Based on a purely fictional pairing of a young Cosmo and an equally enterprising orphan from Mexico named Chancho, the Cosmo and Chancho series strikes an interesting balance between Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and The Adventures of Tin Tin.
For your reading pleasure, I’ve posted below a teaser of Episode One. Cosmo and Chancho will soon be published as part of Epifiction.com, an interactive subscription service for schools. If you are interested in finding out more about Cosmo and Chancho or Epifiction, please sign up for updates at www.davidmarkbrownwrites.com. And now,
Cosmo and Chancho, Episode One
A line of dark-skinned Africans zig-zagged out of sight behind mountains of bituminous coal. Coaling a behemoth the size of the Royal Edward was a monumental and dirty task. Cosmo gathered a bird’s eye view of the process from his favorite spot on the aft deck of the five-level passenger steamer.
Shielding his face with his hand, Cosmo peered upward at the sun through the slits between his fingers. The temperature and humidity combined to create an oppressive heat as bad as anything he had grown up with in the jungles of Northeast India. The workers’ only protection against the sun were the baskets of coal perched on their heads.
Sweat streaked down the laborers dust-covered faces as they marched steadily forward. One basket-full at a time, they dumped the precious coal into the ship’s hopper. After an hour, the snaking line of workers continued with no end in sight.
Watching the coal porters renewed Cosmo’s gratitude for his current job as bodyguard to the less than noble Sir Rendel Wrightwick. Technically, Cosmo’s title was porter and baggage boy. One of Wrightwick’s colleagues had jokingly referred to him as an esquire.
After sneaking a peek at his boss’s English/Hindi dictionary, Cosmo had learned an esquire had once been the title for a knight in training. He liked it. Cosmo Zimik, Esquire.
Without turning, Cosmo attempted to identify the voice.
“Is that you?”
By the accent Cosmo could tell the voice belonged to a white man, American. That could mean only one thing—a missionary. Cosmo faced him.
“I wouldn’t of believed it, but Sara insisted it was you.”
Cosmo recognized the man, but couldn’t recall the name. “Pastor…”
Cosmo nodded. The Baptist missionary and his wife had been working throughout the Naga Hills for several years. Cosmo had met them during his father’s ordination. What were the chances someone connected with his home village would end up on the Royal Edward? The last thing he needed was for his father to learn he had left his Calcutta boarding school.
Pettigrew frowned. “What are you doing out here in the middle of the Arabian Sea?”
Cosmo turned the tables with a question of his own. “Are you and your wife heading home on sabbatical?”
Pettigrew raised his hat long enough to run his fingers through his hair. “A bit of a fundraising junket, I’m afraid. We hope to travel back to India soon. It’s only been a week, and I already miss your Naga Hills. But enough about me and Sara.”
Cosmo dodged the matter. “I miss home too. You must be looking forward to seeing your home again in the States.”
“Well yes, I suppose Virginia will always be home. But for heaven’s sake, you must tell me how you’ve ended up—”
“You there! Bag boy.”
Cosmo blinked slowly and faced Wrightwick’s personal assistant, Barnard. He was an overly scrupulous and annoying man in general. Currently, his appearance served as a welcome interruption.
“Stop your lolly-gagging, you goldbricker. The boss has a meeting in Aden in fifteen minutes. You’ve got fifteen seconds to meet him on the dock, or start swimming back to India.” Barnard glared at Pettigrew through his thick spectacles.
Cosmo didn’t bother to introduce the two men. Apparently, he didn’t need to.
Pettigrew sputtered before finding his tongue. “You’re working for Sir Wrightwick?”
Cosmo had no idea how an American Baptist missionary knew of a disreputable business man like Wrightwick, but the unfortunate coincidences were adding up. Instead of answering the question, Cosmo leapt on top of the railing.
Pettigrew gasped. “What would your father think?”
Nearly three feet over Cosmo’s head, a guy wire tethered the Royal Edward to a concrete anchor amidst the coal piles. He glanced down at Barnard. “Can I borrow a kerchief?”
Barnard scoffed. “A kerchief? Boy, you’d better be worried more about your hide than a runny nose.” Despite his grumbling, Barnard fetched the cloth from his pocket. Reaching up, he slapped it into Cosmo’s outstretched hand. “Now you’ve got ten seconds, so I suggest you get down and stop—”
Cosmo doubled the cloth in his hand, bent his knees and jumped. With an inch to spare, he clutched the wire, which turned out to be a cable as big around as a five rupee coin. The kerchief smoked in Cosmo’s hand as he zipped down the steep angle of the cable—perhaps too steep.
Imagining the flesh of his hand smoking next, Cosmo scanned for a safe place to land. Heat seared the palm of his hand as time ran out. Swinging toward a less trafficked stretch of boardwalk, Cosmo released his grip and plummeted the last several yards to the dock. Despite tucking his feet on contact, his knees struck his chest harder than he would have liked.
After tumbling into a shocked laborer, Cosmo stood with a stupid grin on his face. “Nine seconds to spare.” He spoke to no one in particular.
Pettigrew called a parting shot after him. “It would kill your father to find out how you’re using your skills!”
Cosmo ground his teeth and pushed through the snaking line of coal porters. Hundreds of miles from India, and his father’s watchful eye still pursued him. Cosmo would simply have to travel further. He didn’t expect his father or any of his people to understand why he’d taken a job protecting a representative of Colonial Britain.
Then again, as an American and a missionary, of course Pettigrew had been referring to Cosmo’s neglect of his spiritual gifting. Of all the stupid things his father could have handed down to his youngest son…Cosmo shook it off. Somehow, he would have to avoid Pettigrew for the remainder of their time aboard the Royal Edward.
Covered in coal dust and several seconds late, Cosmo finally located his boss. Lateness and untidiness were two things Wrightwick typically did not tolerate in his associates or employees. For some reason, Cosmo’s contempt for his boss usually exempted him from severe punishment.
Currently, Sir Wrightwick looked undecided between rage and amusement. “The landing could have been better.” He sucked the toothpick in his teeth before flicking it off the dock and into the water below.
Cosmo nodded. “I’ll work on it. No problem.”
The settlement of Aden existed for one purpose, the coaling of ships. Decades earlier, a Sultanate of Yemen had surrendered the volcanic spit to the British East India Company and a battalion of Royal Marines. Built inside an extinct volcano, the town was perfectly sheltered against storms and pirates alike. Unfortunately, the walls of dark, igneous rock protected the town from any and all breeze as well.
On full alert, Cosmo rode shotgun next to the coach’s driver. After a series of switchbacks, the horse-drawn carriage arrived at the local’s version of a house of spirits. Cosmo had no use for alcohol or any adult who imbibed it. His people, the Naga, didn’t touch the stuff. From what Cosmo could tell, they had good reason.
While Wrightwick didn’t drink excessively, his business appointments usually convened in such places. Cosmo jumped down and opened the door of the carriage for his boss.
Wrightwick flushed from the carriage like a flock of birds from the jungle canopy. Always in a hurry without looking hurried, that was Wrightwick’s manner. As a result, the man came across as angry and intimidating. He knew what he wanted, and he expected others to keep up.
Usually Cosmo’s young age forced him to work twice as hard to overcome initial impressions. But Wrightwick had seemed pleased in Cosmo’s youth. He had recognized Cosmo’s abilities immediately and hired him after a fifteen minute interview during which Cosmo revealed next to nothing about himself personally.
Handing Cosmo his satchel, Wrightwick flung open the saloon doors. He paused long enough for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting.
Cosmo flowed past Wrightwick without brushing his elbow. He sized up every individual inside the drinking house in a matter of seconds. By the time Wrightwick proceeded to a table in the far corner, Cosmo had eliminated all but two of the patrons as potential threats.
Cosmo followed his boss while keeping one eye glued on the backs of the two burley fellows seated at the bar. Donned with turbans and flowing robes, they wore too much clothing for July. Cosmo didn’t like the fact swords or even rifles could be easily concealed beneath such outfits.
“Sir Wrightwick, I presume.” A portly gentlemen rose from the corner table.
Wrightwick sat without shaking the man’s hand. “I’ve no time for such unscheduled diversions. You have information for me, Mr. Crampton?”
Crampton attempted to brush his hair from his face. Excessive sweating had pasted it to his forehead.
The man was nervous, slovenly and alone. He lacked the confidence to pose any serious threat. Cosmo turned his back to the meeting.
Tensing, Cosmo realized the two men at the bar had gone. He swept the establishment with his eyes. How could such men disappear so quickly and so quietly? At the very least, Cosmo should have heard them upsetting a chair or a table.
“Right you are.” Crampton worked up the nerve to speak. “Terribly sorry for the interruption.”
“Then get to it, man.” Wrightwick snapped.
Cosmo observed the remaining patrons for clues to the mystery mens’ disappearance. None of them stared toward the exit or acted as if anything strange had occurred. Cosmo knew he had turned his head for only a second.
“Right, right.” Crampton stammered. “A scurrilous lot filtered through here the better of two days ago asking after the Royal Edward in a round about manner, if you know what I mean.”
“Similar to your current manner?” Wrightwick asked through clenched teeth.
“I see. Indeed, you’re right.” Crampton gulped. “Straight to the point then. There’s no doubt in my mind they were pirates, sir. Mercenaries hired with the specific charge of finding your ship.”
Cosmo didn’t like the mention of pirates, especially after losing the two men at the bar. He reasoned the men could have been waiting for Wrightwick’s arrival before setting some devious plot into action.
“Mercenaries and pirates. Hmmm.” Wrightwick scratched his chin. “I apologize for my brash behavior, Mr. Crampton. You were right for initiating this aside. You’ve provided useful information indeed. It’s possible the Ottoman Empire has caught wind of our movements in the area.”
While maintaining his vigilance, Cosmo focused on the conversation without being obvious. He’d undertaken a crash course on Middle Eastern current events after learning of the Royal Edward’s destination. An English newspaper had revealed the Ottomans were currently engaged in a localized war with neighboring countries. Cosmo surmised on his own that Wrightwick’s interest in the area pivoted on the warfare.
“Think closely, Mr. Crampton.” Wrightwick leaned forward. “Did these dastards pronounce the name of the Royal Edward specifically?”
Crampton shook his head. “Nay, sir. But they inquired after large steamers en route to the Suez Canal. You know, asking whether one had been by. Only three boats this week fit that description.”
“Indeed, the coincidence is suspicious. I agree.”
Both men fell silent for a spell. A wooden chair scraped the floorboards as a patron rose to pay his bill. Cosmo wondered again of the mystery men, then dismissed them as paranoia. Coincidence. Probably nothing. The alien environment had perhaps set Cosmo on edge.
Crampton cleared his voice. “Should I inform her Majesty of any changes in the plan?”
“No no.” Wrightwick stood. This time he extended his hand.
Crampton shook it.
“Everything will proceed as planned. I’ll double the watch, that’s all. Nothing will prevent the Edward from landing intact with its cargo.” Wrightwick glanced left and right. “Certainly no band of clumsy pirates.” He glanced at the timepiece on his wrist and gestured for Cosmo to take the lead.
With his boss’s satchel still in hand, Cosmo moved swiftly toward the exit. If Wrightwick was deferring to Cosmo’s lead, it meant he was concerned enough for his safety to throw convention out the window. Not that anyone in the saloon would care that a British gentleman had deferred to his bag boy.
But Cosmo knew Wrightwick cared. That meant Cosmo should care. Throwing open the saloon doors, Cosmo leapt aside and held one open for his boss. He blinked rapidly in the harsh midday sun. Two blurs in the shapes of men flashed to his left.
Cosmo shielded the sun with his free hand. His bleary eyes focused on an empty street. No men, no nothing. He whistled for the carriage parked across the way. The horses pawed at the ground. The driver started as if he’d been asleep beneath the brim of his hat. Straightening, he shook the reins and stirred the horses to life.
Cosmo opened the door of the carriage. After Wrightwick boarded, Cosmo resumed shotgun. He rubbed his eyes and scanned both sides of the street for the mysterious men or anything suspicious. A couple of women shrouded in black burkas emerged from a bakery. They scurried from the presence of the strangers immediately.
Maybe he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Due to the heightened threat, he’d be getting less in the next few days. Cosmo was determined to execute his duty with honor. Sir Wrightwick might be corrupt and dishonorable, but he was paying Cosmo to guard his life. Cosmo took that contract seriously. At the same time, whether his boss knew it or not, he was instructing Cosmo in Western behaviors.
Besides, if pirates were targeting the Royal Edward, everyone onboard would be in equal danger. Cosmo included.
[End of Teaser]