Just Fletcher was a man who threw a long shadow. Born Boy Fletcher, property of Joseph Fletcher, esquire of Wyatt, South Carolina, Just had been a free man for most of his fifty years. Being a free black man in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not offer a great deal of opportunity for social advancement, so Just had perfected the art of operating from the shadows.
It is not possible for a black man of soaring height and bulwarked shoulders to escape notice, but Just moved so silently and spoke so seldom that white folks were prone to dismissing him on sight, a propensity that Just exploited to slip onto the ship unseen.
Rita’s message had been urgent, and she had marked the envelope with the sigil of his old master, a code used only in the most dire of emergencies. Although she had not expressly said to come silently, Just felt it was better that no one know of his return to the ship until he had assessed the landscape.
He slipped along the promenade with footfalls a soft as cotton, passing several couples engrossed in amorous ambles and a group of younger gentlemen smoking cigarillos and chivvying each other; working up the courage to enter the salon and talk to the girls.
The dockside lanterns lent a golden glow to the night, and Rita had kept the ship’s gaslight turned low to take advantage of the ambience. Just slipped into the aft passageway and took the stairs to the captain’s cabin in three long strides. He scanned the hall for intruders out of long habit, and noting that all was as it should be, he slid his key into the lock and turned the handle on the burnished maple wood door that stood between his old life as Connor Graves’ friend, and the new one as his avenger.***
Shadows were a comfort, a refuge, and a tool. All three of which would be desperately needed now that his friend and employer Connor Graves was dead. Although Just burned with desire to find the murderer and repay villainy with suffering, his personal vengeance must wait.
The villains must know that Lady Katherine stood to inherit the Palace, and if they were willing to ignore social standing and royal friends in order to kill Connor, they were not likely to balk at taking out a slip of a girl in sixth form at boarding school. Just had to get to the school before anyone else could find the girl; Kitten must stay safe at all costs.
The Glasgow docks were teeming as usual. A unique blend of scabbies, merchants, rope monkeys, naval officers, and urchins moved in all directions. Voices floated above the crowd; boarding calls, price haggling, insults and greetings dancing on eddies of fortune seekers and bottom feeders. In the whirls of color and motion, no one looked to the shadows and the silent giant who slipped past the commotion and was lost in the night.