Thomas Judah

Its temper more lamb than lion, the volatile Chagres had been mercifully sleepy, allowing Henri Duvay the time to judge how best to rob the mighty river of its power. His team had traced the dormant channel south to where it cascaded three hundred feet to the buttresses of the railroad's latest bridge at Barbacoas. The hulking six-hundred-foot span, girded in stone and belted with wrought-iron, would be lucky to survive the next great flood when a million gallons of roaring water could rush downstream inside a heartbeat. To spare the canal such predictable destruction, Duvay's solution was to divert the Chagres' feeding tributaries to a manmade lake which ships entering from the Atlantic would then access by a flight of locks.

Thomas had seen the mission to its end, but every day more bitter loathing and a pining for revenge had been sharpening like a stalactite dripping guilty night tears for his dead discarded friend. When he had managed to sleep, he'd been beset by nightmares: a giant stalking cat with eyes of fire pouncing on a wandering child, the boy's frail limbs jerking helplessly as they snapped inside its monstrous crunching jaws; dark bleeding men with snake-like bodies begging for water while they thrashed in the mud which churned red and viscid the more they squirmed. More than once, he had thought of packing it in and sailing for home, then realized that for him to turn tail and leave now would only confirm his repulsive cowardice. If he was to retain a shred of self-respect he had to stay on and face Diego's mother. So when Duvay turned querulous and ordered him about, he had curbed his tongue, content to wait while he devised a way to get even.

Although he could scarcely remember having ever been content, he had never felt lonely. Yet here he was, feeling strangely abandoned inside his mentor's commodious residence. Exhilarated by his findings, Henri had left for Panama City immediately after their return and Monique was still off enjoying her first vacation. As Thomas reclined in the soft wicker bed, the touch of the morning breeze wafting through the French windows added to his melancholy. "Admit it, Mister Crusoe," he muttered, pushing aside the gauzy white netting that had granted his first night free of biting insects in many weeks, "you're a fraud."

 

 

Colón – After the Fire

As he saw the depth of Estelle's resentment, great questions began to form in Byron's head, questions about injustice and what it meant to be loyal. In some small obscure way he felt responsible. Not just for having never thought to save her precious keepsakes, but for having joined with those who had taken advantage of her trust. He hated to think that it would be one more stone upon her heart when she discovered his lie and realized he had never deserved her kindness. To cover his shame and show his loyalty he blurted out that the three of them should forget about this crazy town and sail away together on the very next ship.

Longers dismissed his flash of inspiration with gruff disdain. "How many thousand you think are right now fightin' like crabs to book their passage? Besides, Miss Estelle is not some little country bumpkin. She can't pick up and leave just so. She'll be all right so long as I'm here to back her up."

Byron felt his face start to burn as if it had been scorched by more hot ash. It was not the first time Longers had been quick to slap him down. Since the new year started the sailor had seemed out of sorts and unusually ill-tempered. Yet listening to him tell Estelle the horrible news, Byron sensed he had gotten back his old stolid self-possession. It was almost as if Longers had drawn comfort from the Last Frontier's destruction, knowing that the unmet wishes he had invested in Miss Estelle were no longer threatened by her swift success.

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