Monthly Archives: June 2018

Log #66: Complications

Captain’s Log

September 26th

 

The situation has grown complicated.

It well may be that these complications began with my first action upon our arrival here. Had I, rather than attempting to woo my lady Meredith Vance (with the ultimate object being the same, namely to win her assistance with our effort to reach Bermuda and win back the Grace; I grant myself that much consideration, holding fast to the belief that this is my true aim, my first cause), simply approached her and asked for her aid, then well might she have granted it; then in the course of making ready to weigh anchor and cruise to Bermuda, I might have found an opportunity to pursue my other object, the winning of Meredith Vance’s heart. But my impatience and my desire won me over, and now, perhaps, I have lost – all.

As a consequence of my lapse, Dame Margaret has striven to show us that her hospitality and gentility are beyond reproach; for my part, I have striven to assure her that such qualities were never in doubt. Still she strives, however: she has fed us, entertained us, granted a chamber to the Grables and a second to my three men, so that our party can refresh and recreate themselves after our journey.

As for my accommodation, Dame Margaret took me aside as she showed the men to their rooms. “Mister Kane,” quoth she – alas that I, who had been Nate to her goodness, was now held off as Mister Kane! – “as it seems that there is some personal connection between you and my granddaughter, of course I cannot ask you to stay beneath my roof alongside her. I cannot risk scandal.” Then she stabbed me with a look. “And no matter how discreet we might think we all are, I will not risk any hallway-creeping in the middle of the night – something I think very likely, to be frank, knowing my granddaughter as I do, and being somewhat acquainted with charming rogues like yourself.”

I could not but duck my head, having earned all of her disapprobation and caution. “Of course, my lady. I trust honor will be sufficiently preserved if I make my bed in our wagon this eve.”

Dame Margaret shook her head. “That is precisely the trouble, Mister Kane. You trust that honor will be sufficiently preserved? Honor must be cherished. Pursued, with a full and eager heart. Either honor is held above all else, or it is dragged through the mud. You work hard to find what you can get away with while still seeming honorable, as my granddaughter does, but honor is not preserved simply by appearances. If no one knows of one‘s dishonorable acts, that does not make one honorable.”

Ye gods and devils, I wished to sink beneath the ground, then, so that my ragged, battered cadaver could be as low as my soul felt. Dame Margaret saw this in me, and granted me the mercy of saying thus: “The wagon will be fine, Mister Kane. Please do enjoy the evening.” Then she rested a hand lightly on my arm, signifying that I was not so loathsome that she could not abide my presence. ‘Twas a comfort.

Thus did I spend that evening doing my uttermost to show honor to my hostess and my men. I was the soul of civility, and, I think, a pleasant companion to the room. I did not brood on future struggles, nor did I pine for Meredith; I made merry with those present, all of whom are close to my heart – even the Grables, who have grown to be a valued part of our wandering crew. I did make an especial effort to be good to my friend Balthazar Lynch, as the lad has lost his good opinion of me – or rather, I lost it, when I failed to assist the maid in the next room at the inn. I did win a true smile from him by the evening’s close, the which I consider a victory.

But regardless of my standing and reputation among those closest to me, the true object of our visit to this place was not achieved, for Lady Meredith did not return to join our gathering. Only after all were abed did I, in my lonely monk’s cell in the beast-wagon, hear the sound of her beast-wagon’s growl approaching Dame Margaret’s demesne. I emerged from the van, but mindful of Dame Margaret’s words regarding honor and honor’s loss, I did not approach Meredith. She emerged from her beast-wagon, looking bedraggled and forlorn; she stopped suddenly, having looked up and seen myself. I raised a hand in greeting, and she did likewise; but then she ducked her head and hurried indoors without another glance. I could do naught but watch her go, and then return to my wagon-cell to sleep.

I was determined to find a moment to speak with her with the break of day, but I was awakened from my slumber by the rumble of her beast-wagon departing ere the sun could strike through the windows of the van.

I do not know how severely I have scuttled this endeavor, but I fear I may have sunk this ship entirely. Perhaps we should swim to Bermuda.

For the travails we face, the complications I have raveled into this skein, do not stop with Lady Meredith and Dame Margaret. No, I seem to attract troubles to me as a lodestone draws iron. Though of course, this trouble was drawn to my Lady Meredith, and I simply stood between it and her.

I must say that I stood stout, immovable, impassable. At least I may say that much.

We were on the porch close to the road, my men seated at their ease, I pacing as I fretted over Lady Meredith and her refusal to meet with me. My men were making mock of me, which I had not the time to rail against for the sake of dignity or propriety, nor the heart to gibe back at them. I could merely pace and fret, fret and pace.

At last, Shane MacManus said, “Captain, if this road will not take us where we must go, might be we should seek another way.”

Lynch pounded a fist on the porch’s rail and said, “Aye!”

I shook my head. “Nay. We’ve no need of that. Meredith and I are bound. She will give me what I need from her.”

Lynch jutted his chin out at me. “Captain, I –”

I cut him off. “Meredith will give it to me!”

At that very moment, a new voice, speaking in the slow accents of this place – like a mixture of English and French, it seems to me – spoke from the path behind me. “Now I know you boys aint talkin’ ‘bout my girl like that.”

I spun about and faced the interloper. He was a tall, broad-shouldered square-jawed ruffian, with a sanguine face and thews bulging like a stonecutter’s. He wore a sneer on his lip of the sort that one instantly wished to knock off of the face that carried it. I stared down at him from the porch, and he met me glare for glare.

“I do not know you,” I said at last. “What business have ye with this House?”

He snorted and raised his brows. “My business? My business is findin’ out your damn business. Who the hell are you, and what are you doin’ on my girl’s property?

I frowned at him, feeling an unwelcome tightening in my gut. “Your girl?”

He nodded slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. “Yeah, boy, my girl. Meredith. Meredith Vance. Who I do hope is not the one you were sayin’ is gone give it to you. ‘Cause my girl don’t give nothin’ to nobody ‘cept for me.” Then he grinned the most vile, contemptible grin I think I have ever seen on another man. “And it’s too damn bad for the rest o’ ye’all, ‘cause aint nobody give it as good as my Merry do. That girl is a red-hot fireball in the sack, that’s for damn sure.”

Of course there was but one response to this: I drew my wheel-gun and took aim on that filthy grinning mouth of his. “You lie,” I proclaimed. My men had come to their feet, and Lynch did say warningly, “Captain,” as I am sure he was wary of the dangers in disturbing the peace, and in spilling blood on Dame Margaret’s flagstones; not least was the likelihood that someone nearby would summon la policia. But none of that had any import: I could not allow this smear on Meredith’s honor. Not from the noblest man in Charleston; never from this cur.

The cur had courage. He did not blink in the face of my armament – which is quite contrary to what I have seen on these shores. He met my gaze levelly, and said, “You callin’ me a liar?”

“Aye,” I rejoined without pause. “And a bilge-tongued dog not fit to wash the feet of Meredith Vance. Who, I’ve no doubt, has never set eyes on you, you whom she has never mentioned to me.”

He shook his head. “Aint nobody callin’ Brick Calhoun a liar and walkin’ away with all of his teeth. Come put that pea shooter down so’s I can knock your fuckin’ teeth down your throat.”

I had to smile at that. “I am not in the habit of offering terms to liars and slanderers. You will turn and walk quickly off of this property, or,” and I lowered my aim to his knee joint, “you will never walk quickly again in this life.”

His face screwed up into an ugly red-flushed snarl. He spat on the ground between us, and then turned and began to walk away – slowly. He kept his glare on me every moment, over his shoulder as he sidled away. I came down to the flagstones to encourage his departure. He raised a hand and pointed at me. “We’ll fuckin see ‘bout this, you cocksucker. Soon’s I talk to Merry, we gone see who’s got bidness on this p’operty. And ‘bout who’s a fuckin’ liar.”

I strode towards him. He stopped and turned to face me square. “Ye’ll not bloody speak to Meredith, ye goat-swivin’ bastard!” I admit that in my rage, my civil tongue abandoned me, and I reverted back to the common sailor I be at heart.

His eyes bulged. “That aint fuckin’ up to you, is it, you pussy? You coward! Can’t even face me ‘thout your fuckin’ gun!”

“It falls to me to defend her from pig-faced shite-buckets like you!”

“You aint defendin’ her from me, fuck-stick, I’m her man! She’s wearin’ my ring!” He lifted his hand, waggled his fingers at me. I was so startled by this claim that I looked: and indeed, he wore a ring that was the mate of one I had seen often on the hand of my Meredith.

Perhaps she is not my Meredith.

But that was a thought for cooler blood to consider; in the moment, I could not stand any more. “Lynch!” I called, and as he came to the top step behind me, I tossed him my wheel-gun and said “Stay back!” I turned back, and in the same motion, struck that dull-eyed pustule square in his gob.

Then was battle joined. He tried to grab me – he was the taller and of greater bulk, and would likely have done me some harm: if he could catch me. But I was the quicker, and I bent under his groping ape-arms and struck three more swift blows to his middle and ribs. Three was one too many: I gave him time to strike, and his great fist mashed into my jaw like an oaken gaff swinging in a gale. Made me see stars, he did. A second blow grazed my eye, split the skin of my brow; had he hit square, I’d have been flat. But instead, I stayed on my feet and withdrew out of his reach. He kicked me then, the base coward, and stole my balance; I fell back and he attempted to stomp on me, but I rolled out of the way and started to come to my feet. He closed swifter than I had expected, though, and caught me first with a kick and then with a two-fisted overhand blow across my back. ‘Twas a sore blow, and it threw me down to the earth.

But then he stepped astride me and grabbed at my hair, likely meaning to drive my face into the ground, but I was able to turn over, like an eel – and since we were, it seemed, kicking in this kerfuffle, and his groin was right above me, well.

He fell back, clutching himself, his face even redder. I rose to my feet, took his shirt in hand, and then dealt him my mightiest blow, and then another, and then still another: at the third he fell back, stunned. When I stepped forward to strike once more, he held up his hands in surrender.

I clutched at his right hand and twisted the ring off his finger, the one that was the mate of Meredith’s ring. He bawled, as strips of skin came off with the band; I was none too gentle, which was as he deserved. Speaking slush-mouthed, he grunted out, “Fuck your mother, you asshole.”

I drew back to strike once more – but a hand caught my arm. I spun about to look at who had stymied my revenge and my triumph, and there were my men, come down from the porch to surround me. ‘Twas Kelly who held me, and he shook his head; I cursed and stomped away. Behind me I heard Shane say, “Time to be gone, boyo. And ye’ll not be wantin’ to come back, aye?”

I heard the pig snort and spit. But I glanced back and saw him rise to his feet and limp away. Shane followed close behind until he had gone, and then we adjourned inside the house to address my hurts.

The men didn’t speak to me beyond joining me in cursing the filthy bastard. But the ring I held, taken from him, brought silence to us all. They didn’t need to say aught. I knew what was in their minds, aye; it was in mine as well.

What if he spoke truth? What if it was Meredith who lied, who had played me false, tried to make me cuckold her betrothed?

If so, what were we to do? How would we reach Bermuda and the Grace?

What could I do? How could I ever regain my honor? Or my heart?

So do I keep this log as I wait for Meredith to return. I am attempting to think of what I should say to her.

I know not.

I do not know.

The situation has grown complicated. And I do not know how to unravel this knot.

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Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #65: Damn Diary

Written on the Nineteenth Day of September

To Captain Damnation Kane

 

The first and most vital news that we must share is that the ship is well. She rests at anchor in a private cove on the north side of the island of Bermuda. She has two new owners: one, an old, old friend, seeks to make the return journey home, whatever scourges of Hell might step in his way. The other, a local man of erudition and influence similar to your mother’s, admires her work with the Grace, and wishes to know her secrets so that he might make them a part of his own repertoire. He would be deeply gratified to make your acquaintance.

The men are well, though Ray Fitzpatrick met with an unfortunate accident. He was asked to fill in for you, being, so he said, near and dear to your own heart; in the end, however, he fell short of the mark. It is in the blood, you know, the gift of true command which you have, which enables you to get the most from your ship; one without your blood, even though he may wish to play the hero, simply cannot find success, and may pay the ultimate price of failure. Perhaps one closer to your gifts – your blood, as we say – may have more success, and take up your mantle and proper place aboard.

We do not know that this missive will find you well, though we hope for the best; communication is limited, for we are well-protected by many stout Englishmen of the sort you can no longer find easily these days, along with the penetrating and far-seeing eye of our new master, the local fellow. He does have strong ties to the community, and a loyal following on this island that is his home.

We are unfamiliar with the workings of the local mail service – it seems that one cannot simply ask a passing traveler to bring a letter to an acquaintance at a certain destination and have it passed hand to hand; rather there is some official coterie of messengers who carry all mail for a fee; but it must be posted properly, by a system with which we are unfamiliar; and so we are entrusting the missive to a local lad, a likely fellow, who is the only visitor we get in our secluded new surroundings; we will give him this letter, addressed to you in care of Monsieur Claude Navarre, whose place of residence is known to us, along with sufficient funds to post it and extra money for his trouble; we warned him specifically not to break the seal, but we’re sure it will reach you unread – trustworthy as a Puritan, this boy is, we deem.

We do hope this letter finds you well, and in pleasing company. We urge you to find your way to visit us at your earliest convenience; this place reminds us strongly of Clear Island, the place we visited when last we were in Ireland. But we need you to bring the celebration to life, as we all hope to do.

 

Praying for our coming reunion,

We remain your loyal friends,

Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn

 

***

 

 

this is my log

i wil keep it on my phon

Captin keeps a log all the tym and heeryts down all that hapins tho heeryts betir thanmee

but i wil get betir

ihava phon

chester help mee somuch hee is sosmart the croo laf at peepil heer at americas becuz they ar weak and they doo fools acts but nun of us kan reed or ryt but for Captin and mayt and sirjin von but chester kan reed and ryt and he nose all of the phon and internet and apps

hee help mee hee put apps on my phon my first reed no reader and my first speller and my first math and hee sho mee how to yuz my phon and how to read and look at internet and maps and ryt signuls to him in messages sirjin von was to teech me my letirs but wee had no tym on the Grace to lern so i do not no much

but i wil lern now with my phon and chester is help

i wil mayk Captin prowd uv mee

Captin cum too tahk too mee then hee sleep in van with mee last day i say i luv him hee say hee luv mee then he sleep nextoo mee i did not cloz my iyz al nyt i was so hapee

log

Captin try to tayk my phon he make mahk of mee hee say i look at phon toomuch

i doo it for yoo Captin al for yoo for yoo for yoo

hee make me angery

log

i think Captin is not al a good man.

wee herd noyziz from beehyn wall of angery and vilens. man hit wooman and shee cry.

Captin doo no thing.

i help i hit man hoo hit woman. i beet him i put him owt.

shee is good wooman her name is mindy.

we tahk for owrz.

i tel her abowt Captin and say i do not no if hee is good man.

shee say shee think her man is a good man and then hee is not shee say thay kan bee 1 thing then 1 other thing and not fursthing then go bak to fursthing sum tymz or not never agin.

i say i hayt wen Captin acts wurs than i no he is.

mindy smyl and say yu hav a crush on him.

i do not no wut shee meenz.

shee ask if i luv him.

i say i doo.

i cry. i doonot no wy i cry i never cry never never but shee is so good and i doonot hav anee frenz no 1 too tahk too.

shee hold me wyl i cry shee say it is o k it is good to luv and shee say i am good becuz i help her wen shee need help and i do not ask for no thing bak so the man i luv must bee good too she is shur.

i spent the nyt with her wee tahk al nyt.

shee is my fren.

mindy and chester are my frenz. i have frenz.

mindy noz my seecret. shee say shee new ryt off shee say shee duzint no wy the men doo not no. wy the Captin duz not see mee and no. i doo not no. i thot i hyd good but mindy new. thay ar smartir than us.

so may hap shee is ryt and Captin is good man becuz i luv him. may hap i luv him becuz hee is good man so shee say.

i say to mindy i try to lern the phon and read and ryt to be good enuf for Captin.

shee say i must do it for mee i must bee betir for mee.

shee is veree smart.

i wil do it for mee.

 

***

 

September 20

Dear Diary,

Jeez, two weeks since I wrote in you? So much for my decision to keep a log. Well, hell, it’s not like anything has happened worth writing about. What do I write on an average day? “Ate food, did yoga, cleaned house, flew plane, slept.” Multiply that by fifteen, and I’m all caught up. I don’t know how that guy did it – what was his name, the one in Merry Olde England who kept a diary every day for like fifty years? Pepper? Pepsi? Whatever.

Nothing interesting has happened since he left.

Shit. Now I’m too depressed to write what I was going to write, which wasn’t even interesting in the first goddamn place.

 

September 23

That’s it. I am never flying tourists for Jerry Rampaneau again. I don’t know what it is about that guy, maybe he finds all his clients through the Dirty Old Men Network, but I get my ass pinched every time! I know that’s why that pig Jerry calls me for his charters, because he likes it when I duck under the wing or bend over for the wheel blocks, but why is it that every tourist he sells has to have crab hands?

And then I have to look at their wives, and see the expressions on their faces, and the way they look at me, and at their pig-husbands laughing with Jerry Rampaneau while they speculate about the color of my goddamned pubic hair. UGH! Next time I’m throwing them out of the plane!

No. There won’t be a next time, because NEVER. AGAIN.

I hate having red hair. And I hate men.

Yes, Diary. Him too.

 

September 25

Have to rush – had to lie to Nana to avoid blind date she wants to fix me up with, so I have to dress and go out for pretend date. Melly will meet me at Watermark. I don’t know how I’ll manage to keep Nana from fixing me up with whatever grandson of whatever old friend she’s been talking to about her poor spinster granddaughter – I swear, Diary, she has more friends than a Baptist church has Amens! And every one of them has some cross-eyed half-bald slack-jawed hillbilly of a grandson whom I should be interested in because he goes to church and visits his grandmaw every Sunday. My LORD, Nana!

Just had to write down the good news on the Never Again for Jerry Rampaneau front: I’ve got a line on a job that has possibilities. It looks like I’ll be flying a surveying team over the coast to look for storm damage after Irene. That’s right, Di-Di: government work. HALLELUJAH! If this flight goes well, maybe they’ll call me for the next one. Maybe this job will run long! What do they care? It’s not their money!

I MAY GET SOME GOVERNMENT WASTE!

God bless America.

***

 

FuckshitfuckFUCKshitfuck oh, shit, oh fuck. FUCK!

Shit. SHIT!

Why did I have to go there. Why tonight. Why now!

Why did he have to be there, oh Lord, oh Lord, please, please help me. Please don’t – don’t bring this down on me. Please, God. Oh, please. Not him.

Not Brick.

 

September 26

Well, I suppose that’s what I get for praying to God. After all, that bastard took Granpa Ray away from Nana, and he killed Mama and Daddy. And he made that devil from Hell, Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun.

Now he brought me back Damnation Kane.

Don’t get me wrong, Di-Di: I am so very glad to see him again. But –

Oh, Lord. He drove up in a van, a white van, one I’ve never seen before, and when it came to a stop in front of the house and that side panel door slid open before the engine turned off – my heart just stopped! I was so sure, SO sure, that Brick and his fucking hillbilly white trash buddies were coming for me, and they were going to take me away and chain me by the ankle to a wood-burning stove in the kitchen of some tarpaper shack with no electricity in the Ozarks so Brick could – breed me – until he got shinnied up and beat me and his rape-babies to death just like his daddy did to his family. Oh my Lord, I was so sure that van was bringing my horrible death.

And then he jumped out. Smiling. And oh, Di-Di, he was so beautiful, it was like sunrise on the ocean. And he swept up the walk, took me in his arms, and kissed me.

Then I slapped him.

I think I probably shouldn’t have slapped him.

I mean, Di-Di, he was absolutely taking liberties. With my lips, my body, I can’t believe he whirled me around like that! He did! He came bounding up the walk, and all I could see was his eyes, burning right down to the heart of me and then into it – and I did not tell him he could look at me like that, I did not invite him into my soul

Is that where he is?

I think he might be. God, he can’t be. He can’t.

But then the next thing I know is he’s right at the top of the porch steps, and his arms are around me and he spins me around and tips me backwards! And all I could do was grab onto his shoulders and hold on for dear life, with my heart pounding away in my throat, sounding like a helicopter in my ears, my God! So fast! I didn’t know my heart could beat that fast and not burst out of me and go screaming down the street with smoke coming out of its ventricles! And then, with me falling backwards except for my arms around him and his around me, he leans his head down and kisses me. Hard. Not angry-hard, but – I can still feel my lips tingling. Not quite bruised, they don’t hurt, but – soft and scared and wide-eyed is how my mouth feels, and thinking about it makes me want to race outside right now and jump on him, and make him feel like a scared virgin on Prom night. My god! It’s not like that was the first time I’ve been kissed!

It felt like the first time I’ve been kissed.

And so then I slapped him. Well, first he swung me upright and let me go. I almost think the slap was half to get my balance back, like putting your hand on something solid to steady you, since the whole – well, the whole me – was quivering and weak as a willow tree. So then I slapped him, and hard, and he went stiff and tense, and his eyes flashed, and I wouldn’t want him angry with me (except in just the right circumstances), but then one of his friends – they were cheering when he was kissing me, did I say that, Di-Di? Like fratboys at a strip club. Though I didn’t hear them at first, while he was kissing me. I didn’t hear anything but my heart beating. But when he stopped, one of his friends said something in some foreign language I didn’t recognize at all, and first he looked mad at his friend, but then he stepped back and, I swear to God, he bowed, and said, “I beg your kind forgiveness, my lady. That was ungallant.”

So what did I do? Did I throw myself at him for Part Two of that kiss? Did I stand tall and aloof in my icy-cold dignity? Did I smile and accept his apology and give him one back for the slap, which I totally didn’t even mean to do, except he had me all twisted up between happiness and outrage and lust and – and fear!

Oh, God. Brick. Shitfuck.

No, I ripped into him like he was a teenager egging Nana’s house on Halloween. I think I started with “How dare you,” and it went downhill from there. I mean, he deserved some of it. Because he left weeks ago, and we didn’t make any promises then, and what if there was somebody in my life and that kiss got me in trouble through no fault of my own? Especially with how I responded to it, which was completely involuntary, entirely out of my control.

And as I’m saying all these things, these terrible things – well, some of them just true and right – and he’s just standing there, taking everything I can throw at him, all of a sudden here comes Nana descending on me like the wrath of God. She gives me an ear full – no, both ears full – of my failure to provide proper Southern hospitality for our friends.

She was absolutely right, and I apologized. And he did, too, which raised him back once more from the depths of my hatred. But I couldn’t stay there with him, not with sixteen tons of mortification hanging off of me, and Nana still breathing fire, Southern Belle fire which is the worst because she would have to hide it from our guests, and so she wouldn’t do her usual explosion of righteous fury, and instead she would just smolder white-hot all day and spend hours giving me evil looks and whispering little digs whenever she passed me with the coffee service or the tray of snacks.

No, thank you. I went to work, to get everything ready for the government charter tomorrow.

Nana doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know about Brick.

She doesn’t know that Brick Calhoun has just been released from prison, for the second time, after a three-year sentence for drug possession. (And unless my math is wrong, he got out before three years were up – and what the fuck, South Carolina Corrections? Don’t even try to tell me he got out for good behavior. Not Brick.) She does not know that he got his nickname – of course he was just called Beau in high school – after he beat another drug dealer almost to death with a brick, for which he was given his first time in prison, a five-year sentence up in Turbeville for aggravated assault.

Nana does not know that Brick Calhoun has been stalking me since our senior year, when he decided that I should be his gal, and didn’t let little things like the fact that I have loathed him since the day we met stand in the way of his obsession with me.

Now he’s out, and unless he has changed, he’s already driving by the house to keep tabs on me. He’s tried to scare off my boyfriends in the past, and he’s done it, more than once.

I wish he could scare me off, and I could just leave and he would leave me alone. But I don’t get to be scared off. I just get to be scared.

I do not know what would happen if Brick met Damnation. I do know how Brick would react if he had seen Nate kissing me like that on the front porch: he’d go get a brick. Or maybe a sawed-off shotgun.

I can’t tell Nate. He will try to rescue me, and either he will end up dead, or he will kill Brick and get himself sent to prison, and no sir, not for me, not in this life.

I can’t tell Nana, or she will go to the police, and I can’t go to the police because Brick has tons of friends on the Charleston police force. He played football with half of them or with their sons, and three-quarters of them think he’s a hero because that dealer he almost killed is black and a bad man in his own right. Brick is no kind of vigilante hero, he beat that man because he wanted to take over his drug territory, but he told the police it was because the man sold heroin to his baby sister, and so the police all love him for what he did. He wouldn’t have served time at all except he gave that man brain damage and his family called in the NAACP, who pressured the DA into pressing charges and making them stick – and even then it should have been ten years or more for attempted murder. But if I or Nana went to the police, they would smile indulgently and pat me on the shoulder and ask why don’t I just go out for a nice drink with Brick? After all, I need a man, don’t I? Purty lil thang lahk me?

God damn all good ole boys. I hope they all go to Hell and get raped by the Devil.

There is only one place where I am safe from Brick, and that is in the sky. I will get more work after this government charter ends – I will fly every day with Jerry Rampaneau and let him pinch my ass every hour on the hour – and I will stay away from home for as long as it takes until Brick goes away, loses interest in me or goes back to prison, whichever comes first.

I know it isn’t a good plan, Di-Di. But I don’t know what else to do.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #64: A Good Man

Log

September 25

 

The miles this day have passed far more quickly and with greater ease. For my part, I have Balthazar to thank, for his words did settle much of the turmoil in my soul. Now I suffer only from impatience: I must reach Charleston. I must reach Bermuda. I must reach my Grace. But this is a familiar unease, and not a perilous one; it helps to marshal my faculties for the coming struggle.

We did begin this day’s travel in a leisurely fashion; in truth, we remained at the comfortless Comfort Inn until noon. The morning was spent in fulfilling our bargain with the Grables: I and Shane are now capable of piloting a beast-wagon. We have learned to raise it from its slumber, by the turning of a key, and how to goad it forward, turn it, and bring it to a halt. There are finer details, George Grable insists; we do not use our turn-signals as he calls them – but this mystifies me: could a man not see that my beast-wagon be turning, without he sees a lantern’s intermittent glow? Have these people no powers of observation at all? – but in the main, we know the running of these metal beasts. Shane is more skilled than I, to my chagrin; I am too easily vexed by the various knobs, protrusions, mirrors, lights and sounds. Bah. I will sit beside the man at the wheel and navigate, as a captain should.

Lynch has also had a productive day of studies: he has spent the day with young Chester Grable, bent over various magic windows and Verizon stones, hearkening to the youth’s instruction in their purpose and use. Shane’s first time at the beast-wagon’s wheel coursed Lynch and the Grables to a ‘phone store, where Lynch handed over dollar-papers in exchange for a certain time of life for his new eye-phone, given him from the unclaimed and unreturnable loot held by the Grables. He then spent the entirety of our journey this day with his gaze locked to his eye-phone (‘Tis the perfect name, as it is the only object on which his eye rests), his thumbs rubbing over its smooth surface, his company lost to us. He puts me in mind of the Lotus-Eaters. I do hope he will break free of this ensorcelling in time; I have need of him.

Still and all, we have once more course three hundreds of miles; as the sun set, we came into a town of middling size that hight Kenly; tonight we have taken a room at a Quality Inn. The innkeep had but a single large room vacant of guests, a room with two of the larger sort of bed; we asked for a received a cot, as well, the which I have claimed so that I do not have to share. Kelly has sworn that he is sufficiently recovered to sleep on his side, and thus silence his baleful snoring. We shall see. Lynch will once more sleep in the beast-wagon, and MacManus has received permission to use his elbows to remind Kelly not to sleep flat on his back.

At the innkeep’s suggestion, we did dine this eve at a local tavern named Stormin’ Norman’s Barbecue; they served a proper portion of meat, with a most savory sauce. It was a proper tavern, as well, with much company, conversation, and laughter, with a proper sort of music sweetening our hearts as we dined. (Though I was disappointed they did not have wine; still, there was ale to be had for all but Lynch and Chester – Lynch at first complaining, but then happily joining Chester in the consumption of this “root beer.”) Young Chester did not find the music to his taste; he named it “country” and says he prefers wrap; but I thought it most enjoyable, as it sounded in my ears as somewhat akin to the music of home: there were ballads of a mournful or lyrical nature, slow of pace and rich with pathos, and then there were faster tunes like jigs and reels, though none of the company there struck up a dance – perhaps because the music’s players themselves were not present. Many a time have I seen a minstrel cajole and chivvy a crown into dancing to his tune; without that encouragement, the music alone is not enough, it seems, to stir the blood and move the feet of these Americalish.

We then returned to the inn, where we endeavored to instruct George Grable in the art of navigation. We do not have a sextant, but we taught him to reckon direction from the Pole Star (First we taught him how to find it; I cannot understand the depths of ignorance in which these people wallow: how could knowledge as simple as the naming of stars in the sky have been lost?) and how to cast the log to reckon speed; from these, with good charts, he can begin to know his way. We showed him how to use the width of his thumb, two fingers, or his whole hand to measure the sun’s height above the horizon, and from that to know an approximation of his latitude – which is enough for a sailor, aye, if not for a mapmaker. We told him all we could of sailing a ship without being aboard an actual vessel; he seemed most avid to learn what we could tell him, and declared himself well-satisfied by our bargain.

I was not entirely satisfied: because even after I called on him to participate, Lynch did not join in and assist us with teaching Grable what he knows of sailing. He spent the eventide as had spent the day, bent into a gaffer’s hunch over his eye-phone like a monk at his copying. At last I had had enough, and while Shane and Kelly were teaching Grable to estimate wind speed and direction, I went to him and plucked it from his grasp; ‘tis a mark of his distraction that, even though the youth’s reflexes are faster than mine own, he merely blinked owlish at me for a moment, his hand rising, reaching out for the phone like a babe begging for its sugar-tit.

I looked at the ‘phone, but the light irritated my eyes. “Why have you forsaken your mates for this glowing rock?” I growled at him.

He clenched his jaw and furrowed his brow. “I have not,” quoth he.

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “It seems to me that we have been bereft of your company, if not separated from your carcass, all of this past day’s hours.”

He folded his hands in his lap; he was seated on the ground at the edge of the stone field where the beast-wagons are kept, his back against a metal post. “I am learning,” he said, and I noted a glint in his eye.

“Learning what, how to lose your soul into this enchanted mirror?” I asked, waggling the ‘phone by his face.

Now I saw his reflexes: because he snatched the ‘phone from my grasp, quick as a trice. “I’m learning everything,” he said, and then hunched once more, curving his body protectively over the ‘phone like a mother over its babe. I abandoned him to it, though my heart is sore; I hope he is not lost to us. To me. I must no0t ester him over it, I know. I know it.

I had hoped to confide in him, once more.

 

Later

It has been an eventful evening. I feel I do not entirely grasp what these events portend, but I see the weight of them. I feel it.

We retired to the room, Grable the elder having proven he could read the position of the stars and approximate latitude given a specific celestial light as a marker for the sun at various times of day. Lynch accompanied us, and was closeted with young Chester – in the closet, in truth; the room is not overly spacious, and I think Balthazar has wearied of my company. Perhaps I have looked maudlin at him. Or heaved sighs. By Dagda, I hope I haven’t sighed.

Shane drove the wagon to a nearby market and returned with rum and brandy, and we had been taking our ease with it, when the noise started. It came from the adjoining room, the sounds of a vituperative argument. A married couple, I’d wager, based on the shrill screeching and the sheer venom of the voices. We could not make out the words, but the tone was clear.

“Should we do something?” Goodman Grable queried, taking a tiny sip of the brandy. He drinks like a child, or a doddering granny; but this habit means that on the morrow he will be able to steer the wagon true, so I stopped Shane from laughing at him.

At those words, we all three did stare, and his eyes tacked from man to man. “I mean, pound on the wall, or something?” he continued. “Let them know we can hear them?”

“Why would we do that?” I asked, reaching out for the brandy bottle, which he gave into my hand. As I spoke, the closet opened and Lynch and Chester Grable emerged.

“It’s really loud in there,” said Chester, gesturing towards the wall.

The elder Grable nodded to his son, and then answered my query. “You know, to try to stop it before – before somebody gets hurt.”

I exchanged a look with Kelly, and another with Shane. I did not look at Lynch, for I could see from the edge of my eye that he was glaring at me, at all three of his mates. I turned back to Grable. “’Tis no wisdom to step between lovers in a brouhaha. Less so to step between man and wife.”

“Man and wife,” Kelly murmured, meaning the couple next door; I nodded. Surely lovers would not carry on at this volume for this long.

Grable looked at all of us, then at Lynch. Lynch shook his head and then stomped into the washroom – a private lavatory, these rooms had, which was the sole claim of either comfort or quality which I had seen this inn make – and closed the door vigorously. It did seem a luxury to relieve one’s self and wash without stepping into the cold night air or fetching water; too, I appreciated not having my men use a chamberpot right by my bed as I slept. For the nonce, it served as a private cabin for Lynch’s ire. Grable shrugged, beckoned his son to sit beside him on the bed, and then he turned on the room’s magic window, the which drowned out the bulk of the hurly-burly in yonder room.

Until he began to strike her.

We could hear it all: the blow, an open hand on a cheek, with a crack like canvas in a storm wind; she cried out and then began to weep. There were more blows; she was flung against the wall, and he roared in anger while she pleaded. He struck her again. And then again.

Grable stood. “We have to call the cops!”

I stood then, and placed myself before the room’s telephone. “No policia. We be hunted men.”

Grable shook, his face pale and sickly as the woman’s cries continued. By the Morrigan, would the woman not be silent? Did she not know that her caterwauling drove him on, and on? If she would but suffer in silence, he would cease – and then she could cut his throat while he slept. I would offer my dagger to the cause.

“Then you do something!” Grable said, the effort to sound gruff clear in his voice, but belied by his face, by his shaking hands.

I shook my head. “She is no kin of mine, nor any of ours. It is not our concern.”

Grable threw up his hands. “We have to do something! He’s going to kill her!” He may have been right; her cries had fallen to whimpers and grunts, and still, the blows fell.

I crossed my arms. “If he does so, we will bring him before a magistrate to face justice.”

Grable grabbed my shirt. “That’s not good enough!”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. I drew my wheel-gun from my belt and proffered it to him. “Play the man, then, Master Grable,” quoth I.

Grable released my shirt and fell back away from me. He returned to his bed, put his arm around his son, and hung his head.

I nodded. “Aye. A man takes care of his own, first.”

Of a sudden, then, Balthazar Lynch stood before me, his eyes aflame; I flinched back from him. He snatched the wheel-gun from my hand. “A good man does more,” he said to me, his voice so low that only I could hear him.

‘Twas as if he struck a blow, and now it was I who fell back away from him. He turned from me and strode quickly out of the room. Then we heard a pounding fist on the neighboring door. “Open for the Watch,” Lynch called, trying to pitch his voice low and manly. Then he remembered where we were, and the words these people used. “Policia!” he shouted, pounding again.

The sound of blows stopped, the woman’s whimpering fading. Then we heard the door open, and the man began to speak.

Lynch did not give him the chance. Instantly we heard a sharp blow, and the man grunted; then there were two more similar sounds, and the door flung hard ’gainst a wall. The woman cried out, and there was a scuffle; we could hear Lynch cursing, and the man first grunting as blow after blow sounded through the wall – and then he was howling.

Shane winced. “Lad got him in the stones,” he said, and the rest of us winced in turn.

Then there was a second, identical howl.

Then a third.

“Christ, lad,” Shane muttered, “ye’ll geld the man, if ye keep at it.”

But it seemed that Lynch was satisfied with that, for the sounds of combat ended. We heard Balthazar’s voice, low and solicitous, and we heard the girl reply. We sat in rapt silence, listening to it all, Chester having darkened the magic window so we could hear. She spoke again, her voice choked with tears. Then Lynch asked a question – and then she said something filled with choler. Then there was a thud, and a low groan.

Kelly rumbled. “Lass kicked ‘im.”

A new commotion began; the man made some noise of protest, and there was a slap, louder than any before it. Then a scuffling – and then, through the still-open door of our room, we saw the man come stumbling out of his room, clearly violently propelled thus: he fell asprawl on the pavement and lay there bleeding, his face turning black and blue.

We raised our bottles in salute to Balthazar Lynch’s victory. We bade Chester return the magic window to life, and we returned to our drinking, waiting for Lynch to return so we could congratulate him directly, and raise a glass in his honor.

But he did not return.

‘Twas an hour later, at the least, and our bottles nearly drained, before he came back to the room. In the meantime the ejected ruffian had risen to his clumsy feet, clutching at his offended manhood; he had shouted one last imprecation – the which his lass had returned, with several more as a generous gift – and then he had stumbled to a beast-wagon and rattled his way out of the inn’s bounds. We watched him go, standing in the doorway lest he think to return – and Kelly remained there on watch against that possibility – and then returned to our drinking.

At last Kelly said, “Captain?” and I turned to see Lynch in the doorway, Kelly having stepped aside for the youth.

For the youth and his companion.

The lass was bloodied and bruised, but young and comely beneath it; and she held Lynch’s arm with both hands, clinging to him as to a lifeline.

“Captain,” Lynch said. I raised an eyebrow at him. “I will be spending the night in the next room,” Lynch said. I did not respond. After a moment, he nodded, turned, and left with the lass.

Shane and Kelly roared with laughter, and sang a bawdy song to encourage Lynch in reaping the rewards of his heroics. I did not join in. Rather, I went to sleep in the beast-wagon.

Alone.

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Log #63: Comfort

Log

September 24

 

Our road, in the event, is indeed straight; I know not, yet, if it be true. For certain sure, it is long. Yet our beast-wagon is swift as an arrow’s flight: in this one day now passed, we have traveled as far as we did over a full ten days on our journey northwards, even with the wagon and team. We are once more near Baltimore, Grable has said; a full 300 miles we have traveled this day.

I have sat, stiff and still, all this day, in the rear of the beast-wagon, where cargo would be stored. It is the wagon’s hold: an enclosed space lacking in amenities or comforts, of any kind, apart from a sort of covering for the deck, which the Grables call “carpet,” though it does not resemble cloth; it is more like a badly-tanned hide of some foul gray-furred beast. But atop a cushion atop a blanket atop that, some comfort may be found, and the Rosenbergs and the Grables did both donate blankets and cushions to us for this journey. There is little comfort for me, however, and not simply because I share this space with three other men: the hold of the wagon is capacious enough to allow each of us room to sit at ease, if not enough to lie down and sleep. No, the trouble is in my mind and my soul: I cannot find ease or respite from my thoughts, nor my fears. I try not to see this lightless boxed space as a coffin, but I do feel as immobile as a corpse. As breathless. But I have all the fears of a man who has not yet passed beyond the veil.

What if Meredith should say me Nay?

Perhaps I should have sailed in the Emperor Grable, offering this clanking, stinking thing as surety and recompense. Though this travel is faster than the ship would be.

What if Kelly heard wrongly? Or the Rosenbergs did misinterpret what Kelly did hear? Surely “The Triangle” could refer to nigh any locale; what place does not have triangles somewhere about?

What if Hobbes and the Shadowman cannot sail  my ship?

Or if they murder all my men?

What if –

A plague on my thoughts. They have strained me nigh to breaking.

***

We have stopped for the night at a place called the Comfort Inn. Though I do not find much here in the way of comfort; but then I have dined and drunk at a tavern called The King’s Glory, where on a good night they would turn the sawdust floor so the vomit was on the bottom, so perhaps I should not expect too much from this establishment.

We have taken two rooms, there being, it seems, no common room where men on a journey may lie on a bench by the fire for mere pennies, or even at the sufferance of a kind innkeep. But two rooms did suffice to house the six of us: one had two narrow beds, where the Grables shall rest; generous, to give them a private room at our expense, but it had been George begging fatigue of the road that did call for the stop, and we do want him alert and steady on the helm for the morrow. Too, I understand his fatigue: though we pass the miles more quickly, still there is no way not to feel them. And we do, aye, indeed we do. Though far easier than shank’s mare, still I can feel every mile in my heart. In my bones.

The second room boasts a single larger bed, and a couch that would suffice for a small man, or a boneless one. Or a sailor, inured by sea voyages to sleeping in a berth smaller than a child’s bed, or a-swing in a hammock on rolling seas. Kelly had the most need for comfort and rest, for his hurts, and so the bed was his and mine. Aye, I could have bent myself to the couch; I slept in a sailor’s berth for many a year. But aboard my Grace, I grew accustomed to my cabin and the true bed therein, and so I find I have lost the habit of sleeping compacted into myself, my knees in my belly or my arms crushed ‘gainst my ribs. And the men call me Captain, still; I must needs keep my dignity so they might keep their pride in their loyal service. Had it been other than Kelly wounded, we might have slept three abreast, but as it is, MacManus and Lynch had to choose ‘twixt couch and floor. The problem was ably managed when Lynch seized two of the assortment of pillows (The bed was furnished with cushions enow for any noblewoman, howsoever delicate of flesh and shrewish of complaint she be) and took it upon himself to sleep in the beast-wagon, and there to keep a watch.

But enough: the log is kept. I must sleep.

***

I cannot sleep.

Kelly snores, is the bother, and I cannot prod him to roll over as he is wounded in my service.

Nay, that is not the bother. If it were I would take myself to the Grables’ room and sleep on their floor. It is still my soul that twists and strains at me, that disturbs my respite. They are the same thoughts as before, and no better for having aged some hours.

I cannot simply lie here. Lynch. I will speak to Lynch.

 

 

September 25

‘Tis morning now. I have slept, not overlong, but well. Quite well. Thanks to my man – my friend, Balthazar. He has gone to the room to use the head and the washtub, so I am alone in the beast-wagon. And I am at ease.

I roused him last night at my soul’s deepest ebb; he was soundly asleep when I rapped on the door and called his name, but still he opened the hatch instantly, rubbing sleep from his eyes and asking if there were danger.

“Only that I will lose my mind,” I said, climbing into the hold and seating myself cross-legged on the carpet-hide.

He shook his head and smiled. “Ye’ll not lose your mind, Cap’n. Ye’ve the strongest mind of any man I have ever known. No puzzle will overcome you.”

“I wish I had your faith,” said I.

“Ye may take mine from me, and anything else ye wish to have of me,” he said. The boy’s loyalty and good heart touched me, and I placed my hand atop his; he shuddered and then put his other hand over mine, and the touch gave me comfort, at last.

Then I unburdened my mind to him. I should not have; he is my man, one of my crew, and so should not have to bear his captain’s worryings. But my first mate was not here, nor my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn; and this youth and I have grown closer through these past months’ tribulations. I have come to rely upon him, and he has never failed me. Nor did he this night; even if my troubles were prodigious, still he bore up under them and gave me his strength.

“Are we on the correct path?” I fretted. “Aye, Captain,” said he, “this be the swiftest course to our lady Grace. I know it chafes you to travel so, and aye it does me, but speed is our weapon.” “But what if we are aimed in the wrong direction? What if Kelly misheard their speech?” He grinned at that; I could see his straight, white teeth in the light of the moon and stars above. “Kelly never mishears. ‘Tis a part of him, like the voices. I have heard him speak over whole conversations without a single slip.”

Aye, of course; I had forgotten that. This is why a companion is a true necessity: when one’s mind is too filled with ballast and bilge to sail well, a companion can remind one of what one forgets. I continued to bail my troubles into the lad. “What of the Rosenbergs’ Triangle? If they have named us the wrong destination?”

He nodded at that. Here is the true quality of Balthazar Lynch: he did not merely flatter me and assure me that all was well simply because it was I who steered the course. Aye – he did flatter me, in truth, but then he acknowledged the perils we faced, so I would not need to feel a fool for worrying over them. “Aye, that may be. But they are of this time, and he a sailor; I think it best we follow their course. If it be false, we will see where we be, and strike out again.” I felt the pressure of his hands on mine. “We will get her back, Nate. The Grace is your lady, your ship. I think nothing can keep you from her.”

I hesitated then, loath to reveal my deepest and most painful canker of doubt. But I did. Because I have come to rely on him. “What if Meredith refuses me?”

He bowed his head. Then he lifted it again and whispered, “No woman could refuse you. That sl- She. She will surely not.” He chuckled then. “’Tis – ‘twould be the curse of loving you, that a woman would have so many rivals for your affection.” He tilted his head and regarded me, and I saw his large, dark eyes reflecting the moon’s light. “Though I know that your loyal heart, once given, would always stand true. ‘Tis too good a heart to be false.”

I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder to thank him for the compliment – what an honest lad he is! What man would say such tender things to another man? – and then I said that we should go to sleep, if he wouldn’t mind sharing the wagon’s hold with his captain. He said, “I’d share any bunk with ye,” and then coughed and moved his blankets to the side, leaving a space for me beside him. I stretched out, stealing a blanket and a pillow from him, and putting my back against his for warmth and the simple comfort of touch.

Before I drifted off, I did ask him one last query. “In New York you called me a good man.”

“Aye,” he said, his back to mine. “And a pirate.”

“Aye. But that’s the rub: I am a pirate. I pillage and plunder, rob and murder. I am no good man.”

“Ye do those things, aye,” he said. “But not by chance. Ye do not prey on all weaker than ye. Ye be an Irishman: and, though I would not insult your blessed mother, ye be a fatherless Irishman.”

I had to chuckle at that. But then, he did not know. Most of my men did not, as I never spoke of it. “No. I have a father.”

He shifted, lifting his head to look at me. “Aye?” he asked, startlement in his voice and manner.

I nodded, though I did not look straight at him. “Aye. My mother was at Drogheda. My father – my father is an Englishman.”

He stared down at me. “She were raped?”

I could only nod; even the thought of it clenched my jaw and made my blood burn.

He lay back down. “Bless Lady Maeve for her strength.”

I could have embraced him then; had he been a woman, I would have kissed him for his kindness and compassion. I did not speak of this to my crew first because I did not want my men to mistrust my half-English blood – though the fact of my bastardy, the which my men assumed anyway, simply put me level with the main of them – but far more because I would not have my salty tars think less of my mother. The injustice of it has ever torn at me: had she been a harlot, the rough men I sailed with would think no less of her; but as she was raped, they would think her both a fallen woman and a weakling, because they would think that she surrendered.

Nothing could be less true: ‘tis no shame that a young girl – but seventeen she was, at Drogheda – could not fight off a man of Lord Blackwell’s strength and years soldiering. Her strength shows in that she did not hurl herself off a cliff afterwards. She stood straight in the face of unjust judgments of her characters and bore – me. Lynch named me the strongest will he knows; but I am not. She is.

And I could bless him for seeing it so. But I only said, “Aye.”

After a moment he went on. “For an Irishman in our time, the only way to live is to surrender and be enslaved – or to fight. You fight. You rob and plunder, aye – but only the English.”

I had to object. “We have taken many an Irishman’s ship, and ye know it.”

“Aye,” he rejoined, “but they are the Irishmen who have surrendered. The only way an Irishman could be a merchant and fill a ship with wealth is if he bent knee and neck to the English, and became their creature. He might as well be English.”

I had to agree. “But I have struck at others. On these shores and at home. And I have murdered.”

“Aye, Nate – I’ve murdered with ye. Think ye the only one whose conscience twinges?”

Well, it was twinging now at his words, but I did not speak.

He went on. “Ye do not do anything unless it is in service of those who have your loyalty. Your family, your clan, your country – and your crew. Not ever for yourself. All the plunder ye’ve taken in your years on the seas, and how much have ye kept for yourself? Where are your chests of gold, your jeweled trinkets? Where is your pirate’s hoard, Captain Kane?”

It was the truth: I kept little of what I took. It went to my ship, or my men, or back to the people at home. “I do not always kill for gold,” I said.

Why do we always fight the hardest when others try to see the good in us? I would never argue if someone spoke kindnesses of my mother or my companions – or my ship. But say them of me, and I will deny and rebuff and scoff all the hours of the day and night. Is it humility? Are all men simply fools?

But this is why we need true friends, strong friends, friends who will stand up under such circumstances and say, Nay.

“Nay,” said my friend Balthazar. “Ye do not always kill for gold. Ye kill for justice, betimes. And aye, ye have a temper to ye, so that when ye do strike out, ye may do greater harm than would another man. But even in a temper, ye choose your targets well. Ye fight justly, and wi’ honor, and for honor. That is why ye have the loyalty and the – love – of your men. Of – of me.”

He fell silent. I did not mention the mutiny; men do slip, sometimes. If he could forgive me my wrath, then I could forgive me men their doubts and fears and anger that made them steal my ship. At the least, I could forgive those who returned and swore fealty to me. And though a small voice still wanted to deny what he said, to search in my past for some misdeed that would disprove his words, I silenced it. I chose to accept what he said as the truth. It did bring me comfort, at last.

“Ah, man,” I said to him, “I hope ye know that ye have my loyalty as well. And my love.”

I felt a shudder go through him, his back against mine. “Aye,” he said, in a muffled voice.

Then we fell asleep.

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Log #62: Gratitude and Gifts

The Next Day

Last night my sleep held more rest than I have had for weeks – ever since I first woke in the hospital, severed from my ship. Methinks my sleep will not be entirely peaceful until I regain her, but this past eventide, by the kind agency of the Rosenblums of the Volare, at the least I did sleep aboard a ship. Cradled in salt-scented air, rocked by the night’s gentle waves as soft as moonbeams; aye, ’twas a sumptuous repose. MacManus and I slept athwart the benches on the Volare’s deck, while Kelly snored thunderously in the cabin below – and my pity was with my thanks, on the heads (and the ears) of the Rosenblums, and I know not which is upmost for those kind folk, who cared for my bosun and then slept rocked by his breath. Like a stag in heat, that man blows. Lynch had the right of it: rather than share a cabin with the drums and pipes of Kelly’s slumber, he accepted a bench like mine aboard the Emperor Grable.

Aye – the Grables. A most puzzling clan. I have come to know George Grable and his son; Chester has a flair for the shifting of face and form, of voice and manner, that befits a smuggler or an actor – aye, or a Brother of the Coast. But he hath it not from his father, whose face is as clear as glass whene’er there be somewhat shadowed behind it.

He attempted to make the first contact with the rightful owner of the Verizon-stones; it was agreed that he and I, once I had learned the manner of it by observation of him, would assay the telephone contacts, while Chester, a dab hand with the magic windows, would navigate those waters. But his father George so stammered and quavered through his first parley that we were forced to change our course: he would push buttons and activate the spirits within the stones, and then hand them to me or to Lynch, and we would speak to them what answered the call.

The manner of it was simple enough. These cell-phones could signal the allies and compatriots of their owners; George had a means of reaching first to those closest, the which he called “speed-dial.” Then I would address this person and inquire if the person whose cell-phone I was calling from was in truth connected to the personage to whom I spake, and if said erstwhile ‘phone-owner was currently bereft of this very property. If so, I begged, might I have an introduction to the aggrieved party, that I might return their rightful property? Often the man or woman to whom I spoke would beg time to contact the owner, the which I granted gladly; then would I hand the cell-phone back to Master Grable. The greater part inquired as to how I came into possession of this object; had it not been plundered? To this I replied succinctly: “The men who stole it attempted to rob myself and my companions, as well. We did not permit them. This cell-phone and several others were recovered therefrom, and we seek to ameliorate what harm these dogs inflicted on innocents – innocents such as your friend. Will you help?” ‘Twas most efficacious.

This friend would signal the owner of the Verizon-stone, or grant us a number-set by which we might hail him ourselves, and these owners were most oft overjoyed to hear of our intent, and eager to meet with us in order to receive their property.

This was yestere’en, after I last kept this log. Now this day, which now settles with the sun into the west, to sleep through the night with us all, we made our way through the streets and villages of this mighty city of New York, dispensing cell-phones – and aye, collecting the rewards proffered in exchange: for Master Grable hath not a silver tongue – but he doth have a nose for the gold, as my brethren would say were he one of our number, and joyously would they speak it, too.

Young Chester, who had managed to “unlock” some, though not all, of the magic windows he called lap-tops, used one of the same to plot our course, with the aid of something he called Goo-Gull – most strange. He laid all of our ports of call into a single map, and then called out headings to his father, who manned the wheel.

What did he steer, might one ask? The great white-painted beast-wagon which had been stabled ashore beside the pier, the keys to which Master Grable produced, most fortuitously, as we were steeling ourselves to front Brother Bob and regain our wagon and team for the day’s work. When he produced them and offered the use of the beast-wagon, I thought he acted somewhat abashed; but produce keys he did, and offer to steer, he did, while young Chester sat beside him, magic window alight on the boy’s lap, calling out directions and chattering excitedly the while. The boy is enraptured by this pirate’s tale in which he finds himself.

The general manner of our encounters with the owners of Verizon-stones was thus: we would arrive at a destination chosen by young Chester’s magic Goo-Gull – betimes ‘twould be a house, and recognizable; at times a tall tower, the which the Grables referred to as “apartments,” though as I understood it, these mighty keeps were the homes of many and many, and all sleeping right atop and beside each other, as at an inn on a crowded crossroads; such a situation does not put people “apart,” and thus I took to calling them Togetherments – and we would stop the beast-wagon, rummage through the sack of cell-phones for one labeled according to Chester’s reckoning as attached to this domicile, and then he and I would exit. A house we would approach directly; a Togetherment would call for the press of a button. At some smaller Togetherments, only slightly larger than the richest man’s city dwelling in my Ireland, there would be but four or six buttons – which for some daft reason he could not explain to me (any more than he could explain why they were called “buttons” when they clearly hold no clothing together; though at least there is somewhat of a resemblance in this name), young Chester continually referred to as “bells” or “doorbells.” Clearly they were not affixed to any doors, and just as clearly, the sound they made was more akin to the croak of a dying crow, or perhaps a young boar divided from its mother. Sure and there was nothing of bells about those buttons. And little of buttons.

Any road, the Togetherment buttons would summon a voice, inquiring as to our business. It struck me as passing rude that these people cannot even be bothered to open a door and greet a guest, invite him to share at least a modicum of one’s hospitality. In my mind, an open and welcoming home is a place of pride and the receiver as well as the giver of blessings, whether of the Lord – for the Bible teaches hospitality, does it not? – or of Dame Fortune; but here, and now, these people do not even greet a man with a humble blessing or a Well-met, sir; no, ’twas oft only an impatient-sounding “Yes?”

If these people do not enjoy each other’s company, why do they live so close? On a ship we live in one another’s pockets from necessity; but here, I passed through hundreds of miles of land that was all but empty. Why do these people not live there, with some peace and quiet away from the people they seemingly loathe? Why do they choose a life that does not bring them joy?

Could it be that they do not choose? Is this land so tyrannical, these people so lacking in natural liberty, that they cannot, any of them, choose the manner in which they live? Or could they be so ignorant they do not know that better exists?

Perhaps it is but my ignorance at hand, here, and I should not sit in judgment.

‘Tis hard, though, when they be so clearly wrong.

Aye: stay the course, man.

The “bell” would “ring,” and the somewhat irate “Yes?” issue forth. I spoke first, controlling my temper and my desire to correct their want of manners, and identified myself as sire of Chester; I would inform them that my erstwhile son would like to return something of theirs. Then Chester would interrupt – by the third iteration, we had our timing set, and we wove around each other as do shipmates singing chanteys as they weigh anchor and set sails – and call out, “We have your phone!” He pitched his voice high, so as to seem young; he opened his eyes wider, too, to improve the deception. I would then repeat the lad’s words, and beg entry, which was granted nigh invariably. When so, we would climb some flights of stairs, or stand in a strange doored box called an “elevator” for some moments. (I do not comprehend these “elevators.” I press a button, a door opens; I stand within, press another button, the door closes. There is some sense of motion, not unlike standing on a deck when a wave rocks the ship, but nothing like riding up and down swells in a clean wind, and nothing like the living motion of a horse; nor yet the jarring of a wagon crossing over ruts. Ah! Now it comes to me that it is akin to riding in a beast-wagon: perhaps these elevators are similar. Some displacement must occur, for when the doors open anew, the vista without is changed, generally from one corridor to a somewhat darker corridor. Bah. Americalish magic. Though I would wager that I would be more unsettled by this had I not been transported across 300 years by my Druid mother and an enchanted ship.) Then we would arrive at another door, on which I was to rap with my knuckles; the door would open, and the wide-eyed youth with me would thrust forward a Verizon-stone, the words “Is this yours?” bursting forth from between his teeth, though he knew full well that it was, having aided in bringing this prey to ground.

In the general, we met with success. I would act the part of a proud Da; I confess I ruffled the boy’s hair a time or two, in pursuit of my role. We would make much – more than was deserved – of the boy’s cleverness and honorable intent in seeking out the true owners of the cell-phone; if the recipient pursued it, I would make some shadowed reference to the manner by which I came to possess it: somewhat in the drift of, I and my several cousins and siblings (the elder Grable had intimated that, myself being tangibly, audibly Irish, this would not be glanced at askew; this made me question my people’s reputation in this time, but it proved correct) had tripped to the deceit with these would-be charitable fellows collecting for victims of The Bitch Irene; there had followed something of a donnybrook, ending in the recovery of loot. Et voila. Those who were charmed by the lad gave dollar-papers to him in reward; those who smiled at the thought of a sound pummeling chastisement of the mongrels what had pillaged them handed the money to me. All but one Verizon-stone was returned fitly; for that one, the owner shrugged and told young Chester, “Keep it. I bought a newer one.” On our way back down the stairs, Chester proffered the cell-phone in question to me, saying, “Do you want it?” I was fair loath even to lay a finger on it, and responded, “Do you not?” But the boy shook his head, and with a somber mien but a glint in his eye said, “There were two others that I couldn’t find the owners at all, so I figured they were mine now. Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

I laughed at that, loud and long, and clapped the boy on the shoulder. I have not heard a more apt motto for a rover such as myself. The boy would make a fine pirate. I took the stone from him, giving it in turn to Lynch, who seems both intrigued by the trinket and capable, with Chester’s help, of making it answer to his call.

This day has made me wonder a thing I have not in many a year – aye, not since my Genevra died, and I wed myself to the sea. I wonder thus: how would I stand as a father? Having had none of my own, I do not know the manner of it, though it seems I can counterfeit the part sufficiently to earn gold. But in truth: could I be a Da?

What would my sons be? Would they be true men, or would my corrupted blood out in them, and they take the fashion of Lord Blackwell?

Would my lassies be bonny?

Ha – that would depend on the mother, I trust.

Ah: and on the thought of fathers, one more chance of this day must I record. We did anchor at midday, purchasing sausage-bridies for our supper – the which all the Americalish called “hot dogs,” prompting just a bit of consternation in Kelly, who had to be reassured that these meat-pies were not in fact dog meat, but rather beef ground fine – and I found a moment alone with the elder Grable. I gave him my thanks for piloting the beast-wagon for us, and he did blush at it and look abashed. Said I, “I noticed that you did – hesitate, in producing yon wagon. Did you not?”

Grable sighed, and then nodded. It needed more than one attempt, but at the last, he spoke his confession manfully: “Yea, I was sort of – telling myself it was all right not to mention it to you. It wasn’t really yours, after all, or Ian’s – I mean, he stole it from thieves. And then I told myself that he gave it to me. Or at least, he gave me the van, and the phones, and I thought, if I gave you the phones, then I could – you know – ”

“Keep the wagon,” I finished for him, mortaring in the gap in his speech.

“Yea.” He nodded. He would not meet my eyes.

“Is not the wagon of more value than the phones?”

His shoulders sagged like a sail when the wind dies, and he roughed his hands together as though they had something unclean on them that he would remove by this chafing. He did not speak for a span of breaths; I held my tongue and let his conscience devil him as it would.

Aye: in truth, I thought the wagon were his. I certainly had no claim to it, other than an Englishman’s claim – my man had taken it in battle, and thus it was mine as wergild. ‘Tis much how the English kings held sovereignty o’er the free peoples of Ireland, aye, and of Scotland and Wales and many another place. But I have rights only to what is given to me and what I win by mine own efforts. The Grace of Ireland is mine, for I paid for her with my well-earned gold. When I take another man’s ship, either he gives me what value he hauls, or else I take it in battle. I share equally with my men whose strong backs and arms have allowed me the capture and the victory; they do agree to grant me an extra share for the maintenance of the ship that keeps and sustains us all. ‘Tis all the efforts of each separate man, or else gifts freely given.

Well. Perhaps not freely given. Bah. What do I care of the right of it? This is the way of the world, and I have pulled this thread overlong.

The wagon was Ian’s, who took it in battle. He gave it and the phones to Master Grable, and were it me to whom O’Gallows had given such prizes, I know well they would have stayed mine, come Hell or high water, or Ian himself to reclaim his property. So I thought no less of Grable for his wish to retain the greater prize. But if his conscience wished to give all the plunder to me, well. How can I stand betwixt a man and what he thinks is the right?

“I’ve got a family on that boat,” he said, his hands still wiping at one another, his gaze fixed on the ground at his feet, a thousand miles beyond the horizon. “Four kids. I told them this was a vacation, a big adventure – we’ll sail the ocean blue! All summer! What I didn’t tell them is that we don’t have a home to go back to at the end of summer.” He looked – not to me, but past me, then; I saw that he had the eyes of a father. I have seen them before, in men worn down to the ends of their bones, who have given all they have and then robbed themselves to give more – because behind those eyes are their children, and their children are in need. It is a look beyond mere fatigue, and far beyond worry or fear; it is a deadness, held up by love: it is a look that says this man would gladly lie down and let the Earth cover him – except he has children, and they need food.

Aye. Perhaps it is best I do not have sons.

Grable went on. “I lost my job a year ago. We lost the house in June. This boat and the clothes on our backs are all we have left.”

“I have known men with far less,” I said, gently, but in truth, what need had this man for this maudlin self-sorrow? He had a ship. And she was a fine craft, despite her addlepated name.

He nodded. “I know. But we can’t live on the boat. Not any more. The kids have to be back in school – already should have been. And we can’t stay in this harbor – the harbormaster’s been looking the other way with the fees, because of the storm, but he won’t do that forever. So I’ll have to sell the boat and find us an apartment to rent. But New York rents – they’ll kill us quick. There’s no way I’ll make enough starting out, even if I find a job. I was hoping we could sail somewhere, somewhere else, somewhere cheaper, but I don’t know how to navigate. And if we’d been out in the water when Irene hit, we’d all be dead.” He sighed. “I was hoping that I could sell the van and get some leeway. Or even, I don’t know, keep it – it would help with work.” He shrugged, and then to my surprise he spoke in French. C’est la vie,” he said, and sighed again. I had thought these Americalish had no interest in the tongues and manners of other peoples; those to whom I have spoken have barely heard of Ireland, most of them, and not one in fifty knows that ’tis the mark of Erin on my speech, not the damned King’s English.

Grable went on. “I am glad it’s going to help you guys, though. And Ian, and Llewellyn and everyone.” He met my gaze, at last. “You’re stand up guys. All of you. I’m glad Chester got to know you.”

So ’twas then that I cursed his name, spat in his eye, robbed him blind, and took his wife to be my molly and his children to swab my deck. Aye – sounds like, does it not? How, after that speech, could I do other than I did then?

“Ye can keep the wagon, man,” I said, and clapped him on the shoulder when his jaw dropped agape. “I and mine have no use for the vile-smelling thing. Consider it your wages, you and the lad, for the fine service ye’ve done us this day, and yester.” I reached into my shirt to withdraw a respectable wad of dollar-papers. Grable swallowed twice, his eyes shining, and then thanked me, quietly and manfully.

Aye – I did wonder if ’twas a machination: had he tugged at my heartstrings – already tuned and ready by the mere fact of my Irish blood – hoping for my pity and subsequent largesse? He knew that none of us could handle the infernal thing. I thought back over his words – and an idea came to me then.

“I’ll offer ye a bargain,” says I. Grable tore his eyes away from the beast-wagon, his mind from the calculations and aspirations I had no doubt were whirling within his brain-case. But I had seen that his gaze rested as much on his son, laughing with Lynch and Kelly over a flock of gray-and-white birds that sought bits of Kelly’s luncheon, as they did on his new prize, and I have no doubt as well that those calculations and aspirations were of the father’s sort, not the trickster’s.

When he turned to me now, I cast out my line. “Ye know that we have places we must go, and tasks before us. But the gods willing, we will win the day – and then we shall be as free as birds, and ready to repay good service rendered us.” I paused, and after a moment, Grable urged me on, having sighted my bait. Now for the hook.

“If ye are willing to pilot this wagon for us southwards to Charleston, not only can ye take yon carriage with ye – but after we have taken back what is ours, I and my men will come back here and sail your ship wheresoe’er ye wish it.”

His eyes widened – but his mouth pursed.

A tug on the line was required.

“And if ye’ll teach one of us the manner of managing these wagons – we’ll take it in turn to show ye the way to steer by stars and sextant, and lay your own course. The world’s seas will all be yours – and the beast-wagon, too.”

The corners of his mouth turned up, and I knew I had my man. This was a man in love with the sea; ’twas but his family that held him ashore. But it spoke well of him that he stayed dry for them, and despite his yearning for the wind and the waves. All I offered him was his heart’s wish; how could he say nay?

He had but two more questions – could his boy Chester come along? and Would we pay for fuel for the beast? I answered both in the affirmative, and thus was our bargain struck.

And now, ’tis night, and the moon shines down on me on the deck of the Volare, its light the means by which I keep this log. We have 430 dollar-papers, and we have transportation to Charleston. We have a cell-phone of our own, and soon we will be able to steer a beast-wagon for ourselves.

I pray our course remains so straight and true.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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