Log #77: A New Ally

Log, October the Sixth

 

At last, at last! Four useless days spent roaming this damned island, seeking something which, as we did learn today, we most likely would not ever have found. Four days wasted, even more so than we knew. But today, this day – we have found a path. We have plotted our course, with a destination in mind, and even in sight.

Pray that this course be true.

We began this day just as we have the others since we here arrived: we broke our fast after aiding Diego with the tasks of the farm, and then our pilot – a dark-skinned man named Andre – arrived in a tall, boxy beast-wagon named a Jeep. Kelly and I boarded to the rear bench and without a word of direction or even greeting, Andre cracked the whip, as it were, and our Jeep-beast was off. Shane has told me that his man is not this way, that they take time to discuss the movements and intentions of the day, that they converse as to the known habits and character of their target, the lieutenant Hargreaves. But our man Andre merely takes us to the shore, where Kelly and I strain our eyes looking for that which we seek. For that purpose this Jeep-beast is most well-suited, as it lacks a top deck overhead, and Kelly and I can stand on the bench when the beast is still, and see as from a crow’s nest. But thus far, at each halt we have seen naught, and when we so inform Black Andre, he returns us a grunt, and then off the Jeep-beast goes to the next cove along this island’s interminable north coast. (At the least, we had told each other, this fellow knows what is a cove and which side of the island is north – and does not believe that we Irishmen would be unaware of what direction we faced, or where the ocean should lay; we have know far too many of the people in this time to lack even that much of intelligence and honor. But we have both.)

Today there was somewhat of a difference – a difference that has changed all from dark despair into gleaming hope. Each day that we have searched, we have taken a halt for a midday meal, Andre piloting us to a nearby tavern for sustenance, the which Kelly and I have provided for ourselves and for Andre; this did seem a reasonable fee, since we give the man naught otherwise but courtesy. On this day at the noontide we arrived at Chazzer’s Chicken Shack. We Irishmen disembarked to stretch our legs; meanwhile, Andre sought to stretch other limbs: there was a young lass there, seated alone at a table, drinking from a cup. I’ll say this for our pilot: he has no skill at conversation, but his eye for beauty is beyond reproach; I have rarely seen a fairer lass, her skin the reddish-brown of polished wood, her hair a golden-brown cloud, her form and features flawless and alluring, indeed.

But though Black Andre’s eye for beauty is fine, his prudence is somewhat lacking: only a fool would expect a cailín like that one to visit a tavern unchaperoned. Indeed, near as soon as Andre had taken a seat beside her, and won himself a smile from the lass, her chaperones returned from whence they had gone. There were two: one the young lady’s sweetheart, the second her brother, as they informed Andre with both fury and menace (And I take the liberty of criticizing them for their laxity: they were two, and yet the lass was left by herself? Fortunate that she caught the eye of our Andre, and not some villain who would wish her ill!).

Our man tried to back water, apologizing the while, but the men’s tempers were heated, and they pursued him, trapping him between them and a wall, their fists bunched, their teeth bared, Andre growing more and more desperate as violence began to seem inevitable – to Andre’s detriment, that would be, as both men were larger and stouter than he. That was the moment when Kelly and I returned from our constitutional, and saw our pilot in dire straits. Kelly looked his query at me, and I nodded; I did not think we owed our man loyalty, but still we did require his continued service, and thus his continued consciousness and mobility.

To that end, we approached, and Kelly tapped the nearer fellow, the larger one, on the shoulder. The man turned his head just enough to warn off the interloper – but then he started and turned fully, the truth dawning that Kelly was as much larger than he as he was than Black Andre. “As my friend here has already offered an apology,” quoth Kelly,  “methinks ye should take his interest in the lady as a compliment. Be it not so?”

The man’s mouth flapped a time or two, and then he seemed to bite down on Kelly’s words. “Compliment? Nah, man! Him try play slap an’ tickle wit’ my girl! Wit’ him sista!” The man pointed a shaking finger at Andre, baring his teeth as he growled at Kelly, surely trying to show Kelly that he was not afraid.

Kelly nodded. “Well and sure that does put another face on it.” He frowned at Andre. “Come man, ye canna play the slap-an’-tickle wi’ a lassie.” The frown turned to a grin: and Kelly reached out, quick as a cat, and took the man by the shirt, spun him away from Andre, slammed the man’s back against the wall of the tavern. Kelly pressed close against the man and said, “That’s a man’s game, it is. So, mo chara, d’ye want the slap first, or the tickle?”

The man spluttered. “Tickle? No –”

That was as far as he got before my bosun’s hand, broad as a board and as weighty and hard as the stone he once quarried, smashed into the man’s cheek, throwing him sideways with a cry. Kelly grabbed his shoulder once more with his left hand, pushed the man’s back against the wall once more.

The other man, the girl’s brother, cried out then. “Hey man, you can’t slap a fella!”

Kelly frowned in mock confusion. “But he said he didn’t want the tickle, so that left the slap.” The man had straightened up again, his hand on his own cheek, a trickle of blood oozing from his fast-swelling lip; he snarled and pushed Kelly, hard, knocking my bosun back a step.

Whereupon Kelly drew his knife. Reaching out, he laid the flat of the blade on the man’s hip. “Tickle it is, then. You wish me to tickle your guts with the point of me knife, aye, I can play that game, too.” The smile was gone from Kelly’s face now as he looked into the man’s furious eyes, his own features as blank as a stone.

The other man reached into his pocket, muttering curses. Surely I could not allow him to draw whatever weapon he possessed and wield it against my mate: I drew my wheel-gun from the back of my sash, pointed it at the man’s anger-twisted visage, and then whistled for his attention. He gave it to me, and I said, “Now, now, we mustn’t interfere with the game. ‘Tis only they two who play; you and I shall observe.” I pointed with my left hand at his hand in his pocket, and he drew it out slowly, empty, earning a smile and a nod from me.

The man under Kelly’s knife was shaking, sheened with sweat. “Don’t cut me, man. She my girl, man. What would you do?”

Kelly drew his head back in surprise. “Why, if I loved her, I’d marry her. If I was steppin’ out wi’ her, I surely would not leave her alone to be accosted by rogues. And if she were bothered thus –” Without warning, Kelly took the blade away from the man’s belly, replacing it with his fist, which sunk to the thick wrist in the man’s flabby gut. The man dropped to his knees, choking and wheezing. Kelly finished his sentence: “–I’d strike first, and swiftly. And hard.” He tossed the knife from right hand to left, and then his right fist swung in a short, hard arc, crashing into the man’s head like a cannonball. The man sprawled in the dirt.

I beckoned Andre away, keeping my aim firm on the brother. But, as Kelly turned to face him, the man held up both hands, clearly unwilling to take on such foes at such odds. With barely a glance for the downed man, he sidled over to his sister, took her hand in his, and drew her away. She went where he led, though she stared, mouth agape, at Kelly and I until she vanished around the corner of the tavern.

Kelly sheathed his knife, dusted his hands, and said, “Well and that was sure a fine way to break up a dull watch. Shall we dine?” With a laugh, I tucked away my wheel-gun, took Andre by the elbow, and led him within the establishment to assuage our hunger.

We sat at an empty table, and Andre, mopping the sweat from his brow, told us that he would procure our luncheon, the which he proceeded to do, rushing to the counter, speaking rapidly to the proprietor and then rushing back to our table bearing plates heaped with food. We nodded and tucked in; Andre returned a second time with his own plate and a fistful of cutlery – though when he saw that we made do with hands and belt knives, as jack-tars are wont to, he discarded the pile of silver on the table and went back for three ales. When he joined us once again, I thanked him for the food and drink, and Kelly raised a toast in his honor.

“No, man – I gots to thank you fellows. Them rough boys would have pounded me flat, sure enough.” His expression turned hard, then, his gaze focused out the window; Kelly and I turned to see what he observed, and saw the rogue that Kelly had downed was now back on his feet, and staring dully into the tavern. Kelly turned in his seat to face the man squarely – though he did not pay him the compliment of standing in readiness should the man seek vengeance, for indeed, what risk did such a wilted fool pose to such as we? The man’s slack, stunned eyes came back to sharpness as he recognized Kelly, and then he vanished like a cannonball beneath the waves, bending below the sill and scuttling away like a crab. Kelly and I shared a laugh at that.

Andre did not laugh, but rather shook his head ruefully. “See there? He not even stay down long. He’d’a taken me apart, man. I owe you two big. You didn’t even need to back me up, we not friends.” He knocked on the tabletop. “Well, we friends now. Shake.” He held out his hand, first to Kelly and then to me, the both of us clasping fingers with him. We ate for a few silent moments, and then Andre rose. “Got to make a call,” he told us, stepping outside of the tavern, drawing his cell-phone from his pocket.

I shook my head. “People of this time fear pain more than a man should,” said I. Kelly grunted, raising his cup in agreement.

We had finished the food – quite toothsome it was, a richly spiced dish of rice with chunks of well-seasoned fowl in-mixed – ere Andre returned. He gestured to us with the cell-phone, and took his seat, tucking into his own plate of provender. Mouth full, he leaned close and murmured, “I called Two-Saint. He said I should help you fellas, no problem.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Have you not been helping us these past four days, then?”

He shrugged, swallowed, wiped his lips with one of the strange flimsy cloths they seem to prefer here for such tasks, drawing them from a box filled with the things on the table – though surely they cannot even be cloth, unless it is cloth spun of gossamer and spider-silk. ‘Tis like wiping one’s hands and face with ancient, brittle paper, but what madman uses paper for a napkin? Give me a proper rag, or at least the back of a well-furred dog. “Look man, you fellas here to do a thing for Two-Saint and his boy back state-side, that white boy who smile too much. Two-Saint tell me you need a driver, want to look at coves on the north shore, only the north shore and not in town. Him never say why, what you need to find, what you looking for. So I show you coves, sure – but all the same ones, over and over.”

Damn it. I had suspected that we were surrendering precious time for no reward, calmed in the doldrums by our ignorance and reliance on those who were not our allies. Too, I had thought the coves had begun to look familiar, though I had ascribed such thoughts to the alien character of this island and my disfamiliarity with it; so different did it appear from the Ireland I had known that it all seemed to be one, to my eyes. But it seemed that was not due to my lack of perception, but rather to my guide’s deception.

I must have showed my ire, for Andre held out his hands and pleaded his case. “Hey, man, Two-saint and me aren’t here to do a thing for you: you here to do a thing for him. But,” he patted the air, a gesture of placation, “now I owe you. I do a thing for you. Just tell me what you doing, I make sure it gets done, no waitin’, right now, man. Tell me what you boys up to in Bermuda.”

I murmured something profane and unpleasant under my breath, cradling my head in my hands. Four days we had wasted – and for what? Only because this man could not be concerned with ourselves or our needs? Only when there was a debt to be paid, only when he himself could profit from the act, did he solicit our friendship. These men had little honor, and no sense of hospitality (though indeed I could not place our host Diego into that estimation; he had done quite well by us).

While I grumbled, though, Kelly pushed past the questions of courtesy and seized the main chance. “We’re looking for a ship. A wooden ship, old, two masts, square sails. Not like most ships today.”

Andre frowned at him, wiping his chin with more flimsy paper-cloths. “I don’t know, man. I mean, I can ask around, but nobody really pays no never-mind to ships, you know? I mean, this an island, boats everywhere. Why look at just one when there’s a thousand more on both sides of you?”

“Why look at that lass outside when there are countless others?” I snapped at him. I slapped the table and leaned close. “Because that one lass is worth more than all the rest. Her beauty surpasses them all, draws the eye as a flame draws moths. So is my ship.”

He nodded. “Yeah, man. I hear you. Okay, you looking for the most beauteous ship on the island. Anythin’ else?”

“My crew,” I said. “A dozen men, much like we two, Irish sailors all – or nearly all,” I amended, thinking of Vaughn. “They are held captive near the ship’s berth.”

He shook his head slowly. “If they held captive, nobody gone know about it. Do you know anything ‘bout who got you boat, who hold you men?”

I wished to tell him that my Grace was no boat, no scrap-wood dinghy pounded together by boys in search of adventure, but I held my tongue. Into the space left as I controlled myself Kelly spoke: “They are English. Do you know English from Irish?” He did not sound hopeful as he asked this, as indeed the people of this time have given us little reason to be; with very few exceptions, they have thought every man of us, from the Welshman Vaughn to the half-Scotch O’Gallows, to Salty O’Neill, a Derryman from the northern reaches, to I and my cousins, southrons all – to be English by our accent and speech. But Andre surprised us, for he did smile and nod. “Yea, man. We the last outpost of the British Empire, of course we know an Englishman from an Irishman. So your Irish boys be held by Englishmen, yea?”

“Aye,” I confirmed. “English sailors. Their captain is named Nicholas Hobbes, a tall, gaunt man with not a smile nor a laugh in his soul.”

“There may be men like you, too – Africans,” Kelly added. “With long hair in tangles.”

Andre gave him an incredulous look. “I’m no African, man, I’m black. From the islands, not from the damn Congo.” Kelly nodded, acknowledging the correction, and Andre looked thoughtful. “They got dreads on they side, ah? You know who they are, who they wit’?”

I had a suspicion. But should I tell this man of the one enemy I dreaded most? The Houndman, the dark shadow I had seen in my dream, the one who seemed to have infested and – I would say corrupted, but I think the man was already Hell-black inside his heart – perhaps “allied with,” the Devil’s Lash? I feared that knowledge of the forces arrayed against us would quickly scuttle the man’s newfound willingness to be of genuine service to our quest.

Aye, said I to myself, and if it does, are we any the worse than we’ve been these past days? And weeks? Perhaps the Shadow-man is of this land, and is known. Had not my letter from O’Gallows and Vaughn described a local man of some repute? “Their leader may be a dark-skinned man – a black man, as you say – thin, with a shorn pate. He may be called Houndman, or something similar.”

Andre frowned and he tilted his head. “Houngan? This man, he a houngan?” I halted him and asked after this word. “It mean a priest, a priest of the voodoo.” Then I stopped him once more to ask about that word, the which he also explained.

Witchcraft. Evil, island witchcraft, come from Africa with the slaves. Andre seemed not overly cautious on the matter, discussing it openly without crossing himself as any good Christian would do when speaking of witches and devilry. Bu then, many and many a Christian is quick to cry Witch! where there is merely somewhat outside their familiarity; my mother and her fellow Druids have ever trod circumspectly for such a reason, particularly around the damned English. Most of the sons of Ireland know better, though not all condone the ancient ways – and many a Catholic would cry heresy on a Protestant who might follow some of the old rituals, or the reverse, indeed and aye. But as Andre spoke of it, this voodoo seemed the very heart and name of that dreaded corruption that has sent so many to the stake and the dungeons of the Inquisition.

Alas, as to our immediate need, it appeared that men who called themselves houngans, who purported to practice the voodoo or who did in truth adhere to it, were none too rare on this island. So too black men with tangled hair-locks, what Andre called “dreads.” He did not know this man from my description. But he did say he would make inquiries, and while Kelly and I enjoyed  a second ale, Andre withdrew to use his cell-phone and seek some information.

‘Twas not long then before he struck gold: a man of Andre’s acquaintance knew of a tavern, what he called a bar, that had been enjoying the custom of a large group of English sailors with a dour and humorless master. Andre knew the place; he would drive us there. Quickly we settled our account and went to board the Jeep-beast.

I will abbreviate the recounting thus: we found the tavern, one Jack’s Bar and Grill, scouted it and found it empty of Englishmen; but a cursory interrogation of the proprietor revealed that indeed a number of English sailors were wont to patronize the establishment. We returned to the farmhouse, determined to go back to the place after supper’s hour and seek our quarry then, when they are most likely to be present there; here in this waiting-space I have sat to record this log.

But I must append here one last curiosity: our foray from the tavern to the Jeep-beast was briefly interrupted – by the lass who had started the donnybrook with her temptatious beauty. She had returned, equally enchanted, so it seems, by our man Andre – and, most contemptuous of the ease with which our Kelly had downed her erstwhile paramour, she came seeking a replacement for same.

Now Andre has two reasons to render us loyal service. And a reason to smile while he does so.

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