AT THE END OF WORK, Adam went back to the tavern to eat, enjoy a pint, and visit with his mother and Valentine for a while. He felt a little awkward about skipping dinner at the warehouse again, but for now at least he knew Boaz wasn’t too keen on him, so he wanted to stay out of his way.
It wasn’t long after Adam finished his supper that Mary suddenly got up from the stool at the bar beside him.
“Excuse me, boys,” said Mary. “I think I have a customer.” She quickly grabbed an apron to tie around her waist.
“But you’re not working tonight,” said Adam.
Mary flashed him a smile and went over to a table where some customers had just sat down. Richard Rasquelle was there. She had gone over to take his order.
“What in the world was that about?” Adam asked Valentine.
The old man shrugged. “I don’t know. He was already in here once today—at lunch. She had his table then.” He narrowed his eyes and scratched his chin. “He’s awfully chatty, that one. And he’s been in here right regular lately.”
Adam repositioned himself on his bar stool so he could look in the direction of Rasquelle’s table. It was strange to see how his mother had virtually flown over to wait on him. Was she flirting with him? Adam wasn’t sure—he hadn’t seen his mother engage in that sort of behavior before.
Adam used to appreciate it when men like Richard Rasquelle came into the tavern. He would feel proud that wealthy and important men like him thought it worth their time and money to dine in his family’s establishment. Rasquelle especially cut an impressive figure. He was lean, slightly tall, and exceedingly handsome, with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Rasquelle was an impeccably dressed gentleman, and his clothing ensemble was neatly tailored, but then he’d never be seen in anything less than the very best. In fact, his outfit likely cost more than the average Beaufort resident earned in a year. He also seemed unusually gracious for someone in the shipping business. Even though they had never actually conversed, Adam had always wondered what it might be like to work for someone like him. Not necessarily in shipping, but someone classy, refined.
Just then Mary waved to Adam from across the room.
“Come over here for a minute, son!” she said.
Adam looked at Valentine, who in turn just shrugged his shoulders. The boy reluctantly made his way through the maze of noisy drinkers and diners to join his mother beside Richard Rasquelle’s table.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “Mr. Rasquelle said he wanted to meet you. Mr. Rasquelle, this is my son, Adam.”
“How do you do, sir?” said Adam.
“Very well, thank you,” said Mr. Rasquelle. “Your mother tells me you’ve recently started an apprenticeship to learn my trade.”
“Yes, sir. Started nearly a week ago, as a matter of fact.”
“Ah, how wonderful! Well, I wanted to tell you that had I known you were seeking such an opportunity, I’d have surely extended an offer to bring you under my wing.”
“Oh, well, thank you, sir. I appreciate the sentiment. It’s alright, though. Things are going fine at Mr. Rogers’s warehouse.”
“That’s delightful to hear!” said Rasquelle. “However, I may still have something for you. A little work on the side, if you’re interested.”
Adam wrinkled his eyebrows. “Sir?”
“Listen, I’ll be away tomorrow, but if you’d like to come by my warehouse and see me in my office on Saturday, I’d like to talk to you about a little opportunity. I’ll make it worth your while. And don’t worry. It shouldn’t interfere with your duties for your master.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Adam.
“Wonderful,” said Mr. Rasquelle.
At that, Adam looked at his mother and smiled before returning to the bar to finish his pint and his conversation with Valentine.
When Rasquelle finally left, Adam was relieved. His mother rejoined him and Valentine over by the bar.
“What in the world was all of that about?” he asked her.
“Well, Mr. Rasquelle was in here earlier today. He asked me if I had mentioned to you about going by to see him.”
“What did you tell him?” said Adam.
“I told him the truth. I told him that you weren’t sure whether you should. I also told him about what Mr. Smythe said.”
“So why is he here again tonight?”
“I told him you’ve been coming by for supper—that Mr. Rogers doesn’t mind you visiting. I reckon he wanted to speak to you himself.”
“I appreciate all of that, Mama, but I’m not sure about working for him.”
Adam couldn’t believe what he had just said, especially after what had happened with Boaz earlier.
“Why not?” she prodded. “Sounds like he might have some extra work you can do. You aren’t getting paid at Emmanuel Rogers’s place. Maybe you can do little jobs for Mr. Rasquelle and earn some pocket money. Who knows? You might like working for him. You don’t have anything to lose, do you?”
“I don’t know. Something just seems strange about this. I mean, what kind of man tries to employ someone apprenticed to his competitor? Second, I’ve been asking around, and I’ve heard some things about him. They’re not very good.”
“Who have you been checking around with, Adam? The men down at Rogers’s Shipping? You don’t think they might be influenced by the fact that he’s their competition?”
“They may be,” said Adam, “but regardless, something in my gut just doesn’t feel right about this. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but you have always told me to trust my instincts.”
“I know, son, but don’t let those boys over at the warehouse influence you just because they’re jealous. You know as well as I do that Mr. Rasquelle’s business has been growing these last couple of years—he’s made quite a name for himself around town. And even more so after that big ol’ party of his a couple of weeks ago.”
“Well, he ain’t got my business,” said Valentine.
“Oh, Valentine,” said Mary, “of course he doesn’t. You’ve had the same standing order now with Emmanuel Rogers since before I came here! And that was a hundred years ago!”
“That’s not true,” said Valentine. “I did try Rasquelle once. Ended up going back to Emmanuel, though.”
“Well, you two stay here and talk about it,” said Mary. “I’m going on up to get some sleep. I’ve got to be up before the sun tomorrow. Gimme some sugar, son.” She tapped her cheek.
Adam gave his mother a quick peck on the cheek before she went upstairs.
After Mary was out of sight, Valentine poured another pint for himself and Adam. “So you’re wantin to find out more about that Richard Rasquelle?”
“Listen, your mama don’t know nothing about this . . .” said Valentine.
He stroked the fading reddish stubble on his face and looked to be thinking hard about what he was about to say.
“It may be nothing at all, but I’m gonna mention it. The reason I only got that one shipment from Rasquelle was because he came up short. That never happened with Emmanuel Rogers.”
“What do you mean, he came up short?”
“I mean, I think Rasquelle shorted me on what I had ordered. Oh, he insisted that I was mistaken, but I ain’t no spring chicken. I know how long my supplies are supposed to last, and I know what a cask of molasses looks like, and his delivery just plain came up short.”
“Do you think he did it on purpose?” Adam asked.
“I won’t go so far as to say that, but I didn’t want to risk coming up short again, so I switched my accounts back over to Emmanuel Rogers. I’ve always gotten my supplies from him. Don’t know why I ever switched. I guess when Richard Rasquelle came to town a couple years ago, he promised he’d sell things cheaper. And he said he’d be bringing in more merchandise than Emmanuel Rogers.”
“More merchandise? Like what?”
“Well, I was mostly just interested in seeing if he’d have some different things from Europe and the Orient—spices and such.”
“Did you buy anything like that from him?” said Adam.
“No. That first shipment, he didn’t have no more than what Emmanuel has. I think one of the things he meant as ‘more merchandise’ was, well, laborers. And I ain’t got no use for that.”
“You mean slaves?” said Adam in a shocked whisper.
“Rasquelle is a slave trader?” Adam was stunned.
“Shh!” Valentine motioned for the boy to lower his voice. “No, he ain’t really a slave trader, but I know at least one time he done it. He may still do it, but it ain’t something he really advertises, you know.”
“No,” said Adam. “At least I’ve never heard about it.”
“Emmanuel Rogers, on the other hand—well, what he imports and what he sells is good quality. It is what he says it is. I trust him.”
“You said my mama didn’t know about that experience with Rasquelle.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, that don’t mean nothin, though. She’s just never been involved in the books—you know, who we buy from. And all the shipments are received in the back anyway, so she wouldn’t even know the men making deliveries.”
“I see,” said Adam.
“Yep. I reckon you ought to think long and hard before you go see that man. In fact, I’m gonna give you some advice. I think I’d just leave it alone if I were you. Be happy with where you are. Otherwise, you might end up with more trouble than what you got already.”
As Adam walked along the winding, lantern-lit road by the waterfront back to Rogers’s warehouse, he had plenty of time to think. In spite of what Valentine had told him, he couldn’t stop wondering about Mr. Rasquelle’s offer.
It didn’t help that some rowdy sailors were making music on the docks, and one of the songs they were playing on their penny whistles and fiddles was a popular tune that had been played at Richard Rasquelle’s big party. Adam’s thoughts drifted back to that day. He remembered Rasquelle’s speech from that party. Then he thought about the dull routine he knew he’d face when he started another day’s work in Emmanuel Rogers’s warehouse the next morning. He started thinking that maybe he should take Rasquelle’s advice—“if you want anything in this life, you have to go after it.”
[ This is the end of the free sample of The Smuggler’s Gambit. ]