Behind a grocery store that dealt contraband ammunition out the back doors, Hainey and Simeon found Crutchfield Akers-a man with a hand-rolled cigarette sticking moistly to his bottom lip, and a pair of suspenders with eagles printed from top to bottom. His pants were rolled to keep them out of the wet sawdust and tobacco juice that covered the grocery stoop, and if he'd shaved or trimmed any part of his face the last six weeks, you couldn't have proved it to the captain.
"That's me," he answered with a nod that dipped his hat so that a shadow covered his eyes. "Who's asking?"
"A man with money and some questions, looking for a man with answers and an open pocket. Maybe we can share a drink next door and have a conversation."
He shook his head. "Not next door." The hat lifted enough to reveal a pragmatic gaze. "I don't mind sitting down with a Negro, but there's folks who'll hold it against me. Nothing personal, you understand."
"Nothing personal," Simeon repeated with a snort.
Hainey didn't press it. "All right. We can talk out here if it preserves your social standing. My money spends just as easy as anyone else's."
"Let's see it."
"Let's see if you're the man to ask."
Crutchfield shrugged and said, "All right."
"You used to be a Pinkerton operative?"
He said, "No. But I've worked for 'em on my own, every now and again. When it suited me, or when the money suited me."
"Rumor has it you'll share a word or two about your old employer. Or part-time employer," Hainey corrected himself. "So if I needed to learn a thing or two about an operative who's on his way from Chicago right now, maybe you're the man I ought to ask?"
At this point, he produced a wad of bills from his money belt. He did it slickly and fast, like a magician producing a dove from a waistcoat.
Crutchfield nodded, and smiled with something more than greed. "I'm the man you ought to ask. And I even know which operative you're asking after, though you've got a thing or two wrong. I guess that makes you Croggon Hainey, don't it? One of the Macon Madmen, ain't you?"
Hainey refused to look startled. Instead he said, "Good guess, I suppose-though truth is, I'm an easy man to recognize, even if you've only heard of me in passing. And tell me why you know it, and why you grin like that when you say it." He peeled off a ten dollar bill and placed it on the rail beside Crutchfield's elbow.
Crutchfield slid his hand along the rail and palmed the bill.
He said, "Did you know Pinkerton-the big man, not the agency-used to be a Union spy? He's retired from it now, obviously. Got better things to do with his time, or maybe he's just getting old. A lot of those old guys who worked hard at the start of the war, if they ain't dead yet, they're too old for the war game."
"I did not know that," Hainey said with impatience. "But I'm not sure what it's got to do with me."
"Hold your horses, man. I'm getting to it. So the big man invites a new operative, somebody from his old line of work."
Crutchfield nodded. "That's right. But not a Union spy-a Rebel spy. A rather famous one, if you see what I'm saying."
"I'm afraid I don't. I could name a whole handful of Southern spies, so you're going to have to be more specific." He fiddled with the roll of money for a moment before asking, "Is it someone who had a beef with me? Maybe someone from the Macon crowd?"
The informant shook his head and cocked it at the cash. Hainey unspooled another ten and set it down where he'd placed the first.
"It's nobody you know, I don't think. But it's somebody with an agenda. The Rebs don't want her no more, so she's got something to prove by bringing you in; and that's why she got the assignment."
The captain didn't hide his confusion. "What do you mean, they don't want her no more? Pinkerton sent a woman to chase me down?"
"Not just any woman-Belle Boyd."
"Belle…oh now Jesus Christ in a rain barrel. That's a tall tale you're spinning, and I don't believe it for a second."
Crutchfield shrugged. "Believe me or don't believe me, that's what I heard, my hand to God. This is her first job, so it's a loaded one."
"Loaded," Hainey agreed. "But not with good sense. I'm just baffled," he said, scratching his head. "And maybe a little insulted, that they send out a woman to bring down a man like me."
"I wouldn't take it like that, not yet. Pinkerton doesn't hire folks as a joke-and he doesn't hire fools, and he doesn't throw his operatives away on suicide missions. He wouldn't have sent her after you if he didn't think she could bring you in
While Hainey pondered this, Simeon stepped in and took another ten.
He set it on the rail, waited for Crutchfield to collect it, and said, "All of that's real interesting, no doubt. But why don't you give us a hint about who hired the Pinks in the first place? They wouldn't send anyone to nab a runaway without being told to, or paid to."
"You have a point," he said. "And I don't know much about the gig, except that there's a ship called Clementine that's moving supplies-and it's being hounded by a Negro captain in a bird that's got no name."
Hainey bobbed his head slowly up and down, sorting through the important bits and settling on his next words. He lifted the money roll, and unwrapped half its bulk while the eyes of Crutchfield Akers did their best to remain unimpressed.
"You can have this," Hainey told him, setting the curled stack on its side. "All of it, no problem and no trouble, if you can answer me one more question and answer it true. Except," he held up a finger. "If it turns out you've lied to me, I'll be back, and I'll take it back out of your skin. We understand each other?"
"We understand each other," the informant swore.
"Good. Then I want to know where this Clementine is going."
Crutchfield's lips stretched into an expression of relief. "Oh good," he sighed. "I actually know the answer to that one. The bird's headed to Louisville, but I don't know why, and I can't tell you any more precise than that-not for the rest of your roll-because nobody's told me." He collected the stack of bills that must've counted a couple hundred dollars, and licked the tip of his finger to help him count it. "And I must say, it's a pleasure doing business with you."
"Likewise," Hainey muttered.
He took Simeon by the arm and led him away, speaking quietly. "The bird's headed to Kentucky, and ain't that a stinker."
"Not a Reb state," Simeon said, as if it were a bright side.
"Not technically, no. But a border state that's Reb enough to be unwelcoming. Louisville's up on the river though, practically in Indiana. It's not the worst news, and not the best news, but it's news."
"You think he's on the level?"
The captain said, "I wouldn't trust him to sort my laundry for free, but for a stack of green I think he's solid enough. It's how he makes his living, and he's not a young man. If he were full of malarkey, someone would've killed him by now."
"You're full of sense, sir."
"Let's get back to the engineer and see what he's scouted for us. It's past midday now-"
"Not by much."
Hainey said, "No, but I want to clear town sooner rather than later."
The first mate made a little laugh. "You're not worried about that Rebel woman, are you?"
The captain didn't answer immediately, but when he did he said, "I've heard about her. I've heard a lot about her, mostly in the papers and partly through gossip. As far as I know she's no dummy, and if half of what's said about her is true, she's not afraid to shoot a man if she feels the need."
They reached the street and turned to the right, strolling towards the service docks and maintaining a casual pace. Hainey continued, "She was just a girl when the war started-maybe sixteen or seventeen, just a baby. But she didn't have a lick of fear in her, not anywhere. She's been in prison a few times, been married a few times, and killed a few fellows if they interfered with her. And these days," he toyed with what he was thinking, then laid it out. "She's only a little younger than me. Maybe in her forties. A woman who was that much trouble as a girl, well-now she's had twenty-five years to learn new tricks."
Simeon was silent.
Hainey said, "I'm not saying we ought to turn tail and run like dogs. I'm just saying that maybe it's not an insult that she's been picked to chase us down. Maybe we ought to keep our eyes open."
"Do you know what she looks like?" Simeon wanted to know, but the captain didn't have a photograph handy and he wasn't sure he could pick her out of a crowd, anyway.
He said, "As I've heard it, she's not much to look at-but she's got a figure you'd notice if you were blind and ninety."
"Not much to look at?"
"Yeah. It's been said," the captain mumbled, lowering his voice as they passed a pair of men cleaning a set of six-shooters in front of a saloon. "That she was young once, but never beautiful."
"Sons of bitches, up there in Chicago," the first mate said, pulling tobacco out of his pocket as if he'd only just remembered he had it. He flipped a paper loose with his thumb and started to roll a cigarette. "Can't even send a pretty woman after us."