Reapers’ Portraits: January 1898


It is rare to see a man in uniform in Cross. This morning, as I was walking toward the library, I saw a sailor exit the Cross Train Station. He looked familiar, but I could not place his face, which is strange for me. The sailor saw me, waved, and walked over, asking if there was a decent place to drink.

Together, we walked to the Cajun Tap, where we descended the steps and went to the back and drank where few others are permitted to. The stranger and I chatted about the service, and about a great many other things, and finally, I understood who I was talking with.

The reaper grinned as he saw the understanding dawn in my eyes.

“I’ve come to speak with Meredith about my portrait,” he told me.

“So, I gathered.” We each ordered another whiskey, and he offered up a toast. “To what?”

He smiled. “To war, of course.”

War is inevitable, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, so I drank to it with him. We were silent for a short time, and when I spoke, I nodded to the tally on his cap. “Are you still serving on the Blake?”

He shook his head and ordered a final round. The reaper winked and said, “No. I’ve been transferred. To the Maine. She’ll be docking in Havana, Cuba, soon enough, and I’ll be on board. Down in the boiler room.”

When he saw my face at the news, his expression softened. “It’s war, Duncan. You of all your kind know this. I take no joy in my work. None of us do.”

“I know.”

The reaper smiled. “Then drink with me, Duncan Blood, and be well.”

I did, and I still remembered the taste of that whiskey when I learned of the sinking of the Maine and the death of more than two-thirds of her crew.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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