Cambria must have seen Captain Bridger arrive from her bedroom window. She met him at the door while he was still knocking mud off his boots on the bottom step and stepped out onto the porch with a salute so sharp an unwary man could have cut himself on it. He shouldn’t have expected less from the daughter of a First Officer.
He paused, and then he smiled.
She held her pose perfectly, her small, round face resolute. “Sir!” she said. Standing three steps above him, her gaze was almost level as she looked at him. Her shoulders were square as ever, her chin held high, though her embroidered shirt was horribly out of uniform.
Bridger saluted in return, sharply, the same as he would have granted to a member of his crew. “At ease, sailor. How do the waters look today?”
“The waters are fine, sir!” Cambria reported, at a crisp not-quite-shout. “But we have a big problem.”
“I need details, sailor,” Bridger said.
“Sir! The Sky Thieves stole the moon!”
Bridger’s eyebrows rose in the few moments it took him to accept her statement. “Well, those sons of ducks…”
Cambria nodded. “They are, sir.”
“We have to get it back,” he said.
“We don’t know where it is,” she said.
Bridger shook his head. “No, but I bet the shadow cats do.”
She flashed him the first hint of a grin. “Shadow cats know everything. They always hide in the corners.”
“But they don’t give up secrets easily,” he said, looking down, eyebrows crunched together, as if it troubled him. “We’d better bribe them with yarn fluff and feathers.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Cambria saluted, turned and dashed inside. He heard her pounding up the stairs before he even reached the front door, and he smiled after her.
The inside of the house was cool and dark. The floors were swept, the windows washed, and all the dust that Bridger could imagine in the house hung in the sunbeams. Cambria’s father, Dario leaned against the kitchen cupboards, and smiled too as he cradled a cup of coffee under his chin.
“This is why you’re her favorite Captain,” he said.
Bridger laughed a little. “Because I send her off on wild chases? I have crew that would mutiny.”
“Because you play along,” Dario said. “And, no, you don’t.”
Bridger’s smile tilted at a more dangerous angle. He looked down to keep it to himself.
“Hey,” Tomei said from the kitchen table. She raised her hands in question, offended. “I play along.”
Dario put his cup down to pull another from the cupboard. He poured a few fingers of steaming, sharp coffee from the tin pot. “And when you do, I have to steal the matches back from her to keep her from lighting the house on fire to send smoke-signal threats to the Sky Thieves.”
Tomei looked back down, chewing on something that might have been a curse.
Dario handed the fresh mug to Bridger.
“Mara will be down soon, if you’re here to talk business,” he said.
Bridger accepted the cup and half raised it in thanks. “Tell her to take her time. I’m waiting on intel from the shadow cats. There’s no telling how long it could take.”