(The following excerpt is straight from a first draft manuscript. There has been absolutely NO editing performed. So, basically, a hot mess, but I’m willing to share. So no comments on editing!)
Stella couldn’t make out the figure. It still looked like a lump, just taller. Since she couldn’t discern a head, she couldn’t be positive, but she’d swear whatever it was was staring right at her.
Then it rose like an apparition and drew near. Then she almost peed herself, and snorted instead. It wasn’t a ghost, it was someone in a robe approaching her. It walked toward her until the bars prevented any further advancement.
“Come closer, child, so I can look at you.” His hand reached through the bar then waved for her to follow his directions. “I won’t hurt you. I want to make sure you’re all right. The guards were rather rough when they brought you in. You hit your head on the floor when they dropped you.”
Her hand automatically rubbed her head and she squinted as she found two sensitive spots. One must have been when they hit her in the brothel, then second when they’d evidently and quite literally tossed her in the cell.
She stared at the cloaked figure while she determined whether her situation could get any worse by stepping closer to at least get a look at what was under the hood.
He grabbed the bars with both hands as if they held him up. His hands were old and wrinkled, his nails stained. At first she thought it was dirt, but the curiosity that would probably get her killed before she saw Baywood again urged her forward. It was difficult to tell by the light but it might not be dirt but ink. She’d seen the newspaper staff where AJ used to work with similar coloration on heir hands. It was completely different, but for some reason, she knew this guy wrote with quill and ink—a lot.
He didn’t speak and she sensed his eyes following her every move. Then he shook his head. “I’m sorry. I thought you might be someone else.” He turned toward the front of the cell and mumbled, “I could have sworn I heard them say AJ Murphy.” When he took a step away, Stella had to take a chance.
“Do you know AJ?”
The man stopped. Then he turned and came back to take another look at her. He raised his hands and she thought he was going to grab the bars again, but this time he reached for his hood and he lowered it. She was right that he was old, but his gaze was clear and intelligence shone brightly.
“I know her well enough to know you’re not her. Yet they,” he nodded toward the door, “certainly think you are.” He grasped the bars again, then tapped a finger along it, and she guessed he might be contemplating the possibilities.
“Who are these guys? Did they kidnap you, too?”
“In a manner of speaking, I suppose.”
“Do you know what they want?”
“Something I cannot give them.”
The kidnappers could talk to him for hours and end up talking their way into nothing. He probably wouldn’t even crack under pressure. Tough old bird.
Now that she was up and talking, her throat felt raw. She studied the cup by the door, then picked it up. It appeared to be water, but who knew? “Do you know if this is just water? Is it safe to drink?”
“It’s water, though it tastes stale. It won’t harm you.”
Stella drank half of it, wanted to drain it but thought better of it. Who knew how often the refills came.
“How many are there?”
He gave her a quizzical look, then his eyes shifted up, hopefully doing some mental calculations. After several seconds, he shrugged. “I’ve seen five different men since I’ve arrived. There has also been two young boys who sometimes clean the buckets and brings food. But there will be many others if they plan to sail.”
“How often does the food come? Does the water come with it?”
“Twice a day, and yes, more water is brought with each meal.”
She gave him another perusal. His whiskers, light as they were, were more than a five-o-clock shadow, but not quite a beard. “How long have you been here?”
“Two days, maybe a bit less, maybe a bit more. I don’t think they bring the food at the same time. But that has been the only way for me to track the time.”
She nodded. Without any windows or portholes, passage of time would be difficult to track. “I’m guessing they already brought food once today?”
“So they should be bringing more in, what, the next few hours?”
“That is a reasonable assumption.”
Something wasn’t adding up. She was all over the place with her questioning. She hadn’t expected this old guy to know AJ. She hadn’t expected anyone else here, except for Beckworth. She closed her eyes. He had to be alive. Frantic and out of his mind that he lost her, but alive. AJ would be so mad at him. But that was better than being dead.
She turned on him so fast, the old man took a step back. “Have you seen a woman?”
“A woman. Was there ever a woman with the men?”
He shook his head.
Damn. But in a way it made sense. She didn’t see how Gemini could have gotten here so fast, not if she was waiting for them to arrive. Her headache was making it impossible to think.
“If you’re not AJ, then who are you?”
“I’m Stella.” She tilted her head, then crossed her arms over her chest. “You don’t happen to be from the monastery, or are you?”
He smiled, and then chuckled, a hearty one that brought tears to his eyes. “And you’re not from this time. Or am I wrong?”