Date: 27th of June, 1678
Location: Glass Palace
Conditions: Situation improving, but morale flags.
I stood before the man O’Flaherty had so basely stolen away. I did wonder if my quartermaster had not, in fact, taken a journeyman, or even an apprentice, rather than the master carpenter; he seemed very young, the skin of his face and hands smooth and unlined but for a youth’s blemishes, of the which he wore several. He was certainly fat enough to be wealthy, which might have brought O’Flaherty’s gimlet eye ‘pon him; Sean has ever had an itch to stab at men of wealth and quality wheresoever he finds them. He was certainly as terrified as any man I’ve ever seen, wide-eyed and sheened with sweat.
Damn your liver, Sean. How could I win this youth over now, to gain his willing assistance? I confess that for a moment I was tempted simply to follow O’Flaherty’s lead and compel the man with the strength of arms; but I will not put my ship’s fate into the hands of a fearful and desperate man. How can you trust the work of men you have pressed into service? We should have to drag him along with us, to compel any further repairs due to his slipshod work – or even sabotage – with an unending chain of threats against his life and well-being. I would not take this man from his home merely because I could not think of a better way to get what I need. I find I have no taste for stealing men away from their homes.
At least the first step to winning the man’s favor was obvious. I whistled up MacTeigue and ordered him to cut the man’s bonds at once, and fetch him a bottle of wine, if any were left. I held Owen for another moment, and whispered further orders in his ear: my cousin was to stay out of easy sight, but keep a close watch in case the man slipped away from me. I did not wish to compel his service, but I could not have him raising the alarm, perhaps bringing a militia or a troop of King’s men down on us.
I made use of the minutes whilst MacTeigue sought out refreshment to tender to the man the most humble and genteel apology I could compose. I pride myself on my apologies; they have kept many a colleen from drumming a beat ‘pon my pate with cookware, as Irish lasses are wont to do when they discover themselves members of a plurality, rather than the sole monarch of an Irishman’s heart. Ah, now, they say it takes a village to raise a child; I fail to see why a man cannot be so raised, as well. Parts of him, at least.
My final flourishes and bon mots flowered the air as MacTeigue returned with a bottle of clear golden wine; I swallowed a long draught to show there was no poison, and then handed it to my erstwhile guest. He took it with a shaking hand and took a sip, grimacing at the taste. I had found several of the Glass Palace’s vintages too sweet, as well, but this one was quite nice; perhaps he had a foul taste in his mouth before. MacTeigue shrugged and removed himself from sight. I sat and invited the man to do the same, the which he did following a moment of wary staring.
“I am Damnation Kane, captain of the ship Grace of Ireland.” I held out my hand to him, and after a pause – which is often occasioned by the first mention of my name – he met it with his own somewhat clammier hand. “Elliott Shluxer,” he told me then (I can but guess at the spelling of it, never having encountered the name before). “Where do ye hail from, Sir Shluxer?” I queried. “We live in The Hammocks,” he said (again, I am unsure of the writing of the name), taking a pull of his wine; its taste, like so many others, was improved with repeated applications. “And you are a carpenter, in truth?” I tried to keep my tone simple and friendly-like, but if his answer here were in the negative, he would shortly find himself clapped with a hand-full of Dominicans, and O’Flaherty would be walking home to Ireland.
After a moment, punctuated by several eyeblinks and the forming of a new sheen of sweat, the man said, “I guess, yeah. I mean, I work with wood.”
Well at least O’Flaherty didn’t attack a pig farmer.
“It is my fondest wish, Master Shluxer, that my compatriots’ overzealous introductions of your good self to our humble band will not destroy the chance that we might work together, you and I, and both be enriched by the experience.” Aye: many a colleen. They may be won by the line of one’s jaw, the turn of a calf, white teeth and a roguish smile – but they are kept by the tongue.
This man, for all that he lacked a grown man’s creased brow, or a working man’s physique, or, apparently, the brains of a schoolboy, still he was no colleen. “You guys are fucking nuts,” was his response to my sally.
I informed the man – politely, despite his tone, for I was determined to take no offense from his words, my own men having offered offense enough for all – that I was unfamiliar with this particular colloquialism. “You’re nuts, you’re all fucking crackpots. A bunch of crazy fucking lunatics,” he expanded.
“Ah,” I exclaimed, grasping his meaning, “you mean we are madmen.” I laughed at this. “Such was never in doubt, good squire. Nonetheless, I have sailed with many and many a madman afore this, and I have found that their gold spends as well as that of a man in full control of his senses.” I took a doubloon from my purse, then, and let him see its golden shine. “Sometimes,” I went on, and here I added a second bit of shine to my palm, “sometimes it even spends twice as well.” I grasped his wrist, turned up his palm, and placed my two most persuasive arguments therein with a gentle clinking.
Shluxer put down his wine bottle and looked at the coins. “Holy fuck,” he said, an oath I had never heard – and considering the scruples of most saints, including Our Lord and Savior, it was an oath I found rather puzzling. “Are these real?”
“Indeed they are, stout yeoman. And Spanish weight, not Irish, I assure you. For ’twas a Spaniard we liberated them from, along with many of their brethren formerly trapped in Spanish pockets.”
He looked up at me then, his mouth unfortunately hanging agape: unfortunate, for his physiognomy did not vouch to me proof of his competence and intelligence, nor even his comprehension of my words. “You’re giving me these?” he asked.
I resolved to speak slower, and perhaps a bit louder: I could discern the dirt in his ears from where I sat; perhaps his hearing was blocked by effluvia. Or perhaps it was his thoughts. “I am giving you those, and I will give you more of you will agree to work with me.” I accompanied these words with a brief pantomime of sawing and hammering, so my meaning would be clear, it was to be hoped. I gave my belt pouch a jingle, as well.
Shluxer wiped at his brow, and then pressed his hands into his eyes, like a man waking from an unlikely dream into an even more improbable reality. “I don’t fucking believe this,” he muttered. He stared at the coins once more, turning them to glance at the visage of King Phillip IV minted on one side. Then he took another pull at the wine bottle, and met my gaze at last. “What exactly do you want me to do?” he asked me.
I clapped him on the shoulder – perhaps a trifle too vigorously, as he lost his balance and needed to be uprighted, though he had certainly suffered a shock from O’Flaherty’s treatment which might explain his weakness – and rose to show him the task at hand. I guided him to the Grace, offered an introduction to my good friend Ian – who explained the provenance of his surname, a tale which generally wins a laugh, but garnered us merely a stupefied gaze and more doubts as to our guest’s mental capacity – and showed him the hole in the Grace’s hull, and the missing yardarm on the mainmast. He gazed into the hole for some minutes, looking as well at the stack of finished planks the men had placed nearby, the only intelligent acquisition they had made, as my present companion apparently possessed less wit than that same pile of wood.
To wit: “You want me to help you fix the hole,” he said then.
I nodded, slowly. “And replace the yardarm on the mainmast, and help make her water-tight and sea-worthy. Aye.”
“And you’ll pay me for it.”
Another slow, exaggerated nod. “At twice your going rate. Aye.”
He held up the doubloons. “In gold, like this.”
I shrugged. “Perhaps some silver. We generally have a fair motley of coins about us, considering their variegated sources.”
He blinked, and I sighed. “Yes. We will pay in gold.”
“That’s why you kidnapped me?”
I winced. I took a breath, ready to explain that the political realities of O’Flaherty’s rank despite his incompetence and rash judgment, but Ian stepped in then, smooth as cream.
“Of course we will offer you wergild for that offense against your honor, along with the apology you have already received from our generous captain.” This last part came with a glance my way, which met a nod; but Ian could be confident that I would have apologized, first because he knew me for a gentlemen of breeding, and second because he has frequently been apologizing to his own colleen even as I mollify mine. “Or perhaps you would rather have a boon, if there is some service we might offer,” Ian finished.
It was then that I first spied the crafty look come into the eyes of Elliott Shluxer. It was a look I would become most familiar with, to my deep regret. How much would have been easier for me, had I only paid more attention then! I should have known that such apparent imbecility was sure to be joined with a low, animal cunning, and the savage, wanton greed of a starving dog.
“A boon? Like a favor?” Something akin to a smile curved his lips. “What kind of a favor are we talking about here?”
Ian looked my way, unwilling to speak further in my stead. I smiled at the carpenter and raised my open palms. “We have a fine ship and a good crew, once we can set sail once more. We would be honored to transport yourself, or whatever goods you wished, to the destination of your choice. Even back to England, or Spain or France, perhaps.” Ian looked a question at me for this over-generous offer, but I ignored it. I would fill the hold with another man’s profit if it meant I could take my ship and my men home again. “Or we could lend the strengths of our arms and backs, if you need land cleared, or a barn raised or other such tasks.”
But this struck no spark of joy in the visage of our would-be carpenter. I tried again, my tone growing soft and shadowy, like the subject of this speaking – I would offer craft to this crafty man, if it would get my ship back on the water. “Then there are our more surreptitious skills, the which we could offer into your service.”
Shluxer seemed intrigued, and I went on. “Perhaps there are goods of some kind, that are wrongfully in the possession of another man: a situation we could easily remedy. Or,” and I laid a hand ostentatiously on the butt of my pistol, “perhaps there is a personage whose acquaintance you would like to un-make.”
A smile creased the greasy face of my new ally. “Whoa, shit! You guys – you’ll cap someone on my say-so?”
I had to blink at the wording, but how many meanings could there be in this conversation? I nodded, slowly so he would understand me. He did, and rubbed his hands together in unmistakable glee.
This is ever the way, it would seem. If you offer a man a generous profit, advancement for himself and his kin in your right hand – and vengeance, no matter how petty, in your left hand, ’tis always the second hand he’ll grasp in agreement. The sinister hand.
It was while Shluxer was considering his possible targets and I was pondering the chance that I would regret my offer – sadly a most likely occurrence, but what choice had I? – that I heard a voice call out “Captain!” I turned and stepped quickly toward the Palace, from whence the call came; young Lynch dashed out to meet me.
“Captain – it’s the Quartermaster, sir, and the Bosun. And Carter, and Gunner Moran, too. They’ve gone.”
I loosed an oath then that would strike my old granny dead, did she hear it from my lips. “Where have they gone?”
Lynch, who had stopped to admire my swearing, now turned grim once more. “They’ve gone to the Piggly Wiggly, sir. They’ve gone to steal grog.”