Date: 17th of July, 2011
Location: Treasure Harbor
Conditions: Storm, high chop.
We intended to travel today in pursuit of the bondsman, but weather prevents. We know not if this be a storm, or weather familiar to these seas but strange to us, but the waves are the height of a man even here in this small bay where we camp, and the sky is bruised iron above. So we stay, this day. We take the opportunity to practice with the pistolas, to mend tears in clothing, to sharpen blades and make small repairs to the boat and her single sail. Perhaps the sky will clear and the seas calm tomorrow. If not, the men will abide where they are another day, or more.
Date: 19th of July, 2011
Location: Treasure Harbor, Islamorada
I do not mean that our situation has worsened; rather, it has largely improved. But it has become apparent that we desperately lack the funds to do what is needful; hence we are now poor men, in the simplest sense of the word.
Upon leaving the prisoner’s level of the keep, MacTeigue and I returned to the man of the watch at the front door. We inquired of him for advice as regards the hiring of lawyers, and the meaning of bail as it relates to these incarcerated men rather than to a leaking boat. He did look at us most strangely, of course (I believe I should include this as a caveat whensoever I speak to a native of this time at any length or penetration: “This will cause you to look at me quite strangely, but . . .”), but he did answer. As to the meaning of bail that pertains here, he informed us that such was a monetary bond used to ensure a prisoner’s future cooperation if paroled; this struck me as a most civilized manner of behaving with accused men, allowing them the dignity of freedom on the strength of their honor, while it was also an entirely prudent strategem to buttress that honor – which after all, is passing weak in many and many a man – with the strength of their avarice. I have always known that what a man will not do for honor, he will do for gold. The watchman elaborated by saying that the greater the crime, the greater the risk that the prisoner would violate his parole, the higher the price of the bond. This, too, is most reasonable, though it puts us in something of a pinch, owing to the number of bonds we must provide for, the severity of the crimes, and perhaps the somewhat less prodigious honor of those same men, the relative fragility of their sworn word.
He pointed out a large board made of some extravagantly soft wood, with placards and broadsheets and pamphlets affixed thereto, and advised me to look there for both a lawyer and a bail “bondsman,” apparently one who would lend the money for bail at sometimes usurious rates. Examining these, I found a mystifying array of these bondmen, and a plethora of lawyers, every one of them offering fast help and cheap rates – but not a one professing great learning, nor knowledge, nor expertise. No, I am incorrect: some of the lawyers admitted to several years of experience, which, one supposes, is equivalent to expertise. But even those thus qualified featured the seemingly magical words “Fast” and “Cheap” far more prominently than aught else.
What sort of a place is this, where people value time and money more than ability or virtue? Especially in this instance, when the commodity to be treated this way is no less than one’s liberty. Why would a man seeking succor in the face of blind, heartless justice turn to one whose heart beats with the clink of coin on coin, or whose veins run not with blood, but with the hourglass’s sand? Is this world naught but a market, with all the people crying their wares from birth to death? Are we men, or pins on a hawker’s tray?
Beggar them all, with their Fast and Cheap: I looked for a placard pledging the one quality I have learned to seek out before any other, and treasure most dearly in a man: loyalty.
I found none of it.
There were a number of pamphlets, as well, which offered proper money in exchange for jewelry and valuables; I took some note of these moneychangers and merchants, as one presumes they who display their wares before criminals in this gaolhouse would be ready to consort and conduct business with men who lack honest reputations – or, perchance, who lack proper proof of ownership of the goods to be sold. It is always in a pirate’s interest to know where to find men of this type. It is a pirate’s blessing that there are always men of this type to be found.
MacTeigue solved the conundrum of the cornucopia of bondsmen for hire when he found one who, though his pamphlet cried out “Fast” and “Cheap,” those were emphasized less than were “Trustworthy” and “Honest.” That was our man: Honest Avery. We took his pamphlet and returned to camp, to report to Lynch and Vaughn, and to use Vaughn’s maps to find the place of business of this bondman, this Jonas Avery. By the time we had done so, the march of time had brought the close of day and the unfurling of a deep velvet sky of purple and black, sparked with silver stars uncountable, every one a glory and a joy to behold. We sent a prayer to these stars, and whatever gods do look down on us from those skies, to keep and protect our friends locked in iron cages, and to guide our future steps to find their freedom, and keep our own.
And aye, I sent another prayer winging above, or perhaps below. For there is something e’en more inexorable than the turning of the stars through the sky, or the sands slipping through the glass. We never know how many turns of the glass, and of the stars, we have before us; we know not how many days will rise between now and the end; nor if those days will seem too many or too few. But this we many know: any who cross Damnation Kane may hear, if they but listen, the iron hooves of Vengeance bearing down, bearing down on them, and that dread charge – it comes soon.
Two days later, delayed by the storm, we made an early start in the boat, as Bondsman Avery does business on the mainland. It did not take us long to reach the shore, and there we beached the boat and covered it with limbs cut from the tall, spindly trees that stand and wave all along this coastline; the shorter of these trees have fronds as wide and stiff as a windmill’s sails, in easy reach of a blade in hand, and these made excellent camouflage. We walked from the beach to a road, which we then found on the map, and made good time from there.
But alas: our journey was very nearly for naught, as we discovered once we arrived at Honest Avery’s shop – a small, dank, space, where Bondsman Avery labored within a pile of paper that might smother a man, with but one other to assist him, and that a woman; it seemed the only aspect that the man cherished in these offices was the sign outside, which proclaimed “Honest Avery Bail Bonds” in glowing red letters three foot high. This did certainly attract one’s attention, but what good is it to bring in custom without any decent room to entertain or hold discourse? Fah – I am no tradesman, and know not their secrets. We did speak with the Bondsman in that inhospitable room, and soon he understood what we sought – he was a man of some substance, though without cleanliness. He picked up his tellafone, which was black, grimed and cracked, and covered with far too many bumps and tiny glowing red spots, like the eyes of miniscule imps; he pressed many of the bumps, which seemed to irk some of the imps, for their eyes blinked, and it chased some of them away. He spoke then, haltingly, in rapid bursts broken by pauses both brief and lengthy, occasionally interrupted for the pressing of more bumps and more angry imp-eyes. At one point he began to speak to us, with the tellafone still pressed to his ear, and then turned his eyes downward and spoke into the handpiece again. I found this at first confusing and then, strangely, impolite, like a man wooing a lass at a tavern, but who pinches the barmaid’s bottom in passing before returning to the girl on his knee.
But at last the Bondsman found what he sought – and after observing the road he traveled to reach that destination, I was both relieved that we had found a man who could make his way through this convoluted labyrinth of words for us, and despaired by the knowledge that, should we ever find ourselves sailing with our own wind, without a pilot to guide us, we will be lost – and then he listened at length to the tiny squeaking that was just audible to us from his tellafone handpiece. He wrote some words and numbers down, and then blotted them out; then he thanked the squeak and put down the tellafone, slowly. Whereupon he gave us our sad news: my men were charged with armed robbery and kidnapping, and for those serious crimes, there was no bail. They could not be freed without trial.
Howbeit, as I intimated, the morning was not fruitless; for even as we four looked at one another, entirely lost and rudderless, Bondsman Avery hauled us back on course. “What you guise need,” he said – I know not why he used the word, unless he knew somehow that I was not in my usual finery – “What you guise need is a lawyer. D’you know one?” We demurred, of course, and then the Bondsman, who was a kindly-faced fellow with far more jowls than hair, smiled broadly and said, “I know just the one. Let me call him and see if he’s free.”
He was indeed, and within two hours we were seated at a table in a quiet tavern, discussing the matter of our imprisoned brethren with one James McNally, Esquire – a man whose suitability as our guide through the arcane halls of law was made clear from his first words, which revealed an accent that warmed our hearts. At last, on these strange shores, we had found a fellow Irishman!
Master McNally felt as full a comfort in our presence, as when he heard my brogue – after a blinking pause at my name, the which I have been accustomed to all of my life – he smiled grandly and said, “Ah, you boys are from the Old Country, are ye?”
I nodded slowly. “Aye, from the Old Country, in truth. God’s truth, that is, sir. God’s truth.”
We shook hands, Master McNally hesitating not for an instant at taking the rough hand of MacTeigue or the young one of Lynch – ’tis the sign of a good man, that, of a decent man – and then sat and shared a fine repast with us while we spoke of our situation. Master McNally listened and asked questions – many of which we did know the answers to, and some we could not even understand the question itself – and wrote down many of our responses in a small logbook he produced from a pocket in his coat, a book which I much coveted, I confess, as this log I keep grows both ponderously long and also truly precious to me. And by the end of our parlay, and our luncheon, Master McNally had – well, less bad news than Bondsman Avery, any road.
“I think I can help you,” he told us. “I can certainly try to help your friends through the process. Though they have probably been assigned public defenders by now, perhaps they’ll trust me more, once they know I have been engaged by you. Are you sure they would not have told the police anything at all? None of them?”
We exchanged a glance. “Are you certain that la policia would not have tortured answers out of them?”
He blinked several times and then shook his head. “Sorry,” he said. “Hearing you say ‘torture’ and ‘la policia‘ in an Irish accent put me in mind of a band, an Irish band – the Pogues, d’you know them? P-O-G-U-E-S, that is?” We shook our heads, and he discarded the issue with a wave of his hand. “Doesn’t matter. I am sure the police will not torture your men, not beyond keeping them in a small room for several hours and asking questions all the while. Not under any circumstances.”
My heart eased to hear it. I believed these people to be civilized – perhaps even too much so, in some ways – but the English were civilized too, and the English did not use torture; except on Irish prisoners, of course. “Then aye, I am sure they will say nothing, not a word, not a sign. Even admitting your name is sometimes enough for a conviction, back – where we come from.”
“Shluxer,” Lynch murmured to me. “Aye,” I said, nodding. “Elliot Shluxer might talk. Probably will talk. And he will blame the others, for all of it.”
Master McNally nodded. “That’s where they’ve gotten the charges from, then. But if the men haven’t confirmed or denied anything, then I can speak with them first about what they should or should not say, and maybe we can cut this off before it really starts.” He replaced his logbook in his pocket and withdrew a tiny wallet, well-worn; from this he took several green money-papers, which he placed on the table. “Now, lunch is on me, and happy I am to pay for men of Erin – but there is the matter of a retainer for my services. Let me give you a number, and we’ll see if we can go ahead from here.”
He named a figure. I bit my tongue, and nodded. “Aye, that’ll do.”
It would not: it was ten – fifteen times over again what I had in my purse. But this was the lawyer we needed, the only one I would engage; I believed we could trust him, and that is more precious than gold or green paper.
We shook hands on it, and then he raised one finger. “But one thing I will require as payment. For now, I know what I need to know to speak to your men, and to the sheriff. But before this goes to the end, wherever that may be, I will need your whole story. I need to know why twenty-some Irishmen were sailing a tall ship through Floridian waters, and why you have no definite address, and look and sound like the pirates your men are accused of being, only three hundred years out of date. If I earn your trust, will you give me that tale?”
I thought. I nodded. We shook again. He went off with purpose in his step, to see to our men.
I turned and looked at my three companions, and said, “We are poor.”
It took some hours of parlay, of conversation and wrangling, cajoling and argument, but at last we had a plan. Vaughn left to purchase more broadsheets and guard the boat, and I took Lynch and MacTeigue in search of a market. This took some time to accomplish, and the sun was halfway to the horizon before we found a local man who could direct us to that we sought, largely, it seemed, because the people of this time name it a “flea market,” for reasons I cannot fathom, and when I asked passers-by for a market, they inevitably shrugged or pointed to a shop which sold foodstuffs. Then another hour passed before we arrived at the “flea market,” and our time was growing short.
But fortune was with us, and we quickly found a woman selling clothing of the type and, more vitally, the hue we sought. Soon we were all clad in what we have come to call our highwaymen guises.
That was the spring of it: Lynch mentioned, as we discussed how we could achieve our goal without suffering consequences even more dire than those awaiting our shipmates, that highwaymen covered their faces with scarves and hats pulled down low o’er their brows; and some of the boldest had been known to commit their thefts, travel to the nearest inn, and there have conversation, even drink, with those whom they had robbed mere minutes before. Then as we discussed where we might procure such hats and scarves, so that we too might escape recognition and subsequent infamy, it came to me: how we should dress and where we might find the necessary articles. Now, all was prepared, all was in readiness.
That night, after the sun had set, a small corner market, occupied only by the Oriental proprietor at the time, was robbed of all of their money-paper, both that kept in a drawer and that held in a strongbox (the which was not locked! It swung open with the mere twist of a handle!) and some of their food, particularly their potato chips. Said money-paper proving insufficient, a grog shop was next – and aye, they lost some few bottles along with the paper. None were hurt, both clerks being most cooperative with their heavily armed assailants.
The culprits? A trio of men, all wearing cloth caps, scarves over their mouths and noses, and tartan shirts. They said nothing but a gruff demand for money, and ran away into the night once the paper had been surrendered and some small plunder collected. Based on the blue color of the shirts, and the scarves over the men’s faces, one might think these three were members of the Latin Lions.
Now we are no longer poor.