Adan could smell the smoke before he heard the screams. Instead of going back to the docks he began jogging towards the sounds of mayhem. Fires often presented financial opportunities to those who were brave enough to grab it and Adan could never pass up an opportunity no matter how dangerous. In fact the more dangerous the proposition the less hesitant he was to attempt it. It wasn’t just the financial gains; the challenge presented its own rewards. It didn’t take him long to enter the plaza near the rear of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Smoke darkened the sky above the church and flames were peeking out of some of the broken stain glass windows. A large crowd had gathered outside of the church filled with crying women and men shouting orders. He paused for a moment, considering the implications of stealing from a church, but it was going to burn to the ground anyways; waste not, want not.
As he surveyed the building, searching for a suitable entrance, a local fire company arrived on the scene. A handful of men had disembarked from a large red carriage drawn by three horses. A large copper tank occupied the entire rear of the carriage with a hose sprouting from the side. All of the men were wearing dingy jackets and pants of black and brown and vests that ranged in color and style. No man matched another except for their fire helmets which identified which company the volunteers belonged too. One man who had a large bushy handle-bar mustache and round belly was ordering the others on where to point the hose and who was going to operate the pump. Just as they were about to begin to spray water on the building, another fire company appeared on the scene and immediately confronted the competing company. The two men in charge began to argue loudly about jurisdiction while the men started a brawl in the middle of the plaza leaving the fire to continue unopposed. The fighting overflowed into the on looking crowd. The patrons of the church responded by either fleeing the scene or joining the fight. Balconies of buildings overlooking the plaza began to fill with spectators enjoying the excitement of the chaotic scene.
Adan smiled, because the chaos meant that he would be able to go about his business without any interruptions. He approached the rear of the building where a back door had been broken off its hinges. Smoke billowed out of the opening smudging the edges of the doorframe with soot. He took the dingy aqua cloth that he used to tie back his dreads and tied it about his nose and mouth. Then crouching low he entered the burning building.
He entered a long hall with entrances to apartments running along one side. The interior glowed a ruby orange as the light of the flames softly penetrated through the thick smoke that congealed above his head. Along the floor boards he could see crushed bodies pushed to the side, the blackened forms only now starting to ooze blood. This must have been the place where people escaped the fire. He quickly slinked down the hall peering into the rooms that ran along the halls length. He finally located what must have been the priest’s chambers. A large desk was situated across from a single straw mat bed. He quickly found the purse that held the church’s petty cash. He began to cough as the smoke began to overwhelm the room. He could have left but something pulled him to the main congregation hall. They must have been in the middle of morning mass. A lot of the relics used during the service would be made of gold. He quickly exited the room and ran down the hall towards the heart of the fire. When he entered the large room, he knew he didn’t have much time. The ceiling was on fire and he could hear the boards supporting the roof beginning to crack and groan. All of the pews where on fire and the walls were blackened and charring. He looked quickly to the altar trying to locate anything of value. He found a gold and silver chalice on the floor and golden cross with ruby jewels set into the entire length on a table. Just as he picked it up a loud crack above him signaled it was time to leave.
He turned to flee when he tripped over a body which made a loud groan of pain as he fell over them. He turned to look and he saw a woman. He reached out and touched her neck and discovered with growing irritation that she was still alive. He did not look forward to carrying her out of the building and he cursed himself as he threw her over his shoulder. With her on his shoulder he could not carry both the cross and the chalice so with another curse he picked the chalice. It would not fetch as much but it would be easier to sell without questions being asked. He then began exiting the building as quickly as possible. He coughed painfully as adrenaline carried him into the hall. He heard a crash behind him as the roof finally gave away. The intensity of the heat increased at his back and he knew that he had just barely escaped death. His lungs burned with exertion as he made the final push, almost flying out of the back doorway. He landed on the hard cobblestone road with a crash dumping the girl unceremoniously as he collapsed on his hands and knees. He pulled the aqua cloth from his face and wretched on the ground between his hands, gasping for air in between the painful heaves of his stomach.
When his stomach had finally settled and his lungs could again accept air, albeit painfully, he turned to the girl that he had carried out of the church. She was on her side her back towards him and so he rolled her over to get a look at her. What he saw took his breath away. For a moment he had the overwhelming feeling that he knew her but he couldn’t figure out from where. She had a growing black eye, her lip was cut and soot smudged her entire face, but he could tell that underneath all of that she was beautiful. He had to shake his head to bring the reality of the situation into focus. He couldn’t have known her. He again put a finger to her perfect neck and there was still a strong heart beat there. He brought his ear close to her lips and felt breath blow onto his ear. He surveyed the rest of her and discovered that she had burns on her legs where the skirt of her dress had burnt away. While not completely indecent she would not be happy with the state of her clothing when she came too. Much of the dress had been ripped and torn in places. While she had a bonnet on her head it too had received damage and would not be salvageable. He lifted her into a reclining position and removed the bonnet and a tangle of dark brown hair fell loose. As he did so he felt a large bump on the back of her head which surely was the reason she was unconscious. That was good news. More than likely she had lied close to the floor unconscious and she had not inhaled any of the smoke which would have been more deadly than a knock on the head. He had seen many men recover from a blow to the head, but smoke inhalation could rip a man apart from the inside. If you were lucky, you got sick. If you were not, you would slowly drown in your own blood.
He looked around, concern pinching his forehead and he realized there was no way he was going to be able to find anyone who could claim her in this chaos. He couldn’t just leave her there either. He needed to revive her. He decided that the only thing to do was to take her to Madam Magdalene’s brothel which was only a couple of blocks away. They surely had smelling salts there and replacement clothing. They would be able to revive her and take the situation from there.
Throwing her back over his shoulder he walked as quickly as he could back to the brothel. He only got a couple of awkward looks from people. Most people already knew of the fire and they both looked like they had been in one. The awkward looks did turn into incredulous ones when he took the unconscious partially dressed girl into a whore house, but the sultry darkness of the interior had already enveloped them by the time anyone thought to ask questions.
As he entered the lounge, everyone stopped what they were doing to look at him. The exterior lounge was in essence a richly upholstered drinking establishment. Some of the women were talking to johns at the expensive teak bar. Other women lounged on couches playing cards with each other and gossiping. All of the women were dressed provocatively in clothes that were easy to remove. A man sat in the corner playing on the piano. It did not take him long however to stop playing when Adan entered with an unconscious girl thrown over his shoulder looking like he had visited hell and been spit back out.
Luckily Magdalene was standing at the bar and quickly walked towards him concern in her eyes. Without saying a word she beckoned him to follow her and led him to the closest unoccupied room. He carefully dropped the girl on the bed making sure not to give her anymore injuries. Magdalene walked to the side of the bed and looked over the girl’s injuries. She quickly exited the room and returned with a black leather bag. As she pushed through the contents of the bag she finally began asking questions.
“Alright Adan, what is this all about?”
“The church a couple of blocks from here is on fire, I rescued her from the inside. I didn’t know where else to bring her.”
She pressed her lips together and gave him an exasperated look. “Adan, what were you thinking bringing a fine bred girl here? If anyone finds out you’ll not only ruin her reputation but they might arrest you. You have to see what this looks like.”
Adan’s eyebrows knitted together in frustration, “I know it looks bad, but I couldn’t just leave here there! Look at her. She’s unconscious, injured and her clothes are practically burned away. No matter where I took her, it would look bad. The important thing is that I was there and I saved her.”
“I would ask what you were doing in a burning building, but I think I know the answer to that.” she said shaking her head at him. She handed him the bag and continued, “If there is a fire going on I should send a girl out there, the men in the volunteer fire companies will be all riled up. There should be smelling salt in there somewhere. I’ll go get a basin of water and some clean clothes for her. I hope I can trust you not to take advantage of this girl while I’m gone.” She said the last part only half joking and he gave her a withering look as she walked from the room.
He shuffled through the bag. He found cloth bandages and a snake oil salve. After inspecting the bottle he decided not to use it. Finally all the way down near the bottom he found a small black vile with a flip top which contained the smelling salts. He was about to open the vial and hold it to her nose when he decided against it. Cleaning the burns would surely be painful. It would be kinder to treat her burns first before waking her up. He looked again at her legs. She had three hand sized burns on them. They were covered in blisters but they did not go too deep. As long as he cleansed them and bandaged them, they would heal with minimum scaring.
He waited until Magdalene returned with the basin of water she promised. She gave him a serious look when she saw that he had not yet awoken her, “Adan, you are a friend and I’m happy to help you but be quick about this. I’m going to need this room when the fire is put out.” She put down the water basin beside him and threw a dress over a small wooden chair in the corner which besides the bed was the only piece of furniture in the room. Before she left she also handed him a four inch green cactus like leaf. “We have an Aloe plant on the second floor balcony. I cut a leaf for you. The juice should help with the burns.” She gave him a small tight smile before exiting the room.
Not wanting to overstay his welcome he began to clean out the burn wounds as quickly as possible. Black soot and dirt covered her entire body including the wounds. Once he had cleared the soot he took the cactus leaf and squeezed juice from the leaf onto each of the burns. He then wrapped each burn with the cloth bandages and repacked the black leather bag before returning to the side of the bed to awaken her.
For some reason as he approached her his heart began to thud loudly in his chest. He nervously flipped open the vial and waved it under her nose. Her nose scrunched and her brow furrowed as she involuntarily inhaled. He pulled the vile away as her eyes opened. She groaned loudly and brought a hand to her face pinching the bridge of her nose as she sniffled uncontrollably.
It took her a moment for her eyes to focus. He could see the realization dawn in her eyes that she was in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar company. Her jaw tightened and she looked him up and down before saying in a level voice, “Where am I?”
He was impressed by how she was handling this. “My name is Adan; you were unconscious on the floor of the church. I found you and carried you out of there.”
Without missing a beat she said, “Thank you for saving me Adan, but you didn’t answer my question. Where am I?” She began to pull herself into a sitting position.
He raised his eyebrows at her in surprise. She was quite sharp for just being woken by smelling salts. He continued reluctantly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know where else to bring you. You are in a brothel. I am a … merchant. I regularly sell merchandise to the owner of the establishment and know her quite well. It was close to the church and I thought it would be easier to deal with your injuries here.”
She rubbed the tender spot on the back of her head and winced as her fingers grazed the growing lump, “Injuries?”
“Well I haven’t done anything for the bump on your head but you had some burns on your legs that needed to be addressed.”
For the first time she looked down at her legs and saw the bandages there, but then she appraised her dress. A look of embarrassment spread on her face. She grabbed at the blanket on the bed and quickly covered herself inhaling sharply from the pain of the movement. She bit on her lip nervously as she looked everywhere but at him only to wince once again from the cut on her lip. She brought her hand to her face and touched the cut on her lip and finally looked at him. “Thank you sir, you have obviously done me a great service, but the current situation is… highly inappropriate.”
“Inappropriate?” He smiled at her with obvious humor in his eyes. She did not smile back but she didn’t look angry either.
“Look, I have just never been in the presence of a man so… under-dressed before.” She swallowed and then looked around the room. “Is there anything I could drink?”
“Oh yeah, I’ll go get something. Are you hungry?”
“A little, mostly thirsty, but something to settle the stomach would be appreciated.” she responded.
He smiled tightly and nodded, “There is a dress over there on the chair if you’re up to dressing.”
“Yes, I think that would be for the best.”
“Ok, right… I’ll be back” He nodded at her and hesitantly stood up. The whole conversation was oddly subdued. He had expected her to be more upset but for a wealthy girl she was very level headed. She was obviously upset by the situation, yet she had not let it muddle her thinking. It intrigued him. He suddenly wanted to know more about her but he would have to get the food before he felt she would explain herself. He left the room to let her dress and speak once again with Magdalene about getting some refreshments. ns 184.108.40.206da2