“Hey, Cooke!”

Braxton was in the courtyard below, and rushed up the steps when she saw Cooke emerge.

“You’re dressed in…well…a dress!” said Cooke, surprised.

“Yeah, I don’t like it either,” Braxton said. “I’m used to having pockets. But it’s all these missionaries have in my size.”

“How’s everyone doing?” said Cooke.

“Well, you look like hell and damnation, but that’s about normal so I think we can put that in the plus column,” Braxton laughed. Then, growing serious: “We lost seven men in that fight, Cooke. Foote didn’t make it.”

Cooke bowed his head. “I had an inkling,” he said. “Did you at least do him the courtesy of planting him in some good ground?”

“Look for yourself, over in the mission cemetery. Ordinarily they don’t allow Protestants in there, but I think the head of this place made an exception for us, on account of us bringing Mercedes back.”

Nodding, Cooke continued: “Who else did we lose?”

“I can field that.” Doctor De Groot called out from the entrance of a room that he’d been occupying. He started walking toward Cooke as he named the crew off. “LeFleur, chopped in half by a cannonball. Grimm, splinter through the eye from a broadside. Stanley, overboard and drowned. Van Hoorn, same but in pieces thanks to that Spanish artillery. Brix, disarmed by ball and shot and bled out on the deck. And I’m not sure what happened to Freeman, but I found parts of him that he certainly couldn’t live without.”

Cooke rubbed his brow. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “You…saw that they were planted somewhere nice as well?”

“Aside from the ones lost at sea, yes,” De Groot said. “I can’t say that I’m sorry to see any of them go, Mister Cooke, but I want you to know I did the best to save them that any man kidnapped and impressed against his will and the will of the Almighty could.”

He retreated into his room and slammed the door at this.

“That man does know how to bring things down, doesn’t he?” muttered Braxton.

“Still, I’m grateful for his efforts,” Cooke said quietly. “How are the others?”

“Mister Hume is in the hospice wing, with Mister Mott,” Braxton said. “Mott’s consumption has taken a turn, I think, and Hume hasn’t left his side.”

“I wish De Goot hadn’t made himself scarce, I would have liked to ask about that,” Cooke said.

“Come on,” said Braxton. “You can ask Father Vega all about it.”

The priest’s quarters were adjacent to the church, and the entrance was flanked by a pair of rather burly laymen who had the feel of guards. They grunted Cooke and Braxton in.

“Mister Ebenezer Cooke, I am so delighted that you have recovered.” Father Vega was an older man, greying at the temples, but with a strong frame and a piercing stare.

Braxton looked over. “Ebenezer?” she said, incredulous and half-giggling.

Cooke blanched. “Please don’t call me that, Father. I go by Cooke if I must go by anything, and Ben Cooke if you must have a Christian name to go with it.”

“My apologies,” Father Vega said. “I meant no offense.”

“No, I assure you, it is a delight,” laughed Braxton. “What a trendy name your parents gave you, fit for a New York fop! No wonder you go by Ben.”

“Might I remind you,” Cooke said icily, “that you are in no position to judge when it comes to false names, Lydia Braxton.”

“Oh, oh, I’m sorry,” Braxton said. “I was unaware that Ebenezer was a lady’s name. I suppose I should find you a petticoat to complete the disguise!”

“My Scots ancestors called them kilts, and I would wear them every bit as well as you wear men’s breeches,” Cooke replied.

“And I would counter that I wear men’s breeches a damn sight better than most men,” Braxton said. “Less baggage out front means more room for pistols.”

Throughout the exchange, Father Vega looked more and more uncomfortable. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Miss Braxton,” he said. “Would you excuse us? I believe Mercedes is in the chapel in prayer, would you see to her for me?”

“I’m not sure I’m the right one for that job,” Braxton said. “Me and the Almighty have agreed to see other people.”

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