Chapter Fifteen – Precarious Situation
Corinne slumped backwards onto the bed and covered her hands over her face, blocking out the little amount of light of the inn. A sigh stole the tension of her muscles; her body sank further into the lumpy bed as she fell into the submission of her fatigue. Henry found a chair and was nearly asleep.
The taschenuhr had taken them back to Zeitstadt, to the evening when they first traveled through time. Corinne thought it was a ploy of the pocket watch itself, but Henry tried to explain that Dr. Clearwater helped them plot where the watch would take them. They had used a device called Google to determine the location of Zeitstadt with numbers and degrees and the veterinarian had assisted in deciphering the time on the watch dials.
"How did you know where Harlan and I landed?" Corinne had asked.
Henry shooed them all inside the inn and brandished keys. Corinne had forgotten--the last time they were here, they had rented rooms, hadn't they? With the few coins he had left, he acquired a key for a room for Freja and then sent the rest of the group off to bed. Even Elsworth was eager to tucker in to a bed, no matter that it was to nestle in beside Doctor Hoskins. Corinne broke away, intending to room with Freja, but Henry held her back.
"I thought you wanted to talk," he said.
Corinne watched Freja's retreating back. "We shouldn't talk in the pub, Henry. Don't you find that a little risky?"
"I was intending to speak in my room."
"Oh," she muttered.
Ascending upstairs to the room in front of Henry, Corinne's stomach began to churn. Harper was so close, somewhere in this old inn. What if he took a stroll down the hall and met them on the stairs? What would he think if he saw his wife dressed like she was, climbing up the stairs of an inn with another man? It couldn't be explained and even if Corinne's intentions were innocent, Harper would never see it that way. What if she ruined her whole marriage in these few moments? The pirate's warm hand on her back was intended to be comforting, but it only made her shudder to think of what Harper would think. The truth, a voice muttered in her head.
Corinne ducked into the room and hid in the shadows until Henry locked the door.
"I don't think you need to worry," said Henry, making a beeline for the chair. "I don't think anyone will suspect you are who you are--you look ridiculous. I never would have thought Mrs. Corinne Elsworth would ever don such absurd garments and cover herself in filth." He smiled. "You should see your hair."
Corinne's eyes widened and whipped her head about, searching for a mirror. Henry laughed.
"Don't worry," he said. He held out his hand, gesturing for her to come to him, but she didn't. She sank onto the bed and covered her face.
They were silent for a bit. Corinne faded in and out of sleep, unsure if she should fall into the darkness. But the fatigue was too overwhelming to succumb to; she was too sleepy to sleep. She opened her dry, restless eyes.
"What happened after we left?" she whispered.
Henry remained silent. She thought maybe he hadn't heard her so she repeated the question. Still, he was quiet. When she considered that he wasn't going to answer, he did.
"They took me," he said finally. "No one was left in the village after they took me. They wanted the island as their base; good location, remote. So they stole it from me and my village. I remember they said it was sacrilege that a white boy was caught in the hands of a negro camp so they spared me and said that they would teach me what was right and what was wrong. I don't remember much other than Manon or James bleeding on the ground or screaming at them to let me go."
"Were they pirates?"
Corinne frowned. But not pirates like Henry.
"Did you escape?" she asked.
"What would have been the point?" Henry asked. "I would have been alone on an island for the rest of my life. No, I went with them."
"Do you remember me?"
"That is what makes everything a little interesting," he said. "I'm beginning to remember. I'm beginning to remember leading you through the cave and I remember Elsworth. It was strange, though. As soon as Elsworth kidnapped you and you two disappeared, the memory was suddenly there in my mind. I knew then where to find you."
Corinne sat up, frowning. "But I thought what happens when we travel doesn't change anything."
"That was my theory too," said Henry, rubbing his eyes. "I've reassessed it, however. Perhaps the timeline is like water: if you wade through it, you'll disrupt it, but eventually it all comes back together. It doesn't matter what we do in the past because fate will reshape the way it is supposed to. It doesn't become completely unchanged, or I wouldn't have these new old memories, clearly."
"Clearly," Corinne repeated quietly. "Even if you did know where we were, how did you decipher the exact location? How could you pinpoint us so accurately?"
Henry tugged a ghostly white leaf of paper; Corinne scrutinized the perfectly printed black type that spelled out several locations with their latitudes and...longitudes? What were longitudes? She frowned, still confused.
"I don't understand what you're showing me," she said.
"The veterinarian helped us. She brought up a map on this glowing machine and helped me find my island. We apparently Googled it, but I haven't the faintest idea what that means. Whatever it was, it gave us the coordinates to the island and I supplied the time and date. We also went ahead and recorded the location of this town and then Port-au-Prince. Lorraine insisted the watch was some sort of, I don't know, GPS. Don't know what that stands for, probably some modern thing."
"All right..." she trailed. "But why did Harlan and I end up in your island?"
Henry shrugged. "I think I was the last one to hold it. I was fiddling with the dials and maybe it was interested in my childhood."
"You're making it human again."
"It has a mind of its own," he agreed, ignoring the fact that Corinne meant to be negative. "What did Florian say? He said to trust the taschenuhr, didn't he? If he has reason to believe it has human qualities, then why not? It's not like you believe in God."
Corinne sighed. "I don't know. It just doesn't seem like it should have human emotions."
"Not emotions. I don't think it can feel, but it can think."
"And what makes it do that?"
"It may be like Dr. Lorraine's computer. Somehow the thing just knew to search for the map I wanted. She projected a question onto it and it answered."
Corinne did not entirely believe it but she was too fatigued to question. Later she would be a whirlwind of questions, but now it could wait. She had one last question before she forgot, however.
"Are you glad you grew up?" she mumbled.
Henry grinned. "I never did."
And she believed him.
"Wake up, Mrs. Elsworth."
Corinne opened a groggy eye and swatted at the hand on her shoulder.
"Five more minutes," she grumbled.
"Nope!" said Henry, throwing back the blanket. Corinne shivered and clawed for the lost warmth. "I've already found your husband, pretended he dropped the watch and returned it."
Then Corinne bolted upright. "But the other watch is broken! We can't leave!" She'd forgotten--she'd forgotten they were stuck in this foreign time with a broken time device and they were never going home. She scrambled out of bed and darted for the door, intent on finding her husband and stealing back the watch. Henry caught her before she could yank the door open.
"I gave it to Luc Maxence to fix," he explained.
Henry nodded sheepishly. "Yeah, it was probably an awful idea, but if anyone knows anything about fixing a broken taschenuhr, I thought it might be him. He said he'd work on it. Took him a while to realize who I was but once he saw Freja, he said he would try to fix it. Oh, and speaking of Freja, I forgot to show you this." He dug into his pocket and brandished a book with a glossy cover. Corinne raised her eyebrows.
"And what is that?" she said skeptically.
"A traveler's phrase guide for Europe. There's a whole section on German. We can speak to Freja now. Granted, it's mostly things like asking where the lavatory is and how much the hotel is, but at least it's something."
Corinne flipped through the pages, watching the languages fly past: French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish. What sort of person could speak all these languages? One single person? She shook her head in disbelief. Perhaps in the future, everyone spoke at least ten languages and several different dialects of each. If they had glowing machines that could answer your questions, why not? She passed the book back to Henry who slipped in deep into his pocket.
"So where are we going now? Home?"
"Actually, no, I just came up to steal you away. I didn't want to wake you—you looked rather comfortable. The rest of the gang is down at Luc Maxence's house. I said we would meet them."
"Oh," said Corinne, moving towards the door, "I suppose we can leave then. Wouldn't want to keep them waiting on account of me."
Henry shuffled in front of her, preventing her exit to her amusement.
"What else do you need to tell me?" she said.
Henry smiled. "Aren't you interested in what happened to me?"
"I believe I have a pretty good idea."
She tried to hobble around him, sticking her arm under his to reach for the door. He grinned and pushed her back.
"What is it?"
"I have your medication," he said. He flourished the little bottle of pills; Corinne reached up and he raised it above her head.
His grin widened although he said nothing. Corinne poked his side, triggering Henry to double over and lower the pills to a reachable level; she seized them and unscrewed the top. She strolled across the side of the room. Doctor Lorraine explained to her that only two pills should be taken in a six hour period if the pain began to flare up and taught her how to swallow the pills with water. Corinne grimaced. Her side hurt a little, though not debilitating, but she didn't have any water. She sighed and slid a couple of pills out anyway. She popped them in her mouth and they stuck in her throat and she nearly gagged but managed to choke them down.
"Sounds marvelous," said Henry.
Corinne turned around into his chest. She rolled her eyes.
"A little close, aren't you?" she said. Again, she tried to move past him but he blocked her way. She sighed. "Do you mind?"
Henry poked his finger against the bone above her bosom, saying, "You're not dressed properly for strolling about town, darling."
"What do you suggest?" she said. "Did you purchase a dress for me? Do you have other clothing? Or were you intending I go about unclothed?"
Henry trailed his finger down to the hem of her shirt and without warning, tugged her forward.
He slid his fingers under the shirt and began to roll the cotton cloth up over her bandage. Corinne grabbed his hands.
"What are you doing?"
"I wouldn't mind if you went unclothed…"
Before she could pull away, he slipped the shirt over her chest, pausing, however, as the shirt stopped its ascent. He smiled.
"Could you lift your arms, love? Difficult to get this off if you don't."
Corinne rolled her eyes again, stepped away, removed the shirt herself and tossed the garment over her shoulder. Henry meant to move and thoroughly inspect, but Corinne grabbed his shirt too and yanked it up, to his astonishment.
She dropped the shirt on the floor then encircled her arms around his neck and ensnared her lips with his. His shock was not enough to detract from his response; she felt it in his kiss and his breeches. He had kissed her before, literally stealing her breath away, but she hadn't felt the warmth of his bare body, the softness of the hair on his chest as her body curled into his. His fingers curled into the small of her back, forcing her up against his abdomen. She nipped his lip.
"Don't," she whispered, "call me Mrs. Elsworth."
Henry pressed his lips to the place behind her ear; she felt his tongue flick against her flesh and then his warm murmur. "Of course not, Corinne. Corinne, Corinne, Corinne. 'Tis a beautiful name. How do you like the name Henry?"
Corinne detained his lips again. Henry reached for the sports bra and they broke apart to allow him to pull it over her head. Then he scooped her into his arms.
"Be careful," she hissed as his hand grabbed her wound.
"Oops, sorry, love," he said. He set her gently onto the bed; then he threw his leg over her body. On all fours, he admired her form when she raised her hands around his neck and pulled him in for another kiss.
They paused for a breath.
"What would Harper think?" she sighed.
Henry had glided his hands down to the waistband of her tight trousers but froze at Corinne's question. His expression turned sinister.
"Why would you bring him up?" he growled.
Corinne blinked. "Er—well, he's my husband."
"I'm aware of that. Why would you speak of him when we're about to…?"
She wringed her fingers together, shrugging and silently imploring him to continue removing her trousers.
"It was a mistake," she whispered. "I didn't mean to mention him. Please, let's just do this and—"
Apparently Henry wasn't too upset because he wrenched the trousers away. He rolled beside her and then pulled her on top off him so she could exchange the favor. With fumbling fingers, Corinne discarded his breeches.
"All right," she said softly.
A knock pounded on the door; Henry bolted upright, nearly dislodging Corinne. He shot her an apologetic look when a voice floated through the door.
"Got the watch, Quinn," said Elsworth, "you've got the coordinates. Let's go."
Corinne fell to the floor and scooped up her clothes. She'd never dressed so quickly in her life and was astounded when Henry finished his last button just as she slipped the bra over her head.
"I hate them all," Henry snarled under his breath. Corinne could practically hear his internal rage and cursing.
"Where's my shirt?" she said.
Henry had it. He threw it at her and by the time he unlocked the door, she had thrust it over her head and dropped into the chair, pretending to appear bored and nonchalant. Henry opened the door wide for the three other group members to come in.
Freja smiled broadly at Corinne and waved; Hoskins was watching the taschenuhr in his hands. Elsworth, however, darted his gaze from Henry to Corinne, suspicion soaked into his expression as he drank in the side of Henry's disheveled hair and Corinne's flushed face. Corinne's mouth grew dry.
"Er—we were just—"
Henry stepped in calmly, saying, "Mrs. Elsworth was feeling some discomfort and asked if I could redress her wound. I did so. She is embarrassed at what she believes was an intimate moment but I assure to all it was not." He fished for the startling colorless paper and upon finding it, snatched the taschenuhr from Hoskins's hand. He inspected it.
"Looks like Maxence is able to tinker properly," he murmured.
Hoskins shrugged. "He didn't really fix it. Once he started to work on it, he realized something had fallen loose and Mr. Elsworth had the missing piece. It didn't take him too long, thankfully."
Henry lowered himself to sit on the bed while he fiddled with the dials. His gaze otherwise occupied, Henry did not notice the suspicion churning with ire in Elsworth's face. Elsworth stared at the pirate, fists clenched at his sides; he shifted his eyes to Corinne. She swallowed.
The Watch liked to drop people in an unceremonious heap on the ground; it enjoyed the irritated moans of its patrons when they pulled its little pin and discovered themselves entangled with their companions. The Watch also liked to travel, often choosing to carry its users to places of their past or returning to places it remembered. But the taschenuhr grew weary; all of this traveling had been enthralling and it was a relief to see the light of day, but it wanted a rest. When the dials were turned and its winding pin pulled, the Watch did as it was told. This was the last time, it decided. Back to normal time and no more. Not for a long time.
Corinne found herself caught beneath Henry; he smiled down at her.
For a moment, she felt warm. His smile assured her that he was here, he would always be here, and she was welcome to stay too. Under the grime of their brief travels, she beamed with the beauty he must have glimpsed between the spots of dirt on her face. For a moment, she felt safe. He was by no means a safe person, but he would ensure her security even if it was only in his arms. She laughed; he kissed her filthy cheek.
And then his eyes slid shut and he was wrenched backwards.
Corinne shot to Henry's side, shaking him to wake him. When he didn't, she glared at Elsworth.
"What did you do that f--?" She froze as she saw Freja laying unconscious too on the Port-au-Prince street, Doctor Hoskins standing above her and looking uncomfortable.
"You?" she snapped. She made to leapt at the doctor, tackle him to the ground, bash his head against the dirt street, tear his eyes out--anything. Elsworth seized her hair; she howled in fury.
"No you don't," he said, too calmly. Corinne clutched his fingers, attempting to squeeze and force him to let go; he did not. Utilizing the fire he instilled on Corinne's scalp, Elsworth forced her to kneel while he delivered instructions to the doctor.
"Take Quinn's pistol and give me the Watch. Quickly."
Corinne's eyes darted around the street. Empty, save for a few inebriated sleepers who would do nothing for her. They were close to the docks, near to the Halcyon, near to someone who might be sober enough to help her. Elsworth relinquished his hold and Corinne dropped to all fours.
"That hurt," she snarled. She made to crawl over to Henry, but Elsworth rolled his eyes and grabbed her arm.
Corinne's lip curled. "Make me." Don't provoke him, you dunce!
"Listen, dear girl," said Elsworth, his fingers squeezing her arm as if it was a twig--any tighter and he might crumble the bones-- "you are in a very precarious situation. You have two rather desperate men who can easily snap your neck and toss you into the ocean, and the only one who will protect you is unconscious. You see, the good doctor and I feel that you are the sort of woman who deserves the chance to live a life of her choosing. That is why we have decided to take you with us."
"Oh, of course," she sneered. "That makes sense. Come with you! You're mad." She grimaced as Elsworth's nails delved further into her flesh.
"If you won't leave with us then you won't leave with anyone," said Elsworth.
"You would kill me?" She sounded incredulous, yet a hint of fear curled in her voice. She blinked at Doctor Hoskins who was holding the pistol uneasily. The doctor couldn't kill her, not unless incited to do so, and she also doubted Elsworth could pull the trigger himself; however, Elsworth knew how to provoke and the doctor was easily swayed. She swallowed.
"To what purpose?" she asked.
Elsworth smiled. "If I can't have you...well, that isn't very fair, is it? Besides, my brother had you for several years--I think it's my turn."
Corinne rolled her eyes. "You do not love me, Harlan."
"You're probably right. I don't care. It isn't really about love, darling. It's more about having what I deserve. I deserve a family, an inheritance, pride--all taken from me by your loving husband. And for what? What does he do with it? He can't even create a child for you! Every child he's tried to father has died; every child has been weak, just like him." Elsworth compelled Corinne to stand.
"I have the world," he continued. "I have a ship that can take me anywhere I want to go. Come with me, we'll sail and you can be free. I'll provide for you, we'll have children that will survive. You don't know what that means, do you?"
That I would be your prisoner instead of Harper's wife? she thought.
"I don't care, Harlan," she said. "Look, you may kill me now because I'm not coming with you. It will be a load off of Harper's mind not having to look after a wife and I'll be able to float along in peace."
Elsworth's face grew crimson; he snatched the pistol from the doctor, cocked the ugly thing, and aimed at the unconscious Henry. Corinne twisted out of his grasp and tried to reach for the pistol; Elsworth shoved her back into the doctor's hold. Corinne's eyes darted from Henry to Elsworth.
"You wouldn't shoot an unconscious man."
The sea breeze flowed in, whisking away the island's heat and inducing shivers down Corinne's spine. Elsworth's hand remained stiff and steady in his hand; should she refuse to comply, a bullet would lodge into Henry's defenseless form. A shudder struck as she imagined blood pooling down the street from a hole in his lolling head, pooling down to her bare feet. Elsworth raised his brow. Corinne sighed exasperatedly.
"Fine! Fine! What do you want me to do?"
There was no use, no use fighting when a pistol was trained on someone she cared for. There was no win if she refused and succeeded only in destroying her life and someone else's. She felt Doctor Hoskins's grip slacken, not release completely, and begin to lead her from Henry and Freja. Elsworth stooped to pry the taschenuhr from Henry's lifeless fingers. He inspected it carefully, eyes swallowing every corner as if he'd never seen its square design before; finally, he smiled and carried it along, swinging his arm as though he were a love struck youngster in a meadow. He caught up with Corinne and the doctor at their brisk walk.
Corinne recognized the street. How long had it been since she had bounded down this way to escape Elsworth? How long had it been since she'd contemplated sneaking off the Halcyon, right under Mr. Ackley's nose? In this time, only a few hours. But it felt like weeks, years, decades since she was sitting in her dark little cabin and cursing Captain Henry Quinn's name. What would that Corinne of yesterday think of the Corinne of today? Corinne scoffed inwardly: she would have thought it was outrageously adventurous and feel secretly jealous. She could have slapped herself; the greatest adventure to be had so many weeks ago was journeying into the hold of a pirate ship and cowering at a hissing feline. And now what? Now she had been shot, accused of witchcraft, touched a man who wasn't her husband, fasted for days, gone without sleep—it was a miracle she was alive. But I don't feel like a miracle. I feel tired and scared.
Ahead, the docks loomed. The white canvas sails of ships fluttered against the wind, waiting with their bobbing hulls for their crews to return. Which one was the Halcyon, she couldn't tell in the torchlight. For now, the only ship that mattered was Elsworth's and all that mattered about his ship was avoiding her. She dug her heels into the dirt, bare skin scraping against the jagged pebbles in attempt to slow the procession. The doctor tripped on her foot but it was not enough to escape; Hoskins recovered his hold.
"I don't understand why you would join forces with the likes of him," Corinne said. "He's a cheat and a liar, Sam. You know perfectly well."
Elsworth draped his arm over her shoulders and it was all Corinne could do not to shove him off.
"He knows what is most lucrative for him," said Elsworth. He twirled a clump of Corinne's filthy hair in his fingers; he might have thought he was charming--Corinne found him appalling.
"I want the watch," said Hoskins with more venom than Corinne believed he could muster.
Impressed, she asked, "Oh? And what would you need it for?"
What did you want it for in the first place? It certainly wasn't for returning it to her husband; it wasn't for protecting the sanctity of time. Why had he been so insistent on finding the taschenuhr, of keeping it in the vicinity of his grasp? Hoskins was not the sort of fellow to become passionate about anything, and yet here he was threatening lives in order to win it. Images of Hoskins's life rolled through Corinne's head; in her imagination, the only things in his life worth fighting for were his uneventful childhood and his doll-like wife. She frowned, recalling the miniature of his beloved.
Hoskins's wife. A woman of such beauty and youth--Corinne had never considered it, but the only time she had heard Hoskins discuss his wife was back on the Halcyon when they exchanged miniatures of their spouses. She paused in her step.
"Sam," she said.
Hoskins blinked at his name but kept his lips pressed together. Despite the pressure around her neck from Elsworth's arm, Corinne stopped and faced the doctor. His face drooped, lines etching deep into his jaded expression.
"Sam, whatever happened to your wife?"
When Hoskins looked away, Elsworth snorted. "She's been dead for years. The good doctor never told you? Funny. You've been running all over the world through time with this man and you didn't know?"
"He didn't tell me," snapped Corinne.
"Why do you think he wants the watch?" said Elsworth. "So he could drift through time and learn about the world?" He snorted again. He gripped her shoulder and suddenly, they were on the move towards the docks. Corinne looked over her shoulder at Hoskins whose step had faltered. She swallowed. If she could pit the doctor against Elsworth, she had a chance. Elsworth was a formidable figure but not enough to defend against Corinne and Hoskins together.
"I don't know," she said. "Why?" The reason, naturally, was there before her face and she could see it clearly; however, asking stupid questions slowed Elsworth's step, she'd noticed.
"Don't be an idiot," said Elsworth. "The doctor and I came to an agreement that if I assisted in retrieving the watch for him and then he would help me retrieve you."
Corinne gritted her teeth and tried not to glare at the doctor. "Does that mean Doctor Hoskins--"
"Was always on my side? No. We discussed this in front of Freja when you and Quinn were sharing a moment alone. It was quite foolish of Quinn to have left us alone together, the great pirate he is. Much too trusting."
"He doesn't trust you a bit."
"No," admitted Elsworth, "but he trusts everyone else."
Corinne glanced at the doctor again. "He has no reason to believe you either. You haven't given him the taschenuhr yet. How does he know you willgive it to him?"
"He doesn't, the same way I don't know if he will try to set you free. But I warn the both of you--" he raised the pocket watch "--should either of you try anything, I will pull the pin on this thing and send us all on another adventure."
Corinne believed him. He had threatened her life and she could not envision him following through with such a threat, but pulling the taschenuhr pin was definitely something he would do. She gave a shudder, considering another 'adventure' with Elsworth and Hoskins, no Captain Quinn and no Freja to save her from danger.
"You know, Sam, you can't change the past," said Corinne. "You can try and things might be a little different, but Fate will bring everything back to the way it's supposed to be. You can't bring back people who are dead--ouch!"
Elsworth squeezed her arm too tightly; his nails drew blood and she stumbled.
"What, do you think it's anything different, Harlan? You know it's true otherwise you would still be running around with the watch and trying to change everything." She planted her feet firmly and faced the doctor. "Sam, why do you think he's still here? He wanted the watch the whole time to change his life, but his life hasn't changed at all! It's the same miserable thing it was before we left. But he's not trying to travel anymore, is he? It means his ruddy plan didn't work and he knows it can never work. It won't work for you either!"
"Shut up," Elsworth snarled.
The doctor was impassive; his attention was drawn off to the dark horizon and apparently drifting in a state where reason mattered not. It was a determined, but confused expression. His eyebrows knitted together and deep lines of misplaced resolution carved into his skin; Corinne had seen that look before. It reminded her of Elsworth back in that meadow of the future, back when he was convinced of something though deep down knew couldn't be true.
Corinne froze as her foot hit the dock--she hadn't noticed how close they had traveled to the sea. Elsworth jerked on her arm, but she remained stationary. If she went further, it was further away from Henry and closer to a life of imprisonment on Elsworth's ship, a life with a man deficient of empathy and a touch insane. If she walked across the dock to his ship, to his cabin, it was the end. No more Henry, no more Freja, no more Harper, no more freedom. She would spend the rest of her days aboard a ship, sitting in the darkness and acting as Elsworth's slave. And how long would that last? Soon he would grow bored, bored of the same woman day after day. How long would it take for Elsworth to grow weary of her? To toss her off the side of the ship? Find a replacement?
"I will pull this pin," warned Elsworth, showing her the watch.
Corinne swallowed. She allowed him to lead her onto the dock, but they had creaked over only a few wooden planks when her foot caught a nail and she tumbled forward, ripping out of Elsworth's grasp. She slammed to the dock and rolled to her back quickly. Elsworth stood above her, face stony and clearly not gullible enough to believe the fall was genuine.
"Get up," he said.
Corinne looked at Hoskins; the doctor looked at the water. Then she glared at Elsworth.
Elsworth took the winding pin of the taschenuhr between his fingers and leaned forward to shove it in Corinne's face. He, however, did not expect Corinne to show any kind of stupid bravery. He did not expect Corinne to seize his leg, wrench his feet out from under him and send him backwards onto his spine. Perhaps it was shock, but he forgot to pull the winding pin; Corinne stepped on the wrist of the hand that bore the watch and she tore it from his fingers.
Both Elsworth and Hoskins watched Corinne in a stunned silence; their pounding heartbeats counted the seconds while she backed up from them slowly. Elsworth's breath was ragged and Hoskins's body was rigid. The two of them stared at her as if she was liable to make a jump off the dock with the pocket watch.
Corinne bit her lip and looked at the watch in her hand. She tried to remember the last time she had held it, smoothed her thumb over the inscription of Taschenuhr, wondered over the purpose of such an instrument. It was the cause of so much trouble--it stabbed her in the side, carried its bearers wherever it wanted without consideration to what was appropriate, threatened their lives... Honestly, Corinne didn't even believe it was an attractive piece of hardware. Yet here were two men who would kill to possess it. What would Gottlob Glöckner think of his wondrous creation that he had intended to keep discreet, abused by people who couldn't contemplate the consequences of time? What would Florian think? Luc Maxence? What would they do with it? They would prefer to see the device gone rather than in the hands of someone who hadn't any idea how to use it.
The next few seconds were foggy to Corinne. She remembered sprinting down the dock. She remembered raising her arm and pulling back until she launched the taschenuhr like a cannon, far into the sea. Lessons of throwing rocks into the stream back home flooded back to her as she hurled the time device away, away from the hands that would abuse it and away from those who knew nothing about it. It took years to tumble into the waves, creating hardly a splash into a wave--not even a satisfying plop was heard. She stared off at the water, heart palpitating, waiting for the pocket watch to ascend to Heaven.
Suddenly, she felt something ram into her side and shove her across the dock. She stumbled as a blur darted past and created a loud splash in the sea. Corinne slid to the edge, stared at the disturbed waves and found Doctor Samuel Hoskins swimming out madly. She screamed at him to come back, that what he was doing was futile, but he either did not hear her or chose not to listen. She didn't know what to do--the doctor was swimming lopsided as if he had never learned to stroke. If he continued to journey out into the water like so, he would soon grow weary and be unable to swim back.
"Come back! Sam--come back!"
She heard a scuff behind; she whirled just in time for Elsworth to tackle her to the deck. His body covered hers as he fought to control her writhing arms, legs, anything he could hold onto. But Corinne refused to stay still. This man was the cause of her grief, her troubles, the pain in her side. He was the one who threatened her life, who threatened the lives of her friends. She punched every part of him her fists could find; he grunted with each blow until one of his hands pinched her arrow wound. Corinne howled and tried to shove him off, but he was too heavy and her arms too weak.
"Harlan—what is your purpose—?"
Elsworth's fingers constricted around her throat, a manic grin stretching across his face. His features were still bloodied though the blood had long dried into a dark crust. A terrifying sight, though Corinne was through with fright. She was through with terror; she could stand no longer men consuming her power, expressing superiority through physical strength. Elsworth was nothing, nothing against her without his muscle—he was her husband's shamed brother. That was all. His grip tightened; any tighter and the breath would disappear, she would choke, the world would end. No more pleading with her wide eyes or begging in her quiet, pitiful voice. No more running or crying or screaming for mercy. He was nothing. He deserved nothing other than death.
Her knee jerked into Elsworth's gut. He grunted, lurched backwards, and clutched his stomach. Before Elsworth could recover and leap back onto her, Corinne bounded into him, hands around his throat. Her thumbs knew instinctively where the breath travelled through his throat; she squeezed, watching his panicked eyes as she wrung the breath from his body. His legs kicked but it was to no avail. She was too far to stop. She was too far to go back. His breath was almost gone, blocked by her fingers and the fury he had instilled in her.
And then, he fell still.
Corinne unclenched her hands. Elsworth was staring, but it was a cold gaze, unseeing.
"Harlan?" she whispered. She blinked, wondering if time had frozen. "Harlan?"
He remained silent.
A sickening feeling churned in her stomach.
"Harlan, please, I didn't mean—"
She expected him to move his eyes and turn his lips up into that mocking grin before he tackled her again. Expressionless and motionless, he did nothing. She scuttled backwards, eyes never leaving his body. No more breath. No more laughter. The rushing waves could not overpower the hammering of her heartbeat.
"Harlan, I am so sorry. Please, just let me explain."
He said nothing but he was not listening. Corinne turned to the sea, peering out for Doctor Hoskins in the water. He did not appear. If she could call to him, he would come—he could save Elsworth. He could undo her mistake. Corinne knew the doctor wasn't a miracle man but he could do something, more than she.
But Hoskins did not reappear.
Corinne shook Elsworth by the lapel. She implored him to wake up, to tell her that her attempted murder had failed and that she was a failure.
Elsworth's head collided with the dock and lolled.
She knew he was dead. She knew it was her fault. But what was she supposed to do now?
Corinne stood on shaking legs, avoiding Elsworth's lifeless gaze. She skirted around him and clutching her agonized side, she staggered from plank to plank on the dock, away from the body. Away, away. What would they do? What would someone do if they found a dead body on the dock and a woman scampering away from it? What would anyone believe?
A figure stepped onto the dock.
Corinne froze. She glanced at the body and back to the newcomer. A new debate: let the man catch her and try her for murder or jump into the sea? She eyed the black waves where Hoskins must have rested below. Drowning shouldn't be too bad. It was better than hanging from a noose before the entire town. She inched sideways.
"Elsworth?" Corinne recognized the voice. It felt like millions of years ago she had heard it last, but it stopped her breath.
She nearly fainted with relief. "Mr. Argyris?"
The pirate rushed forward before Corinne lost her footing. Before Argyris could notice her clothing or the body beyond, Corinne threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shirt. His muscular hands tightened around her shoulders; he held her tightly against his chest as he murmured quietly of things she didn't quite understand. He couldn't have appreciated completely what had occurred or comprehended what she had done, but he knew not to ask.
"Do ye want to go back to yer cabin?"
Corinne pulled away, shaking her head. She stared up into his soft eyes.
"Do ye want to find Henry an' stay the night wit' him?"
She shook her head again.
Argyris sighed. "I don't know what's gone on, but ye got to tell me what ye want to do, darlin'. I can't read yer peculiar little mind."
Corinne swallowed, fearful she would be unable to speak. She opened her mouth, no sound emerged. She breathed and tried again.
"I want to go home," she whispered. "Take me to my husband, Mr. Argyris. I want to go home."
Argyris looked about as if searching for eavesdroppers. Once satisfied, he leaned in.
"I don' think I can do that. Quinn'd be after my hide for stealin' ye away from him. Besides, why d'ye want to get back to yer husband so quickly? Don't be foolin' yerself. We all know ye're smitten wit' the good ole captain, even if ye won't admit it. Stay wit' him, won't ye?"
Corinne closed her eyes to block off tears.
"Mr. Argyris, you don't understand. Please, I'm begging you, take me home."
Argyris frowned. "What'd Quinn do?"
Corinne shook her head. "It wasn't him. I promise it wasn't him. It's something I've done—"
"Ye didn't kill the captain, did ye?"
"Not him! Certainly not him!" she insisted. She buried her face in his shirt again, mumbling, "I just want to go home."
"All right, all right," he said, his hands on her shoulders. He pushed her away so he could see her bleary red eyes. He smiled. "I like ye more than I like him, darlin'. But ye gotta know—Henry's a fighter. If he finds out ye escaped with my help, he'll not only steal ye back: he'll slit me throat and carve his initials into me."
Corinne blinked. "You—you'll help me?"
Argyris winked. "I can't resist me a damsel in distress, especially one so beautiful."
It was a strange moment. Corinne let out a laugh mixed with tears and a sob in her throat. A dead body lay only meters away; a doctor was floating somewhere out in the bay; the man she loved and an innocent young woman were unconscious on the streets—and yet she still found the ability to laugh. She shook her head and interlaced her fingers with Argyris's.
"Take me home, Mr. Argyris."
He kissed her cheek. "As you wish."