Capital Sam is in his quarters at the bottom of the ocean, stretched out on his fainting couch, starting the first pipe of the day. His room is easily the most cluttered in Feddema HQ, piled high with books, maps, swords and pistols, antique jewelry, a gigantic mirror in a black rococo frame, erotic lithographs taking up most of the south wall, mounted animal heads taking up most of the north, fragments of harps or lutes, a birdcage, a bamboo opium pipe, a sextant, an astrolabe, an armillary sphere, a fucking orrery, &c.
When the wall intercom buzzes, it takes him a few moments to navigate the clutter. He presses the button and says: “Ahoy.”
“Sam,” Margaret Feddema says, her voice crackling with distortion. “I assume you’re familiar with the White Clinic.”
“I am familiar with every brothel in the region,” Sam says, “though I assure you I have never paid coin for a lady’s company.”
“Is that so,” Margaret says. “Your file says otherwise.”
“Mm. I may or may not have someone on the payroll whose full-time job is documenting the activities of my little family here. I think your file is the largest.”
“You make me blush.”
“Some evenings I like to unwind with a glass of wine and a writeup of one of your whoring binges.”
“When my time comes, I trust you will pass those along to my heirs,” Sam says. “It will fill their eyes with tears of pride.”
“Maybe you’ll run into a couple of them when you head over to the Clinic today.”
The Estuary Branch
The White Clinic is Fort Hook’s preeminent bordello, with six convenient locations around the city, and one — a galleon called the Spire of Ice — out in international waters, for extra leniency. When Madame Sunshower, the proprietor, launched the franchise twenty years back, she coined the term hygiene courtesan as a way to differentiate her workforce from the competition. Today, the only serious competition is from freelancers and The Depth Charge, which caters exclusively to the squalid and destitute.
Capital Sam, nattily dressed in an embroidered waistcoat and sevenfold tie, arrives at the estuary location. He greets the receptionist with a wink and parts the curtains of Sunshower’s lush offices.
“Sam,” Sunshower says. “Our little corsair.”
“Madame,” he says, bowing his head at the perfect angle, showing respect but not sarcastic respect. “As always, you are a delight to behold.”
“Likewise,” she sighs. “Sam, I’m transitioning one of my workers to the Spire. I need you to make sure he gets there.”
“Are you expecting him to be harmed?” Capital Sam asks. “It is but a ten minute walk to the docks.”
“She’s at sea,” Sunshower says, rifling through some papers on her desk and unrolling a city map. “You’ll be going by boat.”
“The finest way to travel, you ask me.”
“Not this boat. It might be able to accommodate the two of you.” She points a long, architected fingernail at the map. “It’s waiting for you in the Camphouse caves, here. Take it northwest and meet up with the Spire, here. Keep your distance from the shore.”
“Surely there’s not a poacher sniffing around,” Sam says. “I heard you cleared them out ages ago.”
Sunshower rolls up the map. “This one’s not a hundred percent committed,” she says. “He says otherwise, but I seen the look plenty of times in these youngsters.”
“I am familiar with a number of useful knots,” Sam says. “Have you considered trussing him up for his own safety?”
“A charming solution, but I need him on that ship because he wants to be there. But here’s the thing. If he has a change of heart at the last minute, I don’t want him running off.”
“If he jumps ship, should I reel him back in?”
Sunshower straightens the blotter on her desk. “He’s got leverage, Sam,” she says. “I can’t have him out in the world, knowing what he knows. That’s why I want him on the Spire, at least till things are square. So. He’s got two choices. He gets on that ship, or he goes under and stays there. Understand?”
Sam hesitates, then says: “I feel there are other options you may not have considered.”
Sunshower says: “You were sweet to me once, so I won’t press this button here that summons a man to take you downstairs and rape you to death.”
Sam gets up, straightens his vest. “My apologies, Madame,” he says. “I did not think before speaking.”
The Operating Theatre
Capital Sam unmoors the shoddy little boat, jumps in, rows them out of the cavern and into the chop. His stroke is strong and true, as he tells the ladies. The sky hangs low, and he gives it twenty-five minutes till the rain comes. He has no intention of being caught out in it.
Sam gives the kid the once over but tries not to make any significant eye contact. He looks impossibly young, and girlish around the eyes and lips.
“Didn’t catch your name the first four times you told me,” Sam says.
“Daniel,” he says. “Daniel Suwannakintho.”
“See, I was right there with you, right up till the last twenty syllables.”
“Yeah, Sunshower says I need to come up with something easier to remember. Maybe something to do with my theme.”
“And what is your theme?”
“I got assigned to the Operating Theatre.”
“Ah! Never been in that one, but I’ve heard of it. Don’t quite get the appeal, though. I frequent the Samurai Room, myself.”
Daniel shrugs. “My trainer says it’s basically for people who like getting whipped and yelled at but they get bored of that and need something more, you know, something more elaborate.”
“So, the john is the patient in this little scenario?”
“Yeah. They strap em in on a, like, what do you — on a table, operating table? They usually get blindfolded. Then the surgeon comes in and starts the show.”
“Are you the surgeon?”
“I’m like the assistant? He goes scalpel and I give im the scalpel. They say if I do good I can move up to surgeon one day.”
“Does the surgeon actually ... incise?”
“Does he actually cut the john?”
“I guess it all depends on what they ask for. Some folks just like pretend, other folks like to get cut up a little. Almost everyone likes it when we pretend something’s going wrong. We start freaking out, yelling at each other. We put that breathing mask over their face, pour fake blood around.”
“Horrible!” Capital Sam cries. “I am certainly not one to begrudge a man’s predilections, but—”
“Sometimes ladies. I hear the Theatre’s one of the more popular ones for ladies.”
“Well, either way, I cannot fathom being aroused by that kind of skylarking. I guess I’m old fashioned, but in the Samurai Room you are served warm plum wine and get a nice massage and hear tales of terrible battle from your nubile attendants. It is delightful. In fact, I may just have to stop in after delivering you.”
“I don’t remember any other kids being delivered,” Daniel says.
Sam squints at the fog rolling in. Losing the horizon always makes him a little queasy. He adjusts course a bit and says: “Sunshower thinks you need special handling.”
“I ain’t need special handling,” Daniel says, suddenly twisting awkwardly as if trying to get at an elusive itch on his back. He then turns and points at tiny pistol at Sam’s chest.
Carving a Course
Sam bursts out laughing. “Goodness, lad! Is that a derringer? Here, let me see.”
“Back off!” Daniel cries. “I’ll kill you dead!”
“You’ll perhaps scuff my vest, which is worse. Give it here.”
“I know what Sunshower does to kids she don’t like,” Daniel says. “I ain’t getting drowned today.”
Sam stops rowing, leans back, studies the kid. “Well, she did suggest I send you to the salty abyss,” he says, “but only if you tried to bolt.”
“Why would I bolt?”
“Perhaps you’re not ready for the Spire,” Sam says. “Perhaps you’re not ready for this line of work at all. I don’t know many who are.”
“What else am I’m gonna do?” Daniel asks. “Be a, a bank president?”
“Look at me,” Sam says. “I eschewed traditional schooling. Walked away from a traditional career path. But I managed to carve a course through this life, earn enough to be comfortable, to afford a vest I do not want ruined and a grown-up weapon...” He pulls out his revolver and cocks it. “Throw your toy in the drink.”
Daniel looks at his gun sadly. “Took me a long time to save up for this.”
Sam sighs. “And you’ll no doubt find use for it in the days ahead,” he says. “Well then, put it somewhere other than my face. And I recommend only using it as deterrent. Firing it will only anger your opponent.”
Daniel tucks the gun in his waistband. A gust of wind blows the hair in his eyes and shudders his lapels. He puts his hands in his coat pocket and withdraws into himself.
Sam holsters his revolver and starts rowing again. He says: “You weren’t going to bolt.”
“You just thought this was a one-way trip.”
“Yeah,” Daniel says. “I know what she does.”
Sam nods. “She said you had something on her,” he says. “You know something that can hurt her.”
“Well, Daniel, I’m afraid that’s a career right there.”
“I reckon Sunshower’s one of the most powerful people in this city. You got something on her, and you be smart with it, and you stay alive long enough, you could go far in this business.”
“Alls I know is she—”
“Gah! Dit dit dit! Shush! Not another word! No telling what I would do with the information. Surely something rash. No, son, you keep that tight. It’s dire enough that she wanted me to deal with you, if it came to it. Which means it’s dire. Ah! Up ahead!”
Daniel turns and see the Spire of Ice, compact but tall, the mast stabbing into the fog. From her deck they can make out the warm glow of gaslights and the sound of chittering coin.
“I envy you,” Sam says. “I would so love to return to life at sea. If not for the complicated intercourse, I just might join you. Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to check up on you, possibly on a weekly basis, or until the Samurai Room loses its novelty.”
“All right,” Daniel says. “I can probably get you a discount or something.”
“Outstanding, Daniel Suwannakintho,” Capital Sam grins. “Keep it close, and wait for your moment.”
Sam lets out a shrill whistle and after a moment a rope ladder is tossed down to the rowboat. Daniel unsteadily gets to his feet and climbs up. A heavy, throbbing beat comes from deep within the Spire’s hull. The rain starts, right on time, as always. The ladder is withdrawn and Sam starts rowing back to shore and never sees the kid with the name again.