Posts Tagged With: Elliott Shluxer

Log 29: Innocent

Log 29

I was addressed by the older man. He and the lady – likely his wife, by their clasped hands – looked on me somewhat strangely, though I wore my maid’s uniform this day, and MacTeigue wore simple sailor’s clothes, canvas pants and a brown homespun shirt. I could not have known them, of course, but still they appeared somewhat familiar.

“Aye,” I said, and extended my hand. “I am Damnation Kane, the rightful owner of that ship, which was stolen from me by those dastardly rogues.”

The man clasped my hand. “Elliott Shluxer.”

Needless to say I was taken aback. Peering closely, I could see some of the vile Shluxer’s features in these two: the mother and father of that raping, thieving, mutinous rogue. Ere I could speak again, the man said, “Elliott Shluxer is our son. Do you know him? Have you seen him? Is he all right?”

I pulled back my hand – which took some force, as he had clasped me tightly, with the strength of a parent’s desperation – and I began galloping through my mind for somewhat to say; for these people were innocent, whatever their despicable son had done, and did not deserve to share in his opprobrium; which, alas, was the entirety of what I could think at this moment. Then I was saved.

“Shluxer! Come to the window, please. Shluxer.” It was the guard in the glass box, and as he spoke, Master Shluxer turned away from me instantly, and he and Goodwife Shluxer hurried to the window. The guard informed them that the younger (viler) Shluxer would come to the barred door, and they could speak to him through it, but they had to stand back out of reach. A guard emerged from the glass box and led the couple to a spot some six feet from the portcullis, and then nodded to the two guards remaining in the box. I beckoned to MacTeigue, and we quickly withdrew to the top of the stairwell, out of sight but still within hearing.

I have not the stomach to record precisely all that this mewling, white-livered cur vomited out to his parents. He cried his innocence, of course, and begged them to believe and succor him. I took his pleas for their credulity as clear sign that he lied with every breath he took and with every venomous syllable which hissed out between his serpent’s lips; an honest man trusts in the truth, and takes his reputation, the knowledge of his character, as his only witness. But clearly his parents doted on him, and took him largely at his word. Not entire: there was some question as to how he had fallen in with – are they my crew, still? Mine enough, aye – with my crew, as he had apparently vanished without trace from his place of employment, and the prevailing opinion had been that he had simply run off, a child trying to escape responsibility, as Shluxer was apparently wont to do, intelligence which did not surprise me at all. And then – what was unknown to me previously – it came out that he had stolen from them! From his own mother and father, from his blood, from his home and theirs! I spat in disgust, hearing this new evidence of Shluxer’s corruption.

But the weak-hearted blackguard cried most piteously, and told his doting, gullible parents that he had been kidnapped and pressed into service, that he had been whipped by the ship’s master for his unwillingness to do their – our – evil bidding MacTeigue had to restrain me at these slanderous accusations, directed entirely at me, though thankfully Shluxer did not name me; in retrospect, I presume he wanted to lay the whole blame at the feet of his own erstwhile companions, rather than cast fault at some apparition the authorities knew not. I mastered myself quickly enough, aided by the disgust I felt at this mongrel’s bootlicking, at his puling, his lies, his cowardly attempts to escape all culpability for his actions; disgust which quickly subsumed my rage. To be insulted by this dog – why, that were no dishonor, at all.

Soon enough their time was finished, and Shluxer’s cries and pleas grew quiet – slowly, as he kept up his carping, like the lowing of a hungry calf mixed with the whimpers of a spoiled lapdog, even as they dragged him away to his cell. His parents called out assurances, saying they would engage a lawyer for him – at which I felt some relief; there was to be a trial, then, with lawyers and perhaps a judge, even a jury? Excellent: perhaps that gave us some time – and calling out something about bail, a term I knew only as it referred to removing water from a leaking boat. But the Shluxer elders said they would “bail him out;” was this metaphor? They would save the sinking ship of his fate? I knew not, and I determined to enquire.

The Shluxers did not look at us nor speak as they hurried past, the woman huddled miserably in her husband’s arms, with tears streaming down her cheeks. Ah, such power, such purity in a mother’s love! Alas, that such goodness should be so wasted. Once they had departed, MacTeigue and I returned to the antechamber and were hailed by the guards in the glass box presently.

“Who do you want to see?” the man asked through his metal wand, which seemed to carry sound like a speaking tube.

“Ian O’Gallows,” I answered promptly. I longed to demand Shluxer’s return, so I could slap his fat cheek and force him to recant his lies; I longed even more profoundly to summon O’Flaherty, so I could avenge myself on he who began my undoing; but I knew I would not be able to lay hands on either rogue, not with guards and portcullis between us. My next greatest desire was for the truth – and to confirm the hope that my good friend had not, in fact, betrayed me.

“Have a seat. We’ll bring him to the door. Did you hear the procedure?”

“Aye – two paces back and no contact.”

He nodded. “It’ll be a minute.”

It was somewhat extraordinary to stand there, MacTeigue at my side and the guard flanking us, and watch as Ian was brought along the corridor beyond the portcullis; I watched his expression turn from confusion – who would be calling for him? – to astonishment when he recognized me, to deep sorrow when he knew that he would now have to face his crimes, whatever they were. He came to the portcullis with head bent, and then slowly raised it and met my gaze.

“Captain,” he said, acknowledging me. Then he waited.

I gave him time to think, knowing that silence and a man’s own conscience are often the only tools needed to elicit a confession. But he neither spoke nor lowered his gaze, though I held his eyes with my own for a good minute or more. Perhaps his conscience did not weigh him down, after all – but he had shown sorrow on the sight of me; what of that?

At last I spoke. “Stand you in mutiny, O’Gallows? Or are you loyal, still?” I spat the last words, as if dubious of that remote possibility, though I had the word of Lynch and Vaughn and MacTeigue that Ian was and had always been true to me.

His eyes flashed fire, and he drew himself up proudly. “I have never wavered in my loyalty, Captain. You, and God above, be my only masters, sir, from now ’til I do rest in Neptune’s cold bosom.” Then he slumped again, and his gaze at last fell to the floor. “But I have failed ye, Captain. Failed ye and failed in my duty to the good ship we both love.”

I looked him over from head to toe. I believed him, in his protestations of loyalty; but I agreed with him in his estimations of his performance. I crossed my arms and said, “I will hear your explanation.”

He took a deep breath, clasped the portcullis with both hands, and then told his tale.

He began to describe their crime, the addlepated assault on what Vaughn’s broadsheets had called a yacht, a pleasure boat on a pleasure cruise with her wealthy owners and their guests; I cut him off, as I had known of this already from those same broadsheets, which described the boarding, murder, robbery, and the stealing away of two innocent lasses, surely bound for Shluxer’s foul lusts, and perhaps some others’ evil attentions, as well. I hurried him on to the capture of my ship, and made clear I wanted to know of her condition, and how he had protected my Grace from those who would do her harm.

He turned first to the guard. “There is a letter in my effects, which was intended for this man, and is so addressed over its seal. Can he have this from thee?”

The guard considered. “I’ll ask.” He knocked on the door to the glass cube, which was opened; he relayed O’Gallows’s request within, and was answered. He nodded and stepped back out, and then addressed me. “You can read it here, but you’ll have to put it back in evidence after you’re done. Do you want it?” I glanced at Ian, who nodded, and then I assented. The guard signaled one within the cube, who stepped out to take his place watching MacTeigue and I, and then the first guard departed down the stairs.

Ian drew in a deep breath. “All right. The letter will tell ye of all I have to say on the mutiny and the attack on the yacht.” He drew himself to attention, and then he reported.

“We were heading east, a few points north of due, clear weather, making five knots with current but little wind. ‘Twas just after dawn, and I had the watch with Desmond on the wheel. I looked to our stern, and I – I saw the ship. No sail, but it bore down on us like a falcon stooping on a rabbit, and as it drew nearer, I could make out the swivel guns on the bow, so I knew who it was, aye.” He looked me in the eye and said, “I did not raise the alarm. I knew they might fire on us, without warning, perhaps, but I did desire that they take the ship, and I sought to give her to them.” He shook his head slowly. “I’ll not apologize for it, sir. I hoped they’d keep the ship whole if we did not fight, and I deemed it better if she be in their hands, than in ours.”

I bit my tongue. I disagreed with him, for I could have taken my ship back with some ease, I thought, if my men still crewed her, if I could remind them of their former loyalty, and put the question to them as to which captain they had flourished under; but now she was out of my reach more surely than before, and only the mercy of the gods kept her afloat, rather than holed and sunk in the pursuit. But I only nodded, and motioned for him to go on.

“But fortune failed me, and O’Flaherty rose then. As he came out of his cabin, he did look astern, and spied our pursuer. Aye, one could hear it, by then, too, and perhaps this is what roused him at that poor moment. He did raise the alarm, and men leapt to stations. A great, booming voice blasted to us across the waves, ordering us to surrender without resistance. But O’Flaherty ordered us to come about and fire the starboard cannons into their bow. Desmond began to spin the wheel, and the men jumped to the shrouds – and then they did open fire on us, aye.”
He shook his head, ran his hand through his hair. “I have never heard nor seen the like. It sounded something like thunder, with storm-waves crashing on rocks below. It sounded like an avalanche of iron, if such a thing could be. And we took fire as if a thousand swivel guns were aimed at us, rather than the one. It chopped up the sails and the shrouds, and we lost the wind. Then it paused and a single rifle shot rang out, and Desmond fell, wounded – a miracle of marksmanship, to hit a man on one moving ship from another with a single aimed shot – and then the thunder roared again, and the wheel just – disappeared, in a hail of splinters.” He showed a gash in his forearm, now partly healed. “I dove to the main deck, but a splinter caught me in the air. ‘Tis a wonder that Desmond survived.” He looked me in the eye again. “It confirmed for me that I had chosen aright. We could not have resisted that assault. Perhaps our cannon could have disabled them, but as that ship was solid steel, I think not – but damn me if they couldn’t ha’ sunk us without breathing hard.

“They came up to our stern, and raked the sails once more with that thunder-gun. They grappled and boarded, their booming voice calling again for our surrender. O’Flaherty and Burke had mustered the crew on the deck and were shouting at us to fight to the death. But just as the men of the steel ship began to leap aboard, I struck.

“I grabbed a hold of the chain on Burke’s wrist and clubbed him with my sword hilt. I swung him, half-stunned, into O’Flaherty, felling them both. Carter spun about with a snarl, but I flung my sword and fouled his aim before he could fire at me; then I was on him, and laid him out with my fists, the slack-brained lout. The men knew not how to respond, to take my side or O’Flaherty’s. I heard a shout and spun about to see Kelly, who had been below guarding the two lasses; he had come above and was just finishing off O’Grady, who had leveled his aim at me and was now off to a pleasant nap with something of a lump on his skull. Then men turned to look at Kelly, then back at me, and by then the steel ship’s crew had all of us in their sights.”

He sighed and dropped his gaze, wrapping his hands around the bars of the portcullis. “‘Twas then, and I’m right sorry to bring ye the news, Captain – aye, and you, too, Owen – but your cousin, Hugh Moran, did draw and aim with a shout. They cut him down. I ha’ ne’er seen the like: every man had a thunder-gun, and ’twas not as if he were shot, but rather like he exploded like a grenado, blood spraying from a hundred wounds in seconds. He do be dead, Captain.”

I nodded. “Were any others hurt?”

“No, sir. The rest of them surrendered, following my lead, and Kelly’s – aye, and Shluxer, that milk-hearted coward, though he was crying and begging for mercy when he threw his weapons down. Our men kept their pride, even in defeat, sir.

“They manacled us and put us below. They towed the Grace back with us, and docked her at their fortress. I think – I hope – she be there still. They ha’ taken Desmond to a surgeon, and put the rest of us in these cells.” He spread his hands. “And here we be.”

I nodded. The guard returned then with his letter, which I read on the spot. I looked Ian over, and then closed my eyes and took as deep a breath as lungs could hold. Then I let it out, and pronounced my judgment.

“Ye have not failed in your duty to the ship. You protected her as well as you could, and I have no doubt she still rides on the water instead of resting below it because of you.” He straightened with every word, as if heavy weight fell from his broad shoulders. But I raised a hand. “But you have failed me, O’Gallows. For you put my ship out of my reach, and though you did not steal her, still you could not bring her back to me, nor remind my men of their loyalty to me and not O’Flaherty.” He hung his head, nodding once as he acknowledged the truth of what I said.

I turned to MacTeigue. “Come, we are done here.” I nodded to the guard. “We are done. Put him back in his cell. He can think on his actions there.” And without looking back at my friend, I strode out.

Of course it was but posturing. I knew it unfair, even absurd, to hold O’Gallows responsible for the way I had lost my ship. If I should not blame those who took her – and aye, I blamed them – the only other fault must be mine own. I kept secrets from my men, and thus lost their trust, and then I let those bastards trick me and steal from me. But absurd or not, I could not but feel a deep, burning anger at all those who lost me my ship – of which Ian was one. Thus, my childish tantrum.

I will get him out, aye. I will get them all out. With a lawyer and this bail of which the Shluxers spoke, if possible. But if not that, then I will use force. Mutinous or not, they are my crew, my countrymen, the only others of my time in this peculiar world, and I will have them back by my side.

Though I do not know how.

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Log 28: Tantalized

Captain’s Log

Date: 16 July 2011

Location: 50 mi. south of Glass Palace, camped on sand-beach

 

Conditions: Joyed to return to the sea, though my ship is uncommonly shrunk. Weather is glorious for sailing, if rather hot for breathing,

We have come a decent distance along the coast today, thirty miles in my estimation. The boat sails nicely, for a ship’s boat. The prevailing winds are largely against us, but I have three stout, lusty companions and four oars, and we make headway even against the wind. We are determined, aye, fixed on our goal.

Our leave-taking was rapid, even somewhat abrupt, but ’twas better so. I spoke to the Enchantress in the morning, before she could depart for her day of law-warping; I asked her for assistance in sending a message to Maid Flora. She looked at me most peculiarly, and then stepped to a smooth white gewgaw I had oft polished, but had never recognized as having a useful function – but lo! She lifted a raised, rectangular block, which revealed several bumps on its underside, numbered one to nine and naught, some others bearing symbols and strange words, Mute and Talk, and Ready-all (No, I think perhaps that was Redial, a word I am unfamiliar with. But this state of confustication is becoming most familiar indeed, the longer I abide in this time and place). The Enchantress pressed several of the bumps with her thumb, and then held the object to her ear; then it was that I understood: this was akin to the tellafone, like the Verizons my friends the Lopezes carry, oft staring into them in meditation, sometimes communing with each other through its magic. Indeed, in mere seconds, the Enchantress was exchanging greetings, and then she handed the tellafone to me, and I found myself speaking to and hearing the words of Maid Flora, though she were far, far away at that very moment.

I will remember, now, that tellafones come in various guises, shapes and colors; the key is the holes by which voices enter and exit, and the numbers in that strange pattern: three across, three down, and the naught below 8.

I told Maid Flora that her family could return safely – though I had to apologize profusely for the damage done to their home; I assured her that all the villains responsible were now utterly destroyed, and her family’s injuries all well avenged. She expressed gratitude most becomingly, which I demurred, of course. Then we said our goodbyes and her voice vanished from the tellafone, which I returned to its mistress, who set it back in place atop the smooth white box-piece. She said, “So Flora’s coming back? Then you’re leaving?”

“Aye, milady. My task here is complete, and Maid Flora’s family is again safe, and hale. I must sail on.”

She made a pretty pout. “Too bad. I was getting to like having a handsome houseboy. I was going to get you a nice Chippendale outfit for a uniform, so I could sexually harass you all day.”

Though I comprehended little of that, I did grasp her main thrust. I stepped close, seized her in my arms, and kissed her passionately. When I took my lips from her soft, sweet mouth, she sighed most prettily, and said, “Oh, my.” I kissed her brow and said, “I must go, milady. But I am not glad of it.”

I strode out of the room, then, to mount my steed, which I meant to return to House Lopez ere we departed. The Enchantress – a name most apt, in more ways than I knew! – came running out after, calling my name. I stopped and turned to her, and she took my hand and filled it with the paper money of this time. “Here,” she said, “You earned it. And this.” And then she gifted me with one last, sweet kiss, one I will carry with my fondly.

I returned the steed to its owners, and placed a letter of thanks and farewell on their doorstep, and then I walked back to the Glass Palace (Now that the Enchantress was gone for the day, I had no fear of being seen and questioned crossing her demesne), to the Redoubt, where I found my men ready to depart. I exchanged my maid’s clothes for my proper finery, heaving a comfortable sigh of relief as I armed myself anew, with sword and wheel-gun firmly in my sash where they belonged. I did keep the servant’s togs as a useful disguise, though. And with water casks filled from the magic tap and some last few bottles of wine gathered from the galley, we bid the Glass Palace a very fond farewell. It was our first refuge here, and served us all a great kindness; we owed it a debt of gratitude.

We found a secluded beach to make camp that first night, and leaving MacTeigue and Lynch to set a fire and watch the boat, Vaughn and I made our way to a 7-11 shop we had spotted a mile or so northwards. There we exchanged some of my maid-money for victuals – I must say, maids are quite well-paid in this place! I seem to have earned a 50-paper every day I worked at the Palace, and only half of those days did I work a proper servant’s watch, from near dawn to near dusk; those same twelve hours in Ireland would have earned me a crust of bread, a bowl of milk, and a soft kick out the door! But perhaps I was given a gift, rather than wages – and perhaps it was not by maidish prowess that I earned it. Any road, while culling out our foodstuffs, Vaughn found a rack of broadsheets, several of which featured prominently a remarkable etching of the
Grace of Ireland, and portraits of O’Flaherty and Shluxer – whose name is spelled Schluchzer, it seems, though for this record I intend to use my own spelling for simplicity’s sake. Vaughn gathered them up and added them to the purchase. As the clerk evaluated our goods and named me a price – which he would not dicker over, not even a cent! – Vaughn scanned one of the broadsheets and spoke most excitedly to me: the pamphlet reported a location for my ship! I told him we must seek out a proper map if we could locate a cartographer – at which point the clerk pointed and said “Maps over there, dude.” (The last word is unfamiliar, but I have rendered it here as similar to “duke,” which title it did resemble in sound. I thus take it as compliment.)

Apparently ’tis not only the Enchantress and her wealthy peers who can acquire such wonderful maps as she showed me; they are for sale at the local shop, and far less than the cost of a meal. (Though I must then question the price of their food, for surely a bag of those potato chips, no matter how delicious, isn’t as valuable as the assurance that one never need be lost and wander aimlessly to one’s doom, as has been known to happen on the moors and in the deep forests of home.) Any road, Vaughn and I pounced like hungry dogs on the rack of maps the clerk indicated, and took one of each thus offered us. We made our way back to camp with our booty – in strange bags, made of stuff so thin and strong it resembles spider-silk, but which the clerk, when asked, named “plass-tick” – and there we ate, and read, and plotted our course on our new maps.

This day was spent making headway on that same course. We should reach our destination on the morrow.

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 17 July 2011

Location: Treasure Harbor, Islamorada

Conditions: Frustrated. Trapped like Tantalus.

Like Tantalus indeed: standing in a stream of cool water, beneath an apple tree heavy with fruit, starving and thirsting both; this was that Greek tyrant’s curse in Hades. When he reached up for the fruit, the bough would withdraw, and the water below would rise; he would then crouch down to drink, and the water would recede, and the branch then come lower to tempt him with its bounty – hence our word “tantalize.”

Not a mile to the south-west of our camp, the Grace of Ireland sits at anchor. Perhaps two miles to the Northeast, my men may all be found, both the good and the bad, the penitent and the insubordinate. Yet neither crew nor ship are within my grasp.

My ship is at the Islamorada Coast Guard Station. By land, she is guarded by locked gates, high fences, and armed men; by sea she is even more unreachable, as a constant stream of beast-ships come and go all day long, all grey steel, with cannons and swivel-guns visibly mounted in the bow; not a sail among them, but all moving as quickly and easily, and loudly, as do the beast-wagons on land; and every one manned by generous crews of proper military sailors, alert and disciplined. This coast be well-guarded, indeed. And so too is my ship.

I did not intend to steal her. On the journey down, Vaughn pointed out that, her reputation as a corsair notwithstanding, the Grace is my ship, bought and paid for, with my name on the bill of ownership as well as the logs and charts. He argued that I could simply claim that my ship was stolen from me – as indeed it was – and with three stout men (and the Lopezes, should the word of four Irishmen insuffice) to swear to my identity and the veracity of my claim, I might just be able to take back my ship with a smile and a handshake. Thus, upon our arrival at this tiny island south of the mainland of Florida, we beached the boat and left Lynch, as the youngest and least credible witness, to guard, and then Vaughn, MacTeigue and I went forth to press my claim.

Our first gauntlet was the thick-skulled cretin at the gate – thick-skulled he must have been, for surely that rock atop his shoulders was not full of brains. He could not understand my accent, first, though my brogue is negligible – gods, some of my men speak Gaelic as much as English. Never in all of my travels have I failed to make myself understood with the King’s English, until now, and I vow the fault was not with my tongue. When I had slowed and emphasized my words sufficiently – approximately what I would think a drunken Ourang-Outang would require for comprehension – then the man could not grasp my name. When I shortened it to Nate, and this abbreviated moniker sunk through that ponderous browbone, then he could not understand my mission and purpose for requesting entry.

Thank the gods, Vaughn was there to stop me drawing steel and running him through, and thank all the saints and devils as well that I did not need to treat with that imbecile after I had won entry to the station, or even Vaughn could not have restrained me.

But ’twas all for naught, even so. My name on the logbook and ship’s papers, and my intimate and minute knowledge of my ship did not serve to establish my ownership of her; according to Lieutenant Danziger, the stolid, middle-aged officer with whom I parlayed, I must have a “registration.” Even my identity was called into question, and indeed our word was not good enough – though the man was clear that he did not name us liars, and I believed him; the Lieutenant was a man of morals and sober intelligence, unlike his buffoon of a watchman. He called it “red tape,” and when that mystified us, he explained it was a colloquialism for rules and regulations and laws, Byzantine in their complex convolutions, but inviolate nonetheless. Apparently I must have a birth certificate – though I would think my birth could be stipulated without witnesses, since here I am – a social security card, and a drivers license or some other – I believe he called it foe-toe-aye-dee; perhaps this means “identification,” another term he bandied about in our fruitless negotiation. As I do not understand what these things even are, I know I cannot procure them.

I must wait for another path to my ship to appear.

Stymied in that direction, I asked Danziger where the men were who had stolen my ship from me, and was directed to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on Plantation Key, to the north-east. We reported our failure back to Lynch, and then MacTeigue and I made the trek on foot – all of these islands are connected by a series of bridges the likes of which we have never seen, nor even imagined, stretching for miles across the ocean itself. How could anyone sink piers so deep? Not even the Romans, nor the druids of old could have matched this feat, and I do not believe these people even notice this wonder. The Lieutenant simply instructed us to follow the road, neglecting to mention that said road crossed a mile or more of deep blue sea.

We reached our destination and were greeted by another guard at the front gate, though in this case he sat behind a large table inside the building’s entrance – though the edifice resembles a strong fortress, such miserable laxity in security means it would not withstand the rudest assault, if the enemy may simply walk in through the doors, to be confronted by – a single clerk scribbling on papers behind a table.

I will remember this if we decide to take this place by force. The initial approach will not be difficult.

This uniformed functionary directed MacTeigue and I to the detention block, on the building’s third floor. This was a tighter ship: three men in a locked and inaccessible chamber watched over the antechamber at the top of the stairs, with no cover anywhere that was out of their sight, as the chamber had immense glass windows on two sides; their pistolas were prominent on their belts, and the only way past them and to the prisoners blocked by a steel portcullis.

This is where the challenge would be, but still: ’tis only glass, and only three men.

MacTeigue and I entered the antechamber, which had benches along the walls, one of them occupied by an elder couple, most fretful in their demeanor – perhaps they knew one slated for execution soon. MacTeigue and I approached the glass and hailed the men within loudly; they nodded, and one spoke into a black metal wand, which magically transported his voice to us as though he were in the room and standing at our shoulders.

“Can I help you?”

“Aye, gratefully. We are here to see the men taken by the Coast Guard – the crew of the Grace of Ireland, if you please.”

The man nodded. “Have a seat.” He turned away from us and spoke to the other two. I looked at MacTeigue, who shrugged, and we moved to the nearest bench and sat.

“Excuse me – did you say you’re here about the pirate ship? The men on the ship, I mean?”

I was addressed by the older man. He and the lady – likely his wife, by their clasped hands – looked on me somewhat strangely, though I wore my maid’s uniform this day, and MacTeigue wore simple sailor’s clothes, canvas pants and a brown homespun shirt. I could not have known them, of course, but still they appeared somewhat familiar.

“Aye,” I said, and extended my hand. “I am Damnation Kane, the rightful owner of that ship, which was stolen from me by those dastardly rogues.”

The man clasped my hand. “Elliott Shluxer.”

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Log #19: Mutiny

Captain’s Log

Date: 4 July 2011

Location: Miami, Florida

Conditions: Betrayed, bereft, abandoned. Determined nonetheless.

 

It has required much of the past two days to unknot the tangles in my memory, to see through the snarled skeins and remember: who betrayed me, and how. (It has not helped that this day, apparently one of violent celebration – perhaps a tyrant has been overthrown? – I am continuously awakened and disturbed by explosions. Child’s toys, I am told, that explode in smoke and noise more than flame. Had I my ship, I would show them a proper booming: the roar of a full broadside. That for the Em-eighty, ha! Without the Grace, I have no desire to celebrate.) I have spent the time striving most earnestly, and I believe I have remembered it all, or nearly so.

The time I have not been casting back inside my aching skull has only served to dizzy me more. By a most remarkable turn of events – led by a most remarkable woman – I abide no longer in the Glass Palace. I am lodged in a smaller, more human and far more comfortable domicile, the which lies in South Miami, according to my most generous hostess, Flora Lopez. The maid of the Glass Palace, my erstwhile hostage, and would-be victim of the foul Shluxer’s lust.

This is what I remember: the Grace had been made ready, and I had given orders that we would sail with the morning tide. I bided in my cabin aboard, as I had been for the hours and days following Shluxer’s flogging – though I cannot now recall much of that span, nor how I occupied it; all is blurred and befogged.

It was O’Grady’s suggestion. I remember that. But does that make him a conspirator? Or was he led, a mere puppet? Fah! It matters not. Clearly they are all mutinied, every man jack of them, the faithless bastards.

O’Grady came to me and said he had prepared a special feast, a farewell to the Palace we were abandoning. He told me it were best served ashore, in the Palace itself, with the plate and crystal and cutlery found there in their native setting, as it were. He told me, too, that my officers wished a proper dinner, with the Captain at the head of his table, all the gentlemen of the ship to break bread together. Grateful for the opportunity to smooth the feathers ruffled by the Shluxer affair – and pleased by the apparent abandonment of the usual course that required all of the ship’s crew to eat together as equals, a policy to which I generally do not object, but occasionally one does tire of sailors’ manners at table – I agreed, and we dined well. Indeed, ’twas a most cheerful company, with a sumptuous repast and a vast quantity of wine.

I assume it was in the wine, whatever foul concoction they poisoned me with. I tasted nothing untoward, but many of the vintages here are uncommon strange to my ancient Irish tongue. I will say that I suspected nothing, saw no hint in their behavior that they planned this blackguardery. Shluxer was sullen, as one would expect given his tender back and wounded pride; the others, O’Flaherty, Burke, Moran, Ian O’Gallows, were all joyed at the ship’s recovery and our departure anon. Vaughn was his usual distracted self, responding to direct queries with direct answers, all in seriousness fitting to a churchman – frequently therefore becoming the butt of many crude jokes made at his expense but without his disapproval; I swear that man lacks the tiniest morsel of humor – but elsewise silent and contemplative.

The dizziness came on me suddenly, and I presumed it was but the wine and the food as my cup did runneth over. I excused myself and rose, and staggered, to much laughter. I remember catching myself on the table and upsetting dishes. I might have wondered why the wine so affected me, an Irish sailor – what potable on this green Earth could make such a man stumble? With whiskey in my blood and the sea in my legs, how could I lose equilibrium? – but I do not recall it, and if I did, I was too addled to make aught of the issue. Then – was it O’Flaherty? Or Ian? One or both gave me a shoulder, suggested the upstairs Palace rooms rather than my cabin aboard, as recommended by proximity and my extremely shakeous pins. I do not recall agreeing, nor arguing; I do not recall staggering, nor walking upright and manful, nor being carried like a babe to my bed.

No: I recall coming to myself in monstrous befuddlement, my vision blurred, my head spinning like a ship’s wheel as it comes about in a headwind, my belly churning like a storm surging o’er the rocky shore – face-down on my bed while someone bound my hands together behind my back. When I protested, muzzily, I was hauled upright – and I promptly vomited on at least one of my captors. There were curses, and perhaps some laughter, though that might be my memory’s failing; then one of them – presumably he who had received my offering of lightly-used provender – struck me a mighty blow, and all went dark. Then after a time of no time, I woke sprawled on the floor, my shoulders aching mightily from my bonds, my ankles trussed as well, and men’s boots around my head, their voices murmuring over me. I may have groaned, I may have moved; whatever the cause, they fell on me, striking me again and again. There were many hands that struck me, and I have a village-worth of bruises to show for it; but I could not look up from the rug under my nose, and I cannot recall any specific voice – save one.

Shluxer.

They put me in the closet, bound hand and foot, and put a bag over my head; I do distinctly remember Shluxer striking me then, for I recall his grunt of effort and words of encouragement from another voice, which said the name Shluxer. The raper gave me a series of weakish blows that nonetheless accomplished a fair piece of work, bleeding and bruising my face and head quite satisfactorily. I fell and was kicked; my ribs are sprung from it even now. My consciousness was lost then.

I awoke to daylight peeking under the door. After a goodly time spent praying for death to end my suffering, and many fruitless attempts to free my limbs – though the bag on my head, loose and untethered, came away easily enough – I managed to put my benumbed fingers on the blade that is ever in my boot, and was soon freed, though still terrible sick and dizzied, weak and battered. I burst forth from the closet in spite of my maladies, intent on rushing any guard left without, but there was none. I collapsed to the floor, spent by the effort, and the time again goes blank.

It was not long before I awoke once more, as I was lying in bright sun, yet my skin remained largely chilled. I managed to regain my feet, and with the walls as my guide and necessary support, I made it down the stairs and out onto the terrace. I looked out upon that beauteous little cove, with its white sand and its bright blue sea, the gentle curve of the spit, like a mother’s arm gathering her children to her bosom, the gentle strength of the tall, supple trees – and I cursed the sight, cursed it for its one lack.

My ship – my Grace – was gone.

I must have collapsed, then, still weak from poison and beating and betrayal. The next thing I recall was the blessed relief of a damp cloth daubing gently at my face, cleaning away the sticky blood, though not, alas, the pain. I opened my eyes, and when my vision cleared, I beheld Flora, the maid of the Palace, kneeling beside me with a cloth and an admixture of terror and pity on her gentle face.

After a moment of confusticated thoughts, which ended with the relieved awareness that she was unarmed and likely to remain so, I closed my eyes again and said, “Thank you.”

In a shaking voice, she asked, “They – they are gone, see? The others?”

I tried to nod, but the motion spun my head like a child’s top. “Aye, they be gone, sure as sure can be. And not apt to return to this place, curse them all to the blackest pits.”

She returned to cleansing my wounds, now with a surer touch. I opened my eyes again, and saw that the terror had largely left her features; she flashed a brief smile at me when she met my gaze.

Unable to do otherwise, I surrendered myself to her ministrations, and in a short time my wounds were cleaned, daubed with a strange-smelling salve from within the Palace, and plastered over with odd, sticky, flesh-colored patches; whatever mysteries these things held, still I felt much improved. I begged her for a glass of water, which she gave me, retrieving another for herself. I toasted her, and she tapped my glass with her own, a faint smile again on her features.

She said, “You no can stay.”

I sighed and turned my face away from her. I had no wish to consider any exigencies but one: my ship was stolen from me. I had no wish to consider any proposition save one: to regain my lovely Grace. All else came to ashes and dust beside that.

The lady pressed me. “You no stay. Missus, she come home, today. You no can stay! She call pole-ees.” This broke through my despondency and rage, reaching the practicality in me. I had no wish to confront the Enchantress, nor to explain to her the damage we had done to her home and grounds, her servants – and especially her larder, and her cellar, fast emptied by a score of hungry pirates.

But my newfound and unexpected helpmeet had still more kind succor to offer me. “You come, my house. Yes?”

I looked at her, her bedraggled state, unwashed these past days of her captivity; at her kind smile, despite the haunted look lingering in her eyes. And, gratefully, I nodded my acquiescence.

Thus do I find myself the guest – albeit not an entirely welcome one, as Flora does not dwell here alone, and her good mother and her brothers, the same Juan and Ignacio I had as my guests priorwise, do not look kindly on my tenancy here – of my former captive, whom my former ally and present Nemesis, the cursed black-hearted Shluxer, did attempt to defile. For nigh on two days I have slept in a pallet in a sort of store shed they call a “garradge,” I have recovered from my hurts, steadied my spinning brain-case, and with the kind gift of paper and a sort of charcoal wand named a “pen-sill” by mine hosts, I have writ down my memories of betrayal, both old and new, familiar ache and newfound sharpness. Should I recover the GraceWhen I recover the Grace – I will place this with the rest of my log. It is still a Captain’s log, by damn, even if my ship be far from me; still and always she is mine, to the death.

One more matter should be noted: yesterday, while I largely and profoundly slept, I did awaken once to the sound of raised voices near to the walls of my garradge. I waited until the shouting stopped, hand on my knife as small but welcome defense, for though I knew not the words – ’twas the Spanisher’s tongue, I feel – I could hear the menace and violence in the voices. When it was over, and I had heard the departure of a deep-growling beast-wagon, I groaned myself to my feet and, feeling a great thirst, staggered into the galley for water; into the house entered the brothers Lopez, who checked on seeing me and then shook their heads and went back to muttering in their own speech, though they cast glances both suspicious and irate at me the while. I know not what troubles them, but I have no doubt as to my part in their misery. Nor would any who know me doubt that I shall remove my thorny self from their hide, just as quickly as I can; I have no wish to be a burden on anyone, be they friend or foe. I have imposed on this family enough, and more than enough.

I must find my own way, to my proper place once more.

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Log 17: Coming Up to Speed

Captain’s Log

Date: 29 June 1678 2011

Location: Glass Palace Beach House, 10 mi. South of Miami, Florida, United States of America

Conditions: Improving Ship repairs near completion

 

I don’t know how to tell the men.

They have been busy, working steadily – after first celebrating Shluxer’s bounty. They emptied a crate of rum that first night, not realizing that Shluxer’s rum is more potent than the rum we knew. They were near paralyzed with remorse the following morning. In the afternoon, though, O’Flaherty and Burke got them up and back to work on the Grace. They also sent Shluxer for more rum, which he retrieved without difficulty. The which made him, once more, the hero in the hearts of my crew.

I will not kill him. I was in my cups myself when I wrote that last entry, having commandeered the whiskey and made a most strenuous and valiant attempt to consume every drop; without mixing it with water, I might add. I spent all of yesterday thus engaged in my cabin, which necessitated this day be spent recovering. At last, I have been able to eat some food, and now I drink but clean water from the Palace’s taps. Ah – it is a beach house, not a Palace, avers Shluxer.

I will not kill Shluxer, no. It would not change our situation, I know. He was but the messenger. Too, he has proved most helpful. Not only has he taken up the mantle of ship’s carpenter, helping the men to repair the hole in the Grace’s hull to anyone’s satisfaction, and then retrieving for us a great quantity of a white paste he calls caulk, though it bears little resemblance to the tarred rope fibers we have always used to fill the cracks between the planks of the hull – he has also shown us much about this Beach House we have inhabited, and made our daily lives far easier.

I found today that he released our hostages. All but the woman, Flora, the Palace maid. Apparently, at some time on the night of revelry, he struck up a conversation with Ian – and I must note that my dear friend and great ally took responsibility for the ship and crew whilst I was out of my mind with Shluxer’s revelations; it was Ian who stayed sober and ensured that watches were kept; we had moved our landward watch post to the gate Shluxer found for us, the which we have reinforced with blockades on the road, and locked in place with hammered wedges and chains. The men stationed there have begun to grow accustomed to the beast-wagons – Shluxer names them “cars” – for they pass by the gate with mind-numbing regularity. But to the point, to the point – too many wonders, too many distractions. Shluxer spoke with Ian, Ian told me later, and mentioned that the owner of the car, the wagon named Kia which we used to retrieve O’Flaherty, would be irate when he saw the damage done to his beast. Ian, laughing, said they could ask the man, as he was locked and under guard along with the other hostages inside the Beach House. Shluxer was most put out by this intelligence, though Ian said he grew calmer when he heard they had been held for no more than a single day, at that point. He asked to be taken to the hostages, which he was; he then told Ian that they must be released immediately, or else the militia assault we have feared would become imminent and inevitable – he called the militia the “police,” which seems to be the word that the Lopez siblings had used more than once in conversation with me, and also, inexplicably, the Five Oh and the Po-Po. Shluxer has the strangest tongue I have yet known. I despair of mastering it.

Any road, Shluxer and Ian came to my rooms and were repulsed without entry by myself and my fermented companion; they went to O’Flaherty instead, who was nearly as drunk but far more companionable. He granted Shluxer and Ian the authority to handle the situation. Shluxer, in subsequent conversation with the Brothers Lopez, was relieved to hear that they were themselves illegal, and thus unlikely, he claimed, to summon the police, or have said police summoned on their behalf, which seemed his greater worry, since he said we had confiscated their “sellfones.” Ian knew not to what Shluxer then referred. Shluxer determined that we should keep their sister as assurance of their continued silence, and then he returned their belongings, saw them into their Kia-wagon, and sent them away.

I want to believe that Shluxer has done us a great service. But I fear that he is gaining a taste for power, power granted him by his knowledge of this world – this time – that is so strange to us. I surmise that he has seldom if ever had authority over others, and like most such men, he revels in his elevation. But as England’s Shakespeare put it, “‘Tis the bright day that brings forth the adder, and that craves wary walking. Crown him that, and then I grant we put a sting in him, that at his will he may do danger with.”

The Bard refers to the crowning of Julius Caesar. I fear I may be cast in the role of Brutus.

For the nonce, though, we need Shluxer and his knowledge, his power. Using the maid’s beast-wagon, he has procured all manner of supplies: fresh tar for the ropes and the hull, spices for O’Grady and a remarkable quantity of salt, the which O’Grady has used to preserve the remaining meat from Ian’s trading mission; Shluxer has brought us new provisions, as well, nearly as fine as the goods Ian brought. Though I have not enjoyed all that he brought – those Doritos are vile things, like burnt, flattened goat turds dipped in gunpowder and salt – I must speak well of these Twinkie cakes. Delicious.

When Shluxer learned that we had been drinking the water from the pool on the terrace despite its bitter taste – which he called “cloreen,” or some such – he showed us that the fixtures in this dwelling provide limitless fresh water. But to speak truth, as my mother taught me I ever should, to a tongue raised on new rain caught in clay jugs and copper pots, and to the crisp cool drink of mountain springs, the water from within tastes little better than that from the pool. Of course, life on board ship nearly always entails the drinking of stale and sour water; the moment it is stored in casks, it begins to turn, but we needs must drink it anyway. ‘Tis at least part of the reason the men prefer grog – though now they are grown mighty fond of the beer Shluxer brought us in metal barrels, this Coors that he insists on referring to as the silver bullet.

What matters most to me is that Shluxer has indeed managed to repair my lovely ship. The hull appears to be even more watertight than when she was new. We will let his caulk dry another day, and then cover it with tar and float the ship once the tide is high. If she doesn’t take on water then, we will sail, in three days’ time.

Though I do not know where we will go then.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 1 July 2011

Location: Beach House Cove

Conditions: Improved, at last.

The caulking and tarring is done. The mast is repaired, and the men have begun digging out the sand around the Grace to the level of the tide; when the water flows in, it will, with the blessings of fortune, float our ship, and we will once more be men of the sea. I find I am tired of standing on this land. I have been considering a return to Ireland, though I know not what we will find there in this time. I have not consulted with Shluxer on the matter, though if past conversation be any guide, his knowledge of the great nations of Europe is spotty at best. He claims there are no more kings in the world, at least not in any but the darkest and most savage nations; this gave me a cold chill, as it brought to mind Devil Cromwell and his Parliamentarians, and my father. But Shluxer knew nothing at all of Cromwell, or the wars for Charles’s throne, or the devastation of Ireland under the New Model Army. It is most odd, what he knows and what he does not.

But however odd the man is, I had best become accustomed to him: he has signed the Articles, and joined the crew of the Grace of Ireland as our carpenter. He was sponsored by O’Flaherty and Carter, with whom he has grown most amicable, but his great benefit to our ship and crew would have been enough regardless.

I confess I hold reservations about the man’s inclusion in our merry band. When I asked him about the home and family he would leave behind to become a rover – he has mentioned his mother and father before – he shrugged and said, “Fuck them – I want to be a pirate. Yo ho!” He is most fond of that phrase. But it was the first part of that utterance that stuck with me. What loyalty can a man have, if he have none to his own blood?

But perhaps I should ask my father that question.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 2 July 2011

Location: Beach House Cove

Conditions: The ship is once more on water. Situation on land, alas, has sunk to the depths.

I was right not to trust Shluxer.

This past night, while the men slept on the beach, I came off the Grace, where I had been sleeping in my cabin; I find it far more comfortable for its familiarity than even the softest bed in this house. I went inside in search of a cool drink of water. When I entered the kitchen, I heard some noise of struggle; investigating I found the guard outside the prisoner’s chamber had been dismissed, and inside, I found Shluxer attempting to defile the maid, Flora. I prevented him, and struck him down; this morning, at dawn, I had him tied to the mast and given twenty lashes. I twice had to order Burke to put his back into it. Burke – the man who wears a devil’s grin at the mere thought of applying stripes to a man’s back – now he grows reluctant? In truth, I have never heard caterwauling and pleas like those uttered by Shluxer once his pale, scarless skin felt the bite of the lash; he has lived a soft life till now. No more.

O’Flaherty came to me with objection, for my assault on the foul rapist. The stripes he earned, according to our Articles, which prescribe this penalty for any man who attempts to force his attentions on any unwilling woman, and death or marooning for any man who is successful in his vile designs; but those same Articles expressly forbid any member of the crew, and any officer, from striking another. And I had struck Shluxer many times, in my rage. I argued that the defense of our own honor required my actions in order to stop Shluxer, and though O’Flaherty grumbled, he went away.

But he was succeeded by Ian. Who repeated the complaint. Though his reasoning was more pragmatic: in our dire straits, he said we need Shluxer more than we need justice. He felt I should have simply warned the bastard away and doubled the woman’s guard, so as to avoid dissension and resentment among the crew, for whom Shluxer has gained a most favorable hue of approval – and whose crime, generally speaking, is frequently shrugged at indifferently. I am afraid Ian and I both became intemperate in our discussion of this matter, until at last I ejected him from my cabin and locked myself in, to keep this log and to brood on our circumstance. And aye, to keep from laying eyes on that slug Shluxer, lest I open his belly for the gulls.

I cannot face the crew. I cannot lie to them, and I cannot speak to them without addressing our situation; I know the talk amongst them is of little else but where we are, and where we must go. I hope once we put out to sea, I will gain the courage and the strength to tell them the truth; I know if I do not, then Shluxer will, and he will say it – poorly. Until then, I have given my orders, and I will stay in my cabin while they are carried out. I have entrusted the maid’s safety to Lynch and MacTeigue until we depart, as they see the situation my way, I know – indeed, Lynch was so enraged he demanded Shluxer’s throat be cut for his crime, but I ordered him to let the blood spilled by the lash suffice. After all, I did prevent Shluxer from achieving his intent. Lynch was not satisfied, but he agreed and swore to abide by my wishes.

We must get to sea. All will be well when we are on the waves once more.

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Log 16: Elliott’s Beer Run

I can’t believe this. I mean, seriously, I just can’t fuckin believe this shit.

You know in A Princess Bride how Vizzini always says “Inconceivable!” and Inigo finally says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” That’s how I feel. This shit here is inconceivable. But just like with Vizzini, who says that about shit that’s already happening, which means it’s, like, conceivable, this shit that I can’t believe is happening right now.

I’m on a beer run with a pirate.

I glance in the rearview – which catches me a look at the hole that huge dude Kelly put in the roof with his dagger – and then I stop at a Stop sign. And next to me, this guy Ian – who, no homo, but he’s like the best-looking guy I’ve ever seen, all sparkling blue eyes and curly red-gold hair and tan skin and white teeth (How does a pirate get white teeth? What, did they jack a floss shipment? For that matter, I thought British people all had fucked-up teeth. Whatever: homey’s got prom king genes, that’s all.) – Ian throws his hands up on the dash to stop himself from flying through the windshield, even though I didn’t actually stop hard at all. And he laughs through those shiny white teeth and he’s all “She stops like a horse refusing a fence. How do ye keep from flailin’ about?” in that Irish accent.

Oh, I have got to go clubbing with this guy. Just being seen with his castoffs would up my game, like, ten levels.

I shrug. “You just get used to it, I guess. I dunno. I had to stop for the sign.” Road’s clear, so I step on it. The Kia – which is hot, so I’m a little freaked out about driving it around, but it wasn’t too bad, I had my shit pretty together, until Kelly just whipped out his dagger and punched it through the roof like it was fucking nothing, and then I thought “What exactly did they do with the guy who owned this car, and all those keys and shit they had? And who owns that house? Fucking beach front with a private cove, that place was like two, three million dollars worth of Florida real estate, easy. So where’s the owner? Why did he let a bunch of raggedy-ass thugs dressed up like pirates crash in his crib?” And then I started thinking – maybe they’re not just crazy-looking. And maybe the people who own the house, and the cars and the keys, maybe they won’t be calling the po-po any time soon because they’re, like, buried in the backyard or cut up in pieces and sunk in the ocean, like on Dexter. Then I started getting a little freaked out like: I’m driving around in a dead dude’s car. With the dude who fuckin killed him. Cause that Kelly guy was big, and had no problem stabbing shit, and those four guys we chased down were all thugged up and all – but if any of these guys has ever capped anyone, it’s that Damnation guy. When he was pissed off about his boys treatin him like a bitch – man, just looking at him and you know that muthafucka’s cold-blooded, like ice cold. Him or that crazy fuck with no thumbs. So I’m glad they’re out of the car, and I’m just rollin with Pretty-Boy here.

No homo.

Anyway – what was I saying? Oh, right: the Kia’s actually got some cojones, way more than you would expect from the car that drives those fuckin hamsters around (and I figure maybe the cholos who drive it suped that shit up a little) so it pushes us back in the seats when I hit the gas, and Ian laughs and says “Good Lord of Hosts, this wagon is truly a miracle. It doesna live, and it has na horses nor oxen to pull it. How does it go?”

So I start to tell him – not that I know everything about cars, not a fuckin gearhead or whatever – but you can’t tell this guy anything. I’m all “When I step on this pedal –” and he goes “What’s a pedal?” So I point to the gas and brake, right, and he comes, like, into my fuckin lap to stare down at them, bending over me like he’s about to start polishing my tool. and I’m all “Whoa, back the fuck up, you fag!” and he sits back and says “A lever,” but he says it all weird, like, “LEE-ver,” and I’m all “A what?” and he goes “A LEE-ver, a pedal’s a LEE-ver for your foot.” And then I realize what he’s saying and I nod and shit, and then I say “So when I step on it, it sends more gas to the engine –”
And he goes “What is gas?”

You can’t tell this guy anything. You shoulda heard how he took traffic lights, when we got stuck at a long red on Kennedy Drive. He fuckin thought there were like, monkeys or something inside it, with lanterns, changing the colored lights. You fuckin try explaining computers and automatic timers and shit – fuck, try explaining electricity. Once you get past “It’s lightning,” what the fuck do you say next?

Who the fuck are these guys, anyway?

So we get to Casa de Schluchzer, and we’re in luck – the parentals are both out. Good, because I do not want to explain who my “little friend” is to my mom, and fuck, what if the Depot called here looking for me? Or what if the cops came by? Maybe they think I got kidnapped, I dunno.

Whatever. I leave Ian with the TV, after I show him like three buttons on the remote – and which channel has porn on it – and I go get my shit. First thing is in Dad’s office, in the back of his top right desk drawer – it’s his “emergency” credit card. Well, Pops, this is a fuckin emergency if I ever saw one. Then I bust a quick shower, cause I’m all stankin from running with that bag on my head and sweatin like a mutherfucker when they kidnapped me and shit, and then I go to my room and pack some shit, just the essentials.

And I get my sword. It’s a Crusader broadsword, and it cost me like 400 bucks online, and that shit’s for real. I feel better knowing I’m armed. Then I stash away a nice little boot-knife I got at a Faire, because it feels even better to be armed when nobody else knows you’re armed, am I right? I wish we had a fuckin 9-millimeter, but Mom’s anti-gun and Dad’s a pussy. Whatever.

I think about leaving them a note, but then I think Fuck ’em. Let ’em wonder. I get Ian and we roll out for the liquor store.

I talk to Ian, and he says they got twenty guys back at their crib – well, no, first he says there’s a “score” of ’em, but I’m like “Score? What score? What the fuck’s a score? Like a game score?” and then he says there’s twenty. So I ask what they like to drink, and he says ale and whiskey and grog. And wine for the captain. And I’m all “Aight, what the fuck is grog?” So he says – check this shit – it’s rum mixed with water and fuckin gunpowder. And I’m all “No shit?” and he grins and he’s all like “Aye – it gives it a wee kick. Like a beestung mule.”

So okay, we go in and get like a case of whiskey and three cases of rum, and I get the guy to bring out three kegs of Coors and a tap, and I ask him to pick out, like, a dozen bottles of wine for the captain. And he asks how I’m paying, and I bust out the credit card and my ID – and for maybe the first time in my life, I’m glad I’m Elliott Schluchzer, Junior.

Ian loads all that shit in the car while I’m paying – after I run out to pop the trunk, instead of trying to explain to him how to do it – and then we roll out and head back.

We drive past Home Depot, and I think about stopping in to tell them I quit – maybe taking a table saw as my severance, like – but I see a cop car in the lot, and I’m thinking they might still be looking for the crazy fuckers who stole a couple hundred bucks’ worth of lumber and nothing else. And I’m thinking they might be thinking I was in on it, since I disappeared with them and people around here know I’m into the Ren Faires and pirate festivals and shit. So we drive on by. And I’m thinking I might never be coming back here, if the idea that’s bouncing around in my head turns out, and I think about my job, and my car, and my room, and my computers, and my parents, and my whole life – and I think leaving it all behind would suit me just fine. Fuck all of it.

We get back to the crib, and I stop the car at the top of the driveway, where there’s a wall all covered with ivy and shit and a bunch of tall trees, mostly palms, and I know there’s a rolling metal gate stuck back behind some bushes, and when I reach in and grab it and roll it out, Ian’s all shocked and shit that I even knew it was back there. But I’m all, “Homey, no house like this doesn’t have a gate on the drive.” It just got left open by somebody, probably because it’s not automatic – it’s an old gate, like from the fifties or something, before they had remotes, and whoever lives here probably didn’t want to fuck it up installing a chain drive and sensors and shit. But Ian’s all jizzed up and says the captain will be pleased, and I’m like “Eeeeex-cellent” like Mr. Burns in my head. My plans are coming together.

We drive up to the crib – and when I see it, really see it, with no bag over my head and my thoughts not all fucked up by what’s going on around me, I think Yeah, I could live like this. Even if – no, better if they stole it, even capped the guy who lived here and sunk him in the cove tied to a rock and shit. We drive up and Ian gets like the full hero’s welcome – and that’s before we break out the booze that’s got the Kia’s back end scraping the ground, the shit’s so heavy. Then me and Ian both get three cheers.

And Captain Kane comes out and smiles and slaps us on the back and everything – I hold up for a high-five, but he just looks at me like “What the fuck are you waving at?” and leaves me hanging. But for sure he’s happy to see me, and he says so. He thanks me for doing the liquor run, and for driving to catch up with his boys. So I turn to him, and I go like this, talking all slow and raspy and shit: “Some day – and that day may never come – I may call upon you to do a favor for me. Until that day, accept this as a gift.” And he looks at me all thoughtful and calculating, and then he nods and says, “Done,” and shakes my hand.

And he didn’t even know that was from The Godfather, Part I. That clinches it.

“So Damn,” I say, and throw my arm around his shoulders. “Tell me. What year do you think it is?”

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June, 2011.

Location: 2011.

Conditions: All is lost.

We have traveled through time, he tells me. It’s the future, he tells me. He was smiling.

It cannot be true. I must find a reason why Shluxer would lie to me. Then I can kill him and it won’t be true.

Three hundred and thirty-three years. All is dust. Everything and everyone we know is dust, now. All – all is lost.

All is lost.

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Log 15: Joyriding

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

It came to be known that the keys for the beast-wagon lay in the miscellany of odds and ends we had taken from the Dominicans’ pockets before locking them in; we identified the correct ring, from among several small rings of tiny-seeming keys, with Shluxer’s guidance. Then I must needs ask for volunteers, with myself as first example – though all gods in heaven and earth know that I would rather dive into a whale’s mouth from the crow’s nest than ride on that thing. But I cannot ask my men to do a thing the which I would not do; if not for honor’s sake, then simply because they would refuse to do it, with mine own example as sufficient justification. But with myself standing tall, and Shluxer smirking at us, soon enough Kelly stepped forward, with only a slight stagger to reveal the source of his courage; and then my good friend Ian took a surer step to join him. Lynch tried to step up, but I ordered the youth back into line. Such heart in a small and youthful chest shamed two more men into taking the step, Lochlan O’Neill and my cousin, Owen MacTeigue. I chose O’Neill, as he is a fast friend of Donal Carter and could sway the man to listen to reason; also I trusted MacTeigue to stay behind and supervise the fortifications of the Palace should all this go for naught.

Kelly offered to sit on the rear of the wagon, where a footman might ride if it were the carriage it somewhat resembled, but Shluxer refused him and demanded we all crawl inside, after he used the key to open the – doors, I suppose they are, though damned if they don’t more resemble a bird’s wings, or the fins of a fish.

Perhaps this thing is fashioned from the skeleton of some fantastic beast?

Any road, Shluxer and I were trying to coax Kelly into the sternward bench when there was a crash of glass; on the port side of the beast, Ian O’Gallows was knocking out the last few fragments from the sternward fin-door with the butt of his pistol. I feared for a moment that this attack would anger the beast – and my men stepped back with me, all eyes on O’Gallows – but Shluxer cursed and said he would “roll down the fucking windows.” Which made no sense as one cannot roll glass. While we discussed it, however, Kelly found a mount to his liking: he stood on the metal edge below the bench, with one hand grasping the open door-fin-wing, and stabbed his dagger through the – the scalp? The back? The thin metal (or perhaps bone) plate atop the beast, whichever side of the thing one calls it. It gave him a fine hold, and he declared himself ready to weigh anchor. Shluxer yelled and swore again, but I and my men took heart: this further injury once more provoked no response at all from the beast. Perhaps it was not to be feared.

We all took our places, Ian behind Shluxer on the port side and Kelly hanging off the beast’s starboard side behind me, with O’Neill white-faced between the two sternward stalwarts. I took the forward bench beside Shluxer, who sat behind a wheel, though I know not how that could steer the beast. He said, “All right, hold on to your butts,” (at which saying we all took hold of our pistols) and then applied the key; now we heard the beast roar and growl. Mysteriously, we also heard a blast of music, but Shluxer poked the beast in the mystically-engraved panel facing us, and it stopped. Once Shluxer coaxed Kelly back onto the thing’s flank, he having leapt off and drawn his iron at the sound of the thing’s roaring, my new navigator plied his hands and feet in an arcane manner, and – we were off!

It was, at first, simply a wonder. Shluxer somehow made the glass window beside me vanish, and then, as we moved farther away from the Glass Palace at a speed faster than a grown man’s trot, I could feel the wind, though only from my side. Straight ahead I watched the ground move, the trees coming closer, and yet it seemed unreal – the motion too smooth, and without a direct wind in my face coming from the forward quarter, it felt wrong to me.

Then we reached the road – we had been moving along the track from the Palace, which was lengthy and narrow; this that lay ahead was a smooth-paved road four times the width, at least – and turned to starboard, and suddenly we were moving faster than I have ever moved before on this Earth, faster than a horse at the gallop, faster than ever the fleetest ship raced before the wind and tide. At first I felt near a swoon – a sensation increased, along with my terror, when I saw another beast-wagon apparently aimed directly at us and charging, before it missed us just to our port side, as though we were jousters in the lists. It was followed by another beast-wagon, and another, and another. The road turned to the left, and then the right; the beast-wagon barely slowed, and with each turn, I and my men drifted to the side, like green sailors in their first swell, with cries and murmurs of alarm. It was the most frightful experience of my life, saving only, perhaps, the encounters with Hobbes and the Sea-Cat.

Then Ian started laughing.

I looked back at him, incredulous; it was in my mind that he had lost his sanity and was in hysterics. But no, he met my gaze and I saw that he was himself. He had thrust his head out through the porthole in the door-wing where he had broken the glass pane, and the wind of his passing was tearing through his hair and blowing out the collar of his shirt. “Try it, Nate!” he shouted to me, grinning like a child on Christmas morning – though he did flinch away from the oncoming beast-wagons, which trumpeted their strange cries at him, or perhaps at our beast. Shluxer cursed and steered us farther to starboard, giving Ian room away from the jousting wagons. Then I heard a whoop from Kelly on the other side, but his head was above the top of the opening he stood in and could not be seen. I glanced at O’Neill, and saw that he was not amused: his gaze was glassy, his mouth open and slack, his skin pallid and rapidly becoming green; I recalled that O’Neill was one of those who struggled with sea-sickness, and I surmised that the beast-wagon’s strange motion was too much for him. It certainly put a flutter in my own gut, though the like didn’t affect me at sea, but this thing jerked from side to side far more rapidly than any ship, and the movement forward pressed us back into our seats before the long turns pulled us to the outward side, and it was all very strange. I clapped O’Neill on the knee, and he met my gaze, swallowing painfully, beads of sweat on his brow. “Will ye live?” I asked him.

He started to nod, then closed his eyes and shivered. “Aye.”

I turned to Shluxer. “How much longer?” I had to repeat the question, as his attention was fixed on Kelly and Ian; Ian was now seated in the porthole, his entire trunk outside the beast-wagon. He and Kelly were shouting back and forth and in unison, no words, just cries of pure joy.

“WHEEEEE!”

“AYYYIIIIEEEEEEE!!”

“YAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAA!”

“Shouldn’t that be ‘Yo-ho-ho?'” Shluxer muttered.

I said his name again, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, right – uh, how much longer? I dunno – five minutes if they haven’t left this road. Maybe less.”

I nodded and then clapped O’Neill on the knee again. “Ye’ll live, man. If ye have to purge, do it towards Kelly.” Then I put my head out the window, as well, to see what all the fuss was about.

The moment I felt the wind on my face, coming from what my eyes and mind told me was the proper direction, rather than blowing from a quarter-turn to the side, then the sensation of strangeness disappeared. My gut subsided its churning, the clench of my jaw eased; suddenly it was as if we were sailing the swiftest ship across calm waters, or riding the fleetest horse with the smoothest gait – I know not how to describe it! Our speed was magnificent, but there was no sense of the motion, none of the up-and-down or back-to-front jerking that accompanied any other means of such speed, whether it be a horse’s hoofbeats or a team pulling a wagon or a ship going over waves and swells. I have never felt anything like it. I presume this is what the birds feel when they spread their wings and glide through the air. It was glorious. Soon all three of us, Ian, Kelly, and myself, were crying out with joy as we leaned out of the beast-wagon and waved our hands in the wind.

But then, as I was seated on my own porthole and turned towards Ian to share a grin, Kelly shouted “Captain!” I glanced to him, and he nodded to the starboard bow quarter and shouted, “‘Tis them, sir.” I turned quickly and spotted my wayward bully boys immediately: there were no other people on this road – reasonable, considering the speed and frequency of beast-wagons on it! These folk must have separate roads for people to walk or ride more ordinary steeds. Their clothing, too, stood out clearly against the dull green mangroves and other trees to either side of us. They had not yet noticed us as different from any other beast-wagon.

I ducked back into the beast-wagon and marked the target for Shluxer, who muttered, “No shit, Sherlock.” I swear, the man speaks an English almost incomprehensible to me. But he turned and stopped, all of a sudden, just as we passed them, bringing us to a dead halt not twenty feet from the four runaways. Remarkable.

Kelly was already off the wagon and facing them, weapons in hands. I opened the portal – after Shluxer pointed out the handle to me – and stood by him; behind his great frame, O’Neill crawled from the beast’s guts and heaved up his own. Ian, his face still red and grinning from the wind, leapt to the top of the wagon and struck a stance, fists on hips. He cried, “What ho, me hearties!”

I looked at my men with somewhat less joy. Of the four, Moran looked the most abashed, and would not meet my gaze. Carter simply stood and looked at us with both equanimity and a certain amount of wonder at the means of our arrival; Burke sneered and smirked; and O’Flaherty clenched his jaw with anger. I strode slowly up to them, looking from one face to the next.

“Out for a wee stroll, are we?” I asked sardonically.

“Aye,” O’Flaherty spat back. “Out to correct that one’s failure,” he said, pointing a thumb at O’Gallows. Ian’s good humor ended instantly, and he leapt down from the beast-wagon and marched toward O’Flaherty with grim intent, but I waved him back.

“You think the provisions he gathered for us insufficient?”

O’Flaherty, who had been sneering a challenge at Ian, now looked back to me. “Aye, o’ course t’were insufficient, man. Ye canna expect a pirate crew to live without spirits. Especially not in the midst of all this madness we go through in this place where you brought us, Captain.” He stepped closer. “And don’t try to foist it off on me, again. Ye put on a nice bit o’ theater for the men, but ye canna have it both ways. If ye be the captain, then the responsibility for our mishaps be yours. And ye knows it.”

I nodded, for he was in the right. “Aye, I’ve made many mistakes, o’ course. Any man in command will do the same. What matter, though, is that I must recognize my mistakes, and ensure that more and poorer choices do not worsen our situation beyond repair – as this little excursion of yours would do. What in the name of all the hells were you thinking, Sean?” I shouted, throwing my hands up in exasperation.

Never one to back down, O’Flaherty bellowed right back. “Your man there said t’were no guards! The boys need a bit o’ cheer, and we mean to get it for them.”

“You daft fool,” spake I, with perhaps less diplomacy than the circumstances asked, “I sent Ian off with mere trinkets, and he traded them for a month’s provisions. Did ye think we couldn’t do the same twice, only this time with rum as the goal? What, do ye not remember the remaining wealth in the Palace we took? – Aye, took under my command?”

O’Flaherty laughed, without mirth. “Trade? We’re not merchants, Nate. We be pirates. We take what we want.” Carter and Burke both nodded at this, and Moran looked as though he wanted to.

I laughed back. “Pirates, Sean? Ye be pirates?” I stepped up and pressed my chest to his. “Then where be your ship?” I shouted in his face. He stepped back then, but I stepped with him. “You know where. She be on the beach. On her side in the sand, wi’ a great hole blown in her flank. You know – you all know,” I said, turning to include the other three with a look and a gesture, “you know that I have no compunction against taking what I desire. The world owes me that, as it owes each of you. Aye?” They nodded again, and from behind me, Ian growled, “Aye, it bloody well does.”

I turned back to O’Flaherty. I stopped shouting; we needed to remove the spark from this discussion, not throw it into the powder keg. “But we need the ship. We need the Grace, Sean – need her in the water and catching the wind. Aye, of course I took note when Ian said there were no guards at the Piggly-Wiggly, but think ye we have no enemies hereabouts? If this be a colony, there will be troops here, somewhere; if it be a sovereign nation, they will have militia. Either way, your little raid would bring them down on us. Now, if we could escape to sea in our fair ship, then I would lead the way, and carry a cask of rum myself! I planned to do just that. But not –” and here I shouted once more, as I felt this point deserving of special emphasis: “NOT UNTIL WE HAVE OUR SHIP BACK!”

O’Flaherty and I glared at each other in silence. I knew what he wanted: he wanted to name me coward, shame me with my unwillingness to take this risk when such an easy prize beckoned. But he knew that if he said it, I would draw arms to defend my honor – and he would lose against me, with pistol or with blade, and he knew that, too. So we waited, and I watched him swallow the words he wanted to say to me then. They looked bitter.

Then another voice broke into the tableau we had made: “Hey!” We all turned and looked: it was Shluxer, standing with his arms crossed, his face pale and nervous. “If you dudes, you know, want some booze or something, you know, I can get it for you.”

I raised one eyebrow and asked what we all wondered: “What is booze?”

He rolled his eyes. “You know, booze. Liquor, beer, whiskey, wine, shit like that.” He shrugged. “I can get other shit, too, if you want to get really fucked up. But booze, that’s easy.”

“How much?” O’Flaherty asked, even as I asked, “What risks will there be?” We glared at each other some more.

“As much as you want. No trouble – I got this shit covered, yo.”

I looked the question at O’Flaherty, and after a moment, he nodded. I turned back to Shluxer and said, “Yo-ho-ho.”

So it went: Ian accompanied Shluxer in the beast-wagon, and the rest of us marched back to the Palace, in silence but for some brief muttering between O’Flaherty and Burke, and Burke and Moran, and then a low conversation between Carter and O’Neill, once O’Neill recovered from his illness – which largely came the moment he found he would not have to mount the wagon once more. I was chagrined to see that Carter did much of the talking, but if I walked closer, they turned to silence until I moved away. Perhaps I should not have brought O’Neill.

I am sure this is not the last trouble these four will cause me, but I have no idea how to prevent them.

The situation is fast becoming dire.

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Log 14: Guards and Grog

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June

Location: In a madhouse.

Conditions: As should be expected: mad.

 

If a man were to ask me what is the experience of captaining a ship, of leading a crew, I would say this: when you are the captain of a ship, everything goes wrong all at once. It is never simply that your vessel is blown into a storm; it is ever that your ship is blown into a storm – when your food stores have turned up rotten, and all your men are drunk on grog poured into empty bellies to quiet the pangs, and the lines have been poorly lashed by fainting fog-headed men, and the steersman collapses in a swoon and heels the boat crosswise to the waves just as the wind tears loose the moorings and leaves the sails flapping and the ship out of control – even as the cry of “Fire!” issues from the galley. That is the life of a ship’s captain. But with one difference from my depiction: generally the threats a captain faces are invisible and unknowable before they strike.

Here I had a group of men, three of them my own officers, who saw fit to defy my orders even after they joined their voices in affirmation of my right to command. Four men who were such blithering, vacuous idiots that they apparently did not understand the danger of piling more risk onto the perils we already face, who sought to prod the sleeping animal whose den we had invaded, and whose nature we could not discern: was it, perhaps, merely an aged and toothless dog, who would grumble at our violation of its rest and then turn to sleep once more? Or was it a savage bear with a sore tooth, awakening ravenous from a winter’s sleep, which would prove the destruction of us all? In less poetic terms: would a raid on a local establishment spur the far-flung and isolated colonials to flee our wrath, surrendering to our dominant wills if caught? Or would it break the dam and release a flood of heavily-armed soldiers on us? We did not know, and yet those men – my men, my officers, my own cousin, men whom I trusted to bear responsibility with probity and wisdom and fortitude – those men chose to take that risk for us all, and prod yon sleeping beast.

While our ship, our greatest weapon and only means of escape, lay mortally wounded on the sand.

And they did this all for grog.

And – most immediate – someone allowed them to go.

I strode through the Palace with Lynch at my heels, to the landward portico. The two men on watch – Shane MacManus and Raymond Fitzpatrick, a man whose loyalty I questioned and another whose witlessness, unfortunately, I did not – took their ease in two of the woven-cloth chairs that had previously stood on the seaward pavilion, but now stood in shaded places somewhat near the front door, and somewhat within reasonable view of any approaching enemies.

Perhaps I misspoke, before; perhaps the essence of captainhood is this: when your subordinates, in everything they do from sleep to eat to work to watch to fight to shit, are incessantly toeing the line of indolence and insubordination, but never quite far enough over it to deserve chastisement. A captain is ever left with two unpalatable choices: berate and punish those who have done very little that is wrong, and be known as a tyrant and martinet, or allow standards to slacken lower and lower until doom is as assured as the captain’s reputation for laxity. After all, these men were at their stations, and they were awake and unintoxicated, and they faced the road. Could I really begrudge them a comfortable seat in this tedious duty?

At the moment: a thousand times yes. “AVAST!” I roared as I came through the door and espied their lazy carcasses. “STAND AND REPORT, YE IDLE SWINE!” The two leapt from their chairs with satisfying alacrity, MacManus with a charged musket in his hands and Fitzpatrick sending his chair flying all a-tangle with the vigor of his upright leap. MacManus, seeing no immediate threat but my own humble self, turned and snapped off a crisp salute, knuckles to brow. “Nothin’ to report, Captain, sir!” he said, his words brusque and his stare blank. MacManus had served in the Royal Navy and was no stranger to surprise inspections from angry officers. Fitzpatrick shook his head to confirm MacManus’s negative reply.

I stepped close, pressing my face within inches of MacManus’s. “Where are O’Flaherty and Burke, Shane? Where is Carter? And Moran?”

He blinked and reddened, slightly, though it may have been the heat. “They . . . they left, sir. Half a turn gone, now, fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d say.”

I stepped closer, forcing him back on his heels. “And you didn’t stop them?”

He frowned. “No, Captain. By what authority would I stop the Quartermaster goin’ where he likes, sir?”

By the authority of your own brain, were it not as shriveled and worm-eaten as his!” I snarled, pointing at the slack-jawed Fitzpatrick.

MacManus’s flush deepened. Definitely not the heat. Not the sun’s heat, at least. “They claimed to be acting under orders, sir. I had no orders to hold or question or countermand their leavin’. Captain.”

Damn it all, he was right. I should have guessed that this was a possibility, and I should have expressly forbidden their departure, or any others’. I can only say in my defense that I had been too preoccupied with the storm and the flapping sails to also fight the galley-fire below – the fire named O’Flaherty. And “grog.”

But MacManus was not free of sin, here. I stepped back and stared at him some more, before saying quietly, “Why did I not receive a report of their leaving?”

MacManus paled even faster than he had reddened. “I – I thought you knew, Captain. They said you had ordered them.” He trailed off without any word from me. He knew better than that. On a ship, any ship, anything and all things must be reported up the chain of command. Always. All commands, all shouts of warning, even simple declarations of fact, are repeated again and again. Too much depends on men doing the right thing at the right moment, and on the officers knowing the right thing to do and the right moment to do it. If I am told by my Sailing Master that the wind is turning, and I give the order to come about, then the Master repeats it for clarity, and then tells the same to the steersman. The steersman says, “Aye, coming about, sir,” and shouts it to the Bosun. The Bosun, who must make the men reorient the sails as we change course, cries out, “Coming about!” And the men, to acknowledge the order and verify that it was the correct order, all shout, “Coming about!” Then the ship begins to turn. Not before.

MacManus should have reported the departure. The reason he hadn’t was clear to me: he knew I’d have stopped them, and he hadn’t wanted them stopped before they accomplished this errand. It was most likely the siren call of the grog which had whelmed his thoughts and suborned him from doing his duty.

I merely waited until he dropped his gaze, and then I began issuing new orders. “We will fortify this door, now. You two will dig a trench and build a breastworks with the earth, to either side of the palace. Take tools from the barn-shed if there be any. And if not, use your bloody hands.”

I watched them salute and trot off to the barn-shed; I told Lynch off to stand watch for now, and he nodded. Should have had him there in the first place, curse me for a trusting fool.

As I came back through the doorway into the entry hall, I encountered once more another unwelcome complication: our new carpenter, Shluxer. He stood, cowed but trying nonetheless to catch glimpses of the goings-on from where he was, confronted and halted from going any further by a surly and silent Owen MacTeigue. I clapped my cousin gratefully on the shoulder, and he nodded and relaxed – but he did not leave.

“I regret, Master Shluxer, that the realization of our partnership must be postponed. I trust that my assurances of your future enrichment will prove sufficient for the nonce, and I would also ask that you endeavor to keep our presence here a secret, moot as the request may be.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, still craning his neck to see around my and out the front door.

“Some of my men have gone to beard the lion in his den. We must prepare to face the wrath.” I turned to MacTeigue. “Go find two of the men who brought him here, and have them escort Master Shluxer home. Then –”

Shluxer interrupted me. “They left on foot? Why don’t you just go after them?”

I turned to him with raised brow and lowered patience. “Because they left twenty minutes ago. They would reach their destination before we caught them, even at a dead run.”

He stared at me for a moment, uncomprehending, I thought – and how amazed I was that he couldn’t grasp such a simple problem! Then he said, “Why don’t you just take the car?”

Now I had to stare, uncomprehending. “Take the what?”

“The car.” He pointed out the door. “What is that, an Accord? It’s got balls, for a riceburner. It could catch them. You got the keys?”

I turned to see where he was pointing: it was the nearer of the two beast-wagons, the one that Juan and Ignacio Lopez had arrived in – the one which we had not shot. I turned back to Shluxer. “That thing could catch them? Before they reached the Piggly-Wiggly?”

He snorted. “Sure. What are they going to do, grow wings and fly? It’s a car, dude. That thing could break a hundred, easy.”

I stared some more. Surely his language was English, I knew each individual word, but he made no sense to my ears. “Break a hundred what?” I asked him.

He looked at me as if I were the idiot. “M.P.H., dude.” And when this clearly offered me no help, he said, “Miles per hour?” as though questioning me, and vastly fatigued for doing so.

It took me a moment, but it started to dawn on me. “That thing,” I said, pointing, “that beast out there, could run one hundred miles – that’s two days good riding on a strong horse over adequate roads – in only one hour?”

He shrugged, palms up, and raised his eyebrows at me. “Duh. It’s a car?”

I merely stared.

His brows lowered. “You really don’t know what a car is, do you?”

Slowly I shook my head. I didn’t like to confess my ignorance, but a fool’s bluff would have been no improvement.

Shluxer’s hand darted out and flicked at the wall near him, as through brushing at a fly. Brilliant light burst forth from the ceiling, where shining round objects like enormous pearls hung; we had thought them merely idle decoration, but now they glowed as if they were tiny suns, or great lanterns encased in smooth white glass – but we saw no flame. And from whence had the spark come? MacTeigue and I both flinched away, our hands going to weapon hilts in our startlement.

“Jesus Christ,” Shluxer swore quietly. He brushed the wall again, and now I noticed a small rectangle with a peg of some kind sticking out of it where his hand touched; he moved the peg so it pointed down, and the light vanished, as quickly as it had come – startling MacTeigue and I anew. Shluxer snapped his fingers, and when I looked at him, he said, “Find the keys. I’ll drive.”

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Log 13: Conversations with a Carpenter

Captain’s Log

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.”

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