Merciful Vices

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Chapter 11

Heather,

My notebook is running out of pages, more importantly, I fear, I am running out of words. Which is a very strange feeling for me.

Charlotte.

************************************************

By six in the morning, Tara had the Cabarro household up and moving. Charlotte and Tino sat at the table drinking coffee and trying to shake their exhaustion.

“We all had a long night.” Tara appeared beside them dressed in trousers instead of her usual dresses, “But I need you both to come with me. We’re going to find those bastards. They must be in the swamps. I want them dead before Daddy returns this afternoon.”

Tino nodded and left the table to get ready for the day.

“I don’t know about this, Tara.” Charlotte said, “We have no idea what we could be walking into.”

“He said he knew you. You have an idea of their numbers, no?”

Charlotte flushed, Tara had overheard him after all.

“Uh. twelve, maybe fifteen. Mostly just youngsters, a few adults.”

“We can handle that.”

Charlotte nodded and went to change. When she came back down Tara had laid out a gun belt for her, she strapped it on and followed the sound of voices to the stables. Tino and Tara stood talking while two stablehands saddled up their horses. They had once again saddled up Mr. Cabarro’s horse, Guerra, for Charlotte. She settled her rifle and shotgun into the saddle and hopped up. Whatever bad feeling she had about this she had to shake it and focus.

“People have been complaining about these guys for a while around town. I think I have an idea of where we’re headed. Follow me.” He spurred his big shire and the three of them rode into the foggy city. New Orleans passed them by as they made their way into the slums and out towards the swamps.

Charlotte’s heart panged painfully as she passed her little blue house. At least it looked to be untouched. She made a mental note to stop in and check on everything after all this. Soon she’d be free of the lying and deception. She’d be working for Kane and things would be marginally more normal.

Tino didn’t say much and Tara seemed to be in a world of her own, determined. Charlotte considered what the difference might be between a leader, like Kane, who revels in this. And Tara who takes it on begrudgingly. Which was more dangerous?

The heat of the swamp dampened their clothes and mosquitoes buzzed in their ears. They rode for what must have been about an hour but time was always strange in the swamps.

“Stop.” Tara yelled from the front. Tino stopped beside her.

“What is it, Miss Cabarro?”

She pointed into a grove of thick trees, Charlotte followed her gaze and gasped when she saw it. Mr. Cabarro’s carriage sat disguised in the treeline. Tino unholstered his revolver and jumped down from his horse. Charlotte and Tara followed suit.

Charlotte directed Tino to one door and opened the other herself, but the carriage was empty. The horses seemed calm and unbothered.

“There’s no sign of a struggle, Miss Cabarro,” Tino said quickly.

“Did he tell you who he was meeting with?” She asked Tino.

“He didn’t tell me, but his men mentioned something about a lucrative business deal. That’s all I got.”

Tara muttered to herself in Italian and turned to Charlotte, “What now?”

Charlotte looked around the carriage for any signs that would help them. Eventually, she found horse tracks, almost lost in the sticky mud.

“Looks like three horses. Let’s follow them as far as we can.”

They saddled up and worked their way through the mud. It was a tedious, dangerous task. Alligators and snakes spooked the horses repeatedly and it became harder and harder to keep them in hand.

Finally, they saw smoke in the distance. They made they’re way over and found themselves at the edge of a small village. Peppered with dilapidated huts and sheds. There were at least six horses hitched up and two large wagons.

“He’s here somewhere,” Tara whispered. They hitched their own horses out of sight and moved closer.

“We can move along the edges. Peer in windows, get an idea of where he is, and how many people are here.” Charlotte replied and Tino nodded in agreement.

“That’s not how we do things.”

Tara stood from their hiding spot and walked straight into the middle of the dwellings. Men shuffled in the shadows looking at the bold newcomer. Charlotte noticed women too. With guns, a lot of guns. She nudged Tino and they followed to stand at Tara’s side.

“I know Giovanni Cabarro is here. You could tell me where and I’ll be on my way or I could start killing you one at a time until someone speaks.”

The crowd shuffled anxiously. People cocked revolvers and loaded barrels while muttering. Tara stared them down unflinching. Eventually, a man stepped forward, he was well dressed considering his surroundings.

“Miss Cabarro. The resemblance is uncanny. I assume you found his carriage. I assure you it was left willingly. He has a meeting with my boss and that fancy carriage was not going to make it out here. We picked him up. He’s in there.” The man tilted his head to one of the nicer buildings. “The meeting is still in progress but I can check if they’d like you to join.”

“Fine.” Was all Tara said.

The man walked back and stuck his head in the door of the building in question. He spoke quietly for a few seconds and then returned.

“Please come inside,” He gestured to the door, “Your friends too.”

The three of them followed him into a large open room. Mr. Cabarro sat, relaxed, at a large dining table. One of his men on each side. Other people filled the room with chatter. At the head of the table sat a woman. A black velvet hat hid her face from Charlotte’s view but she’d know that hair anywhere. That posture.

“Tara. Darling. I’m glad you stumbled across us. I should have had you in on this meeting from the start. I’ve been discussing the possibility of getting in on this moonshine business going on around here.” The word moonshine sat strangely in his mouth. “See there’s talk of the government taking liquor away from the fine people of this land. So, Miss Shepherd here has been making damn sure everyone still has access. I think with our financial assistance we could really-”

He was still talking but for Charlotte, the room was starting to spin and black spots clouded her vision. Tino noticed her swaying and cleared his throat, “I apologize for interrupting it seems the heat has gotten the better of Miss Russo. We’re just going to head outside for a breath of fresh air.”

The woman at the head of the table looked up from her notes, concerned.

“Oh no, the swamp has that effect-” Her eyes met Charlotte’s and shock flashed there, only for a split second. “There are fresh barrels of water just to the left of this building. Let Miss Russo splash her face.”

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