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.
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.”