Posts Tagged With: blackmail

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.

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

Log #70: Blackmail

Log

I am a fool.

I cannot now conceive of what madness struck me and persuaded me to trust Calhoun. Lynch, of course, had the right of it, and did not grant one iota of faith in that lying, mendacious blackguard; and so is Lynch innocent, both of folly, and of murder.

It is only we three, Kelly, Shane and myself, who are murderous fools.

After the slaughter, we returned to Dame Flanagan’s abode, Lynch opening the portal for MacManus and Kelly, though I am still barred from the house owing to my mistreatment of Meredith Vance. I laid my head in the beast-wagon, of course, as I have done these last many days; I kept my log, full of pride and vanity, and then slept the contented slumber of the victorious, of the righteous.

Until this morn, when I found that I had slept in the innocent oblivion of a fool for days; even though I have walked about, spoken, fought, struck devil’s bargains and, aye, committed more than one murder.

I discovered this in the late morning, near midday, when I was on the porch with my companions, plotting our course once we reach Bermuda, trying to determine how we would find our ship in that place, and how retrieve her. Lynch was within the house, pursuing I knew not what course. As we palavered thus, we were interrupted by the arrival of one Brick Calhoun, Bastard of Charleston. He arrived in a different beast-wagon than the decrepit tin-pot he had steered last night; this one was tall and shining like new silver, where it wasn’t lacquered a rich, gleaming black; the shape was more akin to a proper wagon, having a compartment for men near to the front and a long, low bed for cargo behind it. He came to a halt, making the beast growl – its voice was deeper and more powerful by far than the usual run of beast-wagons; this one made the window panes in Dame Flanagan’s house tremble as if in a storm blown down from the wintry north – and then he emerged, strutting, smiling, as if he had not a care in this world or the one after.

But he did bring cares for the rest of us, aye. Direful, woeful cares.

“Hey there, fellers,” he called out, with the bonhomie of a drunkard on New Year’s Eve, when every man will stand a drink for good luck’s sake. “How ye’all doin’ this fine and glorious Dixy-land day?” (I have not a single thought as to why he would call us fellers, which are, to my knowledge, woodsmen who fell trees. But there are many words that Calhoun uses, or misuses, and I do not understand why; so I have merely rendered his speech as I hear it.)

We three did glare at him in silence for some moments, proffering no further response to his greeting. “We have made a bargain with you, Calhoun,” quoth I, “but ‘twas neither for amicability nor hospitality, so press us not for civil intercourse with the likes of you.”

His smile vanished as I spoke, then slowly returned, like water seeping through a leak in a hull. “Shucks, I didn’t come here to press ye’all. Gnaw, I’m here to give you a present! A gift!” He removed a cell-phone from his pocket, showing it to us. “Ye’all want to see it? Take a look!” He touched the phone, tapping its glass face for some moments. Then he held it upright, the expression on his face one of eager anticipation.

It was a magic-window scene, and as such, something I did not wish to observe closely. I find that these magic windows give me a pain in my skull, and rarely if ever stand to a purpose beyond lies, vanity, and foolery for the sport of children. But I frowned and gazed into the glass in his hand, knowing that Calhoun would not come here without cause, and it behooved us to know what his intention was so that we might dismiss it, impede it, or permit it, as the case may be. Most like not the last, I did think. How little did I know.

It was a scene looked down upon from on high, as though we were cushion owners at a theatre, watching a performance from a rented box. There were four primary figures, all seemingly men, two pale and two dark of skin; one of the dark ones held his arm outstretched, pointing his finger – nay, it was a pistola – and speaking to the pale man, who held a sword –

The very moment I realized it, Kelly said, “Captain – it’s you!”

MacManus murmured, “It’s us,” and pointed towards the left side of the stone, where stood two men, farther away but still recognizable, largely because of Kelly’s size. When MacManus gestured, Calhoun drew the stone back, clearly not wishing MacManus to touch it; when MacManus dropped his hand, Calhoun thrust the stone closer to us once more, saying, “Look close, now. Don’t want to miss the good part.”

And we watched as I slashed the gun-toting dog’s wrist, and then hewed through the other’s neck. We could not see either the man above that Shane killed, nor the mighty stone that Kelly threw – that is, we watched him heft and hurl it, with a great shout, but not where it landed nor to what effect – but then the magic window turned, and we watched as we three slaughtered the men in the beast-wagon. Then it drew closer as I walked to the wounded dog, now lying on the ground, and I seemed just out of arm’s reach as I blinded the man and slew him with my blade. I looked back over my shoulder – at Calhoun, if I recall correctly – and then the window stopped moving, presenting a single image of my face, with the dead man lying on the ground behind me. Calhoun returned the glass to his pocket.

Gods. What have I gotten my men into? What have I done?

He held up one finger. “First thing: you boys need to know that I got friends, and they got copies o’ that there viddy-o. Anythin’ happens to me, they gone send it with your names an’ descriptions straight on to the police. So don’t be thinkin’ nothin’ ‘bout doin’ me like you done them fellers. Right?”

I exchanged a look with my men. We did not, if I may speak for them as well as for myself, understand all of what we had seen: we did not know how this magic window could see our past deeds as if they were occurring right now, nor if la policia would take our actions as murder, or a fair fight fairly won; nor if la policia could even find us, with but our names and descriptions. After all, the English have known my name, my ship, my face, for many a year, and still I had remained a free rover on the Irish seas; thus far we had known only the iron ships of the Guards of the Coast to be a formidable foe to us, and not the men of the city watch of Charleston. But we were all of us familiar with the ways of the blackmailer, the extortionist; ‘twas not often a stratagem between pirates, as we are not often protective of our good name and reputation in society; but we were not ignorant of the intrigues that happened in court and the like. I had no doubt that Calhoun would have made sure that his threats were both sincere and perilous before confronting us with them, knowing it would be the work of a moment for us to kill him where he stood. If he had learned nothing else from the killing last night, he would have learned that, having watched us butcher nine armed men like spring lambs.

“Aye,” I said to him, Kelly and Shane nodding beside me.

His arrogant face split into that impish grin. He held up another finger. “Second thing. I just gotta ask: does your arse hurt?”

I blinked my confusion, then shook my head. “Nay, we took no harm from the battle.”

Calhoun shook his head, and curled his two fingers back into his fist. “See, I would ha’ thought your arse would be burnin’ today. I mean, after I fucked that arse, and wrecked that arse – I’m surprised bein’ my bitch don’t hurt you none. But maybe after the shock wears off.” Then he laughed, long and loud and booming.

I mastered my temper by remembering my men. Just at this moment, I would fain have slaughtered this pig, and gone smiling to the gibbet for it – except I would not hang alone.

“What would ye have of us?” I asked him when his amusement fell to a pig’s snorts and grunts. “We’ve little money. Ah,” I said as it came to me then, “of course. We will move on and clear the field for ye to woo Meredith.” I started to turn and order my men to gather their belongings and weigh anchor, but Calhoun stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. It was all I could do to resist the urge to break his arm, but I was able to turn back to confront that grinning pig’s face.

“Hold on, now. That aint what this is about. Besides, Merry aint yours to give. Tell you the truth, if I wanted to take Meredith, there aint shit you could do to stop me.” He paused then, and after a moment raised his eyebrows. I realized he was awaiting some response from me, and so I nodded and gestured for him to go on. Perhaps he has the right of it; I have been enough of a fool over Meredith Vance, and I intend to stop dancing to her tune, any road. Saying this to the pig bothered my pride far less than the constant haranguing knowledge that I had given my men over to the grasp of this extortionist devil.

He smiled wide at what he saw as my capitulation, and then said, “Gnaw, I told you before, you go to that meetin’ with me, I’d see you get to Bermuda. I’m a man o’ my word, and so to Bermuda you go. But when you get there, see, there’s a thing ye’all’s gone do for me. Don’t worry,” he drew the Verizon-stone again and waggled it at us, “it aint nothin’ you didn’t already do nine times last night.” He put the cell-phone back into his pocket and turned away, laughing his booming pig-snort of a guffaw.

And then he ran face-to-face into Balthazar Lynch. Well, face-to-chest; Calhoun is my height, well above young Lynch, and twice the weight of the slender youth. But my man held his ground, and it was Calhoun who fell back from him, though from startlement, in the main. Lynch stared at him coldly. Calhoun cursed and reddened, his amusement curdled quickly into ire. He stepped close, looming over Lynch; and yet the lad backed away not an inch, not a step.

“You got somethin’ you want to say, you little shit?” Calhoun snarled, hands in white-knuckled fists. But the sly look was never far from his eyes, it seemed, and his gaze flickered back towards the three of us, his lip curling. “You didn’t see what I got on your boys, there. Want to look? See what it looks like to have three sets o’ balls in a vise?” He took out the cell-phone and waggled it – though he was careful to keep it out of Lynch’s easy reach, I saw. But Lynch did not react. His wintry stare remained frozen to Calhoun’s flushed face, which, I saw, was rapidly sallowing as the lad – no, as my man – stared him down, entirely without fear.

Then he spoke. “I follow my captain. He wishes to allow you to set our course for now, so be it. ‘Tis often the best way when facing a coward, and I will go where he wills it.” Lynch pointed at me, to show whose will he would follow. Then he tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. “But ere you leave, you will know this: if you make good on your threats, and doom my captain and my shipmates with whatever ye have on that ‘phone, then I will cut you open and feed your innards to the sharks while you watch.”

His face turning red once more, Calhoun grabbed for Lynch, but my man leaned back out of his grasp, and, with the speed of a hunting cat striking, he had a dagger drawn and the tip against Calhoun’s gut. Calhoun went still as a stump, and stand there for a moment, they did. Then Lynch said softly, “If they die, you die. Remember it.” He lowered the blade, stepped back and out of Calhoun’s path. The pig looked at him, then nodded, wiping his mouth. It was the nod of a man who recognizes an enemy; it held the assurance of enmity, Calhoun’s promise that he would find a way to best Balthazar Lynch, or die trying.

Lynch’s expression said clearly that he would die trying.

The pig looked back at the three of us – the weak-minded fools whom he had bested already – and his smile returned, his swagger with it. Ye gods, but I hate that I have given that verminous toad a reason to gloat. He strutted past Lynch without another glance, and swung up into his beast-wagon. He shut the hatch, brought the beast to life with a thunderous growl, and then pointed at me and called out, “I’ll be in touch, boys. Don’t go nowheres.” Off he roared.

Lynch turned to look at me, and I could not meet his eyes. There was but one man of worth in that place that day, and I could not bear the shame of it. It sickens me even now to write of it, to write of any of this. “Kelly, Shane,” I said, turning to them, seeing in their eyes the same humiliation I felt tearing at my gut, “Gather your gear. We be a danger to Dame Margaret’s house, now.” I turned halfway back, but could not bear to look at him to whom I now spoke. “Mr. Lynch,” I said, “I would ask that you stay, and bring us word from Calhoun when – when it comes.”

“Captain,” Lynch said then. He took a step toward me, reaching out with one hand.

I wish it had held the dagger, still. Perhaps I could have thrown myself upon it, regained some worth as a man. But his hand was empty.

“Nate?” he said.

I said nothing. I turned away. I skulked to my wagon-van, and then thought better of it. “Tell the Grables they have earned this wagon. They should take it and depart: there is naught else of value for them here.” I turned and looked at MacManus. “I will head east. Catch me up when you are equipped.” He nodded, and he and Kelly went inside, moving quickly but with heads low and shoulders bent.

Lynch reached me. He grabbed hold of my wrist. “Nate, wait,” he said.

I pulled my arm from his grasp. I’d have done it with force, perhaps cuffed the boy for his impudence, but I had not the authority to chastise him; not now. Nor the strength: the weight of my shame had exhausted me entirely. Without looking at him, I spake these words. “If ye wish to remain when we three sail to Bermuda, I do hereby set ye free of all oaths, all bonds of loyalty. They are nothing now but chains, that will weigh ye down, drag ye to the hellish depths where I writhe now. If ye will bear word to us, that is all I would ask. All I can ask of ye, now.”

“Nate, please!” he said, and I heard tears in his words.

I looked at him then, at his clear features, his large eyes now awash with salt drops. “Ye’re a good man, Balthazar,” I told him. “I am sorry that I am not.”

Then I walked away. Lynch let me go.

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