Excerpt from “THE IMPROBABLE JOURNEYS OF BILLY BATTLES”
(This excerpt comes from Chapter Two. After meeting the widowed Baroness Katharina von Schreiber during dinner a few nights before at the captain’s table aboard the S S China, Billy is pretty sure this is a woman that has no interest in him and he is convinced that because of her caustic comments during dinner, that he has no interest in her either. As he settles in his cabin for the night, there is a knock at his door. When he opens the door, there stands the Baroness. She asks if he would join her outside on the deck and Billy, being polite, agrees. Then the story unfolds…)
We stood at the ship’s railing in awkward silence for a few moments. I was waiting for Katharina to explain why she wanted to talk to me, but she seemed content to stare out at the glabrous black sea. I resolved not to disrupt whatever reverie had seized her and remained mute. The only sounds were the dull vibrating hum of the ship’s engines and the soft splash of water against the hull as the ship sliced through the ocean. It was about nine thirty, and a full moon irradiated the water with shimmering threadlike streaks of pale light.
I found myself stealing quick but meticulous glances at Katharina’s profile silhouetted against the dim running lights of the ship. She stood about five feet ten inches tall, maybe four inches shorter than I was. Her beauty was breathtaking. She seemed perfect in almost every physical feature. Still, it was her personality, her caustic behavior that detracted from that stunning physical beauty. Until I met Katharina Schreiber, I was sure my late Mallie was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Of course, Mallie was also beautiful inside where it actually counted. I wasn’t so sure about the widow Schreiber.
I was still debating that issue when Katharina at last broke the silence.
“Mr. Battles, I need your help.”
I was not expecting that. “My help?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice quavering. Then she continued. Her words were barely above a whisper. “I don’t want to sound overly histrionic, but it really is a matter of life and death . . . and Deputy Captain Partington informed me that you are a deputy U.S. marshal.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch . . . I haven’t worn any kind of badge for years, and even then, I am not sure how legitimate it was.”
“But Mr. Partington said you showed him and Captain Kreitz your badge.”
I began to explain why I had shown them my U.S. marshal’s badge, but Katharina interjected before I got very far.
“Of course, if you aren’t willing to help me, then I shall bid you good evening.”
I wondered if she was joking or being facetious about her problem being life or death. After all, I had experienced the widow Schreiber’s razor-sharp cleverness at the dinner table. When I turned to look at her, however, I was met with a face that was obviously distraught. Her lips and chin were trembling, her bright green eyes were damp and glistened brightly in the pale light, and her knuckles were clutching the railing so tightly that they were turning white.
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