Posts Tagged With: adventure

The End (Part I)

Continuing With Our Story…

It was mid-afternoon when Damnation and Andre arrived at the cove where the Grace of Ireland and her crew were held. The light seemed to gleam in the humid air, giving everything the glow of well-polished wood. The air was still, without breeze, as though the world held its breath; below the horizon, clouds were climbing atop one another, reaching higher and higher, and soon they would spill out across the sky, hiding the stars and moon and sun, bringing rain, perhaps, or only the threat and promise of it. Who can say? The clouds their own counsel keep.

The Jeep came to a slow stop some two hundred yards from the farmhouse and its armed guards and its cage of prisoners. Damnation strained his eyes, trying to pierce the screen of trees, to see the ocean beyond and what lay on it. He did not look at his men, though several of them had spied the Jeep and were pointing and murmuring, seeking to determine what had arrived into their lives this day, and what would be the price of knowing.

As they sat in the Jeep, parked in the middle of the long packed-dirt driveway, Andre’s phone rang. He answered it with a terse, “Yah,” and then paused to listen. Then, “Right, Old King’s Road, ‘bout seven, eight mile pas’ Morgan Point. Look for de Serpent’s Fangs. Yah.” He hung up, and then, without looking at his passenger, said, “De bus is comin’. Be here ten, fitteen minutes, maybe.”

Damnation nodded. “And you’re certain ‘twill carry them all?”

Andre nodded. “Hold 40, 45 passengers. No problem.” He tuned to look at the pirate then. “You just ‘ave to get dem out de cage.”

Again, Damnation nodded. Suddenly he turned to Andre and grinned – though his eyes were hollow, still. “No problem,” he said, and then without any further discussion, he was out of the Jeep and walking towards the line of trees, his back straight and his shoulders tall.

When he was halfway to the line of trees, a cry went up from the men in the cage: they had recognized him. “Kane! Captain Kane! It’s the Captain, lads!” Damnation’s jaw tensed, his fists clenched, but he kept walking. Towards the trees: not towards the cage. He did not look at his men, nor respond to their shouts. Those shouts grew more desperate, as though the men’s rescue from their cage relied on their captain recognizing them, acknowledging them; and perhaps it did. If men can be ignored, denied, they may be left behind: they may be sacrificed. Soon the men lined the side of the cage, their fingers knotted through the chain-link fencing, clutching the solid steel poles of the frame; the cords in the necks stood out, their eyes wide and bulging, as they shouted, louder, and louder, and louder: “Captain! Captain Kane! We’re here! Over here, sir! Sir! Captain! Help us! Save us!”

Damnation did not look at them. But had they been closer, had they stood right before him, they might have noticed his lips moving, might have heard the words he muttered; though his voice was so low, so quiet, that even had they been before him, they may not have been able to make it out. He said: “No. I am not. Not your captain. I can’t help you. I can’t. I will do what I can but I can’t save you. Not I.”

As he passed the cage and walked on towards the line of trees, the shouts trailed off, ending with a last few desperate pleas, and angry questions; finally a wordless cry of despair. At this last, Damnation’s gaze snapped towards the cage, and the men who stared after him – the ones who had not already given up hope and turned away in confused resignation – held their breath and leaned collectively forward, their faces now pressed against the steel fence. Without raising his voice, speaking in a conversational tone, so soft they would not have heard him had there been a wind and had he not spoken in the breath between waves crashing on the shore, Damnation said, “I will free you.” And then he was gone into the trees, and the men fell away from the chainlink as if the last of their strength had left with their captain.

Not a minute later, a strange conveyance, twice the height and three times the length of the beast-wagons they had grown accustomed to, arrived at the farm and came to a halt behind the Jeep that was still parked two hundred yards away. From the long, tall wagon a man emerged, and came to speak to the driver of the Jeep. Then all of them waited, unsure of what would happen next.

Damnation, however, was sure. He expected the lift he felt when he came through the screen of trees and saw the ocean, and his ship, once more; he expected the subsequent plunge as he remembered that the ship, like the crew he had left behind, was no longer his to command, or to save; if they were to be saved, it would be by another, by themselves, by a watchful God, if such a thing could be. The best that he could do was to trade his life for the bare fact of their freedom from their current captivity – and for his ship, he could not even offer that. He raised his eyes to the sky and said a brief prayer, asking for forgiveness for his failure, for his weakness; though he did not know to whom he prayed, nor what he would have if his prayers were answered.

Regardless, though, he walked with confidence down to the water’s edge, where a ship’s boat was drawn up on the sand. The Grace floated at anchor a quarter mile out to sea; on either side of her, the small cove was hemmed in by a tall spike of stone, and the two together did indeed resemble the fangs of a giant serpent. The sea was calm, only low swells rolling in, and he could see men moving around on the ship, though he could not tell what they were doing; that ignorance, and the fact that, even if he had known what those men out there were doing to his ship, he himself had no power whatsoever to change it, were bitter in his throat, bitter and sharp as a swallow of nails.

Damnation was at the boat before the two men guarding it were aware of him; when they finally noticed the tall man standing before them, gaze fixed to the ship, they cursed and scrambled up from where they had been sprawled in the sand, drowsing over their uneventful guard detail. They came towards him warily, guns pointed in his direction; for a moment, Damnation looked at the two men, and the contempt in that gaze was sharper than any blade.

He looked back to the ship and nodded in her direction. “Take me out to her,” he ordered.

One of the men scoffed at this stranger’s attempt to command them; the other – the smarter one – narrowed his eyes, wondering who this man was to think he could order them so. Neither spoke, nor moved to shove the boat into the water and man an oar.

Damnation glanced at them again, the contempt now exchanged for impatience. “I am – well, if not expected, I am at the least sought after.”

The two men frowned, and still did nothing but stand warily and point gun barrels at the strange Irishman.

Damnation sighed. It seemed he had spoken beyond, or above them; clearly the brains of these two did not have much reach. “I am Damnation Kane,” he told them. “That was once my ship. The man who has it now has been looking for me.”

The two guards reacted to that. The men were dressed in modern attire, blue jeans and low canvas sneakers and loose cotton shirts with short sleeves; one man had a black-and-white patterned bandanna tied around his head and the other was shaved bald with a patchy beard trying (and failing) to make up for it; because of their clothes, Damnation had not expected what he now saw in their faces, heard in their voices: recognition. And the accents of British sailors.

“Izzit ‘im?” the sailor in the bandanna asked the bald one. “Izzit Kane?”

The bald sailor nodded, a wondering sort of smile – mixed with an eagerness, a hunger, that spoke of danger – spreading his lips, revealing brown and broken teeth. “Aye. ‘At’s ‘im, right enough. I seen ‘im when we came at ‘im back ‘ome, afore –” the man spat.

Then he leaped to his companion, catching his shoulders and holding him back as the slighter man cursed and snarled and struggled to break free and reach Damnation. Damnation, nonplussed, took a step back, looking at the Englishman who seemed to have forgotten he held a firearm, or perhaps he wanted to use his bare hands and feel the Irishman’s blood running over his knuckles. The curses and threats trailed off, and then Damnation realized the man was shouting a single sentence, over and over.

“Take us back! Take us back! Take us back!”

Damnation looked at the two men, his face blank; but behind that mask, his eyes, hollow before, were now filled with sorrow. With regret.

The sailor trailed off into cries that were half-weeping. And Damnation said, softly, “If I could apologize to ye, I would.”

His words seemed to deflate the man, and he fell to his knees in the sand. The bald sailor let his partner drop, and sneered at Damnation; then he spat at the pirate’s feet, turned away and started hauling the boat out into the water. After a moment, Damnation went to help him, and by the time they had the wooden boat floating, the third man had scrubbed the tears from his eyes, and he waded out and climbed into the boat, taking an oar. The bald sailor joined him on the other oar, and Damnation sat in the stern, facing their angry, accusatory eyes, but never meeting their gazes; he watched over their shoulders as his ship grew closer, grew larger.

As they neared the Grace, a man on board (who, it seemed, kept a better watch than these two) called out, “Boat on the port side!” Men came to the rail, vanished, then returned with boat hooks and ropes, and a rope ladder was unfurled over the ship’s side. The two sailors maneuvered the boat expertly against the side of the ship; the bald sailor shipped his oar and caught the rope ladder; two boat hooks snagged the gunwale of the boat, and a rope was tossed to the other sailor, who tied it to a cleat and made it fast. He looked up at the men at the rail and half-called, half-hissed, “It’s ‘im! It’s the Irishman! Kane!”

Suddenly the men at the rail held weapons, and as Damnation climbed the rope ladder, he felt an itch move from between his shoulder blades to his breastbone, then up to his forehead; and he knew he was feeling the sharp gaze of men who were not only willing, but eager, to murder him on the spot and watch his bloody corpse sink beneath the waves.

But this was his ship, and the second his hands gripped the wood of her rail, all fear and all regret left him. He was nothing now but iron determination. He came aboard, moving slowly, holding his hands out wide to show he was completely unarmed, and then he said loudly, clearly, “I am Damnation Kane. This is my ship.”

One of the British sailors snarled and swung a fist at Damnation’s gut, but the Irishman spotted the movement, and somehow managed to move even quicker than the Englishman, stepping out of the way of the blow. The sailor stumbled as his punch struck only air; Damnation stood unmoving, though he could have struck easily at the off-balance attacker. The man looked, mouth agape, over his shoulder at Damnation, who smiled, his hands still empty and spread wide. From behind, a voice said, ‘”How did he move –” and another snickered. The Englishman reddened, straightened up and faced the Irish pirate squarely; he drew his fist back for another swing, when a voice said, “Stop.”

That voice had come from the poop deck, where the wheel was that steered the ship, where the man stood who set the course: but this voice was not the voice of command, not a captain’s voice barking out orders. This voice seemed to creep, to seep into one’s ears, to trail along one’s skin, creating a sensation of slithering: of infiltrating, sneaking down under the surface and planting unseen hooks. Captain’s voice or not, this was a voice to be obeyed. And all the men on board did so, the fist lowering, Damnation dropping his hands to dangle by his sides, all of them turning to face – him.

The Shadowman.

Even in bright daylight, the late summer afternoon sun of Bermuda, it was difficult to see clearly what he looked like: the sunlight seemed to draw back from him, unwilling to touch, or even to come too close. His skin was quite dark, with the reddish undertones of West Africa, of the Ibo, of the Ivory Coast, the people who had made up the majority of the victims of chattel slavery – and also, the people whose religion and rituals had served as the foundation for what was now called voodoo.

Something that the Shadowman knew quite a lot about.

Damnation looked up at the man who, if he did not own it, at the least controlled his ship. He saw flat black eyes, deepset and hooded by a high brow that swept back into a smoothly shaven head, sitting atop a thin neck over narrow shoulders and a frame that approached gaunt. The hands that gripped the rail were long, thin, and spidery – but also looked strong, with large knuckles and veins snaking across the lines of the tendons. The man wore dark clothing, loose fitting, that covered him to the wrist and the ankle; but somehow one had the sense that he would make even bright clothing look dark: and if he stood nude, he would be clothed in shadows.

The Shadowman looked down at him, but Damnation felt no fear.

“I am Damnation Kane, the captain of this ship,” he said in a clear voice. He took another step towards the poop deck. “I am the man you have been looking for.”

The Shadowman’s hands tightened on the rail. When he spoke, his mouth opened wide, and yet one could not see teeth behind those thin lips, nor the pink of gums nor tongue: only the blackness of a cavern, of a pit. And out of that cavern crept that voice, that venomous, desiccated voice, like a deadly serpent slithering into your ear. “What makes you think you know what I seek?” The sibilant whisper should have been too quiet for Damnation to hear over the sound of the waves, the creaking of the ship; but he heard every word perfectly. And every word made his skin crawl.

But he showed no sign of it, merely staring boldly back at the Shadowman. He did not answer the question; he was here for a purpose, not a conversation. “I have come to offer myself in exchange for the release of my men, whom you hold on shore,” he said: and his voice was the voice of a captain, the sounds ringing out as clear as the pealing of a bell.

The Shadowman tilted his head, and with the movement, one very much expected a long forked tongue to flick from his mouth, tasting the air, feeling for the heat of his prey: hunting. “One man for eleven? That seems a poor bargain for me,” he said softly.

“Fourteen,” said Damnation. “I want the Englishmen, too.” He turned a baleful gaze on the sailors around him. “The ones with honor and courage enough to refuse to scourge my men.” Sneers and snarls met his words – and a few downcast eyes. Damnation looked back to the Shadowman. “But they are all nothing to you: I am the only one you seek. My blood is what you seek.”

The dark eyes widened, showing a flash of white in the shadows; the head seemed to slither forward on the thin neck, as if it could now taste its prey. No forked tongue slipped from between the lips, but the nostrils flared, perhaps catching a scent. “So it is blood we are speaking of,” the Shadowman whispered – perhaps even hissed. He leaned forward over the rail, his slender body seeming to curve more than bend. “Perhaps you should allow me to sample what you offer.”

Damnation once more suppressed a shudder; then he nodded curtly. With a brief glance to the armed men standing on either side of him, he bent down and quickly drew a knife from his tall leather boot, a utilitarian blade, sharp but stained steel with a well-worn wooden handle. There was some slight closing in as he rose, now armed, but the Shadowman had slid (seemingly without steps, or strides) to the top of the companionway from the poop to the main deck; he paused there and raised his head indignantly, frowning at the sailors. He did not speak, but his expression was eloquent in saying, Surely you don’t think I need protection from him? The Englishmen melted back away without a murmur, but with many fearful and a few resentful glances. The Shadowman oiled down the stairs, his upper body seeming to float over his legs, undisturbed by the motion of walking. He slid to a spot in front of Damnation and two paces away, and the two men locked eyes, each taking the measure of the other: the Irishman was taller, broader, his hands callused from sailing and from fighting; the houngan wore an aura of power along with the predatory menace that wrapped around him as closely as his shadows.

Without a word, Damnation brought the knife to his left forearm and cut the skin there, drawing a line of blood from the back of his wrist. He lowered the blade and held out his left hand. The Shadowman glanced from the blood to Damnation’s face – and then, quick as a striking viper, he snapped forward, clutched Damnation’s arm with both hands (the grip of those long fingers shockingly strong) and, bringing his face close, he licked the blood from the wound. Now Damnation did recoil: and the Shadowman smiled, revealing clean white teeth with a thin line of red between the upper and lower. His grip kept Damnation from stepping back, and with a visible effort, the pirate controlled himself and stood still. The Shadowman closed his lips, worked his tongue around in his mouth; then his eyes rolled back in their sockets, his face falling slack, his head rolling back on his neck as if in a trance or in sheer ecstasy, and he groaned softly.

And Damnation felt the strangler’s grip loosen.

Now it was the pirate who moved with stunning quickness: in an instant he had twisted his left arm out of the Shadowman’s grip and grabbed the man’s right wrist in his left hand. He pulled the man close, stepping back and swinging his elbow up and over the dark head, and now he brought that sharp boot knife up and pressed the blade against the thin, wiry neck.

The Shadowman spat a curse in a spray of blood and began to struggle: in that first instant, he nearly broke free as he twisted his arm in Damnation’s grip and unexpectedly tried to drop to the ground. But the pirate had seen the serpentine agility and quickness; he had felt the strength in those hands and wrists; and he held on to the Shadowman as tightly as he would grip a line in a storm, knowing if he lost control of the line he would lose control of the ship, and all would be lost. That strength was enough, and the Shadowman stayed in his grasp. Then the free left arm snatched at his right wrist – until he pressed the blade tight against the line of the man’s jaw, piercing the skin, drawing a new line of blood. The Shadowman stopped struggling then.

Then the cursing started.

At first it was simply a string of profanity in at least three languages, and the words that Damnation understood were pungent enough to make him wish he spoke the other tongues as well, so that he could learn new foulnesses for his own repertoire. The furious houngan split the epithets and disapprobations equally between Damnation and the English sailors who had failed to stop him; apparently the Shadowman himself deserved no blame for his unwary actions.

Then the man stopped even his idle struggling, and became still. Damnation felt him take a deep breath, and then a sibilant rattle of strange sounds emerged from him; it was barely recognizable as a language, but the ominous threat was unmistakable. Immediately Damnation leaned back, pulling the man’s right arm up and over his shoulder, turning the elbow painfully; at the same time, he pressed the knife into the flesh of the neck once more, drawing new blood and threatening to draw it all. And in the man’s ear, Damnation murmured, “With you dead, what have I to fear?”

Once more the Shadowman grew still, and this time, silent. Damnation allowed the pressure on the blade to slack, while he kept the man’s arm at a painfully twisted angle – though the dark man did not seem to even feel the pain of his overextended joints. After a moment the Shadowman said, “If I die, they will kill you.”

Damnation cocked an eyebrow at the English sailors. “Will they?” he asked, his query directed at both the Shadowman and the Englishmen, expecting two different answers.

He got one unexpected answer: the Shadowman laughed. “Not the white men. Them.” He pointed, with his free left hand, back up the companionway to the poop deck. Damnation looked, instinctively hunkering down slightly so that the Shadowman’s body was between him and the threat. Standing at the rail were three enormous men: all the size of Kelly or Ned Burke, all with full beards and long dreadlocked hair, all as dark of skin as the Shadowman – and all, like him, darker still because the sunlight seemed to shun them. They stood, expressionless and unmoving, their eyes directed towards Damnation, though it was not clear if they looked at him, if they saw him – if they saw anything. Their eyes, their faces, were – empty.

Though no less intimidating for that. Damnation turned farther, ducking lower behind the shorter houngan, peering now over the man’s right shoulder. The Shadowman laughed again, though the noise was somewhat constricted, as Damnation’s grip had tightened. “Look up,” the Shadowman gurgled.

Damnation looked up. Above his head, the mainmast stretched forty feet up from the deck; 25-foot crosspieces, the yards, set at three different heights. To each yard a canvas sail was attached with brass rings; the sails were gathered and tied with rope to the yards; the longer ropes – the shrouds – that connected the yards and the sails down to the rails, so that men on deck could raise or lower or tighten or loosen or even turn the sails, were gathered together and tied back, or else Damnation wouldn’t have seen much when he looked up other than canvas and rope and wood. But his view was clear to the wooden platform that circled the top of the mainmast, the crow’s nest: and over the edge of that platform leaned a fourth man, a near-perfect replica of the other three as to size, hair, beard, skin, and dead-eyed expressionlessness. That man held an automatic rifle; Damnation could see the barrel and the magazine outthrust past the edge of the crow’s nest. If the man should turn that barrel down towards the deck, there would be no place to hide from the rain of deadly lead that would fall from above.

Damnation straightened up. He did not let go. “Well and so here we are. We both may die – because even yon lookout high above could not fire on me without peppering you as well – or we both may live. Shall I ask which ye prefer? Shall I tell ye my own feelings on the matter?”

The Shadowman slowed and then stilled his struggling. He was thinking, presumably about ways that Damnation could be killed without risk to himself.

Damnation spoke, trying to put a thumb on the side of the scales that held “No violence and let everyone live.” He put his lips right by the Shadowman’s ear and murmured, so low that the sailors standing nearby could not even be sure he spoke: “How did the blood taste?”

The Shadowman turned his head, just enough so that Damnation could see the side of his mouth, the corner of his eye. Damnation tipped his own head forward, so the Shadowman could see him raise an eyebrow. After a moment the Shadowman called out, his voice now coming loud and clear, without the sibilant slithering though still with the perilous feel: “Abner! Bring me my phone!” One of the men on the poop deck moved toward the companionway; Damnation turned to face the man, tightening his grip, tensing his body to move and fight. In the strangled gurgle, the Shadowman said, “Leave your guns up there!”

The man paused, put down the pistol he held, drew a second pistol from the small of his back, and placed it on the deck with the first. Then he drew a cellphone from his pocket and, holding it high, came down the companionway. Damnation didn’t relax, but he did allow the man to approach, and when he was within a pace, the Shadowman reached out with his left hand and took the phone. The houngan tapped the screen several times, and then brought the phone to his ear. Damnation pressed close to hear both sides of the conversation.

After three rings, the phone was answered; a voice with a deep Island accent said, “Yah, boss?”

“Let the prisoners go. All of them.”

There was a pause, and then the voice asked, “Ya want us t’ follow dem, or hold one, two?”

Damnation pressed the knife against his throat, and the Shadowman said, “Let them go. Send them down to the shore so we can see them from the ship, then let them go. Do not follow.”

“Yah, boss, you got it,” the voice said. The Shadowman ended the call and then held the phone out to Abner, who took it and put it back in his pocket. “Go back up,” the Shadowman said, and Abner returned to the poop deck rail, collecting his guns in passing.

A minute passed, and then another. The British sailors, standing around on the deck, began to shift idly, uneasily. The three men standing on the poop deck did not. After a third minute, the Shadowman tugged gently on his trapped right arm, clearing his throat and rolling his head on his neck. “You can let me go now,” the Shadowman said. “My men will do as I ordered them.”

Damnation tightened his grip, instead. He pulled his knife hand away from the houngan’s throat, quickly sliding his right arm under the Shadowman’s, the point of his knife now resting on the man’s belly. “When I see my men and know they are safe, I’ll let ye go and surrender to ye.”

The Shadowman was silent for a moment. Then he said, as if nothing had occurred since Damnation had asked the question, “Your blood tastes strong. Powerful.” Again he turned in Damnation’s grip, just enough to look into the pirate’s eyes from the corner of his own. “But it is not for me to taste it.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. Ye need it to move the ship. Ye need me.”

The Shadowman tipped his head. “You’re half right,” he said, and Damnation saw the corner of his mouth turn up in a smile.

Just then, a shout came from the shore, just audible from the deck. “Captain!” Damnation tried to turn to face the shore, but could not do so while holding so tight to his captive. He hesitated, but then released the man’s right arm, changing his grip to the collar of the Shadowman’s loose shirt, holding him tight with his left, laying the knife blade along the line of the man’s spine, the tip of the blade pricking the back of the shaved skull. A moment to ensure that the Shadowman would not struggle – he did not, merely shrugging his shoulder and shaking his right hand to bring back circulation – and then Damnation squinted at the shore, where he saw a tall man in tattered clothes limping rapidly along the beach, headed towards where the boat had launched, which was the closest point to the ship. The man cupped his hands to his mouth and again shouted, “Captain!”

Damnation pressed the knife close, and then he raised his left hand and waved. “Ian!” he shouted.

O’Gallows waved vigorously, and Damnation thought he could see the smile on his mate’s face from here. Cupping his hands, O’Gallows shouted, “Orders, sir!”

If O’Gallows could have made out Damnation’s face from where he stood, he wouldn’t have had to hear the orders: the sorrow webbed across the captain’s eyes, gathered in the corners of his mouth, weighing down his jaw, would have made it clear before Damnation even said what he did now. “Take the men and go,” he shouted, his voice rough, breaking on the last word. “Follow the road.” Damnation paused, and swallowed, and then said, “Don’t wait for me.”

O’Gallows actually took two steps into the water, the waves washing around his feet. “Sir!” he called out, and then, “Nate!”

The sadness turned to steel, and this time his voice did not break. “You have your orders, O’Gallows!” Damnation took a stronger hold on the Shadowman’s shirt, his gaze turning to the back of that dark, shaved head. “You will see the men safe. The ship, I will see to.” His gaze flicked back to the shore, where now he saw two more men, whom he recognized as Llewellyn Vaughn and Owen McTeigue, come along the shore to stand with O’Gallows. “Go!” Damnation shouted, as loudly, as strongly, as he could.

O’Gallows let his cupped hands fall from his mouth. Vaughn said something to him, inaudible from the ship; McTeigue stepped out into the water and laid a hand on O’Gallows’s arm. The taller man shook it off, but McTeigue reached out again; this time, O’Gallows turned away from the ship and stepped out of the water.

McTeigue hesitated for a moment, and then cupped his own hands around his mouth and called out, “Slán leat, col ceathrar!”

Damnation rocked back as if struck, and blinked his eyes, hard. “Fare thee well, too, cousin,” he called back, his voice fading at the end.

McTeigue waved; Vaughn did as well. Then they turned and, gathering O’Gallows with an arm around his shoulders, they walked away from the water, away from the ship, and away from their captain, cousin, and friend, Damnation Kane.

Once the three had vanished into the line of trees, the Shadowman turned his head; freer now, he turned until he could look at Damnation, though the Irishman still held the houngan’s shirt, and the blade of the knife stayed against the back of his neck. The Shadowman turned up his hands, not needing to actually say, “Well?”

Damnation shoved him. “Not yet,” he said gruffly. The Shadowman turned his back on Damnation without another sound.

Some minutes later, a car horn honked, then honked twice more, and then three more times. Damnation’s shoulders sagged. He let go of the Shadowman and took three steps back. He could feel English sailors pressing up close behind and to his sides, but he kept his gaze on the houngan. When the Shadowman turned slowly around to face him, Damnation held out the knife, the wooden handle turned towards the houngan.

The man stepped forward slowly, reached gingerly for the knife, and took it gently from Damnation’s hand. Damnation let his arm drop, and then squared his shoulders, facing the man head-on, accepting his fate now. Trying to.

Quick as a snake, his arm stabbing out in much the same motion as a serpent striking and sinking fangs into its prey, the Shadowman slashed Damnation’s own knife across the Irishman’s chest, tearing a gash in his shirt and drawing a line of blood from his skin. Damnation hissed in pain but did not fall back away: he kept his gaze locked on the Shadowman. The Shadowman raised the knife, pinched his thumb and finger against the sides of the blade, and drew off the blood; he knelt down and smeared his fingers across the deck of the ship, leaving a streak of crimson on the planks.

They all waited.

Nothing happened.

After a long minute, the Shadowman’s lip curled. His right hand went to his throat as he shook the knife in his left hand at Damnation. He drew his right hand away, held up his newly-bloodied fingers for Damnation to see. “Perhaps there was too much of my blood on the blade,” he growled. He crept closer and hissed. “Perhaps it needs more blood.”

He stood and shouted, “Scourge him!” The English sailors cheered. They rushed to Damnation, grabbing his arms, and dragged him towards the bow. Damnation neither resisted nor assisted. He had expected nothing to happen when his blood touched the deck, which was why he had forced the Shadowman to wait until Andre’s signal told him that the bus had driven away safely with all of his men; now, Damnation expected only to die. His only remaining wishes were that it would not be too long, or too painful, and that when he died he would still be on his ship, and not cast into the watery depths.

Well. It looked as if he would have one of those wishes granted him. But not the other two.

The Englishmen bound him to the Scourged Lady. Damnation did not resist, allowing them to put him in place and tie his arms around her. He peered up at her lovely face, carved and painted in an expression of agony, and he wondered why any man would want such a visage to embody his ship. Then he looked down at the base of the carved wooden statue, which had been crudely bolted to the deck of his lovely Grace, and he grieved that his beautiful ship would end her days thus altered, thus corrupted. Perhaps it was to the good that whatever spirit had been in her had apparently been washed away by the blood of an innocent man. Damnation closed his eyes and said a brief prayer for the soul of Raymond Fitzpatrick: first to God the Father and Christ the Son; and then to the Morrigan, she who reveled in deaths soaked in blood and stabbed with pain, and to Manannan Mac Lir, Keeper of the Ways, who would guide the souls of dead sailors through the dark waters to their final rest.

He could not help but ask for a blessing for himself, as well.

“Strip him!” the Shadowman ordered after Damnation was tethered to the Lady. “The blood must flow free.” Damnation kept his eyes closed as they cut his clothes off of his body, so they would not see the fear in his eyes.

When he was bare, left only with the sleeves of his shirt trapped under the cords that had tied him in place, the Englishmen backed away, and then there was a silence. He listened to the waves coming in to the shore, to the creaks and moans of his ship, his lovely ship, and he tried not to listen for the sound of the lash coming through the air, the sound of the hooks sinking into his bare back. He had been flogged before, as all sailors inevitably are; but never like this. He knew himself unprepared, and he prayed only that he would die well.

Then: a surprise. A voice, familiar and unexpected – the voice of Nicholas Hobbes. He heard it and knew it, though he could not make out the words Hobbes exchanged with the malevolently hissing Shadowman; he was just about to open his eyes, to see what expression, what emotion, might be on Hobbes’s face, but then Hobbes gave an order, in a clear voice, and Damnation squeezed his eyes tight shut and clenched his jaw.

The order was, “Begin.”

The lash fell almost immediately – but it did not fall, it struck, coming around his left side to his right, and the agony was instant and overwhelming. The hooks were then pulled out as the lash was drawn back for the next blow, and Damnation bared his gritted teeth; he felt blood trickling down his back, down his bare leg, and he thought he heard it pattering on the deck.

Then the lash bit him again, and he heard only the screaming in his own mind, felt only the lightning blasts of pain and the ache in his throat as he struggled, with all of his strength, with all of his will, not to let those screams out into the air: he did not want his cries to please the Shadowman and his minions.

But of course, at last, he did scream aloud, and curse them, and plead with them to stop. No matter what sound he made, how he begged, the lash struck again, and again, the hooks tearing out pieces of his flesh, spurting gouts of blood, tearing his cries from his throat, ripping his life from his body.

Until at last, a new sound could be heard. A rumbling, shaking sound, as of an enraged bull tied into a stall and beginning to tear down the very walls with its mighty struggles. When it began, the lash still struck, but as the rumbling sound grew, the lash struck but weakly, the hooks failing to catch, and then the flogging stopped.

Some moments later, Damnation’s hoarse screams faded, and then he too heard the noise. With some effort, he pried open his eyes.

The ship was on fire. But it was not a flame of red and yellow and orange, and the ship was not consumed: the Grace burned with a blue-white light flickering from every inch of her from water to sky, keel and hull to mast and sail, and he saw, through bleary eyes, the gape-mouthed sailors looking wildly around as their hair stood on end.

The deck began to shake and rock beneath them, the shrouds and lines thrumming as if in a high wind; but the sun shone down, the sea was calm with only a gentle swell – over which the Grace now pitched and tossed.

“She lives,” Damnation whispered, his torn voice full of wonder, perhaps even joy.

Then the Shadowman began to laugh. The laugh was strong and loud, without the sibilant hiss of his speech, but with every bit as much malice. Damnation turned his head, though it seemed to weigh as much as the very Earth itself, and saw the dark glee on that shadowed face. The Shadowman gestured, and Hobbes – his own expression unreadable, though he avoided looking directly at his Irish counterpart – put a hand on the arm of his giant bosun, who let his lash-arm go limp at the touch. The scourging was ended.

For now.

The Shadowman stepped close, looking into Damnation’s eyes until he saw the Irishman recognize and focus on him. Then he nodded. “You were right. You were the one I sought.” The houngan smiled wide, revealing just a hint of blood still on his white teeth. “We depart in the morning,” he said. “Before dawn.

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

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

Chapter #80: Change of Plans

Two men and a youth sat in a green 1976 Pontiac Bonneville parked on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke Parish in Bermuda, near Spanish Point. Or perhaps it was three men – depending on how one counted. After all, if one’s age is set by the number of years that have passed since one’s birth, two of the car’s occupants were well over 300 years past birth, including the apparently youngest of the three. They sat watching a fourth man, who stood in an alley across the road from the Pontiac, leaning his right shoulder against the brick wall of a large and prestigious hotel, scrolling through something on the phone in his left hand. This fourth man had never been in the Pontiac, and was in truth unaware of the three watching him. Though if he had known of them, he would have been unconcerned; he was a policeman. The man behind the wheel of the car, who by some reckoning was far younger than the two paler men in the backseat, was just finishing up a phone call. “Yah, mon, right by de Royal Palms, ya know. De alley behin’ it. Ya.” He closed the phone and put it back on the console by the gearshift.

“Will it work from here?” the older man in the backseat – oldest of the three in the car by any reckoning – asked the youth. The youth, who was looking back and forth between the man in the alley and a smartphone in his own hand, in response to the question lifted his phone and sighted through the digital camera. Then he shrugged. “Depends what he does, right. I can capture him from here, and you’d know him for who he is, but if he does somethin’ small like take money, we won’t see what he’s doin’.”

The man who had asked nodded slowly, then leaned forward and brushed the shoulder of the third man, who had darker skin than either of the other two, not being a sunburned Irishman as the two in the backseat were, and then the Irishman asked, “We’d need t’ be seein’ what he does, aye?”

The dark-skinned man, who had not been paying attention, glanced back over his shoulder; he saw the young one holding up his phone camera, and then he looked out at the man in the alley. He nodded. “Yah, mon,” he said, his Island accent heavy but musical. “’Specially you wantin’ take down one rough son-bitch like dat wan dere. You be needin’ perfect pitchas, mon, show his face, show ‘im bein’ bad same time. Perfect pitchas, or you no chance stop dat mon.” He turned farther, looking the other man in the eye. “Den you gots to do your ting, mon.” He held his fist by his head, index finger extended against his temple, and mimed pulling a trigger and firing a shot.

In the backseat the oldest man, who was named Shane MacManus, nodded slowly, his fingers resting on the butt of the pistol tucked into the wide leather belt around his middle. He looked at the man in the alley for a few moments more, and then glanced back at his younger crewmate, whose motions with the phone in his hand echoed those of the man in the alley. “I don’t understand this video folderol, still. Tell me how this is to work, again?”

The young man, though not the youngest in the car, who was called Balthazar Lynch, looked up slowly from the phone, staring at his crewmate in exasperation. Then he sighed – and then suddenly brightened. “Here, Shane – I mean, Sergeant – I’ll show ye.” The title was coated thickly with sarcasm, but MacManus didn’t bristle at the tone; it seemed discipline was a minor concern for this particular sergeant. Lynch held the phone between them, moving his thumbs over the screen. Then he said, “All right, now, I’m goin’ t’ capture ye the way I’ll do t’ yon rough son-bitch.” the last words took on the driver’s accent, and the man started a laugh at hearing it from the pale apple-cheeked youth. “All right now: Master MacManus, can ye tell me, please, how ye managed t’ gull our Captain into givin’ ye some rank that no one on our ship has ever held before?”

MacManus gave Lynch a level stare.

“Look here, into the phone,” Lynch murmured, tapping the side of the device.

MacManus frowned, clearly uncomfortable with the whole business. “Look where? It’s like you’re holdin’ a bloody stick o’ scrap wood and tellin’ me to look into it.”

“Here,” Lynch clarified, pointing with exaggerated care. MacManus leaned closer, eyes locked on the point Lynch had indicated. Now it was Lynch’s turn to frown, and he looked at the screen, then turned the phone and stared at the back of it (On the screen, the left half of his frowning face became visible, and then vanished again as he) then turned it back. “No – here,” he said, pointing now at the camera’s lens.

Obediently, MacManus stared at the dark circle. “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. As there ever is.” He reached out, firmly pushing the phone down; Lynch looked directly into his face, then, and MacManus said, his voice low and sincere – and somewhat menacing: “Have ye a complaint on’t, boyo?”

Lynch looked quickly at the phone, tapped the Stop button, and then put it down in his lap as he looked straight into MacManus’s eyes and said, “Ye know I don’t. Ye’re the best soldier aboard, wi’ the most years marchin’ off t’ war. Ye’re the right choice.” Then he cut his gaze down and to the side, muttering something else.

“What’s that? Speak up, boy,” MacManus growled, turning his ear toward Lynch.

Lynch’s lips pressed tight, and he shook his head. “Tcha, ‘tis nothin’. Just that – there’s the Captain, o’ course, and Kelly’s the bosun’s mate, and ye’re the Sergeant-at-arms – and then I’m just . . . Lynch. Boy,” he added sarcastically.

MacManus, to his credit, nodded rather than laughing – but there was a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he said, “Aye, and ye wish the Captain would give some preference to ye, is that it? Ye wish his Royal Captainness to recognize ye before the courtiers? Kiss ye on both cheeks, give ye a ribbon? Or perhaps a red rose on a wee cushion?”

Lynch’s cheeks reddened and his eyes narrowed as MacManus mocked him, but at the end, his gaze softened slightly, his lips curling into the hint of a smile. Then he blinked, and gave MacManus a sniff. “Aye, I’d take that. Just that,” he said, and MacManus laughed.

“All right, show me this video shite,” MacManus said. Lynch, who had been going soft-eyed once more, started out of it, and took his phone from his lap and tapped the screen. Then he tapped once more, and turned it to face MacManus – who found himself looking into his own face. “Here,” Lynch’s voice said from the phone, and then MacManus’s gaze locked directly into MacManus’s gaze.

“Christ’s teeth!” the living Irishman swore as the video Irishman said, “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. And there ever is.”

Lynch stopped the recording and lowered the phone, grinning at MacManus. The older man shivered. “That’s a right deviltry, it is. Makin’ a portrait of a man what moves as he moves? What speaks his own words back at him?” He shivered again, swallowing convulsively. “’Tisn’t right.”

Lynch shrugged. “Mayhap ‘tisn’t, but sure and it’ll do the job on our Lieutenant Hargreaves out there.” He looked back out the window at the man in the alley, who was glancing slowly to his left and right, looking for someone or something; not finding it, he looked back at his phone, his face a mask of blank, unflappable patience.

MacManus frowned at Lynch, who was once more gazing at his own phone in a strange sort of echo of the man outside, the target. “I don’t understand what this video will do to him. It’s not magic, aye? So ye’re no’ tryin’ t’ capture his soul or enchant him into your service or some codswallop?”

Lynch psshed. “’Tis no magic. ‘Tis this world. ‘Tis the way of it.” He put the phone down on the seat beside him, after one last glance to ensure that Hargreaves waited still, alone still, and then he addressed MacManus. “Killin’ your enemy’s no’ the best road, any more – if it ever was. Killin’ a man only causes new problems.”

MacManus interrupted. “It solves the problem you’re havin’ wi’ th’ man ye kill, don’t it?”

The man in the front seat, who was named Peter Desmond – the only one in the Pontiac who was not 350 years removed from his birthday – nodded at this. But Lynch shook his head. “Aye, o’ course, but still he reaches out o’ his grave t’ throw a thousand ropes about ye. Take – well, take the Captain and ye and Kelly. We’re here, doin’ this, because ye three –” He paused, glanced at Desmond, who was looking at Hargreaves; then he shrugged and went on, now speaking in Irish. “Ye three killed all of those fellows. Where the American killed no one, but took a video of ye three fighters –”

“Aye, braw and valorous fighters,” MacManus interjected.

Lynch nodded. “Aye, truly so – but because ye fought, where Calhoun did not, now ye must serve him. He defeated ye, even as ye defeated the others. And because Calhoun did not kill, now there is nothing entangling him. You see?” He lifted the phone. “This way is better.”

MacManus pursed his lips, then nodded grudgingly. “Aye, perhaps so.” He switched back to English. “But how does this video give us power o’er him, if there is no magic to ‘t?”

Desmond turned to look at MacManus. “If we cotch ‘im doin’ bad tings, we can tell ‘im to do alla what we say, or else we give de video to de coppers.”

MacManus blinked. “The coppers?”

“Yah, mon, de police, de fuzz, mon.”

MacManus blinked, started to speak, but then turned his frown in Lynch’s direction. “But Hargreaves is an officer of the police, aye?”

Lynch nodded. “Aye.” He was watching the waiting man, paying little attention to MacManus’s puzzlement.

MacManus’s expression turned incredulous. “And you think the same police that are of his crew – that are under his command – will turn on him?” Lynch shook his head dismissively, looking past MacManus, unconcerned with these details.

It was Desmond who answered him, propping one leg up on the console, one arm along the back of the bench seat. “If we got video – if we get de good pitchas – den dey gots to trow ‘im out. Or else we put de pitchas on internet, show de whole world, make tings too hot for Lieutenant Hargreaves, dere.”

MacManus’s expression grew only more confused and incredulous. “Show the whole world? How would ye do that? Ye’re not God, to put a sign in the sky!”

Desmond smiled, showing teeth whiter and straighter than the ancient Irishmen were accustomed to. “Don’t fret ‘bout it, mon. Look: I talk to Two-Saint ‘bout dis, when ya boy dere bring it up. Two-Saint say it all good, video work fine, no need kill dat mon. Truth, I think him like it better if we get pitchas den if Hargreaves get shot. Dis’ll work, mon. No worries.” His phone rang, and he picked it up, flipped it open, said, “Yah, mon.” There was a pause while he listened, and then he said, “Yah, mon, same place, ‘im still dere. Still alive.” Then he folded the phone closed and returned it.

MacManus looked out at Hargreaves, and then back to Desmond. Desmond nodded. “B’lieve it, mon. You get dem pitchas, you take ‘im down.” He looked back at Hargreaves. “But we need get closer, before who ‘im waitin’ on show up. Him waitin’ like dis, back dere, dis gwan be a good pitcha – but you gots to be closer dere. We needs to see ‘im doin’ bad tings, or it no good.”

Lynch sucked on his teeth thoughtfully, idly caressing the smooth glass and plastic phone. “Should we get out? Stand nearer to him?”

MacManus shook his head. “You and I stand out in this place.”

Lynch frowned. “Nay, there be Englishmen hereabouts, and others of a lighter skin.”

MacManus gave him a level look. “Not that are equipped as we are,” he said, pointing at their somewhat incongruous clothing – Lynch’s down-turned leather boots, for one, or his own wide belt, lurid scarlet shirt, and the loose pantaloons in a bright floral print he was quite fond of (and which Peter Desmond didn’t have the heart to tell him were maternity pants).

Desmond pointed out the window. “Dere goes one,” he said.

Startled, MacManus and Lynch turned and looked: indeed, a tall man, straight and lean with black hair pulled back and tied with a leather thong, dressed in a loose white shirt, loose black pants, a bright red sash and tall leather boots, was walking purposefully down the sidewalk. “It’s the Captain,” Lynch exclaimed, starting to move to wave or thrust his head out the window to call to Captain Kane; but then he thought better of it, with a glance at Hargreaves, and he sat back. The Captain walking by did not even glance in their direction.

“What’s he doin’?” MacManus asked. No one answered.

The Captain reached the mouth of the alley, paused, looked to either side down the sidewalk, and then turned into the alley, walking straight at Hargreaves. The policeman’s eyes flicked up, saw the pale Irishman, dismissed him, and turned back down to his phone.

And as the three men in the car watched, Captain Damnation Kane walked to where Lieutenant Hargreaves stood, unhurriedly drew a revolver from his pocket, pointed it, and shot Lieutenant Hargreaves in the forehead, just as the man looked up again from his phone. The lieutenant’s head snapped back, bouncing off the wall that was now splashed with blood and brain matter, his body rocking back from his head down to his feet, as if someone had grabbed him by the ears and snapped out the wrinkles. As the ripple hit his feet, they flew up, and as his head hit the wall, he went limp, the phone flying back as his arms were flung forward and then back as he struck the wall, the glass face smashing to pieces on the ground. The tall, muscular body fell beside the broken phone, folding in half at the waist, the man’s torso sprawled across his own legs. Captain Kane lowered his aim and fired twice more into the body, which didn’t move at all from the impacts. Without a glance back, the Captain walked on down the alley and out of sight around the corner.

The two sailors stared, mouth agape. Desmond started the Pontiac, signaled, pulled out. “Well now,” he said as he hit the gas and they rumbled away from where people were starting to react to the shockingly loud explosions of the gunshots, “I guess we won’t be needin’ dem pitchas, after all.”

As they turned a corner, leaving the scene behind, Lynch slowly shook his head. What he was negating was not clear.

 

***

 

While the Pontiac was driving away, a Jeep parked on the next block, with its engine running, held two more men who were most eager to be leaving, as well, preferably as fast as possible. But both men – another Irish sailor, this one a bear of a man with auburn hair and a full beard two shades redder, and behind the wheel another Bermuda native with dark skin – kept their eyes fixed to the corner of a building, around which they had watched a man disappear, and they now awaited his return.

But so fixed were they on that particular spot that they did not see the very man coming out of an alley a hundred feet down the street; walking quickly but calmly, his face an emotionless mask (although a closer, more careful examination would reveal two things: one, the eyes in that face were not calm, were in fact so filled with feeling, filled with fear and anger and despair, that they seemed to burn with a green fire, belying the mask-like appearance of the face around those gleaming eyes; and two, there were several tiny drops of blood on the cheeks and the brow and the bridge of the nose. It was not his blood.), the man approached the Jeep, opened the door – both passengers started violently, the driver cursing and the Irishman half-drawing the sword he held from its scabbard – and climbed in, pulling the door closed behind him. He pointed down the road, not looking either of his companions in the eye, and said, “Go.”

The man in the back seat leaned forward, handing the blood-spattered man the sword; but he did not take it, nor did he look back even when the large man asked, “What did ye do, Captain?”

The blood-spattered Captain turned and looked steadily at the driver, who was staring incredulously back, the car idling, still. The Captain pointed again at the road, extending his arm, turning to face forward. “You should go. You do not want to be seen here.”

The driver slapped the gear shift into first, depressed the clutch – and then paused and looked at his bloody passenger. “Dere were shots. Was dat you?” The Captain glanced at him, and the driver, looking up at the man’s brow, pantomimed wiping his forehead; the Captain ran his fingers across his face, and the tips came away smeared with blood. He looked at his red-fingered hand, rubbing the tips of his fingers against the ball of his thumb, and said, quietly, “Aye, it was.”

“You shot Hargreaves,” the driver said. It was not a question.

The Captain looked steadily at him with his burning green eyes. “Aye, I did.” He lifted three blood-tipped fingers. “Three times,” he said, his voice still calm.

The driver’s jaw clenched. “He dead?” he asked through gritted teeth.

The Captain nodded. “After the first shot. But if he could die thrice, he’d have done so.”

The driver dropped his gaze away from his passenger, and the Jeep pulled out and drove away. In the distance – but not too far – sirens could be heard approaching. The driver paused at an intersection, turning his head, trying to place the sirens; when it became clear which direction they came from, he turned the other way, and hit the gas.

In the alley, the dead man’s cell phone, the glass cracked, the case smeared with dust and blood, rang and rang.

No one answered.

 

***

 

“Two-Saint is going to be pissed,” Andre said again, not for the first time. He snatched up his cellphone, but had to drop it again in order to steer the Jeep around a slow-moving bus.

Damnation Kane gazed out the window, his eyes idly roaming over the countryside, trees and houses, families in ragged clothing, birds in spectacular plumage, the sun glittering on green plants so bright the world seemed made of emeralds under a sapphire sky. “He wanted the man dead. The man’s dead,” he said, his tone indifferent, unconcerned. Behind him, Kelly frowned, his hands running nervously over the captain’s sword, which he still held.

Andre scoffed. “Your man had a different idea. Two-Saint liked it better.” He glanced over at Damnation. “No blood,” he said pointedly.

Damnation looked at his fingers; the blood had wiped off on his pants, but the skin still seemed reddish; perhaps this blood would not wash away. He turned to face Andre, who was glancing back and forth between Damnation and the road ahead. “’Tis unfortunate when a man gets what he wants only t’ find he does no’ want it. But such is that man’s misfortune, and no other’s.” He held his gaze on Andre, who shook his head and concentrated on his driving. Damnation turned to look out the window once more. “I do not go to raise conflict, but in truth, Two-Saint is your master, no’ mine. Calhoun was the one who commanded me, and his instructions were to kill. Anythin’ else is between they two; I am only a tool.” He paused, and then so quietly that none heard it but himself, he said, “A broken one, at that.”

“We’ll see,” Andre said. “I’m takin’ you back to de farm, and den I talk to Two-Saint.”

Damnation smiled, and spoke casually. “Tell me, how long will it be before la policia find the man who killed their own lieutenant?”

Andre shook his head. “Not long. Dey’ll be boiling ovah ‘bout dis.” He sped up, honking at the slower-moving cars in his way, with no apparent effect. Then his eyes widened and he whipped around to face Damnation. “Were you seen?”

The pirate turned a wide smile on the Bermudan. Then he shrugged. “Perhaps not. Though I did no’ attempt concealment. But perchance ‘twill take them some time t’ search me out, and t’ find someone who has seen ye and I together.” He paused. Andre looked away from the road once more, and their gazes met. “Perchance,” Damnation repeated, and turned back to his window.

Andre’s nostrils flared as he sucked in a deep breath – and then he had to turn back to the road, swerving to avoid a collision with a bicycle, leaning on his horn to express – well, something. “You wanted to get caught,” he said slowly.

Damnation turned and looked at Kelly as he said, “I wished to be seen. To be known. I alone fired the shots. I alone murdered the man. I and no other.” Kelly frowned. Damnation said, “My men are innocent. They may leave, and go where they wish.”

“But what about you, Captain?” Kelly asked in his deep rumble.

Damnation smiled. There was not a breath of happiness in it. “I, too, will go where I wish.” He turned back to gazing out his window at the lovely world outside, and said no more.

 

***

 

Thirty minutes later, both the Jeep and the Pontiac had returned to the farm owned by Diego Hill; the two drivers, Peter and Andre, were out on the porch having a conversation on speakerphone with Two-Saint, while the three crewmen, sitting within the main room of the house, listened to the instructions of their captain, and held their tongues, unwillingly.

The drivers received their final orders, and hung up the phone. Exchanging a long look, they went to the Irishmen. Damnation quirked an eyebrow by way of questioning; Andre said, “He agreed. I take you dere, and he send a bus.”

Damnation stood, nodding. “We will wait there for the – what is’t? A bus?”

Now Andre quirked an eyebrow. “A bus. A school bus Two-Saint has. We use it to bring workers to de fields when we need to harvest. Or we did.” He glanced at Peter. “I tink it will still run.” Peter nodded, and Andre looked back at Damnation. “It will carry all of dem. No problem.”

Damnation nodded. He looked at his three men. “Then we will depart. If la policia are quicker in their hunt than we wish, I would not be found here, where you all may be taken with me.” A grin, this one with some actual humor, curved his mouth. “Mayhap they will take me at the cove, and arrest all of our enemies as well. ‘Twould give me some fine company in gaol, would it not?”

His crewmen, however, had no humor at all in their faces. Lynch spoke up, his voice cracking like an adolescent’s: “Ye cannot be sure, Nate – ye don’t know that the Grace has lost her – her miracle.”

Damnation’s eyes turned sad. “Aye, you’re right, lad. But I am sure that there is no other way to accomplish what must be done. We four cannot fight them free. There is no other trade that Okagaweh will make.” He walked to where Lynch had turned away, his arms wrapped tightly around his slender frame as though he must hold something powerful inside at all costs. Damnation put a hand on his shoulder, and the youth shivered. “Balthazar, it is my duty. They are my men.” He leaned close and whispered, so softly that the other men in the room could not hear. “I would be good.”

Tears erupted from Lynch’s eyes, and with a sob, he turned and ran from the room. Damnation watched him go; the other men looked away.

Then Damnation turned to Kelly and MacManus. “Right. Remember how I want you to distribute my effects.”

MacManus nodded. “Aye sir. The logbook to Vaughn, and your sword to Ian O’Gallows, if he’ll take command, else to McTeigue.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. And here –” He drew the revolver from his belt, opened the cylinder, removed and replaced three of the shells, and then handed it to MacManus. “For ye, Sergeant. With my thanks.” MacManus took the gun with a nod, and Damnation shook his hand, firmly, finally. Then the captain turned to Kelly. He reached to his ear, where a gold ring was clasped; with a twist of his fingers he broke the soldered joint, unthreaded it from the hole in his earlobe, and then pinched the soft metal back together. “Give this to Lynch, will ye? And – see that the lad is well.”

Kelly took the ring, and nodded. “Aye, Captain.” He shook Damnation’s hand as well, and then pulled him in for a fierce one-armed hug. Damnation hugged the large man back, and then stepped back. The two nodded to each other, and Kelly murmured, “Luck to ye, sir.”

With a gesture to Andre, Damnation Kane left the farmhouse then, to go to meet his fate.

 

*************************************************************************************

Hello! I hope you’ve been enjoying the story so far; we have now come to the end of the second book of Damnation’s adventures (You can tell because now it is narration rather than a log), and there are only a few chapters remaining, absolutely full of surprises and shocks, action and adventure.

I want to make a request of anyone reading this blog. I am trying, together with a good friend of mine who is a self-published poet, to take advantage of an incredible opportunity to sell Damnation’s adventures to a wider audience. But I need support to make it happen. Please, please, if you can, help me to push this story, and my own story, forward to the next level.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support.

–Dusty Humphrey

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https://www.gofundme.com/teachers-to-the-book-festival

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

Log #79: Caged

All is lost.

No. Not all. If all were lost, what matter this log, these pages that record my life? My mind?

I know not for whom I write. At the first, and at various times since our arrival here, I have taken up this pen as a way to order my mind: I find that constricting my rampant thoughts into determinate words, especially those inscribed in the permanence of ink on paper, is a great aid to the elimination of confusion, the solution of dilemma, as the act often leads to a certainty in plans of action henceforward. After I thought that I knew our place, I hoped the tale might be preserved for posterity and the general interest – aye, and my name preserved as well, I did hope. I thought then that we would return to our native land, and my fellow men would read these words and know of our deeds, our failures and triumphs. Of late I think I have taken to this log as something of a confessor: I unburden my soul by writing here of my weaknesses and iniquities and follies, too numerous now to count.

Methinks I must write these words for my men. Soon I will be gone from them, and they may be lost; I must attempt to explain the steps we took to reach this place, so that they may find a path forward. Of course some of ye know somewhat of this, being a part of it; but I think ye do not know the whole of what I have done and the reasoning wherefore.

Thus I say, if you are reading this, my friends, Ian, Llewellyn, Balthazar, my good cousin Owen, stout Kelly, Sergeant MacManus, my strong-hearted lads: I beg your forgiveness. I have led you all so far astray. I regret it more than any sin of my thrice-cursed life that I cannot bring ye all home again.

I cannot. My ship – the Grace is, though she floats still, now shorn of that enchantment which, I believe, opened the way through Time itself to bring us here. She will never sail those mystical waters again. This world, now, is your only world. I wish you well of it.

I hope that the sacrifice of my life to save yours brings me some measure of atonement.

I will now recount for you all of what I have learned this night, so that ye may all comprehend what I now do: I know elsewise will I seem enmaddened, and I know not what constraints my madness may place on you. There are no constraints, lads: I am sound, and I am content with the one act left to me. I do this freely. Ye are free men – Irishmen. Gentlemen of fortune. Do as you will. I wish ye all joys this world may offer ye.

***

 

Once I had learned of Nicholas Hobbes the location of my captive friends, and the name of the villain who held them captive, I urged our hired pilot Andre to course us there directly so I could learn of the disposition of our foes and form stratagems. Howsoever, once Andre had learned of Lyle Okagaweh’s involvement, he insisted on speaking to Two-Saint before proceeding against such a foe; if I had needed further proof that a man may not serve two masters, I have such. As Andre served as our pilot, the steering of the ship was in his hands and his hands alone; had I wrested the conveyance from him, still I could not have found our destination without his assistance. Hence I acquiesced, though bitterly, and we returned to our lodging. Andre there did make the attempt to contact Two-Saint by ‘phone, but could not, said he, get a signal, and so he departed alone to seek out his liege. I conferred with my men, who all agree that, subtlety and subterfuge being requisite for a nighttime invasion seeking mainly intelligence, Balthazar Lynch should be my accomplice, as he is the slightest, quickest, and most silent hunter of we four. Then we had naught to do but wait, and so did we, I keeping this log and recording my conversation with Hobbes. I wondered, and worried, over his description of this man Okagaweh, this Shadowman, he calls him, and that he held my men at his mercy; what toxin did he infuse in this so-called physic that delivered both euphoria and will-sapping enslavement? Would my men still be under his sway, even though I tore them bodily from his clutches?

Will any of us be truly free? Have we ever been?

At length, and surely mere moments before the last tether of my sanity broke under the strain of waiting in idleness, Andre returned. Two-Saint had sanctioned this initial foray, but he wanted us not to engage with Lyle Okagaweh or his men, and not to underestimate them, for this Shadowman is a dire adversary. But I and my men have fought the weight of the British Empire for all of our lives; Irishmen fear no foe. Lynch and I were secured into the Jeep-beast ere Andre was finished speaking, and so soon as we could acknowledge his warnings, we weighed anchor and sailed.

To our advantage, the clouds overhead had hooded the moon’s lantern; Lynch’s apparel was dark already, and I was able to borrow a shirt of Diego Colina’s – the man has proved both an honorable and generous host, and a staunch ally; I beg you gentlemen to prefer him if you can – to replace my white finery; we smeared mud on our milk-white Irishness once we arrived. Andre halted the Jeep-beast some several ship’s-lengths away from the place, so as not to alert sentries with the beast’s grumbling; he remained aboard to keep watch, having taken note of Lynch’s eye-phone and ascertaining how he could give and receive signals, were there need. Lynch and I crept through black-hearted jungle, then, snared and clutched by the foliage, stumbling on the uneven terrain, hunted by the night-calls of animals such as we had never heard before. We sensed perils all about us, above us and below us, before and behind; if Lynch was not as terrified as I, then I am mad.

Soon enough, though, we broke from cover into a long clear slope leading down towards the shore, though a forested rise betwixt us and the sea kept us from seeing the water. Even in the darkness, we could make out the road, a band of lighter earth leading to the house we sought, which had some lamps burning dimly against the night. Assured therefore that the night-eyes of any guards would be light-blind, we made our way quickly to the vicinity of the domicile, taking shelter behind a copse of low trees.

We soon espied that which we sought: a metal cage with the forms of men spread across the ground within; in the moments when the breeze quieted, we could hear their grunts and grumbles, and not a few moans of sore suffering. We could hear too the slow crash of waves, telling us that the shore was indeed close, and giving me hope that my Grace might be near as well.

We also spied that which we had not sought, though of course we expected: a watch kept by the house. Two guards stood and conversed, one diligently searching the darkness, the other seated, nodding, seeking the plum coveted by all men on watch: the kiss of sweet slumber. Though we could not hear their converse, as any men who have kept a night’s watch, we knew the thrust of it: one man sought to keep honorable vigil, while the other assured him, after what days or weeks of fruitless alertness, that they should sleep without fear; the final compromise was that each man followed his heart, and soon there was but one guard on watch, while one man snored in a chair on the porch of the house.

We watched as the sentry circled the house, keeping a regular pattern of movement, until we knew that we might have some minutes to approach and investigate the cage and its contents. Lynch stayed back in case I might need a diversion of the guard’s attention, or to call in Andre for our speedy withdrawal, and I crept to the cage, crawling on my belly while the guard faced my direction, and then scuttling crab-wise as he vanished around the house’s corner.

I approached the cage, and I stopped and stared, trusting my dark attire and mud-smeared skin to hide me from the sentry’s nearby perambulations. I thought I might recognize one of the men nearest me – Malachy Rearden, I thought – but I was certain I did not recognize the pale flaxen-haired youth who groaned and moaned beside him, clearly in discomfort and perhaps fevered, though the darkness hid detail. But I had not doubt that he was not of my crew. Perhaps I was deceived about Rearden, and these were some other men. Could there possibly be two such cages filled with miserable men? Might Hobbes have misled me?

Had I fallen into another trap set by the Devil’s Lash?

It took every bit of my will to hold me there and prevent my leaping up and absquatulating at top speed. I rehearsed the words I traded with Hobbes, recalled his demeanor and expression; I was as certain as I could be that he had spoke the plain truth. Which was not entirely certain, nay, as Hobbes is English and therefore untrustable; also he is by his own admission no longer the commander of this voyage, and thus may himself be ignorant or misled, and myself the same at one remove. But even if this were not an ambush, I asked myself: who were these men in this cage? Cage there surely was, and men within; if they were not my men, might they know the way to my crew? Could I free them, would they stand with us? Or at the least serve to distract our enemies?

Reasoning thus, I crept closer while the guard was beyond the house, and came around to the side of the cage, where I once more lay still and peered through the darkness at the mounds of the men who there lay. Was that – a man’s round belly, rising up where he lay on his back? Could it be Padraig Doyle, who carried such a belly? There, that man: was that the white hair of our Salty O’Neill? How could I be certain, looking in pure darkness on huddled men sleeping ten yards away from me?

But then a man rose up on an elbow and spoke, loudly, these words: “If ye be kickin’ me the once more, Robert Sweeney, ye horn-footed goat-shite, I’ll gnaw yer foot off with me bloody eyeteeth!” The man sounded as though more than half of him was asleep and the rest was cross, but ‘twas all Ian O’Gallows. These were my men. Now I moved closer with confidence, and had to stem my eagerness so that I could maintain surreptitiousness.

Despite my efforts, I made some sound, and one of the men lying at the very edge of the cage heard me then, and lifted his head to peer out into the darkness. Soon his gaze must have caught on the one part of myself I could not black with mud nor cloth: the whites of my eyes. I saw him stiffen, saw his hand clutch at the metal mesh that enclosed them, and I knew that I was seen. I raised a hand and covered my mouth, pointing at him with the other hand to enjoin his silence, and the man nodded; I crept closer, having to pause for the time when the sentry ambled by, on the far side of the cage from where I lay on my belly, but still in plain sight through the unsolid walls of the enclosure.

When I was within a man’s length of the cage, I recognized the man who seen me: ‘twas Llewellyn Vaughn. I had to smile at how his vigilance surpassed that of all my battle-tested sea-wolves; Vaughn is no warrior, but his is the broadest intellect, the deepest thought, and the sharpest fine perception of us all. I heard him whisper then, no more than a breath of air, and easily mistaken for the murmur of a sleeping man, “Captain?”

I waved my fingers at him and crept closer still, unwilling to speak until I was beside the cage, and my whisper could become indistinguishable from that of one of the captive men (were I to whisper from six feet away, it may be noted by one within as coming from an unlikely direction). Soon I was near enough to reach the metal mesh myself, and I reached and clasped Vaughn’s fingers, he gripping in return with the strength of great hope’s return into a heart full of despair.

“You came,” he whispered to me.

“Well and how could I not, seeing how pleasant your letter made it all seem?” I winked at him to show I jested; Vaughn has many great gifts, but a sense of humor is not among them, nor an understanding of ironical comments. “How fare you all?”

“We are wounded,” Vaughn  replied. “All of us, as well as the three sailors from Captain Hobbes’s crew who were placed in the cage with us. Several of the men have fevers, and all are weak from sun and a lack of water and food.”

I squeezed his fingers to stop him ere he could sail off into a specific and detailed report of every man’s every hurt; Vaughn never considered a question as having been answered until he had imparted every fact in his mind that related to the query – and his mind could hold enough facts to fill a ship’s hold. “Hobbes has men in there?” I lowered my whisper until it was barely enough breath to stir a fly from my lip.

Vaughn still heard me, and he nodded. “Three. They refused orders and this is their punishment. It is not clear if their ostracism is permanent, or intended to create an opportunity to infiltrate and gather intelligence from our men. In my opinion, there is little need for subterfuge; all that they wish to know is your whereabouts, Captain. They have had no use for us but as proverbial whipping boys.”

I frowned at him. “They flogged ye? All of ye?”

He nodded. “At least twice for every man in this cage. Three for O’Gallows who attempted to intercede and prevent a flogging that likely would have proved fatal for O’Neill, and nearly was for Ian.”

I had to take a deep breath and let it out slowly to control my temper, and it was only when Vaughn softly whispered, “Ow,” that I realized my grip was crushing his fingers through the metal mesh. Quickly I let go, dipping my head in apology. “Will ye fetch Ian for me, Llewellyn?”

He nodded, and shifted himself to his left, reaching out to the nearest prone form and gripping the man’s calf. After a moment, the man started out of sleep, muttering, “Wha? Whozzat?” Vaughn left his hnd on the man’s leg until he turned his head, and I saw it was Ian O’Gallows. Ian rubbed his eyes, gazing a bleary-eyed query at Vaughn; the Welshman merely pointed at me. Ian looked my way, and I raised a hand and waggled my fingers in greeting; I don’t know that he recognized me through the mud on my face or if he saw that I was without the cage and simple deduced who I must be, but first he said “Christ’s shite!”, then clapped a hand over his own mouth, and looked to the house where the sleeping sentry was the only guard in sight, the watchful sentry having gone around to the far side. Then Ian looked around the cage, though to my eyes none of the other men had reacted to his cursing. Still he slapped a hand at his leg, muttered somewhat about accursed biting fleas, and then shifted around until his head was near me. He pillowed his head on his hands and whispered, “Thank God for ye, Nate.” Then he feigned a snore.

I will not recapitulate what he told me then; he repeated Vaughn’s uncertainty about the Sea-Cat men in the cage, though at least he thought to tell me that they all slept at the other end and could not hear us over the sound of more than a dozen men snoring. I asked if they could escape, or fight their way free, and he told me nay, as they were too weak, hungry, and sick. I asked for the details of how they had come to this pass, and he reached to his ribs, removing a packet of blood-spotted bandages, which he stuffed through a hole in the fence; I knew not why he wanted me to have it until he named it his log. I will include it with these pages, and save myself the reiteration. Even rescue by myself, Kelly, MacManus and Lynch was problematic as, O’Gallows told me, three of our men were not held in the cage: Salty O’Neill, Abram O’Grady, and my cousin Owen MacTeigue, were all three held inside the house, in he knew not what condition.

Hearing that, I knew there was no choice: Hobbes had been right. I patted Ian’s hand, told him not to worry, and to tell the men that all would soon be well. I made to withdraw, asking only if my Grace was indeed nearby; I wished for lone last look at her before I do what I must for my men.

‘Twas Vaughn that answered. “Yes, Captain, the Grace is just beyond those trees, at anchor in the cove below. But – Captain, I fear that she will not sail as before.”

I hissed in a breath, but Ian frowned at Vaughn and whispered, “Nay, there be naught wrong wi’ the ship. Apart from the bilge rats who have crawled up to man her decks, and that horror they have nailed down before the mast.” I knew he must refer to the Scourged Lady, as Kelly had told me they had brought their accursed figurehead aboard my sweet Grace when they captured her in New York.

Vaughn looked at me and then at Ian. “I refer to her – inexplicable sailing. How she brought us here.” He looked back at me. “It was that voyage that drew the attention of our captor, the one referred to by his men as the Shadowman. He seeks the ship’s power. It seems that he thinks you yourself are required for the ship to perform in the manner he wishes.” He paused for a moment, cleared his throat quietly – and then we waited for the sentry to pass around the corner once more before he continued. “If his first experiment is an indication, he believes that your blood is the key to the ship’s ability. Or perhaps your death. I speculate that his killing of Raymond Fitzpatrick, who claimed to be your blood relative, was his first attempt to command the Grace’s performance. Ironic, then, that this same murder may have removed that power from the Grace entirely.”

I had to stop myself from shouting at him to get to the point; I merely gripped the mesh, hard, and hissed at him, my eyes wide, my face surely that of a madman.

He got to the point. “The runes, Captain. The glowing runes on the ship’s stern are now gone, blotted out, it seems, by Mr. Fitzpatrick’s life’s blood. I have seen the ship in starlight and moonlight, and I saw not a glimpse of its former luminescence. Naught but a dark stain now decorates the Grace’s stern.”

We each glanced up to the sky, and realized then that the clouds had broken, and we were bathed in the light of the moon’s full face. I had to retreat, then, as the light would make me too easily seen, should the sleeping sentry awaken or the wakeful one glance my way as I retreated. I bid my friends farewell, knowing in my heart that it was likely for the last time, though I said nothing of that. I bid them take heart, keep hope, and wait.

Then I went to see my ship.

Ah, ye gods! She is such beauty, such an incarnation of pure freedom and might, made into a construct of sailcloth and rope, wood and nails and tar. And now: blood. And no longer: magic. Vaughn is right; I saw the dark stain, saw where my mother’s runes are no longer visible. If he is correct that those letters inscribed on the Grace were the means of our travel through time – and I believe that is the truth – then they are gone, and all hope of our returning home is gone with them.

I stayed in my shadowed space, under the line of trees atop the small rise, gazing down on my lovely ship, for as long as I could. When I knew that Lynch and Andre would be growing anxious, and may endeavor to seek me, I turned my back on my Grace, and crept back, with a heavy heart and a jet-black mind, to where Lynch waited, and then together we returned to Andre, and then here, to the house of Diego Colina.

On the morrow I will take the last steps required to see my men freed, though if the Grace can no longer sail through time, I know not how the Shadowman will respond. It does not change what I must do. I will give this log to Lynch, who can carry it to Ian or Vaughn, who can read it; they will together plot a new course for the men who have followed me, and now will follow me no more, for they must not go where I go.

I shall not return.

I wish ye well, lads, and may all the blessings of Heaven and Earth descend upon ye all. Ye deserve every one.

Goodbye.

Signed this day, the Seventh of October in the year Two Thousand and Eleven,

Damnation Kane

Once Captain of the Grace of Ireland, and her crew

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Log #78: Meeting With The Devil

Captain’s Log, October the Sixth: Midnight

 

By the Morrigan, patience is – no. She is not the deity I should swear to, if patience is what I seek. The war goddess, the devourer; this is not her virtue. I should swear by Lugh, the long-handed, and by Goibniu; the smiths, the craftsmen. They know the necessity of waiting.

But by all the gods, and all the devils, it is hard.

I will record what has transpired this evening so that I may gather my wits about me, for I have need of them all. There is more work still to be done, this night. I will wait while Andre goes to confer with Two-Saint; the passage of hours cannot but help the chances of our success, and so it is not a hindrance that he has gone. It is not our endeavor that is at risk, only my sanity. Only my sanity.

I will write. I will write slowly, recording all detail, and empty my mind of all thoughts, the better to prepare myself for the course ahead.

It is, in  truth, the better way, for in haste lies folly, rash mistakes that can – and often do, and often have in mine own life’s book – mount and multiply into a tidal wave of error that may wash over a man and sink his every plan. A minor instance: the name I learned this evening past, I heard at the outset as Irish: it begins with the O of our fathers, and I did not consider the unlikelihood of the man who bears it having Irish blood flowing under his black skin. When I conferred with Andre as to the identity of our foe, I gave the name a touch of the lilt of Erin – O’Caughgaweay, perhaps; enough of an Irishing that Andre did not recognize the appellation. After many repetitions as we drove the Jeep-beast to the house of Diego Colina, it struck him that what I tried to speak was in truth the name Okagaweh. It is African, Andre told me, after giving me the proper shape of it. That name, he knew. That name, he must speak of to Two-Saint.

And I must wait.

And record how I did learn it.

I want to trust the man. My heart and my wits are unified in urging me to do so; his demeanor was sober and sincere – and utterly without hope. That last was perhaps the most persuasive, as it showed me that he has no hidden motivations, no subtle intentions; he has thrown his longings and ambitions over the rail, and allows the winds of the world to carry him wheresoever they will. But is despair to serve as proof of constancy?

Was Lucifer himself not the most beautiful and best loved of the angels until the very moment of his fall? I wonder, when the Morning Star rebelled against the Almighty – did he have hope of success? Or was his despair so absolute that even his own immolation would be preferable to continuing to bear that weight of hopelessness? I can not rely on my impression of this man. But then, I am not God, nor is that creature with his claws sunk into the man’s throat – I remember the dream I had in Charleston, while delirious at St. Vincent’s hospice, and that, at least, seems to have been a true vision.

But by the gods, I trust my own prophesy no better than that man I saw today.

Aye. I must rely on him. ‘Tis a trap to think that he hath changed his colors, his blood, his loyalty. I do stand assured that his words were true; but I will remember that the Devil may cite scripture to his purpose. And he is the Devil’s Lash, and may use true words to work sinister plots. I will use his truth to accomplish my own purpose, and not to serve his.

***

I spoke with Captain Nicholas Hobbes this day.

We did return after supper to Jack’s Bar and Grill, where Andre, as the least obtrusive of our company, stepped within the common room to seek an English sailor within. Having sighted one such – and only one, showing that our luck, or providence, or the favor of my mother’s gods for her blood in me, has not wholly abandoned us – he withdrew and kept a watch without while Kelly and I strode boldly in to confront whatever man Jack of the Sea-Cat was imbibing ale by his lonesome.

When I saw that it was Hobbes himself; when I saw that he sat in a shadowed corner, at a table for two, with a bottle of wine before him; when I saw that, in all particulars that I could recall, the interior of this establishment coincided precisely with my dream – I felt a cold hand grip my heart, my breath, my thoughts. I stopped instantly, looking (without any need to search the space, so familiar was it to me) to the counter to see if Donal Carter was serving plates from the body of my cousin Hugh Moran.

God rest his soul. And forgive me for cursing him for his betrayal. And may it please thee, Lord – or thee, Dagda, Morrigan, Manannán Mac Lir who watcheth over sailors – protect me from what enchantment has placed foreknowledge into my mind. I do not seek or wish to possess the powers of the gods. I wish only to free my ship and my men. But let Thy will be done, whosoever’s gaze be peering down on me. Let it be done.

Carter was not there. My sudden movement and abrupt halt caught Hobbes’s attention, and he rose from his seat, staring at Kelly and I – myself being the main target of his attention, as he and I have clapped glims on one another ere now. I saw that my dream had also been wrong in placing the dark man in Hobbes’s own shadow, hands about his throat – though I would soon learn that my dream had more of truth than did my eyes, in this instance.

If I can trust Hobbes’s words, that is.

His first words then were plain enough: “You came,” he said, and “Thank God Almighty.”

“I have not use for your English God, Hobbes, and I have it on good authority that he wants naught to do with me,” I spat through gritted teeth, knowing I should not offend him with such blasphemy until after he had give me the intelligence I needed, but unable to stop the words unspoken.

He blinked – and then he smiled. It was a grotesque smile, the smile of a skull or a days-dead corpse. “Then for the nonce, I will thank what heathen gods receive your prayers, or even the Devil himself, for guiding your steps here. And if God will not forgive me the disloyal words, well – ‘tis no less than the wages of what I have done in His name.” Then he clicked his heels together and bowed formally to me. “Captain Kane, I believe we have never been formally introduced. I am Nicholas Hobbes. Will you join me, please, sir?” He gestured to his table, and then signaled the publican. “Another glass and a new bottle of the same – or two new glasses?” he added, looking at Kelly and then back to me.

I half-turned to Kelly, though I kept my eyes hove tight to Hobbes. “Check the place,” I said to my bosun in Irish. “Make sure we’re alone. then have your drink at the counter, aye? Let me speak to the bastard alone.”

“Aye, Captain,” he rumbled, and then walked the room’s perimeter. I turned back to Hobbes and said, “He’ll see that we two are not disturbed. Captain.” Hobbes nodded and bowed again, repeating his request for a bottle and a glass, and then we sat.

When the bottle came, he let me remove the stopper and pour, and then he raised his glass. “To your very good health, for all the good it will do you here,” he said, and then he took a drink, swallowed, and sat still, waiting, so that I would know it was not poisoned when he did not die. After a moment I lifted my glass to him and said, “May your bones sink to the depths with your ship, and your soul go lower still,” and then I drank deep.

Hobbes laughed. Not long nor vigorously; he did not appear well. Pale as an Englishman, still he should have been sun-browned as sailors are, especially after some time in this island clime; but he appeared sallow and wan, having left behind his habitual thinness for a cadaver’s wasted condition, his cheeks hollow, his eyes shadowed and haunted. He raised his glass once more and drank to my toast, then put the wine down and said, “My soul is already in Hell, Kane. Sent there by you and your deviltry, and by my own sinful pride and wrath.”

I took another sip. The wine was not good, but not the worst I have drunk. In truth I wanted to cast the glass aside, take up the bottle and club him to death with it, crying, “Where is my ship, you English whoreson bastard?” with every blow. But if polite discourse over wine would gain me the intelligence I required, then I would forego the bludgeoning.

For now.

“I’ll admit – nay, I’ll boast – that I did sink your ship, Hobbes, but I think I do not bear responsibility for the condition or direction of your soul. Either men choose their own fates, and so you chose yours, or else your Almighty God has foreordained your doom, not I.”

He nodded. “True, you and that accursed ship of yours did not choose my course for me, you merely tempted my righteousness as an Englishman and a Christian. I will step aside from the question of man’s will or God’s will; it all comes to the same, for it if was my will that chose, then I was following God’s injunction in his Holy Book: Thou shalt not suffer a witch –”

“To live,” I interrupted and completed for him. Now it was my turn to voice a humorless laugh. “Ah, Hobbes, if ye were another man I would keep to my vow, made many years ago, to murder any man who spat that bloody verse at me. But for ye, I’ll simply take solace in the knowledge that the woman I would murder ye for is now turned to dust in her grave – and that, if I am not mistook, that ‘twas her witchcraft, as ye say, that has sent ye here to the ends of the Earth.”

He leaned forward eagerly – and I clapped hand on my wheel-gun as he did so. He saw me, and raised his empty hands as sign of peaceful intent, sitting back in his seat slowly. But his hands were tightened into whitened fists on the table, and they trembled. “So you know, then, the means and manner of our exile into this Hell?”

I frowned at him. “Think ye this be Hell, man? D’ye not know our circumstances?”

He nodded. His eyes glittered now, but it was a poisonous energy that animated them. “I know, Kane. It is the year of our Lord 2011, and this is the island of Bermuda – still English soil, for all the good it does now to know it.” Then he leaned forward again, slowly. “Make no mistake, Kane: this is Hell.” He looked down into his wine, and drained the glass at a draught, his lips twisting against the sour taste. Or perhaps it was the sour taste of the words he spoke then, softly: “And I am allied with the Devil himself.”

So it seemed Hobbes was unfortunate in his choice of friends. Well, bad cess to him who deserves it, thought I. But I had had enough of this merry banter, so as Hobbes poured more wine, I asked, “Do you hold my ship and my crew, or does the Devil have them now?” As I said it, though I had but referred to his own naming of his ally the Shadowman, I felt an icy cold spread though me, and of a sudden I felt sure that the Devil indeed did have my men and my Grace; that all were dead and obliterated, and the Devil’s Lash would now smile and tell me so with both pleasure and pride. Then I would kill him.

He smiled. He said, “I have nothing, Kane. Even what I hold in these hands is the possession of the Devil, for he owns all of me.” He sipped his wine as I felt a roaring in my head, in my heart, and I prepared myself to shatter him. But then he said, calmly uttering a matter of fact, “Your ship is manned by my crew. Your crew is held by men of this time, who serve the same incarnate evil as do I. Both are in the same locale.” He sipped his wine again and the breath slipped out of me, taking the killing rage with it.

“Where?” I asked him, ready to begin the bludgeoning if he equivocated or refused to tell me.

He did not. “Have you a guide who knows this isle?” At my nod, he said, “Then tell him to lead you to the end of Old King’s Road, to the beach between the Serpent’s Fangs. Your men are held at the house there, a house owned by a man named Fournier, Michel Fournier. But they are in truth held by the same devil who holds the souls of my men in his black hands.”

“My ship is there as well?” I asked him. I knew not what he intended, in simply revealing this to me without coercion; I presumed it was a trap – though I could not imagine that he had predicted that I would seek him out himself. Perhaps he feared that I was armed, and eager to do him violence? Did he speak out of fear for his life? He did not have the manner of a man afraid, but seemed entirely calm.

He did show some spirit then: he leaned forward, his hands flat on the table, his fingers spread wide. “What are your intentions, Kane? Will you kill me? Is that your desire?”

I leaned forward as well, until we were nigh touching one another. “If I wanted ye dead, Hobbes, ye’d be bleeding on this floor.”

He did not flinch away from my gaze, though I doubt not he could see that his spilled blood was indeed my heart’s desire. “As I thought when you came in here and did not kill me on the instant. Then what is it you wish dearer than my death?”

I blinked at this. Then, though I know not why I would admit anything to this black-hearted villain, I said, “I want to go home.”

His eyes shone, and did not blink as he looked deep into mine. “And do you know how to accomplish that?”

I sat back, and saw, even before I spoke, the light go out of Hobbes’s eyes. “I do not. I think I know how we were brought here, I and my men and the Grace, but I do not know how to return. And I have not the least scrap of a notion why your ship came along with us.”

He turned one hand palm up. “We were grappled onto you.”

I nodded. “Aye. Perhaps it is so simple.”

He breathed out air in a sort of tired laugh. “It is always simple to find the way to Hell, Kane. Getting back – now that is the difficulty.” He leaned back. “Do you mean to seek that path?”

I shook my head. I looked around, saw Kelly drinking at the counter, paying us no mind, too far away to overhear. “I want only to free my ship and my crew, Hobbes.”

He looked into me for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Your ship will never be yours again. He has it, he desires it; you will not take it from him.”

I pounded a fist down on the table, shaking the bottle and the glasses. “No man can keep my ship while I live!” I barked at him.

He chuckled. “He is no man.”

I threw up my hands. “I have heard you called the Devil, too, Hobbes, have thought it myself, but you are a man, nonetheless. Who is this devil of yours that he has so unmanned the Devil’s Lash?”

He looked down at his hands, toying idly with his empty wineglass. “His name is Lyle Okagaweh. But that is only the name he goes by. He is a demon, who speaks to other demons, and binds them to his will. I have seen this with my own eyes, have head voices speak from flames, from air. I have seen wonders that have nothing of goodness in them, nothing of God. He has powers I cannot describe, and which you cannot overcome.”

“How do you presume to know what I can or cannot do?” I asked, perhaps peevishly.

Hobbes laughed – and if I had done nothing else this day, at the least I gave Hobbes back his humor. “You are a formidable foe, Kane, but if you could have bested me as easily as the Shadowman has, you would have done it ere I chased you across the ocean. And if you could defeat him directly,” he spread his hands, “he would not have your ship, and you would have no need to speak to me.”

He leaned forward once more. “Listen to me, Kane. The ship is out of your reach – but you may save your men. Despite all the gulf that yawns between you and I, as one captain to another, as one man to another, I pray you – I beg you: save them. Save them from the Shadowman. He is doing to them what he did to my men: he gives them what he says is physic, what he says will cure their hurts and heal their spirits. And it does bring them peace and joy, at first – but it takes their will from them, even as it gives them bliss. It makes men into slaves, into beasts without courage or strength. It makes them his.” He paused to see that I understood. I did, and he went on. “He has only begun with your men. My men have been in his clutches now for months, and nearly all of them are lost. You must do what I could not. Save the men who gave you their loyalty, who sailed the seas with you.”

I considered him. I believed him, but – “If you are so certain that this Shadowman of yours cannot be beaten by the likes of me, how am I to free my men from him?”

He smiled at that, and poured the last of the wine into my glass. “Because, my dear fellow, he does not want your men, other than as mere counters to add to his pile. He wants you. If you offer yourself in exchange for the freedom of your crew, then it will be accomplished, on the instant, without any struggle whatever.”

I frowned at him. “You want me to surrender,” I said.

Hobbes shook his head. “I want to destroy the both of you myself, you Irish bastard.” I saw the gleam in his eye, and knew that he spoke only the truth. He stood from the table, drawing a dollar-paper of a sort I had not seen before from his pocket, dropping it beside the wine bottle. “I am telling you the only way you will save your men. For their sake, not yours or mine. And only because they are men, and some of them are Christians. Even if they are Irish.”

And with that, he left. Kelly rose, prepared to seize Hobbes, but I waved him back. Hobbes had told me what I needed to know, and more besides.

My path is clear.

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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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Log #76: Strength

BLog

we ar on bermuda now. me and shayn wach tol police man hargreevs and Captin and kelee wach 4 Grace. we hav ben heer 3 dayz. Captin has not see ship. me and shayn see 2 much hargreevs.

it hurts 2 see Captin. he is so sad. he hav sad hart becuz he and men get trikt by bastard calhoon in charlztun. Captin thinks it his mistayk. his falt. he want to be good. i donnow wy he duz not unnerstan he is good. i think he forget.

i wish i cud tel him.tel him he is good. tel him the trikt is not his falt. he did best he thot and then wen it was bad he tri mor and mayk it best he can. he not srender he never srender he fite 4 men 4 ship 4 onner.

i wish i cud tel him i sorry 4 wut i sed befor. i was rong. i no that now. i wish i cud hold him and kiss him and tel him it wil be best. we wil win at the end.

he need sum 1 2 hold him and kiss him. he duz not need me to be crew man. he needs me 2 be his woman. but i cant be.

can i?

can he luv me and let me luv him? let me hold him and kiss him? giv him. wut is word. ease. comfort. he need comfort. he needs help. befor he laff and joak with us all ways. he nevr sad. nevr loos hart. but now he duz not laff. duz not smiyl. he need comfort. i cud giv it 2 him if he let me.

wil he?

hargreevs is not trubl. he is a blagard a rowg a vilin. shayn and me wach him tak munee from shop men. we wach him thrash a man in allee and tak munee. if hargreevs goz away no 1 sad. every 1 best with no tol police man.

i hav a thot 4 mayk hargreevs go away. no need blud. and i got thot from calhoon. i can not giv Captin comfort and help he needs but i can giv him this.

 

***

 

Log

Three days’ search and no result. How much bloody coastline does this pestilent island possess! How many gods-rotted coves dot this land like pox scars! Damn it all! Where is my Grace!

 

Later

Aye, reading that last, it strikes me that my ship does indeed hold my grace: what goodness my soul possesseth, what virtues of patience, equanimity, duty: all are bound to her. When I have her not, I have them not; and therefore do I explain the terrible and foolhardy choices that I have made. At sea, I am a captain – but on land, I am a fool.

But I did not take up this pen to brood, once again, on my many failures. Instead I wish to record an illuminating conversation I shared this evening with my men, and with our taciturn but worthy host, Diego Hill. (He tells me that his family name is in truth Colina, but the Spanishers being somewhat unwelcome among the peoples of this isle, many of whom are descended from slaves who suffered under the Spaniards or Britishers who fought Spain for generations, he was dubbed with the English meaning of his Spanish name. It strikes me that the old pain that roots this strife hearkens back to my own age: it doth make the time between my birth and now seem less. Any road, he has invited me to use his Christian name, and so I shall.)

We had supped on the last of the yearling goat, cooked with beans and carrots and most hearty, and were seated about the bonfire, it being too close indoors with the damp summer air of this island; the smoke of the fire served to blockade the mosquitoes, as Diego calls them – bitemes, they be to my mind. We were sitting idly, drinking a liquor that Diego brews himself (that fortunately numbs the tongue within but a few sips), Shane and I discussing our progress thus far on our individual quests, when I did realize that Lynch was no longer among us. I inquired where the lad had gone, and Kelly stated that he was around the side of the house: in company with a mechanical contrivance, the which, when brought to life, provides a charge to Lynch’s eyephone. I professed mystification regarding all of this; Diego attempted to elucidate for me, explaining that the contrivance was a generator – which made a loud burring noise that I had heard but not understood – and that the eyephone was electric, he said, and needed “juice” from the generator. Power, he reiterated. He drew a similar ‘phone from his own pocket, explaining that he had poor service, as he called it, but could nonetheless make use of his ‘phone to contact Two-Saint should there be need. I nodded but waved it all away: I do not care for these matters. In truth, I was carping somewhat as to Lynch’s possession of, and by, his eyephone; the lad cannot seem to relinquish it, and now here it is, taking him away from the company of his fellows. But then I minded me of my own intention to quit this company for the good of all, so soon as my ship is recovered and the men freed, and I fell silent.

Shane then spoke into the quiet. “Lynch was wrong, Cap’n.” I looked at him querulously, and he expanded. “Back in Charleston, when he was sayin’ that ye should not ha’ fought that bastard Calhoun. Over the woman, Meredith.” He took a sip from his cup, grimaced, and plashed the rest into the fire, where it swelled the flames for a moment with a snap and a roar, as if a musket had been fired into the night sky. Shane grinned appreciatively and held his cup out to Diego, who refilled it from the jug.

“Think you so?” murmured I, drinking from my own cup. I did not ask him why, then, he had said nothing in my defense when Lynch had abused me for my conduct on the matter.

He nodded. Then he pointed at me – or near me, in truth; he had drunk more than a few cups of Diego’s liquor, which is as potent as it is vile-tasting, and, it seems, as it is flammable – and said, “But mind ye, Cap’n, I do think ye should ha’ put yon strumpet in her place.”

I stared at him across the fire, my own gaze steady as I had had only one or two cups of the liquor. “Should I,” I said, my tone surely more belligerent than curious.

But Shane heard only the words, and he nodded passionately, and sat forward, putting his cup down at his feet. “Aye, sir! Beggin’ pardon, Cap’n, for I don’t mean to tell a man how to handle a woman, but to my eye, that scarlet wench would be far better for a thrashin’. I don’t know the truth of it all wi’ ye and her and Calhoun, but I see how she tangled ye up, Cap’n, like a shark in a net!” He thrust his chin forward with this, his eyes glittering; then he belched, pounded his chest, and sat back. “Woman acts like that, she needs a strong lesson from a man. Teach her who’s in command, and what happens when ye act up against your master. Or behind his back.” He snatched up his cup and took another long drink, finishing with an explosive breath and a shudder as he lowered the cup.

I let the drink  in him bear the weight of my irritation at being called to task by a sailor of my crew; we weren’t speaking of ship’s matters, here, but of matters that any man and every man has an interest in, and some hard-won wisdom to share: and in truth, Shane, as my elder in years, may have had more than I. I decided to plumb his knowledge. “Have ye been wedded, Shane?” I asked him.

He shook his head, which made him wobble on his seat, and then pointed at me again. “Nay, never, but if I did, I’d be sure to keep my woman as a woman should be kept: obedient and quiet. ‘Tis a man’s duty to control his woman.”

“Have ye lived with a woman, then?” I asked, quirking a brow.

“Only until I could not get it up any more!” he said, grasping at his manhood. He burst into a roaring laugh, joined with somewhat less vigor by Kelly and Diego – aye, and by me. But it served to sharpen my thrust.

“Then ye speak not from experience, aye?” I said, taking a drink.

His smile faded and he grew solemn. “Nay, Cap’n. I have experience of these matters. I watched my da wi’ me mum. Me da, he were a hard man, aye, and heavy wi’ his fists. In truth, when I were a wee lad I were a-scairt o’ him. He’d take to me and me brothers now and again. But me mum took more of it, and at first, I hated him for it.”

He sighed and shook his head vigorously, as though seeking to rattle his thoughts into place, or to shake off a black memory, one of those which cling and clutch and claw at a man’s mind until he can pry it loose. He drained the dregs in his cup, perhaps hoping the liquor would weaken the dark thought’s grip, or would give him a better grip on the thoughts he sought (Men often think liquor is efficacious in such matters. We are ever wrong: drink weakens the thoughts you do want, and strengthens those you would avert. We men are fools.), and then he went on.

“But then, when I was eleven years, me da died of the plague. He fought it hard, and Mum near kilt herself trying to nurse him while caring for the children, she did love him so. But the fever took him. And then I learned why Da had been so hard on her. For as soon as he was in his grave, Mum took to the drink herself. She took to the drink like a sailor coming back into port and to the arms of his favorite whore. Soon she drank through what little money that Da saved, and then through the money for our rent, and then, when we were livin’ out in the weather and learnin’ to beg, she drank through the money we should have used for food.” He tried to drink from his cup, and frowned at the emptiness he found there; Diego held out the jug without a word, and Shane thrust his cup in the jug’s direction until it was up-filled and he could drink to drown the taste of what he said next.

“She found us a roof before we died of the cold. I’m happy that I were the eldest, as I think I was the only one who understood why old Tom Farley took us all in. Perhaps I should be grateful as he were a drunkard, or he’d never have taken a woman past 30, wi’ four young’uns and about as many teeth in her head. But he couldn’t see past the mug she kept fillin’, or the bed she filled, too.” He fell silent for a long moment, then he looked around and met each man’s gaze in turn, ending with me. “Me da kept me mum from drinkin’ and whorin’. She were weak, and wi’out a strong man, she fell into wickedness.” He drank from his cup, and then grinned and wiped his chin. “Mind, I’ve the same ways, and am glad of it – but I’ve no wee ones to care for. None as I know of, any road.” He belched. “And I have strength enough to drink meself to the ground but then arise and do my – do my duty.” He raised the cup in a toast, with such vigor he splashed liquor down his arm. “I’m a man!” he said.

I raised my cup to him. “Aye, that ye are, Shane MacManus. A good man.” I leaned over and clacked my cup against his and drank to him – though I did wave off Diego and his jug, for though I may, like Shane, have a man’s strength to drink myself insensate and then carry on the next day, I must also have a captain’s prudence: and strength to soldier on the day after a debauch does not come with the wits to plan, as I must do, when we find the Grace.

If we find the Grace.

Another voice broke the stillness then: that of Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. He spoke softly, staring into the flames all the while as though seeking wisdom there; he did not sip from his cup, though I knew Diego had already refilled it no less than thrice. He did not slur his speech, however, but spoke as clearly as one stone sober.

“My father was strong. He never used his fists; he never had to. Everyone knew that he was the master of our house. When his temper got hot, then would he should at us, and so loud was it that we thought the walls might come down, like the walls of Jericho when Joshua blew his horn.” He smiled, though there was no humor in his one eye. “That is near enough what killed him, finally – the walls came down atop him. He was breaking a new stone face in the quarry, and there was a crack he did not know of, so when he set his bar and pried, half the whole face came down on him. It took me two days to dig him out just so we could bury him again, but we could not have him rest in unholy ground. He was a good man.” He nodded slowly. “I tried to be the man he was, but I don’t have – I don’t have his voice. I can’t shout and bring every person in hearing of me to a dead halt. I could not bring down the walls. Oh, I could break and shape stone with my hands, he taught me all of that, and I’d the size and strength of arm to keep us in coin until the fever took my mother and brother and sisters – but I’m not the man he was. ‘Tis why I’ve never married, for I do not know that I can be the master, as he was.” His gaze flicked to me, then. “’Tis why I’ve allowed as I’ll be your bosun, Captain. I hoped ‘twould make me stronger. I’d like a family. You need the strength of the Almighty to be a father, I think. To be a husband, too.” Shane was nodding in agreement – or perhaps nodding with the liquor, as the words Kelly had put forward were along a somewhat different course than Shane’s.

Still they traveled on the same heading. And I did wonder, then, had I owned strength enough to master Meredith, if our current difficulties could have been avoided. But it did not rest easy in my heart, this conceit that a man must be an Atlas, a Hercules, to take control of a woman, of a marriage. Surely it could explain why my mother never married, as it would take the true Atlas himself to overpower my mother’s boundless strength of heart; that much seemed to ring true. But I did not know if a husband for her would have made our lives better. My mother did not turn to drink as Shane’s had; perhaps if she had – and in truth, taking into consideration the trials and tribulations she faced, I could not blame her if she had turned to drink to dull the pain – then I might see it Shane’s way.

If I was stronger, could I have held Meredith to my chosen course? If I had struck her, as Shane would, it seemed, have wished, would my life and the lives of my men be better, easier, safer? Had I failed them by my scruples against striking a woman?

But there was more to be said yet: for there was another man beside our fire, with his own tale to tell. After Kelly fell silent in turn, of a sudden Diego began to speak, his English strongly accented but intelligible – I will not render its simulacrum here, but record only his meaning.

“My mother met my father when the tree he was cutting down fell on top of him. He had it near cut through and ready to drop, when a great wind came from the ocean – a piece of a hurricane, maybe, or maybe God just sneezed – came from the wrong way and pushed that tree right over backwards, came right down on top of him. Trapped him. He was far from the road, and had no one back at his home to look for him or even know he was gone, so he was stuck there four days with no food and a broken leg. It rained for him, or he’d have died of thirst; as it was, he was dying-sick and mad-tongued with a fever. And then my mother came. She was a young girl, just grown about too old for my grandfather to let her go walking in the woods alone – but not just yet. Good for my father. Good for me.

“She heard him raving with the fever, and she found him under that big old tree. He told her to go get help, find men strong enough to lift that tree off his broken leg, but she just looked at him, looked at the tree, and looked at his axe. Then she took that axe, cut her off a strong branch, and used it to pry that whole tree trunk up far enough to slide a stone under there – she had him move the stone while she held the lever, and she had a time getting him to follow her lead instead of yelling at her to go find men to help. But she did it, and after he braced the tree, she dragged him out from under it. He couldn’t walk, so she made a litter out of branches she cut and tied together with cloth from his pants, which she knew would have to be cut off of him at the doctor’s, anyway. Then she dragged him five miles, up hills and down, through jungle and brush, to town to the doctor to fix his leg and his fever.

“After the doctor cured his fever and set and splinted his leg, my father wouldn’t lie quiet and rest there – said he would rather walk home on one leg. My father, he never got along with other folks so well. His parents died in a hurricane when he was a boy, and he’d lived on his own ever since, earning pennies by sweeping out shops and running errands until he was strong enough to swing an axe, and then he cut wood. The priest in the town, the neighbors, the people who knew him all tried to put him into the orphan’s home that the Catholics had then. But he never would. Nobody could tell him what to do. When they tried to make him live with the nuns at Saint Lucia’s, he ran away, four times, until they stopped trying to keep him there. He used to say that there were only two people who could tell him what to do, and since his father was dead, that left only himself.

“He did not listen to that doctor, that’s for sure, even after he saved my father’s life with that” (I do not know the word – penny shilling? Pennasillion? A medicament, I trust.)  “He said my father must lay in the bed and rest for a month, maybe two, but my father kept standing up on one leg, swaying with the pain and the sickness, pale as a ghost, but standing. And trying to walk. The doctor wanted to hit him, my father told me, just to make him lie down – but he knew my father would have hit back.

“Then my mother came. She’d been visiting while my father healed from the fever, until her father found out that she’d been going to town to sit with a strange young man, and then he forbade her go; until three days later, when she snuck out and went to my father. She found him half out of bed, yelling at the doctor to give him a crutch so he could walk home. He still lived in the same house where his parents had been killed, and in the years since that hurricane blew the roof down on them, he had repaired it and rebuilt it and made it stronger than ever.” Here Diego paused and smiled, nodding at the structure behind us. “This house. It was the only house he ever lived in, and the same for me. My grandparents are where he buried them, over on that hill, and he and my mother are beside them, where I buried them.

“My mother walked in, and my father stopped yelling. He looked at her. He was not a good man with words, but he thanked her for saving his life. She looked at the doctor and said, ‘If he goes home, will the fever come back?’ Doctor said no, the fever was cured, but he needed to stay off his leg and let it heal – he broke the strong bone, the thigh bone, and it needed proper rest or it would never be right again.

“She nodded, and then she helped my father stand and lean on her. ‘I’ll be your crutch,’ she told him. ‘I’ll hold you up until you can stand alone.’ And then she walked him home, a young girl holding up a grown man for a full day’s travel.

“She got him home, she put him in his bed – and then she made him stay there. She tended his animals. The chickens and the goats had run off into the jungle while he was gone, but she gathered them all back again. She cared for his garden. She cleaned the house. And every day, she fought with him when he tried to get up and do for himself. Her father found out, finally, where she’d run off to, and came to get her back; but she wouldn’t leave, and Grandfather couldn’t make her: my father had a gun for hunting, and she threatened her own father with it. Said she had taken on a duty, and she’d be damned if she left it unfinished.

“She nearly had to use that gun on my father, before his healing time was done. She couldn’t keep him in the bed, but had to let him limp around and do the work he could on one leg and a crutch. But she got him to lie still by teaching him to read, as she’d learned from the nuns but he never had.”

Diego smiled again. “Then towards the end, when his leg was mended but not yet strong and true, she found another way to keep him in the bed. Nine months later, I was born. My mother was fifteen years old.” His smile faded then, and he looked down at the jug in his hand. “My father was strong. My mother was strong. But I am not. I think maybe because they tried to protect me and keep me from the troubles they had. And so because my life was soft, I grew soft. I don’t know now if that’s why the heroine got me, or if I could have been a good man if I’d never touched that stuff, if it made me weak or if my weakness made me need it, but it got me. It took a long time for it to break me, and before it did, I seemed like a man, on the outside. Nobody could tell that it hollowed me out, inside.

“Except my mother. She knew. And when my girl and I made a baby, and I wanted to marry her, my mother told me: ‘No. That girl’s no good for you, my son. And you are no good for her, nor for that baby she’s carrying, either.’ She took my chin in her hand, she made me look her in the eye. She told me, ‘This ends bad.’

“And she was right. Of course. She could see the weakness in me, in my woman. The same weakness that made me get high, get drunk, all the time. We were high when we made the baby, high when we got married. She was high when the baby was born – our little girl. We were both high when the baby died. Soon after, she oh-deed. I buried her and our daughter. Then I lose my mind, and when I come out of it, a man is dead with my knife in him, and I’m in a prison cell. I stayed there ten years. I got clean, but I didn’t get strong. When I got out, I came back home, with my mother and father, so they could be strong for me. They kept me away from the heroine. I took to the drink anyway; they couldn’t fight that weakness for me. But at least I had enough strength to keep away from another wife, from more children. I can’t dig any more graves.”

Diego took a drink from his jug then. He looked around at all of us, one at a time. “You’ve got it wrong,” he said to Shane, his voice low, calm, without accusation, but with true assurance. “Your mother was weak, you said it and it’s true. She didn’t need your father’s strength to make her good, she needed her own strength. She stole your father’s strength, and that’s what killed him.” He turned to Kelly. “Your mother, too, was weak, though not so weak as his,” he said, nodding towards Shane, who was frowning into his cup and considering Diego’s words – I could have told him that the man had hit the target dead center, but methinks that, though the liquor slowed it, that same thought was creeping through Shane’s mind. “But when your father died,” Diego went on, “she had your strength to go on with.”

Now he looked squarely at me. “You’re a strong man. You don’t need a woman who will bend to your will. You need a woman with the strength to match it. If you mean to marry and have sons, you must have a wife with the strength to rule that house. Your strength is for outside the house. You’re a captain, yes? Of a ship, somewhere? You look for it now?”

I nodded, though after a moment of hesitation. But for the nonce, ‘tis still true, and so – “Aye,” I confirmed.

He leaned forwards. “Your strength is there. Your men, your ship. If you must use that strength at home, too?” He sat back, holding one hand palm-up. “Not enough. Somewhere, it will fail.” His eyes turned sad. “I was not strong enough for my wife, for my family. The drugs and the drink made me weak, and I let them.” He gazed long at the jug in his hand, and then he upended it and drank deeply, his throat working as he swallowed the liquor. He lowered the jug again with a burst of breath, then coughed. Then he said, “My wife and daughter are buried with my parents and grandparents, with everyone who was stronger than me. Better than me.” He stood, handing the jug to Shane, who took it numbly. Looking down at me, Diego said, “Find a strong woman, one who will hold you up when you cannot stand alone. Be strong enough to hold her up when she needs you. If you can’t, then spare everyone pain: live alone and drink.”

He walked unsteadily into the house. As he did, I saw that Lynch had come to stand in the doorway, and he moved aside and let Diego pass within. Then Lynch looked at me, and held my eyes with his for a great span of time.

Neither of us let our gaze fall.

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

Log #75: Deadly Damn Diary

October 3

Dear Diary,

 

Well, now I have to leave the state. It’s the only way I’m ever going to get away from Brick Calhoun.

I have gotten away from that CONDESCENDING CHAUVINIST PIG, Mr. Damnation Kane – and I would go back to calling him Mortimer Snodgrass, but Damnation is completely appropriate as a name for him. I mean, Piece-of-Shit Kane would be even better, but I expect no mama would name her son that. I am still surprised that a mother would name her son Damnation, and that he would still use it even as an adult, but I suppose his mother knew that he would turn out to be the evil, lying son of a bitch he is, and he obviously still uses the name because he’s proud to be Hell-bound.

His last name is right, too. Though it should be spelled Cain. Cain, the first murderer.

Damnation Kane, the first murderer I have ever known. Ever kissed. Ever lusted after, if truth be told – and I am so thankful that I know now what he is, and also that Nana knows what he is (though she doesn’t know everything I know, which is for the best) and she made clear to him that he wasn’t welcome here any more, which is an understatement.

And Di-di, I know I said I was thankful – but I will not be thankful to Brick Calhoun. Even though he was the one who finally took the last of the sheep’s clothing off of that horrible wolf, and showed me the truth.

He had blood on his face.

Wait: let me put this all down. It’s been boiling inside me all day, because I had to fly – government charter, thank God, and not Jerry Rampaneau, though I also have to be at least a little bit grateful to him because he’s actually been able to get me flights every day I’m available to take them, and he doesn’t seem to mind when I’m not available or even when I’ve had to cancel on him, which I’ve done twice. He still slaps my ass with his eyeballs every chance he gets, and his pig clients still try to cop a feel or give me a hard pinch in a tender place, but Jerry’s kept me in the air and away from Brick, and that has been wonderful.

Except now it’s Brick who’s helping to keep me away from Damnation.

Why does this feel like the old song about the lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly inside her? I’ve got the stalker to save me from the murderer, and the Pinching Perv-Parade to save me from the stalker. What’s next?

Hey, maybe I should get a spider. A big ol’ tarantula to keep in my pocket, and when some asshole’s hand touches my butt, boom! Ol’ Spidey comes out and sinks fangs into the perv.

I’m seriously considering keeping a giant biting spider on my ass to save me from men. This is the world I live in.

All right. This isn’t what I needed to write about. Here goes: the real story.

Early this morning as I was walking out to my car to drive to the airport, I heard a man’s voice call my name. At first I thought it was one of Damnation’s pals – his goons, rather, and even though I thought Kelly was a big cuddly teddy bear (Even the fact that he’s missing an eye just made him seem like a treasured old teddy that’s lost one of its button eyes but you still love it anyway even when you’re all grown up.) and Shane, I think he wasn’t a nice guy, but he seemed like a good guy. But now I know they’re just as evil and dangerous as their boss is – so I turned towards whoever it was, not really expecting any trouble.

It was Brick.

“Stay away!” I hollered, and started to jump into the car. But he held out his hands, palms down with the fingers spread to show they were empty, trying to seem not dangerous. That’s the exact opposite of how he usually acts. And he said my name, my actual name instead of Merry, which I’ve hated being called since Lord of the Rings came out and that name became the name of a short fat guy with hairy feet, or darlin’ or sweetheart or sugar or that other shit he tries to stick on me when he’s pretending to woo me. “Meredith! Meredith, hold on,“ he said. “Please,” he said.

Yes, Di-di. Brick Calhoun actually said “please.” To me. I didn’t know Brick knew the word, or could bring himself to say it to a woman, but he did. He even sounded sincere, though I’ve heard him lie before and he usually sounds like he means what he says.

So, because I’m not stupid, I opened the car door, stood with one foot inside the car ready to jump in and slam the door closed if he tried to make a move on me, and I held my keys in my fist, two of them poking between my knuckles, ready to rip his eyeballs out – and I said, “What do you want?”

And because he is a creepy disgusting stalker, he tried to have an actual conversation with me. “How are you?” he asked. “Are you doin’ okay?” But even though I was not going to let him pretend we could have a civil discussion, it was still weird because once again, he looked and sounded sincere. I mean, he sounded like he wanted to know if I was okay.

Which, of course, I am not, and was not, even then, before I knew what I know now. But you don’t show weakness to the wolf. Or the weasel, rather. I think Brick is more like a weasel.

That murderer Kane is the wolf.

“I’m fine,” is what I said to him. “I’m in a hurry. I have to get to work. What do you want?”

Being a man, and thinking everything and everyone has to follow his priorities and his train of thought, he didn’t even listen to me. “You’re okay? He didn’t hurt you none?”

He was starting to sidle around to my side of the car. “Stop right there!” I told him. And – miracles will never cease – he stopped. He even backed up a step. Because he did that, I decided to answer his question, though first I had to find out what the hell he was talking about. “He who?” I asked. Before he could answer, though, I added, “Nobody’s hurt me at all, and the only one I worry about trying to, is you.”

He, Brick Calhoun, convicted drug dealer and attempted murderer, had the audacity to look hurt. “Hey now, darlin’, I ain’t never done nothin’ to hurt you. I love you!”

I sort of thrust my fist at him, like I was pointing with my keys, I like was going to shout, “J’accuse!” I said, “Stop that! I have told you before, you do not love me, and you are not allowed to say it!”

He sort of smirked, but he wiped it off quick, replacing it with a sorry-face. (But I saw that smirk, Di-di. I know what he is. I know he’s still Brick Calhoun.) He held up his hands in surrender, and said, “Okay, okay, darl- Meredith. Let’s just say I want to get the chance to love you proper. I would never hurt you.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his tight jeans, and frowned. “But that other fella you been goin’ around with. That Damnation, that Irish guy looks like Johnny Depp. He surely would.” He nodded slowly. “I know you think I’m a bad guy, and I done some things, sho ‘nuff. But I ain’t half as bad as that guy. Not a tenth.”

“He looks more like Orlando Bloom, not Johnny Depp,” I said, but I wasn’t thinking about that, I was thinking about Brick. I didn’t believe him, but I know he wouldn’t have said this without some kind of reason. This wasn’t his usual ploy. Usually he wanted me to think he was the dangerous one, the bad boy, because he thinks I like bad boys (And I suppose there is reason to think that – but Di-di, I don’t like men who would hurt me. Never that. I want thrills, not to be scared for my life.) and also because he wanted me scared. Because he is a horrible creepy stalker.

So why was he telling me that Damnation – who Brick saw as a rival, even though he was out of my life now, and even though Brick couldn’t have a rival because he himself was never and will never be in the running to be with me – was more dangerous than he was? “Why do you say that?” I asked.

He dug in his front pocket, and I ducked halfway into the car. “Hold on!” he said. “Meredith, hold on, it ain’t what you – it’s just my phone. Okay?” He pulled an iPhone out of his pocket and showed it to me. (And how does a redneck descended from Ozark dirt farmers afford a brand-new iPhone when he’s just out of jail? Why, through the magic of drug-dealing, of course! God bless America!) “Can I show you somethin’? It’s a video.”

I shook my head, my hair flailing – I might have been on the edge of panic at this point. “Don’t come near me!” I said. I don’t think I was shrieking. But I might have been.

He frowned angrily, but then he wiped that off of his face, too, (But I saw it. Yes, I did.) and just looked concerned. “It’s important, Meredith. You need to see this.” He held the phone out to me, but he didn’t come any closer, though I could tell he wanted to. Probably wanted to grab me and shake me, maybe give me a slap for saying no to him. You know: teach me some manners.

I sort of laughed. Sort of shrieked. “Brick Calhoun, I am not going to let you get a hold of me. Nuh uh, no way, no sir.”

The angry frown, just for a flash – and then he looked calm. Decent. Placating me. Gentling me like a nervous horse. “Okay, tell you what. You get in your car here, start ‘er up, put ‘er in gear, put y’ foot on the brake. Then I’ll show you what’s on this here phone, which you need to see. And if you don’t like it, if I make a move that scares you atall, then you drive off. Run right over m’ toes. Okay?”

I had to take a deep breath before I could speak – but this was a decent plan. And I did want to see what he had on his phone, and why he was talking about Damnation, especially because I knew if I didn’t watch the video when he said I needed to see it, he’d just keep coming back after me until I watched it. But I had a thought. “If you show me a picture of your dick, Brick Calhoun, I will run over all of you. Twice.”

He blinked, actually surprised, and then he laughed. And God damn him for having a good laugh, and cute dimples. Evil, creepy, violent stalkers should never be cute, or have good bodies. Why do they let them lift weights in prison, anyway? Isn’t that just making the criminals more dangerous and harder to control? But he shook his head, and actually drew a cross on his chest with his finger. “Cross m’ heart, darlin’.” His face turned serious. “This thing on the phone, it ain’t no joke.”

And again, he looked and sounded sincere. Actually concerned. I still didn’t believe it, of course – but I did want to know what he was acting this way, so unlike his usual self. The usual smirking, swaggering douche bag was more obnoxious – but this version was actually scaring me more. This was a Brick who could convince a judge to deny a restraining order. Maybe even talk Nana into letting him into the house to wait for me.

Note to self: Nana needs to know about Brick. And also, now, about Damnation. I can’t leave her in the dark any more. It’s too dangerous now. Lord, she is never going to let me go on a date again as long as I live, unless she picks the man. Sigh.

So I got in my car, locked the door, and started it up. Then I waved him around, through the windshield. He came slowly around the front hood, fiddling with his phone, and then bent down by my window. “You gone roll it down?” he asked.

I looked at him through the safety glass. “I can see through it. Show me what I have to see.”

He started to say something, but then he shrugged. He pressed something on his phone, and then he held it up flat against the window, right in front of my eyes.

And from inches away, I watched Damnation Kane – the man I had kissed, the man I wrote in this very diary that I might be in love with – I watched him kill people. Murder them. With a sword. He cut a man’s head off, almost. It made me sick, but I couldn’t look away. He shot people, too, at least he shot at them, and so did Kelly and Shane. The video didn’t last long, no more than a minute or two, but by the end of it, there were at least half a dozen men lying bloody and dead on the ground.

At the end of it, Damnation looked up – it was shot from above, like someone standing on a roof or looking out a window – and the picture zoomed in on him. And I could see blood. On his face. Big red drops, running down his cheek, close to his mouth, and I tried to reach out, without thinking, and wipe the blood away – it was going to get in his mouth – and my fingers hit the glass, and then I gagged and had to look away. It took everything I had not to puke into my own lap – or even to open the door and lean outside to heave my guts out, but that would have put me right in Brick’s hands, and in no shape to fight him off. So I held it down.

Brick took the phone away. “I’m sorry, Meredith,” he said, and even though he said it pretty softly, and through the glass, I heard it, and it sounded like he meant it.

So I rolled down the window. I shouldn’t have, but I needed air. He squatted down, put his arms on the window ledge, his chin on his forearms. He didn’t try to reach in, didn’t try to grab me. “You had to know,” he said.

I nodded. Maybe the first time in my life I’ve agreed with Brick Calhoun, but he was right: I needed to know what Damnation was. Is. He had blood on his face. “How’d you get it?”

“I was there,” he said. I looked at him sharply. He drew back, though he kept his hands on the car door, holding himself up as he squatted on his hams. “I set it up. I had business, asked him to come with me as backup. But I didn’t know he was gone do that. Shit, I’m lucky to be ‘live myself.”

“Why did you ask him? How do you know him?” I realized then that my leg was aching, from holding down the brake pedal, so I did a stupid thing, Di-di, without even thinking about it: I put the car in Park, and I turned in my seat to face him more. I even put my hands on the door, right next to his.

He smiled. I could tell he wanted to grin from ear to ear, but was holding it back, though I didn’t know why (I do now: he may really have wanted to warn me, but mostly, he wanted what he always wants, to get close to me, to get me to interact with him, and here I was. I’m such an idiot.) Then he shook his head. “It don’t matter. I wanted to know what kind of a man he was.” He held up the phone. “I found out,” he said. I nodded, swallowing, trying to fight back my urge to puke breakfast all over him. (Though really, I should have just gone ahead and done it.)

“I hit him,” I said, and it was like a bucket of cold water was thrown over me: I was cold as ice, suddenly shivering, every inch of me breaking out in goosepimples. “Oh, God – I hit him! He could have killed me!”

There was a new expression on Brick’s face, and it took me a minute to place it: pride. He was – he was proud of me. “Yeah, darlin’, he sho could have. Still could. So listen: he skipped town, with all his buddies.” I nodded: I knew he had left the house because Nana threw him out; but Balthazar had stayed around, for some reason, until he left the day before yesterday. Brick went on. “I don’t know if he’s comin’ back. But if he does, if you see him or hear from him, I want you to let me know. ‘Cuz then I’ll send that video to the po-lice, and they can lock his ass up, throw the key in the swamp.”

“Why don’t you just send it to them now? Aren’t they looking for whoever killed those men?”

He smirked then, at least halfway. “Well, now, that’s because I’m on that there video, too. And I think it might be a lil hard for me to convince the po-lice that I didn’t have nothin’ to do with all that killin’. ‘Specially with my record.” The smirk vanished then, turning back into the All-New Concerned Brick face. “But if I have to do it to keep you safe, Meredith, I will.” He moved his hand, put his fingers on top of mine on the door frame. I was so cold and numb that I didn’t even feel it, not at first. “I want to keep you safe,” he said, and patted my hand.

I looked down at his hand on mine, then. And I saw on his finger, his right ring finger, the copy of my ring, the one that Damnation had showed me, and thrown at me, when he called me a harlot and said I belonged to another man. I knew it was the same ring because it was dented from when he threw it, and I could see a bloodstain on the silver: and Brick’s other hand was bandaged, I noticed then, his left middle finger – the same one I wore my ring on.

I looked at his face, my jaw hanging open as I realized: it was Brick that Damnation had been talking about. He had come and laid some kind of claim on me, which Damnation had believed, and then called me a whore in his fancy words for flirting with him when I – when he thought I belonged to Brick.

And while I was realizing all of this, Brick reached into the car, grabbed a lock of my hair, and ran it through his fingers. “My mama had red hair,” he said softly.

That was when I threw the car into gear and drove away. He jumped back before I could run over his toes. I did think about turning around and running him over for real: but I’d never catch him before he made it back into his truck. And I didn’t think – don’t think – I could actually really do it. So I just drove away, to work, and sat in the hangar for an hour trying to stop shaking.

But now – now that I haven’t killed Brick, that is – I don’t know what to do. I can’t turn him in for harassing me, and I’ll never get a restraining order or get him arrested unless he actually hurts me. And I thought today that I could do that, that I could let him catch me and then make him mad so he’d hit me and leave marks, so I could get the cops to believe he was a danger to me. But what if he hit me with a brick? What if he lost control and killed me?

And if I somehow got Brick locked up: what would I do if Damnation came back?

How could I have been so stupid, and fucked up so bad, that I need Brick Calhoun to protect me?? Oh, good, Meredith – tears. Yes, crying will help. So much.

So that’s why I have to leave the state. Except of course I can’t, because Nana won’t leave her home, and I can’t disappear and leave her to deal with these two monsters, these two animals. These – men.

One thing’s for sure: I’m buying a damn gun. And a can of pepper spray for Nana. And write all this down, just in case.

And pray. Maybe I’ll pray. Though I don’t know who to pray to.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Log #74: In Captivity

Being the True Log of Ian O’Gallows, kept in Secret while Held in Durance Vile

 

I keep this Log for my Captain, Damnation Kane, so that he may know the Truth of our Treatment at the Hands of these Black-Hearted Savages: Captain Nicholas Hobbes, formerly of the Sea-Cat which is now sunk by our own Hands, and thus is some measure of Justice achieved; and wielding the Devil’s Lash, as Hobbes is Familiar-Named, the Devil Himself in a human form, him we call the Abomination. Hobbes’s men call him the Shadow-Man, but shadows be Never so Dark as that Creature. I do expect now that our captors will Murder us all, and so I keep this Log, written by Star-light with a stolen writing-stick on the Blood-spotted bandages used to bind our Wounds after those bandages have been removed; now they are kept wrapped about my Leg. I hope that Captain Kane will Find it when he finds my Corpse.

All Hope is lost.

We do not blame you, Captain You must know this, as, if I know you as I bethink myself to do, you do blame Yourself. We all know that an End like this awaits Men who do join our Brotherhood of the Coast, and we be thinking that there be some Fate in this, perhaps the hand of a wrathful God Almighty, that may be seen in how it be Englishmen from our own Time what hold us and what will bring about our Deaths. You did not bring us to this Time, nor did you Place us in the Clutches of the Abomination and the Damned English. That was the Storm, and whatever Druid-Magic your Mother worked on us. Although we’ve also no Doubt that without that Magic we would have  been Sunk to the Dark Depths by Hobbes that night he caught us in the Storm of the Faerie Fire that we all saw making our Ship to shine like the Heavens above. So Die then or Die Now, it is one to us. Our wondrous Escape, and our Final Doom, can each only be the Will of God.

The Will of God may ne’er be ‘scaped or averted. So too our Deaths. We begin to Pray that they will come quickly.

We are held in a Cage, made of links of Chain, like armor stretched and pulled large and mounted over a Steel frame. The Cage is under the open Sky, and some of the men have suggested digging into the bare Earth that is our floor and our only Bed, but we are kept carefully Guarded and often taken Out of the Cage, singly or as a crew, and methinks any Earthworks would be soon Discovered. We have aye been disarmed, stripped of Boots and Belts, though left with our shirts and breeches, for which I should be grateful as the Biting Pests are Devilish thick.  We are fed regular, though not Well and not Much. We are rarely given Water, and the Sun is a Terrible Weight on us. We have kept what Strength we have in the main as it rains near every day, and we are able to keep some Water in shallow holes scraped in the Clay, water we then soak into strips torn from shirts and use to Drink or to Cool ourselves. Or to try to Heal our Wounds, aye.

We are all Wounded. Every Man of our crew has been Flogged no less than twicet. Each man’s first Flogging was the worst, as all of us received it from Stuart, Hobbes’s great Brute of a Bosun. The more Flesh he strips from a Man, the wider grows his Slobbersome Grin. If we could have him in this Cage with us for but Five Minutes of the clock, I would Die a Happy Man. The Floggings are done aboard the Grace of Ireland, the sheer Blasphemy of it being perhaps – nay, the whipping is the worser part. But it is hard, hard, to see innocent Irish Blood shed on our Deck, soaking into the Wood of our Ship, shed by the cruel Hands of these barbarian Englishmen. They have mounted on our Grace their Figurehead, the Scourged Lady, a wood carving of a beauteous lass in Great Pain, her back and sides showing deep Scores from the Whip, the Expression on her Face and in her upraised Arms one of Anguish. We are bound to her for the Floggings, and so she is grown Familiar to us all.

After we have taken stripes from the Bosun, each of us has been taken back to the Whipping Post to be thrashed by one of the Crewmen of the Sea-Cat. Hobbes uses this Savagery to prove his Men, and three of them have Refused when handed the Whip, thus Proving themselves to my mind to be Better than the rest of the English Dogs. Two did so, one after the other, when my Third Beating in three days was Ordered. After my second Flogging when they thought me Insensate, I attempted an Ambush when they came to drag out the man we call the Lark, a slight Man to begin, who has suffered greatly from our Captivity. My main Object was achieved when Hobbes ordered me whipped in the Lark’s place. Then I won a second Victory when the two sailors, looking at the bared torn Flesh of my Back, refused to wield the Whip on me anew. ‘Twas no Victory for them, alas, as the third man Ordered to do so did flog me as hard as Hobbes could wish, and then the two who Refused were whipped in turn, and are now Locked into our Cage with us. Albert Hooke and Henry Beecham are their Names, and decent enough Fellows they are. Decent enough that I have not Strangled them with their own Shirts. We have also a third Sea-Catter, a lad of no more than sixteen summers who could not bring himself to Whip our Saltiest old fellow, who the lad said minded him of his Own Grandfather. Though methinks the Comparing to an English Gaffer might have hurt the Salty Fellow more than the stripes the Lad would have put on him. Any road, he is in here with us, as well, though we keep the three Englishmen held apart from our Counsels and Conversations. The boy is named John Robinson.

Some of our Men have been taken Out of the Cage. I do not know Why. Perhaps they put them to the Question, or perhaps they wish to Turn them against the main of us, against the Captain, to thereby gain Intelligence of them. They chose the Weakest of us, both the salty one and the lark and a third I will not name. I have seen them and received Signs by them so I know they are not Dead, but they have not been Returned to the Cage, nor have we been allowed to Speak with them. Too they did seem slow and sluggish, as though sick or drunken, though I think our Captors would not give Grog to a Prisoner. Gods, do I wish they would give me Grog. Those three are being held – or treated like Royal Guests, with Feasts, and Beds with Whores for Pillows, for all that I know of it – in the House near the Cage. In truth I do not Envy them even tho they be out of the damned Sun and the Cursed Pests. I Fear for them.

Dawn is approaching now and I must call a Halt to this Log: but I must Record the Foulest Crime they have Inflicted on us. Raymond Fitzpatrick is dead. The Shadow-Man was speaking to us, when first we were brought here from New York and released from the Grace’s Hold, where we had been kept after the Donnybrook that we made to give our Bosun his chance at Escape, and may Saint Patrick Protect and Preserve that brave and true Irishman, and Guide him to our Captain. The Abomination asked if any Man there were Kin to our Captain. In Truth, there are three Men among us who share the Captain’s Blood. Our Gunner is his own Cousin, the Son of his mother’s Brother. I will not write the Name for fear it will stand out and be noted, for though I write this in the Irish, knowing that they will not put hands on it unless and until I am Dead, and when that occurs, no other Man here can both Read and Understand Irish until our Captain returns, still if they should see a Man’s Name they may grow Suspicious and Mistreat him. But those three Men knew better than to hand over Information to our Captors. Alas, Raymond was a Good Man, a strong Sailor, but not so much of a Thinking Man. When the Abomination asked if any of us be of the Captain’s Blood, Ray said he were the Captain’s Family. He is not, in Truth, they are of the same village , along with half of the men of the crew, but have no blood ties. Ray meant that as they were both Irish and both Pirates and hailed from the same Patch of Land, it made them as good as Cousins.

The Shadow-Man cared not for the Subtleties. He took Ray aside, the rest of us off the Ship to our Cage. I know not what occurred, but we did see the Englishmen dragging a Corpse wrapped in sailcloth and giving it Burial, and we have each of us seen the terrible Blood-Stain that now Blots the poop deck of the Grace. I believe the Abomination cut my friend’s throat and spilled all of the Blood in his Body in some Heathen Sacrifice to his Infernal Gods. God keep the Soul of Raymond Fitzpatrick, and Damn the Abomination’s Immortality to Eternal Hellfire.

The Floggings began after that. They have not asked about the Captain’s Relations again. Methinks that whatever they needed his Blood-Relation for, they did not find Success at it, (May they have such Bad Cess and failing Doom at all of their Endeavors.) and so now they Crave only the Captain’s Blood. To that End they forced the Surgeon and I to write that letter to the Captain, though every word of it was a Lie, most of them told to Us by Hobbes and his Black Devil Man. The Surgeon was Helpful to them in determining what to write, giving them Claude Navarre’s name and the like. When I did Question him after, he made Clear that we want the Captain to come, and telling him Truths is the best way to bring him. The Surgeon was of the Mind that we had concealed sufficient Hints to put the Captain on his Guard, the plainest being, so he pointed for me, that if I Wished to write an Unreadable Letter to the Captain, I could write it in the Irish. That was where I found the Idea for this Log.

I do not wish to wait for the Captain to Rescue us. But the Men are weak, half of us sickened with fevers or the pain of our Wounds, all of us weakened by Despairing. I will Try to learn what I can to know what we can do and to be Prepared to do it, howsoever little it may be within our Power to Work.

The Sun rises. I must stop.

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

Log #73: Flight to Bermuda

Dear Reader: Hello! Thanks for continuing to come back — or thanks for checking out the site for the first time. 

This chapter is a long one, twice as long as the usual. Normally I’d split it into two and run it over two weeks, but there really wasn’t a good place to break this in the middle; there are essentially three episodes that are all of equal length, so one of the halves would be too short, the other too long.

Instead, I’m just going to slap up the whole thing, and then, with your forgiveness, I’m going to take off next weekend. The school year has started, and gotten immediately difficult; and I got the traditional cold from the little germ-factories we call “students.”

I will be back in two weeks, on the 1st of SeptembARRRRRRR. I have the rest of this part of Damnation’s adventures written out, and I am very excited to get it edited and posted; I’m not sure how many chapters it will come out to, but I guarantee that it will finish up before the end of the year. Probably by Halloween.

So please, enjoy, and next week come back and read it again. 

***

Log for October the Second of 2011

Bermuda

 

I thought that I had flown before.

That is as we have often spake, we sons of the salt, we fellows of the winds and waves. When the gale comes, and the tide flows, and the ship is clean with her ballast proper and her canvas white and strong, we fly over the seas. The breeze slips its fingers through your hair like a lover, and the ship beneath your feet dances with you: the perfect partner, every movement and every turn and every step in perfect harmony with you as you rise when she rises and fall when she falls, you are never out of synchronicity as the ship follows your every command, to speed, to slow, to turn. Unless you are high in the rigging, and then are you being led in the dance, spinning and twirling about, and you kick out your legs and twine your arms about the lines, limbs entangled in love, making every touch a caress, every breath shared as the wind fills your lungs and the ship’s sails as one, together. Then, we say, you are flying. Then, I say, you are in love.

But we are wrong. Oh, the love is true – and I miss it sorely – but that is not flying. For still, on a ship, the Earth holds you; you stand on your legs on your feet, on the deck, on the water. You sway with the movement of the rhythm of the dance, with the rise and fall of the waves. You know you are conjoined with a great creation, atop a tremendous foundation; you feel, perhaps, like a child in a sling, held and supported above the Earth, and yet still feeling, with every impact of your mother’s feet as she walks, that you are connected to the ground, to the world: babe to sling to mother to land, as man to ship to ocean to the Earth that holds the mighty sea like wine in a cup. Even in the rigging, as I have described, when the waves shift the ship, the masts and shrouds swing to and fro, and you with them – you feel the weight of the ship, of the ocean beneath it, anchoring you, holding you aloft while you fly across the sea.

In the air, I now know, there is nothing. No thing. We flew in utter incomprehensible truth, and we were seated in a plane, ensconced within its belly, surrounded by metal and glass so that we could hear the wind but not feel its kiss on our cheeks, and yet despite our insulation from all, there was no mistaking the situation: there was nothing holding us up. There was nothing tying us down. We flew. We were free. Detached, disconnected, we could have spun, tumbled end over end, top over bottom; we did not need to catch ourselves before the impact with the ground beneath – for there was no impact. There was no ground beneath us! Far below us spread out like – like a cloth on a table, aye, like a map, like the finest chart ever inked – there we could see the ocean, the Earth; but between us and that smooth expanse of blue, there was nothing. Space. Air. Aether. The magic that carried us – of which I have no words, for I have no conception – was entirely immaterial, invisible, unreal; we could see below us – for the plane did lean, when it turned, like a ship side-on to a gale or sliding down the trough of a wave, and our port or our starboard windows were suddenly faced down: and below us there was nothing. Imagine being that babe in arms, enwrapped in a cloth sling – but there is no mother, no person holding the sling, the child has lifted itself with its own will and moves forward, hovering high above the ground, untethered, untrammeled.

It was – a miracle. It was a wonder.

While it was ongoing, I lost all sense of myself as a man; I forgot my ship, my crew, my troubles; I forgot Damnation Kane entirely. I was eyes, rapt with enchantment, breath held, a body that scintillated and glowed like sparks blown from a fire. I thought nothing, felt amazement. I was free.

Until – as it seems we must, even in this age of wonders undreamt of in the world of my birth and rearing – we returned to land, our trip ended after, as our pilot us informed, better than 800 miles of travel completed in a morning. And that speed, that traversing of the very sea, was the least wondrous of what we did experience.

Alas that this, surely the most glorious hours I have known, should serve to deposit us back into this pit of vipers, this pack of malevolent and dishonest rogues with which we are surrounded. It seems that the gods are determined to give us our just due: alongside the great freedom we have now felt as we flew through the air, in light and beauty, we are now as trapped and as helpless, as enjoined and compelled, as we were released from all bonds. We have seen the heights, and now we do sink into the blackest depths. My heart is the anchor, methinks, that doth drag us downwards.

Our flying ended, we returned to the surface of the ocean – this seaplane, cleverly, is a ship first, floating to us across the waves when we waited ere the dawn at Pier Fourteen in Charleston Harbor, and then splashing back to the water like a jollyboat lowered on lines when we had reached this distant shore, of Bermuda. We were soon met by men on a boat, a true boat, though one without oars, that was propelled by some growling, spitting beast of a contraption attached to the stern like a rudder, but with a noise and a stink like the rudest of beast-wagons; the two men aboard the boat, both black-skinned, stayed silent throughout our transport from plane to shore. ‘Twas there that we met our host, the aforementioned Two-Saint.

He is a well-formed man, dark-complected as it seems these Bermudamen are, of a height with myself and standing straight, broad-shouldered and with his arms swinging freely, as a man prepared to lean into a fray, or dash to the lines in a storm, either as the circumstances merit. He smiles easily, his teeth white and straight against his skin that is the color of good earth, like seeds that might sprout goodwill and friendship – or, like the teeth sown by Jason of the Argo in days long gone, spring forth with enemies. For though this Two-Saint is true-seeming, he is not our ally, but rather our foe.

Once the initial introductions and pleasantries (As I was raised in a polite house and now spend my days surrounded by cutthroats and rogues, I stand ready to shake either hands, or fists, with those new-met; my natural inclination is for the first, but sure and these times have blown me in the latterly direction) were past, and Two-Saint had heard the names of my men as I had heard his, his nephew Jean-Paul – they are of Haiti by birth, as Claude Navarre of the Maritime Museum of Florida, he who so kindly cared for my Grace, and his nom de guerre is a corruption of their family name Toussaint – a sallow English looking fellow named Belmont, and a hulking fellow named Abner who puts me in mind of Burke, then the man moved swiftly to show that we were not guests of and not friends.

“All right,” he said, rubbing his hands together like a hungry man at a feast, “Brick told me he gave you the idea, and I give you details, yes?”

Whatever lightness remained in my heart from our wonderous flight was flung into darkness by the remembrance of that name, and that shite-grinned bastard who wore it. “We are here to seek my ship, and our crewmates,” I said, my tone as bitter as the taste in my mouth, as the blood in my heart.

Two-Saint frowned then, his hands turning into fists. He pointed one finger at me. “You are here to do as you are told. Brick told me what he’s got on you, and if you refuse him, if you refuse me, then you’re all finished. All dead.” He smiled once more then, but this had far more of the fox’s character to it: a fox gazing at a clutch of sleeping chickens. “Being Irish won’t help you, either – this island’s part of the British Empire. I call the police here, and they won’t even need to extradite you. They’ll just take you and lock you down until they try you and skin you alive for what you done back in the States.”

I looked at my men. I saw their resignation, their hopelessness.

I knew then that we were no longer pirates. For pirates are free men, and we are animals caught in a trap; the only question remaining being whether we would be killed and skinned, as he had said, or if we would gnaw off our own legs to free ourselves.

Bah. Who needs two legs? Give me freedom and a peg. ‘Tis a pirate’s life for me.

“All right, cúl tóna, then tell us what we are here to do, so we may do it and be quit of ye,” quoth I.

He frowned, his hands still in fists. “What’s this cúl tóna?”

It means he has a prick for a head. “Sir,” I replied with a smooth face. I was grateful to hear a smothered laugh from both Kelly and Lynch. Shane, having served in the King’s army, has better control over himself and gave no sign at all.

After a moment, Two-Saint nodded. “Well. You know why you are here. We go see him you do it to.”

“Aye, cúl tóna,” I replied.

Why make mock of him? Because even when I am conquered, sill I am Irish. Because even if there is no hope for my own self – and I know well that there is not – I cannot bear to steal it all from my men.

Bah. I must cease calling them my men. They are good men, loyal, strong, brave. They are better than I.

Two-Saint led the way to a pair of beast-wagons. “Two of you ride with Abner and Belmont, and two with me. You,” he pointed his finger at me, narrowing his eyes. “With me.”

I nodded. “Lynch,” I said, but got no further.

“I’ll ride wi’ ye, Cap’n,” said MacManus, stepping between Lynch and I. He looked back at Lynch. “Ye’re the only one what can share space wi’ yon great brute,” he said, thrusting a thumb at Kelly. Lynch shrugged and moved to Kelly’s side, and Shane came to mine.

I raised a brow at him. He tilted his head. “I’d speak wi’ ye,” he murmured.

Two-Saint turned and boarded a beast-wagon, his nephew climbing into the pilot’s seat. MacManus and I embarked into the rear bench, Lynch and Kelly drifting back and boarding with the sallow Englishman and the great brute Abner. Though even he was not larger than Kelly, or if he was, ‘twas by a hair’s breadth. I had to smile watching the man attempt to loom over his passengers, while Kelly met his gaze levelly.

It seems I am not the only Irishman who refuses to bend a knee without spitting on the man who’s foot is on my neck.

Once all were aboard, I placed my scabbarded sword across my lap, earning another suspicious glance from Two-Saint, for which I gave him back a smile, and we weighed anchor. The road from the shore was narrow and rough, though the beast-wagons handled it far better than an English horse-drawn wagon would have, or an Irish one, aye. Two-Saint said somewhat to his nephew, speaking French; I took this as sanction, and I turned and spoke to Shane in Irish.

“All right, man, why did ye wish to ride with me?”

He shrugged. “I know ye have a fondness for the lad, Captain, and ye choose your companions as ye see fit –” here he paused and met Two-Saint’s gaze, who was glaring at us biliously; Shane tossed him a smile and a nod, and went on, still speaking our mother tongue: “but I’ve been thinking. O’Gallows is mate, Kelly is your bosun, McTeigue our gunner – but all that be aboard the ship.” He turned to me, then. “I have been beside ye this past month we have been marooned on land. I think I’ve stood by ye.”

He paused, and I nodded. “Aye, man, ye have, and right well.”

Shane nodded in acknowledgement. “Right, so my thinking is that while we be on land, I should have something in the way of a rank. I’ve the most experience in land-fighting, too, being a King’s Army man ere I took to the sea.”

I had to nod. “Aye, ’struth.”

Shane turned a wee bit bashful then. “I was – I thought, perhaps – sergeant.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Sergeant,” I repeated – using the English word as he did, there not being a proper equal in Irish.

He nodded and scratched the back of his neck. “Aye. Sergeant at arms.”

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “So be it.” I gestured with my sword. “Shall I dub thee so?”

He looked relieved, and grinned at me. “Ah, no, t’won’t be necessary.” He frowned at the men in the front, then, who were ignoring our conversation. “Methinks we’ll bear no titles for the time being.” He grinned and looked sidelong at me. “Sir,” he said, though of course he called me cúl tóna.

I nodded. “Thank ye for paying your respects, Sergeant,” I returned. “I’ll enter it in the log, and tell the men, aye?” He nodded, and looked a mite more at ease. Then we fell into silence. I turned and watched the land pass by the window of the beast-wagon, as we jounced along the broken and pitted road – though I did note it grew smoother as we left the coast behind; especially if this be British land, I suspect we disembarked the seaplane at a point far from any official post or point of entry. This struck me as a smuggler’s road.

Though I did not know if we four be the crew, or the cargo.

This land is lovely, nonetheless. Far warmer than my Ireland, still it is as green as home, the road walled in with mighty trees , vines hanging everywhere and shrubs filling in the spaces between trunks. The air is thick with bird’s calls of a type I do not recognize, and the breeze smells rich and fecund, the sun brighter and hotter than the sun in Ireland – but this entire sojourn has been over-warm, to me. Can it be that the world is warmer, now, than it was where I should have remained?

Perhaps because it is closer to Hell?

Ere long we returned to familiar environs, inasmuch as we rode into a town with overmany people and beast-wagons, noise and stink and filth such as overwhelmed the good green earth-smell of the smuggler’s road. I had no interest in viewing such, and so I struck up a conversation with our gentle host.

“Can ye tell us anything of our task?” Shane turned from the window and interjected, “cúl tóna?” as though I had forgotten to show proper respect. I nodded and raised a hand, repeating the term as though accepting a gentle reminder of my manners; ‘twas onerous not to peal out laughter, but I think now that there was more than a touch of madness in me at that moment. I think, too, that it has not left. I fear it will never.

Two-Saint half-turned and looked me in the eye. “What Brick tell you, exactly?”

I raised an empty hand. “Exactly, nothing. He hinted and teased that we would murder a man.”

Two-Saint raised one eyebrow, and then nodded. “There’s a man, a bloody bastard, who is causing us trouble, man. His name is Hargreaves, Charlie Hargreaves.” He paused, glancing at his nephew, and then he said, “He a lieutenant of police.”

And so this was the reason why Calhoun had been so coy on the matter. This would be akin to murdering a British officer in front of a garrison, or a magistrate; there would be reprisals, rage, and recriminations after, and it would take much blood and many victims to slake the vengeful thirst of la policia. No doubt Two-Saint and the dog Calhoun intended to throw our carcasses to the wolves after we had done the deed. Shane and I exchanged a glance, and he shrugged. “We’ll no stay about,” he murmured in Irish. Aye: once the deed was done, we would soon after leave this island; what matter then what we had done while here? We would make the attempt, and succeed or fail; afterwards, future consequences did not weigh so heavy on us as they might on someone of this time and place. ‘Twas ever the reason to bring in foreign mercenaries to do the dirty business that often occurred between noblemen of any land; and who could be more foreign than we?

Though I think these men be not noble.

I did think then of one reason that would make this task easier: Two-Saint had said that this island flew the flag of our enemies. “Is he English?” I asked. I saw Shane’s eyes widen, and he nodded slowly.

“Yah,” Two-Saint replied. “That is, he’s from this island, a local, so he’s English by law.” His nephew said somewhat in French, and Two-Saint replied.

Shane and I shared a small smile. English by law, and a member of the city watch – aye, the man was English enough for killing.

The beast-wagon came to a halt, moving to the side of the road and ceasing its growling; the second wagon, with our crewmates aboard, drifted into a berth at our stern. Two-Saint pointed to a building, what seemed to be a tavern. “Hargreaves comes here every day, about now. We’ll wait here so you can see him yourselves.”

I bared a handspan of my blade. “Are we to kill him in the street, then?”

Two-Saint shook his head. “No, no! You don’t do nothing while we here! You will come back, alone, follow him, choose a place, a time. I won’t know nothing at all of when or how you do this, you understand? I will not be involved in any way.”

I slid the sword home into the sheath. “As you say, cúl tóna.” Mollified, he turned to Jean-Paul and gave an order in French; the younger man disembarked and trotted back to the other wagon, where he leaned in through the window, presumably informing Kelly and Lynch what we were about here, and what we were to do – but not now.

Two-Saint watched the tavern; I took the opportunity to speak of the only matter of import, to me. “Once this deed is done, what then?”

He shrugged and spoke without looking at me. “This is the only thing between us. When it’s done, then you do as you like, man.”

So they had carried us some eight hundreds of miles through the skies, arranged a boat, beast-wagons, half a dozen men, a smuggler’s rendezvous – for the sake of a single murder. It seems this lieutenant of la policia was a man worth considerations.

That gave me leverage.

“You say we are to follow him, aye? Learn his habits, choose a time, lay him low and leave no trail back to you?”

He looked at me now. “That’s it.” He pointed at me. “And you understand what will happen if you fuck this up, yah?”

I smiled at him. His nephew returned to the wagon then and resumed his seat behind the wheel. “Aye. But you understand that we will need time, transport, and accommodations while we course this hind?”

He blinked at me. “While you what?”

“While we hunt,” I said, speaking slowly.

He nodded then, gesturing assent. “All good, man. You get a place to sleep, and cars, sure.” His gaze returned to the tavern.

“Aye, that’s well,” I said. “We will need – cars. Two of them. And for one, a pilot who knows the coves along the northern coast of the island.”

His gaze returned slowly to me. “Why do you need this?” he inquired, and I could hear him gripping tight to his patience.

I gave up any pretense of subtlety. “We did not come here for this task. This was what we traded in order to gain passage to this island.” He started to protest, but I raised a hand and spoke over him; he stopped speaking and listened to me as I said, “We will do this thing, send your Lieutenant Hargreaves down to Hell for you. But it will take some time, and it will not require all of us as we stalk the man – in truth, it seems the four of us would be a bit too apparent, considering our complexions.”

Two-Saint and his nephew exchanged a glance at that, the nephew nodding agreement.

I went on. “Hence, my proposal is this. Two of us will watch and follow this man Hargreaves, while the other two will pursue the course that brought us to this island in truth.”

Two-Saint said, “And what is it that brought you here, then?”

I leaned close and spoke softly. “We seek my ship.”

He nodded slowly. “Which is in a cove along the north coast, you believe.”

I sat back, nodding. “Aye. We were so informed.”

“But you don’t know which cove – and you don’t know how to find out. That’s why you need – a pilot? You mean a guide?”

I shrugged. “A man who knows the coast and knows the roads, so that we may search.”

He nodded his understanding. “You know, man, this island’s not very big – but there’s still many coves on the coast. Many places you could hide a boat. Are you sure it’s even in the water still?”

I smiled at him. “Aye. She’s in the water, or at most beached beside it. And my ship will be hard to mistake for any other vessel in these waters.” My smile vanished. “But that be our concern, and none of yours. We will take on your concern, and also our own – leaving you care-free, and costing you naught but the lending of two cars and one man.” I paused to let him chew on that, and then put out a hand. “Do we have an accord?”

He thought for a moment more, exchanged a few words with his nephew, and then said, “All right, man – you got a deal.” We clasped hands to seal the agreement.

Just them, Jean-Paul said, “There he is!” He pointed, though he was careful to keep the gesture small, unseen by anyone without the beast-wagon – the car.

We turned to look at the man we would kill.

After a moment, Shane said softly, “Well, he’ll be easy to follow, sure enough.”

He was the tallest man I have ever seen. Standing head and shoulders above everyone else around, he was lighter of skin than Two-Saint and his men, but still of the same race; his head was shaved, and he wore a beard on his chin. He was thin as a mast but for an appreciable belly; this was a man who enjoyed his pleasures. I could observe, as well, the play of muscle and sinew in his arms, as he wore a shirt with abbreviated sleeves, nearly a tunic but with a collar; his neck, too, was columned with muscle, sloping down into his shoulders, his hands large-knuckled and strong. We watched him saunter along the street towards the tavern, passing other folk with his long, long strides – but he looked neither left nor right as he walked, seeming indifferent to his surroundings; he did not even look down at the people before him, who scuttled out of his way, ducking their heads, clearly preferring to escape his notice entirely – for they were all surely aware of him, eyes widening and mouths dropping agape all along the walk as the people caught sight of him.

As he neared the tavern, of a sudden a young boy ran at full wind out of an alley, and nearly barreled into the tall man; but without glancing to the side – without even, so far as I could discern, moving his eyes in their sockets – this man paused his step, allowing the boy to sprint by him and away before he went on, unperturbed. Without seeming to be, this lieutenant had a fine awareness of his surroundings, and the quickness, the celerity, of a hunting cat.

This was a dangerous man.

“This may take some days,” I said to Two-Saint. “That is no man to be trifled with.”

Where many a man – particularly a man like this, clearly one who lived against the law of the land, and with violence and blood and steel in his heart and hands – would have scoffed and called us cowards, or raged and insisted we move with alacrity, Two-Saint merely nodded. “You speak the truth, man,” he said. “All truth.” We watched as the man disappeared into the tavern.

Then Two-Saint turned to me. “Take all the time you need, man,” he said. “So long as you get it done.”

Two-Saint gave a sign to Jean-Paul, who leaned out of his window and waved to the car-beast astern; then he began the growling, and we moved away and along the street, slowly at first and then more rapidly as we turned a corner and left our would-be prize behind.

“What are your thoughts?” I inquired of Shane, speaking Irish in a low voice.

He tilted his head in thought, something of a shrug as he gazed out the window at the island sweeping by. “If we had the crew I would say we should attack his chamber as he slept. Though I would expect to lose at least three men in the process.”

“Aye,” I replied, “but we have only the four of us, and I like not the thought of losing three in order to kill that one.”

He shrugged again. “We must look for our chance.“ He turned to meet my gaze. “The belly gives me hope. The belly is the key: it is where he is soft.”

I nodded thoughtfully; he had seen clear. And he was right that we would need to stalk this Hargreaves very carefully. “You and Lynch should be the ones to watch him.”

He smiled and nodded. “Aye. Kelly’d be seen in an hour’s time. And you must seek the ship, Captain.”

“Aye,” I said with a slow nod. I wished, though, that I could tell him then, and Lynch, and Kelly and all the rest of them that I sought only to free the ship and return her to my men before I left them all without the burden of my doomed folly.

I turned to my window, then, and saw that we had once more retreated from the town to the greenwood. “Where are we bound?” I asked out host.

“We going to the place where you sleep, eat, get ready to do your work. I got a safe house, with a man to take care of things, make you food, all of that. Diego, his name is.” He turned then and proffered a brilliant smile. “You like him, I think, man.”

Ere a quarter of an hour had gone, we left the road for a track through the wood, which ended at a wooden house, somewhat ramshackle but with all four walls and a roof, a door and windows with wooden shutters thrown open. A man seated before the house arose as we came near; he was holding a white hen, which he cast gently aside to flutter her way to the ground. The man was wrinkled of face and white of hair, but he stood straight and seemed to move with ease; his glare, though was, singularly malevolent: his eyes wide and round under high arched brows, the corners of his mouth drawn down as his nostrils flared wide, and I saw his lips moving as he muttered what I took to be imprecations and defamations, cast willy-nilly across a broad swath, as his gaze roved from our car-beast to the one following and then back once more.

Our car came to a halt, and Two-Saint emerged, with a hand raised in salutation. The man, focusing on Two-Saint, threw up his hands and spat, and then turned, threw open his door, and stomped inside.

Two-Saint bent and leaned into the car-beast, smiling at us with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “All right, man, Diego he get rooms ready for you, then he cook you something for your supper. I hope you like goat, because Diego, he don’t cook the chickens. They his friends.” He flashed a glance at his nephew, who laughed.

I looked at Shane, who shrugged. “Get the lay of the place, aye?” I asked him.

“Aye, we’ll do,” he replied.

I met Two-Saint’s gaze. “Where does Master Diego keep his goats?”

The smile faded a bit. “’Round the back there.” He pointed with a thumb back over his shoulder.

I disembarked, and Two-Saint straightened to meet my gaze. “Will ye leave your man as our guide, or send another?” I inquired, as I took the knife from my boot, checked the edge, and stuck it in my sash. I whistled as Shane emerged, and tossed him my scabbarded sword – ‘twas not the tool for preparing a goat for eating.

Two-Saint’s smile left entirely. “We’ll leave that car for you to use, for Hargreaves. I’ve got a man who knows the water; he’ll come with a second car.”

I nodded, raised a hand in farewell, and went around the house to the back. The old man was just leading a yearling goat with a rope tied around its neck to the back of the house. He frowned when he saw me. I didn’t speak, I merely looked around until I saw where he slaughtered his kine; a stump with an axe, a long-bladed knife, a frame for hanging and a trough to catch the blood. I moved the trough under the frame, and then took the rope off it and went to where he stood with the goat, which had been bleating nervously and pulling at the rope collar, but was now struck with curiosity when it spied me. I scratched its chin, took the rope on its neck and led it close, murmuring softly in Irish, telling it what a fine and handsome beast it was. When I had it close, I looped the rope around its rear legs and quick-raised it to the top of the frame, ignoring its bleats and kicks, swinging the hooves away from me as I had learned as a lad in Belclare. I drew my knife, proffered it to the farm’s master, but he waved me on; I saw that his expression was now more thoughtful than irate.

I nodded, knelt by the swinging goat, and said the brief prayer of thanks that Mam taught me, and then I cut its throat and held it until it stilled, catching the blood in the trough below. When the stream of blood slowed to a trickle, I looked back at the man Diego.

He nodded. “Good,” he said. “Come.” He led the way into the house.

The interior was what I would expect of a white-haired landsman: the house was simple, with three rooms; two held beds, one with bunks set atop each other, where I and my men would sleep, and the third room the large common room, both kitchen and sitting room, furnished with a good, solid table and chairs, and a well-work cushioned chair drawn up by the largest window, with the best light. I saw none of the modern lights or gewgaws, no magic windows, no enchanted cupboard to keep food cool; just a lamp and some candles, a large and well-thumbed Bible, a basket of half-mended leather harness and bits, and some rope ends half-spliced.

My men – the men were standing in the main room as we came in, and as they met my gaze, they all smiled: for the first time since we came to this new world, we had found a place that felt like home. The old man cleared his throat. “Welcome.”

I nodded thanks. “Thank ye. We’re right glad to be here.”

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

Log #72: Parlay

Log

October 2

 

Lynch has had word from Calhoun. We will parlay with him this eve at a tavern called BuckaRudy’s. Lynch has somehow located a map of this city on his eye-phone, and so we are setting out now, as it is a distance of some five miles from our camp. We have considered plundering a beast-wagon, but there are too many possible avenues towards failure: it may be of a sort we can not manage, we may not find the key that will unlock its motion, or la policia may hunt us down, especially if we stay within the city’s bounds. We have observed many and many a beast-wagon bearing the colors and pennants of la policia here; they roam constantly like a pack of mongrel dogs at a fish market. They would catch us up quickly. We could murder a beast-wagon’s master and be assured of our possession of a functioning wagon – but I do not wish to commit more murders. Not when our last blood-letting has brought us to this pass, serving as dogsbodies to a cur.

Nay. We will walk to meet our – master. Call it penance. Christ, but I’d wear a hair shirt and a crown of bloody thorns if I could absolve my men of their sins committed in my name. But my name is not Jesus of Nazareth.

My name is their doom.

 

Later

I have discovered that I have the capacity to hold my temper and my tongue. I have discovered also that so doing has burned my soul, my mind, my strength, all to ashes. I feel naught but gray cold, and sure I am that a stiff gale would cast me out into the darkness, scatter me to the points of the compass and out of the knowledge of men. Sure I am, as well, that such would be a better fate than servitude under that capering jackal Calhoun.

I record all of this precisely, so that I may take to heart, what Calhoun is, and the depths of my failure in trusting him.

We arrived at this BuckaRudy’s tavern before the appointed hour and with a great thirst, owing both to our long tramp across this city and our despondency over our circumstances. I wished to grip tight to my wits for the parlay, and so asked only for ale, but Shane and Kelly bought a bottle of whiskey to share, and wasted no time in emptying it down their gullets and ordering a second. Lynch asked for another of his root beers; he has tired of being told that he is too young for a man’s drink – this brave youth who has stood beside the stoutest of Irishmen, who has both spilled and shed blood – and so he makes do with a lad’s refreshment (Though of course, some of the whiskey made it into his cup). Too, he sees little cause to celebrate. He wished to converse with me, to attempt to lay a strategy for our proceeding to Bermuda, but I cannot; I have no wish to presume command, to give orders, to make decisions. I will merely do as I am told until I can free myself of my responsibilities. The weight of them is crushing me. So we sat and drank in sullen silence until Calhoun arrived, a full half of an hour past the appointed time, the laggard.

He smirked and clapped me on the back when he did come: that was the first flame that I had to smother inside of me, lest I stand and cut his gizzard out with my boot knife. “How you boys doin’ tonight?” he asked, in jolly tones. “Havin’ a good time? Aint this place the shit?” He signaled to the barkeep, hollered for a bud (To my consternation: what have flowers to do with drinking?), and brought another chair to our table.

To the very depths of my soul – and it has sunk deep, these past days – I had no wish to converse with that pox pustule on a hog’s arse. But Lynch was pale and wide-eyed, clearly ready to draw steel as he had the last time they two had exchanged words; and Shane and Kelly, though they blinked slow and bleary-eyed at him, still they bared their teeth and clenched their fists; if I did not speak for us all, and continue this parlay in a peaceful manner, sure and the three of them would spill blood. And then be clapped in the gaol for it.

“Aye,” I said, and every word tasted and smelt of ash. “’Tis a fine tavern. And we be well, as well as we can be.” I leaned closer. “We stand ready to depart, so soon as our path be clear. Be it so?”

Calhoun smiled his wolf’s grin at my ire, my impatience. “Woe, woe – hold on, pals! I aint even got my beer yet!”

Lynch stood, knocking back his chair; his hand was under his shirt, the which he had pulled over his sash to conceal his armament. “By the Lord of Hosts, you strutting cockerel, I will tear off your ballocks and pin them to your ears if you make mock of us!” By his last word, I was standing as well, a hand on his wrist, trying to calm him and ease him back into his seat. He looked around, at my urging; he saw that he had drawn the attention of the taverngoers, and he sat down once more, as quickly as he had risen – but with his hand still inside his shirt.

A barmaid, wearing a pretty frown, brought Calhoun’s ale on a tray. “You boys all right?” she inquired. “Ever’body doin’ O’Kay?”

Calhoun took his ale with a broad grin and drank from the bottle, blowing out a satisfied sigh. “We’re doin’ better than O’Kay, darlin’—we’re as fine as wine in the sunshine.” She looked to the rest of us, still frowning prettily – but then she jumped, as Calhoun pinched her bottom. She shook her head and departed angry, as Calhoun guffawed uproariously.

Lynch leaned forward and slapped the table. “We be here not for pleasure, ye dog! And remember that ye have no hold over me, and my patience with ye is near it’s end!”

Calhoun finished his laugh, smiled at Lynch, scratched his belly, drank from his ale. Then he leaned forward to speak in a gentle tone of false sympathy. “Hey –” he looked to me, feigning confusion though a hint of low humor shone in his shite-colored eyes. “How come ye‘all aint stayin’ at Merry’s no more? I went there lookin’ for you, Damny – hey, that’s pretty good, aint it?” And then he began singing. “Ohhh Damny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin’!” His voice rose to a bellow, and he capped his caterwauling with another mocking belly-laugh. Lynch snarled and started to stand again – but I forestalled him with a hand on his shoulder. “We are observed,” I hissed at him in Irish, and he looked around the room; Calhoun’s antics had drawn the attention of half of the patrons: as the dog had surely intended. Lynch sat back down.

Calhoun returned to his topic of discussion, the which I had suspected he would raise. He had won, after all, and I doubt if Brick Calhoun has ever failed to gloat, even once in his pestiferous life. “I guess you ‘n’ Merry are on the outs, huh? That’s too bad, Damn – hey, that’s a damn shame,” and he guffawed again, clashing his bottle of ale against mine so vigorously that foam sprayed from both, spattering my men, who snarled and moved forward; they drew back once more at my calming gesture. I needed to bring this gathering to an end, before it reached the end my men so eagerly sought.

“Aye,” said I, and drank from my ale – the which I did not enjoy (I do not understand the foam. Why does their ale froth so? And why is it served so bloody cold? ‘Struth, this country’s weather has been overwarm throughout our time here – but the ale in these taverns is so cold that one can not even taste it, as one’s tongue is sheeted in hoarfrost at the first sip. Though perhaps that is the intent, as the ale tastes better when it does not.) but I needed to wash the taste of the ashes of my fallen pride out of my throat. “I have not been a gentleman in my behavior with her, and so I am fallen from her grace.” Even as I used the words, my heart broke in my breast – for I am fallen from my own Grace, as well, and I think I will never regain her again, not truly.

Calhoun nodded, with that sheen of impish delight still in his pig’s eyes. “Yea, I hear you. Well, I tell you what,  it may even be better this way, because if you were still sniffin’ around her, I mighta been forced to show her that viddy-oh,” and here he unpocketed his cell-phone, placing it flat on the table and spinning it idly with his finger, daring me to snatch it, “and that Meredith, she likes her a bad boy to warm up that fireplace o’ hers – but a fellow killin’ fellows? Usin’ some big ol’ pigsticker to cut some son-bitch’s head off, near enough?” He shook his head and pulled from his bottle. “That shit don’t play, Damny-boy. Not with the high and mighty perfect Ms. Vance.”

I nodded. I did not reach for his ‘phone: I do not understand them, but I know that the magic window’s vision is not contained within the window itself, merely seen through it, and so taking it would be useless provocation, and surely Calhoun’s intended goal, an excuse to respond in kind. I swallowed more ash. “Aye. I am not the man for her.” I met his gaze. “I am the man for you. Tell us what you would have of us.”

Calhoun’s eyes widened. “Woe, there, fellows – I aint havin’ none o’ that faggot stuff talked around me.” Why he brought up sticks of wood, I have not a clue. But it seemed to break through his amicable facade, and at last, we got to the meat of the matter. He leaned close and spoke low. “All right, we can get down to business. Aint like you four fuck-ups is my kinda comp’ny. So here’s the deal. I got a buddy, got a sea-plane, six-seater so it’ll take all of you boys, even that big bastard, there,” he said, gesturing at Kelly. “Tomorrow mornin’ he’s gone be at the harbor, Pier Fourteen, and ye’all gone meet him ‘bout six, six-thirty.” He grinned. “Sorry if that’s too early. Say, I hope you fellows can handle a hang-over.” I did not grasp his meaning, and so gestured for him to go on; anything he gibbered out while grinning thus was without import, I knew. “Then ye’all flies to Bermuda. Ye’all ‘ll meet my partner, Two-Saint’s his name – that’s Two, like two,” he held up two fingers, “and saint like New Orlands.”

‘Tis amazing to listen to a kack-headed dullard endeavor to explain somewhat. They attempt to illuminate what does not require illumination – what signifies it if I know the derivation or composition of this man’s name? Will there be hordes clamoring to meet with us following our arrival in Bermuda? Would the game be ended if we went with a man calling himself Three-Saint, or a Two-Devil? And then what the bloody eejit tried to clarify was muddied further by his words, for I knew nothing of this New Orlands, nor its reputation for saintliness; I did, however, know the Catholic saints, as what Irishman does not, even if he holds not with the Catholic Church as I do not. But it signifies not, and so I nodded that I comprehended him – ever the best response to a fool – and he went on.

“Two-Saint gone set ye’all up there with what ye’all gone need to do the job, but since ye’all aint comin’ in official like, ye’all might as well bring your own shootin’ irons – and maybe that big head-chopper you got, Damny. That might come in real handy.”

I nodded. “And what is the task that we will see through to its completion?”

He sat back, staring at me – I will not say thoughtfully, as I doubt he thinks thoughts with any coherence. Perhaps “shrewdly.” He drained the last of his ale, raised the empty bottle over his head and shook it as a signal to the barmaid. Then quoth he, “Why, you gone do what you boys do best.” He dragged his thumb across his throat. I put a hand on Lynch’s arm where it rested on the table; I knew that he would be tempted to make good on Calhoun’s gesture here and now, but with steel rather than flesh drawing a sharp line across that gullet. I knew he would because I was surely tempted myself. “Only difference,” Calhoun went on, his voice pitched only for our ears, “is that ye’all gone be doin’ it to a cop.”

The barmaid brought him ale, and another for me and a third root beer for Lynch. Shane and Kelly were not yet through their second bottle, their drinking having come to a halt as they waited for the signal to out blades and cut Calhoun to ribands. I nodded and thanked her for the fine service; I noted that she gave Calhoun his drink from across the table and out of reach of his hand, a caution that made him grin.  The lass departed and we all drank; then I did ask Calhoun, “What is a cop?”

He choked on his ale, and had I not had a bellyfull of ash, I would have laughed at it; Shane and Kelly did chortle drunkenly, mockingly. Calhoun frowned at them as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “Ye’all fuckin’ with me?” he asked.

I gave him a level look, holding tight to my patience. “I can assure you we are not.”

He shook his head. “Jesus wept. A cop, dumb-ass. The five O’. The Po-lease.”

Now I garnered the meaning. “La policia.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Now ye’all fuckin’ meck-see-can. Yea, sure, whatever.” He drank from the bottle, draining it at a draught. Then he rose, and Lynch and I with him – Lynch pushing his chair back and gripping his weapon, lest Calhoun begin a kerfuffle. A few heartbeats later, Shane and Kelly staggered to their feet, as well. “Well boys,” Calhoun said, “it’s been real. But I got to be goin’. Remember, six o’clock in the mornin’, Pier Fourteen. Don’t miss the buss.” He saluted us apishly, a finger tapped to his forehead. “Thanks for the beers. Give that honey a good tip, now, she got a fine ol’ ass.” And then off he went, swaggering out of the door without a glance back.

We paid for the ales (Thankful am I now that Shane and Kelly did see to it that we should have some coin of the realm) and departed. Kelly and Shane were stumbling, but the journey will sober them sufficiently. It does seem as though we are meeting men allied with Calhoun, rather than going into any immediate peril; we must not put trust in them, but neither need we put blades in them. A brief consultation with Lynch, and we two sober men agreed that we should all bear directly for our departure, once we revisited our camp to retrieve our weaponry and what equippage we have accumulated. It took us most of the hours of darkness to walk to the pier, where we now rest, my men sleeping off their drink as I keep this log and Lynch gazes into his eye-phone.

I will speak to him, now. I will make him see that he need not accompany we three, we doomed fools, as we dig deeper into this pit where we be trapped. He is still free, and should remain so: he should remain here. I will tell him.

 

Later

I suppose that it should not surprise me that Lynch should be so adamant that he will stay by our sides, will fight for our cause. I am not certain if this loyalty warms, or chills me.

All I feel is ash.

But soft – I think that our vessel has arrived.

To Bermuda.

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

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