Posts Tagged With: allies

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 #68: Entanglements, continued

(Continued)

I do not know how long I sat there, but after some time, Dame Margaret came into the room. I stood, of course, and wished her a good morning. She nodded, but did not smile nor return my good wishes. Instead she said, “I hope, Mister Kane, that I may still call you friend.”

This knocked the wind from my sails. “My lady – Margaret – I wish you would call me Nate, or Damnation, as you have in past.”

She looked long at me, but not fondly. Then she shook her head. “I will not. You see, I heard what you said to my granddaughter last night. I would ask your forgiveness for eavesdropping, but I do not want forgiveness from you.”

I had to drop my gaze lest I burn to a cinder on the spot from pure shame.

She went on. “I will not withdraw my offer of hospitality, as I understand that you are in need – and your men have a place in my heart, and therefore in my home – but I will insist that you focus your efforts towards moving on from here. And that while you are still here, you do not try to speak to Meredith.”

She came to my side, placing her hand on my shoulder. “I am not naive, Mister Kane. I recognize that it takes two to tango, and that three in the dance is bound to cause a fall. I am sure that Meredith is not innocent of blame, and that is why I hope I can, at least, still call you friend.” She patted my shoulder and then withdrew her hand. “But friend or not, no one who speaks that way to my only granddaughter will ever again be welcome in my home.”

She went out. When I could rise, and trust my legs to bear both my weight and the weight of my shame, I went out, as well, to the van, where I sat and tried to gather my wits, so that I could find and take the next step, not that the path had been so clearly laid out for me as to where I must walk away from, if not entirely where I must go.

Should I seek out a new pilot, a new flying ship? There were complications, of course; Meredith had seen fit to conceal our entry onto the dragon-train, and had said somewhat about necessary items which we lacked. I must presume that these same sorts of items would be requisite for passage aboard a flying ship. Of course any lack of permission could be overcome with sufficient silver; Morty had shown me that with his selling of a “permit” to accompany my wheel-gun. Bribing a man you do not know, who does not have a reputation for being available to bribe, is a most dangerous deed to attempt; a bribe to the wrong person, or the wrong bribe to the right person, would sour the deal entirely, and leave us with nothing – perhaps even a new enemy, if the offer of a bribe should be taken as insult, as indeed it may well be.

We could not steal a flying ship, but we could press the pilot into service. Such was a choice of last resort, though, as we could not possibly expect to read a flying ship’s course or charts and know if the pilot took us in the demanded direction, towards the intended destination. We could sail out to the middle of the empty sea, and there perish.

We could steal a ship. Perhaps we should steal a ship. Alas that I had not taken the Emperor Grable when opportunity presented itself! Damn Lynch for telling me I was too good to take a ship, when he himself now thinks I am not good enough for anything!

Damn him for being right.

 

Later

And now, a new path has appeared, from an entirely unanticipated direction.

As I sat there, the hatch on the side of the van open so that I could perch on the frame with my boots planted on the ground beside it, recording this log and simmering in my shame and ire, I heard footsteps approach, and then stop some distance away. Wary that it may be another round of humiliation and chastisement, I took my time looking up from the log to recognize my visitor. But then recognize him I did.

‘Twas Brick Calhoun.

I came to my feet, throwing this log back into the van and clenching my fists, but he held up his empty hands, taking a step back. “Whoa, there, fella, I come in peace,” he said, waving his hands as though to dissuade me from exacting some measure of revenge for my misery.

“Have ye, now,” I asked, my blood beginning to boil at that black-eyed serpent’s temerity – and aye, that anger felt a thousandfold better than did my shame. “’Tis a pity, then, that I do not feel peaceable towards you.” I took a step towards him. I thought then that if he had never come to this house, then none of this terrible storm of shite would have descended on us: I would still be wooing my Meredith – who would still be my Meredith – and my men could be planning how we would find the Grace once I had won her heart enough, at least, to ask her for the boon of passage to Bermuda. But all, all, had been laid waste by this filthy, dung-souled, crass misbegotten ruffian.

He took another step back. “Hold on, now, dammit, just hold on a minute. Listen – I talked to Merry.”

Now why would he think that talking to the woman I would have loved, had he not descended on us like fire and brimstone shat from the devil’s arse, would calm my ire? But I did pause: because a small, foolish part of my soul said to me, Perhaps she regrets her words, her deeds. Perhaps she sent him to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps even a fresh start for we two, without the weight of a Brick.

I did pause, at the least. “Aye?” I muttered, my teeth still clenched with rage.

He nodded. “Yeah. I went and saw her at work, this mornin’. I wanted her side of the story. She said –” He put his hands down, rubbed them on his trousers. He dropped his gaze, as well. “She said that, while I was gone – I been gone for a good long while – she met you. And she didn’t mean for it to happen, but, you two had something. A connection. A spark.”

For a moment, his words made joy leap into my heart, the small foolish voice in me beginning to soar forth in song. But the ice in my breast stopped that joy dead. “I think she would not say that now,” I said quietly.

He looked at me from the corner of his eye. “What, did you all have yourselves a lil’ tiff of somethin’?” I saw the beginning of his ugly sneer, and my ire rose once more. But then he wiped the smirk away, and said, “Doesn’t matter. Ye all can work that out. What matters is this: I aint gonna hold Merry back from what she wants, even if what she wants is – if it aint me.”

I looked him in the eye, and judged him sincere. I nodded in acknowledgement.

“But listen,” he went on. “Damn – is your name really Damnation?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Aye. And your mother named ye Brick, did she?”

He smiled a wide, toothy grin – though I noted, not without pleasure, that he winced and touched at his swollen and split lower lip. My own jaw was throbbing apace with my heart. “Naw, Mama named me Beaujolais after her favorite wine. Brick’s just a nickname I picked up.” He held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Damnation.”

I did not want to clasp his hand. I wanted to beat him into a bloody smear on the ground. But I had to right this ship, take us off of the shoals where I had nearly wrecked us. So I took his hand with mine, and said, “’Tis more of a pleasure than our first meeting.”

Wonder not, any soul reading of this log, how I could manage to clasp hands with a man for whom I felt naught but the blackest hatred, that I could tamp down my burning ire sufficient to find words, and polite words, at that. I am Irish. I have had to smile in the face of Englishmen as they robbed and beat my friends, my mates, my family. I have had to smile in the face of Irishmen as they did the same, because we were of a different clan, or because they were Catholic and we were Protestant – or because they were Protestant and I and my mother were – something else. The anger burns on: but I can smoor it when the need arises. Too, though the rage was burning, there was that small part of my soul, still wishing to believe the truth in his words, still wishing to burst into song. Still hoping that she – might love me, and only me.

I realized, as our hands gripped one another, that his finger was bandaged, and I fished the ring out of my sash, having retrieved it from the porch this morning. I offered it to him, and he released our clasp and took the ring with another cheek-splitting grin. Unable to put it on, he put it in his pocket.

“But listen, there’s somethin’ I gotta know. You understand that if I’m gonna step aside for you and Merry, I gotta make sure you can take care of her, you know? You get me?” I nodded and opened my mouth to speak, but he went on, my nod having been sufficient reply. “So I got this proposition, then. I got some business to take care of, and it might get a little rough. So I was thinkin’, if you and me could, y’know, bury the hatchet, and you could come and help me out – well, then I’ll see with my own eyes that you can handle yourself, and since you’ll be doin’ me a solid, it won’t be so hard for me to lose Merry to you, y’know?” He looked me in the eyes, and I could see him weighing, calculating, trying to sound how I took his proposal. “So, what d’you say?”

It was an honorable offer to make, both in the making of it to me, and in the reason behind it. A man should know that his rival is worthy of the prize before he surrenders it to him; else, a proper man, who has some understanding of how to protect and provide for a woman, must kill the other man rather than allow him to seduce and degrade the woman he loves, even if the act means the woman will not belong to either man. I had to admit a growing respect for this Brick – and I had to quash the still-urgent need to beat him into the ground, and the distaste I felt whenever he smiled. Again, though, this was not a prodigious difficulty for me to overcome: these are the same urges I have felt every time I had seen and spoken with Sean O’Flaherty or Ned Burke for these last years, and before they betrayed me, I was able to both respect and fight with them. I should have the same capacity for this rogue – for am not I, too, a rogue? Pirate that I am, and bastard?

But Lynch’s words echoed in my mind, then, and I knew that I had to refuse him. “I grant ye honor, sir, and my respect for this day’s words from ye. ‘Tis a manly offer ye make, and ye make it like a man. But I must tell ye that I am not come here to woo the lady. I have let my heart distract me from my true purpose, and I must now return to seeking my goal, and shut my heart up once more within my breast. I had come to Charleston to ask Meredith to give passage to myself and my men in her flying ship; now that – our lover’s tiff, as you say – has sunk this endeavor, I must seek passage elsewhere.” I tried to smile, but I fear it was more bitter than gallant. “So I think I must offer my best wishes to ye and – your Meredith.” Then I held out my hand once more.

His face turned sly. The expression suited his physiognomy far closer than a friendly smile or honest contrition. “Hold on, now. Now this changes things. Maybe now you and me can do some business like a couple of friendly fellas, ‘stead of all this pussy-footin’ around lovey-dovey shit.” I let my hand sink, but he grasped my arm. “Now hold on. You’re sayin’ you wanted to get Meredith to – what, to fly you somewheres?”

I nodded. Despite my newfound respect for him, his touch still perturbed me. “I and my men, aye.”

He smirked at me, but with humor more than smuggery. “I and aye? What are ya, some kinda rasta?” I must have shown my confusion on my face, for he waved it away. “Where to?” he asked, returning to the concern at hand.

I wanted to conceal it from him – but for what reason? “The island of Bermuda.”

His face lit like a lantern. His eyes became even more sly, and I began to feel like a hen conversing with a weasel. “Well, hell, boy, we can make a deal! Listen: let’s put aside everything, ‘kay? All that ruckus yesterday, and ever’thing ‘bout Merry. Just hear me out. I need help, the kinda help I’m bettin’ you and your boys’d be plenty good at. And if you all help me out, I’ll fly ye all to Bermuda ‘fore the week is up. I gotta buddy got an airplane, and I’ll charter the flight myself. You know Merry’s got herself a gummint charter anyhow, gone last a week or more, so even if she said she’d do it, she couldn’t get you there, not so soon as I can.”

I shook my head slowly. “This is too fortuitous a circumstance. You coincidentally happen to have need of myself and my men? And by some lucky chance you happen to have – an ally” (I know not what this “buddy” is, but presume since he felt he could promise passage on the man’s vessel that my word was sufficient. It could not be a gardener, could it? One who deals in flower buds?) “who can get us to our destination?” I crossed my arms. “It strains credulity.”

He blinked at me, clearly not comprehending my words. But he caught the heart of it, and responded. “Hey, man, it aint like what you and your boys do is unusual. Ye all bad-asses, right? Least you is, as I have reason to know. Figure boys that hang with a bad-ass gone be bad-asses themselves, ‘specially that big fella with the one eye.”

I could not understand why he would refer to us as poor donkeys, but he went on before I could inquire.

“I got this meetin’ I got set up. With people who – don’t really want to work with me. In fact, they may have reason to try to sink me in the swamp, you get me?”

Now this did not strain credulity: in point of fact, I would have been far more surprised if this man had not had enemies who wished to kill him. I found it serendipitous that the people of this land made use of their own swamps – which I thought were somewhat like our Irish peat bogs – for the same purpose they served back home: to hide that which would best never see the light of day. I confess I would not have grieved had this man found himself in the depths of this swamp. But to the point: this made sense to me. “Very well,” I said.

He continued. “As for me havin’ a buddy what can fly ye all to where you wanta go, well, hell, I gotta lotta buddies. And you ask around, you’re gone find there’s a lotta folks can fly them little swampjumpers ’round here. Little planes, hold ‘bout four, six people,” he clarified when I looked askance. Because I looked askance, he moved in closer and lowered his voice. “’Nother thing. My business I got? With these fellas? Well, it’s got somethin’ to do with bringin’ things into town. Things I don’t want the authorities to know ‘bout, you get me?”

It struck me then. “You’re a smuggler!”

He frowned, blinked, and then shrugged. “Yeah, guess you could say so, sure. I bring shit in I aint supposed to bring in, and sell it in town.”

I nodded. “Aye, avoiding the excisemen.”

He blinked again. “Uhhh, sure, yeah. And so these fellas, they’re in the same line o’ work, and they don’t necessarily want to share it with me, even though there’s plenty room for all of us, and if they work with me I’ll be makin’ ever’body a whole lot of cheddar, if y’ follow me. So I got this meetin’ with ‘em, but if I go all by my lonesome, they aint gone take me serious.”

I nodded. “You need myself and my men to play the heavy.”

Brick smiled. Somehow, this smile I liked. “You got it, boy. Play the heavy at my meet, and then I’ll get you on a plane to Bermuda.”

This put an entirely different face on it. Of course he had access to transport; I would lay a feather against a doubloon that the same craft that carried us away would bring an illicit cargo back, thus assuring his profit and explaining his apparent generosity to me. And he would be a man who would seek those outside the law, as I and my men, to serve as his guard as he attempted to force his way into a closed market, as it were – and though I could call on my crew should I find myself in similar circumstances, should I have a reason to hold a perilous converse with an enemy, well I knew that there were many and many a man living in the shadows as we did, who had no close allies or compatriots, but who would rely on those he could hire as necessary. Again, I could well imagine this man as one who had many connections and bargain-partners, but no close friends; who could abide his company joyfully?

How could Meredith abide him?

But that was of no matter now. What was of import was that this man, with his business clandestine, outside the law and likely outside propriety, could very well furnish to us what we had need of, in exchange for a task that was, indeed, well within our area of expertise. In truth, though I did not and never would be fond of him, still I would far more readily trust a rogue than an honest man, for an endeavor such as this; for as Lynch had asked me: am I not a pirate?

Brick held out his hand. “What d’you say?”

This time, I took his hand readily, and clasped it manfully. Said I, “We have an accord.”

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