to the docks, to catch the early departure of the steamer.
It had been the difficult to explain to Li why he had to pretend to be a servant, but he was a bright boy, and between his sister's explanation and the experiences he'd been through himself, he understood well enough. For the rest, it was easy as Adele, Elijah and Isaiah were well versed in this by now and Mei had no trouble pulling off the role of the maid. Hank, Bill and Weed were playing senior clerks and the other nine troopers were clerks and guards.
When they arrived at the docks around dawn, John and Hank finalised the arrangements for their passage on the steamer and went back to collect the others. By then all their luggage had been unloaded from the wagons onto hand carts and everyone had gotten themselves presentable. They thanked Mike and Al for their help, reminding Al of the details that Jane needed to send off to the law firm, said their goodbyes, and strolled down to the pier, ordering the troopers pushing the handcarts about to set the image of who they were.
As they boarded, they were escorted straight to their cabins, and once behind closed doors the gun trunks were opened to give easy access to their repeaters and carbines. As they were only attended by their own staff, they never had any of the ship's staff in their cabins to see the weapons they had in there.
While they were on edge, there were no issues on the passage to San Francisco, and when they docked there, they were met by a law clerk from the local firm working with Tolbert, Ives and Jager with carriages and a wagon to take them to the train that was due to leaving in about an hour.
They were transferred onto the train as a wealthy party with their servants and guards, as such they didn't attract much attention, and their 'servants' were ignored altogether. They were pleased to be greeted by Otis's smiling face when they boarded the Hotel car, and he confirmed that the cook had been cancelled as they'd insisted that their 'personal chef' would do all their cooking. This news let them relax as Otis was almost part of the family, so they could drop the act they put on for others.
As soon as they were on-board, Adele confirmed that all the supplies that they'd requested were stocked. After a bit of a struggle, they settled on Otis using 'Miss May' and 'Master Lee' for Mei-Ling and Li-Wei.
It had been decided on the passage up that Sarah, Chuck, Ellie and Adele would take one drawing room and Mei, Li and Hattie would take the other. John, Tom, Andy and Hank would share the stateroom with the rest of the men in the open sections.
They all breathed a sigh of relief once the train had left Oakland, heading for Sacramento, as that meant that the Tong of San Francisco were behind them.
Sarah and Chuck had a few discussions with Mei along the way across the Continent.
One was about Li's school. Sarah pointed out that if the Viceroy and the Tong knew enough to find and capture them in San Francisco, there was a good chance that they also knew about the Boarding School he had been enrolled in, so that would most likely be a trap. Sarah's suggestion, which Mei went along with, was to cancel his enrolment at that school, get a refund of the moneys paid and enrol him in another school under a different name. Mei agreed with that, but it took effort to convince Li. Mei approved when Li chose Li-Qiang as his new name because he had to be strong for his family, so the name he was to be enrolled under was Li-Qiang Kuang (they had to use the western order).
Chuck had another suggestion that Mei understood was more for her than Li, though it did protect him. This was to point out to her father that it wasn't safe to send any details of Li-Wei's location back to China, given that the Viceroy's people obviously had access to their information, otherwise how would they have known where to find them in San Francisco? The safest plan was for her to stay on in America and watch over Li-Wei, to hide him.
Mei didn't know how this man knew their culture so well, but he clearly understood that she could not go back to their family, or the temple, after what had been done to her, and he was offering her a chance of a new life here, without her family knowing of her shame.
Chuck looked her in the eye and spoke to her in Chinese. 'As I told you before Cho Mei-Ling, the dishonour is not your's, you were defeated by forces too great to overcome. We honour you and offer you a new life, and a new family if you will have us. We wish for you to join us and work with us. You can use our facilities to watch over Li and hide him. I also pledge to do what is necessary to help you avenge yourself on those in San Francisco who wronged you.'
When they arrived in New York and moved into their apartments in Memphis House, Mei looked around, wanting to ask questions but not sure that she had the right.
Once there, they fitted Li out with a new wardrobe and replaced everything possible that he'd lost when they were taken.
Sarah, as Samuel Walton, accompanied Mei to examine a number of schools, until they selected the one which seemed the best option for Li. It was a surprise to Mei and Li to see Sarah masquerading as a man, but they took it well.
All arrangements were made through Tolbert, Ives and Jager, and they'd be notified of anything and everything to do with Li. Mei wasn't really happy that Li was enrolled as her son, with Tolbert, Ives and Jager for his secondary contact, but she had to admit that this gave her more control over what happened to him.
While they were in New York, Mei visited Li when she could and she was happy to see that he was settling in and enjoying himself.
They did have two jobs in New York that had nothing to do with Mei and her brother, the first being to install Harry Quinn as the second junior partner at Tolbert, Ives and Jager (which of course created quite a bit of grumbling among the other lawyers working there), and the second being to take over the search for Kathleen McHugh and her daughter.
They quickly discovered why their law firm's searches for Kathleen McHugh had come up empty, as Kathleen had gotten married about eight years ago. When he heard that, John was all for dropping everything and heading back to California, but Sarah surprised him with the strength of her reaction to that.
She pushed him into a chair and got right in his face. "No! As you well know Uncle John, since I was seven the closest thing I've had to caring parents has been you, Uncle Sam, Aunt Julia, and Tante Jeanne and the others in New Orleans. Not having parents has left a hole in my life. Your daughter has a father and I'll be damned if I'll let you leave without letting her know that!"
John looked at Chuck, but he wasn't about to go against Sarah. His expression also said that he agreed with her, as did Ellie, Hattie, Tom and Andy's.
Even Mei bought into it, saying. "She is right, John, your daughter deserves a chance to know her father."
John looked defiantly at them for about a minute, then slumped and nodded. With the money and influence of Memphis Trading, it wasn't difficult to wrangle invitations to a function that Kathleen and her husband would be attending.
It was amusing, but also moving, to see how hesitant John was as he asked Mei if she would accompany him to the function. On the face of it, the argument he presented was logical, that if he turned up alone Kathleen and her husband would believe that he was there to get her back, but there was also a vulnerability about him here that he hadn't let anyone see before.
He knew that they would all be there supporting him, but he wasn't sure how he would handle seeing the woman that he had been hoping to marry with the man that she actually did marry. He had a feeling that he would be needing someone right there with him to help him get through this.
Hattie went to him and stretched up on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek, saying. "Don't worry Johnny, it will be all right, I promise." Tom was watching, but he saw this for what it was, giving a friend support in a time of need, and was happy with that.
Mei was also looking on, and she understood both what John was asking and what Hattie was doing. That made her decision for her and she nodded, saying. "Yes John, I would be happy to accompany you to this function."
He gave her a grateful smile, and so did Hattie.
With that decided, they all had additional items of clothing to purchase or have made. Sarah, Ellie, Hattie, and Mei had to have new gowns made up in a hurry. But aside from this, driven by a mischievous impulse Sarah had purchased tall top hats to match all the men's outfits, so that they then had to make other adjustments to their wardrobes to suit them.
The thing was, both Tom and Andy stood as much above six feet as Chuck did, so in their top hats all four of the men would be standing over seven feet tall as they made their entrance, and on top of that, with their heels and hairdos, the ladies would all be over six feet as well. There wasn't a chance that Kathleen could miss that.
Sarah was, of course, correct. The entrance they made as four impossibly tall couples (even Mei was taller than the other women) attracted every eye in the place, and when John removed his top hat, Kathleen almost fainted as she recognised him.
It took her half an hour to manoeuvre her husband around the room until they could be introduced to John and Mei, but when she heard him introduced as Colonel John Casey, she started to turn away in disappointment until John said "You look wonderful Kathleen" quietly.
She knew that voice! It was Johnny!
She turned back to look at him with a gaze so intense that her husband tried to drag her away as she was, in his words, 'Making an unseemly spectacle of herself', but she shook his hand off her arm as she addressed John.
"They told me that you were dead!"
John nodded and indicated a corner out of the way, asking. "Shall we talk?"
The rest of their party converged on the corner as they moved there, and then proceeded to scare away anyone moving towards them with less than welcoming looks.
John asked "Mister and Missus Waterman, may I introduce my companions?"
Kathleen nodded tersely.
"This is Colonel Charles Barton and his wife Mrs Sarah Barton, Major Thomas Paterson and his companion Miss Harriet Quinlan, Captain Andrew Dent and his companion Miss Eleanor Helsing, and you've met my companion, Miss Mei-Ling Kuang."
Kathleen impatiently greeted each person, then rounded on John. "OK Johnny, we've all met each other. Now I believe that it's time that you tell me why I was told that you were dead, where you've been for the last twelve years, and why you're going by this other name now!"
Mei squeezed his arm and John nodded, starting his story.
"Well, for a start, the Army believed that I was dead because when I was shot off my horse back in sixty near Pyramid Lake, my troop rode off and left me without checking to see whether I was alive or not. I hid out in the brush with a bullet in my shoulder while I waited for the Paiutes to finish stripping the bodies of the dead and leave, then I walked the fifty miles back to our camp, maybe more, the fever from the wound set in after a day and I think I may have walked around in circles for a while."
John waved down a passing server and snagged two glasses of champagne from the tray, passing the first to Mei before sipping from the other, he could have done with something stronger, but this was all he could get. The others all took glasses as well, and once the server had left, he took up the story again.
"By the time I managed to get back to our camp, they'd packed up and left, and after standing there cursing them for a while, I believe I passed out and collapsed. I don't rightly know how long I was there, but when I came to my senses again after the fever broke, I did the only thing I could, started walking to the nearest town to get help, Reno or Virginia City."
Mei exchanged his empty glass for the untouched one in her hand, and he gave her a grateful look.
"I'd been walking for about day when I came across a prospector's camp. The man was dead, snake bite it looked like, so I buried him then took his horse, pack mule and gear, and went back to Louisiana as him, John Casey, leaving Alex Coburn buried there." (Kathleen's husband started at that name) "I didn't know where my troop had gone, and I didn't believe that I owed them anything after they abandoned me and left me for dead the way they had without even looking to see if I was alive."
He paused and Mei exchanged glasses again, he looked down at the full glass in surprise before he realised that none of their group had touched their drinks, so Sarah had handed her glass to Mei, he nodded in thanks.
"After you were taken by the Indians, there was nothing left for me up there. You have to believe that I tried to look for you, but Colonel Merriweather rejected every request I made to be allowed to try and find you. As you know, he denied my request to escort you to the stage that was to take you back east to your aunt, sending me out on patrol that day, and every time I requested leave to take a party out to look for you, or at least some evidence that we could give to your family to tell them what had happened to you he denied the request. He just said that it was a waste of time because you'd be dead or worse before I could find you."
"I still spent the next year and more looking for some sign of you in every Indian camp we went into, but after a year of that I'd begun to give up hope, so when I was left for dead and had a chance to start over, I took it. About six months after I got back to Louisiana, the war broke out, and I joined up to fight."
Kathleen's husband broke in at that point with an indignant question. "May I ask which side you fought for in the war, Sir?"
John looked at him in disdain. "The South, of course! I'm a Louisianan, and I had no love for the United States Army at that point!"
With that, John dismissed him and went back to the story he was telling Kathleen, nodding thanks as Mei handed him another charged glass.
"I wasn't a conventional soldier, they used me and what I'd learned as an Indian fighter to make a difference in the war and I didn't have any connections to anyone, other than one young girl who had been dragged into that sorry mess who I tried to protect as best I could."
Neither Kathleen nor her husband noticed Sarah catch her breath at that, and turn her face into Chuck's chest to cry quietly, but the others did.
"A short time before the war ended though, something happened that made me surrender myself to the Union forces. I'd come up against a hero, the biggest hero I'd ever seen, but when I eventually killed him, or so I thought, another took up the mantle and carried on his fight. He managed to save the day for the Union, so I'd killed this magnificent hero for nothing. At that point I realised how futile what I was doing was, and shamed by what I'd done, I surrendered to the Union."
At that point, he broke the pain filled look that he'd been sharing with Chuck since he brought up the incident where he'd almost killed him.
"I expected to be shot on sight, and I almost was, but the one who'd taken up the reins when the hero fell insisted that I be taken back to City Point to answer for what I'd done. When I was taken before the General though, he recognised me from when he'd talked to my class at West Point, and gave me a chance to tell the story of how I'd gotten there. When I him told the story, he spared me, reinstated me as a Captain in the Union Army and put me to work for the Union."
When Mei exchanged glasses again, he held onto her hand, not realising it at first, but Mei and Kathleen certainly did.
"I worked for the General until the end of the war, and at the end of the war I was discharged from the United States Army as a Brevet Colonel. The General wasn't done with me though, and I became a United States Marshal, to be sent in to clean up the government's messes, and I did that for the next five years. Then, a little over a year ago, I was called upon to be part of something much bigger, and that was how I came to be here."
Silence reigned when he finished, broken only by Kathleen's husband's muttering something about damned rebs and liars, but they ignored him as they were waiting for Kathleen to tell John about his daughter. As her silence stretched out, they were getting ready to leave in disappointment when she spoke.
"Johnny, we have a daughter. I didn't know that I was pregnant when I was being sent back east, but when I was captured, the women of the tribe could tell, and they made me off limits to all the braves, as babies were sacred to them. When she was born, I named her after you, her name is Alexandra Joan Coburn, Alex."
"The tribe called her White Bird, but she has always been Alex to me. The protection of the taboo against interfering with a baby or its mother was still in force when traders came and bought me from the Indians, so I wasn't touched while I was with them. When I was rescued, I tried to find you to share with you that we had a daughter, but I was told you were dead. That was what I told her when she was old enough to ask."
She waved at her husband. "I married Alan a few years after I came to live with Aunt Martha, but Alex's name stayed as it was, in memory of my dead husband, her father."
Her eyes darted to Alan as she said that, but he was oblivious to most of what was going on around him.
John was clutching Mei's hand tightly, and eventually he asked. "Can I meet her?" and Kathleen glanced at Alan again, briefly and dismissively when he started to say something.
"Yes, of course! You are her father, and she deserves a chance to meet you, and I hope have you in her life."
The mixture of happy, grateful and relieved emotions in the look he gave her brought the first smile to her face since she'd recognised him. But that changed to concern when he said
"I have a confession to make Kathleen." When he went on though, the smile came back.
"Do you remember Corporal Tucker and Corporal Powell, those two Negro boys who were in the First Dragoons up there?"
Kathleen nodded with a smile, as they'd stood out, being the only Negroes in all the companies stationed up there.
"Well, we ran into them over in California a few weeks ago, and they remembered me as Captain Coburn" (she gave him a look at the rank, he just shrugged and said that he was promoted after she'd been taken) "they told me about you and the baby being recovered. We tried looking for you then, but there wasn't much we could do from the other side of the country. Then we were engaged for a diplomatic escort back here to New York…."
Mei reacted to the memories brought up by that of what had happened to her by squeezing his hand tightly, and he bent down to gently kiss her cheek to comfort her, much as Hattie had done to him, but the difference was his gesture to May was unconscious, and he didn't realise that he'd done it. Mei and Kathleen certainly did, though.
Kathleen nodded, obviously a little upset by that kiss, and said. "You should come to the house tomorrow afternoon for tea, you can meet Alex then."
With that she held out her hand to her husband, when he didn't react, she snapped "Alan, a card!", and as he was fumbling to get a card from his pocket she asked.
"Will you be coming by yourself, or will your companions be accompanying you?"
John looked at the others and their looks said that they would support him in any way he wished, so he replied. "We will all be coming if that's no bother?"
Kathleen shook her head as she handed over the card that Alan had finally retrieved from his pocket. "Not at all. We'll see you at three, tomorrow afternoon then."
She nodded gracefully at them, saying "Ladies, gentlemen, until tomorrow then?" They all bowed or curtsied to her, as appropriate, and she responded with a curtsey, before departing with her husband in her wake.
They also left and returned to Memphis House soon after that, in two steam carriages as they'd arrived. In their carriage, Ellie leaned forward with a smile and asked Hattie. "Do you think that John has realised that he kissed Mei yet?"
Hattie shook her head with a smile as she replied. "Not a chance, that's the man he is under the Bear, sweet, caring and considerate. I'd lay money that that was who he was on the surface before his 'wife' was taken by the Indians and he was left for dead by the army."
Ellie grinned. "So you noticed that, did you?"
Hattie snorted. "Please! The only one who didn't notice was her husband, wasn't it?" looking a question at Tom and Andy. They nodded, but Tom felt compelled to say something in Kathleen's defence.
"You need to understand what the harridans of society are like Hattie, as a young widow, bravely raising her daughter on her own, she would be accepted, and even supported, but as an unwed mother, they would have torn her apart."
Hattie squeezed his hand to placate him. "Oh Tom, I do understand, I was actually part of that society as a girl, I was only laughing at her husband. And before you ask, no, I don't hold it against Kathleen, getting married so soon after she went to live with her aunt. Nor, do I believe, does Johnny. As far as she knew he was dead, and she was trying to do what was best for her daughter, their daughter. But she certainly didn't like seeing Johnny kiss Mei, though."
Ellie shook her head. "Not at all, but May didn't seem to mind in the least! I just hope that the two of them can get past their problems and make it work. I believe that they would be truly wonderful for each other."
Hattie nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, and when the time comes..." She shot an apologetic look at Tom and squeezed his arm "He is just the man to help her get past what was done to her. Johnny was a very tender and considerate lover, I can't think of any man who could be better for her after what she's been through."
Tom and Andy were looking exceedingly uncomfortable with the present discussion. Tom wasn't jealous of Hattie's (or rather Carina's) past with John, but this frank discussion about sex wasn't something that they were at all used to in mixed company.
Back at Memphis House, they all went straight to their rooms and to bed, as it had been a tiring day.
Early the next morning, Sarah and Hattie headed down to the Tolbert, Ives and Jager offices as Sam and Harry to work on the matters that had been building up while Sarah was away.
Later that day, they took the steam carriages to the Waterman residence for afternoon tea. After making the minimal effort to show the courtesy of greeting them, Alan Waterman disappeared, as he'd had enough of being ignored the night before and his fragile ego could handle no more. For her part, Alexandra couldn't understand why she was there, meeting this group of people with her mother, but she behaved as a young lady should.
They tried, and failed, with small talk for a while, then Kathleen put her cup down, turning to Alex.
"Alex, there's no easy way to say this, this" (waving at John) "is your father, Alexander John Coburn, but he goes by John Casey now."
Alex looked from her mother to the man she had just been told was her father, and back to her mother. "But you told me he was dead Mama!"
Kathleen nodded. "Yes my sweet, I told you that because that was what I was told. I only found out otherwise last night when I saw him at the function Alan and I went to. Your father told me what happened back then, and I believe that it would be best if he told you the story himself."
She looked at John. "Johnny, please remember that you're talking to a young lady, your thirteen year old daughter."
As she was saying this, she was trying to mask from Alex that she was pointing to her wedding rings, to remind him that they were supposed to have been married. John nodded to indicate that he'd received the message, and turned to look at Alex.
Looking at the two of them staring nervously at each other, Kathleen snorted, which turned the attention of both of them to her. She said "That should answer any questions you may have about who's daughter you are." as she pointed at their hands. They both looked down to see their fingers crossed over each other in their usual nervous gesture, then looked at the other to see them displaying an identical gesture. John chuckled and Alex giggled, and with the ice broken, John began the story, keeping Kathleen's admonitions in mind.
As it was only "family" there (with neither Alan nor any other eavesdroppers being present), John shared more details than he had the night before. Kathleen was shocked to find that Sarah was, in fact, the young girl that he'd been trying to protect in the war, that Chuck was the hero who he thought he'd killed, and that Tom was the one who took up Chuck's mantle when he fell. This all made the story much more immediate and real. Another surprise was that Miss Eleanor Helsing was in fact Colonel Barton's sister.
They had been talking for hours when they concluded the discussion, and as John knew that they would have to leave and resume their mission in California soon, he was explaining to the two of them that he could be contacted at any time via telegram or letter, all they needed to do was send them to, or drop them into, the Tolbert, Ives and Jager offices, any responses would be delivered to them.
As he was explaining how to communicate, John saw that Chuck and Sarah were having one of their silent conversations, which concluded with Sarah leaning forward to ask. "John, do you mind if I add something here?"
Having a good idea of what she was about to say, he responded with. "Not at all, please do."
She thanked him and turned to Kathleen and Alex.
"Missus Waterman, Miss Coburn, as you would be aware from the story that you have just heard, the life we lead can be a dangerous one that requires us to pay keen attention to what we are doing. I know that John would find it easier to pay proper attention to what he must do if he were not worrying about the two of you. He, my husband and I also have been in this business long enough to recognise the signs of potentially troublesome business dealings."
She looked at John before continuing and he nodded.
"I am certain that John would be a lot more comfortable, knowing that the two of you have a roof over your head and are being properly provided for. Therefore, I would like the two of you to come to the Tolbert, Ives and Jager offices tomorrow morning, so that we can put the arrangements in place to ensure that if you have a need for something, you have only to go to the law firm and you will be provided for."
Kathleen stared at her. "How could you know about that, the money problems?"
Sarah looked her straight in the eye and gave her a long stream of indicators that showed someone who was financially troubled, but desperate to put on a good show to fool creditors and investors.
While still looking her in the eye, she added. "This offer obviously does not extend to your husband or any of his business dealings, this is purely to protect you and your daughter."
Kathleen nodded quickly at that, she had married Alan Waterman in hope of providing a good home and a father for Alex, but before long it had become obvious that he'd primarily been after her fortune to cover up his losses and poor business dealings.
He'd used his rights as her husband to access the money that she'd inherited from her father, and since her Aunt had died and left that fortune to her, he had gone through just about all of that too. They mainly went to these functions now so that he could attempt to solicit investors to maintain the lifestyle to in turn convince others that he was successful, and therefore a good investment.
She had been supporting him, as that was the only way she could see to support Alex, but if John and his colleagues (or more to the point, friends) were offering to support them in this, then perhaps she could get out of this loveless marriage and raise Alex without that man's corrupting influence.
She looked at Sarah, saying. "We will be there tomorrow."
Sarah nodded, but it was obvious that Alex was a little confused about what was going on. She was a smart girl, and she'd known things weren't 'right' for a while, but everything was a little too much for her at the moment.
Sarah decided that a little levity may help, so she looked at Alex and Kathleen with a smile. "One more thing, ladies, when you come into the office tomorrow, you will probably find the two junior partners that you'll be dealing with, Harry Quinn and Samuel Walton, rather familiar, as they are very closely related to Hattie and I, but please don't say anything if anyone but us is in the room."
Kathleen looked at her wide eyed, waving a finger between her and Hattie. "Do you mean?"
Sarah nodded with a smile, with that they said their goodbyes and departed.