Posts Tagged With: danger

Log #75: Deadly Damn Diary

October 3

Dear Diary,

 

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

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

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

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

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

He had blood on his face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Brick.

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

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

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

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

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

That murderer Kane is the wolf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log #65: Damn Diary

Written on the Nineteenth Day of September

To Captain Damnation Kane

 

The first and most vital news that we must share is that the ship is well. She rests at anchor in a private cove on the north side of the island of Bermuda. She has two new owners: one, an old, old friend, seeks to make the return journey home, whatever scourges of Hell might step in his way. The other, a local man of erudition and influence similar to your mother’s, admires her work with the Grace, and wishes to know her secrets so that he might make them a part of his own repertoire. He would be deeply gratified to make your acquaintance.

The men are well, though Ray Fitzpatrick met with an unfortunate accident. He was asked to fill in for you, being, so he said, near and dear to your own heart; in the end, however, he fell short of the mark. It is in the blood, you know, the gift of true command which you have, which enables you to get the most from your ship; one without your blood, even though he may wish to play the hero, simply cannot find success, and may pay the ultimate price of failure. Perhaps one closer to your gifts – your blood, as we say – may have more success, and take up your mantle and proper place aboard.

We do not know that this missive will find you well, though we hope for the best; communication is limited, for we are well-protected by many stout Englishmen of the sort you can no longer find easily these days, along with the penetrating and far-seeing eye of our new master, the local fellow. He does have strong ties to the community, and a loyal following on this island that is his home.

We are unfamiliar with the workings of the local mail service – it seems that one cannot simply ask a passing traveler to bring a letter to an acquaintance at a certain destination and have it passed hand to hand; rather there is some official coterie of messengers who carry all mail for a fee; but it must be posted properly, by a system with which we are unfamiliar; and so we are entrusting the missive to a local lad, a likely fellow, who is the only visitor we get in our secluded new surroundings; we will give him this letter, addressed to you in care of Monsieur Claude Navarre, whose place of residence is known to us, along with sufficient funds to post it and extra money for his trouble; we warned him specifically not to break the seal, but we’re sure it will reach you unread – trustworthy as a Puritan, this boy is, we deem.

We do hope this letter finds you well, and in pleasing company. We urge you to find your way to visit us at your earliest convenience; this place reminds us strongly of Clear Island, the place we visited when last we were in Ireland. But we need you to bring the celebration to life, as we all hope to do.

 

Praying for our coming reunion,

We remain your loyal friends,

Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn

 

***

 

 

this is my log

i wil keep it on my phon

Captin keeps a log all the tym and heeryts down all that hapins tho heeryts betir thanmee

but i wil get betir

ihava phon

chester help mee somuch hee is sosmart the croo laf at peepil heer at americas becuz they ar weak and they doo fools acts but nun of us kan reed or ryt but for Captin and mayt and sirjin von but chester kan reed and ryt and he nose all of the phon and internet and apps

hee help mee hee put apps on my phon my first reed no reader and my first speller and my first math and hee sho mee how to yuz my phon and how to read and look at internet and maps and ryt signuls to him in messages sirjin von was to teech me my letirs but wee had no tym on the Grace to lern so i do not no much

but i wil lern now with my phon and chester is help

i wil mayk Captin prowd uv mee

Captin cum too tahk too mee then hee sleep in van with mee last day i say i luv him hee say hee luv mee then he sleep nextoo mee i did not cloz my iyz al nyt i was so hapee

log

Captin try to tayk my phon he make mahk of mee hee say i look at phon toomuch

i doo it for yoo Captin al for yoo for yoo for yoo

hee make me angery

log

i think Captin is not al a good man.

wee herd noyziz from beehyn wall of angery and vilens. man hit wooman and shee cry.

Captin doo no thing.

i help i hit man hoo hit woman. i beet him i put him owt.

shee is good wooman her name is mindy.

we tahk for owrz.

i tel her abowt Captin and say i do not no if hee is good man.

shee say shee think her man is a good man and then hee is not shee say thay kan bee 1 thing then 1 other thing and not fursthing then go bak to fursthing sum tymz or not never agin.

i say i hayt wen Captin acts wurs than i no he is.

mindy smyl and say yu hav a crush on him.

i do not no wut shee meenz.

shee ask if i luv him.

i say i doo.

i cry. i doonot no wy i cry i never cry never never but shee is so good and i doonot hav anee frenz no 1 too tahk too.

shee hold me wyl i cry shee say it is o k it is good to luv and shee say i am good becuz i help her wen shee need help and i do not ask for no thing bak so the man i luv must bee good too she is shur.

i spent the nyt with her wee tahk al nyt.

shee is my fren.

mindy and chester are my frenz. i have frenz.

mindy noz my seecret. shee say shee new ryt off shee say shee duzint no wy the men doo not no. wy the Captin duz not see mee and no. i doo not no. i thot i hyd good but mindy new. thay ar smartir than us.

so may hap shee is ryt and Captin is good man becuz i luv him. may hap i luv him becuz hee is good man so shee say.

i say to mindy i try to lern the phon and read and ryt to be good enuf for Captin.

shee say i must do it for mee i must bee betir for mee.

shee is veree smart.

i wil do it for mee.

 

***

 

September 20

Dear Diary,

Jeez, two weeks since I wrote in you? So much for my decision to keep a log. Well, hell, it’s not like anything has happened worth writing about. What do I write on an average day? “Ate food, did yoga, cleaned house, flew plane, slept.” Multiply that by fifteen, and I’m all caught up. I don’t know how that guy did it – what was his name, the one in Merry Olde England who kept a diary every day for like fifty years? Pepper? Pepsi? Whatever.

Nothing interesting has happened since he left.

Shit. Now I’m too depressed to write what I was going to write, which wasn’t even interesting in the first goddamn place.

 

September 23

That’s it. I am never flying tourists for Jerry Rampaneau again. I don’t know what it is about that guy, maybe he finds all his clients through the Dirty Old Men Network, but I get my ass pinched every time! I know that’s why that pig Jerry calls me for his charters, because he likes it when I duck under the wing or bend over for the wheel blocks, but why is it that every tourist he sells has to have crab hands?

And then I have to look at their wives, and see the expressions on their faces, and the way they look at me, and at their pig-husbands laughing with Jerry Rampaneau while they speculate about the color of my goddamned pubic hair. UGH! Next time I’m throwing them out of the plane!

No. There won’t be a next time, because NEVER. AGAIN.

I hate having red hair. And I hate men.

Yes, Diary. Him too.

 

September 25

Have to rush – had to lie to Nana to avoid blind date she wants to fix me up with, so I have to dress and go out for pretend date. Melly will meet me at Watermark. I don’t know how I’ll manage to keep Nana from fixing me up with whatever grandson of whatever old friend she’s been talking to about her poor spinster granddaughter – I swear, Diary, she has more friends than a Baptist church has Amens! And every one of them has some cross-eyed half-bald slack-jawed hillbilly of a grandson whom I should be interested in because he goes to church and visits his grandmaw every Sunday. My LORD, Nana!

Just had to write down the good news on the Never Again for Jerry Rampaneau front: I’ve got a line on a job that has possibilities. It looks like I’ll be flying a surveying team over the coast to look for storm damage after Irene. That’s right, Di-Di: government work. HALLELUJAH! If this flight goes well, maybe they’ll call me for the next one. Maybe this job will run long! What do they care? It’s not their money!

I MAY GET SOME GOVERNMENT WASTE!

God bless America.

***

 

FuckshitfuckFUCKshitfuck oh, shit, oh fuck. FUCK!

Shit. SHIT!

Why did I have to go there. Why tonight. Why now!

Why did he have to be there, oh Lord, oh Lord, please, please help me. Please don’t – don’t bring this down on me. Please, God. Oh, please. Not him.

Not Brick.

 

September 26

Well, I suppose that’s what I get for praying to God. After all, that bastard took Granpa Ray away from Nana, and he killed Mama and Daddy. And he made that devil from Hell, Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun.

Now he brought me back Damnation Kane.

Don’t get me wrong, Di-Di: I am so very glad to see him again. But –

Oh, Lord. He drove up in a van, a white van, one I’ve never seen before, and when it came to a stop in front of the house and that side panel door slid open before the engine turned off – my heart just stopped! I was so sure, SO sure, that Brick and his fucking hillbilly white trash buddies were coming for me, and they were going to take me away and chain me by the ankle to a wood-burning stove in the kitchen of some tarpaper shack with no electricity in the Ozarks so Brick could – breed me – until he got shinnied up and beat me and his rape-babies to death just like his daddy did to his family. Oh my Lord, I was so sure that van was bringing my horrible death.

And then he jumped out. Smiling. And oh, Di-Di, he was so beautiful, it was like sunrise on the ocean. And he swept up the walk, took me in his arms, and kissed me.

Then I slapped him.

I think I probably shouldn’t have slapped him.

I mean, Di-Di, he was absolutely taking liberties. With my lips, my body, I can’t believe he whirled me around like that! He did! He came bounding up the walk, and all I could see was his eyes, burning right down to the heart of me and then into it – and I did not tell him he could look at me like that, I did not invite him into my soul

Is that where he is?

I think he might be. God, he can’t be. He can’t.

But then the next thing I know is he’s right at the top of the porch steps, and his arms are around me and he spins me around and tips me backwards! And all I could do was grab onto his shoulders and hold on for dear life, with my heart pounding away in my throat, sounding like a helicopter in my ears, my God! So fast! I didn’t know my heart could beat that fast and not burst out of me and go screaming down the street with smoke coming out of its ventricles! And then, with me falling backwards except for my arms around him and his around me, he leans his head down and kisses me. Hard. Not angry-hard, but – I can still feel my lips tingling. Not quite bruised, they don’t hurt, but – soft and scared and wide-eyed is how my mouth feels, and thinking about it makes me want to race outside right now and jump on him, and make him feel like a scared virgin on Prom night. My god! It’s not like that was the first time I’ve been kissed!

It felt like the first time I’ve been kissed.

And so then I slapped him. Well, first he swung me upright and let me go. I almost think the slap was half to get my balance back, like putting your hand on something solid to steady you, since the whole – well, the whole me – was quivering and weak as a willow tree. So then I slapped him, and hard, and he went stiff and tense, and his eyes flashed, and I wouldn’t want him angry with me (except in just the right circumstances), but then one of his friends – they were cheering when he was kissing me, did I say that, Di-Di? Like fratboys at a strip club. Though I didn’t hear them at first, while he was kissing me. I didn’t hear anything but my heart beating. But when he stopped, one of his friends said something in some foreign language I didn’t recognize at all, and first he looked mad at his friend, but then he stepped back and, I swear to God, he bowed, and said, “I beg your kind forgiveness, my lady. That was ungallant.”

So what did I do? Did I throw myself at him for Part Two of that kiss? Did I stand tall and aloof in my icy-cold dignity? Did I smile and accept his apology and give him one back for the slap, which I totally didn’t even mean to do, except he had me all twisted up between happiness and outrage and lust and – and fear!

Oh, God. Brick. Shitfuck.

No, I ripped into him like he was a teenager egging Nana’s house on Halloween. I think I started with “How dare you,” and it went downhill from there. I mean, he deserved some of it. Because he left weeks ago, and we didn’t make any promises then, and what if there was somebody in my life and that kiss got me in trouble through no fault of my own? Especially with how I responded to it, which was completely involuntary, entirely out of my control.

And as I’m saying all these things, these terrible things – well, some of them just true and right – and he’s just standing there, taking everything I can throw at him, all of a sudden here comes Nana descending on me like the wrath of God. She gives me an ear full – no, both ears full – of my failure to provide proper Southern hospitality for our friends.

She was absolutely right, and I apologized. And he did, too, which raised him back once more from the depths of my hatred. But I couldn’t stay there with him, not with sixteen tons of mortification hanging off of me, and Nana still breathing fire, Southern Belle fire which is the worst because she would have to hide it from our guests, and so she wouldn’t do her usual explosion of righteous fury, and instead she would just smolder white-hot all day and spend hours giving me evil looks and whispering little digs whenever she passed me with the coffee service or the tray of snacks.

No, thank you. I went to work, to get everything ready for the government charter tomorrow.

Nana doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know about Brick.

She doesn’t know that Brick Calhoun has just been released from prison, for the second time, after a three-year sentence for drug possession. (And unless my math is wrong, he got out before three years were up – and what the fuck, South Carolina Corrections? Don’t even try to tell me he got out for good behavior. Not Brick.) She does not know that he got his nickname – of course he was just called Beau in high school – after he beat another drug dealer almost to death with a brick, for which he was given his first time in prison, a five-year sentence up in Turbeville for aggravated assault.

Nana does not know that Brick Calhoun has been stalking me since our senior year, when he decided that I should be his gal, and didn’t let little things like the fact that I have loathed him since the day we met stand in the way of his obsession with me.

Now he’s out, and unless he has changed, he’s already driving by the house to keep tabs on me. He’s tried to scare off my boyfriends in the past, and he’s done it, more than once.

I wish he could scare me off, and I could just leave and he would leave me alone. But I don’t get to be scared off. I just get to be scared.

I do not know what would happen if Brick met Damnation. I do know how Brick would react if he had seen Nate kissing me like that on the front porch: he’d go get a brick. Or maybe a sawed-off shotgun.

I can’t tell Nate. He will try to rescue me, and either he will end up dead, or he will kill Brick and get himself sent to prison, and no sir, not for me, not in this life.

I can’t tell Nana, or she will go to the police, and I can’t go to the police because Brick has tons of friends on the Charleston police force. He played football with half of them or with their sons, and three-quarters of them think he’s a hero because that dealer he almost killed is black and a bad man in his own right. Brick is no kind of vigilante hero, he beat that man because he wanted to take over his drug territory, but he told the police it was because the man sold heroin to his baby sister, and so the police all love him for what he did. He wouldn’t have served time at all except he gave that man brain damage and his family called in the NAACP, who pressured the DA into pressing charges and making them stick – and even then it should have been ten years or more for attempted murder. But if I or Nana went to the police, they would smile indulgently and pat me on the shoulder and ask why don’t I just go out for a nice drink with Brick? After all, I need a man, don’t I? Purty lil thang lahk me?

God damn all good ole boys. I hope they all go to Hell and get raped by the Devil.

There is only one place where I am safe from Brick, and that is in the sky. I will get more work after this government charter ends – I will fly every day with Jerry Rampaneau and let him pinch my ass every hour on the hour – and I will stay away from home for as long as it takes until Brick goes away, loses interest in me or goes back to prison, whichever comes first.

I know it isn’t a good plan, Di-Di. But I don’t know what else to do.

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

Log 12: O’Flaherty’s Comeuppance

(Continued)

“What, in the name of Satan and all the saints he’s burning, have ye done, O’Flaherty?”

That’s what I asked the man, and a right fair question it was. But the man was standing on his pride – or perhaps believed that I was – and he objected to the manner of my speech. Perhaps he had expected laurels on his brow, huzzahs shouted for his triumph. Bah!

…But perhaps I should have spoken him more gently.

His chest swelled and jaw clenched as his brow lowered in anger. “Ye had best not speak so to me, Cap’n. We’re not aboard ship, and this is no’ battle. I be your equal –”

I cut him off with an impolite gesture. “Ah, belay that quartermaster shite, ye bilge-brained mongrel. We have no time for it. Think you this is not battle? We are in the greatest danger of our lives, every second. And you have made it worse, you daft idiot!” Perhaps I regained some of my wits, then, for I hesitated for a moment and then looked around at all the men hearing this. I had not meant to shame O’Flaherty with such a public comeuppance. I beckoned him towards the staircase, and the room above, which I had claimed as my quarters.

But he refused. “Nay, Cap’n,” he spat. “Let all the men hear what ye have to say, and respond as they have a mind to, aye. If this be a proper pirate ship, and we be of the Brotherhood, then all the men aboard have the right.” He stepped closer and asked quietly, “Or do they not, Captain?” Again he spat out my title like a bit of underdone potato.

I recognized this speech. It was this philosophy, what O’Flaherty claimed was the Pirate’s Code, which gave him equal standing on what had been my ship. Before his coming aboard, the men had all been loyal to me as their captain, as knights to their liege lord, as warriors to their clan chief, as it has ever been on Irish ships. O’Flaherty was behind the conceit that the men should choose their leaders, that they should vote, that every man’s voice should be equal; and that the men should choose not only their captain, but also their Quartermaster, equal in authority to the captain in all things but battle. Truth be told, I allowed it because others of my men – Donal Carter, Shane MacManus, Padraig Doyle, my own cousin and gunner’s mate Hugh Moran, and some that did not live to reach these strange shores, Ian Duffy who was my steersman, Albert Donovan and his brother Tiernan, and Colin Fitzpatrick, gods rest their souls – all of them fine sailors and brave warriors – they took his words to heart. Had I not granted O’Flaherty what he sought and let the men vote for their captain and quartermaster, let them write and sign Articles governing our ship and crew, I feared those men would leave the ship, and the heart of my crew would go with them, before the voyage even began. But I did allow it, and they did stay – thankfully choosing me unanimously as captain, which vote having gone otherwise would have occasioned a very different and much less civil conversation about my ship and the owning of her. We had a fine voyage after that day, even with O’Flaherty as Quartermaster and his Code ruling our ship – our ship that had been my ship. And several other fine cruises since then; until now, of course. O’Flaherty’s Code did make the men feel stronger, more as though they chose this life, this ship, and myself as their captain. Men should know that they choose their own destiny, and I could not but approve of that, and the great fondness the men gained for my fair Grace, since all felt some ownership of her.

But here is the truth: the Grace of Ireland is my ship. I commissioned her, I gave her specifics to Master Spaulding, the shipbuilder in Cork; I paid for her with the legacy my family granted me on my twenty-first birthday, with the money I had saved serving on other men’s vessels, leading trade voyages for my mother and our clan, sailing on raids against the British, the Welsh, even the Spanish and the French and the Moors of Algiers. When even that was not enough, I paid with shares in the Grace’s future plunder, on which I made good for two years before the accounts were closed. I captained her on her maiden voyage, when I and my crew – without O’Flaherty and that apish bastard Burke – cruised through the Irish Sea and lightened half a dozen English vessels before we escaped the King’s ships and returned home, safe and sound. I was the sole commander for four years after that, too, and a grand time it was, aye; until O’Flaherty and Burke came aboard with their tales of the Caribbean and the Brotherhood of the Coast, three years ago. It had been near two years since O’Flaherty had convinced us to adopt Articles and cast ballots for the ship’s captain and quartermaster.

It was time I took back command of my ship. Past time.

So I agreed to O’Flaherty’s demands, and gathered all the men into a circle on the beach before the Grace. As they found places to stand or sit in the sand, I saw that they had brought O’Flaherty’s prisoner with them; I ordered that he be allowed to stay and listen, as this concerned him near as much as it did the rest of us. I wanted him to see what manner of men had taken him captive, and into whose hands he should trust his keeping.

As soon as O’Flaherty, who had been a-whispering with Burke, joined me in the center of the circle, I asked him, “Who is the captain of this ship?” and I pointed at the Grace.

“You are,” he said. “But –”

I did not give him the opportunity to but his buts; I stepped to where Ian O’Gallows stood, his thumbs in his belt by his weapons. “Who is the captain of that ship?” I asked him loudly.

“You are, Captain Kane, sir,” he responded sharply, without the breath of hesitation that O’Flaherty had taken. Ian’s eyes roved over the men as he said, “You are captain of the ship and her crew – you and no other man, sir.” This last he directed at O’Flaherty.

Though warmed by his loyalty, I did not give him the gratitude he deserved, but stepped to the man beside Ian in the circle: it was Robert Sweeney, one of the younger men aboard, and one much in awe of O’Flaherty’s tales and in fear of Burke’s chains – though a good and loyal man, for all that. He hesitated a moment, and cleared his throat when I put the question to him, though I believe his hesitation to be due to nervousness rather than mutinous thoughts. He said, “You are, sir.” He cast his eyes down after he said it.

They all responded with those words, as indeed they should. Even Burke, though he stared at me for better than a minute, and sneered when he named me captain of my own vessel. But Burke’s insubordinate nature is no surprise; I was more concerned by the number of other men who hesitated before answering. Some even glanced at O’Flaherty before they gave their response. But give it they all did, all naming me; after Burke’s belabored answer, I stepped smartly back to where O’Flaherty stood with arms crossed and lips pressed tight together with ire. Still I did not allow him time to speak. “There ye have it. I am the captain – I and no other.”

He nodded. “Aye-aye, and aye once more, Nate. But if I were to ask them all who be the Quartermaster of this ship, what then?”

I softened my tone then. I needed O’Flaherty, and Burke, and all the hesitant men. I could not drive them away from me, not now, not here. But when we return to Ireland, and I can find a good, loyal, Irish crew . . . I will not forget who hesitated in answering my question. Not even my cousin Hugh, damn him.”They would say you, Sean,” I answered O’Flaherty. “And they’d be right to do so.”

I turned and addressed the men. “None of us knows where we are. The Dominicans called it Florida, and Miyammy, and America, but all I know is that it is not our beloved Ireland. We are far off the edge of the charts, lads.

“Ye all know, as I do, that the greatest danger we face on a voyage is not the British, and not famine, nor plague, nor even fire in the hold. The greatest danger is losing our way.” I paused then, and a few of the older men nodded. I continued. “If we cannot find our way home, then nothing else has consequence: not our courage, nor our strength, nor the weight of plunder in our holds and our pockets. If we have water, and food, and a fair wind and clear skies – but we do not know where we are nor where we are heading – we have nothing. For the water will run out, and the food; and the clear skies will turn to black storms; and all of these things may be repaired. But without a location and a destination, we will do nothing but wander. What good then the wealth in our purses?” I looked at O’Flaherty. “What good then the code we follow, or the title we claim?”

I turned back to the men. “Now, I’ve been caught in a fog that the sun did not dry up. Of course I have: I’m Irish.” They all laughed at that; no Irish sailor is innocent of fog. “I was caught in one on the Gaelic Tiger, under Silas McNulty, that lasted better than seven days before the wind rose and blew it away. Seven days, becalmed in a gray world without sky, without horizon, without land in sight.” MacTeigue, who had been with me on that voyage, added his voice and memory to mine – as did Donal Carter, I was glad to see, for all that his hesitancy had been second only to Burke’s before he named me captain but moments ago. I went on. “We had no idea how long it would last, no idea how close we may have been to rocks, or to British ships, or to a storm that would put us on the bottom. We had no idea if we were sailing closer to home, or farther away. It seemed the very air had no breath to sustain us, after a while. Every morning, we’d wake and hope to see the sea and sky and sun – and every morning it was naught but more gray. That was the most frightened I’ve ever been at sea, I don’t mind telling you lads.

“Until this voyage. Until this day, right now.” I paused, to let them think on my words. In the usual course of events, I would never admit to my men that I felt any fear, or that I had the least doubt as to our course, our destination, or the wisdom of our actions. But this day was not in the usual course of events. We were off the map in more ways than one, and they knew it. If I said aught else, I’d lose them, too. “We are lost, and badly lost. We do not know our way home, and what’s worse, we do not know how to find our way home. In Irish seas, the compass, or even one glimpse of the sky, could tell us which direction was East, and we could sail to Europe and then from wherever we struck, we could find our way home. But if we sail East now, what will we strike? Is the compass even true, now? Are we even on the seas of the Earth we know? What dangers lie out there – only the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch? The Devil’s Lash? Or something more? Be there dragons and demons, Scylla and Charybdis?

“We are in the gravest peril we have ever faced, right now, and every minute until we can point the bow of our ship – our ship – toward home. Graver even than when we had the Sea-Cat hard on our stern.”

I rounded on O’Flaherty once more. “Do ye recall, Sean, whose counsel led us into Hobbes’s trap? Who led to the deaths of thirteen men, the wounding of three more?” I watched him redden, but he held his tongue. I did not. “Aye, and whose plan was it to put the Devil’s Lash right atop us, and killed another sixteen of our brothers?” I hurried past that, as I did not want O’Flaherty reminding them who had ruined that attempted ambush with an unfortunate cry of alarm. “We seem to be in or near the Caribbean, Sean – ye have named the flora and the fauna, and the sands and seas match your tales of the Indies. Do ye know, then, where we are? Can ye lead us to safety?”

A moment’s fierce glare, and then O’Flaherty dropped his gaze to the sand at my feet.

I stepped to him, clasped his shoulder warmly. “Ye be a fine quartermaster, Sean, and the only man I’d want as my second in command.” I felt sure my friend and mate – and true choice for second – Ian O’Gallows would know and forgive this lie. “But you have not been plotting the best course. Not on this voyage.” I pointed at the bewildered man kneeling beside Burke, the one whose help we needed desperately, and whom they had taken hostage and scared witless. “Not this day. Ye should not be in command.” I stepped even closer, my nose a mere handspan from his. “And you are not. We are still in battle, even now, even here: we fight for our very lives. We fight our own ignorance, and our own rash impulses, like the thrashings of a drowning man, which just make him sink all the faster. If we make one wrong step, we will all of us die. That is battle. And so long as we are in battle, your own Code, and our ship’s Articles, signed by every man here and many who have fallen, say that I am in command – I and no other.” My grip on his shoulder turned hard. “Until we are home, you will do what I say, and only what I say. Until we reach Ireland.” I put my other hand on the grip of the pistol in my sash. I whispered, “And if ye say anything right now other than ‘Aye, Captain,’ I’ll spill your heart’s blood on this ground.” I clapped him on the shoulder, stepped back, and waited, hand on my pistol.

“Aye, Captain,” O’Flaherty said loudly. Then he whispered, for my ears alone, “Until Ireland.”

I nodded, and smiled wide. “Until Ireland.”

“UNTIL IRELAND!” Ian roared, and the men all yelled with him. But I saw Carter, and Burke, and Hugh Moran casting glances, one to the other and back. I admit I longed for home, then, with every scrap of me. As if there is not enough to beware, I must needs watch my own men?

There is no greater gift, no more valuable possession, than loyalty.

I dispersed the men back to their tasks and stations then. I was irked to see Burke, Carter, Moran, and O’Flaherty gather and mutter together. But I must convince them, for I cannot control them – they are free men. I will be sure to speak of O’Flaherty’s several mistakes in Carter’s hearing, and wax poetic on the ties of family near my cousin Hugh.

I may have to watch for a chance to put a blade in Burke. Naught else will sway him.

But speaking of O’Flaherty’s mistakes: now I must deal with his latest.

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Log #10: A Magic Window and Food from the Pig

Captain’s Log #10

Date: 27th of June

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Ominous

 

I can no longer trust O’Flaherty.

I have never warmed to the man; his introduction of the position of Quartermaster, a Caribbean invention with no place on a good Irish ship, and his near-instantaneous assumption of that position, were close enough to mutiny to have him strung to the yardarm and shot in the belly on many another ship. But I always knew that his intentions toward the ship and crew were only for their benefit, and his decisions, while often counter to my own conceits and predilections, and sometimes deserving of the name Rash, still they were ever reasonable.

Until now. Now I can only name him a fool and pray he hasn’t doomed us.

But I must needs tell all.

I must not fail to record Vaughn’s discovery. His investigative methods may deserve to be called foolish and rash as well as O’Flaherty does; I remain unconvinced that he had sufficient reason to go prodding about the magical implements of the Palace and its absent mistress, and as my orders expressly forbade any interaction with any unrecognizable object, Vaughn might be called mutinous as well. But there is nothing of ambition in that man – not for anything but knowledge, any road. If Vaughn crept up behind me on my poop deck and shot me in the back, I know he would have intended it as a scientific experiment: studying the trajectory of the ball, perhaps, or observing the natural reactions of a pirate captain upon being shot in the back. His goal would only be publication in his Royal Society, the approbation of Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke; he would offer me a share of that same recognition as recompense as I lay dying. All he thinks of is science and curiosity and discovery; his presence on this ship owes much to that singularity of purpose, and how it has blinded him to practical considerations in his past. But that is another tale.

This tale begins three turns of the glass after my two expeditions had set off: O’Gallows to the north seeking food, O’Flaherty south-west after lumber and carpenter. I was examining Moran’s gun emplacement – a nice piece of work, that; I gain more confidence in my cousin’s ability and foresight with each task I set him, and of course his loyalty has ever been beyond question – when Lynch came running along the strand, calling out for me with an excitement that bordered on hysteria. I saw at once that though there was some fear in his eyes and in the shivering of his youthful voice, wonder glowed in his smile, and so I ordered him to stop and take deep breaths until I was finished with Moran. Though I did hurry then, to compliment Moran on his work, and order more powder and shot carried out to his emplacement, and I did run back to the Palace with Lynch cleaving to my heels all the way.

As I came into the Palace, I was greeted with a fanfare, a flourish of trumpets fit for a king: as flattering as it was mysterious, if I may say. From whence did it come? We have no horns, nor men who know their playing. As I was about to call out to Vaughn for an explanation, my sight adjusted to the dim interior after the bright sunlight without, and I saw the surgeon, and behind him the reason for Lynch’s wonder.

The magic window was alight.

In it I saw an image of madness: it appeared to be grown men running around in their underclothes, which were as brightly colored as any noblewoman’s ball gown, chasing after a child’s ball, which they kicked, and hit with their foreheads and threw themselves on the ground after. The image kept changing so rapidly that I fast grew dizzy and had to look away, just as I heard a tremendous cheer as if the king had just stepped onto the field, perhaps wearing bright red smallclothes and kicking a ball.

I turned to Vaughn, who was rapt. “Vaughn,” I said, but he did not respond. “Vaughn,” I repeated louder. Nothing. With a crewman I should have struck him or shouted my loudest in his very ear – but my surgeon was a fellow ship’s officer, and more gentleman than all the rest of us. I placed my hand on his arm and said, “Llewellyn?” Then he turned to me.

He nodded slowly. “Yes, Captain.”

“How?” I asked, gesturing at the window, which now showed horses splashing through a mountain stream. He held up the flat, knobbed wand which I had seen in the hands of the sorceress. I grew somewhat irate.  “My orders were clear: nothing mysterious is to   be – “

Vaughn cut me off with an impatient gesture. I swallowed my words. If O’Flaherty’s insubordination and foolishness have been good at all, sure they have taught me patience and forbearance.

The Welshman held out the wand, and I saw there were perhaps three dozen knobbly protrusions, pearly gray projecting from the black wand. As I looked close, I saw that there were words written on the wand beside each protrusion, in white – words and numbers. Vaughn pointed to one knobbly bit at one extreme of the wand: On/Off, it said.

“I pressed that one. None other. Observe.” He pointed the wand at the window and mashed his finger on the protrusion.

The window went dark.

He pressed it again, and the window returned; now it showed a group of people eating something fried in oil, and laughing as they ate.

“It was too clearly labeled to do anything other than what it did. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“You don’t know that, Llewellyn. It could have brought a trap On, or raised an alarm. It could have turned off the very sun, for all you knew.”

He looked at me for a moment. “But it did not.”

As I began to speak again, the fanfare played once more, shattering my thoughts. I turned back to the window. The letters “BBC News” unfurled across the face of the glass, along with a strange sketch or perhaps a carving, a frieze or bas-relief of what might have been the world, but – then it was gone, and a man was telling me, “Welcome back.” He continued on before I could respond, and though he seemed to speak directly to me, his words descended rapidly into madness, nonsense. But as I turned to Vaughn for any clarification his sharp mind might offer me, he pointed wordlessly back to the window.

Over the man’s shoulder was a map, which after a moment I recognized: it was Ireland, and England there below it. It was home. What was the man saying? Something about Euro – perhaps Europa? Receding, or recessing, and austerity. And – was that “pounds?” British pounds?

Was he speaking of treasure? Perhaps a prophecy?

I opened my mouth to ask Vaughn’s opinion; when there was the snap of a flintlock, the crash of a pistol charge from behind us. The magic window coughed and spat fire, bright white like falling stars flashing across its face and out through the hole that appeared in the middle of it: a hole the size and shape of a pistol ball. The window went black and dead, small plumes of smoke floating up from its broken face.

Vaughn and I turned slowly to the door, from whence the shot had come.

O’Grady lowered his arm, his hand shaking. His eyes bulging from his reddened face, his teeth set in his lower lip, the corners of his mouth flecked with foam: he looked like a madman. I thought, Perhaps madness is why he fired a pistol at his captain’s back.

It was apparent that he intended no more than the destruction of the magic window, and so the pistol which had leapt into my hand went back into my sash. I stepped slow and calm to O’Grady; his eyes flicked back and forth between myself and the magic window he had shot. As I reached out and took the pistol from him, slipping it from his fingers without the slightest resistance, his attention focused on me. He shook his head, slowly.

“It is evil, Captain. Evil. ‘Tis Satan’s work, I’m sure. I’m sure! It must be! I be a good, God-fearin’ man, Captain, and I cannot abide it. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live – ‘”

I cut him off with a blow to his ear, followed by a ringing slap to the other cheek. I will not listen to hypocrites quoting from their holy book, citing scripture to their purpose. I will not hear that statement again, whether it is my father speaking of my mother, or one of my pirates speaking of this fey place. Never again.

O’Grady looked daggers at me for the insult to his honor, but a moment of my own stare wilted him like water poured over stiff canvas. I held my stare while his sank down past my chest, past my belt, down to the ground under my feet. I reached out and tapped him in the chest with his pistol’s barrel, so he would look at my face, and know what I said – the man reads lips. Then I spoke slowly, but quietly, as he could not hear me in any case. “Firing a gun behind your captain’s back may be seen as mutiny, Abram. I could have you hung for it.” I paused, but he said nothing – and so perhaps saved his miserable life, as I was not much in the mood for argument. “Perhaps I should have you hung.”

He shook his head slowly, his face pale but his jaw set. “It’s the Devil’s work, sir. You said it yourself when we arrived here, I know you did. We are in Hell, sir.” His eyes came back up to mine, and they were fierce once more. “It is a test, sir. A test. We must not use what is placed before us. We must not surrender to the illusions of the Tempter! Knowledge was what he offered Adam and Eve, sir! I – ” He faltered and his eyes dropped. “I would not have you fall, Captain.” He snorted a weak laugh. “You’re a good man, sir, despite your name.”

I shook my head. He wasn’t mad, it was the world that had gone mad around him, around us all. He was a good Catholic – which was counter to my own thoughts, my own beliefs, but I could not tell him to give up his God and his Church merely because my own faith followed a different path. How could I know that he wasn’t right, and I the damned fool? He thought he was protecting me.

But I couldn’t let him go without chastisement, or the next man to pull a trigger behind me would not be aiming over my shoulder. I raised his head again with a gesture. “Ten strokes,” I told him, and his jaw clenched. “I’ll lay them on you,” I said, and he relaxed and nodded.

We did it there, to save him the shame of being watched. Vaughn left the room in search of other, less obviously infernal, sources of information. O’Grady took down his shirt, after I retrieved a tarred end of rope, and I gave him ten solid lashes below his shoulderblades. I only drew blood with the last two, and only because no lashing is finished without blood. Then I clapped him on the shoulder, and brought him out to MacTeigue, who was supervising the scraping of the Grace’s keel. MacTeigue nodded at my order without blinking it, handed O’Grady a chisel and told him off to a section of barnacled planking. I returned to the great room and awaited the next arrival. But would it be good news, or another step into madness? How long could we stay here before we all lost our senses?

Fortunately for my nerves, the next return was one of gladness, not madness: we heard a shouted hail from the landward side, and I raced to the front portal to stand beside the men on watch, all of us peering toward the road. O’Gallows came up the path, roaring a hearty greeting, which we returned, gladly. He was flanked by Carter and Sweeney; all three were sweated and red with heat and exertion, but they were hale and grinning for all that – and sweat washes off far easier than does blood, especially one’s own.

Each of them was towing a sort of metal cage on wheels, about the size of a deep wheelbarrow, perhaps a one-man handcart as are used to bring vegetables to market. And their carts were piled high with sacks and bags and boxes. Despite their red brows – and some trouble with the carts, which seemed poorly wheeled and stiff-axled – they raced up to the Palace with whoops and shouts of triumph and glad tidings.

They had brought us food. And such food as we had never seen: the largest, most succulent fruits, of the tree, the vine, and the earth; flour as white and fine as any that ever graced a king’s larder; sacks full of potatoes as large as a man’s fist, some as large as two fists – or one of Kelly’s – and meat, cut and red and dripping blood, that brought hunger roaring up from our throats, and had me roaring for O’Grady to drop his chisel and return to his proper station over the cookfires. He had built a galley on the terrace by the waterpool: he had a half-dozen small cookfires set in rings of stones he had gathered from the beach and the gardens, and over each was suspended one of the fine, shining pots he had found in the Palace’s kitchen. Our own great black cookpot, O’Grady’s favored cooking utensil, was set atop another of the Palace’s devices, though this one was not so unfamiliar: it was a firebox, a low metal frame which could be dragged from one space to another. It was made to hold charcoal or wood in a central space surrounded by a wide metal shelf for setting pots on or warming one’s feet, and thus one could have a fire in a place that wasn’t built for it, as a wooden floor or even the deck of a ship – though an open flame as this was would be sheer folly aboard. The night before, as the men had held their revels around a bonfire on the beach, as proper pirates should, O’Flaherty and I had joined O’Grady at the firebox, commandeering two of the strange Palace chairs – they seemed to be made of metal frames, with woven cloth strips forming the back and seat, but were far too light and more comfortable than any chair my posterior has experienced heretofore – and warming our feet and our wine mugs on the metal shelf. It made for a fine, if a quiet, celebration.

And speaking of celebration, there was one conspicuous absence from the bounty which O’Gallows had retrieved. “Had they no spirits?” I asked him, once the lack had been noted and bewailed by the men as they unloaded the carts under O’Grady’s direction.

Ian shook his head. “No, they had shelves of the stuff, wine and ale and whiskey, shelves a full five paces long and an arm deep – stacked three high. “Twas enough for a full voyage and a happy crew the whole way. But the proprietor was most adamant that we were not to have any – not a drop.” He scratched his head, then his beard; then he looked at his fingernails, his hands; then ran his palms over his vest front and his trews.

“What is it, man? Were ye hurt – are you checking for wounds?” I queried.

He shook his head again, frowning. “No. Tell me, Nate – do I seem over-filthy to you? Do I look the beggar?”

I stepped back and looked him over from bow to stern. “Well, I’ll say I’ve seen you cleaner than now, and closer-shaven. But I’ve seen ye a damn sight dirtier, too – and even then your rig is far too quality to be a beggar’s. Perhaps I’d mistake ye for a highwayman who stole the clothes, but you and the togs strike me as having been in the same dirt at the same time.” I looked him in the eye. “Why do ye ask?”

He hawked and spat, and accepted with grateful thanks a mug of clean water that Lynch handed him. After he’d drained the cool draught, he told me of their quest.

“We found the Piggly Wiggly easily enough – yon Dominicans gave a true bearing, and might have earned a small reward, aye?” I nodded, and he went on. “Once we made it to the town and the right street, we should have had trouble missing it: ’tis a building the size of a fort, or a good large meeting hall or church, painted white with a sign as tall as a man, shouting out ‘PIGGLY WIGGLY’ in bright red letters.” I started a laugh, and Ian grinned. “Aye, Nate – and not a pig in sight, not live nor dead.” He shrugged.

“We garnered many a stare on our way through town, though it were still early enough for the townsfolk to be about their breakfasts and suchlike, rather than out on the streets. I have not seen streets like those before: every one paved with hard stone, but not a cobble to be seen; it makes no sense at all. And the wagon-beasts – everywhere! All colors, all sizes, some honking like geese, some blowing foul-smelling smoke out their arses. I swear I heard music coming from a few, but it was never a song nor an instrument I could recognize, and I didn’t want to draw too much attention by staring and asking foolish questions, as Vaughn would.

“But there were signs naming the streets at every corner, and so we found our way, sure enough. I left Sweeney outside with the arms, so they’d know we meant no harm – I didn’t see a single sword nor flintlock on the way through town, not one, though aye, there were few people on the streets for the number of houses and structures. Carter and I went into the Pig – ’twas unguarded and unlocked – and we were hailed, right friendly, as we stood there with our jaws on the floor. Nate – ” he grabbed my arm, his eyes wide – “I swear to Christ and our two damned fathers that you’ve never seen nor heard of so much food in one place. What we have here isn’t a hundredth of it, not one tenth of one hundredth. That place could fill the holds of a dozen ships the size of the Grace, and still host a royal procession.

“Any road, we were greeted, as I said, and I asked to see the proprietor – called him the manager, the lad did who spoke to me. And he brought the man out, a wee bespectacled merchant with a fat belly and a bald head, just as you’d expect in a store with enough food for an army. He asked what he could do for us, and I showed him the jewels we had from the Palace, here – two fine rings with gemstones and a gold chain, ye recall, worth a hundred pieces of eight, easy. I offered to trade for meat and fruit, wheat and beans, salt, and rum, of course. I mentioned rum since that’s what O’Flaherty says they drink in these Caribbees, aye?

“But when I said that last, he looked up at me sharpish – he had been shaking his head slow, his face right befuddled. He looks me up and down, as you just did when I asked you to. And then he says – he had a strange accent, one I’ve never heard, a bit English but flatter and harder – he says, ‘I know what it’s like to be down on my luck. Did you steal these?’ Well, I looked properly offended, told him they were family heirlooms, meant to be worn by my sister at her wedding, but we’d just lost the lass to a fever and we were going to try our luck with a trading voyage, and needed supply. He weighed and measured me like a prize sheep at market, and then he nods and says, ‘I should send you to a pawn shop, but they’d cheat you worse than I ever could, and who knows where you’d spend cash money?'”

“What’s a pawn shop?” I interrupted him.

Ian shrugged. “I did not ask. So then he looked the gold over, and he says, ‘So does a thousand sound right for these?'”

I am sure my mouth dropped open. “A thousand pieces of eight, did he mean? Or copper pennies?”

Ian pointed at the piles of food. “Nate, there’s a hundredweight of that flour there. Have you ever seen finer? What would that cost, back home? My own mother would trade me for the bread that stuff will make, even in O’Grady’s hands. And the fruits? Here – eat this!”

One bite of the apple he handed me then, and I forgot that there were no spirits in the pile. Well, almost. “So why did ye not get the grog?”

Ian shrugged again. “The man refused when I asked. Said he’d see me fed, but would not put me in the gutter. ‘Tis why I asked if I look overmuch like a beggar. I thought it better at the time to keep my mouth shut and bring back the food. We can find liquor elsewhere – or we can go back to the Piggly Wiggly and be more impolite when we ask.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. “Ye did right, man, as ever. I always know I can trust ye.” I sighed then, and looked toward the road. “If only I could say the same for every man of the Grace.”

And as if I had wished it so, that was the moment O’Flaherty returned, bringing danger back with him, clutched tight in his fool’s hands. By the gods, if he’d been lads with me back in Ireland, not only would he have cheered me on through my ride on King Henry, but he would have demanded the next go, and called for my uncle to come watch. The stupid bastard.

What am I to do with him? What am I to do with what he brought back from Home Dee-Poe?

I wish Ian had gotten rum. I need a drink.

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